Monday, February 21, 2011

Not so little-- SISTERS RED By Jackson Pearce

My, what big eyes you have!

I loved Jackson Pearce's modern retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood."  In Sisters Red, Scarlett March lives for two things, hunting werewolves and protecting Rosie, her younger sister.  Rosie owes Scarlett her life and forgoes school and all the trappings of a normal life to join her sister in the hunt.  But unlike Scarlett, who feels most complete when she's sinking her hatchet into a wolf's belly, Rosie longs for more.

The book alternates between the two sisters' perspectives.  At first Scarlett was my favorite.  She's the strong one, the fighter.  But as I read, I kept rooting for Rosie's happiness, even if it was at the expense of her sister's.

It took me a second to adjust to the world Pearce created.  The story takes place in our world, in Atlanta, Georgia.  But Scarlett and Rosie aren't really a part of the world you and I know.  They live in a cottage in the woods, and walk everywhere, and don't work or go to school, and have a woodsman for a neighbor, and hunt werewolves, and don't have cell phones.  (do you have any idea how many of their problems would've been solved if they had freaking cell phones?)

But, once I figured out the whole fairy-tale world within our world thing, I was hooked.  And that's a huge part of the story.  Rosie wants to be part of our world so badly, while Scarlett is stuck in her own world of the hunt.

Sisters Red is bloody and ferocious as the two heroines kick some major wolf ass.  Oh, I wish I could tell you my favorite ass-kicking part!  But it's at the end. And a big spoiler.  So, read it and you'll see.

I also loved the romance in this book.  I liked how the love wasn't TOO forbidden.  It felt right for the characters to be together and they didn't get all dramatic about the reasons they *shouldn't* be.  I liked that.  Their love felt real.

Ooh, and also, Ms. Pearce, you are the Queen of red herrings!  I'm very impressed.  At first, I knew.  Then I was, oh wait, I'm wrong.  But it turns out, I was right!  Sneaky, sneaky.  (Sorry Junkies, if you're confused, just go read it already).

So, if you like books with girls hacking up evil werewolves with hatchets, sisterly love, hot romance with kissing in the rain, and kick-ass girls who say, "I won't wait for the woodsman to save me."  Then, what are you waiting for?

Oh, and have you seen Jackson Pearce's amazing blog?  She does these great videos that are both funny and informative.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Don't judge a book by its...

Hello my lovely Junkies!  It seems like I've spent this week admiring the beautiful new covers of books I can't wait to read.  Which is really torture for an addict, like myself.  They're pretty! I want to read them!  Now!  But they're not out yet!

So, I figured I'd share my torment with you.  Don't you just want to pet the pretty pictures?

I'm so excited for Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey.  Not only is Mary amazing, but her book sounds so dark and sexy.  And isn't this cover gorgeous?

Oooh, isn't this cover seductive and creepy?  Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs is about 3 girls who are descendants of Medusa and must fight mythological creatures.  How awesome is that?  I love the simple beauty of this cover with the subtle snaking of the hair.

OK, now I'm sorry Mary and Tera, but the cover that tops them all was revealed today.

Just wow.  It's similar to the Paranormalcy cover, but is darker, sexier, and more mature.  Just like I hope Supernaturally will be!  What?  You haven't read Paranormalcy?  You don't read Kiersten White's hilarious blog?  I'd really recommend fixing that, ASAP.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gateway Drugs

So as part of my day-job, I teach a remedial reading class to 11th graders.  Many English teachers would be disgusted with such a task, but I like it for a lot of reasons.  I get to play matchmaker with teens and books.  The class I teach is all about pairing students with high-interest books at their level.  The program comes with loads of great books, but students also find themselves attracted to all those other books on my shelves.

