Monday, April 29, 2013

Review for The Selection by Kiera Cass

The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor

5 Stars. The best way for me to describe The Selection is that it’s “The Hunger Games” meets “The Bachelor”, and I think if you enjoyed either of those then you would like this book. It has the same wonderful dystopian concepts seen in “The Hunger Games”, but with a more playful tone.

This book is a modern day fairy tale that had me hooked from beginning to end. It’s not as simple as a handsome prince whisking away a pretty girl from the hard life she’s lived to be pampered in a castle, although I did enjoy that part of it. It also looks at the complicated interworkings of politics as Prince Maxon is not only learning how to lead his country but how to make changes and better the lives of his people.

What bring our lead character, America, and Maxon together is a contest, similar to “The Bachelor”, designed to help the prince find his future queen. America makes it very clear from the very beginning of the book that living in the lap of luxury is not the most important thing to her. She looks at this competition that she’s thrown into first as a curse, but later she sees it as an opportunity to do some good. She doesn’t want to be the next queen, but if she could help the prince pick someone else who would make a good queen, and in the process do some things to help her family then, she realizes, that this experience would be worthwhile for her.

I loved the dynamic between these girls and Prince Maxon and how that affected how they were with one another. They all had their own individual personalities and seeing the friendships and animosities that formed between them as they all sought the attention of the same guy was endearing and entertaining. I loved that they still cared for each other, well most of them, when someone got rejected or sent home and, that they weren’t just constantly jealous or selfish. Though we did see those emotions emerge when they were appropriate. This really made these characters and their relationships feel real.

I loved all the characters in this book, especially America. She was outspoken and really a lot of fun to read about. Her competition and love interests were well written as well. You really want things to work out between America and Aspen in the beginning of this book, but Maxon will grow on you and by the end you’ll be torn between this choice that America has to make. I also want to say that I liked how America got into this love triangle. She doesn’t immediately have two loving admirers fighting over her, the relationships built up in a more believable way. I especially liked her relationship with Maxon and how her feelings for him changed as the book went on.

Overall this was a great read and I can't wait to pick up the sequel, The Elite.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review for Cheating Death by Jen Naumann

Unique and Real

5 Stars. The beginning of this book sucked me in with a creepy hook, but it was the ending that made me love it. This is a very different story from the usual YA’s I like to read. It’s about something deeper and more real than what paranormal romances tend to deal with. I completely understand why Mrs. Naumann decided to make this NA, because while it starts out with the main character graduating high school it ends up dealing with some adult issues.

When Lysandra runs away with Aydin you sort of expect this story to go a certain way, and I loved that it completely veered off in a different direction. I feel like this book took a moment to look at some of the things that are often romanticized in YA and NA paranormal romances and give an honest and real perspective on them. Cheating Death is about growing up and learning to deal with life changing events in a responsible way; and, it makes some serious comments about teen drinking, suicide, rape, and second chances.

There seems to be a formula that paranormal themed books follow these days. Basically it comes out as human girl meets supernatural boy and against all odds they find a way to be together regardless of the consequences, even if that means the human girl has to give up everything in her life including friends, family and even her very humanity. Naumann completely breaks free of this trend and puts out a very different message with Cheating Death. She looks at how selfish these choices can be and how they affect all of the people in Lysandra’s life. This may be a paranormal book, but at its core it’s about something very real. This book isn’t about the undying love a girl has for a boy; it’s about life and the choices we make.

Lysandra has been a bit of a follower all of her life. She’s a little lost - as I think many people are at eighteen, wondering what she wants to do with the rest of her life. But, she has to grow up incredibly fast. One moment she’s a kid and the next she’s dealing with adult problems, and you really feel her loss over that middle part of her life. Her young adult years vanish. The way she deals with everything that happens to her is this downward spiral of events that tear her apart, and build her into a stronger person at the same time.

