Friday, December 30, 2011

Dear diary: Deep thoughts from 14-year-old me.

Inspired by Alvina Ling's tweets from her childhood diary, I decided to dive back into my own diaries for some light reading. I chose my freshman year of high school, since it finally got a little variety in the entries, which had previously chronicled the first five years of a seven-year crush (obsession) with a certain boy named John.

Apparently, I was going to write a novel! (Or a "quirky novel-thing.")
I started this quirky novel-thing and I'm so excited cuz I think I'll actually get through this one! Yeah, I know, ha ha ha. But what majorly sux is that I don't have the time to really work on it! (I don't!) Well, wish me luck over Christmas vacay (if it ever gets here). Feliz Navidad.
Yeah, that "majorly sux." And did I think I'd write a whole novel in a one-week Christmas break?

This one, in which I worry about my future life plans, made me smile:
I'm so upset about my future. I wanna be a writer or artist, but what if I'm not good enough? What am I gonna do? You'd say "journalist" but I don't wanna sit behind a desk. I'd be so unhappy. And photography, too. God, an artist/writer/photographer would be great. I'd mainly be a successful writer, with the other two on the side. I'd have enough money to build a house with a lot of windows and my own studio. My job -- I can work at home, so I'd work and be there for my kids. I'll have a good husband. And a dog. Can't forget the dog. Some people think that that isn't possible, my dreams aren't possible. I don't think so. I will prove them wrong. Go, stubborn me.
14-year-old me certainly knew what she wanted! I especially love the specifics -- a lot of windows and a dog.

And this gem, always thinking about religion and my beliefs:
Okay, so I'm questioning my religion again. I'm thinking Buddhism or Wicca. Or a mix. I don't know! Religion stinks. I'll have Donna-ism. What I wanna do. Oh well.
Wicca? Blame my obsession with The Craft.

And I can thank my psychologist father for my tendency to psychoanalyze myself:
I'm such a perfectionist. According to psychology, that's a sign of low self-esteem. I feel like I can't fail. Like I'd disappoint everyone if I didn't get above a 95. Well, everyone has issues.
I wonder how much I've progressed on the internal pressure front...

Then I found a folded-up note from the second half of freshman year that was passed between me and my friend April about something she overheard:
April: This girl was like, OMG do you know that girl Donna who's ranked #1? Well on the weekends, she goes to keggers and drinks!
Me: I'm so proud. My first official high school rumor. I actually kinda missed them. Tear.
I was valedictorian of my high school, and people liked to pretend my life was way more exciting than it was.

Last but not least, from my freshman dance recap, in which I got my braces off the week prior (finally!) and felt pretty for the first time ever:
Everyone was saying how great everyone else looked, but Anthony's first reaction (to me) was, "Wow, Donna, you look really beautiful." That is the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. By the time you read this you'll look at a picture and be like, Oh my God what were you thinking?! cuz my dress will be out of style next year, but I looked awesome.
Side note -- Anthony was a friend, but he wasn't my date. My date didn't appreciate me. Ah, well. And my dress? Black spaghetti straps with diagonal lines of pink sparkles running down it, and the sheer top layer came down below the straight hem in four V-shaped triangles to the front and sides. Yep, classic style.

Anthony and I, because the date wasn't worthy of the scanning effort.
(And oh, frosted tips. You bring back memories.)

I had way too much fun reading through that diary. I may have to continue, considering I have a stack of fourteen of them!

And please tell me I'm not the only one who kept meticulous (and now, hilarious) diary entries all through adolescence! I wrote consistently in mine from age 8 through age 20, I'd say. That's dedication!

Monday, December 26, 2011

What books did you get for Christmukkah?

And who's already started reading?

I asked for and received The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson) and The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater), because I was addicted to the ARCs and just had to own them, plus Revolution (Jennifer Donnelly) because I read so many amazing blogger reviews and wanted to read it myself (finally)!

Plus... I will soon be getting my B&N online order of The Fault in Our Stars (John Green), along with Lola and the Boy Next Door (Stephanie Perkins), which I've been waiting for since I ordered them in September! (Thankfully, I read an ARC of Lola, but I can't wait til she's on the shelf next to Anna!)

Last but not least, I made a library run (since I have a week off work), and I picked up Let It Snow (John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson), The Space Between (Brenna Yovanoff), The Probability of Miracles (Wendy Wunder), Sisters Red (Jackson Pearce), Sloppy Firsts (Megan McCafferty), and Jane (April Lindner).

One problem: What do I read first?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

and to all a good night. Hope your Christmas Day is filled with fun, food, family, and presents! (And cats shooting laser beams from their eyes, like my cat decided to.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No writing, no guilt.

I had quite the stunning revelation earlier this month.

I didn't enjoy writing.

Somewhere along the way, putting my fingers to the keyboard to work on my WIP went from being a fun sort of challenge to a bout of near-misery.

With the exception of three months for my wedding/honeymoon, I hadn't stopped writing seriously since September 2007 -- over four years of considering every spare moment a writing opportunity.

And eventually, my self-induced pressure to create! and create more! and create better! and create faster! turned my life's passion into something I dreaded. (And it made me a crappy writer.)

I lost the fun. I lost the spark, and I didn't even have external pressures (like, oh, agent or editor deadlines) bearing down on me!

I was crushed.

Writing, whether it was short stories or terrible poetry or diary entries or novels, had been my escape for almost twenty years, and I had somehow ruined it for myself.

It was time to take drastic action.

I decided to go on a cleansing diet of sorts. No more writing. And I wouldn't begin again until I wanted to. There was no impending date of return, no ticking clock. And I scaled back on social media -- bye bye Blogger, ta-ta, Twitter.

I needed to fall in love with writing again.

I needed inspiration.

Going back to the things that made me love inventing stories in the first place was the key. Reading great novels and planning trips to new places (Montreal, Australia, and the Blue Ridge Mountains), watching addictive TV shows, spending time with friends, and just enjoying life was more refreshing than I could've imagined.

I didn't miss the guilt.

