The Part That Kills Me

May 30, 2011 at 9:00 am (Writing) (, , )

You get an idea. You plan it out, you do the research, you write a novel. You let it sit for a little while, read a stack of books to make your brain unknot itself, and then go back and edit. And edit. And edit. And you do research on agents, you slave and fret over a query letter and a synopsis and putting everything together just the way it needs to be. You go back through, convinced it’s not right yet, and find some more things to edit. So you change your letters, update the pages. You stare at the computer.

And then, if you’re smart, you back away. For just a little while longer.

I hate that part.

I also happen to suck at it.

I recently(ish) finished a project I absolutely love. It’s a project that has been tumbling around in my head in one form or another for about eleven years, and I kept putting it off because it just didn’t feel right yet. I wasn’t yet where I needed to be as a writer to achieve even a measure of what was in my head, because what was playing across that mental screen was beautiful and terrifying and creepy and, perhaps most frightening of all, eerily resonating. I wasn’t there yet.

But finally- FINALLY- I woke up from a deep sleep and a dream and scrambled for the notebook by my bed because I finally, finally had the foundation that would let me support the character that had been living inside my head for so long. (On a side note, I do recommend turning on a light and putting on any necessary glasses before scribbling middle of the night notes- it’s very, very frustrating to try to translate the 3am heiroglyphics when you look at them again the next morning) I plotted and planned, I researched, I lost count of the number of hand cramps I got while writing out notes. I obsessed over it, really, even more so than my other projects. When I actually started writing, I couldn’t get it out of my head. My narrator didn’t step aside when I left the pages; she stayed in my thoughts, coloring the way I saw everything, and it was always easy to tell when I was actually writing because my sister would get frequent text messages mentioning how much my narrator was creeping me out- and how much I loved it.

And then the first draft was done.

I managed to set it aside for several weeks, my fingers itching the entire time, before I went back to do the first round of edits. I’ve been doing my agent reserach, been driving myself crazy working on several variations of a query letter (I loathe writing query letters) and I’m at the point where I can send it off.

But if I do, I’m an idiot.

Because I know- KNOW- if I can make myself wait a few more weeks and not touch it at all, I’ll see more to fix, more to tweak, ways to make it better and stronger.

But I SUCK at waiting.

And it’s times like this that make me wonder if it’s possible to want something too badly.

My dad doesn’t really get the whole wanting-to-be-an-author thing. He enjoys reading but he thinks of writing as a hobby, not something to take all that seriously. But, he’s really trying to be supportive because he knows it’s important to me, understands that it is something that I very much want to do even if he doesn’t get why. So every now and then, I get an emailed link or an envelope with clips from a newspaper talking about self-publishing or self-e-publishing.

I know there are people who make that work very well, but the key word there is work. As in- A LOT OF WORK. And for people who are willing and able to put in that kind of work, there can be a good pay off, but there are limitations to that as well. We get a lot of self-pubbed or POD mill authors in the store wanting to know why we don’t have their books on the shelves, and at least 98% of the time it’s because we can’t. If a book is print-on-demand, we actually cannot put it on the shelves, it is pre-pay order only. That kind of publishing also requires a substantial investment, requires a hell of a lot of time, and means you’re probably spending more time trying to promote and sell your book than writing the next one. I’m not knocking this, and I hope no one takes it that way, because I know it works for people.

But what I want- what I’ve wanted since I was probably five years old- is to walk into a bookstore and have a really good chance of seeing a copy of my book sitting on the shelf. I mean yeh, seeing it on websites would be great, but I want to walk in to a random store and see it. I can’t do that if I try to go this road by myself, and one thing I try very hard to be is honest with myself: I would SUCK at trying to do it by myself. Juggling the details, trying to do the publicity all by my onesie, managing the graphic design of the cover or the interior of the book or the website. Oh, and that whole pesky initial investment thing…I have to stress every month about rent and utilities and each time the gas prices go up I start lookinhg at Ramen. I don’t have a couple thousand bucks lying around to pay someone to print my book, before we even get into the idea of publicizing.

I’ve been querying for a couple of years now. This will be the third project I’ve sent out, and each round, each project, I learn so much more. I get feedback, some of it more useful than others, and each time, I think I get closer.

And I love this one so much. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written, may be my favorite thing I’ll ever write in some ways, so I think it’s a little hard for me to step back far enough to see if it’s actually ready. It feels ready.

So did the others.

So what I need to do is take that deep breath, close the folders that have all my submission materials, and not look at it for a while. I suck at waiting. I hate waiting. But I think I need to- because I so badly want this to be the one.

I need to step back. I need to look towards my next project, whatever that turns out to be (there are several contenders at the moment). And I need to not drive myself crazy with this.

Step away from the send button.

*sigh*

Anyone else in this position right now? I’d be really grateful to hear how you deal with it.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

May 28, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

I know I usually start off book reviews with a summary of the book, but I honestly have no idea how to give this book a proper summary that comes anywhere close to doing it justice. Here’s the jacket copy: The fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program- or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan- or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
Welcome to the heart of none-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of
A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

In a nutshell? It’s Lost meets Lord of the Flies meets Heart of Darkness meets Drop Dead Gorgeous.

If that isn’t enough to make your head explode, I don’t know what is.

This book is hysterical, as in be careful about where you’re reading it because people will look at you oddly if you burst out laughing in public. Do not start this book when you have something else to do. Do not takes sips from your drink while looking at the pages, and make very sure you swallow before you return to reading. Eating is probably also a hazard. It’s ridiculous, beyond crazy, and over-the-top.

It’s also brilliantly sneaky.

Let’s be honest: almost the only people who take beauty pageants seriously are the contestants, their parents, and their handlers coaches. They are the butt of so many jokes, probably because they seem like such easy targets. I don’t mean in any way to imply that there aren’t incredibly intelligent, talented, wonderful women that participate in pageants. I’m just saying that picking on beauty queens is like the grown-up version of picking on cheerleaders. Miss Congeniality pretty much nailed public opinions of beauty pageants- they’re all self-absorbed airheads with a bizzare range of ‘skills and interests’ who give safe, politically correct interview answers, give the judges and audience exactly what they want, and might as well be talking Barbies for all the genuine personality they show.

They seem like caricatures.

And at first, that is exactly what Bray gives us. Every single one of these girls comes off as a caricature, a smiling and waving picture of a perfect primping princess. There’s the die-hard who lives and breathes pageants. There’s the one who seems too stupid to breathe and panics when faced with something that hasn’t been practiced and memorized for endless interviews. There’s the anti-pageant feminist who’s out for blood- or at least sabotage and humiliation of the companies and people that exploit women in such a way. There’s the sweetheart. There’s the lesbian. There’s the black girl. The other-minority girl, in this case Indian. The joyfully-overcoming-disability girl, in this case deaf. None of these girls are a surprise when we’re introduced to them, so we sit back and relax and settle in for a few hundred pages of sheer ridiculosity.

