Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rebel Belle

Rebel Belle (Rebel Belle, #1) Rachel Hawkins does fun and lighthearted YA with a kick so well sometimes--the first book in Hex Hall was a delight from beginning to end. And a lot of that fun and delight comes through in Rebel Belle, just not quite as much.

For starters, there's the premise, which Hawkins herself described as Terminator meets Legally Blonde. Prom-queen hopeful Harper Price has everything together: her prom-queen nomination locked in, the perfect boyfriend, perfect grades. (Just don't ask her why she's so determined to hold it all together, or anything about her dead sister). But when a quick detour to the bathroom to reapply her lip gloss leads instead to a surprise liplock with the school janitor, who then dies in her arms, Harper's perfect life crumbles into chaos.

Suddenly, she's a Paladin, a super-powerful creature charged with protecting none other than her arch-nemesis, David Stark. Of course, this isn't part of Harper's plan, and it certainly doesn't make her boyfriend happy. So now she has to not only rock Cotillion, she has to save the world while she's at it.

As I mentioned, there was a lot to like here. Hawkins never lets her books get too dark, even when dealing with serious things (like the death of Harper's sister). And sometimes, when I just want to escape, I appreciate that. Harper and David had some great banter and good chemistry, and I thought it was to Hawkins' credit that she made me like David without making me hate Harper's current boyfriend. There were some fun twists in the story--but also some moments that didn't quite make sense to me.

Ultimately, a book I enjoyed reading, but not one that stayed with me long after the reading. But there's something about a heroine who can kill a bad guy with her stiletto . . .

Friday, November 21, 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3) Stephanie Perkins does the intensity of teen romance better than most authors I can think of. I loved Anna and the French Kiss and was looking forward to reading this one. And while Isla and the Happily Ever After wasn't my favorite of Perkins' three books, there were things I liked about it.

Perkins has a gift for transporting readers to new places: here, she revisits Paris, but also gorgeously conveys parts of Spain, and even New York. I found myself longing to revisit (and visit) some of the places after reading her descriptions.

And I liked Isla, though other reviewers haven't, because to me, feeling like a "blank slate" and not knowing what you want to do with your life feels true to being a teenager. Not everyone knows who they are or where they are going.

Where the novel failed me a little was in the romance.  Not that there aren't a lot of heated kisses (and more) here. Rather, I was a little disappointed to start with Isla already pining for Josh, because part of what I love about romances is seeing how the characters fall for each other. And it wasn't clear to me why she adored Josh--though it was clear that she did. While it was fun to watch her shock as Josh started to reciprocate, it wasn't quite the same. (And yes, I know this is personal preference and not the fault of the author!)

What really frustrated me, though, was that after establishing this intense romance, the characters sort of self-destructed. Their separation, though sad, seemed self-inflicted. And Isla's insecurities and the way she torpedoes her own relationship just didn't make sense to me. I hadn't seen any sign of those insecurities until suddenly they manifested, so it was hard for me to buy her motivations. I know that a romance has to have some kind of block or there's no point to writing about it, but the obstacles here were a little too much--especially given everything Isla and Josh *did* have going for them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Liebster Award: 10 questions blog hop

Hayley Stone, an aspiring adult speculative writer whom I met through Pitch Wars, nominated me for a Liebster Award.

You've probably seen these going around--I'm flattered by the nomination, but I also thought it would be fun to play along.

Here are the questions:

1. What most inspired your current WIP?
My current WIP, a sequel to the novel I'm currently querying, is still in very fledgling stages. It's inspired mostly by a desire to continue exploring the world I created for the first book, which was inspired by my dual love of the Victorian era and Hungary, where I served as a missionary for the LDS church.

2. How do you best get "in the zone" for writing?
I don't really have a process. As a full-time mom who works part time, I write when I can. I "get in the zone" by sitting in front of the computer with an open word document. :) And sometimes I shut down twitter and facebook.

3. Do you have a certain time of day/place where you find you're most productive?
I honestly have no idea. I do most of my writing at night when the kids are in bed, but I have no idea if that's my most productive time.

 4. If you could sit down and pick the brain of one author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask them? I would love to sit down with Connie Willis, who writes some of the smartest and funniest stuff out there. I'd love to watch her in process--how does she layer so much into her story and still keep the plot moving forward?

 5. Your WIP has just become sentient. On a scale of 1-10, how much trouble are you in?
Probably a 1. We're talking a baby draft here--I doubt it could do much damage at this point!

6. If money was no issue, where would your ideal writing vacation take place? A hotel in a city somewhere--easy access to good food, art and culture when I need inspiration--and no kids.

7. How did you come up with the title for your current WIP?
The current title, THE KING OF CROWS, comes from a title bestowed on one of the characters who's transforming into a leader of supernatural creatures. And who, not so incidentally, can turn himself into a crow.

