May 31, 2012

Rants & Raves: Walking the Fine Line of Retellings

This is a feature that appears sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!
You might be interested to check out this guest post at A Backwards Story by Leah Cypess, which may in part have inspired this post of mine. This guest post at The Book Rat by Marissa Meyer and this blog post by Zoë Marriott also take a look at retelling fairy tales. Also, if you'd like a list of YA retellings, Resugo at Resugo's Bookish Paradise is compiling one here.

I usually have the same reaction whenever I see that someone's written a YA retelling of a classic story. First, I go: "Oh, cool! ______ set in high school/the 1950s/China/the future! That's such a creative idea." This is then quickly followed by: "Oh no! A retelling of ______! There are SO MANY THINGS that could go wrong."

This is because, although I appreciate that writers come up with plenty of fresh new spins on classic stories, at heart I am a purist. There is a reason that the book is a classic, after all. So part of me thinks, "Well, if it was done so well the first time that it's on its billionth printing...why do you feel you need to tell it again?"

But then another part of me argues back, "But classic retellings are a great way to introduce kids to classic literature! Then maybe then they'll actually want to pick up Pride & Prejudice/Jane Eyre/Much Ado About Nothing/what-have-you!"

This last point, however, is only true if the retelling is done WELL. If it's done badly, you may have turned the kid off that classic for a long, long time. Which, let's hope, is never the author's intention. (If the classic sucks in the first place, like Wuthering Heights, that's a whole different story. Apologies to any die-hard Wuthering Heights fans out there, but I am Team Jane Eyre all the way.)

The only way to enjoy Wuthering Heights: through a comic. Check out some other scenes at Hark! A Vagrant.

In one way, discerning the quality of a classic retelling is just like for any other story. Are the characters well-developed? Does the plot move along at a decent pace? Is there emotional and/or physical tension? If relevant, is the world-building strong? If the answer to all of these questions is a big fat NO, then I'd say not only do you not have a well-written retelling on your hands, but you don't even have a well-written story on your hands. Head on back to the drawing board.

But in another way, a retelling is a whole new can of worms. Because you're not creating something from nothing. You're changing a story that's already been told. You're moving it to a new time period, or a new setting, or altering the characters' ages or ethnicities, or maybe you're even giving it a different ending or interpreting a major event in a fresh way. The change you make has to be significant enough that it makes the retelling its own story. Otherwise, there is no point to it. Readers might as well just pick up the classic.

However, it can't be so different that you can no longer claim it is a retelling. If the only similarity between your story and the original is the characters' names, then no, you haven't written a retelling. You've written a totally different book, so change the names, stop pitching it as a retelling, and let it stand on its own two feet.
You don't want your retelling to be like the movie adaptation of Ella Enchanted, do you? No. I didn't think so.

To determine if you've written a retelling that is neither too close nor too far from the original, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:

- If the characters' names were changed to ones not remotely resembling the original names, would  the story still be recognizable? Could a reader point to various events or personalities and go, "This is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland/Tess of the d'Urbervilles!"
- What is the twist that my retelling has? Is it a change in setting, ending, character, plot point?
- If I could pitch the retelling as "Name of original book meets ______," what would it be?
- If I had a chance to sit down with the original author, and I told him/her all about your retelling, what would their response be? Would they approve? Or would they keel over in shock and horror?

"You added zombies to my novel? I am most SERIOUSLY displeased."

- What are the themes in my story? (Identifying themes is always a good idea anyway.) What are the themes in the original? How similar are they? Are there any that conflict? I'd say retellings generally should be similar thematically to the original, as that's a major part of what ties the two stories together, despite all the modifications you've made.
- In what ways does my story bring something completely new to the table? Why is this element or aspect important enough to warrant retelling the story?
- Once someone has finished reading my story, will there be any point to them reading the classic? (If not, then you've likely followed the original too closely. There should always be good reason for still reading the classic!)

No matter what the story, books aren't written in a vacuum. Authors, even those who aren't trying to write retellings, are still influenced by other authors' works. Sometimes this is unconscious, sometimes this is conscious. Sometimes it's just happy accident that two authors come up with really similar ideas all on their own.

