I won’t be shamed

I read YA books.  Some people believe that I should be ashamed of this fact—that it is indicative of a childish mind, and I am “less” because of it.

I read (and write) YA because it tells me more about myself.  Teenagers are pushing their boundaries, learning their strengths as they become adults.

I am already an adult, but I still have plenty of weaknesses.  Self-doubt and anxiety are my daily companions.  I can feel helpless and overwhelmed.  I like to see a character grow, find her courage, find love, find herself.  I hope to continue to do the same in my life, and this makes Seraphina, Eleanor, and Katsa my kindred spirits, and very dear to my heart.

If YA readers are suspect, what does that say about YA writers?  Much as I enjoyed my adolescence, I don’t want to re-live it.  I just want to tell a good story.  A story that makes someone happy, that makes someone see something in a new light, that gives hope and understanding.

Being an adult is sometimes overrated.  Don’t you remember what it felt like to fall in love for the first time?  To feel a sense of wonder about the world, and about your place in it?  Why wouldn’t you want to go back and re-read The Westing Game?

I read comics, and I watch cartoons, and I will be this way for the rest of my life.  I also go to the orchestra frequently, perform technical scientific research, and recycle my newspapers and bottles (sometimes from alcohol!) every week.

I own that I sometimes read for nostalgia or escapism.  I also read to learn and improve my mind.  I also read to feel.

There is enough room in life for all these things.

2013 Reading

Lots of people have been posting a wrap-up of their 2013 reading.  You can find all my book reviews under the category “Book Reviews;” here are my posts from this year:

I did read a few other books towards the end of the year that I haven’t posted about yet–I started the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher (which I will save for another post), and a few books for younger readers.  Read on for details.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 5/5 stars

This Newbery Award winner is a treasure.  You will especially love it if, like me, you loved A Wrinkle in Time, which it references.  I got so caught up reading this book that I stayed at Panera an hour longer than I meant to.  It is part daily childhood doings and part time travel mystery–a charming story with depth.

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan 5/5 stars

I give a lot of 5 star reviews around here, but that’s just because I read a lot of good books! If you love the Percy Jackson series, you will love this trilogy featuring the Kane siblings and Egyptian gods.  As always, Riordan creates a fun globetrotting adventure with an engaging, diverse cast.  I’m not an expert on Egyptian mythology, but the research seems solid as well.  I really wish someone would turn these into movies, instead of making (likely awful) things like this: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404233/.

My 2013 NaNoWriMo Failure

Sooooo, November’s over.

Total word count: 5693

Ouch.

So I did not win my first NaNoWriMo.  I wrote only about 10% of the goal.

I will say, I am happy with what I wrote.  And I discovered a few things, which is also part of NaNo.

  •  I write slowly.  As a perfectionist, it is really hard not to labor over every word and sentence.  NaNo is the supreme test of my personality.  Some of what I wrote is crap, and that’s fine.  But some of it is good, and I would rather have a few good paragraphs than pages and pages of crap.  How can I learn to write well if I don’t practice writing well?
  • I get cranky when I don’t read.  One of my biggest challenges in learning to write novels is developing my “voice” as an author.  When I read, I internalize the writing style of whatever I’m reading, and then that influences my writing style.  So for the sake of consistency, I did not read fiction at all in November.  I think this may be the longest I have gone in my adult life without reading a novel, and I am sick of it.  Also, I didn’t play any TOR–I left my Imp agent languishing on Belsavis and I don’t really remember what was going on in that storyline.  Good thing it’s still a double XP weekend!
  • Most importantly, I learned that I am just not ready to make writing a priority in my life.  I am not willing to change my social calendar (and obviously I can’t change my work calendar) so that I can have more time to write.  I took 2 weekend trips at the beginning of the month, and while that really started me off on the wrong foot for NaNo, I am glad I traveled.  I am not willing to sacrifice sleep or family time (or clean clothes).  I think this realization will not kill my writing dream, it simply means that I have to manage my time better.  Maybe a little less Tiny Death Star for starters…

Anyways, the project that I attempted last month was a kind of writing exercise that I have been planning on doing for quite awhile: a fairy tale retelling.  More of a fairy tale expansion, really.  This may not have been an ideal project for NaNo because I was locked into a plot, and the historical setting I wanted to use required a lot of research (which, of course, I was too lazy to do in October).  It also reads more like a children’s story, so I might be finished before I reach 50,000 words anyways.  But I think I will continue this project and see how far I can get.

