Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Say Hello to Your Friends: Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before

Here's how an email exchange between me and a children's book publicist went down:

Me: I'd like to request an advance review copy of Mockingjay (book three in the super-awesome Hunger Games trilogy, which you must read IMMEDIATELY if not sooner).

Children's book publicist: We're not doing that for Mockingjay, but I'll make sure you get a review copy on the release date.  In the meantime, would you like a copy of the Baby-Sitters Club prequel?

Me (in the email): Sure, that would be great!  I think my readers would love a review.


Mind you, this happened after the release date of The Summer Before, buuuuut it was particularly fortuitous because I'd almost bought the hardcover when the book was first released, but didn't!  Now I get a free Baby-Sitters Club book?  The ten-year-old in me says WIN WIN!  (Okay, so does the 29-year-old in me.)

Without further ado, I bring y'all the conclusion of Awesome Authors (Two) Month(s): a review of The Summer Before!

So the title's pretty self-explanatory: this book chronicles the summer before the beginning of The Baby-Sitters Club, through the eyes of its four founding members.  So there isn't any of Jessi kicking ass as a pint-size New Jersey ballerina, Dawn sanctimoniously saving whales in California, or Abby being told she was funny by someone I'd like to hunt down.  There is a bit of pre-Spaz Girl Mallory, though.

Each of the girls (who are twelve at this point, having not yet reached the perpetual age of thirteen) has their own separate storyline.  Kristy's, Mary Anne's and Claudia's intersect--hard-core fans will remember that Stacey moved from the Big Apple (Ann M. Martin TOTALLY used that outdated touristy phrase on her Facebook page the other day) to Stoneybrook, and didn't meet the girls until school started.  Basically, the book ends with the first scene of Kristy's Great Idea, where Kristy has an outburst in class, writes an essay on decorum, and eats pizza while her mom frantically tries to track down a baby-sitter.

Not that I have the opening chapter of KGI memorized or anything.

The storylines go like so:

Kristy: writes to her dad and doesn't hear back, so is feeling a little bummed about that.  Also feels like she and Claudia are growing apart, and is resenting her mom's new boyfriend Watson big-time.

Mary Anne: is offered her first real sitting job for the Pikes (a joint deal with Kristy, consistent with the "two sitters for more than five kids" rule), but her dad is ambiguous about letting her do it.  The seeds of her breaking free of her strict pop with a Laura Ingalls fetish are being sown.

Claudia: falls in "luv" (to use Stacey-speak) for the first time, with a boy that (gasp!) Janine has a thing for.  And of course, for every preteen luv there is a preteen hartbrake (to use hypothetical Claudia spelling).

Stacey (who by the way has diabetes, did you know she has diabetes, DIABETES DIABETES DIABETES): helps her mom and dad prepare for the Stoneybrook move while fending off the nasty vibes of her former bestie Laine (who in this book is more Regina George bully than Blair Waldorf lovable beyotch).  Why is Laine so mean, you ask?  It starts with a "d" and ends with an "iabetes."

From what I've heard and read online, The Summer Before hasn't been that well-received by those who grew up reading Baby-Sitters Club.  The consensus is that a sequel would have been preferable, and I can understand that.  I'd love to see if Jessi stuck with the ballet--even those who are super-hard-core have a snowball's chance in hell of really making it, if Mallory kept up with the writing, and if Kristy bought a U-Haul already.  I don't give a shit about Abby.  She's annoying.

As prequels go, I was pretty much divided on this one.  Kristy and Stacey's storylines felt like retreads of what we read in the series.  Kristy has daddy issues and Stacey has DIABETES, nothing new to report.  I was reminded how much I liked Kristy before she became a bossy-boots parody of herself (how many turtlenecks can one junior-high girl OWN?), so there's that.

However, I really enjoyed Claudia and Mary Anne's portions.  First-crush stories never go out of style, and the way kids' minds work, it's believable that Claudia's former boytoy was never mentioned in the series. And with Mary Anne, fighting for something as straightforward and simple as a summer baby-sitting gig, I was reminded how damn powerless twelve years old can feel.  For Mary Anne in this book, baby-sitting is more than a chance to earn a little money and spend time with younger kids she likes.  It's a marker of independence, at an age where those are remarkably few and far between.

