December 31, 2009

Interview with Melissa de la Cruz

Melissa de la Cruz is the author of the bestselling THE VAN ALEN LEGACY, as well as a variety of novels for adults and young adults. She's also written for a variety of magazines, including one of my favorite publications, McSweeney's. She's a bicoastal woman, living in both Los Angeles and New York. She has personal familiarity with the setting of the Blue Bloods series, as well as many of her other works. In addition to the Blue Bloods series, she's currently working on the spin-off, which will begin with WOLF PACT in Spring 2011.


1. How do you balance writing a large number of series (Blue Bloods, The Ashleys, The Au Pairs)? (Do you have a favorite?)

The Au Pairs and Ashleys have ended already, now I have the Blue Bloods series and am starting two new paranormal series, Wolf Pact, which is a Blue Bloods spinoff and follows Bliss's adventures as she looks for the Hounds of Hell, and The Witches of East End, which is an adult paranormal series, about a family of witches who shake up a fictional town in the Hamptons.

Blue Bloods is definitely close to my heart, since it was my first paranormal series, but I am really excited about Wolf Pact and Witches as well. They're all quite different – Wolf Pact is very action-oriented and grittier than Blue Bloods, while Witches, since it is an adult series, has more adult themes, and is a bit more droll, but also sexier. I take my time and write each book on its own, I can work on all three when they are in the beginning stage but once the book really gets going I need to concentrate and I tend to finish the one whose deadline is nearest during the end stage.

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2. How did you come to write "vampire" books? Was there anything specific that led to the creation of the Blue Bloods series?

My editor for Au Pairs asked me if I wanted to try my hand at a horror/fantasy book and I came up with Blue Bloods. I had always, always wanted to write a big epic fantasy but I never thought anyone would give me the chance to write one given my fashion/chick-lit background. So I feel very grateful that Disney took a chance on me. I feel like Blue Bloods is the book I've always meant to write.

3. What kind of books did you read as a kid? What are some books you've read recently and enjoyed?

As a kid I was a voracious reader and I read everything from the classics to Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams. My absolute favorites were Stephen King's books especially The Dark Tower Series, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

Now that I'm an adult I don't reach much fantasy, I like to read the kinds of books that I would never write myself – I read cooking memoirs. Anything by Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain. On the YA side I recently read Elizabeth Scott's Love You Hate You Miss You and Frank Portmann's King Dork and I loved loved loved both.

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4. You've also written several books for adults. Do you approach adult literature differently from young adult?

Not really – I think Blue Bloods is really for all ages. And so are my adult books. I think the adult series will be sexier in nature and it deals with some adult themes like politics and that sort of thing, but I just write for myself. And I wanted to write a fantasy book that was like Grey Gardens mixed with Alexander McCall Smith and Julian Fellowes.

5. Your bio says you've also worked as a fashion and beauty editor. (Any tips for the winter?) How have your job experiences influenced your writing?

I feel very lucky that I was able to work in the magazine industry. It helps you develop a thick skin, and sharpens your instincts. As a former beauty editor: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize for the winter! My work covering the glittery scene gave me a lot of material to use when I was starting Blue Bloods. But I feel like the story has taken its own course, and I haven't worked at a magazine for almost a decade now, and I like exploring new worlds and new themes.

December 30, 2009

Review: Fade Out vs. The Van Alen Legacy

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By Rachel Caine
Released Nov 3 by Signet
Review copy provided by publisher
Read my reviews of CARPE CORPUS and LORD OF MISRULE

The Morganville Vampires is not my favorite vampire series, but it's one that holds steady and comes up with something interesting for each book. I expected FADE OUT to be the start of a new arc. Instead, Rachel Caine only teases with what is to come. FADE OUT focuses on a standalone story in addition to snipping a few loose ends. It works very well, as newcomers can pick up FADE OUT from the store without becoming too lost.

Claire's out of sorts because Eve has been cast in A Streetcar Named Desire, and now she's hanging out with her costar Kim. It doesn't help that Kim is clearly into Shane - who admits to Claire that they had a one-night stand. Michael has a shot at fame, but he can never leave Morganville. And Myrnin is more dangerous than ever, which makes me ridiculously excited. (Apparently, I am the kind of person who thinks daffy, mostly friendly characters who ultimately look out for number one and will stab you in the back without blinking are awesome to read about. In real life I avoid people who would betray me.)

The story moves along at a nice clip, which is good since Caine doesn't have many pages to waste. (The short page count always leaves me wanting more, but it does keep the story tight.) Amelie clearly has plans for Claire, and they aren't looking like plans anyone would want to participate in. Caine has always done a good job of keeping the vampires threatening even when they ally with the humans, and she continues in that vein not only with Amelie and Myrnin, but with Michael, who the readers and characters first knew as human.

I liked the breather of a standalone story, but FADE OUT has me ready for the next arc. I hope Caine continues to write books that deliver in and of themselves while contributing to the Morganville Vampire series as a whole.

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By Melissa de la Cruz
Released Oct 6 by Disney Hyperion
Review copy provided by publicist

I thought the Blue Bloods series was awesome when I first came out. It was an interesting premise (reincarnation instead of eternal life), played with Christian mythology, and centered around a pun. All bonuses in my book. But while Caine has been dazzling me with her pacing, Melissa de la Cruz is lacking.

Part of the problem is the way she divides the novel between the narrators: Schuyler, Bliss, and Mimi. Each girl gets about five pages before the book zooms off to the next narrator. As soon as I would get into one girl's voice and story, I would be reading a different segment. I got frustrated wanting to know what would happen to someone who I wasn't reading about. Eventually I started reading by skipping and reading one girl's story as a whole, then reading the next. Short chapters are usually a ploy to keep you reading, but it felt like it slowed me down.

What helped even less? I didn't find all three of the stories compelling. Most of the story movement occurs in the last third of the novel. I think the most frustrating part is when everyone goes back to school. Who wants to read about the characters going to school when we could be reading about the battle for the fate of the world?

I'm not saying THE VAN ALEN LEGACY was a complete loss. There were some big developments at the end, and hopefully they'll cause big reactions in MISGUIDED ANGEL. de la Cruz built up some momentum, and now she needs to keep that up. Especially since the series began so promisingly.

Come back tomorrow for a short interview with Melissa de la Cruz.

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!


I'm saying it just a little early. (Also, I took this photo last year, but my part of Texas is having a white Christmas, oddly enough.)

December 22, 2009

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Everything I said last year stands.

Don't forget, you can always make a gift to charity in someone else's name. Here's some book related options:

Inside Books: Fight recidivism by providing Texas inmates with free books (Spanish textbooks are always in demand.)

