Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: OyMG - Amy Fellner Dominy

Release Date - May 10, 2011
Publisher - Walker Books
Age Group - 12 & up
Pages - 256
Rating - 4/5

Summary - Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. After all, she’s been arguing with her Zeydeh (that’s grandfather in Yiddish) since she could talk. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she’s sure she can win the final tournament and a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot—literally. His name is Devon and whether she likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she’s up for the challenge—until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship’s benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity be worth a shot at her dream?

Review - Let me just start off by saying OyMG was nothing like I thought it would be. I went into it not expecting to enjoy it but I did. It made me laugh so many times! And I found myself really enjoying Ellie, the main character. Just looking at the cover I made judgements that were really wrong. I felt this novel had a really strong message.

By the end of OyMG I was very very happy with Ellie and what she finally decided. And Devon. I loved everything about this book and Im finding it hard to put into words. I think I found myself skeptical in the beginning because I myself am not really a religious person but I loved how the main point behind the story was their religion.

One thing that was slightly off to me was the fact that ellie was only 114, but the was she acted and spoke came across as much older. Say 19 or 20, which was easier for me to relate to. Amy's writing made it hard for me to imagine her as my little sister, who is 14.

Overall I thouroughly enjoyed the novek and all its characters. Especially Zeydeh!!

I would recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a light quick read and someone with an open mind.

Cover - 4
Plot - 4
Characters - 5
Writing - 5
Ending - 5

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Guest Post: Cara Chow

Today I have the honor of having Cara Chow, author or Bitter Melon, stopping by and talking about her most challenging experiences as a writer.

Website | Bitter Melon


One of the most challenging and interesting experiences for me as awriter has been hearing others’ reactions to my work. 

I wish I could say that I have a thick skin, but I’ve never beena good liar.  One of my earliest memories of receiving criticism ismailing a rough draft of a story to my best friend when I was a teenager. I expected her to read it and tell me how great it was.  Instead, she sentback my manuscript riddled with line edits.  My friend is a very nice,very smart, and very generous person.  She was trying to help me, not hurtmy feelings.  But instead of reading her comments, I tossed the manuscriptinto the trash. 

Over twenty years later, I look back on this moment and wonder why Idid that. 

I must have had this notion that a writer, like any artist, had to be agenius in order to be good.  As a teen, one of my favorite movies was Amadeus.  In the movie, Salieri waspathologically envious of Mozart because Mozart was a genius, whereas Salieriwas just mediocre.  When Mozart composed his music, the notes just pouredonto the page perfectly the first time around.  There was no need forrevision.  I believed that I should write the way Mozart composed. Therefore, if someone told me that I needed to revise my manuscript, then Imust not be a genius like Mozart.  I must be like Salieri, hopelesslymediocre and destined for the insane asylum.

No wonder I got depressed a lot during the early drafts of my book.

Another reason I was resistant to hearing feedback was because I haddifficulty separating myself from my work.  This was especially the casewith Bitter Melon because thefictional story was inspired by something that happened in my life.  (Iwrite more about this in my guest blog post on  WheneverI was told that I had an overly complicated plot, I dismissed that person ashaving too short an attention span to follow complex work.  If someonesaid that my antagonist needed to be portrayed in a more sympathetic manner, Iwould accuse him or her of not appreciating edgy characters. 

If I had clung to these beliefs, I don’t think I would be apublished author today.  So what helped me to change? 

Well, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have aproblem.  After a particularly harsh (or so it seemed at the time)critique in a writing workshop, I emailed my teacher to inform her that I wasthinking about leaving the class.  Within minutes of my hitting the“send” button, my teacher called me.  Instead of ridiculing mefor being over-sensitive, she admitted that she too got her feelings hurt fromtime to time during critiques.  My writing teacher is an accomplished poet,fiction writer, essayist, and performer.  She is also a gifted teacher anda wise person.  If even she was susceptible to getting her feelings hurt,then maybe I could forgive myself for being so sensitive.  Once I overcamethe shame of being thin-skinned, I was able to forgive my classmates and moveon.

