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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Entice by Carrie Jones

Talk about ENTICING... ok, yeah, that was cheesy.  But I started accidentally/on purpose reading Entice right in the middle of reading another book, and when I had to choose which one to finish first, Entice won -- hands down.  Entice is the third book in Carrie Jone's Need series.  Since this was book 3, I'm really hoping she's writing more than just a trilogy.  Seriously.  It. Cannot. End. Here.

For those of you who've been around this long, I posted back in June my review of the second book in the series, Captivate.  Long story short: I wasn't Captivated (until the very end).  But Entice was a whole different story.  Check out the cool trailer below to get a flavor for the book.  It's chockfull of action, romance and paranormals.  (But if you haven't read books 1 & 2, it probably won't make a whole lot of sense.  Sorry.)

Here's what I really liked:

*  As with the other books in the series, Jones has created an awesome voice for her main character.  I love her sass, the way she sometimes totally babbles (I can relate!), and her sarcastic wit.

*  For fellow authors out there, the writing is fantastic.  I'm very fussy (wear my editor hat too much, I suppose), but there were very few instances where the writing accidentally took me out of the story.

*  Astley, the new pixie King.  I know, I said that in my review of Captivate.  Maybe it's a Twilight thing, but why pick a warewolf over an inhumanly hot guy who can fly?  Especially one who will bend over backwards to ensure your happiness even if it will make him ultimately unhappy.  What could be more romantic?

*  The plot was face-paced.  I had a really hard time putting the book down and flew through it in just a couple of days.  There were also very unexpected plot twists.  Even at the second big twist, you think, "No, not this time," and then yep, it happens.

*  In the end, even though Zara's friends helped her all along the way, she could only succeed through sheer force of her own will and wits.  Although it's been awhile since I've been a YA myself, this is such a relatable theme.  Friends are so important, but in the end, you have to be able to rely on yourself.

Things I didn't love:

*  The way Zara (and everyone else for that matter) treats Astley.  He's a good guy... er, pixie.  Talk about bigotry and stereotypes.  And one of the "good guys" is a real jerk.  I didn't like the parts with him in it.

*  Someone else pointed this out, so I can't take credit for it: Why Astley is so convinced that Zara is meant to be his queen is painfully un-obvious.  Without knowing this information, he's not as strong as I'd like him to be.

*  It ends in another cliffhanger and I'm going to have to freaking wait for another book (I just peeked at her website, there is a 4th book planned - squee!)
Bottom line - I give this book 3.5 Greek coins; in between URA* and OMG!  If you've read and enjoyed the first two books, I'd definately recommend adding it to your TBR pile (but reading them out of order is not recommended -- I think I'd be totally lost in this one without having read Need and Captivate first).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

There was a lot of hype around this urban fantasy trilogy.  Beautiful cover, beautiful fae mythology... I knew I had to read it and I was all prepared to be absolutely blown away.
Meghan Chase has a secret destiny--one she could never have imagined...

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school...or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth-- that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face...and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

And probably, I should have been completely wowed.  It kept me up late reading, I loved the romance and potential love triangle (which wasn't fully exploited).  The only thing I can figure is that it was too much fantasy and not enough urban.  One thing I loved about Melissa Marr's books was how the fairy realm lay right on top of the mortal world, you just couldn't see it.  The same is sort of true in this series, but the fae kingdoms (where the vast majority of the action happens) are in a realm called the Nevernever.  The Nevernever is SO different that it felt to me more like an Alice in Wonderland fantasy than urban fantasy -- assuming that makes any sense.

That's really my only gripe.  The characters were interesting, the plot full of twists, and the writing was excellent.  As I was reading along, I wasn't sure that I'd pick up the second in the series, The Iron Daughter, because I wasn't loving the world.  But with an ending like it had (and I won't give away any spoilers, but it was good), I'm pretty sure book 2 will make its way into my TBR pile.

Anyone think something different about it?  Will I be disappointed by The Iron Daughter or is it a must read?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Tips - from a seminar with Agent Mark McVeigh

I feel like I've gone to radio silence lately.  Holidays are crazy.  Work is relatively busy.  Edits are full-on.  Still, I know I owe you guys some Tuesday Tips.  So I decided to share the insights I gained from agent Mark McVeigh during his 90 minute webinar, Nailing Your First Chapter.
If you can't hook an agent/editor with your first chapter, they're never going to see another word you've written, so that first chapter is MEGA important.  In fact, Mark says an agent can decide if 95% of the manuscripts they get are right for them based on just the first page!

