Published August 1, 2012.

Three Author Websites.

From acclaimed YA authors Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff comes The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories. 

– A vampire locked in a cage in the basement, for good luck. – Bad guys, clever girls, and the various reasons why the guys have to stop breathing. 

– A world where fires never go out (with references to vanilla ice cream). 

These are but a few of the curiosities collected in this volume of short stories by three acclaimed practitioners of paranormal fiction. But The Curiosities is more than the stories. Since 2008, Maggie, Tessa, and Brenna have posted more than 250 works of short fiction to their website Their goal was simple: create a space for experimentation and improvisation in their writing—all in public and without a backspace key. In that spirit, The Curiosities includes the stories and each author’s comments, critiques, and kudos in the margins. Think of it as a guided tour of the creative processes of three acclaimed authors. 

So, are you curious now?  (


NetGalley noted the pub date for this book as today but Goodreads is showing back in August.  Considering Goodreads has the bump-up date for Meagon Spooner’s SKYLARK I’m going with the Goodreads date for accuracy.

Okay, so book?  Andrew Karre is a publishing genius, never pandering to a wave or reading fad.  He’s his own dowsing rod of incredible works, sniffing them out like a nifler and finding precious, precious gold.  Instead of lifting debuts out of the publishing ashes this time he’s taken the minds of three already-established authors and exposed their twisted brains in bound book form.

Stiefvater, Gratton and Yovanoff have been experimentally writing as the Merry Fates for years now, stretching their writerly fingers beyond the scope of each of their perceived comfort zones.  The end result in THE CURIOSITIES is a peek behind Oz’s curtain, complete with handwritten cliff notes and StiefTonOff (I need to copyright that) doodles to compliment the shorts scattered throughout.  They banter back and forth about each others’ writing styles, throw comments about and generally boost each other up as they dip their toes into unfamiliar, and oftentimes murky, water.

The style of each author emerges almost immediately and you get an almost intimate sense of what each is comfortable writing and what was really a stretch into no-man’s land.  It got to a point in THE CURIOSITIES that I didn’t need to read who the short was written by, they were that distinct from each other.  You get to see some of their prompts and how each author sometimes interprets something as simple as a single name and even when they reach beyond their zone they all cling to something familiar, something stylistic that grounds them in the unknown.  They wax writer-like about drawing blanks, building a story from a single image or a single sentence or even a snippet of some weird dream.  It’s a true look into the heads of authors without the classroom lessons of writing.  All you’re getting are real world examples and they’re so much more poignant.

Maggie is consistent Maggie even when she’s trying to be Brenna or Tessa.  I will admit I was not thrilled with her Ballad of Faerie series.  While her writing was beautiful I felt it was more author than character and as a result I stepped away from her Wolves of Mercy Falls series, not wanting to read more of the same.  But what with her story in KISS ME DEADLY and now all of these it’s only a matter of time before I pick up another Maggie book.  I just like her shorts far too much.  Her voice is so much more than just her and her range as an author is astounding.  She can flit in and out of genres as if she were skipping despite how taxing some of those stories were to write.  I am coming around again.

Tessa has a thing for grim fairy tales without really broaching into horror.  She plays at the line with her freaky dolls and pokes brownies in their eyes just for shits and giggles.  She takes a fey world and by sheer will of style turns it into something not only eerily dark but captivating and something wholly other, spinning metaphors into pure gold.  I love it when she dredged up barely touched lore and adds her platinum touch to it.  THE SUMMER ENDS IN SLAUGHTER is one such example that blends lore and darkness and Tessa touch into something that’s captivating, drawing you in and not letting you look away.

Brenna prances across that horror line and plays with the dead, dressing them up in decaying dresses and stringing them up like marionettes to put on a show.  NEIGHBORS blew me away to the point of speechlessness.  The opening blurbs even warn about the stereotypical twist.  You know what’s coming as you read but you don’t because Brenna, in all her twisted horror glory, twists the twist and while you may see one you won’t see the other.  By god I loved it.  I need more Brenna stories in my demented, horror-loving life.

