Thursday, May 31, 2012

Drop whatever you're doing and read CODE NAME VERITY.

I've fallen in love with CODE NAME VERITY.

The moment I read the description — a story of two best friends, a girl pilot and a girl spy, during WWII — I knew I had to get my hands on an ARC. Then (cue sunlight and an angelic choir) I got an email from NetGalley during our weekend writing retreat — CODE NAME VERITY was available!

As is the case with other glowing, wonderful reviews of this novel, I can only tell you so much without spoiling it. And as with all excellent books, there is much to spoil, so I'll be extra careful.

CODE NAME VERITY is a Russian nesting doll between two covers; just when you think you know what you have, you discover that it's something entirely different and amazing.

But amazing in a heartbreaking way. I did mention that it's set in WWII, after all.

Verity, a spy, has been captured in Nazi-occupied France, and she's unsure of the whereabouts of her best friend Maddie, who had piloted the plane that brought her there. The book is her confession, her stay of execution, and she reveals details of what brought her and Maddie together and to the current point in time.

Piece by piece, her confession — and the interspersed details of her imprisonment and torture — drew me into Verity's world and her and Maddie's friendship, and I knew I was done for. Because even in such an dark and desperate situation, Verity's charming, sassy voice shone through, and with her, I became best friends with loyal, dedicated Maddie.

I wanted to protect these brave girls, to give them a happy ending with rainbows and unicorns and white picket fences, and when I'm that invested in characters, when they're that real to me, I'm in trouble.

Elizabeth Wein did such a fantastic job with this novel. On a practical level, the pacing, tension, and characterization were ridiculously spot-on, and I never felt overwhelmed by historical detail.

On an emotional level... did you see what I wrote about rainbows and unicorns?

Halfway through the book, I knew I'd be recommending it liberally. Three-quarters of the way through, I was sending emails to friends with links to reviews and using all-caps for emphasis.

Early on in reading CODE NAME VERITY, I trusted Elizabeth Wein to tell Verity and Maddie's story the right way. You know when you're reading a book and you just know?

There will be no jumping-the-shark moment.
There will be no throwing the book across the room.
There will be no, "It was good, but it would've been better if..."

I savored this novel, even as it broke my heart. It's definitely a read-more-than-once kind of book, because upon finishing it, you're itching to start again to catch all the intricacies you missed the first time around, when you were too desperate to know the fates of Verity and Maddie to pay attention.

Right now, I'm debating if I should read it a second time, or if the next go-round should be the audiobook. Via Twitter, Elizabeth Wein recommended the audio version, so I think that's my answer.

Overall, CODE NAME VERITY is not only worth reading, but it's also worth purchasing. I'm excited for my copy to take it's place on my bookshelf.

Details: Available now!
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion, May 2012

Anyone else read CODE NAME VERITY? Are you as in love as I am?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five happy things!

Monday is my birthday, and everyone's asking me what I'm doing to celebrate. Well, I'm spending two days* in NYC surrounded by books and authors and people who love books and authors. And I get to meet John Green. Pretty much the best birthday ever.

* Sadly, lack o' vacation time means I can't stay for Thursday's festivities.

2. It's summer!
Summer in a bottle.
At least in Philadelphia, summer has arrived. Sure, the awful humidity makes you feel gross about 2.2 seconds after you step outside, but summer means barbecues and pools and beach vacations and cold drinks and flip flops.

There's something about summer that makes me permanently feel like I'm eight years old. I hear the jingle of the ice cream truck and part of my wants to shriek, "ICE CREAM MAN!!!" and I'm totally tempted to run through every sprinkler I see.

3. This.
I'm a sucker for pretty (badass) things, and I can't wait to read this!

4. Puppy snuggles
I've been dogsitting for the past week while my sister's on her honeymoon, and though I could do without the squeaky toys and the picking up poo thing, there is something delightful about a dog snoozing in your lap or tumbling all over you. And when they greet you, just wriggling with happiness and excitement? Impossible not to smile.

5. Three years o' blogging.
Over a month ago, our third blogiversary passed quietly, but when I think about it, I can't believe how much blogging has changed my life. It's made me become so much more passionate about books and writing; my bookcase is a "library" and my friends ask me for recommendations; and I've made so many blogger/author/bookseller friends. Cheers to three years!

