Monday, December 31, 2012

Overdue Book Review: Iron Knight

The last three months, I was on a blogging hiatus. I missed writing up reviews of several books, but would still like to give my overall thoughts.

Overdue Book Review = Read in August 2012

Iron Knight
By Julie Kagawa
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Love Triangle, Quest, Fairy Lore, Humanity

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains many spoilers.  Proceed with caution...

SummaryWhen Meghan becomes the Iron Queen and takes on the responsibilities of her kingdom, she and Ash can no longer be together because her very kingdom is poisonous to him.  Ash, the faery ice prince, is determined to find a way to be with Meghan again, even if it means becoming human... and mortal.

What I Liked:

The Big Bad Wolf: I thought his character was pretty cool, but I think I have a thing for bad guys changing over to the good side.  I liked the reasoning behind why he was so powerful because it really fit with the world-building that Kagawa had already established in the series.

The Three Trials to Become Human: This was by far the most impressive part of the book for me.  The trials were well thought out and purposeful.  They really made it clear what Ash was giving up to become human, but also made the reader reflect on what it means to be human.  I was about to write this book off as a failure until I got to this part, and it totally saved the book for me.


Slow Pacing: This book took forever to read compared to the rest of the Iron Fey series.  It took forever to get to the end of the world.  The questing got boring to me, kind of like in Deathly Hallows with all the time spent traveling in the tent with no clear plan or destination.  I really began to notice Kagawa's lengthy descriptions and overdone prose.

The Reappearance of Ariella: I didn't buy this at all.  She died.  In front of Ash and Puck.  There were not any hints throughout the entire series that she could possibly be alive.  While at first I thought it was a fun added conflict for Ash, now that I've digested the books, I think this was a bit of a cheap trick.  I just would have appreciated more foreshadowing that Ariella was someone capable of rising from the dead.

Lack of Voice: I was eager to get Ash's point-of-view in this novel, but I felt like his voice was not recognizably different from Meghan's.  I was expecting a distinct difference, especially considering he's fey and from a totally different background.  As well as from royalty.  And male.  I think there was likely a lot of pressure on Kagawa to get this book out (and I remember reading that this book was written for Ash fans), but I wish she'd spent a little extra time on Ash's voice because I think that would have made this a better book.

Overall Rating: I'd give this book three stars.  If you want more of Ash sacrificing everything for the girl he loves and a lovely happy ending, you should definitely check this book out.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Reflection and Looking Ahead

2012 Challenges

Goodreads Challenge
Goal 75 Books
Did Not Complete

2012 Debut Author Challenge
Goal 12 Books
Did Not Complete

Instead of recapping my failures (depressing) and making excuses (lame), I'm going to reflect on the things I did accomplish this year:

1) I wrote more blog posts in 2012 than I did in 2011 (despite taking a 3 month hiatus), and made lots of new friends along the way :)

2) I took 12 credits in graduate courses and now have 36 out of 48 credits towards my Masters degree. I have just one class and my thesis to go!

3) I wrote tens of thousands of words for my novel as well as researching topics that were completely unfamiliar to me like the history of metalworking and properties of metal. I will undoubtedly finish my first draft this winter and that makes me happy!

Goals for 2013

Goodreads Challenge: I'm going to set my goal lower than 2012 but higher than 2011. Hopefully, that middle ground will be the right number. My goal will be 60 books.

Debut Author Challenge: I really want to do a better job on this challenge. It turns out that I purchased a bunch of debut novels, but it was the reading them that got me in trouble. I'm going to have to schedule one book per month and set deadlines for myself. I work well that way, with a little more structure. So I'm going to set a goal of one book a month or 12 books total.

Reading Goals: I want to diversify my reading selections. I tend to read more fantasy and sci-fi, but would like to also read more historical fiction (which I enjoy), mysteries (which I loved as a kid), and contemporary (which is growing on me). I also want to pay more attention to publishers and diversify my reading in that way. I also will be reading as many steampunk books as possible, so if you see a good steampunk book, send it my way!

Writing Goals: I will be finishing my first draft of my steampunk novel this winter, which will be my thesis for my Masters. I will be revising over the Spring and Summer, and be done by August 2013. Hopefully, I can start the query process Fall of 2013. My next writing project (since this novel is a steampunk standalone) will likely be the dystopian trilogy that I put on hold. I had a major revelation while studying dystopians over the summer, and figured out how to break away from the typical dystopian format. I have a major twist that I'm really excited to explore, which should distract me from the nerves of querying.

Blogging Goals: I want to maintain an every-other-day posting schedule, with two-thirds of my posts being book posts and one-third being writing posts. I'd love to look into co-hosting an event or doing some giveaways, but that really depends on big changes in my real life and how they'll impact me (jobs, moving, money, etc.)

2013 could have a lot of changes in store for me, especially as I'm completing my Masters and pursuing job/career changes. I hope these big changes won't get in the way of my goals, but regardless, I'm optimistic that 2013 is going to be a fun year :)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Overdue Book Review: Iron Fey series

The last three months, I was on a blogging hiatus. I missed writing up reviews of several books, but would still like to give my overall thoughts.

