Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: Of Beast and Beauty, by Stacey Jay

Of Beast and Beauty
Stacey Jay
Hardcover, 391 pages
Delacorte Press
July 23, 2013
Dystopian Fiction, Fairy Tale Retellings, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Book Synopsis: In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...

In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

My Review

This highly original novel, based on the "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale, is a richly-imagined love story with profound underlying themes of universal importance.

The characters, plot, and setting are beautifully detailed and vivid.  Ms. Jay honors the traditional fairy tale, combining it with elements of dystopian science fiction.  Far from being a chaotic jumble of genres, however, this novel flows together with seamless harmony.

The background of the story provides the science fiction aspect of the novel, with the arrival of human settlers from Earth on an alien planet, while such elements as 'the Pure Heart', 'the Dark Heart', and the frightening, bloodthirsty roses, belong to the fantasy genre.  Added to these is the dystopian element -- a stratified society of privileged nobles that keep themselves apart from the impoverished, unfortunate mutants that provide comforts for them, under artificial domes, while a group of more severely mutated people must fend for themselves, in the harsh world outside the domes.

Through the characters and events, Jay deals with such important themes as the destructiveness of prejudice, as well as of the evils inherent in a lack of harmony between humans and the planet they inhabit.  These themes play out against the backdrop of an alien planet in a distant solar system, but they are clearly applicable to our own society and planet.

The story is told through three characters -- Isra, the young queen of the domed city of Yuan, Gem, a captured member of the people who live outside the domes, and Bo, the son of Yuan's chief royal advisor.

The novel concentrates on Isra and Gem, the Beauty and the Beast.  Isra is a Smooth Skin, while Gem is a Monstrous.  While they are clearly enemies at the beginning of the story, they gradually fall in love after Gem is captured within the walls of Yuan, and is imprisoned.  As he begins to interact with Isra, Gem's opinion of her starts to change.  The same happens with her.  Eventually, they realize that everything they have been taught about the Smooth Skins and the Monstrous is totally wrong.   

It's been a while since I've encountered such an appealing set of lovers in fiction!  Both Isra and Gem are such wonderful, loving people, and born leaders, as well.  They're both totally committed to the welfare of their people, both fiercely determined to achieve justice for them.  They're compassionate, intelligent, and, perhaps most important of all, open-minded and willing to change when necessary.

Their love story is beautiful, inspiring, and very touching.  I was moved to tears as I read certain passages.  The moment of their first kiss, for instance, brought me some happy tears.  They shared a gloriously tender, passionate kiss, but more than that, they also shared the very essence of their souls.  Jay handled this moment with the appropriate tone, too; it was not in any way 'cheesy' or overwritten at all.

Throughout the novel, the author moves from one narrator to the other, and from the love story to the more global panorama of this strange society of which cruelty is such an intrinsic part.  From the dark magic of the roses to the callous treatment of the Banished, and the total exclusion of the Monstrous, to the actions of Bo's father, Junjie, whose sole concern is the attainment of political power, a picture emerges of a totally dysfunctional, totalitarian world.  It's precisely this movement from the love story to the bigger picture, in which both are linked, that holds the novel's power.

Although Of Beast and Beauty is categorized as a young adult novel, I think the author's depiction of the themes I have pointed out make it very much an excellent read for adults, as well.  As for the audience for which the novel is intended, it definitely presents ideals to which an entire civilization should aspire, and thus, is a great inspiration for younger readers.

The marked contrast between the lifestyles of the two young lovers is very interesting.  Isra -- like Rapunzel, ironically enough -- has been kept in a tower all her life, having very limited contact with the outside world, except for her daring escapes into the royal garden, in spite of her blindness.  Gem has grown up in the desert outside the domes, and so, has had much more freedom.  This is another, very important theme in the novel -- the desire for, and pursuit of, freedom.  Isra seeks to be free to be herself, to pursue her dreams as she sees fit.  Gem apparently has this freedom, and yet, he does not, because his life is tied to his people, who are suffering and beginning to starve.  Both of them are really striving for inner freedom.   

