Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Post: Jessica Shirvington

Today, I'd like to welcome Jessica Shirvington, the author of Embrace to my blog. Jessica is here to talk about what she found in her research about angels and how she adapted her angel mythology to make it unique.

I love delving into old tales and finding loopholes or differences of opinion that offer new story possibilities. When I started writing EMBRACE, I knew from an early stage that I wanted to explore the many tales about angels, but in my own way. There is so much I could discuss, but today I would love to tell you a little more about how I used the concepts of free will from mythology.

The idea for EMBRACE stemmed from a desire to write a story that explored free will vs. predetermined destiny and if the two may in fact work together. So often humanity are defined by our free will - by the choices we make and the consequences that we suffer and inflict on others. The questions I asked were - If angels play a role in the function of the universe but are not making and enforcing decisions that direct our lives towards a predetermined fate - then what do they actually do? I decided it would be interesting to consider that they could be providing the options - for every choice one option is better than the other. Sometimes we take the better option - sometimes we do not. And then, for every angel that was there to offer the ‘good’ option, must there not be one to offer the ‘bad’ one?

When I started to dig deeper - so much of the research agreed that angels must also have free will; they can choose to fall, have the ability to feel pride and envy. So what makes them serve the universe as they apparently do? Is it their profound knowledge or something else? And if they have free will, angels could not possibly be all-divine beings that do no wrong? It seemed more probable that whilst their function may define them and indeed control them - free will demanded they were not perfect.

This led to the development of the two categories of angels in EMBRACE: Angels Elect (the light) and Angels Malign (the dark). It has always seemed convenient in storytelling to simply have beautiful angels who want only good in contrast to the ugly demons who want only evil. Lucifer was described as an angel - but is it possible that he still is? Is it possible that he simply had a function and is fulfilling it? For the purposes of storytelling this seemed like a conflict rich subject.

In EMBRACE, there are no demons. Only angels. The story takes the viewpoint that angels equally provide both good and bad alternatives for us to choose from. It doesn’t make an angel elect a wholly good spirit, nor is an angel malign an evil entity - they simply follow the function (completely). Likewise, if angels are the administrators of the universe and control all things including weather and nature - then angels must be willing to provide a draught or hurricane just as much as perfect summer days. So it all fit together really well.

I loved working with this concept because it led to so many developments in the story. It allowed me to excuse my characters from the larger ‘God question’ - one I was not interested in drawing into the plot and it also allowed for a new approach - not so simple as good vs. evil but instead, a whole lot of grey.

Thanks for dropping by, Jessica!

A bit about Jessica (as found on Goodreads): An entrepreneur, author, and mother living in Sydney, Australia, Jessica is a 2011 finalist for Cosmopolitan’s annual Fun, Fearless Female Award. She’s also one of the lucky few who met the love of her life at age seventeen: Matt Shirvington, a former Olympian and current sports broadcaster for FOXTEL and Sky News. Married for almost eleven years with two beautiful daughters, Sienna and Winter, Jessica knows her early age romance and its longevity has definitely contributed to how she tackles relationships in her YA novels. Previously, she founded a coffee distribution company, Stella Imports, in London, and before that was involved in the management of restaurants Fuel Bistro and MG Garage in Sydney. Jessica is now a full-time novelist and living her dream.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: Demons at Deadnight by A&E Kirk

From Back Cover: Aurora has the crappiest superpower on the planet. And it’s just unleashed a hit squad from hell. Demons are on the hunt, salivating to carve her carcass into confetti. The Hex Boys - mysterious, hunky, and notorious for their trails of destruction - have the answers Aurora needs to survive. But their overload of deadly secrets and suspicious motives makes trusting them a potentially fatal move. The battle to save her family, herself, and stop demonic domination may cost Aurora everything worth living for, and force her to reveal her own dark secrets. But no worries. She needs the Hex Boys to pull this off, and, chances are, teaming up with these guys will get her killed anyway.

My Rating: 4 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: Hilarious and engaging, Demons at Deadnight by A&E Kirk sucked me into the plot right away since I didn’t have to wait long for the action to start. With Aurora facing off against a demon and meeting two of the Hex Boys by page 15, A&E Kirk provide instant gratification, and then keep readers hooked with confrontations against demons, detailed characterization, witty dialogue and the possibility of a romance blooming between Aurora and one of the Hex Boys.

As a main character, Aurora was someone who I really liked because she was snarky, loyal and brave. Oh, and she was close with her family! Sure Aurora may not tell her parents and siblings everything, but it was nice to see the Laheys act like a normal family – having conversations at the dinner table, taking an interest in Aurora’s well-being, and yes, even embarrassing her.     

