Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I was looking forward to this book because of all the hype, and the fact that I think Beth Revis (whose blog/twitter/tumblr I followed before I was able to get my hands on the book itself) is completely kindred-spirit-worthy. I was drawn in immediately by Amy’s voice—so much so that I worried I wouldn’t like her as much when she was awake and interacting with the ship, but I was wrong on that one.

Elder’s voice wasn’t as enticing to me… I liked him better through Amy’s POV also. I have to say I knew who the killer was early on… there was a little too much foreshadowing done there, I think it could have been dealt with a lighter hand. Another red herring would have served better, I think. It would have been great if Amy really had been unsure about either Elder or Harley.

So, for me the reveal of the murderer wasn’t that shocking. THAT SAID, the twist after it certainly was.

Amy is a GREAT character. Smart and strong and not about to take crap from anybody, but still vulnerable and alone in a lot of ways. I’m hoping Elder steps up his game a bit in A Million Suns. And I’m looking forward to finding out more about the history of Godspeed. I have a feeling a lot more secrets are left to be uncovered.

If you’ve read the book, I have a more spoilery review on goodreads, here.

Something Expansive

What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?

I don’t know that there’s one particular author who set off the inspiration for my WIP. I’d been reading a lot of young adult and middle grade fantasy of various types, and really what drove me to work on this story was the wish to write something expansive. Not “epic” necessarily… but definitely expansive.

If I had to point fingers, though… I think I’d have to single out Shannon Hale.

Despite what I just said, I’m really not much of a reader of fantasy. There is very little of it out there that doesn’t give me the urge to roll my eyes… especially high fantasy. Unless you’re J.R.R. Tolkein or Brandon Mull, you can keep your dragons to  yourself, thanks. And fairies? There was the occasional brilliant book (Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater) but mostly they seemed like a thinly veiled analogy for teen angst, which I didn’t care for. And unless it’s Harry Potter, don’t even talk about wizards.

But Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl reminded me of the fantasy that I loved—had always loved. Fairy tale magic. Subtle, natural magic. Magic like the whispering of words on the wind, or later on in the series, of the language of fire and water. The Goose Girl also had this wide, sweeping landscape and crossed whole nations. It had castles and communities and class-action suits. Okay, not exactly that last one, but close enough—a group of people who were fighting for equal standing, for recognition.

Shannon Hale’s world was so real that I felt like I’d been there, maybe in a dream. I wanted to create something like that. A dream-memory-worthy world. That sure sounded expansive to me. I didn’t want to retell a fairy tale, though. Too many people were doing that… or just about to do that. I wanted to write my own fairy tale. It’s one I’ve fallen dearly in love with, with elements from many of my favorite stories throughout folklore, but I’d like to think with my own special twist.

Other inspirations for my WIP include things like Willow, The Princess Bride, and The Polar Bear King, a movie that I loved to death when I was a kid. I wanted my world to stand alongside worlds like these… quietly magical, wonderfully alive fantasy. Even Robin Hood has had its influence here and there.

Another thing all these worlds have in common? The hero in the story isn’t quite what you’d expect. Sad girl, pirate, misfit… There’s a lesson in a lot of these stories that strength can come to anybody who stands up and fights for it. That’s something I wanted to write about, too. About extreme conditions, extreme need making even an outcast into a hero.

Wish me luck with it.

Here’s to You, Judy Blume.

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 

The book that did me in was Just as Long as We’re Together, by Judy Blume. Yes, I’m a Blume-r. I started a deep love of reading before I really could read—somewhere there is a VHS of me reciting the picture book Who’s a Pest? from memory when I was four years old, before I knew more than how to spell my name. I raced through book after book after book, reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. Fiction, nonfiction, mystery, fantasy, it all had me enthralled. I gobbled up classics like The Secret Garden and Little Women and The Hobbit.

And then, when I was eleven years old, a friend made me read Just as Long as We’re Together. I’d read Judy Blume before, though I didn’t realize that what I was holding now was the same author as the Fudge books—which I loved for a totally different reason—but when I read Just as Long as We’re Together, I knew I’d found the thing I really and truly loved. Teen fiction. Young Adult fiction.

I was too young to even be considered a Young Adult, but Blume’s stories struck such a deep chord with me—maybe because I was on shaky footing with the friends I thought would last forever, maybe because I was an “early bloomer” puberty-wise and Blume dealt with those sensitive subjects so deftly. I couldn’t get attached to the Babysitters’ Club or Sweet Valley High books that friends were reading and loving so much. They seemed so paltry—Blume’s characters seemed real. Three-dimensional people with souls and pasts and lives of their own.

