Friday, November 30, 2012

Review Me Twice- Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

This week, we're reviewing Peeps by Scott Westerfeld.

This is - in my experience - a unique book. It seamlessly combines non-fiction with fiction, without confusing the reader as to which is which. There are occasional chapters that are entirely about a real-life, completely true parasite that exists in the real world. (If you're the kind of person who can't even hear about blood without getting queasy, this is absolutely not the book for you.) It's like edutainment, except without terrible songs and cartoons.

See, Peeps are vampires... sort of. They were infected with a parasite that causes the symptoms attributed to vampires. For example, they are repulsed by everything they used to love (which typically includes the sunlight, lending to the vampire characteristic of not being able to go out during the day).

Our main character, Cal, is infected but not a full Peep (he's a carrier of the parasite, in other words... like a daywalker in typical vampire lore).

As far as the actual story goes, it is interesting and not particularly predictable, and I enjoy it quite a bit. But the chapters about parasites really appeal to my nerdy side, and I don't think I'd love this book as much as I do without them.

I have not read the sequel, The Last Days, but I have read the first chapter or so (it is published in the back of my copy of Peeps as a teaser to get you to buy it) and I wasn't terribly impressed.

I have read Peeps no less than four times (it might have been five, but I've lost count; so I'm going with four.)  If you haven't noticed, we've been pretty heavy on the vampires this week, and with good cause: Peeps is a vampire book.

But not in the traditional sense.  I've read a lot of vampire books in my time.  I've done a lot of the Anne Rice series (Interview With a Vampire) and the Anita Blake series, Dracula, and even (wait for iiiiiitttt) Twilight.  What they all have in common is that they follow a lot of the same lore.  The vampires are afraid of stakes and sunlight and crosses.  Even Stephanie Meyer put some age old tropes in her novel, despite trying to avoid them.  Her vampires need blood and avoid humans and never age and (even if it's for very different reasons) avoid sunlight.

So what makes Peeps different?  Well, Westerfeld takes all of those old myths and legends and applies science to all of them.  He turns vampyrism and turns it into a parasite that needs meat because it's constantly consuming calories of its host, explains away an aversion to crosses and sunlight (people with the parasite reject everything they love so the parasite is preserved) and even explains why people who are parasite-positive (as they're referred to) have amped up abilities.

The other thing I think Westerfeld does really well is make Cal (our main character) relatable.  He's nineteen which makes him old enough that he's gotten over the usual adolescent annoyances, but still hasn't quite come into his adulthood.  At the same time, he's forced to be a grown-up in a lot of ways.  That makes Cal really easy to relate to for all ages, grown-up or otherwise.  The first time that I read this book, I was just around his age, which I think is part of the reason I liked it.

I could go on for days about my love for this book.  It's funny, and witty and makes great NYC references and the more that I read it, the more I catch onto.  Really, I just think you should pick it up and see for yourself.  It's easily Westerfeld's best.

Unless you have an aversion to bugs.  Then... well that would be my only caution to you.  It's got a lot of bug references.

My Bottom Line 5 out of 5.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

NaNo Tips Week 4- Congratulate Yourself.


We have now been through four grueling weeks of NaNoWriMo.  At this point in time, if you've kept up, you should have 48,333 words written.  Some of you may have more, some of you may have less.  I'm here to tell you

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you wrote 25,000 words or 250,000 words (and yes, some people write that many.)  The point is, you sat down and committed yourself to a whole lot of words in one month.  You came up with a plot and characters and trials and tribulations.  You fought for those characters and put them in incredibly awkward situations and even maybe killed a few off.  So even if you didn't make it to 50,000, don't be discouraged.  25,000 is half of a book and something to be proud of.  You're halfway there and, maybe next year, you'll make it the last leg of the journey.

For those of you who did hit the 50K mark, that's amazing!  I know it's been a hectic month, but now take a break and think about those revisions.  I hope you didn't think the work stopped here!  Now is the time to look and see where it could use improvements, what could be cut and fixed and tweaked to make your book into the best that it could be.

So congrats to all the NaNo Participants this year.  Pour yourself a glass of champagne no matter how many words you wrote and we'll see you here next year, ready to put in another 50K.

Our NaNo Counts:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's Comfortable

Everyone has that book that they read over and over and over again.  It's your comfort book; the book you go to because it's an old friend and sometimes, you just need something familiar.  Today, Alex and I are going to tell you about our favorites.  Our favorite book that makes us feel warm and fuzzy.  I won't go so far as to say it's our favorite book (because, I don't know about Alex, but I have a hard time picking just one) but it's a book that we come back to often.  

While Peeps is a book I do continually revisit, I figure I probably shouldn't pick that one since we're reviewing it this week.  Instead, I'm going to throwback to a classic: Pride & Prejudice.

It's interesting, because the first time I read this, I actually wasn't a big fan.  I was in high school, when you're forced to read a lot of things that you're probably not really ready to read.  I got lost in the language and it was just a little rough.  However, I took another shot at it in college, in between my senior year.

Really, Austen knows how to weave a love story.  It's exciting and romantic and the language is poetry and I love nothing more than curling up under a blanket and reading about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

If you ever get the chance, I really recommend picking this up.  It's a wonderful read.

There is one book I used to tell people I read at least once a year. Now, it's more like I read parts of it all throughout the year. It's called The Martian Chronicles and it's by Ray Bradbury.

It's a collection of short stories, in chronological order, about man and Mars. The stories are beautiful and amazing and creative, some sad, some happy.

The reason I got this book in the first place is the penultimate* story in the book. It's called "There Will Come Soft Rains" and it has been republished in high school English textbooks for ages, because it is packed with fantastic examples of imagery. It's a story-slash-description of a high-tech house that has outlasted mankind, and continues to do its prescribed jobs without anyone to do them for. I loved the story when I read it in school, and I unfortunately didn't think about tracking down its original source until after the school year when I read it. It took a while, but I finally found it somehow, and I was completely taken with the entire book.

