Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sea Glass: Anita Shreve

I have unwittingly become a fan of Anita Shreve. For one thing, her writing is so easy and quick to read, yet there is an elegance about her stories that offer just what a novel ought to be--an escape. Sea Glass is no different, and if anything, epitomizes Shreve's skill.

In 1920, Honora and Sexton are a Very young newlywed couple who have just moved into a beach house somewhere not too far from Boston and not too near Nantucket. Honora is a naive twenty year old from a small family. Sexton is twenty-four and is a traveling typewriter salesman with no discernible family. In the beginning, as with all marriages, everything seems absolutely blissful. A few other characters are sewn into the mix, including a well-to-do single lady called Vivian, an extremely poor mill hand named McDermott, and the young Franco boy he has taken under his wing, Alphonse. Anita Shreve beautifully intertwines the lives of these characters and builds a very realistic picture of the pre-depression era. As we all know, the roaring twenties were followed by a very bleak depression filled with unionized strikes and tent cities. What begins a story about excitement and love quickly becomes a woeful tale of deceit, struggle, and famine.

The "sea glass" part of the story is really just a very nice poetic touch. Living on the beach, Honora frequently walks the shoreline and soon discovers that the sand is littered with small, smooth pieces of glass that have been softened by the elements. She finds them in a multitude of colors and sizes, and it soon becomes her hobby. In the midst of chaos, she finds peace and calm in the small bits of glass, wondering how they came to be. I am sure there is a beautiful metaphor that Shreve was aiming for, but I can't quite connect the dots. In any case, I love love love the idea of walking in the sand, looking for sea glass.

As I've already mentioned, Shreve's writing is beautiful and elegant. She illustrates an entire era with a few well-developed characters. I won't give away the ending, but it is a surprise, and that impresses me. I find that it's hard to surprise me anymore, so when an author is able to blindside me with a turn of plot line, I admire it.

Rating: $$$

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Highest Tide: Jim Lynch

Here's an interesting fact for my readers...before I chose to major in English, I scoped out the scene of a few other areas, including oceanography. I have long been fascinated by the ocean and the vast unknown number of species living in it. My unconditional love for all things ocean-related may be what first lead me to this quietly fantastic read.

I have to start at the beginning with this book, which is the book flap. It has this to say about Jim Lynch's debut novel...
On a moonlit night, thirteen-year-old Miles o'Malley slips out of his house, packs up his kayak and goes exploring on the tidal flats of Puget Sound. But what begins as a routine hunt for starfish, snails and clams turns into a televised spectacle after Miles finds a rare deep-sea creature stranded in the mud. When he continues to discover more exotic ocean life in the quiet backwater bays near his home, Miles becomes a local sensation. Soon he is shadowed on the flats by people curious as to whether he is just an observant boy or an unlikely prophet.
While the sea continues to offer up surprises from its mysterious depths, Miles navigates the equally mysterious passage out of childhood. He clumsily courts his former babysitter, nurses his elderly psychic friend and searches for the words that will keep his parents together. And as the days shorten and the water begins to rise, his summer-long attempt to understand the muddy flats becomes an examination of life itself, and this enchanting debut novel about obsession and natural wonder surges toward an unforgettable ending.
I don't usually include book flap writings, but this one is important because it sets a tone. I picked up this book thinking it was going to be mystical and magical, with sea creatures and a prophesying pre-teen. What's interesting about this book is that it is mystical and magical in it's own way, but not quite in the ways I expected.

So Miles is a runt of a kid who is a bit of a loner. He's super smart and he loves living on the mud flats of Skookumchuck Bay (which is in fact a real place). His hero is Rachel Carson, and he suffers from insomnia, which allows him to wander the mud flats in the early morning low tide. He begins his narration by talking about the beauty and poetry seen in the natural landscape of the ocean, which hooked my right away. Within the first chapter, Miles has indeed found a sea-creature, though not the mystery hinted at in the book flap. What follows is a media whirlwind, that removes all the magic from this story and grounds it in reality.

