Friday, November 29, 2013

Review Me Twice - The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

This book was VERY obviously a book by Snicket.  Even if his name wasn't on the cover, you could have easily guessed that it was him.  There was a lot of sarcastically defining things that you obviously knew the definition to (much like his Unfortunate Events books.)

In fact, there was just a lot of sarcasm in general.  Such as, he kept referring to it as a "Christmas Story", but pretty much told you all about Hanukkah and not a lot about Christmas.  Which I thought was fun.  And the illustrations were also really good.  It honestly reminded me of the little towns that my mom puts underneath the Christmas tree every year.

I am not a huge fan of Snicket, but I did like this book and I am always supportive of authors who remind us that Hanukkah is a holiday too and that it's not all about Christmas.

I love Hanukkah. I love latkes and my future father-in-law's brisket and the songs and the story and everything. And now, I love this book, too.

I think Lemony Snicket is hilarious (not in a laugh-out-loud kind of way, but a subtle, English, "you should read this, it's funny" kind of way). And this book was everything I expected from him and then some.

Without giving it all away, we have a latke who, upon feeling the scalding oil he is to be cooked in, hops out of the pan and runs away, encountering numerous symbols of Christmas. It's weird, it's funny, and it appeals to both children and adults. It's a shame I've already started on Christmas presents for all my friends and family, because I would rather go to Barnes & Noble and buy 30 copies of this book to give out.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Alex on The End

I am so terrible at ending my stories. If I could, I'd let them go on forever and ever, or end abruptly in the middle. In fact, I'm writing this blog post to avoid coming up with an ending for my NaNoWriMo novel's third story.

Can't I just scrawl "That's all, folks!" across the page and let Porky Pig stammer it to my audience? No, I can't. So I have to do something else.

I've discovered that Planning (as opposed to Pantsing, the NaNoWriMo name for flying by the seat of your pants and writing your novel with no outline or basic plan for where your story is going to go) helps me with this problem. In Epilogue last year, I had no idea where my characters were going to end up, so when I wrote the ending, it caused a lot of inconsistencies. (There's a wall around the city at the end, but earlier, one of the characters said he had walked across several states to get there... if he told the truth, that's a story hole; if he lied, I should have explored that and figured out why he did so.)

This year's novel is split into three separate stories. I think it's easier to end a short story because it gives me less time to trail away from the original plan of the story. I don't get distracted by what the gamer side of me thinks of as side quests, and I drive at the ending the whole time. I Pantsed the first story, Planned the second, and I'm Planning the hell out of the third... but I'm at the end of my outline and can't come up with an acceptable ending.

Unfortunately, I don't have some secret, awesome way to come up with my endings... do you? If so, let's make a deal...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Favorite Food Book

Since most people's Thanksgivings revolve around food, and Thanksgiving is tomorrow, we're talking about our favorite food-related books today!

There is a whole series of these books by Laura Numeroff. They're considered "circular tales" because, at the end, you come back to what you said at the beginning. If you aren't familiar with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or any other the others, it goes basically like this: a kid offers the titular cookie to the titular mouse, who requests a glass of milk... then a straw... etc. etc. until he's making ridiculous demands. I always kind of thought the mouse was rude. Like, just be happy with your cookie, dude.

The first several of these books were food related... giving a pig a pancake, and a moose a muffin. Then they expanded out to things like giving a pig a party, and Happy Easter, Mouse! But this is the original, and the only one I remember reading in school.

So mine... sorta counts.  It's not so much about food as it is about a beverage company... but that's ok.

Ok, I will give you that there is a MAD amount of propaganda in this book.  I mean, Schultz is obviously trying to get you to believe that Starbucks is the most super, awesome company in the world.  And while I don't buy into that ideal... it was a good book.

Starbucks has become such a THING in this day and age.  The logo is immediately recognizable and most people buy their coffee from there.  You can even find a large number of people who refer to all coffee in a coffee shop as "Starbucks."

And I will concede that Schultz does run a great company.  They cre about their employees, they care about giving around the world.  They make an effort to have a smaller footprint on the ecosystem, which is awesome.

It was also cool to learn about how so many of the Starbucks staples came to be.  Via, and the exact way that the coffee is made and how Pike Place came to life, and WHY it came to life, is all really fascinating to read about.

You do need to read this book with a bit of a grain of salt, but honestly, I really enjoyed it.  Really, how could anything about COFFEE be bad?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cassy on The End

Endings are my most favorite part of the story to write.  Mainly because the ending usually comes to be before the beginning does when I write.  I always seem to know where I'm going and where I want to be.

I See had one of my favorite endings.  I won't tell you (you should go read it!) but it was sweet and sad and wonderful all at the same time.

I also like to wrap things up in a neat bow.  I know not everyone is like that, or even enjoys reading that, but I HATE when the ending is to ambiguous.

Are you having trouble with getting through your book?  Write your ending first.  You will know exactly where you're going and what you have to do to end up where your ending is.  It's a great way to kick start the writing process.

How do you handle endings?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Author Bio: Lemony Snicket

Sure, his real name is Daniel Handler, but Lemony Snicket sounds so much better. Sounds kind of like a cookie to me. Handler says choosing his pen name was probably a Freudian slip, since it sounds very much like Jiminy Cricket, who is the kind of didactic goody-two-shoes narrator he hates (and Snicket is the opposite of that).

This is Snicket's author photo
Perhaps best known for the Series of Unfortunate Events featuring the Baudelaire children, Snicket has written dozens of other works, including the currently ongoing All the Wrong Questions series.

There's also the hilariously titled Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (think about it a second... you'll get there).

One of his most interesting projects, I think, was when he wrote The Composer is Dead, which is a murder mystery intended to explain the instruments of the orchestra to children. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra did a live performance with Handler narrating as Snicket. A recording of that performance is to be included with the expanded version of the book.

He has so many other projects, it would be extremely time-consuming and verbose (a word which here means "using too many words to be worth my time") to explain them all to you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Review Me Twice: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

You already heard a lot of what I have to say about this book on Wednesday, since it's my favorite of the trilogy. So I'll try to say a few new things.

All I can say about the first point is that Cinna is my favorite character in the whole trilogy. If you've read this book, you understand. If you haven't, I couldn't possibly say anymore, for your sake. Go read it, and we can talk about it.

I love the idea of the Quarter Quell, because it just isn't dystopian YA semi-sci-fi until things get as bad as they can get, and then get worse. I was genuinely shocked the first time I read the explanation of the Quell, and I ate it up.

The other victors are great. Mags? Finnick? Wiress and Beetee? Even Johanna? Are you even kidding me? No one book should have that many characters you FEEL that intensely for (except Harry Potter).

My favorite moment of the first movie is when Katniss and Peeta are in District 11, and she gives them (Rue?) that sad salute and they return it, and the old guy who rebels... It isn't exactly like in the book (partly because it's in this book, not the first) but both versions, film and print, are so moving and sad and beautiful and important.

And the CLOCK. The whole concept, the fact that Plutarch tries to warn her in his super-Capitol way (hey look at my neat watch), and the arena. Don't you just adore the arena? I can't get over it. I just can't.

I like reading this book when I want to cry at a book. So, you know... if you're prone to doing that and don't like it, you might not enjoy this book.

How do I love thee, Catching Fire, let me count the ways.

Ok, so for real, there is so much to love about this book.  I love Cinna because HOW DO YOU NOT?!  He did so much for Katniss and the uprising and he did it in such an underhanded, stealthy way!  

Like Alex, I think the arena is just amazing.  The idea behind it, how the characters interact with it, how it ultimately ends up being their salvation (or not, as the case may be.)  

I didn't cry during this one (I think I came close, but managed to keep my shit together), but that doesn't mean that it's not cry worthy.  Because it TOTALLY IS.

This is also the book where we meet most of my favorite characters.  I LOVE Finnick.  I mean, I can't even convey the amount of love that I feel for Finnick, and it only gets better in Mockingjay.  This is the book I realize how much I love Haymitch as a character, that everything he does, he does it for Katniss, does what's best for her.  And even the characters that are only around for this one book, pull at my heartstrings.

Basically, it's amazing, like the rest of the series.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Alex on Maintaining Momentum

NaNoWriMo is a really great thing, for so many reasons. One of my favorite great things about it is that you have no excuses. Does it matter that, until the day of Thanksgiving, I'm working every single day this month? Should I put aside my novel in the interest of planning my wedding, finishing a craft swap, or cleaning the apartment? Do I stop writing simply because my shoulder is injured and sitting at the computer for too long hurts? HELL NO. This is NaNoWriMo, so you keep writing, because there are thousands of other people also writing, and you're all in this together.

There are lots of resources to give you advice on how to keep writing and reach your word count for NaNoWriMo. Forums, websites, blogs, pep talk messages from the Office of Letters and Light themselves... But how do I do it? I have two things I always keep in mind while writing.

ONE: Stephen King said in On Writing, "You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or despair ... Come to it any way but lightly." Basically, you have to feel something before you can write something. Given that I like to write things where people are confused, scared, or dying, it can be really hard to find a time and place where I am comfortable feeling that way so that I can write that way. But I do it anyway, because it's what drives the story. If I feel like my character, then I can write my character. If I feel like I'm in the plot, I can write the plot.

And TWO: Neil Gaiman's advice to writers starts like this: "How do you do it? You do it. You write. You finish what you write." It's simple advice, but it's the only universal writing advice there is. If you want to write... you just write. He elaborates on the advice here, and I remember him talking about this advice when I saw him speak in Tuscaloosa, AL. He said then, also, that even if what you're writing is crap, at least you got the crap out of your head and onto the page. Now you can move that crap aside and write the next thing in your head, which might also be crap, or it might be brilliant. Just write. And keep writing. And that's what I tell myself, especially during NaNoWriMo. If, on November 30, I read what I've written for the past month, and decide it was just awful, I can at least tell myself that this idea, these characters, these settings and this dialogue are all out now. I've written them, they didn't work out, and I can move on to my next idea. But there's always the chance that, on November 30, I'll read what I've written for the past month, and think, "Hey, this isn't bad." Then I'll edit, and polish, and clean, and then I'll have something I like and want to share with others.

So the brief answer to "how do you keep writing?" for me is "I just do, and with feeling."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Favorite Book from the Hunger Games Trilogy

Unlike choosing my favorite Harry Potter book, choosing my favorite from this series is incredibly easy: Catching Fire was immediately my favorite after I finished reading all three.

I like The Hunger Games because it sets up this excellent world with great background and good characters. I like Mockingjay because, even though we're in the process of wrapping things up, there are still new and terrible horrors, but they don't feel like deus ex machinas.

But I love Catching Fire for three main reasons, each of which is slightly spoiler-ish so if you haven't read it, you might not want to read this yet. One: the setting is incredible. The arena is just amazing and I can't wait to see it in film. Two: I like when awesome characters die. I like the feels; I like crying at books. This book makes me cry. And three: I won't even give details, but the big THING at the end. There are books where you know there's a sequel and because you knew it all along, the story just sort of stops, and you wait for the next book. But then there are books that give you specific questions you want answered in the next book, and this is one of those. The end of Hunger Games asked "what's next?" which isn't bad, but it's vague. The end of Mockingjay says, "That's it, folks. Go find something else to read after you've dried your eyes and complained on the internet about what just happened." But the end of Catching Fire asks, "What the HELL just happened?!?!??!" It's the biggest reason I'm glad I only picked up the series shortly after Mockingjay was published; I would not have wanted to wait all that time to find out.

While I do enjoy pretty much the entirety of this series (and honestly, the moment that I realize that I LOVE Haymitch and he's pretty much my favorite character happens in Catching Fire), I can't help but love the first one.

The first book just sets the stage so well.  I'm just drawn into the scene and the characters and the action and I can never seem to pull myself back out of it all.

The first time I read The Hunger Games, I read it in record speed.  Later, I decided to re-read the book.  It had only been about a year since I read it the first time, so I figured since I remembered most of the facts, I could read it a little slower, take my time, enjoy it.

That didn't happen.  I blew through it just as fast as the first time, which is saying a lot.  If a book can give me the same exhilarating feeling as the first time that I read it, well, that's pretty damn impressive.

The other, kind of spoilery, reason I love book one?  It's where we get to see the most Cinna.  It's where we meet him, where we realize how awesome he is, where we really get to see him in his element.  I love Cinna, and I love how much face time he gets in this book.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cassy on Maintaining Momentum

Keeping a story going is probably one of the hardest things to do.  You have a few key ideas that you want to hit, but everything in between is completely blank.  And, if you're like Alex and I, you're trying to get through these lulls in thirty days.  Which is really hard to do.

Momentum also depends on the kind of writer you are.  I know Alex is an extreme planner, so I know when she talks about this on Friday, she'll probably tell you how to keep up momentum with all that planning you're doing.  But I'm not a planner when it comes to my writing.  I'm a pantser.  I do everything on the fly as it comes to me.

So how do I keep the story going when I don't always know what it is I'm going to do?  Well, that's easy, by dear Watson.  Since I don't really have a plan, I can put them anywhere.  Do anything.  Create anything.  I put them places that are insane (right now my characters are trying to escape from a cinderblock building that houses thousands of human slaves who do nothing but serve their Dinosaur overlords.)

I kill characters.  I'm not afraid to do it.  In fact, one of my NaNos, I killed half the cast!  Killing people changes the whole game plan, so go ahead.  Kill a character.  I bet you the story will be hoppin.

Bored of your character who is incredibly mundane?  Give them super powers!  Why not?  It will change the entire dynamic of the story, maybe even get you into a genre that you've never written before and that is, after all, the whole point of NaNo.  To be incredibly crazy and creative.

I have found that sticking to a script just doesn't work for me and sometimes, stories require a drastic change.  In fact, they prefer them.  So when you're stuck and don't know how to continue your story, do something that you never thought you'd do in a million years.

