Monday, May 24, 2010

A Company of Swans-Eva Ibbotson- Guest Blogger Danielle Raymond

We've reached a milestone here at Read Between The Lines: our  first guest blogger! Cassadaga Valley's own, Danielle Raymond will be reviewing A Company of Swans. Danielle writes for the Cougar Beat, CVCS's newspaper and also attends Writers Ink teen writing group, which I run at the library.  It was there that I met Danielle. Without further ado...

A Company of Swans
By Eva Ibbotson

The first time I read a book that completely swept me away into a different world that was as vivid and realistic as the one in A Company of Swans was in the first grade. I was six when the first Harry Potter book came out and my dad bought it for me. Hogwarts was so tangible, so detailed and described that it had to exist somewhere, even if magic and Harry Potter himself didn't. Those kind of books are very rare to find. They completely suck our conscious from our place and point in time to another.

I have to say that's one of the reasons I'm such a huge fan of Eva Ibbotson. Her writing is near flawless – no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to find anything wrong with it. Her plots are always well thought out, with all loose ends tied up at the conclusion and delivered to you in a neat little package. Her characters are deep and distinctly individual – when you walk away from the book, you aren't going to forget about them, simply because each and every one of them is unique and has their own quirks. Even minor characters that flit into the story for a brief second or two have memorable qualities and backgrounds. Her descriptions – be they of emotions or scenery – are simple and perfect.

A Company of Swans is a fantastic book, whether you're looking at it from a reader's perspective or a writer's perspective. I, consequentially, look at it and love it both ways.

The book's main character is eighteen-year-old Harriet Morton. Harriet is a quiet, considerate girl who is stopped from doing a great many things in life by her women-hating father who has the most absurd ideas of what is or is not decent, and by her penny-pinching aunt who is - let's face it - just a giant grouch who doesn't want anybody to be happy because she obviously has some neurological inability that prevents her from experiencing it herself. The one outlet Harriet is allowed is ballet. And she's good – which is why when a scout comes by her ballet class looking for a recruit, he picks her - plain-looking Harriet - out of all the others. Forbidden to go with the company to Brazil by her aunt and father and offending her suitor Dr. Edward Finch-Dutton (what a name, eh?) with the mere mention of such indecent behavior, Harriet feels the need to escape Cambridge (England!) more than ever.

On a forced visit to the historical Stavely Manor, Harriet meets an intelligent little boy by the name of Henry. Henry, looking trustingly up at Harriet through his humongous glasses, confesses to her that his father died recently and that he and his mother are going to lose Stavely because there's no money left. He tells her the story of the boy who used to live at Stavely. He was brave and adventuresome and strong – but he left a long time ago to go to the Amazon, and never returned. If only he could be found – Henry is sure he would be able to help him. Harriet mentions that she was supposed to go to that very place. Henry begs her to look for the boy, find him, tell him what's happening. Harriet can't help but almost instantly love Henry (I can't blame her – he's freaking adorable). So she agrees to search for the boy, and sneaks her way to Brazil with the company.

This boy, it turns out, is Rom Verney. Now a very rich man and an illustrious member of Brazilian society, he owns the opera house where Harriet is set to debut with the ballet company. Harriet has experienced a lot of things since she left Cambridge and her restricted, stuffy life. One thing she can't predict experiencing is Rom. Things kind of go from there – if you catch my drift.

I'm not a fan of romance novels. Ask any of my friends. But that's not all that this story is about. It's about seeing the world, stepping outside your comfort zone, living life to the fullest, making new friends, being passionate about something. Those are philosophies I support one hundred percent. I actually don't mind the romance in this novel so much. It's not as in-your-face as others can be. Overall, this is probably in my top twenty favorite books of all time. And that's a place of honor in my book, ladies and gents.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rochester Teen Book Festival

This past weekend, I dragged my friend, Bri, along to the Rochester Teen Book Festival.  It was AWESOME!  Yes, I know it was geared toward teens, but I'm still young at heart. Yes, I know that all the authors there write teen lit.  "Don't you ever read adult lit, Jessie?" you're asking.  Rarely!

 Teen lit is quick because teens don't have long attention spans. (Apparently, neither do I.) It can be on a variety of subjects and is sometimes more edgy than adult lit, without the graphic sex...most of the time. It's relatively easy reading, and honestly, I get bored with adult stories because I live every day as an adult.  I know what that's like.  Teen protagonists can be much more interesting, honest, brass, cool, scared, cruel, sensitive, perceptive, thoughtful and knowledgeable than we give them credit for. (I could name many more character descriptions, but I'm sure you don't want a laundry list, so fill in the blank yourself.)

Anyway, I digress.  The main idea is TEEN LIT BOOKS ROCK!  I love to read them and even more, I love to write them, which is why I attended the book festival. I'm on a mission to surround myself with successful authors. So, I Twitter and Facebook and follow agents and authors to read about their daily lives and struggles in this business.  They're very similar to my own struggles, so I know I'm not alone.

The annual festival is held at Nazareth College.  I'm an alum there, having received my Masters in Special Education, so I hope when I am published, they will invite me to speak. The best part is, it's open to the public and it's free.  Yes, that's right, FREE. So all you parents who think that bringing your teen to something like this would cost too much money, save your pennies for that fancy vacation and bring your kid to this festival!

It began with the authors arriving in limos, heralded by a marching band.  Unfortunately, I missed this part since I was too lazy to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4 A.M. to be there right on time. By the time I arrived, we had a few minutes to look over the book table.  I had to restrain myself, only buying a few books, but I could have easily spent hundreds.  The money here goes to help fund the program and allows it to be free.  Yes, that's right, FREE. After a few minutes, the authors were introduced one at a time and gathered on the bleachers where they did a lightning round of Q&A.
This is the entire panel of authors. Top row first from left to right: Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly Black, Coe booth, Robin Brande, Lindsay Cibos, Jared Hodges. Row 2: Marissa Doyle, Simone Elkeles, Ellen Hopkins, James Kennedy, A. S. King. 3rd row: Daniel Kirk, Alisa Libby, Barry Lyga, Lisa McMann, Mari Mancusi. 4th row: Ben Mikaelsen, Alyson Noel, Sarah Ockler, Matt De la Pena, Amy Kathleen Ryan. Bottom row: Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer E. Smith, Terry Trueman, Vivian Vande Velde, Martin Wilson.

Next were the break out sessions.  You could choose three, unless you wanted to skip lunch. Then you could do four.  (Of course I went to four.  I wish I could have gone to more! Who needs to eat anyway?) I chose to see Terry Trueman, author of Stuck In Neutral first.  He was in a classroom on campus, and after joining about 20 or so others, we settled in to hear him speak.  Mr. Trueman was very laid back and spoke a little about everything, mostly in response to our questions. He even read from his WIP, (Work in Progress) which is a sequel to Stuck In Neutral.  For those who don't know, Stuck In Neutral is about a boy with cerebral palsy and the book is written from his perspective!  AWESOME book. Below are me and Terry Trueman.

After that, we saw Laurie Halse Anderson. Just knowing her success is inspiring.  She was super nice, AND she remembered my blog about Wintergirls. :) Ms. Anderson had a slide show, which she used to discuss her life in writing. I'm jealous of her writing "cabin."  I think I need to hire her carpenter husband to build one for me! In case, you don't know her, she is the author of Speak, Chains, Fever 1793, Twisted and many others.  Here are a few pictures:  The one on the bottom is my friend, Bri with Laurie. 

Next was a trio of Super geeks who spoke on what it was like to be outcasts. Each took time to tell their most embarrassing moments and read from their books. Below are Lisa McMann, author of the Wake series; A. S. King, author of The Dust of 100 Dogs; and Robin Brande, author of Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature and Fat Cat.

