Thursday, December 20, 2012

Romance Fiction Has Come a Long Way

Photo: Public Domain via
The sultry duke ravishes the chaste duchess. 
The sexy pirate wins over the fair maiden in distress.

I used to think this encompassed the romance genre.

How wrong I was!

It took attending a Romance Writers of America conference for me to see how varied the romance genre is, and that *gasp* I read romance and didn't even realize it! A lot of books I read have romantic elements; any book that features a romantic relationship can technically work as a romance, although romance as a genre involves a happy ending.

Still, this could be romantic suspense, romantic comedy, paranormal romance, or romance in Young Adult ...  the list goes on and on!

NPR posted an article this week called: Don't Hide Your Harlequins: In Defense of Romance. The title says it all: why are we ashamed to admit we read romance? So much variety exists, with lots of contemporary and paranormal romance that push the boundaries. The covers have come a long way too. This article references two really great contemporary romance writers: Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jennifer Crusie. Their books feature flawed characters who defy stereotypes. Plus, their books are funny. They've changed the way I view romance fiction.

Do you have a favorite romance author? Have you been known to downplay reading a romance when someone asks what you're reading?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Pushing the Limits
Katie McGarry
YA Contemporary
Published: July 2012

image: Goodreads
I'm pretty sure this is the first book I've read under Harlequin Teen. Since I joined Romance Writers of America earlier this year, I've paid more attention to the romance genre and wanted to see how Harlequin worked the YA angle. In YA, romance is usually not the primary focus like it might be in many adult niche markets of romance, but it is a driving factor in the plot.

Pushing the Limits involves Echo, a traumatized teen who just made her return to school after time off from an incident with her mother that involved the courts and a restraining order. Since Echo has repressed the memory of "the incident," all she has left are severe scars on her arms. She's deemed a freak, even by herself. A new school counselor challenges Echo to safely explore her repressed memories to work through the trauma. At this same time, she meets bad-boy Noah, a foster kid who's also working through his issues with the school counselor. Echo is assigned as Noah's tutor, and they clash from the start. But Noah's not afraid of Echo's scars or her past, and it changes his perspective of her.

Comparison's to Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry series are inevitable; Echo is popular but flawed, just like Brittany, and Noah is the bad boy with a past, much like Alex, and the two are even paired together in a science class. Check out the cover comparison. And I have to say, Perfect Chemistry's Alex Fuentes is pretty hard to beat. He's such a great YA character that felt real to me the whole time. Noah was like Alex on the surface but lacked some of the charm, and some of his internal thoughts seemed too mature or he spoke stilted dialogue which didn't match what I expected from a kid like him.

However, the strengths of Pushing the Limits is the foster care and therapy angle, which is why I continued reading. I was glad to see a positive social worker in the mix, even if some of the foster care stuff bordered on melodrama (abuse and neglect in the foster homes, a few cliches). Echo is easy to sympathize with, and I definitely rooted for her to find confidence again after uncovering what happened with her mother. It was heartbreaking at times to see her devotion to a mother who abused her, even if the reason was mental illness.  Sadder still was her father and his new wife who wanted to protect her with structure and pretending like life was normal.

This is an edgy romance that I see as appealing for fans of Simone Elkeles.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guest Post: What To Do Before Revising a NaNoWriMo Novel

I'm super excited to host Angela Ackerman, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus! I used her reference book to create varied character reactions while writing my NaNoWriMo draft last month. Here, she shares strategies on how to take that draft and prepare for revision. 

Beauty or The Beast: What To Do Before Revising A Nano Novel

The month of November is a bit of a sugar high, isn’t it? There’s Nanowrimo, and the stream of words fueled by coffee, old Halloween candy, Kraft Dinner and not enough sleep. The Muse is fired up, leading us down the Yellow Brick Road and we follow at full throttle, writing whatever craziness comes to mind. Then there’s the ultimate high: achieving the 50K! Writing The End. There’s fireworks. Tears. Maybe cupcakes and bacon. Huzzah! We are MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

And then comes that not-so-delightful...December...crash. We have a novel. It is a mess. We feel like we’ve just woken up to a strange noise in the dead of night, sure a Stephen King-esque monster is under the bed.  We play online Scrabble and wish people Happy Birthday on Facebook rather than edge the mouse toward the ‘open file’ button.

For some, writing the novel is enough. For others, like the authors of Forest Of Hands And Teeth; Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, Water For Elephants and Wool, the journey does not end, and the hardest part begins.

Life After Nano: Moving Forward

Because Nanowrimo focuses on the creative process rather than slow and steady technique, I think writers need to approach rewrites differently than with something written over the course of a few months or half a year. Here’s some food for thought!

Take Advantage Of The Process

One great thing about Nano is that we’ve written it so fast, the character’s journey is fresh in our mind from first page to last. Take this opportunity to make some notes to yourself and ask these three questions:

1) What plot twists/ideas/story elements did I love best?

2) What parts of the book am I pretty sure need to change?

3) What ideas have sprung to mind since finishing that I might want to go back and incorporate?

While the story is fresh, you’ll want to capture these answers. If you don’t get this down, you may forget the good ideas that writing the story generated. Maybe you had a brainwave for an earlier scene but didn’t want to lose the flow, so you promised yourself you’d add it during revisions. Or perhaps over the course of the book, you realized the logic didn’t work somewhere and it would require retooling. Are there plot holes? Events that need foreshadowing? Make copious notes-everything that comes to mind.

