Friday, May 31, 2013

My Work In Progress (WIP it blogfest)

Thank you D.L. Hammons for coming up with the WIP blogfest, to help us find critique partners and beta readers for our Works In Progress.
WIP Title:

Star Tripped

Word Count (projected/actual so far):



YA Science fiction

How long have you been working on it?

Eighteen months: I started it for NaNoWriMo 2011, and it's been through two drafts and input from several critique partners and one beta reader, though I'd like some more beta readers. The initial idea came to me when I was about 14 years old so this story brewed in my head for decades!

Elevator Pitch:

I usually love writing pitches, but for some reason I've really struggled with a pitch for this particular book. This is my most recent of dozens of lame attempts:
Blinded in a freak accident, Camria is tempted by a mysterious young man's offer to restore her sight in exchange for her memories, which she discovers are not her own but belong to another girl who lives light-years away.
Brief Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Camria and her twin sister Liz are the first children ever conceived and born on the International Space Station. Cam just wants to be a normal high school junior and skip all the attention that goes with being a highly publicized “space twin.” But when she’s blinded in a freak explosion, and Liz disappears, she’ll do anything to get her sister and her sight back.

Cam suspects there’s something more to Lander, a new transfer student, than his odd accent and his interest in her. He's from a planet not yet discovered by Earth, and he knows why Liz disappeared. Lander needs the memories hidden in Cam's mind during the supposed explosion to save Liz from an alien faction bent on taking over minds of unsuspecting humans.

Lander restores Cam's sight with his advanced technology and takes her to find her sister, but whoa. She didn't count on traveling through wormholes, fighting off mind control, and facing her own growing attraction to Lander. Cam must decide to save her sister and herself, or risk their lives to keep the enemy faction from stealing more minds from Earth.

Are you looking for Beta Reader(s)?
Yes - leave a comment if interested! Leave a comment even if you aren't interested, I'd still love to check out your WIP too.

Here's a picture that inspired part of my story: image of the Orion Nebula.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Gypsy Romeo and Juliet: Burning (book review)

How much do you know about modern-day Gypsies? What's the first thing you think about when you hear "Gypsy"?  What are the implications of a gypsy falling in love with someone from a more ordinary American background?

Burning is a tense, powerfully written story of the difficult choices tied to freedom and a fascinating look into Gypsy lives in America. I didn’t even realize they were such a separate culture inside of America. Lala is one of the traditional Roma, as they call themselves, where marriages are still arranged and even involve a bride price based on a girl’s earning potential – how good a fortune teller she is. 

One thing that impressed me about this book is that it didn’t paint the Gypsies in a one-sided way. Yes, there are very confining rules for Gypsy women. But Burning also shows how loving and close-knit Gypsy extended families are, and how even in very traditional families, rules have loosened to the extent that if a girl really doesn’t want who her father chooses for her, she can refuse and her family will accept her decision. However, there are other things they will not accept or forgive and they will completely sever the bonds of family if certain lines are crossed. 

The book is written from two points of view – Ben, your average American high school boy,  and Lala, a gypsy girl, about to enter into a an arranged marriage on her 18th birthday.

Lala’s voice is distinct: analytical and thoughtful and a touch formal, wonderfully different from the all-too-common snarky, quippy voice I often encounter from the female teenage characters in most Young Adult books. Lala's voice: 

And then came a wave of something that at first I did not have a word for. I liked the sensation, and I considered carefully how to name it. Ah. It was power. I felt powerful.

Ben’s  voice grew on me, too. Here’s a taste of his voice as he talks about his family:

My mom liked to tell me and James about Pops back in the early days, back before his years in the gypsum dust had turned his skin chalky and pale, back when he was robust and strong, back before lines were carved in his face like a road map to nowhere.

But I craved Lala; she was so different, and yet so relatable too. 

In her first chapter she muses over all the old-fashioned and repressive rules of her family -not condemning them, just comparing them in light of the books she reads in secret on her smart phone. She’s fascinated by Holden Caufield in the book Catcher in the Rye. Here she talks about Holden: 

The books begins when he is at a school far away from his family – a sleepaway school. Right there we know that something is wrong. What kind of a family sends its children away for an education? My people, we understand that the best education is gained from living and working with the family. 

Lala only went to public school until she was 11. She has been confined to her family’s world since then – except for the books she reads. Though I’ve read similar stories where books have opened new possibilities and new worlds to people, for some reason this story really hit me more deeply just how powerful books are. How they can be dangerous to cultures that try restrict their people. 

Lala loves her family, deeply, and counts her herself doubly blessed to have two sisters: one older and one younger. I loved the bonds she had with her sisters Violeta and Anelie. 

But when she first sets eyes on Ben, it’s like a “love at first sight” moment, for both of them: but that isn’t the right term. It’s more like a catalyst moment. I do believe in such a thing that we call “love at first sight” but I also believe it’s both more simple and more complex than that phrase implies, and Burning captures that dynamic so well:

This boy, who was clearly full of reticence and did not want to be here seemed to me like the answer to a question I had not known I’d asked.

