Friday, July 30, 2010

The Call

No, I have not received The Call yet.  Yes, there is one "The Call."  It means, the call you get when a literary agent is considering taking you on as a client.  Granted, from what I've been reading lately, it seems that very often before The Call is The Email, when an agent writes you an email saying they want to call you and when.  But anyway!  Just because I have not yet received The Email or The Call doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about it a lot.  I have.  I've researched and bookmarked lists of questions I should ask during The Call (because if you didn't prepare, you'd probably just be a blathering mess, right?).  I also daydream about The Call.  And read new authors' blog posts about The Call.  And I have to say, I do not think I will be having the reaction that some authors have had.  Which is vomiting after The Call or The Email.  Yeah, I don't see that happening.  Perhaps these authors are more prone to nerves than I am, but I am pretty sure The Call--if and when it does happen--will be followed with one of the following two: crying or screaming.  My default response to any big news (good or bad) is probably to cry.  And because this would be good news, there's a decent chance for a scream.  But a trip to the bathroom?  I don't think so.

Once I've calmed myself down enough to just get excited about it, I am going to play my "happy dance" song.  Basically, I've had this song picked out for this moment since I started querying my first novel (a project I later shelved sometime last year).  I will blast MGMT's "Kids" to as loud a volume as I can get away with, with an upstairs neighbor who is 90 and thus hard of hearing, so pretty loud.  I will also dance.

Anyone who knows me knows that I do not dance.  At least, not in seriousness.  I was known to perform a rather creepy jig after Red Sox won the World Series in 2007.  And I may or may not have performed a beard dance (this involves swaying side to side with an extra long beard, so not the most complicated of dances) a few times in the library, dressed as Dumbledore.  But in terms of real dancing or happy dancing?  I do not do these things.  Ordinarily.

Every time I listen to "Kids" though, I can see this moment, this future "happy dance" as if it already happened.  And it's one of my favorite songs ever--also, one of the happiest songs ever--so I've seen it a lot.

I guess for now it's a matter of waiting and hoping, and when that's not enough, sending out more queries.  So far, I've sent out 19 queries.  I've heard back from 7 agents, 5 of whom requested more materials.  Currently, I have 2 fulls and one partial out there.  The happy dance?  Pending.

For now, I guess I'll go back to reading the most excellent Jaclyn Moriarty's new book The Ghosts of Ashbury High and daydreaming.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How much do I love Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

Let me count the ways.

1.  I have read all the books, recommended them to everyone (regardless of age, reading ability), and own nearly all of them.
2.  I drink water from a Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5 water bottle.
3.  I saw the movie based on the book in the theater and laughed harder than... possibly everyone else in the theater combined.  Especially in any scene featuring Fregley.  Oh, Fregley!
4.  I begged and pleaded with my boyfriend for us to join Blockbuster, despite the fact that we pay $14.99 a month to Netflix to watch any movie we like, because Netflix won't send us Wimpy Kid until late August but it hits other rental places on Tuesday (just 5 days from now).
5.  He refused to join but I just placed an order on Amazon because, well, I can't wait to watch it again and to share it with family and friends.  FREGLEY!
6.  Today, I saw the cover for the new book, book 5, The Ugly Truth, and am now marking my calendar for its release on November 9th.

Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler

Delilah Hannaford is a bit lost--kind of fumbling, actually.  She's falling behind in school, she's hooking up with this guy Finn who probably isn't right for her, and she's so disconnected that she accidentally swipes some makeup and gets caught stealing.  Delilah is the complete opposite of her single mother, a self-made business success, whose mode of thinking has more in common with a GPS device than an actual person.  When Delilah's grandmother dies, necessitating a trip up to her house in Vermont, her two living daughters, Delilah's mother and aunt struggle to understand what broke apart their family eight years ago.

This is one of those rare YA books that is very much about family, with other action and plot-lines coming in second.  There's plenty of intrigue here, as Delilah confronts the major mysteries of her family: her mother's sister Stephanie's mysterious death as a teenager, and what broke apart the family 8 years ago at her grandfather's funeral.  Growing up in New England, I'm quite aware of the stereotype of New England families not talking about anything, of the secrets, the tough stuff that no one wants to discuss.  It's captured so well here, as the truth gets slowly unraveled, both through Delilah's efforts and by chance.  At the end of the summer, no one will be the same, but they'll be better off for the honesty.

