Tag Archives: road trip wednesday

What’s Up Road Trip Wednesday: Book of the Month for July, 2013 Edition

It’s blog meme mash-up time! I’m combining today’s YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday with Jaime and Erin‘s What’s Up Wednesday meme. Why? Why not! Both are good memes, and I want to do them both. And it so happens that this week’s RTW falls nicely into the first WUW question:

What I’m Reading (AKA: Book of the Month for July, 2013)

This month has been a pretty dismal reading month. Not that the books I read were terrible, but there wasn’t one that really pulled me in and got me talking about it all over Twitter and your blogs (and this one). And usually there’s at least one book that gets a 5-star review and some “gotta-read-this” chatter from me. That said, I read one book that I think is worthy of being crowned Book of the Month, despite its flaws. And that book is…

I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore. Let’s get the controversy over with first. Pittacus Lore is a group pseudonym for James Frey and Jobie Hughes. Yes–that James Frey of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES infamy. I know this would be off-putting for some from the get-go, and I understand that. My take is, this is a work of fiction, and he’s not trying to palm it off as fact. And from what I’ve read, most of the criticism against Mr. Frey was over his lies and deceit, not over the quality of his writing. With that in mind, I decided to give him a break and give the book a chance. And overall, it’s a good book. I couldn’t fault it technically, and especially found the finale engaging and page-turning.

I described what the book is about in last week’s WOW. (However, I messed up the numbers: there are more than nine who escape Lorien. Nine of those that escaped are of a special class of being that will eventually develop powers–Legacies–that can be used to defeat their enemies. Each of the nine has a guardian/mentor. It is the nine that the enemy is targeting, and of these, they have killed three. John Smith is number four.) My interest in it was because it’s about an alien on Earth, like my current project. However, this made me particularly sensitive to issues I’m grappling with. For one thing, it bothered me that the only way you know John is an alien is by his abilities. There’s nothing in his mannerisms, his word choices, or any subtleties of character that would indicate he’s not human. And I just didn’t buy some of the back story explanations. For example, all of Earth’s major geniuses were the offspring of Lorien. Really? And the Lorien people gave us language (despite the fact that English is a hybrid language–Germanic-Latin-Greek-French-etc–so they wouldn’t have just given us “English”). But the characters are, on the whole, good, and the story is fairly strong. Moreover–and this is what makes it a four-star book, and worthy of Book of the Month–I wouldn’t say no to reading the next book in the series.

There’s some profanity, mainly the “s” word, but not too often, so I’d rate it PG-15.

What I’m Writing

Still working on edits to the current project, though with a little more panic in my typing because I’ve realized that WriteOnCon is only a few weeks away, and I want to have something for the query critique and pages critique forums. If you don’t know what WriteOnCon is, visit the website. In short, it’s a two-day writing conference geared toward authors of “children’s literature” (i.e., picture books through YA). It takes place online, so you don’t have to go anywhere, and it’s free, so you don’t have to pay anything. There will be agents and other industry professionals giving talks, and lots of fun events. This’ll be my third year, and I’m looking forward to it. I hope to see you there.

What Inspires Me Right Now

ABBA lyrics. Seriously. If you know anything about the story I’m editing, you’ll understand what I mean.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Not writing short stories as I’d hoped, but writing some flash fiction for Janet Reid, and the YA Buccaneers–both challenging and worthwhile exercises. Plus the usual work, family, church, and so on.

UPDATE: Oh My G-Dragon (K-Pop reference there–thank you SecondBorn)!! My entry in Janet Reid’s contest was selected as a finalist. I didn’t win, but with so many great entries to choose from, it’s an honor to be considered one of the top six. Janet says she’s running another contest this weekend. I seriously recommend you give it a go; it’s such a lot of fun.

How’s your week been?

RTW: Book of the Month for June, 2013

It’s Book of the Month time again on YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. In other words, the YA Highway team want to know:

What’s the best book you read in June?