Deep inside me, it was as if something was waking and stretching its limbs. Some secret dragon hibernating in my core had been stirred by the presence of this boy.

And yet later she hesitates about Ben (this gave me shivers! I’ve often felt this way about sharing my heart, too): 

They are not like us; they do not understand the bonds that tie my people together, unseen but potent bonds of tradition, story, and shared suffering. They do not know our hearts; I had always believed that they could not know our hearts, even if we tried to share them.

Lala is a very good fortuneteller, but there’s nothing magic about it: she’s like Sherlock Holmes, observant, seeing everything about people, and able to connect the dots between all the clues. Some of my favorite parts were when she’d meet someone new –Ben and his friends Pete and Hog Boy , even his brother James – and how she’d analyze them, little details of their appearance and their conversation and body language. 

As always my features were smooth: unreadable. My job was twofold: to read every secret on the faces of my client, and to hide all of mine deep within. 

Amazing how much tension and rich storytelling can come from something as simple as Lala’s gypsy family driving into town to buy ice cream from a small town store and encountering the locals. Lala’s little sister prompts her “what do you want?” – referring to the ice cream flavors, but of course also referring to so much more. 

“You think you see things clearly, but you do not see deeply, Ben. The same is with the way you think about your brother, and your parents' situation also. You see only how things appear to be from where you are sitting. But rarely is an answer so easy, so one-sided.”

My breakdown:

Characters: Lala and Ben were so alive, so real, but all the characters were well done. Ben’s little brother James, and their father: 

I decided I liked this man – generous, slow to make judgments and gentle with his boys. He ruffled James’s hair as he passed, drawing a steely-eyed gaze from his younger son, who quickly repaired the damage to his hair with a pass of his hand.

It’s a testament to how well the other characters were done that I was able to tolerate Ben’s friend Hog Boy – not even Ben could tolerate him at times, as he comments that Hog Boy "sees the world through swine-colored glasses, that’s for sure.” Thank goodness Hog Boy goes through some self-improvement as the story progresses – well, maybe that’s being too kind, but at least he had a bit of character arc. 

Setting: The desert, the playa, the quarry, the wild horses: so well done. I feel like I’ve just a spent a week in the desert. The Burning Man festival only had one scene near the end, but it was very well done, too without being too explicit.

Plot: There was some question about what Lala and Ben would decide to do in the end after their lives collided. Another thing I liked, related to the plot, were several Gypsy tales that were woven into the story, and this poem from Burning Man:

From this day forward,
You shall not walk alone.
My heart will be your shelter,
And my arms will be your home. 

Pacing: I read the whole book in just two intense settings, the kind where when your family asks you something you just wave your hand “not now, not now!” Granted, it wasn't a long book, only 209 pages. But it was just the right length for it story, if that makes sense. 

Dialogue/Voice:  Loved, loved, loved Lala’s voice. So different! Such a refreshing change! I LOVED what a thinker and observer she was, instead of the typical female heroine driven by her emotions (not that she didn’t have emotions, don’t get me wrong: she was very passionate). Ben was a great contrast to Lala. 

Personal appeal: 3 out of 5 stars.  Loved the premise and the literary feel, but didn't love all the swearing and vulgar language. 

Margo’s literary scale where 1 is “merely entertaining” and 5 is “really made me think”: 4 out of 5. The symbology and themes were done so well. Here's a example of the symbology woven together with theme that was really well done:

“When I first came here, I hated the desert,” I told him. “It seemed to me that there was not much to see, and what little there was held no mystery. But today you are showing me places I could not have guessed existed.”

Most likely he thought I meant this quarry, which was true enough, but I spoke also of the way I felt. It had been like a desert – barren, flat, scorched dry – but it seemed to me now that there could be secret, hidden places anywhere, unexpected oases just beyond the horizon.

I loved learning about Gypsy culture and their perceptions and their deep family bonds, and the clash of their traditional ways with American culture: the ugly and good sides of both. Here’s my favorite part of the whole story:

My people do not have just one name. Of course we each have the name our families and friends know us by, and often we have another name, one by which the gazhe (Americans) know us. But there is another name – a first name, whispered by a mother into her baby’s ear, a name that no one else will ever know.

Lala’s secret name is perfect. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Currently reading and more

I've seen these "Currently" posts on other blogs and decided to give it a try.  I added a new "currently" to this list, too.

currently reading -  I've just started Parallel, by Lauren Miller (YA SF) and The Rules of Disappearing (YA contemporary). I often start two books at the same time, reading a chapter from one book one night, the other book the next night. This goes on for about a week until eventually one of them really hooks me and I've been known to stay up until 2 am to finish reading it! So far I haven't reached that point with either one of these. I'm still reveling in the after-glow of reading Burning by Elana K. Arnold. 
A YA contemporary about a gypsy girl, oh my I haven't fallen in love with contemporary like this in a long time! Review coming here on Thursday.

