Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy Book Birthday, THE REAL BOY!

I'm so thrilled that you can finally get your hands on one of the most magical books I've read this year!
Happy book birthday to Anne Ursu and THE REAL BOY!

Author: Anne Ursu
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 288
Source of Book: ARC from publisher
          On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master's shop, grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.
          But it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.

First Thought: Without a doubt one of the best books I've read this year. A mesmerizing and enchanting story.

Anne Ursu's THE REAL BOY is a mesmerizing and enchanting story of friendship, courage, and magic with an endearing main character who just wants to be "normal." It's a story that shows the reader what it means to be hopeful in the face of lost hope. It's a story that begs to be read.

Ursu has created an intriguing fantasy world filled with magical elements, yet the explanations show that the magic been declining over the years. The mythology she creates for this world is fascinating and shows the reader the depth to which their magical ancestors cared about the people of this town. The contrast between the people of Asteri and the people in the Barrow adds an element of class differences that, when added to the lonliness of Oscar's situation and his uncertainty, creates even more of a divide leading him to feel like he just doesn't get it.

The beauty of the main character, Oscar, is that he really isn't sure what's happening, so the reader gets to go along on the journey of discovery with him. We get to be a part of his awakening and realization that there may not be one particular way to be "normal" even if he may think there is. His interactions with the other inhabitants of the Barrow, including the magician he works for, show that he is a curious boy, but one who doesn't necessarily have the same way of interacting socially...no doubt related to his orphan status and not remembering his past. This leads to a bit of a mystery as he finds clues that may lead to the truth about his past, although he is not sure he wants to know the truth.

In THE REAL BOY, Anne Ursu again demonstrates a lyrical quality to her writing that had me going back and rereading sections because of the stunningly beautiful descriptions she weaves together. There is such magic in her writing...beyond the story, and just with the way she puts words together and describes things. I felt as if I was there in the Barrow, in the woods, living this story with Oscar and seeing the entrancing settings around him. Being so drawn into that world creates an even richer experience for me as a reader.

I feel compelled to add that one of the strongest elements of this story for me, was having heard Anne's story. She wrote this thinking about her son, and I feel that the message, for so many other children that may be struggling with something that makes them feel not quite "normal" at times, is such a strong one. Being different doesn't make you not real. We are all real...we are just different versions of reality.

Final Thoughts: My favorite middle grades books I've read in a long time. Please read THE REAL BOY this fall. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TTT: Top 10 Books on My Fall 2013 TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
Top Ten Books on My Fall 2013 TBR List
So I'm considering "Fall" to be anything prior to the Winter Solstice
(Dec. 21 for those who didn't learn that in science class.)
Ones I'm Most Anxiously Awaiting
ALLEGIANT (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth (Oct. 22)
(that one is obvious, right?)
CHAMPION (Legend #3) by Marie Lu (Nov. 5)
SNAKEROOT (Nightshade #4) by Andrea Cremer (Dec. 10)
JUST ONE YEAR (sequel to Just One Day) by Gayle Forman (Oct. 10)
RACING SAVANNAH by Miranda Kenneally (Dec. 3)

Ones I've Already Read 
(but really hope are on your radar)
THE DREAM THIEVES (The Raven Cycle book 2) by Maggie Stiefvater (Sept. 17 today!)
WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE by Trish Doller (Sept. 24)
REALITY BOY by A.S. King (Oct. 22)
BANG (Visions book 2) by Lisa McMann (Oct. 8)
THE LIVING by Matt de la Pena (Nov. 12)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

STARRY NIGHTS by Daisy Whitney


Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 288
Source of Book: eARC from publisher on NetGalley
Seventeen-year-old Julien is a romantic—he loves spending his free time at the museum poring over the great works of the Impressionists. But one night, a peach falls out of a Cezanne, Degas ballerinas dance across the floor, and Julien is not hallucinating.
          The art is reacting to a curse that trapped a beautiful girl, Clio, in a painting forever. Julien has a chance to free Clio and he can't help but fall in love with her. But love is a curse in its own right. And soon paintings begin to bleed and disappear. Together Julien and Clio must save the world's greatest art . . . at the expense of the greatest love they've ever known.
          Like a master painter herself, Daisy Whitney brings inordinate talent and ingenuity to this romantic, suspenseful, and sophisticated new novel. A beautifully decorated package makes it a must-own in print.

First Thought: I got to spend a little more time in Europe - the setting reigns in this book!