THE CURIOSITIES is not only an excellent collection of short stories meant as a glimpse into the legwork of writers but an amazing introduction to the authors StiefTonOff.  See the genius that is Andrew’s editing skills in compiling this novel of awesome and then read the expansive minds of three authors with rather set comfort zones shatter their own walls and wander into the wild.

Ban Factor: High – From vampires to fairies to a libido-laden dead teenager there is a veritable smorgasbord of screech-worthy banstuff in here.

Pub date: August 16, 2012.

Author website.

The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Years later, when she returns to the woods where Tom was taken to say goodbye at last, she finds herself lured into a world where stunning beauty masks the most treacherous of evils, and strange and dangerous creatures await-creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with allegiances that shift as much as his moods. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice-and not just her own.  (

Okay, this must be a joke, right?  This is my second book in just as many weeks that I’ve loved so much that I need to check myself.  That I need to reign myself in and feebly attempt to keep myself from blathering on like a ridiculous, incoherent fangirl.  Is someone screwing with me?  Because I can barely handle the awesome right now.  Barely.

The thing with THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS is that not only is it a wonderfully honest story but it’s filled with glorious WORDS!  Words here, there and everywhere!  Some of the most amazingly wrought words I’ve found in YA to date and it has revived my hope that YA still strives for quality, that YA readers have a taste for finely written words that read like listening to the most intricately woven concerto you’ve ever heard.  In reality Long is Irish and let’s face it, the people on that side of the pond have a tendency of weaving words of a higher quality as the Brits and Irish have a higher breadth of understanding of the English language than us Americans do.  Don’t believe me?  I consider myself above average in the intelligence department.  But nothing made me feel like a dumb effing American like sitting in an English (and I mean in London, English) classroom as the lone Yank and listening to them wax poetic about Derrida and Glas as if they’d been studying it since they were two.  So yes, when it comes to the written word I believe those guys are just inherently more loquacious than us.  I mean, c’mon.  Have you MET Sya?

So reading THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL things has me floored to the point of drooling on myself.  I can haz language?  Here, have some words –

07/25 page 27
7.0% “”She stared at another dart in her hand. She could see it clearly. Too clearly. The end finished in feathers, tiny strands of thread tying them to the shaft in intricate knotwork. She reached out with her other hand – huge and fumbling – and tugged it out. It was topped with a tiny, perfectly formed flint arrowhead. Her own blood glistened on it, and on her skin a red pearl formed around the wound.””
07/26 page 116
30.0% “”It started like a warm summer breeze moving through the trees in late afternoon, a whispering voice in the forest itself. Jack lifted his face to greet it, closed his eyes and inhaled. Sweet summer flowers, all thing in the fullness of life … and beneath it, decay, the moment where everything began to eat itself away.””
07/31 page 203
53.0% “People, just people, he tried to tell himself. It looked like a sketch done by a child, and yet at the same time, profoundly powerful, as if a great hand had reached down from the sky – or up from the earth – to scour its mark into the land, long brush strokes that glowed with light when the moon spilled over it.”
08/02 page 367
96.0% “A sound came from her, something between a scream and a clogged drain.”
08/01 page 270
70.0% “Every story, all those tales she loved as a child, all her escapes … were they all twisted and changed to something dreadful here? And yet, wasn’t that where they came from, all the oldest tales, from blood and pain and misery?”
07/31 page 218
57.0% “Dreams, some might call them. Lies with a kinder name.”

WORDS! GLORIOUS, GLORIOUS WORDS!  These words painted such a stunning visual setting throughout the story that my life lost sound when I was reading.  I was sucked directly into this fairy world and when I put the book down I often had to blink myself back into reality, rub the world out of my eyes and reorient myself with my surroundings.

