Writer vs Reader Mode

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m the kind of person who has trouble being both a writer and a reader at the same time.  Usually, I switch between the two roles in a cycle.  For a few months I’m a writer, and I can’t concentrate enough to read ANYTHING because my brain is so full of my stories and characters and all I want to do for 20 hours of every day is sit at my computer and write.  And then, suddenly, I get total brain-block, and I can’t write a thing, and I start reading non-stop.

For the last couple months I’ve been pretty securely in writer-mode.  I got a decent amount of work done on two different WIPs, which makes me very happy, but I was really hoping I could keep it up right to the beginning of the Fall semester.  But for the past week and a half I haven’t been able to write much of anything.  Sometimes if I push and push and push, I could stay in writer-mode a little longer.  But I think writer-mode is now officially over.  Unfortunately.

So, I guess we’re on to reader-mode.  I read A Work In Progress in like a day and a half.  And now I’ve started Open Heart by Emlyn Chand (which I’d PLANNED to read and review near the beginning of the summer, but like I said, I was in WRITER-mode).  I guess it’s good to be in reader-mode since I’ll be doing so much reading for my Fall courses, although it’ll be frustrating that I won’t be reading all my fun stuff, but school-related stuff instead.  And, of course, I know from too much experience that I won’t be getting ANY writing done once the semester starts either.  But oh well.

Does anyone else do this?  Cycle through writer and reader modes?  Or is it just me?  Because it’s a little frustrating, and I’m more than a little jealous of people who can do both at the same time: write in the morning and read in the evening, etc.  I wish I could do that.  *sigh*

In other news, I’m playing with the idea of starting a Tumblr blog.  I had started to watch a lot of Tumblr blogs without having an account, and just collecting them in my browser bookmarks.  And over the last couple months I’ve started following even more, making it hard to keep track of them in bookmarks.  So I figured I might as well start a Tumblr account so that I could keep track of them all.  But now that I have the account, I’m thinking why not start a Tumblr blog?  It would be fun to have something where I can just post images or short comments and things like that, without worrying about making sure a post is long enough and well-written.  I’m playing around with Tumblr right now, trying to get a feel for how it works (it’s taking a little getting used to), but I’ll let you know if/when I get a Tumblr blog up and running.

Any opinions on Tumblr blogs?  Anyone have one?  Now that I have the account, I’m looking to add a ton to my Follow list!  They’re just so much fun!  :D

Okay, folks, that’s all for now.  I hope everyone has a good weekend, and I’ll see you all later!

Busy Summer Is Busy

As you all may have been able to guess by now, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy this summer.  But you guys don’t even know the half of it!  Between taking vacation at Yellowstone for five days, going to three concerts (Snow Patrol in May, Legend of Zelda Symphony, and then the Chicago/Doobie Brothers concert in July), and having dinner with famous people, and reading as much as I can manage, I’ve also been hard at work.

School never completely ends for those in graduate school.  There are always things you need to do (or at least SHOULD do) during the summer.  For me, this has included mainly getting more involved with extracurricular/service activities.  I’ve mentioned on this blog before that the English graduate students at UH have been in the process of developing and promoting both a yearly Graduate Student Conference and an academic literature journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  While I did some work this past school year to help out with both, I decided that this upcoming year I wanted to be even more involved.  And I managed to get myself nominated as an Assistant Editor to the journal as well as Head of the Publicity Committee for the Conference.  And the work has already begun, especially for the latter.  I’ve spent the last few weeks creating contact lists for every Humanities/Liberal Arts College Dean, English Dept Chair, and Graduate Director/Advisor, for every university in Texas so that we can start sending out personalized invites to both present at and attend the conference.  I still need to make a list for all the community colleges in the Houston area.  And THEN I need to move on to the universities in Louisiana.  In the meantime, the Chief Editor of Plaza is working on the CFP for the journal, and I’m helping out with that.

At the same time, I had made plans last semester to make some serious changes to my syllabus for the coming semester, which I have now started work on.  After having done a lot of research on the benefits and practical applications for using blogging in a First-Year Writing course, I’ve decided to implement it in my classroom.  So I’m trying to work out a concrete plan for how and why I want my students to use blogging as a learning tool and as a way to open the classroom out into a more public space.  I’ve also submitted an abstract for a presentation based on all this research to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, along with two fellow grad students I’m doing a panel with.  It’ll be late August before we find out if our panel abstract was accepted to the conference (which isn’t until next March), at which point we’ll have to get hard to work actually writing the presentations.

AND THEN, throughout the whole summer, in between everything else, I’ve been writing.  A lot.  I started out writing the second draft of Midnight’s Knife, which I made some decent progress on until about three or four weeks ago, when I was hijacked by a new story idea that has completely consumed my brain lately.  It’s going to be a strange one, I can tell…  I actually have the basic premise for an entire series of stories, but this first one is a sort of science fiction detective story.  It’s a kind of mix of X-Files, X-Men, and Sherlock Holmes, with a large helping of human drama about a veteran with PTSD laced through it.  Yeah, if that sounds insane to you, you’re not alone.  It sounds insane to me too, and I’m so excited about it!  I’ve been living inside my main character’s head practically non-stop for two weeks now.

