Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Throwback DVD Review: Felicity

Felicity is one of those shows I missed entirely when it was on, so here I am over 10 years later catching up. I was in college when it first aired, and I hardly watched TV. I mentioned this once to a guy in my dorm, something to the effect of not having turned my TV on in a week, and he looked at me with sincere incredulity: then what do you do?

Being a huge J.J. Abrams fan (Lost, Fringe, Super 8, the Star Trek reboot) I saw Felicity is available on Netflix streaming and figured I could recapture my lost TV years. Last year I devoured Gilmore Girls - all 7 seasons - which I also missed when I apparently had a more active social life.

So, I'll be writing a series of short recaps, as well as related twitter updates. If you like the Felicity, please chime in with your thoughts!

Here's Forever Young Adult's Highly Scientific Analysis of the relationships on Felicity if you want to know more.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My 10 Favorite Books Read in 2011

I read over 50 books this year (the most ever for me!) mainly from the Young Adult category, and thought I'd break down my favorites (Note: not all the books from my list were published in 2011). I've written reviews on my blog for each one if you're interested in more detailed thoughts - check the archives in the side bar.

Here are my top 10 reads for 2011: 


by Jessi Kirby
This is a solid contemporary novel about loss, love, new beginnings and the beach. I almost listed Anna and the French Kiss here, which is equally as good. Tough decision, but Moonglass surprised me by going deeper than I expected.

9. & 8.

White Cat (Curse Workers, #1)

and the sequal:

Red Glove (Curse Workers, #2)

by Holly Black
What sold me is the audio version read by Jesse Eisenberg - he brings the supernatural crime family to life. This is the mob if the mob had mystical abilities. It's frightening!

Revolution Revolution

by Jennifer Donnelly
A beautifully written mesh of contemporary and historical. It's dark and gritty but utltimately hopeful.

Paranormalcy (Paranormalcy, #1)

by Keirsten White
It's so much fun when a heroine can run amok in a world of supernatural creatures and not take herself too seriously. Her best friend is a mermaid and she dreams of having a locker in a real high school. More paranormal YA needs to be funny like this series.

by April Lindner
A modern re-telling of Jane Eyre. Engaging and heartbreaking.

And Then Things Fall Apart

by Arlaina Tibensky
Hilarious, quirky and quick-paced, this ties in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar in refreshing and amusing ways.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green and David Levithan
Two Will Graysons meet in an unlikely circumstance and change each other forever. And also there's a big gay musical. And by gay I mean actually gay, produced by one of YAs most memorable characters Tiny Cooper. Hold Me Closer, the story of love by Tiny Cooper. OMG. Hilarious.

Paper Towns

by John Green
I can hardly believe just a year ago I'd never read a John Green novel. Now I've read four. Paper Towns was my first and by default favorite. I adore the supporting characters and love the interweaving of crass high schoolers grappling with existential questions and taking impromtou road trips.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1)

by Laini Taylor
This is my favorite from 2011. I felt immediately transported into Karou's lush world and ate up every last morsel of this story. This is one YA trilogy I'm thrilled to continue reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Authors: David Levithan and John Green
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is literally about two guys named Will Grayson whose lives intersect one day and calamity ensues. I could leave it at that, or just say, "John Green wrote this so read it!" but given this is a book review you probably want to know more.

The first Will Grayson attends school in affluent Evanston, IL, just north of Chicago. He used to be with the in-crowd until he wrote an editorial to the paper to defend a gay classmate; his perceived mistake being that he signed his name instead of remaining anonymous. Now, his only friend consists of said gay classmate - Tiny - a 6 and half foot tall lumbering jock who sings constantly and has a new crush every week. Will meets a few other friends from the Gay Straight Alliance, including Jane, who he thinks he might like, kinda sorta, maybe but not really. The second Will Grayson is even more ostracised; he's a depressed loner who also lives in a fairly affluent Chicago suburb (Naperville - the next city over from me), but his single mom barely scrapes by. He hates everyone including himself. His only solace is an online relationship with Isaac, who he's never met. He's Will's only real friend besides a sarcastic goth girl from school. Isaac is his secret.

Each chapter alternates between the Wills. It's not until a third of the way in that the two cross paths. Evanston Will can't get into a concert with his friends (he tries a fake ID which says he's 20, not 21) so he wanders the shops across the street, while Naperville Will drives to Chicago to meet Isaac in the same area. The meeting with Isaac does not go as planned, and the Wills encounter each other in a very confusing exchange - if you can only imagine meeting someone randomly with your same name. Each of them come to believe their meeting was somehow fated, and the two become unlikely allies.

Of course Tiny involves himself in both Wills' relationship issues. Tiny wants to fix everyone, like it's his mission. His hopeful nature is encouraging even though Tiny has issues to work through himself. All of the relationships evolve in unexpected ways, down to the kids and their parents, which feels refreshingly realistic.

Tiny's other passion, besides fixing people, is a musical written and directed by himself about himself. At first it's the life story of Tiny Cooper, until he realizes it needs a more outward focus. He then changes it to Hold Me Closer (Tiny Cooper - a play on the song Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer)- a musical about love. The songs are hilarious but the story itself is rather sentimental. Evanston Will Grayson is convinced it will fail, and tries to protect Tiny from the scathing judgement of students at school. But Tiny isn't one to be held back. The transformation of Tiny's dream into a real stage production feels like rooting for the underdog with a satisfying conclusion.

This book takes a genuine look at how complex relationships are without sacrificing enjoyable storytelling. There are so many great lines and the sentiment behind it is even better. It's one of my favorite reads of 2011.

Monday, December 19, 2011

YA Lit article on popculturegeek.com

I have a friend who puts together a pretty cool site called popculturegeek.com - I can confirm he's a legit pop culture geek because he wrote and published a survival guide to San Diego Comic Con. If you ever plan to venture into that crazy spectacle definitely read his book first! (There's a print and e-book version)

Anyway, he's graciously let me start infiltrating his comic and movie focused site with my penchant for YA Lit. I wrote a little piece about dystopian YA books - specifically Legend by Marie Lu, Ashes by Ilsa Bick and Divergent by Veronica Roth. Take a look and comment if you want!

I'll be writing more for the site in the coming months, covering movies, possibly video games and whatever else is thrown my way.