Finally, answer one more question:

4) What worked and what didn’t with each character?

If you’re anything like me, you get to know your characters as you write. They evolve, too. Make notes on each--things you really like and things you need to develop. Who still needs fleshing out? Who needs motivation for things they do (or don’t) do? Who developed a quirk partway in which needs to be added right from the start?

Let Your Novel Sleep

All writers know the power of time. For some, hearing that they should shelve this book for awhile is music, while others want to rip into it right away to see how bloody the waters will get. Resist the urge to read your Nano right after writing it. Give it time to settle. Let your notes about the book steep. Wait two 
weeks to a month, whichever feels right to you.

Pull That Sucker Out Of The Closet

It’s time to find the Beauty in your Supposed Beast. Set aside time to read your novel and try to do it within a short period. You want to be able to view the book as a whole, not as parts.
But before you start, tell yourself two things:

First drafts are never as bad as writers think they will be.

I will read this as a reader, not as a writer.

Do not make corrections. Do not fix typos. Read your novel for the story and characters. Appreciate the journey that your creative brain sent you on and don’t let your Internal Editor interfere. If he starts to rant at you, shove him in a room full of virtual clowns. :)

After you’ve read your manuscript, bask in ALL THE GOOD THINGS. There are pearls, rubies, diamonds, even! Then, pull out those notes you made. Go through them and challenge your initial thoughts and beliefs. Do you still believe X is a plot hole? That Character Y needs to be cut from the manuscript? 

Does Z subplot still make sense?

Add To Your Notes

Delete what you no longer agree with, and add new ideas to what you want to develop. Think about bigger problems you noticed, and mull over how you might fix them.

Finally, sit back and reread what you’ve written, because these notes are your pathway to revisionYou now have a place to start, the big issues lined out. Choose what you want to focus on first. Maybe like me, you want to fix all the typos before you dig in. Or you want to finalize the bones of the plot, or develop your lead character. Maybe you decide to see how your novel stands up to a Save The Cat Beat Sheet. Whatever you choose, come back to these notes for ideas and inspiration and remember how many published books out there started just like yours...a simple Nano challenge!

Angela Ackerman is a Canadian who writes on the darker side of middle grade and young adult and blogs at the award winning resource, The Bookshelf Muse She is also a co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, a writer's guide to help navigate the challenging terrain of showing character emotion. This brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each. Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: How Many Books Do You Read in a Year?

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. 

This week's topic
About how many books do you read in a year? Do you want to read more? Or, less?

I used to read anywhere from 10 to 20 books a year. Maybe 25 or 30 once I added audio books to my commute to work. As I finished, I wrote them as a list in a journal. The past few years I've tracked my reading solely through Goodreads.

About six or seven years ago, I saw some posts on a message forum where people tracked their books, and they read between 50-100 books a year. I used to think reading 50 books a year was impossible! Since I started writing a few years back, I've doubled the amount of books I read in a year. I've made a commitment to reading reading more, and I make sure to take a book with me everywhere; I usually have a print book, ebook, and audio book going at all times. This year I adjusted my goal to 70 books. I'm about six shy, but I'm working through two books now and have a few more I'd like to finish. The more I read and the more writing I do, the more books I discover. Thanks to all the blogs I read, I will never be at a loss of what to read next.

How about you? How many books do you read in a year? Do you track them?

Also: Stay tuned to my blog tomorrow for a special guest post by Angela Ackerman, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus, a really cool resource for writers.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

If I Lie
Corrine Jackson
YA Contemporary
Published: August 2012

Image: Goodreads
If I Lie is deep, personal, and heartbreaking. From the start, we know a great injustice has occurred, and it's all the fault of our main character Quinn. It's a mark of a good writer to evoke sympathy from a protagonist who has right away made a painful mistake. Quinn's boyfriend Carey is missing in action in Afghanistan, and while he was away, she became involved with his best friend. Her military-devoted small town makes Quinn out to be as despised as a war criminal.

But the truth is more complicated. Not everyone knows that Quinn and Carey broke up before he left for his most recent tour. She can't tell anyone that because she promised Carey she wouldn't. Quinn suffers the wrath of the town, her father, and her classmates out of respect for Carey and to protect him from revealing even deeper secrets.

The writing here is stellar. I hurt for Quinn, and wanted so much for things to work out for she and her family. The other piece of the story relates to Quinn's abandonment by her mother, and her struggle with her strict, detached father who believes Quinn's betrayal of Carey is turning her into a next-gen version of his ex-wife who left him. As punishment for her sins, her father makes Quinn volunteer at the local veteran's hospital, where she connects with a former photo journalist working on a project to document veteran's experiences. I loved how three generations of the military were woven into the story: Carey currently enlisted, her father's hardened career-military ways, and the man in the VA care center. This story shows how the people at home deal with the realities of military service.

I highly recommend this if you like introspective YA contemporary. This is a debut author for 2012 and one of my favorite reads of the year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Catching Up

I've been a bit MIA on the blog lately. Here's what I've been up to:

National Novel Writing Month
I finished at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 30th but didn't validate in time on the website, so I kind of messed that up. They're working on fixing it on the forums. So, I have 50k toward an untitled YA contemporary with a psychological suspense bent--strange where stories lead! It veered a little darker than I expected. Now I have a draft to work with when I'm ready to tackle revisions, maybe later this month.

