Review: This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart book coverI read this book so fast. Some of you know how I’ve been in a terrible reading slump for over two years and how it’s generally taking me weeks to finish a single book (though I am always reading several at once, but it’s still slowed way down, to what feels like a crawl). So when I say I read this book fast, I mean 7 days, which is a near record for me lately. This was definitely a “couldn’t put it down” book several nights.

Set Up

I am officially a fan of Bayron since I’ve read and really loved both this and her first, Cinderella is Dead (see the review here). Both of them have twists that surprised me (I did catch on to some of the smaller twists, but not the big one). This Poison Heart starts off fairly low-key, with the main character, Briseis, having an odd innate magical ability to “do stuff” with plants. She doesn’t understand it at all, but plants sort of perk up around her and she can bring a plant back from the dead. She’s adopted and her moms are both as baffled as she is, but they’re very protective of her and worry about her strange gift and what it means for her.

Some Major Secrets

Early on, she inherits an old house on some land with large gardens and she and her moms go there with a plan to stay for the summer and figure things out long term while they’re there. At first this is fairly mundane, too, but Briseis meets some people and soon things get weird. There’s a lot more to the house and gardens—especially the gardens—than they originally thought. There are some secrets the town knows and it takes a while for Briseis to figure things out. It turns out there’s some danger lurking in the town, but Briseis doesn’t understand it. It takes some work and digging through hidden paperwork and figuring out what a slew of keys can open before things become clear. The stakes get really high at the end and something rather shocking happens, which sets up the sequel.

Regarding the sequel, I was going to Barnes and Noble today so I figured I’d just buy it in person, but they didn’t have it or any of Bayron’s books, which totally offended me on her behalf. Also, it meant I had to order it or read it on my Kindle. Ugh.

Get It!

Anyway, about the book—go read it, pronto. I’m not really an urban fantasy reader, but I loved it and recommend it without reservation.

Review: Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink

Angel of Greenwood book coverAs soon as I knew this book existed, I bought it. It’s set amidst the Tulsa Race Massacre. I have a special interest in that event because I grew up in Tulsa and knew nothing about it until about five years ago. It blows my mind that this is something that was “forgotten.” It makes me so mad, but it fits right in with all the Republicans who are insisting that the unsavory parts of our history shouldn’t be taught in school because it might make some little white kids feel guilty. A little guilt never hurt anyone, and it would make it easier for them to understand their privilege. I think this is actually quite important. 

The Setup

But anyway, on to the story itself. It’s actually a rather unlikely love story between Angel and Isaiah, the town’s angel and a rough-around-the-edges boy. Isaiah in particular is secretly passionate about poetry, philosophy, and Black rights. He’s a big follower of W.E.B Du Bois and so he hates Du Bois’ nemesis, Booker T. Washington. Their school is named after Washington, and Angel is a fan of his and thinks Du Bois is too much. 

A Bit of Philosophy

So I had of course heard about both of these men, but I knew very little. But when Isaiah and Angel get thrown together for a unusual summer job arranged by their English teacher, they talk about the two philosophies on improving the rights of Black people. From their discussions, it was clear that Du Bois was more aggressive while Washington advocated for quieter change. I sort of imagined it as analogous to the differences between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

But I happened to stumble across an article about Washington in The Atlantic and learned a little more about him—his main belief was that individual industry would bring Black people into the country’s economy, and they’d then become valued by everyone. Basically, hard work was critical, but it wasn’t just working hard—it was also working smart. He founded the Tuskegee Institute and ensured that a lot of Black men were trained in trades that would help them join the economy like he wanted. So I thought it was interesting and a little subtle, even though it’s kind of clear to me that that approach is never going to be enough. 

However, the economy perspective not working reminds me of migrant laborers who make it possible for us to have inexpensive fruit, all because they’re being exploited and working for criminally low pay. Also, there are a lot of other people from Latin America that make up a good portion in the back of the house in restaurants across the country, some legal, some not. Their value in our economy (keeping prices low and keeping restaurants open) does not outweigh the hatred that so many people have for them for not being white. 

The Story

Anyway, back to the book. Angel and Isaiah fall in love while riding around in a three-wheeled bike with a sidecar and a bin to store books so they can share books with people in the Greenwood community. This was all in the days leading up to the attacks, which started a little after midnight June 1st, 1921. Each of them plays an important role in helping their neighbors. Despite the bravery and efforts of real people like Angel and Isaiah, it’s known that a several hundred people were killed that night. 

Although everything in the story obviously leads up to the attacks, that night doesn’t dominate it. It really is a story about young people who are living in a rather idyllic place but who are aware that they are privileged to be there, and also know that nothing in life is guaranteed. 


The book does what historical fiction does best—it shows that the people who lived through significant events were real people who the reader can empathize with. You will root for both Angel and Isaiah not just to end up together, or even just to survive, but to actually to show the greatness within each of them. And the book delivers on that. 

As a totally not important side note, I also absolutely love the cover. It’s dramatic and somehow captures both the violence of that night but also the peacefulness the character Angel embodies. 


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Meet Fea!

New Book Release

I’ve just released another book this past Wednesday: Fea, the Spanish translation of Ugly. Here’s the cover:

Fea book cover

Obviously it’s just the Ugly cover with the carving swapped out and the tagline at the bottom translated (and way longer than the English version). 

The book is available pretty much everywhere, like my others (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google Play, and Kobo, and you can order it at your local indie shop). See my landing page for links to all the places you can buy it and the book page here for more details.

Translation Experiment

This translation thing is kind of an experiment. Several writers I know do get translations of their books and they actually seem reasonably well with no marketing. (Nobody knows how to market in a foreign language they don’t speak.) One writer said people just find them. I think this makes sense because the problem of discoverability that I’ve been dealing with is partially a result of the explosion in self-publishing—which while not exclusively in English books, is predominantly English work. Other languages aren’t overloaded with so many books to choose from.

So the chance of coming up in a search that someone is making on Amazon or wherever is simply much higher. I decided to start with Ugly because of the timeliness of the subject matter. Although it’s probably much more of a current event in the U.S., I am sure that some of the other progressive places in Latin America (plus Spain) have people questioning their gender identities and exploring those ideas. I suspect there aren’t very many such books out there, so I’m curious to see what happens. 

Finding a Spanish Translator

Finding a translator was interesting. First, I needed a literary translator, not someone used to doing marketing copy. When I started searching for translators, most do business work and the first literary ones were so expensive—like in the range of $7000 for my 90,000 word (about 400 page) book. I could not justify that kind of expense. After some more searching, I decided to try Upwork. I put together a project and a max budget and got a lot of bids right at my max budget, naturally. But then I got one from a translator living in Bolivia that was hugely lower than my max.

Too Good to Be True

At first I thought a couple things: this was probably too good to be true, and if it is legit it might not even be ethical. I thought about the ethical aspect and decided that because cost of living is much lower in Bolivia, it makes sense that she doesn’t need as much money to make the project worth her time, which is obviously different for people living in the U.S. or other expensive countries. She set her rate. So I think it’s okay. 

Too Good to Be True?

But I still wondered if it was too good to be true. So I asked her to translate the first few chapters, slightly less than 10% of the book, and I’d pay her 10% of the fee and then have a couple people look at it to make sure it’s a good translation of the book in terms of accuracy and tone. My friend Gwen was willing to read it. And in a stroke of luck for me, my house cleaner had once seen some of my books lying around and asked if I was a writer. It turns out that her son is a writer too, and by chance he also is transgender, which made my book an even better fit. She asked him if he’d be willing to read the sample, and he agreed. So that was great. 

It's All Good

Both of them said it was a good translation. They noted that it was a little more formal in Spanish, but that that was probably just the nature of the language, which makes sense to me. Like there’s a point where someone calls Nic a “lesbo” and that was simply translated as “lesbiana,” which is the same as “lesbian” would be translated. This formality is also a result of the fact that she translated into what is called Neutral Latin American Spanish, so we avoided country-specific words (which of course also means there’s less slang, because so much of slang is country-specific, in any language). But anyway, she ended up doing the whole book and now it’s out in the world. 

What About Italian?

Another possibility is Italian. Supposedly that market is desperate for more books. I have a good Italian friend from my grad school days who works as an English to Italian translator, so I asked her if she’d be interested in translating my book. She doesn’t do literary translation, but has a friend who does. So we’re going back and forth about that. Her rate is much higher (it’s actually in line with what my original budget was for the Upwork project), but this is obviously to be expected because Italy’s much more expensive than Bolivia. But it’s still a decent rate that is be worth trying. I’ve told her I can’t do it now but if she’s still willing to do it in January, I’d be able to do it then. This isn’t finalized, but I’m guessing it will go ahead, so I’m really curious to see how this goes. 


