Movie Monday: Big Hero 6

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Heidi reporting here from the colds of Detroit. There is some strange white substance falling from the sky as I type. I can’t quite figure out what it is…looks like frozen water? So weird… ;)

Yesterday, to beat this very cold weather, my older sister and I retreated to the movie theaters where we watched Disney’s Big Hero 6. I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I watched the trailer, and I’m so glad I finally saw it. It lived up to my expectations and more.

Big Hero 6 is a great movie with amazing graphics and fun characters. It’s set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, and looks exactly like you’d think. The main character is a 14 year-old-genius who is dealing with the loss of his older brother, helped along in part by Baymax, the robot his brother designed. There are other cool inventions, some awesome superhero suits designed along the lines of Iron Man, and, of course, an epic battle against a super villain. The whole movie has this really fun comic book feel, and it’s impossible not to like Baymax, who is the best robot ever. :)

Be warned, unless your heart is ice you will totally cry during this movie. It’s not as sad as Up, but I’d recommend keeping a tissue box nearby. There are also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and a fun storyline with lots of action that will keep kids and adults entertained throughout. The only criticism I have is on the villain, who I felt wasn’t fleshed out enough, and whose actions didn’t quite seem justified by the brief bit of backstory given.

However, that being said, it’s definitely a movie worth seeing, and with those amazing special effects and graphics, a movie worth seeing on the big screen.

Have any of you seen this movie yet? What did you think?

Fiction Friday: Cold Weather Reading

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Since earlier this week Heidi talked a bit about choosing your destination carefully, and how weather can play an important part in a novel, I thought I’d bring up some of my favorite novels that deal well with weather. So grab a hot chocolate, and here it goes:

First Book: Icefall

A long long time ago, in a blog that used to be updated quite regularly, Heidi wrote a fiction Friday post on Icefall, by Matthew J. Kirby. Recently I read the book and I absolutely loved it! While it’s definitely an upper MG, you never find out the character’s ages. Also, this is one of the few mysteries that kept me guessing till the cold, bitter end who the killer was. Seriously, this winter, if you’re looking for a fun quick read with lots of snow and a bit of Nordic mythology, this is a keeper.

Second Book: Star Crossed

I don’t think I ever talked about Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce here, but this is a book that I absolutely loved. For one thing, don’t let the title fool you, this is one of those rare YA books where the romance takes the backseat. Seriously, the love interest is introduced, then is gone for the rest of the book. So pretty much this book relies on Digger, it’s butt-kicking thief main character, some awesome world building (a world with multiple moons!), and a pretty exciting plot. Not only that, but snow, lots and lots of snow. Unfortunately, this is the first book in the series, and so far, there’s no sign of when the third book will be coming out. Still, don’t let that stop you, if you’re looking for a good YA this winter, I recommend this one.

Third Book: Life as We Knew it

Life as we Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer is another YA that deals well with snow and weather. In fact, the tagline on the cover is: The weather finally broke…for good. This one is told from Miranda’s perspective through her journals. When an asteroid crashes into the moon, it hits it out of orbit and closer to Earth causing a whole chain of natural disasters. This book is the story of one family trying to survive one disaster after another. One of these days, we really should do a Fiction Friday just on this book, but if you want to read a little more about what we think about it, Heidi and I mention it in a joint blog post about family love here.

So, that wraps up the three books that came to mind when I found out Heidi was going to be off running through the snow. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them if you have?

Choose Your Destinations Carefully

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Mt. ShastaSo I was reading the news the other day, and I came across the term “bomb cyclone,” which is what they’re calling the super cold weather expected to hit the Northern US this week. Which is kind of a problem for me.

Let me back up.

A few months ago, my older sister (you may remember her from our “Ask a Scientist” segment we did a while back) invited me out to her part of the country to run a 10k with her. “It’ll be fun,” she said. “You get a cool hat,” she said. I still wasn’t convinced. “There’s a chocolate buffet at the end…”

And just like that, I was in.

And where is her part of the country, you may ask? Detroit, Michigan. Yes, that’s right, I am going to be leaving California to go to Detroit and run on one of the coldest weeks of the year. What was I thinking? I don’t even own any cold-weather clothes! “Who decides to do a destination run in Michigan in the middle of November?” my husband wondered. He hasn’t been particularly sympathetic to my plight. I just hope that chocolate buffet is worth it! ;)

This made me think about writing, and how much weather can really play a role in a story. I feel like in my own writing, I often forget about the weather, but it can be as much a character as the people, and is a potential source of all sorts of conflict. Some authors use it really well, developing it into a key aspect of their story. Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings” comes immediately to mind, where storms are regular, terrifying, and a major plot component.

How about you? What books have you read where the weather is truly a major part of the plot? Was it effective? And do you use weather often in your own stories?

