Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Class of 2014 YA books: popularity contest

The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest will run Monday, December 15th – Thursday, December 18th and will highlight favorite YA books published in 2014Join us in celebrating great books of 2014 - sign up at any of the hosts' blogs: Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller or Katy Upperman

Today is my favorite part of this blogfest, the character popularity contest!

Villain I Love to Hate

Stitching SnowOkay, this was a tough one this year. The Darkling from Ruin and Rising was my favorite villain, but I couldn't hate him (though I could hate some of the terrible things he did). But most of the books I read didn't have a hateful villain that really stood out, except the king and evil stepmom queen in Stitching Snow, R.C. Lewis. This is "a retelling of Snow White in space, where Snow is a cage-fighting tech-head with daddy issues" and oh man is her daddy twisted.   

Most Likely to Become a Rock Star
The Unbound (The Archived, #2)Wesley, from The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab. There's just something about this guy, both bright and dark at the same time, full of quips but also seriousness (see my review for more Wesley love). I'm thrilled that there will be a free short, Leave the Window Open, coming in 2015 from Wesley's POV.

Favorite Parental Figure
SalvagePerpetue, from Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan. She saves Ava when Ava is running away from her repressors; she flies her own space ship, carries a knife and a wicked knife scar on her face, lives in a floating city in the Pacific, and she's tough and smart but kind. 

Favorite Parental Figure (runner up)
Audrey's mom: she's President of the United States! from When Audrey Met Alice, by Rebecca Behrens.

Gates of Thread and Stone (Gates of Thread and Stone #1)Favorite Sibling Figure (my own category)
Reev, Kai's adopted brother in Gates of Thread and Stone, by Lori M. Lee. The ties between Kai and Reev run deep and strong through out the story, and explode at the ending into something breath taking and heart breaking.

Most Likely to Start a Riot
A Creature of MoonlightMarni in Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn. This girl doesn't care what anyone thinks of her and she can resist some serious male attention and charm. Marni learns the price to pay to escape expectations, the price to resist manipulation, the price to having a mind of your own, and the price of vengeance. And she's willing to pay those prices. She'd be willing to start a riot, this girl. 

Biggest Flirt
Prince Nikolai, Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo. He adds so much charm to this dark conclusion to the series... though he also adds quite a bit more than charm, too, though I can't drop any more hints without spoilers. Also, I can't resist sharing this lovely image of three aspects of the story, from Leigh Bardugo's Tumblr. 

Alienated (Alienated, #1)
Biggest Anti-Flirt (or, the cold, withdrawn type who has a hidden heart of gold) 
Aelyx, from Alienated, by Melissa Landers. Here's some of the reasons why I love Aelyx:  that thing with the pulse rate (I'm re-reading it, right now). And the part where he was chanting the periodic table... (I have a whole new appreciation for chemistry now). Oh, and he has his own get-away-space shuttle parked out back. 

DangerousCoolest Nerd
Maisie, from Dangerous, by Shannon Hale: I loved how she wants to be astronaut even though she's born with a disability (a missing hand); and here's a little excerpt that pretty much sums up her incredibly nerdiness that I loved, DEEPLY LOVED: "Luther and I had discovered a Japanese website that appeared to promote teeth whitening. It had a message board no one ever used, because honestly, who sits around discussing white teeth? So we colonized it.  MAIZ: Greetings, friend of Wookies everywhere. How's the weather?"

Fashion King and/or Queen
When Audrey Met AliceAlice, the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, whose fictional diary plays a big role in When Audrey Met Alice, by Rebecca Behrens. This girl is really more headstrong than fashionable, but she just seem to fit this category. Teddy's famous quote about her: "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both."

Artistic soul (my own category)
Color Song (Passion Blue, #2)Guilia in Color Song, by Victoria Strauss (YA historical): Guilia flees a convent and disguises herself as a boy so she can apprentice to a famous painter in medieval Venice. This definitely a character (and a book) for anyone with an artist's soul that demands everything from you. 