That's probably the story I re-read the most often (to the point that I have large sections of it memorized word-for-word) but I also really love one that I believe is called "Earth Men." It's about the third expedition of Earthlings to come to Mars (the first two having met mysterious demises, as far as these men know) and they are met with something less than enthusiasm from the native Martians. I can't possibly give away the big twist, but it's amazing and you should read it.

My copy is nearly ten years old, and it's holding up pretty well for a well-loved paperback. It's in my car, so that whenever I want to read a story or just kill a few minutes, I can pick it up and start from anywhere. Despite the depressing nature of most of the stories, this is my warm-and-fuzzy book, and I love it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vampire Fiction

Think of the classic vampire. Fangs, of course. Drinks human blood for sustenance. Pale-skinned. Some kind of eastern European accent. He - because he's certainly a he - wears a suit and maybe a cape, something in black and/or red. Sleeps in a coffin, can turn into a bat. Has no reflection in the mirror, can only be killed by a silver bullet or a wooden stake through the heart.

You know; this guy.
This was the typical portrayal of a vampire around the time of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Making vampirism a disease that centered around blood, sex, and death was something Victorian Britain could understand, as they were plagued with tuberculosis and syphilis at the time.

The next major work in the world of vampire fiction was Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954). If you've only seen the movie, I very highly recommend reading the book. It's an entirely different story. Seriously. They're barely even related. I tend to think of I Am Legend as more of infection fiction than vampire fiction, but this is - I think - where the line got blurred a little more. Infection fiction mostly sprung from the idea of vampire fiction, then branched out into non-vampirism infections that started to meld with zombie fiction. It gets kind of complicated at that point.

After I Am Legend, vampire-themed serials got popular. Marilyn Ross published a series from 1963-1971 on Barnabus Collins (which you probably know better from the television show Dark Shadows, which you might know better as the movie adaptation that served as Johnny Depp's latest foray into wearing lots of white face makeup and dark eye shadow).

Hey look, he still looks a lot like that other photo, the portrayal from 1897.

Then Anne Rice stepped in with The Vampire Chronicles from 1976-2003. Her vampires looked more like... Well, this:

I kept it in black and white for comparion's sake, but trust me... that mess is colorful.
So now we have hugely popular vampires who are blond. With fashion sense. They're charming. (I assume they're charming. I admit to not having read Anne Rice, either. But this guy looks pretty charming. Has Tom Cruise ever played a non-charming character? Don't answer that.)

Then came Twilight (2005-2008)*. This series is the reason I asked for what you think of when I say CLASSIC vampire instead of just "vampire." Because now, we think of this:

I think I have to apologize to Cassy for putting this on our blog.
But if it's a comfort, I now have "sparkling Edward animated gif"
in my Google Image Search history.
But seriously, this is the new vampire: perpetual teenager, still pale but also "marble" with smoldering eyes (go count how many times his eyes are referred to, we can wait) and coiffed brown hair, and sparkles. Don't forget the sparkles. Plus he's super-rich, and infatuated with this tasty-smelling chick.

Lucky for everyone, we have a new wave of vampire fiction trends washing over us as I type: the mashup. You've heard of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I trust? Well, vampires are also popular mashup fodder. They're easy to drop into classics, because they can take the place of regular humans. They can speak as eloquently as you need them to (unlike zombies); they're corporeal (unlike ghosts); they're immortal (unlike most versions of werewolves); and they can exist in any time period (unlike robots... unless those robots can time travel). So soon, we might be able to replace the Edward model with stuff like this:

Is this any better? Don't answer that.
But what of Peeps, this week's book-to-review? Well, it also treats vampirism as an infection, though it's more of a parasite than it is a disease. The vampires (or "peeps") get cannibalistic and are repelled by anything they formerly loved. They also get night vision, super-strength, and increased senses. There is also the possibility of being a carrier, which is someone who contracts the parasite but does not have all the symptoms. This is nothing particularly unusual (it has been done with immunity from zombie infections, unaffected or barely affected werewolves, and daywalker vampires) but it is done in an interesting way. But more on Peeps on Friday...

*I will neither hate on nor glorify Twilight. I've read them, I thought they were okay, and they had no great impact on my life for the better or the worse. When I make Twilight jokes, it is all in good fun because it is such an easy target, so please don't get mad at me. I can't handle the wrath of the internet.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scott Westerfeld

This week, we'll be reviewing a book by the illustrious Scott Westerfeld. He is a favorite of ours, and we're reviewing a book we've both read many times. (Give us a break; we're in holiday mode.)

From the Westerblog

Currently, he lives in both New York City and Sydney, Australia, but Westerfeld was born in Texas. He is married to Justine Larbalestier, a fellow author and fairly decent.  I've read some stuff by her and enjoyed it. You can find the quick-and-dirty facts on him here.

Westerfeld seems to write mainly in series. His other stand-alone novels (besides Polymorph) are Fine Prey (1998), Evolution's Darling (2000), and So Yesterday (2004) which was the first book of his that I read.

His series to date are:
Succession series (The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds) Which is actually one of his only adult novels and one of my favorites by him.
Midnighters series (The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon)
Uglies series* (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras)
Peeps series (Peeps and The Last Days)
Leviathan series* (Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath)
*Indicates that there are supplementary books to the series as well

Five of his novels are for adults; the other thirteen are for a YA audience. (Is it clearer now why Cassy and I are such fans?  Because he's awesome.  That's why.)

This may be a matter of opinion, but I'm going to mention it anyway. He has a way of writing that sounds very natural, even if it's completely unusual. To explain by way of example: Uglies and the other books in its series take place in a future dystopia disguised as a utopia (as all the best dystopias - dystopiae? I'm pretty sure it's the first one - are) and the teens talk in a certain way. They use adjectives like "happy-making." As in, "This party is so happy-making! I just can't stop smiling." I don't know about everyone else, but after I read one of those books, I start talking like the characters.  In fact, it's just slightly obnoxious.  You should have seen her after Leviathan. It's not how normal people talk now, but it feels completely natural. I think that takes a great talent, to be able to write dialogue that way.  It is.  I've tried it and it's HARD.

