Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Never Let Me Go Discussion

I promised I would do a discussion on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go. Since that first post, I've unearthed two more renditions of the cover:

I can't decide which of the 5 covers (these two and the three I posted previously) I like best. What do you think?

One thing about this book that immediately pulls you in is Kathy H. as the narrator and the way she distinctly "talks" to the reader, even going as far as to clarify her points or emphasize particular themes in a story she's told to ensure "we've" got it right. Kathy H. offers a more complete picture than many narratives as she seems determined to observe the world a step outside. Ironically, this sometimes means we learn more about others than we do about Kathy H.

Meanwhile, there are so many truths about the world beyond the Hailsham boarding school walls that the students (while growing up) know nothing about. They're completely sheltered. As readers, we know something is askew, that this isn't a normal boarding school. It's evident in the treatment of the students, in the sharp emphasis on health, and the lack of visitors (including parents) and access to anything beyond the walls. There is also a sense of complete obedience. Rarely do students question anything they're taught or the rules to which they must abide. And when they do--or Kathy H. does--it's carefully kept inside or whispered at secure meeting places around the school to ensure they're not detected or overheard.

Kathy H. also offers the unique perspective of age. What I mean is, often in books when a character is aging, we're right alongside them in the process. In this particular novel, however, Kathy H. is reflecting back on her time at Hailsham and with her friends Tommy and Ruth. This means that some of her memories are limited to what she could understand at that age and others have eroded with time.

Ishiguro is able to describe Hailsham with such detail that I can envision the playing field where Tommy has his tantrum, the classrooms the students do their creative art work, and the pond where Kathy H. and Tommy meet for a private discussion. The grounds seem so expansive that I imagine Ishiguro had to literally draw an entire campus to keep straight where everything is. For the reader, this allows us to really immerse ourselves in this world because we can so vividly imagine it.

This world, however, is marketed to the students as a kind of utopia. They're constantly reminded of how special they are and what an elite school Hailsham is but what they don't know is their true purpose for being there. That they are really in a dystopian state, repressed from doing as they pleased with their bodies--and their lives.

While reading Never Let Me Go, I couldn't help but think of Alduous Huxley's Brave New World. The staff at Hailsham act as a kind of government and certainly they've embraced a new, clinical way of creating people. Both are set in London (though Never Let Me Go was essentially present day rather than futuristic.) The characters find that there are constraints to the level of individuality they're allowed--or encouraged--to exude and there's the realization that their relationships cannot exist as they wish unless they move outside the confines of this "society."

While there are suggestions from some of the "guardians" who watch the students that they should know more about what's going on, about their purpose, the students don't push it (sometimes out of fear, other times out of complacency). The result is a shell-shock realization that their future has been decided for them.

If you read the book, what characteristics first struck you as unique or hinted at the true purpose of our characters and of Hailsham? Did you think Kathy H. reflecting on particular memories rather than experiencing those moments as they happened helped move the book along or limited our perspective of the other workings at Hailsham?

I'd love to hear from everyone regarding whether you've read (or watched) any dystopias that marketed themselves as utopias? And how do the main characters break free (if at all) from the confines of this society?

Monday, November 29, 2010

And the winner is...

The winner of the Personal Demons book giveaway is Raquel. Congratulations! This is a really fun read. Please be sure to email me your mailing address so I can send the book out.

Thanks again to everyone who entered. I regularly hold book contests so be sure to check back often.

Also, don't forget that tomorrow I kick-start some conversation on Kazuo Ishiguor's Booker Prize runner-up Never Let Me Go.

If there are other book contests or discussions you'd like to see on the blog, let me know!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thankgsiving

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone! Here's Adam Sandler's "Thanksgiving Song." Enjoy:

And here's a little more about the history of the song first played on Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program

Oh.My.God. Here's the inside of the latest People magazine "sexiest man alive" issue with Ryan Reynolds. Have you seen this?

They actually say he has "eight-pack" abs. Who knew you could supersede six-pack abs?!

One of my favorite parts of the interview is when he explains that the hardest part about his new title is going to be “organically working” the title into conversations with strangers. Hilarious!

I already adored Ryan Reynolds especially in The Proposal and Definitely, Maybe which I've seen far too many times to admit.

