A Dual Review for Columbine by Dave Cullen and 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Synopsis (from Amazon.com)
In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen? Drawing on extensive interviews, police reports and his own reporting, Cullen meticulously pieces together what happened when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves. The media spin was that specific students, namely jocks, were targeted and that Dylan and Eric were members of the Trench Coat Mafia. According to Cullen, they lived apparently normal lives, but under the surface lay an angry, erratic depressive (Klebold) and a sadistic psychopath (Harris), together forming a combustible pair. They planned the massacre for a year, outlining their intentions for massive carnage in extensive journals and video diaries. Cullen expertly balances the psychological analysis—enhanced by several of the nation's leading experts on psychopathology—with an examination of the shooting's effects on survivors, victims' families and the Columbine community. Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill, even if the answers aren't easy to stomach.

The truth is Columbine had every reason to affect me on a personal level. In 1999, I was a senior in high school in a suburb northeast of Pennsylvania with a socio-economic background similar to Columbine High School. Parts of the campus look eerily similar. In fact from the aerial shots of the school, the two biggest differences between my high school and Columbine is the amount of windows (our school had none) and the mountains in Colorado. One of the victims, though completely unrelated to me shared my last name. And like me, she was also a senior, captain of the swim, and taking an identical load of classes. After the shootings, students in my high school, students who were ignorant, insensitivie, and simply immature, wore trench coats to school, called in fake bomb threats from payphones on campus hoping to get a day off from school, and several kids I remember well made an effort to point out every eerie similarity between my life and the life of the girl who died in Colorado.

I read a lot about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold when the story broke and tried to keep up with the news reports when they came out while I was in college, and when Dave Cullen's book came out, I immediately put it on my Amazon Wish List. Though I knew I wanted to read it, I was also in no rush. Until I started to hear so many good things about it. So when an agent in my office mentioned how good it was and waved a copy in front of me, I had to borrow it. Now after spending two consecutive nights up too late reading and rereading certain chapters, I have to believe, while it does affect me on a personal level, it should have the same affect on anyone, even those who are too young to really remember Columbine when it happened.

Dave Cullen's writing is easily comparable to Capote's In Cold Blood. He's done a remarkable job sorting through the rumors and mixed reports and the biases which surrounded the shootings to give us a thorough, riveting, and disturbing look into the how's and why's behind the worst school shooting in American history. Beginning with the days right before the shooting and the incident itself, Cullen lays out a timeline of April 20th, 1999 within the first section of the book. Then he cuts back and forth between Eric and Dylan's lives and gives insights into their minds and behavior and the reprecussions of their actions and the results of the investigation, which allows the reader to unravel the investigation as the book goes on.

And remarkably, the brillantly researched prose is exceptionally clear-eyed, compassionate, and without blame. The tragedy simply unfolds, without the author interjecting his own biases and opinions. Just under 400 pages, there is no pretension, no sensationalism, no haunting pictures. And none are needed. Even the cover, stark in its plain design, allows the book to speak for itself. And it works.

The truth is harrowing enough. Cullen's writing sucked me in from the very beginning, and no matter how many times I felt sick, found myself teary eyes and wanting to look away, I couldn't afford to put it down. Through this book, I found myself in an impossible situation: I felt as if I knew these killers, I felt as if I could have been there.

19 Minutes
Synopsis (from Amazon.com)
Best known for tackling controversial issues through richly told fictional accounts, Jodi Picoult's 14th novel, Nineteen Minutes, deals with the truth and consequences of a smalltown high-school shooting. Set in Sterling, New Hampshire, Picoult offers reads a glimpse of what would cause a 17-year-old to wake up one day, load his backpack with four guns, and kill nine students and one teacher in the span of nineteen minutes. As with any Picoult novel, the answers are never black and white, and it is her exceptional ability to blur the lines between right and wrong that make this author such a captivating storyteller.

On Peter Houghton's first day of kindergarten, he watched helplessly as an older boy ripped his lunch box out of his hands and threw it out the window. From that day on, his life was a series of humiliations, from having his pants pulled down in the cafeteria, to being called a freak at every turn. But can endless bullying justify murder? As Picoult attempts to answer this question, she shows us all sides of the equation, from the ruthless jock who loses his ability to speak after being shot in the head, to the mother who both blames and pities herself for producing what most would call a monster. Surrounding Peter's story is that of Josie Cormier, a former friend whose acceptance into the popular crowd hangs on a string that makes it impossible for her to reconcile her beliefs with her actions.

At times, Nineteen Minutes can seem tediously stereotypical-- jocks versus nerds, parent versus child, teacher versus student. Part of Picoult's gift is showing us the subtleties of these common dynamics, and the startling effects they often have on the moral landscape. As Peter's mother says at the end of this spellbinding novel, "Everyone would remember Peter for nineteen minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million?"

After reading, Columbine, I was remind of reading Jodi Picoult's 19 Minutes, which though very different from the actual shootings at Columbine High School, was also a wonderfully-written, riveting account of something which easily could take place at any school anywhere. Like all of her novels, it made me cry and the shocking twist at the end left me gasping.
I’m offering up my signed galley of Hush, Hush because when I picked it up at BEA in the Simon Pulse section, the editor who handed me a copy made me promise not to keep it “hush, hush” if I liked it. And let’s face it, I liked it – didn’t love it, but I liked it. (It’s a galley so it’s missing the cover art, which is a shame because the cover art is amazing, but it is an advanced copy and it is signed.)

To win, post a comment by 7/10. For extra entries:
Let me know you’re a follower – or become one (+1)
Tweet about the contest on twitter (+1)
Blog about it (+1)
I got a copy of this at BEA (it was a very advanced galley), and it was a lucky find. I was walking through Simon & Schuster’s area with an agent who’s a friend of mine and we each snagged a copy and there were only four left. The woman who handed them to us said, no lie: “You can have one, but you can’t keep it hush, hush.”

So here it is:

A Review for Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.
And may I add, that I absolutely love this cover!

This book has been getting a lot of hype, and I don’t want to give anything away so instead of risking it with my own synopsis, here’s the product review from Amazon:

For Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.
But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.
For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.

First, the good things. This book isn’t lacking in action. It’s easy to get sucked in almost from page one and read straight through the end feeling like you haven’t had a chance to take a breath. There’s a sense of urgency and danger during almost the entire book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and despite some of the obvious similarities to Twilight (plain jane heroine finds herself caught up in a forbidden love with a gorgeous but dangerous guy who could easily killer), the aspects of the backstory pertaining to the angels is really interesting and unique. I found myself wanting to know more about the Book of Enoch and the Biblical mythology aspect of the story. (Side note: Erin McCarthy actually has a really interesting paranormal romance - not YA at all, though - with a cool take on fallen angels.)