You may notice that on the Westerblog, when you sign up for an account to leave comments, a hyphen and a spare syllable show up at the end of your name. This is a nicknaming convention that sprung from Uglies, and is explained in the supplemental book Bogus to Bubbly but is really as simple as this: if you have an "L" in your name, you add "-wa" and if you don't have an "L" in your name, you add "-la." So we are Alex-wa and Cassy-la. It sounds strange at first, but after a few chapters of reading that, it seems perfectly normal and it rolls right off the tongue. Along those same lines, I found this interesting post about how Westerfeld chose names for the Uglies characters (may contain spoilers so tread carefully!)

I'm also a big fan because I think that he manages old topics in a completely brilliant new way.  As you'll see on Friday when we review Peeps, it isn't just another vampire novel.  It is the most original vampire novel I've ever read in my life, which is saying a lot because I've read a lot.

I also like that he dabbles in both YA and adult novels.  Honestly, Peeps is my favorite, yes, but the Succession Series runs it a close second.  It was a brilliant series that engages you every second and he does things in those novels that you really can't in a YA novel.  It's a talent author that can so easily appeal to both the YA audience and an adult audience.
I could go on and on, and on, but really, the best way to get to know an author who has a well-kept blog is to read his blog.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: A Tale of Sand by Ramon Perez (and Jim Henson)

I think more screenplays should be adapted into graphic novels. The formats work very well together, and are interchangeable in many instances. It worked very well, for example, with this story.

If you are not good at just "going with the flow" when you read, this is not a good selection for you. I enjoy letting the story decide when I'm ready to know a certain detail (if ever) so I like books like this. There is a lot of "you'll find out later; just keep reading" and some "you never get to know because you don't need to know." But the payoff at the end is great.

If you are not a fan of wordless graphic novels, this book might bother you. There are several pages that have no dialogue, and a lot of image to take in. There is still dialogue in a lot of places, but there is no dialogue for the sake of dialogue (which I see a lot when protagonists find themselves alone and feel the need to talk to themselves about things that don't help set the tone, advance the plot, or explain the setting).

If you don't like weirdness, you will definitely not like this book. There is an abundance of weirdness.

This should suffice to explain what I mean by "weirdness."
Lucky for me, I love when books keep things a mystery from me, I can handle a lack of word bubbles, and weird should really be my middle name (though Lynne gets me less confused looks at the DMV). So I loved this book. It's a shame this has never been translated to the big screen, but maybe if the book does well, we could see this as a movie someday in the future.

This book was VERY heavy on the illustrations which, if you're not used to that, can be hard to deal with.  Alex chose the book this week and she's really gung-ho about graphic novels. I could really take them or leave them and I felt that way with Tale of Sand.

The book was definitely readable.  I was never at any point confused about what was going on and it did have a really cool ending (which I will let you figure out for yourself.)  But if you're not used to graphic novels or they're not your particular cup of tea, they this really isn't the book for you and I think that's why I didn't really enjoy it that much.

There were parts that I loved.  The illustrations were absolutely stunning.  I mean, the colors and the movement and how things were drawn, it was just gorgeous and if for no other reason than that, go out and read this book.

This was probably one of my favorites.

Also, it is a fun little tale because it's Jim Henson and, as Alex has told us so wonderfully in the beginning of the week, he's just freakin' awesome.  But it didn't really hit me.  I probably won't ever read it again and in terms of my favorite graphic novels, it definitely doesn't rank.

My bottom line 2 1/2 out of five.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

NaNo Week Three- Write or Die

Week Three
This week, I'm going to talk about Write or Die (if you couldn't tell.)  Since we're so late in the month, Write or Die could really come in handy when trying to knock out your word count, especially if your inexplicably behind.

So what is Write or Die?  Well, it's a program that essentially forces you to write.  You set up the parameters ahead of time.  You tell it how many words you're planning to write, how long you would like to write for and even how harshly you would like the program to judge you.  It changes colors, throws little warning pop ups to remind you to write; it will even start playing the most unpleasant noises to encourage you to begin writing again (I know; as a most dedicated blogger I tried all the modes just to see what would happen.)

For the especially ambitious (or the dramatically behind) there is the extreme setting.  You set your time or your word could and, if you start to slack off... it starts to delete.  That's right my friends, Write or Die will start deleting the things you've written.  And not just a letter or two.  It starts getting rid of entire words, so you better start moving those fingers and fast!

So where can you get this program?  Well, there's a free online version here.  The iPad edition is just $5 here, but if you want the full desktop version, you're going to have to cough up a full $10, right over here.
I guess it's just a matter of how desperate you are.

Happy Writing all, and remember, keep up those counts and feel free to post them here.  We'd love to know where you are.

Oh, and don't forget to eat a little turkey in between your writing. ;)  It is Thanksgiving, after all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Favorite Graphic Novels

Since we are reviewing our first graphic novel this week, of course we are telling you about our favorite graphic novels today.

Of course, my favorite graphic novels are the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman (because I just won't shut up about them). But instead of trying to tell you all about the entire series, I'll instead discuss Endless Nights which is sort of a companion book to the series that can stand alone.

The seven Endless are central to everything about the Sandman franchise. These siblings are the embodiment of their respective domains: in no particular order, Death, Dream, Destiny, Delirium (formerly Delight), Despair, Desire, and Destruction. While the main books deal mostly in the affairs of Dream (thus the title, one of his alternate monikers) there are some off-shoot books that deal with some of the others. Endless Nights is one where each of the Endless gets their own story that encompasses their essence.

Each story is illustrated by a different artist to give you more of a sense of how different the Endless are. Each story stands alone, but Destruction's follows Delirium's and directly relates to it. (They both come after the events of the Sandman series... I don't remember if there are spoilers, but it's something to be aware of.)

I can't choose a favorite story, but it would probably be one of the first three. Death's is first, and is called "Death in Venice." It's a little funny and a little sad and very beautiful. Desire's story, "What I've Tasted of Desire," comes next, and I kept thinking about it while I was reading The Penelopiad because they have some strong similarities. And the third story is Dream's, called "The Heart of a Star." It it very pretty, and it is creatively written, and I'm rather fond of the ending... It makes me smile.

