Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and then I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing
Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most important, will it get me girls -especially Aleah?
So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah's house in the night. But deep down I know I can't run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop.

I have been meaning to write this review for a long time. I read this book months ago and loved it. Felton is such a great character, real and typical teen boy. Reading about his growth spurt reminded me of my own boys (who are growing like weeds) and I’m wondering what puberty will be like for them.

Anyway, Felton went from tiny to titanic seemingly overnight, eating everything in sight, and then the football coach noticed how fast he could run and recruited him. On top of it all, his best friend Gus went to Caracas for the summer, leaving him with his other best-friend-who-really-isn’t-a-friend, and a really hot girl rents Gus’s house while he’s gone. His mom isn’t exactly stable and hasn’t gotten over the death of Felton’s father (ten years ago), and his brother practically has a mental breakdown. Basically, his whole life has been turned upside down. Everything Felton has perceived to be true suddenly isn’t, and he has to relearn who he is, who his friends are, and how to function in his family.

These are extraordinary circumstances, but I think teens experience this through ordinary things. So, they will be able to relate in a big way. Felton feels like a real teen boy with real thoughts and feelings and is a natural at denial (as are many teens). The story is funny and engaging, and I read it in a day. It's about football, but you don't need to be a football fan. I'm not, and I loved it.

If you like books about teens who feel authentic and real, this is for you. Definitely recommended. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Winner of the May Book Giveaway

Happy Memorial Day!

Sorry this is a couple days late. It's been a busy weekend. So I'll just get right to the winners.

The winner of prize pack #1 is...

Nancy Luebke!!!

The winner of prize pack #2 is...

Inna Zelmanova!!!

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 next month!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Night She Disappeared by April Henry

Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part time as a delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza. One night, Kayla—another delivery girl—goes missing. To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. Gabie can’t move beyond the fact that Kayla’s fate was really meant for her, and she becomes obsessed with finding Kayla. She teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together, they set out to prove that Kayla isn’t dead—and to find her before she is.

Interesting way to tell this story. There are a whole bunch of viewpoints, but I think the intended main characters are Gabie, Drew, and Kayla. It kind of worked.

The beginning is fascinating, compelling, and impossible to put down. I really liked all the official-like documents and transcripts introduced. It’s great to see everything that’s going on in the search for Kayla, as well as who is involved and who is suspected. And, in the very beginning, it’s not clear what’s going to be relevant info and what’s not. It keeps the reader guessing, which keeps us reading. I loved that.

As the story progresses, though, it becomes obvious that much of the info we’re getting isn’t relevant, like the autopsy report and the interview with Elizabeth Lamb. We were getting too much information at that point, including a few perspectives from the killer. As a result, I muttered to myself on multiple occasions for the story to ‘get on with it already.’ A good mystery plants real and fake clues, but the reader can’t figure out which is which until the very end. And that’s when we see the real clues and go ‘Ohhhh, that’s what that clue was about!’ I didn’t get that sense here. And, the action at the very end wasn’t as suspenseful as it could have been because I kept yelling at Drew and Gabie to just call the cops already.

Drew and Gabie were interesting characters. They felt very real with how they were dealing with Kayla’s disappearance, but sometimes Gabie felt over-the-top. I understand it would be hard to wrap her head around the fact that she was the original target, but still. Some of the things she does are kind of crazy. Kayla’s perspective was probably the most interesting because we see the path she goes on, from her initial fear to resigning herself to do whatever she needs to do in order to escape. That felt very real, and I rooted for her to survive.

For me, the story started out great, but then sort of fizzled into information overload and predictability. I think that if the story had been streamlined a bit more with less obvious red-herrings, this would have been a fantastically strong mystery. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quotes From Famous Writers

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

Success is spelled W - O - R - K.
- Robert Schuller

No one ever committed suicide while reading a book, but many have tried while trying to write one.
- Robert Byrne

What we want is a story that starts with an earthquake and builds to a climax.
- Samuel Goldwyn

It requires more than mere genius to be an author.
- Jean De La Bruyere

The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.
- Mark Twain

The greatest part of a writer´s time is spent in reading; in order to write, a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
- Samuel Johnson

Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing... the rest will follow.
- Jane Yolen

Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.
- P.G. Wodehouse

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

Eighty-five percent of what goes on in a novelist's head is none of his business.
- Stephen King

The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.
- John Steinbeck

If you don't like my book, write your own.
If you don't think you can write a novel, that ought to tell you something.
If you think you can, do. No excuses.
If you still don't like my novels, find a book you do like.
Life is too short to be miserable.
If you like my novels, I commend your good taste.
- Rita Mae Brown

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Torrent by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Gabi and Lia Betarrinihave learned to control their time travel, and they return from medieval Italyto save their father from his tragic death in modern times.   But love calls across the centuries, and thegirls are determined to return forever—even though they know the Black Plagueis advancing across Europe, claiming the lives of one-third of the population.

