Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Report Monday: Jane Eyre

Title: Jane Eyre

Author: Charlotte Bronte

Genre: Classic Literature

Synopsis: Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Mr. Rochester. But the discovery of a terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved?

Why did I pick it up?: I never read this in school and so it was always on my to be read list. Whenever I was in a classics mood, however, I ended up reading WUTHERING HEIGHTS by her sister Emily Bronte, repeatedly. I have a theory that my Emily Bronte love, is born out of our middle sister connection, but I digress. Finally, I got a Nook and downloaded JANE EYRE for free.

Favorite Line(s): "When we are struck at without reason, we should strike back again very hard. So hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."

There were too many great lines, but this one, in my opinion, really captures Jane in her youth. Her strength of will and her bitterness towards how ill treated she was as a child in her aunt's house.

My Review: This book is a classic for good reason. The story and characters remain relevant and relatable. The story is told in straight forward first person, by a very observant and trustworthy narrator, unlike WUTHERING HEIGHTS, which is told from a combination of perspectives.

Every chapter of Jane's life shows you another side of the girl who has had some serious bad luck. Yet Jane bears it with charm. Throughout the 500 pages, mysteries linger around her family history and around Thornfield Hall, the first place where Jane feels at home. Though the mysteries are not the prime focus of the story, they kept me turning the page (or clicking the Nook) to figure out when the truth would be uncovered.

YA Cover

The book can now be found on YA bookshelves, because it is in many ways a coming of age story for Jane Eyre. There is also romance, mystery, danger, a strong female protagonist and...well I won't ruin anything. Though if you buy a YA version, the text is larger and more sparse on the page bringing the total to almost 700 pages.

Recommendation: Do I really need to suggest you read this? It's one of those classic must-reads, especially for teen girls and fans of YA.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

I saw X-Men First Class. For the record, I loved it. I went with my friend, who never watched the cartoons or read the comics or even saw the other four movies until I forced her. She had a lot of questions, and I found myself unable to answer them. Between the movies, comics, and cartoons there is no clear cut answer. Each retelling adds and subtracts and becomes a stand alone story.

The same is true for other popular heroes including Batman, Superman, and Spider Man. We love these stories and characters so much, we want new versions every few years.

Here are a few retellings I am excited about.

There is a new dark Red Riding Hood movie, with a big bad werewolf.

Amanda Seyfried is Red Riding Hood

Alex Finn's Beastly, is in my to-read pile. Where a witch turns an attractive, popular, high school bully into a Beast. This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is also set to be a movie.

Gregory Maguire, has written six novels that are all loose retellings of The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Cinderella, A Christmas Carol and the Tooth Fairy.

The (not-so) Wicked Witch
 The possibilities are endless. And I doubt anyone wants them to end. There is something wonderful about experiencing the same story in a new way, a different setting, a different time, a different character's point of view.

What are some recycled stories you love?

Are there any retellings you would love to write?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Concert And Wilderness Tips

In case you missed it, I was in Denver this past week. The reason for this trip was primarily to see a concert at Red Rocks, an outdoor amphitheater created by giant, you guessed it, red rocks. Brandi Carlile, one of my favorite musicians was there on Friday opening for Ray LaMontagne.

The day of the show was rainy and we feared the concert would be cancelled or else, very wet. A large portion of the afternoon was spent in search of ponchos. Fortunately, we found but did not need the ponchos as the night stayed dry.

FYI, Denver is a mile above sea level and I am from New Jersey, which is at, or below, sea level. After parking we had to climb a small mountain to get to the concert. I am not in bad shape but I was out of breath after that hike. We traipsed through a field, a narrow path through a patch of woods and up a steep, steep road. It didn't matter much, we had arrived. Red Rocks is a legendary venue and it did not disappoint. The views of the Rockies alone were worth it.

Brandi's set was short but awesome, I have seen her three times before so I can't complain. Shawn Colvin (of "Sunny Came Home" fame) came out and sang a song with her which was an unexpected surprise.

Ray went on just as darkness descended on the mountain. It got colder and stars came out. I completely understand why this place has such a great reputation. It is incredible. A lot of people there were like us, and did not live in Denver, but had traveled far and wide to come to the show. I have been to quite a few concerts and it was one of the best crowds I've experienced. Second only to the folks at Ram's Head in Baltimore. I don't know what it is about that place, but the crowd is always fun without being rowdy or annoying.

