Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Trickster's Choice by Tamora Pierce

Title: Trickster's Choice
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Young Adult (fantasy)
Rating: 3/5 stars
Why I read it/how I found it: I just felt like I needed to read some Tamora Pierce, since she's such a staple in the YA fantasy community.
Description: Alianne is the teenage daughter of the famed Alanna, the first lady knight in Tortall. Young Aly follows in the quieter footsteps of her father, however, delighting in the art of spying. When she is captured and sold as a slave to an exiled royal family in the faraway Copper Islands, it is this skill that makes a difference in a world filled with political intrigue, murderous conspiracy, and warring gods. This is the first of two books featuring Alianne.
Review: I hadn't read the books about Aly's mother, Alanna, so I'm not sure if that was part of the reason the world was difficult for me to understand at first. But fairly soon I could pick up on their customs and life. The riff between the "luarin" (the white-skins) and the "raka" (the brown-skins) was portrayed very well and the influence can be seen in our world as well. The fight scenes were written excellently, something I very much admire in writing because that has got to be the hardest thing to write well. Although I must say, the love interest in this one just makes me feel uncomfortable, he's just very strange. I couldn't get into that aspect of the book. And while I could continue reading this book easily, it didn't have me plowing through to see what would happen next, either.
Recommendation: If you have the time.
Should I buy it: My copy was only $9, so if you're used to just buying books, go ahead. If you're on a tighter budget, I'd look in the library or a friend first.
Other information: This has one sequel, Trickster's Queen. You can find Tamora Pierce's website here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars
Why I read it/how I found it: My sister suggested this one, and I do have an interest in WWII
Description: January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb....

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends--and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society--born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island--boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Review: This novel is told in a series of letters from various characters to one another, and sometimes telegrams or a quickly scribbled note. For me, Guernsey started out slow. I didn't get emotions I wanted to feel about a post-war country and characters at the beginning, and I'm still not certain if a book entirely in letters was the best idea. They provided insight into many characters, but at the same time, I wanted more scene which you generally don't get with letters. It wasn't until part two that I really got invested in the storyline and what was going on with the plot. I would say for the most part, this is a character-driven story, which is one of its finest attributes. The characters are lively and so real. One of the characters I had been drawn to the most didn't even write a letter, so I never "heard" her voice, but she was as real and dear as the other characters who did have an opportunity to voice their thoughts. When they did bring up the war, I found it very moving, especially when they mention the Germans. I love it when books don't highlight sides as black and white. Obviously, I believe that the Nazis were horrible and as black as you can get, but this novel took you back from Hitler and sometimes brought you to the individual level of the German soldier, who were not so black. I very much enjoyed that distinction for us to all remember the soldier and individual.
Recommendation: Read if you have time.
Should I buy it?: Eh, only if you get a really good price for it. Otherwise, check up on your friends and the library.
Other information: Annie Barrow's website is here and unfortunately, Mary Ann Shaffer has passed away. And in my research of the book, I found an IMDB page. There isn't much information in it yet, but a movie could be in the works.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Setting Collage

As I'm working on developing a story that's been in my head for about the past month, I realized that I really needed to get setting down. It's the entire background of the story, I needed it to be right. And, as this story is a fantasy set in a made-up medieval land, there are a lot of different ways that the reader could picture it: Disney-fied, dark and gritty, maybe some Lord of the Rings; medieval fantasy has so many different possible connotations that I wanted to make sure mine was clear.
But how would I do this? Well, I had to know what I wanted, for one. And then I had to make sure that I would stick to it. The character collages I did earlier really inspired me. As I don't have magazines on medieval castles and landscapes, I instead browsed around the internet and made up a quick collage with the different parts of setting that will be important to my story. This is what I made:
This is the collage for the exterior at least. I'll probably do one on the interior as well. I'm hoping this will help me as I write to establish the setting by having a visual to refer back to when I need to describe something.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Now you get to see if I can walk the walk...

You've heard me (or read me?) talk the talk. And today you get the opportunity to see if I can walk the walk.

My semester has wrapped up (I just have finals left--yikes!) and so my Creative Writing class is done. For that class, our final is to make a portfolio of our best work. And so I've decided to share with all of you two pieces. One I turned into my final portfolio, but the other I didn't.

First, my creative non-fiction "Blue Jeans, Man". If you don't know what creative non-fiction is (because I didn't before I took this class) it's something that actually happened to the author and they are telling in a way that is similar to creative fiction writing. For the sake of privacy, I've changed some names. You can read it on this Google doc.

This is a short story that I wrote, "Sight", but I did not add to my final because I chose another short story to add (I'm not putting up that one because it's sprouting an idea for a novel). So here is "Sight".

We also had to put in poems, but I've already shared one (the spam poem I put up earlier) and the other ones I wrote are not worth posting. Poetry is not my strong suit.

I hope you enjoy your first glimpse at my walking. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

To make sure I keep up on reading in my busy life, I've decided that on Saturdays, I'll be posting a book review. And this is my first:
 Title: Paranormalcy
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult (paranormal)
Rating: 4/5 stars
Why I read it/how I found it: A friend in one of my classes said it was written by an alumni of her high school, and that it was really good and unique in terms of the paranormal YA genre.
Description: Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.
But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.
So much for normal.
Well, I for one had read enough on vampires/werewolves/fairies to last me a while. But when my friend said that this book was unique, I decided to give it a try, because I really do like paranormal. And I loved this book. White's writing as Evie was very teenage-esque, without (for the most part) being over-bearing at trying to sound  "hip" or whatever some authors think teens sound like now. Evie had little quirks about her that were so very teenage girl without being stereotypical that I could identify with a lot of her, but she was still unique enough to stand as a well-rounded character. The story was fresh, I was always wondering what was really going on, and I predicted almost nothing as to the mystery in the story of what was killing these paranormals and why. It was definitely not a plotline I could easily trace out ahead of time. And the creatures were not just limited to vampires, werewolves, and fairies, there were also mermaids, hags, water spirits, and a creature that I'm not entirely sure is even traditional paranormal. And ah, of course, the love interests! What YA book doesn't have them now? But the nice thing about Evie is that she realized her ex-boyfriend Reth was PSYCHO and wasn't turned on by his uber creepiness like some characters in other paranormal books, and yet he still had some type of crazy power that drew her into him, even though she hated it. Reth's characterization is awesome, too, I had shivers down my spine whenever he came in the scene. And Evie's development with Lend was great. Started out with just wanting to flirt since she never had the chance to like a real teen, then grew into friendship, and then she liked him. Unfortunately, some of the romance was cliche (the whole "we kissed and it was great and I have no idea how long it was, it might have been a short time, it might have been a long time, I don't know it was just that great" [obviously paraphrasing there, it was worded better, but still cliche]). Other than some of those types of phrases, though, I enjoyed watching the developing relationship between Evie and Lend.
Recommendation: Read.
Should I buy it?: If you like YA and you like paranormal, YES. If it still sounds interesting to you but you aren't sure if it's your thing or you're like me and kinda tired of paranormal, then try to find a copy at your library or borrow one from a friend. But I did buy it and I'm not regretting it.
Other information: This is a series! It is the first of the Paranormalcy series. The next book Supernaturally comes out on August 30, and the third book (yet to have a title) will come out in Fall of 2012. You can find out more about Paranormalcy and Kiersten White at her website here.

I hope you all enjoyed my first book review! I have about four or five books lined up to read next, but if you have any suggestions as to what I should read, please let me know.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Character Collages

So I originally found the idea of character collages at Literary Rambles which led me to Seeing Creative's post on it, which finally led to the original source on WriteOnCon. I'll let Tera Lynn Childs explain it:

I thought it was a cool idea, but I'm a poor college student, I don't spend money on magazines, and I don't even have a printer of my own. So while I thought it was so cool and I wanted to do it, I didn't. Until today. You see, my semester is ending and our dorm is all packing up and getting ready to leave, so people are putting out things they don't want anymore and anyone can take. Among them: a massive stack of Entertainment Weekly magazines.
I grabbed them and started up two collages for different characters. I just made them today, so we'll see how they work for my writing process, but as for character building, it helped. I'd been struggling with a way to describe one of my characters, and then in the magazine they showed an old picture of Gregory Peck, and said he played the "quietly courageous Atticus Finch." And then I realized that's how I wanted my character. Quietly courageous.
So  I don't have a scanner, or else I'd totally post my collages. But if you have a stack of magazines and time, I suggest this exercise!

