Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Joss Whedon: A Biography by Amy Pascale

Joss Whedon: A Biography
by Amy Pascale
Chicago Review Press
Pub Date: August 1, 2014

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Do I need a synopsis for this? It's a biography on Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many other amazing pieces of entertainment. I've been trying to figure out how to write this review, because I'm afraid it's going to come out as more of a review of Joss Whedon's life than it is a review of the author's book. I guess I've never reviewed a biography before.

Well, first let me just say that this book was pretty long, and yet I still would have happily kept reading forever. The author did an excellent job of keeping a narrative going throughout the book. She devoted separate chapters to separate projects of Joss's, while also keeping things chronological even though he hopped from one project to the next and back again. I almost felt like I was reading a fictional story, with character development, foreshadowing, conflict, tension, and resolutions. I also think the author did a great job of piecing together many different people's thoughts while working on various projects in order to give the reader a complete idea of what it was like to be there with Joss at that time.

So basically I'm saying that this biography was excellent. Excellent excellent excellent. I was fascinated the entire time…

And that, of course, is why I feel like I should be reviewing Joss the person rather than this actual book. I don't want to take away anything from the wonderful job the author has done, but I obviously wouldn't have been so invested in reading a biography if I wasn't so obsessed with its subject. Joss Whedon has been probably my biggest hero for a really long time, in the sense that I admire his work--both as a consumer of it for entertainment, and as a creator myself.

While he writes scripts and I write novels, I feel like the fundamentals of storytelling are the same. And I found so much inspiration in hearing exactly how Joss creates his stories. One tidbit I especially enjoyed was how he talks about writing episodes of Buffy. While the show is told in a very monster-of-the-week format, especially in earlier seasons, Joss was adamant about keeping the conflict of each episode grounded in the emotional conflicts of the characters. He always asked himself and his other writers, "But what's the Buffy of it?" I think I need to write this on the top of my dry-erase board when I'm making notes for a novel, perhaps substituting "Buffy" with my own MC's name. Or then again, perhaps not!

I know I'm not the first person to say this about him, but another thing I really admire about Joss is the way he cultivates his own family of creative and talented people, keeping them close around him. If you watch his shows, it's obvious that he uses a lot of the same actors for many different projects, but he also uses the same writers, etc. I can understand why he does this, and I also feel most comfortable when I'm around other creative people. While I can't cast my friends in TV shows, I appreciate how Joss does this. It is also interesting how he has created his own family, while he often talks about that idea as being a big theme in his shows. And the fact that his "family" gathers at his house to give Shakespeare readings just makes my heart swell a little bit. 

I also feel like I share so many personal beliefs with Joss, about humanity, feminism, religion…and it was great getting to read his thoughts on the subjects and about how his beliefs have shaped his work. I already knew that he was an atheist, but I found myself majorly connecting with him during moments of this book, especially whenever he takes issue with the idea that you need to have religion in order to have a sense of morality. 

There are countless other reasons I could give for why I pretty much worship Joss Whedon, but I think maybe I'll save that for a separate post. I'm just going to end this with a few Joss quotes I found in this book that really kind of hit me in the gut.

"Very often you'll be in a group and you'll discover that every single person in it feels like they're the one on the perimeter."

"…we, all of us, are alone in our own minds, and I was very much aware of that from the very beginning of my life. Loneliness and aloneness--which are different things--are very much…[among the] main things I focus on in my work."

"It made me realize…that every time somebody opens their mouth they have an opportunity to do one of two things--connect or divide. Some people inherently divide, and some people inherently connect."

"I believe the only reality is how we treat each other. The morality comes from the absence of any grander scheme, not from the presence of any grander scheme."

"The enemy of humanism is not faith. The enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person in the world. That is what we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers."

And finally, a quote from Amy Pascale that I wholeheartedly agree with:

"When I say that Joss Whedon changed my life, I'm not being hyperbolic. If anything, it seems inadequate to say that he changed it only once."

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: The Bridge From Me To You

The Bridge From Me To You
by Lisa Schroeder
Pub Date: July 29, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Lauren has a secret. Colby has a problem. But when they find each other, everything falls into place. 

