Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Plethora of Great Reads Part Deuce

Alright, here we go. Second Round! Even after having written this post, I already have more books to share, but as I am lazy, I'll have to post them at another time.

On a side note, you might remember awhile back that I was accepted into an MFA for Creative Writing. Unfortunately, the program is out of state and though I had hoped to drop everything and go no matter what, reality is not that kind. Luckily, I am in progress of getting into a doctorate program, but not getting this degree at this point is definitely heart breaking. I know that you don't need an MFA to be published, and that I am still working toward teaching college, but still, it's hard to have something you wanted no longer be possible.

On a good note, this has really kicked my writing butt into gear, because if I won't have a program to force me to write, then I need to write on my own if I ever want to go toward being published. SO, until then, I'm writing, looking for critique partners and reading, reading, reading.

Endless Knight by Kresley Cole
Kresley Cole is an author whose first area is adult fiction, and you can definitely tell when reading this sequel to Poison Princess. I must say, that Endless Knight is fantastic, but definitely a little intense and intensely sexy. My eyes had to be bugging at certain points, but all of those twists really made this book the awesome tale that it is. Beware as there are some sexually explicit scenes, but other than being intense, they are plot points that heighten the story.


Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Mass
Oh man, this book. Centering around assassin, sassy-pants Celaena Sardothien, has definitely amped up since the last book. Without spoiling, I thought this series wouldn't have any fantasy, and it definitely does. Celaena and Chaol's relationship has definitely evolved, and I'm looking forward to finding out about how Celaena's past and all of the secrets will come to light. Read this!




The finale to the Gods and Monsters series does not disappoint. Perhaps my only sadness about this is that Ari's curse wouldn't occur for another 3 years and I would have LOVED for this series to happen during the time where the real drama would occur. Here though, we get to see all of the relationships fill out and see some hope! Again, wish I could have seen this happen a little closer to the deadline, but this series is a must for anyone who loves twisted mythology. 



Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
Sarah Rees Brennan might kill my heart. The characters in this series make it and they go through so much STUFF that I just want to hug them and glare at the author for putting them through it. But the tension makes for some great story telling and I always look forward to the pain. There's a big shock in this book that changes the future for a few characters and the Lynburn family drama just gets better. If you haven't read the first one, DO IT. Then get this book, you won't regret it!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Plethora of Great Reads

Oh, Blog. We both know by now that promises of quick updates should be assumed to be broken. If it helps, every Saturday an alarm on my cell reminds me of what I am not doing, and thus, a little more guilt seeps into my soul. So I do feel bad, I just don't have the time to dwell.

NaNo's been over for awhile and while it was definitely a struggle, I feel very happy about the experience. I, for one, finally hit my 50k goal (and currently working on finishing the novel!) and a good number of my students thoroughly enjoyed (and loathed) the project. I can't wait to do it again with next year's class with some big adjustments, but overall I was really impressed and delighted by it.

More relevantly, I got the recent chance to dive into a pile of to-read books that keeps trying to swamp me, so without further dawdling, here's tiny reviews of really awesome reads I've been able to devour.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
This book just released a few days ago and I knew months before that I wanted to get my hands on it. It's advertised as a mix between Graceling and the Beauty and the Beast folklore and it does not disappoint. The writing style, depth of character, and dark mood of the book pulled me and I couldn't put it down. Though I was saddened that few of the sexy moments we would have liked to see were "faded to black," and sometimes the complexity of philosophy had me reading pages a few extra times (though that could have been the sinus infection talking), I highly recommend this to anyone looking for those YA that really push the boundaries of the genre into something much more mature and complex that will leave you feeling very satisfied.

