Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Gayle Forman, Nina LaCour, & Deb Caletti at University Bookstore

The lovely set-up of books. Sadly, it didn't even occur to
me that I ought to take pics of the actual authors.
Hearing authors talk about their writing styles and their books has always been fascinating to me. I've wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. And writers, like most who aspire to go into creative professions, view authors a bit like celebrities. In a lot of ways, they've made it. We long to absorb anything they say that might help us get closer to that very same goal.

Last night, I went to University Bookstore in Seattle to see Gayle Forman, Nina LaCour, and Deb Caletti have a chat as a part of Gayle's book tour for I Was Here, the story of a girl whose best friend commits suicide and is left to deal with the aftermath, trying to piece together how something so terrible could have happened. Despite the sad beginnings of her newest book (or maybe because of how intriguing that premise is), I was thrilled to see these women, especially Nina, who has been a favorite author of mine since I stumbled upon Hold Still (a book which has a similar premise as Gayle's newest book) at the library when I was about 18 or 19.

Every one of the authors was as delightful and hilarious as I expected them to be. Granted, I haven't yet read any of Deb Caletti's work (that will be changing soon, since I purchased one of her books even though I shouldn't be spending money). All three women were absolutely wonderful.

They opened up with a "dramatic reading" from Gayle's newest book, I Was Here, where she voiced the main character, Cody; Deb voiced Ben, the love interest and best friend; and Nina voiced leather-clad "Stoner Richard." It was hilarious. Nina seemed to really enjoy pretending to throw back beers, while Deb seemed thrilled to yell the word "fuck" in the middle of a bookstore. What doesn't sound fun about that?

About half of the time was dedicated to questions, which all turned out to be pretty good. Q&A time tends to usually be hit or miss, but I thought the ones I heard were pretty good. A lot of people asked about structure. Nina LaCour talked about how she tends to jump around in the writing of the book, while Deb Caletti seems to favor starting off and seeing where the story takes you, discovering how the story unfolds as you write it. Gayle Forman talked about how she's in the middle of three different projects right now and is waiting to see if they will all pan out or take each other out "gladiator-style" (her words, not mine).

Afterward, I waited until the line died down before getting in line for the signing. I had brought two books each for Gayle and Nina to sign, then bought one for Deb because I just couldn't resist. At the last minute, I left Where She Went in my bag so I wouldn't be the one who brought all the books. I regret that a bit now, because I actually liked it better than the first book. I was fairly awkward, as per usual, in getting the books signed. Gayle complimented my typewriter necklace and it took me a good ten seconds to realize what she was talking about. I don't even want to talk about how red my face probably got while talking to Nina.

All in all it was a pretty awesome event. I have to say, though, that it's quite a different experience going to these sorts of things as someone who intends to be an author in some far off future versus someone who has three-fourths of a manuscript typed up on the laptop sitting beside her. It adds this extra level of both fear and excitement. It feels like that dream profession is finally attainable, but just out of reach at the moment.

Anyway, if you can see any of these lovely author's while they're on Gayle Forman's I Was Here tour, I highly suggest it. They keep the audience laughing and engaged from start to finish. And if you can't make it, pick up one of their books. I've read many of them and I'll be the first to tell you, they won't disappoint.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2) by Marissa Meyer

After falling in love with Cinder and being left on something of a cliffhanger, I was eager to get my hands on the second book in the series. Thankfully, my mom had given me a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card that I had forgotten about. When I remembered it, I put it to good use.

When Scarlet's grandmother goes missing, she knows foul play was involved. Her grandmother would never leave her, never take off without telling anyone, and she certainly wouldn't have cut out her ID chip to do it. The police say there's no proof of foul play and drop the case, but Scarlet is determined to continue the search herself. Then she meets Wolf, a street fighter who is surprisingly quiet and a little awkward. Despite the fact that she's not sure she can trust him, she learns he may have a connection to the people who took her grandmother and asks for his help. While she is rushing into danger to save her grandmother, it soon becomes clear that danger might be trailing her already.

Meanwhile, Cinder has broken out of prison and hitched a ride with another prisoner she teamed up with in order to escape. They leave the Commonwealth, but it soon becomes clear that the entire planet is out to get them. Now Cinder has to make a decision. She can either go to Africa to be trained or flee elsewhere and try to learn more about herself and her past.

I was warned going into this book that it would feel "a little to Twilight-y." And though I've never actually read the Twilight books, I can see where they're coming from. (To be clear, I'm not a mindless hater of Twilight, I'm sure it has its merit, though I try to steer clear of anything that romanticizes abusive patterns in relationships.) However, I still deeply enjoyed this book. Again, this is another book that keeps you on your toes and definitely makes this aspiring author applaud at the very believable world-building.

