Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ink By Amanda Sun

Published: June 25th 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen 
Website: Author's Blog 
Series: The Paper Gods

            Katie, a Canadian who once lived in Toronto, has moved to Japan after her mother died of cancer. Now living in Japan, she doesn’t want to stay and is eager to return to Canada. One day, she stumbles upon a strange event with the kendo star Tomohiro Yuu. Tomohiro has a secret that Katie has uncovered: his drawings can move. Despite Katie knowing this he does not confess to it, and Katie sets off to discover more about him.

In high school, this would have been the coolest book ever. In my wildest dreams, I would have cause to go to Japan and really live there, sans parents, and take in everything Japan has to offer. I’d eat up the culture and say goodbye to my Western-ness, and revel in the place I thought I was meant to be born in.
Too bad I had no idea about YA lit, and I always had teachers instructing me to read high-brow literary masterpieces. The books I read (A Handmaid’s Tale, Farhenheight 451, The Golden Compass, Frankenstein, Great Expectations) were wonderful, but I missed out on everything YA has to offer with protagonists my own age with relatable feelings and (fantasy elements aside) stories I can personally relate to. I would have loved this book when I was 14-17 (not that I don’t love it now!). 
Plus, I am a fan of ink and brush art, and art done in simple pen. This book would have consumed me. Also, it has Shinto lore, and I love mythology. Too bad this book didn’t exist 10 years ago!  

            In the beginning, I disliked the characters, and it is sad to admit, I disliked them by various degrees throughout the novel. They both posses overbearing personalities. No one is perfect in real life, but the two main characters are difficult to process page-by-page.

            Blonde haired and blue eyed, Katie stands out as an Amerika-jin, a foreigner, in Japan. She is not intent on staying in Japan; she eagerly awaits news that she can join her grandparents in Deep River, Ontario. When she becomes interested in Tomohiro’s secret, she begins stalking him. Yes, really. His secret certainly is absolutely amazing, but secret aside, this is weird.  
            She also has a lot of legitimate questions that she should be getting out of Tomohiro, but she takes her sweet time, probably because she’s too busy making out with him to dwell on it. But this guy is rumoured to have a violent past and she lets it be for far too long.

            Copper haired kendo star, Yuu Tomohiro has a mysterious secret. But he comes off as a terrible jerk. Katie first encounters him while he is breaking up with his girlfriend, and a different pregnant girl is included in the argument. What a catch! He can be nice, but it is inconsistent. Aside from his drawings that move, I don’t see many redeeming qualities.
            *End Game Spoiler Here! Read at your own risk!
            Towards the end of the book, Tomohiro tries to make her want to leave Japan by making her hate him. He does this by attempting to rape her. Alright, he probably had no intention of actually raping her, but this is not ok! I’m not sure what the author could have been thinking. On Katie’s end, she’d probably be emotionally scarred for life. Is she? Nope. This whole rape thing bumps my rating down. To me, this was a 5-star book until this happened. I can get past the unlikable character traits, but this? Nope, can’t do it. I’ll re-write it here: he brought her to the love motel and said that he expected it, called her a promiscuous American, and Katie got mad and left. This wouldn’t upset me so much, but I didn’t write the book.  

            Obligatory love triangle addition that has no chance because he is obviously not involved in the book enough. I hate these, especially because I like Jun much more than Tomohiro (which is weird, I know, being 25-years-old and everything). At least he was nice to her! Why bother to stalk Tomohiro when you could…stalk this guy? (Alternatively, he can call me in about nine years.)

            The cover is what immediately attracted me. My copy is bound in what feels like watercolour paper, and the art is a watercolour painting of a blonde woman with flowers. Inside, there are ink sketches on each of the pages, and full illustrations too. I sincerely wish more books included illustrations when the characters are artists. It is a very beautiful addition to my shelf. The only gripe I had was that you can tell that the full page illustrations were drawn by different people. It would have been more believable to have them done by a single hand to make them look uniform.
            Someone else had to tell me that there was a glossary in the back. As a fan of Japanese cinema (live-action horror and anime) I’ve amassed a vocabulary of words and phrases, but every now and then I had to check. It was useful and I had no idea it was there because nothing informs the reader about the glossary.

