Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fire Wish

Some words are pure magic to me... they bring me right back to all the fairytales I loved as a child. Words like palaces, princes, jinnis, lamps, silks, veils, thick Persian carpets, moonstones, geodes, viziers, wishes...

And when such magical words are mixed with pieces of ancient history, like the Tigris River, and Baghdad, they take on an even more fascinating dimension (especially since these are parts of history that are still around, even to this day). 

So when a book combines all this magic with real places, like The Fire Wish (by debut author, Amber Lough) it is irresistible to me, especially since all the old favorite things appeared in new and original ways (no Disney genie vibes). The Fire Wish also had a tricksy "switch places" plot (be careful what you wish for!) and the one story trope that I love endlessly and never tire of:  forbidden love. 

In this story, humans are at war with the Jinn, but then a human girl, Zayele, and a Jinn boy, Atish, fall in love. Yes, it's instalove. Though I acknowledge instalove can rot your mental teeth and skew reality, done well it can still be delicious like forbidden sweets. Hey, I grew up on instaloves like Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. 

 The human girl, Zayele, tells her side of the story, but there's also a Jinn girl, Najwa, telling a different side of the story, and there's a best friend, Rahela, who is incredibly brave to help a stranger she'd been taught her whole life was an enemy. And then there are the two worlds....

I wasn't sure which I loved more, the rich details of Baghdad: so well done, descriptions that completely transported me both in place and time. Reflecting pools, palms, details on the gates, ouds and flutes, 
peacocks, carpets lush as moss, patterned glass of lanterns, the preciousness of saffron, interesting words like qaa'ed...

Or the entirely fantastic underground world of the Jinn. The Jinn live inside a giant, hollowed out geode full of jewels. Is that not crazy cool or what??? Their homes are stacked on each other, set into the curving inner walls of the geode, and "decorated using liberal doses of wishes." (The cavern is lit by wishes, too, with lantern-lighters on stilts that whisper wishes).  There is a lake of fire in the cavern, too, but it's not the scary lava kind, it's more a sort of playful fire. 

Humans can demand wishes from Jinnis, and the whole wishing aspect of the story was fascinating. Another thing very well written in this story was how the Jinnis, used to living underground, perceive the human world, and vice versa. 
In the distance between the sky and the retreating clouds, a rainbow arched in the air. How could that be? There were no prisms large enough to cause such a thing. Then I realized what it was. It was the world - the wet air and shimmering light - that set the rainbow across the sky. They didn't need crystals here.

But this next quote is my absolute favorite from the story.

The door closed behind me and a puff of air blew my skirt, but I barely noticed. I was in the House of Wisdom, and all I could think about was that no jinni had been there in ages, and female jinni had never been allowed to enter. I was the first.

Thousands of books, with spines of red leather or brown linen, sat on shelves two stories high and a hundred feet long. The scents of ink and glue laced the air, and I breathed them in deep. At least thirty men, all in long robes, were in the library. Some sat at low tables, bent over opened volumes. Others stood in a small group, listening to two men discuss something. A few roamed along the walls, pulling books off the shelves and tucking them beneath their arms. The room was heavy with stories, and I ached to read them.

Faisal had once been one of these men, with access to all these books. All these minds. No wonder we built the Lamps - the bridge between the worlds. No wonder we gave the humans cartloads of jewels to set foot in it.
I have more favorite excerpts and other things I loved about the Fire Wish in my Goodreads review. Many thanks to Random House and Net Galley for providing me with an advanced copy to read; I was in no way compensated otherwise for this review, which is my honest (and happy) opinion of this book.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: the voices are back

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

* How I did on last week's goals: 

My goal for last week was to revise for at least 10 hours. I did it! Just barely. Finished at 11:18 pm Sunday night.

I finished reading the Fire Wish by Amber Lough.  Jinns! The Tigris River! Ancient Baghdad. Giant geodes. Wishes.... I love this kind of story that transports you away to another world, and it has a double love story. More details coming tomorrow. 
* My goals this week: 

I'll be thrilled to fit in 5 hours this week. County fair begins this week, and my daughters are competing pretty much for 3 days straight in different horse events. I have to run them to practice too, and help them make props and costumes for their "Ride to Music"  event.  But their ideas are so creative and fun, it's all worth it.
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

I know I’m a little crazy, talking to her like this. I like to blame it on the crazy cat lady in my head that keeps saying Liz isn’t really dead. Keep talking to her, the lady says, stroking an orange tabby on her lap.  If you keep talking to her, you won’t lose her.
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.

The chaos of my house. Clothes and toys everywhere. Dishes in the sink. Unswept floors. Yup, all the stuff I normally do before writing: I didn't do this week.

