Giveaway at new site! PLEASE go “follow” over there!

If you haven’t changed your subscription settings to take you over to my new site at www.thehouseworkcanwait.com, go now! I’m giving away some awesome prizes! Don’t miss out!

Also, my sincerest apologies if you were following me via WordPress, but I cannot figure out how to make that work on my new site. So hopefully you will be willing to follow me via another outlet, be it email subscription, RSS feed, LinkyFollowers or Networked Blogs.

If you have a magic insight into how to allow WP followers on a self-hosted site, I’m all ears. Go contact me through my contact form or via the links on the new sidebar.

Now what are you still doing over here? Go follow my new site!

I’ve moved!

Phew! My frustrations with free WordPress are over. Now I can be frustrated with my very own paid domain and server.

So if you follow me via RSS or WordPress, please change your settings to follow me at:

www.thehouseworkcanwait.com

I’m still getting everything set up on the new site. The goal is to look pretty much like this one, but better. So if something looks screwy, rest assured I’m not done tweaking yet.

See you there!

UPDATE: Giveaway is live on the new site! What are you still hanging around here for???

Milestones and Giveaways!

Wow you guys, time really does fly when you’re having fun! Tomorrow completes my first month of writing this blog, and what an awesome and crazy month it’s been!

Here’s what’s happened in my first month as a new book blogger:

  • Posted 14 reviews
  • Gained 23 new followers
  • Created a Facebook page
  • Created a Twitter profile
  • Discovered some insanely awesome book blogs/bloggers
  • Received dozens of helpful, amusing and insightful comments
  • Started following so many blogs I lost count
  • Won one giveaway, only to lose my prize because the notification went to my spam folder and I missed the 48-hour response window [drat!]
  • Gave my blog a makeover (It looks nice, right? And yes, that actually is a photo of me up there! Just one of the perks of marrying a guy who knows his way around Photoshop. Thanks, honey!)
  • Passed 1,000 page views(!)
  • Received a totally unexpected box in the mail from Scholastic! Here’s what was inside:

I had contacted the lovely folks over there a couple weeks ago in my giddy new-blogger eagerness. I wasn’t really expecting any publishers to take me seriously yet, but I contacted a few of my favorites with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mentality.

Everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly and helpful. I had a couple “sorry, we only send books to professionals” responses, a couple “patience, grasshopper” responses, and one “tell us what you are interested in, but no promises” response. So I told them what I was interested in, with no expectations whatsoever, and a week-ish later…BOX.

Holy smokes, I’m ridiculously excited that a publisher actually took my little blog seriously enough to send me books.

So everyone, get ready for some reviews of what are sure to be fantastic middle-grade titles in the coming weeks!

ALSO, since I know you’re only reading my excited ranting right now because I put the word “giveaway” in the title, YES, I will be holding my first-ever giveaway tomorrow to celebrate one month of survival in the blogosphere! I won’t tell you what it is yet, but you may want to come hungry and ready for some games, if you know what I mean.

Come back tomorrow for the details! And thanks so much for reading!

Review: Frost by Kate Avery Ellison

Frost is the first novel in yet another new dystopian series. I’d say something sarcastic about the need for new dystopian series right now, given the severe shortage and all, but the truth is I love the current trend. I like reading about the imaginary and plausible-to-varying-degrees worlds that authors can come up with.

It’s the same reason I like reading books about dragons. And aliens.

Still waiting for someone to send me a book about dragons and aliens, BTW. Just a reminder.

Anyway, I like books that spark my imagination. Real life has enough drama to make me not want to spend my precious reading hours delving into fake “real-life” drama. (Yes, I know, there’s always exceptions. But I’m all about broad generalizations right now)

So I picked up Frost based on 4 factors:

1) It was another YA dystopian, and I like those.

2) It had a good rating on Amazon.

3) The cover was pretty.

