Monday, October 31, 2011

Dream Library

I moved this weekend! It’s very exciting; this is my first apartment that I can really make my ‘own.’ That’s why I’m looking to these creative bookcases and home libraries for inspiration as I begin to set up and decorate. Of course, my real ‘library’ is most likely going to be a few of these  set in a corner of my living room, but a girl can dream, right?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Club: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I finished a novel for a book club this month! Hooray! This shouldn’t seem like a big accomplishment, but after my book club failure last month, finishing any book by a set deadline feels impressive. So, for Fall Book Club we read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

Daughter of Smoke and BoneI’m not quite sure what to say about this book, so I’ll start at the beginning—the way beginning, long before I had a copy of the novel in my hands. Last May at BEA I attended a panel with five editors talking about five of the most buzzed about books for the upcoming fall season. Alvina Ling, the editor at Little, Brown who worked on Daughter of Smoke and Bone was there. I don’t remember much about the panel other than I was kind of underwhelmed by the editors’ presentations; none of the books seemed to stand out when the editor was talking about the acquisition and editing process or the fantastic world that the author created. And that’s because what makes books really special is not the plot or characters; it’s the writing, and that’s nearly impossible to convey in a presentation that doesn’t include reading an excerpt from the book. The one thing that did make Daughter of Smoke and Bone stand out for me, though, was that one of the last things Alvina mentioned: it was set in Prague. I perked up in my seat. This is something that intrigued me beyond the paranormal and fantasy elements that, when summarized, this book seemed to share with all the other highlighted novels. I adore Prague!

And that, I guess, is where I should start my review of the book. The setting, the world, the magic—breathtaking. And the novel isn’t just set in the seemingly magical Prague; much of it takes place in Marrakesh and otherworldly places. The various settings and the way Laini describes them is the gem of this novel. Fantasy novels are generally so Euro-centric and moving away from traditional Northern-European medieval villages and castles to rich, lush, different settings was so refreshing. And the way in which Laini throws in terms that refers to everyday objects found in Marrakesh that weren’t familiar to me made the scope of her novel so much broader than typical YA. It’s wonderful to see a novel do new things and push the boundaries of what readers expect. The lushness and complexity will appeal to readers of all ages, not just teens.

That being said, I didn’t love the novel. I wanted to so badly and thought for the majority of the book that it was better than average bordering on really good. But there wasn’t much of an actual plot; there was beautiful world building and I was intrigued to find out more about Karou…but what actually happened during the course of the novel? Three or four things, that’s it. There needed to be more action leading to an understandable if not foreseeable point. Perhaps there will be direction in the sequel.

This next point contains major spoilers. Stop reading now if you haven’t read the novel yet. My larger concern and reason for not loving Daughter of Smoke and Bone is from the last quarter where we finally find out who Karou is. I wanted to know. I was intrigued, but not interested enough to have a 75-page tangent about Karou’s past life as Madrigal. It was too much and I ended up not caring, even when it came to the steamy romance between her and Akiva. I wanted to know about present-day Karou in Marrakesh trying to find Brimestone and her family, not Madrigal who only had been barely mentioned by Akiva once or twice before. As I got closer and closer to the end of the novel and realized that the conclusion was basically just the reveal of who Karou was and wouldn’t get to the action I was sorely disappointed.

And, unrelated to the text, I despise the cover. Anyone else with me? Although it definitely hints to the mystery of the novel I find it dull and misrepresentative of the overall story. Karou is the girl with blue hair, not the girl who wears a feathery mask! And yes—I understand that the image might be of Madrigal at the ball, but once again, I care about Karou, not Madrigal!

So, to wrap up this long review, I’m torn. Some aspects I really loved, some I was disappointed in. I’ll definitely read the sequel—but I won’t preorder it the way I did this novel.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Cheers

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Today's RTW Question from YA Highway is: What was the best book you read in October?

So give three cheers...