Character I’d Most Want For a BFF
Alienated (Alienated, #1)Cara, in Alienated, by Melissa Landers. I loved Cara's courage (and at the same time I ached for her) as she doggedly sticks by Aelyx when anti-alien sentiment continues to rise at their school, in the town, and even globally. This girl has a big heart, and I just love to see how she cracks open Aelyx's well-bred coldness. 

Character I’d Most Want For a BFF (runner up)
She Is Not InvisibleLaureth in She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick. She's incredibly determined and resourceful and smart AND she's blind. “I am scared, almost all the time. But I never tell anyone. I can’t afford to. I have to go on pretending I’m this confident person, because if I don’t, if I’m quiet, I become invisible. People treat me as if I’m not there.”  LOVED HER. 

Like No OtherCharacter I Wish I’d Dated in High School
Jaxon in Like No Other, by Una LaMarche.  Because he's black, and he reminded me of a crush I was never brave enough to act on in high school; he's smart and funny (see my review for a sample of being in Jaxon's head) and he'll do crazy things for the girl he loves. 

Most Likely to Become President
Maisie, in Dangerous, by Shannon Hale. See Coolest Nerd, above for more about Maisie.

Quirkiest Character (and Class Clown)
Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)Zuzana, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor.  Described by her BFF Karou as a tiny terror. Stormhunter rider. Puppet-maker. Lover of cakes and pastries. Writer of unique personal ads. Willing to become a samurai for her BFF and follow her everywhere. 

Bonus; Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, was published in 2013, but I didn't read it until 2014, but it would have totally made my character lists last year.  Cath, Levi, Reagan, Simon and Baz probably all would have made my list!

Who was your favorite character from 2014?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best of 2014: my favorite young adult books

The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest will run Monday, December 15th – Thursday, December 18th and will highlight favorite YA books published in 2014Join us in celebrating great books of 2014 - sign up at any of the hosts' blogs: Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller or Katy Upperman

Favorite Dystopian: Salvage, Alexandra Duncan 
Vivid story of a spaceship handmaiden finding freedom in a strange new world: future Earth

Favorite Science Fiction:  Alienated, by Melissa Landers
Alienated (Alienated, #1)
Love, love, loved the premise and the dialogue and spockish alien Aleyx and spunky Cara and their slow burn love. Leave me a comment if you've read this book and if "Elire" made your heart melt...

Favorite Fantasy: Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor 
Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)
My favorite book of 2o14.  I've already re-read it in entirity, the whole trilogy. I cannot even explain how much I love this parallel world full of unique mythical creatures, and how much I love Karou and Akiva and Liraz and Ziri and Zuzana and Mik and Brimstone and I could keep going....

Favorite Fantasy runner up: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)
The final book in this wonderful trilogy set in a Tsarist-Russian-type fantasy world. I've re-read the last 70 pages three times already; wow, wow, wow.

Favorite Contemporary: When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens
When Audrey Met Alice
Audrey is the daughter of the President of the United States, and it's a tough role to adjust to, but the journal of Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice are a big help: I love books that have a contemporary/historical parallel!

Favorite Action/Adventure: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee
Gates of Thread and Stone (Gates of Thread and Stone #1)
A quest, an adopted brother, scary and adorable gargoyles, and an ability to slow time: this book is packed full of action, adventure, twists and turns

Favorite Historical Fiction: The Winter Horses, by Philip Kerr 
The Winter Horses

Set during World War II, a Jewish refugee rescues two rare horses from the Nazis, embarking on an incredible and terrifying journey acorss war-torn Ukraine

Favorite Comedy: Prom Impossible, by Laura Pauling
Prom Impossible

"I wanted to use Zeke to make Jasper jealous to make Michael jealous so I could have my dream prom date." Cue: disaster. A modern Shakespearean comedy.

