Thursday, December 22, 2011

[Review] The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater *****

I've made some slight alterations to the blog, mostly my posting schedule, mainly that I'm not going to keep to it. I thought that by giving myself set days I could encourage myself to actually update, but the opposite has actually occurred. I get all flustered that I haven't updated, then I get frustrated, then I don't want to do it. Yet, when I don't have a schedule I tend to update more because the freedom doesn't put pressure on me!

I have also decided to loosen up a bit on the structure of the blog. Review entries will still have a "classroom" aspect to them, but I won't be writing them specifically for classroom purposes. On this blog you'll find reviews of YA books I think everyone should read, ramblings from a YA writer about the topic of writing YA, and anything else that may be relevant. 

This tiny look into my crazy writer brain brought to you by having free time and getting back on the writing horse. Now, without further procrastination, a review!!

The Story

The Scorpio Races are a deadly game of man playing with fire, with the fire being ancient, and deadly water horses that riders must master to cross the finish line. Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly come from two separate parts of the island; one an experienced trainer, the other a girl with a will of iron.

When Puck's brother decides to leave the island, the only home she's ever known, she enters the races to make him stay. But the races are violent and bloody, and a girl has never raced in them. It's here she notices Sean, a young man chained to his job by a mixture of duty and the love of the water horses. Together, their twos stories intertwine into a mutual tale of trust, self discovery, and what it really means to be free.

What's So Great About It?

If you haven't picked up a book by Stiefevater, you are really missing out. I plowed through her Gathering of Faerie novels at least a year ago, then demolished her Wolfs of Mercy Falls trilogy shortly thereafter. Stiefvater is a writer whose voice and writing have really grown into a beautiful mixture of poetry and prose, culminating in the execution of The Scorpio Races. I can't write enough about how much I enjoy her prose and how essential this is to the story. I saw a few pictures of the areas that she has used as inspiration for the book a few days ago and she truly captured the essence of the locations.

Each of the characters, no matter how minor, are brought to life by the prose and the attention to their motivations. By the end of the book, I really felt as if I could run into Sean or Puck in real life and have known them as friends. I was instantly pulled into their stories and by the end of the book, I wept with them at their joys and sorrows. I have found it extraordinarily hard for YA novels to do that to me lately, and not only is this a skill I attribute to true writers, but also an essential aspect of reading. If can't be made to care about your characters or their stories, how am I supposed to have felt anything or taken anything away from what I have read?

Why This Book?

For all the reasons stated above! Well, alright, if we're being more specific I recommend The Scorpio Races for its characters, story and the magic of the water horses. The feral and dangerous nature of the water horses was a completely fascinating story plot. I absolutely love the complete lack of control that the people really have of these animals. Stiefvater does an amazing job of describing, and detailing, how these animals can (and will) rip you to pieces faster than it takes you to look at them. For an animal that is usually considered pretty tame, these horses become things of nightmares. The horses also become the focal point to which the characters act around, and its such and interesting dichotomy of human and animal that I couldn't help but fall in love.

I would also recommend this book for its depth of character and willingness to provide nit and grit into the YA genre, which I have been finding severely lacking lately. I want a true story that will pull me in, make me feel for its characters and take me on a journey of the human spirit and The Scorpio Races does this.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater definitely gets a 5 out of 5 stars for me and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to recommend it for the classroom, either. I think students of both sexes could get into the tale and become thoroughly entranced by the story. I'm waiting for the movie for this, too. It would be an AMAZING movie!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stand Alone Complex

First, I want to say I'm back! As of this month I've completed my Master of Art in Teaching degree and am certified in the state of Maryland to educate students from grades 7-12 in English. Everyone hide your children, I might make them learn something !!

To celebrate my return, I thought I'd post on a topic that has been on my mind lately: to series, or not to series. 

