Sunday, May 29, 2011

In My Mailbox - Series Books

Won: I've been wanting to read Divergent since going to ALA in January and I was so insanely happy to win a copy of the book by being Claudia Gabel's 1000th Twitter follower. This was doubly exciting because I always want to win things where you have to be the 10th caller or the 1000th follower or whatever and until now I never have. So thank you, Claudia! I've heard such great things about this book and I'm thrilled to read it. Also she also sent me some Divergent temporary tattoos, which is awesome.

Bookswap: I mentioned this book last week and this week it came in the mail, so now I have the whole trilogy. Win! And I don't even mind that one (this one) is in hardcover and the others are paperback (honest), though I do want to find a way to not have these books hiding in the second row of my bookshelf. I'm so happy to have this whole series! HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!! (And as an aside -- how beautiful are these covers? So beautiful.)

Blogger Book Trade: Thanks to Anni from Stuff Young People Read for sending me this book -- one I've wanted to read for years yet never got around to it. But now it's on my shelves so I'll definitely read it. And I'm hoping it's awesome. Question: is the whole series worth reading or just the first?

Friday, May 27, 2011


(via weheartit.)

I've been missing more blog days than I like to lately, but there are reasons for this! Very good, very reasonable reasons! Number one, this past week was finals and I was very busy studying and working on projects and basically being such a tired, worn-out mess that the guy at Staples actually told me that I looked tired and worn-out. You know it's bad when strangers are telling you this. However, since finals have ended I have slept! Which was wonderful!

But also I'm graduating with my Associate's Degree this semester (woo! go me!) and I keep insisting that it's really not a big deal because I'm not done with college or anything (though I am incredibly tired of it and taking a break before I get my BA and teaching certificate), but I've been thinking about it more and honestly honestly honestly I'm kind of proud of myself. I realize that a lot of people my age are close to getting their BAs and some are off to grad school etc etc etc, but I am not them and it has been hard work getting my degree. There have been many freak outs and panicking and angsting over the fact that my grades are never as good as I want them to be and school makes me feel really really stupid and I often don't like it and and and... it's just been a long time. And a lot of really hard work. And I'm super proud and kind of relieved that it's over and omg you guys I actually did it. Personally, I'm amazed.

 So now my grandparents are coming up for a visit and to go to my graduation (win!) so I'm going to be spending a lot of time with them this next week and I'm going to try to schedule a few blog posts, but I'm definitely going to be a bit scarce around these parts.

Oh, and I'm also writing/querying/writing/editing, which is taking time and brainpower and emotions and everything else.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review - My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies

It's two years after his dad's unexpected death and Adam Ziegler's life is all tech all the time. Terrified of the dark after losing his dad, he spends his time creating lights for the shows in his high school theater. Though he's still mourning his father and is somewhat distanced from his friends and former life, Adam finds a place he belongs in Tech, running the lights. But when a beautiful actress named Summer catches his attention, he's suddenly in danger of breaking the most important techie rule (and getting black-listed by the other techs): thou shalt not get involved with the actors.

The great thing about going into a book without any preconceptions -- as I did with this one -- is that the book has a way of pleasantly surprising you. Though I know almost nothing about theater, I was quickly wrapped up in the life of a tech as Adam's genuine and intense love for lighting is infectious. For him, it's an art form and this is instantly clear. There seems to be an age-old battle between the techies and actors in this story and though it made for some nice dramatic moments and added to Adam's conflict between The Girl (Adam) and his friends (especially his best friend, a guy called Reach) and tech life, it felt a bit too unrealistic to me. I understand high school cliques, but the punishment for even talking to or hanging out with an actor seemed incredibly harsh to me and I just didn't totally buy it. However, like I said, I really don't know about theater and maybe in some theaters there really is a hatred between the actors and crew.

As for Summer, I had a couple of different reactions to her. As a new student, she kind of has the same reaction as I do to the feud between the crew and actors and she was very likable as a girl who truly loves acting and is sometimes a bit perplexed at the actions of the people around her. However, she was also a little too much MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl) for me. In the end this wasn't enough to sustain one of the most important characters in the book. But Adam is so likable, so honest in his quest for her heart, his confusion over what to do, his sometimes-cowardly personality, and his sadness over losing his father, that the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl qualities in Summer became okay. Because it was clear that Adam had real feelings for her and so I trusted in the fact that he saw something good and worthwhile and non-typical in her. (Now, having said all of that, I also feel the need to mention Adam's tech-girl friend, Grace. Because she was awesome, no question about it.)

One of the main things that I liked about this book was how light-hearted it managed to be even while tackling some heavy issues. Though the story handles Adam's grief over losing his father, the book never turns into a "grief book" and as much as I love grief books, I liked that it didn't go that way. Instead, the story was funny and focused and had a wonderful, feel-good-read feeling to it. For me, it was incredibly refreshing. This is a fast read that feels much shorter than it actually is and will put a smile on your face. It seems a bit targeted to theater-types and Glee-fans (the back of the ARC mentions Glee), but honestly if you like a good story and want something sweet, light-hearted, and funny, pick this one up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA: Interview With A Blogger

Part of Armchair BEA is an interview swap with another blogger. So today I'm interviewing Judith, from Leeswammes' Blog. She reviews all kinds of books and also talks about food and cooking on her blog. Also! If this post looks a bit... different, it's because Blogger is having a tantrum and switching up the font on me.

What you read seems so different from what I read (typically YA) -- what is it that draws you to literary fiction in particular?
I like a well-written story. I also like a story with a good plot, actually, but a good plot alone doesn't work for me. I like it when a story is told in beautiful language. Though not too over the top, or I'll just give up on the book!

What books could you recommend to a reader who has very little experience in reading literary fiction? What about dystopian?
Maybe Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, about a university lecturer who does everything wrong. It's quite a funny book and not so big either.
One of my favorite dystopian novels is The Chysalids, by John Wyndham. It reminds me a bit of The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, but it was written in the 1950s and is a good book for both YA readers and adults.