Favorite Mystery: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not Invisible
Billed as an intricate puzzle of a novel, this is a fantasic but believable journy of a blind girl trying to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance (and one way-cool little brother)

Favorite Romance: Like No Other by Una LaMarche
Like No Other
A young black man in Brooklyn falls in love with a Jewish girl from one of the strictest Hasidic sects. Couldn't put this one down. 

Favorite Paranormal:  The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab 
The Unbound (The Archived, #2)
Even though I didn't get as much time in the Archive, that super spooky but cool library of the dead, this was a completely worthy follow up to the Archived and featured much more of Wesley. Yuuuummmm, Wesley.

Favorite Paranormal runner up: The Fire Wish, by Amber Lough
The Fire Wish (The Jinni Wars, #1)
Star-crossed lovers from the human and djinn worlds that have long been at war.  Fantastic settings and characters and premise.

Favorite Genre Bender: Otherbound , Corrine Duyvis
A contemporary with connections to a parallel world with a slight steampunk feel and a very interesting connection between the two worlds.

My own categories...

Favorite strange new world: Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen
Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy, #1)
A spooky but beautiful underground world ruled by trolls - who aren't exactly trolls - who kidnap a human girl to break a curse

Favorite friendship book: My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter
My Best Friend, Maybe
Amazing writing, a complicated friendship between two girls, thoughtful handling of religious issues, and wonderful setting on the Greek island of Santorini 

Favorite diverse main character: Played, by Liz Fichera
Played (Hooked, #2)

Sam is a Native American in a love-hate relationship with a white suburban princess; I loved the reverse love triangle in this book.

Favorite novel I HAVEN'T READ YET!!!  This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
This Shattered World (Starbound, #2)
It doesn't come out for another 6 days (yes I am counting!!!) The first book in this series, These Broken Stars, was one of my favorites last year. 

What was your favorite 2014 book? 

Friday, December 12, 2014

An elusive refuge and a love list

After a strong finish to NaNoWriMo, I'm in a writing slump. Feeling discouraged, lack luster... not just with writing but can't even get myself motivated to decorate the Christmas tree - and Christmas time has always been a very special time for me, full of little traditions that this year, for some reason, just seem like more work to me instead of bringing delight.

That story that was so exciting to write in the last week of November... I'm re-reading it now and seeing all its flaws. It's about a hidden refuge, and for many years (on and off, as I've been working on this story on and off for a long, long, time) the story itself has been a refuge me, a place where I escape in my mind. But lately it hasn't been my refuge; it's been more my...nemesis. It's like this place has become too interwoven with years of dreams and imaginings that I can't capture it with words - at least not cohesively. Only bits and pieces. The spirit of the story is elusive... what I write is pale and awkward in comparison.

But I've been through enough ups and downs now with writing (and life!) that I know "this too shall pass" - inspiration will come around again. With patience and lots of word-smithing, the flaws that I can't see past right now can slowly be turned into something that lets the passion shine through.

I've learned a few tricks to help the inspiration along, thanks to other bloggers who have shared their own ups and downs. My favorite discovery this year was the story love list. I compiled a love list for my science fiction story back in September and hope if I put one together for this elusive refuge it might help my words get a little closer to the vision in my head.

It's set in Alaska because Alaska has so much remote wilderness I figured it would be a great setting for a bunch of mythical creatures trying to keep  themselves secret and hidden from the rest of the world.

Here's my list of things I love about this novel:

1. taiga - isn't that a neat word? it's a Russian word for the northern boreal forest

Nabsena road, Wrangell-St Elias National Park

2. old log cabins

3. campfires

4. picking blueberries

5. lofts you can only reach with a ladder

6. glaciers

7. eagles

8. dreamy late afternoon light slanting through a forest

9. northern lights

10. mythical creatures

11. sketchbooks

12. kerosene lanterns

13. pontoon planes

14. rainbows

15. a ghost fox

16, forget-me-not flowers

17. pieces of poems

But true love is a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning
Never sick, never old, never dead
From itself never turning

18. eighteen hours of sunshine a day

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Insecure Writer: the fragile writing bubble

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Usually when it comes to writing, my “fragile writing bubble” is protecting my precious time set aside for writing and trying not to let anything get in the way. Fortunately for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I was able to protect my writing time (for the most part) and even though I have become the SLOWEST writer among all the other writers I did word wars and word sprints with (I only averaged about 600 words per hour!) I did manage to get my 50,000 words – by the barest possible margin and by almost completely isolating myself after Thanksgiving dinner and the last three days of November.

