Monday, September 29, 2014

It's quiet... too quiet. (Or, we're on hiatus and will soon return BIGGER and BETTER.)

The title says it all! Stay tuned, folks!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book recommendation! SALVAGE by Alexandra Duncan

Sara did a super fun SALVAGE review in gif form a few months ago that convinced me to read it ... but once I had, I wanted to add my own recommendation! (Plus, Alexandra Duncan is a debut author, and we love promoting first novels!)


To address the three superficial things that might make people hesitate to pick this one up:

1. The cover: Personally, my thoughts were — pretty colors, but OMG PASSIVELY POSED GIRL IN A DRESS. If you like the cover, read the book. If you don't like the cover ... read the book.

2. The commitment: This is a BIG book. But it's a stand-alone, so huge thumbs up from me. And the scope is epic, so I think the length is warranted.

3. The lingo: Especially in the first pages, it's a little tough to get used to the jargon in the dialogue that's specific to Ava's world. It'll start making sense soon; just keep going!

And now for the rest:

I love novels in which the main character goes through a major transition. In the beginning of SALVAGE, Ava has never left the confines of the merchant ship Parastrata and its male-dominated polygamist society. She's a haughty girl with a position of respect, and she doesn't know that she should want more from life than physical labor and becoming one of a man's many wives whose main function is to make babies. But her desire for knowledge to learn "fixes" (mechanical skills to fix machinery) hints at the person she could be.

Then Ava makes an impulsive, naive decision ... which is also an epic mistake in her unforgiving society, and to escape death, she flees to Earth — a post-climate-change planet of storms and garbage. She barely survives adjusting to the forces of gravity, and then she must survive the unknown.

Here, her world is expanded. First in Gyre (as the book description says, it's a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean), and later in Mumbai, Ava is confronted with a world that doesn't limit her potential, so she has to renegotiate who she is and who she imagines herself becoming. It's the ultimate culture shock, as she discovers how ignorant she was kept on Parastrata.

The supporting characters are so richly imagined, complex, and diverse — but I'm afraid I'll spoil some things if I describe them. But they were all imperfect and multi-dimensional, and I loved how their relationships with Ava develop.

One example is Miyole, a young girl Ava meets. In many ways, Ava is a mother or older sister figure for Miyole, literally ensuring her survival, but Miyole is self-educated and extremely intelligent, so she's teaching Ava reading and math. And Ava has these moments where she's incredibly proud of Miyole, but she can't help but be jealous of how much Miyole knows and how easily learning comes to her. Such a beautiful, complicated relationship!

The romance question — yes, a romance does develop, but no, there's no love triangle, because interest in two people does NOT a love triangle make! Interest in two people is totally normal, and in SALVAGE it works wonderfully, because one represents the best of the world she left, and one represents the new world she's come to know ... and neither overwhelm the story.

Going into the book, I had no idea if it was the beginning of a series, and as I approached the ending, I almost starting cringing inside, because I saw two paths emerge — one that would lead to a cliffhanger and sequel, and one that would lead to the end of Ava's story. I was so, so happy that Duncan chose to keep this a stand-alone, but I'd be very happy to read companion novels with different characters in the same world, because there's so much potential for this world!

And I'm going to throw a FIREFLY comparison in here, since I haven't seen one yet — between the unusual jargon, diverse societies both on planet and in space (with a dystopian blend of the past and future), and merchant spaceships, I definitely felt a hint or two of the FIREFLY world.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My unexpected love for THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski


PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE GIRL IN THE FANCY DRESS!

Annnnnnd that's my acknowledgment that, when I first saw this book at ALA in January, I didn't even flip it over to read the back because I'm just so. damn. tired. of the passive fancy dress covers, no matter how pretty the title font. (Do I know better? Of course. But when surrounded by literally hundreds of books ... covers are a make-or-break factor.)