This webinar was geared exclusively toward YA authors, so keep that in mind as you absorb these tips.  Here are some of the more global pointers that Mark led off with:

*  Avoid "movie style" writing that starts off with a big bang or an action scene without letting the reader first know who the characters are
*  YA lit is primarily character-driven.  The reader needs to identify with the MC first and foremost.
*  Your first chapter is typically not the first thing you write.
*  Be SUBTLE.  No telling, no exposition, don't over-foreshadow, don't info-dump, don't overly set the stage of who, where, etc.
*  In the first chapter, you MUST establish: the MC, the voice (be sure to re-examine after the first chapter to make sure it's consistent), context/setting, and the conflict in some small way (need a sense of the conflict, but don't need to have a full understanding of it)
* shorter is better than longer
* just give a preview of what's to come - make the reader want to read more
*  focus on a particular element of the MC that will carry through; personality can have contradictory elements though.  You typically should have a likable main character.

Here are some more specific insights --

First Word: He doesn't like starting with a name (e.g. Mary sat on the couch...)

First Sentence:
*  Look at your first line like poetry.  Every single word must count.
*  Dialog can be a great way to start, but it must be provocative and tie into the story.
*  The first line must do one of two things: (1) drop the reader into the world OR (2) establish either the MC or the central conflict -- some element; don't have to give it all away.  An example is a dystopian novel that starts where something we take for granted no longer exists.
*  Too much info actually turns readers off.  Given them a general idea and sense of what's happening, but not much more.  Always leave the reader wanting more.

First Paragraph:
Here's how Mark views the first chapter. Imagine you're walking along a street and stop to tie your shoe next to a door that's slightly ajar.  You didn't mean to listen in, but you hear part of a conversation, and now you can't stop listening.  You've been dropped into a conversation and it's interesting and intriguing enough that you want to know what they're going to say next.

Your first paragraph should end strong.  He likes paragraphs that seem normal, but set the reader up for a fall/something unexpected.

First Chapter:
* if only can accomplish one thing, must have reader hooked on voice
*  also needs to end strong and have a tie-in to the next chapter

Last Sentence: should be charismatic, compelling, and be a good bookend with the first sentence.  While it can set the reader up for a fall, it cannot leave the reader wonder what's going on.  Be careful when handling large plot points in the last sentence because it can feel forced and not organic.

AVOID these things:
* being too long/expository
* telling - if doing that, take a step back and figure out how to "show" instead (an example of good showing can be found in Mindblind by Jennifer Roy)
*  lack of focus - need to be linear and specific
*  jumping back and forth with timeframe or POV - don't switch within chapters and especially not in the first chapter
*  foreshadowing past events is good; jumping completely back in time is bad.

Final Thought: check out the writing of Gillian Flynn, who wrote Dark Places and Sharp Objects.  She's  good with unreliable narrators, which can be a good way to hook the reader because it makes them question the information they're getting.  (While Gillian writes adult novels, she has strong teen voices.  Mark also recommends reading in the adult genres even if you only write YA).

There.  Hope that helps!  I probably won't be back until after Christmas, so I hope you all enjoy the season and take the time to count your blessings.  Glad Tidings!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

OK, I'll just come right out and say it: I LOVED THIS BOOK.  It was a stay-up-late, want-to-go-back-and-reread-it kind of book for me.  And that praise doesn't come lightly for me.  I don't re-read books.

Haven Moore can't control her visions of a past with a boy called Ethan, and a life in New York that ended in fiery tragedy. In our present, she designs beautiful dresses for her classmates with her best friend Beau. Dressmaking keeps her sane, since she lives with her widowed and heartbroken mother in her tyrannical grandmother's house in Snope City, a tiny town in Tennessee. Then an impossible group of coincidences conspire to force her to flee to New York, to discover who she is, and who she was.

