Friday, November 19, 2010

Books that kick ass despite being about boys

When I started this seldom-updated blog, my mission was to write about books featuring strong girls.  Not so much in opposition to books about boys, as much as in opposition to books about weak girls who are saved by boy strong boys.

But because of this mission, I often refrain from gushing about a book that knocks my socks off simply because it's not about a strong heroine.  But I just read T.H. Mafi's post and was totally inspired.

So for this post, I'm going to share with you my story of how I met my "magical friend" and give you my official list of "Books About Boys that Rocked My World."

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out when I was in high school.  Of course I didn't read it.  It's a children's book and I was a teenager and thus stayed away from anything that could pin me as a child.

I had heard all about Harry Potter, who hadn't? But it just seemed so silly.  I even saw the first movie, but was not all that impressed.  It was long and had this silly sport on broomsticks.

I didn't start reading Harry Potter until grad school.  I was student-teaching in an 8th grade class and found that every student had Potter on the brain.  They talked about muggles and Quidditch, and I just didn't get it.  It was like a different language.  I couldn't relate.

So, in an effort to be a better teacher, I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I was hooked.  Any scrap of free-time was now filled with Hogwarts.

I was earning my masters while student teaching.  I was the busiest and most exhausted I'd ever been in my life and all I could think about was getting home to bed with my cat and some tea so I could be swept away to Hogwarts.

I was amazed by how immersed in that other world I became.  I was shocked by how strongly I felt for these characters.  (I'm still not over Sirius).  It was truly magical.  And it was the gateway drug.

Harry Potter led to Lemony Snicket which led to The Golden Compass and all of a sudden this huge world of YA literature opened up to me.  My childhood ambition to be a children's fantasy writer was reignited.
I was teaching and writing my masters's thesis, while wishing I could write about kids with magical powers.  But my career was already set, so I didn't give writing much *serious* thought.  Plus, how does anyone go about becoming a "writer" anyway?  I was going to be a teacher.

Eight years later and that ambition has not faded, but grown.  As much as I love my students, I wish I could spend more time writing stories for them to get lost in instead of preparing them for state tests. So I lead a double life, teaching and writing.

Part of me wishes that I had read Harry Potter when I was in high school.  Maybe I would have recognized my dream then.  Maybe I could have chosen a sensible path to writer-dom and majored in literature and gotten my MFA or gone into publishing or...something.  Maybe things wouldn't seem so hard now.  Or maybe I needed my adult brain to understand and appreciate the best children's literature.

All I know is, today a student mentioned "Harry Potter's owl" and I felt an immediate tightening in my chest.  I know Hedwig's fate and like most parts of this next Potter film, I'm both anticipating and dreading it.

So, in celebration of the latest Potter film, here is--in no particular order--my list of
Books About Boys that Rocked my World

The entire Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling (if you don't like it, then we can't be friends.  That simple)

The entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan (I've heard it criticized for being too similar to Potter.  But in the same vein, Potter can be criticized for being similar to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.  It's the epic hero's journey, people!  The greatest story ever told (over and over again).  So, to the critics I say: shut up and go read some Joseph Campbell)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (not YA, and not a strong girl to be found, but a damn good book)

Looking for Alaska by John Green (if you consider yourself a fan of YA and have not read this, then you need to correct that problem immediately)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie  (people say boys don't read.  Have you tried giving them this?)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (ah-may-zing.  Can't really say if it's about a boy, and ain't that the point?  this is a contemporary hero's journey)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (some make fun of it for being pretentious, but that doesn't make this novel any less brilliant)

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (not a novel, but another book that pushed me over he edge and got me to actually sit down and start writing)

That's my list.  What's yours?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rooting for the dark side in PERSONAL DEMONS by Lisa Desrochers

For some reason, the cover of Lisa Desrochers's Personal Demons didn't strike me as YA.  And being the idiot I am, this prevented me from reading it at first.  Even the hubby saw the book on my nightstand and said, "What? You're reading porn now?"  (Ok, hubby is definitely NOT an expert on all things literary).  All I'm saying is, listen to your mom and don't judge a book by its cover.

Personal Demons is the best angel/demon book I've read.  I loved that we got two perspectives: Fanny, the heroine's, and Luc's, the demon who's trying to tag her soul for hell.

I also loved that--unlike most paranormal romances--we don't spend half the book trying to figure out what kind of paranormal creature the hot new guy at school is, and what he wants.  We know on page 2 that Luc is a demon and he wants Fanny's soul in hell.  Fair enough.

It's hard for one's personal theology not to influence the reading of a book about hell, demons, angels, and heaven.  Luc is such a steamy character and the chemistry between him and Fanny is so hot, that it didn't take long for me to root for the demon.  Even when Luc himself hesitates in marking Fanny for eternal damnation, I was thinking, "Come on!  Just drag her to hell!  You can burn eternally together!"  Maybe more devout readers didn't go that far.

This book definitely gets better and better, the farther you get into it.  At first I was annoyed because Fanny's brain seemed to turn to mush when she was around Gabe and Luc (the two hot "new" guys in town).  I kept thinking, "OK, no one's THAT hot that you can't form coherent sentences."  But then I realized that it was Gabe's angelic and Luc's demonic powers that set Fanny's hormones
and thoughts all a flutter.

Then Luc started acting funny too and I thought, "OK, in his thousands of years of existence, this dude has to have seen a pretty girl, what's his deal?"  And this is the best part.  Luc acts strange around Fanny because she has a power that blows both his and Gabe's abilities out of the water.  You know I love me a powerful female.

The potential of Fanny's power and the spicy hot scenes with Luc kept me up at night reading.  Again, it was kind of strange rooting for Fanny to turn to the dark side.  "Come on Fanny, sleep with the demon already!  Commit the mortal sin of lust!  An eternity in hell is SO worth it!  He's so hot!"  This is definitely one of the sexiest YA novels I've read in a while.

