Book Review: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You

February 29, 2012 at 6:49 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Cammie Morgan and her classmates arrive at school in limos. They have a five-star chef prepare their meals, their school is on gorgeous grounds, and the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women caters to a very select clientele.
They’re not Society darlings.
They’re spies- or at least they will be someday. For now, it’s learning, training, and living under a deep cover as spoiled prep school princesses for the benefit of the nearby town. These girls can speak fourteen different languages, defuse a bomb with a bobby pin and a gum wrapper, and know seven different ways to incapicate a grown men with a pinky finger, but there is one very important thing they don’t know: boys.
As Covert Ops takes them deep into the enemy territory of town, Cammie and her friends will undertake the mission of their life: boy meets girl.

I have a confession to make: this is one of the best books I almost missed. The first two books were out when I started working at a bookstore and I saw them. Saw them and thought they looked really hokey. I’m not even really sure why. It was probably a combination of my not reading much contemporary, the ransom note letters, the prep school uniform, and the light-and-fluffy vibe I got from reading the back. I didn’t take the book home.

Yet, anyway. Then, about two weeks before the third book came out, I started compiling my very first agent query list. I researched a slew of agents and books/author they represented, and it was while on Kristin Nelson’s site that I saw these books again. At that point I figured why not, the first two books are in paperback, they’re cheap, I get a discount, I’ll give them a try to get a taste of what that agent likes.

Will it surprise anyone that I devoured both books that night and then danced impatiently for the next two weeks until the third one came in?

I LOVED THEM.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You is the first book of the Gallagher Girls series. We’re introduced to the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a campus with as many secrets as its students. Within the high gates and manicured lawns is a beyond-state-of-the-art security and surveillance system. There’s a board outside the cafeteria that tells them which language they’re allowed to speak at meals, and their classes have names like Culture and Assimilation, Countries of the World, and Covert Operations. Gallagher Girls are all over the world, in a number of high places.

Cammie Morgan is a legacy- her mother, father, and aunt are all spies, even if her mother has stepped into a less active role to be Headmistress, and…well…her father’s been missing for a while. It’s not something they talk about. It’s understood that spies don’t always come back, but the uncertainty makes it hard to bear. In spy lingo, Cammie is a pavement artist, a chameleon who disappears in plain sight, who blends in perfectly to her surroundings, which makes her ideal for conducting surveillance. She’s proud of her school’s history and can’t wait for the day she can take a more active role in the Gallagher Girl legacy.

Coming into sophomore year, we also have best friends Liz Sutton (total Brainiac and all around genius) and Bex Baxter (Gallagher’s first British student and quite capable of kicking serious butt). It’s their sophomore year, the year they finally get to go to Sub-Level One for their first CoveOps class, and when the year starts the school is abuzz with the simple mysteries of what Mister Smith’s new face will be and the identity of the new teacher.

First shock of the year? New teacher is HOT. As in these teenage girls have no idea how to deal with the level of hotness HOT. And he’s got a history with Cammie’s mom.

Second shock of the year? New student Macey McHenry, daughter of a high-profile Senator and socialite, kicked out of more private schools than most of the girls could name, and Rebel with a major attitude. The girls aren’t too sure what to make of their new roommate at first, and Macey couldn’t care less.

Then comes Shock Number Three: on a CoveOps assignment in town, someone sees Cammie even though she’s in full chameleon mode. A BOY sees her- and wants to see her some more. Suddenly, Macey is a valuable resource because she knows how to talk Boy. Enter? Operatives Morgan, Sutton, Baxter, and McHenry, and a mission they have to keep secret from an entire school of people trained to ferret out secrets.

This book cracks me up. This is one I reread several times a year because I just love it that much.

If the spy school premise occasionally goes a little far- “once sweet-talked a Russian dignitary into dressing in drag and carrying a beach ball full of liquid nitrogen under his shirt like a pregnant lady”- that’s okay. Ally Carter is fully on board with the camp. There are moments that are ridiculous and absurd and utterly delightful, absolute fluff in the grand scheme of things.

Then there are the pieces that could take place in any school or setting, the universal story that weaves through Cammie’s. As she gets older, Cammie has to negotiate a changing relationship with her mother- as both parent and Headmistress- and opens her eyes to a world that can be a lot scarier than she realized. Spywork isn’t just fun and cool- it’s also dangerous. There’s friction with the new roommate. And, of course, there’s the boy.

