Friday, October 28, 2011

Fiction Fridays: First Lines

The first lines of a story means a lot. Here are mine from my fiction and nonfiction.

Finding Fiona: Smoke choked her lungs and made her eyes water. The heat burned against her skin. She ran down the steps, tears streaming down her cheeks. Someone grabbed her from behind, strong arms wrapping around her torso.
Novella for sale for $2.99 on Amazon and various other retailers

Passages: The back door slams shut, the hinges rattling. My sister stomps out, pouting. “That stupid air conditioner smells like moldy socks,” she says. “The entire house smells.” (from Together)
Short story collection for sale for 99¢ on Amazon and various other retailers

The Jensens: Mrs. Gellar is now yelling. I watch from my position by the table of books. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen her without her hair curled. She waves her arms, and her face grows read. The others in the yard are trying to politely ignore the scene, but we are all listening.
Flash fiction free on Smashwords or B&N

Agape: I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see Jesus in the flesh. I read the gospels with envy. Those people saw the Son of God incarnate. They saw him put mud on the blind man’s eyes, saw him hold children, saw him walk on water. They could see the lines on his face. Some of them felt his rough hands. They heard his voice as he taught the words of his Father, when he rebuked the hypocritical religious leaders, when he told the lame man to walk. His disciples ate of the same bread and fish and smelled the perfume with which Mary anointed him. The Almighty had come to earth to dwell among men.
Nonfiction free on Smashwords or B&N

What are some of your favorite first lines/paragraphs? What does a first line need to get your attention?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

The sequel to Unearthly by Cynthia Hand. Synopsis from Goodreads:

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. 

Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

January 2012! Wish I had it in my hands right now!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Published 2011, 358 pages, Library copy. 

From Goodreads:
Obviously, something went terribly wrong. Genetic mutations have festered, reducing human longevity to twenty-five, even less for most women. To prevent extinction, young girls are kidnapped, mated in polygamous marriages with men eager to procreate. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery, a recent victim of this breeding farm mentality, has vowed to break loose from its fetters; but finding allies and a safe way out is a challenge she can only hope she will survive. A dystopian fantasy series starter with wings.

Wow! The poetic prose is beautiful and reminded me of Lauren Oliver. Lauren DeStefano creates a creepy, beautiful world. She immediately pulled me into Rhine's struggle. Her memories. Her nightmares. This place where she's trapped is haunting. Her world is dying, and the author never lets you forget it.

I liked how her relationship with her sister wives develops. Things take a while, but I think that's realistic. It's not like things would click into place all at once. By the end, I really liked both Cecily and Jenna, and I wanted happier endings for them. I know we might see one in future books, perhaps with a happier fate.

I also liked her relationship with the boys, Gabriel and Linden. Both of them were really likable, and I found myself even rooting for her and Linden, even though it was obvious it wouldn't work out. I liked that Rhine never strayed form her mission. She never loses her determination, even when she gets caught up in the world of the mansion.

This story was half in the past, half in the present, and I liked that. Since Rhine doesn't have much of a future and since she's in captivity, it's realistic that she would think of her family and what she was torn from. I just loved the author's way of writing, and I loved getting lost in that world. I read this book over the weekend while I was sick, and it was a perfect way for me to forget my sinus headache.

There two big things keeping me from giving this 5 stars instead of 4. I'll link you to Goodreads review since they have that neat spoiler thing:

Other than those two things, I loved this book. Can't wait for the sequel!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

I was lucky enough to find a bonus short story on Smashwords titled Intuition. It preludes the upcoming release Intangible by J. Meyers. Here's the blurb:

Twins Sera and Luke Raine have a well-kept secret—she heals with a touch of her hand, he sees the future. All their lives they’ve helped those in need on the sly. They’ve always thought of their abilities as being a gift. 

 Then Luke has a vision that Sera is killed. That gift they’ve always cherished begins to feel an awful lot like a curse. Because the thing about Luke’s ability? He’s always right. And he can’t do anything about it.