Fiction Friday: The False Prince

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Hi everyone, it’s Fiction Friday time!  It feels like it’s been a long time since I did one of these. For today’s post, I’m going to talk a little about The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

In a kingdom threatened by civil war, a nobleman devises a plan to find and train an impersonator of the old king’s long-lost son. He takes three boys from different orphanages to train and use whichever one is best. One of these boys is Sage, a clever trickster. Sage doesn’t trust the nobleman, but he knows that the orphans not chosen to play the part of the prince will be killed to keep his secret.

I liked this book, it was really entertaining, and I could get behind Sage as the main character. This book in a lot of ways reminded me of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief series, which if I haven’t already talked about, I’ll be talking about in a later post. The character development was well done, and while the setting wasn’t as built up, there was just enough detail that you could imagine what was going on and where they were without the pace getting bogged down by too much detail.

Interestingly enough, like Turner’s series, this series was not firmly a middle grade book or a young adult book, but somewhere in between. While it’s hinted at that there could be some romantic interest between the main character and the two major female characters, it doesn’t play a large part in the story. In other words, anyone who needs a bit of a hiatus from standard YA love triangles, this is the book for you.

So, if you’re looking for a fun fantasy read with a bit of a trickster as your protagonist, this book might be a good fit. If you’ve read this book, let me know what you think. Did you like it? What did you think of the ending? Did you see it coming?

Mystic Cooking HQ Reunited!

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This past Friday was a truly momentous day for many reasons. First, we actually posted on our blog, something that hasn’t happened in…well. In a long time. Second, it was Halloween. And third, it actually rained in our poor, drought-starved state.

Oh yeah, and the biggest reason of all? Stephanie, Kati, and I were reunited!

Kati, Heidi, and Stephanie posing in front of a Santa Cruz sunset

Kati, Heidi, and Stephanie posing on the pier

Yep, we all gathered in Santa Cruz to catch up on all things writing-related. Including, of course, Harry Potter. I mentioned that JK Rowling had written a new story for Halloween on her website, Pottermore, and then we discovered Stephanie had never been there.

STEPHANIE: You can get Sorted into one of the Houses? I want to try! What House are you?

KATI: Gryffindor!

HEIDI: <mumble>

STEPHANIE: What was that? Gryffindor for both of you?

HEIDI: <mumble> …puff… <mumble>

STEPHANIE: ??

KATI: Nah, Heidi’s in Hufflepuff. <evil grin>

STEPHANIE: …Oh.

HEIDI: Hey! I have Badger pride, all right! And besides, maybe you’ll be in House Hufflepuff, too.

STEPHANIE: I don’t think that’s very likely.

Yeah, it turned out Stephanie, the traitor, was also in House Gryffindor. But that’s okay. I’ll just raise my badger paws up in the air…alone. And for all my fellow Hufflepuffs out there, this song’s for you:

How about you? Have any of you gone to Pottermore to be Sorted? Which House did you end up in? And did you think it was an accurate sorting?

Winner of MORE THAN MUSIC

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We have a winner for this month’s giveaway – a copy of Elizabeth Brigg’s fantastic NA romance, MORE THAN MUSIC! Geeky girls, rockstars, and a great romance make this a perfect summer read. Congratulations Hagergirl! Hope you enjoy! (p.s. I’ll be emailing you for your address soon… ;) )

And for those of you who didn’t win, Elizabeth Briggs is also having a giveaway on her blog. Check it out here for another chance!

More Than Music

Six Questions with NA Author Elizabeth Briggs and Giveaway of MORE THAN MUSIC

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Hi all!

The lovely Liz Briggs

The lovely Liz Briggs

I’m so excited to be interviewing Elizabeth Briggs, author of New Adult, stand alone, contemporary romance MORE THAN MUSIC.

Many of you may be familiar with Liz, since we’ve mentioned her several times on this blog. I met Kati and Heidi when Liz chose all of us to be a part of her 2012 Pitch Wars Team. So, you already know she has good taste. Since then, Liz and I have become close friends and I could not be more excited about the release of her NA debut MORE THAN MUSIC.

But before we start chatting, here’s a little more about More Than Music (from Goodreads):

More Than MusicMusic major Maddie Taylor seems to have her life all figured out. She’s just finished her junior year of college, has a summer internship lined up with the LA Philharmonic, and plans to go to grad school to write movie scores. Only her roommates know she practices guitar every night and secretly dreams of a louder life. But geeky girls like her don’t get to be rock stars.

Tattooed singer Jared Cross has a new girl every week, but when he catches Maddie playing one of his songs, she attracts his attention in an unexpected way. His band needs a fourth member for The Sound, a reality TV show competition—and he wants her. Though Maddie refuses to be another notch on Jared’s bedpost, she agrees to risk everything for the chance to be a rock star. 

