Saturday, March 31, 2012

Winner of the March Book Giveaway!

It's the last day of March already, so it's time to announce the winner of this month's giveaway for these three books...

And that person is...

Midnyte Reader!!!

Congratulations!! I will get your books out to you asap. As for everyone else, stop by next saturday for something extra special. I'll have three ARCs to give away, plus a signed hardback! You know you want it... :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers 1 - 3

The Cahills aren't the only family searching for the Clues. . . .
The Cahills thought they were the most powerful family the world had ever known. They thought they were the only ones who knew about Gideon Cahill and his Clues. The Cahills were wrong.
Powerful enemies —the Vespers— have been waiting in the shadows. Now it’s their time to rise and the world will never be the same. In Vespers Rising, a brand new 39 Clues novel, bestselling authors Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman and Jude Watson take on the hidden history of the Cahills and the Vespers, and the last, terrible legacy Grace Cahill leaves for Amy and Dan.

This is another set of books in the 39 Clues series. The same characters return, but the plot is different: the Cahill family has come together, of sorts, but now there us a new enemy. The Vespers. And they want something that Gideon Cahill, father of the splintered family, once protected. Beginning with 39 Clues book 11: Vespers Rising, this new story has hit the ground running.

I enjoyed the first installment for the most part--the hunt for the 39 clues. Once all the authors got a mutual feel for the characters, the story flowed nicely. The clues vs. questions had a good balance and I was always looking forward to more.

This next installment is similar. The pacing is good, the characters are consistent, and the story is just plain fun. There have been a few moments where I didn't quite buy the logistics, but these moments are small--the rest of the story doesn't hinge on them--so they don't bother me. In fact, both my eight year old son and I are hooked and we are eagerly awaiting the release of book 4 this fall.

There are also seven short stories, called 39 Clues: Rapid Fire, that were released last December. My son and I have been reading these as well, and enjoying them. They aren't necessary backstory for the Cahills vs. Vespers series, but they do add another interesting layer of information. And they are just as entertaining as the books.

If you liked the original 39 Clues series, then you will probably like Cahills vs. Vespers since it is more of the same. I think boys of all ages will love it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

More Inspirational Quotes

Here's some more great quotes for you. Enjoy!

If you tell me, it's an essay.  If you show me, it's a story.
- Barbara Greene

A kid is a guy I never wrote down to.  He's interested in what I say if I make it interesting.
- Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

When a writer talks about his work, he's talking about a love affair.
- Alfred Kazin

The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.
- Robert Cormier

I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, 'To hell with you.'
- Saul Bellow

Half my life is an act of revision
- John Irving

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart...
- William Wordsworth

Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.
- Raymond Chandler

Every writer I know has trouble writing.
- Joseph Heller

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I’d type a little faster.
- Isaac Asimov

Real seriousness in regard to writing is one of two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent.
- Ernest Hemingway

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.
- Olin Miller

The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Once the grammar has been learned, writing is simply talking on paper and in time learning what not to say.
- Beryl Bainbridge

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sunshine Award!

The totally amazing Tyson Devon McFrost, aka Frost Lord, gave me a totally amazing blog award last week: The Sunshine Award!

Here are the rules:

  • Thank the person who gave you the award and provide a link.
  • Write a post about it
  • Answer the questions below.
  • Pass it on to 10 bloggers who you think really deserve it and let them know
  • Answer 10 Questions:

  1. Favourite colour: Yellow
  2. Favourite animal: Dolphins, but not in that stereotypical girly-girl way. Dolphins are smart, and that's awesome.
  3. Favourite number: 16
  4. Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Warm milk with a splash of vanilla
  5. Facebook or Twitter: Facebook 
  6. My passion: Writing and spending time with my family
  7. Getting or giving presents: Giving, definitely! It's not that I don't like getting presents, because I do. But I get far more pleasure from giving than getting.
  8. Favourite pattern: Anything that's complex
  9. Favourite day of the week: Saturday! Especially with this unseasonably awesome weather we're having.
  10. Favourite flower: Daisy

These are the people I'd like to pass this award to:

If you haven't checked out any of these blogs, you should because they are awesome! And definitely go visit Tyson, because he is great fun. :) Thanks again for the award, Frost Lord!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Exercise: Ghirardelli’s Ice Cream

As promised, here’s a writing exercise I did several years ago. It’s a memory instead of a mundane task, but the focus is on all five senses. Enjoy!

The sweat rolling down my back soaked into my shirt and plastered it to my skin. Cars zoomed down Michigan Avenue, horns blaring and tires screeching. The acrid exhaust mixed with the sweltering air, choking me. I really wanted to go for a dip in the pool, but it was closed for cleaning. I would have to settle for the next best thing: ice cream at Ghirardelli’s. I practically ran down the block to the cheery blue and white striped awning.

