Reviews (Plus: What Should I Read Next?)

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | As the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn series, I was so, so, SO excited to read her next series. Flame in the Mist is a re-telling (of sorts) of Mulan: although this book is set in feudal Japan, not in China. Mariko is on her way to be married to one of the princes when her caravan is attacked. She ends up cutting her hair, dressing as a boy, and joining a group of outlaws, a la Robin Hood style.

This book was super interesting and very romantic. One of the things I liked best about it was that it was not immediately apparent to me who Mariko’s love interest would be. Indeed, she and that person had such a unique relationship that was so not stereotypically romantic that it made it all the more hot when they fell for each other. Very excited to see how this story ends. It’s a duology and the second book doesn’t even have a publication date listed yet. (Patience is not my strong suit.)

5 to 15 to 1 by Holly Bodger | This book was so unique! I purchased it after I was on a writers panel with the author, and when I finally had the chance to read it, I tore through it so fast! Set in the future in India, it takes India’s current issues with gender selection and female infanticide and reverses them: now that there are 5 boys to every 1 girl, society is run by women and men must compete to be worthy of marriage. The book is told in alternating chapters: poetry for the young bride watching the “Tests” and prose for Contestant 5, who is competing– but who does not want to win.

I enjoyed the story very much, and it definitely made me think!

art of writingThe Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers by C.S. Lewis | This was an audiobook collection of Lewis’s shorter essays and talks on writing, and it was super enjoyable! Ralph Cosham/Geoffrey Howard, the narrator, is the familiar voice from the audio versions of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and so it’s easy to feel like you’re listening to Lewis himself. This was an intriguing and useful set of essays, advice, and criticism on various aspects of writing, including fairie stories, writing for children, and thoughts on his friend J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If you’re a fan of Lewis (or any of the Inklings), this will be a fun and fast read for you!

the names they gave usThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord | In this book, Lucy– at her mother’s request– agrees to spend the summer as a camp counselor for kids from at-risk backgrounds. This is a deviation from her usual: the Bible camp just across the lake, where her mom and dad will be. What makes it even harder is that Lucy’s mom’s cancer has just come back, which has shattered Lucy’s faith and has her living in fear.

There were so many things that felt SO familiar to me, who was a volunteer camp counselor (at a Bible camp, no less!). I really liked the ending, when ends (that I didn’t even know were loose!) started getting tied up. The ending is also abrupt, but in the best way.

shrillShrill by Lindy West | This book. This. Book. I loved it. So much. It spoke to me on so many levels– as a woman, as a curvy girl, as a feminist, as a writer. I laughed aloud. I cried real tears. I felt empowered.

I went to my therapist on Thursday, and– no joke– spent about 90% of the time talking about this book and how it impacted me, all the things I am learning.

Please. Read this. Then let’s get coffee to discuss.

 

***OMGOSHJIMMYHAILER***

I have exciting news for you, friends.

Firstly, if you’ve hung around this blog for any time at all, you know that Australian author Melina Marchetta is my QUEEN. (See here, here, here.)

She is a master of characters, and my favorite crew of hers first appears in Saving Francesca: Frankie, Will, Siobhan, Justine, Tara, Tom, and Jimmy. After Saving Francesca, the crew reunites in The Piper’s Son, which is Tom’s story, set five years later. Everyone has been begging for years for Jimmy’s story.

Back in April 2013, in a Goodreads-sponsored discussion, Melina made my heart go BOOM when she teased:

Jimmy’s not going anywhere, but it’s just not his time yet. All I know about him is that he is the first of Frankie gang to start breeding (accidently).

In the four years since, she has posted on her blog about Jim from time to time. Earlier this month, she posted there was a forthcoming short story:

My short story is called When Rosie met Jim. It’s about a young woman who finds herself stranded in a Queensland town during a flood, where she meets a guy named Jim. (the title is quite literal, and yes, it’s him for those who know my previous work).

A couple days ago, she added this:

It will be a novel primarily about one house, four characters, five lives, and told through three points of view.

Jimmy is 23 years old in When Rosie met Jim.  In the novel, he’ll be about 25 because it takes place in Sydney about two years after the events of the short story. It’s not  YA, but regardless, I’m predictable. It’s a generational story and it’s character driven, relationship driven and pretty much about community, solace and the ties that bind. (and netball).

OH. AND THIS ALSO HAPPENED:

mm jim 2

Peeps, I read it last night, and it was everything I wanted it to be. More.

First, you don’t have to have read her other books in order to read this story. It’s brilliant even on its own, and of course, it has added meaning for fans who miss the Sydney crew.

