Monday, December 20, 2010

fame, glory, and other things on my to do list by Janette Rallison

Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old Jessica dreams of Hollywood fame, and when Jordan moves into her small town, she dreams of him, too. He’s a movie star’s son, and hey, he's gorgeous to boot. Jordan has always wanted to get out from the shadow cast by his superstar father, but now that he and his mother have moved so far away from LA, how can he get his divorced parents back together? Jessica convinces Jordan the way to get his father to come for a long visit is to be a part of the school play. And if she’s “discovered” in the process, all the better. Things go wrong when she lets Jordan’s secret identity slip, and grow even more disastrous when the principal tries to change West Side Story into a gang free, violence-free, politically correct production.


My Review:  This book was exactly what I needed.  No, it isn't a book that contemplates the meaning of the universe.  But does every novel need to be that?  Sometimes it's nice to have a funny, light-hearted book to curl up on a couch with.  I loved Janette's humor, and I was laughing out loud numerous times while reading.  The POV character is a teenage girl, and that is the definite audience for this book (although I'm not a teenage girl and I enjoyed it).  It's nice to be reminded now and then that not all angst-ridden teenagers date vampires or fight to the death on reality TV. 
Good for anyone 10 and older, or anyone who's ever been in a play, or anyone who wants a good laugh...
  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie


Synopsis:

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.
Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.


My Review:
Ever heard of this book?  Yes?  Of course you have.  For those of you that haven't, let me tell you a little about it before I review it.  There has been some serious buzz about this book for the last year.  It started when Ally Condie's manuscript caused a bidding war between national publishers and was finally purchased for six-figure sum.  That's serious money-- especially for an author who's only published with a small company before (five books through Deseret Book and its subsidiary Shadow Mountain).   And if that was not enough, a month before the book was even released Disney bought the rights for a three picture deal!  Seriously, how could I not go buy this book the day it was released?  
But enough about the buzz-- what about the book?  As the synopsis explains, it's a dystopic romance-- a story that takes place in an alternate, uber-controlled world.  Essentially, if you were to mix Hunger Games and Twilight, you'd get Matched (and that's saying something).  
Here is why-- in Hunger Games, it's the anxiety and danger that pulls you through the story.  In Twilight, it's the romance, the forbidden romance, that keeps you reading.  Matched has equal parts of both.  
One of the things that makes this book unique is Condie's constant use of poetry.  I've never been a giant fan of poetry.  I studied it in college, had the occasional poem that struck me, but that was about it.  But poems are woven throughout this story--  they're actually pivotal to the entire plot.  Even Condie's writing has a poetic sense.   And I loved that.  It made me feel and appreciate things in a new way.  
I also enjoyed the romance.   It wasn't so "in your face" like a lot of YA these days.  She made a brief touch of the fingers just as significant and romantic (or more) than other authors who fill their stories with graphic love scenes.
I wouldn't have a problem recommending this to anyone 14 or older.  The themes are a little adult, and the romance is intense, though not graphic, so it may not be appropriate for younger readers (depends on the child).  
Overall, if you read YA, romance, or dystopic fiction, you'll really enjoy this book.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And the Winners are...

Okay, so I had a post timed to signal the end of the giveaway.  It was supposed to go up at midnight on Sunday night.  I've only just now gotten onto my blog and... what?  No post!  Turns out I accidentally set it to post on another one of my blogs.  Whoops.

So down to the important stuff...
And the winners are (drumroll please):
Jamie- I'm A Guy BTW
Katie

Congrats to both of you.  I've sent emails to you to get your mailing info.  If you haven't gotten the email in the next 24 hours and you happen to check this blog, please leave a comment so I know.  Also, any books that are not claimed by giveaway winners within a week will go back into the pile for a future giveaway.

Thanks and congratulations again!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gratitude Giveaways and Interview With Natalie Palmer


Hi all.  It's time for another awesome giveaway.  And in the attitude of gratitude, let me just say that I'm so grateful for greater minds than mine that have organized this whole thing.  Thanks Kathy.  Over 180 blogs are all linked together and giving away good stuff to thank you, the reader.  So THANKS to all of you too!!!


Now for my giveaway...
Let me introduce you to Natalie Palmer.  She's a new author who's first book Second Kiss comes out at the end of the month.  For this giveaway I thought it would be great to interview her and let readers get to know her a little.  She has very generously agreed to give away TWO books.  That's right, that means we'll have TWO winners AND you can enter up to four times!  Here's how:
1.  Read the interview and leave a comment (be sure to include your email so I can contact you if you win).
+1  Become a GFC follower (or mention if you already are one)
+1 Become a GFC follower of Natalie's Blog  www.nataliepalmerbooks.blogspot.com 
+1 Spread the word:  Blog, Tweet, Link, etc.

The contest will run from November 17th to November 28th.  I'll post the winners some time the next week.  Now, here's some more about Natalie and her book (great cover, don't you think?):


Synopsis:  Gemma Mitchell is a normal girl who somehow gets herself into abnormally embarrassing circumstances. And while she thinks she's the biggest loser in school because of them, there are a few people in her life who would disagree. One of those people is her best friend, Jess Tyler, who is opposite to her in every way. He's popular, good looking, athletic, and intelligent, and he can't get enough of Gemma. But while Gemma is dealing with problems like wrong locker combinations and Valentine's Day dances, Jess is living in a world of serious issues that are foreign to Gemma, until she realizes that he's holding on to her for dear life. 
Humorous and true to life, Second Kiss is an entertaining saga about a boy and girl who find that their lives have a lot more meaning once they have shared them with each other.

