#CatchUpClub Cinder/Scarlet WrapUp

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Catch Up Club is hosted by Dianne at Oops! I Read A Book Again, Katie at Bibliotekit, Yasmine at Yasmine’s Public Library, Jessica at Lovin Los Libros, and myself.

We discovered that we all felt like we had missed out on some of the key YA reads of the last few years, and decided to recitfy that!  For the last two weeks we’ve all been catching up on the excellent Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, choosing to read either Cinder or Scarlet.

The winner of the giveaway was Natalie at Books, Etc.  Go check her out!

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So What Did People Think?

Since I was the Book Pusher for this one, I was really excited to see if my fellow book club members would enjoy this one.  And overall, it looks like they really did!  Most people seem to have decided to read Cinder and it was a ton of fun following the #CatchUpClub hashtag throughout the two weeks to see what people thought of the books.  As I said in my Book Pusher Post, one thing I love about this novel is the relationship that develops between Kai and Cinder.  I just thought it was very sweet, and the obstacles to their relationship made a lot of sense.  Nothing magically came together for them — there is no fairy godmother to be seen.

One of my favorite points from Dianne’s review (go read it HERE) was that Cinder was a great heroine BECAUSE she had to be her own hero.  She was put in a set of really untenable circumstances, and while she certainly had allies, she had to be her own protagonist.  There was no magic fix, no bibbity bobbity boo.  There’s something really great about a strong female heroine who doesn’t wait for the prince in shining armor to come save her and sweep her off her feet.  This counts double for this kind of heroine in a fairy tale retelling!

I also completely agree with Yasmine (read her review HERE) that the worldbuilding in this series is amazing.  It’s an Asian/Western cross, which feels familiar and yet totally out there.  I thought placing the familiar story in this crazy world absolutely worked, and helped the underlying story we’ve all heard a thousand times feel fresh.

Jessica also loved the worldbuilding (read her review HERE), but both she and Yasmine totally disagree with me on the Kai/Cinder relationship, feeling like its development is not at all believable, for various reasons.  I really enjoyed reading this part of their reviews because our reading experiences were so different.  Yasmine felt that Kai didn’t seem totally into it when we read from his point of view and you know, now that she points that out I can totally see it.  Kai’s POVs were more about worldbuilding and conflict – he is the Prince after all – whereas Cinder spent more time worried about the him.  I hadn’t seen it that way before and thought that was a really interesting point.  Jessica also felt like there wasn’t enough THERE to convince her of their romance.

Lisa from Lisa Likes Books also joined us in reading Cinder and reviewing it on her blog (read her review HERE).  She points out just how invested we really got into these characters and YES!  Although I agree with Yasmine’s point in her review that sometimes things got a bit obvious (was anyone really shocked by the twist??), I also agree with Lisa that this book just left me on the edge of my seat!  I really wanted everything to work out!  The novel did break my usual cardinal rule of not ending things on a cliffhanger, though.  I realized there were about 20 pages left and no way it was all going to wrap up and I just wanted to scream!  Luckily, Scarlet was already out and I was able to move on to that one!

Katie used the Catch Up Club as an excuse to also finally pick up Scarlet (read her review HERE).  She points out that the great world-building continues and extends in Scarlet, which I totally agreed with.   Just like the first novel in this series, the action in Scarlet starts early and doesn’t let up until the last page.  Katie and I also agree that the Scarlet chapters seemed more gripping.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Cinder’s character, but by the time she showed up in the novel I was so invested in the Scarlet half that it was sometimes jarring to jump back and forth. I’m actually really wondering how Meyer is going to pull it off in the next two books in the series wherein she intends to introduce even MORE fairy-tale inspired characters I’m sure I’ll fall in love with.  I’ve seen some great early comments come out on the next book, Cress, so I’m sure she can pull it off, but I’m definitely curious!

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I hope you all enjoyed reading along and participating in this little online book club.  We were really excited to see some of you join us!  Come on back in a week or so, we’re all going to start reading The Grisha series by Leah Bardugo!  I just got Siege and Storm from the library and cannot WAIT!

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Book Review: Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

The Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook

 

Book Summary

From GoodreadsTilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.