I got a lot of writing time in, but the revisions went really slowly. I didn't get much stuff crossed off my Needed Revisions list.  That was a challenge, too. Sometimes lists can be more discouraging than they are helpful. 
* Something I love about my WiP. 

Right now, I love that the voices of my characters are loud and opinionated in my head. Hopefully on paper too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Instalove or love at first sight

I just read a book that some reviewers have branded as "instalove", a word I'm seeing a lot these days, and not a lot of good about it. This post is me just thinking out loud about it.

I love how Disney's Frozen and Maleficient movies embraced better examples of true love saving someone, than someone you hardly know claiming true love. Finally! After decades of feeding us instalove stories, where basically the moment two people set eyes on each other, they know "they're the one."  I'm picking on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in particular but there are dozens if not hundreds of others, including classics like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

I just finished reading The Fire Wish, by Amber Lough, which I have many things to gush over: the setting, the diversity (Middle Eastern characters), a fantastic plot, and three strong and thoughtful girl characters. More about all of these on Tuesday for my #WeNeedDiverseBooks post (also the book's release day).

The Fire Wish has a strong dose of double Instalove. The plot is basically laid out in the blurb: a human girl and jinni exchange places with unexpected consequences, and fall in love in their new places.

The blurb from Goodreads:
Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

I love stories like this, a romantic twist on the Prince and the Pauper switch places kind of story.  And while I recognize the Instalove factor, I still loved it.

Is it because I was raised on Instalove stories? Will a new generation raised on movies like Frozen and Maleficent be immune to the effects of Instalove? Or is it something basic to our nature that we (at least some of us) love "true love at first sight"?

I like asking married couples their "how we fell in love" stories. I haven't run across a case of instalove yet (though some divorced people will tell something similar to instalove and later, disaster). My own story (15 years married now) was NOT NOT NOT instalove. We were friends first. We were even interested in other people and involved with other people while friends.

InstaCrush can be mistaken for love.

InstaLust can DEFINITELY be mistaken for love.

"First flush" - which is what I call that first three or four heady months of a relationship - when both sides are on their best behavior, presenting the best sides of themselves, blind to almost everything except each other - is another easy way to feel like this is certainly true love.

I think if there is truly something wonderful out there - real, true love - it makes sense that there would also be lots of counterfeit love. I wish I'd read more books and seen more movies with examples of counterfeit love instead of the instalove stuff and I'm glad there seems to be trend now towards more slow burn and complicated relationships, especially in young adult stories.

But part of me still guiltily enjoys instalove stories.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: song lyrics

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

* How I did on last week's goals: 

My goal for last week was to revise for at least 7 hours. I only got 4 hours in. What happened is that my revisions started to have a cascade effect - each thing I changed meant more changes down the line.  I got overwhelmed and just sat staring at my screen, immobolized.  Tried again the next day: same frozen state  (see Biggest Challenge Faced this week).
* My goals this week: 

I'm aiming for 10 hours this week instead of 7. The kiddos will be away at camp! Which means more time to write! And I have a lot of time to make up. 
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

An idea to incorporate: Slow vision versus fast vision.
(lots of stuff about vision in this story, as my MC is blinded in a freak accident. Which seems like a paradox, right? lots of vision but your MC is blind? Well, there you go, story of my life)
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.
Getting overwhelmed with edits and "freezing up". Then last night I took a deep breath and made a list of everything that needed updated or fixed. Guess how long the list was? Over sixty things to fix/delete/add!!! But now that everything is organized (and ordered, by scene) in a list, I think I can pick up momentum again. Sometimes taking a time out to get organized helps. 

* Something I love about my WiP. 

I found the perfect song lyrics to match this story. So I know you can't use lyrics in a manuscript without massive copyright issues, but I think I can use one phrase "my universe will never be the same" without there being an issue.  Here's the part of the lyrics from "I'm Glad You Came" by The Wanted that transported me to my Happy Place:

The sun goes down
The stars come out
And all that counts
Is here and now
My universe will never be the same
I'm glad you came
What's your biggest challenge or inspiration this week?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Dragons

Dragons are my second favorite mythical creature, after unicorns. However, my first dragon experience was not a good one: I was about 6 years old when I first saw Disney's Sleeping Beauty and was terrified when Maleficent turned into a dragon. Even though the dragon got less than 2 minutes worth of screen time, that was 2 minutes of screen time I would never forget. The scene still impresses me!

(by the way, my version of Throwback Thursday is where I share a thing or two and a picture from my past, and somehow (probably not very expertly) tie it to a book I've read in the past that's worthy of getting the spotlight again for a moment).

Next I met Smaug, from the Hobbit, who terrified me as well, but also made me smile a few times.