currently watching - Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I don't watch TV (though I wouldn't mind if a complete DVD set of Dr Who or Torchwood or Primeval magically showed up on my shelf - I do love British productions!!!)  It's been a week now since I saw Star Trek on opening night and I'm ready to see it again. From my Facebook last week: I am not the most responsible mom. My husband didn't think he could handle the midnight showing of Star Trek Into Darkness with a big work day the next day, so what does this Trekkie do?? She takes her 11 and 9 year old daughters to the midnight showing last night and here we are all late for school/work the next morning. SOOOOO WORTH IT!!!!! A true Trekkie film! Doing the best to make my daughters Trekkies too.

currently loving -  my daily walks: my neighborhood is on the edge of town - and the edge of prairie that turns into mountain foothills. Now that it's spring (yes, it's just now spring in Wyoming), I can get off the paved roads and up into the sagebrush hills where wildflowers are blooming and meadowlarks singing. 

currently anticipating - my stepdaughter's high school graduation! where or where has the time gone??? She was only 4 years old - my flower girl - at our wedding. 

currently thinking about - I have an idea for a homemade graduation card for my stepdaughter that I'm envisioning as a sort of collage of some of my favorite pins from Pinterest. I have this board called "the Best of Life" - a collection of inspirational quotes and things I've learned over the years. Wondering if it would seem too preachy as a graduation "card" though? 

currently wishing -  tornadoes were just mythical creatures instead of real events. Having nightmares about them after Moore, Oklahoma - and praying for all the families trying to rebuild their lives there. 

currently making me happy - my long-time writing friend, NLW,  just finished reading my YA SF novel's second draft and said "definitely publishable!" In our 12 year writing friendship, the first time I've heard that verdict! 

currently thrilled for someone else - (my addition to the "currently" list) - one of my dear friends just officially adopted two girls, six year old and two year old sisters she and her family have been fostering for over a year now. There's a huge long story behind this that makes this event so amazing and my heart so grateful!

What's your "current" from any one of these categories? I'd love to hear!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A mind-bending new take on djinnis (genies)

From the moment I read the premise of The Binding Stone, by Lisa Gail Green, I knew I wanted to read this book,  because y'all know how I love:

Mythical creatures! Check - not just one, but three djinnis (genies)

Trickery and entrapment! Plenty of it here.

Betrayed love! ouch, but oh so intriguing.

And true love... happily, that too, plus a wild ride as Leela and Taj, my favorite djinnis, figure out how to evade commands from their masters, twisting interpretations of the commands and using clever tricks. There's some serious genius that went into this story!

So I tracked down this serious genius (turns out she has a lighter side, too) and interviewed her. Welcome, Lisa Gail Green:

Describe your book in seven words. Hah!

Betrayed Djinni rediscovers love and trust. HA! Did it in six. Sort of. That doesn't really do all the action justice, but what can I say?

What would be the first thing you'd wish for if you had a djinn like Leela?

I used to think of all sorts of things, including having a best-seller! But after writing this book? The first thought in my head was, 'I would never be able to ask a genie for anything.'

Is there a message in The Binding Stone that you want readers to grasp?

Yes. But is it cheating to say it? It's really about control. That no matter how bad the situation you are dealt, no matter how unfair, you can still be YOU.

Are the experiences in the Binding Stone based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Yes. I am a Djinni. Ha! No. BUT I do have a fear of losing control, which manifests in many ways. So I guess I was putting some part of myself in the worst situation.

One thing I've always remembered from your blog posts on writing is how you've said we need to go places where we are afraid to go. Where were you afraid to go with the Binding Stone?

I was afraid to go to the dark place. To let Leela be tortured and mistreated the way she was. This is for kids after all! But I also think teens can handle it. Many have to handle it for real unfortunately. And for those that haven't, a book is the safest place to learn about other situations and explore differences whatever they may be. I think in the end I struck a good balance between what was spelled out and what wasn't. 

If you could be any character in fiction, who would you pick and why?

Oooh. I know I've seen it used a LOT, but I have to say Hermione. She's smart, talented, magical, and just all around awesome!

Oh my yes, a girl who can be dangerous holding a book, she's my choice too!
Leela's already been interviewed here, but I did manage to corner Taj, another Djinni, and ask him a  couple questions:

I see Leela worked for Mozart for a while. If you could pick any master in the world (famous person), who would you pick and why?

Honey, that's like me asking how you'd prefer to die. But if I MUST pick… I do like Brad Pitt. He's a hotty. Or maybe Lady Gaga - she looks like she'd be tons of fun. Unpredictable is less boring. Don't look at me like that. I wasn't going to pick Mother Teresa. I'd hate to have been responsible for her falling from grace. *winks*

Funny you should mention Brad Pitt,  Taj, because as I was reading this story, your character kinda reminded me of him a few times. Indulge me for a moment:

You've known Leela for centuries. In this latest escapade with her, did you learn anything new about her? Did you learn anything new about yourself?

Lee? She's so emo. I hope she finally realizes how strong she is and that some things are out of her control. Women. Me? I already know everything worth knowing, the rest as they say is excess baggage. Apple? *pulls fruit from air* *chews and thinks* I suppose I did learn that even I can still be surprised by a human now and then.

