Book Review: This Shattered World

this shattered worldThis Shattered World
by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Form: Purchased Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Space, Rebellion, Violence, Freedom, Love, Irish culture

This book is a sequel/companion book to These Broken Stars.  While it is not necessary to read the books in order because the books follow different characters, it is recommended.

Summary:
This book takes place on a planet on the verge of war. Soldiers are trying to keep the peace, but a mysterious mental illness is causing the soldiers to go crazy with violence. History between the soldiers and citizens/natives is tense to say the least, and tension is rising. Jubilee Chase is one of the soldiers. Flynn Cormac is one of the native rebels. But in this story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, Jubilee and Flynn see something in each other beyond their side in this war.

What I Loved:

Initially, I really enjoyed figuring out all the ties to Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed trying to figure out character equivalents and where the story was going.

I also really liked the bits of Irish culture embedded in a setting that was otherworldly. This element grounded the story as well as gave the reader something to grasp in a setting that was unfamiliar.

I liked the idea of Jubilee Chase, being a hardened soldier after a tragic childhood.

I liked the Shakespearean place names: Avon, Verona, etc.

I liked the home of the rebels and how they managed to stay hidden. The swampy setting was very original and fresh.

The ending helped pull the book together.

Criticism:

This book was much slower for me than These Broken Stars. I really struggled to finish it. Jubilee and Flynn did not come to life for me like Tarver and Lilac.  I think part of the problem for me was buying into their skills and talents as characters. I would have bought into Jubilee being a tough as nails if we had actually gotten to see her in battle. I would have bought into Flynn being a rebel leader more if we had actually seen him navigating his people through a challenge. In the previous book, Tarver and Lilac underwent so much when they crash landed that we saw their character through the hardships they went through.  I didn’t feel like this book had the same level of conflict and challenge. Instead, it felt a lot more like Jubilee and Flynn were observing and hiding and talking for most of the book.

I also didn’t really like the direction the book took being so similar to the previous one. I get that it was the author’s attempt to tie the books together, but it didn’t feel fresh to me. It felt forced. I would have preferred that the authors use this new planet setting to create a new conflict.

I also felt like the whole first half of the book was a tad confusing. I didn’t understand what was meant by the soldier’s going insane (I think we needed to witness that firsthand earlier in the book). I didn’t understand all the dreams at the start of each chapter. Looking back, I still don’t like how many dreams there were, and even now knowing what their purpose was, I don’t want to go back and reread them.

And… SPOILER.  SPOILER.  Don’t read below…

ThisShatteredWorld2

SPOILER:
I didn’t like that Jubilee and Flynn both didn’t die. I felt like it was a bit of a cop out. I was expecting it with the parallel Romeo and Juliet storyline.  I’d prepared myself for it.  And then it didn’t happen.  And I totally felt like the authors wimped out. Wanted their characters to have a happy ending. And so they didn’t kill them. And I think it might have been a better story if they’d died.

Overall:
Three stars. Not as good as These Broken Stars. Slow, didn’t like the characters as much, and weaker in plot. But still creative sci-fi and I enjoyed the ties to Romeo and Juliet.

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Book Review: Sculptor

sculptorSculptor
by Scott McCloud

Published by: First Second
Form: Purchased Hardback
Genre: Graphic Novel
Big Themes
: Art, Life, Death, Love, Depression, Individuality, Legacy, Time

Summary:
A young artist makes a bargain with Death: unlimited artistic ability but in exchange, David Smith will only have 200 days left to live. With his new ability to sculpt anything his mind can imagine, David struggles to create a legacy to his name.  He wants his work to be seen and remembered, but the clock is ticking.

“The best graphic novel I’ve read in years. It’s about art and love and why we keep on trying. It will break your heart.” -Neil Gaiman

Review:

Scott McCloudIf you are a fan of graphic novels, Scott McCloud should be a familiar name.  His books Making Comics and Understanding Comics are must-haves and will change how you read and appreciate graphic novels. I bought these books for my brother about ten years ago after being incredibly impressed by them myself. We would both call ourselves Scott McCloud fans. However, while McCloud has written how-to manuals about comics, he had yet to embark on creating a novel-length piece of graphic fiction.  Sculptor is his first.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Scott McCloud speak at Politics and Prose in DC back in February. He had a great computer presentation that allowed him to show us his creative process and the work that went into Sculptor. The book is a 488 pages and took McCloud five years to craft. This event moved Sculptor to the top of my to-read pile despite how enormous my to-read list is lately.

