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.

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. 


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.


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.

-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


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.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

To Middle Grade Or Not To Middle Grade

I am really, really excited to be doing National Novel Writing Month with my 7th grade students this November.

For those of you who don't know, NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a program devoted to getting people to write. The challenge is to write a 50,000 page novel in one month (30,000 for "young" writers). There have even been a few novels that have been published, both by authors already under contract, and un-knowns.

I have tried to complete the challenge in previous years and have failed semi-miserably (I can't say it was a complete failure, because I was able to start two novel length stories...I just never finished them.) So as a budding writer, this program is something that really excites me and, by giving me a goal, structures my writing in a way that makes finishing a novel do able (plus, it takes 21 days to form a habit, so if I'm actually writing every day, yay established writing habit!)

When I decided to take on this project as part of my curriculum, I have always planned to write along with my students and attempt actually finish a novel this year. Last night I had a brilliant idea that, not only should I write along with them, but I should display what I'm writing on the projector screen as I write! Awesome idea, right? Well, this brings up a few challenges for me:

1.  I'm not so much insecure about my writing, rather, when I write I put part of myself on the page and that's very scary. 
I had a really great creative writing professor as an undergrad who took a very professional stance on critique. He taught us (and in turn we learned to harden ourselves) to others' opinions on what we wrote. Being that most of the things that I write truly do come from a very deep place in my mind (which is why I write, to get those things out), my writing is inherently, personal. I'm sure that this is the same for many writers, and thus, is a wide spread issue. I have had to train myself to understand that when someone doesn't like what I've written it isn't that they don't like me. Let's be honest, middle-schoolers can be rough when it comes to their comments. Now, the comments of a middle-schooler isn't going to make me burst into tears, however, by reading what I write my students are going to get to see a rather personal side that I'm not sure I'm 100% okay with.

Which leads me to my main issue:

2. I'm going to have to write at a Middle-Grade appropriate level, and that is going to be a little hard for me. 
Now, I hope those reading this don't take this as my writing usually has really dark, and mentally disturbing ideas in it that should probably land me in the loony bin (at least, I hope it doesn't.) If I had to name some authors whose writing I think mine is close to I'd say Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, Sarah J. Maas, Melissa Marr, Laini Taylor, Brenna Yovanoff, and Dia Reeves (these are also authors whom are some of my go tos when describing why modern YA is amazing.) If you're familiar with any of these ladies, you'll know that sometimes they have content that, while isn't anything risque, sometimes younger audiences aren't ready for.


I'm going to challenge myself to write middle-grade, do it well, and enjoy it while I'm writing. I can definitely think of a list at least 25 books long of middle-grade level books that I have loved over the years. The trick is finding a story that lends itself to depth while still being appropriate enough that my students won't look at me like I just yelled out profanity when they read it on the screen.  The idea of having to curb my wants when it comes to my writing is something I think I could definitely practice. Just because you really enjoy something in your story doesn't necessarily mean that it should stay in the story. Sometimes we have to kill our darlings in order to benefit the rest (a great creative writing professor taught me this.)

So. Wish me luck in going for middle-grade. I'm really excited to start this and some of my students are also already asking when we're going to start NanoWriMo. It makes me giddy to hear that.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: The movie that gives and takes away

I really wanted to find redeeming qualities with this movie. I really, really did. I went in with low expectations, just in case, and a heart filled with the possibility that I was going to be pleasantly surprised. After all, The Hunger Games was exceedingly amazing and I hoped that they'd finally gotten it right. (Ps. There are no spoilers in this review just in case you still want to see this.)

Leh Sigh.

The Pros
I'll start with what I did enjoy about the movie.

-The Cast: I have been rather excited about the actors that were chosen for the roles since they were cast. Each one of them did a really stellar job and embodied the characters very well. Jamie Campbell Bower is definitely a little skinnier than I had imagined Jace to be, but being petty aside, his acting was definitely superb. I wish they'd let him be a little more mean, but he definitely had the snark. Robert Sheehan as Simon stole the show, however. There was nothing about him that didn't scream SIMON to me. It's extremely sad he wasn't in the movie more, because he was easily my favorite.