When Ann M. Martin puts her mind to it and doesn't get lazy, she's really adept at writing from a kid's perspective.  It sometimes bothers me when people wax poetic about childhood: sure, there were no bills to pay or jobs to worry about, but you were also forced to do things "because I said so," endure classroom taunting, and live in a world dominated for better and for worse by those taller than you.  Martin's better writing not only brings back the nostalgia of childhood, but the negativity as well.  For this reason, portions of The Summer Before work on a much deeper level than revisiting the characters we loved as kids.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

NOTE: no Armchair Casting Director for this one.  I don't really know a lot of tween superstars, besides the ever-baffling Justin Bieber (dude, even if I were in the target demographic, I'd still think he looked like a 9-year-old.  There's no way in hell that guy's 16).

NOTE PART TWO: If you entered the Forbidden Love Giveaway, please email me ASAP with your address (maybeimamazed02ATyahooDOTcom).  Everyone who entered gets a prize, but I have to know where to send it!  Click here for a list of the top three winners. 

Did you read The Summer Before?  Do you think Ann M. Martin should have let the past be the past and not bothered with a prequel?  Leave a comment!

And here's a fun video.  Y?  Because I like you!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Forbidden Love Giveaway WINNERS!

Well, color me impressed, y'all!

The responses I got for the 'pro's Forbidden Love Giveaway--via both comments and emails--were fan-flippin'-tastic.  Maybe it's spring fever, or maybe you're all just that cool.  My money's on all of the above.

Sooooo . . . IT'S WINNER TIME!  As you recall, I have three super-cool YA books to give away: Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, and Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction, both by Simone Elkeles.  To enter, you had to contact me with your favorite pop culture example of forbidden love and why it was your favorite.  My top three favorites win!

*drumroll please*

The "Get Out of My Head" Award goes to . . . Nikki!

Nikki's choice is one of my very favorite songs ever, "O Valencia!" by the Decemberists.  (If you haven't heard these guys live, you MUST.)  Not only does "O Valencia!" passionately chronicle a tragic tryst a la Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story, it happens to be the exact song going through my head when I first read Perfect Chemistry.  Nikki, might you be psychic?

The "Most Inter-species" Award goes to . . . Roxanne!

Because we celebrate all kinds of love here on the 'pro, Roxanne's fave, Disney's The Fox and the Hound, really touched my heart.  Of the titular best pals who grow up and realize they're supposed to hate each other, Roxanne says it best: "Two different worlds, two different roles to fill - and, dare I say it? Two different species!"

And finally, the "Most Sci-Fi" Award goes to . . . Tara!

I have to admit, I don't watch Battlestar Galactica, but my fanboy roomie backed me up on Tara's choice of Kara/Starbuck and Lee/Apollo from the new TV version.  I was compelled by her description of the couple: She was engaged to his younger brother when they met and immediately felt the spark (and uh almost acted on it). Then she got him killed because she loved him too much and the world ended and they were reunited. But Lee was her boss and they were both emotional wrecks and so scared of how much they loved and needed each other. And sadly it ended very tragically, but they were EPIC.  Goosebumps, yo!

(Yes, it's the one Katy Perry song I like. Shut up.)

Congratulations to Nikki, Roxanne and Tara!  Email me ASAP with your full name and address at maybeimamazed02ATyahooDOTcom, so you can get your prize with a quickness!  

To all who entered: I didn't get any answers I didn't love.  IF your name was not among the winners, BUT you'd like to get a neato prize anyway, email your name and address to me at maybeimamazed02ATyahooDOTcom.

Until tomorrow, I'll leave you with one of my favy-avy-avy forbidden love scenes.  Romeo.  Juliet. A costume party.  A fishtank.  DiCaprio, Danes and Des'ree.  And you know what?  Even when I'm not sixteen and sloppy in love with my first boyfriend, this movie's still pretty damn good!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry: it's old/new school-YA-rific!

