Friday, January 27, 2012

Pretty Crooked Book Review

Title: Pretty Crooked
Author: Elisa Ludwig
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0062066060

236 pp.

ARC from publisher via Netgalley

What's weird is that as I'm writing this book review at a coffeehouse, two young white women are talking about their time in private school and how two Latino kids (the only two in the school!) spoke Spanish together in the cafeteria and how stigmatizing that was.

So Elisa Ludwig seems to have tapped into a certain private school zeitgeist in her debut novel (the first in a series), Pretty Crooked.

Willa Fox is the newbie at ultra-rich Valley Prep. After years of moving around the country with her bohemian mom, a big sale of her mom's artwork gives them the cash to live it up in fancy schmancy Paradise Valley, Arizona. Willa starts hanging out with the all-powerful Glitterati and moons over cute boy Aidan.

Except all is not well in her shiny new world. First of all, Willa learns that the Glitterati are cyber-bullying the Latino scholarship kids. As a newbie, she doesn't feel she has the clout to stop it. But she gets the admittedly crazy idea to steal from the Glitterati and give the money to the needy students a la Robin Hood. Secondly, her mom begins acting secretive and distant and Willa suspects she's meeting a man. But when Willa's hiding a big secret of her own, she can't exactly confront her mom.

I liked Willa's snarky voice and Aidan is a more well-rounded cute boy than I've read in awhile. I loved that the author wrote a story that wasn't just about shopping and mean girls, but also brought up questions about race and class.

A few things bumped me, though, and one of them was how the author handled race. And if you don't want to read me going all PC Police, then go ahead and skip this paragraph. (still with me? good.) When Willa meets the scholarship kids, who are speaking Spanish in the cafeteria, she calls them Mexicans. Well, they could be Mexican citizens, but chances are, they're not. They're probably Mexican-Americans. But they might be Guatemalan-American or Salvadoran-American or Something Else-American. Plus, calling them just "Mexicans" further stigmatizes them by taking away their American identity. Why Elisa Ludwig didn't use the generic and usually PC acceptable "Latino" is odd to me. Lumping all brown skin others as "Mexican" is a big PC no-no. Just sayin'.

(skip this paragraph, too, if you've had enough of my PC rant) What makes me sad about the author's word choice of "Mexican" is that it could have been a great character moment. Willa, once she befriends the scholarship kids, could learn how uncool it is to call them "Mexican." But that never happens. And what makes me sadder is that this probably arises from a larger issue of there not being enough editors who are people of color and who could have pointed that out. Now, this was an ARC, so there is a chance that someone caught and changed this before the final proof. We'll see. (end of PC rant. promise.)

The other thing that bumped me was that the last, big moment between Aidan and Willa was not earned at all. I felt it came out of nowhere for no good reason. I could go on, but I don't want to get spoiler-y. But, again, this was an ARC, so maybe the ending changed. I did notice that my ARC copy was 236 pages, but Amazon says the book has 368 pages. I've never seen that big of a discrepancy between an ARC and a finished book before. I think I may need to do an update on this book after it's released.

I'd recommend this book to readers who liked Lives of Our Own by Lorri Hewett or Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Research Tools for Writers

There are times when writing must take a backseat to research. Those writing historical novels or nonfiction usually need to do more research than other types of writers, but at some point, all writers need to pick up their mouse and do some research.

Sometimes it's at the beginning of the project, when you need to dig into another time or place or career or lifestyle that you're not familiar with. Then you can build characters and setting and plot from all the great research.

Sometimes the research comes at the end, when those gaps you've put off must be filled. (I tend to put a series of x's as a placeholder for a description or scene I'll fill in later because I don't want to do the research as I'm writing.)

Research has never been easier since the interwebs have come along and Google is a writer's best friend. But there are times when Google may not be good enough. A Google search may not find the primary sources you need. Or you come up against a paywall to a subscription database. Lucky for you, libraries often pay for those expensive subscription databases.

Here's a short list of some useful databases:

Ancestry: You've probably heard of this genealogy database with census, military, and other historical records. What you may not know is that many libraries offer access to all this information for just a library card. Great for historical writers.

Freegal: If you like to create playlists for your characters, then you should check out Freegal. Freedown music downloads from Sony Music's catalog.

Foundation Grants to Individuals: Maybe there's a conference you can't afford to attend. Maybe you want to visit the place you're writing about. This database will help you find grants you qualify for.
  
MasterfileComplete: Thousands of magazine and journal articles are available to access. Perfect for the nonfiction writer.

Novelist: This is the go-to database librarians use to find authors and their works, and more importantly, read-alikes of authors and their works. When a patron comes to the desk and says, "I've read all the Sookie Stackhouse books. What else have you got?" ... that's when I go to Novelist and find other authors the patron may like. This is a fantastic tool for writers writing query letters and looking for books similar to their own. It's also good for writers looking to research a particular genre.

Oxford English Dictionary: The complete 20 volume set of the OED would set you back over $1200. You can get it for free on a library database.

These databases are the ones I thought would most benefit writers, but there are other excellent databases for everyday life. Consumer Health Complete for medical journals, Mango Languages to learn a foreign language, Auto Repair Reference Center for DIY auto repair.

Check your local library to see what databases are available!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

World Book Night

Attention all librarians, writers, and lovers of books! World Book Night is coming to the U.S. on April 23 and you can be a part of it!

What's World Book Night? It's where people spread some reading love by giving away books to people who may not normally pick up a book. The books are pre-selected and provided for FREE by publishers and include fiction, non-fiction, and children's titles. (You can see the 30 chosen titles here.)

But to make it work, a veritable army of booklovers are needed to pick up and distribute the books. You can apply to be a book-giver at www.us.worldbooknight.org and applications are due by February 1, 2012. They are looking for people to go out into the community to give the books away and as part of the application you need to be clear about where you will distribute the books. So think women's shelter or hospital or senior center, not friends at work.

In case you were wondering why April 23, that happens to be the day traditionally celebrated as William Shakespeare's birthday. And since the program began in the U.K., the Brits got to choose the date.

If one of your goals for 2012 was to give back more to the community, this is an excellent way to get started!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Looking Ahead to 2012

The great thing about a new year is that it's full of possibilities and hope. It's a time to try new things, set priorities, and start fresh.

In honor to all things new, there's a new look to the blog, with additional pages for book reviews, my book review policy, and a contact page.

My hope for the blog during the coming year is to share my thoughts and experiences as a writer and librarian to like-minded book lovers. And also share the occasional cat video.

I have several professional and personal goals this year. One is to attend the 2012 ALA summer conference. It's in Anaheim this year, just a couple of freeways away from where I am. It's a wonderful conference for professional development, to meet up with old friends, and snag a bunch of ARCs.

Another goal is to keep working on and (hopefully) finish the WIP. I'd like to have it sparkly enough to begin querying agents, but what I really want is the best possible manuscript. (I also have a sekrit screenplay project going on, but I'll reveal more when there's more happening.)

My third goal is to complete the 2012 Debut Author Challenge. I had a great time discovering new authors last year, and I'm looking forward to this year's crop of titles.

There's a few mini-goals for the year, too:
  • Continue to build list of agents I've researched
  • Learn basic phrases in Brazilian Portuguese
  • Take a sewing class
My overall goal for the year is to seek a life balance between writing, work, and personal growth.  A trip to South America is planned for later this year, and I want to increase my sewing skills since I haven't sewed since 8th grade home ec.

I hope everyone has a happy and prosperous New Year. What are some of your goals for the upcoming year?


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