Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Mustache You Some Questions

I don't know who started this meme, 
but I was tagged by Lindsey @ A Bookish Sinister Kid!

Four names people call me other than my real name:

I don't have a name that nicknames well, sadly, or maybe it's just I haven't been given many. 

1) Loren. I call myself LAUren, but a lot of people call me LOren. For some reason it feels different to me, though it doesn't bother me. 

2) Lauray. This is  my husband and my celebri-couple name (Lauren + Ray). We were given it in college, and I currently use it for my twitter name. Though it makes people think my name is Laura. 

3) Friends called me BW or bookworm in elementary school. Nothing much has changed there. 

4) LoLa. This is sort of self inflicted, but I often sign things LoLa (Love, Lauren)

Four jobs I've had:

1) Flower propagator at a greenhouse - this was my first job. I spent the summer covered in dirt.

2) Camp counselor - I was a counselor at Camp Westminster for 2 summers. I worked in the barn with the horses and loved this job. 

3) Bank Teller - through college

4) Marketing at a museum in Salem Mass. 

Four movies I would/have watched more than once:

1) All Harry Potter movies

2) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (with Ben Stiller) - I've watched this many times recently.

3) Never Been Kissed - my sisters and I were obsessed with this movie. 

4) Indiana Jones 

Four books I'd recommend: 

1) Written in Red (The Others Series) by Anne Bishop 

2) The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner - The King of Attolia is my favorite, which I just re-read again at Christmas

3) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater 

4) Jellicoe Road (or ANYTHING by Melina Marchetta)

Four places I have lived:

1) Houston, TX

2) Rotterdam, Holland 

3) Aberdeen, Scotland 

4) Stone Mountain, Georgia 

Four places I have been: 

1) Killarney, Ireland

2) Santa Fe, New Mexico 

3) Orvieto, Italy

4) Belize

Four places I'd rather be right now:

1) At the Pantheon in Rome

2) On the beach someplace warm

3) Visiting friends in Seattle, WA

4) Getting a massage

Four things I don't eat:

1) Seafood

2) Nuts (dislike, not allergic)

3) Mushrooms

4) Olives

Four of my favorite foods:

1) French fries

2) Smoothies

3) Mexican

4) Chocolate chip cookies

Four TV shows that I watch:

1) The Masterpiece series on PBS - mostly classic and some mystery (Sherlock)

2) Curious George

3) Modern Family (occasionally)

4) I've basically had to choose between reading and TV watching, and reading has won. Plus I never last more than a few seasons into a show before I can't handle it any more. It becomes all about how much drama they can add to keep the series going. Books are a better fit for me, because they typically have a more concrete end. 

Four things I am looking forward to this year (2015):

1) Walking normally again!! I broke my toe this month and it's still bothering me. Hopefully it will be better in a few more weeks. 

2) Warmer weather

3) BEA

4) So many 2015 releases! The Ruby Circle, Every Move, Winter etc. etc.  

Four things I'm always saying:

1)  "Let me just finish this chapter"

2) "Get down from there!" 

3) "I hate love triangles"

4) "ugh"

Four People I tag:

1) Danielle @ Love at first page

2) Jen @ YA Romantics

4) Summer @ Blue Sky Bookshelf

Monday, December 29, 2014

Early Review: Reborn by Jennifer Rush

by Jennifer Rush
Read: July 22, 2014
Published:  January 6, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: NetGalley (THANK YOU, Little BROWN, BYR)
Category: Action, Secret Government Organizations, YA
Series: Altered #3
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository 

The Branch is in shambles, but Anna, Sam, Cas, and Nick can't rest easy. Remnants of the organization lurk unseen and the flashbacks to their old lives are only getting stronger--especially Nick's.

Following scattered memories and clues from his Branch file, Nick sets off alone in search of answers and in search of the girl who haunts his dreams. But the sleepy town where she lives in full of secrets and Nick soon learns that uncovering their shared past may have deadly consequence.


What I love -
The Altered Saga is made of very readable, fast paced books that keep me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. This series is always strong on action and has great fight scenes. Reborn is no exception to that. If you're new to these books, the set up reminds me a little bit of the Born Identity series, without the international espionage. After following Anna's narration and relationship with Sam in Altered and Erased (click the titles for my reviews), we finally get a chance to hear from fellow team member Nick. 

The narration in Reborn is split between Nick and a new character, Elizabeth, who has her own connection to the Branch and Nick. Of course this means we get to find out more about the dangerous and shadowy Branch that has controlled these characters for so long. Even though they're no longer in the organization, Nick and gang are still on the run and unable to settle down or even remember all of their pasts. In this book, it's not always clear who is trustworthy, and that added another layer of danger to the story. 

