Poetry: A Writer’s Manifesto

There you are

My blank page

Empty

Waiting

Taunting

Me with your nothingness

And I conquer you with

Stories

And make-believes

Twisted fairytales

And memories

Of who I used to be

Fantastical lies

Truer words have never been spoken

But they can be written—

That’s the goal

Book Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

This book had a weird premise, but it really impressed me in its execution. I laughed and cried all at once.

4/5 stars

cover noggin

Amazon description

Listen—Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.
Now he’s alive again.
Simple as that.

The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but Travis can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still sixteen, but everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too.

Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, there are going to be a few more scars.

Oh well, you only live twice.

My Review

To be honest, I’ve had this book on my TBR shelf for what feels like two years. The premise was weird–it was just one of those books that I ended up owning and didn’t really feel like reading. But I wanted something light, and there wasn’t a lot of contemporary titles on my TBR shelf, so on a whim I picked this one up.

I loved Travis as a protagonist. His voice was strong and unique and moved the story along. He added humor while still making it clear that this was a story rooted in emotional turmoil. His desire to get his old life back was relatable–and heart-wrenching when the rest of the world had aged five years without him. My one complaint was that the story could be a little monologue heavy at times, especially in the middle.

The rest of the characters were simple, but they still felt real. I liked the conflicts each one of them provided, and there were a few honest surprises thrown in there that kept me interested as the story progressed. Hatton, Travis’s new best friend, was spazy in a very sophomore-in-high-school sort of way. I liked that Whaley made Travis be a sophomore–only sixteen–rather than the usual junior or senior that I see so often in books like this. It was different and added to the painful innocence of Travis’s emotions–and emphasized the age gap with this 21-year-old “former” friends.

I liked how Whaley managed the cancer element of this book. Travis “died” from cancer that destroyed his body but didn’t infect his head–meaning that the surgery could give him a healthy body and a new lease on life. Flashbacks to his life before and during the illness were touching. I definitely teared-up at points, and I was full-out sobbing at the end of the book (though they were happy-ish tears I guess).

The plot doesn’t focus that much on the actual surgery. There is not a lot of time (or really any time) spent explaining the mechanics of the procedure–which honestly was good, because any explanation they gave would only sound fake and make me snap out of the book. The publicity Travis earned did play a role in the plot, which I liked, as well as the touching relationship he developed with the only other person to survive this head-reattachment surgery.

Instead, the plot revolves around Travis’s former girlfriend and his continued obsession with her. Cate has moved on, finally recovered from the loss of her boyfriend, gone to college, and gotten engaged by the time Travis “comes back” from the dead. For Travis, however, it feels like no time has passed, and his feelings for Cate drive him to do ridiculous things in pursuit of reassembling his old life. (The plot also involves reconstructing other areas of his former life, especially his relationship with his old best friend Kyle, but the romance is the main driving force.) At times, his love for Cate was somewhat annoying–I just wanted him to move on already–but for the most part I understood that Travis could not go from being head-over-heels in love with Cate to being her friend immediately. I would have liked this book more if the plot had a somewhat wider focus, but the last scene perfectly resolved the issues I had with the romance, finishing the book on the strongest note possible.

I would recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a fresh contemporary read with an endearing male protagonist, a range of emotional and social conflicts, and subtle commentary on humanity’s struggle to beat death.

Book Review: A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

This book was really sweet. Though there were no intensely dramatic moments, the book captured by emotions and kept me reading.

4/5 stars

cover a vintage affair

Amazon description

Phoebe Swift’s friends are stunned when she abruptly leaves a plum job to open her own vintage clothing shop in London—but to Phoebe, it’s the fulfillment of a dream, and her passion. Digging for finds in attics and wardrobes, Phoebe knows that when you buy a piece of vintage clothing, you’re not just buying fabric and thread—you’re buying a piece of someone’s past. But one particular article of clothing will soon unexpectedly change her life.

Thérèse Bell, an elderly Frenchwoman, has an impressive clothing collection. But among the array of elegant suits and couture gowns, Phoebe finds a child’s sky-blue coat—an item with which Mrs. Bell is stubbornly reluctant to part. As the two women become friends, Phoebe will learn the poignant tale of that little blue coat. And she will discover an astonishing connection between herself and Thérèse Bell—one that will help her heal the pain of her own past and allow her to love again.

My review

Obviously, this isn’t the kind of YA fantasy/contemporary book that I usually read. It was a Christmas gift, and while I liked the premise, it took me a few months to get around to reading it.

I’m so glad I finally read it.

It is a bittersweet book to be sure. Phoebe is a struggling protagonist. Right before the book starts, she experiences a great trauma which shakes every aspect of her life (and which the reader slowly learns the truth of). Wolff started the book at the right moment: Phoebe has taken just enough steps past the experience to be more than the trauma–making her more interesting to read about than if she were still fully in the throws of the loss.

Voice-wise, Phoebe is nothing special. I connected to her, though mostly through empathizing with the situations she found herself shoved into rather than a strong sense of character. Still, she was the right lens to tell the story through, and her simple voice was able to convey the story well.