Overdue Book Review = Read in August 2012

Iron Fey series
Iron King, Iron Daughter, Iron Queen
By Julie Kagawa
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Love Triangle, Quest, Fairy Lore, Responsibility

Summary: When Meghan's brother is kidnapped, she heads into the world of Faery to get him back with the help of Puck, her best friend.  But things get more complicated when Meghan learns who her father really is and meets the dangerous Ice Prince.

What I Liked:

Great Pacing: These books were full of action, twists, turns, and conflict that kept them moving along at a quick pace.  I definitely think this is part of why Kagawa has seen so much success.  These books are page-turners that you don't want to put down.

World-Building: This was probably my favorite part of this series.  Kagawa creates a great sense of logic for how the world of Faery exists and how it's inhabitants are immortal.  I don't want to give too much of this away, but think Peter Pan... when you say you don't believe in faeries... one dies.  This translated really well to how she constructed the Iron Kingdom.  Kagawa definitely created a world that was vivid enough to serve as a character in the story, and this was one of the highlights of the series for me!

Likable Characters:  Meghan is a strong heroine who resolves to fight and not sit back and be protected.  Ash was your typical brooding alpha male who can be cold at times (He is an Ice Prince!), but also shows a tender and protective side.  Ash is the kind of male lead that I swoon for.  Puck was a fun character... but see my criticism for my full thoughts on him...  Grimalkin the cat made me giggle to myself on more than one occasion.

Moved to Emotion: I was moved to tears in Iron Queen, so that must say I was pretty invested in the characters.  Mild spoiler... I think the whole sacrifice thing really gets to me in books.


Description Heavy Passages: I found myself occasionally skimming when I'd encounter description heavy passages.  Again, I thought the world-building was fantastic, but I also think there were some areas where Kagawa could have trimmed and been more precise with her language.

Puck: Minor Spoiler... I felt like Puck wasn't given a fair shot in the whole love triangle business and I felt like he didn't live up to his potential.  I mean it's PUCK.  Shakespeare's Puck.  Legendary Puck.  I felt like the wit and humor could have been pushed more.  I felt like more chemistry could have been established between Meghan and Puck if Kagawa wanted to go the love triangle route.  I never had any doubt that Meghan would end up with Ash, and in a properly executed love triangle, there should be some question.

Meghan's Abilities: Spoiler... Meghan doesn't use her awesome abilities.  If I was an ordinary human all my life, and suddenly learned I could do amazing stuff... I would want to do that amazing stuff all the time.  Kagawa set up barriers to Meghan using her powers, like the Summer and Iron making her sick and stuff.  Or her powers being blocked.  But in Iron Queen, the fact that she wasn't using her influence as the Iron Queen was driving me bonkers.  She had all those pack rats that would obey her every word, and she barely used them at all.  And her Iron abilities, barely uses them at all.  I was constantly waiting for her to use her special abilities and predicting that she would, and kept being disappointed.  This was a major flaw for me that kept me from really enjoying the last book.

Overall Rating: The world-building and pacing of these books make them enjoyable reads, the romance makes it a guilty pleasure and would make me give these books four stars.  HOWEVER, the major flaws that I listed affect how I feel about the overall series.  I'd have to knock down my overall rating to a three or three-and-a-half.  Perhaps as Kagawa matures as a writer, we will see great things from her.  I've heard good things about Immortal Rules!

Stay tuned for my review of Iron Knight...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Behind the Story: Pacing & Description Part 2

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I'll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I've discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week's topic:
Pacing and Description

Last week I discussed how I learned to pay attention to pacing and why I believe pacing is so important.  For last week's post, click here.  This week I'll get into tips and tricks writers can use to take control of their pacing.

Brushstrokes, You Don’t Have to Paint the Picture All at Once

Guess what?  Most of us are writing a whole entire book.  Some of us, that will be 80,000 words.  You don’t need to give your reader every single detail up front.  We are often tempted to, because as the author, we feel like everything in our story is important.  But that’s not the case.  We can reveal things over time.  Do we need to know that the main character has red frizzy hair, freckles, green eyes, small bones, knobby knees, tiny ears, pale skin, a birthmark on her elbow... all in the first chapter?  No.  We don’t.  You can paint her with brushstrokes a little bit at a time.  We have the whole book to get to know her.  Think of it as dating... We don’t need to know everything up front.  A first date where all is revealed doesn’t leave us with anything to wonder about, and that intrigue, that mystery is lost.  You’ll want to start with a basic picture, the essential details, but then let it grow, brushstroke by brushstroke, as the story continues.  Which brings us to Tip #1:

Pacing Tip #1: The Rule of Three

I honestly don’t remember where I heard this tip.  I looked on the internet for some hint as to who I learned it from, but all I could get was that it is general belief.  
Wikipedia states:
“The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes.  Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.  The Latin phrase, "omne trium perfectum" (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three.”
The way I’ve understood and employed the “rule of three” in terms of pacing and description: I don’t include more than three details about a person or place in my first description.  I think when I originally heard the “rule of three” I was told that a reader isn’t going to remember more than three details about a character.  Think of Harry Potter.  Three major physical details: Messy black hair, green eyes with glasses, lightning bolt scar.  Those are the three defining physical details everyone remembers.

