Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Words: NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

The end of the month is only a few days away, so for those people participating in National Novel Writing Month, the question is this: are you going to hit 50,000 words by Thursday at midnight, thus giving you a successful 'month of writing dangerously'?

For me, I'm lucky enough to say the answer is yes. I became a winner yesterday, completing the last 4,000 words I needed to hit the magical 50K mark. It was exhausting. My story started as one thing and managed to morph into something quite different, and I'm not really sure that I mean that in a good way. But despite sitting here almost a month ago declaring that I didn't care if I became a winner as long as I wrote everyday, I got an incredibly poor, wandering, void-of-dialoge, most of a first draft done in just 27 days.

It's madness. And so if I do decide to participate in the future, now that I've done this twice I have a much better idea of what my writing needs if I really want to feel successful at the end of the month.

1. Plan ahead! Coming up with an idea two days before just doesn't work with me. I've been writing fiction now for several years - I am without a doubt a planner, not a pantster.
2. Set a daily goal. It doesn't have to be a word count (in fact, maybe it shouldn't be because for me, tangents are much more common when I just need to get to the next number). Say "I want to finish this scene today" or "I can't stop/take a break until I've introduced this character."
3. Write (almost) every day. I want to say everyday, but I can honestly say that since I finished my draft yesterday, there's no way I'm going back to look at it tonight or for a while. Nor should I feel guilty for not writing on things like national holidays. A person cannot be "on" 24/7 - breaks aren't bad. Permanent breaks are. Just keep writing a priority and let people know that, too, so they don't infringe on your 'hobby time' or whatever.

So that's how I'm feeling about NaNoWriMo 2012. Will I be back for it in 2013? That's anyone's guess...

And here's a video I made expressing my joy =)
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nothing Normal About Her: Paranormalcy

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
Harper Teen, 2010

Oh, what wouldn't Evie give for a normal life? Ever since she was a toddler, she's been living with the International Paranormal Containment Agency, all because she has the one-of-a-kind ability to see through the through the glamours that magical creatures use to make themselves appear normal to humans. Plus she has a demented faerie for an ex-boyfriend, she's falling for a new boy who is a shapeshifter, and she finds herself caught in the middle of an ancient faerie prophecy that could result in the total destruction of all paranormal creatures around the world.

I was recommended this series by several students of mine at the school where I work. These girls were horrified that I hadn't read it yet and insisted that despite my reservations due to paranormal-overload the last few years, White's story was one worthy of my time.

Paranormalcy is a great selection for the younger teens in your life, perfect for those especially in their freshmen or sophomore years of high school. No swearing, no sex, a believable amount of action in this interesting world that has been built, and a fun premise. White has written an entertaining paranormal story that does have some romantic elements, but that's hardly the whole point (cough cough Twilight cough cough). Evie is a girl who longs for normalcy and is actually faring pretty well given her extraordinary circumstances. The relationships in her life clearly mean a lot to her and I felt a lot of empathy in her search for answers and desire to do the right thing, especially as it becomes clear to her that her paranormal world is even further from normal than she ever could have realized.

All in all, it's a cute story and a series I could see myself picking up again in the future if I happen to see copies of the sequels Supernaturally and Endlessly are on library shelves. If you're looking for a light paranormal read (or the young teen in your life is), then this is probably the book for you.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kiersten White's Website
Kiersten White on Twitter

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesday Words: A Thank You Note

With tomorrow being Thanksgiving here in America, many are amping up for days filled with turkey, football, family, and friends. But there's more than that when it comes to this holiday, just look at the name. It's the perfect time to reflect on what we have to be thankful for.

I have a very long and personal list of the many things in my life for which I am grateful, but since this is a book blog, I shall keep my topics here confined to the area of literature. It's still so incredible to me that I only came to know the world of YA in spring 2011 . But in my almost two years, I've been exposed to authors and words, characters and situations that have taken me on emotional roller coasters. I've met bloggers who share my enthusiasm, authors who inspire me, and fellow writers who I can root for and they can root for me as we try to accomplish that crazy goal of getting published. It's a lot, but it's filled with love, and I'm grateful for my part in it, however small a cog I am in the grand scheme of things.