The whole book is beautiful and strange, just like the Sandman series itself, and if you're a fan of Gaiman or graphic novels or Sandman (or if you're interested in any of the above but need a segue into them) I highly recommend it.

My favorite Graphic Novel is actually a stark contrast from Alex's.  It's called Persepolis and it's actually the biographical account of Marjane Satrapi (who is author/illustrator.)  She grew up in Iran during the 1980s and the Islamic Revolution.

Honestly, I LOVE the illustrations in it.  They're simple and there's no color, but really, it compliments the story.  Satrapi's life was one of bombings and dictatorships.  The black and white illustrations really help make you pay attention to what is going on in each frame.  It let's you notice things and I think that it was a great choice.  I think that colors would have distracted too much from her story.

I also like that the two books cover so much of her life.  We really get to see Satrapi grow up from a young girl into a woman who marries.  She has strong political views because of all the turmoil that is going on in her country.  It really lets anyone connect with Satrapi because she covers so much of her life and there are so many experiences that she endures. 

I really recommend this if you're just starting out on the Graphic Novel front.  The illustrations are a little simpler, the story line a little heavier but it's still a wonderful, wonderful Graphic Novel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Jim Henson

Everyone knows that Jim Henson was the mastermind behind much-beloved children's classics like Sesame Street, the entire Muppet franchise, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. Of course he is also the founder of the Jim Henson Company and the Jim Henson Foundation (which is the only grantmaking company with the mission of promoting and developing puppetry, and has bestowed 440 grants).

Henson was born on September 24, 1936 in Greenville, Mississippi, and died May 16, 1990 of a streptococcal infection that led to organ failure.

He attended the University of Maryland at College Park, which is where he created Sam & Friends as a freshman. If you're a great trivia buff (or a huge fan of Jim Henson) you probably recall that Sam & Friends is where Kermit originated.

That's him on the right.
Henson worked on dozens of projects before finding his enormous success with the Muppets, but I really just can't list them all. I will mention one in particular, though, because it became the book we are reviewing this Friday. A Tale of Sand was intended to be a full-length screenplay for a live-action feature-length film, written with Jerry Juhl. The screenplay was never produced, and sat in the vault at the Jim Henson Company until Ramon Perez turned it into a graphic novel this year.

In 1969, Henson joined the wonderful world of Sesame Street. He played Ernie, Guy Smiley, and Kermit, who gained the frill around his neck (which also served to hide the joint where the neck and body connected). He worked on the show in as many ways as they included elements: puppetry, traditional animation, stop-motion animation, and computer animation.

Concerned about being pigeon-holed as a children's entertainer, Henson worked with Saturday Night Live to create some puppet-based sketches for adults. The writers on the show had difficulty grasping the idea of writing for puppets instead of people; one went so far as to say, "I won't write for felt." It was a valiant effort, but it was ultimately a bit of a flop.

After that, he tried to work the Muppets into a Broadway show, which he abandoned when his concurrent project - The Muppet Show - was approved by a British team (and then became syndicated worldwide). In addition to his Sesame Street roles of Kermit and Guy Smiley, Henson also performed as Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, the Swedish Chef, Waldorf, and Link Hogthrob on The Muppet Show.

Due to the great success of The Muppet Show, Henson could translate the Muppets to the big screen. The Muppet Movie was released in 1979 and was a huge hit; it made $65.2 million domestically, and at the time, it was the 61st highest-grossing film ever made. The Great Muppet Caper followed in 1981. This was when Henson decided to end the show and concentrate on films (but, as we all know, the Muppets continued to appear in made-for-TV movies or TV specials).

He played a large part in the creation of Yoda for the Star Wars series. He also suggested that Frank Oz should be the puppeteer and voice of the character, the result of which George Lucas was so thrilled with, he - unsuccessfully - tried to get Frank Oz a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.

In 1982, Henson founded the aforementioned Jim Henson Foundation to promote the art of puppetry. This was the same year he created The Dark Crystal, which is an excellent example of his new tendency toward darker, less fantastical themes. This tendency carried over into Labyrinth (1986) which you all remember as this movie:

Henson was really distraught by Labyrinth's general failure (and did not live to see the huge cult following it has today). That was the same year Henson and his wife separated, though they remained close for the rest of his life. She cited the biggest reason for the separation as his inability to spend time with the kids, due to his deep involvement in his work.

He continued to create whimsical children's classics like Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies while at the same time working on darker creations like 1988's The Storyteller (which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program).

In 1989, he began the negotiations to sell his company to Disney so that he could focus more on the creative side of the work. By the next year, he had a TV special with the Muppets visiting Disney World, plus the 3D attraction Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3D (which, I will admit, made me cry when I saw it at eight years old, because it was big and loud and flying at my face... I maintain that it was a reasonable reaction).

If you remember the show Dinosaurs, you probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that Jim Henson was heavily involved in its creation as well. He thought up the idea long before it became a reality, but until The Simpsons found great success in primetime television, it sounded like a crazy idea.

I will gloss over the details of his death, because they are sad and unfortunate. Suffice it to say that he contracted a streptococcal infection that presented persistent flu-like symptoms and eventually caused organ failure.

There was a beautiful memorial service where - per Henson's wishes - nobody wore black, and several people involved in Henson's many projects sang songs.

His company has gone on to work on dozens more projects since his death, including several creatures for Farscape, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Mirrormask. Henson's heirs sold the rights to Sesame Street and Bear in the Big Blue House to Disney in 2004. By doing so, they lost the rights to use Kermit the Frog, who couldn't appear in any new Sesame Street material.

As you can see, Henson made an immeasurable impact on the world of entertainment in several mediums for different audiences over a shorter than we would have liked period of time.


Monday, November 19, 2012

What is a Graphic Novel?

This week, Cassy and I will be reviewing our first graphic novel for the blog. I'm a huge fan of the medium, and I enjoy graphic novels, and think they should be read, but I am not as quite as enthusiastic as Alex.  However, I do think they're great for upping your book count for the year.

But what exactly is a graphic novel? There is a lot of confusion on this topic, and we would like to clear some of that up for you.