Image courtesy of poundingheartbeat.com.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Awesome Author Interview: Simone Elkeles

Okay, I lied.

I was going to do more of a pop culture focus from here on out, buuuuuut . . . then I got an opportunity to interview the ever-awesome Simone Elkeles, author of the recent Rules of Attraction , one of THREE books I am giving away on the blog!  (If you haven't entered the contest yet, do it now--it's open till Friday!)  Pop-culture fabulosity will return, soon, never fear!

Besides Rules of Attraction, Simone is also the author of Perfect Chemistry (which I'm also giving away, hint hint!), Leaving Paradise, and the How To Ruin . . . trilogy.  Let's give her a warm Unpro welcome, shall we?

You are an admitted romance novel enthusiast and have been very involved with the Romance Writers of America.   Now that you’re a successful YA author, would you consider switching genres?

I tried writing adult romances, but it just didn’t fit my voice.  I was definitely meant to be a young adult author and I love it -- I’m here to stay!  Romance novels are my favorite books to read.  I write young adult romances and am so happy to be promoting this wonderful genre. 

Your novels alternate between lighthearted (the How to Ruin a Summer Vacation trilogy) and more serious and issue-driven (Leaving Paradise, Perfect Chemistry, and Rules of Attraction).  Is there a reason for this, and if so, what?

Everyone who has ever met me for at least five minutes knows I’m a really funny person.  I love to laugh and to make people laugh, so writing comedy comes naturally to me.  I also love edgy and sexy romances, so I try to do it all in my books.  I can’t just write one kind of book. 

Your characters’ voices, both male and female, are both unique and accurate.  How do you write teenagers, especially boys, so well?

I was a tomboy and had a lot of guy friends growing up who were really honest and open with me about sex, girls, and their outlook on life.  I “get” guys – at least the ones I hung out with.  I was also a teen in the 80’s and enjoyed my teen years, which were filled with stupid adventures.  Lastly, I still remember what it was like to be a teenager.  Don’t we all?

You stay involved with your characters: Rules of Attraction is a sequel to Perfect Chemistry, with a third book in the works; there’s a sequel to Leaving Paradise coming out this year, and How to Ruin a Summer Vacation has two sequels.  How do you decide when to continue with the same fictional world, and when to stop writing about it?

To be honest, I’m a romance novel fan.  No, you don’t get it…I’m a super #1 romance novel fan where I have a hard time “getting into” any other books besides romance novels.  I just eat them up like that Red Velvet cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory (have you had that sinful dessert…it’s so obnoxiously amazing and no, they didn’t pay me to say that).    

The fact that Leaving Paradise didn’t have a happily ever after (HEA for romance authors/readers), it really didn’t feel right to me.  So for my own sanity I needed to “finish” Caleb and Maggie’s story so Return to Paradise is the sequel and last one in that series.  For Perfect Chemistry, I always wanted to write stories about all the Fuentes brothers (kind of like Julia Quinn did for her Bridgerton series – they were all SOOOOO good!).  I think I’m done with the How to Ruin series, which was such a fun series to write.  Amy is such a diva and I loved putting her in ridiculous situations.   My fans are eager for more of the characters they’ve falling in love with, but I do think there’s a time you have to say “bye” to characters and move on. 

Perfect Chemistry has been your most successful novel, and it’s the first YA novel you wrote, but it took a while to get published.  Can you share a little bit about this journey?

Perfect Chemistry was the second novel I wrote.  My first novel was a historical romance novel that shall remain under my bed for all time.  My previous agent sold my first three published novels, but I loved Perfect Chemistry and wanted her to submit it to publishers.   She did submit it to a few, but then she lost interest in submitting it and said to work on other projects.  I had such faith in Perfect Chemistry that I separated from my previous agent and signed with Kristin Nelson from Nelson Literary who loved the novel.  She submitted it to editors and Emily Easton from Walker Books loved the story.   The pre-sales weren’t that great for the book, but the reader response was overwhelming and now I think there’s over 100,000 copies sold. 

