Review: VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab

Vicious – V.E. Schwab

Review by Jamie Adams

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates – brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing hidden possibility: that under the right 13638125conditions, someone could actually gain extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis inevitably moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor is breaking out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other superpowered person he can find – aside from his own sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, spurred onward by the memory of betrayal and desperate longings, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge – but who will be left alive at the end? – Jacket copy.

This is not going to be a strictly traditional review. In a traditional review, I would tell you a little bit about the book, some of what I liked and what I didn’t, and overall who I thought this book might appeal to. When it comes to Vicious, I’m less inclined to think about what group of people might like to read it, because it doesn’t matter. You NEED to read this book.

I don’t have much to say about what I liked and didn’t, because there was nothing I didn’t like. Vicious is an excellent work, filled with compelling characters, gripping story, enticing secrecy and consuming questions about morality, mortality, power, corruption, and humanity. It’s a story that will sweep you off your feet and keep you up into the wee hours (cough, two a.m. on a work night) and lingers inside you even when the words no longer go on.

So why such high praise? After all, I have read probably a thousand books between age eight and now. My favorite books list is lengthy, mostly because I like everything I read equally save for a very few books that are far above the rest. Vicious is one of those books, and here’s the reason: it asks questions that can’t be answered, and then asks you to be okay with the eternal mystery.

What makes the things we consider right, right? In what ways does trying to do what’s right cause us to do wrong to someone else? If all things are right, does that mean none of them are? But then again, doesn’t something being right automatically make something else wrong? Who gets to decide?

Wrapped in the veils of adventure, experiments, and betrayal are questions that dig into the very roots of who we are, who we want to be, and what we believe. Most of the time, we like to avoid these questions where possible, because they awaken us to the unsettling fact that we are flawed, and we are unsure, and we are afraid. Vicious won’t let you dodge these realities anymore.

Can you enjoy it just for its brilliant writing, spectacular plot and epic showdown? Definitely. But don’t be surprised if something a little deeper than that takes root in you. Read this book.

Review: WHERE WE BELONG by Emily Giffin

Review: WHERE WE BELONG, by Emily Giffin

Review by Alison Doherty
Where We Belong
Emily Giffin
St. Martins Griffin, 2013

There are some authors I read because I know exactly what I’m going to get and other authors I read to just to see what new and exciting narrative they’ve created. Emily Giffin definitely belongs in the former category. I’ve bought and read all of her books, because I know what kind of story she will write and I know that I will like it. Her latest book, Where We Belong, is no exception.12987977

In order to avoid botching the summary, here is the description of the book from goodreads.com:

Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old television producer, living her dream in New York City. With a fulfilling career and satisfying relationship, she has convinced everyone, including herself, that her life is just as she wants it to be. But one night, Marian answers a knock on the door . . . only to find Kirby Rose, an eighteen-year-old girl with a key to a past that Marian thought she had sealed off forever. From the moment Kirby appears on her doorstep, Marian’s perfectly constructed world—and her very identity—will be shaken to its core, resurrecting ghosts and memories of a passionate young love affair that threaten everything that has come to define her.

For the precocious and determined Kirby, the encounter will spur a process of discovery that ushers her across the threshold of adulthood, forcing her to re-evaluate her family and future in a wise and bittersweet light. As the two women embark on a journey to find the one thing missing in their lives, each will come to recognize that where we belong is often where we least expect to find ourselves—a place that we may have willed ourselves to forget, but that the heart remembers forever.

Giffin combines highly conceptual plots, innovative story structure, and spectacular character-development into each of her novels. She is really good at getting into the heads of women. She picks out the details that are important to them and, more impressively, manages to convey to the reader the differences between how they view themselves, how others view them, and who they really are. She then uses the structure of her stories, moving between character POV and time, to make you switch your loyalty between the characters.

