Friday, May 30, 2014

JOHN COREY WHALEY


Interview with JOHN COREY WHALEY

John grew up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, where he learned to be sarcastic and to tell stories. He has a B.A. in English from Louisiana Tech University, as well as an M.A in Secondary English Education. He started writing stories about aliens and underwater civilizations when he was around ten or eleven, but now writes realistic YA fiction (which sometimes includes zombies). He taught public school for five years and spent much of that time daydreaming about being a full-time writer…and dodging his students’ crafty projectiles. He is terrible at most sports, but is an occasional kayaker and bongo player. He is obsessed with movies, music, and traveling to new places. He is an incredibly picky eater and has never been punched in the face, though he has come quite close. One time, when he was a kid, he had a curse put on him by a strange woman in the arcade section of a Wal-Mart.  His favorite word is defenestration. His favorite color is green. His favorite smell is books. He currently lives in Los Angeles. WHERE THINGS COME BACK is his first novel. NOGGIN, his second novel, came out in April 2014. 

What are you reading right now?

I'm reading this great book, MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold. It comes out in 2015. 

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I was always fascinated by characters in movies and on TV. As a slow reader, I got into books more when I realized that telling stories was something I wanted to do - and the only thing I was ever really good at doing. 

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

The thing I love most about writing is that, on a good day, it can help me escape any and everything going on in the world around me.

My least favorite thing about writing is when I reach a point in a story where I lose inspiration....and then it's a waiting game sometimes.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

Process? Haha. I usually get an idea, sit down and see if it will work on paper (err..screen) at all and then come back to it and try again and again until it's either a go or a STOP IT - THIS DOESN'T WORK. I binge write, so I can go weeks without writing a word, then write half a book in a week or two. It's unpredictable and moody, my process, but it works for me.

What are your passions?

Music. Movies. Making people laugh. Telling stories that I think people aren't expecting to be told.  

What inspires you?

People and music. Usually never environment. Just people and conversations and a really great (often sad) song. 

Why young adult?

Why not? Teenagers get to explore openly and unapologetically where they're supposed to be in the world and in existence in general. Adults do the same thing, but after making a lot more mistakes and apologies. Teenagers are more interesting and honest to me.  

Why speculative fiction?

It doesn't matter what a story is about, only how well it's told. It was a challenge at first, to write borderline sci-fi, but now I see the universality in it, which was my hope all along.  

How was NOGGIN born?

I wanted to write my homage to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - a book with an absurd premise, grounded in emotional reality. A book seemingly about one big issue, but actually about a million little things that we all feel.

I empathized with Travis, his parents, Cate, Kyle and, well, everyone in this book so much that I shed quite a few tears on their behalf. Was it difficult writing such an emotional book?

I always say that my favorite thing to do in my books is make people laugh or cry. But, it isn't easy. Sometimes, it just happens, and I'm even surprised by the emotions a scene will produce. NOGGIN became much deeper than I planned, and that happened by equal parts accident and necessity.

You treat every character like they’re the protagonist of their own story. Other than Travis, is there any character in NOGGIN for whom you have a particular fondness?

I love Hatton - because he's so funny. But, of all the characters, Kyle is most like me - he holds onto the past just as much as Travis, but in his own, more personal way.  And I can identify with that.  

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Write whatever you want to write. Fix it later. Don't dwell on the possibility of failure or being laughed at - I wrote one book about a woodpecker and another about a frozen head. Anything can happen.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

SCARLET


Review of SCARLET by MARISSA MEYER
(second in THE LUNAR CHRONICLES series)

I loved CINDER, the first in this series, so I started SCARLET with high expectations. Well, SCARLET actually exceeds CINDER and I didn’t think that was possible. Note, though, that I discourage reading any further in this review if you haven’t read CINDER, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles.