Now, I’ll show you examples of the “Rule of Three” in action:

From my own WIP, a setting:
The first thing my aunt did upon returning from the funeral was take away my bedroom and force me into the small attic room above the boiler room.  The space could barely fit a bed, and there were crevices between the floorboards wide enough to stick your finger through.  The highlight of the room was a single grimy window.  

I only describe three things in Anne’s new bedroom: the small size, the floor, and the window.  All of which convey the sheer depressing nature of the room.  That’s all you need to know.  I definitely could have described more, but three things was enough.

From my WIP, a character:
“Oy!  Girlie!  You new?”  Pushing one of the screeching metal carts was a girl smaller than me.  Her brown hair was unbelievably short, cropped to her chin, but she wore a long gray skirt, so I knew she was a girl.

Again, I only describe three things: the girl’s small size, her short hair, and her skirt.  It’s enough for you to identify this girl in the future (the small girl with the cropped hair), you’ll remember it, and there’s plenty of space for her to grow as a character.

Here’s some examples from novels you might know:

“Has anyone seen a toad? Neville’s lost one,” she said.  She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 105

J.K. Rowling describes three things about Hermione (voice, hair, and teeth) when we first meet her (though we later learn a great deal more).

The girl was gorgeous, the kind of girl Clary would have liked to draw--tall and ribbon-slim, with a long spill of black hair.  Even at this distance Clary could see the red pendant around her throat.  It pulsed under the lights of the dance floor like a separate, disembodied heart.
City of Bones, page 6

Cassandra Clare gives us three details about the girl: her body type, her hair, and her necklace.

Her name was Shay. She had long dark hair in pigtails, and her eyes were too wide apart. Her lips were full enough, but she was even skinnier than a new pretty. She’d come over to New Pretty Town on her own expedition, and had been hiding here by the river for an hour.
Uglies, page 27

This example does not stick to the rule of three, but I think Westerfeld still limited himself in terms of description.  A reason why I think he used four descriptors here is because he uses pairs effectively.  Shay is described in pairs of traits: one that is adequate (almost pretty) and one that is ugly.  This is important to the premise of his book, where the characters desire physical perfection more than anything else.  So the pairs were necessary for him, and he limited himself to two pairs and not more than that.  Six traits would have been too much at once, but four traits or two pairs was enough.

When is it okay to use longer description?

I think there are cases that warrant more description than the “Rule of Three” I present here.  I think particularly important characters often warrant more description.  For example, Dumbledore is described in much more than three traits in his first description on page 8 of Sorcerer’s Stone.  He was an incredibly important character across the entire series.  I’ve heard the rule that the length of a description should match the importance of a character or place (longer description = more important).  I generally agree with this rule, but often an author can be a little blind and think every detail is a little more important than it actually is.

I also think unusual settings warrant more description, and readers will be more patient with lengthier description of a strange setting because the strangeness intrigues them.  Readers aren't bothered by descriptive paragraphs of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory because a secret candy factory is an intriguing and fabulous setting to read about.  I also think a setting that acts as a character, like Hogwarts, warrants a lengthier description.  Hogwarts isn’t just a place.  It has undiscovered secrets, presents challenges to the characters, and aids the characters in times of trouble.  Hogwarts, in order to become the living place that it is, required that kind of description.  A place that is ordinary, like a classroom or a schoolbus or a grocery store, probably shouldn’t be described in great detail, and I’d recommend the rule of three.  I’ve found the rule of three helps keep me in check and keeps the pace quick.  I can always go back and add more description if I need to.

Writing Exercise #1

Choose three characters and identify the three dominating physical traits of each character.  Then write a brief paragraph for each of them that introduces each character and their three physical traits.

And also, do three settings in your novel.  Choose three settings and identify three defining traits of that setting and write a brief paragraph introducing that setting and the three traits.

Stay tuned next week for my second quick pacing writing tip and another writing exercise!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Overdue Book Review: Feed

The last three months, I was on a blogging hiatus. I missed writing up reviews of several books, but would still like to give my overall thoughts.

Overdue Book Review = Read in July 2012

by M.T. Anderson
Genre: Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Big Themes: Media, Advertising, Humanity, Reality
*Grad School Text*

Summary: In the future, everyone has an internet feed implanted in their brain. When Titus takes a weekend trip to the moon with his friends, he meets Violet, a beautiful and intelligent girl. Titus experiences life without the Feed with Violet and his eyes are opened.

What I Loved:

Relevance: This book echoes great dystopian classics such as 1984 by George Orwell and is a brilliant satire of our current internet use and streaming of technology.

