Monday, March 30, 2015

YA Book Club Review: Red Queen

Hello book clubbers, and thanks for joining in on the discussion of Red Queen, which is not The Red Queen, no matter how many times I typed it.

Let’s start with a description, shall we?
Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard’s sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king's palace. Will her power save her or condemn her? 
Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. 
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
First off, can we all agree that the cover rocks? It so simply gets at the plot and theme of the novel, and does so in such a striking way. I think what first drew me to Red Queen was the cover.

It also sounded pretty awesome from the blurb. But I think that’s what tripped me up. It’s reads like YA fantasy (and that’s how it’s been pitched elsewhere), so I was a bit turned around at the beginning when I realized the world was really dystopian.

I should also point out that the blurb calls Red Queen a sort of Graceling meets The Selection, which didn’t feel like the most appropriate mashup. Yes, the Silvers have abilities, but they felt more X-Men than Graceling. (Which is fine; I love X-Men.) And while, like The Selection, there’s a contest for the princes’ hands in marriage, it’s a small part of the book.

No, Red Queen felt more like Hunger Games (girl becomes face of a revolution, and both sides want to use her for their own purposes) meets Shatter Me (girl with unheard of power is torn between two boys, one who may be may be her enemy).

I liked Mare as a character. She’s strong without being cold—even second-guesses her role in the revolution when faced with the loss of innocent lives. She hurts for the children she’ll leave fatherless. Some might say that makes her wishy-washy, but I think it’s a realistic reaction for a 17-year-old girl. Hey, I’m an adult and I’m not sure I could sentence people to die.

What I had a hard time with were some plot elements. For instance, I couldn’t quite buy the queen’s plan to hide Mare in plain sight. The king and queen tell their people that Mare has Silver blood, but was raised as Red and only came into her abilities recently. I’ll believe a Silver could grow to 17 without using her powers. But I’m not sure an entire kingdom would believe a 17-year-old girl never got a cut, scrape, bloody nose, or even her period.

There were also a lot of characters who were suspicious of Mare, and I wondered why no one cut her “by accident” to see the color of her blood.

I don’t want to talk too much about the ending and [spoiler], but I will say I liked Mare’s final decision on the romance. Red Queen has a love triangle between two princes—two brothers—and, well … read my Goodreads review, which hides spoilers, for my full thoughts on that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What's Up Wednesday and the YA Book Club

It’s time for What’s Up Wednesday again. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, here’s the deal: What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk for like-minded writers to meet and encourage one another. Everything you ever wanted to know about it (now, 50 percent off the retail price!) is right here.

I’m so excited so many of you are interested in joining the YA Book Club this March. Let this serve as official proclamation that the book club is a go—and our book of the month is Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. (See, I’m getting in the royal spirit and all.) On Monday, March 30, we’ll post our reviews. Be sure to link to your review here, then hop to everyone else’s blog to see what other book clubbers thought about the novel! (More about how the book club works here.)

I’m still drafting my Island MS, which seems to be going much, much slower than any other book I’ve written. Recently I’ve been having a hard time getting my inner editor to shut up. She’s incredibly rude and only interested in deleting words. I’m hoping this is only a temporary thing.

Just about the only way I can get any words on the page is if I tell myself that even ridiculously low word counts make a difference. So I aimed for 1,000 words in a writing session and got 200. That’s better than zero, right?

But really I’d love to hear what works for you when it comes to killing your inner editor.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sapphire Blue Readalong

Well, February is over which means I’ve reread Ruby Red and realized I don’t really know myself as well as I thought I did. It also means we’re closer to tax day, but I’m doing my best not to think about that because it makes me want to turn the Boston Harbor into a giant cup of tea.

But back to my identity crisis.

See, I thought I loved Gideon de Villiers from the first moment I met him. Looking back, I imagined this sweet guy who was also really capable and swoon-worthy and all of the other good things. Except he’s not.

As I reread Ruby Red, I was all “What witchcraft is this?” because Gideon was not kind and he wasn’t swoon-worthy and he was only mostly capable because he did need Gwen to save his life after all.

