Ink by Amanda Sun

ink

Holy rats how did it get to be Friday?!

It’s been ages since I reviewed a book, but when NetGalley offered a YA by an author I met through Miss Snark’s First Victim, of course I had to snatch it up. Well, as much as one can “snatch up” an ebook. They’re not very, ya know, physically there. Still readable, though! And this one was. Very readable.

The set-up: After the death of her mother, Katie Greene goes to live with her aunt in Japan. She feels marginalized as a gaijin, or foreigner, because of her blond hair and clumsiness with the language and social norms. Much of that discomfort takes a back seat when she meets Tomohiro, the bad boy whose drawings are a little more than two-dimensional.

Main character’s goals: Throughout the first half of the book, Katie wants to get back to North America – a place where she knows the language and feels comfortable. Her more immediate goal, however, is figuring out Tomohiro and what causes his drawings to be so unique.

My reaction: I was insanely curious how the author would handle juggling the language. It’s an English book, but most of the dialogue happens in Japanese…but it’s in English. And it totally worked. Sun strategically placed Japanese phrases and exclamations so that I’d remember the speech was happening in Japanese…without having to read (or know) Japanese.

And hello! What a gorgey cover!

Of interest to writers: Setting. Setting setting setting. This relates to the dialogue in part – I was able to feel a part of things when I was included in the language, but even more engaging was the total immersion in another culture and place. Katie’s the perfect gateway character to the setting, because it’s new to her as well.

Bottom line: A unique & edgy paranormal with a sweet, believable romance. And blossoms raining down from cherry trees.

To visit Amanda Sun’s blog, click here.

SilverReminds me of: Silver by Talia Vance, for its unique take on an old mythology.


Four New(ish) Books on Craft and Why You Might Need Them

Confession: I have started, but not finished, these books. They’re scattered around the house (had to round them up for this post) but now that I’m not in the middle of a book for my Best YA Challenge from readingisdelicious or my book club or critiques or betas, I’m going to choose one and read it. Whole thing. And do the exercises! (I’m ambitious; it’s a blessing and a curse.)

1. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron – This book takes us through twelve cognitive secrets, describing each one and its application to writing fiction. Some of the lessons aren’t exactly “new,” but they are shown in a new and memorable way. For example, Chapter 2’s Cognitive Secret is: When the brain focuses its full attention on something, it filters out all unnecessary information, and the Story Secret is: To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis. I think most writers know this story secret, but seeing why it works and how that relates to the brain, is pretty darn cool. This is great for the beginning writer, and an interesting and fresh take for the intermediate/advanced writer.

2. Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, by Mary Kole – I followed Mary Kole’s Kitlit blog for a long time, and still check in occasionally. What I like about her advice and instruction is that she often goes deeper into technique and explanation than other books and blogs tackling similar issues. For example, she talks about Telling versus Showing, and discusses when Telling is good, like with Interiority. Another great point in this book’s favor is her discussion of the differences between middle grade and young adult fiction, as well as the psychological/developmental differences of the tween and the teen.

3. Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, by Donald Maass – I own two of Maass’s other books (The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook) and I would’ve thought with all the information and seriously amazingly helpful exercises in those, that he wouldn’t have much more to add. That kind of thinking is completely wrong, because with this book, he goes even further into excavating emotions in plot, character, premise (and possibly more – I’m not through with it yet!) to make them even more compelling. My brain explodes on a regular basis when I read this, because I’m thinking of two different WIPs, two sets of characters, and I want to do the exercises immediately for both. Simultaneously. Anyway, amazing book. This is the one I’m going to devote myself to for the next month. I think everyone can work with this book, but it helps to have finished a draft to work with.

4. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi – This is less a book on craft and more a resource, but just as useful the other books featured here. Ackerman and Puglisi have compiled 75 different emotions (alphabetized!), defining each one, listing the physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of having that emotion long-term, and cues of suppressing that emotion. Each entry lists related emotions, so the writer can cross-reference signals and responses. I think this is the niftiest thesaurus ever, great for writers at any point in their journey.

On the Reading Horizon

Sort of unwittingly, I’ve accumulated a small mountain of books to read.

In no particular order. My brain doesn’t work orderly these days anyway.

  • Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl. For everyone out there who is sad Jane Austen has finished writing books because they would like more Jane Austen-type stories, maybe with some extra, laugh-out-loud funny bits, this book is for YOU. I just finished it, and while it didn’t grab me immediately, the wacky names and endearingly humorous-but-naive main character kept me going.
  • Gidget, by Frederick Kohner. This one’s for research. Have yet to crack it open.
  • The History of Surfing, by Matt Warshaw. If this gigantic book did not cost $50 and take up so much space, I’d just buy it and save the poor people at the library the trouble of transfering it back and forth for me. It weighs about as much as a truck or a nine-month-old baby. I reserve it from another library branch, take it to my car with the library’s dolly (kidding), take it home, then read through the first quarter or so, and renew, renew, renew until it’s time to turn it in again. Such fascinating information! Such glorious photographs! Such a weighty tome!
  • Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. This book is has invaluable insights into girl bullying, or, as Simmons calls it, “relational aggression” among girls, plus a chapter on cyber bullying and another section on “sexting,” both of which scared the pants off me (but not in a sext-y way, get it? UGH).
  • Orchards, by Holly Thompson. I was talking with Helene Dunbar about novels in verse and she recommended this one. It’s about a half-Japanese, half-Jewish girl who spends a summer with family in Japan after the suicide of one of her classmates. (And girl bullying is involved! The connections! Amazing!) (Also, finished Orchards just before posting this. It was marvelous.)
  • Surf Mules, by G. Neri. More research. YA male POV. Didn’t grab me in the first few pages, but I’m going to give it a chance.
  • Through the Ever Night, by Veronica Rossi. I cannot wait for this one! With all the others in my queue, this one will be dessert.
  • Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky A. Bailey. Recommended by PB Rippey. Looks very good. Like so many on this list, I want to read it NOW.
  • Invincible Summer, by Hannah Moskowitz. Another recommendation by Helene. YA male POV. Looks angsty, but in a good way.
  • Stick, by Andrew Smith. I finally had to tell Helene to cease and desist on the book recommendations, because my bookcase runneth over. Well, I haven’t told her that yet, but if she makes any more recommendations, we’ve got a full house. NO VACANCY.
  • The Good Braider, by Terry Farish. Another YA novel-in-verse, and historical, and I’m kind of afraid to read it because it deals with some heavy issues (heavier than teen suicide tackled in Orchards, above? Mayhap – part of it is about the main character’s journey from war-torn Sudan…”exploding shells” mentioned in the inside flap. I’m nervous).
  • Scratching the Horizon: A Surfing Life, by Izzy Paskowitz with Daniel Paisner. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by this one. The one surfer autobiography I’ve looked through so far was incredibly disappointing.
  • Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women in Surfing, by Andrea Gabbard. This one’s going to be really good, I can tell just from flipping through it. The organization isn’t exactly clear to me yet, but the photos and brief bio information about some of the surfers is priceless.

If you have book recommendations for me, I thank you so much but this is not the time! I should be finished with these sometime in February, so we’ll talk then.

And I mean February 2014.

(Also, yes, that’s Maverick’s tiny hand disrupting my beautiful display of books in the featured image above.)

Silver by Talia Vance

Disclaimer: Yes, I am friends with the author. Guess what – it’s still an awesome book!

The set-up: Brianna has always been invisible and has a pretty compelling scientific theory as to why: bum pheromones. She tests this theory on her crush, Blake, who has been introduced to her at least six times and never remembers her.

Main character’s goals: At first, Brianna just wants to be seen. Then, as her heritage is slowly revealed to her, she wouldn’t mind going back to hiding. That wouldn’t make for a very good story, though – Brianna  is way too cool to sit back and let things go on without her. She – and Blake – are in the middle of a centuries-old feud, and when you toss in immortals with medieval weaponry, I’d say survival is her main goal.

My reaction: Sexy. This is the best kind of paranormal romance – a unique, killer concept mixed with the kind of love (and make-out sessions) that sweep you off your feet.

Also, the dialogue and the action just…flow. It’s fast-paced, and hilariously funny at times, and has tons of heart.

Of interest to writers: The tension! Silver‘s got it. Even my second time reading this book, it was still a page-turner. Also, study those one-liners – both the ones in dialogue, and in Brianna’s thoughts. Donald Maass advises writers to have their characters say things we wish we could say, and I totally wish I had Brianna’s wit. Great lines…I’m not sure if I can improve my own one-liners by studying Talia’s, but at least I smile while I’m studying.

And next time I need to write an action scene? I’m looking to this book for some good models.

Bottom line: Refreshing yet hot at the same time.

To visit Talia Vance’s website, click here.

Reminds me of: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Spunky, powerful heroine and awesome action.


Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Gaia has run away from the Enclave (the story of Book 1 in the series, Birthmarkedfor that review, click here) and now finds herself in another community, Sylum, which is just as twisted as the place she escaped. Twisted in different ways, of course, and plagued by mysterious reproductive problems. (Translation for “reproductive problems”: all kinds of juicy issues that are scintillating yet tastefully handled.)

