Monthly Archives: September 2013

THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass

HarperTeen, 2012

Sometimes when I read a good book it makes me doubt myself as a writer. I listen to the eloquence of the words and I think I can’t do this. My writing will never compare.

 And then sometimes I find a book that sounds like a story I would tell in a way that I would tell it. It inspires me. I’m reminded why I love writing.

 The Selection CoverKiera Cass’ book The Selection is one of these latter books. She wasn’t a children’s literature major college and doesn’t have a degree in creative writing. She studied history, but she always felt like a storyteller and I can definitely relate to this. I have always had a desire to share stories. That’s what led me to writing.

I’d describe The Selection as a cross between Cinderella and The Hunger Games. It’s a rags to riches story, set in the dystopic country of Illea built up from the ruins of the United States. America Singer is a sixteen year old musician living in the caste separated country. Here, those in the lowest castes are kept oppressed without the hope of a better life.

 In her everyday life, America is in love with a boy named Aspen in a caste below her. Their hope for a happy ending together is thwarted when she has to go to compete in a semi-reality show with thirty-four other girls. They are all to be considered for marriage with the country’s future King, Prince Maxon.

 The story tells of America’s struggle with her love for her ex-boyfriend Aspen and the feelings she’s developing for the prince.

 I didn’t find the story to have a lot of surprises, but I loved the everyday voice of America as she tells her tale. You root for her and, like her, you’re torn between who she should choose in the love triangle.

 This book is a part of a series. The final book is called The Elite, plus Keira Cass has written an e-book novella that takes a closer look at Prince Maxon before he became involved in America’s life. This novella’s title is The Prince. You can read more about these and other works by Keira Cass at her website: http://www.kieracass.com/books/

 I hope you’ll enjoy America’s story as much as I did.

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A Yell Tale

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Not to long ago I was in a courtroom and the judge scolded me. I wasn’t there because I was in trouble. I was there to give her a statement; my two cents worth of information. When she didn’t like what I had to say, she interrupted me and yelled. It wasn’t the typical loud, in your face sort of yell. It was a restrained raised voice of someone who decided they knew better. Her yell implied, “I think you’re stupid.”

You could argue that it’s possible she did know better. Maybe I was wrong. I might even be stupid. None of that’s my point. The point is that because it was in her court room I had to take it.

Through her rant I tried to keep cool and continued to call her “Your Honor.” But my confidence fell like a stone. All I wanted to do was get out of there. When she let me speak again I wasn’t even sure what my two cents were anymore.

That night I looked at how this experience affected me. I suggested above that I was rattled. A damper was put on any intelligent thought I could produce. But that’s not the end of it. Understand that this berating happened at 8:30 in the morning (I suppose it was early for the judge too). It ruined my whole day. I also noticed that afterwards I felt lethargic…like, there was no lightness to my movements. A rock was positioned where my heart should be. All day long I replayed what happened and tried to figure out how I could have handled it differently.

 I’m not saying this is the only time I’ve ever had someone yell at me. Of course not. My husband and I get into disagreements at least once a week. That’s different. We’re supposed to be equals in our relationship. If he raises his voice, I raise mine right back. That’s not what happened here.

 The good news is that my writing is full of everyday experiences. What I do, see or feel often finds a way into one of my stories. It’s not only cathartic for me…it also adds reality to what I’m trying to convey.

 In applying these feelings, I know how easy it would be to use. An authority figure will yell at my character and undermine her confidence. She just has to hear them out. No arguing…even though she knows she’s in the right. Numbness follows from her inability to fight back. How she works through it could (hopefully) be great for a storyline.

 But then I put my own daughter in the place of that character. That’s not as easy to think about. Perhaps in her eyes I’m her judge. When I interrupt her, she has to take it. Of course she doesn’t call me “Your Honor”, but still…it makes me wonder. When I get loud for whatever stupid reason I think I have, does it affect her the same way it affected me? I have to assume it does. If not in the same way, maybe it’s harder for her because she’s still becoming who she’s going to be. My self-esteem should be tougher than hers.

