Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 authors new to me I read in 2013

  1. Kresley Cole, Poison Princess and Endless Knight
  2. Rachel Hartman, Seraphina
  3. Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
  4. R. J. Palacio, Wonder
  5. Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds
  6. David Levithan, Every Day
  7. Max Barry, Lexicon
  8. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Hmmmmmmm that's just eight...but I really failed at reading YA through most of the year until September-now. Hopefully a more productive year of reading for 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

NaNoWriMo: I won! ("won")...but what now?

Hellooo! Just thought I would leave a quick post about NaNoWriMo since it was such an all-consuming part of my life in November. I can't believe it, but I actually made it to 50,000 words! Well, 50,257, to be precise---had to stay true to the tradition I have upheld my entire life of doing the absolute bare minimum to succeed. Woooot.

Anyway, wow, what a month. I admit it was definitely a relief when November ended. I've had aspirations of writing a novel for as long as I can remember, and I've gotten up to 20k or 30k words before but have never finished a book. Not because of anything other than lack of motivation/laziness. So, I really took the NaNo challenge seriously, which meant I was constantly stressed out any time I was doing anything other than writing during my spare time. A few times during the month, I would get on a roll for a few hours and just feel this incredible euphoria, like holy crap I am doing this, I am actually writing a novel, and maybe it's not even all that bad???? But honestly...the majority of the time I was an anxious, self-doubting wreck. I literally had to force myself to sit down on the weekends and do this thing...the moments when it was easy and fun were few and far between. And I shudder to even think what I wrote...

Yep, haven't even opened the document since Thanksgiving. Which is probably really bad, because even though I made it to 50k, I didn't actually finish the "novel" yet. Probably still have another 15k words to go. But I just needed a break to get away from it all. Work also got really intense, and blah blah blah. My plan is to wrap her up over xmas break, then take another break from it, and then start revisions in February or something. Or maybe when I open it up again I'll be so horrified at the verbal diarrhea splattered all over the pages that I'll just hit DELETE and be done with it. Which would be terrible, but at the end of the day I would have still succeeded in writing 50k words in a month, so that's cool. I don't know. NO. I won't do that!! Ahh, here the anxiety is again. Alassss.

Anyway that was/is my NaNoWriMo experience, in a nutshell!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday: Book-selling time!

Hello loverzz!! I love this week's FFF. The instructions:

Go to your biggest bookcases. Go to the second shelf from the top and pick out the sixth book from the left. Hardsell that book to us -- even if you haven't read it or if you hated it. 

My book turned out to be the bold, the shocking, the heart-wrenching, the life-altering classic of classics: CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostrand!!

Cyrano de Bergerac is a French play written in the late 19th century. It is based on the real life figure of Cyrano de Bergerac, a brilliant poet, formidable soldier, and hopeless romantic who is madly in love with his distant cousin, the beautiful Roxanne, but suffers from debilitating insecurity on account of his enormous nose. This was assigned reading for me in the 9th grade and I actually did love it. The movie Roxanne with Steve Martin, which is based on the play, is fabulous and hilarious as well--though also gutting. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! There are a lot of themes that come up in YA novels in good ol' Cyrano actually, which could be why it's often assigned reading for high schoolers. Self doubt, romance, quirky humor, etc. Cyrano is one of the most endearing characters of all time and you are doing YOURSELF a disservice if you haven't read this play yet. IT'S A CLASSIC!

Thanks to Parajunkee & Alison Can Read for hosting Feature & Follow Friday :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

First, a call out to my mom, who told me I needed to read this book. "It has five stars on Amazon and 2000+ reviews!" she told me. I've never heard of a book having 5 stars on Amazon...the most I've ever seen is 4.5. I don't normally read middle grade fiction, but the 5-stars intrigued me, so I made an exception. And I'm glad I did!

August Pullman is 10 years old and severely, profoundly deformed in the face. Otherwise he's perfectly normal...he can do everything normal kids can do (skateboard, hike, play video games, etc.) and he's got above average intelligence. Told primarily through August's POV, with a few chapters in the POV of his close friends or family members, the book recounts August's experience in the fifth grade, which is the first year he goes to real school (he was home schooled previously). Not a whole lot actually happens in the book; it's more about the minor, day-to-day slings and arrows we all experience and how the various characters cope with them and gradually grow as people. Kind of like Anne of Green Gables!

I thought the author nailed the setting of a fifth grade classroom. In August's school, fifth grade is the first year of middle school. When I was growing up, fifth grade was still considered elementary school, but it was definitely a transitional year when kids suddenly started "going out" with each other, popularity became a Thing, and everything just became super awkward and hard. Suddenly it mattered what clothes you wore, who your friends were, what stuff you were into, etc., in a way that it never had before. Honestly, it was friggin horrible, and there was no turning back after that year.

Fifth grade was an especially terrible year for me, and I didn't even have half the problems August has! I think 10-11 year olds might be some of the cruelest people on earth. They kind of embody the worst qualities of both children and adults: like adults, they have the intelligence to know if something is "cool" or not, to really know how to say the most cutting thing possible to hurt a person; yet, like children, they lack the maturity to filter themselves. Bad, bad combination, especially if you're the ugliest person on the planet, as August seems to be. A natural target.

Anyways, at times when I was reading this, especially the chapters told through August's POV, I would forget he was deformed. He deals with things like growing apart from his childhood best friend, over-hearing the person he thought was his new friend talking smack about him to a more popular kid in the effort to appear cool, etc. These are things every kid has to deal with, and I kind of think that was the point of the book and what made it all so relatable. To the outside world, August is perceived as a freak, as different. But in his own head, he's just a normal kid.

I liked that all the characters were presented in shades of gray (with the exception of Julian, the bully, and Mr. Tushman, the Dumbledore-like, benevolent principal), as opposed to being solely good or bad. Even August behaves like a petulant little brat sometimes, and I think it's important to see him that way...if he'd been presented as 100% angelic the book would have been insufferable. Would have read like an Aesop's fable or something.

I am giving this 4.5 stars. Why not 5? I don't know...I really liked it, loved it even, and felt uplifted the whole time I was reading it, but I don't know. When I think of a similarly moving/heart wrenching book, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors comes to mind, and I just felt like that book was on a slightly higher level somehow. I can't quite pin it down. But there was a certain preachiness to this one, especially towards the end when Tushman gave his lengthy speech about kindness, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Still, it was excellent, and I highly recommend it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Broken by C.J. Lyons

This is a quick, suspenseful little read. I won an arc from Tiffany at About to Read (thanks Tiffany!) and it landed on my doorstep just as NaNoWriMo was kicking off. I sat on it for awhile, and then dove in one night when my fingers were bleeding from trying to force out the NaNo wurdz.

If it feels like I'm spending more time reviewing how I got the book and went about reading it than the book itself, that's true, and it's probably because I don't have a whole lot to say, unfortunately. The book wasn't awful or anything; it was just kind of meh. It's kind of a horror/suspense/mystery type novel, and I figured out very early on how it would end. This isn't because I'm some genius at unraveling mystery novels (in fact I'm usually pretty dense about such things)--rather, I'm pretty sure this exact scenario played out on an episode of House years ago.

15-yr old Scarlet Killian has had a rough life, to say the least. In an out of hospitals with a rare heart condition for as long as she can remember, she convinces her parents to let her go to high school for one week during her sophomore year. Though they're terrified she'll keel over and die at any moment, they begrudgingly agree to let her live like a regular teenager for the one week.

The pacing of the novel is well done, with each chapter consisting of one day of Scarlet's life at high school. Slowly, the author reveals certain clues about Scarlet's life, like the weird dreams she has about a baby boy being smothered by clowns, the fact that she has zero memory of massive periods in her life, and the way her step mother (the school nurse) seems just a little too involved in the personal lives of many students at the high school.

I don't know. Like I said, it's a very suspenseful novel and it's one that you will want to read cover to cover in one sitting. But, at the end of the day, I guess I just didn't feel it was terribly original. I won't give away what happens other than to say that "what happens" has already happened in at least one episode of a very popular TV show, and I'm pretty sure there is a Lifetime movie (or five) with this exact plot as well. It's predictable and I'm not sure C.J. Lyons adds anything too exciting or unique to the tale, unfortunately. I realize that plenty of "plots" have been done again and again, but I think it's easier to forgive this type of thing when it happens in a romance novel. If it's a mystery novel and you've got the same exact set up and conclusion as other popular works out there, that's a problem. Maybe if there had been some unique twists or if Scarlet's voice had been particularly interesting or unusual in some way, it would have worked, but that didn't seem to be the case.

Still, it's clear that C.J. Lyons is an experienced storyteller. The writing was very good and the pacing was excellent, keeping me engaged from the first page to the last.

3 stars.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

Ahhhh. Those who know me in person know I am obsessed with Richelle Mead. I once drove an hour in the pouring rain to hear her do a reading from Spirit Bound. It was me and a bunch of 15 yr olds and it was amazing. Major girl crush on that woman. The event of a new Richelle Mead book is ALMOST as exciting for me as those days of yore when new Harry Potter books were coming out. Seriously, if they held midnight parties for new Richelle Mead releases, I would be there. I'd prob dress up as a strigoi.

ANYWAYYYY, getting to the point here, THE FIERY HEART. My heart sunk when I opened to the first page of the book and saw it was from Adrian's perspective. I sighed with every fiber of my being. nooo. Don't do it, Richelle! These dual POV YA books are so overdone and so rarely well done. I can think of like one example of a dual POV YA book that I enjoyed, and it's Perfect Chemistry. So I felt a major sense of foreboding plunging into this. And yet plunge I did, steeling myself with the thought that if anyone can pull off a dual POV, it's got to be Richelle!

Happily, I do think she pulled it off. It wasn't perfect, but it was a hell of a lot better than most of the dual POV books out there, and I can understand why she decided to tell the story this way. In Vampire Academy, she was able to use Rose & Lyssa's bond to show scenes that weren't happening in Rose's immediate presence, but with Sydney and Adrian that's not really possible. I also think the romance aspect of Bloodlines is more crucial to the story here than it was with Rose and Dimitri (even though I still swooned way harder over Rose/Dimitri than I do for Sydney/Adrian), so it was a nice surprise to be able to watch the story play out through Adrian's eyes as well as Sydney's.

 I could definitely tell the difference between Adrian and Sydney's voices most of the time, though I still like Adrian's speaking voice more than his narrating voice. There were a few times when he began waxing poetic over Sydney's glorious amber eyes for the eleventh time in a chapter and I started to feel nauseated, but in general it was mostly sweet. I like that the boy in this story is the whacked out emotional one, whereas Sydney is pragmatic, level headed, and always strong (and obsessed with cars).

I thought the ending was pretty predictable, although that might be because I read an interview with Richelle where she said a lot of readers were going to be worked up over this book. And I know how she likes to torture us midway through her series! So I was ready for it...

In sum, a lovely addition to the Bloodlines series. Adrian continued to be a highlight. The scene where he's having a manic meltdown and decides to attempt baking creme brulee had me spitting out my water. Makes me yearn for a retelling of Vampire Academy through Dimitri's eyes! Ahemm.

4.5 stars! HURRY UP WITH THE NEXT ONE! Also, can't wait for the VA movie in February!!!