Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Sunshine: Beth Revis Edition

Remember all those ambitious goals I had for my week off?

Yeah, when I fail, I like to fail big :)

I did have a good vacation, and I did get some writing done...but rather than blazing ahead with this new, exciting version of my story, I got about 6K words in and sputtered out.  I might need to do some scene-level planning and see if that helps--and if not, it may be time to trunk this WiP and move on.  I have the beginning of something else that has voice but only a basic plot, so I'm not totally throwing in the towel yet.

Oh, and I baked a cake!  And followed the people whose cards I got at SCBWI.  So it wasn't a total wash.

Also as promised--this morning I finished Shades of Earth, the final book in Beth Revis's awesome sci-fi trilogy.  I read the first two last year, so I'll re-share my brief thoughts on those here in addition to what I jotted down today after finishing the final volume.

And finally--if you're like me and have the February Blurghs, head over to Sara Biren's blog for her awesome Winter Writing Retreat!

What I Read This Week: 

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)Across the Universe by Beth Revis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After I got past the TERRIFYING beginning (seriously, I had to walk away for a day or two)I got really swept up in this story. Amy's voice, in particular, feels very true--and in a book with a plot this wild and twisty-turny, having a protagonist who can anchor it with some reality is important. That's not to say that the plot doesn't work--in fact, it's very well constructed--but I don't read a ton of science fiction, so it's nice to have a bit of a lifeline. I can't help but compare the plot, in some ways, to The Giver, but it never feels copied or unoriginal. It's like it takes some of the concepts and situations that were most interesting from that book and gives them a whole new context. (And really, so much in The Giver is just waiting to be revisited!) Revis has created a really fascinating world in Across the Universe, and by the end of this book you're left with the feeling that she's just scratched the surface (so isn't it awesome that Book 2 is out? Yes, yes it is.)

A Million Suns (Across the Universe, #2)A Million Suns by Beth Revis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, the rare (these days) second book I read immediately after the first book! And it did not disappoint. The big reveals are just as satisfying and tightly paced as those in the first book, and the stakes just keep getting higher! I loved the "scavenger hunt" setup--and completely did not anticipate any of the big twists. My only complaint: having to wait for book three!

Shades of Earth (Across the Universe, #3)Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, Beth Revis shows off her impressive ability to make a book impossible to put down. Especially in the last third of this book, if I knew I was going to have to stop reading, I would stop mid-chapter. Once you get to the end of a chapter, you have to keep going--and because there are two POV characetrs, you have to read two more chapters...and then you have to read another chapter because now you want to find out what happened to the other narrator!

I don't think it's spoiling anything, given the cover and title of this book, to say that I totally loved the new setting. I would have read a trilogy just of this book, I think, if it could have been expanded. (I do think the ending leaves an opening for another book, say about ten years in the future? Or maybe like fifteen years, to give the new generation a chance to become protagonist-ages?)

While this book feels very different from the first two in the series, I found it an exciting and satisfying end to the trilogy.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Sunshine POSTPONED!

Sooooooooooo...February, huh? 

Ok, this has not been my greatest month as a blogger or writer.  Otherwise, things are great: SCBWI, awesome job, good books to read...but man, I've been super out of it.  If I was psychic, I would have posted at the beginning of the month about how I was only really gonna blog about books I've read and my compliment challenge, but sadly, my psychic powers have been on the fritz lately. 

Anyway, I'm gonna hold off on my reviews this week because I'm still halfway through Shades of Earth, and I want to post about the whole trilogy at once.  I'm hoping to get that done tomorrow. 

I can share my most recent compliments, though:

Tuesday, 2/19: Malinda Lo wrote a post on the five years since she got an offer from her publisher, and I commented to tell her how much I valued her writing and blogging.

Also Tuesday, 2/19 (because, OOPS, I forgot to do one on Monday!): I've mentioned the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour here before, but a few months ago they got a new producer, and I tweeted at her Tuesday after listening to her one-and-only (so far) on-mic appearance to tell her how fun she was to listen to.

Wednesday, 2/20: Buffalo's beloved hockey coach, Lindy Ruff, was fired Wednesday, much to my chagrin.  A college friend of mine, Spike Friedman, recently landed a column in Grantland covering sports with a comedic bent; I got in touch to tell him how much I liked his column and to say that I hoped he'd give Lindy a fond farewell for me.

Thursday, 2/21: Mr. S got sworn into the bar (he's now Mr. S, Esq!) and we went out for dinner to celebrate.  I had these semolina gnocchi that were the best restaurant dish I've had in Buffalo so far, so I asked the waiter to let the chef know how much I loved them.

