Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Things I Want to Learn About in 2011

1. Voice. I struggle with voice, with separating my characters from me and from each other. I think I'll be able to work on that to make my manuscript sellable, now that I've got the plot working better, but it's something I'll need to know for future works as well.

2. Description. I've never been a fan of heavy description, which means that I don't write enough of it. My critique partners have said that my prose is good, but it takes a lot of work to get it to that point, so I'm going to work harder on it.

3. Dialogue. My dialogue can be good, but again it's one of those things I work a lot on. I go back and forth on it. When I was younger I was good at it, now I'm not as good again. I'm really learning how much of a balancing act writing is.

4. Networking. I have a presence on Twitter, but I'm going to my first writing conference in 2011, and I hope to meet more people who are doing what I do. For so long it was me in my room, and now I'm slowly becoming part of a community.

5. How to read without then self-depricating. The published authors i'm reading have all been writing longer than me. I have to learn from them, not be jealous of them.

6. People. I want to meet new people, see how they tick. For characters, sure, but also to expand my world. 2010 had a lot of that, but I want more. I want to get closer friends, and get closer to my friends, because they're indispensable to me.

7. Music. I love music. I could see myself writing reviews, or something, in the future, but I've been learning about in a kind of "need to know as I know" way. I need to make my own class on music history, or something, and get a better grounding in it.

8. Budgeting. Probably not the best thing to say when I'm planning an epic European tour, but hey, I do need to learn how to spend less money so I'll have it for that tour.

9. Being nice. I'm kind of snarky, and don't always know when it's appropriate to be so and when it's not. I need to think before I speak a little more, if only because that will allow me to be wittier anyway....

10. Keeping the happiness going. After the disaster that was the end of 2009, 2010 has been great. I'm hopeful, I'm writing, I'm in a program that will get me where I want to go if I work for it. I want to keep these feelings going and strong no matter what happens in 2011. Even if my plans fall through, the way they did in 2010. There are big things on the horizon.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

10 Awesome Videos from 2010

This was going to be ten lessons I learned in 2010, but I didn't feel like being that deep today. So. ten Youtube videos I discovered in 2010.


My friend Marla introduced me to this one. It's hilarious. Kind of makes you feel a little icky if you grew up on Sesame Street, but it's seriously funny.


Charlie is fabulous. I discovered him this summer, and love his videos. He's very real and funny. This video is really cute, but also went viral and helped Carlie gets the fame he has now.

This video was mentioned in Anthony John in The Five Flavors of Dumb, and I googled it early one morning. There's an irony added after Cobain's death, but I love watching them as a group of kids messing around on each others instruments, singing along to a song that's come down from a Belgian man in the 40s to 90s grunge.

I was there for this. Not only is it one of my favorite Amanda Palmer songs, but this version with Georgia from Bitter Ruin is absolutely gorgeous.

All right, a lot of people don't like this one. But if you ignore the fire-boobs, the video has a really great, necessary message.


This video was made by Steven Mitchell Wright based on the duet between Amanda Palmer and Tristan Allen. Tristan's story is one of my favorites of the year. Amanda found him hanging out on the street near Berklee, at the end of his summer program. He played for her at her apartment that night, it was webcast and eventually he released a record on her label. I saw the webcast here, and was there at the recording session thanks to Twitter. It's incredibly inspiring, and the video is magical.


I make no bones about being obsessed with Taylor, but I love this video especially. The sharp colors of the fantasy world contrasting with the black at the end for the girl about to face the reality of high school... I love it.

This one's kind of old, but it's a goodie. "Lookth at my face. Lookth at my face!" I never was a Donna fan, but David Tennant and Catherine Tate are too funny in this.


This embodies the things I love about Amanda Palmer. It was made in a day, on a beach. Using a uke she had only recently learned how to use. The message is all about being yourself, doing what you love.

I realize that this list has sort of a theme. Empowering youth, in a way. To go along with that, as a bonus, I give you my eleventh favorite video of the year. the music video for Pink's Raise Your Glass.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 Writing Things in 2010

 Top ten things I've learned about writing in 2010.

1. Craft books are not the devil.-- Maybe it's a tad weird that this is my number one, but it really is. I used to hate any books, or even blogs, aimed at writing advice. That has nothing to do with MY story, I would think as I flipped scathingly through.