I opened the door, and the air conditioning washed over me like a wave of relief. A smiling lady handed me a menu, and I stood in line next to the soda bar. Kids and adults perched themselves atop tall bar stools with red vinyl cushions, eagerly watching the employees make malts and sundaes. Soon, they’d be making mine.

But what should I get? There were so many choices! The World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae had two scoops of vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate syrup, and lots of whipped cream. The Golden Gate Banana Split had three scoops of ice cream, a banana sliced down the middle, crushed pineapple, sliced strawberries, chocolate syrup, and even more whipped cream. Yum! I decided on a butterscotch sundae, though, and placed my order.

I found a place to sit next to the window with the awning, where a man was wiping off some tables. The marble tabletop was still damp when I sat down, and smelled faintly of soap. I ran my fingers across the wet streaks, the marble cool on my fingertips.

A woman brought ice cream to the family sitting next to me, and the little boy squealed with delight. He stuck his hand into the whipped cream of the nearest sundae and spread it all over his face.

Another woman set my sundae in front of me. It was huge! The long-stemmed glass was filled to the brim with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch, and a huge mass of whipped cream—topped with a cherry—covered the whole thing.

I shoved a spoonful of whipped cream into my mouth. It was light and fluffy on my tongue, like I imagined a cloud would taste. I dug my spoon deep into the sundae, emerging with a dripping mound of ice cream and butterscotch. The sweetness of the ice cream blended with the richness of the butterscotch, and the cold soothed my hot tongue and throat. I took another bite, and butterscotch rolled down my chin. Giggling, I wiped it off and sank in my spoon for a third bite.

Slowly, the sundae disappeared until all that was left was a mixture of butterscotch and melted ice cream. I wrapped my sticky fingers around the stem of the glass and scraped out the last bite—tink-tink-tink! I put it in my mouth, slowly drew out the spoon, and pressed the butterscotch against the roof of my mouth. I let it ooze down my throat, savoring every last drop, then dropped the spoon into the empty glass.

It wasn’t a dip in the pool, but it was close enough.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Havoc by Jeff Sampson

Emily Webb thought life would return to normal after the death of the man who attacked her and her fellow “Deviants.” Or as normal as it could be, after discovering that she has nighttime superpowers . . . and she’s a werewolf. But when Emily awakes one night to find an otherworldy Shadowman watching her, she knows the danger has only just begun.
So Emily and her pack-mates set out to find the people who made them what they are, and why. But as they get closer to the truth, they realize they aren’t the only ones in town with special powers: The most popular girls in school might just have a secret of their own–and they might just have it out for Emily.
With shadowy beings stalking them, a mysterious company doing all it can to keep the truth hidden, and the secrecy of her new identity in jeopardy, life threatens to spiral out of control for Emily. Soon these dangers will come together in one terrifying confrontation that may force her to make the toughest choice of her life . . . so far.

I really enjoyed the first book in the Deviants trilogy, titled Vesper, so I was looking forward to Havoc. I sure wasn’t disappointed. :)

The story picks up pretty much right where Vesper left off. It had been a year since I’d read Vesper, so I needed to go back and refresh my memory because there isn’t a “last week on Deviants…” recap. Which is nice if you’re reading both books back to back. I get bored with too much this-is-what-happened-in-the-last-book summary.

Anyway, some readers weren’t fond of the dual-storyline-like aspect of Vesper, but I loved it. I thought it gave the reader just enough teasers to want to tear through the book to find out *how* Emily gets from point A to point B. The same style is used in Havoc, just as effectively.

Emily finds out a whole lot more about herself and others like her in this book. We knew she would, of course, based on the teasers in Vesper. But the way in which she finds out is interesting and kept me glued to the pages. She even goes so far as to doubt how she feels because she’s afraid she’s been engineered that way. Love it!

More characters are introduced, and existing characters are further explored. Emily learns more about the various personalities resulting from her shifting. We see this in other characters, too, and I enjoyed seeing how these personalities manifested. The ‘rules’ surrounding this are complex and completely fascinating.

We find out more about the Shadowmen in Havoc, and a whole new element is introduced. We only get a taste of it, though, and I am dying to find out more. Sampson is really good at whetting the reader’s appetite.

I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to give anything away, but I think this series is great fun and deserves more press than it’s getting. If you get a chance, pick up a copy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Challenge: Mastering Description

Recently, I posted about how to keep descriptions from sounding like laundry lists. Today I want to talk about how you can create a description that will make the reader feel like he’s stepped into your story. The key to doing this? Senses.

