Book Review: OLIVIA TWISTED

If you like retellings, Vivi Barnes‘ OLIVIA TWISTED is for you! It’s Oliver Twist with computer hackers. With alternating points of view, and tackling themes of abandonment, abuse, and hope–and of love and loss–Vivi delivers a novel that is emotionally true.

Here’s the blurb:OliviaTwisted

Olivia

He tilts my chin up so my eyes meet his, his thumb brushing lightly across my lips. I close my eyes. I know Z is trouble. I know that being with him is going to get me into trouble. I don’t care.

At least at this moment, I don’t care.

Tossed from foster home to foster home, Olivia’s seen a lot in her sixteen years. She’s hardened, sure, though mostly just wants to fly under the radar until graduation. But her natural ability with computers catches the eye of Z, a mysterious guy at her new school. Soon, Z has brought Liv into his team of hacker elite—break into a few bank accounts, and voila, he drives a motorcycle. Follow his lead, and Olivia might even be able to escape from her oppressive foster parents. As Olivia and Z grow closer, though, so does the watchful eye of Bill Sykes, Z’s boss. And he’s got bigger plans for Liv…

Z

I can picture Liv’s face: wide-eyed, trusting. Her smooth lips that taste like strawberry Fanta.

It was just a kiss. That’s all. She’s just like any other girl.

Except that she’s not.

Thanks to Z, Olivia’s about to get twisted.

What I loved about OLIVIA TWISTED most were the characters. The novel is told in alternating POVs from Olivia and Z’s perspective. When done well, I really enjoy dual POVs because they add depth to a work. Vivi did it well! The chapters headings contain the characters’ names, so we know immediately whose POV we’re in, but honestly, I didn’t need them. Olivia and Z’s voices were distinct enough that I just knew. This is so hard to pull off (I know–I’ve tried! lol) and Vivi did a fabulous job with channeling both characters. I loved Olivia. She was strong and stubborn and a quick-thinker–and the computer hacking part was so cool! I admit I know zilch about it, but the way Vivi works it into the plot, through the characters, was seamless. Z was mysterious and though he had this bad-boy exterior, his complexity was awesome. Sam was so much fun, too! I loved her.

There was a twist, which I sort of saw coming, but I wasn’t 100% correct. The pacing was perfect–I read this in practically one sitting, and Vivi had the perfect combination of tension and romance and action that kept me entertained, emotionally engaged, and reading because I NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. I was hooked.

Vivi Barnes is one cool kid. She’s hilarious and sweet and so much fun to be around–just ask anyone who knows her or who’s met her at an SCBWI Florida Conference. (Every year, I look forward to seeing what elaborate costume she comes up with for the next conference ball!) You can follow her on Twitter or check out her website for updates. Her new book, PAPER OR PLASTIC, comes out winter 2015 from Entangled Teen! I can’t wait to read it!

I may have been late to OLIVIA TWISTED (it debuted Nov 5, 2013 and I didn’t get to read it until May 2014), but I’m so happy I finally did!

Book Review: GILDED

GildedOne of the best things about summer vacation is that I get to read to my heart’s content. Stay up late? No problem. I can sleep in or nap the next day. All semester long, I accumulated this fabulous TBR pile that, because of work and revisions, I couldn’t get to, but oh how I wanted to.

I broke my reading fast with GILDED by Christina Farley. I met Christina at the 2013 SCBWI Florida Mid-Year Workshops. Actually, it was during the Elixir Mixer, where my friend Larissa introduced us. We got to talking about multicultural books and myths and the richness of other cultures when she told me about her debut novel, GILDED, a YA contemporary fantasy which features Korean mythology. She gave me her card, and I immediately started following her on Twitter. When her book released on March 1, I cursed I couldn’t read it immediately. When I finally did in early May, though, I was not disappointed!

Here’s the blurb:

Sixteen-year-old JaeHwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting into a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Koreandemi-god,Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next. But that’s not Jae’s only problem.There’s also Marc. Irresistible and charming, Marc threatens to break the barriers around Jae’s heart. As the two grow closer, Jae must decide if she can trust him. But Marc has a secret of his own—one that could help Jae overturn the curse on her family for good. It turns out that Jae’s been wrong about a lot of things: her grandfather is her greatest ally, even the tough girl can fall in love, and Korea might just be the home she’s always been looking for.
***
What I liked best of this novel is how Christina seamlessly weaves South Korean mythology with a fast-paced plot filled with tons of action. I couldn’t stop turning the pages and read the book in practically one sitting. We get some wonderful city views of South Korea and feel the energy of the setting. Just as impressive is the world of the demi-gods. As far as characters, Jae Hwa Lee is a strong, likable protagonist who finds herself face-to-face with the things legends are made of–and she kicks demi-god booty in the process.I can’t wait for SILVERN, the sequel to GILDED, which will pick up where GILDED left off in a brand new adventure. It’s set to release September 23, 2014!