 I like to think I’m in touch with my younger self, but maybe I forget the influence someone in power can have. How that quick cut from above can leave us feeling less than we thought; a bit broken. It’s because of that broken bit that I wanted to write about this subject.

 Normally I would just suffer in silence (well…maybe not silence because I’m rarely silent, but I certainly wouldn’t have put it in a blog). Not this time. This time I want to point out that we can do better. We all slip-up even when we have the best intentions. Sometimes in our mistakes we take others down with us. For me, when the haze after a blow-up clears I try to minimize the damage I’ve done. I apologize for any hurt feelings and try to explain why I got upset. So far, I’ve always been forgiven. I just hope that with that forgiveness the other person feels less broken.

 That’s my two cents on yelling. Please don’t yell at me for it.

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BIRTHMARKED by Caragh M. O’Brien

BirthmarkedRoaring Books Press, 2010

I was immediately swept up in this story.  At the opening, the teenage protagonist Gaia is assisting in an overnight birth by herself. The description of that is harrowing enough, but the worst part comes after the delivery. Gaia feels duty bound to take the baby from its resistant mother. As she walks through the dark with the baby in her arms, the mother follows behind as best she can begging for her child.

Birthmarked is the story of Gaia, the apprentice to her midwife mother. It is set far in the future when water is in short supply and babies are given to the wealthy of the Enclave to meet a monthly quota. Gaia and her parents live in poverty just outside of a high wall where within, there are riches and pleasures that those struggling in its shadow can only dream about. Her whole life she envied the children who were lucky enough to be chosen to live within the Enclave.

After her parents are arrested and taken deep within the walled city, Gaia is forced to take up the role as midwife. It’s then she begins doubting her loyalty to those on the inside. Gaia becomes determined to defy the Enclave and rescue her parents whatever the risk.

This book is a quick read full of action. There’s a predictable love interest, but I found it enjoyable. Just enough give and take on both sides to keep me interested. Caragh M. O’Brien also does a good job with description without droning on and on. Afterwards I was interested to know what else happens to the characters, though I didn’t find the ending wanting.

Luckily, Birthmarked is the first of a three-part series following Gaia’s life. The next two installments are called Prized and Promised. You can read more about these books at Caragh M. O’Brien’s website: http://www.caraghobrien.com/

She’s even written a couple of short stories that fill in the gaps between the three books, plus they’re told from the point of view of Gaia’s love interest. Read them for FREE at: http://www.caraghobrien.com/book/birthmarked/ (scroll to the bottom of the page – titled Tortured and Ruled.) Once you’ve read the first book, I’m sure you’ll want to know what else happens to Gaia and the other characters in the story.

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Is It Fummer Or Sall?

FummerIt’s one of those in between sort of days here in the northeast. You know the kind…when the day changes from cold to hot and back to cold again. It seems like the world can’t make up its mind about whether it wants it to stay summer or drift into fall.

I find these the hardest sort of days to drag myself out of bed. There’s no air conditioner blowing, but still the bedroom is nice and cool. The sheet I used as a cover while it was hot has been paired with a light blanket. They work together to wrap themselves tight around me and nuzzle my neck. The word cozy was invented for this feeling.

When I head out the door to start my day I have to zip up my hoodie against the shock of the cool air. If I’m not driving I keep my hands in my pockets until the sun shining through the windows warms the inside of the car. By the time I reach work the air outside is no longer chilly.

At lunch I have to open the office windows to keep from melting. Then it gets so hot I wish I’d worn my shorts and sandals. How can I be stuck inside on such a beautiful day? It’s a miracle. Summer isn’t dead.

As the sun drops in the sky over the course of the day so does the temperature. That’s when it’s easy to remember that summer is only holding on by its fingertips. We’ll only have a few more days like this before fall settles in for good.

Part of me welcomes the change but mostly I’m sorry for how little I enjoyed the fine weather. There were lakes I meant to swim and boats I meant to row. I wished-for more vegan cookouts, homemade popsicles and grass to tickle my bare feet. Not enough of that happened. Plus… how could I forget to mention corn on the cob. I wanted more garden fresh corn on the cob…and tomatoes.

