Review: Fangirl

fangirlTitle: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Macmillan (St. Martin’s Press imprint)
Genres: contemporary young adult

I read this book in pretty much two days (but the bulk of the reading in one). I’m pretty much completely in love with it. Many great books submerge you in a complex world of the author’s making. In Fangirl, you get not one world, but two.

Fangirl is the story of Cath, a raging Simon Snow fan,  and a prolific fanfiction writer with a fan following of her own. She’s also just starting college. Her twin sister is pulling away from her, her roommate is indifferent verging on mean, and Cath can’t help but worry about her slightly unstable dad. She’d much rather live in the world of Simon Snow, where she gets to decide how the story goes.

I was almost as invested in the Simon Snow characters as I was in Cath and her first year of college. It wasn’t just that they reminded me of Harry Potter; they reminded me of all the fandoms I’ve ever been a part of. I’m infinitely disappointed that these books are not already real. I would not be surprised to see a fandom build around this fictional series…already, I’ve spotted some Simon Snow fanfiction out there in the wild of the internet. It’s starting. (seriously, I think this should be a thing)

The main plot of the book was also quite good, don’t worry. It reminded me a little too much of my own first year of college, not so much in the specific details, but in the way Cath saw her world. Sometimes nerdy characters can be a little too timid, but although Cath had her issues, she wasn’t afraid to stand by them. She was who she was, and even if she was sort of self-conscious about it sometimes, she never tried to change who she was.

Rainbow also does a superb way of describing writing, and explaining what makes fanfiction so compelling—and valid. I think Rainbow is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. She has this wonderful way of making her books nerdy, fun, and darker than you see coming. I was especially impressed by how she managed to write in so many voices: Cath’s story, the Simon Snow books, and Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction. These last two were most impressive because they had to be so subtly different. Cath’s fanfiction was obviously written in the same style and tone as the books, but couldn’t be quite as polished. It was a hard feat to pull off, and Rainbow did it expertly.

This is a must-read for anyone who’s every read or written fanfiction. And a recommended read for everyone else.

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The Beginning

This is a small excerpt from one of my works in progress, False Starts, which is about two guys in college who make a ton of mistakes and fall in love.

The Magnetic Fields blasted on the radio, and Blake felt like dancing. It wasn’t normal dance music—as least not fast, chest-thumping dance music, all bleached out by synthesizer. It was more classic than that, more rhythmic, and whenever Blake heard that music, he either wanted to dance or to fuck, and dancing was easier to do in public.

They spent so much time at Rocket Pizza precisely because it played music like this. Blake tapped his toe, and shook his hips a bit, trying to work the rhythm through. Fuck but he loved this song.

Jay carried over their regular pizza—cheese, because the cheese here was so good, they’d never bothered to try anything else—and Blake grabbed a bite before the pizza had even hit the table.

“A little eager tonight, huh?” Jay said, settling into the bar stool.

“Just hungry,” Blake grunted. “Long day.”

“Beer?” Jay said, handing him a PBR, chilled to perfection. Blake knew it made him kind of a hipster, but he still liked PBR, ironically or not.

“Yes, always,” Blake said, chugging it down. Jay just gave him a nudge, and laughed.

“Man, where did the girls get to?” Jay said.

Blake just shrugged. Their girlfriends were supposed to meet them here, but it was still early, especially for a Friday. “They’ll be here,” he said, grabbing another piece.

Jay shifted in his seat uncomfortably, and Blake noticed for the first time what he was wearing. Nice slacks, a button-down shirt, some sort of product in his hair. “Why are you so fancy?” he said.

To his surprise, Jay blushed. Actually blushed. Jay had reddish brown hair, and a normally pale complexion, but when he blushed it went all the way from his neck to his sculpt. He looked like a tomato. It was not subtle. “No reason.”

Blake set his pizza down, and studied him. “Ok, what’s going on?”

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Review: Whip It

whipitTitle: Whip It / Derby Girl
Author: Shauna Cross
Publisher: Macmillan (Square Fish imprint)
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction

I saw the movie version of Whip It, and am a big fan of flat-track roller derby, so I had to give this book a go! I ended up being surprised at how different it was from the movie…not in big ways, but in subtle things here and there.

The main plot is the same: indie-rock loving girl saddled with a beauty-patient-loving mom and a boring small town discovers roller derby, has a whirl-wind romance with a bassist, and comes out of it all strong and badass.

While the movie has a lot of action, and is partially about the progression of their derby team, the book is more character driven, and focuses more on the relationship between Bliss and Oliver. I personally prefer the movie, but they’re basically different beasts. I really like how the relationship is handled, even more so in the book than the movie. It feels very realistic. The sex is dealt with really well. It’s not tossed off as unimportant, but it’s also not overblown. The book is very upfront about it, without giving away all the nitty-gritty details. There’s also an appropriate amount of swearing—that is, a lot of it. Granted, not all teenagers swear, but a few well placed f-bombs can make all the difference in believability for me. Or maybe I was just an especially foul-mouthed teenager (/adult).

I do wish the book had gone into a bit more detail about the rules of roller derby, but that’s just the derby fan is me coming out. I don’t know much about banked-track roller derby, and from this book it sounds like the scoring is at least a bit different than flat track, so I would have liked more derby details! That’s not really a negative side to the book, though. I think she explains enough for someone new to derby to follow along, without making it confusing or overwhelming.

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Review: Born Wicked

bornwicked

Title: Born Wicked
Series: The Cahill Witch Chronicles (1)
Author: Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: Penguin, via Speak
Genre: Historical/Paranormal Romance

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I expected. I bought it for two simple reasons: 1) I love books about witches, and 2) the cover blew me away. The second cover, that is; the one all pink and raven-speckled. I must be the right audience for it, because it intrigued me in ways the original cover didn’t (though the original cover is lovely and chilling).

This book is set in an interesting re-imaging of 19th Century New England; a New England originally settled not by puritans, but by witches. Hundreds of years and a violent overthrow later, witches and strong-minded women are unceremoniously tossed into prisons and labor camps—or worse—by the Brotherhood and their followers. At seventeen, girls choose between marriage or a religious calling to the Brotherhood’s female counterpart, the Sisterhood.

Cate Cahill would be facing a tough decision, even if she and her sisters weren’t witches. After her mother’s death, it fell to Cate to keep track of her two younger sisters and their budding powers. Now as her birthday looms, she’s desperate to find a way to stay with her sisters and keep them safe.

I liked the different take on history in this book, because it lead to a lot of other changes. When New England was founded by witches, it drew people from around the world, so the story has a lot of prominent characters who are not white. It also led to subtle changes in the dominant religion—they say “thanks be” instead of “amen,” for instance—even though in most ways the Brotherhood seems Christian.

Also, gay people exist! I always love when a book manages to admit that, especially when it’s not the point of the book.

The one thing I wasn’t entirely sold on was the prophecy that figures into the plot. Cate discovers a prophecy surrounding the birth of three witch sisters, who will lead to either the downfall of the Brotherhood or another dark time for witches. I had some reservations since prophecies about three sisters are pretty common in witch books, but the author pulled it off pretty well; I didn’t feel like I was reading the same story I’ve read before, and it served as a good motivator for the characters. I also liked the way she handled witchcraft and magic. Cate is an interesting character, and I loved that her reactions weren’t typical (or at least “proper”) for a girl of her era, but still seemed to make sense with her character.

I’ll definitely be picking up the second book!

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Lucy’s 5 Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo

2013-Participant-Facebook-CoverIt’s November again, and you know what that means, kids. No, not time to bust out the Christmas decorations…time to write like crazy idiots for a month!

I love National Novel Writing Month. It’s pretty much the only reason I can claim any full rough drafts under my belt. And messy or not, a rough draft is a rough draft. Nanowrimo taught me how to turn off editor mode and just write some damn words. Some drafts I’ve never looked back on. Some I’ve taken to the second-draft level or beyond. But I’ve never regretted trying, even when I’ve stalled out in the first week.

So, with no further ado, my 5 tips for surviving Nanowrimo (and having something to show for it).

1) Pace yourself.
Whether you’re a Nano-newbie or a seasoned veteran, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed; that’s the easiest way to fall behind. Especially if you’re a newbie, or have never completed Nano before, focus less on the daily word count requirements, and more on the task of writing daily. That’s the real habit we’re trying to build, here. If you can focus on that, and keep going even if you’re behind, you’re more likely to make it to the end of the month.

2) Take it scene by scene.
The first time I finished Nano, I did it by writing basically a series of connected vignettes. I titled each scene something snappy and memorable, and didn’t worry about the connecting bits or the overall flow. I just wrote the scenes I wanted to write, that I felt inspired for, no matter what order they fell in. I could come up with them any time during the day and jot down an idea, a summary, or just a first sentence, to use when I got home. It’s still how I keep motivated, especially in the first 10,000 words, when the story is still finding its voice.

3) Don’t look at the forums.
Ok, so the forums can be really helpful sometimes; they can be good if you get stuck, need to blow off steam, or want to celebrate a new milestone. But it can be really demoralizing, especially if you’re behind, to see people posting about how easy they think Nano is, or how they can’t believe they’re finished—yes, finished—already. They’re not trying to be mean jerks, but it can be really discouraging. The forums can also be plain distracting. So unless you’re really stuck and need help with a problem, get your writing in before you go to the forums.

4) Read the Pep Talks.
It may seem like a distraction, but those pep talks are always really motivating to me. I love hearing authors talk about writing, even if I’m not familiar with all the authors. More than that, I like imaging what I’ll say someday, when I’m reminiscing about how my best-seller started out as a humble little Nano draft. Yes, I find my ego very motivating.

Here’s a great pep talk from Rainbow Rowell, the author of Eleanor & Park.

5) Its Just a Month
If you’re sleep-deprived, or getting jittery from coffee, remember: by December, this will all be a memory. And even if you don’t have a full 50,000 words, or a completed novel, as long as you start Nanowrimo, you come away with more than you had in October.

Also check out my advice for how to beat the Week Two Blues, and an alternative to the 50,000 words.

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The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

Some stories stick with you, and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede, has been one of my favorite series for most of my life. I first read it in elementary school, and I’ve reread it every few years since then.

dealingwithdragons searchingfordragons callingondragons talkingtodragons

I love this series mainly because Cimorene (the main character in the first book, Dealing with Dragons, and a significant character in all the later books), is about the most badass princess you will ever meet. She’s not satisfied with the normal responsibilities of a princess, and when her parents force an engagement, she runs away, and offers her surfaces to a dragon. Dragons routinely take on (well, usually kidnap) princesses to take care of their houses, and Cimorene is perfectly fine with that idea. (She also bullied her household into teaching her to fence, cook, and work some magic, so she’s more prepared than your average princess)

Cimorene defies all the qualities typically given to princesses, but she does so without being necessarily critically about those qualities. She’s simply not that type of princess, even if such things simply aren’t done. Cimorene is unflappably practical, and her her strength comes mostly from her intelligence. She’s a wonderful role-model for children, without casting a bad light on other princesses; she’s strong, but not bitter.

All the books play with the concept of fairytales, so they’re entertaining to adults as well as children. They’re fast-paced and fun, but also pretty damn smart.

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Cover Reveal: Ten Days

Today I’m pleased to be part of the cover reveal for Olivia Mayfield’s Ten Days!

Are you ready for it?

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. Continue reading

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