If you had to create a playlist for Rules of Attraction, what would be on it?

Funny you should ask that question because a song list will be posted on http://www.perfectchemistrythebook.com/ next week.  I already have a song list for Perfect Chemistry on the site.  Of course for the new song list I had to add the song "Hot N Cold" by Katy Perry because Katy Perry’s groom in that video, Alexander F. Rodriguez, played Alex Fuentes (the hero from Perfect Chemistry) in the book trailer I did – which was shot just like a movie trailer!

Can you describe your writing process?  Any habits or routines?

I need peace and quiet, which is hard to get with two kids and two dogs (and one husband) so I rent an office space to get away.  I write when my kids are in school and when they’re asleep.  I really have no habits or routines, but my goal is to one day be organized.

As a speaker at schools, mom of two, and oh yeah, a prolific young adult author, how do you maintain a work-life balance?

I don’t.  It’s super hard and I’m trying to figure it out as I go along.  I don’t balance it well and hope that changes in the future. I want to be a great mom.  I want to be a great author.  I want to be a great wife.  I want to be a great friend.  I want to be the accessible author.  I’m trying to do it all, but sometimes I really feel like I’m failing.  Life is hectic.  I’m not complaining, but I do envy those who are organized enough to balance it all without a hitch.

You wrote for five years before an agent signed you.  Any advice for unpublished, unagented writers out there?

Never give up.  Perfect your book and work on the craft of writing.  If you have writers block, force yourself to get over it.  Write realistic dialogue – write how you talk.  A lot of times you sell your second or third book first, so move on and don’t be stuck on your first book.  Keep it under your bed and sell at a later date – just move on!  My bestselling novel Perfect Chemistry was the second book I ever wrote but the fourth book I sold.

I ask everyone this question, but I’m going to modify it for you: what are your desert island, all-time, top 5 teen movies?

The Cutting Edge
She’s The Man
Sixteen Candles
The Sure Thing
Secret Admirer
(can I add another one?) Superbad

Coming up next week: a very highly-anticipated prequel.  Hint: "say hello to your friends..."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Forbidden Love Giveaway Tiiiiiiiime!

So I have some news: though I do have at least two book reviews in the works, I really miss yapping about movies and TV with all my lovely readers!  Therefore, the next few posts will be more movie- and/or TV-related.


I've acquired three fantastic YA books about forbidden love, two of which have been recently reviewed on the 'pro: Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction, both by Simone Elkeles, and Something Like Fate by the wonderful Susane Colasanti.  Rules of Attraction was just released this week, Something Like Fate is out May 4, and Perfect Chemistry came out last year, but is still going strong.  All.  Are.  Awesome.

And I'm giving them away!

So here's what you have to do: leave a comment with your favorite example of forbidden love in pop culture, and why you think it is so splendiferous, in 50 words or less.  It can be a movie, a book, a song, or that really great moment on your favorite TV show when the two characters you were rooting for finally, finally got together even though they weren't supposed to.

Then check back on Monday, April 26.  I'll choose my three favorites and one of these three cool YA books is yours!

You have until Friday, April 23 to send these in.  Impress me, y'all.

Feel free to pass this around to any book lov-ah you choose.  Happy forbidden lovin'!

Coming up Monday: a new sitcom I just adore.  Yay!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Way You Make Me Feel: Rules of Attraction

Forbidden love is hot, y'all.  I'm a sucker for a good Romeo and Juliet story.  You know what else I'm a sucker for?  A Beatrice and Benedick story (from Shakespeare's unparalleled Much Ado About Nothing): where the hero and heroine stop arguing just long enough to realize they're in looove.  Take R&J, add a healthy pinch of B&B, and you've got Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry, which I bought and subsequently devoured last year.  A fantastic YA novel that's got it all--love, lust, intrigue, and fightin'!--Perfect Chemistry chronicles the romance of Caucasian pom-pom girl Brittany and Latino roughneck Alex, reluctant class partners turned star-crossed lovers in the suburbs of Chicago.  I hearted this book: Elkeles wrote male and female perspectives equally well, and the relationship and character development were organic and achingly real.