Once on the show, Maddie discovers there’s more to Jared behind his flirty smile, and with each performance their attraction becomes impossible to ignore. When the show pressures Jared to flaunt his player image, they’re forced to keep their relationship secret, but Maddie can’t help but want something real.

As the competition heats up, Jared will do whatever it takes for his band to win, and Maddie must decide if following her dream is worth losing her heart.

Doesn’t that sound awesome?

I was able to read an early version of MORE THAN MUSIC, and one of the things I really loved about this book were Liz’s many references to comics and music. Even the name of the band name Villain Complex is connected to comics—it made the book so fun to read. Liz, were these things you had to research?

Liz: The geeky stuff didn’t require any research because I’m already a huge comics fan. I did search for different villain shirts for Jared to wear though, which was fun. I had a huge list, so I’m sure new villain shirts will pop up in future books.

The music took a lot more research. I play the guitar but I’m not great at it because I don’t have time to practice regularly. Still, I tried to learn many of the songs that Maddie performs myself so I could describe the way it feels when you’re actually playing them. I also watched a lot of guitar tutorials, live performances by the original bands, and covers by other bands. And of course, episodes of The Voice!

Stephanie: I’m glad there will be more villain shirts in future books! I actually wanted to buy a couple of the shirts Jared wore.

So, I’ve heard a rumor that one of your novellas might be set at Comic-Con. Would you be willing to confirm that?

Liz: This is true! Hector (the drummer in Villain Complex) is also a comic book artist, so his novella will be set at Comic-Con. The tentative title is MORE THAN COMICS and it takes place about a week after MORE THAN MUSIC. I’m going to my 7th Comic-Con in July, so I plan to do LOTS of research there!

Stephanie: I have always wanted to go to Comic-Con! That sounds like the best research. Too bad, that means the novella hasn’t been written yet. Is there anything else you can tell us about your other upcoming Novella’s?

Liz: Other than Hector’s novella, there will also be a prequel novella set about a month before MORE THAN MUSIC. This one will be focused on Kyle, the keyboardist in the band, who is Maddie’s friend and Jared’s brother. The novella is set at the UCLA vs USC Battle of the Bands and it shows how Villain Complex got the gig at the start of MORE THAN MUSIC.

After that, I plan to write books about Maddie’s best friends, Julie and Carla. But you’ll have to wait a little longer for info on those, sorry!

Stephanie: That’s okay, as long as there will be more books I’m happy.

So, although I loved all of your awesome comic references throughout More Than Music, the romance was definitely my favorite part of the story! I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jared Cross, would you mind sharing how you came up with his character?

Liz: Jared is loosely based on Jared Leto from Thirty Seconds To Mars. I originally used the name Jared as a placeholder, but it stuck and my friends wouldn’t let me change it. Like Jared Leto, the Jared in MORE THAN MUSIC is charming, something of a player, but also pretty silly and more down-to-earth than people might expect from a rock star. Also, they’re both very hard-working and driven and perfectionistic. Plus, they both have brothers in the band that they’re really close to, which causes other complications (the drummer in Thirty Seconds To Mars is Jared Leto’s brother Shannon).

There’s also a little of my husband in Jared, too, because every love interest I write is partly inspired by him. For example, my husband also wears a lot of geeky shirts. And like all characters, Jared is partly me, too. I definitely feel the same way about writing that Jared (and Maddie) feel about music.

Stephanie: That’s so sweet that you put a little of your husband in every love interest you write!

Before writing More Than Music, you wrote young adult science fiction. I know a lot of people think the main difference between YA and NA is just the age difference of the characters and a stronger emphasis on romance, but as someone who’s written both, what would you say the main difference is between writing in the two different categories?

Liz: For me, the main difference is that the characters are a bit more mature in NA and have more independence than teens do. They’re on their own for the first time in their lives and have more experience than they did in high school, but that freedom and maturity also comes with new challenges and responsibilities. It’s a time of transition and change, and NA characters are starting to figure out who they want to be for the rest of their lives – in their careers, in relationships, and as people. This combination of independence and uncertainty is what I loved most about writing NA.

Stephanie: And finally, what piece of advice would you give any writers who are thinking about making a switch from writing YA to NA?

Liz: First of all, do it! I thought people might give me a hard time about switching to NA, and worried that my CPs or my agent wouldn’t want to read my book, but that hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, my agent told me NOT to use a pen name because there is so much cross-over audience between YA and NA these days. Plus, NA is growing right now, and there’s no telling where it will go next, so it’s a perfect time to start writing it.

 Second, keep in mind that NA isn’t just “YA with sex.” There are lots of great NA books out there without any sex. However, NA does have a slightly older voice and maturity level than YA, with characters who worry about different things than teens do. For example, they might worry about how they’re going to pay for the next semester of college, or they might be starting a summer internship or their first job. Or they might be living away from home for the first time and enjoying new freedoms, but also new responsibilities like paying rent and dealing with roommates. That said, a lot of the same things readers love in YA work great in NA, so the transition is a lot easier from YA to NA than you might think!

Awesome answer!

Liz, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions.

More Than Music is currently available for purchase in paperback and ebook, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Heidi, Kati, and I are also going to be giving away one copy to a very lucky winner!

To enter to win, all you need to do is leave comment before midnight (PST) June 24th. If you share this on twitter, we’ll give you an extra entry, just make sure you tell us in the comments. Our winner will be announced the next day, June 25th.

~Stephanie

Fiction Friday: The Screaming Staricase

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Since one thing I have been able to do for the last 10 weeks has been read, I’ve got quite a few book recommendations for all of you. I’ve been more or less been going on an MG kick lately, reading out loud to Ember, so the first book I have to recommend is The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud.

The Screaming Staircase takes place in a London that has become haunted by ghosts. Some of these ghosts are harmless, a lot of them are not. The interesting thing about this book is that kids are pretty much the only ones who can actually see or sense the ghosts, and as they get older, they lose that ability. Because of this, Lucy works for Anthony Lockwood in a kid run business that takes care of people’s ghost problems. Because of a job gone wrong, they have an enormous fine that they have to pay, and therefore are forced to take on more dangerous jobs.

I liked this book, and thought it was cute. Lucy is a good main character, and I like how Lockwood is kind of a young Sherlock Holmes character, with his grouchy yet likeable sidekick: George. The story itself had some fairly spooky scenes, but for the most part stayed more fun and lighthearted. But what I found the most fascinating about this book is that the author never comes out and directly says the kids ages. And this is kind of a trend I’ve been noticing in upper MG as of late…but more on that later.

The only problem I did run into while reading this book is that I had a little trouble visualizing the setting. Because all the kids use rapiers to battle the ghosts, I was mistakenly under the impression that the story took place a long long time ago. However, as I read on, I learned that wasn’t the case. I do wonder if that was left ambiguous intentionally, but whether it was or it wasn’t, I found The Screaming Staircase to be an enjoyable read.

So if you are looking for a ghost story that doesn’t leave you sleeping with the light on at night, I recommend The Screaming Staircase.

How about all of you? What books have you read lately? Have you read The Screaming Staircase?

 

 

Fiction Friday–ELUSION

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Short and Sweet

ELUSION by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam is full of awesome science fiction, fast paced mystery, and dangerous romance. I picked it up because I was in the mood for a good science fiction, and it didn’t disappoint!

For those of you not familiar with ELUSION, here’s a short summary:

In a future full of acid rain, and air pollution levels that make it dangerous to breathe outdoors, Regan’s father has created Elusion, a type of virtual reality that allows users to escape into a more beautiful world.

The book takes place several months after Regan’s father’s death, right before Elusion is about to be released nationwide. Regan is still grieving her dad, when rumors surface that Elusion is addictive and dangerous.

Regan is the first to defend her father’s work. But as Regan seeks to prove there’s no problem with Elusion, she begins to discover dangerous secrets, and…I’m not going to give anymore away.

If you want to know more, you’re going to have to read the book. And this is book I would recommend.

My review:

Lately I’ve been a little burnt out with anything that feels like dystopian, but rather than focusing on the problems of this society ELUSION focused mostly on the technology of Elusion. There’s a lot of mystery as Regan searches for the truth as to whether or not Elusion is addictive and dangerous, and I found myself turning pages really fast. I liked that the emphasis was more about solving a mystery, and not so much about the state of the world, or bringing down a corrupt government—in fact there was no mention of government at all.

But there was a romance, and since I don’t like to give too much away, I’ll just say I really liked the way this romance was done. Romance definitely played a significant role in this story, but at the same time it never overshadowed Regan’s real goals. Her focus stayed on Elusion and the many mysteries she uncovered as sought to figure out if there was truth to the claims it was harmful and addictive. I really liked her as a character!

One of ELUSION’s authors, Claudia Gabel, is a Senior Executive Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, and it was very obvious as I read. The writing was clean, the characters were multi-dimensional, and as I’ve already said, the fast pacing made it difficult for me to put this book down.

My only complaint is that I would have liked the ending to wrap up a little more. I’m not sure I would call the ending a cliff-hanger, but it definitely left me wanting the next book. That being said, if you’re looking for an easy science fiction read and you don’t mind a little dystopian flavor, I would say ELUSION by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam is worth picking up.

So, what about all of you, have any of you read this? Or do any of you have any other good science fiction recommendations? Now that it’s summer and I have more time to read, I’m looking for some good books!

~Stephanie

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