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Friday, September 30, 2011

September Book Club Chat: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

Well, today’s the day. Not only is it Friday (weee!) it’s also the day we discuss our Fall Book Club pick, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. The description:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. 
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
I’ll be honest, after reading the blurb months ago, I kind of forgot what the book was about—aside from the creepy and peculiar. So going into this whole thing, I had no idea what to expect. And, frankly, the cover isn’t super helpful, though it does capture the mood of the book perfectly. I think it was a mix of the cover and the title that had me thinking this was a middle grade novel.

Still, I love the cover and the title because each captures the eerie feel of the novel. Riggs does a great job of setting the mood, and not just with his prose: Most of the book takes place on a Welsh island that’s isolated and mostly covered in thick fog, rain, mud, and marshes. And then there’s the rotting corpse of an old house that used to be a home for these peculiar children. The haunting atmosphere on the island sets the stage for the otherworldly things Jacob stumbles upon.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because there’s a whole lot of story that happens before Jacob and his father arrive at the island. And while it did set things up for Jacob’s quest by explaining his grandfather’s possibly true but probably made-up stories, it’s a bit long. For such a slow-moving set-up, we don’t spend much time with Jacob’s grandfather, which I would have liked.

That’s kind of how the whole book went: slow lead up, big discovery, slow lead up, fast-paced ending. Once we’re on the island, though, the story becomes much more interesting as we’re thrown into Jacob’s quest to find out more about the tales he heard as a kid and his quest to get to know his grandfather through the place where he grew up. I won’t go into the details of the plot since you’d all stone me, but I will say I enjoyed the twists and turns it took. 

As for the characters, well, I loved the grandfather. Which brings me back to my earlier statement: I wish we saw the old man alive for a bit longer. I also like Jacob. His internal tug-of-war—is he sane or insane; is his duty to his family or his grandfather’s heritage—makes you root for him, makes you want him to accomplish the mission that was his grandfather’s dying wish. As for the peculiar children, I liked how original their talents were. (I mean, c’mon, a boy who lets bees out of his mouth every time he opens it? So cool.) Even so, I wish some of the characters were a little more fleshed-out, that we got to spend more time getting to know them before the ending. 

And that brings me to Emma, who we know better than any of the other peculiars. She’s a spitfire (and all but spits fire), tough and strong in the face of danger yet vulnerable emotionally. Her friendship with Jacob was so right, but then it becomes more and, um, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
One of those creeptastic photos

The reason: Emma and Jacob’s grandfather were in love. (Like I said, I’m not going to explain too much of the plot but, yes, there’s time travel. Naturally.) I think I would have been more excited for them to get together if I didn’t have this little voice in my head saying, Excuse me, but didn’t she used to shag your grandfather? Okay, maybe it was a big voice that said, DUDE, YOU’RE MAKING OUT WITH YOUR GRANDFATHER’S GIRLFRIEND.

So there’s that.

Truthfully, it wasn’t so cringe-worthy that it made me dislike the book. (Either that makes me one twisted girl or Riggs did a good job walking the line between creepy and cute. Plus, Jacob mulls the situation over, so at least we know he’s not clueless.) In fact, I really liked the book. The ending was fast-paced and fun, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Although—be warned!—it did end with the dreaded cliffhanger. Sigh. Whatever, I’d want to read the next book anyway.

Oh, and one final tip: Buy the book. I mean, the book book, not the Nook* version. That’s what I did and the photos, which from all I’ve read about this novel are one of the best parts, aren’t very clear and any letters take 20 minute to read because the type is teensy and a bit blurry.

On a whole, this is the kind of book you want to read on a stormy day with a fire in front of you and thunder all around you.

So, what’d you think? Leave the link to your blog review below. Anyone curious about what other people thought of the book, go ahead and jump from blog to blog!

*I’ve read reviews that say the problem is the same on the Kindle, though I didn’t read it there so you’re free to try your luck.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RTW: Best Book of September

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic. 

This week’s prompt was: What is the best book you read this month?

Just so you know, I will not be mentioning Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children today because that’s on the agenda for Friday. For book club. You do remember that, right? You won’t be leaving me to a book club of one, will you?

(Never heard about the Fall Book Club? The details are here. The bottom line: Read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, blog about it on Friday, then come here to link to your site, and click on to everyone else’s reviews. Non-bloggers, you can still participate by reading and jumping from blog to blog. Speed readers, there’s still time to participate.)

