Or, as I more affectionately think of it, the reason I no longer trust chat bots. Thanks for that, Bekka.

Who remembers this review? iDrakula sparked some interesting conversation at the time. Did retelling this classic horror story through text messages and e-mails somehow lessen the importance of the original? Some said that it was “dumbing down” the language and making it easy for this generation to ignore the classic story, while I maintain that the format sparked a greater interest in the original. That being said, Bekka Black did not stop with vampires. She took on Shelley’s Frankenstein.

For those unaware, the basic premise of Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley is that a scientist creates life, is frightened of his creation, and then becomes at odds with the monster. There’s a lot more to it, like murder, obsession, and love– but I think for one sentence I’ve captured the plot well enough for you to get the idea. Moving on.

iFrankenstein takes the 1830’s story and launches it into the 21st century. It is told through text messages, e-mails, and even web sites. I find this to be perfect given that its inspiration was written as an epistolary novel (written in letters). It’s a wonderful nod to the original story. Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant young man who is stuck on a cruise with his father, his best friend’s mother, and Elizabeth. Too bad he’s too connected to realize that she’s there half the time. The focus of his online obsession is his chatbot project. If he can create a chatbot that can pass the Turing Test (respond in a way that a human would be unable to tell that it is talking to a robot), he will win a scholarship and be off to college a year early. This will mean his freedom. However, his brilliance runs away with him and the chatbot, Virtual Victor, is a little smarter than he realized.

The story is absolutely thrilling and gripping. I devoured it in one sitting. There is something captivating about reading conversations between strangers. You’re looking in on their lives and learning about them without pages of exposition. The great thing is that Black uses all of Shelley’s characters in one way or another, though she changed how they relate to each other.

True to Shelley, iFrankenstein contains the right amount of horror and science fiction. It is absolutely terrifying what a computer can do when it becomes smarter than it was programmed to be. It makes me so happy I don’t have the iPhone 4S or 5; Siri would haunt my dreams after reading this.

On the downside, I felt that it ran a little short. I wish there had been a bit more. There was not as much interaction as I expected. There was one clickable link in my Kindle version of the book, which was the coolest thing. I loved being able to click on that link and see what the characters are seeing. I wish there had been either more websites we could visit, a web cam feed we could spy on, something more to do while we read. This was a book that was very much about the digital age and it was not quite utilized to its fullest potential. Hopefully the iFrankenstein app for Apple will debunk what I’ve just said. Unfortunately, we won’t find out till Christmas.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book. I feel it will inspire you to read the original if you haven’t already, and will totally change how you feel about technology and our dependance on it. Check out Bekka Black here and leave her some love.

Happy reading!


This evening I will be chatting with the boys from Crash Chords. We’ll be talking about how music plays a role in YA and how literature can inspire great music. So, no real post today unfortunately since I am preparing for the Crash Chords podcast tonight. Check back tomorrow for a link to the show!

Let’s Go to the Movies

How often has your favorite book been rehashed and redesigned as a film? It has been done for ages, classic stories finally told through action. There are endless variations of A Christmas Carol and a new take on Sherlock Holmes every year it seems. Lately, it seems that a lot of Young Adult books are just begging to come to life.

With the recent success of The Hunger Games DVD, it feels appropriate to discuss the ways in which a film adaptation can help a book and ways in which it can hinder the book’s sales. So many things can go wrong in a fan’s eyes when it comes to taking a precious book and bringing it to life. The wrong actor could be cast, the script could have nothing to do with the story, the effects could be awful– the possible disasters give me the shivers, especially when it’s one of my great loves on the line. I find that I will be less stressed about the film if I put space between my reading and the film’s release. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes.