World-Building: The world that Anderson creates is memorable and expertly crafted. One of the way Anderson does this is through his use of language and the way he invents new words/uses. You could do a whole study on the way language is used in this book and I'm pretty sure people have.

Characters: Violet is such a memorable and beautiful character that brought me to tears, but a lot of the beauty of her character is in how Titus interacts with her. A lot of people are frustrated and angry with Titus by the end of the book, but I thought the book was realistic and purposeful.


People have strong reactions to this book. In my class, people either LOVED it or HATED it. I'm in the love camp, but I love dystopian fiction and sci-fi. I think this book is a great commentary on our current society and serves as a poignant warning for what we could become. This is not a dystopian book with a hero, adventure, and a happy ending, unlike a lot of dystopian novels out there right now. It's a true satire.

Overall Rating: I would definitely give this book five stars for being one of the most amazing dystopian books of the new millennium, a dark cautionary tale.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Winter Break Book List 2012

Today is the start of my winter break. I have eleven glorious days off. I am hoping to get a lot of reading and writing done, and want to share what books are at the top of my to-read list. I literally have to put together a list because I have to pack to go home to my parent's house. So these are the books I'm taking with me... as well as my Kindle for back-up.

Titles link to Goodreads.
Links to reviews that persuaded me to read the books are included as well!

I've spent the last month re-reading Leviathan so that I could finish out this series. I finished reading Behemoth last week, and am now ready to tackle the last book in this clever steampunk trilogy. If you love great world-building and spunky characters, you should check this series out!

Re-Read Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Read UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
Unwind is probably the most eerie and thought-provoking dystopian books I've ever read.  The story stuck with me long after I finished.  Originally intended to be a standalone novel, when a sequel was announced years after Unwind's publication, everyone in my family got excited because we'd all read Unwind.  My mom has read Unwholly already and said it's genius.  I can't wait to find out for myself!

Re-Read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Read Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of my favorite books of 2012, and I've long been awaiting the sequel after the cliffhanger ending that Laini Taylor left us with.  I've heard that this is an emotionally draining but amazing sequel.  I'm drooling a little bit as I look at the book sitting on my bookshelf.  Can't wait!

Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefavater
I've read every book by Maggie Stiefvater except her two most recent releases.  I love Maggie and adore her blog.  I've started Scorpio Races twice already, but life keeps getting in the way whenever I pick it up.  Maggie's books also tend to take me awhile to get through because her pacing is a little slower than I'm prone to read.  Plus both these books are on the hefty side.  Friends and bloggers are raving about both books and I have had them on my TBR list for awhile now.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Everyone is praising this book as one of the best fantasy reads of the year, and I'm eager to see what all the hype is about!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Another book with a lot of hype and praise circulating.  This hardback is begging to be opened!

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson
The premise of this book captivated me as well as all the positive reviews.  I'm hoping this is a book I can recommend to my middle schoolers, but we'll see!

I'm probably overestimating myself with this list, because not a single one of these books are short, quick reads.  But all of them are books I've been wanting to read for a long time now.  Here's to lots of cozy reading days!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Behind the Story: Pacing & Description Part 1

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I'll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I've discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week's topic:
Pacing and Description

One thing I am acutely aware of is pacing.  It is one of the first things I notice in any book that I read.  This wasn’t always how I read, and I pinpoint the moment I began to read this way on the day I began teaching middle school.

Whether we like it or not, technology has had an impact on the attention spans of our child readers.  Some children have shorter attention spans than others, but I do believe that technology has affected the majority of children in this way.  From thirty second TV commercials to the brevity of tweets to the under eight minute Youtube video, our society feeds on things that are quick.  Children are experiencing the world at a different pace than human beings of the past.  

This phenomena, this shorter attention span, has turned teaching into a unique challenge.  I discovered rather quickly that I had to be just as much an entertainer as an educator in order to hold my students’ attention.  I couldn’t rely on them to do a single activity for a full hour.  My class period had to be broken up into short chunks of different activities.  And when I had to decide on what reading material to use in my class, I had to pay attention to the text’s pacing.  I was teaching in a Title I school filled with hormonal, thirteen year-olds and for the sake of my classroom management, I could not afford for these kids to get bored.

So how does this connect to writing?  I believe we writers have to understand how to grab a kid’s attention, how to pace a book, and how to be sneaky with our description.

Back in the days before photographs and television and internet, as well as cars and trains and airplanes, lengthy description was something that audiences needed.  They wanted to be able to see people, places, and objects that they would never see or travel to.  Description was a way to offer the reader a photograph or to transport them to exotic locales.  And while I don’t mean to say that audiences today don’t need setting, they don’t need the same lengthy descriptions as those from the dusty volumes of yore.  Our current readers want things to be happening in the book at all times.  A whole page of description, to them, means nothing is happening.  And that’s why we writers have to be sneaky with our description.  It still needs to be there in order to ground the reader in a place or to provide a reader with an image, but we need to slip description in between action and dialogue so that we don’t lose our readers because “nothing is happening.”