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
I went a little backwards with Brennan's work and actually read Unspoken before I got into this series, but now that I'm into it I'm clawing for more. If you're a Cassandra Clare fan it's going to be very easy to tell that these two ladies spend a lot of time together. Brennan's characters are consistently their own entities. They always feel so alive and real to me that I sometimes want to break out in a Queen song (is this the real life...). Being in Nick's mind when he discovers the truth about himself was like feeling as if it were happening to me, and the truth behind what he really is was so fresh and raw, that I was impressed that Brennan went ahead and WENT there.  I'm currently reading the second novel and can't wait to devour the third.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
With a name like that, how can you not want to pick up a book like this! I don't often dive out of the majesty that is fantasy/scifi/paranormal etc. because I can only read about rich girls at rich schools for so long. However, it's books like Eleanor & Park that remind me that there can still be that struggle in normal life that can compel us to feel like we're back at that age (or even still feel the affects today). I adored not only the relationship between the two characters, but also that Eleanor is a girl who isn't a size 6, nor even a size 16, and is still our heroine without her story being about her struggle with her weight. Yes, she has self image issues, but it's so nice to read a book where those issues don't define her, and to have a boy be physically attracted to her and that her size not be the defining thing between them or even a huge plot point. And Park isn't just a stereotypical object of acceptance, he has his own issues too. I adored this book and hope to see more like this in the future.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
Let's be honest, who else wasn't dragged in by the title of this book? If you've read Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspokeseries, then this book is going to seem a bit familiar to you. Family secrets, sexy boy with a dark past but he's very non-chalant about the whole thing. I'll also mention that it also reminded me of Nina Malkin's Swoon duet, which is perhaps leading me to believe we may have a new YA "thing" on our hands. (I like it).
Anyway, the complexities in this novel between the characters meant I couldn't put it down, and once you realize the truth behind the main guy's secrets, everything becomes a gorgeous shade of grey that I just couldn't look away from. There's definitely an element of "did that really happen or does the character THINK it happened" that I am always happy to have happen within my brain. Pick this one up. You won't regret it.

Reading List Update

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
This had a very Unwind-y feel to it, with lots of soul searching. I very much liked the overall world building, but really like the character development. Looking forward to the sequel.

Dragon Rose by Christine Pope
Awesome take on the girl-gets-married-to-a-dragon story. It was more gritty and dark, I would have sung its praises from the highest mountains.

Scorched by Mari Mancusi
Another great dragon book, this one with a bit of time travel and some Anne McCaffrey dragon bonding going on. A great example of how every person's reality can be real.

I'm going to need to do a second post with longer excerpts for a few other books I read. It's been so long since I updated and too many books to not ignore!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Struggle Is Real

NaNoWriMo has begun!

And let me tell you, it's only been 13 days since it began, but already I feel like I have been thrown under the bus in a thousand different ways. Not only am I participating as a writer myself, but I am also using the program in my classroom. It's been Nutz.


My Own Personal Experience:

NaNoWriMo is something that I fight with every year. Not only do I fight with whether or not I want to do it, but also whether or not it's even a good idea. One of my favorite, and word-smithly talented, writers Maggie Stiefvater wrote a really interesting entry that sums up what my biggest worried are when I think about tackling NaNoWriMo which basically boils down to: I'm not sure if I'm writing trash or actually getting a story out.

Perhaps my biggest issue as a writer is just writing. You would think as somebody who loves stories, words, pages, etc, it wouldn't be all that hard for me to buckle down and just put words to paper in any format, but it is. I think it's because once those words are out of my head and the story starts to move I become my own worst professor and I critic everything and over think it all. I want my writing to be purposeful and I want it to be good and I'm still trying to break myself of a horrible habit of thinking that it has to be that way the first time I put things down. I've been repeating to my students over and over about how writing is a process and nothing is really ever finished.

I actually started one novel, couldn't really bring myself to get invested in it, and restarted with another in the first few days. I'm behind about 10k and I'm doing my best to punch myself in the gut and get writing. So perhaps, NaNo is just the thing to kick start me into doing the one thing I find I have trouble with: actually write. 

Here's my Participant site if you're interested in seeing me struggle. http://nanowrimo.org/participants/whitequeen13

My Classroom Experience: 

My experience using this program in the classroom, however, has been almost like a tiny mirror and has both really made me excited about what my students are capable of, and sad at the same time. 