Talking about dystopia, last year I made a list of non-YA dystopian books. There are so many (beautiful!) YA dystopian boos that it's sometimes hard to find out if there are any for adults too. Well, there are. (Some more dystopian books -- including YA novels -- can be found here.)

I love dystopia!

What made you initially start a book blog and why have you stuck with it? Also! What made you decide to combine your love of food with a love of reading and include food on the blog?
I was keeping track of my books on (a kind of goodreads) and also writing reviews there. But I wanted my reviews to be available to more people -- I guess I wanted some more attention!

At first, I wasn't going to make it just a book blog, but include other things in my life as well. But in the end, it's mainly books, and sometimes a recipe or some other food-related post. Just for variation!

What's the best and worst parts about being a book blogger?
No, the best part is not the free books I get to review!!! I love, love, love the blogging community. I love the friendly interaction with my blogging friends. In real life, I know very few people who like reading as much as I do, so I think it's great that there is a whole world out there of people just like me. 

There's no real bad part, but my aim is to write a new post every day and that is sometimes a bit much and I get stressed about getting it done. Also, I find it hard to say NO to authors that offer books for review. But if they're really not my genre or I'm not interested in the topic, I have to say no, and then I sweat over a friendly rejection email.  

Here's a more difficult question: why do you love reading? Does that love come from your family being big readers or is it something you picked up on your own?
I love reading because I love stories (long stories the size of novels). I often like them better than movies because you can make most of the details up yourself. I also like it because it gives you a quiet time where you can relax.

My family are not big readers but my parents did always have a book on the go. We were frequent users of the library, but we didn't buy many books. So, we had only a small bookcase at home. When I was about 12-14, I read about 1-2 books a day. I read A LOT!! We were only allowed 2 books at a time from the library (library rules) so you can guess I was there almost every day.

On your blog you talk about the backs of books, but what about their covers? Do the covers make an impact on your reading/buying habits at all?
Absolutely! For me, there is nothing so important as the cover of a book! It determines for a great deal whether I will buy or borrow a book or not. Yes, I judge a book by its cover! 

I had the idea for the Back of the Book competition because I realised that e-books generally don't have a back cover. So I was wondering: do people actually notice the back cover of a book? That's how I started the competition (which anyone can still enter if they like).

I know you were less than enthused about the ending to The Hunger Games trilogy -- what's a series that you think has a really great ending? 
You know, I don't read many series. The only series I can think of is the Big Stone Gap series by Adriana Trigiani which make more sense if you read them in order, but you could also read just the last one, or the middle one. So, no real answer I'm afraid. 

How does your review system work? 
I get review books from several publishers. In two cases, I choose from their list what I want and they send it (or not). Luckily, I don't get many unsolicited copies, so until now, I've read everything I've received. And yes, I review everything I read.  
This year it got so silly with review books, books I swapped and books that I won in giveaways that I hadn't bought any books myself until far into April, and I maybe got 5 books from the library in that time. Now I'm limiting the amount of books I request for review, so I can also read the books that are already on my wishlist. 
By the way, I read about 12-15 books per month, so one or two extra here and there don't matter too much. 

What genres do you read?
You might better ask what genres I don't read! I read a lot, even the back of cereal boxes, but in terms of books: literary fiction, contemporary fiction, chick-lit, mysteries and thrillers, some YA, non-fiction about food, travel and language. And of course dystopian novels and some other science fiction, oh, especially time travel!

Rapid-Fire Questions!
Coffee or Tea? Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon, please. In the evening, either. :-)
Favorite TV show? I watch a lot of BBC (UK) - Masterchef, The Apprentice, Dr. Who.
Favorite Movie? Another UK choice: Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Favorite book? A Dutch one: Beyond Sleep, by W.F. Hermans. An English-language one: This Book Will Save Your Life, by A.M. Homes.
Ink: blue or black? Blue
Cats or dogs? I lean toward cats but also like dogs.
Favorite food to cook? Potato quiche - it's so delicious! Here's the recipe on my blog!

Judith can be found on Twitter (@leeswammes), Goodreads (Leeswammes), and Shelfari (JudithAnn).

Monday, May 23, 2011


An intro to me! I told you I might be able to get one up. The good news is that I finished my Biology final. The even better news is that I think I did okay. Anyway, like most everyone else I have a horrible time introducing myself, but I'll give it my best shot. I'm just gonna run with this.

I've been book blogging for three or four years and was introduced to it by a friend of mine who had a book blog. (Funny thing: I actually read the girl's blog before I met her. And then when I met her I had no idea it was the same person. Life is weird.) I blog about YA books because that's where my heart lies. I read adult novels and I read children's books, but I always come back around to YA. I love the push and pull of it, the relationships and the angst and the very very personal feel of the stories. Though what I read more than anything else is contemporary/realistic YA, I also have a love for dystopian and science fiction.

A few book-related facts about me.

The last absolutely amazing book I read: Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons (nonfiction.)
Favorite-ever novel: Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (classic.)
First YA book I read: The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen (contemporary.)
The last book I read: My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies, by Allen Zadoff (ya contemporary.)
Number of books in my TBR pile: 34

That Personal Line Between Reading and Writing and Self

It's easy to look at reviewing, at blogging, as a job. Especially if you have books you feel an obligation to read, especially when you have to sit down and write a review after finishing those books.

But let's not forget why we read.

I read because of lines that hit my heart, that set off something inside of me. I read to find heroes to cheer for, people to relate to, words that are funny or beautiful or true. I read because of Beth March being afraid to die and Jo being afraid to live. I read because of characters like Melanie Wilkes, who are incredible in the face of adversity and strong in spite of their weaknesses. I read because of writers like Sarah Dessen and Sharon Creech, who have inspired me so much with their words, their stories, their characters.

I haven't read much this past week, and it's not because of finals. I have such a personal relationship with books and their stories and the process of writing them. Sometimes it's hard to separate the writer in me from the reader in me and, sometimes, when I'm disappointed in my writing life a book is the last thing I want to see.

Because sometimes a book is like a taunt. Why aren't my stories like this? Why isn't my writing this good? What am I doing wrong that they're doing right? How can I possibly appreciate a story this great in the frustrated state I'm in?

