Thursday, December 30, 2010

Geocaching: A North of Beautiful Experience

We have decided to go on a series of bookish adventures in order to both promote these things and make the best of our free time. And where best to find adventures than in books? :) So, inspired by Justine Chen Headly's North of Beautiful, today SM and I went geocaching!

What is Geocaching?


Our Tools:
  • Two SmartPhones with GPS apps (we used the free iPhone app GPSLite Motion X -- seemed fairly accurate, if finicky at times)
  • Boots, jackets, gloves
  • A pen
  • A trinket to exchange
Our Experience:

It was a cool winter day when we went to the park with some coordinates plugged into our phones. We found the site without trouble in a copse of trees just off the trail, but locating the actual cache, said to be a glass jar, was far more difficult than we had anticipated.

The brush was thick, the ground was covered with a thick blanket of leaves, and there were brambles like you wouldn't believe. After an hour of searching and poking and digging and being attacked by angry thorns...

We gave up on the copse of trees and searched for a different cache. This one was supposed to be a 1.5-star (one is the easiest), located on the rocky underside of a bridge.

However simple it seemed, we could not find it, and, on the verge of giving up, we decided to go urban and find one located not far away in a parking lot, which was probably the easiest geocache in the world, but we are novices. :) So, after much frustration, we finally located an active cache behind a bush.
We took a Parasite Pal...

And left a monkey...

And the owners of the business near it, just recently introduced to geocaching, heard us whooping and celebrating, and came out to congratulate us. Absolutely adorable!

What We Learned/Tips for You:
  • Get a geocaching.com account.
  • Bring friends!
  • Make sure you go in full trekking gear, and be prepared to bushwhack and dig. BEWARE OF THORNS!
  • Bring a trinket that is small enough to fit in a pill bottle, yet cool enough to be desirable to other geocachers.
  • If you live in a place that has lots of trees, beware that fallen leaves may make it more difficult to spot a cache in the fall and wintertime.
  • Don't be discouraged -- start off easy your first time, and try several caches before giving up. There are caches for all levels of adventurousness.
  • Beware of Muggles (non-geocachers) ;)

LINKS:

geocaching.com - official site for the worldwide treasure hunt!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Giveaway- I Don't Want to Kill You

My name is JOHN CLEAVER and I've killed two people.
But I don't want to KILL you.
Honest.
The men I killed were DEMONS: actual, physical MONSTERS, who survive by taking the bodies, identities, and lives of innocent people. They are PREDATORS, and we are their PREY, and I'm the only one who can stop them because I'm a predator too. One by one, I'll kill every KILLER in the world.
My name is John Cleaver, and I don't want to KILL you. But I will if I have to.

LINKS:

Contest Information:
-Entrants must be 13 years or older
-US residents only
-Contest deadline is January 15
-Fill out a form below!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sucking the Marrow Out of Life

I've been pondering lately the little joys of life-- well, of my life anyway-- reading, of course, being one of them. Constantly, my thoughts have brought me back to my childhood.

Childhood is a time of life in which the person is not burdened with responsibility, obligation, work, or worry. It's a time where taking naps is dreaded, for in those couple hours, so much of the day can be missed. Childhood, simply put, is a time of living.

My memories of childhood are so vibrant and bright. I grew up constantly reading books, writing stories, and playing imaginary games with my siblings and friends. When I remember those stories, I don’t remember pages or words; I remember interesting characters, far off places, and daring adventures. When I remember playing imaginary games, I don’t see my backyard or living room; I see a time machine, a pirate ship, my high tech spy gear. I remember the exhilaration of travelling to different places, of becoming a different person, figuring that person out, and of not limiting myself in any way, shape, or form. In my imaginary worlds, anything was possible. I lost this freedom when, like most children, I became too old and grew out of imaginary games.

But I still have reading. I still have writing. I have theatre; I have photography; I have all the other little things that just make me happy. That inspire me to live.

So often I'm swept up in responsibility, in work, in things I'm obligated to do, but don't want to. I get so caught up, so busy, I forget to look at life through the eyes of a child. I forget to see the world colorfully. I can't even allow my swamped mind to escape, just briefly, into a book. I cherish taking naps. My life becomes... boring, stressful, unsatisfying. Days flash by quickly, and nothing truly memorable affects them. Routine. Routine. Routine.

Routine is exactly how I do not want to live. Good old Thoreau will sum up my outlook on this matter perfectly: I want to always "live deep and suck all the marrow out of life".

So for this new year, I will live. I will read more. I will write more. I will create. I will go on spontaneous adventures. I will do whatever the hell I feel like doing! And it will be grand. :)

Speaking of grand... improv everywhere is almost too awesome for me to handle. Observe:


Happy reading, everyone! :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Drought by Pam Bachorz

Available this January

GRADE: A

Synopsis:

Ruby dreams of escaping the Congregation. Escape from slaver Darwin West and his cruel Overseers. Escape from the backbreaking work of gathering Water. Escape from living as if it is still 1812, the year they were all enslaved.

When Ruby meets Ford--an irresistible, kind, forbidden new Overseer--she longs to run away with him to the modern world, where she could live a normal teenage live. Escape with Ford would be so simple.

But if Ruby leaves, her community is condemned to certain death. She, alone, possess the secret ingredient that makes the Water so special--her blood--and it's the one thing that the Congregation cannot live without.

Drought is the haunting story of one community’s thirst for life, and the dangerous struggle of the only girl who can grant it.