The Hunger Games film adaptation was an interesting experience for me. It didn’t strike me as an adaptation as much as it was a companion. Many elements of the story were revealed to the reader through Katniss’ own thought process. Her deductive reasoning made sense for us. In a film, that would have been difficult to portray. So, they took a different route. Instead, we were shown what was going on outside of the arena. How did Seneca Crane make the decision to bend the rules? How did Haymitch build the support for Katniss? These were things we barely thought about as we read while we focused hard on Katniss and Peeta’s fight for survival. The film showed a great deal of the Capitol that we did not see through Katniss’ eyes. I found the film to be enjoyable because of this. It stood apart without being completely independent.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, however, was a touch of a disappointment for me. This book was my bible. I carried it around in my bag and read random passages when I needed to slip between the pages and escape. The film had an amazing soundtrack, which given the book’s heavy musical influence was to be expected. Kat Dennings was brilliant as Norah, but I felt that Michael Cera ruined the character of Nick. I’m sorry, Cera. You were an awesome Scott Pilgrim, but you turned my wonderfully romantic Nick into a complete wuss. Sure, Nick was a touch Emo, but it was more about the music for him. Cera’s Nick was a complete mope with a serious case of the glooms. There were switches and additions that I appreciated, Caroline’s drunken escapade for example. I will always be sad that they left out “On Ludlow”, the improvised song Nick sings when he is left behind by Norah. Overall the film was “meh”, it didn’t leave me with the cathartic feeling of the book nor did I swoon after Nick. Damn you, Cera. Damn you.

Now, for a complete disappointment. Have you ever read Blood and Chocolate? If not, you should. It’s a beautiful story of a werewolf girl trying to figure out what it means to be one of the pack but yet still human at the same time. She is constantly at war with herself, consumed by the idea that she could be loved by a human for who she really is. The language is powerful, the characters are exciting, and the story does not end how you would expect. Now, have you ever seen the movie Blood and Chocolate? I don’t recommend it. The only thing in common between the book and film was the names of the characters and the title. It took place in a completely different country, the main character is older, the laws of the pack are completely different, and the dynamics of the characters are totally upended. It was painful for me to watch as a fan of the book. Had I never heard of the book, I’m sure the film would have been perfectly entertaining. However, I find that when you adapt a novel there should be more than a shred of similarity between the two.

Film adaptations of books will never be perfect. We will always find something that didn’t match up to our imagination. All we can do is hold them separately and hope. Cross our fingers and give the benefit of the doubt. Save the bitching for later, because honestly it won’t do you any good until you see the proof with your own eyes.If you’re curious about more book to film adaptations to compare, check out Howl’s Moving Castle, Charlotte’s Web (animated and live action just to compare), Harry Potter (though you should be familiar with those), The Wizard of Oz, and Pride and Prejudice (with Kiera Knightly and Matthew McFadden).
Doghouse Diaries has a delightful comic about this topic over on their web site. You should check it out.

Also, if you’re a Cassandra Clare fan and you’ve been waiting to see who has been cast to play the most bad ass Shadowhunters in town, saunter on over to http://themortalinstrumentsmovie.com/ and sigh over this beautiful cast.

Reading on the Go: Goodreads

With the invention of the smart phone, people have found ways to take their whole lives on the go with them. From music, to movies, and even to books, we are not content unless everything is at our fingertips. Some things are harder to keep near us than others. When I got my first smart phone, an Android, I was hard pressed to find a suitable book cataloging app that wouldn’t break the bank. Eventually, I found one that did exactly what I needed– too bad my phone was slow and outdated. I could barely use the awesome app I had found. So, I had to move on from my Android to my new and shiny iPhone 4.

Admittedly, I am a little late to the Goodreads party. Many of my friends and fellow readers have been using this site for a few years to keep track of the 20120821-203230.jpgbooks they’ve read, their reviews, and what their friends are reading. I’ve had an account, but haven’t done anything with it until recently. I downloaded the free iPad app and spent a day learning what it had to offer. From the home screen, there are a lot of things to do. I started with visiting my profile so I could change my picture from the standard silhouette to something more recent. That done, I settled down to examine the app. I dropped by the updates and checked out what my friends have been doing. The update screen gives you all of your friends’ added books, reviews, ratings, giveaways, comments, and pretty much everything they’ve been doing on Goodreads. If you have a lot of friends, then this might be overwhelming. You can easily change the kinds of updates and who you get updates from by going to the settings page. Only want to see the reviews? You can narrow it down. Have a lot of “friends” and not too many that you actually care about? Narrow it down to top friends. This will allow you to look through what you find important instead of being inundated with what you might find to be useless information.