Clearly he was overlooked in the June post when we were "staffing" this blog operation and that needs to be righted. Am I overlooking anyone else to add to the infamous "dream team"? Oh, and if you didn't know about Ryan Reynolds before then happy birthday, you're welcome, and merry Christmas :-)

Monday, November 22, 2010


My husband and I were driving back from Thanksgiving number 1 this weekend and a song by Marcy Playground came on the radio. Now I can only name one Marcy Playground song in total but that happened to be it. And it took me right back to high school.

This ignited conversation about high school--something that's kind of neat to discuss between me and my husband because we went to the same school but never knew one another while we were there. He was a senior and I, a lowly freshman.* So when he tells me about teachers or classes or other students I often already know some of the back-story about them.

While I quizzed my husband about what details he does and doesn't remember, however, I was amazed that he seemingly recalls it all. From his homeroom to his locker number and whose lockers were beside his to his morning routines driving into school with a couple of friends, picking up coffees, and goofing around.

My memories, however, seem much more centered on "events" and extracurriculars. I remember distinct things like homecoming and getting my braces off and reading some seminal literature in my advanced English class. I can tell you how our team did in nearly every soccer game or what events I planned for student council or what time I ran in track to reach my personal record but my locker number? Forget it.

I realized, however, that to be able to write a character thoroughly authors need to know all the things I remember as well as all the things my husband does. We need the complete picture.

We truly need to know everything about our characters lives and their motivations. We need to know not only what they do in school but everything they do outside of school. My husband and I then began to discuss these very things. What were we doing back then for fun? How did we get around before we had cars? What movies and other music were in vogue?

And then, to my astonishment, when we returned home one of my all-time favorite movies from high school (freshman year to be exact) was on: Clueless.

And I realized I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I saw this movie for the first time: Oneonta, NY with my cousin Caitlin. So perhaps the details of my childhood are all still here and what I need to do as a good author is ask myself the same kinds of questions I ask my characters. In that way, perhaps my writing of high school can be more informed by experience than observation. In an interview with YA author Lauren Oliver she said, "the novelist Chuck Wachtel told me...aim for truth and beauty will follow. Aim for beauty, and truth will not necessarily follow." If we can tap into our experiences and the highs and lows of young adulthood and translate this (when applicable) to our characters then we've already accomplished the biggest writing hurdle of all.

So while I adored Clueless and saw it as the epitome of cool when I was 14, I'd love to hear from you and what you remember as being "all that" in high school. I do believe recalling what shaped us, what we put on a pedestal, what infiltrated the media channels all around us are important observations that will help us move closer to that "truth" that Oliver discusses.

*ie. 14-years-old with two overprotective older brothers

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cover Love

I came across a few new book covers that I just adore though all for different reasons.

1. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

I love how simple yet creative this cover is. Plus, if you love to cook then I dare you to try and resist this book especially after its fabulous comparison: "Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove." LOVE it! I must add this to my reading list.

Here's a little more about the storyline:

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered twenty-six-year-old Ginny Selvaggio, isolated by Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning—before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister Amanda insists on selling their parents’ house in Philadelphia, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Offering a fascinating glimpse into the unique mind of a woman struggling with Asperger’s and featuring evocative and mouth-watering descriptions of food, this lyrical novel is as delicious and joyful as a warm brownie.

2. Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender

Now I'm not usually one for horror books (or movies) but I have to admit this sounds seriously interesting and the cover is pretty bad-ass in my opinion. Plus, you HAVE to check out its book trailer. AMAZING.

3. Hold Still by Nina LaCour

I have to confess, I definitely have a soft spot for contemporary books and covers done in soft tones usually featuring a photograph rather than really modern artwork or typography. I don't know, that's just what I'm first drawn to at the bookstore and I suppose considering a large majority of books that I read in both YA and adult fiction are contemporary, it's probably not a big surprise. This book cover, therefore, is right up my alley. I also like how the girl on the cover almost seems to be on a precipice as if we don't know if she's about to jump and fall or fly.

I also wanted to highlight this book as it tackles the issue of teen suicide something that we've all heard a lot about lately and which I highlighted in my post about the "It Gets Better" Trevor Project. I congratulate LaCour for tackling such a difficult topic and from what I've read and watched about it, with haunting yet poetic prose.

