Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: Frostblood by Elly Blake

Hello, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful week and that my post about bad romantic writing tropes didn't bring down your Valentine's Day.

I've had a good week. For one thing, I got my book swag this week. A couple days ago, I got my sunglasses:

"RETRIEVAL SPECIALIST"

I feel so cool when I wear them.

I also just today got my bookmarks!


Hooray! Now I have things to give out at my release and other events!

Speaking of events, this past week I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Utah "Life, the Universe, and Everything" Symposium. It's a good little science fiction/fantasy writing convention. I've been before, and it's always good. I wasn't able to attend many panels I wanted to see because I was working, but I visited a good one about hacking and I liked learning what it's like working a convention. With any luck, I'll attend more writing conventions, and it's a good thing to learn how hard people work to make the convention happen.

But on to the main attraction. Another thing I did this week was read an ARC of Elly Blake's book Frostblood.






Yes, I said I read an ARC. However, this is the good news: this book's already out! It came out in January!

So, I can tell you all what I thought and you can go on out and read it for yourselves! No wait!

Frostblood takes place in a fantasy world where Frostbloods, people with the ability to generate and control cold and ice, reign. Firebloods, the opposite power (generating and controlling heat and fire), are hated and hunted. The main character, Ruby, is a Fireblood. She's caught and then rescued by Frostbloods who want her to help them end the terror of their current king. Ruby doesn't trust or like the Frostbloods, but by helping them she has the ability to hone her skills and get revenge on the king who has taken so much from her.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, as this was a gripping read. I really enjoyed the story and it pulled me along. Blake doesn't pull any punches with the emotions in this book, but they feel real. She's just really good at allowing things to get so bad it feels like a shot to the heart. However, the interactions between the characters, especially Ruby and the enigmatic Frostblood Arcus, are enjoyable, especially as the book progresses.

I also liked the other characters, such as Brother Thistle. There are a lot of good characters who are so likeable, which is a must in any book I read, but especially in YA. Ruby's character is fiery (appropriately) and at first I found her a little annoying and too irrational, but as time passed her character developed, just as Arcus starts too cold and distant and "warms up."

My favorite thing about this book was the powers the characters have and how they use them. Honestly, this book reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with the elemental powers and how one kind of power has control. Except, it's in reverse: the fire users are the hunted, not the hunters.


 There are a lot of things in this book, not just the powers, that reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I'll let you discover them for yourselves!

I really did enjoy the book. If I had any critique, it would be that the "revenge" theme seemed a little heavy-handed at the end, but I enjoyed the story so much it didn't pull me out of the book that much. Besides, I like more subtle themes; that's just my preference.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book, and would recommend, especially for lovers of Avatar. I'm grateful and glad to have been able to read it.

We have one debut this week:

Young Adult:
Lilliam Rivera - The Education of Margot Sanchez (2/21)


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Sins of Romantic Writing

Well, it's Valentine's Day, once again, so I thought I'd write about one of my biggest pet peeves: romantic relationships in writing.
Don't get me wrong; I love a good, well-written swoonfest. I am fond of happy endings and romance. But, as much as I like it, I hate it when it's not done well, and I stop reading books like that. To make a comparison,


So, romance. It's highly sought after; romantic novels are bought in staggering numbers. Other genres, from realistic fiction all the way down to teen fantasy, often include romance in some form or another. With all this romance writing out there, it would make sense that there's a lot of really good stuff out there, and a lot of really bad stuff.

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to talk about the kind of romantic writing that sets my teeth on edge and makes me want to throw the book, so that I and perhaps other writers may steer clear of these tropes. Let's begin:

- Romance where one or both of the couple is abusive and manipulative. 



I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades! This is NOT LOVE! Let's say it again: THIS IS NOT LOVE!

Love is about caring for another person and treating them with respect, putting their needs above your own. This is about power and domination and is super-unhealthy. This can range from physical abuse to controlling behavior, belittling each other, stalking, and generally anything else we would, in real life, distance ourselves from or even call the police over.

