Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Jennifer E. Smith
Poppy/Little Brown
When she misses her scheduled flight by four minutes, Hadley gets bumped to a later transatlantic flight -- one that will get her into London with barely enough time to get to the church before her dad's wedding (to a woman she's never met) begins. This later flight also leads to her meeting Oliver, a charming British boy whose easygoing, calming personality helps Hadley deal with the anxiety that flying brings. Understandably angry over the fact that her dad went to Oxford for a few months, then met a woman there and left Hadley and her mom -- his first family -- for her, Hadley's surprised when the flight to London brings her in contact with this wonderful boy who she quickly finds herself falling for.

I have an often antagonistic relationship with books that can easily and simply be labeled as "cute" -- for me, a book has to offer a bit more than just cuteness in order for me to really enjoy it. Luckily The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight delivers on more than just the obvious. Jennifer E. Smith's writing brings just enough depth to Hadley's emotions to elevate her story above all the other quick-teen-love-stories out there, while the very real family drama grounds the story while adding another dimension to it.

The fact that this novel plays out over the course of 24 hours and just over 200 pages is both a benefit and a detriment to the story. On the one hand the shortened time frame adds an urgency to Hadley and Oliver's love story and makes the inevitable ending and events leading up to it all the more aww-worthy. On the other hand, while everything about this book would lead you to believe it's a romance, the true driving force is the hurt Hadley feels over her dad's new life and I would have loved to see that play out a bit more. The way her parents' divorce happened and the fact that her father is now marrying the woman he had an affair with are such huge things that, unfortunately in this short novel, just didn't get the time or development they deserved. In the end, Hadley's very real and complicated feelings are treated lightly in a way that downplays their significance.

While Hadley and Oliver's romance is undeniably cute, it's also quite predictable and in spite of his many quirks, Oliver's a fairly bland love interest. But weirdly, that doesn't end up mattering much because Smith's writing is so on-target that the romantic feelings between Hadley and Oliver are easily felt despite any other shortcomings. This is, above all else, an adorable story that stands apart thanks to the lovely writing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

An Intro to Adventures in Rereading

Earlier this year I thought to myself that I'd like to devote a month, one solid month, to reading nothing but rereads. There are quite a few books and some series that I'd love to revisit. However, looking at the stack of books I have yet to read, a few of which are ARCs of books that come out during the summer months, I don't see where I could devote a whole month to rereads unless I was willing to wait until August or September maybe, and I don't want to do that. I also, I've realized, don't want to entirely block myself off from reading the new books I have.

This month I reread the entire Hunger Games series and while it emotionally exhausted me (I forgot just how brutal Mockingjay was -- don't be surprised if this inspires a few posts later on), it was also a really great experience and made me, once again, want to revisit other favorite stories and characters.

So now I have a new plan. Instead of devoting a solid month to rereading, I've decided to reread at least one book or series a month for the remainder of this year. I'm working on making a list of the books I want to reread and I've decided to blog my rereading adventures (my definition of the word "adventure" is maybe a little different than most people's?). I won't be doing reviews, but definitely some reflection on the different books and my relationship to them. I'd love it, of course, if anyone wants to join in the rereading journey with however many books you feel like rereading this year. Would anyone be interested in this? Maybe I can set up a linky or some such for fellow bloggers.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Rambling Post on Love Triangles in YA


I keep reading reviews and articles about The Hunger Games movie and I really shouldn't because I inevitably read the comments and find people who...


...think that Katniss should have killed Peeta at the end of the Games and/or that the only reason she didn't was because Suzanne Collins knew her audience and knew that a YA series needs a "juicy love triangle."

Now, my gut reaction to comments like that is something along the lines of NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO, like a small, angry child. But then I keep reading and thinking and, hey, here's a question: Does YA need love triangles? No, wait, better question, because of course it doesn't need love triangles; there are plenty of YA books and series without them. But what's the deal with love triangles? And, on a more personal level, do I like books better when this element is present?

I'll be the first to admit there are books and series where I absolutely love the "love triangle" (even if I think the term itself is a bit ridiculous) and The Hunger Games series fits the bill. One of my favorite elements of that series is the love aspect and the complications that arise from Katniss' relationships and complex feelings about both boys. To me, it went beyond your typical "romance" in that, romantic or not, there were incredibly strong feelings and dynamics at play with the three of them. Another series where I love the "triangle" aspect is Jenny Han's Summer series (The Summer I Turned Pretty; It's Not Summer Without You; and We'll Always Have Summer). This is another story where that storyline was written incredibly well and the relationships and characters within it treated with real insight and respect. As in Katniss' case, there were real, complicated-but-strong feelings and dynamics at play.

In those books it works. And it works so, so well.

But then there are tons of books, even ones I really like, where the love triangle is something I couldn't care less about. Sometimes it's because apart from the central character, the two love interests have no personalities or their own, or sometimes just because it's obvious from the outset who the protagonist is going to end up with and the hurdles that get in the way present no real challenge. Twilight is a perfect example of this: we know Bella's going to end up with Edward. It's not even a question. Jacob isn't so much a romantic rival as he is a boy with a crush. If I were describing the bare bones of this series to someone who'd never heard of it, I'd have to mention Edward, but I wouldn't have to mention Jacob. It's not a love triangle, not really.

Which brings up this other, sort-of-related point that's been in my head for a while: in real life, "love triangles" are rarely one girl torn between two boys who are unendingly devoted to and in love with her. No, in real life it's more like A(my) likes B(ryan), who likes (C)helsea. And probably, Chelsea likes someone else. There's rarely a happy ending, at least within those three characters/people. There's more ambiguity in real life, and I like that ambiguity reflected in the romance storylines of books, whether or not the romance is part of a triangle. Books like Bittersweet (which has a love triangle) and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (which does not have a love triangle, no matter how much I wanted Frankie to end up with Alpha) capture that ambiguity well, making the romance and the book itself stronger for it.

So, no, YA books don't "need" love triangles. Or rather: not all of them do. Most don't. Some don't need a romance at all (and I'd love to see more books like this). But when it's done right, when all of the characters are important and the relationships are well-crafted, books with this element that has become almost cliche in YA can be pretty amazing.

What are your thoughts on love triangles in YA?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What I Thought of The Hunger Games (Movie Review)

SPOILER ALERT: You've been warned. I don't discuss the plot in depth, but key points are mentioned as well as a few movie moments.

You guys, I saw The Hunger Games movie twice. Me and my sister went to the midnight opening, then the next day went again with my mom. I tried sort of half-heartedly to avoid reading any actual reviews of the film before seeing it because I wanted to form my own opinion as much as I could. If you want your movie-seeing experience unspoiled by reviews, maybe don't read this post. Otherwise, here's my "review" of The Hunger Games movie. (Bear with me, please, as I'm really not used to writing movie reviews.)

First off, the movie follows the book really incredibly well. There are definitely some changes in small things (like how Katniss gets the Mockingjay pin and whose idea it is for her and Peeta to hold hands during the parade in the Capitol) and certain scenes/lines that I loved didn't make it to the movie. But that's to be expected, really, and what the movie gets right is so huge. It gets the important parts, the pivotal scenes and events that happen. Certain scenes are added to the movie that lay the groundwork for the rest of the series really well, without it being exactly as it was in the book. Because we're outside of Katniss' mind and don't know exactly what she's thinking/feeling at all times (although Jennifer Lawrence does an amazing job of just totally becoming Katniss and showing her emotions through facial expressions and movement) the scope of the movie was broader, but also certain things had to play out differently. The "seeds" for things that will be important later are planted well in the movie.