And now for the interview:
Second Kiss is Natalie's first published book.  She has a degree in English Literature from University of Utah and currently lives in Westlake Ohio with her husband James and son Scott (and a little girl on the way).

First, some fun, get-to-know-you questions:


1. What music do you listen to?

I love this question because I LOVE music. Some of my classic favorites will always be Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band and randomly enough, The Beach Boys.

Recently I became a fan of Taylor Swift because every song she writes is like a mini young adult novel. But I have to say that the group motivates me to write more than any other is Dashboard Confessionals. Their song “Don’t Wait” basically inspired the whole ending to Second Kiss. And whenever I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with writing I tune my IPod to one of their songs and the ideas start flowing.

2. If you could either breathe underwater or fly, which would you choose?

Definitely fly. Water is actually one of my favorite things in the world but I like looking at it from the top. Going beneath the surface to see all the gross things floating around under there really isn’t that appealing to me.

3. What is the square root of pie? Just kidding, what is your favorite kind of pie (mine's chocolate mousse or coconut cream)?

Hot Razzleberry Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream. My mouth is watering right now.

4. What's your least favorite thing to do during the day? What is your favorite thing?

Least favorite: Doing the dishes. It’s unoriginal but I hate doing them and they are always there!

Most favorite: Sometimes when I’m working on the computer I’ll have my little boy watch a movie on the couch next to me. He’ll rest his sweet little head on my shoulder with his hand perched on mine and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

5. Do you floss?

Yes, but not as often as I should. I come from a family of strong teeth so I’ve been spoiled by not having a lot of cavities (knock on wood).

All right, now for some more serious writing questions:


1. Second Kiss is your first published novel. What was your writing process? Did you know the entire story before you began writing, or did it come to you as you went along?

My process was to write and keep writing. No matter how discouraged I was with the story line I just kept at it. That’s really the best way for me. I had a very vague idea of where I wanted the story to go but the final product was completely different than I had imagined. And I found that even if I did have a solid direction in my head the characters kind of took it their own way as they developed.

I tried being more organized with my second book that I’m currently working on. I wrote out an entire outline of the book with a summary of how each chapter would go. It was horrible. It was like I was writing a book that was already written. I hated it. I had to start from scratch and just let it flow naturally from my head. It’s so much more fun and I think it turns out a lot better… at least for me.

2. Second Kiss is a young adult, coming-of-age story. What made you interested in writing for the YA audience? What do you think makes this audience unique?

When I was a young girl I had one drama after another. Nothing too serious, just a lot of funny, embarrassing, romantic (the list goes on) situations that I loved telling or writing to friends. I had so many stories to tell and a lot of people responded with, “You should write a book one day.” So I did. And I hope to write a lot more. Second Kiss itself is definitely a fictional novel but there are a lot of individual stories within the story that are based off of true events in my own life.

I think the young adult audience is unique because they are experiencing everything for the first time. It is an extremely impressionable time with learning experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. What other time in their lives will they be stuck in a building for 8 hours a day with hundreds of other kids their age? Everyone is fighting for attention, for friends and for love and grasping on to something that resembles an identity. It’s a once in a life time opportunity and I love to capture that in a story.

3. Most authors have books or stories that have inspired them. Do you have any books that did that for you? What inspired you to want to write?

The first book that made me love literature was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I had to read it in high school but it stayed with me like no other book has. I loved the fact that the real meaning – the real lessons in the book weren’t written plainly before your eyes. There was so much depth, so much to figure out and to feel. I’ve always wanted to write like that.

One of my more current favorites is The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. I still can’t put my finger on what I like about it so much but I guess that’s the art of good writing.

4. Which of your characters in your book is most like you? Why?

The main character, Gemma Mitchell, definitely represents me most. However, we are definitely not the same person. We’re similar in that we’re both a bit na├»ve, a bit dramatic and a bit of a spit fire at times. But Gemma is a lot more fearless than I am. She knows what she wants and she goes for it. I would like to be more like her in that way, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

5. Are there other projects you're working on that you would like to share?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Second Kiss. I’m hoping to make it into three books but we’ll see how it goes. This book has been a lot of fun to write because Gemma is now in high school. There are difficulties, however, because high school means more issues such as drugs and sex. This means finding a way to address these issues without condoning them like so much young adult media does these days.


Okay, that's it folks.  Thanks so much for stopping by.  Make sure you take the time to enter the giveaway and remember it's a blog hop, so you can simply click on any of the links below and enter any of the 180+  giveaways!!!  


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan


Synopsis:
Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up on a school bus holding hands with a girl. Apparently she’s his girlfriend Piper, his best friend is a kid named Leo, and they’re all students in the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids.” What he did to end up here, Jason has no idea—except that everything seems very wrong.

Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, and her vivid nightmares reveal that he’s in terrible danger. Now her boyfriend doesn’t recognize her, and when a freak storm and strange creatures attack during a school field trip, she, Jason, and Leo are whisked away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood. What is going on?

Leo has a way with tools. His new cabin at Camp Half-Blood is filled with them. Seriously, the place beats Wilderness School hands down, with its weapons training, monsters, and fine-looking girls. What’s troubling is the curse everyone keeps talking about, and that a camper’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist they are all—including Leo—related to a god.