I don’t think the description Amazon gives (the same one that was on the back of my paper copy) does a good job of conveying what this book is about. Yes, Phoebe opens her own vintage clothing shop, and that drives the story forward. I liked the vintage clothes element; it struck me as unique, and I genuinely learned a lot. The book felt well-researched, and Phoebe came off as an expert in vintage clothes–a necessity for the believability of the book.

The next major plot line is the one surround Mrs. Bell and her blue coat. This was the emotional center of the book, and of all the emotional moments of the book, the scenes when we learned about the history of the coat were the ones that made me tear up. I liked the historical fiction element this drew into an overall modern story. Mrs. Bell’s character felt alive and I thought she presented the perfect guidance for Phoebe without sounding preachy or heavy-handed with her life lessons.

However, there was a lot more to the book than the two plot lines the description mentions. Phoebe’s relationship with her parents plays a large role in the story. (I especially loved the running line surrounding her mother’s search for anti-aging procedures.) There is also a love triangle involved, though I hate to call it that. It honestly doesn’t feel like a love triangle, and there isn’t any annoying flopping back and forth between the guys in her life. The romance was simple but added to the story. Finally, there are assorted scenes dealing with the horrible thing that happened before the book starts. The resolution of this plot line was the most satisfying for me, giving me the sense that Phoebe had genuinely grown throughout the story.

When I started reading this book, the number of plots and subplots bothered me. The book seemed to lack focus. However, by the end, I was glad that the book didn’t focus too much on any plot line and that Wolff was willing to let sub plots branch out and evolve throughout the story. This book feels like a life–not just a snapshot of one portion of a life, an entire life. The focus of the book is Phoebe (not a particular plot), and as a reader who loves characters over plot, this story-telling style worked really well.

Poetry: What Matters

Matter

Oh, what is matter?

 

Ask a scientist and they’ll say,

“Everything.”

Spout explanations of atoms

And chemical bonds

 

Breaking everything down into the same pieces

Gives my soul no peace

Humans can’t care about

Everything

 

What makes something

Matter?

 

I suppose

We have to choose

What we care about—

What we think matters

 

But what a horrible freedom

That gives us

To close our eyes

And ignore

The most important moments

Out of fear

Of opening up our hearts

To the horrors of humanity

Once we allow them to matter

 

But what about the greater horror

Of cramming any death

Any crime against our humanity

Into a dark, forgotten corner

Under the label

“Does Not Matter To Me”

Because it did not happen

To you

Or because it happened

A century ago?

 

Remembrance

Does not mean

Sorrow

Any more than it mandates

Celebration

You do not have to let these deaths

Consume your soul

All we ask

Is that you remember

That they matter.

Book Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (A Mistborn Novel)

Wow! This book was the perfect continuation of the Mistborn series–a must read for fans of the original trilogy!

5/5 stars

A companion to the Mistborn series

cover the alloy of law

 Amazon description:

New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson returns to the exciting world of the Mistborn in The Alloy of Law.

In the three hundred years since the events of the Mistborn trilogy, science and technology have marched on. Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads, electric lighting, and even the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Yet even with these advances, the magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for those attempting to establish order and justice.

One is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax must now put away his guns and assume the duties incumbent upon the head of a noble house-until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

My review

This book was so much fun to read. Fight scenes, great characters, witty banter–it has everything.

The characters are wonderfully alive and endearingly hilarious. Waxillium (AKA Wax) is a great “honest” character–his drive to be a lawman and his moral compass are believable and never become preachy or cheesy. His past in the Roughs sets him up to feel completely out of place in the high society world of being a Lord in Elendel (and so the throwbacks to Mistborn begin ;)). Though he is in his forties, his character still felt approachable and readable for a YA audience. His banter with Wayne (his sidekick) was funny, adding a dose of humor to a grim plot, as well as portraying the depth of their friendship effortlessly. They are the perfect crime fighting duo, with Wax’s fierce drive for justice and Wayne’s obsession with disguises and his lucky hat (once you get over the fact that their names are Wax and Wayne…God). Marasi added a dose of youth to the story and grounded what could have been a ridiculous collection of fight scenes and magic.

On the fight scenes–they are amazing. Probably the most enjoyable part of the book. Brandon Sanderson’s continuation of the magical elements of the Mistborn world work perfectly in this companion novel. His understanding of the physics of Allomancy and Feruchemy make Wax’s fight scenes breath-takingly kick-ass. I could read an entire novel of just these fight scenes (*fangirling*).

The plot of the book is good. I liked the conflicts it presented Wax’s character in regards to getting back into being a lawman. The mystery unfolds nicely and the villain is appropriately daunting (once you know who he is). It is fast-paced, never letting the reader rest or get bored. In classic Sanderson style, there are lots of twists and turns and startling reveals–though not as emotionally damaging as in the original Mistborn series. On the whole, this book is lighter than the Mistborn trilogy, with more of an emphasis on fight scenes and banter than heart-wrenching drama. Fans of the series will probably appreciate this–as well as the fact that this book reads significantly faster than the other books.

