Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Report Monday: Beastly by Alex Finn

Title: Beastly

Author: Alex Finn

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Retelling

Why did I pick it up?: I love this story it's a tale as old as time...yeah I just said that.

Synopsis: I am a beast. A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and a perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly beastly.

Favorite Lines: "I wished I had an opera house. I wished I had a cathedral."

My Review: Beauty & the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies. That's pretty obvious. Belle's a brunette, bibliophile who is totally able to take care of herself. Yeah the Beast saves her, but she totally saves him too and who knows, she may have recalled some survival tactic and escaped those ferocious wolves without his help. So I was happy when I realized that this retelling stayed very close to the Disney version.

As per the synopsis, the story is told by the popular boy turned Beast. Kyle is a total jerk. You don't have any sympathy for him at least not for a while. He's Beastly before the story begins and only after he's forced by the witch to examine his behavior and inner flaws does he become likable. It's fun to follow his journey and to watch the relationship between him and Beauty develop.

Fairy tale retellings are tricky. I mean, you already are familiar with the story, you already know the ending. But Finn creates her own cast of characters that all help make the story feel new. I enjoyed the role the roses played.

Kyle joins an Internet group for people in situations like his. It's all these people stuck in fairy tale situations chatting about how to break the spells on them. In my opinion those were the funniest conversations to read.

There are quite a few discussions about books. Personally, I rejoiced to know that the handsome pampered high school prince turned hideous beast was reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and Frankenstein. But there was nothing given away about those stories. However certain parts of Jane Eyre and The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be ruined if you haven't read them yet.

One complaint is the movie tie-in cover and the movie which I haven't seen yet. They depict the Beast as a human but covered in scars and ancient tattoo like markings. In the book, he's a Beast. Furry with sharp teeth and claws. That's how I prefer my Beasts. Yeah, they shed more but they're so snuggly.

Recommendation: It's a fast, light read perfect for anyone who loves fairy tales or Young Adult Romance.

Next Week: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fun Friday with the Flu and (not) Failing

I spent last weekend watching Spongebob Squarepants with my nephew and prepping the last few pages of my book for my critique partners.

 Monday afternoon, however, I was walking around the office saying, "My voice sounds funny, doesn't it?" and "I think I'm getting sick." I went home and chugged some Airborne. Then I spoke to my sister and it turns out, my nephew was sick as well. "Awesome!"

Tuesday afternoon and all of Wednesday I was in bed. Fortunately, for a girl who loves to read, being sick ain't so bad.

I was finishing Beastly when I remembered the line from The Little White Horse that Jo Rowling loves,

"Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people -- those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment and those who find comfort in food."

If there was any doubt which sort I was before this bout of the flu, there shouldn't be any longer. Nothing really compares to getting lost in fiction. Especially when I'm feeling awful. I read and slept off my sickness. I still sound "kind of funny" but I feel pretty good.

Which is convenient since today I took a test for my job. I won't bore you with the mathematics or the ins and outs of retirement benefits administration. I was nervous because everyone in the office was saying how I could study while I was home sick...were they messing with me or are they crazy? Who puts on sweatpants and curls up in bed with a practice examination? I mean, I studied. I studied every day this week, but not all day.

I was worried my Nyquil clouded brain may have failed to absorb all the information. The drowsying effects of cold medicine notwithstanding, some studying must have stuck because I passed. Yay! Pop the bubbly!

You got me, this picture is not from today. It's from my last birthday. But I felt the same excitement and I may have pulled that tiara out of shoe box and done a happy dance...And do you see my dog? He's in every picture that gets taken in my apartment. How does he do that?

Now I can focus on concert ticket snagging, my upcoming trip to New Mexico, learning French and reviewing the notes from my critique partners. Then it'll be time for a round of beta readers to actually read my book and I feel much better about this far.

Hope you have a fabulous weekend and take your vitamins, there's something going around.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On My Writing Playlist: Laura Marling

I've spent a lot of time meditating on my next project. I've been working on it, but that's mainly involved jotting down notes and editing the frighteningly detailed outline. A few vital scenes have been written. I read books and watch documentaries for research.

It's all so organized I'm beginning to get concerned.

One thing I've been focusing on is the truth of good and evil. I love and appreciate stories where they are absolute like in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. The bad guy is as bad as it gets, there's no remorse for Voldy, no tears are shed for Sauron. But as Sirius says in Order of the Phoenix, "The world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters." The lines of good and evil may be drawn before the battle but by the end everything is blurred and gray. I want to capture my characters in the right way, to show that I have not just an anti-hero, but an anti-villain as well.

