Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard PeacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once I started, I couldn't stop until it was finished and thrumming in my hands. Actually, I lied, since I listened to the audio, but I imagine myself holding the book and my hands are shaking because I'm thinking of the world covered in water, even Philadelphia, and I'm wrecked, because of the letters Leonard's future family write to him as he contemplates murder and suicide on his eighteenth birthday.

Leonard is a thinker. He's not a sheep or a follower. He's not like the "mindless morons" that fill his high school and classrooms with so many others who just go through the motions and don't challenge the system. Or, if they do, live a duality that hides their true nature. As the story progresses, it's unclear which side Leonard is on.

I am a reader who works in mental health, and Leonard Peacock clearly represents someone seriously contemplating murdering his ex-best friend, and then committing his own suicide. As he meets with his four friends, the four people who know him best, can they pick up on the clues he leaves them and stop him from completing his mission before it's too late?

I am amazed at the humanity of Leonard Peacock, a character who doesn't want to be a follower, but can't quite accept his own different-ness. He's wise beyond his years, because he has been cheated of his own childhood, and he lives in what might as well be a parentless world with very few friends. His mother is a fashion designer in New York, his father may or may not be alive, but has not been seen in years, and Leonard has less than a handful of friends to keep him going.

That world became harsher still, once his very best friend Asher became his enemy. As the novel unfolds, Leonard has cut off his long hair, wrapped up gifts and a gun and is on a mission. First, he will deliver the gifts to the few important people in his life, and then he will go through with his plan to kill Asher, and then off himself. The reasons why are slowly unraveled while Leonard visits each of his four friends, and cuts school to ride the train of life and see what it's like to be an adult.

This book transcends the many quotes and pathways it takes the reader on, a passenger on the train of life, doing "research" to figure out the meaning of so many things. Leonard Peacock is such a vivid character, it's easy to get pulled in and then you're hooked and you have to know how it all turns out. Will he do it, or won't he, and that ending. Boy did it wreck me. It sucker punched me in the feels.

A powerful, soul-changing book. A must read.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Top 10 Soul-Changing Books of All Time

Books transport us to other worlds, different time periods, and experiences we will never face in our lifetime. As we read, we step inside the lives of our favorite characters, and travel with them, skinriding along with their best and worst experiences. However, some books stay with us long after the pages are turned and the cover is closed. These are our soul-changing books, and this list is a compilation of those books that were soul-changing for me.
1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This book. This book, was soul-shattering. Once I let Ari and Dante into my life, slipping page after page through this unputdownable novel, I can't go back to the way I was before. I'm not at all surprised this is an award-winning book. What surprises me is that so many have not yet discovered the American Book Award Winning author yet. You can check out my book review here.
2. Without: Poems by Donald Hall

I've read dozens of books of poetry, many of which touched me deeply, leaving their word-fingerprints all over me. None of them have gripped me the way this book has. It is the story of the Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, and the story of how he faced the death of his beloved wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, who died of cancer. The feelings are palpable, lifting off the page, and rending my soul with each word.
3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I first listened to this book as an audiobook on a long car ride at night. In fact, it was the very first audiobook I've ever listened to. Words cannot express how this book crawled inside my mind and wrapped its mysterious fingers around me, but I will tell you that these characters and this story have forever changed me. I relate so strongly to the main character, Jasper "Jazz" Dent, and the seemingly inescapable path he takes as he attempts to avoid following in his dad's footsteps. You see, his father is a serial killer. Jasper was groomed by his father, prior to his father's arrest, to become the next great serial killer, a future Jasper hopes to avoid at all costs. You can read my book review here.
4. Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