For months now, if I chose to use my spare time to do anything other than writing my novel or a blog post, I felt like a failure. Like I wasn't dedicated enough. Like I would never get published. Because writing takes HARD WORK, so if you aren't ALWAYS WORKING HARD, you won't succeed.

(Did I ever tell you guys how intense I can get?)

Lifelong overachievers like myself are quite awesome at building up soul-sucking levels of internal pressure. To a degree, that motivation is a positive thing. Too much, and you turn your life's passion into torment.

The good news? My de-torment-ify-ing experiment worked. It's been a handful of weeks, and though I never really stopped thinking about my novel (I'm a writer through and through, after all), my fingers are starting to itch for the keyboard. (Hence this blog post.)

So if you find yourself in a black hole of writing despair: It's ok to take a break. It's ok to walk away from the computer for days at a time. Life is not about absolutes. It's not all-or-nothing. There's nothing wrong with taking a step back every once in awhile. Remembering why you started writing in the first place. Reviving your motivation.

For the first time in too long, I'm anticipating that feeling you get when you can't sleep because words are buzzing around in your mind, in your dreams even, begging to be written down.

When you count down to the next time you can sit at the computer and type type type until your foot falls asleep and your back is stiff and you're so in the zone that Pandora has to ask you if you're still listening.

When you stare at an unmoving cursor for an hour until you finally have a breakthrough and discover that you've fixed the previously unfixable.

I miss that.

I'm almost ready to begin again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Girls Jacob Black Should Have Imprinted On

This holiday season, all over the world people will be unwrapping gifts. Some of those people will be us, hoping that hardcover book for which we didn't have the money to spare will be underneath.

But some of those people just might be vampires.

And some of them might secretly be wolves...
So forlorn. If only he had an awesome new girl to crush on...

...secretly hoping to find an awesome new girl from YA literature to imprint on.

Sure, the FNC could have brainstormed together and come up with our own list of holiday recommendations. But what would be the fun in that?

What better way to recommend a book than to find out who Jacob would've imprinted on if he wasn't stuck with in love with Renesmee?

Below, check out...
The Five Girls Jacob Black Should Have Imprinted On
(but are definitely too good for him!)

1) Lola Nolan from LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins

Listen, Jacob. Sure, you think you want Bella, with her blinking and her almost-dying, but what you really need is a girl like Lola. She's a fashionista to the max--she might even inspire you to start wearing clothes! She'll get you out of your dad's house and into the real world. Maybe she'll even help you realize your secret dream of becoming a rock star. And her friends are cooler than yours.

2) Princess Elisa from GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson

It's time to upgrade. Why waste all your wolf charms on a girl who only sees the sparkly things in life? What you need in your life is a princess. Princess Elisa to be exact! She loves good food--and you need to stop eating rabbits in the forest. Plus she's super smart, and could give you some awesome advice about how to wrest control of a wolf pack from a tyrant leader.

3) Karou from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor

Maybe you need some more adventure in your life. Sure, turning into a wolf and running your own pack is awesome, but don't you want to see the world? Aren't you feeling a little Belle-at-the-beginning-of-Beauty-and-the-Beast? Isn't there so much more than your provincial Forks life? Then you should definitely start making wolf eyes at Karou. She's a world traveler! She has blue hair! And she could fetch a fair price for those big, shiny molars of yours...

4) Puck Connolly from THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Are you growing tired of constantly fighting with the vampires all the time? Do you ever just wish there was something a little more exciting to protect your land from? Then Jacob, it's time to pack your bags and ferry over to the Isle of Thisby. You think vampires are tough? Try the capaill uisce. Yeah, that's a flesh-eating water horse. And if that's not tough enough, try your charms on Puck Connolly. She's a fierce as a water horse and as loyal as a real horse. You thought trying to keep up with Bella-with-a-death-wish was tough? You haven't seen anything yet.

5) Tris Prior from DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

Jacob, perhaps your issue is you were born in the wrong genre. I mean, sure, you transform into a wolf and you like to rip your shirt off in anger, but maybe paranormal romance just isn't a match for you. Maybe it's time to try something else...dystopia, perhaps? Tris Prior would be happy to help you find your faction. You don't mind jumping off moving trains onto the tops of buildings, right?

But seriously, these were easily some of the best books I read this year, so if you're looking to give some awesome YA books as presents this year, check these out!

So, who do YOU think Jacob Black should've gone for instead?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friendly Encouragement: Buy From a Local Bookseller Today!

In the past, we here at the FNC have provided for you a book-buying guide for your holiday shopping, in which we recommend some of our favorites in various categories. While we didn't publish one for you this year, we always encourage purchasing books for holiday gift giving. Books really are great gifts. This year, in addition, consider visiting a bookstore for those books rather than buying them online.

Why this out-of-the-blue public service announcement?

It's in direct response to a promotional that Amazon ran a few days ago. See the details of the promotional below, as they are paraphrased on The ShelfTalker blog:

The promotion: quite simply, to walk into any store, take a picture of the item with the price with your Amazon price checker app, and get $5 off on that item when you order it from Amazon. You’re allowed to do this three times on Saturday.

So, Jeff Bezos has decided or at least approved this scheme that all bricks and mortar stores should be visited, left empty-handed so folks can shop on Amazon while giving them price info from other stores. Wow. The thoughts I’m having about this promotion cannot be printed here. If I weren’t so riled up, I’d be despondent at such a horrible attack on stores. Perhaps folks will go to chain stores, and not arrive at small, independent stores, scan a QR code and leave.

A promotional like this one hurts our bookstores. Not only that, it takes advantage of them. Booksellers keep the shelves stocked with books ready to go home with us, but Amazon would have us go in, browse the shelves, use the booksellers' expertise, then walk out empty-handed.

Now, I am not opposed to shopping online. I do it, too. And I buy from Amazon. It's a good source for many things, especially for niche books and films. Believe me, as I plan the new course I am teaching this spring--Australia in Film and Fiction--I have turned to Amazon more than once to acquire hard-to-find resources.