You can follow popculturegeek on twitter which features a cosplay of the day (that's fans dressing in costume at events - you like like dudes in Wookie costumes, slave Leias and pretty much any comic, video game, movie or TV character you can think of) along with links to reviews, etc.

Sharing the love!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2010

I heard so many great reviews about Anna and the French Kiss, and after passing it  in the bookstore figuring it was a little too teen romance for my taste, I finally gave in after seeing Stephanie Perkins in person talk about writing. This book is an example of how fantastic contemporary YA fiction can be. It's a love story, but it's chiefly about friendship, which I am totally a sucker for. Because while you can have an epic love story with an undead demi-god who happens to eschew the powers of immortality to fall for a plucky high school girl, sometimes it's nice to read a story about characters who seem like actual people and their struggle to figure out whether they fit into Friends or More.

Anna's father decides to send her to boarding school in Paris to show off his newly-found wealth as a bestselling author (he's described as very Nicholas Sparks-like). Nevermind that it's Anna's senior year and she doesn't know a lick of French. She's devastated to leave behind her after school job at a movie theatre, her best friend, and a burgeoning crush. The second she arrives, she feels out of place, knowing she isn't from the same wealthy stock as most of the other students. Thankfully, a group of friends befriend Anna in a John Green Looking for Alaska fashion, and she gains confidence in her new environment. Slowly.

Etienne St. Clair is the boy that captures Anna's heart - but he has a girlfriend. Also, half the girls in school are in love with him, so Anna spends most of her time trying to ignore any feelings for him, while at the same time, St. Clair seems to be constantly nearby, offering her tours of the city and tagging along with her to movie houses in Paris. They become friends but there's constant tension. The author knows how to write an awkward moment, and it's believeable from both perspectives. Meanwhile, the rest Anna's new friends have their own issues with each other that affect the group as a whole. Family dynamics play into each of their lives; St. Clair's mother is undergoing cancer treatments back in California, and Anna is concerned her little brother is mad that she left him when they were once so close.

Besides all the friendship drama, the characters are frequently funny. Their dynamic together feels genuine, particularly the slowly building friendships with numerous misunderstandings. It's a great companion novel to Looking for Alaska, with a lighter tone. John Green is one of my favorites, so I make the comparison as a compliment. Anna and the French Kiss is such an enjoyable read, I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Gets a Movie Deal!

Super cool news! Daughter of Smoke and Bone *may* be made into a movie! EW.com Shelf Life reported the movie rights were sold to Universal. BUT, these kinds of deals happen all the time, it doesn't mean the movie will for sure get made, or it might take a long time. Movie studios are looking for the next big YA crossover after Twilight made so much money, and The Hunger Games, which isn't even out yet, is speculated to make a lot of cash (and it should!).

The Hunger Games is a great series, so I hope it translates well on the screen. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my favorites of 2011, it's a very inventive, magical story that's different than what's out there for teen movies. It's fantasy and contemporary, kind of like Harry Potter's mix of muggle and magic worlds.

I wish it well!

What other books do you wish would be made into a movie?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: 2011

This book is a total treat. I felt instantly transported to a world that is both seemingly mystical (Prague) and actual fantasy (another realm through a secret door). Right away I connected with Karou, whose name means hope in the language of the Chimaera. Her blue hair and sketchbooks filled with motley characters seem likeable and intriguing. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of chapter 10 that summarizes Karou's life:

In general, Karou managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she was a 17-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand girl to an inhuman creature who was the closest thing she had to family. For the most part, she'd found that there was time enough in a week for both lives. If not every week, at least most. This did not turn out to be one of those weeks...

I found a lot of parallels in The Daughter of Smoke and Bone to another favorite read from earlier this year, Kiersten White's Paranormalcy. The books are definitely different, but share many basic elements: both girls are parentless and raised by a hodge-podge of mystical/supernatural beings. Both Karou and Evie consider themselves normal, but as the story progresses, they discover their identity is something other than what they believed. Each of their worlds are threatened by a larger war, and both must realize that chief aspects to their world were hidden to them by those they trusted. Also, Karou and Evie have arrogant ex-boyfriends they are trying to get over at the beginning of the story, and each encounter a beautiful but most likely forbidden guy they have a desnity attached to.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone ties together real life locales across the globe with a larger world of angels and chimaera, who Karou must determine whose allegiance she belongs to. The story felt epic but somehow believable. Karou is eccentric and knows it, it's how she's survived in the real world as long as she has. And she has a great best friend. This is such an imaginative story filled with great one liners and captivating scenes. I highly recommend it if you're looking for a fresh contemporary fantasy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CONduct Series Blog Tour

Hey readers! I am part of the blog tour for Jennifer Lane's books With Good Behavior and the companion novel Bad Behavior. And there's a giveaway!

Here's an excerpt from With Good Behavior:

Excerpt from Chapter 19, "The Womanly Touch"
The announcer’s voice boomed over the sound system, and the first White Sox batter stepped up to the plate. His announcement was met with mostly boos in the Cubs-dominated crowd.
Grant asked, “Who made you a Sox fan?”
“My dad.”
Her soft, terse reply told him he hadn't succeeded in lightening the mood. “Oh.”
“I think he wanted a son,” Sophie said. “My mom had four miscarriages before me. Anyway, my dad would drag me to Sox games when I was little, but eventually I learned to love the game. Pretty soon I wanted to go more than he did, but then he started his company and got too busy for baseball.”
“Well, I’m never too busy for baseball,” Grant said, stretching out his lanky body. “Except when I have to work for weeks on end. Thank God for Rog giving us some days off.”
A hot dog vendor meandered down the aisle, already sweating in the hot sun. She was a petite little thing carrying a deep metal tray, and both Grant and Sophie were surprised by her volume when she belted out, “Hot dogs! Five dollars!”
As the ponytailed vendor paused at the row across from them, Sophie leaned into Grant and whispered, “That could be me. When I couldn’t find a job, Jerry told me to sell hot dogs at Cubs games.”
Grant raised his eyebrows in shock and muttered, “The horror.”
Sophie giggled, scoffing, “As if I’d work at Wrigley Field, the enemy’s lair!”
The vendor continued down the aisle and Grant proudly said, “Working on an architectural cruise is far superior to hawking hot dogs. Although I bet you’d get great tips here too.”
Still grinning, Sophie mused, “I wonder if guys ask her if her buns are warm?”
Grant snickered.

