Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Divided by Elsie Chapman

Divided by Elsie Chapman
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Young Adult Sci-fi
ISBN: 978-0-449-81295-2
Source: Netgalley
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The hunter becomes the hunted. . . .

West Grayer is done killing. She defeated her Alternate, a twin raised by another family, and proved she’s worthy of a future. She’s ready to move on with her life.

The Board has other plans. They want her to kill one last time, and offer her a deal worth killing for. But when West recognizes her target as a ghost from her past, she realizes she’s in over her head. The Board is lying, and West will have to uncover the truth of the past to secure her future.

How far will the Board go to keep their secrets safe? And how far will West go to save those she loves? With nonstop action and surprising twists, Elsie Chapman’s intoxicating sequel to Dualed reveals everything.

Divided takes place three months after the events of Dualed as West's world is turned upside down once again. The questions that I had in Dualed were answered in Divided and have set up so much for a third book that could be an epic conclusion though I don't know if there is going to be a third book so... I mean, there's no information that I can find about how many books in this series there are but it would be a pity to end at this point when the story is really just getting started.

At this point, West is no longer a striker, as she's working for Baer... so clearly it's much easier to not be a striker anymore than we were led to believe. Anyway, she's blackmailed by The Board into helping them out with a promise of a better life for her. Of course they don't tell her why they're sending her out on these tasks and we must wait until the end of the book for all of the secrets to come out. If you were able to predict what happened in Dualed, I think you'll predict what will happen in Divided. It's up to you to determine for yourself whether or not you still enjoy the series aside from the predictable elements. Because there's more to the story than that. Predicting isn't a make or break for me and I don't think it should ever be. It's more about the journey than the destination and I enjoyed the journey in Dualed which is why I continued and read Divided.

Along with more interaction with The Board, I loved that Chord and Dess were back and West, while still very guarded, did manage to let her guard down more with them especially as time went on. The romance elements were few and far between in Dualed but are strong in Divided so if you like that kind of stuff, this is great. For me, it was a distraction from all of the action and moving the main story along. Which brings us to one of the three people that West is sent to kill in this book that I was so excited to see! Yes! That was awesome. I can't say who we see because it will be a spoiler but know that it was quite a treat, in a twisted way to see. I also must mention that I loved that West struggled with what it meant to take the lives of idles and completes in Divided. That was something that I didn't know I wanted to see and am so glad that this came to fruition. What an interesting layer for West.

I'd say that Dualed and Divided are like The Hunger Games meets Orphan Black with a much slower pace. So if you loved Dualed, you'll love Divided. If you enjoyed Dualed and like me, felt Dualed was solid as is, save for a few things, I'd say it's up to you to decide whether or not to read Divided. Because when it comes down to it, whether or not there is another book after Divided, I think this story could have been told as one amazing standalone rather than in one solid series. But I still enjoyed the writing and the story enough to keep reading the sequel so it's obviously intriguing and entertaining enough to keep doing what it's doing. If you've read Dualed and Divided, what did you think?

Divided by Elsie Chapman is available today.

Book Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Dualed by Elsie Chapman
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Young Adult Sci-fi
ISBN: 978-0-307-93154-2
Source: Library
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In the city of Kersh, everyone must eliminate their genetic Alternate twin, raised by another family, before their twentieth birthday. West Grayer, 15, has trained as a fighter, and has one month to hunt and kill her Alt. A tragic misstep shakes her confidence. Guilty, grieving, she feels unworthy, runs from her Alt and from love - both can destroy her.

First off, what a synopsis! Short but to the point! As soon as I read, "eliminate their genetic Alternate twin, raised by another family," I knew I was in. I wanted to dive into this book right away, so I am glad that I finally had the opportunity to read this book. Then, as I read and figured out what the misstep was and West was faced with even more as the book went on, I was even more happy to devour the book.

I loved the world building, especially what comes with being idle, active, and complete. There's so much weight that comes with these words, I could write an essay on the beyond triple meanings here but I'll just say that these titles to describe where a person is at in life, on their mission, it really moved me.

Yes, I admit, West did irritate me in the beginning when her friend, Chord became active and she, still an idle, wouldn't let him process this life or death situation officially beginning. Yes, time is of the essence but everybody reacts to change differently and she completely disrespected his choice. His life, his choice. And she was very persistent where she had no right to be. No can fault West for panicking and wanting Chord to stay alive. But when it comes down to it, everyone has to kill their Alt on their own, so let him do it how he wants to do it after he takes a few minutes to process being an active. Right?

