Sunday, March 31, 2013

Secrets and Second Chances: Dear Cassie

Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein
Entangled, 2013

Cassie hasn't had the easiest life. Actually, that puts it pretty mildly - her life has mostly sucked, and it recently just went from really bad to a whole lot worse when she and her two best friends were arrested on prom night for possession of marijuana. Then one of them sold her out for her own plea bargain, and now Cassie is forced to spend the next month at a rehab/wilderness camp and face her inner demons.

But she knows that the pot isn't the real reason she's there. It's not the real reason the universe is punishing her, and she knows she deserves to be punished. If only she could get Ben - the kind, mysterious boy who is also here and seems to have taken a liking to her - to see how truly awful she knows she is.

Dear Cassie is Lisa Burstein's sophomore novel and a companion to her debut, Pretty Amy. Don't let the word companion scare you, though - you absolutely do not have to read the other book to understand this one. Dear Cassie can stand on its own. While I would have expected to have a stronger connection to Amy, a girl like me who actually had a pretty nice home life and didn't have to want for much except for knowing who she really was, it was Cassie in this book with whom I felt an incredibly strong kinship. I couldn't understand Amy even though we did share more similarities, but with Cassie, well, she and I both know what it's like to battle demons and feel like we have no where else to go.

Burstein has done a tremendous job in this book of writing raw YA that does not shy away from the grittier aspects of a teenage existence. Prom is the nightmare, not the dream. Friendships and relationships with parents, siblings, and significant others are messy and don't make sense and can turn us inside out and terrify us because the reality is nothing like the fiction we were raised on. And I appreciated that Burstein was willing to go there, to that dark place, and to make Cassie a strong girl who really didn't realize how strong she was (and that it's okay to not be so strong all the time).

I read this entire book in one day and was blown away by it. I'm truly honored that my little story shares these pages, and it's a book that I can honestly say I would highly recommend no matter what. This is, however, a selection for more mature YA readers. Cassie's favorite word starts with an f and rhymes with truck and it shows up a couple hundred times, plus the content is better suited for high school and up. Neither of these things bothered me in the slightest, but are worth keeping in mind for younger readers.

If you're in the mood for gritty, contemporary YA that's not afraid of showing a tougher side of life, pick up Dear Cassie. It's worth it.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Lisa Burstein's Website
Lisa Burstein's Blog
Lisa Burstein on Twitter

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday Words: Writers at Risk

It's been buzzing around for the last few days, at least. Simon & Schuster, one of the "Big Six" in the publishing world, and Barnes & Noble, basically one of the last major bookstore chains left in the United States, are having trouble coming to an agreement in their negotiations about pricing and such. (Read this article about it from The New York Times - it explains the situation much better than I can.)

In this digital age, I can't tell you how many times people at work tell me that pretty soon, will we really need books in the library if everything will be available for tablets and other reading devices? And then there are the aspiring writers like me who wonder if self-publishing online is the right way to go, with bookstores closing their doors left and right. After all, isn't that the way the market is headed? Has Twitter replaced old-fashioned word of mouth? Are browsing other people's Goodreads shelves an adequate replacement for walking around among shelves for an hour or two?

To me, the answer is simple: no. No, it's not the same. Yes technology and e-readers and the nature of libraries and books is advancing. We're people, the world changes, it's basic evolution. However, reading a description of a book online is no where near the same as roaming up and down aisles, seeing what catches your eye, and giving it a perusal. At least not to me. Some of my favorite books are those which I found completely serendipitously.

And I say this as someone who also adores her e-readers almost as much as her shelves of paperbacks.

Really, the people who are at risk in this debate are the writers. Big names like Jodi Picoult have felt the hit of these two huge presences unable to find a compromise. If her numbers have suffered, just think of the smaller writers, the newer writers, the writers whose audience isn't as large and rely on that random person seeing their story on a shelf or in a display and thinking "I'll give this a try." It makes an already incredibly competitive market that much harder for a "smaller" writer to find a measure of success in.

