Thursday, April 30, 2009

Authors: Your Endings?

In yesterday's discussion, people expressed interest in discussing endings in general instead of how you feel about an ending. So, I mean, what is my blog but a forum for these discussions? :)

Authors, if you would, could you answer a few questions? (And readers, too, if any of these apply to you.) Like:

Do you know how things will go before you start writing? If not, how many times do you write an ending before it sticks?

Do you prefer ambiguous endings, cliffhanger endings, twisty endings, or tell-all endings? Why?

How hard is it to write the Final Chapter, from your writing fiend perspective?

...anything else?

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

This book is so quotable! I loves that! Prepare to embark on a link-heavy review. Ahem:

“What’s the mental music like?” Dr. Malone asks when I’m out of the tunnel.

I prefer the word “internal” to the word “mental” when referring to the music. The fact that the IM, as I call it for short, is inside my mind does not necessarily mean that it produced by my mind.
First- (but prone to dialog in third- instead of in first- or second-) person narrator Marcelo Sandoval has an autism-like condition no doctor’s been able to diagnose: he hears music no one else can. His father however, doesn’t believe in Marcelo’s differences. So in the summer before Marcelo’s senior year, instead of working at his special-need school Paterson’s stable with the ponies he’s learned to take care of, he’ll be working in the mailroom of his father’s law firm to gain experience in the “real world” (his father’s favorite expression).

Well, Marcelo’s not happy about it. The people at Sandoval & Holmes all seem to think he’s retarded or has a “cognitive disorder” (a term used even by his “There’s nothing wrong with you!” father).

The term “cognitive disorder” implies there is something wrong with the way I think or the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.

And it’s true. His mind is fascinating. He takes the brunt of human behavior and tries to decipher it so as to make inferences about it. Whereas everyone else relies on interpretation to get through the day, he likes literal. There’s less room for error with literal. And this reads so well:

“You need to speak clearly. I don’t know what the phrase ‘jump your bones’ means. It would be very helpful if you were literal.”

“Literal?”

“If you used words in accordance with their primary meaning, not their metaphorical meaning.”

But enough with the quoting for now.

This book is almost a study on humans through the mind of a guy who is the pinnacle of “socially awkward“. Marcelo’s precise, but for obvious reasons clueless, lacking completely in street smarts. His social inexperience is a great setup for conflict: when someone takes advantage of him, he ignores his instincts and hesitates to react until he’s got a comprehensive breakdown of the person’s motives, which makes him an easy target. His summer is a huge wake-up call to how theory doesn’t always apply in practice, and it forces him to rearrange his careful, sheltered-life truths and think bigger, larger, more abstract.

The reason I loved this book--besides the voice, which is truly spectacular--is threefold. First there’s the conflict that arises when Marcelo finds a picture of a disfigured girl while going through the files of his father’s biggest client. It’s his biggest test--how can he possibly accept that the man who’s always cared for him and been a good father, represents someone with questionable business practices?

The other two reasons are two characters:

This double-faced leech, Wendell Holmes (the other partner's son), who hints at having done some creepy shit in the past and who is a bit of a psychopath. There’s no more compelling way of exploring a person like this than through the eyes of a borderline-autistic character who’s just getting his social training wheels off.

And then there’s girl, Jasmine, who’s his boss in the mailroom. Their relationship is ambiguous from the start, and I love ambiguity. Jasmine wakes many feelings in him, and while he constantly questions if he has sexual feelings for her, he can never answer it because he has never felt that way about anyone. A tinge of uncertain romance in a book never hurt anybody.

Anyway: Marcelo’s ultimate breakthrough is learning how to speak up and have trust in himself--a beautiful and hopeful message written in a most accomplished way. This is an instant 2009 favorite. A.

Now, for one more favorite quote:
“Have they talked to you about sex at Paterson?”

“Sexual intercourse is how humans procreate. The erect penis of the man goes into the vagina of the woman. I am not a child.” [He's irritated about always being questioned about his knowledge.]
Fin.

Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) | 320 pages | March 1st, 2009 | Author Website | GoodReads

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The End

Show of hands, who's usually disappointed by the way any given novel novel ends? Not the fact that it ends (that's a mark of a good book, if you're disappointed by it!), but by how it ends.

I don't know if it's just my luck with reading lately, but I've been disappointed with the ending of many a book I've read in the past two weeks or so. It's got me thinking -- am I normally this unsettled by how a book concluded and just haven't noticed?

I don't know. I just know that I consider the ending even more crucial than the beginning because a bad beginning has a lot of room to improve, or at least serves as a warning as to whether the reader should continue the book or not. Whereas, when you're on the last page, you have no room for an uphill climb, nor can you get your reader's time back.

A bad ending can really ruin a book.

Contest: The Prophecy of the Sisters

Winner of the Secret Society Girl contest is ... dissectingperfection! Mya, please email me your address. Congrats! Everyone else, look out for Rampant this fall. Here's the final cover - Diana posted it since the Pub Story! It's the very last one - the first few are just Diana's incredible sense of humor. ;)

This week, one lucky winner gets an ARC of Michelle Zink's Prophecy of the Sisters, out in stores only in August.

Prophecy of the Sisters
Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe and her twin sister Alice have just become orphans, and, as Lia discovers, they have also become enemies. The twins are part of an ancient prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other. To escape from a dark fate and to remain in the arms of her beloved boyfriend James, Lia must end the prophecy before her sister does. Only then will she understand the mysterious circumstances of her parents' deaths, the true meaning of the strange mark branded on her wrist, and the lengths to which her sister will go to defeat her. Debut novelist Michelle Zink takes readers on an unforgettable journey where one sister's fateful decision could have an impact of Biblical proportions. Prophecy of the Sisters is the first of three books. Learn more at www.prophecyofthesisters.com.



Sound good? Just comment! You have until next Wednesday to enter.

You have until next Wednesday to enter. Just comment.

+ 1 if you link to this contest post
+ 1 if you link to her Pub Story
+ 1 -sekkrit-

Contest ended. Winner announced here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Winners & are you a Libba fan?

Winners of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: Abby, Vasilly, Ellie, and Michelle Kuo. Ellie is a commenter who did not leave her email address, so I can't reach her. Ellie, you out there? The freshman in college? New to the blog? Email me, please, all of you with your addresses!



Also:

Do you heart Libba? She'll be online at a free 3D chatroom on there.com to do an event at 7-8:30 EST today to promote the release of the The Sweet Far Thing paperback!

Pub Story: Michelle Zink

Author guest blogs + publication paths = Pub Stories. It's a Tuesday thing. Click here for more info (esp. if you're an author wanting to participate). Click here for a list of all participants.

Michelle Zink Michelle Zink lives in New York and has always been fascinated with ancient myths and legends. Never satisfied with simply reading them, she usually ends up asking, "What if?" Sometimes asking only leads to more questions, but every now and then, when everything falls into place just right, a story is born. Prophecy of the Sisters is one of those stories. It comes out in August. You can read the first two chapters here. Find out more at http://myspace.com/prophecypress or follow her on Twitter.

Also? This story is quite a fairy tale one. (With lots of blood, sweat and tears involved in its making, alas.)

The Story
In 2000, I was a sales and marketing executive with a computer consulting firm. I had risen pretty quickly through the ranks, and was making an enviable income at the age of 30. I had a nice house a mile from the beach in an affluent community on Southern California, a full time nanny, and plenty of money.

