Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Words: Acknowledge the Author

This past Sunday, the 2013 Academy Awards took place. Over the course of three and a half hours, a lot of great films and talented individuals were recognized.

And if you think about it, it was a pretty good night for books, too. Ang Lee won best director for the film adaptation of the acclaimed novel Life of Pi. Anne Hathaway won best supporting actress for Les Mis, a film based on a musical that was based on a novel. Daniel Day Lewis won best actor for his portrayal of President Lincoln, and much of the storyline for that film came from the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Jennifer Lawrence took home the statue for best actress in the film adaptation of the novel Silver Linings Playbook. Ben Affleck's Argo, this year's winner for best picture, was adapted from the book Master of Disguise.

Yet you might not have known about all these books by watching the awards. Sure there's the category of best adapted screenplay and they mention the original authors and works (Argo also won in this category), but the actual award goes to the screen writer - nothing goes to the original author or creator.

Giving awards to people outside the film industry isn't where I'm heading with this, it's just the fact of saying thank you. Correct me if I'm wrong, but other than the best adaptation category, I think Ang Lee and Ben Affleck were the only ones who actually acknowledged the men who wrote the books on which their respective films were based. It's a small little thing, but it can go a long way. Like the proverbial ripples in a pond, the influence grows and spreads. Now bookstores and libraries are getting more customers and patrons interested in knowing the 'original' story, and maybe if they like it they'll keep coming back for more.

Am I the only one who thinks wanting the entertainment industry to acknowledge the authors isn't asking too much, or am I being overly sensitive because I'm a bibliophile? You tell me.

Comments are always welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Always Open: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
FSG, 2012

Clay's luck hasn't exactly been great lately. In fact, things were looking pretty bleak until he was roaming the streets of San Francisco and comes across the hole in the wall that is Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Suddenly Clay is employed as the night shift clerk and is catering to an eclectic group of people - you can't quite call them customers because at this store, books are rarely bought. Instead, people become members and borrow huge volumes from hundreds of shelves in the back of the store. Though he's given explicit rules about what he is supposed to do, curiosity is practically a job requirement for any person who works with books. Clay soon finds himself immersed in model-building, code-breaking, data curation, possible love, and the key to eternal life.

This novel was a charming slice of adult contemporary fiction, and I'm not even sure how to best describe it. It's one part mystery, one part mystical. And I'm not meaning mystical as in magical with spells and wizards (though, in one sense, perhaps...). I mean Mr. Penumbra's store and cast are all the things bibliophiles secretly love about bookstores, especially old ones. Quirky and not quite perfectly organized (at least to the naked eye), full of nooks and crannies that make you curiouser and curiouser. In that way, I found the story to be enchanting. Honestly, there was a book I read a few years back that I was expecting and hoping would be these things, but it fell so very short and Sloan's debut novel here more than made up for it.

But even with its sense of old-time charm, the novel is also taking on questions of present day and the future. One of the main characters works at Google. There are discussions about e-readers and what they're doing to the nature of bookstores. Since I'm admittedly not the most technically inclined (though I try very hard and am getting much better), these parts didn't grab me as deeply but were interesting just the same.

The writing sounds like a conversation. There's a great eclectic cast (though other than Mr. Penumbra himself, I wouldn't say they were as developed as they maybe could have been), and setting is used spectacularly. If you're a book lover, at least see if you can check this novel out from a local library. It's worth a read at least once, and I have a feeling that if I'm ever feeling disillusioned about my jobs with books, roles I love very much, I'll be revisiting Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore in the future.

Plus, the book glows in the dark. How cool is that??

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Robin Sloan's Website
Robin Sloan on Twitter
Penumbra on Twitter

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday Words: Two Weeks

Hey there, you wonderful if oftentimes quiet readers of this blog! (I'm just saying you should all feel free to leave comments, even when you disagree with me. I promise I'm super nice about it!)

I don't really have a solid publishing related topic for this week's Wednesday Words, so instead I'm going to shamelessly plug my own news!  Like I mentioned before on The Fuma Files, I won a short story competition hosted by Lisa Burstein and my entry will be printed in her novel Dear Cassie.

But get this - Dear Cassie hits stores in less than two weeks! That's right, March 5th will be the day when you can read Lisa's story as well as mine in the printed version or on the e-reader of your choice. It's already available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Book Depository. Last week when Lisa sent me this picture so I could see my name in print, I squealed and jumped around my kitchen for quite a while. It was great.