Readers will swoon over Patrick, Delilah's childhood friend turned crush turned something more.  The Vermont setting absolutely comes alive, so much that I could practically taste the maple-drizzled ice cream.  I'd say this is the perfect summer read, because it was, except that it doesn't actually hit bookstores until the fall.  There's so much to look forward to in this strong sophomore effort from Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer.

*** This review is based of the ARC, and it looks as though both the title and the cover are not finalized at this time.  The title on my copy was Fixing Delilah Hannaford but it is abbreviated on the author's website. The book should hit bookstores November 2, 2010. ***

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

That watched pot

It never boils. Never, ever, ever. Okay, it will eventually boil if it is actually a pot of water on a burner. But if you are using it as a metaphor for something else (as I am), well, good luck. Yeah, that's kind of how I'm finding myself since last Tuesday, when I started sending out queries to literary agents. At the very beginning, it's okay to watch the pot (or so I tell myself, checking my email once an hour, on the hour, from 9 to 5 p.m.) because those speedy agents will get back to you either way. And they did (1 rejected, one requested the full). But now we're back to the waiting game. I know it's summer and agents get behind due to holidays, conferences, etc. Or they might be on vacation.

I'm not complaining about their timeline at all. What I am annoyed with is only myself and my inability to stop watching the pot! It's summer and I don't have to work at the moment, so shouldn't I be enjoying myself and not thinking that if I go to the beach and I get a request, I won't be able to fulfill it because I don't have it saved on my phone.  Sheesh! Luckily, I will be forced to just let it go (a challenge for me, clearly) because I'm spending a long weekend in Sonoma. Here's to hoping that I can leave the pot behind, and also the obsessive pot-watching tendencies.

I swear I am not as type-A as this entry seems to suggest!

Yes! Only 9 minutes until I can check my email again!

Oh, Self....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On real teens on television

Heading into the summer, I decided to take on one trashy show. The show I started to watch was ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars. I thought: based on YA books, simple premise, trashy... perfect!

Ummm no. I tried, I really did, but it is too bad to enjoy. At least for me. So I have traded it in for Huge. Still ABC Family, still based on a YA book (in this case Huge by Sasha Paley). I just could not get beyond the horrible acting and terribly unrealistic dialogue in Pretty Little Liars. Not only did the characters not remotely look like the age they were playing, but they just didn't sound like it either. And that was the deal breaker. I'll admit that the acting on Huge is a little spotting, the absolute strength of the show being Nikki Blonsky, who plays a girl named Will, and the guy characters. But these kids are awkward, so honestly awkward, that I have absolutely fallen in love with the show. I don't need to be doing something else during the show because I am that bored (yes, this started to be the case with PLL). Is it going to join the pantheon of my favorite teenage-based shows of all time, Friday Night Lights and Freaks and Geeks? Probably not.

Which is why I'm rewatching season four of FNL as it airs on NBC finally, and the occasional Freaks and Geeks to get me through the summer, with its dearth of good TV shows. I am forcing the boyfriend to watch this season of Friday Night Lights with me, and while he doesn't tear up every time Julie does, in the wake of Matt Saracen leaving town, I think he's getting a kick out of it. We watched the episode last night where Glen kisses Tami Taylor (too funny, oh Glen!) and while we both got a kick out of that, he also thought Glen was really quiet a good karaoke singer. Okay, buddy...  We both agree that the Landry-Jess relationship has provided so many great moments, particularly when she slapped him outside her locker, after he told her he wasn't sure but he might be hung up on another girl. Oh, Landry!

I leave you with a picture of Tim Riggins. Just because.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A terrible problem to have

So last night I started reading Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto, this new book by Eric Luper that's been sitting in my to-read pile for weeks (the problem of having a to-read pile with about 30-40 must reads).  And I'm reading and I'm digging it, and then I say to Colin, "What's that smell?" 

He responds, "What smell?  I don't smell anything.  Not that skunk again." 

"No, not a skunk," I tell him.  "It smells kind of sweet but kind of bad."  I think, God, I hope not, and sniff myself.  Nope!  Is it Colin?  He's sitting across the room, so that's unlikely.  (Though for other reasons too, rather unlikely.)

I take a break from reading, thinking of what the smell could be, and a breeze comes in and I get another big whiff of it.  "God, what is that smell?"

Turning to look out the window, I spot it.  The book, cover off, sitting there in all its red, brand new book glory.  I take a big whiff.  Sure enough, the book REEKS.  Not the pages, just the cover.  I have no idea why, but now I cannot bring myself to read the book.