Personal Demons does not read as young as other YA books, but since I'm a grown-up reading YA, I really didn't mind.  But if you're a 15-year-old looking for a story with prom, cheerleaders, and tons of teen angst, then this might not be the book for you.  Other than that, I'd recommend Personal Demons to any fan of the paranormal romance genre.

I can't wait to see what Fanny does with her power in the sequel, Original Sin.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To NaNo or not to NaNo?

Hello Junkies!  Oh, how I've missed you!

I've been revising my little (well, not so little) tooshie off and doing a whole lot more writing than reading.

And all this writing and revising brings me to my latest conundrum: to NaNo or not to NaNo?  I'll admit it, I'm a NaNo virgin.

As you probably all know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal is for writers across the country to turn off their inner editors and write copious amounts of fiction with reckless abandon.  The specific goal is 50,000 words in 30 days.

Every November for the last couple of years, I've watched others participate in the project and I've had the same reaction year after year: Aww, aren't they cute?

Last year, two of my co-workers (fellow English teachers) sent out an email explaining NaNoWriMo, pledging their goals, and inviting others to participate.

I scoffed.  I'm a real writer.  I've been banging my head against the keyboard every single day for years.  I don't need a designated month to pretend to be a writer.

My coworkers went on to talk about their "novels" they wrote in November.  They had family members actually read their NaNo draft!  Scoff, scoff, scoff. 

This all seemed so silly.  I'm a serious writer (don't even say writing about kids with magic powers is not serious).  I don't need some internet uncontest in order to torture myself over prose.  I do that everyday anyway.

But the thing is, I kind of want to do it.

I'm currently querying agents for a ms, so my revising is done for now and I really need something to prevent me from going crazy checking my email every ten seconds.  And I have this new bright shiny idea I want to play with.  Part of me thinks it's a stupid, unmarketable idea, but I can spare a month to see where it goes, right?

But what about all my scoffing?  Am I cheapening myself as a writer by participating?  (ok, I'm an unagented, unpublished writer, so really I'm already as cheapened as they come).

But the interwebs are full of positive tid bits promoting NaNo.

Did you know Carrie Ryan wrote the first draft of The Forest of Hands and Teeth as a NaNo project?  I love The Forest of Hands and Teeth!

And I'm all about the shitty first draft philosophy.  I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser and for me it's about just getting SOMETHING on the page to work with when writing a first (or second, or third...) draft.  And that's what NaNo's all about, right?

Then I stumbled across this image from commenter Kristen on Nathan Bransford's post about NaNo.

Well, I take my novel-writing seriously.  And I've finished two novels, but I've never had writing deadlines, so the latter is definitely scarier.  What's a girl to do?

Also, the public aspect of NaNo frightens me.  I believe in Stephen King's advice from On Writing: "Write with the door closed.  Revise with the door open."

My first drafts are so private.  I don't even like trying to explain what I'm writing about until I'm ready to pitch.  I'm afraid I'll feel like I'm peeing with the door open if I'm constantly posting word counts and such.

And what about my scoffing?  How hypocritical am I if I do NaNo after all my internal scoffing?  (ok, there's lots of reasons I could be considered hypocritical, but still)

But then see inspiring videos  like the one below from Jackson Pearce that make me start jumping in my seat and whining, "I wanna do it Tooooooo."

When it comes down to it, these are my concerns:

What if I fail?  I'm not good at failing.  I know this is supposed to be an everyone is a winner type of thing, but if I commit to doing this and don't have 50,000 words by Novemeber 30th, then I'll probably hate myself a little.  At least for a day or two.

Really, I don't have time.  But then again, that's never stopped me from doing anything.

What if the other NaNoers don't like me? (I did scoff at them)  I keep hearing about this great NaNo community, which only triggers my social phobia/paranoia.  What if I'm rejected by the NaNo clique?

OK, so I'd love to hear from experienced NaNo participants.  Should I do it?  Are there other NaNo virgins out there thinking of going all the way?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Evie tases her way to normal in PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White

So, sometimes when there's tons of hype surrounding a book, I'm tempted to automatically discount it.  It can't be THAT good right?

So I'd heard Paranormalcy by Kiersten White was funny.  I'd heard Evie, the teen heroine, used a pink sparkly taser to "bag and tag" vampires.  I'd heard the book poked fun at the whole paranormal romance genre.

Guess what?  The peoples on the interwebs were right!

One quick stop at Kiersten White's amazing blog will confirm that this chick is funny.  Paranormalcy has the same light-hearted tone as White's blog, which is awesome.

Paranormalcy reminded me of the movie Clueless, in a way.  The main character and plot seem very superficial at first.  But it's written so intelligently that you can't help but laugh and root for the heroine as she learns to be less selfish and discovers something deeper about herself and about life.

I loved how White threw in a few jabs at YA vampire romances.  The opening scene is hilarious as Evie tases a vamp and rants about how ridiculous it is that vampires think they're sexy.  She even uses the word "shimmery" to describe a vampire in an ironic way and I couldn't help but think of that as a direct poke at a certain franchise.  I also loved when, towards the end of the book, a vampire tells Evie, "Why on earth would a vampire go to high school?"  Hilarious!

The romance is so sweet and refreshing.  There was no I-love-you-but-kind-of-want-to-kill-you,  No I-love-you-but-our-love-will-probably-destroy-the-universe, and No I-love-you-but-I'm-so-damaged-from-my-hundred-year-old-past-so-I'm-really-mean-to-you.

It was more like, I-really-like-you-I-hope-your-dad-doesn't-catch-us-making-out-on-the-couch and then some I-think-I-love-you-but-I hope-you-accept-me-for-who-I-am-with-all-my-weirdness.