Sight is, by far, the dominant sense for most people and that’s what automatically gets put on the page. But there are four others: sound, taste, touch, and smell. These senses are always there and our brains process them even if we’re not aware of it. We hear a buzzing next to our ears and swat away the insect before we’ve had time to think about it. We smell something rotting in the trash and wrinkle our noses. We touch something hot and our hands jerk away involuntarily. We try a new food and our brains automatically compare the taste to other experiences—for example, to me, grilled vegetables taste like summer, but oysters taste like salty mucus. :)

Without all of these senses, your story will feel two dimensional. Including all of them in your story will bring in that third dimension. The only exception, of course, is if your main character is missing a sense for whatever reason. I.E. he is blind, deaf, etc, and then your story will contain at least some elements of how his other senses compensate for the missing one. In either case, though, the senses still need to be there.

There’s another bonus to this as well: it will add another dimension to your character. I’ve written countless exercises where my main character performs a mundane task, and I focus on bringing out what he notices and how it affects him. I hate the smell of stargazer lilies, but I know people who love it. It baffles me, but these differences in taste are what make us individuals. Including details like this give my characters a chance to show themselves, round them out, and help my readers better understand them.

It’s a difficult thing to do because, as writers, we have to consciously pay attention to how our brains process our senses, and then we have to imagine how our characters’ brains will process their senses. It requires taking a step back from ourselves and analyzing our experiences objectively. No easy feat. But, if you can figure out a way to do this, you’ll be well on your way to creating a 3-D character in a 3-D story.

Write one full page which only consists of a description of someone walking through a door.  Pay attention to the details around that person and use all five senses.

There are many mundane tasks your character can do in writing exercises like this, and I recommend trying as many as possible. I’ve just included one in this exercise, but feel free to change it to whatever you want. Or do multiple! If you feel up to it, include yours in the comments. We’d love to read them. :) I will be sharing one of mine next week…

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti

Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago—and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.
As Haven begins falling for Lucian, she discovers that these beautiful people are not quite what they seem. With the help of a mysterious book, she uncovers a network of secret passageways from the hotel’s jazz-age past that leads her to the heart of the evil agenda of Aurelia and company: they’re in the business of buying souls. Will they succeed in wooing Haven to join them in their recruitment efforts, or will she be able to thwart this devilish set’s plans to take the souls of her classmates on prom night at the hotel?

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It started out kind of slow and bumpy, not really feeling different from other YA stories out there. But, as the story progressed, my interest level cranked up notch after notch after notch. Especially with all the references to Capone and Chicago’s history.

I’m a Chicagoan, so I’m a sucker for any book set in this city. Some disappoint, but others, like this one, get it (more or less) right. The story takes place in The Lexington Hotel which, in reality, was torn down in the eighties. But, in Haven’s world, it’s been restored and reopened under new management. The hotel’s nightclub is called The Vault, named after the actual vault in the basement that supposedly belonged to Capone. The Outfit refers to the Capone’s gang, which grew after his incarceration and spread across the country. And, there is a private dining room called Alcatraz, where Capone served some of his time, complete with a jail cell and everything. I found all of this fascinating, and even did some more reading on the history of my own city. :)

Anyway, back to Haven… I wasn’t all that taken with her in the beginning of the story. She didn’t seem unique, and the gay-best-friend-thing has been done to death. But she grew on me. The more I got to know her, the more I liked her: her work ethic, desire to help others, sweetness, nervousness, desire to please, her driving need to be the best she can be. These are all wonderful traits and I really connected with her through them. The more I read about her, the more I wanted to read about her. Note: she is kind of a goody-two-shoes, so if that’s not your thing then you might not like her as much. But I found her personality to be refreshing.

I absolutely loved the romance. I can’t stand instalove, or love triangles, and this book has neither. She is swept off her feet by the charming, swoon-worthy hot guy, but then she gets to know him and her feelings change. Then, she grows to care for the nice guy. Yay! There aren’t many YA books that do this, and I commend the author for it. It’s not hot and steamy, but it is realistic. And awesome. Oh, and there’s no contrived tension because one person kept some information from the other person, or because one person misunderstood the other and then stomped off before an explanation is given. Fantastic!

There’s just one piece of information we get at the end that seems completely out of character for Lance, but, given the fabulousness of everything else between them, I could overlook it.

There were a couple things, though, that I wish had been better. The first was that Haven didn’t visit Joan very much. They live too close for this. I actually would have found it more believable if Haven would have moved to Chicago from another city, and then she’d have been trapped at the hotel because she wouldn’t know anyone or anything else. But Joan is only an hour away, so I can’t see her not going to visit.

