Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Team Luna (Tournament of Heroines)

Luna Lovegood

Luna Lovegood is one of the most memorable Harry Potter characters. Her appearance may be brief when compared with the trio, Dumbledore, and lots other characters, but she makes an big impression. So when the opportunity came up to represent Luna in The YA sisterhood's Tournament of Heroines I jumped. Because when I first met Luna Lovegood--I kinda wanted to be her. Actually sometimes I still do.
The key to Luna is that she has that unbelievably rare quality of actually not giving a damn what anyone else thinks of her. Now, if we as adults say honestly how many people we've known like that I think very many of us would say uh none! And Luna's like that. She doesn't actually care. She's so comfortable with being different. She's fearless.
-JK Rowling
I want Luna to win this tournament because she's a different kind of heroine.

There are so many reasons Luna should win. I've got a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head. But I want to hear from everyone who loves Luna! What does she represent to you? Why should she win? What did you think when you first met our "looney" friend? Has she inspired you?

I'm trying to assemble a TEAM LUNA because if there's one thing we learned from Harry Potter--we can do anything with the help of our friends. If anyone has some mad photoshop skills and wants to help Luna out let me know! (I have photoshop skills but no photoshop anymore. Tis a very sad state of existence)

Her first match is Dec. 9 vs Sophie (another lovely YA heroine). Stay tuned for more!

(Why did this disappear into drafts? I swear I published it once already!)

Friday, November 25, 2011

As the end comes - NanoWriMo

So I'm going to win NanoWriMo this year unless some major catastrophe happens. This will be my "fourth" victory and each year it gets easier. Not because my life gets easier. My life has actually gotten consistently busier.
2008 - Win. Worked 9-5 at local newspaper, started 4 days late.
2009 - Win - Unemployed (This novel was my worst)
2010 - Win - First year working for Girl Scouts
2011 - Win - Second year working for Girl Scouts, where-in more and more is piled on my plate (Started out doing program/training. Now I do a lot of public relations and social media as well as am the advisor for our Teen Leadership Council.)
But NanoWriMo has taught me to prioritize my writing. I'm nowhere near publishable, but I am improving and more consistent. When I started NanoWriMo in 2008 I had problems finishing stories. There were always new and shiny plot bunnies. From Oct 2010-Oct 2011 I finished three different first drafts. So that's a hurdle I've overcome. Now I'm working on improving my editing (mainly finishing my editing - haha).

But back to NanoWriMo. Here's what I've learned:
  1. Time Management - This year the first weekend I had a Girl Scout overnight. Then the second week I had trainings 2 nights and an event the second weekend as well. I knew this was going to make things hard. But I also knew that I had some vacation day that I needed to use before the year ended. So I took a NanoWriMo vacation where I stayed at home, caught up on chores and did Nano. This might sound like a "luxury" to people without vacations to take, but the moral of the story is DO WHAT YOU CAN WHEN YOU CAN. Find and steal time wherever possible.
  2. Sundays - One of my NanoWriMo goals was to have BIG Sunday numbers. 4000 word Sundays became my habit. This is my only guaranteed day off and I wanted to make the most of it.
  3. Rewards - I always give myself NanoWriMo presents for accomplishments. This year I had UK basketball tickets and told myself I had to reach word count to go. Then I would reward myself with episodes of my new guity pleasure Vampire Diaries. For finishing I'm buying myself a fantabulous pair of shoes from Modcloth. Bribery is totally acceptable.
  4. Don't let the bad bother you - There's a whole section that's boring and somewhat redundant. Writing it was clunky and unpleasant. But I wrote it anyways and did not delete it. If you edit as you go you will lose. End of Nano.
  5. Write Different - This year I was feeling a little bored. Then Rachel Hawkins tweeted this website. Written Kitten. Suddenly it was a rocking and rolling Nano. It was a tiny change to my writing habit, but the new scenery worked. I don't even think it was the cute factor, but the new factor that worked for me.