It wasn't until I was a teenager and read the third book in the Earthsea series, The Farthest Shore by Ursula LeGuin, that I encountered a story where dragons could be considered (not exactly safe) but at least wise and even helpful. I was utterly captivated.
“And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”
Then I found Anne McCaffery's Dragonflight and fell even more under the dragon-trance.

Since then I have discovered many more fascinating dragons like Draco, Toothless, Temeraire, and Orma from Seraphina. By the way, if you happen to be a Seraphina fan, take a look at the Italian book cover for Seraphina - is that not cool, or what???

When I was writing my first manuscript (about unicorns) it seemed inevitable that dragons ought to be in the story, too. Someday, maybe, I shall let my first dragon creation, Endruin, loose out in the fictional world.

Since this is Throwback Thursday, I dug up a picture of my first computer, upon which I wrote that rambling first draft back in the early 1990's (that's the original MacIntosh computer, with my old kitty Jennie).

Though I've already mentioned quite a few dragon books, the one I haven't blogged about yet that gets the spotlight today is Dragohaven, by Robin McKinley. Judging by other reviews on Goodreads, you're either going to love this book, or hate it enormously. It is extremely rambling, told from the viewpoint of fifteen year old boy who lives on a wildlife refuge for dragons (complete with a force field sort of dome to keep them from flying out). But the problem is, no one has ever been able to get close to the dragons to study them: so far they've only been accessible from a distance. For obvious reasons (unless you haven't realized that you can get incinerated if you get too close).

So Jake tells you all sorts of things about Smokehill National Park, which, if I have the geography figured out correctly, is located in Wyoming!!!! yay! my home state! - or at least Robin Mckinley's version of some place west of Nebraska.

Jake also tells you lots about the history and politics of a world very similar to our own, but in which dragons are slightly more real than mythical creatures but not even half as understood. And, he also tells you about the people he lives with and myriads of other minuscule but oddly entertaining things (there's a lot of telling in this book. Not much showing. It worked for me, because of Jake's great voice and excellent quirky observations, but I could see how some might hate it).  Jake also tells about some of the other, smaller, not-quite-dragon species that are on display at the park, my favorite being this fellow:
Madagascariensis, I swear, likes celery because the sound it makes slowly crunching it up reminds it of the crack of small bones, without any of the effort of hunting something. You'd think carrots would be even better, but no. Maybe it only hunts things with osteoporosis
But it takes a while to get to the point where he encounters the REAL dragons, the big giant fire-breathing ones that are so elusive. And the first one he discovers is dying, having been mortally wounded by a poacher before she was able to incinerate him. Here's Jake's first encounter with a dragon: 
Never mind the fire risk, being stared at by a dragon – by an eye the size of a wheel on a tour bus – is scary. The pupil goes on and onto the end of the universe and then around to the beginning too, and there are landscapes in the iris. Or cavescapes. Wild, dreamy, magical caves, full of curlicue mazes where you could get lost and never come out and not mind. And it's hot. I was sweating. Maybe with fear, but with the heat of her staring too.
Jake rescues and raises one of her dragonlets, Lois, and the whole middle part of the book is about how to raise a baby dragon, which is infinitely more complicated than raising a human baby (just imagine the heat factor!) especially since Jake has to keep Lois a complete secret from all but a handful of allies. Otherwise the government would take her way from him, and before the mother died, she somehow communicated her trust in Jake - so he can't let her down. 

The story really began to pick up when Jake meets another dragon - whom he lovingly names "Gulp" (Gulp was my personal favorite)- in a very dramatic fashion. Another dragon, "Bud", also gets a very dramatic scene. But don't expect a lot of action or dramatic scenes in this book. It's mostly like a diary of a young scientist learning about dragons, and also a little bit about people (Eleanor was my favorite human character, but I also loved the Arkhola natives) and how the world works. The neat thing about this book is you learn so many details about dragons and how they live and communicate that you're nearly convinced they're real by the end, and I just have to say a big gusty THANK YOU to Robin McKinley for putting so much THOUGHT into just every dragonish detail. Right down to dragon ghosts, how cool is that!

If you've made it this far in my post, you must have some measure of fondness for dragons. Who is your favorite fire-breather?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: Stars and Stripes

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

* How I did on last week's goals: 
1. This is my second week, my goal last week was to finish working in some ideas for richer characterization to the book I'm currently querying (YA SF) and write two chapters on my WIP (MG fantasy).  I progressed well with goal #1 but failed with goal #2, because I got really consumed with edits to Startripped.  I started reading  Writing 21st Cenury Fiction by Donald  Maass and it was just what I needed to strengthen and deepen not just my characters but many other things too.