So this year, this blog post is a thank you note to you readers. Thanks for sticking with me, for your patience, and for your comments. And thank you for sharing yourselves in this crazy little world that is the Internet as well! I'm so lucky to have found this, and while books have always brought me solace, now they also bring me connections beyond just those of imagined communities.

I also plan to send out thank you notes to a few of the authors who have particularly influenced me in the last few years. Some I've met and some I haven't, but all have changed parts of me in ways that my words will probably fail to express, especially compared to the extraordinary powers they possess over language. I'm not usually one to send fan-mail, but to me thank you notes are so much more than that. I can hardly ask for comments here and not send my own kind words and thoughts back into the universe as well. Wouldn't want to upset cosmic balances or anything like that.

So those are my Wednesday Words and my Thanksgiving Thoughts. May you all have a happy and safe holiday!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From Theory to Practice: The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson
Peachtree, 2012

*Book provided by publisher via Armchair BEA - thank you!*

Sarah Jones's life was turned upside down when her best friend Jamie died a few months ago in a freak accident that she blames herself for. In the time SJD (Since Jamie Died), Sarah has become snarky, pushes people away including her sweetheart boyfriend, cuts class, and the only thing she seems to love anymore is her dog, Ruby. When a minor mishap leads Sarah taking a job at a Christmas tree farm run by a man with a tragic past of his own, she discovers that the physical labor helps her deal with her emotional pain.

This book felt like I actually only got half of a story. For the first half of the book, readers are seeing what happened to Sarah that has made her this way - grumpy, mopey, the reason her parents her fight and her brother hates her - and that's all important, I understand that all that background is important. However, I didn't feel like the plot really got moving until about halfway through when Sarah starts working at the tree farm. That was when she finally starts to move forward and we see a growth in her. But then since the setup took so long, I found the ending to be a bit on the unsatisfactory side, like there's another half of this book that they forgot to print that really ties up more of what happened to these characters and the situations they're currently in.

The writing was fair, definitely snarky which was the author's intent. I did find it a little weird that Sarah had no problem talking about sex and admits that she's a bitch a lot of the time (her word, though I'd agree with it), but then the most derogatory thing she ever calls someone is a jerk or a dork and is constantly saying how 'ninja' someone is - her term for cool. It just wasn't the most consistent voice in my mind, however, Sarah is grieving so maybe that played a role...I'm not sure.

All in all, I really wanted to like this story. When I read the initial premise, it sounded like something that was right up my alley, but it just didn't quite hit the right notes with me. I still plan on reading J.J. Johnson's previous novel, This Girl is Different, at some point if I get the chance, though.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

J.J. Johnson's Website

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Words: Why YA?

It's a very dangerous and powerful question to be asking. It's also one that I can't believe I haven't taken the time here to answer before, especially since this is 99.9% a young adult book blog.

But then Beth Revis posted that she's having a contest for lots of amazing autographed books (learn how you can enter here!), and to enter, one must attempt an answer to the question "why YA?"

Now I must confess that I didn't start reading YA until fairly recently, at least not consciously. I adored Meg Cabot's books as a teen and have been a voracious reader my entire life, but I was never aware that there was actually a whole section of the library or bookstore dedicated to other books like hers, books that were specifically written for people my age. I was an AP Literature student in high school, where we were told that we could handle the Canonical Literature, the big stuff, the heavy hitters that a lot of adults wouldn't get within ten feet of if they could help it. And I liked a lot of it (my love for Jane Austen's work runs deep and true) but there was always that disconnect. Those books were about grownups, and while I was bright, I simply wasn't a grownup yet.

But then the beautiful world of library school happened. I took children's lit and loved it, and my professor Dr. Loretta Gaffney was amazing. When I found out she was teaching a YA lit course the next semester, I signed up without a second thought. And suddenly, my eyes were open. I knew I loved working with teens and wanted to continue to do so, but who knew there were such great books out there for them too!

