Friday, August 27, 2010

A Very Big Pleasant Surprise

If you have been around and about DL for long, you'll know how much I love Angela Morrison and her books.
You will know that her debut novel, Taken By Storm, made me start this blog. Because I loved it so much, I wanted to tell the world about it.
You will know how January 2010 was celebrated as 'Angela Morrison Month' with regard to the release of her second book, Sing Me To Sleep.
You will know that she featured on my Author Who Kick-Ass post as part of Author Appreciation Week..
You will know that I think she's awesome.
Taken By Storm is one of my favourite books, ever. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard she had two follow-up books planned, Unbroken Connection and Cayman Summer. I couldn't wait to get more of Leesie and Michael's story.
And then, the BOMB! Her editor, the best advocate for Unbroken Connection left Razorbill and UC got a nice rejection letter.


I was seething then and I'm still seething now cos HOW COULD THEY REJECT A BOOK LIKE UNBROKEN CONNECTION? ARE THEY EFFING MAD?

Angela couldn't believe it.
And of course, I couldn't believe it either. What was gonna happen to Leesie and Michael now?

Well, something did happen. Something awesome. Angela got back on the horse. Top Shelf Books, an ebook publisher decided to publish the Unbroken Connection ebook, so Unbroken Connection is out on Kindle now. And the paperback edition's just out too :)

What can I say, it's Penguin's loss. Because I'm reading the book and it's ---*breathless*

And the Very Big Pleasant Surprise?
I'm on one of my favourite writers' acknowledgment list. Can you effing believe it?
Here's an extract from the acknowledgment:

And all my devoted readers and loyal bloggers—especially Bidisha* at Dreamcatcher’s Lair who launched “Support for Unbroken Connection” on FaceBook and Michelle at Windowpane Memoirs who created the “Don’t Break the Connection” icon to share around the blogosphere—for rallying around me and buoying me up when Michael and Leesie’s continuing story lay stranded on the rocky shores of rejection. You helped me see that “no” isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just an opportunity to ford a new stream and explore fresh landscapes. You believed in me and my story and that gave me the courage to stand up for myself as an artist and follow the inspiration God blessed me with. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
(you can read the entire acknowledgment list here)

How much more awesome can she get?
Here's Angela with the UC proof copies:

(Which I stole from here)
She's such an inspiration for sticking around, not giving up even when there were punching bags flying at random. Screw rejection. This is sky-rocketing human spirit awesomeness.

Angela Morrison, you rock my socks off.

Find her on Facebook or stop by her homepage. You won't be disappointed.

*And that, blogger folks, is my un-shortened name.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mourning for MOCKINGJAY

What the heck is happening?

*looks around*

Really, wha--?

If you're reading Mockingjay, or if you have read it already, I envy you.
If you haven't, but you're literally going dizzy with want, come mourn with me. Cos I come from a distant land where it's not out yet. I should've moved countries for the day.


Are you as deprived as I'm feeling right now?
I doubt there's been such a craze over a series finale since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (sorry, Stephenie Meyer!).
Of course, if you haven't read it, you're absolutely insane (all offense meant). Unless you've been living under a rock, which is crazy anyway.

For those who are reading Mockingjay, what say you?
No spoilers, please, I'm just extremely curious.
Scintillate me much?

*There's no such word as 'Scintillatingly' btw, so don't go quoting me and blaming me for your grammar misuse.

Friday, August 20, 2010

LIFTED ~ Wendy Toliver

Being bad never felt so good. Poppy Browne never stole anything in her life before moving to Pleasant Acres and meeting Mary Jane and Whitney. But when Poppy walks out of the mall with her two new friends and her first pair of stolen jeans, she's hooked.
Before long, Poppy is lifting whenever she gets the urge--it's never about the merchandise, it's always about the thrill. But when her secret gets out, Poppy's clique turns on each other. As she watches her life collapse around her, Poppy must decide where her loyalties lie...and how far she'll go to protect herself.

When I interviewed Wendy Toliver, this is what she said about writing Lifted:
I really wanted to challenge myself. I felt like I had a very powerful story within me and wanted to try my hand at writing it. It wasn't easy, and you wouldn't believe how many drafts I wrote to get it to the final stage. But it was worth it for me, and although it is a very different type of book from my first two, which are romantic comedies, I hope my readers come along for the ride.

And she rose up to that.

Shoplifting is a seldom explored subject in YA fiction, which is why I was extremely curious about Lifted. And once I picked up Lifted, it was hard to put it down.  It was addictive, like Poppy's shoplifting habit and I breezed through this book. I say 'breezed through' because inspite of tackling  an criminal addiction, the book doesn't bear your down. Both light and dark elements thread in and out and make Lifted a very enjoyable read.

