Persephone for the modern girl

*I do not own this image

Everneath is the debut young adult novel written by Brodi Ashton. The story follows Nikki, a human girl who has decided to “Return” to the surface world after spending 100 years having her energy fed off of her by Cole, a member of the immortal society called the Everliving. Not a whole lot is revealed about the situation at the start of the novel, but through a series of flashbacks, we learn what has happened to Nikki and what is coming for her in the future. After being brought down and fed off of by her psuedo-friend Cole, Nikki makes the decision to return to the surface world (on which only 6 months has passed) where she attempts to rehabilitate her relationships with her friends, family, and ex-boyfriend, all of whom assume she disappeared on a drug induced bender. What they don’t know is that Nikki’s time is limited; in just another 6 months, the forces of the Everneath will come to take her back to drain the rest of the energy from her. The only way she can escape this fate is by becoming an Everliving herself – and Cole will do everything in his power to make her become one.

At the beginning, I felt that this book had a lot of promise. I’ve always liked the myth about Hades and Persephone and was interested to see how Ashton adapted it into a modern-day tale. If you haven’t read up on your ancient myths lately, here’s the gist: Hades, god of the underworld, falls in love with Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter (goddess of the harvest). Demeter will not allow her daughter to be wooed, so Hades rises up from the underworld to abduct her.  When she finds that her daughter is missing, Demeter begins to search for her, and her neglect causes drought and famine for humans. Zeus finally orders Hades to give Persephone back, but before he lets her go, Hades gives her a pomegranate. Persephone eats four of the seeds (though some stories state more), and since she has been tricked into eating food from the underworld, she must stay there for four months out of every year as Hades’ queen.

The whole idea of the world behind Everneath is fascinating. A host of immortal beings that keep their strength by feeding off the human population every other century, complete with a vicious monarchy that can only be overthrown if a new Everliving couple shows up to challenge them- it could be the basis of a cool paranormal romance series. Unfortunately, for me the novel started off stumbling and never really picked itself back up. I felt like the main character Nikki had very little personality, and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why the two love interests in the story (Cole and Jack) would be fighting over her. Apart from deciding to return, Nikki makes very few ground-breaking decisions for herself, and is mostly pulled along by the forces of these two men. The way we learn information in the novel felt very stilted to me- I felt like I was given the information needed to understand something AFTER it had already passed. For example, the real truth behind Jack and Nikki’s previous relationship isn’t released until late in the novel, when I really needed it earlier to understand why she even bothered to come back if she was just going to avoid everyone. I got a bit tired of every variation of the phrase “We sat in silence for the rest of the time.”

Nikki does seem to acquire a bit more spunk towards the end of the novel as she tries to formulate a plan to escape the Tunnels, and I hope that the sequel can harness this to turn her character into someone who acts, not someone who is only acted upon. It was a rough start for a debut novel, but the ideas behind the creation of the Everneath world are interesting and original, and I hope to see great new concepts from Ashton in the future.

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What if Dog was one of us?

The U.S. cover in all it's Dogliness (I don't own the pic)

While perusing the book store the other week, I saw the newest novel by Meg Rosoff called There Is No Dog. I was intrigued by Rosoff’s return to young adult fiction, as it’s been awhile since her hard-hitting How I Live Now was published in the US. Not that the two books can be compared much apart from having been written by the same author, who has no shame in delivering unconventional ideas and characters in her stories.

There Is No Dog takes the original story of Creation and flops it on its head. The novel follows Bob, a single-minded, sex-driven teenage god who happened to come into the job of Earth’s creation pretty much by accident. He is lazy and conceited, and the whole world would have long since fallen into ruin were it not for the help of Bob’s unhappy assistant, Mr. B, who does what he can. When Bob falls in love with Lucy (a human girl with a pretty face), he is so overridden with emotion that the Earth’s weather (having been tied to his moods) brings on the start of a massive natural disaster. If that weren’t enough, Bob’s adorable pet Eck (the last Eck in the universe!) is gambled away in a card game to be eaten, and Bob is too transfixed with Lucy to save him. Only Estelle, a level-headed goddess and voice of reason, with the help of Mr. B can sort the whole thing out.

Although the novel itself is an Atheist story in nature (the Dog of the title is God spelled backward) I don’t feel that should stop any religious believers from enjoying it. Rosoff handles her story with great humor that allows the reader to take away what they want from the book. Flying whales, god-scaled temper tantrums, poker playing goddesses, the Eck who looks like a penguin and could eat forever; its all in there. And Rosoff’s characters always keep amazingly true to themselves-in every aspect of the book, they act exactly the way their personalities would dictate. Bob, having been a teenage boy for over a millennium, is not all of a sudden going to wrench off in a completely different course of life than what he has been doing for eternity.

Even if you haven’t liked Meg Rosoff’s previous work, I recommend anyone who’s even remotely curious to pick up this new novel at the library or bookstore and give it a quick read. Whether you’re reading it for fun, for the values or just to get out of your comfort zone, I think this novel offers something for all types of readers.

