Saturday, January 29, 2011

As We Come to the End...

It's been a difficult week. I'm not going to tell you that all that's happened has left me unbothered or that I've somehow managed to let it not affect me personally, because that hasn't been the case at all. I started book blogging years ago, before it was established the way it is today, and I started because I loved books. I loved reading them, talking about them, analyzing them, and sharing my opinions with others. I wanted to talk about relatively unknown books, ones that were great, ones I loved, but that nobody else seemed to be reading. I wanted to share them with others. I thought that once I were published - if I were published - the rules would change for me in regards to reviewing and I fully intended to give up reviewing when/if that happened. 

I don't think I realized that the reviews I wrote now and the opinions I shared now, pre-agented, pre-publication, could hurt me later. To be perfectly honest when I jumped into book blogging I had no idea that anyone in the publishing industry would ever look at what I wrote. I was a reader and they were authors/agents/editors/publicists. We existed in different worlds that I didn't think would collide.

But they did. As it turns out, the world really is just as small as they say and the thought that I might have hurt someone by reviewing their book doesn't sit well with me. Part of what I love about running a YA book blog is the opportunity to support the community and the industry so much more vocally than I could by just being a reader. I want to continue doing this.

However, I also want to write. And I don't want my future relationships with those in the publishing industry to be sullied by things I may have said as an unpublished aspiring author, even if those things were said with the best of intentions. I love writing reviews. I love blogging. I love being a part of this world.

But I can't approach things from only the reader's perspective anymore. I want to be more than that. And I can't be a writer when it suits me and "just a reader" when it suits me -- it doesn't work and I know, especially now, how that could be hurting others. How it could end up hurting me.

So this week has been terrible and difficult and tear-inducing, but I have to make some changes. It's a personal decision about me and where I am in my writing life. 
  • I've set my Goodreads account to private and deleted most of the friends I had there. I've also gotten rid of any Goodreads reviews (but not ratings). I mostly use the site for my own personal reading record anyway and don't really see a need to keep that public.
  • I'm shutting the blog down. I haven't decided yet whether this will mean closing it altogether or just shutting off comments and not posting anymore while keeping up everything I've already done. 
  • I'm starting a new blog, with a more personal and writing focus. I won't be reviewing books anymore and it won't be a book blog, but I will be talking about some of the books that I love, doing the more personal-style reading posts, and talking about writing.
I have loved running this blog and hope you'll follow me to my next blogging venture at the & Story blog. (It's not much yet, I know.)

Thank you for reading. This will be my last post on Ten Cent Notes.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hiatus, Explained

Okay, for those who don't quite understand what's going on with the blog/why I'm on hiatus, here are some links for you. The author's original post (in which I'm the "asker" she talks about), her follow-up, and another post with some interesting comments. To sum up: the general consensus here seems to be that it falls somewhere between "maybe not the best idea" and "a really stupid move" for an author to write book reviews online, or in fact share negative opinions on books they've read at all. Yes, even aspiring writers. I'm not going to get into the reasons but if you want to read those posts they cover it pretty well.

(via weheartit)

During the last QueryChat on Twitter, I asked about book blogs - should an aspiring writer include them in the query letter, maybe in the signature? I wasn't surprised when one agent said she wouldn't work with a blogger who had dissed one of her client's books. I was surprised to find out that dissing could be something as seemingly innocent as a review or stating publicly (in places like Twitter, Goodreads, or a blog) that I didn't like a book.

This makes sense in a way. It also makes sense that, as Stacia Kane pointed out in her posts, an author who has received a negative review from another writer wouldn't want to help or blurb this person's book. And I can understand holding a grudge - I don't like it, wish it weren't something we have to deal with. But I can definitely understand it, knowing how deeply personal writing is and that often it's impossible to fully separate ourselves from that writing, from the book. A rejection of a novel must feel, no matter how well-meaning the reviewer means it, like a rejection of the writer.

Writing negative reviews, as an author or aspiring author, is taking a risk. Rating books on Goodreads is taking a risk. We don't always know how these risks might come back to haunt us - or not - until later on.

I see a world of difference, though, between a negative review where the reviewer honestly didn't enjoy the book and a positive review of a book that includes some negative elements. In writing a thorough review of a book, even one I love and want everyone to read, I often include the less-than-spectacular elements. It's not a negative review, but it might not be 100% glowy either. Now I wonder if it's risky, wrong, if I'm stepping on toes by even writing those reviews, by talking about books I find less than perfect and amazing. I've always believed that it is possible to be honest and genuine (not only in reviews, but also in discussing YA lit as a whole, in talking with others, in being) while also being positive and supportive. Am I wrong in thinking this?

I don't want to choose between being a public reader and pursuing writing. Being told that I must either give up the only foothold I currently have in the YA community (this blog) or give up my dream of someday joining the ranks of the authors whose books I love reading is... honestly, unfair is the word that springs to mind though I'm aware how that makes me sound like a child. But it is unfair. And even more confusing. There is a part of me that thinks I should close the blog (or at least abandon it), another part that sees nothing wrong in what I'm doing, and another part that keeps coming up with compromises, some of which I quite like. Mostly though, I feel like no answer is going to be the perfect right one.

I'm still working on figuring it out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This Is A Hiatus

A good preface to this post (only if you're wanting more information and points of view) is a Twitter #querychat where I asked about aspiring authors posting book reviews online, and also this post.

I keep setting out to write this post as if I know what I'm going to say. I think I'm hoping that if I just start typing the answer will flow out of my fingertips without me actually having to give it any thought.

It doesn't work like that though, does it? And the thing is, I have been thinking about it. Almost nonstop for the past thirty or so hours and a handful of times before that. I've talked to those that I trust, made a pros vs. cons list, tried to go with my gut when all of that failed.