Lauren is the new girl in town with a dark secret. Colby is the football hero with a dream of something more. In alternating chapters, they come together, fall apart, and build something stronger than either of them thought possible--something to truly believe in.

My Review:
I was intrigued by this novel's format--with alternating chapters from Lauren's point of view (in verse) and Colby's point of view (in prose). I thought it was interesting how Schroeder told the story not only from two different POV's, but also in two fundamentally different ways.

I think giving Lauren's chapters in verse was a good way to capture her fractured and confused state of mind. Lauren's poetry also allowed Schroeder to slowly reveal the truth about what happened to Lauren's family and why she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle. We get hints through the thoughts Lauren expresses in her poetry, rather than being told outright from the beginning.

I enjoyed Colby's voice as well. His chapters managed to capture his sensitive and thoughtful side, even while he talked about things like football. I really liked the idea of this character being obsessed with bridges, and I thought Schroeder used this idea well metaphorically.

I appreciated how the interactions between Lauren and Colby were sweet and innocent for much of the book. The two main obstacles that kept them apart felt a bit contrived to me, but I did enjoy how they tried to be friends until they had the chance to possibly be something more. It was a refreshing change of pace from a lot of YA romances where the characters jump into heavily physical relationships pretty quickly.

However, my main critique of the book stems from the air of innocence that I liked. While I found the teens' relationship cute, the writing in the novel felt like it was aimed at a  younger audience than I expected. The plot followed similarly. Schroeder set up conflicts for the characters in their relationships with their families and friends, but then it felt to me like the situations never got as dark as they probably would have in real life. Every problem the characters faced seemed to resolve themselves easily. While there is nothing wrong with this, and I certainly don't believe that every YA novel needs to be dark, because the darker situations were set up, I was expecting something more from them than what I got. I think the book would simply be better suited for a slightly younger audience.

(I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Review: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

One Man Guy
by Michael Barakiva
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub Date: May 27, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

My Review:
(I received a copy of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Yes! Adorable. I loved this book. 

From the very first scene, Alek pulled me into his story and made me care about him and root for him. He was adorably awkward and I loved him. I also loved his family dynamic. It was funny how his mom found fault in everything Americans do, but then pointed out how her friend does it. I liked how Alek and his brother Nik didn't seem to get along at all, but then they were totally there for each other when they needed it.

I loved Ethan. Loved, loved, loved. The one thing I could say is that I actually wanted to know more about him. I would have kept reading this book if he and Alek's story was 500 pages long. But I absolutely adored how he treated Alek. And I liked how realistic their relationship felt. They had misunderstandings and were jerks to each other at times, and then they addressed these things, instead of just magically letting everything be better. But they always forgave each other. I really appreciated that.

And finally, I really enjoyed how New York was used as a setting for the boys' developing relationship. Also, even though I haven't listened to too much Rufus Wainwright, I liked how the author used one specific musician to sort of set the tone for the story. 

So like I said, this book was sweet and adorable and fantastic. So good. Everyone should check it out when it's released May 27th!

Review: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Second Star
by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Pub Date: May 13, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

My Review
I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I don't even know where to start. This is a YA retelling of Peter Pan about a girl who hangs out at an abandoned beach with two surfer boys! Just the concept is crazy awesome. I was beyond thrilled for the chance to read this early, and I loved it even more than I expected. I was so obsessed with this book while I was reading it. When I had to put it down before I was finished, I kept thinking about it and telling my friend about it. It was so so so good!

One thing I thought was great (even though it kind of drove me crazy at the same time) was how the author maintained this sort of magical tone throughout the whole story. It kept me guessing until the very end about what was real.

And, of course, what I thought was the greatest was the boys. Pete and Jas. They were both ridiculously great, but I have a tendency to root for the "bad" guy. At first I did think I'd get annoyed with Wendy sort of bouncing back and forth between two boys. But it actually felt believable and the author managed to do it without me losing any respect for Wendy. It probably had something to do with the whole magical/real-or-not-real quality of the story, too.

The last thing I want to say is slightly spoiler-y, so you might wanna skip this paragraph!

The ending. I was rooting crazy hard for a totally cheesy, ridiculously happy ending. But I started realizing way before the end that it wasn't going to be as ride-off-into-the-sunset as I wanted it to be. And I was okay with that, only because I reminded myself of Peter Pan. The story was always kind of sad to me. But also awesome.