I feel like Lynch was trying to say something about conservation with this book, but his message was muddled by the somewhat mundane conflicts of Miles' life. The characters are fantastic people, and the descriptions are phenomenal. If you can read this book while near a body of water, I highly recommend it. I read this book while camping at the beach and it made my evening walks along the tide line so much more interesting.

Rating: $$$

Summer Sisters: Judy Blume

My mom is an excellent book shopper. She is always on the lookout for new books for me. As a result, my bookshelves are overflowing with little gems like this one. Honestly, I think the only reason she picked this one up was because of the cover. When I was a kid I was unable to articulate Adirondack, and instead called these lovely beach chairs "Adirdondack" chairs. To this day, she and I point to them and gleefully announce that we've spotted an Adirdondack chair.

Summer Sisters is one of Judy Blume's adult novels. Anyone familiar with her early readers books will recall her easy and familiar writing style. That same writing talent is present in this story about two girls who have nothing in common. Victoria--called Vix--is a shy, quiet girl, living a quiet life with her family until she meets Caitlin in the summer of 1977. Caitlin is fun and vibrant and exciting. The new girl in school, Caitlin is instantly popular, so Vix is shocked when she is chosen as Caitlin's summer guest. They spend that first summer together on Martha's Vineyard with Caitlin's family, sharing secrets and creating pacts that will last a lifetime. As they grow up, Caitlin and Vix have a tumultuous friendship, full of betrayals and promises. Caitlin's family takes Vix in as one of their own, so she is forever linked to the vivacious girl of her childhood summers, long after the excitement of their friendship has dimmed. As Vix matures, she begins to see Caitlin for what she really is--flighty and selfish. However, when Caitlin calls, asking Vix to be her Maid of Honor, Vix knows she'll say yes to her summer sister.

So, of course, I can't argue with the incomparable storytelling skill of Ms. Blume. The writing is terrific and the story...well, the story is what gets me. Frankly, I would have expected more intrigue from Judy Blume. This was little more than your average airplane paperback. The plot wasn't exactly notable. Some of the plot elements were hard for me to swallow. And I had a hard time liking Caitlin. She seemed bossy and selfish, and I couldn't understand why a sensible girl like Vix would fall for someone like that.

I can't totally discredit this book though, because I really like some of the secondary characters. For example, Caitlin's step-mom, Abby, is wonderful. She's nurturing, and she tries so hard to open up her heart to her blended family, and she welcomes Vix into her home like her one of her own children. Except Caitlin is resistant and totally snubs Abby, which is just one more reason not to like Caitlin.

For me, this book is middle of the road. It's great writing, and it's certainly interesting. But I'm not gonna lie, I kind of expected more.

Rating: $ 1/2

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Weetzie Bat: The Movie!

I think I've mentioned that my all-time favorite author is Francesca Lia Block. I just find her writing so vivid and alluring. Well there's fantastic news for FLB fans...the Weetzie Bat story has been written as a screenplay!

I only wish I could go! Francesca, come do a reading in Portland! I'm sure Powell's would love to host you!

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Design

Well readers, I decided to change it up a bit. I was getting bored with the old gray-blahness of my blog, so I took a cue from Blogger and gussied up a bit.

What do you think? Is it too much? Too bright? Too....different?

The Red Pyramid: Rick Riordan

When I finished the Percy Jackson series, I was anxious to see what Riordan would do next. To be honest, I was a little nervous that there wouldn't be anything "next". So when I first sighted stacks and stacks of the newly released The Red Pyramid, I must admit to a feeling of glee. I could hardly wait to dive into a new Riordan series. This one, The Kane Chronicles, bears some similarities to The Percy Jackson series, except instead of Olympian gods, this series is all about ancient Egyptian gods.

