Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Recommendation: Legend

Legend, Marie LuMarie Lu
Pages: 336
Ages: 12+

June is the top student at the Republic's elite military academy. Day is a criminal from the lower, plague infected districts and one of the last people she'd cross paths with. But when Day's mission to retrieve vials of the plague cure from a military hospital ends in the death of June's brother, she is out for vengeance. She's determined to track Day down and make him pay. But when she goes undercover and their paths do cross, suddenly Day is not the heartless criminal she expected. He's kind. Caring. Now June is questioning everything the Republic has taught her about what it stands for, and who her enemies truly are.

Reading this book was a different experience for me because I didn't really read it, I listened to it via digital audiobook from the library. It was the only way I could check it out so I went for it. It was kind of fun. I don't think I've listened to a book on tape since, well since there were tapes! I enjoyed the story, and it was full of action, tension and very tough decisions for June's character. I'd recommend it for fans of the Hunger Games. Not quite as dramatic, but in some ways eerier, because the world isn't so very far from our own.

Official website of Marie Lu.

Want more book suggestions? See my other Book Recommendations.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recent Reads Roundup: February

Here's what I've been reading lately! I also wrote up mini reviews for Awaken and Circle 9, and you can also see what else I've read recently  by clicking just there :)




Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood ***
The Naming - Alison Croggon
Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr
Awaken - Katie Kacvinsky ***
The Body Finder - Kimberly Derting
Hourglass - Myra McEntire
Circle 9 - Anne Heltzel ***
Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen ***
Forest Born - Shannon Hale

Past "Recent Reads"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Recommendation: Circle Nine

Circle Nine, Anne Heltzel
Anne Heltzel
Pages: 272
Ages: 14+

Abby is what it says on the gold chain around her neck, so that must be who she is. She's not sure how she came to live in the house, in the gorgeous room with the purple canopied bed and the mahogany desk, and the plush chairs. She doesn't remember anything from before a couple of weeks ago. But she has Sam who loves her, who gives her everything she could want or need. Who cooks up feasts fit for a queen. She doesn't know how she got here, but most days, she doesn't mind. She's happy to stay in paradise forever. But then things start leaking into paradise. Girls who wrinkle their noses at her beautiful house. Who mock Sam's feasts. Who call their things rubbish. Who call their home a junkyard. As her illusion fades, and Sam's health deteriorates, she realizes she needs to figure out who she is outside the dreamworld.

This is one of those books that I literally couldn't put down. I did try. I woke up at 6am, started reading, thought, hmm maybe I'll check my email and do some work, but found myself right back on the couch reading again. I finished it in less than 3 hours. It's the kind of book where I really feel for the author, because it's one of those YA novels that's so thoughtful and though-provoking I worry it wont find an audience. It's painful to read the disjointed POV of a girl who can't remember her past, who may or may not be crazy, who is homeless, and who is in love with a junkie boyfriend. It's not a shiny happy tale as you watch her travel from delusion to reality. But it is really such a good book. Read it. 

Official website of Anne Heltzel.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Did you mean what I think you said?

 PhD Misunderstood
Sometimes there are things people say here in Australia that don't translate. And there's things that I say which they don't understand. Those are all fine. We might not understand each other, but at least I'm not going to misuse them on accident - inadvertently converting an innocent US word into an extremely "disreputable" Australian phrase.

If you know me very well, you will know that it is nigh impossible to get a dirty word to cross my lips. Why? Well there's a reason they call them dirty words people! They feel nasty-pants on the way out! And then of course there's the word that technically isn't dirty but for some reason still feel it is when I say/hear it. This naturally means whenever Rob & Co. want to be particularly hilarious, they say that word approximately three thousand times over the course of the evening. Grrrr. It is amazing how often it fits into conversation. And if you don't know what the word it is, I'm not telling you, because then I'll only have more people to torture me. But I disgress.

The problem is there are several words that seem oh so cute and cuddly in American English, but are somewhat less appropriate here in Australia.