Then the month ended with me looking at a dress and seeing it go from white and gold to blue and black and back again, and that really cemented this personality disorder. Anyway, what became clear very early in the book is that Ruby Red is about Gwen being awesome and kicking butt even though pretty much everyone but her equally awesome BFF underestimate her.

So if you’re one book in and thinking, “These jackholes promised me a swoon-worthy boy and all I got was Judgy McJudgerson and his Cloak of Superiority,” well, you’re mostly right. But you also got an amazing heroine who learns quickly, stands up for herself, and is basically hilarious.

And there’s more of that in the second book, Sapphire Blue. There’s also a kinder Gideon and a gargoyle who steals every scene he’s in.

Join in the big readalong this month by tweeting your thoughts under the hashtag #SapphireBlueReread.

In other reading news, I have an announcement about the YA Book Club … but you’ll have to wait until Wednesday for that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's Up Wednesday: The Book Club Revival

I wasn’t planning on doing What’s Up Wednesday today, mostly because I thought it was Tuesday and it wouldn’t have made much sense. Except then I started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if today was really Wednesday and Friday was that much closer?” Usually when this happens I find out it’s actually Sunday.

As you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised and psyched to join, especially after skipping way too many weeks in a row. So here’s what’s been going on with me:


What I’m Reading: This has been the month of readalongs for me. I’m re-reading Kerstin Geir’s Ruby Red as part of our great Ruby Red Reread, which you can learn all about here. It’s just as good a second time. I also joined Jaime Morrow and Katy Upperman in reading Heather Demetrios’s I’ll Meet You There, a really wonderful and at times heartbreaking contemporary YA.

I’m thinking of continuing the readalong trend—but more on that below.

What I’m Writing: I spent most of February revising Aberration, my YA sci-fi thriller. Last Monday, I turned that in to my agent*, so the past week has been all about my magical realism MS, which I’m calling Island simply because “that treasure hunting one” is too long.

What Works for Me: Sometimes, if I want to avoid a mass rewrite, I need to take a break from drafting to do a bit of planning. It’s something I did recently when I ran into major roadblock with my treasure hunt. The clues and the map and the geography of the land weren’t working together, and I had a maddening stone structure that was both purposeful and pointless.

I’m not even kidding when I say I spent three days alternating between furiously scribbling a treasure map, staring off into space, and randomly mumbling things like, “The slashed triangle can’t have five points.”

To which The Man would patiently reply, “You okay over there?” and I’d say, “Obviously no because there are stones on the island that need to be there but CANNOT POSSIBLY BE THERE.” And he’d just nod and put on his noise-cancelling headphones.

But it all worked out in the end because I broke through the mental block and now have a better treasure map for my teen treasure hunters to follow.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: The short answer is nothing. Revisions for my book happened at the same time as, at the day job, we went to press on our busiest issue of the year. So basically I worked around the clock for weeks. After that Monday, I pretty much zoned out for a good four days, catching up on Jane the Virgin, which I’ve just learned is one of my favorite shows on TV.

But I’ve also been thinking bookish thoughts. Specifically, thoughts about a certain book club that has been in hibernation recently. A wonderful reader reached out about joining in (hi, and welcome!) and other writer friends expressed interest in starting it up again. I’ve had such fun reading alongside people this month, I’m fully ready to give into the peer pressure.

I was thinking we’d read Red Queen, but I’m not tied to that idea, so if there’s another book you want to suggest, we can put it to a vote. But let’s stick to first-in-series novels released by March 1.

Can I get a show of hands (or, you know, comments below) of who would be interested in joining a March book club?**

* I honestly still can’t believe I get to say that.
** Here’s everything you need to know about the YA BookClub.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ruby Red Reread

I’ve decided to give in to one of my favorite obsessions even though The Man will probably call me crazy. But The Man always calls me crazy, especially when my obsessions lead me to
A) Reread that note a fifth time and wonder why email is like a preschool gift exchange. No take-backs.
 B) Skip “real life” to read a really good book.
But I’m going to give in because my love for Ruby Red is deep and powerful. Also, timely.

See, Sara Biren and Rebekah Faubion had this idea to reread the series and they were all “Hey Tracey might want in because she’s got that obsession thing.” And I was like, YOU’RE ENABLERS AND YES.

So we’re taking February to read Ruby Red.

We’ll be tweeting our reactions with the hashtag #RubyRedReread, and we want you to join in.

Right now, you may be thinking, “How can I reread a book I haven’t read yet?”

Which is really strange since I just thought about that. Maybe my telepathy is coming back.

Anyhow. First-time readers are welcome. 

Obviously we’ll behead anyone who reveals a spoiler. Or, because we’re not, like, the Queen of Hearts or the guy who did Marie Antoinette in, we’ll silently curse them to three spoiled books.

But wait, there’s more!

In March, we’ll read book No. 2, Sapphire Blue. In April, we’ll read book No. 3, Emerald Green.

In May we’ll be sad the series is over, but we won’t be THAT sad because it’ll be May and we’ll look outside and not see snow banks taller than trucks.

Who’s joining us?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Huge News!!

Here’s how this post goes:

[Insert boring intro you’re not going to read here.]

[A few more pointless things to really ratchet up the suspense]

[Endless ellipses to keep you scrolling]

And what you really want to know:

I have an agent!

I’m so very excited to announce I am now represented by Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency.

I’d tell you the whole story now, but it’s a bit hard to type while jumping up and down, and the Champagne is starting to spill, so… A post for a later date.

In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate by getting a teeth cleaning, because that’s how I roll.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In Which My Bookseller Sister Explains The Boxcar Children to a Parent

I don’t work in retail because I generally dislike people. Or at least shoppers. No, probably just people.

My sister, on the other hand, is much nicer than I am. She manages a Barnes & Noble, and not once has she punched someone in the face for asking for “that book I saw here last time; the one with the red cover.” I think this says a lot about her character.

This isn’t a story about customer stupidity. I thought you should know that right now in case you were getting all excited about hearing about the woman who couldn’t find the shelves with the Nook books.*

No, this is about a mother searching for a good book for her young child. It’s also about how difficult it can be to pitch a book off the cuff.

This happened a while ago, but I was reminded of it recently when I was describing trying to describe my WIP.
The woman was in her late 30s, early 40s. She was on the hunt for a book series her elementary school–age kid would enjoy. “What did you read at that age?” 
My sister rattled off a list of chapter book series, like the The Babysitters Club, Ramona Quimby, and Encyclopedia Brown. “And The Boxcar Children,” she said. 
“I’ve never heard of that one.” 
“Oh. We used to get them from the library all the time when we were little.” 
Libraries are like bookstores, but instead of buying the books, you borrow them for a short time. When I was young, pretty much everything we read came from the library. (This was in the prehistoric era, when there was no such thing as Amazon Prime and free two-day delivery.) 
“What’s it about?” The woman was interested now. My sister didn’t mean the mention of the series as a recommendation, but for some reason, this customer was hooked on The Boxcar Children. “Well, in the first book it’s this family of homeless kids—” 
“Well, not really. The boxcar was their home. See, their parents died so they lived in empty train cars. They went on all these adventures. And I think they had to, like, steal food and bedding and stuff.** Or maybe they begged people for money to buy food. I can’t remember.” 
“So, hobo beggars?” 
“Yeah. They were real independent.” 
“And this is a children’s book?” 
By this point, my sister was wishing she never mentioned The Boxcar Children or at the very least had read it again at some point during the past two decades. “Yeah, but maybe there’s something else—” 
“That sounds horrible,” the customer said. 
“It’s really not. I just don’t remember it well.” 
“Child hobos.” 
“I think I explained it poorly. There are four kids and … Let me show you what else we have.”
The moral of this story is: Succinctly explaining the plot of a book is hard. Succinctly explaining the plot of a book you read 25 years ago is really, really hard.

This reminds me of those hilarious movie loglines that twist the plot but are surprisingly accurate. (Like this.) Leave yours in the comments.

* They’re on the Nook, in case you’re curious. Or online.

** As it turns out, this isn’t the case. Like the examples of moral excellence that they are, the children always ask before taking. (That knowledge thanks to this review.)