Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore (@kristincashore)

Fire is the companion novel to Graceling by Kristin Cashore. You may be wondering what the difference is between a companion and a sequel. I haven’t read many series that take this approach, but in my understanding, a sequel picks up after the conclusion of the events in the first book and follows the same characters. A companion merely takes place in the same world, but doesn’t need to follow the same characters (although there may be some overlap) or the same timeline as the first novel. Fire actually takes place many years before the events of Graceling, in a different part of the same world, and the only overlapping character is the villainous Leck. So fans of Katsa and Po, be warned — they haven’t even been born when the events of this novel come to pass.

The Plot

Fire is a monster girl, the only one of her kind. Monsters in Fire’s world are not as we think of them; they are simply creatures with fantastic coloring and certain special abilities. So a brown cat is a cat. A purple cat is a monster cat. Fire’s monster beauty causes all creatures, but especially men and other monsters, to be unnaturally drawn to her — men to her beauty, and monsters to her blood. She has learned to diminish the attention by covering her flame-red hair and dressing drably, but she still draws the eyes of every man that crosses her path. She also possesses the ability to enter other beings’ thoughts to communicate or even alter their thinking according to her will, but she doesn’t like to use her powers to control others and tries to allow men to keep their thoughts their own.

Fire has grown up living with her lifelong friend, Archer, and his father, former commander of the king’s army, Lord Brocker. She and Archer have enjoyed a friends-with-benefits relationship for many years, as he can’t help but be in love with her monstrous beauty, but at the same time, he knows her for who she truly is. Fire loves her friend in return, but has decided she must never marry or have children, for she wouldn’t wish the life of a monster on any of her offspring.

But soon, Fire’s comfortable life with Archer and Brocker is upset. Her presence is requested by King Nash, and his brother and current commander of the army, Brigan. They need her to use her special abilities to help them determine who is sending spies with mysteriously clouded minds into the kingdom, and what their enemies are planning. Although Fire is reluctant to go, she realizes that her powers may be the only way to prevent the kingdom from falling to evil in what seems to be an inevitable war.

My Thoughts

Fire was a very different type of story from Graceling. Whereas Graceling was more of an adventure story with just a handful of important characters, Fire is much more political and character-driven. There is a host of varied and intriguing characters, and while there is some action, most of the story revolves around unraveling the mysterious political motives and actions of nations on the brink of war.

Right off the bat, I liked Fire more than Katsa. My biggest problem with Graceling was that I couldn’t connect to Katsa very well, and therefore had a hard time becoming truly invested in the story. With Fire, although her monster beauty and her semi-telepathic abilities make her even less human than Katsa, I found her spirit and inner struggles much easier to identify with. She definitely had some thoughts and attitudes I disagreed with, but they all fit with her character and you could see why she was the way she was.

This book has a large supporting cast, and it took some concentration to keep them all straight. My favorites were Brigan, Brocker and Archer, even though none of them was infallible (it may be weird that I picked Archer, given his cornucopia of character flaws, but seeing him through Fire’s eyes allowed me to like him in spite of them), but I also really enjoyed the female members of Fire’s personal guard, who were a constant presence for most of the book, and the king’s other siblings, Clara and Garan. It was a lot of personalities to keep track of, and Kristin Cashore did a fantastic job of giving each of her characters, supporting or not, their own distinct personality and voice.

The plot was complex and at times hard to follow, simply because of the nature of books about political intrigue. I normally tend to speed through books, but I had to pull back and pace myself with this one so as not to miss any of the intricate twists and turns. The pacing was a bit on the slow side, but it worked for me because it allowed the characters to develop more naturally. I felt the ending was a bit more drawn-out than seemed strictly necessary, but it was still largely satisfying, tying up many loose ends. There’s definitely room for more stories set in Fire’s world of monsters and monarchs, but even if this book was a standalone and not a companion, it would be fulfilling.

