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Recent book recommendations

These are some books I’ve read, and loved, since 2011 started:

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda’s life is starting to unravel. Her best friend, Sal, gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The key that Miranda’s mum keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives:

‘I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter.’

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realises that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

I started reading this book knowing it was set in New York City, concerned two friends, and that A Wrinkle in Time played an important part. I devoured it in two days–it’s a short, but captivating book–and when I finished it, I immediately started flipping back and putting some pieces together. It’s the kind of book that all clicks together and requires a reread for it all to make sense. The best way I can describe is that it’s like a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey episode of Doctor Who, where everything is layered and all clicks together at the end. Highly recommended!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna has long awaited?

I was so excited about this book since I first heard about it in early 2010. My copy finally arrived in January and I promptly dropped the book I was reading to start Anna. It didn’t disappoint! Perkins wonderfully depicts Paris and being an outsider learning their way through an unfamiliar place. Even better, this is a book that loves the idea of falling in love–the build up to Anna and Etienne’s growing attraction is almost better than the outcome. The attraction between them slowly but steadily develops, built with every conversation, glance and brief touch. A wonderful, wonderful book. I can’t wait for Stephanie Perkins’ next book!

(On a related note, I’d love a YA lesbian book like Anna. Not an issue book, just a book about two girls falling for each other and everything that goes wrong in the process of their getting together.)

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Leviathan

How does one talk about love?

yearning, n./adj.

At the core of this desire is the belief that everything can be perfect.

We are all beginners when it comes to love, from those tentative first dates to learning how to live with, or without, someone. But how does one describe love? How does one chart its delights and pleasures, its depths and desolations? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary starts where we all once started – with the alphabet.

I first discovered David Leviathan when I stumbled across Boy Meets Boy years in a bookshop during my university years. (Boy Meets Boy also has the distinction of being the first YA GLBT novel I read.) The Lover’s Dictionary is Leviathan’s first adult novel, a chronicle of the ups and downs of a relationship through dictionary entries. The novel is slim, and some of the entries are only a sentence long, but there is powerful emotion layered in the words. I was speechless when I finished and it stayed with me long after I closed the book. A novel that reminds you of the wonderful and painful nuances of love.

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Is it Autumn yet?

A sheepish confession: I’m not the biggest fan of summer. My not-so-secret theory is that there are redheads in my family, so I’m unlikely to be best friends with combined sun and high temperatures. Heat is totally not my thing, and I live in a temperate climate. (Places that have really hot summers scare me.) Autumn unofficially begins in a few hours, and I can’t wait.

Autumn (to me, anyway) means new sweaters, writing in dark evenings, and the return of the Starbucks Red Cups (frantic writing with Eggnog Lattes, mmm. Always a good combination); scarfs and crisp mornings. It also means the approach of Christmas (not so good when you work in book retail, until it’s 6:01pm on Christmas Eve and you’re freeeeee. Ahem). Sometimes it even means snow–though I can do without the chronic craziness we had last year, which involved my clinging to lamp posts and unintentionally breaking out some Saturday Night Fever moves, thanks.

My autumn plans involve rewriting the steampunk Alice book (temporarily on hold while I finish rewriting the werewolves) and writing the first draft of a YA contemporary idea that’s been slyly beckoning to me for a few months. (Why is is that Shiny New Ideas always strut up when you’re knee-high in revising and contemplating the distance between your laptop and the window?) As always, there is a teetering to-read pile(s) to work through, and I have some review posts in the pipe line.

What are you looking forward to this autumn? Any plans, small or not-so-small?

This writing thing, Those Who Favour Fire, YA

Teaser Tuesday (playing for chocolate)

Since it’s Tuesday and I actually remembered for once: here be Teaser Tuesday. A tiny excerpt from the werewolves where I was experimenting on character and making a stab at humour. May not make the final revised version, and not completely polished yet, but it was fun to write. This will be taken down shortly.

Teaser taken down! Thanks for the comments. 🙂

Book recommendations

Book Recs!

I’ve been writing like crazy for the past few weeks; apologies for the blog silence! Unfortunately, I can’t yet talk about what I’m writing, so for now I decided to do a book recommendation post.

So! Books I’ve read lately:

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall is, simply, one of the best depictions of the ‘mean girl’ character I’ve read. Even describing the main character as a mean girl doesn’t present the full picture: she’s a flawed character, with both good and bad aspects. This book also has some of the most fantastic teenage characterisations I’ve read in YA fiction–throughout the narrative, I kept thinking, “Yes, these characters are recognisably teenage, I fully believe this.” They don’t represent every type of teenager, obviously, but the ones they do are wonderfully developed and authentic. I started to suspect over halfway through the book how it would end, but reaching the last page and having to close the book was still wrenching.

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black

I’ve read Holly’s previous YA books, but was really excited by this new series, where magic was outlawed in the 1930s, turning it into a dark, almost feared profession operating underground and leading to the rise of prominent, morally-dodgy magic (or ‘worker’) families. Cassel is the youngest of his worker family, but the only one unable to work magic. Cassel has more important things on his mind, such as the fact he killed his best friend when he was fourteen, but can’t actually remember the murder.