And then... sometime around my third or fourth week of writing classes, it hit me. The book I was reading (Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell) could save the Book That Wouldn't Die and make it something that might actually be publishable. Since then, I've learned to look at craft books as they pertain to my manuscript. I'm not looking back.

2. Writing really is 99.9% revising. I've been reworking the same manuscript for months, and I know it won't be submittable for a long time. That's okay. I'm learning to write. I imagine the next one will go more smoothly, but I'll still be revising and revising. It really doesn't look much like what I started with. But eventually it will be all the better for it.

3. Read to learn. That's what my book musings are all about. I've spent my life reading books-- 1,515 of them according to GoodReads-- and yes I osmose so they've influenced me, but only recently have I started looking more closely at plot and character. I think it's helping.

4. Writing can take over everything. I started this blog at nine this morning. It's three. Granted, I had other things to do in that time, but also? I was writing. The important thing is to make sure you don't miss out on living to write. Don't skip that concert, the keyboard will keep. Plus, I've found that when I do things during a project my writer-brain is on and I never know where it's going to take me.

5. It's okay to abandon a manuscript. I felt guilty about constantly working on Current WIP, so I started a second draft of a different project. The magic wasn't there. It took me ages to realize that honestly I didn't like m main character. And why shouldn't I work on the WIP? I knew it wasn't finished. I gave myself permission to let it go, and maybe go back to it eventually.

6. Workshopping is not the devil. Really, it's not. I was terrified the first time I gave a chapter of my current WIP to my writing class. I really thought they'd say it was awful, horrible, terrible, no good very bad. They didn't, and they gave me criticism that really helped. Will I not be afraid next time they get a segment of it? Probably I will. But I'll be ready for what comes.

7.  The rules are there for a reason. I used to read about people whose writing vastly improved once they realized this, and laugh. My writing's fine. Those adverbs are TOTALLY necessary. Plot? Psh, this novel is all about memory and association. It doesn't need plot.


Me-a-year-ago, do yourself a favor. Go read the rulebooks. Please. They help, really they do. Really, no really, no really.

8. Writers are real people. Seeing YA authors like Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson and Maureen Johnson on the web gives me hope. They're goofy, and fun, and obsessed with things like Doctor Who and Grey's Anatomy the same way I am. Also some of them (Stephanie Perkins) have alternatively colored hair just like me!

9. I want to be a writer. It wasn't something I admitted for years, but now... I'm up for the rejection, perseverance and possible living-with-my-parents. I'll work, and fight, and work some more. One day I will be a published author, like I wanted to be at thirteen. That I am certain of.

10. I have so much more to learn.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 CDs of 2010

As with the books, these are CDs I've discovered in 2010, not necessarily ones released this year. Also not ordered in any specific way.

Speak Now

I'm a little predictable. If asked to guess what my favorite CD would be in January I probably would have said "Whatever Taylor's new CD is." But I have very specific reasons for loving this CD. The song "Never Grow Up" resonated with me immediately, since I'm balancing trying not to grow up faster than I'm ready, and "Long Live" went on repeat the night after the closing night of Cabaret. Since we're close in age, a lot of what she says I understand, even though our lives are so different. Judge me if you wish, but I love Taylor Swift.

 A Curious Thing

Sometimes when you really love an artist with one CD, you're almost afraid of their sophomore record. I was like that with Amy's second release, coming three years after 2007's This is the Life. That was the CD I toted (metaphorically) around Europe with me, that took me back to buses late at night across the UK and the bar at a hostel in Amsterdam.

A Curious Thing did not disappoint. Amy's deep Scottish voice burrowed into my soul again. Like the first CD, it's a lot about show-business, but also life and being a success. Knowing what that means for you. And if nothing else, her cover of Dancing in the Dark is worth the entire album.

Automatic for the People

I discovered R.E.M. in general this year. AftP is the CD that has "Nightswimming" on it, and that song started my R.E.M. obsession. I'd had the Best of R.E.M. on my iTunes for years, but it wasn't until Ingrid Michaelson did a version of the song at the House of Blues Boston:

That I discovered this song. It worked its way into my head, and my manuscript, and I immediately went to Newbury Comics to find more R.E.M. I love their lyrics, the melody of their voices and the fact that they're unabashedly sentimental at some points, rocking at others.