I've thought of the things I do want. An agent, an editor, a book deal. A writing career. Readers. I want to be a writer. I also want to be a reader though. I want to talk about the books I've read, have open discussions with fellow readers, write reviews. Run this blog. Mostly though, again, I want to be a writer.

And then I though of the things I don't want. For someone to look at my reviews, my opinions, and decide they don't want to work with me based on that. To sabotage the possibility of a future writing career by talking honestly and sometimes critically about the books I've read. I don't want to be the stubborn, stupid girl who doesn't listen and pays the price for it later on. I don't want to hurt the feelings of writers - people working at the very thing I hope to work at one day.

And I wonder if - with all the things I want and all the things I don't want - I can keep going with this blog. If I can continue to thoughtfully and critically review the books I read knowing that this might impact my professional life somewhere down the line.

I don't know. That's the answer I keep swinging back around to: I. Don't. Know. Because while it does seem silly to stop something I love so much (namely, reviewing YA books) for something that realistically may never happen (me having a writing career), it also seems foolish to keep going if it's going to negatively affect the writing career that I want so badly to have.

I just don't know. I'm trying to figure it out, weigh my options, make a decision. That decision may be to stop reviewing. It might be just to stop using a numbered rating system or only review books I know I can wholeheartedly recommend. It might be to take the blog down or take it in a different direction altogether.

I really don't know. For now - the next couple days or weeks - the blog is on hiatus.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What I Write

(via weheartit)

I write contemporary/realistic YA fiction.

Under that umbrella, I write books about girls and and family and secrets and sadness and happiness and love and hope and home and drinking coffee and riding in cars and standing on the outside of a party. I write about things falling apart and things clicking into place. I probably use the word "and" more than I should.

I try to write about spies.

Someday hopefully I'll write about robots. Spaceships.

Mostly I write about small places instead of big ones and I don't know if this is because I know small places better or I'm more comfortable with them of if I just like writing about them. Maybe all three.

And as much as I write about family (which is always a lot), my stories aren't about family, but about one particular relationship in a family. Sisters, cousins, siblings. Writing about an extended family as a whole would be complicated and messy and as much as I'd love to do it I'd want the family to be insanely messy and interesting and complicated and quite possibly crazy. But I can't ever come up with a family that beats my own real-life family in all of those categories and I probably won't ever be able to.

The secrets I write about aren't earth-shattering, but, as with most of my writing, a bit quieter. They're those secrets my characters are keeping from each other or from themselves, the ones that are buried deep not because they'd cause trouble but because they'd hurt the people these characters love and want to protect.

My stories are often sad, but they always end hopeful if not altogether happy.

If you're a writer of some sort -- what do you write? And as a reader, what sort of stories do you enjoy reading?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In My Mailbox - Writing

Gifts: My mom got me these two writing books -- Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel is hands-down the best writing book I've come across and I'm thrilled to finally have the workbook. And, of course, I've been recommended to read Stephen King's On Writing about a million times by fellow writing people.

Bought: It's true that I did once tell myself I would never read a Gone With the Wind sequel, but... this isn't a sequel. So it's okay, right? RIGHT? This is Rhett's story and it sounds potentially great.

Bookswap: Published by Bloomsbury, The Kid Table, which sounds most excellent despite me hearing some not-so-great things about it. I love that it's about a group of cousins, love the title, and love that the cover was featured on That Cover Girl (where I originally heard about it).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review - Other Words for Love

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
Though this book's summary makes it sound like a story of love and heartbreak, it's really more complicated than that. Set in the late 1980s, Other Words for Love is a coming-of-age story in the truest sense of the word and it follows Ariadne, a teenage girl who seems to be an observer in her own life. Intimidated by her beautiful, brilliant, and bold best friend and overshadowed by her married older sister who suffers from post-partum depression, Ari tries to be the best daughter she can for her mother, who expects her to make up for her older sister's mistake of getting pregnant and married as a teenager. Feeling guilty about her jealousies and the lustful crush she has on her sister's husband, Ari continually tries to uphold other's expectations of her, often at her own expense, a habit she only breaks (and then only somewhat) when she meets the Ellis family and falls for Blake, a guy who seems as trapped in his family as she is in hers.

This book surprised me in a lot of ways and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. There was much more sexual content than I was expecting and a lot of it felt unnecessary, especially as the romantic relationship didn't seem to be the primary focus of the novel. Additionally, having the story set in the 80s gives the whole novel a distant, almost blurry effect, as if it were a Polaroid snapshot. The feeling of distance works well in this slow-paced book but the time period is strange as there doesn't seem to be a lot of historical significance to anchor the reader and it's relatively recent, though not recent enough to be remembered by many YA readers. As a general rule I think that in order for a story to be told in a nontraditional way or set in a nontraditional place or time there should be a specific reason for it; the decision should be demanded by the story. In this case I didn't see that and felt that the story could have been told just as well and possibly better if it were set in the present day.

However, in spite of this distance there's a certain enchantment to Ari's story and Ari herself. She's a well-written, multi-dimensional protagonist that, though quiet and unassuming, completely pulls the reader in because she's just that real. The people in her world (her family and few friends) are also well-developed and realistic, from her overbearing mother to her hot-and-cold older sister, and the things Ari goes through at the hands of those she loves are both heart-wrenching and completely believable. Ari is in an odd place in her family of being taken for granted while at the same time expected to exceed and fulfill her mother's aspirations of her. Likewise in her friendships she's also in a precarious place as her best friend (who for a long time has been her only friend) has no trouble ditching her when other, more interesting people come around but expects Ari to always be around for her and gets jealous when she begins to develop other friendships. The paradoxes of Ari's situations are, to me, incredibly interesting and realistic, which gives weight to the story.

