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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy 2012!!!!!

Considering the fact that there is simply only one thing you can really post about today, I wanted to say that I hope everyone had a fantastic year. All of our writing journeys were different, but we still connected as writers, bloggers, readers.

Thank you for everything you've done this year!

Feel proud of yourself, and have a fantastic New Year's Eve and New Year's. 2012 is going to rock our socks, I can tell.


*** Disclamer: I am usually not a big fan of multiple exclamation marks, but it's a big enough occasion that it counts. :P

Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking at My Manuscript Like a Real Manuscript

One of said avatars, Photoshop being my helper/creator/assister.

So for the past few months, I've been writing a YA manuscript. The story is titled Building Houses and in a nutshell it's a girl's path to growing up in a small town while she tries to figure out if a girl is a fraud. I've spent hours and hours writing it,  I've made countless promotional graphics and covers for it. I love the story. I love the characters and the setting and the plot and the foreshadowing and the mystery and everything.

But there's something missing. I look at other writers, their manuscripts in progress. Sometimes I get envious, of course, and sometimes I feel like my manuscript isn't a real manuscript. And I don't understand or know why. And now I finally understand. I wasn't looking at my manuscript the right way. I was just looking at it in a carefree way.

I was serious about the manuscript, but I wasn't looking at it seriously.

I cared about the story, but I didn't look at it seriously. I didn't look at it in my mind as a real novel, though its word count is officially a novel now (50,000 words is the guideline for a novel and BH is incomplete at 53,000 words).

I needed to look at it seriously. If I didn't look at it seriously, editing would be harder. Rewriting would be harder. Even just continuing, when I could say ehh, forget this, and move on -- that would be harder. I needed to have a seriousness to my manuscript. I needed to understand that yes, writing is hard, and yes, that I needed to be serious about my writing. If I wasn't serious, I wouldn't be confident in my writing. Being confident in your writing is key. People have blogged about it before, but you need to love what you write.

And you need to be serious about it.

Have fun times -- like sitting in fields of flowers
That's not to say that everyone needs to be serious about the writing. The truth is, and this was brought up in this week's #yalitchat, that some writers write just for the hobby. If you're a hobby writer, or you have no intention of getting published or getting an agent or writing a query letter, that's fine too. There's nothing wrong with that. Having fun with your writing is great. Have all the fun you want! You don't need to be serious all the time. And if you're a serious writer, make fun times for yourself, too.

But if you're a serious writer, and you do want to be published, find an agent, be published anywhere, you need to be serious.

If you're a serious writer, you need to be serious about your writing.

If you're not, you won't get anywhere. Look at your manuscript seriously. Look at it like a real manuscript. That's what I do now; I look at my manuscript like a real manuscript. And if you want to be a serious writer, look at your manuscript(s) seriously.

It'll get you further.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Best Friend Trope

Today I'm going to talk about tropes. One trope in particular that I'll call The Best Friend Trope. Now, this trope might have an actual name. It's probably listed on TV Tropes somewhere with a long and funny article. But as I don't know the actual name -- or if the trope even has a name -- from here on it shall be called the Best Friend Trope.

these girls love the sun
 Everyone has a best friend. If you're lucky you'll have more than one.
I see best friends in YA all the time. There are good BFFS, a la Jellicoe Road and horrible BFFs a la Before I Fall. There are heartbroken friends and mean friends and chirpy friends and quirky friends and happy friends and every single kind of friend under the sun. Best friends, if they're used wisely and have a role in the story, can enrich the plot. If they aren't used wisely they can become nothing more than a trope or a plot device.

Below is a situation I see often in YA. This is not necissarily *every* best friend situation there is.

Cool MC: Hey, I'm super cool. I have a BFF. She is cool too (names reason BFF is cool). We hang out all the time.

BFF: Squee!

MC: Oh look, a mystery/hot boy/problem /every single thing under the sun we need to figure out.

BFF: I'll help

*they problem-solve*


BFF *acts weird*

I hate drfiting away BFFs!

MC: Now a major plot point has happened and my BFF is drifting away!

BFF: *drifts away*

MC: *is sad* :(

And thus brings me to the problem. I see this all the time. The BFF and the MC start to work on a problem. It could be any problem. Getting the guy, figuring out what's going on at the old spooky haunted house, or punching some creeps in the face. The two of them work on it together in blissful, peaceful harmony. And then a major plot point happens. The BFF drifts away. She runs away. She forgets about the MC. She ignores the MC. She and the MC fight. And then the BFF isn't a character. She's a character forced there for a little while, while the writer pushes her away so the MC can do....whatever the MC wants to do.

I see this ALL THE TIME. It's predictable and annoying. And it's a sorry excuse for a writer. Don't just push your characters away like that. Plot device characters are annoying. Best friends seem to be the ones chosen for this most normally. Develop your best friends. Give them emotions. Feelings. Give them more than three scenes. Give them a real relationship with your MC. Make the relationship different and nonpredictable. Make the MC a character.