Where We Belong is Giffin writing at her best. It’s especially good because of the heightened emotional stakes that come along with parenthood as the story’s primary relationship. Although fear not, both characters do have romantic involvements! Unlike her previous novels, in this story none of the characters development is ever really finished. The novel does not contain a traditional beginning, middle, and end, but instead portrays spirals of beginnings and middles as both women come to terms with the new identities their growing relationship with each other creates. As a reader and aspiring writer I really enjoyed the idea of constant character growth.

This is a fun, quick read perfect for a plane ride, day at the beach, or particularly long bubble bath. If you’ve liked Giffin’s other novels then I feel like I can almost guarantee you will enjoy this one. If you don’t like Giffin’s writing or don’t like the somewhat condescendingly termed genre “chick lit” then I suggest staying away from this novel. I also wonder how you made it through my whole review.

Alison Doherty can be found on Twitter @AlisonCDoherty or on her blog: http://www.hardcoversandheroines.com.

Book Giveaway!

Hello, readers. I have some exciting news. The fabulous Rochelle Melander, writing coach and author of WRITE-A-THON: Write Your Book in 26 Days, has offered to give away a copy of WRITE-A-THON to one of my readers. See my review of the book here. Honestly, I think you’ll love it. Ms. Melander writes insightfully and honestly about the perils, rewards, and challenges of being a writer. It’s motivating and full of unique ideas. Frankly, this book is good company.

To enter the contest, do the following:

1) Follow my blog, if you haven’t already, and comment below that you’d like to enter the giveaway. I have all kinds of goodies and useful materials for writers coming up, so you’ll want to anyway.

2) Follow me on Twitter here. If you don’t have an account, you should. Twitter is one of the most helpful tools I’ve seen yet for making professional connections and finding invaluable resources.

3) Follow Rochelle Melander on Twitter here. Tweet to me that you followed Ms. Melander, using her Twitter handle so she sees the tweet too.

That’s all you have to do! Here’s what you can win:

First prize: WRITE-A-THON by Rochelle Melander

Second prize: An ebook copy (readable on PC) of Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, one of America’s leading private creative writing schools. This book isn’t just the thoughts of one author on how to write fiction; each chapter is contributed by a different writer, all 11 of them published authors. Publishers Weekly calls this one “fresh and full of concrete advice.” You definitely want to win a copy- you know you do.

Third prize: Yes, there’s a third. Everyone will receive something- something I’ll announce when we have our winners. Check back to see what it is!

Contest ends Friday May 4 at 5:30 pm central time. That’s this Friday- so enter while you’re here! I’ll use random.org to choose the winners Friday night- results will be announced on Twitter. Thanks so much for reading!

Review: Write Your Book in 26 Days

Once again, readers, I’m thrilled to recommend an excellent book.

Reading about writing is essential  to develop skills as a writer. Fantastic books on writing are listed in my “books on craft” page. These books focus on the craft of writing itself: character development, POV, plot and pacing, voice, and a hundred other elements.Their explanations and examples of techniques and principles are invaluable to writers of all kinds. Mostly, though, they teach writing skills, not how to be a writer.

I’ve just finished reading WRITE-A-THON: Write Your Book in 26 Days by Rochelle Melander, and at first I was skeptical. “26 days?” I thought. “Not if it’s a book worth reading.” Ms. Melander’s book, however, is not about rushing writers through creating their masterpiece, nor is the book about cranking out poor material. Her book is of a different sort. Rather than focusing on how to produce excellent prose and story, WRITE-A-THON teaches people how to be sucessful writers.

Ms. Melander comes alongside writers in this book as a coach. She teaches  how to prepare for the write-a-thon, how to write that first draft, and how to finish strong by revising, searching for agents, and preparing for the next project.

Really, WRITE-A-THON is 3 kinds of books in one. First, it’s a field guide. Ms. Mellander discusses who and what writers are and why they write. “Waiters wait,” she says. “Writers write.” She takes writers through the steps of preparing to write a book: finding the concept, beginning the research, designing the structure of the book, creating the marathon schedule, etc. She then moves on to writing the first draft. This first draft is what will take the 26 days. Every step of the way, she tells writers what needs to be done, what to expect while doing it, what works for others, and what may work for them.