Ratings:

Character Development: 7/10
Originality: 7/10
Overall Enjoyment: 9/10
Ending: 5/10
Voice: 10/10
Plot: 8/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 56/70

Obtained: From Publisher (Egmont USA)

Age Appropriate? R


Cursing: Some
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: None
Sexual Content: Referenced
Disturbing Images/Violence: Murder, whipping, death, slavery

Review:
Pam Bachorz has a very eloquent, yet gripping writing style and a strong voice. Though the novel was set in a small strip of land, the simple little places in that perimeter were so vividly described and intriguing that the setting became one of the most powerful aspects of the book. Drought was a thought provoking novel about faith, love versus loyalty, and desperation.

The ending, however, left me feeling somewhat... incomplete. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it seemed too anti-climactic compared to the building tension. Maybe it seemed like Ruby was acting out of character. Maybe it seemed like so much was still unresolved, unanswered; like the solution Ruby chose was just too simple. Most likely, it was a mix of all of those things. Or maybe I just missed something and need to reread this particular book to somehow figure it out.

Drought was most definitely worth the read, though. The concept is intriguing, the writing is lovely, and the story, so filled with hope, yet so devastatingly brutal, demands the reader's attention.

LINKS:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Un-Reviews

Recently, for some reason, there have been a few books I have encountered that I have been unable to finish for one reason or another. I don't want to review a book I haven't completed, that seems unfair, so for these three books I'm giving "un-reviews", just my initial impressions and why I could not finish them. Enjoy!


Symir: The Drowning City by Amanda Downum
Completed: 173 of 351 pages

Symir -- the Drowning City. Home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers. And violent revolutionaries who will stop at nothing to overthrow the corrupt Imperial government. For Isyllt Iskaldur, necromancer and spy, the brewing revolution is a chance to prove herself to her crown. All she has to do is find and finance the revolutionaries, and help topple the palaces of Symir. But she is torn between her new friends and her duties, and the longer she stays in this monsoon-drenched city, the more intrigue she uncovers -- even the dead are plotting. As the waters rise and the dams crack, Isyllt must choose between her mission and the city she came to save.

IMPRESSIONS: This book was fast-paced and written well, but the story and the world were just so complicated, it took a lot of mental effort to figure out what was going on. One day, I hope to return to this book, because it was quality fantasy, but that would require me to be able to focus entirely on this book and nothing else. I would still recommend this, though, to people who enjoy intense, all-consuming reads.

Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst
Completed: 107 out of 309 pages

What Lily Carter wants most in the world is to attend Princeton University just like her grandfather. When she finally visits the campus, Grandpa surprises her: She has been selected to take the top-secret Legacy Test. Passing means automatic acceptance to Princeton. Sweet!

Lily's test is to find the Ivy Key. But what is she looking for? Where does she start? As she searches, Lily is joined by Tye, a cute college boy with orange and black hair who says he's her guard. That's weird. But things get seriously strange when a gargoyle talks to her. He tells her that there are two Princetons—the ordinary one and a magical one—and the Key opens the gate between them. But there are more secrets that surround Lily. Worse secrets.

When Lily enters the magical Princeton, she uncovers old betrayals and new dangers, and a chance at her dream becomes a fight for her life. Soon Lily is caught in a power struggle between two worlds, with her family at its center. In a place where Knights slay monsters, boys are were-tigers, and dragons might be out for blood, Lily will need all of her ingenuity and courage—and a little magic—to unite the worlds and unlock the secrets of her past and her future.

IMPRESSIONS: I adored Sarah Beth Durst's earlier book Ice, and I expected the same kind of story here. Unfortunately, that was not the case. While I give kudos to Durst for variety, I could not stay hooked on Lily's story. The writing itself was as sturdy as ever, but the world (a magical parallel world at Princeton) and the characters did not appeal to me. It was too typical, very modern-fantasy/paranormal/girl discovers she is the key to everything. That sort of thing. And while really this would be an excellent read for a lot of YA readers, it wasn't for me.

 Logic of Demons: The Quest for Nadine's Soul by H. A. Goodman
 Completed: 118 out of 262 pages


What would you do if the love of your life was murdered by a deranged killer? Would you become a vigilante and seek retribution? And would this revenge affect those you care for in the afterlife? Logic of Demons: The Quest for Nadine's Soul takes you on a journey inside the psyches of men and women forced to deal with the spiritual consequences of their decisions. Through the lives of a demon, two Angels, and a mysterious teenage girl, a plethora of politically and socially relevant issues ranging from the roots of genocide and sex trafficking to child conscription and religious fundamentalism are addressed in this fantasy thriller. Life as well as the afterlife converge in this novel to explain certain peculiarities of the human condition.

IMPRESSIONS: The concept of this book is interesting. It seems original and unique, and it is. The plot and the premise are not the problems with this book. For me, it was the pace and the writing style. This is a slow book, very in the characters' minds as they make decisions and such, which is, I suppose, the whole point. But I didn't like it. The writing had its moments, definitely, and was at times quite impressive, but it wasn't very consistent and I felt like it was sometimes trying too hard to connect with the reader.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Grade: High A/Low A+


Synopsis:

In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. And for Elspeth Gordie, it is also dangerous. That's because Elspeth has a secret: she is a Misfit with mysterious mental abilities that she must keep secret under threat of death. Burdened by her mutation, she leads the fearful, isolated life of an orphan. And her fears only multiply when she is exiled to the mountain compound known as Obernewtyn, where--for all her talents--Elspeth may finally and truly be out of her depth. For she's not the only one concealing secrets at Obernewtyn. And someone within its walls seeks the most dangerous secret of them all--one that may revive the very forces that nearly destroyed the world.