The writing, as in Graceling, is beautiful. Settling into Kristin Cashore’s prose is like curling up by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. It’s just comfortable and soothing for my brain, and I could actually feel my thoughts relaxing as I sank into the world of Fire. I love the way Kristin Cashore tells a story, and I’ll read anything she writes, simply to experience her lovely storytelling.

Fire is a beautiful and fascinating tale, set in a unique fantasy world full of colorful characters that I wanted to immerse myself in completely. Even if you haven’t read Graceling, you could read and enjoy Fire with no trouble, although Graceling would probably enhance the reading experience. I loved it, and look forward to more stories set in this world.

Content Guide: Contains violence, threats of sexual violence, and several mentions of casual sex.

My review of Graceling

Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard grabbed my attention when I first saw it. Looks pretty and Victorian and mysterious, right? But then I found out it was about zombies, and I’ll admit, I don’t read a lot of zombie books. I’m not opposed to them in theory — I like stories that incorporate magic and the supernatural and action and suspense, and zombie stories tend to have all of the above. I just often find zombie stories to lack the finesse and nuance of other paranormal creatures, and so I tend to gravitate towards fairies and vampires and demon-hunters and aliens and time-travelers.

However, something happened to make this book stand out: I saw the video of the Susan Dennard’s reaction to finally seeing her book in print, and my heart grew three sizes that day. It was just so sweet. And I thought to myself, “If the author is that cute about getting her book published, I kinda want to read it.” And then I was fortunate enough to snag an advance digital copy from the publisher, so I happily dug right in.

The Plot

Something strange and deadly is afoot in 19th century Philadelphia. 16-year-old Eleanor Fitt goes to the train station to pick up her brother, Elijah, but instead of meeting Elijah at the station, the Dead have arrived. No one knows what has caused the recent rising of the Dead from their coffins; the only thing the citizens of Philadelphia know is that the Dead are dangerous. After hiding from the Dead, Eleanor finally finds a note from her brother, saying he has been delayed — and the note has been hand-delivered by a corpse.

Avoiding the subject of the Dead, Eleanor simply tells their mother that Elijah has been delayed. Her mother then decides to change the welcome-home party she had planned into a seance to summon the spirit of Eleanor’s dead father. This wouldn’t be the first seance her mother has hosted, and they are always a farce, so Eleanor agrees to play along. However this time something goes horribly wrong — a spirit appears, and it is most certainly not Eleanor’s father.

Nervous for her brother and terrified of the malicious spirit her mother has conjured, Eleanor seeks the help of the Spirit-Hunters, a Ghostbusters-esque group that has arrived in Philadelphia to hunt down and put a stop to the necromancer that has been animating and controlling the Dead. And while the Spirit-Hunters are initially hesitant to trust Eleanor or allow her to help, they ultimately are forced to join forces as the necromancer gains power, and Eleanor may hold the key to stopping him.

My Thoughts

I want to say first off that I found this book action-packed and entertaining. I really enjoyed Eleanor, even if she did seem a tad too liberated for 1876. She was fun and feisty and tried her very best to be useful instead of just reporting on what she knew and then waiting for the Big Strong Men to save her. Yes, she probably would have been better off on several occasions if she had let other people handle certain situations, but I admired that she wanted to be helpful and contribute.

I also really enjoyed all of the Spirit-Hunters. They were an interesting and assorted group of personalities, each with their own intriguing backstory that wound up being crucial to the plot. It was nice to have such a varied group of characters in a setting as restrictive as 19th century Philadelphia.

As a bonus, none of the villains (save one) were actually all bad. Each had some redeeming qualities that allowed me to understand them, and even sympathize to a degree, even if I totally disagreed with their actions. I liked that none of the zombie shenanigans was as simple as evil for evil’s sake.

And as far as zombie shenanigans goes, there was plenty. It was exciting and fast-paced, with the requisite amount of grossness that any book dealing with zombies has. It was almost reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in that it blended the nasty violence of zombies together with the refined etiquette and culture of earlier times.

