Sunday, March 28, 2010

book review - grand & humble by brent hartinger

my two cent(ence)s - a very quick read with a good premise. the surprise ending was good, though i wasn't taken with the writing.

i had heard of brent hartinger before (because of his novel the geography club), but i've never been too interested in reading his work. when i came across grand & humble and read the paragraph synopsis, i knew i had to read it. there were just too many elements and devices in this novel that reminded me of the one i'm currently writing. so, i quickly downloaded it on my nook and read it.

the story is written in third person point of view alternating chapters. harlan is a senator's son - the popular kid with the seemingly perfect life. manny is a guy who lives below the radar - hanging out with his deaf best friend and doing lighting for the school productions. both attend the same high school and have extremely different experiences there. and both are haunted: manny by vivid dreams of dying and harlan by graphic premonitions of dying. both are trying to unravel the mystery of why they are tortured by these visions/dreams. in the end, each one finds out he's been adopted and finally learns his family history and how it relates to what haunts him.

what i like about the ending is that it was completely unexpected. basically the reader discovers that manny and harlan are the same person, the book showing how manny/harlan's life plays out if he were adopted by his aunt, or if he were raised by his birth father. it's kind of like the gwenyth paltrow movie sliding doors, but in reverse. and not done nearly as well.

after i read this book i had to read other reviews about it, because i really didn't connect with the writing at all. turns out, people LOVE this book. so i guess it really is a matter of taste, and this was not to my liking.
as i said, the premise was good and as i was reading i was really interested in how the story would unfold, but i felt myself rushing through the pages because i was not enamored with the style of writing.
now, i can be honest and say that PERHAPS i was more critical of his writing because of the similarities to my wip, but i really don't think so. especially since it became very clear, very early the similarities are too general to even compare.
bottom line - don't listen to me on this one since i seem to be in the minority when it comes to opinions on it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

superstition or stupidity?

i know i've mentioned my work in progress often, but without actually revealing anything about the subject or plot. i've done this intentionally. and it all comes down to superstition.

now, i'm not a superstitious person by nature. i don't avoid stepping on cracks, i never toss salt over my shoulder and i've walked under more than one ladder in my lifetime. but even so, i admit to being superstitious when it comes to my novels, but not for the reasons you might think.

i know many writers (especially unpublished authors) try to keep the details of their novels a secret out of fear of someone taking their idea and selling it before they have a chance. although i understand this on an emotional level (i know i'd be gutted if i found "my novel" on a bookshelf, written by a different author), intellectually i know this is highly improbable. honestly, it's easy to find a book that resembles the plot of another. we see it happen on tv, in films - everywhere. in fact, the novel i'm currently reading has many similarities to my wip (which i will discuss in my next book review).
but this isn't the reason i hold back when i talk about my wip.

no, the reason i'm superstitious is because i'm afraid if i talk about my novel, i won't write it.
yup, i am afraid if i discuss my plot, the setting or the characters in detail, i will get bogged down in the discussion and it will take my focus off completing the manuscript.
i've already told you how i have limited writing time, so i can't let myself get off track (as tempting as it is to hear what other people think of my ideas).

there will come a time when i will post my query on this blog and ask for advice. i will request beta readers to give me a critique on my finished novel.
but not yet.
i have still so many more chapters to write.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

book review - cracked up to be by courtney summers

my two cent(ence)s - well-paced, and well written novel with really great dialogue. enjoyed it immensely until the big "reveal", which left me feeling a bit disappointed after the anticipatory build-up.

i have to begin by saying courtney summers is a really great writer. i think her dialogue is amazing, so realistic, and very witty and smart. and she is super talented at creating characters that seem very real, and not at all like stereotypes. in fact, each of her characters were such unique individuals, just by their voices and dialogue - nothing seemed forced at all with them.

the novel is about a girl, parker, who was once the most popular girl in her private high school. she was the perfection personified and the envy of the entire female student body. for reasons unrevealed to the reader, she has removed herself from the popular crowd to the point of being anti-social. she is rude, disheveled, and in danger of not graduating.
parker is forced to meet with the student counselor regularly and is under the watchful eye of the principal. she's disruptive, having shown up to class drunk before, and is detached from everything she used to care about.

