Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shiver by Maggie Steifvater

Since yesterday was Memorial Day, I took the day off and spent it with friends.

Hence the review being moved to today.

Shiver enchanted me.  As you know, I don't usually read romance (at least, not willingly).  But Shiver is a romance, a fantasy romance at that.  With werewolves.

But it's not what you're thinking.  It doesn't read like a contemporary romance (say, like Twilight).  It's magical.  Mysterious.  Much more akin to a Grimm fairytale than a modern story.  It was beautiful.

Haunting -- that's the word for this story.  A young girl was bitten by wolves and saved by a wolf.  She remembers, and every year waits for the one who saved her, the one with yellow eyes.  There's a draw she can't explain.  Something calls to her.

And then she meets him.  The wolf-who-is-a-boy.  Sam Roth is only a boy when it's warm.  The two have been in love for quite some time, and when they finally meet when both are humans, the love deepens, irrevocably.

They're sweet.  Innocent.  Charming.  Sam and Grace are unique, each struggling with family, identity, and destiny.

What will happen to them when it gets cold?  Sam only has so many years he can change.  After that...he'll be a wolf forever.

I thought the development of the werewolf mythology in this book was particularly original.  I won't spoil it but there is more going on than a simple fairytale.  There's something else just on the edge, a blend of science and magic that's almost tangible.

There are certain authors who have ways of stringing words together that create effortless landscapes, feelings, smells, sounds...Maggie is one of them.  She really does write magically well.  If I was dropped in the little town where Grace and Sam live, I could find my way to the bookstore, Beck's house, and Grace's. I could spot the school, the candy store, and Grace's car, and all of it is tinged with that "once upon a time" aura.

There's an eerie feel throughout the book, almost as if you're being swallowed up in the story.  You become part of it.  You become just as fascinated as Grace by the wolves.

I thought it would be a one shot, but the ending was so abrupt that I ached for more.  I needed resolution.  And then I found out it was a series.  I still think the writing could have been less abrupt, but I'm thrilled to see we're getting more stories from The Wolves of Mercy Falls.

It isn't summer reading, so maybe once Autumn arrives, pick this one up and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Insurgent by Veronica Roth -- CultureMass Article

Hi everybody,

Here's the link I promised to my review of Insurgent via CultureMass:

Insurgent Review by K.M. Cone

I'm a staff writer for the TV section (check out my reviews of Supernatural and Once Upon A Time episodes!) but I occasionally write a piece for the Lit section.

Let me know what you think!

Croak by Gina Damico

I do apologize for the last two weeks -- amidst Finals Week here at uni, two weddings, birthday and graduation parties and art/writing projects...I've done some reading but haven't done any blogging!

So I'm going to share a review today and then put up a link to a review I did for CultureMass.com when it's published!

Gina Damico's Croak is one of my new favorite books.  If you can tolerate a little language, and you love goth, punk, motorcycles, adrenaline, fantasy, wit/sarcasm, word humor, or badassery, then you need to read this book.

It was the word humor that got me from the very beginning, when Lexington and Concord Bartleby, the twins, were introduced.  Their mom's kind of into American History.  Just a wee bit.

I cackled even harder when I realized where Ms. Damico was going with the word humor, but I won't ruin the surprise for you.

Lex is sixteen, a troublemaker, and her parents are over it.  She's sent away to live with her crazy uncle for the summer, presumably to work on a farm.  Lex's uncle definitely does NOT own a farm, but is rather the mayor of a small town comprised of Grim Reapers.  And he's going to train Lex as one.

What follows is Lex's understandable shock that people have this job, and her horror as the town is targeted by a wild Grim Reaper who's on an unsanctioned killing spree.  Can Lex and the other Junior Reapers solve the mystery?  What happens when they do?

I laughed through most of the book, although there are some really sad scenes (that I did not laugh at).  Lex is quite believable as a rebel without a cause (a little bit like John Bender from The Breakfast Club, which meant I loved her immediately), and I am dying (oh dear) to read Scorch, the next book in the Croak trilogy.

I even went around in a black hoodie the other day to pretend I was Lex.

That's how much I freaking loved this book.

Go read it now so we can talk about it!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Bookish Escape Giveaway!

A Bookish Escape is giving away a bunch of awesome signed books (The Archived, Divergent, Starters, etc.) - if you want to try your luck, enter here:

A Bookish Escape Giveaway

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Butter by Erin Jade Lange

A few years ago, a friend who shares my book tastes (almost exactly) told me I should read this book.  I dutifully noted the title, but since it hadn't come out yet (he'd read an ARC), it got shuffled down in by TBR pile.

Last week I was browsing at the library and was delighted to finally see a copy!  I checked it out, along with about twenty other books, and brought it home.

I finally started reading it last night and I almost didn't go to bed.  I wanted to read the entire thing in one sitting.  I finished it this morning and my emotions are all in a jumble.  It feels personal, somehow.

Butter is a book you won't soon forget.

The main character, Marshall, is nicknamed "Butter" after a cruel incident involving an entire stick of butter.  Butter is overweight, plagued by a silent father, a loving yet hopelessly ineffective mother, and a highschool full of unfriendly kids.  His professor and doctor try to help, but Butter is convinced that no one cares about him.

So he creates ButtersLastMeal.com, a grotesque suicide mission with live streaming.  What happens next is not what he expected: he becomes popular.  People love the idea, it's novel, daring, and life-threatening.  As Butter's popularity increases, so does his resolve to carry out his original plan.  He spirals out of control and no one, the naysayers nor his adoring public, are ready for what follows.

The characters, while regular teens, are fully realized, three dimensional, making them all memorable.  Butter's a musician, a brilliant saxophone player; the girl of his dreams, Anna, is a fake blond who secretly hates shopping.  Jeremy, Butter's nemesis, is a semi-rich kid unliked by even his friends.

I loved Marshall (Butter)'s voice -- he is the kind of guy I'd love to spend time with.  He's funny, charming, sweet, and incredibly smart and talented.  It pained me to see his emotional journey, and it brought to mind some of my own darkest moments.

Butter is a deep, tragic glimpse into the life of someone who has suffered emotional, physical and mental damage at his own hands as well as everyone else's, driving his actions.  It's a reminder to me to look beneath the surface when I meet someone.  There's more to us than even we know.

Have you read Butter?  If so, what did you think?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Beautiful Creatures, No. 1 by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

I was trying to decide which book to review today and realized I never talked about Beautiful Creatures apart from the first few lines!

Here, then, are my thoughts upon reading the first book of the Beautiful Creature series:

1.  The setting is phenomenal.  I feel like I know this town.  Gatlin, South Carolina must be a a real place.  Since I live in South Carolina, I was happily surprised at the authenticity of the novel's setting.  Everything rang true to me, from the superstitions, pies, people, and small-town petty feuds.  The muggy heat, the thunderstorms, the countryside...the landscape is impeccable.

2.  The characters don't seem so much like characters as potential neighbors.  Again, this could just be me, living in the South, but I also know people like this.  Even though there's paranormal activity going on, even though some of these people aren't technically 100% human...these people are real, or at least they feel real.  Even the teenagers are real, without being gross or risque (which I deeply appreciate, since I am squeamish when it comes to steamy scenes).

3.  I loved the relationships between people.  Ethan's heartbreaking relationship with his father, his humorous (and somewhat awed) relationship with Amma, his sweet relationship with Lena, and his dislike of the lives of the people around him.  I can definitely identify with that last one.

4.  The history presented in this book is a great middle-of-the-road view.  It isn't anti-South, but it isn't exactly pro-North either.  It presents the Civil War for what it was: a great tragedy in the history of our nation.  Both sides suffered, in more ways than one.  And some families haven't quite forgotten it.

5.  My only nitpick is that there were so many words.  I feel like there wasn't enough action to merit such a high word count (the book is enormous).  I might be inclined to say it was because they had to ground the story in such a deeply complicated setting, but I've also just read a fantastic dystopian YA novel that had the bare minimum description and still managed to make me feel like I was there.  So...I go back and forth about it.  It only detracted slightly from my enjoyment of the story.

My favorite character right now is Lena.  She's a very unique individual.  I feel like we would get along.  I feel like we have a lot in common (writing, keeping little things that we consider valuable, highly sensitive), even though she is vastly different from me (she has supernatural powers, which of course, no matter how much I want them, I do not possess).

I'm really enjoying Beautiful Darkness (book two), and I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out in a few weeks.  Come back next Monday for a review on a different book!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Showers of Books Giveaway Hop!

There's a great giveaway going on right now -- lots of good books up for grabs!