What happy things are going on in your life? Anyone else headed to BEA?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BITTERBLUE Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered our Bitterblue signed copy giveaway! You all had great ideas for Graces. If only Gracelings really existed (without all the messiness that surrounds them in the book), I would love to be one.

The winner of the signed copy of BITTERBLUE is... 

Julie Maughon!

Congratulations and thanks again to everyone who entered!

If you didn't win, don't worry! BEA is just around the corner, and something tells me we may have an extra book or two to give away...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

BITTERBLUE: Signed Copy Giveaway!!

If you had a chance to read my review of Kristin Cashore's latest book, BITTERBLUE, then you know how much I loved loved loved this book.

And if you had a chance to read Donna's recap of the Kristin Cashore signing we went to, you know how fangirly we got and totally squeed over the chance to finally meet one of our favorite authors.

And now, you have a chance to get in on a piece of the action!

While I was at the signing, I picked up an extra copy of the oh-so-lovely BITTERBLUE and had it signed for one of you lucky folks! And now I'm giving it away!

Leave a comment on this post and let us know what you'd want your Grace to be, if you were a Graceling. (If you haven't read Graceling yet--you're missing out!--a Graceling is a person born with two different color eyes that is gifted with being extremely good at one thing, like baking or healing or walking backwards.)

Personally, I would like the Grace of speed reading, because I can't keep up with all the awesome books coming out!

--Extra entries will be awarded if you help us spread the word about this awesome book through Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Blog Posts/Sidebars, etc.--just leave us links in the comments so we know.
--Open to US residents, only. (Sorry! I'm about to have a baby. I need to buy diapers.)
--No anonymous commenting, please. (I need to be able to respond to your comment by email if you win.)
--Contest is open until Tuesday, 5/15.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"You learn what the right thing is by writing the wrong thing over and over." — Kristin Cashore's BITTERBLUE signing recap!

It's no secret that we're diehard fans of Kristin Cashore, so when we found out she had a signing at Children's Book World (our local indie children's bookstore), we sent each other emails with an abundance of exclamation points.

To say the least.

So last Thursday, Sara and I headed to CBW for (semi-reserved) fangirling and BITTERBLUE-themed snacks!

So much blue! And there was bread. I haven't read
the book yet, but apparently it's significant.

The bookshelf o' Cashore.
First, Kristin read a couple excerpts from BITTERBLUE, and oh man did they make me want to read it! It's been about a year since I last read FIRE, and I forgot how much I loved Kristin's wry sense of humor, and her quiet delivery made it all the more effective. Kristin's writing totally sucks me into her characters' world, so I know to reserve multi-hour blocks of time to sit down and read!

Humor in her books is kinda like her outfit:
All business and then BAM zebra-stripe socks.
During the discussion part of the event, Kristin told us how she often uses street names for character names (and she's originally from eastern PA, so lots of local streets!). She also mentioned that some world building elements from GRACELING that she didn't fully think through ended up tripping her up when she expanded the world in her later books, and she then had to figure out a logical explanation for them after-the-fact. Rookie mistakes she wants us to learn from!

And then... Kristin made it Christmas for every single aspiring writer in the room. 

She brought her original, handwritten BITTERBLUE draft. (Yep, she writes all first drafts longhand and then uses voice recognition software to make it electronic.) Basically, she talked about how long the process can take when you want to do it right, when you want to do your story justice. BITTERBLUE's a hefty book at 500+ pages, but the original version was over 700 pages, with many characters and subplots she later cut. And after much emotional torment, she ended up rewriting it from scratch to make it the story it had to become.

The notebook!
It sounds crazy, but it was so wonderful to hear how discouraged and frustrated Kristin got with herself in the writing process. When she was showing us the notebook, she pointed to a page and said, "I don't know if you can read this. It says: 'This blows.'" (Again, love her sense of humor.) It's definitely a good motivator to know that she has low moments and self-doubt, but the end product still ends up phenomenal.

The discussion and Q&A were excellent, but there was one other thing she said that resonated with me enough to scribble down:

"You learn what the right thing is by writing the wrong thing over and over."

Simple advice, but it's something I need to keep taped up by my computer at all times!