And during all of this, I’m working on the sequel to Ugly, which is tentatively called Uglier. If the translations do well, I’ll need to get Uglier done, as well. So I’m really curious how all this is going to go. 

Review: One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

One Great Lie book coverI’ve been in the worst reading slump lately. From early March until a couple weeks ago, I read only one novel, and it was really hard to get through (not the novel’s fault—it was all me). But I’ve been wanting to break out, so I picked up Caletti’s newest. I started it on Friday and was so sucked in that I finished it the next day. It may have broken the slump (I’m hoping), as I’ve read another book since then, too.

So what made One Great Lie a reading-slump-breaker? Well, obviously it was good, which isn’t surprising given Caletti’s strong track record. This one starts in Seattle, too, with a girl, Charlotte, who has ancestral ties to a Renaissance poet named Isabella di Angelo. Her family had held on to a published book by the poet for centuries. Charlotte herself is a passionate writer and is a little fixated on understanding Isabella, whose association with a much more famous male poet overshadowed her own work. Charlotte’s trying to write a paper about Isabella for a class, but can’t find any information about her. 

This quest is important, but the story really gets started when Charlotte somewhat impulsively applies for a summer multi-week writing workshop in Venice with a very well-known author everyone, including Charlotte, admires. To her shock, she gets in and even earns a scholarship, the only way she could go. 

But things do not go quite as she expected. As one of the youngest there, she still befriends several of the other participants and they all learn that the author is … let’s say he’s complicated and very flawed. But she has an equally important other task while she’s in Venice: she is set on finding out more about Isabella, who was from the city. As the story unfolds, there’s a clear parallel between the horrible historical treatment of women and the gender-based challenges that Charlotte and other girls and women face nowadays. 

Caletti tackles another feminist issue in this book without sacrificing story in any way. I loved watching the tale of Isabella unfolding, and Charlotte’s friendships with local Dante and the other workshop participants are great to see. She had no idea she’d have to step up and do something really difficult and face unfair consequences, but she rises to the challenge and I enjoyed seeing how that happened. 

I loved this book, as I’ve implied, and highly recommend it if you like quality contemporary YA that addresses social issues. 

Review: Shadow Run (Kaitan Chronicles #1) by Adrianne Strickland and Michael Miller

Shadow Run book cover

This sci-fi book isn’t my normal genre (anymore—when I was young, all I read was speculative fiction). So I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it now. In the end, I quite enjoyed it.

Qole is a 17-year-old prodigy captain/pilot of the spaceship Kaitan. She is carrying on her family’s tradition of fishing for Shadow, a mysterious substance found in space that can be used as fuel, among other things. The whole setup is very reminiscent of Firefly, but I don’t mean in a derivative way. I’ve also seen comparisons to Dune.

The downside of being a fisherman of Shadow is that it poisons people exposed to it, making them lose their minds. But Qole is special because she appears to have some sort of resistance to it. In fact, she’s already “poisoned” by it but it  has given her enhanced abilities rather than driving her crazy.

Nev couldn’t be more opposite from Qole. Where Qole and her ragtag crew are barely scraping by, Nev is a privileged prince. He also happens to be a very competent hand-to-hand fighter due to a lifetime of training. He has a special, very expensive blade that works some sort of magic (I mean that metaphorically—it’s future-science-based). And for reasons that eventually become clearer later, Nev’s family need Qole and her Shadow-resistance to save his family. Nev works his way onto Qole’s ship with the intention of convincing her to come with him, but it doesn’t end up being as easy as he’d hoped.

As this is YA, it’s not surprising that there is a bit of romance involved, but the story is much more than that. The characters are interesting and varied, the world-building is excellent, and pacing is pretty good (though I think it gets a little rushed near the end). Qole is tough and believable without being overly angsty. And the choices Nev has to make near the end are difficult but they work in the novel.

If you like space operas, you’ll dig this one. I plan to pick up the sequel some time.

Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places book coverAll the Bright Places sort of destroyed me for a day, it was so emotionally demanding. I mean, the story took me through the wringer and once I’d finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and reliving the emotions I’d felt while reading it. I came to the book without being aware of the hype and the comparisons to Eleanor and Park and The Fault in Our Stars. Despite that, Eleanor and Park was exactly the book it made me think of, not because of the story, but because of the emotional depth and the journey it took me on.