Blog Contests
Today, the  Miss Snark blog hosted the agent bidding for the annual Baker's Dozen pitch contest. I walked away with a requested full manuscript from a really great agent! The entries were strong, and at least 18 out of 60 received full requests by agents, and lots of others landed requested pages. I can't recommend contests enough--they're a great opportunity to get feedback from other writers, agents and editors. I'll be working frantically this week on some edits before submitting my MS again to the winning agent. Worst case scenario: I receive more valuable feedback on how to improve my writing.

Not to mention, all the fun on twitter surrounding different writing opportunities, like Pitch Wars, which is a super cool idea to partner with established writers to polish pitches and opening pages. I'm not participating directly, but I've made connections with potential critique partners through the lively twitter chats (#pitchwars).

I have a few new book reviews to post soon!

TV Binge
I watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey the day after Thanksgiving when my mom visited. It's only 7 episodes, but it was enough to get she and I demanding Netflix get season 2 right away!

Well, sometimes it's nice to do something totally different. Borderlands 2, Dishonored, and Halo 4 were all released this fall. We actually upgraded our Xbox storage from a measly 4G to 200G to accomodate all the mayhem. I swear I'm not a hoarder, but I was really sad to lose my 200+ hours saved game of Fallout 3 to make room for other saved games, no now that's no longer an issue. OK, that sounds like hoarding...

Guest Post Coming Soon!
I have a really great guest author lined up for this month to share editing tips. Stay tuned!

What have you been up to for the past month?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fun

Look what I found in a box of junk my mom dropped off at Thanksgiving. It's a response to a fan letter I wrote to Ann M. Martin, author of The Babysitter's Club books. The letter's date is 1992.

Sure, it's just a form letter, but isn't it kind of cool that authors write back? Nowadays things are so easier--you can just post on an author's blog or follow them on twitter. But back then, a letter was so meaningful!

Hopefully, I can bust through the remaining word count I need to finish NaNoWriMo. Even if I don't, I have a great start on a new story. Happy Friday, everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2012

NaNoWriMo Check In!

If you're taking part in National Novel Writing Month, we're at the halfway mark! Ideally, you should have about 25,000 words in your project. I'm right over that point and I'll need to do some serious writing this weekend to keep ahead since I'll lose some writing time over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nano Complications
So, I've had these nagging thoughts that I might not have enough story to reach 50k. Techinically I do because I (thankfully) wrote out major plot points ahead of time. But since I'd purposely focused on writing shorter chapters, I'm wondering if the pacing is too quick at the start. Here's where the fast and furious pace of Nano is a drawback. All the advice says, whatever you do, DON'T GO BACK! It's all about churning out wordcount and making it to the end.

Yesterday, I did the dreaded Go Back. I reviewed the first few chapters and added more detail, thinking this would add to my day's wordcount. A good strategy, no? Only, it's really really tough not to edit while those extra details are added in. If I'd used that time to write totally new scenes, I probably would have turned out twice the word count. The real question is, would it be quality? Or would it just be cut later?

So, is your goal just to get 50k words by the end of November, or do you want quality material you can work with and edit?

What is your Nano strategy? What have you tried--and possibly failed at--and what works for you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian

The List
Siobhan Vivian
YA Contemporary
Published: April 2012

Image: Goodreads
The premise immediately caught my eye: every year, a list is posted at Mount Washington High featuring the prettiest and ugliest girl of each class. No one knows who creates the list, but everyone expects it, and it changes each girl for the rest of their high school existence. The concept was based on a real life incident that the author read about in a news article. She wanted to explore why girls are so cruel to each other and what those affects might look like.

The book follows all eight girls--the ugliest and prettiest for each of the four grade levels. You might assume being named prettiest isn't all that bad, but the story shows how each girl is affected and how it relates to their friends and families. The prettiest girls either don't feel pretty, or lose friends because of it. One girl is named ugliest for the fourth year in a row and determines to wear it like a badge of honor, even though she's hurting inside. A strength is that each girl has her own voice, and the chapters include a heading so you know who's story you're in for the moment. Given there are eight girls, it read a little different than if it were just about one girl dealing with the whole list. Some of them read a little cliche, and it probably came off that way since it's tough to get nuanced with eight main characters in one book. It's definitely a fascinating look at the dynamics of bullying and popularity, although I wish it had gone a bit deeper in some aspects.

The concept is engaging, and the format is different enough that I'd recommend this for teens, and definitely for those who work in schools or libraries. The cover is great and completely captures the book's essence. I read the author was involved in the photo shoot for the cover, which is really cool that they didn't just use stock photos.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Last night was the Get Real tour at Anderson's Books, with four YA authors: Miranda Kenneally, Laura and Lisa Roecker, and Janet Gurtler, who all write contemporary young adult fiction. I'm never sure what type of turnout these events will have. Last night, Anderson's was double-booked (nice pun, eh?) with one event in the bookstore and this one in the gift shop Two Doors East, which might have contributed to a smaller crowd.

I met Miranda, who read a partial of my manuscript a few months back (I mentioned this in yesterday's post). She introduced me to her editor, who's name I recognized from work judging RWA contests. Small world! Sourcebooks, the publisher for all of the above authors' books, is headquarted in Naperville so they had a bunch of people there. I love talking books and picking the brains of industry folk, so it was a great night.