After finishing an ARC of Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a book all of you should get your hands on when it comes out January 3rd) I found myself highly upset that I would have to wait the better part of the year in order to find out what happens next. Like many books in the YA category, Cinder was picked up as a four-part series. Had this been five years ago, you would have seen me jumping out of my skin to get a sequel, yet now I just find myself upset, and not in a good way.

How Twilight and Harry Potter Jaded Book Series

Let me preface this discussion by stating that each of the books I'm going to be discussing I have both read and enjoyed very much. If you must know anything about myself as a reviewer, books fall into two categories for me: Books I Enjoyed and Books I Didn't Really Enjoy. Very few times have I read a book that warranted the reaction of "that was a horrible book" and its actually a pet peeve of mine when people say that a book was "horrible" mostly because it didn't suit their tastes. Books are like food, some people love certain flavors that others can't stand.

With that said, I feel like both the Twilight series and Harry Potter have given the publishing industry, and readers even, the wrong impression of what a series should be. I find myself, much too often, picking up a book and wondering why the plot is moving so slowly, or why things just aren't happening fast enough to give me reason to become emotionally attached to characters. The answer: the book is actually a series. I have heard it said, by many people in the business, that many publishers want new books that can become a series. Why? The money. A book series, int the long run, will make a publisher far more money then a stand alone novel. Both aforementioned series became cultural phenomenons, ones that publishers are still trying to replicate every time they sign a new deal. How many times have you heard a book quoted as possibly becoming the next "blah blah" or the next "blah blah."

Why Is This a Problem?

Because there are far too many books that are series that shouldn't be and it effects the quality of the reading experience. I'll give you some symptoms that the book you've read shouldn't have been a series. Have you ever read a book and when it ended, been upset that something integral to the plot wasn't explained? Do you feel as if character emotions that were expressed continually throughout the story weren't resolved? Was there no real conclusion, and many plot points were left open ended? If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, your book suffers from Series Syndrome. The best way I can describe this problem is that when I look a series of books, I find myself seeing parts of a whole and not complete stories captured from a larger world.

What Makes a Successful Book Series?

The first book series I ever read was the Dragonriders of Pern world series by Anne McCaffrey, specifically the Harper Hall Trilogy. Each of the books in this series was its own, compact story within a larger tale of the musicians of the world of Pern. Never did I finish a book and feel unfulfilled and I was excited to hear about the next story in series. The Alanna series by Tamora Peirce always felt similar in that each book in that series was a story of Alanna's adventure being the first female knight. Each book was it's own and became a piece of the large whole without leaving me to wonder why a vital aspect of the story wasn't explained.

Another symptom of Series Syndrome is when a conflict that could have been resolved in a single book is made into the conflict for the series. I am going to cite the Volturri in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series as an example of a conflict that, honestly, could have been dealt with in one book. Stephenie Meyer herself stated that Twilight was only meant to be one novel, but because of the book's popularity, was expanded to four. Did she have enough material to expand these books to four? I really don't think so.

What truly bothers me is that far too often books that could have been far more powerful as single, stand alone novels are watered down in order to make them last over a longer period of time and, therefore, make more money. The machine of making money has overwritten the need for good story telling. I can think of nothing more disappointing than investing myself in a book and its story just to find out they may as well have printed To Be Continued...on the last page when I wish it had been continued now.

I've compiled a short list of book series that I feel truly exemplify what a real book series should be. If you have any you would like to suggest, please comment so I can add! 

Quality YA Series 
City of Bones, City of Glass, City of Ashes, City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices Series) by Cassandra Clare
All series by Tamora Pierce
White Cat, Red Glove, etc (Curseworkers Series) by Holly Black
All series by Rachel Caine
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins
Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity, Radiant Shadows, Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

Check LEIO out on Wednesday for a new review!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fruits Basket ~ The Radio Drama!

So, once in awhile I will find something literary that I just have to gush about and quite frankly, I think that this is not only very cutting-edge, but also extremely well done.