So if you think about it, if you're writing a retelling, you've got an edge. The story you're doing over has already been written, read, and is likely well-known. (In many cases the author's dead, too.) You know your book is going to be influenced by another. And what you get to do is take the best aspects of the classic, and the best part of your own imagination — and build something new on a tried-and-true foundation.

May 30, 2012

U-Pick: Couple With The Wittiest Banter?

Here's how this feature works: each week I'll post a categorical superlative (e.g. "most sadistic villain" "crankiest father figure" "protagonist you would most like to slap some sense into" etc.) and list a few choices of characters from YA books in a poll. You get to pick! The poll will run for a week, and then in the following post I'll update with the name of the winning character. 

The last poll was for the YA Character Most In Need of Psychiatric Help, and there was a clear winner! Congratulations to...

...Bellatrix Lestrange!

I think Bellatrix will be pleased to know that everyone acknowledges how twisted she is. Ty from Stolen came in a few votes behind her, and Eric from Divergent just managed to take third.

And this week, the topic is: YA Couple With The Wittiest Banter.

There are lots of choices here, so vote below! (If the book is part of a series, I've just listed the series name. You can decide which book you want to base your vote on.) There's also an option for a write-in vote if your pick isn't listed. If that's the case, please choose "other" and then leave the character's name and book title in the comments :)

May 29, 2012

In My (Masked) Mailbox (53)

In this meme, hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren (and inspired by Alea at Pop Culture Junkie), we share the books we've received, bought or taken out from the library. This post covers the past few weeks.

Books bought:

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Books for review: (thanks to Macmillan, Prufrock Press, Thomas Allen & Son, and Strange Chemistry for these books!)

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market by Victoria Hanley
Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Shift by Kim Curran
Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

From the library:

Love Story by Jennifer Echols
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Frost by Marianna Baer
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab


Fracture bookmark & bookplate and Slide bookmark (thanks, Megan!)
The Dark Light bookmark (thanks, Sara!)                  
John Green bookplate (thanks to John Green and Razorbill!)

May 26, 2012

Kiss, Marry, Kill: the Matched series

Here's how it works: you take a book, choose 3 guy characters from the book, and then the other person has to pick one to kiss, one to marry, and one to kill.

How long has it been since one of these? WAY TOO LONG. I thought it was high time we had another Kiss, Marry, Kill discussion :D

So, it's the Matched series by Ally Condie this time around! And the choices are:

1.) Xander

2.) Ky

3.) Bram (Cassia's brother)

So...who do you kiss, who do you marry, and who do you kill? (You can choose which book in the series if it makes a difference to your decision.)

May 24, 2012

52 Reasons to Hate My Father: A Panoramic Review

"Being America’s favorite heiress is a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Lexington Larrabee has never to work a day in her life. After all, she’s the heiress to the multi-billion-dollar Larrabee Media empire. And heiresses are not supposed to work. But then again, they’re not supposed to crash brand new Mercedes convertibles into convenience stores on Sunset Blvd either.

Which is why, on Lexi’s eighteen birthday, her ever-absent, tycoon father decides to take a more proactive approach to her wayward life. Every week for the next year, she will have to take on a different low-wage job if she ever wants to receive her beloved trust fund. But if there’s anything worse than working as a maid, a dishwasher, and a fast-food restaurant employee, it’s dealing with Luke, the arrogant, albeit moderately attractive, college intern her father has assigned to keep tabs on her.

In a hilarious “comedy of heiress” about family, forgiveness, good intentions, and best of all, second chances, Lexi learns that love can be unconditional, money can be immaterial, and, regardless of age, everyone needs a little saving. And although she might have 52 reasons to hate her father, she only needs one reason to love him.
" (from Goodreads) 
52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody

In ten words or less:
fun premise and entertaining execution.  
My reaction: 

This book doesn't break any new ground, but the way it's set up — 'poor little rich girl' has to complete 52 weeks of work, a new job each week, before her dad will let her have the $25 million she thinks she deserves — makes for a slightly different spin on the whole learning-not-to-take-things-for-granted lesson. Lexi truly does act like an annoying spoiled brat (and she knows full well that's how she's seen) at the beginning, but at the same time, there was something very enjoyable and refreshing about her snotty, self-absorbed tone and attitude. It's so snarky and full of life. Even once she changes (because you know that's going to happen — the storyline is not exactly unpredictable), her voice isn't all that different. She doesn't undergo a complete personality makeover, thankfully — although at the very end, she's so perky and optimistic, it's a little weird and un-Lexi-ish. But overall, her voice really makes this book. 