Thank you, Lisa and Taj!  Here's the official blurb on The Binding Stone:
Tricked into slavery by the man she loved, the Djinni Leela has an eternity to regret her choices.

Awakened in the prison of her adolescent body, she finds a new master in possession of the opal that binds her. But seventeen-year-old Jered is unlike any she’s seen. His kindness makes Leela yearn to trust again, to allow herself a glimmer of hope.

Could Jered be strong enough to free her from the curse of the Binding Stone?
"I dream of Lisa Gail Green! The Binding Stone is magical in so many ways. My Djinn asks for my third wish? The sequel, of course!" - NYT bestselling author Nancy Holder

"Genies like you’ve never seen them, THE BINDING STONE is a wild ride of treachery and deception. For my first wish, I’d like a sequel, please." - PERSONAL DEMONS author Lisa Desrochers

And, I have a little excerpt from my Goodreads review here to tempt you even further: 
I love how with all her centuries of experience with human masters, Leela's completely perplexed by Jered, her new master. His nature is so different from anything she’s encountered before, though there are things about him that also worry her:  "His eyes remind me of Achan’s, dark as oil. Enough years have passed, yet still my throat clenches at the thought."

This first mention of Achan immediately intrigued me. I wanted to know more about this bit of Leela’s history, and I was thrilled to discover that the chapters in present time are paralleled with chapters from a thousand years earlier, when Leela fell [spoiler removed].

I love present-time and past-time threaded stories. Love, love, love! The Binding Stone weaves the past and present together delicately and relentlessly. 

If you'd like a chance to win The Binding Stone, plus some other goodies, head over to Lisa Gail Green's giveaway here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Book Covers

I don't judge books by their covers. I'm more likely to pick up a book by its title than by its cover, and even a cover that takes my breath away won't make me take a book home unless its premise intrigues me, too. But I do appreciate a beautiful cover and it was an interesting exercise, scrolling through my Goodreads lists looking just at covers for today's Top Ten listing.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here).

1. A Million Suns, by Beth Revis. There are so many things about this cover that I love: the stars, colors, the shimmer, the curve of the window, the body language, the question of whether or not they're holding hands. Why have I not read this book yet?? I loved Across the Universe and this is definitely a sequel I'm planning to read.

2. Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. The winged horse, the light, the clouds, the girl looking up, so so so dreamy. And I love that the pegasus is black and not white as you usually think of them. This book I've read, parts of it twice, and it's on my short absolute favorites list.

3. Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini. The stormy sky and the light water, the girl's blowing white robes with the violet shading and the girl's darkly shadowed skin. Also love the title font and embellishments. The book is pretty good to read, too.

4. The Binding Stone, by Lisa Gail Green. The blue-red-orange color scheme; the desert background; the overlaid lacy pattern; the light trailing off the opal; the Djinn's red silky wrap; love, love, love. I just read this book and  I'll be sharing my review tomorrow and probably raving more about this book in the future, too.

5. For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. Okay, maybe a pattern here: stars! It's star pattern overlaid on the dress that really made me fall in love with this one, what a cool idea. Also, this is the prettiest title font I've ever seen, complete with those lovely encircling touches and shifting colors.

6. Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvator. I love all the shades of blue with intertwining branches, the odd-shaped leaves, and the wolf half-hidden in the background. All of this juxtaposed with a brilliant red drop of blood. Such a good book, too, my favorite of the series.

7. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson.  This book sort of has a starry effect going on too and I love the green and gold shimmer fading out to black. The glowing tree pattern on the girl's arm; the pattern on the back of her dress; the subtle lighting on her hair make a perfect combination. This book had amazing world building and difficult, challenging, hard-to-forget characters.

8. The Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare. The shining book - it looks almost ethereal in the girl's hands. The architecture is breathtaking, too - that bridge! The dome! All the background details overlaid with subtle clockwork patterns. I do love an old-fashioned dress, and it has such a pretty color and texture. Alas, I haven't read this book yet, but I certainly plan to.

9. Firelight, by Sophie Jordan. I don't usually like close-ups of faces, but the girl's unusual but not overstated pupils, and the subtle scales around her eyes have made the cover stick in my mind even several years after I read it. Not to mention I think that's the prettiest hair I've ever seen, and a Mona Lisa kind of secret smile. It's an entertaining, fast-paced book, too, with some interesting twin sister dynamics.

10. Ride a Wild Dream, by Lynn Hall (1982). Sorry this is the best picture I could find of this cover, but it doesn't do it justice!  This was a childhood favorite of mine - I had to include it for sentimental reasons because I spent hours as a kid looking at the ethereal golden horse on this cover (I was insanely horse crazy as a kid) and daydreaming about having a horse like that. I probably read the book at least 5 times, like all of Lynn Hall's wonderful horse and dog books.

There was one more cover I searched long and hard for to include here; I wished I'd added it to my Goodreads lists because in addition to the gorgeous cover, it also had an interesting premise. It's a recent YA, dystopian I think, and the cover has a skyscraper city background with a sort of shimmery waterfall effect superimposed over it. If that rings any bells, please let me know!!!