The world building takes what is a good story and makes it amazing. I loved that Brandon Sanderson didn’t let his fantasy realm stagnate. Three hundred years in the future, the world looks very different, even if the magic is (mostly) the same. As a reader, I got to at once revisit one of my favorite magical worlds ever and to discover a new one. The throwbacks and allusions to the events of the first series were so much fun to read; but there were also names of events and people that weren’t immediately familiar to people who had read about the city’s founding. The myths and lore surrounding the ending of the Mistborn series and the subtle differences between what the reader knows to be true and the rumors floating around three centuries later added realism to the world building. Also, the Roughs alluded to the setting of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, endearing me to the story from page one.

Anyone who read the Mistborn trilogy would love this book. I can’t wait for future installments of this story (whose ending was left rather wide open) and for other novels set even further into the future.

Top Ten All Time Favorite Authors

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I’ve fangirled over all of these authors before, so I’m going to keep this post short. Besides their names, I’ve included the covers of some of my favorite of their books (or poems).

In no particular order…

  1. Libba Bray
  2. Patrick Ness
  3. Megah Whalen Turner cover queens thief covers
  4. Susan Vaught
  5. Edgar Allan Poe
  6. Ally Carter
  7. Maggie Steifvater
  8. Brandon Sanderson
  9. Kristen Cashore
  10. Sarah J Maas

Combating Chauvinism With Writing

I saw this on Pinterest:

how to write a male
I tried to follow the link embedded in the pin but it gave me an error page. The site it’s from is bookjacketblog.com.

And it struck me as really, really sexist.

I thought #1 was interesting, a little stereotypical but also something you might keep in mind if you wanted to strikingly juxtapose a male and female POV.

After that point, it basically spirals out of control.

Don’t get me wrong: I like writing advice, and I know that not all of the advice out there will be stuff I agree with. But this list goes beyond advice to paint a picture of the male character that is stereotypical, insulting, small-minded, and out of place in the modern environment.

The first time I saw the Pin, I read through it, had a small “wow, way to be sexist” moment, and moved on. But then I came back to my Pinterest feed and it was still there. And I had to think about it again. And being a speech-and-debater who hasn’t been to a competition in a while and girl who has spent way too much time talking about feminism with her journalism class–I couldn’t let it go.

So here’s what is wrong with this check list, and why I can’t just let it disappear into the recesses of my Pinterest feed.

Writing has the power to change society–to change it’s stigmas and challenge it’s chauvinism. The stories we read can humanize people we’ve only ever judged, can make us care about people we want to hate. Novels can be and should be a mechanism for social change, especially in this day and age, where we stand on the precipice of a massive societal movement towards tolerance and understanding.

The mentality behind this checklist is a roadblock to such progress. It tells writers that they do not have to strive to look around them and take the human elements of the real world, boil them down, and recast them into stories that make their readers look around and see the human world (thus beginning a cycle that could honestly change one’s perception). Instead, this checklist proposes that men can be boiled down into seven–seven, not even a round ten–sentence-long descriptions. It removes the drive to search for the right word or scene to convey a character and replaces it with a simple To Do List.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some male characters to whom this checklist applies. The reason this checklist exists in the first place is that it is rooted in reality. However, the issue is that it isn’t titled “How to Write a Stereotypically Alpha-Male Character.” It doesn’t present itself as a resource for writers who want help with writing a certain personality type. It just presents the checklist as if every male character one could ever want to write should have the same characteristics.

First of all, imagine how boring the world would be if that were true. And second of all, imagine how divorced from reality writing would become–it would lose all power to change society, except for the power it had to perpetuate it’s cookie-cutter ideal of masculinity.

I hope that no one saw this check list and took it to heart. I hope that no one saw this checklist and from that point forward, never challenged themselves to write a male character that broke the mold set forth. But I’ve seen the hate-filled posts on social media and the protests on the streets, and I find it hard to believe that there is no one out there who didn’t see this graphic and add it to their writing mindset.

And maybe you’re thinking, “This is just one graphic. I’ve never seen it before. Why all the hullaballu?”

You can dismiss the graphic, sure. It is a far cry from going viral. It’s just something I stumbled upon.

But you cannot dismiss this conversation. You cannot turn your back on the importance of combating chauvinism with writing. And you cannot deny that there are people out there in the world who do not see this checklist as sexist in the extreme–who see it as a list of goals to accomplish, a list of parameters to meet in order to “be a man.”

Writers–you have the chance to change the way people think. Don’t make the mistake of only reinforcing social stigmas and prejudices. 

Break the mold.

I know it’s easier said than done. In my WIP, I constantly struggle with writing innovative characters that don’t rely on stereotypes. Do I always succeed? Probably not.

But maybe it’s a good thing that I saw this graphic on Pinterest. Because from now on, I’ll have a constant reminder of the importance of pushing past stereotypes to find the true essence of the characters I’m trying to create.