 

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

I recently finished Handbook for Dragon Slayers and couldn’t wait to review it, mostly because I just KNOW there are some of you out there who still have not read any Merrie Haskell and that truly pains me.  I sincerely credit her novel The Princess Curse with kicking off the most marvelous reading spree I’ve had in a very long time.  I read that novel and suddenly could not get enough of fairy tale retellings or female heroines or feel-good reads.  In fact, I am hard pressed to think of a book I had read before hers that was even a middle grade book, and since then I have been much more willing to browse that section of my library.  So when I heard Haskell had a second novel coming out I knew I would have to get my hands on it.  And while Handbook for Dragon Slayers probably won’t end up on my Best of 2013 List, it reinforced everything I loved about Haskell’s novels and firmly placed her on my Must Read list.  So in this review I plan to highlight what I thought was great about Handbook for Dragon Slayers, but also explore what I think is so great about Haskell more generally as well.

  • Strong Female Heroines:  Haskell writes some of the best middle grade heroines I have ever read.  Her characters are complex and full; they aren’t ever mere damsels in distress.  They are intelligent, and strong, and they overcome obstacles with aplomb.  This is not to say, of course, that they are flawless.  For example, in Handbook for Dragon Slayers, the main character is a princess named Tilda, who was born with a clubfoot.  This has always made her feel like an outsider, and the novel explores really well the various ways she has shut herself off from most of the world in order to protect herself from feeling too much.  Since the novel is written from her standpoint, you believe along with her that everyone is afraid of her and that certain characters are out to get her, and so as Tilda grows and learns to give people a second chance, so does the reader.  It’s so cleverly written that I was even surprised when some of the reactions I had expected — because Tilda had told me to expect them — never came.  The secondary female character, Judith, also displays a strong loyalty and love for her friends and family.  Plus Judith is a really kick-butt dragon hunter.  And no spoilers but there is an excellent twist at the end that allows this theme of female strength to really shine. 

 

  • Healthy Female Friendships: Nothing annoys me more than the trend in literature to constantly pit women against each other.  It is truly rare to see novels that explore the beautiful strength to be found in female friendships.  In both of her novels Haskell has spotlighted a female friendship without jealousy or competition.  Although Judith and Tilda have moments of discord, they are able to come back together and be truly stronger than when they started, usually through communication and apologies rather than some intermediary or some magical solution.  They are able to both be friends with a boy whom they obviously both like being around without much strife.  I loved that this example of friendship is being modeled, particularly in Middle Grade literature when the healthy female friendship can start to go the way of the dodo. 

 

  • Intelligent Mingling of Recognizable Fairy Tale Themes:  My one complaint about some fairy tale retellings is that they are so true-to-tale that there is no surprise or character development.  The princess is the princess, the prince is the prince, and we all know it will turn out well in the end.  What Haskell does so beautifully in both of her books is draw from multiple fairy tales and pull various elements together to make a really interesting mingling of familiar story lines packaged together in a new and completely fresh feeling and unpredictable way.  In Handbook for Dragon Slayers, we see elements of Bluebeard, the Swan Maiden, the Wild Hunt, and some great dragon lore.  I love that she does this, especially when taking into account younger readers.  I now have a really easy answer for a young reader who loves this book and asks me what to read next.  I think it also helps her stories feel familiar, like you’ve known them all of your life, without going down the path of the expected outcome.

 

  • Unexpected Main Characters: In both of her novels, Haskell writes from what in many other stories would be a secondary character’s perspective.  Because Tilda has a clubfoot, she is not physically able to be a dragon slayer.  In fact, there are many instances where her friends are shown literally carrying her because her strength has given out (more plus points for Judith).  And so Tilda becomes the scribe, which allows her to be the partner in crime to her friends, and to be a main player in the action without actually being the one doing the dragon hunting.  I love that Haskell chooses to highlight these “secondary” characters and I think in the end it makes for more interesting reading.

 

  • The Un-Lesson: One almost necessary part of a great Middle Grade read, for me, is the un-lesson, or the lesson that doesn’t feel like a lesson.  As we watch Tilda grow and develop, we see her learning to distinguish between what she thinks is important and what is truly important.  Learning this difference and the related difference between what we want in life and what we actually need is such an important part of growing up, and I love that Haskell chose to explore it in this novel.  But at no times did it feel like a morality play or like the lesson was being shoved down our throats.  It was just an important, understandable part of Tilda’s development, but I think we all walked away feeling like we learned something.

 

These are just a few of my favorite parts about Haskell’s novels.  I think that in Handbook for Dragon Slayers there were a few small issues that kept it from being a five-star read for me.  There was one particular shift in tone that didn’t all the way work for me in the middle of the book.  I wanted a bit more by way of depth — there were certain story lines or plot points that seemed to come out of nowhere and then everything tied itself up very neatly and very quickly at the end.  Some of this can just be chalked up to the age the book is directed at – these things stand out more to someone in their early 30s than someone in their tweens, but I still think it could have been developed differently.  That said, it did not diminish my overall enjoyment of the novel and I definitely highly recommend it. 