At its most basic, a graphic novel is a book that tells its story using sequential graphics, which is a fancy way of saying that it looks like a comic book inside.  Finace and I actually once had about a ten minute argument about why they're called graphic novels now and not comic books.

That doesn't mean it's all bright colors and superheroes and saving the day. In fact, graphic novels tend to fall into one of two categories. The first is exactly what you think of when you hear "comic book." A caped crusader rescuing a damsel, a city, or the world from certain peril, and punching the villain square in the chin before teaching Little Timmy that drugs and littering are bad. (Side note: I've actually noticed that once our beloved time-tested superheroes make the switch from comic book story arcs to graphic novel story arcs, they tend to get, well, dark. But that is probably due more to the fact that today's audience wants their Peter Parker emo and their Bruce Wayne emotionally tortured and their Clark Kent weeping, not so much because of the format.  Actually, I prefer Clark Kent upbeat.  I mean, tortured Wayne, fine, but a woobie Superman?  That's just not right.)

The other category is... well, everything else. Graphic novels cover every type of story that you can find in regular novels: romance, drama, adventure, fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction.

Usually, your typical graphic novel has the same layout as comic books, with the panels creating subdivisions of the page (some larger than others) and speech bubbles delivering dialogue while any other pertinent information is tucked away in neat little narration panels. Every illustrator has their own way, though, and you start to get a feel for each of them as you read more of their work.

There is also the wordless graphic novel, sometimes referred to as a "silent" graphic novel.  I'm not going to lie; these aren't exactly my preference.  I like some WORDS with my GN.  Otherwise, I wouldn't really consider it a graphic novel, just... graphic. If the name didn't give it away, these are graphic novels that have no words in them (except maybe the occasional onomatopoeia*). If you've never read a graphic novel before, and you aren't very familiar with comic books, you probably shouldn't start with a wordless graphic novel. You have to teach yourself to "read the images," which is very different from reading words. It takes time to look at the entire page, absorbing all the information being presented by the visual details. You can't just flip through the images quickly, like so many non-GN-readers tend to do; you're missing a lot if you do it that way. So if you're used to picture-less novels, ease into the world of graphic novels with some wordier ones, and remember to balance the time your eyes are on text with the time your eyes are on images.

There is a lot of contention, in the world of people who think about these things for a living or a hobby, as to whether manga "counts" as graphic novels. Manga is a Japanese term that refers to a particular style of drawing, but also to a form of book that is, essentially, a graphic novel: a story told using pictures and speech bubbles and narration panels. (Side note: If you go pick up your first manga and get really confused almost immediately, you're supposed to read it backwards. Start at the "back" cover and work your way "forward." That should help clear things up.)  Sailor Moon was the first Manga I read.  And, apparently, they're starting it up again (not the Manga, the animated series, though it's entirely possible the Manga might also resurface.)  Just a little side-note there for all the nostalgic SM readers we have.

Yup, that's manga.  It's the half naked chick that gives it away.
When discussing the history of the graphic novel, you have to use a lot of words like "arguably" and "probably" and "as far as we can tell" because it's a little blurry, like so much of history tends to be. But the first self-identified "graphic novels" were in the 1970s. You may recall that as a decade that was very lucrative for comic books, so it naturally follows that graphic novels would also be popular.

The format really gained momentum in the 1980s, though, with behemoths of the field like Watchmen and Maus being published, along with anthologies of already-popular comic books (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Sandman come to mind).

Since then, brilliant authors and brilliant illustrators have worked together to bring you brilliant pieces of literature in the graphic novel format.

Besides the aforementioned titles, some of the most popular graphic novels to date include: Persepolis, Ghost World, Blankets, 300, Sin City, Kick-Ass, The Men in Black, Mystery Men, Road to Perdition, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, V for Vendetta and so many more.

If you're interested in trying your hand at some wordless graphic novels, you might want to start with some of these, as they're all highly regarded: The Arrival, Mister O, Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels, and God's Man.

If you're still totally lost but we've piqued your interest, go pick up a copy of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. He does an absolutely incredible job of explaining everything you need to know about graphic novels.

From Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

*onomatopoeia: a "sound word" like BUZZ or ZAP or WHOOSH or ZZZ or BANG. These show up in wordless graphic novels because it makes more sense to write "BANG" over an image of a gun than it is to write a narration panel stating, "The gun went off with a loud bang." It gets even more interesting when you pay attention to the illustrative choices used with onomatopoeia. The gunshot "BANG" will look different from the "BANG" of a kid dropping a stack of textbooks on a table.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


We're sell-outs!

Okay, that isn't a very nice way of putting it. (And I don't think you can be a sell-out until you're legit famous, but that's just a matter of semantics.)

The point is, we've added advertisements to the blog. If you have Google Chrome and AdBlock, no worries: you'll never notice the difference. Otherwise, it still won't really be obtrusive. We're putting ads on the sidebar and sometimes we'll post an affiliate ad in the content.

This is an example of what it will look like when we include an ad in a post (this is an actual ad for a Nook, because I have a good sense of humor):

We know you guys love us and want us to make money, but that doesn't mean you can just click on our ads for hours on end and let our revenue add up. We'll get in trouble for that, and they'll take our earning ability away, and that will make us sad.

So just click on the ads that you're interested in, when you're interested in them.

(On an entirely different note, everybody should wish Cassy a happy birthday because it is her birthday!)

Happy Birthday, Cassy!!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review Me Twice- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This was a tough book to get through, not because it was bad, but more because I think that I, personally, was distracted.  Things you shouldn't do: read long books during NaNo.  Morgenstern really is an amazing writer and the imagery she produces in this book is simply phenomenal.  I really loved reading about all the tents because it never, at any point, got boring.  And I like that all the tents were so fantastically different.  They weren't just variations of each other, they were fully fledge, well thought out and different tents.

I also liked how Marco and Celia were always in a dance, from day one.  Even when they didn't meet they were dancing around each other and then, when they finally met, were dancing with each other.  It was intricate and intimate.  I like that they had a romance from afar.  It almost made it better because it was so... intense.