In STARRY NIGHTS Daisy Whitney has written an ode to artists and their famous artwork, to those who are well-loved and to those who just love to create. It instantly transports the readers to the streets of Paris, the museums housing the masters, and the heart of the pieces they lovingly created. It's a touch of whimsy, a touch of romance, a touch of friendships, a touch of secret underground societies, a touch of travel guide, a touch of art history, a touch of unrequited love, a touch of kisses, a touch of mystery, a touch of art heists, a touch of a tour of the greatest art museums around the world. The twisty bits as we uncover what is really going on as Garnier races to figure out how to fix these most famous art pieces before they are destroyed adds an element to the plot that kept me turning the pages. Some of my most favorite parts of the story were the after-hours in the museum with the artwork coming to life elements along with how real the setting became for me. I love Paris and Daisy Whitney transported me right back there with this novel. STARRY NIGHTS is a fun read with a sweet romance and a mystery to figure out that will keep readers intrigued and looking up artwork from the Masters. It's a bit Night at the Museum + Heist Society + some kind of romance story.

Final Thoughts: Daisy Whitney is one of my favorite authors, and STARRY NIGHTS doesn't disappoint. Although very different from her previous books, it's a whimsical read that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TTT: Top 10 Books I Would Love to See as a Movie/TV Show

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
Top Ten Books I Would Love to See as a Movie/TV Show

I can already picture these on the big screen because of the world or the story
LEGEND by Marie Lu
CAPTURE THE FLAG by Kate Messner
THE LIVING by Matt de la Pena

I think these are made for TV because they could go many place with multiple episodes
HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter
SPLIT SECOND by Kasie West
CRASH by Lisa McMann
OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys
I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blog Tour: THE YEAR OF SHADOWS by Claire Legrand (Guest Post & Giveaway)

I was so excited when Claire contacted me about hosting a stop on her blog tour. I played cello when I was younger, so something set in a concert hall and with an orchestra? Sign me up! 
I asked Claire if she would talk about her revision process for her guest post, and she graciously agreed. I have to say, I was fascinated reading her guest post and am so glad she is sharing it here. Read what she has to stay, and stick around for the giveaway at the end of this post!

Author: Claire Legrand
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Number of Pages: 416
Source of Book: ARC from publisher
Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.
      Her mother left, her neglectful father -- the maestro of a failing orchestra -- has moved her and her grandmother into his dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.
      Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help -- if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.
Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living . . . and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn't stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a writer, Ms. Legrand can often be found typing with purpose at her keyboard, losing herself in the stacks at her local library, or embarking upon spontaneous adventures to lands unknown. Her first novel is THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, a New York Public Library Best Book for Children in 2012. Her second novel, THE YEAR OF SHADOWS, releases August 27, 2013, with her third novel, WINTERSPELL, to follow in fall 2014. She is one of the four authors behind THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, an anthology of dark middle grade fiction due out in July 2014 from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. Claire lives in New Jersey with a dragon and two cats. Visit her at claire-legrand.com and at enterthecabinet.com.
I’m so excited to be here at Heise Reads & Recommends for day 14 (yowza!) of The Year of Shadows blog tour!

Today I’ll be giving you a sneak peek into the revision process for The Year of Shadows—and I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous! Although revising is a normal, necessary part of the writing process (and my favorite part of the process, in fact), I’m always irrationally frustrated that I can’t just, you know, write the book the way it needs to be written the first time around. Admitting that I’m unable to do that, and sharing what I’ve put my book through to make it shine, wounds my pride.

But my pride is silly; no one can write a good book without also putting that book through revisions—and maybe even rewrites! So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at how The Year of Shadows evolved from wee baby manuscript to shiny final book.

My inimitable editor, Zareen Jaffery, and I have worked together on three books now, and the revision process for each started the same way: Zareen sent me a thorough, thoughtful editorial letter. Each letter began with her overall thoughts about the book in question, and then continued with sub-sections of comments focused on major characters, world building elements, and themes.

Zareen asks a lot of questions in her editorial letters, which I love. Instead of telling me, “This needs to be this way instead of that way” or “Do this here instead of that,” she asks me questions that prompt me to think more critically about what I’ve written. With The Year of Shadows, our main focuses during revisions were 1) world building (the hows and whys of the ghosts and their anchors), 2) pacing (there’s a lot going on in this book!), and 3) Olivia herself. Olivia is a complex heroine, and it was important to me that readers fully understood the motivations behind her anger, bitterness, and loneliness.