On to my book review!

Stealing Parker
Miranda Kenneally
YA Contemporary
Published: Oct 2012

I loved Catching Jordan in the same way I loved watching Friday Night Lights; it's about football but not really about football. In fact, I was amazed to hear the author say last night that she knows nothing about football and consulted with friends and family for all the terminology. Who knew?

Stealing Parker is set in the same universe--Jordan makes a few appearances--but the story involves Parker and her love/hate relationship with softball (which the author confessed she knows a LOT about). Parker quits the team after her mother leaves their family--for another woman. The memories of her mom taking her to baseball games and practicing with her made it too painful to stay on the team. At the start of the book Parker is known as a flirt, a girl who's friends with all the guys, and not with too many girls, which we all know spells trouble (jealous girls, guys spreading rumors about her reputation). Parker gets talked into helping out with the boy's baseball team, which fuels the bad-girl rumors, especially when she starts flirting with the new assistant coach. He's straight out of college, and hot.

I was impressed by how the different issues were handled; Parker's feelings of betrayal by her mother, her frustration with a father who turns to church to solve his needs but is blind to the struggles she and her brother are facing, and the distrust among her girlfriends. Parker is relatable, just as Jordan was in the first book. This one takes on a more serious edge, which is fine, but it's not quite as fun a read as Catching Jordan. I really like the sports angle and the guys-as-besties themes in both her books. The pacing is pretty quick--sometimes I felt like certain issues and scenes were rushed. A lot happens in this book, so maybe that's why. I'd recommend it for fans of Catching Jordan.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kidlit Cares Hurricane Sandy Relief

Kidlit Cares is going on over at author Kate Messner's blog, where you can bid on donated auction items, like writing critiques, and the money is donated to the Red Cross for hurricane Sandy relief. What a cool idea! Read more about the cause here via Publisher's Weekly. To bid on an item--there will be another wave of bids opening next week, see Kate's blog here. I see some really great authors (Laure Halse Anderson! Veronica Roth!) and equally excellent agents offering services. Check it out if you were planning to donate to the Red Cross anyway.

Auctions are a cool way for writers to not only donate to charity, but to potentially win a service like a manuscript critique. I bid on a 30-page critique for Brenda Novak's diabetes research auction last spring. That auction is huge, and some of the items are fun stuff like ARCs, books, gift baskets and even some trips and writer's retreats. I won a critique from a YA author I was really excited about--Miranda Kenneally, who wrote Catching Jordan. I'd had other writers critique my story, but beyond the story mechanics, Miranda also had an eye for what the industry is looking for and how I could shape my story to make it marketable. I'm all about improving my writing, but I am pursuing publication, and that type of feedback is invaluable. She even took the time to chat with me on instant message and we exchanged several more emails.

And, I get to meet her tonight! She'll be at my local bookstore for the Get Real Contemps Tour. I'll post about that either tomorrow or Friday, along with a review of her new book Stealing Parker.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Novel Writing Month 2012!

NaNoWriMo begins today, November 1st! There's still time if you want to try your hand at writing 50,000 words toward a novel in one month. Here's a link to Nano's website.

I did National Novel Writing Month in 2010 and finished the 50,000 words. It showed me I had what it took to write a novel, I just needed to do some homework on things like plot and structure and character development. And Point of View and pretty much writing craft in general.

What's really cool about it is that people all over the world are going through the same writing challenge, and you can find lots of support (and distraction!) on the message forums. Regions have volunteer coordinators, so you might even find writers in your area who are participating. My local region is pretty active. After the fact, I found out they'd had a program the library branch right over by my house. I'm not sure if I'll meet up with anyone face-to-face but it's nice to chat on the local forums.

Over the past month, I've had the best intentions to map out an outline for my next writing project, complete with plot points and story arcs. Doesn't that sound lovely? I'm not sure that will ever work for me. Closest I may get is writing notes and some character outlines. I need to start writing before I can figure every detail of what's happening. Although, I'm reading Jeff Gerke's Plot versus Character now to help me bridge the gap between character and plot development.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Care to share any tips?

Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween From Nilbog

In honor of the holiday, let's take a look at a scary movie that gripped the nation twenty years ago. Well, it's not so much scary as totally ridiculous, and by gripped the nation I mean it was virtually ignored until it recently became a cult classic. I present:

Troll 2!

Troll 2 is technically not a sequel of the first Troll movie. Also, no actual trolls are in the film. But, there are goblins!

The movie follows an All-American family who for vacation, trades homes with another family. Apparently, lots of people do this, like Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in The Holiday. But the town of Nilbog is no vacation paradise. If only they'd deciphered the hidden clue in the town's name, they could have spared themselves! So, the family arrives to a creepily vacant town where half a dozen town folk stare at them or offer them food with green frosting. In the home they swap, a feast of green and green-frosted food awaits. Wait a second, something is not quite right about this green food...

Only Joshua seems to know something's up. Aided by the ghost of his grandpa, Joshua screams over and over for his family not to trust the townsfolk and not to eat anything green. They respond with things like, "Now Joshua, what do mean don't eat this, Joshua?" It is literally impossible to forget this kid's name because it is said every time someone talks to him. Joshua also frequently calls out for help from "Grandpa? Grandpa Seth!" As for Joshua's sister Holly, she should probably win something for worst actress of all time. You only need to see the beginning of the movie where she's pumping iron in her bedroom to grasp this. There's a truly awful dance scene too, but you have to make it pretty far in the movie to see it.