And that's totally what Second Star was. Kind of sad, but even more awesome. I thought it was perfect. If you like fairy tale retellings, read it. Seriously. It was so creatively done.

Second Star is available Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

TORN AWAY Blog Tour: Review, Playlist & GIVEAWAY!

I'm so excited to be participating in the Blog Tour hosted by Itching for Books for Jennifer Brown's newest YA novel, Torn Away! I'm posting my review AND my own playlist for this story. And the publishers are allowing everyone participating in the tour to host their own GIVEAWAY for a copy of the novel!

I have loved all of Jennifer Brown's other novels, so I was practically jumping up and down for the chance to get an early copy from NetGalley. And let me just say that Torn Away completely exceeded my expectations!

It actually wasn't quite what I expected it to be...but it was better. I do think I wouldn't have been so surprised by the shape of the story if I had paid better attention to the synopsis, though. So I would actually suggest skipping the synopsis down below and going into the book blind. It's about a girl who survives a tornado. That's all you need to know!

Torn Away
by Jennifer Brown
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pub Date: May 6, 2014

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Born and raised in the Midwest, Jersey Cameron knows all about tornadoes. Or so she thinks. When her town is devastated by a twister, Jersey survives -- but loses her mother, her young sister, and her home. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with her only surviving relatives: first her biological father, then her estranged grandparents.

In an unfamiliar place, Jersey faces a reality she's never considered before -- one in which her mother wasn't perfect, and neither were her grandparents, but they all loved her just the same. Together, they create a new definition of family. And that's something no tornado can touch.


Two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award (2005 & 2006), Jennifer's weekly humor column appeared in The Kansas City Star for over four years, until she gave it up to be a full-time young adult novelist. 
Jennifer writes and lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area, with her husband and three children.

This book was heartbreaking. I knew it would be, because of the subject matter. But it felt so immediate. The whole thing takes place, I believe, within a month of the tornado, so Jersey is still basically in shock. She’s grieving, obviously. I thought that the story would be more about her finding a way to move on, that it would take place further after the fact. But instead, we get to see her when everything is still so raw. Like I said, it’s heartbreaking. And perfect.

It’s hard to say too much without spoilers, but I will say that for me, the best thing about the book was the characters. They were all so vivid and real, even if they were only in the story for a short time. Some of them were so awful I wanted to scream at them and punch them for Jersey, and then some of them were so wonderful I wanted to hug them and thank them because Jersey couldn’t. 

My heart was breaking for Jersey the whole time. I wanted her to fight back against the awful people, but she was mostly just too numb. And then I wanted her to try to accept the people that wanted to help her, but again she was in too much pain at first. It was frustrating, and I wanted to scream at her, too. But all of Jersey’s actions and reactions felt so believable for someone who had just been through such a tragedy. Everyone deals with tragedy in different ways, but I thought that the author handled all of Jersey’s conflicting emotions so well.

The ending was also perfect. After all of the horribleness that was happening to her, I was starting to think that Jersey could get nothing but a miserably bleak ending. But no. She finally managed to find a little bit of hope. And it made reading through all of the heartbreaking parts worth it.

I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone. But be prepared to cry basically the entire time.

And now for my Torn Away PLAYLIST!

1.  I'm With You--Avril Lavigne
     waiting in the basement
2. Goodbye to You--Michelle Branch
     losing people
3. Rescue Me--Aaron and Andrew
     the in-between
4. View from Heaven--Yellowcard
     starting to accept
5. You'll Be Okay--A Great Big World
6. Let It Be--The Beatles
7. I Will Remember You--Sarah McLaughlin
     at the cemetary
8. When I Look to the Sky--Train
     the end

Enter below to win one paperback copy of Torn Away! (Contest open to U.S. residents only.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to check out all the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Boys Like You by Juliana Stone

Boys Like You
by Juliana Stone
Sourcebooks Fire
Pub Date: May 6, 2014

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What it's about: This story is told in alternating points of view. Monroe is sent to spend the summer with her grandmother in Louisiana after a mistake tears her family apart and leaves her broken. Here she meets Nathan, a boy who also made a terrible mistake and is just as broken as she is. And then romance ensues and they put each other back together, of course!

