June 30, 2012

The Smell of Money

This week in the totally weird and wacky:

I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed by this, or kind of proud. I just found out that Canada's new polymer $100 bills smell like maple syrup. Yep. For years we've been mocked by our neighbours to the south (all in good fun ☺) for having "Monopoly money" because our bills are coloured instead of just green. Now? I can only imagine the jokes that will come rolling in about our "scratch and sniff" currency. Though, it's not actually scratch and sniff—it just smells like maple syrup.

According to a perfumer, the smell is 'immortelle', which has a "herbaceous, honey scent with a hay or tobacco body" (Source) which somehow equals maple. Immortelle sounds more like a Twilight-inspired cologne to me, but whatever...

North America's aboriginal peoples were the first to discover maple syrup. Since then, the province of Quebec in Canada has become the leading producer, supplying three-quarters of the world's maple syrup. Canada exports $145 million CAD (approx. $141 million USD) worth every year. (Source) So I guess it's kind of fitting. Also—a bit weird and kind of yummy.
Just a reminder today is the last day to enter my O Canada Day Giveaway. The giveaway ends at midnight (EST) tonight, so don't forget to enter. The winner will get to select a book (from the list provided) by a Canadian author. Check it out!

While you're at it you should also check out Sara at Crow River Writer's 100 Followers Giveaway. It's pretty great! ☺

June 28, 2012

My Favourite Canadian

THIS is what perseverance looks like. 
Have you entered my O Canada Day Giveaway yet? If not, go ahead and do it now. I'll wait. Okay, moving on... Today, I thought I'd share the story of one of Canada's greatest people. And I promise you, few Canadians would disagree. I get choked up even typing his name because he's that much of an inspiration in so many ways. Let me introduce you to:

Terry Fox
(July 28, 1958—June 28, 1981)

Terrance Stanley Fox was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba but raised mostly in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. An avid athlete, Terry played as many sports as he could including basketball, even though he was not overly tall. At the age of 19, Terry was diagnosed with osteosarcoma—a cancer that often begins in the knee region—and his leg had to be amputated. He was given a 50% chance of survival, which was far greater than it had been only a couple of years earlier (15%). Through it all—the chemo, the amputation, learning to walk on a prosthetic leg only three weeks later—Terry maintained a positive attitude. He'd watched many of his fellow cancer patients succumb to their diseases, and wanted to do something to change this. With this in mind, Terry began marathon training with the intention of running across Canada to increase awareness about cancer research and to raise much-needed funding.

And the Marathon of Hope was born.

On April 12, 1980, Terry  "dipped his right leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St. John'sNewfoundland, and filled two large bottles with ocean water. He intended to keep one as a souvenir and pour the other into the Pacific Ocean upon completing his journey at Victoria, British Columbia."* His run started out rough—horrible weather, arguments with his friend (travel companion), and drivers trying to force him off the road—but by the time he reached Ontario things were looking up. His Marathon of Hope was receiving exposure, and funding was starting to come in.

Sadly, the exertion of his run and his refusal to take a single day off was taking a toll on his body. Increasing exhaustion and pain in his stump and chest forced him to seek medical attention. Terry's cancer had returned and had spread to his lungs. 143 days and 5, 373km (3, 339 miles) in Terry's run had come to an end. Terry had raised $1.7 million for cancer research, and the funds continued to pour in. By the following April, over $23 million had been raised in his name. Terry underwent further chemotherapy, but the cancer continued to spread, and on June 28, 1981 he lost his battle with cancer.

Terry's legacy continues today, and every fall people in more than 60 countries around the world take part in the Terry Fox Run to raise awareness and funding for cancer research. The Terry Fox run is the largest one-day campaign for cancer research in the world. To date, over $500 million has been raised in his name.*

"The people in cancer clinics all over the world need people who believe in miracles. I am not a dreamer, and I am not saying that this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer. I believe in miracles. I have to." (in a letter to the Canadian Cancer Society)
* Source

Information for this post borrowed from here.

June 27, 2012

RTW: Best June Read

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic. 

This week's topic:

I'm cheating a little here and going with a book that I'm still reading. Though, it's not exactly cheating because I already know the basic story. My pick is For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, a retelling of Austen's Persuasion.