Anyway, it was a fantastic signing, and the CBW staffers did a great job, as usual! If you have the chance to meet Kristin (she'll be at BEA! yay!), definitely take it. Thanks, Kristin!

And if you haven't already, check out Sara's review of BITTERBLUE!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Writing is Just Like...

In case you missed it, I'm expecting an itty bitty blogger this July.

While I was driving home from work  last night, I was thinking about my blogger-to-be and how being pregnant is kind of like writing a book. Which lead me to thinking: how many times have I done something, or experienced something, and then later thought, "hey, this reminds me of what it's like to write a book!"?

Except ideas for books don't make you look like you've spent wayyyyyyyyyy too long at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Well, by browsing through our 600-odd posts, the FNC has compared the writing process to:

--Finishing a bottle of moisturizer


--Starting a critique group

--Going on a blind date

--Color coordinating

--Doing a triathlon

--Picking out the perfect outfit

Plus a few posts that never made it out of draft stage, that compare the writing process to:

--Getting married

--Getting a dog

--Finishing a basement

So clearly, the writing process is something the FNC thinks about a lot. Which I think is a good thing--it means we continued to be engaged in something we love and care about, and trying to relate it to the non-writing parts of our life.

But perhaps it was these posts that were nudging the back of my mind, because I found I just couldn't write my pregnant with baby/pregnant with book metaphor post. I had the structure in my head and everything. But it just didn't feel fresh for some reason. And today, after I thought about my pregnancy post, and why I didn't really want to commit to writing it, I finally pondered upon an answer:

Writing is like everything that matters in your life.

Seriously. Not to say that it's not a unique experience. Because it certainly is. But it's also an all-encompassing one. And whether it be something little, like finishing that bottle of lotion, or something bigger, like finishing your first triathlon, writing is like all of these things because these things matter. They all involve a sense of accomplishment. And a lot of them are life-changing in some way, and so they bring on the same feelings that writing does, because writing a book is a life-changing experience.

So, what have you done that's felt life changing? What does the writing process remind you of?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Judging a Book by its Back Copy

We've all heard it. "Don't judge a book by its cover!" And yet we've all done it, right?

When I was 16, I thought this looked like a book for little kids, so I refused to read it at first:

Fast forward 11 years, I'm sitting with at the midnight premiere of the last movie, wearing a Ravenclaw shirt.

We've all seen cover reveals gone wrong, so I've since learned my lesson. Even if I hate a cover, I give the book a chance.

I can't say the same about back copy. To be fair, the point of back copy of to give you an idea of what a book is about--a teaser trailer, if you will, to entice you to buy it/check it out/download it and read the rest.

Except somewhere along the line, someone got a hold of a thesaurus and can't seem to let go. The same words and phrases pop up again and again in back copy, and for me, they've become red flags. I just can't see past them. They haunt my reading dreams.

And for some reason, they usually have to do with the male protagonist/love interest. They're never funny, nice, or boy-next-door. Even if they turn out to be the funny, nice, boy-next-door. They can't just be cute, they have to smolder. I mean, why be sweet when you can be scintillating, right? Except now I have a whole list of words I could live happily never reading again.

Words I Think Should Never Appear in the Same Sentence as the Male Protagonist:

Editors tell writers: "Show, don't tell." Somebody needs to take their red pen and go to town on the back copy too! Half these words don't even make sense as stand-ins for personality indicators. Dangerous, for example, is defined as "able or likely to cause physical injury." Unless my male MC is also the villain, well...

I think this is true for certain phrases, as well. I read them and my hands twitch to put the book back on the shelf. I can't help it, book, I'm sorry! It's not you, it's me.

I Can't Handle Reading:
"Compelled to protect her..."
"Compelled to follow her..."
"Compelled to find out more about..."
"He was more than what he seemed..."
"But he's not what he seems..."
"Hiding his true nature, he..."
 "From the wrong side of the tracks..."
"A bad influence, he..."

Honorable Mention:
"Thrown into a new world full of..."
 So that's me. I'm sure I've missed out on some quality books because of un-quality back copy. But I'm sure I've saved myself a few times too.

