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