Add in a side plot about some teen boys chasing down Holly and getting captured and turned into trees, and you've got quite a thriller! Then there's this lady, who's not overacting at all:

What's brought this 1990 stinker of a movie to the mainstream was a documentary from a few years ago called Best Worst Movie, all about what some critics think is the worst movie ever made, but how fans of bad movies have come to love it. I wish I could tell you how great the documentary is, but I haven't seen it. See, a few weeks ago, I watched Troll 2 at a friend's house with the intention of following it up with Best Worst Movie. Only Netflix removed it from their instant streaming. 

Ok, so you're probably thinking, just rent the disc from Netflix, right? I would like to stress that I WATCHED ALL OF TROLL 2. THE WHOLE THING. You guys, it's really really bad. I mean, look at that lady watering the plant. She's the scary part. There's a scene where the town holds a party for the family, offering them green-frosted snacks, and the townies circle around them in a clapping hoe-down for like five straight minutes while Joshua screams for Grandpa Seth. My friends took a smoke break, came back inside and it was STILL HAPPENING. 

For the truly brave, I dare you... click on the YouTube link for the Troll 2 movie trailer. You will be frightened.
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
Published: 2012

image: Goodreads
This is probably my favorite book of 2012 so far. It's disturbing, hilarious, and it touches on so many current issues like the economy and the reality of modern American marriage. Even though I guessed parts of the mystery ahead of time, the frequent character reveals--can you trust either narrator?--still kept me guessing. 

On Amy and Nick's fifth wedding anniversary, after a tense morning together, Amy goes missing. Nick is suspect number one since he has a several-hour gap in his alibi where he supposedly sat on the beach. Nick is convinced someone kidnapped her, and he points the police to several shady people in Amy's past. The story is told from two perspectives: Nick, in present day, and Amy through diary entries recalling the past five years of their relationship. Both narrators reveal aspects of themselves that aren't entirely trustworthy; both have lied, both have secrets, and it's clear that this marriage was far from happy. 

What I loved about this book is the depth of character. The character's musings on life and marriage were so candid and real, it was almost too much to deal with at times. Especially regarding Amy's diary entries, you see a couple so intensely in love, who had so  much fun, it's heartbreaking to see the shape their marriage is in during the present. The writing here is just stellar. I also liked how Gillian Flynn's experience writing for Entertainment Weekly magazine is so integrated in the story; Nick is a former magazine writer who lost his job as everything has turned to the web. The couple move back to Nick's hometown in the midwest, and Nick feels guilty for taking Amy out of her elite NYC upbringing, since he can't provide the life Amy wants. Amy seems like she's trying real hard, but internally, she's miserable, lonely and suspects Nick no longer loves her. It's clear both were crazy about each other in the beginning, and glimpses of that devotion show through, even though both Nick and Amy are flawed and distrustful of each other. 

This is more of a psychological thriller, and a real page-turner. Every time I picked this up I stayed up far past my bedtime. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Book to Movie Translations

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?

I think a book with a very vivid sense of time and place makes for a great story. If a book is entirely character-driven, that can be harder to translate because the actor/actress chosen might not fully encompass the character like the book. These days, casting choices for films are posted practically the second they happen, and everyone has an opinion. No one liked Robert Pattinson as Edward in Twilight when he was first cast. Online chatter was negative on most of the Hunger Games main cast--especially the guys, I think this often shifts when the movies come out, although sometimes poor casting really tanks a movie.

Here are a few I think did well with book-to-film translations:

The Harry Potter franchise

This might be the best ever, honestly. Bringing Hogwarts and quidditch to the big screen worked so well, along with an unforgettable cast that made Harry, Hermoine and Ron cultural legend. The books had all the elements to make for a great film series. Plus, the films matured from kid to teen/adult in the same way the books did. 

Pride & Prejudice: the 1995 miniseries

When you have longer than 90 minutes to work with, a movie version of a book can really shine. Barely anything is left out in this miniseries. Besides Jane, the movie is wonderfully cast (sorry but Jane never fit right for me). I will say, the 2005 Keira Knightly version is not so bad considering the time-crunch. It's gorgeous and definitely captures the era and the relationships among the sisters, the family and the societal pressures they faced. Even Mr. Collins is still annoying and creepy. 

Not so much...

One for the Money 

Sorry Katherine Heigl; you and the rest of the cast just seemed off. Except maybe Sherri Shepherd. This zany series felt stifled by some of the more serious crime and Steph felt more like a victim here. Since she's so much of the allure of the series, an odd casting choice really makes it a tough sell.

Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, and Gone With the Wind are a few more examples that really brought the book's setting to life on film.

Other misses: The Other Boleyn Girl--it's fine to make the movie you want about Henry VIII, but from the start this film didn't follow the book. The only resemblance to Phillipa Gregory's work is it featured Anne Boleyn's sister.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy
Published: 2012

image: Goodreads
Cyborg Cinderella--who can resist?

I dismissed this book early on as another mash-up in the vein of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (awesome) or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (not so much). There's even an Android Karenina. I kept seeing such positive reviews, I knew I should give it a chance.