What about all of you? What words/phrases do you loathe to see in a book description? And what book have you read despite the back copy and loved?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bitterblue Holds the Keys to My Heart

Happy book birthday to Kristin Cashore's latest book, BITTERBLUE!

How gorgeous is this cover? I love how each key is so distinctive and made of a different medal. And while I noticed the eye in the ring immediately, it took me awhile to make out the face of the girl on the cover. And I love the font of the title.

I was lucky to snag an ARC of this book all the way back in February, and I have to admit, it took me awhile to put this on the top of my to-read pile.

Part of it was the length: at 545 pages, this book kind of requires it's own backpack to lug back and forth on the train. It didn't even fit into the extra pocket on my purse where I keep my currently-reading book.

But mostly, I was nervous. I'd gotten to know Cashore's work when GRACELING came out, and fell hard for her expertly crafted stories with FIRE. But what if I didn't love BITTERBLUE as much? It was a lot of pressure on a book. And it's so hard to find good heroine-adventure fantasies that aren't not ruined by a vampire or a werewolf and damsel-in-distress syndrome halfway through...what if my love wavered? You can't just replace one author with another, after all.

But all my worry was for naught, because as it turns out, I should've trusted Cashore in the first place. BITTERBLUE is amazing. Like made me cry and laugh and want to put it down to make it last longer but I couldn't pry it out of my own hands amazing. Made me say out loud, "THIS is what a good book is supposed to look like." Made me assault my ever-patient husband with blow-by-blow recaps over dinner.

So here are, in my opinion, 5 of the many things that make BITTERBLUE amazing:

1) World building! Man, Kristin Cashore can build a world like nobody's business. What I found most impressive about the world building in this book is that Bitterblue, being Queen, spends 90% of her time in the castle...and yet I never felt like we were just in the castle. Somehow I managed to see an entire city, and an entire land, through the windows of the castle. And the palace itself was creepy and maze-like and as much a puzzle as all the other mysteries in the book. Huge paintings of animals in strange bright colors (Fire reference FTW!), sculptures of people turning into animals and inanimate objects...Bitterblue spends the entire book continually discovering areas of the palace she didn't know existed, and learning not only how to rule her kingdom, but how to be in charge of her home.

2) Moments that you make you say "Oh no she didn't!" out loud. If you've read GRACELING, you have an idea of how creepy King Leck is. Well, his creepiness doesn't end there...his horrible legacy haunts Bitterblue and the people of her country and castle throughout the entire book. Bitterblue works to discover just what her father did and how she can help Monsea heal...and as she does, comes across truly horrifying information. Like, your mind jumps to conclusions but then you think, "Oh no, she can't possibly go ther--OMG SHE JUST WENT THERE." I had that reaction at least 10 times while reading this book. And while there are parts that are squicky and uncomfortable to read, I love love love that Cashore had the guts to not hold back. It makes the entire book so much stronger and haunting.

3) Ciphers! Who read the DaVinci Code? It's okay, don't be shy. I've read all of Dan Brown's books, mostly because I love reading about ancient mysterious puzzles that require a ridiculous amount of brain power to understand and solve. And this book is full of them! Bitterblue has a mind for ciphers--she writes to her friends and extended family in cipher, discovers more ciphers, tries to break made my brain hurt to read it, in the best way possible.

4) Old favorites! Not only was I excited to get back to Bitterblue's story since it left off at the end of GRACELING, I lovelovelove that I got to catch up Katsa, Po, Raffin, Bann, Giddon...especially Giddon. I have vague memories of disliking him in GRACELING, but I feel that can't be true, because I swooned more than once this time around. And for the rest of them...the cuteness. The witty interchanges. I almost couldn't handle the awesome. It was like watching a bunch of puppies wrestle each other.

5) Speaking of swooning...I think Cashore is the new master of the non-romance romance. She's managed to write three books with three completely different kinds of romance that feel real, and hard, and complicated, and swoony, and and and...sigh. I don't even have words.

So, in conclusion: GO BUY BITTERBLUE AND READ IT! Right now! What are you waiting for?!

(And don't get too jealous, but our favorite booksellers at Children's Book World may be hosting a Kristin Cashore signing this Thursday. I might already be thinking about camping outside their store. And maybe, just maybe, I'm also thinking about getting a copy for giveaway...)
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