But I was so unhappy. In fact, I was more than unhappy, I was miserable.

The truth is, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew it was nothing related to what I’d been doing. The biggest obstacle to a more creative career and a simpler life was the cost of living in Southern California, and I decided that if geography was the only thing standing between me and happiness, I would move.

On a whim, I took a trip to NY, staying in B&Bs along the Hudson and looking into the schools and real estate market in the rural towns north of New York City. Along the way, I connected with a few realtors in my favorite towns and left with promises of house hunting on my behalf. Over the next few week, I received emails about various houses, but there was one area in particular that had a lot I was interested in exploring, so I took a trip back with my son in January, 2001, fell in love with an old converted barn on four quiet acres, and made an offer. I tried not to panic on the plane ride home, but it was hard. Reality was setting in, and I knew I’d have to quit my job, sell my home, and brace my kids for a 3,000 mile move. Scariest of all? I hadn’t a clue what I would do for a living and had only enough savings to survive for about nine months.

Even with all of that, though, I was (and still am) a big believer in the universe, fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it. I just felt like something was propelling me forward, and I decided that I would go home and put my house on the market and see if everything fell into place. If the doors kept opening in front of me, I’d take the plunge, but if things got sketchy, if I couldn’t sell my house or the contract on the NY house fell through, well, then I’d reconsider.

None of that happened, though. The CA house sold quickly, leaving me with a little more equity than I’d expected. The kids were sad to leave their friends, but excited for the adventure ahead and happy I was going to be home more. The house in NY went into contract with only minor difficulty (a triumph in NY!). On June 25th, six months after I put in the offer on the NY house, we drove away from California and began the nine-day journey by car to our new home.

The next three or four years were sketchy. I *still* didn’t know what I wanted to do. I helped pay the bills by selling antique furniture, and while I really loved going to auction and flea markets, it wasn’t satisfying in the soulful way I wanted and it wasn’t really paying the bills. I still felt like something was missing, but I had a lot more time with my children, we were living a quieter, simpler life, and I’d even found time to read again, something I’d always loved to do but had lost in the crazy-business of my CA lifestyle.

And it turns out, that was the key. One day while I was reading, it came to me. It wasn’t a new realization. Instead, it was like I was remembering my writing. I stopped in the middle of my book and thought, “I think I can do this.” I remembered being a teenager and wanting to write. I remembered being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up and always saying, “I want to be a writer.” What had happened to that? How had I lost it?

I decided then and there to write a book from start to finish, no matter what. I’d had an idea kicking around in my head, so I started with that, and from the moment I started, I was in love. Not with that book, but with the process. I dreamt about my book. I thought about it while I was driving, while I was cooking… pretty much all the time. And the funny thing was; I felt alive in a way I had never felt before. It was like breathing again after holding my breath for a very long time, and I knew I would never be able to live without it again.

That book became my trunk novel. It was okay. It even garnered a little interest from a couple of agents, but that wasn’t the important part. The important part was that I’d learned I could start and finish a whole book. So I did it again. And this time, I had a feeling it was actually good.

I sent Book Two to a few agents, and immediately got two quick responses. One was from Steven Malk, a well respected agent at Writer’s House. The other was from a lesser known but enthusiastic agent at another house. Steven told me it was “a good first draft”. That it needed work but he thought it could be really great. The other agent loved it as is and wanted to send it out immediately. Okay…. Hear it coming? Wait for it… Big Mistake. I went with the enthusiastic agent and my book went out right away. It was well-received. It even almost sold once. But in the end it didn’t, and it took six months of waiting to get to that point. During that time, I’d kept up my regular schedule of writing 6-8 hours every day, because I was always determined that I would just keep writing until something sold. That turned out to be a good thing, because I’d finished three more books in the six months that one was on submission. When I was done, my new favorite was Book Five, a Gothic fantasy, and I really had a feeling it might be special. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to break off with my existing agent and look for another one. I just wasn’t sure I could turn out a submission ready draft my first book out, and I didn’t want to take the chance of losing the book because it was sent out prematurely. It was scary to throw myself back out there again, but I did, canceling my contract with my current agent and querying only four top agents with my new book.

I received requests from all four immediately. One of them was Steven Malk. Again. Guess what he said? Yep; “It’s a good first draft.” He told me it needed a lot of work but he believed it could be “big”. I couldn’t help feeling that the universe was trying to tell me something.

I was supposed to work with this agent. I had something to learn.

So I agreed to work on the book with Steven. Other writers told to be careful. I didn’t have a contract. There was no guarantee that he would even represent me when it was all said and done. I could make all the suggested changes and get nothing in return. But I don’t know… I knew that no matter what, I’d have a better book in the end. I’d be learning something about the craft. I just had a feeling that I was supposed to be right where I was, and so we began.

Over the next eight months, Steven sent me detailed editorial letters, starting with one that was 12 pages long. There were big things – pacing, structure, and character development. But there were a lot of little things, too. Why does she think this? Why would they go there? This doesn’t sound like something she’d say… Sometimes I wanted to go out into one of our fields and scream with frustration. I wanted to scream, “It doesn’t matter!!” But every time I made the changes I realized something. It did matter. And it taught me something so important. It taught me that the reader will have questions. It taught me that they deserve answers. I remember that even now, and I answer those questions, however small.

Finally, after eight months of revising, Steven told me the book was ready for submission. He told me “it could be awhile”, especially since it was a debut novel, before we heard back from any of the editors. So I settled in to wait.

The book was submitted on a Monday. On Wednesday, Steven called to say that five editors were interested. He thought we might have to set up an auction on Friday and he would call me back then. I was pretty excited.

Wow. An auction. The word every writer wants to hear. Steve told me he’d call the next day to give me an update. I was excited but still cautious. This is a business of disappointment. There are no guarantees.

When Steve called me Thursday afternoon he told me that Nancy Conescu from Little Brown had been reading the book into the night and had had a problem with her computer. Instead of waiting, she went out and had a copy printed. Then she stayed up to finish it. Steve had a call by 5am (he’s on the West Coast) with a pre-emptive offer. Before he gave me the offer, he said, “I think you might want to lay down for this one.”

He was right.

It was enough that I could write my usual 6-8 hours a day without having to keep my part-time business going. Enough that I could do the one thing I wanted to do more than any other; write for a living. For real.

One of the catches (if you can call anything a catch in a deal like this) was that LB wanted World Rights. Steve felt we should ask for more if we were going to sell World Rights as part of the package. I am a writer. Steve is my agent. He knows what he’s doing. With my heart in my throat, I told him to do what he felt was best.

The next day, we had a higher offer from LB to include World Rights. We gratefully accepted. Emphasis (for me) on the word “gratefully.” I spoke to my new editor, Nancy, that same day. I was a little, ahem, nervous. Nancy asked me what had prompted me to write the book. I’m not sure what I said, but I don’t think I was very coherent just then. Shortly after our phone conversation I received an email from Nancy welcoming me to Little Brown. She included a brief summary of what she loved about my book. It was lovely, and I thought, “Um, yeah! That was what I meant to say!” I liked her immediately, and although we haven’t started working together in earnest, I have a feeling we’re going to have a lot of fun and get along famously.

