Recommended Reading: Whispering Minds by A.T. O’Connor

Note: the fact that yesterday’s post was about whispering is a complete, unplanned coincidence. Anyway.

I met Alexandra Tys O’Connell in the NaNoWriMo forums, and we’ve been internet buddies ever since. An interesting bit of trivia, because Whispering Minds began as a NaNoWriMo project. In 2009. And ever since she told me about the premise, I’ve wanted to read it.

So I was really excited to receive my digital copy of Whispering Minds a few weeks ago. (By the way, y’all shouldn’t consider my delay in reviewing the book an indication of my feelings about it–the day job is seriously cramping my style. But hey, better later than never, right? Right.)

So let us begin, as we always do, with the blurb:

whispering minds

 

 

By day, a terrifying blackness eats at Gemini Baker’s memories. Her nights are filled with unsettling dreams.

After the death of her beloved granny, seventeen-year-old Gemi is left with parents more interested in gambling than paying the bills, a best guy friend who’s looking for love at a time when she has none to give, and a dark childhood secret that just might be the key to her sucky life.

During her search for answers, Gemi turns to her cyber friends for support and quickly learns that nobody is who they seem. Not her granny, her friends or even herself. As her blackouts increase in frequency, a threat on her life has Gemi on the run…if only she can remember long enough to keep herself alive.

 

 

So what can I tell you about the novel without giving away all the secrets? How about a list:

  • Whispering Minds is not only O’Connor’s debut novel, but it is the first full-length novel to be published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf –a relatively new, independent publisher. The press has put out anthologies of short stories by many authors I known and love–and I recommend those too.
  • The characters are tender, flawed, and truly human. Most of them are so loveable I want to hug them and tell them everything will be ok.
  • The plot is full of surprising twists and turns. I love it when stories make me gasp and exclaim a lot, and this one delivered.
  • I read the whole thing in one sitting–not because it’s short, but because I needed to know all the secrets. So many secrets, y’all.
  • Reading it will make you want Chai tea. Or hot chocolate. And cozy blankets. Best to get all of that arranged ahead of time because you won’t want to interrupt your reading once you get started.

So now YOU need to know how you can get your hands on it if you aren’t lucky enough to be friends with the author like I am. You’ve got a couple of choices:

  1. You can purchase a kindle edition or a real, physical book from Amazon.
  2. Until November 15 you can enter to win a free copy on Goodreads.

One final note: I think Whispering Minds would be especially helpful for kids who are struggling with mental illness. There’s still a lot of stigma around needed psychological help, and it’s good for kids to know they aren’t alone.

My Favorite Reads of 2012

Last year I think I finished fewer than 20 books, possibly an all time low. So instead of the usual top ten, this year I give you my top five. I can assure you what they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality.

5. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. First, a disclaimer: cousinly incest features prominently (and unapologetically) in this book. Not in a graphic sex kind of way, but in a love story kind of way. If that bugs you don’t read it and blame me for recommending it. BUT. Oh the voice–what makes this book work so well is the tight point of view and the absolutely real voice of the protagonist. This was one of those stories that made me feel like I’d just been through the harrowing experience along with the characters, and like a good friend had moved away when the story was over. Read it if you like flawed, believable characters and stories that make your heart ache.

4. Among Others by Jo Walton reads like the journal of a precocious teenaged brainiac who loves sci-fi and fantasy novels . . . and also happens to be a witch. The magical elements of the story are woven into the rest of the protagonist’s daily life so smoothly it’s easy to accept them as real, until later when you’re doing dishes or taking a shower and you go “hey wait a minute!”. Also, Among Others features a protagonist with a disability and explores the way her disability affects how she is received by her peers and teachers. Read it if you love magical realism and/or books about books.

3. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. Every time I read anything by Jeannette Winterson I wonder why anyone else bothers to write at all. Last year there weren’t many books that could hold my attention and get me to sit still for more than 30 minutes at a time, but Winterson’s work always pins me down until I finish. Written . . . got me thinking about grief, and about how easy it is for us to describe our sorrows–and how difficult it sometimes is to convey moments of joy and relief. The narrator of Written on the Body–unnamed, of undisclosed gender–lingers over his or her grief for pages and pages, while moments of happiness are hinted at or barely glanced over, almost as if he or she is terrified to even mention them lest they be snatched away. Read it if you like meditations on love and loss, or if you can’t get enough of delicious prose.