White shows us that we can have a paranormal novel with NORMAL teens.  We can read about teens who get grounded, love shopping sprees, eat pizza, and go to prom.  They also happen to have paranormal abilities and, you know, murderous faeries hunting them.

If you love paranormal romaces, or hate them, read Paranormalcy.  You won't be disappointed.

I can't wait for Supernaturally!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Janie does it in her sleep in WAKE by Lisa McMann

Like any good addict, I have crazy dreams.  I fly, I swim, I bounce around from place to place.  I was a little disappointed with Inception and how normal the dreams were.

In Wake by Lisa McMann, Janie is sucked into people's dreams.  I loved the lyrical style of the book, especially the beginning when we slip in and out of people's dreams with Janie.  Our dreams can be very intimate and revealing, but McMann didn't hold back in describing the sleeping images flashing through teenagers' heads.

I also enjoyed the love story.  Cabel is my new literary crush, who knew scars could be so sexy?

I really enjoyed the first half of the book.  But the second half started becoming too unbelievable for me.


I just didn't buy that Cabel was an undercover teenage cop.  The way that was handled came across as very unbelievable to me.  Sure, I can believe a girl can slip into someone's dreams and control them, but I can't believe law enforcement would behave that way.

But the well written dream sequences and the realistic romance were enough for me to enjoy Wake.

The sequel, Fade, on the other hand is a different story.  As a high school teacher, I can be very picky about the way high school is portrayed in YA.  High schools are already dramatic conflict-flled places, we don't need over-the-top and outlandish crimes to be committed in order for teenagers to experience conflict and feel unsafe.

I thought Fade was completely unrealistic.  I get it, it's a fantasy, but if the story is based in the real-world, I need something real in that world to hold on to.

There are teachers who do horrible things.  We didn't need the over-the-top, sensationalized villainy in order for Janie to be in danger.  I think the story would've been scarier if the high school setting was more realistic.

I also didn't buy the conflict between Cabel and Janie.  It wasn't consistent with Cabel's character and teenagers aren't usually that cognizant of their feelings and why they behave the way they do.

I liked Wake, but was disappointed with Fade.  I won't be reading Gone unless someone convinces me it has at least one foot in reality.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cat Killer?

OK Junkies, I need some help.  I'm stuck.  All because of a cat corpse.

At our last meeting, my critique group hated the chapter I'd submitted.  I've never received such a negative response.  You see, in the chapter they read, a little girl accidentally kills her cat.

"You can't kill a cat!"  They shouted.
"Do you have to describe the cat corpse?" They asked.
"Really?  A dead cat?  You really want to do that?"

I didn't understand.  What's the problem?  That same night we read about dead grandmothers, suicidal rock stars, and murdered scientists.  Why couldn't I have a dead cat?

They informed me that people will hate me and hate my book if I kill a cat.  This seemed to be a basic rule of good craft everyone knew but me.  Show, don't tell.  Omit needless words.  No passive voice.  And don't kill any cats.

Basically, by killing a cat, I was killing my writing career.  They told me there's even a book on screenwriting called Save the Cat!  The book states that all you have to do to sell your screenplay is not kill any cats.  (I haven't read the book, but I'm pretty sure that's what it says).

I tried not to get defensive.  I tried to listen to their feedback, to process it, to see which direction my revisions should take.  And then I realized it.  I kill TWO cats in my WIP.  (And a baby bird, but I'm sure there's no rule on baby birds).

Well, I decided to stick to my guns.  I blew off the advice of my critique group.  They're probably all just crazy cat people or something.

Then I went to another meeting, with a different group of writers.  We discussed the atrocities of dead dogs in children's literature.

One writer even talked about an appalling scene in an adult novel.  She mentioned an extremely popular adult trilogy.  "I almost had to stop reading when they killed the cat!  It was just awful!"

I happened to have recently read the book she was talking about.  You mean the same book where the main character is raped and tortured in a graphic scene that has NOTHING to do with the plot?  You mean the same novel where dozens of women are raped and murdered, but the characters are more concerned about the Swedish stock-market?  You almost stopped reading because of the dead cat?

What's wrong with these people?

Then last week, I read Mockingjay.  SPOILER ALERT!

Of all the characters Collins killed, she saved the cat.  Buttercup survived.  Maybe there's something to this Save-the-cat theory.  After all, Rowling killed Hedwig but spared Crookshanks.

It's not like I'm some sadistic animal hater.  My dog and my cat are my only children.  I'm a freakin' vegetarian!  I don't eat animals, I just kill them in my fiction (but for important plot and character reasons, I totally swear.)  I just don't get why people seem to be more sensitive to the death of animals than to the death of humans in fiction.

So what do you think Junkies?
Do you hate books with dead cats?
Can anyone explain this never-kill-a-cat rule?

Is my WIP doomed if I kill a cat?  If I kill two?
Could I change my dead cats to dead dogs? dead babies?

Well, I might keep my dead cats because when the rejections for my MS start rolling in, at least I can blame it on the dead kitties, right?

*photo from here

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some spoiler-free thoughts on Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

So, I feel like I can't really do Mockingjay justice in a review, and I don't want to give away any spoilers.  And more than writing a review, what I really need is a freakin' therapy session after that speed train of emotion.

I think Mockingjay is by far the best book in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy.  The three books ask: what does it do to us when we kill another person, even in self-defense?  The Hunger Games touched on this theme, Catching Fire pushed it a little further, but Mockingjay blew it wide open.

As another character points out, Katniss is not the same girl who volunteered to take her sister's place at the reaping.  She's permanently and irrevocably scarred by the violence she's experienced and produced.  What I love is that even though she has nightmares and is sometimes "disoriented" she is in no way a victim.  Katniss is traumatized not by what's been done to her, but by the choices she's made.  I don't think she regrets any life she took to save herself, but that doesn't mean she sleeps well at night.