Josh is sweet and endearing and completely normal- normal means something rather different for Gallagher Girls. Just communicating with him is harder than translating War and Peace from Russian into Farsi. There’s coming up with a cover, a story to convince him she’s just a normal girl. And there’s trying to figure out where a boy and a relationship fit into everything else. How do you juggle school and family and friends and a boy- oh, and sneak off a campus better equipped than most Federal buildings?

The answer is pure gold.

And if you love this one, check out the rest of the books in the series: Cross My Heart And Hope to Spy, Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover, Only the Good Spy Young, and Out of Sight, Out of Time out in stores 13 March 2013.

Want to win a copy of this book? It’s one of the prizes in my Double Celebration Giveaway, which you can enter here.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Double Celebration Giveaway!!!

February 26, 2012 at 11:59 am (Giveaway) (, , , , , , , )

And yes, all three exlamation points are necessary, I promise.

Like the title suggests, I have TWO great reasons to celebrate, which means if you choose to celebrate with me, you get entered for awesome prizes.

Reason Number One: I HAVE BEEN BLOGGING FOR A FULL YEAR NOW.

That’s right, we just hit my blog anniversary! A full year of reviews and writing talk and occasional nonsensical rants. Honestly, I’m a little amazed I didn’t give up on it back when the stats were entirely dismal- I’m a positive reinforcement kind of person- but I realized I was having so much fun I almost didn’t care if other people were seeing it or not (almost- I do care about you and what you think, but I wouldn’t stop posting even if you begged me to- this is release, people). It’s also been a great form of discipline for me, to have to abide by a regular schedule of writing and posting in the midst of so much research. Y’all have been wonderful with comments and shares, so this is a huge thank you to you for supporting this effort.

And, Reason Number Two: I SIGNED WITH AN AGENT.

Yes! It’s truth! Earlier this month I signed with the Fabulous Sandy Lu at L. Perkins Agency and I’m still over the moon about it. And if I’m honest, there’s a small part of me that expects to wake up and it’s still the end of January in the query trenches (better known as Query Hell sometimes). After three years of querying three differents projects (never at the same time, that’s a very bad idea), the slush pile pushed me forward and now everything is a giant step closer to Dreams Coming True. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a LOT of work from this point out, but if you don’t celebrate the milestones, how can you really measure progress?

SO I’M CELEBRATING WITH YOU!

I have four- count them FOUR- prize packs up for grabs.

Prize Pack 1: Thieves and Spies
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
I’d Tell You I Love You But I’d Have to Kill You, also by Ally Carter

Prize Pack 2: Shapeshifters
Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer
Firelight, by Sophie Jordan

Prize Pack 3: Arranged Marriages
Matched, by Ally Condie
The Selection, by Kiera Cass (ARC)

Prize Pack 4: Swag Bundle!
-swag, some signed some not, from Kathleen Peacock (Hemlock), Jill Hathaway (Slide), Nova Ren Suma (Imaginary Girls), Sophie Jordan (Firelight and Vanish), Hannah Moskowitz (Break and Invincible Summer), Leah Cypess (Nightspell and Mistwood, Jodi Meadows (Incarnate), and Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games).

U.S. only (sorry, but shipping is expensive and my post office is staffed with very rude people).

ENTRY RULES:
-Actual Entry: comment below and tell me what book you’re most looking forward to in 2012. Doesn’t even have to be YA or MG, just whatever book makes you dance in place wishing it would come out NOW because you can’t possibly wait until release.
-Extra Entries: (completely self-serving and shamelessly self-promoting, I admit)
-Follow this blog (if you already do, just say you do)
-Follow me on Twitter (@dothutchison ; same as above, if you already follow me, just say so)
-Tweet about this giveaway! (and include the link below)
Those are extra entries, and completely up to you whether you want to do them or not, but the option’s there. The only thing you HAVE to do to be entered is leave the comment.
-Entries accepted through Saturday, 10 March which makes it open for two weeks.

AND THANK YOU FOR CELEBRATING WITH ME!
Y’all are at least half the reason I have anything to celebrate today, and I am so grateful to you for that.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Pandemonium, by Lauren Oliver

February 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

WARNING: This is the second of a series, so if you haven’t read Delirium yet, you should probably go read that instead of this review.