I sincerely hope an agreement can be reached soon, for everyone's sakes. What do you all think of this? Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stunning Finale: Clockwork Princess

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3)Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare (Infernal Devices #3)
Margaret McElderry Books, 2013

Finishing a book and finishing a series can come with mixed emotions sometimes. On the one hand, you finally know, but on the other, it's over. I have always loved Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series, even more so than her original Mortal Instruments books where readers are first introduced to the fascinating and sometimes frightening world of Shadowhunters, so I have been waiting on pins and needles for this final installment.

It was nothing like I was expecting, and I loved it. And I will try to be as vague as possible here so as to not spoil this story for anyone.

Clockwork Princess picks up shortly after where book two left off, and those of the London Institute are plagued with questions. What is Tessa and why is she being hunted? How much time does Jem have left and is there anything that can be done? What will happen to Will as the girl he loves is engaged to his best friend? Has Tessa, who loves both boys deeply, really chosen, and will it even matter in the end?

All of these questions and plenty of others are answered in this monster of a book, coming in at 568 pages which I read in about 6 hours because putting this novel down was simply not an option. Clare continues in her signature style of popping into the minds of almost all her characters, letting readers take in events from a variety of points of view and giving us deeper insights to these complex people. There are fantastic tie ins to the Mortal Instruments, some more obvious than others, and there's a lyricism to the dialogue that is so incredibly Victorian that I loved. There's action, adventure, magic, huge choices, life and death at stake. Plus secondary characters such as Magnus Bane, Sophie, the Lightwoods, the Branwells, and even Bridget the melancholy kitchen maid all get chances to shine, making this a well rounded story from start to finish.

And perhaps the biggest question on people's mind, Team Will or Team Jem, also is handled in a way that blew me away. Personally, I loved it. I thought it was brilliant. And while I'm sure there will be plenty of people unhappy with how it turns out, I can't imagine a better way for this truly equilateral love triangle, one of the best I've ever read, to be resolved.

If you like historical fiction with plenty of romance, action, and the supernatural, then The Infernal Devices series is one you want to pick up if you haven't yet.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday Words: Cover Controversy

Let me just start this post by saying I can't believe I'm actually writing about this.

Because it's the year 2013 and this should NOT be a controversy. I really have a hard time stomaching that this is apparently a big deal, but unfortunately while humanity has come so far, we've also got so much further to go.

David Levithan is an incredibly prolific, insanely talented writer. He's also an editor for Scholastic. (You may be familiar with some of the books he's worked on - you've heard of The Hunger Games trilogyright? Yeah. He edited that.) He's won awards. He's incredibly funny and smart and kind (and I once got to hold his phone at a book signing and take a picture he wanted of himself and Heather Brewer - it was awesome).

He's also gay, and therefore it's hardly a shock that many of his stories often have and explore the lives of gay characters. But they aren't 'gay books' - they're fine examples of contemporary fiction about people.

Two Boys KissingA few days ago was the grand reveal of the cover art for his next novel coming out this August, Two Boys Kissing, the story of two boyfriends who decide to try and break the world record for longest kiss of 32 hours. And wouldn't you know it, but the cover depicts just that: two boys kissing. The picture actually comes with a cool story which you can read about here on EW, and I think this is just very pretty: the font, the lighting, the soft colors.

But of course, many people out there are less enthusiastic. For some, it may be their personal opinions about homosexuality. For others, it may be a business and numbers thing in that covers which depict an 'other' (i.e. anything besides white, heterosexual people) don't sell as well. And these reasons may be enough in the minds of some not to stock this book to sell in stores, or it may be enough of a deterrent that libraries won't buy it for their patrons because it may ruffle some feathers.

As for me, I say rock on, David. I say this is a step in the right direction for our society because sometimes society needs to change. It is my sincerest hope that story this won't continue to be dragged up and down and around in the press because this shouldn't be a big deal in the first place. So rock on, David Levithan. Keep writing amazing stories about the human condition and major props to the publisher Knopf for standing by this book and giving it the cover art it deserves.