All the Victors are a wreck.  I love how in the beginning of The Hunger Games, Katniss views Haymitch as this pathetic creature who hides from life in the bottom of a bottle.  In Mockingjay, Katniss and Haymitch don't seem very different, Katniss even wishes for her own bottle at one point.

I thought Peeta's character arc was brilliant.  So much more heartbreaking than a typical love-triangle or the who-do-I-save dilemma I thought it was going to be.

I know some people are disappointed with the ending, but frankly I think those are the same people who are disappointed with life.  Collins's world and Katniss's story are so devastating because they are so real.  Collins doesn't pull any punches.  Katniss is, above everything else, a survivor.  And just like President Snow, Collins pushes Katniss to her breaking point.

I white-knuckled it, holding on with Katniss through her harrowing journey, not knowing what to even hope for at the end.  But some damage cannot be undone.  We still pick up the pieces and salvage what we can of our lives.  If reader's don't like Mockingjay's ending it's because it's too true.

The story is so critical of war and vengeance that I cried not just for the characters, but for humanity.  We sacrifice our children to overthrow dictators, only to replace them with more dictators.  We kill a few to save the many, over and over, and over again until we can't remember who we're saving and who we're fighting.

This book is amazing, but it drained me.  What are your thoughts?  Anything light and fluffy to recommend for recovery reading?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Claudia is ruthless in INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher

OK Junkies, I'm bending some of my own rules here.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has two main characters.  The story is alternately narrated by Claudia and Finn.  Sure, Claudia is the heroine of the story, but it's hard for me to focus only on her when Finn is so much more likable.

Claudia and Finn are each trapped in prisons that are worlds apart.

Three years ago, Finn woke in a cell with no memory of his previous life and the red eyes of Incarceron have been watching him ever since.  Finn has seizures in which he glimpses a world outside of the living prison.  Other prisoners call him a starseer and most consider him crazy.  Incarceron is limitless in its mechanization and ability to control the prisoners while reproducing itself.  Most prisoners know what Finn refuses to admit:  there is no world outside of Incarceron.

Claudia's father is the power-hungry and unscrupulous Warden of Incarceron.  The prison was sealed years ago, no one goes in and no one comes out.  The Warden is the only person who knows its location.  Despite the existence of advanced technology, Claudia's world has been frozen in time and Protocol is strictly enforced.  The rules of Protocol dictate everyone must speak, dress, and use objects from a time reminiscent of Victorian England.

But Protocol is only one bar in Claudia's prison.  Her father raised her to be a political pawn.  She's betrothed to a prince and the Warden will use his daughter to secure power.  At first, Claudia accepts her part to play in the political game.  She is so used to hiding her true feelings and playing mind games, that she forgets who she is.

Even though Finn is the thief and violent gang-member, Claudia is the ruthless one and she strays farther from her moral compass.  I couldn't help but like Finn so much more.

This story read like a wicked fairy-tale.  It's Rapunzel, the Prince and the Pauper, and Alice in Wonderland all rolled into one.

Catherine Fisher does a brilliant job of creating tension in each scene as Claudia and Finn discover each other and work towards what seems impossible: Escape.  Finn's prison is terrifying as is the Queen Claudia works to subvert.  I ended each chapter with my heart pounding.  The shackles squeezed tighter and tighter with each scene and escape seemed less and less possible.

The ending was a little disappointing.  After all the nail-biting tension, I feel like it just kind of fizzled out.  But that's probably because there's going to be a sequel.

Incarceron is a dark and intense ride and I can't wait for Sapphique.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ai Ling has some kick-ass spirit in SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon

Silver Phoenix has been on my radar for a while, but I never found it in book stores.  Eventually I ordered it on Amazon.  It rose to the top of my TBR pile when I heard about the controversy over the new cover and I learned that Barnes & Noble and Borders never ordered the book with the original cover because it was too Asian.

Well some really smart people lament this horrible example of institutional racism better than I can.  But I just want to say, this book-buying-white-girl loved Silver Phoenix in all its Chinese splendor.

Ai Ling is the daughter of a scholar who was exiled from the Emperor's palace before she was born.  She wants to be a good daughter and honor her parents, but she has qualms about entering into an arranged marriage.  Unlike most girls in Xia, Ai Ling can read and write.  Without her father's knowledge, she's read all about mythical monsters in The Book of the Dead.

Ai Ling's father is summoned to the palace, but gives her a jade pendant before he goes.  When he doesn't return, Ai Ling decides to travel to the palace and bring him home.  So what if decorum dictates that single women shouldn't travel alone?

On her journey, Ai Ling discovers the monsters from The Book of the Dead are much more than myths. Ai Ling survives a demon attach thanks to her jade pendant and the courage of her spirit.

While traveling, Ai Ling crosses paths with Chen Yong, a young man whose fate has been intertwined with hers since before she was born.  They continue towards the palace together and embark on an adventure to fulfill their destinies.

I love how Ai Ling is a kick-ass heroine in a world that expects women to be seen and not heard.  Sure Chen Yong saves her the first time they meet, but pretty soon she does most of the saving and ass kicking.  I also loved the reincarnation/ancestor-worship/spiritual stuff interwoven throughout the fantasy.

In some ways this is a road-trip story.  Some friends travel to the palace and of course get side-tracked and have adventures along the way.  Of course, it's also a coming-of-age story as Ai Ling discovers her own strength.  I love how Ai Ling is not shy about eating and the descriptions of food made my mouth water.  The sexual tension between Ai Ling and Chen Yong definitely left me hankering for the sequel, Fury of the Phoenix.

Silver Phoenix  by Cindy Pon is a great fantasy and a quick read.  Buy the beautiful original cover before they're all gone!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hanna is crazy beautiful in BLEEDING VIOLET by Dia Reeves

This book is weird.
Don't get me wrong, I love weird.  Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves is a welcome relief from the swooning damsels, vampires, and werewolves plaguing the paranormal YA world.

