Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Review: The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden

I started reading these books at the suggestion of Nomes (my guide to all things Aussie, especially lit). I loved book one, Tomorrow When the War Began, immediately.

Here's the basic premise: A group of Aussie teenagers take a week-long camping trip in the bush (woods/outback to us). When they return to civilization their country has been invaded by an enemy army, almost everyone has been captured, and they are in a quandary-- should they turn themselves in, go and try to wait it out in the bush... or try to help the war effort.

I still cannot believe that the main character POV, Ellie Linton, is written by an adult man. He perfectly captures the feelings and thoughts of a teenage girl. Ellie is no princess, growing up on a farm in rural Australia means she can do all kinds of cool things like kill and clean a lamb, or drive a piece of heavy machinery... or find her way around building some simple explosives. But she's still such a typical girl in her feelings about her parents, her friends, and even the boy she crushes on. In addition, her development over the books is spot on-- of course all of this guerrilla work takes a toll on all of the kids, and she voices it beautifully.

So, I loved the first book-- what took me so long to read them all? Simple cost, I'm afraid. Never do I feel flush enough to purchase a seven-book series. I had made my way through the first three books over the last year... but that was as far as I'd gotten. That is until I (yay!) won Meredith's birthday giveaway-- an Amazon gift certificate. So I purchased the remaining books on my kindle, and flew through them this week.

They were so amazing-- every bit as good as the first one. Here's why (in my humble opinion).
1. The kids DO decide to help the war effort-- but their efforts at "going commando" ALWAYS come off as realistic and believable. The skills they use are totally skills these kids have anyway or can reasonably develop (for example, the farm kids can all shoot pretty well, and the others learn to over time). That being said, most of their sabotage is not due to "shoot 'em up" skills-- they are not heavily armed because, again, that wouldn't make a lot of sense. These are still teenagers, and they are fighting an army. Sometimes they manage to do what professionals have failed to simply because of their real-life farm-related skill set, because they know the landscape so well, because they become so great at communicating with each other, and due to being in the right place at the right time.

2. I also think the books work so well because they're action packed (I mean, Hunger Games-level action-packed), but don't feel like a poorly-written action movie. I like action movies as much as anyone else... but I wouldn't want to READ one. The point is, action films are visual animals. In the post HG world, I have read a few books that seem to be trying to write a YA action movie and "this little book issue" is just a stepping stone. Lots of action, the flashier the better, little substance, terribly predictable dialog and endings, thin logic, etc. Yes, I can see them as movies (and they'll probably make great movies), but reading them makes me bored in a way. No, bored isn't the right word. When I go to the doctor's office I will read the worst types of celebrity magazines, the kinds I don't ever buy or read at home. After 20 minutes of reading those I feel charged up, a little headachy, my brain is full... but of nothing, really. That's how those books made me feel. And that is exactly NOT how the Tomorrow series made me feel.

3. Underneath it all, you never lose sight of Ellie as a teenage girl. She internalizes everything that happens to her in the most realistic way. There's one point, where she's talking about a childhood friend-- and she begins to describe something they did together as kids-- an anecdote, really. But then she fills page after page with these anecdotes, and as it builds it becomes more heartbreaking. She's not just telling you, the reader, that she had a friend, and that the friend was special. She's showing you beyond a doubt that this friend was a critical part of her life-- a dearer and truer friend than most of us will ever know. A  friend that is gone now, who will never come back.

I cannot recommend these books enough. They are a fast read, but so wonderfully done.

**Do note, if you get the Kindle versions-- there's something weird about the way they digitize them-- I don't know how that process works, but instead of just photocopying them in, it's almost like a computer has tried to read and interpret the words. There were several places as I read where I could tell the wrong word had been put in. For example, they kept talking about a character named "Come" and I just couldn't remember who that was. It took me half a kindle book to realize they meant Corrie, but the "rri" had been digitized as an "m". If you do read it as a Kindle book, there may be some words that need interpretation.

Have you read The Tomorrow series? What did you think?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Suspense two ways: Hushed and The Circular Staircase

Two deliciously suspenseful books I wanted to share-- one new, modern and a little dark-- the other old-school style.

HUSHED by Kelley York
I heard about Hushed by Kelley York from Christa Desir-- I ordered the book in December, I think, and for some inexplicable reason only opened it last week. The premise sounded interesting-- here's the scoop, from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Archer couldn’t protect his best friend, Vivian, from what happened when they were kids, so he’s never stopped trying to protect her from everything else. It doesn’t matter that Vivian only uses him when hopping from one toxic relationship to another—Archer is always there, waiting to be noticed.

Then along comes Evan, the only person who’s ever cared about Archer without a single string attached. The harder he falls for Evan, the more Archer sees Vivian for the manipulative hot-mess she really is.

But Viv has her hooks in deep, and when she finds out about the murders Archer’s committed and his relationship with Evan, she threatens to turn him in if she doesn’t get what she wants… And what she wants is Evan’s death, and for Archer to forfeit his last chance at redemption.

I loved it-- it was dark, yes, but also fascinating. York is especially skilled, I think, in leading us to change our minds about the main characters-- to see Vivian and Archer more clearly as time goes on, and to better understand what makes them tick. To really understand the nuances of their personalities. I think what I enjoyed most was Archer's transformation, and his relationship with Evan. It was so heartfelt, so sweet-- just amazing. 

