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