I don't feel any relationship towards your characters, towards your MCs, when you push them away and make them plot devices. Make your best friends strong, give them real purposes in your story. And if your MC's best friend exists only for one reason, to further the plot, to add suspense, then develop them. And if you have to, cut them apart with scissors. Make a best friend that someone would really be friends with.

Don't make your characters tropes. Don't make them plot devices. Because when you do, they become predictable. They become annoying. And they aren't best friends anymore.



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Top 5 Books of 2011

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

This is a tough question, but that's to be expected. I read plenty of books this year. I guess the ones that I find the most interesting, the ones that are the most poignant, are the ones with the trifecta: great writing, great characters, and great plot.

 Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I think that this will probably be on a lot of lists. Quite simply, I adored Jellicoe Road. I loved the characters: tough but fragile Taylor; sweet Jonah; caring Jessa; smart Ben; confused Chloe P; tough Hannah; tough Jude.........on and on I could go. There are plenty more characters, and the novel is made up of an ensemble cast. The plot is wonderfully amazing and confusing at the same time, keeping the reader's attention and making you turn the pages. And the writing! I know everyone blabs about Jellicoe Road, but you should honestly go and read it. The novel is completely worth it.

Red Glass by Laura Resau

This novel was published a few years ago, but it's not really that well known. Well people should sit down and read the freaking book, because it honestly deserves much better attention. Here's why, folks. There's fantastic characters -- Sophie, Dika, Pablo, Angel, Mr. Lorenzo -- a wonderful plot that tugs at your heartstrings, and fabulous writing that you read for the cadence. But here's the thing, there's a wonderful setting. Resau is an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, primarily teaching Mexican immigrants like the ones spotlighted in this story. She makes you feel like you're there, smelling the roses and the scents. You really can tell that she's been to the places she mentions many times. Combine the writing, the plot, the characters, and the fantastic settings = wonderful book.

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

This one I love for the same reasons I loved Red Glass. There are fantastic characters, writing, plot, and setting. Also, this one is written by a YA highway contributor :) It's a fantastic read, and you'll adore Mandarin, Grace, Momma, Taffeta, Davey, Ms. Ingle, and everyone else in the entire novel by the end.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

I loved the mystery of this book. Not everything makes sense in the end, some things are tragic and heartbreaking and this is magical realism at its finest. It's so confusing that the novel is fascinating. I felt like I was swimming in deep waters as I read it, wading out the truth from the fiction. It's a wonderful psychological mystery, and I'm excited for Ren Suma's next book.

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

I know this is two books by the same author, but this one was just as amazing as her first. The setting, the characters, sexy diving instructors...this one has it all. Fantastic read and if you like travel books check it out in 2012 (or if you have a NetGalley account check it out on the Random House Children's Books section).

That's my Top Books of 2011. If you're interested, go to to enter yours. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal

I can safely announce that Kirsten Hubbard is one of my new favorite authors. I don't give that title out to everyone, and usually the authors I follow on Goodreads fall into that category. I am now a friend of Kirsten Hubbard, I follow her Goodreads reviews, and I follow her blog.

And why did I do this?

Because oh my god, her books are awesome. LIKE MANDARIN is a debut, but it reads like a seasoned authors' novel, the kind of book an author might publish as their third or fourth novel. The writing, the characters, the plot, essentially everything about the story I adored.

LIKE MANDARIN is the story of Grace, a shy, quiet girl who has been bumped up to a sophomore and skipped freshman year. She likes to wander the Wyoming Badlands and collect rocks, fossils, and arrowheads. The idea of beauty is warped, she believes, in the small town of Washokey, Wyoming. Her mother, who became pregnant with her as a teenager and now runs a cosmetics buisness, believes in beauty pageant ideals. Her younger sister Taffeta goes along with her mothers' ideals. Grace's classmates believe in superficial things, like dances and dates. Grace believes in a different kind of beauty. She believes in the beauty of the town slut, Mandarin Ramey.

Mandarin is the kind of girl that constant rumors revolve around, the kind of girl often spotted kissing and sneaking into places with much older men. She is elegant and beautiful, revered by Washokey men and admired by the women from afar. And Grace wants to be just like her. She keeps her distance from Mandarin, watching from afar like everyone in town.

A history teacher unites them for a school project, since both Grace and Mandarin need to complete a community service requirement. Suddenly, the two are engaged in a dangerous, beautiful friendship. They skinny-dip in the canal, steal the hunting trophies from local buisnesses, dance and dream and beyond. But the frienship and magic can't last forever as Grace discovers Mandarin's many facades: dangerous, depressed, enthusiastic, happy. Soon betrayal clouds their friendship, and the magic slips away.

This isn't the first time I've read a book revolving around what some call the "pixie girl syndrome". Pixie girl syndrome is when a group of people or characters loves one character so much, admires her and obsesses her, though she is flightly and unpreictable. A popular example is Paper Towns by John Green. Sometimes these stories fall into utter predictability. From the first page you can figure out what happens, what the betrayal so commonly seen in this type of book is. But LIKE MANDARIN broke this sterotype, making a riveting plot with a realistic pixie girl and her admirer.