Yes, the cover is technically somewhat representative of the book because she DOES wear dresses and there is the tiny bit of intrigue with her holding a dagger (also accurate, THOUGH YOU BARELY NOTICE THE DAGGER) ... but whyyyyyy?

Ahem.

Despite the cover, four people convinced me to read this book:
- Heather, at Children's Book World, who can always be counted on for great recommendations
- Wendy Darling at The Midnight Garden, one of the toughest reviewers I follow, who gave it 4.5/5 stars
- Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, who has nearly identical tastes as mine with this genre of YA
- Kristin Cashore, whose blurb alone will convince me to try out a book 95% of the time

And now I'm going to convince you to read it, too, because IT IS EXCELLENT.

The official summary:
As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

First off, if you love Kristin Cashore's books and/or Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars novels, stop reading right now and go buy THE WINNER'S CURSE. You will love it, without question.

THE WINNER'S CURSE has a semi-fantasy, semi-historical feel, and as a reader, I was slowly enveloped in Kestrel's world. So much of this book centers on power struggles — who has it, who doesn't, emotional vs physical power, etc. — and it sets up so many interesting situations.

For example, Kestrel's people have enslaved Arin's people, and though she has bought and literally owns him, she doesn't have emotional power over him. At the same time, her father has almost complete power over her, but she makes small choices every day to subvert that power. Kestrel's admitted to not being a fighter, but her power and value come through an excellent ability to strategize ... but she chooses not to use that ability, thus further defying her father's wishes.

These dynamics come to a head when Arin's people stage a rebellion, and Kestrel's developing relationship with Arin makes her feel sympathy for the enemy. She must finally come to terms with her discomfort with her empire's enslavement of conquered nations. For much of the book she's unsure of who she is, where she stands, and what she wants, but the uprising forces her to choose a side, with dramatic consequences.

Overall, I loved the worldbuilding, which had so many small details that stood out so realistically. I enjoyed the way Kestrel developed as a character, and though I sometimes wanted her to be more decisive, I understood how conflicted she felt. I was very happy with how the book ended, and it left me looking forward to the sequel. Definitely recommend!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BEA 2014 Recap — in tweets (and retweets)!

WEDNESDAY: Arrival in NYC and Book Blogger Con

After a 4am wakeup, I met Sara at the train station!


(Maureen was hilarious.)

And my theme for BEA emerged: Restraint! I ended up with a goal of no more than 20 books total ... which I repeated ad nauseam during the rest of BEA, to hold myself to it.

(Never was a truer tweet posted.)

This was the most worthwhile panel of Book Blogger Con, and it was great to hear from Smart Bitches, one of my favorite blogs!




Afterward, we checked into our apartment (2 blocks from Javits FOR THE WIN), ate dinner, and headed to the Houndstooth Pub for some drinks with other kidlit folks!

THURSDAY: BEA Day One
As a rule, I don't get in the forever long celebrity author signing lines ... but I made an exception for NPH. And his book (Choose Your Own Autobiography) looks hilarious!



Afterward, Sara and I headed to Housing Works Books (pretty much the coolest bookstore/cafe ever) for a Rainbow Rowell reading.
FRIDAY: BEA Day Two




SATURDAY: BEA Day Three
(AKA the day of BookCon ... dun dun dunnnnnnn)


So happy to support a lovely Philly writer friend (and BEA roomie!) I.W. Gregorio as she moderated this excellent panel!

BookCon was INSANE. Total chaos, and most BEA-goers wanted no part of it.

I tried three times to go into the BookCon area to meet authors doing signings, and each time I gave up and battled my way out of the madness. It reminded me of Black Friday sales, or what I imagine Black Friday sales to be, if I ever attempted one.

I also attended a BookCon panel with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater.

To sum up Saturday.
I ended my four days in NYC with 19 books and a seat on an Amtrak Quiet Car train. Heaven!
Final thoughts:
THE BOOKS AND AUTHORS - I was so happy to focus my BEA time on only getting books I really wanted, with a mix of debut and longtime favorite authors. I loved being able to enthuse to authors how excited I was to read their books ... and my shoulders hurt a lot less. Also, no need to check a rolling suitcase! Woo!

THE PEOPLE - It sounds crazy, but I love waiting in lines at BEA because of all the amazing book lovers you meet and bond with as you sit or stand with each other for up to an hour (and sometimes more, but I kept away from those lines!). Hello, new friends! I also got a chance to speak with super-friendly reps from HarperCollins and Quirk, which is wonderful, because who better to introduce you to great books than the people who help bring them into the world?

BLOGGER CON - As a first-timer but long-time blogger, I honestly didn't learn all that much, but Book Blogger Con did exactly what I wanted it to do — it renewed my enthusiasm for blogging, which honestly has been waning a bit. It inspired a couple new ideas that you'll all be seeing soon enough!

BOOKCON - Though you couldn't pay me to enter the exhibit area, I did enjoy the two smaller panels I was able to attend. But hopefully next year will run more smoothly, because I'm sure I'm not the only BEA-goer who was running scared.

OVERALL - This was my first full, four-day BEA experience, and as a third-year BEA veteran, I definitely subscribed to the less-is-more mantra. It really helped to keep me refreshed and happy and able to enjoy all that BEA has to offer! But next year, I want a lanyard for my nametag, dammit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Debut recommendation and giveaway! SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy

Consider this my enthusiastic recommendation for Julie Murphy's SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY.

It's a dual POV, back-and-forth-in-time narration of two friends, Alice and Harvey.

The official summary does a great job of setting up the novel:
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

I really enjoyed this book because Alice is flawed before, during, and after cancer. She has a callous, selfish streak in her, and she lets it run free a bit when she's diagnosed. And as much as you want to smack Harvey upside the head for loving her, you kind of love her, too, and he's very much aware of how she uses him. (And she is, too.)

Caveat: Some people won't be able to tolerate Alice. Personally, I love complex, dysfunctional characters that make me hate them a little (but who are still sympathetic), so I had no problem with this book. I know it won't be for everyone, but definitely give it a try!

This book showcases a messy relationship between two complicated people, and it stands out because the cancer is kind of ... there. It's not a "cancer book" at all. And I love that it shows that cancer doesn't always bring out the best in people. There's such authenticity in Murphy's characterization of both Alice and Harvey. But Alice is just redeemable enough that I didn't want to throw the book against the wall, and I was rooting for her and Harvey's happy ending, whether or not they ended up together.

In addition to the incredible characterization, I have to give Murphy credit for so deftly handling the narrative style ... two narrators bouncing between the past and present is no easy feat, and she did it with the skill of a veteran. (And I actually wasn't sure how she was going to end it, which is a miracle in and of itself.)

So yes, my recommendation is quite enthusiastic!

Bonus: The cover! The cover! The cover! Simple and perfect and oh-so-accurate! Thank you, cover gods!

See what other people are saying about SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15728577-side-effects-may-vary

SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is available now from Balzer and Bray, and you can win my ARC here, plus a BONUS ARC of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith (for those who prefer realistic characters in absurd situations!)

(U.S. mailing addresses only, please!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ask Away! I'm a new writer re-learning the rules of grammar & punctuation — help!

We've been seeing more and more questions from aspiring authors in our inbox, so we're turning them into a new, semi-regular feature — Ask Away!

Do you have a burning question about the writing, revising, or querying process? Do you have a dilemma and want some advice or a second opinion from fellow writers?

Email us at firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com, tweet us @firstnovelsclub, or leave a comment on this post — we might answer your question next!

Round Two!

THE QUESTION:

I have a grammar question for you that I cannot seem to find the answer to. I am currently writing a children's chapter book for my daughter. [...] In one of my stories [...] I, as the author/narrator, toss out little funny and informative comments in the story. My problem is the placement of punctuation, specifically commas, when I am using parentheses to show a narrators smart aleck comments. I am just not sure where to put them. Can you help me on this?

- Brian


THE ANSWER:

Hi Brian!

Grammar rules can trip up even the most seasoned of writers. In your situation, there's no need for commas before or after the parenthetical asides. Just do the normal punctuation of the sentences within the parenthesis, and you're good to go!

In general, my go-to place for easy-to-understand grammar/punctuation advice is Grammar Girl — http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

Best of luck!

Donna



Ok, readers! What grammar or punctuation issue trips you up every time? My personal Achilles heel is lay vs. lie — I ALWAYS have to look it up! (The answer is here! http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/lay-versus-lie)

Ask Away - Round One! Should you query an agent's assistant?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ask Away! Should you query an agent's assistant?

We've been seeing more and more questions from aspiring authors in our inbox, so we're turning them into a new, semi-regular feature — Ask Away!

Do you have a burning question about the writing, revising, or querying process? Do you have a dilemma and want some advice or a second opinion from fellow writers?

Email us at firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com, tweet us @firstnovelsclub, or leave a comment on this post — we might answer your question next!



Round One!

THE QUESTION:

I receive a very nice rejection (I know!) from an agent's assistant a few day's ago about my 1980s throw back YA thriller. Though the agent was a "pass," her assistant who READ THE ENTIRE THING gave me some pointers and told me she really liked it! So, wow. We chatted back and forth and now I'm wondering — can I hit her (assistant) up re: a different manuscript? What's the best way to do that, without seeming sleazy? I know there's a really thin line between take that opportunity and you're such a parasite. Advice? I have seven, yes, seven, unpublished books I'm semi full-time trying to flog. Ah me.

- Laura

THE ANSWER:

Hi Laura,

Congrats on getting such a thorough, helpful rejection (seriously, everyone who's ever gotten a form rejection knows that specific pointers are worth their weight in gold!). Obviously you're on your way to getting an agent!

If the assistant isn't acquiring manuscripts yet, I would say not to try to submit anything else to her right now. But keep an eye on her on social media, and she'll likely soon be promoted at her current agency or switch agencies and start acquiring her own books. At that point, feel free to query her. She'll likely be posting the genre(s) she'd like to represent, so you'll be able to target her interests more specifically with a different book.

In the query, you may want to reference how much you appreciated her compliments and suggestions for your previous book, and that you have another book that you'd like her to consider representing ... or don't, if you don't want to remind her that she rejected your book on her boss's behalf before. That's up to you, since you know exactly what your emails back and forth have entailed.

Here's the hard(ish) truth: If this assistant loved your book enough to represent it, or loved your writing enough to ask if you had anything else you could show her (and the agent), she would've made a move. A lot of agent assistants start taking on books because there's that ONE book that they felt so passionate about that they just couldn't handle their boss passing on it without offering to represent it themselves.

As someone who's been in the querying trenches and dealt with the up and down rollercoaster of getting the absolute nicest, most helpful rejections, it's incredibly important to remember that, no matter how pretty the wording, a rejection is a rejection.

(However, that's not to say that you shouldn't send her a brief reply email thanking her for the time she took to read your manuscript, and for the helpful suggestions! Being polite and appreciative is never a bad thing.)

I can tell that you have a good handle on the delicate nature of professionalism in querying, and that's 90% of the battle.
Keep it up, and best of luck in the trenches!

- Donna

THE ANSWER, PART DEUX:

... And to get a second opinion, I asked fellow FNC-er Sara her take, and here's what she had to add:

I agree with Donna that I don't think it's a good idea to just go ahead and query the assistant now. Truthfully, it's equally possible the assistant was just being nice or that she'd actually be potentially interested in working with you. But if you feel like the assistant was more open to your work, you could email her and ask if she will be taking on her own projects in the future, and if so, would she be open to you querying her another book at that time.

- Sara


Ok, readers — what advice do you have for Laura? Do you agree or disagree with my suggestion? If you've been in a similar situation, what did you do? Leave it in the comments!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...