Monday, April 29, 2013

New Web Site!

Hello everyone! This will be my last post on this page. I wanted to direct you all to my brand new web site,! There you can find info, excerpts, reviews, and more, of all my books, as well as links to current giveaways, my newest books, and my newsletter. Thank you for coming to my blog, and I hope you'll join me at my new page. Thank you!

Brian Rowe Books

Friday, March 29, 2013

March Update!

In the middle of this month I started the first revision on my newest young adult novel, The Wedding Videographer! Since the very first book I wrote, Slate, three years ago, I always do the very first revision by hand. I print out all the pages, grab a pen, and just start massacring my baby. What do I mean when I say, massacre?

The Wedding Videographer is my longest first draft since my first book, at 98,500 words, and 100 pages into the revision I've already eliminated 5,000 words... wow! So what's the timeframe for my book? I plan to revise and revise and revise again, all the way to the end of the summer, when I start pitching the novel at conferences and querying agents. 

While I revise The Wedding Videographer, I'm also writing, one chapter a month, a top secret YA project that will be finished in December. It's fun to work on one project really hard for about three weeks, then take a week to focus on something else, just to mix it up a little bit. I'm also looking to write another novel this summer (my first MIDDLE GRADE book!), but we'll see how the revisions go.

Lots of projects coming up... I can't wait to share more news and details about them with you all as 2013 ticks on!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Update!

On Monday, January 10, I started writing a new Young Adult contemporary novel, with a few splashes of fantasy thrown in, titled THE WEDDING VIDEOGRAPHER and I hoped to have the first draft completed by the end of February. I'm happy to report I wrote the last word of the manuscript on Saturday, February 23!

This is my longest first draft since my debut novel Slate three years ago. The first draft of Slate was a whopping 108,000 words (eventually whittled down to 82,000), and all my first drafts since have averaged between 65,000 and 75,000. I knew Wedding Videographer was going to be longer about two weeks in, but I didn't expect it to be this long. The final word count for the first draft? 98,560 words! Whoa!

I'll share with you more info about my newest novel in the coming months, but for now just know that I have completed my tenth book, with (big) revisions to start in the coming days. I'm so excited about my newest project and can't wait to get to work on the second draft!

In other news, my YA novel Over the Rainbow, from last summer, just passed the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, which is very exciting. The first poem I've written in TEN YEARS is currently on submission to poetry journals. Next week I start a new short story, tentatively titled Christmas in March.

And finally... who likes FREE? My YA horror novel The Vampire Underground, the first book in my Grisly High trilogy, is FREE on Amazon! Check it out. The sequels The Zombie Playground and The Monster Apocalypse are now available!!

Download a FREE copy of The Vampire Underground!

Monday, February 25, 2013

What I'm Reading (15)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

When the William C. Morris finalists were announced last December, I snatched up a copy of Love and Other Perishable Items on Amazon. I liked the premise, and I love supporting debut authors. I'm about 60 pages into this one, and it's a lot of fun. Can't wait to see what the story goes!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: In Darkness

I've been following awards season for movies like the obsessive fan I am for two decades now, but I've never paid attention to the literary version of the Oscars, which were announced at the end of January at the midwinter session of ALA... that is, until this year. I watched the reveal of the winner and nominees of this year's Michael L. Printz award live, holding my breath with excitement, wondering if I'd see a familiar title or, better yet, be introduced to new titles I otherwise wouldn't have heard of.

That's what's so great about the Printz award: I find great books I might never have read. As much as I might have loved something great like The Fault in Our Stars to win the Printz award, that book's so damn popular it was never necessary. The Printz award highlights more obscure titles, ones that don't necessarily reach the top of bestseller lists. So of course I was immediately intrigued by this year's winner of the award, In Darkness, by Nick Lake. I'd never heard of it. I'd never heard of the author. I immediately put a hold on the title at the local library, and discovered I had just reserved the ONLY copy available in all of Reno's library system.

After reading the entertaining but pretty fluffy Beautiful Creatures, I was ready to settle down with a more serious, more life-affirming YA read, so the timing of In Darkness couldn't have been better. The writing in this book is pretty striking, and it deals with the kinds of horrors many of us can only imagine in our heads. There are two story lines interweaved throughout the narrative, one in contemporary 2010 Haiti, the other in 17th century France. The first story deals with 15-year-old Shorty, as he deals with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. The second deals with Toussaint L'Ouverture, a Haitian slave who led a revolution. My main issue with the book was that I was always more interested in getting back to Shorty, and his journey, than Toussaint. There's more immediacy to Shorty's struggle to survive, and more danger.