-The Sets/Effects/Overall Look:  They definitely got me with the wow factor when it came to the overall look of the movie. The demon in the very beginning that attacks Clary in her house will be in my nightmares for a long time. I was really grossed/creeped out and I don't usually get that way even in horror movies. So bravo. The Institute looked AMAZING. I'm actually not that upset that they focused on it even though it wasn't really in the first book BECAUSE it was so gorgeous.

-The First 50% of the Movie: Was spot on. Yeah, it was pretty slow to get started, but there for a while I had really high hopes! The characters were interacting well, the plot was being set up solidly, the story was coming together (albeit to the squee of the fans, not sure about everyone else). It really began to move, and thenn..

The Cons
-The ENTIRE Second Half of the Movie: All I can say is....WTF? W.T.F. I think what most upsets me about this movie is that it started out rather strong and all fell apart. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that the plot made absolutely no sense. At all. I read the books and even I was seeing Swiss cheese when it came to all of the plot holes and confusing twists I could drive a truck through. The vampires were just there for a battle, something happened to Simon that just got swept under the rug, Valentine was COMPLETELY out of character (which really upset me because I felt that Johnathan Rhys Myers was the PERFECT choice for Valentine), and the reason things were happening made absolutely no sense.


I left the theater feeling like I had my favorite toy taken away from me. And let me say, the kissing scene. That. Scene. It was fine and then WHAM. RUINED. By music. When you see it, you'll agree. Ruined.

I feel as if I'm still in shock and I would go into more detail as to why I detested the second half of the movie, but I don't want to spoil anyone.  So, I will leave you with ONE spoiler, because if nothing else, the fact that SPOILER the assumed incest SPOILER was left in really made me happy. HUZZAH. Oh Hollywood, why couldn't you have had the decency to keep as true to the rest of the book as you did that major plot point.

Bleh. Catching Fire needs to fix this. Please.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[Review] The Dream Thieves *****

Firstly, I want to apologize to everyone who can't read these books yet. I feel like I'm living in a dream because I've been lucky enough to get my hands on ARCs of two books that I have been drooling over for almost a year. I hope that by reviewing these now it will excite anyone who reads this blog to go out and get these when they come out. PLEASE do! I'm ordering a signed copy from Fountain Bookstore as we speak!

The Story
The Dream Thieves continues where The Raven Boys left off, with a few of our favorites changed and secrets revealed. If you haven't read The Raven Boys yet, I won't spoil you on any of the juicy details, but I'll give you the short version of the tale: The story centers around Blue, a girl from a family of psychics and mediums who has no power of her own except to enhance the abilities of others. All her life she has been told that if she kisses her true love, she'll kill him. Luckily for Blue, she has no interest in finding her true love among the rich and statused Aglionby "Raven Boys," but in this case, finds friendship with four boys any way. While Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah may look rich and spoiled on the outside, they each harbor their own not-so-normal secrets, the biggest of which is that they're looking for a long dead Welsh king, who if found, can grant a wish to the one who finds him.

In this sequel, we have the boys and Blue continuing their search for the ley line and the reason why they haven't been able to find Cabeswater, the location closest to the ley line. This book is also about growth, and each of the characters begins to move toward their larger destiny and the truth of who they truly are.

What's So Great About It?
The hardest part about telling all of you why this book is so amazing is trying to do it without spoiling the best parts of the book (so here we go.) In a nutshell, it has to be the characters, their growth, and their changing interactions with one another. Throughout the first book the reader is baited with this idea that Blue might have to deal with the fact that she could potentially find her true love...and then what? You aren't given a definitive answer on this until this book, and believe me,  the wait is completely worth it. The problem over Blue's true love definitely isn't completed in this book, but you can see the beginnings of something that is really going to be hard for Blue to handle by the end of this series.