One of the most important relationships in the book is between Olivia and her father, the Maestro. The nuances of this complicated relationship took a while for me to get just right. In that first editorial letter, Zareen asked some great questions about their relationship:

            The Maestro is easily hate-able when we see him through Olivia’s eyes. But, just 
            as her opinion of him softens, I’d like to introduce a more complicated reasoning 
            behind his neglect, and soften some of the passages where he is verbally abusive 
            towards her.

Pg 70, 165. It’s hard to understand why the Maestro is so mean to Olivia. Neglectful I can justify. But to lash out at her and accuse her of wanting him to be ruined? That seems so unnecessary. Why does he do this?

Zareen brings up excellent points here. I could have easily made the Maestro a one-dimensional villain, and in fact, he was much less complex and sympathetic in this early draft. But the world isn’t black and white, as much as angry Olivia might at first see it that way, and the Maestro is no exception. By doing just as Zareen suggested—softening some of the passages where he is more temperamental, and giving the reader (and Olivia) more of an insight into why he acts the way he does—I was able to create a much more well-rounded character in the Maestro.

Below is an excerpt from the first draft of the manuscript. Olivia snuck into her father’s room during a concert, searching for a ghost’s anchor. When the Maestro finds her there, he gets angry:

            “What were you doing in my room?” the Maestro whispered. His eyes were wild, but I wasn’t afraid. I could think only about those unopened letters, one after another after another.
            “I was . . . cleaning,” I said.
            The Maestro looked past me at his bedroom, just as dirty as it had been before. “And what a cleaning job. Perhaps you will tell me the truth now?”
            “I told you: cleaning.”
            “You awful child. You plot with Walter to ruin me!”
            “Who’s Walter?”
            “Rue. Walter Rue. Don’t play stupid, Olivia.”
            I wiped the Maestro’s angry spit from my cheek. “I didn’t know Mr. Rue’s first name, so sue me!”
            “You search my room, looking for my secrets,” he said, pointing a shaking finger at me. “Secrets to share with him, to speed up the process. You want me to fail just as he does, don’t you? You would love to see this Hall crumble to dust, see me turn to dust!”
            He stepped closer to me, his eyes wild. I had never seen the Maestro this angry, all crazy-eyed and deathly quiet.
                        “You’re crazy,” I said, backing away. “Just look at you. No wonder Mom left.”
See how unstable the Maestro seems? How his words and attitude border on violent? Olivia even seems afraid of him. He calls her an “awful child”! It’s all a bit cartoonish and over-the-top. Compare that with the same passage from the final book:

            “What were you doing in my room?” The Maestro was in his full-blown post-concert state—skin flushed and sweating, hair wild, the permanent bags under his eyes even darker than normal. People didn’t like to mess with the Maestro after concerts, especially not these days. But I could think only about those unopened letters, one after another after another.
            “Cleaning,” I said, glaring at him.
            The Maestro looked past me at his bedroom. “And what a cleaning job. Perhaps you will tell me the truth now?”
            “I told you. Cleaning.”
            “You shouldn’t go in people’s rooms without their permission, Olivia.” The Maestro wiped his face with a stained handerchief. “I give you your privacy. You should give me mine.”
            . . .
            “I don’t know what [Mom] ever saw in you.” The sight of him repulsed me. He was too sweaty and too skinny and too tired. “No wonder she left.”

Everything is more subtle in the final version of the scene. We see signs of the Maestro’s exhaustion—the bags under his eyes, the stained handkerchief. We even see that Olivia knows how tired she is—and maybe, underneath her anger, feels sorry for him. Instead of raging at Olivia, the Maestro calmly admonishes her for going through his belongings. This allows both Olivia—and the reader—to feel more sympathy for him. We see a man overwhelmed by terrible circumstances, rather than a man bordering on abusive—but we still understand Olivia’s anger toward him.

Here’s another great point made by Zareen in her editorial letter:

Olivia seemingly idolizes her mother… except for the little detail that Cara left her, which Olivia seems to blame solely on her father. Why doesn’t Olivia blame her mother more?

When I read this, I felt, I confess, a bit flabbergasted. Of course Olivia would blame her mother! Why didn’t I think about this before? (This is a common refrain during the revisions process, by the way, and why editors are so invaluable. By asking all the right questions, they help you discover nuances of the story that you missed the first time around, and help clarify sentiments you thought you had expressed clearly but ended up getting lost on the page.) I realized that Olivia should want her mother back, yes, and miss her, and most of her anger should be focused at the parent who is actually present, the parent easy to blame—the Maestro—but she should also be angry at her mother, and then feel guilty for that anger. Because of this great question from Zareen, I was able to tease out a whole new level of emotion from Olivia, and add another layer of emotional conflict to the story.