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's "Persuasion", "For Darkness Shows the Stars" is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it. (from Goodreads)

Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen story, so when I found out that For Darkness Shows the Stars—a book that I was already anticipating—was a post-apocalyptic retelling, I was more than a little excited to get my hands on it. Like I said, I haven't completely finished it yet, but what I've read so far, and given that I already know the basic premise, it definitely deserves Best June Read status. Pride and Prejudice gets a lot of attention, but to me, Persuasion has so much more feeling. This take on Austen's novel has all of the heart-wrenching regret and longing of the original with a unique twist. 

Well worth the read!

June 26, 2012

O Canada Day Giveaway

The True North strong and free...
Canada Day celebrates the "anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act, 1867, in Canada), which united three colonies into a single country called Canada within the British Empire. Originally called Dominion Day (FrenchLe Jour de la Confédération), the name was changed in 1982, the year the Canada Act was passed. Canada Day observances take place throughout Canada as well as internationally." (Source)

Canada Day commemorates our union as a nation, and this year we're turning 145 yrs.

In celebration of my country's birthday, I'm doing a very Canadian giveaway. We may export actors, comedians, hockey players, and maple syrup; produce artists like the Group of Seven and Emily Carr, world-class medal-winning Olympians, and musicians like the Arcade Fire (yay!) and the Biebs (oops...sorry); but we've also turned out some pretty great authors.

Moira Young
"Moira Young has been by turns an actress, dancer, and opera singer, but her first loves are books and writing. A native Canadian, she now lives in the UK with her husband." (Source)

Lesley Livingston
"Lesley is a writer and actor living in Toronto, Canada.  Captivated at a young age by stories of mythology and folk lore, past civilizations, and legendary heroes, she developed into a full-fledged Celtic Mythology Geek, steeped in stories of the Otherworld, Faeries and King Arthur. Lesley went on to earn a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Toronto specializing in Shakespeare and Arthurian literature." (Source)

Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Lucy Maud Montgomery was a Canadian author, best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. [She] was born at Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Nov. 30, 1874. She...wrote close to a dozen books while she was living in...Norval, Ontario. Maud died in Toronto April 24, 1942 and was buried at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island." (Source)

Megan Crewe
"Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two cats (and does on occasion say "eh"), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she has yet to make friends with a ghost, though she welcomes the opportunity." (Source)

Y.S. Lee
"Y. S. Lee was born in Singapore and raised in Vancouver and Toronto. In 2004, she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture. This research, combined with her time living in London, triggered an idea for a story about a women’s detective agency. The result was the Agency novels, featuring the intrepid Mary Quinn. She now lives in Kingston, Ontario with her family." (Source)

Kelley Armstrong
"Kelley Armstrong was [born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada]. (Source) [She's] been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay. All efforts to make her produce "normal" stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts, demons, and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement..." (Source)

Kenneth Oppel
"Kenneth Oppel was born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, he spent his childhood in Victoria, British Columbia and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has also lived in Newfoundland and Labrador, England and Ireland. Oppel's first published book…was written while he was a high school student at St. Michaels University School in Victoria…Oppel forwarded [his] newly completed manuscript to a family friend, that knew Roald Dahl, who in turn recommended it to his agent." (Source)

Arthur Slade
"Arthur Slade was raised in the Cypress Hills of southwest Saskatchewan and began writing at an early age. He received an English Honours degree from the University of Saskatchewan, spent several years writing advertising and now writes fiction full time. He is the author of the "Canadian Chills" series of books, "Dust" (which won the Governor General's award), "Tribes," and "Jolted." He currently lives in Saskatoon." (Source)

And now for the details of the O Canada Day Giveaway:
  • One lucky person will get to choose a book from the list above (except for Emily of New Moon, which will be accompanied by Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest, the other books in the trilogy).
  • To enter, follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget just below.
  • The giveaway is open internationally wherever The Book Depository ships.
  • The O Canada Day Giveaway begins today and ends at midnight on Saturday, June 30th, 2012.
  • I will be announcing the winner on the morning of Sunday, July 1st, 2012.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Feeling the Love

So I've been given a couple of blog awards in the past couple of weeks, and I've been a bit lazy about taking part in the fun. My excuse(s): I've been sick for about 3/4 of the last month and a bit, I've been hard at work revising my current WiP, and I've been spending less time in general on the blogs. This morning I decided I'm ready to have some blog award fun.

Today I'd like to thank Joie at Joie de Lire for the Liebster Blog Award. (Next up: the 7x7 award from Elodie & Michael!)

One requirement of the award is to address a list of questions—eleven random facts about myself. Should be easy enough.