Friday, 2/22: I had an exciting, invigorating meeting about upcoming stuff for work.  I met a woman there who also used to teach in NYC but now works at a college that partners with our school.  She was wearing a really cute sparkly blue sweater, so that day's compliment was an easy one!

Saturday, 2/23: We met my mother-in-law at the mall to do some shopping, and I complimented her totally stylish dark grey nail polish.

Sunday, 2/24: Another restaurant compliment, this time at a Cantonese place.  There are all these totally unassuming Chinese places in the suburbs of Buffalo that are just starting to put their regional cuisine menus into English--like, you drive into a shopping plaza with a Subway and a Chuck-E-Cheese, and if you know what you're doing, you can get good authentic Chinese food.  Don't get me wrong, I also love American-style Chinese, but living in New York we fell in love with dim sum and Szechuan food, so it's really exciting to find that here.  We went to one such place tonight and ordered WAY more than we could eat, so I think I must have explained five times how everything was DELICIOUS but we just had to take the rest home because we were too full!

That's my week in compliments--if you haven't joined in the Compliment Challenge yet, give it a shot this week!  Only a few days left in February!  And be sure to enter my Donors Choose gift card giveaway!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Getting On Track Edition

My to-do list for this week:

  • Blog about SCBWI
  • Go through all the business cards I picked up at SCBWI and follow some awesome new people
  • Read the entire Across the Universe trilogy; I'm re-reading the first one for the class I'm teaching but now that I have Shades of Earth I'm looking forward to going straight through
  • Bake bread and a cake--this cake.
  • Write 25,000 words
Even though I've only been working for about a month, I'm already on vacation!  With the conference at the beginning of the month and then getting sick when I got back, I didn't get around to a lot of things I wanted to do.  So I'm taking advantage of this week to get back in the swing of things.  In particular, I want to get about halfway through WiP v.2 this week.  I'm super-excited to dig in and do some real focused sprints.

And of course, I've been keeping up with my February Compliment Challenge!  The folks over at The Kindness Project were good enough to let me guest post over there yesterday, so definitely check them out.  They're doing some really awesome stuff.

Monday 2/11: I got in touch with the wife of one of my husband's best friends; she had recommended NPR's podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour
 to me so I complimented her good taste.  (Then I sold her on Grave Mercy!  Wooo friends!)

Tuesday 2/12: I told my friend from HS how cute and stylish her infant daughter is in some pictures on FB.  I mean, seriously.  This kid is adorbs.

Wednesday 2/13: I left a very complimentary (hopefully not creepy) compliment on Maggie Stiefvater's blog when she revealed the title/cover of the next book in the Raven Boys series.  Looking looks like the site maybe ate it?  That might be for the best.  But I tried :)

Thursday 2/14: My husband and I had a very romantic Valentine's Day--he left work in the middle of the afternoon, came and picked me up, and took me to...the doctor's office, where we both had routine physicals.  What can you do?  (I mean, I did point out that nothing is closer to my heart than my blood, or at least it was until they took a BUNCH of it out of me.)  But anyway, my nurse was all decked out--heart scrubs, pink clogs, pink watchband--so I complimented her festive attire.

Friday 2/15: I was lucky enough to be working the day of the school talent show.  And like, ok, I've been to my share of HS talent shows.  But this one was amazing.  These kids are super-talented.  I knew a few of the performers, so my compliments on Friday were directed their way. 

Saturday 2/16: We went to a great little indoor farmers'/artisans' market, and as we sampled, I complimented.  Mini-cupcakes, cool mustards, Korean pork taco, Chinese dumplings--this place was great.

Sunday 2/17:

 And of course--here's What I Read This Week:

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read for class (but also because I have yet to read Reached.) This was one of the first of the current wave of dystopians that I read, and I continue to enjoy its blandly regulated Society. (One of my students remarked that it reminded her of The Giver and I confess that I will never not be delighted by other books that remind me of that one, my very first foray into dystopia.) Reading it this time (I think my third time through?) it struck me how much is set up that I hope pays off later on. This is a great intro to the genre for anyone just now coming of YA age (or who has been living under a particular kind of rock, I guess.)

Crossed (Matched, #2)Crossed by Ally Condie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I re-read this after my re-read of Matched, on my way through to finally reading Reached. I have to admit that it does have some "second book" baggage but I liked it more than I remembered. I like the new characters who are introduced, for the most part, and the writing remains engaging. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between Cassia's voice and Ky's voice, but in either case the writing is lovely. There is a very strong sense of place, as the setting here is key. I found the ending frustrating, though, (view spoiler)[ because it sort of felt like, really? Cassia spent all this time and effort and risk getting to Ky, just to voluntarily separate from him again? (hide spoiler)] But I'm definitely still invested in the story and looking forward to reading Reached. Off to do that now, in fact...