I complement Hubbard for her fantastic characters. All of them are well developed, and even the minor characters that are in the novel for a scene are fleshed out and given small but crucial roles. Grace loves rocks; Mandarin is a cocktail waitress though she is underage; Taffeta hates school though everyone adores her; Adrina Carpenter is constantly trying to reinvent herself; Polly Bunker is a gossip who is no one's friend; Davey (oh, poor, poor, Davey) loves wearing socks with sandals; even Earl Barnady is obsessed with burglary. I really enjoyed all of them.

The plot, as mentioned before, was unpredictable. But my favorite had to be Hubbard's writing. It was so fluid, so fresh, and so beautiful. At times the writing was a bit too much, and could some paragraphs could have been broken down into sentences, but it was still so beautiful to read each and every word.

LIKE MANDARIN is a wonderful contemporary novel. If you enjoy contemporary, or character-driven novels, this is the book for you. There has been a lot of buzz on Hubbard's second -- also fantastic -- novel WANDERLOVE, and I think that people should look back and enjoy the beauty of Washokey, Wyoming.

Five stars.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Brief History of Montamaray by Michelle Cooper

"There’s a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings.”

Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you.

Unfortunatly, Blogger is being stupid. View the review here:

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Well, the contest isn't really called WanderPictures. I was trying to sound witty. The contest is called....uh, I don't know what it's called. It's not really a contest. An activity.  It's a cool activity run by Kirsten Hubbard for her new book Wanderlove. There, that's better.

Kirsten Hubbard's running a contest on her blog. You send in a picture to of some place you feel drawn to; you love it. It's magical, inspirational, filled with memories, just an amazing place. It could be your family's vacation home, or your favorite place to read. I sent mine in yesterday. My special place is the swing in my bedroom that overlooks the lake. Here's what I wrote:

The picture is of my bright orange swing, a 1970s relic. It was passed down to me by my aunt, and I have used it for the last four years. It calms me down by rocking and swinging, and when I get upset I rock back and  forth and let the tears fade away. It feels so amazing to know long this swing has been in existence, and how many people have used it -- my aunt, my dad, my uncles, my sister, me, my cousins, my aunt's friends, and how it's like one gigantic living heirloom. I live on a lake, and I love looking out the window, swinging on my swing and feeling at peace, and seeing the lake change from season to season: cool waters in the summer, half-frozen in fall, completely frozen in winter, ice floes in the spring.The swing and the lake calm me and make me feel connected to nature.  The swing makes me feel connected to the nature, it makes me calm, and it's a fantastic place to curl up and read a book. I love my swing and  I love feeling both connected to the water and my family.
I also attached a picture of me in my swing. All of the pictures will be posted onto a Tumblr ( but that won't be the final domain name; it will be renamed at a later time.
If you have a NetGalley account, you should definitly read Wanderlove. Go to Random House Children's page and its on the second or third page. While I'm at it, read Kirsten's first book, Like Mandarin, too. It's awesome.
Have a fantastic holiday -- and read Wanderlove! xoxox

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Evolution of a Novel

Around the blogosphere, I've seen people discussing the evolution: how their novels came to be and how they went about writing, creating, dreaming, and finally revising and editing. I am not a published author. In fact, my book isn't even completed. But I've reached a huge standpoint -- 50,000  words, making the book a true novel -- and I figure it's a good time as any to write about my evolution.

At the end of July 2011, I was feeling discouraged. I'd had plenty of ideas, all saved into files on my computer, and started to write out the ones I was most interested in. A few friends of mine gave input, saying which ones they felt were the most interesting ideas, and I wrote about 1,000 to 2,000 words of each. But nothing clicked. All the ideas were stupid, too hard, lame, predictable, cliche. I was beyond discouraged. I wrote some short stories just so I could write, but I craved a full length project. Then I came upon the missing girls.

There's been plenty of missing girls over time. Girls have gone missing, been killed, sexually abused, forced to be slaves, held hostage, most commonly by men. 85-90% of the missing people reported to the federal government last year were juveniles. Boys are included, of course. But most often it seems the ones that make the news -- whether they are for the absolute horror of the situation or the strength the girl showed in such issues -- revolve around girls. Natalie Holloway, Jaycee Dugard, etc etc.

(this was the best photograph I could find. most images of missing girls are the ones that the police and other organizations distribute out to the general public. these often are school pictures and work well -- people sometimes recongize the person in the photograph, contact the police, and often times either the person or sadly, their body, is found.)

I got pretty into the facts. I researched facts, looked up cases, and read articles on the girls, whether they were missing, found dead, or found alive and returned to their families. While browsing, I found a picture of a parade held in Jaycee Dugard's honor when she was found. The townspeople of Tahoe marched through town and held pink ballons, waved banners, and there was a brass band that played.