For LOLA, LOLA, LOLA! Without a doubt, Lola and the Boy Next Door was my favorite read this month. Set in San Francisco, eclectic Lola thinks she has it all—a hot rocker boyfriend, loving parents, a plan to make the most gorgeous Marie Antoinette dress for the school dance. But when Calliope and Cricket Bell move back in next door, Lola has to face the truth of what happened between her and Cricket a few summers earlier. Luckily, the boy next door is a creative genius and dreamy…really, the perfect complement to Lola.

This is Stephanie Perkin’s second contemporary romance and her first book, Anna and the French Kiss, was my favorite read a few months ago. But Lola and the Boy Next Door was even better. In Anna and the French Kiss I fell in love with Paris: the sights, the sounds, and the idea of falling in love in the world’s most romantic city. In Lola and the Boy Next Door I fell in love with Lola herself—her spunk, her eccentricities, her talent for costume that I wish I had. I wanted to be Lola—wanted to have what Lola had by the end of the novel (okay, I do have what Lola has…but my teen self would have wanted it!). Not only does she get the (right) boy, but she also becomes a fuller person. I even—gasp—missed when Anna and St. Clair made their first appearance in Lola and the Boy Next Door because I was so enraptured by Lola and her world! Lola is fabulous! 

Stay tuned for a review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone on Friday as part of Fall Book Club, and mini-reviews next week of all my October reads.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Science Fiction? Find a Thesaurus!

In the world of publishing we always want to find the next big thing: the next Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games. There’s this little word, or rather, two words that keep on cropping up during these discussion: science fiction.

Is it back? Do teens want to read it?

Or does it still have a stigma? Is it too associated with nerds and video games? Trekkies and sci-fi conventions? Unpromising 20-something year old men still living at home in the basement?

I think it’s somewhere in between. The popularity of dystopian literature is really just another manifestation of a subgenre of science fiction.  Dystopian literature incorporates a lot of themes or common plots illustrated in the most basic of definitions for science fiction: “fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.” So if dystopian in hot, but readers might be ready for the next big thing, transitioning to straight science fiction seems natural, right?

Not so fast! Remember about that stigma? I’ll be the very first to admit that I don’t like sci fi. I don’t read it, watch it, think about it. And yet…I devoured all three books in the Hunger Games series one summer; Divergent left me dying to find out what would happen with Tris and the factions; some of the upcoming books I’m working on by Garth Nix have stunning world building; there is so much almost-science-fiction that is fantastic can’t-stop-turning-the-pages literature. But I don’t read sci fi.

And publishers have realized this conundrum. A reader who might love the world and action and characters of a novel set in a futuristic or alternative world might not pick the book up if it’s labeled as science fiction. Call it something else, and you have an audience: dystopian, futuristic, contemporary with a time travel twist, action adventure set in space. Readers will gobble these books up!

So whatever you call these trendy books, they’re not science fiction!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Game of Writing

Who knew there was a way to combine two things I love (writing and board games)? This is pretty awesome. I want to play! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gotta Write!

Today’s RTW Question from YA Highway: What’s your numero-uno reason for writing?

Sometimes simplicity is best: I have a story to tell. My world and characters have been floating around in my mind for a decade, and I want to share them!

Why do you write?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lights, Camera, Editorial Feedback

A few weeks ago I had a great and new experience as part of my role as an editorial assistant. I got to go to a photo shoot for the cover of a teen novel, Valkyrie Rising. I already had a soft spot in my heart for this book: not only is the author repped by one of my former internship bosses, but I’ve worked very closely on this manuscript, proving editorial feedback on three rounds of revisions. I know this book very well! So, going to the photo shoot (along with my boss, the art director, and cover designer) and seeing another step of the book making process was a fantastic experience.