WRITE-A-THON is also a motivational book. I don’t normally like motivational reading. I am typically a self-motivated person. This book, however, I found to be genuinely helpful and realisically motivating. Ms. Melander helps writers to identify their excuses, envision what they want their writing career to look like, and obtain the support needed to make those goals happen. She walks writers through isolating why they want to write, prioritizing the desire to write in their daily lives, and learning to take themselves seriously. Motivational discussion continues through the training, drafting, and editing stages of the book to keep writers encouraged and focused. Ms. Melander understands that writing can be difficult, isolating, and frustrating; she also understands how much confidence and persistence it takes. Even though I’ve already written my first novel, I was motivated to keep working by this book- not the brief motivation of cheerful encouragement, but rather the motivation that comes from identifying a goal, valuing it appropriately, and recognizing  progress. Before long, I was motivating myself. My writing motivated me. My research motivated me. The small steps I made each day in developing my writing career motivated me.

Finally, WRITE-A-THON is a toolbox. This is my favorite element of the book. I have truly never read a book this useful for making writing a daily part of life. Ms. Melander, while telling writers what needs done and what to expect, while telling them it will be hard but it will be even more rewarding, shows writers how to get it done.

People can Google warm-up tips and editing tips; Ms. Melander goes beyond standard how-to’s for writers. She teaches how to create a writing space; how to prioritize writing; how to build a support team; how to explain to friends and family that you are sorry, but you are writing, so you can’t babysit. She walks writers through finding out what brainstorming, writing, and researching materials work best for them. She discusses overcoming perfectionism, blank pages, and lack of inspiration. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the write-a-thon is discussed as well, as is developing the writer’s creative life. She keeps the writer progressing while avoiding burn-out.

Ms. Melander organizes all of this material into three sections: training, the write-a-thon, and recovery. Part One: Training takes the writer through the necessary steps to prepare.  I loved this section because of its thoroughness and Ms. Melander’s spot-on observations about writers- how they write, how they think, how they act and react. Faithfully following the steps she lays out will make every writer a better writer.

Part Two: The Write-a-Thon guides writers through getting the first draft on paper. Resources and even meals have been gathered beforehand; daily writing exercises have built writing muscles; project binders and story bibles have captured research, outlines, and character profiles. Writing the draft at this point just takes encouragement, focus, and seat-time. Ms. Melander will get writers there.

Part Three: Recovery helps writers celebrate their accomplishment, then gets them back to the task of finishing. Revisions, editors, first lines and word economy, the querying process, and finally persistence through rejection are outlined. The book closes with a fabulous bibliography of writer’s resources on organizing the writer’s life, writing advice, writing books quickly, fiction writing, nonfiction writing, writing exercises, and revising, submitting, and publishing.

WRITE-A-THON is both accessible and well-written. Concepts are made memorable through clear, humorous writing and relevant examples.  Not only is this a book worth reading, but its also a book worth re-reading. Writers of all kinds and all levels of experience will find it useful and motivating. One quote Ms. Melander includes is from Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Rochelle Melander shows writers how to stick to their goals and not quit. She shows people how to be writers. “Writers write,” she says. WRITE-A-THON thoroughly unpacks how to be a writer who truly writes.

Visit Ms. Melander’s site here, and buy WRITE-A-THON on Amazon here or at Barnes & Noble here!

List of Agent Blogs and Interviews

A writer’s job is to read, read, read. Read fiction. Read nonfiction for research and nonfiction on your craft. Read your manscript aloud. Read publishing industry news. Read more fiction- bestsellers, books in your genre, and books nothing like your own. Read until your eyes cross. Read, read, read.

One of the most important things for aspiring authors to read is agent blogs. Whether you are querying agents, trying to break into the publishing business, or simply learning more about the world of books, agent blogs are an absolutely necessary source of information. During my plunge into querying agents, I’ve painstakingly divested the internet of its most valuable resource (don’t argue with me on that descriptor): agent blogs.

Blog posts from industry professionals contain the personal details you need to make your queries stand out, the contests that will give you a leg up, and the industry knowledge that will help jump start your writing career.