(Fun fact: the MC in Building Houses is named Jaycee. I didn't even realize this for a long time. She isn't based on Jaycee Dugard or any other missing girls.)

I viewed lots and lots of pictures of Tahoe's parade and watched several youtube videos. Search "jaycee dugard parade" and you'll get lots of fantastic hits. Here's one of the videos filmed of the parade
 The video is fantastic, and it's wonderful that Jaycee and her two girls are happily safe home while her offender is imprisoned, but it made me wonder. If I was a kid, how would I react to some girl being found in my town? Would I be excited, embarrassed, shocked, amazed? Probably both. So I started the idea of a girl being found in my main character's town.

The original idea, which I deleted, was called Hometowns. The main character's name was Tabitha and she lived in a small town. The town was called Harmony Springs, a town of 3,000 people in northeastern Massachussetts. Tabitha's town, though small, housed a boarding school that she attended (even though she actually lived in the town) and that her mother taught English at. A missing girl, the core of the story, was found in her town. This version was scratched mostly for its implausability. In order for the story to work, there needed to be some kind of disaster, and I could think of few for Massachussets. I know there are some disasters in Masssachussetts, flooding and such, but it was too hard to think of. Also, why would Tabitha attend a boarding school? She wouldn't really be boarding; she'd simply be living in her own town! Her mother also owned a beauty salon, home-cooked meals at a resturant, and was an English teacher. Implausability button, ding ding ding!

I wrote 5k of Hometowns and scratched it. I loved the idea, though, and knew if I made some changes it would work better. I wrote a few more versions, still in Massachussetts and still involving Tabitha (though the boarding school idea was scratched and her mother simply owned the beauty parlor) but nothing seemed to work. I loved the idea but it wasn't heading in the right direction. I decided to start from scratch.

The title was changed to Building Houses, and the main character's name changed to Jaycee. The town was renamed Deer Valley and the setting changed to the very, very north of Minnesota near the Canadian border. I needed a place with common natural disasters, and with all of the horrible tornadoes in the news last summer, decided that her town would be ravaged by a tornado, which northern Minnesota faces often in the summer. She would have survivors guilt, I decided, and sent her away to an elite boarding school in Maui. Now, in the revamped version, she returns to Deer Valley after spending a year at the boarding school, which her parents send her to so they can rebuild their house and save some money (she gets a scholarship to said school).

In the original drafts, there wasn't much motivation. In the Tabitha version, she had no real reason to be confused and angry about the missing girl. She needed to have a reason to be so upset. In the Jaycee version, I amped up the motivation: Jaycee has a brother, Brandon, who also went missing in the same tornado as the missing girl. She wishes that Brandon had been found instead. Ding, motivation.

The missing girl's story increased. Her name is Lily, and her backstory and motivations (though I cannot reveal them; spoilers) were amped. So was the mystery; now Jaycee and her younger, very immature neighbor/friend must figure out Lily's secrets, why she acts so mysteriously, and determine if she's making everything up, lying, and is a fraud.

Another aspect included rebuilding houses. Jaycee essentially joins a Habitat for Humanity team, though in the story the organization is named Home for the Heart. Rebuilding houses like these:

 She gets herself into trouble and must rebuild homes as punishment, where she gets closer to Lily and starts to suspect her of being a liar. Also not in the original.

The story really has changed. It started as the story of a girl who was just interested in a missing girl and morphed into a story about a girl who is convinced the girl is a fraud and rebuilds houses alongside her. And that new updated version -- it's 50,000 words and not finished. And I'm proud of it. I'm going to attach some promo graphics now, that I made for both the original version and the version saved as "Building Houses 2" on my computer.

I'm really devoted to this story. I'm really proud of it. And I'm sure some parts of this evolution will change in editing and revising, but there you have it.

The Evolution of a Novel for Building Houses so far.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let the Gypsies Run

I suppose in my idea for what I would post on the blog, I mentioned something or another about "writing advice". I've posted on books, excerpts, and the dead dog syndrome where dogs pass out (YES! Look in the archives). But I've never really posted much writing advice. I suppose I'll start today, then. Browsing around the Internet, I found these two fantastic pictures  from and it made me think about setting and small towns.

The pictures:

Both of these pictures represent the feelings the characters in my book think about their town. Jaycee, the main character, lives in Deer Valley, Minnesota, a (fictional) small town at the very edge of the Canadian/Minnesota border. And quite frankly, she hates it. It's too stifiling, too small, everyone knows everything about everybody, they're all related to each other, the schools suck, the big cities are too far away....the list goes on and on. She's not the only one that mentions her hatred throughout the novel. I think at least three other characters so far, with others' complaints planned later in the story, have complained about how horrible they hate their town.

I live in a small town. It looks like this:

Well, not really. That's a picture of people lining up for some event (I don't know which one it is. Thus the magic of Google Images) in front of a building pretty close to my house. But that's a picture. It's small. And all the things my characters complain about: everyone being related; people gossiping and knowing everything about everybody; and the closeness of the town happens in my town all the time. And it can both be good and bad.

So today I'm here to discuss one of the magics of settings, specifically small town settings and their community. Because

1). I adore small town settings.
2) They make great metaphors.
3) They interest, I live it.

So what makes a small town different? I think the character motivations can be different. Small town books' characters often dream of leaving, of going onto a brighter future, of leaving the town they hate. Characters in larger times more often have a bigger future, and already have all the luxuries that small-town living MC's can only dream of.

The places can be different, too -- aren't a lot of Miss Patsy's Hoedown Barn in the cities. There are oddder buildings, quirkier people, and that can be great fun to look on. But my favorite part is the feeling of community.

Community can be destructive and encouraging. Community can stifle a person, make them want to go free. And at the same time, it can make characters more connected to their communities, make them feel proud, just like when you cheer on your hometown sports team.

Community has to be developed well. For me to believe you, you need three things. Good characters, people you would actually find in the middle of nowhere or a town of 2,000 people. You need realistic situations -- there probably wouldn't be a high-rise building for your character to get trapped inside in Hokey Tokey Ville.

When I read books and get a sense of community, I love it. I love the characters and the setting and everything. A few books come to mind; Jellicoe Road and Like Mandarin among others. I hope my books show the same thing.

But the point I really wanted to prove was you need to be careful of your setting. I know about small towns.  I live one and I can write one. Deer Valley is very similar to my ---will-not-be-mentioned---town. But it might be harder if you lived in a big city, Minneapolis or L.A or Memphis or NYC or Seattle. You need to be careful, and if you don't know your setting, research. Choose your setting carefully, get to know the town or world's inhabitants and their feelings, prides, predjuices, longings (to leave; to stay).

Make sure it makes sense. Why would your MC be cattle wrangling in LA? You need to be careful. And write small towns.


(Yeah, right.)

And enjoy the magic of your setting. My town is made up of small town gypsies. Yours will be different. Using the power of setting and magic of characters and the world you have created, you can make a heck of a book.

Setting works. Use it wisely and carefully. Let the gypsies run.

Friday, December 16, 2011

So Shelly by Ty Roth

Until now, high school junior, John Keats, has only tiptoed near the edges of the vortex that is schoolmate and literary prodigy, Gordon Byron. That is, until their mutual friend, Shelly, drowns in a sailing accident.

After stealing Shelly's ashes from her wake at Trinity Catholic High School, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie island where Shelly's body had washed ashore and to where she wished to be returned. It would be one last "so Shelly" romantic quest. At least that's what they think. As they navigate around the obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly's and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her tragic and premature end.

This was one book I was very interested in reading. I adore classic novels, and I have read some Byron, Keats, and both the Shelleys (the Shelly in the novel is based on both Mary and Percy). So when I heard about the concept and the idea of So Shelly I was immediatly hooked. I checked out the book from my local library, read some promotional things from the publisher -- Random House -- on the novel, and scoured around Ty Roth's website. I put it at the top of my to-read list and stayed up until eleven thirty reading the book.

So what did I think? Though I had a few complaints and concerns, I found So Shelly to be a novel that was pretty darn good.

The story transposes the lives of Keats, Byron, and Mary and Percy Shelley both combined into one character (the Shelly of the title) and puts them into modern day. Many of the characters and events remain, as the author explains in a note, and most of the changes were only to make the characters seem more modern and not, well, 18th-century writers.

John Keats, our narrator, has stayed away from Gordon Byron his entire high school career. Gordon is brave, crooning, and all the women love him. Keats finds him terrifying and prefers to stay home and write. The two share one connection, though: both being friends with Michelle "Shelly" Shelley. Shelly has recently drowned in a sailboat accident, and the two recconect at her funeral. Gordon hatches a plan to steal her ashes, and with the container in hand they head towards the lake where Shelly drowned. As they drive, the two remember their memories of each other and Shelly and try to decide what led her to drown herself.

The book isn't about Shelly, though. It's about Gordon. At least 50% of the book is about him. And everything about him is his sexual conquests. Roth heaps on conquest after conquests, telling of Gordon's many affairs, infatuations with girls, and more. Some of it seems a bit unrealistic -- his writing a YA vampire novel as a jab to the current  YA industry and the fact that Gordon was on a Greek terrorist squad -- but I had one major concern with the focus on him. It essentially was the same sexual situation over and over. He met a girl, seduced her, they had sex, and then the girl/teacher/friend was either suspended from school, fired, or dumped as quickly as her relationship with Gordon ignited. It was basically the same sexual conquest in every chapter, only with a different setting and time (the book jumps from Gordon and Shelly's childhood until their senior year in high school). He was an interesting character, but I think the author could have shown his many sexual conquests -- which were true to life of the real Lord Byron -- in different ways.