Carter and Sadie Kane are unlikely siblings. Fourteen-year-old Carter takes after his African-American father, with his dark skin, while twelve-year-old Sadie maintains a much fairer complexion. Furthering their differences, Carter has spent his childhood traveling the world with his archeologist father, while Sadie has been stuck with her grandparents in London. After a tragic accident killed their mother, the children were sent their separate ways, only seeing each other twice a year. They are basically strangers when we meet them. That's all about to change as they are united in an attempt to rescue their father and defeat the evil Egyptian god, Set. It turns out that their father has released 5 of Egypt's most powerful gods, and those gods have all taken hosts. Carter and Sadie soon discover that they are descendants of Pharaohs and that they carry enough magic within them to defeat Set. What follows is a pulse-pounding race, filled with gods and magicians, and a lot of unbelievable tricks.

So Riordan has returned to his extremely successful formula. Young people+gods+magic=giant climactic battle. I'm not gonna lie, it's all very familiar. There are elements of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. There are even some hints of the paranormal romance that the Twilight series made so popular. And yet, I couldn't put it down! I devoured this book. I was a little annoyed by the narration style (Carter and Sadie take turns narrating chapters), but I got over it. The gods characters are some of the most wonderful people I've met in YA fiction lately, and I can't deny that I learned a lot about Egyptian mythology.

Ultimately, I can't wait to find out what happens next. And if you want my honest opinion, I think this series would make for a better movie than the Percy books!

Rating: $$$

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Author Interview: Emma Michaels

Emma Michaels is about to see her first novel, The Thirteenth Chime, published on August 13th. Is anything more exciting to a writer than seeing their words first put into print? It is my delightful opportunity to interview Emma, which is somehow fitting--her first novel, my first author interview, and a publication date that is also my Birthday! Without having read the novel yet (I'm hoping for an ARC), I've asked Emma a few questions, and here are her answers.

10 Every-Author Questions

with Emma Michaels

1. Do you write with pen and paper or on a computer, and what are the tools you require for your writing process?
Computer. I don’t think my hands would survive if I didn’t have a keyboard.
2. Do you maintain a regular writing schedule, and can you tell me about it?
I try to make sure to write every day. If I am not in the mood to work on one of my novels then I will write future blogs, and if I don’t want to write blogs then I work on future story concepts. Though, I do feel that Earl Grey tea really helps me. I have no idea why but it does.
3. Do you heavily self-edit, or do you write it and forget it?
I have to let everything flow out of me and onto the pages without stopping but then at the end I need some editing.
4. What makes you a unique writer?
Love and hope. I hope for more in everything I do and I really love to write. When I started writing, it felt like a part of me was finally released and suddenly story after story was flowing out of me. It is just what I love to do. I love being published and I really want to be able to bring hope to other aspiring authors and readers in general. So overall, I guess being an author is just a perfect fit for me. You have to have faith and do what you love.
5. Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere! It depends on the novel, but to me it is like sitting there with a puzzle box in your hands. None of the pieces seem to fit, but then, suddenly, you look at it again and they come together to create a bigger picture, a story that then turns into a novel. It can be the smallest thing like the chime of a clock, or something bigger and life-altering, but I honestly believe that inspiration can be found in everything.
6. Can you name one writer that has most inspired you?
Tamora Pierce. She was my first introduction to Young Adult Fantasy and I have never looked back since.
7. What is the one book you could read over and over again?
I have a lot of books I read over and over again. I guess my most worn down book would be Tamora Pierce’s In The Hand of the Goddess.
8. What is the most important relationship a writer needs to create and maintain?
A relationship with their publisher is extremely important but that one is normally obvious. The one relationship a lot of writers don’t think about is with their editor. It is actually extremely important because your editor is the person who can help you most in trying to grow as a writer and author. They can show you what changes you could make to better yourself and normally they really know the genre of your novel if they have been assigned to edit it, which means they are almost always full of amazing advice.
9. How do you approach the editing process, and do you have any creative ways of overcoming editing-block problems? 
To be perfectly honest, I do not like editing and at first, I did not want to do it. Then I had a talk with someone who I care about who told me not to view it as something bad but as a learning experience. Going through and implementing the editor’s changes is actually really important and once I started viewing it that way, it was amazing. I learned so much!
10. What is the hardest step in the publishing process, and how do you navigate that step?
Rejections. I received over one hundred rejections from agents before going straight to a publisher and receiving terrific offers. I kept thinking it was because of my work, until my very wise friend pointed out to me that nearly all of them had only asked for queries, so they had never even seen my work - my actual writing. I just kept going and eventually went straight to querying publishers who would take unsolicited works.
The Thirteenth Chime Questions