Lena did the impossible: she survived. She made it out of Portland, away from the cure and the expectations and the empty life stretching before her, and into the Wilds and freedom. She made it- but Alex didn’t. Lena Haloway died in the flames with him, and a strange new creature has emerged in her place. In the unforgiving hardships of the Wilds and all the lays beyond, a new Lena will have to grow and stand tall, to find her place. Once, love was worth dying for. Now she’ll have to decide if love is worth fighting for.

I loved Delirium. Beyond the ability of words to express, I loved the first book. So much so I’m scared to reread it for fear I won’t love it as much the second time. And for fear that I’ll love it even more and I’m already incoherent about it. So I was a little scared coming into the second book. I didn’t want to expect too much of it, because any time I get myself too excited for a book, I get myself waaaaaay too hyped up.

And at first, as I read the first few chapters, I was a bit worried that I was right to be afraid.

Then I kept going and OH MY GOD.

It’s a little difficult to talk about this book because it would be so easy to give things away, and that would be criminal. It is, in every way, a worthy successor, more than just a middle book in a trilogy because it genuinely succeeds in growing.

What initially threw me off was this book passes back and forth between two timelines, each told in present tense. It’s not merely flashback- it wouldn’t be possible to separate the two halves of the book and reconfigure them into a more linear flow. Despite a separation of months between them, the two lines actually build upon each other, not just in the lessons learned that become lessons applied, but even in the word choice.

What carries me away more than anything- more than the characters, more than the story- is the actual writing. While the frequent lack of contractions in the narrative throws me sometimes, the imagery is so clear and precise that the words wrap around you from the page, simply envelop you. That it so ably combines poetry with coarseness is astonishing, but it does. In the broad sweep of just a few sentences we have the electric imagery of a city alive with light- and bird shit. And yet it all goes together. The image or metaphor that ends one chapter of a specific timeline is frequently what springs us into the next, in the other timeline. The lessons Lena forcibly learns in the previous timeline she’s forced to put into motion in the present timeline, and for all the separation of months, it feels seamless.

In the first book, we learned of how brittle the construct we call a person can be, how much of a shell exists- as well as the emotions that can be poured into that empty voice. Here, we learn the darker aspects of the soul. Where we learned of love as a product of the deliria, now we learn also of the flip side of passion: hatred. We learn fierceness, we learn strength. We learn of survival and the deep cost it bears, the scars it leaves. And over and over we’re given reinforcement of just how fragile we are, despite all our posturing or attempts to seem otherwise. We see the spines and prickles of attitude, we see the valiance and courage of protecting others- and we see what that kind of fierce survivalism can turn us into.

I’m not going to tell you anything of what actually happens- it’s really not possible to do that without giving away valauble, integral pieces. Pandemonium comes out 28 February 2012, just around the corner, so if you haven’t read Delirium yet, rush out and do it now. These books are not to be missed.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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How Much Is Too Much?

February 19, 2012 at 10:00 am (Writing) (, , , )

(With help from our friendly neighborhood lolcats)

I’ve been doing some research lately.

A lot of research.

A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT of research.

As in, I started doing this research back at the end of June. I have five hundred something pages of notes, without even counting the printed off pictures and the marked up maps. That’s straight research, not even planning or character notes or anything (those are in a separate notebook).

And at some point I started wondering: am I procrastinating?

You probably know the feeling. That vague itching in the back of your skull that whispers that you’re finding more to research just to put off having to actually start. It’s avoidance. It’s fear. It’s laziness.

At first it was easy to tell the voice to stfu. After all, my topics for this project require a ton of research. There are a lot of details that have to be right, questions of timing and politics and did this exist and such not. In a well written historical, you don’t notice all the details that make the time period come alive. Get one of those details wrong? You notice. And it’s important to tackle a subject from more than one source, because sometimes new data is unearthed or an author’s bias skews the information past use, and some offer interesting pieces that others don’t.

But as the stack of notes got taller and taller and the list of finished books got longer and longer, not to mention the list of books yet to attack, the voice got a little more persistent. A little harder to ignore. Every time I found a new piece of information, something that would actually make a difference in the story, I told myself I was on the right track. After all, I’d know if I were actually finished, right? If I had enough information to write the story, I’d be writing it.

Passing the seven month mark made me sit back and try to look at it a bit more objectively. Less defensively.

It surprised me how quiet the voice was.