Then slowly, sneakily, they start to surprise us, and themselves. Secrets start to emerge, realizations are made, there are things to be discovered. Here’s the true genius: we laugh at the caricatures as we encounter them, but as continue, we start to find that some of these girls don’t even know who they are beneath those perky, perfect pageant personalities. They’ve been doing this so long, or so desperately feel the need to win, that they’ve entirely made themselves over in the images they think people want to see. And now, stuck on an island with the need to survive and no one to watch them or judge them, they have a brave and terrifying world spreading before them. It’s a little bit tragic, but also amazing to watch. These girls suddenly have to find out- or decide- who they really are, even if that means disappointing the family members they’re not entirely sure they’ll ever see again.

The resourcefulness never loses its edge of funny- like turning heels and bras into weapons or a prom dress into a desalinization process- but it’s never out of the blue. All the things they’ve been doing for years for the pageant circuit gradually find real-life applications. Most of these girls, virtually indistinguishable at the beginning of the book, grow into real, solid people. The dumb one is still too dumb to breathe but there’s something painfully sweet about her and the revelations that unfold about her history. The anti-pageant still rages at the slightest provocation but she also learns that wanting to be pretty isn’t necessarily a sign of shallowness. The good girl learns that it’s okay to be a little wild.

As one of them very astutely points out, the boys in Lord of the Flies crash in the wildnerness and descend into savagery. The girls crash in the wilderness and find themselves to such a degree that ‘lost’ is only a physical description of location.

My favorite part actually sneaks its way through the entire book: I LOVE the footnotes. Seriously: footnotes. They’re scattered through the book, some fifty of them, and they’re almost always product pitches for The Corporation, the somewhat shadowy organization/network that seems to have pretty much taken over all of pop culture. The products are ridiculous and absurd and slightly frightening, and some of them come complete with commercial transcripts and ‘word from the sponsor’s. We also get sneak peeks at the girls’ information forms for the pageant and classified descriptions of things going on elsewhere that all come to a head near the end of the book (sneaky sneaky around the spoilers).

Librarians, you may end up taking parents to the mat over this one, but it’s worth it to get it included on the school shelves. There’s coarse language, there’s sex, there’s frank talk of anatomy, all the things that stoke the flames of battles over what is and is not acceptable in school libraries. But it’s amazing and totally worth the battles it might engender. As over-the-top as it frequently is, there are amazing things to learn from it, and frankly, they’re things I think teen girls could definitely use the reinforcement on. As funny as the book and the circumstances are, it’s ultimately empowering, not in an uber-feminist hate all men and prettifying cultture kind of way, but in a real, down to earth, this is a sensible way to live kind of way. The fact that we get that from beauty queens crashing on an island is a little terrifying but it’s true. These girls learn that there’s more to life than being perfectly beautiful and universally adored and what everyone else wants them to be, but they also learn that it’s okay to have a beauty regimen as long as it stays within reasonable boundaries. And it’s not a bad book to put in boys’ hands either. At first they’ll just sit back and laugh at how stupid so many of the girls are and act, but substance creeps in so subtly they might not even notice it until they’ve already had their eyes opened.

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray, the reason I spent most of an afternoon giggling myself breathless. Definitely check this one out!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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More Fun After High School

May 26, 2011 at 9:00 am (Writing) (, )

When I was in school, I hated doing research. Absolutely loathed it.

I have a couple of theories about why. I think a fair amount of that detestation had to do with being told what to research, and very rarely having an interest in that topic. Didn’t really matter what the topic was; if it was for school, chances are I was blatantly uninterested. Then there was also the research process: for school, we had to keep careful notes of where we found the information, what book and what page, and even had to be careful about how we wrote our notes so we didn’t accidentally write something down word for word without putting it in quotes. Irritating, and makes it rather hard to focus on the research. I think the biggest problem I had with it was that research was inevitably followed by a research paper.

I suck at research papers. Always have. Give me a creative writing assignment and I’m peachy. Give me a technical writing assignment and I’m sunk.

So I loathed doing research while I was in school.

Since then, however, I have discovered an absolute love of it. It started in my costume history classes. We didn’t have to turn any of it in, didn’t have to do more than show we’d done it, and the point of it was only to make our designs as historically accurate as possible. I got to bury myself in books of paintings and history, take notes however I wanted, and in the process learned some very cool stuff.

I know some writers who approach their research with deep and heavy dread. They recognize the necessity but it’s not a pleasure.

But seriously? It is so much frickin’ fun! The things you can learn, the way it develops into your writing and into your story, it’s not something to skip, and if you really begrudge what you have to do to get the info, that will also show. The research is such a necessary part though, as much a piece of the brainstorming and plotting as staring off into space and thinking about your characters. Knowing how long and how far a horse can go over different terrains, at different speeds, and carrying different weights will determine the timing of your characters’ journey. Knowing that a staggering variety of household products contain poisons can greatly affect your murder mystery. There’s just as much research to go into a fantasy as into an historical epic, too. You can’t simply put everything at the foot of magic. It doesn’t matter what kind of magic it is if you think claymores are one-handed weapons.

Learn to love your research, people.

So, in the interest of adoration, what is your favorite thing you’ve ever learned during research? The weirdest or coolest or just something that really stuck in your mind.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale

May 24, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, was born with a word on her tongue and a duty that never weighed comfortably on her shoulders. Far more so than people, she understands the birds of the air, the old stories in which every created thing has a language, and her horse Falada. Uncomfortable with strangers and royal tasks, Ani nonetheless tries her best to live up to the standard of her mother, a beautiful woman with the gift of people-speaking (the ability to sway others to her thought simply through her speech). Then the queen makes a decision that will send Ani far away from everything and everyone she knows, into a strange new world of danger and deception where the crown princess with a word on her tongue will have to find the strength to save two nations.

If the story sounds familiar, it’s because the Grimm brothers told us a very similar version. Many of the pieces are present and familiar: the princess sent to be queen of a foreign land, the horse she speaks with, the treacherous serving maid, and the titular disguise as a goose girl. Don’t mistake this for a simple retelling, though. The world is richly painted, a place of real people and real problems wound through the more mystical aspects of lost languages.Ani’s journey is more than just princess to goose girl to hero; it’s also a journey of self-discovery, of strengths and weaknesses and dreams, of finding the courage to do what is right rather than what is easy. It’s learning to trust others despite fear of betrayal, it’s learning to trust oneself, but most of all, it’s about learning who we really are apart from anyone else’s defintions of us.