My Review:
This book picks up where the Percy Jackson series ends.  While the three viewpoint characters are new, many of the side characters and the world in which this story takes place is strait from the Percy Jackson series.  In other words, if you liked Percy Jackson and the Olympians, you'll like this.
One difference between the two books as that Riordan started with his characters being a little older this time.  I'm assuming he did that to bring this novel up to the YA audience-- whereas the other series started as more of a middle reader (aimed at kids 10-13).  Obviously the other series became popular with the YA crowd, so it made sense for these characters to be older so they could deal with older themes.  It's still great for the younger kids though.  I have no problem with my nine and ten-year-old reading this book.
One of the things I really enjoy about this book and the Percy Jackson series is the lesson I feel like I'm getting about Greek (and now Roman) mythology.  Riordan has a quirky sense of humor (for example, the three main characters are protected by a satyr who also happens to be a gym coach with a highly exaggerated estimation of his own abilities).  Riordan's ability to mix mythology with popular culture is amazing and hilarious.  
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the other books in the series (not yet released).  I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of YA and/or fantasy literature.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan


My Review:
Usually, I like to start my reviews with a synopsis.  But this is a long book (and the beginning of an even longer series)-- and even the summaries were too long to post.  Essentially, if you like Lord of the Rings, you'll most likely enjoy this.  In fact, it's probably the most popular epic fantasy series next to Tolkien's.   It's essentially about three young men who are forced to go up against an evil power that is threatening to destroy the world.  There's intrigue, magic, battles, mythical creatures, a little romance-- pretty much everything that an epic fantasy should have.

It's a little difficult to review a book that is so old and well-known because, frankly, my opinion doesn't matter all that much.  The book stands for itself and most people who would like it have already heard about it and read it.  So take my review for what is worth...

I've never been a huge follower of this genre, but I decided to read this book when I heard that Brandon Sanderson, an epic fantasy author whose books I enjoy, was selected to write the final installment of the Wheel of Time series due to the passing of Robert Jordan.  The whole thing intrigued me.  How would you feel if you'd been asked to write the closing chapters of a HUGE series with a HUGE following that had been written by another author?  Talk about a daunting task!

So I picked up this book to see what it's about.  I really enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'm going to make it through the whole series.  The story was extremely well-written and compelling, but it was also LONG.  I'm usually a reader who's driven by characters, and while the characters in Jordan's book are rounded and complex, they are only part of the story.  Robert Jordan has set them in an amazingly detailed world full of history, folklore, language, differing cultures, etc.  How he managed to do this so well is beyond me-- but in truth, it made reading it (at times) beyond me as well.  I found myself skimming a lot to get to the action with the characters.  But all this detail is not a weakness in the novel, it just isn't my personal preference.

Somebody who enjoys rich, elaborate settings and detailed folklore and history (i.e. epic fantasy) will really like this series.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Spooktacular Winners

Wow!  Between all the links, comments, and followers, I had 225 entries overall!  I was totally not prepared for such an amazing turnout, which is why it has taken me the whole week to get the winners announced.  I am now officially a fan of blog hops!

Okay, now to what you've been waiting for...

Winners:

Mockingjay:  Erika at Elhammond2012@yahoo.com
The Dark Divine:  Donna a dwarrington1@gmail.com


Congratulations!  I've sent you an email notifying you of your win.  Please email me your addresses and I will get those books sent out ASAP.

Thanks to everyone for entering.  Be sure to check back soon-- I have an author interview coming up in the next couple weeks (with a giveaway).


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back To School?

A good friend of mine is studying for the GRE this Saturday.  With my youngest going to kindergarten next year, I have seriously been pondering the idea of a getting a graduate degree (well, as seriously as I could ponder an idea that only occurred to me two days ago, anyway).  My two biggest obstacles are the two biggest obstacles to many things in my life:  time and money.

I'd LOVE to go back to school, but the idea of trying to manage that while also managing a family is overwhelming.  And what if I've forgotten too much from college?  And do I really want to start writing term papers and taking exams again?  Seriously, my memory is not what it used to be (I'm pretty sure it's a documented fact that you lose brain cells when you have children).

Another concern is that my real love is writing fiction.  Undoubtedly a master's degree will only help me, but will it be worth the cost?  I highly doubt I'll be able to write what I want while going to school.  And I'm concerned that getting an MFA in creative writing may be more than I can handle (or want to handle, or want to be exposed to-- I'm pretty square and I have a feeling that most college-aged writers are not).  And can we afford that big expense if I don't plan on teaching or anything once I've gotten it?

*sigh*

Obviously I've got some things to consider...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The craft, and what I'm reading now

I'm learning that a large part of good writing is reading... lots and lots of reading.  So I've sort of set an informal goal (a little more formal now that I'm putting it in writing) that for every novel I read I will also read one book about the craft of writing.  Books about writing books-- it seems rather self-perpetuating.  Luckily, those who write about writing usually know what they're talking about-- and they know how to express it because, well, they're writers.  
So here's what I'm reading now:
"The Eye of the World" by Robert Jordan
"Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card (I'm a huge fan of Orson Scott Card.  Anything he writes-- fiction or non-fiction, is so well done).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

IT'S TIME FOR THE SPOOKTACULAR BOOK BLOG GIVEAWAY HOP!!!




It's finally here!  I'll be giving away two, yes that's two, books.  In honor of Halloween, I'm going a little darker in my giveaway selections:


1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins




Synopsis : Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.



2.  The Dark Divine by Bree Despain



Synopsis:

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared—the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in blood. But she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night really held. And when Daniel returns three years later, Grace can no longer deny her attraction to him, despite promising Jude she’ll stay away.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, her actions stir the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind Jude and Daniel's dark secret . . . and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it—her soul.