Yeah. West got the idea when her time came. She finally understood what Chord felt and that character growth was very much appreciated. I wouldn't say that it's a spoiler to say that she becomes an active because one can assume after reading the synopsis that that's obviously going to happen for the main character. It's what West does before she becomes an active that affects the decision making process after she becomes an active that really shakes things up. She's skilled but she could be better and at times, it seems like she's gotten way over her head. But she keeps going and gets what's required of her done which I was frightened and excited to see all at the same time.

Throughout all of this, I love that Chord never leaves West's side, no matter how much she tries to shake him. West and Chord both want to help each other and seeing the lengths that they will go for each other in their own ways made for a complex and fun contrast. I really enjoyed that. The romance came second. The fact that these two were the last ones standing among their loved ones and needed and wanted to hold onto each other came first. As someone who isn't all that moved by romance elements, I appreciated that this was secondary and really bloomed at the end of the book.

Simply put, I really enjoyed reading this story of survival. Though West was questioning the system quite a bit which made me think that she would stumble upon news about the system that she'd have to uncover for the good of the people. Now that this typical dystopian pattern didn't take place, I'm actually glad. Relieved. Yes, this is a "fight to the death" scenario that carries the entire book that's all this story needs in terms of familiar patterns. It's the familiar with a twist and Chapman really makes it her own and it works.

Still, the doubts about how this world can carry own the way it can weigh on me and if those doubts hadn't been planted OR had been planted and simply carried through on the doubts, this book would have made a fine stand alone. Yet, there's a sequel. And of course, I will be reading that shortly. This book had me on edge on every page and I am dying for more conflict within this world so I am looking forward to read Divided. Dualed has thirteen fairly long chapters full of cat and mouse play so if you're in for a chase, this is the book for you!

Dualed by Elsie Chapman is available today.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller, Horror-Zombies, Steampunk
ISBN: 9780062083326
Source: Edelweiss
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In the conclusion to the trilogy that Publishers Weekly called “a roaring—and addictive—gothic world,” Eleanor Fitt must control her growing power, face her feelings for Daniel, and confront the evil necromancer Marcus...all before it’s too late.

He took her brother, he took her mother, and now, Marcus has taken her good friend Jie. With more determination than ever to bring this sinister man to justice, Eleanor heads to the hot desert streets of nineteenth-century Egypt in hopes of ending this nightmare. But in addition to her increasingly tense relationships with Daniel, Joseph, and her demon, Oliver, Eleanor must also deal with her former friend, Allison, who has curiously entangled herself in Eleanor’s mission.

With the rising dead chomping at her every move and Jie’s life hanging in the balance, Eleanor is convinced that her black magic will see her through to the bitter end. But there will be a price. Though she and the Spirit Hunters have weathered every battle thus far, there will be consequences to suffer this time—the effects of which will be irreversible. And when it’s over, only some will be able to live a strange and ever after.

It's here! The conclusion to the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy is here! It feels like just yesterday I was buying Something Strange and Deadly and in the blink of an eye this read-along and book club took place, so it's pretty surreal to have the ending of the trilogy in my hands now. Even better, it's a great feeling having finished the trilogy, knowing that my love for this story remains just as strong as it's been since the beginning.

We fell in love with these characters in Deadly and Ever After and now more than ever, each and every one of them have some very tough decisions to make for the greater good and for themselves. Eleanor is still connected to the demon, Oliver and the two have a deal to live up to, no matter what conflicts get in the way. But are there some conflicts that are just too big to get to the end result that they both want? I had my hopes that this story line would go a certain way so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy with how this turned out. Eleanor must also accept the newest member of the Spirit Hunters... Allison Wilcox. This was awfully unnerving. Then humorous. And unnerving again. Oh, Allison. I felt Eleanor's pain when Allison volunteered herself to come along for the ride, this being the only way Eleanor would pay attention to the girl. The distraction. The liability. Then I let my guard down, wanting Eleanor to accept her too and even though it turned out Allison shouldn't have come along in the end, I am ultimately glad that she did. This was a learning experience for everyone and that's an understatement!

As much as I also want to talk about Jie and Daniel, my emotions are a bit too all over the place right for that. I will say that one of the most striking moments for me in the book was when Jie was frantic about wanting to cut her hair because Marcus, who kidnapped her, had touched it. Wow. Talk about cutting deep. And while I don't want to forget about Joseph, the stakes for him weren't nearly as high as the stakes for others as we see play out. Sure, he could have died at any moment just like the rest of them could have but the emotional stakes were level enough for me to accept whatever came his way. He was a great support but ultimately, Eleanor, our main character has to decide for herself what her relationship with Oliver, Daniel, and magic will evolve into. And I loved watching Eleanor make the decisions as the end neared. Now in regards to Marcus... I do wish there had been one or two more surprises/twists from him throughout the book but aside from that, I was really satisfied with where the characters went in the final showdown.