I have a month left until the Fall semester starts, so I’m trying very hard not to waste a minute of it.  We’ll see how much more writing I can get done before school-work takes over.

Also, I’m trying to finish reading Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle – it’s a novella, and it really wouldn’t take me that long to read, except that I’ve been so busy the last week or so I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down a finish it! – but hopefully you can expect a review on that on Friday.  And then I’ve agreed to review another novel, a literary fiction called A Work in Progress, which I’m planning (cross your fingers) to post on Aug 3rd.

Okay, folks, that’s all from me for now.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll catch you all on Friday.

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

I don’t read as many webcomics as some people do (I just don’t have the time), but I love the ones I do read, and I follow them religiously.  My favorites are in the Links list on the right side, for those who are curious.

I didn’t occur to me at first that along with the usual sort of webcomics, which are formatted as either strips or pages and which update on a regular basis, you could also have webcomic “shorts.”  A sort of short one-short story in comic form.  Then one friend introduced me to “Our Blood-Stained Roof” by Ryan A., and I was cured of my ignorance.  Now, I love webcomic shorts, especially those that are unique in style, and tell intriguing and strange stories.  It takes a lot of talent to both plan/write the story and to do the drawing/painting as well.

Here are four webcomic shorts that I absolutely love, and think you’ll enjoy too.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you any sort of summary for these (some of them would be kind of hard to describe anyway).  Just take my word for it: they’re wonderful.

“Our Blood-Stained Roof”

by Ryan Andrews

“Nothing Is Forgotten”

by Ryan Andrews

“Darkness”

By Boulet

“The Roller Blades of Suleimaniya”

by Sarah Glidden

I hope you enjoy them.  Please tell me what you think, and if you know of any good webcomics “shorts,” please feel free to share them!

Emily Casey’s The Fairy Tale Trap Blog Tour

Emily Casey’s The Fairy Tale Trap Blog Tour!

Hello, folks, Emily Casey invited me to be one of the hosts for her blog tour, promoting her YA fantasy novel The Fairy Tale Trap, and I agreed to do a review for the occasion.  So, without further ado:

Title: The Fairy Tale Trap (Ivy Thorn #1)

Author: Emily Casey

Release Date: December 2011

Genre: YA Fantasy

Where I Got It: received ebook copy from author in exchange for honest review

Score: 4 out 5

(also, don’t you just LOVE the cover?)

I’ve said this before (and I’ve even mentioned it on my page about my book reviews), but I’ll say it again: I LOVE stories that re-imagine fairy tales.  I loved it when Robin McKinley did it in Beauty, Rose Daughter, and Deerskin.  I loved it when Anne Sexton did it in her poetry collection Transformations.  I love it in the tv show Once Upon a  Time.  I loved it in Kait Nolan’s YA fantasy novel, Red.  So when Emily Casey approached me with a synopsis of her book, asking for hosts for her blog tour and for reviews, I jumped on the chance.

The Fairy Tale Trap, book 1 in the Ivy Thorn series, introduces us to the main character, Ivy, a “military brat” who has just moved again with her mother, while waiting for her father to return from overseas.  Ivy has a strange phobia: she is scared of mirrors, she has even been taken to doctors because she believes she sees things moving in the mirror sometimes.  “It’s just stress,” her doctors tell her.  Then, while unpacking, Ivy happens to look into a mirror, and someone else smiles back at her.

Suddenly, she is pulled through the movie and into a forest, into a world of magic and fairy tales.  Pushed along by an obnoxious pixie who seems to know a lot more than he’s letting on, and trapped in a forest spelled to keep people inside, Ivy finds herself stuck right in the middle of the story of Beauty and the Beast.  The Beast, strangely kind at first, turns deadly due to a mistake on Ivy’s part.  Beauty, as beautiful as can be, seems a little to vapid to help herself.  And somehow, Ivy has to figure out how to fix the mess she’s made, and find her way home.

What I Liked:

So, like I said, I love stories that re-imagine fairy tales.  And this story is no exception.  I love the premise.  Emily Casey did her homework, researching many different variations on the Beauty and the Beast tale, drawing details from different versions to make the story and the world intricate and strange.  The amount of work she put into it is obvious and will be very appreciated by people like who me who are similarly obsessed with fairy tales and folklore.  I also loved the way the story is twisted because of Ivy’s involvement, as a plot that should be simple according to what we know about the tale becomes a bigger and bigger mess.

The main character, Ivy Thorn, is wonderful.  I really enjoyed this character.  She’s believable and easy to relate to.  I myself am a “military brat,” so I could appreciate that characterization.  I also liked the way Ivy’s love of running and track background contributed to her ability to survive in this fairy tale world without being eaten – literally.  And her intense fear of mirrors makes for a unique character trait that adds interest to an otherwise “normal” (though intelligent, and somewhat sarcastic), teenage girl.  The fact that we even get some explanation of WHY she’s afraid of mirrors makes it even better (but I won’t say anymore on that, you’ll just have to read and find out).