In New York, Haven meets Iain Morrow and is swept into an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Iain is suspected of murdering a rock star and Haven wonders, could he have murdered her in a past life? She visits the Ouroboros Society and discovers a murky world of reincarnation that stretches across millennia. Haven must discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves¸ before all is lost and the cycle begins again.

Not to say that the book was without it flaws.  The one thing that bothered me was how hot and cold Haven was with Iain.  I mean, the boy whisks her away to Rome, lavishes her with attention and gifts, and pledges his undying love. Sure he lies... about almost everything.  But cut a guy some slack. :)

All in all, I found the romance compelling, gripping, sizzling... all those "book review" words you'd want to print on your cover if you were a published author.  It's those chapters that I want to go back and read again and again.  Those moments were fate and doubt resist combining so that hope can linger just a little longer.  And even though we, as readers, maintain a fragile hope that everything will work out, the ending was completely different than I had anticipated...and oh, so wonderful.

I also loved how much mystery and intrigue was wound into the plot; how characters took on twists of their own; how veiled (and yet realistic) motivations were.  The clues are all there, but as you're carried away on the tide of this story, they don't all click until the end.
So that's my opinion.  But of course, I'm a hopeless romantic who swoons over the idea of love at first sight.  In short, I give THE ETERNAL ONES 5 Greek coins -- the "almost" unattainable HFAC designation.  Check out the trailer below, and then go forth and read the book!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Crazy Holiday Blogfest - more DESTINED

Christine over at Christine's Journey is hosting a Crazy Holiday Blogfest today.  The rules are simple: post up to 250 words of any holiday you've written about.  It doesn't have to be Christmas or even a winter holiday.

Here's the quick background on this excerpt from DESTINED.  This is a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth, set in ancient Greece.  Sadie and Cupid are married, although Sadie still doesn't know his identity and can't see anything except his gorgeous blue eyes past the black cloud-like veil he hides behind.  He only comes to her at night, so she's been sulking her whole birthday since no one in the palace seems to know it's a special day.  The scene picks up when Cupid comes that night.


      “Sadie,” he whispered before kissing me deeply. “I missed you today.”
A warm blush rose into my cheeks but I managed to return his gaze. “Me too,” I said, biting my lower lip in a confused attempt to look shy and sultry at the same time.
He ran his fingers through my hair while his eyes studied my face. “I need to know you more,” he said. “I’ve memorized your face, every feature, every eye lash even, but I need more. I want to know what you’re thinking, what you wish for, what makes you who you are.” 
I shook my head in confusion.  
“It’s agony to be away from you all day. The more I know about you, the more I’ll have to remember when I’m gone.” Then he looked at me with playfulness in his eyes. “So tell me everything… over cake.” He kissed me quickly and then extracted a package from the darkness of his clouded form.  
Once he’d untied the string and pulled away the cloth wrapping, I saw an amazing-looking cheesecake. My mouth watered as I stared at the scrumptious treat.  
“Happy eighteenth birthday.”
 “How’d you know?” I asked.
“I figured it was something a good husband ought to remember. You do like cheesecake, don’t you?”
“Who doesn’t?” I hopped up onto the bed, pulling a slice closer so I could begin shoveling the cake. 
But he stopped my hand before I even got the first bite. “Wait… this game has rules.”
I looked at him with narrowed eyes. Since when does eating cheesecake have rules?

I'd love to know your thoughts.  And be sure to check out the other entries that are linked up at Christine's Blog.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Not to Lose Santa

If you knew me back at LiveJournal last year, then this post isn't new.  For the rest of you (which, let's face it, is almost everyone), hope you enjoy these tips.

For better or for worse, I figured out that Santa wasn't real when I was 4. Yes - 4!! As the parent of a 4 year old child, I find myself looking back on the tell-tale clues that gave it away for me so that I don't make the same mistakes. And it's not like my parents were idiots or anything. Just sometimes, 4 year olds are smarter than you give them credit for. So here's my list of tips to avoid losing Santa for your child:
(This is Santa's non-verbal expression of his desire for your children not to stop believing.)

1. Use different wrapping paper than what you use on your own presents. The excuse that Santa was really busy and asked mommy to wrap his gifts doesn't fly. Trust me, there's lots of different kinds to choose from and you can get that extra roll for a mere $1. It's worth it.