Second books tend to be a bit duller than their predecessors, but this book doesn't fall prey to that lull. Marissa Meyer did a fantastic job in making sure Scarlet was every bit as good and exciting as Cinder. I am definitely eager to find out what happens next. I just have to wait for Cress to come out in paperback first!

Rating: ★★★★★

Monday, January 26, 2015

Saga, Vols. 1-4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

 I don't remember where I first heard about Saga (though I'd hazard a guess that it was somewhere on Booktube), but I am so glad I did. This is easily one of the Image Comics' top series at the moment and for very good reason.

When Marko and Alana fall in love, it isn't in a very normal situation. Marko is a prisoner of war and Alana is his guard. Their two planets have been wrapped up in a bloody war and each race views the other as something to be reviled. However, Marko and Alana fall in love despite everything and it isn't long before Alana becomes pregnant. If they thought they were in trouble before, it was nothing compared to this. Hazel, their new daughter, is viewed as an abomination and considered a political danger. The new family must go on the run if they want to stay alive, but even that's iffy when the dangers that follow them are so great.

Be warned, this is one graphic series. The author has no qualms about letting you know this from the get-go. The first of the series begins with Alana giving birth and the very first line is her saying, "Am I shitting? It feels like I'm shitting!" If that doesn't sell you, I don't know what will. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it. I love how gory and graphic this series is. I think it adds that extra bit of realism to it. (More on that in a minute.) Just be warned that you're going to see a lot of nudity and a lot of gore. I mean look at the cover for Volume 2 for goodness sake. Marko's absolutely doused in blood.

I cannot say enough that I love everything about this series. The artwork is incredible, the story keeps you hooked from beginning to end, and the worlds contained within leave you begging for more. There's something about that level of world-building that takes me over the moon (and makes me intensely jealous that I couldn't create a world that detailed if I tried for the rest of my life).

However, I think one of the things that impresses me the most is how real it is. I know that sounds a little confusing, but I'm going somewhere with this. As fantastical as everything is, as captivated as the art makes me, and as thrilling as each new world is; I think it's how real the characters are that really makes this a winning series.

Every single character that steps onto the stage of this story is three dimensional. Every one has their own personality, their on flavor, that's so tangible that it's almost unbelievable. You really believe in these characters and become invested in them to a point where it's almost ridiculous.

If I keep going, I'm worried I'll spoil something in the plot, so I'll leave this review here. Just know that if you don't go pick this series up immediately, you'll really be missing out.

Friday, January 23, 2015

If You Come Softly (If You Come Softly, #1) by Jacqueline Woodson

I first heard about Jacqueline Woodson last year. One of the great things about following a ton of YA authors on Twitter is that when one of them gets an award, everyone goes crazy. In 2014, Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for her most recent novel, Brown Girl Dreaming. I was eager to read the book that everyone has been talking about, but I'm trying not to buy too many books until my income gets a little more stable (something I'm still failing epically at, since I've bought nine books this month. *cringes*). It has been consistently checked out of the library for months, but I found this book of hers the last time I was there, so I decided to give it a shot.

Let me tell you, I almost closed the book as soon as I opened it. This isn't because it didn't look good. It looked great. However, this is one of those books that opens by pretty much warning you that something bad is going to happen. It tells you, "Hey, get ready. You're probably gonna cry when you read this." I wasn't sure I wanted to cry, so I almost skipped it, but the story sounded too good, so I read anyway. Just letting you know now, I definitely cried.

If You Come Softly, is a love story about a boy and girl living in New York City in the late nineties. Jeremiah (Miah), a black boy, and Elisha (Ellie), a white Jewish girl, both transfer to Percy, a prep school that neither of them are very thrilled about attending. When they meet on the first day, sparks fly and it isn't long before they are both falling head over heels for each other. However, all anyone else seems to notice is the color of their skin and it isn't long before the world starts trying to tear them apart.

This was a pretty short book, but definitely the kind that draws you in and makes the reader feel like they know the characters within the first two or three chapters. I love when books can hook you that quickly. Miah and Ellie were believable characters who felt very human. They made mistakes, they loved each other and were still embarrassed about the way people acted about the two of them being together. They were very three dimensional for such a short book and I found that extremely pleasing.
Like I said, I definitely cried in this book and I cried more than once, so keep your tissues handy.

