Tag Archives: YA

Book Recommendation: Anna and the French Kiss

30 Dec

For the past month, all I’ve been hearing about is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, so when I found myself at Barnes & Noble with some Christmas money to blow, I knew which book I’d be taking home. Our very own Mandy Hubbard had mentioned how much she enjoyed it, along with just about every YA reader out there. Trusting their expert opinions, I happily grabbed my copy off the shelf, marched to the checkout line, and promptly forgot to read it over the Christmas holiday. Luckily, I had a flight that would require some entertainment, and wound up reading the entire book in one sitting yesterday.

YOU GUYS. If you don’t already own a copy of this book, go out today and buy it. Check it out from your local library. I don’t care how you get a hold of it, just do it. You won’t regret it.

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?

First of all, be prepared to laugh. No one warned me, so I’m telling you now. This book is hilarious. Anna is full of observations and commentary about her life and the people in it, and nearly all of them brought a smile to my face. Some of the conversations she has, and the things she does to avoid embarrassing herself, are just adorable. Stuck in a new city, in a new country where she can’t speak French, she’s constantly taking note of the way people act and speak. At one point she even writes out, phonetically, how to order a movie ticket. Little things like that are what really make this book shine. Not to mention that fact that it just makes you feel good. By the time you turn the last page, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible not to.

Anna and St. Clair really make the story. Anna’s voice is fantastic, sarcastic, funny, charming, and exactly how your best friend sounds. You feel like you’ve known her your entire life. St. Clair is that guy you fantasize about, that you wish weren’t fictional. He has flaws, makes mistakes, but you can’t help but fall in love with him along with Anna, and every other girl who attends SOAP. Their friends are all people you can recognize from your own life, and like just about everyone on the planet, they have to deal with moving away from home, family drama, and the ups and downs that come with being a teenager. The high school drama is there, but never in a dose they can’t handle. Anna is forced to deal with stereotypes Americans have of foreigners, and vice versa. The situations these characters are put in are real, and the author does an incredible job of making you believe in everything that’s going on, and making you care. That’s the most important thing —  you really care about these characters. Even past the last page. (I would know, I’ve been thinking about this book nonstop since I finished it.)

I’ve read a lot of YA in my time, and I think this is one of the most convincing love stories I’ve ever come across. I believed every bit of it. Nothing seemed forced or unrealistic. Sure, there was some drama – its protagonists are teenagers – but it was never too much or over-the-top. It walked that fine line very well, and I actually found myself wanting to give the characters advice on numerous occasions. I think it’s rare when you care that much about a fictional character, and I applaud Stephanie Perkins for that. The girl has a gift.

Though my knowledge of Paris is similar to Anna’s at the very beginning of the book (Amelie and Moulin Rouge), I grew to know it along with her. As a reader, you’re gradually taught some of the idiosyncrasies of Paris and its people, how some things are pronounced, and even run across a few important landmarks. It’s like going to Paris, but not. Now that I’ve got this mental picture stuck in my head, I’m even more determined to see the real thing.

Part of the reason I really loved this book was because Anna’s journey is one many readers can connect with. She has to learn to navigate a new city, make new friends, adjust to a new culture, learn another language, and numerous other challenges. When she managed to overcome those problems, I wanted to cheer for her! I clapped when she finally braved the city on her own, and I felt her pain when she realized things at home weren’t as great as she remembered. Living abroad changes you. It’s unavoidable. I liked that Stephanie Perkins included that detail in her story because it made Anna’s situation even more realistic. And lord knows there are probably plenty of us who have been in love with our best friend at one time or another. If you have, this book will ring especially true for you. And if you haven’t, well, you’ll learn how frustrating it is! The emotional roller coaster is spot-on.