But I shop at bookstores, especially local bookstores, as often as I can. I love bookstores. The colorful covers, the rooms full of words and ideas and stories, the helpful and friendly staff who also care about words and ideas and stories. These are just a few of the things that make bookstores so special. Bookstores also pay sales tax, employ community members, invite authors to visit, donate to schools, host story-hour, and generally keep reading alive in their communities.

So, I encourage you--buy from a local bookstore this season. Let's help keep our local booksellers around!

Happy Shopping and Happy Reading!

PS: Thanks to Grace Lin, whose recent blog post alerted me to this.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


'Tis the season to celebrate...

Candy canes. I mean, they're EDIBLE TREE DECORATIONS. So if I have a hankering for peppermint, it's like, "Oh, look, let me choose from my CANDY TREE." (If only candy grew on trees, but for a couple weeks, I can pretend.)

A real Christmas tree, that makes my living room smell all pine-y, and pine-y is the scent of happiness. (Especially when I remember to water the tree.)

Lights everywhere! But only the white kind that doesn't blink, because I am a purist, and colored lights and blinking lights and LED lights (and God forbid, blinking, colored, LED lights) are sacrilegious.

"Oh Holy Night." Specifically, the Mariah Carey version that makes me tear up every time.

Christmas candles. And the food-scented ones.

Secret Santas. Gifts are fun, but secret gifts are funner.

Appropriately-timed Christmas music. Like when you're decorating the tree. And prepping for holiday guests.

Poinsettias, specifically when they wither in a cold car and then magically re-bloom to full gorgeousness in a warm house. (And they last FOREVER.)

Laughing about the horrendously ugly ornament you made when you were five, plus all the other ornament memories you think of as you hang them.

Sipping hot chocolate while snuggled in a cozy blanket. Ok, that's not Christmas-y all by itself, but oh wait, I'm swirling a candy cane in my hot chocolate. And wearing a Santa hat. So there.

Watching kids go nuts over mall Santas. Either they're super excited to sit on the lap of a sweaty, fat man dressed in a red suit, and you have to smile at the innocence of it.... or they're freaking out about sitting on the lap of a sweaty, fat man dressed in a red suit, and you have to laugh at the poor parents.

Those gigantic tins of multi-flavored popcorn.

When you find strong tree branches for all your heavy ornaments.

That one gorgeously-wrapped present (with, like, a fancy fabric hand-tied bow and a sprig of holly), that's so pretty and perfect, you almost don't want to open it. Almost.

Celebrating other holidays with friends of different faiths. Spin that dreidel!

The house that decorates like it's in competition with the North Pole, complete with all 8 reindeer and a sleigh and accompanying Christmas music.

A full church for Christmas mass, all decked out with poinsettias and wreaths and lights and a giant manger scene.

Generosity. The real thing, the antithesis of Black Friday. Toys for Tots, the radio and TV stations that pay for servicemen and women to fly home to their families, the Christmas dinners donated for those in need, and everyone wishing each other happy holidays.

Finding the absolute perfect present for someone. (Bonus points if it's on sale.)

Classic Christmas movies.  Home Alone, Frosty the Snowman, Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Christmas Story (marathon!), A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life...

Special holiday stamps. Thanks, USPS!

Decorating my very own Christmas tree!!!! (The inspiration for this post.)

What are your favorite Christmas things? And that Christmas song you could hear a million times and never get tired of? And your favorite Christmas--or other holiday--tradition? Leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More Lessons From Failing NaNoWriMo

Last year, I tried to do NaNoWriMo. And I failed. And I wrote this post about the lessons I'd learned from failing.

This year, I decided to do Nano again, and I really had high hopes for what I could accomplish. After all, this time last year my husband and I had just bought our first home, and we were in the midst of getting inspections and picking out paint colors and packing up our entire lives. Now, a year later, we were settled into our home and I would have no other outside distractions...right?


Sort of.

The first week of November, I managed to stay mostly on pace. And I thought--foolishly--that it would be smooth sailing from then on, and now, in the beginning of December, I'd be sitting here with a finished novel and my editing pen in hand.

Turns out, making a room go from this to "man cave" takes a lot of work. 

But of course, then life got busy. We started finishing our basement. Coaching for swimming started. And life just kept getting in the way!

So, now here I am, and how many words did I write in November? About 12,000 altogether. Y'know, just a few thousand shy of 38,000 short.

But I did set some other November goals, back in this post.

My two, smaller-than-50,000-words goals were to:

1) Keep writing even if a point came when I knew I wouldn't make it to fifty thousand words.
2) To try my best to write three times a week.

In those goals, I did a little bit better. I didn't always write three times a week, but I definitely devoted more thought & energy to my writing than I had in past months. Which meant even when I knew there was no way I was going to hit 50,000, I kept working and I tried not to get discouraged.

Also, and perhaps most useful of all, I learned a lot about how I work best as a writer. I always prided myself on being a pantser. When I would send a chapter to the other members of the FNC, they'd email back and say, "What happens next?" and I'd go, "Oh, y'know, stuff...something exciting...or something..." because the truth was I didn't really know. I'd always had a beginning, a climactic moment and an ending in my head, but that was pretty much about it. Because it was about the journey! The excitement of figuring out what was happening as I went! Right?

It turns out...those plotters kind of have a point. I plotted out the last portion of my novel for Nano pretty meticulously--scene by scene, all the way from middle to the words The End.

And the crazy thing was that it made writing a lot easier, especially when I was crunched for time. I didn't have to spend nearly as much time re-reading my own work to remember where I was and what was going on when I stopped writing last time. And the fear that I had would come with planning--that the excitement of writing would diminish, that knowing exactly what was going on wouldn't be nearly as much fun--turned out to not be true at all. If anything, knowing what was going to happen made things more exciting because I could see the story growing my mind with more clarity and completeness than before.

So even though I didn't win Nano, or come close, I did learn some valuable lessons about goal-setting and plotting. Which is kind of a win in itself, if you think about it.

What about all of you? Did you win Nano by hitting 50k? Or win it in another way?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SKY by Jaclyn Dolamore

Thanks to Good Choice Reading Arc Tours, I spent last week reading Jacyln Dolamore's BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SKY.

Have you guys read it? Even though I was on the arc tour, it's out now. Look! Buyable!