Then there's Ronan. Oh, Ronan. I have completely and utterly fallen head over heels for the way Maggie writes her characters and how she makes them seem so unbelievably real, especially when they are so breathtakingly flawed. This is what I've always been a fan of in books, and the broken ones always seem the most interesting to me. Just: Ronan. I wasn't a huge fan of him in the first book, and I'm thinking it was mostly because we didn't get to see much of the book from his perspective. Here there is enough to make any Ronan fan giddy and then some. The secret that Ronan discovers about himself not only changes what he thought he knew about his life, but contributes to the overall weirdness that is happening in general with the books' mythology in a spectacularly amazing way.

Why This Book?
If characters are what draw you deeply into a book, The Dream Thieves is something you need to get on your shelves. Maggie Stiefvater does an amazing job with using description as something that makes you truly feel what the characters are feeling in a way that I haven't encountered in many books, let alone in much YA, and it's this gift of hers that makes her such a fantastic writer and author. The connections that she creates between what she is trying to say and her reader is often times so good that it's painful. I found myself physically moved to stay in the world of her book, and when it was over, felt like I was leaving my own world behind. Perhaps that's a bit extreme of an example, but it's the best way I can describe the way Maggie sets up her worlds. I would HIGHLY recommend this book in a classroom, both middle school and high school. The prose might be a little much for the average 7/8th grader, but high school students will eat this up, especially the boys. There is enough racing and modified cars in this novel to get even a girl like me, who has fascination with muscle cars, squeeing over the detailing.

Pick up this book as soon as it comes out in September. No. Seriously. And if you don't have the first one, GET IT!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

One day I'm going to need a library with a ladder

Organizing my book shelves today, I realized that my shelves have exploded since college. I read a lot as a kid, but never really kept my books, opting to donate them once I finished (my mom was big on clutter and books became clutter). It wasn't until I began to make my own money and could buy the books myself that I started to collect them. I've given them away over the years, donated some, and tried my best to only buy ones that I've really enjoyed or might read again. This hasn't always happened.

I also think that you can tell a lot about a person by their book collection. So, here's a glimpse into my psyche. It's kind of crazy.

My Essentials

As a writer, I think that my favorite book of all time is the Thesaurus. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one book, after I freaked out about having to CHOOSE one book, I would pick the Thesaurus. I'm pretty sure I own at least 10 of them. I don't remember what age I was when I understood the magic of this book, but once I did I couldn't get enough. I won't lie, sometimes I'll sit and just read it. Finding new words is amazing.
Other books included here: Baby Names for finding new names of characters. Dictionary of Difficult words for funsies, and Grammar for Dummies, because no one is ever a grammar expert and I will always be referring back to a book.

A Quick Tour of My Shelves

I don't have enough. There are 4 in my apartment. Technically 5. The first two shelves are YA books that I haven't read yet and the two large cases consist of my favorites and my miscellaneous. The first black shelf I've read all of, the second is a collection of non-fiction, poetry, collections, grammar, psychology, philosophy, classics and etc.

Here's a close up if you're curious about what I consider to be amazing books. There are some doubles because I'm crazy like that. (The smaller shelf is my night stand. This is my unofficial 5th shelf because it always ends up holding the books I should read next.)

Getting a Closer Look

It's not that I'm running out of room, per say, but I don't have enough space to really place my books the way I want them to be. I actually have a good-sized collection of manga at my parents' house that never made it over to my apartment. So here's my latest acquisitions. As you can see, everything from Bride of the Water God  to psychology and Albert Camus ends up on my shelf.

My Attempt at Being an Academic

 I have always fought myself on "classics" as in I can't really get in to most of them. Jane Eyre  was the first "classic" that I really fell in love with and I didn't know it at the time, but Animal Farm also helped me get into them. Even today, I'm really picky about my classics, but I'm trying to broaden my reading variety. I always buy a copy of whatever I think I might like with the promise that I'll read them, even if I have to drag through because I'm also a proponent of reading certain literature just so that you have that background knowledge coughprideandprejudicecough. So here is my attempt to be academic with literature.

The Book You Buy Even When You Already Have It

These are my babies. For someone who collects books, there will always be an author or a certain book that you will buy no matter what. Robert Frost is one of those exceptions. I think I have five different copies of his "collected" works in different forms. One is small enough I can carry with me, another I have in my classroom library and these two I keep at home. You never know when you might need Frost.