This book introduced me to the amazing talent of YA author, Cheryl Rainfield, who is one of the most delightful and kind human beings I know. I am fortunate to call her my friend, and I appreciate every time she has responded and replied to me over the years. Her debut novel, Scars, is so powerful and life-changing, I find myself thinking about Kendra, the main character and her incredible journey from victim to survivor, from self-harming to self-accepting and self-loving. This is such a powerful read, and so close to home, too. I'm grateful that Cheryl was able to write this despite it being difficult and triggering for her as a writer. You can read my review here.
5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book got me excited about teaching and sharing with teens. As a state certified English Teacher, I have had the joy of watching students open this book and over the course of weeks have their lives forever changed. I have taught many books, but few as impacting as this one. The power of this book is in the way it changes the reader, over the course of a school year in the life of freshman Melinda Sordino. The language, poetry, and depth evoked by this book has stuck with me for years. I often find myself circling back to this book, or comparing a book I'm reading with this one as a kind of litmus test for worthiness.
6. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

"Do I dare disturb the universe?" is the question that perfectly sums up the story of Jerry Renault, and his crusade to stand up to the force of his peers, his school, and the adults who hold their authority over him like a tightened fist. Powerful, powerful read. A coming of age story that is so much more.
7. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I read this book as a requirement in college but do not regret it in the slightest. I'm glad I read this book, which proves the timeless quality of the story. It's a tale of murder and what comes next. This is a book that is not afraid to "go there," look the criminal in the face, and ask him why he did it. This is the unequivocal cold, hard look in the face humanity, and what would drive a man to such a heartless crime.
8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is not your everyday book read. It's a journey across country in a way few have traveled. A father and son must explore the road on the back of a motorcycle, examining the way their relationship mirrors the maintenance and upkeep of the very motorcycle they are riding on. I was surprised by this book, and how it changed me.
9. The Ogre Downstairs/The Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones

I can't decide which is better, the book that first introduced me to the incomparable Diana Wynne Jones (THE OGRE DOWNSTAIRS) or her Chrestomanci Chronicles, the series that was, to me, the original Harry Potter, before Harry Potter even existed. If you love HP, and wished you had more, I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this series. It has gained new momentum since HP, and I am grateful to HP for this. Likewise, The Ogre Downstairs is a "Brady Bunch" combining of an American mother and her three children, with a British widower and his two boys, with a bit of magic and chemistry sets mixed in. The Ogre is by far one of the most endearing and misjudged fathers I've ever read, and I needed this book as a boy growing up in a fatherless family.
10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The most perfect book I've ever read has got to be the Pulitzer prize-winning TKaM. This book is a must read for everyone. I'm glad most high schools continue to teach it, and I believe the message and values are timeless.

While I couldn't fit every book in my repertoire in a list of 10, listed below are many more that could have easily made my list. So how about you? What books would you consider soul-changing? Do any of your books match mine? Or, have any of my books sparked the names of others for you? Please share them in the comments below.

Honorable Mentions:

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu, The Reasons by Kevin Craig, Fault Line by Christa Desir, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King.

I hope you'll join me and post your own soul-changing books. You can either blog about them and post the link in the comments below, or list your soul-changing books in the comments. Feel free to link back to this post if you do blog about this, and let's keep sharing what books touched us and stay with us, changing our lives forever.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: CRESS (Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)
Also see my review of CINDER and SCARLET

Cress by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So many feels with this ending. Such a fantastic read. Marissa Meyers knows how to weave a tale and she's fantastic breathing cyborg life into these fairy tales and giving them a futuristic, sci-fi twist. I loved how each element of Cress's "tower" imprisonment led her to learn skills that gave the group of ladies the skills they needed to pull off that ending. What a great way to bring us to the revolution that will be in WINTER, and what an introduction. Every character shined, and I loved every minute of it. I cannot wait to read the conclusion to this amazing series. This is a huge must read for feels and kisses and falling in love amidst the chaos life brings. Wow. So well done. I will definitely be rereading this series once it's all done. I don't want to miss a single moment.