Next, it works as a short story– yes, it is an excerpt (or something like it) from what will eventually be a full-length novel (PRAISE GOD), but it works on its own too as a short story. What I mean is that it’s got its own narrative arc; you won’t feel dissatisfied at the end (though you will feel so desperate for more).

Lastly, I don’t know how on earth she does it, but there is not one word extra in this, nor one word missing. It’s perfect and has the right amount of action and vulnerability to enamor you in so few pages. (Frankly, I re-read Marchetta’s books over and over, hoping that I will somehow take on her writing capabilities– and yet, every time, I’m reminded she is the master.) There is foreshadowing and the ideal amount of backstory to offer both grounding and intrigue. The characters are multi-dimensional, and … OMGOSH, I don’t know how to wait for the entire book. I guess if I survived the wait for Quintana, I will survive this too, right? Right?? (P.S. I bought the Australian edition of Quintana, since it came out 6 months before the American version. I am not excellent at patience.)

This issue of Review of Australian Fiction comes out tomorrow (er, um, maybe today actually, since Australia is ahead of the USA) and is available for only $2.99 at this link:

http://reviewofaustralianfiction.com/product/raf-152-volume-22-issue-6.

Go. Buy. Be delighted (readers) and envious (writers). While you’re at it, buy all her books. I promise you they are the best.

Love,
Jackie

Quick whatever-this-is: I want you to know this is not sponsored. I don’t get anything when you purchase this … except for the satisfaction of knowing I’ve introduced you to your new favorite author. Enjoy!

Sacred

Last week was so incredibly productive. I had to take my laptop and write in my bed, since my office somehow seemed too overwhelming, too formal, too demanding. 

So I wrote in my bed. It was a simple measure I could take to feel safer. I don’t know. Am I alone in this?

It makes me think of Virginia Woolf, of A Room of One’s Own, of how I, at 18, was so idealistic about writing that I wrote not one but two research papers meant to disprove Woolf’s claims, and how, a decade later, I would wonder, Maybe she was right.

Man, writing is hard. I saw this posted on social media today. I felt it.

I’m not complaining. Or I’m trying not to, at least. I have a calling on my life, and I am rising to it. No, my writing life isn’t easy, but it is sacred.

Book Heroines I Adore

unsplash90Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling | Related
“The smartest witch of her age” and fiercely loyal, never gives up. Never.

Shazi from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Review (and sequel)
“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.”

Citra from Scythe by Neal Shusterman | Review
Whip-smart, deeply philosophical … but can also kick your ass.

Joana from Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys | Review 
“She must have been a nurse. She looked a few years older than me. Pretty. Naturally pretty, the type that’s still attractive, even more so, when she’s filthy.”
So strong in the face of a thousand hardships

Roza and Petey from Bone Gap by Laura Ruby | Review
Each of these girls is so strong in her own way; I adored every character in this book.

Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak | Related
She can hold her own against any boy, she knows the power of words, and perseveres through tremendous loss.

Isaboe of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta | Related
Fearsome. Unwavering. Isaboe’s resolution and leadership are a thing to behold. She is her own boss. She loves with ferocity.

Quintana of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta | Review 
“‘Do you know who tells me my worth, Phaedra of Alonso?’
The princess pointed a hard finger at her own chest.
‘Me. I determine my own worth. If I had to rely on others I’d have lain down and died waiting.’”
‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

Lately

I am just so tired. No, that’s the wrong word. I am well rested. I guess I’m exhausted… emotionally, mentally.

Online dating is a really great way to feel like a piece of meat. I’ve heard from about 300 guys just since the start of the year, and it’s mostly made me sad.

Writing is such a beautiful thing, and it is usually life-giving to me, but lately, it’s been a battle just to open up my manuscript.

My friends are incredible… but going through some very hard things. I want to support them well, but that takes energy too. 

I have zero dollars. Please save me, tax return.

All in all, life is so good, so lovely and exciting and challenging. I’m just exhausted, that’s all. 

Psychiatrist on Monday morning. I need to see if any part of this is chemical. 

How are you, lovelies? What are your best suggestions for free/cheap self care?

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

So, you want to be a writer?

I got these great questions from a reader/Twitter pal/friend for her school project, and I thought people might have some interest in reading the responses. Just in case, I’m pasting them below!

1. What do you like most about your job and why?

Hearing from readers who were impacted by what I’ve written is always a highlight. It’s one of the main reasons why I write– in the hope that my stories will resonate with readers and make them think. It’s also fun when you get into a great writing groove and hours fly by like seconds. It’s so satisfying to enjoy what you’ve written.

