Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Book Review Club - We Were Liars

We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
YA

I had the great pleasure of listening to a panel on which Emily Lockhart spoke at BEA. She is an adroit, strong, well-spoken writer. I was intrigued and decided to end my year of book reviews with one about her latest, We Were Liars.

Lockhart has a style all her own, somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway - parsimonious, yet emotionally sated. Style alone - doing a lot with so few word - is reason enough to read We Were Liars. Plus, there's that whole, it's a "damn fine story" aspect. Is one allowed to curse in book reviews? I wonder. Ah well. This is YA people. Cursing happens.

I very much like Penguin's recap of this book, so I am shamelessly stealing:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate,
 political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Again, parsimonious, almost free verse.

Lockhart builds in a nice, other worldly experience into the book that the book blurb doesn't reference, and of the four friends, three are cousins, but otherwise, the synopsis captures style and story very well.

I've only met one reader so far who didn't pick up on the other worldly experience early in the story. I'm not sure you're not supposed to pick up on it. In fact, I think you're supposed to sense it but not be sure, paralleling the experience of the main character. There are parallels to M. Night Shyamalan's visual work. 

My oldest has to read two novels for the summer for her Fall Sophomore class English. I've pressed this one on her. Think of all of those coming of age stories you had to read - Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Catcher in the Rye - that's where this book belongs, only written in today's vernacular and thus readily accessible to today's youth without becoming weighty. This could also make a great beach read since it happens in summer, at least partly on a beach.

For other great summer treasures, Barrie Summy's website marks the spot for  reads galore. Have a great summer!

  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

The Spanish Inquisition has found me! Ack!

Okay, okay, it's not the Spanish Inquisition exactly. It's the Writing Process Blog Tour, but you see the parallels, right? Introverts kissing and telling all in an open forum. I shudder and wish for tea. 

The idea behind this whirlwind tour is that after one writer confesses her deepest darkest secrets about how she really does what she does, she tags two other writers and so on and so on, until there are no untagged writers left. Again, there are parallels.

I add my confession to the long list of venerable writers who go before me, starting with Annemarie O'Brien, fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) alum and author of the middle grade novel, Lara's Gift, who tagged me. You can read her deep dark writing secrets here.

Want more juicy tidbits? Just follow the link in Annemarie's post to Lisa Doan, to Kelly Jones all the way back to the first Divulger of the kidlit writing secrets. Who is it? Ah, you must follows the Confessors to find out. Or, jump forward to next week's pair. They're a wily duo of rose-snipping, pen-twirling swashbucklers if I've ever met one. See below for blurbs on each.

So, without further ado, thumbscrews please:

What am I currently working on? 
A couple of different things. I'm in the marketing stage for two picture books that release this year - Toby and Waggers - which takes up A LOT of time, but is fun because I get to talk to real people in real time! Heady stuff. 

I'm researching a project set during WW II that is loosely based around my grandfather's canoe trip down the Mississippi from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico and into the World War II, working title H. I am revising a YA novel that is a retelling of Moses in a Blade Runneresque world, Skin Deep. And I'm writing two new picture books - Tour de Trike and The Four Tenners. I like to mix things up. It keeps me sane...or so I tell myself.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? 
Man, that's like asking me how my fingerprint is different from someone else's. Let's see. I don't like boxes. The idea of writing only one form or one type of story is Dante's special level of hell for me. I am the Potpourri Writer. Whatever the story is, that's what I'm following and working on. It's all about the story and improving my writing. And my writing gets better the more I cross-write. The brevity of picture books tightens my novel writing. Dialogue heavy film scripts improve my novel dialogue. Novel plots hone my skills for descriptive, scene setting. Poetry reminds me to value the weight, feel and sound of words together and alone.

Why do I write what I write?
I write what peeks my curiosity, worlds I want to live in, worlds I don't understand, subjects I want to learn more about. Writing gives me the chance to explore and understand our unbearable lightness of being and reimagine it.