Hanna talks to her dad everyday, even though he's been dead a year.  Hanna is bi-polar and has the stash of pharmaceuticals to prove it.  When threatened with hospitalization, Hanna beats her Aunt over the head with a rolling pin and flees to find her long lost mother.

When Hanna shows up on her mom's door step in Portrero, Texas, Rosalee is anything but happy to see her.  Hanna is determined to stay in Rosalee's house and make Portrero her home, no matter how many times Rosalee say she doesn't want her.

They strike a deal.  If Hanna can survive two weeks in Portrero--a town stranger and more dangerous than any of Hanna's hallucinations--then Hanna can stay.

Hanna encounters monsters lurking in the windows of her school, flying leeches on a walk home, and a man possessed by a serial-killing ghost while on a date.  Instead of running and screaming, Hanna decides she needs to hunt down a monster to prove her worth to Rosalee.  Hanna enlists the help of Wyatt, the cute boy sworn to protect the town and who is even freakier than Hanna.

I love Hanna's character in this book.  Her wild mood swings are fun and she's not easily rejected, no matter how many times her mother tells her she doesn't love her.

Hanna narrates the story through her girlish voice and overly simple view of the world.  And that's where it got weird.  These characters curse, have sex, and rip people's arms off, and it's all narrated in this childish tone.

The amount of blood in this book became so surreal that I stopped being concerned each time a character opened a vein.

But that didn't stop this from being a really fun read.  I whipped through the pages.  I enjoyed losing myself in Hanna's warped head and I stopped guessing what would come next.

Bleeding Violet is a great summer read.  

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Amy is the key in THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin

Post-apocalyptic novels are hot right now.
Some of these books make me think, "Wow, this is fun.  Glad it could totally never happen."
Some of these books make me think, "Ooh depressing.  I hope I'm not around if this ever happens."
Then there's The Passage by Justin Cronin.  This book made me want to buy a shotgun, hoard water, and start digging an underground shelter.

The story starts about five years in the future, in a crappier but predictable version of the U.S.   A grieving scientist has discovered a unique virus in the South American rain forest.  This virus can cure cancer and reverses the aging process, along with some other side-effects that the military will kill to get its hands on.

The virus is brought back to a secret compound hidden in the Colorado rockies.  The virus is tested on those who society won't miss, death-row inmates.

It's Brad Wolgast's job to find the inmates, get them to sign their lives away, and bring them back to Colorado.  He's pretty much ok with this until he's asked to bring in Amy, a six-year-old girl.

Of course, something goes wrong and the infected inmates escape.  The virus and its violence spread rapidly across the U.S.  Amy may be humanity's only hope.

OK Junkies, I'll stop myself because I really don't want to spoil anything.

But you must read this book.  I know, it's like 800 pages and you could probably throw your back out from carrying it around.  But it's so worth it.

Did I mention it's jam-packed with bad-ass heroines?

There's Alicia, the ruthless fighter who kicks viral ass better than anyone.
There's Sara, the strong nurse who never flinches away from death.
There's Mausami, willing to risk everything for the man she loves.
There's Sister Lacy, willing to die for her cause.

And of course, there's Amy.

Read The Passage and stop by to tell me what you think.

Oh, for those of you who've already read it, check out this site with Blair Witch type videos.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Give aways!

Check out YA Highway's BEA Book Give Away.  There are at least 3 books on that list that I'm hankering for.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sadie Sasses in The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

OK Junkies, so I'm gonna let you in on a secret.  I love the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  I know, I know, it's about a boy, but there are some tough chicks, and I'm a total sucker for both Greek mythology and the hero's journey archetype.  Don't worry, I won't blab about The Lightning Thief, other than to say, read it.

But I was pretty excited when my dad sent me Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid.  Now, I don't know my Egyptian history like I know my Greek stuff, but my History-Channel-watching-hubby was happy to fill me in on tid-bits, like Khufu, the baboon, was named after a pharoah.

The Red Pyramid is doubly cool, because instead of one young hero, we get two.  Carter and Sadie Kane are brother and sister who have only seen each other once a year since their mom died six years ago.  Carter travels the world with his dad, Julius, an archaeologist/Egyptologist.  Sadie lives with their maternal grandparents in London.

At least, those are their living arrangements until their dad blows up the Rosetta Stone on Christmas Eve, releasing 5 Egyptian gods, imprisoning himself in a sarcophagus along with the spirit of Osiris, and leaving Carter and Sadie to save the world.

Carter and Sadie alternate telling the story from their perspective.  Although Carter is older and he starts and ends the novel, Sadie is the actual hero.  Sadie is the tough, brave one who sees past the adults' BS.

Carter has the knowledge of the Egypt stuff and arguably more to lose, because he's so close to the now-imprisoned dad, but Sadie follows more of the archetypal hero's arc.

Sadie's past and parentage are mysterious.  She has a mentor who teaches her how to use her power and is then killed.  And ultimately, Carter learns how to swing a sword, but it's Sadie who has all the real power.  In the end, Sadie must make all the difficult choices, and Sadie must determine the fate of the world and break a dangerous cycle.

Sadie feels abandoned by and resentment towards her absent parents, but she must move past that to tap her inner strength and save the world.  Sadie is the hero of this story, because it is Sadie who sacrifices so much to make the right decisions.

Like Riordan's other books, The Red Pyramid is a story about the battle of good and evil.  But what I love about this book is that the lines between the two sides aren't always clear.

The Red Pyramid is a long-ass middle grade book, but the story is worth every page.  I will definitely be reading the next installment of the Kane Chronicles.

Oh, and Junkies, P.S.:
This is my official entry into The People of Color Reading Challenge.  I'm going to say I'll go for level 2 and read at least 5 books this year about or by people of color, but I really hope to do more.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Melinda learns to in SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

OK Junkies, so Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson has been on my radar for a while, but there were a few reasons that I resisted reading it.

