Monday, February 27, 2012

A Writer's Right to Rant?

Recently, Nathan Bransford had a great post on writers/authors and casual, ranting reviews. The subjects covered were how an author should react to a ranting review and whether writers/authors give up the right to write casual or ranting reviews.

This topic is near and dear to me because I write negative reviews. Even though I try very hard to keep it constructive, I have been 'questioned' by a handful of authors. It's a highly unpleasant experience. One way to avoid it would be to only write positive reviews, but I just can't bring myself to do that. It would feel...false. I am a writer, and writers are not average readers. Not anymore. We know too much about craft and what goes on behind a story to ever be 'just a reader' again. Since I want to write the best stories I possibly can, that means exploring other books to learn how effective certain aspects of stories can be (or not be). It would feel selfish of me to not share my findings.

So, when an author challenges me about my review, it never comes off well and makes me less likely to read his future books . There is one author in particular whose subsequent book has sounded very interesting and even been recommended to me, but each time I try to pick it up, I am reminded of the earlier, unpleasant interaction and the book feels tainted by association. It's completely not fair to the book (or me, for that matter), but I can't look at it objectively anymore. Which means this: I'm not reading this author, reviewing this person's books, or recommending him/her to other people. That right there should be reason enough to not to respond to any reviews, especially the less than favorable ones. And certainly not in a public forum. Even a simple 'thank you' to a positive review can bring a valuable or interesting discussion to a screeching halt.

As for writers and authors writing casual or ranting reviews, well, this is what I think. When you aspire to be an author (or if you are one), you enter a realm of professionalism where ranting reviews just don't belong. I've come across some writers' websites that shred the books they hate and gush about the ones they love. I get the need to rant. I really do. Books are designed to elicit emotional responses from the reader, and some are more negative than others. But a public review isn't the place to rant. It makes you look petty and unprofessional, and trying to get your work published is hard enough without all that.

So, I guess I am basically saying that I agree with Nathan. Casual, ranting reviews have no place in the professional world of publishing, nor does responding to a review of your book. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winner of the February Book Giveaway!

So let's just get right to it, shall we? The winner of this month's giveaway for these two books is...

Congratulations!! I'll get your books out to you asap. As for everyone else, stop by next saturday to see what I'm giving away. HINT: at least two more ARCs. :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she's dancing. When she is accepted into Canada's preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it's not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick's future at the academy and Georgia's ambitions as a ballerina.

This is an odd book, which makes it difficult to review.  I went into it thinking I would get real insight into the ballet world, all the hard work that goes into it, and how it feels to strive for something so incredibly difficult. But we didn't really get that. Well, we got some, and what was there was done really well. It's clear the author has studied ballet and knows the mechanics of it. I really liked that. I was just hoping for more.

I wanted to feel the aches and pain that comes out of hard, physical work, but there is only a brief mention of physiotherapy. I wanted to see the hours and hours of practice, but Georgia only practices on her own once, and that was a few extra minutes before class. To be good enough to get into the most prestigious ballet school, she would have to live and breathe ballet. But she lives and breathes something else: Sex.

This is where the book lost me. Entirely. Granted, at age fourteen many girls are discovering their bodies as well as sexuality. There were brilliant moments of this, but they were lost in the complete saturation of sex everywhere else. I'll come back to this...

The environment at the ballet school didn't seem very different from regular high school. Some of the girls are horrible, pushing other girls into doing terrible things 'for their own good.' Georgia goes with the flow, only standing up for another girl once, and never stands up for herself. She allows herself to be led into bad situations (like the party at the end), *not once* thinking ‘perhaps this is a bad idea,’ even after so many other bad things have happened. Then, when everything inevitably goes wrong, she does nothing to get herself out.

This kind of translates into Georgia’s inability to see anything beyond herself. Some examples:
*When Pilar comes to her school, she thinks it's because of her—even though the incident with Chantal has just happened and some really big clues are dropped beforehand.
*She doesn't even try to do the math regarding her parents' marriage and her birth, even though the margin is huge.
*She refuses to see the correlation between her parents and Roderick.

I realize that teens are self-centered, but Georgia takes this to the extreme. Some of this is explained by her extreme insecurity, which is fine because many teens are insecure, but she shows no growth or change by the end. In fact, she kind of gets worse. There is a scene where Georgia gets turned on at the prospect of being sexually assaulted. That's seriously disturbing. As is what she puts in her teacher's desk drawer. Only her father and principal seem to see this and want to get her counseling, but that doesn't happen. SPOILER WARNING: Instead she quits the school and auditions at another one (where there's another male ballet teacher—almost implying that history will repeat itself and she hasn’t learned a thing). That doesn't exactly send a great message to teen girls. END SPOILER

Overall, I found this book extremely uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to finish it. Just to be clear, I love books that don't sugar-coat the difficulties in life and make me see things in a different way. This book certainly doesn't sugar-coat, but not in a thought-provoking way. Georgia isn't likable enough for that.