The characters are also, for the most part well-done, too. Patch, our sexy anti-hero, is intriguing and definitely appeals those of us with a soft side for the bad boy. And aren’t fallen angels the original bad boys? And my favorite character is Vee, the sarcastic, witty best friend. From her first line of dialogue, I liked her, and just about everything that came out of her mouth made me smirk. Of all the characters in the story, Vee is the one who feels the most alive to me, the character who seems to come off the page. I wanted to see more of her - Hell, I wanted to be her friend, rather than Nora.

One major thing that bothered me. The minor characters were so interesting and so alive, I actually realized after I was half way through that I still didn’t feel like I really knew Nora. Even though she's the narrator and I'm hearing the story from her perspective, whenever Vee or Patch or even Elliot is around (almost the whole time), they upstage Nora and take my attention away from her. Later as the story progresses, I found myself thinking "why is someone as cool as Vee even friends with Nora?" She is kind of a drag - kind of boring. Which begs the question what does Patch see in Nora? I can’t pinpoint, well, anything that makes me think Nora stands out, nothing that convinces me it's realistic for him to fall for her. (Without giving anything away - I understood perfectly what made him notice her, but not why he would fall in love with her over some other girl). She seems nice, but she just sort of mediocre for me.

And despite Patch’s sexy bad boy image, I have a hard time really imagining Nora falling for him, either. Because there’s a fine line between having a bad boy image that’s edged with danger and really being a bad boy that’s dangerous, and until he comes clean with her (the last quarter of the book) he’s definitely the latter. And on top of that, there’s the fact that he lies to her (a lot) and even messes with her mind (unforgiveable in my opinion, no matter how hot he is).

I was also disappointed in the predictability factor. And I’m determined not to give anything away so this will probably sound vague. But I knew about halfway through who the real villain was (or at least I had a really good guess which turned out to be right), and two thirds of the way through I was able to guess the ending and what it meant for Patch and Nora. As a result, the two climactic scenes near the end when the Big Villian is revealed and Nora does something that's supposed to make you gasp, were really pretty anti-climactic. And don’t even get me started on the pseudo diabolical monologue near the very end. Most of the villain’s reasons for what he was doing were implied – they didn’t really need to be stated and come on, a guy who’s lived that long has to know you can’t tell your victim everything before you go to kill them. It just never works: Horror Movie 101.

All that said, I enjoyed the book. I was sucked in, I cracked it open and read nonstop, and at certain parts, I was seriously scared and creeped out for Nora. I had high expectations, and it fell short and left me a little disappointed. But I'm still glad that I read it and I heard on the author's site that the hardcover has a different ending than the advanced copy so maybe some of the predictability and diabolical monologue is cut out...I might have to check the hardcover out of the library to see.

To check out Becca Fitzpatrick’s site, click here.
And stay tuned because if you want to score an advanced copy yourself, I'm going to give mine away in a contest next week :)
For the third time in a month my title has changed. I was an intern, then a part time bookkeeper/assistant, then a literary assistant. Now I am an...

Executive Assistant.

Haha. Today my boss turns to me and says, "You should change your title." (He's British, so imagine it with the accent too)
Me: "My title?"
Boss: "Literary Assistant sounds so young and entry level."
Me: *stares at him expectantly*
Boss: "You should at least be the..." (Adds emphasis) "Executive Assistant. You are the assistant to the CEO and for everything you do... we aren't going to start paying you more or anything, but we'll give you a little more clout."
Me: "Okay, sounds good."

So there you have it. I've graduated up the ranks and am now an Executive Assistant
A Review for The Harper Connelly Mystery Series by Charlaine Harris

Book 1: Grave Sight
Ever since Harper Connelly survived a zap from a lightning bolt, she's been able to find dead people, a skill that makes the protagonist in the first installment of Harris's new series a tad more bizarre than the mind-reading heroine of the author's Sookie Stackhouse books (Dead as a Doornail, etc.). Harper travels to the Ozark town of Sarne, Ark., to find a missing teenage girl's body, accompanied by her stepbrother, Tolliver, who acts as her manager and bodyguard and with whom she shares a thinly disguised physical attraction that they manage to keep at bay by engaging in casual sex with various partners. Finding the body takes no time at all, but leaving town afterward isn't so easy. When Harper's life is threatened and Tolliver ends up in jail on trumped-up charges, it quickly becomes apparent that something sinister is going on in Sarne. Harris delivers a knuckle-gnawing tale populated with well-developed, albeit edgy characters. A nifty puzzle toward the end will challenge the most jaded mystery buffs.

Book 2: Grave Surprise
At the start of Harris's winning second supernatural caper to feature Harper Connelly (after 2005's Grave Sight), a skeptical anthropology professor, Clyde Nunley, tests Harper's gift of clairvoyance in a historic Memphis cemetery, where Harper correctly senses a fresh corpse in the wrong grave. Strangely, the body turns out to be a missing 12-year-old girl, Tabitha Morgenstern, whom Harper failed to locate in Nashville on a case two years earlier. The hotel suite of Harper and her manager and stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, both of whom fall under suspicion, becomes a magnet for a medley of amusing characters, including Memphis cops, Tabitha's assorted relatives and a drunken Clyde Nunley, who, shortly after accusing Harper of fraud, is found dead in the same grave as Tabitha. Peppered with the author's trademark deadpan wit, this book should help make Harper and Tolliver as popular as Sookie Stackhouse, the heroine of Harris's vampire mystery series (Definitely Dead, etc.).

Book 3: An Ice Cold Grave
Bestseller Harris's exciting third Harper Connelly mystery (after 2006's Grave Surprise) finds the psychic sleuth faced with her most challenging and heartbreaking job to date: locating the bodies of runaway boys who the people of Doraville, N.C., suspect have become victims of a serial killer. After Harper locates eight long-dead bodies, much to the surprise of skeptical Sheriff Sandra Rockwell, a mysterious figure attacks Harper. Though all Harper wants is to go home and recover from her injuries, the local authorities and State Bureau of Investigation agents demand that she stay in town to help with their investigation. The cold case heats up fast, attracting media attention as well as Harper's friends, ailing psychic Xylda Bernardo and her doting grandson, Manfred, who make another gruesome discovery. Harper's changing relationship with her stepbrother, manager and confidant, Tolliver Lang, lends personal interest. Harris dependably delivers fear with charming down-home finesse.

As a true Sookie Stackhouse and Southern Vampire Mystery fan (I love Eric), I'd always been a little afraid to branch off into Charlaine Harris' other series because I was worried I'd be disappointed. But after watching True Blood for the first time last season my mom got hooked on the show and borrowed all my Sookie Books until she'd read them all. Then she promptlyl said to me "What will I read now?" So when mother's day rolled around I bought her Grave Sight. Upon her approving recommendation I read it after her and decided I was not disappointed at all! Harper Connelly isn't as funny as Sookie, and the men in the books aren't as amazing as Eric (of course, no one would be), but I found myself easily attached to Harper and her step-brother Tolliver almost right away. And this series is a little darker than the Sookie books, especially the beginning of the Sookie series, and as someone who tends to gravitate to the darker fiction, I appreciated that. The mysteries (the plot) are well thought out, well-planned, and not predictable (but you can piece it together as Harper does and look for the right clues). I'd say the third book in the series was the best, while the second book wasn't quite as good as the first. I'm definitely purchasing the fourth one when it comes out, and I'm going to invest in her other books as well. If you like the Sookie books, these are definitely worth checking out.