2. The Chronology of Water: A Memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch. I couldn’t decide if I liked Yuknavitch’s biography until I was at least half way through it. Not that I was bored or uninterested, just that I couldn’t see where it was going, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it once I did know. And I’m not sure the exact moment when I went from thinking “What the fuck?” to “FUCK YES!”, but it was probably while I was reading the memoir in a frozen yogurt shop on a dark, rainy Saturday and weeping into a watered-down cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. I suppose this memoir wouldn’t be for everyone. I’m sure reviewers use words like “unflinching” and “unapologetic” to describe it. Yuknavitch herself, in an interview at the end of the book, talks about how hard it is for people to accept narratives about addiction and abuse that don’t follow the culturally acceptable script of sobriety and sanity. She put it better than I can but I had to give the book back to my girlfriend so I can’t give you a direct quote. Read it if you love unconventional grammar and unexpected outcomes.

1. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson. Yes, my two favorite books of 2012 were memoirs of wretched childhoods and battles for sanity. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about me based on that fact. In the case of Jeannette Winterson’s autobiography . . . well. She and I shared a lot of common childhood experiences, and a lot of common struggles in adulthood as a result, so it spoke to me in a pretty personal way. Also, see “delicious prose” above. Read this if . . . hell, just read it, Winterson’s writing is gorgeous and compelling and this memoir manages to be both honest and hopeful. Read it, and send me thank you presents for recommending it.

What were your favorites?

My Favorite Reads of 2011

I usually try to get out my top ten reads of the year before the year is actually over, but (obviously) that didn’t happen in 2011. Still, I wanted to share my favorite reads of the year, because I like to tell people what to read! I consider it a service to my friends who have less reading time than I do.

Overall 2011 was the year of the surprise. Many of the books I was most looking forward to weren’t as awesome as I hoped, and many books that I didn’t expect to like turned out to be new favorites. Not surprising, however, is that most of the books on the list are YA: 8 out of 10, in fact.

It was actually hard to whittle my list of favorites down to ten, but I struggled through on your behalf. See how much I love y’all?

10. The Peach Keeperby Sarah Addison Allen. All of Allen’s books have a heavy serving of Romance, but I felt like The Peach Keeper was just as much about women’s friendships as it was about romantic relationships. Sweet and tender and sad and funny by turns, I think it’s her best work since Garden Spells.

9. The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. An anthology of short stories centered on the theme of animal brides, The Beastly Bride is one of the strongest short story collections I’ve read. Usually I only find one or two pieces in such a collection that I love. I was pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and satisfying I found almost every story in this volume. Charles Vess’s whimsical line illustrations added to the charm.

8. Heart’s Bloodby Juliet Marillier was another big surprise. High fantasy tends to bore me a lot, but something about Heart’s Blood really caught my interest. I’m not even sure I can pin down what it was that I loved so much about the novel. I guess I loved it because I’m such a sucker for stories about love and redemption, and for fairy tales themes. And Heart’s Blood is a revisitation of Beauty and the Beast, so it has all of the above.

7. Red Gloveby Holly Black. I was shocked by how much I loved White Cat last year, and Red Glove was just as good, if not better. The second in Black’s Curse Worker’s series, Red Glove avoided the usual pitfalls of second book in a trilogy. Far from feeling like filler between set up and resolution, Red Glove upped the stakes and covered a lot of new territory. I can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy, coming out later this year. I think Holly Black’s work just keeps getting more amazing.

6. The Trickstersby Margaret Mahy. I’ve already rhapsodized about this one over on Greenwoman: I’ll let those of you who haven’t read my review check it out there, lest I annoy everyone by repeating myself.

5. The Monstrumologistand The Curse of the Wendigo(I get to lump them together because they are part of a series. It’s totally fair! Shut up!) by Rick Yancey. Yancey must be some kind of crazy genius, because his writing makes me love a series of books that does all the wrong things and leaves me panting for more. The Monstrumologist and its sequels are overwhelmingly male (usually guaranteed to bore me half to death), and are fucking gross (usually guaranteed to make me shut the book and decide the author should stop writing and start intensive therapy). They are also full of melancholy. I’m pretty sure Pellinore Warthrop is bipolar.  Will Henry is an adolescent orphan living with the man who is responsible for the untimely deaths of his parents. But between the gorgeous prose and the portrayal of the protagonist’s tangled feelings of tenderness and resentment, Yancey keeps me coming back for more. Yes they are creepy and gruesome. I recommend them anyway.