This is the third bookin the River of Time series: Waterfall, Cascade, and Torrent. I thoroughlyenjoyed the first two books, and this one did not disappoint. 

The story hits theground running, right where Cascade left off, and Bergren is masterful withpacing. This book had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, and Istayed up reading *way* too late because I didn’t want to put it down. Actually,because I *couldn’t* put it down. :)

Gabi has gone back intime in order to try to save her father. That is, to try to bring him back intime to 14th century Italy, where Marcello lives. That’s how thestory opens. Since the story is all about what’s happening in 14thcentury Italy, we know Gabi will successfully bring her father there. Thequestion is, how will he handle it?

It was lovely to seeGabi’s family together again. A chance to see her mother happy, to have herfather back, to feel whole again. Those aspects came through well. Initially,Dad reacts as expected: confused and stunned, but then he sort of takeseverything in stride. I kind of wished it would have been harder for him,especially when he learns his daughters are heroes, which also makes them a bigol’ target for the enemy. I wish he’d had a harder time with this.

The rest of the storyis a rip-roaring adventure that is relentless and gripping. I could not tear myeyes away, even when the clock ticked on past 3am. Gabi and Marcello are justas fabulous as always, though they had some friction from their differentcultural backgrounds. This was a good thing. :) I liked how Bergren introducedit, and subsequently dealt with it. I also liked how Gabi starts to crack underthe strain of all the drama from everything that’s happened since she found thetomb. The reader has gotten a break between books, but Gabi hasn’t, and itshows.

This trilogy is greatfun with a good, strong main character. Definitely recommended. There are somenovellas coming out that continue this story, the first called Bourne and thesecond Tributary. I haven’t read them yet, but I will! I love the characters andI love the story. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

What Main Characters and Authors Have In Common

I’ve always been a plot-writer. When I get ideas, it’s almost always in the form of some incident or object, and then the character appears later. As a result, they were never as fleshed out as they should have been. I used to read that way, too, not caring so much for the characters as long as something exciting was happening. But I’ve grown to appreciate a robust, realistic character in the past few years, and that has extended to my writing.

However (and that’s a BIG however), that doesn’t mean I had an epiphany and could suddenly write these amazing characters. It just means I knew I needed to write them, so I set out to figure out how. And I discovered that I was far better at writing minor characters than main characters. It seems completely backwards, and it’s taken a long time to figure out why that is. But I think I’ve finally clued in to something…

I think most main characters are a huge reflection of the author. Yes, all the characters come from the author, and the minor characters might have fewer shared traits, but there are shared traits. The main character might not even share many traits with the author, but I think there is one thing that’s almost always in common: how they see the world.

I’ve always been the wallflower—on the outside looking in, watching people and seeing how they work, what makes them tick, how their paths will lead to either success or disaster, etc. I’ve always been too shy to be part of a group, so I observed instead. And, let me tell you, you can get some pretty deep insights into people when you spend so much time doing this. I feel that I understand people pretty well, and I can translate that understanding into subtle body language or tone of voice in my minor characters.

But what about the main character? Unless the story is being told in third person omniscient, there is no one observing him. We are in his head and can hear his innermost thoughts, fears, biases, etc, on an intimate level. But is that enough? Well, as I’m discovering, it isn’t.

Which brings us back to how the author and main character see the world. As I said before, I think I see people pretty well, but I don’t have a clue how they see me. They could see my shyness as a quiet sophistication, or they could think I’m snobby. I have no idea. And this is how my main characters see the world, too. They see others clearly, but they don’t have the first inkling how the world sees them. Depending on the story, that could still work. BUT, the author should know how the world sees them because it impacts the story, even on the tiniest level. And sometimes that tiny bit is what brings a book from good to great.

In order to compensate for this, I’ve created a set of exercises to add to my character worksheets. I take all the minor characters (who have significant roles in the story) and write a journal entry, from  their perspective, about what they think of the main character. Some really interesting things have come out of this, and it allowed me to add a bit more depth to my main character.