Do you have a favorite book cover? 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Zenn Scarlett (review)

Did you grow up loving animals? Not just pets, but were you curious about exotic animals, creatures in the pages of books that existed in far away countries,  but had unbelievable and almost mythical qualities about them? Like singing whales and snow leopards and oryx and platypus and lemurs? 

Maybe if you loved animals, like me, you wanted to grow up to be a vet or a zoo-keeper or a wildlife biologist.

Or maybe computers and chemistry sets and gadgets and science fiction were more your thing.  Maybe you wanted to grow up to be an astronaut or the first engineer to figure out how to fly beyond light speed. 

Or maybe, just maybe, you were BOTH of these - animal friend and star dreamer.  That was so me. It's still me. 

So the premise of Zenn Scarlett, by Christian Schoon, about a veterinary school on Mars for alien animals, oh my gosh just made me all kinds of excited. And even better, hints that the main character has a special type of communication with the animals/aliens. I dreamed about this kind of stuff when I was a kid! Living on another world; check. Communicating with animals; check. This author brilliantly thought to put these two ideas together. 

I loved the first chapter. Especially the introduction to the first alien creature: the Indra. And what the Indra can do, and how space travelers have partnered with it, is so... sooo....alakshgsdhdgouncldg. Yep, words fail me. I want to say "cool" but that is too lame of a word. Awesome, too overused of a word. Back to lsknxsaqhyejlsd. I'll spare you the exclamation marks. 

I didn't finish reading this novel, but that might just be me. If the premise grabs you like it did me, TRY IT!!! Maybe you'll love it (other reviewers did). Certainly the first four chapters I read had a lot of potential. I just couldn't click with the main character or the particular style of this book. 

But the reasons why I encourage you to try the book if you like the premise:  there's this character called Hamish who is fascinating. After I got over my first reaction of utter disbelief (a giant and kindly alien beetle? really? okay - I guess that works), I was very impressed by him, because his voice immediately rang true. There's also some really inventive things, like the mobile virt-screens "hovering before his face like butterflies", and how Mars was made suitable for humans to live on, and some of the medical devices used for entering and ah, exiting large alien creatures. No vet book, alien or not, would be complete without some potty humor. I have a feeling the author, Christian Schoon and James Herriot are kindred spirits. 

And also, there were some places where the writing was very impressive:

Her father's entire being was like a fresh wound.

....Sometimes, she thought she understood what made him go, that he had no choice, that he couldn't survive both his own pain and hers. At other times, she simply lost sight of this sort of understanding; as if heavy fog had rolled in, obscuring the landmarks that had guided her at first.

Thank you Strange Chemistry and Net Galley for giving me the opportunity to try out this book.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects

A good book will always deal with tough subjects, in my opinion.  Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here).

1. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett - prejudice and racism.

2. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee - prejudice, racism, misunderstanding

3. Code Name Verity - war, Nazis

4. The Scarlet Thread  by Francine Rivers
-affair, separation

5. Wonder by RJ Palacio - deformed appearance

6. I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, by  Diane Lee Wilson  - physical handicap

7. Right Behind You by Gail Giles - guilt

8. Speak  by Laurie Halse Anderson - rape, high school "branding"

9. Never Gone, Laurel Garver - death of a loved one.

10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - abuse, repression

Honorable mentions:

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan - parental neglect, abuse

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell- animal abuse

Nineteen Minutes - school massacre. Jodi Piccoult writes issues in a very gripping if borderline sensationalized way.

What tough issue book(s) resonated the most with you?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Top Ten Waiting for Star Trek timewasters

Blog universe announcement! Star Trek Into Darkness opens in exactly one week! While I'm still miffed that they made me wait 4 years, I'm seriously excited.  I don't often get all Star Trek geeky here on my blog, but I find it interesting that my other Star Trek raves is one of my most popular posts with over 8,000 views. Clearly not due to my great prose, but due to Star Trek greatness and thousands of other devoted fans.

Here's my top ten time-wasters while I wait for opening night on May 17...

10. Watch the trailers a million times on You Tube

9. Follow #startrek on Twitter and smirk at tweets only true long-term ST geeks will get at @TNG_S8  

8. Watch Star Trek (2009) again. Just one more time.

7. Dream up Star Trek / Star Wars mashups now that JJ Abrams is in charge of both

6. Order Spock ears and matching wig to wear at opening night (only $12.99)

5. Imagine possible ways Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine characters could be included with the rebooted original characters

4. Discover things like Star Trek onesies on Pinterest and wonder how many people understand why you'd never buy the red one for your baby

3. Get absolutely giddy reading a movie review that says there's "an "Inception"-indebted freefall sequence that sees the crew negotiating gravity-shifting practical sets" 

2. Read other Star Trek top ten lists like  "Top Ten Star Trek technologies that actually came true" at How Stuff Works (where you can feel both geeky-happy and maybe-not-completely-wasting-your-time-because-you-are-actually-learning-stuff)

1. Consider a road trip to a city that is releasing the movie early

Are you eagerly awaiting the new Star Trek movie? Or what movie would you rather wait breathlessly for instead?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Some Quiet Place (review)

Some Quiet Place, by Kelsey Sutton, is a young adult paranormal with a really brilliant premise and beautifully haunting writing. It does contains descriptions of violent abuse and torture, so reader beware.