How To Enter:
You can enter up to three times.  Here's how:
1. You have to leave a message on my blog with contact info so I can contact you if you win.
2.  *Extra Entry* Spread the word-- link, blog, tweet, etc. and leave a direct link (be sure to mention this in your comment)
3.  *Extra Entry* Become a follower of my blog (or if you already are one, make sure to mention it in your comment)

That's it.  Easy.

And the best thing about this?  It's a blog hop.  So you'll be linked to over eighty other blogs giving away books as part of the Spooktacular.  It's sort of like Trick or Treating for books!

The giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. (Eastern time) on October 31st and I'll be posting the winners the following week.  Make sure to check back.

GOOD LUCK!!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

CONGRATS TO THE WINNERS!!

Thanks everyone for leaving a comment.  I used my very high tech system of drawing names randomly (wrote all the names down, threw them in a box, and let my daughter pick).  And the winners are:

How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend:   Arceli


My Double Life:  Mrs. Olsen

Congratulations!!  I have emailed both of you.  Send me your addresses and we'll get those books mailed out to you.

Thanks again everyone for commenting.  My next book give-a-way will be the week of Halloween, so keep checking.

-Melinda

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR JANETTE RALLISON AND *TWO* BOOK GIVE-A-WAYS

I know you've all been waiting with bated breath for my first interview, and it's finally here! *loud applause* 

As promised, I will also be doing a book give-a-way with not one, but TWO of Janette's books:  How To Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend and her newest book My Double Life.  You can be entered into the drawing two ways:  leave a comment or become a follower of my blog (scroll down and look on the right-hand side of my blog to do this).  The drawing ends October 1st at midnight, so make sure to leave your comment before then!

And now, to introduce Janette:  
Janette Rallison is a prolific writer who has written 16 books, with more on the way.  Most of her books are targeted at the young adults audience, though they're a good read at any age.  Aside from this, she is a funny, gracious author who writes literature that manages to be clean, age-appropriate, and totally entertaining.  


What got you interested in writing?  
I’ve always been a daydreamer. Some kids have imaginary friends.  I had a whole city.  And since you can’t remember all of those daydreams, you’ve got to write them down.  Becoming a writer just seemed like a natural step.
Many of your books are for or about teenagers.  What has drawn you to this genre?  
I have three big reasons—my daughters.  I write the kind of books I think my daughters would like reading: funny, uplifting books, with good-hearted heroines.  Not all teenagers are filled with angst, hate, and disillusionment.  Not all parents are self-centered cretins who either ignore their children or use them to boost their own egos. These facts, however, are not readily discernable if you read a lot of YA books.  I like to think I’m a counterbalance to that sort of stuff.
Also, teenagers are fun to write about because everything means so much to them.  It’s hard to get as much emotion from adult characters.
A lot of people feel that in order to write successfully for teens, you have to be edgy or push boundaries.  Do you agree with that?  What do you think are important themes or elements when writing for that age group?
There is certainly an abundance of edgy YA books and a lot of them are successful.  Sometimes I hear authors talking about pushing boundaries and I wonder which boundaries they’re talking about.  As far as I can tell, all the boundaries have pretty much been bulldozed over. It’s to the point that if you want a G-rated book for your teen, you have to really look to find one.  But I’m proof that YA books don’t have to be edgy.  Mine aren’t, and I’ve sold over a million copies.
I think the themes and elements for YA books are limitless.  If it’s a good life lesson, it can be in a YA book.  What I hate to see are misleading themes though.  My personal pet peeve is all the sex in YA books.  The overall message of many books seems to be that if you’re in love it’s all right, and if you use a condom you’re safe from consequences.  Love doesn’t guarantee commitment and condoms don’t prevent all STDs.  There are 19 million new STDs every year and half of those happen to young people. Many aren’t curable and will cause pain, infertility, and cancer.  I think if anything, we need to be warning teens against having sex, not inadvertently encouraging them into risky behavior.
You use a lot of humor in your writing.  Knowing you personally, I know that you are naturally funny.  Does it come easy to you in your writing as well?
Writing humor might be easier for me than for a lot of authors, but humor is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult type of writing to do.  I’ve loved writing every single one of my books, but the problem with writing funny books is that people then expect there to be humor in your next books.  I never know if a book is going to be funny or not when I sit down to write it, and I’m always worried that it won’t be and people will be disappointed.  It’s a lot of pressure and I’m always so happy when I think of something funny to include.  That said, I’m writing a paranormal romance right now that I decided from the start would have no comedy in it. To tell you the truth, it’s been nice.
Is there one aspect of writing that you really enjoy?  Is there anything about it that you really don't enjoy?
My favorite part of writing is when I’m working on a scene and ideas flow and it turns out better than I ever expected.  I feel like I’ve been a part of something magical when that happens.  My least favorite part of writing is getting revision letters and realizing I have to make all sorts of changes.  Doing revisions is sort of like playing the block game, Jenga.  Sometimes you can take things out or put things in and it doesn’t really change the structure of your book.  But sometimes editors ask you to make changes (or you realize on your own that you need to make the changes) and you don’t know how you can manage it without having the whole thing fall apart.
You have a big family.  How do you balance that with your writing career?  
Well, in theory I write when the kids are in school and stop when they get home, but a lot of this year I’ve been behind in deadlines and I’ve been working every moment I can squeeze writing in, and not showering, and feeding the kids frozen dinners.  Lesson learned: do not take on too many projects.  I’m hoping next year will be more sane.
Do any of your kids want to be writers?
I have one daughter who talks about it, so who knows.
When I was little, I remember the first book that really moved me.  Do you have one that did that for you?  What are some of the books that you feel have influenced your life?
One of the first books I really loved was The Phantom Tollbooth.  When I was a bit older, I loved reading Ellen Conford’s books.  Anyone who has ever read Ellen’s teen books will be able to tell how they influenced me.  She wrote funny, romantic stories.  My style is also a lot like hers—conversational and easy to read.  She wasn’t heavy on description or poetic ways of saying things.  Her books sounded like they were narrated by teens instead of English professors masquerading as teens.
 If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is interested in becoming a writer, what would it be?
 Learn the craft and read a lot.  I don’t think you can be successful without doing both of those things.
Is there anything you'd like to share about what you're working on right now?  What can we look forward to in the future?
 My Unfair Godmother comes out April 12th.  It is teen fairy godmother, Chrysanthemum Everstar’s, next bungled assignment.  Expect to see appearances from Robin Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and another ill fated trip to the Middle Ages.   Lots of fun.
I’m also working on (doing the dreaded revisions, actually) a book that has dragons in it.  It’s lots of fun too.  Then maybe I’ll get to work on my paranormal romance again.  Or maybe I’ll just shower . . .
Thanks again, Janette.  If you'd like to learn more about her and her books, just check out her link on the side of my blog!  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Green Eggs, Ham, and Other Fun Ideas

I love literature. My high school English teacher would call this a "water is wet" statement (in other words, stating the obvious). But because I like reading so much, my kids have fortunately picked up the habit as well-- at least the ones who know how to read.

Here are a couple of fun things we've done to encourage reading, and some other great ideas I plan on using soon:


-My young daughter just learned to read her first "long" book, "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss. So what did we do to celebrate? Well, she read it to the family and then we had to celebrate with (of course) green eggs, ham, and potato casserole. All the kids had a great time.
-We have Harry Potter parties. We actually copied this idea from some family members. My two oldest kids (8 and 10 yrs. old) are reading Harry Potter. After they read a book, we invite friends, pop some popcorn, and watch the movie together. It's been a fun, easy way to celebrate our children's accomplishment.
-Poetry night at the Cafe (got this one from a friend who posted it on her blog). Each of the kids picks a favorite poem and then one they've written themselves. They get to read this at our own private coffee house. And you can't have a poetry reading without hot chocolate, coffee cake, and other homemade goodies.
-library day. This one is easy because almost every library already has programs in place to encourage reading. Just check out your local library and see what's going on (most bookstores have a children's hour too). If there isn't anything, start your own. Give kids a reward for every book, chapter, etc. that they read.
-Look online. We were looking into the State Fair and discovered they have a reading program. For every book your child reads (there's a form to download and fill out), they get a free ride at the fair. What a great deal. For my kids, that means twelve rides total!

Well, that's all I have time for right now, but there are many other great ideas out there-- you just have to look.

Hands down the best way to get your kids to read is for them to see you doing it. I have a general policy that I read everything my children do-- especially as they get older. It's an easy way to see what they're getting exposed to, and provides a great opening for conversation with your kids.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Mother Gave Birth To Me, One Thing Led To Another, And Now I Have 150 Children

This post is about beginnings. Today I sat in front of a congregation, surrounded by over a hundred children singing and speaking in church, and I thought, "how did I get to this moment?"

So I took one step back. "Well, it all started when I got up this morning..."

No, it really goes further than that. So I took a leap back. "It started when we moved into this house and..."

Nope, even further. So I jumped back in time through all the decisions that led me to this point. Marriage, the mission where I met my husband, the internship in D.C. that made me want to go on a mission, growing up with a dad who got me interested in politics...

Still, was that truly the beginning? Certainly there are a million different factors and decisions (including my birth) that led up to that one moment where I'm standing in front of the pulpit cheering on all those happy, wiggling, giggling children.

As a reader, we often assume that the beginning of the book is the beginning of the story, but it never is. A book is actually supposed to begin in the middle of the action-- so the reader feels they are instantly thrown into it right at the exciting part. Harry Potter aside, most books would be very boring (and predictable) if they all began at the birth of the main character.

But the author always has to know that back story. They always have to know what got their characters where they are and how it effected them. Otherwise, the characters seem flat and undeveloped. If we only give them attributes (this character is grumpy, or this one is sarcastic, or beautiful, or stupid, etc), but we don't know in our minds why they're that way, our characters will almost always seem unrealistic, shallow, and a stereotype.

So as writers we must begin at the beginning-- even if most of what we write is left in the pages of our notebooks and not in the pages of our books.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Banning: A Very Sticky Topic

Have any of you read the book "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson? I haven't, but I've heard a lot about it lately. An associate professor in Missouri criticized it in a local paper as "soft porn" because the book describes and deals with the fall-out from a girl getting raped.

I will not comment on the controversy because, as I've said, I haven't read the book. But it brings up a very interesting question. Is it ever appropriate to ban books or block them from being in public schools and libraries?

If you ask most authors, you'll get a resounding no. It is never appropriate to censor.

But I have to admit that I've struggled with this topic a little. It seems to be a slippery slope whichever way you go. If you say some books should be banned based on your individual ethics, what stops other people from doing the same thing with books you approve of? People who believe differently than you. What if someone decides the Bible ought to be banned, or the Koran? The right to choose for yourself-- free agency-- is a fundamental right that ought to be protected vehemently. Banning books could definitely infringe on that right and become a nightmare very quickly.