Comment below by December 13 for a chance to win an ebook of With Good Behavior or Bad Behavior. It will be the winner's choice. To enter the Grand Prize - a $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes and Noble - each participant needs to comment on every blog post on the tour. See the tour button on my sidebar or click below:

Here are the participating blogs in the tour, please check them out!

After surviving the rigors of writing a psychology dissertation, the author known as Jennifer Lane has happily turned to writing fiction. She still maintains her psychology practice in Ohio, but please rest assured that she's not psychoanalyzing you right now. The tales of healing and resilience from her career have inspired her to write her own stories: The Conduct Series. With Good Behavior began with two cons trying to make it on the outside: running from the Mafia, joking about sexy vegetables, and just maybe falling in love. Bad Behavior, the next in line, reveals that it's not so easy to escape the past, but the plucky parolees once again strive to persevere. Jen is currently at work on the third and final installment of the series: On Best Behavior. She's found that whether writing or reading, she loves stories that make her laugh and cry. In her spare time Jen enjoys competitive swimming, attending book club, and hanging out with her sisters and their families in Chicago.

Author information:
Jennifer Lane, Author
Romantic Suspense featuring Healing and RedemptionWith Good Behavior (The Conduct Series #1) released July, 2010
Bad Behavior (The Conduct Series #2) released March, 2011
Summer Breeze Anthology (short story Swim Recruit) released July, 2011
Twitter: JenLanebooks
Goodreads: Jennifer Lane

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Title: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Genre: YA, dystopian
Published: Releases Nov. 29, 2011

The opening lines of Legend set the stage perfectly for what kind of book you're getting into. Here's the character named Day:

My mother thinks I'm dead.
Obviously I'm not dead, but it's safer for her to think so.
At least tiwce a month, I see my Wanted poster flashed on the JumboTrons scattered throughout downtown Los Angeles. It looks out of place up there. Most of the pictures on the screens are of happy things: smiling children standing under a bright blue sky, tourists posing before the Golden Gate Ruins, Republic commericals in neon colors. There's also anti-Colonies propaganda. "The Colonies want our land," the ads declare. "They want what they don't have. Don't let them conquer your homes! Support the cause!"
Already it's clear this world is not like ours; the United States is split into the Colonies and the Republic. I love the imagry of  the Golden Gate Ruins. It reminds me of the deteriorating wasteland of D.C. and Vegas in the Fallout video game series which takes place after a nuclear war.

The story vascillates between Day, a teenage boy wanted by the military-led enforcers of the Republic for vandalism and property destruction, and June, a highly trained savant who has essentially finished college by age 15. June is protected by military wealth due to her brother's service, while Day is a vagabond on the run. They live in opposite worlds, but their paths cross when June's brother is killed during a mission to apprehend Day. June is suddenly alone, her parents having been killed years earlier, and now no brother to care for her. A Republic Commander recruits her early out of school, and June's new mission is to find Day, her brother's killer.

Day is portayed by the Republic as a misfit criminal, but when June encounters Day during an undercover mission, she sees a different side. He's kind and protective. He steals plague medicine for his sick brother, and secretly delivers it without making contact with his mother, out of protection for her. Day lives on the streets and takes care of a younger girl he calls cousin; he'll risk his own life to keep her safe. He tells her of how the Repubilc kills citizens who don't pass the Trial, the test each 10-year-old must pass which assigns their lot in life. June is guarded and reluctant to believe Day. She does what she is trained to do and follows her commands. But soon, she starts piecing together details about her brother's murder, and she begins to doubt that Day is the killer. She questions everything she was brought up to believe about the Republic and who they protect.

Fans of The Hunger Games or Delirium will enjoy Legend. All three deal with a world controlled by military-style government seeking to repress the poor and exploit everyone else. It's not all bleak; June and Day have great chemistry without being sappy. Plus, Day is so freaking awesome you will want a movie version of this book when you're finished. Plenty of action moves the story forward whenever it starts to lag.  A few of the seondary characters feel a little one-note, but I enjoyed the leads enough to overcome some of the weaker aspects of the story.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Yo-derp: a word on Yoda's dialogue

Since the Thanksgiving holiday is usually an occassion for cable TV to run a Star Wars marathon (usually on SpikeTV), I thought it appropriate to comment from a writing perspective. I love Yoda, but some of his dialogue is downright painful:
"Around the survivors, a perimeter create!"
It may possibly be the worst Yoda line in all the films. Fittingly, it comes from one of the prequels, Attack of the Clones, the lowly middle film between kid-Vader podracer and the one where Anakin gets all burnt up.

Yoda has his cute way of speaking that cleverly jumbles common wording:
"Always in motion is the future."
"Wars not make one great."
"Save the lives of the Jedi, we must."
But a lot of times, he says things straight up. The balance is nice. If he did Yoda-speak all the time it would be annoying, and we already have to deal with the fact he's a puppet.

Thinking over Yoda's dialogue makes me analyze my own writing. If I'm forcing a certain dialect, it has to be relevant enough to the character or the situation to be used. Too much of a weird speaking pattern pulls a reader out of the story. Yoda-speak is effective to establish his character, but it's annoying if he only talks that way.

Are there any examples you have of bad dialogue that have helped you craft your own writing?

Or if you just want to comment about Star Wars, that's cool, too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anderson's Books YA Author Panel November 21, 2011

I thought I could resist another multi-author panel at Anderson's Books (Naperville, IL) but I'm weak, I admit. A fellow writer and YA fan on twitter reminded me of the event, and well, why not?

Here's the panel list (all writers of Young Adult and children's books):

*realized A.S. King and Jackie Kessler's names are switched in this promo photo

Since there were so many authors, the event was emceed by David Levithan, who wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green, and if that doesn't move you, he also co-wrote Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist which was made into a movie with Michael Cera & Kat Dennings (and is arguably one of the best recent teen movies) and if that still doesn't give you context, he is also an editor for The Hunger Games series.


Anyway, David was the perfect host and gave about 5 or 10 minutes to each author to talk about their book and a little bit about writing. I didn't initially recognize Heather Brewer's name, but I sure recognized her book series:

These are everywhere! They're like a mainstay in any section of YA books at Target and big box retailers and I always see them endcapped at bookstores.

Jay Asher (of Thirteen Reasons Why) and Carolyn Mackler talked up the intriguing premise of their book The Future of Us about two teens who log onto AOL in 1996 and end up seeing their Facebook profiles 15 years in the future. Talk about crossover potential! I can see YA fans my age and younger readers liking this concept. I know I'm all over it. Here's an article from EW.com about the book.

