Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winner of the November Reading Challenge Giveaway!!

It's the end of the month and time to announce the winner of this month's reading challenge giveaway.

The winner of these two books is...



Ashley!!

Congratulations!! I'll get your books out to you asap. As for everyone else, stop by tomorrow to see what I'm giving away next month!

Winner of the November Book Giveaway!

I was supposed to announce this yesterday, but was still getting caught up on a bunch of things and forgot. So, here is the winner of these two books...



Jennifer!!

Congratulations!! I'll get your books out to you asap. For everyone else, stop by this saturday to see what else I'm giving away!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Five Things I'm Thankful For

Hope all you Americans out there had a great Thanksgiving with yummy turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie! :)

 
I got a nasty stomach flu virus the day before Thanksgiving, which almost derailed our plans. I haven't been laid out by an illness so thoroughly in years. It wasn't pretty. Fortunately, it was a 24 hour thing and I was able to go visit my grandparents and other immediate family for the weekend. It was so good to see them that it inspired me to make a list of the top five things I'm thankful for:

 
  1. My husband. For too many reasons to list. :)
  2. My kids. They're great, and they took care of me when I was sick, and even made a point not to get overly energetic and refrained from arguing with each other. Which is good, because I couldn't even get out of bed. :)
  3. My family. They're the greatest.
  4. My friends. They're fun, supportive, and interesting. I'm lucky to have met them.
  5. My agent. There's none better.


Even though I don't have everything I want, I have a lot. And I'm grateful for it all.
 
What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy (early) Thanksgiving!

My kids are home all week for Thanksgiving break, and I'm still intensely focused on my WIP, so I don't have a post for today. Instead, I wish everyone in the US a very happy Thanksgiving! Eat lots of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. I know I will. :)

Apparently, you should avoid the fish, though...


Um...yeah...guess I'll stick with turkey...

See you all next week!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Against Me by Jenny Downham

If someone hurts your sister and you're any kind of man, you seek revenge, right? If your brother's been accused of a terrible crime and you're the main witness, then you banish all doubt and defend him. Isn't that what families do? When Mikey's sister claims a boy assaulted her at a party, his world of work and girls begins to fall apart. When Ellie's brother is charged with the crime, but says he didn't do it, her world of revision, exams and fitting in at a new school begins to unravel. When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide.
This story shows the aftermath of an accusation of date rape in a very realistic way. The focus is on the families of the parties involved, rather than victim or the accused rapist. People don’t tend to think about how rape can send shockwaves through families—both the victim’s and the accused rapist’s. Sometimes bringing them closer, sometimes tearing them apart. I thought this was brilliant, and the story did a great job of capturing the ordeal that both families go through.

All the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional. No one is all victim or all bad guy or all supportive sibling. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has moments of reflection and remorse. In other words, everyone is human. They all seemed real to me.

The story surrounds Mikey and Ellie, siblings to Karyn and Tom—the victim and accused rapist. Mikey listens to his family bash Tom, saying his whole family so rich they’re above the law. Ellie listens to her family bash Karyn, saying she was begging for it with her short skirt and drinking too much, and regretted her choice the next morning so she went after Tom and his money. It was really interesting to see the immediate loyalty each family shows, and also interesting to see this loyalty manifested by attacking the other side. That rang true to me. I imagine this would happen often in real life.

Both Mikey and Ellie set out to protect their siblings, which is how their paths cross. Against all odds, they like each other, but the obstacles between them are huge. I really liked how their romance unfolded, and how each grew and changed as they got to know each other. This story really focuses on how they deal with their broken families, and also come to terms with each other. The trial is in the background, and I’ve heard some readers complain that we don’t get more information about it. But I was okay with that, because this wasn’t Karyn’s story. Or Tom’s. I really liked how Mikey and Ellie end up, and I liked how some things were left up in the air. That’s more how real life is.

I haven’t read Downham’s first book, Before I Die, yet. But I will. You Against Me is so poignant and well-written that I can’t wait to read more of Downham’s work.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Inspirational Quotes

I'm completely entrenched in my current project, and didn't get a chance to finish today's post. So I've got some more great quote for you. Enjoy!

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
- Mark Twain

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.
- Robert Frost

Great writing leads constantly into surprises, and the writer should be the first one surprised.
- Bernard Malamud

Most bad books get that way because their authors are engaged in trying to justify themselves. If a vain author is an alcoholic, then the most sympathetically portrayed character in his book will be an alcoholic. This sort of thing is very boring for outsiders.
- Stephen Vizinczey

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
- Mark Twain

Some critics will write 'Maya Angelou is a natural writer' — which is right after being a natural heart surgeon.
- Maya Angelou

I would never write about anyone who is not at the end of his rope.
- Stanley Elkin

The person who finds the time [to write] is the one who is going to become a writer. The person who doesn’t, won’t.
- Meg Cabot

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.
- Jorge Luis Borges

There's a great power in words if you don't hitch too many of them together.
- Josh Billings

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
- Scott Adams

When I start a book, I always think it's patently absurd that I can write one. No one, certainly not me, can write a book 500 pages long. But I know I can write 15 pages, and if I write 15 pages every day, eventually I'll have 500 of them.
- John Saul

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.
- Sholem Asch

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Mara Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.
There is.
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.
She's wrong.

