Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When Books Become Movies

Don’t forget about my super awesome giveaway, guys. The one where you can win any book you want? Remember that one? Head on over there and throw your name in the mix. Don’t forget to thank the good people of Amazon for making it happen.

So I’ve been seeing commercials lately for Cloud Atlas, an immense and magnificent book that I’ve always thought was completely un-filmable. It’s episodic. Each chapter takes place not just in a different place, but in a completely different time period. They’re thematically linked, but it’s definitely not the kind of book you read and think, “Yup! Perfect for a movie.”
This IS a really cool cover though.

 Obviously they’ve filmed it, but since I haven’t seen the movie, I can’t attest as to whether or not it works. In a couple months, adaptations of major classics like Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby will be released. In YA news, they’re days away from officially choosing Shailene Woodley as Tris in the movie version of Divergent, the last Twilight is coming out soon, and next year we get a brand new Hunger Games (squee!).

Book-to-movie adaptations are tricky things. It’s hard to say what makes the good ones really work. Is it because they were loyal to the words? Did they transcribe the dialogue perfectly? Did they replicate each and every scene exactly as they were described? Or did they make big changes, streamlining and enhancing the plot? Sometimes details fall by the wayside in order to capture the mood and message of the book. Other times they don’t capture the moo d at all, and it’s still a good movie. Sometimes the book is perfectly duplicated and it still completely stinks.

KEEP READING. There is naked Colin Firth awaiting you beyond. (Dead serious.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Woohoo! A Giveaway!

All right, bloggy peeps. Today is a very exciting day: my first giveaway! And since I’m feeling generous, I will make this the most generous book giveaway ever. The winner will receive a free copy of any YA book they want. Totally serious. As long as it can be sold on Amazon (AND MAKE SURE IT CAN BEFORE CHOOSING IT), you can win it.
See? Even Harry Potter thinks it's totally awesome.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Ten Worst Ways to End a Book

We’ve all read books that end so perfectly we’re left in states of total bliss. The story was so good we ache for more, but things were wrapped up so satisfyingly that we honestly know it’s better this way.

Think of it like a fancy three course meal. The appetizer appetized. The entrĂ©e was rich, filling, and oh-so-delicious. And when dessert came, it was tasty, sweet and just the right size. You’re full, but not so full your stomach might rupture.

And then there are the books that serve you sewage for dessert.

The ending is the last impression the reader is left with. You don’t care if the first act dropped wonderfully tantalizing hints if the last act dumps a pile of crap on your plate. These are examples of the types of endings that leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth (to torture a metaphor even further). Ones to LOOK OUT FOR if you’re a reader, and ones to avoid if you’re a writer on Pain of Death.

1.      The Everybody Dies Ending
I suppose some people find this one deeply literary or meaningful. I call it offensively manipulative and a total cop-out. It’s a cheap and often pretentious ploy that only worked when Shakespeare did it, and even then I thought it was a bit much.
He will grow up to write really depressing novels.

2.      The Deus Ex Machina Ending
The bane of my existence. For those of you who don’t know, deus ex machine is, to quote Wikipedia, “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. It can be roughly translated as ‘God made it happen,’ with no further explanation, and, depending on usage, is primarily used to move the story forward when the writer has "painted himself into a corner" and sees no other way out”.

Basically, the resolution does not come from the characters. It is not inherent in the story, set up from the beginning, arising from the painful development the main character has undergone. No. A great force pops out of the sky, waves a magic wand, and POOF! Things are all better! I’m looking at you, Aslan (aka the Deux ex Lion)

3.      The Rainbows and Puppies Ending
This basically means that everybody lives happily ever after. To me, it’s preferable to the Everybody Dies ending, only because it doesn’t severely bum me out. But this chosen resolution is both immature an unrealistic. Life is messier than this. There are consequences even when you achieve your goals. I like when the author chooses not to tie up every thread with a pretty pink bow. 

KEEP READING! There is Ryan Gosling after the jump.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Review: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup.
The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.

When one girl has to follow her mother to her sancuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.

Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure.

When I read a book, I like to read it like I think a writer should. That means I look out for structure, pacing, character develop, word usage. I try to read critically (you wouldn’t know it from looking at my most recent reviews, because I’ve been lucky enough to only read good books). I started Endangered like that: focused. Critical.

I ended it a sobbing mess.

Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Rating: ★★★★

 She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.

Elisa is a hero. She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from both foreign realms and within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears once and for all, Elisa must follow the trail of long-forgotten--and forbidden--clues from the deep, undiscovered catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her goes a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man who--despite everything--she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

Wow. I absolutely loved this book. I really enjoyed the first one, though I had a few quibbles with the Godstone mythology, the underdeveloped romance, and even, at times, Elisa, but oh, boy. This book fixed all those problems for me and more.