When I emerged from NaNoWriMo and rejoined the real world, I was ready to get out of my writing bubble and I have a real life again. It’s good to have a social life again (though my version of a social life is probably a lot different, ahem, slimmer, than average).

I was thankful for a quiet, no-travel Thanksgiving this year so I could concentrate on my writing, but I was looking forward to having a bunch of  extended family come visit us for Christmas, but yesterday both families called and canceled. I’m so sad! Family is precious to me, and after having a really low-key Thanksgiving I really wanted to have a big family Christmas. I don’t know all the details about why they canceled and my fears are that it was a lot to do with my husband’s mom having died earlier this year. She was kind of the “glue” that held the family together, and now that she’s gone I worry that everyone is going to go their own way or maybe they want to stick together, but right now it’s still too painful with the recent loss?

I  have a new perspective on my fragile writing bubble, after having protected it so carefully this past month and now…well…sort of wishing I hadn’t been so protective…wishing maybe we’d tried to go visit our extended family for Thanksgiving or invited more to come here.

It’s so hard to find a balance with the writing life and the rest of life.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On the passionate homestretch

Last week I posted about this has been my hardest NaNoWriMo ever.  Other Novembers have been hard because of travel, or sickness, but this time around, it's the story itself that was frustrating me. I just couldn't capture the vision (or even bits and pieces) of my vision for this story.

Turns out, blogging about my frustrations really helped. Even though I didn't get into the specifics. Just the act of sharing "I'm so frustrated!" (and all your kind and encouraging comments) helped me get past the frustration. Also much thanks to Julie Dao and this post of hers which reminded of the power of journaling through slumps.

The very night after blogging, ideas started to flow. I was able to isolate a few of the issues that were troubling me and some ideas about what could work, instead.

I had all these detailed character sketches for this story; so why weren't my characters working? Why did the main character feel so flat?  Part of the problem that I finally pinned down is that the character sketches were from 5 years ago (I wrote the draft of this story over 5 years ago. My plan this year was to completely rewrite it). Five years ago, I was really good at finding quirks for my characters, and I knew what their flaws were and their strengths. I even knew that all-important question: what do they want so badly that it drives everything they do? But I didn't know their passion. And, it turns out, that was a major missing factor.

So I've learned I have a really hard time writing characters that aren't passionate, and if I can't write the characters, I can't write the story.

The past week the writing has been going a lot better. I don't have the whole passion thing figured out, but I do know that it means digging deep into a character: into their past, into their fears. It also means seeing details that only they would see. Which is sort of the opposite of digging deep: this one sort of requires a light touch. But both require living in their shoes literally almost all day, every day for... well, let's say the month of November. (My family eagerly awaits the return of my attention. Most of this month I've been off in novel-land).

This post from Writer Unboxed: the Point of Writing, also really helped, especially this part:

  • Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms.
  • The point of writing is to tell a story with your insight, the perspective that only you have.
  • The point of writing is to think deeply and to inform, entertain, communicate your insight with your readers.
  • The point of writing is to seek truth.  And it doesn’t matter how you do that, or whether you’re writing thrillers or detective stories or comedies, or picture books for children.  Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading...

I was close to giving up on this NaNoWriMo, but now I'm going for the win. Or rather, Lurching for the win.