And I wanted to be able to create that. I wanted to write books that people could walk away from feeling like they had new friends, new loves, new people dear to their hearts. Stephanie Hirsh and Rachel Robinson (with her own book as a sequel) are still a part of me today. Insecure teenagers fighting to define themselves and their beliefs and motivations—that feeling, that fight, is what made me want to be a writer. What made me want to examine the struggles of the heart and the complications of loving people but needing to be true to yourself, no matter what.

I drank those books down, every Blume I could get. Deenie. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Then Again Maybe I Won’t. It’s Not the End of the World. And then I haunted the YA shelves in my local bookstores—you know, back when it really was just a couple of shelves, usually hidden in the kids’ section?—looking every single time for something more. I was starving for young adult books. And there were a few out there… but mostly I was running across things like Lurlene McDaniels‘ books—where somebody always dies and everybody else is left tortured and ruined for it—and that kind of melodrama was not what I was looking for.

I just wanted good characters. Great characters. Characters that I wanted to stay up late at night on the phone with. That’s what I found in Blume’s books, and it took me a long time to find characters as great in YA again—though it’s certainly not hard now. And maybe it’s not because there were other kids out there like me… who heard that voice in the vast wilderness of literature and finally recognized something that was their own.

My writing has taken a different turn than the contemporary Young Adult that I started making stories up for when I was ten or twelve, but the heart behind the writing has been the same—has strengthened, really. I’m trying my best to capture the kind of power that goes behind emotions when you’re a teenager, and I love the way that fantasy highlights that, and I enjoy putting (hopefully) believable people into impossible situations and see how they deal with them. What’s most important to me is the honesty of the emotion.

So here’s to you, Judy Blume. Thanks for giving me my spark. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

D is for Doctor Who

Today I started watching Doctor Who with my husband. We watched the first episode, and are planning on doing an episode a day. This is his first experience with the Doctor. I myself am simply shamefully behind. And by “behind” I mean I have yet to see the last two David Tennant episodes and have yet to expose myself to the eleventh doctor.

Mainly this is because I was getting married and a little too busy to catch up on all my TV shows (of which there are multiple I’m behind on, I have to admit!) (Fandom goes by the wayside when you’re busy trying to organize a wedding and keeping financially afloat, etc.) but partially this is also because I was being very reluctant, again, to let Eleven into my life, but now that it’s been some time, and I’m getting to share the show with my hubby, I think I’ll be ready by the time we get to Eleven this go around. (Though with my luck, he won’t!)

Anyhow. For those of you not familiar with the show, the Doctor (yes, that’s his name, his full name, so far as you’re concerned) is a Time Lord, the last of an alien species who can both see and travel space and time. He does this in his TARDIS—that’s Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. He travels around both history and the universe, encountering aliens and weird situations of all types, usually running into crises, and he does the best he can to help (which is usually quite a lot, considering the fact that he’s a genius and has been around the block more than a few times.) Usually with a “companion” of the female persuasion who is full of gumption and can stand on their own feet.

I’m not going to go on and on about the show (though I do highly encourage you to watch it!) but I do want to talk about one of the bit reasons why I love the show so much, and that is its inherent message that humanity is good and capable of so much.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the general world of fantasy, the consensus is that humans really aren’t all that great. They’re weak, greedy, violent creatures, and there are a whole lot of fantasy races or creatures that are a whole lot “better” than them. Think about Twilight, and how Bella Swan could do absolutely nothing better than any of the vampires in the books—she was weaker, slower, had less understanding, had lower intuition, and was basically nothing in comparison to the vampires (and the wolves, to a lesser degree). She couldn’t do anything to save the day except for possibly kill herself, until she became a sparkly, shiny vampire herself.

Doctor Who is fairly the opposite. Even in this first episode that we watched today, the Doctor, despite all his great intellect and experience, had his life saved by a girl who worked in a shop and happened to have taken gymnastics when she was younger. All throughout the series (so far as I’ve seen it, and I trust, beyond that) the Doctor is always not only encouraging of humans, but impressed by their tenacity, their inspiration, and their ability to adapt. As a human who’s always looking to be tenacious, inspired and adaptable, well… 🙂

There are a lot of other reasons I love Doctor Who, but that’s a really big one, one of the biggest ones out there (other than the fact that the show is capable of heartbreakingly beautiful moments, and certainly pulls no punches). So, if you haven’t watched it yet, go watch it! It’s on Netflix, or so I’ve heard! And if you have watched it and are waiting for season 6 to start—don’t spoil me!