The Fruits Basket radio drama is an independent project headed by some really awesome fans. It seems to be a media mixture of an old time radio drama and retelling of the story from the manga. Personally, I find this fascinating as I have always been a fan of radio dramas (think H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds") and completely awed by the story of the Fruits Basket manga.

Why Should I Try This Out?

Because it's awesome. Well, okay, if you want a more persuasive argument, I think that this project is a really interesting (and extremely well constructed) attempt at merging genres and experimenting with literature in ways that our access to media and technology has not given us in the past. Story telling originated with the oral and auditory tradition, and it is just so great to see stories that go back to that tradition. There's nothing like hearing a story, complete with the zipping of a sleeping bag or someone knocking into ceramic dolls to open every sense and give listeners a new way of interpreting a story. 
What is the story? 

Fruits Basket itself is the story of a young girl named Tohru Honda who becomes caught up in the family curse of two young men with whom she attends high school. The story brings a new background tale on the Chinese Zodiac and blends together a story of love, betrayal, what it means to be family, friendship, and the human condition. Takaya's story reads like a modern novel adapted in imagery. I could literally spend days telling you about all of the diverse and interesting characters and the conflicts that both hurt them and make them grow. And yes, it is also about people that turn into animals when they're hugged by the opposite sex. There. I said it.

How Does This Apply to YA?

In recent years, young adult literature has not only headed into new genres and onto new and more mature topics, but it has also bleed into the realms of other media. Manga and comic books have quickly gained respect as viable literary options, especially for reluctant readers and students that struggle with traditional print. Personally, I think that manga, graphic novels and comics should be taken a step further into the traditional English curriculum and given the true literary respect that they deserve. There are so many nuances and new points of view to be shared when a story comes alive in visual format.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that Fruits Basket is probably the number one selling manga of all time in America? I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of a great story with fantastic characters.

Why Are You Still Here?

Even if you aren't a fan of manga (or are shy about checking it out), this radio drama is a fantastic way for any fan of a good story to dip their toes into something new and imaginative. The mp3 downloads of the episodes are free and while the story is very long (there are 21 volumes of manga, with about 7 chapters in each), I believe that it is worth every minute.

Please take the chance to check this out and let me know what you think! I will definitely try to post more interesting and cutting edge movements that have to do with YA as I update this blog.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

[Review] Divergent by Veronica Roth *****

I have actually had this book on my to-read list for awhile, and it wasn't until a couple friends of mine started reading it and couldn't stop gushing about it that I finally picked it up. Picking it up was a bad idea, as I finished it in two nights.

The Story

Beatrice is a girl raised in the world of the selfless Abnegation, one of five factions that divide the people of this futuristic reality. Society has divided themselves into five aspects of human principles; the honest Candor, the brave Dauntless, kind Amity, genius Erudite and selfless Abnegation. Each of these factions raises their children to embody their individual virtue to become members of society, but at sixteen you can choose. Will you stay or do you truly embody another faction?

When it comes time for Beatrice to choose her place she finds that she is a mix of three, Dauntless, Abnegation and Erudite: Divergent. This makes her a threat to the tipping balance of society.

What's So Great About It?

Personally, my favorite aspect of this book was the factions and what they mean for human society. Imagine if humanity decided that we were going to highlight only one aspect of your personality and that was how you lived? Would you be fearless and brave like the Dauntless, or dedicate your life to the pursuit of knowledge and power? Divergent really puts the idea of human character and what it really means to embody these characteristics to the max. It shows how with even the best of intentions, humanity can, and most likely will, still twist its principles.

Ever since The Hunger Games I have truly become a fan of protagonists that have obvious flaws. Tris (Beatrice) isn't necessarily the ideal heroine that many novels create. By joining the faction she does, she brings out the more brutal aspects of her personality and becomes a very different person by the end than what you met in the beginning. This shows character growth and change, something that I feel is at the heart of a really great YA novel. In the same sense, she also becomes aware of her true self and what morals and beliefs she can not live without.