What I Loved:
The art was gorgeous.  You can tell this book was an act of love. Every panel shows thoughtfulness. The novel is set in New York City, and some of the panels made me ache to jump on the train for a visit.

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The message about life was another element I loved. I’d like to discuss this book in a book group, but here is what I took away from the book (without giving any spoilers). After reading, I felt like McCloud wanted his readers, particularly young people who are driven to make a name for themselves, to realize that life is more than making your mark. Especially when it comes to creativity, life fuels your work, your craft. Experiences and relationships and everyday life are just as important as any goals or aspirations you may have. And to live in a manic, focused, obsessive state where your entire focus is centered on your own aspirations is wasting the one life you have to live.

This resonated with me because creative types, introverted writers especially, can live in the worlds they create. They can obsess over the right word or phrasing. They can worry if anyone will ever want to read their work. And writing is often such a solitary act that shutting out the real world becomes too easy. So for me, this book was about finding balance. A reminder that life outside of art and ambition is equally important.

Also, the concepts of some of the sculptures that David creates were really, really awesome. I’d imagine that would be difficult to come up with as a writer–ideas for art that corresponds with infinite ability. That was a fun, almost superhero element.  Super Sculptor–can mold anything with his bare hands. McCloud made that power seem cool and desirable.

Criticism:
I’d love to have a discussion about Meg. McCloud admits that she fits the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but he said the following:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an archetype that shows up in romance almost exclusively, and our reaction is to mark it for death. We shouldn’t kill what we don’t understand. There’s a reason why this character shows up again and again. I don’t know how well a job I’ve done of investigating those reasons, but I hope there’s something in The Sculptor that makes Meg worthwhile.

Quote from Vulture.com

There are so many things to be discussed about Meg–from her first appearance as an angel, to their talk about her being an object, to her final representation in sculpture form. Am I okay with how McCloud portrayed the only leading female character? My initial answer is no. But I’d love to talk about it.

Overall:
Four stars. Overall, I really enjoyed this. Would highly recommend to all creative types or ambitious types. Recommended for adults due to sex and mature topics.

Behind the Story: Deciding Between Standalone or Multiple Books

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Standalone to Multiple Books: Making the Decision

When I set out on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I was resolved to write a standalone novel.  I am doing an adaptation of a classic piece of literature.  That classic is one, admittedly long, book.  Therefore, I would write one book.  I thought a standalone novel was a good place to begin for a new writer, and I didn’t want to jump on the series bandwagon.  One book.  I could handle one book.

But as I started writing, I began to worry.  My word count was high.  And climbing.  I am not a verbose wordsmith either.  My scenes are quick.  Rarely do I write more than three sentences of description.  I like action.  In fact, while I’m praised for my fast pacing, my advisors and critique partners often want more description.  So the fact that my word count was so high made me nervous.  Because I knew I would need to eventually go back and flesh out descriptions and close plot holes that I sped past.

I was less than two-thirds through the first draft when I hit the max word count for a typical Young Adult standalone novel.  (YA typically falls between 55k and 90k.)  And so I knew I had to do some serious thinking.

Why had I tethered myself to this one book idea?  Mostly, it was because I wanted to be identical to the classic novel I was adapting.  Was that a wise decision?  Can I consider another option?

And when I thought about it, multiple books actually made more sense.

  • My one book is very much divided into three distinct parts.
  • There are three completely different settings.
  • Each part ends with a devastating event.
  • Each part ends with both a resolution as well as a cliffhanger.
  • Each part begins with my character grappling with change and new conflict.

I had three books.  Easily.  In fact, three books made so much more sense.  So I gave in.  And the good side is: I have almost an entire trilogy drafted.  Not just outlined.  Drafted.  And that rocks.

The tough part: it’s all a little more overwhelming.  Because a part of every writer wonders why anyone would want to read their book.  And now I have to persuade a reader to not just invest their time and money in one book, but three.  And that’s more pressure.

But I love my story.  I love my characters.  I love my setting.  And I know this story isn’t like anything else that’s out there right now.