Yes, Virginia

This is a little bit cheating because it's not like I hadn't listened to this at all before this year. I never appreciated it. All my love for Amanda Palmer, but I barely gave the time of day to the band that started her. Big mistake. The songs are as intelligent, emotional and slightly bizarre. When I heard them live, songs spoke to me in a way they never had. The words were what I felt. Brian's drumming makes you appreciate the drums like nothing I've heard before. They're simply amazing


Need You Now

Months after the titular single went up the charts, the album is still there too. "Need You Now" is definitely not the only song worth singing here, and maybe not even the best one. I don't usually like country-- not the heavy kind-- but I love the simple lyrics and emotion in Lady Antebellum's music. The fiddle doesn't hurt either. (Note: Not to be confused with Lady GaGa, whom I also love).


Marry Me
Mentioned by Jennifer Donnelly in Revolution, St. Vincent has connections to both Amanda Palmer and Sufjan Stevens, whom she toured with. She's definitely not Christian Rock a la Sufjan. But she's not quite Amanda theatrical. I could see her crooning into the microphone in a cabaret in the forties. We all know I love a cabaret.

Many Great Companions

If you buy one record from my little list, make it this one. Everyone deserves to know Dar, and this retrospective is a great way to start. I've loved her stuff since I was thirteen, listen to it on repeat when I write, and still I come away with something new every time I hear a song. Her lyrics are intelligent, thought-provoking and fun. Her voice is gorgeous, and you can really see how she's evolved when you listen to this album. Also enjoy the voices of those who sing with her, the friends she's picked up along the way. 


A Fine Mess

"Me I'll just fill up on coffee/let the caffeine do the talking" Kate sings in a song about unrequited love. "If I were an English teacher/Maybe I could get you to dance with me". The lyrics and the tune are heartbreaking. But in another track she's swearing against the people who wronged her, a strong, rocking woman. I love both sides of her, and especially this album. I even enjoy her cover of Hallelujah, something that I won't do unless your name is Rufus Wainwright.


The Queen is Dead

Even after I saw (t500) Days of Summer, I wasn't one of those obsessed with The Smiths people. I liked them, sure, but I didn't care much about them. Then I discovered "Sing Me to Sleep" again through Jennifer Donnelly. After that, forget it. Love. Morrissey is an incredible songwriter. I hate that they split up for got, but at the same time, there's enough in three records to keep fans going a long time.


Raise Your Glass (Explicit Version)

Okay, okay, it's a single. But this song so embodies the way I've felt lately, as well as the things the world needs to know. It's okay to be different, it's okay to be "too school for cool". You can still rock out with the chick who's still a rock star. Watch the video. You'll get it. 

Marla Barks!

Top 10 CDs of 2010 is coming up, but first I give you this. A project my friend and I cooked up today.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Top 10 Books of 2010

Since this week is a week of limbo, I'm going to suspend my blogging schedule. A little bizarre as I just started it. I was going to make the Friday Five the 2010 Five and there are too many things I want to remember about 2010 to confine it to five things. Thus was born the week of top 10s of 2010. (note to self: if you continue next year with top elevens, you will regret it come 2015....)

This blog is about books, mostly, so we'll start there. These are books I read in 2010, not necessarily books that were published this year. Also, they're not in preference order.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

I LOVED this book. The protagonist, Andi, is a lot like the MC in my manuscript, so I liked her immediately. I adored her love of music, and her quips. The Parisian setting won over my Francophile side, and much of the music that will land on a list later this week I discovered or rediscovered through this book. It is the kind of thing I aspire to write. I brought it home with me over break just to keep its brilliance by me.

Anna and the French Kisss by Stephanie Perkins

Set in Paris, this is a love story between a very believable girl and a hobbit. Not really. But Etienne St-Clair is not your typical debonair Parisian lover, which makes it great. There are little things in this book that make it so wonderfully real. My full review is here, but I'll tell you this: if you haven't read this by the first quarter of 2011,you're missing out.


Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Sorting through GoodReads this week, I couldn't believe that I only read this book a year ago. I've listened to the audiobook three times. My favorite Christmas present this year was a key pendant that my Dad got me, unaware of its significance. I love Ruby, in all her surliness. The characters were the most memorable of any of Sarah Dessen's works, and the story was so unique. It's one of those book I rethink scenes from when I'm thinking, and gives me something to aspire to.


The Luxe Series by Anna Godbernsen

I devoured these books in the spring. After having read the Gossip Girls books, I admit that they are similar, but Luxe is so much more detailed. The characters are real, have intense motivations and I adore the setting. Also, they fit in so well with the world written about by Edith Wharton that they don't seem anachronistic at all. I'd give a lot to be a lady of leisure in 1899 New York, even with all of the drama. Except for a blip of weird motivation at the end of the book, this series was one of my favorite reads of the year.

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

It's an American children's classic from the nineteenth century, but I'd never read it. At The Strand, I found a copy on the dollar racks and grabbed it. I loved it, and would have loved it even more as a kid. Yes, as a children's lit scholar I can see all the historical mindsets we're not as appreciative of today. I don't like that once disabled, Katy is shunted to the upstairs of the house and all that symbolism. But the philosophy of finding courage and goodness in pain is one I could have used as a chronically ill child. The sequels sort of lost me, but the first book struck a chord.

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

This book had been on my shelf since some time in 2008. I wanted to read it, but it was too big to lug around school. So, when I was home sick for the summer reading every thing I could get my hands on, I finished it. LOVE. Part of my adoration comes from the 1899 setting (see a pattern), but the interconnectedness of people and plots is what truly got me. Donnelly's heroine is incredible (a trait I admire in her writing) and the book feels so real. The book spans my two favorite cities-- New York and London-- in one of my favorite time periods. It's a historical epic with heart. What's not to love? The sequel The Winter Rose is fabulous as well, and I eagerly anticipate The Wild Rose.


This book almost summarises my view on children's lit. Tatar uses Proust and Benjamin in her introduction, passages that I noted myself while reading their works over the summer. She examines the history of children's stories, and explores the ways in which literature influences both child and adult readers. It was by far the best children's lit text I read this year.

Jane by April Lindner

My full review of Jane is here. I know it's a controversial book, disliked by some fans of Jane Eyre, but I love it. I also love that Meg Cabot used it as her book club, and Lindner came onto the messageboards to answer questions about the book. Mine were literary, about the Epilogue and the absence of Jane's friend. She didn't shy away from them. And even without the element of Jane Eyre I think the book works stand-alone.

Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Philip Pullman

I'm late to the party on this one. It's been around since the 90s, but it doesn't feel like an older book. Partially it's the historical setting (1890s. Again), but even then you can usually tease out the time when it was written. Not in the Sally Lockheart books. They're great adventures with fun characters. The last one didn't win me over as much, but other than that I adored them.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I think I've had a copy of this since the movie was rereleased in the mid-90s but I never read it. During the Sick and Reading Summer I got it as an eBook. The thing that I loved most about it is how well you can trace Scarlett's decisions through her character. She really is a petulant seventeen-year-old in the beginning, as selfish as the day as long, and it's totally believable. I remember wanting her and Ashley to get together when I first saw the film, but obviously I was a silly eight-year-old. I love Rhett, and their failed marriage. It's probably the most fascinating relationship I've ever seen on the page.

That's my top 10 books of 2010. Lots of history, love stories and YA. Sounds about right!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Five

1. I think I'm appreciating things so much more this Christmas. I'm home with my incredibly loving family. My best friend is in the other room playing the piano. Little Brother is beyond excited about what Santa is bringing him. I know I'll get things I need, my mom is good at that. Things are looking up for the new year, and visions of stories are dancing in my head. It's an exciting time.

2. I've got a handle on things I want to do in the future, where I want to be. I may not know exactly how to get there, but I'll figure it out. Things look sweet, whatever the trail that gets me there. I imagine there will be hardships. You don't have years worth of student loans without them, but at least I'm not an unemployed attorney like the guy I read about in the Huffington Post. Someone always has it worse.

3. We're going to church tonight. I wasn't sure that I was going to go, because my legs are still recovering, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get shoes on for a few hours. Christmas Eve candlelight at my church is my favorite part of the day. It's an older church, with gorgeous stained glass, and singing Silent Night with the candles lit is magical. I would have regretted missing it. I hate regrets.