2. What do you like least about your job and why? (Maybe revising? 😛 It’s not very fun!)

The middle part of writing a novel is probably the hardest part. The beginning is fun because you’re charging toward an idea, and the final touches are great too because you’re perfecting everything. But when you’re in the middle, it’s too early to see the finish line– plus, you’re too far past the starting line to easily change course. I can get a little crazy and sad during the middle of writing a novel– for me this is usually drafts two and three.

3. How did you decide to get into the writing field and how did you enter the field? What alternative ways could someone enter the writing field?

I’ve been a storyteller since I could speak and a writer since I learned my letters. I wrote all through junior high and high school, then studied writing in college.

There is no specific requirement to being a writer except to write well. Some people can do that without extensive training. For me, I studied creative writing as an undergraduate student, where I focused mostly on poetry. After college, I took a little break from writing before diving in to writing my first (unpublished) novel. The vast majority of stories about how people got published are the same: write a great book, write a great query letter, secure an agent, and let the agent secure a book deal. I have writer friends who never finished high school, and I have writer friends who have an MFA in writing, so there’s a wide range. It’s critical to spend lots of time reading incredible literature; this is an education in itself!

4. What training would you recommend for someone who wanted to enter this field now? What skills and background are needed to get into this field now?

As I mentioned above, there is no specific education necessary, although many find a college degree in writing very helpful (at least I did!). It helps to be an avid reader and someone with a great imagination. The writers I know are fascinating people who are usually fascinated by the world.

5. What is the salary range for a person in this field? Entry level to top salary? (I know that’s kind of a funky question, particularly for authors!)

When an author gets published traditionally, he or she is given an advance, which is a sum of money paid to the writer from the publisher upfront. The author then tries to “earn out the advance” in royalty sales; after earning out, all the royalties (minus the literary agent’s cut) go to the writer. Advances have an incredible range. One author might get a $5000 advance. One might get $2 million.

6. What personal qualities do you feel are most important in your work and why?

Since I identified as a poet before identifying as a young adult author, it’s really important to me to have great imagery and strong diction in my stories. Characters are of the utmost importance to me, as they are for many or most writers. I find that writers who write contemporary stories sometimes especially rely on characters, since our books have to build their own “magic,” as opposed to, say, a fantasy novel which might have “real” magic in it. Not to discount characterization for ANY writer. It is, in my opinion, the most important part of any great story.

The other things that I like in books (and try to include in mine) are opportunities to learn and encouragement to think.

7. What are the tasks you do in a typical workday? Would you describe them?

I work a day job (as most young writers do) from 8 to 4:30; then I go home, eat dinner and relax a little bit before I retreat into my home office to write. Some days this looks like generating material; some days this looks like revision; some days this is research; some days this is plotting. There are so many parts of writing a book that are not actually writing. Research takes up a lot of my time. My current work in progress takes place on an island; I spent a whole evening researching boats in the Pacific Northwest just so that I could write one convincing paragraph! But it’s worth it. Details matter! I will usually write from about 7-9 pm, although if things are going well, I will keep working till 10, 11, or midnight. I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep or else I screw everything else up. I also keep a process journal while I write too, in which I brainstorm, sketch ideas, plot, and the like.

8. What types of stress do you experience on the job?

EVERY KIND OF STRESS. Will my agent like this? Will my editor like this? Do I like this? Will it sell? Will I make money? Will I earn out my advance? How do I make sure this character changes enough by the end of the book? Will this story matter to people? AM I A FRAUD??

Plus, there’s a fair amount of public speaking, but I don’t mind that. I know a lot of people do though!!

9. What types of people survive and do well in the writing field?

People who persist. I’m not even joking. Many of the writers you know and love and whose books are on your shelves often wrote another book or two that didn’t get published before one finally did. It’s hard to pour yourself into a project for four or five years, only to have it not get an agent … then to turn around and just start a new project. Writers hear a lot of NOs before that one YES changes things.

This also applies to the writing itself. I use the phrase “show up,” and by that, I mean the actual hours of work put into a project. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by a project the size of a novel, and sometimes that fear is crippling. But showing up every day– putting in an hour or two or five of real work– keeps you moving toward your goal. You have to show up and persist in order to succeed at writing.

10. Are resumes important in getting a job? (or I guess query letters? :P)

The query letter is the key to getting a literary agent, and the literary agent is the key to getting a book deal. Query letters are, for novelists, a whole different type of writing. You spend years with a creative hat on, then need to put on a business/marketing hat to write the letter. A good query will only go so far though– the manuscript has to also be solid!