Unfortunately, we don't get as strong a sense of some of the other characters. I'll discuss Luke in more detail below, but her friends Jia and T and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Mendi seem to be there more as plot devices than actual people. 

The storylines are divided pretty well between the jobs, the romance, the mom's past, and the one involving her father. I appreciated how the storyline about her mother was woven throughout the book, and I wish the same was true for the subplot involving her dad's job — there were a couple obscure clues, I suppose, but it seemed kind of far-fetched and not as carefully worked into the rest of the book as the other storylines.

It's written in a readable style that makes it easy to breeze through. I didn't find that there were any super hilarious scenes, but there are moments that will make you smile (Lexi's thoughts about the job where she beautifies corpses are pretty funny). There are also some parts that will make you cringe with embarrassment for her or go, "Oh, you idiot!" so be prepared for those as well. And I particularly enjoyed how something she's told earlier in the book is used later to help her gather some evidence she needs.

Best aspect

The set-up, but I've already talked about that. I also found the relationship between Lexi and her dad very interesting. There's a lot going on there that persuades the reader to feel sorry for Lexi and makes it easier to understand how she ended up the way she did. Growing up raised mainly by the domestic staff and without knowing what family is all about can't have been easy, so her dad can be held at least partially responsible for the teenager Lexi's become.

(I did think, however, that this divide between them was breached a bit too cheesily. It's nice to see her get that happy ending, but her dad's transformation is probably not that realistic — and to be honest, I kind of enjoyed disliking him through the first part of the story!)

If I could change something... I thought Lexi's character development was too fast to be believable. She had a revelation and then bam! She decided to get a new perspective on life. I don't know that we see enough of her gaining understanding of how most people (who aren't rich) live and the fact that she's acted in such a spoiled manner and taken so much for granted. This might also be partly because the book switches focus partway through, and the romance — as well as storylines involving Lexi's mother and father — is given more attention. 

Also, I felt like we don't get that strong a sense of who Luke is — he seems kind of boring, frankly. He lacks the personality that Lexi has, and maybe that was intentional (opposites attract and all that) but in reality it didn't make him all that appealing. He sometimes came off as younger than I might have expected, too. He and Lexi are cute together, sure, but I wasn't feeling the chemistry very much, so you might say I was lukewarm about the romance. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!) I'm not sure the romantic storyline was even that necessary.

A Tapestry of WordsThe "New Adult" aspect: she's just graduated recently from high school, so her voice is very much a teenager's. In fact, I'd argue at the beginning she sounds more like 16, but since she's rather immature to start with, this isn't surprising. By the end of the book her voice sounds more age-appropriate. I think this is definitely a New Adult book that would appeal to mid-to-older teens in particular, given the younger-sounding voice and the fact that there isn't a lot of mature content. 

If you haven't read it: pick it up if you're looking for something light, you don't mind a few obvious messages and cliched plot resolutions, and you've always secretly wondered how teen heiresses live. But this probably won't be the book for you if you're hoping to be blown away by twists and turns.

If you have read it: how many times did Lexi make you want to *facepalm*? 

Just one more thing I want to mention: I wish we'd seen some more at the beginning when she's trying out the first few jobs. I think her reaction would be the most extreme (and amusing) then, but several of them are just mentioned in passing and not shown in detail. 

Movie match: Maid to Order (1987). Okay, so it's not an exact match — there's no fairy godmother in 52 Reasons to Hate My Father — but it does involve a rich, spoiled daughter driving drunk and then being forced to become a maid. So there are some similarities!


I learned how to clean out a refrigerator! Hoorah!

Now there's something that's going to come in handy in my future. If I'm ever at a party and there's a life-or-death refrigerator-cleaning emergency, I've got it completely under control. Everyone else will be running around screaming their heads off and I'll be like, Don't panic! I've been properly trained!

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC for review from the publisher.

This book counts towards my goal for the "New Adult" reading challenge and Just Contemporary reading challenge.

May 23, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Dualed, City of a Thousand Dolls, and A Brighter Fear

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's picks:

Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Goodreads' description:

"Would you live through the ultimate test of survival?

