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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Review - The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Amazon summary:
Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim... --Brangien Davis -

After seeing Joann's review of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I decided to review another banned memoir, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The Glass Castle was challenged at the William S. Hart Union High School District in Saugus, Calif. (2009) as required summer reading for the honors English program citing profanity, criticisms of Christianity, and accounts of sexual abuse and prostitution. The decision was that students would have the option of alternative assignments. As Joann says, how can a true account of someone's life be banned??? That's like pretending it never happened, and honestly, I just don't understand it. How is that high school kids, HONORS high school kids, are not old enough or mature enough to read about abuse and neglect? Are these parents living under a rock? The US poverty rate last year was 14.3%. According to a CNN report, 1 in 50 children is homeless in the United States every year. This is something that could be happening to the person sitting next to these students in homeroom. Granted most homeless children don't face the things that Walls chronicles in her memoir, but to a certain extent I think that many children could relate to the things Walls talks about. I know that I did.

My sister gave me this book 3 years ago, saying that Wall's father reminded her a lot of my dad. I thought, oh, that sounds like a good read. Then I read it and thought, 'um, Alecia, are you kidding me?' The father in this book is an alcoholic, a bum. He neglects his children and at one point, yes, he even pimps his daughter (she doesn't actually go through with it, so you can relax on that one). Reading this book I thought to myself, how exactly is this person like my father? My dad never drank, though his own father was an alcoholic so there was certainly precedent. He always tried to get work, and he always tried his best to provide for us kids. But then I thought about it some more. Despite his short (SHORT) comings, Wall's father was a highly intelligent man, teaching his kids to read and leaving them with dreams of a "Glass Castle". And in that sense, he was very much like my father. My dad has a sixth grade education, and yet he always encouraged us kids to work hard in school. College wasn't an option, it was a necessity. And brilliant? My dad loves to invent things. He holds about 10 patents on various carpentry tools he's made throughout the years. Nothing has ever come of them, but I greatly admire his creativity and ability to dream and never give up. So even though my father is a better man than Wall's in many respects, my sister was right. I did relate to Walls. I could see how much she loved her father despite the hardships she endured and more importantly, I understood that.

At the same time, I thought to myself, ye gads! If I had a life like Walls had growing up, I'd be full of resentment and hatred for my parents. I don't think I'd have it in me to forgive. But Walls does. Not only that but she's able to look back on it AND WRITE ABOUT IT. Let me tell you, memoirs are probably the hardest type of writing there is. It's facts. It's facts about you, your life. And if it's full of self-pity, hatred and loathing, then no one is going to enjoy it. If it's told in a ho-hum, boring voice, then it's not going to resonate with readers. A memoir has to be written with a certain amount of separation, but at the same time it must adhere to the standard of being entertaining. Talk about pressure! Even with vampires, fairies, angels and genies in my hands, I have a hard enough time. But to talk about something that personal and still be able to entertain an audience? I give anyone who is able to do that a lot of credit.

Which brings me to my final point about book banning. A lot of people might think that book challenges aren't valid if they don't result in some sort of action, but let me tell you, they are. Censure takes many forms and when books like The Glass Castle are challenged, somewhere out there, it silences a story. It takes guts to write and put yourself out there to people. It takes guts of steel to put out a memoir. Many don't do it for the reason of not knowing how to handle those who might criticize them. Hearing these stories of how books and memoirs in particular are banned can hammer that final nail into the memoir's coffin. I am so glad that Walls had the courage to write The Glass Castle. It enriched my life and gave me a new appreciation of my childhood that I may have had, but didn't necessarily break apart piece by piece. I loved reading it as an adult, but if someone had given me this book as a teen, I would have thanked them over and over again.

Final word - I've been laying in the murky waters of revisions again, but I promise to do more reviews of banned books over the next few days. And remember to leave me links to your reviews and blog posts about Banned Books Week in order to enter my contest!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Contest quickies

No, i don't spend ALL my time looking for contests - just like 10-15 minutes or so, and really I just want to remind you of MY Banned books week contest going on right now - click picture to the right. Not a whole lot of entries so far, so you know....

Anyway, here are some other contests you should check out.

Sparkling Reviews is having a Box of Books giveaway!! where she(?) is promising the winner a box of books, guaranteed to include at least 5 books. Oooo, I wanna win this one! This one sounds awesome.

Sarah Enni is giving away a signed copy of Mockingjay. This one is easy to enter and even though I already have the book, I'd LOVE to have a signed copy.

La Femme readers always has some good giveaways going on.

Cheyenne has been having some fun contests - up for grabs now The Duff and The Sky is Everywhere. She's super cool.

Finally Story Siren has a long list of contests you can enter!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

National Banned Books week and a Contest!!

Wow, did you know that September is the month that book banners unleash their narrow-minded opinions? I did not know this, you know, me thinking that October is the month when all nasties crawl out of the woodwork. You can imagine my shock and surprise to hear about the recent article denouncing one of my favorite YA books, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.