Unlike some writers who for a long time didn't realize writing was a real career choice, didn't really imagine people sitting down and writing the books they so loved, I always did. Somebody wrote Little Women. Somebody wrote Betsy-Tacy, and Tib. Somebody wrote Amelia Bedelia and Curious George. I always wanted to grow up and be that person, but the problem with this is that sometimes it's no good to think about the writer behind the book. Because that writer is a person and I have a bad tendency to compare myself to other people, to use their success to shoot myself down.

It's something I'm working on, this jealousy or insecurity or whatever you want to call it. Because the day I can't enjoy an incredible story because I'm too hung up on my own issues? That's the day reading, writing -- stories themselves -- start to become a chore. And when that becomes a chore, I'm done for. So that's why I haven't been reading much lately: because I can't read if my own inadequate feelings are clouding someone else's story.

But I'm back now and you didn't even know I was gone, probably. Also, guess what? I'm totally enjoying the book I'm reading. 

*Note that: today is supposed to be the introductions day for Armchair BEA, but I have a final this morning and already wrote this post so you get what you get and maybe (maybe) I'll do an intro post a bit later.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In My Mailbox - So Excited!

Blogger Book Trade: Thank you to Sherry, from Flipping Pages for All Ages for sending me this book. It's one I've been hearing of for quite a while but had never actually seen and I'm excited about it. It sounds like it might be a quieter sort of dystopian, which is totally my sort of read.

Bought: I absolutely loved the first in this series and I recently grabbed the third off of Bookswap, so I figured I should snatch up the second before it arrives in the mail. I'M SO TERRIBLY EXCITED YOU GUYS HAVE NO IDEA OMG OMG OMG LOVE LOVE LOVE. !!

Bought: Aaand, I don't normally talk about media other than books on IMM, but I did buy a copy of this week's Entertainment Weekly with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss on the cover. You have no idea how excited I am about this movie. More excited than you, I am nearly positive. Also, this is one of the few magazines I really really love, so I'm thinking I should just by a subscription to it one of these days, right?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why I Write:

Because I love it.

*Sometimes it is so, so, so important to remember that. Because it is so easy to give up and it is so easy to feel crushed and it is so easy to imagine that nothing will ever be good enough and I will forever be the only one who knows these stories and characters and worlds that exist in my mind.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review - Dreamland Social Club

Tara Altebrando
Dutton Juvenile
When Jane and her dad and brother move to Coney, it's just for a year. Long enough to clear their dead grandparents' house, sell it, and for her rollercoaster-engineer father to hopefully get back on his feet. But Coney is where Jane's mother -- who died when she was six -- grew up, and as Jane learns more about Coney she's also hoping to learn more about the mother she hardly knew.

Tara Altebrando is a master of setting and this is seen best of all in her latest novel, Dreamland Social Club, where the Coney Island setting seems to become a character itself. From the island's run-down current state to its former glory to the freak-filled school, there's a rich and fully-explored sense of setting. Jane nearly instantly becomes enamored with the island and its history, hoping to learn more about her carny grandparents (her grandmother was a "bird woman" while her grandfather was on display as part of a "preemie" exhibition when he was born) and her mother who escaped the island before Jane or her brother were born. The memories she has of her mom are mostly of games  played when she was young and as Jane learns more about the island's history, she discovers that many of these games (and the songs that went along with them) were based on Coney Island attractions. The flashbacks of Jane's childhood memories, though short, were some of the best and most evocative scenes in the book.

Soon after arriving in Coney, Jane meets a beautiful tattooed boy named Leo, who she is inexplicably drawn to. As she uncovers more of her family's past, mingled with the history of the island itself, she's even more drawn to Leo and the current state of Coney Island he's intent on protecting. Throughout the novel there's a huge theme of past v. present as Coney Island residents take opposing sides -- there are those (like Leo) who want Coney to stay as it is, run-down bars and all, and those (like Jane's father) who'd like the island to return to its days of roller-coaster-and-attractions glory. Jane finds herself in the middle of everything, torn between her father's success and the wishes of the boy she's falling for.

As richly as this book and its setting are developed, I felt distanced from many of the characters, most notably Jane and Leo. I loved Jane's journey, but her personality was a bit flat for me; aside from the sudden fascination with Coney Island, I had no idea who she was. Aside from the memories of her mother, there was no sense of the girl she was pre-Coney Island and there was a lack of spark that really held the book back in my opinion. As much as I wanted to love Jane, I instead found her boring and was even more distanced from her because of the book's third-person POV. And this lack of spark carried over into her sometimes-sweet-sometimes-sour relationship with Leo. I wanted so much to cheer these characters on, but I found it difficult to do so and found myself bored by them more often than I would have liked. For me, the blandness of the characters was a huge stumbling block that I found impossible to overcome even as the setting was wonderful and fully drawn.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review - Real Live Boyfriends

e. lockhart
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Ruby Oliver, everybody's favorite teenage mental patient, is starting thsummer with Noel as her Real Live Boyfriend. He calls her, hangs out with her, they kiss, go on dates -- etc. etc., all that boyfrinendy stuff. However, after staying with his older brother in New York during August, Noel comes back a pod-person. He doesn't call her anymore, avoids her messages, and seems to be totally unlike the boy she used to know.

Oh, Roo. In this fourth (and last?) installment of the series, Roo is just as lovable and quirky as ever. She's a bit wiser this time around, and though she's still trying to figure out who her real friends are (does Nora count anymore?) and have a stable relationship with Noel, she's handling things much better. No more panic attacks, though she still thinks of herself as a deranged mental patient.