Follow along with me by starting here: http://www.literaryrambles.com/2013/04/shower-of-books-blog-hop-giveaway.html

Good luck!

(I'm hoping for a chance to win Cinder or Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Under the Never Sky or Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, or Shadow & Bone or Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo!)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

It might have been a mistake to read a Cinderella re-telling while trying to write a re-telling of the same story.  I ended up reading Cinder and thinking, "Why should I write a re-telling?  This is the most imaginative and fun version of this story I've ever read!"

[I also discovered that while I enjoyed reading historical fiction as a child, I loathe writing it.  I couldn't even open the document to work on it after the first five chapters.  So there is that too]

The book opens with Cinder, the best mechanic in New Beijing, being visited by Prince Kai.  He brings a robot for her to repair.  Before they have time to fall in love at first sight, an outbreak of plague causes them both to scurry home, before they succumb to the frightening disease.

Cinder lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters, and a robot, her one constant companion.  Unknown to many, including the prince, Cinder is a cyborg, which allows her to diagnose and fix machines as well as tell when people are lying.

When she's sent to the palace as a 'volunteer' for experimentation with a cure for the plague, a scientist takes particular interest in her.  There is more to Cinder than even she knows, and when the Lunar Queen visits, Cinder is warned to stay away for fear of her life.

Of course, she can't, needing to get vital information to the prince, and what results is a tragic and breathtaking beginning of the Lunar Chronicles.  Scarlet, the second book, is already out and I am anxious to continue reading about Cinder.

There were lots of things to love about this book: the cover is striking, Cinder is an intelligent girl who knows how to handle machinery, she isn't overly romantic, and she struggles with things that a lot of us go through at that age.  I also loved the nods to the classic story.  The new twists made the story fresh, and the setting was just incredible -- a future world where the moon has its own colony ruled by the Lunar Queen, Beijing has been rebuilt, and robots/cyborgs are looked down on as second-hand citizens.  It's an interesting way to look at race/disabilities.

The one thing I didn't like was that I saw the biggest twist coming right from the start.  I wish the clues hadn't been so obvious, or that they had showed up later, about 2/3 of the way through the book instead of in the first few chapters.

Other than that, it was amazing, and really, it's one of my new favorite books.  Re-tellings are always such fun, and Cinder was more fun than most, being put in a science fiction setting rather than a fairytale.

I'm curious to see Cinder's journey throughout The Lunar Chronicles, and I'd love to hear your thoughts (mark your spoilers, though, as I haven't read Scarlet yet) on Cinder's story! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Has anyone read Brenna Yovanoff's book The Replacement?  It's a spooky, weird, dark little fairytale about a boy who doesn't fit in -- not in this world, and not in the fae world he visits.  It's a fascinating book but quite dark -- Paper Valentine continues that tradition.

Paper Valentine is unsettling.  It ends unresolved, in some ways.  It discusses a disturbing issue.  And it's a really, really interesting psychological story.

I liked it.

Not in the "This-is-my-favorite-book-of-all-time" kind of way (like Blink & Caution or Shadow & Bone were) but "This-is-a-very-unique-book-and-wow-I'm-so-glad-I-got-to-read-this" kind of way.

Paper Valentine focuses on a girl, Hannah, who lives in a small town.  It's summertime.  And her best friend's ghost is following her around.  Also...she might be attracted to Finney Boone, the guy who scrubbed her face with snow in elementary school.

As the plot thickens, dead girls begin cropping up, surrounded by plastic toys and childish paraphernalia.  And a single valentine cut out of paper.  Hannah catches glimpses of the gruesome scenes while working for her cousin, who develops the photos at her shop for the police.

Hannah's dead friend becomes obsessed with the murders, dragging Hannah along for the ride.  Will Hannah be able to unravel this mystery, or will it be the end of her?

So: Hannah's dealing with her best friend's ghost, a constant reminder of the way she died (it is hinted that she died from complications due to bulimia or anorexia); a family who's freaked out by the serial killer (which means she's cooped up with her friend's ghost -- not a pleasant way to spend the summer); Finney Boone, who starts showing a gentle side; and her own guilt and feelings when it comes to her friend's death, the way she treated Finney in elementary school, and her friend's need to find the killer.

Paper Valentine weaves complex psychological elements into the characters early, but doesn't start pulling threads until you've made up your mind about the characters.

Do you like Hannah?  Well, she's in a clique of mean girls who made fun of Finney when they were younger.  She's never been able to get away from their influence.  She's living in her head more than she's living in real life.

Do you like Finney?  Well, we don't know much about him.  He could even be the serial killer.  Aren't they supposed to turn on the charm when they meet a potential victim?

It goes on like this for a while, beckoning you this way and that, tantalizingly giving you one piece of information at a time, never enough to put it all together until the very end.

While I didn't completely buy the ending, it has started to make sense now that I've had a few days to think about it.  What I really loved is that it's a character that runs true to form for a serial killer.  It's someone you know.  You trust him.  You don't even give him a second thought, since you've been in his house before.  But once you really see him, you wonder why it never occurred to you why his eyes are so lifeless.

(And the only reason I didn't buy the ending was that we never got much time with that character.  There wasn't as much of a build up as there needed to be.)

I loved that Hannah wasn't a reliable narrator.  The more you learn about her and Finney you realize she's looked at him wrong her whole life.  He's a hooligan and he steals from the gas station, but that doesn't mean he can't also be a sweet, gentle guy.  And it doesn't mean he should be automatically pointed to as the main suspect.

Paper Valentine is full of mystery.  It's creepy, scary, dark, and contains some thematic elements not for the younger crowd (there's a oujia board used for a seance at least twice, and there's a few romantic moments, although nothing graphic).  It's a lot of psychology.  It's about grief, anger, and hopelessness.

But the rays of hope emanated by Hannah and Finney's relationship are beautiful to behold.  In the midst of this nightmare, they find each other and gently, kindly lead each other to a better understanding of each other.

Finney's the type of character I always gravitate toward -- the misunderstood antihero.  He reminds me of a slightly younger John Bender (from The Breakfast Club) -- a guy who's got it rough and pretends that he's rough, while on the inside, he's actually sweet; he's a person yearning for love.

If you enjoy ghost stories, psychological thrillers, mysteries, or paranormal stories, you would probably like this book.

I'll be reviewing Cinder by Marissa Meyer next week.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I won a copy of Insurgent a few weeks ago and had to scramble to find an available copy of Divergent (book 1) at the library.

Even though it has been out two years this month, I didn't have any friends who'd read it and didn't really know what it was about -- somehow, I had managed to avoid spoilers (a grand feat).

I am so glad I knew nothing about the story when I began it.  I was sucked into the world immediately, emotionally invested from the beginning, and I'm not quite sure what magic Veronica Roth worked to assure this outcome.

Divergent speaks on the deepest need we humans have -- the need to belong.  It explores that idea in a family setting and a societal setting, with friends, leaders, acquaintances and classmates.  It's a powerful story of how we divide ourselves, and how dangerous that can be. The subcultures created in this setting are meant to separate, sometimes with tragic results.

It also explores our need for power, and the corruption that inevitably follows.  A society of the type depicted in Divergent can only last as long as the leaders are able to keep control firmly in hand.  When the people realize they can wield power (and aren't afraid to try), a revolution often occurs.

With this social and political commentary as a backdrop, one girl searches for her identity in the midst of a life altering decision, a budding romance, and familial expectations.  It's breathtaking to watch unfold -- and sometimes horrifying.

Divergent is categorized as YA dystopian fiction, but there's a lot more it has to offer.  There are several twists and turns, advanced science experiments, and danger in spades, so this story could also appeal to mystery lovers, thriller admirers and science fiction readers.

I'd recommend this story to just about everyone, really.  You'll easily be able to empathize with the main character as I found myself doing, and you also might find yourself subconsciously attempting to philosophize on which faction you'd belong to.

It's an exciting ride and I can't wait to read Insurgent.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Shadow & Bone: Thrilling News!

Several months ago, I was skimming the Grisha Trilogy Facebook page (Shadow & Bone is book one in the trilogy, followed by Siege & Storm) and noticed an article that asked for our blogged reviews of Shadow & Bone.  Since I had absolutely loved it, I sent in my review and waited.

And waited.

...And waited.

I pretty much forgot about it.

Until last night, when I received a lovely e-mail from someone at MacMillan publishers, who had been working on a surprise for us bloggers who had loved Shadow & Bone from the beginning.

We are included in the paperback edition of Shadow & Bone, coming out May 7th!!!


She sent us a watermarked page (it's beautiful) and there was the name of my blog.