Everything about this story is totally charming, from the title to the very last sentence. I’m happy to report there are two companion novels that will follow, but in the meantime, if you buy one book this year, buy this one. I promise you won’t regret it.

~~~

Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is taking a break from querying to work on a new project, a YA dystopian. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.

Advertisements

Why I Write for Young Adults

29 Dec

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

Today is my birthday, *throws confetti* so I thought that, instead of a typical “Julie post” centering on a specific writing technique, I would post a more philosophical post (what I tend to think of as a “Savannah post” ;D) about why I write Young Adult fiction. My birthday seemed a proper occasion to discuss the reasons why a writer who has moved beyond her own “young adulthood” might continue to write about characters in their teens. Tucked in with my “reasons why” are a few “reasons why not.” In other words, YA isn’t for everyone. In explaining why I continue to write for young adults, maybe I can help other writers see why YA might be right – or wrong – for them.

Reason #1 – Teen Protagonists Rock

Why are teen protagonists so fabulous? I could list dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite characteristics of teens, in no particular order:

• They are still discovering who they are. They can do something incredible and not seem to be acting out of character, or be going against everything that has defined them for the past ten years.
• They aren’t jaded yet. They may think they are, but their ideas are still flexible. Compare your favorite teen hero to his or her parent to see what I mean. Katniss did things in THE HUNGER GAMES that her mother could never have done. Well, maybe her mother could have done those things, before she’d been broken by life. In other words, back when she, herself, was a teenager.
• Teenagers are resilient. Their young bodies bounce back. If Haymitch survived some of the physical challenges Katniss survived, the writer might lose some credibility. Imagine Dumbledore in Harry’s place and I’m sure you can see what I mean.
• One of the universal truths of humanity is that we all started out young and naïve. We all were children once. We all were teenagers. The experience of seeing the world through young eyes is universal.

Reason #2 – I LOVE teenagers

This is a pretty important reason to me, and should be considered carefully by any writer beyond their own young adulthood before deciding to write for young adults. If you don’t truly enjoy the company of teenagers, I think you should reconsider if this is the audience you should write for. There are a lot of adults who feel they have something to “teach” teenagers. Those adults should consider ways other than YA novels to reach out to young people. Teenagers are smart. They know if they are being preached to or if the book they are reading is meant to deliver a moral lesson. YA editors recognize these “lessons” disguised as “fiction” too, and reject them. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that a book shouldn’t have meaning. But there is a difference between a story with meaning and a sermon written as a story.

Personally, I know I love teenagers because I’ve been working as a mentor for teens for about twelve years now. My favorite hour of my week is the hour I spend with about fifteen teenagers. I also know that not everyone my age feels this way. That’s understandable. Young adults invigorate some people; others they drain. Keep this in mind if you want to write YA. If you can’t imagine yourself spending time with your characters and their friends, then maybe you should write for a different audience.

Reason #3 – I choose to read YA books

I don’t read YA exclusively. My favorite genre to read is YA, followed closely by literary fiction. However, I’ve noticed that many of my favorite non-YA books have teenaged protagonists. The action of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan is set in motion by an event that involved young adult characters. LOLITA by Nabokov involves a young girl and her complex relationship with an adult man. CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE LOVELY BONES revolve around teenagers, even though they are not generally seen as YA novels. I count all of these books among my favorites.

But the truth is, when I walk into a bookstore, I head straight for the Young Adult section. My favorite books of 2010 were THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I absolutely devoured them, and I know that they will forever remain near the top of my “favorite books of all time” list. Though it sometimes may be unpopular to admit this, I truly enjoyed the TWILIGHT saga. I recently read THE POISON DIARIES by Maryrose Wood (a book that really deserved more attention than it received) and wondered, as I closed the last page, how I would endure the wait for the next installment. Add the realistic worlds of books by writers like Laurie Halse Anderson to the sci-fi/fantasy worlds of writers like Suzanne Collins, and there is nothing my literary appetite craves that can’t be found in the YA section of the bookstore.

So these are my personal reasons for writing YA. My husband says the true reason is that I have never stopped being a teenager. Sadly, I know that isn’t true. But it is true that I have never forgotten what it feels like to be a teenager. And I hope that by reading and writing YA, I never will forget.

Long live my teenaged self! Because “young Julie” was flexible, unafraid, resilient, and unjaded. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep young Julie’s spirit alive inside “not-so-young Julie.” If reading and writing Young Adult fiction have contributed to that, may I NEVER EVER stop!

Do you write for young adults? Are you still in that age group yourself? Do you know that the adult market is the only market for you? What about middle grade or children’s? Please share your opinions with me in the comments!

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Book Recommendation: The Goose Girl

12 Dec

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.”

I am a huge fan of fairytales; and an even bigger fan of fairytale retellings. And though I know I’m late to the party with Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (which was originally published in 2003), I’m only sad that it took me so long to finally pick up this book. I absolutely adored this book; I loved every page of it! And I’ve already picked up the other books in The Books of Bayern series.

Based on the German fairytale of the same name, the story follows a young princess who is sent off by her mother to be married to a prince in another land, with her talking horse Falada and a waiting-maid accompanying her. The waiting-maid steals the identity of the Princess when they arrive in the new kingdom, and the real Princess is forced to become a Goose girl.

For those who aren’t familiar with the fairytale and don’t want the rest of the story spoiled, I’ll stop there. I actually started reading this book without knowing the actual fairytale it was based off of, and so I read it not knowing exactly how it would play out (which, of course, made certain key elements shocking and exciting). But even if you do know the fairytale, you’ll still be wonderfully surprised.

Want to know more about Shannon Hale’s retelling? Here’s a summary from Goodreads:

She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste.

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt’s guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original, and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own.