Aurora wasn’t without her faults however. For one thing, I thought she refused to let herself feel emotions too intensely and often used humour as a coping mechanism. When combined with the (sometimes too) fast pace of the novel, it made me feel as if I knew her – just not as deeply as I would have liked to. Another thing that annoyed me about Aurora was that she was incredibly stubborn, refusing to listen to the Hex Boys and/or trusting them even after being told to do so by her guardian angel, Gloria. (Then again, the Hex Boys’ abilities in keeping Aurora safe from demons didn’t inspire much confidence and made me question the credibility of Gloria’s advice.)

I was a little worried when I found out that there were six Hex Boys because I thought that was a bit much. I figured that I’d only get to know a couple and the rest would just remain gorgeous faces to be admired from afar. Or worse, Aurora wouldn’t be able to resist two of them and wreck the group’s dynamics. Kudos to A&E Kirk for letting neither of those things happen in Demons at Deadnight! Although I thought that it was strange to have five hot guys in a small town coincidentally be best friends before they became demon hunters, each one of the Hex Boys was developed solidly and felt like a distinct character by the end. (My favourites were Tristan and Jayden.) As well, I loved that A&E Kirk managed to create sizzling (hehe) chemistry between Aurora and one of the Hex Boys without resorting to a love triangle to create romantic tension.

A wonderful start to what promises to be a fun, action-filled series; Demons at Deadnight will leave you craving its sequel, especially because it ends kind of randomly with the appearance of another good-looking guy. Not that I mind, but seriously … where are all the normal guys?   

Demons at Deadnight was released in January 2012.

Comments About the Cover: Ooo, it’s creepy with all those demonic hands rising from the flames, trying to get a piece of Aurora as she falls. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the authors for free.

For those of you interested in reading Demons at Deadnight, A&E Kirk have generously offered to give away a paperback copy to US readers or an e-copy to international readers.

So, read the rules below and then fill out this FORM
  1. You do not have to be a follower to enter.
  2. You must be over the age of 13.
  3. This giveaway will end on Monday, March 19 at 11:59 PM.
  4. Make sure your entries are tallied correctly (or else you won't win).

To enter to win the Kindle Fire you need to know the secret phrase given out one word at a time by each blog tour host. Put the words together in sequential order and you'll eventually have the secret phrase! Right now you can Tweet and Follow on the AEKIRK Blog Tour Page to get points but starting March 9 (at the end of the tour) you can enter the complete phrase on the AEKIRK Blog Tour Page and earn BIG entry points! Your Kindle Fire will also include your choice of a DEMONS AT DEADNIGHT Skin. Either from the cover, or a Hex Boy group shot or individual "Team" skin of your favorite Hex Hunk!
My secret word is: SURPRISE

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

From Goodreads: Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in. It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin - whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her - that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although I’m not hugely familiar with the story of Robin Hood, I was aware of its basic gist thanks to having watched the Disney version when I was little. You know wasn’t present in that version? Yep, that would be Will Scarlet. So for me, A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet was an introduction to the character of Will in the form of a female and seeing how that affected her relationship with the Merry Men.

Scarlet was a really complex character; and the more I got to know her, the more I liked her. She’s independent, smart, and knows how to wield knives (which I think is awesome) but is also impulsive, secretive – I kind of guessed her secret pretty early on – and prickly. Though she keeps threatening to walk away from Robin and the Merry Men, she’s totally loyal to the core. I thought Gaughen did a fantastic job of creating Scarlet’s first person voice as I could easily imagine her talking like a medieval peasant in my head.

As for the other characters, I thought Much was interesting but wasn’t too fond of Little John or Robin Hood. I didn’t like how controlling John was with Scarlet once he decided he was interested in her or how Robin only blamed Scarlet for messing the dynamics of their group just because he was jealous of her and John. As well, I thought the later portion of the book featured too much of the drama surrounding the love triangle and would have instead preferred more of the fantasy and action.

The other thing that I didn’t enjoy was the ending since it felt far too open-ended. After finishing Scarlet, I immediately went on Goodreads to see if it was the first book in a series but at this point, it's still listed as a standalone.  

Scarlet was released on February 14, 2012 by Walker Childrens.

Comments About the Cover: I love the design, and Scarlet is dressed exactly like how I’d picture a female Merry Man to look like.

In exchange for an honest review, this ARC was received from the publisher (Walker Books for Young Readers) for free via NetGalley.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin

From Back Cover: Jennie feels the tingling presence of something unnatural in the house now that Will is dead. Her heart aches without him, and she still doesn't know how he really died. It seems that everywhere she turns, someone is hiding yet another clue. As Jennie seeks the truth, she finds herself drawn even deeper into a series of tricks and lies, secrets and betrayals, and begins to wonder if she had ever really known Will at all.