Leave a Mark, run by The Page Flipper and Lauren: Buy a unique, marked up book to help First Book, or make a direct donation

Book Angel Michelle: Help a community build its first library (Details on where to send the books here, as well as details on the prizes offered by the awesome bloggers helping Michelle)

Book Wish Foundation: For two dollars, you can help build a library in a refugee camp

Now for book suggestions!
(Note: I haven't read most of these. They're things that I would find fun as a gift, and don't think are common enough that someone would already own a copy.)

HOW TO SEW A BUTTON: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried

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I can sew a button (who can't?), but this book promises the secret to folding a fitted sheet perfectly. I would kill for my fitted sheets to not look like they were folded by a blind amputee.

BEST FOOD WRITING 2008 edited by Holly Hughes

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I have a thing for food porn. Don't judge me.

WHO SHOT ROCK AND ROLL: A Photographic History, 1955-Present by Gail Buckland

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Photography, music, and sociology. This book looks to be both beautiful and thought-provoking.

TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein

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Satisfying a love of East Asia and gangster stories in one fell swoop.


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Doesn't the title say it all? Pop culture and one of the greats, two irresistable passions. (Like TOKYO VICE!)

MUSE AND REVERIE by Charles de Lint

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Tired of formulaic urban fantasy? One of the fathers of the genre, de Lint once more writes stories set in the town of Newford. I'm sure his writing is as gorgeous as always.

OTOMEN by Aya Kanno

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I've read this series, but don't own it. I love the way Kanno plays with gender. (Plus the art is cute.)

DEVIL'S KISS by Sarwat Chadda

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Horror story with elements of paranormal romance for YA readers? Sounds awesome.

Of course, I'd also pick and choose from anything I reviewed favorably.

December 21, 2009

Review: Nanny Returns and The Real Real

By Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
NANNY RETURNS available in hardcover from Atria Books
THE REAL REAL available in hardcover and paperback from HarperCollins
Review copies provided by publicist

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I adored THE NANNY DIARIES, once I finally read it. (In the interest of full disclosure, for years I thought it was a biography of Fran Drescher. While I loved The Nanny, I didn't particularly have the urge to read about the star.) It's exactly what satire should be: ruthless, yet hilarious. It skewed the rich and the way they treat the help, in a portrait that seemed at once over-the-top and authentic. NANNY RETURNS never quite reaches those heights, though I ultimately enjoyed the novel. The main problem lies in the fact that 95% or so of the book is a major downer. (My mom agrees, in case you care.)

NANNY RETURNS begins twelve years after the events of THE NANNY DIARIES. Nan and her husband Ryan (the Harvard Hottie) have just moved back to New York, buying a run down building they hope to renovate and partially rent out. But soon Ryan has to return abroad for his job and the repairs keep going wrong.

And Grayer X, the boy Nan used to nanny, has tracked her down after finding her goodbye video eviserating his father and pleading with his parents to pay attention to him. His life isn't going so hot either. The Xes are divorcing, leading his mother to retreat into substance abuse. He needs to get his little brother Stilton into boarding school where he'll have supervision and care. Pretty soon, Nan is once more wrapped in the life of the Xes.

And then it gets worse. And worse. And while things end on a positive note . . . Nan's house still isn't habitable. A woman wronged by her employers is never heard from again. Children in trouble don't get the help they need. (Not even Grayer. He may manage to help Stilton out, but kid needs therapy.) Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus manage to keep their writing light and to inject humor into the proceedings, but they can't entirely disguise that they're grim proceedings indeed.

(It occurs to me that THE NANNY DIARIES works in almost the exact opposite way: things keep getting better and better until a hella depressing ending.) I could've easily hated this one if McLaughlin and Kraus's writing weren't so enjoyable, or if they didn't make Nan, Grayer, and several others so worth rooting for. But while fans of THE NANNY DIARIES will want to pick this up, it might not make the best Christmas gift. That is, unless you have someone you want to make cry. (Disclaimer on the crying: Monsters, Inc. made me cry. I'm easy.)

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On the other hand, THE REAL REAL is a much frothier confection, much like the drings protagonist Jesse once served at a faux-Starbucks. She's enlisted to star in a reality show, with the rich kid clique and her equally cash-strapped crush. Unfortunately, her best friend is left out. Reality isn't interesting enough for the producers and scripted scenes quickly follow.

The blurb proclaims that Jesse struggles between telling "the difference between real and the real real." That's not quite true. Jesse never forgets that the show is bull. What she struggles with is the way the show affects her real image, and the way it's pressures cause her to act in real life. Participating in The Real Hampton Beach means Jesse can go to college she wants, but it may cost her everything else. To me, the plot McLaughlin and Kraus actually wrote is way more interesting than another nice girl becomes mean girl story. Jesse sometimes makes mean decisions, but she remains a basically decent person.

I breezed through THE REAL REAL. I assumed it would be a guilty pleasure, like the few reality TV shows I watch (The Bachelor(ette), Beauty and the Geek), but it quickly turned into a real pleasure. Unlike NANNY RETURNS, I fully recommened THE REAL REAL as a Christmas gift for a teen girl. At the very least, it may put her off ever wanting to appear on a reality TV show.

December 16, 2009

Review: Fallen

By Lauren Kate
Available Dec 8 from Delacorte
Review copy provided by publisher

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I was excited about FALLEN, considering fallen angels are still fresh and I enjoyed HUSH, HUSH. Unfortunately, FALLEN is boring and there's no payoff.

Now, I know authors have little control over titles, so it may not be Lauren Kate's fault that the book is titled FALLEN. However, in a story in which you leave most of the plot threads dangling, what you resolve is important. Letting one of the reveals be that several of the characters are fallen angels just doesn't work in a story titled FALLEN. Nor does revealing that the heroine is a reincarnation doomed to die work when the prologue sets up the fact she is a reincarnation doomed to die.

However, I could forgive that if the plot and/or characters were interesting. Then I'd want to read the next book (tentatively titled TORMENT) in order to see how everything plays out. As for characters . . . well, everyone sympathetic is dead or evil by the end of FALLEN. Luce and Daniel, the leads, have no recognizable motivations.

