Monday, January 30, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Sophie, MJ, and Claudia met in college and part ways post-graduation to pursue their individual dreams. Sophie secures a position with one of the biggest advertising firms in the country, MJ heads to a prestigious science graduate program in England, and Claudia moves in with her boyfriend while she finishes her first novel. But the three girls face circumstances they never imagined and must successfully navigate through all the unexpected, gut-wrenching, and sometimes inappropriate events. Kristan Hoffman’s Twenty-Somewhere, a 40-episode ebook, accurately portrays the self-identity, panic, and enthusiasm many post-grads feel as they enter their first year of true adulthood.
Structure: 4 out of 5 stars
The author weaves the three girls’ stories together and dedicates an equal amount of literary real estate to each one. Chapters vary lengths and intensity and flow nicely. The plot is realistic and full of sarcasm, much like the typical post-grad experience. While the story line follows a consistent pace, I would have enjoyed a bit more depth to the script. Relationships and jobs are certainly challenging for everyone - the author has built up the right momentum to extend those two aspects of life into more treacherous waters. Perhaps the sequel could do so?
Character: 4 out of 5 stars
I was glad to see the author present three strong female leads. Claudia's strength as a character takes 3/4 of the novel to appear (she spends a big part of her time relying on her boyfriend), but then finally takes control of her own future and her character beautifully transforms. Overall, the women offer unique stories. For Sophie, MJ, and Claudia, their careers, respect, and happiness come first and all else comes second - a refreshing set of protagonists. However, the author takes a turn when Sophie quits her job and decides to indulge in fashion instead. This is not entirely a step back - Sophie demonstrates her expertise and control in the fashion industry - but I felt like the author emphasizes a somewhat stereotypical obsession with cute clothes rather than a sharp sense of marketing. Likewise, both Sophie and MJ take a small "boy crazy" shift for several chapters, but then jump right back. Apart from those moments, the women are champion female leads.
Voice: 4 out of 5 stars
Because all three girls have stories to tell, all three voices get limelight. The author did a great job making the characters sound similar enough to be former college roommates, but still distinctive enough to be identifiable. There are also sections of the novel where secondary characters, like Claudia's slightly crazed fan, Michelle, pop up via email and therefore even more voices get explored.
Twenty-Somewhere was published in 2010 as an Amazon ebook, and hit #9 on the Kindle list of free ebooks during the 4 days it was free. Read more about Kristan Hoffman's experiences with ebook publishing here.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Tara Luna already has her typical teenage problems – friendships, relationships, identity, and being the new kid in the high school. She also has her fair share of unique issues: Tara can see ghosts, non-Sixth Sense style. And, to top it off, she’s also psychic and can’t tell anyone for fear of being called crazy. But then Tara stumbles onto a deadly vision, a kidnapping, and a murder mystery in her new town and suddenly she must start talking or other people might feel the consequences. Sharon Sala’s My Lunatic Life, the first in her new Lunatic series, brings the reader some big-time adventures in a small-time town.
Structure: 3 out of 5 stars
Readers discover Tara’s gifts in the first few pages and just go with it. The author offers some of the stereotypical obstacles in the teenage protagonist’s way – the trio of rude cheerleaders, the cryptic mixed-signals from the bad boy, the struggles to fit in – but then also a slew of craziness, including a dead body, an unforeseen friendship, and a fire. While I enjoyed the twists and turns, I found some of the plot too easy for Tara. As challenges arise, the book’s heroine always has the solution and, if anyone questions her, she tells the simple truth: “I’m psychic” or “I’m talking to a ghost.” Even if characters don’t believe her with that one line, they do after the next few lines she says. I find it hard to understand that no one questions her abilities, nor tell others about her gifts. If the author presented more conflict with her powers, the story would run much more smoothly.
Character: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Tara has spent her entire life on the move, and her subsequent tough persona is quite satisfying. She doesn’t tolerate any nonsense from anyone, including sassy classmates, the popular crowd, or even the authorities. The readers love learning about Henry and Millicent, Tara’s ghost friends. Because of the protagonist’s psychic powers, the reader also enjoys the brief but telling information snippets Tara sees in the students, teachers, and friends around her. Through the main character’s head, we discover past experiences and quirks about all secondary characters.
But I didn’t know enough about the closest folks in Tara’s life – how did Henry and Millicent find the protagonist, and what are their respective stories? Why is her Uncle Pat always on the move? How did Tara herself react when she realized her powers? I like the author’s unique use of exposition, but it needs further development.
Voice: 4 out of 5 stars
In a similar way to learning character stories from Tara’s visions, the reader also hears multiple character voices, even though the story is only told from the heroine’s perspective. As the protagonist, Tara has a strong, distinctive voice, albeit it often floats into a slightly stereotypical teenage girl voice (using phrases like, “so not cool,” etc). These slips somewhat detract from Tara’s power as a fierce female. In the same way, the voice of Flynn O’Mara (Tara’s boyfriend) will shift from passionate and gentle to nonchalant and rough, almost as if the author wants to make sure readers remember Flynn is still a teenage boy. As a strong secondary character, Flynn’s appeal would intensify if the author had consistently made his character fiercely sensitive throughout.