If you really want to hear about this situation more eloquently, I highly encourage you to check out the video made by 365 Days of Reading - basically, I agree with everything she says.

Comments welcome, and as always, happy reading.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Do You Believe?: Meant to Be

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
Delacorte Press, 2012

Julia is the ultimate type-A personality, straight-A student who has been dreaming of London her entire life. After all, her parents with their practically-perfect marriage went to England for their honeymoon and now she's having her turn with a school trip. What better place to daydream about her childhood crush, Mark? But this spring break, it's clear that nothing will be going along with her meticulous plans. After all, she's been paired up with class clown Jason - a guy who is her polar opposite - and chaos quickly follows. After a crazy night at a wild party, Julia starts getting flirty texts from an unknown number, and Jason promises to help figure out who it is as long as she promises to explore England his way. Despite how strongly Julia says she believes Mark is her MTB (meant-to-be), she starts to learn that when it comes to the heart, there's no predicting what comes next or who you're meant to be with.

I can easily see why this book has been marketed as something that readers of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins will enjoy. And as someone who loved Anna so much, that was a big claim to have to live up to. I'm so happy that Morrill fulfilled my expectations and more in her debut novel. Like Julia's favorite play A Midsummer Night's Dream, this story is filled with romantic mishaps and misunderstandings, each of the characters are flawed but the ones who matter grow and evolve, and if you're an Anglophile, then this is a good choice for you, too.

Over the course of a few hours spread across two evenings, I curled up with a blanket in the cold winter and this book immediately transported me. Jason was cute and insufferable, but then again plenty of times so was Julia. I connected with her need for order and desire for a happy ending. I loved how secondary characters, even ones we rarely see or never see at all, still manage to be multi-dimensional and play into the plot. Of course a few who were also on the trip with Julia could have been more well-rounded, but this had a good balance because otherwise the story would have gotten crowded.

While I found it to be a smidge on the predictable side (which is a little bit inevitable in love stories), I still really found myself to be smitten with Morrill's writing style. Will the many and multiple ways that this story is like Anna and the French Kiss bug some people as being too similar? Perhaps, but to me it was another great travel story in Europe that I was happy to escape into.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Lauren Morrill's Website
Lauren Morrill on Twitter

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday Words: My Writing World

Life has been a little bit crazy lately, Internet. Actually, make that a lot crazy. Plus I'm in a bit of a reading slump and for the first time ever since the creation of this blog, I'm scrambling a bit to read quickly because I'm running out of reviews to put up - eek!

Therefore, today's edition of Wednesday Words will direct you to my other life, one where I'm the one doing the writing stories. I was recently tagged in a blogging sort of way by the truly awesome Erin Brambilla, a fellow aspiring writer whose WIP (that's Work In Progress) Cleanup on Aisle Me sounds completely fun. So if you're curious about my writing life and thoughts on other completely random questions, check out my answers here.

Short and sweet today, guys! Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cast Away: Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Little, Brown 2009

Nothing ever happens in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina. It's like time and opinions have been frozen since the Civil War, and 16-year-old Ethan is tired of being stuck with these small minded people. But nothing could have prepared him for the arrival of Lena Duchanes. It's evident from the start that she's no ordinary girl, but it's more than that. Lena is a Caster and on her 16th birthday, she will be claimed for either the Light or the Dark, good or evil. What could a mortal boy like Ethan have to do with any of it? Everything, it turns out, especially when he falls in love with her.

Over the course of about a week, I was wrapped up in this Southern Gothic world that Garcia and Stohl have built up. A lot of things are done right: Ethan, the mortal boy, being the narrator was a smart move and a pleasant departure from the usual female narrators in this genre. Many secondary characters are deeper and more complicated than they initially seem, the pace of the story fits perfectly for the south, and these writers clearly thought long and hard about the Caster world and the rules that it must abide by.

