Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blogging Guilt

Lately I feel like I'm only good at doing one thing at a time when it comes to my bookish interests. I can either comment on blogs, or write up my own posts, or get caught up in a book, or work on stuff for my writing group. But I can't seem to do enough of any of those lately.

I want to post more, and review more, and comment more, and read all these books I have checked out from the library, and revise my NaNo WIP.

But I don't know how to do all that. And the worst part is, I feel super guilty about it.

I know, I know, that's bad. I started all of this for fun. And it's still fun. I just feel like I have a lot more responsibility with it. It's not *just* fun anymore.

So, my bloggy friends, I ask: how do you keep balance? Do you devote certain days specifically to commenting/posting/whatever? Or do you post/comment/whatever whenever you can?

Do you ever feel guilty about your (lack of) attention to you blog? How do you handle it?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cover Reveal: Elevated by Elana Johnson

I'm so excited to be part of the cover reveal for Elana Johnson's new YA Contemporary, Elevated. You know I love Elana's Possession series, and I'll be posting my review for Elevated on February 18.
You won't want to miss it.

Just look at this cover:

If I were shorter those shoes would be mine
The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator—let alone get stuck with—is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she's been avoiding for five months.

Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn’t told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday.

But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly’s worried she won’t be able to contain her secrets for long. She’s terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can’t bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.

Praise for ELEVATED:
"ELEVATED will take you on an emotionally gripping journey through the highs and lows of first love."
~Carolee Dean, author of Take Me There and Forget Me Not

"Poignant, raw, and intense, ELEVATED is a novel that will grip your heart and linger in your mind long after you turn the last page."
~Stasia Ward Kehoe, author of Audition and The Sound of Letting Go

Buy Links:

About Elana Johnson: 
Elana Johnson’s work, including Possession, Surrender, Abandon, and Regret, published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), is available now everywhere books are sold. Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for download, as well as a Possession short story, Resist. School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog or Twitter. She also co-founded the Query Tracker blog, and contributes to the League of Extraordinary Writers.

Find Elana Online:

Oh yeah, a giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NetGalley Review: Defy

by Sara B Larson

The Short Story
After Alexa's parents are killed, her twin brother helps disguise her as a boy so that she can avoid being sent to the breeding house. Together they can join the king's army. Three years later, she's become the best fighter in the prince's personal guard. And then her brother is killed. Alexa tries to keep her secret hidden on her own, but she can't do it forever. And soon she finds she's not the only one with something to hide.
A really spectacular third act can't make up for all the problems with the rest of the book.

 I'm not a huge high fantasy fan. But after how much I adored The Girl of Fire and Thorns series, I wanted to give this one a chance. It has a girl dressed as a boy! Like Disney's Mulan or Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan (both of which I loved). And it's by a local author. It seemed like the perfect combination.

But this was not the book for me. I can't overlook the world building issues. When Alexa's parents die, she has to hide the fact that she's a girl so she won't go to the breeding house. But there is no logical reason for anyone to go to the breeding house, even if they are orphans. Wouldn't neighbors or family take orphaned kids in? And there's no reason for the king's soldiers (who are apparently also orphans) to rape the girls in the breeding house. Wouldn't they all kind of know each other, or have sisters or friends there? If the king needs more soldiers, why not just have a draft, instead of raping orphan girls in the hopes of growing an army? And would they really take care of girls who were too young to get pregnant? What happens to the ladies when they're too old? Or reach adulthood? The whole business is completely illogical. It made it really hard to get through the first third of the book.

The second act focuses on a love triangle, where you immediately find out that Alexa's gender is the worst kept secret ever. It's such a lost opportunity, especially compared to Mulan or Leviathan, where the story has fun with with the fact that the audience knows the character is a girl, and no one else does. I was left wondering why having Alexa pretend to be a boy was part of the plot because it becomes such a non-issue so early on. Instead the story gets a bit dramatic, with two different suitors suddenly trying to win Alexa over. It felt like a very different story from the first part, and I was confused about where it all was going.

I wish the entire book had been like the last 100 pages, though. That could have easily been a 4 or 4.5 star book. There's a great sense of purpose (and plot). I became invested in the story. I felt like I knew where it was going, and it was going to a very interesting place. Seriously, that was where the story was. And it was riveting. It's just a shame the rest of the book doesn't measure up to the strong ending.

The Big Three:
Language: one or two swear words
Sex and Stuff: discussion of the breeding house, where orphan girls are raped
Violence: a fair amount of fighting with weapons and magic, characters are injured and killed, but nothing is gory or graphic

Just So You Know:
I received a free review copy from Scholastic via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Defy is now available.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Famous First Words

Last month Suey and I went to a writing critique group, and one of the biggest things we heard was that a story need conflict.

