Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday Words: OK to Not NaNo

Friday is November 1st, marking the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The task for participants? Write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel all in 30 days. That's an average of 2000 words a day. Which is about four to five pages because the average double-spaced page holds 400-500 words.

That's a lot of words. Every day. No breaks. No days off. Or if you do take days off, you best be prepared to make up for it later.

Some people live for this. They work better under pressure. They love the thrill of the deadline, the hugeness of the task, of writing with reckless abandon and that since it's just a first draft, there are no rules except to keep on writing!

To me, it's a bit more complicated than that.

For the past two years, I've been a NaNo participant. My first year, I was working full time, in grad school, and over the course of one month, I did get in my 50,000 words. My draft wasn't "complete" until the middle of December somewhere around the 60,000 word mark, but I did it. And I haven't read it since. I tried, believe me, but I couldn't. It was just such a mess. I couldn't figure out what was going on, whatever made me think any of this was a good idea.

But maybe that's just because I had a lot on my plate, right? So last year, I tried again. No more grad school classes or homework, so there was more time in the evenings outside my job. Except I think my efforts went from bad to worse. At one point I decided that dialogue was taking too long and not working so I just didn't have any. So for 200 pages and 50,000 words, it was like a poorly written diary entry. I've never been able to bring myself to try to read that one again.

Part of me wonders if the third time could be the charm. After all, so many authors whose books I love swear by it. Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronicles, wrote the first draft of her ENTIRE SERIES in one NaNoWriMo - that's a few HUNDRED THOUSAND words. And she was in school and working and saving the planet!

So it could work for me too, right?

Oh, if wishing made it so. For the next month, Twitter will be filled with hashtags about #WordWars or #1k1hr and I will probably not be joining in this time. I've been writing for a long time, seriously for the past few years. After one novel I still believe in, my 2 NaNo tries, half of a third one that's on hiatus, and a new project I'm about to hit the ground running with, I know what works for me, and it's not NaNo. Not that much pressure to do so much so fast that I can't leave room for worrying if it's being done well. Not feeling sick on the way to Thanksgiving dinner, guilty because I didn't get my words in for the day. NaNo's for some, but don't feel bad if it's not for you. For me, November means my new project. My goal is to write every day, but maybe not 2000 words. Maybe some days I'll be that lucky. On others, I might consider a few complete sentences a win.

Moral of this post? Do what's right for you and your story. For those participating in NaNo, I wish you the best of luck in your quest. And for the rest of us, good luck to you too. =)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Family and Futures: The Chaos of Stars

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White
Harper Teen, 2013

*ARC won from author in a giveaway - thank you so much, Kiersten!*

I love it when I read books that don't remind me of anything else I've ever read, even of other books by the same author. Nothing could be truer of my experience reading The Chaos of Stars - while I read her first book Paranormalcy and given the premise of this story I felt some Percy Jackson-esque flavors, this novel did a lot of things right in my mind and stands apart from other books I've read lately.

Isadora is the daughter of two ancient Egyptian gods and is convinced her parents don't actually care about her. If they really did, why won't they make her immortal instead of being totally content with letting her die someday? Then when her mom, Isis, gets pregnant, it feels like Isadora is officially being replaced, not good enough, unwanted. Timing couldn't be better that Isis has dreams that Isadora is somehow in danger and decides to send the 16 year old to San Diego to stay with her brother. Isadora is determined to soak in as much as possible about the modern world and leave her ancient, crazy family behind, but if if Isadora can't learn to embrace her heritage and family, she might not have a future.

There have been some mixed reviews on this book so far, but personally I really thought it was fantastic. I wasn't so sure about the structure of the story, snippets of mythology, and Isadora's occasional dreams at first, but it grew on me a bit with time. White does a fantastic job of having a protagonist who isn't necessarily terribly likable (at least at the beginning). Contrary to popular belief, a story can still be great even if the protagonist is a bit of a jerk, or in Isadora's case, a little closed-minded. She's so consumed by being angry at her parents, especially her mom, that she hardly leaves room for anything else. But in time, she does grow, and I particularly enjoyed how Sirius, Isadora's older brother whom she is staying with, serves as an example of how relationships are what you make of them and it's a matter of perspective. Isadora has a bit of an edge to her, she resists attachments and love, but her walls come down as she grows. The supporting cast and the friends she makes provided some comic relief and cause for hope. I loved the character of Ry and how his own particular story surprised me, and he was a great match for Isadora's personality.