01. What are your three favourite books? (You're joking, right? Because I can't count,  here are some of my favourites.)

02.  What are your three favourite authors? (Again, seriously? Too hard to narrow down, so I'm going with a bunch.)
  • Jane Austen
  • Charlotte Brontë
  • C. S. Lewis
  • Suzanne Collins
  • J. K. Rowling
  • Tamora Pierce
  • Stephanie Perkins
  • Laini Taylor
  • Veronica Roth
  • ...and TONS of others
* I've based my answers here on the number of stories by that particular author that I've loved.

03.  Which author would you love to meet and why?
Oh brother, how do I answer this? Do I pick a classic author and sound all learned and intelligent, or do I go with a contemporary author and sound more fun? I'm going to go with an obvious, albeit cliché, choice here—J. K. Rowling. This immensely talented lady would be fascinating to sit and chat with and to ask questions about world-building, character development, foreshadowing, creativity... I think she'd get sick of me and all my brain-picking questions pretty darn quick.

04.  What's your favourite book-to-movie adaptation? (Ooo, good one! But, I can't choose just one...)
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy—I don't think I've EVER been so wowed by anything like this.
  • Harry Potter series
  • Persuasion—I've watched the latest version of this Austen story so many times. Love it!
  • Little Women—The Winona Ryder and Christian Bale version is an all-time favourite.
  • ...and a whole pile more.

05.  What paranormal being would you choose to be and why? (Besides a sparkly vamp? Tough one...)
I'd like to be a faun just so I could hunt down Mr. Tumnus (*cough* James McAvoy *cough*) and say, "How you doin'?" Kidding...kind of. I think maybe a shapeshifter would be cool, but only if I could remember what my true form really was.

06.  Which character do you think you could be BFFs with and why?
I'm going to go with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. I've always been a little preoccupied with the rules while secretly wanting to break all of them. I love school WAY too much, and I'm on the bookish side. Plus, she's just all kinds of awesome and inspiring and could teach me a thing or twenty. I think we'd be a BFF match made in...Hogwarts?

07.  If you could go on a date with any fictional character, who would it be and what would you do?
Well, I'm married, so my husband gets dibs on dates. But, if we're talking a parallel universe where I'm single and this might actually happen, I'd say Peeta from The Hunger Games. We'd bake cakes (and that's not meant to be a euphemism).

08.  Why do you read?
  • Escapism—Regular life is just so boring compared to what I find in books.
  • Enjoyment—There are few things as great as curling up with a good book.
  • Learning—I learn about all kinds of things including how to be a better writer.
  • Development—I honestly think reading makes me a more interesting person.
  • Ability—Not everyone can. Seems an awful shame to waste literacy, doesn't it?

09.  Why do you blog?
  • To become a better writer—I think it's working.
  • To connect with others—readers and writers especially.
  • To learn about writing—by blogging I'm exposed to other blogs that I learn a great deal from.
  • To hear about books—by blogging I'm exposed to other blogs that give me great ideas for reading.
  • To share my thoughts about books I love, my writing journey, and other miscellany.

10.  What blog posts are you most proud of? (I'll address this when I blog about the 7x7 Award, but for now, here's two.)

11.  What was the last thing that made you smile?
Hmm...I smile a lot, so this is difficult to nail down. I think it was when I went to put on my new Lord of the Rings geek tee this morning. I'm building up quite the collection of shirt nerdiness, but this one will definitely be one of my favourites:

Check out Boromir on the right→ Um, spoiler alert much?

And because I don't know how to choose 11 blogs I 'liebe' without feeling like I'm excluding others, I'm asking YOU to:

Pick one of the questions above and answer it in the comments below. 
I'd love to learn a little more about you.

June 24, 2012

Six Years Later...

...and still having fun. 

Happy Anniversary to the most wonderful husband ever!

"...And I will love thee still, my Dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry."
"A Red, Red Rose"

June 22, 2012

Deep Thoughts by Jaime Morrow

Remember Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey? I remember loving his 'deep thoughts' when I was in my first year of college...mid-90s. Ridiculous, but funny in an I'm-so-tired-from-all-these-allnighters-that-these-are-the-most-hilarious-things-ever kind of way. That's what freshman year of college will do to you, I guess. That and the freshman fifteen thing.

Moving on... But, speaking of deep thoughts, here's one for you (tweeted by Troian Bellisario of ABC's Pretty Little Liars):

In case you can't read it, it says LOSS OF SELF = GROWTH.
When this came up in my Twitter feed (yes, I follow Troian Bellisario→she's pretty clever), it got me thinking. About selflessness, about putting others first a little more often. As someone who feels selfish more often than not, this felt like an insightful reminder that I really need to work on that. To grow and change and become a little more selfless every day.