4. Exposing Marla to The Dresden Dolls at the moment, with "Delilah", but for you all I have this that she put up last night, featuring the gorgeous Cassandra Long

5. Okay, really, know what? Since when is it Christmas Eve? Where did the time go? I sat in front of the tree last night, on my own in the dark. It was the last time I'll be able to do that, with all the presents piled under. I love capturing those little moments in this season. I'm not ready to give them up. Maybe that's why we write, to keep grasping those little moments.

Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Those Who Get It

As a teenager, I had a very hard time coming to terms with my disability. It didn't help that I was getting infections every other week, or that keeping up with my peers became more difficult with every pain. Our intensive high school program drained me, I did theater which put me at school for twelve-hour days sometimes, and then homework... Plus disability stuff. Talking about it all with my friends was even harder, because, hello, I didn't want to admit to it.

In college it was easier to deal with, to do things at my own pace. I got more vocal about asking for help, or for people to wait for me. I didn't like it, but I was slowly learning to cope. There were times, though, when people made assumptions-- or didn't-- about my abilities and that always threw me for a loop.

Somehow along the way I gathered the people who got it. The ones who anticipate what I need help with, so I don't have to ask, but don't assume I can't do anything. Who don't bat an eyelash when I have to bandage this, or keep the weight off that. Who come hang out in my living room after I had surgery, or pick my cane up from the ground every time it clicks on the hardwood floor.

They're all over the place now, high school friends who moved, undergrad sorority sisters in Atlanta, former pen-pals in London. I'm so grateful for them, because as I said to my mom when I was last in New York with two of them, "It's easy."

One of Those Who Get It is staying with us for Christmas. Tonight we're having a Glee marathon with another.

Hey. Sixteen-year-old me. They do get it, and they're not going anywhere.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writing Wednesday

Since I'm recovering from surgery, I haven't been writing this week. I know that's a little silly, since what else do I have to do? But, I write curled up on my bed in the late hours, and that's hard to do with legs all wrapped up in bandages, focused on other things. I'm letting my WIPs sit until after the holidays,

Except, I can't. They're always in the back of my mind. Little things get noted down in my Evernote file, particularly because Christmas is so important to my characters. One scene, the final scene of the manuscript, was sparked by the Christmas Eve service at my church two years ago. I can't turn my writing brain off, no matter what I do. I love looking around and thinking of how this situation would relate to my characters.

Immediately after the surgery, I was having trouble sleeping. But this meant I spent a significant amount of time in the between wake-and-sleep world, where ideas dwell. I was starting to think maybe I was stuck in this novel that's been eating my brain for so long. That I wouldn't create anything else as workable. Then last week two ideas fleshed themselves out in my mind, in the early morning as I sat staring at the Christmas tree. Unexpected presents that I will slowly unwrap over time.

Even if you're not working during this holiday season, your mind is. The writing is happening, along with the wrapping, the cookie baking and the family visiting. Live, it's okay. While you live, your brain will work.

That's the crux of being a writer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Musings: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay

If I Stay has gotten some press recently, since the sequel Where She Went comes out in April. I've seen the book rec'ed a few places because of that. Also, I saw a book trailer that I now think I must have dreamed, because I can't find it anywhere, and it's not one of the two trailers on the book's website.

But that's neither here nor there. Book Musings are about learning about craft from the book, not me hallucinating book trailers. So: the book is a Lovely Bones-esque look at the day after Mia's family is killed in a car accident. She is unconscious, and also watching her body from outside, trying to decided whether or not to stay. Unique, definitely.

One of the reviews on Goodreads points out that Forman uses speech verbs such as "volleyed". I noticed that, in the beginning, but since I sometimes wonder if we do words a disservice by eliminating dialogue tags from our repertoires I disagree. Sparingly, maybe it is okay to remind us that these words exist somewhere other than the bowels of the OED.

Onward: I liked Mia, and was heartbroken for her. Her romance with Adam was sweet, and credible. Her family was caring, and one really got what she was losing with their deaths. But... well... to me the beginning of the story wasn't as jarring until after I had the backstory. After I understood her family, I cared about their deaths. And I started to care about Mia later in the book. I almost think the novel could have started further back, and dealt with the aftermath as well. I'm excited about the sequel for that reason. I want to see what Mia's life is like without her family, not just what it might be like.