As for the setting... Something Strange and Deadly is set in Philadelphia. And even though the time period is different, not a ton has changed structurally in this beautiful, beautiful city that I frequent often as a NJ resident so this entire reading experience was so easy and lovely to envision. If for whatever reason, you are unaware... I've been fascinated with France since the second grade (don't ask me why, I have no idea why) so I was overjoyed when I realized the sequel, A Darkness Strange & Lovely would be set in France. Talk about a winner! But then... then it was revealed that Strange and Ever After would be set in Egypt. And aside from pyramids and biblical landmarks, I've got nothing in my head to imagine here and I was really worried that I wouldn't be as visually immersed as I was the first two times in the series. And because I just described my biased, it's clear that Egypt was not my favorite setting but I can say that Egypt was very fun and easy to envision and looking back, I should have expected walking mummies but I totally didn't so that was super exciting! Dennard utilizes her settings in each book to the max and this was no different.

What makes this conclusion so satisfying for me though is that it's not a happy ending with a pretty bow on top. This is a story about sacrifice. A story about loss and gain. Love and acceptance. Of team work... or a lack thereof. Of understanding. Mistakes. Grace. Of being human. This is a story about so many things and it's so tangible and heartfelt and heartbreaking. All of the pieces to the puzzle come together so fluidly with such depth and here I thought I was simply in for one exciting action packed zombie thrill ride at the beginning of the trilogy. Boy, was I in for so much more.

Now, I haven't read many zombie books but the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy easily makes it into my top 5 favorite zombie books! Susan not only mastered and maintained rich settings, character development, world building, and storytelling throughout this trilogy, she delivered an exceptional ending and that is not easy to do. I know she worked her butt off to give us this incredible ending and she should be very proud! To not only meet the end of a trilogy but meet the end with what I know will satisfy many readers. Achievement unlocked! If the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy is on your list of books to read, I highly encourage moving the series up your list and getting to it this summer. This is one trilogy I know you'll enjoy from start to finish.

Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard is available today.

What to Watch This Weekend: Netflix Edition #18

On the weekend, I recommend movies, documentaries, and/or TV series that I found through Netflix or started watching because it was conveniently on Netflix and I had been meaning to get to that movie/documentary/TV show for some time. Usually, my recommendations are of streaming titles. This week, only the first title is streaming.


Short Term 12

A new charge at a foster care facility dredges up the memories of a young supervisor's own troubled past, and her tough exterior begins eroding.

I watched this back in March and still get the feels thinking about it.

Ruby Sparks

In an effort to conquer his writer's block, a young novelist -- who's having trouble duplicating the success of his earlier work -- jots down all the attributes of his dream girl. But things get weird when she suddenly comes to life.

What a fascinating and phenomenally executed movie. Just wonderful.

"What To Watch This Weekend: Netflix Edition" 2014 Posts:
June 27, 2014
July 4, 2014
July 11, 2014
July 18, 2014
July 25, 2014

"What To Watch This Weekend: Netflix Edition" 2013 Posts:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Between Two Worlds Part One: TV Writer, Shawna Benson (The 100, Emma Approved) Guest Post

It's no secret that I absolutely love television. But until the fall when most of my favorite TV shows return, it can be easy for my newer readers to forget that aside from reading and revising my manuscript, watching TV and writing for TV are also passions and aspirations of mine and many of my readers.

So what better a reminder than to get back to the basics of what this blog is all about and give you Hollywood the Write Way, take you inside the writer's room of a hit TV show?

The CW's The 100 to be exact (Season two premieres October 22nd). Not only that, our guest writer, Shawna Benson also works on the hit series, Emma Approved which I know all of you book nerds love! Below is how Shawna landed these incredible opportunities and how you could too. Stay tuned for more from Shawna in part two! Readers, writers, TV lovers, dreamers... this one's for you.

I know you.

I’ve been you…hell, I am you. And I know what you’re thinking – what in the name of Hades qualifies her to write a guest post for this blog? I’m not sure I really have the answer to that question, since I’m wondering that very same thing, but I was asked to write about my experiences working in TV and digital entertainment, and here I am. Perhaps when this is over, we’ll both know why I’m here writing this…

Television and digital (online) content. So similar, and yet so different, still. They are like two cousins – same family, and yet, if you got them together at a family cookout you might wonder what the hell the two have in common with each other. That one over there has red hair! The other went to USC while ginger boy barely got through community college…

The fact is, it’s all entertainment, or scripted content, in my case. My day job is that of the Writers’ Assistant on CW’s THE 100, but I also moonlight writing freelance episodes of Pemberley Digital’s EMMA APPROVED, with my sister, Julie. The two jobs share a lot of the same qualities – breaking story as writers in a group, for example, and yet due to their very different budgets and production schedules, moving back and forth between the two worlds can be challenging.

