Saturday, November 22, 2014


It's that time again! You're going home. Family and food are happening. Sportsball will likely be on your TV. Need something innocuous to discuss while you stuff more pie in your face? You've come to the right place! And lucky for you, non-sports viewer, this year's slate of Thanksgiving games features all of our favorite whipping posts, from Tony Romo to Jay Cutler and ports in between. We haven't had this much fun since the Butt Fumble (seems like it was only last Thanksgiving, but no, it was TWO Thanksgivings ago and it's kept giving ever since).

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
12:30pm EST (CBS)

Big week in Detroit. On Sunday, the Lions play in New England against the evil Patriots. On Monday, they're letting the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets "borrow" their stadium so that they don't have to play in 47 feet of snow, and then on Thursday, they host their annual Thanksgiving game. For generations, the Lions' Thanksgiving game has been the perfect opportunity for a food nap, but in recent years, they've become much more interesting. After monster receiver Calvin Johnson (also known as "Megatron") broke all the receiving records a year or two ago, the Lions have been kind of quiet this year, almost sneakily going 7-3.

Their opponent, the Bears of Chicago, have been anything BUT quiet and sneaky. They've been a delightful tire fire while having a bunch of really exciting fantasy football players. Even embattled quarterback Jay Cutler has put up lovely fantasy numbers (I have him on my team). I love watching Jay Cutler; he reminds me of April from Parks and Recreation; I firmly believe he has a heart of gold underneath that glum stare (he's from Santa Claus, Indiana for crying out loud, which, incidently also claims Hall of Fame Quarterback Bob Griese as its own).

Basically, this game features two entities just dying to collapse for our amusement, and getting Jay Cutler as part of my Thanksgiving festivities is an unexpected treat. I don't know what I've done to deserve this, but I'm unworthy. Thank you, NFL Schedulers.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
4:30pm EST (FOX)

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Mark Sanchez's triumphant return to Thanksgiving day! (Watches Butt Fumble video three more times.)

The word on Philly is that they like to play football as though it's basketball. They like to snap the ball fast, score fast, everything fast. The announcers have trouble talking between plays. If they get their way, it will be a difficult game to nap through, like being in a room with a strobe light. Their starting quarterback is a guy named Nick Foles, who looks shockingly like Napoleon Dynamite, but Nick/Napoleon is injured, and that's how we get Mark Sanchez, his back up, who exists somewhere in the realm of "I've played in two AFC Championship games, but I'm also the guy from the Butt Fumble." So anything could happen, including copious napping.

A few weeks ago on Monday Night Football, Tony Romo fractured his back. Then he took a flight from Dallas to London and still played. Now he's back and (theoretically) still-still playing. If Mark Sanchez is known for a two-year-old Butt Fumble, then Romo is probably best known for a seven-year-old botched snap in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Both guys have enjoyed being the coolest dude in the room and being beat up as the most incompetent moron in the league, or so it would seem. But only one will emerge victorious, and both have their eyes on playoff spots with only about a month to go. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
8:30pm EST (NBC)

The other two Thanksgiving games are cool because they have an awesome mix of comedic potential and actual sporting potential. This business, however, is commonly thought of as the best rivalry in the land (at least at this moment). The Seahawks are defending Super Bowl champs, and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl the year previous. They legitimately don't like each other. Even the coaches have some previous, dating back to when they coached at rival college institutions (49ers Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Seahawks Pete Carroll at USC). This game is the real deal, and they're playing it in the 49ers brand new shiny stadium.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving week!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Read then Write: UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan

Earlier this month I was invited to participate in #YALaunch, an author event in Omaha, Nebraska highlighting debut authors Kate Brauning and Nikki Urang, who have been critique partners for years and just happened to have their books released on the same day. I'll do a proper write up on this one day soon (there are rumors that links to videos might be made available), but for the purposes of this post, #YALaunch is when I at last met my friend Alex Yuschik, an amazing lady who is getting her PhD in Mathematics by day and writing modernized Shakespeare by night. Much to my surprise, Alex showed up in Omaha with a stack of three books and instructions for me to take them back to Chicago because she thought I'd like them.

I trust Alex, so I jumped in with the first of those books.
UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan.
Let the post-read freewrite begin:

I'd heard of Brennan and knew she had a great reputation, but I hadn't read any of her work before this. As is my usual habit, I didn't read the jacket copy or any other summaries (because they often tell you what happens through the first 1/3 of the book and it's no fun "discovering" things you already know). It's a paranormal, which isn't usually my favorite thing. I'm not that in to creatures (werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc). But I do enjoy psychics and a good witch/wizard, and this is more in that direction.