In the article, Wesley Scroggins, a professor at Missouri State University and an affiliate of Reclaiming Missouri for Christ, calls Speak the equivalent of soft porn and deems it as unsuitable for our children. Um, excuse me? Since when is rape considered pornographic? Pornography is the use of sexual images or descriptions to elicit sexual excitement. If Mr. Scroggins was aroused reading the rape scenes in Speak, then he's well... mentally disturbed. Mr. Scroggins also talks about other things in the book in a way that is so mistaken I almost started laughing. Almost, because unfortunately Mr. Scroggins was serious about everything he says. Now, Mr. Scroggins is certainly entitled to have his own opinions about the book, laughable though they are. The problem comes when well-meaning parents read an article like this, take it to the school board and then the book gets pulled from the library shelves or curriculum. Book banning is an unnecessary evil. It's egotistical for people to think they should have any say in what another person should be reading. It's a violation of our First Amendment rights. And frankly, it ticks me off, especially when books as astounding as Speak become victims. I hope that as writers and readers, it ticks you off too.

Which brings me to the more exciting part of this post. Next week is national Banned Books Week, and to promote this worthy cause, I've decided to have a little contest. Yeah, I know I just had a contest, but I couldn't help myself. There are three ways you can earn entries for the contest and you can decide to do one, two or all three! Five points each.

1. Read a book from the banned book list below or on the flyer here. In the comments section, tell me about the book you read.

2. Write a blog post about book banning or the Speak article. You can read the original article here. And Laurie Halse Anderson's response here. She has some great ideas about what you can do to help her nip this thing in the bud before it has a chance to become an actual book banning.

3. Write a review about a banned book. It can either be the one you read for #1 or one you've read in the past, just be sure to mention the controversy surrounding the book.

If you decide to do #2 or #3, leave a link in the comments section so that your entry(ies) will count.
The prize is your choice from a book on the list below or on the flyer. Banned Book Week runs from Sept 25th until October 2nd, but I'll extend the contest until October 4th to give an extra weekend to read your books. And I will leave open the option of ordering the book from The Book Depository, so international readers may apply!!

Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009. Out of 460 challenges as reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom

1. “TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality

3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

There are more banned books listed in this flyer for you to choose from, including The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian (which I adored), Twisted (another one from LHA) and lots more that you will be familiar with (even Twilight if you can believe it!).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rock Kitty has a message

Rock kitty

Rock Kitty here with a message from Angie. She says that while some of you didn't make the cut-off she loves blogging too much to actually blow up her computer.

*noise in the background*

She also says that she never intended to do so anyway, it was just her way of being sneaky.

*Speak a little louder, I can't hear you. No, I won't take off the headphones. Oh, REALLY, hey that's pretty cool!*

She just told me that she was trying to find out what book a particular friend of hers would like to have. She says that this friend has been a constant source of support both in her writing and personal life in the past six months and she just wanted to say thanks.

*Who's the friend? Mellymel? Aw, she's one terrific gal!*

Hey Mel, Angie wants you to know that you should be looking for a package in the mail on Tuesday.

*Ok, now you're busting up my reception, are you almost done?*

She wants Mel to know that her comment was a little confusing, but she finally decided on Katherine Cash's Fire.

*give me back my headphones! I did say Cashore! No, music is good for kitty ears!*

*big bangs in the background*


*hiss, hiss, Reewoww*

*evil kitty chuckle*

*Serves you right. Never mess with Rock Kitty's headphones. What's that? Oh, fine. One last message.*

Angie says this flash quiz was pretty fun, and she wishes she could give all of you surprises like this, but she's just not that rich. But she does want you to know, YOU ROCK!!!


Friday, September 17, 2010

What book would you buy?

QUICK!  You have thirty seconds to tell me what book you're dying to get your hands on. Currently on the market. If you don't answer this question, this blog will self destruct and I won't be responsible for the mess.


BEEEEEEPPPPP!!! Times out.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Look ma, no "look"

 So I'm back to revising mode and not exactly diving in with a lot of grace. Something is sort of... off. During my vacation from writing, I stayed up 'til 11 or 12 reading, writing blog entries, even tidying up my other manuscript a bit. I was keeping up the same schedule, but still when I started going through revisions once more on Sunday night, I only got about an hour into it before...ZONK! My head hit the computer (trust me, not good when you get a big line of j's running through your manuscript). I could barely keep my eyes open, and the same thing happened the next night, and the next. I don't know what's up with that. I'm hoping it was just the task I was doing- eliminating overuse of the word "look" was too mundane or something.  Anywho, I've decided to talk about those revisions I did over the past few days and illustrate how to decide when to keep this word and when to eliminate it.

1.When "look" is a part of the dialogue. Usually in this instance it's ok to keep the word because people use it in their speech all the time. 
An example from NW: “She looked tired when she got home last night so I didn’t get into it with her.” 
Now it would sound pretty silly for Nikki's mother to say, "She appeared tired..." because people jsut don't talk that way. Possibly she could have said "She seemed tired" but that would imply that more had gone on than her mother just glancing at her, and I didn't want to give the indication that they had interacted at all, so I just kept the looked.

2. When "look" is used to describe an action that is taking place. 
Example: I looked down at the napkin he’d been ripping, now a pile of dust. 
In this case, you can substitute looked for a more descriptive verb such as peered, glanced, gazed. Others to consider that don't work so well in this instance, but you should still keep in mind : squinted, leered, gaped, gawked, peeped, ogle, searched, watched. Or, if you don't want to substitute, you can try re-arranging the sentence or put something entirely different in its place. I did this a lot in this round of revisions because it seemed like almost every other sentence I had people looking up, looking down, looking to the side or looking away. Sometimes it's better to just eliminate these types of sentences and force yourself to find new things for your characters to do instead of always "looking". 