How did it feel? Surreal. How does it feel now? Even more surreal.

There are a couple of particularly magic moments that stand out for me about this experience. They include;

Jumping up and down in the living room with my thirteen-year-old daughter, screaming, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”

Telling my mom, who has loaned me money, plotted financial tactics to keep us going, and generally seen me through more panic attacks then you can imagine.

Telling my children, and being able to say (and mean it), “This is a team victory, guys. We all sacrificed for this. We all did this.”

Hearing Steve say, “I’ve put together some big deals in my career, Michelle. But I will never forget this one. This is the fairy tale.”

Oh, and for some reason, especially this; Nancy told me that the Subsidiary Rights department was really excited about my book. That they really wanted World Rights. That they were full of ideas for marketing and publicity and were worried we might not sell World Rights outright. She said when she went into the SR department on Friday and told them we’d accepted their offer for World Rights, everybody stood up and cheered.

Why does that stay with me? Why does that still make me ridiculously sappy?

What can I say? I am a writer. I have stories to tell. What could be better than knowing there are people who want to hear them?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In Hindsight This Week

Some of this week's highlights:

Monday, April 20th:
reviewed The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne: And I acknowledge that my knowledge on the Holocaust is pretty limited. I acknowledge this book has its flaws. But it was an interesting story that started out innocent and ordinary enough and ended with a shocker that didn't leave off a cliffhanger but rather made the book worth it.

Tuesday, April 21st: Diana Peterfreund's pub story. In it you find the roots of the epic Zombie vs Unicorn battle.

Wednesday, April 22nd: Giveaway of Diana's Secret Society Girl series (four books total, signed). Still three days for you to enter - just leave a comment.

Thursday, April 23rd: Where Are We With Blogging? discussion, which led to several thoughtful comments.

Other places where I saw this discussion linked to, and among them are Tea Cozy and Read Roger (Horn Book blog--made my day, truly).

Saturday, April 25th: Literary Seniority: a discussion on which books are worth more than others.

Sunday, April 26th: My list of reading quirks ('Steph doing the Trisha') and French Elle goes au natural.

Makeupless (B)Elles

I just saw Melissa Walker's (Violet series and Lovestruck Summer) new post via my feed reader: French Elle is featuring eight European celebrities without makeup or photo retouching in their issue this month.

From the article: "What might be most striking about French Elle's pictorial is how it actually appears to embrace and celebrate the organic beauty of these famous faces. ... In the U.S., when you come across a "stars without makeup" story, there's always a GOTCHA! element, a message that says 'Our gift to you: Derive pleasure from how ugly this person looks without cover-up for her zits!'"

This makes me extremely happy. Thanks Melissa for the heads up.

Steph Doing the Trisha

Trisha's Is Your Book For Me quiz.

Steph's altered-version-of-the-same-principle-in-which-I-only-talk-about-weird-reading-quirks-I-have:

* Please note this is not a check list to What Makes Me Like a Book. Just stuff I've seen once or twice that appealed to me and that I'd like to see more of if I could, but in no way means it's all I want to see. In fact, if it was all I saw, I'd probably not like it. Moderation, grasshopper.

** A SMALL INTERRUPTION **
If you can recommend books that fit any of the criteria below, you get a lollipop.
  • Third person narration in a first person narrative where we don't know who the first person narrator is. Not my favorite book ever but it's an example that comes to mind: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
  • Androgynous voices. Or genderless voices.
  • Serial killer/psychopath characters among normal people, all well developed. (In contrast I HATE books where there's some twisted mind who's entirely gratuitous and flat and ugh.
  • Theater books. (Like Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson or My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger.)
  • Theater fairy books. (I have like two around here somewhere. Wondrous Strange and Eyes Like Stars.)
  • Straight-from-the-headlines fiction.
  • Teacher/relationship fiction.
  • Fantasy set in a medieval kingdom. (I LOVE THIS. Graceling by Kristin Cashore's setting = love!)
  • Killer unicorns.
  • Religious nonfiction.
  • Characters with a penchant for the word 'fuck', but not at Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist level.
  • Historical fiction. Really excellent, thoroughly researched historical fiction, especially about little-known periods, a la Christine Fletcher and Ten Cents a Dance.
  • Feminist undertones. Strong female characters.
  • I like reading light teen romances, so I'll put this in here for good measure: Books without a love interest. (Ex: Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fischer.)
  • For more good measure: (copying from Trisha's) A romance for older teens with a happy-for-now ending, no romance-(and-breakup)-as-part-of-coming-of-age or gee-I-finally-decided-twenty-pages-from-the-end-that-the-guy-I-was-crushing-on-is-a-jerk-and-I-actually-really-like-that-other-guy?
  • Experimental and/or stylized narratives. Like with no quotation marks, or whatever else. I've never really seen a lot of this thing so I don't have much to go on except that I would like to see more of it.
  • I'd love to read more books solely about friendship and its bounds and limits and extreme situations. I'd love a recommendation for a book like this.
And...! I think that's it. I'll add more when I think of it. What is everyone else's?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I can't resist: After by Amy Efaw

This book won't be released till August but I can't resist the urge to talk about it now anyway because I really liked it.

Who would leave their own baby in the trash to die?

Certainly not someone like Devon--a straight-A student, soccer player with Olympic dreams, more mature than her own mother. But desparation and panic drover her to do what most people can't even imagine. Now Devon's in a juvenile detention center, charged with attempted murder. If she's tried as an adult, she faces life in prison.

Does Devon deserve that punishment? Your answer depends on whether you believe her story--that she didn't even know she was pregnant. Was she buried in a denial so deep that she was unable to register the seemingly obvious signs of pregnancy? Or were her actions the result of a more devious, premeditated plan?

Here's part of what I wrote on GoodReads about it (and follow that link if you want to know how it begins):

The book chronicles what happened before and after [the dumping of her baby] -- some flashbacks explaining how Devon, this super devoted, serious student and über talented soccer player, who vowed never to take part in any sexual activity, became pregnant and came to throw her baby away, and the court process. It's a truly compelling read. What I truly loved is that it doesn't get overbearing or try to justify the crime itself, but rather explains how Devon - or any girl, really - might get there. There wasn't any condescending or overly sympathetic tone in the narrative, no interruption from the author, absolutely nothing--very straightforward.

There's a book site at http://after-book.com. I'll review it properly later, but for now, this is your introduction. :)

Literary Seniority

Suppose I give you two books: One is a life-changing, multi-award winning (and deservedly so) novel and the other is well written as well, but it's more for entertainment and for enjoyment. I want to say commercial, but I believe award-winning books can have a commercial bend as well.

You love both books equally but for different reasons. One makes you you laugh, entertains you, and you're dumbstruck by how happy it makes you (Book #2); the other (Book #1) gets you to think and you marvel at the language and you're just dumbstruck by its brilliance.

Which one would you say is a greater accomplishment? It's obvious both authors love the craft and their characters, but which one would you say is more valuable than the other?

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Arnold to his white classmates, Junior to everyone else in the “rez” (Spokane Indian reservation), was born with hydrocephalus, which is literally water--or cerebral spinal fluid--on the brain. “But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors’ fancy way of saying brain grease. … My brain is drowning in grease.” By some miracle he survives the procedure to remove all of this liquid as a baby, and by another he didn’t have very serious brain damage. Well, aside from his seizures in childhood and his forty-two teeth (“ten teeth past human”).