The book actually reminded me a lot of Ship Breaker, which Shaunta and I just read a few weeks ago for our Book of the Month, basically that in each a young boy is put through literal hell. (One moment that describes Shorty finding dead babies in trash cans was so disturbing I had to stop reading for a bit.) In Darkness is not an entertaining read by any means, not a book you kick back with for a half hour of pleasure reading, but it's an important novel, with a harrowing story, and fine, meticulous writing. I'm proud of the Printz award committee for picking a book like this, because now it's going to find more hands and more eyes. And in this case, that's a big plus.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What I'm Reading (14)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

I'm trying to make an effort this year not just to read more YA fiction but to read really brand spanking new YA fiction. I came across Paper Valentine at the library and snatched it up immediately. Neat premise, cool cover, an author who, like me, enjoys a bit of the macabre in her work. Sign me up!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the first epic gay young adult novel I've ever read. This is a sweeping, beautiful novel, written with great care and honesty and passion. It reads like a big, sweeping John Steinbeck novel—except instead of writing about an Oklahoma family traveling to California, he's writing about a teenage lesbian in rural Montana. At nearly 500 pages, with pages printed in smaller font than usual, no less, this is not a cute little love story you read one day and forget the next. This is the kind of book you get lost in, for long hours at a time. It's really quite something.

I've been eyeing the book for a while now. I tried to reserve it at the library for about three months straight, but it was checked out every single time. When the book (deservedly) was nominated for William C. Morris award, I decided to not be so cheap for once, and bought a copy on Amazon. The more high quality gay young adult reads I can find, the better. Why? Well, I love reading them, first of all. But I'm writing them, too. As a gay author, and as a young adult author, I have yet to write a novel that doesn't include some kind of gay character or subplot, and last summer I wrote my first YA novel with a gay protagonist. Cut to this year, when I'm working on not one but two more novels about gay protagonists. I feel like I'm finally finding my voice, and reading Danforth's book has further inspired me to be better, and try to put as much of myself in the main character as I can.

First, can I note how beautiful the cover is? It's simple but elegant, and is a picture that perfectly embodies the curious Cameron. You open to the first page, and you might find yourself a little daunted by the novel's length, but don't fret: just let Danforth's beautiful prose draw you in. The book is split into three parts. The first and shortest part, introduces us to Cameron when she's in middle school, and when she first starts exploring her sexuality with a friend named Irene. She's also trying to come to terms with her parents' sudden deaths. The second part of the novel — easily my favorite — concerns Cameron's escapades in high school, where she starts a secret relationship with a girl named Coley, who may or may not be gay. The third part, which really swings the whole novel in a different direction, brings Cameron to a de-gaying camp of sorts, when her religious Aunt Ruth discovers the truth about her. Cameron first is disgusted with the religious institution, but settles in when she makes a group of friends, all of whom want out for good.

The book has the occasional mixed media blended in with the prose, one of the most memorable being the pamphlet that goes with the God's Promise program. Here's its motto: "The opposite of the sin of homosexuality is not heterosexuality: it is holiness." Wow. I've heard that these programs still exist even today, but I think Danforth was smart in setting the novel in the early 1990's, when more across-the-board acceptance of gays and lesbian was still years away. The novel I wrote last summer concerns a teenage girl, in the 1990's, whose father discovers she's gay and tries to get her to a camp just like God's Promise. Reading Danforth's book was a strange experience for me in some ways because it was like seeing an alternate take on my own character's universe. Such a coincidence only enhanced the reading experience of this book for me, not hindered it.

I loved so much about The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I loved Cameron's love for movies, and how the gay films of the 80's and early 90's helped educate her in a way to how to properly be with another girl. (The section with Cameron watching The Hunger  is particularly great.) The films she talks about also did a great job setting the time period. I was between seven and nine years old when much of this book takes place, and Danforth captures the period just right (oh, how I miss those VHS tapes). I loved Danforth's descriptions, especially of Cameron's romantic entanglements. I'm a gay male and by the end of this book, I wanted to run out there and find a girl to kiss. Danforth writes kissing so sexy and real, it makes your heart beat faster. I liked the unpredictable twists and turns the story takes, leading Cameron into the lives of various girls (and men!) you might not expect. Also, I appreciated the honesty throughout. And the sometimes explicit prose. This is one of the most adult young adult novels I've ever read, with frank sexuality, profanity, the works. But I'd certainly recommend it to the more mature of young teenagers, especially those who are questioning and need a coming-of-age story like this one. I know during my troubled high school years, a book like The Miseducation of Cameron Post would have done wonders for me, even though it's about a girl, instead of a boy.