It nearly killed me when I realized so many of these books I was falling in love with had actually been published when I was a teenager, but I never knew it. John Green's debut novel Looking for Alaska was published in December, 2005 - I was a high school senior. Sarah Dessen's first book, That Summer, came out in 1996 - I was 8 years old and could have been reading that and her subsequent books in my teens rather than in my early 20s.

So why YA, and why now? A lot of it feels like making up for lost time. Many of these books could have been my very best companions during my teen years, and so many of the incredible books coming out now have the magical ability to transport me back to those memories and that mindset. I'm only 24, so I'm not so far removed, but it's enough perspective to make me appreciate YA in a new way. It all boils down to the wisdom of JK Rowling via Albus Dumbledore: Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels, but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.

Another significant part of it is the awesome power that comes with being a teenager, a power I didn't realize I had possessed until those years were behind me. YA explores it so well: infinite possibility. YA lit, like young adults themselves, can go in any direction. No question to crazy, no situation too outrageous, and characters and readers are challenged to rise to the occasion. And I love that, and I miss that, and these books reignite that fire in me to push a little further, be a little weirder, because if that's who I am, then rock on. YA lit has taught me that. Being a book blogger and becoming a part of this incredible community where I get to meet fellow writers and bloggers, and learning from the words and smiles of published authors has taught me that. Becoming a librarian who struggles with writing her own manuscripts, hoping to someday see my name on bookshelves too, has taught me that.

And there aren't enough words in the entire universe to fully explain how incredibly grateful I am for all of it.

So I hope that's some sort of satisfactory answer to Beth's question. It's long and rambling, but I hope my enthusiasm comes through =) Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Corsets & Clockwork: Part 3

I'm currently making my way through Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances (Running Press, 2011). I'm new to all of the authors featured in this collection as well as the world of steampunk, so this has been an interesting read so far.

Story: The Airship Gemini
Author: Jaclyn Dolamore
Summary: Conjoined twins Faith and Patience are making their final voyage on the cruising Airship Gemini where they have worked as part of the entertainment. They have no desire to be separated, but may not have a choice when they learn the mysterious and magical Dr. Connell is on board.
Thoughts: The premise for the story intrigued me, and I liked it at the start, but then Dolamore threw in one twist too many for my taste and took things from fantasy to farcical. Had it not been for one element, I would have liked this story a lot more, but as it is, this story just wasn't for me.

Story: Under Amber Skies
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Summary: Zosia lives in Poland and her father invents things to help fight the oncoming Nazis. When Nazis come after her in town and it's not safe for her to go home, Zosia, aided by Inek (the neighbor boy she loves but her parents dislike), tries to find her family with the help of her father's inventions.
Thoughts: Now THIS is a great short story, and I can't wait to check out what else Snyder has written. Just enough twists to keep characters and readers on their toes, and the situation actually felt plausible and realistic. I wish the story could keep going!

Story: King of the Greenlight City
Author: Tessa Gratton
Summary: In a land where each of the six ruling families have magical power over one of the main elements, Ever discovers that in addition to his familial command of fire, he can also fly. Going against all warnings, he seeks the advice of the Titan in the Greenlight City.
Thoughts: Gratton weaves a magical world and story here that makes your heart swell with beautiful feelings, and then she's not afraid to squash it. But there's still a bit of sparkle? This tale is perhaps the least steampunk-ish one lately, but it has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and I cannot wait to read more stories by Gratton over at The Merry Sisters of Fate and in the Sisters' latest collaboration, The Curiosities.

So that's it from me this time around. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesday Words: Books I Love About Love

Yesterday was election day in America, which means that today the country has mixed feelings. I understand, but I say let us unite around the fact that all the awful political ads and phone calls are finally over! Let's think about good things! Let's talk about love!

I originally intended for this post to be on five books I love about love, but I can't limit myself to so few. I'm a hopeless romantic who lives vicariously through characters. And so, I instead offer up the five categories that books I love about love tend to fall in to.

