Friday, February 25, 2011

Like Mandarin Author Interview!

I'm so excited because I've had the pleasure of interviewing Kirsten Hubbard, author of the upcoming novel LIKE MANDARIN!

Tell us about the process of getting Like Mandarin published.

The history of Like Mandarin is a long one, but I'll keep it brief! It actually began as a short story for the final project of a fiction class during my freshman year at UCSD. In the years after, I couldn't get the characters out of my head. I expanded the story into a screenplay for a later class, then into a novel when I was 22. The Like Mandarin you'll read today is a second version I overhauled at age 25 -- infinite times better, though the heart of it is the same.

When I queried this version of Like Mandarin, my agent, Michelle Andelman, requested a full within half an hour and offered representation after the weekend. Following a few weeks of revision, it went to auction and sold to Delacorte in a two-book deal. It was a crazy whirlwind! Or a wildwind, I should say.

Who is your favorite character in Like Mandarin?

I adore Taffeta (Grace's little sister), empathize with Momma, and totally heart Davey Miller – a side character readers tend to fall for. What I feel for Grace is a very real love, part sister and part daughter and part what you feel for younger versions of yourself, even though I wasn't much like Grace. But I'd have to say my favorite character is Mandarin Ramey. I knew my readers wouldn't believe Grace's fascination with her if I weren't fascinated with her myself, and that feeling has never left me. I wonder about her often.

I love the cover! What was your reaction when you first saw it?

Thank you! I first saw it hanging on a bookshelf in my editor's office, during an NYC trip where I met both my agent and editor for the first time. It was completely unexpected – both being confronted with it, and the cover itself. I'd expected Mandarin, with her black hair in the wind, or a panorama of badlands. But my cover is so much better – almost movie poster iconic, with the white space, and intensity, and simplicity. I am a very lucky author.

Do you think that travelling so much has helped you as a writer?

Like nothing else. (Well, other than reading!)

Here's why. Writing is a solitary pursuit that takes a lot of repetition, and a lot of alone time. It's introverted by nature, and it's easy to fall into a stay-at-home rut, where nearly all of what you "take in" is media – movies, books, television, the internet. While all that's rich and varied and necessary, none of it beats real-life experiences as idea fodder for novels. And nothing creates experience like venturing outside your comfort zone – especially somewhere stunning, culturally and visually. Travel puts you in situations you could never imagine. It forces interaction with all kinds of people, and inspires in completely unforeseen ways. I'm also obsessed with compelling settings, and though authors are master imaginers, visiting a place always results in more vibrant writing. As a result of my trips (both deliberate for research purposes and accidental), many of my favorite scenes were written in evocative places.

For example, there's a scene in Like Mandarin where Grace is walking through the Wyoming badlands. In part:

"I followed one of the water-trails tapering into the hills. The only sounds were the crunching of my shoes, the occasional low-pitched buzz of an insect, and a gentle wind—not the slightest bit wild—ruffling the dry grasses and shrubs. As I stopped at the top of a crest, gazing out at the gradients of blue hills, brown hills, gray hills, I thought: Mandarin would have loved it out here."

I took notes for that scene on a walk through the actual Wyoming badlands. Now, when I reread it, I'm there.

What is your favorite YA book of 2010?

Can't name just one! Recently, I loved The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I think I read Finnikin of the Rock in 2009, but it's a 2010 book – Melina Marchetta is a genius.

Thanks so much, Kirsten! LIKE MANDARIN comes out March 8th. :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Page Count: 366 pages
Summary: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Review: I try not to review books the day that I've finished them because my thoughts are always so muddled. It's only after I've read a bunch of reviews and had time to think about the book that I really can know what I think. Matched is definitely one of those books - I just finished it today and trying to gather my thoughts.

First, I've heard that there's this whole controversy surrounding it because of its similarities to Lois Lowry's amazing The Giver. Though I never finished reading The Giver (somehow I lost my copy before I was done), I really don't think that the similarities are anything special or exciting. Also, I tried to see Matched as its own book, completely separate from all of these things.

Lets begin with what I liked - Condie's prose was absolutely beautiful at times, although it could get the point of being overwritten sometimes. However, most of the time, I was pretty amazed at the prose, which is not something that happens often when I'm reading YA. Also, Condie's use of the 'banned' poems throughout the story was breathtaking; I think they worked very well with the themes of the book.

The things I didn't like so much: I always felt really bad for Xander and even though I understood that Cassia (I love that name, by the way!) was falling in love with someone else, I just thought she was being selfish to keep seeing Ky. I'm not very good when I read stories that are set in dystopias - I always want them to follow the rules, just so they won't get in trouble. It's safe to say that isn't my favorite genre. (Although, I love really gritty ones, where the characters are already rebels, like in Garth Nix's Shade's Children.) I think it was because Xander seemed like an awesome character, but of course, the girl is always attracted to the brooding, forbidden guy. How predictable.

My overall thoughts are pretty scattered. I did like this book and would definitely encourage people to read it, but I wasn't really into it by the end. That's why my rating is so low, because I couldn't stay in the story. (Although, I did read it on my computer, which often gives me headaches, so maybe that wasn't my brightest idea. For some reason, the format I bought it in was giving me trouble on my Nook.)

Overall: 3.5/5 stars

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Title: Twenty Boy Summer
Author: Sarah Ockler
Page Count: 290 pages
Summary:According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in ZanzibarBay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie—-she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

Review: I actually bought this on a whim - I was on the Absolute Write YA message boards in a thread about the best sex scenes in YA, and someone mentioned this book! That's not really the only reason I bought it, though, because I'd been wanting to read it since it came out, but with my awesome Nook, I got it instantly. (Totally not product placement, I just love my Nook so much.)

Ockler's writing style is absolutely beautiful, although at times it didn't seem to fit the teenaged protagonist. I won't fault her for that because Ockler definitely has some talent in the writing chops department, especially in the area of description. I always like it when authors can describe the most mundane things in completely new ways, or just so specifically that you can totally imagine it - Deb Caletti does this, as does Sarah Dessen, two of my favorite YA contemporary writers.

I could definitely empathize with Anna and she was a very understandable character, but her best friend, Frankie, kind of got to me. I understand that Frankie's brother had just died a year ago, but she was so selfish and immature about it that it pissed me off. And maybe that was Ockler's intention, to make Frankie immature, but it just didn't hit me the right way. But I really liked the way that Anna's feelings were described - she felt like an outsider because, even though Matt had been her best friend, he wasn't family and so she couldn't mourn in the same way that Frankie's family could've. At least, in other people's eyes. 

My only problem: both Matt and Anna's newer love interest, Sam, were not fleshed out enough in my opinion. Especially Sam. I couldn't see what Anna thought was so great about him, other than he was cute. I think there have just been some awesome love interests in past YA contemps that I've read, so that's why I felt both Matt and Sam were a little lacking.

Overall, though - this book was very good. I don't like to judge a book by how fast I finish it, but that's usually an indication, and I finished this one in two days. It made me feel that little chill of first love, of the first guy you kissed, which I always love in YA. I'd definitely recommend it.

Overall: 4/5 stars