Friday, December 30, 2011

Welcome to the last day of the 2011 YA superlative blogfest, hosted by Katy Upperman, Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, and Alison Miller. This has been so much fun, and I've added way too many books to my to-be-read list for 2012. Today we chose Best in Show:

Favorite Cover:

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. This is really saying something, because I haven’t read this book yet, but after reading all the other blogs and seeing this beautiful cover so many times, I had to pick it. Beautiful.

Cutest Couple:

Lola and Cricket

Most Likely to Make You Miss Your Bedtime AND Breakout Novel of the Year:

Divergent. This was my first e-book, and I broke down to buy it because I started with the online sample and didn’t want to go to the store to buy it. I read the entire book in 24 hours, and that includes the time it took me to download the Kindle app and the book.

Best Repeat Performance AND Sleeper Hit:

Red Glove. Most of the books I read this year were well publicized, but I heard about White Cat through word of mouth. I picked it up and when I finished, I ran to the store to get Red Glove. I couldn't believe I'd overlooked this series before. Holly Black is a genius.

Romance Most Worthy of an Ice Bath:

Juliette and Adam from Shatter Me. Steamiest scenes I’ve read in YA in a while!

Pair Most Likely to Stay Best Friends Till They’re 80:

I’m kind of cheating with another couple, but I pick Puck and Sean from The Scorpio Races.

Best Old-Timer (Your favorite read of the year, published BEFORE 2011.)

Super tough choice, but I have to go with The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. That man is a genius.

Most Creative Use of a Love Triangle:

Clockwork Prince. I had two other books tied for this one until last night, but I made it to a certain point in Clockwork Prince last night, and I have to say, Tessa really has an impossible choice between Will and Jem. Also a runner-up for the ice-bath pick!

*My own category: Best Book written by a person I’ve met in Real Life:

After by Kristin Harmel. I've met many amazing writers online, but I feel so lucky to have met Kristin at a writing conference this year.

Wow! 2011 is almost over, and what a fun way to look back. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Welcome to Day 3 of the 2011 YA superlative blogfest, hosted by Katy Upperman, Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, and Alison Miller. (Thanks ladies!) Today the categories are Elements of Fiction. And the awards go to:

Most Envy-Inducing Plot: Divergent by Veronica Roth.

This is a tough one, because you couldn’t have the plot in Divergent without the well-built world, but it truly was the perfect pacing and the NEED to know what would happen next that kept me from putting Divergent down.

Most Wonderful World-Building: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

She managed to create multiple worlds in one book, and they were all amazing. This was also my second runner-up for loveliest prose, but I didn’t want DoSaB to win ALL of today’s categories.

Most Formidable World: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.

This was a hard choice, and James Dashner’s The Death Cure was my second choice.

Wanderlust-Inducing AND Loveliest Prose: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

It is a testament to how beautiful the prose is that Stiefvater pulls the reader in, so that she wants to go to a place most characters in the book are dying to get away from. I guess instead of wanderlust-inducing, I should say setting I feel like I already HAVE been to visit, and that would be the island of Thisby.

Best First Line: It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die.

Amazing. The Scorpio Races, of course.

Most Dynamic Main Character: Tris from Divergent. Another hard choice, but what made Tris real to me was her internal conflicts and strengths.

Most Jaw-Dropping Finale: The Death Cure by James Dashner.

It was funny, but it hit me for the first time 2/3 of the way through the last book in the trilogy that these books are about zombies. (Duh, I know.) But I expected a totally different ending, and I was truly dumbfounded when I put it down.

Best Performance in a Supporting Role: The Dads in Lola and the Boy Next Door.

I didn’t give them the award for parental figure, but they deserve some props! Lots of YA books have 'bad' or absent parental figures, but Lola's dads are doing things right.

Best Use of Theme: Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

War, peace, love, hate—and those are just the major ones. It worked so well because they shined through with all show and not a drop of tell.

It has been so much fun reading everyone else's posts! My TBR list is expanding daily, as I expected. Please stop back by tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Welcome to Day 2 of the 2011 YA superlative blogfest, hosted by Katy Upperman, Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, and Alison Miller. (Thanks ladies!)

Today's picks are for the Popularity Contest. Without further ado...

Class Clown: Percy Jackson from Son of Neptune --An oldy but goody, Percy still keeps me entertained seven books into the series.

Most Likely to Become a Rock Star: Simon from City of Fallen Angels

Mostly Likely to Start a Riot: Lila from Red Glove

Fashion King and/or Queen: Lola and Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door -- Was there any doubt about this one?

Girl You’d Most Want For Your BFF: Puck from The Scorpio Races – Loyal, fierce, and witty, Puck is everything I look for in a friend.

Boy You Wish You’d Dated in High School: Cassel from Red Glove – I’m a sucker for a bad boy with a heart of gold.

Quirkiest Character: Emma from Miss Perrigrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Villain You Love to Hate: Warner from Shatter Me

Favorite Parental Figure: Tris’s mom from Divergent

Coolest Nerd: Sam from Red Glove

These were super fun choices! I can't wait to read everyone else's picks!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Welcome to the 2011 YA Superlative blogfest, hosted by Katy Upperman, Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, and Alison Miller. (Thanks ladies!)

As I looked back over the books I read in 2011, most were not new releases. That narrowed my playing field a bit, so I’ve only chosen a few of the categories each day. If you'd like to learn more about the books, click on the covers to link back to the authors' websites. Here are my picks for Head of the Class, 2011! Drum roll, please…

Favorite Dystopian:

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent tops many of my categories for the year. I loved the world building, the family dynamics, and the romance. I can close my eyes months later and still imagine myself standing beside the rushing water with the members of Dauntless.

Favorite Fantasy:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

This book has everything: gorgeous prose, strong world building, well-chosen changes in perspective, a carefully unraveled mystery, and star-crossed lovers. What else can you ask for?

Favorite Contemporary:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

I chose this one because I loved Lola’s voice. More than any other YA book I read this year, Lola reminded me what it felt like to be a teenager.

My *extra* category, Favorite Scary Story:

Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

Everything I love about Stephen King and everything I love about YA meld together perfectly in this book. McMann has a unique voice, and this is my favorite of her books to date.

I can’t wait to read everyone else’s picks and watch my to-be-read list grow each day. Please stop back by tomorrow for the Popularity Contest!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Welcome to YA Highway's 110th Road Trip Wednesday!

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. This Week's Topic:

Where do you buy most of your books?

I wasn't planning to chime in today, but this one is pretty short and sweet. Since I got my Nook Color, I have purchased several e-books. I read a comment the other day that e-books are much more about convenience than cost, and I agree with that. When I want a book immediately, without driving to a store, I download it. I also downloaded all my books for my Thanksgiving road trip. Convenience is key.