On the other hand, are all books created equal? Is the value and virtue of the written word so great that all things written must be considered valuable or virtuous? Or is it possible that some books really aren't worth reading? That some may have a real and actual damaging influence. In this world of moral relativism, it seems it's never okay to stand up and say, "I think this is wrong, and I will fight against its harmful influence." People who speak out are often tagged as hateful and prejudiced (and they are labeled these terms in angry, judgmental, and degrading ways by the very people who are proclaiming to be on the side of love, tolerance, and forbearance). Are we so concerned about free agency that we have robbed people of the agency to decide when something is bad?

I honestly don't know the answer. Part of me feels like shouting, "Can't we all just get along?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Like finding an anonymous Post-it note on your door that says, "I hate you"


Today I opened my email and, to my surprise, got a rejection letter.  It wasn't even signed by an agency or publisher-- just "the editors."

Since I haven't sent out a submission in over four months, I'm a little baffled at who could have sent it.   Most authors say that they usually had at least one "practice" manuscript when they began writing.  The first attempt is rarely ever great.  So I put this project to bed and chalked the whole thing up as experience a long time ago.

I can't tell you how glad I am to learn that it can still come back to haunt me.  I'll have to remember that next time I'm feeling particularly excited about my writing, or I'm just having too good of a day...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare


Synopsis:
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

My Review:
This book would be classified as both paranormal romance and "steam punk." For those of you who don't know what that means (I didn't until I started going to workshops), it's literature that takes place during the Victorian era-- during the time of the steam engine. Most of the books have some sort of mechanical element to them. A good example of this would be the latest Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr.

I really liked Cassandra Clare's first series, The Mortal Instruments, so I knew that I would like this companion series (takes place in same world, but with different characters and in a time period). I assumed that it would keep my interest, assumed that it would be well-written, and that the characters would be compelling. And it was all of those things.

One thing I struggled with, however, is that she changed the POV irregularly. Most of the time, the story is told (3rd person) through the main character Tessa's point of view. But a few times she jumps into other characters' heads.

Generally, books are told from one or two points of view because that allows the reader to get to know those characters-- to experience the story through their eyes. The limitations with this kind of writing is that the reader should know everything the viewpoint character knows. They should discover things at the same time. You can't be inside a character's head for an entire story, and have that character perform some crazy action and say, "I knew I was going to do that all along." The reader feels cheated and thinks, "What? When were you thinking that? I was in your brain this whole time, and I never saw you have those thoughts."

The problem with Clare's story is that she puts you in their heads without revealing their secrets. It puts distance between the readers and that characters because it feels almost as if the character is aware there is someone inside his head, so he's not going to think about specific things. Those "secret" specific things, I might add, shape and direct most of what the characters do.  Having said that, (and I took way too much time explaining it), I didn't think is was a significant detraction from the book, just something I stumbled over.

My only other critique is not with her book specifically, but with most books in a series that are written by a popular author. My personal opinion as that they leave their books too open-ended. They have enough of a following that even the first book of the series doesn't have to have a lot of closure because they know the second book will get purchased. With first time authors, most books (even in a series) have to be written as "stand alones" because the printing of a second book may depend on the success of the first. And nobody really likes to read a book all the way through and not get closure on the story-- at least in part.  But hey, if I ever have four books on the NY Times Best-Seller list, I may take a few liberties like that myself...

Overall, I would recommend this book to others. I wouldn't have a problem with any teen reading it-- there are some sexual references, but it all takes place "off stage" and nothing is described in too graphic of detail. It's a quick read and I think she does a good job of representing the time period while still retaining modern-day sensibilities (although I'm not an expert on this-- so others who know more about the Victorian age may be bothered by it).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I turned on my computer, one thing led to another, and I killed off the adults

So here's the question: Why are the parents always killed off in children's books?

Before I became a writer, I used to think it was a secret liberal agenda to discount the parents' influence in the home. Yes, I really thought that. I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist. My philosophy: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it's probably a dog working undercover for the CIA.

But liberal agendas aside, I have discovered another very practical reason why the adults must be taken out. You see, no discerning adults would ever knowingly let their children combat super-evil wizards, face off with Hades, or go into a magic wardrobe by themselves and discover a world where they are hunted by the White Witch. It just wouldn't happen. But writing a book where the child only does what a good parent would allow them to do is... well... extremely boring.

So, you have to get rid of the parents. The easiest way, of course, is to kill them off. Car accidents, untimely illness, and war are all very convenient ways to get rid of them.

Another good way is to remove the child from the home. Send them off to school, summer camp, vacation with a family friend. Then throw them into trouble with no adult for guidance and, boom, you've got your story.

But what are some other creative ways to get rid of parents? Any ideas? Here are some of my brainstorms (yes, some of these have been done before):
-parents lose memory, forget they have a child
-send child (or parent) back in time, or to the future
-parent (or child) abducted by villain
-parent goes on vacation, leaves child with irresponsible babysitter
-kid is at school, store, playground, etc. away from parent
-parent takes magic potion, goes into coma
-parent takes magic potion, shrinks into a child
-parent takes magic potion, becomes evil
(really, the possibilities are endless with magic potions)
-a huge storm comes and sweeps child away to magical land
-child bumps head, forgets where he/she lives
-child does something horribly wrong by accident or on purpose, afraid to go home
-parents move, child gets lost
-child is mad at parent and leaves (that can be combined with a number of above options)
-and my personal favorite, parents get torn apart by a pack of wild dogs (because, as Jack Handy so eloquently points out, nothing tears apart a family faster than that does)

Well, that's all I have time to brainstorm right now. But I'd love to hear anyone else's ideas if you've got them. What do you think is the best way to eliminate parents?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I went to my kids' school, one thing led to another, and now I'm looking forward to a sleepless night....