The comparison to those other titles isn't quite right given Cinder takes the base premise of the Cinderella fairy tale and builds an alternate cyborg and android-filled reality upon it. It's not a straight retelling of the story--there's less emphasis on the evil stepmother, and more focus on Cinder's own struggle with her identity, as cyborg's are second-class citizens, and a crumbling world around her where everyone is susceptible to a dangerous disease. I got a real anime feel with this book--it would make a great manga or anime series. I loved how the fantasy world somehow still captured the traditional fantasy aspects of Cinderella (a prince, a bustling market, clashing of social classes), but offered an entirely new take on it. Her robotic reflections were woven into the narrative in clever ways--her control panel would heat up when she was upset, for example. The details made me smile and it set the book apart from feeling gimmicky.

The stakes are also set higher than traditional Cinderella. Her sole goal isn't getting the prince, although he's definitely a factor. Cinder is a mechanic, and Prince Kai approaches her in the market to fix his broken android. Kai's urgent plea for Cinder to fix the android reveals there's more going on, possibly related to the rapidly-spreading disease and rumors of a possible alliance with the lunar queen. Their initial attraction is believable, which is nice, and of course there's no way they can be together because of Cinder's lower class and Kai's royalty. To top that, Cinder uncovers more about her past that makes their fate even worse.

There's a lot going on here that by the end of it, even throwing in the Cinderella comparison feels weak--the story really stands on its own. This is a refreshing, inventive story that was a lot of fun to read. I listened to the audio book, which I'd recommend.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1998 - 1999

Today ends my week-long look at my favorite music and noteable TV from the 1990s. This blogfest was hosted by Dave Wrote This this past Monday.

Billboard's Top hit this week in 1998: Monica: The First Night
This week in 1999: Mariah Carey: Heartbreaker

1998: Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I adore this solo album, more so than anything from the Fugees. She blends soul and older style R&B with her unmistakable voice. The lyrics feel authentic and not like anything else out at the time; heartache, but not weakness, and personal responsibility. I love how she weaves themes of motherhood and God into her songs that feel rooted in purpose rather than schmaltzy sentiment.

More music from 1998: Massive Attack: Mezzanine, Madonna: Ray of Light, Destiny's Child: s/t.

TV Factoids from 1998: Sifl and Olly debut on Mtv; instead of music videos, we now have puppets--and it was awesome! J.J. Abrams' first TV series Felicity airs, and Charmed, while on the same network with what I imagine was a similar budget to Buffy, tries their hand at supernatural story telling. It's corny with extremely lame special effects. I suffered through several seasons, believe me.

1999: Jimmy Eat World: Clarity

Sweep the dirty stairs... the ones I waited on...
Me and a cluster of friends were obsessed with this album in the early 2000s. After the band was dropped from their label, they toured and self-produced this. It's just a solid alternative rock album with lots of layered guitars, occasional punk aesthetic, and some really beautiful vocals. This is another album best experienced as a whole to get the full effect of their range: power-pop, introspective indie, electronica ending track. I still break this one out for a full listen.

More music from 1999: Sigur Ros, Moby: Play, Eminem: Slim Shady, Travis: The Man Who, The Chemical Brothers: Surrender

TV Factoids from 1999: Freaks and Geeks airs its one and only season; later everyone on the show has a TV or film career, Roswell tries to capture an X-Files vibe for teens, Buffy spins off Angel.

And that's it! I hope you've enjoyed this week of '90s nostalgia!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1995-1997

Day Four: Nineties Blogfest (which at this point I've extended far beyond the original one day!) Today: 1995-1997

Billboard Top Song this week in 1995: Mariah Carey: Fantasy
She was the first female to debut at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100
1996's top song this week: Los del Rio: The Macarena (groan!)
1997's top song this week: Boys II Men: 4 Seasons of Loneliness 

1995: Oasis: What's the Story Morning Glory?

I can't talk about '90s music and not mention Oasis. Definitely Maybe was a hit, but this album really won them fans outside the UK. It's like every song on this album was engineered as a hit. At least for rock bands at the time, which were mainly squeezed out of mainstream chart success in the US by R&B and pop. The Gallagher brothers were massively confident, and probably rightly so.
More music from 1995: Foo Fighters: s/t (more my style than Nirvana ever was), Pulp: A Different Class, Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill, one of the biggest selling titles of all the 1990s, No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom, Garbage: s/t, Sonic Youth: Washing Machine (this is the of Sonic Youth that I remember most), Elastica: s/t. Oh, now I really want to listen to Elastica!

TV Factoids of 1995: The WB TV network is established, Seinfeld airs its 100th episode, The Drew Carey show and the Mad TV sketch comedy show debut.

1996: Beck: Odelay

How do you sum up Beck? He's everything: a deconstructionist folkie who raps, sings and mixes it all into a music hodge-podge ... and it works. Loser might have been his breakout hit, but this album shows he has years of material to work with. Where It's At, with screeching feedback over his lyrics "got two turntables and a microphone." It's fun, like a dance record for those of us who don't go to clubs. 
More music from 1996: Cake: Fashion Nugget (a truly original, quirky band), The Wallflowers: Bringing Down the Horse (where have you disappeared to, Wallflowers?), Fiona Apple: Tidal, Counting Crows: Recovering Satellites.

TV Factoids from 1996: The O.J. Simpson trial takes over American daytime TV, The Daily Show debuts with Craig Kilborn (remember him?)