3. When "look" is used to describe someone or their expression. 
Example: “Yes, but Maxine…” He looked disturbed, though not as much as I felt.  
This is one instance where the word look should definitely be replaced because this is a clear instance of telling rather than showing. This is how I changed it, and I might still play with it some, but you get the idea. “It’s not that I don’t want to,” he said, twisting his hands together. He lifted his head toward the stairs. Here we get the idea that Sam may be nervous or disturbed without having to actually say it. 

In summary, I started out with 276 instances of look or looked in my manuscript, and by the time I was done I had cut that number in half, and most surprising, I didn't even increase my word count. Amazing! If you've noticed I have a little poll going on up at top, and I'd love it if you would participate. If you have any other suggestions on what I should blog about, I'd appreciate it!!

P.S. Sorry for all the goofiness with the fonts - Blogger doesn't like it when you cut and paste. Darn Blogger!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review - Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Goodreads summary: Sixteen year old Gemma is kidnapped from Bangkok airport and taken to the Australian Outback. This wild and desolate landscape becomes almost a character in the book, so vividly is it described. Ty, her captor, is no stereotype. He is young, fit and completely gorgeous. This new life in the wilderness has been years in the planning. He loves only her, wants only her. Under the hot glare of the Australian sun, cut off from the world outside, can the force of his love make Gemma love him back? The story takes the form of a letter, written by Gemma to Ty, reflecting on those strange and disturbing months in the outback. Months when the lines between love and obsession, and love and dependency, blur until they don't exist - almost. 

Have you ever wanted to visit a country or a particular city because of a book you've read or a movie you've seen? This happens to me A LOT. I have a very strong desire to see Italy because of Mario Puzo's The Godfather and Anne Rice's Cry to Heaven. New Orleans? Yep, that was Anne's fault too. Elvis got me hooked on Hawaii, and as for Africa, well, I have a college professor and lion researcher to thank for that one. Now there's a new place to add to my list. Australia. 

Unlike Ty from Stolen, I have no desire to actually live in the Sandy Desert, but to visit... now that I could handle. I love books that take me to places I've never been and allow me to become so immersed in that world that I feel like I have to see it for myself. Stolen is one of those books. The desert sands, the flora, the fauna, the hot, hot days and the cold nights. Seeing so many stars you feel like you're sleeping under a blanket of sparkling lights. And the solitude. The silence. Christopher took me there - and... *weeps a bit* I want to go back!!

I got the feeling that Gemma does too, and that's the really startling thing about this book. Gemma (God, I love that name) gets kidnapped by Ty, a guy who's kind of gorgeous, very lonely, obviously a little screwed up, and doesn't want anything except Gemma's love. Gemma is a little out of place with her friends, feels a bit like a third wheel where her parents are concerned, and like any young girl is eager for some attention. Mix the two together and you have the perfect ingredients for a YA Stockholm syndrome which Lucy Christopher pulls off like a seasoned pro - even though this is her debut novel. The characterization is exceptional, and I loved, loved the ending because it emblazoned the characters into my mind. I won't give away what happens, but I can tell you it was not what I expected. Or wanted. It was real. It was gooood.

Other things that I loved about the book:

1. The camel. I know you're thinking, what?? But yeah, I have a thing for them. They just seem like such lovable, docile creatures, and it's so unique to see a camel in a YA story. Nomes is probably shaking her head at me right now, but if you'd only ever seen cows grazing along the road you'd think it was kind of cool too. Although camel puke, ew, don't want to go there.

2. Ty's character. Yes, he was hot in a Crocodile Dundee fashion. Yes, I was sort of wishing that Gemma would put down her guard and just hug him, but Christopher also made him realistic. He gets mad. He gets a little nuts, just like you think a kidnapper should. And I loved that about him because this book isn't supposed to be about the girl falling for the psychopath and getting a happily ever after. We see way too much of that in YA these days (me be guilty of this- not the psychopath part, the happily ever after ). Ty was true to himself and it was refreshing and believable. Thumbs up to Christopher for making the hot guy a little unlikeable.

3. I can't leave this review without mentioning the point of view. Second person. Yikes! You have to have a reason for doing this POV, and you have to be able to do it well because it's very disconcerting. Christopher pulls it off. The format, Gemma writing a letter to Ty after the fact, fit in neatly. If you ever want to read a second person POV just for the experience, I'd recommend this book over any other. 

Final score: 5 stars.

And now, to entice you, some pictures I dug up that fit well with the book:

The camel:

This is sort of what I imagine the separates to look like.

The Sandy Desert.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who... Are....You?