Honestly, at times this book feels tedious, especially when it comes to Ari and Blake's ill-fated relationship. Though the writing is good and had its moments of beauty, it isn't enough to carry through some of the more boring scenes and since the book is so slow-paced I sometimes found myself wishing there were more action. But then I got to the end. And though there was some boring bits in between, the ending of this book really pulls the whole thing together, tying the story up nicely and in the best possible way as some of the storylines that didn't even seem important are pulled to the forefront, making the entire novel better and ending it in both an incredibly realistic and hopeful way for this character who definitely deserves happiness. The slow pace and lack of excitement may put off some readers, but stick with it and you might find a story to love.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Blog Week About Blogging

ETA: I've gotten some super-great suggestions for Stories & Screens week (keep them coming!) and hate to rely solely on my own blogging experience when writing these posts. I'd like to also know your experiences and opinions, so if you're a fellow blogger I'd love if you'd take the time to answer some questions.

When my ALA/bloggers post got such a good response I started to think that there are probably other issues and topics related to book blogging that might benefit from being brought to light and talked about. Because of this and the fact that I just love doing discussion posts (seriously.) I've decided to do a theme week dedicated to the issues, topics, and questions surrounding book blogging (and YA book blogging in particular).

In order for this to be a success I need your input. I want to know what topics you'd like to talk about and see addressed. What questions do you have about book blogging? Do you want to see posts about BEA, ARCs, follower counts, reviews, blogger-author relationships, ethics or etiquette of book blogging? Let me know.

Let me know also if you'd like to offer a guest post on a particular subject. I'm not sure how many guest posts I'll be able to have in a week, but we can always work something out even if it doesn't happen during the theme week.

So fill out the form, yes? Please?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review - The Girl Who Became A Beatle

Greg Taylor
Regina Bloomsbury's one wish is to be a successful musician, but when her band, The Caverns, breaks up, she makes a different sort of wish. She wishes that The Caverns were as famous as The Beatles and it happens -- just not the way she imagined. Instead of being as famous as the fab four, Regina's band has replaced them. They sing all the old songs (written, in this crazy wish-world, by Regina) and even have the same album covers. In this new world Regina has one week to make a decision -- to replace The Beatles forever and live in this wish-world, or go back to her ordinary life.

I'm a sucker for books with a strong Beatles influence, but this one didn't live up to its incredible premise. Though the story is centered around Regina and her band we don't really get a chance to know her bandmates -- not even the one she has a crush on. I realize that these people were important to Regina and that she shared a huge part of her life with them, but there were so few scenes with them that it's hard to really see their relationship or personalities. And despite a good plot, I found it hard to enjoy a book where the rules of Regina's wish-world weren't clearly defined. Was it magic? Was it a dream? Was it real? We aren't given answers to any of these questions and while that might not be a problem for some readers, it definitely bothered me. As for Regina herself, she seems to get caught up in the madness of fame pretty easily for someone who's supposed to be calm, cool, and in control... and for someone who knows this isn't her real life.

There are plenty of variations on the ordinary-girl-becomes-super-famous theme in YA these past few years and in order to stand out a book really has to have a unique spin on the concept. With the Beatles-mania going on here, this book is definitely different, but it's not enough to distract from the dull characters and predictability. On the whole, this was an easily forgettable book with a fun, easy plot and plenty of Beatles references. But beyond that it didn't have much to offer and I don't think it's one I'll be rereading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Blog - Sports Movies (Keri Mikulski) & Giveaway

In honor of the blog tour for her new book, Head Games, I asked Keri Mikulski to share with us some of her favorite sports movies. Here's what she had to say...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review - Head Games

Keri Mikulski
Taylor Thomas is the tallest girl in her high school (six. feet.) and a basketball phenomenon, but off the court she's Miss Nice Girl. She tutors all her teammates at the expense of her own grades, agrees to model in her best friend's fashion show even though she's terrified of the whole idea, and is generally nice, polite... and utterly forgettable. But that changes when her longtime crush breaks up with his girlfriend (a teammate of Taylor's) and - with some nudging from her best friend - Taylor finally goes after him.

The plot here - involving Taylor's boy troubles, basketball aspirations, and journey to stand up for herself more - is entertaining but almost seems like there's just too much. The central plot about Taylor's quasi-relationship with the ex-boyfriend of a teammate would have been interesting and captivating enough on its own, but instead of focusing primarily on that, the book adds in many other storylines that seem to distract rather than add to the overall story, with a few of them only really coming into the spotlight in the last few chapters.

The characters in this book seem to suffer from the same lack of cohesiveness as the plot does. While Taylor's said again and again to be "too nice," she also manages to start dating a teammate's ex-boyfriend just days after their breakup, causing all sorts of friend- and team-drama that should have easily been avoided. Her best friend, while encouraging Taylor to stand up for herself, also signs her up to model in a fashion show without so much as asking first. There are a lot of contradictions in the way these characters treat one another and the choices they make, which not only hindered the impact of this book but also my enjoyment of it. Though the theme of standing up for yourself and not letting others push you around came through loud and clear, the messy contradictions of Taylor's character made the theme fall a little flat, as if there was a lot of lip service, but not much to back it up.

Despite my issues with the rest of the book, the basketball/sports culture here came though really well and anchored the story. Taylor's drive and love for the game is apparent from page one and though I'm the furthest thing from a basketball fan I really appreciated this. It made her and those around her seem more real.

On the whole, this was a quick and entertaining but not altogether satisfying read. There were moments when the story really shined, but they weren't often enough to make up for the lack of focus.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Writing - Querytime!?

First things first! A huge thanks to Ella Press for the blog's new look (if you're reading in some sort of feed reader you should definitely click over to see it). I'm totally loving the title font.