And you should definitely buy it.

Why, you ask?

 Let's start with the Goodreads summary, so you know what the book's about:
"For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alander, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alander band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air."

Y'know what? I kind of don't like that Goodreads summary. Let's get a few things straight here.

First off, when Esmerine's sister Dosinia (who everyone calls Dosia) is found missing and assumed to be on the mainland. Esmerine isn't sent to fetch her, she chooses to go. And that's why Esmerine was awesome. I have this weird thing about mermaids--I love them. I totally wanted to be Ariel the Little Mermaid when I was six years old. And the fact I dyed my hair red in high school definitely didn't have anything to do with her amazing floating 80s bangs...right? But I've had a hard time finding YA mermaid books I like. My issue falls in that I think it's a difficult creature to work with--I've read books where their siren call causes men to die for them, and then they are le sad and so tortured. And I've read books where they don't want to be part of the sea and are le sad and tortured, until a man saves them. It's hard not be a damsel in distress when you're half fish, it seems. Which, back to my original point, is why Esmerine is so awesome. She's quiet and strong and fights for what she believes in. She loves her family but fights for what she believes in, even if it goes against what they think. She was thoroughly capable of taking care of herself and getting what she needed, and she was a joy to spent the book with. That's the other thing this summary got wrong--she doesn't happen upon Alander, she goes searching for him and finds him. Like I said, this is a girl of action! A girl of planning! She doesn't just stumble conveniently from plot point to plot point.

The other thing I think this summary is missing is that yeah, there's a love story, but it's not quite with the intensity that it makes it sound. Maybe it's just me, but "igniting emotions" seems like a fancy way of saying "instalove" to me. Which is not what happens in this book. Instead, Dolamore spends her time growing Alander and Esmerine's friendship, both through shared memories of when they were friends during childhood and the new experiences they have in trying to find Esmerine's sister. I feel as though the summary tries to epic-ize this book, and even though it has all the elements--mermaids, winged people, romance, a quest of sorts--it's a much quieter and more subtle narrative than that, which I really enjoyed.

The other great thing about this book was the world-building. This book is only 240 pages, and yet Dolamore manages to create a mermaid world, a human world and a winged-person (called the Fandarsee) world without info-dumping or slowing down the narrative at all. Impressive, right? I think the world-building in this book is so successful because the world is explained through the characters, instead of straight narrative. We learn how the Fandarsee are different as we learn who the mermaids are. By learning what the Fandarsee do, we learn what the mermaids don't do. We see Esmerine trying to figure out the way things work in the human world (like going to the bathroom!) and through that, see how it happens in the mermaid world. It was kind of like a mini-anthropology lesson wrapped up in each chapter.

Finally, what I loved most about this book is that Esmerine loves books. Obviously a challenge for a mermaid, right? But it was such a wonderful subplot that plays out so left a huge smile on my face, that's for sure.

If you're looking for a complete, satisfying, fairy-tale esque story to warm your heart this winter, BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SKY is definitely worth your time!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin

I was really excited to be on the blog tour for All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin because it sounded like exactly what I needed to get me out of my dystopia funk. I mean, check out the Goodreads summary:

"In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidentally poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family."

No big brother. No evil government to overthrow. No insta-love. In short, none of the elements that so many dystopias out right now are riddled with and that I was running out of energy for. This book was definitely was I was looking for.

Zevin's 2083 NYC felt more like the past than the future, which I thought was a really cool twist. With so many things becoming illegal, and rations and taxes being placed on ridiculous amounts of things--like water!--it didn't have the high tech feel that so many in-the-not-too-distant-future books have. Plus, there was a healthy dose of things that hadn't changed--kids still going to school, cafeteria food still being disgusting, teachers still not understanding, and the politics of high school--kept this imagined future firmly rooted in reality and made it easy to imagine and relate to. The things that Zevin changes are subtle, like chocolate being illegal, which makes this dysoptian version of New York seem eerily plausible. Even though New York is so iconic and easily recognizable, Zevin didn't skimp on the world-building, which makes this book shine.

Now, enter the Mafia. I have a confession to make: I think that mafia is really cool. Not in a sleeping-with-the-fishes is cool way, but the whole concept of a created family and the internal politics that go along with being crime bosses is something that has fascinated me for a long time, so I was super pleased that it was a big part of this book. The mafia aspect also helped give this futuristic book a neat old-world edge to it, that felt very original and engrossing to read.

Of course, my favorite part of this book was our headstrong MC, Anya Balanchine. Even though she's the middle child, she's really the person in charge--her and her older brother & younger sister live with their grandmother, who's bed-bound and only half-there most of the time. Because of some head trauma he endured as a child, her older brother isn't fit to be in charge of them. So it falls to Anya. Anya handles this with a great combination of nails and grace--which is how she handles pretty much everything in her life--and that's why I loved her. Anya was like a combination of Katsa from Kristin Cashore's GRACELING and Anna from Stephanie Perkin's ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS--half all fire, ready to beat down whoever looks at her (or her family) funny, and half the girl-next-door you secretly want to be.

This book is out now, so hop on down to your local bookstore or favorite website and order it now! And then order one for your friends. Holiday giving season is just around the corner, after all!

Thanks to Smitten with Books Arc Tours for my review copy of this book!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

LEGENDary review and two-ARC Thanksgiving giveaway!

Next week, as you laze about in a post-Thanksgiving food coma*, feeling as though you'll never be hungry again, why not read a book so chock-full of action that you'll feel like you're burning calories via osmosis?

Marie Lu's debut YA novel, LEGEND, is the perfect dystopian novel to pull you out of your tryptophan-induced haze.

Why? The description on Marie Lu's website should be enough to convince you:
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

But just in case you need a little more convincing...

Back in August, I gobbled up LEGEND in about two days.

Oh hey, cheesy Thanksgiving pun!

To be honest, I was a little leery of reading a dystopian with such buzz and so many starred reviews (was I setting myself up for disappointment?), but I wrote this post to tell you why I think it's worth the read! Without a doubt, LEGEND sucked me in, and the post-civil-war Republic that Lu created intrigued me. (For the violence-averse, be forewarned that the Republic's methods are brutal -- this is a truly villainous, sinister government.)