Gaby Triana’s New Book!

I’m so excited for Gaby Triana‘s new book SUMMER OF YESTERDAY, coming out this June 17. And I’m not only saying that because she’s my critique partner and agency sister. She’s a fabulous writer! If you haven’t checked out her other books, well you totally should. And you don’t want to miss her new one, which will make an excellent summer read!

Book Description from Amazon:

Back to the Future meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High when Haley’s summer vacation takes a turn for the retro in this totally rad romantic fantasy.

Summer officially sucks. Thanks to a stupid seizure she had a few months earlier, Haley’s stuck going on vacation with her dad and his new family to Disney’s Fort Wilderness instead of enjoying the last session of summer camp back home with her friends. Fort Wilderness holds lots of childhood memories for her father, but surely nothing for Haley. But then a new seizure triggers something she’s never before experienced—time travel—and she ends up in River Country, the campground’s long-abandoned water park, during its heyday.

The year? 1982.

And there—with its amusing fashion, “oldies” music, and primitive technology—she runs into familiar faces: teenage Dad and Mom before they’d even met. Somehow, Haley must find her way back to the twenty-first century before her present-day parents anguish over her disappearance, a difficult feat now that she’s met Jason, one of the park’s summer residents and employees, who takes the strangely dressed stowaway under his wing.

Seizures aside, Haley’s used to controlling her life, and she has no idea how to deal with this dilemma. How can she be falling for a boy whose future she can’t share?

And here’s the book trailer:

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I have a blurb for WIP!

It’s still a work in progress, obviously, but here’s the blurb I’m using for NaNo:

Seventeen-year-old Mia Salcedo has her entire future planned out: She’s going to leave Miami and the disaster of her parents’ divorce, attend NYU, and become the world’s greatest writer. But when she’s diagnosed with lupus, her entire world comes to a crashing halt. Determined to stay in denial, she confides in no one, not even her best friend and boyfriend. But it’s not enough. Even the everyday tasks are excruciating, and soon, she’s alienating everyone just when she needs them most. To escape the pain and exhaustion and mockery, she turns to her writing, which literally takes her to the worlds she creates, where she’s free from the constraints of the disease. As she retreats from the real world for longer periods of time, however, her words and worlds become darker, and she’s forced to make a choice: stay and watch everyone she loves fade away, or return to reality and face her reality. But will it be too late to mend the relationships she’s worked so hard at pushing away? And will her health fail her when she needs it most?

Eradicating Self-Doubt

One of my favorite quotes about writing is this:

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” –Sylvia Plath

It’s the reminder that, above all, I can never let self-doubt win. Because let’s be honest: everyone doubts themselves. Even if on the exterior they ooze confidence, I guarantee that in the darkest corners of their being, they sometimes, at some point, feel it creeping in. It’s inevitable. I’ve stopped asking, “Is this normal?” and started thinking, “Beat it, punk. I don’t have time for you.”

It’s easy to let the crippling fear of self doubt paralyze you. That bugger is a thorn who craves breaking you. But I think when we realize that this isn’t something unique to us, that even the most fabulous, amazing storytellers among us have felt it and probably still feel it at times, then we can square our shoulders and push self-doubt out. Slam the door shut in its face. Recognize the bait it uses, the repeated pattern of assault and re-entry so we can squash it before it takes hold.

Because if you let it take hold, you will quit. And if you quit, you’ll never reach your dreams. This is something I can’t–and won’t–afford. I know in the deepest part of me, the part that self-doubt tries to overshadow, that I can do this. That I will do this. It’s just a matter of time. In that time, I’ll keep learning, improving because that’s what we have to do. We can’t stay static. (Heck, this is a human reality, not just a writer one. We never stop learning and we never should. Otherwise, what good are we to society? To the world? To ourselves?)