Reached (Matched, #3)Reached by Ally Condie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally got around to re-reading the first two books in this series in order to read this final book with the interest and understanding it deserved. I really liked this finale; I managed not to read much of anything about it ahead of time, so I was surprised to find that it moved so heavily into what feels like the characters' adult lives. It's not that they got much older, but suddenly they're working and living independently in real jobs (as opposed to Cassia's work camps and Ky's death camps in book two, which are populated pretty clearly with teenagers who are not yet adults.)

I got really into the evolution of all three characters with regard to each other and also to the Rising. This book could almost stand on its own. I found the whole Plague plot really compelling, as it explored issues of loyalty, ethics, war, and epidemiology--while totally supporting the story of the relationships between the characters.

Overall, I found this to be a moving, satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. I'm looking forward to seeing what Ally Condie does next.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Sniffly Edition

So, you may have seen this on Twitter the other day:

It's true!  The winner has been selected, and it's an awesome book that I highly, highly recommend...once you find out what it is on February 14th!

And somehow, despite the fact that we are in all different time zones and our conversation was only virtual, several of my fellow judges and I all managed to get the same cold!  (So I guess if you hate our choice you can blame it on our collective medicated haze.  But you won't hate it.  Because it's brilliant.)

Anyway, something you can definitely blame on my cold is my continuing lack of SCBWI updates.  I have so many business cards to look through, and quotes from speeches that made me go, "Yes!  That!"  So, there's plenty to look forward to here in the days to come.

I've been working on compliments for the February Compliment Challenge!  Thanks to those of you who have joined in and/or spread the word--if you haven't, why not start now?

Wednesday, February 6th: I complimented a trivia teammate on his 11th-hour recognition of a nearly inaudible clip from The Ring.

Thursday, February 7th: I tweeted at NPR blogger Linda Holmes, to let her know how much I adore the podcast she's part of, Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Friday, February 8th: I complimented another teacher in the faculty room on her cute blue sweater.

Saturday, February 9th:
Sunday, February 10th: While I compliment Mr. S on a daily basis, I decided I would only count one compliment to him for this challenge.  Today I complimented his excellent chicken noodle soup (made from the carcass of the delicious roast chicken he made last night).  It was the kind of soup that you can immediately feel restoring your health. 

And finally, here's What I Read This Week:

  The ListThe List by Siobhan Vivian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As flashy and of-the-moment as this book's premise is (a high school where every fall an anonymous list names the prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade), this was actually kind of a slow-burning story. The eight girls--four "pretty", four "ugly--have very different reactions to the list, as do their friends. Those stories are interwoven and braided together, and we see each girl for a fairly short amount of time. But the characters Siobhan Vivian has created each have moments of startling familiarity, and I really wanted to understand where each one was coming from. I think a definite benefit of the eight main characters is that every woman and girl reading this will recognize something of herself in at least one. For me, standouts included the most painful, true depiction of what it's like to shop for clothes when you're a teenager who wears a double-digit size (and what someone's "helpful comment" can do to you in that situation), and the realization that it's ok to define yourself by your strengths and talents rather than by your love life. I know other people will find other scenes that make them go, "Yes--this. I remember this."

There were a few characters, though, who I wanted to know a little better. I was most curious about the mother of the formerly-homeschooled "prettiest" sophomore, a sweet and sheltered girl named Lauren. It's clear that her mother has more going on than we are privy to, and the relationship between mother and daughter was fraught and strange. There are also two pairs of sisters--in each case, one on the list and one not--both of whom have a rough go of it. I would love to hear the next chapters in their stories.

But really, "I wanted more" is hardly a complaint, now, is it? I recommend this to anyone who wants something a little new and different, or who wants a contemporary YA that focuses more on identity and self-discovery than on romance.

View all my reviews

  FeedFeed by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another re-read for my class. I have to admit, the first time I read it, it wasn't my favorite. Upon re-reading, though, I really appreciated the use of the clips from the Feed to lightly sketch the global backdrop against which all the shopping and partying took place. That made the story much more powerful, as it put me more solidly in poor Violet's position, trying to get anyone to understand that they are simply fiddling while Rome burns. And, you know, also voice out the wazoo.

View all my reviews

Also read, for Cybils:


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

RTW: Best January Read's already like a week into February.  Say what?