4) It was short (194 pages), and I wanted something short to balance out the epic fantasy novels I’ve been trudging through lately (I say “trudging” like this is somehow painful for me. It’s not. Just loooooong).

It turns out that reason 3 was a sham, because the cover has absolutely nothing to do with what the book is about.

[One of these days I’m going to learn a valuable about judging books by their covers. But that day is not today.]

What the Book Is About

Frost is the story of Lia, a teenage orphan taking care of her crippled twin brother and younger sister. They live on a farm near a small village in The Frost, a hostile and chilly area located somewhere near mountains and forests. Maybe Canada. I don’t know.

Lia has her share of troubles. First, she has been responsible for providing for her family since her parents were brutally killed by Watchers, mysterious and vicious beasts living in the forests of The Frost.

Second, between the Watchers and the equally mysterious and slightly less vicious Farthers — the people who live outside The Frost — Lia lives in constant fear for her and her family’s safety.

And third, she and her sister just rescued an injured Farther from the Watchers, and are hiding him in their barn.

Lia can’t imagine what possessed her to help a Farther, but she finds herself reluctantly nursing him back to health. And the more she learns about him, the more questions she has about her village, her family, and the people she thought she knew.

What I Thought

Let’s start with the good. Frost has a really interesting story. I like Ms. Ellison’s writing style, Lia’s character, and the world she lived in. I saw some of the twists coming, but some were genuinely surprising. I still have a lot of questions about exactly why the village is located in such a hostile environment as The Frost, but the groundwork was laid to get answers in future books.

And yes, there’s a bit of a love story in Frost. It was sweet and mildly necessary, and pretty much what you’d expect in this genre. I liked both Lia and her guy (I’m not going to say which guy, as the beginning sets up 3 potential candidates. Don’t worry though, it’s definitely not the dreaded love triangle). As with pretty much all YA love stories, I thought their feelings got too deep, too fast, without much foundation. But that’s probably just because I’m too far removed from being a teenager, so I have no real complaints.

The pacing in the first half of the book was great. I felt like the characters were set up well (some were a little under-developed, but then again, I’d have a hard time naming a book that doesn’t rhyme with Barry Trotter where all of the characters are well-developed). The world-building was good. A lot of potentially fascinating elements were introduced to the story: the Watchers, the Farthers, why the village was located in The Frost to begin with, the death of Lia’s parents, and the mysterious boy she blames for their death.

The main problem I had was in the second half. I felt like we kind of skipped most of the plot development and skipped straight to the grand finale. It felt rushed. I know I said I picked up the book because it was short, but a short book should still tell a complete story; it should just be a short story. Frost was an average-to-long story crammed into a short book.

It was like we jumped straight from the set-up to the conclusion, with no development. The characters of Ann, Cole and Adam all had significant contributions to the plot without much leading up to it, making their actions seem kind of out-of-the-blue.

In the first half of the book, Ms. Ellison does a great job with the “show, don’t tell” mantra that always gets thrown around writing circles. But in the second half, everything is “tell.” The big showdown at the end has absolutely nothing leading up to it, and the entire thing is explained by The Bad Guy doing some extensive monologuing, with no prompting whatsoever.

Also the ending has three — count ’em, three — dei ex machina (Yes, that is the plural for deus ex machina. Yes, I looked it up), back-to-back. I will name list them vaguely to avoid spoilers:

1) Extremely specific overheard conversation that prompts the events leading to the ending.

2) Reveal of the Bad Guy.

3) What happens to the Bad Guy.

It just seemed like there should be a better way to get to the ending without forcing it. I’m not a fan of unnecessary exposition and buildup, but this story needed more of both to really feel satisfying.

There had to be a more organic way for the same events to have taken place, but with Lia & Co. actually figuring things out on their own through subtle clues rather than having their next actions spelled out clearly by external forces. There had to be a better way to reveal who the bad guy was and what exactly he did, without just dropping him in for a point of a final confrontation. And there had to be something better to do with the character than what happened after the extensive monologuing.