There's a preview of the first chapter on J Meyer's website and at the end of Intuition. I'm excited to read this book! The website says November 2011. Woohoo!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Published 2011, 489 pages. Library copy, but I just might buy it. We'll see. 

From Goodreads:

Beatrice "Tris" Prior has reached the fateful age of sixteen, the stage at which teenagers in Veronica Roth's dystopian Chicago must select which of five factions to join for life. Each faction represents a virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. To the surprise of herself and her selfless Abnegation family, she chooses Dauntless, the path of courage. Her choice exposes her to the demanding, violent initiation rites of this group, but it also threatens to expose a personal secret that could place in mortal danger. Veronica Roth's young adult Divergent trilogy launches with a captivating adventure about love and loyalty playing out under most extreme circumstances.

Yep, I picked it up because of the comparisons to The Hunger Games. There are some similarities, but I think they differ more than they relate. 1st person present tense? Yes. Heroine who is kind of prickly, but also badass? Yes. Dystopian? Yes. Violence and people being pretty horrible to each other? Yes.

The writing is addictive. I stayed up until three reading the first half, and I eagerly waited for a chance to read the second half and finished it today. The first half leaves you with a lot of, 'Wtf?' moments. The world building leaves something to be desired. There seems to be a lot of senseless violence, and I kept thinking, 'What is going on here. . .' It's not exactly a realistic society, either, but like other reviews have said, that's not really the point of this story. It's a thrill ride, just like the Dauntless' entire lives, and the reader watches Tris struggle with her identity. Is she Abnegation (selfless) or Dauntless (brave) or something of both?

Personally, I liked the second half more than the first, but maybe that's because I'd decided to suspend all disbelief at that point. I bounced between love and hatred for Tris. At times, she was a compassionate person and I applauded her bravery. Other times, she was just cruel and I wanted to hit her over the head. But I think that was the author's intent, to show these two extremes in Tris and how they battle within her. It also dealt with those questions like how much one should self-sacrifice or turn the other cheek or seek out justice. I know how I feel, but I've never been in a situation like Tris'.

The romance between Four and Tris was well done. It wasn't completely one-sided, cheesy, or blown way out of proportion. Four is definitely flawed, but I liked the mystery that surrounded him and how his personality slowly came out. I also liked how Tris recognized she didn't really know him that well even though she did have feelings for him.

I really liked the climax of the book, even though I cried at a few different parts. I couldn't read it quick enough. The technology at the end was really interesting. I'm looking forward to the next book, Insurgent, which doesn't come out until next May. One benefit of self-published books: I don't have to wait a year between books in a series!

Common Themes In My Writing: Travel

I thank my family for my love (obsession?) with traveling. By the time I was eighteen, I'd lived in six different cities and eight different houses. I had my first road trip with my grandparents when I was eleven. We traveled from Colorado to Texas to Oklahoma to Missouri to South Carolina to Virginia (and we visited Washington D.C. and Baltimore while we were there) and back. Plus, my parents were awesome enough to take us on all kinds of road trips: to Washington, to Disneyland, to Yellowstone, and all kinds of places in between.

I went to different youth retreats in Southern California and Seattle. I visited Zambia and South Africa the summer after I graduated. Since I turned eighteen, I've visited the Marshall Islands, France, Spain, Italy (yes, that is a picture of me at the Trevi Fountain in Rome!), and Switzerland and I've moved around quite a bit. I love traveling. I love seeing new places. I would visit every single country on this planet if I had the money.

This ambulatory lifestyle tends to show in my fiction. Sometimes it's just a side effect of the plot; sometimes it is the reason for the plot.

Some examples. . .

Finding Fiona:
When Fiona meets someone who claims to be from her past, she finds out she's hours away from where she's going to find answers. She travels from Boston to New York City to visit her childhood home and eventually confront the men who were responsible for her parents' death.

Funny story: I've never been to Boston or New York City, so I did as much research as I could to bring these places to life. Looking at pictures, reading travel blogs, talking to my brother who lives in Brooklyn.

Magnitude (coming soon in a new short story collection): Laura and Jessica's dad always talked about taking the girls to the Grand Canyon, but he didn't have the chance before he died, so the girls decide to go in his memory.