Image source here: http://scottysdrawings.webs.com/doctorwho.htm

Review: The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman

The Dark Hills Divide is a middle grade book about a girl named Alexa who lives in a world (city, really) encased by very high walls. All her life, Alexa has looked for ways outside of the walls, and finally she finds one.

I can already tell you that this won’t rank among my favorite reads for 2011. Actually, I’ve been reading this book for a long time. Put it down a lot, lost it a few times, got distracted with getting married last year, etc. Even so, I remained intrigued enough to keep truckin’ through the book.

It was extremely predictable. Now, to be fair, this is a middle-grade book. That said, I felt like all of Alexa’s little discoveries were made a little too conveniently. The one character whose flip was supposed to surprise you didn’t at all, and the one whose was supposed to be galling wasn’t—because we had no emotional tie to him.

Really the biggest problem I have with this book, though, is that I feel as though it may have shot itself in the foot so far as potential goes. There are several more books in the series, and I own three more of them myself, so I’ll keep reading, hoping that the magic that disappears in this book comes back at some point, but the fact that there was no reason for the magic to go away in the first place frustrates me.

The writing was alright, though, and like I said, I’ll keep reading the books. I’m intrigued by this world, and I like Alexa, which is always a plus.

New Spin on Vamp Books?

Or maybe I should say… books about vampires that I actually WANT to read?!

Because I DO. Oh I do.  There have been not one, but two vampire books that have caught my attention in the past couple of days that I just… want. Is it because they promise more Edward-Cullen-esque smolder?  Nah… I was always a Jacob Black fangirl, thanks very much. (Not that I don’t like Edward… I just get sick of him easy).

So why do I want to read these books?  Because I think they are a brilliant response to the flood of vampire books that have been well—everywhere. I did say flood, right?  Right.

Book Number One: Bloodthirsty by Flynn Meaney

Some vampires are good. Some are evil. Some are faking it to get girls.

Awkward and allergic to the sun, sixteen-year-old Finbar Frame never gets the girl. But when he notices that all the female students at his school are obsessed with a vampire romance novel called Bloodthirsty, Finbar decides to boldly go where no sane guy has gone before–he becomes a vampire, minus the whole blood sucking part. With his brooding nature and weirdly pale skin, it’s surprisingly easy for Finbar to pretend to be paranormal. But, when he meets the one girl who just might like him for who he really is, he discovers that his life as a pseudo-vampire is more complicated than he expected. This hilarious debut novel is for anyone who believes that sometimes even nice guys-without sharp teeth or sparkly skin–can get the girl.

————

O.M.B.

I think this is brilliant.  I admit, I was hooked from the first three sentences. SUCH a smart pitch! I would LOVE to read this book, and it is definitely on my TBR list.

Book Number Two: Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.

Doug Lee is undead quite by accident—attacked by a desperate vampire, he finds himself cursed with being fat and fifteen forever. When he has no luck finding some goth chick with a vampire fetish, he resorts to sucking the blood of cows under cover of the night. But it’s just not the same.

Then he meets the new Indian exchange student and falls for her—hard. Yeah, he wants to bite her, but he also wants to prove himself to her. But like the laws of life, love, and high school, the laws of vampire existence are complicated—it’s not as easy as studying Dracula. Especially when the star of Vampire Hunters is hot on your trail in an attempt to boost ratings. . . .

Searing, hilarious, and always unexpected, Fat Vampire is a satirical tour de force from one of the most original writers of fiction today.

————
I actually like the summary on the back much better, but that’ll do.  Again, a brilliant twist on vampire-mania. I saw this idea toyed with on the short-lived show Moonlight (Oh hai, second Jason Dohring TV show that cancelled on me way too soon.) (Bitter? Who me?) but this novel promises a much more in-depth approach to the idea of being fifteen and awkward… forever.  I was hooked at the tag-line: “A Never Coming of Age Story.” I couldn’t help but  think how poignant that was. A critic quote on the back of the book makes it clear that this isn’t just a satire, either, but a rich full story that’ll make you hurt and laugh. I so want to read it.
The thing that gets my goat? These ideas aren’t far-fetched or even particularly ground-breaking. What they are, are great examples of taking something that’s been done to death (or undeath, if you will! I’m all about the side-comments tonight, hm?) and spun them on their head, attacking them from a different, original angle. Something not like the piles of vampire books that line the romance and YA shelves at Barnes & Noble.  They don’t just make a mockery of the genre either, though… they’ve found good, legitimate reasons for hitting a subgenre from the side and turning it into something new. And I think that’s brilliant.