Still, around half of my fall/winter reads have been ink and paper books. I lucked out with a few blog giveaways, I bought more books for myself than I did for my kids at their school book fair, and I finally finished my last find from the fall Friends of the Library sale. I shop at Books-a-Million because it's the closest to my house, and I shop at Barnes and Noble when I'm at the mall. Most of the time I get overwhelmed at the used book store; the nearest independent book store is really far from where I live, but I've shopped there, too. I usually only buy non-fiction books from Amazon, but I couldn't tell you why that is.

So basically, I buy books anywhere I can find them.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your stockings are filled with beautiful words and amazing stories.

Music for today: Let it Snow

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I've been a little absent from the Interwebs recently. It's easy to click and read with one hand, but more of a challenge to type comments or posts. I'll be back soon, with a slew of end-of-the-year book reviews, but I'm muddling through this post left handed to give a little personal update.

I am so blessed by my wonderful family and friends. This year I've met so many fun people in the reading and writing community, both in person and online, and I'm grateful to have you all in my life! I've been away from the keyboard because I had surgery on my right wrist two weeks ago, and my loved ones have really stepped up to take care of me. I'm doing fine; it was a minor thing that just happened at an inconvenient time.

A few things I've learned this December:

* I can eat, put in contacts, drive, text, and get dressed with my left hand.
* I cannot wash dishes with my left hand.
* Son #1 was amazingly non-whiny while he had a cast on his broken arm for ten weeks, when he was five years old.
* My husband does an amazing job taking care of our family.
* I'm still not used to Florida's 80 degree winters.
* The YA community is awesome, and not just because of the PHENOMENAL giveaways they've put on this month, but because they care about connecting with a network of brothers and sisters who will always remain teenagers at heart.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Music for today: My mom's favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's time for Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. This Week's Topic:

How far would you go to get published?

I'll be short and sweet today.

I'm willing to put in the work. I'm willing to revise and rewrite to make my story as strong as it can be. I'm willing to stay up late to get my words on the page, I'm willing to travel to conferences to hone my craft, and I'm willing to peck type this blog entry with my left hand because I had surgery on my right hand yesterday. And it's not really so much about breaking down that publishing barrier, although that will be great one day. It's about doing justice to my characters, so that other people can know them and love them like I do. It's about connecting with other readers and writers, who love a good story and beautifully chosen words and strong characters.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I have a confession to make. Sometimes when people ask me what I’m reading, I hesitate before answering. For some reason, I feel like I need to explain why I’m reading a young adult novel, when I have not, in fact, been a ‘young’ adult for many years.

And then, I feel guilty for explaining. Because most of the books I read are fabulous, and they’re YA, and those two qualities go hand in hand, and I shouldn’t need to defend those facts to anyone.

But here’s the thing about this month’s book club selection, The Scorpio Races. I. Loved. It. There isn’t a box big enough or amazing enough to hold it. Not only will I tell my YA reading friends about it, I’ll tell everyone who can read about it. And I won’t be anything but proud that I was lucky enough to recommend it.

Welcome to the Fall Book Club Selection, hosted by the lovely Tracey Neithercott at Words On Paper.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

This book is amazing in so many ways. Stiefvater writes prose with stark, naked beauty and heart-clinching rhythm. I could smell the salt and fish on Gabe’s clothes, taste the November cakes melting on my tongue, and hear the waves crashing beneath the cliffs. Her descriptions sucked me right into the island, but never weighed down the pace or slowed the ticking clock.

I finish many books wishing I could know the characters in real life. But the magic of The Scorpio Races is that I put it down feeling like a member of the Connolly family. Puck is the bravest, strongest main character I’ve read since Katniss Everdeen, and I read The Hunger Games the week it debuted. My only complaint would be that I want to know Sean better, but of course, that’s part of his magic, too. He holds everything close to his blue-black jacket, and what we do learn about him is all show and no tell.

My last comment, without too many spoilers, is about the ending. Stiefvater sets her characters’ stakes against each other, meaning that however the book ends, someone has to lose. I worried about how she would pull it off, and whether I’d be left crying in my boots. But she saw the perfect ending to stay true to the tone of the story, and I put it down full of hope and no tears.

I can't wait to read everyone else's reactions!

Perfect music for this novel: Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Every Wednesday, the writers at YA Highway ask a reading or writing related question, aptly named Road Trip Wednesday. This week's question:

In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

This is a tough one for me. I loved the required high school reading. (I know, my nerd is showing.) I would not take away the Shakespeare-- everyone should at least taste the brew of the bard once.

I would definitely keep in some Twain. I loved the Brontes, but I'm not sure I would force them on everyone. Like many other Highwayers today, I would add new, relevant material, like The Hunger Games.

But I'm a middle school teacher at heart, so I have to cheat a little. The book I would love to have as required reading for middle school is The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. It is a perfect blend of history and story, and the characters are relatable. Plot, Character, Setting, Theme, Geography, Mythology-- it's all there. I would actually love to read more upper YA that educates without being preachy.

On another note, I came home after a long day to find THIS on my doorstep:

Yay! Thanks so much to Tracey Neithercott at Words on Paper for sponsoring awesome giveaways!

And lastly, The Hunger Games trailer almost ECLIPSED my excitement for a certain midnight movie premier coming tomorrow, but it's finally time to start the countdown. Here we come, Isle Esme!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Every Wednesday, the writers at YA Highway ask a reading or writing related question, aptly named Road Trip Wednesday. This week's question:

What are your writing and publishing super powers? -- and what's your kryptonite?

Sticky notes. Sticky notes are my secret weapon and my writing super power. I use them on plot boards. I use them on the edge of my monitor. I have a stack with a pen beside my bed, to write down ideas from dreams. I have a set in my purse in case something hits me while I'm out and about. Some of them have a single word, like a character's name, or "mustache." Some have a random simile. Others have major plot points or scenes crammed to the edge. And some remind me that my son has cub scouts this week. I may single-handedly keep the post-it industry in business.

I have plenty of sources of kryptonite, but the strongest is objectivity. I struggle to read my writing with fresh, objective eyes. I skip over editing mistakes because I read what I meant to say. I have trouble seeing the story as it exists on the pages, unclouded by the way I imagined it in my mind. Thank goodness for critique partners and beta readers to combat that problem!

I love the analogy for this post; my female dog is named Lois Lane. I wanted to name our boy chihuahua Clark Kent, so our dogs would be Lois and Clark, but the husband wasn't having it. We ended up with Lois and Indiana Jones instead. How about you? Do you have any superpowers or kryptonite, writing or otherwise?

Until next time...

Music for today: Loving on Adele's 21 this week!

Friday, November 4, 2011

This post started out with one idea, but ended up with me in a state of reflection.