So I’ll ignore the pressure and doubts.  And keep writing.  Because deep down: I just love this story.  And I have to write it.  Even if it takes me three books.

Have you ever had a story evolve beyond your expectations?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Top Ten Books on My To-Read List (Winter 2015)

5b4a8-toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

This Week’s Topic:
Top Ten Books on My To-Read List (Winter 2015)

I fell short of my reading goals for 2014, so I have a lot of catching up to do!  These are the books at the top of my list.  All book titles link to Goodreads.

Winter1

  1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart- I read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks this summer and loved it.  A hardback of We Were Liars is on my bookshelf, calling my name.
  2. The Unwind series by Neal Schusterman- My mom and brother are urging me to finish this series.  They LOVE it.  I really enjoyed the first book, but it’s been well over 5 years since I’ve read it.  I’ll need to do a re-read before tackling Unwholly, UnSouled, and Undivided.
  3. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier- I discovered this book at a new local indie bookstore called Greenrow Books.  If you’re in Maryland, you should totally check them out!  I’ll be teaching Poe soon, and this Victorian ghost story boasted a Poe-type vibe.winter4
  4. Maggie Stiefvater- There was a point where I had read everything Maggie had published.  I’ve since fallen way behind, despite my desire to devour everything she writes.  I’ve started Scorpio Races three times but have never finished.  SinnerDream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue are all on my to-read list as well.winter2
  5. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen- This book has tons of buzz, and my mom read it already and passed it on to me after she really enjoyed it.
  6. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins- Sometimes I need humor in my life, and I can trust Rachel Hawkins to make me laugh!  I loved her Hex Hall series, and I want to check out her latest novel, too!
  7. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas- I have heard nothing but wonderful things about this series, and I feel so late to the party!  Really, really want to read this one! winter3
  8. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- I am normally so much better about reading the Newbery winners.  This one keeps escaping me, and I really must make time to read it.  I need to read more middle grade this year because I’m running out of books to recommend to my students!
  9. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo- Another series that I keep hearing wonderful things about!  I bought this ages ago and really must finally pick it up!
  10. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers- This series intimidates me because the books are sooooo long.  But it’s another series that people rave about, and I shouldn’t let the book’s weight deter me any longer!

What books are on your to-read list this winter?  Please share!

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility

sea of tranquilitySea of Tranquility
by Katja Millay
Published by: Atria Books
Form: Purchased Paperback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Big Themes
: Trajedy, Death, Falling in Love, Second Chances, Woodworking, Baking, Ice Cream

Summary:
After a life-changing, horrible, near-death experience, a girl named Nastya stops speaking and moves in with her aunt so she can get a fresh start at a new school.  She meets a boy named Josh, whose life is also unbearably tragic, and the two find comfort in each other’s broken, outcast status.  But can love bloom between two people who have not allowed their scars to heal?

Review in a Nutshell:

This book originally went on my to-read list after I read Aylee’s review over at Recovering Potter Addict.  (Great blog and I highly recommend clicking the link and checking her out.)  Aylee prefers speculative fiction, much like myself.  But this contemporary read had her gushing and handing out five stars, so I put it on my list… Back in Winter 2014…  A year ago…

Fast forward to now.  My mom had been recommending this book to me, saying I would love it.  And I finally picked it up to give it a go over my winter break.  My mom wanted me to read it not just because she enjoyed it, but also because the male lead is a carpenter/woodworker–just like my awesome boyfriend!!!  Ahhh!  Yay!!!  So I definitely liked the male lead in this book.  😉

This was Millay’s first novel and an impressive debut.  Both Nastya and Josh narrate the story, which is something I enjoy when there is a budding romance.  I like getting both perspectives and seeing the characters through each other’s lenses.  I also thought Millay did a good job of slowly revealing bits of information about Nastya’s past.  The pacing and timing of the clues is well done.  I never felt like I was being denied information as the reader.

The only reason I did not give this five stars is because I didn’t cry.  And I kind of felt like I should have cried, based on the story’s content.  So I don’t think I connected with the characters as powerfully as I have in other books (like TFIOS for example).

Overall:
Four stars.  Really enjoyed it, never bored.  Excellent debut and I highly recommend.  For ages 14 and up due to language, violence, alcohol, drugs, and sex.