Mental illness and suicide are at the forefront of everything in the book, but the story goes beyond the mental illness to tell a story about two teenagers who seem unbelievably real. Violet Markey was in a car accident that killed her sister several months before the book begins. Violet blames herself for what happened and has pretty much stopped living. She just floats from day to day and slips further into depression. The things she used to care about most don’t matter to her at all anymore. One day her feet carry her to the top of her school’s six-story-tall bell tower.

That’s where she encounters Theodore Finch, the school’s resident “freak,” as the bullies call him. But Finch isn’t a freak—he’s a kid with a serious and treatable mental illness that he doesn’t understand or want to acknowledge. We don’t initially have a name for what’s wrong with him, but he loses track of time, sometimes seems to wake up with no memory of how he got places, goes days without sleeping, and at times has so much energy that he has to run for miles to feel normal again. It’s not hard to figure it out if you know a little about mental illness, but it doesn’t get named until close to the end.

Finch is self-aware despite being afraid of labels, which he thinks will lead to being mistaken for a mental illness. Here he is thinking about a breakdown he had:

It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic when they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable just to make it simple for me and also for them.

He’s not wrong.

Despite Finch’s obsession with death, I was convinced throughout that he does want to live, but that he needs to learn how. And he’s trying. Although he resists the efforts of the school counselor he’s required to see, there are moments when he’s almost honest with him. And one time he tells Violet that he gets into these moods that he can’t shake:

“Kind of black, sinking moods. I imagine it’s what being in the eye of a tornado would be like. All calm and blinding at the same time. I hate them.”

It’s a huge moment because he’s actually being open and honest about how he feels. But Violet doesn’t have enough experience with him to recognize it. She chalks it up to being a teenager. Earlier in the book, he describes his father’s black moods:

“Like, the blackest black. Like, no moon, no stars, storm’s coming black.

She doesn’t make the connection right away—but it’s sad, because why would she? She’s not a psychiatrist. She’s just a kid with not much real-world experience.

If Finch isn’t going to get through to Violet, someone who deeply cares about him, what about his family? Violet and Finch’s families are radically different. Violet’s parents are engaged with her even though they don’t really know what to do for her. Admittedly, they don’t catch on to how badly Violet’s handling her sister’s death—they don’t see the depression for what it is. Probably they should have gotten her into counseling other than the school counselor. But it’s not unbelievable that they wouldn’t think of it.

Finch’s family, on the other hand, is horrible. He has a physically abusive father and a super-detached mother who is herself likely suffering from depression after being dumped by Finch’s father. She pays no attention to Finch or his sisters and it’s a deeply frustrating situation for the reader throughout the book. It’s so obvious that something is really, really wrong. But again, it’s entirely believable that a family like this could exist. It’s also clear that whatever afflicts Finch also afflicts his father and that his father would never, ever admit to having a mental illness.

I’ve talked mostly about Finch here, but Violet’s journey is just as significant. With his help, she learns to live again—she overcomes things that scare her and starts wanting to enjoy herself again. Rather than living a day at a time, she starts planning ahead. It’s a very realistic and believable recovery, given that her depression had a specific trigger.

Although this book is about mental illness and suicide, it’s not overly message-y. It’s a great story written really well. It is told in dual perspective, and Violet and Finch’s voices are totally different and true to their situations. Niven loads the book with little details that make the characters and settings authentic and relatable (this is one of the things that makes it like Eleanor and Park for me—because Rowell is a master of important details). Her descriptions throughout are excellent. Here’s Finch thinking about how he sometimes feels:

[T]he headaches are part of it. It’s like my brain is firing so fast that it can’t keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. Sometimes everything else fades into the background and all I’m left with is sound. I can hear everything, but not just hear it—I can feel it too. But then it can come on all at once—the sounds turn into light, and the light goes too bright, and it’s like it’s slicing me in two, and then comes the headache. But it’s not just a headache I feel, I can see it, like it’s made up of a million colors, all of them blinding.

I really cannot recommend this book enough. It’s important and well-executed and everyone should read it for insight into authentic depression and suicidal ideations, as well as for the good story.

Review: Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Fly on the Wall book coverHave you ever wished to be a fly on the wall somewhere totally inaccessible to you? Gretchen Yee does, and, strangely and without explanation, she gets her wish.