Chills, people.  I got chills.

Back in the day you were lucky if you wrote an author and they scribbled a note back.  That kind of thing was extremely rare and a lot of writers were hermit-esque except for the occasional speaking gig.

Not today.  Today, we have authors contacting us through Goodreads (this has happened to me twice), writing blogs (I've won giveaways from authors), and saying a public thank you to those who fell in love with her first book.

It's an exciting time to be alive!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Host a Great Giveaway

I've been entering giveaways since last year when I discovered the YAmazing Race (an uber-trek through the blogosphere for the primary purpose of sharing YA stories), and I've thought about doing my own giveaway (or participating in a blog hop), but haven't worked myself up to it yet (lack of money/time issue, primarily).

I have, however, given a lot of thought to running a giveaway smoothly and what not to do if you want people to enjoy your giveaway and come back for more.

I offer this sage advice (from one weary blog-hopper to the next) and hope it gives you a headstart when you decide to join the ranks of The Blogs That Give Awesome Stuff Away.

General guidelines:

1. Give something away that you'd like to win -- please, please don't offer up a worn-out copy of a vacuum cleaner manual.  No one wants that.  Also, don't offer up your own writing  unless it comes with swag and signatures.  It looks desperate.  (This also protects you from feeling sad when only a few people enter your contest)  If you can't think of something to give away, look through the hot titles list at your local library or on Amazon and Goodreads.  Or ask your readers with an easy, one-question poll.

2.  State rules and prize clearly (preferably at the beginning of the post).

3.  Hold yourself to deadlines -- post the giveaway when you promised, end it and choose the winner in a timely fashion, alert the winner, keep in contact as necessary, and ship as soon as possible.  You want people to keep visiting your blog.  Be professional.

4.  If you are using images in your giveaway, make sure the photo quality or image quality is high.  Label them (with the title or series title) and link to their Goodreads or Amazon page.

5.  If you are using Rafflecopter, there are a few suggestions I have after entering more than a dozen giveaways and bemoaning the complicated entry possibilities.  Either assign all the options 1 point, or assign them points based on the time involved for each activity and how much exposure you'd potentially get.  Also take into consideration what you'd like more of -- Twitter followers?  Blog followers?  Goodreads friends?

I'd set up a Rafflecopter as follows:

  • Follow via e-mail or RSS
  • Follow in one of these ways: Networked Blogs, Linky, BlogLuvin', GFC, etc.
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Friend/follow on Goodreads
  • Follow on Pinterest
  • Like Facebook page (or share contest)
  • Comment -- ask them a question they can answer in the comment section

The reason I've only put one Twitter option on there is because some people don't have smartphones and therefore don't have a Twitter account (can you imagine Twitter on the computer?  Maddening).  I also think you should group similar things in one option - would you really follow someone three different ways via your own blog?  Also -- it's nice to get comments, but if I have to go through your reviews and post a thoughtful comment, I probably won't do it.  For ease and a sure entry, ask them a pertinent question (tie in the theme of the giveaway!  Ask for recommendations!).  Another thing I've seen is only allowing one option to show until completed.  What if you only let people who have a Twitter handle enter?  You've just lost part of your audience.

If the point of a giveaway is to enlarge your readership, do yourself a favor and make the giveaway fun and easy.  People will appreciate it and might even tell their friends to enter your next giveaway.

Let me know in the comments if you can think of anything else to add, or if you agree/disagree with my giveaway rules.  Those of you who have hosted giveaways -- what was your experience like?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Legend of Eli Monpress (Books 1-3) by Rachel Aaron


I have finally finished reading the epic (I'm going to use that word a lot in this review) 3-book collection The Legend of Eli Monpress (and there's still two more books to go!  I'm currently reading the next one, No. 4 -- The Spirit War).

And may I just say...

Well done, Rachel Aaron.  *slow clap*  Well done.

The first book, The Spirit Thief, is a great heist story.  It's full of epic sword fights, kick-butt characters, witty repartee, etc.  The ending is a big finish, a grand finale, and you think, "Oh, wow, that was really cool!" and then you go on to the next book, unaware of the depth of epic-ness that is to come.

Then you start in on The Spirit Rebellion.  Really cool, thriller-type story with sneaking around, some character background, and a tyrant that *really* needs to be overthrown.  Epic fight at the end that raises the stakes even more.  We begin to see twists and turns in characters' stories, and the tangled relationships they're involved in.

And then you read The Spirit Eater and start to understand just what exactly is going on.  It's waaaaaay bigger than you've imagined and things are getting pretty serious for our beloved trio.  This one has more...darkness involved.  An inkling of the danger our characters are in (pretty deep) starts trickling into your brain and you start worrying that one of them (any of them!) might just keel over and die.  It's a mystery -- shadowy, with more threatening villains, and the answer to a question we never thought to ask.  It's almost a throwaway conversation -- but it *isn't* and that's where Rachel's brilliance appears (like it has everywhere through the books) -- we've built up to this point and have barely noticed.  And then WHAM!  There it is.  And then the stakes are raised EVEN HIGHER.  FOR EVERYONE.

I kept reading each book and thinking, "HOW IS RACHEL GOING TO TOP THIS?!?!?!"  And you know what?  She topped each ending.  Every. Single. Time.

I don't even know what could happen in books four and five.

Let's just say I scrambled to find a copy I could beg, borrow or steal so that I could finish the series stat.

I'm serious -- I literally begged friends for a copy of book four, The Spirit War, so that I could keep going.

What I love about Rachel Aaron is that she knows how to keep an epic story light while at the same time explore the depths of a fantasy world (and to some extent, the characters' backstories).  She also handles multiple main characters extremely well -- I feel like I know the trio.  I could travel with this group.  I also know the person chasing them, and I can't help but sympathize.  They are a slippery bunch to catch (and hold onto).

Her books feel big, expansive -- the universe she's created feels real.  I can picture the countryside the trio travels through, I know what they look like, I can see the castles and buildings they thieve from, and I can feel the food they eat in my hands.  I can see their world so clearly.

While the series isn't YA or middle-grade, it hits a nice medium -- it isn't 'adult' in theme.  It's a really epic fantasy with elements of several genres mixed in (and is low on the romance scale, which of course you know delights me).  It's a saga, a story whose scope is far greater than what you first see.

I think this series would be perfect reading for a long summer or winter.  I'm already sad that it's more than halfway over.  While I'm trying to rush through and see what happens, I'm also lingering because I know once I read the last book, I have to say goodbye to Eli, Josef and Nico (and Miranda and Gin).

And that's just gonna be a sad, sad day.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Visit the New Blog!

Hi everyone!

It's time to announce the new blog!!!

While I'll still be reviewing books and posting them on this site, I needed a new space to talk about story, the craft of writing, and specifically the mediums of film and television.  So while you can still visit this one (I've got a review to be posted on Monday), I'd like it if you'd check out my other site and see if it's something you're interested in (you can follow through RSS if you want).

Try reading my first post, Please Watch Responsibly.

You can also explore the site and see some of my other artistic endeavors (photography, digital art), my inspirations (film, books and television), and the About Me page which contains some weird facts and photos of yours truly.

You can bookmark the new site by visiting the home page here.

See you on Monday -- and if you visit the new site, feel free to leave a comment!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eleanor & Park Giveaway!

The Midnight Garden is giving away a signed copy of Eleanor and Park, a 1980's highschool love story!

I REALLY REALLY WANT TO WIN THIS BOOK!  There is almost nothing I love more than the 80's highschool story.

I mean, I could watch The Breakfast Club or Freaks and Geeks every day.

If you want a chance to win, enter here.

Good luck!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Clockwork Princess Giveaway

Hi everyone!

Just thought you should know that another great book blog, Book Flame, is giving away two copies of The Clockwork Princess (last book in the Infernal Devices trilogy)!

I've been wanting to read these books for ages so I'm entering the giveaway hoping for a win...

Try your luck here.

Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky

(On Friday I posted a bit of the first page of Juniper Berry, so after you read this review you might want to check it out)

I was instantly drawn in by the first sentence of this middle-grade novel: "The house was a mansion, the lake was a pool, Kitty was a dog, and Juniper Berry was an eleven-year-old girl."

It's one of those magical first sentences that gives you the chills and envelops you in the world right from the start.

This is a story about the choices we make -- the choices that define us.  It's about temptation to buy into being the same as everyone else, and it's about the terror of feeling alone.