  6. Live a Little - Don't just give up everything you love. Make the sacrifices you're willing to make. I've watched a lot of basketball and football this November. I set aside writing times before, sprinted during halftime, even wrote with the game on mute if it wasn't that entertaining.
NanoWriMo is something I've grown to love over the past four years.. The community is amazing. I find writing friends, particularly on twitter, that I talk to year round. Writing is usually such a solitary act, but it's so much better to have an encouraging community working with you. The bar graph feature keeps me on track. I want to be able to track my life with handy bar graphs. Some of the Pep Talks stick with me (I particularly remember a Neil Gaimon one that I've read more than once). This year I've spent less time on the NanoWriMo website, but year #4 has been wonderful in it's own way. I'm sad it has to end but at least I know back it'll be back next November.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Raw Blue (review)

4/5 Stars

It seems the influx of excellent Australian YA is never going to end. Let's just all move there because I am tired of waiting for the books (or begging my Aussie goodread friends to send me presents).

Raw Blue is another excellent, gritty, and heartbreaking book. It's standing barely on the fringes of YA, with a 19-year-old protagonist who's living on her own. I love these borderline YA books. I think there's a lot of stories that can be found in this place between genres and I'm happy when a solid book lands there.

The protagonist in Raw Blue is hard to deal with. She's so damaged and wrapped up in herself that it's hard to get to know her. You quickly learn why she's like that. I worried that this book would take it's time before the big reveal. But this book doesn't play mind games with you. It only withholds as long as necessary. The purpose of this book is not what happened to Carly, but what happened afterwards.

This book follows the story of how Carly deals with her past It isn't always pretty. Sometimes you might want to shout at her or lecture her about making bad choices. Or maybe that's just me. But you will hurt for her. By the end you will be rooting for her.

The surfing is a nice addition to this novel, but don't mistake it for a sunny summery surf story. While it might not look like it on the surface, this is a book about hope and healing. But in order to heal, you must first be broken.
Danny was my favorite character. He's a teenage surfer with synesthesia who befriends Carly when she needs a friend the most. He's the little ray of sunshine in this novel and I just want to take him home and have him tell me how he sees the world because I think synesthesia is potentially coolest thing ever. (Color synesthesia, the type Danny has, is when people automatically associate colors with words or even people. Like the number three could be always be green in their head).

At times I questioned this book, consulted with friends about aspects of the realism, but came away impressed. It's the type of book that makes you feel and makes you think. It handles a tough topic by not focusing on the event, but focusing on the aftermath. Even though the other characters are memorable, this is 100% Carly's story.

And it's a good one.

Saving June (review)

3.5/5 stars

This is one of those books that I liked well enough, but didn't love. There are sections of this novel that are well done and that I really like. Then there are parts that just feel unnecessary.

The grief in the beginning felt real. When I was a senior in college my fifteen year old cousin committed suicide. The grief from suicide is hard to explain. I was not even close to my cousin and his death really shook me. So Harper in the beginning, trying to find a way to cope and failing miserably, I can relate to. When all the people are shoving food at her family as though it's going to fill the void and she just wants to hide, that's when Harper really works for me. She consumed by this overwhelming grief and trying to understand June's decision to commit suicide. She's hurt, pissed off and most importantly she misses her sister.

But then there was a lot that felt forced. A lot of the side adventures along the road trip, I just felt eh towards. Suddenly they are at a random protest and all these hipster teenagers are rambling on about their oh so alternative viewpoints. Oh they are vegans. Oh there's an anti-war protest. Oh I'm a weird-melodramatic artist. It felt unnecessary. Grief is a big enough issue to tackle without trying to throw a dash of everything else in.

As the road trip continued, there were more sections that seemed forced. Obligatory debates about music, random punk rock show and then some random band invites a 16 year-old-girl back to their bus to party. That's as much as I can say without major spoilers.

This novel felt a little too hipster for me. The characters were all just so different (without ever really seeming that different to me). They didn't like the mainstream, they wore vintage clothes, skinny jeans and collected vinyl records. The thing is, hipsters kind of bug me.

I'm all about being yourself. I went through a slight punk phase, there's still a hole in my lip (never wear the ring because well...grown-up), I've had pink streaks, purple streaks, hung out at concerts, albeit Christian concerts. But hipsters seem...more pretentious than we ever were. They seem to be purposely avoiding trends, even things they like that become trendy. In high school we were just having fun. At best it was minor rebellion but I'm not even sure I'd call it that anymore. In retrospect, it was small town boredom. I still remember when my town got a Waffle House and it was a Big Freaking Deal.