Some of you may be thinking, “But I love writing beautiful descriptions!” or “Kids need to learn to pay attention and slow down!”  And yes, lots of writers do enjoy writing lyrical, lovely descriptions.  And yes, maybe kids do need to slow it down.  But this is the world we live in.  And I want kids to read my books, not put them down.  

Though, I’ve seen writing at both ends of the spectrum be successful.  Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver, Scorpio Races) is what I would consider a description heavy author, but she has become extremely successful.  I also enjoy her books despite the fact that I have a low tolerance for heavy description.  (I do have to get myself in the right mood to pick up her books, but I still love them.)  On the other end of the spectrum is James Patterson, particularly his Maximum Ride series.  If you haven’t read these books, they move at a ridiculously breakneck pace.  I actually feel as if I’m being jerked around.  He achieves this with extremely short chapters (literally 2-4 pages each) and high conflict.  I actually couldn’t read more than the first book in this series because the jerky pacing was too much for me.  I’m hoping the tips that I offer will help you find a happy medium between the extremes and will help you achieve a pacing that will satisfy both you as a writer as well as our child readers.

I wouldn’t say this is a writing trait I’ve struggled with because I did not start writing seriously until I was already teaching (and acutely aware of pacing).  When I began writing, I’d already begun studying author’s pacing methods and paying attention to what made a text move quickly.  This isn’t to say that, in a rough draft, I’ve never written a paragraph that comes off as setting info dump.  I think it’s one of the common mistakes of a first draft, to do a description info dump, because we, the authors, are figuring things out ourselves as we write.  But in critiques, I’ve pretty consistently gotten feedback that my writing is paced well, and I wanted to share some of the observations I’ve made on pacing that has helped me develop this writing trait.  And in my observations, lengthy description is one of the biggest culprits in slowing a text down. (The other culprit of slow pacing is a lack of conflict, for more on that topic, see my post: Author Sadism)

What Others Have Said on the Topic of Description

In the book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (which is a fantastic resource, even for non-dummies) they use a water metaphor, sprinkling versus splashing, when talking about description.  They say it better than I could, so here you go: 

“Stopping your story to splash setting onto the page can be hazardous in teen fiction. Splashes can stop young readers cold.  Sometimes, yes, you may need to pause your plot work for some setting details -- a little descriptive moment -- either because it fits the overall style of your narrative voice or because, simply, it’s time for a breather. But in general, splashing means stopping, and stopping is rarely what writers want.  Instead, sprinkle.
Work in the setting here and there, as if flicking wet fingers at your pages instead of pouring water on them straight from the spout.  Even teens who aren’t intimidated by a few lines of description are likely to skip over big splashes in search of the story thread.  Providing details about time and place as you go keeps setting accessible and interesting to teen readers.”
Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, page 146
I think they make some great points, and I love the metaphor.  When it’s raining, you avoid going out in a downpour, but you’re likely to handle a light sprinkle.  I think it’s the same with readers.  Readers might avoid or skip a whole page of just description (or even put down the book), but they may not even notice description if you are able to embed it in action or keep description light.

So how do we do this thing called light description?  Next week I'll share three tips and exercises that should lead the way to you becoming a description expert with no pacing problems.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top Ten Books I Read in 2012

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor blew me away with the beauty of her language while maintaining an engaging plot filled with high stakes and conflict.  The ending was the most satisfying puzzle being put together, leaving me satisfied but also craving the sequel.  (Which I've bought and will hopefully savor over the Christmas holiday!)
Read my review: Book Review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I was skeptical when I heard the concept of a cyborg Cinderella, but Marissa Meyer pulled it off.  Cinder was a refreshing and original fairy tale retelling while also being an engrossing piece of science fiction.  I highly recommend this fun read, and I'm eagerly awaiting getting my hands on Scarlet.
Read my review: Book Review of Cinder

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
I'm not a big reader of contemporary fiction, but this book won me over.  It may even have made me want to become more open to contemporary fiction!  I loved all the quirky characters, and I especially loved Cricket.  I'm a new Stephanie Perkins fan!
Read my review: Book Review of Lola and the Boy Next Door

Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
This book came out awhile ago, and I finally had to read it for my graduate class on dystopian lit.  I absolutely love how this book made you think about big ideas, like the very essence of humanity.  I recommend to all fans of science fiction.  A sequel came out this year, and I definitely want to check it out!
Read my review: Book Review of Adoration of Jenna Fox

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
In our technology driven society, this book is a MUST READ.  An action packed story that shows how the technology we use everyday can so easily be used against us.  Doctorow does a great job of making techie language accessible to any reader.  A great book to get for the guys in your life.  I'm so excited there is a sequel coming out, Homeland, in 2013.
Read my review: Book Review of Little Brother

Feed by M.T. Anderson
This book also came out awhile ago and I'd heard a lot of buzz but never picked it up.  This was one of those books that I finished in tears, though most people find it memorable for its use of language and the world Anderson creates.  I'd say this is another MUST READ for our technology driven society.
Review is forthcoming...