I didn't feel as touched by the book as perhaps I should. It's short-- my library eBook was only 118 pages-- and I've read books sort of like it. The Lovely Bones and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevon spring to mind. The concept isn't what kept me going, it's the characters. The rock 'n' roll parents, Mia with her cello. I think it could have been a wonderful character driven story, but I also liked that these characters existed within a high concept plot.

The tense shifts interested me as well, and they were done well. I did think it could have been more fluid if ghost-Mia was drawn into the flashbacks somehow, for some reason or to learn some lesson. We're never quite sure why she gets to sit by her body like that, and I'd like to know. Perhaps it's a thread that was cut to make the book more streamline-unnecessary in my opinion.

A reviewer also commented that Forman didn't get the voices of teenagers, and I totally disagree there. Teens are all different, and I loved Mia's voice. I loved the way music was integrated with the story, and it gives me confidence for my own music-saturated WIP.

I learned the importance of fleshed-out secondary characters from this, and the ways in which a few rules of structure can be broken to fashion a very unique piece. I'd definitely recommend the book.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Fresh Start

Since I'm in a place where I'm planning on seeking publication, but not knee-deep in queries and rejections, I figured that it was a good time to start blogging seriously, and keep it up during the semester.

Semester. Yes, I'm a student. I'm pursuing my MA/MFA in Writing and Literature for Children at Simmons College in Boston, MA. There has been a lot of talk of MFAs in the writing blogosphere lately, particularly the NYC vs MFA article last month. They go on about MFAs not giving you practical ability to become published, and I saw a lot of that when I was applying for programs last year.

But my program is different. We take Writing I and Writing II our first year, and then the next year we have two mentorships, each to work on a different project, and each to produce works worthy of publication. In theory, if you're doing the dual-degree, you then have another semester to a year of academic classes-- cushioning in my opinion-- to give you the chance to get your legs under you. With luck, it'll work out for me. We'll see. But until then I'm writing, and blogging. What will this blog be?

-Book Reviews
-Writing musings
-Some things about me
-Book Reviews (specifically about books dealing with disabilities)
-Disability issues.

Should be fun!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Musings: Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss

You guys. I've had it on my too-read list for at least six months, since KT Literary is Stephanie Perkins's agent, and she talked about it over the summer. Then I started following Stephanie on Twitter, read her website and knew I would totally love her book.

I tracked it down in NYC, and read it yesterday. I was almost afraid to, because I have such a friends crush on the author, and what if I didn't like the book! But how could that be when it has such a pretty cover? And is about France! And has a British-American love interest.

Well obviously it couldn't. I LOVED the book. They talked about the "Jingle bells, Batman smells", song for the love of Mike. But this blog is about learning about craft from books. So I'mma try and do that.

The one issue I had at first was understanding that the romance was the plot of this book. I'm not used to that. Obviously, books have romance, but I had to internalize the fact that Anna's journey WAS her relationship with Etienne, and other things were side-plot, including her adjustment to her French boarding school.

I literally opened this book, read two pages, and decided to rewrite my WIP in the first person. Something about Anna's voice, the way we get into her head immediately, made me see that that would work best for my characters too. She's very different from them, but I think they'd get along, actually. Strong opinions, strong voice, and a disdain for Nicholas-Sparksesque people? My MC would LOVE that. Along with Anna's love of Paris, in the end. Right.... side track.

I truly felt for her when she left school for Christmas. That feeling of alienation when things have changed, your little brother has sort-of forgotten you, your family explodes....? I've been there. The whole period was very raw, and I liked the way Anna realized her love for Etienne through it.

The plot definitely kept me turning pages, and most of the characters had depth. There were people I would have lied to have seen fleshed-out, and obvious nod to the coming-up companion novel, but in general it was fabulous! The setting has been gushed about in blogs from here to everywhere, so I won't go into that. I will go into how real it all felt. It's dialogue driven, but in a good way.

Good, good, good, good.

I'm sure I learned more, but I can't concentrate on that. Too busy trying to figure out how best to get to Paris in the near future.