~~~

Hale’s prose is wonderfully lyrical, which is hinted at in the summary from Goodreads above. Reading The Goose Girl, I couldn’t help but notice just how beautiful the words flowed together; and how smooth her dialogue and prose were. This is Hale’s greatest display of her craft – the easy way in which it seems she has placed perfectly-chosen words for the page. She is brilliant at it.

But that isn’t the only thing Hale does remarkably well. The story in The Goose Girl is also well-crafted, and thoroughly captivating. I didn’t want to put this book down – and every time I did, I couldn’t help but think of the world and the characters Hale had created. The world building in the first of the Books of Bayern series is fully realized. Full of lushly detailed settings, wonderfully different cultures, and a touch of magic, Shannon Hale has created a world that has quickly become one of my favourites.

Princess Ani is one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The meek young woman you meet at the beginning of the story (though a Crown Princess by title) doesn’t have the strength of one. But once a goose girl, Ani grows by leaps and bounds into a strong heroine. And it isn’t only Ani who is compelling – Geric is loveable, Selia is incredibly devious, and even Falada, Ani’s horse, will find a way to your heart.

And the magic! Absolutely wonderful; it is woven into the story perfectly. Hale has crafted a world of magical speech; of people-speaking, animal-speaking, and nature-speaking. And though she doesn’t posses the persuasive gift of people-speaking that her mother the Queen does, Ani’s own gifts will truly shine through in their own right.

If you love fantastic adventures in Medieval worlds with a strong heroine, you’ll love this book. Full of deception, intrigue, treason, and redemption (and a little bit of romance), this book was a wonderful read in so many ways. So pick it up; it’s definitely found its way to my favourites shelf, and I’m sure it’ll find it’s way onto yours.

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

AWESOME NEWS!