Nick has always been hard and closed off. He carries so much anger inside of him, and doesn't like to get close to people. But Nick is beginning to have more flashbacks, and he's not sure why he keeps seeing this one girl in them. Elizabeth is different from Nick. She has her own secrets, and is closed off in her own way - more by being quiet and shy, but she has recently begun coming out of her shell and making more friends. Once Nick and Elizabeth meet, I enjoyed watching them begin to care for each other, and Nick's protective instincts come out towards Elizabeth. In return, her scarred but sweet nature helped to open Nick up. It was rewarding to see them both come out of their shells and fight for their futures. 

What I wish-
While I've enjoyed this series, I have come away from each book wanting a little more out of them. More story. More depth. More character development. More romance. This one is no exception. It is another wild ride, and I love Nick. But I wanted more of him and Elizabeth, especially of them together. It takes them a long time to meet and for anything to happen between them. They are very different in many ways, and I would have like to have seen more of the connection between them. I also thought we'd learn more about Nick's broader past. His connection to Anna is never mentioned, and this book mostly focuses on a small part of his history. Does he not remember it? Maybe he just doesn't want to remember some parts. However, it's always better to want more than less, and overall, this was an enjoyable addition to the series. 

Love Triangle Factor: Mild - It took these two some time to meet and come together, and they both had other interests (or in Nick's case, interactions) before they met.  But they weren't torn once they started getting to know each other. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Series conclusion, but definitely room for more installments. I'd love to see a story for Trev and Cas. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near To You
by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Read: November 28 - December 7, 2014
Published: January 28, 2014 by Crown
Source: Paperback purchase
Tags: Historical Fiction, Civil War, Women Soldiers, Romance

Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N 

An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Civil War, inspired by a real female soldier's letters home

Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

Rosetta drills with the men, prepares herself for battle, and faces the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Fearing discovery of her secret, Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s as their marriage is tested by war. Inspired by over two hundred and fifty documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side. 

Like every other American who has gone to school, I have studied the Civil War in detail. I don't remember everything I learned, but know the names of key players, battles and a lot about the President who resided over it all. But one reason that I  love history so much and crave fiction books set in the past, is my desire to know what was it really like to live back then. I want to be able to experience it a little bit, if only through words. This is why I Shall Be Near To You was perfect for me. Facts are important but I have to feel a personal connection to the events to really understand them. Author Erin Lindsay McCabe gave me that through the eyes of her heroine Rosetta. 

The Civil War killed almost as many people in its five years than if you add up the American casualties from every other war in our history. It was a devastating event, but what was it like to live through it? Not for the politicians or generals, but for the soldiers in the fields and the families left behind. Through Rosetta's eyes, I could imagine what it was like to go from being a farmer tending fields to a soldier with a gun. What it was like see wounded for the first time and realize this war isn't going to be as easy to win as everyone thought. With Rosetta, I experienced the terror of marching across an open field, firing a gun at the people in grey before one of them hits you. I could understand what it might be like to go into battle after sitting in the rain all night, and how quick and without fanfare death in war can be - or how slow and painful. All of these things Rosetta experiences or observes.  

I Shall Be Near To You is told in the perspective of Rosetta, an 18 year old farmer's daughter from New York state who has just married her childhood sweetheart, Jeremiah Wakefield. With dreams of one day owning their own farm in Nebraska, Jeremiah enlists  to make some money, but also because his friends are all joining the army. No one has any clue how long or brutal this war will be.  

Rosetta has always enjoyed being out on the farm with her father, instead of inside doing women's work. When her husband has to leave with his troop a few weeks after they're married, she  makes the decision to cut her hair and dress like a man to follow him into battle. It is an unusual situation, but not a unique one, as the Rosetta in this book is inspired by a real person. In fact, McCabe tells us in her author's note that many women dressed as men to fight on both sides of the war. 

What I Love
I loved being inside of Rosetta's head. She is my hero. I'm not sure I could ever make the choices she does, but I admire her for not being afraid to go after what she wants, and because she keeps fighting no matter what. She loves her husband fiercely, wants desperately to be a good wife to him, and is going to do that in the best way she is able. For Rosetta, that means living the war with Jeremiah. Seeing and experiencing things with him that change and scar both of them. It is a decision that bears both tremendous blessing and burden.

Rosetta's ultimate goal is her husband and their farm. Although she acknowledges the larger importance of the war, her reasons for being there are far more personal to her own life. Unlike some of the men in her unit, she'd be very happy never to see any action at all. Maybe it's because she is a woman, or maybe because we're actually inside of her head, but Rosetta made me think differently about the reasons people choose to fight. I appreciated her honesty and her inner strength of will, but also her ability to acknowledge when she's had enough. 