Though there's a lot in this book that I don't want to give away, I will say that the plot revolves around Ruby and Noel's complicated relationship (and Noel's pod-personality) as well as her friendships with Nora and Meghan and her family's issues. After Ruby's grandma dies, her dad becomes depressed and her always-insane mother can't quite handle his depression and Roo's broken heart. The relationship Roo and her mother have is, while incredibly hilarious, also quite dysfunctional. This is mostly because  her mother is... well, kind of horribly mean, and it seems even worse in this book than in the previous ones. And while it's comical, the family aspect of Ruby Oliver's story (and this last book in particular) is actually sort of a cornerstone of the book and Roo's maturation throughout. There's a point in the book where Roo realizes that when she's away at college next year she'll have to take care of herself, and her therapist points out -- "aren't you kind of already doing that?" Which, yeah, she kind of is what with the mess that is her family. And this is one of the Ruby Oliver realizations that really helped make clear how much Roo's grown since The Boyfriend List.

This is, I think, a great ending to a great series. Though she's grown up a bit and handles things better, Ruby Oliver is still the obsessive, crazy, quirky, and adorable Roo that we all love. Her life is messy and complicated, yet the end to the series brings with it a resolution (if not a neatly-tied-up ending) for the issues that have plagued her since sophomore year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Currently I'm...

I'm stealing this post from the wonderful Alexa over at Not Enough Bookshelves. I love these types of lists.

Current Book: The Sweetest Thing, by Christina Mandelski. It's being compared to Sarah Dessen's books and while this is a great great compliment, it also means I'm continually comparing it to her books. And, because nothing compares to Dessen, it keeps falling short. Putting a bestselling author's name on a book is not always a great idea.

Current Playlist: This song (Break Even, by The Script) came on the radio today and I'm sort of suddenly in love with it. It's just the perfect song for my WIP, especially the scenes I've been working on lately. It's inspiring me.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: Uhhhh, I don't know. I don't have one? I was watching Ally McBeal for a while, but it got too annoying.

Current Color: Purple!

Current Drink: Black iced tea, of course, always.

Current Food: I just had a Heath candy bar, which is delicious.

Current Favorite Show: Right now? Parks and Recreation, which is definitely firing on all cylinders lately. But of course even more than that Friday Night Lights. It's kind of the highlight of my week.

Current Wishlist: Secret things. Also: a job. One I like. A good one.

Current Needs: To finish this draft of the WIP.

Current Bane of My Existance: The email boxy box. Also the clothes on my floor. Oh, and my car. And school. And what happens after school. Can we stop talking about this now?

Current Celebrity Girl-Crush: Leslie Knope. I MEAN I KNOW SHE'S FICTIONAL, BUT THAT'S OKAY.

Also, I promise promise promise that the book stuff is coming back tomorrow. But for now, what are your currentlies? Post in the comments or leave links. :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Five Happy Things

Okay, so the Blogger downtime seriously messed up my blogging life, as evidenced by the fact that I haven't had a post up in days. A couple of reviews are on their way, I promise. And lately I've felt like life is just coming at me REALLY REALLY fast and at the same time SUPER SLOW and I'm totally stressed out and freaking and worrying about things I have little to no control over and basically being a total stressface. So in honor of that, here are five little things making me happy lately.

  1. Gummi worms.
  2. Watching Friday Night Lights every week and also texting Khy during it.
  3. Parks and Recreation. OMG PARKS AND RECREATION. I am in love with this show. Also, Ben. Also, Ben and Leslie. Also, did I mention everything?
  4. My new phone! I've had the same phone for the past four years and I finally finally finally ordered a new one, so that should be here in the next couple days.
  5. Iced tea, as always.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review - Popular

Alissa Grosso
Fidelity High is ruled by Hamilton Best, the golden girl who sets her own rules. She throws the parties, she writes the guest lists, and she decides who gets to hang out with her. Her friends are part of a tightly-knit clique, each girl handpicked. Unlike the rest of the school, Olivia, Zelda, Shelly, and Nordica are always on the guest list for one of Hamilton's parties. However, as senior year begins, the strands holding the clique together begin to break. From social-climbing Shelly who has plans to dethrone Hamilton in spectacular fashion, to freaky Zelda who's decided that Hamilton's boyfriend Alex is her "destiny," to young, frizzy-haired Nordica who worries what will happen to her next year after Hamilton graduates while she still has a year left of high school.

This book is written from the POVs of each of the girls in the clique, showing the unravelling of senior year and Hamilton's reign through five sets of eyes. There's the sense throughout that something nasty is simmering just below the surface of Hamilton and the clique's perfect life. Things feel off and throughout much of the book it was difficult for me to put my finger on just what seemed off. The few things I did notice I originally planned to mention in my review, but because of the shocking plot of the book, it's best to go into the story wide-eyed and naive, with absolutely no possible spoilers.

While it takes a few chapters to get used to the various viewpoints used here, the short chapters and obviously-different characters really help. This is not a clique populated by strawberry-lipgloss-wearing, pom-pom-waving Barbie types. Instead, Hamilton and her friends are different, each of them seeming like they really should belong to a different high school group. Nordica and Zelda especially seem to skew the expectations of popularity, which is both perplexing and refreshing. As the school year wears on, the clique gets tired of Hamilton's rule, each for different reasons. And while I felt that there was a lot of telling here, descriptions of feelings and characters that seem unsubstantiated, this writing style ultimately ends up working to the book's advantage. Because as much as this is a book about popular girls, it's also a bit more, because Hamilton Best has a secret. It's a secret that threatens her popularity, a secret that only her enigma of a boyfriend Alex is aware of. And, trust me, it is a secret that will shock you.

This book was amazing. Despite that feeling of something being off, not quite right, it was impossible to put my finger on just what it was. (Although, trust me, I had my ideas about what might happen.) The set-up and follow-through of this story is absolutely brilliant and while the writing style and certain events can be annoying at times, the various elements ultimately come together to create a shocking and unforgettable book.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Visual Inspiration - WIP, Piper

I absolutely love Steph Bowe's Visual Inspiration meme. All of her pictures are so beautiful and this week I decided to join in. The honest "inspiration" I use is always music and very very rarely visual, but I do tend to save a lot of lovely images on both tumblr and weheartit and this week I'm bringing together a few that are representative of my WIP. For those who don't know, my current WIP is a story of two sisters and right now I'm working on the older sister (Piper's) story, so all of these images remind me of her and her story. The images are from tumblr and weheartit, so I have no idea where they originally came from but if anybody knows, feel free to let me know so I can add real credits. In any case, I definitely didn't take them.