Here's the book trailer which I think you'll agree, is pretty fantastic. The slightly grainy feel of the film coupled with the narrator's voice-over seems to really tap into the heart of the novel and the difficulty of coping with depression and loss.

Anyone else see some great new book covers or have recommended reads?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Morning Moment of Zen?

I'm all for creativity; I mean I'm a writer and also a very visual person but sometimes in life (as in literature) some things just don't mix.

First, my confession: I'm a huge nerd. There. If you didn't know before, the truth is officially out of the bag. I love Dictionary.com's word of the day. Sometimes they help spruce up my vocabulary and other times it's just pure fun (nerd fun, that is) to hear the quirky words making their way into the dictionary.

But then I read about "zedonk." Yes, yes, it's fun to say but seriously what is it? Well, it's the offspring of a zebra and a donkey that's what. No, I'm not kidding. And if you need photographic evidence then here you go:

Now, I understand the want to create new things. I even understand the current obsession with mixed breed dogs like Labradoodles and Goldendoodles but, surely, there must be a line. We all take such care to try to name kids--and even characters--things that won't get them pummeled on the playground but zedonk? Not only does the name seem made up but it looks like the poor, little animal has on weird knee-high socks.

I know this isn't zen-like but in my quest for all things zen, I stumbled upon zedonk instead and couldn't help but add this to your verbal library.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Greetings from Paris

That's right. I'm not sitting around huddled over my laptop like usual but stuffing my face with croissants (okay, okay with eclairs, baguettes, pain de chocolates, and a couple glasses bottles of wine too!), attempting to speak French, and loving life in the city of lights!

So this blog post is brought to you courtesy of Blogger's amazing pre-posting capabilities. I'm praying all is going off without a hitch!

It seemed fitting given my trip abroad that I highlight Stephanie Perkin's soon-to-be-released (as in December 2!) book Anna and the French Kiss.

Here's a little about the plot line:

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, √Čtienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

And it's been receiving rave reviews by everyone who has been able to get their hands on an ARC. I think my favorite quote comes from New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson: "Very sly. Very funny. Very romantic. You should date this book."

If you don't believe her you can read reviews here, and here, oh yeah and here, here, and here! Crazy, I know.

It's not often I see this much excitement about a book that hasn't even hit the shelves but as far as YA novels go, Anna and the French Kiss is definitely drumming up some serious groundswell so get ready, get set, and on December 2 go to your bookstore and pick this up!

I want to hear from you though. Do you think you'll run out and get this book and, if not, what books are you putting on your Christmas wish-lists?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Personal Demons Review & Giveaway

Warning: Lisa Desrochers' debut novel Personal Demons is highly addictive.

Here's a little about the book.

Frannie Cavanaugh has always been a bit of a loner. She's spent years keeping everyone at a distance, even her closest friends. That is, until Luc Cain enrolls in her school. He's hot, sarcastic, and dangerous—-and Frannie can't seem to stay away.

What she doesn't know is that Luc is on a mission. Because Frannie isn't exactly ordinary. She possesses a skill so unique that the king of Hell himself has taken notice, and he's sent Luc to claim Frannie's soul. It should be easy: All he has to do is get her to sin, and Luc is as tempting as they come.

Unfortunately for Luc, Heaven has other plans, and he's just started making progress when the angel Gabriel shows up. Gabe will do anything to keep Luc from getting what he came for, and his angelic charm might just be enough to keep Frannie on the right path.

It isn't long before Luc and Gabe find themselves fighting for more than just Frannie's soul. But if Luc fails to win her over, there will be Hell to pay . . . for all of them.

Personal Demons is rocking 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads and it's well deserved.

Desrochers has all the ingredients in this book for a hit. There are likable though flawed characters, a love triangle, and nearly constant rising action as Luc and Gabe fight for Frannie's attention--and her soul. Continued threats from the Underworld will have you anxious to find out what happens next. Though I didn't miss my metro stop reading this book I certainly stayed up well beyond my bedtime several nights in a row so I could finish it and find out for certain just what happens of our heroine.