I read Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins in just over 24 hours. I wasn't really going for a review, but I wanted to give a quick shout of love. This book has lots of the elements I love about YA, and I'm so glad that I have the blog-o-sphere to recommend 'good reads.' (More on that in a moment.)

Here are the things I loved in Lola:

San Fransisco is a character in this story. It made me miss California and our years there, and also sad that my children won't remember our weekend visits to the zoo and the wharf.

Lola perceives the world in her own unique way. I especially liked how she observed the relationships around her. Seeing the world through Lola's POV shows more about her than it tells.

And of course I fell in love with Cricket Bell. (If you've read it, enough said.)

I normally like to summarize a book for a review on my own; I enjoy the challenge. Each time I tried with this book, my paragraph blurb just came out cheesy, so I hopped over to GoodReads to check out their summary. (Here's a link, if you are so inclined.) It was several paragraphs long, but that's not what caught my attention.

I spent far too long there reading reviews, and I was crushed. Don't get me wrong, this book has a very high star rating, and it's a GoodReads 2011 Choice Nominee for Best YA Novel. (Go vote!) But I read more than a few comments that disparaged the elements I loved most.

Why did it bother me so much, enough to not publish my post? Is it the writer in me, hurt by a few negative comments? (Maybe.) Did I rethink my initial reaction? (No, not at all.) After a full day to contemplate, I've determined that I was most stymied because I'd like to have a conversation (book club, anyone?) to understand why those commenters felt the way they did.

See, I'm all about sharing the love. I've followed Charlaine Harris for years now, and that lady is as mad a reader as she is a writer. (In a fantastic way.) She reads tons of books, and she reviews around one or two per week. But she only reviews the books she likes and recommends. I don't think I've ever read a negative review in four years. I am in favor of discussing what worked for a given reader, or what didn't, more than writing a negative review. If I love a book, I tell people. If I didn't love a book, I recommend it to people who I think may love it, but I try not to tear anyone down.

So, am I alone in this ra-ra rave-fest? Should we warn fellow readers when we find a book that really misses the mark, or should we keep everything lovey-dovey?

Music for today: I teared up today when I heard Stay Young, Go Dancing by Death Cab. Sad to see the end of Ben and Zooey, my favorite, quirky celeb couple. :(

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Every Wednesday, the writers at YA Highway ask a reading or writing related question, aptly named Road Trip Wednesday.

In honor of November as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), today YA Highway asks:

What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you?

First of all, does it count for NaNoWriMo 2011 if I finish the third draft of the novel I wrote during last year's NaNoWriMo? I've had 'before Thanksgiving' as my goal for getting my WIP ready for beta readers since August. If I keep on schedule, I think I'll make it. That makes the idea of a writing coach a timely question for me.

Having other people read my work terrifies me. Ironic, isn't it? Having readers is the logical endgame of writing. I took the first step with my first critique group in August, and I'm glad to have a few partners ready to go for the full manuscript. I've discovered I need just the right blend of positive reinforcement and reality check. If I picked a celebrity coach, it would be Sharon Osbourne.

I try to use that same approach. In the early stages, I encourage my writing friends to keep plugging away. Even if you don't make that 1,000 words per day, at least write something every day. 100 words here and 100 words there eventually add up. When I'm critiquing, I try to use the same guidelines I made my students use when I was teaching: for every suggestion you give, be sure to find something you loved to even it out.

And in the interest of meeting those November goals, I'm going to keep this post short and sweet and get to it! I do want to mention that I'm thrilled with YA Highway's focus on contemporary YA in November. I have been looking for some powerful, character-driven contemporary YA for my to-be-read list, and I'm excited for a month full of new suggestions. The last amazing contemporary I read was Kristin Harmel's After, about 16 year old Lacey's life after the death of her father.

Until next time...

Music for today: Driven by Their Beating Hearts by A Silent Film

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yay! It's finally time for Fall Book Club! Thank you to Tracey at Words on Paper for hosting this awesome blog discussion. October's book was Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is fresh, different, and exciting. I've never read anything quite like it. These qualities make it a good read, but it’s not just good. It’s an I-have-to-stay-up-past-my-bedtime-to finish-and-then-write-a-five-star-review-at-two-in-the-morning great book.

Here is my attempt at a brief, spoiler-free summary:

Lovely, unique artist Karou walks a line between the world we know and a world of wishes and monsters. She runs errands for her not-quite human mentor Brimstone, wondering what he does with all the teeth he collects from around the world. When a mysterious stranger threatens the portals between earth and Elsewhere, Karou has to discover the truth about her past and decide which future she will fight for.

So, what makes this book amazing? The world building and story are both phenomenal. But it's the language that pushes it to the next level. Taylor writes with such depth and grace; the prose rolls from the tip of your mind like honey.

One of the reasons I’m in love with this book is because it blurs the lines between good and evil. Taylor’s word choices play with our preconceptions. Karou begins on the side of the “devils” and “monsters,” and the “angels” are heartless killers. The beautiful part is that by the end, we get to see both sides of the story, through brilliant third-person narration.

I loved this book. I’m not in favor of trying to put a unique thing in a box, but I do have lingering questions about how to classify Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Is it urban fantasy? Parts certainly take place on cities in present-day earth. But at a certain point late in the novel, the story shifts into straight fantasy. This approach works; the reader identifies easily with Karou in the beginning, and the cross-world connections are integral to the story’s progress. But I went in to this book blind for the Fall Book Club, and I actually went back to read the ‘flap’ summary halfway through, because I wanted to know how much the publisher gave away.

I discussed this with one YA author who prefers more ‘reality-time’ in the beginning. A few years ago the trend was toward faster immersion, with the story beginning where some strange (paranormal, magical, etc.) event thrusts the protagonist into the new world in the first five pages. Michael Smith’s The Alchemyst comes to mind, and Casandra Clare’s City of Bones. Is that trend shifting? In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (which I enjoyed very much) I did feel a disconnect between the longer period of ‘reality’ in the beginning, because the fantasy elements came so much later.

What do you think? Would you rather a fantasy begin in the ‘fantastic’ world, or would you rather have more time to get to know the characters in the real world first? I can't wait to see how everyone else reacted!

Music perfect for this story: Paradise by Coldplay

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Every Wednesday, the writers at YA Highway ask a reading or writing related question, aptly named Road Trip Wednesday. This week's question:

What was the best book you read in October?

Well, let me say first I'm blogging as part of Tracey Neithercott's Fall Book Club, and our reactions to Daughter of Smoke and Bone will be posted on Friday. It wins my fave book of the month award, but I'll save it for Friday. Instead I'll talk about my second favorite of the month, The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan.