There are only a small handful of other characters: Beast, Beauty, the obnoxious pixie, and couple other very minor characters.  The pixie is a strange character with some very strange motives.  It was a smart choice on Casey’s part to reveal only little bits of his agenda, and I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series, if only to better understand what the hell he’s up to and why.  The other characters, however, lead me into…

What I Didn’t Like:

I really wish the other characters, namely Beast and Beauty, had been developed a bit more.  Beauty got some development and characterization, essentially to save the character from becoming the flat cliché vapid princess type.  She does have a few chances to show some facets to her character, but I would have preferred more in-depth characterization.  The same definitely goes for the Beast.  We get a little characterization through a few journal entries that Ivy finds and reads, but these journal entries don’t really work well – the Beast character lacks a distinct voice, and the journal entries give us a little to go on about his personality except for self-pity.  I really wanted to feel something for that character, and I didn’t.

A lot of this, I think, comes down to the writing style.  It’s not bad.  It’s competent, let’s say.  But there is definitely room for development and maturity.  While there are some spots of wonderful description, and I enjoy the voice of the main character, the overall writing is perhaps overly-simplistic.  It doesn’t go deep enough – into the setting, into the characters, or into the complexities and implications of the situation.

Because Casey is so determined to stay truthful to the fairy tale, she misses the opportunity to go past the simplistic construction of the tale (because let’s face it, for all that we love them, most fairy tale plots are very simple), and delve deeper into how real people, with complex personalities, and real problems might respond in these situations.  For one example: in the fairy tale, we don’t really bother to question WHY Beauty would fall in love with the Beast, but in this novel, I would expect some kind of character development to explain the switch and attraction beyond the answer we get, which is: because that’s how the story goes.

This book was rather short, and could easily have been lengthened by at least another half, still keeping the plot and prose tight while also giving us more depth.

Over-all, I definitely enjoyed it.  It was a fun, light, quick read that I finished in only a three sittings, in between coursework and lesson plans.  I really like the premise and the main character, and I feel pretty confident that I will read the second book when it comes out.  So, if you’re looking for something fun and like fairy tales, I can definitely recommend The Fairy Tale Trap.

You can find it here, at Goodreads or on Amazon.

Please check out yesterday’s blog tour stop at Death By Chocolate.

Then check out Friday’s blog tour stop at E.J.’s Library.

And, for more information about the author and her books, go to Emily Casey’s blog.

How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me A Writer

January Entry for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge:

As you may recall, I joined two reading challenges this year, the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, and the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge (click the image above to go to the info page for that challenge).  I posted my first review for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge last week, which you can read here: “A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1.”

Now, it’s time for my first post for the second challenge.  I decided to start from the beginning, with some of the picture books that were particularly special to me as a child.

And I’m starting with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz.

“What’s so special about this book?” you might ask.  Well, beside that fact that it is a wonderful, fun, beautifully-illustrated picture book, it was one of the first things that ever contributed to my path toward being a writer.

In second grade, each class had a mascot.  In my class, that mascot was Garfield.  Drawings of him littered the room, we had a stuff doll of Garfield, and everyone took turns taking him home for weekends to “babysit,” for which we all wrote little journals about the things we did together.

Now, in second grade, we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in class in one.  And we all enjoyed it so much, that we decided as a class to write our own version of the book with Garfield as the star.  Each student was in charge of writing and drawing a single page.  We worked on these for at least two weeks, in between our other classroom assignments.  And I worked diligently to make sure every word was spelled correctly, every letter was written with perfectly straight, neat lines, and my drawing was as close to the real Garfield as possible.  It was my pride and joy.

At my elementary school (the third elementary school I was at, actually), Montclair Elementary School in Virginia, the school had an ABSOLUTELY wonderful program unlike most schools I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many), called Quill and Scroll.  First: the school had a program for which we could by small hand-bound, cloth-covered booklets with blank pages, and write our own little stories in them.  They would also take already written pages to laminate and then bind them with wire rings.  And THEN, once a month, the library hosted a Quill and Scroll Night, during which any student could read what they had written to an audience of students, teachers, and parents.

Our class had our book, Garfield and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, laminated and bound.  And then, in a vote, I was given the honor to read the whole book at Quill and Scroll Night in front of my mother, my friends, the teachers, the other parents.  I was horribly nervous (I didn’t then, and still don’t, do well in front of audiences of any size), but also ridiculously proud.

The book stayed in the second grade classroom, to be shown as an example to future students.  I can’t really remember what my page look liked, or what we all wrote exactly.  But I remember that experience to this day, and always will.

Reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day again this morning (yes, I own a copy – I’m working a collection of picture books, in fact), makes me remember with vividness the hilarity and joy we got from the book in second grade.  As Alexander awakens to gum in his hair, stubs his toe, is forced to eat lima beans, and endures all manner of other horrible things, we could all relate to his plight.  Because who among us didn’t hate eating lima beans (and probably still DO hate them)?  Who among us hasn’t had one of those days when absolutely everything manages to go wrong?  And that’s the joy of writing: even when you write things that are strange, unique, or absolutely off-the-wall, you can find a way to make it relatable for people.