Main character’s goals: At first, Gaia’s only goal is to care for her baby sister, but as she adjusts to the customs of Sylum, her goal warps into something that even she cannot recognize, and it takes a good (excuse me) verbal bitch-slap from an old favorite to get her back on track. I hope that isn’t too spoilery; I’m being purposefully abstract.

My reaction: Just as impressed with Prized as I was with Birthmarked. I even had to email the author right away to tell her how much I enjoyed it. The prose is beautiful, Gaia’s character arc (and dip and arc) is rewarding, and the pace is quick. It’s the kind of book I’d be proud to say I wrote. Am also relieved that it doesn’t bear similarities to what I have in mind for my own Book 2 (I had some “issues” with Birthmarked; you can read that review – link above –  if you’re curious).

Of interest to writers: Once again, we have an ending that begs for the next book, yet everything is resolved. Please, please please please! everybody follow the rule of wrapping up your story line even when writing a series. O’Brien’s done an excellent job of that with both books. I’m satisfied in a way that leaves me eager for the next installment. It’s a delicate balance, and one we should all strive for.

Second point of interest: Gaia’s antagonist, the Matrarc, was a fascinating character. She totally pissed me off, but even the bad things she did, I could understand, and I could even sympathize with her reasoning. That’s the mark of a good antagonist.

Bottom line: Very satisfying.

To visit Caragh O’Brien’s website, click here.

For my interview of Caragh, click here.

Reminds me of: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.


Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

The set-up: An airplane carrying Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island.

Main characters’ goals: I think a better question here would be “Who are the main characters?” because there are SO MANY. I’m not knocking it – it’s unusual and fun. But it’s hard to give specifics. Basically, the girls’ initial goal (collectively) is to get off the island and get home.

My reaction: In all honesty, I will admit this was not a fast read for me. There could be a number of factors here – revisions on my own work-in-progress, being sick, and whatever. But I think the main reason is my personal preference for singular point-of-view stories. I don’t generally enjoy dipping into the heads of many characters; I don’t like how it interrupts the flow of the story.

That said! Bray writes this story VERY WELL. The multiple viewpoint works for the book. We are expected to be torn out of the story line periodically, because this narrative has commercial breaks – yes, commercial breaks! – scripted into the book. So even though multiple (or is this omniscient?) POV isn’t something I always embrace, the approach works here.

Also, as the cover promises, it is very funny, very satirical, and overall enjoyable.

Of interest to writers: Again, commercial breaks! Satire! This is a unique story, told in a unique way (there are also footnotes, which I love). Even if you don’t want to read the whole 390-page book, it’s worth a peek just to see how Bray presents the story. The writing and plot are surprising, and “surprising” is a very refreshing thing in YA literature.

I always read Acknowledgements pages, and must also say, the Acknowledgements in Beauty Queens are hilarious.

Bottom line: Commercial breaks!

Reminds me of: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (because of the utter bizarreness of the premise)


Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

The set-up: Aria comes from an enclosed city, protected from the Aether and harsh environments (and people) on the outside. Perry’s had to fight for survival his whole life.

Main characters’ goals: Aria’s goal is to find her mother (even if it means lying to her ally); Perry’s goal is to find his nephew. Their goals are pretty constant, although their methods change throughout the story as the two of them, ahem, get to know each other better.

My reaction: WOW. This is a whole new world, and, honestly, one I only want to encounter between the covers of Rossi’s books. It’s a scary place, filled with scary people – and the people in Aria’s home-pod are just as frightening as those inhabiting Perry’s world on the outside. Beyond the bad guys, though – some of the supporting cast are memorable wonderful people, and I can’t wait to read more about them! (Hellllooooo, Roar!)

Of interest to writers: Personally, I find alternating points of view difficult – not just to write, but to read. In Under the Never Sky, though, the alternating POV was really smooth. So why does it work so well here? Check out how Rossi has expertly differentiated between her characters – not only their personalities, but the differences in their diction, style, and tone.

(Third to) Bottom line: The concept alone will blow your mind. The concept coupled with great writing make this book a total winner.

Reminds me of: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

For more on Under the Never Sky and Veronica Rossi, you can visit her personal blog here, and her blog with the YA Muses here.

Last thing, I promise: While looking for a good image of the cover, I found some of the international covers on Veronica’s blog (click here to go there). Seriously cool. I think the Dutch cover may be my favorite. Which is yours?