11. What are the opportunities for promotion? (another weird question for a writer, but it was in the book)

This looks different for different writers. “Moving up” might mean selling more books– or getting a higher advance– or going on a book tour– or having your book be optioned for a movie. Every writer has their own idea of personal success. Making the New York Times bestseller list. Getting starred reviews. Being a keynote speaker at a conference. It all depends.

12. Is the field of writing expanding or taking new directions?

I see writers taking tremendous creative risks lately, and I love it. Plus, there is the whole avenue of self-publishing, which is open to anyone now with things like Kindle Direct Publishing. Trends are constantly changing in the world of novels– best not to hop on trends: they will be long over before your book makes it to print.

13. What related occupations could I research?

Being a literary agent or an editor (for a publishing house or freelance. Copyediting. Public relations. Creative writing instructor. On the other side of the spectrum, technical writing. As I mentioned, most new writers work a “day job” in addition to their writing. If you have a degree in English, you have a lot of options you can go; such a degree teaches you to communicate well and think critically, and every employer wants that!

14. Is there anything else about being a writer that would be helpful for me to know?

It is a roller coaster of emotions. It can be a tough field for perfectionists or people who have anxiety. (But not impossible— I have both!) It’s tremendously rewarding. You spend a lot of time alone, more than you might guess. You have to be okay with things being icky and uncertain for long periods of time– but draft after draft after draft, it all comes together.

Review: Dreamology by Lucy Keating

dreamologyAlice has dreamed of Max for as long as she can remember– in her dreams, they are happy and in love, going on the kind of crazy adventures that can only happen in dreams.

When Alice moves to Boston, though, Max is in her psychology class at her new school! Except this Max seems detached … and he has a girlfriend.

I really enjoyed this one! There were some really great lines, and I especially loved the character of Oliver, one of Alice’s new friends. I loved the dream sequences, and it was fun to tweet with Lucy Keating while I read it too. An interesting concept, though the conflict at the end confused me a little bit. All in all, an enjoyable, light read!

 

Review: Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin

mara dyer

This is actually going to be less of a review and more of an introduction, so that I can steer away from spoilers.

First of all, those covers! Gorgeous.

The Mara Dyer trilogy is about a girl who survives the collapse of an abandoned asylum she was exploring with her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister. Shortly after the collapse, her family moves to Florida to start over … only things are getting super weird. Enter Noah Shaw, this cocky British schoolboy who knows he is gorgeous, and things really start to get interesting.

Thrillers aren’t really my thing. But I loved this series.

Mara is a badass. The dialogue is hilarious. The intrigue is intense. And Noah Shaw is … well … Noah Shaw.

“You’re supposed to say, ‘All I want is your happiness. I’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means being without you.'”
“Sorry,” Noah said. “I’m just not that big of a person.”

Yes, he’s a little over the top sometimes. (Okay, a lot over the top.) But those over-the-top things are a-ok with me when said in a British accent. I listened to the audio versions of this series, which was narrated by Christy Romano (you know her as Ren Stevens and the voice of Kim Possible), and while a lot of people took issue with her attempt at a male British accent, I was okay with it.

I like that the books were intriguing but not wholly scary. I’m not big into freaking myself out. If you like books that will keep you guessing, dive headfirst into this series.

Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a book cover misrepresent the story inside so much as this one. Let’s take a look at it.noggin

What do you expect from this title and cover?

I pictured a Grasshopper Jungle type of story– weird and wild and fast and sort of hard-to-believe-but-I’ll-go-along-for-the-ride, you know?

Not at all. This story was the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve read so far this year. And maybe for ALL of last year too. In fact, I can’t remember a book putting my heart through the meat-grinder quite like this one did since I read The Fault in Our Stars. My gosh. I’m still reeling.

First of all, what’s this book about? Travis Coates is the second person to have a successful head-transplant surgery. When he died, his head was cryogenically preserved while they figured out the procedure– the medical organization he was with suspected they would have a solution within twenty years, though, secretly, neither Travis nor his friends or family thought it would ever work. So, when only five years later, it does work … well, everything is different. Most notably, Travis is still sixteen and in love with his girlfriend Cate … who is now 21 and engaged to someone else.

This book was intense. All the feels. Multiplied exponentially. While I often love to just binge-read through a great story, I couldn’t with this one. I could only handle small doses– an hour of reading here, a half-hour there. And when I finished it today, I just sobbed and sobbed and then took a nap to deaden the feelings.

Noggin was incredible. Layered characters. Meaningful story. Made my head spin and my heart break. This book was so much more than I ever anticipated.