I don't even know where to start on how much I loved this book. Maybe I should start by saying that the entire thing took me by surprise. I guess based on the title and cover, I was expecting it to be a cute romance and not too much more. But I was so wrong. The writing was beautiful, the characters were beautiful and real, and it was all just perfect. My eyes were watering up pretty much the whole way through the second half of the novel, and then a minute after I finished it, I had to grab a tissue. I wasn't expecting that! Also, I read the entire thing in one sitting, before bed, and it kept me up all night. I couldn't put it down.

I guess the biggest thing going on is the secrets that each of these two characters are keeping. If you read the synopsis, they're pretty obvious. But I did, and I was still caught up in the way the author slowly revealed the details to the reader as the characters slowly opened up to each other. She did a really great job with that.

I loved both Monroe and Nathan. And of course, I'm totally a sucker for the not-love-at-first-sight relationships. On their first meeting, all they did was bicker at each other. But thanks to Monroe's meddling (and completely awesome) grandmother, they have to spend more time together. And eventually, they start to develop feelings for each other. I felt like the author did a good job of making their relationship feel believable. Both characters were in such a bad place at the start of the novel that it was hard for them to let each other in. But then they did. And again, it was perfect. I also really appreciated how their romance didn't magically make everything okay again. It didn't. They just found a way to help each other start healing. And I really believed it.

To avoid just repeating the word perfect, I'm going to stop here. But I'll just say again how much this book took me by surprise. I'd never read anything by Juliana Stone before (I guess she normally writes adult romance), but I'll definitely be looking for her next YA novel now.

Boys Like You comes out today, so go check it out!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson

Catch a Falling Star
by Kim Culbertson
Pub Date: April 29, 2014

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What it's about: Carter Moon is a small town girl who is proud of where she comes from. When a Hollywood film crew arrives to film a movie in her town, Carter meets teen star Adam Jakes. Adam needs a fake girlfriend to help clean up his image, and Carter takes the job. But soon she starts to fall for Adam for real.

I was excited when I saw that Kim Culbertson had a new book coming out, because I absolutely loved her first two: Songs for a Teenage Nomad and Instructions for a Broken Heart. I even loved her novella The Liberation of Max McTrue. And unfortunately, though I liked this one a lot, it just didn't live up to how wonderful her last ones were. 

The setup felt very familiar. Even though I can't name a specific book or movie, I feel like I've seen it a few times before. But that didn't bother me. I was expecting a cute romance, and that's what Catch a Falling Star delivered. I only felt that the romance wasn't as believable as it could have been. While I could see how Adam fell for Carter, I didn't really see enough from Adam to make me feel that he was worth Carter's attention. 

One interesting aspect Culbertson added to the story was the theme of stars and space. Carter and her best friend Alien Drake are stargazers and they even run their own blog where they discuss what's going on in the sky. I thought it was clever how the author related the stars in the sky that Carter observes to the star who has suddenly appeared in her life. Culbertson even included the blog entries at the end of some chapters. But even though I appreciated the connection, I found myself skimming through those blog entries. 

There were quite a few things I really enjoyed about this novel, though. I loved the small town setting, and I especially loved that Carter's family owned a cafe. I also thought it was great how Carter's other best friend Chloe was obsessed with Adam and how much she freaked out when she thought Carter was dating him. I also just liked Carter's character development. I thought it was refreshing to see a small town girl who wasn't dying to get out as soon as she graduated. In fact, Carter's problem was the opposite. I thought Culbertson did a great job with developing Carter's personal conflicts. She was a girl who had abandoned her passion and was know slowly realizing that she could go back to it. I liked seeing her grow and have to make some big life choices.

So that's all. I definitely felt that this was an enjoyable read. Probably the only reason it fell short of my expectations was because I had such high expectations. Kim Culbertson is still a YA writer that I would greatly recommend.

And Catch a Falling Star is out today, so be sure to check it out if you'd like to see some small town girl/movie star romance!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Don't Even Think About It
by Sarah Mlynowski
Random House
Pub Date: March 11, 2014

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What it's about: This is the story of what happens when almost an entire homeroom gets a flu shot and ends up with the side effect of telepathy. Suddenly the group of students realize that they can't keep secrets from each other, and they also hear things they may not necessarily want to hear from crushes, friends, and family.