With that being said the story isn’t without it’s faults.  Jenny is naive to the point of aggravation, making deliriously stupid decisions for the sake of being nice.  Seeing as how I literally just read Kat Kennedy’s review of this title, being on Goodreads to collect the WORDS samples and her review was right on top so of course I HAD to read it and now I can’t get it out of my head, dammit, she is very right in saying this is in line with old timey fairy tales that center around a virginal MC with the fairy world standing for hedonism that the maiden must fight against with every ounce of her being.  This is very true of THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS.  Jenny is reminiscent of a Disney princess with virtue flowing out of her ears, throwing self preservation to the wind and ultimately defeating evil with her wiles of love and caring.  It is a sickly sweet story and the pretty chick on the cover in the white tulle dress is actually relevant and it’s literally playing out a scene in the story.

With that being said the events that Jenny went through are exceedingly brutal.  There is absolutely no shortage of character screwing going on here.  Jenny does not go in one side of this story and come out the other without some dirt under her fingernails.  Look at the first quote I have above and what page it’s on.  Literally from the beginning Jenny is being abused and I love it so.  While she is unabashedly representative of a pure, light-filled queen she gets the high holy crap kicked out of her in the process.  She does suffer from Damsel in Distress Syndrome (DDS) and her requirement of being rescued runs some other characters rather ragged but I was so thrilled with the WORDS and the brutality of the situations that I could easily overlook the fact that I wanted to slap Jenny around for some of the things she did.

The fairy world is true to form in terms of its contradicting beauty and horror.  Couple that with the WORDS and you can only imagine what kind of scene Long is setting.  I was a little less thrilled with the Jack/Jenny relationship simply because it’s a deviation from an otherwise seemingly accurate depiction of Fae, especially since Jack didn’t have a heart.  Literally.  I found his fascination with Jenny odd.  If it had remained purely business that would have been one thing but I was a little uncomfortable with it’s development.

On the adverse side and to completely throw a wrench into my own opinion of the relationship I like where it went.  I like the role reversal Jack and Jenny went through by the end of the book.  While it didn’t completely cancel out Jenny’s DDS and her unyielding naivety it softened the blow to something more palatable and I was ultimately rooting for them by the end.

If you’re looking for a more true-to-form fairy tale that isn’t shy about it’s own brutality but at the same time really sticks to its own morality path throughout you’ll find it in THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS.  But above and beyond that it’s so incredibly beautifully written and Long has such an amazing way with words that you’ll be mesmerized by the lyrical prose the second you start reading.  Jenny isn’t really your kick ass heroine.  She makes some incredibly dumb decisions for the sake of being nice and she needs to be rescued more often than not but when the situation calls for it Jenny stands on her own.  She has more strength than what the story allows her to have and while she’s wrapped in this virginal shroud of old fairy tales there’s a modern fierceness about her that I think will appeal to someone looking for a story about a girl persevering, setting her mind on something and not backing down until she gets what she wants.  It’s a story of ups and downs and you ultimately need to decide how you’re going to process it.

That’s another great thing about THE TREACHERY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS.  It’s a story with so many avenues of thought that you don’t have to settle on just one.  I absolutely agree with Kat’s assessment of it but I personally believe it’s so much more and that Jenny is just so much more than merely a bastion for virginity.  She proved herself within the story.  She could have said ‘screw you guys, I’m going home’ numerous times throughout and Jack would have gladly escorted her back to the Edge but she didn’t.  Bringing her brother home was her number one objective and not even Jack could come between her and her brother.  She made some really crappy decisions and her DDS showed A LOT but she made some really good decisions too and I applaud her for them.

Ban Factor: High – Pagan-ness.  So much Pagan-ness going on.  Fairies and old gods and witchy queens?  Oh noes!

Published August 17, 2010.

Author website.

In Vanishing and Other Stories, secrets are both kept and unearthed, and lives are shaped by missing lovers, parents, and children.  With wisdom and dexterity, moments of dark humor, and a remarkable economy of words, Deborah Willis captures an incredible array of characters that linger in the imagination and prove that nothing is ever truly forgotten.  (book back blurb)

Every once in a while I’ll come across a book with such stunning writing that when I get to the end of it I can’t help but heave a great big sigh of relief.  There is hope.  There is talent.  There are WORDS.