Alright, so the sisters in my story (a) are definitely blondes and (b) definitely don't live by the ocean. But the feeling of this picture fits so perfectly.

Honestly I find it incredibly difficult to find pictures that give an idea of my stories (all of them, but this one especially). Many of the pictures I find on tumblr and weheartit are beautiful, no doubt, but they also have a very vintage/hipster/punk vibe which is so not anything like my stories. But I've wanted to take a cue from Steph and do a "visual inspiration" post for ages now. Hopefully soon I'll do an "audio inspiration" post so you can see (hear) some of my real inspiration.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blog Business, Etc.

A bit about giveaways, Goodreads, books I don't review, books I don't read, and Twitter.

Giveaways: I am horrible at hosting giveaways, which is why I typically just don't do it. Last month I ran a giveaway for Ruta Sepetys' beautiful debut novel, Between Shades of Gray. And as bad as I am at actually getting to the post office and sending the books, I'm apparently even worse about letting everyone know who won. Because there was a winner of that giveaway (congrats to Autumn!) and the book has been shipped and is on its way. HUGE apologies for not posting (or emailing) about it. This is why giveaways are such a rarity around here: not because I don't have books I want to give away, but just because I'm so bad about it.

Goodreads: I have two Goodreads accounts. One of them is my blog name (Ten Cent Notes) and is public, but rarely used. Though I always intend to cross-post my reviews, I hardly ever actually do it and the account sort of sits empty and sad and lifeless. The second account is this one, my personal account. This one is private, but it is where I keep track of the books I read and what I think of them (through ratings, but rarely cross-posted reviews). After everything I went through with reviewing, running a blog, and having publication goals at the same time I'm very protective of my personal Goodreads account. As much as is possible, I don't want it to be public information.

That being said, the personal account is still the one I use and the one you should go to if you want to become a friend on Goodreads. Like I said, I'm maybe a little over-protective and am definitely picky when it comes to who I accept friend requests from... at least for the time being, though this may change eventually.

Books I Read, But Don't Review/Read: In my IMM (In My Mailbox) and some of my list posts, I talk about books that aren't always YA. But when it comes to what I review, this is a YA book blog. If you want to get even more specific, I have a review policy that states what genres and subgenres I do and don't accept for review. I mention this because although I don't get a ton of review books, I do get some. And many of them are paranormal or fantasy, two genres I specifically state that I don't review. These are books that I know other readers and bloggers are looking forward to and when I get one in the mail I always feel bad about it because I know that I am not going to read this book. And -- unless I send it along to another blogger -- me receiving it isn't doing anybody any good.

Twitter: I love it. That is all.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review - I'll Be There

Holly Goldberg Sloan
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Told in third person limited from the POVs of many characters both important and not-so-important, the story of I'll Be There is centered on what happens when Sam -- a teenage boy with a love for music but extremely unstable life thanks to his father's paranoid nature and criminal activities -- meets Emily Bell. Though not wealthy by any means, Emily's nuclear family is a stable and loving one. And, unlike Sam who quit attending school after the second grade, she's in high school. These two are brought together by music and though their connection is instant, it's based on more than just good looks.

I received this book at ALA as an ARC -- no cover, no plot blurb on the back. Just the title. Because of this I had no idea what to expect, but even after I started reading I wasn't expecting such an epic scope of story. The plot follows Emily and Sam's relationship as they grow closer, but also details Sam's family life -- his unstable and dangerous father, as well as his silent but artistic younger brother, Riddle. The most exciting part of the story comes when, as both Sam and Riddle become closer to Emily and her family, they're pulled away by their father only to end up in a situation much more dire and dangerous than the life of extreme poverty and neglect they were living before. This makes for an exciting, often nerve-wracking storyline (I really couldn't put the book down until I knew how it all ended), but there's a very different feel to this book than many books with similar plots.

The main thing here is that a lot of this book is written as a series of short vignettes from many different POVs. It's a beautiful, almost lyrical style of writing without many scenes in the typical sense of the word -- dialogue is kept to a minimum and even much of the "action" is internal. The book is carried on the backs of the character's thoughts and feelings. Because of this writing style, the story moves slowly even at its most action-packed points. With the right sort of story to accompany it, this writing style can be extremely effective in my opinion. And this was definitely the right story. Though it often feels difficult to get to know the personalities of the characters, their feelings are easily accessible and it's really the relationships here -- between Sam and Emily and then Sam and Riddle especially -- that are the backbone of this book. The novel explores the theme of being connected in such a brilliant way that in the end if I didn't feel like I really knew Sam or Emily it was okay. Because I knew Sam and Emily together, and this was the important thing.

I'd love to recommend this beautiful book to everybody, but I know there are some who won't like the very internal, literary, emotion-driven writing style. But I will say this: go pick up the book. At your bookstore, library, whatever. Give it a try, see if you like it, and I really (really) hope you do. If you've read and enjoyed Lynne Rae Perkin's Criss Cross I think you'll especially love it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In My Mailbox - Wonderful Finds

Gift: One of the women I work with at the used bookstore I volunteer at was telling me what a great author Ann Patchett is. She said that Bel Canto is the best of her books and told me I just had had had to read it... and then she found it in the store and bought it for me! So sweet! She said that this way if I don't like it, I won't have lost anything. 

From Publishers: Getting this in the mail was a total surprise; it's a book I hadn't heard of before it showed up. It's set in a small town and sounds like something I might really enjoy, so... fingers crossed.

Bought: I am so excited about these books!! One of them sounds hilarious, another is by Jodi Picoult (and I tend to really, really enjoy her books), and the third is just... ohmygoodness, and the fourth is by an author I've been curious about for quite a while. Odd Girl Out in particular sounds like exactly my cup of tea and it's a book I've been wanting to read for quite a while but didn't find until recently. I'm so thrilled about this particular book that it's really overshadowing what would usually be much enthusiasm for Mercy and the other books on this list.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Love.