Juniper Berry is an eleven year old with no friends and severely neglectful parents.  The child of two movie stars, she spends her days distant -- from her parents and the world around her.  With her dog, Kitty, and every kind of lense imaginable (monocular, binocular, telescope, periscope, etc.), she explores from afar and dreams of the day when her parents will notice her again.

She meets a strange boy named Giles whose parents are musicians, and together they solve the mystery behind their parents' meteoric rise to fame -- which includes a mysterious tree, a talking raven, and a handful of balloons.

This is a modern moral fable.  It has a lot to say about the price of fame -- the changes, the loss of personal identity and privacy and the pressure of pleasing a constant audience.

It also speaks to the hardships one must endure to keep the essence of who they are, despite pressure to conform.

Although this might seem a heady subject for middle-schoolers, I think it is a perfect opportunity for middle-grade readers to begin understanding the cost of living a false life.  Juniper Berry is a genuine, honest, heartfelt individual who remains true to herself despite the agony of being an outsider and the temptations to 'live a perfect life' by living shallowly.

I needed this book.  It came at a time when I was struggling through what Juniper deals with -- wondering if, perhaps, being ourselves is too difficult and if embracing a life in the shallow end wouldn't be easier.  But as we see in this story, our own lives are worth living, no matter what pain we experience.  We are who we are, and if we lie to ourselves about that, we aren't going to be happy, even if we receive everything we ask for.

This is the third book I've received from Walden Pond Press (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) and I am continually impressed with the caliber of their authors (and illustrators!).  This one might be my favorite of the three for the way its author words things, the front cover, and the themes expressed throughout the story.

Definitely put this one on your Goodreads list, and if you've read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Note: my new website is almost ready!  I need two more photos and a few more words and I'm good to go.  I'll link to it once it's complete.  Remember, I'll still be doing book reviews on this site.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kick Butt Characters Giveaway Hop!

Hi friends!

Yes, I am spending my Saturday morning going through giveaways in hopes of winning more books.  Ah, the exciting life of a poor, penniless bookworm.  ;)

If you want to join me, start here: Kick Butt Characters Giveaway Hop

Good luck!

EDIT: I won!  I won!  Le' Grande Codex announced that I've won an ebook -- I got to choose from a list.  I will be receiving my very own ebook of Insurgent by Veronica Roth!  I am scrambling to get a copy of Divergent from the library so I can read it before Insurgent (book 2) arrives.


Friday, March 22, 2013

First Line Friday No. 30

Well, I was going to introduce you to a very exciting middle-grade novel set in the state I'm living in, but I found out today that it isn't technically "out" until the end of next month.  So...I'll do a review of it later next month.

However, I do have another middle-grade novel that promises to be just as exciting, and it begins thusly:

"The house was a mansion, the lake was a pool, Kitty was a dog, and Juniper Berry was an eleven-year-old girl.

And like many eleven-year-old girls, she couldn't wait until her parents returned home from work.  She sat at the top of the stairs, binoculars in hand and directed out the two-story front window, waiting to see the golden gates of her home slowly open.  Tonight was Italian night and the three of them were supposed to make pizzas for dinner.  This was part of their weekly schedule, only Juniper couldn't remember the last time they actually followed through with it.  For a while now, everything, including her, had been neglected.

Still, she never gave up hope.  One of these days her parents would come home from work and be thrilled to see her.  The rest of the day and every day after would be spent in each other's company, not a minute wasted, not even a single second, just like it was years ago."

-- from Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky

There are some books that just have it, whatever "it" is, from the beginning.  This is one of those books.  It creates an atmosphere instantly, with the first sentence.  It's mysterious, a bit creepy, and promises a very, very interesting time.

Reasons to keep reading:

1. The names!  Kitty for a dog and Juniper Berry for a girl?  Amazing!
2.  Why is she (and everything else) being neglected?
3.  What's wrong with her parents?
4.  What happened to make this change?
5.  ...What are the other theme nights on their schedule (yes, I am actually curious about this!)?

What do you think about Juniper Berry?  Curious?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Write Wednesday: First vs. Third Person

Ok -- so I've been reading middle grade novels (I just won two from Walden Pond Press, which is an imprint of HarperCollins, and they have been so nice, going above and beyond in their e-mails to let me know that an author of one of the books I won is going to be in my area soon in case I wanted to meet him) and I realize now why I've been plodding through them.

I think I'm used to reading first person.

A lot of YA fantasy and sci-fi (Beautiful Creatures, Hunger Games, Maximum Ride) that I read is in first person.  It connects you instantly with the character on an emotional level.

Middle grade novels don't deal with a lot of complex emotion, so it makes sense that they are, generally, in third person.

It isn't a good or bad thing, it just is this way.

But I only noticed it because I started reading The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson and was sucked in from the beginning -- it's a middle grade novel told in first person.

Isn't it strange that this particular choice of storytelling could make such a difference?

I've been told before that a young author should tell stories in third person until they get the hang of it.  But most stories I like to read are told in first person.

Which means I told my NaNo novels all wrong (which, in retrospect, is probably why I didn't go back and revise them...), except for the last one.  I had a strong voice in my head for the character and she was always willing to talk.  I did much better on that novel than on the others and it's one I am seriously considering getting into shape and shipping off to an agent, which is a first for me.

It's also a clue to the type of writing I'll probably do more of -- I'm stronger with first person because I've read more of it.  I understand it better, I can wield it better.

There is definitely a place for third person -- if you've a large cast of characters, for instance.  Also, again, if you're writing middle grade, it's better to keep the emotions simple.  I can also see it being used if you're spacing your characters out geographically and/or switching between characters (I find switching between characters in first person to be a little confusing unless they're vastly different).

I don't think one is better than the other, but I know which one I tend to gravitate toward, and which one I'm more likely to write, now that I've paid attention.

What about you?  Do you prefer writing or reading in first or third person?  Does it make a difference to you at all?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Storybound by Marissa Burt

It seems I have been inundated with middle-grade novels to read.  While I do prefer YA in terms of subject matter (I am more drawn to the themes discussed in YA), the middle-grade books I have been reading are strong, appropriate, and fun.

Storybound is no exception.

The book started out slow, carefully world-building, introducing characters and spinning the beginning of a mystery, but as I reached the middle it began to pick up pace.  (Much appreciated.  An earlier middle-grade novel, while strong, was much too slow for my taste)  Then came a GIGANTIC surprise twist that I didn't see coming until it was right up on me, but it was so ingenious that I instantly became a huge fan of the story and wanted the sequel immediately.  Seriously.  This new author has some guts.

Another thing I really liked was that I was able to tell what the author's influences were without the author having to spell out what type of books she read as a child.  Multiple descriptions of food, references to other stories, and types of characters let me know that this author must have read Anne of Green Gables or Redwall as a child (I think her site mentions Anne of Green Gables).

The story focuses on Una Fairchild, a lonely orphan who often escapes her dreary life by delving into storybooks.  Until one day she literally jumps into the pages of a mysterious book and enters the world of Story.  She begins attending classes (Villainy, Heroics, etc.), attempting to figure out who brought her here and why.  As the story unfolds, we realize that no one, not even Una, is who they seem.

There's a sly twist of Snow White's character (quite amusing and somewhat sad at the same time), a villain-who's-actually-a-hero, Muses, a talking cat, and two handsome boys.  And then there's Una, with a backstory as mysterious as everyone else's.

Trust me -- this book (and its sequel) is well worth the read.  I can't wait until Story's End appears on the shelves!

Friday, March 15, 2013

First Line Friday No. 29

It's finally warm!  I live in a place that's usually 300% humidity and 1,000 degrees (Ok...I exaggerate a wee bit.  But it seriously feels like an oven from April-October).

However, it has been cold here for about four months -- the longest period of 30 degree weather in a long history of long, shimmering summers.  So I've been looking forward to seeing the sun and feeling it warm my skin.

It got me thinking about summer reading.  Why is it that we read certain books in the summertime?  Sometimes we read 'lighter' material, and sometimes we read 'fun' books, and then there's those unique books that just feel like a summer afternoon.

Sharon Creech's books should be read at every season, but they're particularly poignant in the summer.  I especially love Absolutely Normal Chaos, Walk Two Moons and Chasing Redbird in the summertime, but my very favorite Creech book is Bloomability.

I adore this book because the main character and I both attended an international school.  I understand her confusion in, and then love of, being overseas in a mix of people from all over the globe.  She gets taken from a hick town in America to cultured, beautiful Switzerland, and between the two places she finally starts figuring out who she is.

It's a beautiful story.