Okay, I've been waiting for a new Sarah Mlynowski book since I read 10 Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have). And this new novel didn't disappoint.

First of all, the super unique things about this story is the point of view. I want to label it collective first person, but my English degree might really be failing me here because I'm not sure if that's right. Anyway, the whole thing is narrated by a "we." Not only is this something I've never seen done before, but it makes total sense for the story! It is explained in the beginning that this large group of students considers themselves a "we" now that they have this telepathy. And since they can all hear each other's thoughts, they can narrate the story together in one voice. So cool!

Another cool thing about the story is the large ensemble cast. I have to admit that I cared about some characters less than others, and couldn't remember every character's individual story. But the author did give more focus to a smaller group and I liked all of these "main" characters. But I especially liked the changing dynamic between the members of the group. Because they didn't all start off as friends, but gaining this power bonded them. Bonus: there was one totally unexpected romance that bloomed by the end of the story and I really enjoyed that!

Finally, I loved all of the discomfort the situation caused for the characters. (Errr, maybe that sounds sadistic.) There were fights between friends and couples because they could suddenly hear what each other is thinking at every moment. And I think this is a really interesting thing to explore. Because, let's face it, we don't always have sickenly sweet thoughts about even our bestest friends 100% of the time. Imagine how hard it would be if you're friend heard your passing thought about how an outfit didn't look good on her. This isn't something you would actually say to her, so if she heard it you'd feel awful.

And then the author also explored more interesting dynamics between family members. It's interesting to think about all of the thoughts parents might keep hidden from their children because they just want their children to be happy and not have to share the parents' worries.

Overall, this was a really quick read. But definitely entertaining! And it just came out this week, so you can already check it out.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: Donna of the Dead by Alison Kemper

Donna of the Dead
by Alison Kemper
Entangled Publishing
Pub Date: March 4, 2014

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

People. I loved this book. I read it all in one sitting, and it's not a short book! When I first came across it on Goodreads it didn't have a cover (still doesn't), and the blurb was pretty much one sentence. But it compared the book to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so that put it on my auto-read list. I was so excited to get this ARC! I try to read the ARCs in the order in which the books will be released. But I had to read this right away. And then I had to keep reading until I was finished.

So I should probably say what it's about. It's a zombie novel. I know everyone talks about supernatural trends in books, and I've never been into any of them before... but give me more zombie novels! Please!   This one reminded me of This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers just because of the setup, but it was still different.

Babbling. Ok.

This book is about a girl named Donna who can hear voices in her head that warn her when she's in danger. This special ability (which she keeps secret from everyone) comes in handy when a zombie outbreak occurs. Her and her best friend Deke end up hiding out in their high school with a group of their classmates. Some of these people Donna can't stand, but her long-time crush Liam is there as well.  And that's basically it. Let the zombie slaying begin!

First thing I liked about this book was that it had a really interesting opening. Donna and Deke are with their families on a cruise ship when suddenly everyone else on the ship gets zombi-fied. And their parents get the ship to land and the kids escape. I've just never seen any scene from a zombie story take place in the middle of the ocean. It definitely raised the tension, having the characters confined to this zombie infested ship.

Next I liked the ensemble cast of characters. I feel like trapping kids in their high school with no adults is a common thing in YA now, but I'm a sucker for it. There's just so much room for different personalities to interact and different relationships to emerge.

The action was great. It was interesting to see how Donna's voices helped her. Because they didn't tell her directly what to do. They just gave warnings and she had to figure it out. I also really appreciated how the voices weren't this random supernatural element. By the end, we find out that there's a reason Donna can hear them.

So like I already said, I really really enjoyed this book. Definitely check it out if you like zombie novels, action, survival stories, or just a nice dose of teen drama.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Big, Exciting, Lots of Changes!

So I know the title of this post is ungrammatical. Oh well. That's just how my brain is working this week. Lots of things to report.

I decided on Monday that I was quitting my job at the diner. For many reasons that I don't need to get into. But basically, I knew I had to get out. Immediately. It was more than my general feeling of "I can't be a server anymore. This is killing me." It was this place specifically that I needed to get away from.