Given the complete saturation of sex in this story, including exposure to pornography, this story is definitely not for younger teens. The fact that Georgia is 14 is a bit misleading. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend this story to any teen. It feels more like an adult book with a teen protagonist.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I am on vacation in Hawaii, so no post today. Instead, I'm sending you all warm thoughts. :)

See you when I get back!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Inspirational Quotes

Here's some more quotes for ya. Enjoy!

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.
- Ana├»s Nin 

I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.
- Gordon Lish

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
- Goethe

A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Don't say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be tired. Be confused. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.
- William Zinsser

Don't say the old lady screamed--bring her on and let her scream.
- Mark Twain 

In the end, you have to just sit down, shut up, and write.
- Natalie Goldberg

There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed.
- John Kenneth Galbraith

Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do the job for me.’
- C.S. Lewis

Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.
- Albert Einstein

Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles.
- Anne Dillard

I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.
- P. G. Wodehouse (after being asked about his writing technique)

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

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good.
- William Faulkner 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Partials by Dan Wells

The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.
Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic in training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws threaten to launch what’s left of humanity into civil war, and she’s not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will discover that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them—connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.

This story has plenty of twists and turns that take you on a fun and entertaining roller coaster ride. Wells does a great job planting clues here and there, but they are so subtle that they’re easy to miss until a twist is revealed, and then they all click into place. I *love* stories that do this, and I could not put this book down because I wanted to know what else was going to happen.

The first thing I want to say is that this story is blessedly free of love triangles. Wells has effectively demonstrated how a story can be full of tension without those wretched things. The romance, too, is also a part of the story, but doesn’t take it over. I loved that.

I liked Kira, too. She’s an interesting character with inner strength, and handles herself well. Her boyfriend is on the protective side, but their relationship is based on equality—even with his urges to protect her, he doesn’t suppress her. And she won’t be suppressed. So refreshing. I’m glad to see such a healthy relationship in a YA story.

There were a couple of things that could have been done better. There are a lot of characters, which can sometimes get confusing. I also had a hard time picturing what they looked like, but was okay with that (for the most part) because the teens are strong and well-rounded so I could easily keep track of them. The adults, however, were on the flatter side and I didn’t understand how some of them were relevant to the story. But everything else was so enticing that I could overlook this.

Kira's research is the other area. I didn't quite believe that no one had looked at RM research the way she was looking at it. I think it would have felt more believable if Kira had sifted through all the other research first and she found a way to expand upon something that already existed. Still, I was so invested in Kira and her story that I could accept this (highly unusual for me).

In several scenes, Kira spends quite a bit of time problem-solving. I can see some readers finding that boring. I loved them, though, because I like problem-solving and enjoyed the opportunity to figure things out right along with Kira. For those who don’t care for this, these scenes might feel like the story is dragging. It all depends on your personal preference.

The main plot of this story concludes with a satisfying ending, but it’s clear there’s a sequel coming. I’m psyched about that, and also bummed that I have to wait so long before it’s on the shelves. Such is life in publishing. :) If you like dystopian stories with interesting characters and great plotting, this is the story for you.

For a chance to win an ARC of this book, go here and fill out the form.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Challenge: Describe Some Action, Part Three

Last week, I wrote a post about keeping your descriptions from sounding like a laundry list. Today I want to get into the details of describing setting.

Basically, I think setting should be treated as a character. Why? Because every setting is quirky, just like people. Every setting is also unique, just like people.

For example, I live in Chicago so my neighborhood is loud. There are always cars driving down the streets (bicyclists often swearing at them), horns honking, sirens blaring, the “L” train clattering by, etc. If I stick with this kind of description, it kind of seems like your typical rat race where everyone’s in a rush to get where they’re going and no one speaks to anyone at all. But that’s not the case.

My neighborhood almost feels like a small town, without the small town politics. Everyone walks everywhere because driving is such a pain, so we all go to the same places—as a result, we get to know each other. I look forward to going to certain businesses because I love the owners who run them. So, it kind of feels like a small town because I see people I know all the time. And yet it’s still different. The small town gossip doesn’t exist. No one cares if so-and-so got a new car that they probably can’t afford. Or if person A is making eyes at person B. There are enough other things going on that no one cares about these things.

My neighborhood has other quirks, too, specifically with transportation. I can’t count how many nice and helpful people I’ve met on the streets of Chicago. Honestly, this city is full of them—until they get behind the wheel of a car, or climb onto a bicycle. And then some of them turn into self-righteous, homicidal maniacs. Before anyone gets offended and yells at me, let me clarify that there are some very nice drivers on the street, and extremely polite bicyclists. But then there’s the handful that aren’t, and these people are certifiably insane.