It’s a fairy tale, in all the best ways.

It’s a slow start. Our time in Kildenree and our initial time in the Forest progress gradually to let the world unfold around us. We learn a lot about why Ani probably isn’t the best choice to succeed her mother to the throne of Kildenree, despite her birthright, we learn how incredibly isolated Ani is from everyone else- not just because of her gifts- and just how uncomfortable she is within her own skin. She’s uncertain, self-conscious, and keenly aware of all the ways she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. It doesn’t become less painful with time, either. Every new comparison and perceived failing wounds just as deeply as the one before. She relies on her friendship with her horse Falada, with whom she can speak because she was there at his birth to say back to him the first word on his tongue, and on her father’s understanding and love. Her father may be king, but it’s very clear that he doesn’t rule Kildenree, and his sense of being little more than an accessory helps comfort her.

Because of that uncertainty, as well as her isolation, Ani is hopelessly naive. We as the reader know what’s going to happen in the Forest long before she does. (Which, if I’m honest, can be a little irritating at points- her innocence is sweet but also rather frustrating, mainly because it illuminates just how little she understands people) It’s in the tail end of her time in the Forest that she starts to realize her own naivete, and for me, that was when she started to get interesting. She’s so used to being served that it doesn’t even occur to her that not everyone lives that way, that if she’s in a bed, chances are pretty good there’s someone who’s going without their own bed right then. Within the poverty of the Forest, her eyes start to open to the way so many other people have to live.

When she arriives in the capital city of Bayern- the larger, more aggressive and powerful nation whose prince she was sent to marry- she finds that her former lady-in-waiting has assumed her name and position. Like Kildenree’s queen, Selia has the gift of people-speaking, and Ani knows there’s no way she’ll be able to convince anyone of the truth with Selia dripping lies so much more convincingly in their ears. The way back through the Forest is a journey of weeks and months, not one she can make on her own, and she has no coin to buy passage with a caravan- and, gradually, she realizes that she has nothing truly waiting for her back in Kildenree anyway. Her father is dead, her horse is missing, her mother is disappointed in her, and her younger brother has taken her place as heir to the throne. So, in a decision that takes equal parts cowardice and courage, she finds a position as a goose girl to the king’s flock.

As a goose girl, she’s simply Isi, a rather backwards girl who sounds like she’s from the Forest and doesn’t know anything about tending geese but slowly, patiently, learns their language. Geese aren’t the only things she learns to read. She’s finally in a pisition where she has to interact with people. She learns about kindness and support that hide beneath a gruff exterior, about steadiness and loyalty that hide within a mischievous smile. She even learns about love.

She also learns some more difficult lessons, about the hardships people endure, about the struggle to make a living, and the prejudices that keep people apart. All her life she’s lived as a noble and never seen what went into creating that life; now she sees the other side, is one of the people who work and work hard for a pittance. Most of her fellow animal keepers are Forest Born and not even considered proper citizens of Bayern. Except for festival days, they’re not allowed to go into taverns with the city-folk or celebrate with them, and the boys are not allowed the symbols of Bayern men. Criminals are executed and hung on display and city-men take upon themselves the role of Peacekeepers because the king’s soldiers can’t be bothered to protect those who live there.

This is where I fell in love with the story. I was enjoying it before, as one always enjoys a good fairy tale, but suddenly there was so much more depth to it. Isi- Ani- was born a princess, but now she’s in a position to learn what that really means. Her fellow animal keepers don’t care about the yellow princess (as they call Selia the imposter). They don’t care that she’s a princess, they don’t care that she’s to marry their prince. They just think she’s a stuck-up twit. They view their nobility and royalty with wry irreverence occasionally tinged with respect, but for the most part, they simply accept that it doesn’t matter. They have their hands full just trying to survive.

And she learns, carefully, slowly, to trust, to read people with some measure of success. Brash and fiery Enna, with her impish smile and sass and her talent for pranks, proves to be someone she can rely on with everything she is. Enna protects her but doesn’t smother her, doesn’t try to keep her separate from things. Finn is quiet but reliable, a strength like a deep pool. Even Conrad, prickly and self-conscious and prone to sulking, is real and rounded, not just a name and a face but a fully developed person. Selia sometimes falls prey to caricature but everything she does makes sense in a slightly twisted, self-justifying way. Geric is sweet and sincere, if a bit awkward, with a deep core of honor that translates to doing hard, painful things in the name of what is right.

There’s so much more to this book, but every time I read it, I’m captivated by the journey Ani/Isi makes. She progresses from a girl who is, let’s admit it, fairly useless in the broader scope of things, and grows into someone tempered by pain and experience, someone who can lead, wants to lead, and someone who will champion the people no one else sees. We should all be so lucky to grow so well. It’s not without its pains and its falls, and certainly it’s not an easy journey to take, but it’s one filled with such richess of character, or the joy in quiet moments and simple things, that we’re all better for understanding it.

The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, first of the Books of Bayern.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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The Things That Make Your Skin Crawl

May 22, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, )

Every now then, I hear something that- as a reader, as a writer, as someone who came through the public school system- absolutely makes my skin crawl.

In this case, it was a woman who came through my line while I was working the registers. She’s a preschool teacher, and as we were talking, it came about that she hates reading. Hates it. Doesn’t do it for pleasure, doesn’t do it at home, and hates how much she has to read for the kids at school. Hates it.

Then it got worse: the girl behind her in line was a first year teacher who absolutely agreed with her. The two got to talking about how they do as little reading with the kids as possible, because they personally dislike it so much and don’t see that it makes a difference.

I pretty much wanted to curl up in a tiny ball on my register mat and sob.

I understand that not everyone likes to read. I don’t get it, but I understand it. Like any hobby, it has its followers and its detractors. Okay.

But we’re talking about teachers who purposefully limit the reading in their classrooms because they don’t personally like it.

Which means entire classrooms of children who are being taught that reading is a chore, that it isn’t fun, that it’s not a skill worth pursuing or something to be done for pleasure. Entire classrooms of children that will need serious, passionate coaching from other teachers, parents, and friends to recover from these lessons, IF they’re fortunate enough to get teachers in the future who don’t feel the same as the teachers they have now.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had teachers who didn’t personally like to read, who didn’t sit on the couch at home curled up with a book in their free time, but I have never had one who didn’t passionately encourage reading in their students. Even those who didn’t teach reading or English still believed and taught the importance of reading. Most of my math teachers didn’t talk about books but they did talk about the incredible importance of being able to clearly read the problems. My Algebra I teacher, Mrs. Nelson, used to create problems for us based on reading speed and number of pages, simply because she knew there were those of us who loved to read and she thought it might make us more enthusiastic to do the work (it didn’t, and I still hate math, but I did appreciate the effort).