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'm watching all of the books.

This week, we're reviewing Catching Fire because the new movie is coming out (and it will be awesome and I'm going to see it Saturday.  So be jealous.)  I know that we usually talk about author bios on Mondays (or something equally educational) but today, we're not doing that.

In fact, this post has pretty close to zero literary value.  It's November.  Cut us some slack.

Instead, we're going to post all the trailers for the books-to-movies coming out.  And we're going to start with Catching Fire.

This isn't the only movie that was first a book coming out.  The Book Thief is already in theaters.  If you're going to go see it, I advise a box of tissues.

The last one we're going to tell you about is actually a book that we haven't talked about much, but we both love.  How I Live Now is only being released in select theaters.  Which is sad, because I really want to see it.

Those are all the movies that we know about coming out based on books.  Did we miss some?  Which are you most looking forward to seeing?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013


We will no longer be posting "By Its Cover" posts on Saturdays. From now on, if we have something to say about the cover of a review book, it will be said in our Friday reviews.

If you have strong opinions one way or the other about the disappearance of By Its Cover, feel free to let us know about those opinions in the comments below. According to our blog statistics, they are the least popular of our posts, and this choice will free up Saturdays for other interesting things in the future.

Also, we'd love to know what you thought about it and your favorite By Its Cover, if you had one.  

Have an idea for a Saturday post?  We'd love to know that too.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review Me Twice: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

As I mentioned on Monday, Z for Zachariah was the book that Wil Wheaton says got him interested in reading. Going into it, I thought it was going to feel outdated, cliched, and bland (but I'll go into more depth with my expectations tomorrow). I was proven incredibly wrong.

By no means is this one of my favorite books, but I really did enjoy it. I look a good apocalypse-and-aftermath, and this book brings the good stuff. Based on the back cover summary, you have a girl living in this valley by herself after nuclear war destroyed basically everything. One day, she sees signs that she's not the only person left and someone is coming into her valley, and while it's great that she's not alone, maybe it isn't so great after all.

That's a situation covered in one of the short stories by Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles, one of my favorite books ever. Everyone on Mars fled to return to Earth because of complex reasons, and this guy thinks he's alone until he hears a phone ringing. He answers, meets the girl on the other end, and it turns out that they hate each other.

So even though this book is for a young audience, it takes its topic seriously and doesn't pander or patronize. I would actually consider it an adult story (you can't include even an implied, vague threat of rape without it being an adult story, I think) written in a way that's accessible to youth (no swearing, gore, etc.) It's like currently trending YA (books that treat teens like adults) but it was written in 1974, which is incredible.

This is the second time I've read this book, though, I had forgotten that I had read it until I picked it up again and got a chapter or two in.  I liked it when I first read it, I remembered, but it apparently didn't make enough of an impact to recall that I had already read it.

Funny thing, though, is that I remembered almost EVERYTHING that happened in the book.  I didn't remember the title, but this is a book I've actually actively remembered the details of over the years.  I remembered how it started, about the pet, about the man who joined her in the valley and what had happened before he got there.  There was only ONE thing I didn't remember correctly, and it wasn't that big of a deal.

So, there's something to be said about a book that, ten years later, I can remember every detail.  There are some books I love that I can't even remember that.  So overall, not a terrible book.

I will say, the one thing I DON'T like about it is that, after everything that happens, the girl continues to think, "Oh, it's my fault.  I'm not doing things right" which... kind of annoyed me because considering how independent she was, she didn't strike me as the type who would blame herself.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Alex on Picking a Title

Names are important, and a book's title is essentially its name. A good title is vital (ha! rhymes) to a book's success. It can't be too complex (John Smith and a Group of His Friends and Acquaintances Go on an Adventure to Rescue His Sister Jane from Evil People and Fight Back Against those Evil People Together) or too simple (Jane, although you could argue that this is a good title). It has to pique the interest of the potential reader in a second and a half, or that reader won't be picking up that book. (The book I described in that long title? I'd call it Sibling Rivalry. But that's just me.)

So far, all of my books have started as a title and a concept that seem to develop simultaneously in my mind. With Epilogue, I thought about beginning at the end, and the title came to mind, and I built the story from there. With Comorbidity, I read the word somewhere, looked up its meaning, and it sounded like a great zombie story. This NaNoWriMo, I'm writing three short stories instead of one long one. I wanted them all to start the same way: filling up the main character's car's gas tank. Think of all the potential a full tank of gas represents! So, naturally, the working title is Full Tank.