I once read a post by Meg Cabot where she said that there are two types of readers: those who read to escape and those who read to relate. Now, I don't know if she's the first person to say this or if it came from somewhere else (this post was years ago), but it really struck a chord with me. Because I am definitely in the second camp; I've always always always read to relate. To understand others, understand myself, see my own feelings and actions reflected in stories that have nothing to do with me. This is a big part of the reason I'm so drawn to contemporary stories -- I like seeing myself in the books I read.

Recently I reread a favorite of mine, Sara Zarr's novel, Sweethearts. I've heard it referred to as a romance but, to my mind at least, it's definitely not that. But it is a love story. It's about the people who are so much a part of you it's impossible to separate yourself from them, the people you love more than anyone and for reasons that aren't entirely clear. It's about unbreakable, often unexplainable, bonds. And I adore this book not only because of how brilliantly it's written, but also because that feeling of love and connection is something I can relate to, something I know so well.

And Sweethearts captured it perfectly, explaining it so much better than I was ever able to.

There are other books, as well, that sit beside my heart and feel so incredibly personal. Almost as if they'd been written with me in mind. And that's the crazy thing about writing, about books and the authors behind them. It continues to amaze me, in spite of how much I read and how much I know about writing and authors and publishing and books, that these stories can hold so much power. The power to help a person realize something about themselves or someone they love or the life they lead. It amazes me how great and powerful and personal a novel can become to a reader. And to the authors who write these books, all of my favorites, all of the ones that have spoken to me, a million thank yous. Unfortunately, it would take so much space to list you all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review - Girl Wonder

Alexa Martin
Hyperion Books
This review includes mild spoilers for Girl Wonder.

Thanks to her dyscalculia, senior Charlotte Locke's new school won't let her into the GATE (gifted & talented) program which means that not only are her non-math classes painfully boring, but her chances at getting into the type of prestigious university her father expects are less than none. With her family falling apart thanks to her dad's new writing career and a new school that she hates, Charlotte falls into the orbit of Amanda, otherwise known as the Girl Wonder. Amanda, with her pink hair and brilliant GATE status, is legendary around school and exactly the sort of person that Charlotte -- insecure and overshadowed by her brilliantly successful family -- wants to be around.

To be perfectly blunt, Charlotte was not the most interesting or likable protagonist. She's sympathetic mostly because of her father having impossible expectations for her, but aside from that it's obvious that her mother and younger brother are supportive of her and care about her. She's smart, but tends to think of herself as a victim -- of her family, of her school's GATE requirements, and of life in general. After rejecting the first (nice, normal) girl who tried to befriend her, Charlotte sets her sights on Amanda and the super-cute debate club boy, Neal. Both are GATE students and extremely popular, which is what Charlotte wants. And this is where the story becomes completely not what I expected, veers in a direction that seemed off-putting considering the incredibly safe feeling of the first half of the book. As Charlotte gets deeper in with Amanda and Neal, she seems to forget who she is and agree to anything they suggest -- ditching school, lying, stealing, drugs, and sex that leaves her completely confused about the nature of her relationship with Neal. While the beginning of the story is unrealistically safe and un-teenaged when it comes to the characters' dialogue and actions. Charlotte throws around words like "twitter-pated" in the beginning and by the middle her character seems to have been replaced as she becomes more and more like the girl her new friends expect her to be. If this means doing things she never before considered -- well, so be it. It was difficult for me to cheer on a character like this, one who constantly feels sorry for herself and is so easily persuaded by others. As a reader, the reality of Charlotte's friends and their feelings toward her is incredibly obvious and this makes it all the more frustrating that Charlotte -- despite being supposedly smart -- is so oblivious to the realities around her.

That said, while Charlotte's personality was easily swayed by those she was around, the family aspect of the story was brilliant though I wish it had been more in the forefront instead of a background story. Charlotte's genius little brother and professor mother are supportive and kind, but because her newly-published father who's been called "the literary heir to Franzen," has such unreasonable expectations of her, she feels inferior and looked-down-upon by her entire family. Though there were parts of the story that were predictable (Charlotte's romantic storyline, for instance), the ending here -- one involving Charlotte's family and the cute-but-dorky boy next door -- all but saves the book. Charlotte's personality may be easily swayed throughout most of the novel, but by the end it's clear that she's made some serious headway in realizing who she really is and is a stronger person because of it. This book mixes the grit of Amy Reed's Beautiful and the family-and-outsider elements of Lorraine Zago Rosenthal's Other Words for Love; I'd recommend it for fans of either novel.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

2011 Wishes Update!

Remember the start of the year when I wrote that wishlist of things I so desperately wanted to see in my favorite genre? It looks like the universe of YA was listening to me because many of the books I've read lately have been spot on.

More contemporary stand-alone novels.
Yes, there are a lot of series coming out and there's been at least a couple long-awaited YA sequels recently, but I'm also finding quite a few contemporary stand-alones, and many of these books I really love. Flirt ClubRivalLeverageI'll Be ThereStay.

More family.
Authors, agents, editors, THANK YOU. Though not all of these books are being talked about as a book about family, the following all have some very strong family elements: Like Mandarin, Rival, Sean Griswold's Head, Bitter Melon, The Lucky Kind, Invincible Summer, Stay, I'll Be There, and Other Words for Love. In my list I specifically mentioned a want for YA novels that explore the father-daughter dynamic and though I still want more, a couple novels have touched on the topic (both Rival and Sean Griswold's Head) while Stay took on this relationship more fully and with, in my opinion, great results. THANK YOU.

Unexpected and well-handled stereotype subversions.
You know, I haven't seen a lot of this lately. Stay subverts the popular insta-love trope by showing how things in this sort of relationship could very easily go wrong, but for character stereotypes there's not much. There is, however, Kurt, from Leverage, whose vicious and intimidating look masks an unbelievably kind, protective, and good-hearted person.

Actual and realistic Problems.
I'm not sure I can even list all the books that fit this item. So many of them do and I absolutely love it. It's great reading a book with a character who's dealing with a learning disability, or one whose problems come from an extremely unstable family, or one who deals with her father's chronic illness in an unexpected way. I love these things. I love books that tackle problems that are both real and rarely-before-handled.

Books with tweets!
Truth & Dare has a story written entirely in tweets, but aside from that I haven't read any. So if you know of a book with tweets, please let me know.

A historical fiction set on the Oregon Trail.
*waits patiently*

Science Fiction YA.
Ah, yes! Publishing listened to me! Or something. Sci-fi YA books are starting to be published somewhat regularly, it seems, and though I haven't found one that completely blew me away yet, I have a feeling that'll happen. (Glow, which doesn't come out until September, came the closest.)

Non-college options explored in contemporary YA.
Oh, this is sadly lacking, at least in the books I've been reading. If you have any good recommendations for me here, let me know!

Better love stories.
Of course, by "better" I just mean love stories that I like better, which is insanely subjective. This said, both I'll Be There and Wither (though the love story isn't the central plot) have couples or potential couples that I absolutely adore. And, of course, there's one more book but listing it as a love story might be a bit of a spoiler. SO I WON'T.

Good girls (and boys).
Back When You Were Easier to Love takes care of this one -- I absolutely adore Owen. There's also the teens in I'll Be There that are dealing with some crazy-heavy stuff, but are definitely kind and good at heart and you guys, you should all read this book.

Oh. Um. Well. No.

Wishes aside, I'm so incredibly thrilled with the YA that's been coming out lately. It's well-written and amazing and has great characters and I'm loving it so much. I don't read that much in other genres and I'm totally biased of course, but I'm pretty sure YA has the best authors.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review - Truth & Dare

Edited by Liz Miles
Running Press Kids
Truth & Dare is a collection of short stories about those teens who, as the synopsis says, "dare to be different." Though the stories are contemporary/realistic in nature, many of them are written by authors better known in other genres (such as Sarah Rees Brennan, author of the Demon's Lexicon series). Included in the collection of 20 short stories are authors you've probably heard of before, both older and newer voices. Heidi R. Kling, Gary Soto, and Cecil Castellucci as well as a host of writers I hadn't heard or read anything by.

As with any anthology there were some pieces here that I really adored and others that I could have done without. I was thrown off more than once by stories that seemed to end abruptly without a resolution.

The stories in this collection cover topics from love and sex to family and high school. It would have been nice if the stories were organized according to topic just because it was a little disconcerting to go into a story with no idea what it was about. There was a wide variety in length as well as subject matter and writing style, including one story told entirely in tweets. You won't like every story in the collection, but you will find some surprising gems and, most likely, be introduced to some great new or forgotten writers. Personally my favorite stories were those by Saundra Mitchell ("The Last Will and Testament of Evan Todd"), Ellen Wittlinger ("Rules for Love and Death"), and Jennifer R. Hubbard's "Confessions and Chocolate Brains."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Ten - Books I'm So Glad You Recommended

Hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme. This week's theme is books we're so happy to have had recommended to us. So, in no particular order...

1. Speak
Laurie Halse Anderson
I never had a huge desire to read this book. The cover wasn't all that striking to me and the author was one that (until Wintergirls, at least) I was passingly familiar with but not a big fan of. When the Wesley Scroggins/censorship debacle came about suddenly everyone online was saying how much Speak meant to them and what a great and powerful and important book it was. And it turned out that one of my favorite authors, Sarah Ockler, cites it as a huge inspiration for her writing YA novels in the first place. The whole internet was telling me to read this book so, you know, I sort of had to. Thank you, Interwebs, because this book is just as great and powerful and influential as you told me it was. If I had to choose, I still love Wintergirls more, but without Speak there would be no Wintergirls and no YA genre as we know it.

2. Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
When I first heard about this book way back long ago on Stephanie's blog, it was sort of unnamed and vague and it sounded really good. But then it came out. AND EVERYONE LOVED IT OMG. And I don't typically love the books that everyone else does so I shied away from it, suspecting that it might be another Audrey, Wait! situation. But as much as I said I wasn't going to read it, Khy kept gushing about it and telling me I had to read it and saying how great it was and eventually I gave it. And you know what? My love for this book knows no bounds. Thank you, Khy, for making me read this one.

3. Twilight
Stephanie Meyer
I so wasn't going to read this book. I don't do fantasy/paranormal/whatever and vampires are not exactly my cup of tea. But a friend I'd grown up with assured me that it really wasn't very heavy on the paranormal and it was mostly a love story anyway and that Bella reminded her of me. (Now, I know everybody hates Bella, but in my defense (a) the friend had only read Twilight at this point, not New Moon, and (b) there are some similarities.) So, a thank you to Ashley; if she hadn't said that Bella reminded her of me I never would have picked this up. And as much as everyone hates on this series and as horrible and unhealthy as I believe Bella and Edward's relationship to be, I really do love the books (the first three, at least).

4. The History of Love
Nicole Krauss
Back when I actually used my tumblr account, there was a tumblog I followed that was completely in love with this book, singing its praises at every turn. This wasn't a tumblr dedicated to books, so of course I was intrigued. The quotes she posted from the book were absolutely breathtaking, so much so that I bought the book the first time I saw it and later found a second copy for my grandma. This book, it is so beautiful, so lovely. Thank you, tumblr.

5. Break
Hannah Moskowitz
As with a few other books on this list, I originally had absolutely no interest in this book. I used to frequent AW so I knew of its existence quite a while before it was actually published, but the idea of a book about a boy on a mission to break all his bones... well, it did not sound like my type of book. But then Cindy Pon asked if I'd read it. When I told her I hadn't, she said that it was beautiful and amazing and that she thought I would love it. This was surprising because, as I said, the idea of it didn't appeal to me at all. However, I did read it (thank you, Cindy!) and she was right. She was so right. Though the premise of this book is outrageous and dark and scary the book itself is about family and love and strength and it is so, so good.

6. If I Stay
Gayle Forman
There are few bloggers (possibly none) whose recommendations I trust as much as Adele's. So when she first talked up this book I knew that -- even though I hadn't even heard of it before -- I had to read it. And I'm so glad I did because it's every bit as amazing as she said it was and it's one of those rare books I honestly can't believe more people haven't read. It's just that bloody brilliant.