There were a few critiques I had namely that Frannie is quite literally out of breath for the first half of the novel; every class she attends she's escorted by either Luc or Gabe, hand on the small of her back guiding her there; and the heaven/hell colloquial sayings sometimes felt overdone (e.g. "for the sin of Satan). That said, these are easily forgivable when looking at the book as a whole. Though Frannie is wildly enamored with her new gorgeous classmates and revels in their attention, she's no classic flirt or push over. Far from it in fact. She has 8 years of judo under her belt, is smart enough to get a full academic scholarship to UCLA, and is very cognizant of her actions towards others while also helping improve their lot in life (e.g. helping her friend Taylor's father find a job). In short, she's much more put together than your average senior in high school. Ironically, for her family, she's a bit of a bad-ass given her expulsion from Catholic school but the first person narrative reveals that much of this is due not to behavioral problems but an inquisitive mind.

This is, in fact, an issue I must congratulate Desrochers. She tackled crisis of faith head-on and in a teen novel no less, certainly not an easy feat. Her treatment felt real and relatable and I was pleasantly surprised just how deep this theme ran. It makes sense, of course, given that heaven and hell are battling for Frannie's soul but Desrochers didn't take the easy way out and our protagonist really struggles with this. Is there a God? Why do unfair things seem to happen? How could someone I love die young? These are just some of the many questions Frannie struggles with and I hope that this book not only serves as a delicious addictive read but goes beyond that especially for young readers--that it encourages them to open up and be honest about where they're at with their struggles, what questions they have, their place in the world, and yeah, even God.

Desrochers really created authentic voices for the characters and an accurate portrayal of teens in this book. I loved that it offers alternating perspectives between Frannie and Luc though I would have enjoyed hearing what Gabe was thinking. Given that Gabe is not as central a character, however, this would have been difficult to achieve while still creating a seamless plot line. At minimum I would have liked to have heard more about what Gabe was doing exactly while Frannie and Luc were together since Gabe's mission is to keep Frannie safe and every second with Luc is a second her soul is in jeopardy.

But perhaps these questions will soon be answered. Personal Demons is gaining wild success having been picked up in 10 countries in addition to the U.S. and is the first installment of a three part trilogy. Original Sin, the second novel in the series, will be out July 2011 and Hellbent, the third novel, will be out May 2012. To learn more about Desrochers check out her Website. She's also posted an interview she did on Sacramento & Co. along with her book tour dates.

The book is sold at all major book distributors...OR you can win a copy right here. That's right. I'm hosting another book giveaway. Here are the rules:

1. Be a follower of the blog
2. Send me an email at scookraymond@gmail.com, subject line "Personal Demons" to enter.
3. Contest runs until Friday, November 26 at 5 pm EST. The winner will be notified via email and posted here on the blog on Monday, November 29.
4. Extra entries for each time you blog, tweet, Facebook about the contest and two extra entries for every friend you refer.

Good luck and game on!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Morning Moment of Zen

I was laid up most of the weekend and then some with the flu but thankfully TBS ran their usual movie marathons. This weekend was full of comedies including Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

I love Will Ferrell and his sometimes dry and even over-the-top sense of humor. In particular, I couldn't help but laugh at this closing scene where the characters truly battle it out until the finish. The icing on the cake, however, was Pat Benatar's "We Belong" playing in the background.

Here's the clip (pardon the brief commercial). Hopefully it makes you laugh like it did me.

Anyone else watch--or read--something funny this weekend?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It occurred to me that I haven't shared any of my works in progress. As I'm knee-deep (ie. 25k words and counting) in the YA male POV book I mentioned a couple weeks ago I thought I would share an excerpt from that.

In short, Toby our 15-year-old main character has gym class and has just learned they're playing dodge ball today. The scene begins when he's in the locker room.

“What are you looking at?” Chris says to me. I’m nameless. He has no idea who I am but I know perfectly well who he is. He’s an Abercrombie & Fitch wannabe douche bag with too much hair product to the brain. He’s the guy all the girls drool over—-further evidence that the universe has a cruel sense of humor. He’s the guy who’s about to kill me.

I’ve grown six inches in the last year and am all flailing limbs whilst his body is built on protein shakes, bromance visits to the weight room, and a winning genetic lottery ticket. I can almost see the headline now: Local boy dies of uncoordination during dodge ball game.

I change quickly and hurry down to the gymnasium. Sure enough, Chris ends up on the other team and somehow all his buddies do too. Mr. Jones must be the biggest bully in school, how else can you explain the jocks versus my team: Team Deer in Headlights. How is this even sanctioned exercise? I wonder as I hear the whistle blow.