I visited the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in my early teens. I don't remember the specific reason for the road trip or exactly how old I was, but I could never forget that place. Absolutely amazing!

Death of the Sun: Sadie is leaving her hometown for college, but a meeting with her friend upheaves her plans to leave her past behind. This hometown was definitely Pendleton, Oregon. I had a very specific spot in mind when Sadie and Brandon meet in the beginning. I imagine Sadie was going off to college in Portland, but I didn't specify. It could have been Salem, Corvallis, Eugene. The point was it was a new life, one completely different than the one she was leaving behind.

Promising Light (coming this winter): Most epic fantasy has some kind of travel, and this book is no exception. During Grace's trip with the prince, she's kidnapped by mysterious gypsies who tell her she can break the curse on their family. She faces tumultuous decisions that send her to new, dangerous lands she and her friends barely survive.

Some of the places in Promising Light were inspired by real life places I've been. Nyad and Mumbar Jungle are inspired by Hawaii, giving it a tropical climate. Jolen, which we see in the sequel, is a seafaring, Mediterranean-like country. I was definitely thinking of Italy when I wrote about Jolen. When I get closer to publishing Promising Light, I will probably write up a new post about the places in the world and how fun it was to create them. Then you'll know what the heck I'm talking about.

There are others, but most of them are stories that will never see the light of day or won't for a long time, and I don't want to bore anybody. Just know that I have so many more stories that involve traveling--quests to Rome and Switzerland, exploration of the Bermuda Triangle, impromptu trips to Hawaii. I really love going to new places, and I tend to force that wanderlust into my characters' lives.

You just might be seeing some travel writing soon. Nonfiction! The kind that really happened! In the meantime, enjoy some fiction characters running all over the place with Finding Fiona and Death of the Sun.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In My Mailbox #4

I think this was supposed to be on Sunday, but I've always been a procrasinator. Here's what's up next for me:

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I'm actually halfway through this, and I'm really starting to like it. At first, it required a little bit too much suspension of disbelief, but the world building is starting to smooth out.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano. Picked this up from the library after reading a sample online. Should be interesting. I'm really into YA dystopian, if you haven't noticed.

Tempest by Julie Cross. I actually wont his from a Goodreads contest, and it looks awesome. Time travel! Romance! Awesome cover! So excited to read this. I hope it actually shows up because I haven't been getting packages in my mailbox lately. Need to rectify this so I can read this book.

The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody. The sequel to Obernewtyn, and the second in the Obernewtyn series.

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan. I read the first book in Percy Jackson a while ago (The Lightning Thief?) and enjoyed it. I wanted some more Greek gods!

This seems like a lot of books. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur

This is a few days late, but better late than never, right?

Saturday was the Day of Atonement, also called Yom Kippur, or even the Holiest Day of the Year. In Leviticus 16, God tells Moses what the priests are supposed to do. They're to offer up sacrifices for the sins of Israel. It was the time of the year when God would atone for the entire nation. He tells the people to regard the day as a special Sabbath and to "deny themselves." Traditionally, this has been interpreted as fasting.

This weekend, my husband and I fasted, and to add extra denial, I didn't get on my computer all day. If you know me personally, you know it's a big feat. I spent the morning reading and praying, and in the afternoon, we went to a local congregation. then we came home and napped until the sun went down, haha! It's crazy how much energy you DON'T have when you don't eat.

Now, I'm worried about this post that it might come across as arrogant. I know what Jesus said about fasting -- don't tell everyone about it -- but I'd like to share the things I do to become closer to God. Really, Yom Kippur is about recognizing that nothing I can do will ever earn me forgiveness. It all depends on the mercy of God. Though some sects act as though the more they afflict themselves, the more forgiveness they will receive, the fasting for me was just a way to humble myself before the God of all creation.

What is even cooler about this holiday is the echoes of our Messiah, Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews says Jesus is our true high priest. Instead of working in the temple made my human hands, he is working in the true temple where God dwells (8:5-6). Instead of offering sacrifices over and over again, he made one ultimate sacrifice for our sins (10:11-14). And instead of cleaning us merely outwardly, he cleansed our souls (9:13-14).

So each year on Yom Kippur, I thank God for his Son's sacrifice. I reflect on how my sins have separated me from God. I humble myself before my maker. But I also rejoice because my sins have been completely erased by the blood of the lamb.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." ~Romans 8:1-4

Tonight starts the Feast of Tabernacles, also called Sukkot. I'll write about that soon!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Becoming by Raine Thomas

Becoming by Raine Thomas

Published 2011, Kindle Edition, app. 295 pages. 

I tried to write my own synopsis, but the author says it so much better. From Goodreads:

Every three years, Amber Hopkins explodes. Okay, not a blown-to-smithereens explosion, but whatever it is always hurts like hell and leaves her life a shambles. She’s already worked her way through five foster placements, and she’s doing whatever she can to avoid getting blasted into a sixth.

As her eighteenth birthday approaches and she feels the strange and powerful energy building, disaster looms. When the inevitable explosion occurs, her life gets its biggest shakeup yet. She’ll not only learn how her fellow foster and best friend, Gabriel, really feels about her, but she’ll discover that she isn’t really without family.

To top it all off, she’ll finally find out why she’s having the power surges: she isn’t entirely human.

Amber must Become, transitioning to another plane of existence and risking the loss of the most important relationship she’s ever had. Her choice will impact the future of an entire race of beings, and will pit her against an enemy that will prey upon her doubt to try and take her very life.

Kind of makes the explosions now seem like a cakewalk. 

It's great, isn't it? I had my eye on this trilogy for a while, but a sale for 99 cents made me pick up the first one about a month ago. I got the chance to finally start reading it on Friday, and I finished it last night. The story starts off with a great, endearing romance that sucked me in right away. Of course there was some stuff before that, but Gabriel and Amber's relationship was so enjoyable to read.

There's a healthy balance of mystery surrounding Amber's strange origins and we also get the chance to see the people who know more than Amber and the reader. Amber and Gabriel are both really likable while still having flaws. Actually, I take that back -- I can't think of any flaws in Gabriel yet! He's not your typical controlling, secretive, dark YA love interest. I don't really understand the appeal of YA novels that have an ordinary girl trying to find out the supernatural secret of her crush. I like YA where the girl has the secret, or she at least has something going on, too -- books like Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, The Talent Chronicles by Susan Bischoff, Solstice by PJ Hoover, and now Becoming by Raine Thomas.

About halfway through, things slow down a bit with a hefty infodump. I'm not sure how this could have been done differently, but I only retained part of the knowledge I know I'm supposed to have. I need an Estilorian encyclopedia or something because I can't keep track of all the different classes and histories and planes of existence (wait, there are only two, right?). Note to self: Google to see if there is something like this. (Found something on her website! Spoilers for Becoming, obviously)

After said infodump, the pace is back up and running. Amber and Gabriel are faced with big choices and are soon heading to the Estilorian plane of existence to save the people, though I don't really know how. Honestly, I might need to run over certain parts again because I was reading so quickly because it was such a fun read.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll just say that I really liked the Estilorian plane. I liked the description (though sometimes it bordered on too much) and the very different field of the world. It's evident the author gave these people a distinct culture and traditions and really thought it through. I could definitely take a page or two from her book on worldbuilding, which I usually put on the back burner.

The ending climax was pretty cool -- some great action scenes with the girls really kicking ass. I'm excited for the next book, and I wish I would have bought it at 99 cents when I had the chance! But I'm happy to support a self-published author with the hefty fee of $2.99 ;)

In short, I recommend this trilogy for fans of YA fantasy, especially readers who enjoy romance, male love interests who are gentlemen, interesting female protagonists, and strong worldbuilding. A great addition to YA fantasy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

First published in 1987 (this copy was 2008), Paperback, 244 pages.

This premise is a mix of fantasy and science fiction. From Goodreads, the description reads:

For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory.

It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like be destroyed.

Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?