I found my interest dwindling a little bit in the last third, partly because I was so involved in the Cameron and Coley relationship that the section on God's Promise at times almost felt like the makings of a different novel. And Danforth at times goes a bit overboard with giant block paragraphs, which sometimes act as information overload to the reader. I think if the book had been edited down a little, even just by 40 or 50 pages, the novel would have really soared. But I found The Miseducation of Cameron Post to be a tremendous reading experience, easily one of the most stunning debut novels I've read in a long time, certainly since John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back, from last year. It's important to promote work of this high quality, of this difficult subject matter, of this intelligence and imagination. Emily Danforth is an author to watch, and I can't wait to see what she does next. If you're looking for a great coming-of-age novel, one of the best I've seen in years, check out The Miseducation of Cameron Post. You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: Why We Broke Up

I've seen this book at the bookstore, the library, online, for months, and when I found a copy at the local library the other day, I thought I'd give it a try. This YA novel reminded me of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in that it's more interactive than just any book -- vivid illustrations (by the gifted Maira Kaiman) accompany the text. This brings this unique tale to life in glorious ways. I had such a great time with this book that I blew through it in about three days.

We've all been there, on the giving end or the receiving end. This book works so well because it's so easy to identify with a bad break-up. I never received a box from any exes containing items used or bought while we were together (although I do have some items at the bottom of a shoebox in my closet from a previous relationship that I intend to look at again one day), but I could put myself in the shoes of this guy Ed, who had no idea what was coming to him. The novel includes mini-stories in between the beautiful illustrations that are very funny and very unusual and sometimes very sad. They're also, always, insightful. The book is nearly 400 pages but it just flew on by.

Where We Broke Up is the newest book I've read that was nominated for the Michael L. Printz award, and it's the latest confirmation that anything with the Printz mark is worth checking out -- I haven't been disappointed by one title yet. Why We Broke Up is a unique idea executed beautifully, and it makes me want to check out author Handler's other books, most notably those Lemony Snicket adventures (which he writes under a pen name). I'm also excited to see what is done for the feature film version, which is currently in development with Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) in the lead. Great!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I'm Reading (13)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

I found a used copy of Beautiful Creatures a few months ago, and I've been meaning to read it before the film opens on Valentine's Day. Well... better late than never! I finally started this bad boy last weekend and am enjoying it immensely! I plan on finishing it by Saturday, just in time to go check out the film this coming three-day weekend.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movie Review: Warm Bodies

If you ever wanted to see a movie that mixed elements of 500 Days of Summer with The Walking DeadWarm Bodies is probably the closest we're ever going to get. I've been following this film for a while now, having read and loved Isaac Marion's novel in 2011, plus I'm a huge fan of the director Jonathan Levine (I attended the Los Angeles Film Festival premiere of his film The Wackness, in 2008), and of the movie's dreamy star Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man). But the film was getting "dumped" in early February, and it was rated PG-13, which for an apocalyptic zombie movie seemed a little head-scratching. Did the film live up to the promise of the terrific novel? I'm pleased to announce... yes!

Watching the movie play out, I realized how disastrous this balancing trick could have gone. Most know director Levine's work from The Wackness, and last year's terrific cancer 'comedy' 50/50, but he also has horror chops, with his little-seen debut All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, from 2006. He was probably one of the few directors to pull this one off. The trailers made it look more like a romantic comedy than a horror film, so I was pleased to see that, no, there's actually a lot of action and terror in the second half, and the whole thing isn't just the lead zombie winking at the audience all the way through. Nicholas Hoult plays R, a young, sensitive member of the undead who falls for a human girl Julie (Teresa Palmer, a great find) and does everything in his power to keep her safe from the other creatures who want to feast on her flesh. Along the way, they encounter Julie's father (John Malkovich), a general who doesn't take too kindly to his daughter hanging around a zombie, and Bonies, undead creatures that have been stripped of all their human traits and are only out for blood.

The zombie genre has been done to death, but Warm Bodies is an original. It's funny, but not quite Shaun of the Dead funny. It has a lot of action and suspense, but Dawn of the Dead it isn't, either. It finds this happy medium in between, with the narrator R pulling us into the narrative with great ease and keeping us glues to the screen for a very fast 90 minutes. Levine hasn't made a bad movie yet, and one thing he does really well is casting the right actors in the leads. Hoult is perfect for R (and not to mention yummy, even as a zombie!). He's just gross enough to pass for a member of the undead, but still handsome and charismatic enough for the audience to buy that a human girl could come to care for him. And his dry humor in the narration throughout is just fantastic, with Levine successfully bringing much of Marion's witty prose to the screen. This is also the first time I've seen Teresa Palmer in a film, and, while she resembles Kristen Stewart maybe a little too much for comfort, she makes the role of Julie her own, giving the character just the right amount of fear when necessary and shades of lightness in the later, more romantic scenes. Malkovich can play a role like this one in his sleep, but he does a fine job. And Analeigh Tipton is a welcome addition as Nora.