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Like pretty much everyone in the universe... I think John Green is genius and this book is a work of art.  I simultaneously laughed and cried while reading about Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace.  John Green is a master of characterization.  If haven't read this book because you've heard it will make you cry... JUST READ IT ALREADY.
Review is forthcoming...

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
I read this entire series and enjoyed every minute.  While it's no Harry Potter, I still was enchanted with a juvie boarding school for teens caught displaying their magical powers.  Sophie is a likable heroine complemented by a fun cast of characters.  But the standout feature of the Hex Hall series is how FUNNY the books are!  The books are filled with humor that caught me giggling unawares.
Review is forthcoming...

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I blew through Obsidian, Onyx and Shadows (prequel) in just a few days.  These are guilty pleasure books.  They are meant to be fun and not taken too seriously.  Aliens... who happen to be really good-looking teenagers with amazing superpowers.  The action and romance are both intense and will keep you furiously flipping the pages.  I've bought book three, Opal, and am restraining myself from picking it up before I finish the book I'm currently in the middle of.
Review is forthcoming...

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
This is the amazing true story of a boy named Salva who escaped civil war in Sudan.  Salva went through so much hardship, but became a truly inspirational person who has had an astounding impact on the world.  This book is written for a middle grade audience, but can be appreciated by anyone.  A short, quick read that will inspire you.
Review is forthcoming...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Across the Universe

Across the Universe
by Beth Revis
Genre: Sci-Fi/Dystopian
Big Themes: Space Travel, Cryogenics, Murder Mystery, Leadership, Individuality
*Grad School Text*

Note: This will be an abbreviated review because it should have been reviewed months ago, but I've been on a blogging hiatus.  The book isn't fresh enough in my mind to do a detailed review, but I wanted to post my overall thoughts.

Summary: Along with her mother and father, Amy is cryogenically frozen for space travel to awake three hundred years later on a new planet.  Except she doesn't awake with her parents on a new planet. She is unfrozen prematurely and almost dies.  Was someone on the spaceship trying to kill her?  And why?

What I Liked:

AMAZING First Scene:  Beth Revis sets up the reader where we have the opportunity to empathize with Amy through a memorable, tense, and excruciating scene.  The wealth of sensory details places the reader in the scene and forces them to imagine what it would be like to be cryogenically frozen.

The Blend of Genres: This book is part science fiction and part murder mystery and part dystopian with a smidgen of romance.  This was an unexpected and exciting blend.

The Science Fiction Concepts: The book felt really fresh because there hasn't been much space travel in mainstream YA.  I liked all the future technology as well as the emotional toll that this technology took on the characters.

What I Didn't Like:

Humans Mating: The way humans mate in this book is pretty disgusting.  I know that was the whole point, but it was still disturbing to read.

The End Reveal: No spoilers, but I wasn't happy with who was responsible for opening Amy's cryo chamber.  I felt like Beth Revis had been hiding information that we should have had.  And that the trick of having an unreliable narrator was not executed well.  But that's just my opinion.


I gave this book four stars after I finished it.  I thought it was a fun and fresh take on all the dystopian we've been seeing lately.  I still haven't read A Million Suns, and haven't rushed out to buy it... which makes me wonder if I should have given the book four stars.  On a side note-- The new covers for this series are hideous.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Returning to the Blogosphere!

Back in September, I put my blog on hiatus, saying that I would be back in January.  I can't quite stay away that long... I'll be returning a week early!

Reasons for Returning:

  1. My fall graduate course is completed.  It was even more work than I expected, but I have several posts scheduled where I'll be sharing writing tips gained from this class.  (One big post on pacing and another big post on emotions as well as a few other little posts on other topics.)  
  2. One of my favorite times of year in the blogosphere is when everyone posts their favorite reads of the year.  I want to be able to participate in the discussion of the best books of 2012, as there were some GREAT ones!  And I want to make sure there weren't any excellent books that I missed!
  3. I've made some outstanding progress on my novel and have established a solid writing routine.  Without the strains of a graduate class, I'm confident I'll be able to finish a first draft before winter is over while balancing a blogging routine.
  4. Blogging helps me reflect on my reading and identify the traits I admire in other writers so that I can incorporate those traits into my own writing.  I also use my blog to reflect on my own writing process.  This thoughtful reflection is a necessary part of my writing process, and if I can't do it for a graduate class, then my blog will be my tool.
  5. I have a fun announcement... that will be its own post... coming soon...
I can't wait to return to the blogging!  Stay tuned for book reviews, writing posts, and maybe even a few memes... Can't wait to reconnect with people!  Look for me in your comments!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Going on a Hiatus

This is something that I really did not want to have to do, but I have come to the realization that it is something I need to do.  I'm putting my blog on hiatus.

I sincerely love blogging.  I love sharing what I thought of books.  I love the blogging community.  I love discussing books with other bloggers.  I love hearing about new books coming out.