...And then I showed it to the hubby.

This was his take on it:
It feels like something ripped from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four or some other dystopian work.

Derp. Now I can't see it in any other way, though I wish I could recall that whole selflessness thing. It felt way less scary. But it really just goes to show how the same string of words can have an entirely different meaning to people, or an entirely different impact on them. It makes me the slightest bit more aware of what I'm typing both here and in my WiP.

How about you? What do you get from this graffiti deep thought?

June 21, 2012

Teen Television

I have a confession to make→ I watch way too many CW and ABC Family shows. Why, as a thirty-something gal, am I so hooked on vampires, bunheads, underage fashion interns, and unrealistic-to-the-point-of-ridiculous fashionista Liars? No flipping clue. I guess I just became incredibly bored with forensic dramas, and I've always detested reality TV (we're talking fiery loathing). And any time I really get into anything sci-fi it gets yoinked. I think that's my favourite thing ever.

I guess I watch these television takes on YA because it's a little like research. I don't personally know any teenagers anymore. However, these teenybopper* shows have their fair share of problems, and buttloads of disbelief-suspending.

***A word of warning: Here there be (some) spoilers.***

While I'm embarrassed to admit I watch some of these shows, here's my take on the most ridiculous aspects of them:

Vampire Diaries
Dear, sweet, idiotic Elena: Poop or get off the pot. Pick a Salvatore already (psst...I vote Damon). Thanks. But even more ridiculous than this slightly incestuous love triangle is the whole Gilbert-guardians-dropping-like-flies thing. I have four words for the writers of this show: Wards. Of. The. State. Seriously, I'm expected to believe that an unrelated male history teacher would be permitted to move in with two of his minor-aged students, one of whom is a teenage girl? And now what? Who's looking after them now that Alaric is more Casper than caregiver? Maybe Damon could move in. This show needs more arched eyebrows. Fantastic**.

Pretty Little Liars
Good gosh, where to begin? A sixteen-year-old girl is dating her adult English teacher (now former teacher), and the police haven't been called? And when Mom & Dad grudgingly allow it, Social Services hasn't shown up? What the heck kind of message does that send? Hello, Mary Kay Letourneau, nice to see you again. In real life teachers go to jail for this kind of thing. Just because they met before he was her teacher, and just because he's no longer her teacher does not make it legal. I just googled whether this actually happens in the books, and apparently it does, but Ezra moves away for good when they're caught. That seems more believable to me.

I know you're thinking, "Why do you watch that?" And believe me, I ask myself the same question all the time. It's mindless and that's about it. So, so many beefs here. An eighteen-year-old—not yet legally able to drink in California—owns a beach bar. What? Four of the show's fresh-out-of-high-school characters either get engaged, married, or propose to another teen. Is that what kids are up to these days? Man, I'm out of touch. While the show deals with real issues—teen pregnancy, disease, suicide, death, drugs—they really leave me scratching my head on others. I can only let so many things go before I start wondering if the writers are doing lines off their scripts. I need to pare back my TV, and I think this one is getting the axe.

This is just a small sampling of teen shows that I watch, but they're the ones that spring most readily to mind. I watch plenty of teen television mainly because it's more interesting than a lot of other shows, and because it's the closest thing to watching the equivalent of a YA book. Heck, a good many of these shows are based on YA books (Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle and soon to be aired The Selection***, and The Carrie Diaries). But in the end I'm just glad that YA fiction exists and that there's something out there for teens that is both realistic and responsible. YA, irrespective of genre, deals with teen issues in a way that is neither heavy-handed nor overly permissive. Don't we owe that to today's teens? Now, I don't hate these shows (I still watch them) but I think they could use a heaping helping of reality even if the story is fantastical in nature. And maybe, just maybe, they could be a little less unrealistic and ridiculous.

* And now you know: I'm a visitor from the 1950s. What is this thing I'm typing on?! And where's my poodle skirt?!
** No really, that would be fantastic. I would not complain. Like, at all.
*** Apparently, this has stalled out a little bit and might not show up until next summer. The good news: it's been reported that Friday Night Lights' Aimee Teegarden will star in it (Yay!). I just hope the CW doesn't screw this one up.