This is essentially the seventh book in a series, and I loved it just as much as all the others. I love how Riordan explores characters from a mix of races and cultures, and I love that Percy is dyslexic and has ADHD. The characters aren't perfect; they have flaws and complications, making them realistic and relatable. I also love the slow, complicated build up of the romantic relationships. Riordan manages to entertain and teach history at the same time, and the middle school teacher in me loves that most of all.

In case you're not familiar with the premise, in the series all the Greek and Roman gods are real, with modern bases are in the United States. These gods have relationships with humans, resulting in demigod children. The first five books are about Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, and his adventures with other Greek demigods. The second set of books introduces the Roman demigods, which brings us to The Son of Neptune.

If you haven't already jumped on the bandwagon, go back and start at the beginning with The Lightening Thief. You'll be glad you did!

Until Friday...

Music for today: Punching in a Dream by The Naked and Famous

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday on YA Highway asks a reading or writing related question each week, and invites bloggers to give their own unique perspectives. This week's question:

What's your numero-uno reason for writing?

Writing gives me a voice.

A few nights ago, my family was sitting around a fire outside. My boys wanted to tell ghost stories, and my husband said, "You're the writer. Tell us a scary story."

Oh, and that should be simple for a writer, shouldn't it? After all, we make up stories every day. But I struggled to think of a story I'd heard from someone else, much less made up myself, and even then I was pretty sure I wouldn't tell it the right way. (It reminded me of the episode of Dexter where he told the kids a scary story, and that certainly didn't seem appropriate.) Some people are amazing verbal story tellers, and those same people tell jokes with great punchlines. I am not one of those people.

I'm the type of person who thinks back on conversations, especially heated ones, and regrets what I said. Not because I said something I didn't mean, but because I couldn't manage to say what I actually felt. I'll think about it for days or weeks, until I finally come up with exactly the right words. Of course by then, it's too late.

Writing is the antithesis of that. Because I am in control of the story, the conversation with the reader, and I get to spend hours or days or weeks getting a paragraph just right, to say exactly what I want it to say. And I don't even have to let anyone enter that conversation until I'm ready, and I invite them.

Now I'm going to sneak in a second reason. I am a daydreamer. I don't daydream about myself, though. I daydream about people who I'd like to know, and what would happen to them in crazy situations. (Let's call them characters.) But if I walked up to someone in Starbucks and said, "I had the craziest day dream the other day, about this girl, who..." I have a feeling they would hightail it for the parking lot. So instead, I tell their stories on paper. And I love them. All of them. Even the naughty ones. (I loved Kristin's post last weekend on loving all your characters.) If I didn't have something to say, I guess it wouldn't matter if I didn't have a voice. But I do have stories to tell, and I would like readers to meet my characters and love them as much as I do.

How about you? Why do you write?

Music for this week: Refer to yesterday's post :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I had planned to spend today's blog raving about Mutemath, which I will do in a moment. But because I read and write in the YA world, I have to mention the whole mess with the National Book Awards. (Long story short: Lauren Myracle's Shine was announced as being nominated and then removed from the list.) Libba Bray's blog said almost everything there is to say, and the only thing I have to add is the sentiment flooding twitter yesterday: the positive to come from all this is that more people will read Shine.

And now, for my concert review! Last night I saw Mutemath here in Jacksonville. They were amazing. They could have sold out a much larger venue, but they chose to introduce the new album Odd Soul in small clubs. And let me say, the fans really lucked out with that decision. They rocked to a crowd of under 200 the same way they would have in an arena. The soulful base riffs and percussion with New Orleans flair sound even better live, and Paul Meany has the voice of an angel, if an angel sang for an alt-rock band from Louisiana. The high points for me were Spotlight and Typical, but the new stuff also sounded great.

See you tomorrow for RTW!

Here's a little taste from last night:

Friday, October 14, 2011

I'm not a big fan of birthdays, but this year was pretty sweet. I had a date at my favorite French restaurant, and I finally saw the final Harry Potter. (Believe it or not, HP was still showing at our theater a month before it comes to DVD. And the theater was still half-full.) My husband also finally broke down my defenses and bought me a Nook Color.

I've resisted e-readers for a while, but I accept that this is where the future is going. My kids will grow up with iPhones and tablets, and they'll wonder how we ever lived without them. And now that I've had a few days to play around with my new toy, I have to give it my stamp of approval. I'm not 100% converted yet, because I do still love 'real' books. But here are the things I like about the Nook Color:

* I can download a book in about five seconds from my couch, and it cost less than a hardcover for new releases.
* I can turn the page with one finger.
* I don't need a light to read in the bed.
* It fits in my purse.
* I can actually read my email instead of squinting at it on my phone.
* I can pull up recipes in the kitchen, also readable without squinting.

Just like with Harry, I guess it's the end of an era. How do you feel about the e-reader revolution?

Music for today: Helena Beat by Foster the People

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Every Wednesday, the fine folks over at YA Highway post a writing or reading related question, aptly named Road Trip Wednesday.

Today's question: What has your writing road trip looked like so far?

I love to read. In college, I couldn't imagine majoring in anything other than English. I longed for a career that would allow me to get paid to read, and I thought of becoming an editor. At that time I also volunteered at a local middle school, and found that I really liked hanging out with 'tweens.' In my Masters program, I found the perfect compromise. By becoming a middle school English teacher, I could read a lot and share my passion for books with young people.

I enjoyed teaching, and I loved getting to know the kids, but like so many other teachers, the bureaucracy of education wore on me. Fast forward five years, and two kids later. Toni Morrison once said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." That truly did apply to me. I was looking for a certain kind of book, and I never found exactly what I was looking for. Something inside me just kept whispering, "Write." I could see these characters, and I had to put them down on paper.

I had never written anything creatively before, and when I finished my first draft, I felt pure joy. I knew that this was what I was supposed to do with my life. I was scared to death to let anyone read it, but I started with my husband and moved on to a few close friends. My insecurity held me back, and I finally stuck Novel #1 under the bed. Novel #2 is now sleeping right beside it.

I am now in the process of deep revisions on Novel #3. This time is different. I am so passionate about these characters and this story; I can't wait to get everything just right, because I want people to read this story.

My favorite pit stops along the way have been meeting many fabulous members of the writing community, both at writing conferences and here, in the blog-o-sphere.

Thank you YA Highway, for helping to bring us all together! Happy 100th Road Trip Wednesday :)

Music for today: Overloading on Mutemath's Odd Soul to get ready for the concert next week!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thanks to Katy Upperman for tagging me in Ten Random Facts! Here are ten random facts about me:

1. Cookies are my favorite food.

2. I always do the taxes in our house, even though I'm the wordy/writer type and my husband has a degree in finance and economics and works for a bank.

3. I don't eat mammals.

4. I have never gotten a speeding ticket or been in an accident with another car, but I have hit three stationary objects with three different cars.