4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Collector’s Editionby Sherman Alexie made me cry. Several times. Oddly enough, I didn’t cry at the sad parts. I cried at the tender parts, the happy(ish) parts. I cried every time the protagonist encountered an unexpected moment of humanity. There’s so much loss in Alexie’s semi-autobiographical novel, but I didn’t come away from the story saturated with sorrow–I came away full of hope and compassion. And the voice! Oh the voice. I love the voice in this story. Completely priceless. This one isn’t new, so you might even be able to find a used copy somewhere. If you haven’t read it, go read it now! It’s excellent.

3. Daughter of Smoke and Boneby Laini Taylor. Laini Taylor is kind of my (s)hero. Of course I’m biased toward her because she’s a Portlander, and all the best things and people are from my adopted home state. Also she has pink hair. BUT, neither of those things are why her books are awesome. Her books are awesome because her writing is fantastic. I adored the atmosphere and beautiful prose of Daughter. I made Oh My God noises at the surprising ending. I can’t wait for the rest of the story. According to Taylor’s blog, it’s scheduled to come out this fall! No title announced yet that I know of, but I already can’t wait.

2. Anna Dressed in Bloodby Kendare Blake. I hoped I would love this book because the cover is freaking fantastic. Thankfully I DID! I loved it A LOT. And it was creepy. Another surprise–the older I get, the more I like creepy scary things. But there’s a line I can’t cross, and Anna Dressed in Blood walked that line very close to the edge. Awesomely creepy, great storytelling, I totally adored it. There’s more of the story to come in August! Can’t wait. And the cover! I want to frame the cover and hang it in my room.

1. The Space Betweenby Brenna Yovanoff. You all know how I loved this book. I talked about it at great length already. If you only read one book off my list, read this one. SO beautiful! Read it right away, and remember that I totally accept thank you presents.

Do you have a top ten list? Tell me about it, or post a link!

What I’ve Learned from Banned Books Week

Before I begin with MY thoughts on Banned Books Week, I would like it very much if you all would visit my friend Cat Woods’ blog and read her wonderful post on the “Secret agenda of banned books week”. I’ll give you a hint. It is, at least in part, about the gay. Then you can come back here. I’ll wait.

Okay! So, I want to share with you something I have learned from banned books week.

Homosexuality is TERRIFYING and SINISTER.

Those gay people, they really have an AGENDA. They want to TAKE OVER THE WORLD with their lasciviousness and perversion. And they want to recruit our precious, heterosexual babies–who would NEVER, EVER be gay without being talked into it. Just like they would NEVER want to have sex if it wasn’t for dirty books (but that’s another post).

I should warn you, what you are about to see is SHOCKING and IMMORAL, and you will never be able to purge your mind of the filth. I show it to you only to help you see how deeply depraved those liberal haters of traditional family values at the American Library Association really are. This is an image–only one of many–from the book that was the MOST frequently challenged book of 2010. Please only continue reading if you are prepared for a shock.

Here, then, is the wickedness of the gay agenda, as aided and abetted by the publishing industry and the ALA.

Continue reading “What I’ve Learned from Banned Books Week”

Recommended Reading: The Space Between

So this review is very long overdue.

First of all, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m doing less reviews than I used to. Well, it comes down to this: I don’t like giving negative reviews on the blog. For one thing, I’m afraid of bad review karma. For another thing, most of the negative things I’d say about a book come down to personal preference. For another, whenever I’ve criticized a book, later I’ve re-read my criticism and felt kind of bad about it. Like I publicly dissed a good person. This probably has to do with the fact that I’m a writer too! And with the fact that I LOVE criticism–before I’ve completed and posted something, so that I can make revisions as needed. But I really hate criticism after something is in the public view, when it’s too late to change it.

I realize that this kind of criticism is inevitable when I put my writing in the public eye, and I’m willing to accept it as one of the hazards of the job. But I’m uncomfortable participating in it.

Which then of course leads to another dilemma: do I only state the positive things about the books I read? Because almost every book I read has something worth liking in it, even if i don’t like it all that much. But THEN I might lead someone to believe a book was great when really it was only so-so.

Finally I decided that from now on I’m only going to post reviews of books I really, really love and think a lot of other people will love too. (There are books I adore that I know most people would not, because sometimes what makes me love a book is obscure and strange and specific to me.) This way you can trust me. If you see a book on my blog, you know it is recommended reading. It even says so in the title of the post.

Anyway! On with the review.

I received an ARC of Brenna Yovanoff’s The Space Betweenages ago, thanks to a giveaway from the lovely and talented Jenny of The Party Pony. (And I’m not just saying that because she gave me books. I thought she was lovely and talented long before I won the ARC.) I adored Yovanoff’s debut effort, The Replacement, and was breathlessly awaiting her next offering.

And oh let me tell you . . . I was not disappointed.