Glad to be going into Thanksgiving tomrrow with a thankful mood regarding this story, which is my oldest and most beloved story, my "baby" but also definitely my "problem child."  Also thankful I have a clear holiday and weekend - no travel or plans (other than a yummy turkey dinner) - to compete with catching up my word count!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The writing isn't working

I'm having my worst NaNoWriMo ever. This month is usually a rush. Frustrating at times, exhausting, but oh - the ideas! the random lovely/scary things that appear and make me wonder, did I write that? where did that come from? I usually end up chopping up what I write for NaNo; a lot of it gets cut or heavily revised. But NaNo always gives me a solid diamond core.

Not so much this year. I have this vision my head that just isn't coming out in words. I don't expect the writing magic to flow every night, but the thing I've come to depend on with NaNo is that if I keep spewing the words out every night, then the drudgery momentarily turns to magic, here and there.  Into my third week now, and I'm not seeing any sparks flying yet. I'm holding onto my vision for this story, and trusting the process of visiting it every night, putting one word after another, trying not to give up.

My vision for this book (working title, Refuge) is a blend of the real world with completely magical mythical creatures. It isn't a portal into a magical world like Narnia, or a reverse portal where something magical finds itself stuck in reality; it's not a clash of two different worlds... it's sort of the real world and the magical one tentatively meeting each other, brushing edges  and sparking static electricty, but still hiding in the shadows. It's also about what the two worlds need to learn from each other. 

Plans for this story go back many, many years and includes inspiration from sources like Legend (the 1985 movie with Tom Cruise); the Island Stallion by Walter Farley and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. More recently, the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, Pegasus by Robin McKinley and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor have sparked new passion into my original vision. I have a rough draft and years of dreaming; what I had hoped to do during this NaNo was to stitch the new vision into the old but now I'm wondering if I have maybe too much "grand vision" and "dreaming" and not enough of it distilled down into concrete ideas. And yet, I have a solid outline, tons of world building and character sketches - but something is still missing to make all of the ingredients work together. 
Even if the magic doesn't kick in during this round, I love this story too much to give up.  A story like this deserves as much time as it needs to fully come together. Maybe its waiting on me to grow some more, learn some more, collect more experience and heartbreak and passion. 

There are 10 days of NaNoWriMo left and I'm going to keep plugging away. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The sometimes overlooked hard part of NaNoWriMo

Last week I posted on things I love about NaNoWriMo, thirty days of writing frenzy. This week I'm posting on what I don't like about it, which is preceisely ONE THING: not being able to read November releases I've been waiting ALL YEAR FOR. (I *might* bump that up to 2 things, sleep deprivation being the other one, but even sleep deprivation has its benefits. I think it ups my idea quotient. Just hope I don't get into any driving accidents).

It's just not fair when books you've been dying to read come out during the month of November, when I'm supposed to not be reading anything but my NaNoWriMo manuscript (and I shouldn't even be reading that, I should just be adding new words to it!)

There are four books, three that just released, that I'm drooling to read! (can I resist the compulsion for the entire month of November? Especially when one of the books is titled Compulsion? ha! Stay tuned.)

A Thousand Pieces of You  chasing an enemy across parallel universes and then falling in love with him? (if I interepreted that blurb correctly: I can't resist falling-in-love-with-misunderstood-enemy  stores)

Compulsion  here's the line from the blurb that made me sit up and take notice: "South Carolina plantation....a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions"

Mortal Heart  Fantastic series, assassin nuns, historical fantasy... and one of my favorite book reviewers (Shae at Shae Has Left the Room) says this one just couldn't get any better.

The Map to Everywhere  Need I say more? A book with a map central to the premise? This map geek can't resist.

Illusions of Fate released in September, and it just now came on my radar... how did I miss this? Look at the COVER!!!  That teacup!!!!! And the blurb! Laini Taylor says its like "Howl meets Mr. Darcy" - now if that isn't a intriguing mash-up, I don't know what is.

but if This Shattered World was coming out in November, and not December 23 (yeah, guess what's on my Christmas list!) I would totally forget my NaNoWriMo word count until I finished reading this book. Which might take me less than 24 hours, I'm sure.  These Broken Stars (the first in this series) was one of my top 5 favs of 2013 and this one sounds just as good. "But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war"