Bottom Line

Handbook for Dragon Slayers is a great, fast read that explores deep themes of friendship, loyalty, responsibility, self-esteem and growth, all neatly hidden away in a novel with a beautifully developed world and endearing characters that you want to befriend.  While there are some small issues, if you’ve read and liked middle grade novels before, I do not think it is anything that will keep you from enjoying this novel.  Perhaps even more importantly, though, Merrie Haskell has convinced me that middle grade novels are truly not just for kids.  Although I was an established reader of YA, it was Haskell who brought me into the middle grade world.  She writes intelligently and with such heart, you cannot help but fall in love with her characters.  And while there are elements of her novels that boys will also love, these books are such a good introduction to fantasy for young girls and, I feel, provide great examples in her heroines and her female characters generally.  Haskell is accomplishing so many important, necessary things with her writing and still managing to weave beautiful stories that stay with you long after you close the book.  I, for one, am excited to see what she comes up with next.

Top Ten Tuesday (3): Authors Who Deserve More Recognition

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are discussing our Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition.

I honestly feel so out of the loop on which authors are getting recognition these days and which aren’t. For some, I feel like I am way behind the curve (I’m looking at you Tahereh Mafi!) but for others I feel like I may be only slightly ahead.  But since this book blog – and I think Broke and the Bookish as well – leans toward having an audience who is more YA-focused, I’m going to recommend some of my favorite adult book authors in case you haven’t had a chance to veer into that section of the bookstore as often as you might like. 

That being said, along the theme of under-appreciated YA authors, if you haven’t read anything by Merrie Haskell, you really should.

If You Love These YA Books, Then Try…

1.       If you love The Name of the Star, then try Alan Bradley!

 Fans of Maureen Johnson’s Name of the Star series might also like the British flavor of Alan Bradley’s murder mystery novels.  Alan Bradley has written a number of mysteries, but the series I like best is his Flavia de Luce series, which starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  The series is set in England in the 1950’s and its heroine, Flavia, is an 11-year-old amateur chemist and detective.  She’s basically Sherlock Holmes crossed with Harriet the Spy and I adore her.  With its 11-year-old protagonist, I’m not exactly sure why this series isn’t marketed as YA, to be honest with you.  Fans of Johnson will enjoy Flavia’s spunk and her hysterical relationship with her two sisters, and mystery fans will enjoy the excellently written who-done-it that will keep you guessing until the final page.

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2.      If you love Vampire Academy, then try Patricia Briggs!

Fans of the gritty Vampire Academy series might want to give some adult urban fantasy a try.  Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series is a good starting place, because unlike some other adult urban fantasy out there, there is not a great deal of language or physicality in the novels.  Much like Rose Hathaway, Mercy is a strong female character who feels completely self-sufficient and does not like relying on anyone to help her out.  She is fiercely loyal to her friends and is really a kick-butt protagonist.  There’s also a great slow-burn romance in this series as well that can’t be missed!  And from a fantasy perspective, this series truly has it all, from vampires to fae to werewolves to demons to, well – you name it, it’s probably in there somewhere.

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3.      If you love Grave Mercy, then try Guy Gavriel Kay!

Fans of Grave Mercy might enjoy the historical fantasy novels written by Guy Gavriel Kay.  Kay’s novels are set in various historical periods – medieval Spain, Constantinople, the Tang Dynasty – and are just epically gorgeous.  These novels are sweeping, with characters that will stay with you forever.  They are delicious to read and you want to just linger in the words on the page.  But they are also dark – you will find assassins, and plots, and betrayals, and intrigue in almost all of his books.  His book The Lions of al Rassan is perhaps the only book I’ve ever finished and then re-opened and started reading again just because I wasn’t ready to let go of the world and those words and those characters.  He explores brotherly love and true love and, yes, magic.  I recommend starting with Lions or A Song for Arbonne.

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4.      If you love Little Women, then try Geraldine Brooks!

Geraldine Brooks is the Pulitzer Prize award-winning author of March, a novel that tells the story of Little Women from the perspective of the father, who is largely absent from that novel.  As you may recall, Mr. March was off serving as a chaplain in the Civil War.  This book is at once a great piece of historical fiction (Brooks referenced the various journals of Louisa May Alcott’s own father to help draw her character in this novel) and a beautiful revisiting of characters we all know and love.  I also love her novel Year of Wonders, which follows the life of a woman living during the plague outbreak in England.