Primarily, though, I enjoyed the contrast between Robin-Hood-esque criminal mastermind Day and drinks-the-Republic's-Kool-Aid military darling June. Two prodigies with two opposing viewpoints and motives made for a unique read, and the teen genius element reminded me of Millicent Min and Jarod from The Pretender. I'm interested in seeing June and Day's relationship progress to a more nuanced level (LEGEND didn't provide much time for that, considering that June's hunting Day for much of it).

Looking forward in the series, I'm personally fascinated with the idea of the U.S. as we know it broken into separate, warring countries (though let's keep that safely in fiction, ok?), so I can't wait to learn even more about the neighboring "enemy" nation in the next book.

Lastly, I want to tip my hat to whoever decided to print June's and Day's narrations in different colors. I'm a fan, and I especially love that it was in my ARC, which made it feel all fancy. Just saying.

Marie, congrats on a great debut!

Are you ready to read LEGEND? It comes out November 29th, but from now through Thanksgiving Day (11:59pm EST) you have a chance to win one of two ARCs in an international giveaway right here! PLUS... each winner gets a SECRET ARC! There's something to be thankful for! (And we're thankful for the lovely Penguin folks at BEA, who provided our ARCs! We <3 Penguin!)

Have you read or reviewed LEGEND? Leave your thoughts and a review link in the comments! (Oh, and this is the first time we're using Rafflecopter instead of Google Docs for a giveaway, so let us know what you prefer!)

* For non-US readers: I know you won't be celebrating Thanksgiving next week, but all you need to do to get that Thanksgiving feeling is by eating more in one day than you ever thought you could eat...and then going back for seconds. Presto! Food coma!

Monday, November 14, 2011

LIESL AND PO + secret ARC giveaway winners!

The two lucky winners of our LIESL AND PO (and secret ARC) giveaway are...




If you are the Allison! or Katie! who is the winner, you will receive a lovely email informing you of your good fortune! (And if you're not sure why they should be excited about winning, then you totally haven't read my review!)

And if the odds weren't in your favor for this giveaway, here's the awesome Hunger Games movie trailer to assuage your sadness.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hunger Games movie trailer MONDAY!!! Set your DVR, people!

Good Morning America is debuting the Hunger Games movie trailer on MONDAY!!!!

CLICK HERE for full article.

My DVR is set!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Double your NaNoWriMo productivity by writing blind.

"Write blind" sounds like a metaphor, but I mean it literally. As someone who's eyesight (or lack thereof) places me perilously close to legal blindness, I know how much blurred vision can change your perspective.
This week, I accidentally discovered how something as simple as taking off my glasses helped me double my productivity. (Never fear, 20/20 vision-ers! I have a solution for you, too!)

The scenario: I tend to procrastinate for about 40 minutes of Butt-In-Chair time before actually writing, and then when I do begin, I putz along, writing a couple sentences here or there, rereading the previous writing session's work, and generally getting distracted. I have the attention span of a goldfish, and it's NOT PRODUCTIVE. I wear much-needed glasses, and I took them off for a second to rub my tired eyes.

How I see the world.
Specifically, how I see this post without my glasses.

That's when the moment of genius (or insanity) occurred.

I left my glasses off, poised my fingers over the keyboard, and kept typing, my words appearing as black, blurred lines on the white page. Within an hour, I had 1,150 words written. I don't know about you, but that's my best possible pace.*

Why in the heck did this work?

Sure, I felt a little wonky in the brain, but thinking about it afterward, it became quite obvious why this method was a success.
  • I couldn't see the word count at the bottom of my screen, so I didn't stare at it woefully as it increased in teeny, tiny increments (and then decreased drastically as I deleted entire paragraphs).
  • I couldn't read what I'd written before (unless I squinted and leaned in til my nose nearly touched the screen, aka Insta-Headache), so I had no choice but to barrel forward.
  • I couldn't obsess and analyze over my writing as it was happening. Once my Constant Internal Critic had nothing to criticize, my writerly instincts took over.
  • I couldn't see... anything. My little Safari icon didn't tempt me. Twitter, Gmail, Blogger, Tumblr, Pandora, random Google searches, and Facebook stalkerage all ground to a halt because they were basically invisible. The distractions disappeared.

I tricked myself into doubling my productivity. And let me tell you, when I put my glasses back on and saw that new word count, it felt awesome.


Q: But Donna, I have perfect vision! Don't leave me hanging!
A: First of all, I hate you a little bit, especially if you wear non-prescription glasses because they "look cute." Ahem. Envy aside, you can create-your-own-nearsightedness by faux-blurring your page. The key is that your text document is unreadable: Make the font super-small and change the color to a light gray. Voila!

Q: I'm not quite the ASDF-JKL; typing whiz. I need to see the keys while I pick at them with two fingers!
A: Either get super cozy with your keyboard so the letters are visible, or act like a 20/20 vision-er, and follow the advice above!

Q: In a box of Animal Crackers, why does only the monkey get to wear pants?
A: I'm not sure, but the hippo wants to know. He has his hippo dignity, after all. (Bonus point if you can identify the reference.)

Your turn!
What's your quirky (or perhaps normal) method of increasing your productivity? And just how bad is your vision? (Between severe nearsightedness, astigmatism, and a partially-detached retina, I'm an opthamologist's worst nightmare.) Leave it in the comments!

* Aside: Though some of my fellow FNC-ers signed up for NaNo, I haven't, but this month is most definitely DonnaMakesSeriousProgressOnHerNovelMo!

Monday, November 7, 2011

ENTHRALLED giveaway winner!

The lucky winner of ENTHRALLED: PARANORMAL DIVERSIONS (ed. by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong, signed by Melissa Marr), plus a bonus secret novel, is...


(And check out her book blog, The Hollow Cupboards -- isn't that such a cool name?)

Never fear, if you weren't our lucky winner, you can still win one of two ARCs of Lauren Oliver's LIESL AND PO!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lauren, Liesl, Po, and "Pandy": Book review, signing recap, and giveaway!