Though there’s an overarching story across the series, each book retells a particular fairy tale. This time it’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” Scarlet, our Little Red character, desperately wants to find her missing grandmother, but neighbors and police don’t take the absence seriously. In her search for information, Scarlet falls in with a professional fighter who goes by Wolf. He screams mysterious and dangerous, but none of that matters to Scarlet if he knows (or can find out) where her grandmother has gone. Meanwhile, Cinder escapes prison and unintentionally frees another criminal, a handsome and charming, if infuriating, rogue named Thorne, who becomes her co-conspirator as they both figure out their next steps.

At first I felt massively disappointed when SCARLET opened in a new character’s perspective. I had fallen hard for Cinder and her surrounding cast and couldn’t wait to return to her, uh, quandaries. The first book ended on more than one cliffhanger: Cinder now knows she’s the long lost princess Selene, the Lunar queen wants her dead, prince Kai has discovered both Cinder’s cyborg and Lunar identities - well, it’s all a mess. All I wanted at first was to find out what’s happening with Cinder, but it didn’t take long for Scarlet to grow on me just as much. Not to mention all the other new characters, such as Wolf and Thorne, in this installment. I expect with each new book Meyer will flesh the story out with more uniquely addicting additions. Cinder does enter the story relatively soon, though by then I already cared equally about Scarlet. In the second chapter, Cinder enters from a distance. Scarlet doesn’t know her, but the footage of the scene at the ball is playing everywhere with everyone discussing it and Scarlet unintentionally provokes a fight by arguing with someone about the mysterious Lunar cyborg girl. Then it’s perhaps around Chapter 4 that we get our first glimpse back into Cinder’s life. From that point on, the chapters alternate perspectives as Meyer navigates among all her new viewpoint characters.

SCARLET has a lot of confusing fight scenes and, believe it or not, I mean confusing as a compliment. The scenes aren’t confusing to follow; they’re confusing for the characters. Since Meyer has introduced both mind control and glamour into this world, fights are peppered with instances of allies betraying each other due to mind control or mistaking an ally for an enemy or vice versa due to glamour. Meyer actually makes this chaos impressively easy to follow, but I enjoyed the added confusion in already complicated brawls. 

I find the writing in these books fantastic in the invisible sense. I don’t find myself pausing to admire phrases but I tore through both CINDER and SCARLET without even thinking about or noticing the writing, only the story and characters. These are definitely what I would call page-turners. Sometimes I had to remind myself to slow down - when I wanted to know what happens next so badly that I worried I would read so fast I might miss an important detail.

I expected to like this series, but entirely underestimated how much and am now kicking myself for letting CINDER and sequels be bumped down on my to-read list for so long. The thing about the retold fairy tales label is that the reader thinks they know the story. CINDER may be marketed as a cyborg twist on Cinderella, but it’s so much more than that. Meyer uses the fairy tales as bare bones influence. Not only does she add layers and layers of worldbuilding and additional conflicts into her books, but she takes license to interpret the original fairy tale loosely so you can’t assume you know how the story ends. As one example in SCARLET, Meyer does a stellar job making Wolf an ambiguous character. Is he good? Is he bad? If he’s the wolf character, he must be bad, right? Unless his nickname is a misdirect and the wolf role will be filled by someone else. Or perhaps he had bad intentions originally but Scarlet changes his mind. Or maybe he has been the bad guy from the start and Scarlet’s a fool not to call it. Honestly, I didn’t know what to think and the truth came as a refreshing surprise with a well-executed tug-of-war between do and don’t trust him.

In short, another gush-worthy book from Marissa Meyer.