  1. The cover kind of creeped me out.
  2. I knew it was about rape.
  3. I knew Kristen Stewart starred in a Lifetime movie version of the book.
  4. The students in my remedial reading class said it was boring.
  5. I flipped through the pages and it LOOKED boring.
I know, "don't judge a book by its cover" but I do, Junkies, I do, I can't help it.  I get this idea in my head about books that I haven't read.  But sometimes it's fun to be proven wrong.  

Why didn't anyone ever tell me that this book is funny?  I mean I guess it's kind of weird to be all "Hey, there's this book that had me laughing out loud.  It's great.  It's about this teenage girl who's raped at a party..."

The subject matter and Lifetime movie thing really had me thinking Speak would read like an after-school special.  Boy, was I wrong.

And I think the reason my reluctant readers found it boring is because there's hardly any dialogue.  That's the whole point, Melinda doesn't speak.  She's lost her voice and she struggles to find it through art (hence the creepy cover).  The lack of dialogue makes the unread page appear boring (brain says: eek, too much text!)

But Melinda's take on the world is anything but boring.  I was laughing by the third page with her list of "Ten lies they tell you in high school."  Melinda's cynicism is dark and hilarious as she blossoms into heroine-hood. 

So, Junkies, read Speak, it's funny--not boring.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Hey Junkies, sorry I've been so quiet lately. I recently became a Mommy to a rescue mutt and it's a lot of work! Who knew it was so hard to balance motherhood with addiction? But don't worry, I'm not rehabilitated by any means.  I'll be back shortly, ranting like the raging book-a-holic I am.

But in the meantime, here are some awesome contests for you, because who doesn't love free books?

Black and Blue Ink is having a contest extravaganza.  There are tons of great books to win!

On YA Highway, you can win an ARC of The Duff by Kody Keplinger (who seems nice and all, but I have to try really hard not to hate her for writing such a great buzzed-about-book at such a young age).

But that's not all, Junkies.  (Cue trumpet fanfare)  I'm hosting my first ever contest!

You can win an ARC (even though it's no longer advanced) of Carrie Ryan's The Dead-Tossed Waves.  Check out my review here.

All you have to do is comment on this post with a recommendation of a YA novel with a kick-ass heroine.  I'll choose the winner randomly from among the commenters.  (Must be in the contiguous U.S.)

Contest ends April 30th, 2010.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Please vote for me!

Hey Junkies, so I'm a finalist in Parajunkee's Big Sis, Lil Blog contest.  Please vote for me!  I'd really love one of her graphics for the blog, they're so purdy!  Plus, I need all the help I can get, obvs.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sam tries to make it right in Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This book isn't the type I normally grab off the shelves because of my general preference to not read about depressing topics.  But it seemed like everywhere I looked I read something good about Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Sam Kingston is an uber-popular Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.  February 12, Cupid Day, is her and her BFF's chance to flaunt what they got--until an accident ends Sam's life.  Like Groundhog Day but full of teen angst, Sam wakes up over and over again on February 12, trying to set things right.

What's great about this book is that Lauren Oliver describes, in accurate detail, a day-in-the-life of a teenage girl.  What's horrible about this book is that Lauren Oliver describes, in accurate detail, a day-in-the-life of a teenage girl.

The first fifty pages were kind of painful to read.  Oliver's take on high school life was so on the money, that I found myself cringing as I spaced out to remember some of my high school moments.  When I wasn't hitting my head against the wall trying to forget my adolescent mishaps, I was wincing at the characters' actions.

Sam and her friends are pretty callous and annoying.  It was difficult to read about characters who I wanted to reach into the page and smack.  But really, this is all a compliment to Oliver's skill as a story teller.  She created flawed and believable young women who are desperately trying to divert attention from their own vulnerability.

And trust me, Junkies, after you get past that first day of Sam's last day on earth, the story gets really GOOD, squealing girls and all.  Sam does not start off as a heroine, but as she struggles to make things right in one day, she gains the strength, nobility, and courage to rival the most kick-ass of leading ladies.

Before I Fall asks the questions: What would you do if today was your last day on earth?  and If you could live one day over again, which day would it be?

But what I loved most about this book was how it played with the idea of fate, destiny, and predetermination.  I loved watching how Sam's choices unraveled new paths and revealed different connections.  The story explores the web that links us together and how cutting one thread can leave us feeling undone.  Oliver did a great job of building up the tension in everyday scenes.  She played with the butterfly effect and made me realize that we are all just one choice away from kissing our math teacher.

I also liked how there were no real bad guys in this book.  Even Sam's best friend and her boyfriend, both of whom I wanted to strangle in the beginning, are just young people trying to figure it all out.

I'm curious to hear how readers currently in high school view this book, especially the beginning.  

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm as conflicted as the characters of FALLEN by Lauren Kate

Just as Luce is inexplicably attracted to Daniel, I was unable to put down Fallen, despite so many things that normally bug me about a book.  I read this book while visiting my parents, so I'll show you a conversation between my mom and me so you see what I mean.

(SPOILER ALERT: I won't divulge anything that can't be figured out from the prologue, but if you're one of those people who need things spelled out for you, avert your eyes now.)

Mom: What's that book about?
Me: Um, I don't know.  It's a YA paranormal romance.  I'm pretty sure the characters knew each other in past lives or something.  I think the guy might be a fallen angel.
Mom: So, you're more than half-way through it and you don't know what it's about?
Me: Yeah, kinda sucks.
Mom: So are you going to write a negative review?
Me: No, I try not to do that.  I just won't blog about it.

You see Junkies, I WASN'T going to blog about Fallen, but I kept thinking about it.  Two days after I've finished the book, I can't get the characters out of my head.  I think that must mean I really liked it. Maybe I'm like Daniel, I act hot and cold towards Luce, but I'm secretly in love with her...