Here, then, is the obligatory blurb:

Everything is made of steel, even the flowers. How can you love anything in a place like this?

Daphne is the half-demon, half-fallen angel daughter of Lucifer and Lilith. Life for her is an endless expanse of time, until her brother Obie is kidnapped – and Daphne realizes she may be partially responsible. Determined to find him, Daphne travels from her home in Pandemonium to the vast streets of Earth, where everything is colder and more terrifying. With the help of the human boy she believes was the last person to see her brother alive, Daphne glimpses into his dreams, discovering clues to Obie’s whereabouts. As she delves deeper into her demonic powers, she must navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels who stand in her way. But she also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be.

This second novel by rising star Brenna Yovanoff is a story of identity, discovery, and a troubled love between two people struggling to find their place both in our world and theirs.

One of the reasons I waited so long to write this review is that I find it hard to talk about this book without sounding like an idiot. This is always the case with books that take my breath away. In this case, I literally lost my breath a few times reading it. I can’t tell you where, though, because that would ruin it for you.

So how to gush about this book without spoiling too much? Here are the things I can talk about without giving anything critical away:

The Cover. The stunning, stunning cover. Just gaze upon its gorgeousness for a moment! We all know the cliche about books and covers and judging, but I promise this book lives up to its cover. That cover . . . I want to frame it and hang it above my writing desk. So. Awesome.

Emotions. The characters in this novel, in the hands of a different author, would be unbearably emo. But somehow Yovanoff expresses their sorrow and loneliness and longing with such compassion that instead of wanting to smack them for feeling sorry for themselves, I want to make them a cup of tea and give them a hug and tell them everything will be all right. As with The Replacement, reading The Space Between left me in the end with an overwhelming sense of tenderness. I think tenderness is missing from our culture in general, so finding it here in a story about demons and fallen angels is awesome.

The Unexpected. When I say I lost my breath a few times? Yeah. There were some moments in The Space Between when I gasped and said things out loud like “Oh fuuuuuuuck.” The thing is, I don’t think the plot is particularly twisty or hard to follow. But when the story delivers a surprise, it’s pretty much a sucker punch. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of brutality with the aforementioned tenderness, I don’t know . . . but it’s been a while since I was so involved in a story that unpleasant surprises knocked me over this way. And nothing I’ve read since has satisfied quite as much.

Lovely Prose. I just love the way Yovanoff’s writing SOUNDS. In an interview on Amazon (scroll down the product description to read it in the Editorial Reviews section), she explains her writing process like this:

It’s sort of like I hear the story in my head, but not clearly enough to transcribe it verbatim, which means at any given time I only know about half on a sentence, and the rest is just a sound. So, I write down the parts I’m sure of and leave the other parts blank. Only to mark the blank parts so I remember to go back and fill them in, I do like this: ,,,, So, any given sentence in a draft could look like, “With,,,, he ,,,,, to the,,,,,,,and,,,,,.” It is basically the Mad Libs of drafting.

I hope she keeps writing this way because the result is really beautiful. I mean. “In Hell, we tell our stories on the surface of things. The histories are forged a piece at a time, hammered on posts and pillars, pounded into the tiled streets.” Yum.

The Space Between will be available on November 15 of this year. Get your hands on it as soon as you can. And as always, if you want to thank me for recommending it to you by sending me presents, I’m happy to accept.

Summer of Bloggerly Love: Guest Post by Writing Buddy Laura

I’m pretty sure I’m a bad friend. The reason I’m pretty sure I’m a bad friend is that I think I pretty much bullied Laura in to doing this. She’s ridiculously busy (she has kids who, CRAZY THINGS, think she should, like, parent them. Ingrates). Anyway, because she is a better friend than I am, Laura came through with a post on Love in YA that made me guffaw more than once. My post for her will go up on her blog . . . as soon as she finds time.

Here’s Laura!

Love in YA

When it came right down to finding a topic about LOVE, I was actually pretty hard pressed to find something because while I find fault in most things, what I find MOST fault in, is the way LOVE is portrayed in YA.

Here’s the thing about LOVE in YA.  It is nearly always incorrectly portrayed in every YA novel I’ve read.  This is coming from a person who, if I HAD to choose a genre of books I loved, I’d choose YA.

I keep hoping that someone will get it right.  It seems that the way it felt to love when we were teens, is forgotten once writers reach adulthood. Instead, writers create a cast of teen stereotypes.  They choose their formula from the list of cliches and set about writing a book.