The photographer for this cover is Michael Frost—you may not recognize his name, but you know his work:

A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)

Yes, him! The photographer of one of my favorite jackets ever. Just meeting him would have been enough…but then I got to see him in action, too! Our model was perfect to portray the main character, Ellie, a sweet girl who finds out she’s a Valkyrie—an ancient warrior from Norwegian myth! The model was tall, gorgeous, blond, and, believe it or not—also Scandinavian! The actual day was just like America’s Next Top Model: the photographer shot the photos while suggesting positions, the wardrobe stylist and makeup artist touched up the model’s hair, our designer chose the outfits. And then there was my boss offering editorial feedback: “look strong, but sweet”…“determined, but tentative”… “brave, but unsure”. My goodness, it isn’t easy to be a model! But she, and everyone else, was fantastic and I know we’ve got a great photo for the jacket of Valkyrie Rising! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Traveling, Traveling

Today’s question from YA Highway: What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic Jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Ever since I fell in love with reading in the third grade, I’ve been writing stories as well. So in that sense, my writing journey starts at age eight or so. More realistically, it starts in eighth grade, at the age of fourteen. That’s when I started writing the novel I’m still working on, now called The Rose of Coracus. The journey was easy and fruitful the summer between middle school and high school. I traveled through lush rainforest with brilliant flowers. There were rainbows and magical creatures. It was a spectacular and invigorating journey. It continued through high school where there were the occasional trees and flowers as I worked with writing buddies, but nothing as successful as that first summer. In college, I took a detour into a desert; there were the occasional cacti, but not the lush palm trees I wanted. My first three years of college I was writing the wrong thing, although not by choice. Luckily, senior year returned me to where I belong. The rain forest bloomed again and was full of animal life: monkeys screeching, brightly colored birds flapping among the canopies. It was a great place to be, and I continued there for the first post-college year, writing and revising as much as I could. Last summer I hit a detour: querying two agents unsuccessfully. I realized that I needed to return to my writing jungle, but the rest of the summer was a barren road, waiting on critique partners’ feedback. As we move into fall and winter, I suspect that I’ll continue on this empty road as my job, moving, and the holidays cut into my writing time. But in the spring…I can’t wait for it! I’ll be writing until the jungle is as lush with flora and fauna as can be!

So there’s my writer’s journey; it’s been a long one, but full of wonderful scenery! I can’t wait to see where the next turn in the road takes me!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reading Roundup

City of Bones (Mortal Instruments)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I’ve been meaning to read this series for forever. But, unfortunately, I’m going to make many people, including my best friend, unhappy with this mini-review. The book was okay. The basic synopsis is that when Clary’s mother is kidnapped and Clary begins to see magical things in modern day NYC, she learns she is part Shadowhunter (killer of demons) is taken under the wing by Jace and his friends. They discover that Clary’s mom is a pawn in a larger plot of evil Valentine which would lead to the downfall of the Shadowhunters and chaos in the world. I found the plot predictable and the world building relying very heavily on Harry Potter (mundanes=Muggles; both bad guys want to purify their race). The writing was subpar and way too full of metaphors. Even the cover was a negative; with a metallic half-naked chest of a boy on the front it looks like a romance novel and I was embarrassed to read it on the subway. All that being said, I bought the whole series cheaply in paperback and I really do want to read the sequel series, which starts with Clockwork Angel and is set in Victorian London.

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to read this book. It’s a creepy middle grade novel that definitely pushes the boundaries. Set in Highgate Cemetery, London (a fantastic spot), Bod is raised by protective ghosts because “Jack” killed his family and is after him, too. All the ghost characters are just fabulous and it’s great how they cover a wide range of time periods (all being buried in the cemetery at different times). I found the story a bit too episodic, but it would make a great read aloud, and everything comes together nicely in the end.

I was so excited to read this fantasy—not only is it great when one of my favorite but slightly-under-the-radar-genres gets good buzz, but it’s also a great comparative title for my own WIP! The basic plot is that Elisa is a Godstone bearer: the literally has a jewel in her navel that was placed there by God, and that means she is destined for greatness. She just doesn’t know what her place really is. A friend who had read the book before me thought the beginning was slow; I disagreed until I got to the second third of the novel and all of sudden it was fast and action-packed, making the beginning slow by comparison. And although there were a few too many characters that popped in and out of the manuscript (with hard-to-remember names), this novel overall is a great addition to the fantasy genre. The desert setting reminded me of The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and anyone who loves Tamora Pierce or Kristin Cashore should check this out. A recommended read.