I guess I’ll have to settle for the crunch of colorful leaves and turtleneck sweaters. They’re good, but they can’t replace freshly picked corn on the cob.  I just have to think, it’s only nine more months until summer’s here again. Then I’ll make sure to go barefoot more often.

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WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion

From Atria Books, 2011

WARM-BODIES-coverWhen it came time to write my first recommendation for the blog I immediately thought of Warm Bodies. I read the book back in January and fell in love with the characters. Yes, I fell in love with a zombie. The thing is, there’s a question about whether this book qualifies as YA fiction. Of the two main characters, Julie is definitely a teenager. She’s nineteen and lives with her father. It’s harder to say about the protagonist R. He doesn’t even remember his own name – just that it likely begins with an R. There’s no way he can tell us how old he was before he died. Since this story is a futuristic retelling of Romeo and Juliette one of the original teenage romances, I’m leaning towards calling it YA. Talk about your star-crossed lovers.

The book’s been out for a while. It was even Indie published back in 2009. My first experience with this title though was on a coming attraction at the movie theater last fall. I was captivated by the idea that a zombie could possibly feel remorse for doing what zombies do…eat brains. Plus, it looked hilarious and I had to find out more. When I Googled the author I found his website (www.isaacmarion.com) telling about how this started out as a short story that was rewritten into a novel around the same time the movie rights were purchased. This drew me in even further. For those of you who haven’t read the book or haven’t seen the movie and its trailers (same name, released February 2013), let me explain the premise: The future world is in ruin and a plague has descended. Anyone who dies becomes a zombie unless their brain is removed. R is a zombie who ‘lives’ at an abandoned airport with a bunch of other zombies and some skeletons known as ‘boneys.’ Every now and then a group of zombies takes a walk down the deserted interstate to the city for dinner. Their preference is to eat the human brain because it gives them a feeling of humanity. The effect is that this will temporarily cause them to experience the victim’s memories. A sort of ‘mortal high’ (I’m so glad Isaac Marion cleared that up. I always wondered why zombies went for the brain).

On one of these outings, R is eating a guy’s brain and he feels how much the guy loved this one girl named Julie. When R looks up, Julie’s there in the room. R is compelled to save her, takes her to the old airplane he calls home and then everything starts changing…for the better. Let me say that I am not one to enjoy blood and gore, but this author handled that in a way that made it not so disgusting to read. You don’t blame R for what he is. We know he can’t help it and we feel for him.  

The story is a quick read, but I found it very poignant. When I reached the end of the book I kept it on my bedside table for a long time. These characters set up house in my head and I wasn’t ready to let them go. It took the library due date to make me turn them over. Luckily I read on Isaac Marion’s website that he is writing a sequel. I can’t wait. He already has a prequel out (see his website above).

Read the book…even if you saw the movie. You’ll be glad you discovered the wit and charm of Issac Marion’s writing.

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First Day of School…I Mean Blog

pencilsI’ve thought of this time of year as special since I was a kid. It meant getting new clothes, new notebooks, new pencils and new schedules. It also meant going to bed nervous and forcing myself to wake up while my summer rhythm told me to keep hitting snooze.

In my adult addled brain I like to remember that this time of year held a lot of possibilities. Everything was new again. Anything was possible. I could be anyone I wanted. My page was erased and I could put anything I wanted on it.

The truth is that after a few weeks with the new teachers, things would settle down into a familiar routine. Everything was as it always was. My notebooks were covered in drawings, my jeans were faded and half of my pencils were either missing or broken. I went back to being who I really am, not some made up ideal version of myself.

With this new blog I feel sort of like I used to on the first day in a new grade. I’m a transfer student starting at a brand new school. There’s excitement and anxiety at the same time. I have so much potential. It’s time to show my best self. Be exactly who I hope I can be.

But I’m not so naive anymore. I know I’m not going to be perfect at this. All I can really promise is that I’m always going to be who I really am. I’ll be the me who is ME.

I’m hoping you’ll join me. It would be nice to have someone to sit with in the cafeteria.

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