When I find this in a book, especially in a teen book (I'm looking at you, too, Twilight and City of Bones), I cringe. I know that I'm supposed to find this romantic, but sitting here, writing this, I can't think of a single reason why physical, emotional, and mental abuse, stalking, and controlling behavior is even sort of romantic. I don't buy it, and I won't buy it.

- Love triangles. 



I see these mostly in teen fiction, and to be honest, I'm sick of them. I pick up a book, and as soon as I'm introduced to the female lead, I'm introduced to her friend, a cute guy who she sees as a brother, and soon after, to the smoldering hottie who makes her blood sizzle. (Guess which one is often the abusive creep?)

The reason I hate these is because they've become so cliche. Going into a love triangle, I know which one the female lead will pick: it's the abusive creep she's attracted to. It's almost never the opposite, though I did find one, Illuminated by Aimee Agresti, in which (SPOILER ALERT!) the good guy wins out. That book was refreshing in so many ways. If the book has a love triangle, I want it to feel real. I want there to either be a clear-cut favorite and a good reason why the protagonist is not cutting the other one off, or I want them to each be such positive choices that she (or he, as it may be) can't make a clear and easy decision. Please don't keep using the above stereotype; there's no drama in it anymore.

- The gay best friend.

Okay, before I get a lot of hate for hating this trope, let me just say I hate it as a trope. I like it when a character's qualities are used to either further the story or because it's an unbreakable part of who that character is, like if a character has red hair just because he does or if she's a math whiz just because she is. I don't like it when it's done to corral the readers' expectations.

Here's what I mean: the female lead has a male best friend to show that she's a "guy's gal" and to add some gender balance to a book. However, the writer doesn't want the reader to ship the protagonist with the best friend, so the best friend is designed to bat for the other team. It doesn't add to the story, and there's no reason for it other than to keep the reader focused on the real love interest.

I dislike this because I see it used so much that I recognize the trope as a trope and not as a real character, and because it assumes that men and women can't just be friends. There are plenty of real, platonic male/female relationships that can happily not lead to love, and I'd like to see those explored more. Let the readers ship whatever they want; you're the one in charge. Keep the characters real.

- Emotional manipulation or melodrama (for the readers).

Can't stand this. I'm reading a book, and the characters are falling in love, and then BAM! One of them is dying. It does nothing for the story other than make the readers cry. It's manipulative to the reader, and it doesn't provide a real kind of tension.


Tension between characters is best when it relates to them and how they see and interact with the world. I'd rather see characters split apart for a time because one wants a career and the other always assumed he'd marry a stay-at-home kind of girl. Then the characters have to work through their own plans and desires for themselves and each other, leading to growth and a more real relationship. It will be more emotional because the emotions will come from how each character would really feel. This can work for fatal illness or injury, or cheating lover or anything else, but it has to feel real to the characters and they have to respond in realistic ways.

Throwing in something huge and weighty and overdramatic that's there only to sock the reader in the heart is not real, and it doesn't feel real, and I put the book down. This goes for all kinds of writing, by the way. Emotions should come out of the characters, not used as a weapon against the reader.

- Relationships that make no darn sense.

We see them. The couple that falls in love in two minutes and would do anything for each other, including die.


 I call this the "Romeo and Juliet Syndrome," and we've been programmed to think it's romantic. But here's the thing:

Why are these characters in love?

What qualities and traits do they admire in each other? How does he help her grow? How does she change the way he sees the world? How do they compliment each other?

Or do they just have a romance based purely on physical attraction?

These romances bug me so much. It's a more harmless version of the "abusive creep" trope, so it gets overlooked, but I think it deserves some discussion. Why do two people fall in love, in real life? Attraction is certainly part of it, but unless you live in isolation or only meet one hot person in your whole life, there has to be another part of it. I think we fall in love because the other person fills some kind of need in us, beyond the physical. Finding this out takes time and effort, and it doesn't just happen in an instant.

