BLACKPLUME

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Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Hold Me Closer

“…the right song at the right time can stop all the clocks, wipe away all the cares, and gently make you see the world in a new way.”

It’s Tiny Cooper’s turn in the spotlight in this companion novel to New York Times bestseller Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
 
Jazz hands at the ready! Tiny Cooper (“the world’s largest person who is also really, really gay”) stole readers’ hearts when he was introduced to the world in the New York Times bestselling book Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-authored by John Green and David Levithan. Now Tiny finally gets to tell his story—from his fabulous birth and childhood to his quest for true love and his infamous parade of ex-boyfriends—the way he always intended: as a musical! Filled with honesty, humor, and “big, lively, belty” musical numbers, the novel is told through the full script of the musical first introduced in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Personal Thoughts:

Its been more than three years since I last read Tiny Cooper from David Levithan and John Green’s novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson but I still remember the flamboyant gay who make Will Grayson, Will Grayson so much fun to read. Tiny isn’t a major character in Will Grayson, Will Grayson but his bright and bigger-than-life personality makes his character unforgettable. And now that he finally got the spotlight and his own show through this companion piece, I can’t help but feel happy, because Tiny Cooper deserve to tell his story.

Being pitch as a “musical novel” I’m not sure what to expect in this latest book of David Levithan. Though I’ve seen a couple of musical plays and movies I haven’t really read a novel written in musical screenplay format. What I’ve read is a lot of David Levithan’s novels and if I am going to set my expectations based from that alone I can only expect another beautiful and wonderful read.

In this companion piece which basically the script of Tiny’s Musical – a musical stage play about Tiny Cooper’s life, we finally get the chance to see and know more about Tiny. There so much to him than just being gay or being loud, because behind those colorful clothes and loud personality is a brilliant and loving person who isn’t afraid to be real when it is so much easier to do otherwise.

“It’s always easy to blame other people for holding you back. But sometimes, the only person holding you back is… well… you.”

Right from the day he was born, Tiny was already categorized by people. Put label in him for being different than usual. He grew up with this label like a name attached to a person, he basically lived through it and eventually embraced it.

As Tiny’s life unravel, we see not only the bright side of his life but also the dull and dark moments. His struggle to come out about his gender and preferences is well executed. There’s a balance between the hilarious lyrics and thoughtful comments via production notes or stage directions. Tiny really shines in this musical novel.

As always, I am at awe with David Levithan’s writing. He never fail to bring something new in the see of YA novels. He is really creative, talented and a wonderful story-teller. He isn’t afraid to experiment and break the norm. He knows no boundary, giving us not only unique and clever novels but also something to shake our thoughts and touch our hearts.

“…it’s important to realize that the truth is sometimes quiet…and other times, it’s loud and spectacular. You don’t always get to choose which form it takes.”

The musical format is unexpectedly fun and touching. In my head I’m actually seeing the entire play. I sang along with Tiny and other characters as if I really know the melody, though most of the time I’m sure I’m just making tunes in my head. The lyrics are hilarious – so gay and big like Tiny, but also poignant and wise. Reading this musical novel is like watching a real musical production on stage with a bonus of knowing what is also happening in the back stage.

Overall, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story is refreshingly unique novel that offers hilarious dialogues and thought provoking commentaries. I won’t be surprise if someone actually make this an actual musical production someday, and if that happens I will surely go see it live, because Tiny’s voice is worth hearing.

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My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

My Heart and Other Black Holes

“Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.”

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

Personal Thoughts:

My Heart and Other Black Holes is the fifth book I have read this year that deals with depression and suicide. I am not sure what that says about me, reading dark and heavy theme books and we only in the first quarter of the year, but I can guarantee everyone that I am no way suicidal or depressed. It just that I read lots of contemporary novels and most of that titles that are coming out this year under this genre deals with these topics.

So having read other novels that deals with the same subject, I can’t help but compare My Heart and Other Black Holes to other books and set some expectations. I expected to be inspired, to have some realization, or to get emotionally wrecked by this book like the other titles I have read, but for some reason this novel didn’t leave me with the same impact. I’m not sure if it is because I have read too much books with the same topic (is there such thing as too much in reading?) that the plot become too familiar or it just the book didn’t hit the right string.

“Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and in your blood. If I know anything about it, this is what I know: It’s impossible to escape.”

One problem for me are the characters. Though I like Aysel’s quirkiness I never felt connected to her. All her dialogues about physics and science stuffs are fun and interesting to read but she doesn’t reach me enough to make me care for her. I feel like she wasn’t developed very well. Sure, there are some changes in her from being a suicidal teenager to someone who want to continue living her life. But I feel like her changed of heart happened too suddenly. Like she skip some phases in between and just woke up one day loving her life more because she is in love.