Makes you wonder what the connection is, doesn't it?  I'm seriously considering making all my post titles like this-- a continuation of my blog theme "and one thing led to another..."

So what was the thing that brought me from my kids' school to my sleepless night?  

A cold.

 Yep, I have a cold and I'm miserable.  I'm fairly certain I caught it at that giant petri dish that is an elementary school (not just mine-- all schools, or any place where there are large gatherings of kids sharing things they shouldn't).  And I am now in the cough stage, which means I will be up all night and by morning my ribs, back, and throat will hurt.  Oh joy.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

All Mapped Out

                           Sometimes, this is what my brain looks like:


But most of the time, it pretty much looks like this:




Over the last few weeks my manuscript has gone adrift. I had the first third of the book figured out, and the final scenes are all done, but all the stuff in the middle was getting, well, muddled.
But over the last couple days I've finally gotten it all mapped out! It's due, in large part, to a handful of very patient people who have been willing to walk with me through the tangle of thoughts in my head. I must say, every writer needs "people." If anybody thinks writing is a solitary activity, they are sorely mistaken...
But getting back to the point, this morning I had a free hour, so I ran down to Barnes & Noble, pulled out my notebook, and...
Voila!
I mapped out my manuscript. Yep, it's done! I was able to climb over the roadblocks still in my way and figure out where this crazy story is going.
Not only that, but I got a rough sketch of what the rest of the books in the series will be about (and when I say rough, I mean rough. A few sentences, really. But hey, I only had an hour).
Whew! So glad the hard part is over. All I have left to do is, you know, write the book, find an agent, find an editor, get it published...
It's all downhill from here. Or uphill. Depending on how you look at it...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Twilight Anonymous

At the beginning of this year I went to a writing conference where Brandon Sanderson was speaking (if you want to know more about who he is, check out his link on the right side of my blog). One of the things he talked about is the elitist attitude we have as writers towards popular fiction. If a book or series reaches pop culture status (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.) then we automatically assume it can't be good. Because, let's get real, if the lay reader finds it worthwhile then it obviously is missing academic merit, right? Right?

This phenomenon fascinates me. If Stephanie Meyer were to make an appearance at a writing conference, the crowd to see and hear her would no doubt be gigantic. But don't you dare admit you like her work in those same circles when she's not there. Oh no, that kind of confession must be made in dark rooms (preferably inhabited by vampires) and whispered conversations. And it's not just with Stephanie Meyer. J.K. Rowling went through the same thing when her books first made it big.

Why do we do this? Why do we assume that if a book has mass appeal, it must be junk? Brandon Sanderson had an interesting theory. He didn't believe it was because we were so confident about writing, but because we were so insecure (that's often the case with arrogance, isn't it?). As fantasy and sci.fi. writers, we have such a low opinion of our art that if it appeals to the population as a whole we want to disown it. We're used to being the underdogs, the black sheep, the... sorry, I can't think of another outcast animal metaphor. But you get the idea.

In his lecture, Sanderson gave the audience a gentle rebuke. We ought not do this to each other. We ought to be more supportive and grateful for those who are opening doors for the rest of us.

So that's my goal for the day. I will try to give more praise for the good things that have come from those uberfamous novels, and have more gratitude for what they've done for the business.

So...

My name is Melinda Carroll. I'm thirty (something) years old, and I'm a fan of popular fiction.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Tip: Keep A Journal

Although I have a BA in English, in college I took a grand total of ONE creative writing class.  I never thought I'd be writing fiction.  In fact, the one smallish attempt I made (out of duty-- in my class we had to submit something to be published as part of our grade) was very pathetic.  I tried to write a short story about a girl who didn't make the cheerleading squad and her friend that brought her cookies to make her feel better.  I knew it wasn't very original, especially when my roommate reminded me that somebody had just told us that story a few weeks before.

But the one thing I did have going for me was that I was an extensive journal writer.  I was surprised to find out that this is actually a great skill to have as a fiction writer.  In fact, it's so important that we even had a whole section on it in my creative writing class.

Journals help us remember the crucial things in our lives and teach us to put words to our feelings.  Just like books, they often leave out the smaller day to day details and force us to focus on the larger events.  Reading multiple passages can sometimes help us recognize recurring themes.

In addition to all these things, if you're a fiction writer it can help you keep track of the stories that are always running around in your head.  If you have a notebook by your bed, you can record those midnight revelations that come when you're half asleep.  Orson Scott Card even said that every night he journals what he's written that day so that he can skim it the next morning and pick up where he left off.  He uses a journal to write the personal descriptions of his characters too.