Behind the Story: Getting Organized

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Getting Organized

I love using planners.  In college, the first thing I’d do after the first full week of classes is fill out a planner/calendar with all the due dates for the semester.  Often things would be color coded.  I liked to see everything all laid out in one document.  I’ve gone through similar phases with blogging and planning out my posts for the month.

But here is my frustration: planners don’t often have what I’m looking for.  Occasionally I’ve found one.  I really liked a line of planners Vera Bradley made for awhile.  But when I went shopping for my 2015 planner, I could not find what I was looking for.  I like to have both a monthly spread and the weekly spread.  For example, I want to be able to see the whole month of January and then immediately following a full calendar for there to be a smaller weekly breakdown.  Apparently, I am alone in this desire because finding a planner laid out that way is a challenge.

So I resolved this dilemma by making my own darn planner.  Right now it’s in a file folder, but I might move it to a three-ring binder.  I wanted to share the pages I created in case this is a design that others may find helpful.  Below are links to the PDF files.

Month Planner

This page features a write-in calendar, a place to list books I read that month, and a place to record my writing word count for the entire month.

Weekly Planner

This page features two weekly spreads where I can record:

  • Daily word count
  • Blog post published that day
  • What book I am reading

There is also a spot at the end of each week to record what my biggest accomplishment of the week was.  Sometimes we all need to recognize our efforts and give ourselves a pat on the back!

I love that I’ve been able to customize a planner for my own uses.  And this was way cheaper than buying one!

Feel free to save or download the pdfs to use yourself!

How do you stay organized?  Do you use a planner or calendar system?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Top Ten Resolutions for 2015

5b4a8-toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

This Week’s Topic:
Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2015 — bookish, blogging or otherwise!

Preface: In the past, I’ve set concrete/measurable goals for myself, like read 3-5 contemporary fiction books or write 1,000 words per day.  But I’m not feeling concrete today.  I’m feeling more like I have a vision for what I want 2015 to look like, and below are the parts of that vision.

  1. Guard my Time- Time is precious and limited. I want to use my time for the things most important to me. I want to use my time to write, to read, and to relax with those I love. Success will depend on being conscious of what is sucking time away as well as prioritizing what I spend time on.
  2. Be Kind- I want to be someone who spreads kind words. Someone who does kind deeds. And someone who thinks kind thoughts. The world needs more kindness.
  3. Be Supportive- I want to show support for the people around me. We don’t have to be in competition with each other.  We don’t have to compare our lives to other’s lives.  Let’s be happy for each person’s successes and build people up through their struggles.  That’s the world I want to live in.
  4. Unplug at 9pm- I want to get off social media and get away from shining screens every night by 9pm.  I need time to wind down at the end of the day.  I want to establish better sleep patterns.  Sleep is so important to both health and mood (article about sleep from Washington Post).
  5. Dedicate time to read EVERY DAY- Even if it’s just the twenty minutes before bed, I can make sure I have time to read every day.  I’m a happier person when I’m reading, and I want to be a happy person.
  6. Read Diverse Books- I teach in diverse schools, and I recognize the need for diverse books.  I want to support publishers and authors who are putting diverse books out there for readers.  And I want to have more diverse books to recommend to my students. (http://weneeddiversebooks.org/)
  7. Type up Book Reviews within 3 Days of Finishing Reading- I struggle to compose a thoughtful review unless I do so before starting a new book.  There is that perfect period after finishing a book where you are spinning it around in your head, where the characters still feel real, where you’ve gotten over initial feelings and are becoming objective.  Did I like this?  What would I change?  What did the author do well?  What can they improve?  Once this time period passes or I start a new book, I feel like my reviews become lackluster and far less thoughtful.
  8. Write- I’m happier when I’m doing it.  It helps to turn off the TV in the evenings and disconnect from social media.  But ultimately, I have to make time and make my writing time a ritual.
  9. Cook Food- I’m doing better and better at using my microwave less and my oven more.  I plan menus. I have a growing supply of spices and ingredients in my cabinet.  I feel overall healthier after making my own food.
  10. Squats, Lunges, Leg Lifts- Because reading and writing both involve sitting on my butt.  So I need a strong butt.

What are your goals for 2015?  Please share!