It's so wonderful to watch the gradual emotional growth of these two characters, as they dare to challenge the misconceptions they were brought up with.  This growth will not only affect their individual destinies, but ultimately, those of their own people, as well as the entire planet.  Love utterly transforms them; Isra dares to see physical beauty in a fellow human being she had been told was a monster, a beast, while Gem dares to see Isra's inner beauty, instead of the horrible cruelty he had been told characterized every member of the Smooth Skin group.  In this way, they become more truly themselves.  The message here is that division and hatred take away the freedom to be true to one's real essence.  This is a very powerful message indeed.

Another main theme in the novel is the equality of the sexes.  Jay contrasts the treatment of women in both societies.  In Yuan, women -- and most especially the queens, which is a huge irony --  have no power.  The main function of the queens is to be sacrificed to the roses whenever situations in the domed cities begin to deteriorate.  All decisions are made by the royal advisors, who are all men.  The Monstrous, however, are much more egalitarian; a woman leads Gem's tribe, and women have a much greater voice in tribal decisions.  The difference between the two groups is very evident in the behavior of Gem and Bo.  Gem never tries to control Isra, even for her own good.  He does try to persuade her, but never to force her to do what he wants.  Bo, however, does just that, even though his conscience might bother him at times.

It's very ironic that the people known as 'the Monstrous' should actually be more civilized, in matters of importance such as humane treatment of all citizens, than the supposedly superior Smooth Skins!

To sum up, this novel is not only a great, highly imaginative tale, as well as a great love story, but also a magnificent political drama that never becomes preachy as it delivers its important messages.  I have enjoyed it so much, I actually wish this was a series!  The characters, setting, and plot will stay with me forever, and I'm already thinking of re-reading it!


About the Author

 Stacey Jay is a recovering workaholic (or at least working hard at recovering) with three pen names, two small children, and a passion for playing pretend for a living. She’s been a full time mom-writer since 2005 and can't think of anything she'd rather be doing. Her former careers include theatre performer, professional dancer, poorly paid C-movie actress, bartender, waiter, math tutor (for real) and yoga instructor.



Waiting On Wednesday #103: Reborn, by C.C. Hunter

This is a weekly event hosted by
It showcases future releases which
we book bloggers
are eagerly anticipating!!

Here's my choice for this week!

 (Shadow Falls: After Dark #1)
Hardcover, 400 pages
May 20, 2014
Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy,
Young Adult Fiction

Book Synopsis

Return to the beloved world of Shadow Falls, a camp that teaches supernatural teens to harness their powers—and where a vampire named Della will discover who she’s meant to be.

For Della Tsang, Shadow Falls isn't just a camp: it's home. As a vampire who's never fit in with her human family, it's the one place she can truly be herself. But when a mysterious new guy arrives at camp, Della’s whole world is thrown into turmoil. Chase is a vampire with secrets, who knows more than he’s telling. But the more time she spends with him, the more she begins to trust this attractive stranger—and feel drawn to him. But romance is the last thing she wants—as she keeps telling Steve, the hunky shapeshifter who won’t stop trying to win her heart. And if Della isn't careful, he just might succeed.  When a new case puts everyone she cares about in danger, Della’s determined to do everything she can to save them . . . even if it means teaming up with Steve and Chase, who leave her more confused than ever. With their lives on the line, will Della and her friends survive—with their hearts intact?

Why am I waiting on this book?

I really should have read the first
Shadow Falls series by now,
but, obsessed bookworm that I am,
I can't help coveting this first book
in Hunter's new Shadow Falls series!!
This just motivates me to go  
buy and read all the books in 
that first series!

For information on the first series,
just go HERE!

What do you think of my choice?
What incredibly exciting
book(s) are you waiting on
this week? 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Of Beast and Beauty Read-Along: Week 4 Discussion Questions

Welcome to Week 4
(the last week) of 
the Read-Along for the bestselling
YA novel, Of Beast and Beauty,
brought to you by
A Night's Dream of Books and
It ends tomorrow, with reviews by 
the two participating blogs!