So that's my tip today.  Keep a journal.  If you're a writer, do it for the craft.  If you're not, do it for yourself.  You (and your posterity) will be glad you did.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot



Summary:
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo — to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

My Review:
Though this sounds like fiction, this story is amazingly true. For someone like me who is virtually illiterate when it comes to anything scientific, I found Skloot's book surprisingly easy to follow. She brings up real questions about the right we have to our bodies. I was shocked to learn that there is still no law forbidding doctors from taking discarded tissue and using it without the donor's consent. Meaning, if you've ever had a blood sample taken, gotten a mole removed, etc. the doctor can save those samples, experiment with them, or sell them without ever telling you. Very interesting.
In addition to the scientific and legal aspects discussed in the book, Rebecca Skloot also shows the effects that this research has had on Henrietta Lack's family. It's both touching and tragic. Makes you wonder what would have been different if Henrietta had lived past her early thirties...
I would definitely recommend this book.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mockingjay



Synopsis:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

My Review:
I am not going to go into specifics, because it's impossible to discuss the elements in this book without revealing too much of the plot. So I will try to talk in generalities.
I think the final book in a series is much more likely to be criticized than any other, because the audience already has an emotional connection with the characters and story. For some reason we feel we have a say in how it should end. And no matter how masterfully it is written, everyone can't possibly be satisfied. So I'm pretty sure this book is going to get mixed reviews.
But no one can question Suzanne Collin's ability to tell a story. The way she can create a world that the reader easily imagines and feels part of is amazing. Particularly since none of us know what post apocalyptic America would look like (hopefully we never will). I do feel that Mockingjay is quite different from the other two, however. First, it's definitely more violent. This book secures the trilogy's place squarely in the YA field (meaning, in my opinion, that 10-12 is too young and possibly even 13). Also, it's much more blatantly anti-war.
I'd still recommend it to lovers of the other two though. The story has closure, and the all-important question of "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale" is answered.
I ordered an extra copy of the book and I'm seriously considering doing a book giveaway. But I've never done one, so I don't know the legalities (like, for example, if you have the author's permission to do a book giveaway, etc.). Anyone know? I'd also love to hear other people's opinions about the book.
Happy Reading!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Voice: The Great Mystery

Whenever I ask any of my left-brained friends (you know, accountants, engineers, doctors. I like to refer to them as LBF's...)why they hated English in school they almost always say the same thing. It's too subjective-- not formulaic enough. In math, there's one right answer and all the other answers are wrong. It's like being organized. Like, say, with your car keys. If your keys are always in one spot, then you always know where to find them, right?

But what if the key isn't there one day? What if the one answer is actually wrong?Then what do you do?

That's why I like to write. I want choices. It's also why I keep my keys in lots of places (sometimes on a hook by the door, sometimes in my purse. Occasionally on the table...). So if I go to the hook and they're not there, I don't have to despair. I still have lots of other possible places to look. There are lots of right answers.

Some people call this disorganized (and when I say some people, I mean my husband and my mother). But I call it options.

However, I think I finally comprehend what the LFB's are talking about. I've found an aspect of writing that is very hard for me to grasp. A stumbling block. A mystery.

It's "voice."

And why is this so hard for me? Well, to be honest, I'm not always sure what it is. It seems so subjective, so difficult to define (I know, I know, spoken just like an LBF).

In one of the last conferences I went to, every agent and editor said the number one thing they look for is "voice." (Yes, that means over writing ability, over plot, over pacing-- although I'm sure these all contribute to the voice of a book). When someone asked what "voice" meant, though, not a single agent could give a concrete answer. "It's instinctive," they'd say, or my personal favorite, "that indefinable quality that a good writer has. It can't be taught, it just has to be learned."

Uh... what?

One of my friends at the conference said, "voice is just the word they use when they don't know what else to say." (That was especially helpful.)

So, I guess I'll just keep writing until I uncover the mystery. I've already completed one manuscript, and I'm halfway through another, and I've already learned some things. First, I'm not a good fit for YA. I'm simply not edgy enough. I don't feel that angst that teenagers feel (and when I do, I run away from it... fast). I also know I love fantasy, but I'm not big on flowery language. And I like dry humor.

I'm not sure that I've mastered all this in my writing yet, but that's got to be some kind of progress. Right? I'm definitely making headway.

Right?

I still wouldn't complain if any of you know a good book on voice, though...








Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Queen In Exile by Donna Hatch

Queen In Exile

Synopsis: Rumors of war hang over Princess Jeniah's peaceful country of Arden, a land that shuns both magic and warfare. Following a lifelong dream, Jeniah forms a telpathic bond with a revered creature called a chayim, who is prophesied to save her kingdom. But when a Darborian knight comes upon Jeniah with her chayim, he sees only a vicious monster about to devour a maiden, and he slays the beast.

Devastated by the loss of her chayim, and fearing that her own magic is evil, Jeniah doubts her destiny. When an enemy invades Arden City, they slaughter the people, storm the castle, and execute the entire royal family except the princess. Rescued by the knight who slew her chayim, Jeniah is now heir to the throne of Arden and the only hope for freeing her people from tyranny.

On the run and hunted by enemy soldiers, Jeniah must place her life and the fate of her kingdom in the hands of this trained killer. Torn between embracing her destiny as queen of Arden, and her love for a mere knight, she must ultimately rely on her magic to save herself and her people from death and tyranny.

My Review: Okay, I have no idea how to shrink this enormous picture. I really need to get more computer savvy. Well, at least it's a great cover...

I just recently met Donna at a retreat and I was excited to read her book. And with a beautiful princess, a knight in shining armor, and an evil villain with a personal vendetta, what's not to love? Donna does a good job of blending the fantasy world with the medieval world in which this story takes place. I feel like it's more adult than YA (meaning the characters are a little older-- at least the knight) but I also think teens will like it. I look forward to reading more of her books.
Just as a note, this book can be purchased on Amazon (if I have reviewed a book that seems unavailable, check the author's websites).