Book Musings: Going Bovine

My first Book Musing on a book I read for class. It's cheating a little, because I wasn't reading it for craft, but I was so aware with every page, and so desperate to share my thoughts that you guys are the lucky recipients.

In the book SPOILERS teenage Cameron is dying of Mad Cow Disease. In a hospital bed, he is also on a quest to save the world. Little elements from his life pre-MCD appear in his delusions, creating a powerful story about what it means to live.

I think that at any other time in my life I would not have liked this book. There are parts where it is in INCREDIBLY cracky, and it ends as a dream-- of sorts-- both things I hate. But maybe it's my current resolve to embrace my nerdiness, dude guys she invented a version of Star Wars to allude to. The social satire is so biting and well imagined. I'm a sucker for sense in the random, and the little details connect so well in this book. Cameron's fantasy world works with what we see of his real world.

Reviews on Goodreads say Cameron is unlikeable. That this is a case of making us empathise with a difficult character. It wasn't for me. I liked Cameron. Hell, I dated a Cameron for a hot second in 2005. I get the sarcastic, overlooked kid who doesn't like Don Quixote. His opinions are presented with every thought, but you can also see his vulnerability. In the beginning, when he comes over to speak to his sister's group of popular friends, there's a tiny bit of longing in the conversation, an attempt to belong that he hides even from himself. Who hasn't been there?

The fact that his fantasy is a fantasy didn't make me hate the book, because the reader can tell. Cameron's floating in and out of his hospital bed, and while he thinks that that is the dream, the reader can know otherwise. Then they can lie to themselves, as he's doing. You root for him, even though you know mad cow is fatal. With each page turn I hoped Libba Bray had found a cure that medical science hadn't to give this smart-ass kid a chance to live outside of his own head.

There are unanswered questions. Did any of Cameron's "living" have basis in fact? Did Gonzo even exist? If he did, was he aware that in some way he was Cam's best and last friend? No knowing. That should kill me. I hate loose ends, guys. But in Going Bovine there aren't answers. There's only an incentive to live, because it could be over for you at any turn, even if you're a kid living in the shadows.

Book Musing: Five Flavors of Dumb (disability)

For the first few chapters I though this book was going to be yet another one that spends too much time talking about the MC's disability. Not only is she Deaf, but her name is Piper, and her little sister Grace has just received a Cohclear implant which her parents paid for out of her college fund. The college of choice is Gallaudet, the all-Deaf college on the east coast. Essentially, it was let's play the how many-deaf-issues-we-can-put-in-one-book-game. She becomes the manager of a local band, in a way that is somewhat contrived, and her father doesn't understand her. I found the language to be unbelievable and overly-sophisticated.

It was not winning the "would this book be interesting if Piper was not disabled?" award. And then...

Somewhere about halfway through the book I fell in love with it. Piper became a real character instead of a mouthpiece. Her brother was endearing, her friends could have been fleshed out more, but I liked them. Sure the IM conversations between her and her friend who moved away were still needless rehashings of what has already happened, but otherwise the novel was very much improved. I loved her sweet romance with Ed, and her parents gradual understanding of her. Also she dyed her hair pink. What's not to love?

Definitely a good book. Initially disability-heavy, but after a while it holds its own

Book Musings: Jane

I loved this book. Loved it more than any book since Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. I devoured it and was sad when it was over. But why?

Well, it is a revision of Jane Eyre, which I adore, and it does a better job with the portion of Jane Eyre I hate (her time after leaving Rochester) but there was something more to it.

The characters are incredibly compelling. Jane makes sense. Her reasons for staying in the shadows and for falling so quickly in love with Rothburn make sense-- a child who had so little attention would be thrilled by it when she got it. Maddy, the book's version of Adele, is a cute, realistic child. The secondary characters are pretty well painted.

Also the world of the rock star is well-conveyed. Of course, having read Jane Eyre, when Jane is pulled into it I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still, I thought it was wonderfully well done. I liked that Jane stayed true to character, and was very focused on keeping the family together after she married Rothburn. This is why I was a tad disappointed in the ending. I understood while the epilogue feeling of Jane Eyre's ending was cut, but I would have liked to see Maddy again.