So those were all the things I liked. Unfortunately, they were counterbalanced by a lot of things I wasn’t so fond of.

The main problem I had in this book was the predictability. By the first chapter, I had figured out the identity of the main villain, and by the fourth, I had also figured out most of the villain’s motivations. It took the entire book to confirm my suspicions, and when it finally did, there weren’t any surprises thrown into the mix. I could pretty much have stopped reading at chapter 4 and still been able to give an accurate synopsis of the entire book. And that was disappointing.

Also, in spite of the fact that I was able to figure everything out really early on, I thought that the characters in the book — especially Eleanor — made some decisions based on giant leaps of conjecture that had huge holes in their logic. Eleanor would suddenly remember something from her childhood, apply it loosely to something that happened recently, and firmly decide that not only were the events related, but that they suddenly explained  everything. The fact that she was prone to wild conjecture wasn’t the problem. The problem was that her assumptions almost always proved to be correct, whereas in real life, “logic” like hers normally proves faulty. And meanwhile, while she was Sherlock Holmes-ing her way through a convoluted backstory, she was missing tons of painfully obvious clues right in front of her face. Either the girl is remarkably perceptive and intuitive or she’s not. It seemed really odd for her to be both.

So while I enjoyed the premise of the story, the characters, and the feel of the storytelling, the execution came off a bit clunky to me. It just didn’t gel as cohesively as I wanted it to, especially since this was, underneath all the zombies and supernatural elements, a mystery. I like mysteries to be tight and smart, and this one felt weak.

I still think that fans of zombie stories, especially zombie-historical mashups, will enjoy this book. It’s fun and fast and chock-full of zombie craziness. It just fell flat as the intelligent mystery I wanted it to be.

Content Guide: Contains oodles of zombie violence and some profanity

Review: Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh

I first heard of Whispers in Autumn when indie author Trisha Leigh revealed her cover on Twitter. I saw the pretty cover and read the synopsis, then immediately emailed Trisha to see if I could get a review copy. See, the synopsis was about aliens. And I haven’t read a good alien book in a while, and I figured I was due. She got right back to me with a review copy, and I was excited to get started.

The Plot

Whispers in Autumn follows Althea, a teenage girl who’s not like the others. She has spent most of her life unnoticed, as her parents, classmates and teachers all seem to look through her, not at her. She’s learned to take her perceived invisibility in stride, not letting it get to her when she leaves a place for months at a time and when she returns, no one ever noticed her absence.

For another strange thing about Althea is that she has three families, in three cities, and only ever stays with them for one season. She has no control over when she travels from one family to the next. One minute she’ll be experiencing winter in Iowa; the next, autumn in Connecticut. Spring is spent in Oregon, and it is never summer. This is how it’s been her whole life, and the only explanation she has is from a mysterious being named Ko, telling her she’s different, and to trust no one.

But this time, as she travels to autumn in Danbury, Connecticut, with her autumn family, the Morgans, something is different. The alien Others are searching Danbury, and although no one knows what they’re searching for, their presence fills Althea with foreboding.

The presence of the Others isn’t the only thing that’s different though. For this time in Danbury, Althea meets Lucas, and for the first time, someone seems to really see her. As she struggles to determine what the Others are looking for and whether she can trust Lucas, she also has to control the power building inside her that would alert the world that she is different, and dangerous.

My Thoughts

Whispers in Autumn doesn’t mess around. It jumps in with both feet, and I’ll admit, it took me several chapters to get my bearings. I couldn’t figure out what Althea was talking about when she mentioned traveling, didn’t understand how she spent different seasons in different places, couldn’t wrap my mind around how she had three families that all never seemed to notice when she was gone. I adjusted my expectations to be disappointed by this book, because I wasn’t sure how this could all make sense.

But eventually, it did make sense. Not absolutely everything, but enough that I was able to understand why things were happening and how they came to be. It was never explained outright. The book is from Althea’s perspective, and she just lives her life as she always has, with no need to really lay out what’s going on. So it may be hard for people unaccustomed to the odd twists and turns of sci-fi to ever fully process what’s going on in this book.