Here's the first few words:

In my first life, I lived with my mother, and my older brother and sister, Crick and Stella, and with my father when he wasn't on the road.  My father was a trucker, or sometimes a mechanic or a picker, plucker or painter.  He called himself a Jack-of-all-trades (Jack was his real name), but sometimes there wasn't any trade in whatever town we were living in, so off he would go in search of a job somewhere else.  My mother would start packing, and we'd wait for a phone call from him that would tell us it was time to join him.  

He'd always say, "I found us a great place!  Wait'll you see it!"

Each time we moved, we had fewer boxes, not more.  My mother would say, "Do you really need all those things, Dinnie? They're just things.  leave them."

--from Bloomability by Sharon Creech

Reasons to keep reading:

1. In her 'first' life?  What happens in her second life?
2. Crick?  What other crazy names does this family have?
3. Why does Dinnie's dad move them around all the time?
4. How does Dinnie feel about letting things go?
5. What things has Dinnie kept?

Have you ever read Sharon Creech's books?  Did you like them?  I find the way she weaves words together unique.  I could sit for hours and listen to someone read her beautiful, beautiful words.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Middle-Grade vs. YA

I've been reading a mixture of Middle-Grade and YA novels lately and I have slowly been able to make a distinction between them.

As a child I devoured books without thinking.  I just read what looked interesting and left what seemed boring on the library shelves.

But as I grow older and start to write my own stories, I realize I have to know and work with these terms.  Do I write middle-grade?  Do I write YA?  Do I write for middle schoolers or teens?  Young adults?

So I thought it would be helpful to take a short look at what distinguishes these two categories (in my own terms).

I would describe Middle Grade novels as follows:

1. Straightforward plot (with maybe one big twist)
2. Simple characters (not a ton of development -- middle schoolers are just figuring out who they are, just beginning to be able to sort out complex feelings and emotions...)
3. One issue/theme

I'm not saying *every* Middle Grade novel has these things, but generally, this is what I've encountered when reading them.  A strong, straightforward plot (few to no secondary storylines), simple characters with more external action than internal monologue, and an overarching, simple theme (if there even *is* a theme) or issue that's solved by the end of the book/series.

I would describe YA novels as follows:

1. Complex plot (multiple storylines) -- told through various characters, times, places, etc.
2. Complex characters (sifting through emotions, thoughts, motives, reasons, etc.)
3. Possibly more than one theme or issue to resolve

Again...this is just general.  Some YA novels may include romance (while MG novels may make the barest hint but rarely take it beyond that), complex issues (motives behind bad behavior, anti-heroes, grey areas, etc.), and more than one MC, but some might not.

So what's the biggest difference?

I think the biggest difference is the maturity of the reader.  It is hard for me to read a Middle Grade novel.  The stories can be terrific, but to me they seem overly simplified, with not a lot of complexity to grapple with.  On the other hand, I don't like YA romance because it can go *too* far.

It all depends on the reader.

But of course, you can't market for one reader.  So you have to make up genres and age groups and hope that other people will find your story.

Honestly, though, the best stories can be told to a wider audience than they're advertised for -- take a Wrinkle in Time, for instance.  Middle school kids, teens, young adults and older adults all love that book.  Same goes for Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and Redwall.

So maybe the whole point of this exercise is that I think we make too many distinctions between what genre and age group we're writing for.

Maybe we're supposed to write for ourselves, first.  We're the first readers, after all.  Let someone figure out who to market it for later.

What do you think?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

I don't usually read romance.  Of any kind.  Except for the occasional Jane Austen or L.M. Montgomery book.  It just doesn't appeal to me.  I prefer reading adventure stories, and, if romance must come into play, for it to be a secondary storyline.

But Unearthly, a paranormal romance, piqued my interest.  So I entered the giveaway and, to my shock, won!  The other exciting part is that the author was doing the giveaway so I won a signed copy and two signed bookmarks.

While it was exciting to win, this in no way formed my opinions presented below.  Just in case you were wondering.

I struggled, at first, to get into Unearthly, although I'm not quite sure why.  The premise was interesting, the world-building intriguing, and the characters pretty well developed and unique.

I think it was the romance part that made me halt.  I just don't read romance.  So there I was, waiting for it to happen, watching it all unfold pretty normally, no shocking twists or turns...

And then WHAM.

This book is not just romance.  It's part family drama -- the tension between the daughter and mother was not expected but expertly crafted, especially near the end.  Neither of them are 'bad' or unlikeable.  But they are not communicating and it causes a wide rift between them that makes all sorts of problems.

The worry about the younger brother, although a side storyline, ramps up the tension even more.  What will happen to him?  What is he doing while we can't see him?

Then there's the whole new-girl-new-school-new-people thing.  But it isn't the hackneyed "Everyone thinks she's perfect" or "everyone hates her".  It's a mixture, just like in real life.  She finds a friend pretty quickly, only to connect with another classmate later and realize she's made two very, very different friends.  More tension.

Then comes the romance -- which isn't really *all* about the romance.  On one side, you have the beautiful guy you're supposed to be saving -- who already has a girlfriend; on the other hand, you have this...cowboy version of Mr. Darcy who takes every opportunity to give the heroine a bad time (at first).  Yeah, I have to admit, I like him a lot more than the 'beautiful guy' (even though they're both attractive, of course...which is my one nitpick about romance.  Fall in love for someone other than their looks *first*, please.  Realize they're attractive to you later), and liked him immediately.  He had the whole Gil thing going for him (even calling the heroine "Carrots").  Although he's the brother of one of her friends, which adds another layer of tension.

Then you have the internal struggle -- what's my purpose?  Who am I?  What if I don't accomplish my purpose?  What will my parent's reaction be?  What will happen to me?

While typical teenagers don't definitely know their 'purpose', we can all sympathize with the "Who am I?/What am I here for/what will my parents' reaction be if I fail?" roller coaster of emotions.

I also really loved that the heroine wasn't "I'm perfect and awesome" or "I'm ugly and disgusting".  She was a typical teenage girl (while also being paranormal).  Happy and carefree some days, angry or sad other days, but all within reason giving the circumstances.  She is a middle-of-the-road heroine, apart from her angelic good looks, somewhat content with her lot in life but still wondering just what life has in store for her.

To include all of that in a "paranormal romance" and then on top of it add detailed descriptions of the area that they live in (seriously, enough detail to make it feel like you've visited the area after reading the book while not letting the description drag the narrative down), along with a sweet, budding romance that is fresh and innocent (it was so refreshing to not read a bunch of sexy smut.  I really, really appreciated it -- it was age appropriate without being cheesy or gross, which, in my opinion, is extremely hard to pull off) -- well, I was pretty flabbergasted at just how much was in this book, because it was effortless to read after the initial "I don't know that I can read romance" halt.

The ending definitely made me want to continue reading the series.  I felt the emotion of the characters -- fear, love, hate, awe, disappointment, confusion...there's a lot of loose ends that I need tied up.

The only thing I am nitpicking is that everyone seemed to be good-looking.  But I guess if you live in a resort area and some of you are angels, there are lots of pretty people around.  So I'm only sort of nitpicking.

Props to Ms. Hand for writing a paranormal romance that even non-romance readers can enjoy.  I'll be checking out the rest of the series from the library (or signing up to win the others -- hey, I'm poor).

If you like stories about the paranormal (particularly angelic beings), family dynamics, young romance, or Western imagery, you should give this one a try.

I'll be reading the Beautiful Creatures series next week, so look forward to a review sometime in the next few weeks.  I'm also finishing up a few other books, but I'm not promising a review by next Monday.  I will, however, be writing the normal Wednesday and Friday posts.

Still working on my other website, but I have decided to keep posting reviews on here irregularly.  The other site will focus more on film and television and the craft of writing.  I'll let you know when it's ready.

Have a great week!

Friday, March 8, 2013

First Line Friday No. 28

Because I recently won the Beautiful Creatures series, I thought today we'd take a peek at the first page.  It's most intriguing.

"There were only two kinds of people in our town.  "The stupid and the stuck," my father had affectionately classified our neighbors.  "The ones who are bound to stay or the ones too dumb to go.  Everyone else finds a way out."  There was no question which one he was, but I'd never had the courage to ask why.  My father was a writer, and we lived in Gatlin, South Carolina, because the Wates always had, since my great-great-great-great grand-dad, Ellis Wate, fought and died on the other side of the Santee River during the Civil War.

Only the folks down here didn't call it the Civil War.  Everyone under the age of sixty called it the War Between the States, while everyone over sixty called it the War of Northern Aggression, as if somehow the North had baited the South into war over a bad bale of cotton.  Everyone, that is, except my family.  We called it the Civil War."