I'm not a big middle grade reader, but a great book is a great book, and Lauren Oliver's LIESL AND PO is awesome enough to make anyone a middle grade convert. LIESL AND PO is Lauren's first foray into MG novels, after writing BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM for the YA crowd.

LIESL AND PO drew me in, charming me entirely. I felt such an emotional connection to the novel -- about an orphan girl locked in an attic by her villainous stepmother; two curious, friendly ghosts (one human, one animal); the abused apprentice of an greedy, egomaniacal alchemist; and the greatest magic in the world.*

On a completely superficial level, the book is gorgeous. Both the inner and outer covers are beautifully intricate (and perfect for the book!), and the drawings inside capture the atmosphere of the story.

It's a novel about hope, and love, and reclaiming sunshine in a world gone gray. It balances perfectly the whimsical and the sad, acknowledges darkness but emphasizes the persistence of joy despite all circumstances. (All this becomes even more meaningful when you read the author's note, in which Lauren shares that she wrote LIESL AND PO while mourning the death of a friend.)

I fell in love with this book, which reminded me a lot of CORALINE in tone and main character (Liesl and Coraline would totally be friends and go on adventures together), and Will from L&P would definitely be friends with "assistant-apprentice" Will Henry from THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST (though the alchemist in L&P makes the monstrumologist seem downright affectionate!).

On Tuesday, Frankie, Sara, and I headed to Children's Book World in Haverford, PA for Lauren's signing there. We've met her a couple times before, and she's always awesome to talk to and very down-to-earth. Of course, many of the Philly book blogger crew was in attendance! (Love those ladies -- Jamie from Perpetual Page Turner (see her recap here), Jenna and Lillie (the greatest pair of sisters who write and blog), and new blogger-pal Vi!)

Lauren talked about her creation process for LIESL AND PO, and how it was different from BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM because she wrote the first draft in two months, and the story developed organically as she wrote.

She's also working on an adult novel, which I love, because she basically follows (and writes) the stories that call to her, no matter the tone, plot, or genre. Love the diversity! (And after reading all three of her novels, I'll pretty much follow Lauren's writing wherever it goes. This gal is TALENTED.)

Get ready for Pandy.
It will be fierce.
Next up from Lauren is DELIRIUM's sequel, PANDEMONIUM, which comes out in March. She affectionately refers to it as "PANDY" (because who doesn't love a silly nickname for such a dramatic, epic book?) and thinks it would be hilarious if everyone did the same. So here it goes -- March 2012: PANDY is coming. Pass it on.

But until then, we're giving away our two BEA-gotten ARCs of LIESL AND PO, plus an additional SECRET ARC for each winner! And in order to see the gorgeous complete artwork in the book (the ARCs' drawings are only partially finished), be sure to buy your very own copy!

* Whenever I read about anything that's "the greatest in all the world," I always think of Miracle Max:
"Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world-except for a nice MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe ... [smacks his lips] They're so perky, I love that."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

SHINE Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered and showed their support for this book! After going through the many entries, the winner of our copy of SHINE is...

Natalie Aguirre!

If you didn't win, remember we still have our ENTRHRALLED giveaway going on. And please, if you haven't read this book, get yourself to your local bookstore/website/library and grab yourself a copy! You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SCORPIO RACES & Secret ARC Giveaway Winner!!

All of Maggie's books are pretty epic, so it only made sense to have an epic giveaway to celebrate the newest one!

After going through 159 entries, the 5 winners of a signed ARC of THE SCORPIO RACES + another secret ARC are:

Isamlq (Sassyreads)
Joanne Fritz
Jill of the O.W.L.
Kathrine Roid
Mary Preston

Congrats to all of you! If you didn't win, no worries--we still have our ENTHRALLED giveaway to enter, and lots more goodies coming your way this fall!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Winner of DARKFALL giveaway!

A big congrats to Marcie, the winner of our Darkfall ARC giveaway! (Plus, we'll be sending you a secret book, too!)

Thanks to all who entered, and if you weren't lucky enough to win, please be sure to buy a copy of your own... and check out our giveaways of SHINE (by Lauren Myracle) and ENTHRALLED (ed. Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong)!

Branding in the YA Market

The other night I was watching one of my one true loves--America's Next Top Model.  I don't know if Tyra's gotten even more business-savvy because now she's a YA author but the last episode of ANTM I watched actually brought up some interesting points.

The theme of the show was branding.  I was really hoping to find a YouTube clip of the portion of the show, but apparently the only ANTM things on YouTube are a) parodies, and b) fangirls freaking out over the models' antics.

Anywho.  Tyra brought in Martin Lindstrom, described by the show as the "branding king."  He gave each model one word to be their brand.  As in, if their brand is fierce, when we look at their photos, the first thing that should pop into our heads is, "Man, that girl is FIERCE."  Or unique.  Or free.  Or whatever.

This got me thinking about branding in the YA market.  Branding is something that happens constantly in the book world--it's our shorthand for marketing a book we've read to other people.  How many times have you held a book out to a friend (or posted on your blog), and said something like "This book is a dystopia" or "It's like the Hunger Games, mixed with the Princess Bride" or "It's like an urban fantasy with a sci-fi twist?"  (Sidenote: If anyone can actually describe a book as the Hunger Games meets The Princess Bride, please send me that book ASAP.)

But of course, some books exemplify a brand better than others.  Here's my list of what I think is the ultimate in some of the most popular YA brands:


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Why: This is the first book that immediately pops into my mind.  For me, Katniss is the ultimate.  All the elements I like in a dystopia are there: a post-apocolyptic/war-ravaged version of America, the Big Brother evil government, the rumblings of rebellion, and a twisted version of what America is now that shows me how the dystopia happened in the first place. If someone said to me, "Sooo, what's a dystopia, anyway?" the first thing I would tell them to do is read THE HUNGER GAMES.