            There is a connection to the yakuza in the book, but since I don’t want to spoil it, I won’t explain. However, it felt forced. Plus, their real-life nature is glossed over. This group is responsible for violent crimes, including kidnapping European women and selling them into prostitution.

Anime Conventions
            These conventions run past anime, but these lazy writing sins are some of the reasons I don’t watch much anime anymore, and they are in the book:
1.      New kid in town
2.      Fall in love with the mysterious boy
3.      Elusive hot guy doesn’t want to hurt her with his magical powers
4.      Girl makes hot guy’s powers go crazy
5.       Dead/absent parents
6.      Tsundere (mean girls who are secretly in love with the main male – I call stalking mean behaviour) 

Final Verdict
            Even if you don’t know anything about Japanese culture or language, you can enjoy this book. It is about learning the culture from a Western perspective, from a reluctant source, and there is a glossary in the back. I am hoping the next book will have more Shinto lore and explanations, and I hope Tomohiro is consistently likable in the next book. For some reason, I thought there were already more books in this series out. So when I finished it, I went to the bookstore right away only to come back empty-handed and cursing myself for not Googling this first. More than a month later, the next book, Rain, came out in July, and I just have to make it to the bookstore to get it. I recommend this book for a teen book club, even with a questionable scene, because it can create valuable discussion.
You can get the prequel novella, Shadow, for free on Wattpad, or you can read it on Harliquin (you just have to sign up for free, but I prefer Wattpad).

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Guest Post - Ten Random Facts about the Starlight Saga

Ten Random Facts about the Starlight Saga - #StarlightSaga

Today author, Sherry Soule has some exciting news to share with us! She will be publishing a brand new upper YA series: the “Starlight Saga” (paranormal romance with a Sci-Fi concept) with scorching-hot character chemistry and exciting suspense on June 26, 2014.  
To help promote this intergalactic love story, “LOST IN STARLIGHT,” Sherry is doing this fun guest post to share the news with fellow booklovers.
1.) I believe in the paranormal genre that aliens and science fiction type stories are going to be the next big thing. Add a little romance…even better. Vampires had their time, werewolves are overworked, and even though zombies are still going strong, I think extraterrestrials need some much needed love, too.

2.) My new YA / SyFy Romance novel, LOST IN STARLIGHT, is considered “soft” science fiction, and the storyline revolves more around the two main characters trying to overcome major obstacles to be together. It’s like an intergalactic version of Romeo and Juliet, with scorching-hot character chemistry right from the beginning. Hayden and Sloane share a strong attraction and mutual interest in one another and become best friends, which make the best love stories in my humble opinion.

3.) From the very first draft, I wanted to add something a little unique and special to Sloane’s quirky character. Thus, FRIGHT NIGHT BABBLE, her online newspaper column was born. (*Link to posts below) I think the short, humorous posts every few chapters adds a fun element to the narrative. My last few books were so angst-ridden and dark that I wanted to write something lighter, but still thrilling and romantic.

4.) The island that the characters live on is actually a real place within the San Francisco Bay Area. Although the name Winter Haven is fictional, the actual island is named Alameda, and it’s a lovely city to visit. I would love to live there! “Winter Haven” (Alameda) is located on Alameda Island and Bay Farm Island, and is adjacent to west of Oakland and within the East Bay.

5.) LOST IN STARLIGHT is the fastest book that I’ve ever written. It took me only about four months to write and do revisions. I had the idea in the back of my mind for about a year now, but it wasn’t until a short-lived TV show called “Star-Crossed” convinced me that alien love stories were super hot right now. And I was extremely lucky and blessed to have worked with some very talented writers that really helped me to shape the book into the thrilling storyline it is now.

6.) The Starlight Saga will be a trilogy; unless of course, it goes viral and readers clamor for more Sloane and Hayden adventures. Then I’ll happily keep writing more novels featuring this quirky and lovable cast of characters. (I know readers will fall in love with Hayden along with Sloane.)