But there is one thing that's more important to me right now, and that is writing my novel.  And because I love blogging so much, it is too easy for me to get caught up in writing blog posts and posting comments instead of the other kind of writing I should be doing.

Besides being a full time teacher, I'm taking a writing course this fall that is going to involve presentations, critiques, writing exercises, and regular submissions.  Just looking at the syllabus made me question whether I'd have much free time this fall.

And then I sat down and did some goal setting.  I have set a goal for myself to have a revised and finished novel ready to query by this time next year.  In order to do that, I need to have a finished first draft by January 1st.  Which is entirely doable if I stick to a writing goal of 3,000 words a week.  I've consistently met this goal in the past, and know that it is something I can accomplish.  But not if I have distractions.

And because I love blogging so much, it is a distraction.

I want to maintain the friendships I've started with fellow bloggers, so I'm going to set aside two hours a week to comment on my favorite blogs.  (I'm so dreadfully behind right now, but thanks to Labor Day, you may hear from me tomorrow morning.)  Know that I'm still reading your blogs, often from my iPhone as I sit in a dreadfully boring school meeting, and you're making me smile.  But I may be a more silent, mysterious follower.

Much love, and hopefully you'll hear from a very happy me on January 1st who is holding a complete 1st draft of a novel in her hands.

(I'll still be on goodreads because I HAVE TO keep track of what I'm reading.  I won't be posting extensive reviews, but if you want to see what I think of books I'm reading, here's my goodreads profile.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

2012 National Book Festival Schedule

The National Book Festival is my favorite book event of the year.  It's in Washigton D.C. on the National Mall and is TOTALLY FREE.  The DC Metro is easy to use, so you really don't have to worry about driving or parking in the city.  I've been when it was raining (very cold and miserable) and when it's sunny (glorious).   I've gotten books signed in the past, but what I usually prefer to do is find a good spot in the Teen Tent and sit and listen to speakers all day.  If you want to get books signed, just be prepared to wait in lines and realize that you will miss out on other authors speaking.

If you want to know what the Book Festival is like, I recommend reading last year's post: National Book Festival 2011

The event is very well-organized and this year's panel of authors looks fantastic.  Authors I'm especially excited about: John Green, James Dashner, Walter Dean Myers, Lois Lowry, Maggie Stiefvater, Melissa Marr, and Avi.  This year's festival is Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23.  See a full list of speakers below:

Saturday, Children's Tent
Time                Author
10:00-10:45 Laura Amy Schlitz
10:55-11:40 Peter Brown
11:50-12:35 James Dashner
12:45-1:30        Jewel
1:40-2:25         Natalie Pope Boyce
1:40-2:25         Mary Pope Osborne
2:35-3:20         Jerry Spinelli
3:30-4:15         Chris Raschka
4:25-5:10         Anna Dewdney

Saturday, Teens & Children's Tent
Time                Author
10:00-10:45 John Green
10:55-11:40 Mike Lupica
11:50-12:35 Walter Dean Myers
12:45-1:30        Lois Lowry
1:40-2:25         Maggie Stiefvater
2:35-3:20         Melissa Marr
3:30-4:15         David Levithan
4:25-5:10         R.L. Stine

Sunday, Children's Tent
Time                Author
12:00-12:45 Bob Balaban
12:55-1:40        Patricia Polacco
1:50-2:35         Michael Grant
2:45-3:30         Erin E. Stead
2:45-3:30         Philip C. Stead
3:40-4:25         David Ezra Stein
4:35-5:20         Avi

Teens & Children
Time                Author
12:00-12:45 Bryan Collier
12:55-1:40        Ellen Hopkins
1:50-2:35         Siobhan Vivian
1:50-2:35         Jenny Han
2:45-3:30         Jacqueline Woodson
3:40-4:25         Sharon Flake
4:35-5:20         Sonia Manzano

More information on the National Book Festival can be found on the Library of Congress Book Festival Site.

Let me know if you're thinking of going!  I'd love to see you there!

Friday, August 10, 2012

MIA: Beach & Reviews to Come

I realize I've been dead on the blogosphere.  I'd intended to have a few days at home before heading to the beach, but then had some car issues that forced me to change my plans.  I'm currently vacationing at the beach where we have no internet service.  (I'm blogging from Panera right now.)  I have my iPhone, and have been reading lots of wonderful blog posts that I'm eager to comment on, but commenting is not convenient via iPhone.  Can someone please invent an app for that?!?!

I've been reading loads, and will have lots of reviews to type up when I get home. Here's what reviews will be coming soon:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (much delayed from grad school)

Feed by MT Anderson (much delayed from grad school)

Iron King by Julie Kagawa (finished reading)

Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa (finished reading)

Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa (in progress paperback)

Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa (purchased)

Falling For Hamlet by Michelle Ray (in progress hardback)

Souless by Gail Carriger (in progress eBook)

And here are a few pics from my vacation:

Tanning on the Beach
Eating Crabs

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Behind the Story: Author Sadism

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I'll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I've discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week's topic:
Being Evil to Your Characters

Why would you want to be evil to your own creations?