Lately I've been trying to get myself started as a freelance editor. I have a couple clients already. I created my own website, and I've been thinking about printing business cards. It's something that I know takes a lot of time to establish yourself. But I was enjoying going to my serving job in the morning and then having my evenings free to edit or work on my own writing. And a little extra money is always good.

So when I decided to leave my job, I briefly thought that I could try to really spread the word and support myself on freelancing. Plus I was looking into submitting articles to paying magazines and also maybe self-publishing some short stories on Amazon. But the reality is, I have way too many bills. At the moment, I just can't afford not to have a steady income.

So on Tuesday I applied at another restaurant that's opening up in a few weeks. On Wednesday I went back and got hired. It's not ideal--just going from one serving job to the next. It's not what I want to do with my life. But for now, it seems like my only option.

But then also on Wednesday, I got a completely out of the blue e-mail from a woman who saw a resume I posted online months ago on one of those job hunt sites. She wanted to interview me for an assistant manager position at Panera Bread. This is also not my ideal job. BUT unlike serving, this would give me way more money, plus benefits and insurance. And I'm just not in the position to turn that down. So I'm interviewing next week and I guess we'll see what happens. The only thing that worries me is that I'd be working WAY more hours than I am now. Which leaves much less time for my own writing and for freelancing. Of course, even though I love editing for people, the reason I started it was to make more money. And if I had this management position, I wouldn't need the extra money anymore. So I'd probably stop looking for new clients and just finish the projects I'm doing now.

The bottom line, though, is that whichever job I end up doing, at least it will be a change. My job has been making me miserable for a while now. And I can't keep living like that. Change will be good.

And and and AND NOW FOR THE BIG NEWS. On Thursday I sent out five new query letters to agents for my novel. And about an hour later I got a response from one agent asking to read the full manuscript. !!!!!***!@!@!!!!!! I probably don't need to say, but I was FREAKING OUT. For a good ten minutes. And then I went back to my computer. And I had ANOTHER e-mail from another agent wanting to read it too!

I'm not getting my hopes up. I swear I'm not. I know that the chance of them loving the novel enough to offer me representation is very very very slim. But so was the chance of them even wanting to read it in the first place. This is the farthest I've gotten in the agent search process so far. It's a huge step. And it feels AMAZING.

So now I'm waiting to hear back. I don't know how I'm going to focus on the rest of my life until I get their responses. I just don't.

But I'm really, really excited about my life right now.


Review: The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry

The Summer I Found You
by Jolene Perry
Albert Whitman Teen
Pub Date: March 1, 2014

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Summer I Found You is told in alternating points of view between Kate, a girl who's dealing with her recent diagnosis of diabetes, and Aidan, a boy who is home from the army after losing an arm. The two are thrown together on a whim by Kate's best friend who is also Aidan's cousin. Romance ensues.

I'll start by saying that I absolutely adored this book. I wasn't sure how I felt about Kate at first, because at the beginning of the story she gets dumped, and then she spends a lot of time whining about it and thinking she can get the guy back. I didn't want to read about that, but I can admit that it did feel like a realistic reaction from a teenage girl. And Aidan starts off a bit whiney too, but understandably so, since he just lost his arm. Once the two meet, though, I was totally sucked into the story.

Kate is drawn to spending time with Aidan because he is the one person who doesn't know about her diabetes, and therefore isn't monitoring what she eats and worrying about her all the time. And Aidan likes being around Kate because she doesn't act weird about his arm. She just blurts out whatever she's thinking, even if other people would find it inappropriate. I really liked how, with the multiple POV's, we got to understand each person's motivation for wanting to be with the other. These two characters didn't fall into the trap of insta-love. They had very believable reasons for wanting to continue seeing each other. Eventually, of course, their feelings developed until they really cared about each other.

Of course, what drew them to each other also becomes the sources of their problems. They're both, in a way, hiding things from each other and aren't able to be completely open. Then things seem to fall apart in the climactic seen (which I could see coming from page one), but the pair finds a way to work things out. What I really love about their relationship is how they each help the other overcome their problems.