The lyrics to "Night After Night" by Laura Marling are, to me, words sung by someone in the midst of a torturous struggle. The world is split into black and white but they look in the mirror and see every shade of gray. the song reminds me of a Poe monologue. It's enough to make you crazy. It's enough to make you pick a side.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Report Monday: Impossible

Title: Impossible

Author: Nancy Werlin

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Lucy Scarborough is only 17, but she carries the burden of a curse that has already struck down several women in her family. Each of her afflicted ancestors failed at completing three seemingly impossible tasks, and each succumbed to madness at the birth of her first child. Facing this tragic fate, Lucy braces herself for a losing battle. Mercifully, she has allies in her struggle: intensely sympathetic foster parents and her loyal childhood friend Zach.
(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I saw this on a Teen table at Barnes & Noble. I love the cover, and the dress. I read enough of the description to learn that it was inspired by a Simon & Garfunkel song and I added it to my pile without a second thought.

My Favorite Line: "We formed the Fellowship of the Ring when we should've all just gone on medication."

My Review: A great example of a book that blends fantasy with real life. Lucy is a relatable and practical teenager who lives with her foster parents because her mother is a crazy bag lady. Sometimes Lucy's birth mother shows up singing an old folk ballad and pushing a grocery cart full of trash. Soon Lucy learns the truth about her family and she wouldn't believe it if it weren't for the otherwise unexplainable coincidences.

She accepts the truth, as ridiculous as it sounds to say a demonic elf put a curse on the women of the Scarborough family. In order to break the curse of madness upon birth of her first child Lucy must perform the three impossible tasks mentioned in the song "Scarborough Fair" by Simon & Garfunkel.

Lucy, her foster parents, and her friend Zach struggle with whether or not to buy into the idea of the curse. After all it is completely insane. They approach the tasks practically, first trying to find proof that there is a curse. Then tackling each task in turn.

My only complaint is about the antagonist, the demonic elf. He's the only elf in the book and he's evil. In fact he's the only fantasy creature mentioned at all.
My YA Fantasy has elves and they are divided into good, bad and all the combinations in between, just like human beings. Part of elf-loving Monica was hoping for there to be a mention of the other elves and how the one antagonist ruining the lives of the Scarborough women is not indicative of the race. Unfortunately, there is only one elf and the possibility of good ones is not discussed. Despite this oversight, I enjoyed the book.

Next Week: Beastly by Alex Finn

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fun Friday with Freshman Frappuccino Flashbacks

Who's name is on the cup? Not yours, Mr. Spock. Not yours.

Happy Friday gang!

I decided to celebrate the best day of the work week with my favorite hot coffee concotion from Starbucks. Though technically, I went to the Barnes & Noble Cafe since it's right next to my office.

My overly elaborate drink order is a triple grande soy caramel macchiato.

For clarification that's three shots of espresso with steamed soy milk and caramel topping.

It's great. It's not too sweet because of the extra shot and it's not as guilt-laden because the soy milk cuts out most of the saturated fat and cholesterol. While I was waiting to order, I glanced at the menu like I always do. Even though, I rarely switch it up. Why mess with perfection? I noted all the frappuccino choices and I flashed back to college, where Starbucks and their bottled fraps were pivotal to many happy mornings.

My three favorite flavors

Freshman year I'd pop open a cold, bottled blend of coffee, milk and sugar, sugar, sugar from the mini fridge and jug it in three or four gulps. Usually I'd do this without even getting out of bed, such was the convenience of dorm-room living. My roommate must have thought I was crazy. It was 2003 and she was already talking about eating organic. She was way ahead of the curve on that one. I just wondered, "Isn't all food organic, like by definition?"

Oh and my breakfast to go with the chugged frappuccino was typically a hunk of Hershey's milk chocolate. If it wasn't so cold here this morning I may have actually changed my order.

Of course, there are things I don't wish to repeat from my college years, like all nighters working on proofs of mathematical equations only to walk in to class frazzled but convinced my three pages of math logic were correct and see that "that guy" summed it all up using six words. I mean, seriously, how did he know to do that? No, I definitely don't want a college do-over but those lazy, sweet mornings are worth recreating from time to time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On My Writing Playlist: CAKE

"Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" from CAKE is a fun song which is ironically blasted through the speakers at parties thrown by spoiled trust fund teens at their fancy boarding school in my next book.