8 Dec

by Susan Dennard

~~~

So, I went pretty WACKO on my blog yesterday, and I wanted to share the awesome news here too.  (And yes, I realize “awesome” is a very uncool word — especially to non-Americans.  I’m sorry.  I’m a 90s girl at heart.)

So THE NEWS.  What is it?  ::drummmmmmrollllll::

The Spirit-Hunters will be published by HarperCollins!

I’m listed on Publishers Marketplace and everything!  I have to admit, that as over-the-moon as I was for 3 weeks (yeah, I had to wait 3 WEEKS to announce this! The deal happened on November 17th), it didn’t feel completely real until I saw my name on the PM Deals page:

Susan Dennard’s debut THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS, set in an alternate 1800s Philadelphia, where a 16-year-old girl’s brother is taken by a necromancer and his army of walking Dead, and how she must join forces with a rag-tag, demon-fighting group to save him – and the city – as she tries to avoid falling for the group’s dangerous inventor in the process, to Maria Gomez at Harper Children’s, in a significant deal, in a three-book deal, by Sara Kendall and Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.

We’re planning on a summer 2012 release, and if the first book sells well (which it will, right!?  RIGHT!?!?), then books 2 and 3 will come out in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Sarah and I are gonna be Apocalypsies together! WEEEE!!

I have to say, this wouldn’t have happened without my fabulous agents, Sara Kendall and Joanna Volpe.  (This is Sara’s first deal too!  Congrats are in order, I believe.)  Plus, I need to thank my new editor, Maria Gomez, for loving The Spirit-Hunters enough to buy it! 😀

DREAM BIG, AND THEN DREAM EVEN BIGGER.

I also need to thank the FictionPress world for giving me a start all those years ago…  Oh, those were bad stories, but oh, I learned a lot!

But to be perfectly honest, almost all of my good fortune is thanks to my family.

My parents taught me I could do ANYTHING if I worked hard and never gave up.  They were 100% right.

My sister read all my rotten stories, and my brother…  Well, he didn’t make fun of my stories — that’s a lot, coming from him.

In recent years, my husband, the Frenchman, has been the driving force behind everything.  I can never thank him enough for his love and support.

And last but no least, THANKS TO YOU!  The LTWF readers have been amazing to connect with, and I feel so blessed to be a part of this group.  Lots of fun happens here, and so many stories shared.  It’s been a wonderful two months since I joined. 😀

Seriously, though — to partake in the Full Insanity of my AWESOME NEWS, stop by my announcement from yesterday.  I have pictures of me dancing with my dog (whose name is Asimov) and a video of me announcing the news.

Oooh, and be sure to look below — now I have a new mini-bio. 😉 Cool, eh?

~~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

Book Recommendation: FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan

31 Oct

“Just surrender to the sizzle.” (Kirkus Reviews )

With her rare ability to breathe fire, Jacinda is special even among the draki—the descendants of dragons who can shift between human and dragon forms. But when Jacinda’s rebelliousness leads her family to flee into the human world, she struggles to adapt, even as her draki spirit fades. The one thing that revives it is Will, whose family hunts her kind. Jacinda can’t resist getting closer to him, even though she knows she’s risking not only her life but the draki’s most closely guarded secret.

I truly enjoyed FIRELIGHT.  From the first page I was unable to put the book down. Firelight is book full of vivid prose and description!  The characters seem to materialize right in front of you and drag you into their story with them. Jacinda and Will were favorite characters of mine, but I couldn’t help but feel drawn to by Jacinda’s sister, Tamra, as well.

Jacinda is a draki. As a descendant of dragons, she has two forms: her human one, and her truer draki form, complete with shimmering skin and dragon wings!  What makes her even more unique among her kind? She has the ability to breathe fire, thought to be lost among her species.

I really only had one issue with Jacinda, and that was her lack of decisiveness.  She see-sawed back and forth about Will a bit too much for my taste.  However, Will is a hunter, and what’s more, a hunter of her own kind.  So maybe Jacinda has a right to her indecisiveness.  It only interrupted my enjoyment of the story in spots.

In general, I would say that this series is very intriguing and Sophie Jordan has definitely brought a fresh voice to YA paranormal!

 

~~~

Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.

 

How to … Submit a Graphic Novel Proposal!

26 Oct

A Guest Post by Hayleigh Bird

~

What do you think of when you hear the term graphic novel? I’m willing to bet that images of Spiderman, Batman, and Wonder Woman pop in to your head. But graphic novels aren’t just for superheroes and villains anymore. The audience for graphic novels has been expanding rapidly over the past few years. These days you can find graphic novels about space cats, political and philosophical issues, circuses, and yes, even vampires. Graphic novels are no longer targeted only at teenage boys. They are being created for boys and girls alike, for kids as young as six, and for adults too.

So why is this trend interesting to you, the writer? Publishers are very hungry for good graphic novels. That’s good news for anyone aspiring to be published, particularly if you have a fondness for art, sketching, and drawing. This post won’t tell you how to create a graphic novel, because there is really no guideline for that. And if you were to follow a guideline, your graphic novel would likely look the same as your next-door neighbor’s graphic novel, and as such not be as stand-out-fantastic as it could be. The best thing you can do if you’re creating a graphic novel is to create straight from your own head, from your own imagination. Different equals interesting, so go for it.

What you may need a little guidance with, however, is how to create a graphic novel submission, and what to include. Most publishers (and agents) do have a section on their website stating the regulations for submitting to them; however very few tell you what to include in a graphic novel submission. And submitting a graphic novel is very different than submitting a novel. For starters, you will submit a proposal rather than a partial.