“I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention. Maybe that’s what love really boils down to–having someone who cares enough to pay attention so that you’re encouraged to travel and transfer, to make your potential energy spark into kinetic energy.”

Then we have Roman who I think is too selfish to be the savior here. Aysel is claiming that she is saved by Roman but I don’t think Roman made an effort to save her. It just happen. Meeting and knowing him open some realization to Aysel but he didn’t do anything to make it happen. In fact, he is selfish enough to try to end his life even after everything his parents and Aysel did for him.

Aysel and Roman are both troubled characters. Their suicidal condition is so critical that I feel like they can’t be together no matter how the author tries to pair and save them in the end. These two characters both need fixing and I just can’t see how they will save each other if both of them need the saving. How much help can someone give if he himself is buried so deep and also need the saving? I just can’t see how that part will work, maybe in fiction with super cliché settings like this one but not in real life. So basically, one of the message of the story is screw up in my opinion.

“I think he’s looking for comfort, but I don’t have any to give.”

Overall, My Heart and Other Black Holes is a well written novel that deals with sensitive topics, depression and suicide. Though it didn’t leave an impact nor pull some emotional reactions I expected, I still think it is worth a giving a try. Who knows, maybe Aysel and Roman’s story will inspired or touch you.

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E. Lockhart in Manila

Last Sunday I got the chance to attend Bloggers’ Forum with best-selling and award winning author, Emily Lackhart organized by National Book Stores. Emily wrote one of the most buzzed young adult book last year, We Were Liars and other young adult novels such as Ruby Oliver Series, Fly on the Wall, and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks which won several awards like Michael L. Printz Honour Book, and Cybils Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and also a finalist for the National Book Award.

Lockhart's Books

The forum was held few hours before Emily’s public book signing so basically, we have an hour or two of Q&A and chatting with her. During the Q&A, Emily is so enthusiastic and “animated” (as what the other bloggers call it). She is also contemplative giving each questions pondering before answering them. And when she answer, she hold no barred, sharing everything even her personal life to us. For an award winning author, Emily is so down to earth and easy to talk to.

She answered every questions we throw at her without hesitation, even the silly ones. And it’s really fun watching her while she answered them. When she narrates how she start pitching her idea for We Were Liars to her agents/editors as “story about real estate” we are all laughing with her. She is so lively in front doing all the gestures and mimicking the reactions of her editors for us. It was so hilarious. Wish I captured that part on video so you all see what I’m talking here.

Basically, most of the questions are about Emily’s book We Were Liars and her writing process. I asked her about her inspiration for including fairy-tale stories in We Were Liars which she answered with her history of owning a huge collections of fairy-tale books from her Mom. As a kid she read a lot fairy-tales because they have these box full of hardcover fairytale stories which they kept on lugging around every time they moved places. Even if they didn’t have much furniture or shelf, this particular box of fairy tales books is always with them. Her mom loves these books dearly that every time Emily got the chance to read them her mom has to make sure Emily has clean hands before touching the books or watch her reading making sure she won’t damaged them. Later on she found out that these books are actually given by her Dad to her Mom during courtship, which makes her realized that they’ve been carrying around a box of “marital baggage” (Emily’s words not mine) and that she was symbolically asked to held her parents marriage dearly. With that childhood background, writing fairy-tales for We Were Liars came very naturally for Emily and it was midway writing the book when she started adding these fairytale stories.

Listen to the full Q&A through Jesselle‘s recording here.

E Lockart in Manila

Also, Emily is writing a new book which sounds so exciting. It doesn’t have a title yet but it is about an “international jet-setting nineteen year-old con artists” which will be out next year through Random House Publishing. When Emily said “con-artist” I just picture Matt Bomer from the TV series White Collar which is a favorite series of mine. I know Matt isn’t nineteen year-old but still. Anyway, I have to cut myself before I talk too much about Matt Bomer or White Collar which has nothing to do with Emily’s book or this post.

PHYABloggers(photo credit to Dea of Teen Readers’ Diary)

Watch Emily’s message after the Q&A:

“Well, you guys are all writers already. So I just applaud your spirit of inquiry and critique. I think young adult fiction especially, needs not only champions but critics. Who are willing to think intelligently and argue with one another and create an intelligent dialogue about literature for young people so I applaud you.”

Thanks you so much Emily for visiting us all the way here in the Philippines. It’s really a lovely and wonderful experience meeting and talking to you in person. Hope you got another chance to visit us again here. We are missing you already.

Thank you also to the people of National Book Stores and Powerbooks for inviting me to join the bloggers’ forum. It is always a pleasure joining your events.

Find out more about Emily Lockhart and her books through her website or Tumblr and follow her on Twitter for instant updates.

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Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Shadow Study Front Cover

“The best way to distribute information was to classify it as secret.”

Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek. Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked.And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

A CHRONICLES OF IXIA NOVEL

‘A compelling new fantasy series’ – Rhianna Pratchett, SFX on Poison Study

Book Links: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters | Goodreads Personal Thoughts:

Shadow Study is a start of a new fantasy series by Maria V Snyder that is set in the same world of Study series with the familar characters, Yelena and Valek. This couple is back again with more adventure to take, villains to kill, and stories to tell.

Maria V Snyder waste no time in putting Yelena and Valek into action. Right from the start, our heroine is put in danger which eventually blocked her magic. Without her power and lots of people who wants her dead, Yelena’s life is so much at risk. Valek on the other hand is busy doing his task as the Commander’s personal security chief in Ixia while trying to track down a smuggling operation.

The narrative is well written. The tree different point of views gives not only different sides of stories but also smoothly deliver a flowing connection in the end. Though it frustrates me that narration is sometimes cut in the middle of revelations or when something big is happening, I still think that Snyder successfully use this type of narrative to elicit reactions from her readers.

The best part of the three point of view is having the chance to read Valek’s thoughts. Not only because his point of view reveal another angle of the story but also every back-flash offers new revelations about his character. I particularly enjoy reading about his life under Hedda’s roof. How he become a highly skilled assassin,  and everything he did and sacrifice before he become in charge of Ixia and Commander’s security. I think those flash backs of Velek’s life will be helpful to new readers in catching up the details of this lovely series. Though I still recommend to read first the Study series before this one.

As for Yelena, losing her magic shows her vulnerable side but doesn’t makes her weak. In fact, she triumphantly showed that magic is not the only thing that made her. As a heroine, she is brave, smart and very capable even without her magic.

“I realized my magic had influenced how I viewed the world. I barely remember how I had interacted with my world without magic. I wouldn’t have thought I relied on my power so much or used to it to connect to the people around me in the past six years. Yet, I felt as if I’d been wrapped in a thick black cloth from head to toe. The cloth has holes for my eyes, ears, nose and mouth, but the rest of me remained swaddled.”

Besides with Yelena and Valek, readers will also treated with Janco’s point of view. As expected he provided the light tone of the story together with Ari. They are really fun together.

Onora, the new girl in the story is a feisty assassin who make an appearance by threatening Valek for his position as the Commander’s right-hand. When you make an introduction like that for a new character, who won’t approved? Right there, I am already intrigued with Onora. I set a hawked eye in her hopping that she will surprise me or at least shows that she is worth following for, and she didn’t disappoint. I’m looking forward to see more of her in the next installment of this series.

Yelena and Valek are separated majority of the book which kinda sad but I still felt necessary. Being apart somehow shows more of their individual strength which I think highlighted their characters more. And even if they are separated they both constantly thought of each other which just show how much they love and care for one another. So romance readers, don’t worry this couple doesn’t disappoint when it comes to giving you sighing moments.

As for the ending, I kinda anticipated Yelena’s revelation with the mention of her blood cycle one time during her visit to Healer Hayes at the early part of the novel. At that time I even assumed that Yelena’s lost/blocked magic has something to do with it but halfway reading I eliminate that theory to the list of possible cause of Elena’s condition. Which I ‘m really glad because it’s too weak to be the case.

With political intrigue, magic, danger, secrets, actions, and romance Shadow Study is a thrilling and engrossing fantasy novel from Maria V Snyder. Her fans will surely be delighted to this additional series, especially those who are eager to see more of Valek and Yelena again.

* This review is based on an eBook I received courtesy of the publisher, Mira Ink. Check out the rest of the tour below ShadowStudy BLOG TOUR HOR3

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The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Crime

“…people aren’t gaming pieces. You can’t arrange them to suit yourself.”

Lady Kestrel’s engagement to Valoria’s crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust …

While Arin fights to keep his country’s freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.

Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this second book in the breathtaking Winner’s trilogy.

Personal Thoughts:

The Winner’s Crime upped the game! As Arin and Kestrel world expands readers are now treat with a more thrilling and deadlier plot game. The rules are more complicated, the villain is more menacing, and the stakes are higher.

After making a deal with the emperor in the previous book The Winner’s Curse to save Arin and his people, Kestrel find herself trapped in a more dangerous game. Her engagement to the Valorian’s crown Prince is nothing but a task she needs to fulfill in order to continue save Arin. She needs to continue convincing the emperor, Arin, and everyone around her with all her lies. But how long can she pretend? What if her deceiving skill is not enough to protect the one she love or even herself?

Herrannis on the other hand are now free from being slaves and prisoners of their own land but for Arin that is not enough. The Valorians are still getting much of their resources. He needs to find a way to fully get out of Valorians grasp while trying to get Kestrel back. But what if Kestrel doesn’t want to go back? And can he find an allies against the Valorians to fully free Herran and at what cost?

Marie Rutkoski continue Arin and Kestrel’s story with full intensity. All the lies, betrayals, scheming and plotting both personal and political carry intricacy and weight of feels in them. Every moves and decisions are affecting not only the playing characters but also the readers.

In this complicated game of politics, love, lies and alliances Kestrel is trap with a frigthening opponent – the emperor. Equally cunning and smart, and probably more devious than Kestrel, the emperor like many good villain is utterly compelling. His addition to the story makes this second installment more thrilling and ultimately engaging. With him as an antagonist Kestrel need to be more careful in her moves. She can’t trust anyone, not when she knows that the emperor is capable of controlling the game and every players inside it.

Other than the game with the emperor, Kestrel also playing a dangerous game of lies with Arin. As she tried to help the Herranis by being their spy she is also building huge wall between her and Arin through her lies. And Arin as expected knows she is lying and will do anything to uncover all the lies which may negate Kestrel’s effort to protect him and his people. These two though clearly care for each other do things that may frustrate readers, but nevertheless a welcome frustration. All the misunderstanding and unsaid thoughts between Arin and Kestrel are carefully put to evoke feelings from the readers. The intricate dance that Arin and Kestrel is doing is not only emotionally taxing but also exhilarating. A roller coaster ride of emotions that I personally enjoy riding.

“Sometimes you think you want something,” Arin told him, “when in reality you need to let it go.”

With its rich characterization, stunning world building, clever plotting Marie Rutkoski’s successfully pushed The Winner’s series to higher level. She deliver another thrilling, emotionally taxing, and compelling story through Arin and Kestrel’s complicated and highly imaginative world.

The fact that I’ve done a reread few breath space after I’ve first finished this novel and another one before writing this review tells how good The Winner’s Crime is. I can’t get enough and obviously didn’t want to leave the world yet. If only I have the third/final book, I’m sure my life will be less miserable. Looking forward for more of Kestrel and Arin’s story and the dangerous game they are playing.

* This review is based on an eBook I received courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) via NetGalley.

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The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

The Sin Eater’s Daughter

“I am the perfect weapon, I can kill with a single touch.”

Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court.

She’s the executioner.

As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.

However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

Personal Thoughts:

Melinda Salisbury story telling dazzles right at the first page. Her narrator, Twylla has an intriguing voice that is both sympathetic and interesting. As Twylla narrates her life inside the palace and as Daunen Embodied readers will surely feel her struggles. Her role as Goddess embodied certainly feels like a curse than a gift. She isn’t perfect, not even like-able. In fact she frustates me a lot of times. Sometimes I wonder how come she just do things without questioning them, but then I will remember that she has a poor background. People like her are brought up not to question things especially not the Queen. Her character development though a little slow is quite interesting.

“Choice. For years I’ve craved it, idealized it as a dream I can never have and, though it pains me to admit it, the queen is right. I have had choices, but because I didn’t like them I didn’t acknowledge them. I’ve been the agent of my own misery, time and again.”

As for the mens, well we have a soldier and a Prince as contenders for Twylla’s affection and loyalty. Sounds familiar? Yes, I’ve read that set-up countless times before, there’s Chaol and Dorian from Throne of Glass, Damian and Rylan from Defy, Aspen and Maxon from The Selection series, now we have Lief and Merek to add to the list. These two are easily like-able characters who both have their owns motivations/reasons in winning Twylla’s affection. Compare to Twylla, Lief and Merek are more developed characters.

The title kinda spoil some of the twist for me. While reading I keep on asking myself, why is the title The Sin Eater’s Daugther if the main character Twylla is more than just the sin eater’s daughter? Her role as the Goddess embodied or specifically Daunen Embodied is far much greater than being a daugther of a sin eater. As I notice that fact, my questions go deeper and eventually lead to my conclusion that maybe Twylla isn’t really a Goddess embodied. So obviously, with that thought I formulated lots of theories so the revelation in the end though satisfying isn’t really shocking to me.

What surprise me is how smart the villain is to orchestrate such a huge lie. The extent of her manipulation is so grand that I can’t believe she actually think all of it by herself and that she was able to pull it all off. She is not only cunning and manipulative but also villainy smart. A worthy villain to a high fantasy novel like this one.

“You think if having choices like people think of flying. They see a hawk soaring and hovering and they tell themselves how nice it would be to fly. But pigeons can fly, and sporrows, too. No one imagines being a sparrow, though. No one wants that.”

Full of intrigue, secrets, betrayals, Melinda Salisbury weaved a beautiful and intriguing fantasy novel in The Sin Eater’s Daughter. This is a wonderful start to a very promising YA fantasy series.

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