8. Who would you want to direct the movie adaptation of your WIP?
My husband would know this better than me! He's the movie trivia buff at our house. Maybe Cary Joji Fukunaga, who directed the latest version of Jane Eyre--someone who has a grasp of Victorian sensibility but also knows how to do creepy.

 9. What advice would you give to another writer?
Just keep writing. Love what you do--let the writing itself be the reward, because chances are nothing else about the process will be just what you imagine.

 10. Hypothetical: You have a time machine and a nefarious mind. You can travel back in time with one book and take credit for writing it. Which book would it be? Jane Austen's Persuasion--I so admire her novels, which are clever and smart and romantic, and really pretty revolutionary for their time in the way they put women's concerns front and center without diminishing their importance.
Tagging my CP Erin Shakespear, Kathryn Purdie, and a new writing friend, Mara Rutherford, who writes gorgeous fantasies with folkloric elements.

1. What most inspired your current WIP?
2. How do you best get "in the zone" for writing?
3. Do you have a certain time of day/place where you find you're most productive?
4. If you could sit down and pick the brain of one author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask them?
5. Your WIP has just become sentient. On a scale of 1-10, how much trouble are you in?
6. If money was no issue, where would your ideal writing vacation take place?
7. How did you come up with the title for your current WIP?
8. Who would you want to direct the movie adaptation of your WIP?
9. What advice would you give to another writer?
10. Hypothetical: You have a time machine and a nefarious mind. You can travel back in time with one book and take credit for writing it. Which book would it be?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Brief History of Montmaray

 I first heard of Michelle Cooper's A Brief  History of Montmaray a few weeks ago, when it was compared to Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, which I adore. So of course I had to find this.

A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals, #1)And in some ways, there are a lot of parallels: both narrators are teenage girls, telling their story as journal entries; both live in a relatively reclusive world; and both live the paradoxical world of the impoverished nobility. Sophie is a princess, the niece of the King of Montmaray, a small fictional island somewhere between Spain and England. But she cleans the castle, cooks, and does laundry, as the populace of Montmaray is something less than ten people.

The narrator here is delightful: as a writer, it was interesting to see how the voice itself pulled me through the first half of the novel, which was quite slow. And for all that common writerly advice is that the main character has to want something and actively strive for it, Sophie's not that clearly drawn by her desires. Her role is primarily that of a passive narrator for much of the novel, though it's to her credit and the writer's credit that I still found her interesting and sympathetic.

Not much happens in the first part of the novel: Sophie pines over Simon, the housekeeper's son, who is living in London like her brother Toby, who's struggling with school. The king is mad, and Sophie tries to avoid him while curtailing the worst of her youngest sister's madcap behavior.

But then a pair of SS officers show up on the island ostensibly looking for clues to the Holy Grail, and the  novel takes a sudden, and fairly dark, turn into adventure--the pace picks up dramatically at that point.

For all that I loved the narrator, I missed some of the delightful first romance in I Capture the Castle. So overall, a novel that I enjoyed but didn't love.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Stronger than You Know

Stronger Than You Know Whenever I pick up a book by an author I know, I'm both excited and hesitant (excited because--look, I know her! And hesitant because if I don't like it, I never know what to say. Usually I don't say anything). Luckily, Jolene Perry's Stronger Than You Know was lovely--a perfect mix of drama and hope.

When the novel opens, Joy is struggling with just about everything: adjusting to her new school, a new life with her aunt and uncle and cousins, talking to anyone she's not related to. Sometimes just existing.

Because Joy has just escaped from a terrible, abusive environment with a mother who almost never let her leave their tiny trailer home, and who didn't protect Joy from her boyfriends in the most basic way a mother should.

What I loved about this book was how Perry managed to make Joy wounded and believable without drowning the book in darkness--it's easy to write dark. It's less easy to write hope that doesn't dissolve into schmaltz. I loved Joy--she was vulnerable, but there was an iron core to her. She'd gone through terrible things, but she wasn't willing to let those things define her. Watching Joy come out of the trauma of her past was one of the best parts of the novel.

I also loved that Joy was surrounded by good people. So often, it's easy to create drama in books by making everyone around the hero disagreeable. But Joy's aunt and uncle are warm and loving and wonderful. Justin was great, too, as the boy who sees something in Joy she doesn't yet see herself, but who's careful to only ask for what Joy is ready to give.

Overall, a powerful book about a survivor, one that made me smile as often (or more) than it made me cry.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Geography of You and Me

 I adored Jennifer Smith's The Statistical Probability at First Sight. So maybe I can blame that book for not loving this book as much as I wanted to. I keep picking up her books hoping to reclaim that magic--and though this was sweet and quiet it didn't have quite the same zing between the characters, maybe because they spend so much of the novel apart.