5. I'm a cat person, yet I have two dogs and only one cat.

6. In my lifetime I have played eight different musical instruments, and I currently play none. If you don't use it, you do lose it.

7. The last group of sixth graders I taught graduated from high school last year.

8. I hate shopping for clothes.

9. Most of the people I would love to meet are fictional characters. Five of them are Lily Bard from Charlaine Harris's Shakespeare series, Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, Richard Papen from The Secret History, Victor Mancini from Choke, and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.

10. I am so thankful for how God works through people, even when people don't realize that God is working through them.

Now it's my turn! I tag Eve at Functioning Insanity and Michele at Chasing Chase to share Ten Random Facts.

I guess the music for today has to be Days are Forgotten by Kasabian, since I heard it every time I got in the car today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I am happy to report that I'm currently reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, thanks to the many great suggestions I found on last week's Road Trip Wednesday on YA Highway. It is the first book I purchased on the (gasp) Nook color I got for my birthday. If you've read my blog before, you may know that I've resisted an e-reader for years. My reaction to the Nook deserves its own post, so I'll save it. And now for this week's question:

What supporting character in a YA novel would you most like to see star in their own novel?

This is a tricky one. Is there a character in the Hunger Games who couldn't star in his or her own novel? I doubt it. The last book I read was Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, a perfect start for October, and I would love to know more about ghost/witch Liza Hempstock. But my all-time, most beloved supporting character is not from a YA novel.

I love Pam from Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series. She's snarky, complicated, and fashionable. She can be cruel and caring at the same time. Pam starring in a Southern vampire/chick-lit scenario would be delicious.

This question got me thinking not just about supporting characters, but about antagonists, too. Wouldn't it be interesting to see a novel from the 'bad' guy's perspective? Because the bad guy never thinks of himself as the bad guy. In his mind, he has reasons and motivations for the terrible things he does. Kristen Cashore touches on this in Fire, her companion to Graceling, but she still has a strong, good protagonist. But what if we kicked it up a notch. What if instead of Harry Potter, we had The Invincible Tom Riddle?

I had a conversation with a group of writer/teacher/librarian types about how bad a bad guy can be in YA and still be redeemable in the end. The general consensus was that you can't have a character shoot someone or kidnap people and still end up with him as your hero. What do you think? Does it cross a line in YA to portray someone who hurts another person as a main character, even if he sees the error of his ways in the end? Would you like to read a novel with a naughty main character?

Music for today: Lions in Cages by Wolf Gang

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What a fun day in the blog-o-sphere. Jamie over at J'aime... was kind enough to award my blog a Liebster Blog Award. The Liebster Award showcases bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Thank you so much Jamie! Once the Award has been bestowed on your blog, pay it forward and recognize 5 other bloggers. Here are my pics:

1. Laurel Symonds at The Unemployed Book Lover

2. Katy Upperman on her blog at

3. Jennifer Pickrell on her blog at

4. Lisa Stiles Lofland at Behind the Mystery

5. Allyson Richards on Ally Writes

I also learned that the next book I have to pick up is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Happy Wednesday!

Friday, September 23, 2011

**I'm updating this post because it perfectly answers YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday question: What was the best book you read in September? I can't wait eat up all the juicy suggestions from fellow readers!

I mentioned last week that I would save the review for White Cat for another time, and here it is!

As I started to sum up the back story for White Cat, my respect for Holly Black only grew. She brilliantly creates a complex world and trusts the reader to 'get' it without having to explain. Genius that she is, Ms. Black just tells the story. Through the characters, the reader learns to navigate the world in which they live. But I digress...

White Cat opens with Cassel Sharpe standing on the roof of his prep school, with no idea how he ended up there. In Cassel's world, curse workers can manipulate other people physically and emotionally with a touch of their hands. Cassel has every reason to think he's been worked; everyone in his family of con artists and gangsters has the ability to curse. Everyone except for him. But being the black sheep of the family is the least of his worries. Cassel is sure he's responsible for the death of his best friend, Lila, daughter of the local mob boss. Cassel has to find out who is working him and why, and how it's all related to the mysterious white cat who won't get out of his dreams.

From the first chapter, I couldn't put White Cat down. Cassel is one of those characters who you wish you could have over for pizza in real life. This story has the perfect balance of a teenager's struggles with family, school, and friends, the intrigue of life in a crime family, and the complexity of an urban fantasy world. Think The Sopranos meets Harry Potter.

I can't say much about the sequel without spoilers, but I loved Red Glove, too. I'm just glad the fall release season is upon us, and I'll have plenty of other series installments to keep me busy until #3.

Music for today: Trojans by Atlas Genius

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why the Publishing Industry Isn't Dying

One of the great things about my writing conference last month was talking about great YA books with other people who love YA books. So here are two lessons I need to mark down as learned.

1. When someone who loves the same books you do says you have to read something, go get it that day.

2. Do not start an awesome series until the entire series is finished, or else you will wait an entire year drooling for the next installment.

A couple of the girls at my conference kept mentioning Holly Black and two of her recent books, White Cat and Red Glove. I recognized the name from Twitter, but I had a stack of books from the last Friends of the Library sale to read, so I waited until this weekend to pick up White Cat. Once I started, I couldn't put it down. Holly Black is a genius, but I'll save the review for another post.

When I finished, I immediately ran to Barnes and Noble to pick up the sequel. After scouring the shelves, I landed at the customer service desk to see if they had it in stock. I kid you not, the girl at the counter said, "We don't have a physical copy, but we have the e-book on our website. You can go home and download it to your Kindle." I don't know if the girl realizes that her advice will eventually eliminate her job, or that she works at a store that sells the Nook, or if I look like someone who drove to a store because I didn't know I could download a book from my computer at home.

I drove my old-fashioned self over to Books A Million, where I purchased Red Glove. I paid full price for the hardcover because I love real books, and I couldn't wait to read it, and when my friend asked me to borrow a book the other day, she asked for the single book that I downloaded to my computer, and I couldn't lend it to her. The next time a friend wants to borrow a book, I will have White Cat and Red Glove in-hand.

The publishing industry is changing, but it isn't dying. Eventually I will get an e-reader. But whatever the format, there will always be readers like me, who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on a great story.

Music tonight: Thanks to Pandora for The Section Quartet's cover of Time is Running Out

Monday, September 5, 2011

My boys were playing with friends last week, and the game of choice was making silly videos with their cameras. My boys are seven and five. Their friend burst into the room with joy, eager to show me the video she couldn't wait to put on YouTube. Of course I paused to contemplate how much the world changes in a generation, but I quickly recovered and grasped the teachable moment. I told the kids they should always remember that once something is out there on the Internet, you can't ever take it back. "Oh, we know Ms. Laurie," they said. The kids ran off to play again; they didn't really post the video, but it wouldn't surprise me if they knew how to do it.