So that is happening in my life and it's quite exciting. I'm a little behind on reading, but for those of you who are curious I'm currently making my way through Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl as well as The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson for the book club at my school.

What are you all reading? Do you like short stories? How's the weather where you are these days? Comments are always welcome, and happy reading!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Senior Secrets: None of the Regular Rules

None of the Regular Rules by Erin Downing
Kindle Edition, 2012

*Received an e-copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review - thank you!*

About to start her senior year of high school, Sophie is feeling a little bit lost. Sure she has her two best friends by her side, but things are changing and she doesn't quite feel like she's been living her life to the fullest. When she finds a sort of bucket list that her aunt Suzy wrote and and wasn't able to fulfill before she died when she was 18, Sophie decides to complete these final wishes herself. The dares open Sophie to things she never would have done before, but as the year goes on, friendships become fragile, dark truths come to light, and Sophie is left questioning if she really knew her aunt, her friends, her family, or herself at all.

I'm always interested in 'dare' books, mostly because I'm such a pansy myself. As such, I was immediately intrigued by the premise. Sophie was a very realistic 17 year old girl - the things she worried about and her thought processes especially hit home. I had a lot of the same feelings at that age, and I honestly still do many years later.

However, as a narrator I felt like she was often holding back from readers. We get glimpses of the fact that not all is rosy at home, but we don't actually see much of it. Same goes for her relationships with her two best friends as the trio drifts apart, and even in her emerging romantic feelings towards next door neighbor Johnny. I really liked what was happening there - something raw and awkward and sweet - but Sophie never gets too specific on how exactly their friendship grows or what they even talk about when they were spending so much time hanging out together.

Downing gives readers big wide sweeps of emotions, I just would have preferred a few more specifics here and there. If I had to categorize this story, I'd say it's both an issues and coming of age novel. I read this over the course of a few hours one evening, enjoyed it, and consider it a fine one-time read.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Erin Downing's Website
Erin Downing on Twitter

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday Words: Required Reading

For the past couple days, nearly a week, I've been in a reading slump. I finished a book and while there are plenty around and on my shelves from me to pick from, I didn't. Or was it couldn't? It's hard to say. I read the descriptions, but just nothing felt like what I was in the mood for.

Not that I knew what I was in the mood for. I knew I wanted something different that would make me think and challenge me, but not so difficult that I'd get annoyed.

It was actually a recent video by Lauren at 365 Days of Reading that made me very nostalgic for my college and grad school days. As an English major and a library school student, I was constantly reading required texts. Some fiction, some nonfiction, but more often than not, even if I didn't necessarily like them, they made me think about the book rather than having already wasted energy on trying to decide what to read.

Luckily, today the Universe gave me a little bit of assigned reading. The faculty book club at my school will be discussing Bill Bryson's memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid next month, and my copy came in the mail today. Plus a bunch of the freshmen I work with either just started or are about to start Romeo & Juliet, which despite the fact that I used to live in fair Verona, I haven't read myself since I was 14. I'm kind of grateful that now I don't have to think anymore about what I'm going to read for the next week or so, only when.

Has this ever happened to any of you, or am I being exceptionally weird here? These are non-rhetorical questions, ladies and gents!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Brave and Bold: Scarlet

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles #2)
Feiwel and Friends, 2013

*A HUGE thanks to MacMillian for sending me an ARC of this novel!*

In early 2012, I was lucky enough to win a copy of Marissa Meyer's debut novel Cinder, a sci-fi retelling of a fairy tale posing the situation of what if Cinderella were a cyborg. I read it, completely loved it, and have been insisting to everyone I know that this is a series that is not to be missed.

So when I was selected as a winner of an ARC of Scarlet, the next installment in The Lunar Chronicles, you can bet I knew how fortunate I was. There simply aren't words to express how much I have wanted to, needed to know what happened next. No second-book slump here for Meyer - people who loved Cinder will absolutely not be disappointed.

There's a whole new country and cast of characters joining those readers already met in book one. Scarlet lives in the European Union, not too far away from Paris, and her beloved grandmother is missing. But despite her best efforts, no one seems to care. No one, that is, except for Wolf, a street fighter who is as mysterious as he is lethal, and he may know who took the old woman. For some bizarre reason, it's believed Scarlet's grandmother could have information about the long-lost Lunar princess, but Scarlet knows Grandmere is just a farmer...right? Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, Cinder is trying to come to terms with the truth about her past, teams up with an American ex-soldier Captain Thorne to get out of New Beijing, and is determined to figure out a way to stop the evil Queen Leavana and keep Emperor Kai from making the worst mistake of his life.

