Monthly Archives: March 2013

Book Review: The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger

Title: The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend
Author: Kody Keplinger
Page Count: 280
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Upper YA Contemporary

Rating: 9/10

Goodreads Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

I was on the fence about reading this book because I could not understand why you would sleep with someone you hated, even for a distraction. I wasn’t sure that I could get past that part of the novel and enjoy the rest of it, even if the rest of it was actually quite good.

I was wrong. I loved this book.

I loved Bianca. I didn’t understand her motivation (or, rather, I did in theory but couldn’t really understand it when she did it), but the writing was so strong that I didn’t really care. As the book went on, I found myself starting to understand her more, and I was absolutely rooting for her and Wesley. I couldn’t put the book down. I had to find out what happened with them. And Wesley – oh, what can I say about him? Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk in the beginning, but he grows and definitely becomes more likeable. I almost want a Wesley of my own.

The secondary characters were also developed nicely. I’ve seen too many books where the secondary characters were there for a purpose and didn’t really help drive the novel anywhere, but these secondary characters definitely did. I loved Bianca’s friends, who each had their own strengths and weaknesses. I liked that we got to see her interactions with her parents and understand exactly what it is that she’s running from.

There were only two things that stopped this book from getting a 10/10. The first thing was that I didn’t really understand the whole distraction thing at first. I can understand wanting a distraction, but I can’t understand why kissing a guy you hate would be the distraction you would choose. Obviously I eventually changed my mind about this, but it almost stopped me from reading the novel, so I felt I should mention it. The second negative had to do with Bianca’s father. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that I think things were resolved a little too nicely. Perhaps that really is realistic for some people, but it seemed unrealistic from what I know about the subject. Again, not a huge issue, but I felt I should mention it.

Overall, though, this book was such a terrific read. I may have had my misgivings at first, but I’m so glad I decided to give this book a try. I will definitely be picking up more of Kody Keplinger’s books in the future.

Book Review: Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler

Title: Vegan Virgin Valentine
Author: Carolyn Mackler
Page Count: 228
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Rating: 5/10

Goodreads Summary:
Mara Valentine is in control. She’s a straight-A senior, a vegan, and her parents’ pride and joy. She’s neck-and-neck with her womanizing ex-boyfriend for number-one class ranking and plans to kick his salutatorian butt on her way out the door to Yale. Mara has her remaining months in Brockport all planned out, but the plan does not include having V, her slutty, pot-smoking, sixteen-year-old niece – yes, niece – come to live with her family. Nor does it involve lusting after her boss or dreaming about grilled cheese sandwiches every night. What does a control freak like Mara do when things start spinning wildly out of control? With insight, authenticity, and a healthy dose of humor, Carolyn Mackler creates an evolving Type A heroine that every reader will recognize – and root for. 

Opinion: (Caution: spoilers ahead)
I had high hopes for this book. As a straight-A student and a wannabe vegan, I was hoping that I was finally going to find a character that I could relate to. I thought she was going to find a way to have more fun while still being herself. I thought she was going to slowly learn how to relate to the people around her.

Instead, she drops out of her summer college classes to spend more time with her boyfriend, who becomes the most important thing in the world to her. She finally gets the title of valedictorian, and she almost skips graduation and ends up showing up un-showered, without a bra, wearing a tank top and a pair of shorts. I’m sorry, but that is what we’ve been waiting to see happen? That is the moral of this story? Hey girls – don’t spend all your time studying and trying to get somewhere in life. Instead, blow off college and make out with a guy instead.

There were some interesting parts of this novel. The first half of the book sort of dragged for me, but there was a good quarter of the novel where I just wanted to keep reading. I did want her to get with the guy she had a crush on. I just wanted to find a way for her to have both him and the college summer classes. I wanted her to still care about the things she cared about before. I guess I wanted it to be more like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Twilight Sparkle, the main pony in that show, starts out obsessed with books and doesn’t care about friendship at all. When she finally does learn that friendship is important, she doesn’t change who she is – she still loves reading and learning. She still freaks out if she doesn’t live up to her standards. She just also has friends that she makes time for, and they help her relax without giving up everything that was important to her before.

I guess I’m just sad that Mara couldn’t learn that same lesson. Also, I’m pissed that this is the first vegan character I’ve read about, and she was only a vegan because she wanted something to obsess about. Vegans get enough of a bad rep in life; it was annoying to read about another one who wasn’t really into it. All we really saw were the bad parts of being a vegan – namely giving up cheese and having a hard time eating out at small little diners. I’m not saying it was the author’s job to educate people to the lives of vegans, but it would have been nice not to cast them in such a bad light.

Also, there wasn’t really as much Mara/V interaction as I was hoping for. There’s one scene where Mara learns that V stood up for her, and she starts to reconsider her opinion of her niece, but for the most part there’s not much in the way of getting to know each other. There are just a few scenes at the end, after they’ve stopped hating each other. I would have liked to see more of a middle, where they still don’t like each other but don’t outright hate each other, either.

I was originally going to rate this book higher than I did, but then I waited a few days to write the review, and the parts that jumped out to me were the bad parts. I would not recommend this book to others.

Queen of Un-productivity

I’ve been a very bad blogger lately. Actually, I’ve been a bad writer in general. I was supposed to be working on the second draft of DEGENERATION and planning my camp project, which I’ve been calling 2,000 MILES, even though I’m not sure if that will be the title I go with. I was also invited to join a Facebook critique group, so I should have been reading those works and posting my critiques.

Instead, I’ve been doing nothing. Well, nothing writing-related. I had a big project for school that was worth 25-40 percent of my grade that I had to do. That was due on Tuesday, and I’m glad that that’s out of the way, but it still took up a lot of time. I’ve also been sick all month, so I haven’t really felt like doing anything. I get up between 4 and 5 most mornings and go to work. I generally get done between 2 and 3 and then have class from 5 to 8 Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Thursdays I go and observe a middle school class from 8 am to 4 pm. Fridays I go to my boyfriend’s house and hang out with his parents. And then on the weekends I’m just so tired.

I’m going to be better now, though. Starting next week, work decreases drastically, so I’ll have a lot more time and energy. There’s a week before Camp NaNo starts, and I’m going to do my best to come up with an outline before then. If it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to rush it. I know a lot about my main character and love interest, but I don’t really know what the actual plot is going to be. I definitely need to work on that. I think this weekend I’m going to watch a documentary on the Appalachian Trail. I also have a fellow NaNo friend who recently set off to walk the trail, so I should really catch up on his blog. I can read about what he’s doing on the trail and steal the most interesting parts for my novel. 😀

This weekend I also need to write up some book reviews. I finished two novels this week, and I should really review them before I forget what I wanted to say about them. One I really enjoyed, and one had a lot of potential but just ended up annoying me. I’ll get to those later on, though.

I have so many things I should be doing. Yet here I am, watching Miss Congeniality instead. Maybe I’ll be productive afterwards.

The Next Big Thing

I’ve seen a lot of people participating in this blog hop, but this is the first time that I’ve been asked to participate. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s a way for writers to talk about the project they’re currently working on. It gives them the chance to share why they’re excited about their project, and it also gives them the chance to talk about their awesome fellow bloggers/authors.

I was nominated for this by the wonderful J. Elizabeth Hill, author of the novel Bound, which can be purchased from Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo Books, and Barnes and Noble – click here for links to purchase. If you enjoy fantasy novels and/or books with great character development, I highly recommend picking up a copy of her book. If you’re not already following her on her blog and Twitter, you should definitely start now:

Julie on WordPress         Julie on Twitter            Julie on GoodReads

And now for the blog hop. 🙂

1. What is the working title of your next book?
For Real This Time

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?
There’s so much talk about the “obesity epidemic” in this country, and so much emphasis being placed on childhood obesity in particular, and I’ve gotten sick of it. I’m sick of this society telling fat people that they’re worth less than their thin counterparts. I’m sick of watching women put their lives on hold while they try to get the perfect body. I wanted to write a novel a girl who buys into this idea and show her transformation as she realizes that she’s fine the way she is.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
This definitely falls under the genre of contemporary young adult.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t generally picture my characters as actors, though in this case I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I can’t think of a single young, fat actress, so I can’t really picture anyone who looks like Maggie.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The summer before high school starts, a fat teenager struggles to lose weight and eventually realizes that health is more than just a number on the scale.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My current plan is to try to find an agent, although I have not completely ruled out self-publishing, either.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took me two weeks to write the first draft.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There are two books that I think are quite similar to mine as far as style and subject matter: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler, and Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by every nasty remark I ever heard directed at me or other fat people, as well as by my feminist film study teacher, who first introduced me to the Fat Positive movement and helped me realize that no one should apologize for her size.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are a few things going for this book that I don’t feel are always true for similar books. First, the fat girl that the story focuses around is actually fat. She’s not freaking out because she’s 5-10 pounds overweight. She’s 5’6, weighs 220 pounds, and wears a size 20. Plus, Maggie and her love interest actually speak to each other. There is no love at first sight, and no love triangles. It’s just a simple story about the complicated life of a fat teenager.

And now for the people I’m going to nominate. The people listed below enjoy writing and are people whose blogs I enjoy reading. If I tagged you and you’re not interested, either because you’ve just done one of these or because you’re not currently working on anything, please don’t feel obligated to participate. On the flip side, if I didn’t tag you but you are interested in participating, please do so anyway and let me know that you’ve done it.

1. Julie Upshur @ Of a Writerly Sort

2. Hayley Vornholt

3. Wordsurfer @Cresting the Words

4. Abigail Sharpe

5. Rachel @ Spilled Ink

Book Review: Wither (The Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano

Title: Wither (The Chemical Garden #1)
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Page Count: 358
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Dystopian YA

Rating: 7/10

Goodreads Summary:
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?

Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

Opinion: (Slight spoilers – read with caution)
I can’t remember the last time I was so conflicted about a novel. I spent the first 224 pages not really caring about the novel. I was mostly enjoying it, and I loved the characters, but I wasn’t really dying to find out what happened. At the end of chapter fifteen, I had almost decided to just stop reading the book all together, because Rhine was so frustrating. I really only kept reading because I had spent so much time on the first part of the book, and I wanted to see how it ended. The rest of the book was really fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. I was even crying near the end of it. And then the book actually ended, and I found myself not really caring again. I guess I’ll try to organize my thoughts a bit more than that, though.

First, I absolutely loved the characters. They were what kept me interested in the story, even when the plot wasn’t really pulling me. They all seemed to real to me. They had their own personalities, and I found myself c aring about them. There’s only one really horrible character in the novel; the rest all have their strengths and weaknesses, their good sides and their bad. They were fascinating. They reacted to each other like real people would. I could picture them in my head. I liked that Linden wasn’t just this horrible guy who’s forcing himself on his wives. Yes, he has four wives at one point, and his youngest wife is thirteen, but I find it hard to dislike him because he’s so clueless about everything.

Really, the only character (other than Vaughn) that I couldn’t really understand was Rhine. Maybe I’m a pathetic person, but I couldn’t really understand why she wanted to leave so badly. Yes, Vaughn was horrible, but he hadn’t really done anything to her personally (other than kidnap her from what sounds like a horrible life). Linden has no idea that they were kidnapped, has no idea what happened to the girls who weren’t chosen. Rhine keeps complaining about how clueless and sheltered and naïve Linden is, but she has several opportunities to tell him the truth, and she doesn’t. That’s what almost made me stop reading this book, and that’s the main reason I dislike it. Rhine has a husband that’s nice to her, that makes her feel special and will give her anything that she wants. Why doesn’t she tell him the truth about where she came from, that she has a twin brother whom she misses dearly? I’m sure Linden would have tried to find her brother and brought him to live with them, and they could have all lived happily ever after.

Again, maybe I’m just a pathetic person, but I don’t see what’s so horrible about living with Linden. I don’t understand what’s so great about Gabriel. I don’t dislike him or anything, as he seems nice, but I don’t really feel like we see enough of him to really understand her pull towards him. I found myself relating to Linden a lot more, and I got a better read of Rhine when she was with Linden, as well. We also have to remember that Rhine is going to die in four years. I’d rather spend my last four years with my sister wife, domestic, and husband, going to parties and having plenty to eat and drink. She and her brother didn’t exactly have an easy life. I’m sorry, but I found myself relating a lot more to Cecily than I did to Rhine, at least for the first three-quarters of the novel.

I know a lot of people have complained about the world building of this novel. Really, the world building didn’t bother me for the most part. I could buy the fact that they created a perfect generation and then damned all future generations to dying young. The ages seemed a bit odd to me, but I could go with it. Most people have a hard time believing that only America still exists, but I never for a moment thought that that was true. I guess I’ll have to read the future books to find out, but I’m assuming that’s just something they tell people so they won’t try to go somewhere else.

The only part of the world building that didn’t make any sense to me was why they would kill the girls that weren’t chosen to be brides. Why wouldn’t they keep them to study? And if they’re so concerned about keeping the population alive, why would they kill so many young women? Why wouldn’t they just rape them and force them to have children? I have to admit, that part didn’t really make sense to me. I also don’t see what’s so horrible about cutting up dead people. The person’s dead; of course you should dissect their body to try to find a cure for what killed them. It’s better than cutting up living people, isn’t it?

This book definitely left me with mixed feelings. I couldn’t relate to the main character, and I felt as thought most of her problems would have been solved if she had just been honest with her husband. That said, I found the characters intriguing overall, and I am curious to see what happens in the next book. I won’t be rushing out to read the next book, but I will definitely be picking it up eventually.

Zombie novella – draft 2 – complete!

I finally finished the second draft of my zombie novella, CHOICES. I added 6,756 words to this draft, and the total word count still dropped from 30,531 words to 23,586 words. I’d be more upset by this if this didn’t happen every time I tried to work on a second draft. Some people’s word counts increase with the second draft. Mine always seems to decrease.

As a reminder, this is the novel that I wrote for the first day of NaNo. I’ve never written about zombies before, and I never see myself writing about them again, but it was actually fun writing this one. This was the least amount of preparation I’ve done for a novel. I knew the characters’ names, and I knew the overall plot line. That was it. I had a lot of fun learning about the characters as I went.

I meant to finish this draft in February. Then I was separated from my computer for the last few days of the month, and that didn’t happen. I finished it today instead. I’m quite pleased with how this draft worked out. It flows better. The chapter lengths are a bit more consistent. These chapters mostly range from 2k to 3k. In the last draft, one of the chapters was 12k.

My next step with this one is to show it to my sister and see what she thinks. She normally doesn’t care about the stuff that I write, but she was really excited for me to finish this one.

Before this moment, I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to what I was going to work on for my March project. Last year, I had all of my months planned out before the year even started, and then I didn’t follow through with any of those plans. This time I’m just making it up as I go along. I had been hoping to start working on my new novel this month, but I’m nowhere near ready to work on that yet. Hopefully I’ll be ready to work on that for Camp NaNoWriMo next month, assuming I actually participate in that.

What I’m going to do instead is work on the second draft of DEGENERATION. This is the novel that I originally wrote as a screenplay during my very first Script Frenzy. I wrote the second draft of the screenplay for the final Script Frenzy, too. Then I wrote the first draft for Camp NaNo last June. I was half happy with what I wrote last year, but I feel like there was a bit of the story that I was missing. Most of the story took place over three days in this draft. I’m thinking that it will be a week in the second draft. I’ve been thinking of ways to improve it ever since I finished the first draft, and I’m looking forward to writing the second draft.