This week, another situation brought my point home. I received an email that had been forwarded to hundreds of people. It wasn't chain mail or a silly joke; it was serious. Here's a little exercise to illustrate. Imagine someone you work with has been implicated in criminal activity. Imagine how anyone with knowledge of the situation would respond and discuss official information. Personal might not be the right word to describe those electronic conversations, but at least you might expect some level of privacy. Now imagine every word, among a dozen involved parties, is leaked to the press.

I have a stake in the situation, and of course I felt like I deserved to be informed. I wanted the juicy tidbits, just like any other good gossip. And I truly believe the person who forwarded the email had good intentions, not to gossip or for personal gain, but to bring the situation into the light for open discussion. But I also felt like the method violated the people involved and their right to privacy. They had only written their comments for a limited audience, and didn't get a chance to revise for the masses.

Here's the connection. I warn my kids about how 'public' the Internet is, but sometimes I forget. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, they're all out there. But sometimes I forget that when I send an email to someone, I can't ever take it back. I'm trusting that other person to use discretion. Hopefully one of the good things to come from all this is remembering that we're all at each other's mercy, really, when it comes to discretion.

Here's hoping I remember this lesson, not just for my kids, but for myself.

Tonight's music: Enjoying my Muse station on Pandora tonight. The highlight was Your Woman by White Town.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in June, an article in The Wall Street Journal caused a stir in the world of young adult fiction. (You can read it here.) I follow what goes on in that universe because I mainly read YA books, and I'm writing one. Most everyone with an online presence in the YA world had something to say about the article, which asserts that YA fiction is "too dark" and generalizes the genre as poison to the minds of our youth.

The article reeks of someone who has read about the books she describes, but not the books themselves. And that's why I didn't write about this whole business sooner. There is no surer way to make a fool of yourself than to take a stance on something that you don't know enough about, and honestly, I've only read a few of the books the author mentions.

Ay, there's the rub. I read around two YA books a week, and I have only read a handful of the books mentioned. Obviously there are plenty of books out there that don't fit into her poison box, because I read them all the time. In fact, the book I finished reading yesterday prompted me to write this post, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I picked up my first Stephen King when I was in sixth grade. At 12, it was a little too dark for me, and I lightened up by reading John Saul and Dean Koontz. From ages 12 to 14, I stuck to these blends of horror, mystery, sci-fi, etc., and by high school I moved back to King again, who I read alongside the Brontes and Hemingway and Hawthorne. I read these books because I was bored by the age-appropriate fluff I found back then. Anyone who thinks teenagers are reading dark stuff because it's in the YA section should peek over the rims of the rose-colored glasses. I read YA now because the books are entertaining and engaging, which is probably the same reason teens do, if they read them at all.

I recently had the good fortune to meet the talented Kristin Harmel, and yesterday I finished reading her most recent YA novel. After tells the story of 16-year-old Lacey, whose father dies in a car accident. Lacey's journey reflects real issues, with an ultimately positive, emotional resolution. I connected with the characters from the opening pages; I lost my own mother too soon. I would recommend After not only to teenagers, but to anyone who has lost a parent. (Click on the cover to find out more and read it for yourself!)

After is the antithesis of what is described in the WSJ article about YA. It is an awesome, uplifting read, and one more card stacking the deck of proof that YA is not "bulldozing coarseness or misery into children's lives." To the mother who couldn't find anything appropriate for her daughter to read, I say look harder. Ask librarians, book sellers, or other young readers for recommendations. Ask someone who knows where to find great books.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A few months ago, I was convincing my husband to take me to Lollapalooza for our anniversary. He swears I've permanently damaged his hearing dragging him to concerts, but he usually indulges me anyway. While searching for flights and hotels, somehow I stumbled upon a writing conference taking place the same weekend, in Jacksonville.

This wasn't just any writing conference, but one with a primary focus on critique groups. And the cost was equivalent to one ticket to the music festival I've dreamed of attending since I was a teenager.

Somehow life just slaps you in the face, at just the right time. What was my priority? Would I chase after my beloved Muse, and many other awesome bands, or would I focus on improving my writing?

I chose the conference. And, wow, did I make the right decision. This weekend I walked into a room full of strangers. I walked out enriched by the experiences and talent of ten unique, funny, brilliant writers. I hope to call them friends for years to come.

Writing is a solitary process. I feel so blessed to have joined a community of people who know what that solitude feels like. They have all stared at a blank screen. They've struggled for hours to find the right words. They know their characters better than they know their best friends. They all know the madness I've chosen to indulge, and they keep choosing it, too.

In honor of what I'm sure was a jaw-dropping performance by Matt and the gang this weekend, I'm listening to a Genius mix based on Muse's cover of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. While I do what I love. Write.

Until next time...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's finished.

Last night I finished the first draft of my YA novel. I haven't blogged in a while because I've spent all my writing energy on this draft, and I can't believe that I've finally done it. The feeling is not quite as sweet this time around; I know that the hardest part still lies ahead, in the revising. I also have plans for a series, so the story is nowhere near over in my head. But at least this milestone is one giant leap forward from staring at a blank page all those months ago.
Tomorrow I'm going to my second writing conference, where I will be a part of my first critique group. The thought of ten strangers ripping my words to shreds terrifies me, but I know that this is just one more leap of faith on my writing journey.

That's all for now.

Music this week: enjoying some old-school Death Cab

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Show, don't tell.

If you've ever taken a class or read a book on writing, you've heard it. Three little words provide the best, simplest writing advice. But this perfect sentence has an obnoxious cousin: "Easier said than done."

What got me thinking about showing verses telling? When I'm online, I usually end up on a random succession of websites that have nothing to do with why I got online in the first place. A few days ago, I ended up on a photo blog.

At first I thought, what interesting, artsy pictures! As I spent more time exploring, I found that not only were the photos beautiful, they showed the story of the artist's life. Through pictures alone, I learned how the artist likes to change her hair color, how she makes suit jackets and shorts stylish, what she likes to drink, what concert she went to last weekend, and how much fun it was. And I know not because she told the world, but because she showed us.

I might try my hand at this new art form. Whether I do or not, I appreciate the reminder of the power of "showing."

Now playing: Boy, Ra Ra Riot

Health update: What a difference six weeks makes! Today I washed dog #1 and clipped her nails, took dog #2 to the groomer, went to the grocery store, changed the sheets, paid bills, washed three loads of laundry, cooked dinner, and cleaned the kitchen. Thanks for all the well-wishes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My favorite and most reliable way to find great new books used to be asking friends what they were reading and loving. I still do that. But my new method has moved up on the list, and it has me pretty excited.