(via weheartit)

So it looks like I'm jumping back into Queryland. Prepare yourselves for Querytime. The query letter has gotten good reactions from the few people I've shown it to and I now have a list of agents to query. I'll definitely be talking about this on Twitter, but I'm not exactly going to chronicle the journey of querying on my blog because, quite frankly, that could get depressing. Or boring. OR BOTH!!

But I am excited. It's been a long time since I've queried and I think I'm ready (again) for the waiting and rejections and all that comes along with putting my work out there

Sunday, January 16, 2011

In My Mailbox - The ALA Post

Because I know not everyone cares to hear about all the ARCs I got at ALA I'm posting the list after the jump for anyone who's interested.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why I Love Contemporary

(via weheartit)

I love it because there's nothing that special about the heroes of realistic, contemporary fiction. They don't have superpowers or curses or magic or any of that. They're human. Which means that when they succeed it's because of some inner strength - because they want it enough or they work hard enough or they're lucky enough. Or a combination of everything.

I love realistic stories because reading is like looking in a mirror. It's seeing yourself a little clearer, a little better, finding a piece of yourself in a story that someone else has written. And sure, this happens in other genres, but nowhere is it as widespread as contemporary/realistic.

I don't often talk about what I'm reading right now on the blog, but today I have Wendelin Van Draanen's latest, The Running Dream, sitting next to me. It's about a 16 year old runner who loses her leg in an accident. Who has to learn to live as an amputee.

I don't know anything about losing a limb, but the hospital scenes are almost painful to read. They're real. The horror of seeing yourself in a mirror that first time after being in a hospital bed for days, the food you can't hardly eat and the longing for real food. The complicated and confusing emotions that come with all the "get well" wishes and cards and flowers.

She hit the nail on the head and I love it because, even though I'm not a runner, I can relate to the protagonist. And I know that when she gets through this -- when she makes it to the end of this journey, it won't be because of magic or spells or supernatural creatures. It will be because of her. And because of the people around her. The very human, very fallible people around her.

And that's the kind of strength I love seeing in characters. Real strength. Human strength. I can relate to that.

Why do you love contemporary? Or whatever genre it is that's your favorite -- what makes you adore it so much? Also: I've been doing a few of these more personal reading posts lately; what do you think of them?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review - Anna and the French Kiss

Stephanie Perkins
This is a love story of the highest, best quality. Sent to an American boarding school in Paris for her senior year, Anna has to leave behind the boy she likes, her best friend, and her adorable little brother to live in a country where she doesn't know the language. Of course, Anna quickly finds friends in the form of the girl next door, an overly-PDA couple, and the amazing, beautiful, wonderful Etienne St. Claire... who has a girlfriend. Though this is a love story between Anna and Etienne St. Claire (and what a love story it is!), it's also the story of her senior year in Paris: exploring the city, dealing with her new and old friendships, and all the while hopping from theater to theater as she learns to love her new city.

The characters that fill Anna's world are incredibly well-written. From our film-obsessed and slightly awkward protagonist, to slacker-boy Josh, to the terrified-of-heights, adored-by-everyone St. Claire. It's been said by others before, but these characters and their interactions are incredibly authentic. This book does away with all the staple cliches and stereotypes of the YA love story in favor of incredibly adorable relationships and realistic dialogue. Somehow Perkins manages to write everyday conversations without making them boring or annoying, but instead utterly charming.

Anna's relationships and feelings in this book are not clear-cut. There are shades of grey in the things she wants (or thinks she wants), the decisions she makes, and the ways she acts. Though this means that there are a few times I was less-than-pleased with her actions, it also makes for an incredibly realistic and authentic read.

And if the characters are lovely and realistic, the setting is... well, the setting is magical. This is Paris, just as beautiful and wonderful and yummy as you'd ever imagine it, and Perkins does an incredible job of building Anna's world without getting in the way of story. The descriptions are intense and beautiful, pulling the reader into the world and the story.  So much about this book - the characters, setting, and Anna's amazingly authentic voice - is perfect. Funny, warm, magical, and unforgettable. I love it. I love it, and I didn't expect to. Read this book ASAP; it really is that good.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

That Moment.

(via weheartit)

I love that feeling I get... that feeling when I have an unopened book in my hand. I like that moment before the cover is pulled back, before I read that first word, first sentence.

That moment when it's still so full of possibility. Endless.

It could be the best book I've ever read. Every word could be incredible, golden, untouchable.

I love that feeling. Not knowing what's going to happen, who the characters are going to be, or if I'm going to be adding another awesome author to my ever-growing list of awesome authors.

Sometimes I'm disappointed.
Sometimes I'm not.
Sometimes I'm completely, utterly blown away by the splendor of what I'm reading.

The last book this happened with was Matched, by Ally Condie. Before that it was Courtney Summer's Fall for Anything. (Both of which you must read.) And now I'm sitting in front of so many wonderful, shiny, new books. I know I will love some of them. I don't how many, or which ones, but I know there's something great in there.

& this is only one of many, many things I love about books and about reading. that moment of possibility.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The ALA Recap Post

I managed to go to all four days of exhibits at ALA's Midwinter Meeting and have so much to say about the experience. It's the first book conference I've been to and I'm absolutely thrilled that I was able to attend. Tons of greatness happened, unfortunately someone (me) forgot her camera every. single. day. and alas there are no pictures. But here are the highlights. ELEVEN OF THEM, in whatever order I think of them in.