Some drivers have a nasty habit of camping out in the right-hand turn lane at a red light, but then, when the light turns green, they slam the gas pedal and swerve left. Basically, they don't want to actually wait their turn to get through the stoplight, so they use this trick and often almost hit the person they're trying to cut off (or actually hit them, which happened to me once...grrr). 

Then, there are some bicyclists who do things like blow through a red light (or stop sign) without looking, or even slowing down, and then cuss out the driver who almost hits them. Again, this isn’t everyone, but these people are out there. You know who you are. :) But once they get out of the car, or off the bicycle, they turn into normal people again. It’s bizarre.

Anyway, I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. If I go to the other end of Chicago, I’d find different quirks. If I go to a suburb, I’d find something else entirely because, guess what? Each setting is unique with its own quirks.

If your character’s home town only has one grocery store, what does it look like? Who works there? What items does it stock? Who runs it? What’s next to it? Who hangs out there, or doesn’t hang out there? How do people get there? These are the kinds of details that need to go into the setting of your story, and that’s what will bring it to life.

Choose a setting that you know well and describe it. Keep in mind that, for this exercise to work, you need to choose a setting that’s big enough to use in a story. In other words, your house isn’t going to cut it. :) Instead, choose a town, a specific neighborhood, a particular region in a country, etc. What quirks does this place have? What kinds of things happen here? What makes this place unique?

Feel free to share your work here in the comments, or keep it to yourself. Your choice.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

February Book Giveaway!

New month, new giveaway. :)

I've got two ARCs up for grabs:

ARC of Partials by Dan Wells
The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials--engineered organic beings identical to humans--has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.
Kira, a sixteen-year-old medic-in-training, is on the front lines of this battle, seeing RM ravage the community while mandatory pregnancy laws have pushed what's left of humanity to the brink of civil war, and she's not content to stand by and watch. But as she makes a desperate decision to save the last of her race, she will find that the survival of humans and Partials alike rests in her attempts to uncover the connections between them--connections that humanity has forgotten, or perhaps never even knew were there.

ARC of Various Positions by Martha Schabas
Shy and introverted, and trapped between the hyper-sexualized world of her teenaged friends and her dysfunctional family, Georgia is only at ease when she's dancing. Fortunately, she's an unusually talented and promising dancer. When she is accepted into the notoriously exclusive Royal Ballet Academy--Canada's preeminent dance school--Georgia thinks she has made the perfect escape. In ballet, she finds the exhilarating control and power she lacks elsewhere in her life: physical, emotional and, increasingly, sexual.
This dynamic is nowhere more obvious than in Georgia's relationship with Artistic Director Roderick Allen. As Roderick singles her out as a star and subjects her to increasingly vicious training, Georgia obsesses about becoming his perfect student, disciplined and sexless. But a disturbing incident with a stranger on the subway, coupled with her dawning recognition of the truth of her parents' unhappy marriage, causes her to radically reassess her ideas about physical boundaries--a reassessment that threatens both Roderick's future at the academy and Georgia's ambitions as a ballerina.

To enter, fill out the form below and then come back here on Saturday, February 25th to see if you've won. Good luck!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned.
The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.
There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back.
Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. It’s hard to forget that life in the United States used to be different.
Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow.
That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

This book is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in that society has shifted to view women as inferior and subservient, and people are punished for their actions before the new government took power. It also happens within the main character’s lifetime, so our protagonist has seen life both before and after. In The Handmaid’s Tale, you can surmise that the shift happens from within the government, after what was probably years of placing the appropriate pieces on a chessboard and then moving in for checkmate. But in Article 5, it’s not clear.

What was The War? What was it about? Who started it? Why did they start it? When did it start? How did they win? How did they manage to put such drastic societal changes into effect so quickly? What did the bombing of Chicago and other large cities have to do with any of it? Knowing these details would have helped me to better understand Ember, and I'd know exactly how much of both worlds she experienced. But since I didn't understand her world, I didn’t understand Ember.

As a result, she came across as erratic and sometimes not very bright. I didn’t believe that she wouldn’t ask more about her mother (hence, the big reveal in the end wasn’t at all surprising). I also didn’t understand her motivations for running away (both times) or for never attempting to see any situation through Chase’s eyes. I never really made any kind of connection to her, so her transformation wasn’t as profound as it could have been.

On the plus side, though, Chase is NOT the typical hot-jerk-boy, Ember doesn't swoon ridiculously over him, and there is no love triangle. That was extremely refreshing. That said, these two are full of angst ramped up to the nth degree. I liked that their relationship was complicated, but the constant bickering and posturing got tiresome after a while and it felt contrived that they didn’t just sit down and have a conversation to clear the air.

Overall, there just wasn’t enough here for me to want to read more, so I won’t be reading the next book (I assume there will be a next book, given the open-ended subplots).