7.) Sloane is by far my favorite character. Most authors admit that a little bit of themselves goes into each protagonist, but Sloane is near and dear to my heart. If a headstrong, gutsy, and imperfect heroine with an eccentric fashion sense appeals to you, then you'll love Sloane, too. 

8.) In LOST IN STARLIGHT, there isn’t the insta-love or love triangle that is popular in so many YA books nowadays. This is the real deal. The book is meant for older YA readers and does contain some mild language. The characters are all eighteen years old, except for Sloane who is only seventeen in this first book. 

9.) The names of the two main characters came to me instantly. They just seemed to fit perfectly. Some of the secondary characters had a few name changes during rewrites, but Sloane and Hayden’s never varied.

10.) One day, I was browsing images on a stock photo site and as soon as I saw the image of that purpled-haired girl (the girl featured on the book cover), I just knew that I’d found my “Sloane.” This image completely inspired me to write her story and make Sloane different from most YA heroines. Hayden’s image, featured on the front cover beside his darker haired younger brother, seemed to perfectly fit the character I had envisioned, too. 

So there you have it! Ten cool and random facts about the Starlight Saga!

VOLUME ONE: Starlight Saga
High school reporter Sloane Masterson knows she has one helluva story when she witnesses hottie Hayden Lancaster bending forks with his mind.
Like any good journalist, Sloane sets out to uncover the truth, even if it includes a little stalking. When the superhuman feats start to pile up and the undeniable heat rises between them, Hayden has no choice but to reveal his secret: he’s an alien hybrid.
They’re as different as night and day—she’s a curvy, purple-haired, horror junkie and he’s a smoking hot, antisocial, brainiac—yet the intense fascination between them refuses to go away. Even at Hayden’s insistence that dating each other is “off limits” and crazy dangerous, their fiery attraction threatens to go supernova.
Now Sloane’s dealing with creepy government agents, ├╝ber snobby extraterrestrials, and a psycho alien ex-girlfriend out for revenge. After a crash course on the rules of interstellar dating, Sloane must decide if their star-crossed romance is worth risking her own life....
The LOST IN STARLIGHT eBooks can be purchased from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, & iBooks on June 26th.
The paperback edition from Amazon on June 16th 2014.

Places you can cyberstalk Sherry Soule:
Twitter @SherrySoule: http://twitter.com/SherrySoule
Please add LOST IN STARLIGHT to your TBR on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20707942-lost-to-starlight
Visit FRIGHT NIGHT BABBLE: http://frightnightbabble.blogspot.com/

Lost in Starlight by Sherry Soule

*Honest Review Requested by Author in Exchange for Free eBook
Published: June 26th 2014
Publisher:  Disenchanted Publishing
Series: Starlight Saga #1
Website: Author’s blog

                Sloane, journalist for her high school newspaper, horror fanatic, and alternative style aficionado, is spunky, and surrounded by like-minded friends. Hayden is a genius bad-boy and absolutely gorgeous. What started as a silly crush that could never cross the cliques of high school becomes dangerous when Sloane discovers Hayden’s secret.

                There isn’t much plot; it’s primarily a romance story. Every event ultimately revolves around their love. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing if you care for romances. The first part of the book is the mystery of what Hayden is hiding, then the rest is mostly about them going on dates. They have a cute connection (even though it is rushed) and their love is forbidden from a lot of angles. Interspersed are moments of brief action until the climax, which had a satisfying amount of action that had me glued to my eReader. 

                I originally got excited about this book because it is something I probably wouldn’t have picked up myself. I do enjoy some sci-fi, though I am selective and mostly prefer dystopias (the MadAddam trilogy, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, I am Legend, The Chemical Garden Trilogy, The Hunger Games Trilogy, the Divergent Trilogy, etc.). Stories involving space and all the themes that come with it? Not really my cup of tea. But, as a librarian I need to be more open and be more familiar with a wide range of interests. What Lost in Starlight has is a story that I haven’t seen in YA lit before. I’ve seen similar (which I will not name because I don’t want to spoil anything here!) but nothing that handles the story like this.
                The one thing that bugs me about slapping a sci-fi sticker on this book is that it feels more paranormal than sci-fi. Conventions of sci-fi include technology (that may or may not be possible in the future) and scientific principals (you know, the kinds that I don’t understand), and I don’t recall these appearing in the book. It does, however, have the social commentary that I love, and it does it well.
To me, it feels more paranormal, and that’s ok. I think we need more variety in our paranormal literature, as vampires, werewolves, and witches are overdone.

