Matched by Ally Condie

I downloaded this on a whim as my one free audible.com download. It was the first audiobook I’d listened to in a couple of years—the last being Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on a roadtrip with my brother. It was a very nicely done audio book. The voice was a bit annoying at times, but the production and sound effects were impressive. There were loudspeaker effects and things like that which I wasn’t really used to or expecting, but they did add to the experience.

On to the book itself, in case you haven’t been familiarized with the buzz surrounding this book, it’s about a utopian/dystopian society (people seem to forget or ignore the fact that Utopia itself was a dystopic book) where every person is watched and kept data about since the moment they’re born. Because of this, they can predict everything you might want or need, and the society can provide it for you—which they do, before you even ask for it, most of the time.

In this society, you are matched at the age of 17 or so, unless you’ve chosen to be a “Single.” (Which choice is forever, folks.) Cassia Reyes is delighted when she’s matched with her close friend, Xander, but after she gets home from her Matching ceremony, the info card they’ve given her does something odd. It shows her Xander’s face alright, but then it blinks to a picture of another boy that Cassia knows—a Ky Markham. She soon finds out that for certain reasons, Ky could never be her true match, but that doesn’t stop her from being curious about what exactly happened here. Or about how much say the society has on her choices, or lack thereof.

I know a lot of people are miffed because it’s a lot like The Giver. I’ve never actually read The Giver, so I can’t say anything about the concepts originality or not… even I could see that the dystopia wasn’t the most original around there, but I don’t really think that it held the book back in any way. The start was a bit slow, but once we got into the story and Cassia starts really figuring out just how messed up the society is I really enjoyed it.

I was frustrated at first by how hesitant Cassia is to question everything, but then I decided to forgive her of that. After all, this is the world she was born into, the only world she knows. It seemed for a time that she was the first person to ever question, which I would not have been able to accept at all, but Condie was very smart about how she put her world together.

I was VERY impressed by the love triangle. At first I didn’t know what to think because Ky and Xander were so very similar, and they are fairly similar, but still I like Cassia’s choice. What I like even better is the friendship of the unlucky one that happens *after* she chooses. Anyhow, really enjoyed the book. It’s not something I’m dying to read over again right away, but it’s a good solid read, and I have a feeling I’ll LOVE the sequel.

All in all, I’d give it about a B + It took me a long time to like Cassia much, partially because of her utter acceptance of her world (though I now see that as a plus) and partially because of the narrator’s voice on the audio book, but I think this would have been true if I’d been reading as well. I’m very interested in where Condie is going to take this one, though. I’ll be keeping an eye out.

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Booking Through Thursday – First book

Looking through the archives of Booking Through Thursday today, since I don’t really have a good answer for today’s question. Instead I looked backwards a few weeks and found this:

Do you remember the first book you bought for yourself? Or the first book you checked out of the library? What was it and why did you choose it?

I have a couple of answers to this. Firstly, library books. I can’t even tell you what the first book I checked out from the library was, except to say that it had  to have been a school library book. I know that I LOVED non-fiction books when I was little. In elementary school I was always checking out learning books… about dinosaurs, about foxes, about planets. Anything that struck my fancy, I’d be in the non-fic department, burying myself in learning about it. I wish I still had that love for non-fiction today… I need to forcibly make myself read non-fiction. I still find it fascinating, I just tend to blip it out of my mind when I’m in a bookstore. There are so many fake stories I want to know! Le sigh.

I think the first book I ever really bought was at a Scholastic book fair with what I believe was a couple of dollars from my mom. I was in either the third or fourth grade. I bought Alice in Wonderland. I had fallen in love with the live-action movie of it and Through the Looking Glass, and I already had a beautiful copy of Through the Looking Glass that I’d been given for Christmas, so I wanted to read the first book first, naturally. It was just a trade paperback and not very pretty, as opposed to my copy of TtLG, which was gorgeously bound with inserts of painted illustrations sprinkled throughout it, but it did the job so far as the story goes. I remember being mesmerized by the idea that you could make words on a page actually form a picture of sorts, and Wonderland is still deeply embedded in my imagination, as I’m sure it is in many peoples’. I’m delighted it’s getting the attention in new fiction that it is today.