Actively Maintained Agent Blogs

Thoughts from a Literary Agent: blog from Marisa Corvisiero.

The New Literary Agents– blog of Kae Tienstra and her business partner, Jon.

Chip’s Blog: Blog of MacGregor Literary.

Ask a Literary Agent: Blog from Noah Lukeman, president of Lukeman Literary and author of multiple books on writing queries and fiction.

Carly Watters: Blog of literary agent Carly Watters. Great post from July 12 on making your query stand out in the slush pile.

Bookalicious– blog of agent and top YA book blogger Pam van Hylckama Vlieg.

Mandy Hubbard: author and agent with D4EO Literary.

LaVie en Prose: blog of Meredith Barnes, ex-literary agent now working in digital marketing for Soho Press.

Rapid-Progressive: The blog of Victoria Marini, agent with Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency.

New Leaf Literary: The blog of a brand-new agency headed by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

This Literary Life: The stylish and thought-provoking blog of Bree Ogden, agent with D4EO Literary Agency.

Magical Words: Featuring posts on helpful topics by several literary agents and published authors.

Confessions: Posts by agent Suzie Townsend.

Janet Reid, Literary Agent: Posts by agent Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management. This blog in particular contains a wealth of information and blunt advice for writers. Janet has also been known to host contests.

Query Shark: Janet Reid, master shark of the query waters, also maintains this blog where she dices queries to bits. Enter yours, if you dare! Reading the archives is one of the most entertaining and alarming things you’ll do as a writer.

Pub Rants: Maintained by agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. Personal, informative posts about all things literary.

Rachelle Gardner: Posts by Rachelle with Books and Such Literary Agency. Many of these posts contain enormously helpful information on the daily life of a successful author- taxes, social media, and the changing publishing landscape are all covered.

Coffee. Tea. And Literary: Blog of the Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.  Contests are occasionally run here as well.

Kathleen Ortiz: Agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.

Glass Cases: Blog of the fabulous agent Sarah LaPolla with Curtis Brown, Ltd., featuring short stories, flash fiction, and memoir and novel excerpts from readers.

dhs liter show + tell: The wide-ranging blog of DHS Literary/Inkwell Management.

DGLM: Blog maintained by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. Frequent posts revealing the world of publishing and writing in valuable detail.

Full Circle Literary: Blog of Full Circle Literary, with archives going back to 2006.

Et in arcaedia, ego. Blog of Jennifer Jackson, powerhouse agent and Vice President of Donald Maass Literary Agency. Frequent “query wars” reports  and contests. Archives back to 2003.

The Knight Agency: Blog of The Knight Agency- fantastic recent post on preparing your manuscript for submission.

Lucienne Diver’s Drivel: News, advice, and entertainment from author, agent, and superhero Lucienne Diver.

Agent Savant: “publishing morsels from Laurie McLean.”

Agent in the Middle: posts by RT-award-winning literary agent Lori Perkins.

KT Literary: blog from “shoe-obsessed superagent Daphne Unfeasible.” Immensely informative peeks into her query pile included.

Call My Agent!: Blog from Australian “Agent Sydney.” Emailed questions will be answered in a blog post.

Writing and Rambling- A Literary Agent’s Industry Musings: posts by Nephele Tempest.

Fresh Books, Inc.: infrequent but substantial posts from Fresh Books literary agent and founder Matt Wagner.

All that’s new(s) from A to Z: posts from The Zack Company, Inc.

Ask the Agent: Posts from Andy Ross.

Kidlit: Blog from YA and children’s lit agent Mary Kole.

The Forest for the Trees: Maintained by Betsy Lerner- author, ex-editor and agent with Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency.

Between the Lines: Business Blog of Books and Such Literary Agency

Jennifer Represents: the blog of Jennifer Laughran, children’s and YA fiction agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Jill Corcoran Books: posts from Jill Corcoran, children’s book agent with Herman Agency.

Agent Incite: Posts from agent Mike Kabongo

Red Sofa Literary: Red Sofa’s agency blog. Eclectic industry news.