I thought I'd share with you some of the books I've recommended and that have been successful with my reluctant readers.  Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list and I'm not a librarian.   The ALA has a complete list of YA for reluctant readers which is much better than my silly anecdotes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I pitched the book to my class and then started a sign-up sheet for who wanted to read it first.  A few tried but it was too hard for them.  But one student was determined.  He was hooked by the concept and every day he'd check in with me to make sure he was understanding it.  "So, she goes in her sister's place?"  "So, Peeta is the boy with the bread?"  "So, Haymitch is drunk?"  I would nod, and smile and my heart would swell with pride that he's understanding a book above his level and at the same time I'd get to relive the amazing story with him.

anything by Sharon Draper
I had three girls who read Romiette and Julio, Tears of a Tiger, and Forged by Fire.  Whoever read a book first would then ask the other one "so, where are you?" and the other girl would yell at her not to spoil it.  One of these girls hated reading, hated me, hated the class.  she'd never even read a picture book (or so she said) but she loved sharon Draper's books.  She wanted to write her a letter.  So we wrote Sharon an email and she wrote back!  This student smiled for the first time all year when I handed her the printed out email from Sharon.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Draper got those three girls hooked and they wanted more.  I figured out they liked the edginess and readability of Draper's books, so I told them about 13 Reasons Why.  Of course I prefaced it with a worried face and said, "hmm, I don't know, it has some language, and some sex, maybe I should ask your parents first..." that really got them clamoring.  To girls fought over who would read it first, so they alternated days and each had a post-it note to save their place.  They'd get mad when the other one had read farther than them.  The book is short, the chapters are short, and the emotions are raw.  Perfect for reluctant readers.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I had a student who read at grade-level but said she just didn't like to read.  Twilight was the only book she'd ever finished.  I handed her City of Bones and she gobbled up the series.  She wanted more.  She said she wanted darker.  I handed her Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.  She made a face when I told her it was about faeries.  "Trust me," I said.  She came back the next day and handed me the book.  "What you don't like it?"  I asked.  "No.  I finished it.  Is there another one?"  Yes, yes there is.  I knew then that she was hooked (insert evil laugh here).  She's read half the books on my shelves.

Wake by Lisa McMann
The lyrical style and time-jumps can be tricky for some readers, but the short sections are much less an intimidating than a 30 page chapter.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkes
The Draper girls are seniors this year and no longer my students.  But sometimes they stop by and ask "got anything good?"  (I really do feel like a drug dealer)  They devoured Perfect Chemistry.

When I first started trying to push books on teens, I'd just try to get them to read my favorite books.  but that's not how it works.  I have to figure out what THEY like and find something easy enough.  Not all YA is accessible for emerging readers.  Many of the books I LOVE are too subtle, require the reader to make too many inferences, and are just plain too long to keep the attention of a reluctant reader.  But that's ok, I love the challenge of finding something for them.

What about you junkies?  Which books have you seen start an addiction?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I want to smooch ANNA and the FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

I don't read much contemporary YA.  I mean, I'm not a teen, and I spend ALL day in a high school.  So I get my share of the drama, the awkwardness, the gossip, the cattiness, the bullying, the bad decisions, and all the icky coming-of-age-ness.  I generally don't want to read about that stuff unless there's a decent dose of magic, paranormal creatures, dystopian societies, and/or zombie apocalypses.

But enough of my fav authors who write about all those speculative things raved about Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins that I had to pick it up.  I'm so glad I read this book, because I'd forgotten about all the exciting things about being a teenager.

Secret crushes!  First kisses!  Delightfully awkward throat-clearing while your leg brushes his and you pretend you're paying attention to the movie and not stealing glances at him in a dark movie theater!

Perkins does a brilliant job of filling us with the tingly ache of falling in love.  I held my breath along with Anna as she shared her boarding school bed with Etienne.  (oh, not like that!  Remember that feeling?  That 17-year-old feeling that if you could just sleep, JUST SLEEP, with him then your world would be complete? Sigh)

I was afraid Anna and the French Kiss would be too light and fluffy, but I was relieved to find genuine characters with real problems and a wonderfully believable romance.  And even though she didn't beat-up vampires or kick zombie-ass, Anna is still a strong heroine who holds her own.

So, my challenge to you junkies:  What other YA contemporaries do you recommend?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

So, what does it all mean?

First of all, I want to thank you all so much for the support, the congratulations, the confetti, and the exclamation points when I announced my news the other day.  Thank you.  You're awesome.  You're writers.  You get it.

The reactions from my family and friends when I told them I have an agent, have been pretty interesting.  To be fair, most people didn't know I'd written a book, let alone that I was querying agents, so it's not like I'd really discussed the process with them before.