Luckily, the NaNo website tells me I should be done next July.

Brief Book Reviews

A general guide for ratings:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

Scoundrels (Timothy Zahn) 4/5–This book must have been fun to write–it was sure fun to read!  No Jedi here; this is a Star Wars heist novel featuring some old friends and some great new faces.  It did take a while to read, because the plot is fairly intricate, and Zahn wastes no words on extraneous details, all leading up to a great twist at the end.  My only issue is that this story retcons (again!!) Lando’s Ep V line “You’ve got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled.”  I guess I prefer to think of it as really well-written fan fiction…which, let’s face it, is how I should be thinking of all Star Wars novels from here on, since the new movies will make the EU story lines obsolete. 😦

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card) 3.5/5–Thought I should get around to reading this before the movie comes out…yet I was hearing Harrison Ford in my head the whole time.  Hey, I thought it worked.  Anyways, this book is a classic for a reason–well-written and thought-provoking.  But it wasn’t exactly a light read, and the ending makes it impossible for it to stand on its own.  Its use of ethnic and racial slurs, while purposeful, was distracting.

Cold Days (Jim Butcher) 5/5–The latest installment in the Dresden Files doesn’t disappoint.  Butcher never gives his characters an easy way out of their predicaments, so there’s never a dull moment.  The overarching plot line of the series gets some major development, and the characters continue to change (in realistic ways) as well.  I’m really looking forward to what comes next.

Side Jobs (Jim Butcher) 5/5–A great collection of short stories for when you need a quick Dresden Files fix.  Make sure you note where the stories fall in the timeline, or you will get spoilers for books you haven’t read.

Wednesdays in the Tower (Jessica Day George) 3.5/5–Not bad for a sequel, but this book seemed to lack the whimsy of its predecessor, Tuesdays at the Castle–I had to go back and re-read Tuesdays to make sure it was actually as good as I remembered (it is!). Wednesdays is more complicated but less fun.  The idea seems great (a pet griffin! learning the castle’s secrets!) but Pogue was dull, Lilah was AWOL, and the bad guy was obvious.  The ending does suggest that we will have more books in this series, which I am not sorry about.

Book review: Son by Lois Lowry

SonLike many others who read Lois Lowry’s books as children in the 90s, I was strongly affected by The Giver when I read it in the 6th grade.  It remains my favorite dystopian book.

I was understandably excited when the companions Gathering Blue and Messenger came out.  But these books failed to live up to The Giver‘s simple yet haunting themes (not to mention that Messenger ruined the wonderful ambiguity of the first book’s ending…but I always thought Jonas and Gabe lived anyway).

Son nearly rises to the level of The Giver, but falters in the end.  The first third of the book follows Claire, a new Birthmother in Jonas’s Community.  After complications during her first “production,” she is reassigned to the fish hatchery, yet she can’t stop thinking about her son.  When she learns he has gone Elsewhere, she sets off to find him really without even thinking.

She ends up stranded and amnesic in a little fishing village, where she spends the second third of the book regaining her memories and growing stronger in body and mind–strength she will need to leave the village and continue her journey to find her son.

And find him she does–but at what price?  The last third of the book switches to her son’s perspective; he has grown up in Matty’s village of immigrants, longing to know his real parents.  Will the evil that’s left in the world be enough to keep them apart?

The first two thirds of Son are wonderful.  It was great to go back to the Community, and see it fleshed out a little more.  I was disappointed that we still don’t know what happened to the Community after Jonas’s departure, how they coped, or changed, or if they fell apart.  The fishing village was full of great characters that I enjoyed spending time with.  I also liked Claire as a character and a protagonist; I could understand her feelings and see her growth throughout these sections.  It was so refreshing to read a dystopian novel that doesn’t involve a love triangle!

The last third was not as satisfying.  I did not like the narrator switch; we never get a good hold on the personality of Claire’s son, and he comes across as flat.  Similarly, our villain is merely evil personified and has no motive or personality, simply interesting powers.  I did like the way the book closed, because it was simple and open-ended, recalling the ending of The Giver that I love so much.

Son is much longer than The Giver, and I’m not sure that works to its advantage.  I did really like the tie-ins to the other three novels, and I think it concluded the quartet well both logistically and thematically.  Like Jonas, Kira, and Matty, Claire shows us that human emotions (particularly love) are our strength, not our weakness.