It’s just too fast. Too much happens in too little time. Especially when the beginning seemed like it was really going to take the time to build up some steam. Instead it barely started simmering, then it exploded.

Frost is a good story. I’ll be interested in the next book in the series to see where things go. Ms. Ellison has a natural, engaging writing style that I like. I just hope that with the next book, she slows down her pacing a bit. I’d like to spend more time with these characters. Let them develop, grow, and learn. I think it would be neat.

Grade: B-

Content guide: Contains some mild violence.

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

So in all my blog hopping madness today [which has been SO much fun — I’m probably following a couple dozen new blogs now, and gained a nice handful of followers myself! Thanks, Parajunkee and Alison Can Read!] I came across a review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children over on Movies In My Head. And that reminded me that I, too, read this book recently, and it is so good. And kind of creepy. And decidedly unique. And now I want to talk about it too.

What It’s About

Miss Peregrine’s is the story of Jacob, a teenage boy living a normal life, until the mysterious and horrific death of his grandfather sends him across the ocean, to a tiny island off the coast of Wales, to discover the truth of his grandfather’s past.

What he finds on the island only seeks to arouse his curiosity further: An orphanage secluded from the rest of the world. A tragic bombing that wiped it off the face of the earth. A town that refuses to talk about it.

As Jacob digs deeper into the tragic past of Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, more and more questions arise, until finally he makes a shocking discovery. Soon Jacob is caught up in an incredible — and peculiar — adventure he never even dreamed of.

Here, before I get to my thoughts, watch the book trailer. It’s probably the best book trailer I’ve seen. Period.:

What I Thought

[I am going to have to get into mild spoiler territory here. I’ve been pondering how to avoid it, and I just can’t. It’s alluded to very early in the book though, and I don’t think your enjoyment will be lessened knowing this in advance. Even so, my apologies.]

First off, this book is nothing like what I expected (I should mention that I checked it out from the library as an e-book, so I didn’t know that it’s typically classified — mis-classified, in my humble opinion — in the horror genre). I thought it was going to be a bittersweet story of a young boy digging into his grandfather’s tragic past, and learning a valuable lesson. I knew creepy vintage photos were incorporated, but I figured they’d be like a metaphor for the way his grandfather had tried to dress up what had happened to him, to make it all seem magical and mysterious instead of just sad and depressing.

Because I was thinking that “tragic past” meant something like “Holocaust survivor.” I was pretty sure monsters = Nazis.

But no. Monsters = freakin’ monsters.

This story is full of fantasy, magic, and unexpected twists and turns that totally blew my mind. I had no idea where it was going, and when I turned the last page, I found myself dumbly attempting to flip another non-existent page, and yelling, “that’s it?!

Needless to say, I sincerely hope Mr. Riggs goes forward with the sequel(s).

What makes Miss Peregrine’s even more interesting is the vintage photography that is incorporated into the story. Authentic (yes, they’re real!) and decidedly creepy photos are woven seamlessly into the narrative, adding a level of realism and creepiness that both grounds the story and enhances its impact.

It’s not without its flaws. It is a little slow to get moving. Jacob spends a good chunk of time on the island before anything really happens. But once it took off, I couldn’t put it down.

Keep in mind, I definitely think it’s mis-classified as horror. It’s much closer to YA/mid-grade fantasy. I think the cover misleads people (bad font choice, publisher). I don’t think the intent of the book is to scare the reader; I think it’s to enthrall and amaze. So there are a lot of people out there who are kind of peeved that this book “wasn’t scary enough.” I’m obviously not one of them. No, it’s not scary. It’s creepy (which can be attributed largely to the photos), but mostly it’s just a fantastical adventure story.

Grade: A

Content guide: Contains violence and some scenes of overall creepiness. Plus creepy photos.

Giveaways Galore!

No, I’m not doing a giveaway. I’m still a blogging baby. I have few fans and no money.