In an interview she did with another author I love, Stephanie Perkins, White said that this book actually says a lot about her relationship with God and I think that going into this book knowing that actually made me like it more. This whole novel can be seen as a beautiful allegory if you so choose, or you can take it as it is on the surface as a tale of teens and their parents. Either way, if you stick with this story and give it an honest chance with an open mind, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what's in store.

Thanks again so much to Kiersten for sending this ARC my way, and thanks for a beautiful story that truly pulled at my heartstrings.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kiersten White's Website
Kiersten White on Twitter

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday Words: First Thoughts on Emma Approved

"Read it first!" we so often cry. "The book is always better than the movie!" Yet there have been times in encountering adaptations in which I'm equally impressed with this new form of a story and love it in its own way for different reasons. One such example is the Emmy award winning The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And that's a big compliment from me considering that Austen is one of my favorite authors and P&P is one of my favorite novels.

And now the team at Pemberley Digital is at it again, this time trying their hand at another Austen novel, Emma. The series Emma Approved is now five episodes in, and so I feel like I've had enough time to form an initial opinion.

Emma Woodhouse's story is a tricky one in that she's not always very likable. In fact, Austen herself didn't even particularly care for her that much. She's rich, she has influence, and while her intentions are good and it's awesome to see a young woman in an admired position, she can also be pushy, ambitious, and doesn't always realize the effect she has on others, be it positive or negative. Basically, Emma meddles and you don't always like her, but you don't want to see her fail. You just want her to learn a lesson and grow.

So far in Emma Approved, I find myself wondering what it is this Emma really cares about. In the 2009 BBC miniseries - one of my favorite adaptations - it was clear to viewers that Emma did genuinely care about others, even if she got wrapped up in drama of her own creation from time to time. Same with Cher in the 1990s reimagining of the story, Clueless. But so far in Emma Approved, this Emma seems to care more about credit. After all, she's recording these videos to document her greatness for when she someday wins a lifetime achievement award. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

Lead actress Joanna Sotomura has captured the bolder aspects of the character perfectly. She has a flair for the dramatic. She knows what she wants and believes that she absolutely knows what's best. She's poised and polished, and I must say that Sotomura is charming and quick-witted. She comes into this project completely confident and owns all that is Emma: the good, the bad, and all the potential for messy in between. I'm very interested in seeing how she continues to breathe life into this quirky and complicated character.

Other casting has been equally fantastic. Mr. George Knightly is now Alex Knightley, Emma's business partner portrayed by Brent Bailey. Let me just say, this was a fantastic choice. Mr. Knightley is an Austen man I particularly love and so far I adore Bailey's portrayal of a man who is smart, level-headed, and serious but also has a great sense of humor. (Again, I shouldn't compare, but it's reminiscent of Paul Rudd's take on Knightley in Clueless.) I'm also a big fan of making Harriet Smith Emma's personal assistant, as portrayed by Dayenne Hutton - she's exactly how I imagined her, and they made her character a library science student to boot!

It's hard not to compare Emma Approved to The LBD. Lizzie's was a perfect kind of magic and I think one of the biggest reasons for its success is that she felt like an every girl, sitting in her childhood bedroom, hounded by parents and sisters, talking to a camera. If she could do it, so can we. Emma's position is less common - she wears $200 blouses, for instance - so we look for other ways to connect. All in all, I have nothing but faith in this new series and I think it's off to a good start. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how exactly this all plays out.

Link to Emma Approved, Episode 1

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Final Chapter: United We Spy

United We Spy by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls #6)
Scholastic, 2013

It's hard to believe that all these years later, readers' first introduction to the world of The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Women was with little Cammie Morgan wondering if it was possible to be a spy and have a boyfriend. A lot has changed in Cammie over the course of this series and in its finale United We Spy, these Gallagher Girls are all grown up and the stakes are higher than ever.

With the Circle of Cavan seemingly unstoppable, Cammie and crew are determined to put an end to them once and for all. Unfortunately, the girls are stuck in the awkward in-between: not technically full-fledged spies yet, but in a few short months they will be. Is it time to take charge of their own lives, make their own choices, make their own rules to save the people they love? Or after all this time, after all these years of preparation, is this even really the life they want if they even live to see graduation?

