Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: A Northern Light
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Published: 2004

A Northern Light is a beautifully written, stirring historical novel about the eldest girl in a family surviving the loss of their mother in 1906 Maine. The daily hardships are described in vivid, poetic detail. I don't envy anyone living in that era, especially young women. Mattie fights to stay in school, knowing education is her key to moving on from the woods of Maine, but her younger siblings need her and her father's demands for running the farm start to squelch her dreams of becoming a writer.

The story is told in a rather strange way; there are two concurrent stories, both with Mattie as the lead character. One takes place during the summer as she works at an inn for tourists, earning wages serving tables and cleaning linens. The body of a drowned woman is found in the lake by the inn, and Mattie recalls her brief conversation with the woman prior to her death, and struggles with what to do about the stack of letters the woman instructs Mattie to burn for her. This piece intertwines with life from the preceeding spring leading up to the summer at the inn and the investigation of the body. I listened to the story as an audiobook, so that may have led to a little of the confusion on my part as it took a minute to grasp the timeframe of each section.

Donnelly's writing reminded me at times of Barbara Kingsolver; the prose is beautiful, intelligent and well- crafted. Kingsolver has a way of describing setting that becomes integral to a story, and that's what I found in A Northern Light. Some aspects of the story were truly heartbreaking, and the whole time I kept hoping Mattie would find her way to her dreams.

If you like historical fiction and stories about families overcoming hardships, this is a great book. It won a Printz award and is noted on a lot of book lists. The storyline about the drowned woman is based on a true story, which is detailed in a note by the author at the end of the book. Well worth the read. Actor Hope Davis narrates the audiobook and she is phenomenal. I would listen to any audiobook she reads, regardless of genre!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Anderson's Books Young Adult Literature Conference (Illinois) Sept. 24, 2011

I'm always plugging the wonderful Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL. Their 8th annual Young Adult Literature Conference is coming up on September 24, 2011 at Hotel Arista in Naperville (a gorgeous ecologically-minded structure off of I-88 in the western Chicago suburbs).

Here's the deets:

Other featured authors include Ilsa Blick, Franny Billingslly, Jeanine Cummins, Julie Halpern, Jeff Hirsch, Michelle Hodkin, James Kennedy, Sarah  Darer Littman, Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis, Elizabeth Miles, Elizabeth Scott, Kristina Springer and Bill Willingham. 

While I'm only familiar with a few authors here (including Colin Meloy of the band The Decemberists* who just wrote a children's book), I'm looking forward to the breakout sessions and meeting new people. I am not going to be shy so I can make some new friends in the children's lit community! I really can't pass this up since it's close to home and Anderson's does so well hosting events.

If you're near-ish to the Chicago area, consider attending! Find more information about registering here

*The Onion AV Club has a project where bands come to their offices and choose from a list of pre-selected song covers. Watch The Decemberists cover '80s/'90s alternative giants Sugar here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Links Roundup!

Here are a few articles I found noteworthy from the past few weeks:


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chicago's ComicCon: Wizard World

I attended my first ComicCon on August 13 in the northern suburbs of Chicago. My husband bravely endured his loathing of crowds to see the nerd culture spectacle with his very grateful wife. (I should mention the the event was so packed it took us longer to turn into the convention center than it did to drive there).

You may already know, but comic conventions are increasingly more about pop culture stuff which appeal to comic-loving crowds rather than an event solely to buy and trade comics. San Diego's ComicCon features every buzzed about TV show and scoops movies like Cowboys & Aliens and Super8 a year in advance. Most of my entertainment choices fall into these categories, so it's really cool to see celebrities from shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer get such rabid fan recognition.

Here's James Marsters, Spike from the Buffy & Angel series:

I snapped a few pics before my husband chastised me for being sneaky; some actors have paid photo ops if you want to pose with them (and wait in hours-long lines). I wasn't really interested in that, I wanted to capture the ambiance! But, I didn't want to be tacky so I refrained after that. Thus, no pic of the incredible Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek, X-Men, and most noteworthy to me, an episode of Ricky Gervais' wickedly funny Extras).

Of course there were storm troopers and Jedis:

I thought frantically about costume options the night before (I have a Princess Leia wig) but realized 24 hours time does not result in an awesome costume. My husband and I just dressed like we usually do and enjoyed the spectacle.

But next year.

For my writerly angle, I attended Felicia Day's panel, whose main gig is writing and starring in the web series The Guild, hilarious shorts about online gamers who end up meeting in real life. The show makes a ton of gaming and nerd culture references, but overall the stories tap into the weirdness of relationships and everyday pitfalls like dating. Next to her is Vork from the series, who apparently co-writes some of the episodes.

I respect Felicia because she made this webseries from the ground up out of her love of online gaming and the desire to do something creative. She's the ultimate fan-girl turned celebrity. You can see how cool she is just by her fan interactions. Felicia acted in the last season of Buffy, and starred in producer Joss Whedon's online project Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog which also starred Neil Patrick Harris and that mildly famous Castle actor Nathan Fillion.

I didn't get a picture, but the cast of Boondock Saints, a movie I did not enjoy but my husband loves, reunited at Chicago ComicCon. One of those actors is Sean Patrick Flanery from a short-lived '90s show called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Even though George Lucas produced this show, practically no one I know remembers it! I loved it and was sad it was cancelled. Seeing the actor appeased a little slice of adolescence for me.

I was impressed to see all the artists represented at the con. We bought a book from an independent artist of the most adorably freakish monsters. Some great art is represented, and a few authors were there, too. Someday, maybe I'll have a booth in a crowded aisle of a convention...

Have you been to a convention like this? Are you freaked out by grown men and women dressed as characters from video games and movies you've forgotten existed? Or are you marking the next event on your calendar? Do share!

*Note: all photos taken by me personally at Wizard World 2011.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Title: Paranormalcy
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy, Humor
Published: 2010

Paranormalcy is a fast, fun read about an orphaned girl named Evie who works for an agency that classifies and controls paranormal creatures. Evie's gift is her ability to identify the true nature of paranormals, which she doesn't think is much of a gift, but so far in life, it has provided her with a purpose and a place to stay at one of the headquarters for paranormal containment which she calls the Center, where she is looked over by a guardian and a tutor.

I've been itching to find a book like this. It's not easy to find a YA paranormal plot that doesn't take itself too seriously. Evie's best friend is a mermaid in a tank who talks to her via computer voice through a communication device. Every time the mermaid swears (which is often) it results in a bleep. Evie's weapon of choice for taking in rogue paranormals is a pink taser nicknamed Tasey. She knows her life is weird and  longs for the normalcy of high school with her own locker, like she sees on her favorite teen drama Easton Heights. But she isn't a tortured herione. Sure there's a lot she doesn't know yet, like why the faery Reth is so interested in her decisions, and why her tutors at the Center aren't willing to share information about her past. She's not helpless, and her narrative is realistic and seems like an actual teenager, alternating between big responsibilities and boredom.

When an unusual paranormal is picked up who can shift into the appearance of anyone, instead of staying away from his holding cell like she is warned, Evie befriends him since he's her age and someone new to talk to. Through their discussions she discovers the Center's teachings might not be the only way to view the existence of paranormals, specifically the need to control them.

There's a lot of action and plot development to keep momentum. The end sets up for another book, with a pretty good foundation where the stakes actually mean something. A clever, fun read.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse series)

Title: Dead Reckoning
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Paramormal, series
Published: 2011
I started reading this series a few years ago, about a year before the stories were turned into the HBO TV show True Blood. The show is definitely a different beast;  very graphic and a little campy, while the books balance the dark & sexy supernatural world with more subtlty and introspection. Well, maybe not subtle. But having one POV from Sookie helps anchor the books.
While I love the series, books #10 (Dead in the Family) and #11 (Dead Reckoning) pale in comparison to the early books. Lots of new characters and fast-paced story lines are what make the Sookie books a cut above a lot of series that drag out romance between the same two people for a dozen volumes. But we've seemed to have reached critical mass by Dead in the Family, and now the books simply check in with myriad pockets of characters, some who are mentioned in a mere sentence (like the were-panthers of Hot Shot) who have no bearing on this story anyway. It makes the plot feel muddled when all the characters have to be revisited for no legitimate reason. For example, Alcide shows up later in Dead Reckoning, and you wonder if he's there simply because he's a current fixture on True Blood. He adds nothing to the story.

I still appreciate how the Sookie of the books is more introspective than what is seen in the TV show. We get a little more of Sookie's thought process and her view on the varying sects of the supernatural world.  It's no secret Sookie's had a lot going on in her love life. After this book, I don't know what's going on, and it's clear our main character doesn't either! It's like all the filler confused little old Sookie to the point that she's just relaying information and hardly participating in her own story. Maybe that's why it feels like Dead Reckoning is mirroring the TV series more than acting as a stand-alone work. I hope the series finds its way back to the Sookie we love with less crowding by characters who had their moment in past books.
Don't get me started on Eric.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do you know about WriteOnCon?

It's almost here! I don't even work for them and I'm that excited. WriteOnCon is a free online writing conference going on next week August 16-18. If the concept of an online conference seems puzzling, read on!

The organizers behind the event are motivated authors who already do a great job with their own blogs. There are some great agents and editors who have pre-recorded video material and have written articles about the craft of writing and the publishing industry. Most of the daytime events consist of newly posted material to be viewed at your convenience. The evenings involve hosted chats based on the daily content. It's a go-at-your-own-pace kind of thing, and you have access to many of the same resources you'd find at an in-person conference.

Did I mention it's free?

This post answers all the general questions like how to register, how the forum & chat events work, and anything you can get ready ahead of time, like your query letter or a short pitch, for those of you ready for that kind of thing.

I've participated in a few of the monthly chat events through the WriteOnCon website and found it helpful and informative. I took notes! One live chat featured a YA agent and a couple editors, and another chat involved 3 YA authors, including Maggie Stiefvater. Chat participants can submit questions to the moderator, who then facilitates the question & flow of the chat. Everything typed by the moderator and featured guests shows up on the chat screen so anyone logged in can view it (but it's not all mucked up by everyone typing random things, which is nice).

Hopefully this conference can be a resource if you're looking to expand your writing skills or you're working toward publication. To see what you can expect, here's an archive of posted material from the 2010 event.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blogging Bloggle Blogglestats!

Thank you to the lovely Rachel Brooks for choosing me for The Liebster Blog Award, which is given to blogs with fewer than 200 followers. I'm thrilled to see I now have 50! Thanks, everyone for following. Blogging awards are a creative way to share which blogs we enjoy reading and to get a little more publicity for them. 

I admit I'm curious about the origins of the Liebster Blog award. I'm going to venture it was started by someone with the last name Liebster, but maybe his or her first name is Lieb and Liebster is a fabulous nickname. I think it would make a great name for a character in a middle grade novel: Liebster McGibbens and the Great Labrador Sleuth (you know, a kid and his dog detective). 

Anyway, I'm passing the Liebster forward to these 5 bloggers:
  1. Read my books; Lose ten pounds - Aurora Smith
  2. Young Adult Fantasy Fiction - Amy Jones
  3. Writer Ropes and  Hopes - Liesl
  4. The Fake Steph Dot Com
  5. That Cover Girl (unconfirmed # of followers - but I love the blog!)

I hope you all continue to pass on the love. Here are the guidelines:

  1.  Thank the person who gave you this award and link back to them.
  2.  Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3.  Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  4.  Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
  5.  And best of all - have blogging fun!

Free e-book through August: Her Wiccan, Wiccan Ways by Traci Hall

This is the last day of my 4-day weekend and I'm chaining myself to the laptop to get some writing done. It didn't help that my quick trip to the library resulted in 3 more books checked out. Trying to avoid distraction, and I promise I will log off Blogger as soon as this is posted!

I wanted to pass this on: For the month of August, the Young Adult book Her Wiccan Wiccan Ways by Traci Hall is available for free download ( for Nook or for Kindle).  Thanks to the Beyond Her Book blog on Publisher's Weekly for the link!

The Amazon reviews are positive, although most commenters remarked how they don't ususally read YA. I've read through the first chapter, and the interesting angle is not only does the teenage girl have psychic abilities, but so does her mom, and she was raised as a Wiccan. A lot of YA paranormal seems to have the protagonist just finding out about special powers and she is alone in it. So, 14-year-old Riannon is moving to a new town with her family, and the house is so old she's convinced it's haunted. The tone is light, and although the theme of girl + special abilities + move to new school is a bit cliche, it seems like it could be a fun read.

If you're looking for a free YA e-book, this might be worth checking out!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pitch this Novel!

A blog I follow called The Gilded Page wrote this week about crafting a one sentence pitch. Like her (and her co-writer partner), I am nowhere near ready to query for publication, but I've found it helpful to practice writing a short pitch for my work-in-progress.

This older post from ├╝ber-blogger Nathan Bransford (a former lit agent and author of a middle grade adventure book - if you aren't following his blog already you should!) shows how to craft a one sentence pitch.

I love the framework he suggests:
It doesn't have to be exactly like this, but the basic elements of the conflict and the quest to overcome it should be there. I played around with my pitch for a bit and found that instead of focusing on the theme of the story, which ends up sounding really generic when it's pared down to one sentence, getting into the core conflict shows what drives the story.

So, here's a go at a pitch for my WIP, a YA supernatural mystery:
When a girl's unexpected resurrection prevents her soul from crossing over to the afterlife, a long-dead teenage investigator must travel to the living world to bring her back.
This sort of works, not sure yet. There's obviously more that happens, and a reason why she has to get "back" to the afterlife, but more explanation weighs down a pitch. It's really hard to edit down because you have to say enough without overloading with detail.

Have any of you had success with a short pitch? Did it help as you continued to write or edit your unfinished work? If you are brave enough to share your own, please do!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Title: Abandon
Author: Meg Cabot
Genre: YA Paranormal, Humor
Published: 2011

Meg Cabot knows how to write a sarcastic, DIY girl. It's kind of her M-O. In Abandon she crafts another character mucking up all kinds of trouble with a send-up of Persephone, the greek myth about the daughter of Zeus who is taken to the underworld by her uncle Hades. So imagine this with a twist: it's a girl named Pierce in a high school set on a Key West-like island, and instead of her uncle taking her to the underworld, it's a hot guy (of course).

It mostly works, although Abandon has a rather unusal format of storytelling by moving back and forth through stages of the story. This may not be an issue if you read the book in a few sittings, but could prove challenging if you're the type to read more than one book at a time. I found myself constantly turning back several pages to refresh my mind with what happened last. Even present scenes have a way of doubling back on themselves with chatty narrative that at times seem all over the place.

As for the story, we see Pierce reflecting back to age 7 at her grandfather's funeral, where she first meets with a mysterious man named John who revives a dead bird at her request. The story flashes forward to current day, where Pierce has been kicked out of her school for an incident with a teacher, her parents are recently divorced, and she moves with her mom to Florida to start again among her mother's family. Another flashback leads to 2 years prior, when Pierce drowns, dies briefly (she is later revived) and finds herself in the underworld. She recognizes the man who healed the bird, only now she sees he is in charge of this place. She escapes, taking a charmed-type of necklace with her. Pierce is unraveling the mystery of who the man in the underworld is, why chaos seems to break out around her, and if the necklace is meant for protection or something more.

If you like Meg Cabot's writing style, you'll probably enjoy this. It's not my favorite of hers, but I did appreciate a lot of the one-liners and character backstory (she's always inventive with those aspects). If you're looking for something a little different in terms of a linear story, and enjoy a twist on an old myth, I would recommend it.