The kind of love teens hope for, most likely does not fit the clique of the reformed rogue, ultra sensitive guy best friend, the disney prince/big man on campus, the girl-next-door cheerleader, the goth chick with a bad reputation.  These, my friends, are the kinds of love PRE-teens dream of.

Teens, well, they are smarter than that.  They want something real.  Something achievable.

I do realize that YA isn’t always intended for Young Adult audiences only.  Some authors just happen to write books about teenaged characters.  The general assumption is that books classified as YA are YA appropriate.  However, not everything that happens in a teenaged-life, is ‘YA appropriate’.  We as writers know this and to demonstrate our understanding, we create plot lines so outrageous, they no longer resemble our target audience.

What we are feeding the YA audience is a set of moral standards.  We are giving them an example of how we want them to behave.  Even if an evil fallen angel is stalking them because they are the chosen one to lead the rebellion in the other realm and they only have tonight together, for tomorrow they will surely die – It is still prudent to control ones desires.  They are actions that are very much contrary to the real world.

Which leads me to believe that YA  is full of unwritten rules when it comes to love and sex.

  • There is no sex, because apparently, teens are chaste.
  • Teens naturally want to take a physical relationship slow…it has nothing to do with puritanical values that have been beaten into them for generations.  Nothing.
  • All girls want a choice: between a bad boy who may (or may not) be redeemable and an ultra sensitive best friend, who listens to bemoaning and is otherwise unassuming (and certainly not capable, nor has the inclination to thrust someone against a wall in the heat of passion).
  • Everyone is either perfect looking, or a total gomer.  Apparently, there is no middle ground.
  • Sex is off limits, even implied sexual activity leaves me wondering….wait, did they just have sex???
  • All boys want a nice girl with few experiences prior to them.  A blank canvas of sorts.  Not soiled by previous boyfriends, or left with sexual standards they could not possibly live up too.
  • Girls want a virgin too.  Sure, a bad boy mystique is sexy, but it must be a carefully crafted facade to hide his sensitive side.  This is the part of formula I find the most ludicrous.  Two virgins going at it?  Sounds like a train wreck to me.  Trust me ladies, it is much more fun when at least someone knows what they are doing.
  • Love has nothing to do with sex.  But honestly, love has everything to do with sex when you are 17.  And 27.  And 37.
  • Did I mention characters do not have sex?

Teens don’t want a moral.  They don’t want our beliefs about love thrust upon them.  We as authors are not responsible for teaching them morals.  We are story tellers, and what occurs in the worlds we create, is meant to make our readers think about their world, so that they might draw their OWN conclusions about right and wrong.  Unfortunately, if YA continues to refuse to break these ‘rules’, it will always be a genre that isn’t taken seriously.

—-

Laura is a mom, writer, micro farmer, and self-proclaimed cheese and donut connoisseur. When she’s not writing about war and life with children (technically there IS a difference), she is feverishly canning tomatoes in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse. You can find her at Laura’s Universe, under the chopped up snake.

Summer of Bloggerly Love Guest Post by Dawn G. Sparrow

Welcome to the second Summe of Bloggerly Love post. This week we have a post on book love from my buddy Dawn G. Sparrow. Over on her blog, I share the story of my tumultous love affair with writing. And now, here’s Dawn:

So, I am supposed to write about love, right? Yeah, got it. Hmmm…there are just so many things I love. Okay, I’ve got it.

Books. I love books.

I don’t mean the Kindle or e-book type. I mean REAL books.

I want to be able to feel the book in my hand, smell the paper, and see where the ink smears when your hands are wet when you read it.

There is so much about books that thrills me. I love the way they look on my bookshelves and how I always have one sitting on my nightstand.

They were my friends when I thought I didn’t have any, my confidants when I thought my world was falling apart, my lovers when that was what I needed most.

Yeah, I’m crazy about books!

Okay, now what types of books do I like the most? What makes me shiver when I see it on the shelf? You’d be amazed.

If you know me at all, you will know that I am a scientist. I studied Biology with special concentrations on sharks and jellyfish. So, it won’t come as a surprise that I have a special place for my scientific papers. But it may surprise you to learn I am also a two-time national Silver Medal Winner for beading. So I have LOTS of beading books as well.

But my favorites? Classics. Hands down. Give me a Bronte sister, Mark Twain, or Shakespeare. That makes me a happy camper.

Don’t get me wrong, modern books are great and definitely have a place, just not beside my LORD OF THE FLIES novel!

Always,
Dawn

Dawn G. Sparrow is a mother, wife, homemaker, writer, animal lover, and science geek. She blogs about the writing life at Write Away, and Tweets vast quantities of nonsense (with much help from yours truly) on Twitter.