The essence of the book is carried over into the movie. It gives you basically the same feeling as the book did and director Gary Ross does an amazing job of showing just enough glamor and spectacle of the Capitol to suck you in before reminding you in startling ways that this is a terrible, horrible, gruesome "game" that everyone is caught up in. Caeser Flickerman in particular is a pivotal part of the movie in this regard and his talk-show-style segments throughout the movie really help to explain what's happening, I think, especially if you're someone who hasn't read the books and might not know, for instance, how deadly the tracker jackers are.

And the cast of this movie? You guys, they nailed it. Seriously. Jennifer Lawrence was amazing, as was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. Everyone was just stellar. I wished there had been a bit more Gale in the movie, but Liam Whatshisface (I'm too lazy to look up his last name) did such a good job with the few scenes he had. However, apart from the acting itself there were a few issues I had with the characters, specifically Gale and Peeta. Gale I actually liked more in the movie, and I think it's because his overwhelming anger was really downplayed. He was portrayed instead as Katniss' best friend and the person who was looking after Prim once she was gone. It was very much a protector role, stripped of the angry undertones that are there throughout the books. And about Peeta. You guys, I love Peeta. He's one of my all-time favorite characters. And I really like the actor who plays him in the movie; I think he did an awesome, awesome job. He nailed it. But Peeta's character was missing a bit of his Peeta-ness here. His humor and toughness is downplayed, making him seem a little bit generic. (And, if I'm going to be totally honest and a little nit-picky, there was that one line that made him legit sound like a stalker.)

The atmosphere of the movie -- the Capitol, District 12, the arena -- were all so great. The reaping scene in particular -- which was one of my favorites in the book -- is just perfect. The movie did such a good job capturing the fear, desperation, and agony of what's happening. Other important scenes, like Peeta's interview, are also done really well but for me nothing in the movie beats that reaping scene. It's incredible.

As I said, there were some things (certain lines and scenes) that I loved in the book and wish had made it into the movie. The ending in particular seems to speed by really quickly and I wish there'd been just a little more meat to what happens after, but at already nearly two and a half hours long, I can imagine how hard it must have been to keep everything that was great in the books. It's just impossible and the movie does a remarkable job of capturing the things that are most important to the overall story and plot. I'm honestly amazed at how true to the story and characters, especially Katniss, the movie remained. The movie is not the book. It approaches the story from a slightly different angle, a broader scope since we're no longer in Katniss' head. This is an adaptation of the book but even more so, I think, a widening of the story's world. Nothing will replace the book and, really, nothing can touch it, but the movie comes close. The movie really is one of the strongest book-to-movie translations I've seen and while bits of it are disappointing, it's definitely a worthy movie version of one of my favorite books.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In My Mailbox: Mar. 25

Bought: It's a little amazing I haven't read this one before now and really my only defenses are (1) it's a book written (or at least marketed) specifically for parents, and I am not one. And (2) it was the basis for the movie Mean Girls, which  I definitely didn't like the one time I watched part of it. But I'm excited about reading this book all the same, especially since it's mentioned briefly in Odd Girl Out.
For Review: Huge thanks to Penguin Teen for sending me a package of upcoming contemporary YA novels. Authors Natasha Friend and Kristin Walker are both ones I've read before and Beth Kephart is an author I've heard great things about. I'm excited to finally be reading something of hers and in addition to that amazing cover, Small Damages sounds like a great, unique story. Also, Kristin Walker's 7 Clues to Winning You is a great book for me since I'm trying to read more sophomore novels and I enjoyed her debut, A Match Made in High School.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: How to Save A Life

Sara Zarr
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
A year after the sudden death of her dad, Jill's mom has decided to adopt a baby -- from a pregnant teen she met on an online forum. Though her mother trusts the soon-to-be birth mother, Mandy, the sharp, withdrawn, sometimes mean Jill has some issues with it all. Not only is the whole thing happening without lawyers, social workers, or any sort of official paperwork, but Jill feels like her mother's trying to replace one family member with another. Meanwhile Mandy's desperate for a chance at a different sort of life than the one she came from and when she comes to stay with Jill and her mother Robin, realizes exactly what sort of life she'd like to have and wants to, through this adoption, give her child.

It's no secret that I'm a huge Sara Zarr fan. Sweethearts is one of my all-time favorite books and Zarr is such a great writer, so I went into How to Save A Life with some expectations. I was eager to see how Zarr would handle a split-POV novel and the answer is: wonderfully. Jill (sarcastic, grieving, withdrawn, angry) and Mandy (desperate, naive, strong in a surprising sort of way) are such different characters with noticeably distinct voices. While Jill has a mom, a stable home, friends, and a somewhat-steady boyfriend, Mandy comes from a very different world and grew up following her mother from boyfriend to boyfriend  and never developed many (or any, it seems) friendships. Because of this Mandy, though nearly 19 years old, seems quite young. Her entire view of the world up until this point has been shaped by her mother, whose opinions on how she should look and act are dictated entirely by what she thinks will attract a man. (Mandy's mother, for this and other reasons, goes down in the "Worst Fictional Mothers Ever" hall of fame.)

Jill, on the other hand, is headstrong and often harsh. When her dad was around she had someone to keep her balanced; their personalities were very much alike and he understood her more than her mother does. Without him, it's hard for Jill to remain the person she was, the person he always helped her to be. This was heartbreaking and her grief and struggle comes through so vividly in a couple of scenes. However, for one reason or another it was difficult to really get a grasp of Jill's emotions for much of the book, and while I now suspect this was probably intentional -- because Jill herself is so intent on pushing away her feelings -- when I was reading the book it bothered me.

There are a number of romantic interests here and they rarely follow the expected path. Jill's on/off boyfriend, Dylan, served as a foil to her many times throughout the book and was quite possibly my favorite character in the novel while Mandy's inner turmoil about the father of her baby is an added dimension of complication here. Likewise the feelings between Jill, Mandy, and Jill's mother (Robin) are so complex and so true; their relationships start out formal and sometimes antagonistic and then grow into something truly beautiful and so real.

The ending of this novel is also worth mentioning. It would be so easy for the events of the last few chapters to come across as cheesy or unrealistic, but the build-up is so fantastic that it works. It works perfectly. I wasn't always sure, at certain points during this novel, how much I really liked it. It sometimes felt as if the story was bobbing along without much to keep it anchored and certain elements (Jill's grief, for example) seemed underused or relegated to the sidelines. However, in the last fourth of the novel everything I wasn't sure about came together and it came together so incredibly well. This is a book that takes a while to really sink in and gives you plenty to think about. It's a story of family, loss, and new life, but more than anything it's a book about love. All types, from family to romantic to friendship to those difficult-to-name types of love that Zarr writes so well.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hunger Games Tag Questions


My sister told me about The Hunger Games tag questions floating around YouTube and even though I don't make videos, I decided to see if I could find the questions written somewhere to answer. I managed to find them here on tumblr.