Often this insta-love leads me, as the reader, to have no idea why I should care about this romance. Why should I root for them to make it against all odds when I don't even know what they see in each other? Extra credit goes to fictional couples where one or both is so boring or repugnant that I can't see why anyone would want to be with them. As the reader, I have to fall in love with the characters, too. I have to get to know them and see their relationship flower or I won't believe it. I dislike the movie Moulin Rouge for this very reason: I don't like either character as a person, and I don't understand why they're so in love.


 That concludes my list. I want romances, but I want romances where the couple is equally balanced, shows care and affection for each other without abusive habits, where relationships are real (including platonic ones), where the writer doesn't emotionally manipulate the reader, and where readers like and fall in love with the lovers, understanding why they're together. I realize that many people may like the tropes I hate, and that's fine. But, for me, the kind of romance I want to read more of is found in books like this one:


Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

This book and the rest of its series are wonderful romantic reads. They have a lot more than romance; they're science fiction adventures. But, they're also retellings of fairy tales which means ROMANCE!

The romances in these books are as healthy as any I've seen in books; the characters love and respect each other and actually seek the other's happiness over their own. They are well-balanced and it's clear what each one sees in the other. For example, Cress is a character who has been isolated most of her life, and she dreams of experiencing things and traveling. Her love, Thorne, is a captain of a space ship, someone who also likes to travel and can take her to see all the things she wants to see. There are also deeper, more emotional reasons they balance each other, but I won't spoil it for you.

There are no love triangles, and I never wanted one. The platonic relationships feel real and are perfectly acceptable as such.

I highly recommend this book series as a good romance.

Here are the debuts for this week:

Young Adult:
Jamie Meyer - Painless (2/14)
Ibi Zoboi - American Street (2/14)
Jilly Gagnon - #famous (2/14)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sleeping Is Actually Pretty Bonkers

Hello, all!

I hope you've had a good week. I have! Aladdin's MAX line website is up and running, so I'm thrilled! UNDER LOCKER AND KEY is part of this line of books for middle-school boys, so it's great to see the website and the whole gang in one place. Also, the website has excerpts of the books, so if you'd like to see more about the line or read part of my book, follow this link to the Aladdin MAX page!

I finished another bunch of edits on a draft of my work in progress, so that book is finally in a semi-finished, readable state. Semi-finished is an interesting place to be when you have to give your book to your writing group. On the one hand, I want to get feedback before this book is so polished it's hard to incorporate it. On the other, though, people will be reading this book that I KNOW is imperfect and they'll see all the mistakes!


Ahem.

Anyway, the book has been fun to write. It's about a seventeen-year-old boy named Ian Nightshade who can't dream on his own so he goes into other people's dreams, hijacking them so he gets the health benefit. He sees what other people dream, which leads him to a mystery involving a serial killer and, of course, a girl his age.

The book relies a lot on actual science, as Ian tries to figure out his sleep and dreams. So, I've been researching a lot about sleep and dreams. I did before starting the book, but I've been updating my information. Because I find this stuff cool and because you're a captive audience, you get to hear what I've learned!

So here we go. Try not to fall asleep. Unless you need to, in which case, go to.

- Scientists don't know why we need sleep, but they know we do. We will die if we don't sleep.
- There are 5 stages of sleep: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4 (deep sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement).
- Sleepers in the REM stage are paralyzed. Only their eyes move. A disorder in REM sleep can lead to people acting out their dreams in real life.
- The longest recorded amount of time going without sleep was 264 hours, or about 11 days. This was done by 17-year-old Randy Gardner. He was unscathed physically but cognitively dysfunctional by end, experiencing blurred vision, involuntary eye movements, and hallucinations.
- Dreams occur in both REM and non-REM sleep.
- Non-REM dreams help us retain memories and learn. People who learn material and sleep remember it better the next morning than those who don't. Subjects woken during non-REM dreams report better self-esteem and more positive emotions.
- REM dreams are 5x longer than non-REM dreams. They're wild and fanciful and have heightened, often negative, emotions. Dreamers woken during REM dreams report more negative emotions.
- People suffering depression have more REM dreams than the average.
- However, if we don't get enough REM sleep and dreams, our brains will "make up" for lost time the next night.