And there was Mrs. Cooper, my fourth grade reading and writing teacher, who used to watch me read ahead to the end of the book while the rest of the class read a chapter aloud. Then, for every other day the class read the book aloud, she’d send me to the library so I wouldn’t get bored hearing things I’d already read. By that point I’d actually read through most of the books in our elementary school library, so through the rest of fourth grade and all of fifth grade, one of the media specialists would walk me up to the middle school library up the hill (the two schools shared P.E. fields) so I could read there.

I have a way of getting in trouble when I’m bored- this was in everyone’s best interest.

But more importantly, it was a way to keep me reading, even when I got bored with what the class was doing. There were some of us who always worked ahead, so she worked with us. For those in the class who were unenthusiastic readers, she worked to find ways to get them excited. She looked for books that followed their interests, created activities that combined reading with things they like to do.

Our class loved playing “Heads Up, 7-Up”, a game I remember loving but only marginally remember how to play. We asked constantly to play that game. So, Monday through Thursday, we’d spend a few minutes before or after lunch reading about other kinds of games, or reading small mysteries, or things of that nature, and then Friday, if we’d done everything we were supposed to do during the week, we’d get to play the game. Kids devoured the reading projects for the anticipated reward, but they were still reading.

When I reached sixth grade, Dr. Carroll- a man who has done more to shape me as a reader and writer than any other single person- had us do book journals for everything we read, single sheet questionaires that basically proved that we’d read the book. We had to do a certain number of them over the course of each nine weeks, but for every journal we did over that, we got extra points where we needed them. This was an amazing option for the kids who weren’t as strong on the writing portions, or the ones who had trouble with the grammar rules and editing- the added reading also helped them recognize those basic structure rules, which in turn helped them with their other assignments. Sneaky, sneaky. And brilliant. Though I have to admit, I hated two things about those book journals: I hated giving away the ending, and I hated having to pick a favorite part a/o character.

Fast forward a few years to tenth grade. By this point, we’ve gotten into the serious required reading, where just reading isn’t enough. We have to read certain things, we have to dissect them looking for things the authors may or may not even have meant to do, and we have to do papers on these dissections. Books here are a lot more hit or miss. Sophomore year, Mrs. Geiszler assigned us Wuthering Heights. Most of my friends and I called it Withering Blights. I loathe that book. I got partway through it, because I’m willing to give almost anything that much chance, but I desperately wanted to put it down and never, ever touch it again.

Which would have meant failing that set of assignments.

But seriously, I HATED this book! I wanted the moors to open up and swallow Heathcliff and Cathy whole so they could be out of everyone’s misery- including mine.

So Mrs. Geiszler worked out a compromise with me: I could twist every assignment to talk about how much I hated the book, dissect it to explain exactly what didn’t work and why certain things were so detestable, as long as I finished the book and did the assignments. I know a lot of other teachers who wouldn’t have bothered. A lot of others would have just told me to do the assignments as given and failed me if I didn’t. But Mrs. Geiszler understood that we weren’t going to love every book we had to read for class, so she looked for ways to keep us reading in spite of it.

These are the teachers who helped shape me as a student, the ones who knew how important reading is to everything we do, and went the extra mile to keep everyone reading, even those who didn’t particularly like it.

So then back to these two teachers in my store who hate reading. I kind of wanted to shake them and ask if they had any idea what they were doing to these kids. Because kids who aren’t encouraged to read rarely make the effort to do so. These are the kids- like some of the unfortunates I graduated with- who leave high school barely able to make their way through a Frog and Toad book. The earlier kids get hooked on reading, the more likely they are to stay readers.

Readers who support authors by buying books.

Readers who think outside the box because books keep their imaginations flexible.

Readers who- oh by the way- get higher test scores.

Readers who do better academically, and are more likely to pursue- and be funded for- advanced degrees.

Readers who have the potential to change everything as we know it by advancing medicine, technology, engineering, and so, so many other arenas.

Readers who just might turn into teachers that share that love of reading to others, to keep changing the world.

If you’re a parent, and you think your child might have a teacher who doesn’t promote reading in the classroom, PLEASE work with them at home. Read before bed, or as a way to unwind after dinner, or even in the car. Take your kids to library or bookstore sponsored storytimes.

Teachers, I know funding is uber-tight and time is stretched thin, but see if your schools will allow you to start an after-school storyime or something of that nature. See if you can find older students- especially high school students who need community service hours for scholarships- to serve as reading buddies. I remember being a reading buddy- I loved it. And Rita, the kindergartener I partnered with, grew to love reading, despite coming from a home where her mother could barely read road signs.

Readers, see where you can volunteer, to get into the classrooms and work with those kids to keep them reading. I know reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t let that influence kids away from reading.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Bumped, by Megan McCafferty

May 20, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

A progressively sterilizing virus renders three-quarters of the world infertile around the age of eighteen, leaving teenagers as the last hope for procreation. Tweens run around with fake baby bumps and high schoolers form clubs to settle differences between amateurs and pros. Enter: Melody Mayflower and Harmony Smith, identical twins separated at birth. Melody has been raised to be the perfect Surrogette, poised to score a lucrative reproductive contract with the world’s most desired stud for a wealthy family. Haromy has been raised in the austere religious community of Goodside, and is determined to bring her newly discovered twin to the fold. Enter: chaos.

Don’t wait for a gradual introduction here: we’re dropped directly into everything, including a world of rich slang that has a way of going over your head for a few chapters. It’s jarring and confusing at first, suddenly thrust between these two characters who trade off narrative viewpoints very quickly, and it’s tempting to rifle through the pages in search of an explanation. If you stick with it, though, the vocabulary gradually envelops you. It’s a very rich slang, with words like “fertilicious”, “reproaesthetical”, “pregg”, and many, many others. Most of them are fairly self-explanatory but there’s a ton of it. Be prepared to be swamped.

This is a book I was really looking forward to, but now having read it I find myself a little ambivalent. It’s an amazing concept, gently poking fun at the dystopian trend (and before anyone goes up in flames, I love a fair number of the current dystopians, but I also love things that poke fun), but I don’t think it quite worked here. The world we’re dropped into is overwhelming at first, and some of that never goes away. After skimming back through, I think I found the reason (at least for me).