When Arnold becomes a freshman in high school, seeing his mother’s name on his textbook--they never got new ones at his school!--and a teacher telling him to get out of the rez prompt him to transfer to a 22-miles-away, white-farm-kids’ high school. A traitor to his own people and a fish out of water at this new place, Arnold has to learn how to deal as a part-time Indian.

Y’know, promptly after finishing this book, I went on Wikipedia to read something about Sherman Alexie, and his biography was just exactly like this. Down to the mother’s name on his textbook in freshman year of high school. Down to the favorite books--one of Sherman’s is Grapes of Wrath, as is one of Arnold’s. It made me wonder how much of this book is actually fictionalized to warrant the “A Novel” on the cover. One major difference I could come up is that Arnold is a “budding cartoonist” and it doesn’t seem Sherman Alexie is as well, or else he’d probably have illustrated it instead of Ellen Forney. (Oh! Right! It’s got random cartoons all over the place, which was quite funny.)

But anyway. The only way I can describe my reaction to this book is to liken it to Taren’s response to An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. She liked it well enough, but it made no waves. Same with me here. I thought the narrative, while not in my personal favorite style of writing, was tight and had a good, humorous beat, something you would expect at certain (heartbreaking) passages, but that nevertheless worked. It got a couple of laughs out of me. And it entertained well enough while it lasted.

But upon completion, I don’t feel like I really know any of the characters. Which is funny, since this is a character driven book if there ever was any. The vast majority took up only one dimension to me, at most two, even the ones particularly close and important to Arnold: his parents, sisters, his dad’s best friend Eugene, and so on. And whatever happened to that plot catalyst Mr. Something who pushed him to transfer?

So, I mean, I wouldn’t call it a bad book because it’s not. But I wouldn’t actively recommend it either. It stands as just average to me, as do many books, and so in essence it fails to stand out. It is probably a good thing it is like in its zillionth printing, huh? :P C

Little, Brown | 230 pages | September 12th, 2007 | Sherman Alexie's Website | Goodreads

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where Are We With Blogging?

A few days back, Lenore made a post regarding book pitches thrown--sometimes literally--at her. In the comments section Lenore got three or four disgruntled authors who shared their recent experiences with book bloggers. Namely:

  • They’re getting dozens of requests a week for their book
  • Their book has been published for some time now and they’re getting “Please send a review copy of your book to ___” messages
  • They’re seeing book bloggers with a crap ton of books who don’t review a thing
  • Book bloggers who only seem to post about how they can get free books

So, yeah, there’s a bit of an issue there, don’t you think?

Additionally, some other issues that have stirred the 'sphere:

  • Clique-like behavior among the bloggers
  • Bragging about your assets, the impossible-to-get ARCs

One of those authors even claimed her/his print run had been reduced because the publisher felt the ARC distribution had covered a substantial part of her target readership. Basically, from people passing ARCs around and such. From what I understood. This really hurts her/his career.

Anyway, what they said really interested me. Many authors publicly express their love of book bloggers--sometimes even in their acknowledgments! But I’ve yet to see one openly say what they’re finding problematic in the community, which I understand (no one wants to be labeled a blogger hater). All the same, it’d be interesting what people are taking issues with.

I thought I’d bring this to the table and ask book bloggers and authors alike how they feel about books being requested. Do you, book bloggers, feel you get much more than you can read? And what about you, authors? Your thoughts? Share your experiences? I asked this back in ’08 and authors were very open to it, but those three or four over at Lenore’s makes me think something’s changed. What happened?

On a more general note, beyond requesting and getting books, what is everyone’s take on the blogosphere as it is now?

I’d prefer if we didn’t name any names and we kept this civil. Adopt an alias if you wish to remain anonymous (I have a feeling many will, and it would help if we could differentiate between all the anons).

I think it’s important to have these conversations once in a while and see where things stand: How is the community changing? It’s much different than it was even a year ago, that much I can assure you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Contest: Secret Society Girl books

Winner of last week's Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon contest: Jessica (jessi137 (at) hotmail (dot) com)

This week, Diana has graciously offered up her entire SSG series, which means four books! The 411:

Book 1: Secret Society Girl
Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful—and notorious—secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male.

So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her?

Whisked off into an initiation rite that’s a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”—from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.

Book 2: Under the Rose
Amy Haskel made it into elite Eli University. Then she made it into the ultraselective Order of Rose & Grave. Now a senior, Amy is looking her future squarely in the eye—until someone starts selling society secrets. When a series of bizarre messages suggests conspiracy within the ranks and a female knight mysteriously disappears, no member of Rose & Grave is safe…or above suspicion.

On her side, Amy has a few loyal Diggirls—her fellow female Rose & Grave knights. Against her? Certainly it’s a group of Rose & Grave’s überpowerful patriarchs who want their old boys’ club back. As new developments in her love life threaten to implode, and the case of the vanished Diggirl gets weirder by the moment, Amy will need to use every society trick she’s ever learned in order to set things right. Even if it means turning to old adversaries for help—or discovering that the real foes are closer than she’d thought…

Book 3: Rites of Spring (Break)
Amy “Bugaboo” Haskel and her fellow Rose & Grave knights are trading cold, gray, hyperintellectual New Haven for an annual rite of spring (well, early March) in Florida.

For Amy, a week of R&R on her secret society’s private island should be all fun in the sun—and an escape from an on-campus feud with a rival society that’s turned disturbingly personal. But along with her SPF 30 and a bikini, Amy is bringing a suitcase full of issues to remote Cavador Key. Graduation from Eli University looms, not to mention buckets of unfinished business with a former flame and—most pressing of all—the sudden, startling transformation of a mysterious Rose & Grave patriarch from sheerly evil to utterly…appealing?

Just when Amy thinks Spring Break can’t get any less relaxing, a wacky “accident” puts everyone on edge. And that’s only the beginning, as Amy starts to suspect that someone has infiltrated the island. With some major Rose & Grave secrets to be exposed, and the potential fallout enough to take down one of America’s most loathsome figureheads, what she can’t know is that the party crasher is deadly serious about making sure “Bugaboo” doesn’t get back to Eli alive….

Book 4: Tap & Gown
For Amy the countdown to graduation has begun, and suddenly the perfect ending to a perfectly iconoclastic Eli career is slipping from her grasp. Her new boyfriend’s been made an offer he just can’t refuse. Her fellowship applications haven’t even been filed. And the student she’s chosen to take her place in Rose & Grave – the country’s more powerful and notorious secret society – seems to come complete with a secret life already intact.

Lunging toward the finish line, Amy finds trouble around every corner, from society intrigues and unlikely stalkers to former flames and mandatory science credits. Surely it couldn’t get worse…until Initiation Night explodes into a terrifying scene and into a last test of wits for a young woman just trying to make it out of the Ivy League in one piece.


You have until next Wednesday to enter. Just comment.

+ 1 if you link to this contest post
+ 1 if you link to her Pub Story
+ 1 -sekkrit-

Contest ended. Winner announced here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pub Story: Diana Peterfreund

Author guest blogs + publication paths = Pub Stories. It's a Tuesday thing. Click here for more info (esp. if you're an author wanting to participate). Click here for a list of all participants.