June 20, 2012

RTW: Post-Grad Summer

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic. In celebration of Kody Keplinger's just released A Midsummer's Nightmare, this week's topic is:

If there any children nearby, or if you are coulrophobic, I suggest you leave the room. Hold onto your hats, folks, because this is how I spent my summer after high school graduation (1996 the tail end of the Grunge Era when people started showering again. Yay!):

(Left: Me at 17 yrs.) Clowning around whilst scaring the trousers off wee Scottish bairns.

In actual fact, I didn't even attend my high school graduation—I ditched out right after exams and before all the pomp and circumstance and whatnot. For several months I had been planning on going to Scotland with a group called Royal Servants International, a teen Christian mission group based in the United States. Plus, I'd switched schools for my final semester of high school and really didn't know any of my fellow graduands. So before the eraser shavings hit the exam room floor, I was packed up and heading to Lewistown, IL for what they called 'Boot Camp'...and they weren't kidding.

After all the fun in Illinois, we ended up in Dalkeith, Scotland just outside of Edinburgh for the summer. We worked out of Dalkeith Baptist Church and hit the streets with clowns, singers, mimes (so much worse than clowns), puppeteers, and a drama group. It was pretty darn fun, and regardless of what people believe about God, I know we made a lot of people smile (or curl up in the fetal position, depending on their degree of fright over clowns, balloon animals, and mimey folk).

What about you? How did you spend your summer after grad?

June 19, 2012

TTT: Summer Reading

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic (wow, that's a lot of 'T's) over on the Broke and the Bookish blog is all about sunshine and good books, two of my favourite things. Here's what we're blogging about today:

Setting aside for a moment my plan to slip in the odd Classic, this is what I'm looking forward to reading this summer: (All titles are linked to their Goodreads summaries and are in no particular order.)

1.  My Life Next Door - Huntley Fitzpatrick
This one's been on my radar for a while, and it just debuted this past week. Sadly, I'll have to wait until next month to get my hands on it as I've already purchased my quota of books this month. It just looks and sounds like a great summer read.

2.  Second Chance Summer - Morgan Matson
I don't usually migrate to books that I know will make me cry, or at the very least give me that painful feeling in my throat (you know what I mean), but I loved Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, so I'm willing to get past that to read Matson's latest.

3.  Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult & Samantha van Leer
I've really enjoyed everything I've read by Jodi Picoult, so her first ever YA book co-authored with her teenage daughter is definitely one for the TBR list. And this little tidbit just seals the deal: "What happens when happily ever after...isn't?"

4.  In Honor - Jessi Kirby
The last road trip novel I read was Amy & Roger, and as mentioned, I loved it. There's so much to love about the journey, the self-discovery, the healing, and of course romance. I can't go on a road trip, so I'll just live vicariously through Honor.

5.  Five Flavors of Dumb - Antony John
...Currently sitting on my shelf collecting dust, and still unread. There's just something compelling about a book featuring a teenaged band manager who can't actually hear the band's music because she's deaf. That certainly catches my attention.

6.  Enchanted - Alethea Kontis
I love fairy tale retellings, and this book-length version of The Frog Prince had me at hello. (Did I just type that? I can't believe I just typed that.) Anyway, a story where a girl befriends a frog, then kisses said frog thereby turning him back into a prince is exactly the kind of book I feel like reading this summer. I'll save it for when I finish Wuthering Heights (blech).

7.  Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo
Rave reviews, a fantastic book trailer, and a setting that's kind of Russia but maybe not? I. Can't. Wait. This was part of my monthly book quota expenditure, and it's making its way to me in the mail as we speak. It can't get here fast enough.

8.  For Darkness Shows the Stars - Diana Peterfreund
Another one in the mail and eagerly anticipated. I have a WiP that's a YA retelling of Persuasion, but this one just sounds WAY better. Jane Austen's story set in a sci-fi Luddite future is so much more creative than my take on it has been so far.

9.  Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
I had this book in my hands at Chapters the other day, and I keep kicking myself for not buying it. I even have a discount I could have used. The WWII setting and a protagonist who is an 'enemy agent' captured and held by the SS intrigues me.

10.  The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson
Still sitting on the shelf waiting to be read. I feel especially bad about this, because I won my copy from the wonderful Mrs. Silverstein some time ago. She gave it a rave review just the other day on her blog, so I'm even more excited about it now. And after reading Kristin Cashore's Graceling series a couple months ago, I've been in the mood for more fantasy.

How about you? What books are on your Summer TBR list?

June 15, 2012

Review: Audrey, Wait!