1. The Thirteenth Chime, is a Young Adult, Paranormal/Fantasy novel. Can you tell me a little bit about the story?
Here is the teaser we have been using:

No one knew of its existence until it was removed from the attic upstairs.
In a beautiful house that overlooks the sea, an antique clock has the power to change the course of their lives.
The power the clock resonates will not only force Destiny and ex-boyfriend David on a journey into the depths of one man's mind long dead, but into the mind of a man filled with hatred and bent on revenge.
With the only clues to the nature of the clock having disappeared into the sea, Destiny and David must retrace the steps the man had taken into the darkness, before they fall prey to the trap he had set in motion over half a century ago.
Hatred never dies.

Beyond that, I can’t say too much, yet... But there is nothing else like this being currently released, so I’m hopeful that a lot of people will really enjoy it!
2. I have to say, the cover of The Thirteenth Chime is incredibly alluring. How much input did you have on the design?
I was surprised at how much input they allowed me to have once I showed them my concept idea. It turned out completely amazing! I am thrilled with it and I am so happy that I got to be included in the process. I even had a hand in on getting to choose the font and even the artist! The publisher has been really great.
3. This novel will be released on a Friday the Thirteenth. Was that just a clever marketing ploy, or is there some significance to that date?
Hint: 13 is an ongoing theme in my ‘A Sense of Truth’ novels, so keep your eyes out for more 13’s in my series, although not in the titles.
4. What inspired you to write a YA novel?
Reading Young Adult novels helped me a lot in life and I wanted to be able to do that for others.
5. Your website mentions that you have some other projects on the line. Are you're future novels also YA Fantasy? What can we expect from you in the future?
The Thirteenth Chime is the first novel in my debut series, ‘A Sense of Truth’, so expect more novels in this series to come out in the future. I also have another series in the works that my publisher is thinking of taking on upon the completion of ‘A Sense of Truth’ novels. I think I have really found my place writing Young Adult Fantasy/ paranormal/ urban fantasy.

Thank you so much for you time and for having me and thank you to everyone who read this interview. Your support means the world to me!

Every-Author Questions

Dear readers, I am breaching unknown territory! I have been looking for an opportunity to begin conducting author interviews, and I think I have finally found my breakthrough. In preparation for what I hope will be dozens (dare I dream, hundreds?) of author interviews, I have decided on a formula. I have created ten "Every-Author" questions which are exactly what they sound like--ten generic questions that I will pose to each author. I intend to supplement these questions with author-specific questions. So it seems only fair that I answer my own questions, right? Without further ado...

10 Every-Author Questions

With Baley Petersen

1. Do you write with pen and paper or on a computer, and what are the tools you require for your writing process?

I am almost strictly a pen and paper writer. I find that writing on the computer limits my creative flow. That may be a bunch of horse pucky, but if I feel more connected to paper than to screen, where's the harm, right? The only tools I require are pen and paper. Preferably a ball-point.
2. Do you maintain a regular writing schedule, and can you tell me about it?

I write at night, right before my head hits the pillow. It's a kind of mental purge for me, to release all of that creative mess from my brain onto the paper. If I don't write before I sleep, I am haunted by seriously weird dreams.
3. Do you heavily self-edit, or do you write it and forget it?

I hate editing. I know, I know, I'm a nightmare writer. The truth is that I write primarily for myself, so I just write to get the confusion out of my head and onto the paper. Once it's written down, I'm more prone to just forget it.
4. What makes you a unique writer?

I was told once by a professor of fiction that because of my poetry background, my fiction is concise. I learned to say the most with the fewest words through poetry, and that skill translates itself well into fiction writing. I believe that my fiction is emotionally charged with direct language. At least...I like to think so!
5. Where do you find your inspiration?

I am inspired by EVERYTHING! Music, poetry, children, sunshine, scents, movies... I am an observer at heart, so everything I see becomes a story.
6. Can you name one writer that has most inspired you?

Francesca Lia Block. That woman is incredible!
7. What is the one book you could read over and over again?

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Cliche? Maybe, but it's just such a wonderful novel. And I do read it again and again, every December.
8. What is the most important relationship a writer needs to create and maintain?

In my limited experience, a writer most needs a strong support. We experience all kinds of crises, from a total loss of self-confidence, to inflated ego. It is so important to have that one person who will remind us of who we are and what's most important.
9. How do you approach the editing process, and do you have any creative ways of overcoming editing-block problems? 

Again, I hate editing. It is not my friend. I get so attached to my words that when I'm presented with critique I find myself at a total loss. I've tried the straight-forward style of receive critique, re-write, repeat, and I find that I usually end up with a weaker version of what I started with. So I work at creative editing methods. My favorite is letter writing. I have a fantastic friend who is always willing to read my stuff, so when I get stuck, I sit down and write her a letter about what I'm working on and where the trouble lies. When I can talk about a piece of my writing objectively, I can see the major fault lines and start over on the problem areas.
10. What is the hardest step in the publishing process, and how do you navigate that step?

I wish I knew! I haven't yet put my foot through the proverbial publishing door, which I suppose is the hardest step for me. The shameless self-promotion and constant rejection is a lot to handle.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tell Me Lies: Patrick Cooper

I'm not gonna lie, I sometimes pick out books based on their covers. Tell Me Lies was one such find. I'm a hippie at heart, so I was intrigued by this book cover and the flap that describes a story about 1969 and an enlightenment driven commune.

So this is usually the paragraph I dedicate to explaining the story. Except I have no idea where to start! Because this book is about so much more than a guy named Stephen who has some Interesting Experiences. It is about Truth and Love and Community. It is about personal truth and a little bit about personal enlightenment. It is about knowing who you are and what you want and where you belong. All of this is expressed through the story of Stephen, a young English man in 1969. He's the son of conservatives, and has a brother, Rob, who has wrapped himself in anti-war activism. At first, Stephen has a Plan. He is going to work at the pub and live at home until he does whatever he's going to do. All well and good (and dull), until he visits Rob in London. It's kind of like Stephen suddenly realizes there's more to life than living at home. And so begins a Journey. He falls in love and gets his heart broken, he meets a lot of hippies, he does a fair amount of drugs, he seeks enlightenment, he joins a commune, and he falls in Love For Real. Actually, a Lot happens. Too much to recap.

I liked this book. It was a lot to take in, but that's how life goes. Underneath all the things that happen, there is an underlying theme of Stephens search for purpose, which is such a universal experience. Aren't we all searching for a place to belong and feel important? And the way Patrick Cooper writes, I had no problem identifying with Stephen. He's just an ordinary bloke, totally accessible.

My chief complaint about this Young Adult novel is that for a book about Truth and Lies, it takes awhile to get around to how important the truth can be. It's not until the very end of the book that Stephen is forced to question who has given him Truth and who has given him Lies. In fact, until the last two or three chapters, I didn't have any idea what the title referred to. Also, I'm not sure how "young" is appropriate. There is a lot of content in this book that would not be appropriate for middle readers, and maybe even some of the more immature high schoolers. However, I think that most adults would appreciate this novel, if only because Stephen is so accessible.

Rating: $$