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Love the idea of one genetic Alternate having to kill the other before they turn 20. Sounds like it's gonna be full of some major action! The use of the shadow in the cover is clever, as is the title itself (I'm assuming there's supposed to be a play on words there — dualed/dueled?)

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

Goodreads' description:

"The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life."

Yes, assassins are definitely becoming a trend! This one sounds really creepy with the girls dying around her. The cover gives off a cool Egyptian vibe (those look kind of like sphinxes, right?)

A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery

Goodreads' description:

"An impossible love story set against the backdrop of the Iraq war, A Brighter Fear will appeal to everyone who loved a gathering light.

This debut novel is the story of Lina, a teenage girl from Baghdad, and it starts as the bombs fall in 2003. It is a love story: for a country, and for a person too. There is an object that is lost, but may yet be found again.

We can’t say much more without giving away what happens in this beautiful, contemporary fairytale. Suffice it to say that it will break your heart... but then will put it back together again.

A beautiful novel from a new literary star."

This one is extremely topical, and sounds like it's heartfelt and personal as well. I'm interested, too, by the fact it's called a "contemporary fairytale". And it fits in one of my gaps in YA — yay for books set outside the U.S.!

What books are you waiting for?

May 18, 2012

U-Pick: Character Most In Need of Psychiatric Help?

Here's how this feature works: each week I'll post a categorical superlative (e.g. "most sadistic villain" "crankiest father figure" "protagonist you would most like to slap some sense into" etc.) and list a few choices of characters from YA books in a poll. You get to pick! The poll will run for a week, and then in the following post I'll update with the name of the winning character. 

The last poll was for the Character You'd Most Like As Your Personal Matchmaker, and there were two people who tied for this one...

... Jane from The Espressologist and Tibby from the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! 

I haven't actually read The Espressologist yet but matching people up by their café beverage of choice sounds like an entertaining premise, so I think I should pick it up at some point :)

This time around, the topic is: YA Character Most In Need of Psychiatric Help.

There are lots of choices here, so vote below! (If the book is part of a series, I've just listed the series name. You can decide which book you want to base your vote on.) There's also an option for a write-in vote if your pick isn't listed. If that's the case, please choose "other" and then leave the character's name and book title in the comments :)

May 11, 2012

Psychtember 2012: What Would You Like to See?

This week (May 7-13) is Mental Health Week in Canada, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to:

a) give you guys a heads-up that I will once again be hosting Psychtember this fall, a month-long blog event featuring YA books dealing with mental health issues, and

b) ask you to fill out this brief survey if you have a moment! I'm hoping to get some feedback as to what you'd like to see done for Psychtember this time around.

If you weren't here for Psychtember last year, feel free to check out the intro post and some of the others to see what it's all about. 

Wentworth Hall giveaway winners!

The Wentworth Hall giveaway is over now and the winners are...

...Laura Thomas from fuonlyknew and Jordyn from Ten Cent Notes!

Congrats to both of you, and thanks to everyone else who entered!

May 9, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Assassin's Curse and Lucid

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's picks:

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

"Ananna of the Tanarau is the eldest daughter of a highly-ranked family in the loose assortment of cutthroats and thieves in the Pirate's Confederation. When she runs away from the marriage her parents have arranged for her, they hire Naji the assassin to murder her.

When a mysterious woman in a dress shop offers her magical assistance for dealing with the assassin, Ananna accepts. She never went in much for magic herself -- she lacks the talent for it -- but she's not quite ready to die yet, either. Unfortunately, the woman's magic fails.

Fortunately, Ananna inadvertently saves the assassin's life in the skirmish, thus activating a curse that had been placed on him a few years earlier. Now, whenever her life is in danger, he must protect her -- or else he experiences tremendous physical pain. Neither Ananna nor the assassin, Naji, are pleased about this development.

Follow Annana and Naji as they sail across the globe, visiting such mysterious places as the Court of Salt and Waves, in their desperate effort to lift the curse. Soon they will discover that only by completing three impossible tasks will they be able to set themselves free."

I just saw the cover for this one today! It's elegant and slightly mystical and puts me in mind of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. Love the idea that Naji, hired to kill Ananna, becomes bound to protect her! And didn't I say that assassins and thieves were becoming a trend?