Of Beast and Beauty
Hardcover, 400 pages
Delacorte Press, 
July 23, 2013
Dystopian Fiction, Fairy Tale Retellings, 
Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, 
Young Adult Fiction

Week 4 Discussion Questions
Chapter 21 -"In the Beginning"
Vonnie's Reading Corner

April 29th

1.) Who is really benefiting in the dome? 

It's the nobles who really benefit.  They enjoy all the good things in Yuan, while those who are deemed "imperfect" live in poverty and squalor.  They support the nobles' comfortable lifestyles.  However, Junjie will benefit most of all, if his plans succeed.  Once his son marries Isra, and Junjie can get her out of the way, he will be the real ruler, since Bo is so easily manipulated.   

2.) Why are the nobles the only ones spared from the majority of the mutations?

I think that's mostly due to the fact that they make sure to marry only other nobles, whether from Yuan, or other domed cities.  However, it's probably also due to the fact that the group from the original settlers who agreed to the covenant were thereby spared from the mutations.

3.) Are the royal women really "mad"?

Of course not!  They are merely more compassionate than the men, especially power-hnngry ones like Junjie.  The royal women have been labeled as "mad" (crazy) because they have wanted to make changes in the unfair city system.  This is very inconvenient to those in power, who want to reap the benefits without caring that some of the people are not being treated humanely.

4.) Why are the men (the advisors) afraid of change?

I answered this question partially above.  They're afraid of change because they're afraid of losing their power and comfortable lifestyle.

5.) Why did the roses attack Isra?

It's really the Dark Heart, the evil half of the planet, who is attacking Isra, using the roses to do it.  Its malevolent presence fills the rose garden, speaking into Isra's mind, telling her to surrender, to let herself die....and Isra realizes that the Dark Heart wants to destroy her because she knows too much, because she's trying to make changes, and thus, the Dark Heart will no longer be allowed to claim Yuan's queens as sacrifice.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Blog Tour: Book Review: Coping, by J. Bennett

Welcome to this stop 
in the tour for Coping 
(Girl with Broken Wings, #1.5),
sponsored by
Innovative Online Book Tours!!

About the Book

(Girl with Broken Wings, #1.5)
J. Bennett
Trade Paperback, 80 pages
Endeavor Writing
June 23, 2013
Dystopian Fiction, New Adult Fiction, 
Paranormal Fiction, 
Science Fiction, Thrillers

Book Synopsis 

Coping is the exciting follow-up to Falling in the Girl With Broken Wings series.  This is a gripping and action-packed paranormal novella.  Maya, a quirky and likable heroine, is intent on joining her half-brothers in their secret war against the genetically-enhanced killers that call themselves 'angels'. Still trying to cope with her new abilities and the hunger that threatens to overwhelm her, Maya may be more of a hindrance than a help to her brothers as they take on a new mission and make a horrifying discovery. >>> “Maya is imperfect, sarcastic and believable; and her plight is heart-poundingly realistic.” Reading Lark Blog Coping is a fast-paced novella that brings readers back into Maya’s darkly-humorous world where angels are not the good guys, the heroes don’t wear tights, and getting in over your head just means it’s Tuesday. >>> “It's totally exciting. Dramatic. Vividly intense. Poignant. Need I add that it's an utterly riveting, page-turning read? To sum up, I have discovered a bold new talent to follow! ” A Night’s Dream of Books Blog Join Maya, Gabe, and Tarren for more blood, bullets, and Chuck Norris jokes in Coping, part of the Girl With Broken Wings New Adult paranormal series.

My Review

The non-stop action continues in this novella, which also serves the purpose of giving readers more background on the Fox brothers, as well as Maya, their half-sister.

This exciting new series gripped me from page 1 of the first book, Falling!  In spite of the grim futuristic setting, I was drawn deeper and deeper into the plight of Maya and her half-brothers with every single page. 

The novella is no different.  This trio of unlikely vigilantes embarks on a very dangerous journey, with Maya now being tentatively included as more than just a lookout.  She does make some mistakes at first, but her brothers -- even Tarren, surprisingly enough -- cut her some slack, and, with her help, they are able to make, as the synopsis puts it, 'a horrifying discovery'.

I did find that part of the book a bit hard to take, due to its rather graphic detail.  However, I'm too invested in the characters and the whole story by now to stop reading this series!  

These three siblings have such a perfect combination of good and bad points.  Maya is insecure, snarky, and rather quirky, but she is also kind and loving.  She's having a hard time learning how to be tough, although she does want revenge on the angel responsible for her current condition.  Tarren is very bitter and cynical, but he also has a hidden well of compassion.  As for Gabe.....oh, I just adore Gabe!  He's the one who acts as a sort of buffer between Maya and Tanner.  I love how he persists in giving his sister the benefit of the doubt, in spite of the danger she obviously poses.  I love how he stands up for her whenever Tarren makes one of his cynical remarks about her.  

In spite of the tension created by the presence of Maya, the brothers work things out between themselves, and with her.  As they start to go on missions together, their bond grows, and even Tanner begins to treat Maya more like a sister.  What a poignant, touching contrast to their grim, mostly joyless, existence, which is broken only by Gabe's wonderfully silly Chuck Norris jokes and seemingly nonchalant attitude....

Although this is only a novella, it's as fully realized as a full-length novel.  Bennett's writing and characterizations are as skillful as I discovered them to be in the first book. Furthermore, the book has very nicely filled in some much-needed information, such as the story of Maya's birth, which I was curious about.   

Bennett's world is not a pleasant one, to be sure, but she definitely makes her readers care for and about her characters, as they continue their grim quest to rid the world of these so-called 'angels', who are really scientifically-enhanced-humans-turned-monsters.  

I'm heartily looking forward to the second book, Landing, and beyond that, to the third, Rising!  


Reviewer's Note

I would like to thank Ms. Bennett
for providing me with  a
print copy of her book.
I am continuing to enjoy this series!

About the Author

J. Bennett is a professional copywriter and copy editor, as well as a novelist.  She lives and writes in Southern California.

Works by J. Bennett

Girl with Broken Wings Series
The Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles
(short story, #1)
(short story, #2)
(short story, #3)

Online Links

For the complete schedule
of participating blogs,
just click on this button!


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shelf Candy Saturday #110: Sacrifices, by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill

Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!!

This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful book covers!
It also provides information,
if available, on their very talented creators!

For more information
about Shelf Candy Saturday,
just click HERE.

Here's my choice for this week!!

Hardcover, 304 pages
Tor Teen
(Tom Doherty Associates, LLC)
April 2, 2013
Fantasy, Mystery, Mythology,
Young Adult Fiction

Why do I love this cover?

I first saw this cover when I was preparing my "Waiting On Wednesday" post this week.  Well, it definitely caught my eye, so I knew I had to feature it for my next "Shelf Candy Saturday" post!

The first two things that attracted my attention were the metallic sky blue of the dress worn by the model on the left, and the flaming red hair of the model on the right.  

After noticing these two most prominent details, I took in the rest of the picture, and felt even more drawn to it because of its mystical, magical atmosphere; the swirling, glowing mists enveloping the two girls, as well as the one point of light above the mysterious doorway behind them, all contribute to this fairy-like atmosphere.

Interestingly, the girls are dressed as if they were going to a party.  The redheaded girl looks especially elegant.  However, the way they're standing, in front of this mysterious doorway suggests they're really guardians of the doorway.  This becomes even more apparent because of the way they're both staring out at the viewer.  They're wary, vigilant.  The blonde girl's stance shows that she's ready for action, despite her nice dress.  She seems to be wearing some sort of strange shawl or covering around her neck and shoulders.  I wonder if it's some sort of magical protection.

The font used for the title is very dramatic.  This impression is heightened by the gradual orange shading of the letters.  

This cover certainly creates a very powerful impact, with its contrast between detailed realism and mystical atmosphere.  It's a true masterpiece!  

Unfortunately, here's another case of an uncredited artist.....  Although I checked the credits page of this book in the Amazon reader, I was unable to find the name of the artist who created this brilliant cover.  Perhaps this information is to be found on the back cover, but, since I don't yet own this book, I obviously can't check that out. 

What do you think of my choice?
Leave me a comment and 
let me know!