Moving on, I think my mind was trying to tell me that I needed a good cry* this month. That’s because my best book of the month is kind of sad, and I also decided to read Before I Die.

So while I pick Moonglass as my favorite book this month, I’m going to talk about both.

If you’ve never seen the ocean, open Moonglass. You’ll feel the sand and the sun and the saltwater in your hair. You’ll smell the sunscreen and sweat and rain. Jessi Kirby knows how to bring a place to life. That much is, like, a truth self-evident. But not only that, she creates characters with such depth—my favorite of which is a rich blonde who’s in no way stuck up—that we can’t help but love them.

The storyline of a side character who spends the entire book crawling the beach in silence broke my heart, and I was amazed that I could so love a character who speaks maybe five lines in the whole book. Even more amazing: The character was three dimensional even though he never spoke and our main character didn’t really tell us anything about him.

Then there’s the story: new girl in town. Only Moonglass is about much more than a girl trying to fit in to a new place. It’s about her coming to terms with her mother’s suicide, about learning who her mother was before depression overtook her. The way Kirby does this, by weaving in stories of mermaids, metaphors for her mother’s death, is just brilliant. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful story. And not just because of the prose.

Since today’s tear-jerker day, I’ll rate it based on the amount I cried:

Like a pregnant woman at a wedding.

I’ll just say that going into Before I Die, I kind of knew the ending. I mean, everyone does. This is no spoiler: The main character is dying and will die. First, I hadn’t read anything like this before. Naturally, the title made me think of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, but they’re really not similar at all.

Reading this book was like making a friend, finding out she’s dying, and staying by her side until that last breath. Which is to say, it’s painful in a lot of parts—especially the ending.

Um, about that ending… it’s sad. No, that’s not the right word. It’s some word for sad that’s like SAD10. I don’t want to give away too much about how the main character dies, but I will say that it was well done. Jenny Downham was obviously out for tears, so instead of letting the main character just keel over and be done with it, she dragged out each excruciating moment. We sat there, like her family did, and hold her hand while she goes. Still, there is a sense of peace at the end, and that’s what makes the whole thing bearable.

The bottom line: The book’s practically sponsored by Kleenex.

Now, for the tear-jerker rating! I cried: 

Like I just watched The Notebook for the first time.

What’s the best book you read this month?

*Am I the only one who needs a good tearfest once in a while?

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Story, In Song

Happy Monday, guys.

So, I know I haven’t told you a ton about my WIP, but I thought it would be fun to explain it through a few songs that make me think of the story or a specific scene.

I’m 90 percent sure this will seem totally disjointed to you and you’ll think I’m writing a tragedy-romance-comedy mash up that will be as appealing as a peanut butter, lettuce, Red Bull, and string cheese smoothie. If that’s the case, forgive me and let’s still be friends. ’Kay?

Here we go...

This song makes me think of the book on a whole. If this story were a movie, this song would play during the ending credits:

Though I won’t explain it here, some of the lyrics really fit with something that happens at the end of the book:

Whenever I listen to this song I think of a certain scene where one of the characters is dying and something big happens. (Sheesh, I’m being extremely vague here, but just go with it. Please?)

This song is exactly the mood I envision leading up to and during the climax:

And, finally, this song goes with a scene in the story where the main character is really struggling with a moral dilemma. The words “love is our resistance” really fits here, though in the case of my story it’s not about romantic love:

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s impossible for me to listen to these songs while writing. (Seriously. I end up writing gibberish that uses a few phrases from whatever song I’m listening to at the time.) But I find it really helpful to put a playlist together, lay down, shut my eyes, and let the scenes play out behind my eyes. Sometimes the music inspires the scene. Sometimes it’s just the mood of the music that helps me better develop a scene. And a lot of times I’ll think up new scenes while listening to the music.

Do you use music in any way to help your writing? And who hear can listen while writing?*

* I bet you can read in the car, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Likability Factor

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m addicted to Dexter.

I thought you should know that because a) it’s an awesome show and b) it’ll help you understand where I’m coming from with this post. I wanted to talk about likable and unlikable characters. And who better to illustrate that with than a serial killer, right?

I’ll just say it … I love Dexter. Not just the show, but the guy. Sure, he kills someone almost every episode. Sure, he does it by hacking them to pieces. And, yeah, he has no remorse. But it’s hard not to love the guy.

The writers on the show really got the whole “make your character likable” thing, an especially hard task when he’s doing something as unpleasant as murdering people. So even if your character doesn’t get warm and fuzzy when he thinks about taking a saw to some stranger’s neck,* there’s something you can learn from Dex. (Yeah, I like to think we’re on a nickname basis by now.)

So, here are some things I’ve learned about creating likable characters from Dexter:

Give him a heart
Dexter may tell us that he’s heartless and incapable of emotion, but he’s only kidding himself. That’s because his actions—the way he cares for Rita and his children, the way he protects his sister—show us that he’s not empty inside. He may tell us he can’t love, but we see the way he loves them. And that makes us love him even more.

Add humor
For a crime drama, Dexter has an awful lot of laugh-out-loud moments. Because Dexter’s a bit, um, off, his comments about the people around him and the world in general are hysterical. His unique outlook on his surrounding, friends and family are funny to those of us who aren’t psychologically damaged. Don’t be afraid to let your character use his view of the world to make us laugh. We’ll like them better, even if they’re about to beat up a nerd or spill red Gatorade on the new girl’s white shirt.

Give him a hobby
Okay, I’ll admit Dexter’s hobby is a bit … unsavory. But, really, his attention to detail as both a forensic specialist and serial killer is admirable. He’s the best at what he does in both fields. Sure, we don’t exactly want to pat him on the back for being such an awesome serial killer, but you have to admit: A character who has a passion, follows it, and works hard at perfecting it is commendable.

Make us agree
The major reason everyone who watches Dexter loves him is that he’s doing a job that, deep down, we all want him to do. We see the other serial killers brutally murder innocent people and even though we know it’s wrong, we can’t help thinking, Dexter, please take care of this guy so Miami can be safe again. And, well, when the latest serial killer’s on the chopping block, it’s hard not to think that in a tiny way Dex is doing some good. Find some way we can identify with your character and we’ll love him, too. Give him a cause we believe in, one that we’ll get behind despite actions we don’t agree with.

Speaking of likability, a few months ago I read GettingRevenge on Lauren Wood, which is about a girl, Helen, who returns to her old high school to destroy the girl who publicly humiliated her in middle school. This book walked the fine line between a likeble protagonist who we could identify with and one who we wanted to slap silly.

Truthfully, I think it hit the right balance, especially thanks to the humor. Still, I did have the nagging urge to push Helen down steep hill at some points. (Does that make me as bad as Helen, who would like to push Lauren Wood out of a speeding dump truck? Don’t answer that.)

What about you guys? Have you read anything with an unlikable character that was particularly well done? What made you like the character?

Also, a giant CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!! to writers Katherine Owens and Lydia Kang, who both announced on Wednesday that they’ve found agents. You ladies rock!

*Too graphic? Sorry to the squeamish.

 Also, I think I've hit an all-time high for the number of knives in one post...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RTW: Best Book Covers

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic. 

This week’s prompt was: 
What are your all-time favorite book covers?

I’m the kinda girl who likes to judge a book by its cover. (So sue me.) My hands-down favorites are the ones Penguin redesigned every so often.

Like these cloth-bound ones:

Or these deluxe editions:

Not only do they feel sort of grown-up and fun (as opposed to the worn versions I’ve had since high school) but they’re also really pretty on a bookshelf. Though if Penguin keeps it up I’ll have about 30 gorgeous copies of Jane Eyre by the time I’m 50.

What are your favorite book covers?

Also: Today’s the final day of the Read for Relief auction. If you haven’t heard about our awesometastic prizes (hello, there’s a full-manuscriptagent critique!), head over now. Bidding ends at 10 p.m.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reader Appreciation Day

When you see people you really like but don’t want to come off too eager so you give a little wave:

And instead of yelling, “Come over here and talk to me and be my best friend forever and ever!!!!” you play it cool.

Then there’s that awkward moment when someone asks the group who has the best blog readers. And you’re like, “Um, I do.”

And suddenly you want to tell your blog readers how cool they are from the bottom of your heart…

But giving a bear hug over the Internet is awkward. So you consider putting on a show.

Until your husband defines the word inappropriate.

But you give a little dance* to thank them anyway.

Welcome to all my new followers, and thanks for reading to everyone! If I were corny I'd tell you seeing you here brightens my day. But, er, I'm not corny. Not at all...

Have a super awesome weekend.

*Sadly, I don't dance much better than this.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

RTW: Been There, Done That

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic. 

This week’s prompt was: What themes, settings, motifs, scenes, or other elements do you find recurring in your work?

I love reading multiple works by authors and realizing that a setting or theme appears again and again. And though I don’t consciously stare at a blank document and say, “Hmm, I think I’ll write about the resilience of friendship today,” I do find there are certain themes that keep popping up.

Either my subconscious is trying to tell me I have issues or it’s telling me I have a stunted sense of imagination.

Siblings, Six Feet Under
Contrary to what you might believe after reading one of my stories, my sister is alive. Don’t ask me why, but at least two my stories deal with a dead sibling. Take that as you will.

I’m horrible at forgiving people (I’m trying to get better!), which is why it’s almost laughable that I always ask my characters to forgive: either themselves or someone else.

Since I have a chronic pain condition, I like to torture my characters physically. You know, misery loves company and all. In my current WIP, my protagonist actually has a physical condition that directly and indirectly causes her pain. In other stories, I like to put them in situations that would make a normal person cry. Mwahahahaha.

I envy the girls who go after a guy and have no doubts that he likes them. But a recurring theme in my work is the uncertainty everyone else feels while crushing hard. I love the whole Did he brush my elbow on purpose or was that just because we’re standing in a crowded elevator? What did he mean when he said, “see you later?” And so on.

Medical Advances & Technology
I’m sure one day a book I write will be free of this, but for now, they each feature some sort of advanced medical technology that sounds like a great idea until you put it into practice—or into the wrong hands. That’s the kind of sci-fi I love writing: not necessarily about the future, but about what life would be like right now if we could mutate genes, change the way people process thoughts, and so on.

What elements do you find recurring in your work?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Let Your Character Be a Jerk

Before I get into the whole write-about-douchebags post, I wanted to mention that the Read for Relief auction went live this morning. Head over there for a chance to bid on ten awesome donations, like a copy of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, a critique by HarperTeen editor Erica Sussman, a signed ARC of Leigh Fallon’s Carrier of the Mark, a query critique from agent Jim McCarthy, and more. And that’s just tomorrow. Check back all this week for even more auction items. (Or follow @read4relief on Twitter for updates.)

So, back to your character and why he or she should act like a jerk once in a while. The other day, I was reading a book with a protagonist who let everyone walk all over her. Yes, she was a good person and all. And she was really patient and always thought the best of others, but to be honest, she was also a little dense. The entire time I was reading, I was silently willing her to get up in someone’s face and give them a piece of her mind. Only she never did that.


Here’s the thing: Humans can avoid confrontation. Characters shouldn’t. Not if you want them to appear in an exciting book, that is. Sure, there may be outside conflict—say, if your character’s kidnapped by an evil villain dead set on using her gray matter to power a highly technical weapon that can disintegrate California with the push of a button. And there’s internal conflict—like wondering why the guy who said he had a really amazing time last night is suddenly tickling some other girl’s throat with his tongue.

The difference between a character someone writes about and one that’s constantly waiting for her story to be told is how she reacts to the conflict.

Does she fight, physically? Does she fight with words? Or does she sit back and twiddle her thumbs until a) someone else makes a move, b) the other person realizes his or her wrong, or c) things spontaneously work out?

I’m not just talking about scenes where your character might have to wield a sword and fight the bad guys. I’m talking about scenes with bullies (both young and old) or crazy parents or a best friend who’s suddenly too cool. And so on and so forth. Sure, in real life we might avoid speaking our minds, getting revenge, or putting our wants before friendship or family, but this isn’t real life. So let your character be a jerk.

Let her tell off the guy who cheated on her. Let her steal her best friend’s boyfriend. Let her shave the queen bee’s head or make fun of the super shy but really nice kid.

Yesterday I wrote a scene where my character finally broke. A lot had happened to her, and she finally spoke her mind. (Well, in this case it was more like shouting…) Anyhow, she said what anyone in her position would be thinking. And, you know, it felt good pushing her to that breaking point and then letting her vent. There’s conflict in that, but there’s also conflict in the consequences that follow.

Of course, there are characters whose personalities would never allow them to act in that way. That’s okay. There are limitless ways characters can be jerks, you know.

Maybe your character is shy and quiet, but she leaks reputation-damaging information about the most popular guys in high school online.

Maybe your character would never flirt with a guy to let him know she’s interested, but she does so to break him up with his girlfriend and win a bet.

Maybe your character would never hurt those she loved, but she tells her brother she hates him in order to keep him safe from the invading vampires/zombies/aliens.

Nobody likes reading about protagonists who are complete douchebags. Still, every character’s allowed to have a moment of unfettered douchebaggery to add conflict to the story.

Should every protagonist in every book be a bastard at some point? No. But I think sometimes we fear pushing our characters further, letting them hurt people, especially those they care about. That’s when the story picks up and we start to worry: Will she be forgiven? How will she overcome the humiliation?

Donald Maass once said something to the effect of, “What’s the worst thing your main character does? Whom and how does that hurt? Now work backwards, set it up to hurt even more.”

How can you apply that to your work? And what’s the meanest, most clever way you can think of for a protagonist to hurt a character he or she loves?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fall Book Club: Rules of the Game

Boy, am I glad to see you. And not just because it’s Friday, which puts me in a good mood. Nope, I’m just glad you’re here.

(If you could see me, you’d notice I’m not just smiling but I am, in the words of her majesty Tyra Banks, smizing.* Also, I’m totally not wearing pajamas. And my hair is, like, Pantene commercial–ready.)

I’m glad you’re here because today we can finally talk about the rules of the Fall Book Club. I’m also excited that so many of you are up for reading  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

So here’s the deal:

Start Now
You can start reading whenever you’re ready. Consider the whistle blown.

Stop Then
We’re going to be talking about the book on Friday, September 30. That gives you three weeks to read the book and form some sort of opinion on it.

Blog About It
If you have a blog, post about the book—and, more importantly, your thoughts about the book—on September 30. You can blog about anything, really: why you liked it, why you disliked it, the character development, the voice, the character that bugged the heck out of you… It doesn’t matter which direction you take the post as long as it’s about  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Leave a Link
On September 30, leave a link to your blog on mine. Other people can view your blog, just as you’ll be able to read every other participants’ thoughts on the book. Maybe I’ll even learn how to embed one of those cool link list things on the post. You never know just how crazy I’ll get.

Leave a Comment
Being left out is no fun, so if you don’t have a blog, I’d still love for you to participate! Just read the book along with us, and leave your thoughts in the comments of people’s posts.

Make Friends
The bottom line: You can tour everyone else’s blogs to get their take on the book. It’s a good way to understand different views on the novel, but it’s also a great way to meet other blog friends.

Stay Tuned
The following Monday, we’ll vote on the book for October’s club, which will start that week and run until Monday, October 31.

So get ready. Oh, and if you want to grab the badge above, you can add it to your post or to your blog’s sidebar to identify yourself as a member of the book club. It’s like the red badge of coolness, ya know?

In the spirit of book love, which yet-to-release book would you walk to a bookstore barefoot in the snow—both ways!—in order to read right now?

*Don’t know what that means? Count yourself as lucky.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Read for Relief & The Book of the Month

So, yeah, my attempt to lure you back to my blog for big news annoyed at least one person. That would be my sister. To her I say, in the words of my six-year-old nephew, Wah, wah, wah, you big baby. I’m sorry, but that’s the most elegant way for me to tell you that you can stop your whining, that I’m revealing the news today while still quoting someone who’s spent half his life in diapers.

But first, I want to reveal the book we’ll be reading for the Fall Book Club. You all voted, and your pick was…

…oh the suspense!

…is it killing you?

…okay, fine:

That’s right: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. You can start reading whenever you’re ready, and I’ll give you more detailed instructions—including the date we’ll all post our thoughts on the book—this Friday. (I’ll be trying to get a head count then, too. I would like to count your head. And not just because your hair looks so nice today, which it does.)

And on to the news: As many of you know, Hurricane Irene ripped through the East Coast recently, leaving destruction and flooding in its wake. To raise funds for relief efforts along the East Coast, I’ve joined forces with a few writer friends, Erin Bowman, Caroline Richmond, and Sarah Enni, to launch the Readfor Relief auction. We’re excited to reveal the auction’s website and Twitter handle.

Here’s what we’re doing: We’re auctioning off a bunch of industry-related items to raise funds for the Red Cross. (For more information about why we’re running an auction or how it works exactly, head to our website.) The auction items include:
  • Query critiques
  • Manuscript critiques
  • Books (ARCs or published books, both signed and unsigned)
  • Book-related swag
Here’s where you come in: Your participation will help us raise money for those in need. And if you happen to win a manuscript critique by an agent or editor, well, that’s a nice bonus, right?

For starters, we’re still looking for donations! And we’d love for you to spread the word. The more you all talk about Read for Relief, the more money we can raise. So grab a badge (they’re on the Read for Relief homepage) and tell others about it.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@read4relief). It’s the best way to know when auctions open and close, what items are up for bidding, and much more.

We’re hoping that with this auction we can, as a writing community, help heal areas hardest hit by the hurricane.