I didn’t get through a lot of books this month, so my choice for June is not a book I would rave over, but it was still probably ever-so-slightly the best book I read this month, just beating out one other possible choice. And that book is…

OPTION LOCK by Justin Richards. OPTION LOCK is the eighth novel in the BBC Books series of Doctor Who novels featuring the Eighth Doctor and various companions. I’ll talk a little bit more about the series in a moment, but first let’s focus on this book.

The TARDIS experiences a sudden and rapid loss of atron energy, forcing the Doctor and his companion Sam to make an emergency landing. They end up on Earth, at the Silver stately home. The Silvers receive them as guests, and welcome them to stay–which the Doctor is glad to do while the TARDIS re-charges. However, something’s not quite right. There are top-level secret meetings with the military, people wandering around in trance-like states in the middle of the night, and something odd about the paintings. With his usual reckless inquisitiveness and disregard for personal safety, the Doctor investigates. The secret he and Sam uncovers not only explains the TARDIS’s sudden energy depletion and the strange behavior of their new friends, but could also put the lives of everyone on planet Earth in danger…

I’ve been (slowly) reading through the Eighth Doctor series of novels, and I had great expectations of this one, mostly because Justin Richards is one of the better writers for the range (he is also the series editor). I wasn’t disappointed. The story is well-written, and has all the elements we expect from Doctor Who: mystery, suspense, sci-fi, and humor. Justin does a good job of depicting the character of the Eighth Doctor, which is especially gratifying given the brief screen-time he received (one 90 minute movie in 1996). And Sam is a good companion–headstrong, able to hold her own, but still young and capable of questionable decisions. For those familiar with Classic Doctor Who, this story reminded me a lot of the old Third Doctor-U.N.I.T. stories.

As with all the books in this series, it’s not written for kids, but there’s really no sex, graphic violence, or profanity either. When I say it’s not for kids, I’m speaking more of the tone and style. Young fans of the new series may not appreciate these novels as much as older fans.

Now a quick word about the BBC Books series for those who don’t know much about this aspect of Doctor Who history (and who care to know). In 1989, Doctor Who was put on hiatus–which turned out to be a nice way of saying it was cancelled. This didn’t mean the end of Doctor Who, however. In 1991, Virgin Books started a line of Doctor Who “New Adventures” books, featuring the Seventh Doctor. This line continued until the TV movie came out, with the last of the Virgin series appearing in 1997. As a point of interest, among the writers for the “New Adventures” were Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts, Paul Cornell, and Russell T. Davies–all of whom went on to write for the revived TV series (indeed, one of Paul Cornell’s books, HUMAN NATURE, was adapted for a Tenth Doctor adventure in Season 3).

After the TV movie didn’t spawn a new series of Doctor Who, BBC Books picked up the franchise and started publishing Eighth Doctor adventures. The novels came out almost monthly, developing their own continuity, recurring characters, and story arcs. In all, BBC Books published 73 Eighth Doctor novels. When the TV series came back in 2005, BBC Books finished their Eighth Doctor series, but continued a line of “Past Doctor” adventures.

So much for my book of the month–what was yours? Have you read any Doctor Who novels? If you want to join in with the Road Trip, visit the YA Highway blog for details, and for a list of other Highwayers to visit.

And don’t forget to enter my Blog Birthday Giveaway if you haven’t already. Time’s running out…!

RTW: Book of the Month for May, 2013

I haven’t done a Road Trip Wednesday for a few weeks, and since it’s Book of the Month time, I thought this would be a good week to participate. The question being asked by the YA Highway people is simply this:

What’s the best book you read in May?

My answer is…

SACRED GAMES by Gary Corby. This is the third novel in Gary’s Hellenic Mysteries, or Athenian Mysteries… I’m not sure exactly what he calls the series. Either way, it sounds like some ancient religious cult. In fact, they are murder-mystery stories set in ancient Greece. The lead character is Nicolaos, son of a sculptor, who, over the course of the last two novels, has gained a bit of a reputation among some prominent men for his ability to solve murders. This time, Nico and his partner, Diotima, are at the 80th Olympics in 460 BC. While there, his best friend, an Athenian athlete, is accused of murdering his Spartan rival. Nico is called on to solve the murder. But what begins as a quest to clear his friend’s name so he can compete turns into a race to prevent war between Athens and Sparta. And it seems whichever way Nico’s investigation goes, the outcome could be disastrous for everyone.