Luce pursues Daniel (to the extent of stalking him) because she feels drawn to him. Daniel avoids her when possible and is rude when she's too persistant. I've gotten used to the mean urban fantasy crush, but that usually leads to witty banter (a la HUSH, HUSH). FALLEN plays it like Daniel needs to get a restraining order. And Luce's other option? Well, Cam invites her to social events as well as dates, gives her gifts, and generally acts nice. She sometimes gets a bad vibe, which I could buy, except she leads the guy on. FALLEN would be a lot more fun if it had the guts to make Luce a crazy obsessive who perhaps really did kill her former boyfriend. Instead, she's making the right choice by choosing the boy uninterested in her because he's secretly into her due to their past relationship. The supernatural elements make everything work out for her. (I believe nurture does affect nature. It would be neat if Daniel wasn't interested in her every life.)

Then there's Daniel's motives. He needs to be Luce's boyfriend or something bad happens. (Her dying is apparently better than the other bad thing. It's not explained why Luce's boyfriend is important.) She dies young, after falling in love, in every life. He's tried staying away before, and it never stops the cycle. So . . . he acts mean and keeps both of them unhappy even though it won't work and gives someone else a chance to step in and seduce her. That makes sense.

Cam's motives as the other guy are unexplained. Kate sets him up to be bad, but there's really only one scene where he acts it. Heck, the ending makes it look like he really does care for Luce. He's basically the bad guy because the good guys say he's bad. (Why are they good? Because they fight him.)

As you can see, pointing out the flaws in making the characters sympathetic also points out some of the plot holes. While there is some excitement in the end action scenes, they come too late. The rest is interminable Luce moping with perhaps two mysterious accidents. It would help if Luce acted worried and threatened instead of preoccupied with stalking someone.

I'm really not sorry for any spoilers. Just back away from the pretty cover before it's too late.

ETA: The writing isn't particularly great either. I think I lost it when Kate described the forest as "bosky." (For those who don't know, bosky is a great SAT word that basically means there are trees and/or shrubs. Y'know, those things that make a forest a forest.)

December 15, 2009

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

This year I participated in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. In my infinite wisdom, I signed up with my apartment address instead of my permanent address. So this is a note to my Secret Santa: my roommate is watching the mail and opening my packages for me. I'll know what you got me and hey, it's only a three hour drive. Thank you!

(I'm still waiting for my santee to get his or her gift. I really hope he or she likes it! I am a bad gift buyer. I like to just take people shopping and buy the gift there. No muss no fuss.)

*Button by Daniel

Since I was talking about gifts, a friend gave me a new winter art to use:

Bob the Evil Faerie 2

I <3 it.

December 10, 2009

Lotus Lowenstein's My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have a Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza

Welcome to Lotus Lowenstein's My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have a Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza! My review looks pretty boring next to this interview with author Libby Schmais and protagonist Lotus Lowenstein. Not to mention if you collect all of the words du jour you can win a pretty fabuleux prize.


Interview with Libby Schmais, author

1. You've previously written two adult titles, THE PERFECT ELIZABETH and THE ESSENTIAL CHARLOTTE. Do you think there was a difference between writing for an adult audience and a young adult audience? Did you know THE PILLOW BOOK OF LOTUS LOWENSTEIN would be YA when you began writing it?

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No, I didn’t know that THE PILLOW BOOK OF LOTUS LOWENSTEIN was a YA book when wrote it, and I think that was a good thing, because I didn’t have a lot of preconceptions of what a YA novel should be like. So, I wasn’t trying to use any different kind of writing style, just to be true to the character.

2. Lotus's diary follows her English assignments on THE PILLOW BOOK OF SEI SHONAGAN, perhaps the most badass of Heian era court-style poets. (Murasaki Shikibu would beg to disagree, I'm sure.) How did you come to intwine your story with this somewhat obscure classic?

I agree with you about Sei Shonagon, although I’m going to have to go back and do some research on Murasaki Shikubi. When I read The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan, I was just so impressed with the beauty of the language and how modern it was that I wanted to introduce people to it in a fun, non-academic way.

[IBWB Note: Murasaki wrote THE TALE OF GENJI, and her diary is available in English translation.]

3. Lotus is a devoted Francophile. What about you? If you could live in one country, aside from the US, which would you choose and why?

I’m not quite as much of a Francophile as Lotus, but I would love to live in another country. I think I could be quite happy in some little town in the South of France. I love the food, it’s beautiful there and the health care system isn’t bad, either.

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4. Both you and Lotus are Brooklynites. What is different between setting a novel somewhere you're very familiar with and somewhere that you aren't (such as Montreal, where the French Club visits)?

I think it’s definitely easier to set a novel in a place you are very familiar with, since you already have the sounds and the smells locked into your memory. But the advantage of using an unfamiliar setting is that you are looking at it through a fresh perspective. Also, in my case, I used it as an excuse to take a trip to Montreal.

5. One of the major conflicts in the book is the fight between Lotus and best friend Joni over Sean, whom they both consider the perfect guy. What is your own perfect man like? Would you even consider a non-exclusive relationship?

I think the perfect guy is one who you feel perfectly comfortable with, which is how I feel about my husband Sam. I’ve been with other guys who tried to change me, and that only leads to unhappiness. And I definitely couldn’t deal with being in a non-exclusive relationship – I don’t like to share.

Interview with Lotus Lowenstein, protagonist

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1. Hello Lotus! Most of my readers haven't read your diary, so why don't you say something about what it's about.

Bonjour blog readers! Je suis thrilled to be here! My diary tells the story of a few months in my life when everything was coming together and falling apart at the same time. I fell in love, lost my best friend, began to understand the meaning of life and learned a few makeup tricks.

2. You've got a great french vocabulary, but your grammar is somewhat lacking. What's the hardest part about learning the language for you? Will you still love the culture even if you never learn to speak the language?

It’s true my grammaire is often a probleme, as my French teacher Mme LeFevre would be happy to tell you, but I think the most important thing is to have a real feel for the language, and a good accent, which I definitely have. So, I don’t worry too much about details of grammaire. I’m sure once I move to France, I’ll pick it up anyway, n’est ce pas?

3. How did you and Joni first become friends? Have ya'll ever exhibited the same taste in guys before?

Joni and I have been friends forever, but Sean is the first mec (guy) we’ve ever both liked and it almost ruined our friendship, which was très traumatique for both of us. But merci dieu, we are best friends again and both single, for the moment, although there are a few mecs I have my eye on.

4. You kept a diary before, but the real impetus for your pillow book was Mrs. G's assignment. How does your public diary differ from your personal one? What is your favorite line by Sei Shonagan?

I have no private diary anymore. I believe in sharing everything with the public. All my thoughts, sans censoring. Since we were talking about guys, here’s a good quote from Sei Shonagon on the subject “Men really have strange emotions and behave in the most bizarre ways.” So vrai!

5. You've been trying to lose weight with the help of FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT. What's your favorite part of the French diet? What dissatisfies you about your body?

I am actually very satisfied with my body. I am perfectly in proportion, and have a kind of Rubenesque charm. The only raison I was trying to lose weight was so I could fit better into couture and the antique clothes of my grandmère.

Thanks for visiting IBWB, Libby and Lotus!

Merci for having us!!!

Now, what you're really waiting for:

Today’s French Word du Jour is mec (which means "guy"). If you collect all the French words du jour on the Blog Tourapalooza, you can enter a contest to win fabulous prizes (a $25 Sephora gift card and a personally autographed Pillow Book!). Once you’ve visited all the blog tour stops and collected all the words, email the complete list of words to with the subject line “French Word du Jour Contest.” All e-mail entries must be received by midnight (EST) on December 21, 2009. The winner will be selected at random on December 22, 2009. Be sure to include your name, e-mail address, and daytime phone number with your entry (If you're under age 13, give your parent's contact info). The complete My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have-a-Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza schedule can be found at Our next tour stop is Book, Line, and Sinker on December 11. See you on the road, mes amis!

Review: The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein

By Libby Schmais
Released Dec 9; Review copy provided by publicist
This is part of the Lotus Lowenstein's My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have a Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza - stay tuned for my interview!

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THE PILLOW BOOK OF LOTUS LOWENSTEIN is exactly what it says: the diary of young francophile. Though the book is short there's a lot going on. Lotus starts a club, falls in love, fights with her best friend, gets a job, raises the money to go to Montreal, and sides with her brother against her parents. (I love the scene where she keeps calling paradiddles something ridiculous. And for those who are curious, a paradiddle is a four stroke pattern, alternating then doubling, ie RLRR LRLL RLRR LRLL. It's used both to show you're cool, or on tenors and a set in order to move from drum to drum without crossing your arms. That's your percussion lesson of the day.)

At first, I found Lotus's personality somewhat grating. Her habit of tossing French words into statements brought back visceral memories of fangirl Japanese. (I wondered if Libby Schmais was doing in on purpose the first time I saw a mention of THE PILLOW BOOK OF SEI SHONAGAN.) The first thing that really made me laugh was Lotus's desire to walk on cobblestones in heels; I've done it, it's not that exciting.

But Lotus's voice grew on me. She's somewhat clueless about adult lives, leading her to be rude to a coworker and such. But she's more perceptive about people her own age than she realizes, as represented by her conversations with her chess prodigy younger brother. What really made me love her is how she handles the love triangle between herself, Sean, and Joni. There's nothing wrong with being honestly non-monogamous, but anyone still in high school is too young too pull it off. It usually takes extra work to make sure no one gets hurt in an open relationship.

I think many guys would find this book too girly, but that young girls will enjoy it immensely. Lotus has an irrepresible personality and an ultimately charming voice. Besides, you might learn something about French culture. Or at least get hungry from all the references to cheese. (Why oh why can I only afford cheddar, jack, and colby? I want that little bag of small cheeses that I could buy at Sainsbury's. So delish.)

December 9, 2009

"Waiting on" Wednesday: Dream Life

"Waiting On" Wednesday was started by Jill.

Don't you love second chances? I enjoyed the 10th Grade Social Climber books, but found Lauren Mechling's first solo effort DREAM GIRL somewhat disappointing. But a little good will goes a long way. DREAM LIFE comes out January 12, and I'm hoping for the best. Here's the just released trailer:

Dream Life by Lauren Mechling -- Trailer from Richie Williams on Vimeo.

Description from Amazon:
Claire Voyante's first semester at Henry Hudson High School was eventful, to say the least. As she heads into her second semester, things are calming down a bit. But Claire has a few secrets that are getting harder to keep. Her biggest secret of all? The onyx and ivory cameo necklace her grandmother gave her for her 15th birthday. Ever since she started wearing it, her dreams have been coming to her in black and white and turning out to be oddly prophetic.

Becca’s been hanging out with her old prep school friends and never seems to have time for Claire anymore. And soon, Claire discovers why—there’s a secret group of society girls with a mysterious identity. And, turns out, a mysterious enemy who’s out to get them. The second she sniffs out trouble, Claire jumps on the case. But is it someone close to Claire who’s in danger again—or could it be Claire herself whose life is at stake?

December 7, 2009

Review: what i wore to save the world

By Maryrose Wood
Read her guest blog and my review of HOW I FOUND THE PERFECT DRESS
Review copy provided by Penguin

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This is the third in the series that began with WHY I LET MY HAIR GROW OUT. There may be spoilers for the first two books in this review, so be warned. The half-goddess Morganne, generally known as Morgan, needs to figure out what colleges she wants to apply to. It doesn't help that her grades and SAT score are mediocre, and her resume has a distinct lack of extracurriculars. But the thing to distract her from her search just came up - an e-mail from her boyfriend, desperate and needing her help in Wales.

I must admit, I enjoyed her prospective university being Oxford. It's really fun to see something about the Bodleian in writing and think, "I stayed next door." (I don't think it matters now to say that I was staying at Brasenose, if I haven't said it before. Not like anyone can track me down there now.) However, it really bothered me that people kept talking about her applying to Oxford. You don't apply to Oxford, you apply to one of the colleges that make up Oxford.

But the reason I can worry about little things like this is that the plot runs so smoothly. Morgan is worried for Colin, but at the same time worried he'll discover that faeries are real. He does remain amazingly oblivious despite being in the center of some majorly weird activity, including cheerleading unicorns. (Why would unicorns have a passion for pom poms? We do generally think of them as blonds.)

My only regret is that the end makes this Maryrose Wood's last novel about Morgan. (From her site, she is beginning both a new middle grade and YA series next year.) I suppose she could write more in the world, but she does tie everything up for now. I'll miss an enjoyable series, but be glad that Wood did not drag it out. And I must say, I think this series makes a good gift with the gorgeous covers. I know I gave a friend WHY I LET MY HAIR GROW OUT for Christmas since she's studying in Ireland this spring and summer. (I am both excited for her and jealous.)

If you liked the previous novels in this series, you'll like WHAT I WORE TO SAVE THE WORLD as well. If you haven't read the first two, it stands fine on its own but will probably have more emotional resonance if you know the characters already.

November 30, 2009

Metered Monday

I told you my taste in poetry was mainstream. But there's a reason why a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay is conventional. (I discovered her in tenth grade. Unfortunately, a friend beat me and got Millay for her project subject. I had to choose a different poet.)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Review: To Desire a Devil

REMEMBER! This is the last day to fill out the survey and possibly win an ARC of HOLD STILL. This survey is for anyone who reads IBWB, including authors and publicists.

By Elizabeth Hoyt
Released by Hachette on November 1
Review copy provided by publisher

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I chose to review this book because I wanted to look at a romance through my IBWB lens, instead of my TGTBTU lens. After all, I do the same thing for a number of young adult books. But I wanted to come at a romance thinking about how I would've liked it in high school, as opposed to now. (I can tell you that in high school my favorite romance was THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME.)

TO DESIRE A DEVIL is the fourth and final book in The Legends of the Four Soldiers series, but it stands fine on its own. Any previous plot threads are introduced well, since both the hero and heroine are unfamiliar with what's been happening. Beatrice knows nothing because she was uninvolved with the French and Indian War; Reynaud knows nothing since he spent the last four years as an Indian prisoner. (It's set in the past, no one's using the term "Native American.")

I believe I can safely say I would've loved this in high school. Beatrice is rather modern: she has her own political views and she doesn't believe losing her virginity means she has to get married. She's willing to act like a meek miss but she's not going to surrender her personality. (There's also an interesting side plot involving her best friend, who separates from her husband due to neglect.) In addition, I would've thought Reynaud attractive, with the tattoos and all.

Okay, here's why I really would've loved it: Elizabeth Hoyt weaves the action of the story together with her own version of the tale where a prisoner is allowed to go free if he can convince someone to take his place of their own will. Hoyt weaves fairy tales into all of her historicals, and you can listen to her talk about this style here. I am a fairy tale junkie and thus love the intertextuality. She does write the tales in her own style, but they aren't used as exact parallels.

The plot of TO DESIRE A DEVIL is fairly simple: Reynaud returns to his home after years of captivity, only to find that his father died and his father's title passed onto the next relative. He can go to parliament to reclaim it, but marrying might give him an air of legitimacy. Marrying the current earl's niece would be even better. But Beatrice wants to marry for love. There is a bit of a complication in that Reynaud was captured during the Spinner's Fall massacre which was caused by a traitor - and that traitor would like to make sure no loose ends remain to reveal his identity.

But simplicity is fine due to Hoyt's exquisite writing. Like historical fiction author Sherry Thomas, she would be a delight to read even without her other skills due to her fine prose. As a bonus, the series epilogue is less treacly than romance series epilogues tend to be. (That doesn't mean there aren't babies. Of course there are babies.) TO DESIRE A DEVIL is ultimately fun and sexy - perfect for a teenager or an adult.

November 29, 2009

Review: The Lovely Bones (Audiobook)

By Alice Sebold, Read by Alice Sebold
Released by Hachette 30 September 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Cover

I read THE LOVELY BONES in the ninth grade and loved it. I picked it up because I knew it was getting a lot of buzz and felt it deserved it once I was done. I enjoyed seeing the world through Susie's eyes, as her family dealt with her death and her killer seemed to escape justice. I have not read it since, so I remembered little about the details of the story when listening to the audiobook, but they came back quickly.

As for audiobooks, this is my second one. They seem popular, but I'm still not sure they're for me. For one thing, it takes longer to listen to the book than it would for me to just pick it up and read it. I listened to THE LOVELY BONES in my car, driving from my apartment to my home and back, but I kept missing little snippets when something happening on the road took my attention from Alice Sebold's voice.

As for this audiobook in particular, I have a love/hate relationship with Sebold's narration. She's rather dull. No effort to distinguish between the voices of different characters or to add emphasis to dramatic parts. On the other hand, her lulling voice makes the worst parts of THE LOVELY BONES that much more horrifying. I felt like crying as her family realized Susie was truly dead with the discovery of her hand-knit winter hat, soaked in her saliva - her mother's love aiding her murderer. It's a scene already wrenching in print, but Sebold's flat, emotionless voice makes it more thematically naturalistic.

However, the aural presentation slows the novel to a glacial pace. I remember the digressions being charming in the text, fleshing Susie and her world out. It fit the narration of a young girl, that she would be somewhat flighty and need to explain little bits of the story to explain the whole thing. It also fit with the idea of a dead narrator, one who has all the time in the world to tell her story and has lived her life - all she has to tell is her past and what others do, necessitating that the two weave together. I remember Susie's death happening so quickly. In the book, she warns you what will happen in the opening lines and her brutal rape and murder is complete by the first chapter. You've been put through the emotional wringer before the book truly begins. In audio format, this takes around 20-30 minutes. The digressions became distracting, making me think, "Is she dead yet?"

THE LOVELY BONES is a great story, and I look forward to seeing the movie. But I must recommend the book version over the audiobook. Perhaps the story would've been better served in this format by an abridgment or a different narrator. I'm not familiar enough with the format to tell.

The excellent movie trailer:

November 26, 2009

Thank You

The thing is, my life is defined by reading. It's certainly not empty of anything else, or shallow, but the written word remains at the center of it. At some point I fell in love with language and that was what ignited my passion. I've never had a broken heart because my first love is still with me. I don't know who I'd be without books. After all, I'm currently in college hoping to one day become an editor. I'm writing a creative thesis. The majority of my disposable income goes to buying books. I don't even have a vague guess who I'd be without books.

This is not a bad thing. I'm very happy with who I am. I wasn't always, and I still have moments when I wonder what in the world is wrong with me, but overall I try to be a good person and I think I succeed.

And here's to my parents, who aided me in becoming the ultimate bookworm. Every Wednesday night they took my sister and I to the library. We started in the children's section, with them reading us simple books. Hank the Cowdog, Amelia Bedelia, that series about an elf with pastel colored spines. Then I graduated to the older kids' section, reading Nancy Drew and Bruce Coville and Animorphs and Mary Downing Hahn and who knows what else. I was a tiny kid. If the weather was bad, I'd blow away. Third shortest on the ice-skating drill team. And every week I'd take home a stack of books approximately half my height. And my parents encouraged this behavior. One day I realized I'd read most everything in that section that appealed, and I wandered, discovering the YA section hidden between everything. I started reading content I didn't always understand, and sometimes just sped through because I wanted to get to the good parts, but it kept me happy and out of the adults' section for awhile longer. I cried when I moved after my parents' divorce and saw the town's library. It was a tin shack. When I saw it, I was holding a book that I bought for a quarter at my old library.

My parents also bought me books. Those book club order forms from school? My sister and I would circle the books we wanted and star the books we would throw a fit about if they didn't buy them. Then they would bargain us down to about ten books each. Those were bitter throwdowns. Then there was the used bookstore. To keep entertained on road trips, we carried an extra suitcase full of books. Used books are for more affordable by the suitcase load, but the store gave a decent rate of credit on books turned in. And they'd buy full-priced books too, every once in a while. For awhile after the divorce, my dad would buy my sister and I a book each every time we went into a bookstore. The good ol' days, in a way.

When it came to books, I was spoiled. I never had to fight to read. School taught me how, supplemented by my parents and sister working with me at home. The library provided limitless books I could have for a bit, my parents with a more limited amout I could keep forever. And believe me, with my voracious appetite for story I needed every book I could get my hands on. Without books, I wouldn't exist. My body would (likely) be around, but it would be a different mind animating it.

So . . .

Thank you Mom and Dad. I may not always be who you want me to be, but thanks for helping me become who I am. Thanks for enabling me when I needed it, and discouraging certain things that needed to be discouraged. Thanks for not taking away the books, even when they helped me ruin my eyesight and screw with my hearing. Thanks for providing for me. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for letting me be weird and withdrawn and for making me be proud of my brain. Thanks for never asking me what my blog is called because I would never post this if there was the slightest possibility you were reading it.

November 23, 2009

Metered Monday

This is my way of avoiding writing more content. Every Monday, at least through December, I'm going to share one of my favorite poems. If I think commentary is necessary, I'll include it. It probably won't be as my taste in poetry is fairly mainstream.

For this first one, I suppose I ought to warn for language. I think most of ya'll have probably heard the word before.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

--Philip Larkin

(And Blogger won't show the formatting. Yay. Anyone know how to fix that?)

November 22, 2009

Review: Sex, Drugs, & Gefilte Fish: The HEEB Storytelling Collection

Edited by Shana Liebman; Foreword by A.J. Jacobs
Released by Hachette 26 Oct 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

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HEEB is a magazine focused on reporting Jewish-related information in a humorous style. The title is a reclaimation of the term "hebe," an ethnic slur. (You learn new things every day.) Personally, I know almost nothing about Jewish culture. I've read some of the religious texts, but I've done that for all the major religions. (Haven't read anything significant of the Quran, but I've read several of the more important hadith. I have publicly commented on something relating to Islamic culture, so I do sometimes open my mouth about things I'm not an expert in.)

The review request for this came in soon after I finished SO PUNK ROCK, which definitely had me thinking about young Jews in America. Sometimes it's really fun to read something you know nothing about in an attempt to learn something. Plus, who doesn't like to laugh?

The presentation of this anthology isn't that great, in my opinion. The back cover is cigarettes stubbed out on what I assume is gefilte fish (er, it looks like organ meat texture and is covered in this jelly-like fluid). The front is weighed down by the dark border and puts the emphasis on the "drugs" part of SEX, DRUGS, & GEFILTE FISH. But Drugs is only one of the six sections, and most of the stories within it are relatively innocent, including OCD medication, Plan B, giving a cat meds, and letting a dying old woman smoke a joint. (Stephanie Green's "Benzos and Breast Cancer"? Not innocent.) Since the plate on the cover has six holes, couldn't each one of them represent one of the sections instead of four of them representing one of the smaller sections? It looks kind of like a coffee table book, but it doesn't really look like something you'd want to display on your coffee table.

The other sections is the anthology are Sex, Work, Youth, Family, and Body & Soul. Youth is the longest at 52 pages; Sex is the shortest at 23. (Drugs clocks in at 25.) My favorite stories were "Prime-Time Playa" by Andy Borowitz, "Poop Sandwich" by Abby Sher, and "Finding My Kegel Muscles" by Stephen Glass. Why these three? Well, "Prime-Time Playa" tells about the beginning of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I loved that show as a kid, and it's interesting to see just how it came to be. "Poop Sandwich" definitely makes me uncomfortable, but Sher perfectly captures the It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time existence of high school. "Finding My Kegel Muscles" reminded me of my own inability to let something go when I think it's wrong. And I agreed with Stephen; I don't think men have Kegel muscles. (My reason for liking the story really stood out once I realized it was that Stephen Glass.)

Some of the stories are strike-. It's an anthology; it happens. But overall SEX, DRUGS, & GEFILTE FISH is humorous and thought-provoking. Though the commonality is being an American Jew (except for one story), there is a range of experiences, including sexuality, represented. Ignore the cover and pick it up for these stories that show good satire survived past in the eighteenth century.

November 20, 2009

Jason Schwartzman on Reading

I received the links to this videos two days after I saw Funny People, which was an interesting coincidence. (It is a funny movie, though I liked the first half better than the second. It is the most homoerotic movie that isn't an action movie aimed at straight guys I've seen.) Of course, the role he's promoting here is Ash in The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

So, what was your favorite Roald Dahl? I loved CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, MATILDA, and THE WITCHES.

November 18, 2009

Review: Lockdown: Escape from Furnace

By Alexander Gordon Smith
Released 27 Oct 2008 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Review copy provided by publisher

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I have been reading the survey responses, and I'm working out how to incorporate the various bits of advice into the blog. There hasn't been any advice that I really hate, so everything is under consideration right now. Someone wanted more background on the books, so I'm going to start this a little different than usual and see how it works for me.

LOCKDOWN is the first in the Escape from Furnace trilogy, which is already available in full in the UK. They're set in an alternate future, one in which teenage gang members wreaked havoc for one memorable summer. Now, the adults are afraid of their kids. Now, juvenile offenders go to Furnace. This underground prison is for life. Although sometimes it seems like calling it life might be a stretch.

The story is narrated by Alex Sawyer, who was a decent kid commiting progressively worse crimes. However, he didn't kill his best friend; he was framed by the black suits - the Furnace guards themselves. The only way he keeps himself going is by dreaming of escape, taking his new friend Zee and his roommate Donovan with him. Of course, he manages to make life more difficult for himself by antagonizing the Skulls, the prison gang.

But the gangbangers are nothing. LOCKDOWN is a horror novel, and as such is filled with a couple of eldritch abominations. Alexander Gordon Smith deploys them well: he describes the monsters' physicality and basic functions, but often leaves the most brutal moments to the imagination. Books never really scare me, but Smith does well at creating an atmosphere of dread and punctuating it with terrible events. I also like that the ending seems to promise there will be some explanation of how these creatures came to be in the other two books.

On the down side, LOCKDOWN definitely feels like the beginning of a trilogy. Yes, the boys achieve something at the end, but the novel ends immediately after. Most of Alex's adventures are set-up, making sure the horrific scenery of Furnace is fully in place. Eventually an escape plan develops, but until then the plot is a thin affair, not much more than a reason the characters are in such an awful place. (Of course, horror is not a genre that calls for dense, involved plots.)

I wish I knew about this series earlier, since I could've bought myself copies of SOLITARY and DEATH SENTENCE. Now I'll just have to wait with the other Americans. That or have my friend who's studying abroad in Ireland this spring ship me some books - after all, she will owe me a twenty-first birthday present.

LOCKDOWN is a good choice for people who enjoy something creepy and have a strong stomach. And due to an Anthropology class two years ago, I can't help but think people who are into prison reform would enjoy it metaphorically.

November 12, 2009

In Bed With Books Reader Survey (+Contest)

The survey is over here.

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It's a brief, nine-question survey that asks a little about you and a little about how you feel about the blog. By filling it out, you could win an ARC of HOLD STILL by Nina LeCour. (The survey gives instructions about what to do if you already have HOLD STILL and want to win something else.)

Deadline to enter the contest is Nov. 30th.

November 10, 2009

As I Continue to Be Behind . . .

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I point you to James Patterson's YA website, where you can download the WITCH & WIZARD audiobook for free from iTunes. And yes, this is one of the ARCs sitting on my TBR pile. Also in my December TBR? FALLEN by Lauren Kate.

November 9, 2009

Karen White's ZZZs of Writing

Karen White is the author of THE LOST HOURS, who I interviewed a year ago. Her newest release is THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET, the sequel to THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET. (Expect my review soon-ish.)

It turns out authors, like college students, sometimes have trouble getting enough sleep. And it turns out that Karen agrees with me that 20 minute naps are wonderful things! (Most of my friends don't settle for anything under 3 hours.)


The Zzz’s of Writing

I’ve done a lot of blogs and written about a lot on the subjects of writing, the life of an author, my career, the pros and cons of plotting vs. pantsing. But I’ve never written about something near and dear to an author’s heart. No, not fame, fortune, or becoming a NYT bestselling author. I’m talking about sleep.

At the moment, I’m bone tired. Deep down, mind-meltingly, brain-freezing tired. This isn’t because I have sleep problems. On the contrary, all I have to do is think about my bed and I’m fast asleep until my alarm rudely awakens me at 6:15. My family thinks I might be narcoleptic because all I have to do is be still for seven seconds and I’m out for the count.

The truth is that I need more sleep (obviously). But with a busy family, a husband who travels and all the hoopla of family life, combined with writing two big (100,000+ words) per year, there simply isn’t enough hours in the day to get everything done—so I steal from those hours that most people devote to sleeping. My bad.

Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who can drink a pot of caffeinated coffee and fall asleep immediately. I know this because it’s happened before. More than once. How fair is that? I’ve tried everything: caffeinated gum, loud music, exercise, apples, hydration with water, standing on my head. And that’s when I realized that it’s more than lack of sleep—it’s the actual activity of writing that is so fatiguing.

I don’t know about other writers, but writing a page is more mentally exhausting than an hour of Pilates. My books tend to be pretty emotional, so I suppose it makes sense that writing them can be emotionally draining. Like an actress, I immerse myself into the character’s point of view and “become” that person when I’m in their head. I think it lends itself to more real emotions and dialogue. I’m also a very visual writer and when I’m envisioning a scene, I close my eyes and, yep, sometimes I’ll wake up an hour later realizing too late that a sleepy person shouldn’t spend too much time with her eyes closed if she doesn’t want to fall asleep!

I have spent completely unproductive afternoons nodding over my laptop, and have a permanent crease in my forehead from the laptop lid. (My kids say it’s a wrinkle because I’m old, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

And then: a break through. While trying to stay away while eating breakfast, I usually attempt to read one of my many periodicals that come in daily that I rarely get to peruse because, yes, I fall asleep if I sit down in a quiet room to read.

I can’t remember what magazine or newspaper it was (sleep deprivation also interferes with memory, apparently), but in it I read about the wonders of napping. Now, as the mother of two teenagers who were once adorable toddlers who, thankfully, were good nappers, I already knew about the joys of napping. But this article talked about how famous people in history—Ghandi and Winston Churchill to name just two—recharged their brains in the middle of the day with a mere twenty minute nap. I couldn’t believe it—two icons in world history NAPPED! Surely, I thought, if it worked for them it could work for me.

Luckily, I’m one of those people who can lie down anywhere and fall asleep. So, after lunch one day, I went up to the guest room, drew the shades, put in my earplugs and set my alarm for 20 minutes. As always, I didn’t even remember falling asleep. All I knew was that when the alarm rang, I was a new person. My mind was clearer, and I was no longer sleepy. I felt refreshed—something I hadn’t been in a very long time. I was able to write with passion and clarity, really focusing on the story and characters instead of how many sentences I could get out before my eyes closed.

The secret to the twenty minutes and not longer is that it doesn’t allow a person to get into REM sleep while still offering the restorative qualities of sleep. If you sleep too much longer than that, you’re doomed to a day of grogginess. But 20 minutes seems to do the trick without any side effects. I’m now a huge proponent of adult napping, even contemplated a move to Spain where napping is a national past time. OK, so I didn’t really consider it, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could live in a place where you could nap and not feel guilty that you should be, well, working?

Napping is now a daily ritual for me. And, living with two teenagers, it can be the highlight of my day. Even my dog knows when it’s naptime, because he heads upstairs with me at the appointed time and settles himself either at the foot of the bed or on the floor next to it. He’s a professional napper himself, and I’m sure he feels he deserves the credit for my newfound restorative habit.

I just looked at the clock. I’ve been up since 6:15 and it’s time for lunch and then my favorite twenty minutes of the day. Then it’s back to writing for me. And I’m just left to wonder why this wrinkle in my forehead won’t go away now that I’m no longer using my laptop as a head prop.

November 8, 2009

October Round-Up

Sorry for disappearing for a week. The good news is I'm now officially graduating a semester early! (Also, I now belong to a frat, which is odd, even if it is an academic honors society.) I can't believe that I've only got a year of college left. (Technically, I only need 21 hours to finish off both my majors, so it isn't even going to be a heavy year.) I also had a couple of birthday parties to attend, because I'm just that cool.

Come back tomorrow for a guest blog by Karen White.

Contests and Promotions

Cirque du Freak prize pack

Nancy Holder prize pack
Winner: Kristi of Books and Needlepoint

Signed LOVE, MEG hardcover
Winner: Chelsea, the Page Flipper

Interviews and Guest Blogs

Nancy Holder

C. Leigh Purtill













I also wrote about my experience at the Austin Teen Book Festival.