1997: Radiohead: OK Computer

This album, besides still being my favorite of Radiohead's, made the top 10 of many Best of the 1990s music lists (Rolling Stone for example). It's a complex concept album that I still think works best as a whole rather than a collection of singles, as the ipod generation has skewed us toward. This is probably the opposite of Weezer's Blue Album, no real catchy hooks here, but it's beautiful, atomospheric, disturbing at times, but not in an assaultive kind of way; more like a slow-burn of thinking about ones self and place in the world. 
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my submersion into Christian indie rock in the late '90s. For some of you, you have no idea this subgenre exisited; it's largely gone now, but in the hey-day of Tooth and Nail records, Christian rock was not your grandmother's church music. As the music industry in general changed, this niche in Christian music has mostly disappeared, I think rightly, given the Christian music label is a rather strange one. We no longer live in an era where the concept of Christian rock is radical; churchgoing musicians--mainly Evangelical--in the 80s and 90s responded to an atmosphere where rock music was shunned by the church as "the devil's music." Now, it's commonplace to find a praise and worship band at church complete with guitars, drums and effects pedals. Also, given the disillusionment with marketing in the Christian market (big fish in a small pond syndrome) artists clamoring to cross-over to the mainstream found it difficult to shed the stigma related to Christian music--copycats, watered-down, overtly dogmatic, etc. These days, many cross-over type artists simply start in the mainstream and work in any religious affiliation later.

1997: Starflyer 59: Americana 

Starflyer 59 is one of the bands whose success I think suffered most for the Christian label. Starflyer is essentially Jason Martin, singer, performer, producer, who's collaborated with an incredible roster of musicians. His first three albums: Silver, Gold and Americana, were represented by a single color artwork. Droning guitar, excessive feedback, floating, disconnected vocals. I was blown away when I found out music like this existed in the Christian market. Later albums shifted to more of a mix of surf rock and soaring melodies. Old is an excellent example of an album that should have had success in the indie rock market, but alas, that affiliation with "religious music" tends to keep a lot of people away. Martin's albums from 2002-on are all self-produced and increasingly show more depth and artistry.

More music from 1997: The Verve: Urban Hymns, Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen, U2: Pop, arguably their last truly innovative album, and of course, The Spice Girls.

TV Factoids from 1997: Most importantly: Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuts. I remember thinking this was another lame attempt at cashing in on a movie (Clueless tried the transition to TV the year before). Now, it's the rare circumstance where a TV show outshines its movie version. I had no idea who Joss Whedon was or that he'd become a demi-god among pop-culture geeks. Thankfully, the whole series is available on DVD, Netflix and in reruns on several cable channels. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1992 - 1994

As mentioned before, I didn't realize the blogfest hosted by Dave Wrote This was just one day and not this whole THING that I've extended for days. So, today we squash a few more years together to get caught up on the decade. Today: 1992-1994

Top Billboard song this week in 1992: 
Boys II Men: End of the Road. This song stayed #1 on the Top 100 for almost 3 months, beating the record held by Elvis.
Top song this week in 1993: Mariah Carey: Dreamlover
Top song this week in 1994: Boys II Men: I'll Make Love to You
Mariah and Boys II Men dominated '90s mainstream radio!

1992: U2: Achtung Baby

I already considered U2 the coolest band in the world, and Achtung Baby was a huge shift--dark, arty with an industrial edge. Could they get any cooler? (The answer is no, as their coolness degraded from here on out, with a slight spike in 1997 with Pop, but it was over after that). I'm still in love with the cover art and videos from this album, it was this brilliant package of dirty uber-Berlin-tinged sound, even if "Mysterious Ways" overstayed its welcome on mainstream radio. "The Fly" went where I always wished U2 would go but never knew they could (my husband, the musician, would remind me it's my preference for delay and distortion). Ya'll, this is the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby. I feel old.

1992: Beastie Boys: Check Your Head

Bought, loved it, had the t-shirt (still have the t-shirt). As a white girl in the not-quite-suburbs (mid-sized midwestern city) I ate this UP. This is when the Beasties moved from beyond the joke; they were always in on their own joke, but now they put a little more thought into their lyrics while still having a boatload of fun. This and Licenced to Ill were like my high school soundtrack. "So Whatcha Want" holds up as an iconic '90s video. MCA: RIP.

1992 TV Factoids: Jay Leno begins his reign of unfunny-terror when he replaces Johnny Carson; The Real World debuts, which preteens like me ate up, but it ruined TV for everyone else; Who's the Boss? ended and I'm not sure the question was ever answered. (My answer: Mona).

1993: Women invade indie rock

The mid-90s saw a bit of an uptick in female-fronted bands and women making more headway outside of traditional pop-vocal music (like Mariah Carey, who continued to dominate the Billboard charts). As a budding feminist, I searched out female artists, although I wasn't going to listen to music only based on gender; I never could get into Tori Amos or Ani Difranco. Given I lived in the midwest in a pre-internet era, I wasn't exactly connected much with the riot grrl movement, but I listened to a fair amount of related bands: Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, later Sleater-Kinney. I remember feeling like this was the beginning of it all, when women would really take over with a more steady presence in rock. Sadly, this was not the case, and even the majority of my favorite bands in the following years were mostly male-dominated. Women definitely shine in pop music, which I guess is cool, but little indie-rock Steph was a little disappointed when riot grrl faded out and nothing took its place.