A lot of people come up with their titles last, after their stories are written. I like to have a working title, because then I've introduced myself to my book and we're on a first-name basis. If I have to changes its name later, so be it, but the title gives me a feeling for what I wanted the book to be when I started.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Favorite Post-Apocalypse Book

This week's review book, Robert C. O'Brien's Z for Zachariah, takes place after a nuclear apocalypse, so we're picking our favorite post-apocalyptic books!

Which is really really hard for me, because this is easily my favorite genre ever. There are so many books I want to tell you about! The Handmaid's Tale, Good Omens, World War Z, Divergent, Ashes, 1984, Boneshaker, Brave New World... I can't even... ack. So here's one I've been thinking about a lot this week.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff was recently adapted to film. (Unfortunately, it's on limited release in the US, so I probably won't be able to see it until it's on DVD.) It's also the book from which I chose my favorite quote from a book last month.

One thing I really like about this book is that it doesn't dwell on the fact that it's post-apocalyptic.

Sure, you know - quite clearly - when the war causes devastation and irreparably changes these kids lives, but it starts with Daisy moving to England because of irreconcilable differences between her and her dad & stepmom, and it focuses on her personality, her thoughts, her trying to fit in with her cousins and how unusual it is to move to another place and suddenly everything is different. Then the whole world becomes different because of the war, so it's like it parallels Daisy's life in a weird way. It's just a backdrop for everything else going on.

And I know a lot of the discussion that surrounds this book is "omg it's a YA book about incest." No it isn't. It's a YA book about a girl trying to figure out who she is and she happens to be in love with (and yes, have sex with) her cousin. It isn't about incest by any means. There's so much more to the book, and it's all great.

I'm with Alex.  I could tell you about a million and one absolutely fantastic post-apocalyptic books.  I mean, there are PILES of them (and The Handmaiden's Tale is pretty high up on that list, believe you me.)  But I'm going to pick one that has never been mentioned on this blog ever.

There are robots, guys.  And did I mention the ROBOTS.  It's all rather epic.  These three siblings have to go into the city (despite having lived in the woods, essentially free, all their lives) and find their parents, who have been captured.


There was a war between robots and man, and the robots won.  So now they control everything and it's literally impossible to escape from them.  People are tagged with chips, and if you're not, they'll know it.  There is so much machinery and regulation that it's impossible to escape.

The book was just well written and you don't get a lot of good robot stories these days (or robots stories in general.)  Besides, the main character's name is Cass, so you really can't go wrong there. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cassy on Picking a Title

As usual, full disclosure on this blog.  I've written a lot of books at this point (six years of doing NaNo.  I didn't actually finish all six books, but I DID hit the 50K writing goal, so it counts.)  The absolutely worst part, my least favorite thing to do, is to pick a title.

How do you sum up an entire book with just a few words?  Some people go with something very metaphorical and some people pick something very important to the story line (IE The Kite Runner.)

"I See" was the only book I ever published and I HATE the name.  I just don't think it really capture what the book is all about.  But I had to think of SOMETHING.  So that's what came out.

I think titles should be equally powerful as they are explanitory.  "I See" doesn't seem to really do either, but last year's novel had a good working title, "Time Thief."  In a story about a girl who time travels, it seemed appropriate.

So, I know we're supposed to be telling you how we go about naming titles, but I'm going to be honest: I don't really have a method.  Sometimes I am STELLAR at coming up with names (Review Me Twice, the actual name for the blog, was actually my idea.  Clearly a winner.)  Sometimes, I'm just a real flop at it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting Kids Interested in Reading

This week's review book, Z for Zachariah, is - according to the source himself - the book that got Wil Wheaton interested in reading as a kid. So we're talking a little bit about how to generate kids' interest in reading!

My parents never had to try to get me interested in reading, as far as I can tell. It was something I enjoyed, and they encouraged me in it. But not all kids are like me (and Cassy). Many parents do everything they can think of to interest their kids in reading, and still come up short. Here are some methods and ideas for getting kids to want to read:

Family Reading Time. This is a many-faceted technique that has been proven effective time and time again. Setting aside time for reading together shows a child that you value reading enough to make sure you have time to do it, and sets a good example. Reading together shows that it's something you enjoy and want to share with each other. Reading aloud to children helps them develop their reading skills (and if they're better at reading, they'll enjoy it more). It's also a pleasant way to end your day: bedtime stories, anyone? That's a less stressful way to get a kid ready for bed (as opposed to TV, video games, or physical activities that get them riled up). You can also incorporate reading into daily life: for a long time, I irritated my mom everywhere we went by reading every sign I could see from the car window. Food labels are another good one (which can also lead to more attention to nutrition, bonus!) and menus at restaurants, plus the packaging on just about anything in a store or your home. (From where I sit at this computer, without even turning my head, I see eleven things with labels or pieces of mail that you could have a kid read: pill bottles, junk mail, the label on the side of a dry erase marker, a bottle of Coke...)