The Godstone and God’s power here are not crutches. The Big Choice that Elisa makes near the end was one that actually had me clapping. Elisa is awesome. I didn’t realize how much more she still had to develop, but develop she did. She is so clever, and feels so intensely, and tries so hard to be a good queen. She’s a true heroine.

The plot is action packed and engaging from the start. I zipped through this book so fast because I just had to find out what happened next. Carson’s writing continues to be beautiful, her descriptions exquisite, and her world fully realized. My only issue was the overuse of the word sibilant (nitpick alert!) only because I’d never heard it, noted it at its first use, and noted it the next eleven or so times it was used. But seriously. Joya d’Arena and its surrounding constitute one of the deepest fantasy worlds I’ve read in a while. You could actually live there. When you read The Crown of Embers, you feel as if you are.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pixar's Rules of Storytelling

If you’ve ever seen a Pixar movie, you know that the storytelling in them is damn near perfect. Their structures are classic. Their characters develop just as they should. The conflict follows all the right beats, all the ups and downs are in the right place, and the resolution comes from the characters.
Yes. We are awesome characters from awesome stories. You're jealous.

How do they do it? we writers ask. Well, now they’re telling! Now we can steal all their secrets and become master plotters ourselves!

Emma Coats, a Pixar Storyboard artist, tweeted her 22 rules of storytelling. Of course, you shouldn’t adhere strictly to rules while writing. I say the only true rule is that it has to work. But these are great guidelines to keep in mind. Even if you’re not a writer, understanding these basic tenants of storytelling will help you become a better reader. You’ll understand how things work a bit better. Follow the link to read the rest, but I’m going to talk about my favorite few here.

You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
This is the cornerstone of the likable hero. It’s not about how awesome or perfect or successful they are. You just root for them. The odds are stacked so highly against them that it’s nearly impossible to succeed, but still they try.
Wall-E tries really really hard to save the environment but it's just not really happening.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson

 Review: Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson
 Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she'll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she's there. 

What Ellie doesn't anticipate is Graham's infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect that something powerful and ancient will awaken in her and that strange whispers will urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, suddenly there's a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it's up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring, Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them. 

Deadly legends, hidden identities, and tentative romance swirl together in one girl's unexpectedly epic coming-of-age.

Valkyrie Rising was so totally enjoyable, I’m glad it swallowed my weekend whole. I wanted to travel to gorgeous Norway, which is so fully realized in the book, and dive into a world full of salty sea villages, sod roofs, and epic mythology. I happen to be a mythology fiend, though I don’t know much about Norse myths. But because of Valkyrie Rising, I’ll definitely take a more active interest in them.

It was refreshing to read a book set in Norway, a place not often visited by YA protagonists. Ellie’s a city girl totally dominated by her perfect, overly-protective, but ultimately well-meaning older brother Graham. She has a love/hate relationship with the utterly wonderful Tuck Halloway, Graham’s best friend, that looks like it could turn into something more. She’s already got problems. The last thing she needs is a whole bunch of Valkyries stirring sh*t up.

Ellie is a great protagonist. She’s strong and fierce and it was wonderful to read about her coming into her Valkyrie own. I figured things out way before she did, but that didn’t ruin the read for me. The plot doesn’t invent the wheel, but it’s got enough twists and turns and fun action scenes to keep the reader speeding right along. The mythology is awesome, and not too complex, which is great. But the best part is the Valkyries themselves.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

YA Books I Read as a Young Adult That Changed My Life

I’m not including the books that I categorize as children’s books (not in a derogatory sense– the books I read as a kid probably influenced me even more than the books I read as a teen). I think I’ll probably do a separate list for that. But as someone who could be described as a Cross-under, aka a kid who read above her age group and/or and adult that reads below, I started thinking about the YA books I read when I actually was a YA. It wasn’t that long ago, but in reader years it feels like ages.

When you’re young– heck, when you’re old, too, or in between– books have a way of living inside you and affecting who you are. You hold onto words, or characters, or lessons. They shape the information in your head. I was a voracious reader as a kid. That was a lot of shaping. Here are the books that stick out for me that I read as a kid (a VERY small sample. And these are just the ones off the top of my head now. I could probably do fifteen follow up posts). And, of course, there are the excellent YA books I read when I was a kid, and the ones I read as an adult. I'm focusing here on the ones I read in my teens.

I also managed to track down all the covers that were on the versions I read. I hate when they change covers.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
This book taught me that my curvy booty is great, that I can be a great writer, and it is very dangerous to hero-worship your siblings. Also, even if your parents are jerks, you don’t have to be.