January flew by--I started a new job (which I'm loving!) and road tripped with Mr. S three weekends in a row. (And then I kicked off February by traveling back to New York City for SCBWI, which I promise to blog about just as soon as I catch up on...everything.)  All of that was fun, but I am super excited for this coming weekend, where we can hang out at home and go grocery shopping and cook together and just do normal stuff. 

And now, for Road Trip Wednesday!

This Week's Topic is: What's the best book you read in January?

Somehow, in that crazy month, I read fifteen books!  Many of them were for the Cybils (finishing up my last Cybils read today; I'll conspire deliberate with my fellow judges soon and the winners will be announced on Valentine's Day!) and several were for the new job, but I still managed to sneak in a few titles I'd been dying to read.  And one of those was my favorite of the month!

This book made me laugh and it made my heart hurt.  It's like Veronica Mars meets The Golden Compass.  I mean, really.  My full review is here.

Please check out my February Compliment Challenge--if you compliment someone this month, I will donate on your behalf to Donors Choose!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February Compliment Challenge Update #1

I hope everyone is having a good February so far--have any of you given out any compliments yet?  The compliment challenge is officially open! Here are my first five:

Friday, February 1st:  I finally got to meet Jaime in person and couldn't help but tell her again how much I love her Sci-Fi YA project Watch of Night (you can see the beginning if you click the link, but y'all, I wish you could read the rest because it is so good!)

Saturday, February 2nd: I got to meet Lee Wind and tell him how much I admire the work he does at his blog, "I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read?".

Sunday, February 3rd: The woman standing ahead of Jaime and I in the line to meet Julie Andrews!!!!! (about which, more later!) had on a really lovely necklace, and I told her so.

Monday, February 4th: While I was working with some of my students in the computer lab at school, a girl I didn't know sat down next to me with her headphones in, listening to music on her iPod.  First of all, her iPod case was blinged out with a blue and white bedazzled cover, and second of all, she was playing songs I love (directly from "Single Ladies" into "Diamonds" by Rihanna, what what!)  So I leaned over and told her she had great taste in music and that I loved her iPod case. 

Tuesday, February 5th: I got to see the very beginning of Erin L. Funk's awesome-looking Sci-Fi YA project, Envision, over at Cupid's Literary Connection, and I left a comment there telling her how much I liked it because I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting her face to face.  Remember, your compliments can be in any medium!

See, not so hard!  I'm finding that the compliment challenge is having the delightful side effect of making me seek out good things as I go about my day (this came in especially handy on my travel days; I am not inclined toward sweetness and sunshine when passing through airport security.) 

Please help me spread the word, and if you haven't started yet, today is the perfect day to compliment someone!  And don't forget to enter my giveaway for Donors Choose gift cards!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Scheduled-in-Advance Edition

Hello, all!  Hopefully, as you're reading this, I'm at Day Two of the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City!

I'm really excited to go--I'm looking forward to a few days of nerding out, meeting up with blog friends, and learning a ton.  I'll be sure to post about it when I get back!  But in the meantime, here's the last of what I read in January--a whopping 15 books!  I think February may see a dip in the number of titles read, as I'll be challenging myself to a NaNo-paced re-write of my WiP--from scratch.  But I'm pleased with the amount of time I've carved out for reading even as I've had a busy, busy month.

What I Read This Week:

 Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

See my blog post on Bird by Bird here!

This is Not a TestThis is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard a lot of people praise this book very highly, and I was definitely not disappointed. I read this one relatively slowly--not because it was paced slowly (exactly the opposite) but because I was busy, and because I didn't want it to end. I thought the dynamic between the teenage survivors of the zombie infection was fascinating.

I appreciated the use of the "stuck in a school" device without it turning into "so everybody falls in love!" There were intimate moments between characters, both emotional and physical, but I was glad that this zombie story didn't suddenly turn into "romance with some unpleasantness in the background", which is always a risk. I thought the way the relationships and characters unfolded made sense, or at least as much sense as anything can make when your town gets taken over by zombies. And I found the end to be both satisfying and ambiguous, which is a hard thing to pull off but when it's done well, I really like it.

If I could change anything, it would be to get more of the Sloane-Lily-their father relationship, either through Sloane's memories or her talking about it. I definitely saw enough to believe that Sloane would feel as strongly as she did; I just didn't see enough to feel it myself.

But really, this is a great story. It's a zombie story with strong characters and relationships, and a (small-r) relationship story with zombie action and adventure. This could be a total gateway book, if you think you don't like zombie stories. Give it a shot--it's certainly something new.

View all my reviews

And please join in my February Compliment Challenge!  Make someone's day and earn a donation for classrooms in need!