It’s too close. We don’t have an exact date, but it’s definitely close. Maybe thirty to fifty years in front of us now. For that kind of massive overhaul, not to mention the technological achievements, there needs to be more of a time lapse. Time for the MiNet- think facebook on steroids meets the EyePhone from Futurama- to be developed, tested, and spread out (and, by the way, I would really love to get a bit more about the MiNet). Time for the genetic testing and the RePro companies to advance, time for the birth rate to be so staggered, just…time. Giving it another hundred years would have done a great deal to support credibility.

Because for me, that’s really the thing with dystopians: I need to believe in the premise. No matter how far out there it seems, I need to be able to believe that it could actually happen. Hunger Games with its bread and circuses? Hello, Ancient Rome. Matched with its artificially perfect Society and its trio-pack of pills? Totally buy it. No matter how far out the concept is taken, I need to believe in its foundation. This story is just set too closely to where we are now for all the advancements and sweeping changes to be taken seriously. Once we doubt that, we can’t help but question everything else that’s going on.

Like I said, though, I love the concept. Tweens and teens are so spectacularly influenced by our social medias and advertising. Little girls running around with First Curse purses and squealing over fake baby bumps is both funny and blood-curdling. The MiNet system- once you get over the fact that it’s apparently an implant that’s controlled entirely by the movement of your eyes- isn’t too far from facebook now. Friend requests, spam mail, the whole squealing celebrity culture…Jondoe doesn’t seem that far from Justin Beiber, really, except that no questions Jondoe’s gender or ability to reproduce. And, of course, the idea that whatever becomes acceptable for the older girls becomes desirable for the younger ones, to the extent that girls way too young are trying to copy it. Anyone remember Bratz dolls, and how elementary school girls were suddenly dressing like tramps? Yeh, think that on a really big scale.

I wish Melody and Harmony were more distinct. Harmony’s every other word is laced through with religious jargon, psalms and witnessing constantly on her tongue, and Melody uses the slang much more freely, but other than that, their voices sound astonishingly alike. Melody’s journey through the book is a little more believable, built much more on the things that have happened and are happening. Harmony is pretty much all over the place. That lack of definition applies to the other characters as well. Jondoe is a cardboard figure, a glint of light in the flash of paparazzi cameras, and Zen, while he seems like a nice guy, is more like an overeager puppy who just hops around waiting to get kicked. He’s a little ludicrous, and while there’s a single thread that shines true, the rest of him is just draped around that one piece.

This book does have some strong, underlying pieces, mostly seen through Melody’s eyes as a peer birth coach. There are genuine horrors to the way the world has changed in response to this progressive-sterility virus, to the way the expectations change and the way people treat one another and themselves. Melody’s gradual realization of this is painful and believable, and makes me look forward to seeing what she does with that in the next two books. Harmony I honestly couldn’t care less about. Which…makes me sad. I don’t need to love all the characters in a book, I don’t even need to like them, but I do need to care about what happens to them, to be in some way invested in their progress. Unless something changes dramatically in the next book, I’m only likely to care about half of it.

I enjoyed the ride, even if I felt like I was only bobbing along the surface of things. It’s a bit bumpy, more than a little choppy, but I’m hoping- really, really hoping- that things get better in the next two installments.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Summer Series Soundoff, Session 2

May 18, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, , , , )

And here we pick back up with the fun. For those of you just tuning in, I’m rounding up some of my favorite series, finished and continuing, for the long summer of reading ahead. Don’t forget to tune in down below with your favorites!

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead, takes its title from the first book. It’s an interesting take on vampires here, with three distinct types: Strigoi, the baddies who like to go ahead killing people and nomming on them; Moroi, the kinder gentler vamps who nom only a little at a little and only with permission; and Dhampir, half Moroi guardians who protect the Moroi from the Strigoi threat. This series has one of the most kick-ass heroines ever. Rose Hathaway has a talent for sassing, getting knocked on her rear, and jumping right back into the fight, rarely taking the time to think any of it through first. This series was finished with its sixth book, BUT, it has a spinoff series starting in August with the book Bloodlines, so the fun doesn’t have to end.

For those who love historicals, especially anyone who has ever gone to, worked, or loved Renaissance Festivals, the Blood Jack series by L.A. Meyer is an absolute must. Jacky Faber is an absolute blast. She’s resourceful and fun-loving and respectfully irreverent, and just careens through such an exciting time of history and exploration. There is so much real history woven through this, and the detail is absolutely astounding. Teachers? This series could become your best friend. Seriously. Next book comes out in October in the seas of the Far East, and I cannot wait.

This is a series I’ve mentioned before, but I absolutely love it. The Squire’s Tale by Gerald Morris starts us off on a ten-book adventure through King Arthur’s Camelot and the quests of the knights connected to the Round Table. These stories are told with humor and grace and an exquisite sensitivity that illuminates both the sorrows and the joys of life. The stories themselves are old, but the characters come alive and make you want to laugh and cry, sometimes even at the same time. Teachers, this is another on you want to look out for.

Next up is a Middle Grade series by Garth Nix, called The Keys to the Kingdom. I’ll be the first to admit, this series is bizarre, but in such a wonderful way. Strange and foreign and yet everything makes an odd kind of sense. Think Mirrormask meets Alice in Wonderland meets Nightmare Before Christmas. Seriously. It takes a healthy sense of weird to really appreciate this utterly unique world, but if you can swallow all the things you don’t understand and just immerse yourself completely, it’s the ride of a lifetime.

I was a little hesitant to start this next one, mainly because I really didn’t like the author’s first book, but Lauren Oliver’s Delirium was breathtaking in so many ways, not the least of which was the masterful portrayal of the push-me-pull-me sensation of teetering on a decision that will change all the rest of your life. It’s a terrifying position to be in, especially when you’re taught that love is a disease that destroys everything it touches and therefore must be cured. It pulled me in so completely I was stunned when I reached the end of it- and started swearing when I realized how long it was going to be before the next one came out (especially since I got an advance of this one, so I read it five months before it was even released). Look for the second one around February, most likely.

Pretty much anything Tamora Pierce goes on my summer reading list. I reread her again and again and again, because I just love her stories and her characters and her worlds so much. She’s got the third book in her Beka Cooper series coming out in October, Mastiff by name, and I can’t wait. Beka’s story is amazing, and her voice is stunning, that blend of Lower City cant and the gradual increase of intelligence and observation as she proceeds through her training. The fact that Beka, as a Provost’s Dog, is an ancrestress of Alanna’s George is…well, priceless, and given that it requires a mate of some sort to be an ancestor, it lets us wonder if perhaps George inherited his tendencies honestly- just not from Beka. Hopefully, this will be the book where we get to find out.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis came out in January, with A Million Suns to come out next year. It’s almost space opera meets murder mystery dinner theatre, and I mean that in such a fun way. The dust jacket includes a map of the ship. The society that has evolved on the ship as the intended occupants slumped in cryostasis is simultaneously simple and complex with more secrets than anyone knows to look for. I occasionally have issues, but I’m very much looking forward to what happens next, especially since there’s a vague sense of hopelessness that will linger from the previous book.

All of Rick Riordan’s Middle Grade books go on this list. The Percy Jackson books, along with its continuation of the Heroes of Olympus, makes me so ridiculously happy. I love mythology just as much as I love fairy tales, and I love books that get kids reading, and this series just…I love it. Same with the Kane Chronicles- Egyptian mythology is confusing as best, layered through itself many times over the millenia, but it becomes so clear, and Carter and Sadie’s banter and knife-sharp observations are brilliant. This is another set(s) for teachers to love, because it actually gets kids excited about the lessons. Heroes of Olympus continues in October with book two, Son of Neptune.

I’ve talked about the next one before- raved about it, really- but I’m still excited about this one. Veronica Roth’s Divergent was amazing, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Having to wait til May is kind of killing me. I put the review up here on the site, so feel free to hit that up for more gushing about how much I loved this book.

Of course, this list couldn’t possibly be complete without the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I could gush about this forever and maybe in another post I will, but this series rejuvenated the industry of kids lit. I won’t say it was dying before, but this gave it a huge boost because suddenly kids wanted to be reading. And it wasn’t just kids! Adults were suddenly discovering how amazing so many of these books are, and enjoying it for themselves and not just for their kids. If you haven’t read this series, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

If you’ve never read Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series, you’re in for a treat. Plots within plots and plans within plans, there isn’t a single thing in this series that can be taken for granted. It isn’t just court intrigue, it’s the intrigue of people and countries and hearts, as intensely personal as it is political. Everything has more than one way it can be taken, and the way we take it is so rarely the way it’s meant. These books will blow your mind.

This is another one you’ve seen here on the blog: Paranormalcy by Kierstin White. The second book, Supernaturally, comes out this July (another one of those books that’s going to keep me broke this summer) and I’m very much looking forward to it. Evie is bouncy and silly and a little bit scary and more than anything, just wants a normal life. It should be interesting to see what happens when she’s actually got it, or at least as close to it as she’s likely to get when she’s…well…Evie.

Last one, I promise! This is a little bit of an older one, but it made me fall in love with the Regency period. Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and its sequel The Magician’s Ward were amazing. The system of magic, the detail of everyday life, the dialect, the plots, the characterizations…loved everything about them. This was the series that made me fall in love with historical fiction. They were just rereleased together in a single volume, in print and in ebook, which makes me laugh a little over the weeks I spent trying to track down a pair that were in really good condition, but a fair number of libraries still have these, so do yourself the favor and check these out.

Don’t forget, drop me a note and let me know what your favorites are! What are you looking forward to this summer? What’s on your list?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine

May 16, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Elodie wants more than anything to be a mansioner and perform before crowds, and she leaves her farm in Lahnt to pursue an apprenticeship with the mansioners in Lepai’s capital town of Two Castles. When she gets, there, however, she learns that things are very different than they were on her farm. Cats are trained to steal and stalk ogres, people are not always to be trusted, ogres are not always to be feared, and dragons can be very prickly creatures, who never reveal their gender to anyone and must always be referred to as IT. Mysteries abound in Two Castles, and under the guidance of the dragon Meenore, she’ll learn to deduce and induce and unravel the puzzles that threaten the lives of those around her.

I love Gail Carson Levine; Ella Enchanted is one I reread several times a year. It’s one of my rainy afternoon I feel like crud books. That being said, I felt this one fell a little short.

Elodie is a wonderful character. She’s interesting and strong and forthright- which can help her as much as hinder her- and very clever. Her passion and talent for mansioning- acting- is very clear and leaks through into everything she does. It’s never far from her thoughts or actions. She practices the Two Castles dialect at every opportunity. She studies how people walk and talk, how they hold themselves. She makes the best of things; when circumstances don’t work out quite the way she expects (or hopes), she looks for the best options. She makes mistakes and she’s willing to learn from them, quite a rare trait in and of itself, and she tries to temper a trusting nature with common sense, to varying degrees of success. She’s a skilled actress, which serves her well on many occasions, but she’s also kind and sincere. She is by far the most clearly defined character.

Much of the plot revolves around the idea of people not being who or what they seem, of the mysterious actions people take and the reasons they take them. To do this, Levine purposefully keeps Elodie in the dark, keeps the other characters in a murky, nebulous state that is to be constantly questioned, re-evaluated, and still not clearly decided upon. For Elodie, it’s important. For the reader, a bit more clarity would be good. Readers are often allowed to know things that characters- even narrators- aren’t, and it would have been good for us to have a better handle on the characters. Not necessarily to know everything about them- that would ruin the surprise- but they should feel less mutable. Elodie exists in a sea of grey where the other characters are just names and faces. Occasional flashes peek through: Count Jonty Um, the ogre, is sweet and kind, despite his fearsome exterior, and while decidedly prickly, Meenore generally means well. But Goodwife Celeste, Goodman Dess, Master Thiel, Princess Renn…they’re significant to the story in every way, and yet, at the end, we know very little about them.

As always with Levine, however, the details are lovely, specifically the historical aspects like the mansioning- which was once performed in medieval times in caravans called mansions, in which each house represented a different portion and tenor of the play- and the clothing, right down to regional variations and the very normal fact of fleas and lice. The apprenticeships are also a fact, sometimes hard and seemingly unfair, but frequently the only way to get ahead. Right down to the details about the food and the money.

One of the running pieces that I really loved was Elodie’s continued- and silent- determination to try to guess Meenore’s gender. Meenore is referred to as IT through the entire piece, and as a title is called Masteress, which is a really nice combination of Master and Mistress that again speaks to the eye for detail present in all of Levine’s work.

What really disappointed me, and I’ll be appropriately vague here, is the ending. It was very…neat. Understandably, it’s a middle grade novel, so it’s not going to hit you in the face with anything, but I still expected there to be consequences for the actions taken. That there weren’t…well. All actions have consequences, especially actions as significant as those we see taken through this story, and I very much would have liked to see those. It’s unclear whether there’ll be a sequel to this. It’s definitely open to it, but at the same time, there’s no particular need for it to continue, so I suppose we’ll see.