1. What is your favorite book in The Hunger Games trilogy?
Mockingjay. I realize this might be an unpopular opinion, but it was the best book I read in all of 2010, it's the best ending to a trilogy that I've ever read, and it struck just the right chord with me. As people started finishing this series I heard different terms: Mockingjay hangover and/or Post-Mockingjay-Stress-Disorder. Whatever the term used, it's safe to say that Mockingjay sort of broke my brain a little bit. I really had to recover from reading it. There were so many emotions, and so much to think about. It's one of the best stories I've read and I'm constantly confused and/or angered (in that way you get mad when people hate on your favorite books) when I hear people talk bad about this book or the epilogue. It just utterly confuses me.

2. How long would you last in the Hunger Games?
Well, I definitely wouldn't win. My best hope for surviving beyond the initial bloodbath would probably/definitely be to find a good hiding place and hope I could stay out of sight for as long as possible. I realize I'm not actually answering this question, but it's hard to say.

3. What's the strangest thing you thought was going to happen in the books (but didn't)?
The entire series was a total trip for me. I had no idea what was going to happen from one chapter to the next; Suzanne Collins managed to surprise me at nearly every turn and I didn't every try to guess what might happen. I do remember briefly thinking, in Catching Fire, that Haymitch might end up back in the games with Katniss. I'm not sure I really thought it would happen, but the thought did cross my mind.

4. How were you introduced to The Hunger Games?
Everyone was reading them. Not "everyone" everyone, but everyone in my very tuned-in, book-bloggers-and-authors community. Everyone I talk to about books seemed to have read and loved the book and I resisted for so long. I didn't seek out dystopian novels and the description of this book/series just did not appeal to me. A fight to the death? An evil government? It all sounded way too dark and way too violent for me. (I'm so not a fan of violence.) What I didn't realize was how brilliant the characters were and what an incredibly strong emotional core the story had. Nobody told me that it was more than just an action-filled fight book. It wasn't until I'd heard so much about the series (at this point the first two books were out and the third was well on its way) that I started having dreams about the Hunger Games (I was in the arena with Katniss. Or maybe I was Katniss. I don't really know.). After that, I knew I had to give the books a chance. The rest, as they say, is history. (Interestingly, the first post on this blog was about The Hunger Games.)

5. Favorite moment that happens in The Hunger Games?
The series or just the first book? Either way, it's difficult/impossible to choose just one moment. In the first book I do love the bookends of the Games -- the reaping, when Katniss volunteers in place of Prim, and the end when she and Peeta have the nightlock berries. In the series as a whole I loved loved loved the epilogue. Just perfect.

6. Who is your favorite character?
Peeta Mellark!! Cannot even explain it in words.

However, in rereading the first book I'm realizing that I like Katniss so much more this second time around. She's definitely one of my favorite all-time characters.

7. What district would you live in?
Okay, I did this by where I was born (northeastern Arizona) and what district I think that would have been part of. The Capitol was in the Rockies (Colorado) and I think where I lived would probably be District 2 - masonry and weapons. The Capitol's "pet," which is awful. Um, sorry?

8. What was the most emotional moment in the books for you?
Prim's death, followed closely (but not too closely) by the reaping. That wiped me out.

9. What item from home would you take into the arena with you as a token?
Um. I've given this a lot of thought, actually, and I don't have a lot of small, sentimental items that I could use as a token (either in The Hunger Games or Inception). There is, however, a medal I was given at the end of sixth grade when my school had its big awards ceremony. The story behind it is sort of long and basically the story of sixth grade itself, but the short version is that this medal would serve as a reminder of where I came from, who I am, and my own strength.

10. What was the most evil plan someone made in the books?
When they considered making future children compete in the Hunger Games. That's the moment, in Mockingjay, when I almost threw the book across the room.

11. What are you looking forward to most in the film?
I can't chose just one thing.

12. Who is your favorite villain in the trilogy?
Effie. I know she's technically evil and everything; I know she plays a big part in the Games, but she appears so clueless and, in her own naive way, really cares for Katniss and Peeta that I just can't help but love her.

So, what are your answers? I'd love to read them so link below (please) if you do your own post -- or feel free to answer in the comments!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ten: Hunger Games Scenes/Moments I'm Looking Forward To


These aren't exactly my favorite things/moments/scenes from the book, but instead the top ten things I'm looking forward to seeing interpreted in the movie. (But yeah, there's definitely lots of overlap between this list and my favorite book moments.)

1. The Reaping:
In the books, it was the moment that Katniss volunteered in place of her sister that really got me hooked. The emotions she has in that moment, the oh god not my little sister, not her, anyone but her, were so authentic and painful and real that it just immediately sucked me in.

2. Peeta's Interview:
There are a couple of things I love in stories and one of them is when a key character is missing out on a key piece of information. This is probably part of why I love Katniss and Peeta's early relationship so much. The scene where Peeta gives his pre-Games interview is also so full of emotion, but also the rippling effects of shock. It's a total game changer for Katniss and everyone else.

3. The Muttations:
Alright, these things terrify me. It's not so much that I want to see them as that I'm completely intrigued about how the movie is going to pull this off. If they're half as scary as the mutts in my mind I'll have nightmares for weeks, so I hope they're not.

4. The Clothes:
I can't believe I just wrote that. I usually don't pay much/any attention to clothes in movies and television (and life!), but the outfits Cinna designs for Katniss play such a big role in how she's perceived and are described so incredibly well that I can't wait to see the interpretation.

5. The Nightlock:
The end of the Games, with the nightlock berries, is definitely one of the biggest scenes in the book and I can't wait to see how it plays out onscreen.

6. The End:
Until I reread The Hunger Games recently, I'd forgotten just how much happens in that brief time between the end of the Games and the end of the book. It ends with Katniss and Peeta very much at odds and Katniss' safety very much at stake. I'm wondering how the movie is going to play this; if they'll end it at the same place that the book does, or if it'll end with at some other place, like with the nightlock scene.

7. The Setting(s):
I'm really looking forward to seeing the filmmakers' interpretation of the settings of this book, especially District 12 and the Capitol (less so the arena, because I figure that pretty much just looks like outdoors and wilderness).

8. People Watching The Games:
Gale and Prim especially. In the book we don't get much in the way of what the viewers think except for what Katniss imagines others might be thinking/feeling about the situation, but from everything I've heard the movie's going to be a bit different in this regard. I'm really looking forward to seeing the reactions of those Katniss loves most as they see what plays out onscreen.

9. Effie:
Okay, I know. She's part of the Capitol -- a willing helper in the tragedy of the Games. And yet... and yet I can't help but like Effie. She can't really be so oblivious, but she often seems like she is and like, in spite of the part she plays, she really does care for Katniss and Peeta. I'm looking forward to everything that includes her.

10. How the Violence is Handled:
I'm really not a fan of violence. It's part of the reason I resisted reading this series for so long. I'm looking forward to seeing how this violence plays out onscreen, especially considering how dedicated the director and others involved were to keeping it as a PG-13 movie.

So, what are you most looking forward to seeing in the movie?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Five: Spring Titles

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is about books on the Spring TBR (to be read) list. I don't actually put books on my TBR list until they're actually in my possession (otherwise it's too sad when I don't get to read them), so instead here's ten books coming out this spring (for me that means March-May) that I think look really good and am hoping I get to read. Also, I'm making this a top five instead of a top 10 list because that seems more manageable and lets me highlight the books I'm really excited for.