 From My Hometown

I grew up in historical Gettysburg Pennsylvania and spent my childhood nose-deep in stories about ghosts (#1 most haunted town in the USA!). I even spent the past 4 summers as a ghost tour guide, taking people around the streets of Gettysburg telling a fraction of the never-ending tales of fallen soldiers. At Gettysburg is the diary of a girl who lived through the battle and something I read to gain more historical background about the battle. I absolutely love these books for their connection of history with the paranormal.

Poetry: My Not So Secret Love

I cant' exactly pin down when it was that I found myself obsessed with poetry. I knew I enjoyed it in high school (and wrote some terrible stuff myself), but it wasn't until college that I truly became a connoisseur and the words really slapped me in the face. What I love most about English and writing are the words. My favorite part is the way the sounds and meaning of words can come together and create this new meaning. I love connotation and denotation and how that can play together to make something new. Hence, Poetry. I got pulled into Ranier Maria Rilke by Maggie Stiefvater who quotes some of his work in her Wolves of Mercy Falls novels. Conrad Aiken I literally stumbled across in my college library. I pulled a book off the shelf of poetry, randomly opened it, and found "Sound of Breaking". I've never fallen in love with words so quickly.

I Fell in Love with Shakespeare Through Theater
Theater I fell in love with during high school after seeing my high school's production of Brigadoon. The following year I got into the pit orchestra and played flute for the next three years. I had always enjoyed theater in the way that most people do, through it's cousin the movie. Yet, I had never really put together the fact that plays are originally a story on a piece of paper that people bring to life with their words. This was how I finally fell in love with Shakespeare. Reading something and seeing it performed live are two completely separate experiences and when reading plays I feel it's imperative that you not only read, but see what's being written as well. Spring Awakening is definitely the pinnacle of what I love about theater. It started off as a banned play in Germany and became a rock musical that changed Broadway in 2005. I saw the musical before I read the play, but I came to love the words so much more by having seen them shown to me live on a stage. 

And Last, that Cute Factor

You see that empty space being occupied by relics of my childhood? That space wont' last long. Ever since I saw Beauty and the Beast and became complete enamored by the Beast because he gave Belle a LIBRARY, I always knew that would be my fate. Sometimes I sit at my shelves and just contemplate all of the eternity in front of me. So many lives and worlds and experiences, all cocooned in square inches of space that I can visit any time I want. There's something powerful about being able to collect such a thing, and the idea of having so much that I might need a ladder to access it all, makes me so terribly giddy. So, keep on reading, people. Keep on collecting. And yes, allow your cats to get in the pictures once in awhile. Here's Buffy, reminding me that there are live animals in my apartment as well as worlds.

Friday, June 28, 2013

[Review] The Coldest Girl in Coldtown *****

ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are a rare bird that I only discovered existed about a year ago when I finished my student teaching and made friends with a librarian. Usually ARCs are sent out to large companies or other authors to garner discussion about a book before they come out. Rarely do people outside of the publishing industry get hold of these things. Unless you know where to look. Especially if you're a teacher. 

Holly Black has been one of my go-to's when I want to show a skeptical reader that current YA is much more mature, intellectual, and not only for tweens any more. Her novels are always highly aware, poetical in nature, gritty, emotional, and rife with deep characters whose skin I can always crawl under.

The Story

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a novel born out of a short story. In Tana's world, vampires exist and they aren't the things of romance novels. People infected by the bite of a vampire become Cold, and either suffer the agonizing pains of hunger until they drink human blood and turn, or sweat out the virus for almost three months before possibly surviving. Vampires, and their groupies are sent to live in "Coldtowns," or giant vampire towns where every debaucherous thing you could think of is possible. These places are romanticized by not only people but also the media and serve as a delicate holding ground for a world where humans are no longer the top predator. 

Tana is a girl drawn into this mess through party gone terribly awry. In an attempt to save her ex-boyfriend (not your typical ex, btw, Aiden is impulsive, bisexual, and much deeper than expected) from the disease he's infected with, Tana drags along a teenage vampire with way more beneath the surface than even I expected. Gavriel has to be one of my favorite vampire characters of all time because he is the scary side of vampirism while still being completely off-kilter and terribly real.