The first book I bought at an actual bookstore was Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume in the fifth grade. I’d borrowed it from the library after a friend suggested it—I’d already been a Judy Blume fan, what with the Fudge books, etc.—and thus started my life-long love of Young Adult books. I loved the book so much that I then had to, had to, HAD to buy the book for myself, along with whatever other Judy Blume books I could. She is still undoubtedly one of my favorite authors, and a huge inspiration to me.

Romance Blogfest: First Sight

romance blogfest badge

This is a very first for me—a blogfest! Hosted by Jordan McCollum and backed by Authors Incognito, this is the first of what will hopefully be a (monthly?) tradition for AI members, of which I’m lucky enough to be. As we were starting in February, romance seemed like a fitting subject, and more specifically, the challenge (which can be read by clicking the link above) is about “Love at First Sight, or Not So Much.” There’s an option to use a scene from a WIP or write something original. I’d never really written a “love at first sight” scene, so I wanted to try my hand at it. Here you go! And make sure to click on the link and read through the other author’s answers to the challenge!

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It was a hot day for February. A Saturday, too. A million people or more littered the beaches of Southern California, which was usually enough reason for me to stay away—I liked my beaches better quiet, something akin to private. It was the first day in months that my friends Wes, Ky and I all had off work the same weekend, though, so we did the same as everyone else, and took advantage of the heatwave. We were seventeen and after graduation we’d all split ways, it seemed natural to hang out as much as we could.

The funny thing is, at first I didn’t even see her. There was a whole gaggle of girls playing volleyball, a couple of whom I’d seen before from school. I noticed because Katie Huxley was there. I’d always had a thing for Katie. We sort of grew up together, and she was nice. She reached “out of my league” status around freshman year though, and I’d always been content to admire from afar.

The three of us were walking down to the water, but we slowed to watch the game a bit. We weren’t the only ones—it’s not everyday you see the volley nets used at all, much less by a group of teenage girls. Katie was serving the ball, and it went high over the net. Some girl on the other side lobbed it back, and it went out of bounds—knocking the girl on my left right into me.

“Oh hey, are you okay?”

Petite and blonde, she threw the volleyball back into the game before answering me. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She rubbed the spot on her arm that the ball had hit, and looked up at me.

Bang.

That’s the closest I can come to a description of how I felt. Her eyes were big and brown and seemed to hit me in the stomach like a physical force.

I can’t explain it. I’m not a flowery kinda guy. But man… I felt something. Right away. Not a flutter or whatever, but like I said, a bang.

“Um, hi,” she said, looking at me like she wasn’t sure what was going on in my head—I wasn’t either. I was probably staring at her. Probably creeping her out.

“Hi,” I said, shaking myself out of whatever trance I was suddenly in. “I’m Cole.”

She gave a polite smile and reached to shake the hand I hadn’t even realized I’d extented—who shakes hands? “I’m Leela.”

She only came up to a few inches above my elbow. She looked like she weighed maybe 90 pounds, soaking wet.

“Hey Cole, c’mon, we wanna get into the waves,” Ky said from behind me.

I gave a quarter turn towards him, but turned back to Leela first. “Look, I don’t ever do this… but do you want to come hang out for a bit? Maybe go get a boba later?”

She glanced over at the guy next to her, someone else I didn’t see until this very moment. Her boyfriend, maybe? But he shrugged his shoulders at her, and a second glance said maybe it was her brother. “You have your cell on you?” he asked. She nodded with a check of her back pocket, and he shrugged again. “It’s your life.”

I held up my hands. “No pressure or anything.” But I wanted her to say yes. I don’t know that I’d ever wanted anything else more in my life. I didn’t even know why.

Leela gave a shy nod and took my hand, sending another physical slam down my body. I think one more and I’d be in shock. Without a word, we followed Wes and Ky down to the water, two people in a bristling crowd.

Random Ideas Folder

I’m sure most writers have one of these. A folder on their computer, or a notebook or something, that’s devoted to nothing else but random bits of ideas. Something that may or may not turn into books someday. Or at least short stories. Or scenes.