20120821-203354.jpgThe cataloging portion of the app is pretty easy to understand. If you have a stack of books you want to catalog, you can tap scan and use your mobile device’s camera to recognize the bar code, identify the ISBN, and pull up the book. You can scan multiple books and they will wait under “Scanned Books” until you’ve done what you needed with them (added them to a bookshelf or obtain information). Then you can clear out the list and start again later. Afterwards, you can tap on “my books” and see what you have on your book shelves. The three standard shelves are “read”, “currently-reading”, and “to-read”. You can add other bookshelves if you want to create sub-categories. The only problem I’ve found with this system is the scanner can sometimes take longer to identify the ISBN depending on the texture of the book. This is not too much of a problem, it just tries my patience when my hands shake. If you do not have the bar code on hand (you lost the book jacket, it’s damaged, etc.), then you can tap on search and locate the book manually. The archives seem to be in good order, I have yet to hit a wall in trying to find a particular book or author. You can also keep track of your progress while reading, posting what page you’re up to and what you think so far by going to the home page and selecting “My Progress”.

Another interesting feature is an events page, showing you literary events in your area. Observing these events means being brought to the Goodreads 20120821-203320.jpgweb site through the app, which is not as clean as a calendar might be. Unfortunately, from the app you cannot see which events your friends may be attending. Also, the events are not organized in a coherent manner. I thought that the events might be listed as they are upcoming, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the organization. Unfortunately, organization in lists seems to be a point on which the Goodreads app fails. Not only in events, but also if you tap explore and look at a particular genre you will find that the books are not in any sort of order. I tried to make sense of them through ratings, amount of ratings, publication date, but the order is haphazard. The only part of the app that makes organization easy is the bookshelves, which to be honest is all that matters to me. Another point that is annoying about this app is that there is a section for groups, but no way to find groups to join. You can only look at groups that you have already joined through the web site. It would be helpful if you were able to browse available groups through the app and join them right there.

Overall, if you’re looking for a way to catalog your books or a way to discover what your friends are reading and what you should read, the Goodreads app is great. If you’re looking to use other features of the Goodreads web site, you’re better off waiting until you can get to a computer. Check out the Goodreads web site or visit me on Goodreads if you would like to see what I’m reading!

Flashback: Tamora Pierce Part 2

Remember when I wrote this article? Well, my review was a bit incomplete. At the time, I had read the Circle books at least ten times a piece and only a handful of Tortall books. To be honest, I went about the Tortall books nearly backwards! I started with Daughter of the Lioness (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) which told the adventures of Alianne of Pirate’s Swoop, daughter of Alanna the Lioness and Baron George Cooper. Because of that, I already knew which way many relationships worked out from previous quartets I had not read. At the time it didn’t phase me because I was so focused on Aly. I didn’t realize that I was reading spoilers! The knowledge that I gleaned from the Trickster books gave me an interesting perspective for reading the Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, and the Protector of the Small Quartets. I already knew where these characters would end up, just not how they got there. In a way, this made me even more interested in reading these earlier books.

Song of the Lioness Quartet

Tamora Pierce creates role models for girls with her strong female characters (though boys will love her books, too). She started with Alanna, a young girl whose ambition was to become a knight. She and her twin brother, however, were not to have what they truly wants as far as their father was concerned. Thom was to become a knight though he wanted to become a great sorcerer, and Alanna would become a lady, good for nothing but marriage and learning to run a fief. Alanna schemed to trade places with her brother, giving them both the chance that they wanted. Things would be easier for Thom, boys were often sent to the convent to be cared for until they were old enough to be trained in magic. Alanna, however, would have to hid her sex for eight years, pretending to be a boy throughout her Page and Squire training. Once she claimed her shield, then she would reveal the truth before running off to adventure. In a world where to be a woman is to be weak, Alanna proves otherwise. She soon discovers that her path is watched by the Goddess, who protects and offers help to Alanna when she can.