Who hasn't been in a place where someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself? Evan believed in Archer so fully-- and it helped transform him.

Okay, so it's a suspense book, and I pick out the personal, sweet relationship to focus on. Go figure. I should also say the mystery was solid, the suspense was spine tingling and completely believable. There's something so interesting about seeing characters get in way over their head, and having NO IDEA how the author is going to get them out of it. York pulled it off in a logical, realistic way. 

I highly recommend it. 

THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE by Mary Roberts Rinehart 

This is a classic whodunnit in the style of Agatha Christie-- and Roberts has been described as "The American Agatha Christie", though according to Wikipedia, her first mystery was published 14 years before any by Christie. In fact her, Wikipedia biography reads like a book of its own. Her father was a failed inventor, she created a character called "The Bat" that was one of the inspirations for "Batman", and the phrase, "The butler did it" was (inaccurately) based on one of her stories.

Here's the basic premise of The Circular Staircase:

A spinster Aunt and her niece and nephew rent a summer house in the country-- an enormous estate called Sunnyside. Despite the charming name, almost immediately people begin dying off, and there are all kinds of mysterious turns, strangers, odd noises, ghost sitings, and general mayhem. The spinster Aunt, who tells the story, refuses to leave the house until she gets to the bottom of the mystery, despite the dead bodies piling up!

I'm not certain what this cover is supposed to depict-- I don't think the sea or boats are mentioned even in passing.

It was a great classic mystery. The spinster Aunt was an especially fun character-- hard-headed, determined, and no-nonsense in the best way!

So, if you're looking for a classic or a modern suspense for summer reading, check these out!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Say "Cheese!" to bad hair and Coca Cola sweaters

It's picture time again!

Yay! Pictures!  All parents of school aged children know it as that magical time where strangers come to photograph your kids, then try to extort you to buy their wares.

My pre-schooler's "standard package" was in the $70.00 range. Thanks, but no thanks. I love my kid, but I'd rather use that money for our electricity bill. Not to mention they're often forced into awkward, stiff poses and have fake, plastered smiles on their faces.

Alas, if only that were the worst of it.

My six-year old just brought home his "spring" photo package. For those who grew up in a less commercial time and don't have kids in school yet, photographers come to school twice a year now. So, we've already had photos documenting first grade, but this is an additional "opportunity".

The child photography business has come a long way since the 1980s, people. There are some interesting benefits-- like having photos printed onto a mug, key fob, or (?really?) dog tags. Finally! Someone has responded to the requests from the photo-on-dog-tag niche market. Yes!

Here's the kicker: the photography studio offers "retouching".


On a child's photograph.

According to the company, "retouching will reduce the appearance of acne and soften facial lines."

Which is great, because just between you and me, we've been worried that the six year old is looking a little ... well, haggard. There, I said it.

Though he's been taking regular spa treatments and using products to diminish the appearance of fine lines, it's not enough. Sometimes I wonder if all the treatments and products are really a scam. Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Back to the issue! And it will only get worse, you know. By the time he's in high school-- he could look old, like eighteen, or nineteen-- you know, really OLD!

Why should supermodels be the only ones getting airbrushed? When your six year old can experience the delusion and self-judgement that comes along with retouching their photo, too!

Everyone (even perennially cute people like Reese Witherspoon! I'm certain! She must!) has a photo they don't like. Everyone can look back at a school photo and cringe.

How else will we look back and remember what we survived?

Stand with me in solidarity, and tell the corporate-photo-man, "You may take away my acne and fine lines, but you will never destroy my bad hair and Coca Cola fashion!"

Friday, May 11, 2012


You may have noticed from the sidebar that I am no longer agented. I don't want to spend too much time on it here, but I did want to acknowledge it. 

This is because I thought it was important to make clear that nothing happened. By that I mean nothing dramatic or crazy-- no blowout, no big event, no "inciting incident" as we might say, -- it's just a decision I've been hovering around for a few months. 

I thought NOT mentioning it might give the impression that something was wrong or had gone awry, when in reality I liked my former agent a lot-- in fact our personalities meshing was never a problem. 

I really like her, and I still think she is a terrific person and a great agent. 

It is truly not about anyone being anything-- it is simply a case of having compatible working styles. I asked a lot of questions in our interview, but sometimes you cannot get a feel for how you will work with someone else until you do it, and this ultimately was not the right match. I've learned a lot in the last seven months. 

Having not gone out on subs yet, it was an ideal time to end the professional relationship. I don't plan to query STUNG again. Even though I know I technically could, my heart's not in it.

I'm working on another project, and I'd like to start fresh when I seek a new agent.

As one of my sisters said, "I'm happy AND sad for you."

That pretty much sums it up. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Dig Reading: April

 I had the pleasure of reading 6 books in April. 

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult -- I've never read one of her books before, and I really enjoyed this introduction to her work. I can see why she's so popular-- she weaves a great yarn!

Ditched by Robin Mellom, Decoded by Jay Z, and Cracked by KM Walton which are all reviewed below. 

The Case of the Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle-- another classic Sherlock Holmes mystery. It was dandy!

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. A friend recommended her work and WOW, I am in LOVE. I immediately shared this book with a middle grader I know. I can't wait to check out her other books. 

My donation this month will go to Partners in Health. I've admired their work since reading the story of their founder, Paul Farmer in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder. They do incredible work.