I also learned to separate myself from my work.  As I made peacewith my own past, I no longer needed to process it through my writing, so myprotagonist was able to become her own person with a story that was separatefrom mine.  As I became less identified with my book, I was able to hearothers’ feedback for what it was, feedback on my work, not criticism ofme.  Because many students in my writing workshop were writing memoirs, mywriting teacher facilitated this process by encouraging us to use terms like“your protagonist” instead of “you” when discussingothers’ work. 

I also benefited from the process of having to give as well as receivefeedback.  Many times I was blind to a flaw in my own work until I saw itin someone else’s.  As I read my classmates’ revisions, Istarted to learn about how their lives informed their writing, what theirstrengths and weaknesses were, where they were at in terms of skill level andcompletion of the work, what motivated or discouraged them, and how they triedto integrate feedback into their revisions.  The more I learned aboutothers’ processes, the more I understood my own. 

As the years passed and as my drafts accumulated, I also learned how tofilter the feedback I received.  I figured out who “got” mybook and who didn’t, so I no longer got bent out of shape if someone madean unhelpful comment.  If many readers made the same kind of comment, Iknew to pay attention, especially if they had different sensibilities. Finally, I learned how to reconcile conflicting advice.  I used to getfrustrated by this, until I learned to understand not only what people weresaying but why they were saying it.  A lot of times, they were reacting tothe same issue or problem but were framing it differently.  Once Iunderstood this, the problems in my book became easier to fix.

The more I revised, the more I learned to respect revision.  Ibegan to shed the Mozart Myth.  When I was a high school student, I oftengot labeled as smart.  This annoyed me.  I didn’t think I wasthat smart.  In fact, I viewed myself as rather slow, so I compensated byworking harder.  The net result was that I tended to do well.  Ilearned to view myself this way in terms of my writing.  I didn’thave to be a genius.  I  just needed to show up and not quit.  Ialso gave up viewing myself as a Writerand instead began viewing myself as a mother/wife/daughter/friend/Pilatesteacher/cook/traveler/gardener who happened to write.  For me, thisidentity was healthier because I was diversifying my ego portfolio instead ofinvesting my whole ego into just one form of success.  As I became lessinvested in becoming a successful writer, I became more patient.  So whenmy agent read my eighth draft and asked me if I was interested in doing anotherrevision, I said, “Sure, why not?  I’ve been working on thisfor nine years.  What’s another year?”  My newfoundpatience stayed with me as I wrote the ninth and tenth drafts for my agent, andagain when I wrote the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth drafts for my editorat Egmont USA.

My thicker skin served me well when I was querying agents, especiallywhen one agent sent me a form letter that read “This isn’t forme,” not on a sheet of paper but a skinny strip of paper cut with scissorsfrom a page.  (Was he being green or cheap?)  It continued to serveme as my book went to auction, when my agent forwarded to me editors’comments, which ranged from positive to negative, tactful to blunt. 

Now that my book has been published, I continue to get interestingfeedback, though it is now quite different in nature.  So far, no one tomy knowledge has criticized the quality of the writing, but I have receivedsome interesting reactions to the subject matter.  Many readers love thebook because they identify with Frances, either because of the mother-daughtertheme and/or the theme of success and failure.  Ironically, a few havefound the book hard to like for the very same reason, that is, it cut too closeto home and made them feel uncomfortable.  One reviewer complained thatthe book was too stereotypical because my Asian American protagonist is astellar student and has a Tiger mother.  (As we all know, such a story hasno basis in reality!)  Also ironic, many of the readers who identify with Francesare not of Asian descent.  To this, I can only say,“Hurrah!”  That is exactly what I intended.

When people ask me how long it took to finish my book, I don’tknow whether to feel embarrassed or proud.  To my surprise, the unanimousreaction I get is always one of respect.