  1. On Friday I got to hang out with the fabulous Cindy Pon, who is incredibly incredibly sweet and awesome. I also met a few other awesome book people, including Robin, who I talked about books like Columbine and Nineteen Minutes with. (YAY for book conversations!) (Also, she has tons of pictures up on her blog!)
  2. Also on Friday was the YA Book Blogger Meetup where I met so many bloggers and librarians. I had a great time talking with and meeting so many people and fangirling over Betsy-Tacy books with other book lovers. Authors, publicists, librarians, bloggers.
  3. I now have a Betsy-Tacy tote bag. YEAH.
  4. My badge said Ten Cent Notes on it, which made me feel really awesome and legit.
  5. TROLLEY RIDING ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY. It took forever to get there and back but was pretty fun. I enjoy the trolley.
  6. I talked to such excellent and interesting people at Flux, Hyperion, Harper, Scholastic, Little Brown, Random House, Penguin, Macmillan, and Egmont. It was like a book geek's special brand of heaven. These conversations included: upcoming themes/trends in contemporary YA, the reissue of the Baby-Sitters' Club series, Across the Universe, Sarah Dessen, Hunger Games, book covers, Lynne Rae Perkins, etc etc etc. 
  7. Tons of shiny pretty wonderful ARCs! Including one that was pushed into my hands by someone at the Macmillan group -- a YA scifi without a cover or pub date listed but OMG YOU GUYS. I'm more than kind of in love with it.
  8. On Sunday I got to hang out with Khy, of Frenetic Reader! I always love getting to talk to and hang out with her. Such fun is had! 
  9. I also met the lovely Amy of My Friend Amy, who I've talked to on Twitter more times than I can count. She's so nice! Just as nice as you'd suspect her of being!
  10. At one point Khy said, "That's John Green's editor!" And I didn't see her but I really, really wanted to follow her and meet her. I didn't though.
  11. Probably the highlight of the entire thing? I ran into and talked to a librarian who is on next year's Newbery Committee. OMG OMG OMG. I pretty much geeked out over that one. I love the Newbery Award. It's. Amazing.
So the whole thing was incredibly awesome.
I met all kinds of awesome people, got awesome books that I'm excited to read, and overall just had a fantastic time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On the Topic of Bloggers at ALA

Prompted by some chatter on Twitter (and, oddly enough, Tumblr) about the number of non-librarian bloggers at ALA and how/if this is a problem, I decided to share my thoughts on it. Because, as someone who is a blogger and was at ALA and did get a lot of books, I have many thoughts and I've been trying to organize them in my mind...

I am not a librarian. I don't work in a library, I don't work with school library programs or anything like that. I'm a blogger, aspiring writer, and future elementary teacher. That being said, I wish there were guidelines for bloggers going to ALA. Because honestly I had no idea what to expect. I've never been to a book conference before and went into it almost on a whim, figuring things out as I went. I've been blogging for three years but I still feel like a "fringe" blogger, like I'm not really in the midst of things. I like this, but it also means that my blog is smaller and doesn't have a huge readership. I'm not one of the "big bloggers" by any means and sometimes -- especially at an event where so many of the people are in books professionally, it does sort of put you on a lower level and the expectations can definitely be confusing.

It would be great, I think, if there were some guidelines or even a discussion of what's expected at ALA for book bloggers who aren't professionally involved in the industry. Should we introduce ourselves as bloggers to the publicists we take ARCs from? Should we not keep the ARCs for ourselves but instead donate them to libraries/programs after reading them? What are the rules? 

Because here's the thing: blogging is not something I make money from. It sounds corny to say but people who blog regularly about books really are doing it because they love it and they love books. Sure, some people get into blogging in the hopes of getting "free books," but a blog will not survive if that's the motivation. Anyone who's been blogging regularly for six months, a year, or more, is definitely putting out the effort. (I just switched over to blogspot, but I've been book blogging for three years.) As people who love books, bloggers don't want to be on the naughty list of anyone in the publishing or book industry -- not authors, not publishers, editors, publicists, or librarians. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I think it's safe to say that if there are guidelines regarding bloggers and ALA, we will follow them.

But there are no guidelines.

Some suggested general rules for bloggers in the future, based on my experience at the midwinter meeting?

  • Be upfront about the fact that you're a blogger and not a librarian. Talk to the reps at the booths you take ARCs from; everyone I talked to seemed pretty psyched about the blog and more than happy to talk to me and share books/ARCs with me.
  • Be selective about what you take. Amazingly enough with all the books I ended up taking home, they were all titles I was very interested in and fairly confident about liking. I didn't take any highly-recommended fantasy or paranormal ARCs because it doesn't interest me and that would just be a waste.
That seems pretty reasonable to me, but then again this is only my opinion and I have no idea what others might think or expect. The thing is that "greedy" is hard to define and as a blogger who absolutely loved ALA, got a lot of ARCs I'm super excited about, and met tons of awesome people it does make me feel a bit bad to have people think I shouldn't have been able to attend as a blogger. It really was an amazing and incredible experience.

So, readers, what's your opinion? And what are you -- blogger? Librarian? Reader? Author? INCREDIBLE PERSON MADE OF AWESOME AND WIN?

(and yes, my recap post is still on its way...)

Contemporary Trends of the Spring

One of the really cool things about being at ALA's Midwinter Meeting was seeing all the upcoming books for spring and summer. In seeing all the books I noticed some definite trends in contemporary YA, some that I'm really jazzed about.

Sports Fiction!
There are a few books coming out that focus on very sports-driven characters who end up getting injured or "losing" the sport in another way. I'm definitely not an athlete and there are very few sports I even slightly follow, but I definitely have a fascination with football (high school football? even better.) and am interested in the whole allure of sports. These books look absolutely great, even for a non-jock like myself.

Foreign Fiction.
I saw tons of MG and YA books themed around immigrants and heritage. I haven't read much of this sub-genre so there are definitely a few books here I'm excited to read and interested to see what I think of them. I'm so glad to see this theme emerging because it's just so different and there are so many different directions for it to go.