Following blogs and tweets in the publishing industry leads to an ever-expanding network of more bloggers and twitterers. A while back, through that network, I started following Veronica Roth. I've enjoyed getting to know her over the past several months, all before the release of her first book. Of course I was cheering for her success. But I admit I'd wondered, what if I finally read the book, and I'm disappointed?

The novel was released this month. I finished reading it this morning, and not only was I not disappointed, I was thrilled. Ms. Roth linked the first hundred pages to her website, and I started reading yesterday. When I made it to page 100, I went straight to Amazon and bought the Kindle version, just so I could keep reading without going to the bookstore. (And I don't even have a Kindle- I read it on my Ipod. This was my first e-book.)

I wholeheartedly recommend Divergent, by Veronica Roth. I'm not going to review it like I normally would; I have all the links set up so you can check it out for yourself. This book is special to me because not only do I feel connected to the characters, I feel connected to the author. I'm proud of her accomplishment. I think you will be, too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Three months.

Has it really been that long? Sitting here again feels strange. Sometimes this monitor feels like a window, but today it's more like a mirror. Back in my theatre days, I learned hundreds of lines. My favorite line, the one that I've never forgotten, was from the musical Pippin. "Things never turn out the way you think they're going to." Whenever I have plans and life steps in and changes them, I always think of that line.

My husband processes things by talking through them. That's one way we are different; I tend to stew in silence. Instead of talking, when I am ready, I process with this silent voice, these words on a page. Mental and physical roadblocks have kept me away until now, and my line between what is personal and what is fit for public consumption is thick and curvy. That being said, I had some medical issues recently that required surgery. But I don't want to talk about that. What brings me back to the writer's seat is not the cause, but the effect.

I don't like to ask for help. With anything. By the time I do ask someone for help, I'm usually frustrated because I've already tried to do the thing myself, and I've failed. How do you humble the independent? Render them helpless. Physical pain is bad enough; helplessness adds the insult to the injury.

Surgery humbled me, if only for a short time. Getting out of the bed. Taking a step. Standing for more than a minute. Taking a shower. Getting dressed. Making a glass of water, much less a meal. Caring for my children. Driving. This is the short list of things I couldn't do without help, or at all. Even now I fear going to the grocery store alone, because I'm not sure if I can walk that far or for that long.

I have been exceptionally blessed, to have so many friends and family taking excellent care of me. I am so grateful. I hope that I can provide that same support, in some small way, for each and every one of them. But on a personal, more reflective note, I feel that I stand at a precipice. Now that I'm recovering, and am close to normal, will I have the resolve to embrace my opportunities and responsibilities? Will I remember not to sigh because I have to cook dinner, but to be grateful that I am able to stand and move and care for my family? Will I dedicate myself to my goals, because at least for the moment, I am the only obstacle to reaching them?

I pray that this note finds its readers healthy, well and strong. I pray that if you are not, you have the help and support you need to recover. And I pray that I will always remember the lessons I learned from this experience.

Now playing: Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

After a long few weeks, and a difficult weekend for my family, last night I found myself cozy and asleep in my own bed. But not for long.

Around four in the morning, I woke up from a vivid dream with my mind racing. This has happened to me several times before, and usually I wait until first thing in the morning to record what goes on in my mind at night. I have a folder on my hard drive reserved for my crazy dream memories that may one day turn into a story. But this was different. I couldn't go back to sleep. After tossing and turning for over an hour, and knowing that the carpool would sneak up on me soon, I grabbed a pen and a notepad from my bedside table. I scribbled in the dark, words, names, images, phrases. When I finally got it all out, I tossed the paper on the floor and fell immediately back to sleep.

I should be working on a critical plot point in my manuscript-in-progress. My poor characters have been sitting for too many days, stressed, bored and waiting for me to come back to them. And instead I've spent the past hour trying to make sense of my own chicken scratch, hoping these ideas won't be lost forever.

Here's hoping for a better night's sleep tonight.

Friday, February 4, 2011

This is Indy. This picture is from the summer, right after he'd been shaved. Right now he is a furry mess.

When you're young, and you get a dog, you really don't have any idea what all it's going to entail. Before we were married, Charles gave me a puppy. Lois. She was sweet and tiny, and we loved her and babied her. Years later, married, out of college and in the working world, we acquired another puppy, because we didn't want our oldest to be lonely while we were at work all day. Also sweet, also tiny. (I angled hard to name him Clark, so our dogs would be Lois and Clark, but Charles wasn't having it.) We named him Indiana Jones-- Because, according to Henry Jones in The Last Crusade, "The dog's name was Indiana."

I taught sixth grade at the time. I was chatting with a student one day, and he told me about his parents' chihuahuas. He said they were kind of old and grumpy; his parents had them before he was even born. I couldn't imagine that at the time, what it would be like to have an 11-year-old son and still have my two little doggies.

Fast-forward not quite that far, but to the time when I have six and four-year-old children, and 14 and 10 year-old-dogs.

Lois has had plenty of health problems, but she'd doing pretty well right now. For the past few years, our Indy has been, well, let's just be honest, fat. We've tried diet food and measuring food, short walks and long walks, trips to the vet. Finally today we got the diagnosis I'd been expecting: he has hypothyroidism. The good news is that it's treatable. The bad news is, while completely unrelated to the weight problem, he also has a collapsing trachea and what the doctor equates to COPD, which is not curable. It's not life threatening, but he will have a nasty-sounding, hacking cough for the rest of his life.

I'm relieved with the news today. I had feared worse, and I wasn't sure how we or the boys would handle it. Lois and Indy have been a part of our lives for so long, I don't what it will be like when they're gone. Maybe I'll blink, though, and the boys will be old enough to drive, and our puppies still be tootling around, old and kind of grumpy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Charles gave me a gift card to DSW for Christmas, so after my trip to Barnes and Noble, I headed in that direction. I hit three chain clothing stores on the way, and the nicest long-sleeved shirt I could find was a hoodie. (Really? It's 2011, and the uniform of America's youth is a hoodie?)

In case you've never been to one, DSW is a monster-sized shoe warehouse. Usually I head straight for the back to the clearance section, but this time I was armed with a generous gift card. I started up and down the aisles of full-priced shoes. As I glanced over hundreds of pairs, I kept thinking how there should be a place like Build-a-Bear Workshop for grown-ups. Instead it would be called Build-a-Shoe. You could pick out a template for the style and design of the shoe you wanted, then you could pick out the material you wanted. When they had your choices, they could sew up your shoes right there to custom fit your feet.