Ratings:

Character Development: 8/10
Originality: 8/10
Ending: 7/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 60/70

Obtained: Library.

Age Appropriate? PG


Cursing: Limited, if any
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Medical drugs (misuse of...), some reference to alcohol consumption, I think
Sexual Content: None.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Murder, abuse of children, some graphic violence.


Review:


This was an incredibly gripping read from the very beginning. A typical fantasy, Obernewtyn was nonetheless riddled with surprising turns, exciting plot development, and intrigue. The society Carmody has created in these Chronicles is quite impressive and fascinating, along with a captivating cast of mysterious characters that I long to know more about. Like many books of this sort, it is very plot-driven, and therefore very fast-paced and thorough. With such dramatic settings, dark themes, and exciting action, I cannot wait to get my hands on the next installment. A wonderful read for lovers of fantasy and adventure.



LINKS:


Obernewtyn.net

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shake it Up!

This song is so precious! Yes, it's completely un-book-related, but that don't matter! We're shakin' it up. :)



There's a Story I was told,
and I want to tell the world before I get too old.

Once upon a time in a town like this
A little girl made a great big wish
To fill the world full of happiness
And be on Santa's magic list

At the same time miles away
A little boy made a wish that day
That the world would be okay
And Santa Claus would hear him say
I got dreams and I got love
I got my feet on the ground
And family above
Can you send some happiness?
With my best to the rest
Of the people of the East and the West And
Maybe every once in a while you
Get my grandma a reason to smile
Tis the season of smile
It's cold but we'll be freezing in style
Let me meet a girl one day that
Wants to spread some love this way
We can let our souls run free and
She can open some happiness with me

-Train, Shake up Christmas

Got Holiday Spirit?
Send some happiness into the world.
Smile.
Love.
Shake up some happiness!

And, as always,
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Grade: High A

Synopsis:
Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady's maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold--as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren't as apolitical as she thought... that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

Rating:
Character Development: 9/10
Originality: 7/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 8/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 8/10
Setting: 9/10
Total Score: 57/70

Obtained: Publisher

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: Some
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Drinking
Sexual Content: None
Disturbing Images/Violence: Gruesome injury and death

Review:
Elizabeth C. Bunce creates a vivid and intriguing setting. It is easy to be swept up into the commotion of Digger's life, and difficult to pull yourself out again. Fantasy, mystery, action, magic... Star Crossed is a mixture of them all, combined to create an exponentially enthralling read.

The characters all have secrets.
The plot is beautifully woven.
The protagonist is an absolute bad ass.

Star Crossed is a great read and I can't wait to immerse myself in Digger's world again in Liar's Moon.

LINKS:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Grade: A+


Synopsis:

It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the WIll Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old--including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire--Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical.

Rating:

Character Development: 9/10
Originality: 10/10!
Overall Enjoyment: 10/10
Ending: 9/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 8/10
Setting: 7/10
Total Score: 62/70

Obtained: Library


Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: Frequently and without shame.
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Some teen drinking (and false ID use) and drunkenness, as well as references to drugs.
Sexual Content: Much reference to sex, sodomy, porn, etc, etc.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Nothing really...

Review:

This book contains a surprising number of strange and wonderful things, but one thing that is consistently wonderful is the brilliant, if off-color, wit of this god-like writing team. John Green and David Levithan, two of the most intelligent and imaginative of today's YA fiction authors, paired up to create this massively original masterpiece of two normal-ish boys and their trials and errors as they navigate teenage life.

That is one thing that I feel Green and Levithan have captured perfectly in this book--teenagerdom. And though, yes, not every teenager is like this, they treat their characters respectfully, as kids with a full range of human emotion and a properly functioning brain (i.e. defying all stereotypes), something I think many YA authors, regardless of age, overlook. Green and Levithan create three-dimensional characters with three(or four, or five)-dimensional problems that have no easy solution. And though their lives may be odd and unconventional, they still seem to reflect the demographic they represent. Yes, emotional, rash, sometimes petty, sometimes selfish, sometimes cruel, but essentially good, essentially true, and always searching for their perfect place and peace of mind.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a book that is tight with pent-up emotion, full of tangled messes, and, at times, flamboyantly gay. But it is humorous in a way that will make you laugh out loud, touching in a way that will make you cry, and beautiful in a way that will make you think. A fantastic read.

LINKS:

John Green
David Levithan
Will Grayson FAQ
Interesting ShelfLife.com interview with both authors
Looking For Alaska by John Green review
Paper Towns by John Green review
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stay with Me by Garret Freymann-Weyr

Grade: A+


Synopsis:

Stay With Me
is about how
impossible
and
important
love
is.

Ratings:

Character Development: 10/10!
Originality: 10/10
Overall Enjoyment: 9/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 10/10
Plot: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 69/70

Obtained: Library.

Age Appropriate? R

Cursing: Yes, but limited.
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Some adult drinking, references to using pills illegally (forged prescription)
Sexual Content: Much. Several actual scenes that are kind of graphic, in a sense. A lot of discussion. Also, illegal relationships/sexual activity because of age.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Suicide is a major theme. References to the 9/11 attack on New York.