The general idea is that the main character (Kami, an English girl of Japanese heritage) has had an "imaginary friend" her whole life, someone she talks to that no one else can see. Kami can't see him either, but she can hear his voice in her head. When she's older (17 I think?), she meets the guy who is the source of the voice, an actual guy who can actually speak into her mind. Turns out their voices are reciprocal.

"Mind Reader Boy" books aren't that rare in YA, but I did especially like this one, not for the gimmick itself, but for the voice. It's one of the "voiciest" third-person books I can remember reading. It's probably 90% from Kami's point of view with a few very brief jumps into the boy's (Jared) perspective. And, in a refreshing shift from other "mind reader boy" stories, romance isn't the point. They're trying to solve a mystery, and Brennan really sells the stakes, especially in the last act. Kami's a budding investigative reporter, and since she has the reputation around their village as "the crazy girl who hears voices," people kind of let her do whatever she's gotta do.

This book has a funny, energetic voice. It has fun, well-rounded supporting characters (I especially enjoy Kami's best friend Angela, who will do just about anything to avoid human interaction, and who plans her life around nap-taking). My only qualm was that, as much as I enjoyed the voice and wanted to spend time with it, it didn't sound especially English to me. Granted, I'm just another loud-mouthed American, but there were a few instances that pinged the back of my mind and made me think, "Is that really how an English teenager would say this?" But, then I was reminded that Sarah Rees Brennan is actually Irish, so perhaps that accounts for some of it? Or perhaps I have unrealistic expectations of modern, teenage, English voices?

Their world is a charming little English village (Sorry-in-the-Vale, which in my mind, is Night Vale with a woods instead of a desert) run by an old-school, feudal, manor-living family. It's about 80% pleasant village and 20% suspense as the mystery intensifies toward the end.

Alex also gave me the second book in the series, UNTOLD, so I'll jump right in to that while this world is still fresh in my mind. Would recommend this to those looking for a pleasant, lighthearted read with some elements of suspense and magic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Recent Reads and TBR Coming Attractions

Once upon a time, I had a college professor who suggested that we should free-write 200-400 words after reading a book, just so that we could easily remember our initial impressions of it. We read a lot, and it all inevitably started to blend together without a little cheatsheet. Back in the day, before things like "followers," I created this blog with the intention of recording thoughts like these, to help me remember what I got out of any given story (books/movies/TV). It's relatively easy, saved for eternity, and even SEARCHABLE! If anyone else benefits from my ramblings on a given story or idea, then bonus! The only problem is, I got lazy, and now there's a huge gap in my memory.

A lot of writers I know seem to have a goal of reading about 100 books a year (roughly two a week). I've done alright keeping up on my reading, but I've gotten lax in keeping notes, to the point that in some cases, if a book doesn't make a really strong impression, I sort of forget that I already read it and go through the embarrassing moment of "that kind of sounds familiar...??? :( :( :(." And then I lose my street cred.

For the past several months, I've been sportsball blogging here, freelance editing, and writing my own stuff. That's all been lovely. But my early New Year's Resolution is to be a bit more organized in my reading. Here are a few lines about my recent reads and what I hope to get to in the next few weeks.


* THE INFINITE SEA by Rick Yancey
I read these two books back-to-back and nearly got genre whiplash, but I adored them both.
THE INFINITE SEA is the second installment in the 5TH WAVE series. It's a sci-fi thriller told from several different first person POVs. I was a little hesitant to embrace some of those perspectives at first, but they each proved worthy and won me over in the end (some were even just very brief flashes inside a character's mind). This book is creepy as hell, and makes excellent, heart-wrenching use of the word "owie" in the first chapter. Loved it, would recommend it.

ISLA, on the other hand, is a sweet love story that recalibrated my brain after being chased by alien monsters for ~300pages. By comparison, some readers might say "nothing happens" because we've grown to used to the pattern of "everything is going so well... and then there's a MURDER (or other catastrophic disaster)." Spoiler alert, no one gets murdered in ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I kept waiting, waiting for something truly gruesome and terrible to happen, and stuff did go wrong, but it shifted what felt like "high stakes" in my mind. It was real and funny and voicey and so different than anything else I'd read for awhile, with it's lack of death and pestilence, that I voted for it hard in the Goodreads "Best Young Adult Fiction" category. A completely refreshing reading experience that basically revolves around, "the guy I've been crushing on for years just noticed me, and now I'm afraid he'll be kicked out of our boarding school."