- Some people who have had strokes no longer dream. They wake up and/or experience blackness instead of REM.
- After 1 sleepless night, a person may feel more energetic and positive. The brain starts to shut down the regions of the brain used in planning and decision making, leading to impulsive behavior. Emotions run high. After that, exhaustion sets in, leading to reduced reaction time and cognitive functions. After 2 days, the body loses the ability to properly metabolize glucose and the immune system weakens.
- Complete sleep deprivation, when extended, can lead to paranoia, memory and speech problems, hallucinations, and death. Poor sleeping habits can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
- A genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia is a progressive insomnia in which a person develops insomnia that worsens until the person gets dementia and then dies. This usually takes about 18 months from first symptoms.
- About 1/3 of dreams are negative.
- Humans use about 10% less energy while sleeping than while awake.
-  The pineal gland creates melatonin when it's dark, which is why we feel tired at night. Bright lights, though, can prevent this and cause insomnia.
- Good foods for people suffering insomnia are dairy products, like milk and cheese, nuts, rice, greens, tuna, lean proteins, whole-grain bread, and cherry juice.
- Coffee and sugary foods and drinks are terrible for sleep. I don't think I need to explain this.

Thanks! I hope this was interesting and informative for you. I bet you can see what I got out of this research the most:

Get a good night's sleep. The benefits are too good and the risks are not worth it.

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Wendy McLeod MacKnight - It's a Mystery, Pig Face! (2/7)

Young Adult:
Rhoda Belleza - Empress of the Thousand Skies (2/7)
S. Jae-Jones - Wintersong (2/7)
Sheryl Scarborough - To Catch a Killer (2/7)
Diana Gallagher - Lessons in Falling (2/7)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Empathy

Well, it's been a wild and crazy week in more ways than one. Aside from things going on in the world (which I'm sure I don't need to tell you about), I've been hard at work writing. I finished a round of edits, which means it's time to...edit a different book. Just keep remembering, you asked for this, Allison. You wanted this job.

I did. I do. I enjoy it. But it means I'm spending hours at the computer, getting a headache and wondering how on earth I can be so hungry when I haven't done anything all day.

Seriously, how does writing for hours make me so ravenous? I'm sitting in a chair and occasionally dancing when I write something well. I'm not dancing that wildly. It's just like this:


Anyway, I do like writing. I love the feeling of discovering a whodunnit plot, and learning more about a character so I can understand why he or she is acting a certain way. I love the research about weird science or criminal activity. Speaking of which, I may have to have a post about the science of sleep, because I have found out some bonkers things about sleep and dreams!

But my favorite thing may be the writerly empathy.

Writers need empathy to write; if we couldn't develop it in some way, all our characters would look just like us, think like us, act like us. In order to write a variety of characters, writers need to slip into the shoes of someone else and figure out what it's like to be that person. What's it like to be a 12-year-old retrieval specialist? A detective? A scientist? A stay at home mother? A stay at home father? An Irish immigrant in the early 1900s? A space alien discovering humans for the first time?

I'm not any of these things. If I want to write about them, I need to think and feel as they do, if only in part. That takes research, and it takes empathy.

The nice thing is that humans are all pretty much the same wherever you go. Customs change, traditions differ, and languages are diverse, but humans as a whole feel joy, sadness, anger, all the Pixar emotions:






And you can pretty much count on a human from any place to act like a human from any other place when faced with trauma (which is pretty much all stories are): some flee, some fight, some harden, some turn into a puddle, and some become wiser. This makes empathy easier for writers.

