Friday, June 22, 2012

Fixation Friday: Book Review of Shadow and Bone

Isn't the cover gorgeous? I bought this for my Kindle, but I may need to own a copy too.

It's not very often that I find myself falling through the pages of a new book and landing in a richly drawn world of wonder. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo did just that. I wish I had the words to accurately describe the elation that comes with a great book. It's better than chocolate. It's better than a good red wine. It's better than most things, but that's probably because I'm a huge book nerd (and proud!).

Shadow and Bone, the first installment of the Grisha trilogy, introduces us to Alina Starkov - assistant cartographer in the Second Army, orphan, and lovesick over her childhood friend Mal. The story is set in the country of Ravka (think old world Russia with sleighs and a lot of words with the letter "k" that end in "i") which is hewn in half by a swath of "nearly impenetrable darkness" called the Shadow Fold. As Alina's regiment prepares to make the dangerous crossing through the Fold, and face the night monsters that live there, we're fed small bits of the country's history and its magician/scientist/soldier caste called the Grisha. The Grisha stand apart from everyone else in the land as having special abilities and they are used as weapons, protectors, and sometimes cheap entertainment. The leader of the Grisha, and second in status to only the king, is the Darkling - powerful, dangerous, gorgeous.

As all journeys through impenetrable darkness go, this one ends in horror. The only bright spot is literally Alina herself. She is a gifted Grisha Sun Summoner, only no one knew it. Quickly whisked away from danger to the capital city and the intrigues of court, Alina discovers who she is and finds a place for herself in the world. Here we see some common YA tropes in typical boarding school fashion, but nothing could keep me from reading on. I was intrigued by the world, Bardugo's clean, easy style, and in love with Alina herself.

The story's themes of belonging, finding a true sense of self, and the murky lines between light and dark were wonderfully executed. There is so much more I want to say about this read, but none of it can be done without spoilers. I hope more people pick up this read soon so I can have someone to gush with. There is no doubt in my mind that this book is taking off. I expect great things from Bardugo and the the rest of the Grisha series.

Verdict = Favorite read of 2012

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review: Insurgent

What's this? A book review?! *Gasp!*

I know, I suck at the writing of book reviews. I promise, *promise* that I read more than I review.

I am a huge fan of Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT. It is the first in an eponymous three-book series that chronicles the changing life of Beatrice "Tris" Prior. In a dystopian Chicago set in the undetermined future, we find 16 year-old Beatrice as a member of the faction Abnegation. In this future, everyone chooses a faction in their 16th year to belong to for the rest of their lives. The premise is that our broken world was caused by human frailties, but not everyone agreed which faults were to blame, thus society was split into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless); Amity (the peaceful); Candor (the honest); Dauntless (the brave); Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction believes their way of life is the best method for humanity to move forward and there's more than a touch of animosity between the five factions. The city exists within a fence to keep whatever exists outside of it out.

Insurgent begins almost exactly where Divergent ended. It took me a while to remember everything that had happened at the end of Divergent, but eventually I caught up.

Here's a recap:

In Divergent, Tris decides to leave her family and the Abnegation faction behind in favor of Dauntless. Each person is given an aptitude test to tell them which faction they have an affinity for, but it is ultimately a personal decision where they go. Tris' test came back as having an aptitude for three factions, she is divergent. To be labeled divergent is dangerous, and the person who administered her test helps her cover up her results. She goes through the Dauntless initiation, a dangerous process that leaves more than one initiate dead or exiled as one of the "factionless". The first novel ends with a coup by some of the faction leaders to gain control over the rest.

In the second installment, Tris has managed to escape capture and mental enslavement (thanks to her divergent nature) with her boyfriend, brother, and an enemy. The skirmish to stop the coup cost Tris more than she bargained for and forced her to take the life of a friend to save her own. Dealing with the fallout causes her to distance herself from the swoony Four and creates a rift between the two that spans the book.

I loved, loved Divergent, but I was less enamored with Insurgent. I still enjoyed the story, but I was a bit frustrated with the characters at times. I did remind myself more than once that this is a YA series with young, inexperienced characters. That aside, I loved the twist that Roth works in (and hints at several times). All in all, I was pleased with the read and can't wait for the as yet untitled conclusion. I suggested it be called Detergent, but I'm not sure Roth would agree.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fifty Shades: Why Everyone HATES It

Okay, tons of people are hating on E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. I'm talking spewing vitriol hate on this book series and its author in ways that are normally reserved for Justin Beiber. Like anything that's popular, some people dislike it because others love it. But, there is a small, vocal minority that hate it for completely different reasons. I don't hate it. I hate racism and narrow-minded bigots. I do think the book is poorly executed and that most of the world likes it because it's taboo (Chains! Whips! Control freak billionaire sex gods! Oh my!).