My Rating: 5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: When I got Adele Griffin's Picture the Dead in the mail, I couldn’t help flipping through the pages and admiring the gorgeous illustrations within. Days later, I read the book and was thrilled to find that the gothic ghost story and mystery is just as good.

The main character, Jennie, is an orphan in a precarious living situation: her twin brother Tobias and cousin/fiancĂ© Will are both dead, her uncle doesn’t really care about her, and her aunt is vile. This immediately made her a narrator I could sympathize with; but at the same time, I didn’t fully trust her because she also had a tendency to steal things (albeit for her scrapbook).

Faced with the prospect of possibly being thrown out, Jennie tries to make herself indispensable to the household by caring for her cousin Quinn (who has returned injured from the battlefield whilst fighting for the Union Army) and taking on other chores, essentially turning into a servant. In the process of nursing Quinn back to health, Jennie realizes that he’s keeping a secret about Will, and becomes determined to find out what it is since it's affecting their blossoming relationship and she's being haunted by Will’s ghost. 

I found Picture the Dead’s pacing to be perfect for enjoying Lisa Brown’s artwork, the historical background of the setting, and the mystery. Set while the Civil War is occurring and the Spiritualist movement just beginning, the story was full of twists and turns, and the way it all came together at the end was completely unexpected! Though I thought that this would be a scarier read, I had no problem that Griffin didn’t leave me wondering whether I should turn off the lights at night. I avoid horror at all costs so if you’re as big a chicken as I am but want to read a slightly spooky story, Picture the Dead is the book for you.

Utterly delightful in both content and appearance, Picture the Dead was first released in May 2010 by Sourcebooks Fire. The pretty paperback version I have was released on February 1, 2012.       

Comments About the Cover: The colours and clean, simple design of Picture the Dead will make it easily stand out in a shelf full of covers featuring girls in dresses that I wish I had. The photo of Jennie and Tobias at the front also gives you a good idea of how Brown’s illustrations look.  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Sourcebooks Fire) for free.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mini Hiatus

Hey, everybody! With four midterms coming up next week (three of which will be within a span of 50 hours), I'm trying to catch up on lectures and readings - hence the lack of posts and being behind on commenting. So, I'll officially be taking a week long break and should rejoin the blogosphere sometime around February 20. See you all then! 


In other news, the winner of the e-copy of Sherry Gammon's Unlovable was roro from Roro is Reading and the winner of the paperback copy of Unlovable was Michelle from Book Briefs. Congratulations, Roro and Michelle!

Also, if you live in or near Burnaby, B.C., Marissa Meyer, the author of Cinder, will be at Chapters Metrotown (4700 Kingsway, Burnaby, B.C.) tomorrow (Saturday, February 11) at 2:00 PM!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Follower Love Giveaway Hop

The Follower Love Giveaway Hop is being hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Rachael Renee Anderson.

For the hop, I'll be giving away any book of your choice worth up to $10 CDN from The Book Depository.

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Mini Reviews: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe and Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald

From Goodreads: It starts with an itch you just can't shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you'll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. And then you're dead. 
When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island - no one can leave, and no one can come back. Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest. Because how will she go on if there isn't?

My Rating: 3.5 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe is a book that imagines would happen if a relatively isolated community were to suffer an outbreak of a new and unknown virus. How would the government react? How would members of the community deal with the situation? What’s nice about the novel is that because the story is set on an island, quarantining people actually becomes a plausible solution. When that happens of course, emotions get heightened and the best and worst in people are brought out.

Although Crewe escalates the situation gradually to increase tension, I never felt a sense of urgency to turn the pages as quickly as possible. Part of this was because of the slow pacing and part of it was because the book was narrated in the form of diary entries to Leo, Kaelyn’s ex-best friend who we learn a little about but only appears right before the abrupt ending. The entries were written obviously after things already happened so it felt a little like I was reading about Kaelyn’s past. This sort of made it hard to completely connect with the characters, and made me feel as if I was watching the action from a distance.   

The Way We Fall was released by Disney-Hyperion in January 2012.

In exchange for an honest review, this ARC was received from the publisher (Disney-Hyperion) for free via NetGalley.
original image from

From Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Sadie is in love: epic, heartfelt, and utterly onesided. The object of her obsession - ahem, affection - is her best friend, Garrett Delaney, who has been oblivious to Sadie's feelings ever since he sauntered into her life and wowed her with his passion for Proust (not to mention his deep-blue eyes). For two long, painful years, Sadie has been Garrett's constant companion, sharing his taste in everything from tragic Russian literature to art films to '80s indie rock - all to no avail. But when Garrett leaves for a summer literary retreat, Sadie is sure that the absence will make his heart grow fonder - until he calls to say he's fallen in love. With some other girl! A heartbroken Sadie realizes that she's finally had enough. It's time for total Garrett detox! Aided by a barista job, an eclectic crew of new friends (including the hunky chef, Josh), and a customized selfhelp guide, Sadie embarks on a summer of personal reinvention full of laughter, mortifying meltdowns, and a double shot of love. 

