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 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!