It sounds weird—and it is—though it starts off a simple story about a girl attending a competitive arts high school in Manhattan. Gretchen is a little obsessed with superheroes—reading them, drawing them, and wanting to be one (who doesn’t, at least a little). She’s a bit of an oddball. She’s awkward around and confused about boys, although there is one she particularly likes, Titus. She has a single friend, Katya, who has become a little distant recently. Then some unexpected turmoil starts at home, causing her to have to take a hard look at her mess of a bedroom and really her life. She’s a bit of a pack rat but can’t imagine getting rid of any of the stuff she has.

Gretchen’s an interesting and well-developed character full of contradictions. She seems a little shy, but she’s not. She’s not afraid to tell of the realtor who asks if she’s adopted when she’s with her white mom (her dad’s Chinese). She’s a little immature for 16 and needs to grow up. But boys… boys just frustrate her. She wants to understand Titus but can’t figure him out.

One day after class, she manages to initiate a chat with him about a weekend museum assignment, which provides a perfect opportunity to suggest they go together. She chickens out, but not before making an observation I loved:

Titus bends over to pick his pencil off the floor. There’s a strip of skin between his shirt and the top of his jeans in the back. I can see the top of his boxers. Plain light blue.

She can’t figure out boys as a whole, especially after an interaction she has with Titus, her ex-boyfriend Shane, and three other guys:

As they move past us, Shane bangs a locker hard, just to make noise, and I jump.

Why do boys do stuff like that?

Then Shane pinches her butt and she wants Katya to tell her what it means. Katya tells her it means nothing and not to worry about it.

In frustration, Gretchen says, “I wish I was a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room.” That evening when she goes home to an empty house because both of her parents are out of town, she reads some Kafka and bam. Fly.

She witnesses exchanges she never expected and finally comes to understand some things about Titus and boy politics. It’s not at all like she expected.

The book is a little unusual in style, alternating fonts when going between inner monologue and real-time story. I wasn’t really sure what the point of that was, to be honest, and I found it a little distracting. But then again, it sort of suited the general strangeness of the book. I mean, the girl becomes a fly for a week and we never come to learn how. But it’s fine—we just accept it and enjoy the book for what it is. An interesting story about a girl coming to terms with sexuality, really (without any sex involved, though there were a fair number of “gherkins” in sight).

This is definitely a fast read, coming in at under 200 pages. Even though there are fantasy elements, I still think of it as contemporary more than fantasy. Anyone who’s enjoyed other Lockhart books will like this one, and so will anyone looking for a complex 16-year-old girl trying to figure things out.

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona book coverI don’t remember how I found out about this graphic novel, but I’m glad I did, because it was highly entertaining. Although art is generally a matter of personal preference, I liked it. The book features Nimona, a shapeshifter whose base form is that of a teenage girl, and Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom’s purported notorious villain. Blackheart has a vendetta against Ambrosius Goldenloin, who destroyed Blackheart’s right arm. These are the folks you see on the cover. The comic is set in a vaguely medieval world with advanced science. It’s clever and even subversive at times, all while managing to be hilarious.

Nimona hangs a stocking

Oh, and there are dragons.

Blackheart is in a bit of a rut as the kingdom’s supervillain, though his scientific experiments are continuing. He has an issue with killing people, so mostly he’s a nuisance. Enter Nimona, who shakes things up as his self-appointed sidekick.

Nimona's a shark

She’s precocious and annoys him at first, but she’s relentless enough in her commitment to him and her interest in furthering his supervillain career that they take on the Institution of Law Enforcement, who Goldenloin works for.

Nimona meets Goldenloin

Back in the day, Goldenloin and Blackheart were heroes in training, but now Goldenloin is the sole hero of the kingdom. The Institution isn’t as squeaky clean as they would have everyone believe. No, they’re carrying out dangerous experiments that are risking the health of the entire population. Things escalate and Blackheart and Nimona have several violent encounters with Goldenloin and/or the Institution, culminating in one big battle.

I loved the fact that Nimona doesn’t have a perfect model body—she’s got these big thighs that made me adore her. And I appreciate it all the more because she’s a shapeshifter, after all—she could take any form she wanted. I also loved that the kingdom’s legendary hero was a woman who slayed a giant scaled creature rumored to be a shapeshifter. The clever “mad scientist” that Blackheart turns to in an attempt to save Nimona is also a woman.