The Geography of You and MeLucy and Owen live very different lives, despite living in the same apartment building in New York. Owen, the building caretaker's son, lives in a small basement apartment and is still reeling from the death of his mother and his recent move to NYC from small-town Pennsylvania. Lucy lives half-way up the building, with a view, and parents who are rarely around as they are too busy jet-setting around the world. But one fateful day (the infamous NYC blackout), they happen to both be on the elevator when the power goes out. Once they get rescued, they find themselves drawn to each other and spend the evening wandering the dark streets of the city, marveling at the stars, and then the night on the roof of their building talking.

But then life intervenes and they find themselves heading in opposite directions--Owen, out West, and Lucy to Scotland and then London. Still, they hold onto some of the magic from that night by sending each other postcards from their different destinations.

I don't mind quiet novels, and I genuinely liked both characters. But despite the romance of the different places they inhabit (London, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe), there wasn't quite enough romance here--they spend a lot of time yearning for each other without really knowing much about each other. And while I thought the novel was beautifully written, sometimes their parallel chapters seemed too much like a gimmick and not enough like realistic development.

So--a good book, just not a great one.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

IWSG: Fear of Falling

This week, while most writers are busy with the madness that is NaNoWriMo, I'm going to be busy with a different kind of madness: querying.

Because I've been participating in Pitch Wars, I'm waiting to query until after the agent round (which is this week!). In some ways, this is a terrific place to be: I've got a story that I've polished and loved and gotten great feedback on--and I haven't yet been inundated with rejections (though there have been a few). I can still dream big.

IWSG Badge

It would be easy to stop at this point, to celebrate my  hard work and move on to the next story. But there's not really much value in that. If I'm serious about writing--and I am--then I have to move onward. That means putting my work out there and taking any feedback that might come in (hard as it will be to hear it) and keep trying to improve.

I won't lie, I'm not looking forward to the rejections. But every writer faces them. Agent Holly Root posted on twitter a week or so ago that she's never sold a book that hasn't been rejected at some point.

As a teacher, I know that my students don't improve as writers without critical feedback. And I've learned that as a writer I don't either. When I first got the five-pages of feedback from my Pitch Wars mentor (Virginia Boecker, who has an amazing looking book coming out in May), I was a little heart sick. I thought she'd picked my book because it was good, and yet there was so much I still needed to fix!

I let the feedback sit for a couple of days and when I came back to it I was astounded to find that she was right. I took her ideas, applied them to the novel, and while it may not be perfect yet, it is much, much better. I'm indebted to her for the time she took to give me feedback, even if it was initially hard to hear.

I'm hoping to take this attitude with me into querying and remember that rejections aren't (always) personal. Sometimes, they're just an opportunity to grow.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Hollow Kingdom

The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, #1) My sister recommended this book to me--and I think  it was only by virtue of her recommendation that I kept reading initially. The fairy-tale nature of the story was originally a little hard to get into, particularly since the book starts with a prologue of characters who don't appear in the rest of the book (except as mentioned in passing). But I'm glad I kept reading, because the story--particularly the characters drew me in.

Kate and her sister Emily have recently been orphaned and have gone to stay with their great aunts on Hollow Hill, at an estate that belongs to Kate. But Kate soon realizes that they are in grave danger: their estate rests on a goblin kingdom, and the goblin king is determined to have her. Of course, Kate's outspoken insistence of danger only draws pitying looks from her aunts and her uncle, who are convinced that the goblins are a product of her overwrought nerves. When Kate's sister Emily disappears, however, Kate swallows her pride and repugnance and goes directly to the goblin king himself to help win Emily back--knowing, as she does, that she's dooming herself to a life below-ground as the goblin king's bride.

I really loved the characters here: Kate is feisty and smart, and Marek (the goblin king) is, well, oddly charming. He's ugly, but he's forthright. Lots of the reviews mention being disturbed by the whole Stockholm syndrome thing (that Kate would fall for her captor), but Marek never made any pretences to be other than what he was. And in his world, he had no choice: goblin women don't bear children well--the only way to ensure the continuance of his line and the protection of his kingdom was to steal a wife. So, while I was initially horrified for Kate, I did understand why he could put his people above her preferences. What made this book fascinating, though, was the way that Kate and Marek came to understand and love each other. (That, or maybe watching Labyrinth as a teenager had a bad influence on my taste in romance. I still find myself dreaming about David Bowie's goblin king!).

The pacing and structure of this book was a little odd: there are really two different stories, tenuously connected. Despite that, I enjoyed this book. The storytelling is charmingly old-fashioned--it reminds me more of books by Lloyd Alexander and the fantasy authors of my childhood than current fast-paced fantasy retellings.