2. Reading goals:  well, I got off track with 21st Century Fiction and didn't get The Fire Wish finished, but at least I stuck to my goal of ONLY one book a week instead of splurging on more when I should be writing!

* My goals this week: 

I'm going to set an hourly goal this week, because I've never done that before. (It's usually word count goals or specific edits).  Shooting for 7 hours this week.  Hoping to finish adding the final touches of symbolism and micro tension to Startripped.  
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

I might the only person on the planet that doesn't love the stars.  Looking up into a starry night sky just makes me dizzy, and the thought of being up there, in all that dark space in between, frightens me. Go ahead, psychoanalyze me, tell me it's just because of the way I was born and what I had to go through after. Whatever the reason, I like to have my feet on the ground and my eyes on my own world. 
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.
4th of July festivities! So much fun but leaves so little time to sit down and write.  My daughters had a horse show over the weekend - all four of them got to compete, even the two littlest ones. I'm still exhausted from it, but loved their creative addition: painting stars and stripes on their horses' haunches for the show (wish I'd remembered to get a picture). 
* Something I love about my WiP. 
Discovering that there's some good, even heroic qualities about my antagonist.  A quote from Writing 21st Century Fiction:

What will make your antagonists memorable isn’t the evil that they do, but the good. 

Here's what I imagine he looks like:
lysander_by_negshin on DeviantArt.com
I'll be back posting for Throwback Thursday: this week is.... DRAGONS.

Whats your biggest challenge or inspiration this week?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Insecure Writer: the good days and the bad days

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Good day: when I start to write and it's not flowing but I keep pushing the words out, confident I'll hit my stride, and then I do.

Bad day: when I start to write and I erase my first sentence and sigh and then waste an hour on Pinterest and then run out of time to write and hate all the things in my day that keep from getting back to writing and hate that I wasted that hour.

Good day: when a form rejection shows up, I'm able to say, "well, bummer. But we weren't the right fit, and the right fit is still down the road."

Bad day: just the thought of a form rejection possibly showing up in my inbox makes me want to run screaming to my room, crawl under the covers and eat chocolate and watch sad movies all day.

Good day: when even a gray day is lovely because, hey, I have a mug of hot tea in my hands and I have a good book to read before bed.
Bad day: when even a beautiful day cannot overcome the blues.

Good day: I read a writing tip on a blog and it's just the PERFECT thing I needed to fix something that's hasn't felt right and I think social media is one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer (connected me with other writers; with the publishing world; with amazing books; with encouragement and inspiration just when I needed it.)

Bad day:  I'm jealous of absolutely everyone on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and even strangers crossing the street and I'm pretty sure social media is the spawn of Satan and will be the ruin of the world.

Good day: I re-read the first three chapters of my manuscript and feel certain that THIS IS THE ONE. This is good. This might even be GREAT. Huzzah!

Bad day: I re-read the first three chapters of my manuscript and feel like tossing the pages - or my laptop - across the room. Drivel. Cliche. Nonsense, twaddle, claptrap, balderdash, gibberish, rubbish, mumbo jumbo, garbage.

Completely aside from good days/bad days, I just started reading Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass and simply must share a quote, because you can't share fine chocolate or wine via the internet, but good quotes translate very nicely:
Get out of the past. Get over trends. To write high-impact 21st century fiction, you must start by becoming highly personal. Find your voice, yes, but more than that, challenge yourself to be unafraid, independent, open, aware, and true to your own heart. You must become your most authentic self. 
Just occurred to me, it might be that just the good days alone without the bad days wouldn't shape us into authentic storytellers and writers. You need the sun and the rain, for the rainbow.

Got any good day/bad day advice to share?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ready, set, write: jinns and unicorns

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.
1. This is my first week, my goal last week was to finish up another non-writing project (done!) so that this week I could get back into writing!  My goal this week is to finish working in some ideas for richer characterization to the book I'm currently querying (YA SF) and write two chapters on my WIP (MG fantasy). 
2. I set myself some reading goals at the beginning of the year: 12 debut authors (7 read), 3 Newbery books (2 read), 2 Printz books (not yet), 2 science fiction classics (1 read), two classics (not yet), and 10 books with diverse main characters  (6 read). The only goal I'm not on track for is limiting myself to one book a week, since I get carried away with reading and let my writing slack! So my goal this week is NOT to read more than a chapter a day!  This is what I just started reading, and its starting off both whimsical and lyrical: 
The Fire Wish (The Jinni Wars, #1)
Jinns! Wishes!
3.  I'm trying to lose 10 pounds this summer and another 10 pounds this fall, which means tracking my food daily and exercising 4 times a week, at least 3 hours total.  Last week was pretty good, I lost 1.5 pounds, going for that again!
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.
This is an attempt at the idea I had to make my MC's characterization stronger, her way of viewing the high school crowd as a palace court full of intrigue:

I want to call Juno, my guide dog, to have at least something standing by me. Liz’s friends have always made me think of courtiers at a palace, all contending for positions closest to the throne. My popular sister played the role of princess; the volleyball team were her ladies-in-waiting, and the football team, her knights. Skizz was her court jester, and me – well, I was the court ghost. I saw everything, but no one ever noticed me.
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.
Countdown to county fair:  23 days. That means we're trying to get into full swing to get my two older girls all practiced up and ready with their horses. It's fun but it's also stressful and time consuming. Last weekend we were at an INTENSE 4H horse camp, riding literally all day (but it was amazing. We all learned so much). This weekend we were at a barrel race on Saturday and a schooling show on Sunday that both went for 6+ hours.  Next weekend - the same thing again plus 4th of July activities! So my challenge is using my time wisely during the week days. I usually rely on my weekends to get a lot of writing done, but not until fair is over. 
The 10 year old and her horse Tuffy at 4H camp
* Something I love about my WiP. 
That my girls are still begging for me to work on it and read it to them. Because it has unicorns and magic and I love that my almost 13-year-old doesn't think she's too grown up for unicorns yet.
Whats your biggest challenge or inspiration this week?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: my prom, and Prom Impossible

Yesterday was the big YA Prom day, and I had so much fun putting together a "dream prom" - but today is where I share my real prom, set in 1988. Also, because everything I do is pretty much paired with a book, I simply must talk about the recent book, Prom Impossible.

I love that line in the movie What Women Want (with Mel Gibson) where a woman advises Mel about his daughter's prom - "it's all about the dress, you know."  And so it is. Unable to find the perfect dress at a store, my parents graciously paid extra to have one custom made for me. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out quite as I expected... and, let's face it, my 18 year old taste in fashion wasn't that great. I've never liked peach since :(

I can't remember if the dress planning began before or after I actually had a date. I think it began BEFORE the date was secured, because my best friend and I decided that we'd go anyway even if we didn't get dates. But then someone asked me, and after a moment of "huh? I didn't expect that!" I was remember feeling quite pleased. The hilarious thing is that yesterday when I picked my  YA prom date (a fictional character from a YA book), at first it didn't registered that the YA boy and the real boy had the SAME NAME. Wesley from The Archived and The Unbound books, by Victoria Schwab - and here's my real life Wesley (Hi Wes! if you happen to come across this post!) (we still keep in touch online occasionally).

The funny thing about my prom is I actually don't remember much about it. I can't remember where it was (some generic hotel ballroom?), how the room was decorated, who was king or queen, memorable dance songs...(I do remember my best friend's date sneaking outside to smoke cigars). What I remember MOSTLY was after prom when the four of us went cruising. All over Buffalo, NY, from parties to parks to open-all-night hangouts and maybe even a midnight crossing over the Peace Bridge into Canada and back.

This was our prom car - a 1966 Buick Electra, fondly named Sofie.

Good memories, and thankfully, mostly drama-free, unlike the escapades in Prom Impossible, a hilarious YA book that's billed as a modern day Shakespearean comedy.  Truly, this story has shades of the mixed up romantic mess of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The main character, Cassidy, has her sights on going to prom with Michael, an adorable geek, but he barely notices her. So her plan is to use Jasper, the popular jock, to make Michael jealous, but when the Jasper plan starts to backfire, Cassidy gets even more creative: "I wanted to use Zeke to make Jasper jealous to make Michael jealous so I could have my dream prom date."  Cue: disaster.

What I love about the cover of this book is it gives you a little about the three boys right up front.

Of course every step of Cassidy's ever-changing plans goes awry, and is further complicated by the other prom-date seeking girls: Cassidy's cousin Jules, her ex-best-friend Elena, and  her arch-enemy, Ava.
So why would Ava rush after Zeke when it just made her look weak, pathetic and needy? I had no clue. Maybe someday I'd figure that out along with everything else like world peace and poverty and how to make cafeteria food edible.
Also, Cassidy just has this hilarious knack for talking herself into trouble:
I have this problem with silence. It tends to draw words out of me even when I don't want to talk. 
And then there's her flare for drama, which kept me cracking up:
Mom hovered, trying to say something. 
"Out with it. If you don't tell me now, I'll have this lecture of doom ganging over my head all day, and that could affect the start of my relationship with teachers who ultimately hold my collegiate future in their hands." 
She sighed. "oh, Cassidy. Do you need to be so dramatic?"
What really made me laugh out loud was when Cassidy tries to talk herself out of a situation with her overbearing Aunt Lulu, and ends up asking her aunt for help in straightening out her prom-date-seeking mission. Nothing like a fussy aunt getting involved in your romantic life and even worse, getting involved in the prom-dress-selection-process.

Aunt Lulu's a rip, but the boys are also really great characters. Jasper is like sleek, well-fed trouble, stalking the halls in his moccasins. But Cassidy is his match. There's this one scene where she confronts him in the boys' bathroom that had me grinning, and another where she tries to trap him into her prom-plan in front of his mother, but he has a solid comeback. Terms such as "romance and stars" and "therapist" and "personal stories" and "binge eating" are wielded like chess pieces between opponents.

Then there's Zeke, who is... multifaceted. Here's one side of Zeke:

He asked me questions. How'd I do on the science test? Do I like bunny rabbits? What's my favorite color? Where was I applying to college? Had I made a snowman yet this year?

I don't know about you, but sounds like excellent prom conversation to me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My dream prom #yaprom

YA Prom is a chance for you to pick your favorite YA boy/girl, find a dress, and attend prom in the YA world, along with a twitter chat at 8:30PM EST, #yaprom. There's still time to link up at the host pages, Queen Ella Bee Reads and Alexa Loves Books

Let's not even think about how long ago it was when I actually went to prom - for Throwback Thursday tomorrow I'll post my old prom pictures here if anyone wants to guess. But the lovely thing about reading Young Adult is that we can live a dozen or more proms with all the dresses and emotions and flutters and theme songs (and pay a lot less).  Here's the dress I picked for this year - I would have picked a deeper purple color, like violet, for the bottom, but it's close enough. 
And for a prom date, I pick Wesley from The Archived and The Unbound books by Victoria Schwab. He's a prep school boy that likes to dress goth. I LOVE that contrast. Here's a little Wes dialogue:

Wes hits the table. “You broke into a crime scene without me?”

“Be glad, Wes, or we both would have been caught.”

“We’re a team, Mac. You don’t go committing a crime without your partner in crime. Besides if I’d been with you, we probably wouldn’t have been caught. I could have stood at the door and made wild bird sounds or something when the cops came back. And if we did get caught, our mug shots would look fabulous."

Here's how I imagine him dressed for "work" (his work is very unusual; it involves policing not-quite-human Histories):
Attribution: Nagate_by_kirasanta on Deviant.com

And here's how I picture him dressed for prom. Forget the standard tux!
Attribution: Jeb_by_fuchsiart on Deviant.com
This is what we would drive to prom, and cruise around town afterward with the top down, because after prom I wouldn't care what the wind would do with my hair. 
1965 Ford Mustang
My YA prom would held in a school gym decorated with swaths of black and tons of tiny black lights to give everything a lovely blueish glow: picture a white wedding with white satin and white twinkle lights but in reverse: everything black and bluish sparkly and twinkly instead (and lots of glow sticks too and dry ice smoke). And half way through we'd all do face painting with glow in the dark paint, because hey, I'm still a kid at heart and I like contrasts like formal dresses and silly face paint. 

You didn't know I was into black so much, did you? (actually, I sort of surprised myself).

The theme song would be the new version of "Once Upon A Dream" that plays at the end of Maleficent with Angelina Jolie.

So that's my YA prom fantasy (for this year, at least).

Take a moment and share a few prom or fancy-night-out ideas of your own.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Diverse also means disabled

I love stories about underdogs and overcoming against all odds, and achieving with a handicap makes for an inspiring story. With all the talk lately about diversity in YA, I've been thrilled to see disabled included as a category of diverse, especially since one of my books includes a main character who has lost her sight.

Here are some excellent young adult books (and one middle grade) with main characters who are disabled.

Push Girl
She Is Not Invisible
Breaking Glass
The Fault in Our Stars
The Queen of Attolia
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade
The Window

Otherbound, by Corrine Duyvis. Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible - and results in an accident where he loses his lower leg. Talk about an unusual type of portal into another world! This book just released last week: see below for more details!

Push Girl, by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love.  Another new release, Kara is having the perfect junior year until she became paralyzed in  a car accident. I haven't read this one yet, but will soon.

Dangerous, by Shannon Hale.  Maisie isn't going to let being born without  a hand stop her from her dream: becoming an astronaut. Thrilled to be accepted to astronaut bootcamp, her dream seems to be coming true, until everything starts going wrong and she becomes a reluctant superhero instead.

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgewick. When her father goes missing, 16 year old Laureth and her 7 year old brother Benjamin travel on their own to New York City to find him. This wouldn't be so incredible journey if it weren't for the fact that Laureth was born blind. Seeing the world from her perspective of never even knowing sight is amazing!

The Window, by Jeanette Ingold. Mandy loses her sight and her mother in a car accident and she handles it with silent strength. Her independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself vulnerability comes through as a strong voice I quickly fell in love with.

For more books with blind characters, check out this Goodreads list: Awesome Blind Characters

Breaking Glass, by Lisa Amowitz. Jeremy loses his lower leg in an accident, and because he's a runner and track star, this devastates him... along with the mysterious disappearance of his friend and crush, Susannah. What I loved about this book is that Jeremy hits bottom first in despair, before slowly rising to face his alcoholism, and overcomes his grief and disability to solve the mystery.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. If you haven't heard of this book or movie yet, most of the kids have disabilities as a result of cancer. They struggle with depression, anger, and doubt but this book is far from a pity party. Augustus will win your heart with his humor and outrageous metaphors.

I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diana Lee Wilson. This story of a girl with a lame foot is especially striking because she lives in Mongolia during the time of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Her horse and her cat enable her to achieve an absolutely amazing journey.

The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. Set in a world similar to Ancient Greece, Gen is at the top of his game as his Queen's celebrated thief - until he's caught, and his hand is lopped off for stealing. Can he regain his confidence... and steal the most difficult treasure possible... I can't even hint what that might be without spoiling this amazing story.

So, more about Otherbound - the most unusual portal-to-another-world story I've come across, bonus points for originality! So your classic portal story is someone in the real world steps through a portal of some sort into a fantasy world. In this book, the portal is another person, and when Nolan steps "through" he is stuck as that other person... and he can't NOT step through... every time he blinks he's seeing into her world. At first he's just a silent observer through Amara's eyes, and she doesn't realize he's there. But eventually he learns how to influence, even control Amara. So it's a fantastic set up for conflict in so many ways.

Amara's country sounds similar to an older version of the Netherlands, with some steampunk (maybe?) touches like pneumatic air trains. Amara's a servant, which basically means she's a slave - and all servants have their tongues cut out (so she's mute - disabled too - but marvelously expressive with her signing). She's a servant to a princess who is hiding from the usurper to her throne, who is searching for her to eliminate her to keep her from regaining the throne... and has placed her under a really, really, scary curse. The magic in this world is has powerful repercussions such as "backlash": different spells and curses can react to each other in unpredictable and very dangerous ways, so you want to avoid "mixed magic" at all costs:
Sometimes, mixed magic flared tenfold. A single bolt could destroy the whole street. Other times, spells canceled each other out.... 
Instances of backlash - water frothing, flames flickering, bugs spasming and plants wilting - must be warnings.... 
Thunderclouds met overhead. Magic backlash, she was sure of it.
In addition to the fascinating rules of magic, another thing I really liked about this book was the complicated friendship between Amara and Cilla, the princess she serves. Amara has to serve Cilla, even protect her life at risk to her own, but she's curiously loyal, and she's Cilla's only friend. I'm not sure if I've ever run across such a complicated relationship.

And then add Nolan and his unwanted, involuntary "eavesdropping" on Amara and you've got another whole other layer of complication... especially when he realizes how crucial his relationship is to the lives of Amara and Cilla. The book alternates between Nolan's perspective - his difficult home and school life which is so messed up by his frequent "seizures" (when he's in Amara's world) - and Amara's perspective, sometimes in control of herself and sometimes being controlled by Nolan.
Have him in her head for hours on hours or risk his being out of her reach when she needed him. Invade her mind or break her body. 
....He shouldn't hijack you like that," Cilla said. "But I like the way his face looks on yours. He looks more relaxed in your body than you do." 
Of the two main characters, I tended to look forward to scenes from Nolan's perspective a little more, partially because it was kind of fun to see a guy deal with being in a girl's head (!!!!!) and also because I couldn't get enough of his little sister, Patli (Pat). She was SO NEAT! She was a little sass but also compassionate, confused and freaked by her brother's "seizures" but also concerned and curious about him.  And she's full of attitude...
Pat's scoffs had as wide a range as Nolan's smiles. At the bottom rung was Seriously? followed by I'm really too cool for this but, whatever I'll play along. Somewhere at the top sat This is the most important thing in the world, but OMG I'll die if anyone knows.

Another thing I liked about the "real world" was Nolan and Pat's parents:
Nolan and Pat always spoke English together, but their parents stuck to Spanish around the house, or simple Nahuatl between Dad and Pat as practice. Dad saved English for his rare Talks, capital T. 

Reading this, I had to pause and google Nahuatl.  It's a language spoke by the Nahua people in central Mexico, and is informally known as Aztec. Which gave me all kinds of cool vibes, that not only was Nolan's family of Mexican background, but possibly Aztec descendants.