Honorable Mentions: THE GIVER by Lois Lowry, 1984 by George Orwell, BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

Paranormal Romance
The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Why: While certainly not my favorite paranormal romance by far, I can't argue that these series was the lit fuse to the explosion of paranormal romance over the past 5 years. Who hasn't read Twilight? Or a summary of the books? Or seen the movie? Or listened to their blogger wife rant about it once or twice? I don't know that it would be the book I would recommend if someone was looking to get into the genre, but it's definitely the book I would reference to explain it.

Honorable Mentions: Wolves of Mercy Falls series (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER) by Maggie Stiefvater, HUSH HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick

Sarah Dessen!
Why: Uh, do you even need to ask why? Sarah Dessen is the name on the lips of every teenage girl (or adult) looking for a quality, make-you-laugh-make-you-cry coming of age story that doesn't require anyone to drink blood, shapeshift, save the world, or wield a sword.  I mean, she had a book made into a movie that starred Mandy Moore.  There is nothing more contemporary than a movie with Mandy Moore.

Honorable Mentions: Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jenny Han, Ellen Hopkins

Urban Fantasy
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Why: I'll admit that urban fantasy is not a genre that I read a whole lot of.  I think a lot of people would've put Cassie Clare's MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series in this slot, but I haven't read them, so for it's the VA series by Richelle Mead.  Mead has created a full vampi-rific world, but also integrated it fully into the real world, meaning we got lots of great crossover scenes and conflicts.

Honorable Mentions: NIGHTSHADE by Andrea Cremer

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Why: Because it's Harry Potter. Duh. But for serious, because Harry Potter has so many magical elements, world-building, character-building, plotting and twists and turns that this beats even LORD OF THE RINGS for me.  Because on top of all the awesome fantastic elements that Harry Potter encompasses, it's also fully relatable to all of us poor folk who didn't go to Hogwarts, which I think is an equally key element to a successful fantasy story as some awesome spells and a fire-breathing dragon.

Honorable Mentions: Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS), Kristin Cashore (GRACELING, FIRE), Robin McKinley, Dianna Wynne Jones

So of course I must have missed some great picks. And I'm sure my top picks are different from your top picks, so let me know!  What books do YOU think exemplify these YA genres/brands?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

ENTHRALLED: The spooktastic Halloween review and giveaway!

No title pun intended, but ENTHRALLED: PARANORMAL DIVERSIONS was a welcome diversion from reading novels, especially during the chaotic month of September when I didn't have more than 10 minutes at a time to read.

The anthology includes sixteen short stories and was edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong.

It's well worth the read if you're in the mood for standalone paranormal stories, and as a bonus, in many of them you get to return to the worlds of your favorite YA novels/series (which definitely lets you appreciate the story more, but prior reading isn't necessary).

Here were a few of my favorites, and why I loved them:

Scenic Route by Carrie Ryan
A dark and excellently tense zombie story set in the FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH world, but with new characters and a new setting --- and you didn't have to read the novels to be sucked into the story.

Red Run by Kami Garcia
Creepy, creepy ghost story that had me shivering and wondering who to trust. I soooo pictured this as a horror movie -- totally atmospheric.

Skin Contact by Kimberly Derting
In the world of DESIRES OF THE DEAD, Rafe follows a horrifying vision involving his girlfriend and her unhinged, dangerous father. Heartpounding and heartbreaking.

Leaving by Ally Condie
I love the mix of time travel, grief, and loneliness --- and the connections you make to other people.

At the Late Night, Double Feature, Picture Show by Jessica Verday
Cannibal Girl Scouts, vampires, and the girl who acts as bait for her supernatural hunter family. Love it.

Gargouille by Mary E. Pearson
Gargoyle romance? This haunting story makes you believe it.

Overall, there's a great variety of paranormal elements, and a solid mix of light and dark tones among the stories. This anthology is a lot of fun, and one of the best I've read.

I got my copy at BEA (thanks, HarperCollins!) and had it signed by Melissa Marr --- and now it can be yours! Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win, and if you're not the lucky winner, make sure to buy a copy of your own!

* The giveaway is now over. Thanks for entering! *

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo: The Ultimate Goal-Setting Exercise

Last year, I signed up for Nanowrimo.  I was really excited about it, even if I worried about having enough time to do it.

Last year, I totally failed.

But I did learn some things.  And re-reading those posts today, I learned some other things.

For example, I learned that last November I hoped that by this November I would be finished my current WIP and ready to start something new.

Yeah.  That didn't happen.  I am considerably further than I was--I finally have over 50k words in my current draft, but I'm not close to finishing.

So, what am I doing?  Signing up for NaNoWriMo again this year, of course!  This year, I'm going into it with a slightly different perspective.

Nanowrimo is one of those funny experiences when, at the beginning, you feel like this:

I'm going to climb every mountain! Ford every stream! Follow every rainbow!  Write ALL the words!!
 Even though 50,000 words in a month is a pretty ridiculous goal.  But, sometimes ridiculous goals work out...

This statue of a human is soooooo cute! I bet if I sell my voice to the sea witch, I'll become human and wash up on the EXACT shore he's walking on right then and he'll fall in love with me even though I'm mute and smell like fish!
 But more often than not, they don't.

So rather than using 50,000 words in the month of November as my goal, I'm using it as one of many goals.  My ultimate top-tier goal, if you will.  But I'm also setting some smaller, more manageable goals that I think I'll be able to achieve, and I think Nanowrimo will help me do that.

November Goals (that I would really like to meet and think I can):

1) Write!  Even when things get busy, keep writing.  Don't lose hope!

2) Write at least 3 times a week.  Right now I have a consistent period of time blocked out every Thursday when I write.  But I'd like to add a block on Monday and a third block during the weekend.

And then, of course, there's the November Goal of my Dreams:

3) Write 50,000 words!  Finish my book!  Have it edited by Thanksgiving!  Query by Christmas!  Have an editor by New Year's!  Sign a book deal that makes me a BAJILLION dollars by Valentine's Day and I am suddenly a full time writer!

Yeah.  That's why it's good to start small. :)

Are any of you doing NaNo this year?  Or do you have any new writing goals you're trying to accomplish?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SHINE on, Lauren Myracle! Plus Giveaway!