Conflict, conflict, conflict. 

image source

In the first chapter, in the first pages, in the first sentence. But I was doubtful. So I've been looking at first chapters and first sentences ever since. And I wanted to share some from a few of my favorite books:

A secret is a strange thing.
-The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.
-Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom.
-The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.
-Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

There was a boy in her room.
-Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

First the colors.
-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod "the Death Shop."
-Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

If I'm being totally honest, some of those first lines are way better than others. 

And, I think the difference might be conflict. Or, at least the sense that you are in the middle of something that is interesting. If your dad is dying, or there are strange secrets going on, I want to know more. Not all these first lines make me want to know more. But, at the same time, these are all books I really enjoyed by the last page.

So I'm curious, what hooks you when you start a new book? How soon do you need conflict in your story?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Roomies Giveaway!

Yesterday I told you all about why I loved Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando. Today's your chance to enter to win a copy!

**As long as you have a US mailing address and are at least 13 years old. And have your parents' permission if you're under 18!**

Thanks to the lovely people at NOVL (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) I have a copy of Roomies to give away.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Even if you don't win, you still have a chance to see Sara & Tara on tour. Especially if you live in Utah. We have two tour dates! You know I'll be there at the Provo Library next week. Who's with me?
  • January 12, 2014 – New York, NY: McNally Jackson [venue link]
  • January 15, 2014 – Salt Lake City, UT: The King's English [venue link]
  • January 16, 2014 – Provo, UT: Provo Library [venue link]
  • February 4, 2014 – San Francisco, CA: Books Inc, Opera Plaza [venue link
  • February 5, 2015 – Petaluma, CA: Copperfield's Books [venue link]
And now, for a roomie story of my own!

Roomies really made me reflect on all the different roommates I had in college. (There were fifty. I know.)

Seriously, you guys. 50 roommates.

I've thought a lot about which ones to write about. There was the girl who slept with her eyes open. And the girl who told our other roommates I had an eating disorder because I used to hang out in the bathroom and read. (it was the only private place in the whole place). There were the girls who actually did have eating disorders, and one apartment where we could never keep enough toilet paper in stock.

There was the girl who was dating one guy and then eloped with a different one, and came back to the apartment and eventually said "I should probably break up with my boyfriend." I wasn't there when she explained to the first guy that she'd have to stop seeing him because she had gotten married earlier in the day.

There was the roommate who used to listen to this Josh Groban CD every night & I loved falling asleep to that music. And the same roommate who drove me to the airport all hopped up on cold medicine because my original ride forgot about me. And another roommate who I woke up at the crack of early because I needed help with something, and she didn't ask any questions. She just got up and got dressed and hopped in my car. Everyone needs roommates like those two.

Or the other college friend who was never technically my roommate, who flew two time zones to come out to my wedding. And the morning of she pumped my gas because in her words "You can't pump your own gas on your wedding day!" (Protip: Fill your tank the day before)

And then there were my freshman roommates. Although these two were never my room-roommates, either.

I'm in the middle
But we hung out all the time. (Confession: I had two freshman room-roommates. One of whom I can't even remember her last name). But I remember these guys' last names. We braved American Heritage together. We ate greasy grilled cheese sandwiches in the Cougar Cove and drank IBC root beer from the bottle. We watched old movies in The Varsity Theater and stayed up all night and went to bed after the cafeteria opened and we'd had breakfast. I was there when the blond met her husband. I was there when the redhead started dating her husband. (These were both during our freshman year).

We did everything together, until we didn't. There was never any sort of falling out. We pretty much always got along. We were just brought together by life and circumstance and housing assignment, and it was awesome. I could not have asked for better freshman friends. And then we all kind of drifted into our individual lives. One finished college in three years, I ended up going for two degrees in six years, and the other is hoping to finish her degree some day. I spent every day with these same two people for a year. And now I mostly keep up with them on Facebook.

I think that's one of the great/weird/unique things about college roommates. Even if you don't end up having a shared present, you'll always have your shared past. And that's not a bad thing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Read This: Roomies

by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

The Short Story
EB and Lauren are going to be roommates this fall for their freshman year of college. But first they have to say goodbye to high school friends, family dynamics, and maybe new loves. They start out emailing and quickly find that they may understand each other better than anyone else. Maybe? Transitions and realism and the excitement of new and the fear of leaving familiar behind.
I loved so much about this story.