Keats is barely in the story. He narrates and explains things, adding in small little quirks that the readers will smirk at. He "writes" the story as it is explained in the prologue, but other than that is barely in the story. Most of the scenes are about Shelly, Gordon, and Gordon's many women. He barely has a purpose in the story other than to tell it, and his resource for getting the information is contrived. He supposedly got the information from a drunk Shelly over ten hours(!) and the event is mentioned once in the story and then dropped, like the author didn't care. He could have probably been dropped from the story and not much would have changed, or the author could have used third person instead.

I liked the historical details behind the book, and after you read the author's note the events seem much better. The writing is quite fluid and goregous, and I rarely see books about classic novelists in YA. I think that Roth has a chance to improve and when he publishes his next novel I'll be interested in reading it. (It might not be soon, though; he posted on his blog that he had sent a draft to Random House and they had rejected it.)

So some flaws, but a pretty interesting romp through the Romantic Era, with quite a few ties with Romanticism that will remain with readers. I'd recommend it more for history lovers; people less interested in history may get bored, specifically those that know little about Romantic poets (I reccommend reading the author's note first if you don't know much about the Shelleys, Keats, and Byron).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


BUILDING HOUSES teaser. It's almost at 50k now. :D This is from the end of chapter sixteen. Jaycee and her neighbor Janna are sitting under a tree, discussing spying. This project is my most major project, and according to Microsoft Word I started it in August and have since spent 15,753 minutes working on the document. Five months, folks. Five months. So enjoy an excerpt from the end of chapter sixteen.


“You need to work on your investigation skills,” Janna started. Her tone was sharp and hard, but she didn’t sound too angry. Just frustrated. “I went to an event at the bookstore one time and they talked about being a good spy. You have to stay focused, alert, and interrogate the person so they give you as much information as you need. Ask questions. Keep pushing them and make sure you get everything. Every little bit of information counts.”
I snorted. Where had she gotten that? From one of those cheesy “how to be a spy” books? Mom and I visited the bookstore sometimes, usually so she could grab the latest romance novel or blockbuster spy book for Dad. Every time we went, there always seemed to be an endcap displayed prominently in the children’s section advertising “how to be a spy” books and kits.  I remembered seeing a few “how to be a spy” classes advertised too, at least once a month. The books were brightly colored and filled with easy puzzles to crack and flimsy spy glasses that broke. Mostly they were filled with lame, crappy stuff. Things that kids would do to spy, like hide behind tables and decode their parent’s phone conversations and receipts. Nothing that anyone professional, like the CIA or secret agents in the FBI, did.
“Most of those books aren’t reliable,” I said. “Besides, none of the stuff in those books is anything professional spies do.”
“How are they not reliable?”
“It’s mostly lame stuff. Like hiding behind tables and decoding phone calls.” I rolled my eyes to punctuate the point. Janna stared at me. Her lower lip hung out in dismay, and from a distance she seemed much younger.
“Maybe,” she said. Her eyes crinkled, and she seemed about to cry. Oh god. All I was good at was making people cry. I leaned forward and wrapped my arm around her back.
“Come on. Let’s sit down.” I waved a hand towards the tree. The dirt seemed more inviting now. It looked cool and soft, certain to calm you. I plopped down in the dirt and gestured for Janna to sit next to me. She curled her face into a scowl, but finally sat down beside me with a loud thump.
“I don’t like it when you make fun of things I like,” Janna said.
“I know.”
We sat in silence. Janna leaned over and buried her head in my lap. My pants felt warm and comfortable as she rested her head in the crook of my legs. She sighed, content, and her eyes softened. It looked like she’d be asleep in no time.
Before she could fall asleep, I whispered into her hair, “I think we can be all done with the spying for now.”
Janna nodded, opening her mouth into a wide yawn. As her eyes closed and the yawns continued, she said, “Okay,” before falling into slumber.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Books I've Been Reading Recently, Part 2

I recently visited the Southdale Library that I hadn't visited in a long time. I moved away and haven't been to the library (which is much larger than the one in my new town) in about seven months. I eagerly devoured the selection and returned with 48(!) books. I thought I would list some of the books I have read from the pile so far, along with brief descriptions of each book and the cover. All descriptions come from or the back of the novels.

What the Moon Saw
Laura Resau, Delacorte Press 2006

Clara Luna's name means "clear moon" in Spanish. But lately, her head
has felt anything but clear. One day a letter comes from Mexico, written in Spanish: Dear Clara, We invite you to our house for the summer. We will wait for you on the day of the full moon, in June, at the Oaxaca airport. Love, your grandparents.

Fourteen-year-old Clara has never met her father's parents. She knows he snuck over the border from Mexico as a teenager, but beyond that, she knows almost nothing about his childhood. When she agrees to go, she's stunned by her grandparents' life: they live in simple shacks in the mountains of southern Mexico, where most people speak not only Spanish, but an indigenous language, Mixteco.