Monday, April 11, 2011

That's so cliche!

Well, that title was certainly cliche.
As I've learned more about the art of writing, something that has always worried me is that I will use the dreaded cliches and my work will be unoriginal and dull.
But, now I've found a tool that I would like to share with you all. The cliche finder!
Just put in your text, and it'll highlight cliches. Although, you should definitely still look your work over again, because I think some phrases become used too much and are more of trends than outlasting cliches, and then there's always cliche situations that will occur in writing as well. But it's a nice place to start.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The kids in books grown up

Ok, so my posts are very geared toward plotting and writing out a first draft of a book right now because, well, that's the stage I'm in with my writing, I have a WIP. When it's done and I start revising, you'll probably see a shift in subject.

So what else has kind of been floating around in my mind is this:

Not the movie. Well, okay, I am super excited about that and it has been floating around in my mind. But what I've been thinking about is if in books for the younger crowd having the characters grow up, get married, and have kids, is something they want to see.

Now, I'm fine when I read a book and I get an epilogue that shows the characters in the future. But, for some reason, I also think that authors get backlash from the young fans of the series (a good portion readers of children's books are also adults) if they do this.

Harry Potter. We get an epilogue. I've heard complaints about it. Although, I don't think it's because it shows the kids as adults, married, with their children. I think for Harry Potter, it was more of the fact that everything seemed overly cheerful, perhaps, after such a dark journey.

However, there are definitely two YA novels that have gotten some backlash from fans in this sense. Breaking Dawn and Mockingjay.

Breaking Dawn does not have an epilogue, but the fact that Bella and Edward have a baby was definitely a turn-off for some Twilight fans. Maybe it's because two thirds of the book dealt with this child in some form, readers were overdosed with it, opposed to another series which will mention children for a few pages at the end. But I did notice in my days of Twilight craze (yes, I admit that I was once obsessed with this series) most of the people who had problems with this plotline were teens. Bella and Edward suddenly had a disconnect from them. They were parents. I'm not sure what they're saying about teen pregnancy these days, but I'd wager most of the teens who read Twilight were not teen mothers. The older fans, it didn't bother them as much as, say, the absence of an epic battle at the end. But the older fans were generally mothers or close to motherhood and thinking about it more (sorry if you're a Twiguy and I'm leaving you out with most of these "how fans react thing" by referring to them all as female). Anyway, point: pregnancy and babies seem to estrange readers in the YA range when they are heavily dived into. least in Breaking Dawn, I don't think as much.

Mockingjay is very, very, very, very different from Twilight. But, it too got some backlash from fans and part of that was the (in my humble opinion) brilliantly beautiful epilogue. Katniss ends up with Peeta, and they have two children. Right as soon as I discussed the book with other fans, the epilogue was slammed as being horrible and unnecessary, and oh my gosh Suzanne Collins, you shouldn't have even written it! There were children. How could Katniss possibly have children? I think part of it may have been the fact that through the series, Katniss thinks she's not going to have children. Period. End of story. And then at the end, we find out Peeta's talked her into having kids. Now, I dug it because to me the kids showed how much their world had changed, that Katniss felt safe enough to have children. But some people didn't like it. And, again, I feel most of those people were teenagers and I think most of those people in general did not want children in the first place, so a point that they connected with Katniss had been severed.

So, my conclusion: Young adult readers can handle epilogues with their characters married and with children, just don't make it sappy. However, teens do not always bode well with reading extensively about life changes that they are not familiar with, like children. As for marriage, I'm not as sure how much a YA audience could handle. Generally, if a character gets married, it's at the end of the book and it's just the wedding. I've yet to see YA that delves into the realm of marriage in and of itself (Breaking Dawn mostly focuses on Renesmee). And, finally, readers don't like to see huge character changes in epilogues, even if they're amazing and make perfect sense (I mean really, I don't think Suzanne Collins could have done the epilogue better, I don't understand why some people don't get it. If you can't tell I love Mockingjay's epilogue).