Friendship & Betrayal Stories.
So many stories about friendships that don't seem right!! It's sad how excited I am about this but I can't help it. I've talked about friendship and especially toxic/unhealthy friendships before on this blog and I definitely have a very personal and intense interest in this. I love that YA is getting away from the theme of "perfect" best friends but at the same time this is a very tricky theme to tackle and it can seem really unrealistic or cliche if not done right. 

What trends have you seen emerging lately? Which are you most excited about?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What I Love About Book People... that they're all so excited! Seriously. I've been at ALA's Midwinter meeting this weekend and talking to fellow bloggers, lots of librarians, and publishing people has shown me that EVERYONE LOVES BOOKS SO MUCH. 

& I love that.

In the past couple of days I've had discussions about the Gallagher Girls series, all the upcoming dystopian novels. I've talked about Lynne Rae Perkins (author of the amazing Criss Cross and even more amazing All Alone in the Universe), who apparently has a YA title out now (!!!). I've had conversations about Sarah Dessen, All Across the Universe, and fangirled over the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books with other bloggers. 


Like many diehard readers (ahem. DIEHARD!!) there aren't a lot of people in my day-to-day, in-person life that are as crazy about books as I am and it's wonderful to talk to others who are just as crazy about books as I am. 

so yeah. ALSO! sidebar poll, please answer it. 
ALSO! I'll quite possibly be doing a more in-depth ALA post later on in the week.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Cindy Ella

Robin Palmer
When Cindy Ella Gold writes a scathing anti-Prom letter to the editor of her school's newspaper (and it gets printed!) she becomes the focus of her classmate's mockery. Instead of bridging the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots," as she intended, the letter instead just serves to make Cindy the common enemy of her materialistic, Prom-loving classmates, including her two popular stepsisters.

As you can probably tell from the title, this is a modern retelling of the whole "Cinderella" thing, with a decidedly more opinionated (and anti-fairytale) heroine. Cindy, though she boycotts the Prom, still finds herself dealing with plenty of boy-drama. Her online best friend, the popular boy she's liked since forever, and her new, older tutor she's convinced is her soul mate soulmate. Whatever that means. It would be so easy, in all of this, for Cindy's character to be a complete mess, but the contradictions of her character are presented wonderfully and with humor. Though she fancies herself a "nouveau" feminist and insists that she has deeper thoughts than her classmates, she also freely admits to loving MTV's My Super Sweet 16 and catching only glimpses of big news stories on her way to more interesting things. In some characters this sort of hypocrisy would be insanely annoying, but Cindy manages to approach everything with a healthy dose of humor and though she's opinionated she also seems to realize that she doesn't really know everything. While many of the other characters here, including her two best friends, are a bit one-note, they're also entertaining and un-annoying.

Prom Fever is depicted pretty well here and though it seems a bit extreme at times the superficial and materialistic fictional school Cindy attends is written so well that the extremeness of her fellow students doesn't feel forced. The plot, revolving around Cindy's anti-Prom stance and boy-drama, is cute but predictable. There are a few things that I did find a bit too unreal, such as Cindy and her best friends thinking that it's totally okay for her to contemplate dating a 23-year-old, and the fact that at least three different people close to her thought that she was self-harming for no obvious reason,  but on the whole the book was cute enough for those things to be overlooked. The identity of her online best guy friend is obvious pretty early on but this doesn't take away from how adorable it is when Cindy finally finds out.

Though this book is predictable and more than a little cheesy at times, with a few annoying plot points, it's also incredibly cute and funny, with a realistic and witty main character that I absolutely loved.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Across the Universe

Beth Revis
I've had this book sitting on my shelf for months, waiting for the new year to read it. This is the first YA sci-fi I've found and it takes place on, as the cover says, a "spaceship fueled by lies." Amy is a teenage Earth girl who was cryogenically frozen 250 years ago - before the ship took off for it's 300 year journey to a new planet. Elder is the teenage heir to the ship's tyrannical current leader, Eldest. Together, Amy and Elder must not only keep Amy safe aboard a ship where she's labeled as a "freak," but also figure out who keeps unplugging the cyro chambers, killing the people inside of them.

The premise here - murder and lies aboard a spaceship - is fantastic like woah. However, despite the description on the back cover of this book there are lots of little subplots inside that sometimes distract from the main story. Elder's interest in his biological parents is a subplot that doesn't really come in until the very end of the novel and other storylines, such as Harley's story and the character of Luthe, felt either out-of-place or like they should have been bigger than they were. The murder mystery aspect gets forgotten for a time, so much that when it came back into the story I'd almost forgotten about it. However, despite the many storylines the ship's mysteries are incredibly interesting and make this sometimes-slow-moving book a page-turner.

While a few of the characters seemed a little one-dimensional, for the most part they were awesome and realistic as they dealt with life on the ship. The two lead charcters, Amy and Elder, were especially awesome - Amy as she navigated her way through a world where everyone just seems a little bit off and tries to make peace with having to live with these people for the rest of her life, and Elder as he tries to protect Amy and find out what secrets Eldest is hiding from him. Probably the biggest issue I had with these characters was the fact that after a while Amy and Elder's voices (the book is told from their alternate POVs) started to sound very similar and I sometimes had to double-check whose chapter I was reading.

I can't review this book without talking about the setting. OH MY GOODNESS THE SETTING. There is a whole world on board the spaceship called Godspeed, and though it's very obviously a dystopian society it didn't remind me at all of other dystopian books I've read. Here, everything is the same. There is one race, no religion, and most everyone on the ship seems incredibly empty-headed, incapable of believing anything different from what Eldest tells them to believe. The exception here are the "crazy" people in the Ward, including Elder and Harley, who almost seem like real people. The outlooks on art, sex, and individual thought is bizarre to say the very least. 