This was an excellent novel that covered young love and romance, while still confronting racism, racial bias, and deep-seated prejudices that we like to pretend don't still exist in society today. Definitely an amazing book. I cannot wait to read more from this author.

Rating: ★★★★

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) by Marissa Meyer

I have heard quite a bit about The Lunar Chronicles in the past, but had never really gotten the chance to pick theme up. I'll go ahead and blame that on my taller-than-me TBR pile, because there's nothing about this that wouldn't appeal to me. A sci-fi fairytale retelling? Yes, please! A cyborg Cinderella? Count me in!

A coworker of mine who has heard me rant and rave about how much I love YA Fiction approached me about a month ago to ask if I'd read these books. She is in love with them and had learned that the author was going to be speaking at a Tacoma library at the end of January and wanted to know if I wanted to come with her. I regretfully told her I hadn't yet read them, but I would totally come with her and would do my best to read the three books in The Lunar Chronicles that had already come out.

Linh Cinder, our cyborg Cinderella, is a mechanic in New Beijing, known for being one of the bet at her craft. She works constantly to support her stepmother and stepsisters, who technically own her, since cyborgs are considered property, not people. When Prince Kai shows up in her shop one day, asking her to fix an android of his, Cinder doesn't want to admit that she likes the boy that every girl in the empire would kill to meet. Soon, it becomes clear that the information the android carries is more important than Cinder could have realized and may be the key to holding off the threat that is Queen Levana, the Lunar queen. Cinder wants to do everything in her power to help her country and the boy who has been so kind to her, but when she ends up getting pulled into the political skirmish, she can't help but wonder if she'll even be able to make it out alive.

I really loved everything about this book. Cinder is a great heroine. She struggles with her own insecurities and these insurmountable odds that rise up against her, but she's also smart, strong, and kind. I love the idea of a mechanic Cinderella. Her relationship with Prince Kai is incredibly believable and the romance almost creeps up on her. I really enjoyed that she was pretty resistant to the idea of falling in love with him and that he fell for her because she was someone he could talk to, not because she was the prettiest person who walked into the ball.

Cinder was a great opening to what looks like a pretty stellar book series. It keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from beginning to end, eager to put the pieces together and find out what is going to happen next. If this first installment is any indication, we have a pretty amazing series to look forward to, and it's going to be an interesting ride from beginning to end.

Rating: ★★★★★

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry

I had heard about The Library of Unrequited Love from a few different people before I bought it, but even after I did, it sat on my shelf for at least a good year. I'm not sure why. It's only 91 pages, hardly anything daunting, but it somehow managed to get overlooked in those times that I was looking for something new to read. That is, until a few days ago.

It took me no time at all to read this lovely little book and I really enjoyed it. Translated from French, it is an unusual book. Instead of the usual first person or third person narrative, The Library of Unrequited Love is written in second person. The librarian, our protagonist, is talking to you, someone who fell asleep in the library and managed to get locked in overnight. I've never read a book written like this and it was incredibly delightful.

As for the story itself, I also enjoyed it much more than I realized I would. The librarian is a very opinionated woman, who is ready to tell us everything that's wrong with the library, everything that's right with it, and why exactly a patron by the name of Martin has captured her keen attention. I agreed with some things she said and disagreed with others, but I did really enjoy every second of it. Sophie Divry's writing is clean and captivating, making you turn the pages in rapt attention from beginning to end.

If you're looking for a quick, interesting read, this is a great choice.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Monday, January 5, 2015

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

I'll be the first to admit I have not read nearly enough Stephen King.   In fact, I've only read one other of his books besides this one: Misery. It was quite good and enough to convince me that all this hubbub about him and his being a great writer wasn't just talk. He knows what he's doing with a pen. Thus, I was pretty excited when my brother bought this book for me.

Part memoir and part instructional writing guide, this book is pretty much everything I wanted in a book on writing. It features a successful author being genuine about his journey to get where he is now and the ups and downs it took to get there. He talks about the technical side of writing as well as the joy it brings to those of us who love it. He talks about the merits of being a writer, as well as some of the things that end up coming around to bite us in the ass.

I absolutely adored this book. This is yet another of those books which I have attacked with tabs for things I want to remember or the things that really stuck out to me. I found a lot of his suggestions helpful, even the ones that I'm inclined to disagree with. Like I said, Stephen King knows his craft and his advice in bettering your writing is absolutely invaluable.

This is definitely a must-read for anyone thinking of going into the business of writing or anyone who is even vaguely interested in it. It is inspiring and more than a little helpful. And, if you're like me, you'll only find yourself wanting to put it down when it means picking up the pen yourself.

Rating: ★★★★★