As to where this leaves me...well, I don't know. Once I finish my WIP I'll still have two more books until I get up to this point and make a decision.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

YA romance and the question of "what is too much?"

Let's face it, YA is riddled with romance and triangles right now. Seriously, pull out a book in the YA section now and what's the chance that there isn't a romance in it? Maybe 5%? And half of the books seem to have triangles in them. Certainly all of the successful ones (Twilight, The Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments, and Matched just to name a few) have some form of a love triangle.

My WIP right now does have a romantic storyline to it. Half of the plot is a romance. But, I'm not going with a love triangle. In fact, when I called Jasmine to tell her about the idea, I said, "Well...I have this idea...but it is heavily romantic." She stopped me and asked, "Is there a love triangle?" When I told her there wasn't one in the traditional sense and further explained the plot, she breathed a sigh of relief. She told me that triangles are far too overdone now. So I'm wondering...will people get sick of love triangles? Part of the way I molded my story is in the fact that I was sick of seeing them, even though there are books which just sucked me in that had triangles. Jasmine was sick of seeing it, and I often come across comments on an upcoming YA book, "Oh no, not another triangle!"

But love triangles have been around forever. Twilight certainly wasn't the first book to come up with it, and I doubt that we'll see the end anytime soon. And so what I now judge the plotline of love triangles is whether it actually adds anything to the story, or is just another shiny thing to distract the reader with, as well as how well it's constructed and if it's believable.

Another question I have been posing due to my WIP is when are there too many guys into a girl. I promise that there is no triangle action in this WIP, I did not lie to you or to Jasmine. Because in order for there to be a triangle, the girl (or guy, but it's usually a girl) has to in some way feel for both of the guys. No, my heroine is clearly only into her love interest. But, guys will like girls who don't reciprocate their feelings.

And so my question is: how many guys can fall for a girl without her becoming a Mary Sue or the entire idea just being unbelievable? I'm going to take a look at Twilight right now. In the first book, Bella has Erik, Mike, and Tyler all ask her to prom. Then of course she falls for Edward, and even in the first book Jacob showed a clear interest in her. In the later books Erik and Tyler's hormones don't pull toward Bella, but Edward, Jacob, and Mike are all still interested in her. Too much? A lot of people think so. It didn't phase me as a fourteen year old reading a book targeted toward older YA for the first time, but now I definitely see the problem. And then again, you have heroines like Scarlett O'Hara who gets married three times and has several other men competing for her. And look at Gone with the Wind. It's a celebrated classic. And, one of my roommates has some issues with too many guys being into her. She isn't a Scarlett O'Hara, she doesn't expect guys to fall at her feet, they just do because she's such a fun person. It's not like there aren't girls out there who do just have a lot of guys interested in them.

I wish I had an answer to all of this. It would make it easier as I try to shape the plot of my WIP. But, in the end, I suppose everything is relative as to how the story is created.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April Fool's Day

I know it's the third, but I wanted to share my April Fool's Day. I've just been busy before now to set out an type it all up.

One the 31st, I bought some Oreos and offered some to my roommates. Then, when they were all in their rooms sleeping or in bed, I took out the cream of the cookie and replaced it with white toothpaste. I went to bed, but while I was asleep two of my roommates fell to my trick.

I woke up to a room covered in toilet paper. I slept in a bit while my other roommate fell for the tricks and I was warned. Our deodorant had cream cheese spread across, our milk was pink, our shampoo and conditioner bottles had saran wrap over them, our toothbrushes had something icky on it. So after avoiding all of these shenanigans, I get a text from my best friend from back home, Jasmine. She told me she was coming up and wanted to know if I was free. Obviously, I wasn't falling for an April Fool's joke. So I told her so. After several text messages, I found she wasn't kidding, and I was so glad! I spent the weekend hanging out with her, and that was so much fun. I won't be able to see her again until June when I finish with school.

To get back one of my roommates, me and another roommate put a note on the windshield of her car that read, "Sorry about the dent!!! Call me so we can exchange insurance info!" And we left a number of a guy we know. Well, she fell for it. She looked for the dent, although she didn't call the number. Right as she was about to, she realized it was a joke. And we put some old letters of my other roommate's in the mailbox, so she thought she got three letters from three of her different friends who are out of the country. Oh, April Fool's Day!