This is one to give to the better readers, the ones patient enough to sift through all of the puzzles and not mind that most of the characters never really develop. The writing is enjoyable and Elodie is a wonderful narrator, so it’s a pleasant way to pass a few hours. Check it out if you’re a fan, but this isn’t going to be the book that hooks you on Gail Carson Levine.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Summer Series Soundoff

May 14, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, , , , )

Something I’ve noticed- in myself, as well as others- is that if we love a book, we almost always want more. We want more of the characters, more of the world, more of the story…just more. And almost always, when I’m giving book recs at work, I get asked if it’s a series.

Now, for some, this is a cautionary question, because if the answer is yes, they’ll ask if it’s a finished or ongoing series. There are a lot of people who refuse to read a series until it’s completed because they don’t want to have to wait six, twelve, eighteen months or longer for the next book (God help you if you’re a George R.R. Martin fan).

But for most, this is a mark of anticipation: if they trust me and try the book, if they love it, they want to know that there’ll be more. So, given that we’re coming into summer, schools are out, beaches and pools are beckoning, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite series, both completed and ongoing. This is by no means a complete list, and it’ll contain both Middle Grade and Young Adult, but I know many of these are on my list for this summer and for the two and a half straight weeks of glorious vacation that await me. Some are new releases, some are rereads, and here they are. They’re just in the order from my shelf, so don’t read too deeply into the order.

Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Titled by the first book, the second book, Trial by Fire is out this June, one of the many books that promises to keep me broke that month. Bryn is human, but she’s been Marked and quite literally raised by wolves (werewolves, that is) and now there’s a secret that threatens everything and everyone she loves, and everything she’s ever thought was true. This starts slowly with a lot of character building, but around page 200 or so suddenly takes off.

Gallagher Girls, by Ally Carter. There are four books in this series so far, with the fifth set to come out next year, and it cannot come soon enough. These books are ridiculously funny, and yet, as they proceed, they can get genuinely heart-breaking. And seriously, a girls school for spies? Priceless. The off the cuff references are amazing and absurd but the friendships- and the troubles- are very real.

Heist Society, also by Ally Carter, and the first of a series that feature high-class art thief Katarina Bishop, whose strong desire to escape the life and do something normal like boarding school gets rather abruptly derailed when a Very Bad Man thinks her father has stolen from him. This has a lot of the same humor as the Gallagher Girls, though it can cut a little sharper, with a distinct cast of characters and all the fun of old-time thief movies. Uncommon Criminals, the second book, is another one of my June-let’s-leave-Dot-with-no-food-money books.

Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices, by Cassandra Clare. Technically they’re two separate series, but they’re so interwoven we might as well give them a single entry. I’ve reviewed these books here on the blog and they’re amazing- so incredibly hard to put down until you reach the end and then so very tempting to hurl across the room. Do NOT pick up these books if you’re someone who hates cliffhangers. Next book adds to the ID trilogy, but not until December. So. Many. Months. Away.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Most people have heard of this one, either from the many, many people who’ve read it or from the hype from the upcoming movie, but this is really part of what kicked off the current dystopian trend. It is absolutely riveting, high stakes, high drama, high price that the characters consistently pay. Clear time for these. Once you pick up the first one, you’re going to want to go straight through all three.

Matched, by Ally Condie (also reviewed on here). The second book, Crossed, comes out in November. The second book promises to take us out of the cities, with their neat, tidy lives and delivered food and out into the outer provinces where the battles are still taking place. Cassia still has friends- dear friends- in the city, her family on one of the farms, and of course Ky- likely on the front lines of one of those continuing battles. Stakes are going to soar, people.

Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer (you can find that one in the archives, as well), with the second book, Wolfsbane scheduled for July. Another month that may break my bank. The end of the first left us in one heck of a cliffhanger (avoiding the spoilers), with the promise to pick right back up where we left off. Calla is no one’s pet- whatever struggles she’s going to find, she’ll approach them head on, with the promise of both Ren and Shay in the picture.

Mistwood, by Leah Cypess. Nightspell, due out at the end of May, is listed as a companion book to Mistwood, a novel that held me interested the entire time with its questions of the shifting nature of identity and loyalty. And now a novel that ventures into a land of ghosts? Want!

Chemical Garden Trilogy, by Lauren DeStefano. The first book, Wither, introduced us to a world where pursuit of the perfect genomes have changed humanity so greatly that all males die at the age of twenty-five, and all females at the age of twenty. People lead desperate lives, and families in pursuit of children steal multiple women to serve as brides and the bearers of children. Rhine Ellery has just been taken, and she’s determined not to give in to that captivity. The second book, with the newly announced title of Fever, will be out early next spring, and will continue Rhine’s drive to reunite with her twin brother Rowan.

Jessica Day George’s Princess books hold a very special place in my heart, partly because they have historical settings and partly because they’re fairy tale retellings. They’re told with grace and cleverness and a lovely attention to detail that makes them a joy to read again and again. The third title hasn’t been released yet, nor has the date, but the author has hinted that it involves a little girl with a red cape.

Jessica Day George has another set on here as well. I discovered Dragon Slippers from reading my way down the Sunshine State List a couple of years ago and absolutely fell in love with it. There’s something innately appealing about a heroine who sews and embroiders and isn’t seen as remotely weak for it. And it has dragons! Dragons with hordes that I frankly love, and humor and bittersweetness and grand adventure. I started reading the book so I could talk about it to teachers and parents, but that was not at all what made me go back to the store the same day and get the other two.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins. First two books are out, with the third (title not yet released) slated for a March release. These books crack me up. Sophie Mercer is the voice inside my head that isn’t often allowed to come out when I’m on the clock at work, wise-cracking and sarcastic and trying a little too hard to use humor to mask the fear. The nature of magic users and magical beasties is a fun one, and the tension ratchets up in the second one when we get normal teenage angst, boy angst, betrayed by boy and possibly about to be killed by him angst, identity oh my god what kind of creature am I angst, and- everyone’s favorite- Extreme Daddy Angst. Wickedly funny.

The Redwall series by Brian Jacques. I cannot give this series enough love, they are the books that shaped me as a reader and a writer. There are individual books that I don’t love as much, but then there are others that I’ve reread so many times that my paperbacks literally fell apart. They have humor and warmth and sorrow and struggles and absolutely unforgettable characters. They have songs and poems and such amazing food (there’s actually a cookbook- this should tell you something). If you have children, these make amazing bedtime stories to split with a chapter or two a night, the absolute perfect books to read aloud- which is what they were originally designed to be.

The Theatra llluminata series by Lisa Mantchev. So, SO many reasons to love these books. I’m a theatre junkie, I competed in it all through middle school and high school, pursued it in college, still have a love for it, so the tale of a girl who grew up in the theatre of all theatres, where the characters of all the plays actually exist? Amazing! Especially given that some of the pieces are actually written in play format. Third book, So Silver Bright, comes out in September, and I think this is the final book. Which makes me a little sad. But also, very happy, because that means more Bertie, more Nate, more Ariel, and best of all, more fairies.