 Going hand-in-hand with this tip is the obvious advice to disguise your handwriting. Like I said, even 4 year olds can tell sometimes.

2. If your house doesn't have a chimney (as my parents' double-wide trailer did not), then try to avoid reading your child "The Night Before Christmas." It's pretty much the Bible on how Santa gets into and out of your crib. Rumor has it that I knew the story by heart. Perhaps that explains why I started questioning Santa in the first place. I mean, how the hell was he supposed to get in?

3. If your child is afraid of Santa, do not have some dude dressed up as Santa make an appearance at your front door on a night OTHER than Christmas eve. This is perhaps 2 tips. No Santa period. If you have Santa, make sure he appears ON Christmas eve.

In my personal experience, when my parents made this double mistake, it resulted in me locking myself in the bedroom and refusing to come out until I had assurance that the fat guy in red had vacated the premises. This experience perhaps made me WANT to doubt Santa's existence. Please God, don't let that guy come back in my house!

4. And last but not least, avoid fake or cheesy Christmas themed places. This one isn't obvious and it's hard to avoid. Growing up, my mall had some fake reindeer heads sticking out a barn singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" ad nauseum. Now, if I'm being honest, I liked those deer WAY better than Santa (upon whose lap I obviously refused it sit). But come on, they were clearly fake. And if the deer aren't real, is Santa? The same goes for those lame little UNPOPULATED elf villages that appear in towns (like St. Augustine, Florida) OTHER than the North Pole. I'm all about having fun with your kids, but think ahead! That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Santa Baby: The Aspiring Author's Version

It's amazing how changing just a few lyrics to one of my favorite holiday songs makes it just perfect for aspiring authors!  I'd take any of these gifts please.

Santa baby, slip an agent under the tree, for me
I’ve been an awfully good girl
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby, I’d like to sell at auction too, for two
Million bucks would be nice
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Think of all the sleep I’ve missed
Think of my characters who got to kiss
Next year I could write oh so good
If you’d check off my Christmas list

Santa honey, I wanna shot
And really that’s not a lot
Been working so hard all year,
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa cutie, there’s one thing that I really crave – a rave
Review of my latest work
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa baby, you know what really would make me squeal? A deal!
Sign your “X” on the line
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With a list of requested autographs from me
I really do believe in you,
Let’s see if you believe in me.

Santa baby, forgot to mention something so tame: pure fame
The Stephanie Meyer’s kind
Santa baby, and hurry down my chimney tonight.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Best I've Read 2010

Stealing the "Best I've Read 2010" theme from Mundie Mom's, I decided to share some of my personal favorites from the past year.
I remember composing this list for 2009, and it had amazing titles on it like Shiver, Need, The Pace and Beautiful Creatures.  So what about 2010... did it live up to my expectations?  Yes and no.

The sequels to some of the 2009 titles that I loved so much were disappointing.  Other than Beautiful Darkness (which I haven't read yet), I found round II of these books far less engaging than the original. But I found some new titles -- which are sure to be the first in their own series -- that captured by attention in 2010.

For instance, I loved Firelight by Sopie Jordan.
White Cat by Holly Black was awesome.
And My Soul to Keep by Rachel Vincent was one of those sequel books that DIDN'T disappoint.
Other than that, I don't know that I was really "wow"ed by anything.  I read a whole bunch of good books, don't get me wrong, but not all that many that knocked it out of the park.  In the interest of full disclosure, I've only just started The Eternal Ones and haven't yet open Paranormalcy, both of which I expect to be excellent.  (Here's hoping anyway.)

What about you... how do you think 2010 faired in new titles?  What did I miss that would've turned my whole opinion of the year around?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tyger, Tyger: A Book Review

     Teagan Wylltson's best friend, Abby, dreams that horrifying creatures--goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty--are hunting Teagan. Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn't worried. Her life isn't in danger. In fact, it's perfect. She's on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She's focused on school, work, and her future. No boys, no heartaches, no problems.
     Until Finn Mac Cumhaill arrives. Finn's a bit on the unearthly beautiful side himself. He has a killer accent and a knee-weakening smile. And either he's crazy or he's been haunting Abby's dreams, because he's talking about goblins, too . . . and about being The Mac Cumhaill, born to fight all goblin-kind. Finn knows a thing or two about fighting. Which is a very good thing, because this time, Abby's right. The goblins are coming.
I posted a mid-point review of Tyger, Tyger here because I was having so much guilt over not finishing the book before it's release on November 15th.  After all, I'd been fortunate enough to receive an ARC from the publisher via (if you're a book reviewer, check it out).