But one friend said, "Wow.  That's great.  I wrote a book in 1st grade.  Do you think it could get published?"   (no joke)

Another friend said, "Well, just make sure they don't screw up the movie version of your book.  Learn from JK Rowling and keep control over the movie.  Because you really don't want them screwing it up like they did with Percy Jackson."   (noted)

A family member immediately started lamenting what a failure she was in life and how she's never accomplished anything.  (awkward)

But most people ask the same question, "When can I buy your book?"

And my response is usually something like, "Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here."  or "I'm just trying to take it one step at a time."

But people don't get it.  They think I'm being defeatist or self-depracating or pessimistic by not telling them the publication date of my book.  So then I try to explain the publishing process and their eyes glaze over.  So, I've come up with an analogy to help you out, when your time comes to tell your non-writer friends your good news.

Being an unpublished, un-agented, amateur writer is like being stranded on a desert island.  You don't bathe, you eat nothing but nuts and berries, and you spend your time talking to volleyballs.  All you want is to go home and sleep in your warm bed (to be published).

So, you light signal fires and spell out "HELP" with rocks on the shore (you send out query letters).  But most of the time, you feel like the world is too big and you're too small and you'll never be rescued.

An agent is your rescue.  It might be a speedy helicopter or a slow foreign fishing boat with people who don't speak your language, but it's rescue!  You're off the island, you're on your way home!  You could never get home without this rescue.

Now, just like all rescues are not the same, not all book deals are the same.  It might be all you've hoped and dreamed of and you'll sleep soundly in your own bed for the rest of your life.  Or you might go home to discover the love of your life has married someone else.  Or you might go home only to discover that the island NEEDS you and you have to go back, but when you go back, you go back in time, and the smoke monster kills everyone, and you find out you were all dead all along. What the hell, LOST?  I'm still pissed.  Anyway, you get where I'm going.

Your agent is your rescue, your life raft, your Coast Guard helicopter.  It's not where you want to be yet, but you cant go anywhere without him.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I fell in love with THE REPLACEMENT by Brenna Yovanoff

OK Junkies, I'm breaking my own rules to tell you about how awesome The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff is, even though the main character is a boy.  But the girls in this book kick so much ass that I really think it makes up for it.

Mackie Doyle isn't like the rest of the people in Gentry, his small and gloomy town.  Actually, Mackie isn't even human.  His parents know it.  His sister knows it.  His best friend knows it.  Half the town might suspect it, but NO ONE talks about it.

In Gentry, babies sometimes get sick and die.  But the bodies in the tiny coffins aren't really the grieving parents' offspring.  They're replacements.

The creatures who live beneath the slag heap steal human babies and replace them with their own sick children.  The replacements all die in their cribs.  All except Mackie.

Thanks to his sister's love, Mackie has survived and grown into a teenager.  But he lives in fear that the town will learn his secret and persecute him.  He does his best to blend in, to be invisible.  He doesn't want to think or talk about the truth anymore than the next citizen of Gentry.

But when Tate's younger sister dies, she knows the corpse is not her sister.  Tate challenges Mackie to acknowledge who he is and how he can help.

One of the things I love about this book is that Mackie is not a typical hero.   He's not brave, or strong, or selfless, or any of the things we expect our heroes to be.  Mackie is sickly, poisoned by the iron in the world around him.  Sometimes he can barely walk into a room without swooning, let alone fight off bad guys.  Also, all Mackie wants is to blend in, be left alone, and survive. He stonewalls Tate to protect himself and at first he won't stick out his neck for anyone.

So that's where the girls come in.  Erin, Mackie's sister, will do anything to protect Mackie.  She puts herself in danger to save him and her strong love is what has kept him alive in a world his body rejects.  And Tate definitely earns the title of kick-ass heroine.  I don't want to spoil all the ways she kicks ass, but let's just say she's not afraid to hurt someone in order to protect herself and save her sister.

Tate is fierce.  She won't keep quiet, she won't put up with Mackie's crap.  She won't back down.  I love her.

The Replacement is a dark, creepy story.  I mean, how much creepier can you get than dead babies?  But there are also tons of universal themes.  I think every teenager has felt the urge to just fit in and be unnoticed, the strong desire to be just like everyone else.  And I know I've definitely felt like an outsider in my own family and maybe even wondered, was I replaced at birth?

Read The Replacement.  You won't be disappointed.