My Rating: 3 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: When reading Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald, expect a book that’s slow and doesn’t have much romance since McDonald’s latest book is more about self-discovery as Sadie attempts to find out who she is without the influence of Garrett.  

Garrett was around a little bit in the beginning part of the novel, but because he soon leaves for camp, I didn’t get as annoyed at Sadie for obsessing over Garrett as I would have normally. I mean, she falls in love with him pretty much instantly after she spots him for the first time, and immediately thinks they’re fated to be together just because she’s sitting next to the only free table in the room. Two years later, Garrett – who didn’t really leave a good first impression on me – still has no clue his best friend is in love with him because Sadie is too chicken, I guess, to tell him that she’d like to be more than friends. Once Sadie realizes that she needs to get over Garrett though, I liked her much more. It was fun seeing her twelve steps to detoxify herself of Garrett and hang out with new people who had such different personalities and backstories from each other and him. 

Getting Over Garrett Delaney was released in January 2012 by Candlewick Press 2012.

In exchange for an honest review, this ARC was received from the publisher (Candlewick Press) for free via NetGalley.  

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

From Goodreads: They call me 'New Girl' ... Ever since I arrived at exclusive, prestigious Manderly Academy, that’s who I am. New girl. Unknown. But not unnoticed - because of her. Becca Normandy - that’s the name on everyone’s lips. The girl whose picture I see everywhere. The girl I can’t compare to. I mean, her going missing is the only reason a spot opened up for me at the academy. And everyone stares at me like it’s my fault. Except for Max Holloway - the boy whose name shouldn’t be spoken. At least, not by me. Everyone thinks of him as Becca’s boyfriend but she’s gone, and here I am, replacing her. I wish it were that easy. Sometimes, when I think of Max, I can imagine how Becca’s life was so much better than mine could ever be. And maybe she’s still out there, waiting to take it back.

My Rating: 1.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: New Girl by Paige Harbison is based on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a fact I didn’t know before I requested it. Since I’ve never read the classic, I have no idea how Harbison’s adaptation compares to the original. As a standalone in and of itself though, New Girl was a book that I had several issues with.

The novel begins with the unrealistic premise of the main character (whose name isn’t revealed until the end) being shipped off to boarding school in her senior year because after falling in love with Harry Potter in Grade 8, she begged her parents to let her go to a boarding school. Though she has forgotten all about wanting to go to Manderly Academy by now, her parents for some reason still believe that their daughter is desperate to attend the school and have been applying every year on her behalf ever since.

Once at Manderly Academy, 'New Girl' is the new girl who nobody wants around because she has taken the spot of Becca, a popular girl who has gone missing. The mystery surrounding Becca’s disappearance was the only thing that I found remotely interesting about New Girl. Nobody knows what happened to Becca, but there are rumours that she may have run away, died and/or gotten pregnant. With everyone missing Becca, constantly talking about her, and wishing that she would come back; it’s not surprising that 'New Girl' soon feels envious of Becca. So, she whines a lot about not being happy being under the shadow of Becca.

Becca is actually the other narrator in New Girl; and you see things that happened last year from her perspective. I found the switches in perspective disrupted the flow of the story because they were never smooth. Anyway, getting back to Becca: Harbison excels at writing mean girls! In her debut novel Here Lies Bridget, I hated the character of Bridget. Here, Harbison tops that because I hated Becca even more! This girl has managed to charm the entire school into liking her, but is a horrible person who lies and manipulates people into doing what she wants. By the time there’s an attempt to add a little complexity to her character later in the book, it was too late for me to even feel a little pity or sympathy for her.

I was also not a fan of the love triangle situation – first between Becca and two boys, and then between those same boys and 'New Girl' – since it seemed like the sole purpose of it was to create drama. As well, I couldn’t figure out why one of the guys was willing to go along with Becca and pretend to be her boyfriend when he didn’t want to if she was already having sex with him.

Other things I disliked about New Girl were the filler parts of the story (which pretty much seemed like it consisted of teens having parties, getting drunk and/or having sex) and the attempt to add a little paranormal element to a contemporary novel that would have been just fine without it.

In the end, I kind of felt similar to one of the Manderly Academy seniors at graduation – happy to be moving on and looking forward to the future (or in my case, the next good book I’ll be reading).

Comments About the Cover: I like its simplicity, and the slogan “What if nobody knew your name?” would definitely make me curious enough to check out the book. 

In exchange for an honest review, this ARC was received from the publisher (Harlequin Teen) for free via NetGalley.