If there's anything negative to say about the film, it's that it plays out almost a little too safe. The material has all been censored a little bit to get to that PG-13 rating, to appeal to the core teen audience who probably made up most of the crowds over its opening weekend. I enjoyed Warm Bodies, but I almost would have preferred an R-rated version, with a harder edge, with higher stakes, a little more terror, and an ending that really gets you thinking there's no way in hell that R and Julie will end up together. The book is a little better because it gets your pulse racing a little more, even while it's making you laugh. The film is a little watered down for my taste, but this probably won't be an issue for most of the younger viewers. We can't live in a perfect world, and the only way for this film to get funding was probably with a guaranteed PG-13 rating, I guess. I just sensed, especially in the second half, a truly great film itching to break out of merely a good one.

The film, however, is proof that the first couple months of the year doesn't have to be a studio dumping ground for lame remakes and retreads. Warm Bodies is one of the more alive horror films I've seen in awhile (no pun intended!), giving a unique take on a genre we all know and love. And I just heard Isaac Marion is writing a sequel to his book! Could we be seeing R and Julie in further screen adventures? In the right hands, I'd love to see where the characters go from here. This is the anti-Twilight, a paranormal love story told with wit and originality, and respect for its audience. Warm Bodies was worth the wait!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

It doesn't happen very often. Pick up a book I know nothing about. Buy it on a whim. Randomly grab it from the bookshelf and read the first five pages, just to see if it's something interesting. And then read 5 more pages. Then 50 more. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is an enchanting YA novel, one of my favorites I've read since I started reading more YA fiction about a year ago this month.

My journey to even reading this book was a long and detailed one. Last August my favorite local indie bookstore Grassroots was having a dollar YA sale for hardbacks, so I loaded up, buying a whopping ten books. I knew about some of the books, and some of the authors, but didn't know a thing about Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. The cover is super boring, and the synopsis just sounded OK. Why did I buy it? The author's last name starts with a Z. Authors with the last name of Z are always relegated to the bottom right of the shelf, where seemingly only Marcus Zusak has any success. That's why I bought this book. I wanted to support an author with the last name of Z! So the book sat on my shelf for about six months. I started a few of the other hardbacks I got in the sale but didn't really care for them. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac was one of the last to read, and Thursday night I decided to read the first chapter, just confirm that it was lame so I could move onto something else. But I didn't move on. I kept going. I knew by page 3 this author knew what she was doing, and by the end of the first chapter, I realized I had found something special.

The novel tells of a high school junior named Naomi who falls heading down a flight of stairs, hits her head, and wakes up having forgotten everything in her life that's occurred after sixth grade. Five years, just gone. So she doesn't know her current boyfriend Ace. She knows nothing about her classes, and her teachers. She knows her best friend Will but has no idea what may have happened between them just before she blacked out. The synopsis for some reason didn't call out to me on the book jacket, but it's a winning one, as we, along with the main character, discover the truths of all the family and friends and boyfriends in her life at the same time she does.

Author Gabrielle Zevin, who won multiple awards for her 2005 debut novel Elsewhere (which I must find as soon as possible!), and who was nominated for Best First Screenplay at the 2005 Independent Spirit Awards for Conversations With Other Women (2005 was a good year for her!), has a great voice as a writer. She uses simple, elegant prose that bring you right into the heart and mind of her protagonist. And she has a gift for building complex characters. All of the supporting characters breathe life. I loved her best friend Will, whose whole life revolves around yearbook. The guy she might-or-might-not-be-in-love-with James, who has a haunted past, but in the present takes part in a dream job—projecting movies for the local community college film classes. Her relationships with both her father and mother are worthy of whole novels themselves, they're so complicated and fascinating. The book made me laugh—a lot. I saw myself in so many of its pages. I absolutely loved it.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac taught me a lot: about my own writing, about plotting and character development, about never judging a book by its cover, by giving something a chance even if you're not sure what to expect. I found this novel just as beautiful as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and as joyous as the works of John Green. It's the first of my favorite titles I read in 2013. Fantastic!

Monday, February 4, 2013

What I'm Reading (12)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

I actually just finished reading this book on Saturday, and I absolutely loved it, one the best books I've read since I started reading YA fiction more heavily this time about a year ago. Full review to come!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Don't worry. I'm not going to give you a synopsis on this one. And no, I'm not just going to review the book. This will be the 1st of 7 fun and in-depth posts about all things Harry Potter, with my thoughts on not just J.K. Rowling's incredible novels, but the films, the audiobooks, the brand new ebooks, Pottermore, and more--7 ways I've enjoyed each of the 7 stories!

Let's start with Sorcerer's Stone, shall we?

1. The Novel: The first time I paid attention to the two words, "Harry Potter," was in July of 2000. I was staying in a cabin in Tahoe, and my grandfather Ralph, of all people, showed me a copy of a new book he had picked up a few days ago, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He said it's more geared toward child and teenage readers but that "it opens with a double murder." That week I also remember turning on the news to see a story about the midnight madness of the release of Book 4. I didn't rush out and buy the first four books that week (I didn't do so the rest of the summer, even) but the J.K. Rowling books about a boy wizard who goes to a magical school had finally caught my attention. In September I finally stumbled upon a copy in my brother's room and asked to check it out. You want a confession here and now? I read the first chapter, strongly disliked it, and gave it back. To this day I still think the greatest book series of all time opens on a mediocre note, telling of Uncle Vernon's trip to work as he sees strange sights in the London streets. I remember at that time having no interest in going on to Chapter 2. Thankfully, come November, I had Accelerated Reading points I needed to accumulate for my sophomore year English class, and the first three Harry Potter books at the time counted. I could read all of Harry Potter 1 and take an easy ten-question test to receive my points in full for AR. So I moved on to Chapter 2. By the end of that chapter, I was hooked. By the end of Chapter 3, I was enraptured. I read the book over a weekend and fell in love. My Harry Potter obsession had officially begun.

2. The Film: One of my most highly anticipated films of 2001 was not The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie on seemingly every book lover's mind, but Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I saw it opening night at the Century Park Lane movie theatre here in Reno and fell in love. I ended up seeing the movie three times in theaters and put it #3 on my Top Ten Films of the Year list of 2001, just behind Memento and Mulholland Drive. While of all the eight Harry Potter movies, the one that has probably held up the least is the first one, which is a little clunky at times, long, with child actors still trying to find their groove, and special effects that may have needed an extra six months to get just right. But I still adore this movie because it worked as the introduction to the Harry Potter world, and I'm still amazed that, except for Richard Harris, the entire cast stayed in tact throughout all eight movies. Fantastic!

3. The Video Game: How long has it been since the first Harry Potter video game came out? I played Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in full, from beginning to end, on the Playstation 1. You read that right. Not the Playstation 2, even. The Playstation 1! The graphics leaved a lot to be desired, but I had a blast with this game, which at the time offered the video game player the chance to roam the halls of Hogwarts as much as he or she wanted. The music was great, and there was plenty amount of cute little cut scenes, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione (which on the Playstation 1 consisted of mostly blank faces with either brown or red hair), would interact with each other and stick together on their next adventure. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released a year later for the Playstation 2, and even eventually came out for the XBOX, but my experience was on the PS1. And while the game didn't necessarily look its best, I had a blast with it.

4. The DVD: Remember the initial DVD? The one that made you spend hours solving puzzles and going through various loopholes just to get to the ten deleted scenes from the movie? Ahhh, those were the days. (The ultimate puzzle of a DVD bonus disc remains that strange eighth disc on the Nightmare on Elm Street box set.) The picture quality wasn't its best, and the audio--eh--but I remember buying the DVD opening day and watching the film an additional three times, the first two soon after I bought it, and the third in preparation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which came out less than a year before the first movie (one day early, but still)! I watched this DVD on and off throughout the years, as recently as May 2011 when I started, with my brother, watching one Harry Potter movie a week in preparation for the final film in mid-July of 2011. But in addition I picked up the Blu Ray extended edition a few years back as well, which included not only a cut of the film that incorporated many of those deleted scenes seen on the initial release of the DVD, but also a scene-specific video commentary from the first film's director, Chris Columbus. The first two movies of the film series don't seem to be as well loved as the rest of the movies, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for them. It's Dan, Rupert, and Emma before they became sex goddesses. And it's Harry Potter when it was fresh and new. Love it!

5. The eBook: So what do I think of J.K. Rowling's book now? I hadn't re-read the book over the years. I just read it that one time in the fall of 2000 and have never touched it since. Therefore, I was excited to download the eBook of Sorcerer's Stone last year when the eBooks of the entire series finally were released to the public. I had just recently gotten a Kindle, and while I still prefer physical books any day of the week, I've been reading the occasional eBook, and I knew one that I would love to revisit would be Sorcerer's Stone. I thought I'd start with that one. And I had a fabulous time. I loved re-visiting the intro story, especially spending time in Diagon Alley again, and seeing Quidditch through the eyes of Harry Potter for the first time again. While the first book of Rowling's series is clearly more aimed at kids than later books in the series, I kind of enjoyed that aspect this time around. I liked that the main trio were never really in any mortal danger that made me want to start weeping. That first book is more an action adventure for the middle-school set, and I really enjoyed it on that level. My favorite of the book remains Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the massive tome that works as the bridge between the Harry Potter for kids and the Harry Potter for adults. But I'll always love Sorcerer's Stone. It's a lot of fun, and I had a blast revisiting Rowling's awesome world again.