This book left me with such mixed feelings. The story starts out well, with a mystery as to how Mara survived an accident that killed her friends. She’d blocked out the memory of that night, and I liked how it gradually came back to her in pieces. I really like it when I get to discover the story right along with the character, so I had high hopes this was going to keep me intrigued. And it did, for the first half or so.

After that, things started getting…strange. The paranormal aspect was introduced, but it conflicted with Mara’s real world problems. As a result, I didn’t know what to think about any of it, and not necessarily in a good way. I don’t mind not knowing, but I love it when I find out the big secret and then all of the clues suddenly fall into place. That didn’t really happen in the story.

The twist on the last page wasn’t as shocking as Mara makes it out to be. Sure, she’d been questioning everything since page one, and she explained away her glimpses to her own doubts. That makes sense on its own, but there were other clues that she just kept explaining away. There was too much of that, for my taste. I wanted to see her question her questions, and throw herself into complete confusion. Then again, if she had done that, it probably would have changed the ending.

Which brings me to the ending… I really, really didn’t like Mara at the end. She takes a 180 degree turn and does something that doesn’t fit her character, especially for the situation, and I lost pretty much all sympathy for her after that. I understand that we all make bad choices, and she made the worst choice that anyone can make. If she’d been caught up in a highly tense and stressful situation, her actions would have, understandably, stemmed from that. But she wasn’t. She was calm and made a conscious decision to do what she did, ruining three lives in the process instead of one. Well, four if you include Mara. That’s a disturbingly cold thing she did, and I didn’t particularly care as she realizes the huge mistake she’d made. I felt she deserved her suffering. Perhaps that’s how the title fits in with the story—Mara becomes Unbecoming. For me, it didn’t work at all and brought my enjoyment down several notches.

The rest of the book is okay, mostly saturated with a romance between Mara and Noah, the typical hot-jerk-boyfriend. I wish there weren’t so many stories with this kind of boyfriend, but there you go. There’s nothing really new with their romance. I liked watching Mara sort through her memories and try to figure things out, though I do wish that we’d have gotten a clear image of the single most important memory in the story. The fact that we didn’t makes me feel like I’m being manipulated into buying the next book. Not the way I want to end a story.

So, I don’t know. I guess I see this as a story that had a huge amount of potential, but didn’t live up to it. I might give the next book a 20-page try, but I honestly won’t know until it comes out. Until then…

Monday, November 07, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Pros and Cons

National Novel Writing Month. Write 50,000 words in a month? Gah! And yet, many people tackle this incredible challenge every year. I've tried it three times so far, but only succeeded in generating the required amount of words once. That time, I worked on a novel that I knew really well. I had a detailed outline, I'd done character profiling, and I knew exactly where to take my story. So, the one time I 'won' NaNo, I cranked out 58k words in three weeks.

The other two times? I didn't know the story or the characters nearly as well, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice them just to meet my word count. So, I slowed down and did some exploring. It took much longer to finish those drafts, but when I was done, I was happy with them.

I'm not doing NaNo this year, but I have some friends who are going for it and that got me thinking about the pros and cons of this endeavor.

Pro: You get 50k words written.
Con: 50k words of what?

Pro: Even if you end up with 50k words of crap, you've at least got a solid start on your project.
Con: Yeah, unless you have to chuck it all and start over. So why do it right in the first place?

Pro: Even if you have to chuck it all, you've at least had the chance to really explore the idea and characters, and there's probably some nuggets in there that are worth keeping.
Con: But then you have to search through 50k words of crap to find a couple nuggets.

Anyone have anything else to add? :)

Clearly, NaNo has worked well for me, and it also hasn't worked at all. It all depended on the circumstances surrounding my projects. Have you done NaNo? How has it fared for you? Are you doing it now?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

November Book Giveaway!

Another month, and two more books to give away!

ARC of Unleashed by Nancy Holder and Debbie ViguiƩ
Katelyn McBride's life changed in an instant when her mother died. Uprooted from her California home, Katelyn was shipped to the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, to her only living relative, her grandfather. And now she has to start over in Wolf Springs, a tiny village in the Ozark Mountains.
Like any small town, Wolf Springs has secrets. But the secrets hideen here are more sinister than Katelyn could ever imagine. It's a town with a history that reaches back centuries, spans continents, and conceals terrifying truths.
And Katelyn McBride is about to change everything.
Broken families, ageless grudges, forced alliances, and love that blooms in the darkest night--welcome to Wolf Springs.
 