The village of Yucuyoo holds other surprises, too-- like the spirit waterfall, which is heard but never seen. And Pedro, an intriguing young goatherder who wants to help Clara find the waterfall. Hearing her grandmother’s adventurous tales of growing up as a healer awakens Clara to the magic in Yucuyoo, and in her own soul. What The Moon Saw is an enchanting story of discovering your true self in the most unexpected place.

The Queen of Water
Laura Resau, Delacorte Press 2011

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta—stupid Indian—by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.
In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl's unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia's story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.

Christopher Grant, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010

High school freshman Martine (Teenie for short) is a good student, with a bright future ahead of her. She's desperate to be accepted into a prestigious study abroad program in Spain so that she can see what life is like beyond the streets of Brooklyn. She wouldn't mind escaping from her strict (though lovable) parents for awhile either. But when the captain of the basketball team starts to pay attention to her after she's pined away for him for months and Cherise, her best friend, meets a guy online, Teenie's mind is on anything but her schoolwork. Teenie's longtime crush isn't what he seemed to be, nor is her best friend's online love. Can Teenie get her act together in time to save her friendship with Cherise, save her grade point average so that she can study in Spain, and save herself from a potentially dangerous relationship?

Christopher Grant makes a stunning literary debut with this warmly told story about friends, family, and finding oneself.

                                                 So Shelly
Ty Roth, Delacorte Press, 2011

Until now, high school junior, John Keats, has only tiptoed near the edges of the vortex that is schoolmate and literary prodigy, Gordon Byron. That is, until their mutual friend, Shelly, drowns in a sailing accident.

After stealing Shelly's ashes from her wake at Trinity Catholic High School, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie island where Shelly's body had washed ashore and to where she wished to be returned. It would be one last "so Shelly" romantic quest. At least that's what they think. As they navigate around the obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly's and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her tragic and premature end.

I Know It's Over
C.K Kelly Martin, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2008

PURE. UNPLANNED. PERFECT. Those were Nick’s summer plans before Sasha stepped into the picture. With the collateral damage from his parents’ divorce still settling and Dani (his girl of the moment) up for nearly anything, complications are the last thing he needs. All that changes, though, when Nick runs into Sasha at the beach in July. Suddenly he’s neck-deep in a relationship and surprised to find he doesn’t mind in the least. But Nick’s world shifts again when Sasha breaks up with him. Then, weeks later, while Nick’s still reeling from the breakup, she turns up at his doorstep and tells him she’s pregnant. Nick finds himself struggling once more to understand the girl he can’t stop caring for, the girl who insists that it’s still over.

I'm still keeping away busily at my stack. All of the above titles are from Random House Books for Young Readers, with Knopf and Delacorte being imprints of the division. I will post reviews for the titles as soon as I can.


Red Glass by Laura Resau

ONE NIGHT SOPHIE and her parents are called to a hospital where Pedro, 6-year-old Mexican boy, is recovering from dehydration. Crossing the border into Arizona with a group of Mexicans and a coyote, or guide, Pedro and his parents faced such harsh conditions that the boy is the only survivor. Pedro comes to live with Sophie, her parents, and Sophie's Aunt Dika, a refugee of the war in Bosnia. Sophie loves Pedro - her Principito, or Little Prince. But after a year, Pedro's surviving family in Mexico makes contact, and Sophie, Dika, Dika's new boyfriend, and his son must travel with Pedro to his hometown so that he can make a heartwrenching decision .

I....I don't know how to adequetly express how I feel about this book. It's amazing and fantastic and so impressive. Laura Resau certainly has made me enjoy her novels, and I have read the majority of them. But I read Red Glass last. I had liked the sweeping, isolated mountain setting of an indengenious culture in What the Moon Saw ; the racially-divided Ecuador of The Queen of Water; and the globe-hopping scenes of the Notebook series (Mexico in The Indigo Notebook and France in The Ruby Notebook . But Red Glass, with its fantastic characters, lovingly crafted plot, and character arcs, and the setting of small villages in Mexico and towns in Guetamala, captivated me the most.

The story is about Sophie, a sixteen year old girl who's afraid of everything, from her mother and stepfather being murdered to being robbed by strange figures on the train and germs found in resturants. She lives with her parents and her eccentric great-aunt Dika, a refugee from Bosnia. She constantly is afraid, getting upset if her parents are minutes late or if someone sneezes. One night, they get a late-night phone call from the Border Patrol. Seven illegal immigrants, crossing the desert from Mexico to Tuscon, New Mexico, have been found dead. One young boy no older than six or seven survived, with Sophie's stepfather's buisness card in his pocket. No one knows who the boy is, and so the Border Patrol asks Sophie's family to foster the boy, named Pedro. Sophie quickly nicknames him Principito, or "Little Prince."