The Young Writer's Program version of this challenge requires students to write 30,000 words. Because I'm actually using this project as a grade, I've assigned word count goals to a solid grade in my class. 30k is an A, 22k a B and 15k a C. Anything below that is failing. I've given my students half of the period each day (about 35 min) to write so that they can complete it. They also know that they need to dedicate time at home for homework to get at least 1k a day. 


So far, the project has been a mixed blessing. Each week I have them turn in a two to three paragraph excerpt of their novel, and some of the writing has been really awesome! I've been focusing on the use of details in order for them to practice pulling the reader into their story. 

Time management has been a big issue though, and I know that is the hardest part of the project. Not only for me but for the students as well. I should be about 40% finished by now and I am only at 20%. My students are even worse and only 1 or 2 out of 60 are at that point. Most are 20% or below like me. Most of them have little to no typing skills, which doesn't help, so I'll need to take that into consideration when doing the program again. Perhaps a month of typing skills as well as writing tactics will be needed. 

Overall I'm really glad I decided to do NaNo, both individually and with my students. I think the rigorousness of the project is a good push, especially at the beginning of the year, for student whose writing skills are far below where they should be for their age. 

For me, this is a good push to get in the groove of actually putting words down. It's also a great way to beat into my own head the idea that it doesn't have to be perfect the first time. I can't have a novel to work on without actually having a novel. 

Word. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I Haven't Forgotten About the Blog!

School has been marginally overwhelming and thus, I haven't had the ability to read much less find something bookyish to write about.

HOWEVER.

I will have plenty to write about coming up here in November because not only is it Novel Writing month, but I am going to be participating in NaNoWriMo AND I'm having my students do it as well! Very exciting. So this month I'll be updating (probably Wednesdays and Saturdays) on not only my activity with the project, but how my students are doing as well.

Get excited. It's time to write a novel.

Monday, September 30, 2013

DC National Book Festival 2013

Having grown up in a small town in the, almost, middle of nowhere, getting to see authors that I admire face to face has always been a hard thing to do. If anything, Washington D.C. has been the closest thing to a "big city" I've been near since Cleveland, and the D.C. Book Festival my saving grace when it comes to seeing awesome authors and having them sign equally awesome books. 

We started out our journey on the ever reliable DC Metro. Reliable it is, but quick it is not. They're been doing construction on the metro probably since I've been using it (which was around 2009). Though I only ever travel it on weekends I've definitely noticed the lag. Also the price. The metro had definitely doubled since I started riding. BUT, whining aside, it is nice to feel like a city girl, public transportation and all, once in a while.

We also had awesome snacks as made by my greatest festival going friend. They were rice balls. We demolished them.




When traveling to a festival with so many high caliber authors such as Holly Black, Veronica Roth, Lisa McMann, Tamora Pierce, K.A. Applegate, etc, you will often find yourself needing to bring books to be signed, which are heavy. Originally I was going to bring a back pack, but decided against it. Instead I packed my handy-dandy FokiDoki bag filled with Divergent by Veronica Roth and Tithe by Holly Black. Both excellent reads.


Once at the festival, we found ourselves giddy with the pure awesome that means tons of book-lovers in one place. Poetry Out Loud was presenting as soon as we arrived but we also realized that Holly Black was speaking.


We only made it to the tail end of her question and answer portion, so we decided to go ahead and book it to the line that was forming for her signing an hour later.


And we waited. In line. For awhile. Before we did get to the line we made our purchases in the book tent. Specifically, I bought The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, of course, as well as The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. The second book is a middle grade that sounded interesting and I've wanted to check out other things that she's written.

Then, the line waiting. Which was broken up by copious amounts of reading the books we bought and discussing our reading lives.


And then, the waiting paid off.

YAAAAY Holly Black!




 The rest of the day was another set of lines and the mall. It was a little weird to see the Washington monument all done up in bandages after the earthquake last year.


The last line was Veroncia Roth's and while I'm a big fan of the  Divergent  trilogy, I haven't had the same length of love as I have with Holly Black. meeting Veronica was cool, but the poor woman had such a horrible line, it was very brief. Definitely excited to read the rest of the series.