Lately I seem to have been adding more and more to my random ideas folder, opening a word document and writing a paragraph or two of a character that’s jumped into my mind or just an idea that’s hung around enough that I think, “Maybe that could work…”

I don’t know where these little ideas come from. I think part of it might be from writing shorts over at Tales From the Hollow Tree, and getting used to that. Part of it is undoubtedly from reading books and descriptions of books I want to read… Some of it is pure daydream. Some of it I know I’ll never, ever write. But some of it, maybe.

The most important thing about these little flashes of ideas? Is to write them down. If you don’t, they may disappear on the wind, and as Regina Spektor tells us in her fabulous song “Bon Idée,” “ideas that left will never come back home.”

Write it down. Put it somewhere where you can stumble across it again. When you do, it may hit you with entirely new and fresh meaning. You might see that scribbled half-sentence and suddenly see an entire novel surrounding it. It happens. Don’t short-sell yourself by letting them get away before they have the chance to develop into something.

Booking Through Thursday – Discoveries

Hey look, it’s actually Thursday!

There’s something wonderful about getting in on the ground floor of an author’s career–about being one of the first people to read and admire them, before they became famous best-sellers.

Which authors have you been lucky enough to discover at the very beginning of their careers?

And, if you’ve never had that chance, which author do you WISH you’d been able to discover at the very beginning?

I think the closest I can come to saying that I discovered someone on the “ground floor” is Brandon Mull, writer of the Fablehaven series, among others. I picked the first Fablehaven book up as an impulse buy at a Deseret Book (an LDS bookstore) down in San Diego, just a few months after it came out. Back then it was just a couple of copies on a very low shelf hidden in the back of the store in the kids’ section. Granted, these are kids’ books, but when the final Fablehaven book came out, it got its own table displays at Barnes & Noble. That’s a far cry from being hidden away on the second-to-bottom shelf in a cornered-off kid’s section.

The cover of the book got me to pick it up. I’ve heard some rumors that a green cover is death to a book for some reason, though I’ve never understood a word about that, but in this case it definitely caught my eye. The illustration on the cover did, as well. It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I understood what the cover illustration was supposed to be, and I’ll admit that the cover illustrations don’t do a whole lot for me… I either disregard half of the picture with some kind of mental-block, or I’m just not big on the cartoony appeal, but bygones.

The interesting title, gold lettering, and sparkly-ness of the cover was enough to get me to pick it up. I had been in the mood for something fantastical, and the Fable– part of the title gives away immediately that this was, even though I thought the character on the cover was creepy, and didn’t notice the colorful fairies on the cover for an embarrassingly long time. I flipped the book over and became EXTRA intrigued. In place of a carefully-worded pitch or a list of quotes was something made to look like a want ad torn from a newspaper.

If I’d had any doubt that this was going to be fantastical, the ad asking for a new caretaker “willing to perform emergency dental surgery on a fog giant” and listing knowledge of gnomish language as “a plus,” snagged my imagination from the get-go. I read the synopsis on the inside flaps of the paper cover (the book was in hardback) and decided I’d take a gamble on it. This isn’t usual for me—I like to pick up a book half a dozen times before I buy something, especially in hardcover, because I just don’t have the funds that often, but this seemed like a good day. Besides, something from found at Deseret Book can’t necessarily be found somewhere else. I was with my mom that day, and she had a membership card, which at the time still consisted of points (now you have to have a premium membership), and I think the book ended up being about free. Well, ish. You know.

The book was a slow go for me the first time I picked it up, but the second time I stuck to it, and by a couple of chapters in I was stuck. And thrilled. It was everything I’d been hoping for and more. Kendra and Seth are a VERY realistic pair of kids with a very realistic sister/brother relationship. The creatures they come across span from the amazingly beautiful to the grotesque and terrifying, but Mull does it in a way that is constantly uplifting. (Rather than being emotionally dark, like the Spiderwick Chronicles seems to be, based on the film, at least).

The books are by turn funny, scary, and downright cool. The kids make mistakes but learn from them in a very real way. And every book gets better and better. I just love this series, and I’m thrilled to know that so many people have come to love it also. It is very deserved. I’ve been passing on the excitement, fantasy and fun by word of mouth ever since. Just recently, my husband has finished reading the first book and started the second. He loves it, too.