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5.      If you love Code Name Verity, then try Irene Nemirovsky!

Irene Nemirovsky is best known for her beautiful, haunting novel Suite Française.  This novel follows the story of a number of families in Paris in 1940 on the eve of Nazi occupation.  The stories themselves are beautiful, but the book itself has a story worthy of its own novel.  Nemirovsky was a well-known author in Europe in the 1940s when she started work on this novel.  But she was also a Jew and in 1942, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died.  This novel was not discovered for over sixty years, when it was found and translated.  It paints a horrifying picture of what life must truly have been like from someone we know witnessed the worst of it.  Fair warning – the novel is comprised of two parts of what was meant to be a five-part novel.  While it certainly stands on its own, you will feel a profound sadness, both for not knowing what happens in the characters’ lives, as well as for knowing what happened in Nemirovsky’s.  

If You Love These Television Shows, Then Try…

6.       If you love Sherlock, then try Laurie R. King!

Whether you love the BBC series or the original books (or both!) you might just love Laurie R. King’s take on Sherlock, which starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  King’s series begins in the post-Watson, post-Doyle Sherlock years, admitting that those stories were written but starting with the presumption that they were somewhat exaggerated so that Doyle could obtain a greater readership.  You meet all of your old favorite Sherlock characters, with the excellent addition of Sherlock’s new sidekick and eventual partner, the American, Jewish female Mary Russell.  Where Watson was Sherlock’s sidekick, Mary is truly his equal and watching them verbally spar is a great joy to behold. 

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7.       If you love The Tudors, then try Sharon Kay Penman!

Fans of the historical fiction genre can’t help but love Sharon Kay Penman.  Her books are everything historical fiction should be – well researched, well written, and most of all absolutely compelling.  Her main characters are great and she realizes that the true story of what happened is often more compelling than any fiction.  While of course she does add characters and move timelines around where necessary to make the novel flow, she has excellent historical notes following all of her novels, making clear what’s fiction and what isn’t.  These novels really make history come alive and are so well written you might even forget you’re learning something as you go.  Her first novel, The Sunne in Splendour, is a standalone so that might be a good place to start, but I also really love her Here Be Dragons trilogy.  As an added bonus her blog, which I follow on Goodreads, offers a number of really timely and interesting tidbits about British history and its intersection with today’s world (for example, one recent post discusses the implications of Will & Kate’s child’s gender).

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What Authors am I Missing?

I know, I could only come up with 7 to recommend this time around – BUT I also recommend the books and shows on the first half of the sentences up there, so really you got 15 killer recommendations from me this week (counting Haskell, of course!).  But who don’t I know about yet that I should really be reading?  Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge – Day 5

I love this idea of the 15-Day Challenge that April over at Good Books and Good Wine came up with.  Today is Day 5 and we are recommending tearjerker books to each other.  I have realized in going through my Read shelf on Goodreads that a great number of my favorite books can be considered tearjerkers.  I wonder why that is?  I’m not really a crier, but for each of these books I can remember the moment when I had to put the book down and collect myself.  I think that’s one of the best things about writing – whether it’s happy or sad, the ability to create this strong, visceral, shared emotion among readers.  Man, I love books.

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So, without further ado, my Top 5 Tearjerker Books Of the Moment (because I cannot commit to an all-time list).  I’m not going to summarize, because for many of them the tearjerker moment is a spoiler, but I’ll include my favorite quotes.

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1.       Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park

 

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

 

2.      The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

 

3.       Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity

 

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

 

4.       Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

bridge to terabithia

 

“She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there–like an astronaut wandering about on the moon.”

 

5.      The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

 

Beneath the Surface Author Panel Summary

Yesterday night I had the opportunity to attend an amazing author’s panel sponsored by the Irving Public Library and I wanted to share it with you guys!  The authors on the panel were Rae Carson, Nova Ren Suma, Tessa Gratton, Aimee Carter, Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs.  Jenny Martin moderated the panel.  Is that an amazing line up OR WHAT?  (They also had a teens only event earlier in the day with the same authors, and I have to say, I was super sad not to be able to pass as a teenager since I’m in my early 30s… If only the real world were more like Glee…)

Panel Pic

Every potential event yesterday that could have conspired against me did, and I ended up coming to the panel about 15 minutes late, which I was quite frustrated about, but I soon was swept away in the awesomeness that was this panel.  First of all, the room was PACKED.  I love seeing that at book events!  And everyone was really involved in what the authors were saying – there was laughter and applause in all the right spots.  And the Library really outdid itself on the decorations and treats – there were cupcakes with little miniatures of the book covers and rings and a candy bar and fairy lights.  It was really a well-designed event.