A few days ago, I picked up Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, looking for a fun, light read. Well, that's exactly what I got. I've had this book for a while, and after reading Tracey Neithercott's rave review, I was pretty much sold...it just took me six months to get around to reading it. Here's the Goodreads summary:

When funny, charming, absolutely normal Audrey Cuttler dumps her boyfriend Evan, he writes a song about her that becomes a number-one hit and rockets Audrey to stardom!

Suddenly, tabloid paparazzi are on her tail and Audrey can barely hang with her friends at concerts or the movies without getting mobbed let alone score a date with James, her adorable coworker at the Scooper Dooper. Her life will never be the same, at least, not until Audrey confronts Evan live on MTV and lets the world know exactly who she is!

Audrey is a serious music fan, so the chapters in her story begin with song lyrics. I thought I'd take a cue from this (I grew up on Christian rock O_o, so my music knowledge is limited*) and have a little fun with this review.

Gotta admit, I wasn't super crazy about the cover when I first saw it, but I suppose it's fitting. The music junkie in Audrey would definitely do a little headbanging (but certainly not play the air guitar). The background also has that album cover vibe, especially with the title and author's name radiating outward like it's spinning. It works, but I'm a bit blinded by the colours and worried I'm getting hypnotized by the thing.

The voice, oh, the voice. Seriously, this book is a study in great teen voice, let me tell you. Very seldom do I come across books where I feel the author has nailed this spot on. All too often I find stories riddled with profanity (though, there are f-bombs in this), and lame-ass (oops) expressions meant to sound 'teen' but missing the mark horribly. Benway knows her teens. Here's a small sampling of some of my personal faves:

"My job sucks the most suck that has ever sucked."

"How would you like to star in your very own commercial?"
"I'd rather swim in battery acid."

"Get over here and talk to her. She's a reporter, not a Dementor."
"Harry Potter nerd."
"Whatever. Take the damn phone."

"Did you just say 'frolic'?"
"Is it not a word?"
"Who the hell says 'frolic'?"
"I say frolic. And more people should."
"They should say frolic or actually frolic?"

I think there is just the right amount of swoon in Audrey, though I'm always up for more smooch. James is that guy that you don't immediately notice, and those tend to be the keepers in the end. He's understanding and supportive, and exactly the kind of guy Audrey needs in the wake of her overexposed breakup. The boy that you really want to take home to Mom & Dad, without being boring (if the smooch scenes are any indicator).

While there is some suspension of disbelief here, this is a really fun book that isn't without substance. It's a story about growing into the person you're supposed to be, and not what everyone else thinks or says you are. Audrey's struggle to deal with what is first irritating then seriously suffocating is entertaining, if at times a smidge unbelievable. As for Audrey? I'm jealous of her vast music knowledge (see 'Christian rock' above), and would love to have a friend like her, snark and all. Her parents: They felt real and competent, which was a breath of fresh air. Her friends: Frustrating at times, but mostly the kind of friends you want next to you.

I've already mentioned some of my personal favourites, but here's another:

"It was like someone had stretched out my brain and shaken off the dust. My arms lost their numbness, my vision was sharp, and when I climbed out of the stall and went to look in the mirror, I felt brave and clear and not scared at all."

Right near the end of the book it suddenly occurred to me that I should have been listening to the tracks Benway quoted at the beginning of every chapter. Derp. If I had a time-turner I'd go back and read each chapter while listening to the song mentioned. That could make for a really fun, really appropriate reading experience.

How about you? Read any good books lately?  
*  Please don't hate me because I thought Petra and DC Talk were cool. If you don't know who they are, consider yourself lucky—a bullet-dodger, if you will.

June 11, 2012

Dos, Don'ts, and Doubts

I've been working pretty seriously on finishing up my WiP this past week. After our trip in May, it was a challenge to find the motivation to work on it, especially with the 2.5 week-long cold I was battling. And then sometime last week I felt that pull, that excitement about my story all over again, and butt met chair finally. But (not butt), as is often the case, seeds of doubt started to creep in again. And I wanted to scrap it.

I started blogging almost a year ago, not long after I started working on my WiP—my first attempt at writing a story. In that time, I've made great connections with other bloggers and writers, and I've learned a lot about the craft that I didn't know before. For the most part, it's been pretty fantastic. I say "for the most part" because it hasn't always made me feel better about my writing. That sounds kind of awful, so let me elaborate.