I liked Althea. She was guarded and untrusting, which can be very frustrating traits in a main character, but it’s easy to understand why she is the way she is. Even when I immediately liked Lucas and wanted her to open up to him, it took her a lot longer. And at the same time, she had an inherent need to try to find others like her, to not be so alone, and it led her to wanting to trust some characters that I got a bad vibe off of from the beginning. Again, it was frustrating, but easy to understand why she felt that way.

The world building is very interesting, but also subtle. At first, you get the impression that the only weird thing about this world is Althea, but slowly you realize that nothing is the way we’re used to thinking of it. Although the families live in neighborhoods and watch movies and the kids go to school and the pizza parlor, it’s all different. And slowly, the reader begins to realize just how much about this world isn’t what it seems.

Trisha Leigh’s writing and pacing is engaging, and the book held my interest. It wasn’t quite the alien adventure I was expecting; there weren’t ray guns and force fields and spaceships and explosions. It was more character-driven, less alien-technology-centric. The villains are more creepy than scary, and the build towards the climax is gradual and almost quiet. There are several tense and suspenseful scenes, but don’t go in expecting explosions and fights.

My biggest complaint with this book is that sometimes, the laws of physics seem to be ignored. Now before you say, “this is sci-fi; what did you expect?” let me clarify. I’m totally wiling to accept aliens and spaceships and futuristic technology. That’s 100% okay in my book. But if you take a known physical property, like for example, gravity, and then change it, there had better be a good explanation as to why that works. And this book took a couple familiar concepts and altered them without explanation. For example, if the temperature of a room heats up enough to make the water on the stove boil, I’m pretty sure any humans in the room are dead, not just sweaty. Or if someone’s entire body heats up enough to melt glass, I’m pretty sure their clothes are on fire too. If an explanation was given about how the heat worked so that faces weren’t melting and clothes weren’t burning, I would have been okay with that. But either there was no explanation or I missed it, and it took me out of the story a little bit every time something like that popped up.

However, laws of physics aside, I still thought Whispers in Autumn was an enjoyable and creative read. I’m fairly certain Trisha Leigh is planning to make this a trilogy, with the other two books coming out later in 2012 or early 2013. Which is good, because the book ended on what I wouldn’t exactly call a cliffhanger, but more of a game-changer. I’ll be excited to see what happens next in Althea’s story.

Content Guide: Contains violence and profanity

Interview: C.J. Redwine, author of Defiance (@cjredwine @harperteen)

Guys. I’m so excited.

You may remember me mentioning the upcoming fantasy adventure Defiance, which is one of my favorite books of 2012. I met the author, C.J. Redwine, a few months ago right after I finished reading Defiance, and I may have gushed just a tad (and/or a lot). I put a teaser review up shortly before then, because I couldn’t wait to give you all a glimpse of how much I loved this book. My full review will be coming soon, because Defiance releases August 28, which is NEXT MONTH.

And today, I have an interview with C.J. herself! Aren’t you BESIDE YOURSELVES with glee?

Well, you should be.

What gave you the idea for Defiance?

I have no clue. Ideas just ferment inside my brain and then one thing leads to another and BAM! I suddenly see a story.

Was the book always written from both Rachel’s and Logan’s points-of-view?

Nope. I got halfway through the book with just Rachel’s POV, and then realized Logan had such a strong story of his own that he really deserved to have his own shot at telling it.

Which character was easier to write, Rachel or Logan?

Hmm. I got inside Rachel’s head faster than I did Logan’s. Mostly because his brain sort of breaks mine. It’s all … scientific and analytical and logical. And I am usually NOT.

Can you give us the title of the sequel to Defiance? And when can we expect it to be released?

The sequel’s title has yet to be approved by Marketing, so I can’t say anything about that. It will be released next fall. (2013)

THCW Note: I suggested “Even More Defiance: Now With Extra Sass,” and C.J. said she liked it. Now I’m going to be shocked and appalled if that’s not the title.