What do editors and agents want to see in a proposal? You will need to include a document describing the book’s concept and specs. This means a plot summary, character and setting descriptions, proposed extent (how many pages?), trim (what size of pages?), and colours (full colour? Black and white?). This document should also include a biography, listing previous work. This part of your proposal expands on what you might say in a query letter. There are a few reasons that this document is important. First, an editor or agent wants to know that you have a clear idea of what your graphic novel is going to look like. If you don’t know the extent, trim size, etc, it means you haven’t really planned out what you are going to create. That’s not to say that these numbers won’t change as you continue creating – they might. But you should at least have a clear starting point, and plan.

If you are planning to write and illustrate your graphic novel, you will also need to include some sample spreads of finished, typeset artwork. I would suggest including spreads from your opening scene, and a climactic moment. Whatever you choose should be an important part of your plot, as whoever is reviewing your proposal will be most interested to see how you plan to illustrate and create those moments. In addition to the spreads, you also need to include character designs for each of your main characters. This means a couple pages of that character doing different things. You’ll want to portray them in a variety of poses and situations, so that there is a visible and clear sense of who that character is.

It is possible to submit a graphic novel proposal even if you are not an artist. Your chances of having your proposal accepted are likely lower, but if you have a stellar idea for a graphic novel then there are many agents and editors out there who would want to know about it. Your document containing a plot outline, character and setting descriptions, etc, will look the same as a proposal that includes illustrations. Your proposal, however, won’t include sample spreads, or character designs. What you will need to include is a scene of sample script. Again, it is advisable to choose either your opening scene, or your climax. The script should be just that: a script. It would look similar to a play, or screenplay script.

Lastly, if you are proposing a series, you should include a series outline, so that the editor or agent can see what the overall narrative arc will look like. They will also want to know how many books are being proposed. It is important to have a clear arc in mind, and not to plan to leave it open ended. Editors and agents want to know how you plan on ending your novel or series, not just how it starts.

If creating a graphic novel is something that interests you, I would definitely suggest giving it a try. The market is hot right now, especially with the appeal that graphic novels have for reluctant readers. Even schools are starting to use graphic novels in their curriculum, and their classrooms. Good luck in your endeavors, and as always, post questions or comments if you have them! I will try to answer all of them. 😀

~~~

Hayleigh Bird is a children’s book fanatic and enthusiast. She works in the children’s publishing arena as a Sales Assistant at Kids Can Press, and is currently working on several manuscripts for children and young adults. You can find her on Twitter and on her comedic blog, Peculiar Amusement.

Book Recommendation: Lessons from a Dead Girl

24 Oct

An unflinching story of a troubled friendship — and one girl’s struggle to come to terms with secrets and shame and find her own power to heal.

Leah Greene is dead. For Laine, knowing what really happened and the awful feeling that she is, in some way, responsible set her on a journey of painful self-discovery. Yes, she wished for this. She hated Leah that much. Hated her for all the times in the closet, when Leah made her do those things. They were just practicing, Leah said. But why did Leah choose her? Was she special, or just easy to control? And why didn’t Laine make it stop sooner? In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laine is left to explore the devastating lessons Leah taught her, find some meaning in them, and decide whether she can forgive Leah and, ultimately, herself.

~~~

I learned about LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL during Banned Book Week. It’s a complicated book, one that’s hard to say you “liked” or “enjoyed.” In the end, though, it’s a book that made me think and feel, and really, I think that’s just what such a book sets out to do.

The topics in the book were covered tastefully. It’s not as brutal a book as LIVING DEAD GIRL is, but neither does it shy away from Leah and Laine’s twisted relationship. I appreciated the fullness of the major characters and the mixture of love and hate that defined the girls’ relationship. Knowles did a good job showing how complicated a friendship can be, how sometimes, you can love someone even as they hurt you. Often, in books, this sort of love/abusive relationship is portrayed between a couple, so having two friends experience it was a fresh view.

The supporting characters were well-drawn, and though I didn’t personally recognize some of the situations Knowles’s teenaged protagonists got themselves into, I can fully believe that they happen.

LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL is an intense book that doesn’t give its characters neatly tied up lives. But it’s a look into a life that unfortunately, doesn’t only exist in fiction.

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

 

Book Recommendation: Leviathan

16 Sep

By Jenn Fitzgerald

~~~

I’d seen a couple quotes form Leviathan bouncing around and decided to take a closer look. I picked it up in the bookstore and had to pry my eyes away, twenty pages later, when I realized I had to go home to feed myself (I have this problem where I get sucked into books and don’t eat). Needless to say, the book came home with me.

Steampunk, freaky bioengineering, and an alternative history of World War I. I shouldn’t have to say anything else, you should already be going out to get your own copy. But in case that’s not enough, here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

The pacing was spot-on, the story moved along quickly and the various actions scenes were fast-paced and fun. When it did pause for description, it was a welcome break to take in the oddities of Westerfeld’s Europe. The world building in Leviathan was great; I loved all the different machines and creatures, they were well thought-out and well designed. The descriptions were clear and engaging and occasionally so bizarre that I was as sucked in as the characters—in short, they never felt like info dumps.

The political situation at the beginning of the books is essentially the same as it was in the real 1914, which I liked because it grounded the book enough to make the world recognizable while at the same time fantastic, with technological and biological capabilities far beyond our own. I look forward to seeing how things differ from here on out.

The characters feel younger than they’re supposed to be, and the pictures of Alek don’t help here. They read like eighth graders, not high school sophomores. I can partially explain this away with remembering that they’re Edwardian teenagers and not working class either, so they should be less mature than modern teenagers, more sheltered and all that. I don’t really care that they read young, so that’s just a warning to those of you who might have a problem with it.

As for the characters, Alek is a spoiled little brat at first, in need of a good smack. Which he gets in a couple forms. But he grows. By the end of the book I adored him and wanted to bake him cookies. He can be thoughtless, but he tries to do the right things. Deryn is almost the same way, she tries to balance duty to her friends with duty to her country, occasionally bumbling things a bit. She comes across as posturing a little too much, but I think her attitude is pretty realistic given that she has to consciously act like a boy at all times. The secondary characters are a fun array of quirky people, from the arrogant Count Volger, to the dangerously clever scientist, Nora Barlow, (who might be my favorite).

The one thing that did kind of annoy me sometimes was the slang. Clart worked as a substitution for cursing, but barking spiders and bum-rag not as much. I think that might have contributed to the characters feeling younger than they are. This is YA, surely they could have let them say asswipe now and again. Also, there’s tons of fun early 20th Century slang that I’d have liked to see more of, if they’re going to avoid today’s standard four letter words.

All in all it was a good book, fun, entertaining, a quick read, and it made me want more. When I finished Leviathan, I was seriously peeved to find out that the next book in the series, Behemoth, doesn’t come out until October. When it does, I’ll find a way to get my hands on it and read it, even if it means skipping some homework, and that’s about as good an endorsement as I can imagine.

~~~

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: Plain Kate

7 Sep

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.”

Katerina Svetlana is anything but plain. Though she is thin like a stick, she has two different coloured eyes – but that isn’t what is remarkable about her. What is remarkable is that Plain Kate is a skilled carver. And she is shadowless.

This is the type of story that will leave you with chills. It will make you smile, and even laugh; it will make you shiver in horror and shake with anger; and it will break your heart. And even after your heart has mended, this is the type of story that will stay with you.

And as if this cover isn’t gorgeous enough to pique your interest, here’s the wonderful description from Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

~

Drawing on Russian folklore, the story immerses you in a world full of culture and depth and language. A world where magic is an exchange of gifts, and where witches are unable to tell lies; where suspicions run deep, and traditions clash. A world of gypsy-like people called Roamers, traveling caravans, and rusalkas. It is a wonderfully realized world that Erin Bow has created; and she has done it very well.

The story’s prose is deceivingly simple; and strangely lyrical. It is not overwritten; but you will find moments of beautiful poetry hidden there. Bow weaves her words with such skill that it will leave you hungry for more. Her imagery is vivid, her descriptions clear, and her storytelling absolutely brilliant.