Do I have more information than I need? Absolutely. Even when I started skimming sections that don’t directly affect my storyline, and stopped writing down things I already had from five different sources, I still have more pertinent information than I can ever hope to filter in. It can be a benefit though; the more times I write a thing down, the easier it is to remember it without reference. These are the things I can weave through naturally because the knowledge feels as much a part of me as the story does. It’s that much less to doublecheck as I write. I’m also finding the things I don’t need.

For example, I annotated an entire biography before I realized that my character wasn’t going to have nearly as much contact with that person as I’d originally thought. Frustrating…but wait! How many people is my character going to be talking to who DO have constant contact with that person? It’s still useful information. Not as useful as I’d hoped, but still useful.

The past couple of weeks, the whole argument felt different, like suddenly that little voice was on shaky ground and I was winning.

And then? I got proof.

The library has always been a dear friend to me, but it’s become especially useful these past months. I bought a few of the books that I thought I’d use frequently but it seemed silly (and out of my means) to buy books I’d be taking such thorough notes on if it was just for one project. I’ve gone to the library again and again, finding different books or having books sent from other branches. Plus, I had the good fortune to hit upon a topic near and dear to my father’s heart, so he sent me a handful of books he thought I’d find useful. (I did) Last weekend, on the way to my mother’s for family dinner, I stopped by one of the other branches to browse through their selection.

And I came away empty-handed.

Oh, there were books that seemed interesting, books I’ll want to scan through some other time for my personal edification, but nothing I felt was necessary or particularly relevant to what I need.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

Just a couple more books, and then I can actually throw myself headlong into planning and then, just a very short time later, into *gasp* actual writing.

So in a way, I was right when I kept telling that little voice to shut up. I would know when I was ready to stop doing research. It just took a little longer than I expected it to.

So my question is: how do you know when it’s time to start writing?

And how do you deal with the doubt that comes with the question?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: The Selection, by Kiera Cass

February 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

For 35 girls, it’s the chance of a lifetime. A way to elevate their castes, to secure a life of luxury and responsibility. To become princess, then queen. For 35 girls, the chance. For one, the reality. Provided, of course, that they make it through the Selection. For America Singer, it’s a misery. Separated from her family, dumped by the boy she loves, the Selection is a constant reinforcement that she’s of a lower caste than the other girls, that she’s the only one who doesn’t look at Prince Maxon as a prize. Then she actually gets to know Maxon, and realizes she might not be as indifferent as she thought.

If you search for information about this book, one of the tags you’ll see is “The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor”. Well- less on The Hunger Games, more on The Bachelor. Is it a dystopian? In the increasingly broad sense of the word needed to apply to a lot of current books, yes, sort of. I think rather than dystopian I would probably call it an alternative future.

The United States as we know it is dead, lost to debt crisis and a war, then a revolution that converts the American continents to the kingdom of Illea. Society has been divided geographically into Provinces and socially into castes. Your caste doesn’t determine only your relative position in society- it also determines what you do. America is a five, which means she’s part of the artist caste: musicians, painters, sculptors, and such not. Things get tight sometimes, but her family generally has enough to get by. The same can’t be said for Aspen, the boy she loves.

Aspen is a six, a member of the servant class, but there aren’t always enough jobs to go around. For them to be together is a dream, but a painful one. For America it means going down in caste, facing a life of never having enough, of their future children never having enough. But it means being with Aspen. Until she enters her name into the Selection pool- at Aspen’s urging- for the chance of a better life. She doesn’t think there’s any chance of being Selected, not out of millions of girls across the country, but both Aspen and her family beg her to do it.

I’ll admit right out, I don’t watch the Bachelor. I have my guilty television pleasures but that is one show I have never been able to sit and watch. It’s a mental block, really. I hated watching the girls in high school and college do stupid things to compete over boys they barely knew. The idea of watching grown men and women do it on television kind of made my skin crawl. There’s a falseness to it, because you just know people are manipulating and scheming, making sure to present a certain image to the prize and to the camera. This book is very much the Bachelor for a Young Adult audience, complete with catty ladies, publicity stunts, and second-guessing.

That being said, it’s not a bad thing. You just have to accept it for what it is.

Through the story, we get reports of rebel activity- two different types of rebels- including a couple of attacks on the palace, but no information about the rebels want or what they’re after. They’re fleeting events, but they’re also the only action not directly connected to the winnowing down of the Selected girls and the cattiness and tentative friendships therein. For those wanting an intense read, something that makes you care passionately about the characters and keeps you on the edge of your seat- this isn’t it. BUT, for those wanting a romantic romp that stays mostly on the surface, this is ideal. It’s entertaining and it’s fun to read.