The major characters are all complex, but Nimona and Blackheart are both especially good. Nimona is damaged (as an abandoned child), impulsive and gung-ho about everything. Blackheart is always subdued and deadpan. And their father-daughter-like relationship is cute to watch.

Nimona's a sore loser

Their dialogue is always funny and full of subtext giving sneaking glimpses into their insecurities. And there’s more than meets the eye with Blackheart and Goldenloin, reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.

I’ll leave you with my favorite scene:

Nimona watches a movie

Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera Dietz book coverI listened to the audiobook version of A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers and a friend recommended another of her books, so when I was at Powell’s* when I was in Portland (Oregon) last weekend and spotted this book, I picked it up.

Like Ask the Passengers, this book has a little bit of magic in it, but it’s still solidly contemporary in my mind. It features Vera Dietz, an 18-year-old high school senior who also delivers pizza full-time because her dad thinks it’s good for her. First, I have to mention that the details about pizza delivery are spot-on. I “drove pizzas” for about 6 years, so I’d know if the author hadn’t done it herself or at least done her research.

The book is a little interesting in structure and in the way the story unfolds. Although the story is clearly Vera’s, we also get short chapters in other POV’s (Vera’s dad, her dead friend Charlie, even the town’s landmark pagoda) and the current story chapters are interspersed with the history of Vera and Charlie’s friendship. Then, King takes the idea that you should reveal to your reader only what they really need to know to an extreme (but not too far). Charlie is dead before the book starts, and we know very little about it other than something is up with his death. We also know that although they had been best friends for almost their whole lives, they’d had a falling-out not long before he died. We find out about a third of the way in that Charlie supposedly did something terrible before he died, but we don’t even find out what that is until about the 80% mark. King’s great at keeping the reader interested but not (quite) frustrated.

The story is really about Vera coming to terms with her family life and forgiving her best friend for A) betraying her, and B) then dying. She’s literally haunted by her knowledge of what actually happened to/with Charlie at the end, seeing thousands of ghosts of him at a time. The mystery of it comes together fairly quickly at the end.

Some people have mentioned that they thought this book was funny. I didn’t really find it so funny, because somehow I just took everything seriously, though there were definitely moments that made me laugh. There’s an ongoing joke about Charlie being a pickle (since “now he’s a series of molecules”) and some of the situations Vera finds herself in are ridiculous.

King is a great writer. The writing itself is very good—good dialogue, evocative descriptions, etc. Also Vera’s one of the most well-drawn characters I’ve read. She’s eighteen but still feels very much like a semi-lost but still college-bound teenager who lives at home, which she is. And Charlie—wow. He’s so unusual and not very appealing to me, but I had no question about what drew Vera to him, and even though he was deeply flawed, I did like him. The other characters in the book are also very believable and real. Her dad is frustrating and weird, but also such a dad. None of the other characters really gets a deep treatment (James, her older sort-of-boyfriend, and Jenny, Charlie’s girlfriend), but they both feel very three-dimensional, anyway.

Overall, it’s a very engrossing book that I’d recommend to anyone looking for something unusual to read.


* If you’re ever in Portland, you absolutely must go to Powell’s, a massive bookstore that is several stories and takes up an entire city block. They have over a million books.

Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

If You Could Be Mine book coverIf You Could Be Mine is set in modern-day Iran, which is definitely a setting I’m not very familiar with, so I was excited to read it. It’s narrated by Sahar, a seventeen-year-old lesbian, which is not okay in Iran. In fact, it’s illegal and the penalty can be as dramatic as death. The immediate problem for Sahar is that she has been in love with her friend Nasrin for as long as she can remember, and Nasrin loves her back. Of course, they spend a lot of time alone and this allows them to make out uninterrupted, so everything is fine.

Sahar’s mother is dead and her father is detached, so he has no idea. Nasrin’s parents, her mother in particular, are a little more observant. Consequently, they come up with a dramatic solution to save Nasrin from herself and the dire consequences if the girls are caught—they accept the proposal of a man who confesses love for Nasrin.

Sahar doesn’t take to this kindly, of course. She hates him, despite the fact that he’s a successful doctor and seemingly kind and even conventionally handsome. She’s desperate to stop the wedding even though Nasrin herself seems a little resigned. She seems to think they can continue in secret even after she’s married. Sahar doesn’t think that, and she instead comes up with her own dramatic solution. Because while homosexuality is illegal, transsexuality is not and the government will even pay for sex reassignment surgery. It seems perfect—she’ll become a man and she and Nasrin can simply get married.