To check out Charlaine Harris' website, click here.
The next book in the Harper Connelly Mystery Series, Grave Secret, comes out October 27, 2009.
First check out Janet Reid's blog, particularly this entry about a woman who freaked out over someone calling her "Liz" rather than Elizabeth. The back-and-forth went on for 19 e-mails, with the person apologizing six times if she had “offended” Elizabeth, while Elizabeth lectured about name-calling.

Then check out The Daily What for this hysterical video on Edward Cullen and Buffy. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes some of the more patriarchal gender roles and sexist Hollywood tropes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways.
The Daily What

A Review for Pure by Terra Elan McAvoy.

Tabitha and her four best friends all wear purity rings as a symbol of their pledge to stay pure for their future husband and for marriage. Only now that they're 15, the full meaning of their promise means more than it did when they took the oath back when they were 12. When Tabitha finds out her friend Cara has broken her promise, the friendship between the five girls begins to fall apart. All the girls turn on Cara, except for Tabitha, who despite the fact that she feels Cara has done something wrong, cannot believe turning her back on her is right. And in the mean time, there's a boy that she's falling for as well.

I was very surprised by how much I actually enjoyed reading this book. First, the way it came into my hands turned out to be rather awkward. An agent in our office was talking about it with a table of interns. None had read the book, but the agent was expressing her interest to read it and see how it was done. This spawned a discussion about purity rings in general:
Intern #1: Purity rings? Those things still exist?
Agent: I guess they do. I mean didn't the Jonas Brothers or someone say they were wearing them?
Intern #1: That can't really be for real though. It's probably some publicity thing. I mean, come on, maybe in some backwards town, but can you imagine anyone in New York City wearing a purity ring?
Intern #2: (quietly) I actually have a purity ring. I don't wear it, but -
Intern #3: (excited) Oh my God! I have one too!
This announcement was followed a few girly shrieks and smiles. And then a lot of tense awkward silence.
Agent: Okay, well if anyone is interested in reading it, I won't be able to get to it for a while...

And so after some of the interns read it, it was passed to me, who though not present for the conversation, heard a lot about it, multiple times.

I also wasn't sure how I would deal with the religious aspect of the book, as someone who isn't all that religious. I like to think myself spiritual, but as a Quaker, religion itself and a lot of religious rules were never impressed upon me. I do find the movie Saved! hysterical, but I was pretty sure this wasn't in the same vein.

But in some aspects, I felt that it kind of was. And Terra Elan McAvoy in her debut novel, tackled such a controversial issue with real aplomb.

Though not outright satirical, there are moments when McAvoy is making fun not only of Morgan and the way she sobs when losing her ring as if she's suddenly lost her virginity itself or her parents and their readiness to rush out and buy a new outlandish ring and perform a new ceremony for Morgan, but also at Tabitha's parents who though strict about her telephone usage don't have the same spiritual beliefs as their daughter. And through her narration, Tabitha ultimately asks herself the hard questions about what it means to truly be a Christian, what it means to stand by your convictions, and in that sense what's important.

As I character, I liked Tabitha. I found her to be open-minded, intelligent, and endearing. Her voice was strong, despite her moments of insecurity, and consistant. I also really liked that Tabitha has chosen religion and Christianity for herself rather than followed her parents blindly into her beliefs. She goes to church without her parents, something which I believe shows a lot of strength for a teenager. Of the other characters, I liked Cara as well, who I found to be realistic. Morgan irritated me and I found myself not able to really understand why Tabitha liked her so much. And Tabitha's boyfriend, Jake, though sweet and endearing, didn't strike all that true for me. He's a teenage boy, and for a cute teenage boy, a good athlete and someone popular at his own high school (or so it seems), he's a little too unrealistic for me. Call me jaded, but I certainly didn't know any teenage boys that nice or accepting.

That said, the writing was nothing to jump for joy over. There were a few points where I found there were too many things going on, too many characters, and as a result, events were a little confusing or rushed. While engaged, I didn't find myself completely sucked in, either.
My first contest has drawn to a close and I'm excited to be giving away the Vacations From Hell Anthology (which was very funny by the way), signed by all five authors: Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Claudia Gray, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Mlynowski (whose story was my favorite!) After using the Research Randomizer, the winner is...


Congratulations Kim! I've sent you an email. Send me your address within the next 48 hours so I can ship you your book!

A Review of Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen.

It's the summer before Auden heads off to college, and out of sheer boredom she decides to visit her father, his new wife, and their new baby daughter for the summer in Colby, a little beach front town. Her dad's new wife, Heidi, who owns a trendy clothing boutique and surrounds herself in everything pink is completely opposite of her Mom, an academia celebrity and the head of the English department at a university, who considers things like Barbies to be weapons of chauvinism. At first Auden can't stand the manufactured waves Heidi uses to try to lull the baby to sleep, can't stand the way Heidi always talks and talks, saying whatever comes to her mind, and especially can't stand how the girls in Colby do nothing but gossip about boys and talk about clothes. But the more time she spends in Colby, the more she realizes all that she's missed out on, spending her childhood like a miniature adult rather than a child.

Then there's Eli Stock. Aloof and judgmental at first, he works at the local bike shop and Auden seems to always run into him in the middle of the night: both of them dealing with insomnia for different reasons. And then he comes up with the idea of her quest, and they spend their nights searching for new ways she can have a second chance at her childhood: going bowling, starting food fights, playing dodgeball, breaking curfew, dancing at a club. There are moments that seem perfect and there are moments that are hard - hardest when Auden has to face something she's not good at. Of course, one thing she isn't good at is having a boyfriend and relating to people, because before this summer she never really has. And Eli has some issues of his own.

As should be expected from any Sarah Dessen novel, these characters are complex in contrast to the simple plot, and the book is hard to put down at any moment. And for fans of The Truth About Forever, this book has several similarities. Auden is very similar to Macy. Both are trying very hard to be perfect and do what their mothers expect of them, and something chaotic (for Auden it's Heidi and the baby) changes them for the better. Eli is very similar to Wes - he's also a minimalist and is dealing with loss. And Jason Talbot even makes an appearance as they guy who stood Auden up for the prom, for an environmental conference of all things - and she understood! Despite the similarities, I liked both Auden and Eli very much and didn't have too much trouble distinguishing them from Macy and Wes and keep the stories separate.

One big difference, I felt was Auden's parents. Her mother, the woman who prides herself on always being the smartest person in the room, is tough on Auden and not exactly warm and fuzzy, and also like Macy's mother doesn't really supervise her daughter much since she's a mini adult already. But some of her thoughts and some of her dialogue is hilariously original. Despite her selfish nature and the moments when I wished I could smack her, she really was one of my favorite characters to read about in the whole book, even if it was just reading about her through Auden's words.

When Maggie, one of Auden's new found friends in Colby says baby's always wear pastels rather than black, Auden, as her mother would, questions "Says who?" And as if she is channeling the voice of her mother, herself, she adds: "Society. The same society, I might add, that dictates that little girls should always be sugar and spice and everything nice, which encourages them to not be assertive. And that, in turn, then leads to low self-esteem, which can lead to eating disorders and increased tolerance and acceptance of domestic, sexual, and substance abuse."

I did, however, find myself frustrated with Auden's father. I didn't like him, at all. Usually, I feel Sarah Dessen's characters are all complex enough that even through their faults, they're likable. I just didn't feel that way about her dad. He was selfish, manipulative, and immature, and I couldn't fathom how two such driven and intelligent women could have allowed themselves to fall in love with and marry him. The rest of the minor characters, I really enjoyed, especially Maggie and some of the other local teenagers in Colby who despite not much face time still managed to have unique personalities.

Overall, I really liked the story, and I don't think Dessen fans will be disappointed, but it won't keep me up at night stewing over the story or thinking about the characters, and I won't read it over and over again. It was a feel-good, and it made me smile, but just good.
One forty-nine AM and I'm wide awake. It's been a long time since I've been hit with this kind of insomnia, that I'm tired, but no matter how many times I toss and turn in bed I can't quite seem to still my mind insomnia.

But I don't care. It's at least for a good reason. A book, of course. But not just any book. A manuscript. A partial to be exact.

I admit, when I started interning at a literary agency, I was so excited to find something amazing - find the next Twilight! Of course, that's unlikely to say the least. And after days, or weeks, or even months of not finding anything to really get excited about, the reality of the unlikelihood sets in. Granted, the more time I spent at the agency and the more I volunteered to read for the agents, the more I read, and the more I liked. A few times I even got really excited about a project an agent was working on, a client they were about to sign, or a manuscript that was getting passed around the office because it was THAT good.

And I'm not trying to put anything down. There are so many talented writers out there, but finding a manuscript that you're excited about, that you just fall in love with, is like finding a diamond in the rough. Because let's face it, sometimes when you're reading a hundred queries a day, everything starts to sound the same. It starts to feel like everybody's written a thriller about a terrorist that they think would make a great blockbuster movie or everybody's written an epic fantasy novel that comes in at a whopping 400,000 words and comes complete with wizards, elves, goblins, dwarfs, and an outcast on the run with a princess, and they just happen to fall in love. And just about everybody mentions in their query that they're the next Stephenie Meyer or the next JK Rowling, if only someone would give them a chance, and that's okay, because somebody is. Like every other agent, or assistant, or intern, I want to find that somebody, because I love to read, and more than that, I love to read stuff that's amazingly good.

So when something in a query jumps out as original and the writing is organized and descriptive, and some quality in the letters stands out enough for me to pause and think "wow, that could be really good" I jump at the chance to request a partial (the first 40-50 pages usually). And most often, when the partials come I rip the envelop open and dive in head first hoping it's going to knock my socks off.

But so far, I haven't had that. There have been some good stories, ones that I enjoyed reading, (I mean, I read for a living, how much better does it get than that?) and I sent editorial letters back to the authors making suggestions for what I thought could make their writing or their story better. I put a lot of my time and effort into giving the best possible advice I could give because I'd love for them to revise and resubmit and be able to stay "Wow, I helped make this amazing." But since January, there hasn't been anything that really kept me up at night.

Until now.

In May, I opened a letter addressed to an agent who hasn't been in the office for personal reasons and read her query. This agent isn't technically open to submissions, but we have similar tastes and rather than just reject it, I read the query first to see what it was about. And I almost did reject it, but I paused and read it again and thought "hmm, [Agent] might actually really like this" so I popped in to another agent's office and asked her to read it and see what she thought. She glanced at it, looked at the fact that it was YA and 140,000 words and wrinkled her nose.

Agent: It's kind of long.
Me: I know, but it looks dark and edgy.
Agent (after reading): Yeah, it looks like something [Agent] might go for.
Me: Should I go ahead and request it or forward it to [Agent]?
Agent: Eh, go ahead and request it, and see if it's any good. If it is, forward away, if not, just reject it.

So I sent off my request for a partial manuscript in the SASE and waited. A few weeks later, it came.

However, so did a hundred other things I needed to get done, and the partial went into a pile of reading on my desk and it went on the back burner because my boss and the other agents at my agency all have a lot of clients who do a lot of writing and that's priority. So I didn't get a chance to look at it until last night.

And I was floored, because I LOVED it.

Immediately, I emailed the author and requested the full, because I've read the first six chapters and I'm dying to know what's going to happen next. I didn't hear back from the author today, even though I checked my email and hit the "refresh" button a hundred times, at least, so when I got home this evening, I read through the chapters again and concentrated on writing down some notes, something I couldn't do last night while I was page turning as fast as I could. And now I've spent the last two hours in bed turning the characters over in my mind and just trying to dream up what might be happening to them.

Hope for me, I'll get the rest of the manuscript tomorrow...
I got nominated for my first award by Cassandra at Happy Book Lovers Blog! Thanks Cassandra!

This blog invests and believes in the Proximity - nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into the body of their award.

(I'm new to the whole blog scene so I'm only going to nominate 5...I shouldn't just mention people just because. These are the 5 blogs I think fit)

My nominations are:

Steph at Reviewer X
Alexa at Hooked on YA Books
Alea at Pop Culture Junkie
MssJos at Royal Reads
Susie at My Guilty Pleasures

So go check out these blogs because they're awesome :)
I managed to snag a box of Vampire Tarot cards yesterday, and they appeal to two of my weak spots: psychics and vampires.

First, I've always had this intense desire to go visit a psychic and hear about my fortune. I don't know if I'd really believe anything they'd tell me. But I'm just so curious as to what they'd say. I admit, I even called Miss Cleo once in high school when they offered the free 10 minutes as an incentive to call. But I didn't get to talk to the real Miss Cleo of course and the woman I talked to really was just trying to build up to the 10 minute mark so she didn't tell me anything good.

And of course, I love vampires. In fact, I let out a huge sigh when I read the dedication page in the book inside the box. The author dedicated the Vampire Tarot cards to Joss Wheedon and everyone who loved Buffy and Angel. *sigh*

Published by St. Martin's Press, the box comes with 78 cards illustrated to explore the symbolism of the legend of Dracula along with a paperback which explains how to use the Tarot deck as well as how vampiric lore works with the deck.

I know nothing about reading Tarot cards, but I'm determined to learn by the time my sister comes up from DC to visit in two weeks.
Okay, so here's a little embarrassing story about me.