The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
Alanna was my hero for a time. I gobbled up this series, and have reread them so many times I swear I know passages by heart. Alanna is the ultimate feminist hero, strong and feisty, and she can cut you up. Literally.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: Alternity by Mari Mancusi

 Review: Alternity by Mari Mancusi
Rating: ★★★1/2

Imagine waking up in a post-apocalyptic, nightmare world--and being told your whole life is but a dream. Skye Brown thought she was your typical college student--good grades, hot boyfriend, and an internship that pays her to play videogames. But then she started having the dreams.

In her dreams, there is no Earth. Only Terra, a bleak, underground wasteland where people live in squalor and oppression. In her dreams, there is no Skye--only Mariah, a rebel leader fighting against a vile, dystopian regime. And then there's Dawn, a handsome, but haunted solider who sees her as but an empty shell of the girl he once love--a betrayer he vows to hate forever, despite what she sees deep in his eyes.

Now, ripped between Dark Siders and club kids, the mundane and the mystic, Skye finds herself in a fight against time--to learn who she really is, where she belongs..and why. The shocking truth will have her questioning her own reality...and her heart.  

"They’re going to be so disappointed when they finally face reality."

Alternity is a book that, while not perfect, is greatly enjoyable. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic dystopias, alternate realities, rebellions, romance, and totalitarian governments all tossed together with a little humor and a lot of gaming references, Alternity will work for you.

The narrative begins in a tangle of confusion, but it’s appropriate, because that’s how Skye feels. Once you figure out what’s going on, it actually makes very clear sense. Honestly, I caught on to the truth quite a bit faster than she did (until a BIG twist near the end, a twist I sure didn't see coming), but it was believable that the sheer craziness of waking up in a different world with a different name would muddle your head a bit.

The story really kicks off once it switches over to the alternate reality. Or “alternate”, as the case may be. Alternity plays with the themes of real life vs. fake life, what's true and what's false. The idea of escaping reality so much that you lose touch with it. It’s a pretty profound theme that I think is pulled off well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Rating: ★★★★

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic,are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’ssavior, and he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.
Most of the chosen do.

Yet another book that caused me to burn the midnight oil. I swear, somewhere out there is a really bad book, and one of these days I’m going to read it. And I’ll finally be able to get some sleep.

This was an odd read for me, because there were some aspects of this book that I unequivocally adored. And yet there were some aspects that sort of didn’t work for me. Fortunately for me, the good parts outweighed the parts I had doubts about, leading to an epic and entertaining read.

I like Elisa. She’s a bit weak in the beginning, but only because she’s so insecure. This could be grating– I tend to get impatient with heroines like this– but she remains sympathetic. And she toughens up fast. I loved the person Elisa grew to be, how she strengthened. At the beginning she was coddled, overweight and lazy. She was an insecure girl who ate for comfort. But once she’s forced out on her own and shoved into difficult situations, she blossoms. She’s smart, and she uses her wits at opportune moments. She grows in courage and most of all confidence.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan

Review: Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan
Rating: ★★★★ 

 Kami Glass is in love with someone she's never met—a boy she's talked to in her head since she was born. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she has learned ways to turn that to her advantage. Her life seems to be in order, until disturbing events begin to occur. There has been screaming in the woods and the manor overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. . . . The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. Now Kami can see that the town she has known and loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets—and a murderer. The key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy she thought was imaginary is real, and definitely and deliciously dangerous.

Disclaimer: I will read anything set in a tiny English town with sheep and manor houses, particularly ones with nefarious secrets in the Cotswolds. PARTICULARLY when they have such delightful names as Sorry-in-the-Vale.

But this book ended up being so much more than that. It both took me by surprise and took my breath away.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

These Are My Literary Confessions

The other day I read a blog post over at BookshelversAnonymous (if you’ve never been, get thee there pronto!) wherein Shelver confesses all her deepest darkest book-ly secrets. It was such fun I decided to get in on the action too.

1.      I hate Beloved. With a burning, fiery passion. I think it is a pretentious book with obvious themes and overwrought language. I don’t dislike Toni Morrison on the whole– Song of Solomon is pretty darn good– but man, does Beloved irk me. I just detest it.

2.      Just like Shelver, the first time I read Twilight, I liked it. One of my friends told me about it (this was way before it was the mega phenomenon it is now– yes, I’m totally one of those hipsters who likes thing waaaay before they're cool. Well, only when it comes to books). She said it was this uber romantic tale about a hot guy named Edward. I was all “Edward? So not a hot name." She was like, “It will be.” And then I sat down and read the book in a day.

3.      I reread more than I read. My mother judges me for this. It actually worries her. But I think it’s totally normal. Some great books live inside you in a way that is just magical, and sometimes I have to revisit them. They bring me a kind of happiness that’s hard to describe. Like hanging out with old friends you know so much about, but you can always find something new you didn’t notice before. You can understand the book even better. I also reread books I didn’t love so much the first time, and end up understanding them better as well.