The crowd listening to Ray
However, it was getting cold and we had only come to see Brandi (and in very thin sweaters), so we left early. I know fans of Mr. LaMontagne will gripe, but he serenaded us during our long walk down the mountain. We made our way to the exit and were just reveling in how much nicer it is going down hill when my girlfriend squeaked in fright and jumped back. There was a skunk up ahead. I am ashamed to say, I squeaked too. You would think we'd never seen wildlife. The skunk, who didn't notice us, quit the path and scaled the rock. I mean Spiderman style, the skunk climbed down the vertical rock face. I had no idea they could do that!

It was then I realized something. We were in the mountains. There are bears and mountain lions and who knows what else nearby and in leaving the concert early we would be walking back to the car alone in darkness. I considered turning around and waiting for the safety of the crowd we wanted to avoid, but I was set on staying tough. We spoke to each other in loud sing-song voices and clapped without rhythm. I don't know why we thought this would keep mountain lions away.

This picture was taken so the flash would scare off carnivorous beasts. 

Once we were out of the woods and in the field we ran as fast as we could to the car. All the while Ray's raspy yet soothing voice bellowed behind us. As you may have gathered, we made it to the car unscathed though very out of breath.

A few days later we went to the Denver Nature and Science Museum and learned what to do if you see a mountain lion. The first thing they say is not to run, as it may entice the animal to give chase and eat you. 


Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Report Monday: Wither

Title: Wither, Chemical Garden #1

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Synopsis: Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Why did I pick it up?: The cover is gorgeous and the synopsis pulled me in.

Favorite Line: "Life is much different from the days when there were lilies in my mother's garden and all my secrets fit into a paper cup."

My Review: In my opinion, Wither is a kind of modern Handmaid's Tale. The similarities begin when Rhine first inspects her room and notes the windows won't open, and the too small for escape laundry shoot. The story is beautifully written and disturbingly easy to fall into.

The world Rhine lives in was created after disease was eradicated. The first generation of healthy children, free of all health concerns from allergies to cancer, still thrives but their children cannot live past the age of 25 for males and 20 for females. This leaves the world overrun with orphans.

Unlike The Handmaid's Tale however, Rhine's husband, Linden really does love her. He is oblivious to what happens in his mansion where his father Vaughn is lord and master. He is a pawn of his father's just as Rhine and her sister wives are pawns.

Rhine struggles with her growing affection for her Linden, Gabriel and her sister wives while planning her escape to find her twin brother. I struggled with her, not wanting her to hurt or abandon any of the characters because I sympathized with all of them.

The sequel, FEVER, will be out February 2012.

Recommendation: A Dystopian Must-Read

Next Week: TBD

Friday, June 17, 2011

Keep on Pottering

Why does Jo Rowling love to torture us? For years she dropped clue after clue about the Harry Potter books and as fans we hypothesized, reread the books and lost sleep over the possibilities. Okay, maybe that was just me. Now, my peaceful vacation is interrupted by yet another Potter Teaser.

Rowling announced that she will be making a Potter related announcement. That's just evil. The website has a link to a YouTube countdown. We have to wait 6 days to hear what it is. The announcement will inevitably lead to even more waiting. Oh and she promises it is not a new book, and MuggleNet calls it the Pottermore Project.

There are many theories circulating. They range from a London based HP Theme Park, an interactive online game, and the long awaited HP Encyclopedia.

I don't know what to believe. Rowling is tricky and even though they say it is not a new book, I question their honesty. Remember when Dobby swore whatever was happening at Hogwarts had nothing to do with Voldemort? Rowling loves to torture us with semantics.

Do you have any theories?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Party Like A Writer

I am in Denver, Colorado for a week of vacation. Denver is known as the Napa of Beer. The city is full of Microbreweries and while I am a lightweight, I do love micro brews.

I wanted to share this wildly appropriate article How To Drink Like Your Favorite Authors, which highlights certain writers who surprisingly found time to write between drunken blackouts.

I intend to get a lot of reading and revising done over the next week and while I don't necessarily recommend writing and drinking to become a common practice, I am bound to end up doing both simultaneously at some point this week. 