I know I’m not alone. I’ve read blog posts of New York Times best-sellers who tackle this issue. The fear that seeps in with a blank page, with a new series, with revisions. Can I do this? What if I have no more words in me? What if…? And time and time again, the answer is yes, I can do this. Yes, I have more words. Yes….

So self-doubt, hear me: Get the eff out. You’re not welcome in this creative space.

Plotting my way to NaNoWriMo

I’m breaking my hiatus. The last few weeks, I’ve been slowly swinging upward. Slowly, I’ve been finding that the pain is a little less severe, the exhaustion a little less debilitating, my energy a little more pronounced, and my breathing a little more at ease. I’m having way more “good” days than “bad” ones and can keep up with the pace of life. I’m cautiously optimistic that it’ll last. After going off the evil med, I didn’t start a new one and I’m holding out hope that maybe I don’t have to. That maybe I can control it with what I’m already on. And maybe–just maybe–I can stop those at some point.

But that’s not what this post is about. Nope. It’s all about NaNoWriMo!

I debated about participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. After I finished THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, I’ve been in this lull. Sure, I’m querying, but creatively, I was in an abyss. Where to now? TTWC was done. The PB I was working on sent to a contest. And with the semester in full swing and being inundated with papers to grade, I didn’t know if I had the energy to purse another long project. Not only that, but I had (ahem, have) a list of awesome shiny new ideas but no clue which to pursue next. They were a black hole of ideas. A friend encouraged me to work on something short and fun, and I considered short stories. Then I thought to work on another picture book manuscript. I started it. Then I had an idea for a children’s poem, which I completed and which sucked words back into me. I worked and reworked it and submitted it to a magazine.

I was back to square one with the writing. What next? And NaNo around the corner made me take another long look at those shiny new ideas. I turned them over in my mind on my commute to and from work (I have a loong commute). I poked and prodded them while prepping for class or while my students wrote. And soon, the project took form in such a way, that I wanted to smack my forehead with a resounding DUH. It’s another YA magical realism (or maybe light fantasy?) but it’s different than what I’ve written in the past.

So I have my NaNoWriMo project. I wanted to prepare, but I was running out of time. And I had papers to grade (they’re truly never ending). This weekend, however, I finally had downtime and I started plotting. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m more of a pantser when I begin writing. About half-way, I’ll start plotting. I want to do things differently this time because I’m determined to “win” NaNo. I want to reach 50K by the end of November. Plotting will help me reach that goal.

Monday I put the final plotting touches and I’m excited to start. I’ve been drafting some character sketches, getting acquainted with my main character and her mom. But more than that, I’m excited and a tad bit nervous. Because this will probably be one of the more personal projects I’ve tackled.

In the coming days, I’m going to update my NaNo profile and this blog to include the blurb and tentative title for this project.

And I’m ready to “win.”

 

Happy Book Birthday to Laura M. Kolar!

Last summer, I had an amazing opportunity to take an online course in LitReactor with literary agent Mandy Hubbard. It was inspiring and informational with awesome critiques. But the best part was getting to meet some fabulous writing friends. In fact, many of us have remained friends and have become critique partners.

One such friend is Laura M. Kolar, who today celebrates the release of her debut novel, CANVAS BOUND (Book 1 in the Captive Art Series).

CanvasBound

About the book from Amazon:

“Sixteen-year-old Libby Tanner’s art comes to life. Her painted skies turn from day to night, leaves rustle on trees, and sometimes, a mystery boy appears. While attending England’s Aldridge Art Academy, Libby meets charming Brent Henderson, a performing arts student who showers her with attention. But his rival, gorgeous Dean James, is the one who occupies her mind, even though he’s very much attached to his current girlfriend. Libby soon learns there’s more to both Brent and Dean than she ever imagined. In order to save her future and the boy who’s captured her heart, she must unlock the secrets behind her art by entering the most dangerous place of all… the world within her paintings. But once she steps into the canvas, she risks being trapped forever.”
I had the privilege of reading CANVAS BOUND early on and I’m dying to read the final product. Laura’s book was the first I beta-read, and the first I saw to fruition, which makes me double–no, triple!–excited. But the thing is, it’s a wonderful read. There’s romance. And magic. And mystery. And romance (wait, I already said that!) When I read it, I couldn’t put it down because I HAD to know what happened. I loved Libby and Dean and Brent and the whole cast of characters. And I loved the magic because seriously, how cool is it to have paintings that come to life!
So if you like YA fiction with a touch of magic, go buy it! And then go follow her on Twitter!