It's a toughy because really, Luce doesn't quite meet my minimum threshold for kick ass heroine, but at the same time, I'm jonesin' for the sequel.  I'll just break it down and let you decide.

Luce is a straight A student who finds herself at reform school after a mysterious incident with a fire in which Luce survived, but her male companion did not.  Luce is immediately attracted to Daniel, who gives her the bird when he first sees her.  Cam is a popular hotty at the school who tries to seduce Luce every chance he gets.

All her life, Luce has been plagued by shadows that creep up from dark places and terrify her.  Luce keeps struggling with this feeling she knows Daniel from somewhere and is confused by Daniel's hot and cold response to her.  And the book goes on like this for a while...

I got a little frustrated with all the mystery.  I don't like it when books seem to build forever and then so much happens at the end that it's hard to keep it straight.  It reminded me a little bit of the movie Dogma, where at the end, in the middle of an action scene, characters are shouting the rules of religious doctrine: "Kill Matt Damon, the angel"  "No!!!  You shot Ben Affleck's wings, now the world will end!"  "Shoot Ben Affleck!"  "Don't shoot Ben Affleck, then he'll be immortal!" All very confusing.

I didn't like how Luce was ALWAYS being saved by Daniel.  Couldn't she have saved herself a least once?  I also didn't like the punch-out-I'm-fighting-for-my-woman-while-she-stands-there-shocked-and-scared-scene.

But, the star-crossed lovers thing totally got me, as much as I hate to admit it.  For some reason, this is a couple I'm rooting for.  I also fell in love with all the minor characters.  Lauren Kate did a brilliant job creating vivid minor characters with only a few words.  And these girls are bad ass.

I can't get Arianne or Gabbe out of my head.  I even want more of Cam, Roland, and Molly.  So even though I can point out things that bothered me about Fallen, it left me with that feeling of wanting more.  The world and the characters are believable and seem so real that I can't wait for this story to continue.

Luce grew a lot in Fallen, so I'm really hoping she'll become a kick-ass heroine in Torment.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gabry searches for meaning in DEAD-TOSSED WAVES by Carrie Ryan

OK Junkies, I had been waiting for Carrie Ryan's next installment in her post-apocalyptic, dystopian, zombie series (at least I hope it's a series, there better be more where this came from Ms. Ryan!) and now that I've finished Dead-Tossed Waves, I can't wait to tell you all about it.

I loved Ryan's first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and you can read my post about it here.
Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and the main character is Gabry, Mary's daughter.  At first, I was afraid this book would be Zombies: The Next Generation--the same story only with new characters and a slightly different setting.  I'm so glad I was wrong.

Gabry is very different from her mother.  While Mary is brave and was willing to risk anything in pursuit of her dreams, Gabry is terrified of the world outside the walls.  While Mary felt trapped by the fences surrounding her village, Gabry welcomes the safety the walls around her provide.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth starts slow and thoughtful, building up to the blood, violence, death, and decapitations that plague the zombie-ridden world.  Dead-Tossed Waves begins with a bang.  Characters are attacked, infected, and killed as soon as we meet them.

What I loved about Dead-Tossed Waves was that the entire story is set in motion by Gabry's decisions.  In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, so much seemed to happen to Mary that was out of her control.  Other people's decisions and outside occurrences created the conflict.

Gabry and her choices are the driving forces behind Dead-Tossed Waves.  Ryan did such a good job of creating Gabry's character and setting up her decisions that I was yelling at the book each time Gabry made a choice.  I think my new barometer of how good a novel will be whether or not it makes me holler at it).  

Gabry is a perfectly flawed heroine and some of her decisions in the beginning drove me nuts.  I found myself intermittently shouting at her for being a pathetic coward and for taking dangerously stupid risks.

And that's part of what this book is about.  We all make mistakes, that's what makes us human--something that's easy to forget with Mudo pushing themselves against barriers, waiting to infect anyone who missteps.  Dead-Tossed Waves is so much more than an action-filled love story surrounded by zombies.  The book asks us to examine the distinctions between surviving and living and asks us to think about what it means to be human.

Dead-Tossed Waves is an amazing book that kept my heart racing and my mind whirring.  I really hope there is a sequel.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vampires do it best in BLOOD SUCKING FIENDS by Christopher Moore

Hey there Junkies, I'm bending my own rules a bit.  Although Blood-Sucking Fiends: A Love Story is not YA, anything with vampires attracts the attention of teenagers, so therefore it totally counts.

Christopher Moore is a genius.  I don't know why no one gives him credit for starting the whole paranormal romance craze.  Blood-Sucking Fiends was published in 1995! (A man WAY ahead of his time!) I still think it has the best vampire sex of any fanged book out there. 

OK, so Jody is a ho-hum gal until she wakes up beneath a dumpster with her exposed hand burnt to a crisp.  But that's ok, because after she gobbles a critter, it heals itself.  Eventually Jody figures it out.  Oh crap, she's been turned into a vampire.  Which sucks because that means she'll NEVER lose those 5 vanity pounds.

But Jody is a smart chick and she knows the first thing any good vampire needs is a human sex slave.  Or at least someone to find her an apartment and pick up her dry cleaning.  This is where Thomas Flood comes in.

Tommy is a mid-western corn-fed young man who came to San Francisco to pursue his dream of writing the great American novel.  So naturally, he spends his time turkey-bowling as an after-hours stocker at Safeway.  Jody meets Tommy and ya know, vampy shinanigans ensue.

You Suck: A Love Story is the awesome sequel and I can't wait for Bite Me: A Love Story to come out 3/23/10.

These books are so refreshing because they don't take themselves too seriously.  One of my favorite parts in Blood Sucking Fiends is when Tommy and Jody test out all the old vampire myths.  Jody does have a reflection in a mirror, who knew?