The "Do Not Say" List:

Date - While still used in the american sense (I think anyway), can also be used to describe the bit of the human body so loved by Sir-Mix-A-Lot. A "date roll" is another term for toilet paper.
Doodle - Not sure if they ever use this to refer to drawing/sketching, but they definitely do use it to refer to a certain portion of the male anatomy. Sigh. So long Doodle Poll - it was good while it lasted.
Fanny Pack - These were such a bad idea to begin with, it's probably a good thing the term is indecent here, like it is in the U.K.
Pissed -  This simply means "drunk" ... not so bad, but could lead to awkward moments depending on how/in whose company you used it.
Root - In Australia you NEVER root for your team, unless you are extremely promiscuous.

Then, on the other hand there are things they say commonly here that would mean something slightly different in the U.S.

"I'm going to knock up Lisa tomorrow" (Translation: I'm going to call her up/look her up)
"Everyone get out your rubbers!" (Translation: Please get out your erasers.)

Some days, it seems like we might understand each other best if we didn't say anything at all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Will you read my valentine?

In honor of Valentine's Day, I put together this little box of my YA favorites. Delicious, mmm? If you'd like more book recommendations, you can find them here.

In case you're wondering what you're looking at here ...

Hunger Games Series, Suzanne Collins // Dark is Rising Series, Susan Cooper // A Little Princess, Frances H. Burnett // Shabanu, Suzanne F. Staples // Divergent, Veronica Roth // Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver // The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett // Fairy Rebel, Lynn Reid Banks // The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale // Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink // The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth G. Speare // Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein // Chime, Franny Billingsley // Sabriel, Garth Nix // Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, R.L. LaFevers // Many Waters, Madeline L'Engle // The Search for Delicious, Natalie Babbit // Little Women, Louisa May Alcott // Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling // The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander // Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery // Fire, Kristin Cashore // Life of Pi, Yann Martel // Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Debut Authors : To Read List

Over at the StorySiren, they are hosting the 2012 Debut Author Challenge: read at least 12 books from 2012 debut YA / MG authors. This is such a great idea, because it gives us all an excuse to read from new & exciting authors. I will definitely be participating. 

If you're finding it hard to locate a 2012 debut young adult or middle grade author, download StorySiren's pdf:
U.S. 2012 YA Debuts and/or check out the goodreads listopia list of 2012 Debut Authors. Note that the listopia list is open-source so some of the books may not fit the criteria. Also stop by the multi-author blogs of the Apocalypsies, and Brave New Words - both groups of 2012 debut authors.

Currently, these are the debuts I've picked out to read (though this may change and/or get added to as I go):





**Note: The books on the bottom row have no official covers yet**

The List:
Under the Never Sky - Veronica Rossi
Article 5 - Kristin Simmons
Glitch - Heather Anastasiu
Everneath - Brodi Ashton
Cinder - Marissa Meyer
Tempest - Julie Cross
Harbinger - Sara Etienne
The Sphinx Project - Kate Hawkings
Starters - Lissa Price
Forsaken - Lisa M. Stasse
Crewel - Gennifer Albin
Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School) - Gail Carriger

So if you haven't yet, join the party!

Book Recommendation: Awaken

Awaken, Katie KackvinskyKatie Kacvinsky
Pages: 320
Ages: 12+

When Maddie gets invited to a face-to-face tutoring session, she's not sure she wants to go. It's comfortable here, behind her screen. She can attend DS (Digital School) and go on dates and exercise just like all the other teens her age: in the safety of her own home. With all the violence in the old schools, it's better they were shut down. It's better that people have less face to face contact. But something about Justin, and his eagerness to bend the rules attracts her. After all, it was just two years ago that she tried to sabotage her father's DS empire herself. Maybe it was just an impulse at the time, but she's wondering if she should trust her instincts.

I loved the premise of the story. Set in a not-so-distant future America, the dystopia that Kacvinsky has created is entirely believable. More and more people have retreated to interactions behind the privacy of their computer screens. Why would there be a reason to leave the safety of your house when everything is right there at your fingertips? The story was an interesting tale of a girl's run-in with the rebels she once inadvertently helped and her struggle to decide if she'd rather remain in the comfort of her digital world or be a part of the increasingly enticing "real" one. The book was well written, the characters likable and the romantic elements blissfully toned down. I did sometimes wish that the world the author built wasn't quite so strikingly similar to our own, as I felt it masked the power of the critique she was making. Looking back, I'm not sure why I felt that way but there it is.

Official website of Katie Kacvinsky.