--from Beautiful Creatures by Kami Marcia and Margaret Stohl

My reasons to keep reading:

1.  What is the character's relationship with their father like?
2.  What does their father write?
3.  Was the greatx4 relative a Northern soldier (dying on the other side of the Santee)?
4.  What is the family's feeling on the Civil War?
5.  Why are they the only family to call it that?

Another interesting thing about this story is that the two writers wrote these books on a dare.  They wanted to prove to their kids that books could be interesting without vampires or werewolves.

And now the first book is a feature film!

I can't wait to start reading these.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lunar Love Giveaway Hop!

I've now won several books (some even signed by the authors!) through these fabulous giveaways...if you want to try your luck, join me at the starting line:

Lunar Love Giveaway Hop

I'm really excited about the last collection I won -- the Beautiful Creatures series!! (I think during the Random Acts of Kindness Giveaway Hop)  It came in the mail today and as soon as I finish up the book I won previously (Unearthly, a SIGNED copy!), I'll be delving into their pages!  Can't wait!

Camp NaNoWriMo!

This year, NaNoWriMo is not only offering Classic NaNo, they are offering TWO Camp NaNoWriMos!  These "Camp" sessions are different in that you can write in any format (script, graphic novel, screenplay, or regular novel) and choose your own wordcount (10k-100k!).

I absolutely *love* NaNoWriMo and I'm going to attempt ALL THREE this year.  I'm writing a novel in both April and November, but in July I'm going to take a stab at a screenplay.

You can go ahead and sign up for April here: Camp NaNoWriMo

and if you're curious about the story I'm writing, you can take a peek here: The Glass Slipper

Join the fun!


Suffice it to say I'm feeling quite apologetic for not getting this review posted sooner.

But without further ado, here it is:

Kevin Emerson's The Fellowship for Alien Detection is a strong, standalone middle grade novel (although I could see a sequel happening).  While it is quite long for middle-grade (over 400 pages), the pacing is such that it never really drags.  There are lulls in the action, but I appreciated the lulls because it gave the characters time to think and reflect instead of having them rush through a bunch of action sequences.

The two main characters, Haley and Francis ("Dodger") are typical middle-schoolers in different ways.  Haley wants to get away from her boring home life and find an adventure.  Dodger just wants to find a place where he fits in.

When the kids win a Fellowship based on their research of possible alien visitations, they convince their family members to go along for the ride.  Starting at either end of the U.S., both kids struggle with how much they tell their families and how much they should keep secret.  Because aliens are real, and close by, and what parents are going to let their kids get close to an extraterrestrial?

The story also focuses on one Suza Raines...one of The Missing.  She wakes up every morning with a distinct feeling that something is 'off'.  And then something goes wrong.  And the day starts all over again.

The book is somewhat about identity (who am I/why am I here?), somewhat about family (acceptance, affection, and trust), and a little bit about how small we are in the universe.  The themes are age appropriate for middle school while never being heavy-handed.  There was one conversation I thought would start heading that direction but it cut off and gave you food for thought instead of completing the sentence, as it were.

I also liked that there was a hint of romance, but it didn't completely materialize.  Again, age appropriate.  Also, there was stuff to do, like save the planet from aliens.  So, you know.  No time for kisses.

There was a shocking twist (at least, I thought it shocking) that in the aftermath, made sense.  It deepened one family's backstory and made them more sympathetic.

While there are characters who aren't as fleshed out as others, that was the only thing I noticed that I wasn't 100% happy with -- but most of the characters are unique, with at least some backstory.

All in all, this is a fun, entertaining read without being too light.  There are themes I connected with (the search for identity), the characters were a delight to read about, and the conclusion was satisfying without being tied up with a pretty bow.

If you like middle-grade or YA sci-fi novels, definitely give this one a chance.

Friday, March 1, 2013

First Line Friday No. 27

"In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees.  He's around my age, in that space between child and man, maybe all of seventeen years old.  I'm not sure how I know this.  I can only see the back of his head, his dark hair curling damply against his neck.  I feel the dry heat of the sun, so intense, drawing the life from everything.  There's a strange orange light filing the eastern sky.  There's the heavy smell of smoke.  For a moment I'm filled with such a smothering grief that it's hard to breathe.  I don't know why.  I take a step toward the boy, open my mouth to call his name, only I don't know it.  The ground crunches under my feet.  He hears me.  He starts to turn.  one more second and I will see his face.

That's when the vision leaves me.  I blink, and it's gone."

-- Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand

Reasons I kept reading:

1. Who is the boy?
2. Who is our narrator?
3. What will happen after the fire?  (Will they escape?)
4. How is she having visions?
5. Can she stop the fire and save the boy?

I won this book during a giveaway hop and it piqued my interest because I haven't read a lot of stories about this particular type of paranormal/supernatural event or being(s).  (I'll spare you the spoilers)  While I don't typically read romance, I figured if it was YA and there were other things going on (family drama, identity crisis, visions, etc.,), I wouldn't be too icked out by the romance.  I'm still a kid when it comes to mushy-gushy stuff.  Yuck.

Anyway -- so far, no romance.  Just mystery, identity, and paranormalcy (I'm 40 pages in).  It's quite intriguing so far.  I love delving into someone else's mythology and finding out about the rules of their universe.  Ms. Hand does a great job at making her world seem very real.

Leave me a comment if this intrigues you, or if you've read Unearthly (and/or its sequel, Hallowed) and what you thought about it.

I'll be posting a review of The Fellowship for Alien Detection in a few days.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Write Wednesday: The Difference Between Procrastination and Productive Brewing

Hi all,

Still working on my new website...I hope you all will love it!

Today, however, I'm going to be writing about something that's been forming in my brain for a while, which is the difference between procrastination and productive 'brewing' (not writing).

Over the last few weeks I've been working on two different stories.  They're two different formats, and are vastly different from each other.  Enough to keep me interested, or so I thought.

But I've stalled out on both of them.

One of them I'm blatantly procrastinating with...and the second, I'm productively brewing.

Here's the difference.

While I spent a huge amount of time on pre-planning the first story (in novel format), I really, really needed to solidify the world and I have some pretty big plot holes to fill in.  So, I took some time, re-thought it out, and dove back into writing last week.  And then stopped.  Because I'm afraid to go any further on this draft because I know it isn't going to be really good.  It'll be better than the first one, but it will still require fixing and there are still so many things I don't know...so instead of just doing it, I've procrastinated, and my poor story has dwindled into a sad, weakly little thing.

While a lot of pre-planning is great, it still won't fix everything.  Those first few drafts, especially, are just going to have to be crappy and that's all there is to it.  Losing the fear of failure and taking the time to gently comb through my manuscript to untangle every snarl is a lot of work, work that I don't particularly feel like doing right now.  But to tell the story as best as I can, I need to go back in and keep writing, even if I'm unhappy with this draft already.

Now for the 'brewing' story.  I'm writing a short film (12-15 pages) and I'm in the third draft.  It's already tons better than the first draft, but I still have one plot hole that is giving me a terrible rash.  Seriously, it's bothering me.  But instead of bulldozing through it, I've taken the time to step back, sit quietly with my knitting (or crochet), watch some good TV, and really *think* about the problem.  Which is why the third draft is so much better than the first.

The difference is that I'm purposefully setting the second story aside to really work on the problems, instead of just avoiding the story altogether.  There's a way to balance thinking time and writing time and it tends to work very well, when you can do it.

So, now I need to spend some quality time with the first story (which I will be doing this weekend) in order to figure out where the major plot holes are and how much I need to fill in.  Lots of time knitting and perhaps reading some good books are in order.  Also I need to make a playlsit.  Wish me luck.

Are you stalled out on a manuscript?  Do you have any advice for me (particularly on how to avoid procrastinating)?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Update on The Move

Hi everyone!

I'll be reviewing The Fellowship of Alien Deduction later this week, along with the regular Wednesday/Friday posts, but I wanted to remind you that I am moving to a new blog next month, and I'll be writing about story in various formats -- film, television, books, graphic novels, etc.

I've got some fun things planned, so be sure and check out the new blog when it arrives.


Friday, February 22, 2013

First Line Friday No. 26

When I get the urge to kick myself and "be more productive" (a useless cycle which involves guilt, petulantly tapping keys and not so much progress as drivel) in my writing, it helps me to know that not every author is an overnight sensation (no one ever is -- all the work that goes into an 'overnight sensation' is done months, even years ahead of time).

Sometimes I study my favorite authors and glean a little patience or peace from their process, and sometimes I just take heart that some of them are, like me, late bloomers or slow movers.