Notice that Zareen didn’t say, “Olivia should blame her mother more.” She asked, “Why doesn’t Olivia blame her mother more?” Good editors don’t direct; they guide, nudge, inspire. If I had a solid reason for Olivia not blaming her mother, I could have explained it to Zareen, and she would have accepted that. But even in that case, her question would have made me re-examine my thought process.

Sometimes entire passages didn’t make it into the book, passages that were fun for me to write but derailed the story’s focus. In an early draft of the book, I added a Greek chorus of three elderly men who liked to sit on the bench outside Emerson Hall. Olivia talked to them occasionally, and they offered advice or just uttered entertaining non-sequiturs. But their addition slowed the overall pacing, so I ended up deleting them entirely. For fun, here is their first appearance from an early draft:

            There was this bench on the sidewalk there, up against the wall of the Hall. It was green and its paint was peeling, and there were these three guys that sat there most mornings, watching the traffic and reading the paper. One was Hat Guy (he wore a hat). One was Cigar Guy (he liked cigars). The third was Cool Guy (he wore sunglasses, even if it was raining).
            I never asked them their real names, and they never asked me mine. It was this unspoken thing of ours. Used to, they called me Music Girl. You know, being the daughter of an orchestra conductor and all.
            But ever since Mom disappeared nine months ago, they started calling me Shadow Girl. I wore black a lot now. My hair was long and black, too, and shiny, and I wore it down most of the time. I liked to hide behind it and pretend I wasn’t even there.
            “You all right, Shadow Girl?” Hat Guy said.
            Cigar Guy peeked out over the top of his paper. Cool Guy chewed his gum.
            “Not really,” I said. “Everything’s wrong.”
            Cool Guy said, “Maybe you should go on back inside.”
            I nodded and picked up my suitcase, hiding my face., I didn’t want the Bench Guys to see me cry.

See? Fun! But not entirely relevant to the proceedings. I transferred any useful exposition from their deleted scenes into scenes that already existed, thereby streamlining the story’s pacing. I am, however, still quite fond of Bench Guys. Maybe they need their own story someday! And that’s something important to remember about revisions: Sometimes the nature of the book requires you to delete favorite passages, characters, even entire storylines! This can be painful. But just because this material doesn’t fit into this book doesn’t mean you can’t re-work it for use in another book.

After I integrate comments from that first editorial letter into the manuscript, I send the updated version to Zareen. Sometimes we talk over the phone about the changes I’ve made before she reads the newest draft. Zareen then begins line edits, leaving comments throughout the manuscript. Sometimes she will also send another, much more brief editorial letter addressing any remaining, overarching issues, but the bulk of edits this time around are on the micro level rather than the macro level.

Zareen’s line edits include everything from word repetition, to world building clarification and consistency, to making sure there’s enough Igor. (Igor is Olivia’s cat, and he seems to be a huge fan favorite.) Zareen also, blessedly, includes a lot of positive comments in her line edits: “I love this!” or “Such a great moment!” or “AWESOME visual.” Revisions can be both exhilarating and excruciating. Those tiny, happy comments are welcome boosts to my morale!

Below are some of Zareen’s line edits:

Above, Olivia says Frederick can’t touch things, but right now he’s touching her cheek. Rephrase? (Ah! Such a tiny but important inconsistency. Good catch, Zareen!)

They have to relive the deaths of 51 ghosts? That sounds traumatic! Would they so easily agree? (No, they wouldn’t agree so easily! Hence why, in the final book, Olivia and Henry are much more reluctant to help the rest of the ghosts, and end up having to find help because they simply can’t handle the stress.)

Should there be a little more fanfare to the audience growing? (Yes! In the final book, I emphasize everyone’s excitement about the growing audience, and even brought the press into the mix.)

Any way to insert Igor in this scene? Is he trying to comfort her? (Answer: ALWAYS MORE IGOR.)

I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at the revision process for The Year of Shadows! Revisions can be tough—but they can also be the most rewarding part of bringing a book to life. I know they are for me! As they say, revisions are where the real writing begins, when you take the huge hunk of marble that is drafting and start chipping away at it to turn it into something truly beautiful. (For a more humorous take on the editorial process, check out this post on my blog, illustrated by yours truly.)

Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win a beautiful hardcover copy of The Year of Shadows! And you can check out the other blog tour stops here for multiple chances to win!

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