the author uses a device (quite similar to one i'm currently using in my novel) to reveal small bits of information that show us why parker has become the person she is now. the backstory begins to unfold and we see a glimpse of the parker everyone wants so desperately to come back. we learn that parker had a best friend, jessica, who has been missing for quite some time and the reader is lead to believe there might be a connection between this missing girl and parker's newfound personality.
there is a relationship that develops shakily between parker and a transfer student, jake - which is quite realistic for all its starts and stalls. although parker doesn't want to connect with jake, she can't help being drawn in by him.
when jessica's body is recovered, parker begins another downward spiral, but is unwillingly saved by her former friends. we learn jessica went missing the night parker found evan (jessica's boyfriend) and another girl making out at a party. being drunk, parker lashed out at her best friend (who was trying to actually help parker by letting her know it was ok not to be perfect and anal retentive all the time) and revealed this bit of info, causing jessica and evan to fight. parker is in and out of consciousness for the rest of the party, remembering jessica dancing with an unfamiliar guy, fighting again with evan, and then heading into the woods.
this is the part that disappointed me: the reader learns that parker, still in a drunken stupor, wants to fix the relationship between jessica and evan. she goes into the woods to keep jessica from making the mistake of hooking up with the unfamiliar college guy. she fears she is too late when she sees them having sex, but soon realizes jessica is actually being raped. she heads back to the house, presumably to tell someone jessica needs help, but she allows herself to be guided back to the party and she keeps silent about the rape. she never even tells anyone she saw jessica after she disappeared into the woods. even when jessica is missing, parker never revealed anything about that night.

it just doesn't make any sense to me at all that someone who wanted to fix the relationship between her best friend and best friend's boyfriend, wouldn't say a word when she's being raped. she didn't even scream at the guy to stop. everything else about parker's character adds up for me except this.
still, i would recommend this novel because it is so well written.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

write now

i am nowhere near finished with the first draft of my wip, and already i've butterflies in my stomach when i think of querying. honestly, i don't plan on being anywhere near ready to query until early next year because i'm being very conscientious to not rush the process.

it's not unusual for me to write a novel in just a few months. what is unusual for me is to spend an equal amount of time editing once the novel is finished. this time, however, i refuse to get carried away by the excitement of querying. i refuse to be my own worst enemy when it comes to getting an agent.

there are quite a few agent blogs i read regularly, all of them with excellent advice. a subject each one of the agents write about with regularity is the querying process, because honestly it's a subject most unrepresented writers are obsessed with, myself included. i've always been very good at querying. what i need to do now is bring my writing up to the level of my queries!
right now i have two readers who give me notes on my chapters as i write them. i've made both major and minor changes according to the feedback i've been given. it's the first time i've been so interactive during the writing process and i'm already seeing the difference it's making, which is why i get so excited whenever i think of an agent reading my query and (hopefully) requesting the manuscript.

i've never worked as hard on a novel as i am with my current wip. i think about it night and day. i work on it whenever my son naps or goes to bed. i am constantly shaping my characters and the plot as i go about my normal business.

and i'm happy to do it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

book review - before i fall by lauren oliver

my two cent(ence)s - good paced novel with an interesting storyline. i recommend it, although i must note it didn't really draw me in until about page 80.

i read this book because agent janet reid had such positive things to say about it. i was really interested in seeing what a reputable and successful agent deemed "a good read".

i have to say it was a very easy read and the premise is pretty interesting - kind of like the movie groundhog day, but with a dead teenager.
sam is part of her school's most popular foursome. she and her friends are the envy of all the other students and they live each day using this knowledge to their advantage. during a party, sam and her friends are confronted by a girl, julia, who they torment on a daily basis. sam and her friends end up humiliating julia in front of everyone at the party. on the drive home, they have a car accident and sam dies, but she wakes to find her day has started all over again and she tries to do things differently so she doesn't lose her life. but even on the night she doesn't go to the party, the next morning she is back at the beginning of the same day. sam realizes she will be stuck in this loop until she fixes something, and soon realizes that it's julia she needs to save in order to find peace.

this book didn't really hook me right off the bat like the last couple i've read, though once the premise is evident it is hard to put the book down. i really did want to know what the main character, sam, would do differently each morning her day started over again and i really enjoyed how sam developed from day to day, and how she reacted to her normal surroundings (friends, family, school) after knowing she was destined to die.
sam is a well written character, but i found her friends to be on the more generic side. i really enjoyed sam's slow dawning realization she's attracted to her elementary school buddy, and it is almost heartbreaking when she knows she has to leave him forever.

my two issues with the novel are these:
1. it doesn't really make sense to me why sam has to be the one to sacrifice herself so that julia won't commit suicide. although sam and her friends torment julia, it is revealed that sam's best friend is the reason julia is a social pariah. if anyone would have to sacrifice themselves to put things right, it seems that it would be sam's best friend and not sam. there is also a strange bit of foreshadowing between sam and julia the first time the party is written about, though it doesn't really come to fruition in a way that made perfect sense to me.
2. knowing she was going to sacrifice herself and put an end to the cycle, it seemed very odd to me that sam didn't leave her parents with something nice to remember her by. not a final hug or 'i love you', or even a 'mom, you look nice today'. i have a hard time understanding why she would sacrifice herself for someone she barely knew, yet doesn't seem to give a second thought that she'll never see her parents again.

still, i'd recommend this novel. it's well written and i like the way the author developed some of the sub-plots.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

elovin' my ereader

this past valentine's day mr. write surprised me with a nook ereader.
i. was. elated.
i've read more books in this past month than i did all of last year (a big chunk of that reason is because i've been so occupied with the little KidLit).

now i know several people are indifferent, even opposed, to ebooks, but i LOVE them.
i love them because i can store them all on one device - and since i have absolutely no room for all the books i'd like to read, my nook is the perfect solution.
i love them because i can prop my nook on my knee while i'm feeding the KidLit and still be able to read without losing my page.
i love them because they are cheaper than their physical counterparts.
i love them because my literary world has opened up: at any time, from any place i can download a new ebook and start reading.

i know agent kristen nelson has blogged a lot about ebooks and the publishing industry (btw, i think her clients are damn lucky to have her as an agent - she is ON TOP of what's new in publishing, that's for sure), and the issues publishers and authors are running into.
author christine fletcher informed me both her titles are available for kindle, but not for the nook and that it's the publishers who decide what eformat their authors' books will be available in, which is something i've been noticing when looking for ebooks to purchase.

i'm not sure why publishers would make an ebook available through amazon but not through barnes and noble. it's not like they only allow amazon and not other booksellers to sell the physical copy of a title, so why the discrepancy when it comes to ereaders?
i know it's early days still for the barnes and noble nook, and i'm sure that eventually all the titles available for kindle will be available on the nook as well. but honestly, it seems formatting a title as an epub file is just as easy as any other file, so why not just do it?

maybe someone can fill me in if they know the reason.
either way, i'm still in love with my nook.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

book review - stealing heaven by elizabeth scott

stealing heaven by elizabeth scott

my two cent(ence)s: fun, easy read with a simple, linear plot. rather predictable, but i'd recommend it to anyone looking for something easy and light.

stealing heaven is about a girl, danielle, who has never gone to school, never had friends, and never lived in a real home - all because she and her mother are thieves who live their lives going from one job to another.

even though danielle is a thief (because she knows nothing different) she is still a likable character. she struggles with the life her mother has chosen for them, partly because she wishes she could lead a normal life and partly because she knows what they do is wrong. when they set up shop in the town of heaven, danielle finds herself wishing she could lead the life of the person she's pretending to be. of course, she meets a guy (which ends up being very complicated because he's a cop) and their banter is cute, fun and natural.
danielle and her mother are caught after their big job in heaven, though they get off on a technicality. she has to deal with the consequences of her actions, namely losing the only friend she had and ruining her chance with the cop. she realizes she can't live as a thief anymore, especially after it is confirmed her mother has cancer. danielle ends up taking care of her mother, going to school like a normal person, and reaching out to the cop who she feels is the only person to really know the true her.

i felt the opening chapter was written quite well, and i wished the rest of the book had the same feel and energy. the cancer element was telegraphed early in the book - literally, the first time the mother coughs it's obvious she's suffering from a fatal disease. no surprises plot wise, but i really did enjoy the scenes between danielle and the cop. his character is extremely likable (almost to the point of disbelief) and the reader does root for the two of them to get together. all in all i'd recommend it as a fast, light read.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

on the corner of 1st and 3rd

i consider my writing style to be "organic".
i start with an idea (that usually can be explained in just one sentence) and go from there. 
i might have some plot points i'd like to hit during the course of the book, but nothing is ever set in stone.

i'm not sure how common my method is, but it works for me. i've never been the kind of writer that makes a detailed outline, marking every twist, turn, reveal and arc. i'm not even the kind of writer that decides on how the novel will end before i write it. i start with general ideas, and through the course of writing i find my path. 
i've always said my books write themselves, and really it's true.
but sometimes my books stop flowing on their own. i wouldn't say they hit a wall, but they definitely stall, and that's when i have to take an honest look at what i've produced and decide what my next step will be.
this is what's happened with my latest work in progress.
i've had the idea for this novel for almost three years, but i didn't get serious about it until january of this year. i knew what i wanted to happen (generally) and where i'd like to see it end, but i had absolutely no road map. i just sat down and started writing.

originally i felt this novel needed to be written in third person. i have two main characters and i thought an omniscient narrator would work best. 
the writing flowed and i'd found my path, or so i thought. you see, my male character has been a dream: super easy to write with a very distinct personality. my female character never quite seemed as complete as her counterpart. soon i began to struggle with her chapters, sitting in front of my computer trying to conjure up what would happen next to her.
that's when i realized i needed to make some major changes. 
sure, my female lead needed a makeover. but that's not the only thing that needed changing.

i realized, even though i'd employed the use of a third person narrator, i wasn't using it to advantage. the narrator wasn't omniscient at all, and was only giving the reader one point of view - that of either the male or female main character, which is exactly what i wanted. i only wanted their two perspectives throughout the novel. it became clear there was only one thing to do and that was change the narration from third to first.
i had to trust my instinct though i did have concerns - would having two first-person narratives confuse the reader? would the pages be filled with "I"s and "me"s? 
i did some research and found it is not uncommon for there to be two characters written in first person. i even read nick and norah's infinite playlist to see if, as a reader, i could enjoy an entire novel written in this manner.

happily i am now rewriting. the narration change has been the easy part. tossing all the chapters focusing on my female lead was a little painful, but totally necessary. now her character is much stronger and her motives clearer (though if i'm totally honest, still not as easy to write as the male) and the novel is once again flowing. here's hoping that my book continues to guide me toward the right path!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

book review - north of beautiful by justina chen headley

now, i haven't written a book report since i was in the 6th grade, so forgive me if this post is unpolished and reeks of amateurism. i don't usually read book reviews, always fearing the reviewer will spoil the ending for me before i've had a chance to read the novel.

so, i've decided to always begin my book reviews with a short, two-sentence snapshot of my opinion.
that way, if you happen to be interested in reading the book, you can stop at those two sentences and the plot won't be ruined for you.

my two cent(ence)s - the book flows easily and i had a hard time putting it down. the novel is beautifully written and well-layered, and although the ending was predictable for me, i enjoyed it from beginning to end.

i don't normally read books about girls who feel sorry for themselves.
i actually hate "oh woe is me" as a genre, and thankfully north of beautiful does not fit into this category.
the main character, terra, is a high school student with a talent for art, an emotionally abusive father, and a large port-stain birthmark on her face. sure, her home life is unsatisfying (thank you, john hughes. that line will always be relevant when discussing YA), and yes, she does everything in her power to keep the world from seeing her birthmark, but she does not come off as an "oh, my life sucks because i'm ugly" whiner.

the book really takes off when she meets jacob, whom i loved instantly. even though terra has a boyfriend, she is attracted to who jacob is and how he makes her feel so at ease with herself. i found it obvious that she and jacob would end up together, but their journey is quite enjoyable: introduction by car accident, deep conversations, geocaching, vacation in china, mutual attraction, feelings of betrayal, show of contrition, all leading to the two of them as a new couple.

the book is filled with cartography references, but it's not so abstract or unexplained that the reader's mind drifts off from boredom. actually, the author does an amazing job of weaving these references in with the main, linear story. there is a subplot involving terra's parents (the father came off as a stereotype in the opening chapters, but felt more real as the book went on) that resolves itself in a way i felt a little too convenient.
also, the whole geocaching element struck me as tacked on, as if the author had finished the first draft and decided she needed to add something more. i could be totally wrong, but it didn't seem as organic as the rest of the novel.

of course, in the end, terra finds her inner strength and no longer feels the need to hide behind her make-up mask.
like i said, it was a predictable ending, but the book is incredibly well written. knowing the ending ahead of time didn't matter since each chapter is exquisitely crafted.
i highly recommend north of beautiful. it's a book worthy of a second read.