Friday, April 25, 2014

Blog Tour: Spotlight/Giveaway!! Among Friends, by Father Jim Sichko

Welcome to the blog tour for
Among Friends, which runs from
April 23rd to April 29th,
and is sponsored by
I Am A Reader, Not A Writer 
Book Tours!! 

About the Book

Among Friends
Father Jim W. Sichko
Trade Paperback, 170 pages
Premier Digital Publishing
April 1, 2014
Christianity, Memoir, Nonfiction, Religion, True Stories

Book Synopsis:  “This book is my Midrash.”

With these words, Father Jim draws us into his life story full of laughter, tears, and service. Among Friends is a compilation of short stories and insightful lessons experienced on his many travels as a clergyman and motivational speaker. Whether recounting his sobering flying experiences, meeting the Pope, his encounter with the “Weed Man” or telling us about his “lead foot,” Father Jim teaches us lessons through powerful storytelling. As he takes us along on his journey from getting kicked out of seminary to hosting celebrities, such as Dolly Parton, Harry Connick Jr., Martin Short, Bill Cosby, and former First Lady Laura Bush, at his small Kentucky parish, Father Jim shines a light into the corners of the human heart to expose our need for God and the love He alone can give us. You will laugh, cry, and be taken back by his honesty. In all, Father Jim shows us what it means to love God, love others, and live life Among Friends.

Book Excerpt


I love stories. I’m thinking I’m not alone in that, either. Billions of dollars are spent on novels, movies, and even video games. Why? God made us to function through story. Not only did He reveal Himself in the greatest-selling Book of all time, but He made story a vital part of how we communicate with each other.

Think about it. We are a storytelling people. From the moment we are born, growing up through school and beyond, we love hearing stories being read and told to us. We love sharing experiences that we have lived, seen, or heard. For me, as a storyteller, preacher, and speaker, stories provide the opportunity to communicate in a powerful way with people in everyday language with down-to-earth tales.

I think back to my own days at St. Mary Catholic School in kindergarten and how we loved to sit in a circle and listen to Mrs. Richard read to us. We learned from the plot, the characters, and their actions. She read with a passion and belief that captivated our little minds. Most importantly, the stories struck at our hearts.

Why do you think Jesus told stories to make His point? Indeed, He is a master storyteller in all of His parables found in the four Gospels. He would use everyday situations that people understood. He used characters that people would recognize in themselves and others.

Even more interesting, Jesus didn’t always provide the answers. He let people figure out His meaning by telling them, “He who has ears, let them hear.”

God gave me a very interesting life story, as you’re going to see throughout this book. I like to think He gave me this life so I could tell stories from my journey. As you might guess, when I travel to speak at different places, I am often asked two questions. First, “Are your stories true?” and, second, “How do these experiences always happen to you?”

My answer is simple: Yes, the stories are true, and yes, they do happen to me, and they happen to you! The real question that needs to be asked is, “Do you and I have the eyes, the ears, and the hearts — not to mention the minds — to recognize the wonderful opportunities and teachable moments from the experiences of our day?”

Through sorrow, pain, joys, and exultations, our experiences teach us; they stretch us. For me, stories empower and illumine the life of Our God who is ever present with us on this journey through our experiences that we call “Life.” 

Allow me to tell you a few…

About the Author 

 Father Jim W. Sichko is a priest of the Diocese of Lexington, KY. He was ordained to the Ministerial Priesthood of Jesus Christ on May 23, 1998. He travels throughout the U.S. giving missions, retreats, and days of recollection. Known for his storytelling, Father Jim weaves everyday life experiences with the rooted messages which lie within the Gospel. He is booked for speaking engagements through 2015. Each engagement lasts a minimum of three days and averages 3,000 people per night. Father Jim completed his undergraduate work at New England Conservatory of Music in Vocal Performance and received a Master of Divinity degree from Sacred Heart School of Theology.


Be sure to enter the awesome 
giveaway, sponsored by 
I Am A Reader, Not A Writer 
Blog Tours!!

For the complete schedule of participating blogs, just 
click on the tour button below.
(Be sure to scroll down to the 
bottom of the page.)