What's a girl supposed to do when the book she wants to read smells?  I'm pretty familiar with smelly books, having weeded lots of them from the library.  Any time a coworker said, "Smell this!" while holding up a book, I always did.  And always regretted it.  But I never thought I'd have this problem with a brand new book!  I'm going to let it air out, if you will, for a few days before trying to read it again.

Has anyone else ever had this problem?  Any ideas?  I have some scented draw lining paper somewhere, but it seems rather old lady to cover a YA book in lavender printed, lavender-scented paper.  Right?

Book Review: Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

There are a lot of iconic families in literature, and you can add the Sullivans to that list.  Almighty, otherwise known as Arden Louisa Norris Sullivan Weems Maguire Hightower Beckendorf, is the head of the illustrious Sullivans of Baltimore.  She's been married to, well, let's just say several scions of industry.  And we learn just two pages into Natalie Standiford's brilliant Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters that she is dying.  Her heirs are speechless.  But that's just the beginning.  Almighty plans to cut her rightful heirs out of her will.  One of them (no one is named) has deeply offended Almighty, and she expects that person to come forward with their confessions.  The latest generation of the Sullivan family has three teenage daughters, two slightly older sons, and one much younger son, just 6 years old.  Everyone in the family thinks it has to be one of the Sullivan sisters.  And so the story begins.

Sort of in the way that Carolyn Mackler's Tangled works, readers are privy to each daughter's confession, told in older, from oldest to youngest: Norrie, then Jane, then Sassy.  I don't want to ruin the book by uttering their deepest confessions, but let's just say that there's a love story, there's a revenge story, and there's a murder story!

Heading into this book, I was in a reading rut, but I feel totally lifted out of this.  This book is so fresh and new, but also paying homage to the stories of our (my?) youth.  I love that the Sullivans live in an old mansion in Baltimore (who sets books in Baltimore these days?) and that they are that quirky, blue blood family, eminently more interesting than anything you'd find in the Gossip Girl series (no offense!).  They are more of a cross between the Gilmores and the Glass family.

Exquisite writing, snappy dialogue, and brilliantly realized characterizations made this one of my most enjoyable reading experiences so far this year.  Brava, Natalie Standiford!  Two for two!  (I also really loved How to Say Goodbye in Robot, her debut novel from 2009, which I read this year.)

But you'll have to be patient, because the book doesn't hit bookstores and libraries near you until September 2010.

*** Observation: The cover on the ARC I read is completely different, but I hope they are going with the cover I've used in this picture.  The ARC cover shows three girls from behind, with notes in their hands, and to me it connoted a lighter, less literary read.  This cover reminds me a lot of the cover of E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and I think it more accurately markets the book's contents.  Because seriously, do we always need people on the cover of books, especially when they don't look like the characters? ***

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

Librarian Emily Horner's debut novel is one of the strongest of the year, IMHO.  A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend is definitely a love story, but it's also a story about coming-of-age, about realizing your own identity, about realizing you are gay, and about a really kickass musical about ninjas that can divide by zero.  In the aftermath of her best friend Julia's death, Cass is at a loss.  She's always defined herself in relation to Julia.  Julia was her closest friend but she was also her main connection to her other friends.  They were all Julia's friends first, the theater nerds.  Does she belong with them?

This story features two plot-lines, Then and Now.  Now, Cass and her friends are turning Julia's secret project, her script for a musical about a ninjas, into reality.  Then is the past summer, when Cass decided to bike from Chicago to California, to bring Julia's ashes to the beach, to the West Coast, a place Julia never got to visit.  Both plot lines are equally compelling and would have sustained an excellent story, but what takes center stage, for this reader, is Cass coming into her own as a lesbian.  She struggles with trying to figure out if she ever loved Julia that way, and if she did, why she didn't tell her.  As her feelings change for her former enemy, Heather, she wishes Julia could have been there to sound her out.

This story is so skillfully realized by Emily Horner, with remarkable writing and keen sense of teenagers today.  This is absolutely the kind of book that so easily transcends "liked it" and becomes a favorite, the kind you clutch to your chest.  Highly recommended reading.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On keeping busy

Lately, I've been having a hard time getting really sucked into the books I've been reading.  That's sort of my excuse for not posting a lot lately.  I've liked the books I've been reading, but nothing I read had me excited the way some of the BFYA books did.  Maybe it's because I'm coming off a "reading high," as several of the BFYA feedback teens gushed, when talking about their favorite books.  But if that's the case, then I tend to have the opposite reaction.  If I read something I love love loved, it is unlikely that will make me more likely to go crazy over the following book.  The exact opposite will happen.  I will be possible hypercritical of the next book I read, making perhaps unrealistic comparisons to the first.  That said, I am super excited to read the books I've selected for today and tomorrow: Emily Horner's YA debut A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend (pretty sure I will love it because it sounded great in the NYTimes book review and it was blurbed by Steve Kluger AND Horner is librarian) and The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams (which has a completely gorgeous cover -- and the author has a short story in the Atlantic Fiction issue!).