Prince Maxon is naive and well-intentioned, politically intelligent but socially isolated to an extent. He’s sweet, but he’s also a prize. For all that the Selection is the way the princes have found their brides since the founding of Illea, what it really comes down to is girls competing to be chosen for a crown and a title. He can’t look just for a bride- he has to find a partner, someone who can bear the responsibilities and the duties that come with the crown. Plus, there’s the reality television factor to consider; if you’re going to televise all the proceedings, you have to take a certain amount of public response into account. The other girls make impressions as well, from the sweet and friendly to the catty drama queens out for blood.

America, though, doesn’t really rise above merely bland. She edges into a lot of directions- potentially intriguing directions- but the overwhelming and inevitable march of the Selection keeps us from being able to see her explore those possibilities. She edges into protecting those less fortunate, edges into being politically aware, edges into being a leader, but she doesn’t get to follow any of them. Rather than raising the stakes by pursuing the rebels and making them a distinct threat, the focus is single-mindedly attached to the process of choosing the future bride. I’d love to see more of the music that’s supposed to be such a part of her life, and I’d love to see her be a distinct personality.

This is one of those books in which there’s a Very Important Thing that I Can’t Talk About because of Spoilers, but it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m picky about relationships in books, largely because characters are the things that drive me as a reader. And there is something very, very frustrating about one of the relationships in this book, something a little bit callous and a little bit cruel, something incredibly off-putting that actually made me think about putting the book down barely two chapters from the end. And I Can’t Talk About it. *argh* (after the next book I’ll be able to Talk About it, I swear)

This book is, for the most part, a fun way to spend the afternoon. It’s an entertaining read, but ultimately never rises above the light and fluffy. Hopefully in its sequels we’ll get some more depth and more action connected to the mysterious rebel forces.

The Selection, by Kiera Cass, out in stores 24 April 2012.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Vice and Virtue Challenge

February 12, 2012 at 11:00 am (Writing) (, , , )

A few days ago I was talking with my friend Casey and the topic of character traits came up, specifically vices and virtues, and she pointed me to the Tumblr she does with some fellow writers.

Give yourself time to go through this one- it is work intensive, but totally worth it.

Because what it comes down to (short version) is that characters are constructs of various vices and virtues that work both in tandem and in opposition. By understanding these trait sets, you come to understand your character a lot better.

The easiest way to approach it is to copy the lists over into a word file and just delete each trait that doesn’t fit until you have a finished list. Then find the dominant traits and find the pieces that naturally pair together. For example, someone who has honesty as a dominant trait may also have tactlessness as a dominant vice (or perhaps simply as a negative trait rather than a vice). (All of this is explained in the tumblr post, I promise)

It gives you interesting insight into your characters, but I challenge you to take it a step further.

Ready? Got pen and paper (or word file) handy?

Do it THREE TIMES.

Seriously.

The first time through, do it as the writer, as the omniscient creator of worlds and the inventor of all the little humans (or otherwise) populating said world. You know these characters better than they will ever know themselves and each other, so be thorough in documenting their separate parts.

Then put the list aside and do it again.

This time, do it as your character. When he or she does a self-evaluation, what does he or she see? What does he or she genuinely believe about his or herself? Because as people, we tend to delude ourselves. We think of ourselves as better or worse, or maybe just different. Kind of like how every housecat secretly thinks it’s a panther. So find out how your character sees his or herself.

Then put the list aside- it’s not time yet to compare them- and do it again.

The third time, pick a general consensus among your other characters and delete the traits based on how others see your character. If you wanted to- if you really just have that much free time- you could theoretically do this for every character’s perspective, but people generally fall into groups of ideologies or opinions, so you could pick one or a couple and still come out ahead.

Done with that one?

Good. Take 2 and 3 and set them side by side.

What’s the same? More tellingly, what’s different? Does your character think he’s outrageously generous but other characters think he’s more tight-fisted than Scrooge? Does your character think she’s perspicacious but others think her patently self-delusional? But again, where are they the same? Does your character think of himself as compassionate and others agree?

Now bring list 1 back around, and do the same thing. Compare them side by side and find all the similarities and differences.

Your character, as he or she steps out onto the page, is mostly likely somewhere between the three. Think of it like a really fancy Venn diagram. How your character behaves is based on a mix of how they (sorry, I’m taking the grammatically incorrect shortcut from here on out) see themselves and how you as the God Of Your Universe sees them. BUT, mixed into that is also how other people perceive them and treat them, and your character’s reaction to that.

You might be surprised at what comes out of the process. And feel free to share below any revelations or tips! Any patterns you see, etc.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

February 8, 2012 at 6:08 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , )

If I really like a book, chances are fairly high that I will reread it at least once a year. If I really love a book, chances are extremely high that I will reread it several times in a year. These are the books that I can pick up at any time, from any point in the book, and simply lose myself in the familiar pages.

I was super-stressed this past week. There was a lot that was up in the air and I’m not necessarily the best with up-in-the-airness. I like to have all my ducks in a row, to have things settled, and to know exactly where things (and people) stand. I’m fine with the fact that all these things will change with circumstances, but I still like knowing that things are settled. This was not a week of being settled or knowing where things stood. This was a week of high stress, scattered thoughts, highs and lows, and just a ton of things going on from a variety of fronts. So, lacking the focus to do anything productive, equally lacking the mental ability to tackle a new book, I turned to one of my stand-bys.

This weekend, I reread Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, and loved just as much as I do every other time. For anyone who’s never heard of this Newbery Honor Winner:

A gift given by a demented fairy never amounts to much good, to which Ella can atest. When she cried through her first hour of life, the fairy Lucinda gave her the “gift” of obedience; Ella has to obey a direct order, no matter what it is. But Ella isn’t about to let that run her life. This spirited girl throws herself head-first into a world of mercenary fathers, finishing school tyrants, dangers of the road, horrid step-familys, dear friends, and a chance for true love that might come at a terrible cost, all with an indefagitable spirit and charm that no curse can ever break.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I read this book, just that I fell in love with it then. It was probably the beginning of my deep and abiding love for fairy tale retellings and I remember thinking that is was so clever! It actually answered one of my long-term issues with the story of Cinderella: why does the she stay and slave for the step-family? If she’s simply accepting that this is her lot in life, it makes me think she’s passive and boring and why would I bother with that? And if she’s spunky and feisty, why doesn’t she just go off and do her own thing? This book actually gives answers to that question, and does so ingeniously.

Ella is an amazing character. She’s self-aware, honest about her faults but also of her virtues, and she looks at the world through open eyes. She’s practical, sometimes a little petty, wonderfully imaginative, and genuinely good hearted. Most of all, she’s strong-spirited. Her life has been shaped by the curse but she doesn’t let it define her. Or rather, she doesn’t let it run her. In everything she does, every person she encounters, the curse is a danger and a risk, but she works around that. She plays games with its limitations, testing it for loopholes or managing to frustrate the true intentions of the person giving the order. She constantly seeks for a way to break it. But she lives her life. She makes friends, she learns languages, and when forced to do something, she grimly gets through it and uses that experience down the road. She’s funny, a little silly, and painfully brave. And sometimes holds grudges. In other words, she’s very real, the kind of character who steps off the page and when I finish the book I’m always a little surprised that there isn’t a living breathing Ella sitting right next to me.

Most of the additional characters are well-rounded and dynamic, full of shades that make it difficult to say (for most) that they’re either good or evil. The charming prince can be stiff, formal, and unforgiving. But he also slides down stair rails, delights in someone who can make him laugh, and does unthinking kind deeds. Hattie, the elder step-sister, is a miserable little shrew and her mother, Dame Olga, a fatter and shriller version obsessed with money and clothing, but Olive, the younger step-sister, is charmingly simple. Stupid, yes, undeniably so, but there’s actually something a little sweet in her vapidity. She may be greedy but unlike her mother and sister, she isn’t cruel, either; she just lacks the mental capacity (and environment) to encourage her to better herself. Mandy, Ella’s cook and fairy-godmother, both delights and frustrates Ella. Mandy is bossy, straight-forward, protective, bold, loving, and refuses to practice Big Magics, leaving that sort of thing to the foolish Lucinda. She’s also intensely loyal and maybe a little vindictive. Even Ella’s father, Sir Peter, has flashes of promise within his stony parts. He’s greedy, manipulative, stubborn, with a large potential for violence, and doesn’t hesitate to cheat, swindle, or downright steal, nor does he think twice about auctioning his daughter off to the highest bidder, but there are times- tiny moments, just a spark gone before you can really see it too clearly- where you see the man Ella’s mother fell in love with. When he actually shows pride in his daughter, or delight in her company, without an ulterior motive.