But what is perhaps Bow’s greatest strength are her characters. They are complex (like everything else in the story), and Bow does not hold back. The characters are charming and likable and incredibly sympathetic: you’ll find yourself rooting for them. And they are all distinctly different. Strong and memorable, Plain Kate Carver herself is outdone by her cat Taggle (who steals the show). His character is wonderful; funny and playful, serious and sarcastic. He is as haughty and self-loving as a lord. But the amount of growth one little cat was able to achieve in so few pages is remarkable. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone who reads this book will fall in love with him.

But Kate is also a joy to read. Though many things happen to her, instead of because of her, she is still a strong character. With folklore and legend, often the hero has no choice. And so in keeping with the spirit of folklore, Kate is a character who has things happen to her; things that are often beyond her control. But she still holds on and fights as much as she can, even though she is not a strong warrior. She is not in possession of any dangerous magic, or otherworldly strength; she is simply skilled at carving. But it is the strength of her heart that really shines through in the end. She is a character who is truly worthy of finding happiness; and you will pray with all your might that she does eventually find it.

Bow’s villains are also beautifully portrayed. They are not wholly evil, and as such are incredibly sympathetic; you will find yourself pitying Linay, and many others who do wrong. For these are character who are driven to do bad things, though they themselves are not evil; it is through fear, or hurt, or anger, or pain that they choose to harm. In my opinion, Bow has created some of the best villains; they are complex and heartbreaking, and so well crafted.

Even Arthur A. Levine couldn’t help but say good things about Plain Kate. Here’s what he had to say in Publisher’s Weekly:

I’ve been sent a lot of fantasy, some of it quite good. But it’s very rare for a book to stand out for me the way Plain Kate did.”

Levine said Bow’s prose has the “lyrical strength and classic proportions” of master writers. “She is a truly original talent,” Levine said, evidenced by a “breathless e-mail” he got from an associate at the most recent London Book Fair who said Printz Award winner Meg Rosoff had read Plain Kate and couldn’t stop raving about it.

Plain Kate is dark, sorrowful, and haunting; it will pull on your heart-strings and tear at your chest. But it is also full of hope, and joy, and love; you will find yourself smiling in delight. There is death, there is blood; and there is life and laughter. She explores the complexities of relationships and the gray area between right and wrong. And Bow excels at portraying both the light and the dark with such depth that it will leaving you reeling even after you’ve turned the last page of the book. It is a bittersweet story of family and friendship and belonging. Plain Kate reads like an old tale: like folklore. And it is a wonder to behold.