Today, I am finally chucking a pair of Hollister jeans I've been wearing for the past five years. And five years ago, before the jeans came into my possession, they were owned and worn by three other people for at least a year. Now, with a few holes in them, and on getting to that embarrassingly big stage, I must face the awful truth.

They've run their course.

The jeans started out as Greg's Jeans, and to me will always be known as such. I've always called them that. Even a few months ago when I was in DC visiting my sister and I mentioned to her I still had Greg's Jeans. With a raised eyebrow she surveyed them and a few minutes later realized what I was talking about...they're that old.

As a junior and senior in high school, Greg worked for Hollister. He was also in a band, an emo band, which at that time, they called Strikeout Semester. I have no idea if the band's still together but last I heard they'd changed the name to something less catchy which I can never remember. As an emo boy, Greg wore girls' jeans, many of which, he bought at Hollister.

I should mention at this point, I've never actually met Greg.

One of the guys in the band, the youngest, and in my biased opinion, most talented, Mike also happened to be my sister's boyfriend. He was a few years younger than Greg and idolized him a little and one afternoon when Greg was getting rid of some old clothes, he handed down Greg's Jeans to Mike, who gladly took and wore them, because he was emo and he wore girls' jeans too.

My sister, after being sick with mono for a year, went over to Mike's house one afternoon to spend some time together, and he planned to introduce her to the band and get their approval of her. Nevermind that they'd been dating a year and a half and he'd been in the band less time. She'd been sick for a while and hadn't managed to meet any of them, and he was taking the band and it's rules very seriously. But while sick, she'd taken time out from swimming and that in combination with wearing an old pair of jeans which were pretty worn turned out to be a bad idea. While at his house, she bent over to get something and the jeans ripped. Panicked about making a good impression for the band, she needed to borrow a pair of jeans from Mike. Since he wore girls' jeans, this was actually not a big problem. And he gave her Greg's Jeans to wear.

And she held onto them for awhile. Until I came home from college one day and needed to borrow a pair of jeans, and she passed Greg's Jeans on to me. I took them back to Miami with me and held onto them through my sister going off to college herself, breaking up with Mike, the band changing its name, my own move to California, my sister graduating from college, and my own move back to NY. Greg's Jeans have gone through a lot with me: a marriage, a divorce, a fiance, an ex, two cross country drives, two careers, too many nights out in too many different cities to count.

Thanks Greg :)

A Review of The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Sometimes, and a book like this is a case in point, I feel like I'm the last person to get around to reading certain books I should have read a long time ago. And even more than that, I wish YA books like this were around when I was in high school.

Because reading about Macy Queen is like reading about myself, with a few exceptions - unfortunately the brilliant hot guy, sensitive artist was one of those exceptions. But seriously, having this book when I was in high school might have made my life at home a little more pleasant.

One morning when she was 16, Macy Queen's dad tried to wake her up for their morning run, but lazy, she just wanted to sleep. Only after he left without her, she couldn't manage to fall back asleep so she got up and started the run late. Too late. Because when she caught up with her dad, he was dying. And later in the hospital when her mother told her the news, that he was gone, everything changed. Her mother cleaned out the house, threw herself into work, and never brought up her father again. Her sister, who was in college, cried enough tears for all of them, and Macy did everything she could to try to be perfect and in control. But the summer before her senior year, when her perfect boyfriend goes to Brain Camp leaving her his job at the info desk at the library with his two perfect condescending counterparts, and her mother starts putting even more hours into working on the new townhomes for the family business, Macy starts to crack. Surprisingly, it's the chaotic catering job Macy takes and the friends she makes who work there, friends with flaws and friends her mother would rather she not have (including the brilliant, hot, and sensitive artist), that help her face the fact that her dad's gone and help her overcome her grief.

Like all of Sarah Dessen's books, there's a balance between humor, depression, anger, and happiness which manages to accurately reflect the real life of a teenager. Each other characters come to life as you read, each of them original and complex, inspiring multiple different emotions at different times. (There were times when I got so angry with Macy's mom I wanted to close the book, and yet I felt sorry for her at the same time.) The plot is simple: a summer before senior year, taking a break from a boyfriend, and getting a new job, overcoming the loss of a parent, but because of the intricate and likable characters, it's all too easy to get sucked in.

At times, the subject matter is deep: Macy's feelings of loss and guilt over her father's death are not easy things for anyone who hasn't experienced them to relate to, yet somehow through Macy's narration, Dessen manages to convey the feelings well. And she handles the topic without the overly emotional, melodramatic angst that's all too easy. Some of the most powerful moments in the story are when Macy is just sitting down and talking - either to Wes, to Kristy, or even to Monica, and they're moments that just feel real, that ring with truth, and that make you feel like you are Macy in that moment.

With that said, it's obvious I really liked and enjoyed the book. But I didn't love it with the same intensity that I love other books. It won't keep me up at night, and I don't have a burning desire to sit down and discuss it with someone. I'm not about to sell it or give it away, but I probably won't reread multiple times either. I guess for me, it's not quite edgy enough. It's a feel good book and better than a lot of what's out there, just not completely five stars.
A Review of Austenland by Shannon Hale.

Jane Hayes, like many well-read modern women, suffers from disappointment in the arena of love, which stems mostly from the modern man's inability to live up to the romantic image of Colin Firth as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. When her wealthy Aunt Carolyn passes away, to her mother's dismay, she bequeaths Jane a three-week paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a well kept secret Austenland, where women can transport themselves back into Regency era and find themselves wooed by actors cast to embody the characteristics of the best and worst of Austen's leading men. And there are two such men who catch Jane's fancy, but she finds herself torn between feeling giddy at the shameless flirting and depressed by the unmistaken lack of reality underneath it all. After all, the players are acting, or are they?

Any Austen fan will enjoy this story. Unlike the common Austen fan fic and stories set in an alternate Austen universe, Hale is able to replicate Austen's witty sarcastic banter between characters, while still creating unique characters, rather than cheap caricature's of the originals. Jane Hayes, at thirty-four, channels her inner Elizabeth Bennet when immersed in the fake Austenland, but constantly second guesses herself and truly lacks her spirited backbone and confidence (which makes her all the more identifiable to those of us who also only wish we could aspire to be as confident and unwilling to settle as a twenty year old woman with no fortune in Regency England).

The story is cute, a little too cute at times. But it's easy to chuckle at Jane's clumsied attempts to be as polished as a lady of the 18th century and her realizations that life as an Austen heroine is not it all that it's cracked up to be. In fact, it can be dreadfully boring at times, and it's no wonder Austen skimmed over a lot of the paltry dialog women would have been forced to have on an everyday basis. There are several inside jokes and references Austen fans (or more appropriately addicts) will appreciate, but at the same time, this novel could be read and enjoyed by someone who had not yet enjoyed Austen's novels.