I enjoy mysteries and detective stories, and I’m interested in history–in fact, I have an A-level (kind of like an N.E.W.T.) in Ancient History–so Gary’s stories hold a particular fascination for me. He blends classic murder-mystery with solid history, and good doses of humor. There’s depth to the characters, and he’s not afraid to throw in real historical figures (e.g., Pericles, Pindar, and Socrates). Gary is himself an enthusiast for the period, and his passion shows in the way he writes with respect and attention to detail. In this story, there are fascinating insights into the various Olympic sports, how the competitors prepared, and some thrilling descriptions of fights and chariot races.

If you read my “What’s Up Wednesday” last week, you’ll know that one of the things I really appreciated about this novel was the way Gary raised the stakes, putting the pressure on Nico to solve the mystery. At first it’s just about clearing his friend, but other interests come into play as the story progresses. This really helps make the novel a page-turner as it becomes increasingly important that Nico uncover the truth quickly, and in such a way that everyone’s happy and war is averted.

I highly recommend this book, and the others in the series (THE PERICLES COMMISSION, and THE IONIA SANCTION). There is sexual content, though not really any sex scenes. I would give it a PG-15 for that.

Looking back over previous Book of the Month winners, it seems I have now picked all three of Gary’s books as “Book of the Month” (THE PERICLES COMMISSION was my pick for April, 2012, and THE IONIA SANCTION was my selection for July, 2012). I guess that makes me a fan!

What was your favorite read in May? Let’s talk in the comments, and/or join the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).

RTW: Book of the Month for April, 2013

Every month, the YA Highway team invite people to pick their favorite read from the past month and talk about it as part of their Road Trip Wednesday blog hop. Well, today’s the day we answer the question…

What was the best book you read in April?

I read some good books in April, but the hands-down winner was…

UNRAVEL ME by Tahereh Mafi. No surprise, perhaps, given that Tahereh’s SHATTER ME was my book of the year for 2012. First, a brief, spoiler-free teaser of the story without giving anything away for those who haven’t yet read SHATTER ME: Stuff happens.

Okay, let’s see if I can do better than that. Here’s what I said in my Goodreads review:

This second book in the series picks up with Juliette having joined with those resisting The Reestablishment. Aside from struggling with her own insecurities, learning about herself, her power, and what possible use she might be to the resistance, she also has to deal with trust issues, making friends, and the increasingly awkward situation with Adam and Warner… which doesn’t get any better!

Tahereh Mafi writes such poetic prose, and while I’m not a big poetry fan (see RTW two weeks ago), this is poetry I can really appreciate. There’s so much feeling and depth to the writing, you can’t help but connect with Juliette, the MC and first-person narrator. If studying poetry can make you this good of a writer, then I need to study more poetry.

A couple of points about the book that didn’t sit well with me. First, the romantic stuff–the hot-and-heavy scenes–while beautifully and tastefully written, went on a bit too long, IMO. After a while I started to feel uncomfortable, like I was the awkward third person at the table–what we used to call a “gooseberry.” I understand the plot point being made by these scenes, the need to show the emotional attachment between the characters, but, as I said, I think Tahereh and her silken pen got a little carried away with themselves.

Another thing that threw me out of the story a bit was our initial introduction to Brendan, an English character. He seems to be relatively young, but the first line out of his mouth is, “Winston’s always a bit beastly this early in the morning.” There is no way any English person I know would ever refer to someone as “beastly”–unless they’re trying to be humorous, and I’m sure the joke would be lost on his largely American audience. It reads to  me as if Tahereh was trying to convey his “British-ness” and resorted to stereotypical “British” vocabulary to do so. If I’m right, this failed BIG TIME. He might as well have said, “Alright, guvnah! You seen any bobbies around, or are we ready to tally-ho and eat some bangers?” My entire secondary education (11-18 years old) was at an English “public school” (i.e., centuries-old private school)–the kind of place where you might expect to hear people talk like that. Not one, of my peers used that kind of language, except in parody–they weren’t serious.

All that said, this is an excellent book, a worthy successor to SHATTER ME, and I’m really really looking forward to the forthcoming novella (as yet untitled, to be released later this year) and the final installment of the story (also as yet untitled, to be released next year–*sigh*). I highly recommend it.

Do you have thoughts to share about UNRAVEL ME? What was your favorite read in April? You can comment below, or join the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).

RTW: Uomo d’Acciaio

This week is the last of our YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday/A-to-Z Blogging Challenge mash-ups. Next week, we’ll be back to the regular Road Trip Wednesday. The question this week is:

In Debra Driza’s MILA 2.0, the main character discovers she’s an android trained to obey orders. We want to know: What other human-like robots (or robot-like humans?) have you enjoyed in books, TV, or movies?

Our letter for today is “U” which explains my brief excursion into Italian for the blog title. “Uomo d’Acciaio” literally means “Man of Steel”–in this case a reference to robots, not Superman. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but it’ll do…

My first thought went to Iko, Cinder’s very likable robot friend and the family factotum, from Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” series. She has a lot of sympathy for Cinder, and is loyal to her. But she also longs to be more like a human. She’s a great character… but in the end I had to go for Marvin, the Paranoid Android, from Douglas Adams’s HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Marvin is not actually so much paranoid, as manically depressed. He came with The Heart of Gold, the ship that the heroes of the story hitched a ride on. All the computers and robots on The Heart of Gold have GPP: Genuine People Personalities. The doors are obnoxiously cheerful, and delighted to open for you. Marvin, on the other hand, is like Eeyore on his worst day. And then some. For example:

“Sorry, did I say something wrong? Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don’t know why I bother to say it… I’m so depressed. Here’s another one of those self-satisfied doors. Life! Don’t talk to me about life.”

[In response to the question “What are you supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?”]: “You think you’ve got problems… what are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don’t bother to answer that, I’m fifty thousand times more intelligent than you and even I don’t know the answer. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”

My favorite screen depiction of Marvin is still the one from the 1981 BBC television series adaptation, voiced by Stephen Moore (see the picture on the right–that’s Marvin, not Stephen Moore, btw). His low, bored, almost monotone fits the character perfectly.

And if the picture’s not enough, here’s a clip I found on YouTube, a little over 4 minutes long, featuring Marvin:

Who’s your favorite literary or screen robot/android/uomo d’acciaio? You can answer in the comments, or better still, join the Road Trip (details at the YA Highway blog)

RTW: Outstanding Odes

yahighwayrtw[1]This week’s Road Trip Wednesday/A-to-Z Blogging Challenge mash-up is sheer poetry. No, really–here’s the prompt:

April is National Poetry Month! Share your favorite poem(s) or poet.

I’ve never been much into poetry. Give me a good story anytime; but for some reason poetry just doesn’t resonate with me. The only possible exception is, perhaps, when put to music, i.e., songs. So, I’m going to fudge a little on this one and talk about song lyrics.

A well-written song can teach writers a lot about the value of good word selection. A good lyric will complement the tone of the music. For example, take Come Together by The Beatles (written by John Lennon). The musical arrangement is fairly sparse, lots of space, with jabbing chords. The words complement this effect. Rhythmically, there are lots of single syllable words, and lots of “g” “j” ‘k” sounds that make the words sharp to the ear.

By way of contrast, take My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music (music by Richard Rodgers, lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II). If you know the musical, Maria sings this song to the Von Trapp children who can’t sleep because they’re frightened by a thunderstorm. The words are easy, they flow and bounce with a sense of excitement and anticipation. As well as some clever rhymes and imagery (“Silver white winters that melt into springs/These are a few of my favorite things”) there are some good contrasts. Take the line “Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.” You can hear the cold hard metal of the bright copper kettles in the words; yet there’s a completely different feel to warm woolen mittens. The words sound soft and cozy. What’s really clever though, is the music underlying the words still has a sense of the children’s fear–the minor key, the rapid tempo, and the slightly odd feel of the melody when the harmonic structure changes in the second line of the verse.The-Sound-of-Music

When it comes to prose, and especially to writing novels, these are things we should think about. How can we get our readers to feel the words, not just read them? If you’re describing harsh winter weather conditions, select words whose sounds reflect that. Instead of “the cold air numbed his face,” how about, “the biting chill cut his cheeks”? Or something like that. And also consider the rhythmic pattern of the words. If you want to pick up the pace, one technique is to select words that are short and flow well together. “He retrieved his Walther PPK, discharged three rounds into the guard, and hurried to the waiting Aston Martin,” is longer to read than, “he picked up his gun, shot the guard, and ran to the car.” There’s a place for the fuller sentence, but for fast action, you want brevity, flow, and punch.

What’s your favorite poem? How has poetry helped you in your prose? Comment below or join the Road Trip (details on the YA Highway blog).

RTW: Investment in Incredible Industry

It’s time for another Road Trip Wednesday/A-to-Z Blogging Challenge mash-up! And this week, the letter is “I” (as if you couldn’t guess), and the question is…

The Veronica Mars Kickstarter success makes us wonder, what YA book would you raise $2 million to see a movie version of?

My answer doesn’t start with the letter “I”, but it’s a no-brainer for me:

Of course, Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN series. Who wouldn’t want to see Keith Thompson’s wonderful illustrations come to life? That’s right, I’d want it animated. I don’t think live action/CGI would truly do it justice. But with Thompson’s work as the basis for the animation, I think it would be incredible!

For the uninitiated, LEVIATHIAN is a three-part steampunk series, set during an alternate version of the events leading up to World War I. It centers around two characters. Prince Aleksander is the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, but is on the run from his own people. Deryn Sharp is a Scottish girl disguised as a boy so she can serve in the British Air Service. She’s clearly more than able to fly the air ships, but she has to keep her true gender a secret otherwise she’ll be kicked out, and possibly imprisoned. In the strange course of events, Alek and Deryn meet and form a wary friendship, based on secrets neither can share. It’s one of the best series I’ve read since Harry Potter. Yes–that good!

Here are some examples of Keith Thompson’s artwork, to give you a flavor of what the movie might look like:

(image source: www.scottwesterfeld.com)

Of course, it would probably have to be in color to get the attention of most audiences, but it would still look really cool!

What do you think? Would you like to see a LEVIATHAN animated movie? Is there a YA novel you’d raise millions to see made into a movie? You can answer in the comments, or join the Road Trip (details on the YA Highway blog).

RTW: Cross-Country Companion

It’s Day 3 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and it’s also Road Trip Wednesday day on YA Highway. This week, the YA Highway folks want to kDoctor-RTW-1now:

If you could visit any country with a fictional character as your guide, who would you pick and where would you go?

This may seem like an obvious answer if you’re a regular to the blog, but I would choose The Doctor (as in Doctor Who). My reason may not be so obvious. You see, I’m a contradiction. I’m a home-bod, but I like foreign travel, experiencing different cultures, and meeting people from different countries. I’m also not very adept socially. It takes me a while to get comfortable with people. I don’t do small-talk very well. Now, once I’m comfortable with someone, I can yabber on for hours. But it’s that initial awkward “Uhh… hello…” that doesn’t help if you want to meet people and get to know them. This is why The Doctor would be my perfect traveling companion. He would be all smiles and enthusiasm, going up to complete strangers saying, “Hello, I’m the Doctor and this is my friend Colin. We’re new in town–my, that’s an interesting hat…” etc. I would learn a lot more than if I was left on my own.

Where would we go? Honestly, I wouldn’t care. The Doctor would make it interesting, wherever it was. However, I know the first thing he would ask me when I step into the TARDIS would be: “So, Colin–where d’you want to go?” I ought to have an answer ready, so I’d probably say Scandinavia. Maybe Norway or Finland. I’ve never been to any Scandinavian countries, and I’ve always wanted to visit that part of the world.

What about you? Who would be your ideal fictional traveling companion, and where would you go? You can share your thoughts in the comments, or join in the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).