I had two main gripes then: (1) starting with monkeys and (2) Gaelic names I couldn't pronounce.  Those gripes didn't change as I finished the books.  I did find a third potential gripe, but I'm not sure it's fair.  I say that because, I found I was a bit confused in parts of the book, but I didn't read this cover to cover quickly enough. In fact, it probably took me about a month.  So in all fairness to the book, I'm sure I forgot and/or missed key parts that would've made it more clear.

That being said, I found the book to be very well written.  Some of the events as the characters journey into Mag Mell were richly described and completely surprising -- things I didn't see coming.  Without posting any spoilers, the ending came full circle back to the beginning in a way that tied things up nicely without leaving a perfect little bow.  Kersten Hamilton is obviously a gifted writer and storyteller, I just think that overall, this wasn't the best story for my own personal tastes.  If you don't mind hard Irish names, or you love independent, kick-butt female MCs, you'll probably really enjoy Tyger, Tyger.
In short, I give it 2.5 out of 4 Greek coins.  Not quite URA* but better than ICBW.  If you want to read the first few pages or buy your own copy, check out the Amazon page. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Literary Turn-Offs

We all know how subjective the book industry is, right?  I mean, you would never find me in a memoir or biography section of the bookstore.  And probably the majority of "adults" don't exclusively read YA like I do.  It's all personal taste.
But today I felt like blogging about some of my personal "turn offs" in literature and find out if y'all have any similarly irrational perfectly acceptable dislikes.

1.  Starting with a Dream Sequence
We all know this is a "biggie" for agents and editors. But for me, it's "starting" that's the key.  Because I don't mind dreams in the right places and doses.  (Heck, Nikki and I have been writing plenty.)
I'll confess, when I first started DESTINED forever ago, following a pointless prologue, the book opened with a dream.  Can we say double suicide?  Thankfully, I've learned a few things since I blindly started clicking away on the keyboard and now appreciate why starting with a dream is so disorienting to the reader.

2.  Monkeys
 I know, totally random.  But I mentioned this when I did my mid-point review of TYGER, TYGER What was an otherwise well-crafted novel lost me at the start because the main character was working with a chimp.  To top it off, she liked said chimp, even though the feeling wasn't mutual.  In fact, the chimp smears chimp poop on the MC's sweater in the first chapter.  Gross.  And btw, this ---> is NOT cute.

3.  Names I Cannot Pronounce.
Perhaps another thing that bothered me about TYGER, TYGER as I got more into it was that the Gaelic names.  I can't pronounce them.  I just can't.  and when I cracked open my ARC of HUNTRESS, the first page looking back at me as a name pronunciation guide.  A whole flipping devoted to telling me how to say the names in the book.  TMW - too much work.  (Along those same lines, give your characters the normal spelling of their name, not Jyssica or Airica, or something that could be spelled normal but is now messed up just for me to stumble over.)

4. Dumb Main Characters.
Your MC doesn't have to be a rocket scientist, but if she's opening the door we all know the bad guy's hiding behind, I'm probably going to be pissed.  Likewise, if I can see the ending coming from 100 pages away and your MC is too dumb to figure it out... Me = Not Happy.
I expect a modicum of logic and common sense from my characters or I just can't read their stories.

5.  YA Chick Lit
I don't know why.  I love YA paranormal, but cannot stand chick lit.  For example, a friend gave me GEEK HIGH to read because she loved it.  While the start was  clever, it soon got redundant and impossibly boring.  Didn't finish. I think it's just the atmosphere of constant catty, snotty, stereotypical behavior directed and one, poor little main character (aside from her one friend, who's way too cool for her anyway) that drives me up the wall.  All I can say is: More Paranormal. Less Check Lit.

Phew.  That rant's off my chest now.  I feel much better.  Sorry if I offended your reading tastes and/or favorite books and/or you personally.  I didn't mean to. So tell me your quirks... what makes your skin crawl while you're reading (so I can be sure not to write that)?