Jackie Kessler discussed her series about the four horsemen of the apocolypse with a twist; an anorexic girl is convinced to play the role of Hunger in the book by the same name. She said she wanted to explore the theme beyond her original inspiration, which was a side story from an older X-Men series comic with a similar premise, but there was no depth to her backstory.

And then there's Stephanie Perkins, who I've heard so much praise for with Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. She has such a lively personality, it makes me want to read her books even more.

Jeff Hirsch and Coe Booth I had seen in September at Anderson's YA Lit conference, and A.S. King and C.J. Hill talked about their books as well, which all had very different concepts and styles. It's cool to see the variety of books out there now. It's certainly not all paranormal romance - I don't think a single book discussed at this event fell into that category.

Have you read any books by these authors? Who is your favorite?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TV review links: Once Upon a Time, Grimm

A few weeks ago I blogged about the premiere of Once Upon a Time which takes fairy tale characters and tosses them into our world under a curse (hey, just what are you saying here, TV people?!)

Since some of you who read my blog are interested in the writing I do elsewhere on the internet, I wanted to share the link for the slackerheroes.com article I wrote. Here it is if you want to check it out:

Once Upon a Time: The Literary and the Literal

Another writer did a piece on Grimm, the other fairy-tales-in-real-life show to premiere this fall. I actually liked Grimm more than I expected to, it has an easier premise to buy than Once Upon a Time does, in my opinion. Read more here:

Grimm Picks Up

If you're a fan of either show, go ahead and leave a comment on the slackerheroes site. Thanks everyone!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Ashes by Ilsa Bick

Title: Ashes
Author: Ilsa Bick
Genre: YA, post-apocalyptic
Published: 2011

What's cool about Ashes is the apocalyptic aspects are based on plausible circumstances. I've seen the author speak twice at different book events, and she eagerly shared information about her military background and a clear fascination with survival tactics and what can go wrong in a world dependent on technology.

In Ashes, 17-year-old Alex takes a solo hiking trip into the northern Wisconsin woods bordering the upper peninsula of Michigan. As with many YA books, Alex's parents are dead, and she lives with an aunt she seems to have minimal attachment to. Alex has a brain tumor, and the trip is partly a last adventure to herself as she decides to stop all treatment and live her life to the fullest.

During the trip, an event happens. An EMP - electromagnetic pulse - disables all electronic devices, and causes some people to drop dead instantly while others get violently sick; Alex compares her reaction to chemotherapy. Just before the event, Alex encounters an older man and his granddaughter in the woods; the man dies while the girl, Ellie, is spared, along with their dog. Alex and Ellie stick together and search out a nearby ranger station Alex locates on her trail map. They barely have food or ammo and the weather's turning cold. Each moment feels tense and thrilling, especially when they find other survivors in the woods who act wild, crazed and in once case, cannibalistic.

Alex and Ellie are rescued from one of these crazed changed people by a soldier named Tom who is on leave from fighting in Afghanistan. The three form a family of sorts and stay together for weeks as they formulate a plan and speculate what happened and where it's safe to go. Alex is fairly sure her tumor saved her; one of the changes from the event is her sense of smell went from non-existent to highly acute. In fact, she and the dog seem like they can sense the presence of the changed ones early on. Alex isn't sure why Tom was spared, but he suffers from PTSD and has trouble sleeping. The tone is both desperate and hopeful as the three plan every aspect of their survival.

There is a point in the book where the story changes course, and Alex ends up in a strange cult-like community among a completely different set of characters. I should mention now, this book is the first in a series, which I wasn't aware of. The story ends abruptly with what I felt like was more than a cliffhanger; there isn't any resolution to the story arc whatsoever, and I was left wondering what happened to Tom and Ellie, who Alex had gotten separated from. It almost felt like two different books. While I loved the first half, I felt a bit disconnected with where the story went.

I would recommend Ashes if you liked the survival aspects of The Hunger Games and enjoy post-apocalyptic adventures. It would've been a better experience for me if the second book was available to continue on with, or if there had been more resolution with the current story rather than the sudden ending.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

TV Show or YA Cover?

Doesn't the promo for the fall's new TV show Revenge look like the cover of a YA novel?

Here are some comparison examples:

Lauren Kate's whole Fallen series:

Also, Keirsten White's Paranormalcy:
 And Fury by Elizabeth Miles:

If you search Goodreads for YA + dress, there are lists of books covers with similar haunted girls in pretty dresses covers. Some of the dresses are stunning!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Title: Match Me If You Can
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Women's Fiction
Published: 2005

This is not my usual genre, but I like to read widely and Susan Elizabeth Phillips' name is frequently mentioned as an example of fun contemporary romance. I can definitely see the appeal. Match Me If You Can is light and brisk. Annabelle is a clever woman, and although quirky, she isn't the tripping mess seen in a lot of light women's fiction (and specifically in chick-flicks). What Annabelle lacks in poise, she makes up for in resourcefulness, and she's a genuinely likable character.

Annabelle inheirits her grandmother's Chicago matchmaking business, and instead of continuing with homespun elderly match-ups, she attempts to reinvent the business into high-end executive matchmaking. Her first big client is a sports agent named Heath, who apparently is featured in an earlier book of this series (the "series" features related characters, but not the same character with varying plot line, so it's not necessary to have read earlier books). Heath is a workaholic success-fiend who has only enough time to fit in 20 minute dates with pre-selected women. Annabelle manages to hook him with a knockout first client, who unknown to him, is already married and is only playing part as bait-and-switch to get him to sign on. Heath is so impressed by Annabelle, or at least impressed by her tenacity since he can tell she's a bit of a trainwreck, he insists she accompany him on all initial meetings with new matches. I think you know where this is going...

The story flips point of view between Annabelle, Health and a competitor matchmaker named Portia. That threw me for a loop since a third character POV seemed uneccessasary (I was already surprised we would hear some of the story from Heath). It was almost a guilty pleasure to hear from Heath's perspective, but it rounded out the story in a way that worked.

I had more fun with this book than I expected. Lots of funny moments, and in places where plot could have veered into ridiculous territory, introspective narrative and realistic conversations among characters helped smooth it out. Sure, a few aspects are more book-reality than actual-reality, but that's the fun of reading.