This book is also just plain fun to read. Ella narrates, with the same spirit with which she approaches everything else. There are points where you’re actually laughing out loud at her wit and humor, but her pared down honesty also translates the griefs and disappointments. When she’s hungry, there’s a sharp climb in the amount of food-related descriptions. Then there are the languages. In addition to her native Kyrrian, Ella also has samplings of Gnomish, Ogrese, Giant(ese?), and Ayorthan, each of which has distinct rules and appearances and some of which are so bizarre you can’t help but laugh when you see them on the page.

This is a book that has gotten me through house-fires, first heartaches, school stresses, horrid co-workers or roommates, ill health, crap paychecks, sick cats, and so much. It is a delight to read and a joy to reread, and remains the foundation of my rereading library.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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I Don’t Want To Be A Writer

February 5, 2012 at 11:00 am (Writing) (, , )

The bookstore is a natural habitat for writers. While doing rounds of customer service or answering phone calls or ringing people out, there’s at least one person every day who tells me “I want to write” or “I want to be a writer”. They check over the books on writing, the Markets, the notebooks, and they dream about writing.

And I call shenanigans.

Because you don’t want to write. You write.

You put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and you write. Aside from all question of skill or talent (and they are different), aside from any thought of craft or polish, you can write. So long as you can communicate in any way, even in dictation to a person or program, you can write.

No matter how busy your schedule or how hectic your life, you can make the time to write. Even if it’s just a few minutes here and there.

Saying “I want to write” is an excuse. It’s an admission of your decision, perhaps subconscious, to let it remain a dream.

So don’t want to write.

Just write.

In everything about this craft you’ve chosen to pursue, that is the one thing you can control. Publishing? Publishing requires a lot of external forces. You can work and work hard but there’s never a guarantee, because the process of getting published requires so many other people. It makes sense to say “I want to be published” or “I want to be a writer” because that’s something over which you do not exert complete control.

But what you can control is what you do to help that dream come through. Don’t allow yourself the excuses or the procrastination or the niggling doubts. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it or shouldn’t do it. Just do it.

I don’t want to be a writer.

I am a writer.

Because I write.

So write.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare

February 1, 2012 at 10:36 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

This is the second book in a series, so if you haven’t read the first one, Clockwork Angel, there will be spoilers below.

Despite all their efforts, Tessa and the Shadowhunters of the London Institute are no closer to finding the Magister, nor to Tessa’s unusual origins. Now an ultimatum from the Council leaves them only two weeks to find Mortmain or the Institute will be taken from Charlotte and Henry’s hands and Tessa will be easy prey for the Magister. Along with self-destructive, charmingly offensive Will, gentle and ailing Jem, and the ever-pouting Jessamine, they’ll have to understand why the Magister is at war with the Shadowhunters if they’re to have any hope of deflecting his purpose.

Every time I read one of Cassandra Clare’s books with my eye toward writing a review, I notice a certain similarity about my notes: they’re almost all about the characters. Sometimes things that really stand out about a character, sometimes the way a character relates to another, or compares to another, the way they interact with others…I have a little over two pages of notes and there are maybe two lines that aren’t about characters. The thing is, I LOVE her characters, largely because she does not spare them a damn thing. If her characters are in a situation where they can get hurt, chances are they will be. It forces them to stay dynamic, to continue reacting to things and adapting to things, and those reactions have a consequence on others that will then force them to react. So, true to form for me, a lot of this review is going to focus on the characters, because that’s what I find most riveting about this book and the others in the series.

I love that we get to start seeing Jem stand on his own a little more, rather than simply being Will’s better-natured shadow. Always being mild and good-humored, which is most of what we see through the first book and into the beginning of this, makes him a little bit of a doormat, and thereby a less interesting character. The slash of temper, of fury and bite and the deep hurt that accompanies that, makes him more rounded and frankly more appealing. Part of that comes from Tessa getting to know Jem better, but part of that is also Jem choosing to put himself forward more, choosing to step out of Will’s shadow.