I like reading anthologies but they’re usually a compendium of stories from different writers so each work is, by default, going to be different.  Different styles, different prose, different methods.  Personally I find it a lot harder for an author to write a single anthology composed entirely of their own stories and have each story differentiate itself from the last.  My experience in that is pretty even keel; one working out not so well and the other I ended up loving.  VANISHING?  Yeah, I pretty much loved it.

VANISHING has stories told of life.  They’re not all that action-packed.  In many not much really happens outside of a character’s internal monologues.  But the way they’re all written Willis just sinks her claws into each and every one of her characters and forces them off the page so that you can’t help but see them as their own individuals.  And that’s exactly what they are.  From the grieving scientist in ESCAPE to the lonely teacher in THE FIANCEE to the boy-turned-man in AND THE LIVING IS EASY, each are individuals, each are wholly separate and each are as vivid in my mind as if they were all given their own books.

VANISHING is one of those books that one SHOULD read because it’s that kind of book.  These are the stories that would get taught in literature classes, dissected for meaning, subtext, intent.  To some that’s a bad thing but I loved reading good short stories when I was in school.  It was how I was introduced to the likes of Flannery O’Connor.  And she’s pretty awesome.  But just because people SHOULD read it doesn’t make it bad or dull.  They’re all engaging stories, each and every one of them, with a range of protagonists, a range of ages and a good mix of both sexes.  There is literally something for everyone in VANISHING and the writing is so good all the rest would just suck you in anyway.

All of the stories are inherently real, spun golden by words that would make any writer envious (including this one).  But it’s not a high falutin, overtly showy type of writing.  It’s glorious, simple enough to hook the resistant but intricate enough to ensnare the more well-read, those with noses held higher than others.  When literary does it right, it REALLY does it right.  Willis’s writing is effortless.  She doesn’t come across as trying to impress or show off her writing prowess.  Her words are for the stories and the stories are for you.  It’s that simple.  And they’re wonderful.

There may not be anything supernatural in VANISHING but that doesn’t make it any less engaging.  It still hooks, it still drags you in and then spits you out, leaving you reeling in your book hangover because the writing . . . THE WRITING.  It stuns.  It really does.

Ban Factor: Low – It’s pretty innocuous.  There might be a couple of salacious pieces in there but that would require the banners to read and that’s just downright silly to expect.

Pub date: August 7, 2012.

Author website.

Uprooted from Shanghai with her father and twin brother, young Cassandra finds the Black Isle’s bustling, immigrant-filled seaport, swampy jungle, and grand rubber plantations a sharp contrast to the city of her childhood. And she soon makes another discovery: the Black Isle is swarming with ghosts.

Haunted and lonely, Cassandra at first tries to ignore her ability to see the restless apparitions that drift down the street and crouch in cold corners at school. Yet despite her struggles with these spirits, Cassandra comes to love her troubled new home. And soon, she attracts the notice of a dangerously charismatic man.

Even as she becomes a fearless young woman, the Isle’s dark forces won’t let her go. War is looming, and Cassandra wonders if her unique gift might be her beloved island’s only chance for salvation . . .  (

I was floored with THE BLACK ISLE from the second I started reading it.  Written in a voice that’s so incredibly engaging that you can’t take your eyes from the page, it sucks you into an old world China where women are barely second class citizens and, depending on your status, superstition rules your life.

Cassandra goes through an epic transformation throughout the book.  The story starts with Cassandra as an old woman both running from and to her past.  She relives the world of her island through an out-of-print book at the library.  When she find that “her” book has been desecrated, her world gets rocked.  And infiltrated, by a less-than-welcome guest that wants Cassandra’s story.  The plot flips back to the present a few times throughout the book, reminding the reader that Cassandra is narrating the story to someone, that there’s a reason for this recounting.

When the greater story begins, Cassandra is Ling, twin of Li, the latter the more favored child because of his male status and the fact that Cassandra hogged the goods in the womb.  So while she came out nice and healthy Li was a bit starved.  To see the dynamic between brother and sister based on the parents’ behavior was, at times, horrifying to watch.  They’re twins so they share the same birthday except Cassandra didn’t get gifts.  Those were reserved for the favored son.  It’s a cultural aspect that I had a hard time getting over and it really bothered me to read.