I don't want it to sound like a bash-fest on this novel. Like I said, the initial grief really caught me. I cared about saving June, about the road trip to California to set her sister free. That whole storyline worked for me. Grief, like Harper, is selfish and complicated. It's a big mess of emotion that's hard to capture, but the book did a good job. That alone could've carried this novel and brought it up from a 3.5 star (which is a good novel). The potential is there but I felt like there were too many distractions along the way.

There's a chance I'm a little too old for this book. I think people who are more musically and artistically inclined will enjoy all the tidbits that I found off-putting. Maybe I'm not hip enough for this book. For me I just liked it. I'd recommend it as a good YA that deals with grief. Because of the subject matter I wanted to love it more than I was actually able to.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Froi of the Exiles (Review)

4.5/5 stars (and now trying to figure out where it lost half a star...)
ACTUALLY let's say...
5/5 stars

Melina Marchetta. Honestly I don't think my love affair with her books will ever end. Somehow she just makes everything so much more real than any other author. No matter what the setting or story, she makes me believe.

I always find it difficult to review Melina Marchetta books. They are just so much better than pretty much everything else out there. I feel like I should be able to say "Melina Marchetta" and you should understand that means "You need to read this book now." But then there are unfortunate souls out there waiting to experience their first Marchetta book.

Froi of the Exiles. Sigh. I think I like this book more than Finnikan of the Rock. Maybe it's because Froi is just so damaged. My heart hurts for him. He's made bad choices in the past but that was when he didn't really have any good choices. Now he's trying so damn hard to be better, to prove himself worthy of the friendship of Isaboe and Finnikan. But even he doubts himself, his self worth is so twisted up in his past mistakes that he has trouble seeing his own potential. But as the reader I see it and love him, even if he doesn't understand that he's worthy of being loved.

He's so real and vibrant. Froi leaps off the page, smart and jaded, so real and broken. I just want to give him a hug (in fact I told my goodreads group that he needed a group hug). I continue to be dazzled by Marchetta's grasp of human nature and her ability to capture characters in a way that rings so true.

The honesty that Marchetta exhibits in her contemporary fiction is not lost when she switches to fantasy. She doesn't try to make it sound like a typical fantasy book. The language is genuine, at times funny, at times crass but with a poignancy that we've come to expect from her.
"The gods have not forsaken Charyn. The gods love Charyn. Where else can they shit, if not Charyn? It's the purpose of this kingdom. To be the place where the gods shit."
With Marchetta everything always comes back to the characters. She understands that's what makes a book believable. I still love the characters from the first book. Isaboe and Finnikan are adorable as a married couple. They make me smile in a book where smiles are few and far between. Then there are characters we get to know more, Lucian for example, and favorites that we've never met before like Phaedra, Lirah and most importantly Quintana aka Princess crazytrain.

Quintana fascinates Froi. She fascinates me, maybe more than any secondary character I've ever encountered. The next book is called Quintana of Charyn and I am excited. I know most people haven't met this princess. But know this: She is a survivor. Marchetta doesn't write flat boring characters. Quintana is no damsel in distress. In fact, please don't leave me alone in a room with her. At times she's terrifying, other times completely endearing and heartbreaking. But I can't stop watching and waiting for her to reappear throughout the book.

I love how Marchetta describes characters. Take Quintana, with her pointy nose, crazy hair and teeth that overlap. She is not cookie-cutter or even necessarily pretty. But the image is so crystal clear in my mind. Marchetta chooses the right details, strange and quirky, but that's what makes her descriptions memorable.

This book is beautiful and complicated. It's epic fantasy that's truly epic, not just the same-old-same-old elves versus humans versus dwarves versus mages versus fill-in-the-blank. You can't say "Charyn is evil and Lumatere is good" because that's way too simplistic. This book looks at the complicated relationships between two countries and the people who are sometimes unwittingly caught in the middle. Nobody is 100% good. All of the heroes have flaws and not even the villains (except maybe one) lack humanity. Countries don't just one day decide to invade their next door neighbors. There is always context and usually desperation driving these actions. Marchetta acknowledges that without taking away the horrors of what happened in Finnikan of the Rock.

This book is not always any easy novel to read. It's heart-wrenching. It grabs you roughly and drags you though the muck, pulling you through the sewers of Charyn, the madness of a princess and the dark past of a street kid we first met in Finnikan. It makes you ache, but it also makes you love and it never lets you forget how often those two are intertwined.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ready Player One (review)

4/5 Stars

Ready Player One takes place almost entirely within a video game. It's the type of concept that's either going to be AMAZING or fail. I just can't imagine any middle ground. The whole premise is a big gamble, but it pays off majorly. This book is awesomely unique and completely memorable.

Your initial reaction might be "Will this book appeal to non-gamers?" Personally, I don't game. But somehow I tend to enjoy gaming themed entertainment (particularly The Guild, oh how I love that show). I feel like this story will appeal to a variety of nerds. Yes, it takes place in a game, but there's a lot that'll remind you of other internet communities that you might hang around (for me I saw a lot of my YouTube experience in this book and the Gunters reminded me of olden days of puzzle solving for lonelygirl15. Most of which I just watched smarter people figure out).

It's a nerdtastic search throughout the Oasis (the video game) for an easter egg hidden by the games recently deceased creator. His entire fortune (and it's HUGE) will go to whichever player can find the egg first. The main character Wade is competing with the evil Sixers, a corporation trying to find the egg so they can take ownership of the game, Gunter clans (groups of allied egg hunters) as well as his best friends.

The book takes place is a believably dystopian future, a world where trailers are stacked for maximum real estate, only the rich can afford cards and people escape to a happier world inside the Oasis. Even though the characters spend most of their time in-game, there's actually no problem connecting or relating to them. They are real. Sometimes I feel like I've met them around the internet.

I feel like a lot of my friends liked this book more than me. Don't get me wrong I REALLY liked this book. But at times I found myself zoning out when it went into Halliday history dump mode. Yes the players needed to know a lot about Halliday's life, but at times it had a tendency to ramble on longer than I thought was necessary. As the reader, I'm not sure I need to know nearly as much information as I was given. I would mentally check out then when I checked back in normally I hadn't missed much.

I also had a little bit of trouble buying into the depths of the romantic relationship. Yes I know people flirt via the internet. I have flirting tendencies myself sometimes. But this book actually said that people had met, dated and got married in the Oasis without ever meeting. That I had trouble believing. I can't imagine many men going into a marriage without you know...previous physical contact. That of course wasn't our two main characters because they are teenagers, but that line hung in the back of my mind as I watch their relationship progressed and planted a seed of doubt.

Yes I know I sound picky. But here's the thing about really good books--they give you room to be picky. Saying "This book had 2 flaws that stuck out to me" tells you how good the rest of this book was. The hunt for the egg really captivated me, which is why I wanted to get past some of the long drawn out history sections. There was a fortune up for grabs and the main character is making moon eyes at someone's avatar, giving us history lessons and THERES A FORTUNE UP FOR GRABS.

This book has everything you want. An evil corporation out to ruin the game (wait, didn't that just happen on The Guild too?), life and death stakes in the real world as well as the game, first love, 80s nostagalia and the internet. I listened to the audiobook and Wil Wheaton was AMAZING as the narrator. This led to more than one LOL moment (especially when Wil Wheaton playing Wade had to mention Wil Wheaton the old geezer) and gave this book even more nerd street cred.

For the peoples of the internets, people who like video games and people who like unique Sci-fi this book is highly recommended. For everyone else, you should give it a try too. It's something different and thats really rare.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fangirling is FUN! (Hunger Games Trailer reaction)

So today the Hunger Games trailer was released:

In the beginning I was skeptical that a Hunger Games movie adaption would work. Mainly because the book is so violent, but the first person POV serves as a lens through which the viewer sees the violence. Then I decided that being skeptical wasn't very fun so I just wanted to enjoy everything leading up to the Hunger Games movie. If it was bad, at least I had fun beforehand.

With the release of this trailer, Now I'm completely 100% sold and excited. It's hard to quantify why the trailer works so well. For me, the best thing about this trailer is that it makes me FEEL a lot of emotions VERY strongly.

The Reaping is perfect. You can feel the terror and dread of the moment. It's everything, from the background music, to the way they are slowly slumping towards the podium like they're walking towards a death sentence (and in a sense they're all aware that it could be). The colors are grey, the sky overcast. Effie sticks out like a sore pink thumb in the midst of all the struggling working class people. Then they draw Prim's name and Katniss volunteers. That moment is like a punch in the gut. You feel for Katniss, her terror in the moment when her sister is walking forward, then you feel for Prim as she's being pulled away knowing she'll probably never see Katniss again.

Like I said this trailer made me FEEL. (Some people actually say they cried but I am not much of a cryer, but I can see how they had that reaction).

Then there's the capitol, all shiny, perfect and foreign especially compared to the poverty we've already witnessed in District 12. And Gale sets it up the premise of the Hunger Games. All they want is a good show, children dying for the entertainment of those who live in the capitol. It's horrifying and it should be.

Then there's that moment between Katniss and Peeta. Anyone who knows me very well knows that what I've been waiting for is to see Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Unlike a lot of others, I have a lot of faith that he's perfect for the role. So I've been waiting to see him as Peet and be like "LOOK I'm right!!!" (Yes I want to gloat, shush). So yeah, even though there wasn't enough Peeta I'm very happy with what we saw. (For the record I never think there's enough Peeta).
"I just keep wishing that there was a way to show them that they don't own me. If I'm going to die, I still want to be me." Peeta Mellark.
I think the trailer made a lot of good choices. I like the fact that it set-up the story. A lot of people have no clue what The Hunger Games books are about. Because it's a popular YA novel they think it's just Twilight version 2.0. My opinions about Twilight aside that couldn't be further from the truth. Saying paranormal and a dystopian are the same makes my book loving heart break. To me this trailer says "Be prepared. This is a violent, heartbreaking movie but it's not just about violence for the sake of violence." I was also abundantly happy that all the love triangle drama was nowhere in sight.

This trailer emphasized The Hunger Games, not the violence but the fear, terror and everything leading towards the games. It captured Katniss, not as a badass heroine, but as a loving sister who's trying to win the games to go home to her family. It set-up Peeta as a reluctant competitor trying to find a way to outsmart the game. Not necessarily to survive, but to prove a point. It also sets up Peeta and Katniss as the type of competitors who could inspire a revolution. That's smart. The trailer is setting-up book one, but already thinking towards Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Frankly I'm going to have to be honest. I had pretty low expectations for this trailer after the teaser trailer. Then BAM it surpassed expectations that I didn't dream about having. It captured the right mood and emotion for The Hunger Games. Honestly, I think we're going to get a better movie than I ever expected. And you know what? I'm EXCITED!

Wanted to share some tweets I saw from authors and agents that made me abundantly happy in the fangirling today.

These 2 made me happy because they are more objective opinions that I have (and 2 people who I very much enjoy following and respect). Follow literaticat and Erin Bow yourself to find out why.

Then there's TaherehMafi (follow HER!) who so often says what I am feeling and thinking, yet she's so much more funny than I ever hope to be.

May the odds ever be in this movies favor

Monday, November 7, 2011

Prized (review)

Warning: This will contain some spoilers for Birthmarked that will probably make no sense if you haven't read it. But be warned.

4/5 Stars
I remember liking Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien. I remember the basic plotline - girl midwife in a dystopian society where they're taking babies from the poor and advancing them to the rich. Girl discovers flaws of society, rebels, story ensues. This is how Dystopians tend to go and I've read a lot of them now. But I very much remember liking this one, as vague as that memory has become because the piles of books I've read since.

So when I saw Prized on Netgalley I felt obligated to request it. Then I started to worry that I wouldn't remember enough about book 1 to read book 2.

Luckily, that was not the case. Prized started out great, throwing me immediately back into Gaia's story without forcing me to read a lot of backstory. Not remembering was OKAY because the story kept moving forward. I was relieved. The first chapter rocked, fast paced, throwing life-or-death risks and new problems at me immediately.

Then there were a couple chapters where I'm not going to lie, this book made me nervous. I get a little worried when I feel like an author's politics are showing. It's a little like your bra strap sneaking a peak to the world. There's a place for your politics and just like a bra there's a way to use them wisely and subtly that really makes an impact. I'm not going to play coy with you because I really think you're smarter than that. Because this book involves a midwife, it's the abortion issue. I like books that broach these issues with enough sensitivity that neither side of the debate is off-put by the conversation. And books bringing up the topics need to be more conversational and less soapbox.

I quickly realized it was not so much the issue itself that bothered me, but the introduction and execution felt a little clunky and deus ex machina in my opinion. Gaia has just arrived somewhere new. She's there for less than 2 days when this young lady approaches her about helping with a miscarriage. Nobody knows Gaia and there's no time spent building that trust or her reputation as a midwife. It's just thrown at you a little too quickly. It does become integral to the plot, but like I said it needs to be executed better.

Then I nearly went into panic mode when I thought there was going to be a long-drawn out love square. But thankfully Leon from the first book appeared and that shifted the balance of the book very quickly. He was angry at Gaia, a little bit bitter, and a huge reality check for our main character. His character's words and story gave me the most guttural reaction, almost bringing tears (really!).

From there I was engrossed and everything started clicking in place for me. Gaia saw herself, her flaws and her mistakes for the first time and had to face her own selfish behavior. Most YA heroines have a selfish streak (as do most teenagers & most people) but rarely is that acknowledged. Once this book hit it's stride I stayed up past midnight reading, but oddly not for Gaia but because my heart ached for Leon. He brought an honesty and bite that stopped the love square woe in it's tracks. He called her out, spoke the truth and for me made this book.

In the end I liked this book and will look forward to the next in the series. For the most part it's an intelligent dystopian, with flawed main characters that are more human than we're used to. I really like that aspect, really like the balance between the two main characters and am glad I stuck with the book through my doubts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Between the Sea and Sky (review)

3/5 Stars
I'm always drawn to mermaid fiction and generally speaking disappointed. I don't know why this subgenre is so hard to master. Maybe it's that Ariel is always peaking over our shoulder as only Disney movies can. Or maybe a world of fish and fins is somehow too foreign, more foreign than land-based fantasy tales and outer space adventures.

Between the Sea and Sky is better than most mermaid stories. I suspect a lot of people will really like this book. Especially if you like star-crossed love stories. But for me, it's just not quite there.

First I want to talk about what this book did right
  1. Esmerine was a likable and believable main character. I know that seems like it should be a given, but the last mermaid book I read I didn't like any of the characters. She's the type of person you could root for. Esmerine is smart, caring and loves her family.
  2. Consequences for magic - So often magic has no consequences. Mermaids in this story feel pain whenever they walk on land. I know where it comes from in mermaid lore (I may have done some research on the topic lately). It's a nice touch.
  3. Not a love at first sight story. I was worried about this but there's actually a friendship first.
  4. Not one species is "evil" or the bad guy. The story doesn't oversimplify things. There are good mermaids, good humans and good flying people.

Unfortunately I must also talk about what didn't work in this book for me. For me, the main flaw was that the stakes didn't seem high enough. Either she stayed on land or she didn't. Neither choice seemed drastically better than the other. I wasn't invested. Partially I think this is because the enchantment of the siren's belt wasn't very well explained. I didn't (and don't) understand the consequences of giving someone her belt. It stops the pain and there's some kind of enchantment involved but what that entails I don't know.

Another problem I have with this book is that apparently a underwater society didn't have any of the problems of our world on land. In the beginning we're introduced to a world where people have different jobs, the main character's family seems distinctly lower middle-class (they talk about things they can't afford), but then Esmerine is aghast at all the problems of land based society. There's poverty, beggars, cripples and she doesn't understand this at all. I find it unrealistic that an underworld world with some kind of economic system could exist entirely without poverty or flaws. To me this felt like a continuity error.

This book is well enough to read. I have no major issues with it (like I do with a lot of paranormal YA) but at the end of the day I felt pretty ambiguous towards it. I just didn't care enough. But I suspect a lot of people will enjoy the romance and skim over the flaws but I just expected more.