But of course it’s not that easy. Sahar learns more about the surgery itself and thinks more about the consequences. Does she really want to be a man? What would things really be like if she and Nasrin married as man and woman? Also, is Nasrin truly worth that?

Sahar is a great character, increasingly self-aware as the book develops. She’s a little funny, too. For me, Nasrin didn’t come off so well. She was very believable, but a little selfish and silly for my taste. But there’s more going on in the book than the relationship between Sahar and Nasrin—Sahar’s father has some growing to do, himself. We also see Sahar risking her entire future with her fixation on the sex change, so we’re not sure how things are going to turn out. The book itself is a quick read, and I’d recommend it to anyone vaguely curious about homosexuality in Iran.

PNWA Conference

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d be attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Annual Conference. It’s a regional conference, but it’s also well-organized and respected across the country. Many editors and agents based in New York and other places come out for it. It went really well this year. And it was nice to see all my writing friends, too. 🙂

Writers JourneyOn Thursday I did a master class with Christopher Vogler, who interpreted Joseph Campbell’s anthropological studies of mythology and stories into a pseudo-formula for writers many years ago. It eventually came out as a book called The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which provides a solid structure framework called the Hero’s Journey, which writers can use to construct a satisfying story. There’s some controversy about the true universality of this story structure (some feminists claim it only applies to men’s stories, for instance). My opinion is that while it is not the only possible good story structure, it can be a useful guide for almost any story. But there are definitely other story structures out there. Regardless, his class was good—Vogler’s a good speaker and he’s very emotionally involved in stories and his work with them, which really draws in the audience.

Queen SugarThursday night, the keynote speaker was Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar. I admit I hadn’t heard of this book, though I’ve bought it and intend to read it because it sounds good. Oprah even picked it up and made a TV show out of it, which is apparently quite good. I know a lot of people snootily look down on Oprah, but I think she generally has good taste in books. Anyway, Natalie’s talk was all about her journey to publication, which was… long. She peppered the speech with family stories, some of which were funny (the box of Louisiana delicacies that were shipped every year, only to arrive as a box of rotting meat) and some of which weren’t (her father growing up in Louisiana and experiencing the small-town embedded racism there).

Friday was all about pitching. I pitched a book I’m writing under a pen name to an editor and four agents and had good results. One of the agents had rejected Finding Frances two years ago so I asked if I could resend it and she said yes. On top of that, I had a request for the first 50 pages of Finding Frances from an editor at a large publisher. I’ll send it to the agent soon, but I’m going to wait until I hear back from the editor who’s already got it before sending it to the new editor.

Fearless WritingOn Saturday, I went to several different sessions, mostly about craft. One was on hooks and how important they are, especially at the end of scenes and chapters. I went to a session about writing nonfiction for kids, something I’ve thought about dipping my toes into. I went to another session on writing diversity, which had a bunch of great tips. Sunday I went to a session called Fearless Marketing, with Bill Kenower,  the guy who wrote the recently-released Fearless Writing. He’s a little intimidating because he’s excessively passionate about everything, but the session was good. One final nice thing about the conference is that most of the sessions are recorded, so I bought fifteen of them on CDs. Gives me something to do on the horrible drive to and from work.

Upcoming Conference

Starting this Thursday, I’m going to be at a writers* conference, run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. It’s 3.5 intense days of talking to writers, learning about writing, and learning about the business of writing. I’ve been the last two years, as well, and this time I’m staying at the hotel, which is expensive but saves me the hassle of the hour on the road every day, a drive which is especially frustrating because said day runs early morning to 9:00 or 10:00 at night.

I managed to get two pitch sessions. At PNWA, the sessions are kind of a mad house, quite different from ones I’ve done at other conferences. Here, you are in a room with 150 other people for an hour. Agents and editors sit behind a line of tables at the back of the room. And you line up in front of the one you want to pitch next, get four minutes with them when it’s your turn, and move on to the next line. Depending on the popularity of the people you want to pitch, you usually get two to four pitches done. It all sounds a little intimidating, but I actually have found it’s not. Most of the agents are nice, even if they say no. Still, it’s helpful to have a pitch semi-memorized so you don’t have to read off something. I’m meeting with a friend this evening to practice.