Come for the....
honesty. This book was such an accurate portrayal of life and relationships and transition that I kept having to stop myself and nod, or reminisce on something from my life that felt exactly like what happened in the story. When I read Sweethearts, I felt like Sara Zarr was writing about my life. And she did it again (with Tara Altebrando! I need to read some of her stuff too). The whole time I read I kept thinking about my freshman roommates -- more on them in another post. But I thought the book did an excellent job of showing exactly what it's like when you can feel yourself moving apart from friends you were close to, and at the same time moving toward new people because of similar circumstances. There's so much uncertainty about what will happen with people you've known and loved, and at the same time all this excitement to start something new.

But the book is true to life in more than just relationships. I completely enjoyed EB's frustration with how Lauren viewed her parents'... unwise decisions. The whole "no one can criticize my crazy family but me" feeling was so true! And the fear of sharing things about your family with new people, who don't know them but still judge them, is spot on, too. One last thing I also loved was the way interracial dating was handled in the story. Because race so often is something we notice, but are we supposed to? And how do you even discuss it? Take this excerpt after Lauren brings her boyfriend to meet her parents:

  Don't Think About This Too Hard
  • A couple little things about the plot occasionally felt convenient, or a bit over the top, but it was easy for me to look past because I was so invested in the characters.

The Big Three:
Language: occasional profanity, included a couple instances of the f-word
Sex and Stuff: discussing sex, but nothing graphic or descriptive
Violence: not an issue
Sound like a book you'd like to read? Come back on Friday for a chance to win your own copy of Roomies!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: 2014 Blogging Goals

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is 2014 Blogging Goals. Play along at The Broke & The Bookish.

For my blog:

1. Get more book reviews up on the blog. I'm trying for 3 full reviews a month.
I don't know why this has been so hard for me lately. I usually read a lot more than 3 books a month...

2. Finish my challenges this year. 
I'm hoping to read a book for the Diversity challenge every month. I'm really excited for these!

3. Do more to read and promote local authors and their books, not just during Utah Book Month.
There are so many local author people, and I'm hoping to get to know more as I try this whole writing business, too.

4. Accept more author guest posts/interviews/etc type posts
I know I'm a tough reviewer, so it's pretty rare that I accept someone's review request. But some of the books still sound cool, or like they'd appeal to some of the people I know read my blog.

5. To go with that, update my review policy
And my book reviews list, and other little things on the blog.

For myself:

6. Revise/rewrite/do something with the story I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November.
I need to get on this quick, because I already feel my resolve waning.

7. Waste less time online.
Sometimes an hour (or more) :( can disappear without me having accomplished anything.

8. Keep going to book club and author signings and other things with my bookish friends.
We moved last summer and I still feel like I'm having a hard time making friends in my neighborhood. So I want to make sure I keep up with all the great blogging friends I've made.

9. Get my kids out of the house more.
All this snow and cold has made us boring. My oldest is starting ice skating lessons soon, so that should help.

10. Eat more vegetables. 
I really like them. I've been in a peas/carrots/salad rut, so I'm hoping to try some new ones this year.

What are some things you hope to accomplish in 2014?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 Reading Challenges

I'm going to try something new for 2014 and participate in a reading challenge! It's called:

My Little Pocketbooks

Diversity on the Shelf hosted by My Little Pocketbooks
My goal is Second Shelf, to read 7-12 books by or about a person of color.
I could really use this, since last year I read 2 books by authors of color. And only 1 book where the main character was explicitly a person of color.(The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan)
Actually, 4 books with main characters of color. Thank you, Girl of Fire and Thorns series. 
Also, Park from Eleanor & Park. So 5.

I'm also shooting for a goal of 65 books read this year. So if 12 of them fit the diversity challenge, that'll be 18.5% of my total reads. Unlike 2013's 10%

What reading challenges are you doing this year? What are some of your favorite books by or about people of color?

Friday, January 3, 2014

December Reading Recap

I read a bunch of fun books in December! I just ran out of time for reviewing them.

Thin Space by Jody Casella
This made my favorites of 2013 list for good reason. There's loss and heartache and mystery and I couldn't put it down.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
An interesting contemporary that weaves different stories together in unexpected ways. I liked it.

Winger by Andrew Smith
It's intense and sweet (and occasionally vulgar) and heartbreaking. This stuck with me for days.

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Unfortunately this did not live up to the hype for me. I didn't connect with the characters, I didn't like the plot, I was let down by the ending.

Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook
Modern-day Bonnie and Clyde retelling was just sad.

Legend by Marie Lu
Reminded me of Blood Red Road crossed with the Matched series. The characters were fun and the plot was intense.

I also reread Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Because I love those books.

Favorites for the month were Thin Space and Legend.
Have you read any of these? What did you think?