Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Talking Copyright, Artwork, and Pinterest/Tumblr

I want to talk about copyright.

But first some disclosure here: I'm not a lawyer. I've never even taken a class on copyright; I only know some about it because the topic has always interested me and I've looked up various laws regarding sharing, fair use, and copyright holding before. An article about Pinterest that I found via author Tahereh Mafi's twitter got me thinking about the issue once again, as I do every once in a while, especially with sites like tumblr., weheartit, and now Pinterest.

The thing about these sites (and Pinterest is included only because many of the photos pinned are from tumblr/weheartit) is that there are a ton of really, really pretty pictures. For writers looking for inspiration, they're a gold mine. I, and many other published/unpublished writers have Pinterest boards dedicated to our various stories/books. The way Pinterest works is when you "pin" something to your pinboard, it automatically links back to the original site and includes a link below as credit. No problem. Right?


Aside from the fact that, according to Pinterest's Terms of Use, individuals are responsible for getting permission from the rights-holder to pin/repin images (and, I'd assume, other creative works such as writing and videos -- but for simplicity's sake let's just focus on images), there's also the issue of where these images are coming from. I use both tumblr and weheartit and have rarely, if ever, found images that are properly credited on either site. Tumblr in particular is tricky to link back to or give credit. Even if the artist/rights-holder is on tumblr, linking back to the original site only leads to the user's dashboard or tumblog -- not an individual post. This makes it nearly impossible to find the original source for an image.

It's a bigger problem than just getting permission or providing credit to the artist; when you can't find the original source, posting, pinning, repinning, or reblogging an image throws you into murky legal -- and moral -- waters.

Legally, can you be sued for pinning an image to Pinterest without proper permission? Even if you don't know who to get permission from in the first place? I'm not a lawyer, but from the article I read (written by a lawyer) and what I've learned about copyright laws I feel pretty comfortable saying, "yeah, probably." It can probably happen, but that doesn't mean it will probably happen.

Morally is it okay to pin or post an image without having permission from the artist? Is this the same as stealing? Even if you're not doing anything with the image other than (in the case of me and other writers I know) using it as your own inspiration? This is a tricky area for me. I don't illegally download music. I don't illegally download or stream tv shows or movies. I firmly believe that unless the artists are making their work available for free, I shouldn't be taking it. Because making art is work. People deserve to be paid for this work. They deserve to have a measure of control over it. What they don't deserve is me taking it because it's easy and available and I maybe don't have the money at that moment to get it through the right and legal channels. (Note that I know these issues are pretty big moral grey areas. I'm not trying to judge anyone else for what they do/don't do, but simply stating the views I hold for myself.)

But images posted on the internet, easily available, with no source to gain permission from or link back to -- is that different? It does change the equation a little bit, I think, though to be honest I'm not sure how or why. Is it because not being able to find an original source might, you could argue, show that the artist intends their images for the public? Is it because I am not taking these images -- not printing them or downloading them or storing them anywhere on my computer -- and only have them on a website?

Or is it only different because I want it to be different? Because I like having boards full of inspiration for my stories, like having an easy way to access images that are important to me? I don't know. I don't know and this post isn't meant to give anyone advice nor chastise anyone for their online habits regarding creative works. It's more meant to be a springboard for what I hope will be a discussion of the topic. I don't think I'll be sued, though I do think it's a remote possibility. What bothers me more than the legal grey area is the ethical grey area here.

The lawyer who wrote the article I linked to at the beginning of this post has deleted all of her Pinterest boards. I'm not quite there yet, but I do think the topic of reblogged and found images (especially those that seem to have no original source) is a copyright conversation that needs to happen. I think that everyone who is an artist, who makes creative work, has a stake in this sort of dialogue.

So what are your thoughts?

Tuesday Ten: Book Theme Songs

I especially especially love this week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish. It's all about theme songs for books, which is something I love because I always make playlists for my own novels, but I'd never thought in-depth about it for the books I read and was surprised by how difficult it is to find theme songs for books. I looked for songs that captured the feeling of a novel (or a character/relationship/scene within that novel), even if not everything in the song matches the book exactly. And it was super fun. I'm now thinking of making a playlist just of theme songs to books I read.