Action, suspense, twists and turns with dashes of romance and tension here and there, this book has it all. Meyer has so masterfully merged these two story lines together in a way that it's still very easy to keep track of this large cast of characters and the plot. It will be interesting to see how this will hold up in the remaining two books of the series Cress (due out in 2014) and Winter (2015), but I have no doubt it will continue to be remarkable. It's agonizing to think that we'll have to wait so long to know how it ends, but I was lucky that my wait for this installment was two months shorter than a lot of others'.

As I've said on this blog before, sci-fi usually isn't my forte, but this series makes me reconsider that stance. This is sci-fi for the fantasy lover, with strong girls, charming princes, and a lot of action that makes it impossible to stop reading until you get to the final page. This is a five-star book in my mind, no doubt about it.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Marissa Meyer's Website
Marissa Meyer on Twitter

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wednesday Words: Plot Point for Point

There's an old saying in the literary world that there are only ten original plots. Characters, settings, languages, and genres change, but when you strip a story down to its bare bones, it will fit into one of these boxes that has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. I don't actually believe this, but let's roll with it, shall we?

That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending how you look at it.

On the one hand, as a writer I'm kind of annoyed. I'd like to think my great idea is mine and it certainly becomes a big part of me as I dedicate hours and give pieces of my soul to it. Of course on the other hand, I guess some of the pressure is off then because I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel.

Except I am, because I want my wheel to be so fabulous that someone will be my agent and it will get published.

Anyway! Similarities between stories feels like an inevitability. But I recently read a book that I totally loved, but couldn't help but notice a lot of similarities that it had with another book I adore. Protagonists shared more than a few personality traits in common, not exactly the same setting but close enough in that they both had fish out of water in a beautiful place thing going on, complicated relationships with family and friends, and a romance that is fought against because it's a bad idea for reasons X, Y, and Z, but that doesn't matter because these characters have to be together (and frankly, you see it coming from a mile away). There were even even multiple characters across the spread with a deep love for the same band (though I'm not going to penalize anyone for loving The Beatles - I'm fine with that trait being among all people, fictional or not).

So the question becomes this: when this happens, when two books are so alike, where do you draw the line? Is it cute, or redundant, and can you ever read the second one with fresh eyes or are you always comparing it to the one you read first?

These are non-rhetorical questions, people! Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pick a Side: Prodigy

Prodigy by Marie Lu (Legend #2)
Putnam, 2013

In her debut novel and the first book in a planned trilogy, Marie Lu taught readers in Legend that looks can be deceiving  The Republic of America demands excellence and has little tolerance for those who cannot live up to high expectations. But insisting on perfection and being perfect are hardly the same. This theme of never being able to take anything at face value continues in the electric second installment of this saga, Prodigy.

June, the Republic's favorite daughter, and Day, their most wanted criminal, have managed to escape Los Angeles and are in search of the Patriots and help. Unfortunately, everything comes with a price and the Patriots are willing to help June and Day for a high cost: they want the two of them to help assassinate the new Elector, a young man named Anden who has just taken his dead father's place as the leader of the Republic.  But as the plan gets underway, June learns that Anden is nothing like his father and could actually be just what the nation needs for a new beginning. Meanwhile, Day questions everything he thought he knew - including June - and is will stop at nothing to get his little brother back.

This sequel had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Lu continues to be a master of the dual-narrators (this time, Day's chapters are in blue ink while June's are in black) and seamlessly weaves the two voices together. I could see why Day thought the things he did and why the answers June desired suddenly weren't as black-and-white as we had once believed. Anden was a huge part of this, too. I wouldn't go as far as to say Lu introduces love triangles (yes, plural - Day realizes little Tess isn't really such a little girl anymore), but she brings in very realistic questions about the nature of relationships and allegiances. Just like the political situations of the story, love is hardly simple, either.

In my review of the first book, I mentioned that my biggest complaint was a lack of understanding of the exact geography and situation of the Republic of America, the Colonies of America, and the Patriots and how they all fit together, and in this novel all of those questions were finally answered in a way where the puzzle made much more sense.

Prodigy has action, suspense, and plenty of plot twists and turns that would be surprising but never in an unrealistic sort of way. Secondary characters from book one are flushed out even more, and the stakes are raised once again as I must patiently wait for the finale that will come in book three. A five-star sequel in this blogger's opinion.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Marie Lu's Website
Marie Lu on Twitter