I couldn't stop thinking about this idea because I had a picture in my mind of what I was looking for, and I couldn't find anything in all those aisles that even came close to what I wanted. There were pretty shoes and comfortable-looking shoes, and even trendy little shoes that cost hundreds of dollars and wouldn't go with one outfit in my closet. I also noticed a trend toward round-toed flats, which doesn't work well at all with my child-sized feet and short legs.

I finally ended up in the clearance section anyway, where I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of shoes I wanted to try on. (I'd only tried on two other pairs in the rest of the store, and I didn't like either.) I ended up with a pair of boots and two sets of cute pumps, all for under a hundred dollars. I was thrilled with my purchases, but it occurred to me that my experience might say something about my personal style -- I'm at least a season or two behind. Maybe that's why I'm not down with the hoodies. Ask me again next fall and I might be all over them.

Music for today: Have to say Tokyo Police Club, who we saw last night. Great show! See them live if you get a chance before they blow up and start selling out arenas.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I walked into the book store today, and I almost cried.

I'm usually in and out of book stores at least once a month, but I hadn't been since before Christmas. (Charles gave me seven books for Christmas, and one of them was Under the Dome, so I was stocked up for a while.) Imagine my shock when I went into Barnes and Noble today and found that they have removed a huge section of bookshelves, where the best sellers and general fiction used to be. In their place I found the new 'Nook' section of the store. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the new area for e-readers, complete with three testing tables, is as large as the entire Apple store down the street.

I don't have a problem with the technology, and I'm sure I'll give in eventually, but when I go to the book store, I want to see books. I want to hear pages turning in books. I want to smell the fresh paper-and-binding smell of books. (With just a hint of brewing coffee in the background.) And if I'm going to buy something at the book store, it's going to be a book.

I don't know if there were people who felt a strong emotional connection with compact discs. If there were, did they die a little inside every time a music store closed in the mall, or every month when the CD section at Best Buy shrunk until it all but disappeared, only to be replaced with iTunes gift cards? I love music, and I certainly don't miss carrying a case of CDs around. But this was a sad day for me, because the dramatic changes in the publishing industry just walked up and slapped me in the face. I did die a little inside, and the stroll down this path is only the beginning.

Just think, one day my sons will be telling their children, "When I was little, we had these things called books. We read them every night, and each one held its own story, and we kept them on shelves in our rooms. When the power went out and we couldn't use the television or video games or Internet, we could always entertain ourselves with books."

Music for this week: Looking forward to hearing all of Adele's new album!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I finished reading Under the Dome a few days ago. I usually read a book in two or three days, but it took me about a week to finish this one. At 1000+ pages, I guess that's to be expected. I still haven't given in to an e-reader, so after lugging it around all week, I weighed it. The paperback weighs over three pounds.

First things first, the short, traditional review:

One fine October day, an impenetrable dome falls over Chester's Mill, a small town in Maine. The town's residents (and there are many-- well over 50 named characters) struggle to survive together, while also searching for a way to lift the dome. New in town, former Army man Dale 'Barbie' Barbara butts heads with the town's big politician, used-car salesman Big Jim Rennie. Lots of people die. Honestly, a real summary would take about five pages, so I'll leave it at this. Think Lord of the Flies meets The Truman Show.

Did I like it? Yes. If you like King, especially if you're a fan of the less-gory works, you will like this book. Under the Dome is fast-paced, has believable characters, a satisfying conclusion, and plenty to say about society, politics, religion, the environment, etc., etc., etc.

Now, I've read probably ten books since I last reviewed one here. So why did I choose this one to write about? Because it has been a few days since I finished, and I'm still thinking about it. The weird thing is, I'm not thinking about it in the usual way I think about really poignant books. I was intrigued while I was reading, but once I was done, that was it. I'm glad I read it. But I didn't have an emotional connection. What I'm wondering is, why didn't I?

(Spoiler Alert-- I'm going to mention things that will ruin it for you while I ramble.)

Everything is done right. The descriptions bring vivid mental images. My favorite one-liner visual was something like 'Blood poppies bloomed on the white sheet.' That's not a direct quote, that's just how I remembered it. The characters are real and believable, and the point of view shifts seamlessly, and that is really difficult to do well. My favorite POV was the dog, Horace. It explores the many faces of human cruelty, from the teasing of a smart girl in grade school and catching ants on fire at the playground to torture in war times, power-fueled rape, murder for personal gain, and drug-induced carnage. So why isn't this the Great American Novel?

My husband suggested that it may be impossible for a sci-fi book to be the GAN, because it steps outside a realistic reflection of society. And so I pondered, what if you took that element out? (Big Spoiler Alert)
The dome is put in place by aliens, who laugh at the destruction their toy has caused. What if instead, the dome was placed by a writer? What if the novelist was the one putting the dome over the world he created, and the residents were begging him to let them 'live their little lives'? It would be interesting, but I'm still not sure that would make the difference. Maybe as a society and as individuals, we're just not ready to admit that this degree of violence and degradation is an accurate representation of us. Or maybe our preconceived notions of Mr. King just won't let us see it any other way than through blood-colored glasses.

I hope you are enjoying your new year! Until next time....

Music note of the day: I heard Hiphopopotamus today on the radio. Thanks for the laugh, Flight of the Concords!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

We are so very blessed.

On this day of reflection, 1-1-11, this New Year that somehow feels more palpably new than the past few January firsts have felt, I can't help but think of our wealth of blessings.

Of course I have personal goals for the year ahead -- I resolve to finish writing the novel I started last fall. The stretch goal will be finding an agent to represent it, but you can't put the cart before the horse. I plan to eat healthier and exercise more, like everyone else, I assume.

But my most important resolution is to appreciate the blessings. I have a home. I have food to eat. I have a beautiful, healthy family and wonderful friends. I know that these are not givens, and they must not be taken for granted.

My favorite quote from The Book of Eli is when Eli (Denzel W.) says, "People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious and what wasn't. We threw away things people kill each other for now." Oh, to recognize what you have when you have it right in front of you.

In this retrospective mood, with the curtain closing on this Christmas season, I wonder what we've lost by allowing commercialism to take over. I give gifts not because I expect anything in return, but because even though it is easier than ever to communicate with the ones we love, I struggle to express my feelings with words. When I give my dad some silly gadget, I'm really trying to say that I love him and appreciate his help and advice and everything that he does for me. I don't see my nieces and nephews very often, but with each shirt or toy or gift card, I'm really saying that I miss you and I'm proud of the person you're becoming. In the long term, wouldn't the words mean more than the things?

I hope, dear reader, that you had a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year, shared with people you love.

A Few of 2010's Favorites:
Favorite New Band Discovery: Local Natives
Favorite Concert: Muse, US Tour opening in Atlanta
Favorite Movie: Inception
Favorite New TV Show: The Walking Dead
Favorite Author I'd Never Read Before this Year: Steig Larsson