My only real issue is related to the audiobook version. I was not a fan of the voice acting, particularly the male voices, which were acted out by the same female reader. Heath sounded dated, and at least 20 years older than his age of 34. I know 34-year-old guys and not a single one sounds like this. It literally sounded like a 50-something aged guy. While this is the perfect type of book to listen to, I had trouble enjoying the romantic aspects because of Heath's characterization. Annabelle was pretty great, though.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: YA contemporary
Published: 2005

I love John Green's books, but I always find it difficult to sum them up in a review because I don't feel I'll do it justice. Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns all feature teenage boy protagonists, quirky, complex and emotionally distant love interests, stand-out sidekicks and some sort of overarching caper. I suppose it depends which one you read first to determine a favorite (mine was Paper Towns).

Alaska is Green's most celebrated work so far, and it has more heft  than the others since it deals with speculation on suicide. Miles is a new student at boarding school who's looking for an adventure; "the great perhaps," which he read about during his pursuit of final words, which ends up being a theme of the book. Miles is infinitely lucky to be paired with 5-foot super-stud The Colonel as a roommate. He's a total dork, but the type who gets away with it. The Colonel is a classic Green sidekick who's a lot of fun with all his prank-pulling, but also has a deeper side.

Then there's Alaska. Yup, that's her name and she's 16 going on 40. Miles is obsessed with her because she is the quintessential untouchable girl who is mostly a fascination but sometimes allows for a glimpse of vulnerability. Beneath Alaska's boldness are hurts she expresses vaguely, leading to her mystique. I can't fault Green for writing similar characters in his books because he writes them so well.

These are brilliant kids coming of age awkwardly, and friendship always seems to be the overriding factor to bring Green's characters to their resolution. While Paper Towns is still my favorite, Looking for Alaska is a great read.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What do you think of Once Upon a Time?

Fairy tales are back in prime time TV. Once Upon a Time debuted last Sunday. Did you see it?
Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Emma, played by Jennifer Morrison from House, kept the show grounded
  • Working-class Snow White seems more valuable than fairy tale Snow White 
  • The kid wasn't too annoying but I really want to know who wrote that book he has and how did the teacher/Snow White find it 
  • The Prince reminds me of Coldplay's Chris Martin 
  • The wicked witch was wicked, but I don't get why she doomed the fairy tale peeps to "somplace horrible" in a curse. Maybe I need to rewatch... 
  • Rumplestilskin reminds me of a character from Labyrinth (maybe he's the Goblin King's cousin!) 
  • I rolled my eyes at Storybrooke, Maine, but what can you do.

 Once Upon a Time airs Sundays on ABC. Are you planning to watch?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

YA Lit Rant in Mad Libs Format! Courtesy of The Rejectionist

This is incredibly awesome and I must share. The blog The Rejectionist wrote this YA opinion piece in Mad Libs form. All you have to do is fill in the blanks for your own personalized rant on YA lit is evil/demoralizing/ruining America!

Now, first of all, let me be clear: I don't actually read YA--I just skimmed the jacket copy for The Hunger Games in the bookstore. YA is for babies, and I'm no baby! I'm a [PRESTIGIOUS CAREER]. But, like other adults, I can't help but [ADVERB] [VERB] about young people today and their [PLURAL NOUN]. The kids are so [ADJECTIVE] that they're practically snorting [NOUN] and having [ADJECTIVE] sex on my lawn! You know why? Smutty, smutty young adult books, is why! Kids tainted by the current crop of teen-oriented filth will waste no time in engaging in a wide variety of self-destructive behaviors, such as [TYPE OF EATING DISORDER], [ING VERB] their [PLURAL BODY PART], dabbling in witchcraft, and setting fire to [PLURAL NOUN]. I've heard these books even turn kids homosexual!
You know what I miss? The Good Old Days, that magical time in the [DECADE IN THE PAST] when [PLURAL NOUN] knew their place, teenagers didn't even know what [NOUN] was, and writers wrote books that were [ADJECTIVE]. Nothing makes me feel better than conjuring up fallacious images of an illusory past, populated exclusively with white, upper-middle-class children who were untarnished paragons of innocence, not these [ADJECTIVE], [ADJECTIVE], [ADJECTIVE] little [PLURAL NOUN] running feral in the streets and "sexting" each other [ADJECTIVE] pictures of themselves! The problem isn't a hypercommodified culture in the terminal stages of capitalism; problematic dominant-culture representations of marginalized populations; media conglomerates that propagate heteronormative constructions of gender and sexuality; my own projected anxieties; or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. No, the problem with everything is teenagers reading books for teenagers. In fact, teenagers reading books is just about the most awful thing I can think of, with one exception! There is one book for teens that doesn't lead to depravity, [ING VERB], and [ING VERB]. That, of course, is my book, which you can buy [LINK TO AMAZON].
The link to the ranter's own book is key. I actually saw similar comments on blogs during the "dark YA" debate over the summer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: Love Drugged by James Klise

Title: Love Drugged
Author: James Klise
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2010

In Love Drugged, high school freshman Jamie is just trying to blend in and not call attention to his recent realization that he's gay. When Jamie starts hanging out with cute girl Celia from a wealthy family, he plays up the idea that they're dating. Their friendship is sweet and a little tragic; we see how desperately Jamie wants to be straight while at the same time he genuinely enjoys Celia and doesn't want to ruin their friendship.

The story takes a sort-of loose speculative fiction turn when Jamie encounters Celia's pharmeceutical scientist father who is developing a drug to suppress people's inhibitions, including homosexual tendencies. Obviously the idea is absurd, but it works as a device for Jamie to explore what it means to fit in, the cost of keeping his secret, and interestingly enough, a kind of cool exploration into prescription drug culture. Jamie's best friend is on Ritalin, and he compares the experimental pills as just another way to control behaviour.

I liked how this book approached a serious concept from a humorous angle. The story has a lot of light-hearted aspects despite the heavy undertones. Jamie, like kids today, has access to "gay friendly" resources like websites for gay teens, but it doesn't mean the reality of public school is any easier for him. The story touches on bullying, friendship and first love in way that I think is relatable whether it's about a gay or straight character.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The new Footloose!

Since it's Friday, I wanted to share about the very fun new Footloose movie that's out in theatres now. Another remake? Yeah, I know! But this is a good one if you like dance movies, a little bit of '80s nostalgia and fun teen movies.