Because of the number of people on the panel, there were only a handful of questions asked, but that was actually perfect because it meant each author got to give a really fulsome answer to the questions asked.  They seemed to be enjoying hearing from each other as much as the audience was, which made it fun as well.  You could tell they were glad to be sharing the stage with each other.

My very favorite part of this event, though, was standing in line with a 10-year-old girl who was there to get some of her books signed by Aimee Carter.  This girl was literally vibrating with excitement.  She had adorned her hair and clothes with buttons and trinkets and representations of this book she loved.  I haven’t read this book yet, but I bought it just based on how much she absolutely loved this series.  Her copy of the book was just destroyed – dog eared, broken spine, pages marked, written in and just so well-loved.  I loved meeting this girl.  I loved her enthusiasm and excitement.  I loved how seriously the authors reacted to her and all of the other authors took the time to sign a piece of paper she had, since she didn’t own any of the other books.  She absolutely reminded me of myself when I was little, when authors were my celebrities and when a book I loved would look just absolutely trashed from all the times I read through it, wishing to return to the world the author had created for me.  I wasn’t worried back then about my series matching or my pages not being bent or getting ARCs or whatever it is we sometimes worry about in the book blogging world.  I was so glad to meet her – she reminded me of why it is I love to read in the first place.

As for the panel, like I said, I missed the first 15 minutes or so, but here are the highlights of the panel from the rest of the questions. 

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What Do You Have Coming Next?

Nova Ren Suma (NRS): Working on a novel set in a girl’s detention center.  It’s really dark and twisted and she was excited about writing this novel that explored that darkness.

Tessa Gratton (TG): Working on a sequel to The Lost Sun.  This one is from the perspective of a girl who “reaches for and surrounds herself with the positivity of violence.”  She reminds us that Odin is not only the god of war, but also of poetry, and she wants to focus on the violence of creation in her next work.  (Sidenote: I really need this one to come out SOON!  She sold it so well!)

Ransom Riggs (RR): Almost finished with the sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After the sequel, which is coming out in January, he’s working on a book for Little, Brown that is so nascent he didn’t want to speak the idea out loud for fear of talking himself out of it.  He actually said that the idea for this new work was born out of a conversation between him and Tahereh Mafi on the flight down!

Tahereh Mafi (TM): Working on the third book in the Shatter Me series, which will be coming out in February.  She also possibly has a novella in the same series coming out in December.

Rae Carson (RC): Working on a new trilogy.  This one takes place during the California gold rush in 1849.  The main character has the magical ability to find gold. She sold it as a dangerous western/fantasy.  (Sidenote: YES PLEASE!  I’m ready for this to come out now.)

Aimee Carter (AC): Working on a new trilogy due to come out November 26, called the Blackcoat Rebellion trilogy.  She wrote this one approximately five years ago!  It’s a dystopian about a world where when you turn 17 you take an aptitude test that defines your entire future – how many children you can have, what your job can be, where you live, etc.  The main character, Kitty, gets a low score due to her dyslexia.  But she is offered an opportunity to turn it all around and become part of the ruling class.  Though taking it is tempting, she is quickly exposed to the dark underside of that decision and is eventually forced to either play along with the government who has killed someone she loves or die herself.  Will she play nice or will she rebel?  (Sidenote: Adding this one to the TBR pile as well, of course.  Love a good dystopian trilogy and Kitty sounds like a really interesting protagonist.)

What is Your Writing Style?

TG: Chaos! (This got a huge laugh.)

AC: Very structured, due to her background as a screenwriter prior to becoming a novelist.  Everything is very strictly outlined before she writes anything.

RC: Interested in the interplay between the literary and the commercially successful.  What separates books generally considered to be beautifully-written, sophisticated literature with those that are considered to be less technically proficient but end up to become commercial successes? And how can they be combined?  She wants to mix the sophisticated literature with the commercially successful novel and doesn’t feel that they need to be separated.  (This was co-signed by the other authors on the panel.)

How Do You Name Your Places/Characters?

NRS: She is a name collector and steals names from people she meets and places she’s been.  Watch for your name in one of her stories if you meet her at a signing and she comments on your interesting name!

TG: For her, naming is part of the world-building exercise.  Where do these characters come from?  When do they live?  Who were their parents, since it’s parents who name children? When writing alternate histories, specific naming conventions are required for the time and place – you may want them to have the feel of the original history you are drawing from.

RR: Depends on the style of book he is writing, but he does try to make them meaningful or to have underlying meanings related to their role in the story.

TM: Generally just chooses names that she likes.  In her series, the name Kenji was inspired by a book she loved in college, The Tale of Genji.  Certain aspects of the character of Genji reminded her of the type of character Kenji would be. 

RC: Specifically for her Fire and Thorns trilogy, she was teaching herself Spanish at the time by watching telenovelas.  She had friends at work who would help her with her questions, and to honor them and to carry through a Latin feel in the novels, she named her characters after her friends and after characters in the telenovelas that reminded her of her characters.  Hector specifically was named after a particularly attractive character in one of the shows.

AC: For her, names are tough.  She never wants to have two main characters start with the same phonetic sound.  She read through an entire baby book over the course of a week when naming characters for her Goddess Test series, looking for names that had underlying meanings that related to the god/goddess represented by the character while not overtly calling back to that god.

Tips for Aspiring Authors?

This question ended up being everyone’s favorite of the night, I think.  Each author really took some great time to tell their story about how they became a writer and what obstacles they faced in doing so.  They all had such different stories, and it was great to hear about the different paths taken to get to be published.

AC: Started by writing Harry Potter fan fiction, then moved to writing her own stuff.  She wrote with a single-minded focus all throughout high school – didn’t do anything else but write, no prom, nothing.  She eventually received a hard rejection that took about four years for her to get over, but then she got back in the game and was able to find an agent and sell her Goddess Test series.

RC: In 1977 Star Wars came out, and Rae fell in love.  She knew she wanted more stories about magic and mages in the world, and knew she wanted to write them.  When first pitching her novel, she received a great deal of rejection from agents focused on publishing it as an adult novel.  When she suggested marketing it to a YA publisher, she was told that the novel was “too sophisticated for kids.”  Soon after, she got a new agent and was able to get her book sold.

TM: Never wanted to be an author.  Seemed like a monumentally tough thing to do.  But after college, she found herself working full time and was bored in the off-hours (“TV did nothing for me and people weren’t very interesting.”) So she returned to her love of reading, and more specifically returned to the books that originally grabbed her attention, which were YA, and she knew she wanted to stay there forever.  She started writing right then and there and knew she wanted to do it forever and wanted to get published.  At first, she said it was a “rejection party in my inbox every single day.”  It took her a long time to get published until she wrote Shatter Me.  She thinks the only difference between a successful and an unsuccessful person is time and advised aspiring authors in the crowd to never give up.

RR: As a child, he knew he wanted to tell stories.  At first, he thought he wanted to be a writer like CS Lewis or Steven King, or other authors he loved.  Then he found film and went to film school to become a director.  While he was trying to chase that dream, he was also working for Mental Floss and developed a relationship with a publisher there.  He wrote a short book for that publisher, and decided to bring to them some odd, old photographs he had been collecting.  The publisher suggested that perhaps a novel could be borne out of these photographs, and his novel was born.  That chance changed his life.  Ransom advised the crowd to basically say yes to everything.  Don’t lock yourself into one thing and refuse to move in other directions.  Artists don’t always know where own their best strengths lie.

TG: After her father went to Iraq serving in the military, Tessa became frustrated with the world and decided she wanted to change the world!  She went through a number of different ideas of how she would accomplish this, and eventually realized that being a writer was the path she wanted to take.  She said, “Books helped me understand other people and connect to the world.  They changed me and therefore changed the world.”  I loved that thought!  She gave herself five years to be published before she had to find another career.  She wrote a novel per year basically, and sent them out to different agents, continually being rejected.  Eventually she wrote Blood Magic, sent it to one agent and eventually sold the novel two months before her five year deadline.

NRS: Nova Ren didn’t plan to write YA novels.  She went to Columbia grad school for creative writing and there was never any mention of YA fiction – no one really knew what it was or what it could become.  After graduation, she spent a long time writing an adult novel inspired by her family (“Not an autobiography!”).  Then she wrote another novel that featured teens as main characters.  The adult agents kept asking about the adult characters, but that’s not what she wanted to write about.  She kept querying agents and set a deadline for herself that she had to be represented by the time she was 30, or else she would move on.  That time came and went and she eventually gave up.  She became a copy editor for a publisher in New York City and was eventually given the opportunity to do some ghost writing.  She eventually wrote a Middle Grade novel, Dani Noir, under her own name and sold it without an agent due to the connections she had built in the publishing world.  After writing this novel, she had a light bulb that she wanted to write YA going forward.  She wrote 50 pages of Imaginary Girls after that, and after years of rejection was given six offers from agents based on only those 50 pages.   

 

I know this was super long, but the panel was just so good.  I wish you all could have been there.  I really appreciate the authors taking the time to speak to us and give such thoughtful, fulsome answers to the questions they were asked.  I also really appreciate them staying after for so long to sign all of our books!  As you can tell – I splurged a bit.  WORTH IT!

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Book Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

darkest minds

Book Summary

From Goodreads: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

Review: 5 out of 5 Stars

I know it has been awhile since this book came out, and yet it keeps languishing the TBR shelf of so many of my friends on Goodreads, or worse, some people seem not even to have heard of it!  No more.  This shall not stand.  This book is absolutely making my top reads of 2013 list.  I love it with my whole heart and I really think you should read it.  Here’s why.

In The Darkest Minds, a disease has swept through the nation, killing off a large percentage of children around the age of ten.  Those who survive the disease are changed – imbued with various powers.  Some children can control anything electronic, or perform telekinesis, and so on.  Some children, like Ruby, have powers that can control other peoples’ minds in various ways.  The development of these powers causes fear in the nation and throughout the government, so the children are forced to go away to rehabilitation camps run by the government.  These are basically slave labor camps, and the children are terribly mistreated.  Ruby gets by for a time by pretending to have some of the more harmless powers.  But she is eventually discovered and forced to escape.

It’s once she escapes that the fun really begins.  She meets up with a group of other teen escapees and they all head for the East River, a place they’ve heard is basically a haven for kids like them.  The four teens – Ruby, Chubs, Liam, and Zu – get more than they bargained for, both along the way and once they arrive, and eventually Ruby is forced to make an incredibly tough decision that left me reeling.

The best part of this book for me was Ruby.  The way that Bracken slowly unravels her story and her past, and shows what a struggle it is for her to be able to trust anyone and why is really beautifully rendered.  Her actions make sense within the context of the story, even if I did want to yell at her a few times for not trusting her friends.  She is a troubled young girl, which makes sense given everything she has been through, and yet still manages to find her own inner strength and draw on it. 

One great part of the novel for me was her relationship with Liam.  Ruby has so many walls up, it takes a long time for her to be able to trust anyone at all – including herself.  Liam is a major force in helping her break those walls down and find that strength.  Their romance was a slow-burn romance, developed over time and miles, built upon trust.  Perhaps sixteen seems early for this type of relationship, but given everything they’d been through together it still made sense to me.  He is not perfect by any means, but his decisions also made sense to me in the context of the world. 

The novel is also funny, with Chubs serving as some comic relief, but also in some ways as the heart of the novel.  You can’t NOT root for Chubs.  I mean, come on, his dialogue was hilarious:

“Uh, no thanks. I read Lord of the Flies. I know how this works-everyone starts dancing around the fire and painting their faces and worshipping a decapitated pig head and then someone gets hit by a boulder and plummets to their death-and, surprise, it’s the fat kid in glasses.”

But also, he just had heart.  He was tough to get close to, but once you got into his heart, that boy was not letting you go.  Everyone deserves a Chubs in their life, and the development of the novel was as much tied to his arc in the story as anything else.

There were some parts of the world-building that were tough to swallow, like why parents who had already seen most of the nation’s children die would let their kids go off to rehabilitation camps.  But is that any more unbelievable than any other dystopian YA where the parents let their kids do crazy, dangerous things because the government tells them to?  That is what dystopians are all about!  Some parents were scared and some thought it really was about rehabilitation. And some knew their kids would be taken and hid their abilities.  Those parents made sense to me.  And while I didn’t like the decisions that the other parents made, it didn’t take me outside of the story – it was just something I had to swallow about the way the world had developed, just like any other dystopian novel.  There were also a lot of popular culture references for kids that had supposedly exited the world right around 10-years-old, but overall this also didn’t bother me that much.

I will warn you right now — the end of this novel kicked me right in the gut.  It has been over five months since I read this one, and I still sometimes get emotional thinking about it.  I will be one of the first ones in line to pick up the sequel when it comes out in October.  My fingers are crossed that Bracken doesn’t veer too far from what made this one work, and that is beautiful writing, a fast-paced plot, and characters that lodge themselves in your heart and won’t let go.

Bottom Line

As you can tell, I truly loved this novel.  While I definitely closed this book wanting to know more about what happens in the world that Bracken built, to me the real story in this book was not about psychic powers or government failures or fear mongering.  It was about friendship, pure and simple.  It was about what you will do for your friends when literally everything is on the line.  It was about learning to open your heart and trust and to allow your friends to make you into a better version of yourself.  And about how far you will go to protect them.  I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.

 

Welcome to The #CatchUpClub – with a GIVEAWAY!!

Feel like you’ve missed out on all the fun when it comes to some of the more popular reads of the last few years?

Do your friends start swooning over book boys that you’ve never even heard of?!

Have you seen people grow uncomfortable when you mention that you haven’t read THAT BOOK??!

If so, then welcome to the Catch Up Club!

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 Catch Up Club is hosted by Diane at Oops! I Read A Book Again, Katie at Bibliotekit, Yasmine at Yasmine’s Public Library, Jessica at Lovin Los Libros, and myself.  We all recently met during a #bookishparty book chat hosted by Cass and Judith on Twitter.  That chat was a ton of fun, but during the discussion it became clear that some of us had missed out on some pretty stellar reads in the YA world.  Sometimes book hype keeps you from reading a book that everyone says is supposed to be great.  Sometimes you just can’t get it from the library in time.  And sometimes you just can’t bring yourself to pick up yet another one of THOSE kinds of books. 

But no more excuses!  Every two weeks we’re going to read a recent Greatest Hit and we’ll all read it together.  One of us will be the Book Pusher and will post about why a particular read was so great at the beginning of the two week span.  Then you’ll have two weeks to read the book and if you’d like to post a review, at the end of the two weeks we can all link up our reviews and travel around the blogosphere seeing what our new friends thought about this most recent read.  And then we’ll do it all again!  If we pick a book that has a sequel, you’re welcome to read either that book or the sequel, we’re just trying to get people to read books and authors that we love and to have some company while we do it. 

On tap we have great books like Cinder, Shadow and Bone, Shatter Me, Vampire Academy, The Darkest Minds, and who knows what else!  If this becomes a bigger party than we’re anticipating, we can certainly figure out some way to get community input into the read – who knows, maybe YOU can be a Book Pusher, too!  And there just might be a giveaway or two along the way!

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How Can You Join In??

We are starting the party with the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer!  The first book in this series is Cinder and the second is Scarlet.  Feel free to read either one that you’ve missed!  Or, heck, feel like a re-read?  Join us! 

If you want to join in, you have three ways to do it!

  1. Sign up with Mister Linky down there to tell us you’re on board!  In your blog post we’d love to hear your answers to these questions: (1) What books would YOU like to Push for The Catch Up Club that you’ve already read? and (2) What books do you feel like you’ve missed out on?
  2. Tweet with us!  We’ll be tracking #CatchUpClub throughout the two weeks to readalong with each other and whoever else joins us. 
  3. Come back here on July 24 to link up your review so we can have our own little virtual book club!

And since this is our first time with the Club, let’s celebrate with A GIVEAWAY!!!!!  At the end of the two week period on July 25, I’ll select someone who joined up with today’s Linky and give them a $20 gift card to a bookseller of their choice.  Easy peasy>!!

CLICK HERE!!! —————–>     

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So Why Should You Read The Lunar Chronicles??

I won’t bother doing too much summary here, because I’m betting you’ve at least HEARD of Cinder and Scarlet, even if you haven’t read them.  But basically, they are futuristic fairy-tale retellings of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, respectively.  And here’s my Top 5 List on why you should go ahead and pick these books up ASAP!

  1. Despite being fairy tale inspired heroines, neither Scarlet nor Cinder are weak.  They are kick-butt, strong female heroines who don’t just sit around waiting for Prince Charming.  They make things happen.
  2. Kai.  Or Wolf.  Or Captain Thorne.  Just saying.
  3. More than one review of these books have compared them to Firefly – not so much in plot, obviously, but in tone.  This is a futuristic Asia-like society, and Cinder is a mechanic.  You Kaylee fans?  Check this one out. 
  4. These books also do an amazing job examining important social issues – class politics and prejudice probably being the top two that come to mind.  Being able to do this in a believable way in the context of a story about aliens?  I’m down.
  5. These books are sci-fi for people who love to read fantasy.  Don’t let the sci-fi elements of cyborgs and aliens scare you away.  They are full of complexly drawn characters, a fight worth fighting, and are some of the best fairy tale retellings out there.

So what are you waiting for??!  Pick up either Cinder or Scarlet and see what you’ve been missing!!