 Each relationship in this story has a depth that truly holds the book together and the drive of each character bends the plot into a constant flow of action and decision. There are times when even Tana doesn't know why she does the things she does and I like that. It's real. Sometimes an action has so many layers that it's impossible to give a name to why something happens or you choose to go this way instead of that. 

What's So Great About It?
I have always loved vampire stories and the diversity with which so many writers display them. So when I see new books about vampires I am always eager to see what new spin the writer has on the tale. 

Sometimes I'm disappointed, in this case, it was completely the opposite. 

Holly Black's vampires are seen by the people of her world as the romantic ideal that many authors portray them as. They're beautiful, sexy, and flaunt the idea of immortality as if wearing a new pair of Coach sunglasses. I find this fascinating because it mirrors "reality." Well, as in most aspects of reality, all that sparkles isn't necessarily Edward Cullen. These vampires are real, not something you'd want to meet in an alley, and come from the idea that maybe as humans we all carry inside us the capacity to be truly and horribly despicable if given the right opportunity. It's this forray into the question of "what makes of human" that will always grab me and swallow me whole in a novel. The idea of "who am I, really" is the big question that I think plagues most people very acutely between the ages of 14-17 and what makes the combination of this as a YA novel a marriage made in angst. 

Psychologically, there is so much depth in this story that I could spend most of my day squeeing over every aspect; characters, story, setting, society. You name it, there's serious thought behind it. Perhaps my favorite is the psychological breakdown of a certain main character who is an amazing example of mental instability while still having poetry and beauty to who they are. This is where Holly Black thrives, in the sanity behind the chaos. 

It's also in this chaos where Tana thrives as a main character. It's really refreshing to see a character who isn't caught up in the glamour of it all and is the driving forces behind the question of "Why?!" behind everyone. It's through Tana's eyes that the reader sees the true horror behind what everyone else sees as fantastical, and it's a wake-up call that I've read very few times in YA or even in this genre. It's an amazing thing for an author to put their reader in a position where they feel like the only sane person in the room. It's also insanely magical and mind-blowing when it's done so well.

ps. If you are squeamish, I suggest you bring your skip-over-some-parts glasses, but I wouldn't expect anything less from HB. I've always loved the macabre and gothic feel that always emanates from the pages of her novels. 

p.s.s. Yes, there is romance. No, it's no the main plot of the book. Yes, it's steamy, grounded, and refreshing in this genre. It's also the reason I am hoping Holly Black writes some adult novels sometime. Whew. I had to calm down a few times. 

Why This Book?

It's Holly Black. 

If you've had the opportunity to read any of her Modern Faerie Tales  novels it won't take much convincing for me to get you to grab hold of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown the second it hits shelves in September. I will admit, HB's books do have a certain taste to them and if you don't find books that are rather dark and edgy at their core, there might be something about this that rubs you the wrong way. 

However, if you're looking for a really engaging new twist on the vampire genre that's intelligent, grounded, and a swift moving ride through strength during inexplicably horror, pick up this book. You will not be disappointed.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown gets a 5/5 stars for it's realistic insight into a genre that often times gets stale and it's realism when it comes to romanticizing dangerous things. I would definitely recommend it for the use in a classroom library,  but it should probably be kept in a high school. More mature middle grade readers might be okay with it, but I think high school students are the key audience for this and will be deeply drawn in. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I think that last book ruined me

I blame Clockwork Princess for my inability to find a book that I can really freak out about.

I've been browsing through a lot of books that have been on my back burner since there haven't been any huge titles out lately (it seems like most of the big ones come out in the fall. I have a list of about 10 that are going to cause me to have financial issues from August-November.) So, I took this opportunity to catch up on a series I've always been meaning to read but haven't had the time. Also, I think I may have found my own personal bias when it comes to YA literature. Ie: What Causes Me to Enjoy a YA or Throw It to the Floor.

The Fae are Back on my Shelves!