Without giving away the ending, I found myself slightly dissatisfied with the rash change in Mr. Nobley's character. It is too brazen to be Austen-esqe and too unrealistic given Nobley's real history (which Jane finds out through her illegal use of modern technology while in Austenland) and the modern day realities of the relationships between men and women. My biggest complaint, however, is that the novel could easily have been longer and in fact ends at precisely the scene I would have liked to see drawn out and more fully explained as to prove the setting is realistic rather than a fantasyland.

All in all, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read and left me feeling wistful, wishing such a place as the resort at Pembrook Park truly existed and I might endeavor to afford a trip there some time soon.

Visit Shannon Hale's site.
Win a signed copy of TMI from Alea at Pop Culture Junkie. Contest ends July 6th!
Synopsis: (from amazon.com)
Realizing it may be better to resist the temptation to overshare face-to-face, Becca decides to blog anonymously about everything instead. On her blog, Too Much Information, Becca unleashes her alter ego, Bella. Bella tells it like it is . . . though perhaps with a Friends call Becca the Overshare Queen, but her tendency for TMI never seemed like a problem to her until she blabs about her sweet band-geek boyfriend’s sloppy kisses—and gets dumped!bit more drama. After all, no one’s going to read it, right???

Amy over at Addicted to Books is doing a Paperback contest where you can win several titles . To check it out, click here.

Check out the Sarah Dessen Extravaganza at Just Your Typical Book Blog and enter to win a copy of Keeping the Moon.
Synopsis: (from amazon.com)
A plot description of this contemporary problem novel may make it sound like a kind of Cinderella story, but Dessen's (Someone Like You) ironic sense of humor and her knack for creating characters with both quirky personalities and universal emotions set her book apart. Colie's fitness-celebrity mom (a female version of Richard Simmons) long ago motivated her to lose 45.5 pounds, but Colie feels just as insecure as she did when she was overweight, and she is a pariah at school. During Colie's 15th summer, her mother goes on an extended tour of Europe, and Colie is sent to outlandish Aunt Mira in Colby, N.C. There Colie is influenced by a singular group of mentors: the young women next door, Isabel and Morgan, who give Colie a makeover as well as a waitressing job; Mira's young boarder, Norman, who has moved out of his bullying auto-dealer dad's house so he can pursue a career in art; and Mira herself, a greeting-card illustrator who is as enormous and eccentric as she is immune to the ostracism of the locals. As readers will anticipate, Colie begins a happy metamorphosis; unexpectedly, her transformation is interrupted by the arrival of a mean-mouthed schoolmate who is all too eager to cut Colie down. Readers will lap up the snappy dialogue, colorful episodes and unexpected pearls of wisdom. The lessons Colie learns about beauty, none of them new, come across with freshness and vitality.

Win a copy of an ARC of Shiver over at The Shady Glade!
Synopsis: (from amazon.com)
For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again. Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Win a prize pack with
a signed copy of I Was A Non-Blonde Cheerleader by Kieran Scott (splashproof cover), a signed copy of Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott, Brunettes Strike Back by Kieran Scott, A Non-Blonde Cheerleader in Love by Kieran Scott, The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading by Charity Tahmaseb & Darcy Vance, a super cool I Love Geeks magnet + a fun surprise for the beach! over at Royal Reads.

I get many goofy phone calls from people who don't read the text on our website that says "Don't Call" and in fact most of them are people asking for advice on how to query an agent, information which is readily available online, but today, I got one that takes the cake.

CALLER: Is this [literary agency]?

YOURS TRULY: Yes, it is. How can I help you?

C: Well, um, I queried an agent there.


YT: Have you heard back?

C: Yes, I got a letter saying that my book isn't right for [Agent].

YT: How can I help you?

C: I was wondering who [Agent] thought would be right for my project.

YT: I'm not sure. [Agent] gets a lot of query letters each day and doesn't always have a colleague in mind for every project. Have you checked some of the online resources that list agents and what they're interested in?

C: But [Agent] didn't send back my materials.

YT: Your materials?

C: I sent a proposal with my query, and I didn't get it back.

YT: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. (About to say something else, but fumbling for the right words...)

C: Maybe my envelop wasn't big enough.

YT: Oh, well yes, if the postage didn't look like it was enough, we probably wouldn't have returned it.

C: Could you send them to me?

YT: Your materials?

C: Yes, I don't have any more copies at home.

YT: I'm so sorry but we recycle query letters and proposals if we aren't considering them for representation.

C: You recycle them?

YT: Yes.

C: So what should I do?

YT: Um, did you save it on your computer?

C: Maybe, I'll have to check.


C: I don't think I saved it.

YT: I'm really sorry about that, but as I said, we don't hold onto those materials if it isn't for us.

C: Well, I don't know what I'm going to do if I don't have a copy of it.


After going back and forth for several more minutes of this, I finally had to politely extricate myself from the conversation. Who are these people who write proposals, query an agent, and don't SAVE the proposal on their computer?

A Review for Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
***This is a review long overdue, but for anyone who hasn't gotten a chance to pick this up yet - you need to!***

This edgy YA debut novel was a wonderful surprise - a dark, heart wrenching read that brought me to tears a few times. Not since Speak (by Laurie Halse Anderson) have I been so affected by such a self-tortured teenage heroine. Without giving anything away, here’s a brief synopsis:

Parker Fadley was perfect. She was the valedictorian, the captain of the cheerleading team, and the most popular girl in school. She was dating the cutest guy in school, the captain of the football team. But something happened, and now Parker has thrown that all away. She dumped her boyfriend, quit cheerleading, abandoned her friends and started cutting school.

And no one knows why.

Her counselors, parents, and friends are all trying to help, but all Parker really wants is for them to leave her alone. And Parker’s attempts at shutting everyone out, somehow seem to keep attracting people to her – particularly the new kid in school, Jake. Worse, she finds herself beginning to fall for him.

The plot moves quickly through the second half of senior year during Parker’s quest to graduate while also fading into the background of those unnoticed. Interspersed are flashbacks to the night when everything changed, and while some aspects of the night are easy to guess, the event, the catalyst behind Parker’s dramatic change will surprise you.

Parker is possibly my favorite teenage narrator ever. She’s bitingly sarcastic, witty, and pessimistic. At times, she’s downright mean, but there’s something charming about her intelligence and honesty that you just want to be friends with her. And underneath it all, the perfectionism and the tragedy, which have driven her to crack and thrown her spiraling into depression are so well implied through description and details spaced out throughout the novel to keep you turning the page and guessing what’s at the source of her turn around.

The minor characters also all have their own quirks and personalities separate from Parker, and Summers gives new life to the stereotypical high school characters (football captain, cheerleading captain, new guy).

After I finished the last page of this book and closed the cover, Parker and the other characters stayed with me for the next few days, prompting me to go back and look through the book again and turn to friends to discuss what had happened. I even spent a restless night lying in bed thinking about them. A sure sign of a good book - a definite Must-Read.