We were in line for at least two hours. It was intense, but we made some awesome friends while there. We talked books and I'm sad now we didn't get their contact information. 

All in all, the day was amazing! We'd originally had plans to go both days to see Tamora Pierce and Lisa McMann, but unfortunately it was not to be. If you ever get a chance to head to this shindig, do it! 

Awesomeness did occur. 



Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Delay

I didn't forget. Honest.

This week/last weekend has been crazy both in life and at school and blogging took a back seat. I'll be back this Saturday with my run down of the DC National Book Festival AND a book review.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

When I Grow Up

I would loooove to be a professional writer. By professional writer I mean spending my career writing novels, traveling for research, visiting towns to do book signings and working with schools and university English programs. 

Good dream. 

For those of you also fantasizing about this wonderful dream, there are a few truths I've learned in the past few years about being a professional writer and how hard it really is to gain that sort of notoriety. These are things I've not only heard multiple times, but have found the most grounding when working toward my own dream. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from going for their goals, but it is always good to know the realities and plan accordingly. So here we go. 

1. It takes a little more than just skill at your craft to be a successful writer. It take a good amount of "luck" as well. 
It's the American ideal to believe that hard work will always get you where you want. However, sometimes a little bit of luck, and being in the right place at the right time, comes in handy and can open doors that your skill can then get you through. Planning for being at the right place at the right time is also important. If being published is something you aspire to; read, read, read. Know what is out there and what is popular at the time. Sure, your story might get picked up by an agent or publishing house and start a revolution in the genre, but the probability of that happening is very slim. Knowing what is popular and using that to your advantage can give you a foot in the door. If vampires are popular, you might have a better chance of getting picked up if something like that is in your story OR you find an agent or publisher that has a history of picking up those sorts of tales. This in no way means that you have to pander to the current genre quips, but at least knowing about what is going on in the publishing world helps. 

2. Keep on trying, because you will get rejected a lot. 
Rejection is going to happen. A lot. When we got to the truths portion of my senior writing class, my professor brought in his collection of rejection letters. It was very thick. I'm pretty sure if he dropped it on a small animal it would have needed medical attention. He'd even organized the letters by their level of politeness and rudeness. He read a few of them to us and ew, they were harsh. If your skills are up to snuff and you're really bent on getting that deal, you have to keep going. And listen. Listen to what people tell you about your writing. Sometimes you might need to work on something before you're up to the level that a publisher would be looking for in a sellable novel. It can take years to sell a novel and usually does. Don't stop believin'.

3. The money isn't just going to start pouring in. You'll have to keep your day job for awhile. 
Barry Lyga has probably the best response to how authors get paid (something I didn't know myself). It's not an instant in and there's lots of hard work that goes into making yourself financially stable. There isn't much more I can say on the topic that isn't up there. Read it!

Those are really my big three. If you're looking for even more advice from ACTUAL professional writers, if you Google the question, there will be much more info than what I can provide. Keep on writing. That's the best advice.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

[Review] These Broken Stars *****

Another ARC!! This will be the last one for awhile, as I'm going to be focusing on the new books that are coming out this fall and the giant pile that is my "to-read" books. So my apologies that you're going to need to wait until December for this book. Seriously.

The Story
Lilac and Tarver are from two completely opposite ends of the social ladder. Tarver, a young military officer, has fought his way from the ground up only to find himself being shown off like a prized pony to those he has no respect for. Lilac lives the life of a princess but finds herself overwhelmed with the dance of society and having to pretend she actually cares.
The story of two people from different ends of society isn't a new one. Yet when both teenagers find themselves stranded on a planet that is seemingly empty, they have to work together if they want to survive. And this planet is different, it whispers to Lilac and pushes both of them beyond what they thought their own world is supposed to be.

What's So Great About It?
The beginning of These Broken Stars is something that would make Jane Austen very excited. The intrigues of two groups of people, one greatly disliking the other solely based on how they view them, is truly fleshed out. I'm not a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice, so the beginning almost turned me off. However, the wit between Lilac and Tarver really became something that I wanted to see through, and as it became clear that they were both attracted to one another, but couldn't find common ground, I started to truly root for them.
The few times that I've read a novel by more than one author, I wasn't hugely impressed. Yet the dichotomy of these two writers really brings out the differences between the two characters and I think it's what gives legitimacy to the two voices of two very different people.
Not only were the characters great to follow but as the plot carried on it quickly became obvious that there was so much more going on with an apparently "deserted" planet. There was SO much more going on that by the time the book finishes. I wish I could give more details without spoiling the best surprise of all, but it's heart breaking.
Heart. Breaking.
And then utterly awesome!

Why This Book?
The twist that happens near the end of this book, and what it does to the two main characters, is the major reason I recommend this novel. I didn't see it coming at all and when it happens, not only is the even heart breaking, but because the authors have really made you feel like you know who these two are, the pain of everything is very intense.
And of course, the characters are fleshed out in away that made the two author dynamic something that worked out exceedingly well. This book has helped me get over my dislike of  multiple authors in a single book, and I am looking forward to reading Beautiful Creatures, because that has been something that has held me back from it for awhile.

ps. For those of you who don't know, The National Book Festival will be held in DC on September 21 and 22. If you're in the area GO! This will be my third year and it's always amazing and totally fun. As someone who never seems to live close enough to see her favorite authors, it's an amazing chance to meet them, thank them and get signatures. I'm excited for Holly Black, Veronica Roth, Tamora Pierce, and Lisa McMann.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Book to Movie That Didn't Stink...I Think

I may have made a funny play on words. It amuses me. (Today has been a day of learning new bad jokes from Popsicle sticks. I've clearly had an intense day.)

Other things that amuse me are books turned into movies that don't bite the big one. A friend and I just returned from seeing Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. Granted, I haven't read the book that this movie comes from, but I do know enough of the story to know what's supposed to happen.


Pros:
-The story was easy too follow.
As I said, I haven't gotten to the books yet so I don't know them as I do other books. However, knowing what I do know, the story was set up with care and the events moved well together. I was interested every time they decided that something else needed to happen and I believed them. I really liked the constant references to greek mythology that you might only know if you've had the chance to read The Odyssey. Some of the characters really stretched my brain to attempt to remember, which was fun.

-The characters were so much fun!
I loved all of the little cameos and personalities of mythical creatures and characters. The hippocampus was definitely my favorite (cute sea horse!) and Tyson was so adorable and such a goober that you couldn't help but love him. Plus, can we just mention Nathan Fillion and his AMAZING Firefly reference! I'm still in shock that he was able to get that in such a huge movie. Percy seems to have grown up and Grover, as always, was fun. But Tyson definitely my favorite and probably the most well rounded character as well.

-The effects and the overall look of the movie were cool. 
They had a Fall Out Boy song at the very beginning, clearly the environment was set up for awesome!The special effects were great to look at and I especially loved how Chronos was rendered and how he moved. The sets were really interesting and looked great as well.

The Con:
-I'm really sad that it got such horrible reviews
I'm honestly not 100% sure why it only got a 39% review on Rotten Tomatoes. Honestly, the movie was fun and interesting and if you have any interest in the books it was a good way to get through the story while having fun as well. Perhaps the only thing I might see as giving it a poor review was that though the characters were cool, there wasn't a lot of development. Annabeth dislikes Tyson for a very superficial reason that made me question her character. Yes, it makes sense with her past, but the way it was brought across the screen didn't really grab me. Otherwise, the movie was great! I definitely recommend it.


Currently Reading:
What Happens Next  by Colleen Clayton
You Are Mine by Janeal Falor
Fractured by Sarah Fine

READING LIST UPDATE

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
This book made me bawl like a baby by the end. I found the premise really intriguing (girl is raised to be the sacrificial vessel for a god, but her god never comes) and what came next was a twist of characters that did not disappoint. I was really invested in the main relationship...and then the end THE END. Oh, you just have to read it.

Sanctum by Sarah Fine
I haven't read a book with this topic in a long time where I felt that the two main characters were as original as these two. She's trying to complete a "quest," he's trying to kill her/get her out of his turf but eventually decides to help her out. Etc, etc, etc. Heard it. Yet, this story surprised me. I'm currently reading the sequel, so we'll see if it holds up it's end of the bargain.

The Scourge by A. G. Henley
This one reminded me a lot of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, what with zombies surrounding this little group of people who are trapped by the infection. It took me a little bit to realize that when they meant the main character was "sightless" they literally meant that she was blind. I really started enjoying this book about half way through, when the relationship between the two main characters started to really make sense.

Waiting In the Wings

Crash by Lisa McMann
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Strangelets  by Michelle Gagnon
The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
The Murmurings  by Carly Ann West
The Program by Suzanne Young


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

[Review] Crown of Midnight *****

Hopefully soon I'll be able to post a bunch of books at once, but since the EXPLOSION of the fall is upon us, you're probably going to get a bunch of reviews. There are so many amazing books that are out and coming out between now and December that almost everything I read requires a review.


The Story
If you haven't read Throne of Glass you're missing out on a large chunk of the story, so I'll do my best to bring you up to speed.
Celaena Sardothien is Erilea's most deadly killer. Trained as a child to be a master assassin, her past is rife with murder, loss, and secrets. After being betrayed and sentenced to a criminal camp, Celaena is rescued by the King, a man with less than admirable intentions.
In Throne of Glass, Caleana fights and wins the position of King's Champion, a job that puts her under the beck and call of the King, but affords her the ability to delve into the mysteries surrounding the kingdom. Along the way, she gains the trust and friendship of Dorian, the reluctant heir to the throne, and Chaol, a captain of the guard who's loyalty begins to turn into something more.
In Crown of Midnight, Calaena's discovery of magic, which disappeared over ten years ago, leads her a deadly game that she doesn't want to be apart of. The King has ordered her to kill those who he believes are trying to destroy his hold over the country, but Caleana has her doubts. She becomes entangled in a web of lies, treachery, and her own past that threaten to unravel everything: the tenuous stability of her life, and her every growing relationship with Chaol.

What's So Great About It?
If you have ever been a fan of Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, Robin LaFevers, and Laini Taylor then the intrigue, politics, and old style setting and plot of this novel will snag you. I'm not sure the best name to give this genre of YA, but it usually centers around castles, kings and queens, and even some magic. Each character of Crown of Midnight comes with a past deep enough to continue to affect the overall story. Calean's own background has not only been a mystery to the others, but also to the reader, which I find really refreshing and interesting. Sure, there are a few hints here and there, but nothing solid enough to not make it a surprise.
The relationship between Caleana, Dorian, and Chaol is one of the more realistic, practical, and solid "love triangles" I have read in a long time. There is maturity and solid basis of friendship between the three of them that I have only ever seen in Casandra Clare's Infernal Devices trilogy. I'm not often a fan of love triangles mostly because they often center around shallow attraction, especially in YA. Rarely do you find examples where there's a legitimate reason to want to be with one or the other, which COM has.
Characters and romance aside, this book's most intriguing point is the huge 180 degree plot turn that happens halfway through the book. When I read the first novel, I thought these books would go the direction of Robin LaFever's Grave Mercy and just be about court intrigue with a hint of magic. Instead, what starts out as some magic and faeries turns into a story that might eventually center around them. I felt like this was a bit of a smack in the face, especially because I didn't necessarily see it coming. Did it stop me from reading the book? No way. It just took a bit to get used to.

Why This Book?
The quality of Crown of Midnight and the maturity of how it handles it's content is plenty of reason to highly recommend this novel. The writing is great quality as well and Caleana herself is a fierce lady who takes no prisoners. Caleana is tough as nails, so much so that sometimes she becomes hard to like and rather frustrating, which is great. I'm becoming so impressed by the maturity that is coming out of the YA genre lately. Make sure you get a copy of Throne of Glass on your way to getting Crown of Midnight! You'll want to set aside a long weekend as well.