I started this by saying ‘I am you.’ Until this year, I was in exactly the position of every other person who is looking to break into the industry and just not making a dent. I won’t bore you with all of the various stops and starts on the long journey I’ve had thus far (but rest assured there are going to be stops and starts on your journey too – just like rush hour traffic on the 405); suffice to say, if it weren’t for those stops and starts I wouldn’t be where I am now.

You’ve heard before that one of the most important things you can do to establish a career in this industry is to make connections with as many people as you can. You never know which connection will be the one that helps you make progress toward your goals. In getting my job on THE 100, it was invaluable to have made friends with other writers, one of whom my sister and I had known for a few years and who became the Writers’ Assistant for THE 100 in its first season. She was promoted to staff writer and needed to backfill her position. She reached out to those of us who were friends to see if we knew anyone, and I offered myself up for the job, much to her enthusiastic approval. She put in the word for me, and here I am, sitting in the writers’ room, taking notes and gaining invaluable experience on a network TV show. A connection I made years ago with a fellow writer paid off in ways I could never imagine when I forged the friendship.

The work my sister and I are doing on EMMA APPROVED is also the result of relationships. Many years ago I was enrolled in a UCLA Extension Class learning to write TV scripts. A fellow classmate and I became very good friends and our friendship continued long after the class was over. We’d often discuss our scripts as we worked on them and swapped material. He decided to make the jump into developing content for the web, and I continued on my path to writing TV pilots and specs. He and I even collaborated on a multi-platform series I pitched to him after he’d had some critical success with his first self-produced webseries and was getting doors opened to him to pitch new series around town. We sold the pitch and then even resold it, though sadly the project never got made.

While we wrote that series together, he told me about another project he was working on – a modern day retelling of PRIDE & PREJUDICE he was working on with Hank Green. He had no idea if it would be successful, but he was excited to be trying something new in the medium. From that, Bernie Su created an internet success in THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES, a webseries that not only attracted a legion of fans but even an EMMY award! When Bernie set out to develop EMMA into its own modern adaptation, I expressed to him my appreciation for the work he had done on LIZZIE BENNET and that Julie and I would love to work with him on EMMA. When the time came that he needed new writers, he reached out to us, and we joined the team, breaking story with the other writers and writing episodes. Once again, a connection made years ago resulted in a job.

So now you’re thinking, ‘well that’s all nice and good, but what if I don’t have those kinds of connections yet?’ We all have to start somewhere. If you don’t live in Los Angeles, making connections within the entertainment industry can be really difficult, but not impossible. Leverage alumni associations of your schools, whether it is high school or colleges. Very often you can find others that attended your school and are very open to talking to current or former students of their alma mater. The internet has made it so much easier to find others with common interests and goals, as well as mentors. Websites, such as The Blacklist can be a great place to connect with other writers. They host writer run blogs and user forums, as well as provide a service to have your work seen by those in the industry and by other writers. Surprisingly, LinkedIn has become a more useful site among industry professionals. I’ve recently made connections with a few other writers’ assistants via the site – there are also discussions forums there which may be useful. Twitter is probably the most immediate and useful interface you can have with other writers. It’s easy to start following writers you like and admire, as well as find those who are trying to break in like you to form a network, including in person or virtual writers’ groups.

If you live in Los Angeles already, you are probably already attending industry events. The Writers Guild Foundation hosts many great events as well as maintains the fantastic library at the Writers Guild. If you can’t attend their events, they’ve recently started releasing some of their previous panels via a new podcast on iTunes. Another great event which serves as a podcast is the Nerdist Writer’s Panel hosted by Ben Blacker. Every month at Meltdown Comics, Blacker brings in writers of TV, film and comics to talk shop. Attending live is a great way to ask questions and meet writers (and network) at low cost. Other great podcasts include John August and Craig Mazin’s Scriptnotes and The Children of Tendu -- two television writers Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina joined the fray, dishing out actionable advice to aspiring TV writers. All are free resources you should take advantage of.

If you have a keen interest in writing your own series for the web, I recommend getting on the Tubefilter mailing list. Tubefilter hosts events which focus on the good and bad of traversing the digital landscape while networking with others who are interested in being their own producers.

I got so long-winded, I’m splitting my essay into two parts. Come back next week when I dig into the differences between working in TV and digital (web) content. Should be a doozy…

Shawna Benson is a writer and a writers' assistant. She aspires to be more the former and less the latter in the near future. She lives in Hollywood with her sister and writing partner Julie and their adopted canine son Gideon, who is a jerk.

For more from Shawna Benson, be sure to visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.