Say what? As you well know, one of the best things about the writing community is the tremendous amount of support and encouragement shared between writers. Unlike other pursuits, you won't find nasty competition, I'll-scratch-your-back...ultimatums, or sour grapes when other writers get agents/book deals/rave reviews/whathaveyou. Along with all of this support, there's plenty of advice to be had. While most of it is good, and maybe what you need to hear, sometimes it's exactly what you don't want to hear. Take, for example, the following. (My reactions are in red.):

• Prologues suck. Delete them. Really? I've read some pretty good ones. Statistical Probability...* anyone?
• Love triangles suck. Avoid them. Again: Really? I've read some pretty good ones. They can serve a purpose.
• InstaLove sucks, but so does InstaLoathe. What exactly is the right timeline then? Please enlighten me.
• Dystopian is so over, as is Paranormal. Really? Because people I know are still reading both. Me included.
• You'll never sell your first story. But keep at it. That really doesn't make me want to, but thanks...I think.
• Your story should be standalone even if it's part of a trilogy. That's funny, because I've read many that weren't—Divergent, Delirium, Everneath, Shatter Me, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Daughter of Smoke and Bone... just to name a whole super heavy backpack full of books. And there are oodles* more like them.
• Do, do, do. Don't, don't, don't. All meant to be helpful, but not always encouraging or inspiring.

Because what if your story has a prologue? A love triangle? Is dystopian or paranormal? What if this is your first story? And it has a cliffhanger? What then? I know this bulleted list is mostly all opinion (sometimes I guess they reflect market statistics—I've always hated Stats). Or it's well-meaning advice. But all too often I feel like I want to scream when I read them. And then I want to go and crumple up my WiP into a giant ball (though that would be challenging considering it's 120,000 words long*** O_o) and say "screw this shiz".

And then, after QWERTY-facing and belittling myself far more than I deserve, I start to feel a little like this:

At some point, I just have to remind myself to write the story I want to tell, and if it gets published, great. If it doesn't, that sucks, but I'll just keep on trying. And all of that advice and/or opinion? That's all it is. There's no 100% definitive way to write a story, otherwise everyone could do it and every story would feel the same.

And who the heck wants that?
* The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith—I ♥ the prologue!
** Yes, I did just use the word oodle. Oodle, oodle, oodle.
*** Yes, I'm trying to fix that. Delete, delete, delete.

June 6, 2012

RTW: Best Book of May

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic:
What was the best book you read in May?

May was a pretty good month for reading for me. I read ten books in total, a handful of which were self-published, which was a first for me. It's really difficult to nail down just one book from this list, especially since they were impossible to compare (from all different genres), so here are my top four:

1.  To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Although completely embarrassing to admit, I hadn't read this classic before. I felt that it was high time I got around to reading it, and it was the first classic I chose from my Conquering the Classics From A to Z personal challenge. What a great book to get started with! I had seen the movie based off the book some years ago, so there were certain scenes that I was anticipating. Scout as a narrator was a great lens through which to view the events of the book. The subject matter of this book made it tough to read at times (in an "I can't believe human beings can be so ignorant and evil" kind of way), but this just makes it an even more important read.

2.  Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers
Escaping an arranged marriage to become a handmaiden of Death? What? And even worse: Death placing a target upon the person she's grown to love? (None of this is spoiler material. It's on the back of the book.) I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this book, given the Death aspect of it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It takes place in 15th century Brittany, which I've never encountered in a book before, so that was pretty fantastic. And the whole notion of a seventeen-year-old girl becoming basically an assassin nun of sorts was pretty darn cool. You just had to know that this chosen life would present issues for Ismae. Also, how great is the name 'Ismae'?
3.  Insurgent - Veronica Roth
Was there any book people were eagerly anticipating as much as this sequel to Divergent? Doubtful. I fully expect that this book will be most people's RTW pick for May Book of the Month. It was a pretty fantastic book,—as if VRoth could write anything but—though, I do have to say that I liked Divergent a bit better. I wrote a fairly detailed post on my thoughts about Insurgent here, so I won't belabour the point here. Great book, but I wanted more Tris + Four (and not just smoochy scenes), more Dauntless HQ, and less bouncing around from faction HQ to faction HQ. But, it was very well-written, and the story was engaging from start to finish. 

4.  Wanderlove - Kirsten Hubbard
I'm a little late to the game on this one, but it was well worth the wait. I won a copy of Wanderlove in a YA Highway giveaway, so I was eagerly awaiting its arrival. It was the perfect book to kick off the (almost) summer season. It may still be spring, but it sure felt like summer around here. Wanderlove felt real to me in so many ways, mainly because Hubbard didn't glamorize the backpacking life. If a place was filthy and buggy, then that's how she described it. Bria was a believable character who you so badly want to see burst out of her shell. This is a story of growth and letting go of the things that hold us back—lessons that we can all learn no matter our age or where in life we find ourselves.