1. Nothing Special
Geoff Herbach
Pub: May 1st
This is either a sequel or companion novel (not sure which) to Stupid Fast, which won the Cybil's Award this year and which I absolutely absolutely loved. It was so funny and so full of heart; I'm confident that this one will be similarly wonderful and I can't wait to read it. Also, sidenote, that cover is so great.

2. The Selection
Kiera Cass
Pub: April 24th
A futuristic dystopian that's sort of like The Bachelor? Count me in! Even though I could only stomach one season of the show, I had a total love-hate relationship with it that makes me think this book could be ridiculously awesome for me. Also, that's not sarcasm: I'm legit v v excited for this book.

3. Second Chance Summer
Morgan Matson
Pub: May 8th
This book sounds incredibly sad, but it also features a family at the center of it and I'm hoping it'll be the good sort of sad story -- more like A Walk to Remember and less like Dear John. If that even makes sense (which it probably doesn't). Anyway, I'm definitely on the look out for this one.

4. Being Friends With Boys
Terra Elan McVoy
Pub: May 1st
I'm such a fan of McVoy's writing style and the premise of this book hits all the right marks for me. I can't wait to read it. Also, I love the "food" theme her last three covers have had going for them. (Also also, there might be a giveaway of this book happening on the blog nearer its publication date, so be on the look out for that!)

5. The List
Siobhan Vivian
Pub: April 1st
This is the only book on this list that I've ordered already -- and I can't wait for it to arrive so I can read it! I've only read one of Vivian's earlier books (her debut, A Little Friendly Advice), but I loved it and the premise of this one is so smart and something I'm really interested in. So I can't wait.

What spring titles are you looking forward to?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Writing: How I Use My iPad

Project: sidekicks
Wordcount: 26,000

I've been thinking lately that I really need some topics to talk about each week on my writing post, because otherwise I end up just babbling on about nothing/anything and I doubt it's very interesting to read. So I'm up for any suggestions -- anything you guys want me to talk about that's writing-related. This week I figured I'll talk about the different ways I use my iPad to help with my writing. Even if you don't have an iPad, you can probably find ways to do similar things if you think they'll help with your own writing.

Apps I Use:
Evernote/Notes: Free
Evernote's big thing is that it syncs notes to your computer, but I never use this function. I like this note app over others because you can put notes in folders, tag them, and use italics, bold, and indenting (sort of). And of course the Notes app is easy to use because it's just the basic iPad/iPod note app. Anyway.

A lot of times when I'm away from my computer I'll be thinking on a certain scene -- sometimes the one I'm working on and sometimes a future scene -- and note-writing apps like these are good for a sort of "freewriting" that I do. I often write the scene I'm thinking about, or even just a skeleton of the scene, and then type it into Scrivener when I'm actually at my computer working on the novel.

Another thing I've been doing lately, in this first draft, is keeping a running list of things I already know I'll need to change in the next draft. (My advice if you're going to do this is to be as specific as possible. I'm always amazed at how something I thought was perfectly clear when I wrote it is a vague mess months later.)

Penultimate: $0.99
This is a handwriting app that has come in handy. I always have a notebook for whatever novel I'm working on (an actual, physical notebook), but I've also started a virtual notebook on this app that's good for all the things I feel like I have to write out by hand. Sometimes this means writing parts of the actual novel by hand (I switch to this sometimes when I feel like my brain needs to shift gears) and sometimes it's planning, listing things, thinking things through with a pen in hand. It hasn't replaced my physical notebook, but I have my iPad around more often than my notebook lately. (Thanks to Capillya for suggesting this app to me.)

This is an early page of my notebook for this story, back when I was still trying to figure out how to best tell the story. I think omni-third and omni 3 are supposed to mean omniscient POV and third person, which now that I think about it makes no sense. So maybe I don't know what I meant after all. Heh.

Popplet: $4.99
This is the most expensive app I've ever bought but for me it was so worth it. Popplet is an app for mind maps (flow charts) and since one of the biggest ways I plan my novels is by using flow charts, it's awesome. I've been able to plan out different relationships and scenes really really nicely. What I love about flow charts is that I can outline a scene or event in the book with all the different choices a certain character might possibly make, so I can see all the outcomes and paths to get there; it really helps me figure out what's the best way to go when I'm having trouble with a certain scene, character, or relationship. I love it. (And for those who know what I'm talking about, the Popplet app is very similar to the website, which I also love. And I think you can make online charts with Popplet, though I'm not 100% on that.)

What apps do you use to help with your writing, whether on iPad, iPod, phone, whatever? Or just non-computer things you use to help, like actual notebooks and folders and such? Also, what topics would you like to see discussed in my Monday Writing posts?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Shug

Jenny Han

Annemarie Wilcox, or "Shug" (as in Sugar) as her mom calls her, is twelve years old and in love with her oldest friend (Mark) the boy she's grown up riding bikes with and whose mother she often wishes were her own. But when junior high starts her new feelings toward Mark, as well as the new social structure that comes with her new school, makes things so much more complicated than they used to be. With her mom's drinking, her parents' fighting, nothing is as easy as it used to be.

It's been a while since I've read a really good middle grade novel and Shug reminded me of all the things I love about the genre. The book is not about just one thing. It's not Annemarie's crush on Mark or her struggle with the popular girls or her relationship with her mother or the faultlines that have begun to show in her family. This book is about all of that, along with Annemarie's insecurity -- the kind that often comes when you're on the brink of teenagedom and everything is changing. Set in a small, Southern town, the setting gives Annemarie's story a more old-fashioned feel, as if it could be taking place decades ago instead of in the 21st century. This, I liked. It may just be me, but middle grade is one genre where I love when it seems a bit older, a bit timeless. Most of my favorite MG books have been unmoored in this way.

Annemarie is an authentic pre-teen whose struggles with herself and those around her ring true. This book takes a simple approach to some serious subjects such as family dysfunction and alcoholism. There were some heartbreaking moments that, because of how they were written, felt neither heavy nor trite. They fit.

For many of the storylines in this book, there's no neatly wrapped-up ending. There's a sense of moving on, but nothing that you'd traditionally think of as closure, but that works here because the problems Annemarie is facing are life's problems and they aren't ones that are resolved yet. This is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to young readers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

First Season TV Roundup

I don't often talk about tv shows on the blog, but at the beginning of this season I did a roundup of the new shows I was interested in. And now I'm coming back to talk about the freshman shows I'm still watching.

New Girl (FOX)
I wasn't loving this show at first. I'm a Zooey Deschanel fan, but not a big enough fan to watch the show just because she's in it. After the first couple of episodes I was a little ambivalent about it, but this has grown fairly quickly to be one of my favorite sitcoms. It's not "The Zooey Show," but more of an ensemble and the cast/characters work so well together. Like everyone else, I find Schmidt hilarious; he's definitely the breakout character of the show -- but I also really like the other characters and their interactions. It's just so funny and so, adorkable (yeah, I said it). I haven't heard yet if it's going to get a second season pickup, but I'd be shocked if it didn't. (Also, sidenote? This is the only FOX show I watch.)

Up All Night (NBC)
With a few exceptions, I tend to really love NBC's comedies. And this is one of the exceptions. I know a lot of people really love it and I'll admit that I'll end up watching it while I'm doing other things, but it's not a show I look forward to or feel the need to keep up with. I'm very eh about it (but I do love Reagan and Chris together).