This line from Alice in Wonderland's Hookah Smoking Caterpillar has had me thinking a lot lately. What am I talking about? Pen names. Looking back to about five years ago, the idea of actually publishing something was a dream that I never thought I could make happen, and while I'm not published yet, I feel that I'm much much closer to that reality today. Back then I had this crazy idea that I would probably use a pen name, and my reasoning went somewhere along the lines of being a little embarrassed about my writing, a little bit shy, and wondering what my friends and colleagues would think knowing I wrote YA lit. I wasn't very confident that I wanted everyone to know about this secret life. Then about a year or so ago, I finally felt as if my writing had made a great leap forward, and I started to see that I deserved credit for all the progress I had made. I started to imagine my real name, not some made up name, scrawled all over the front of my book. People I knew would see it and they'd go WOW! Angie's a writer! I imagined my parents pride when they saw their little girl actually having a book in Barnes and Noble. I was about 95% there with the going by my own name. (Ok, so maybe I'm putting the cart before the horse here, but every writer has this dream, don't they? If you can't imagine yourself being successful then I think you have a much bigger problem than learning good sentence structure and the horrors of adverbs).

Then, sadly, I read a post on agent Kristen Nelson's blog. Kristen talks about an interesting reason for using a pseudonym that I had never really paid too much attention to. Well, I'm paying attention to it now, and it has to do with web presence and how potential employers use that to their advantage when screening employees. We've all heard about how you shouldn't put pictures you don't want your boss to see on your blog, myspace, or facebook page or how you shouldn't send out damning twitter messages just in case your boss is reading. But I never thought about how that would apply when it comes to something you do professionally, like writing a book and marketing your book. This is something to be proud of, not something you should have to hide. But if you're still planning to work full time while you make a transition to full-time writer then it very well could be something you don't want your boss to know about.

Some falsehoods that people not familiar with the publishing industry assume:
1. You're making tons of money - why do you need this job anyway?
2. Writing is a full time commitment, and if you're more interested in spending your free time writing then you won't be spending that extra time thinking about your job.

Point 1 is obviously a falsehood, but employers don't know that. They think that every writer is making millions like Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer. When I mentioned to my sister a year ago that I was writing a book, the first thing she said was, 'oh, maybe you'll become a millionaire!'. Um, no. Sorry sis.

Point 2 I think is arguable depending on the field you're in. Not saying that it's fair, just that I understand where an employer's reasoning comes from. For scientists, it's almost imperative that you spend more than your allotted 40 hours a week in the lab *whispers: this is why I'm not that successful as a scientist*. And if your area of research is anywhere near the hot topics (cancer, stem cell research, etc), then you can bump that up to 60 hours a week, easy. I'm sure this is also the case for many other fields, and given the current economy, I wouldn't doubt that it factors into almost any employer's thought process. I mean, who would you rather hire - someone who has basically a second job that they already love and want to make into a full time career or someone who's available to put in extra hours for the company?

What all this leads to for me is the realization that I may have to take a pen name after all. I'll be leaving my current job in a year, and I certainly don't want to screw up my chances of getting hired. And well, on the sucktastic scale, this hits a good 10. I'll be querying soon and I was considering changing that anonymous picture up at the top there with my full name so that I could show I at least have the beginnings of a web presence. But now, I'm leaning more towards not. And yes, I'm sure that agents will understand why I'm choosing to remain anonymous for now, but it still bugs me. Instead of being rewarded for having creativity and the courage to put myself out there, I feel like I have to hide. Instead of getting credited for my accomplishments it's going to have to remain a secret - at least for now. I'm wondering if anyone else out there feels the same way? Do you have a pen name picked out? Do you feel that this is something you have to do, not that you want to do? What are your reasons?

And just because I know you're curious, I'm thinking of the name Kae Hughes. Kae is my middle name and Hughes is my great grandmother's maiden name or something like that. Kind of dull, but I can't really see myself as an Angelique Romiere.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vacation is over which means we have some winners!!

Yep, it's been three weeks since I set down Nikki's Wish, had it out to betas and just took a general break from writing. In that time, I read 7 books, did 2 beta reads and tried to work on my query (it's getting better). I also did about 5 pages of my synopsis which I'm pretty sure will have to all be deleted, but that's the way that goes and I wasn't expecting any better. I have more revisions to do over the next six weeks, but I can feel myself finally starting to wind down. Most everything will remain the same from here on out - no more serious plot changes which means I'm basically back to tightening and getting that word count down. I also plan to finally make my list of agents, and soon, I promise you'll be seeing that query letter on SYW. I'm anxious to get started, or finished that is, because I have the plot for my second book all lined up and I'm uber-excited about it.

Anyway, I know that you don't care about me so much as who won the contest. Every entry was given a number (so if you had 15 entries then you had 15 numbers assigned to you, etc) and then entered into you go:

Congratulations Jennie and Nomes!! Remember first prize was your choice of any book from the book depository and a 50 page LBL crit. Second prize was your choice of any book from the book depository. So, I'll be contacting both of you shortly to get addresses and such.

Thanks to everyone for entering the contest. Hope you all had a good weekend. Now, I'm off to get some coffee and start on those revisions. Toodles!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review - If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I know, I promised you all a trek into the outback, but sometimes a book compels me to talk, jabber, and run circles in my head, and this happened to me last night. So here is my review of the book that did this to me last night (why does that sound so perverse?). I hope this post compels you to give me your thoughts or pick up the book and then give me your thoughts, cuz as you'll see, I'm still kind of doing the head scratching thing.