So naturally, I was excited to hear that Elkeles was penning a Perfect Chemistry sequel, entitled Rules of Attraction.  And I scored an ARC, woohoo!

Coming out April 13, Rules of Attraction picks up two years after PC left off and is told from the perspective of Alex's younger brother Carlos.  Sent from Mexico to Boulder, where Alex and Brittany now attend college, Carlos is expected to turn his thug life around by living with Alex's former professor, Dr. Westford, who happens to have a lovely daughter, Kiara.  But even as Carlos and Kiara grow closer, Carlos' gangbanger past is catching up with him.  What's a reformed bad boy and a good gone girl to do?

There was a lot to like about this book.  Namely the two protagonists.  Even at his most asshole-ish, Carlos is eminently likable: he's got a snarky sensibility and a good heart.  Plus he has tattoos!  Totally swoonworthy.  And Kiara's fantastic: she's like the anti-Bella Swan.  Even though she's shy (as a recovering stutterer), she completely knows who she is--sporty and crazy about fixing cars--and is comfortable with it. So refreshing in YA lit to see a chick with a strong personality and sense of self.  Again, Elkeles does an admirable job telling the story from the alternating boy-girl perspectives: she gets into the mind of a troubled teenage boy and gives him a distinctive, interesting voice.  Also, it was fun to hang out with Alex and Brittany again: you can't help but root for those two crazy kids from the 'burbs.

That said: while I enjoyed Carlos and Kiara's relationship, I didn't quite believe it the way I believed Alex and Brittany's in the previous book.  It seems that Carlos and Kiara go from bitching at each other to making out in about two seconds--I know teenagers' feelings can turn on a dime, but even with that in mind there wasn't much evidence of the relationship growing.  Also, the subplot with Carlos and his illegal activities felt a bit tacked on.  I would have been content watching him change as an individual, or if his past had to become an issue, I feel it could have happened more naturally.  Sorry, I don't want to give too much away.  

Still, I'd recommend Rules of Attraction to readers young and old.  The characters are consistently convincing and will tug at your heartstrings, and the writing's stellar.  Although the book explains necessary plot info from Perfect Chemistry, you should read that one too.  Just . . . because.  You'll thank me.

And now, for the moment we've all been waiting for . . . ARMCHAIR CASTING DIRECTOR TIME! (Disclaimer for those new to the 'pro: I don't always choose super accurately in terms of age or era--just who I pictured while reading the book.)

Carlos: Jay Hernandez

If you've seen Crazy/Beautiful and Nothing Like the Holidays, you know this dude can play whip-smart, strong and nomalicious all in one line reading.  No one does reformed bad boy better.  Plus, he's got the expressive face that portrays light and dark moods equally well--essential for a character with the most troubled of pasts.

Kiara: Alison Brie

I heart Alison Brie so much: she can play a 1960's socialite wife and a rehabbed type A on my TV at the same time.  I also hate her because she gets to interact with Jon Hamm and Joel McHale on the regular.  Bitch.  Anyhoozle, Brie's the ultimate fresh face--I'd totally buy her as sweet but sassy tomboy Kiara.  Plus, I bet she could do a convincing stutter.

Dr. Westford: Liam Neeson

This guy wrote the book on "devoted dad who's also a badass."  Taken, anyone?  And who didn't love him in Love, Actually?  He encouraged his son to run through security for his lil crush, AND he got Claudia Schiffer in the end . . . don't tell me that's not badass.  Sure, he's a little older, but a lot of professor-types wait before having kids.  And he can use the Jedi Mind Trick.  You can't do better than that.

So I know that March was Awesome Authors Month, and (duh) it's not March anymore.  What happened is this: I scored a couple more reviews and ARC's, so the AAM fun is going to continue into April!  Cool, huh?

Anyhoozle, hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed Rules of Attraction.  To pre-order, click here.  To order Perfect Chemistry, click here.  And for more information about Simone Elkeles, click here for her website (which includes book trailers, music videos and info about her other fabulous books) . . . and stay tuned for an interview!

I love you too.  :)