I haven’t read any of Mull’s other works yet (except for the children’s book Pingo, which is adorable!) but I do own The Candy Shop Wars and am really looking forward to his Beyonders series, the first of which is due out next month. Woohoo!

Character Likeability

I have to start this post by making it clear that growing up, my family has never done anything less than support my writing. When I’ve let them… which means that I spent a lot of time as a kid scribbling in notebooks and not letting anybody read what I wrote—I don’t hold this against myself, as most of it really was awful, but bygones.

My family was always big on creativity. My mother is a master appliqué quilter, who evidence has shown can also draw amazingly and write beautifully. My siblings are all professional artists. Creativity was always going on somewhere in the Asanuma home. My own creativity has always been mainly focused on words, and like I said, my family (especially my mother) were always very supportive of me, even if my “art” wasn’t as flashy as the rest of the family’s, maybe.

That didn’t stop me from hiding it for years, though. I knew I still had a lot to learn, that most of what I was writing was just other peoples’ words reformatted, and mainly, I knew that someday I would be BETTER than that. I knew one day I would write words that moved people.

When I started working on my Secret Project, I knew that finally, finally I had something worth sharing with my family. I was still nervous, because the category I write—Young Adult—is something that neither my mom nor my sister (the two big readers in the family, the two I planned on sharing it with) are even remotely interested in, but I bit the bullet and did it anyhow. The one real response I got from their reading my first three chapters? That my character just wasn’t likeable enough.

I’ll admit, this goaded me a little bit. Partially because one big intention I had with this project was to take a character who was nothing (or at least felt like they were nothing) and build them up into something really and truly formidable—a leader, a hero. That’s not to say that I wanted my character to be unlikeable at the beginning of the book, but I wanted it very clear that life hadn’t been nice to her, and she wasn’t all that crazy about life, either. More than anything, she starts off the book unfulfilled, bored. But that didn’t have to mean she was boring.

I thought for a long time that maybe it was enough that I loved her. Well, me and maybe someone else in the story. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.) Looking back over my manuscript the past week, though, I started seeing just what my mom meant. My character had too many nettles, and not enough spark. Not enough visible spark, rather. The spark was always there, I just needed to be better able to convey it to my audience, earn that little bit of endearment that would make someone want to follow my character on this epic, character-building experience.

So I’m doing some revising. I’ll probably be talking about it a lot for the next little while, because there’s a lot of revising to be done. My character is beautiful and so is the world she lives in… I’ve just been depending far too much on my readers’ ability to climb inside my head to see it all. Can’t be doing that, Lisa.

What about you? Have you ever had someone tell you that your character just isn’t likeable enough? Or __________ enough? Or have you ever found a character lacking in something you were reading yourself? What makes a character likeable to you?

How to Train Your Dragon

I finally got to see How to Train Your Dragon a few days ago. Talk about a cute movie. I’ll admit, I’ve wanted to see this movie since I first heard about it, but things just kept getting in the way. To the point where I lost some of the desire to see it, almost. Almost.

The story is all about being yourself, and not being afraid of thinking differently from everyone around you. The main character is a scrawny kid named Hiccup, who is smaller and weaker than just about every other person in his village. His village of Vikings. In fact, his father is the chief (chief?) of the village.

His people are in constant battle with dragons. Dragons come, burn their homes and steal their livestock, so the Vikings are akin to fighting them—and killing them. As Hiccup tells you at the start of the film, you’re nobody if you don’t kill a dragon. Hiccup gets a chance to kill his own dragon, thanks to his invention that has let him bring one out of the sky, but he just can’t do it. Still, he’s injured the dragon’s tail, so now this fearsome dragon can’t fly.

Eventually Hiccup and the dragon become friends, and Hiccup helps the dragon learn how to fly again—which ends up leading to repercussions when his pet is found out.

In the end, Hiccup and his friends save the day and teach the older villagers how to think differently, so that they and the dragons can co-exist happily.

The movie does have a darker moment or two, both in terms of violence and also in emotional hits (Hiccup’s father basically disowns him at one point). Still, I don’t think it’s too harsh for younger audiences. And the dragons are so cute. So. Cute. I don’t know if this movie is likely to have a sequel or not, but I’d definitely watch it if there were one.