Knowing the individual works well for me, also, in developing empathy. For example, when I wrote Jeremy's character, I didn't think first of what an average 12-year-old boy would do in his circumstances. Some boys might never dream of stealing things (or retrieving them, depending on who you ask), but Jeremy does. He's unique, and while understanding the human preteen was helpful, it was thinking about Jeremy as an individual and learning about him, even loving the character, that helped me find his voice. Now, I can slip into Jeremy's mind easily because he seems real to me.

I hope that means he'll seem real to readers, too. That way they can empathize with him, since it's not just writers who need to empathize. Readers do, too. How else can they connect with and root for a character? If we didn't empathize with Harry Potter, why would we care about how the Dursleys treated him? Why would we want him to win against Voldemort?

Yes, empathy is a good thing. It's the key to mindreading, in my opinion, since it opens the door to the emotions and thoughts of another person, and after experiencing that, how can any of us go back to the way we were before? It's like magic, so yes, I think it's one of my favorite parts of writing. I enjoy feeling magical.

Speaking of magic, I've been thinking about fairies lately. Not the sweet, musical Victorian kind - the violent old-school kind. A story may grow out of it; I don't know. But you might be able to look forward to a blog post about it.


Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Stephanie Garber - Caraval (1/31)
Laurie Devore - How to Break a Boy (1/31)
Caroline Leech - Wait For Me (1/31)
Rebecca Denton - This Beats Perfect (2/2)

Monday, January 23, 2017

In the Deeps of Winter Writing

Hello, everyone!

I hope you've all had a great week. I did, but unfortunately, I didn't do anything too interesting. I did get some good news, though! I got a good review from Kirkus!


But other than that, not much to report. It's winter, it's cold, and I've been working hard on both a set of edits for a new Jeremy Wilderson book and on my work in progress, a YA thriller.

I finished the work in progress, or at least, the first draft. Then I woke up the next morning and realized I hated my ending. So now I'm working hard on finishing the edits on the Wilderson book so I can send those back to my editor, and I'm working hard on the work in progress (the YA thriller, not Wilderson) so I can get it back to my writing group for critique notes. Then I guess I'll revise it.

I'm a writer. I write. That has never been as true as it is now.

So, deep in the midst of writing my YA thriller work in progress, I've had to make some hard choices. Namely, whether I should kill off a character who I rather like.

I was drawing up a revision plan and one character was giving me trouble. He needed to be present at the end, but if he was, he'd wreck the whole ending. So the little devil in my head said, "Kill him."

And I hate to admit it, but it solved all my problems to do it. I feel like a mob boss.

I still don't want to off this character if I can help it. I haven't killed a character before (the Jeremy Wilderson books are very much not those kind of stories).

I also don't like killing characters willy-nilly; I feel like there has to be a reason. But I can't avoid how well it works in the story, which is too good a reason to ignore. So I'm starting down the road to becoming that writer. You know the one.


Okay, so I'm not that bad. It's just one character. For now.


Here are the debuts this week (there are a lot of them!):

Middle Grade:
Ali Standish - The Ethan I Was Before (1/24)
Sally J. Pla - Someday Birds (1/24)

Young Adult:
Shalia Patel - Soulmated (1/24)
Kate Hart - After the Fall (1/24)
Tiffany Jackson - Allegedly (1/24)
E.S. Wesley - The Outs (1/24)
Natalie C. Anderson - City of Saints and Thieves (1/24)
Vic James - Gilded Cage (1/26)
Jeff Giles - The Edge of Everything (1/27)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Hello, all, and happy Martin Luther King Day!

I hope you're having a good day off from work or school, and if you aren't, I hope you're still having a good day. I got to see a friend this morning who I haven't seen in a while, so I've had a good morning.

For me, MLK day is typically a day where I can relax somewhat and see friends. I'm not alone in this; I know a lot of my friends take the day the same way. I don't think there's anything wrong with this. In fact, I think it can be very much in keeping in honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory.