Overall, I thought both the story and the writing were great. I'd definitely be interested in checking out Jolene Perry's next book.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Me Since You by Laura Weiss

Me Since You
by Laura Weiss
MTV Books
Pub Date: Feb 18, 2014

Me Since You is about a girl named Rowan whose father is a police officer. When her father is called to the scene of a tragic crime, this sets in motion a chain of events that change Rowan’s life. While Rowan’s family is dealing with the consequences of that day, Rowan begins a romance with Ely, a boy who also happened to be at the scene of the crime. But then another tragic event occurs which separates Rowan’s life into BEFORE and AFTER.

Let me start off by saying that I found the premise of this novel fascinating. It’s hard to give a review for this one without giving any spoilers, so I apologize in advance for the vagueness. But I’ve never considered what it might be like for a police officer in a situation like this where he is called to stop a crime. Because of this situation, I really enjoyed the first part of the novel where Rowan’s family is dealing with the aftermath of this crime.

Ely. I absolutely adored Ely. He and Rowan’s budding relationship felt very authentic to me. And I really appreciated how Ely had an interesting (but sad) backstory that also directly related to the present story. If that makes any sense. Again, I’m going to be vague here.

Now here’s where I’m not so sure how I feel about the novel. The second tragic event (the one that the book’s blurb says separates Rowan’s life) occurs way later in the novel than I expected. I could see the event coming, but then it took so long to actually happen that I began to get confused as to what the story was even supposed to be about.

Aside from the timing/pacing issue, I personally didn’t enjoy the book as much after the event. I felt like the rest of the novel became a big pile of grief. Now, I think the author did a good job of realistically portraying Rowan’s grief. But for me, it was just too much of a downer. I guess because it seemed like the entire plot of the story just stopped. And Rowan grieved. And that was it. And then the plot just barely picked back up again at the end (thanks to Ely). So while I really enjoyed reading at least the first half of the book, the rest of it disappointed me.

I also feel like I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I began reading this book. Even the publisher’s summary is sort of vague to avoid spoilers. But I think if I had realized how this book was going to be ahead of time, I would have been prepared for a really sad read, and may not have had the same reaction to the sudden grief spiral.

So that’s all I have for you. Great setup, really strong writing, and then (at least for me) kind of a let down. Give it a try, though. Just be prepared for sadness.

Friday, January 17, 2014


So for the last few weeks, I've felt like I've had a lot going on. Because I have. And what's really exciting is that all of these things are writing related.

I'm a waitress. That's how I'm currently paying my bills. But that's not a career, and I have my shiny new Master's degree (not to mention student loans) telling me that I should be doing more. And it's really frustrating sometimes. I've looked for full time jobs, but the thing is, I'm picky. I don't want to be sitting behind a desk working 9-5 bored out of my mind.

Obviously the dream is to become a full time writer. But the reality is much trickier. I kept telling myself that I'd be sending my novel out to agents soon, and that I'd just wait and see. I know that even if I did get a publishing contract, that would certainly not mean I could quit my job. But it would mean something. It would mean that I'm on the right track.

In the meantime, though, I'm going a bit crazy. I have a lot of friends at work, and I love them. And they're wonderful enough to listen to me babble endlessly about writing stuff and pretend that they care.  But I want to be doing more with my time than waiting tables and coming home to watch TV now that my novel is done. I want to engage more with other writers and book lovers. I do that with my VCFA friends, of course. But I want to do it more!

I didn't consciously make a choice to change things. But suddenly, it feels like all sorts of things are falling into place for me. So here's an update on what I've got going on now:

1. I did finish my novel AND wrote my query letter AND sent it out to five agents. That's a small batch for now, because I think the query letter needs to be revised some more. Once I start hearing back from these agents, I'll do some more work on the letter and send out another batch.

2. I went back to talking about books and writing on my YouTube channel: Read First, Write Second. This is important, not only because it's fun, but because making contacts with other readers and writers could potentially be beneficial down the road if my novel gets published.

3. I'm back to writing in this blog. (Obviously.)

4. I joined NetGalley, a site where publishers provide ARCs to reviewers in order to get publicity for their books. And I've already received 7 books. So that means more reviews on this blog and my YouTube.

5. I recently finished The F-It List by Julie Halpern and was really impressed with the way she handled the sexual content. So I e-mailed her asking for an interview, and she agreed! Look for that coming soon. But it's majorly exciting, because I realized I could ask other authors for interviews. It doesn't hurt to ask. And hopefully stuff like this, and the ARC reviews, will bring more readers to this blog.