So here's my personal opinion as to why the books are fundamentally stealing: Fifty Shades of Grey was written as a fanfiction. If you're not familiar with fanfiction, go to ComiCon and meet some lovely people who spend hours of their lives re-imagining other people's characters in interesting scenarios. I know many fanfiction writers who also write original fiction. They are fabulous and talented and fiercely loyal. I have no qualms with fanfiction/ff writers and have read and enjoyed many ff stories. The first, and biggest, objection I have to the Fifty Shades series is the fact that James wrote this series as Twilight fanfiction. Is the storyline hers? Yup. Are the characters? In my mind, no. Now this is where I (and others who share my opinion) lose most of world. Who cares if she "based" the characters on already existing fictional characters if she had them placed in entirely unique scenarios? Well, here's why:
  • When writing fanfiction that is AU (alternate universe) where characters act OOC (out of character), you're still taking the essence of that character and using it. It wasn't "What would Christian Grey do here?" it was "What would Edward Cullen do if he were a naughty, naughty boy?". See the distinction? James took characters already in existence and applied them (and their previously established personality traits, decision making processes, and distinguishing smirks) to something new. Is it entirely stolen? No, of course not. But the application of someone else's work via the way the characters behave is not original.
Reasons to add a concrete block to smash your head against in your Amazon cart along with the books:
  1. It is so badly done. Come on, people! Come on! Can't you see that she thesaurused her way through the whole effing thing?! And the ellipses. Oh, the ellipses. I can't even tell you how sad I am over the misuse of such beloved punctuation. I have PTSD flashbacks every time I try to use the once easily applied ...
  2. There was little to no editing by a person who has the title "Editor" on their business card (I'm aware any bozo can call themselves an editor. I'm talking about someone who other people call an editor). If you live in London and write using a vernacular specific to the place where you live, and not where your story is taking place, you no write good. There were so many Britishisms in the books that I thought I was back on the Tube en route to Leicester Square to catch a West End production of something starring Daniel Radcliffe. Those are the sorts of things that a professional editor would catch and have an author fix to create a more polished manuscript.
I'm tired of hearing about it and am probably adding fodder to the fire, but I don't care. If people want to read the books, they will. I can't stop them and Stephenie Meyer refuses to sue E.L. James, so I guess we're all stuck. I'm just waiting for all the drama and hype to die down so I can unblock people from my Facebook feed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fixation Friday: Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson

Yesterday was my first official day at Lit Fest 2012 put on by Denver's own the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. It was really great. I started my day with an agent critique of my manuscript. It was an enlightening experience and I was grateful for such solid feedback on areas I need to work on. These kinds of meetings can be a difficult pill to swallow, but writing forces you to grow a tough skin. I've trained myself to see every bit of constructive criticism as a positive thing. When the advice is good, it will help improve your work and make you a better writer. If you don't agree with the criticism, that's fine too. Not everyone will love your work. It's best to get used to that idea sooner rather than later.

My favorite part of the day was An Agent Reads the Slush Pile with super agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. All attendees of the workshop submitted their first two pages for Kristin to read aloud (anonymously, of course!) as if they had come across her desk from the slush pile. As she read each one, she explained to the class when she would have stopped and why. There were a handful of standouts that she would have asked to see more pages from. Most of what she explained were the tried and true tips I've read in a lot of places:
  • Watch the use of a prologue.
  • Don't open your novel with a dream sequence, someone waking up, or any kind of bodily function.
  • Don't overload your first pages with exposition or too much background.
Some of the tips she mentioned that I never really considered were:
  • Sometimes as writers we tend to break up a scene with extraneous information. It's best to be mindful of how and when we pepper in any commentary. Sometimes that extra information can get in the way of the action and stop the flow of the scene.
  • Some of the best opening lines can be found two or three paragraphs in. The first line of a novel has to grab attention. We don't need to read the first page and find ourselves in the middle of a fight scene, but you can't afford to have a lackluster opening. There were several examples where the perfect first line - either witty, scary, or strange - was buried under paragraphs of exposition.
All in all, great first day. I'm looking forward to what I'll learn and who I'll meet this weekend!

Educate yourself about the topic in this post:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lit Fest Tomorrow

Wow! I can't believe how quickly the middle of June arrived. I signed up a while ago for Lit Fest 2012 through Denver's Lighthouse Writers Workshop (an independent creative writing center in Denver, Colorado, founded and operated by working writers and university-level teachers of writing).

The conference has been running since last week with intensives and other specialty workshops aimed at honing your craft. I wasn't able to attend any of those (Work? Who needs it? Oh, right. Me.), but I signed up for a pass that allows me access this Thursday-Sunday.

Tomorrow, I have a chat scheduled with Brooks Sherman of Fine Print Literary Management and then I'm hitting An Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. This weekend has some great workshops and the event's first-ever book fair.

I'm nervous and excited all at once. My goal in attending is to make some local connections, meet other writers, and absorb as much as I can. I'm pretty green when it comes to publishing, so I feel a bit like this is the first day of school and I'm the new kid who doesn't know anyone. I just hope no one makes fun of my Hello Kitty lunch box!

I'll post pics and thoughts this weekend.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fixation Friday: New Library!

I can't help but smile every time I pass a public library. I'm not sure why this happens, but inevitably I see a mom and her 2+ kids scampering out the doors with arms full of books. These scenes seem so idyllic that I end up looking over my shoulder to see where the director for the lifestyle commercial they must be shooting placed the cameras (b/c these things don't happen like this IRL, do they?). Unless the director has craftily hidden the cameras in bushes, this does happen regularly and it warms the cockles of my cold, jaded heart.

I say jaded because here in Denver most libraries are only open four days a week, and it breaks my heart. When I frequent my local library (as often for books as I do for access to a cheap printer ((because I don't have one and really don't care to buy one))), I see the same situation each time - kids running around the courtyard, families playing in the toddler area with kids books and stuffed animals, adults taking continuing education classes on the Microsoft Office Suite. It makes me so happy to see how the library isn't just a quite place for reading, it is a community gathering space. It's a place kids can go to safely waste away the summer. Where adults looking for jobs can brush up on their Excel skills. It's a valuable resource that should be open every day of the week. Money is tight, and I understand the need for cities to reign in their spending. I just wish there was a way to do it without sacrificing these neighborhood jewels.

This sums up EXACTLY how I feel (via Bookshelf Porn)
Enough of the sad stuff and on to the good news. A new library is about to open up near my office in Denver. The last one that the City of Denver opened up is the penultimate modern library with a huge selection of books, media, and space for study groups or informal business meetings. I'm counting down the days until August 11th!

Educate yourself about the topic in this post: