Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Release Day Giveaway! A SLIVER OF SHADOW by Allison Pang!

Abby Sinclair is back and better than ever in Allison Pang's follow-up to A Brush of Darkness (Pocket, Jan. '11), A Sliver of Shadow. And don't worry--Phin, Ion, Mel, Talivar, and rest of the gang's all there too! ;)

WAR IS HELL. AND WAR WITH HELL IS NO FUN EITHER.

Just when her new life as a TouchStone—a mortal bound to help OtherFolk cross between Faery and human worlds—seems to be settling down, Abby Sinclair is left in charge when the Protectorate, Moira, leaves for the Faery Court. And when the Protectorate’s away . . . let’s just say things spiral out of control when a spell on Abby backfires and the Faery Queen declares the Doors between their worlds officially closed. The results are disastrous for both sides: OtherFolk trapped in the mortal world are beginning to fade, while Faery is on the brink of war with the daemons of Hell. Along with her brooding elven prince Talivar and sexy incubus Brystion, Abby ventures to the CrossRoads in an attempt to override the Queen’s magic. But nothing in this beautiful, dangerous realm will compare to the discoveries she’s making about her past, her destiny, and what she will sacrifice for those she loves.

Even though I read the manuscript at various stages, I'm stoked to see and read the finished product in all its printed glory. Just to hold the book in my hands will be amazing! I mean, let's remember last year when A Brush of Darkness came out, folks. ---->

Yes, that's right. I swaddled it like a little baby and we photographed it.

Because THAT is how much I LOVE this series and Allison.

So, now, it's time for y'all to show the love too.

Comment on this post with your favorite thing about Allison and her books (OR with a note about the kind of things you want to hear from HER on her current blog tour!) and you'll be tossed in the ring to receive a free...

Now, wait for it....

There will be TWO lucky readers this time--one will receive a copy of A SLIVER OF SHADOW and another will receive a full set of Allison's beautiful character trading cards!

This giveaway won't last long though so make sure to comment by 9pm EST tomorrow, Wednesday, February 29th when the "winners" will be selected!

GO GO GO!

HAPPY RELEASE DAY, ALLISON!!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Blogger, LG: Put Your Ass in the Chair

What does it mean to be a writer? What does it take?

Putting your ass in the chair, that’s what.

I don’t often feel like a “real” writer because I’m not published. My childhood goal was to be the next S.E. Hinton, to get published before I was 14 years old. That obviously didn’t happen. And that’s okay. Because after working in publishing for three years full-time and now freelance proofreading for the last three, I’ve gained invaluable experience about the publishing process (and made quite a lot of amazing friends along the way, I might add). So I have an advantage over other writers in terms of knowing what the exact process of publication is.

Regardless, that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking when sending off query letters to agents, which I’ve been doing since late January. So far, three rejections.

My mantra?

The Help got rejected 60 times… The Help got rejected 60 times…

Of course everyone wants to get that enthusiastic email from an agent decrying “Your book kept me up all night!” or “I missed my stop on the subway because I was so engrossed.” Now that would be a dream come true.

It’s strange to have sent my novel, a piece of work I’ve spent the last four years working on (not consistently, I might add, which makes that “put your ass in the chair” remark all the more true) to complete and utter strangers.<

I was terrified the first few times I sent out query letters. Scratch that, I still shake when I send out query letters. But the first request to see my manuscript literally sent me running circles around my kitchen and living room screaming at the top of my lungs.

Okay, it was the first three chapters that were requested with a full synopsis. But still! someone wanted to look at my work! Someone whose job it is to discover new, unpublished writers and bring their work to readers.

After completing this first book, I’m confident that the next one will come a lot easier to me. I already have the story mapped out in my head, the character mostly defined, and the villain in place. But there’s still the matter of putting my ass in the chair. Books don’t write themselves, and books don’t publish themselves, and agents don’t go combing the web for witty bloggers who don’t get a ton of hits (at least I’m pretty sure they don’t).

So, here’s to publication! I’m going to keep trying, no matter how many rejections I get (though I may very well stop at 60 and start submitting the next book–because hopefully it would be done by then). And hopefully I won’t wind up looking like a beaten-up Chung-Li after losing a battle in old-school Sega Genesis “Streetfighter.” Game over.

And yes, I tell myself, I am a real writer, published or not.

NOTE: This article was re-posted with permission from LG's website, The Urban Alaskan. It was originally posted on 2/20/12. Look for more original guest posts from LG on RBtL soon though!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Get to Know the 11 Oscar Nominees Adapted from Books

I'm sorry to say that this year I'm not going to be able to watch the entire Academy Awards show. I love watching but will probably get home about halfway through the airing. I suppose I'll still make it in time for all the good stuff though. ;) Like the best picture nominees, two-thirds of which are book adaptations. (And we know how much I love adaptations!)

The Huffington Post day gives us a recap of the 11--that's right, ELEVEN--nominees based on books. I'm not sure why I didn't see this article until today, less than a week before Oscar night, but what can ya do:

HUGO based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Who knew Scorcese has such a sweet spot for kiddie lit? The director of "Hugo" thanked author Brian Selznick--the man behind the Caldecott Medal-winning children's book that inspired the film--in his Golden Globe acceptance speech. Selznick's source material is the stuff of magic, incorporating illustrations to help tell the tale of an orphan boy on the adventure of a lifetime.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO based on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

While the film version may have brought in lackluster numbers at the box office, the novel and its two sequels are still hovering on bestseller lists. Rooney Mara's performance was a stunner, but there's something about reading the trials of Lisbeth Salander that will keep you awake long after you've finished the trilogy.

THE HELP based on The Help by Kathryn Stockett

We were wowed by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain (all nominated for their stellar performances) in "The Help," and the Academy agreed. If your book club hasn't already picked up this bestseller, make it your February pick.

THE DESCENDANTS based on The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The movie version of this book might make you wonder who in their right mind would ever cheat on George Clooney, a nominee (and Golden Globe winner) for Best Actor. The book version will push you head first into the complexities of marriage and parenthood, life and death, and leave you wondering if there is such a thing as true paradise.

MONEYBALL based on Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's 2003 bestseller about Billy Beane revolutionizing how baseball clubs are built has been praised by sports fans and novices alike. Plus, this film scored nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (for Brad Pitt) and Best Supporting Actor (for Jonah Hill). As we near tail end of the football season, it's a good time to pick this one up--pitchers and catchers isn't that far off!

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN based on My Week With Marilyn by Colin Clark

A young Colin Clark served as assistant director on "The Prince and the Showgirl," a film that saw bombshell Marilyn Monroe (played by nominated actress Michelle Williams) act alongside Sir Laurence Olivier (portrayed by nominated actor Kenneth Branagh). What Clark least expected was to get the chance to see the woman behind the sex symbol. Lucky for us he wrote down his experiences with the screen legend in two diaries, which were eventually published as a book.

THE IRON LADY based on The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher, from Grocer's Daughter to Prime Minister by John Campbell

Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep landed her 17th nomination for her portrayal of the Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. This film is not without controversy: Author John Campbell, who wrote the biography on which the movie was based, has openly criticized it for inaccuracy. The book is worth the read for the history, and to help you spot the embellishments on screen.

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE based on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Oscar heavyweight Tom Hanks plays a father (married to Oscar winner Sandra Bullock) killed on 9/11. This Best Picture nominee has received mixed reviews but the book, which is narrated by the 9-year-old son Hanks's character has left behind, shows how the human spirit is able to connect in times of tragedy.

ALBERT NOBBS based on Albert Nobbs: A Novella by George Moore
Glenn Close secured a nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of a waiter in 19th-century Dublin with a very big secret. Clocking in at a little over 100 pages, this is an easy read to fit in before you head to the movie theater.

TINKER TAYLOR SOLDIER SPY based on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré

Gary Oldman scored his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of British intelligence agent George Smiley. The definitive Cold War espionage novel, which is the first in a trilogy, was originally published in 1974, and had been previously adapted for both radio and television.

WAR HORSE based on War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

The successful stage production and Steven Spielberg's nominated movie adaptation are both based off of Morpurgo's children's novel, set against World War I. While this film nods to classics like "Black Beauty" and "National Velvet," it goes to darker places before reaching its bittersweet finale.

See the original post--with trailers!!--HERE

I haven't seen all of these adaptations, though I wanted to. But, of the ones I did see, I'd have to say that THE DESCENDANTS and EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE are tied for my favorite.

What about you? What's your favorite Oscar-nominated adaptation?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Nonfiction Titles for My TBR Pile

I've been coming across quite a few nonfiction titles lately that are actually of interest to me--something, as many of you probably know, that is pretty darn uncommon.

I try to find nonfic that I will enjoy, I really do, but it's a rare event indeed. But right now, my list seems to be growing:


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking- Susan Cain
DESCRIPTION (Indiebound.org): At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."

This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.

Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom - Sara Benincas
DESCRIPTION (USA Today): In debut memoir Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom (William Morrow, $24.99), author and stand-up comedian Sara Benincasa describes in hilarious and sometimes horrifying detail her struggle with panic attacks and the dark days when she was too terrified to leave her room.

Why the book is notable: Benincasa has a growing reputation in comedy. She hosts the popular podcast Sex and Other Human Activities.

Memorable line: "In simplest terms and most convenient definitions, my psychiatric diagnosis is that I'm afraid of the mall. Which, I can assure you, is untrue."

Quick bio: Benincasa, 31, grew up in New Jersey and went on medication for depression and anxiety at 16, finding the right ones at 21. Today, she writes, performs and visits colleges, where she explores issues such as suicide prevention in her routines.

Read the rest of the USA Today recap/review HERE


Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World - Jane McGonigal

DESCRIPTION (Indiebound.org): A visionary game designer reveals how we can harness the power of games to boost global happiness.

With 174 million gamers in the United States alone, we now live in a world where every generation will be a gamer generation. But why, Jane McGonigal asks, should games be used for escapist entertainment alone? In this groundbreaking book, she shows how we can leverage the power of games to fix what is wrong with the real world-from social problems like depression and obesity to global issues like poverty and climate change-and introduces us to cutting-edge games that are already changing the business, education, and nonprofit worlds. Written for gamers and non-gamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows that the future will belong to those who can understand, design, and play games.


Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn - Donald Spoto

DESCRIPTION (Indiebound.org): Her name is synonymous with elegance, style and grace. Over the course of her extraordinary life and career, Audrey Hepburn captured hearts around the world and created a public image that stands as one of the most recognizable and beloved in recent memory. But despite her international fame and her tireless efforts on behalf of UNICEF, Audrey was also known for her intense privacy. With unprecedented access to studio archives, friends and colleagues who knew and loved Audrey, bestselling author Donald Spoto provides an intimate and moving account of this beautiful, elusive and talented woman.

Tracing her astonishing rise to stardom, from her harrowing childhood in Nazi-controlled Holland during World War II to her years as a struggling ballet dancer in London and her Tony Award–winning Broadway debut in Gigi, Spoto illuminates the origins of Audrey’s tenacious spirit and fiercely passionate nature.

She would go on to star in some of the most popular movies of the twentieth century, including Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady. A friend and inspiration to renowned designer Hubert de Givenchy, Audrey emerged as a fashion icon as well as a film legend, her influence on women’s fashion virtually unparalleled to this day.

But behind the glamorous public persona, Audrey Hepburn was both a different and a deeper person and a woman who craved love and affection. Donald Spoto offers remarkable insights into her professional and personal relationships with her two husbands, and with celebrities such as Gregory Peck, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Robert Anderson, Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Ben Gazzara. The turbulent romances of her youth, her profound sympathy for the plight of hungry children, and the thrills and terrors of motherhood prepared Audrey for the final chapter in her life, as she devoted herself entirely to the charity efforts of an organization that had once come to her rescue at the end of the war: UNICEF.

Donald Spoto has written a poignant, funny and deeply moving biography of an unforgettable woman. At last, Enchantment reveals the private Audrey Hepburn—and invites readers to fall in love with her all over again.

Anyone have more awesome nonfiction recommendations to add to my growing list?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Remembering Abe Through Books

A new memorial of sorts was revealed in honor of Abraham Lincoln today: a tower of books on the president himself, stacked about 34 feet high.

The tower climbs through the center of the new Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership in Washington, D.C.

NPR tells us more:
This President's Day, a group of historians in Washington, D.C., decided they wanted to do something different to recognize the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. But how do you memorialize someone who is already one of the most memorialized people in history?

Their solution: to physically illustrate Lincoln's importance by creating a tower of books written about him. The tower measures about eight feet around and 34 feet — that's three and a half stories tall.

"It makes a real statement to anyone that this is an important guy and there was a whole lot written about him, and there continues to be a whole lot written about him," says Paul Tetreault, director of Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

The towering tribute to the 16th president rises up through the middle of a spiral staircase in the lobby of the new Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership, located just across the street.

Some 15,000 books have been written about Lincoln — more books, says Tetreault, than have been written about any other person in world history, with the exception of Jesus Christ.

Nearly 7,000 of these books are contained in the tower. They even look authentic up close (click here to get a closer look) but the tower's books are actually replicas made of pieces of bent aluminum, with the covers of the real books printed on them.

"There are books here for people of all ages," says Tetreault. "There's young people's books, there's an Abraham Lincoln stickers book, there's an Abraham Lincoln coloring book. And then of course there's all of the bestsellers: David Herbert Donald's great book about Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals — all of these major scholars who've written about Abraham Lincoln, they're all contained in this stack."

Read the original post HERE

If I ever do anything worth publicly remembering, I hope I'm honored in such an awesome way.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Allison Pang SLIVER OF SHADOW Giveaway Goes to....

Commenter Summertime!

Congratulations! Please get in touch with me via email at readingbtwthelines@gmail.com to collect your free book!

Guest Blogger, Dan Cabrera: Short Stories for a Short Month

It’s common knowledge that February is the shortest month of the year. Having verified this using various reputable sources (thanks, Far Side desk calendar), I can also say a short February is for the best. For some in northern climates, February can be cold and dreary. For others who dislike Valentine’s Day, February can also be cold and dreary. February, in short, can stand to be shorter. Sure, Presidents’ Day cuts the workload down by one day, but there’s little time to think of that as we trudge through the dead of winter hoping for the first signs of Spring (groundhogs be damned).

Luckily for us, February remains the shortest month and we’re already halfway through. Unluckily for us, this is a leap year, which means we’ll see that rarest of days, February 29. But fret not, because I have a fitting way to help you while away the hours: read some short stories! Revel in the brevity of the short form as you hibernate through the extra February gloom.

Here, for your reading pleasure, are some classic (and should-be-classic) short stories for you to enjoy:

“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell (You can read it for free here!)

Chances are you’ve read this one (along with others on the list), and for good reason. This classic thriller tells the tale of a man who washes ashore of a mysterious island, only to discover an amiable host turns out to have a deadly secret. A hunting expedition comes with a twist that has been redone and parodied throughout the years, but this short, effective story gives you chills, action and a nice twist. Reading this for class in middle school made me realize how fun literature can be.

“All The King’s Horses” by Kurt Vonnegut

A story similar to the one above, this follows an American colonel, his family and crew emerging from a plane crash in the Chinese jungle. A Chinese officer captures the party and sets up a game of chess with the American colonel, except the pieces are his compatriots. Lose a piece and that player loses their life. This more dangerous game plays out as a taught drama and also as a nice piece of Cold War analogy. This story can be found in one of Vonnegut’s collections, Welcome to the Monkey House.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (You can read it for free here!)

A very popular short story, this one from prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates seems simple, kooky, frightening and perplexing all at once. A young girl, just at the point of blossoming into adulthood, is confronted by Arnold Friend, a strange young man who appears outside of the girl’s house. Through their interaction, the girl comes to realize the power--for good and bad--of her budding sexuality. We’re never quite sure who Arnold is supposed to be, or what exactly he represents (he can be “A. Friend” or, if you remove the ‘r’s, “An old Fiend”). What’s clear is the young girl, and you the reader, will come out changed when Arnold leaves. Fun fact, Oates devoted the story to Bob Dylan, though some claim this admission really means Oates based Mr. Friend off the singer.

“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell

Another coming-of-age story, and similarly obtuse and perplexing, “St. Lucy’s” follows a group of what appear to be wolf-girls at a boarding home. The story is told from a young pup’s point of view, so we’re jostled about, trying to make sense of her bizarre story. Once it becomes clear that these wild young animals are being domesticated by the strict nuns of the home, everything falls into place. A nice allegory for growing up and conforming to strange societal norms, you’ll find where these wild things are to be exciting, poignant, and a little sad. This story can be found in Russell’s collection of the same name.

“Wait” by Roy Kesey

A perfect short story to read during a layover, “Wait” takes place at a nondescript, run-of-the-mill airport that exists everywhere and nowhere. A mysterious fog surrounds the airport, causing delays and grounding flights. Soon, the stranded passengers react normally, but as time passes tension escalates until there’s complete pandemonium and all hell breaks loose. If the girls in “St. Lucy’s” are forced to civilize, here we see what happens when civilization breaks down. Surreal, dark, and side-splittingly funny, “Wait” takes the history of human experience and crams it into an airport terminal. You can find this story in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

The beauty of the short story is that there are countless great ones available and they take a fraction of the time to read. Clearly, this list is missing many, many short stories. But then again, it’s a short list. What are some of your favorite short stories?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Literary Themed Cupcakes? Get in My Belly!

This GalleyCat post was just too awesome not to share (and add to below!):

A team of literary bakers have created cupcakes inspired by Neil Gaiman and his beloved graphic novel series, The Sandman.

We’ve embedded a photo above, created by the Cupcake et Macaron in Canada. The Cupcakes Take the Cake blog uncovered these delicious and literary baked goods.

Check it out: ” You don’t often read stories that are so well written, and with such lovely characters. I just adored it, and if you haven’t read it yet, you really, really should! With that in mind, it really was just a matter of time before my love for Sandman met my love of everything sweet and delicious! I will eventually do all seven siblings as fondant figures, but for now, I made my favourites: Death, Dream and of course, Delirium!”

See the original post HERE

Now, I'm on a mission to find other literary-themed Cupcakes...

Here are the results thus far:

Twilight - Team Jacob v. Team Edward



The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar



A Harry Potter Cupcake party



Dr. Seuss gets some Cupcake love



Steampunk cupcakes, anyone?



Where the Wild Things Are is apparently IN MY BELLY.



What book or character would YOU like to see transformed into a cupcake?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Browning Collection Goes Digital

While I am not partaking in today's "festivities" for various reasons, I will post one love-related thing I heard on NPR this morning because it's pretty damn cool.

Wellesley College is finally sharing the wealth and letting us all see the handwritten love letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret Browning without having to go to their campus to do so. The school working in collaboration with Baylor University to digitize the letters so they can now be viewed online, according to theLedger.com:
“I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett ...”

So begins the first love letter to 19th century poet Elizabeth Barrett from her future husband, fellow poet Robert Browning.

Their 573 love letters, which capture their courtship, their blossoming love and their forbidden marriage, have long fascinated scholars and poetry fans. Though transcriptions of their correspondence have been published in the past, the handwritten letters could only be seen at Wellesley College, where the collection has been kept since 1930.

But starting today, Valentine’s Day, their famous love letters will become available online where readers can see them — just as they were written — with creased paper, fading ink, quill pen cross outs, and even the envelopes the two poets used.

The digitization project is a collaboration between Wellesley and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which houses the world’s largest collection of books, letters and other items related to the Brownings.

Wellesley administrators hope the project will expose students, romantics, poetry fans and others to their love story.

Barrett, one of the most well-known poets of the Victorian era, suffered from chronic illness and was in her late 30s when Browning first wrote her in 1845 to tell her he admired her work.

In their fifth month of corresponding, they met for the first time, introduced by Barrett’s cousin.

After more than a year of almost daily letters between them, the couple married in secret in September 1846, defying her father’s prohibition against her ever marrying. They fled from London to Italy, where doctors had told Barrett her health might improve. Her father disinherited her and never spoke to her again.

“It’s the fact that she defied her father, she was in ill health, they fell in love through letters, she left with hardly anything,” said Ruth Rogers, Wellesley’s curator of special collections.

“If you want a perfect romance, just read the letters,” she said.

The website set up for readers to see the correspondence includes both the handwritten letters and transcriptions, as well as a zoom function for readers to try to decipher faded or illegible words. The body of letters will also be searchable by keywords.

Readers can see for themselves how they fall in love, while corresponding about other writers, philosophy and their own work. Barrett first wrote the lines of what would become her most famous poem after she met Browning, “How Do I Love Thee? Let me count the ways.”

The website is: http://www.wellesley.edu/browning

Read the original post HERE

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest Blogger, Allison Pang: Cover Me

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

We hear that all the time, but the truth of it is that covers *do* matter. Like it or not, many readers often use covers to determine the “quality” of a book, even if what’s on the outside isn’t indicative of the inside. I know when I browse bookstores, my eye is usually drawn to particular types of covers, and on a shelf with hundreds of potential stories, I’m going to go to the ones that attract my attention first.

Not that it’s always a match.

I’m sure we’ve all found books with fabulous covers that were dogs inside…and discovered gems with lousy covers. Given the sheer number of books and eBooks out there, I do think that we tend to gauge the professionalism of a book by the care given to the outer shell.

This is probably particularly true in the self-published realm. You see a lot of advice given about editing, but it’s also fairly common to see requests to not skimp on the cover.

So what makes a good cover? What makes a bad cover?

The thing is, with some obvious exceptions, it’s hard to really tell. What one person finds appealing, another may not. What publishers are trying to bank on is finding a cover that will appeal to the largest range of potential buyers.

Which is great – but that’s when we start seeing trends. When I look over my bookshelves, I can almost immediately pick out which fantasy books were from the late 80’s – simply due to the style of the images, and the fact that they’re all done by 2 or 3 artists who were fairly popular back in the day. (Lots of dragons and scantily clad women, of course.) Or bodice ripper romances graced with manly men and women falling out of their clothes? (And random animals in the background and huge swirly fonts proclaiming Scarlet Something, or Heated Whatever.)

Take Urban Fantasy today – how many covers have kick-ass women in leather? Or shirtless men with abs of steel for Paranormal Romance? (and how many covers have we seen lately where it’s not even an entire person? Just an abdomen, glistening in the moonlight?)

And then there’s sometimes a bit of reader backlash. (And sometimes mockery. Just check out WTFbadromancecovers.tumblr.com if you want to see what I mean.)

They want something different, but how can they find that different book when they all start to look the same? And if I had to ask you, what cover have you seen in the last few years that instantly became a trendsetter? That you would recognize on sight?

For me, there are very few. Maybe Twilight, which I’ve never read, but the minimalist color scheme and stark background make for immediate recognition. (And a fair number of copycats afterward.)

It becomes a fine line, really. We want readers to know what sort of book they’re picking up because it makes it easier for them to choose what to read – I’d expect something sexy for an erotic romance, for example. But we also want to have them stand on their own. (God, it’s almost like high school, isn’t it? “Be yourself…but don’t be so different that no one will have anything to do with you!”)

So what are your favorite covers? Most hated covers? What is it about a cover that leads you to buy or read a book? Do covers matter at all?


Note about the blogger (from Danielle!): Allison's second novel in her Abby Sinclair series, A Sliver of Shadow, hits shelves Tuesday, February 28th! The sequel to A Brush of Darkness, it's highly recommended! (You can also read the first chapter excerpt HERE.)

Comment on this post for a chance to receive a set of Abby Sinclair novel bookmarks..and a copy of the new release!

The recipient will be picked at random one week from today--Friday, February 17, at 3 p.m.!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens!

I'm not sure what it is about Charles Dickens that I like so much when I've only read a few of his novels. He also is the king of the run-on sentence, which usually drives me up the wall!

But even so, his stories have touched millions whether it's been through actually reading the literal book, seeing a film adaptation, experiencing a theatrical production, etc. I myself even went to a reading of A CHRISTMAS CAROL this past December at a church on the upper east side.

So, today, on what would be his 200th birthday, it doesn't surprise me that Google decided to honor Dickens in their site header. The header then inspired Mashable Tech to write a nice little mini-bio/feature:

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of writer Charles Dickens.

Born on Feb. 7 1812 in Landport, England, Charles John Huffam Dickens grew in tough, working-class conditions. At age 12, after his father was thrown into a debtors’ prison, he was forced to work at a blacking factory.

This experience later influenced many of his famous novels, including Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

Starting his career as a journalist, Dickens eventually started writing literary prose, which was published in monthly installments before being released as books.

His realistic portray of England’s lower-class life made him one of the greatest Victorian novelists and one of the most recognizable names in literature.

Dickens was also a philanthropist; together with Angela Burdett Coutts he founded the Urania Cottage, a home for “fallen” women, helping them learn to read and write.

Dickens died from the consequences of a stroke in his home on June 8, 1870. His last words were, reportedly, “Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Guest Blogger, Linnea West: "Swoon-worthy" Eugenides?


So many questions come to mind when I think about the author Jeffrey Eugenides, who recently published The Marriage Plot, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex, and has many fans familiar with at least the screen adaptation of The Virgin Suicides. For instance, why does he have a billboard in Times Square? Possible answers I tossed around include:
  • Because for a cult-like following, Eugenides is remarkably mainstream, and thus worth the promotional dollars.
  • Because the author is a bigger selling point than the book itself.
  • Because the book publishing industry is suddenly flush with cash.

I tend to think the correct answer is the first option. However, as I will come to later, the middle option has turned out to be true at least by my reading of things. The third answer is categorically incorrect, and reeks of wishful thinking.

I was very much looking forward to his newest book, The Marriage Plot, after finishing Middlesex (Note: I have not read The Virgin Suicides), which might be why it doesn’t nearly measure up. After all, it is COMPLETELY different. They both deal with coming-of-age but that is the only commonality. How does Eugenides manage to write novels that sound like they come from different people? [Answer: I have no idea. It’s remarkable.]

In case you aren’t familiar, Middlesex is the story of Cal, formerly Calliope, as he navigates growing up in Detroit and discovering that he is a hermaphrodite against the epic backdrop of his Greek origins and family lore. The Marriage Plot is a love triangle composed of three 1980s-era Brown University graduatesMadeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard—and follows them as they graduate and enter the real world.

The two books differ in some key respects:

Middlesex

The Marriage Plot

Exuberant and mannered narrative voice.

Matter-of-fact narrative voice, almost lack of style.

Unusual, strange, and epic story.

Common, relatable, and realistic story.

One protagonist, who the reader loses sight of at times amid family history and tangents.

Three protagonists always at the forefront and driving the plot


But in terms of reading experience, at least my personal reading experience, they also differed:


Middlesex

The Marriage Plot

Sympathetic and identifiable characters, even though much of the family the reader knows only superficially and, statistically, the reader is not likely to be a hermaphrodite.

Unimpressive-to-unlikeable characters, though the reader gets to know the three central characters ad naseum.

Interesting, despite long-winded descriptions and stories unrelated to the central plot.

Boring, despite more focused narrative (and not even because of the long philosophical excerpts from Barthes!)







Another remarkable thing is that for all intents and purposes, The Marriage Plot is the easy book of the two to write. He’s basically pulling together ordinary characters from his own life experiences and giving them a predictable narrative enacted by thousands of people. This could be your life; it could be mine. It could be a Lifetime Made-for-TV movie. But what Eugenides fails to do is take this raw material and transform it into something more, something that is art. How odd that Middlesex, a story about things he’d never experienced or even interviewed people about, came so trippingly off his tongue, and The Marriage Plot, for all its knowable ease, is such an unimaginative, unsuccessful quagmire of words in which the reader gets stuck again and again? Perhaps the fantastical is easier to write.

Another question that torments fans of the author’s work is the long lag time between books. Eugenides is no James Patterson. The Virgin Suicides came out in 1993, Middlesex was published in 2002, and it was only this October, 2011, that The Marriage Plot entered the world. Why does he take a decade to write one book? He’s probably not a lazy fat cat living off the wealth of movie rights, although I couldn’t say for sure. In the case of The Marriage Plot, this decade-long wait occurred at least in part because he was midway through a different novel before deciding he was writing the wrong story and beginning anew. I don’t know what he was working on, but this seems like an error in judgment.

For all the hoopla, Middlesex is the novel that deserves the billboard, less so the dull and lifeless Marriage Plot.


About the blogger: Linnea West writes about art and culture and a little bit of everything else on her blog Art Ravels. You can also follow her on twitter at @linnea_west.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

HUNGER GAMES Film Chatter

My excitement for the film adaptation of The Hunger Games is mounting now that it's less than two months away.

*runs around flailing arms and cheering*


It seems I'm not the only one steeped in anticipated, though. Jill Slattery over at Heroes and Heartbreakers even posted a great piece this week about "the five things The Hunger Games movie needs to get right":
It’s almost here! We’re officially just two months away from finally seeing The Hunger Games movie! In some ways it feels like it was just yesterday that Lionsgate announced they were producing a film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s wildly popular dystopian YA novel. In other ways, it feels like we’ve all been waiting an INTERMINABLY LONG TIME to see Katniss Everdeen wield her famous bow and arrow on the big screen.

But book-to-movie adaptations can sometimes be a tricky business. For every Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, there’s a Golden Compass and a Scarlett Letter (Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, ’nuff said). The Hunger Games novel is beloved by legions of fans from around the world, so the film version has some very big shoes to fill. Here are five things that I think The Hunger Games movie absolutely needs to get right in order to make a truly successful leap on the big screen.

1. The Girl Who Was On Fire
This one seems obvious but it bears saying all the same. For the Hunger Games movie to work, the character of Katniss Everdeen must work. When Jennifer Lawrence was cast in the highly coveted role there were plenty of detractors—she was too blonde, too old, too round. I understood the naysayers, to a point. All they had to go on was the image of Katniss that they had built up in their minds, and Jennifer Lawrence didn’t look like the girl from the Seam that everyone had imagined. But all of those early casting complaints will be forgotten if Lawrence can embody the vulnerable courage and the fierce determination of a girl who incites a rebellion with just a few berries. The strength of the Hunger Games movie (and of the future of the series) hinges on Jennifer Lawrence—so let’s hope her performance is just as accurate as Katniss’ aim.

2. The Violence
Depicting violence in movies can be like walking a stylistic tightrope. Action sequences, so full of quick, stylized cuts and pulsing soundtracks, can sometimes look, well, pretty. Death can seem cool. But that’s exactly the kind of thing that The Hunger Games movie should avoid. Because it is this stylized portrayal of violence, packaged and sanitized for your viewing pleasure, that Suzanne Collins is criticizing in her novel. At its heart, The Hunger Games is a story about a barbaric government that forces children to kill other children on live TV. That violence, so heartbreaking in its brutality in the novel, must also be viscerally palpable in the film. But it should always feel ugly. Likewise, Katniss’ skill at killing (and boy does girlfriend have some skills), should never seem cool. One must always remember that The Hunger Games isn’t just the story of one girl from District 12—it’s also the story of a bunch of kids who never make it out of the Arena.

3. The Peeta Puzzle
A confession: I didn’t really care for Peeta Mellark when I read The Hunger Games. I know, I know, everyone loved the boy with the bread and I was a weirdo because I preferred poor angst-ridden Gale. But setting aside those personal preferences, I’m really interested to see how Peeta translates onto the big screen. The Hunger Games is told from Katniss’ point of view, so the reader is never quite sure what Peeta is up to; there’s a flashback of him giving her bread when they were children (which Katniss considers to be an act of kindness that saved her life), then he confesses his feelings for her in a televised interview, then he appears to side with the Careers in the Arena before he is badly wounded.

That’s a lot of emotional gymnastics to go through, and I’m very interested to see how Josh Hutcherson plays the character’s arc over the course of the movie, not to mention what kind of chemistry he has with Jennifer Lawrence. Can Hutcherson live up to the image of The Boy with the Bread that millions of Hunger Games fans have in their heads? He better, otherwise the next two movies are going to be...rough.

4. The Capitol’s Cruelty
In the lead-up to The Hunger Games movie release, there has been a lot of press about the costumes, hairstyles, and make-up of the Capitol. There was a Hunger Games themed line of nail polishes from China Glaze (with a coal black color called “Smoke and Ashes,” natch) and there’s a style website called Capitol Couture that promises, “Whether you’re a Capitol fashionista or a style-crazed District citizen, there’s only one place to turn for all the tips, tricks and trends you need to look your best.”

None of this is really surprisingThe Hunger Games is a big studio movie, so there are bound to be lots and lots of product tie-ins (Hollywood studios will slap a movie’s name on just about any product if they think they can make a quick buck). But I really hope that this glamorized, aspirational take on the Capitol is strictly for promotional purposes. Because the Capitol of the novel is anything but glamourous and aspirational. It’s full of surgically altered monsters and pampered, oblivious souls who watch with glee as children kill other children. The Hunger Games promo machine can keep it’s “Capitol fashionistas”, but I’m crossing my fingers that the movie gives us a Capitol that is just as grotesque and insidious as the one portrayed in the novel.

5. Haymitch Abernathy
The drunk District 12 mentor could easily become a caricature and, quite frankly, the brief glimpses that we have seen of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch have me a bit worried. I mean, what on Earth is going on with his hair?! This is a man who has survived a Hunger Games and has watched the children from District 12 die year after year, for twenty-five long years. This is a man who, when a terrified Katniss asks him for advice, merely replies, “Here’s some advice. Stay alive.” He has no time for perfectly coiffed tresses! But I’ll ignore the long blond locks as long as Harrelson’s Haymitch is every bit as acerbic, wry, and broken as he is in the book.

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I've gotta say, I agree with all of the things Jill points out in this post. I'm all for film adaptations being a new vision of the original, taking some risks and making necessary changes for the medium, but the essence of the project--the tone, the characters, etc.--must remain in tact.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how they handle the world of Panem itself. The districts and the arena, all of it. It truly will set the scene, not only physically but thematically and tonally. Rue and Prim are two other characters I think are important for the film to truly capture--they aren't big roles in actuality, but they provide so much of the inspiration and motivation for the Katniss's actions that we need to really feel and believe it.