Three particular things that worked for Lifted:
--Poppy ~ Smart, flawed and easily likable. Girl with the good grades and the nose-stud and a sense of humour which asserts itself especially in moments of crisis. The girl in the middle of it all.
-- The Shoplifting Sequences ~ Oh, man. I loved these. They were my favourite parts from the book. And my only regret is there wasn't more of them. Toliver does a great job of portraying the way an addiction catches up to you. It's never for the the goods, always for the rush. And with lifting, Poppy goes through the sequence of emotions every addict experiences - first, excitement, then depression.
-- David ~ The quirky, smart, preacher's son who made the non-shoplifting parts exceptionally delicious.

Wendy Toliver scores with other things too. Like:
--Mary Jane and Whitney ~ The popular girls, who step out of the popular girl cliches gradually as the book progresses.
-- Poppy's mother ~ Perhaps, overbearing in some respects, but a very real parent. Which was refreshing after continuously reading about absent parents.
-- Calvary High ~ The Baptist School setting? Pretty original. And the background score of 'Amazing Grace' which seems to play out over the school speakers every time Poppy faces a moment of crisis? Win. 
-- The way it ended.

A very cool protagonist.
Some well-drawn out characters.
A fast paced plot.
An unique premise.
I thoroughly enjoyed Lifted.

Have you read Lifted? Or any other book that deals with shoplifting?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Sky Always Hears Me And The Hills Don't Mind

Listen to the title first.
And let it wrap around you.

And then tell me, don't you want to read this book?

First, it was the title that won me over.
Then the cover.
When I started reading, it was Morgan.
Once I finished, it was everything about the book.

Sixteen-year-old Morgan lives in a hick town in the middle of Nebraska. College is two years away. Her mom was killed in a car accident when she was three, her dad drinks, and her stepmom is a non-entity. Her boyfriend Derek is boring and her coworker Rob has a very cute butt that she can't stop staring at. Then there's the kiss she shared with her classmate Tessa...
But when Morgan discovers that the one person in the world she trusted most has kept a devastating secret from her, Morgan must redefine her life and herself.

Sample the beginning:
The hills save me, but I would never say that aloud. I hate this place. So I should hate the hills, right? But I don't.
       Today it's ALIENS, TAKE ME NOW, fifteen times, shouted into the air. Then I AM INSANE and DIE ASSHOLE DIE and BITE ME, but only five times each.

When I read the excerpt on Kirstin Cronn-Mills' website, it was goodbye other books on my TBR pile, I had to read THIS. And when I did, these thoughts occured to me (in no particular order):
--I wish I was friends with Morgan.
--I wish I was friends with Kirstin Cronn-Mills.
--I wish all three of us were hanging out in Central Nebraska.
--I wish I knew Tessa.
--I wish I could take a look at Rob's cute ass.
--I wish my book could be this good.

Remember I said it would be hard to give Tessa (from Before I Die, not the Tessa from this book) competition as the Best MC I've read this year?
Well, Morgan's answering Tessa's bite with her snark. And Morgan rocks (Tessa does, too, but this post will be about Morgan). Morgan's sixteen and she has big dreams about writing the Great American Novel, but for now has to suffice with writing fortunes and stuffing them in the oddest of places (under the couch, in the air-conditioner vent etc). And while she's at work at the local grocery store, she stares at her co-worker's cute ass, dreams of the big life in the big city and tries to figure out her sexuality. Meanwhile there's the everyday turbulence with her own dysfunctional family and the secret which has far-reaching effects on her. It's a lot for someone to tackle, but you know what rocks? It's all sensibly done.

For one, the sexuality issue could make this an LGBT book, but rather this stands out as mainstream YA with issues about sexuality. And none of it is sensationalized. The bi-curious/bisexual angle doesn't stick out as a jarring corner, but blends in with everything else in the book. 

Two, the chapters are short, the writing sparse, but Cronn-Mills conveys so much in so little. I'm not so fond of minimalism for minimalism's sake, but this is tight writing and I loved it.

Three, I like the treatment here. It's a very fast read but the book covers a span of almost a year and the character development is remarkable. Some books cover a span of a week or sometimes even less and often I'm like Umm.., because honestly, sometimes it's hard to see characters changing so much over such a short period. It seems more temporary, not something long-term. Here, the snips from Morgan's life for a year, with the fast pace, worked perfectly.

Four, the big secret and the reason for it? I thought it was unique. I haven't read another book addressing this issue (and it's actually a pretty prevalent one, I think). I'm not saying what it is, of course.

Five, I adored the fact that this book didn't revolve wholly around the high-school experience. This was unconventionally refreshing.

Also, Morgan's brothers are AWESOME. And unique.