Lucid by Adrienne Stoltz & Ron Bass

Goodreads' description:

"What if you could dream your way into a different life? What if you could choose to live that life forever?

Sloane and Maggie have never met. Sloane is a straight-A student with a big and loving family. Maggie lives a glamorously independent life as an up-and-coming actress in New York. The two girls couldn't be more different--except for one thing. They share a secret that they can't tell a soul. At night, they dream that they're each other.

The deeper they're pulled into the promise of their own lives, the more their worlds begin to blur dangerously together. Before long, Sloane and Maggie can no longer tell which life is real and which is just a dream. They realize that eventually they will have to choose one life to wake up to, or risk spiraling into insanity. But that means giving up one world, one love, and one self, forever.

This is a dazzling debut that will steal readers' hearts."

I don't tend to like paranormal stories involving a heavy dream component — as in, girl dreams of boy in her future or vice versa — but this one sounds really different. Two girls dreaming they are each other until it gets to the point where they can't tell the dreams from reality? Now, that is an awesome premise. Plus, the cover is cool, too — the fact that she is lying down upside-down kind of boggles the mind, which works perfectly with the idea of this story.

What books are you waiting for?

May 8, 2012

Sophomore Switch: A Snapshot

Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald
"Take an administrative snafu, a bad breakup, and what shall heretofore be known as "The Hot-Tub Incident," and you’ve got two unprepared sophomores on a semester abroad. For American party girl Tasha, an escape to Oxford may be a chance to ditch her fame as a tabloid temptress, but wading Uggs-deep in feminist theory is not her idea of a break. Meanwhile, the British half of the exchange, studious Emily, nurses an aching heart amid the bikinis and beer pong of U.C. Santa Barbara. Soon desperation has the girls texting each other tips — on fitting in, finding love, and figuring out who they really are. With an anthropologist’s eye for detail and a true ear for teen-speak, exciting new novelist Abby McDonald has crafted a funny, fast-paced, poignant look at survival, sisterhood, and the surprising ways we discover our true selves." (from Goodreads)
The subject: two girls' experiences swapping universities and exploring different aspects of themselves.

The setting: Oxford, UK and Santa Barbara, US.

Shutter speed: slow through the first half, then picks up slightly in the latter part of the book.

What's in the background? A rather unfair portrayal of people who join feminist groups, unfortunately. The so-called feminists that Tasha comes into contact with are pretty cold and/or vicious in their treatment of her. I think this was done to make a point about hypocrisy and judging others, but the fact that all the members of the feminist group were painted this way left a bad taste in my mouth.

Zoom in on: the Emily-Ryan romance. This is what kept me reading for a good part of the story, honestly. I'm a sucker for the tension that comes with an initially-disdain-but-are-secretly-attracted-to relationship, and I definitely wanted these two to get together.

And it was enjoyable to see Emily and Tasha becoming friends. I wish they'd reached out to each other earlier on, so we could have seen more interactions between them and the progression of their friendship could have been a bit more believable. Still, it was sweet to see them starting to rely on each other for support and empathy, despite their temperaments being quite different.

Anything out of focus? I found the first part of the book pretty boring, actually, and was wondering if I might DNF. Nothing much seemed to be happening and I wasn't connecting as well with Tasha as I was with Emily, which means I was always annoyed when Emily's chapters ended and Tasha's began. Later on towards the end, Tasha's situation becomes more sympathetic and I really started to feel for her.

Ready? Say... "Swap!"

Click! 3 shooting stars. It's fairly predictable and generic, but even though it didn't wow me I was enjoying it by the end. In terms of the New Adult aspect, I thought the voices for both girls were perhaps a bit on the young side (granted, they are 19, so technically they're still teens) but this could help the book appeal to mid-to-older teen readers looking ahead to college.

Note: there is some mature content and language in this book.

This book counts towards my goals for the "New Adult" reading challenge and the Just Contemporary reading challenge.

May 6, 2012

Book Chat: Books You'd Take To A Desert Island

I've decided to join in with the Book Chat meme hosted by Misty at The Book Rat, for a discussion of the 5 books we would take with us to a desert island! If you'd like to join in, be sure to link up your post here on Misty's blog.

Books mentioned:

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

What books would absolutely *have* to have with you if you were stranded on an island?

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