United We Spy is a worthy ending to a series I quickly came to love. All of Carter's markers are here: action, intrigue, missteps and misdirection, romance, moments of weakness and rallying incredible strength, and for the most part, answers (well, as many answers as she can give - they are spies after all). Here we have smart teenagers in an environment where that's something to be celebrated. Do they always make the right choices? Of course not - hijinks and chaos are always around the corner, but I still find these characters to be admirable. Over the course of six novels, they have shown incredible growth that any person who has ever felt powerless but dreamt of more can identify with.

Overall, while there were a few ways in which I would have liked a bit more. More insight into the paths that some of the characters will now follow. More reflection on what those paths and choices mean as far as their futures and friendships. But really, I just wanted more time to say goodbye. If you have been a fan of the Gallagher Girls, I think you will find United We Spy to be a mostly satisfying conclusion to this great series. And while it's hard to say goodbye, remember that we still have the Heist Society and upcoming Embassy Row series from Carter to look forward to!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday Words: The Top 3 Tag

So Nat, this crazy awesome Canadian booktuber is one of the few people who apparently watches my videos on a regular basis. As such, she keeps tagging me to do all the fun tags, including the one she developed herself! It's called the Top 3 Tag and how it works is for various categories, you come up with your top 3 favorite/least favorite things. It was fun to make and I hope you enjoy it and take part too, either on video or in a written post!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Salt and Secrets: Unbreakable

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia (The Legion #1)
LB Teen, 2013

*ARC Provided by the publisher at ALA 2013 - Thank You!*

Demon hunting meets The DaVinci Code in Unbreakable, the first book in The Legion series and first solo effort by Kami Garcia, co-author of the Beautiful Creatures series.

Kennedy loves her life in Washington DC, but everything changes the night she comes home to find her mother dead. Since her father left long ago, Kennedy prepares to move a boarding school in New York until a spirit tries to kill her in her childhood home the night before she's supposed to leave. Thankfully identical twins Jared and Lukas destroy it before it's too late and expose Kennedy to the truth: they believe that Kennedy's mother was a member of The Legion, an ancient secret society responsible for protecting the world from an evil demon, and now it is time for her to take her mom's place. What unfolds is a quest for a long missing weapon and an answer to seemingly impossible questions.

Garcia's novel hits the ground running and gives readers a little bit of everything: supernatural spirits, secret societies, action and adventure, and romance that comes in the form of a possible love triangle between a girl and identical twin brothers. Whew! At times it felt like a lot, and at other times the pacing was actually a bit stalled. It's a lot to be happening in a story that takes place over a very short period of time, the bulk of it spanning the course of a week, possibly less.

While this reads very much as a First Book in a Series story and that can be a bit tedious with so much setup required, I still liked it for the most part. Alara and Priest, the two other members of The Legion, were each well rounded and I was especially jealous of Priest's innovations and inventions. For people who like fast paced stories with plenty of paranormal intrigue who are also fans of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments, they will probably be find a lot to love in this book. It could have just been the mood I was in when I read this, but to me this was a 'I'll check it out from the library' story rather than one I'll purchase - I'm interested enough that I'll check the sequel out in a year to see what happens next.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kami Garcia's Website
Kami Garcia on Twitter

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday Words: Saying Goodbye to a Series

Goodbyes are complicated things. Sometimes they're welcome, propelled by a feeling of 'good riddance!' But other times, the word can be torture on the tongue. It can be painful to say farewell to places and people that have made an impression on the heart, mind, body, and soul that will not quickly fade. And despite what critics may say, fictional characters can be just as hard to say goodbye to as people.

Buying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Midnight, June 21, 2007
Sure it happens every time I finish a stand-alone book, but when it happens with a series, it's different. These are characters and places with whom multiple novels and years have been invested. My first major experience with this was with Harry Potter. For the better part of a decade (not to mention my entire adolescence), I would wait for the next book. I would religiously read the CBBC Newsround Fan Boards and post theories of my own. I would read and reread the previous books in the weeks before the next one came out. But then on June 21, 2007, it was goodbye. Not a see you later, but a farewell. It was the last time me and my friends would be in a bookstore at midnight for Harry, Ron, and Hermione. We all knew that within the next 24 hours, most of our burning questions would finally be answered.

And then what?