6. The Audiobook: One way I had left to experience Rowling's novel was through the audiobook, read by Jim Dale. It took me forever to get a copy of this. If you just buy a brand new copy on Amazon, it's 35 to 50 bucks, and I wasn't prepared to spend that much. Therefore I spent a good three or four months trying to borrow it from the local library. It seemed like every time I asked for it, it was reserved or checked out by someone. Finally, in July, I managed to reserve a copy for myself. I've never been one to enjoy audiobooks, but I sure enjoyed this one. I didn't know who Jim Dale was when the reading began, and I was overjoyed to discover this guy wasn't a total stranger: he was the narrator to Pushing Daisies! I was in awe of how he could inhabit each character, from smart, plucky Hermione, to big, booming Hagrid, to whispery, eerie Voldemort. And I love the warm, whimsical quality to his voice. Dale's the kind of guy you'd want to sit around a campfire with and have him tell you a story. He was the perfect choice to read aloud the Harry Potter series, although I'm curious how he'll do with the later, darker chapters.

7. The Pottermore Experience: Finally, Pottermore. I had two reasons for buying the eBook and borrowing the audiobook from the library. One was that after watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 on Blu Ray I realized that the journey was officially over. The books, the movies, the DVDs, DONE. And I didn't like that feeling. I don't want the Harry Potter experience to ever end. So I still need to check out Harry Potter World in Orlando (I can't wait! One of these days!), and I have yet to have a child who I can eventually re-live the Harry Potter books with. Right now, there's just me. And so I was thrilled to discover the online Pottermore, which brings most of the scenes of Sorcerer's Stone to life, in a new illustrated fashion that doesn't necessarily follow the look of the films. There's been a lot of disappointment and chagrin over Pottermore, and I agree there could be a little more interactivity (Quidditch matches, classroom sessions, etc), but I still had a lot of fun with it, and I look forward to experiencing Chamber of Secrets once all of the second book's eighteen chapters have been added to the site (right now there are eleven). I loved seeing new takes on all the innovative rooms of Hogwarts castle, and the illustration of the dark dungeon room with Quirrell and Voldemort was legitimately creepy. Pottermore isn't perfect, but it's a great new way to re-experience our favorite books in a whole new way.

OVERALL: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone isn't the best book, or the best movie, in the series, but it's still a favorite among Potterphiles. It's where the saga began after all, and it's in the introduction to this magical world that we had our first flirtations with J.K. Rowling's genius. So what about you? How do you rank Sorcerer's Stone among the other books and films? And have you tried to experience the first book in all seven ways as I have?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Update!

Happy 2013 everyone! I've been working non-stop all month on not one but two new projects, and I can't wait to tell you more about them as the year goes on. After spending 2012 writing three scary YA novels, I decided to step back this year and write some more personal, intimate contemporary YA novels. One of the books will be done around June, and one won't be done until next January, but both I'm super excited about!

In other news, my book The Vampire Underground has gone FREE permanently on Amazon, so be sure to download a copy and check out the first in my Grisly High series. In addition, I've put up new ebook covers for all three Grisly High books. Check them out below!

I'll be done with the first draft of my new novel at the end of February, and I'll be able to tell you more about the project then! Enjoy the Superbowl, have fun at the Oscars, and I'll be back in a month!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I'm Reading (11)

Since last summer I've been trying to read one book every week. My life gets very busy, but I feel like if I'm going to be a working writer, I need to read just as much as I write. Every Monday I will post here what I'm currently reading, and I'll add the reviews once they become available as well.

This week's book...

This was my friend's favorite book last year, and it won pretty much every award known to man. I bought it at Powell's Books in Portland a few months ago and decided this was the week to finally check it out!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top Ten Films of 2012!

What a year for films it was! I saw about 70 movies in 2012 and had a good or great time at nearly two thirds of them, and while there wasn’t a film this year like Drive or Shame that truly blew my mind, I had at least 15 films trying to squeeze their way into my list. There are still a few potential additions I haven’t seen—Amour, Rust & Bone, The Deep Blue Sea—but I got around to most everything, including a handful of solid animated films (Brave, Frankenweenie) and documentaries (The Queen of Versailles, Jiro Dreams of Sushi), which all barely failed to make the cut. There are some major awards contenders that you won’t find here, but that yes, I did see, like Lincoln and Les Miserables, as well as two films I found to be crazy overrated—Beasts of the Southern Wild and Cabin in the Woods. But you'll also find here unlikely choices that you may not have seen, like the horror films Sinister and The Woman in Black, and the two Sundance stand-outs Liberal Arts and Safety Not Guaranteed. I had a great time at the movies in 2012, and I hope 2013 will be even better.