The first half had me in a constant state of musing wonder. The main character, Elizabeth, lives in our same ordinary world, goes to ordinary high school, does ordinary chores on her family’s farm -- but she can also see into another plane where Emotions appear as people, invisible to everyone except Elizabeth. And she’s unique in that none of the Emotions affect her – she is, in fact, immune to any sort of emotion at all. Which raises tons of questions.

This was very interesting: how do you connect with a main character who has no emotion or feelings? She does have reactions and instincts  and impulses and her body language mirrors emotion, but she doesn’t feel anything. After I got used to her detachment I realized I still connected with her because she does want to feel, and her observation is so keen, and she’s constantly questioning, processing everything and everyone.

As if to make up for Elizabeth’s lack of emotion, the rest of the characters are fraught with emotion, and we’re constantly meeting the Emotions that visit them: Fear (more about him in a moment), his brother Courage, glimpses of Love, Guilt, Worry,  Longing, Joy, Courage, Loneliness, Envy, Resentment, others:
When our eyes meet, Resentment nods in greeting. He’s bald – even though they’re immortal, Emotions resemble humans in appearance – and I’ve always though he looks like Mr. Clean minus the gold hoop earring. He’s one of the few Emotions that enjoy talking to me. Then again, he enjoyed talking to anyone. Resentment has always had a chatty tendency.
In addition to Emotions, other things like seasons and weather are also personified: for instance, when fog rolls in across the fields, Elizabeth sees a person walking in its midst, and knows it’s Fog himself. Stuff like this made me all shivery, wondering what ordinary thing I’ll meet next, in unexpected form.

But of all the Emotions, Fear is the one that we get to spend the most time with, and he’s quite a character. I felt some irony that the story tempts you to “fall in love with Fear.” You kind of forget what he actually is: a haunting Emotion, the result of so much misery and in a way often the cause of unnecessary misery, too. That’s part of the twist of this story that Fear appears attractive and passionate and actually the most dynamic and interesting character – even though he’s also cruel at times and obsessed with Elizabeth for mysterious reasons.
Fear reaches out and touches the curve of the girl’s cheek in one painting. Phantom  fingers brush my real cheek as he does so.
He also like to play games with Elizabeth, constantly testing her to see if she’s developed any Emotions yet, in particular testing her to see if he can make her afraid of him:
Fear vanishes, and an instant later a huge man jumps from the shadows of the loft with a long knife, making as if to stab me  in the stomach. He’s wearing all black and his face is swathed in a ski mask. When I only stare at him, making no sound of alarm, the attacker disappears just as the blade is about to go in me.  
“Fear?” I call. 
“Just checking,” he chuckles, his voice coming from the night sky.
The book constantly raises questions, like “why does Fear love her?” and I spent half my time reading out of focus as my mind mused over questions like  “Do the Emotions influence people, or are they just responding to summons when a person is filled with that emotion?” and  theories like “She can’t love him back, she’s incapable of feeling” and  “Oh! Maybe Fear loves her because she’s the only one immune to him. Everyone else would run away screaming because his presence evokes terror.”  And my favorite theory: “is she an emotionless Emotion? An Emotion who has been stripped of her emotion, as a punishment maybe?”

So the first half of this book had me coming up with theories like these left and right and enjoying the mystery and trying to piece together the potential hints.  Exciting! The second half went off in a different direction than any of my theories. It kept me on my toes, not knowing what to expect anymore, though at times a little confused, too (I wish some of the characters that showed up in the second half had been developed more). 

But I really like the interesting tension going on with Elizabeth and Fear and Joshua, because it was a unique triangle: one person wasn’t aware the other existed:
“Elizabeth?” Joshua watches me walk by but doesn’t reach out. 
Fear pats his shoulder, mockingly sympathetic. “Let her go, boy. She’s a mess.” 
Joshua doesn’t hear or see him, of course, but he does frown, sensing something off about me and the air around us. 

The book has a very literary feel too it, and again I’m really impressed for a story told from the point of the view of a girl without any emotions, how real and very raw emotion still manages to vibrate in nearly every scene (and not just because of the Emotions flitting here  and there: I’m talking real emotion). The scenes with Elizabeth visiting her friend Maggie, who’s dying of cancer, were agonizing and somehow beautiful at the same time.  They rang true. In fact, I know they’ll stick with me for a long time. They were the highlight of this novel, for me.

Some quotes I liked:
A group of our classmates burst through the front doors, startling Joshua. The crowd is followed by two Emotions: Apprehension and Desperation. It’s so important to these kids to fit in, to belong. 
Very well said:
It’s the way humanity is; give them what they want, and it turns out it’s not what they wanted after all. 
A thought Elizabeth has for Maggie, my favorite character:
It’s a cloudy day out, no rain but no sun either. Unfair that on a day like this there shouldn’t be brilliance for her.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Trapped by an unwelcome turn of events

I recently got trapped in an unwelcome fictional turn of events - at least this time it was in fiction, rather than real life (our family has had two major upsetting events so far this year).

 I got sucked into this great book, Some Quiet Place, a young adult paranormal debut by Kelsey Sutton (not yet released; I got a digital review copy from NetGalley). The combination of a very cool, original premise and beautiful, sensory-rich writing made me a happy reader until I got into the second half, when things turned a little too graphically violent for my taste.

Violence is common in young adult (YA), especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres I lean toward, but the descriptions are short and don't get too detailed. Since I'm prone to nightmares (I still get nightmares from those darned Alien movies, even years and years after the fact!) I really shy away from horror and graphic violence. I just don't need those images stuck in my head! And it's not just movies - the Hunger Games series, especially Mockingjay, left some images in my head I wish I could get rid of, too. I love YA books for many reasons, and one of them is that they don't shy away from troublesome topics, but they don't get graphic about them (well, except for Mockingjay. And now Some Quiet Place).

Since Some Quiet Place doesn't release until June, there's not a whole lot of reviews for it available yet. I'm awfully picky about the books I read: it's a serious investment in time, and sometimes money too if you can't wait for your library's copy, so I always read reviews carefully before I pick a book. The temptation of NetGalley and other similar places is you can get free pre-release copies for review, which is kind of exciting (getting your hands on a book before the general public, and for free) but also a little bit of a risk (few or no reviews yet for you to judge whether the book includes something you prefer to stay away from).

I suppose the title for this post was a little unfair - if you don't like what you read in a book, no one's forcing you to keep reading. But I do feel a little trapped when I'm more than half way into a good book, really enjoying myself, and then - WHAP! - too-graphic violence catches me off-guard. I'm invested in the book, at that point, you know what I mean?

Sometimes I toss around the idea of a "content rating" for books - like the rating system used for movies - but I think that would open a can of the worms with far-reaching issues. In general book reviews give you the information you need to know about whether a book's content is suited for you or not. If you are a bit of a cautious or picky reader like me, maybe preleases or new releases, as tempting as it is to get them for free, aren't the best idea. Especially since in exchange for your free copy, the publishers expect you to review the book on your blog, and I'd prefer to talk about books I can highly recommend on my blog, rather than books I have serious issues with.

So maybe I won't be requesting any more titles from NetGalley. But I have committed to doing several reviews here, and I am trying to be honest about the good qualities of these books in addition to the parts I didn't personally like.  I'll be posting my review of Some Quiet Place here on Thursday.

What do you do when you're invested in a good book, and it suddenly takes a turn that leaves you uncomfortable? It's true that books should stretch us outside our "comfort zones" (see the quote on the image) but what about some readers needing a "safety zone"?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Fling Giveaway: Pivot Point

I'm giving away a copy of Pivot Point, by Kasie West, for the Spring Fling giveaway. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter form to enter. This is part of a giveaway hop hosted by Kathy at the  I Am a Reader, Not A Writer blog. Visit the link for the full list of participants and over a hundred other giveaways open through May 7. My giveaway is to US and Canada addresses only, but many of the other giveaways are international.

Since it's the first Wednesday of May, it's also the day to post for the
and I had to laugh at the coincidence because Pivot Point is the perfect example of a book that makes me an insecure writer. As in, not only is the idea brilliant (a girl who can see both paths of a choice she makes, before she makes it - which sometimes makes her choices even harder!) but this story is brilliantly plotted and written, too.
I know that comparison is deadly, but sometimes I can't help but think books like this set the bar too high for me and my manuscripts. But there's a few things I remind myself in cases like this: 1) writing is not a race 2) writing isn't a talent show, either  3)  everyone has a slightly different definition of brilliance! and 4) steady writing/revision + dedication to honing craft and studying other stories + teamwork (thank you critiquers!) + never giving up = a personally satisfying masterpiece and maybe a great read for others too.

But enough about me and more about Pivot Point, which is truly a great read and worth entering the giveaway for. Here's the form and below that is my review (not so much a review as me spewing out all the reasons I admired this book).

a Rafflecopter giveaway
This is sort of a backwards review because I have to start with the ending first. It's a cliffhanger and a sad ending on top of that;  but it has interesting time-travelish sorts of "clauses" that make me extremely eager for the sequel but at the same time grinning over the perfect balance of satisfied fulfillment and curious longing that I came out of the ending with.

I'm not sure if any of that made any sense. But I can't say more without giving away the ending. I LOVED the ending.

Okay, now back to the beginning!

The first thing I fell in love with this book (besides its premise) were the chapter headings. Imaginative chapter headings always add a little extra fun to a story, and by Chapter 2, with a dictionary style heading of "Unjustville:  n. the land ruled by my parents" I was already grinning. As I got through a few more chapters, I started to realize the dictionary-style headings all had another purpose... (more on that in a moment).

The second thing I fell in love with was Addison, the main character, in chapter 2 when she describes her bedroom:
I grabbed a pillow, pulled it against my chest, and lay down. On the ceiling above me, in black scrolling print, was the Aristophanes quote I had painted there: "By words the mind is winged." For some reason it stood out among all the other quotes that loomed above me."

A girl who paints cool quotes all over her room? This my kind of a girl. I started collecting quotes in high school too and I'm still at it. Bonus: the Aristophanes quote isn't one I've seen yet. Very impressed.  Double bonus: it's a beautiful quote for a book lover! Really, it's an awesome quote for anyone.

Another Cool Thing: the range of paranormal powers of kids within the Paranormal compound. They aren't just super-hero sort of ooooh and aaaaah powers: after all this book is science fiction, not fantasy or superhero genre. Here's an example: "he had developed the ability to speed up the connections in his brain, allowing him to run faster." - the author comes up with dozens more abilities, some expected and some quite unexpected. Also, the kids in the Paranormal compound go to their own school, with its own special quirks (not as atmospheric or as well-developed as Hogwarts, but they do have their own special-powers fueled sports, like Para-football.)

I adored Addie's insistence that her life would play out like the plots in the many books she's read. Because maybe I've been tempted to think along those lines too?
"I've been thinking about books where the main character's parents are going through a divorce. A big theme is rebellion. I think I should give it a try." 
She laughs. "Addie and rebellion. Those two words don't fit together." 
At first I'm tempted to be offended by the comment, but she's right. I'm not rebellious. Not even a little bit. But considering the insane amount of tension still present between my mom and me, I'm pretty sure I can channel rebellion right now. "I can totally do it."   
"You do know you're speaking of fiction, right? Your novels aren't supposed to be study guides for human behavior." 
I shrug off her comment. "I have at least a six-month window where my parent will blame themselves instead of me for anything I do wrong. I was thinking of a blue streak in my hair." 
Her eyes light up as though she's suddenly on board. "Really? Because that would be so awesome." 
"Is that enough? I don't want to go over the top, but I don't want to undersell my suffering either." 

Here's another snippet of Addie's dialogue with her best friend Laila (don't worry, I'll get to the love interest here shortly) (Laila is such a fun character. she also has the scary ability to erase other people's memories).

Laila speaking: "So let me get this straight. If I didn't have an ability, you wouldn't like me?" 
I sigh. "Of course I'd like you. But that's because you're out-spoken, bossy, and don't care what anyone else thinks." 
"You just made me sound like a total witch." 
"I know, but let's not get sidetracked. This is my meltdown." 
"Addie, come on, you usually don't are what anyone else thinks either. What's going on?" 
"I don't care when people think I'm an antisocial, controlling bookworm because that's what I am. It's when they interpret me wrong that I have a problem."

Another Neat Thing: the book gets away with a love triangle in a really clever, non-annoying way (really!). Addie uses her ability to look into the future to see the two different ways a choice could play out: stay with her mom in the Paranormal compound and develop a relationship with a Paranormal hot guy, or live in the normal world with her father and develop a relationship with a Normal nice guy.

So remember I said the chapter headings were really cool?  The book takes off into alternating chapters, one showing Addie's life continuing in Paranormal world, with chapter headings all having a para-something word, and the next chapter showing her alternative life in the Normal world, with chapter headings having a norm-something word in them.  Chapter 11 heading: "PARAliation: n. beyond the average humiliation."

This book is a lot more than cute dialogue and funny chapter headings. Here's another side of Addie as she talks about the pages of books she pins on her walls (in addition to the great quotes).
"It has more to do with the story lines... usually the parts where I felt the most tense or the saddest. I'll pin that page on my wall, and every time I read it or look at it, I get that rush of feelings I got reading.  
....When I read, I feel emotions all my own [not emotions influenced by another person, like her mom and dad and how their paranormal abilities affect her]. To me, it almost seems more real, because I know that those characters can't influence me with any power. So I like to remind myself that I can feel without anyone manipulating me..."

And things get really intense as you start to realize how events in the alternative timelines relate to each other, with an escalating danger that Addie can't warn herself about in the different timelines. So in a way, this book is sort of like a time-twist or time travel book.

I promised I'd mention the love interest. There are two of them, of course, but only one really counts, in the way that Mr. Darcy is the only one that counts in Pride and Prejudice, and Wickham is clearly a diversion - if a rather interesting and mysterious diversion. Here's a snippet with Addie and _____  that I loved:
"No." He stops me just as I'm formulating a simple Search. "Don't. Not while I'm here. Just promise me something. If this is a Search and you don't pick me, don't pick this path, for whatever reason, promise me you won't Erase me." [her memory of him]  
That's a very serious promise, one I can't take lightly. Because even though right now, if this was a Search, I can't imagine not picking him, if for some reason something major happens and I can't be with him, remembering him and this would be sheer torture.
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