Pan Am (ABC)
This show started out so good. I loved the pilot episode -- so atmospheric and it set up the time period and the "glamor" really well. Unfortunately the show didn't do so good in the ratings and (I don't know if these things are related or not), it was like they threw more and more stuff at it trying to give it more appeal and the whole thing just fell apart. I was really hoping for more of a focus on the "jet age" aspect of it and that didn't really pan out. Instead, the show went to various weird places (not geographically, I mean in the storytelling direction) and what kept me watching was the character of Colette. The first season is over now and I doubt it'll get picked up for a second season.

Free Agents (NBC)
I really liked this show but I must have been the only one because it got cancelled pretty much right away. Bummer, that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Alaska

Sue Saliba
Published in Australia
Mia left her home in Australia, along with her alcoholic mother, to live with her older sister for a while in Alaska. But the close bond that Mia and Em used to have isn't quite what it used to be. Em has a child now, and a hard-headed, always-has-to-be-right husband. She found a way to escape from the dysfunction of their childhood home and now Mia, who finds herself attracted to Ethan, the man she meets in the forest, hopes to find her own escape in Alaska.

The writing of this book is so lyrical. The words seem like whispers and while it's beautiful, this sort of wispy, barely-there writing puts the book at a distinct disadvantage. At less than 200 pages, the book is already incredibly slim and it took me a good portion of the book to piece the plot and characters together. Mia, Em, and Ethan are more like shadows than realistic, fully imagined characters. Their personalities, desires, and histories are often only hinted at which makes it difficult to form opinions about them. Ethan, Mia's sort-of boyfriend often seems to be hiding something, however his and Mia's apparent connection makes for a confusing, complicated, half-there picture. There are bits and pieces of the overall relationship and story, but it never quite comes together fully.

Environmentalism and love for the earth was a big part of this book, with a "save the forests" plot being the main focus, but like the rest of the novel this plot wasn't developed enough to have much of an impact. The ideas and writing are wonderful, but it's not quite enough. Mia's journey in Alaska does eventually come to a head and the last third of the novel goes a long way toward putting the scattered pieces together. Unfortunately the ending leaves many subplots hanging, unfinished. Her relationships with both older sister Em and maybe-boyfriend Ethan are unresolved. However, the pretty, flowy writing made this a book I enjoyed despite the confusion and problems I found with it. If any of Sue Saliba's books are ever published in the US (this is an Australian novel), I'll definitely be checking them out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: The Probability of Miracles

Wendy Wunder
After a seven year battle with cancer, Cam has gotten the worst news from her doctor. There's nothing else they can do. Short of a miracle, Cam's days are seriously numbered. Unfortunately, Cam doesn't believe in miracles. (She also doesn't believe in God, romantic love, or anything even approaching "fate" or "destiny.") But her mom, and her younger sister, Perry, do believe in miracles and they move from their home in Florida to Promise, Maine, a place where miracles happen every day. Everlasting sunsets. Purple dandelions. Snowstorms in July. Her family wants a miracle, but Cam has her own things to accomplish -- a list of "normal" teenage activities she wants to check off her list before she dies.

Cam is a sarcastic, pessimistic (with good reason) character. Unlike her mother and sister, she's accepted the inescapable and imminent nature of her death and moving from DisneyWorld to Promise, Maine is more to humor them than anything else. Cam doesn't expect to carve out a spot for herself in Promise, and she definitely doesn't expect Asher, the perfect boy she finds herself falling for. In fact, even as these things are happening she doesn't quite believe or trust them. Cam's a cynical, stubborn girl and certainly there were plenty of reasons for this (the cancer, for one. the dead father, for another), but still I found it hard to relate to her. I understood, in a logical way, why she was the way she was, but it didn't make me like her any more and that was a disappointment. If I can't like or relate to a protagonist, there's little hope for me truly liking the book.

However, this book has quite a bit more than just Cam to offer. There's her mother and Perry, both of whom are well-written characters who react uniquely but realistically to Cam's cancer. Her mother would go to the ends of the earth to save Cam, but doesn't suffocate her the way you might expect; on the contrary, she pushes Cam to live her life as normally and fully as possible. I loved this, just as I loved the way Perry looked up to Cam despite their often antagonistic relationship.

The town of Promise was, in a word... brilliant. From the miracles to its hidden, elusive nature (the road into town can only be found from the drive-thru of a Dunkin' Donuts) of Promise, it's one of the most magical, ethereal settings I've come across. It's a place perfectly suited to the pursuit of a life-saving miracle and it was easy for me to see how Asher, Cam's love interest, would have no desire to leave. The relationship between Cam and Asher had a slow build and started out wonderfully, with the two of them trading snarky banter and slowly building a friendship. However, once the romance aspect entered the framework of their relationship, it overtook everything else and moved so quickly that it wound up feeling a little cardboard. Eventually it felt like Asher was just there to be Cam's boyfriend, her "true love," and the shallowness of their relationship didn't fit the deep feelings they professed to have for each other. It was hard to see what Asher saw in Cam, why he fell so hard for her, and also difficult to pinpoint just what, exactly, brought the two together. Any commonalities between them seemed more a result of them sharing the same space than any true connection.

Wendy Wunder is a talented writer with a unique voice; I loved the writing of The Probability of Miracles and will definitely be on the look for her next book. But unfortunately with this one, everything swings back around to Cam, the character at the center of this book's universe. There were moments, few and far between, where I felt like I really "got" her, but those moments quickly dissipated and I was left with a cynical, angry, sarcastic character whose nature I can't blame entirely on her circumstances. Her stoic nature and lack of belief in anything, along with the fact that even at the end it was hard to tell if she eventually came around to believing in miracles, definitely didn't endear me to her. The things she did and the way she constantly seemed to contradict or crush the hopes of those around her, the people who loved her so much, made it difficult to be around her for three-hundred-plus pages. And though the ending is wonderful, beautifully written, and just the right amount of unexpected, the fact that the rest of the book didn't have the same emotional thrust, made it feel unearned.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Writing: Prom & School

Project: sidekicks

Wordcount: 20,000

Apologies for this post being a day late. And also so short and boring. I'm writing the prom scenes in sidekicks, which is something I never thought I'd include in my stories. But it's sort of pivotal here. It's new and unusual for me to write a novel that takes place during the school year and this one starts about a month before summer, which means there are a lot of scenes that take place in or around school. There's talk of homework and teachers and extracurriculars and prom. And it's strange to be writing, but it's also, in a weird way, really fun. I've always struggled with writing schooltime stuff and am in awe of any authors who can pull it off, because it's way too easy to make these scenes as tedious as high school actually can be at times. But I feel like if I can get it right it'll be a big accomplishment for me.

So, you know, I'm working on it.

Also I'm tired. If this post doesn't make much sense, blame that.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In My Mailbox: Mar. 11

Book Trade: These are three books I've been wanting to get my hands on. I love novels in verse (Love and Leftovers), and was such a fan of Elizabeth Eulberg's first book that I couldn't pass up Take A Bow. Plus, the pitch for Life is But A Dream reminds me, in a small way at least, of Inception. I know it won't be anything the same, but I still really wanted to read it.