There was some neat world building in Amara's world, too. I loved the references to the Diggers,  unique creatures that inhabited the sand dunes, which are a big part of the setting in this land (I wish they had gotten a bigger role in the story). Other touches I loved were little geographic details, things like the great land of snow to the SOUTH; which to this Northern hemisphere oriented gal, made me pause and consider that Amara's country, for all its hints of Netherland, might actually be a Southern hemisphere sort of country. I also loved that the captain of the ship that Amara and Cilla escape on was a female captain, and loved this description given aboard the ship:
The rising sun threw pinkish rays over her face and tintned the air a gray that hovered between yellow and blue, painting the clouds colors Amara couldn't find names for.
And oh my goodness the last two pages were so poignant and beautifully unresolved, as Nolan writes his concluding thoughts in his journal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#Bookaday and #BookadayUK

There's nothing better than a month of books. On the scale of things I love, talking about a different book every day a month is right up there with a big wall covered with maps, a big mug with hot steaming tea inside, and a couple recent good movies full of mythical creatures (Maleficent; How To Train Your Dragon II). 
Hiccup and Toothless with a map! (map geek alarm going off here)

Oh look at Hiccup growing up!
The young Maleficent - her own mythical creature
ah, more magic, more mythical creatures... makes me happy

Sorry, I got a bit distracted...

I ran across this image on Twitter and decided to tweet every day in June about books I've read (see my list for June 1-16 below). 

A few days into June there was a big bruhaha about how the #bookaday tag had already been claimed by another group for another challenge, so the tag was changed to #bookadayUK (since the challenge was started by a publisher in the UK). 

I checked out the original #bookaday challenge out too - where instead of just tweeting everyday in June about books read, you actually have to READ A BOOK A DAY. For thirty days. Only for truly serious book lovers, this challenge at the Nerdy Book Club! (Fortunately, picture books are acceptable). I am so tempted to try this next year. 

But for now, here is my June #bookadayUK list so far:

Day 1  Favourite book from childhood: I read Bambi and Bambi's children over and over again from age 8 to 10

Day 2  Best bargain: seriously? all books are a great bargain! You can buy many of them for little more than a grande from Starbucks.

Day 3  Today is a book with a blue cover. The Fault in Our Stars

Day 4   Least favorite book by favorite author: Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Couldn't get past first chp. love Blue Sword!

Day 5  A friend lent me Francis Chan's Crazy Love two years ago and I still haven't returned it. Just need to buy my own copy

Day 6  Books I always give as gifts: the Help by Katheryn Stockett and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

day 7  Forgot a book I own? Nope. More likely to forget I don't yet own awesome books Doomsday Book, His Majesty's Dragon, Holes

Day 8  I have multiple copies of many C.S. Lewis books - everyone knows he's my favorite! if I love an e-book I'll buy hardcopy too

Day 9  Book with a movie tie in. True story: I discovered Neil Gaiman books because the movie Star Dust.

Day 10 Reminds me of someone I love: I like to think Gandalf is like one of the grandfathers I never got to know.

Day 11 Secondhand book shop gem: recently found Writing Down the Bones, $4, at my local independent book store. Score.

Day 12  Pretend to have read it: Catch 22.

Day 13 Makes me smile:  Holes by Louis Sachar

Day 14 an old favourite:  My Friend Flicka (the reason I moved to Wyoming)

Day 15 favorite fictional father: Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird

Day 16  Can't believe more people haven't read Linked by Imogen Howsen... space pirates! 

Part of my reasons for doing the #bookadayUK challenge is I'm trying to get more active on Twitter  to promote more excellent books  (and to discover more excellent books) (and connect with other readers and writers). Here's a few great tweets:

Three other things:

1) Otherbound, by Corrine Duyvis, releases today! I just finished reading it, and will have a review up here next week. I'm not sure what attracted me more, this fascinating cover (look at their contrasting expressions!) or the premise of a boy linked into a girl's thoughts - a girl from another world. Whoa.

2) Inspired by Throwback Thursday on Facebook, I'm going to start a book-related Throwback Thursday on this blog. Every other Thursday I'll be posting something from the past - next Thursday it's going to be my memories from my senior prom - along with a related book (Prom Impossible, by Laura Pauling).  I have so many books that I want to highlight, and this will give me the opportunity to pull up some oldies but goodies, too, in addition to new releases.

3) It's now a few minutes past midnight of June 17th and I am off to download and START READING Ruin and Rising, the end of the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo that has just RELEASED. Firebirds!! Darkling! here I come.

What book would be on your #bookaday list?