The cast are mostly unknowns, but they're dancers. The actor who plays Ren, Kenny Wormald, was a back-up dancer for Justin Timberlake. Also, he's much cuter than Kevin Bacon. Ariel is played by Julianne Hough a Dancing with the Stars dancer - an actual dancer, not one of the C-list "celebrities." They both pulled their weight acting-wise -- this isn't Shawshank Redemption or anything -- but I liked that they had a dancing background because they seemed very comfortable in the role.

So, my husband can't get over the idea that in the small rural town in Footloose, dancing is illegal. Well, the new movie does a great job of setting this up. The town loses four high school seniors, including Ariel's brother, in a car accident after the teenagers leave an unsupervised party. Ariel's father is a pastor in town, and he spearheads a campaign to set curfews and laws limiting partying for teenagers, including dancing. This makes sense to me because it's reactionary from a tragedy. But Ren, a newbie from Boston, doesn't get these backwards rules. Which also makes sense! Silly husbands, Footloose explains everything.

What's great about the updated version is more diversity in cast and in the dancing. Just because the kids live in a rural area doesn't mean they all country-line dance and wear cowboy hats. There's a great scene at a local burger place where kids do a dance-off in the parking lot. It's mostly dirty club dancing and hip-hop styles. And it's awesome. The mix is like Step Up meets Friday Night Lights.

If you're a fan of the original, there are a lot of scenes filmed with the same shots, which is kind of cool without feeling like a total copycat (here's a link to an Entertainment Weekly photo gallery of side-by-side shots). Ren still drives an old yellow VW beetle, Ariel gets reamed out by her father on the stairwell of their farmhouse, and of course, the warehouse angry punch-dance scene*. Yup, it's there and Ren performs gymnastics on a random high bar in the warehouse just like Kevin Bacon did. But ya'll, this Ren dances to The White Stripes!

*I've gotta link to one of my favorite spoofs ever, the re-enacted punch-dance scene from Hot Rod:

For a truly fun movie, I definitely recommend seeing this, especially if you're a fan of dance movies in general. Then let me know what you think!

One of my favorite blogs Forever Young Adult has a great write-up about the film, including some footage from an event in Texas where the new Ren is interviewed and parties down with some dancers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Title: Just Listen
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2006

Sarah Dessen's stories have a way of seeping and creeping. They seep into your psyche and creep back up while reading other books (or perhaps working on your own contemporary YA novel). I've found myself wondering, what would Sarah Dessen do for this character?

At first I wondered why sites like Forever Young Adult built a virtual blog-shrine of frenzied posts about her novels. I read The Truth About Forever and liked a lot of the characters, but it wasn't anything I was too excited about. But Dessen's work is a slow burn. Her characters aren't flashy, no one has superpowers that mysteriously spring up at age 16, there are no wolves-turned-bare-chested-boys. Her stories are about plain girls with hidden hurts who learn to love and laugh through unexpected friendships. The stories are memorable in their simplicity.

Just Listen has similarities to Dessen's other works. I tend to attach to her supporting characters. Owen, the unlikely friend Annabel Green makes after a falling out with her best friend, is quirky and likeable. Owen hosts a local radio show featuring obscure music and is essentially a loner. He is sort of the wise guru to Annabel by sharing what he learned in anger management, which is a revelation to Annabel considering her upbringing taught her to avoid conflict at all costs. I'm often frustrated by Dessen's protagonists because they tend to get stepped on in all kinds of ways. Sure, they redeem themselves eventually, but it can be a painful ride to get there. There are some interesting family dynamics here. Basically, if you're a fan of her work, this fits in well with her cadre of books.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggins

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggins
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published: 2011

I had this buzzed-about book on my list to read from the minute I heard of it. The background is so insanely cool, I couldn't help get excited. The author collects old photographs as a hobby. If you've ever been to a flea market or antique store and saw a box of unsorted vintage photos, this is what he collects. In particular, he became fascinated by strange photos (think "circus freaks" and camera tricks) and wrote stories about the people in them. Eventually, this morphed into the basis for his book, which includes vintage photos within the pages. It's a unique way of storytelling as some of the photos directly relate to the plot and even assist in the continuation of the story.

The story itself is about 16-year-old Jacob, who when he was younger, adored his grandfather's tall tales of living in a home with refugee children during the second world war. He showed Jacob pictures of the fantastically gifted children, which are the vintage photos the author found or borrowed from a collector. Jacob believed all of it until he was a teenager.

When Jacob's grandfather is mysteriously killed in the woods, he thinks he sees a monster lurking in the shadows. Left with his grandfather's cryptic last words, Jacob travels with his father to an island in Wales where the refugee children's home still stands. He finds the abandoned home and uncovers the mystery of the childhood stories.

The photos set you up for a creepy and dark tale, but it's not so much creepy or dark. It depends on what type of story you're looking for whether this is a plus or minus. I wanted the threat to be bigger and the sense of danger to feel more urgent. The writing is clever, and the photos take the storytelling to a visual level, but I was hoping the story would be a little more inventive. A few of the photos felt out of place, like aspects of the plot were written in to accomodate them rather than it being a natural inspiration. It's defnitely an interesting concept which stands out among other urban fantasy young adult fiction.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fall TV and Twitter

To keep everyone updated, I'm writing some TV reviews for a site called Slackerheroes.com. Here's my most recent write-up on The CW show The Secret Circle, which I basically summarize as The Vampire Diaries with witches. And The Vampire Diaries already has witches.

Anyway, it's been fun connecting with more TV bloggers and pop culture sites on twitter. For those of you new to twitter, or who might not use it much, it can be fun to search a show's hashtag (such as #TheSecretCircle) and follow the feed when the show is on. It's like a live blog with anyone on twitter who's commenting. #Project Runway's is particularly amusing, so long as you are watching in real time otherwise you will see spoilers. Probably reality shows in general work with twitter since you don't have to pay attention to plot every second and people are so opinionated about the shows. #Survivor is also entertaining.

I barely ever channel surf anymore since I have a DVR that can record 4 shows at once (a technological marvel!) so I always have something I want to watch. A couple weeks ago I discovered Dateline is still on; it's seriously been years since I've had nothing to watch and resigned myself to Dateline. Of course, I was immedately hooked by a premise of a screenwriter acting out a Dexter-like serial killer existence and writing about it (thus his arrest since the police found his script detailing where he dumped the body - Derp!). I wrote a tweet about the obnoxious (but somehow effective) voiceover and used the #Dateline hashtag. Reading the feed was hilarious. It's like the water-cooler conversation you have the next day at work about TV but it's happening live. Then weirdly enough, the real life author of a book about the criminal case started plugging his book on the twitter feed. I suppose anything goes, but by the 4th plug it was a bit much.

A couple suggestions of TV blogs & twitter users to follow are:
  • Television Without Pity (@TVWithoutPity on twitter) They have recaps which are hilarious although quite long (they now have an abbrieviated feature) and some pretty great feature articles similiar to what Slackerheroes does.
  • The Onion's AV Club (@TheAVClub on twitter). Excellent commentary. They even feature past shows like The X-Files and Angel, doing more of a scholarly dissection. You laugh, but it's awesome!
Do you follow any TV blogs or twitter users who write about TV or pop culture? What are your favorites?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: YA, contemporary, paranormal?
Published: 2011

The less you know going into this book, the more of an impact it will have. I also suggest skipping the handwritten looking prologue prior to the first chapter, and I'll go into why later.

Sixteen-year-old Mara Dyer survives a building collapse, but three of her friends are killed. She wakes up in the hospital unable to remember what happened. Shaken to the core, Mara is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and as a means of moving on with her life, she convinces her family to relocate for a fresh start. Her father makes a job connection with a law firm in Florida, so they move from Rhode Island to Miami in the middle of the school year.

Mara experiences hallucinations of her deceased friends on a daily basis. Some visions seem to be triggered by stress, and other times she will blank out for minutes to hours, losing all concept of time. She is inconsistent with taking her prescription medication which lends to rather trippy storytelling. At night, she dreams in fragments, and finally starts piecing together why she and her friends went to an abandoned building at night and what happened between then and the collapse.

Mara is withdrawn but not afraid to speak her mind when provoked. Right away as the new girl at her small private school, Mara draws the attention of another loner, a rich kid named Noah Shaw who's a transplant from England. Everyone warns Mara that Noah is a player and will use any girl he meets. He's a cocky alpha male who delights in Mara's resistance to his advances. As much as she hates him, she also finds herself drawn to him.

I do have a few issues. I loved the book when I thought it was just Mara's PTSD giving her hallucinations. The truth of what happened to Mara in the building collapse left me a little underwhelmed. Also, her relationship with Noah felt very Edward and Bella at times, with him possessively declaring she was meant for him and belonged with him. Even though Mara is far more feisty than Bella, I wish there had been more resolution to all the rumors that Noah slept with girls and ditched them. Noah tells her it's not true, but it doesn't feel convincing. Events in the last 2/3 of the book really upend the story and I'm not sure I felt like it meshed together. Instead of resolving, the story adds more twists and sets up immediately for a sequel.

The first line of the scrawled note prologue is compelling: "My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer said I had to choose something." Awesome right? This is never touched on in the book. She is not personally involved in a court case, her father is a lawyer but not representing her in any way, and it is never mentioned that she changed her name. This is a really cool intro, but it left me puzzled as to its relevance.  I really had no idea this would be a paranormal romance until mid-way through the book. I was hoping for more of a contemporary thriller with exploration of real-life PTSD. Overall, I have mixed feelings, although it was a real page-turner and kept me guessing most of the way through.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books Week

This week is Banned Book Awareness Week - I added the awareness part since otherwise it sounds like it's promoting the banning of books. I think there are enough people challenging the content of books already.

At the Anderson's YA Lit Conference last Saturday, at the opening of the event we gathered together to read this manifesto aloud, written by author Ellen Hopkins. (It's supposed to be posted on youtube's banned book blog channel but I can't find it!)

 To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion of sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones to break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.
-Ellen Hopkins


For a little lighter fare, I was very amused by Forever Young Adult about their tounge-in-cheek choices for which YA books that should be challenged.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reading Challenges: Make a dent in your To-Read pile!

If you're a book nerd like me, Goodreads can be really fun because there's more to do there than just list and rate what you've read. I'm part of the YA Book Club group that hosts a monthly pick (you read at your own pace and discuss in threads on their forum) and they also put together quarterly reading challenges. I shied away previously because the challenges included 10 books for 3 months. Who can read that fast?

It turns out, I can! I've been reading a LOT. Plus, many YA books can be a little shorter and easier to get through than say, any Jeffrey Eugenides novel (much love for him, though!)

Here's the fall quarterly challenge I'm coming in a bit late to, but I've read a few books that fit the categories. The rest are books I already own that I'm able to fit into the parameters. Reading challenges can help motivate those of us with a teetering stack of books waiting to be read!

Fall Quarter YA Reading Challenge

Duration: September 1, 2011 - November 30, 2011. We are a YA Book Club, so all books should be young adult. You have 3 months to read 10 YA books that satisfy following requirements:
1) In honor of Banned Books Week held during the week of September 24 - October 1, 2011, read a book which was banned or challenged.
Living Dead Girl - Elizabeth Scott (also the October book club pick! I just met this author and she confirmed the book has absolutely been challenged by schools and libraries - it's a pretty intense first person account of abduction).

2) Read a book that is a new release published in September, October or November of this year.
I'll read one of my ARCs, either Legend - Marie Lu (11/2011) or Darkfall - Janice Hardy (10/2011)

3) Read a book set in fall or takes place during a school year or in school.
Either Looking for Alaska - John Green or Moonglass - Jessi Kirby (read earlier in September)

4) Read a book which has a name in its title.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - Michelle Hodkin

5) Read a book that earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews or any other professional publication.
Either Legend - Marie Lu or The Last Days - Scott Westerfeld

6) Read a book which touches upon the subject of teen sexuality, whatever aspect of it you are comfortable with (or not) - pregnancy, virginity, homosexuality, etc.
Love Drugged - James Klise

7) Read a book which is a mystery, thriller, horror or has a crime at its center.
Already Read: Red Glove - Holly Black

8) Read a book which has an artistic teen as its main character - painter, musician, writer, dancer, singer, etc.
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone - Stephanie Kuenhert (or And Then Things Fall Apart - Arlaina Tibensky, read earlier in Sept)

9) Read a book that you are interested in only because of its cover - pretty, disturbing or just plain catchy.
Already Read: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

10) Read a book written by a duo (or a group) of authors, It can also be an author/illustrator collaboration. Or, of you can't find one, a book with multiple POVs.
Not sure on this one yet!