Reading as a family also makes important memories.  Some of my best memories are of my dad sitting in bed with me and reading to me.  Library trips as families are also important.  You can participate in library programs together, and do things like "story time" at the library.  All fun activities that include whole families and get kids interested in reading.

Connect reading to their other interests. Does your kid like dinosaur movies, dinosaur video games, dinosaur figurines, dinosaur everything? Why would you try to make him read about anything other than dinosaurs? For a topic like that, fiction and non-fiction alike can have appeal. Whatever the kid likes in other media formats, they'll probably like to some extent in the form of books. (This doesn't mean every book in that genre or on that topic will appeal to them... book vary within topic/genre. Don't be discouraged if the first one or few don't work!) Librarians can help with this, particularly if the kid liked one book or one series and you can't find anything else that appeals to them. It's called reader's advisory ("I like x, y, and z; what should I read?") and it's awesome.

Ask questions. It's pretty likely that you couldn't give half a damn about whatever topic your kid is currently obsessed with: ninjas, zombies, princesses, ponies, the intricate details of Minecraft... but you still have to pretend you care. Ask the kid what they're reading about. Have them summarize, evaluate, analyze. Why did that character act that way? Would you have acted that way? Why or why not? On paper, it looks like an English class worksheet; out loud, it sounds like a conversation, because that's what it is. But try to do it without sounding like you're keeping tabs on them; in my pre-teens, my reading level was more advanced than my "age-appropriate content" level. Most people would agree that The Running Man by Stephen King is hardly appropriate for a 13-year-old, and a kid that age might not be able (or willing) to discuss the content of that book with their parents. Don't push the conversation; just give the kid an outlet to discuss what they're reading and try to maintain their (and your) interest.

Go to the library! Okay, it sounds a little self-serving, as a librarian, but it's true. Most public libraries have great children's collections and staff who are excited to get your kids excited about reading. They hold programs for various age groups, focusing on literacy, generating interest in new and exciting topics, and connecting reading to other areas of life (crafting, current events, holidays, traditions and cultures, music, popular movies or video games, math, science, etc.) to make kids think but also have fun.

Keep up with pop culture.  I know SO many people who became avid readers because they just read that one book that got them interested.  And you know what?  Most of them read Harry Potter.  Some of them The Hunger Games.  The point it, they are both incredibly popular books and it was the fad that got them into reading, good books that kept them there.  This is one of the (very) few times I will advocate for a book like Twilight.  Do I think it's an amazing literary piece?  No, it's crap.  However, it IS reading.  And you don't know that reading Twilight won't get a kid interested in another vampire book.  Which could then lead to a zombie book, which could then lead to a book about sorcery.  Don't discount a book just because it's not well written.  Maybe, that's just what a kid needs.

Don't forget, though... not everyone loves reading, and that's okay. I don't like advanced mathematics or the intricacies of economics 
(me either.  I can never make heads or tails of it.) 
Kids have to learn how to read, and it's great if they develop a love of it, but if you try everything and it just doesn't appear, you haven't failed. Either they'll decide they love reading later in life - maybe they'll serendipitously find exactly the right book - or they won't, and that's alright. Just give it a proper try when you have the chance, and let the kids bring the rest to the table.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

By Its Cover: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

This was the cover I had for the book (Alex's may have been different) and it's pretty straightforward.  In fact, it a direct replica of one of the pictures IN the book, just flipped.

However, it gets the point across.  Thanksgiving, family, happiness, all that jazz.  Considering how kind of simply and holiday themed this book is, I think it's a good cover.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Review Me Twice - An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

Ok, I'm not going to lie: 99% of the reason I chose this book this week was because it was SHORT and it's NANO and in the month of November, Alex and I are just too freakin' busy to do especially long books.

However, it also allows us do find things that are a little different, a little outside the box.  Alcott's book isn't entirely that.  I mean, it's very much like a excerpt from Little Women (her most popular novel).  Big family, mostly girls, old fashioned, country setting that's really big on the family unity.

It's about Thanksgiving, though, which I feel is a widely neglected holiday, especially when it comes to literature.  I mean, Thanksgiving really marks the beginning of the holiday season and it's a holiday that is MUCH more about togetherness and family (after all, all you do is eat and spend time with family.)  So, I like that she really focuses on that.  I like that she really makes it about family time and what the holidays should really be about.

Also, I like the pictures.  Ok, so they're nothing to write home about, but they have this very... comforting feel to them.

I liked the book and I think it's a really great book to read your kids when you're getting into the holiday spirit.

The thing about holiday-themed classics is that they're comfortable. There's not a lot of riveting action sequences or great conflict, and the ending is almost always happy. (Yes, I know, The Little Match Girl doesn't exactly have a happy ending, but... it kind of does. Maybe "warm and fuzzy" ending is a better fit than "happy" ending.)

This book is a great holiday book in that sense. A lot of it is banal fluff, but nicely written fluff, and it sets a lovely scene. Kids rallying together to make a Thanksgiving dinner their parents will be proud of when they return? Such a nice story!

This is the kind of book you could read every year - with kids or not - to give yourself holiday-themed feel-goods.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Alex on Writing the Opening Scene

I think it's very hard to decide definitively on how to open your novel. It's very important, because you're setting the scene for the rest of the story, and you're trying to hook your reader. If you lose their interest on the first page, chances are pretty good that they won't read the rest of the book.

I used to always want to start at the beginning and go straight to the end. I have a hard time keeping track of flashbacks and other methods of non-linear story-telling (not when I'm reading them, but when I'm writing them). That can be really boring. Not only to read, but for me to write, as well.

So I thought, what opening scenes do I like to read? Well, I'm a big fan of being dropped right into the action. I like not knowing exactly what's going on from the beginning. It's great if, in the first sentence, our hero is bleeding profusely, or we're wondering where somebody went, or the protagonist is mid-thought. So that's what I started doing.

But it's still hard to choose where I'm going to drop my reader into the story. One great option is: the end. I think this is really great from a first-person perspective, because you can have your protagonist recall how they got to where they are now. Reserve a couple chapters at the end to resolve the ending (by putting them at the end, I don't mean in the very last scene... I mean close to the last scene).

Or somewhere before the climax of the story is good, too. You have some time to catch up to where they are, but then you follow them in a linear path toward the climax.

But it totally depends on your story, obviously. This year, for NaNoWriMo, I am doing a linear story. But I might finish the story and go back to make it start at the end. Who said you have to write the beginning first?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Favorite Holiday Book

The holidays are coming, folks! Christmas music is on the radio, Thanksgiving foods are taking over the endcaps at the grocery stores, and grinches are gearing up their complaints about how they hate all of that and so much more. So this week, we're talking about our favorite holiday books!

I'd like to tell you about The Polar Express, which we both picked for our favorite Christmas story last year. Or Little Women (which is by this week's author!) but that was my favorite book-to-movie. So instead, I'm going to tell you about my favorite version of Twas the Night Before Christmas.

(Forgive the photo; the best one I could find was from eBay.)
First of all, what kid doesn't like a SHAPED book? Sure, this is an old poem, that everybody hears approximately twenty thousand times each Christmas, with lots of outdated terminology and phrasing, but it's so much more interesting in a triangle-shaped book! Plus? It's pop-up. There are a lot of pop-up books of this story, but I liked this one. Is it because it's shaped like a triangle? Maybe. That just really tickled me as a kid. Here's an action shot:

Omg reindeer!

Picking a favorite Holiday book is a little tricky, especially since, like Alex, we both put the Polar Express as our favorite Christmas book.  The favorite I'm picking this week is A. kind of depressing and B. one that we've actually reviewed.

I don't know what it is about this story that makes me think, "HOLIDAYS!!"  I mean... she dies.  But she dies in her Grandmother's arms and it takes place on Christmas Eve (or... New Year's Eve.  I think Christmas Eve).  Either way it's around the holidays and in incorporates things like big Christmas dinners and family and SNOW. 

It just reminds me of the Christmas season and I think it's a great story and well told.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cassy on Writing Opening Scenes

Someone, somewhere, told me that your opening scene should be dramatic and catch your reader's attention.  Which is true.  But I guess, in my mind that meant it had to be BIG!  EPIC! CRAZY!!

Ok, so maybe it doesn't, but I still kind of feel that way.  Your opening scene should be powerful.  I remember one of the first novels that I wrote, my opening scene was Avalon burning to the ground and the last of the gargoyles fleeing the scene.

Powerful, right?  Well, it should be.  It's the beginning.

But I've also done some more subdued beginnings.  My book, I see (which you can buy on Amazon!  Please forgive my shameless plug; I have a wedding to pay for.) starts out with the main character's history.  It tells about her childhood, her visions, and then, in the last line, drops the bombshell that she will be going to public school for the very first time.

I think that an opening scene of a book should be confusing enough for you to want to continue reading, but straightforward enough that a reader isn't completely lost.

For example, Scott Westerfeld's Uglies is REALLY good at integrating the slang and making you understand what's happening.  On the opposite end of the, Wuthering Heights, Bronte just threw you into it and gave three characters the same name, and if you couldn't figure it out, well, you just weren't sophisticated enough.

On Thursday, Alex will tell you how she handles her opening scenes!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Author Bio - Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott is a name that should sound familiar to everyone:  she wrote Little Woman, a pretty famous book (and if you remember, Alex's favorite book into movie.)

She lived in Boston with her parents and three sisters.  Her parents were transcendentalists, which is why she probably decided to write.  She was in constant contact with writers like Thoreau and Hawthorne.  Due to financial strains on the family, she was a teacher, seamstress & governess to bring in money.

However, as Alcott got older, she began writing for the Atlantic Monthly during the Civil War.  Alcott was also an abolitionist, and even helped with the Underground Railroad.  She wrote Little Women in two parts in 1868 & 69.  The book is semi-autobiographical, and you can tell that "Jo" is based on Alcott herself.

Alcott never married, nor had any children.  However, her youngest sister died from complications from childbirth and Alcott raised the child herself.

Little Women is easily her most famous books (followed by Little Men & Jo's Boys), but she's written other books, like this week's An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving and Eight Cousins.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Scrivener Giveaway Winner!

And our winner of the one-sentence story contest, and a free copy of Scrivener, is...

Natasha York!

Her winning story submission was:

They didn't say not to drink the water; I guess they haven't noticed it yet.

There were many wonderful submissions from so many awesome readers! Thank you to Natasha and everyone else for your participation; this was a great contest!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

By Its Cover - Ashes by Ilsa Bick

I actually really love this cover.  It looks like of like a  finger print to me, which I think is the point.  It's a book that has a lot to do with identity and genetics, which a finger print kind of represents.  Also, the idea that each person reacted differently to the pulse.  It's that idea that no two people are exactly the same.

But then you look closer and it's OMG CREEPY FACE!!!  Which, you know, works well because of the Zombies.  And Bick's zombies are zombies that LEARN, which is kind of different for zombies (plus, let's not forget the addition of super powers for regular people.)

It's a great cover and I think it works wonderfully with the book.

Everything Cassy said is basically what I had to say about this cover. The only thing I have to add is the color scheme... "Ashes" obviously evokes the idea of grays and black, so those are our predominant colors, with a touch of red because red and black is the horror palette. Very effective.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Review me Twice - Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

So, for one, I had no idea this was a zombie book until I started reading it. The back doesn't really give you that much of a clue.  It just says that people change, some for the better, some for the worse.  So I was expecting some sort of super power something, but not zombies.

Which... I liked, because a lot of times you go in with a lot of preconceptions when you realize something is a zombie story.  I like that I didn't really have those for Ashes.  It really let me see Bick's zombies as she wanted, I think (which were animalistic, but adaptable creatures.)

She's also really good at making you turn pages.  I constantly was picking it up, reading it, wanting to know what happened and not being able to handle the cliff hangers.  Alex (our main character, not my co-blogger), was a well fleshed out, likable character.  I really like Ellie (an eight year old girl she kind of gets stuck with) and even Tom, our love interest.

But... halfway through the book, it's not about Tom and Ellie anymore.  They're not even in that part of the story and Alex... she's not the character that I fell in love with in the beginning of the book.  She becomes very complacent and stays in this place that she had been ready to run as fast as possible from when she first got there.

It ended with a TREMENDOUS cliff hanger that you kind of saw coming (in the sense that you knew something was wrong), but kind of didn't.  It made me want to read the second book, if nothing else, but I hope that we see more of Tom & Ellie in book two because the book was kind of dumb without them.

There are two almost-separate stories in this book. We start with Alex, who later meets up with Tom and Ellie, and then somewhere between halfway and 2/3 of the way in, it's just Alex. I usually hate this writing tactic, because I rush through the part with the lone character hoping to hear about the others again. I did not do that this time, and I think it's just because I liked the second half just as much as I liked the first. (Usually I don't, because you build all this great momentum with the first and then BAM here's a totally different pace and new group of people, deal with it. That still happened, but I was given fair warning and it didn't just suddenly happen.)

Only once before with this blog was I so entranced by a book we read that I was compelled to read the next book in the series (that was with Divergent). I have already read Shadows and I'm now reading Monsters.

After a while, you see a very heavy writing pattern emerge. (I didn't notice it until I was about 1/3 through Shadows, but in retrospect, it was there in Ashes too.) It's hard to describe, though. It seems like, with every single chapter (after a while), our characters have more and more awfulness piled upon them. I mean, I've barely begun Monsters and with every page, you expect everyone to just drop dead because how could any of them possibly take any more?

But, my favorite thing about these books is that Bick is down-and-dirty. There is some sick, twisted stuff in these books. The first time you see one of the changed kids? I just suggest not eating while you read this one. It's awesome.