ARC of The File on Angelyn Stark by Catherine Atkins
Angelyn Stark has a secret.
One day, her neighbor and friend, Nathan, saw something happen. Something between Angelyn and her stepfather. Then he told his grandmother, who was always looking out for Angelyn, and it turned into a mess. But Nathan didn't know what he was talking about then, and he doesn't know now.
Three years later, Angelyn is in high school and she thinks she's getting along fine--but there's a young teacher who wants to help her. He says she has potential she isn't living up to. Nobody has ever cared this way about Angelyn, not since Nathan's grandmother, anyway. But what does Mr. Rossi really want from her? And once Angelyn starts falling for him, does she really care?

To enter, fill out the form below. One entry per person, please. Since the last Saturday of the month is over Thanksgiving weekend, I'm extending the contest to Tuesday, November 29th. So, stop by then to see if you've won!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Eve by Anna Carey

The year is 2032, sixteen years after a deadly virus—and the vaccine intended to protect against it—wiped out most of the earth’s population. The night before eighteen-year-old Eve’s graduation from her all-girls school she discovers what really happens to new graduates, and the horrifying fate that awaits her.
Fleeing the only home she’s ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust...and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.
 
This story was not for me. It started out okay, though it felt rushed. No time was dedicated to building the relationships between the girls in School, or giving Eve time to process that her whole life was a lie. Instead, another girl (Arden, who has a reputation as a prankster) tells her the truth the night before Eve's life was scheduled to change. So, why would Eve believe her so easily? Enough to risk swimming across a lake in the middle of the night, even though she can't swim? I don't buy it.

However, if we'd been able to see more of the school, how the girls interacted, and how Eve finds clues to corroborate what Arden says, then Eve's trek across the lake would make more sense. Or, even better, if the story had begun with Eve finding Arden coming out of the lake, looking horrified and jumpy, that would give Eve reason enough to wonder what was really going on. Especially if Arden subsequently seems reserved and eyes the Teachers with suspicion--this would make Eve even more curious.

But none of this happened, so the beginning got off to a rough start. Throughout the rest of the book, Eve is too passive. She doesn't resist the bounty hunter (that first scene with him, btw, doesn't make sense because the bounty hunter doesn't have three hands), she doesn't try to help Marjorie or Otis, and she lets both Arden and Caleb leave under questionable circumstances (especially Caleb...that irritated me in so many ways). About halfway through the book, I actively disliked Eve. I thought Arden was much more interesting.

Many aspects to the plot didn't make sense. For example, why did the girls in School receive such an education, even skewed the way it was? Also, why were they taught to fear men so much? Where are all these babies going, anyway? To replenish the orphan work force? It doesn't make sense that they'd go to rich families in the city. Kids are expensive to support. If there are whisperings about why the king wants Eve, there would surely be whisperings about where the babies go. On that note, it also doesn't make sense that the king would go so far to pursue Eve when, clearly, she isn't what everyone thought. So why does he?

If the answer to any of these questions is "you'll find out in the next book," well, that's too frustrating for my taste and it makes me lose all interest in the story. There is a fine line between withholding information and keeping an air of mystery. This story had too many questions and not enough answers for my taste. I doubt I'll read the next book.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

100 Book Reading Challenge: November

I'm still on that reading roller coaster, but I'm still managing to read. So that's what's important. :)

NOTE: In order to enter this contest, you don't need to agree to read 100 books this year. You just need to agree to read a book and scribble down some thoughts this month. That's all. :) A couple people were confused by this, so I just wanted to clarify. :)

Anyway, here's the books I'm giving away this month.

ARC of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

ARC of Dark Eden by Patrick Carman
Fifteen-year-old Will Besting is sent by his doctor to Fort Eden, an institution meant to help patients suffering from crippling phobias. Once there, Will and six other teenagers take turns in mysterious fear chambers and confront their worst nightmares—with the help of the group facilitator, Rainsford, an enigmatic guide. When the patients emerge from the chamber, they feel emboldened by the previous night's experiences. But each person soon discovers strange, unexplained aches and pains. . . . What is really happening to the seven teens trapped in this dark Eden?

To enter, fill out the form below. You may join this challenge at any time. Also, you must follow these rules, or your entry will be disqualified:
  1. One URL per entry, and that URL must directly link to a book review. A general link to your blog or Goodreads profile isn't specific enough (I simply don't have the time to go sifting through the hundred or so of these entries to figure out what everyone is reading).
  2. You may enter as many times as you like, BUT you must keep to the one URL per entry rule. Otherwise your entry will only count as one.
  3. You must have reviewed the book IN NOVEMBER. Past reviews don't count.
FYI--to get to a direct link to your Goodreads reviews, click on the title of the book, and then click on the "My Review" heading just above where you type in your review. A link to your profile will render your entry invalid.

Come back here on Wednesday, November 30th to see if you've won. Good luck!!