October 30, 2009

Local Authors

Local Authors with Jennifer Ziegler, Varian Johnson, Shana Burg, and April Lurie

Perhaps the most interesting conversation in the Local Authors panel was that of appropriate content for young adult fiction, particularly that which will be read by middle graders and young adults. Varian Johnson believes it's important to avoid gratuity and only include what is true to the characters and the story. He found MY LIFE OF A RHOMBUS difficult to write, particularly because it involved pregnancy and abortion, dilemmas he will never face. He wanted to do it right, which I can respect.

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With SAVING MADDIE, he's writing about a Christian boy both wanting to save a girl and lusting after her. Sex and religion can also be controversial, but he maintains that the way to do it well is to be true to the character.

The other authors agreed. But even remaining true to the characters, there might be some changes made. Shana Burg's historical A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS originally included a single use of the n-word.

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However, her editor knew middle graders would read the book as well and asked her to remove it. Now the book is on the Lone Star list, which might not have happened due to a single perjorative. Likewise, April Lurie removed a single cuss word from BROTHERS, BOYFRIENDS, AND OTHER CRIMINAL MINDS in order for it to be sold through Scholastic. The authors don't do this lightly.

Jennifer Ziegler's HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR is also on the Lone Star list.

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Her other published novel, ALPHA DOG, is also clean. So when she turned in an outline to her editor with a questionable scene, the editor asked her if she could change the scene while being true to the story, since there is a need in the YA market for clean books. Jennifer says she likes the new way the scene occurs better, but she would have kept, and fought for, the original if she thought it necessary to the story. Being honest to the characters always wins out.

April Lurie also had to be careful when writing the soon to be published THE LESS DEAD. It's about someone killing homosexual adopted boys, and the protagonist blaming his father for preaching hate. That's definitely something that could upset people, and April knew it wouldn't even be for her own parents. Still, she tried to do her best to tell the story she wanted to tell. Sometimes you can't avoid people being offended. She did have an odd situation with someone saying online that she should be killed for writing THE LATENT POWERS OF DYLAN FONTAINE.

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Apparently this blogger thought she had plagiarized two of his favorite novels. April did respond classily: she told him she had never read the novels, but one his recommendation she would. She then followed up after she had finished the two books.

The authors also answered my question is this panel, which was what it was like to be a part of the Austin area YA writing community. They all answered that it was wonderful. Apparently none of them knew Austin was a children's writing mecca until they came here. (Shana was from Boston; April was from Brooklyn.) I know I like it, since it means events like this happen! I hope ya'll enjoyed the write-ups, and that they gave you a little taste of the Austin Teen Book Festival. Unfortunately, I was using a telephoto lens so Jennifer is cut out of this photo of the panel laughing.

October 29, 2009

Review: After

By Amy Efaw
Released by Penguin (Viking Juvenile)
Review copy provided by publisher

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Varian Johnson's comments about his own book, THE LIFE OF A RHOMBUS, reminded me that I'd never reviewed AFTER, another tale of teen pregnancy. AFTER begins at a unique point in the story: as the title implies, it begins after the pregnancy is finished. Athletic, intelligent Devon just left her baby in a dumpster. Now she's quietly bleeding to death on her couch and the police are knocking. What follows is her trial - not whether she's guilty or not, but whether she's tried as an adult.

AFTER will definitely make you think. Amy Efaw doesn't address the more common topic of abortion, but rather other problems that might face teen (or otherwise disadvantaged) pregnant women. Specifically denial of pregnancy. Google it. At least if someone acknowledges their pregnancy, they can go somewhere like Planned Parenthood and learn their options. (Yes, Planned Parenthood does quite a bit for women. It is not a place that simply counsels abortion and that's it.) But women in denial can't prepare in any way. Even if they don't kill the kid, they won't have taken pre-natal vitamins, prepared shelter and food, or anything. And there's almost no support for these women.

But while AFTER gets me thinking, it left me a little cold. In the end, I enjoyed the book more since I didn't believe Devon. But while reading I felt rather mad at her, since I believed she knew she was pregnant. Whether I believed her or not, AFTER did read quickly. It just tended to make me angry for the wrong reasons. (Of course, any book dealing with such a serious issue is going to have trouble toeing that line.)

I also think AFTER presents an interesting view of the juvenile detention system. It isn't pleasant, but it's certainly not the hellish place you'll see in most fiction. But at the same time it makes me sad, given what I know of the prison system. (Which would mostly be how literacy affect recidivism, which isn't super relevant, and capital punishment, which is even less relevant.) Devon ends up with a great public defender and people in the system who care about getting her out of it. I'm happy to see a view of the system that isn't overly harsh, but at the same time it feels too optimistic to be realistic.

If you're into books that grapple with difficult topics, you'll enjoy AFTER. Personally, I'm not sure these kind of books are for me, especially since I didn't like the beloved THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. (I just keep disliking the person I'm suppose to sympathize with.)

October 28, 2009


Fantasy with Libba Bray, Justine Larbalestier, Lisa McMann, and Rick Yancey

This was the shortest of the panels, since lunch ran long. It began with Lisa McMann turning a broken rose into a jacket decoration and each of the authors telling something about themselves and their books, Lisa's being WAKE and FADE.

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Justine Larbalestier pointed out her Australian heritage, marking her as the one in the panel with an accent. (Carrie Jones had a cute Maine accent and Shana Burg had a nice Boston one.) Of course, it soon became a competition to see who had the most hot guys and dead bodies in their book. (Winner seemed to be Justine, who's LIAR contained both, whereas the others seemed to tend toward one or the other.)

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But this mini-contest led to the authors discovering an important fact: the responsiveness of the audience. Libba Bray discovered she could conduct the audience's roars of appreciation.

Being brave (she did wear a cow suit in the GOING BOVINE trailer, which I point out in my interview), Libba offered the following advice to teens: don't let a guy or girl talk you into doing LSD and then going to see Aliens.

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And no, it didn't come as surprise to anyone when the authors admitted that they hadn't been popular in high school. (I believe Justine put it, "We're writers.") However, high school was good for one thing: writing stuff that would get rejected. Generally, they all had darlings they hoped would eventually get published. (WAKE was one for Lisa.) On the other hand, some of those earlier books will never see the light of day. For Rick Yancey, it was his second book.

Fortunately, Libba misheard him and thought he said sex book. Rick joked that it might sell if he rewrote it with sex, but nope, it was just his second book. (His newest, THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST, isn't a sex book either.)

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They also discussed their reading audiences, mostly boys versus girls. Lisa likes that her covers and content are fairly gender neutral. But none of them seemed to want to limit their audience; they wanted their books to entertain and reach as many people as possible. Once again, it was a very amusing panel. It made me very sad I missed Libba's keynote address, since she was cracking a joke a minute.


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