This book is a deep love story that happens to be set in a horrific time. Two of my favorite things about this story are Rosetta and Jeremiah's love for each other, and the way they have to fit their relationship into a very difficult setting. Despite her unconventional decision to become a soldier, Rosetta wants very much to be a good wife to her husband, and she finds little ways to do that throughout the book. Even though this book is told entirely from Rosetta's perspective, I could understand Jeremiah's struggle over having his wife with him in a company of all male soldiers. He wants to love her as a husband, while having to to pretend that she's just his male cousin. Jeremiah's strong desire to protect his wife is also realistic. He has to figure out how to do that - and how to let go - when his wife is right next to him in battle, putting herself in equal danger.  

Although she is just one voice, Rosetta connected me personally to life in America in the 1860s. Through her I understood a little bit about what this war was like for those who fought and for anyone who remained behind waiting (sometimes in vain) for word from their loved ones. The Civil War is a tough time to relive, and watching Rosetta and Jeremiah figure out how to be together through it was beautiful and painful. I could understand both of their strong emotions, and sense their love for each other. I don't think I could have done what she did, but I'm also glad she didn't do it any other way. 

I Shall Be Near To You is one of my favorite reads of 2014. It's one you don't want to miss. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

Friday, December 19, 2014

This Shattered World Blog Tour + Giveaway
Author discussion: Gender in Science Fiction

This Shattered World blog tour is hosted by The Midnight Garden
Go HERE for the first stop on the tour (see below for the full schedule)

This Shattered World is book two in Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner's Starbound trilogy. Although the planet and narrators are different from These Broken Stars, the danger these characters are fighting against is only getting more strange and frightening. You're going to want to get to know Lee and Flynn, and see them get to know each other. 

Read my five point review of This Shattered World  

Even for a mild science-fiction reader like me, it's obvious that Amie and Meg have made a conscious effort to pull their main characters out of the "standard" sci-fi gender roles (thank goodness). But even more telling, are the quieter ways they've crafted their story to challenge our perspectives. I don't know if it's good or bad that I didn't realize how intentional they were, but it makes me incredibly thankful they've shared this post with us! 

Welcome to Love is not a triangle, Amie and Meg!

He Said/She Said: Gender in Science Fiction
by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Gender, feminism, equality, diversity—all charged words, especially in the current landscape of YA literature. For us, one of the best things about creating the far-future universe of the Starbound Trilogy was that we could decide what issues would still haunt humanity and what humanity would have moved beyond. Characteristics like race and sexual orientation, in the Starbound universe, are no longer excuses to discriminate, abuse, or divide people from one another. And the biggest one, for us, was gender.

It’s no secret that for a long time science fiction has been considered a boy’s game. Pulpy SF covers with busty green girls in silver bikinis hasn’t really helped matters, but when you consider the panoply of women in classic (and not-so-classic) fantasy wearing chainmail underwear and anatomically implausible breastplates, science fiction isn’t alone there. But with science fiction there’s an added level of “but girls don’t like science” that makes bringing science fiction out in the YA industry an uphill battle.

Both of us grew up reading classic science fiction, ranging from “soft” SF authors like Anne McCaffrey to the “harder” stuff like Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury. And it’s no accident that science fiction written by women is often labeled “soft” while that written by men isn’t. Stories driven by characters and philosophical morality are soft. Stories driven by plot and scientific abstracts are hard. (Don’t ask us why. We didn’t make the rules, we just like to break them.)

We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard comments like “this is pretty good… for girl’s sci-fi” or “science fiction by women isn’t real science fiction.”

But that’s another blog post.

For now, we’ll assume that you, dear reader, are among the enlightened who get that “science” doesn’t mean “boys only,” and talk instead about how science fiction (specifically, far-future science fiction) lets us create our universe our way.

In These Broken Stars, it’s easy to mistake Tarver’s initial disregard for Lilac as sexism, because so many of us in current society have been dismissed because of gender. But in TBS, that prejudice is all about her class, her pampered lifestyle, her family’s wealth. We were surprised to discover, after the book’s publication, that readers were surprised and tickled by Lilac’s electronics expertise because of her gender. It was meant to be a surprise based on her station in society, but the fact that electronics and engineering are careers dominated by men in our society meant that this characteristic subverted that expectation.