As an early series, the writing is not as polished as the Beka Cooper series or Will of the Empress. The pace is lightning quick, covering four years in just over a hundred pages in the first and second books (Alanna – The First Adventure covers Page training and In the Hand of the Goddess covers Squire training) and roughly a year in each the third and fourth books (The woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lioness Rampant). There are moments that move too quickly, like the friendship with Rogue George Cooper, while other moments feel drawn out– the confrontation between Alanna and Duke Roger of Conté lasted almost a decade, for example. Granted he was the main villain, so-to-speak, and he was driving the story on, I just felt like in a confrontation that long, the villain should be more present and perhaps trying harder to get in the heroine’s way. Song of the Lioness is still a great story with a positive message not only for girls, but for anyone who’s afraid to go after what they want. If you want it badly enough, the risks are worth it.

The Immortals Quartet

The Immortals takes place almost a decade after Lioness Rampant and is centered on Daine, an orphan girl whose mother and grandfather were killed by raiders. She is left without a clue as to who her father is. She lives in fear of a madness that she doesn’t understand, an ability to become one with animals and forget her humanity. As she tries to escape the village that now wants her dead in order to cleanse the madness she suffers from, she becomes involved with the lives of Alanna and her costars from Song of the Lioness. It isn’t long before she learns that the madness is really uncontrolled Wild Magic. The Great Mage Numair takes her under his wing and teaches her how to connect with her magic and how to keep her humanity. This same year, Daine also faces an onslaught of Immortals that were released from their imprisonment in the Divine Realms. They begin to fight creatures like Spidrens (human-spider hybrids), Stormwings (human-bird hybrids with razor sharp metal feathers and claws), and learning more about creatures that would rather help– Ogres, Dragons, and Basilisks– the kingdom must find out how these dangerous beings were released and how some of their neighboring countries escape the violence the Immortals visit upon the land. Daine also learns about the truth behind her parentage along the way as well as the extraordinary limits of her power.

As Pierce progresses, the quality of work skyrockets. The pace is easier to contend with in this quartet, each book spaced about a year apart (Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, and The Realms of the Gods). Daine’s story does not feel rushed or forced. She follows her path at a steady speed. The reveals are not cheesy or overly predictable, after all you want the reader to have a vague idea of what’s coming. Even knowing what happens to Daine, I didn’t see a clear path until halfway through the last book. I identified most with Daine due to her love for animals, her feeling that even if people fail her, animals never will. Daine’s story is perfect for anyone battling loss, abandonment, or ostracization for being different.

Protector of the Small Quartet

Protector of the Small begins the same year that The Immortals ends. Telling the story of the first girl to follow in Alanna’s footsteps, and to be able to do so openly, this is also a somewhat fast paced tale. Keladry of Mindelan was raised in the Yamani Islands, where women were not treated as if they were porcelain. Noble women learned to defend themselves. Kel knew she had it in her to be a warrior. With strong ideas of chivalry, Kel could never stand by if injustice was being done. She truly cares about people and takes her status as a noble, a protector of people, very seriously. She will stand up to bullies– whether they are village boys, a band of raiders, her fellow Pages, or a necromancer stealing children from their families– and make it her mission to take them down. Kel does not have an easy time as the only female page. The training master puts her on probation, firmly believing that girls cannot withstand the trials of becoming a knight. Some boys are cruel to her while others see that she stands up for them and thus back her when she goes looking to stop the bullies from hurting more people. Her hero, the Lioness, is forbidden to even say a word to her should Kel be accused of obtaining her shield through magical assistance.

Kel’s story is possibly my second most favorite of Pierce’s works. While I identify most with Daine, Kel faces even more adversity than Alanna. The Lioness did not have to face abuse towards her sex until she was an adult, and even then few were brave enough to hurl that abuse to her face. Kel must withstand it as a child. Kel had to face cruel hazing, the threat of sexual abuse towards her and her maid, the constant fight to prove herself, and the fear that she might be sent away even if she does as well as everyone else. This series is perfect for teachers to introduce to students that are suffering from bullying. I identified with Kel’s journey though not necessarily her character. I was bullied very badly as a youth and didn’t have Kel’s bravery to stand up for myself. If you’ve ever been in that position, then please read these books. You’ll find that you were not alone. Kel stands up to the bullies, fights back, and stays strong even when they conspire to stand in her way.