This book was different from what I was expecting. There were more mysteries, more intrigue, and less romance than I was expecting. And though I didn't totally love it, I did like it quite a lot and now I find that I can't stop thinking about it. Across the Universe is one of those books that I want to like more than I do, that's different from what I expected, and that I'm eager for the sequel to. Yeah, all of that.

*Across the Universe comes out Jan. 11

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I love honesty. I love books that are honest. I read somewhere that the type of honesty I'm talking about, that bold and blunt and raw honesty, is something only found in teenagers. That we grow out of it, leave it behind in our youth, and later cringe to think of it.

I don't like that idea.

Because I like being honest, 100% true, in my writing. If I'm not, what's the point? Though I'm still not that far from teenage-dom (I turn 21 next week-ish) I'm already worried - if it is in fact true that we lose that particular type of honesty - of losing this thing that I love so much, of looking back on the more personal things I've written now and cringing at them.

I don't want to lose it. I don't want to stop writing it or reading it. I love those books that are so honest, that show me something I'd forgotten or hadn't realized, that seem to reflect a little bit of what I think in the deep-thinking and sometimes hidden part of my brain. The authors whose books I love most aren't the ones who write the most exciting or even interesting stories -- they're the ones who have that knack of truth, who are able to be wonderfully, brutally honest in the best possible way. I love that.

And it's the type of writer I want to be. If it is true that everyone has that brutal honesty, that we just lose it as we get older, then maybe I'll just have to work a little harder at it. Pay attention a little more.

So what do you guys think? Do we lose the honesty as we get older? Do we even have it to start with? Or do some have it and others don't? WHAT'S YOUR OPINION?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: Matched

Ally Condie
In Cassia's Society, people are told where to live, where to work, when to die, and who to marry. The system is perfect, of course: each person who chooses to is Matched with their perfect Match. And on her seventeenth birthday, Cassia is, too. Unlike other girls, whose Matches live in other cities, hers lives just down the street. Hers is her best friend, Xander. But then something happens: the screen flickers and, just for an instant, its another boy's face staring back at Cassia. This boy is not her best friend, not her Match - he's someone she never should have been Matched with. And yet she was, for just an instant, and this paired with the secret poems her grandfather gave her at his Final Banquet before he died, changes everything for Cassia. For the first time in her life she sees choice. She sees that there is more to living than what the Society tells her there is.

This was an amazing, slowly-building, page-turner of a book that was incredible in so many ways. I don't even know where to begin. One of the most astounding things about this book is that in the beginning it really isn't that good. The writing is clunky and the characters seem flat. But then, as Cassia develops as a character her voice develops as well until it is filled with a type of impossible-to-describe poetry. As brilliant as the premise is, its the combination of all the elements that really make this book fantastic. The plot, through slow-moving, is exceptionally crafted. There's a sense of something more lurking just below the surface and despite its lack of action, this book manages to be nearly unputdownable. Though the Society Cassia lives in is said to be peaceful there's a constant threat of danger just under the surface, a threat of Cassia losing everything she loves if it's discovered that she's read poems she shouldn't and is falling for a boy who isn't her Match.

Surprisingly, despite being less developed than other parts of the novel, it's the characters that really made this story for me. Cassia herself is absolutely wonderful as she dares to step out of the box and push the envelope of what's expected and demanded of her. The journey she takes from the first page to the last is an overwhelming one with a few unexpected turns, but she has a kind of quiet, inner strength that you don't often find in the protagonists of dystopian or sci-fi, who are typically more kick-ass than kind and loving. But Cassia - and those around her - is loving. She cares deeply about not only her family, but also Xander and Ky (the boy she wasn't supposed to be Matched with). She breaks the rules, yes, but there's a limit to what she's willing to risk. Like Cassia, the other characters around her are also quiet risk-takers. From Ky, who gets by on being absolutely average and knows how to write by hand to Xander, who's willing to hide forbidden items for Cassia and bend the rules for their friends, to Cassia's parents and grandfather who each rebel in their own small way to protect the ones they love. However, despite all these things I wanted more from these characters and their relationships. Though Cassia is incredible and amazing and I want to be friends with her omg, other characters are less developed. I was surprised at how much of the time Xander wasn't in the book, as well as how ambivalent I felt towards Ky.

Despite having a premise that revolves around a love triangle, I just didn't feel it. There was no love triangle, really, not for Cassia. It's not about her choosing between Xander and Ky; it's about her fighting to be able to choose at all. And while this is absolutely wonderful and the feelings between her and Ky are undeniable and well-written, the character of Ky himself wasn't very impressive. I felt that while Xander can stand on his own what makes Ky really interesting was the mere fact that Cassia found him interesting and that there was this love between them that seemed to transform things.

To put it simply: I love this book and can't wait for the rest of the trilogy. It's amazing, incredible, unexpected, etc. It's rare to find a dystopian novel as emotion- and character-driven as this one, and it works perfectly.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Writing: How Do You Pronounce Zooey?

(via weheartit)

I'm doing some rewrites now, for the novel that's told with a dual POV between two sisters. I'm working on one story/perspective at a time and starting with the younger sister's story because hers is the one that really needs the huge overhaul.

I've spent four days working on her story.
I've written and deleted thousands of words.
I have, right now, only 500 words in the new draft. But, I think, they're good words, and that's what's important, right?

Writing is so weird. I have these characters in my head, two sisters just a few years apart. They're imaginary people, but to me they're real and they have all these dreams/fears/desires/problems/stories that they're trying to work through. That I'm trying to write through. One of them is in love and the other is gorgeous. One already feels like she's lost everything and the other isn't sure what there is to lose. One knows exactly who she is and the other has no idea. It's hard to show all of that, to make sure that the people in my mind show up on paper. To make readers, if I ever have any, know these girls as well as I do. I run over things when I'm working on a novel, really working on the big-picture items. Lately I've been thinking a lot about Zooey, this beautiful and insecure character, and trying to make her story click together.

I think about looking in the mirror and not feeling like that person is you. Of not really knowing who you is and kind of, maybe, not wanting it to be who everyone else seems to think it is.
I think about hating a place and loving a place, sometimes at the same time.
I think of growing. Growing too tall for your clothes as a kid, too big for the box that you're put in as you get older. Not fitting the labels you've worn for years. Wanting to bust out of who you used to be or, sometimes, being forced to bust out.
I think about jealousy and envy and hate... all those emotions we like to sweep under the rug. And I think about the insecurity, the wanting something you can't have that lies underneath that.

Like Zooey herself, I'm not quite sure what sort of person she'll be by the end of this. In the last draft she was dealing with a lot of big things that somehow don't fit in the novel now. Her story is narrowing down to a pinpoint, down to just her and who she is and who she wants to be and who she doesn't want to be. Some of these things are easy to know, others are more difficult. 

Rewriting is hard. I have to get rid of all that fun stuff, like the scene where she throws a rock at someone's brand new car and the heirloom glass dish she breaks. That stuff is hard - but necessary - to get rid of, and now I have to replace it. And I'm not quite sure what with. 

I want a crying scene.
A screaming scene.
A fight scene.
And, I can't help it, I want her to throw a rock at someone's car, though at this point there's no real "villain" anymore, which makes things more difficult.
Of course, there are other things I want in her story, too. Quieter scenes, less explosive, because Zooey's not really an explosive person. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So that's what I'm working on. Character and story and rewriting - all things that take lots of time and thought and I wish I could just hurry up already but I think it's something I should probably take my time on. Quality of words > quantity of words and all that.

Also! How would you pronounce the name Zooey?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In My Mailbox: Oldies

Bookswap: My dad recommended this book to me when I was seven years old, but of course back then I was really too young to read a Stephen King novel. (& I know some of you out there probably did read King novels at that age, but... seriously? I was busy reading Little House on the Prairie and The Long Winter.) So I recently found the book on GR bookswap and snatched it up. I'm a little over a third of the way in now and omg it's pretty horrific but morbidly fascinating.

Gift: My grandma gave me a super-old (first edition, I think) of this book. I've never heard of it before and I'm honestly not sure what I'll think of it but I definitely love the idea of the book and am hoping it'll be a pleasant surprise how much I like it. Also I can't find the actual cover anywhere, so you just get this boring picture of nothing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 Wishes

  1. More contemporary stand-alone novels. I hate ranting against series because I really don't have anything against them except for the fact that there are so many and so many books that make incredible stand-alones are turned into series, which I'm definitely not a fan of. Contemporary is one of those genres that does really really well with the one-shot stories and I want to see more of them in the coming year.
  2. More family. It's no secret that I adore novels about family and I think it's largely overlooked in YA. Though 2010 saw some great stories centered around family relationships I'm always wanting more, and I'd especially love for the father-daughter dynamic to be explored because I haven't found much of that in teen books.
  3. Unexpected and well-handled stereotype subversions. Cheerleaders who kick butt and take names (a la The Naughty List) and super-smart models (a la Plus) are both awesome and I'm eager for more stereotype subversions that make for really well-rounded characters.
  4. Actual and realistic problems. I'm starting to hate the female YA protagonists who are drop-dead gorgeous, have (at least) two guys after them, get great grades, don't worry about money at all, are healthy and happy and normal -- their problems never seem real to me. I want characters who are legitimately struggling, either with self-confidence, looks, grades, guys, the future, family, money... whatever. These are real things that real teenagers actually deal with and I'd love to see that portrayed more in books.
  5. Books with tweets! Um, just yes please. Especially if most or all of the story is told in tweets like Tweet Heart was.
  6. A historical fiction set on the Oregon Trail. Sure, blame this one on the fact that I've been playing The Oregon Trail as if I'm nine years old again but I just think that would be awesome. Get on that, somebody. (Or if it already exists... alert me to it!)
  7. Science Fiction YA. I'm so hyped up to read Beth Revis' debut, Across the Universe and wish there was more sci-fi in the YA world because I love science fiction but I'm incredibly picky about it and I feel like sci-fi with a YA twist would be more awesome.
  8. Non-college options explored in contemporary YA. I want characters who end up going to a community college after high school, who go to a vocational school or straight into the workforce or get married or move away or... or... or whatever. Everyone doesn't take AP classes and get scholarships and go away to college and even though most YA doesn't cover "the college years," it definitely covers the junior and senior years of high school where these decisions are made and I really feel like there's a whole demographic (many demographics) of people that aren't represented because of this. I'm not saying they're all the best choices, but they are choices people make all the time.
  9. Better love stories. Sadly there are very few couples/potential couples in YA that I feel like are really, really great. And I don't even read paranormal! I love finding realistic and cute and aww, so perfect toether! couples in YA lit and when I do I'm completely spazzed-out happy about it so I hope 2011 brings more of these couples.
  10. Good girls (and boys). I feel like for a long time there has been this big push for "edgy" YA, whatever that means -- drugs, sex, pregnancies, explorations of "real life" problems and things that teens deal with. And I'm not denying that these are real things that teens handle and deal with or saying that they shouldn't be explored in YA literature, but I've never been that kind of person. I was/am a "good girl" and I do sometimes get a little annoyed at all the super-edgy characters in YA (like, um, Bianca from The Duff) and the books that seem to assume these types of teens don't exist. I want to read about good people! Flawed, confused, and messed-up, sure, but also good.
  11. Me. I can't help it. I want an agent, an editor, a book deal. I want to be a part of YA as a writer and not just a reader/blogger. True, it's nearly impossible for it to happen in 2011, but I would like to be on the path by the end of this year.