That’s what a good book does.  That’s what makes me love reading.  And what makes me love writing.

So, does anybody else remember that book with fondness?  What picture books really inspired you? Or made you extra-happy?  I’d love to hear about them!

A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1

Bookworm Wednesday: A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, sorry this post is a little later in the day than I’d planned on.  A) I’ve been trying to find the time to write this review for a WEEK now, and every time I sit down to do it, something else comes up.  B) It’s been storming on campus all day, with several tornado warnings, so I’ve been shuffled out of rooms and into windowless hallways, and dealing with intermittent internet, and all that fun stuff today.

Anyway, this review is the first for the 2012 To-Be-Read Pile Reading Challenge.  I’ve been meaning to read this book and review it since I won a free copy at the Twitter release party on Halloween.  I wasn’t beginning to think I’d NEVER get around to it.  But I finally have.  So here we go:

Title: Skeleton Lake (Book #1)

Author: Angela Kulig

Release Date: Oct 2011

Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Where I Got It: won an ebook copy during the release party giveaways

Score: 3 out of 5

Let me start by saying that the premise of Skeleton Lake is absolutely fascinating.  Marlow is a normal high school girl who lives with her parents, has a boyfriend, has a very normal life.  But one night she sees her boyfriend cheating on her, and runs away, dashing through the woods and diving into a lake to drown herself.

And then she awakens, surrounded by people she knows only vaguely from school: Lena, Alex, and the suddenly inexplicably attractive Raiden.  Raiden tells her she died in the lake.  And now Marlow, like Raiden, Lena, and Alex, is a living skeleton.  Beneath her skin, which turns translucent in the water of Skeleton Lake where she drowned, her nearly-unbreakable bones glow bronze.

As if that weren’t enough, Marlow discovers she has inherited the soul of Raiden’s ex-girlfriend Cassandra, who killed herself; both Raiden and his brother Conrad are vying for her affections, and something is after her.  Now, Marlow finds herself caught in the middle of a secret life and a long-standing battle she could never have imagined.

What I Liked:

Let me repeat: the premise of this novel is absolutely fascinating.  How do you even come up with the idea of living skeletons, created when people are near death and dipped into Skeleton Lake?  Seriously!  It’s a very strange, very cool idea.  And it is definitely the main draw of this novel.  That’s not to say, however, that there’s nothing else good about it.

The writing is solid – with a first-person narration that gives the reader a good inside look into Marlow’s thoughts and personality, and also keeps the reader in suspense because we don’t know anymore than Marlow does.  Also, the dialogue was generally well-written, with some great back-and-forth exchanges between characters, and some fun bits of light humor.

The main characters are interesting and easy to relate to.  Marlow, of course, is the girl-next-door type – sweet, smart, but prone to the usual teenage mistakes and downfalls.  I do wish, however, that she had been a little tougher.  This is just a personal quirk of mine – I understand perfectly that not every female character needs to be or should be the “tough” character.  After all, it’s a simple fact that not every girl is like that in real life, and things would get boring if there weren’t some variety in characters.  It’s just that in a life where so many girls are anything BUT tough, I really prefer female characters who are.

I think my favorite character was actually Conrad, who was (in my opinion) the most complex and intriguing character in the bunch.  He was a bit of the “bad boy” type, but not overly-so, he was passionate and conflicted and angry.  And I think Conrad is the one who grew the most throughout the novel as well.

What I Didn’t Like:

Back to characters for a moment: the main male character and love interest, Raiden, while attractive and sweet and romantic and strong and intelligent and all that stuff, was a little too straight-laced and predictable for me taste.  He was a little too perfect, I guess, with few (if any) discernible flaws, quirks, etc to make him a complex character.

Some of the side characters – Lena and Alex in particular – definitely had potential to be interesting characters, but weren’t given enough face-time or development to really capture my attention or concern.  I realize they were side characters and it’s neither necessary nor usually advised to put too much detail into them, for fear of overloading the story and the readers with too many big characters to keep track of.  But I hope Lena and Alex are allowed to develop more in the next book and given more complexity and dimension.

However, my two biggest problems are this:

First: The romance. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve read or heard about in which the main female character meets a man/boy who she is suddenly, powerfully, inexplicably, uncontrollably irrevocably attracted to/in love with.  I’m not talking about instant attraction, which plenty of people experience, as in: “look at that really gorgeous man, he’s really hot I’d love to get to know him better.”  I’m talking: “I don’t know anything about you, but I feel like my soul is being sucked out of my body and I’m so completely and passionately drawn to you that I would probably have your babies right this instant if you ask me.”  I know, I know, it’s YA and this is pretty much par for the course in YA.  BUT WHY???

Now, Kulig does at least a decent job of explaining this away with the concept that Marlow has somehow inherited Raiden’s ex-girlfriend’s soul (and all her emotions, etc that go along with that), but that explanation is only really necessary because she first felt the need to write that instant, inexplicable passion into the plot to begin with.  And, of course, there’s a love triangle with Raiden’s brother Conrad (who was, of course, also in love with the dead ex-girlfriend, and who just can’t seem to help himself even though he knows Raiden has the prior claim – and don’t even get me started on that particular concept!).