And now, without further ado, my top ten films of 2012!


1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

2012 was filled with outstanding summer blockbusters and acclaimed historical dramas and big, sweeping epics, but the best movie of the year was a small, intimate coming-of-age drama about teenagers. Based on the beloved young adult novel (which also made my Top Ten Books list!), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a near-perfect film, with three of the best, most tender performances of the year by Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and especially Logan Lerman, who is heartbreakingly good. Not very many novelists have written the screenplays and directed the film based on their book, and Stephen Chbosky captures the heart and soul of his novel beautifully. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is reminiscent of the best John Hughes films from the mid-80’s; it captures the highs and lows of being a teenager so well.


2. Silver Linings Playbook

The most entertaining film of 2012 also has two of the best performances of the year. Silver Linings Playbook is a gem, the rare film that blends together a variety of genres and storylines but never feels overstuffed. It’s also a great film that can be recommended to just about anyone—your little brother, your teacher, your film snob buddy, your grandmother. David O. Russell has made strong films before, but this one he truly hit out of the park, and the cast is uniformly excellent, with Bradley Cooper delivering a true breakthrough performance, and Jennifer Lawrence continuing to confirm that she’s the best actress of her generation. This is an amazing film, that’s also just a ton of fun. Don’t miss it.


3. Skyfall

The best James Bond movie since GoldfingerSkyfall is the Dark Knight of the long-running 007 series. After Casino Royale proved that Bond was still relevant in the twenty-first century, American Beauty director Sam Mendes took the legacy to a whole new level with Skyfall, a stunning, action-packed, emotionally compelling Bond movie like no other. Starting with one of the best pre-title action sequences of the series, the film shifts over to complex character relationship and a new, flawed Bond, who has to re-discover his place in the modern spy world. The Oscar-nominated cinematography by Roger Deakins is gorgeous, and the score and title song are fantastic. Craig is at his very best, and Judi Dench and Javier Bardem give two of the most memorable 007 performances in the series, with Dench especially poignant given her seventeen-year history with the series. But the biggest joy of Skyfall is watching the creators take the Bond films into the next 50 years, while at the same time pay tribute to the last 50. I loved this movie, and can’t wait to see it again.


4. Life of Pi

I cried really, really hard in two movies this year, and the first was Ang Lee’s sumptuous, awe-inspiring achievement, Life of Pi. Never before has 3D looks so lovely on the big screen, and never before has a CGI animal—in this case, a tiger—been so believable. I enjoyed the novel right before seeing the movie, but the film is an even more enriching experience. The first hour is a solid introduction to Pi Patel’s life, but it’s the material on the boat, with Pi left to fend for himself with a tiger on board, that makes for the most compelling material in any movie of 2012. For years Life of Pi was said to be unfilmable, but who could have ever doubted Ang Lee? The guy hops genres more than any other director, and he succeeds with beautiful work every single time. But Life of Pi may be his finest film of all. This is a stunning achievement.

impossible-poster (L)

5. The Impossible

The other movie I cried really hard in is The Impossible, the kind of visceral experience that I imagine hushes every single crowd it plays to. The intensity to the first hour is so great that I imagine I’m not alone in the crying. Thank God the filmmakers had access to the finest of special effects to give the early scenes realism, because in the hands of lesser filmmakers, this could’ve looked stupid and been laughable, despite the honest performances. But everything looks so real you come to feel like you’re experiencing the horror right along with the main characters. Naomi Watts is getting all the awards attention for her heartbreaking turn as the mother, easily her best performance since 21 Grams, but the true star of The Impossible is the young Tom Holland, who gives not just one of the best child performances of the year, but one of the best performances of the year, period.


6. Argo

Like Silver Linings PlaybookArgo is another great Oscar-nominated film that was also just super fun. Ben Affleck did a fantastic job with The Town in 2010, but Argo is even better, a movie that mixes some of the funniest scenes in any movie this year with the most suspenseful final forty minutes, too. The film is compelling from the first scene on, and Affleck doesn’t hurt himself by compiling one of the best ensemble casts of the year, including Bryan Cranston, John Goodman (who had an amazing year with this and Flight), and the Oscar-nominated Alan Arkin, who gives an effortless performance. Affleck had a rough time as an actor for a few years there, but now he’s one of the coolest directors on the planet, and I can’t wait to see what project he tackles next.


7. Zero Dark Thirty

It’s hard to believe that Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Director three years ago, and wasn’t even nominated for directing Zero Dark Thirty, a film that I believe is even better and more relevant and better constructed than that 2009 film. This is an outstanding achievement that is mostly talk for two hours, but feels in every way like an action movie, with those pulse-pounding final minutes at Osama Bin Laden’s compound. But the movie lives or dies by Jessica Chastain’s performance, and she is extraordinary here, giving an unemotional performance of a woman on a ten-year mission, who in the final scene gives the kind of catharsis for an audience that wins Academy Awards. What a striking performance in a superb, must-see film.