Diana Peterfreund has been a costume designer, a cover model, and a food critic. Her travels have taken her from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the underground caverns of New Zealand (and as far as she’s concerned, she’s just getting started). Diana graduated from Yale University in 2001 with dual degrees in Literature and Geology, which her family claimed would only come in handy if she wrote books about rocks. Now, this Florida girl lives with her husband and their puppy in Washington D.C., and writes books that rock. Visit her online at http://dianapeterfreund.com.

The Story
The urban legend goes something like this: Author's friend pitches three chapters of Author's book at a local writing conference and ignites a storm of interest. Less than a month later, Author's brand-new agent lands a six-figure, two-book deal for the author in a heated, six-way auction - based on a partial manuscript.

The reality is a little more complicated, though no less exhilarating. In early 2005, I was feeling very “close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades” about my fiction writing career. I had a stack of unpublished writing contest honors to my credit, and an even larger stack of rejection letters. My latest manuscript (#4) had been submitted to 21 agents, and rejected by 20. I was currently between jobs and without apartment, having just moved to Washington, D.C., and I started manuscript #5.

After I finished three chapters, secured a job and apartment, and felt pretty comfortable with the story, I shared the premise (Co-ed gets tapped into an Ivy League Secret Society kinda like Skull & Bones) with my critique partner, Marley Gibson (GHOST HUNTRESS: THE AWAKENING). Like me, she was still waiting for the big brass ring of publication. That weekend, she went to a writing conference and sat down at dinner next to an editor who said she was looking for a book set at Yale. A light bulb went on over Marley's head. “My friend has a book about secret societies at Yale!”

Well, by the end of the conference, Marley and her cohorts had garnered me three requests from editors and agents. This was the year of The Da Vinci Code. This was the year after the big Skull & Bones head-to-head in the U.S. Presidential election (both Bush and Kerry had been Bonesmen). Secret societies were hot. Nervous, (both due to the requests and it being my first week at my new job!) I sent out the partial to those who had asked for it. I also emailed that one agent who still had #4 and tried to convince her to read this one first. Then I turned off my work computer and took the Metro home.

When I got home, I grabbed my then-boyfriend (now husband) to show him that I had been exchanging emails with a Real Live Agent. Well, I had a new one waiting for me in my inbox. That agent had been convinced. She'd read the manuscript while I'd been in rush hour subway crowds, and wanted to represent me! Yay!

A few days later, I signed with her, and she took the book out widely. Because of the “crossover” nature of the book (it was, quite literally about a young adult, a 21 year old girl in college, but it was far older than the “teen” that usually signifies “young adult” books) we sent it to both YA and adult houses. Some YA houses passed, saying they thought the book was great, but it really wasn't YA. Other YA houses offered on the condition that I make the story about a teenage freshman in college instead (it would have been a very different story had that come to pass, one that would have been far less true-to-life about the secret society experience).

We already had an offer from that very first editor (the one at the conference), so my agent went about setting up an auction, which occurred nine days after I signed with her. Six houses (mostly adult) came to the auction, and at the end of the day, I accepted an offer from Bantam Dell. SECRET SOCIETY GIRL was published in 2006, and was followed by UNDER THE ROSE in 2007, RITES OF SPRING (BREAK) in 2008, and the conclusion of the series in 2009, TAP & GOWN.

And yet, I still wanted to break into actual young adult fiction, so I made sure that my new manuscript was about a teenager. I was madly in love with the growing subset of YA fantasy, and decided to write an adventure story about a girl who hunts killer unicorns. I sent it to my agent. Her response: “Killer WHAT?” But then she read it and loved it and sent it out. A lot of editors went: “Killer WHAT?”

But some folks were totally into it, and we sold it to Harper Teen (also at auction) in 2007. I announced it on my website. People thought I was joking: (“Killer WHAT?”) People thought I was joking so much that my friend Justine Larbalestier started making fun of unicorns on her website. And thus, the great zombies vs. unicorns debate was born.

But I'm not joking, and RAMPANT, my first true young adult novel, will be out in fall of 2009.

Further: The Rampant cover changed and there's not a new one out yet for us bloggers and the likes to exploit, so that's why that's not included.

News Break--

While I'm still very much looking forward to the BBAW this year and can't wait for it to pop up on My Friend Amy's blog once more, I'm excited to see a YA awards ceremony:

(Copying from In Bed With Books:)

Hey, Teenager of the Year is hosting the new People's Choice YA Book Blog Awards. It's time to show some blog love!

Nominations are now open.

Here's the quick rundown of the categories:

Best Interviewer: That blogger who asks authors all the tough questions.

Best Reviewer: Whose reviews are almost better than the books?

Best Newcomer: A new, fabulous YA book blogger (Six months blogging or less).

The Golden Book Blog Award: This award is for the long-time blogger who deserves recognition for their commitment to making a star blog. The blogs that inspired you to start book blogging, the pioneers of YA book blog land. They know who they are.

Rules: You can nominate for one category, or you can nominate for all four. You cannot nominate more than four times, and you can’t nominate yourself. You can nominate someone who has already been nominated, though.

Pretty cool, huh? You can nominate now.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

So, I finally remembered that I wanted to read this "sosososososo amazing!" (direct quote) book when I saw it in a bookstore this weekend and so I picked it up and promptly headed to the check out. I was exhausted when I sat down to read some of it that same night but I ended up making my way through a good 50 pages (out of 216) before turning in for the night. It's quite a fast read, this one is.

** someone in the comment's section asked for a spoiler warning, so let's do that! **

Nine-year-old Bruno comes home from school to his family's maid, Maria, packing all his stuff up from his room (even the stuff hidden at the back of the closet that no one's supposed to see). He finds out from his mother that they're moving far, far away from his five-story house and home in Berlin, to a place he calls "Out-with". (Use your Holocaust knowledge to figure out what the place is really called.) This because his father, after dinner with "the Fury", starts being addressed to as Commandant.

Hmm...

Despite being a prominent Nazi's son, Bruno is very naïve. Just outside his new home is a fence and he sees all these people--grandfathers, fathers, sons--in striped pajamas and wonders if he can play with the children because he's lonely after leaving his three best friends in Berlin. He doesn't seem to know that they're Jews, therefore "subhuman". He doesn't know he's supposed to hate them. He doesn't even know what "Heil Hitler" means--he thinks it's just another form of saying hello.

A penchant for exploration leads him to an isolated spot along the fence away from his--the Commandant's--house, where there's a dot that becomes a speck that becomes a blob that becomes a figure that becomes a boy is found. His name is Shmuel.

Looks like Bruno's just found his new friend.

I read some of the other (many) reviews of this book on Amazon and GoodReads and the like, and while I'll agree there are quite a number of historical inaccuracies in this text and that's usually enough reason to turn me into a shrieking fiend, I gotta say I actually really liked this book.

And the historical inaccuracies aren't the only flaws. "Out-with" and "the Fury" for example are English-language wordplays when it's stated time and again within the narrative that they're all speaking is German. I mean, how does that work? Anyway, I also saw a lot of criticism about the narrative being third person limited focusing on Bruno, with many repetitive segments and just a childish feel, which is appropriate given the narrator is nine. I quite liked this device because I loved how the author mastered the voice of a nine-year-old, but I didn't know why it slipped into omniscient and fluctuated from that to limited at random.