Friday, May 23, 2014

AVA DELLAIRA

 
Interview with AVA DELLAIRA

I was born in Los Angeles. One of my first memories is of looking out the window of the Cadillac that my family drove across the desert when we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is where I grew up, and where my sister and I spent countless summer afternoons making fairy potions, battling evil witches, and playing other imaginary games that probably contributed to my proclivity to make up stories. I went to college at the University of Chicago, and then received my MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I lived on the bottom floor of a farm house once occupied by Kurt Vonnegut (how cool is that?!) and studied poetry. Now I live in Santa Monica, in an apartment the size of a shoebox close to the beach.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished A MONSTER CALLS by PATRICK NESS, a really beautiful middle reader book. It’s a gorgeous story about a boy whose mom is dying of cancer and he has this monster friend - it’s a sort of magical realism. It really made me cry.

Right now I’m reading an arc an of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by JENNIFER MATHIEU.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I would say maybe middle school age was when I felt the spark. I always liked writing all through elementary school. My 25-page book report on Laura Ingalls Wilder proves I was obviously into writing, but as an early teenager I got very into listening to music and I kept a journal where I wrote down all this stuff about the songs. I also started making my own attempts at poetry. Hearing lyrics and connecting with them was probably the beginning.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

Who said, “I don’t like writing but I like having written.” [Rachel’s note: Dorothy Parker]

I actually enjoy the process of writing for the most part. Of course, there are the hard days, but when I’m writing I feel something that’s hard to name, the spark of creativity or discovery and that feeling makes me really happy. What I’m discovering now that’s also really great about writing is being able to connect with people and readers. I guess that’s two things I like about writing!

I’m not sure what my least favorite thing. I’ve certainly experienced all of my normal frustrations. You have bad days. You have insecure days. However, I mostly think of those as part of the process so that helps me move through them.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

For LOVE LETTERS I started out writing while I had a full time job so I would come home from work and write at night. It was easier for me to write in the evenings for some reason. I think because in the morning I was thinking about what I needed to do for the day, but at the end of the day I felt like I could be in my own world with the story.

I started out with just the title and the concept: a girl who’s dealing with personal grief by writing to famous dead people. When I started writing, Laurel’s character introduced herself to me quickly. The first draft of the book was really a discovery process. I was getting to know the characters and letting Laurel tell her story and I was open to not knowing, open to discovery. When I finished the first draft, I spent a lot longer than it took me to write that draft editing and rewriting and shaping the story.

Eventually I started sending it out to agents and when I got my agent we reworked the book together and it was another few months before he started sending it out. And then I did a lot more work on the book with my editor as well. It went through many processes of revision, but certainly the heart of the story stayed the same. But I’m incredibly grateful to my agent and the editors who helped me. LOVE LETTERS grew a lot from that first discovery.

What are your passions?

Reading! Cooking and music, too.

What inspires you?

Reading again! Movies. Nature. I like to spend a lot of time outside and by the ocean.

Why young adult?

When I started writing the book I didn’t actually think about that. I didn’t realize I was writing a young adult book and it wasn’t until I started working with my agent that he said, “I think this should be sold as a young adult book.” Everyone in the young adult community has all been so completely wonderful and inspiring and supportive

How was LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD born?

The concept came to me pretty suddenly. I was working for Stephen Cbosky at the time and I’d given him some of my writing to read. I was trying screen writing and he said, “I think you should write a novel.” The idea had never occurred to me before, just the fact that I wanted to be a writer.

That evening when I was driving home from work the title and concept came to me out of nowhere but were reflective both of my interests in pop culture and also the fact that I had lost my mom a couple of years before. Writing about processing grief was a natural thing for me.

Why “love letters” rather than “letters”?

I had someone else ask that question on social media. I think that the letters are love letters. Obviously not in the traditional romantic sense. They’re not letters between lovers. But they are love letters in that Laurel is very connected to these people and loves their work and though the letters express a range of emotion they’re a celebration of the lives of the people.

Was any one character more fun to write than the others?