And this was a very fulfilling reading experience. This is the reason why I read. These are the characters that make me fall in love with them. This is the kind of book I want to shove under people's noses and say 'READ.READ.READ.'

The Sky Is Everywhere And The Hills Don't Mind is witty, angsty yet so damn charming and so darn honest, you read it and fall in love with it and you'll be turning the pages to re-read it all over again. 
Let in some quirkiness, don't pass this up. This book is made of WIN.

Personally, a lot of things hit home for me, which is another reason why this book has become so special.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fairy Tale ~ Cyn Balog

I wanted to read this for a LONG time, and my reaction after I did? Umm..

Morgan Sparks and Cam Browne are a match made in heaven. They’ve been best friends since birth, they tell each other everything, and oh yeah- they’re totally hot for each other.
But a week before their joint Sweet Sixteen bash, everything changes. Cam’s awkward cousin Pip comes to stay, and Morgan is stunned when her formerly perfect boyfriend seems to be drifting away.

When Morgan demands answers, she’s shocked to discover the source of Cam’s distance isn’t another girl- it’s another world.  Pip claims that Cam is a fairy.  No, seriously.  A fairy. And now his people want Cam to return to their world and take his rightful place as Fairy King.

Determined to keep Cam with her, Morgan plots to fool the fairies. But as Cam continues to change, she has to decide once and for all if he really is her destiny, and if their “perfect” love can weather an uncertain future.
What I liked:

--> The quick, fast-paced nature of Fairy Tale which made me keep turning the pages.
--> The humour. Morgan, the MC had a funny bone and it kept the atmosphere light.
--> The occasional witticisms. From Morgan again.
--> Cam and Pip, the love interests. Glaring contrasts against the usual brooding, dark hero with the perpetual unreadable expression in his face who keeps popping into every YA paranormal. Nice guys.
--> The atmosphere. Once again contrasting other paranormals, Fairy Tale was light and funny. For once it wasn't all life and death dilemmas (even though the book summary makes it sound rather intense), which was refreshing.
--> Morgan's psychic ability.
--> The cover.

What I didn't like:

--> Morgan at the beginning. Unlikable, not because she was flawed, but because she was stereotypical (minus the psychic powers). The voice I'd read so, so many times. Boring.
--> The stereotypical depiction of female friendship. the snide-mockery of your lesser-mortal of a best friend. Morgan getting bored of her best friend's jabber. Morgan knowing her best friend is a sort of loser. Doesn't work for me.
--> Nothing enticing about the fairies.
--> Lack of chemistry between Morgan and Cam. No showing, just telling.
--> The intensity of the situation doesn't strike home (maybe 'cos there was no intensity as there's supposed to be?). Didn't make my heart race. Didn't make me root for anyone.
--> Zero character development.
--> The ending. Without getting spoiler-ish, it left me unconvinced.

If you're looking for a one-time fast paced read to get you through a delay at the airport terminal, pick this up. Otherwise, it's up to you.

What did you think of this book?

Friday, August 6, 2010

'The Accidental Novelist': A Guest Post by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

I didn't set out to write young adult novels.  I was raised around literature of all kinds, but it was poetry that called my heart.  My grandmother and father both recited poetry to me when I was young, so "writer" meant "poet" to me until I was finished with my master's degree (my thesis was a manuscript of poetry).  After my master's degree, I went to graduate school again and wrote academic things, then I had a baby, then I got a full-time job, and then there was no time for writing!

Then, about 15 years after my high school graduation, a classmate called me and told me a secret.  She and I had a very difficult relationship when we were young, and I hadn't spoken to her since we graduated.  In the course of the conversation, she told me why she'd been so mean to me from eighth grade on:  she had a crush on me.

My brain said two things to me after that confession:  "wow, that explains a lot!", and "wow, that would make a good novel."  So a novelist was born.

I wrote 10 pages of SKY in 2002 and took them to a workshop on writing children's literature.  People liked them--I was rather surprised.  Then they sat on my shelf for a year, in part because I thought, "I'm a poet!  I don't write young adult novels!" In 2003, I began again, and had the novel drafted by the end of 2004.  At that point, I realized I really *was* a novelist.  Not a very good one, maybe, but a novelist all the same.  In May of 2005, I found an agent, and he took SKY out (at the time, the title was TANGIBLE PEOPLE), but it was soundly rejected.  Back to the drawing board, and in the course of revision, the title was changed to CONTENTS MAY EXPLODE UNDER PRESSURE.  I also started a new novel in early 2005, so I worked on both at the same time, though I mostly focused on the new novel.  In early 2007, I parted ways with my agent.  Then, in the summer of 2007, I submitted the new novel to Andrew Karre at Flux (they take unagented submissions), and waited to hear back from him.  When he contacted me, he told me he didn't think my second novel was quite right for them, and he asked if I had more.  I sent him CONTENTS, and we shaped it together.  It was purchased by Flux in May 2008 and published in September 2009.  A long journey!