  • To provide challenges and conflict
  • To create compelling characters who grow over the course of the story through the challenges they face
  • For suspense and pacing
  • As a plotting tool

This is one of those pieces of advice or writing tips that I don’t remember where I heard it.  But it really resonated with me, and is one of the first things I do when plotting a section of a novel.  I think it is a really, really valuable technique if you struggle with pacing, plotting, or giving characters agency.

Quotes About Being Tough on Your Characters

Editor, Cheryl Klein, Arthur A. Levine Books
Ten Ways to Create Compelling Characters
#6 Put the character in pain, danger, or jeopardy (anticipated pain)

Author, Kurt Vonnegut
8 Basics of Creative Writing
#6: Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Author, Maggie Stiefvater
Blog Post: Bringing Out Your Inner Sadist
“I have decided that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a sadist.”
“And that’s when I decided that I must have an inner sadist in there somewhere. Because although I love my characters dearly, I have to say, I also love to hurt them. I love to take away the stuff they need and the people they love and shove them outside their comfort zone without so much as a windbreaker. I like to make them uncomfortable, humiliate them, gun down their loved ones in cold blood, and give them pasts that will haunt them forever.”
“I think part of it is because of that saying: ‘Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they’re in hot water.’ Characters are like women which are like tea bags. You can learn a bit about them when things are going well, but it’s not until the proverbial poo hits the proverbial fan and plagues are raining down that you really see what sort of a person they are.”
“So I guess I figure that if a little pain and suffering will show me more about them, a lot of pain and suffering will do it even better. Basically, as soon as a character lets on what their worst fear is, it’s a pretty surefire sign that I am going to make them come face to face with it at some point in the novel. “
“I don't think readers like it when you are nice to the characters. They think they want characters to be happy, but they don't really. At least not until the characters have first been really miserable. I think a good writer finds their characters’ monsters and then resurrects them at the worst possible moment, and that we readers, like Jerry Springer audience members, love the angst and drama of it.”

Author, Janet Fitch
10 Rules for Writers
#10 Torture your protagonist.
 The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Ari Susu-Mago at blog “A Fuzzy Mango With Wings”
Blog Post: The Sadism of Fiction
(or, What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Writing)
“He makes likable, interesting, flawed, human characters. And then he makes their lives suck.”
“Moreover, note that not only does he make problems for them right at the beginning of the story, but he makes things get worse all the time. Rarely, if ever, do things get better. Plans go awry. People turn traitor. People get angry and say things they shouldn’t. People get killed. In general, more problems crop up. The result? A 800+ page book that flies by.”
Examples of Author Sadism:

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling
How bad did JK Rowling make Harry’s aunt and uncle?
Rowling made them about as terrible as aunts/uncles can get.
How did the Dursleys keep Harry from his Hogwarts’ letter?
Rowling didn't just hold Harry back from reading the letter, she took it to extreme levels by the Dursleys trying to hide on a rock in the middle of the sea.  By throwing so many obstacles in Harry's path to reading the letter, it made us more invested in the story and increases suspense and tension.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Everytime Ender became comfortable, Card threw him into a new challenge or worse situation.
Ender makes friends in his launch group and starts to be successful at the Battle School.
But then he is moved to Salamander Army where he is the smallest and most inexperienced, and Bonzo won’t even let him practice.

Downton Abbey
They make the audience care...
Then very briefly give them a glimpse of what they want...
Then they ruin or take it away...
(Examples: Anna/Bates or Matthew/Mary)

The Way I Incorporate this Technique in My Own Writing

Usually at the start of a work (or at the start of a new setting) I brainstorm a list of things that could go wrong either in the story or in that particular setting.

The list forces me to think of things that could go wrong and sets my brain thinking in that direction.  And I have a resource to refer to later if I need to.

When I sit down to start writing, I try to begin a chapter by resolving a previous problem or setting the stage for a new problem.

I try to always end a chapter in the midst of a low point for the protagonist.  It can be a physical low point or an emotional low point.

Writing Exercise:

Brainstorm a list:

  • Of things that could get in your protagonist’s way of their goal.
  • Of terrible things that could happen to your protagonist.
  • Of characters your protagonist needs in their life, and how they could disappear.

Don’t worry about how your character will get out of it, or how they’ll overcome it.
Don’t worry about how it will fit into your plot.
Don’t worry about how extreme it might be.

Links Quoted in this Post:

Maggie Stiefvater, Blog Post: Bringing Out Your Inner Sadist

Maggie Stiefvater, Collection of Posts on Writing

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Basics of Creative Writing

Janet Fitch’s 10 Rules for Writers

The 22 Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar

Blog Post: The Sadism of Fiction
(or, What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Writing)

Ava Jae, of “Writablity: Tips, Tricks and Thoughts from One Writer to Cyberspace”