Have you ever partipated in a reading challenge for school, a book club or online? It's really fun! I had never heard of the Kirkus starred reviews and already found another book to add to my list! Next year, though...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Anderson's Books Young Adult Literature Conference 9/24/2011

I feel like a legit book blogger because I now have ARCs!
(ARC = Advanced Reader Copy)

Check out  my loot from Saturday's YA Lit conference:

The bottom three are ARCs for Janice Hardy's Darkfall, Jennifer Hubbard's Try Not to Breathe, and Marie Lu's Legend, which I hear is awesome.

The rest of the books I bought myself. The middle book is The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, which comes out Tuesday 9/27/11. Then Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, which Goodread's YA Book Club is reading in October. I also bought Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman who writes topical YA contemporary but is actually no so serious in person! Lastly, I found Let it Be by Colin Meloy which is a memoir about how 1980s band The Replacements influenced him.

At the conference, anyone I came into conversation with asked, "So, are you representing middle school or high school?" This lit conference is mainly attended by librarians and educators. My answer was, "Neither, I'm a writer." One woman asked, "Which books are yours?" I should have pointed to something on the sale table, but instead I told her I'm unpublished and a fan of YA.

Sharon Draper was the last keynote speaker. She shared hilarious letters from her young fans. It felt great to be around so many people geeked about books and writing.

What books are on your To-Read list?

Book Review: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

Title: Moonglass
Author: Jessi Kirby
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

Moonglass is an example of an excellent stand-alone contemporary young adult novel. On the surface, it seems like another budding romance story about a teenager trying to find herself. What makes Moonglass special is the subtle and unexpected turns the story takes.

Anna's mother passed away when she was 7, and she and her dad have a comfortable but not very intimate relationship. I immediately envisoned her father as a lifeguard version of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. The two move further south on the California coast when her father accepts a position managing a beach and a bunch of lifeguards. Their cottage sits directly on the beach, which sounds fabulous. Anna befriends the lifeguards, who her father pre-warned to stay away from his daughter. There's a little rebellious side to Anna, and it's nice to see this balanced with her rather responsible life. Anna learns this beach was where her father and mother first met, and more of the story of what happened to her mother unfolds as she questions the life her mother led there.

The story progresses over the last few days of summer into Anna's first sememster at her new high school. She makes an unlikely friend who could have been a one-note L.A. socialite, but turns out to demonstrate great friendship and dedication to Anna as she sorts through another stage of grief at losing her mother.

I loved how this story felt immediately engaging. I could easily envision the beach, the cottages and all the characters. It felt like a familiar story, but not at all cliche. Anna's reflection on losing her mother is moving without feeling overly heavy for the rest of the story. This is the author's debut novel - what an amazing job!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Best Advice

The best advice isn't always immediately realized. Sometimes little snippets stick with you and lurk in the back of your mind. It can take time for good advice to float to the top while the rest sinks down to some murky pit in the bottom of the ocean.

The Best Writing Advice

1. Read

I've always been a reader, but since I started writing, I've read double the number of books I usually do in six months. My reading is focused. I'm looking for specific types of stories and subjects. I pay attention to what I like in books, like main characters with flaws, a story that takes the unexpected path rather than being completely predictable, and fun dialogue. I love stories that make me forget about the writing so I can completely dissolve into the lives of the characters.

2. Read widely

If you're a writer, it's important to read in the genre you write, but there's value in reading outside it. I need to read YA to see the trends (plus, I like it!) But picking up a book that's completely different, like for me a contemporary romance, has showed me how good writing and engaging stories transcend genre. Even non-fiction can be inspiring.

3. Listen to stories

I'm a fan of audio books. I wouldn't read nearly as many books if I didn't use my commute time during the week to listen to stories. Hearing a book read is a different experience than reading on the page. The best case scenario is a great narrator who adds an additional element to the story, bringing it to life. Worst case, the narrator's accent or speech pattern is disruptive, or it highlights weak writing. It's almost easier to tell "bad" writing in an audio book because you hear it said and can't skim over the words.

4. Life is too short to wear ugly shoes

OK, this has nothing to do with writing. It may sound shallow, but think about the larger scope. Why would anyone want to wear ugly shoes? Probably because they are comfortable, and people love their comfort. A few years ago at my desk at work I looked down at my sensible loafers and realized they were atrocious. Scuffed and dirty, they were probably the most boring shoe on the planet. That night I threw them away and vowed to only wear shoes I wasn't ashamed to be seen in. I wear a lot of low heels which are just as comfortable as the nasty loafers. Dressing well makes me feel put together and confident. And while it might be a stretch to say this, writer's often lack confidence, and anything creating more confidence has to be a winning move!

What's the best advice you've been given?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Title: Small Town Sinners
Author: Melissa Walker
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

It's difficult to have expectations of a book, because when they're not met, it may not be a matter of the quality of the book but more of personal hang-ups. The premise of Small Town Sinners immediately caught my interest after reading a blog review (plus the cover is great). Lacey, a teen raised in small town Christian evangelical culture, begins to examine her faith when a former schoolmate moves back to town and questions her involvment in the church's Hell House, a haunted house with realistic "sin" situations acted out by a teen cast. For weeks, the two have long coversations in their favorite park about God, faith, religion and family. These questions are important and I'm glad there's a YA book exploring these themes.

Hell Houses are real, there's even a documentary by the same name. The film takes a rather uneven look at the southern evangelical culture that supports scare tactics as a means of reaching out to the unchurched. While it gives a glimpse into this subculture, it veers into strange tangents the longer you watch. A YA story with a Hell House backdrop is enticing, and I appreciated the examination of faith in an open way rather than demonizing one set of beliefs. I see enough of that on TV/online from American political parties.

Overall, I wanted an edgier voice, an angrier Lacey, but those are my expectations which may be unfair to hang on someone else's book. Lacey is a good girl trying to do the right thing, and I know plenty of similar girls from my life in the church. In that respect, it's realistic. I respect the author for taking on this topic in a book that isn't Christian market, but also does not intentionally slam those who profess Christian faith. I see this appealing to younger teens who've grown up in evangelical culture. This is an approachable book that is probably a good first step at examining issues of faith for those who never have.