In my periphery I see movement at the far end of the gym. I know better than to look away but I do regardless and as I suspected it’s Cassandra. Her friends flow out behind her like a flock of birds in a V. Then *wham* I’m lying on my back, my cheek burning from the sting of rubber. I close my eyes and hear Chris begin laughing and then others chiming in. All I can think about is another kind of V: virgin. At this rate I’ll die one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

I suppose I should have done this post yesterday and The Rally to Restore Sanity post today seeing as yesterday was November 1st and the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month and today is election day but oh well. What's done is done.

National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo) or "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon" asks writers to pen 50,000 words in the month of November--the equivalent of a novel-length piece.

Sure it seems to prioritize quantity over quality but part of being a writer is creating--and adhering--to a schedule and getting words on the page. This challenge certainly ensures that. There's no time for writer's block. YOU.MUST.WRITE.

One of my English professors used to say that there are two types of writers: those who meticulously write word by word and those who make a mess and clean it up later. I'm not suggesting that what you write during NaNoWriMo is a mess but often revision is when the real writing happens so as I see it, this challenge, celebration, or whatever else you'd like to call it, helps you get to that next important step.

Even if you can't commit to 50,000 words then I encourage you to pick another ambitious target and stick with it. I for one have a trip abroad and not one or two but three Thanksgiving dinners to attend and limited computer access over much of this coming month.

I am, however, inspired by the enthusiasm on the Web and yesterday's posting that 55 million new words exist in the world now that didn't previously thanks to NaNoWriMo. Characters were born, alliances were made, conflict brewed.

If you adhere to NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words over the 30 days of November that's an average of at least 1,667 words a day so my goal is every day I have computer access, I need to write at least that much. Sure it won't get me to 50,000 this month but it will be me a lot closer to a completed first draft and certainly hitting 50,000 in December. Pick your goal or officially sign up to embark on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

In a time when we hear about just how much television everyone watches, it's exciting to see how many people are turning the tube off and the laptop on (even if it simply means your Tivo is getting quite a workout this month)!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I attended the John Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity this weekend in downtown Washington, DC. It's not my first foray to the National Mall for a political event though the general atmosphere for this was quite different. When Stewart encouraged "indoor voices" at the event, people did abide by that recommendation. There was no yelling or fist pumping of any kind. Statements were made by signs or simple claps of agreement during various portions of the Rally.

Attendance wildly exceeded my expectations. Streets had to be closed and metro ridership increased by 330,000. In fact, here's a picture of a major downtown street, completely shut down by human traffic:

And here's one of the crowd:

Overall it was a great day. Cat Stevens played "Peace Train" while Ozzie Osbourne tore through the stage and began playing "Crazy Train" as a kind of musical counterpoint. Kid Rock was there to sing a duet with Sheryl Crow and The Roots played, among others. The weather was beautiful and sunny and in the backdrop was the Washington Monument.

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert were their usual hilarious, witty, and intelligent selves. They boasted this of the rally: "Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement." And they had an important parting message: don't forget to vote.

In addition to standing on museum steps and lining the National Mall, attendees climbed trees and perched on traffic lights for a better view.

While laughing at Stewart's American flag Snuggie or their duet about how they represent everyone "from the gay men who like football to the straight men who like Glee," I couldn't help but take a step back and be amazed at just how active--and vocal--the public has become. It's a beautiful thing to see so many young people throw away complacency and become involved.

And as people emerged from the crowd back en route to their homes, signs that were previously tucked away to enable better visibility during the rally emerged en mass as a kind of silent protest--and closing arguments. Some were controversial, some were very politically loaded, one said, "Stop Justin Beiber" (which made me laugh though completely off topic), and others were general comments to the government at-large regardless of your affiliation like this one (another personal favorite of mine).

If you couldn't attend, you were missed. If you were there, I'm sure you'd agree my photographs can't possibly convey the general energy in the air and the palpable excitement of what's possible when people become proactive rather than reactive. I have to agree with Stewart and Colbert and say that this enthusiasm needs to be translated into tomorrow's election regardless of where you stand on the issues. Get up, go out, and vote! The general consensus of the rally was that there is nothing more American than this: the ability to peacefully assemble and the right to vote. Sure Colbert suggested the ability to eat hot dogs at baseball games and watch TBS marathons were also purely American pursuits but they won't create change.