Goodreads summary: In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck... A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

I had bought this book basically because I had seen it around and knew that many people had recommended it. I didn't know exactly what it was about because I just saw that it was on sale and said, 'eh, what the heck.' As a writer I kind of think it's good to do that once in a while because it gives you a slightly different perspective when you begin a book not knowing what it's about. Needless to say, the first chapter didn't do it for me. It was boring. It was full of telling. A family sitting around the kitchen table on a snow day and deciding what to do? Really? That's a compelling first chapter? I yawned. I put the book down. I went to go work on my synopsis - and if you've ever written a synopsis you have to know that's how bad I thought this beginning chapter was.

Two days later, I came back to the book. And the beginning of the second chapter was much like the first. I was checking things off in my head. Nope, wouldn't do that. Ack, more telling. How did this ever get an agent's attention? And then I got to the middle of chapter two and WHOA! things dramatically changed. Suddenly this family that I'd been kind of mute about was gone, and Mia was standing outside her body wondering if she was dead. I was gripped. I was choking on sadness and I DIDN'T PUT THE BOOK DOWN FOR 4 HOURS. Yep, I stayed awake until one this morning to finish it. My eyes are quite sore even now and I'll probably have to drink two cups of coffee to get through the day. 

Obviously the book had something about it that compelled me to keep reading. Let me say right now that it wasn't the events in the story. I mean, honestly there really isn't a whole lot in the way of plot to this book. Most of it is flashbacks of Mia remembering the people in her life, and some of that was just as boring as the first chapter. I like music. I like classical music. I played clarinet for 10 years, but Mia's droning on and on about how the cello sang to her and how she realized that's what she wanted to do with her life, got a little old by about the third time I heard it. And still, I was compelled to keep reading. I could tell you that the book kept me riveted because I was anxious to know what choice Mia would make at the end, but I can't even say that. I knew what her choice would be from the minute she stepped out of her body. And yet, I kept reading. And crying. At one point I thought of what it would be like to lose my kids, or for them to lose my husband and I, and I nearly started sobbing. I had a stuffy nose when I finally got to the last page.

So now I'm sitting here scratching my head and wondering what the deal was with this book. The writing was good, but not spectacular. The voice was ok, but not awesome. The characters were unique and I liked a lot of the personality quirks that Forman gave them. They felt real, but was that enough to warrant the emotion I felt from this book? I don't know. I repeat, I DON'T KNOW. Sometimes I felt that Mia's memories were kind of boring. I know they were there to let the reader connect with Mia and her family, but again I found myself skimming ahead to get to the scenes where Mia was back in the ICU with her body. So, again, I don't know that I'd say the characters really did it for me either. Maybe it was just the subject matter itself, the tragedy that Mia went through and the way she got through it in the end. I'm not going to make some broad sweeping statement here and say write about something tragic and it will draw readers. I don't believe that. And maybe I shouldn't be trying to dissect the book to figure out what was so special about it. Maybe it was just a good story. There are those books out there like that and this may be one of them. In any case, I'd be interested to hear what others have to say if they've read this book. Did the characters really stand out to you? Was that the gripping factor? Or are we all just suckers for a good tragedy? The way we all stand around to gawk at highway accidents, it really makes you wonder.

Final score: 5 Yeah, I know, I sound like I didn't like it much, but if a book makes me cry for two hours straight then it's got something going on.

P.S. I see that Forman has a sequel to this out. If anyone has read it, let me know what you thought.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Win the Duff - contest linky

Ok, quick post to promote a contest on agent, Joanna Volpe's blog because I want this book and I will be buying it if I don't win, but I want to win, so hey! Get on over there and enter. Or don't, cuz you know that will make it easier for me to win!!!  see how sneaky I am?

Ok, now scroll down and see my spider. :)


Ok, so there are some cool things about Minnesota, but what I find truly relaxing about the land of ten thousand lakes is the LACK of certain things. We're talking no scorpions, no tarantulas, no lizards, no alligators, no malaria-carrying mosquitoes, no hissing scorpions, no cobras, no pythons, no jellyfish or portuguese man-o-war. There are two types of venomous snakes which are isolated to the southeastern counties, and basically one, possibly two, potentially lethal spiders. The Northern Widow is a relative of the black widow, but I've never come across one. I've been told they like to hang out on the underside of the toilet seat in outhouses - which is why I never actually park my butt on the potty when I'm at my dad's cabin. Reports of the brown recluse are spotty, and I think some people have yet to figure out if they really exist up here or if they're just tag alongs that come in by chance.

This is why dear friends, when I spotted this little lady making a home among my sedums this past Monday, I gave myself only a minute to freak out. Angie talking in her head: there are only two poisonous spiders in Minnesota. There are only two poisonous spiders in Minnesota. There are only two poisonous spiders in Minnesota. Three repeats of this and I was confident enough to step closer and say, "ah, ain't she pretty?" And she is pretty. Still pretty freaky, considering that body is the size of my thumbnail, but pretty. I immediately dragged my nine year old son outside so he could see. "Now don't freak out," I told him. He saw it and backed two feet away. "Let's kill it," he said. "No, we're not going to kill it," I replied. "It's not going to hurt us. Isn't it pretty?" I was so proud of myself, me, the biologist mom showing her son how to be appreciative of nature's wonders and all. Then I let him go back in the house and proceeded with my gardening - steering clear of the sedums myself, of course.

Later, I asked my husband if Ethan told him about the spider. Our conversation:

Hubby: "Did you kill it?"

Me: "No, I didn't kill it."