However, my favorite characters were not Marco and Celia, they were all the periferal characters of the circus.  I think Tsukiko was my favorite.  She was very outside of everything, trying to hold herself aloof, but yet in her actions you could tell how much she cared.  A.H and Celia's father you ended up hating because it seemed if they just didn't care what happened to the circus and those contained within, these people you had come to love.  The Twins were so young and fun but so much hung in the balance for them.  Really, it was the lives of all those in the circus that I cared most about, not really Marco and Celia as much.

The only real criticism I have is that it dragged a little.  It was hard to get through the beginning of the book.  It wasn't that I wasn't interested, I was, but I wasn't so intersted I couldn't put it down for a bit and do other things.

My Bottom Line 4/5

People who have read the book will understand this better, probably more than the people who haven't read the book, but this is my overall response to The Night Circus: Reading the book feels like being at the Cirque des Reves in the book. It's surreal, it's beautiful, and it's fun. And, for me anyway, I have a hard time remembering the details after it's over. It all goes a little fuzzy when I'm outside of it, but once I'm back in, it all comes rushing back.

I was invested in the characters. What will they do? What will be done to them? Why did they do that? That is one of the marks of great writing.

I can't pick a favorite character, or setting, or anything, because all of it is so intertwined, I can't pick it apart. (Like the circus, she said, emphasizing her earlier point.)

It is a big of a long read, so don't try to read it when you have only tiny excerpts of time to work with. This is how most of my reading gets done, because all I have is small swaths of free time to use not working, driving, or sleeping, so my reading is choppy. This has a very interrupting effect on a story as smooth as this one.

I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't take issue with a little magic and enchantment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNo Week 2- Procrastination Station

Week 2

As I was once so elegantly told in college, 'Procrastination is like masturbation; in the end you're only screwing yourself.'

While I do not contest this saying, sometimes, procrastination is a good thing, especially during NaNo.  You write and write and sometimes, you just get burned out.  It's an inevitable thing.  Sometimes, procrastination leads to new ideas.  So, here on ReviewMeTwice NaNo tips, I'm going to give you some fun things to distract yourself during this month of madness.

This was a fun little meme a fellow Nanoer sent to me to describe us NaNo writers.  I think you'll really get a kick out of it.  It describes The Stages of National Novel Writing Month.

NaNo's website actually has their very own procrastination station (yes, I stole the name, but try not to be too harsh on me.)  If you go their website and scroll all the way to the bottom, it's in the right hand corner.  It is aptly named procrastination station and is updated, I believe, about once a week.

Nano also has forums!  You can go and discuss everything from characters, to plot, to your first NaNo experience, to the fact that you just can't bear writing another word.  There's a place for everyone in the forums.  There's even a place for when you don't know where else to go.

Goodreads also has a NaNo group.  If you aren't already a member of Goodreads (which, you really should be.  It's free and you can keep track of all of your books on there and be friends with people who read books.  Fabulous site.), just sign up.

Need some ideas to beef up your word count?  Or do you just need something to organize your ideas?  Maybe you just want a new program that's cool and that you want to play around with.  I get that.  Here are the 25 Most Effective Tools for NaNoWriMo Success.

Looking to get away from NaNo?  Go to the library, read a book.  Go for a run.  Go mini-golfing or bowling or visit your favorite blog.  I have a habit of spending too much time on Pinterest.  If all else fails, go to your favorite coffee shop and people watch for awhile.  You'd be amazed at the ideas that come to you.  My point is, NaNo isn't all about burying yourself in your novel.  Sometimes it's about giving into a little procrastination to further inspiration.

Whatever you decide to do this NaNo, we're going to be here every stop of the way here at ReviewMeTwice.  And as always, feel free to post those word counts.  We would love to know them. :)  Happy NaNoing!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Favorite Bookstore

We went totally off the wall with our Favorites this week, and we'll be talking about our favorite bookstores (or, to word it more fairly, our favorite places to get books from).

My favorite book-acquiring-place depends on what I'm going to do with the book in question. If I plan to read it once and never touch it again (or at least not pick it back up for years) I'm going to pick it up at the library, of course. It's free, it's convenient (I spend half or more of each day at a library, and pass several more on the way home from work), and chances are pretty good that it will still be there, should I ever want to revisit it.

But for buying my books (which I'm sure is what Cassy had in mind when she suggested this topic) I'm a pretty loyal Barnes & Noble fan. I have a member card (so I get a discount whenever I remember to bring that with me) and I always have a gift card. Always. I don't think I've been completely without a single cent on a B&N gift card since, like, the late '90s. It's crazy.

I have a Kindle, but I really only use it for reading the classics. The reason for this is twofold: classics are free in the Kindle store, and also, it's way more convenient to carry around a Kindle than a stack of thick volumes of classic literature. Have you ever seen the full version of Les Miserables? I have that enormous tome in my Kindle; no heavier than a cheap trashy romance paperback, when it's on my Kindle.

I also am a library visitor when it comes to books I only plan to read once.  I have about five in my area, there's no excuse not to use them, and I support them by going to them.  Usually, the books I read for this blog, I pick them up at the library or get them from the library's eBook system.

However, my most favorite place to get books ever is called Blue Plate Books. It's this little second hand book store about an hour away from where I live (it's located in my parent's hometown and where some friends live, so I'm there a lot.)  He has a great selection and all the books are in amazing condition and he charges half price if not a little less for his books.  He even has a collection of books that are 100 years or older for sale, so that's really cool (albeit, a little pricier.)

This is where I pimp second hand bookstores.  Yes, Amazon and B&N and all those places are great, especially if you're looking for something that JUST came out and you're probably not going to find it used.  But if you know of a good second hand bookstore, USE IT.  They're so rare these days and, if you do have one, there's probably a good chance it's struggling.  Why pay through the nose for a book when you can buy one gently used for a third of the price?  And besides, it comes with a little history.  Maybe a bookmark got stuck inside or someone's grocery list, or a picture from their vacation.  It makes it that much more special.  