One thing about the world that bugs me is how quick we are to divide and ridicule those who we see as on the other side of the divide. I won't get into this too much today; I'm sure it's a long blog post for a future day. But today I'll just say that approaching this holiday remembering the man it's named for and also seeking to befriend and show compassion, regardless of race and also gender, religion, etc., instead of ridicule and hate is a good way, I think, to celebrate it.


It's a good message to remember as divisions seem to grow and enemies seem to multiply. Granted, I don't know enough about Martin Luther King to really say much about the "true meaning" of the holiday, but I like to at least try to make it about more than just having a day off, even if I get it a little wrong.

Final note, somewhat related to MLK Day: has anyone seen Hidden Figures yet? I was going to see it today but too many things that I needed to do popped up and I couldn't. I'll have to see it tomorrow or later this week.

Is it good? Should I see it? I'd like to. I hear good things, but even if I didn't, I probably would because the movie is:

- About space travel.
- About women of color.
- About BRILLIANT women of color (I like movies about smart people).
- An Oscar-bait movie that is RATED PG! Not PG-13 or R!

I'd go for the last one alone, honestly, but all the rest together really intrigues me. Sooner or later I'll have to do a post about Oscar movies, since I think there's some fun things to be said there.

Here's a list of authors debuting this week:

Middle Grade:
Jennifer Torres - Stef Soto, Taco Queen (1/17)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fairy Tale Retellings: The Space Between Spells

Can I just say how much I love fairy tale retellings?


This comes about because I just read Beauty by Robin McKinley for about the eightieth time on my flight back to Utah. As I read it and enjoyed the story I've read many, many times (it's a favorite travel book, and I love to travel), I started thinking about retellings, fractured and otherwise, and how they allow writers to explore some of the weirdness and empty spaces left in folktales.

I also reread Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, which kept that train of thought going.


If you've never read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, please do. They're entertaining and very clever, and Wrede uses fairy tales well.

I love fairy tales, and one of the things I love about them is how spare they are. We don't get any more than the bare bones of the story; Cinderella goes to the ball, but why did she want to go? Where did this fairy godmother come from? What happens to the animals after being other creatures for a night?

Retellings are fun because even though I know these tales well, I can see how different writers interpret the same tale. With "Cinderella," we get books like Ella Enchanted that answer questions about how Ella knows the prince and why Ella would wait on her horrible stepmother and stepsisters anyway.

Some tales, like "Rumpelstiltskin," are really problematic and draw writers to them. Why would Rumpelstiltskin even offer to help the miller's daughter? Why does he want a baby? Who's the real villain (Rumpelstiltskin honored his deal, after all)?

Can I just stop and say how annoying it is to type "Rumpelstiltskin" over and over? Sheesh.

I also love fractured fairy tales, like the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, because they point out these questions and weird things and write a new tale that might make more sense.

I think this is why fairy tales survive. They're spare, so readers and tellers can reinterpret them for a new audience. They're a form of living story, not pinned down. In a class on fairy tales and folklore, I learned that it's just about impossible to pin down an "original" tale because even before the Grimm brothers and Perrault and other tellers wrote these stories down, people had been telling them and altering them for their listeners.

Retellings of these tales just keeps the story alive and changing. As long as the stories are told well, changes and additions and all, I see myself continuing to enjoy the tales from whoever tells them.


I gotta say, Disney's certainly working hard at adapting fairy tales. It's practically their thing.

There are a bunch of writers debuting this week, all young adult writers. See the list below, and if you're intrigued, go check it out on Goodreads (The Bear and the Nightingale is even a fairy tale retelling!).

Young Adult:
Jamie Mayer - Painless (1/10)
Kristen Orlando - You Don't Know My Name (1/10)
Breeana Shields - Poison's Kiss (1/10)
Katherine Arden - The Bear and the Nightingale (1/10)
Robin Roe - A List of Cages (1/10)
Ellie Blake - Frostblood (1/12)