Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book Review: The Lucy Variations

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano -- on her own terms. But when you're used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It's about finding joy again, even when things don't go according to plan. Because life isn't a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.

I was counting down the days until The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr hit the shelves. I'd read and loved her previous four books, so I had high expectations for this one. And she did not disappoint.

Lucy comes from a well-off family. She and her brother play the piano. And I don't mean just a few times a week, with lessons one day, and a year-end recital. It's almost their entire lives. But Lucy quits and tries to take control of her life. Her grandfather is a music lover, and her mother grew up playing. So the pressure Lucy and Gus face to not only play, but play perfectly, is high. The book picks up after some time has passed since Lucy quit, and she's considering maybe, possibly playing again.

As with the last several releases by Sara Zarr, I went into it without knowing what it was about. I find that to be a lot of fun. I didn't know what to expect except a girl named Lucy and a piano in there somewhere. Her writing is fantastic, and her story-telling really sucked me in. The Lucy Variations was very different from her previous releases. I think this is due to her growth as a writer, considering this is her fifth YA contemporary published.

Lucy's book is not my favorite of Zarr's, but it was definitely an enjoyable read. (All of her books are worth picking up. It's some of the best contemporary YA out there, in my opinion.) Beware, it will make you cry. But it will also make you laugh. I have a love/hate relationship with Lucy. Sometimes I felt like I really understood her, and sometimes I wanted to smack her. But, for me, that's the perfect kind of book. Pick it up. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: Far Far Away

It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specificially, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings. . .

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal caught my eye when I read that it included Jacob Grimm. Or, rather, his ghost. I'm a huge lover of faery tales.

I had a bit of trouble getting into this one. The ghost of Jacob Grimm narrates the story while the two main characters are Jeremy Johnson Johnson and Ginger Boultinghouse. It was confusing at first as it reads like a 3rd person narrative, but it's not. It's first person, but our narrator spends most of the time observing and little time interacting. Then when he says "I" I had to think about who was speaking. Unfortunately, it took me a third of the book to get used to this.

It also took me about a third of the book to start caring about Jeremy and Ginger. The start was slow, but once it picked up, I didn't want to put it down. The main characters were a lot fun, and I really enjoyed their relationship. The interactions with those around town were interesting and diverse. And the twist when the villain is revealed was surprising.

Far Far Away was really interesting. I've used that term a few times, but it really fits. And it was a very enjoyable read. I'm sad that it appears to be a standalone. I learned some new words in German and Swedish and some interesting facts about two of my favorite fairy tale collectors. I recommend this book to anyone looking for something different. It is certainly unique among YA books that have hit shelves recently.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Author Interview: Sarah Dessen

I was so honored when I was asked to interview Sarah Dessen at her recent event in DC. I’ve met her before, and she is such a sweetheart, so I was very excited to get this one-on-one time. Sarah’s answers are paraphrased, not direct quotes unless it’s within quotes.

Aine: What was the inspiration for your latest novel, The Moon and More?

Sarah: I was at my favorite spot in North Carolina, Emerald Isle. I had finished What Happened to Goodbye and had no idea what to write next. A hot shirtless guy, who was rather chatty, spoke with me. He was from Emerald Isle and told me all about growing up there. A lot of my books are set in Colby, which is based on Emerald Isle, but I had never written about anyone from there. After speaking with him, I thought “There’s my book.”

Aine: If I recall correctly, it was announced under a different title. Why the name change?

Sarah: The Moon and More was my original title. But we were worried that people would think that with the word “moon” in the title, readers would think it was a sequel to Keeping the Moon even though that was published a long time ago. So it was announced under The Best After Ever, but it was a bit confusing as “after” and “ever” were often switched. The next title had the word “summer” in it, and we were worried that it would not stay on bookshelves once summer passed. So, we went back to my original title, The Moon and More.

Aine: I know you have a young daughter. Has she inspired anything in your books?

Sarah: Absolutely. It made me focus more on the mother/daughter relationship. It made me want to flesh out the teen characters’ mothers. I understand the mother’s more. There will likely be more children in the new novels.

Aine: Which character do you have the most in common with? Which would’ve been your BFF in high school.

Sarah: Halley from Someone Like You is the most like you. In high school, I often trailed after my friends, being more of a follower. Remy from This Lullaby and Emaline from The Moon and More would’ve been my best friends. They’re also the two characters I’m the least like.

Aine: What can you tell me about what you’re working on now?

Sarah: I don’t talk about what I’m working on, but there is something I’m writing. It’s secret.

Aine: Do you have any critique partners?

Sarah: No. I’m very secretive about my work. My agent reads it once a very polished draft is done. And then my editor. My husband, family, and friends, don’t even read it until it’s in ARC form.

Aine: What books would you recommend to your fans that are comparable to your work?

Sarah: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Jenny Hahn’s Summer series, and anything by Sara Zarr.

Aine: What’s on your tbr pile?

Sarah: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I just finished Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight which is like Gone Girl for teens.

Aine: I’ve heard your books referred to as YA light? Is that intentional?

Sarah: I think it’s just the way I write. I don’t write anything too dark or shocking. If I did, it probably wouldn’t feel genuine.

Aine: All of your books are written in first person. Is there a reason for that?

Sarah: It’s easier. I’ve always written in first person. It allows me to explore her in more depth. It gives the readers more insight. I tried writing The Moon and More in present tense, but I had to go back and change that.

Aine: This is your eleventh books. Is putting it out into the world just as exciting and/or nerve-wracking as the first one?

Sarah: It’s more so. There are more readers picking it up. Every release is scarier.

Aine: How do you feel about the new covers? Do you like them more than the old ones?

Sarah: I like all of my covers. I like the change. A fresh look is always good as it might draw in more readers. I think it makes them more timeless.

I asked twitter what questions they would like me to ask. Here is what I got from those.

Aine/Maggie: When your daughter is old enough, which if your books would you give her to read first?

Sarah: That Summer. It’s my first book, and I would want her to read them in the order they were written to see my evolution as an author.

Aine/Sandy: Have you considered writing a male protagonist?

Sarah: I get asked this all the time… not really. I don’t know what guys are thinking. I’d be worried he would be too much like the girls.

Aine/Maggie: How has your writing changed since becoming a mom?

Sarah: I’m more focused. I had to be. I’m also more relaxed and less obsessive about what I’m about to write or have just written. I’ve become more efficient, and I feel so much more sympathy for the mothers in my books.

Thank you so much to Sarah Dessen for the interview and Penguin for this opportunity.