The world-building is wonderful. The little details are delicately woven into the narrative as needed, and the scope of the consequences of these differences intensify as the novel goes on. The family interactions are also great–Cassel’s brothers are both distinct and his relationships with his mother and grandfather are also intriguing (and also a little crazy, since the family is incredibly dysfunctional). I didn’t see the twist coming at all, and the ending has me wanting the next book so badly. (Roll on, Red Glove!)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

I picked this up based on several recommendations and WHOA BOY did it not disappoint. I devoured this on a train ride and the first thing I did when I had internet access again was check the release date for the next book (“November ’10! The same year, oh my god, this is so exciting!” were my exact words). I’m not even sure where to start: the world building is fabulous, the characters–both human and god–are fabulous, the writing is fabulous. The disjointed, literary, almost conversational style perplexed me at first, but when I realised what it meant… well, it was a slightly embarrassing reaction to have on a train around other people. I’m just sayin’. Basically: if you enjoy fantasy and want to be surprised by something new, pick this up. Immediately.

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I heard about this book when a co-worker from another branch sent an email raving about it. So I picked it up when it came out, and it was everything she said it was and more. I couldn’t put it down once I started it and read it while cooking and eating and when I was supposed to be writing… It could be termed an “issue” book, with Lennie struggling to cope in the aftermath of her older sister Bailey’s death, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a book about grief, and living, and death, and loving, and music, and things you probably shouldn’t do but doing them anyway.

All of the characters and wonderfully developed with endearments and flaws, the setting of Clover is exceptional (seriously, read this if you’re struggling with the setting of your book, it was a huge help to me), and the slow and wonderfully developed romance between Lennie and Joe had me actually squealing in delight more than once. Interspersed throughout the narrative are snapshots of Lennie’s poetry, written on scraps of paper, takeaway coffee cups, tree trunks and more, all scattered throughout Clover, which are actually mentioned in the book. (A little detail that I adored.) One of the best teen books I’ve read this year.

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Irish Publishing News (playing catch up)

(Apologies to anyone who clicked into the post I made a few days ago and then found nothing. I felt weird posting small excerpts of writing in this blog, so I deleted it soon after hitting ‘post’. It won’t be happening again, sorry!)

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, which is mostly because I’ve been buried away writing, and I’ve been trying to make as much progress as I can. I have some book recommendation posts in the pipe line, in particular a post about the best YA LGBT books I’ve read as June is Pride Month.

(I was thinking about writing a post about why the werewolves wasn’t specifically written with lesbian characters in mind–it was more a case of reaching Chapter Three and realising my MC liked her best friend–but it also feels weird to talk about a book I’m querying. Hmm. Thoughts?)

But for this post, I’m going to talk about some Irish publishing and children’s books related things. In mid-May, I was lucky enough to attend the first half of the annual CBI conference (Children’s Books Ireland).  It was great to be there, surrounded by people so passionate about children’s books, and I got to chat with some lovely people.

Highlights included Marcus Sedgwick, before whom I embarrassed myself terribly while he was signing books, and Elena Odriozola, a Spanish illustrator whose talk was fascinating. There was also a very inspiring speech from Siobhán Parkinson, the inaugural Irish Children’s Laureate, about the importance of libraries for children and reading. I was unable to make the second half the following day, but I already can’t wait for next year.

Another piece of news is that Derek Landy, author of the stupendous Skulduggery Pleasant (known as Scepter of the Ancients in the US) won the Irish Book of the Decade award, beating stiff competition from the likes of John Banville and Sebastian Barry. Yup, a children’s book won from a shortlist of primarily adult books (there were a few other children’s writers like John Boyne and Eoin Colfer). The award was done through public vote, and it was wonderful to see such an amazing–and popular– book win.

And now I go back to writing. Book recommendation posts coming soon!

music, Those Who Favour Fire

AW Blog Chain: Music and Writing

I’m taking part in Absolute Write‘s May Blog Chain, and this month’s theme is: What does your story/character(s) sound like?

I listen to music a lot. My iPod is a permanent fixture on my way to and from work, and I usually have music on in the background when I’m at home. I write to music and I make playlists for my writing on iTunes. Each book gets its own general playlist, but sometimes when I’m on a second or third draft for a book, I’ll make a smaller playlist of music that most inspires me for it and focuses on characters or specific scenes. The music can have lyrics or be instrumental; all that matters is that it fits the character or scene.

I’m going to focus on the werewolves–THOSE WHO FAVOUR FIRE–in this post, as I have two playlists for that book and I’m still putting the finishing touches on the first playlist for the steampunk Alice book. (As you can tell, I have a habit of referring to my books through nicknames rather than their titles.) I’m going to be putting direct Youtube links in for the songs, but if you like any of them, I would definitely recommend you support the artists through iTunes or wherever you get your music.

The werewolves centres around three main themes: at what point can the idea of lying to people for their own good be taken too far; a girl realising her family has been lying and keeping secrets from her; and the same girl learning the double-edged sword of embracing her sexuality.

Continue reading “AW Blog Chain: Music and Writing”