Also, you tend to form closer relationships with the guy at the used bookstore.  For instance, I still get the resident discount at Blue Plate despite the fact that I no longer live at the apartments that would afford me the discount.  The owner knows this but, because I come in there whenever I can, he gives it me me anyway.  Because he's awesome.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Alex Award

I know this post is a little informational for a Tuesday/Thursday; it's more like a Monday post. But I wanted to tell you guys about the Alex Award because it's really awesome, and I had to jump at the opportunity, because The Night Circus was one of the 2012 winners.

No, friends, the Alex Award isn't something I made up to give to books I like. It's a real literary award that was started in 1998, named after a librarian from Baltimore, and have been bestowed by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Assocation, a division of the ALA or American Library Association) since 2002.

The Alex Award is given to ten books each year. These are books that were published with adults as the intended audience, but have been found to have "special appeal" to young adults (readers between 12 and 18 years old).

It should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of the award, not because they share my name, and not just because they are for adult books enjoyed by a YA audience, but also because my favorite author, Neil Gaiman, is the only author so far to have won two Alex Awards.

For a complete list of winners, go here. (I know, it's a Wikipedia link, but the ALA page requires member access.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

From NaNo to Novel

So Alex and I are really excited about this week.  We have a lot to tell you about books and NaNo and such so if you don't like NaNo well... I suggest staying away until Friday. (No, really, I'm kidding.  It'll be awesome.  I promise.)

This week, we're going to be reading and reviewing the book The Night Circus.  This is a fairly popular book that was published in the past year and is pretty phenomenal.  It was written by Erin Morgenstern who is also a pretty cool lady.  It's her first published novel and, a pretty good one. (Well, so far.  I'm only 100 pages into it as I write this post, but I've heard good things.) I read it in early spring, so I will vouch for it being good.

Now here's the point where everyone asks me, "Cassy, what does this has to do with NaNoWriMo, you big, ridiculous, NaNo obsessed freak?"  Well, as Alex and I went researching for things to share with you wonderful crowd this week, we discovered that Morgenstern actually wrote The Night Circus over two or three NaNoWriMo years.  That's right.  The Night Circus was (very) roughly created in '05 and then she spend NaNo '06 and '07 rewriting and drafting and editing it to bring it about.  

So moral of my story?  NaNo is not just a month of writing 50K of crap, as I sometimes like to refer to it (because, let's be honest with ourselves, by the end of the month we have 45K of unusable material and 5K of story we might actually be able to use and only 2K of that do we actually like.)  NaNo can be the stepping stone into something bigger.  It can be that push you need to make you a published author. Morgenstern herself says that she never expected Night Circus to be something for others to read, at least not when she started. If she had, it might have been a different thing entirely. That's the beauty of NaNoWriMo... it's so freeing!

It worked for Erin Morgenstern.  And it also worked for a long list of other authors.  Here is a list of some of the more popular books that started off as NaNo Novels.  And here is a list from NaNo's site of all the known published novels that started out as NaNo Novels.  Recognize any?  Well, if nothing else, you recognize Morgenstern's.

As an added bonus, you can read her NaNo Pep Talk here.  Happy NaNo, everyone, and from two writers, keep up the good work.

Alex and Cassy both encourage you to leave your word counts in the comments.  We would love to know how you're doing. :) And we will cheer you on!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Review Me Twice- Rainbow Boys by Alex Sánchez

Rainbow Boys is about three different boys in three very different stages of their sexuality: one out of the closet, one in the closet but aware of his sexuality and one so deep in the closet he's getting completely freaked out that he's having wet dreams of boys.  I mean, he can't be gay.  He has a girlfriend after all.

I like that Sanchez shows you all three because, really, no one has the same story when it comes to their sexuality.  Nelson was out and everyone knew that he was gay and his mother completely supported him about it.  But that didn't stop the abuse he received at school.  And Kyle also was included in that derision because he was friends with Nelson.

I like that Sanchez shows us all types.  You have the boys and faculty members that really show a hatred towards gays and wear their homophobia on their sleeves.  You have people like Debra, Jason's girlfriend in the beginning of the book, who shows some moderate tolerance towards gays, however freaks out when Jason tells her of his feelings about his sexuality.  Debra, however, comes around.  She renews her friendship with Jason and is genuinely supportive of him.  You see Kyle's mother be supportive, but with questions and his father get upset but decide, in the end, that his son is more important to him than his son's sexuality.  I like that everything is all over the board and not black or white.

I wasn't a huge fan of the love triangle going on.  Didn't hate it didn't love it.  It propelled the story forward but I don't think that it really enhanced the story any.  If this was a book about relationships (which it was), this romantic ones weren't the best in this book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  It's not the best LGBT book I've ever read, but Sanchez has a good writing style and certainly engages you in the story.  

My Bottom Line 3 out of 5.
I am fortunate to live in a time when I can consider a book like Rainbow Boys "typical." It's a pretty average story of some boys in high school trying to figure out what their sexuality is and what it means.

The three main characters sit equidistant on the spectrum of closetedness: One boy is openly, comfortably gay; one is closeted but knows he is definitely gay; and one is bisexual but has a hard time admitting to himself, much less anyone else.

These characters never would have been included in a book - particularly one intended for teens - a few decades ago, much less as the main characters. So while I thought this book was a little bland, I also recognize that it is a product of a lot of social progress, and I appreciate that.

While I thought the story and characters were a little simple (and often pretty whiny), I still liked the writing. I was genuinely concerned in one very climactic scene near the end. That's the sign of good writing to me.

I also liked that Sanchez listed some groups at the end of the book that might be useful to his readers. PFLAG (Parents and Friends/Family of Lesbians And Gays) gets a lot of mention in the book because Nelson's mom is an active member, but there are other groups that specialize in different areas, and Sanchez lists several, along with their contact information, websites, and a brief summary of who they are and what they do.

I wasn't so invested in this book that I'm dying to read Rainbow High and Rainbow Road but I will definitely get around to them someday.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NaNoWriMo- Week One


We're in week one of NaNoWriMo and it's still early, so I'm giving you some beginning of the month tips.  All this month I'm going to be doing things to help you get through the month and keep your spirits up.  My goal is to help you write all 50,000 words.  If you need someone to talk to, some advice, really anything, feel free to leave comments right here on the blog.