Hubby: "Why not? There's some bug spray in the garage."

Me: "That stuff never works, it just chokes the insect and makes it mad."

Hubby: "But you should kill it. What if it gets in the house? It's going to turn cold soon, you know. It'll come into the house."

Me: "I've never seen a spider like that in the house. I think it's a garden spider."

Hubby: "But you don't know, do you? It could be poisonous. It could bite one of the kids."

Me: "The only poisonous spiders in Minnesota are black widows."

Hubby: "But you don't know for sure, do you?"

Me: rolls eyes.

Commence project identify an arachnid - otherwise known as proving the paranoid husband wrong. As a side note: I'm not sure why my husband is always the one to worry about the kids getting hurt. He panics about everything - falling tree branches, riding bikes, rollerblading, he won't even consider getting the boys a bunk bed. I'm the one to say, "eh, they're kids. Let 'em live a little." Weird huh, considering I'm the one with all the estrogen?

Anyway, it didn't take long before I figured out exactly what kind of spider I was dealing with. The bright yellow body and the way she sat upside down were good clues, but more telling was the zigzagging webbing pattern. My little gal is a common black and yellow garden spider, also known as an argiope. They show up in the fall and tend to die soon before or after the first freeze *sticks tongue out at hubby*. They're non-threatening to humans and are really good for the garden - though after all the mosquito bites I got on Monday she wasn't doing her job that well.

The point to all this? Well, there isn't one, except that was the most exciting thing to my weekend. I became a field biologist and identified a spider. My question to you, dear friends, what is the most frightening insect/snake/lizard/animal you've come across in the wild? And stay tuned tomorrow, I shall post a review about a book with a slightly more frightening setting - the Australian desert.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury for their final year of school, and everyone is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, talented and totally devoted to one another, the two of them drift through school in their own world. But there's more to the couple than meets the eye - they have secrets. And some of them are dangerous to share. As Riley starts to lose his grip on Amelia, the repercussions affect everyone around them. It is a spellbinding story about ghosts, secrets, madness, passion, locked doors, femme fatales, and that terrifying moment in the final year of high school when you realise that the future's coming to get you.

Written in alternating POVs in the form of letters, blog entries, and academic assays, Jaclyn Moriarty once again shows her unique form and style.  I had thought I had this English thing down pretty good, but after reading Moriarty, I'm humbled once again. An excerpt: 

They both had wet hair, only hers was brushed back into a long
ponytail. From behind, I could see that the ponytail was leaking:
Thin watershadows formed on her school shirt.
As I watched, he rubbed his hands over his head. He was friendly
and rough with his head, as if it were a dog. Now his hair stood up in
And then something happened.
She reached a hand toward him and he reached his hand toward
her, but his eyes found the eyes of strangers in the room. Their hands
almost touched but did not.
I saw cobwebs in the slender, empty space between those hands.

Cobwebs trailing between the lover's hands. *sigh* If only I could come up with something so poetic. Mind you, this is just an excerpt. The whole book has lines like that - enough to make you stop momentarily every few pages and re-read just to let the words sink in. This is writing to admire and learn from.
Now one of the reasons why I liked the characters in DOA so much is that they felt familiar to me. Emily, Lyd, Seb and a few others were in Moriarty's other book, The Year of Secret Assignments, so I kind of felt like I was visiting old friends. Dear, and wonderful old friends. I particularly love Emily - her colorful wit, her inability to spell correctly, and her unabashed looniness as she tries to convince everyone around her that Ashbury High has a ghost (and indeed it does). She's the kind of girl that I wish I'd had as a best friend - loyal, kind and oozing quirkiness like a melted Toblerone. My favorite scene with Emily has her writing up posts on her blog while eating not one, not two, but three pieces of chocolate cake! And then later we find out that she had two more pieces before she sat down to type! Yep, my kind of girl. But chocolate aside, the other characters are just as memorable. Lyd, Toby, and of course the stars of our show, Amelia and Riley, who aren't what you think they are, but then turn out to be more than who you think they are. One of the fallbacks to doing multiple POVs is re-writing scenes from a different perspective with each character. It can get tedious awful fast going through the same scene more than once, but with DOA I didn't see this problem at all. In fact, Emily's unreliability makes you stop and say, 'hey wait a minute, gf. I know you have everyone's best interests at heart here, but you must have misunderstood something.' And then you keep reading, just because you know Lyd is going to have a different take on it and then you can find out the real truth.  

Now in amongst all this character development is an actual story - who knew? Just kidding. Seriously though, the ghost story in this story is intriguing more than scary. Kind of like when you were a kid and you had those slumber party where you tried to scare everyone but you knew it was all just fun and games. That's the case with DOA, but then somewhere around the middle of the book you realize that the fun has a purpose (I'll leave you to read and figure out for yourself what I mean) and so you keep reading, becoming more and more intrigued with what's going on with these characters, and then in the end - BAMMO! The real ghosts show up. Ok, so I hope that was enough of a teaser to get you interested without saying too much. Really, it's pretty amazing how Moriarty manages to tie up all the threads of this book into one coherent plot. It kind of reminds me of Holes in a way (see review here), only more teenagery, more Australian (obviously) and of course, more gothic. 