So if you've been on Twitter or YA book blogs the past few days, you've seen the explosion caused by the National Book Award asking Lauren Myracle to withdraw her nomination, after they accidentally nominated SHINE for the award.

If you need to catch up, here's an article from the School Library Journal to bring you up to speed.

I'd read an ARC of SHINE from NetGalley back in Februray and loved it.  I was so excited to hear that it had been nominated!  And then, of course, the debacle began.  Needless to say, I have some words for the National Book Award people.  And they are not kind.  Or family friendly.  So I'll just say: this really burns my cookies.  But I don't want this to be a negative post, because as hard to read as this book is at times, because it's so intense, this book is a beautiful, positive addition to the YA world, and deserving of all the praise showered upon it.  So in honor of the wonderfully classy Lauren Myracle, and this beautiful book, I'm reposting my original review of it.

Make sure you scroll down past the review, because we're also giving away a copy!  This is a book that should be on every bookshelf!

Shine by Lauren Myracle
Here's the Goodreads Summary: "When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author."

Intense, right?  I have to say, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover.  It's gorgeous!  The theme is kept going inside the book, with a repeated haunting black and white photograph of a dilapidated house and some tree branches of the first page of each new chapter.  Score one for the design team!

I wondered if this book was going to feel over-the-top on its "hard" issues--I mean, drugs and hate crimes in the same novel?!--and lose the mystery side that it had.  But I was totally wrong, and now know that I should never doubt Lauren Myracle again.  This book pulls you in so strongly--it's almost a physical sensation of sinking into Cat's world of Black Creek.  Even as a lifelong northerner, I could not only see and understand what it felt like to live in a tiny backwoods town in the South, but I could feel it.  Myracle does some of the best world-building I've ever seen in this book--tight and as fully-realized as the most intricate fantasy novel!

Myracle did what is so hard for so many writers to do--she wrote a book about hard issues without trying to directly teach readers a lesson or have the plot feel didactic.  Even our protagonist, Cat, has moments of seeing things both ways, which adds another level and deeper thought to the two main issues happening in Black Creek: the hate crime committed against Cat's friend Patrick, and the drug use that runs through the town.

As for the mystery, I felt kept in the dark in a good way.  I liked the Cat was smart and a little scrappy--she was resourceful and brave, but realistically so.  I liked all the twists and turns Myracle put into her plot.  There were few things that felt coincidental or set-up just to move the plot along.

This book gave me chills.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Happy Book Birthday to THE SCORPIO RACES! Plus Secret ARC Giveaway!

The First Novels Club wants to wish a very happy book birthday to Maggie Stiefvater's THE SCORPIO RACES!

I was super excited to score an advanced copy of this book from BEA.  Out of the 90+ books that we picked up during that week, SCORPIO RACES was one of the first 5 that I read.  I saved it until I went on vacation in June to Martha's Vineyard.  Why save it, you ask?  Because if you've ever been to Martha's Vineyard in June, it's still kind of cold, and a little tempestuous, and there are these awesome clay cliffs.  After reading all of Maggie's cliff-climbing adventures on her blog and how they related to this book, I figured this was the perfect place to start reading.

Here's the Goodreads summary:
"It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. 

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. 

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen."

This book is way different from the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.  And while I loved Sam & Grace, Cole & Isabel (especially Cole!), I loooooooooved Sean and Puck.

Especially Puck.  This girl is tough as nails.  And not in that, tough-but-cute way, but more in that be-careful-it-bites way.  She's tempestuous, and witty, and stubborn, and pretty much everything I love in a main character.  I didn't always like her or agree with her choices, which for me is the sign of a fully fleshed out character.  If I can read and go, "Oh girl, no you didn't!" but still love her in the end, then I know she's a character that's become a true friend.  Also, her name is Puck.  Which is awesome.

Then there's Sean.  Sean made me nervous for awhile.  As fiery and fierce as Puck was, Sean was cold and closed off.  He brooded.  He stared.  He angsted.  I wanted to hug him so badly, but I feared he would just brush me off and give me the kind of death glare I felt sure he had patented.  In short, it took me some time to warm up to him. It's so difficult to write a closed-off character, because what on earth is the reader supposed to relate to if the character isn't willing to let them in?  And yet somehow Maggie managed to do it.  The more Sean pulls away on the page, the more quickly I found myself reading, wanting to know if I ever got to peak through a crack in his tough exterior.  And we did! Finally! And it was marvelous and oh-so-satisfying.

So those are the main characters. Sort of. Because the thing is, the more you read, the more the town and the island become a character too. Thisby lived and breathed. It had a strong Irish flair, but it wasn't Ireland--it was a world that sits somewhere between the real and the magical.  That's my kind of world!

And oh yeah, there's this other thing. Massive killer water horses that people race for fun and profit. No, for serious. And I'll be the first to say that I'm not a horse story person. I love inspirational sports movies, unless they're about horse racing. And I love animals...but I'm severely allergic to horses. (No, for serious!) But I LOVED the water horses. They were creepy and feral and I may have had a nightmare or two about them while on the Vineyard that caused me to demand that my husband share a twin-size bed with me so I wouldn't get eaten by them in my sleep. BUT, in true Maggie Stiefvater fashion, they were also beautiful and bizarre and interesting, and I kind of wished I could pet one (just real quick, before it bit my hand off.) Again, like with Thisby, they were fantastic, and yet somehow so real. When I finished the book, it seemed strange to think that killer horses DIDN'T come out of the autumn waves.

(BTW, there's kissing in this book too. And adventures. And a cat.)

So have I gushed enough about THE SCORPIO RACES? Are you all dying to read it? You should be!

Lucky for you, it's out today, and you can go to your local bookseller and pick up a copy!

Or, you could be even awesomer and be one of FIVE people to win a SIGNED ARC of the book! Right here! Right now!

And, because autumn is the time for ALL the books, we're throwing in a little extra Halloween treat. A second ARC. Of what, you ask?  Ah ha, good question! Here's the answer: it's a secret. But five--count'em, FIVE--lucky winners will get a signed copy of Maggie's wonderful new book, PLUS a secret ARC of our choosing!

What do you have to do to win, you ask?

Why, just fill out this form!

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