Want more book suggestions? See my other Book Recommendations.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bowling x 2 or What I learned of cricket

As I'm sure all of you are aware, last Monday (well Sunday for all you back in the U.S.) was the Superbowl. Half of me was sort of hoping it wouldn't be shown over here, I mean after all they don't even have the name right ... pah ... Gridiron - what's that? No matter that 'football' makes absolutely no sense for any player on the team except the kicker ... but let's not get into the football vs. soccer debate now. Football is an even more confusing term here in Australia because of  "Footy" - Australian Rules Football, which as far as I can tell is a sport that has almost no rules and even less padding. 

Bowl # 1:
Spoiler Alert
Anyhow, back to the story. Turns out they do air the Superbowl here (lucky me), on at least two of the 10 - 15 channels that come in with acceptable levels of ants/snowiness. Rob soon discovered that we were receiving the game about two minutes ahead of his family with whom we were Skyping back in the U.S. ... so then of course he got a kick out of announcing all the big plays that were happening two minutes before they saw them. Something I'm sure they appreciated. 

Bowl # 2: Cricket
So that was one type of bowl. Superbowl. Meh. You know how that goes. Running, TDs, timeouts, commercials, glitz, and corvettes for QBs that probably have one too many already. The usual. The other type of bowling we saw last weekend was much more interesting to me, mostly because I've never seen it before: Cricket. It did take me about five hours of deciphering Aussie accents to realize that they were saying "bowling" not "balling," but I eventually figured it out. "Wait, ok, what's that pitcher guy doing? He's balling?" "No - balling." "Wait bowling?" "No - bawling." Ahh. Bowling. Got it. I did double check on wikipedia when I got home just to be sure. I love Aussie accents.

This is what I learned about Cricket in 7 hours:

  How a proper cricket player wears
their sunscreen.

It is very superficially like baseball.
2. It is really nothing like baseball.
3. The main goal of the bowler (pitcher) is to kill or otherwise maim the batsman enough to get at the wickets behind him.
4. The main goal of the batsman  is to avoid death while hitting the ball where no one can get it. 
5. When you play cricket in a teeny tiny pocket park, it is probably going to end in you breaking something. Like the window of that nice little office across the way.

It really wasn't our fault. It really wasn't! In fact neither Rob nor I was the batsman at the time the window broke. If anyone was to blame, it was the weather that caused a 3 hour rain delay of the India-Australia game and drove us to our own game of cricket in the first place. But the parents of the dozen or so toddlers that had mysteriously descended on the park didn't seem to see it that way. So after picking up the glass we all decided it was best to head back to the apartment and experience the rest of our cricket safely through the television set with a pint of what is, hands down, the best ice cream in the world - Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig, Honeycomb and Caramel.

How we probably looked returning
from the park -- just less cute

Thursday, February 9, 2012

3 x 3 : Views from our mailbox

The thing I love about photography is the way it forces you to stop and look at the world from a different perspective. Or in the case of this blog post, nine of them. I've wanted to do this for a long time, and actually took the photos for one on a street corner in Montreal but never got around to putting it together. The idea is this: pick a place, and stand within a 3 x 3 square. Without stepping outside the boundaries take 9 photos: 3 pictures with a normal lens, 3 with a macro/closeup and 3 with a telephoto. It's amazing how much diversity and how many stories can be found  while standing on such a small slice of pavement.



The top row was taken with my normal lens. The middle row with my telephoto. The bottom with a closeup filter. This is what I saw today while standing by my mailbox.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Distractinol # 2: Book Mapping

Today's dose of distractinol is 100% ubernerd. And that's what I like about it.
It is called: mindomo.comMindomo offers mind mapping, concept mapping, and brainstorming software online, for free. Usually I use software like this to do extremely boring PhD-ish things, but today I took advantage of it to make a map of some YA books I've read. I like to call it:

If you enjoyed [this book] you might like [that book]

I've only gotten through a bit of my Dystopian section, but here's a little preview:

So I know that I could just write a blog post or make a word document that says something like "Hey these books are similar, if you liked one, check the others out!" For example:

FEED, MT Anderson // AWAKEN, Katie Kacvinsky // BUMPED, Megan McCafferty
UGLIES, Scott Westerfeld // DIVERGENT, Veronica Roth
HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins // BIRTHMARKED, Caragh O'Brien
MATCHED, Ally Condie // WITHER, Lauren DeStefano // DELERIUM, Lauren Oliver

But honestly, that's just no fun. Who is going to read that, when they can look at pretty pictures of book covers? Plus that took me no time at all to type up -- that's not an adequate dose of procrastination!