Did I mention Four? Because Four is amazing (and definitely sexy). Thank you Veronica Roth for not creating a story around the relationship of these two characters. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily find anything wrong with centering a YA novel around the relationship of two protagonists, but this does not define them. Tris would not be who she is without the lessons that Four has taught her, however, she is independent of his character as well. Throughout the novel you can see both of them grow and learn. I would definitely look forward to reading some of the novel from his perspective.

Oh yeah, and did I mention the novel has tattoos? I love tattoos.

Why This Book?

I may reference The Hunger Games a couple of times when reviewing this book, but Divergent is not The Hunger Games. The freshness and intellectual/sociological depth of this novel is really refreshing and exactly what I, as a teacher, would look for when choosing a book for the class. There are an endless number of discussion topics and important, thought provoking questions that arise when reading this book. The story is a fresh idea in a vein of fiction that could easily suffer from the copy-cat syndrome. Roth does an amazing job fleshing out both her world and her characters and make you truly feel like you could walk outside and live between its walls.

I would give Divergent 5 out of 5 stars for readability in the classroom. I would definitely recommend this novel for anyone teaching the topics of society and culture, human morality and character.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Apologies for this week

Major apologies for not posting this week. I should have forseen it, however, with getting the classroom ready and teacher inservices, I was unable to sit down and get a post set up. This week was also supposed to be a Writer Friday, but I'll have to post pone that to either tomorrow, or bump it to next week.

Being a teacher is crazy! I'm not even a "real" teacher and it's crazy!

However, I did make an AWESOME bulletin board for current young adult literature in my classroom. I'll post a picture of it on Monday when I take one.

Later, all!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

[Review] Eon & Eona by Alison Goodman *****

And we're back! Welcome back to LEIO and the reviews! I've been on a book binge as of late, and I'm definitely back logged on books to review and place up here. So in the spirit of giving you a bunch of reviews at once, I'm actually recommedning two books at once.  

The Story

Eon takes us to a world inspired by ancient China and magic, where a 16 year old girl disguises herself as Eon, a potential apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons, the protectors of her world. Crippled, and hiding her potentially fatal secret, Eona soon finds herself twisted into the politics and mystery of the lost Mirror Dragon and a country whose throne is under threat from within.

What's So Great About It?

I have always been a big fan of epic adventures and Eon caught my eye instantly because its a story of a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to follow her heart and passions. The books are rated for grade 8 and up, but there are a lot of life lessons and hard choices within the pages that even an adult could relate to. The maturity of the circumstances, and the very real mistakes that Eona makes and potentially makes, raise the stakes. The books create a world where small missteps can lead to much larger catastrophes, which Eona finds out through her journey to becoming an apprentice.

Like many of the books I review, it's the characters that truly make the book shine. Eona herself is determined and realistic, with a compassionate side that shows as a lion might show affection to her cubs; with a strong hand. She makes mistakes and lets her fears influence some of her decisions. She acts as many people do and learns from her mistakes. The supporting characters in these two books have just as much heart as their main protagonist, and the books cover topics such as gender identity, homosexuality, loyalty, and obsession in mature and insightful ways.

Why These Books??

I suggest Eon and Eona for the classroom because of the quality of story, maturity of the material, and the characters. These are books that any teacher, or professor even, could pull discussions and paper topics from for their students.

I give Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman  5 out of 5 stars for readability in the classroom. My only exception is that I believe these books would be great as supplemental material. For example, if you gave students a list of similar books to choose from, as apposed to forcing the whole class to read one book. The reason for this being that some students may not be as interested in the story as others. Just as some like certain flavors, these two definitely have a flavor.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writer Friday: The Story Lives

I have officially decided to dedicate every other Friday as Writer Friday. On these days I will post something about the current status of my writing/stories if not a tip/trick/topic that any who wants to is more than welcome to respond to. So, to start us off, this Friday is a quick review of what I am actually writing and where I am.