RTW: Book of the Month for March, 2013

Before we begin, you might have noticed a new look to the blog. This is not my doing. I use a template designed by someone else (“SimpleNotes” by Carla Izumi Bamford), and sometime recently, the designer updated the template. I don’t hate it, though I prefer the old look. Oh well. I plan to make my own template some time soon. Then I’ll feel like a real blogger–like when a Jedi makes their own lightsaber. Anyway, just in case you were wondering…

It’s the end of March. 2013 is already a quarter done. And Spring is sort-of-here-but-not-really. Technically it’s Spring, but the weather has yet to catch up. Most importantly for today, it’s that time on the YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday calendar to reflect on our past month’s reading and pick a favorite book. Last month I had a hard time choosing a book–in fact, I didn’t. None of the books I read measured up to the standard I set for consideration as a “Book of the Month.” This month, I have the opposite problem. Just about every book I’ve read this month was great, and worthy of recommendation. And the list of books I’ve read include YA, non-YA, and non fiction. The book I have chosen for my March Book of the Month is…

SCARLET by Marissa Meyer. No surprise there to readers of this blog, or to people who have read–and raved about–this book. I reviewed it a few weeks ago (see HERE), so I won’t rehash my verbal exuberance here. I will say that this is more than just a great idea for a story. It’s a good book on many levels: execution, style, voice, character. The way Scarlet’s story is integrated into Cinder’s. The twists in the tale–especially when you know it’s based on “Little Red Riding Hood,” and so you have expectations about where it’s going… and it doesn’t go there… or does it…? Very cleverly done. I can’t encourage you enough to read this. I don’t care if sci-fi’s not your thing, or YA isn’t your thing. This is a series that transcends “things.” Yes, it’s that good.

At the beginning of the month, I gave a heads-up about the release of Stephanie Jaye Evans’s SAFE FROM HARM, the second in her Sugar Land Mysteries series, featuring Pastor Walker “Bear” Wells. I expected it to be as good as her debut, FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH, which I enjoyed, and I was wrong. It’s better! I have a full review of it on Goodreads, but since I mentioned the book on the blog prior to reading it, I wanted to let you know that I have read it and it is excellent. The story revolves around the death of Phoebe, a sometime-friend of Bear’s teenage daughter. It seems a clear-cut case of suicide, but as the story progresses, there’s more to the case than meets the eye. I especially want to draw my YA reader/writer friends to this book because Jo, Bear’s daughter, features heavily, and I think Stephanie has done a wonderful job of writing her. Jo is a complex character. She’s a pastor’s daughter, but she is struggling with her own identity, living with parents she loves, but wanting to strike out on her own, not always wanting to follow the rules. She’s rebellious, and there are times she breaks her parents’ hearts, but she knows she’s loved. There’s something very real about Jo and her family situation that I think readers of YA will appreciate. So, my shout-out of the month is SAFE FROM HARM, by Stephanie Jaye Evans.

What was your favorite read this month? Have you read SCARLET or SAFE FROM HARM and want to offer your thoughts? Or perhaps you want to participate in the Road Trip yourself: the details are on the YA Highway blog.

RTW: Book of the Month for February, 2013

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again: YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday Book of the Month! And this month, I don’t really have one. I read some non-fiction which was good, and some fiction that was okay, but nothing that made me want to say, “This is totally AWESOME!”

There have been a couple of times in the past when the book I ended up choosing for Book of the Month was not five-star-Goodreads-review worthy, but in those cases, the books were at least very good. I can’t say that for the books I read this month. And I’m not going to choose a book simply because it was a bit more okay than the other okay books. You deserve better than that, faithful reader!

So–sorry! No book of the month for February. I haven’t read SCARLET or UNRAVEL ME yet (I’m exercising restraint and trying to get through books that I’ve had for longer first), so I have great expectations that March will be a better reading month! (Come to think of it, I haven’t read GREAT EXPECTATIONS yet…)

Hopefully you had a better time with your February reading. What was the best thing you read this past month? Comment here, or join in the Road Trip (see the YA Highway blog for details).