How does my individual writing process work?
I'm on the rack now!  For me, writing is messy - process and logistics. I tend to write by the seat of my pants. I'm not a big outliner...unless I'm doing a film script. I'm not sure why. It could be that scripts are so dialogue heavy, I need the outline to know what my characters are going to say. I don't outline for picture books. Novels vary. I can go either way, but if I outline, it's more of hastily road map than a cartographer's masterpiece.

As for focus,  I don't ever work on just one project...mostly. Ironically, months into a novel ms, that's when picture book ideas crop up like night mushrooms. I usually take an afternoon or morning off to get them down. Sometimes that blossoms into a week. And then I go back to the novel. It's messy.

And finally, logistics - still messy.  I'm at my desk every day from 8:30 - 6:00, but there are varying unavoidable breaks in there to pick kids up from school or ferry them to after school activities. I get in at least 4 hours of solid writing a day - in between the breaks. I hope for inspiration. It meanders in some days. More often, I curse the writing gods and plow on.

Secret weapon - a secret drawer of chocolate AND gummy bears for those really rough days. FYI  - Gummy bears cannot type. You can, however, make really neat crime scenes with them without ever having to leave your desk. Not that I do...much.

Next week's Confessors:

Marsha Diane Arnold
Marsha has been called a "born storyteller" by the media. Already an award-winning author, 2013 was a banner year. She sold four picture books to Neal Porter Books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin, and Tamarind, UK. Her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books has helped many writers develop strong, spunky characters. She grew up in Kansas, walking barefoot and climbing trees, and still loves bare feet and trees.
For her kiss and tell answers to the questions above, click here.




R.A. Costello

R.A. Costello mostly writes fiction for and about LGBTQ teens who are figuring out who they want to be - and be with - while fighting against the jerks and bigots that stand in their way. He has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is hard at work on his debut YA novel, The Shelter Sea.
For his kiss and tell answers to the questions above, click here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Book Review Club - Cinder, Scarlet & Cress (The Lunar Chronicles)

Cinder, Scarlet & Cress
Marissa Meyer
YA

This review has me torn. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Cinder. On the other hand, I had a hard time moving from book 1 to book 2 because main protagonists change. Is this a revolutionary way to avoid the sequel slowdown? Or does it kill the reading momentum?

But one thing at a time. First, Cinder.

Basic premise: A retelling of Cinderella as a cyborg/lunar girl living in a future Beijing in which the Queen of the Moon threatens to attack and enslave (or destroy) earth. Cinder, a mechanic and adopted daughter of the archetypically evil stepmother and one evil stepsister and one nice stepsister, is (spoiler alert!) secretly the rightful heir to the lunar throne. She doesn't know it yet. She thinks she's just a mechanic, who is also partly cyborg, and thus despised by most. Cyborgs are considered de-humanized by the cybernetic parts. Add to that, earthens suffer a plague caused by a viral strain introduced by runaway lunars.

As Fate would have it, the crown prince, Kai, is looking for the lost lunar heir, and comes to Cinder to repair  a broken android that may hold the answers to the lost princess's whereabouts. Cue: meet-cute.

The rest of the book is action-packed unraveling of the plague, who the princess is, the love interest between Cinder and Kai that all lead up to the annual ball where (spoiler alert!) the princess does not get her prince. In fact, he sacrifices her to the Lunar Queen to save earth.

Despite how much is going on in this story, it held my attention and was a fun read. Definitely a dessert book. My youngest loved the book so much, she asked if we could get the second book. We listened to both as audio books. We got it. We almost didn't get through.

Scarlet begins with a wholly different protagonist, namely, a character based on Little Red Riding Hood, with a parallel story about the people who helped Cinder escape from the moon, hide her and transform/heal her as a cyborg. It was very jarring to trade out one main protagonist for another, and in this instance, Scarlet is a very angry 18 year old, which makes it hard to feel empathy for her. She constantly lashes out. But we stuck with it (partly due to a very long car ride) and eventually, about halfway through the book, were able to listen without checking the clock.