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Read ALL the Cinderella Stories!

I am extremely excited with the prospect that at least two of the Cinderella stories coming out this year feature heroines who are totally bad ass. Cinder, the first volume of a series by Marissa Meyer, features the half-cyborg mystery woman Linh Cinder. Cinder is considered to be basically a form of property owned by her mean step-mother, in a society where cyborgs are considered less than human. In a futuristic world where a mysterious plague threatens to kill everyone, and a crazy warring queen on the moon also threatens to kill everyone, Cinder is just trying to get by with what she can. But like any good hero, she just can’t manage to stay out of trouble.

While the book has many classic elements of the Cinderella tale (the fight to get to ball, the prince, the step-mother and sisters), there are a ton of neat ways in which Meyer enhances the story, and in some cases, rips the original story off it’s beaten path and drops it out of a helicopter somewhere in the jungle to find its way back. Cinder isn’t content to spend her days on the fringes of society, making money for her stepmother as the city’s best mechanic. She makes her own plans to get herself out of there, and none of them include the fabulous Prince Kai (at least not at first). And the story is not only about Cinder. While she deals with things in her own life, she becomes part of a huge web of people whose actions are going to decide the fate of the world. Because of it’s 3rd person narrative, the novel pops in and out of several different characters, all giving their own sides of the story. There is Prince Kai, the young man who must deal with not only the plague, but also an evil queen who has designs to marry him and take over. I find Prince Kai endearing because he falls for the Cinder that is covered in grease, who fixes cars and androids and hasn’t worn a dress in her known life. And there’s Dr. Erland, the mysterious man charged with finding the cure for the plague, but who is really looking for something else entirely.

I highly recommend this book, not just to people who love reading retellings of fairy tales, but really to anyone who is looking for a well rounded adventure series to get into. But now, we wait, for 2013 that brings the sequel, Scarlet. Happy reading!

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2012 Debut Author Challenge

Welcome to 2012! (Yes, yes, it’s February, I know.)

I’ve got plenty of resolutions for this year that probably won’t come to fruition, but one that I’m pretty excited about is my first time participating in the 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

The goals of the challenge are very simple: read and review twelve YA books by debuting authors in the year 2012. There are many things that I’m going to have trouble remembering to do this year, but reading is not going to be one of them. So look forward to some updates on my challenge throughout the year, and as always, feel free to read and comment along with me! There are much worse things you could be doing this year than supporting some up and coming novelists, some of whom might become your favorite new authors.

While I don’t know all the books I plan to read for this challenge, I do have a few in mind. I have been awaiting Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (or Queen of Glass, as it was called on FictionPress) for quite some time. It was a so exciting to hear that this wonderfully talented writer was able to rise from internet obscurity to being one of the most read stories on the web, and from there straight to a book deal.  And even though it’s a second Cinderella story that I’ll be reading this year, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is in my hands as we speak. Look for a post about how cool this book is coming soon! Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard has been on my to-read list for awhile, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Caitlin. The Selection by Kiera Cass looks like it could be really interesting, and I’ll try not to compare it to Princess Academy by Shannon Hale right off the bat. And lastly, Gravity by Melissa West looks pretty good.

People who read my blog might look at it and say, “Is all you read YA?” The answer is, well, kind of. After four years in college and a B.A in English, I read so many classics that I’ve come to crave newfangled YA novels like two-year-olds crave basically everything. So, yeah. Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, if you would like to learn more about the challenge, just head over to The Story Siren. You too can read books like a crazy person! Yay!

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Life as a publishing intern: Part 1

So I’m procrastinating on my NaNoWriMo piece, and I was just thinking how I haven’t said a whole lot on here about my current experience as a nonprofit publishing intern, and this is maybe info that will be interesting/helpful to anyone who is really interested in the field.

When I started this blog, I was on the staff of our university’s undergraduate literary magazine. After much deliberation on other subjects, I had finally decided to pursue my degree in English (because it was the only thing I really like AND was really good at) even though I knew it might not lead me to the best paid jobs in the world. So I had joined the school lit mag as an attempt to see how I could connect my love of books with an actual career. On the magazine, I served as the head of development and finance. For anyone who does not live or work in nonprofit-land, “development” might be a broad and unknown term. Basically it translates to developing the press’ support with both individual giving and other kinds of fundraising so that the press has the ability to keep growing and publishing good work. Fundraising is a big part of development, but there are many different faucets to it that don’t include going house to house asking if people would like to buy some chocolate or wrapping paper.

Fundraising isn’t something one often thinks about when deciding to pursue a career in publishing. When you think of publishing, sometimes you think of publicity or marketing, but mostly you think about editing. The work of editor is an extremely fundamental part of the whole, but my time at the lit mag showed me that there is a lot more that has to get done besides editing. Someone has to design the cover, someone has to plan the launch party, someone has to distribute the product, someone has to run ads in the newspaper. If you’re nonprofit, someone has to apply for grants, and send out letters, and plan events. Someone has to deal with the printer, and do the taxes, and turn in expense sheets. There is a lot of diversity in the the realm of publishing that you don’t necessarily know about until you get there.