Marissa Meyer did a fantastic job writing a story that braids three distinct characters into a climax that left my stomach in knots and my fingers fleeting over each page until the very last page. One of the themes I noticed was that each heroine is forced out of her comfort zone and into an unknown place she has to navigate to work out her own goal. Cress is rescued from her tower and faces surprises on Earth. Scarlet ends up on Luna and must fight her way toward freedom. Cinder must face Levana and find a way to stop the wedding to Emperor Kai. In fact, since Levana plans to use her wedding as the first step in her conquest of Earth, the three heroines become entangled in a plan to save the world.

With memorable characters, and twists aplenty, CRESS is incredibly satisfying as a third book, and left me desperately wanting WINTER. Captain Thorne and Iko are two of my absolute favorite characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed where their story arcs took them as characters. I loved where Iko ended up in SCARLET, and in CRESS, she's even more delightful. Captain Thorne continues his jaunt as a pirate-y space captain, tossed onto the beach that is Earth, and mucking up things with shenanigans galore.

I also enjoyed how Cress's knowledge of computer systems and skills as a hacker were featured throughout the story, further illuminating how each heroine's special skills come into play in the plan to save the Earth from Levana.

I highly recommend this book series to anyone who likes a great read, brilliantly conceived characters, and fast-paced storytelling. You won't even notice you're reading a book that's 550 pages. It definitely left me wanting more.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pitch Slam Rebel Group: Pitch Slam Writers

I recently participated in a Twitter Author Pitch Event called Pitch Slam. Created by L. L. McKinney, or @Tangynt, as she is known on Twitter, this event allowed writers to pitch their completed, polished manuscripts as a polished 35 word pitch, followed by the first 250 words of the manuscript, culminating in the final round of submissions with both components. I loved every minute of it, even though I was not selected to move forward to the final round.

The reason these components were spaced out over days was to allow the Managers and Talent Scouts time to provide feedback to the writer, and for the writer to REVISE and RESUBMIT in the final round. This feedback proved to be a great opportunity to learn from the process of submission, by being given a "second chance" to receive feedback specific to our writing, and choose whether to apply those suggestions before the final submission round.

Next, the Managers vetted these submissions into 10 12 final selections, and posted the best of the best for the agent round, where agents combed through the vetted submissions and requested  partials and fulls as if they were record labels. The theme was "Battle of the Bands," and had an American Idol feel to the competition.

Pitch Slam was an amazing experience and I'm so glad I decided to participate.

Each day of the contest had new hashtags where writers could share first lines, last lines, cool parts, playlists, favorite songs, songs the MC or other characters listened to, and even songs the writer likes. The camaraderie and connectedness many writers felt throughout this competition, led many of us to follow each other, form new friendships, and seek ways to stay connected.

Hence, the birth of the REBEL group, Pitch Slam Writers. This post is designed to announce the purpose of Pitch Slam Writers, and to provide first details of what will happen among members of Pitch Slam Writers, for those who choose to join this rebel group and participate in new and upcoming writer challenges.

The purpose of Pitch Slam Writers is:

1. To provide a way for writers to stay connected and utilize the bonds of friendship to critique, beta read, follow each other on social media platforms, and provide feedback on fellow writers' materials (MSS, Queries, Prompts, etc.).

2. To strive to improve oneself as a writer, by engaging with other writers in a positive, yet constructive feedback environment. We all know writing can feel like an island at times, but it doesn't have to isolate you from other writers.

This will include components on Twitter, using the hashtag #PitchSlamWriters, as well as blog components on this blog and fellow member's blogs, and other online places which will have workshop components, provided free of charge.

3. To improve as a writer in time for the next Pitch Slam event.

To that end, I have approached L. L. McKinney and requested permission to form this group (even though, technically, rebel groups don't usually ask permission), and have created a new logo for our group to represent our efforts:

Now that I've given the background to how this group came into being, I will explain who can join.

But first, an important clarification: Joining this group will not move you forward with your pitch or 250 to the agent round, nor will it give you preferential treatment in future Pitch Slam contests. However, I hope your participation will help you to improve yourself as a writer, and therefore, improve your chances in future contests, including Pitch Slam.

This group is primarily intended to be for those who submitted to Pitch Slam. Whether members went all the way to the final agent round and earned requests, or dropped out anywhere along the way, this group is for you.

How to Join Pitch Slam Writers (Step 1): Comment on this post and give me your Twitter name, for example, mine is @gdcribbs. Simply request via tweet or comment below that you'd like to join and you're in. I will add you to the group, and you can go to the link to subscribe. Once you've subscribed, you can go to the hashtag and tweet the link to your blog for others to see and follow.

Step 2: go to the hashtag: #PitchSlamWriters, scroll to the bottom and read going up. Catch up on all tweets and comment/reply as you wish. Let's get this hashtag moving, people! I don't want to see just my tired comments filling the thread. *shudders* *taps mic* *Am I just talking to myself?*

Step 3: Come back to the thread whenever is most convenient for you. Catch up to posts/tweets you missed, and/or blog posts for what we're doing to learn/improve our craft. If you have suggestions, please tweet or message me g.donaldcribbs(at)yahoo(dot)com. Please include PitchSlamWriters in the subject.

I have daily (during the week only, weekends are free) prompts/tweet themes to keep us moving:

Monday: Most Helpful Monday. Tweet links to your favorite writer/writing goodies. This could be a blog, a video, a free online resource for writers, etc.

Tuesday: Tips/Take Away Tuesday. Writing Tips, advice, or things to take away from the experience of Pitch Slam. My first suggestion is to read all 60 submissions that caught the eye of the Managers/Talent Scouts, and see what they did that worked. Comment on these in the thread. It's like a free, online writer's conference and you can learn from it, if you approach it that way.

Wednesday: Writing Prompts Wednesday. A short writing prompt posted in the hashtag for you to sharpen your skills, and get something written for the day. If you have suggestions for upcoming Wednesdays, please share them with me.

Thursday: Things to Improve Thursday. What do you struggle with as a writer? Are you great at outlining/plotting, but terrible at motivation? Are you great and words, but terrible at revising? How's your query/synopsis, tagline, prompt, etc.? This is where we get down and dirty and hone our skills. Make sure you've got your big boy/girl underpants on.

Friday: Follow Friday. This is where we can show the love and follow fellow members, connect with each other on other sites and forms of social media, and share the love of writing. You might be tempted to mosh or karaoke, but we're watching, so...

You are free to join or end your membership at any time, but you will get a greater benefit out of participating and continuing to participate in future tasks and assignments. The more you put in, the more you'll get out. There will be no cost for participation. This includes components which will feel very much like a writer's workshop, but will be provided to members free of charge.

Who will be providing these services to you? Myself and my critique partner, Lydia Sharp. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog, The Sharp Angle. This could include others if I can find others who wish to join me in this endeavor. My next blog will be to introduce myself and Lydia Sharp, and a bit about our writing credentials and experience. Other members will be invited to write your own introductions and post those on your blog. Feel free to use the logo above to help other members find PSW posts in your blogs, and stay connected. It is my hope that we will blog hop and comment on all members' blog posts, particularly when we are sharing our own writing.

Now for some exciting teasers of what's to come: Lydia and I have agreed to collaborate our efforts and share our love of writing and the craft of writing by workshopping with you to help us improve as writers (teaching is the highest level of learning, so YOU are making US better writers), and hopefully we are helping you improve by sharing/studying what we've learned along the way. You will have opportunity to share what you've learned, too, so we can all share the love.

Coming up, we will be assigning you the task to post your writing so we can blog hop and critique one another, and you can follow up by posting your revisions. This will include loglines, pitches, queries, and excerpts from your writing. Lydia has graciously offered to share from her Push, Pull, Lock Online Writing Seminar (I attended and it was fabulous!), and her online Story Structure Series on turning points to help you make sure your manuscript follows a clear path from start to finish.

I've got a few bonus things to add to that, and hopefully we all will enjoy these tasks as we move forward. If you're looking for a group like this, I hope you'll consider joining. Not all of us have the benefit of a local writer's group, so consider this an online group you can attend in your pajamas, without embarrassment.

If I've failed to answer any burning questions, please comment below and I'll clarify. Otherwise, I hope you like what you've read, and let's get writing!

P.S. If you've followed my blog, please note that while I will have blog posts about Pitch Slam Writers, I will continue to blog about books, book reviews, giveaways, author interviews, and the writing process. Of course, if I have news about my books, I'll share that here as well. I'm excited about this new opportunity to grow as a writer myself, and I hope to see you all in the #PitchSlamWriters thread.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review: THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book fissured my heart into a million tiny shards of frozen mirrors and spoke to me in the language of pain and memory and the human struggle to figure out how to clamber through all the muck and find a way to face it and face each other in the characters of Hayley and her father Andy and their story of what PTSD did to them and their loved ones.

Laurie has done it again, with a book so powerful, I was reeling from lines off every page, although perhaps nearly every page is most accurate. I adored the relationship between Hayley and Finn and the depth to which both characters were developed. They took on life and flesh and climbed out of zombied pages and rattled my soul a few dozen times as I read this amazing book.

I still haven't worked out how I feel about Trish, or Benedetti, but both had nuanced touches in story arcs that made them hard to hate entirely, on principal, for instance.

This is the kind of book I wanted to savor, but then thought the better of that idea and decided to devour it and lick my fingers in all the gravy of it, tear off another hunk, and reread it when the taste of juices ebb and I need to scoop gobs of it when it's jellied and cold in the fridge. Probably better to store that on the bookshelf, no?

This book reads with the reality and harshness of a memoir, yet handles the tough issue of PTSD with aplomb and honesty. It's no small feat to write about the war going on in the mind. As someone who works full time in the mental health field, I know this all to well, see the aftermath in my clients and their families, and I can assure you, Laurie has nailed it in this book.

I am also a huge fan of Hayley being highly intelligent and articulate and standing up to the zombified education so prevalent in today's world.

What a powerful, profound read. What a statement. Many statements. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review: IGNITE ME (Shatter Me #3) Tahereh Mafi

Also see my review of SHATTER ME and UNRAVEL ME

Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3)

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With each book, Tahereh Mafi has raised the stakes and taken her characters and readers through so many twists and turns I don't know which way is up anymore. Point being, I don't care to know which way is up anymore, because I'm more interested in knowing her characters, and how they will survive together, despite the ever-growing odds stacked against them.

I loved the feel of the world, the fact that it had the X-Men vibe, but did its own thing, which was equally as cool to me. I loved how their powers evolved and deepened, just like the characters arcs throughout the books.

Tahereh Mafi is the master of sexy times. Period. Kisses, not kisses, and almost sex are also close runner-ups. Wow. that's some scorching hot pagination, right there. I had to fan myself with the pages to cool down after reading. Simply stunning. Climactic, even.

I began this series as an Adam fan, but have evolved the way Juliette has evolved. I'm happy where the series ended up, even though I would have told you you're crazy if you'd asked me this back when I'd only read SHATTER ME. It's taken some time to change my mind. It wasn't a quick or easy decision, but I'm happy the way characters changed and alliances shifted. The arc felt particularly genuine and real. Character motivations are legit and can be easily understood. I especially adored the friendship between Kenji and Juliette and how this humor of Kenji's disguised a deeper personal pain beneath his group role as staunch, self-appointed comedian.

I was also intrigued when Juliette asked Warner to be her friend. I thought that was a necessary and significant progression for their relationship. I liked that it messed Warner up to be forced to get a bit uncomfortable, yet he was willing to try.

What a great series, and a great read. Now I've got to read this whole series over again with new eyes. I don't want to miss anything. Cannot wait to see what Tahereh Mafi brings us next.

More please.

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