Overall, My Lunatic Life is a quick lighthearted delight. The book was published in August 2011 by BelleBooks in the UK. The next novel in the installment, Lunatic Detective, was released shortly afterwards in November 2011.
To read more about author Sharon Sala, check out her website.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
I've often scoffed at the crazy plots of "transportation" films. No way do that many unique personalities meet on the same mode of transport, tell stories, exchange snacks, offer help, and bond over the literal and metaphorical bumps in the road.
But I'm on Day Two of a cross-country Amtrak train trip. I've met an ex-Marine, a Coast Guard, a blogger, a retired banker traveling the world, a Chemistry student, an angry bartender, two men from an oil rig, a mother in search of her son, a singing waitress, and a man who is about to walk the length of the United States (yes, on foot). I've witnessed strangers share baked goods, assist with dead cell phones, and keep watch over carry-on bags while others are away from their seats. I've helped the woman next to me take photos of the passing Montana horizon while the elderly couple to our left discuss salmon fishing. In twenty-four hours, I've somehow been deemed "that writer from Car 14" and have been extremely honored and humbled to have people shake me awake from a nap to tell me about a short story idea I might like. In front of me, a man named Aaron has become "the Internet guy" and strangers have walked into our car to ask him about changing trends in technology (even now, as I write this blog post on my iPhone).
I've eaten the best veggie burger of my life seated in a dining car passing Williston, North Dakota. I've been offered someone else's jacket when the power/heat went out at 3am. I've successfully changed my clothes in a bathroom smaller than my toaster oven. But more than that, I've met the melting pot, the one that so many presidential campaigns have referenced. Those people of every gender, race, religion, and background are contained within three sleeper cars, five coaches, two dining cars, and a lounge, but the gang's all here.
A man from Champagne talked to me last night as the sun set outside the lounge window. He said, "I'm tired of politicians claiming they know Americans. Want to know the real America? Ride an Amtrak or a Greyhound. Those are the people of the United States and beyond. Those are the stories politicians need to know."
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go play cards with a recently converted Buddhist and her two marine biologist friends. We will collectively tweet Newt Gingrich when we're done.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Friday, January 13, 2012
In 1994, sixteen authors contributed unique and, at times, bizarre coming-of-age stories to a collection called Am I Blue? Coming Out From the Silence. Marion Dane Bauer edits this delightful collaboration, which features settings ranging from a hidden beach cove in the 1950s (James Cross Giblin’s Three Mondays in July) to the fantasy world of female warriors (Jane Yolen’s Blood Sisters) to the terrifying parent-teacher conferences of a conservative high school (Nancy Garden’s Parents’ Night). Each story empowers youth in a way that honors the book’s dedication: “for all young people in their search of themselves.”
Structure: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The short stories vary lengths, themes, and plots, but overall contain effective individual layouts. Of the sixteen tales, only two stuck out as underdeveloped pieces, and even those don't lack powerful content.
Characters: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Again, overall very strong. The characters in C.S. Adler’s Michael’s Little Sister and Marion Dane Bauer’s Dancing Backwards in particular offer potent perspectives and interesting archs. Protagonists throughout the book offer first and third person narratives. I would have liked to see a few of character stories extended – M. E. Kerr’s We Might As Well Be Strangers was far too short to get me involved, and Ellen Howard’s Running characters, Terry and Sheila, needed to see a more satisfying conclusion. Otherwise, the collection offers an abundance of sassy role models, frustrating parents, empowered teens, and unexpected heroes.
Voice: 5 out of 5 stars
Across the board, readers can engage with each character’s unique voice. Stories are joyful, angry, shocking, and endearing, but generally very commanding. Readers have the opportunity to be inside sixteen incredible protagonists’ heads, and every minute is worth the read.
Am I Blue? was published by HarperCollins in 1994 and is the first published queer youth anthology.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
When sixteen-year-old Sirena discovers her parents are getting divorced and she is being shipped to Rhode Island to live with her Aunt Ellie for the summer, Sirena assumes she'll lie low and feel sorry for herself. But then Sirena finds her way to the beach and walks into the lives of Antonio, an eighty-year-old Brazilian painter, and Pilot, the bizarre lifeguard. Coupled with the ghosts she encounters in her aunt's attic, Sirena's summer turns into anything but ordinary.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Throughout the recent rave over Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows, another feisty detective is on the prowl. Fictional protagonist Tori Trotter is witty, sophisticated, and detail-oriented. Also, Trotter is a cat.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Bullying in schools happens everywhere, everyday, and often times gets overlooked. A recent article in TYA Today (Theatre for Young Audiences Today) notes that each year, "3.7 million youth engage in bullying, and more than 3.2 million are victims of 'moderate' or 'serious' bullying.'" For many teachers, authors, and celebrities as of late, performing arts and literature have been two main ways to reduce harassment, or at least to teach kids possible solutions when faced with a bully.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
As people use the last of their 2012 commemoratory fireworks, the Chicago Public Library system celebrates its 141st anniversary. Now with almost 80 locations around the city, CPL saw over 10 million visitors during last year alone. The community continues to grow. At 5,743,002 total books, the American Library Association declares the Chicago Public Library to be the 30th largest library in the nation.