My interest in the world of the fae exploded with Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales series. I loved that she wrote the classic idea of faeries with a very gothic twist and as time has passed, I definitely prefer the fey that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley to the ones that float around and dump dust on people (if you pay attention long enough, you'll notice that I usually enjoy the darker area of literature. All the best of us do.)

I had seen Julia Kagawa's Iron Fey series in the stores for a while and for a really silly personal reason, had avoided them. Luckily, by avoiding them I was able to read straight through the series. The premise is really interesting; a girl discovers that she is the half-fae daughter of Oberon and finds herself caught up in a world she didn't think existed. Honestly, I was pulled into the series by the premise of the dark haired prince who kind of hates her for no reason  (let's be honest ladies, would you say no?).

While I enjoyed the series and found the plot interesting and fun, there was something missing from the whole experience. On GoodReads I gave most of the books 3/5 stars because while I enjoyed them, I found myself pushing my way through. For me, a book can have an amazing plot and a great premise, but if the writing isn't a style that I enjoy, I'm automatically put off.

This is where my bias exists. Every reader has a bias. Reader bias is what makes our literature culture so amazing and also where I often get frustrated. What appeals to me doesn't necessarily appeal to you. I've read a book and absolutely adored it, handed it off to my friend really thinking they would love it, only to find out they either didn't like it or felt "meh" about it (I've also freaked about a book, handed it off to someone and they flipped-out along with me. Love that.)

I enjoy novels that have a style where they play with their words. I've tried to get very specific about what I mean, but the best way is to describe it is that I like to see new things done with words. I love when authors create metaphors and similes that make you go "oh! that's an interesting comparison." I also really like when description is strong, but not overwhelming. One of the reasons I could never get into J.R.R. Tolkien or George R. Martin is because they describe FOREVER. It takes Tolkien four pages to say "and then they when over the hill."

What I'm finding in YA is that there is a clear divide. On one side are the novels that have whatever topic is popular at the time, have a good plot and "fun" characters, but lack a real sense of writing style. Then there are the ones that are harder to find, but exist. Books where there is a clear style and the writing is mature and has an academic feel to it (high level words and play on sentence structure). I would really love to do some research into the backgrounds of each of the writers whose books I love and the ones I just couldn't get into. I wonder if there is a correlation between academic history and quality of writing. (I am not saying that people without a literature/college education can't be good writers, I would just be interested to see.)

So, even though I couldn't get into the Iron Fey, I am really enjoying her Blood of Eden series which is a dystopian story about a world where vampires have taken over AND the zombie disease has basically infected any humans left (right?! I would be dead.) I don't know what it is about this series that causes me to consistently give the series 4/5. I would love to prove my theory about good writing and say that Julie has grown as a writer, but let's be honest, this type of book is more up my alley than the Fey series. The main character is much darker and her situation much more dire. There is lots of blood and some rather icky description of limbs flying around, so perhaps this is what has peaked my interest. But with that said, her characters feel more real to me. There is something tighter about her writing. I also really enjoy the voice of the main character. She is super snarky and has a hard time dealing with the life she leads and the one she's left behind.

Currently Reading:
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Reading List Update

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
This is a really fantastic book for anyone looking for a YA with high fantasy, kings, queens and people who are actually dragons. The political aspect really gripped me and I was pulled in by the society that Hartman grows in this, especially between humans and dragons.

Dualed by Elsie Chapman
This is one of those books that I really wanted to be good. The premise of living in a world where a clone of you will kill you unless you kill them by the time you're 18, was fascinating. Yet, I found myself skimming through it half-way through. This might really catch other people, but I found it lacking.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
This. Book. I'm sorry, but if you liked this book, PLEASE explain to me how. I tried. I did. The idea was REALLY interesting, but the writing and characters were SO FLAT. I didn't see anything new in this that I was already expecting. I can see this book in the middle-grade category, maybe? But not YA. Bleh.