I'm not sure I'd have bought the third book, but Scarlet ended in the middle of said long car trip, so we did. Cress follows the same pattern as Scarlet, introducing yet another new main protagonist and another retelling of a fairy tale, Rapunzel.

All of the main female lead's stories are connected and interwoven. The writing is tight and filled with action. And I admire Meyer for coming up with a novel way to avoid the sequel slowdown. I'm not sure introducing a new protagonist as the lead works particularly well. The reader is forced to alter heroes from one protagonist to another, while also following the original protagonist's main story as it unfolds in a sort of b-story role.  Clearly, these books have sold exceptionally well, so something is working. Maybe it's my misperception that I'm getting hung up on. This isn't a trilogy. These are chronicles, loosely related stories that are nevertheless connected and do move forward toward a common goal. Still, it was jarring to move from book 1 to 2. And yet, here I am on book 3. Like I said, these books have me torn.

For other great May treasures, click on over to Barrie Summy's website. Happy reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blog Tour de Toby Turtle 2014!

Pack your snorkel and fins. It's time for the Toby blog tour!

Toby is my upcoming picture book about a plucky sea turtle's adventures from egg to nest. I'll be signing books, talking turtles, divulging my innermost rhyming secrets (and just how many pencils I chewed through to finish this story!).

Without further ado, here is the tour call out:

Award-winning author Stacy Nyikos will be hosting a blog tour June 8-14, 2014, to celebrate the launch of her new book Toby.

Stacy is offering blog interviews, guest blogs, and a limited number of books for review and giveaways.  About Stacy Nyikos – In a quiet little office/at a comfy little desk/Stacy Nyikos chews on pencils/and scribbles silliness…when she’s not plucking splinters from her teeth, that is. Stacy holds an MFA is Writing (silliness) for Children from Vermont College. She spends her days chasing—or being chased—by stories. Toby is her latest catch. He sees it the other way around—catching her in the form of two very curious but courageous rescue sea turtle’s she met during a behind the scenes tour of her local aquarium. Either way, a lot of pencils got crunched writing his story.

About Toby - Birds, and crabs, and crocs - oh my! - stand between Toby and his new ocean home. Can he outslip, outslide, out-double flip and dive them? Join this plucky little sea turtle on his adventures from egg to ocean to find out!


Interviews and guest blogs should be completed prior to May 31, 2014.  This is a perfect opportunity for students, librarians and bloggers to access an award-winning author at no cost.  Bring the arts to life; involve students in the interview and blogging process.

If you require a book/book review prior to an interview, please let me know your mailing address.  We have a very limited number, so contact me right away.

The tour will be publicized by Provato Events through a press release prior to the event.  All interviews will be listed on the Provato Events Website and on Stacy Nyikos’ Blog with links to the blog sites. 

To participate in the blog tour, please contact me today. 

Thank you!

Michele Kophs
15114 NW 7th Ct. | Vancouver, WA 98685
360.597.3432 Direct | 646.219.4841 Fax
http://www.provatoevents.com/blog/Toby.html

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Book Review Club - The Martian

The Martian
Andy Weir
Science Fiction - Adult

Pop quiz:
1) Do you ever stare at the night sky wondering if there is life out there?
2) Ever tried to levitate something with your mind?
3) Have you ever secretly (or not so secretly) watch Star Trek?

Houston, we have lift off. You like science fiction!

Science fiction has been fascinating readers from the moment Mary Shelley brought Frankenstein's monster to life. And writers of science fiction have been working to keep their edge ever since that first breath of life into their genre. Today, they're getting a little help from actual, real life physicists. Science fiction has become your basic rocket science.

How can this be? Some brilliant people at Tor had the great idea to pair up science fiction writers with NASA scientists. The result is a new list of science fiction titles, headed up by Andy Weir's, The Martian.