Moore creates a hilarious world with memorable characters.  The city of San Francisco almost serves as a character itself, and anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in the city will appreciate these books so much more for the setting's idiosyncracies.

Of course, my favorite character is Abby Normal.  She started as a minor character in Blood Sucking Fiends, narrates some of You Suck and I believe she is the central character in Bite Me.  Abby is a gothic teenager who wears Converse tennis shoes, reads Anne Rice, and fantasizes about meeting a vampire.  But you see, Junkies, Abby's real name is none other than, Alison Greene.  Her parents named her after the Elvis Costello song.  I wear Converses (my maiden name IS Converse), I read Anne Rice and fantasize about meeting a vampire (well, I did when I was a teenager).  My name is Alyson Greene and my parents named me after the Elvis Costello song.  I AM Abby Normal!

So, I told Christopher Moore this when I met him at a signing and he just looked at me, looked back at my name written on a post-it, and said "It's spelled wrong."  Sigh.  Well, at least he signed my book "To the real Abby Normal."

OK Junkies, so we're counting down the days until Bite Me comes out.  Remember, if you're going to read a vampire book, let it be one that makes you laugh.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Micah is the girl who cries wolf in Justine Larbalestier's LIAR

So, I'll admit it.  I only heard about Liar because of its cover controversy and I decided to throw some of my money at the corrected cover.  So if Bloomsbury just pulled some devious publicity stunt, it worked on me.

But it doesn't matter, because this book is awesome and I'd buy it again in a heart beat.

Micah is a modern unreliable narrator and its hard not to fall inlove with her, even while questioning everything she tells us.  Micah's boyfriend is found murdered and the suspense builds as Micah jumps around, decribing events both before, and after his death.

Justine Larbalestier has created a psychological thriller that had me turning pages in search of the next piece of the puzzle.  I kept fitting the pieces together, trying to make sense of it all, only to find out that some of the pieces weren't there at all.

Micah tells us straight off the bat.  She's a liar.  But this time, she's going to come clean, honestly.  For a while she had her whole school convinced that she was a boy.  So we know she's a liar, and that she's good at it.  We know we should be skeptical about everything she tells us, and yet...

Through all her lies, it's so transparent that Micah just wants to be loved.  Her yearning makes her so likable, so realistic, that I wanted to believe everything she told me.  Even when she recants, admits she slipped up and told us a lie, I wasn't angry, I just wanted to hear more.  The beauty of this story is that the more bizarre Micah's stories become, the more I believe them.

Larbalestier brilliantly plays off her readers.  I mean, I'm reading fiction, I'm prepared to suspend disbelief.  When this book sits on the same shelf as books about vampires, magical adventures with mad-cow disease, and faeries, why wouldn't I believe everything Micah tells me?

OK, I got to stop myself here.  I might have already said too much.  I'm going to read this book a second time, in search of the truth.  It's a great book, you should definitely read it, honestly.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A taste of middle-child-syndrome with CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

OK Junkies, confession time: my first couple of years teaching were so awful that I had to break up the school year with little things to look forward to.  I'd count the weeks/days/hours until each holiday.  Oh what, you think that sounds normal?  I'm not finished.  In addition to counting down to holidays, I'd also count down the days and weeks until other moments of joy.  I would know at any given day, how many months until the next Harry Potter book came out, or how many weeks until the next Lemony Snicket installment, or even how many weeks until the next Harry Potter movie was released (in theaters and on DVD).   I told you, I'm an addict.

Well, in an attempt to ease some of my bitterness at having to work on Presidents' Day, I've decided to reinstate the countdown.

As of today, there are exactly:

But Junkies, let's back up a second.  Before we can get all giddy about the third installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, we need to talk about Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.


You know that family member who yells at the TV during a sports game, or worse, the news?  Yeah, that was me while reading this book.
"No!  We can't go back into the arena.  Come on, Katniss, escape, revolt, go light stuff on fire with Gale. No!"  and "The watch!  Katniss, you saw the watch-with the bird, hello? Doh!" 

Suzanne Collins has created a great character with Katniss Everdeen.  Katniss is passionate and courageous.  She acts on instinct, but she can also be a little naiive.  None of these are great qualities for planning a secret revolution.  So Catching Fire is full of behind the scenes planning that Katniss is not aware of.  Unfortunately, because she's the first-person narrator, this means that the reader is also unaware of it. 

We get a few clues that Katniss doesn't understand the significance of, which can be a tad frustrating.  But, the thing is, Junkies, even though I shouted at the book and rolled my eyes a few times at Katniss's obliviousness, Collins knows what she's doing.

While The Hunger Games was full of physical suspense--is she going to die?  who is she going to kill?  Can she save Peeta?
Catching Fire is all about emotional suspense--what will she do?  When will she figure it out?  Who does she love?  Why won't Haymitch throw her a bone?

The middle book in any trilogy is tricky.  It struggles to compete with the excitement and originality of the first book, yet it has to continually build up to the climactic events to come in the third book.  It's like the middle-child-syndrome.  Or, I like to think of it as The Empire Strikes Back syndrome.  And like The Empire Strikes Back, in Catching Fire we spend a little too much time in the snow waiting for something to happen.

But in some ways, Catching Fire did surpass The Hunger Games.  Suzanne Collins is a genius at crafting characters and Haymitch and Cinna come alive in the sequel.  And we thought we knew Katniss and Peeta in the first book, but the second book really lets us see who they are, what they live for, and what they're willing to die for.

I do wish we got to know Gale a little more in this second book, though.  Because really, if we're going to have a love triangle, I need to know WHY Katniss loves Gale.  So as of right now, I'm in camp Peeta all the way, baby.

So, although I don't think it lived up to the awesomenes of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is still a badass book and I can't wait until Mockingjay is in my hands 27 weeks from now.