The author's next book, Some Girls Are, is scheduled to be released from St. Martin's Press Winter of 2010. To visit Courtney Summers' website or blog, click here.
Reviewer X is giving away Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev here.
All her world’s a stage. Bertie Shakespeare Smith is not an actress, yet she lives in a theater. She’s not an orphan, but she has no parents. She knows every part, but she has no lines of her own. That is, until now.
Enter Stage Right

NATE. Dashing pirate. Will do anything to protect Bertie.

COBWEB, MOTH, MUSTARD SEED, and PEASEBLOSSOM. Four tiny and incredibly annoying fairies. BERTIE’S sidekicks.

ARIEL. Seductive air spirit and Bertie’s weakness. The symbol of impending doom.

BERTIE. Our heroine.

Welcome to the Théâtre Illuminata, where the actors of every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Théâtre by The Book—an anci
ent and magical tome of scripts. Bertie is not one of them, but they are her family—and she is about to lose them all and the only home she has ever known.
To read the pub story about Lisa Mantchev and Eyes Like Stars, click here.

Sarah is giving away an autographed copy of Evernight by Claudia Gray over at Sarah's Random Musings.
Synopsis: Well-dressed, private-school vampires are a growing trend in teen horror lit. Bloodsucking Gossip Girls have shown up in Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy books, and now in this debut, set in a spooky, exclusive boarding school. Sixteen-year-old Bianca is dreading her first day at Evernight Academy, where her parents have taken teaching positions. Then she meets handsome outsider Lucas, for whom she falls with quick intensity. Everyone at Evernight has secrets, even Bianca, and as her romance deepens, she risks revealing the otherworld identity of Evernight’s glamorous population, even as she wonders if Lucas, too, is hiding something. Some logistical questions about the student body, composed of both vampires and humans, are left unanswered, and a few story threads, particularly about Evernight’s headmistress, are left dangling; the ending leaves room for a sequel that may tie everything together. Still, Stephenie Meyer fans will find similar rewards in the flashes of humor; the terrifying battle between ancient, supernatural societies; and the steamy romance in which love bites aren’t just a euphemism.

Jo at Ink and Paper (Fantasy Book Reviews) is giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon, click here.
Nick and his brother Alan are on the run with their mother, who was once the lover of a powerful magician. When she left him, she stole an important charm - and he will stop at nothing to reclaim it. Now Alan has been marked with the sign of death by the magician's demon, and only Nick can save him. But to do so he must face those he has fled from all his life - the magicians - and kill them. So the hunted becomes the hunter...but in saving his brother, Nick discovers something that will unravel his whole past...
Last night, I discovered Books of Wonder, New York City's oldest and largest independent children's bookstore. They have everything from children's classic to contemporary literature, picture books to young adult novels, and board games to foreign language books. They even have an entire wall of rare and old books at the back of the store, including a copy of Lord of the Rings, the first edition of the collection published as one book, signed by J.R.R. Tolkien! Sure it’s listed for a cool $16,500, but I did feel a little light-headed standing that close to it.

Anyway, I trekked over there after work to see Libba Bray (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy), Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments), Claudia Gray (Evernight), Maureen Johnson (13 Little Blue Envelopes), and Sarah Mlynowski (Bras & Broomsticks), who all contributed to an anthology from Harper Teen called Vacations From Hell. I picked up a copy of the book and settled in to listen, as each author – after fighting over who went first, none of them wanted to – told their worst vacation story and a little bit about what their short story was about.

*disclaimer* I will not be able to do these stories justice. But I'll attempt to fill you in on what the authors said anyway.

Maureen Johnson begrudgingly went first after getting the most audience applause for her introduction, and despite her good natured complaints about being unprepared to speak, her story was probably the second best of the night. With a witty self-deprecating and sarcastic sense of humor, she told a story about a family vacation to Mexico where her family piled into the car for a long drive, her dad didn’t make hotel reservations, and as a result they had to stay in the only rundown hotel which still had a room, they at breakfast at a diner which served neon orange eggs and had a cockroach (still alive) swimming in the maple syrup, and her dad joked with a bunch of locals about selling her to them for five dollars. And she ended the story with “And that was actually a pretty normal vacation for us.”

“The Law of Suspects” by Maureen Johnson:
Synopsis (from author’s site): Charlotte and her sister Marylou are sent off to France for a month-long trip to get in touch with their French roots. But what is supposed to be fabulous visit to Paris turns into days of misery at a remote cottage in Provence, where the neighbors tell creepy stories about the bloody French Revolution, and there is nothing to do but count the tiny black frogs that hop up and down the path. Finally, there’s an exciting development in the form of a handsome French boy named Gerard, and Charlie senses that this will actually be good vacation after all. But instead of romance, there is a night of murder and mayhem ahead, and everyone is a suspect.

Claudia Gray volunteered to speak next. Her worst vacation started out as a simple trip home for Christmas, but happened to be during the worst ice storm Memphis had seen in years. Her connecting flight kept getting delayed, when she arrived at the airport her sick brother who was supposed to pick her up wasn't there (he was home with the flu), she couldn't get a taxi so she had to make him come get her anyway, her phone battery died so she couldn't get ahold of him when he got stuck in horrible traffic and took over an hour to get there instead of the fifteen minutes it should have taken him. She ended up leaving the airport five minutes before he had her paged with a group of six people who'd rented a van, and when they dropped her off at her brother's house, he was still at the airport. Then later the vacuum exploded and coated all of her clothing with lint and on the drive to her parents house the car got caught on a patch of ice and just kept spinning in a slow circle and they couldn't get to their destination.

"I Don't Like Your Girlfriend" by Claudia Gray
Quick Synopsis: A teenage girl, Cecily Harper, goes on a family vacation to the Outer Banks with her mother and a group of her mother’s friends from “college” (college is code for their coven – they’re witches). This year her arch-nemesis, the daughter of one of the other coven witches, brings her boyfriend who is an amazing and perfect guy, but there’s absolutely no reason he should be with her.

Sarah Mlynowski told a hilarious story about booking a cruise on an Italian cruiseline with her boyfriend of six years only to find out it was filled with people in their seventies, all of whom only spoke Italian. And since the cruise was over New Year's Eve and her birthday, she had been dropping hints to the boyfriend about wanting an engagement ring. So every time he dropped down to tie a shoe or did something remotely romantic, she thought he was about to pop the question, but all she got from him was a necklace for her birthday, and the flu. Then to top it off, in the airport on the way home from Miami, she saw someone reading her first published book only to see the reader finish the book and throw it away!

"Cruisin" by Sarah Mlynowski:
Quick Synopsis: A group of friends go on a cruise to nowhere hoping to have the best vacation ever, but it turns out there are vampires on this cruise and they are killing people and then throwing them overboard into the ocean.