I'm going to tell you this in the beginning of the month because I think that it's very important.  Find a partner or a friend or join a community that will give you ideas.  Don't try and write 50,000 words all by yourself.  I didn't my first year.  I had a friend that I would talk to about my book.

If you go to NaNoWriMo's website ( they have forums that you can go to when you have a hiccup in your writing.  Character giving you trouble?  They have a forum for that.  Need some factual information?  They have forums for that too.  Just want to goof off and procrastinate a little?  That's right, they have forums for that too.

They also have regional forums.  There are NaNo writers in your area, people living by you who sit down in local coffee shops or libraries and write.  They call them write ins, and a few writers from your area come in and just sit down and write.  It gives you a chance to get to know people in your area and bounce some ideas off of them in person, as you hit those roadblocks.

They also hold kick off parties in your area.  When NaNo starts, there is usually someone in the area who handles things like holding a party to start the whole shebang, and lots of NaNoers show up.  It can be really fun and just another way to meet up with people in your area.

If nothing else, just keep in contact with people.  You're eventually going to hit a road block.  You're going to get into your own head and you're going to need someone to work it out.  So find someone to clean out those cobwebs.  Having some trouble finding a friend?  Well, dear reader, I'm always here and my comment section is always open. :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Favorite LGBT Books

Cassy and I considered posting about our favorite LGBT authors today, but then we realized they'd likely be the same person. So instead, to make things slightly more interesting for you, we're discussing our favorite LGBT books.

Mine is Wide Awake by David Levithan. It's about two stories that intersect. One story is about a high school boy who is dealing with the complexities of his relationship with his boyfriend. The other story is of a US presidential election where the country's first gay, Jewish president was elected, and his opponent is contesting the vote counts. (If you're familiar with the 2000 election, lots of things will sound very familiar as you read.) It's set in the not-too-distant future. Some things are far more different than I think they should be for how soon it's supposed to be, but let's chalk that up to artistic license. I don't remember re-reading it since 2008, but just remember that it was written before Barack Obama was elected, in case there are any discrepancies there.

Indeed we would be writing about the same person, because everyone should go out and read a David Levithan book.  Doesn't really matter which one.  Even his worst book will probably be better than the best book you ever read. And while I LOVE his literature and I would have a hard time not picking one of his books as my favorites (Boy Meets Boy is just fantastic), I decided that I'm going to change it up a little and not pick a Levithan book as my favorite.

Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys is an anthology about girls and their gay best friends.  I really like it because it really illustrates the differences not only between women's relationships with straight men and gay men, but also with other woman.  For instance, I remember one particular story where a woman wanted to buy a purse but a girlfriend had talked her out of it.  She left and felt terrible that she hadn't bought the purse.  When she went back, she had found out that the purse had been purchased.  Later, she found out the girlfriend that had talked her out of buying it had actually gone back and bought it for herself.  The woman realized that had she been with one of her gay guy friends, he would have encouraged her to buy it, to spoil herself and not manipulate her as her girlfriend had done.

Some of the stories are inspiring, some are sad and some are funny.  It's a really great book of relationships.  It's a book about friendships and that's part of the reason I really love it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

Americans! It's Election Day! I won't harrass you about how it's your citizenly duty to vote for the next leader of our fine country, because that's really annoying.

Instead, I'm giving you the gift of information about the less-celebrated presidents. Everyone knows things about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc. But most people forget we even had a president named Pierce, or who followed up Woodrow Wilson. Obviously, who is "less-mentioned" and who is not is subjective, but let's just call this a sampler. (After all, I have to get back to my NaNoWriMo-ing sooner than later.)

U.S. Presidents For Dummies
Not the most well-versed person you know regarding U.S. presidents? Maybe you want an overview of the whole list. U.S. Presidents for Dummies should do the trick.

Martin Van Buren, 8th POTUS (1837-1841) (Free Soil Party)
Is your lucky number eight? Van Buren's was, because he was the 8th VP and the 8th President of the US. (I know that's confusing, but the VP terms were confusing back then.) The "big thing" of his presidency was the Panic of 1837. His opponents blamed him for this economic hardship and referred to him as Marten Van Ruin.

Millard Fillmore, 13th POTUS (1850-1853) (American Party)
President Fillmore didn't have a Vice President throughout his entire term. He is consistently ranked as one of the bottom ten presidents (but to be fair, there have only been 44... nearly a quarter of them have to be the bottom ten on any given list). He co-founded the University of Buffalo. He was born in a log cabin like a certain tall-hat-wearing president but nobody seems to make a big deal out of it for Fillmore.

Franklin Pierce, 14th POTUS (1853-1857) (Democratic Party)
Frankie was referred to as a "doughface," which was the 1850s way of saying he was a Northerner with Southern sympathies. His VP, William R. King, died about a month after inauguration, and Pierce served the rest of his term VP-less.

Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th POTUS (1877-1881) (Republican Party)
The B stands for Birchard, which was his mother's maiden name. His election caused the Compromise of 1877, where the Democrats allowed Hayes to accept the Presidency, and Hayes allowed the end of the military occupation of the South. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Chester A. Arthur, 21st POTUS (1881-1885) (Republican Party)
The A stands for Alan. He took over the presidency (after about 6 months as VP) when James A. Garfield - whose A stands for Abram - was assassinated. He did not get his own VP. He also fought in the Civil War.

Benjamin Harrison, 23rd POTUS (1889-1893) (Republican Party)
Benjie was the grandson of slightly better-known president William Henry Harrison. He is - so far - the only president to be the grandson of another president, and also the only one to be from Indiana. He died of influenza.

Warren G. Harding, 29th POTUS (1921-1923) (Republican Party)
Harding coined the phrase "founding fathers" when he used it at the 1916 Republican National Convention. He is lesser-known because it was his job to return things to normal after WWI, so he didn't shake up the country.

I feel like the rest of the presidents (from Calvin Coolidge onward) are fairly well-known because they're in more recent memory, so I'll stop there.