6. I started freelance editing! Right now I'm working on one client's book, and I'm doing a 20 page sample for another. This is exciting for lots of reasons. First, I genuinely enjoy editing. And second, it's a way to actually make some money using my degree.

7. I plan to make business cards eventually to advertise my editing services.

8. I want to buy my own domain name and build my personal website. This is going to take some time, because I need to research things, and I'll need to hire someone to build the site for me. Because I am beyond tech-challenged. But I want to be able to promote myself, and all of the various things I do, in one place.

9. And finally, this is an idea that was only introduced to me yesterday so I'm still mulling it over, but I'm considering self-publishing some short stories on Amazon. I'm going to look into this. If I do it, I'll use a pseudonym to keep this separate from anything I eventually publish traditionally. I don't expect to make much money off of it, but you never know. I have stories written anyway, and it's very hard to find journals and lit mags that are looking for YA short stories.

I feel like I should have a tenth one just for the sake of tidy list-making. But I think that's all. So I thought I'd share, if anyone cares. I'm really excited. (In case I haven't mentioned that.) I feel like I'm working towards things now. And it's a good feeling. It's something I can remind myself of when I'm at the diner and am struck with the overwhelming urge to punch a customer in the face.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

And We Stay
by Jenny Hubbard
Random House Children's
Pub Date: Jan 28, 2014

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

And We Stay is about a girl named Emily who is sent away to a boarding school in Amherst, MA after her boyfriend kills himself right in front of her. Over the course of the story, through Emily's poetry and flashbacks, we learn her secret and the details of why this boy did what he did. At school, Emily makes two friends and also starts to feel a connection to the late poet Emily Dickinson, and we get to see how both of these things help her to heal.

So first, let me say that I love the premise of this novel. Even though I prefer realistic novels, I love how Emily starts to sense the presence of Emily Dickinson. Just this tiny element of the supernatural makes the story interesting. Second, I love the boarding school setting. I'm always drawn to stories that take place at a boarding school. (Looking for Alaska and Winger are a couple great ones.) Also, I've been to Amherst many times and it's a really cute town. I actually would have liked to see more scenes take place off campus.

All right, let's talk about the characters. I really liked a secondary character, K.T., who is Emily's roommate. I think she was memorable because she surprised me. When Emily first meets K.T., I expected her to be annoying, superficial, and maybe even mean. Basically, an over-used side character in YA. I see this so many times where the protagonist is forced to deal with a character like this, not necessarily the antagonist, who seems to be there only to make the protagonist look cooler. But anyway, my first impression of K.T. was wrong, and she develops into, not only an interesting character, but a real friend to Emily.

I was also really drawn to Emily. She was dealing with a whole lot when she arrived at this school, and I appreciated the way she handled herself. I found myself rooting for her.

One other thing that I really, really appreciated about this story was the handling of certain difficult subject matter. I'm not going to discuss it here, because I want to keep this review spoiler free, but I do go into more detail in my review over on my YouTube channel. So I'll put the link to that video down below if you'd like to check it out.

Now here's where I felt a little disappointed with the book.

Like I said, I really liked the premise of the story, especially the connection with Emily Dickinson. But I actually would have liked to see that connection and maybe even the supernatural elements taken a bit further.

My biggest question about this novel, though, has to do with the plot as a whole. First, I want to say that I enjoyed reading this book the entire way through. I really did. BUT once I got a little more than halfway through, I started to feel like the book was either moving too fast, or there wasn't enough book left to finish the story. If that makes any sense at all. By the time I finished, I felt like I had only read the first 50 pages of a novel, rather than the entire thing. Everything that happened in the story only felt like a first act. I guess because I liked the book, I wanted more of it. At the end of the story, we see that Emily is well on her way to healing, but I felt like not enough happened to provoke that character development. Even the climatic scene seemed like it could have occurred in the novel's first 20 pages, and then the story could have continued from there. This is hard to explain, because I've never experienced this feeling after reading a novel before.

Bottom line, though, I really did enjoy reading this novel.

If you'd like to hear me talk more about this book, you can check out my video here: Read First, Write Second