I loved Lysandra. She felt really real to me and I could understand her love/hate relationships with her friends. One thing that annoyed me a little with her, however, was that after she woke up in a stranger’s bed after a party that she couldn’t remember, she didn’t even wonder if maybe she’d been taken advantage of. Other people had to point this out to her. But, looking at her personality and the overall concept of the book I think that was just part of her immaturity in that stage of her life. She’s hard on herself because she doesn’t know who she is yet. And she blames herself for what happened because in her journey to discover who she is she makes mistakes and takes risks that aren’t true to who she is.

The ending of this book was incredible. It wrapped everything up nicely and in an unexpected way. You really see Lysandra’s growth in those final chapters. When she first realizes that she was meant to die, but didn’t, she doesn’t fully understand what this means or care about how it affects her friends, family and the entire world. Even when her very existence causes the deaths of innocent people she’s too selfish not to even consider that she’s not supposed to be there. In the end, it is a necessary thing for her to be willing to die for someone else for the greater good, for her to grow up. This is also a nice opposing force to Lysandra’s decision to die selfishly. Driving her car off the bridge had nothing to do with the greater good, only with easing her own pain. The end of this book really brings it all together and shows how Lysandra has learned to be not only self-less but a well-rounded person.

Jen was nice enough to do an interview for me where she talks about this book, which you can read here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What I Learned at the Madison Writer’s Conference

This past weekend I did something new. I attended my first writer’s conference. And, I have to say, I had my doubts about what a conference could really do for me. After all, just to sign up for one day of this weekend long event it cost me over a hundred dollars, which may not be a huge sum of money, but as I’m still new to the self-publishing game I’m trying to spend every penny wisely. I have to say though; it was absolutely a worthwhile experience, one that I would love to repeat. I think next year I’m going to try to attend the entire weekend.

On Friday I was in Madison at the 24th Annual Writers’ Institute where I met with other writers including the fabulous Jen Naumann who I blog with on The Writer Diaries, and listened to established writers, published both traditionally and independently, discuss their journey and offer advice.

Me and Jen Naumann

I attended four workshops. Two that focused on YA literature, one on deep editing and one were we discussed the female superhero; but there were plenty of options available for writers in any genre. And, I have to say, that while I liked some workshops more than others, there was something I was able to take away from each one which I think will improve my writing.
There was a lot to take away from this experience, so I thought I’d share with all of you some of the things I learned.

1. Even writers with big name publishers are doing their own promo work.

As a self-published author getting my name out there and learning how to market my book has been the hardest part. But, as it turns out traditionally published authors don’t have it much easier. Granted every publishing company will be different, but from nearly every traditionally published author I spoke to the consensus was that they still do most of their own promo work.

2. You have to make time for writing. If you push it off saying “I’ll start writing after…” you’ll never get to it.

One thing I was surprised to see was that I was probably one of, if not the, youngest writer at the conference. This made me feel a little bit like a new-bie, but good at the same time. With school, work, not so subtlety suggesting to my boyfriend that maybe he should propose, and the thousands of other things I have going on in my life I’ve wondered more than once if I really should be pursuing a writing career right now. But, what I learned was that there’s always going to be a million things going on. Once I get done with school I’ll be looking for a big girl job, and then there will be house hunting, a wedding, and kids in my future. So, I might as well write now. No matter when I decide to go after this dream I will have to make time for it.

3. Stay positive, even the greats were once armatures.

 As much as I love the stories I write there will always be moments when I read something by someone else and think, I wish I could write like that. Writing is something you do, and with anything you do, with time and effort you can do it better. I love the stories I’m writing now, but there’s still room for improvement. The occasional negative review I receive is enough to remind me of this. But that’s okay; it just means that with each book I finish I’ll love it more than the last. So don’t let anything keep you down. There’s room for all of us to be authors. There will never be such a thing as too many books. So keep at it, I know I am.

I also have a few links to share with everyone. I haven’t had the time to do more than look these over, but I think there are writers out there who will find them useful.

Madison Writer's Institute
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
What’s Hot – a site for what’s on top in the media
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

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Indie Book Goal 2018