After this glowing review, you're probably wondering if I found anything wrong with the book, and the answer is, well, not really. But at the same time, I don't feel compelled to give DOA a score of 5, and I blame that on myself more than on Moriarty. I've only read one other epistolary type novel (and that was also by Moriarty) in the past ten years, and I think if I had been more familiar with the format then I would have appreciated it more. Also, this is really a book where you need to devote yourself to finding a nice quiet spot (preferably on a dark and stormy night) and settle in for a good two hours to really get into it. I began it while cooking dinner in the middle of a noisy household and had to put it down several times. My bad. The end result was that I didn't know what was going on in the beginning. Moriarty kept handing me all these plot threads and saying, 'here, hold onto this, you'll see why it's important later'. And I, the busy reader, kept trying to weave them together how I thought they should fit, and I dropped a few, and I kept picking them back up, turning them over, and wondering why I was holding onto them. If I had just had a little more patience, I would have seen the pattern Moriarty was weaving before I finally did and I would have appreciated her method more. Now you might be saying to yourself, 'but Angie, it's the author's job to suck you into the story and keep everything straight, not yours.' And in most cases you would be right, but when I finished DOA and looked back at how the story was written, I can't really say that there was a better way to do it. I know that I would have enjoyed the story more if I had relaxed into it. Some books require a certain mindset before you go into them and DOA just happens to be one of them. So if you plan to read DOA, get yourself a cup of tea and find a quiet spot. Then settle in and let all of the different threads sit in your hands for awhile - don't do anything with them! When you see it all come together at the end you'll be glad you didn't waste your time getting exasperated by trying to figure out where all of this was leading and then you can lean back and say 'ahhhh brilliant!' You only get to experience a book for the first time once and after that you can re-read to savor those great lines, but it's not the same. So heed my advice, get the book, make the tea, and prepare to be wowed.  

Final score: 4 stars.

P.S. While I highly recommend DOA, I'd first suggest that you read The Year of Secret Assignments in order to familiarize yourself Moriarty's style and the characters.

P.S.S. As a little reminder, if you're interested in reading The Year of Secret Assignments, we're doing a little book chain. Click here for details.   

P.S.S.S.  Check out the sidebar for details about my first contest!! Deadline is coming up fast so get your entries in.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Covers - do you get sold on them?

While browsing online through the top YA sellers, I came across the new cover for Becca Fitzpatrick's second installment in the Hush Hush series. I love it. Not nearly as amazing as the Hush, Hush cover, but dang that girl got lucky in the art department. Now I have to say that I, as many people were, became sold on the cover of Hush Hush. I also have a fallen angel story tucked in the my trunk so, you know the intrigue was there and all. But it was really that cover that did it in for me. Unfortunately the book itself wasn't all that good; I gave it a 3 on my rating scale. And yet, here I find myself wanting that copy of Crescendo to stick next to Hush Hush on my bookshelf. How crazy is that? I'm wondering, am I alone? Do you ever buy books based solely on the covers?

Here are some more interesting covers that I came across. Notice anything, er, similar here? I have both Dreaming of Amelia and The Sky Always Hears Me, so when I saw this, I nearly started laughing. Now I've heard of two books having nearly the same cover, but three? And all pubbed recently in YA? In fact looking at the model for Amelia and the Mermaid, I'm tempted to say that's the same model.

All of this has me thinking of what kind of cover I want for my book, when the day comes - hey I can dream, right? I think I'd like something with a showy ladyslipper on it, to go with the Minnesota theme. Maybe a lake in the distance with a boat or a dock with Nikki sitting on the end. I've thought about going with a close up of either Nikki or Sam or both, but I really don't like putting specific faces to my characters. General characteristics are ok, but I'd rather leave some things to the reader's imagination. Of course, authors usually have little say in what their covers will look like, but maybe they'll like some of my ideas. What do you think, dear readers? Have you imagined what your book cover would look like?

Have a nice holiday weekend, and for any new followers, if you haven't signed up for the contest, please do so. There's only one week left to get your entries in.

And a few new contests:

1. Kara Mustafa is giving away some super cool books in celebration of having 100 + followers.
2. A new blog that I just visited, Punk Writer Kid by Emilia Plater, a new YA author is giving away many fabulous prizes - too many to list, but they all sound awesome, and her blog looks super cool. Deadline Sept 9.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review of Harmonic Feedback and picture reveal!

Morning blogger friends - first off,  I have a new review for you. Then at the end I'll reveal what my science picture from the day before was - so if you get bored with the review, skip to the end for the big reveal.

So after much thought I've decided to revise how I do my reviews. The problem for me is that I've read so many books over the past year and my thoughts on writing have developed so much that it's become difficult for me to separate a book that I love just for the story from a book that I love for the writing. I felt like I was repeating myself by doing it in two parts because it became so hard to distinguish the two. I still think there are books out there that are well done story-wise (the author is a great story-teller, aka Stephenie Meyers) that aren't written very well, and where this case applies I'll be sure to point it out. And I still plan to pick out the things that I think the author has done very well in regards to writing, but I'm going to try to mesh the two of them together more. 

The other thing is that after reading so many books, I think my standards have risen, and as a result, I'm going to have to be a lot more stingy about rewarding five stars. Books like The Hunger Games and The Book Thief are just in a class by themselves and deserve special recognition. A score of four stars is still a winner in my opinion, but it's just not as eye-popping as those fives. I'll be going through and adjusting some of my scores based on this so it's all consistent, but I probably won't go back to change those reviews that I've already written. 