Through this book we come to understand the parabatai relationship a little better, and through that we come to understand a little better the dynamic between Will and Jem. They chose to bind themselves to each other and finding out their different reasons is especially revealing. Of Will Jem says “When Will truly wants something, when he feels something, he can break your heart”, but Will is an overtly passionate person. He throws himself into things, even when it’s nothing more than a facade or a diversion, but the intensity of what he feels is always out there, vibrating in the air around him like a plucked string. Even when the truth of the feeling is hidden, the intensity of it isn’t. Jem is the opposite; he holds himself back from things, partly from his health and general life-expectancy, and now he’s finally letting himself want something with everything in him, and actually letting himself pursue that. When Jem wants something, truly wants something, he is far more heart-breaking than Will, because his intensity is matched by blinding sincerity.

When it comes right down to it, Jem is a much better friend to Will than Will is to Jem. Will calls Jem his ‘great sin’, proof of one of the many ways in which he is unutterably selfish. Even when Will starts from good intentions he mucks it up somewhere along the way, generally from a complete and total lack of thought. It’s more than keeping people from getting too close to him; it’s that he genuinely hurts the only people who love him in spite of how he behaves. That’s not to say that the relationship between Jem and Will becomes all angst and pain in this book- it doesn’t at all. But it does become more real from incorporating those elements.

I love the bickering amongst the Institute children. Will and Jessamine snipe at each other incessantly, Jem weaves through it with good grace, and Tessa inadvertently makes it worse half the time. Watch teenagers in any group setting and you see the same dynamics, along with Charlotte’s resigned pleas to occasionally behave themselves.

I felt so bad for Charlotte through this book. It’s easy to forget how truly young she is because she’s so weighed down by her responsibilities in the Institute, but she’s only 23 or so. She’s trying so hard with no one to truly help her, and what she can accomplish is significantly diminished in the eyes of her peers because she’s only a woman, and a woman has no business running an Institute. She exhausts herself for so little thanks, and on top of that she has the squabbling children, and the Downworlder relations, and Henry. Oh, Henry. He means so well, but he’s so clueless, except- every now and then, we get a flash of the Harry that lurks behind the absent-minded inventor. When he actually focuses on something, when he pulls himself into the present, we see the man who could be a true partner for Charlotte. He’s aware of the others within the Institute but Charlotte invests herself in them.

In the first book, it was easy to feel sorry for Jessamine. She was so earnestly wistful about the life she wanted it was easy to be sympathetic. After all, the life of a Shadowhunter isn’t easy and it’s not the life she chose- how horrendous a life of that sort must be when it’s against everything you’ve ever wanted. Still, it’s harder to feel sorry for her this time around. She’s so purposefully self-deluding. She’s resentful and rude and flat-out refuses to adapt to reality and changing circumstances. It’s hard to feel any true sympathy for someone that purposefully disconnected from common sense. I understand that she has dreams, but she also has a stubborn streak a mild wide laced with an overgenerous share of hatefulness. I don’t feel sorry for her; I flat pity her.

The secondary characters are amazing. Sophie continues to grow. She’s not a creature in the shadows, for all that a large part of her job is to be exactly that, and she continues to gain appealing aspects. The dynamics between the Lightwood brothers are wonderful. It’s easy to see how certain traits stay in the Lightwood family. Sometimes Gideon and Gabriel have echoes of Alex and Izzy but they’re not mirrors. Gideon is especially intriguing. Gabriel is still young enough that he’ll take his father’s opinions as his own rather than investigate his own, but Gideon has gotten a see a little bit more of the world. He has all the Lightwood stiffness and then some but he also has the wounded charm of someone whose world has fallen around him. Woolsey Scott is just frickin’ hysterical, and I actually really liked Consul Wayland. He’s a very fair man who knows that what is fair isn’t always easy or even kind. Magnus is, as ever, gorgeous. He’s beautifully complicated, and I think Woolsey’s observation best sums up Magnus’ outlook across both series: you can’t save every wounded bird.

Interestingly enough, Tessa is fairly stationary. It’s not that she doesn’t continue to grow and develop but that she’s caught between so many other people that she ultimately ends up in very nearly the place she started. In the first book she was caught between Will and the chance to rescue her brother; here she’s caught not only between Will and Jem but by the expectations placed upon her by the London Shadowhunters and the continuing mystery of her origins. And I love it. We know that Tessa is going to be around long after those in the Institute turn to dust. It’s a fact of her life, an unavoidable consequence of what she is, very much akin to standing still while the rest of the world moves on without you. It’s heart-breaking- but it’s also encouraging because we see how she can approach that with grace and unfailing spirit.

And remember that JG that Jace finds in the Silent City?

Be on the lookout.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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