1. Jane Austen
Jane's heroines and heroes are all flawed, and it's for this reason that her books and stories hold such a special place in my heart. All of her characters have to work for it, love never comes easy, and it's why I believe that even after the story ends, they could make ever after happen. Her stories are still relatable and have stood the test of time. My personal favorites? Pride and Prejudice, in my opinion the greatest love story of all time, and Persuasion because Anne Elliot and I are kindred spirits.
2. Inspired by Jane
And then there are the books inspired by Jane's books! According to Jane by Marilyn Brant is almost tearily close to my life - a girl from the Chicago suburbs who loves P&P, went to school three hours south of the city to become a librarian and then became one at her old high school library - and so brilliantly written. Austenland by Shannon Hale is so completely fun and blends the old and the new in a totally adorable and slightly sassy way.
3. Shakespeare
I have an English degree, so this one is hardly a surprise. Reading Shakespeare can be challenging, but watching it is magical to me, especially the comedies. I did my high school senior thesis on Much Ado About Nothing and have studied The Taming of the Shrew on multiple occasions - the original romantic comedies that so many of today's stories 'borrow' from =)
4. Contemporary YA - Part 1*
So much love here!! First and foremost, there's the brilliant mind of Stephanie Perkins - Anna and the French Kiss makes me feel butterflies every single time because I see so much of myself in Anna. And the story, I mean, come on! Paris and accents and it's just magical!. At the same time, Lola and the Boy Next Door is delightfully eccentric. If Cricket were the boy next door to me, I'd be in love too.
5. Contemporary YA - Part 2*
Then there's Sarah Dessen - where do I even start? Along for the Ride is one of my favorite YA books and the first one of hers I ever read. Her books make me want to take a roadtrip to Lakeview and Colby and never shy away from real life, and the boys she writes are the guys I wish had gone to my high school or college. Heck, I'd love it if I could find them out there in the world now!
* - I've been lucky enough to meet both of these ladies and hope the opportunity to do so again will come my way - they're both incredibly nice and genuine and fantastic! When I write, these women are my role models. To say they inspire me doesn't even come close.

And there you have it! So spread some love, comments welcome, and as always, happy reading!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hell-Bound: Girl of Nightmares

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
Tor, 2012

I typically shy away from any sort of stories that aim to be scary or full of horror. I don't have the stomach for it, and my overactive imagination usually twists these tales into things that keep me from being able to sleep at night. However in the last year, I discovered Kendare Blake's chilling Anna Dressed in Blood and I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn't just blood and frights, but an actual character driven story and it was great. So when the sequel finally hit my local library's shelves, I couldn't wait to read Girl of Nightmares.

It's been several months since Cas has said goodbye to Anna Karlov, the cursed ghost he fell in love with and who sacrificed herself to save him and his friends. Moving on is proving to be damn near impossible, especially since Cas is having horrific visions and nightmares, seeing Anna everywhere in the most gruesome ways. He knows something has gone terribly wrong, that the girl he loves has ended up in a twisted Hell, and despite what everyone else says, he believes there has to be a way to make things right again.

Blake does a great job with this book of building off what we already know. We learn more about the mysteries that surround the ancient knife Cas's family has used for generations to to kill unruly ghosts, and this story isn't just about his relationship with Anna, but with his Mom, Gideon, and Carmel and Thomas. Cas may be the hunter, but what he does effects so many others, and I loved that this theme got more attention in this book. There were plenty of moments that gave me goosebumps and situations that made me squirm - exactly what a horror story should do, but it wasn't so much that a pansy like me was put off.

My only criticism of the book is the ending - it came too soon. The majority of the novel is a really fantastic build up to one event, but then to me the event came and went disproportionally fast and the ending was just there. Perhaps there is to be a third book in this series (as of now, there's nothing listed on Goodreads to suggest that), in which case, this choice will make more sense. If not, then I'll just say the conclusion felt a bit rushed to me, especially since the story takes a great pace of setting things up.

If you like horror and ghost stories that aren't anything like Casper's friendly fare, Kendare Blake's books are for you. And even if you're not into scary books, I say give it a shot. As I said, I'm a lightweight when it comes to horror, but there's more to the story going on here than just gore.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kendare Blake's Website
Kendare Blake on Twitter

Friday, November 2, 2012