Lastly, was Ellen Hopkins, who wrote Burned, Crank, Glass, Identical, Impulse and Tricks. Her story is amazing, and for anyone who doesn't know, Crank and Glass as well as a book she's currently writing is based on her story and her daughter's struggle with Crystal Meth.  The books are highly controversial due to their truthful look at the world of drugs, which makes them both intriguing and essential for teens. It's my belief that instead of banning books like these, we as parents should use them to our advantage.  Read them yourself if you think they're not appropriate! And, as Ms. Hopkins said, come and listen to her speak. Then you'll know what she's all about. 

What an amazing weekend.  Thank you to the authors who took time to travel to Rochester to meet with a bunch of crazy teenagers and people like me who want some encouragement in the realm of writing. It was an honor, and I hope that one day I can call myself your colleague. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Happened to Cass McBride--Gail Giles and Born Blue--Han Nolan

I've been a reading freak lately, so I'm combining two of the books I've read into one post. I'll keep it short and sweet, and unfortunately, that means not getting into very much detail, but sometimes that's for the best.

What Happened to Cass McBride
This story totally freaked me out! In order to discuss, I need to give one major spoiler: She's buried alive.

Now, I won't go into details about how or why or if she gets out. I'll leave that to your own reading to discover the answers, but this book brought up one major point. That is how often we blame others.

For anyone to bury another person alive, there has to be some amount of psychological disconnect. This book takes that to the extreme.  Yes, we can all name the horrible things that happened to us in the past, but does that excuse us from acting responsible?  Does that give us a reason to blame others or worse, act out on that blame? No, of course not. No matter what trials we endure, we must learn from them. Sure, it's not fair.  Life never is.  Of course there should be justice for the injustices of this world, but is it up to us to deal out those justices?

I'm continually thankful for a God who I know will bring justice to those who wait on him to act. In the mean time, I'll learn from the horrible things that continually happen in this world, and I'll work hard to make my little corner of it a nicer place to be.

Born Blue
From page one, I was hooked on this novel. First, it starts with such a strong voice I had to keep reading. A young girl in an abusive foster home believes deep inside that she is part African American. (She's not.) Her speech sways with an uneducated slang making it a little difficult to read until you get used to it but definitely adds to the character.

This story traces this young girls life from foster care to being kidnapped by her heroin addicted mother and sold to another couple. She runs away from everyone, including those who try to help. Her life is a series of bad choices and she takes a ride on the stereotypical drug addict, teen pregnancy road. Yet, even through some of those stereotypical aspects, I felt a kernel of truth. It was honest.

The entire time I was hoping that she'd realize along the way that people do care.  Not everyone is willing to sell her off, but just as with real people, she was blinded to those who truly care.  I think back to the many times that I've seen friends and family members reach out to the lost only to be disregarded, or even worse, attacked. Such is the way with humans.  I wonder how many times I've done that.  I mean, how many times have I rejected someone who was just trying to help?

On the other side of the story are the people reaching out, knowing that they were taking a chance with this messed up girl.  But they did it. They saw in her a talent or a spark of something good.  What inspiration for us.  They were stolen from, hurt and accused of lies, yet they still were willing to try.

What an amazing lesson for us to learn. No matter what the results, we should still try.  It's our job to reach out to those who need it. So I ask you, are you reaching out?

Sunshine Award

Nike Chillemi niminated this blog for the Sunshine award for creativity and inspiration. I'm accepting and passing it on to the following blogs:

1. Holly Jennings
2. Jones
3. Main
4. Reffner
5. Anne

 The rules for accepting the award are:
1) Put the logo within my blog or on my post
2) Pass the award onto 12 fellow bloggers
3) Link the nominees within my post
4) Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog
5) Share the love and link to the person whom you received this award from.

I figure since I'm very picky which blogs I follow, I'm only listing 5 here.  Maybe that's breaking the rules, but if I follow a million blogs, am I honestly going to be able to read them all?  No. So forgive me for my rule bending.