So in This Shattered World, we wanted to play with that even more. We could only take things so far in book one, with only two characters who have any significant “screen” time. In This Shattered World, though, we’ve got a planet populated by an entire cast of soldiers, rebels, and civilians. And while our pacifist rebel Flynn and warrior Jubilee required very little to make them gender trope benders, it’s the little pieces, the characters who show up for one line and never again, that paint the bigger picture. If your main characters are the only exceptions, then all you’ve done is create exceptional characters in a universe that is, despite them, still the same as your own.

To that end, every choice we made while drafting, we went over with a fine-toothed comb in revisions to make sure that the preconceptions we have due to our current society when it comes to things like race and gender weren’t influencing us subconsciously. And that involves a whole toolbox of techniques.

Gender Flipping

As author Jim C. Hines so vividly (and hilariously) demonstrated, sometimes characteristics and clich├ęs we don’t even notice when attributed to a woman seem ridiculous on a man, and vice versa. There are things we’ve been trained to accept. So for some of our side characters, we’d try gender-flipping them as an experiment to see if we’d made character choices about them based on gender. With one of these experiments we realized we’d totally done that, and we ended up leaving said character a woman, because we liked “him” much better that way.

Inverting Tropes

A poet and an engineer. A pacifist and a warrior. Right or wrong, we attach gender to characteristics, professions, and hobbies. Male nannies used to get raised eyebrows, and sometimes still do. Female attorneys are constantly asked how they balance work and home. So in our books we try—whenever it works with the story—to invert these tropes. In This Shattered World, the heroine is the soldier and the hero is the diplomat. Our military base commander is a woman. The person in charge of teaching and caring for the children at the rebel base is a teenage boy.

Language Choices

Never have we more wished that English had gender-neutral pronouns that don’t imply inanimate objects. In the end, we had to bend the rules of grammar a little in This Shattered World to avoid the male default. It’s startling how often male-as-default comes up in our own society, but we don’t notice it because we don’t really have alternatives. Sure, we could say “him or her” every other sentence, but how awkward is that?

Take this example from This Shattered World:

“One of the techs must have had [the footage] on a local drive so they could keep working while evicted from the repository.”

In copy edits, “they” was changed to “he,” because “one of the techs” does imply singular. But we insisted on changing it back to the gender neutral “they,” because we just couldn’t stomach the idea of Jubilee, the POV character at the time, making the subconscious mental assumption that the computer tech in question would have been male. In our far-future society, that assumption just wouldn’t happen. There’d be no reason for it. And while that, in itself, is only one tiny sentence, it’s the way all the little tiny sentences add up that create the larger impression of the universe and the society. We were more than happy to sacrifice grammatical correctness to preserve our vision of that universe.


About Amie and Meg

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are longtime friends and sometime flatmates who have traveled the world (but not yet the galaxy), covering every continent between them. They are sure outer space is only a matter of time. Meagan, who is also the author of the Skylark trilogy, currently lives in Asheville, NC, while Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia. Although they currently live apart, they are united by their love of space opera, road trips, and second breakfasts.
Visit the These Broken Stars website for the latest news on the series and follow the authors on Twitter at @AmieKaufman and @MeaganSpooner.This Shattered World is available for pre-order (with fun swag!) and will be released in North America on December 23, 2014.


Follow the Blog Tour

Monday, December 8          The Midnight Garden    Secrets of Starbound: Characters   
Tuesday, December 9         The Book Smugglers    Making an Audiobook
Wednesday, December 10  Ivy Book Bindings        Secrets of Starbound: Science and Settings
Thursday, December 11       Cuddlebuggery             How Amie & Meagan Met
Friday, December 12            Little Book Owl             Video Interview
Monday, December 15         Mundie Moms               Shooting the Cover
Tuesday, December 16        Xpresso Reads             Starbound Inspirations
Wednesday, December 17   A Book Utopia               Video: Your New Book Boyfriend
Thursday, December 18       Supernatural Snark       Q & A
Friday, December 19            Love is Not a Triangle   Gender in Science Fiction



THANK YOU Disney-Hyperion for these amazing prizes!
Grand Prize:
— Autographed copies of These Broken Stars and This Shattered World
— Starbound swag
— A secret letter from Tarver to Lilac, which you may keep secret for yourself, or may be posted and shared with others (PLEASE SHARE IT WITH MEEEE!!!)
— Your choice of coffee with the authors at one of their upcoming U.S. tour stops (locations TBD) OR a Skype chat!
Runners up:
5 people will win hardback copies of This Shattered World
Open to US and Canadian residents aged 18 and up, or 13 and up with parental permission. See entry form for complete details. Good luck!

If the Rafflecopter form isn't showing up, go HERE.

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