1993: The Breeders: Last Splash

Remember I said I loved the Pixies? Kim Deal of the Pixies already had this project going, and her sister Kelley joined in for this album. "Cannonball" was the MTV hit, but the rest of the album is what kept me listening. Hard driving, distorted rock with those cool, easy vocals. They kept a little bit of Pixies vibe with "No Aloha" but this was definitely a different sound. They weren't riot grrrl with a message, they just rocked out.

1993: PJ Harvey: Rid of Me

I think I first heard PJ Harvey on some indie radio show I used to listen to on Sunday nights. I randomly found the station, it wasn't local. PJ Harvey appealed to my arty side. She's this weirdly confident rocker who sings like a banshee one minute and turns sweet the next. She plays on feminist themes quite a bit on this album. She's had minor commercial success, but I think she's been an indie darling-mainstay with the critics since the early '90s. I used MeJane, one of her song titles as a username on a few web forums in the early 2000s.

More noteworthy music of 1993: Mazzy Star: So Tonight That I Might See (LOVE this, still), Ace of Base: The Sign (so catchy!), Bjork: Debut, Blur: Modern Life is Rubbish, Catherine Wheel: Chrome (I devoured this album in college), Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream.

TV Factoids from 1993: The X-Files debuts. Changes TV forever. FOREVER! I really liked the show, OK?

1994: Weezer: The Blue Album

Still such a great album! Infectiously catchy and they hit at just the right time by offering an alternative to grunge with a little, dare I say, earnestness? Heartfelt power-pop, but self-aware enough to not feel embarrassing. Also, they weren't afraid to rock out. When I added this to my ipod a couple years ago (transferring all my CDs is quite a process) I found I listened to this as regularly as I did back in the '90s. Pinkerton is the critic's darling, but the blue album will always be my favorite. My Name is Jonas is probably my favorite. I'm humming it now.

More noteworthy music of 1994: Such a great year! Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Green Day: Dookie, Hole: Live Through This (my favorite of theirs), Beastie Boys: Ill Communication (because you can't, you won't and you don't stop!), The Jesus and Mary Chain: Stoned and Dethroned (not their best but my sentimental favorite), Beck's "Loser" from Mellow Gold,  The Notorious B.I.G., which I didn't listen to by choice but everybody at school did so I heard it by default, and Dave Matthew's Band: Under the Table and Dreaming. This was also the year of Hootie and the Blowfish, another radio-mainstay you couldn't get away from if you tried!

TV Factoids of 1994: My So-Called Life airs for its only season; omgjordancatalano!; In Living Color and Aresenio's talk show end, taking with it most of TVs  minority representation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nineties Blogfest: 1991

Apparently, this blogfest was just one day (yesterday) but I somehow thought it was one year a day for 10 days. So, here you get another day, and probably a few more of '90s-tastic pop culture chattiness.

Nineties Blogfest: 1991

Billboard's Top Song this week in 1991: Emotions: Mariah Carey
I was a huge Mariah fan. Still have this cassette!

Yesterday I mentioned how pop-metal got ditched for grunge when Nirvana hit the scene. It's pretty incredible how Nirvana rose to fame so quickly. It was like the 90s decided it was done with the manufactured overly-sincere rock of the mid-to-late 80's, and everyone embraced a more ironic, eff-you sensibility that grunge and lots of indie rock encompassed. All that music was there already, not just in Seattle, although that scene was massively exploited, but bands like Pavement and Social Distortion and the Pixies were around, just not in the mainstream.

It's weird to me that Nirvana became so commercial. People have obsessively speculated, in books, articles and even a documentary or two, that fame added to Kurt Cobain's depression which ultimately led to his suicide. I remember, in 1994, hearing about his death on MTV News and knowing it was huge. Back then, that collective understanding of a popular moment in culture came slower--I wonder what Rolling Stone will say?--whereas now news is so instant, a celebrity death is instantly a world-wide story.

Besides Nevermind, 1991 was the year grunge really got going in the mainstream. I always preferred Pearl Jam over Nirvana, and Ten was one of my most listened to albums in the early 90s; it technically came out in 1991 but didn't really hit big until 1992. I admit, I had an Eddie Vedder poster in my room.

Noteworthy albums of 1991, that again, I most likely was not listening to at the time but in the few years following:

Pixies: Trompe le Monde

I think this one is known as their least best album, but it's the one I had and listened to a zillion times. Any project that came after the Pixies broke up--Frank Black's solo stuff, the Breeders, I was all over. I still think they're one of the most original bands and I can't think of another band to compare them to. Punky surf rock that felt like it didn't care had fun anyway. I was "thisclose" to seeing their reunion tour in the 2000s, but had to sell the tix after my wedding date changed and well, you know. Must make the family happy with the revised wedding date!

My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

Although I listened to a lot of shoegaze and indie rock, I didn't discover this gem until college. Ask any 90s indie fanboy/fangirl about Loveless and you'll probably get an earful. You'll hear "masterpiece" and "Kevin Shields is a god" and how incredible it is on vinyl. It was reissued this year and the band is reportedly touring in 2013. Here's some updates via Pitchfork.

Other albums: Red Hot Chili Peppers': Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik, Gn'R Use Your Illusion I & II (they were so epic then), Smashing Pumpkins: Gish.

1991 TV Factoids: The Comedy Central channel is developed; Blossom debuts; Nickelodeon shows three new series: Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy and Doug.

Speaking of grunge, RELEVANT: Portlandia's Dream of the '90s. So true!