Franny Billingsley has written four books since she began in the 1980's.  She worked at a bookstore for years while she wrote, and her first book took her seven years.  It isn't a long book.

The thing about Franny, however, is that she is dedicated.  Determined.  And an excellent writer.  She has won at least one award for each of her three novels and a fellowship to continue writing.  (Her author page said she started writing seriously in 1983 but was learning how to write so didn't submit a lot of manuscripts until the 1990's.  Since then, she's published in 1997, 1999, 2008 & 2011)

Her pacing, tight writing and fluid style are superb.  Her characters are interesting, unique and somehow still heartbreakingly real.  She is one of the best writers I've come across, and each of her books is a gem.

So today I'd like to share a bit of my favorite book of hers.


February 2 -- Candlemas

It is a day of yellow fog, and the Folk are hungry.  They ate the lamb I brought them, picking the bones clean and leaving them outside the Folk Door.

The lamb was meant for Matron's Sunday supper.  She'll know I took it, but she will not dare say anything.  She can keep her tapestries and silks and Sunday dinners.  Here in the Cellar, I control the Folk.  Here, I'm queen of the world.

-- From The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley

Isn't that curious?  In just one tiny journal entry we peek into another, perhaps more dangerous and frightening world...

Some reasons to keep reading:

1. Who (or what) are the Folk?
2. What is the Folk Door?  Are they kept in...or out?
3.  Who is Matron?  What is she Matron of?
4.  Who is our narrator?
5.  How does she control the Folk?

What I love so much about this book is that Franny has woven old myths and half-forgotten legends into a historical fiction narrative concerning the Folk Keeper, a tiny human being with more power than seen at first glance.  It's also a bit of a thriller, a romance, and a new, quite original fairy tale.

Let me know if you read (or have read) it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Also, an interesting tidbit -- I have an advance reading copy of a middle grade novel that I will be reviewing after it comes out (on the 26th).  So the review will be a bit late but on a brand new book!  How thrilling!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Write Wednesday: Advice from Miyazaki (and Feeding Your Creativity)

"The creation of a single world comes from a huge number of fragments and chaos." -- Hayao Miyazaki

I've only just scratched the surface of this succinct quote on world building and storytelling for myself.  I ran across it a few weeks ago and it has been quietly humming in my brain since then, picking up and putting down pieces of my stories, re-arranging them, re-organizing, drawing from life and art I've been enjoying, slowly putting together some things that sort of just clicked into place for me last night.

It's an odd feeling, to feel the hum of your subconscious.  You don't want to poke it too much for fear it will wake and go about its business, but you can't help staring at it, wanting to touch it, to understand what, exactly, it is.  (Mine is awfully  like a ship engine, or perhaps a cat)

But it remains a mystery.

I just know when mine's working.

a week or so ago, I'd been stuck on a short film script as well as revisions for my current novel-in-progress. Instead of forcing things to happen, I sat back and took up some knitting.  I've found knitting to be remarkably creativity-inducing, like taking a shower (except it's much more convenient and I get to do *two* things at once without wasting water, which makes the economical/productive side of me incredibly happy).

So there I was, working away on a scarf, concentrating on my novel and WHAM -- a flood of ideas.  I could barely scribble them down fast enough.  Pieces connected, drawing from recently viewed TV episodes, connections beneath the surface between my characters, and bits of scenes and sentences, plus the whole problem with the beginning of my novel.  It was mind-blowing.

Then, last night, I watched a few episodes of my current favorite TV show (for its tight writing and internal action, as well as character depth, emotional intensity and acting) and a light came on.  I knew what was wrong with my short film script (or at least one of the bigger problems that had been haunting me), I came up with a new title, I got a handle on my characters and one of their backstories, and more material started popping up that pulled the story into a more cohesive bundle.

I'm just realizing how much my subconscious has been working -- overtime!  But it's because I've been feeding it constantly, by knitting/crocheting (which can be a meditative state if you've got a repetitive stitch -- you could also cross stitch, doodle, fold laundry or run/walk) and watching and dissecting stories I love (I sit down in front of the TV with a notebook or keep one nearby in case I need to scribble something down during the commercials).  Studying the stories I enjoy and giving my brain time to file it all away has proved invaluable.

To sum all of that up, I've learned that a) stories are made up of bits and pieces of our lives, stories we connect with, and anything that inspires us and b) feeding your creativity carefully (healthily?) can lead to all sorts of breakthroughs, better story crafting and imaginative solutions to story problems.

 My advice to you?

Give yourself time. Give your subconscious time to put things together.  Give yourself time to study, breathe, relax.  Don't set a time for your creativity.  There's a time to sit down and write without inspiration, but there's also time to digest after imbibing a story.  Do a bit of both.

Get specific about what you enjoy in stories.  Because that's probably what you're interested in writing.  You love high school stories that talk about hard-hitting issues?  Time to watch some Freaks and Geeks, The Breakfast Club or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Take notes on what you really like -- this personality trait in a character (I have a very, very specific type of character I gravitate towards in a wide range of TV shows), that issue and how they handled it, or maybe the theme that resonated with you.

Take a few minutes and scribble down the stories you read/watch over and over again and do some analysis.  Why do you like these stories?  What about them draws you in?

Once you have that figured out, take a look at your work -- does it contain the same themes, character types, issues?  If it doesn't, have you been slacking off because it's just not that interesting?  If so, time to change something up.  Take a walk and concentrate on your story. See if your brain can't make some connections from what you love to what you're writing.  You'll be surprised with the results (my brain tends to love a mixture of fairytale and sci-fi, highschool/early 20's identity crises, and dramedy), and it will be more fun to write (with the added bonus of giving you some idea of a direction to go -- you can draw on those stories you love so much!).

I'm not saying that you'll always write true to type -- authors write all sorts of different things, in different voices, about different subjects.  However, the author may have developed wider interests because of taking a chance on something outside their comfort zone -- by feeding their creativity with a variety of things in order to keep it alive and growing.

What do you think about Miyazaki's quote?  Has this proven true for you in the writing/creating process?  Have you got any advice for me about feeding creativity or world building or plotting?

See you on Friday for First Lines.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Idea by Siobahn Dowd)

A Monster Calls was not what I expected.

...but it was good.

I love Patrick Ness' ability to bring you close to the emotion the characters are feeling.  It's something I've noticed in his writing that I haven't picked up on in a lot of other stories.

(It's the British vs. American, very generalized thing about external vs. internal action that I've been blabbing about for the past few weeks)

A Monster Calls is about grief, anger, regret, and death.  It's also about hope, letting go/peace, and forgiving yourself.

In the story, a young boy is confronted by a monster who tells him three stories, all containing a twist.  Then the monster asks for the boy's story.

Between the stories, we read about this boy's life and the things that have happened to him that created a monster inside him.

It's a powerful story about how much of a monster we can be to ourselves, and how complex the emotions of loss can be.

I don't tend to read general fiction like The Faults In Our Stars (although it looks lovely) because I'm not interested in 'real life'.  I'm interested in communicating about real issues, couched in a fantasy or science fiction world.

Patrick Ness is a master and his stories are excellent study material for the writer wanting to bring more to the table than a general romp in fantasyland.

I'll be moving to a new blog in March -- I'll still be talking about stories, but I'll be widening the field to include film and television (and the occasional play).  Details to come.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review On Hold

Sorry for the delay but I've been down and out for a while.  Still there, in fact.  Hopefully I'll have some time and ability to read this week so you can read a review by next Monday.


Friday, February 8, 2013

First Line Friday No. 25

Happy Friday, everyone!

You know how I keep fangirling over Patrick Ness and his amazing Chaos Walking Trilogy?  Well, I found out that my library has another book by him available on Kindle -- the book started out as an idea by another author but when she died, Patrick was asked to write the story.  He talks a little bit about it in the introduction -- he simply tried to write a story that she would like.  I'm a quarter of the way through and although it's very different from Chaos Walking, the same things I liked about CW are present in A Monster Calls: intimacy between story and reader, emotional intensity/internal action mixed with external action, and thought-provoking subject matter.


"The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do.

Conor was awake when it came.

He'd had a nightmare.  Well, not a nightmare.  The nightmare.  The one he'd been having a lot lately.  The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on.  The one that always ended with- "Go away," Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking.  "Go away now."

He glanced over at the clock his mum had put on his bedside table.  12:07.  Seven minutes past midnight.  Which was late for a school night, late for a Sunday, certainly.

He'd told no one about the nightmare.  Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school.  Absolutely not.  

What happened in the nightmare was something no one else ever needed to know."