I guess the big question here is: Would it be possible for a Commandant's son to not be cognizant of the Nazi ideals? Personally, I'm willing to suspend my belief enough to entertain the notion. It seemed like Bruno's father was too busy with his career, his mom was way too drunk to deal with the situation half of the time (ahh, a conscience), and his sister was a little intense. Every time he brought it up, his father dismissed his questions, his mother was deadweight, and his sister mocked him. How's a boy to learn?

And I acknowledge that my knowledge on the Holocaust is pretty limited. I acknowledge this book has its flaws. But it was an interesting story that started out innocent and ordinary enough and ended with a shocker that didn't leave off a cliffhanger but rather made the book worth it.

Okay, and confession: I read the reviews midway through the book, actually, because I was dying to know what other people had thought and after that I was predisposed to not liking it because it seemed heavy-handed on the fiction rather than the historical.

But I liked it nevertheless and wouldn't hesitate to anyone, especially those who LOVE big twist endings.

Also: It sucked reading about this absolutely naïve boy who didn't need to get dragged into this crap but who did nevertheless because of his circumstances. And it sucked even more to see him interacting with Shmuel, independently reaching the conclusion that they were basically the same, and then running to his family and finding out--through fragments--that he was supposed to hate Shmuel because he is a Jew. One passage went something like this (paraphrasing because the book isn't near me):

"We hate them," Gretel said. "They're Jews."
"And what are we?"
"We're-- we're-- " (Gretel struggles). "We're the opposite."
"So they're the Jews and they live on that side of the fence and we live here because we're Opposites."
"Yes."

(Really paraphrased but that's the main idea of the dialogue."

Anyway: B.

(Sorry for the rushed review but I had to review it now and I have to go watch some inappropriate cartoon with my brother now.)

David Fickling Books | 216 pages | September 12th, 2006 | GoodReads

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Winner of ARC Contest....

Is Becky!

I love this idea and I'll probably do it more when I'm next in the US. (I'll bring my supply of ARCs that I can give away for this.) Hold tight!

Steph

Friday, April 17, 2009

Two Cute Kids' Graphic Novels

I just finished these two graphic novels for kids:

Claire and the Water Wish by Janice Poon Summer's over and Claire's a bit nervous about starting at a new school. She doesn't care about being popular -- she just wants to fit in. Claire is thankful to have her best friend, Jet. But the girls quickly grow apart when Jet wins a digital camera. Jet's bitten by the shutterbug and seems only interested in snapping photos with the cool kids. Tired of Jet's antics, Claire strikes up a friendship with Sky, a girl from the local Lovesick Lake community. She learns that the water in Sky's lake is undrinkable. The community suspects someone's been secretly dumping waste in it for years. But when the three friends stumble across the polluters' trail, will they be able to put their differences aside in time to save Lovesick Lake? The Claire graphic novels are built on stories of strong friendships and action-packed fun. Young girls will love to share the adventures of Claire and her friends -- and then try the activities at the end of each book!

and

A Sam & Friends Mystery: Dracula Madness written Mary Labatt and illustrated by Jo Rioux) In the first book in the Sam and Friends Mystery graphic novel series, Dracula Madness, Jennie meets Samantha, the sheepdog belonging to her new next-door neighbors. No ordinary dog, Sam is a detective with a nose for sniffing out a mystery even in a small town as uneventful as Woodford. No ordinary girl, Jennie has a special connection with this dog -- Jennie can read Sam's thoughts. After Jennie and her friend Beth show Sam the creepiest house in town, the dog detective is on the case. The weird owner of the house, McIver, must be ... Dracula. Who else would never go outside and never turn the lights on? Why else would bats be flying around his yard? This McIver definitely has something to hide. But is he really a vampire? Fueled by odd combinations of junk food, Sam's boundless energy and fertile imagination sometimes lead everyone a little astray. But even if the mystery turns out to be something less than mysterious, when Sam and friends are on the case, adventure is never far behind.

Okay, so I really shouldn't be reviewing graphic novels--especially not MG-seeming ones--because I've really never read one before, but so it goes. I thought both of these were really cute and both, especially Dracula Madness, would make good additions to a graphic novels fan's library. Dracula Madness especially resonated with me because it reminded me of the type of novels I used to read back when I was nine, when I was learning English.

As for the illustrations, I also liked Dracula Madness's better, but both were clear and fitting for their respective stories.

It makes me happy that there are books like this available for kids. I would have literally eaten it up when I was 9 through 11.

Okay Y'all I'm Giving Away Some ARCs





Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison
Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling (it's a very pretty arc, this one)
You Are So Undead To Me by Stacey Jay
Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Since I have to mail them out tomorrow, enter soon. Just comment. This is a contest for all four arcs - only one winner, thus. US only because Steph Is Broker Than-- I'll stop.

Comment.

ETA: No more entries at this time. Come back sometime in July when we'll have another one of these. :P

What do you do with your ARCs...

...when you don't want them anymore/have no more room for them?

My answer: Some ARCs I do want to keep (like Michelle Zink's Prophecy of the Sisters or Diana Peterfreund's Rampant - esp. with the cover change)

But some I don't. And what to do? I have no idea. No libraries in my country (can you donate ARCs anyway?), carrying them back and forth to the US is unfeasible because they weigh more than finished books and books are heavy enough as it is, and finally, I can't even sell them because they have no commercial value.

So, I mean, what do I do? Recycle them?

This is why I prefer finished books.

*hands mic over to commenters*

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Contest: Silver Phoenix

You all heard Cindy's pub story yesterday... now it's time to see the final product! I ended up with an additional ARC of this, so let's do a giveaway.

Description:

on the day of her first betrothal meeting–and rejection–ai ling discovers a power welling deep within her. she can reach into other people’s spirits, hear their thoughts, see their dreams…and that’s just the beginning.

ai ling has been marked by the immortals; her destiny lies in the emperor’s palace, where a terrible evil has lived, stealing souls, for centuries. she must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step. and then she meets chen yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers. here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale for fans of action, fantasy, and romance–of anything with the making of legend.

Comment to win! Contest open for a week - so until the 22nd. Open to US only (sorry guys, lack of funds!).

+1 link to contest
+1 link to Cindy's Pub Story
+1 -secret criterion-

Enter up!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pub Story: Cindy Pon

Author guest blogs + publication paths = Pub Stories. It's a Tuesday thing. Click here for more info (esp. if you're an author wanting to participate). Click here for a list of all participants.

Cindy Pon on herself: "i am a stay at home mom whose debut novel SILVER PHOENIX : Beyond the Kingdom of Xia will be released on APRIL 28, 2009. it’s a YA asian fantasy to be published by greenwillow books, an imprint of harpercollins. the sequel and a children’s picture book with my chinese brush art will follow! when i’m not writing or painting, i like to read, daydream, travel, eat and watch films in the theatre. and i love pastries, chai lattes and taiwanese food! =D" Find out more about her at http://CindyPon.com.