It may be cliche, but I say focus on the things that got you and those characters here. Recently, I finished United We Spy, the final installment of Ally Carter's powerhouse Gallagher Girls series. While I was late to the party with these books, I quickly fell in love with these teenage spies and the growth of their characters. It was hard to believe finishing book six with its high stakes that the saga started with a sophomore girl wondering if it was possible to be a spy and have a boyfriend. Oh how the times change. Those Harry Potter-esque feelings quickly came back to me, of sadness but mostly gratitude. For Ally Carter taking me on an incredible journey in an amazing world and with characters I am proud to introduce other readers, saying "these are girls you should look up to." For the other Gallagher Girls out there, fans like me united by this series as a community of readers. For the people who felt something just like I did.

Saying goodbye to a series you love can be hard, and that last book especially can be under a lot of pressure. But even if the ending is not exactly what you thought it would be, always remember how you might be different if these books hadn't been a part of your life in the first place. And remember, the story might be over but they're never really gone, not as long as we have our bookshelves and libraries around. =)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reality Check: Reality Boy

Reality Boy by A.S. King
LB Teen, Expected Release Date: October 22, 2013

*ARC Provided by publisher, requested at ALA 2013 - Thank You!*

I'm captivated by stories, be them in books, in movies, or on TV. But one genre of the television world that I've never been able to get into is reality TV. Despite its name, it always seems so completely inauthentic to me. So when I found out that A.S. King was exploring that very idea and world in Reality Boy, of course I had to read it.

Gerald Faust was five years old when he became famous. That was when his mom invited a TV crew into their home and he became known as The Crapper - the angry and terrible little boy who pooped in random places to get attention, at least that's how the show made it look. Now 17, he's still filled with a violent rage that consumes him and has shaped his life. Despite how hard he works, it's like everyone is still watching him, waiting for him to really go over the edge, and he's getting dangerously close to it.

King has a knack for writing the stories that people need to read and hear, but most people are probably uncomfortable talking about, and this novel is no exception. Gerald is a fantastic character in that he holds nothing back except for his temper, which despite his track record he really is trying to work on. This story unfolds with great pacing, alternating between present day Gerald and the multiple times TV crews came into his house. It didn't take long for Gerald to win me over as an obvious victim of other people's greed, terror, and fear. His sister Tasha is horrifying from the start, and by the end I was terrified. I loved the relationship Gerald had with his other sister Lisi and would have liked to see more of it, but if you read the book you'll understand why that isn't possible. And while Gerald himself scared the crap out of me sometimes with his violent outbursts and while he isn't always the most likable guy, he has amazing growth in trying to fit the pieces of his life together with people who actually care about him, which is a message everyone should hear.

Another part of this story that I also want to applaud King on his her positive portrayal of special education in schools, both in terms of the students in these classes as well as the teachers who dedicate their professional lives to it. Some of my dearest friends are SPED teachers and as a librarian in a high school, I work with students in SPED all the time, and it was great to see this part of schools and life that people often feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about pictured so well.

If you are looking for a story that rips reality TV apart, examines anger, family dynamics, and relationships, and packs a punch, check out Reality Boy. This novel has grit (not to mention swearing, situations, and violence that some readers and parents might not be the most comfortable with) so while I probably wouldn't recommend it to younger YA readers, I can't wait to see it in the hands of my high school students.

Comments welcome, and as always, happy reading!

A.S. King's Website
A.S. King's Blog
A.S. King on Twitter

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wednesday Words: 2 Year Blogoversary!

While I had an entirely different post all ready to go today, I'm instead winging this because according to my calendar, today is The Fuma Files' 2-year blogoversary! Woot woot!

To say I'm unprepared is an understatement, but then again it's comforting. The blog has become such a regular part of my life that it goes without saying. It's still not the biggest one out there, nor the most widely read, but it's still allowed me to connect with other great readers and bloggers, and this whole book blog/book tube community has opened me up to some truly fantastic titles over the past few years. And to think that I didn't even know any of it existed when I started. Seriously, I had no clue. I just had fun writing book reviews for a graduate school class and thought it would be fun to keep up with it and put them online for the benefit of others. Imagine my shock when I found out that this was something people had been doing for years and that there was this whole world outside of just literature majors and librarians who were just as enthusiastic about books as I am.

Like I said, this blogoversary took me by surprise, so I don't have an epic giveaway planned or anything at the moment. Life in the real world has been a bit of a whirlwind as of late, so I'm hoping I'll have something truly excellent for you all in the not-too-distant future. I know it's been a while since I've given anything away, but this is certainly a worthy reason to.

So thanks for two great years and sticking with me, comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!