-from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (idea by Siobhan Dowd)

Reasons to Keep Reading:

1.  "As they do"...thrilling!
2.  What is "the" nightmare he's been having?
3.  Why won't he tell anyone about it?
4.  Where is the monster??
5.  Why is the monster there?

Sound like something you want to read?  It's only $4.99 on Kindle!  How exciting!  You could also borrow it from a library, if you are so inclined (or poor, like me).

Hope you have an absolutely brilliant weekend -- I'll be finishing up this book so I can review it on Monday!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Write Wednesday: Depth (Internal vs. External Action)

Welcome back to Write Wednesday!  I'm delving into somewhat of a complicated topic, so I can't promise extreme clarity or new revelations, but it's something I have been thinking about lately as I craft my own novels and see the product of others' writing.

I am going to cheat a little and talk about a TV show (GASP) *but* it's about the writing, so...give me a pass.

Having now consumed a large quantity of British telly (and some UK-inspired writing like The Chaos Walking Trilogy), there's an incredible depth to the writing that just doesn't make it over here.  Americans want to simplify *everything* -- most stories here are surface-only because we're so bent on getting more action packed in and I think that's rather sad (Not that there isn't a place for action -- I love me a good spy thriller or action movie.  It's just that I think there could be a mix).

Meanwhile, in the UK, we have layers upon layers of complex emotions, relationships, thoughts, beliefs, and choices.  The merest glint in a character's eyes changes the story.  There isn't so much external action as there is internal action.  I'm fascinated by this difference and I've decided that I much prefer the internal action.

For instance -- the show I'm watching right now, in the first sixteen episodes (two series), discusses morality, religion, relationships (familial, romantic and friend), addiction, chronic illness, rape/attempted rape/abuse, murder, the afterlife, having children, science, ethics, loneliness, anger, choices, consequences, history (on a large and small scale), gang violence, terrorism, small town attitudes, and philosophy (mostly nihilism/existentialism).  And it's not spelled out for you.  The lives of the characters are so entangled that in one episode you've probably got gang violence, terrorism, morality/philosophy/ethics and relationships plus choices and consequences and religious beliefs.  There's so much packed into one hour of television and the characters don't waste time with exposition.  It's all there in the action, facial expressions, physicality, and minimal dialogue.

One episode that really hit me hard was the one about a choice that one of the characters made and the consequences from it -- they struggled with an addiction, made a mistake and now have a permanent consequence that they have to live with.  He is trying so hard to do the right thing but he falls and it endangers his friends' lives.  And there's no easy answer.  It isn't simple.  He has to cope with helping someone else trying to shake an addiction and finally rejecting his help.  He has to carry the guilt of that forever.  At the same time, it reminds him why he keeps trying so hard to shake the addiction.  He tries to be better, and it is a day-by-day thing.  Without his friends, he wouldn't be able to stay strong for the long periods between his relapses.  It says something about the power of friendship, forgiveness, grace and redemption, and about the depravity of man, and something about hope.

But I haven't seen it done much like that in books -- excepting The Chaos Walking Trilogy, as I've mentioned above, and the Harry Potter books (and Rowling's latest, A Casual Vacancy).  Okay, I take that back -- I can think of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde, but I think I'm more talking about modern storytelling.

And the thing might be that I'm comparing novels, film and telly and you can't really compare the three.  They're so different stylistically and of course a novel doesn't have as much time to tell a story as a TV show.  Which is probably why I'm so keen on TV shows...serialized storytelling fascinates me.

I did read The Maximum Ride novels (8 books) and...yeah, they're more surface-y.  They do delve a bit but the emotions aren't what guide the story.  The depth, the before-the-story-starts character lives and the internal action just isn't there as much (But I still love Max).

So how can I include depth in my novels/screenplays?  How can I, an American, who is used to seeing bang-bang-shoot-em-ups (as my dad calls them) and action-packed 'cool' drama, insert the breadth and depth and width of human experience into that?  Can I even do that?  Is that why indie movies (who have small budgets) use *only* internal action to carry the story?  I really think you have to do both, which is what the TV show I talked about above does so well.

I think I *could* combine both elements (how well I could remains to be seen).

1.  I think it would have to be in a series (novel or TV), for starters.  There just isn't room to flesh everyone and everything out in one novel or film.

2.  This might say something about the type of writing I should start doing -- should I get into a screenwriting program somewhere?

3.  I think studying the TV shows I love show much will show me *what* to include, and watching stuff I don't care for as much will show me *what not* to include.  Taking lots of notes, processing (verbally or in writing), maybe reviewing...somehow turning that outside information inside.  Same goes for novels.

4.  Practicing writing and conversing with my beta readers will help me understand if I'm hitting the mark or not.

What do you think about the external vs. internal action?  Are there books/TV shows that have one or both of these that you love?  Got any suggestions for me?

See you Friday for First Lines!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Hobbit

Over the weekend I finished reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  For the second time.  When I was in middle school I read The Hobbit for school but it was so difficult for me to get through that I'd tried and failed to read it twice since then.  (Compare that to my almost yearly reading of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia)

Although I love J.R.R. Tolkien's stories, they are so dense that I feel like they drag on foreeeever.

So I figured out how to read Tolkien -- in chunks.

My problem is that I like to read a book in one sitting.

For some reason, I can't do that with Tolkien -- hence the chunks.

I really, really loved reading through this story again -- there were so may things that I didn't remember, and now that the movies are coming out I wanted to refresh my memory.

Although now I'm aware of the tragedy awaiting me in the third movie, which is *not* cool.  (RIP my favorite dwarf...)

I feel like this story is probably the most epic, most grand-scale fantasy I've read or seen in a long time.  The sheer size of the adventure (over a year) and the breadth of what happens is staggering.

You take a quiet little homebody and drag him through the woods, mountains, rivers, valleys and caves of a wild and almost always dangerous land and somehow he survives.  Somehow, he turns into a hero, albeit not a perfect one.

Insert a mysterious grey wizard (who pops up and appears at will), a gaggle of dwarves (with several different colored hoods, all different ages), and crazy creatures like Beorn, the necromancer and the Elven King of Murkwood, plus a DRAGON *and* eagles and you have one heck of an adventure story.

I also like that J.R.R. didn't pander to an audience.  For example -- a lot of publishers pay attention to how many male/female characters there are in books, but I don't feel J.R.R. was excluding women from this story.  There just simply wasn't a woman in this tale.  (There are epic women later on in Lord of the Rings, however)

I love the voice of this book -- sort of Bilbo re-telling his adventures to the young Took nieces and nephews, sort of Gandalf explaining it to someone (maybe the aforementioned nieces and nephews)...

My favorite parts were the Mirkwood episode, the Smaug/Bilbo conversation (Bilbo accidentally introducing himself in a really epic riddle), the Smeagol/Bilbo game of riddles, and the songs.

What are your favorite parts of The Hobbit?  Favorite quotes?  Favorite characters?

Friday, February 1, 2013

100+ Book GIveaway Month

Ok, so you know my crazy addiction to entering book giveaways?  It has reached ridiculous proportions.  I've entered three in the last three weeks.

And...there are some awesome peeps giving away over one hundred free books this month on ONE SITE.  You should go check it out.

For serious.  This is awesome.  And they have excellent prizes!!

Enter here: 100+ Book Giveaway Month

First Line Friday No. 24

Today's First Lines will be spent looking at the opening page of Oscar Wilde's most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest.  I've been reading through it in preparation for my directorial debut at my alma mater.  Although An Ideal Husband is my favorite of Wilde's plays, The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps the most memorable because most of the lines are famous zingers and brilliant satire.


Morning-room in Algernon’s flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room.

[Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the music has ceased, Algernon enters.]

Algernon. Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

Lane. I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.

Algernon. I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.

Lane. Yes, sir.

Algernon. And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

Lane. Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.]

Algernon. [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh!… by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.

Lane. Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

Algernon. Why is it that at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

Lane. I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.

Algernon. Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?

Lane. I believe it IS a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

Algernon. [Languidly.] I don’t know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.

Lane. No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself.

Algernon. Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.

Lane. Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]

Isn't that magnificent?  

Reasons to keep reading:

1.  Algernon.  He is my favorite character.
2.  Even the butler has hilarious lines!  "I didn't think it polite to listen, sir..."
3.  Who is Lady Bracknell?
4.  Is this play going to be about matrimony?
5.  What will happen next (with brilliant dialogue)??

Have you ever read a play?  Did you like the format, or was it harder to read?  Do you have a favorite play?  Have you ever read Oscar Wilde's novel (The Picture of Dorian Grey) or his stories for children?