As you know, the novel is called THE SKY ALWAYS HEARS ME AND THE HILLS DON'T MIND, which is not the title it went to Flux with.  As I was revising for Andrew, I wrote that line in the text (on the first page, actually), as Morgan's first justification of why she shouts her problems out on her hill.  As I wrote it, I thought, "Oh, they'll make me throw that line out.  It's too cheesy, too silly."  When Brian Farrey (the current Flux editor) told me it was the title of the book, I was floored!  Then I moved it away from the first page, so the title wouldn't be "given away" too soon (I like it when titles are mysteries, so to speak, until the middle/end of the book).  What also surprised me about the title was how long it is--originally we'd been thinking about two-word and one-word titles.  It was a big jump to ten words!

In part, I wrote the book for the real-life Tessa, to let her know that it was OK to have told me her secret, and it would have been OK for her to tell me way back in high school.  It would have been surprising and strange, especially since we thought there weren't any lesbians or gay men in Central Nowhere (they were there all the time!), but still OK.  The book is not "I kissed a girl and I liked it, and I did it just so boys would watch me."  The book is "I kissed a girl and I liked it for real, and now I don't know what to do with those feelings."  Had it really happened in high school, the real-life Tessa and I would have worked it out together.

There you go--how SKY came to be, and how the book got its title.  Thanks for allowing me to guest post.

This post has been written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, author of the YA novel, The Sky Always Hears Me And The Hills Don't Mind, which is a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Book awards in the Young People's Literature Category.
For more information, visit her on her blog and website.

Thank you for being here Kirstin!*

*Actually I'm elated to have her here. SQUEE! More about that later..

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dreaming of Amelia ~ Jaclyn Moriarty

By now, it should be official. I adore Jaclyn Moriarty. I do. More and more with each book and with Dreaming of Amelia (also known as The Ghosts of Ashbury High in the US)..well, I'm just gonna present you with a proper review (with the fangirling* in control). Ahem.

Amelia and Riley have transferred to Ashbury High for their final year, and the whole school is completely obsessed with them. Glamorous, gifted and totally devoted to one another, they seem to be perfect. But there's more to them than beauty and talent. Riley and Amelia have secrets. And everyone at Ashbury is about to find out that the past casts a very long shadow....

The Story: This is one of those books that surprise at every turn because you really don't know what to expect. For me personally, I've been surprised with every Jaclyn Moriarty book. They break the stereotypes and wash you over with quirky and refreshing surprises. It's obvious that Dreaming of Amelia is about the two new students who capture everyone's attention with there appearance at Ashbury. What isn't obvious is that the story rolls out on a wider scope and embraces past, present all at once. It's remarkable how Jaclyn Moriarty connects all the sub-plots together with the main plot to make it one whole comprehensive story (and at 578 pages long, that's quite a job!).

The Writing: Epistolary format once again.This time written as personal memoirs as part of a Gothic Fiction Elective during the Year Twelve HSC Examination. Moriarty experiments with the writing, so we also have un-punctuated poems and fragmented lines styled like this:
                                                  She turns,
                                                  and just like that,
                                                            she's gone.
And, just so you know, I absolutely love experimental writing styles. 

The Characters: It's true. Jaclyn Moriarty creates some of the most memorable characters ever. Character voices are undoubtedly her strongest point. And one of the best things about her characters? They travel between her books, although they are not sequels. Which is why two of the five main characters in Dreaming of Amelia are Emily and Lydia from The Year Of Secret Assignments! How cool is that? There are also references to Elizabeth and Saxon from Feeling Sorry For Celia and Bindy from Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, so basically you have can shake your head at one of your faves (or not-so-faves). Also, Moriarty is brilliant with making her characters stand out from each other -- so there is Emily with her hyperboles and exclamations, Lydia and her bizarre reality-overlapping-the make belief stories, Toby and his obsession with history and the discreet Amelia and Riley. Basically, the cast totally rocks.

{Special Mention} The Cover: It stands out. It just does. Form the sea of black, this summery blue cover with the back of a girl's head..I love it.

Overall: Fangirling starts now. You have to, have to read this. It's a long book, yes, but this neo-gothic novel with it's charming cast of characters and a mystery at its core is a pleasantly crazy read summer, autumn, winter..anytime. Pick it up. I command you to.

*Omigosh, I love Jaclyn Moriarty! I love Jaclyn Moriarty! I love Jaclyn Moriarty!
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