Reading these books after having read Daughter of the Lioness and Beka Cooper made me snicker when I found connections, like Alanna’s cat Faithful and Beka’s cat Pounce– the constellation made flesh to help the heroines; the Dancing Dove created in Beka’s time to be used still by her rogue descendant, George; and the consistent geography of Tortall. Some things were also explained. All the while reading Beka Cooper’s story, I wondered why the Goddess as the Gentle Mother was being brought up at every turn. This representation of the Goddess frowns upon women who fight, women who dirty themselves with violence, i.e women like all of Pierce’s heroines. During Beka Cooper’s time, there were Lady Knights as well as women working the Provost’s beat. The introduction of the Goddess as the Gentle Mother offers an explanation as to why Lady Knights were phased out over the years. There is still so much about these characters that I would love to know. How did George rise up to become the Rogue? What was he doing as Alanna earned her shield? What of Numair? How did he become a fugitive from Carthak? Of the Circle books, what the heck happened to Briar, Evvy, and Rosethorn in Yanjing? Too many questions Tammy! Fortunately, it seems that at least one question might be answered. It is rumored that Battle Magic, the story of the war Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy witnessed and survived, will be released in February of 2013. Fingers crossed, folks!

On a final note, I will leave you with this theory: Emelan and Tortall are in the same universe, across the Endless Sea/Emerald Ocean from each other. Evidence? Not much besides neither world investing much in exploration past a certain point– in both worlds, islands famed for their copper export. Coincidence? Maybe. But how often does Pierce leave things to coincidence in a world guided by the gods?

Visit Tamora Pierce’s web site and learn more about her and her books!

Good Books with Bad Editors

“The gallant hero prepared to mount his house,” Wait, what? House? Oh, his horse. It should say horse.

And just like that, the spell is broken and you are dropped out of the world you imagined so vividly up until that point. Cruel reality greets you and it will take some time to escape once again.

If you’re lucky, you will find this experience rare and the book so captivating that when it does happen, you can quickly slip back into place as if you had never left. The fact is, typos happen. We’re all human, mistakes escape us no matter how carefully we search them out. As a writer, you can miss the most obvious typos until someone else points them out. That is why there are four different kind of editors meant to catch those mistakes.

As a reader, it is incredibly frustrating to find a typo in a book you are enjoying. It means precious time going back and making sure you understand what’s going on before continuing. This is by no means the author’s fault. This comes down to the team of editors employed to make sure it doesn’t happen. When a typo is found, several things happen to you as you read. First, you’re annoyed by the interruption. You might then make note of the publisher and avoid works they release in the future. If the problem persists, you may take it out on the author, even if they move to a different publisher altogether. The author is then punished for what is out of their control.

There are times, however, when the author is also at fault. Not all publishers have the staff to support the many different kinds of editing that goes into a manuscript before it is released to the public. The author is just as responsible, if not more so, for basic editing (punctuation, grammar, and sense). When these elements go without correction, the book is unreadable. Somehow, it is still released and the book’s sales suffer.

I was once asked to review an eBook by an author. The premise sounded interesting so I agreed with thanks. Unfortunately, this eBook was released without editing. No punctuation, barely any structure, and very little sense was to be had while reading this book. I had to decline. No one deserved all of the horrible things I would say in association with the title. Luckily, the author understood my stance and promised that she had acquired an editor that would help her clean up the book and republish it. I eagerly await the day when I can post an honest review of this title free of the eyesore mistakes made in the original publication.

Sometimes these mistakes can be fascinating, changing the meaning of a sentence or sharpening our awareness of what we read. Some of the best/worst typos I’ve ever heard of were covered by Huffington Post about a year ago. Click here to see what I mean. If you have a strange fascination with typos, you may want to check out Book Typos.