Review:


Stay With Me  is a true masterpiece of character development, as well as being one of the most touching books I've read in a long time.The story was challenging, strange, intelligent. It expected the patience and awareness of its reader, and was unapologetically true. It did not try to be spectacular or extraordinary or stand out--and yet it did all these things, quietly to itself.

This deals with all sorts of difficult subjects--divorce, independence, suicide, sex, love, broken families, dyslexia. But the narrator, a teenage girl working through all these issues by herself, is such a strong, beautiful character, and just so real, that it makes these things relatively minor. It isn't about the struggles, or how hard life is--it is about Leila, her emotional growth, and learning to live. Her narration is like a transcript straight out of her heart, and, though she has problems I have never dealt with, they resonate universally, because they are not normal. How many of us actually deal with problems we think of as "normal"? Leila's life--and the book itself--is the opposite of normal. Or maybe it's unusually normal. But her analytical, self-doubting, good-hearted nature complements her story so well, you cannot help but hurt and heal along with her.



LINKS:

Garret Freyman-Weyr

Monday, November 15, 2010

50 Books Every Woman Should Read

Associatedegrees.com has compiled a list of 50 books every young woman should read, divided into Classics, Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Coming of Age, Young Adult and Children's Lit, Female Relationships, Nonfiction, and Stories, Poetry, and Plays.

I most want to read Ariel by Sylvia Plath, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortinson and Oliver Relin, and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Night Star Trailer

Alyson Noël's newest addition to the "Immortals" series, NIGHT STAR, will be available November 16.

"Night Star continues the epic love story that has enchanted readers across the world. In this installment, Ever and Damen face down bitter rivals, jealous friends and their own worst fears—all in the hope of being together forever. Night Star is guaranteed to mesmerize fans and leave them breathlessly awaiting the sixth and final book!"


LINKS:

Immortals Series Website:

ttp://www.ImmortalsSeries.com


Immortals Series Facebook Fan Page:

http://www.facebook.com/ImmortalsSeries?v=app_6009294086

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Interview with Jonathon Maberry and EXCERPT from Rot & Ruin

JONATHAN MABERRY 
is a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer.  His books have been sold to more than a dozen countries.  His novels include the Pine Deep Trilogy: GHOST ROAD BLUES (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel), DEAD MAN’S SONG, and BAD MOON RISING; the Joe Ledger series of action thrillers from St. Martin’s Griffin: PATIENT ZERO (winner of the Black Glove Award for Best Zombie Novel of the Year, and in development for TV), THE DRAGON FACTORY, THE KING OF PLAGUES; THE WOLFMAN; the Benny Imura series of Young Adult dystopian zombie thrillers from Simon & Schuster:  ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY; and the forthcoming standalone zombie thriller DEAD OF NIGHT.  His nonfiction works include: VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THE CRYPTOPEDIA (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction; co-authored by David F. Kramer), ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Winner of the Hinzman and Black Quill Awards and nominated for a Stoker Award), THEY BITE! (with David F. Kramer), and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (with Janice Gable Bashman).  His work for Marvel includes BLACK PANTHER: POWER, KLAWS OF THE PANTHER, CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, DOOMWAR and MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN.  Jonathan has been a popular writing teacher and career counselor for writers for the last two decades.  He teaches a highly regard series of classes and workshops including Write Your Novel in Nine Months, Revise & Sell, Experimental Writing for Teens, and others.  Many of his students have gone on to publish in short and novel-length fiction, magazine feature writing, nonfiction books, TV, film, and comics.  In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field.  Visit his website at www.jonathanmaberry.com or find him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, Library Thing, Shefari and Plaxo.

And now for the interview...


Why did you decide to write about zombies in Rot and Ruin?

            I’ve always loved zombie stories, ever since I was ten and saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for the first time.  And I’ve loved post-apocalyptic stories ever since I first read I AM LEGEND, which author Richard Matheson gave me a copy of when I was fourteen.
            Last year I was approached by editor Christopher Golden to write a novella for a zombie anthology, THE NEW DEAD.  Golden wanted each writer on the project to do something different.  All of my novels up to that point had been about adults in crisis, so I decided to explore the experience of a teenager dealing with something vastly beyond his control.  During the writing of the novella I fell in love with the characters and the world of the Rot & Ruin (which is what everything is called that’s beyond the fenceline of the small town in which the characters live).
            Then, after the story was delivered, my agent asked if that story could be expanded into a novel.  I said that it would be easy to do because there was so much more about that world that I wanted to tell.  She sold the rights to two novels to Simon & Schuster and I dug in to write ROT & RUIN.
            This week I turned in the final draft of the second book, DUST & DECAY; and there’s a possibility of more books.  There are a whole lot of stories about this world that I want to tell.


What is experimental writing and why did you choose to teach it to teens?

            By the time most writers hit their twenties they know –or they think they know—what kind of writing they want to do.  They often become fixated on being a poet, a short story writer, a novelist.  And more than they, they confined themselves to specific sub-genre.  They don’t just want to write a novel, they want to specifically write a paranormal romance, or a literary novel, or a military science fiction, or whatever.  The problem is that they lock themselves into one vision of what their writing could be, and that isn’t necessarily the kind of writing they can do best.  But they never try anything else.
In my teen class, I expose the students to as many different kinds of writing as possible and encourage them to try it.  We’ll do some sessions on epic poetry, then move to narrative nonfiction, then onto crime fiction, then onto something else. The students get to work on short stories, novels, articles, poetry, spoken word, then onto something else. 
We also cover the aspects of style.  Descriptive and figurative language, scene building, pace, voice, point of view…just about everything.
The students do two or three writing exercises per session and everyone reads their writing aloud.  Everyone participates in a discussion. 
The upshot is that the students try everything, so that when they decide to write something for submission, they’ve tried their hand at so many genres, they’ll know which one is really right for them.  Or, more often, they learn that they can write anything.
Recently one of my students got picked up by a major New York agent for a novel she wrote in class.

Why should we read Rot and Ruin, or any of your other books?

MABERRY:  Like all good horror stories, ROT & RUIN isn’t about the monsters.  It’s about how people confront a shared catastrophe.  Ever since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombies have been ‘stand ins’ for things we’re afraid of.  In the Living Dead movies zombies have symbolized racism, rampant consumerism, sexism, loss of identity.  In more modern zombie stories –including my forthcoming novel, DEAD OF NIGHT (St. Martins Griffin, Summer 2011) zombies symbolize our fear of a global disaster, such as a pandemic.
            When I wrote ROT & RUIN, I wasn’t writing about people fighting zombies.  I was writing about how a teenager tries to understand the world in which he lives.  During our teen years, our worldview changes from what we know in our neighborhood to what we know about the whole world.  We see our place in the scheme of things and that is often at odds with how we THOUGHT the world was. 
            Benny Imura, the fifteen year old hero of the tale, learns a lot about the value of human life, the nature of his own assumptions, and the level of his own courage.
            ROT & RUIN is fun, fast-paced, filled with wild characters, and has tons of action.  It also has characters you will like and who you can believe in.

What do you think is most unique about your writing?

             Everything I do has a sense of humor.  Even my most intense thrillers and my scariest horror have humor.  That’s a reflection of my personality.  Humor is so powerful.  It uplifts you.  It peels back the darkness.  I had a lot of darkness in my life, some pretty rough patches.  Humor was one of the things that helped me maintain my optimism no matter how bad things got. 
            Nowadays I infuse my writing with it because it’s such a part of real life.
            Plus, these days I’m a very happy guy living a great life.  So, I laugh a lot, and so do my characters.

Read the first 13 pages of Rot & Ruin now!

JONATHON MABERRY was interviewed on NOVEMBER 6, 2010 by READING ROCKS.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interview with Jenny Davidson

Jenny Davidson, author of The Explosionist and the upcoming novel Invisible things joins us today for an interview.

About the book...
Invisible Things will be available on November 23rd!
Sixteen-year-old Sophie knows there is more to the story of her parents' death. And she's on a mission to find the truth. To aid her in solving the decades-old mystery, Sophie has enlisted her best friend, Mikael, whose friendship has turned into something more. It's soon clear that Sophie's future is very much wrapped up in the details of her family's past, and the key lies with information only one man can provide: her parents' former employer, the elusive billionaire Alfred Nobel.
As the threat of war looms in Europe, dangers to Sophie and her loved ones grow. While her determination to solve the mystery doesn't waver, forces beyond her control conspire to keep her from her purpose. Then, news of her great-aunt Tabitha's death sets off a chain of events that leaves Sophie questioning everything.
The more Sophie learns, the more she realizes that nothing—and no one—in her life is what it seems. And coming to terms with the dark secrets she uncovers means imagining a truth that she never dreamed possible. Full of gorgeous settings, thrilling adventure, and romance, invisible things is a novel that dares to ask, what if? 

And now for the interview...

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I have lots of different answers to this.  The library - the water - New York City - wherever my boyfriend is.  I do feel, though, that I am most myself in the stacks of a huge library with a list of interesting things I'm looking for.
Why did you choose to set your novel, THE EXPLOSIONIST, in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh? What does "alternate version" mean exactly?
In this world, Napoleon beat Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in the early nineteenth century (in our world, it was the other way around), and the entire configuration of the world looks quite different politically.  Of course, it is also true in this alternate world that some people can build radios to talk to dead people, and spiritualism is a real scientific phenomenon rather than a crypto-science...

How has teaching impacted your writing?
I would find it difficult, I think, to be a full-time writer.  I love solitude but it can be very demoralizing working so very much on your own.  I enjoy the lively and stimulating students I have at Columbia, and I find that a spell of teaching alternates very well with a spell of writing: each one makes me eager to experience the other, and very much able to appreciate its advantages!

Did you have someone who mentored you in your writing or was it independent?

I've had lots of people over the years who've helped me in one way or another - my first editor at HarperTeen, Ruth Katcher, taught me a great deal about writing.  But in the end you have to learn this stuff on your own by way of a lot of drafting and revising and re-drafting and revising yet again, long past the point where you are totally sick of your manuscript!
 
You've written a few historical nonfiction books. Why did you choose to write YA?
On the whole, I would say that I've written two different kinds of books so far: books of literary criticism/nonfiction that are connected to my work as an English professor teaching eighteenth-century literature and novels.  My first novel was not a YA book; I didn't write The Explosionist as YA originally, but those were the editors who were most excited about it, so that's where we went.  To me there's not that clear a division between the two kinds of books: a lot of the "adult" novels that I like most have teenage protagonists, and I wrote these books in that sort of spirit.  (I'm thinking of Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows in particular, but there are countless others: Dickens' David Copperfield would be another good example.)
Do you prefer nonfiction or YA?
I am a die-hard novel reader!  But from a writerly standpoint, I definitely find novels harder to write than nonfiction - I love doing historical research and finding out interesting things and incorporating it into description, but I find that really engaging story-telling is something that comes a little less easily to me.  I am full of envy for a writer like Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett who is truly an absolutely natural storyteller - other favorites of mine in the YA realm include Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley.

What is your favorite aspect of writing?
I like the steady pull forward to produce a first draft - I usually have a system whereby I sit down every morning (not every day of my life, just the times when I'm actually working on a project!) and have to stay there till I produce that day's quota, which is usually about 1500 words.  I write with pen and paper for the first draft, as I find it makes things go more steadily forward if I can't linger over a paragraph and tinker with it.  But I do enjoy polishing prose and turning a rough and unwieldy first draft into something more polished.

JENNY DAVIDSON was interviewed on MAY 3, 2010 by READING ROCKS.

Class of 2K11!

Keep up with Debut YA/MG Authors in 2011 (and their books!) at the new site that launches today

dedicated entirely to these great authors:

Julia Karr
Bettina Restrepo
Amy Holder
Carole Estby Dagg
Angie Smibert
K. Ryer Breese
Gae H. Polisner
Christina Mandelski
Sheila O’Connor
Alissa Grosso
Tara Hudson
Geoff Herbach
Carrie Harris
Amy Fellner Dominy
Caroline Starr Rose
Tess Hilmo
Megan Bostic
Trinity Faegen
Kiki Hamilton

See also:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Haunted by Jessica Verday

Grade: High A

Synopsis:

After months spent reclaiming her sanity and trying to forget the boy she fell in love with--the boy who must not exist, cannot exist, because she knows that he is dead--Abbey returns to Sleepy Hollow, ready to leave the ghosts of her past behind. She throws herself into her schoolwork, her perfume making, and her friendship with Ben, her cute and funny lab partner, her just might be her ticket to getting over Caspian once and for ll.

But Abbey can never get over Caspian, and Csapian has no choice but to return to her side, for Caspian is a Shade, and Abbey is his destiny. They are tied to each other, but also to the town of Sleepy Hollow and the famous legend that binds their fates--a legend whose dark truths they are only beginning to guess...

Ratings:

Character Development: 7/10
Originality: 7/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 9/10
Plot: 8/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 59/70

Obtained: Free finished copy provided by author.


Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: Some, but not much.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Some references to drugs I believe, some adult drinking and drunkenness.
Sexual Content: Some short conversations, no real scenes
Disturbing Images/Violence: Some violence and some death; some references to abusive relationships.

Review:

I didn't really know what to expect from this book. Its prequel, The Hollow, was good enough to make me want to read this installment. I remember it as being exciting, fast-paced, and involved. The Haunted certainly lived up to these standards, and there isn't much to criticize.

Note: Read The Hollow before starting. The Hollow had an incredibly complex plot that I am sorry to say has mostly fled my memory in the year since I've read it, and The Haunted, of course, builds off of that. While it didn't necessarily detract from the overall experience, I was slightly distracted and confused at some points. This may also be a product of the relative slow-ness of this installment; The Haunted had fewer plot-twists, fewer action scenes, and a lot more emotional and intellectual stuff. I didn't mind this; in face, I kind of preferred it. But it made these 500 pages seem a lot longer than the last.

As far as characterization goes, I think that Verday has created a very teenagery character in Ben, and I was delighted to get to know him better in this book. Abbey continued to be a pretty strong heroine, though with less of her grief that was present in the last book, I think her emotions weren't quite as interesting. My only real problem lies with Caspian. While he as a character is wonderfully crafted and I loved all the exposition on him in this volume, his relationship with Abbey seemed...different, somehow. Less authentic. As they fell more and more in love and struggled against the ever-frustrating problem of being unable to touch each other, I felt less sympathy or happiness at their togetherness. From Abbey's perspective, he became more of that typical paranormal-romance kind of guy (i.e. the tortured-and-screwed-up-with-no-real-purpose-except-to-worship-his-lover kind).

Other than that, the book was great, a wonderful balance of the average, the mysterious, and the fantastical that complemented its prequel very nicely. If you enjoyed The Hollow, The Haunted is definitely worth a shot.


LINKS:

Jessica Verday
The Hollow review

Note: Also, you should visit Abbey's Hollow (part of Jessica Verday's site) and check out the perfume samples available for purchase that go hand-in-hand with the story. How awesome!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyers

Grade: High A


Synopsis:

Marie-Antoinette is given endless instructions before she leaves Austria at the age of fourteen to marry the dauphin of France. In her new home at the grand palace of Versailles, her every move is scrutinized by the cruel and gossipy members of the French court. Marie-Antoinette tries to adhere to their stifling rules of etiquette, but sometimes, this fun-loving young woman can't help but indulge herself with scandalous fashions, taboo recreations, elaborate parties--even a forbidden romance.

Most damaging to her reputation is that after years of marriage, Marie-Antoinette has not fulfilled the most important requirement: to produce an heir to the throne. Sadness and frustration lead the young queen to become even more recklessly extravagant in her ways, much to the outrage of the poor and suffering common people of France.

When angry revolutionaries arrive at Versailles to take her and the king the Paris, Marie-Antoinette has no idea what horrors are in store. The luxurious life she led, and the monarchy she spent her entire life serving, are about to come crashing down. Though she would be remembered by the revolutionaries as an obscene spendthrift, perhaps Marie-Antoinette had more in common with them than they thought--for she too was a rebel who lived by her own rules.

Rating:

Character Development: 6/10
Originality: 7/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 8/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 57/70

Obtained: Library. :)


Age Appropriate? R

Cursing: Some, but limited. And you must remember the time period.
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Some drinking and drunkenness.
Sexual Content: It is a major theme of the book, but is tread around lightly considering the age.
Disturbing Images/Content: Much much MUCH violence (come on, it's Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution) and disturbing images of disembowling and beheading (ich!).

Review:

I don't usually enjoy Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals books. I find them dry and uninteresting with no real life. This one, however, was wonderfully different from its sisters. The writing was vivid and captivating, and the setting was just so colorful! Everyone's heard the story of Marie Antoinette, but I've never thought much beyond what the movie version could tell me. This version humanized her, showed the reader what her motives were, what the circumstances were, and how, really, she did not deserve her death.

My only complaint with this book is that the queen herself, though the narrator of the story, was rather inconsistent as a character. On one hand, she was very dimensional in her narration, but her personality there did not add up with her personality in action. We watch her grow up from an uncomfortable young Austrian princess and become this mighty young queen, yet her selfishness and her thoughtlessness do not grow up with her--they appear out of nowhere about halfway through the book. I felt like even though she intimated her thoughts in the narration, we as readers never got to truly know this woman or her heart.

However, I felt that Meyers took a unique approach to this tale. She did not immediately condemn Antoinette, nor did she glorify her. Her sole goal was to portray the queen in her natural habitat, as she (probably) really was, and leave judging her character up to the reader. 

LINKS:

Carolyn Meyers

Marie Antoinette

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein

This book will be available this month. 

Grade: A+


Synopsis:

Note: If I were you, I would read the book before the synopsis. This will make it far more interesting.

Lady Catherine is one of Queen Elizabeth's favorite court maidens--until her forbidden romance with Sir Walter Ralegh is discovered. In a bitter twist of irony, the jealous queen banishes Cate to Ralegh's colony of Roanoke, in the New World. Ralegh pledges to come for Cate when he sails for the settlement with supplies, but as the months stretch out, Cate begins to doubt his promise and his love. Instead it is Manteo, a Croatoan Indian, whom the colonists--and Cate--increasingly turn to. Yet even as Cate's longings for England and Ralegh begin to fade and she discovers a new loe in Manteo, Ralegh will finally set sail for the New World...


Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 65/70

Obtained: Free ARC provided by publisher.

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: None, if any.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: None
Sexual Content: Mild references only, some infidelity in minor/background characters
Disturbing Images/Violence: Some graphic violence, starvation, and poverty.

Review: 

In the typical style of the talented Lisa Klein, Cate of the Lost Colony is a highly adventurous, exciting work of historical fiction. She makes a story we all learn in American History -- the story of Roanoke, the lost colony of legend -- five times as interesting and a lot more meaningful. She effortlessly brings to life the contrast between the dramatic and luxurious English court under Queen Elizabeth I and the harsh, wild, uncivilized Americas on the brink of colonization.

This was an incredibly original tale. Though occasionally tedious, the narration was smooth and the action constant. I particularly loved the integration of historical documents like letters and diary entries that assisted in telling the tale. On a more literary note, I found it refreshing that our heroine, the spunky and passionate Lady Cate, is not part of a typical "love triangle". That is, she is not the object of two equally dashing young men's affections, but is instead a corner in a love square that is as full of confusion, doubt, and human error as any real-life relationship.

This novel really opened my eyes to the struggles of the earliest Americans in a way that no history teacher could ever accomplish, but that is really a side note to the real drama playing out: one of love, betrayal, banishment, and survival. Klein's characters are complex and human, each a delicate mixture of flaws and strengths that added infinite dimension to the story. The plot continues effortlessly, with every chapter bringing more trials and more triumphs for our heroine and her companions. Lisa Klein is a gifted writer, and this book, more than perhaps any of her others, truly embodies what a historical fiction novel can--and should--be.


LINKS: 


Lisa Klein
A Picture Slideshow Relevant to the Novel
Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein (review)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Runaways: A Novel of Jonkanoo COMPLETE!

If you haven't read Lisa Jensen's thrilling pirate adventure/romance, The Witch from the Sea, you definitely should. See our A+ review here.


And if you have read Witch, you'll be delighted to know that the sequel is now available online in full at
http://runaways-jonkanoo.blogspot.com/

Read the continuing story of Jack and Tory, along with exclusive material such as illustrations, historical information, and extras that go hand-in-hand with the book. It's all quite exciting. 

Thanks Lisa!

Friday, October 15, 2010

I read banned books.


The wise words of author John Green:




The intriguing paintings of Dana Ellyn, a Washington D.C. artist, on book banning:

"Savior"
Inspired by Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

For more of her paintings reflecting book banning, visit Dana Ellyn's site.

We have voices for a reason...
To be heard.
Freedom of the press is freedom of the mind.

Check back for more posts concerning banned books.
Happy reading!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Inspire


I have been messing around with http://mrdoob.com/projects/harmony/. Yes that's how this wonderful creation has come to life...

And here is another one...
Because coffee is delicious and it's quite a wonderful thing to have in my hand when I'm curled up reading on a chilly fall day...

But on a more bookish (though still random) note, and for your viewing pleasure...
Luke Conard and Ryan Seiler
singing Our Town (a Ministry of Magic song)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guest Blog With Stephen Cushman

STEVE CUSHMAN's newest novel, Heart with Joy, will be out this Fall.


ABOUT THE BOOK:
In Heart With Joy, fifteen year old Julian Hale’s life is turned upside down when his mother suddenly moves from North Carolina to Florida under the pretense of running her parents’ motel and finishing the novel she has been writing for years. While Julian has always been closer to his mother and wants to go with her, she tells him he has to stay with his father until the end of the school year.

Six weeks after his mother leaves, Julian’s father decides to run a marathon. Once Julian agrees to help him train, the two develop the sort of close relationship they’ve never had before. Also, with the help of an elderly neighbor, who loves to spend her days bird-watching, Julian learns that the most important thing in life is to follow your heart. And Julian’s heart leads him to a passion for cooking and a young cashier at the local grocery store even as his own parents drift apart. By the end of the novel, Julian is forced to choose between staying with his father and going to live with his mother.

Heart With Joy is an uplifting coming of age novel about the importance of following your heart and trusting that it will take you where you need to go.

How I Wrote My Novel or Why Writing Takes Patience, Faith and Hard-headedness
by Steve Cushman

My novel, Heart With Joy, was recently published, but I started writing it almost 8 years ago now. Heart With Joy is about bird watching and cooking and falling in love but it's also about finding your passion in life and pursuing it. That's what I say it is about now, but back in 2002, when I took my first stab at this story, all I knew was that I had a family where the mother ups and leaves. Her husband and son are stunned and faced with the reality that they are somehow going to have to learn to live without her. I didn't have much else to start with, but I had that kernel of a story and conflict.

Over the next six years, I tried a variety of different things--I changed the point of view of the novel from first to third to first again. I added and took out characters. I tried to insert pieces of the novel into another novel only to take them out again. It wasn't until I discovered that Julian was going to spend time with an elderly lady and help her care for the birds in her backyard that things started rolling. And then Julian and his father had to eat, so Julian started to cook and through cooking he met a young girl he liked. Then at some point along the way, Julian's father decided to run a marathon, so that gave Julian and his father something to do together. Julian would ride his bike beside his father while he trained for a marathon.

So what I'm saying here is that when I started this novel, I didn't know where it was going. I just had this father and son and this not so great relationship. But over time, and much hard work, new details emerged--some I came up with and others seemed to magically appear. For me, this willingness to put in the work and trust that something will come out of it is one of the things I like best about writing.

I believe this translates to anything you really want to do--get into college, play tennis, write poems, be a computer programmer--it all takes patience and a good bit of hardheadedness to ignore the people who tell you you can't do something.

Someone once described writing a novel as like driving down a dark street with your lights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you have to trust that if you keep driving more of the road will be revealed. I think this is a great analogy for writing, because to me writing is an act of faith--the faith that if you put the time in and you keep working good things will come, good things like being lucky enough to have your novel published. Thank You.

LINKS:

Friday, October 8, 2010

So. Amazing.

My most recent internet discovery is pretty freakishly awesome and superbly nerdy in the best possible way.

I present to you...

An a Capella tribute medley to
STAR WARS


So. Amazing.

(Sorry for the delay...)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hush by Eishes Chayil

Grade: A+


Synopsis:

Inside the closed community of Borough Park, home to many Chassidic groups, the rules of life are very clear, determined to the last detail by an ancient script written thousands of years before--and abuse has never been a part of it. But when young Gittel witnesses the abuse her best friend Devory has been suffering at the hands of Devory's own family member, the adults in the community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. And even when the fallout reveals an unimaginable horror, the community continues forward as if it had never occurred. Now a teenager, Gittel's guilt over her silence forces her to question her own innocence, her memories of the pas, and everything she was raised to believe.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 10/10 (it is mostly a true story...)
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 9/10
Voice: 10/10
Plot: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 66/70

Obtained: Free ARC provided by publisher (WALKER)

Age Appropriate? R (Spoilers!)

Cursing: Very, very little (if any)
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: None, really.
Sexual Content: Yes. Vivid, if detached and unemotional,scenes, but with very little description.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Incestual rape of a child, graphic child suicide, depression. Some stuff of a sensitive religious nature (arranged marriage, radical beliefs, etc) which are integral to the story.

Review:

A great deal of the story is true. It's true, and that's what makes it so terrifying. It's a hard book to read, both powerful and disturbing, but also enlightening. This is the story of a girl whose lifestyle is so completely different from ours (or most of ours, I assume) yet she lives right in the heart of modern culture in New York City. She's so detached, so innocent, so naive, and just so lovable. Gittel captures the true essence of childhood--she's adventurous, stubborn, blindly accepts what her society feeds her, but at the same time quite the little rebel, and just so pure.

That is, until she witnesses something so horrifying, so unsettling, so uncomfortable that poor sheltered Gittel doesn't even understand. But we do. And that makes difficult to continue reading. But continue we must, because we can't just leave the story like that, can't just exit the scene at this integral, most tumultuous moment.

I wish I knew more about the Chassidic community. Even though this book taught me much about it (and not all bad, mind you) I still feel like having an understanding before delving into this story would have strengthened my understanding at the beginning, and added to the story. Eishes Chayil shows us her community as it is--no sugar-coating and without judgment on the religious customs. It's not a story about how wrong this ultra-Orthodox environment is. It makes no religious statements. It's simply a story about waking up to the faults within that environment and working to set them right, despite the risk. It's inspirational, something we can all learn from.

LINKS: 


Jewish America: Chassidic Jewry
Hasidic Judaism - Wikipedia (maybe not the best source for information)