However, I have a dilemma. I can’t decide what to pitch. I feel like I should wait on feedback from the other people on Finding Frances before querying/pitching anyone else. Maybe I’ll get more feedback. I ended up sending the revised manuscript to the agent who said she’d take a second look. (Though the more time passes, the more I’m thinking I should have figured out more things to change…). I was originally planning to pitch Sadie Speaks, however, I just sent that to a freelance developmental editor and she came back with recommendations that I change almost everything. Now, I’m not going to, but many of her points do require some serious reworking. The other option is to pitch a romance I’m writing under my pen name, but I’m only halfway done with the third draft on that one, and that won’t be the final draft, for sure. One thing that is also different about this pitching is that they don’t have a rule that you have to have the manuscript ready to send—you can wait weeks or months to send it. So I could do either.

So, quandary. I guess I’ll prepare two pitches and practice them with my friend tonight and fly by the seat of my pants on Friday, pitch day.


* Okay, I admit I never know if that should be “writers’”, “writers”, or even “writer’s.” It drives me crazy, the not knowing.

Review: Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood by Eileen Cook

Getting Reveng on Lauren Wood book cover

The premise of this book is interesting—Helen was betrayed by her best friend, Lauren, in a monumental way at the end of eight grade, which made the promise of starting high school as the local pariah a bit of a nightmare. But Helen gets lucky and her family moves out of state before that can happen, so she gets to start high school in a new place where nobody knows what she supposedly did.

The book doesn’t show the next three years, but we learn in summary that Helen never forgot what Lauren did, even for a second. She spent the whole time plotting different ways to get revenge. She stalked Lauren a bit so she knew everything that mattered to her. Lauren’s become a cheerleader, is one of the It crowd, is very proud of her relationship with a popular boy, and is very active in drama. When Helen gets shipped off back to the midwest to return to her old school—now as a senior—she has a real multi-step plan to get back at Lauren. Basically, she’ll figure out a way to take away the four thing Lauren cares the most about.

So the question becomes, “Is revenge worth it?”

I’m not going to claim that this is a super-deep, philosophical book, but it does take an honest look at this question. Because Lauren’s betrayal really was spectacular, and in retrospect, it’s also clear to Helen that she was never even a good friend at all. Helen was always second best. Helen’s grandmother counsels her against revenge, but she proceeds with her plan. It goes rather swimmingly for a while, until things get a little out of hand. It’s fun to watch Helen try to handle it as best she can, even not everything can be fixed. It’s also interesting to see whether or not Lauren is really redeemed in the end.

I think this might qualify as a nice summer read. I don’t really do summer reads because I am not a fan of heat and sun, but I think I know what it means. So, if you want an entertaining book, go for it.


I’ve made a little more progress in making my house look like a real house. I finished painting last weekend and then manually extracted each stupid carpet-pad staple from the subfloor. I got about 75% of the drywall compound off the floor by mopping it earlier in the week, making a bucket full of drywall mud in the process. I primed the floor in two coats so now it’s solid white (well, it’s two different whites because I had to use the two different primers, but still). At least it’s not subfloor-colored with various colors of paint and plaster all over it. I mean, it looks ridiculous, but if you use your imagination, you can sort of see a great room in there. (I don’t mean a “great” “room”, but a “great room”.)

Painted floor

Friday I got my Ikea furniture delivered—in 12 boxes. Sigh. I spent most of yesterday alternating between painting the floor and putting the furniture together.

Dining Room Chairs


After - completed chairs

Yay! Marvin only left his paw prints on some of them.

Dining Room Table


After - table in boxes

Spiffy Red Sofa


After - sofa boxes

Okay, so I wasn’t 100% successful. You try it. It will be so nice when it’s really all together. I have a couple of rugs to put down once the floor is more properly dry, and then I’m hoping the electrician will finally come and finish all that work up (I still have no heaters and have an ancient chandelier), and then I really will get the rest of the furniture put together. I can’t wait.

Old chandelier
Old Chandelier

Lights in box
New Chandelier and Hall Lights

Really, it can happen. I’m convinced.

Oh, and on top of that, my last class finished a couple weeks ago so I’ve finally been able to get back to my writing, like I should. I’m working on getting Sadie Speaks ready to query at the PNWA conference in mid-July, so that’s a lot of work, but it will be good to start getting that one out there.