Do you need to have read Jane Eyre to appreciate this book? The voice is much closer to that book than to your typical YA-- and so well painted. I would have loved it before I read Jane Eyre and there must be teenagers like me out there. In a literary theory POV, you miss a layer having not read it. Still, I'd recommend the book either way.

Book Musings: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

All I can think about when I hear this author's name is RENT. The fact that there is a (deceased) character in the book who is an artist living in New York does not help. At all.

Anyway. This is a pretty good book. The main character is sent on a quest by her late aunt to follow a series of instructions in envelopes around Europe. The idea is unique, and her adventures seemed real to me, a traveler. But the main character, Ginny, was not a character who could stand on her own. She was incredibly passive, and her voice in her (useless) letters to her best friend felt incredibly faked.

She's also a very whiny traveller, and I don't think she saw the beauty at all which infuriated me. Yes, cities begin to look a like after a while. But they're also beautifully different. This book wouldn't encourage anyone to travel, and that makes me sad. Not to mention there are a few (but applaudably not many) stereotypes: such as the lusty Italian.

Most of the secondary characters were well drawn.

What could have made it better? I think first-person. The third person was unnecessary since the book is told only through Ginny's point-of-view. Getting more into her head. Also giving her another motivation, except for following the aunt and A Boy. She has no personality, no interests. We need more about her. Plot AND character.

Book Musings: The Nature of Jade

The back of this book asserts that it will appeal to fans o
f Sarah Dessen and I can't argue with that. There are many similar qualities to the book. Well-rounded protagonist, love interest, unique situations, dealing with family issues. However, I don't feel that the author is as adept as Sarah Dessen.

My problem with the book lies in one sentence: show don't tell. It's the bane of every writer's existence, and I understand being a little verbose, but it got to the point in the first hundred pages where I longed for the author to SHOW me something. Someone on Goodreads argued that in actuality the first hundred pages could be cut and woven in elsewhere, and I think I agree.

Also, there's a number of characters that serve no point. Jade's friends exist to just be Jade's friends, with little point in the narrative. They could have been consolidated to make a few really great secondary characters. Additionally, the author uses what I am coming to see as a trope in YA literature. Jade has a psychologist to whom she tells things, just as Valerie did in The Hate List. Except, with Jade it's unnecessary for the plot, because she tells the reader everything (and I mean everything) anyway. I think there are too many agendas that the author is pushing, too much that Jade observes about people said outright.

I did like the character of her little brother, and found their relationship pretty believable. The story and subplots were all pretty unique, and the ending was mostly satisfying-- if a little drawn out. I do feel that the thread of Jade's panic disorder could have made it much more interesting. Jade just telling Sebastian (the boy) about it could have been done so much better if he'd encountered her having an attack, or something. Up the stakes, as
[info]annastan tells us.

Book Musings: The Carbon Diaries

I once picked this book up and read the first twenty-odd pages at the Barnes and Noble at home. I didn't buy it then, but when I saw it on display at the Harvard Co-Op last week when I was spending all my money on books I took a second look.

The main character Laura-- whose name I just had to look up and I finished this yesterday-- lives in London (well just outside) in 2015 when the world is destroying itself and Carbon is on rationing. She's supposedly a hard-core girl, in a punk band, just trying to get by.

I couldn't connect connect with her at all. She was very much a character "trying to be a teenager" in a cautionary tale. She's whiny, and I think we're not in her head enough, even though it's a diary. She rarely feels, making it hard to understand her. The world felt too far from ours to exist only five years (six at time of publication) hence. Her romance at the end felt too sudden, too "oops, need to give her a new boy" but what I think killed it for me the most was how absolutely absurd her parents were.

There are negligent parents all over YA. In a story dealing with the damage wrought on the present by past generations, yes there will be a little bashing of that generation. But her parents-- all the adults-- were so outlandish that I had trouble accepting the rest of the world because of them. They raised pigs, joined cults, drove fruit wagons. They were completely oblivious to both of their daughters until the very end of the novel and had pointless traits-- the mom was from New York but only to give Laura cousin there who she could write too and see how much better off they had it and explain Briticisms.

The ephemera in the novel is also printed with incredibly small text, and made the read less complete for me because I couldn't make it out. It was about two hundred pages too long too, a danger of diary books.

The idea is good, but the follow through? Not so much.