Have you ever done anything like this? How does your main character see the world, and how to you compensate for his/her shortcomings?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

Gabby lived under the radar until her makeover. Way under. But when she started her senior year as a blonder, better-dressed version of herself, she struck gold: Billy Nash believed she was a the flawless girl she was pretending to be. The next eight months with Billy were bliss...Until the night Gabby woke up on the ground next to the remains of his BMW without a single memory of how she got there.
And Billy's nowhere to be found.
All Gabby wants is to make everything perfect again. But getting her life back isn't difficult, it's impossible. Because nothing is the same, and Gabby's beginning to realize she's missed more than a few danger signs along the way.
It's time for Gabby to face the truth, even if it means everything changes.
Especially if it means everything changes.

I think this is a book that readers will either love or hate, mostly because of Gabby. Her voice leaps from the page and we get a good sense of why she does what she does, thinks what she thinks, and feels what she feels. This is most definitely her story, so if you don’t like her then you won’t like the story. Keeping that in mind, here are my thoughts.

I didn't particularly like her. I understood her actions and the motivation behind them, as well as how her family life drove some of that. I just disagreed with them on a fundamental level. If Gabby and I were to meet on the street, we wouldn’t be friends because we are too different. However, I can see teens connecting with her and completely sympathizing with her situation. As a teen, I probably would have loved this book for many reasons.

In other aspects of the story, the pacing could have been a little quicker. The beginning spends a lot of time with her in the hospital dealing with her injuries and her mother’s determination to make her beautiful again. It wasn’t until page 100 or so before I felt like the story had really started moving.

The injuries themselves were done fairly well, which often isn’t the case. She heals a little too quickly, but it's only noticeable when she specifically mentions the passage of time. This isn't often, so it’s easy to overlook. The big reveal at the end, however, is a different story. I didn’t find it especially surprising or believable. From very early on, I could see what was really going on with Billy. I can understand why Gabby didn’t, but it was difficult for me to sympathize with this kind of blind infatuation for so much of the book.

Honestly, this just wasn't my cup of tea, but I think teen girls will identify in a big way.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Articles on Writing Process

I've created another PDF to add to the list. This one contains a bunch of articles on the process of writing. Here's what it includes:

Getting Started
Finding Your Process
First Drafts
Writer's Block
When Are You Done?

You can download it here. Enjoy!!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

May Book Giveaway!!

Another month, more books! And, just like last week, I've got two prize packs to choose from.

Prize Pack #1
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

ARC of The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell
Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancĂ©, seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. There she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.

Prize Pack #2
ARC of Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Galen is the prince of the Syrena, sent to land to find a girl he’s heard can communicate with fish. Emma is on vacation at the beach. When she runs into Galen—literally, ouch!—both teens sense a connection. But it will take several encounters, including a deadly one with a shark, for Galen to be convinced of Emma’s gifts. Now, if he can only convince Emma that she holds the key to his kingdom . . .

ARC of Ladies In Waiting by Ms. Laura L. Sullivan
Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth. Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart. Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting. And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.

To enter, fill out the form below, then come back on Saturday, May 26 to see if you've won. Good luck!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Slide by Jill Hathaway

Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.
Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.
Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.
Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.

The premise of this story had me hooked from the start. The idea that someone can slide into someone else and view life through his perspective is fascinating. Plus she accidentally witnesses a murder? Fabulous! I happily settled in to read more, and finished the book in a day.

I liked Vee, but I would have preferred to feel closer to her. I wish we could have gotten more about why she thinks Sliding happens to her, where it comes from, how it happens, etc. I can do that on my own as a reader, but I wanted to know her thoughts. I loved how close she and her sister became, though. That doesn't happen often in YA and it was refreshing to see.

The story kept the mystery quite well and I kept guessing right up until the end. Unfortunately, the end wasn't as satisfying as I hoped. It felt a bit anticlimactic, even convenient. A few obvious clues were overlooked and a few red herrings were debunked too early. Then the final resolution felt too easy. Also, Dad's terrible secret didn't feel so terrible once we got to the end. So, really, it felt like it started off with a bang but then sort of fizzled out.

Apparently, there is a sequel scheduled to come out next year, so I am hoping more will be explored with Vee’s sliding. And I hope the resolution has a bit more oomph to it.