* IF I STAY by Gayle Forman
I mostly read this because the movie was coming out, and were it not for the movie, this is probably one I'd accidentally forget I'd read. It was fine, there was nothing "wrong" with it, it just wasn't my thing. Compared to the other things I'd read before and after, it felt like there wasn't a lot happening, other than the narrator trying really, really hard to convince us that she loved classical music and was unashamed. But the movie looks beautiful, so I'll probably try to catch it at some point. This book is popular for a reason, so I'd like to know if there's something I just missed, so seeing it through the movie-maker's eyes might shed some new light.

* GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn
I gave in to peer pressure and read this like everyone else. I was especially in to this after I learned that Gillian Flynn lives one neighborhood away from me in Chicago. I mean, what if I cut her off in traffic some random day, or take the last marble loaf while she's standing behind me in the Starbucks line? Anywho, GONE GIRL was especially interesting to me because I suspect she was partially inspired by a couple of local missing wives cases from a few years ago. Like the rest of the world, I felt like the book ended a few chapters too late, but overall, by far my favorite "grown up" book I've read in a long time. (Speaking of grown-up books, I also gave in to the peer pressure and gave OUTLANDER a try, if nothing else so that I could better follow Lori M. Lee's live-tweets of the TV show.)

Probably the most satisfying reading experience I've had in a very long time. I devoured these books after they were recommended to me by my friend Emery Lord, and then she got to enjoy watching me completely melt under their power. It's the best kind of character driven fantasy story, told in third person, about a female assassin, imprisoned for her crimes, and then released on a condition that she participate in a competition (small-scale Hunger Games). So often in fantasy, world building is the star, but in the first book, these people hardly leave the castle (which is made of glass, mind you). There are late-night murders reminiscent of a game of Clue, there's friendship and betrayal, backstabbing and kissing, hints of magic, EVERYTHING. I loved these books so much my brain melted, can't wait for the fourth one.


* RUN TO YOU (PARTS IV-VI) by Clara Kensie
So, I moved twice in the last year, and during most of that time I was a tablet-only reader for practicality purposes. Once we finished the last move, I basked in the opportunity to at last read "paper" books again. And that was right about the time the last three installments of these psychic serial killer romantic thrillers came out (e-reader only). They've been there waiting on me, and I want badly to read them because the first three were a lot of fun and Clara is so talented. If only I were better at reading multiple things at a time, I'd have done it already.

I met Lori at Chicago's 2014 Spring Fling and have been looking forward to this one ever since. It's been at my bedside taunting me and I'm furious with myself for not getting to it yet.

For people who read this blog back when I actually posted to it, you might recall that Diana Peterfreund won my favor by nailing a YA sci-fi retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel and officially earning a special place in my heart. Every since, I've been wanting to visit her other work, especially this one (a similar YA sci-fi retelling of Persuasion).

* INTO THE FIRE by Ashelyn Drake
I've been working as a freelance editor for Month9 Books for several months now. Month9 specializes in young adult speculative fiction, and has developed some pretty cool stuff, especially considering that it's a small press and has only been in operation for two years. Since I'm still one of the new kids, I've been scrambling to catch up on their list, and they've (or, I guess "we've?") been busy. This is one (which I did NOT work on) that keeps jumping out at me as potentially special.

* MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME by Everyone Ever
Several years ago, beloved authors John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), Maureen Johnson (13 Little Blue Envelopes) and Lauren Myracle (The Infinite Moment of Us) worked together on a holiday compilation called LET IT SNOW, which will soon be a major motion picture (in my mind, it will look kind of like the young adult version of Love Actually). Since I fell so in love with LET IT SNOW, I was more than ready to impulse buy MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME, featuring several of my favorite writers. Holly Black (I adored The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and have been wanting to try Doll Bones). Ally Carter (The Heist Society series makes me very happy). Stephanie Perkins (already gushed about how much I loved Isla, and Stephanie actually edited this beast). And NINE OTHERS, one story for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which is why this is a "Do not open until after Thanksgiving" item for me and mine.

So now you tell me - what are your recent reads and what's missing from my TBR pile?