The Story
thank you steph, for inviting me to do a guest blog on
"my pub story". it couldn't come at a more meaningful
time, as my debut YA novel, Silver Phoenix : Beyond the
Kingdom of Xia is out on april 28.

today, while i was cleaning out my desk, i came across
a short two page essay written on april 10, 2006 titled
"novel idea". i wrote about my love for the fantasy genre as
well as my fascination with the chinese culture--and why
not combine my two loves and write a novel?
"i have a few scenes in mind, although whether they are
all interesting or pivotal to the plot and character development,
i cannot say. i do know for certain that i do not have enough
scenes or ideas to create an entire novel right now."

i've written creatively since i was in elementary school,
but i never ever considered myself "a writer". i stopped
writing all through my 20's, being too busy with college,
travel, marriage and grad school. but after having my two
bubs in my early thirties, i returned to my first love, and
thought i'd try writing a novel, for fun. i needed something
to call my own again.

it was probably one of the most difficult things i ever did.
it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of belief in your story and
your characters, to make it all the way to the end. and when
i was done with the novel, i took another year to revise it six
times with the help of critique friends' comments.

after all of that, i thought, maybe i'll try and get an agent
and maybe--haha!--get it published. it was a pipe
dream. at the same time, i really loved my story, my world,
my characters. i felt that i owed it to them, and myself, to at
least try. after three months of querying 121 agent and getting
nearly as many rejections, i was fortunate enough to sign
with bill contardi of brandt and hochman.

we went on submission immediately to eight publishers, and i just waited, clicking my inbox every other minute to see if there was news. after a few rejections, i asked if we would submit to any other editors, or wait to hear from the rest. agent bill said, let's wait. ten minutes later, he emailed to say, correction, i'm subbing to greenwillow books. my editor from greenwillow was the first to put an offer on the table and two others were also interested--my book went to auction without my even realizing. i knew what was happening, but the idea never dawned on me until one of the editors used the term. i spoke with all three editors on the phone, wanting to gauge their personalities, their feel for my novel, what they wanted to change during the revising process. i scheduled these phone calls between nap times and making lunches for the bubs. the whole process was very very surreal. was i really speaking to editors from the top publishing houses in new york city?

agent bill was a superstar every step of the way, a voice of calm
and experience in the (my) face of unbridled excitement, nerves
and utter cluelessness. he stressed from the start that it wasn't
about the money offered on the table, it was about finding an editor
i connected with, finding the right house for my novel.
i really liked my editor, virginia, from the start, and
chose to go with greenwillow books. i couldn't have made
a better decision. SILVER PHOENIX was
sold in may 2008, and since then, she has never looked back.

but i have, as a debut author, often looked back in stunned wonderment
compared to where i am today. my debut will be out there in the big wide
reading world--and it's nothing short of a fantastic childhood dream come true.
like all debut authors, i'm a little anxious, a lot obsessive, still slightly
clueless and lost. but i wouldn't change this loop-de-loop coaster
ride for anything else! =)

--

Further: You may wonder about Cindy's writing style--I know I did! It's like a mix of prose in verse format or something. So I asked her and she said:

the strange habit began back
in frosh year of college--when we just
got email. (i know, wt! 1991!)
i used these crappy little computers with

crappy monitors and i really couldn't type all the way to the end of the screen i mean this is just killing
me so...it sort of stuck! =)
and i didn't even make it to the end of the line. ha!

Interesting, no? It's just an online thing--her novel's written in the same format as any other--but it's a fun trivia thingo for those interested.

Pub Stories Index

Click here for the info post.

In alphabetical order by author last name:


- B -
Brennan, Sarah Rees


- D -
Downing
, Erin
Duffy-Stone, Heather

- M -
Mantchev, Lisa
Mitchell, Saundra

- P -
Peterfreund, Diana
Pon, Cindy

- S -
Scott, Elizabeth

- Z -
Zink, Michelle

Pub Stories

There's this feature over at Dear Author I really like called First Sale, held on Mondays, in which an author guest blogs about their publication path. I'm abnormally curious about this sort of thing which is why I liked the feature so much.

But there was one little problem--they mostly only do romance authors. And I don't read romance. And I haven't seen this type of thing done in YA book blogs. And--

So I emailed the ladies there last week and with their blessing, I'm going to start a YA version of it. From now until I run out of materials, expect a new Pub Story (look, I'm not creative) each week.

** A PREMONITION **
There will be excitement.

So I'm just making this public announcement because if there are any authors out there who follow my blog and I don't know you or have never reviewed your book(s) or both, and you have a funny/unusual/what-have-you pub story, please email me. I'm letting go of that 'I have to have read your book and loved it to host you here' policy of mine for this particular feature. So, email me.

** A BASIC NECESSITY **
Providing a giveaway copy of your book is always a plus.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Because I'm Disturbed

Amazon Rank

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Uhhh...

Wow, some people get really creative when trying to generate income.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

When Josh was in seventh grade, a new, young (24), attractive teacher--Evelyn "Eve" Sherman--came to his middle school to teach history. In no time, Eve told his parents that because Josh was exceptionally bright, she would like to use him as a test subject for a grad school project. This worked perfectly with his parents, as his mom had just started a new job and was looking for ways to occupy Josh's afternoon so he wouldn't be too lonely at home.

In the beginning, Josh took some tests for her after school and afterward she'd drop him off at home. Then, gradually, they began going to her apartment. Long after her project was done, she'd keep bringing him back so he could play on her husband's Xbox and they could hang out--under the pretense that he was helping her grade sixth grade papers. One thing leads to another, and... And eventually it gets out.

It's now five years later. And Eve's being released from jail.

I actually had no idea this was a novel about teacher/student relationships until well into it when I realized that attractive young thing of a teacher of his was actually a cradle robber. And I'll tell you what, before it all began (even as I knew what would happen) I kind of liked Eve. She would be my favorite teacher if I were still twelve because she exudes this down-to-earth attitude and acts like she's a friend and not an authority figure. Which I guess is sort of the point for her...business, and that's scary and creepy and all things bad, but there you have it. This is the first thing I could think of to compliment this book on: its portray of the characters as people, good, bad and ugly.

What I mean is, it's not allegorical, there are no "roles", and it's not glorified, dramatized, or romanticized in any way. Eve's not the Devil reincarnated even when we see her out of prison, when it's clear through Josh's first person narration that what she did was wrong. Josh is not a saint and he's not given special treatment on the part of the author just because he's a victim. The shrink isn't all sputtering psychobabble to the point of choking on it. And so on.

It's kind of key in telling stories, especially ones like this, I think, the giving people strong personalities with many facets. It worked well.

Also, the way in which the story unfolds is clever and hard-to-pull-off because of an reliance on extensive back story. I thought the format fit the story well, and what's more, was well done. See, we're in real time, five years after the whole thing took place, and in that time Josh hasn't talked about it to anyone but his shrink. Then he gets involved in a rekindling with a childhood friend, Rachel, and he tells her (because of special circumstances). So anyway, this means a lot of chapters set in the past.

Which could get boring and slow things down but it so doesn't.

Above all, however, I loved the language. I loved the way this was written. I took issue with Rachel sometimes, which is pretty bad for being the love interest, but I just fell in intense, mad infatuation with how Barry Lyga told the story. This 2007 Cybil winner is a combination of stream-of-thought one-liners, a fluent narrative, one hell or a voice, and a whole lot of talent. A-

Houghton Mifflin | 416 pages | September 24th, 2007 | Barry's website | GoodReads | Amazon

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch

In this past week, I read two very similar books--and it was completely accidental, which I thought was pretty cool. The first one is this. The second review will be put...sometime.

So, Sophomore Undercover. The main character, Dixie, a wannabe journalist, overhears two boys--one who's a jock--in the locker room bathroom talking and sees, through the space between the door and the stall, one injecting something in the other and throwing the syringe away. Thinking it's drug use, Dixie picks up the syringe from the trash and proceeds to be discovered with said syringe by a school official, who reports him, and the roof catches fire from there. Dixie has a week until his court date, and in that time he has to figure out what's going on. Preliminary findings suggest a team-wide drug scandal, which, to a reporter, is very picquant indeed.

I struggled to understand why I didn't like this book beyond "It's just not for me." There's only so much you can say about a book that rubbed you the wrong way but the problems of which are not exactly accessible to you because there isn't necessarily any; it's your fault, for being the wrong reader. (And writing this down, I realize I could potentially argue there are no bad books, just bad readers for them, but you definitely get the sense from reading some truly crappy crap out there that there are bad books.)

See, with this one I believed it was a halfway thing--half me, half the book. And I thought and thought and thought and even attempted reading it over again to see what the deal is, and you know what? It's something in the essence, between the lines, that is almost intangible.

It's the cocky voice. It was a disaster. (To me to me to me.)

The interesting thing here is that Dixie isn't a pretentious character whatsoever. I get the feeling he's a nice kid. But the way he was written... (And wow, I do realize how awkward this sounds: maybe he was written this way because he is this way? But I honestly felt a divide between the writing and the character the grated on my nerves.) It was like a continuous penis joke, the text--trying to outdo the previous paragraph with wittier expressions and trying-too-hard humor that came off as contrived.

(Oh god I make no sense. Let's try a drawing.)

If I had to illustrate Dixie, it would be a cute, nerdy small freshman with huge, overeager, naïve eyes.

If I had to illustrate the text, it would be a hottie Hollywood starlet with a huge smirk on his face and a demeanor meant only to spite you. (This is called annoying arrogant, not attractive arrogant, by the by.)

And beyond all of this, the plot was weak and self-serving. Self-serving in that the only purpose it served, in my opinion, was as a platform for the aggravating voice. And weak because it took far too many liberties from reality to make itself work, cutting corners to get places, and taking shortcuts to get to the point. And in light of the ending, which of the turns-the-entire-novel-up-to-this-point-obsolete variety, I'm not even sure if it got there.

Then again, as I said, maybe I'm just the wrong reader for this. Quite a few other people liked it... But regardless, D.

Disney-Hyperion | 288 pages | February 24th, 2009 | Ben's website | GoodReads

Hello, Splendor

Pretty!

(Via Mandy Hubbard)

Soooooo Off Topic

Can you date a friend's ex-boyfriend? What's the 'etiquette' for that?

(Morbid curiosity. None of my friends have boyfriends I am particularly interested in that way. Plus, Jason and I are very happy.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dreams

Would you say following your dreams is a privilege or a right?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Guys?

It's been 374 days!

(Since I started the blog, I mean.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

This Is What I Want to Tell You by Heather Duffy Stone

(Description is a bit longer in this one because I wanna go in detail. Blue = description. Regular color = review-type reflections.)

Nadio and Noelle are twins, but when it comes to their friend Keeley, the trio are more like triplets--inseparable since forever. But then Keeley goes to Oxford with her parents for an entire summer and for some reason, everything between the three changes. Noelle wants nothing to do with Keeley and even though they promised each other they'd talk every day, every time Keeley emailed her, Noelle never replied. The day Keeley comes back from Oxford (which is when the book begins), Noelle isn't there (on purpose) to greet her. She's out with Jessica, her new friend, to a party, where she meets Parker.


Meanwhile, Nadio comes back from his evening run and finds Keeley, who's recently returned from Oxford. He suddenly sees her in a new light, one thing leads to another, and the two end up kissing. This leads to a relationship between them, one that has its own issues, one they keep a secret from the ever-distancing Noelle. Noelle becomes enamored by Parker and he's her primary focus now that she doesn't have her two peers to keep her occupied.

The book unfolds in a way that explores the growing spaces between Nadio and Keeley, and Noelle, and what led them there. Noelle is angry at Keeley for having everything so easy and for complaining that she doesn't want to go to Oxford, that she doesn't want this or that, that she just wants to stay home. Keeley is hiding something that happened in Oxford from the both of them that accounts for the change both notice in her. And Nadio is hiding his inner conflict with his absent father figure: Who is the man and how does he fit into Nadio's life?

I know it doesn't seem like a lot happens in this book, or that it's nothing new. But the way things were spread out made me feel full at the end, like at the end of a satisfying meal. It's not what I would call a fun read, nor a light one. I wouldn't give it to any young readers who read up because this is the type of YA novel I just don't think they would get. And not because they are stupid, because they aren't--it's more that this wouldn't resonate with them, isn't relevant to them.

Nor is it a read for every occasion. I wouldn't recommend reading it at any time you're feeling impulsive or on the go--calmness and patience go a long way into appreciating this. I had a lot of moments when I was nodding along with the narrative, thinking, "That's it. That's totally it." (Although the voice was strange sometimes. Good strange. But strange all the same.) I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to pass this on to older readers and adults who enjoy YA.

That said, this is one of the most offbeat books I've read in a long time. It's written in a way I haven't come across yet in YA--where there are no quotations marks in the dialogue. (Which, no, I didn't have any problems with. I don't mind quirks like this, and the whole textual silence correlated with the theme and accentuated the poignancy of the overall product.) The text is indented when the characters speak, but there's no stylistic divide between what's being said and the tag that follows it. This makes it so I had to really focus to keep up.

Also, the writing just disappeared while I was reading. I don't know why, but there was no barrier between me and the characters and their lives. Seriously, this has never happened to me before, or if it has, I don't remember, which kind of defeats the purpose. I doubt I'll forget this, at any rate.

One thing that's been bugging me, though, is this: Nadio and Noelle both had their own POVs, but what we saw of Keeley was only through the both of them. This didn't hinder her development, don't get me wrong, but it struck me odd when this was essentially their--the three of theirs--story. One possible explanation is this:

Nadio and Noelle were conceived in Italy when their parents were seventeen and subsequently abandoned by their father. Their mom--Lace, as they call her--is supportive and present in their lives. Keeley's parents are scholars who place their academic life more than before her. In many ways, she felt like an antithesis to Nadio and Noelle; her and their lives were inversely proportional to each other. Where she has a lot of money, they had none. Where they have only one parent who goes the extra mile to fill empty paternal voids twice, she has two parents who are never there. Where they are twins, she is an only child. At one point Nadio refers to her as the sister without any siblings. So, maybe this was another one of the things one didn't have that the other two compensated for.

At any rate, a most unusual novel. Quiet and intense, two qualities enhanced by its stylistic silence, this is a book that grows, expands, by a millionfold from first page to last. It's literary, in a way. I have a feeling it'll stick with me.

Flux | 232 pages | March 1st, 2009 | Heather Duffy Stone's blog | GoodReads | Amazon

Further: I have to say that I love the packaging. It has smaller dimensions than your average trade paperback--think MTV book sized--and the paragraphs are double spaced--think Speak. Anyway, the design is really clean, simple, and understated, which helped set the mood.