In that same vein, the passage of time felt clunky during parts of the story. This, in turn, made the pacing feel off—but this was mostly toward the beginning. As we get closer to the end, things pick up and there are fewer clunky passages. The ending was fast and fun, but it was also predictable because we figured out what Haven was about halfway through the book, but it seemed to take her a lot longer. I would have liked to see higher stakes toward the end, involving both Haven and her loved ones, and then no one would have been able to tear the book from my white-knuckled fingers. :)

Even with the flaws, though, I still enjoyed this book immensely and am looking forward to the next one.

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

Monday, March 05, 2012

Writing Exercises for Writer’s Block

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I just can’t make headway on my current WIP. For whatever reason, whenever I sit down to work on it, my brain comes to a screeching halt. There could be a zillion reasons for it—my subconscious needs to work out a few more details, I’m tired, certain ideas need to ‘gel’ in my head, I’m frustrated, something feels ‘off,’ etc. There’s another word for this: Writer’s Block.

When this happens, it’s easy to scream and stomp away from your desk, muttering about how you can never get anything done when you actually sit down to write. Or, you can do something else.

When I feel like I’m stuck, I pull out my trusty list of writing exercises. Each time I work on one of these, I do something completely different with it—new characters, new situations, new settings, etc. And, most importantly, I don’t care what kind of quality comes out of it. I can spend thirty minutes writing the biggest pile of crap anyone has ever seen in the writing universe, and I don’t care because no one is ever going to see it. That said, I have had some great ideas come out of it, and then of course it evolves into much higher quality. :)

Anyway, I thought I’d share my favorites with you. 

  • You wake up at the hospital and have no idea who you are. What are you thinking, feeling? And what do you plan on doing next?
  • Create a character with an odd phobia, then put your character in a situation where it arises.  Show us how he/she handles it.
  • Write a page or two of a childhood memory, using all five senses.
  • Write a short story from the perspective of your pet.  How does he view you and your family?  How will you bring his personality to light?
  • You’re taking a walk in the forest and a strange creature jumps out at you. What is it, and what do you do?
  • You're in high school and your dad comes home to find his lawnmower destroyed. How did this happen?

If you're so inclined, feel free to share your efforts in the comments. Who knows, maybe I’ll even share some of my ramblings…the legible ones, anyway. :) Enjoy!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

March Book Giveaway!

It's March! Spring is almost here! Well, it's supposed to be, anyway. This winter has been so weird that who knows what will happen.

Anyway, I've got three ARCs to give away this month. Yes, three. :)

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti
Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago—and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.
As Haven begins falling for Lucian, she discovers that these beautiful people are not quite what they seem. With the help of a mysterious book, she uncovers a network of secret passageways from the hotel’s jazz-age past that leads her to the heart of the evil agenda of Aurelia and company: they’re in the business of buying souls. Will they succeed in wooing Haven to join them in their recruitment efforts, or will she be able to thwart this devilish set’s plans to take the souls of her classmates on prom night at the hotel?

Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler
Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex...and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be.

After the Snow by S.D. Crocket
The oceans stopped working before Willo was born, so the world of ice and snow is all he's ever known. He lives with his family deep in the wilderness, far from the government's controlling grasp. Willo's survival skills are put to the test when he arrives home one day to find his family gone. It could be the government; it could be scavengers--all Willo knows is he has to find refuge and his family. It is a journey that will take him into the city he's always avoided, with a girl who needs his help more than he knows.

To enter, fill out the form below then come back on Saturday, March 31st to see if you've won. Good luck!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though- she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.
But everything she's ever worked for is threatened when Ty Greeen moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he's also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan's feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart's on the line?

I love reading about kids in sports. Any kind of sports. This story is about a girl who’s a starting quarterback on her high school football team. Quite impressive! I loved Jordan and was rooting for her from page one.

The dynamic between Jordan and Henry is really well done. They are clearly best friends and completely comfortable with each other. I also liked how everything changes when Ty enters the picture. Everything felt realistic. Jordan’s mental shift was highly entertaining to watch—how she wants to look more feminine for Ty and hasn’t a clue how to go about it. Awesome! Also, I’m not a fan of love triangles, but this one was handled exceptionally well.

I also liked Jordan’s parents. Her dad is a pro football player and doesn’t handle Jordan’s playing very well because he’s afraid she might get hurt. But her mom is extremely supportive and goes to all her games. It was lovely to see good parents in a YA story (that doesn’t happen very often).

I was glued to these pages and finished this book in one sitting. As Jordan’s life turns upside down from Ty, Henry, and the University of Alabama, I *had* to know how it was all going to turn out. I love how Jordan goes from confident to completely doubting herself to confident again. I remember going through times like these as a teenager, and I think many of today’s teenagers can relate.

If you liked Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock, this is definitely the book for you.