I highly recommend this book; it is as chilling and complex as Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and is so full of heart. In fact, it’s become one of my favourite books ever. I cried so many times; honestly, I thought a piece of my heart broke. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. This story touched me, and I know it’s one I’m not likely to forget. If Kate doesn’t capture your heart, then Taggle surely will. Definitely put this on your list; you won’t regret it.

~~~

Book received from Publisher

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Book Recommendation: A Spoiler-Free Book Review of Mockingjay

5 Sep

By Sammy Bina & Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

As you probably all know, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the last installment of the Hunger Games trilogy. And we must say, it was worth the wait! Perhaps we didn’t love it as we loved The Hunger Games (though the jury’s still out on that one, in Sammy’s case); but there’s no doubt about how good a read it is. Now, in order not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, we will be as vague as humanly possible.

So here’s our vague summary: Some stuff happens (some of it quite epic). Some people die. There’s a climax and a conclusion. And you will laugh, and you will cry. The end!

But in all seriousness, what is so brilliant about Mockingjay is the way it resolves many of the series’ conflicts; and there are a lot of conflicts. In this novel, we find the Capitol once again at odds with the Districts, find Katniss fighting with almost everyone, and we see Katniss, Gale, and Peeta all struggling with themselves and each other. The most notable aspect of this novel is how it leaves you thinking about the horror that is war; and its consequences. Katniss and her friends aren’t spared from this cruelty, and deaths (which there are many of) occur quickly and furiously. We would find ourselves stopping to try and absorb what was happening, as the pacing during the action-heavy scenes is rather quick. However, we found that it worked really well and was far more realistic than if Collins had stopped to dwell on each and every individual death. Because in war, you lose friends, and you lose them quickly. You don’t have time to stop and think because thinking is what could get you killed, and by using that same tactic in the book it was, we felt, far more brutal and painful.

However, the book (which is spilt up into three parts) lacks the same urgency that is felt in the previous two titles of the trilogy. The story begins slowly, with Katniss absorbing everything that has happened since (and there’s a lot). And as the bits and pieces fall into place, we’re faced with a relatively slower pace for the first half of the book. Considering how Catching Fire ended, we had assumed that this book would start off in medias res. But while it doesn’t start off with a furious pacing, it does certainly end off with one. And if the book had started off where Katniss just hit the ground running, it probably would have been a much less effective opening. So much transpired during the first two books, especially at the end of Catching Fire, so it seems fitting to give Katniss some time to think things through (and there is a lot to think about!).

Peeta was by far the greatest surprise for us. His character is wonderfully explored in ways not seen in the previous books. He changes from the sweet, optimistic son of a baker to a scarred and brooding shell of a man. In some ways, Peeta has endured even more than Katniss, and everything that he has experienced up until now has really brought out a new side in him that, at times, can be really hard to handle. Because the books are told from Katniss’s point of view, sometimes it can be challenging to really get into the heads of other characters, but we believe Peeta was really challenged and explored in this last enstallment, and really rounded out an already beloved character. We may even like him better after this book, if that was at all possible.

Another aspect of the series that is really explored is the idea of good versus evil; which side, if any, is the enemy. Up until this point in the trilogy, we were led to believe that the Capitol was the root of all evil, but what if that wasn’t the case? Corruption exists everywhere, not just within the confines of the Capitol, and the way Collins portrays both sides is wonderful; neither the Captiol nor the rebels are perfect. She also does an excellent job instilling doubt in both her characters as well as her readers. If the supposed “good guys” aren’t always so good, what does that say about the “bad guys?” It’s really left up to the reader to decide which side they ultimately believe in.

The story is shocking, thought-provoking, and original. What we would’ve loved, though, was being able to see what was happening, instead of being told. There are a lot of blackouts in this novel which, sadly, means that we are told of events after the fact. And while it’s understandable to use one or two, it happened enough that it began to take away from the urgency of the later half of the book. We felt like a lot of the tension was lost each time Katniss woke up and was told what had happened while she was unconscious. Some of it was pretty intense, and it would’ve been really nice to have seen Katniss in those situations, rather than knocked out and on the sidelines.

There is also a lot of explaining; perhaps a bit too much at times. The Hanging Tree song was explained at great length as Katniss remembers the significance of the song. It felt a bit too much; we certainly didn’t need to be told what it was about for over a page, and we’re sure younger readers would have understood it as well. But we certainly can’t say Collins doesn’t trust her readers to understand complex ideas or issues, because this trilogy is full of it; Mockingjay especially. Which is one of the reasons why this series is so good.

We did love that the romance wasn’t so blaringly obvious in this book; in fact, there wasn’t really much romance at all. With everything going on, Katniss didn’t have time to think about whether or not she’d rather be making out with Gale or Peeta. Everything about the romance was very toned down and simplified, and really worked to keep the tension surrounding the revolution very immediate. The little romance that is in the book doesn’t take away from the trilogy’s overall theme and message. Some readers will definitely be disappointed by the lack of romance, but we felt that it worked incredibly well with the overall story/series arc. It would’ve ruined the book if it had been included more.

And that ending! It is bittersweet and haunting, and includes an epilogue that actually works. Though the epilogue might not be necessary, it ends the trilogy with an absolutely wonderful visual; one of hope. After everything that has happened to Katniss, the ending was perfect.

All that being said, Mockingjay is a must-read; especially if you’ve read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Collins has written a wonderful story featuring a remarkably strong heroine who suffers through heartbreak, hunger, and the horrors of war. It is gripping, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful; and not at all what you will have predicted. If you haven’t picked up this book (or this trilogy, for that matter), you are missing out! So, we definitely recommend you read this.

Actually, we insist.

~~~

For our thoughts on Mockingjay with spoilers, check out the transcript from our live chat here.

~~~

Sammy Bina is a 5th year senior who just completed her Creative Writing degree. She is currently querying her adult dystopian romance, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and is working on two new YA projects. She is an intern at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter or at her blog.


 

 

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.