How many books will there be in the Defiance series?


Any plot teasers that don’t spoil what happens in Defiance? Are we going to learn more about the Commander’s back story? Logan’s mother?

Yes! And more about Quinn and Willow’s back story too.

The world of Defiance seems to be mostly medieval fantasy, with some almost sci-fi technology thrown in, like the wrist scanners. How did you weave these different genres together in a way that made sense? And what genre would you put Defiance in?

My publisher is calling Defiance a fantasy adventure. I had no idea I’d written a fantasy. I was just writing something that had a little piece of everything I love: post-apocalypse, dystopian, fantasy, light sci-fi, and romance. I wove it together by knowing the rules of my world and making sure everything I did stayed within those rules.

How did you come up with the names for your characters?

Most of them just came to me with a name already attached. I don’t know how. My brain is a strange place.

What’s the most exciting thing about having your book published? The scariest thing?

Most exciting and scariest are the same thing: I finally get to put my story in the hands of readers and let them interact with my world. That makes the story theirs instead of mine, now. That’s both thrilling and almost vomit-inducing scary, lol.

How did you find your agent?

I wrote a good book, networked at conferences, queried those I’d researched, and on the recommendation of a friend, made sure to include Holly in those queries too.  Months later, we were happily agent and client.

What was your reaction when you got your book deal?

I cried. I’d been with Holly for two years and gone out on submission with two other books (not YA) and hadn’t sold. But I kept working at it, believing that one day I’d write the one that DID sell. I almost didn’t believe it when Holly called to tell me one of the editors who had Defiance was going to make an offer. It didn’t feel real for days.

How long did it take to write Defiance?

Two and a half months.

What’s your writing process like? How do you overcome writer’s block?

Much of my writing process is in my head. The story has to live there and breathe for a while as I wander through the scenes and listen to the characters and start to get a feel for it. Then, I sit down and write multiple crappy beginnings, throw them all away, and finally find some traction and write the entire thing.

I don’t let writer’s block get in my way for long. If I’m stuck, there’s a reason. Either I need to refresh my well of creativity, or I’ve pushed the scene in the wrong direction and need to back up a bit. I take care of that and jump back into the thick of things.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Your first book (or two, or five) might not be the one that will get you a publishing contract, but you should write it (them) anyway. You’ll be amazed at how much you improve from book to book.

What are you most looking forward to in the next year (other than the release of your book)?

Spending time with my family. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s pretty much what I do for fun.

What other authors are your inspirations?

Oh, so many! I have taken bits and pieces of inspiration from all kinds of books. The way Stephen King puts a name to our secret fears and parades it in front of us. The way J.K. Rowling builds her world so seamlessly that we truly believe it must exist. The way Myra McEntire writes swoony, awkward kissing scenes that feel true to life. The way Franny Billingsley describes things so that they feel at once familiar and brand new. I could go on and on all day here.

What are your 5 “desert island” books?

Only five????! *pets ALL the books* I have such a huge TBR pile, that I think I’d grab a selection from there. I know that’s a wuss answer, but seriously … I can’t choose just five.

If there was a movie made of Defiance, who would you cast to play Rachel, Logan, Oliver, and the Commander?

Rachel – Danielle Panabaker, though with blue contacts.

Logan – Chris Pine. He’s probably too old for the role, now, but still …

Oliver – I don’t know.

Commander – Bill Nighy, as he was when he played Viktor in Underworld.

THCW Note: You mean like THIS?

I’m pretty sure the husband has earned himself a cookie or two with that one. And maybe an ice cream sundae. Speaking of which…

What is your favorite dessert?

Lemon bars!

What’s your drink at Sonic?

Peach tea (made with unsweetened tea)

How do you take your coffee or tea?

No coffee. I love tea with honey in it.

Who’s your favorite superhero?