Sounds fascinating, right? Post-apocalyptic young adult fiction and people with strange powers who are feared. The synopsis doesn't really go very far, though: Her powers are found out soon in the book and she moves to a mysterious place for Misfits called Obernewtyn. For a few pages, I thought it might be some kind of Hogwarts, but it definitely wasn't. Obernewtyn is full of dangers and Elspeth and her friends are soon trying to figure out what kind of experiments the doctor is doing on their friends.

Right off the bat, it's obvious this isn't modern fiction. The voice is different, the pace much slower. It took me a while to get into the book and to even decide that I liked it. The narrator, Elspeth, is quite dry, and sometimes I wasn't even convinced she was scared when she definitely should have been. We don't find out anything about her appearance until almost the end. Had there not been a girl on the cover, I'm not sure how I would have imagined Elspeth. 

There is a lot of telling instead of showing. Part of that makes sense because the book takes place over a long period of time, but I kept thinking of JK Rowling. In Chamber of Secrets, instead of saying something like, "Rumors flew, especially among the Hufflepuffs, that Harry was the heir of Slytherin" she shows us conversations among the Hufflepuffs where they are theorizing that Harry could be the heir. I wish Isobelle Carmody had done something like this, because I knew very little about the Misfits at Obernewtyn except for about five of them. 

That was another thing that I didn't like -- I felt like she didn't give me much information about the characters. I wanted to know more about Matthew and Dameon and Cameo. It's like the author suddenly expected me to root for them and believe in their friendship with Elspeth even though it seemingly came out of nowhere.

All of that said, the last hundred pages were great. I was lying in bed last night and I just had to finish the book. Carmody has such a great premise, and it's neat how she pulls together the Beforetime machines and the Misfit powers. It's really interesting since this book was written in the 80s, so she wasn't even aware of all the crazy machines we have today! But she can write a great action scene. I was on the edge of my seat at the end. I'm really rooting for Elspeth and Rushton. I believe Rushton has some more secrets that the author hasn't told us yet. 

In the end, it's revealed that Elspeth has a bigger purpose than just protecting her friends who are being experimented on, and I will search out the second book. I think my library has the entire series. I actually picked it up because I wanted to get invested in a big series like this. Perhaps the writing style will get better as it goes on. I gave it 3/5 stars because I did like it, it just wasn't an amazing read for me. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Trailer

Uh-oh, guys, the trailer is here for Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to think. I definitely think it's time for me to reread this book.

Part of me doesn't get it. This book is so deep in Oskar's head and so much of the story depends on the words. On the unseen. Not on things you can really translate into film. I think it will be interesting to see how the filmmakers try to get across that same sense of wonderment and sadness at the world and life and death. Sometimes, words just do it better.

I'd like to see how they are going to translate the emotion these passages carry to film:

“I felt, that night, on that stage, under that skull, incredibly close to everything in the universe, but also extremely alone. I wondered, for the first time in my life, if life was worth all the work it took to live. What exactly made it worth it? What's so horrible about being dead forever, and not feeling anything, and not even dreaming? What's so great about feeling and dreaming?”

“Feathers filled the small room. Our laughter kept the feathers in the air. I thought about birds. Could they fly is there wasn't someone, somewhere, laughing?”

“I tried the key in all the doors, even though he said he didn't recognize it. It's not that I didn't trust him, becuase I did. It's that at the end of my search I wanted to be able to say: I don't know how I could have tried harder.”

One thing I hope this film does that I think was a great move for Everything is Illuminated is completely taking out the storyline between his grandparents. I know some people loved it, but I found myself wanting those parts to be over so I could get back to Oskar. It just seemed like he was trying so hard to be meaningful and obscure. That's how I felt with the storyline of Trachimbrod in Everything is Illuminated, too, though it was definitely more enjoyable than the grandparents. My preference for Safran Foer's storylines:

Oskar's quest in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Alex's letters/story in Everything Is Illuminated
The History of Trachimbrod written by Jonathan in Everything Is Illuminated
Grandparents' love story in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

But enough about me. What do you think of the trailer? Have you read the book? Will you now?