Last up on this section (I’ll be splitting this into two parts to keep it from being riduclously long), the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr, with the first book possessed of the same title. This series is complete at five titles, and take an amazing look at just how dark many of the original Celtic faeries actually were. It’s all about power and Courts and alliances and the dark, feral forces that stalk through and around us. This isn’t a series with much lightness and the moments of softness, of laughter, are hard won and few and far between. Dark and gorgeous and exquisitely painful, this is an absolutely amazing series.

What are some series you love? What are you looking forward to reading this summer? Let me know below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Firelight, by Sophie Jordan

May 12, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Jacinda is a draki, a descendant of dragons, and the first fire-breather born into her pride in over four hundred years. The pride would plan her entire life, right down to mating her to Cassian, son of the alpha, but Jacinda wants nothing more than to fly free. The hunters make this dangerous, and when Jacinda is nearly captured by a group of hunters, she knows there will be consequences to face for breaking the rules. What she doesn’t know, and what her mother desperately wants to keep her from ever finding out, is just how serious those consequences will be. She takes Jacinda and her twin Tamra, who never manifested with a draki form, far away from the pride to a desert town where they’ll be safe.
And where Jacinda’s draki will die.

We start out with an immediate introduction to the draki and a very good idea of the dangers they face: Jacinda and her best friend Azure are sneaking a sunrise flight, when the rules of the pack allow flights only in the night when they can’t be seen by the hunters that threaten them. It’s a beautiful scene, though, with Jacinda’s love of sun on her scales and the wonder of flight written so clearly, so evocatively, that we almost feel like we’re flying ourselves. And then, immediately, there’s the danger: a group of hunters, a riveting chase sequence, and the very real chance of capture. Except- one of the hunters, a boy who actually sees and touches Jacinda within her hiding place, doesn’t turn her over.

Jacinda knows what her life in the pride will be, even if she fights against it. She knows that, as the only firebreather, she’s valuable, and she knows what that means for her pride. And there’s a part of her that remembers what it was like to be friends with Cassian, before she manifested and their lives change. There’s a part of her that could be happy within that life, however much of a cage it feels, because at least she’ll still get to fly, still get to feel the draki armor flash across her skin in ripples of red and gold.

And then the desert. The draki are creatures of earth and sky; they draw strength from rich, arable earth and the gems it yields. Hot, dry places, the lands with no life to them, kill the draki within the human form. Jacinda’s twin sister has no draki, a lack of manifestation as sometimes occurs, and their mother purposefully allowed her draki to die by choosing not to manifest. They go to the desert to take Jacinda from the pride and they fully intend to stay there for one very important reason: to let Jacinda’s draki die.

That struggle truly is the driving force of this novel. The draki can exist in human form- a secret carefully guarded from both the hunters and their enemies, the enkros (about whom we learn very little)- but the way they actually live is with both human and draki intertwined. Each is a different side of the other, but it’s only with both that they’re complete. For Tamra, the thought of this is only ever bitter, as it’s something she will never experience, and their mother was never fond of manifesting, so neither of them truly understand what this does to Jacinda. They don’t understand the genuine physical pain or the emotional trauma that comes of knowing that so essential a part of yourself is literally dying.

And Jacinda isn’t one to simply accept that. She fights it, struggles against the changes with such passion it’s sometimes painful to read, because this is who and what she is, every bit of her. She sneaks away, she finds the places where she can push herself into the manifestation, even when it’s painful and difficult, because she genuinely can’t do anything else. Her struggle is amazing and beautiful- and captivating. We feel her cage, her itchy skin. The thing is, we also feel her love for her family, and her inability to just hop a bus and leave to go back to the pride. She wants her sister to be happy, to have the things and the normal life she could never have had within the pride. Although, I’ll be honest, I kind of wanted to kick Tamra’s butt eight ways to Sunday. There’s almost never a point where it isn’t about her and what she wants and what she hasn’t had, and she blames Jacinda for any setback in her goals to have that normal life. She’s selfish, and she blatantly ignores the fact that Jacinda was never to blame for being a firebreather or for Tamra not manifesting. I pretty much hate Tamra, so the fact that I understand Jacinda’s sometimes exasperated love for her twin is quite an accomplishment in writing.

Will is an interesting character, a hunter who feels a strong connection to Jacinda in either form, and the boy who makes Jacinda’s draki spontaneously manifest. That connection is baffling to Jacinda, and she knows its dangerous for a lot of reasons: manifesting around ordinary humans would be dangerous enough, but in front of a hunter? Especially a hunter with hunt-loving cousins as thoroughly creepy as Will’s. On the other hand, Will seems like a nice guy (if a bit bi-polar in his moods- Edward Cullen effect anyone?), he’s really hot, and most importantly, he’s the one thing that gives her draki the strength to keep surviving against this hot, dry desert. If she stays around him, she may be discovered and killed. If she doesn’t stay around him, her draki will wither and die.

Will’s side of it I don’t entirely get. Given what he know of his talents, the skills that make him such an exceptional hunter, wouldn’t he find that connection suspcious? (I know, I know, I’m hopelessly unromantic)

I also wanted to know more about Cassian. What we know of him is through Jacinda’s eyes, so obviously we’re under quite a bit of a bias. She sees him as stiff and proprietary, but she does remember when they used to be friends, and part of her misses that simpler time. Still, he gives her time, and he seems to genuinely care for her, even if he can be a bit exasperated with her sometimes. He seems to feel his responsibility as the alpha’s son very keenly, a duty that can make young men stiff if they come to it at an early enough age, so there’s so much more I wanted to see of him. I’m assuming we’ll get much more Cassian in the next book, but I almost always get the most curious about the characters we’re supposed to dismiss as obstacles.

There actually isn’t all that much action in this book. It starts with a bang and finishes with one, and there are moments of tight tension that string through like a steady tremor under the skin, but most of that tension comes directly from Jacinda’s struggle to keep her draki alive despite the danger and the almost impossible odds. And I loved it. I loved the pain and the despair and the terrible, terrible hope of that struggle.

And may I just say- I was friends with some cheerleaders in high school, they were very good people, and some of them were really quite smart when they got away from the pod, but there’s a part of me that just jumps with joy every time someone feeds a boatload of sass to a snotty, catty, cheerleading diva.

The second book, Vanish comes out in September, so definitely keep your eyes peeled for what promises to be a riveting follow-up (and an equally gorgeous cover!- here, take a peek).

Until next time~
Cheers!

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