Bought: I've been looking for this book for a long time; it's a family drama that seems like it might be really good. Or just really depressing. We'll see! Either way, can't wait to read it and find out.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sisterhood Everlasting and Series Thoughts

Reading Sisterhood Everlasting, the "fifth" book in the series that begun with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, was a bit of a surreal, strange experience for me. Like many YA readers in their 20s, I read the Traveling Pants series as a teenager and was deeply, deeply invested in the lives of Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget. They were and are such well-written characters, so complex and intricately developed, that it was almost impossible to not be swept away in their lives and struggles.

I loved that series. Loved it. There was no way for me to not read the fifth book, the grown-up book, the one that can exist as a stand-alone if you haven't read the other four. But reading it there was something wrong. These girls had gone through so much, and now they were going through even more. And it was, to a certain extent, more of the same. The issues and struggles the girls went through were similar to, if not the same as, ones they'd battled in the series.

It made me think that as much as I love these characters and as interested as I was to know where they ended up, maybe it's okay to leave them in the past. Because another book means more troubles, more drama, and to a certain extent it has to be contrived, doesn't it? In order to keep the same style/voice/mood/whatever of the series? With this series, I felt like it sort of did.

And I thought of what Gayle Forman has said in response to reader requests for a third Mia and Adam book. It's brilliant and right on the nose. I really encourage you to read this post, by Gayle Forman (especially the fifth, sixth, and seventh questions) because it says so much about stories and series that's really smart. She's talking specifically about If I Stay and Where She Went, but I think it applies so well to many contemporary series and stories.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pinterest, etc, Update

Alright so I've been doing some thinking about Pinterest/images/tumblr/etc. since my last post on the subject. And, to make a long story very short, I've decided to continue using the site (both Pinterest and tumblr, actually, though I'm hardly ever on tumblr anymore). I'm going to continue to use these sites for inspiration, pinning or repinning images that fit my writing. I'm not going to take any of the images off of the site and replicate them in other places (for instance, this blog), especially if I can't find an original source to link back and give credit to.

When and if I use images (you know, other than book covers) on this blog, they'll most likely be from Flickr's Free Use group or similar places.

Meanwhile, if you're on Pinterest you can find me. (In case that link doesn't work -- my username is jordynface, same as it is on Twitter.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Sisterhood Everlasting

Ann Brashares
Random House

Picking up ten years after the end of the fourth book, Forever in Blue, this all-grown-up extension of the series introduces us to the 29-year-old versions of the Septembers. Carmen is living in New York and has scored a recurring role on a crime show; she's engaged to and living with a man whom everyone else finds insufferable. Lena lives alone and teaches art classes; she has almost no friends and is essentially a recluse. Bridget lives with Eric in San Francisco and works various odd jobs; any hint of commitment or stability sends her running away from her life. Tibby and Brian have lived in Australia for two years and she hasn't had a lot of contact with the other three until she sends them plane tickets for a Sisterhood reunion in Santorini, Greece. What the girls discover there and the ways it changes their lives, shakes them out of their routines, changes the Sisterhood in extreme ways.

It's hard to review this one without a few major spoilers, but I intend to do just that because it really is best to go into this book a bit blindly (unlike the way I did it). Sisterhood Everlasting is an emotional book not only because of the characters and events contained within it, but also because, as the jacket flap of the book says, the friendship between these girls "became a touchstone for a generation." That's true, and because of that an unbiased, impersonal review is nearly impossible. I started reading the first of this series in junior high and the intense friendship the girls shared was hard not to get caught up in. Brashares has a way of writing her characters as real, complete people with strengths and weaknesses and mistakes all their own. I always connected most closely to Tibby and Lena and the relationship of the four girls was immensely personal to me. As with all fiction that I read, I related and connected the Sisterhood to my real life and the people I most cared about.

When I found out that Ann Brashares had written a fifth sisterhood book, one meant for the adult instead of YA market/demographic, I couldn't leave it unread. I liked how Forever in Blue ended, but there was no way I could let the continued lives of these girls go on without me. And, I think, this is probably how a lot of readers feel about it.

My thoughts on the book itself are conflicted. I love these characters and I will never not love them, but between the YA series and this new book (which works as a stand-alone though it definitely loses much of its context) something went wrong. Their lives did not end up, at 29, at all the way I would have expected and sadly it felt contrived. None of the girls are married, none of them have children, and the issues they're dealing with at 29 seemed the same as the issues they'd dealt with as teenagers. It was as if much of the progress they'd made individually (and together) since The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was lost or simply erased in order to make way for this new book, and that rubbed me the wrong way. Though it makes some sense for them to be struggling because Sisterhood Everlasting really is about the girls entering adulthood, it was still a bit much. The issues you have at 29, even if you're still growing up, are not the same ones that you would have had at 16 and this book forgot that.

I wanted, and expected, grown-up versions of Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bee. I wanted to know about the lives they'd forged for themselves -- successes and failures and careers and families. What was Bee doing and did she have children? How had Lena found happiness for herself and was she any closer to her sister? Were Tibby and Brian still together? Did Carmen have a daughter, a husband, a family? But no, these girls are stuck somewhere between the past and the present and the future, unmoored and floating. Bridget is, at one point in the story, homeless. She still runs away from what she needs. Lena is reclusive, living alone and guarding herself from happiness for fear of getting hurt. Tibby hasn't spoken to her best friends in years. Only Carmen, whose fiance I didn't hate nearly as much as the girls did, has some of her life together. But even she has distanced herself from her family, her friends, and who she truly is. There were so many moments in this book when I wanted to yell at the self-sabotaging characters, to snap them to reality. To have the lives they deserved and should have had instead of the lives they ended up with.

That said, there were elements of this book that absolutely, positively were amazing. The immense love between the Sisterhood is not always at the forefront, but when it is the emotions, characters, and relationships are arresting. They're beautiful. Ann Brashares' writing is straight-forward and without frills but somehow this makes certain moments and certain emotions hit even harder. This is a tear-jerker of a novel. Even if some (much?) of it feels contrived and the characters don't feel as authentic as I'd like, there are more than a few moments of startling honesty and raw, honest emotion and actions that help to make up for the book's flaws. Additionally, while I've always always haaated the Lena and Kostos relationship, this book goes a long way towards redeeming it in my eyes. Explaining just why would spoil parts of this book, so suffice it to say that I have always, always wanted Lena to be happy.

So did I like this book? Yes. Yes, but I had, as you can tell, some pretty big issues with it. It broke my heart and there's definitely a large part of me that thinks it was an unnecessary addition to the Traveling Pants story and series; I would have preferred to imagine their adult lives the way I think they would have gone. But, since the book was written and published, there was no way I could pass it up. I don't really want to recommend it or not recommend it because for previous readers of the original series the characters and their stories are so personal that reading or not reading Sisterhood Everlasting is really a decision you have to make for yourself.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Saving Francesca

Knopf Books for Young Readers
Melina Marchetta

Leaving the familiarity of her old all-girls' school for St. Sebastians, a formerly all-boys' school that only "pretends to be co-ed" is hard enough, but even more difficult is what happens when Francesca's vivacious, irritating, larger-than-life mother becomes depressed. With her mother ill with a sickness she can't explain, Francesca's family falters, then falls apart -- and she has no idea who she is anymore.

I read (and loved) The Piper's Son, which is a sequel/companion novel to this, taking place years later and centered on a different character, so I was eager to see if Saving Francesca was anything like it. And honestly I felt a sort of duty to go back and play "catch up" with these characters I loved so much. I think because of that I came at this book with a different perspective than I would have otherwise had. 

To be honest, I'm hesitant about this book. Even having read and enjoyed it, I'm hesitant. It took me about 70 pages to really fall into the rhythm of the book and become invested; Francesca's an interesting and realistic character, but she's convinced she has no personality. In fact, she wants to have no personality. To be overlooked, ignored, left to her own devices. And it's not until her mother falls ill that she gets her wish and discovers that maybe it's not all she wants after all. This book explores the dynamics of Francesca's family in a way that works incredibly well while also letting Francesca's personal story shine though. Starting at St. Sebastian's means leaving all her old friends behind and being tossed in with girls and boys she'd never typically choose as friends or even acquaintances. Yet it's these characters and the relationships she forms with them that really bring the book -- and Francesca herself -- to life.

I think part of the reason it took me a while to get fully immersed in the book is because the new group of friends Francesca makes -- immature but complicated boys and girls who, unlike her previous friends, have her back completely -- don't come together as a cohesive, primary focus of the book for quite a while. This is Francesca's story and it has different facets: family, self, old friends, new friends, and each of these facets is focused on at a different point in the book. Marchetta does a wonderful job of creating complicated, multi-layered relationships between her characters and watching Francesca's new friendships develop, and help her grow into her (hidden, but obviously sarcastic and awesome) personality is one of the best, most enjoyable parts of this book. Because I'd already read The Piper's Son, which takes place years later, I think I went into Saving Francesca expecting more out of certain characters and relationships, so while they're not exactly a series, if you can read Francesca first, I definitely recommend it.

This book handles some very real topics that could easily become overly-depressing, but Marchetta manages to blend the drama and deep sadness of Francesca's life with some much-needed humor and sarcasm, making the book a great mixture of serious and light-hearted. I definitely liked it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday Ten: Covers from My Wishlist

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten covers, and I've decided to narrow the field quite a bit by doing a post dedicated to the top ten covers from my wanting list. (My "wanting" list is a wishlist shelf I keep on Goodreads. Right now it has 84 books on it and some of them don't even have covers yet.) I've included publication dates for the books that aren't yet out.

1. The Disenchantments
Nina LaCour
The huge sunglasses, the font (for me, font can seriously make or break a cover), the t-shirt and the light filtering in... everything about this cover is so so awesome. It screams YA to me without being the sort of cover that looks just like every other cover. I absolutely love it.

2. Girls Don't Fly
Kristen Chandler
Again, the font here works so well. I love the image of the bird, the top half of the girl's head/face, and all the sky behind her. This cover is just so, so cute.

3. Love and Leftovers
Sarah Tregay
I love Converse shoes (or even just Converse-looking shoes), so any cover that incorporates them so well is a win with me. Like the cover to Girls Don't Fly, this is just so cute (and even cuter in real life). I especially like the blue/red color theme.

4. Life is But A Dream
Brian James
Pub Date: March 2012
Okay, so upon closer examination the girl on this cover looks a bit, um, dead. But that's not what catches my eye! Nope, what I'm really looking at is the flowery words and the hint of sky up top. This cover has an artsy feel that's missing in a lot of YA covers.

5. Reunited
Hilary Weisman Graham
Pub Date: June 2012
The cover of this one reminds me a little bit of The Lonely Hearts Club, which I also love. And aside from that connection, it's bright, bold, completely cute and eye-catching at the same time. As far as covers go, this one feels like a must-have to me.

6. Take A Bow
Elizabeth Eulberg
Pub Date: April 2012
Oh, and speaking of The Lonely Hearts Club, here's an upcoming book by the same author. What I like most abouut this cover is all the lights. They really overtake everything and I love it. 

7. Someone Else's Life
Katie Dale
(UK cover)
Alright, here's the deal: this isn't the US cover. This is the UK cover and I really, really like it. The US cover, on the other hand, is a total dud. The two covers could not be further apart if they tried, and I wish the American one had more of the feeling of whimsy that this cover has. Between the dresser, the writing on the wall, and the picture frame, this cover is such a winner.

8. The Selection
Kiera Cass
Pub Date: April 2012
I get that pretty much everyone is sick of all the YA dystopian and paranormal covers with beautiful dresses on them. And mostly, I get that. But this particular dystopian with this particular cover, I love. The story is supposedly a sort of futuristic Bachelor-type thing, so the beautiful dress makes perfect sense. Plus, the mirrors and never-ending images make it even more striking.

9. Awkward
Marni Bates
Another oh-so-cute cover. It looks like adorable Sharpie-scribblings on a notebook, and the girl on the cover looks young enough and frenzied enough to fit with YA and with the title of this book. This cover is just altogether too, too great.

10. Never Enough
Denise Jaden
Pub Date: July 2012
If this cover were just a little different I could easily hate it. But the colors, the lighting, the font, and the girl's expression all work together really well to make it one of the more striking and beautiful covers I've come across lately.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing: Tired Brain

(via Flickr's Free Use group.)

I'm writing this because I am determined to keep in the habit (the habit I re-started just last week) of having writing-related Monday posts. Word count for the novel is moving  s l o w l y ,  but that's okay. Eventually I'll pick up steam, I think. (Or at least, that's how it usually happens for me.)

Because the word count (and also my brain!) is moving so slowly, I don't have a whole lot to say today. This book is interesting. Five characters, five families and family dynamics (you all know how much I love writing families), and lots of dialogue. Writing this book is making me wonder what "too much dialogue" is. I'm sure it's mostly reader preference, but most of the action in my book so far isn't so much action as just... talking.

I think this is probably normal. For me. This is only a first draft and I tend to get better at writing plot-driven, action-y type scenes later, once I get to the editing process. It's just that I've been editing different novels and been away from first-drafting for so long that a part of my brain has forgotten how to do a first draft and it's just flailing about everything now. I'm sort of remembering it as I go, and then also figuring out new things since sidekicks is written differently from other novels I've written.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In My Mailbox: Sinking...

Bought: Okay, this is a bit of an odd one. I actually had The Watch that Ends the Night and then, after months of not reading it, gave it to the used bookstore. But then I went and saw the Titanic exhibit at a local museum and it was so so so incredibly amazing (seriously, anyone in the San Diego area should go see it) that I immediately regretted giving this book up and went to the bookstore the next day to buy it back. I'm not quite sure why it's being considered YA, but whatever it is, I like it so far (I'm about 80 pages in as I write this post). As for the second book, The Rivals, I'm so so so jazzed about it. I absolutely loved The Mockingbirds and while it's not one that I felt really needed a sequel, it sounds so interesting and unique and I've heard such good things about this book that I'm sure I'll like it. (Now I just wish the cover I had of The Mockingbirds matched this.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review: Graffiti Moon

Cath Crowley
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Lucy wants to find Shadow, the anonymous and mysterious artist behind some of the most beautiful graffiti in the city. Instead, she ends up spending the last night of Year 12 with her best friends and three guys who claim to know Shadow and his sidekick, Poet. One of these guys is Ed, the last boy in the world Lucy wants to spend time with. However, as the night progresses it leads Lucy to a few realizations about herself and those around her.