"Excess ain't rebellion"

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fun Friday with Fondue, French, and Frankenstein

As previously alluded to on Twitter and this blog, I have some wonderful travel plans in the first half on 2012.

At the end of April I'll be going to Lake Geneva in Switzerland. I'm pretty excited. The cheese, the chocolate, the chocolate, did I mention there is great chocolate? Well there is and it's worth repeating a few more times.

To be perfectly honest cheese, chocolate and fondue, the most well-known Swiss meal option, were all big factors in selecting this as a vacation destination. It's very important to consider the food available on vacation. My disinterest in olives is constantly to blame for moving Greece farther down on my must visit list.

Of course, aside from the cuisine Geneva has many enticing elements that made me book my flight.

Here are some Friday Fun Facts for you.

-Switzerland is the birthplace of absinthe and as of 2005 it is once again legal to produce and sell in the country.

-Lake Geneva is a sickle-shaped lake between Switzerland and France.

-Switzerland has four languages. German, Italian, and French are the most common. Though English is also spoken widely.

-I'll be in the French speaking area. I've downloaded podcasts to learn some conversation should be interesting to say the least.

-The carac is a popular chocolate pastry in the French-speaking portion of Switzerland.

Nom. Carac. Nom.

-There is a statue of Charlie Chaplin on the shore of the lake.

-There is also one of Freddie Mercury.

-Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is credited with bringing skiing to Switzerland in 1894. I have no idea what they did with their winters before that.

-The average Swiss citizen eats about 25 pounds of chocolate a year. That's about half a pound of chocolate a week and is more than double what Americans average.

-In May of 1816, Mary Shelley came to Geneva and it was there she began writing Frankenstein. Her doomed main character, Victor Frankenstein, is born and raised in Geneva.

The house where Mary Shelley stayed in 1816

-Mary Shelley said her Summer in Geneva was when she "first stepped out from childhood into life".

-Frankenstein is one of my favorite books of all time. And it's the biggest factor in me choosing to go.

-This will not be the last you are forced to read about my trip, but I will try to save most of my gushing for a post-vacation blog.

Hope you all have wonderful weekends!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Write, You Read, eRead?

Good haul from Boston friends.
After almost a month long lazy streak hiatus, I'm officially back in the saddle of blogging. I hope everyone had fabulous holidays. I spent mine baking, reading, knitting and of course, editing and critiquing.

As evidenced by the photo to the left I have plenty to read thanks to Christmas presents but this weekend's reading will be dedicated to my manuscript.

Yes, it is that time. I'll be curled up on the couch with my own book. I mean to  read the completed third draft straight through. And it is only apropos that I have three rules to go along with the process.

1. No stopping to edit.

2. No getting depressed that a scene isn't quite how I hoped and walking away.

3. No distractions.

It will be a challenge, but I intend to read it on my Nook with a fat, blank pad of paper beside me to jot down notes. The notes will become my revision plan for a fourth draft.

See how realistic I've grown. This is the new 2012 Monica. I've accepted that I'll probably go through a dozen (or two) more drafts before my story is done with me. But if I continue at my current rate of three months per draft....well, it will be a while before we get there.

Does anyone have experience viewing personal documents on the first generation Nook?

I was experimenting last night and the font was all funny (I think it was Verdana even though my document is in Times New Roman) also it was tiny. I then tried to make the font of my document size 22, and that made it easier to read but it was still a weird font and bizarrely formatted. If it is a matter of formatting my word doc or pdf to mimic the epub page size and fonts, then I'll happily take the time to adjust it but I can't find any clear guidance online.

My next attempt will be to download a program that converts .doc files to .epub. If anyone has any advice or experience with this I would love to hear it. I'm not trying to be a perfectionist. I don't mind if the formatting is a little weird. I just want to read 225 pages without my eyes going cross. In any event I'll probably blog about how it all goes down.

Also I will eventually email copies of my manuscript to a few betas who have Nooks and Kindles from various generations and I'd love to give them files easily read on their eReaders rather than forcing them to read at the computer.

Regardless, lets have three cheers for paper saving technology.

Being a writer these days certainly involves being savvy with electronics, doesn't it? I wonder if former generations had similar issues. You know that typewriter business was probably a hassle. I mean, replacing ribbons, getting ink on your hands and ruining freshly typed pages. And I don't know what else, adjusting the alignment or whatever had to be time consuming too.

Fun fact: Hemingway wrote standing up, at least in the morning. At lunchtime he'd go to the bar. There's something to be said for early drinkers risers. While there's no proof that typewriter foibles had any influence on his post-writing routine, I think we can see the truth.