Batman. Because really? Batman> Every Other Superhero. Why? Hello? Cars, high tech toys, angst, and Alfred. Game over.

What movie made you laugh the most? Cry the hardest?

Laugh the most has to be The Whole Nine Yards. There is an entire scene that made me laugh so hard I nearly choked. For five minutes.

Cry the hardest is definitely Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I was UGLY crying. Like “can’t breathe out of my nose” crying.

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?

The beach!

Thanks so much, C.J., for joining me on the blog today, and for writing such a great story! I can’t wait for everyone else to discover its awesomeness.

If you would like to support C.J. (and you SHOULD), you can find her at the following places:

Her blog




YA Books Central

And don’t forget to preorder your copy of Defiance, releasing August 28, 2012!

Review: Perception by Kim Harrington (@Scholastic)

Received from Scholastic for the purpose of review

Perception, by Kim Harrington, is the sequel to Clarity, which I reviewed (and enjoyed) hereClarity was a quick, fun read, and I jumped right into Perception the moment I put it down, anxious to hear about more of Clare’s psychic mystery-solving shenanigans.

The Plot

Clarity “Clare” Fern, teen psychic, is adjusting to her newfound social acceptance after using her powers to help solve the murder of a teenage tourist over the summer. Her ex-boyfriend, Justin, has made it clear he’d like to start over, and she’s also being pursued by the dark and smoldering new detective’s son, Gabriel. In addition, the girls who previously shunned her at school are now clamoring to be her friends, with the glaring exception of arch-nemesis mean girl, Tiffany.

But as the school year starts, the air is abuzz with gossip about the recent disappearance of a girl no one really knew. Did she run away? Or was she taken?

Meanwhile, Clare starts receiving notes from a secret admirer, and Justin and Gabriel swear it’s neither of them.

Clare decides to dust off her detective skills again: to discover not only what’s happened to the missing girl, but to unveil the identity of her mysterious suitor.

My Thoughts

Much like Clarity, Perception is an exciting, fast-paced teen mystery channeling the essence of Veronica Mars, but with psychic powers. (P.S. If you’ve never watched Veronica Mars, you really, really should).

The love triangle between Clare, Justin, and Gabriel is still a huge part of the story, even moreso than in Clarity, since the secret admirer plot line obviously places a lot of attention on Clare’s love life. I still see why she’s torn between the two of them and why the choice isn’t obvious, but I am happy to report that she does make a decision by the end of the book, and that it makes sense.

Clare was still smart and sassy, although occasionally painfully oblivious. She suffers from severe tunnel vision in some instances and misses some pretty big clues, but overall she was still an enjoyable character. And after all, she’s not really a trained detective, so it actually makes sense that she wasn’t picking up on everything.

Justin and Gabriel didn’t grow a whole lot from the first book. I still liked them both, but didn’t gain a lot of new insight into either of them. Yes, we learn a couple new things, but my opinion on both of them remained pretty much unchanged. It would have been nice to peel back a few more layers. But since I liked them in Clarity, I still liked them here.

The character who changes the most is Clare’s brother, Perry. The events of Clarity hit him the hardest, and it’s sad to see what has become of his character. While on the one hand, he is no longer the flippant womanizer of the first book (which is a bonus, in my eyes), his new personality isn’t much of an improvement. I still like him, in spite of his flaws, but he wasn’t a “fun” character in this book (and he wasn’t supposed to be). I actually really appreciated that the huge developments in Clarity didn’t just roll off his back, and that he needs to take time to process and overcome them.

As for the mysteries, I was a little less satisfied in this book than in the prior one. I felt like the clues were more obvious, and I’d figured out who the bad guy was really early in the story, despite a red herring that practically jumped up and down and screamed, “LOOK AT ME! I’M A RED HERRING!” It was still engaging and entertaining to solve the mystery alongside Clare, but didn’t have the same impact that the first book did, in my opinion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this follow-up to Clarity, and would be interested to continue reading about the mysteries that Clare solves.

Content guide: Contains violence, profanity.