I just don’t know why all YA romance plots have to be like this.  Whatever happened to developing relationships in a natural way over the course of a novel?  Why aren’t we given the opportunity to see how the characters develop and interact over time, until we come to understand (as the characters do) why they were just MEANT to be together.  Because, really, in these sorts of instant-love romance plots, there is no really justification, no development of the relationship, no reason to believe these two people are really compatible or meant to be together except that “there’s thing deep in their souls drawing them to each other! It’s fate, damn it!”, ie: because the author tells us so.  And honestly, that just doesn’t work for me.  It didn’t often work for me even when I was 15 or 16, let alone now that I’m 26.

My second big complaint is with the ending: Now, I like the idea of the ending, but I didn’t like the execution.  I don’t want to go into detail here because I don’t want to give too much away for those who might read (or are reading) this book.  But suffice it to say that there’s this huge build up from like the third-to-last chapter to the end: great tension, great feeling of insurmountable hardship as the good guys prepare to come face-to-face with one of the main bad guys who is touted as being cruel and devious and powerful, etc etc etc.  And then the actual confrontation is a total let down.  What could and should have been a huge epic confrontation, is over in like 3 pages (and I’m talking short little Kindle-sized pages, not usual paperback pages), in which very little happens, and the good guy barely breaks a sweat.  Total let down.

Now, for those of you who don’t mind, or even actively LIKE, the insta-romance plot device, I an definitely recommend Skeleton Lake.  The interesting premise, combined with that kind of romance should be right up many people’s alleys, who will love it for what is and not expect it to be anything else.

It just doesn’t do it for me.

And I feel bad saying that, because I know Angela Kulig from Twitter, and like her a lot, but I just get so tired of that particular brand romance plotting, and I am absolutely determined to be as honest and straight-forward as humanly possible in these reviews, no matter how I feel about the author.  So there it is.

For interested parties, the book can be found on Goodreads here: Skeleton Lake, Book 1.

Top 10 Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

I know, I know!  This is really late.  I’m sorry.  I had a rough week.  Please forgive me.

Now onward.  I got the wonderful idea for this post from Ashley Prince’s blog The Bibliophile’s Corner, and couldn’t resist doing a similar list.  My list actually ended up being 11 instead of 10, but I won’t tell if you won’t.  Also, I’ve discovered that 1995-96 was a bad time for me.  Three of the authors on this list died in that period of time.  And fourth on this list died in 1975.  So there’s little chance of actually getting another book out of those four authors, unless someone finds a long-lost manuscript somewhere, or someone learns how to channel them long enough to write their books for them.

Anyway, please enjoy:

The Top 10 Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book!

1)     Roger Zelazny: If you don’t know this yet, let me inform you: Roger Zelazny was one of the greatest scifi/fantasy novelists of all time.  Ever.  Period.  The Great Book of Amber is a brilliant and complex fantasy series with one of the greatest main characters ever written.  And Lord of Light… don’t even get me started on Lord of Light! An fascinating mix of fantasy, science fiction, Buddhist philosophy, Hindu mythology, and good old-fashioned adventure, Lord of Light will make you think, question, and explore more than some classic philosophers I’ve read.  Zelazny wrote plenty of books – many many MANY books, in fact.  But it’s still a crime and a serious detriment to the world that he didn’t write even more before he died in 1995.

2)     Michael Ende: Almost everyone knows his story, but many don’t know his name.  Michael Ende, very popular in Germany where he lived and published many children’s books, is known in the U.S. for only one: The Neverending Story.  And if you’ve read that novel, than you know why it’s a TRAVESTY that he never wrote any other books in that same story-universe, or that few of his other books were ever published in English.  Every single time I re-read The Neverending Story, I wish with a fervent passion that he had written some sort of sequel to it before he died (also in 1995).

3)     Austin Grossman: This man mainly works as a game designer, but he also wrote one novel called Soon I Will Be Invincible, which follows two parallel storylines – a young woman who has just joined the world’s most famous super-hero team, the Champions; and a Dr. Impossible, an evil-genius super-villain who is determined that next time, he will win.  This novel is AWESOME.  At time hilarious, at other times surprisingly sad.  At all times, amazingly human.  I have always loved stories that try to think through the real-world implications of superheroes, and this book does a brilliant job.  I just cannot understand why Austin Grossman hasn’t written another book yet.  Come on, man!  Get with the program!

4)     Frank Beddor: When I read Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy, which is a intricate reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, I was FLOORED.  It was so different and original, the characters were complex and fascinating, and the action was intense.  I love love LOVE these books, and I seriously NEED him to write something new.

5)     Walter M. Miller, Jr: Walter Miller only wrote two novels (and a slew of short story and essay collections): A Canticle for Leibowitz and Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse WomanA Canticle for Leibowitz is considered one of the greatest science fiction classics (the prequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman received mix reviews at best), and is one of my favorite novels ever.  It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a Catholic order of monks who survive through a couple millennia of chaos and war.  It is strange, and dark, and epic, and sad, and oddly funny at times.  And I wish to God Walter M. Miller, Jr. had written at least one more really awesome novel before he died in 1996.

6)     Kenneth Patchen: Patchen was best known as a pre-beat poet in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, who was more than a little mad and extremely avant garde, but he also wrote two novels: The Journal of Albion Moonlight and The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer.  I have yet to read Shy Pornographer, but The Journal of Albion Moonlight is HANDS-DOWN the most insane, most frustrating book ever written.  It’s beautiful and terrifying and hilarious and absolutely MADDENING.  I’d tell you what it’s about but I’m not sure I really can… I guess I’ll need to write a whole post about it at some point, just to get at a FEW of the things that make this book AMAZING and INSANE.  I wish he had written another book, and I don’t know why he didn’t.  He wrote Albion Moonlight in 1941 and Shy Pornographer in 1945, and didn’t die until 1975.  He had the time, dammit!!

7)     Richard Adams: best known for Watership Down (which I’ve raved about before), Richard Adams has actually written plenty of other books, most of which I have not read mainly because I’ve never seen any of them in the U.S.  He published a novel called Daniel in 2006.  And he released a short story a couple years ago.  But he’s 91 years old, and I hope that he writes at least one more.  Even though I haven’t had a chance to read most of his other works, I still wish he’d write another.  I’ll get to them eventually, I know, though it might require ordering books from the U.K., and I want to have many many to choose from.

8)     Harper Lee: She only wrote one novel, but it was doozy.  To Kill a Mockingbird is beautiful, and it will forever remain a classic.  It’s easy to understand why she might not want, or feel the need, to give a repeat performance.  But I wish she’d think of her adoring public and give us one more beautiful piece of art to cherish forever.  She’s only 85.  It could still happen.

9)     John Case: When I read the first book by John Case (which is actually a pseudonym for husband and wife team Jiim and Carolyn Hougan), The Genesis Code, I fell in love.  The Genesis Code, a suspense/mystery thriller with religious themes and slightly scifi undertones, was amazingly sharp and intelligent, fast-paced, intense, exciting, and truly suspenseful.  Their next book, The First Horseman (separate story but also containing religious themes) was equally brilliant.  They have now published 6 books, but the last one came out in 2006, and they need to hurry up and write another.  NOW.

10)   Tim O’Brien: Probably best known for his intense, emotional, and strange Vietnam War novels: The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato (which happen to be two of my favorite books ever), Tim O’Brien has written eight novels.  The most recent of these, published in 2002, was July, July.  Tim O’Brien is brilliant.  He needs to write more.  Period.

11)   Garth Nix: I have loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series for years, and while he’s written a number of other books, some of which I thoroughly enjoy, nothing can quite match the wonder of reading Sabriel for the first time.  Since he finished his Seventh Tower series and Keys to the Kingdom series for the Independent Reader age group, I’ve been waiting patiently (sort of) for him to write something else.  He would be much higher on this list, except that I’ve found news that we should be expecting a new addition to the Old Kingdom series some time in 2013.  Thank goodness!

 

(Click on the cover image to go to the Goodreads page for each book)

So, what authors would make it onto YOUR list??

You’re All Invited!

Free-For-All Friday: You’re All Invited!

Okay, I know I said I would do a review of the second Sherlock Holmes movie, and I will try to do that on Monday, but I wanted to spread the news about something I’m a part of.

Here at University of Houston, we, the graduate students of the Literature program, are trying to build a larger community for sharing our work and learning about the work of others.  To do this, several UH Literature students started a new student-run academic journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, and also decided to a host a conference: The University of Houston Graduate Student Literature Conference.

“Reviving and Revisioning Work: Examining Class in Literature and Language”

Second Annual Graduate Literature Conference

With Keynote Speaker Dr. Rosemary Hennessy

from Rice University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Saturday 31 March 2012
Open to the Public

“Class in society is determined by voice” — Marshall McLuhan

Between the recession, partisan rhetoric about class war, and the current Occupy movement, class has moved to the forefront of American political consciousness. Class is also something we can’t avoid in the academy–whether we’re talking about the relative place of men and women (Schell); WPAs, professors, and TAs (Bousquet, Scott); literature and composition (Miller); the university and the community (Mathieu); undergraduate students; or the literary canon and authors that we study. This is a kairotic moment to reexamine our assumptions about class and look more deeply at the class implications in our literature, our languages, our classrooms, and our communities.

We invite presenters to consider topics that include classroom experiences and literary research, but as this is Houston, we also invite you to consider and focus on issues of class in the Houston area. Our city is brimming with local writing– fiction, nonfiction, poetry, music — populating coffeehouses and bars alike. How is class represented in local literature as well as global and “canonized?”

As you may be able to tell, this is the second annual conference. Last year was the inaugural conference, and it went very well, if I do say so myself.  I presented a paper, and enjoyed listening to the work of my fellow UH graduate students, as well as several graduate students from other universities (including one who came all the way from New Mexico).  And then the first volume of Plaza was published, featuring the papers that were presented at the conference.  This year we are really hoping to spread the news, and gain a wider audience and a wider group of conference presenters.

To that end, I would like to extend this invitation to all of my blog followers.  Even though it’s called the “Graduate Student Literature Conference” (that’s only because we’re the ones running it), this conference is open to all undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines.  We are looking for presentations that fit this year’s theme of class.  In other words, we are looking for student-written critical research and creative non-fiction works that examine the role of socio-economic class structures in such things as literature, rhetoric, composition studies, folklore and ethnography, language and cultural studies, linguistic studies, technical writing, and gender studies (among others).  However, there are always a couple panels open for non-theme-related presentations as well, so please submit an abstract proposal even if you don’t think it fits the theme.

Some Things To Know:

1)     Abstract Proposals should be approximately 250 words in length.

2)     Abstract Proposals are due by January 30th, 2012.

3)     You will be informed of acceptance by February 15th, 2012.

4)     Individual Presentations should be 15-18 minutes in length in order to allow time for questions.

5)     For more information, include contact information, presentation guidelines, and submission procedures please see the UH Graduate Student Conference Website.

So, that’s what I’ve got, folks.  I know at least some of you are undergraduate and graduate students.  And I know some of you don’t live all that far away either, so travelling to Houston for a weekend wouldn’t be that difficult.  I urge you all to dig through all those papers you’ve written in the semesters and see if you can find one that would fit the theme (or even one that doesn’t), that you could dust off, clean up, and present.  Or, perhaps there’s a half-started research project that you’ve been meaning to work on?  Here’s the opportune moment!

I and others would really love to see this conference become a big deal someday, and it all starts with getting some presenters from outside the UH school system to come and present and spread the word themselves.

I hope we hear from you!

Have a good weekend, and see you on Monday!

Disintegration: A Review of In Leah’s Wake

Disintegration: A Review of In Leah’s Wake

Title: In Leah’s Wake

Author: Terri Giuliano Long

Where I Got It: free copy from the Blog Tour de Troops

Score: 4 out of 5*

To continue the Novel Publicity blog tour for In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long, here is my review.  I’ve had this book on my To-Be-Read List for awhile now.  I actually received a free ebook copy back in May as part of the Blog Tour de Troops for Memorial Day.  I finally sat down to start reading it last Friday, literally minutes after turning in my final grades and finishing the semester.

In Leah’s Wake opens with a seemingly perfect family: Zoe and Will are happily married, with rewarding careers, and two wonderful daughters.  Leah – the sixteen-year-old soccer star, and Justine — the twelve-year-old budding scientist, who also happens to be devout Catholic.  But the old saying “too good to be true,” proves real as Leah quickly spins out of control.  Tired of her family’s constant push for perfection, and with a new older boyfriend introducing her to the world of drugs, alcohol, and partying, Leah decides that it is time to turn her entire life on its head.

Soon, her rebellion becomes disintegration.  And as her parents struggle to prevent their daughter from ruining her life, the situation shakes loose deep-seated regrets, anxieties, and dissatisfactions in Zoe and Will as well.  Everything around them seems to be falling apart.  And their younger daughter Justine gets caught in the cross-fire.  Fighting to keep her family together, fighting to keep the sister she loves and admires, and fighting to be seen in the midst of a situation that has rendered her invisible, Justine slowly starts to disintegrate as well.

Throughout the novel, questions fill the text: how can this family possibly survive?  What will become of Leah?  And, even more importantly (at least to me), what will happen to Justine?  As the tagline asks: What happens when love just isn’t enough?  And that is a very good question, because sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you love someone or how much you want to save them, if they don’t want to be saved.

What I Liked:

I really enjoyed this novel.  It is a powerful drama about a family in crisis.  The title character, Leah, is a very believable teenager.  Her choices, reactions, and thoughts are convincing, and show that Terri Long’s writing is clearly grounded in a real understanding of life as a teenager (so many adults seem to forget…).  I wouldn’t say she is sympathetic exactly… some of the things she says and does, though unsurprising coming from a teenager, are so stupid I want to smack her.  Of course, this is coming from one of those teenagers who never rebelled (I was that one who never drank, smoked, got into fights, went to bad parties, or got anything less than As and Bs).

I definitely identify more with Justine, the one who has always been good, who is tempted to follow her sister into rebellion on occasion, but who is, for the most part, too afraid to do so. (I suppose you could call this novel a lesson in why that’s the right choice.)  She is the truly sympathetic character, the one you care for and worry about the most.  While I was curious to see what happened with Leah, and with the parents, it’s Justine I’m hanging around for.  I spent most of the novel terrified that she was going to end up all screwed up like the rest of them, and I needed to get to the end to find out what happened to her.

That’s not to say the parents aren’t complex, well-written characters.  For the most part, they are.  Zoe, especially, is a fascinating character with a list of faults and virtues that made for intense reading.  But I spent a lot of the book annoyed with them, just as I was annoyed with Leah.

What I Didn’t Like:

(Be prepared for a slight rant)

I’ll be honest, one of the things that is still bothering me is the father, Will, at the beginning of the novel.  His initial reaction to Leah’s boyfriend is violent, excessive, and completely out of place.  It comes out of nowhere, with (at least in my opinion) no clear motivation.  It doesn’t help that it comes in Chapter 2, before the reader has had a chance to get to know Will at all, but even based on what you later learn about his temper, this initial explosion still seems unbelievably excessive.  If Will had already known about the boyfriend and warned Leah to get rid of him, it might have made sense.  If she had had a bad history of missing curfew, etc, it might have made sense. But at the beginning, Leah has only stayed out late a couple times, this is the first time Will has met the boyfriend, he knows nothing about him and has no idea about Leah’s drinking.  It would make sense for Will to be angry, it would make sense for Will to demand to know who the boyfriend is.  It does NOT make sense for him to explode and get physically violent.

Another thing that really bugged me — and I know this is small, but it really bugged me the whole novel — is the use of the words “kid” and “dude.”  Everyone single one of the characters thinks/calls every single teenager/young adult “kid.”  And almost all teenagers use the word “dude.”  Seriously.  Okay, let’s get one thing straight.  Yes, adults often call children and teenagers and even young adults “kids.”  And yes, some teenagers use the word “dude” a lot.  But not to the exclusion of everything else.  I know it’s hard to find other words to use, but when even the teenagers call other teenagers “kid” in the narration, there’s a problem.  Leah even calls her own boyfriend “kid.”  And he’s four years older than her!  Also, not every teenager uses the word “dude.”  In fact, while that was a very common word in the 90s, it has mostly fallen by the wayside in the current decade.  Just ask my 17- and 18-year old students when I accidentally say “dude” in class.

Finally, another thing that bothered me was the amount of detail.  Now, don’t get me wrong, obviously detail is important.  Detail helps us to understand the characters, to see the setting, to get a real sense of the world the characters inhabit.  However, here the detail was often excessive and unnecessary.  Detail is most important when the readers are unfamiliar with a setting and need to really see it.  But most of us have seen a bar.  A few details are enough to give us a good idea of the bar and the people in it, and our imaginations/memories do the rest.  Paragraphs of description are unnecessary.  I cannot tell you how many sections of detail I ended up skimming over in search of the point, the dialogue, the action. It’s wonderful that the author knew so much about her characters, and could see the settings so clearly, but much of it was stuff we the readers simply didn’t need to know.

Now let me reiterate (since after that bit of a rant you may have forgotten): I really enjoyed this novel.  Yes, there were some things about it that really bugged me.  But the characters are compelling and the story is intense.  You will care about the fate of this family.  You will get angry at the stupid things they do, and you will cross your fingers that they don’t screw up next time.  You will worry about the characters (if you’re like me, you’ll mainly worry about Justine).

Buy In Leah’s Wake.  Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Read it.  I promise, you’ll enjoy it.  …And you probably won’t be as neurotic as I am about the overuse of “kid.”

Also, remember:

  1. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
  2. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!
  3. BONUS: If you leave a comment on this blog post, you have another chance at $100!
  4. And when you fill out your form, remember to vote for my blog to give me a chance to win $100 as well.

*Please note: I’m starting a new rating system.  Please see the new “About Book Reviews” page for an explanation.

Let Me Explain…

Let me explain…  No, there is too much. Let me sum up (bonus points to anyone who knows what that’s from):

1)     On Friday, Dec 9th, having completed one 20pg paper, one 10pg paper, one portfolio with various elements, one 20 min presentation, a final French translation project, graded approximately 50 student papers of various lengths, and compiled my final grades, I reached the official end of my first semester as a PhD student.  And survived!

2)     I spent yesterday (Saturday, Dec 10th) with my grandmother, as I had been too busy over the last month and a half to go visit her.

3)     I spent most of today (Sunday, Dec 11th) trying to clean the house, which became excessively messy and cluttered over the semester, so that I can start putting up Christmas decorations.  I will probably be cleaning and/or decorating all this upcoming week especially since we are Christmas-crazy in this house and I have four (count them, FOUR) Christmas trees.

4)     Beginning tomorrow (Monday, Dec 12th) I am participating in a series of blog tours with Novel Publicity. The first is for Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel, In Leah’s Wake.  I am about halfway through the book myself (having started reading it the MINUTE I wrapped up my grading on Friday afternoon), and should have my own review up in a day or two.  The second is for Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch.  And third is for Emlyn Chand’s Ya novel Farsighted.

5)     I am planning some time over the next week or two to revamp a few things on the blog.  I’ll keep you updated on that.

6)     I have a list of 20 books I’m hoping to get through over winter break.  I probably won’t make it through even half of them, but I’m allowed to dream.  Be prepared for plenty of book reviews over the next month or two.

7)     I am also planning to get back to writing over Winter break.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to work on the story I started (and didn’t get far with) for NaNoWriMo 2011, or get back to editing Midnight’s Knife.  We’ll see.

In short, the hiatus is over.  I’ll be around for regular posting times again (MWF), through winter break.  When the Spring semester starts in mid-January I may have to adjust my schedule, but we’ll see what happens when we get there.  I look forward to getting back into the swing of things here, and to hearing from all you lovely folks again.  So please feel free to stop on by when you can.  The next few weeks are going to be fun!