Review: Haven - Kristi Cook

Release Date - February 22, 2011
Publisher - Simon Pulse
Age Group - 14 & up
Pages - 416
Rating - 4/5

Summary - One month into her junior year, sixteen-year-old Violet McKenna transfers to the Winterhaven School in New York’s Hudson Valley, inexplicably drawn to the boarding school with high hopes. Leaving Atlanta behind, she’s looking forward to a fresh start--a new school, and new classmates who will not know her deepest, darkest secret, the one she’s tried to hide all her life: strange, foreboding visions of the future.

But Winterhaven has secrets of its own, secrets that run far deeper than Violet’s. Everyone there--every student, every teacher--has psychic abilities, 'gifts and talents,' they like to call them. Once the initial shock of discovery wears off, Violet realizes that the school is a safe haven for people like her. Soon, Violet has a new circle of friends, a new life, and maybe even a boyfriend--Aidan Gray, perhaps the smartest, hottest guy at Winterhaven.

Only there’s more to Aidan than meets the eye--much, much more. And once she learns the horrible truth, there’s no turning back from her destiny. Their destiny. Together, Violet and Aidan must face a common enemy--if only they can do so without destroying each other first.

Review -  Haven was a really good debut novel for Mrs. Cook. It had everything you could want in a paranormal romance. Of course it had its paranormal facter, as the description tells you, a school full of kids with psychic gifts, and it had its romance. And along with that came mystery and the main character finally finding herself and people she feels she belongs with. That was probably my favorite aspect about the novel. Violet, the main character, finally having what she wanted and needed.

I really enjoyed all aspects of this novel. In the middle I found myself a little bored but I cannot pinpoint why. I enjoyed all of the characters and the plot. It always kept me guessing and at the end it threw me a curve ball I never saw coming.

I can say that I had no complaints about Kristi's writing. I actually enjoyed it a lot. One thing I didnt like was the cover. Its pretty but I didnt feel it tied in with the book too well.

I would recommend this to any paranormal lover. It is now pretty close to the top of my favorite list.

Cover - 4
Plot - 4
Characters - 4
Writing - 4
Ending - 4

Review: Darkness Becomes Her - Kelly Keaton

Release Date - February 22, 2011
Publisher - Simon Pulse
Age Group - 14 & Up
Pages - 288
Rating - 4/5

Summary -
Ari can’t help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is.Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it’s impossible to protect herself when she doesn’t know what she’s running from or why she is being pursued.
She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very…different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.
Ari won’t stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.

Review -  When I first pulled this off my shelf I was so excited to start it because of all the hype I had been hearing. I have to say the book definitely lived up to the hype. It had just about everything that I enjoy in a novel.

I like the cover, it has kind of a gothic feel to it, which goes well with the book, but I didn't quite find a connection with the cover and the book which could just be me. Although I still like it and after seeing the hardback cover in the store it is quite gorgeous.

The plot, I LOVED the plot. Everything about it. Darkness Becomes Her had a lot of Greek mythology intertwined in it. I have always been interested in Greek mythology but I don;t know much about it. When I started reading I had no idea that the story was gonna take the twisted path that it did. Twisted meaning the ups and downs and turns, not crazy twisted.

And the characters. I liked all of the characters. Ari was definitely my favorite. I loved her attitude. There were many times she was unsure and then she turned it all around with here "you can stick it" attitude.

I loved Ms. Keatons writing. She put enough details into it without overdoing it. My biggest thing I look for in an authors writing is if they can give me a picture without overloading and she did it! There was some profanity that could offend some, although it didnt bother me.

And she did a great job ending this novel. The ending made me gasp and left me wanting to know more. I had to know what was gonna happen next and I cant wait to read the next novel in this series.

This is a novel that I would reccomend to anyone who loved paranoral, mystery, romance and Greek mythology.

Cover - 3
Plot - 5
Characters - 5
Writing - 5
Ending - 5
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