Waiting in the Wings
 Stolen Nights by Rebecca Maziel
Rift by Andrea Cremer
Crash by Lisa McMann
Pivot Point by Kasie West
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton <-written a="" attending="" be="" by="" fall="" graduate="" i="" ll="" mfa="" next="" of="" p="" program="" the="">The Unquiet by Jeanine Garsee
The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger
Elfin by Quinn Loftis
Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw

Saturday, March 23, 2013

No seriously, I'm back

Every time I say, "yes, now I'm going to dedicate myself to updating this blog," something always seems to go not as planned.

I am currently at the end of my first year of public school teaching and was accepted into a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program for entry in the Fall of this year. So things have been rather crazy.

My YA readings, however, have exploded. I've read more than 50 books since last summer...and just haven't been posting about them. This is changing.

With the probability of going into this program, I feel like I have a legitimate place to really update this blog as it should be. So. Let's start fresh!

A Few that Stick Out

I recently finished Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare and I cannot recommend this book series enough. Cassie's series have been starting out rather normal, and the plot exciting, but nothing huge. By the time you have read the last series in the book, everything has exploded in such and amazing way that it makes you feel like these characters have truly come alive and that they are stable people in your life. When bad things happen to them, it's even worse. Without any sort of spoilers for the Infernal Devices series, you had better be prepared to have your heart wrenched out of your chest and your tear ducks to cry in both joy and pain.

It. Was. Amazing.

Cassie is best at developing her characters and truly getting the reader to become invested in their lives. Her plot and story telling is also a highlight. While the foreshadowing is often times very heavy (you can usually accurately predict what's going to happen in the story), there are enough twists that are surprising enough, and the characters are so powerful, that what happens still tugs at your heart.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas was a book that surprised me after picking it up from it's dust jacket. I've always been a fan of the medieval/renaisancey themed books that involve thieves, princes, guards, and just anything involving swords. What most surprised me about this was the main character. Celaena is kind of mean. She is haughty, speaks her mind, and is loyal in a way that sometimes works against her. As much as I enjoy novels where the main character is squishy, it's nice to see characters with backbone that doesn't always make them likeable. It's also nice to see that sometimes, the character doesn't have to be "rehabilitated" and that sometimes people have layers to them that aren't always black and white.

The key to this book is reading the novellas that come before. I thought I was invested in Celaena's story just from Throne of Glass, but after reading the novellas, which deal with her time before the book, I was so much more into her story. Without spoiling anything, Celaena's past is a new plot device that I have been seeing pop up a lot in YA novels and it's a mature change that I'm really enjoying. I love when YA straddles that line between being a teen book and being something that has an intelligence and depth that adults too can enjoy.

Reading List Update:

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan 
-I started out feeling iffy about this one and then the ending hooked me. Looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

Team Human by Justin Larbalestier
-This book really surprised me with it's twist on the vampire story. I really liked the flip of, what if a human lived with vampires and had to fight to be human. Such a great twist.

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
-This is another book where I wasn't a huge fan of the first book, but this second one really caught me by the end. I did skim some, but by the middle I wasn't anymore.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
-This one suffers from a slow pace, but I'm so glad I got to see how the story continued. I really hope there's another. Still creepy and awesome at the same time.

Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
-Oh my. I love when things aren't perfect even after the main characters get together. The tension in this book was amazing and I'm really, really looking forward to the finish of the trilogy.

Promised by Caragh M. O'Brien
-A fitting end to a really great series. I'll admit, the first book didn't necessarily hook me, but I'm so glad I kept up with this one.

Poison Princess by Kresley Cole
-What I liked most about this one was that it was rather fierce. The characters are no nonsense and I LOVE when characters have abilities they can't quite control. The plot is twisty and confusing, but by the end you see where it's going.

Days of Blood and Starligh by Laini Taylor
-Liani Taylor is definitely one of my current favorite YA authors. Her stories are so mature and intelligent and the passion in her characters just bleeds off the pages. I can NOT wait for the third book and I'm so excited to see how it ends!!

Waiting in the Wings
False Memory by Dan Krokos
The Girl in Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

So, here's to more reviews, more updates, and lots more YA books. Thank goodness all the ones I'm really looking forward to are coming out in the Fall. More time to get through the couple hundred books I have on my to-read shelf!!