                The writing comes from the main character’s POV. She has a bouncy way of describing everything, even when she is sad. At first, I found the writing engaging. Then it grated on me.
Fudge. With extra cherries. I’d totally forgotten.
Holy zombie guts.
Well, hello paranoia!
Is he seriously using big words to call me fat? Total douchebag move.
Sweet zombie babies!
It feels like a diary, which suits her just fine, considering. If this kind of writing is your thing, then you’ll love it. At times I was annoyed...yet I couldn't stop reading. Her voice is addicting.

Very Mild Spoiler!
                This book gave a heroine a normal portrayal of teens – she had another relationship before the relationship that the book focuses on. I’m tired of all these YA books and their virginal teens. Teens are likely to have more than one relationship before finding the person who they are going to be with forever (if they even want to do that). Too many unrealistic people want to espouse the notion that teens do not have sex, and if they do, it’s because marriage is just around the corner. These kinds of people like to think that teens do not have random sexual encounters either. I don’t care if anyone is for or against it, but it happens.
                Not all heroines are pure white virgins that wait for their true love that they are fated to be with. I find this thought to be extremely detrimental to women – that their first time is going to be with THE ONE and they will get married and live happily ever after the end. So, I applaud the book for being realistic. She lost her virginity before and she is not with that boy anymore. Still, she is not throwing herself at Hayden just because sex isn’t a big deal anymore, and this also makes me light up with appreciation.    

                You can’t Google everything! Sloane is supposed to be an intelligent student headed for greatness academically, so she’d know about trustworthy sites on the internet (especially if the librarian had ever had a library orientation). She’s a super-sleuth reporter, so she should know better. And what are the chances that enough specific information actually got on the internet? Also, by the story’s standards, I think the websites would have been pulled from the internet.
                In your last year of AP English class, it is highly unlikely that you would be reading Romeo and Juliet. I know the author wanted to draw a parallel with division between families and forbidden love, but this is just too easy to point out.
                The author mentions brands and stores (Manic Panic and Hot Topic) so much, it is almost like she is making fun of them. As a teen, I was a fan of alternative styles, and I didn’t recite the brand of every article of clothing I was putting on, nor did I ever have to remind myself that I was using Manic Panic’s Purple Haze. This also severely dates the content of the book, and it is possible that in a decade or so no one is going to know exactly what she is referring to. Also, portraying teens as being this into brand names make them seem like shallow scene kids who just want the look and the labels. Sloane says she’s into her own style…but it sounds like she’s into retro rockabilly. It would have been more interesting if she was actually creating her style.
                Too much emphasis was placed on the size of her chest. I know they can and will get unwanted attention, but it was nearly all the time. The end portion of the book had a scene about this, and it was just unbelievable that she would allow such an act to happen. Then again, it’s unbelievable that she would let a blatant pervert harass her. The girl has spunk and fire, yet she withers on this subject.
                There is a lot of fat-shaming happening to Sloane. However, this book likes to stereotype thin girls as terrible people, and that’s not fair, either. Her friends are the only girls I recall that are thin and nice. I get the impression fat-shaming is bad, but it’s ok to thin-shame. I don’t know if that’s a thing we’re culturally aware of yet, but I’m putting it out there. Of course girls who are thin are narcissistic Barbie dolls who try to steal your boyfriend.

Final Verdict  
                Overall, I recommend Lost in Starlight, especially to older teens who are into paranormal romance (that stress the romance). It is a unique read that touches issues that I’ve not seen in YA yet, and Sloane is an awesome character with real issues alongside the more fantastical ones. I know I pointed a lot of gripes in this review, but they are (mostly) minor. The book ended on a cliff hanger and I can’t wait to one day read the next installment!