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My muse is no Olivia Newton-John.

So this morning, I was laying in bed, having just woken up and not actually gotten to the point where I was ready to face the day, and suddenly, a conversation between two of the main characters in my current WIP popped into my head, more or less fully formed and ready to drop into my manuscript. Out of nowhere. I was kind of flabbergasted. And, of course, I immediately sat up and grabbed my laptop.

Now, on the one hand, I recognize that this is a gift from the muse and I should just be grateful for it. But on the other hand, I kind of want to stomp my foot and demand, "Why isn't it always this easy?!". Because I get really frustrated sometimes with how long it takes for me to write something that I'm satisfied with, like when I go days trying to work out a scene or plot point, and it would be nice at those points to get a little help. Just a nudge, you know? And at those times it seems my muse is nowhere to be found. Fickle minx.

I can't help but think it would be fantastically awesome if my muse were more like Kira, the muse played by my childhood idol Olivia Newton-John in the fantastically awful movie Xanadu. I mean, compared to Sonny, the film's protagonist, I'm easy. I don't have a soul-crushing sense of ennui that can only be cured by opening the world's best roller disco. I just need a little plot direction. And maybe the chance to dance to ELO in a big production number or two. But mostly the plot direction. So, muse o' mine, check this out and take some notes. I'll be waiting.

My top books of 2008

I've been wanting to do a top 10 books of the year post, but I wanted to wait until the year was really over, so as not to miss anything. If you look below, you will notice that there are, in fact, twelve books in my top ten list. What can I say? I'm indecisive. And I read a lot of wonderful books that aren't on the list at all. These are just the ones that really held onto me and didn't let me go. You may also notice that there are some older books on the list. These are just books I read (and put in my reading log) in 2008, not books that were necessarily published in 2008. Because it's my list and I get to make the rules :) (I did leave off Anne of Green Gables, the one "classic" I read - well, listened to - this year, which I found completely delightful, but which everyone and their dog has already heard of and very likely read. Everything else was fair game).

Here they are, in roughly the order in which I read them:

1. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
Writing a middle school romance is tricky, because romances largely rely on a happily-ever-after-ending, and when the protagonists are, like, 12, that seems, at best, kind of far-fetched. But Van Draanen pulls it off - she does an awesome job of telling an emotionally satisfying story without tying things up too neatly at the end. She made me all teary-eyed more than once over the course of the book.

2. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Moose’s dad is a guard at Alcatraz in the 1930s, so Moose and his family live on the island, right next to the infamous prisoners. The premise is pretty great in and of itself, but Moose’s unique story is winning as well, whether he’s dealing with the warden’s rather tempestuous daughter or his sister, who modern readers can recognize as being autistic, but whose family just finds her confusing and volatile, even as they love and try to do the best they can for her. I thought this was a warm, funny, all-around awesome book.

3. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
I'd read and enjoyed other stuff of McKinley's before, but it was just this year that I read her big award winners (this and The Blue Sword, which I liked but didn't love). I think The Hero and the Crown is my favorite of the lot. I mean, there's dragons, and a mysterious mage guy who's kind of hot, and a kick-ass redheaded heroine - need I say more? :)

4. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
I am normally a big chicken when it comes to anything remotely scary, but I really enjoyed the spooky sense of unease that permeates this retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Throw in a strong, fully-realized heroine and a bit of romance, and you've got a winner.

5. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The premise - that abortion has been outlawed, but parents can choose to have their kids "unwound" and used for spare parts at any time between the ages of 13 and 18 - is unsettling to say the least, but it definitely made the story compelling. The POV shifts between three characters who are set to be unwound, all of whom are draw you in and get you invested in the story, and the suspense never lets up. I couldn't put this down.

6. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
This was one of last year's Newbery Honor books, and I can totally see why. I'll admit that I had a hard time buying into the story at first, but by the end, I was in tears (in a good way). This may be one of those kids' books that appeals more to adults than to kids, but I really did find it very appealing.

7. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
I'd been meaning to read this for a while, and I wasn't disappointed. It's a wonderful, engaging historical fantasy with a steadfast, determined heroine and, it must be said, a rather dreamy love interest. It's also the first in a series so there's more story for me to look forward to. Yay!

8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Everyone who loves books needs to read this one. Period, the end.

9. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
When it comes to YA, I’m not so much into the “edgy” stuff (#s 5 and 12 on this list notwithstanding). I mean, I’m not actively opposed to it; it’s just not what I gravitate towards. I tend to go for funny and/or sweetly poignant, and if it has vampires in it, so much the better. But this just knocked me out. I loved the main character, Clay, and I thought Asher did a great job with Hannah. Like Clay, I ached to fix her, but I was also angry at her for what she did to herself and those she left behind. It was a fine line to walk, and it totally worked. And I was impressed that Asher managed to pull of an ending that didn’t feel falsely happy but still kept the book from being a total downer.

10. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
This has been getting a lot of buzz as a Newbery contender this year, and I think it has a good shot. It goes a long way on the illustrations alone, which are jaw-droppingly gorgeous (you can see some of them on Nelson’s website - http://www.kadirnelson.com/we-are-the-ship-store.html - but I don’t think a computer monitor really does them justice). But I also found the text, which has a great voice, fascinating. Did you know that one of the prominent team owners in the leagues was a woman, who is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Or that, in the years leading up to the integration of the major leagues, the Negro-league all-star game outdrew the major-league equivalent? I didn’t either, but I do now.

11. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
I found this book, the first in a series, completely charming. It’s a near-perfect melding of Regency romance, chick lit, and mystery – hilarious, sexy, and a ton of fun. I told halfpricejunkie about it, and she went and blazed her way ahead of me through the other books in the series. I’ve now read the second - The Masque of the Black Tulip - and have the third on my to-be-read list. Good stuff.

12. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I was hesitant to read this book, because adventure/survival stories really aren’t my bag. But I read so many raves about it that I finally caved. I was up until 3 in the morning finishing it. So. Good. I have a few minor quibbles with certain plot points, but I think the characterization is masterful, and once the story grabs you, it doesn’t let up. Ever. There are a few truly chilling scenes that aren’t for the faint-hearted, but they were totally worth it. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Time to get in the Way-Back Machine...

I am seriously addicted to my Bloglines account, and one of the feeds I have set up is from the USA Today Books section. Today, there was a little article in there about books dealing with reading and one on them piqued my interest: Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American's Children's Literature by Leonard S. Marcus (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Minders-of-Make-Believe/Leonard-S-Marcus/e/9780395674079/?itm=1 ).

I'm interested in this book for a lot of reasons: because I'm a librarian, because I'm an aspiring author, and because I'm a woman. When I was working on my MLS at the University of North Texas, one of my favorite classes was History and Ethnography of Youth Library Services, taught by the fantastic Dr. Elizabeth Figa (one of the best teachers I've ever had, anywhere). The title of the class might make it sound dry, but it really wasn't. I was fascinated by what I learned about the early days of youth librarianship and children's literature in America. I'm sure it will come as a shock to very few people that librarianship has long been a female-dominated field, and thus marginalized when compared to other specialized professions; children's libraianship was even further stigmatized since it involved, you know, children, another marginalized group. The situation was similar in publishing, where children's book were more of a niche market than a driving force. Since they seemed to be relative afterthoughts, the worlds of children's librarianship and publishing became pretty insular, and, as a result, places where women wielded a lot of power and influence.It's really very interesting as social history, and I imagine this book will look at the causes and effects, which should be really cool to a book nerd like me. In today's environment, where children's lit is still often deemed inferior to "real books" and many people think the Internet has rendered the library obsolete, I think it could be valuable to look back at those who pioneered ways of writing for and serving kids and see what their motivations and attitudes were. It could help those of us in the trenches remember why we do what we do.

Happy milestone and a good resource

So today, I cracked the 20,000 word mark on my current WIP, which means I am a third of the way to my 60,000-word goal. Granted, I will likely end up changing a lot of those words or throwing them out altogether during revision, but still - I'll take what I can get. So, yay!

Also, the Editorial Ass blog is currently featuring a list of suggested books to buy for loved ones during the holidays. I heartily agree with all of the titles that I have already read (such as The Time Traveler's Wife) so I'd say it's worth a look if you need holiday gifts. Or if you just like reading "best of" book lists like me :) : editorialass.blogspot.com/2008/12/best-ever-suggestions-for-books-as.html

Five excellent books I've read lately

1.The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows
This was a pure delight. First of all, it is about World War II, which is one of my very favorite historical periods to read about. Secondly, I loved the voice of the main protagonist, Juliet. It's witty and sparkling, and I really wish I could be her friend. The whole book is a love letter to reading and writing, so if you like either of those things, this might be the book for you.

2. Rumors by Anna Godbersen
I kind of feel like I should be ashamed for liking the Luxe series as much as I do. But I can't help it. I dig the travails of Gilded Age society girls in love. Also, there is a twist at the end that I <i>totally</i> didn't see coming, which was kind of unnerving, but also kind of thrilling.

3. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
I really do adore Novik's Temeraire books. I'm so impressed that she manages to write in a voice that sounds authentically period but is still effortlessly readable. And she has some of the best characters around, both human and dragon.

4. Rules by Cynthia Lord
This was a Newbery Honor Book a couple of years ago, and the honor was well-deserved. This is the story of Catherine, who feels as if her whole life revolves around her younger brother's autism. I think Lord got the kid voice so exactly right with this, making it poignant and funny and real. I was a little irked that Catherine's favorite singer was Avril Lavigne, but, well, we can't have everything, I guess.

5. Frostbite by Richelle Mead
This is the second book in Mead's awesome Vampire Academy series. I think I may have liked it better than the first one. Dmitri is definitely right up there on the list of hot YA love interests.