Prometheus Offical Poster. TM&Copyright 2012.  20th Century Fox, Brandywine Productions, Dune Entertainment, Scott Free Productions.

8. Prometheus

What seems from everything I read to be the most maligned movie of last summer… was my favorite film of the summer. I loved this more than The Avengers, more than The Dark Knight RisesPrometheus is a gorgeous game-changer of a science fiction film that also weaved plenty of horror into the proceedings. Alien is one of my favorite movies of the 1970’s, and I found Prometheus to be a fantastic return to form for that film’s director Ridley Scott. The film’s cast, namely Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, give terrific performances, and the cinematography, particularly in 3D on the big-screen, is nothing short of astonishing. For me, Prometheus had one memorable sequence after another, with a final scene that took my breath away.


9. Sinister

Horror has long been my favorite genre (and mostly reviled by every major film critic), so every year I find one to make my top ten list. Recent additions to my lists include Insidious, Orphan, The Descent, and Let Me In, and this year my favorite genre film was Sinister, easily one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. In fact I’m almost weary of watching this movie a second time, it scared me that much. But not only did the film do its job by scaring the shit out of me, it also has a compelling story, about a true crime writer who moves into the house of a previous crime to pen a new book, only to find he’s going to become a story of true crime himself. Ethan Hawke is great in this film, and he gives the movie an intense believability. I love horror, and I loved Sinister. A bulls-eye!


10. The Master

No movie of 2012 have I thought about more than Paul Thomas Anderson’s flawed but brilliant film The Master, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Since the beginning, Anderson has been one of the most interesting filmmakers around—his Boogie Nights and Magnolia are two of my favorite films of all time—and The Master, while divisive to be sure, is another gem in the Anderson canon. At the heart of The Master are three of the year’s best performances, by Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and especially Joaquin Phoenix, who literally becomes his character rather than simply playing him. The score by Jonny Greenwood is awesome, and the 70mm photography by Mihai Malaimare is this year’s most head-scratching Oscar omission. The Master isn’t perfect, and it’s not Anderson’s best work. But it’s a film that engaged me from beginning to end, with scenes of raw, unnerving power, and I can't wait to see it a second time. The Master is one of the best films of 2012!

#11-20 (in Alphabetical Order)
The Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
Liberal Arts
Moonrise Kingdom
Premium Rush
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Woman in Black

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Ozma of Oz

I'm going to make a really weird analogy with Ozma of Oz, the third in L. Frank Baum's beloved Oz series from the early twentieth century: Ozma of Oz is to The Wizard of Oz as A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is to A Nightmare on Elm Street. The original is the supreme classic, one that can never be topped. The first sequel lost its way a little bit, mainly because the heroine was nowhere to be found. And the third brings the series back to its roots, offering a non-perfect but superbly fun adventure that brings back everything we loved about the original but offers up a few new tricks. I'm sure no one ever thought Wes Craven and L. Frank Baum would ever be mentioned in the same sentence... but they have now!

Ozma of Oz is a total blast, and what feels like the first "true" sequel to the original. True, because Dorothy, whose presence was missed in The Land of Oz, is back in the forefront, meeting up with her old pals The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion, as well as some new faces, like Tik-Tok and Billina. I wasn't sure what to expect from the plot of Book 3, but it's a rousing adventure, in which Dorothy and her clan of misfits have to stop an evil king from turning all of his prisoners into ornaments. This mostly heinous and deadly serious Nome King is a solid Oz villain, one who offers more fear and dread than the Wicked Witch of the West ever did in the first book. And Ozma herself, who gives the book its title but works alongside Dorothy as an equal, makes for a fantastic addition to the text. Tik-Tok is also a lot of fun, too, and Billina, this witty, talking hen, provides the comic relief.

The Land of Oz was fun but something was definitely missing, and that thing was Dorothy. Baum says in his foreword that thousands of kids wrote to him to pen another Oz book, but to please, please, please bring Dorothy back. So Baum gave the kids what they wanted, and he gave us all of us another gem in his canon. Sure, it's a little difficult to get past all those adverbs—Baum loves them even more than J.K. Rowling does—but that's part of the fun of reading an older book like this. I have a feeling the later Oz books might get a little tiresome, but this third entry in the series was just as much fun as the first book. It's not a story that necessarily made a better transition to the big screen (the maligned 1985 sequel Return to Oz is mostly based on this book), but it's not a lesser sequel in any respect. I'm really loving this fantasy series and can't wait to read the next one, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz!