Friday, March 1, 2013

Ratgirl, Song of the Viper, by Gayle C. Krause (A Book Review)

Ratgirl, Song of the Viper tells the tale of Jax Stone, a sixteen year old orphan in Metro City, a town where the majority of the inhabitants are forced to live underground in the sewers to escape the killer rays of the sun.  Her goal in life, besides staying alive, is escaping with her friends and little brother to Antarctica, the last place left where it is safe to live above ground.  Complicating matters is the corrupt mayor of the town and his evil scheme involving the town’s children.

Ratgirl is a futuristic, dystopic spin on the tale of the Pied Piper filled with action, betrayal, sacrifice and romance. All good things in my world. Jax Stone is my favorite type of girl, one who doesn’t depend on boys to solve all her problems, no matter how chiseled and swoon-worthy they may be. Jax is a strong leader in a desolate world, a good heroine in the YA world of literature.

Ms. Krause is skilled in the craft of writing and creates a tale that is easy and enjoyable to read. I downloaded the e-book onto my iPad, something I’m still new at, something that infuriates my children who like to “share” my technology. They were pleasantly surprised at how quickly I finished the book. So, Kudos to Ms. Krause for a story that kept me reading. My kids appreciate it too. ;)

Parental note:  Cussing and some mature themes.
          --Suzi Ryan

Monday, October 29, 2012

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (A Book Review)

Hunger Games fans rejoice! The Divergent series is the new dystopian hotness. The story takes place in a much altered Chicago with society broken into factions, each one representative of a particular virtue: Abnegation (these are the selfless people who put all others before them, in charge of the government), Candor (the honest ones who speak the truth at all costs), Dauntless (the brave ones who train to protect and kill, the military of this society), Amity (those devoting their lives to peace and farming), and Erudite (the intelligent, the geeks of the society, in charge of research). Once a year, all 16 year olds must choose their faction, the one they will stay with the rest of their lives. Do they choose the faction they’ve been raised in or jump ships to another, leaving behind their family forever?

Beatrice Prior makes her decision, one that surprises even her. Sealing her own fate, she then embarks on a quest to discover who she really is within the faction she chooses. The process is not an easy one with death as a possible consequence of failure to adapt. There is also the burden of knowing she could be cast out at any time, forever Factionless, poor and hungry. But Beatrice has a secret that she must guard well. One which others would kill her for. 

Divergent is a series filled with action, choices and consequences, betrayal and (thankfully) a bit of romance.

My overall impression is this was a very good book, definitely worthy of my hardback purchase. It had a few of my very favorite things: a girl with a secret, a girl who can take care of herself most of the time, and a boy who needs a good slap as much as he needs a good kiss. Ms. Roth has a writing style that is enjoyable and easy to read with well developed characters (even the ones you are rooting will meet a slow and painful death).
A teen that I know (who loooooooved this book, btw), excitedly grabbed my brand new copy, flipped open to chapter one and read aloud to me, “‘There is one mirror in my house.’ I’m telling you, I was hooked from the first sentence!” A teen, hooked from the very first sentence of a YA novel??  Kudos, Ms. Roth.  Kudos.

So…this one’s gonna be a movie, guys.  Check it out:

Read the book first, people!!
Parental note:  PG-13 violence and only one cuss word that I noticed.

Now, please excuse me whilst I go pick up my copy of Insurgent. In hardback, of course.
          --Suzi Ryan

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was asked by my super amazing talented friend, Colleen Rowan Kosinski, to participate in this blog tag event detailing what we are all currently working on. Please to enjoy!

What is the working title of your book?

One of Those Moments

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a combination of two things. The first is a dream I had when I was 19. In the dream, a boy’s mom is killed when a tree falls on her car. In the father’s despair, he cuts down every single tree on his sprawling property, to the dismay of his son, who likes to sit in the shade of the trees, his acoustic guitar in lap, composing music.

Secondly, in grade school, I fell mad crazy in love with O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. If you haven’t read it, get your butt to the library. Like NOW. I get choked up every single time I read it. And no, watching the Mickey Mouse rendition does NOT count!  Anyway, I’ve always wanted to do a modern, teen version of the story.

So…I took my dream in one hand and Gift of the Magi in the other and smooshed them together like a big ‘ol fluffer-nutter.

What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary/Literary young adult fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Cassie looks a lot like Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls/Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). Grey looks a bit like a blonde, blue-eyed version of James Maslow (Big Time Rush). For Laken, I found this one pic of Amber Tamblyn (again, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) that looks pretty close. As far as Chase, in my head he looks like a young Barry Watson (7th Heaven/Samantha Who?)  If I had to pick someone who could play him now, I guess I’d pick Chace Crawford. WITH bangs.

Alexis Bledel - James Maslow - Amber Tamblyn - Chace Crawford

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Upon the death of her father, Cassie abandons her dreams of pursuing the study of music until she meets Grey, a guitar player who has recently lost his mother.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One fabulous summer.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve wanted to be nothing but be a published writer since the age of 12. Yet fear, insecurity, and self-doubt paralyzed me so thoroughly that I abandoned my dream, much like my main character, Cassie. But after many years, reality finally slapped me in the face—the reality that I never went after the one thing I wanted most. So…I finally went to my first writing conference with my friend and co-blogger, Suzy Ismail. I took pages from the story I was working on, one I was madly in love with. I had my very first critique. My critiquer ripped me to shreds, not having a single, kind thing to say. I left bawling my eyes out. Suzy dragged me to P.F. Chang’s to calm me down before my long drive home. In the parking lot, she gave me advice. Advice that I hated. Advice that I needed. She told me, “You need to write something else.”  Well, I went home and threw myself one giant pity party. I yelled, stomped my feet, ate ice cream and vowed to never write again. I cried. I prayed. And then I surrendered to my dear friend’s advice. And I’m so glad I did. 

What else about your book might pique your reader’s interest?

It’s romantic and deeply emotional. Just. Like. Me. 

Please check out my friend Colleen's blog too:

          --Suzi Ryan

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Random Thoughts on Birds and Truth

One crisp pre-winter morning while driving my kids to school, I did something I never do—I looked up. My mouth fell open as I discovered the pale blue sky alive with movement, thin lines and curves undulating through the air like ripples of sand created by desert winds. A great flock of birds, the likes to which I’d never seen, flew high above a barren field. I called to my children to look at the pretty birds.

“Where, Mommy? I don’t see any birds.”

I looked back up, confused at how they were missing a sky overflowing with winged creatures.

“Ooo, look, the letter “V,” my daughter called out.

Indeed, the birds were jockeying for position to form a bunch of V’s, intent on their quest for a warmer climate. But they appeared as nothing more than lines sketched by the edge of an artist’s charcoal stick, each bird’s individuality and identity completely lost from our earthbound perspective.

As we travelled, the flock descended, low enough that the shape of each bird could be distinguished. Side by side we rode, one with the avian crowd. My daughter called out again, “Yellow birds! Mommy, look at all the pretty yellow birds!” Now the birds were not, in fact, yellow. They must have been a shade of gray or white. You see, the sun was still rising, low in the sky, casting forth its golden light, bathing each bird in an aura of yellow. I opened my mouth to correct my daughter, to explain the wonders of light reflection and refraction, but how does one explain physics to a kindergartner? (Especially when physics has never been a strength of mine). This observation skipped my ever wandering brain onto the subject of truth. Truth: the birds’ feathers were not yellow, regardless of how they appeared.

My brain then briefly slipped on the slope of moral relativism. Funny how nature doesn’t seem to struggle with truth the way people do. Those birds were the color that they were. Period. It didn’t matter if I called them gray or white or fuchsia. It didn’t matter if I spray-painted them silver. My perspective, whether near or far, was irrelevant. My opinion did not change truth.

 Next, I think of myself. One of the blessings that seems to have come with my age is my level of self-awareness. I pretty much know who I am and who I’m not. Others may have their opinions about me, opinions they have formed from the brief moments they have seen me with their eyes, of the brief bits of conversation or text messages we’ve exchanged. But those opinions, whether complimentary or disparaging, do not change the truth of who I am.

So then I start thinking about God, about how we mortals, drunk on our own acumen, think we can tell God who He is. We piece together all of the happy, rosy bits of various religions and philosophies, creating our own belief system, fashioning it in such as was as to legitimize us doing and saying whatever the heck we darn well feel like.

But the truth is those birds were not yellow. Truth is your opinion of me will not change who I am (though I confess, it may make me cry). Truth is God is who He is, regardless of our own vain fabrications.

“Slow down, Mommy! We’re losing them.”

I snapped out of my philosophical reverie. Good thing, too. My brain was starting to cramp. I looked back out my window and indeed, the birds were slipping behind us. And then my brain shifted to parenthood— the sports, meal preparation, laundry, homework, dishes, repeated lines of “how many times have I told you not to.” We parents grumble and moan and groan about the day to day, lost in the blindness of the mundane, forgetting this truth: We’re losing them. In the scheme of our entire lives, the time we have with our little ones at home, needing us, wanting our undivided attention, is so very small. In a blink they become teenagers and the center of their universes shifts from us to their peers and we will in turn beg for their undivided attention.

We cannot fight the clock. Time continues whether we want it to or not. Another truth which cares not of our opinion of it. While we cannot slow the clock, we can slow ourselves, cross a few things off our list that really weren’t that important to begin with. Right now I have three children who still like to curl up in my lap, who love when I read to them, who beg me to pick them up and spin them as fast as I can. My one son just walked into the kitchen and, while I’m in the middle of making dinner, he asked me to pick him up. He’s getting so big, it makes my back hurt. But you better believe I pick him up. Every single time. Without fail, he puts his head on my shoulder and coos, “Mama,” softly, for my ears only. Worth the slightly overcooked dinner in the pan and the price of a chiropractor visit any day. And yeah, that’s truth. J
          --Suzi Ryan

Friday, February 3, 2012

Every Body Matters, by Gary Thomas (A Book Review)

Gary Thomas, in Every Body Matters, dares to blaze a trail on a subject many Christian authors and church leaders won’t even dip their toes into: sloth and gluttony. While the Bible touches on both vices, the overall number of reference verses is surprisingly few. Mr. Thomas extrapolates from these specific and similar verses, along with a number of writings of various religious leaders across the centuries. The repeated point he makes throughout the book is that, as Christians, we are to be “…instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21)  My summation of his basic point is this: If you spend your evenings sitting on the couch scarfing Oreos, if you have to sit down to catch your breath after climbing one flight of stairs (and you have no physical infirmity as cause), well, your body is probably not ready for “any good work” God may ask of you. The author is very careful to point out that God loves us just the way we are. God’s love for us is not what he calls into question. He surmises that as we discipline our bodies, our spiritual fitness is apt to increase as well.

So, it’s finally here, the day I swore would never come. I’m reviewing an adult, non-fiction book. In general, the only non-fiction I read are the books written by my co-blogger, Suzy Ismail. I write and read almost exclusively young adult fiction. Give me angst, exquisitely written kisses, and tons of dialogue, otherwise my eyes completely glaze over. Just saying aloud the phrase “non-fiction” sends me into fits of shuddering.

Why this book then? Perhaps because I have my Bachelor’s in Nutrition, perhaps because of the leading of the Holy Spirit, perhaps because I’m fat. Yup, I said the “F” word—get over it. God did not call us to live under the bondage of offense. That’s how the world lives, stalking around, looking for reasons to be offended. There is freedom in knowing who we are in Him. Whoops, slipped onto my soapbox. Apologies.

But even though I have a degree in Nutrition, even though my maternal grandmother died of heart disease, even though my father suffered two heart attacks and underwent a heart transplant, my BMI is entirely too high. How can that be? I have all this knowledge. Clearly, knowing and doing are two entirely different animals. I suspect a few of you might know what I’m talking about.

I’ve found that I’m much more motivated when the spiritual is brought in. The only times in my entire life I’ve been able to go without sweets were the times I fasted them as an offering for a specific prayer request. This book had a number of “ouch” moments for me. The one that stands out the most is when the author relates a scene from his past where he was at his book signing and no one showed up. The very thought of this makes the writer in me want to curl into fetal position and whimper. The author, disheartened, drowned his sorrows in a sundae. Not that the sundae was a sin. But he was using it to comfort himself instead of turning to the Prince of Peace, the one who could actually DO something about his circumstance.

So, if you are having trouble with motivation to eat healthy and exercise and if knowledge doesn’t seem to be enough, this book might be just what you need. I’m not certain I’ll ever be in a size 8 again. I’m not sure I’ll successfully trudge through the rugged terrains of “obese” and “overweight” or make it to the land of “normal weight.” But I’m down two pounds since reading the book and I was able to do something for the first time in my entire existence—I walked past the Entenmann’s holiday cupcakes without breaking my stride. But I’m at the stage of my life where I truly want to be ready—physically and spiritually—to do any good work that God throws my way. And this book gave me a start. There’s much to be said for beginnings. J
          --Suzi Ryan
*Zondervan provided me with this book free of charge for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own. No other compensations have been received.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Failure to Connect

I am sitting at my daughter’s basketball practice, laptop open, desperately trying to get a Wi-Fi connection.  All my feeble attempts at hacking through an unsecured network fail miserably.  I feel hopeless as I stare at the “No connection” message flashing on the screen.

And then it dawns on me.  Is Wi-Fi really what I need to feel connected? Why am I so desperate to get online?  Is it to login to my online classes and tend to students’ “I need this question answered RIGHT NOW!” demands? Or to keep my Facebook window open so as not to miss an all-important status update? Or is it to check in with my three email accounts just in case I’m desperately needed by someone?

A small, sarcastic laugh escapes my lips as my bench neighbor looks at me oddly and then slides away a few inches.  Now, I am shaking with internal laughter.  My daughter turns from her dribbling practice, smiles, and waves.  And it hits me.  For the past several months, I’ve been going through the motions of living while truly being trapped in the online world.

I had become so conditioned to only feel connected with others by constantly being online that it was a sudden wake-up call to realize that there is life outside the cyber window.  My laughter dies down almost as quickly as it began.  I’m laughing at myself and my own imagined self-importance. The false feeling of constant connection in the online world pales in comparison to looking around and watching my daughter proudly shoot from the free-throw line.  Hearing the whoosh of the ball as it slides seamlessly through the net makes my heart flutter more than any “you’ve got mail” message ever could.  Checking Yahoo News and joining online protests, petitions, and causes can’t hold a candle to seeing my daughter’s teammates clap each other on the back and high-five one another with giddy excitement.  Being online can’t compare to seeing, hearing, sensing, touching, and tasting in REAL life. 

Just as this revelation dawns on me, I hear a little “ding” on my phone letting me know I’ve got an email message waiting.  I resist the urge to grab it and check.  My fingers are itching.  One… Two… Three…I delay a few seconds longer and then can’t hold myself back.  I grab the phone and open the message…another petition lamenting Lowes’ discriminatory stance against the “All-American Muslim” show on TLC. 

I can’t help but feel the giggle gurgling inside me again.  Here I am, poised to respond with a raving rant of self-righteous indignation when I realize that since basketball season began, I have never once stopped to introduce myself to the other parents.  I have never taken the time to make an effort to get to know them.  Why? Not because I am an unfriendly person, but because I have been too consumed with always being “connected” online.  Even the connection I used to feel in writing seems to have faded in favor of the all-consuming cyber interactions.

Embarrassed and a bit sheepish, I put down the phone, close the laptop and turn to my bench neighbor.  “Hi, I’m Suzy.”  A raised eyebrow, a slight pause, and an imperceptible bob of the head… and before I know it, Ann is reaching out to shake my hand and eagerly discuss how well the girls are doing this season.

Basketball practice is wrapping up and Ann is packing her things… I can’t help but sneak back into my laptop.  Yes, I’m addicted.  But, with my fingers flying over the keys, I’m desperately seeking another connection.  Not an online one this time, but a connection through writing. 

And I find it.  The knowledge that someone, somewhere may find this post, read it, and nod in understanding...that’s some powerful connection.

Connecting to the world without Wi-Fi… what a concept!
          --Suzy Ismail

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blood Red Road, by Moira Young (A Book Review)

Summary:  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for a new generation, only with a chick as the one kicking post-apocalyptic tail feathers.

The only world Saba knows is Silverlake, a dried up land where life is hard and food is scarce.  Strange, cloaked riders on horseback appear on the heels of a wicked dust storm, capturing her twin brother Lugh and stealing him away.  Saba, knowing almost nothing but stories of the world beyond her home, vows to get him back.  Her journey lands her into a world of violence and corruption.  She teams up with renegade Jack and a girl gang of insurrectionists called the Free Hawks.  Together they endeavor to rescue Lugh and depose a corrupt king. 

Sound the trumpets!  Fire the canons!  Cue the choir of angels!  It’s finally happened.  You have no idea how much I’ve longed for this day.  I’d almost given up.  But Ms. Moira Young has done the impossible for me—she created a female protagonist that I loved from the first page.  Saba.  This is not a story about a girl, quaking in her espadrilles, who sits back and watches the boy save her repeatedly while she nibbles on her cotton candy pink glitter nail polished fingertips.  Yessssssss!!  J

I loved this book, I loved this book, I loved this book.  Whew!  I feel so much better to have that off my chest.  Blood Red Road is now located in the very short stack of books I will read again one day.  I lost track of how many times I moaned and laughed out loud. I truly can’t remember having this much fun reading any book.  Ever.

All that gushing aside, there are a couple of things I should prepare you for.  This book is written without the use of quotations.  Glancing at other reviews, it seems to have taken some people a number of pages to adjust to this.  I confess, for me, it was easy and refreshing.  If you find yourself initially frustrated, I urge you to push forward. You’ll catch on.  This is a post-apocalyptic/dystopic world where no one goes to school.  They have their own verbiage, slight variations to English slang.  Perhaps a sample from the book to demonstrate?  Here goes:

He throws his head back an curses unner his breath. Stands up. Whatever I say now, he says, you ain’t gonna believe me. 

Alright, so one of the reasons I loved this book so much is that I am a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome fan  (This admission will unfortunately clue you in to my age).  I have a sneaking suspicion that Ms. Young is as well.  I’d go so far as to suppose she has an old Beyond Thunderdome movie poster hanging up somewhere with a lipstick kiss on a youthful Mel Gibson’s cheek.  J  This story also involves a bit of cage fighting and I confess, any time I read a fight scene, a crazed crowd cheered from the recesses of my brain, “Two men en-tah, one man leaves.”

This is the point in my review where I offer up some tidbit of criticism, as no author is perfect and the art of writing is a continual refining process…nope, I got nothing.  This is  story with action, adventure, romance, drama, tension, tears,  plot and characters I can’t get enough of.  Fans of The Hunger Games will find plenty to get excited about here. 

Here’s the part of my review where I was going to implore Hollywood to add this to the list of YA fiction it scoops up for the big screen.  But then a little birdie whispered in my ear that my wish is already coming true.  Who you ask?  Why, Ridley Scott.  Oooo…I’m all aquiver.  Check it out:

Parental note:  Some cussing.

As I end this book review, cue the guitar and keyboard.  Sing it, Tina Turner.  “We don’t need another heeeeero,  We don’t need to know the waaaay home.  All we want is—” Ms. Moira Young to write quickly.  I’m ready for the next book.  Like, now. 

            --Suzi Ryan