For those reasons, I really liked this book. I'll probably pick up the next books in the series at some point, but I don't feel a rush to this very second. Some pieces didn't quite fit together in my mind. There were times when I felt like some plot points were dragged out and redundant (mostly when everyone in school was ostracizing Lena because she's an other, different, an outsider). And there were lots of questions I had which are probably answered in later books, but for right now I feel like they're a bit unnecessarily open.

If you like fantasy, want something with some paranormalcy, romance, and the flavor of the south, then the Caster Chronicles is the series for you. Like I said, I really liked it, but maybe I wasn't in the perfect mindset for falling in love. I'm certainly interested to see how the movie compares, though.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kami Garcia's Website
Kami Garcia on Twitter
Margaret Stohl's Website
Margaret Stohl on Twitter

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wednesday Words: Diaries and Dreams

Hello readers and welcome to a slightly late edition of Wednesday Words! I really don't have much to write today except for a shameless plug for myself and Lisa Burstein. You may know her as the author of Pretty Amy, but as of yesterday you can officially add Dear Cassie, an epistolary novel about a girl in rehab, to that list. Since yesterday was a snow day for the district I work for, I was lucky enough to get to curl up and spend the entire day reading her sophomore novel and let me tell you, it's outstanding.

And trust me, I'm not just saying that because within Dear Cassie's covers are some words of my own. A while back, I mentioned that I won a short story contest, and this was the novel that my entry was published in. I'm honored that my words appear in here, and I can't thank Lisa and everyone at Entangled Publishing for helping my dreams come true. Now I finally have a credit to my name, and hopefully my own manuscripts will find homes soon enough.

But in the meantime, here on The Fuma Files I'll go back to keeping it about other people's books (mostly <3 ). I'm sure I'll be writing a review of Cassie in due course (because yes, I can objectively do that - librarians are trained that way) and reading rambling about as many books by other amazing writers as I can. My reading love helps fuel my own writing dreams. I just had to give another shout out to Lisa and Entangled and everyone who made yesterday possible - I had a blast, got a little taste, and can't wait for more.

And on that note, here's a video of me being excited =)

 Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pick a Path: Pivot Point

Pivot Point by Kasie West (Pivot Point #1)
Harper Teen, 2013

*ARC provided by HarperTeen via a Goodreads giveaway - Thank you!!*

This book. Where do I even start with this book? When I was younger, I used to say I wasn't huge into science fiction, but in recent years with books like these, to say that's changing puts it mildly.

Pivot Point, Kasie West's debut novel, completely blew me away. The fact that it's a debut is just staggering. The premise grabbed me the first time I heard about it: Sliding Doors meets special abilities, all in YA. But it's so much more than that.

Addie has spent her whole life living in the Compound, essentially a secret town for people who all have exceptional mind abilities. Her father is a human lie detector and her mother can persuade people to do almost anything. When they tell her that they are splitting up and Dad is moving for a life outside the Compound's walls, Addie must choose who she will live with. Using her ability as a Searcher, she looks into the future and sees both outcomes. As chapters alternate between her two possible futures, a mystery unfolds and as the summary says, she must choose between "which reality she's willing to live through...and who she can't live without."

This book takes Robert Frost's infamous "two roads" idea to epic heights, and it really does make all the difference. The tale is perfectly paced and plotted so that it genuinely took me a while before I decided which future I was rooting for. A mystery unfolds in both worlds, and Addie is incredibly strong on both paths. She's facing the things normal teens face, but in extraordinary circumstances. Plus there's romance - never overwhelming, but it's certainly a significant part of the story - and I was shipping one couple in particular so hard.

According to Goodreads, a sequel will be coming our way in 2014 and that better be true. Even if it's not, Pivot Point is a story that will keep you guessing up until the very last page (but not in a frustrating sort of way).

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kasie West's Website
Kasie West on Twitter