Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Unnaturalists

The Unnaturalists is a YA alt-Victorian steampunk novel by Tiffany Trent.

Fascinated with her father’s work in the Museum of Unnatural History, Vespa Nyx enjoys spending her days cataloging the Unnatural creatures of their world.

Yet her unusual hobby is growing less and less socially acceptable as she nears seventeen and is expected to be a respectable young lady with marriage prospects.

Just when Vespa is beginning to sullenly accept her tedious fate, strange accidents begin to happen at the museum and she finds herself running into a young Tinker boy that believes she has a role to play in the future of New London – as a witch.

But witchcraft is the worst possible violation in New London and punishable by death…

As a fan of steampunk, I was very excited to read The Unnaturalists and had been wanting to for quite some time.

Tiffany Trent excellently presents a fleshed out alternative world with magical creatures, various cultures and even a legend of how New London came to be.

Vespa as a characters is likable – not so stubborn as to be bratty, yet also sufficiently smart and caring. I wish I had felt like I got to know her better than I did – through and through – but I did like her.

One of the focal cultures was the Tinkers, which was a very interesting group of people that the nobility in New London both relied on and persecuted. There was some definite suspense involved in their camp and I found the history we learned about them to be intriguing. Yet, again, I still felt like I could have become more invested.

Keep in mind that I am adapting to a newly packed schedule with the addition of college coursework on top of my full-time job, and this has most definitely effected my reading. Instead of reading a book in two to three days it is taking me sometimes up to TWO WEEKS to read it. This changes the flow, which I recognize. So, as always, take any critique I may present with a grain of salt and read it for yourself.

Overall, The Unnaturalists was an interesting, creative steampunk tale but lacked a direct page-turner feel to it. I felt like everything could have been… more. But I did like it.

There’s a second book called The Tinker King – but I am not sure if the series is being continued beyond that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me is a YA contemporary novel by Meredith Zeitlin.

Growing up as a single child, raised by her dad in New York, Zona has never felt she was lacking anything. Since her mom died before she could remember her, the loss has never truly hurt – though she knows it has never left her dad.

She has her close-knit friends, her new position as features editor at the high school paper and enjoys a trust-based, roommate type of relationship with her journalist father.

When her dad tells her they are moving to Greece for six months for him to cover their economic crisis, Zona is upset for two reasons. One, she does not want to leave all she knows and loves in New York. Two, she knows that his work is not the only reason her dad is taking her to Greece.

That is where her mother’s family lives. Her big family. Her big family that returned her father’s many letters and has never attempted to contact her in her entire teenage life. The big, Greek family she has no interest in meeting.

Despite her protests, her dad is insistent. So shall begin Zona’s uprooting to Greece…

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me was an easy, swift read. It starts off presenting Zona in a rather immature way, putting up a childish fight about leaving the country. However, I cannot say that I didn’t sympathize with her plight – leaving everything behind for six months would be a hard pill to swallow.

Once she gets in Greece, the story picks up. There is some pretty entertaining and enlightening Greek customs that get highlighted. Zona faces many scenarios where she has to decide whether she is going to let new experiences change her.

Truly the best part of the book was everything to do with Zona meeting her Greek family. From the funnier, more obscure moments to the touching, heartfelt scenes – they definitely stole the show. It focuses on regret, bitterness and forgiveness. A pursuit of understanding and moving on.

There’s also some great friendship in Sophomore Year is Greek to Me. Small, but important, events highlighting pivotal everyday life.

Overall, Sophomore Year is Greek to Me was an enjoyable, fast read. I was not head over heels and felt some of the material was quite familiar, but it was nice to read after long, hard days at work and hours of studying.

There’s nothing wrong with a low-effort book here and there!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Info on a Literary Magazine and Writing Workshops!

As you lovely bibliophiles know, I am taking college courses now. It has left me with less time than ever to read and review books. Sometimes it really depresses me, but I know that it will pay off with time and that someday I will be reading more once again!

In the meantime, this week there is sadly no new review! However, I do have some book industry related news and information to share that you'll hopefully be interested in!

Firstly, author Jody Rawley's new YA Kindle novel Rapunzel in Control an international literary quarterly called Adelaide Magazine. This was a huge honor, as they rarely spotlight a YA *or* Kindle book! To see his excerpt click here. To browse the literary magazine for other interesting reading, explore here: http://adelaidemagazine.org/contributors.html

Secondly, there is a Odyssey Writing Workshop starting three new online writing classes and a webinar in January 2016! The application deadline are in December, so you'll need to get to it FAST if you are wanting a chance! Here are all the details:

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, widely known for its highly praised, six-week, in-person workshop, is offering three intensive online writing classes this winter as well as Odyssey's first webinar.

The online classes being offered are Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction, taught by Odyssey director and bestselling author Jeanne Cavelos; Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel, taught by award-winning author Barbara Ashford; and Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot, taught by award-winning author David B. Coe. Application deadlines are in December.

Odyssey's online classes are unique among writing programs. Sessions are held live through web conferencing software, so students can have an active learning process, asking questions and participating in discussions. Challenging homework assignments help students to incorporate new techniques into their writing process, and in-depth feedback from the instructor and classmates guides students in improving their work. Interactions between classes allow students and the instructor to further explore subject matter. Each student also has a private meeting with the instructor to ask questions and gain additional insight. With class size limited to 14, each student receives personal attention in a supportive yet challenging, energizing learning environment.

While Odyssey's mission as a nonprofit is to help writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work, this winter's classes focus on skills that would be very valuable for writers in any genre, and writers of all genres are welcome to apply.

Last year, forty-two committed writers from the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan participated in Odyssey's three online courses. One student commented, "I’ve taken several writing workshops, some with famous writers, and while I learned something from each one, I never imagined I could get so much out of a workshop until I took Odyssey’s online class.... It’s given me much greater control over my writing and taught me to let the reader experience a scene instead of just hear about it. Jeanne Cavelos is the best close reader I’ve ever seen, and she treats all writing with respect. Take any course she teaches; you’ll work harder than you expected to and make major advances."

To ensure high quality, Odyssey offers only three online courses per year. Instructors are among the very best in the field and fill each course with hard-won insights and invaluable techniques.

In addition, in response to many requests, Odyssey is offering its first webinar this winter: Productivity for Writers, taught by author Alex Hughes. The webinar format allows students maximum flexibility. They may attend live and interact with the instructor, or they may view the video recording at their convenience. The registration deadline for attendance at the live webinar is January 25. Writers may register at any time to view the recording.

Odyssey's winter 2016 offerings focus on key writing skills:

Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction
Course Meets: January 4 - February 2, 2016
Instructor: Jeanne Cavelos
Application Deadline: December 7, 2015
Level: Advanced


Does your story or novel take too long to "get going"? Does it lack momentum, suspense, and escalation? Do you feel you're making plot decisions randomly? Are you missing crisis points of impact and emotion? Do readers say "ho hum" or "hunh?" to your climax? Key to strong plotting is understanding the act structure of your story or novel and developing it to its greatest effect. While writing books and blogs periodically discuss acts, few clearly define what truly comprises an act or explain how plotting in acts can create a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. With a strong act structure, your protagonist will face challenges that will put him, and the reader, through an experience they will never forget. When this course was previously offered, students found it extremely helpful. One student commented, "This class has changed the way I write. Before, the words 'plot and structure' would make me recoil in anxiety and frustration. Now, I see plot and structure as exciting tools to help me create the kind of stories I want to write."

Join Jeanne Cavelos, bestselling author and Odyssey director, recently nominated for a World Fantasy Award for her teaching, as she explains how you can strengthen and transform your work through plotting in acts.

Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel
REVISED AND EXPANDED FOR 2016!
Course Meets: January 5 - February 16, 2016
Instructor: Barbara Ashford
Application Deadline: December 9, 2015
Level: Intermediate


One of our most popular instructors, Barbara Ashford, is offering a revised and expanded version of her most highly rated class.

Finished the first draft of a novel? Still working on it? Struggling with revisions? Getting the big picture can help bring your novel to life.

Writers often approach revisions as an opportunity to polish their manuscripts rather than to take a hard look at the story itself. If your plot meanders and your protagonist’s goals are unclear, polishing your prose won’t help. Award-winning author Barbara Ashford believes the most important skill required to transform a promising novel into a published one is the ability to see the "big picture," to understand how the building blocks of a novel relate to each other, to identify weaknesses, and to make the necessary changes to strengthen the story.

Barbara will discuss the “big picture” elements at the foundation of every novel: premise, promise, theme, world, character, and plot. The course will explore ways to deepen the connection between these elements and create a more unified and powerful story, the key to lifting a novel out of the slush pile and onto an agent’s desk. A student who previously took the course said this: "I am in the outlining stages of a novel. The Odyssey online class Getting the Big Picture helped me focus in on the true nature of my story, what lies at its heart. The class has given me the tools to improve both plot and characters and tie the two more strongly into the theme. These are the most useful class sessions I have ever attended."

Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot
Course Meets: January 21 - February 18, 2016
Instructor: David B. Coe
Application Deadline: December 26, 2015
Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Of all the many tools writers have at their disposal, perhaps none is more powerful, or more overlooked, than point of view. Often thought of simply as the perspective through which a story is told, it is actually far, far more. It is the mechanism by which we guide our readers through the plot points, narrative arcs, and emotions of our fiction. It is the place where all of our storytelling elements--character, plot, setting, prose--come together. And point of view can also provide solutions to some of the most common problems encountered by aspiring writers and professionals alike. Award-winning author David B. Coe, highly praised mentor and teacher of fiction writing, will show how weaknesses in point of view can undermine an entire story.

We will begin our discussion of point of view by looking at the many factors that go into choosing the correct point of view character or characters for our stories, as well as the proper voice for those characters. We will then move to the study of how point of view influences not only character arc, but also our establishment of plotting, setting, and pacing. We'll explore the challenges in writing from the point of view of non-human characters and characters from alien cultures. Finally we will conclude the course with an exploration of the ways in which POV can be used to address a host of common problems writers encounter in their work.

WEBINAR: Productivity for Writers
Live Webinar: February 23, 2016
Instructor: Alex Hughes
Registration Deadline: January 25, 2016 (for live webinar)
NOTE: Writers may register for the recorded session at any time
Level: Intermediate


What do you do if you can’t seem to write?

Writers get words on the page. No matter what else is happening in their lives, successful writers continue to produce great work they can be proud of. And yet, if you ask any group of writers what their big challenge is, most will point to getting those words on the page when life gets difficult. And it will get difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to get the words out anyway and continue to reach towards your dreams even in the hardest of circumstances.

In this webinar, author Alex Hughes discusses a variety of strategies to keep the words flowing even when things get tough. She highlights common obstacles such as distractions, depression, anxiety, creative burnout, industry setbacks, family priorities, being overwhelmed by marketing/promotion, job stress, and much more, along with potential solutions. What do you do when you run into a creative wall? Alex gives you the tools you need to dig out. Furthermore, she lays out the methods that she’s used as a working author to meet hard deadlines, including sprints and Pomodoro, creative support, forming good writing habits, and exercises, and provides detailed resources to help you in your journey. She also covers how to decide when to “move the goalpost,” or make hard (and smart) business decisions when the bottom drops out of your life and/or writing becomes very difficult indeed. A practical discussion of some of the hardest parts of the writer’s journey, complete with an open question and answer session at the end. All struggles welcome.

More information about Odyssey's online classes can be found here: http://www.sff.net/odyssey/online.html or by emailing jcavelos@sff.net.

More information about Odyssey's webinars can be found here: http://www.sff.net/odyssey/webinar.html.

If you've visited the Odyssey site recently, you may need to click REFRESH on your browser to see the new content.

PLEASE NOTE: Those application deadlines are coming up soon! If you would like to apply for more than one course, you must apply separately for each one.

Odyssey Online helps you to learn new techniques and build your skills, and provides in-depth feedback to guide you. If you're ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them, you'd be welcome to apply.

In addition, the Odyssey site, http://www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including free podcasts, a monthly discussion salon, writing and publishing tips, a blog, a critique service, and information about the six-week, in-person workshop.

Start the new year by leveling up your writing skills!

Thanks for being understanding about the lack of a review this week! Show up next Wednesday for a new review!!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Dead House

The Dead House is a YA contemporary psychological thriller by debut author Dawn Kurtagich.

Two decades ago there was a fire at Elmbridge High, leaving dead and missing students.

So much was unknown at the time, though fascination and mystery surround the now abandoned, condemned former boarding school.

Then a diary is found among the rubble.

It is not that of Carly Johnson, a primary focus in the initial investigation – a student who vanished without a trace.

Instead it was written by Kaitlyn Johnson.

Who is she? How is she related to Carly? Did she truly exist?

This new information reopens the case – and an examination of the diary alongside gathered psychiatric reports, video footage, text message and emails creates a far more disturbing account than anyone expected…

The Dead House is CREEPY.

It’s been a while since I read a book that left me a bit unsettled each time I put it down to go to bed, go about my daily tasks, etc. But this one did it. Uh huh. CREEPY.

Let’s dive deeper into that, shall we?

Dawn Kurtagich uses the various means of storytelling very well. We have newspaper clippings, diary entries and more – as mentioned above – to piece together a story that has multiple layers.

I do not want to give anything away. But I will say that we start with a subdued, but effective, introduction to Carly and Kaitlyn. Knowing that there will be death and fire in their future creates an ongoing ominous vibe that never decreases.

Often the chapters would start with an indication of how many days are remaining until the “incident”.

*Shudders*

It’s an English boarding school. We have some mentally unstable students – or ARE they? – and a set of circumstances very outside the usual.

You’re never quite sure what to believe – as our narrators may only be so reliable.

There is intrigue galore – not only with that is happening to Carly/Kaitlyn but also regarding her parents death, which she cannot remember.

It is very difficult to describe the many awesome, chilling things that happen without giving away too much – so I can just strongly encourage you to read The Dead House for yourself??

It is remarkable but in that way that lasts. It makes you uneasy, puts you on the edge of your seat and makes you wonder just what you believe.

I really, really, really liked The Dead House.