And now, for a review of my favorite book that I've read so far this week (not including MJ), Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly. 

Goodreads summary:

Sixteen-year-old, music- and sound design-obsessed Drea doesn’t have friends. She has, as she’s often reminded, issues. Drea’s mom and a rotating band of psychiatrists have settled on "a touch of Asperger’s.”

Having just moved to the latest in a string of new towns, Drea meets two other outsiders. And Naomi and Justin seem to actually like Drea. The three of them form a band after an impromptu, Portishead-comparison-worthy jam after school. Justin swiftly challenges not only Drea’s preference for Poe over Black Lab but also her perceived inability to connect with another person. Justin, against all odds, may even like like Drea. 

It’s obvious that Drea can’t hide behind her sound equipment anymore. But just when she’s found not one but two true friends, can she stand to lose one of them?

I. Loved. This. Book. Whenever you come across books like these where the main character has a disorder, disability or something else unique about them, it automatically makes you think that you're going to get a lesson in how to accept people who are different. Not so the case with Harmonic Feedback. Even though Drea is different, there was so much in here that I could relate to, she didn't seem all that different to me. How many of us have had those moments of embarrassment where we thought that someone liked us (because they told us they did) only to learn that wasn't the case? 

I sat with them every day that week, but they talked to me less and less. Finally one girl rolled her eyes. "God, Drea, cain't you take a hint?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
She exchanged glances with her friend and they giggled. "Why do you keep sitting here?"
I remember my stomach tightening up in these knots. "You invited me..."
"Yeah, once. We didn't know you'd be such a clingy freak."
How many of us have felt odd for having unique interests?

"Have you ever Googled Asperger's? There's--"
"Yeah, it listed a bunch of random symptoms. Bad social skills, lack of eye contact, can't understand tone of voice, being overly interested in something ---which makes no sense to me. Isn't wanting to learn a good thing? I think everyone should be passionate about something."

How many of us have had a friend who dragged us into an uncomfortable situation and we felt like we just wanted to run and hide? *raises hand and waves frantically* 

"Thought you were staying over." Scott raked a hand through his shaggy blond hair and motioned in my direction. "Your friend can take the couch. Or she can join us." He poked at her ribs and laughed. 
Naomi flipped him off. "Why do you have to be such a pig?" She pushed past him and settled in to the leather couch.
I backed into the cold wall, wishing I could disappear.

This is harmonic Feedback. Does Drea have a disorder? Yes, she does, and yes the book is about how she deals with that, but after listening to Drea's experiences, I found so many things that felt familiar. Drea calls herself a geek, but if she's a geek then I think I am too. In Drea's words:  

Lie about this, but don't lie about that. Smile-- even when you aren't happy - but don't smile too much. Too much is weird. Look people in the eye but, again, not too much. That might freak them out. 

 She's right. People and all of societies "invisible" rules are strange. Even people who aren't diagnosed with a neurological disorder have trouble - or maybe I just need a diagnosis. That was what was so great about this book. It not just that you can understand, you can put yourself in Drea's shoes and experience her discomfort, frustration and pain because it is so familiar.

About the characters -- I loved them all because like Drea, they're just so real. Drea's crazy friend, Naomi, reminded me of a girl I knew in high school, and Justin. Oh gosh, if ever there were a prize for sweetest guy in a YA novel, he'd take the prize. Seriously, I felt he was more sugary than Peeta from HG, only not quite as nauseating because he has a past. And he's a musician. With cool tats. Can anyone say yum? Drea's grandma - hilarious! And her mother - caring and yet a little messed up herself. So real, because you know, us adults don't always have it all together either.

As for the writing itself -- there was nothing to criticize here. Kelly writes with a strong voice and a simple but effective plot line. The ending is a little...oh, sorry, no spoilers, you'll just have to read it yourself.  Final score  - 5 stars. Yep, this is definitely one of my favorite books of the year. 

Now for the big reveal. Here once again is the picture I posted. I took this on the confocal laser microscope at 20x magnification.

And what is it??


Surprising huh? What you're looking at is the epidermal layer (think skin) of a tobacco leaf. Those things that look like puzzle pieces are epidermal cells and the little dots here and there are nuclei (remember nuclei are where the cell's DNA is contained). But here's the cool part, the cells light up green because they express a transgenic hybrid protein that I constructed. Part of it is the protein that I've been studying and the other part is Green Fluorescent Protein from jellyfish. We use these transgenes to figure out where in a cell the protein is expressed - whereever the cells light up green under fluorescent light, this is where my protein normally resides. So by this picture, my protein is expressed in the cell membrane and the nucleus. Personally I think the whole thing looks like glow in the dark brains, but Mel's answer of a sponge seemed most logical to me so I'm going to give her an extra entry in the contest. Congrats Mel! Mel suggested that I do more of these - maybe. Most of the pictures I've been taking lately are of plants, so more of the same. I'd have to dig around my grad school stuff for more interesting pics. We'll see.

Here's FIC's enhancement of the stomata "eyes"

I promise that tomorrow I won't be quite so long winded - or stray so far off the topic of writing. :)



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