BUT!

There are lots of established and extremely generous bloggers who ARE hosting giveaways right now, and I have been gleefully bouncing around from blog to blog, entering tons of giveaways and twitterbombing my followers.

Sorry about that (but not if you win something. In that case, YOU’RE WELCOME).

Here’s some of the ones I’ve entered lately:

Lots of ARCs Giveaway from ImLovingBooks.com!

i’m loving books ARC Madness Giveaway

I Am A Reader, Not A Writer Showers of Books Giveaway Hop

There are a TON of giveaways listed in that one!

I Am A Reader, Not A Writer No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop

This includes links to dozens more no-strings-attached giveaways, from many other generous bloggers, that don’t involve “liking” on FB, posting on Twitter, or anything other than clicking the “enter” button.

Gotta Have YA Kindle Fire + $$ for books Giveaway

May the odds be ever in your favor! (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Review: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I know, I know. I just reviewed Twilight, so why the heck am I reviewing another Stephenie Meyer book so soon? Well, two reasons:

1. The Host is nothing like Twilight.

2. The trailer for the movie was recently released, and it is weird and kind of confusing. So if you are one of those people who saw The Hunger Games recently and wondered what that weird trailer with all the eyeballs was about, I am here to enlighten you.

The Plot

The Host is the story of two characters: A human, Melanie Stryder; and an alien, Wanderer. The kicker is that they’re both inhabiting the same body.

Melanie was one of the leaders in the human resistance, fighting to keep Wanderer’s alien race from taking over their bodies and consciousness, even after the aliens — or “souls,” as they refer to themselves — have already conquered Earth.

Obviously, she fails.

Wanderer is surgically inserted into Melanie’s body, reboots the hardware, takes a look around…and discovers Melanie’s still in there. Her consciousness, which is supposed to be snuffed out when a “soul” sets up shop, is very much present. And cranky.

What follows is an internal struggle between Melanie and Wanderer, as both fight to take control of the host body. And things only get more complicated when Melanie convinces Wanderer to seek out her allies in the resistance, bringing them both face-to-face with Melanie’s brother and boyfriend.

My Thoughts

First off, yes. This basic plot device has been used before: aliens who come to Earth and take control of our bodies. But really, most interesting plot devices have been used before. As long as it’s interesting and the author’s spin is unique and fun, I don’t care.

As for the book itself, I really enjoyed The Host. Ms. Meyer has come a long way from Twilight. Gone were most of the endless, repetitive descriptors; the grammatical errors; the absurdly cheesy metaphors. No, her writing is still not the gold standard against which all others can be measured, but then again, neither is the writing in most of the books I enjoy. But I can honestly say that if I didn’t know, going in, that this was the same woman who wrote Twilight, I would never have guessed it.

That’s a good thing.

Technicality aside, it was a good read. The pace was a little slower than that of your average YA novel; but then again, this technically isn’t a YA novel (although it’s perfectly appropriate for a teen audience). It’s definitely more character-driven than action-driven. There were parts that dragged, but I never got bored. And I have a bone to pick with part of the ending (Meyer left it open for a sequel, which is fine, but how she did it I found a bit creepy).

I don’t want you to think The Host is all plodding inner monologues, though. There’s definitely some good action and suspense in it, as well as a hefty helping of romance. Twilight it is not, but don’t be fooled: Meyer is a sucker for love triangles. Although, to be fair, The Host has more of a love square.

Bottom line: I enjoyed The Host. It’s not “great literature.” It’s not going to change the way you think about anything (unless you have very strong views about alien colonization. No judging here). But it’s interesting, it’s exciting, and it made my heart race and my tummy flutter at all the right times.

I found myself thinking about it after I finished (always a good sign). I’m looking forward to the sequel (The Soul, which Meyer may write someday if she feels like it) and for the film adaptation. Even if the trailer is weird.

Grade: A-

Content Guide: contains mild violence