I had a lot of fun writing the Tristan character. And Hannah. They’re both very lively and vibrant and big. Tristan is like a big brother figure for Laurel and he imparts a lot of wisdom. A few of my favorite lines in the book are his. For Hannah she’s full of life and her life has sad elements but watching her grow through that was gratifying.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

The best advice I could give is write what you love and what matters for you. The difference for me with LOVE LETTERS is that it was a book I would have kept working on - forever. The first draft wasn’t great. It had good things in it but certainly didn’t read like a good novel. But I loved it enough to continue working on it and working on it. Because it felt like the kind of thing that makes writing matter to me. So my advice is to write that thing that you love so much that you can live with it forever and rewrite and rewrite forever.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I love to watch Mister Ed like Laurel does in the book.

Monday, May 19, 2014

ALL IS SILENCE


Review of ALL IS SILENCE by ROB SLATER
(review based on an advance reading copy)

Post-apocalyptic worlds ravaged by disease have become commonplace in fiction these days, but vivid characters and a dose of realism can still make a dystopian novel unique. A kind of plague has near about cleansed the world of humans. Teenager Lizzie already had a pretty terrible life before she lost almost everyone she knows...not to mention everyone she loves. Only a social media connection with a long distance friend keeps her going until circumstances help her patchwork together a new family - not that she won’t have to work hard to keep this one alive and well.

I liked Lizzie from the start. She’s a believable narrator and a believable teenager with her own recognizable voice. I absolutely adored her when she starts going around and rescuing pets abandoned in locked houses after their owners died. What a fantastic way to contrast this story against All the Other Post-Apocalyptic Novels. So many similar storylines hinge on an every-man-for-himself attitude. Lizzie (and her friends) not only consider but actively look out for others and clearly value life of all forms. 

Normally, setting falls low on what I care about in a book, but ALL IS SILENCE takes place in Bellingham, where I currently live. I adored seeing somewhere I know well depicted so accurately. I suspect this book will have particular appeal to people from Bellingham or northwest Washington in general.

This is a fairly gritty book, with lots of violence and swearing. For the most part, I mean that as observation more than either praise or criticism. However, I did occasionally find some violence more momentum-serving than something that feels organic.

There’s also a lot of romantic tension, sometimes a bit too much for my taste. Lizzie’s first saved from seclusion by her old friend Zach, a friend she knows had (and probably still has) a crush on her. She used to keep him (and most other guys) at a distance, but being the last guy around changes things. Then, as more characters arrive and join their group, additional crushes pop up, often overlapping. Sure, most of the characters are teenagers and many teenagers are very crush-fixated. (And, yes, that’s a polite euphemism for sex-fixated.) Regardless, I occasionally felt frustrated with their priorities since they have far more pressing issues than deciding which person they like more and finding out if those feelings are reciprocal.

There were some viewpoint issues that I found distracting. I’m describing this book like it’s Lizzie’s story, because that’s how the blurb on the back makes it sound and that’s the impression I maintained for the first five or so chapters. Then the point-of-view suddenly switches to Zach and from then on it’s a third person multiple viewpoint. Each chapter, or sometimes just scene, focuses on one character but it does switch between them. (Even then the perspective sometimes slips within a scene or chapter.) I could never quite shake my initial impression that this is Lizzie’s story, so I found the POV alternations jarring.

I planned to come down hard on the book’s grammar: mention that there are a lot of typos, probably at least one on every page. However, I knew I had an advance reading copy (in other words, not the finished book), so I looked into the matter and discovered that I basically received an advance advance reading copy, a very early edition that went through more than one additional revision before the final printing. Point is: I checked with someone I knew reading a final published version of the book and she assured me that it most definitely does not have a typo on every page; she hardly noticed any. 

Grammar aside, I still felt that the novel might have benefited from another editor’s eye for larger plot points. Sometimes the story felt a little unfocused, which can be the downfall of writing more realistic fiction. Stories require clear conflicts, goals, and obstacles while real life definitely doesn’t line up neatly into that formula. ALL IS SILENCE certainly felt realistic, but I sometimes suspected a little more formula would actually help the story.