Again, I had heard really great things about this book, a really creative teen novel that used unique vintage photographs to inspire and form the narrative.  In the novel the pictures belong to Jacob’s grandfather, who tells tales about his childhood. Killed shortly after the novel begins, Jacob begins to believe that his grandfather is telling the truth and goes to Wales to visit Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, where his grandfather spend his teenage years before World War II. Through a complicated series of events, Jacob learns that everything his grandfather said was true, and that he, along with the other children, are ‘peculiar’: they have special talents that makes them targets both in the human and nonhuman world. Overall, I wasn’t as impressed by this book as I had hoped to be. The photos were fantastic finds, the novel itself was creative, and the book is printed high quality. But I wished we knew more about Jacob’s grandfather before he died and Jacob’s romance with Emma, his grandfather’s girlfriend when he was a teen, is awkward and borderline creepy.

Full Manuscripts: 8 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Share the Love

Hey, fellow book lovers, this seems like a great idea: Book Crossing. Normally, when I don’t want a book I sell it on Amazon, which is a great way to share books with book lovers. But what if, like at Book Crossing, sharing books becomes an adventure between book lovers and their novels. So much fun! I’ll be sending my first book out into the ether soon!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Secondary, Not Second Rate

Today’s question from YA Highway: What supporting character from a YA book would you most like to see star in their own novel?

This is such a fun—but hard—question! There are some secondary characters who are so intriguing that I’d like to see a lot more of them: Neville from Harry Potter, Gale from Hunger Games, George from the Song of the Lioness quartet.

And then there are other ‘types’ of characters that, if they had their own story, would really contribute to a fuller understanding of the original story. Fairytale retellings like those by Gregory Maguire (Wicked told from Elphaba the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz’s point of view or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister told from Cinderella’s stepsister’s point of view) are great examples. And then there’s a new book I’m working on at Harper by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan called Team Human. They were inspired by Twilight: what if they told a story from the best friend’s point of view? How would she react to her friend dating a vampire? Intriguing questions that bend our perceptions of the original story lend to really thoughtful novels!

So there you have it: so many different supporting characters that definitely deserve—or have shown their worth—in the spotlight!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Club Failure

Book Clubs are great, right? You gather with friends and meet new people—all people who like books enough to gather and talk about books. I love the idea of a book club. But that’s the problem—I’m better with the idea than the actual thing.

Last month, September, I was supposed to do two book clubs, one in person and one online. And, how convenient for my busy schedule, they were reading the same book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Random Riggs! I could cover two clubs with one book! Well, I ended up having to back out of the first one early in the month because I RSVPed to a publishing industry event that happened to be the same evening as the book club ended up being scheduled. But the second one, it was online; I didn’t have to show up anywhere at a specific time, I just had to read the book and write a little blog post. Piece of cake! Except not. I requested the book from the library, but I became #49 on the holds list. Crossing my fingers I’d get the book in time because I really didn’t want to buy a book I didn’t know much about, I waited…too long. Even with two day Amazon Prime shipping the book just got here two days too late for me to finish writing the review by last Friday. Friday morning I was 100 pages away from finishing, and I was sure I could finish Friday night and post by Saturday and I’d only be 24 hours late. That’s not so bad, right? But Friday evening turned into date night and Saturday became errand day and Sunday was all about enjoying the fall weather and getting out of the city to go apple picking. Home for Peculiar Children sat on my nightstand, 100 pages away from completion all weekend. I’ve finished it now, but too late, even for the don’t-have-to-go-anywhere-online-book-club. My thoughts on it will be included in this month’s Reading Roundup (be on the lookout for it next Monday).

As for this month, I just received an invitation to the in-person book club. They’re so sweet for inviting me, even though I’ve only actually made it once in the past six months (told you I fail at book clubs!). The book selected is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I’ve heard good things about it, but it is an adult book and I never read those anymore! I think the library system will decide if I make it—I’ve put holds on both the physical and ebook versions! The online book club is still deciding on their pick, but it’s most likely going to be a great new teen release. (Want to join?) Seeing that I’ve preordered almost all of the books in question and they should be arriving in my mailbox any day now, I really have no excuse not to participate. At the very least, I’m going to try!

Maybe next month I can post a how-to on succeeding at book clubbing!