So in summary: mindomo is pretty fun, super nerdy and a big time waster, which is of course exactly what distractinol is for. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Query Letter Hell (vol. 1)

For the past three weeks, I have poured over fantastic websites, forum threads and author blog entries that have titles like:  Three Simple Questions to Answer in a Query ... Successful Queries #1, #2 ... better yet, how about Awesome Query that Got Me My Agent?
This is not that blog.

You will notice by the title of this posting (stolen from AW), that my querying experience to date has been slightly different. This is because I am stuck in a query editing loop, and my latest version -- cute little Query16.2  -- is too scared to run out and try to worm its way onto an agent's lap. 

My Query Writing Experience:
This is how it has gone for me so far:

1. Write a query with the names of characters and places in my YA dystopian/fantasy, but include nothing that would indicate what the story is actually about.
3. Re-read and wonder what the heck I was thinking. This query should die a slow painful death, perhaps by QueryShark.
4. Confuse everyone on AW because my query doesn't make any sense.
5. Rewrite - narrowing scope of query.
6. Discover that the query makes it sound like the story is all about the main character's parents.
7. Rewrite.
8. Find out that the "visions" the MC has are confusing all the query readers to no end. Query is totally misleading. Also contains no 'hook' at the beginning.
9. Think "hmm .. maybe these 'visions' aren't central to the plot"
10. Rewrite - removing visions from query.
11. Realize query no longer sounds like YA fantasy.
12. Wonder if my inability to write a query means that I have not actually written a novel either.
13. Consider shelving manuscript.
14. Wait a few days.
15. Rewrite - putting visions back in query, and adding a hook.
16. Feedback on the query is mixed.
17. Wonder if it was a good idea back in step #5 to narrow the scope of the query. It now covers only the first 2/3 of the book. Enticing or confusing? ...don't know.
18. Sigh.
19. Wait for betas to finish reading.
20. Gather strength for another round.

So, how do you write a successful query? 

Well, obviously I haven't figured that out quite yet. However I think I'm getting closer. Here's what I think I have learned so far. 

1. Get right to the hook
(and to your MC) 
For example: Dear Mr./Ms. Agent, [Insert Hook - riveting issue and/or unique character trait - here] . But, don't use a logline ... or do use a logline, depending on who you talk to.

(a) Goal - What does your MC want?
(b) Obstacle - What is preventing the MC from obtaining goal?
(c) Stakes - What will happen if MC fails? Chooses option A? Chooses Option B?
The answers to these should get at the main conflict of the story - the entire arc - not just the initial premise. Therefore the query should summarize the entire story up to the central conflict ... or not, depending on who you ask.

3. Query Dos
Show don't tell
Be specific. Use details not vague generalities
Focus on one character - the MC. 
Read the query aloud. Watch the cadence.
Leave the audience wondering. End with high stakes, don't fizzle out.

4. Query Don'ts
Don't include backstory.
Don't make character soup ... we don't need to know all the names of the MC's 13 friends.
Don't start with "Imagine if..." or rhetorical questions
Don't compare your book to titles that aren't selling well

5. Do all this in 300 words or less
Keep it short and snappy. Make them want to read on.
End the query with something enticing, but not a cliche!

Click on my "Resources" tab to find more links to expert opinions on query writing. They know far more about this than I do. And maybe someday in the hopefully not-to-distant future, I will be back to post my own "successful query" and querying tips. In the meantime, hope this helps those of you out there in your own personal query letter hell. You are not alone.

Oh, and if you get tired of writing queries, you can always just revert to making random cover art for your unpublished book! It does make you feel a whole lot better about things.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Recent Reads Roundup : January

Someday perhaps, I'll get around to writing up reviews of each of these. In the meantime, thought I'd share what I've been reading recently. Most of it in the YA fantasy genre (for obvious reasons!):




Chime - Franny Billingsley ***
A Little Princess - Frances H. Burnett

Bumped - Megan McCafferty ***

Inside Out - Maria Snyder

Spellbound - Cara Lynn Schultz
Entwined - Heather Dixon
Unearthly - Cynthia Hand ***
Clarity - Kim Harrington ***


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