Babbles from Scott Eagan: posts from Scott Eagan from Greyhaus Literary Agency. Frank and unique presentations of industry news and advice.

Slush Pile Hell: “one grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense.” Sometimes it helps to see what not to do in your query.

The Steve Laube Agency:  Browse it and learn from it- you’ll love it. Fantastic “News You Can Use” feature.

Upstart Crow Literary: new book announcements, advice on getting published, and more.

Navigating the Slush Pile: “Agent and book lover discovers the world of publishing one fast paced, eye opening step at a time, armed with only a handful of books and an English Lit Degree.” Posts by Vickie Motter, agent with Andrea Hurst Literary Management.

Inactive Blogs

BookEnds, LLC- A Literary Agency: Recently inactive, but chock-full of must-read posts on submissions, query letter samples, and pitch lines.

Fox Literary: Blog of Diana Fox of boutique agency Fox Literary.

Miss Snark, the literary agent: Inactive since 2007, but still a valuable resource.

Deep, Deep Thoughts: informative posts from John Jarrold of John Jarrold Literary Agency.

B.G. Literary: inactive blog of Barry Goldblatt Literary.

The Rejecter: Blog of a super-secret agent. See if you can find out who it is! Contains fantastic archives going back to 2006.

Lyons Literary LLC: “tips and quips on publishing from a literary agent,” Jonathan Lyons, formerly of Curtin Brown, Ltd., and McIntosh & Otis, Inc.

A Gent’s Outlook: inactive since 2007, but still valuable archives.

Blogs Interviewing Agents

Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog featuring new agent alerts, “How I Got Published” stories, conference/event spotlights, and author interviews.

Hunger Mountain: The VCFA journal of the arts Listed by interview type, the archives contain interviews with authors and agents.

Algonkian Writer Classes: Online Workshops and National Conferences for Agents: Great list of interviews with well-known agents.

Stacey O’Neale: Writer, Publicist, Superhero.  Most of these interviews are very recent and therefore most likely to contain accurate information.

Agent Advice: “a series of quick interviews with literary and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else.”

Literary Rambles: “spotlighting children’s book authors, agents, and publishing.” The agent spotlights are invaluable for personalizing your query letter.

Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Long list of agent interviews. Be sure to check out the main page of this blog for “how I got my agent” stories, contests, and more.

YA Highway: Writers hosting contests, introducing agents, and collecting publishing news. Fantastic resource.

Comment to let me know what you think of these! I’d love to hear any agent-related blogs you follow. I’ll add them to the list! As always, thanks for reading.

Synesthesia

This week I was working on synesthesia in writing with my students. It’s not used prolifically in modern fiction, and I am surprised because it is an extremely powerful tool.

M.H. Abrams defines synesthesia as “one kind of sensation in terms of another; color is attributed to sounds, odor to colors, sound to odors, and so on.” When writers do this, they give the reader another level on which to experience the idea or image. This adds weight, and not only that, the unusual nature of synesthesia almost guarantees your readers will remember it.

Common examples from everyday speech would be a “warm” color, a “heavy” silence, or a “bright” sound. Each of these things describe something perceived with one of our six senses to another sensory perception. Warmth is something we feel while color is something we see. Adding this layer of experience to a color gives it a 3D effect. These are, of course, very basic examples.

Switchfoot uses synesthesia to great effect in their song “Restless,” with the line “the endless aching drops of light”. This line has other poetic effects going on within it, but describing light in terms of drops, and more than that, describing the drops in terms of an emotion, gives them enormous power.

Many people have probably used synesthesia without noticing it; you’ve probably used some of those common examples yourself. The technique is well-worth using intentionally, however. A well-crafted use of synesthesia can make a passage memorable and impacting.

So, as I work over the draft of my novel to edit the language for active verbs instead of passive verbs, conciseness, fewer modifiers in exchange for stronger verbs and nouns, etc., I’ll be adding intentional, poetic use of synesthesia to the checklist.

What about you? Have you ever used synesthesia in your writing? Have you come across a great use of synesthesia in literature?