That article makes me want to throw a themed party, where everyone dresses up like their favorite writer and drinks like them too. Maybe we could give out prizes if you can guess who someone is supposed to be.

Some non-alcoholic Denver Highlights are:

1. It was home to the Unsinkable Molly Brown,

2. The famous Tattered Cover Bookstore and,

3. Gorgeous views. As I type this, I can see a bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds, oh and the Rocky Mountains.

4. It is the Capital of Panem. I keep looking down side streets for booby traps, I will let you know if I find any.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Report Monday: Matched

Title: Matched, Matched Trilogy #1

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Author: Ally Condie

Synopsis: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Likes: The Society, is a faceless entity that pulls all the strings in Cassia's world. They are always watching and compiling data about the citizens. As a lover of mathematics and statistics, I found the Society's ability to predict the expected outcome based on their data impressive. Their creepy controlling ways. . .not so much. 

The Officials who make sure everyone follows Society's rules are also citizens and can be punished by the Society. That makes me wonder, who is pulling the strings. I hope the rest of the series explains, who is in charge or are computers in charge and everyone just does what the supersmart program says to do?

The story kept me questioning what was next. I grew ever more appalled with the depth of the Society's determination of sameness. I grew to look toward Cassia's time spent on the hill as much as she did and I hoped for a magical solution to all the problems Cassia and her family and friends face.

I love the themes of strength and choice. At any age and in any society, I think it is important to examine if you are strong enough to take the risks, to make the choices, and to go in search of the life you want.

CROSSED, the sequel, will be out in November.

Favorite Line: "What is it about your voice that makes me want to hear you speak?"

Recommendations: If you like YA Dystopian you will of course love it. Also MATCHED reminded me of THE GIVER, I haven't read that in years but if you liked it, you will probably like MATCHED too.

Next Week: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Friday, June 10, 2011

Just Like You-Know-Who

Last night, I picked my Little Sister up at the airport along with her son, who is seven years old.

For the record, this kid, he could be me at seven. We love the same stories, both remember everything, and eat the same ice cream. Upon entering the house, my nephew perused my bookshelves. Which is what I will do when I enter your house. He asked, "Um, is that Hogwarts Castle?"

Of course, it was.

As you can see, I have a whole shelf devoted to Harry Potter. Including the box set of UK Children's additions. My nephew took The Tales of Beedle the Bard downstairs to read before bed. Additionally, he wanted to be absolutely certain that I had all three Lord of the Rings movies. What did he think this was, amateur hour?

On his way to bed, he pointed to the desk and asked about the computer, which at present is not set up. I told him, I also have a Netbook, a little laptop I use to write. He then said the best thing I have heard anyone say about my writing to date.

"Oh, you write too. Just like J.K. Rowling*." It was not a question. It was an observation.

Yes, nephew. Just like her. This was not the time for humility or a self-esteem crisis. J.K. Rowling is a writer and so am I.

I may have blushed.

I may in fact still be blushing.

An old picture of us, he is twice this size now!

*Note: He even pronounced her name correctly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Romeo and Juliet, They Never Felt This Way I Bet

Last week's Wall Street Journal article condemning the YA genre for its dark themes, certainly lit a fire in a lot of people's pants and by extension their blogs.

As a YA reader and writer, I was cranky about it too.

As a teenager, I would have been pissed.

Note: I got mad when servers gave me the kid's menu. "I'm 13, what do I look like a baby or something?"

Since I am a freakishly patient adult, I did not get angry. Instead I was filled with sympathetic angst for teen me. The idea that dark stories are inappropriate for teens is the crux of the article. Nobody wants to be told, something is off limits. This is especially true for teenagers. Their independence is so close, they can almost taste it.

Look at Romeo & Juliet. What if the Capulets and Montagues had given the kids carte blanche to date whoever they wanted? Would the couple have rushed into marriage? Into their deaths? I don't think so. I think they were forced to decide how much they cared for each other, significantly sooner than they would have been otherwise. Their families pushed them to extreme behavior. They were forced to cling to one another. They weren't just crazy teens in love, they were making a stand for their independence.

Oh, and speaking about Romeo & Juliet, that's pretty dark, no? I read it in 9th grade English with Mrs. Trotta. And the play has got it all; forbidden love, drugs, violence, murder, suicide.

Really, isn't Romeo & Juliet one of the first dark YA stories? Some might think it a stretch but the main characters are teens, struggling against their parents' and society's oppressive rules.

And you thought Angels were a new YA theme
The article writer may wonder, if it is smart to teach 14 and 15 year-olds that dying to be with the one you love is romantic? Or do educators trust that the teens are smart enough to see what makes Romeo & Juliet a tragedy? Teens can learn from the mistakes of the doomed young lovers. They see what could have been if the couple slowed down, let their hormones cool off and found another way, a less dramatic way to be together. They also could have found a more reliable message boy and their whole plan would have gone off without a hitch, but I digress.

I may never understand why some stories, with dark themes are okay for teens to read, even assigned, while others are not.

Maybe one blogger was right when she suggested the YA haters were judging the books by their covers. 

I hope this puts things into perspective.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Report Monday: Artemis Fowl, The Artic Incident

Title: Artemis Fowl: The Artic Incident

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Author: Eoin Colfer

Synopsis: Rocketing readers back into a world of modern fairies, they pack heat and wear motorized wings, Colfer here reunites 13-year-old antihero Artemis with his former kidnap victim, Captain Holly Short, an elf officer with the LEPrecon squad. As the erstwhile arch enemies join forces to squelch a power-hungry pixie's coup attempt in one world and to rescue Artemis's long-missing father in another, he's being held for ransom by the Russian Mafiya. Artemis proves he has a heart after all, even as he builds his reputation as a world-class criminal mastermind. Once again, the roller coaster of a plot introduces a host of hi-jinks and high-tech weaponry as Colfer blends derring-do with snappy prose and repartee.

Why did I pick it up?: I love Middle Grade, and I don't read enough of it. It's fast and fun and I love Captain Holly Short.

Favorite Line: Way too many funny ones to choose.

Likes: I laugh out loud when I read Artemis Fowl. It's fun, it's light, it's full of jokes about flatulence. The Artemis Fowl Series obviously is targeted at kids but I think it is important to remain a kid at heart and these books are just the thing. I love the modern fantasy aspect. Centaurs that are computer geniuses. Elves that serve as police. These fairies, dwarves, centaurs and goblins don't live in the woods or a typical fantasy setting, they believe in science and logic and technology. Meanwhile, they still have magic and must observe certain old world fantasy rules, but the way magic and technology merge together puts a different spin on the story.

It's not tense, it's always fun.When the gang is caught in a perilous situation, I know they will survive. Plus, you can read the books in a day or so, which is especially convenient if you spent the weekend not reading or writing and still need to post a book review blog.

Recommendation: If you like Middle Grade and Fantasy, you should check it out. Great for fans of Rick Riordan too. Which reminds me, The Son of Neptune is coming out in October. Can't wait!

Next Week: Matched by Ally Condie...I promise

Friday, June 3, 2011

I certainly hope kissing is allowed in libraries.

While editing my manuscript I have been thinking about crushes. Why do we get crushes on certain people and not others? Is it their looks, their style, the tone of their voice, the way they stand or how they lean on things or that they ride bicycles through the streets of Philadelphia covered in tattoos?

Whatever the catalyst, crushes are fun and awful and sometimes dangerous. And they are always a factor in Young Adult Fiction, because they are always a factor in the lives of young adults.

Even if the characters live in a post-apocalyptic hell and are fighting for their lives, they are going to be consumed with thoughts of their crush or crushes or confusion because they did like one person but ever since the chemical explosion, those feelings have changed.

It reminds me of the beginning of Eat, Pray, Love Julia Roberts talks about refugees who once given an opportunity to talk to a therapist they didn't talk about their plight, they talked about crushes and love and relationships. It's our nature.

I found this website, Letter to Crushes, it is exactly what it sounds like. People post letters to and about their crush. It's adorable, time consuming, awkward and fun. Most of all, if you are a YA writer you don't have to feel bad if you spend an hour perusing the entries, call it research. The majority of posts are written by teens.

Below are a few of my favorite entries from the website. The pictures are my addition.

You look hot in glasses.

Eye contact is pretty damn exhilarating.

I saw you today, and I completely forgot how to say, "hi".

For the writers

I love you more than a grammatically correct sentence.

I certainly hope kissing is allowed in libraries.