Cassie Clare told a story about a trip she took with a friend in college. She wanted to cheer up her friend who'd just broken up with her boyfriend, Vincent, so they went to Amsterdam. Only the window of the hotel room where they were staying in Amsterdam just so happened to be right across the street from a building with a flashing neon sign which read "Vincent." This drove the friend to tears in her room and then sent her out searching for an escape. She found special brownies and disappeared. The next thing Cassie knew, the police were knocking on the door telling her they couldn't get her friend out of a shoe. Sure enough, her friend had crawled into a huge shoe outside of a tourist shop, and the police and some tourists had gathered to watch her. A few days later, the friend met a guy and ran off with him for a few days, and Cassie ended up heading back to the states by herself, and later she learned the friend had a habit of running off with guys on vacations. They don't take vacations together anymore.

Her short story is called "The Mirror House" and was inspired by a trip she took to Jamacia and the story of woman who owned a plantation in the eighteenth century and what would happen if she was brought back to life today. For an excerpt click here.

Libba Bray had pictures to go with her vacation from hell story which included a polaroid of a bright red sunburn she got traveling to Galveston, TX with a friend and her dad and his partner when she was sixteen. Only the trip was cut short by a hurricane (not the only hurricane to ever follow her on vacation), and her dad the "male version of June Cleaver" insisted they clean the place where they were staying before leaving despite the impending storm, and the ten hour trip home took double the time because of traffic.

"Nowhere is Safe" by Libba Bray
Quick Synopsis: A group of friends trying to travel Europe cheap decide to go to the town of Necuratul, an old Medieval town nicknamed the "Town of the Damn." Only, in a similar vein to Hotel California, once you go there, you can't leave without giving up your soul.

All five authors were friendly and talkative and a blast to hear from. I haven't had a chance to actually read the stories yet, but I have a soft spot for quick themed anthologies like this, and based on the glimpses I've had of the stories, I think it will be well worth the read.

If you want to win a copy of Vacations from Hell signed by all five authors, post a comment below with your email address so I know how to get in touch with you. For an extra entry become a follower, and for an extra extra entry tweet or blog about this contest and paste the link into the comments. Contest ends June 19th. I'll post the winner on the 20th.

A Review for Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Publication date: October 13, 2009

Set in a futuristic United States where a group of guys took Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club too far and a company called Caesar’s Inc sensed the opportunity to make money and stepped in, reality television and the UFC have been replaced by Neo-Gladiators. Glads, as they’re called, are treated like celebrities only a contract with Caesar’s is worse than enlisting in the military – there’s no early discharge, and sometimes – not always – matches go to the death. Girl in the Arena tells the story of eighteen year old Lyn who is the daughter of a neo-Gladiator, and her mother, Allison, the quintessential Glad-wife, is on her seventh husband – all of whom have been Gladiators.

And it’s this seventh husband, Tommy, who has really been a father to Lyn and her half brother Thad. But in the American Title Fight, Tommy is killed by Uber, a gifted young fighter, who claims the bracelet Tommy was wearing. The only problem is that the bracelet, a dowry bracelet, really belongs to Lyn, and by gladiator rules, this means Uber must marry her. Her family now stands to lose everything, and she can either marry her father’s murderer or enter the arena and face off against him in mortal combat.

I was really looking forward to this book, especially after picking it up at BEA and reading the back copy which touts similarities to Hunger Games and Fight Club, two of my favorite reads, but in the end I was disappointed. The story had a lot of potential but was missing crucial development.

The first problem is the format. Rather than using quotation marks, the author uses dashes to signify dialog. While I’ve read books formatted this way before, in a quick paced YA novel written from the first person perspective, the format is distracting at best and down right confusing during certain scenes.

It’s also unclear how far into the future the novel really takes place. The author cites 9/11, the Iraq War, Scarlett Johansson, and a book called The Mystery (which must be a code for the popular title The Secret), and one of Lyn’s neo-Gladiator step-fathers was a Vietnam veteran, but certain technology like the Living Machine – a virtual reality machine without the goggles, it projects famous celebrities and allows people to interact with them – is way beyond our capabilities. (There are problems with the description and aspects of the Living Machine in general – it’s a hologram of sorts, yet you can touch and feel the hologram as if it’s alive…but I won’t go into that.) Also, Glads have their own Glad Culture with certain established rules and bylaws which simply couldn’t be developed in only one generation.

Glad Culture has its own whole set of problems. The dowry bracelet isn’t really explained. Rather, we’re supposed to accept that there’s just this rule that no man except your father can touch your dowry bracelet or else you have to marry him. And we’re also supposed to accept that with that rule floating about, Lyn would give her bracelet to her step-father as a good luck charm when he goes into a title fight which he doesn’t seem very confident about. (If it was me, that bracelet would be under lock and key or super-glued to my skin.) Several of the other rules, aka bylaws, seem a little unrealistic, and the corporation controlling Gladiators, Caesar’s, seems as if it has too much power for modern government.

As a character, Lyn is interesting. She manages to deal with her mother, a sort of aging, bipolar Paris Hilton figure, who is either hopelessly annoying or tragically endearing. She also takes care of her brother, Thad, who is dubbed special needs and seems to have some combination of autism and psychic ability. (And Thad is actually my favorite character. I especially liked all his psychic predications.) Lyn is also tough and despite the pressure to conform and become another Glad wife, she wants to go to college and strike out on her own. But her relationships with the three central male characters in the book don’t seem to work well enough.

First, there’s Tommy, the step-father. Though I believe the author is trying to convey a loving father-daughter relationship between the two of them, Lyn’s disparaging remarks about Tommy’s relationship with her mother and her intimate conversations with just Tommy often made me wonder if she was actually sort of in love with him (which I don’t think is at all what the author was going for). Mark, Lyn’s best friend, who is supposed to be in love with her, doesn’t get nearly enough page time. I didn’t really get a sense of his character until there were only about fifty pages left in the book so just when I was starting to like him, the book ended. Then there’s Uber. (And I’m not going to go into how much his name irritated me.) On one hand, he’s klutzy, nervous around Lyn, whom he’s obviously attracted to, and tired of the gladiator life, even though he’s only twenty and considered a rising star. Under normal circumstances, I could understand why Lyn would have a crush on him and find herself attracted to him. But he killed her father, in a fight that didn’t necessarily have to end in death. And I just don’t think enough happens for Lyn to be able to overlook that and allow herself to be his friend let alone feel like she’s falling for him.

Though the last third of the book did start to suck me in, I felt the ending was a little bit of a let down. It came too quickly and neither Lyn’s plan nor its execution was explained well enough. The book stands alone, but I think the author left room to write a sequel, though if there is one, I don’t plan on reading it.

Some of the description and imagery, especially of some of the gladiator scenes, was very well written, and I must admit, I did like the parallels between Glad culture and the military. The author conveyed this mistaken romanticism people had about Glad life – young boys signing up to be gladiators only to cut their lives short or find themselves faced with the dreadful realism of having to live with the horrors of what happened in the arena. Overall, however, I found myself disappointed at the end.

So here's your chance to win an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. The giveaway is open to anyone (international residents included, but sorry no P.O. boxes) and will run until Midnight June 30, 2009. I will announce the winner on July 1st.

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Good luck to everyone!