Writing Reflections

Now that I have two projects on the table, one in final stages of an R&R and the other still in the drafting process (20K words in), I keep feeling that sense of wonder at the way the words come together to form these stories. It’s like a drug, an adrenaline high!

But what I find most fascinating lately is that no matter how different the stories and characters and feel of each individual project, I love each one just as much, even if differently. Does that make sense? I wonder if this is how parents with more than one kid feel. I can’t completely wrap my mind around it.

SOUL MOUNTAIN was my first love. I breathed and lived this story, these characters for about two years, from the moment I dreamt it to the moment a former instructor encouraged me to write Jimmy and Emily’s story. I have that email printed and posted where I can see it, for the days when self-doubt rears her ugly head. It took me a little over a year to decide this was something I wanted to do and once I did, I couldn’t stop. SOUL MOUNTAIN tested me. It’s a fantasy, so there’s world-building involved. Quite a bit, actually, and in doing so, I learned so much. But essentially, though there are scenes that take place in the real world, locations with which I’m familiar, a good chunk of it takes place in another level. The process of creating this other world (or rather, this other dimension of our world) was fascinating. It was dreaming put to the max: I am master of this universe and I create the rules. Pretty darn cool! And challenging. But nonetheless amazing. I started Soul Mountain with a feeling, a pair of characters, and a scene. The possibilities grew from there.

For THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, I wanted to turn to something that has always called my attention: magical realism. It was my focus for my MA thesis and I’ve long since admired the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Toni Morrison. So when I set out to brainstorm this story, I started with a setting (I wanted to tell a story in Cartagena, Colombia) and the desire to explore the magic of this city. Then came the main character, Micaela Uribe, who just sassed her way into the story. The rest started coming together as I researched the magnificent, and oftentimes turbulent history of Cartagena. And what a different experience writing it has been! Though there is some magic and I have to work out the myth that is accepted as real, TTWC is rooted in the here and now. And the best part hands down has been getting to write about that which makes me Colombian: the food, the people, the experiences. It’s like tapping into my memories, my experiences growing up while straddling both the Colombian and American realities while molding this story. It’s pretty awesome!

I can’t wait to see how the process evolves into the other stories I tackle. And I hope I never grow tired of it. Ever.

Because it’s pretty freakin’ awesome. 🙂

Book Hangover

book-hangoverThis is me right now, still hungover on Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. To say it’s awesome is an understatement. The characters…wow. And the setting…amazing. And the costumes… sigh. And the writing…lovely.

Okay, I’ll stop. I’m not very eloquent right now. 😉 I promise to come back with a review, though, once the semester’s officially over.

In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming with Alina, Mal and the Darkling. 🙂

New Project!

With SOUL MOUNTAIN now officially in the querying stage, I’m focusing my attention on a new project, tentatively titled THROUGH THE WALLED CITY. I have a new cast of characters that are setting up shop in my head, and I’m excited about it! Today I tweeted: Write what you know, sure, but for the real adventure, write what you’ve always wanted to know. And that’s what this project is for me. I’ve always wanted to know more about Cartagena, this gem of a city on the northern coast of Colombia. It’s a current popular Caribbean port, though it’s always been popular–just not always for tourism. This city has such a rich but turbulent history with slave trade, pirates, conquests, and this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn more.

And I’m totally calling in a “research” trip to truly immerse myself in its beauty and history.

Though I’m still working on the details and characters (I’m in the planning/research phase of this project), this is the basic premise as of now. I think (hope?) it will be more magical realism than fantasy:

When fifteen-year-old Micaela “Mica” Uribe is sent to spend the summer with her aunt and cousin in historic Cartagena, she doesn’t expect to literally step into history. She also doesn’t expect to fall for the cute local, Gianluca. But as she experiences the city’s past with Gianluca’s help, she comes to terms with her heritage and her present.

So yeah. It’s vague but I’m SO EXCITED about this new project! =D And I’m choosing songs for my playlist because after I finish grading these sets of papers I owe my students, and after I finish beta reading two manuscripts, I’m going to start writing in earnest!

I’m also scribbling outlines for the sequel to SOUL MOUNTAIN, and that’s what I’ll be working on through my UCLA classes this fall.

Oh my. Two projects at once. Am I crazy? Maybe, but now that I’ve had one book-length project done, I feel more prepared to tackle these next two.

Happy writing (and revising), everyone!