I’ll admit, Chinese culture isn’t something I’m crazy about but the ghost story aspect of THE BLACK ISLE drew me in and I actually learned quite a few things about the culture.  And it even answered a few of my questions about the people in general.  I’d like to believe that a story so rich in Chinese culture would, in the same breath, be accurate as well.  I believed everything I read without a blink but you’ll have to ask someone better versed in Chinese culture just how close it all is.  Right now I have no reason to doubt any of it.

It’s not too long into the story that things take a turn for the strange and Cassandra starts being able to see ghosts.  It actually coincides with an incident in the park involving Li and their subsequent distancing.  That incident, though, I don’t think is very realized.  It serves as a catalyst to get the twins apart (they were pretty much inseparable until that point) and then it comes back in at the end.  But it doesn’t do much for character-building.  I thought it was going to have some greater impact on Li other than just a personality shift but there wasn’t much.  He got cranky for a little while but that was about it.

When they up and moved to the Isle you get the full realization of just how incompetent Cassandra’s father is and how reliant he is on his children to do his job.  I was flabbergasted by this and how long both of them actually put up with his ineptitude.  And it wasn’t he just didn’t have the smarts for it.  He just had better things to do with his time and it really angered his kids, especially when it was entirely their doing that got the plantation they moved to up and running and the workers in order.  Of course their job was thankless.

There was a tryst between Cassandra and Li that really bothered me and it’s another aspect of the story that I’m not sure how relevant it is to the greater plot.  Like I said I’m unfamiliar with Chinese culture but the ease with which the siblings entered into a sexual relationship really took me aback.  Was this okay because they’re twins?  They hid it from their father so there was some level of shame there; just not a lot.  I was bothered by it, by its casual attitude and then it’s relevance was gone.  It served its purpose for the plot at the moment but, like the incident in the park, I don’t think it served it’s purpose to the greater story.

Cassandra is a character trying desperately to be her own person.  She breaks off from her father and brother and gets a job on her own after finishing her schooling.  That job brings her to her fiancee, the son of her school’s proprietor, and she’s elevated into a social strata that she wouldn’t otherwise be in.  Of course the male members of her family resent her for it.  She’s supposed to be subservient to her father and brother, not rise above them.  But she was determined to make her own way, albeit on the backs of wealthier others.  It’s because of this that she officially changes her name from Ling to Cassandra.

As time progressed in the story itself it does come across, a bit, as Cassandra effectively whoring her way into the best possible scenarios for herself.  She does appear to have feelings for two of the three suitors in the story but their positions in society sway my feelings about her a bit and make her look a bit like a gold digger.  These were opportune matches.  She just happened to have feelings for them as well.  But I don’t believe she would have entered into those relationships simply for the status.  I do believe she loved two of the three.  I just think the author wrote it in such a way as to make the reader see, just slightly, what other people might see in Cassandra.  She is not a woman that actually worked her way up from the dredges.  She was well-placed, well-timed and well-suited.  Not her fault but it is convenient.

The second suitor?  Well he’s not really a suitor.  He was one of the occupying soldiers when Japan invaded and kept Cassandra locked in her fiance’s house and raped her repeatedly and referred to her as his wife.  It was a very weird situation and Taro absolutely took advantage of everything he could about her.  He kept her compliant to his whims by dangling her would-be family and friends in front of her.  It was a horrible situation and throughout, since it’s in first person, you know that she’s doing it for other people, for Daniel and her brother although I don’t doubt some level of self-preservation.  No one wants to die, not really.  So I don’t begrudge her that.

It takes Cassandra a while to come into accepting her abilities.  Issa, a shaman of sorts, tries to teach her but she bails, afraid of what she’s getting into.  Years later she realizes that there is a benefit to working with the damned, at a heavy price, of course.  The ghosts of the Isle become tools for everyone to use, from Cassandra to prove a point, to suitor number three to get the island where he wants it to be.  It’s not until she’s much older that she fully realizes the total repercussions of what she can do, what she can see and how it affects not just her but everyone.

THE BLACK ISLE is a story about growth fueled by ghosts.  Ling/Cassandra denies her true self for a long time but slowly she comes into her own, taking hold of who she really is and embracing it, at times not fully understanding what it is she’s undertaking.  The ghosts are a prominent aspect of the story but I wouldn’t necessarily call THE BLACK ISLE a ghost story.  It’s a coming-of-age and moving past it.  It’s accepting your past and knowing when revenge has already been paid.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  The voice is PHENOMENAL, balancing an elegant prose with a relatable one resulting in a story that anyone can love and get drawn into.  I’m so glad I opted to read this.  It called out to me from the NetGalley list and for good reason.  There are some books in your life that will leave a lasting impression for any number of reasons.  THE BLACK ISLE is one of mine.

Ban Factor: High – A foreign culture and religion and ghosts.  Oh noes!

Pub date: June 5, 2012.

Author website.

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.  (

Potential Spoilers Ahead

I don’t think my review is really spoilerish because of elements that I believe are rather obvious from the beginning but just to be safe . . .

OMFGBBQ did I devour this book.  Like whoa, gobbled it right down and it didn’t even give me gas.  We’re talking Cinda Williams Chima level of love right now.  For anyone that knows me, that’s a lot of love.  Not quite on the same exact level but I did add BBQ to my explanation.  That means a lot.

Let’s see . . . what can I say about SHADOW & BONE without turning into a total blithering fangirl?

Alina is one hell of a kick ass heroine.  Seriously.  She’s got a smart mouth and stands up for herself even in moments when she’d probably be better off keeping her trap shut.  A character flaw but one I like.  Because that’s totally me.  Honesty is my best policy.  It just may not be true for others.

Mal?  Yeah, I’m a total fan.  There was a time there where I filed him into the complete toolbox category but with his re-emergence came his redemption.  He fits Alina perfectly.  One personality doesn’t overpower the other and they really jive.  It’s a relationship I can totally get behind because it feels real.  It’s something that was built up over time as opposed to the instant soup kind.  There was substance there, history, a deeper bond than smelling pretty.  It’s everything I want to see in a relationship and then some.  That’s not to say it’s perfect but it’s REAL.

The Darkling surprised me.  I kind of knew he was off from the beginning but I found the depth to his offness shocking.  But it was well-built.  His personality ended up being kind of standard villain-ish but I’m okay with that.  There were other elements to the puzzle that ground out that particular aspect of him and made him more realistic.  There’s a ruthlessness there and the author’s willingness to actually show it that I admire.  Not the evil, sadistic ruthlessness but the author not shying away from it.  It paints Bargudo in a great light for me and it brings added depth to The Darkling’s character.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few of things in the book.  One of them is that at the beginning of Alina’s stay being a Grisha that her schooling appeared to be a type of boarding school.  Wherein I began to think that it’s yet another boarding school story and I’ve been duped.  Not the case.  Another, where Alina is coming into her powers and they’re trying to figure out why she constantly needed an amplifier to bring them out.  I guessed, and was wrong.  Another?  The vulcra.  I was shocked to find out just what they are.  Another testament to Bardugo’s authorly twistedness.  I liked it.

I wasn’t overly thrilled with the ending, more like a particular element of it, but I’ll get over it.  I liked it overall and how it wasn’t a total cop-out and everything wrapped up nicely with a little bow at the end. Not so much.  But there was hope there, just enough to wrap up the greater story arc but set the precedent for future books.  And I can’t wait.

SHADOW & BONE is an excellent high fantasy addition to the YA category.  The world is lavishly built, with real world elements that keep it firmly within reach, and characters that’ll suck you in and have you begging for more.  You’ll definitely want to read this.  You’ll be disappointed if you don’t.

Ban Factor: High – Never mind Alina’s swearing or her defiance or her sexy tryst.  It’s a world without a Christian god.  BE ALL END ALL!