I’m uncertain whether this is the first book in a series. I would call the ending a pseudo-cliffhanger. It would be an odd, dramatic end point for a standalone novel, but certainly doesn’t require further books for resolution.

Friday, May 16, 2014

MARISSA MEYER

 
Interview with MARISSA MEYER

One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed. When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University. After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader. Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER is my first novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around too. I now live with my husband and our three cats (Calexandria Josephine, Stormus Enormous, and Blackland Rockwell III), who go in and out, in and out, about eight hundred times a day. My favorite non-bookish things include Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, re-watching episodes of Firefly, and playing all manners of dress-up.

What first sparked your interest in writing?
I was an avid reader as a kid, and I think as soon as I realized that making up stories was a job people actually got paid to do, I knew that's what I wanted. I had this overactive imagination and I was constantly daydreaming, so to think that I could turn that into a career was always a fantasy. I'd been working toward that dream ever since.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?
Getting to work in my pajamas! Ha! That's a big job perk. I also love to know that getting lost in a daydream is now considered "working" - how great is that?

As far as my least favorite part of writing, there is that point with every writing project where I'm convinced that it's horrible. It's usually somewhere around 2/3 of the way through the second draft, and I just know that I'm wasting my time and this story will never be what I want it to be and everyone who reads it will realize I'm a talentless hack. It's a tough period. Luckily, I've found that every writer experiences this at some point, and that if you can keep pushing through you'll eventually reach a place where you love the book again.

What inspires you?

Oh, all sorts of things! You never know where inspiration will come from. I've been inspired by books, movies, music, magazine articles, overheard conversations, random signs on the side of the street, watching parades and musicals, traveling to new destinations. I think it's important for writers to get out there and experience as much life as they can, and to be constantly filling themselves up with new ideas, because you never know what will turn into your next story.

Why speculative fiction?

I always loved fantasy - from fairy tales to sword and sorcery fiction and everything in between. When I was a kid I was *convinced* that I had secret magic powers, and it was only a matter of time before they revealed themselves. (Okay, I might still think my time is coming.) It's a wonderful fantasy to think that there is more to this world than meets the eye, and as a writer, I can make those fantasies a reality. Maybe that's my magic power.

Why young adult?

I like that teenage protagonists can be free to be optimistic. They believe in love at first sight. They believe that they're brave and heroic. They believe that they can change the world. It's great to write about a time of life in which characters aren't yet bogged down with cynicism; they're not jaded. They're looking forward, anticipating what they're lives will become, and I love watching my characters grow and change over the course of their stories. I like watching them become heroes.

Monday, May 12, 2014

THE IRON KING


Review of THE IRON KING by JULIE KAGAWA
(first in THE IRON FEY series)

I’ve heard great things about both this series and particularly this author so I started this novel with high expectations. Though enjoyable, it didn’t live up to the anticipation. Ultimately, I found THE IRON KING an imperfect book that I nonetheless liked despite a lengthy list of criticisms. Kagawa has the promise of a writer who could and will do better, but I didn’t find this particular book gush-worthy. Going with the tapestry metaphor, if you stand back and admire the story from a distance it will reward your attention with a satisfying tale, but if you start tugging at any of the numerous loose threads the entire plot unravels.

Starting with the good, the book gripped me in the first chapter with an emotional catalyst and some dramatic irony. Megan’s little brother Ethan keeps complaining about the scary man in his closet. Of course, he’s four years old so no one gives his stories any credit. In the very first chapter, Megan comes home to the news that her beloved German shepherd Beau has been put down for attacking Ethan, who tearfully insists that the dog hadn’t meant to bite his arm, had only been trying to drag him away from the scary man in the closet. Though both Megan and her parents still assume Ethan’s making up stories, the reader knows they better start listening closer to the four year old.

On that note, I loved Megan’s relationship with her brother. “The scary man in the closet” does kidnap Ethan soon after the dog’s out of the way and Megan charges into the dangerous and foreign fey world with the goal of finding him and bringing him home. So many novels, especially young adult, center on rescuing or making sacrifices for a love interest that I found the strong sibling bond propelling Megan onwards refreshing.

Now moving on to some of my criticisms. I did find the plot quite predictable. If you’ve read another novel about a teenage girl who doesn’t yet know she’s actually a fairy princess, well, you’ve read more or less read this one. As one example of hard-handed hint dropping, Megan’s mischievous and protective best friend Robbie (obviously a fairy, though she doesn’t know it yet) playfully calls her “princess” despite her protests to the girly endearment. I am pleased to add, though, that the book turns more innovative near the end. For perhaps the first three quarters or even a little more, the setting, characters, and world-building all pull from familiar fairy tropes, but in the last fourth of the book everything starts feeling more like something I haven't read before as Megan uncovers a threat to the entire fey world.

I’m of the opinion that in the best books you forget an author even exists; you become so immersed in the world and the characters. Unfortunately, many of the small plot holes that can rip this story apart if you pick at them boil down to unconvincing motivation. If asked why a character acts a certain way, my answer would often be “because the author said so.” If an author needs to move a story from point A to point B, we still want the characters’ decisions to feel organic. For example, Megan hopped on board the revelations that fairies exist, an entire fairy world exists, she’s really daughter to the fairy king, and fairies have stolen her brother into their world far too easily. I love fantastical stories where the people’s floored reactions to magic makes me imagine what it would actually be like one day learning something exists that defies my understanding.

The romance didn’t hook me. As with other elements of the plot, it felt contrived. These characters love each other because the author says so, not because they’re really a good fit or have actually developed any true affection. It’s a familiar romance trope that always annoys me: “They barely know each other and the guy’s a jerk but we’re going to call it world-shattering true love.” 

Last on my list of complaints, Megan is not a resourceful heroine at all. The positive interpretation of this is that she might be a more realistic portrayal of your average teenage girl, but even if a character can’t escape every danger on her own I like to see her try. When in trouble, Megan literally waits for someone to come along and fix things for her. Another positive interpretation is that I hope we might see significant character-growth over the course of the series.

In short, THE IRON KING is a good fluff read but I wouldn’t expect more than that from the book. There’s a predictable and unoriginal plot with rather dull characters but I nevertheless enjoyed the story and intend to read on. Though hard to explain why, the book also struck me as a kind of writerly stretching; I’m convinced Kagawa can do better. I have high hopes that the second one might have more depth, though if not I probably won’t read farther than that.

Friday, May 9, 2014

THE IMMORTAL GAME


Review of THE IMMORTAL GAME by JOANNAH MILEY
(based on a review copy)

I went back and forth on whether or not to review this one. Honestly, it’s not really my cup of tea...but I firmly believe it will be an amazing book for the right reader. Sometimes when I dislike a book I can’t see why anyone likes it, but in other cases I can recognize that it’s a matter of taste and understand why others adore a story that I don’t. With THE IMMORTAL GAME, the book feels plot-driven at the expense of characters and I know I’m a primarily character-driven reader. There’s a fast, mesmerizing pace, but the characters often feel melodramatic and contrived.

Despite how the book skews away from my tastes, I enjoyed it nevertheless, in great part because the novel boasts strong writing. I marked numerous pages along the way to quote to someone I know or post on social media. Characters might be most important in my mind, but writing’s high up on the list as well. Miley presents some notably apt emotional descriptions that stuck in my mind.

So what’s the premise? Pre-med student Ruby spends most of her time studying in a café. Ash spends most of his time in the same café, defeating strangers at chess. One day he baits her into a game and she bests him with the one chess strategy she knows, learned from her father before he died in the war. Ash is a sore loser of epic proportions, pretty much stalking Ruby from that point on and demanding to know how she beat him. His fixation’s amusing in a “but be sure to stay in a public place with witnesses” kind of way. Before long Ash reveals himself as Ares, the Greek god of war. He’s both drawn to violence and creates it with his very presence, but for unknown reasons Ruby’s touch calms him. Soon they’re not only declaring their love for each other but intent on asking Zeus to marry them and make Ruby immortal...even if such a request could mean Ruby’s death or even the destruction of all humanity.

Those familiar with my reading tastes might already see from that description where my opinion turned, around that last sentence in the above paragraph. If the part about “and then they decide to get married” sounds abrupt, it’s not because I’m summarizing; it’s because it is abrupt. Ruby and Ash barely know each other (days, if I’m remembering correctly) before they declare love and decide to get married, not to mention decide their love is worth risking the complete destruction of all humanity. This represents the main reason I couldn’t invest more in the book. While I liked some aspects of the story, I never invested in the romantic relationship...which remains the focal point of the plot. My abbreviated thoughts on the romance: 1. Personally, I do not believe you can love someone you just met. I believe you can be incredibly infatuated but my definition of love requires that you get to know the person. 2. I dislike plots that center on the romanticism of grand sacrifices made for love, especially selfish sacrifices. (Ruby risks not only her life but also the lives of every human being.) 3. There’s a strange emphasis on Ruby’s virginity. (I think this is just an underdeveloped attempt to tie in some of the original Greek mythology themes.) 4. The book avoids some of the relationship’s biggest roadblocks. Ares must be centuries old but his age and, hence, their huge age gap is never addressed. Also he has a child with another god, a complication that’s acknowledged but barely.

I also don’t understand Ares’ magic. Though magic can be elusive and limited to the confines of our own imagination, I need to feel I have an understanding of a magic system’s inner workings before I can invest. It seems he’s both drawn to fighting and creates it with his presence. I think what irks me is the lack of will, the same reason I dislike vampires.

Besides the big points of the romance and magic system, the book’s scattered with moments where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. As one example, Ruby’s known Ash/Ares a few days before she goes off alone with him to try bungee jumping and rock climbing for the first time. Ares is a pretty horrible teacher, too. He doesn’t explain anything, only orders “jump” or “climb” and Ruby does.

There’s great raw material here with the Greek gods and all, but I often wanted mythological twists and complications that feel absurd to our modern sensibilities explored more. I always admire books that can take these crazy stories and make them feel real.

I had too many nitpicky complaints about THE IMMORTAL GAME to fall in love, but I expect readers who are better at suspending disbelief stand a better chance for a book love connection.

Monday, May 5, 2014

THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS


Review of THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS by EVA IBBOTSON

Here’s another sweet and silly young adult historical romance from Eva Ibbotson. Much of what I said in my review of A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS carries over across Ibbotson’s YA books: especially about the distinct writing that’s very taste-specific and the main flaw being an overly perfect heroine. The writing is formal, wordy, and distant, an omniscient narrator telling all, but those paying attention catch the playful undertones and I often found myself chuckling aloud or smiling at an understated, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that very much appeals to me. As for the overly perfect heroine, everyone adores Tessa who is the epitome of goodwill. I don’t mind these Mary-Sue leads as much as some readers would because they nevertheless feel sincere and genuine to me, but if you prefer complicated, flawed protagonists these books might not be for you.

The premise of this one sounds very familiar to A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS: a high-born young woman down on her luck working far below her class and hiding her title. Tessa is a princess, though a broke princess, who lives for the arts. In her commitment to her passion, she works tirelessly as the under-wardrobe mistress for a small opera company, never revealing her true identity. Guy is a self-made millionaire somewhat shunned by society despite his riches for both his lack of a title and his refusal to hide his orphan past or his unrefined foster mother. Guy, too, lives for the arts, and he lives for his fiancé Nerine who he will soon discover isn’t the woman with shared passions and priorities that he imagined. Throw an assortment of other characters into the bustling cast and you have a rich, weaving romance about how people perfect for each other can miss their chance with poor timing.

Another trend I noticed across both books (and will be interested to see if it comes up in the others I read) is an obsession with long hair. In A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS, everyone’s in awe over Anna’s waterfall of locks, even acting protective in regards to her hair when she muses aloud about cutting it. In fact, there’s an amusing dramatic scene where the romantic interest bursts in on her at the hairdresser demanding she not cut her hair before slinking out in embarrassment and shame as he realizes the absurdity of a man betrothed to another thinking he has any say in what a near stranger does with her hair. In THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS, Tessa does cut her gorgeous, lengthy hair and early on in the novel, but this act becomes proof of her undeniable goodwill, portrayed almost as the ultimate sacrifice. 

I adore that Ibbotson doesn’t make her antagonists evil. They’re people. Perhaps selfish, materialistic, vain people, but even they mean well in their own contorted way. Guy’s fiancé for example doesn’t think, “Oh, I’m going to string along this other rich man who’s interested in me in case I don’t ensnare Guy (and his riches) in a marriage.” No, she thinks more along the lines of, “There’s no need to hurt my suitor’s feelings by telling him I’m engaged until it’s official and I’m married.” She's rationalizing self-serving actions, but I find that more interesting than characters who almost set out to be the bad guy.

Another sweet, silly, and satisfying read from Ibbotson. Over time expect to see reviews of all her books on this blog!

Friday, May 2, 2014

CAROL SISKIND


Interview with CAROL SISKIND

Carol started her standup career in New York. She then moved on to Los Angeles and after that Las Vegas. Her television credits include numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, HBO, Showtime, as well as many Network comedy sitcom and talk shows. She has worked clubs and theatres throughout the United States, England, and South Africa. In Las Vegas Carol performed in every Strip hotel and casino, including a full year opening for George Wallace at The Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Carol has been featured in People Magazine, Newsweek Magazine, Mademoiselle Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Times SundayMagazine (where she was on the cover), The New York Post, the Sunday Times of London,  as well as many other publications. She was nominated by the American Comedy Awards as “Best Female Comedian.”

What are you reading right now?

Right now I'm reading Michael Connelly's thriller THE SCARECROW.

What first sparked your interest in writing? 

What sparked my interest in writing is what inspired my stand-up, drawing, and painting: the need to express myself. I knew at an early age, when I could make my family laugh, that I was an extrovert in this way. My mother was an artist so self-expression was a way of life I saw intimately.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

What I like most about writing, when I give in to doing it, is the escape from ego it affords me: to get out of myself and my neurotic, obsessive thoughts.

What I like least about writing is the judgment and criticism I give into, too readily. I either overestimate or underestimate the value of what I have to say, and at times, it's paralyzing.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

My writing “process” varies. With stand-up, I'll write down any current idea or observation, and either hone it then or later for the stage. On rare occasions, the nugget comes to me fully formed. Usually it needs extensive rewording and reworking.

Writing essays or scripts requires a time devoted to the project, like “I will sit this morning and do it.” It requires more discipline for me and is more challenging.

What are your passions?

My passions are family, friends, laughter, beauty in all forms, good food, great wine, the Yankees, and my dog, now gone.

Did you know without a doubt what you would write about in your NO KIDDING essay or did you have a few topics from which you narrowed it down?

When I wrote the essay for NO KIDDING I just wrote, without any forethought as to where is would go. The finished product surprised me, because I didn't judge it. I just wrote.

Was it difficult writing about something so personal?

It's never difficult for me to be personal in my writing. From all years doing stand-up, I've learned that the most personal is the most universal. We're all more alike than not. So I'm not at all shy or modest about sharing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

If I have any advice, it's just to do it. Write crap. Don't judge. Just pick yourself up, and with as little self-flagellation as possible. Then rewrite. Do you best to stay out of the result.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I keep this quote from T.S. Eliot on my desk: "There is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”