This is another of the books my awesome parents brought back from Australia, but I'm pretty sure it's now out in the US also. I'd heard so much good about it, right up to the point that it was everything great about contemporary YA, that I went into it optimistic but wary. I was pleasantly surprised with just how good it is and how well it stacks up to the praise others have given it. Told in Lucy and Ed's rotating POVs, there's a lot that the reader knows even though the characters don't. Lucy and Ed's relationship doesn't fall into any easily defined category that I can come up with. Though they have a history together, they start out hating each other and get to know each other better as the night wears on. Lucy's single-minded plan to find Shadow means that she overlooks and misses a lot of what's right in front of her, and this awkward, dramatic secret-keeping is part of what makes the book so incredibly enjoyable to read. (In case you missed it -- and this isn't a spoiler -- Ed is Shadow.) I really love books where characters have secrets from one another, especially secrets that, like in Ed's case, have a huge bearing on their relationship with another character.

Lucy's family situation and Ed's future are other big focuses of Graffiti Moon and both of these aspects are written so well, with multiple layers and plenty of realistic complexity. Lucy's parents no longer live together (her dad has moved into the shed) and their looming divorce weighs heavy on her mind, casting a shadow over everything else in her life. I've so rarely seen divorce, or at least the possibility of it, explored in-depth in a YA novel. I loved that it was written about here because I think it's something that would affect a child no matter how old they are. Lucy's attachment to her parents and her reaction to their unorthodox living arrangement made me just as hurt and confused as she was -- a great feat. Ed, on the other hand, is struggling with losing his job and not knowing what he's going to do with the rest of his life after dropping out of school. He can barely read (or as his friend says, "you can read, it just takes you a long time to sort out the words") and what this means for his life and his relationships is something he's struggling to work out. This part of the book, of Ed's character, is something that I loved so, so much. It's such a real issue and having an obviously passionate, smart, flat-out awesome character think of himself as stupid because of his reading troubles is something that really got to me.

The issues presented in this book are unusual -- but definitely refreshing and needed, I think -- in YA, which makes it stand out from the crowd. I loved that the entire story took place over the course of one night (because I love nighttime settings) and the plot/pacing worked perfectly for this. I was surprised at just how good the writing was, though too often the voices of Ed and Lucy blend together. Too many times I had to check the chapter to remind myself which character's side I was reading, unfortunately. Because of this and little things like Lucy's too typical rebel-girl best friend, I didn't totally love the book, but I definitely liked it a whole whole lot and have no problem recommending it all over the place. Fans of contemporary YA: this is just different enough and surprising enough to warrant a place on your shelves.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stuff You Should Read and Do

Today's a bit of a "general bulletins and news" day here on the blog because there are a couple of things I'm really, really excited to share with you.

1. I didn't talk about it before it went up, but Nova Ren Suma, author of Imaginary Girls and Dani Noir/Fade Out, is having a fantastic blog series on turning points in the lives of writers. She asked me to contribute, which is honestly just beyond amazing, and I'd love for you guys to read my piece over on her blog. I write about being an aspiring writer, trying to improve, and knowing in your gut when things just aren't good enough. I'm excited and more than a little nervous about this because what I decided to write about is a really personal time and experience in my writing life, one I don't often talk about. So read it?

2. Bri from Bri Meets Books has decided that there should be a book blogger tweet chat. She's hosting the first one THIS SUNDAY, 8pm EST. The topic is negative reviews and I hope if you're a book blogger you'll be there, because I'm excited about it and barring some unfortunate, unforeseen occurrence, I'll definitely be there. If you've never participated in a Twitter chat before, is a great website to use that automatically updates all tweets with a certain hashtag (in the case of this chat it'll be #bookbloggerchat).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review: The Summer of Firsts and Lasts

Terra Elan McVoy
Simon Pulse
For sisters Calla, Violet, and Daisy, summer camp is something special. It's the place their parents met and, for Calla at least, the three weeks away from home during the summer have always been something to look forward to. This year Calla's working as an assistant to the camp director while Violet has her last summer as a camper and Daisy tries to figure out who she is apart from her older sisters. Added to the girls' summer-camp-related stories are their romantic lives: Calla hopes to finally admit her feelings to her best friend, sure that he feels the same way, while Violet's attraction to a boy she knew two summers ago is undeniable and Daisy's first-day-of-camp crush turns out worse than she expects. 

This is a difficult story to sum up, which is probably why the jacket-flap summary feels so misleading (and, to be honest, what I wrote above isn't too much better): this book isn't really about boys. It's about three sisters and how their last summer all together at camp defines and changes them. Told from the POVs of each girl, the story develops their personalities and the dynamics between them well, if a bit strangely. The fact is that while this is very much a book about the bonds of sisterhood, for a large part of the book Calla, Violet, and Daisy don't have many scenes together. Calla's busy behind the scenes of camp, helping the new director keep everything running smoothly; it's a job she's proud to have gotten but it's obvious that for Calla, who loves camp more than any of them, not getting to truly experience it this summer is a letdown. Violet, tired of always playing by the rules, falls under the spell of a rebellious fellow camper, Brynn. And Daisy, the youngest, deals with being something of an outcast in her cabin, thanks to her more introspective personality and the fact that she's not willing to bend to others' expectations of her.

In a big way, I loved this book. At different times during the course of the story I related strongly to each of the sisters: though the timespan of The Summer of Firsts and Lasts is only two weeks, there's so much detail and so much happening both internally and externally, that it feels like much longer. There's love, friendship, heartbreak, nonconformity, and unity all conveyed here. The emotions and relationships are rarely straight-forward, even and especially between the sisters themselves. While it's obvious that they love each other and would do anything for one another, there's the usual push-and-pull of family and of sisters that McVoy writes incredibly well.

Outside of the sister's relationships with each other, there's the romantic aspect of the book, which was a bit hit-and-miss for me. Calla's friendship with Duncan, the boy she's in love with, seems predictable from the outset: she's sure that he shares her feelings and that this will finally be their summer while her sisters, who've seen this play out again and again between the two of them, think she's being a little pathetic and wish she would just confess her feelings and get it over with. I wanted more out of this relationship, more that showed just how close Calla and Duncan were and why their relationship was so confusing. And there are glimpses of this, but because they rarely see each other, it was never as much as I wanted.

Meanwhile, Violet's unstoppable crush on James, a boy she knew from two summers ago, is a very different sort of relationship and since it's the most romantic/couple-y one in the book, I wish it had been handled a bit differently. For the most part, Violet and James don't talk. They share glances, they're constantly aware of each other, and they sneak off together in the night. But the majority of scenes we get between them are purely physical and, considering how attached Violet is to him, how happy he makes her, and how authentic these feelings come across, I wish there had been more. More of his personality and more of their dynamic together. Because while I really wanted to root for them, it's hard to root for a couple you really know next to nothing about.

And this, unfortunately, gets at one of my biggest problems with The Summer of Firsts and Lasts: it's often hard to really pin down these character's personalities. Part of this, I think, is because they're in the world of summer camp, which doesn't quite operate the way other settings/places do. Though the emotions come across so incredibly clear, it's sometimes difficult not having something solid, concrete, to hang those emotions on. Terra Elan McVoy is a uniquely talented writer and I love this book -- it's a bittersweet story with complex, realistic emotions -- but still I sometimes felt like there was a little bit of something missing.