 "Eyes on Fire"

This is the main novel that I have been working on and is kind of my biggest baby. The story came from a dream I had of this very vivid scene of a girl making a pact with a spirit to save her own life. The story of why this happened to her evolved in my head over a few years, then one summer I became compelled and wrote the remainder over a period of about 3 months. The story is now sitting at 90% done, with the end waiting for me to actually put it to paper. At that point it will need to be read through and edited.

This is the novel that I want to send out for beta reading, edit, and send to publishers. If I go into a Ph.D program that allows me to use past work, I would like to have this be my main work as well. This story does have a sequel, but it is bare bones in my head at the moment.

"WTTS" [Working title]

The working title of this book is "window to the soul" and focuses on a girl who can see into others souls via their eyes. The idea that the eyes are the "window to the soul" is a very old proverb that has always intrigued me and quite honestly, I think could really be true. So the idea came to me, "what if you really could see into someone's soul through their eyes...or worse...mess with them?" Thus, this story was born. The main idea had been bouncing around my head for a few years until the story finally came to me.

I have just begun writing this story since I stalled on EOF, so I have maybe 30+ pages on it. I am still hammering out the plot, but I have at least 50% of it figured out. This is a companion piece to the book below and is in the same realm as EOF.

"CC" [working title]

CC is actually the abbreviated title for an anime that I got the tiny, tiny inspiration for this story from. The main reason that this story exists is because it's main character popped right out at me and stated that she has a story to tell. Her story is pretty much known to me and how her story fits in with WTTS is also clear. The rest, however, is not so clear. I have some plot written for this and a little bit of the main characters' back story so that I remember it for when I start writing.

If anyone here is interested in beta-reading any of my stories, please, I would love to hear from you. I have at least one that's ready and perhaps that would get my booty in gear to being active on the rest of the.

Writer tip: Write. Write write write.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

[Writing] Some of that Writer Input I was telling you about.

Not only do I hope to give those who read this blog some input on the novels that I think are shining in the YA genre, but also some input from a YA Writer herself. Over the next few months I hope to post on topics including "characters that sound similar but aren't", "writing is like a marathon", and "writer tough love". Until then, here is some info about me as a writer to wet your palate.

A little about me and my writing experience: 

The very first instance I remember creating stories was probably when I was about 4 or 5. I had gotten together a bunch of toys and had created this whole elaborate story line (a princess was in danger, a prince helped to save her, there were some evil henchmen) which I actually think was stolen partially from Beauty and the Beast. I remember being so excited about the story that when I had come to the end of the tale, I tried to set it up again and act it out for a 2nd time.

As I reached the ability to write my ideas down on paper, I did so how ever often I could. At the time, it didn't even occur to me that I could physically write these things down. My first full length, written out story was a fanfiction for Amelia Atwater-Rhodes nyeusigrube vampire world. That was my crack. I started writing fanfiction (fiction written by using already existing literary works and expanding upon them) like it was my business. I believe I have about 15 or 20 different stories for about 5 of my favorite shows as a middle/high schooler. Sadly, I was only ever able to finish perhaps one.

To this day, my inability to finish a story I have started still haunts me. My process is one that most writers would caution against. I like to work out a story in my head, and then, when I feel comfortable about it, I write it down. Slowly and surely, I've been putting myself through "write it down" boot camp, which actually propels my stories further. A lot of my stories also come from dreams I have. My very first novel series came from a dream that I had that was so vivid, I was forced to write it down. As I began to ask why certain things occurred in the dream, the story itself came to me.

As of now, I am working on two stories in two seperate veins. One only needs its ending, and the other two are currently being written. Writing, to me, is a release. It gives my brain a chance to take all of the things it sees in one day and allows me to form those thoughts into ideas, those ideas into voices, and those voices into characters who try to find their way in the worlds around them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Break's Almost Over

Long time no update.

Because of my first internship with my masters degree, the site has been inactive for awhile. Starting at the end of May, I will begin updating again with many books at once that I have been reading over the course of the semester!

See you all in May!