7. Wintergirls
Laurie Halse Anderson
Yep, another LHA book. And apologies for the fact that I don't remember who told me I had had had to read this one, but I know it was somebody. Because although I'd read a few of LHA's books before, I'd yet to find one that blew me away and didn't feel a huge urge to read Wintergirls when it came out. But somebody -- and I wish I could remember who -- told me I absolutely had to read it and it was the book I was waiting for: the one that blew me away.

8. Sea
Heidi R. Kling
The fact that I read this book at all is due entirely to two things. First of all Khy for assuring me that it was not about mermaids (I somehow had that in my brain), and second of all the brilliant #sealove Twitter campaign. Before, I was mildly curious about this debut. After, I was super-jazzed about it and proceeded to spend an entire lazy afternoon reading, unable to put the book down. 

9. Fate is the Hunter
Ernest K. Gann
I feel like a cheat putting this book on the list because (surprise!) I haven't actually finished reading it yet. It's the type of book I really have to devote some brain time to and with so many other books waiting (including ones that need to be reviewed) and school demanding my thinking-times, it's been pushed aside. That said, it's a brilliant brilliant book and so well written and I can't wait to get back into it. My dad had been pushing this book on me for years (literally) before he finally found a copy of it. So, thank you Dad.

I actually don't have a tenth book, so I challenge YOU to recommend something I'll absolutely love.

Monday, May 2, 2011

10 Lies Television Tells

Ever since the days of Full House (possibly even earlier!), television shows have been lying to me. AND TO YOU, ALSO! Real life is difficult for television. It's messy, complicated, and often boring. Television does not like these things. It likes drama! and funny! and increasingly ridiculous situations!

And it lies. For example,

  1. When your fiance leaves you at the alter, don't worry! Because you'll totally be over it in a week or less. And, bonus! You'll probably be totally fine hanging out with your ex all the time, because obviously that won't be painful or anything. I most recently saw this on Happy Endings, but I'm sure it's been played out in other shows. For instance: Friends, How I Met Your Mother. Somehow I don't think this is how it typically works in real life.
  2. If you have a good job, you can easily afford to have a big family, live in a nice neighborhood, and pay for all of your children to go to top-notch colleges and grad schools. Ahem, The Cosby Show. I realize that these people were doctors and lawyers, but... seriously? In real life, there's no way that actually works.
  3. You can have a great social life, hobbies, and great grades that will get you into an Ivy League school. Also, you'll totally get plenty of sleep, I promise. Once again, The Cosby Show. Also Gilmore Girls, though Rory's route to Yale was, I think, at least relatively realistic. And didn't DJ from Full House end up going to Stanford? I really don't know how these fictional people did it, but I'm thinking the fact that they're fictional might have had something to do with it.
  4. Everyone has a close and unbreakable group of friends. The culprits here are almost too many to list. Friends, Cougar Town, Happy Endings, Cheers, How I Met Your Mother, CommunityThe Big Bang Theory -- basically every sitcom based around people who have friends. And as great as this would be if it were true (maybe for you it is?), nobody I know has that type of super-close, unwavering group of friends.
  5. All extended families live within driving distance of each other -- usually even closer! The same town! And they are all super-close and involved in each others lives. Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development, Modern Family. Okay, this one I know for plenty of people is actually true (and actually for most of my life I lived incredibly close to part of my extended family as well), but the way these shows portray it is often strangely, um... functional? And happy? And stable? It's kind of like the Kodak-moment version of family, even for the crazy ones. Everyone's always hanging out together, in the same room, doing these family reunion type things.
  6. If you're a doctor or a lawyer, your work is always fascinating and glamorous and you have a super-dramatic personal life. House, Ally McBeal, Grey's Anatomy, too many more shows to name. And I'm definitely not a doctor or lawyer, but I've been in hospitals and those are definitely definitely not glamorous places. I mean, they're stark white and smell like disinfectant. People are always trying not to die. Somehow I suspect that television greatly exaggerates the glitz of these careers and totally plays down all the mundanities like paperwork.
  7. You/your band will be discovered and become super rich and famous while still in high school. Hannah Montana, The Lizzie McGuire Movie (this counts, as it's based on television), Sonny With A Chance, Big Time Rush. So... basically all the Disney/Nick shows have some element of FAME, whether it be musical or otherwise. And this is all nice and good, but generally being a success takes not only talent, but also a ton of work and a dollop of right-place-right-time. It's not all rainbows and puppies; working so hard and being so young means missing out on a lot of normal-people stuff and it's annoying that these shows don't notice that.
  8. Even though your job is minimum-wage (or nonexistent), you can still easily dress fashionably and go out all the time with your friends. Friends, most notably. But also Gilmore Girls and pretty much every Disney Channel show out there. Probably tons of shows I can't think of as well. I realize this is mostly a plot device because there's absolutely no story with someone who never goes out because s/he can't afford it, but still. It can get annoying.
  9. If you happen to land on a deserted island, there will be plenty to read. Lost, Gilligan's Island. Okay, seriously, I know everyone has their little list of books they'd bring if they were trapped on a desert island, but really? I don't understand how Sawyer and The Professor always seemed to have something to read. Did they just read the same two books over and over? Was there actually a library on board the ship and somehow all the books survived sans water damage? I'm so confused and as a bibliophile I must know the answer in case this ever happens to me. 
  10. Publishing is super glamorous and you'll definitely be totally famous. 30 Rock, Castle. Alright, this one primarily shows up in movies (The Proposal, My Future Boyfriend), but it applies here, too. According to these TV shows, there'll be a cardboard cut-out of you in bookstore windows when you publish a book and people will recognize you and possibly stalk you or sue you and etc. etc. etc. IT'S ALL VERY FANCY. Honestly though, I'm not sure I'd recognize my very favorite authors if I passed them on the street, and these are people whose blogs and tweets I follow. (Also, thank you to Laina for this suggestion.)
So, what other lies does television tell us? And do you agree/disagree with my list?