But I have something else taking up a good chunk of my mental space.  I'm closing in on beginning querying for my new manuscript.  There's only one thing left to do, and it is time-consuming and exhausting, but it's the only thing that gets the job done.  I read the entire book out loud.  It is 240 pages.  I read a 50 page chunk this morning, amazed 1. that I could read 50 pages without needing a glass of water, and 2. that there are still some ridiculous typos.  Granted, this is the only way I've found to catch them.  This manuscript has been read by several people and myself multiple times, and I've still found a couple genuine typos (like a missing quotation mark, misspelling of a character name)!  Though most of the little notes I've made were more along the lines of "change this word," or "be consistent with how I spell anti-war."  Fifty pages down, only 140 something to go.  Sheesh!  Luckily, I've got something to break up intimate reading performance, which my cat Lilly is, I'm sure, confused by: tons of reading!

Hopefully will be back to share more thoughts on Emily Horner book.  For now: lunch!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Review - Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales is an eminently relatable novel.  (Perhaps I have a bit too much in common with the girls in the book, having attended an all-girls private school in Massachusetts with many similarities to the fictitious Westfield School.)  Violet and Katie have the kind of friendship that so many girls experience as teenagers.  They can finish each other's sentences, they have that quippy back and forth a la Lorelai and Rory Gilmore-- basically, they don't know where one ends and the other begins.  Which makes it all the more startling for Violet, an academic overachiever who holds very high expectations for herself, when Katie starts making decisions that are not in her best interest: dating an older guy who works at the coffee shop (who her parents would NOT approve of, who in fact Violet does not approve of!) and taking risks at school.  

This book is very much about friendship, and the way that friends can grow apart as they define themselves in relation to their world, and not just each other.  There are so many funny, laugh out loud moments.  Violet and Katie are witty and snarky, but most of all, they are pretty honest.  I appreciated the way this book deals very frankly with the competitive nature of fancy private high schools.  Unlike many other books that use these worlds as their settings (I'm talking to you, Gossip Girl), this one realistically captures what goes on in the classroom.  While Mostly Good Girls treads some familiar terrain plot-wise, it is the wit and spark of the writing, and the strong characterizations that will keep readers enthralled.

Review is based on an ARC.  Will be hitting bookstores and libraries in October 2010.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Yes, I am a sucker for verse novels

So I was pretty excited to go through all the boxes and packages that came in the mail while I was out of town for ALA and find Stephanie Hemphill's Wicked Girls.  I loved Your Own, Sylvia and I've found that having to read so many books these days (not that I'm complaining), it's such a relief to open up a book and find out that it's a verse novel.  Verse novels, for the most part, read very fast, and have that great economy of language which I've grown to appreciate.  There's so much mood and tone in the verse novels I've enjoyed, that I find myself absolutely racing through the pages.

So far out of this year's publishing cycle, I really loved Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge, Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards, and most recently Carol Lynch Williams' Glimpse, which I read as an ARC, but which just had its release last week.  Glimpse is an exquisitely crafted novel that packs an emotional punch, drawing readers in from the very first couple of pages, as our narrator, finds her sister with a gun, ready to kill herself.  Perhaps what I appreciated most about this book, was how well Williams explores the sad and unfortunate truth, which is that for too many kids, the parent is the villain. In this one, we have the mother, who lost her husband when her two daughters were quite young, and has never recovered.  She is a prostitute with very few redeemable facets, and yet, as we see with Precious' mother, so perfectly played by Mo'Nique, this character is so developed.  She is a monster with a backstory, and as much as you (as the reader) don't want to excuse your behavior, at least you can understand how she got to the point.  The moments where she is in Hope (the narrator's) face will get your heart palpitating like no other.  And the central mystery of the story, what event(s) precipitated Lizzie's depression and suicide attempt, easily sustain the 400+ pages of this quick read.  I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys the quick pacing and emotional nature of so many of the verse novels.