Basic premise: Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

More details: Mark Watney, a member of the Ares 3 Mars crew, accidentally gets left on Mars during the middle of a sandstorm. He has a habitat. He has oxygen and water. He has some food. But he doesn't have enough to last until the next Ares mission arrives. Cue creativity. How will Mark survive? Will NASA be able to help?

Weir's characters are wonderfully diverse and wickedly smart without being so smart they become inaccessible. The plot is scary believable. Accidents can happen, especially on a mission to a place as far away and foreign as Mars. The scientific does not way down the story, but rather, enhance it. Admittedly, there were moments when I did zone a little. Then again, that could have been the elliptical machine getting the better of me. I have books I "save" for work outs only. This was one. But I found myself sneaking more of The Martian whenever I could, like a secret stash of chocolate. And more than once that I had to remind myself this is NOT REAL. It's "just" a story (so stop crying!).

Tor has more books in the line up. One is about an elevator from earth to the international space station. Finally, a true fix for my science fiction addiction. I can't wait to see what they imagine up next. And...um...if it's not too much to ask, does anyone know how to get in the super secret society of writers who get to work with these amazing scientists?

For more April fling reads, check out Barrie Summy's website!


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Book Review Club - MidwinterBlood

MidwinterBLOOD
Marcus Sedgwick
YA

It's one of my favorite times of the year - kids' book awards! I waited with baited breath for the new Printz and Newbury winners and the resulting pile of spanking new stories to discover.  I started with the Printz winner, MidwinterBLOOD, by Marcus Sedgwick, and oh, what delicious fun!

Multiple, seemingly unrelated tales spanning thousands of years but that nevertheless all take place on the same island with two repeating character names slowly reveal themselves as the stories of the multiple lives of two star-crossed lovers that culminate in their final breaths. And even throws in a vampire and a WW II aviator.

Yum.

This sort of storytelling mesmerizes me. It takes the short story and incorporates it into novel length. It's a two for one that cleverly takes short stories arcs and layers them into a longer, overall novel arc.  It's pretty cool how Sedgwick pulls that off. How he takes elements in one story and reworks them, nevertheless expanding and revealing backstory in another about those elements, and the two characters they revolve around.

There were a few stories in the set that I understood less quickly and had to reread, but I'd say this is a reread all the way around, it's that rich with story and new author tools to tell story.

For other stories that will put a spring in your step before we tumble forward this weekend (hopefully out of the snow and into the flowers!) check out Barrie Summy's site. Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Book Review Club - Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints
Gene Luen Yang
Graphic Novel

I got hooked on graphic novels when my second daughter was diagnosed with a convergence defect. This basically means that her eyes do not move from object to object at the same time. One is a little behind the other, which makes focusing an interesting challenge...and reading, a nightmare. While she went through eye therapy, I attacked the reading challenge. I tried a Kindle so she could increase letter size. I tried easy readers. But it was graphic novels that did the trick. The minimum amount of text, yet sophisticated story line with artful, detailed illustration helped her become the reader she is today. And has made a graphic novel junkie out of both of us.

Yang's most recent masterpiece, Boxers and Saints, looks at opposing faces of war, specifically the Boxer Rebellion in China during the late 1800s, depicting both sides in characters we grow to love and empathize with, and then leave us wondering how two such deep, passionate individuals can hate each other so profoundly. The story also gives explanation as to why the Boxer Rebellion occurred, what happens when cultures clash, why both sides had their reasons for going to war. It never ceases to amaze me how a book format with so few words can do so much.

Overall, I find the prose in graphic novels less inspiring than the illustrations. It's rawer, less refined, and I may seriously be missing the boat. It may be necessary for the text to be less artful so as not to overwhelm the text.  Is this the nature of heavy dialogue - which graphic novels tend to be - that and transitional text, i.e. meanwhile, back at the ranch... Still, if you've got a recommendation for a graphic novel where the text is as breathtaking as the illustrations, please pass it on. Maybe one of these days I'll understand words well enough to collaborate with them effectively in any format. Here's hoping!

For more great challenges, scroll over to Barrie Summy's site. Happy reading!