When our finished product came in (which for us was about 1700 magazines the size of a chapbook), I had this overwhelming sense that this was what I wanted. There is nothing quite like opening a brand new book out of the box, opening the inside cover and seeing your name in it, and knowing that you helped make it. Even if you didn’t design the pages or write the stories. So after I graduated from college, I started pursuing some internships in the Minneapolis area.

Something to know about the publishing industry before you look for internships: everyone thinks you have to go to New York. This really isn’t the case. Any large city will have publishing options if you get creative. Maybe Random House doesn’t have an office down the street from you, but have you looked into children’s publishers? Newspapers? Journals? Online? Nonprofit? How about your local university press? There are many options for those of us who don’t live in the Big Apple and maybe don’t really plan to. (Not that there’s anything wrong with NY-but I am a Minnesota girl).

So after about 9 months of applying to places and getting turned down, I finally scored an internship with a nice nonprofit publisher in Minneapolis this September. My first piece of advice to anyone trying to get an internship in publishing relates to my first point: don’t automatically go for editing. If you are set on editing, by all means, apply for these positions. But keep in mind that there are other departments in every publishing house. Some of these may be less competitive than strictly editorial internships, and usually have some different skill sets that they are looking for. And besides, you might end up liking another type of work better.

I am a development intern, and I help the development department with their day-to-day operations, as well as with some special events and projects. I do very intern-y type work like using the copier, but I also help with the planning and running of a variety of events, from private author readings to large public events. I help maintain our press’ contact database, I research funding opportunities, and I send out a lot of letters. I also get to meet a lot of interesting people, and I have the chance to talk about my favorite books and why I like them.

Oh yeah, and I get to meet authors. (Not that I’m bragging, or anything.)

So feel free to ask me any questions about my experience so far, and I will continue to update as my internship progresses. In the mean time, I have a lot of NaNo to catch up on. Yikes.

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Hunker down and write: NaNoWriMo is here!

OK kids, it’s that time of year again. Get out your pens and paper, laptops, desktops, typewriters, napkins, crayons, inkwells and papyrus. Grab a chisel and a big flat rock. No matter how you do it, National Novel Writing Month is upon us! And with 50,000 words to write in just 30 days, quite frankly, we don’t have much time to be picky.

From November 1st to November 30th: that’s how long you have to write a novel. Have you always wanted to write something big, but never had the motivation to get down to it? Head over to nanowrimo.org and join the frenzy. Just create an account, give a title and synopsis to your novel (it can be changed at any time) and you’re off. You can write on whatever you want: word processors, notebooks, old dishrags, it doesn’t matter. All you have to do is count and record your growing word count on the website. On the website you’ll also find some great creative help, from writing prompts to forums, and plot swaps to fun things to procrastinate with!

This will be the first year I am participating in semi-earnest; in the past I have urged my friends on with unleashed enthusiasm, but never quite gotten to the table myself. It’s day two; I have zero words written (though at least a couple in my brain, for now) and I really don’t have much of a concrete clue of what I’m writing. But why the hell not, right?

Feel free to add me as a buddy, I use the same username. We can write (and procrastinate, and panic, and maybe even sob a little bit) together!

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Food Culture Post! -and you know we like the foodz.

I wanted to take the opportunity to spotlight the blog of a friend of mine- consider this one of my posts pertaining to life outside the universe of books. Beth has been a friend of mine since way back when, and by “way back when,” I am of course referring to the high school marching band days. But we are all grown up now (she more so than I) and finally delving into the deep reaches of the real world. Beth graduated from the U with me with a major in psychology, but you’ll have to check out her blog to know how she threw herself into the foray of baking.

I came to know Beth’s exemplary baking prowess while we lived as roommates for a couple years during college. There was always some sort of baked good sitting on our counter: cookies, pies, cakes, torte, brownies, banana bread, more banana bread, muffins, truffles…Oh man, Beth, MAKE MORE TRUFFLES! She would stress bake to get away from homework, and it wasn’t uncommon to see her up at 10pm starting up a batch of bread.

Don't get crumbs in your books!

The blog, titled “Heavenly Buns: The Evolution of a Bakery” follows her adventures in baking, and she bakes all sorts of deliciousness. I find it particularly interesting, because even though I’ve seen about a billion episodes of “Cake Boss” and the like, it always blows my mind to see someone produce beautiful cakes and pastries without the help of industrial grade appliances and new-fangled tools. Beth manages to make this stuff out of the tiny kitchen in her efficiency apartment with ingredients purchased from local stores. I won’t be surprised if someday she has her own cookbook. (I’ll publish it Beth, I swear!)

So, check out the blog, http://heavenlybuns.blogspot.com/. You can also find it by clicking on the link under “solitarysumire recommends” on the right.

MUFFINS!

P.S. I made these muffins out of a box, and they were tasty, yet nothing like a Beth-made muffin. Beth, will you please make me some more muffins?

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