4.      There are a few books I have reread so many times I can quote passages and phrases from memory. All the Harry Potters, Pride and Prejudice and Emma, Jane Eyre, The Portable Dorothy Parker,  A Little Princess and a bunch other. I like to do this in casual conversation to make other people feel stupid (it doesn’t always work).

5.      I am a sucker for the dark, brooding, romantic hero. The angsty anti-social dude who, in real life, is a total unattractive jerkface. But on the page? Swoon-worthy. Darcy, Rochester, Sidney Carton. Except for Heathcliff. He’s a douche.

6.      I actually tossed My Sister’s Keeper across the room when I finished it. I was that pissed off about the ending. Mind you, I was also sobbing, but yeah. I was mad. That’s the only time I’ve ever done that.

7.      I organize my bookshelf so the more impressive books (anything fat and Russian, all the historical non-fiction, etc.) are most prominent. Twilight, Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella, and all my fantasy novels are in a box under the bed.

8.      I read classics just so I can say I’ve read them. I’m an English major, so it’s kind of my job to read classics, and I really do love them. But some I slog blaze though simply for the prestige. Like someone’s going to give me an Advanced Reader medal or something.

9.      I automatically judge you when you haven’t heard of a famous book or author. True story: I was at a party over the summer at the beach that my mom threw, and I didn’t really know anyone, so basically just pulled up a towel and read. This dude kept trying to chat me up, even though I was giving him every indication that no, thank you, I just want to read my book please. So he asked me what book I was reading. I held it up. Anna Karenina. He said, “Oh, is that good? I’ve never heard of it.” Clearly, that relationship was not meant to be.

10.  I will buy a book I know nothing about simply because the cover is pretty. Some of these end up being amazing. Some of these end up as shelf decoration.

11.  When I read a really good book, I get super jealous because I don’t think I’ll ever write anything as good.

12.  I could not finish The Fellowship of the Ring. That book is long, y’all. And there are so many characters that just didn’t need to be there. Tom Bombadil? Yeah, there’s a reason he was cut from the movies.

13.  I really love reading classics, but sometimes I’d just rather get sucked into some sweeping, epically romantic YA fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian and bawl my eyes out instead.

15. My favorite books are the ones that make me laugh AND cry.

What are some of YOUR reading confessions?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan
Rating: ★★★★

Inhale. Exhale.
Breathe . . .
The world is dead.
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen–rich air.

has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?

This book has a fascinating concept. In this post-apocalyptic world, oxygen is a limited resource, doled out according to wealth. It’s a commodity that can be bought, and the poor have to make do with very little.

I found the set up very interesting, and I like the construction of the pod. It felt imaginative and unique. It wasn’t a regurgitation of any other dystopian YA that I’d read.

The best part of this book, by far, was the science fiction aspect. I love reading about what the world had turned into. How the depletion of oxygen in the atmosphere affected the way things worked. It was well thought out and truly devastating.  The complex morals work well, like how the characters never truly know what’s the right thing to do, and which side is right.

This is a book that massively improves as it goes along. I found it slow in the beginning, but once it hit its stride it sucked me in. The end is big and climactic and heartbreaking, everything you want in this kind of book. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: The Dead Girls Detective Agency by Suzy Cox

Review: The Dead Girl’s Detective Agency by Suzy Cox
Rating: ★★★★ ½

Pop quiz: What would you do if you had to solve your own murder to get anywhere in death?
Maybe if I hadn't slept through my alarm, slammed into Kristin—my high school's reigning mean
girl—or stepped in a puddle, destroying my mom's new suede DVF boots (which I borrowed without asking), I wouldn't have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I wouldn't have been pushed in front of that arriving train. But I did, and I was. 

When I came to, I was informed by a group of girls that I'm dead. And that because I died under mysterious circumstances, I can't pass straight over to the Other Side. But at least I'm not alone. Meet the Dead Girls Detective Agency: Nancy, Lorna, and Tess—not to mention Edison, the really cute if slightly hostile dead boy. Apparently, the only way out of this limbo is to figure out who killed me, or I'll have to spend eternity playing Nancy Drew. Considering I was fairly invisible in life, who could hate me enough to want me dead? And what if my murderer is someone I never would have suspected?

For a book about being dead, The Dead Girl’s Detective Agency sure is funny. Charlotte’s voice is awesome. I just want to hang out with her and talk about everything under the sun. But Charlotte’s a little busy, of course- solving her own murder. With a hook like that, I was sold.

Now, obviously, the plot would have to live up to my expectations. Did it? (Just look at the stars at the top of page.)

It’s a tall order to write a book about a girl who recently finds out she’s dead and keep it from being too emo depressing. But again, Charlotte is fun and funny, and it’s her attitude and the absurdity of the situation that keep it light and comical. And it’s a hoot, frankly.