What was your favourite May read?

June 5, 2012

Reading Like a Writer

I've been a reader a heck of a lot longer than I've been a writer, so reading was always a source of entertainment or escapism for me. Unless it was for school, in which case it was usually a source of torture. Books that I read were subconsciously graded on a scale of Super Entertaining to Only 'Meh' Distraction, with zero attention (most of the time) to quality of writing. I was able to get lost in a story without stumbling over plot holes, slightly 'off' word choice, or cases of deus ex machina out the wazoo. And love triangles that serve no purpose.*

Until I started writing.

Now I'm lucky if I can get through a single book without pausing to ponder something writing-related. Most of the time I'm stopping to admire something that the author chose to do, or taking note for future reference. But sometimes it's the opposite. Sometimes I'm face-palming through 3/4 of a book wondering how on God's green Earth this thing wasn't brushed up or tightened up a bit more before hitting shelves.

I just finished reading a book like that. Out of respect for the author I won't say which book, but I will mention what I found disappointing. And let me tell you, folks, there was a lot:

Setting Confusion
I could not pin down a temporal or geographical setting for this book. There were things that made me think one thing, but then something would inevitably come up that would shoot that theory to bits. From cover to cover I was left with no clue whatsoever when and where this hot mess took place. This is not keeping readers on their toes, this is (in my opinion) unacceptable. 

Lesson Learned: The reader should have some idea when and where the events of the story are unfolding. It's okay to be a bit vague, but readers shouldn't be left entirely in the dark. Honestly, it's just plain distracting.

Ridiculous Characters
Are they good? Are they bad? Oh wait, so and so betrayed the MC. But wait, that other dude also betrayed her. And buddy that you thought was dead...isn't. Hmm. Sounds like really bad daytime TV, doesn't it? And I didn't even mention the gagworthy love triangle, or the MC who has completely unbelievable reasons for her actions or inaction as the case may be. It is not a good sign when the reader wants to pummel 9 out of 10 of a book's characters. Love interests? Lame. MC? Worse than annoying and not likeable. Villain(s)? Just cheesy.

Lesson(s) Learned: Characters should have some redeeming qualities, and they should also serve an important purpose in the story. There's a difference between a character making bad decisions sometimes and a character whose actions never make sense. Villains who are one 'mwah haha' away from mustache-twirling are just silly.

So-So Storytelling
As readers (and writers) we can sometimes overlook less-than-stellar writing if the story is just so darn compelling. It's not an ideal situation, but the reader in us does enjoy getting lost in a good story. But when the story isn't even that exciting, when we're just ploughing through it to get it done, or *gasp* skimming large sections—there's a problem. When you haven't made us care what happens to the characters or what happens at all, I start to wonder: What the heck was the point? And even worse, it's part of a series. Um...pass.

Lesson Learned: We need to make readers care about our story and about our characters. Mediocre characters should not be stumbling through a mediocre storyline. Something has to grab our attention, especially if there are sequels. If readers can't invest in the first book, they sure as heck aren't going to pick up any that follow.

Okay, so here's the thing: This book has a pretty high rating on Goodreads. People obviously liked it. A literary agent and a publisher obviously liked it. Or maybe they just knew that they could sell it. Maybe I'm totally out to lunch, but maybe there are a number of people willing to overlook things that I wasn't. Who knows? The point is, as a writer and as a buyer of books**, I'm not as easily able to brush those things aside. 

If I'm being honest, it both irritates me and gives me hope. It irritates me because I know that there are some pretty great stories out there that have been passed over, but this got published. It also makes me hopeful because then maybe my story will have a fighting chance (not that I think it's a steaming pile or something).

But more than anything, after the fuming and ranting died down, I chose to take this as a learning experience. We learn from both the mind-blowing books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Divergent) and the frustrating ones (fill in the blank). I'm taking what I thought could have been done better and what I seriously disliked, and I'm making sure that I avoid doing the same in my own writing. So I guess that makes it worth the read.

For writers: Do you feel that you approach books differently?
For readers: Are there things that you find inexcusable in books?

* I say this because I'm not against love triangles when they're done right or serve an important purpose.
** Mediocrity especially blows when you're paying out of pocket for a book. Thankfully, this was an ARC.