But a year passes, and Pedro remains stoic. No one can get him to engage in activities, get happy or excited. He behaves, but won't interact. All he wants to do is sleep with the chickens outside, no matter how many beds and mattresses they try to find him. After a while, Sophie's parents manage to contact Pedro's remaining family in a village in Mexico. Pedro's family decides that Sophie, Dika, Dika's boyfriend Mr. Lorenzo, and Lorenzo's son Angel will go visit Pedro's old village and see if that helps. Sophie is afraid of the dangers of Mexico -- corrupt cops, dangerous food, drug dealers -- but agrees to go for her Principito.

Golly, the characters are amazing. Resau fleshed them all out, with backstories and realistic dialogue, actions, and arcs. Dika is a refugee from Bosnia escaping civil war; Mr. Lorenzo and Angel are illegal immigrants in search of jewels; and Pedro is a small boy who spent days crossing a treacherous desert. The character arcs are fantastic. Sophie truly changes, first in subtle ways, and then in larger ways that echo loudly and don't make it seem like Resau was just trying to show over and over again that yes, yes, Sophie had changed . All of the characters are strong and impressive and amazing. Dika completely breaks the boundaries of "old fat grandma"; Angel is a sweet, caring boy that makes a fantastic love interest; and Mr. Lorenzo is a sweet man straddled between two cultures.

The setting is also fantastic. Resau vividly describes markets and streets and smells and foods with the eye of someone who's been there, seen that (she's a travel writer and English as a Second Language -- primiarily with Mexican students -- teacher). Everything is vivid in your mind, and you can truly tell that Resau took time to learn the language, took time to learn the people and culture.

And now the writing. Oh my god, the writing. Resau's words flow off the page, flowery and beautiful without being dramatic. The writing is goregous and sweet and still sounds like Sophie's voice, a teenage girl in two cultures and hiding from everything. I paused and reread every sentence, reading it for the cadence, the beauty. It was more than just a sentence or a predicate -- it was a beauty. Resau's a fantastic writer in all her books, and she's been very well critically accliamed with plenty of starred reviews. But Red Glass took my breath away.

The plot isn't predictable, with both funny (Sophie gets hit on by a drunk cop at a picnic) and heartwarming (Pablo seeing his grandmother again). You truly care for all the characters, and hope and wonder they're doing okay. The climax grabs your heartstrings in the end, but you understand the decisions and character motives with what happens in the climax. Resau has crafted a brilliant, rich plot, and managed to even tie Saint-Expery and The Little Prince into the novel's six parts.

I highly recommend this novel and the rest of Resau's books. They have fantastic writing and immerse you in cultures you never knew. A great read that will appeal to contemporary fans, romance fans, those who want to be immersed in another world, and people interested in cultures and geography. Highly recommended.

Five stars.

Zero by Tom Leeven

 For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn't materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she's so much more than a name.

I'm not much of an artist myself. I like art, and the yearly trips to the musems in elementary school didn't bother me much, but I haven't been much of an artiste. I left that to my sister.

So I found this ARC on NetGalley. I had read Tom Leeven's first book Party about a year ago. Both books dealt with the artisty, gritty scene of Los Angeles and the surrounding area. And what did I think?

I'm still unsure, and I finished this book three days ago. But I guess if I had to rate it, say how I felt in more cohesive terms, well, I'd say it was okay.

Party is the story of Amanda. She just graduated from high school, and plans to go into a career as an artist. She's got everything down pat, is ready to go to SAIC, the art college of her dreams. And then her scholarship money -- the only thing getting her to the expensive college -- falls through, and she falls into a whirlwind.

Her parents are fighting constantly and on the rocks of divorce; she has a horrible relationship with her best friend; and she has no idea what to do in the fall. To keep her busy, Amanda's parents make her enroll in community college to take a few art courses and she decides to attend some late-night concerts to feel connected to the "art scene".

I never really connected with Amanda. She has a strong voice which I'll mention later, and sounds like a teenage girl, but she seems disconnected. I symapthized with her, but it was hard at times to read the narrative since it was disconnected. She was so disconnected from the reader, in both grief and anger, that it was hard to read.

I did like her voice, though. She sounded like a raw, gritty teenage girl living, essentially, on the edge of her world.

I do think that Leeven populated his story with some cliches. The angry, on-the-brink parents; the girl seperated from her best friend due to a secret that I found easy to guess; and the girl redempted by love. It didn't affect the story a ton, but at times it seemed painfully obvious like he was running through a checklist:

1. Artsy girl with a secret.
2. Meets boy, fall in love.
3. She discovers big secret that shatters her world...

The climax was...okay. The major secret was revealed, a few "ohmygod" scenes occured where Amanda freaked out, but the majority of the climax was a chapter in a half. By the next chapter Amanda had realized oh, everything's going to be okay, without any reason why she had changed so quickly. She simply woke up, saw the self-portrait she had done, and then realized that everything was fine.

It was an interesting look into the art scene, how everything is so free. I learned some, I guess, considering I'm not in that crowd at all.

I would recommend it more to "artsy" people and those who might be interested in a more "angsty" narrative. A solid read.

Three stars.