1. The Piper's Son
Melina Marchetta
This song just feels perfect for Tom and for many of the people in his family. There's a lot of heartache and moments of helplessness in The Piper's Son and this feels sort of like an anthem for the Mackee family and their story in this book. So honest and raw and struggling.

2. If I Stay
Gayle Forman
Okay, I'll admit that I don't quite know what this song is actually about. But there's a lot of hospital imagery ("they're sitting all around you holding copies of your chart/and the misery inside their eyes is synchronized and reflecting into yours") and so many of the lyrics seem to fit Mia's situation. Plus, the first time I listened to this song I got the same sort of feeling that If I Stay has to it. So whatever it's about, the feel of it definitely fits in my mind.

3. Where She Went
Gayle Forman
I know this is a bit of a pretty, almost girly song, but it fits Adam's angst so incredibly well. The repeated line of "and so it goes/this soldier knows/the battle with the heart isn't easily won" is perfect and if you listen to the lyrics there's a lot of parallel between the song and what happens to Adam and what he feels during the story in Where She Went. Especially the bit about "I took a faithful leap and packed up all my things/ and all my love and gave it to someone else." The song starts in a bad, sad place and, like Adam in Where She Went, ends up somewhere much more hopeful.

4. Flipped
Wendelin Van Draanan
Alright, I'll admit, this is a weird one. It's maybe a little bizarre. But this song, to me, could be a teenaged Bryce and Julianna. A few years down the road, still completely angsty though in a slightly different way, and this song fits their relationship. (Feel free to disagree, of course.)

5. Graffiti Moon
Cath Crowley
Graffiti Moon is one of the best novels I've read that takes place over one night and it has such a completely teenaged feel to it. This song matches that infinite-but-trapped teenage feeling and the possibility of one night so, so well. It might be a bit fast and loud for such a slow-simmering book but it works.

6. Lola and the Boy Next Door
Stephanie Perkins
While Lola and the Boy Next Door was, as a whole, a bit of a letdown for me, one thing that it did so well and that I absolutely totally completely loved was the backstory between Lola and Cricket. The heartbreak that happened in the past. This song captures that incredibly well and reminds me so much of Lola's feelings when Cricket moves back in next door. Love it.

7. Peaches (series)
Jodi Lynn Anderson
Okay, forget for a second on the lyrics and details of this love-gone-wrong song. There's a desperation to this song, and really all of Lambert's songs, that is just so, so something. And in this case it reminds me of the girls of Peaches and their various stories, loves, and choices. There's a lot of desperation in Birdie, Leeda, and Murphy, just like there is in this song.

8. Twilight: New Moon
Stephanie Meyer
As far as books that are just 100% totally completely about going crazy-depressed after a breakup, New Moon pretty much takes the cake. And while this song fits well with the entire Twilight series (or at least the first three since I never finished the last) and Bella's love/obsession for Edward, I feel like it goes especially well with the second in the series. Listen to the lyrics in this song and it's almost like it really was written about Bella and Edward.

9. The Day Before
Lisa Schroeder
Like the song I've chosen for it, The Day Before is all about enjoying the present and not worrying about what comes next (or what might come next). I don't want to spoil anything about this book, so I'll just say that this song works really well for the attitude that both characters approach their day together with.

10. This is What I Want to Tell You
Heather Duffy-Stone
I'm really not sure what I can say about this book and song without spoiling parts of the book. I will say that there's a frenzy to the song that really matches the frenzy of one of the main characters in this book. Both the book and the song seem to be about secrets and things left unsaid, things that don't quite fit, and really you should probably read/listen. (Also, Charlotte Sometimes is on The Voice this season. YAY!!)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing: Unlimited POV

(via pinterest.)

Ages ago I used to do a writing-related post every Monday on the blog and I think I'd like to start that again because really I love talking about writing and having a record of what I'm working on/where I'm at can really be helpful sometimes.

Right now I'm (finally) working on another first draft. For now I'm calling the story sidekicks and of course I have no idea what title I'll end up giving it for real. It has five main characters and is told in unlimited third person/past tense and I'm almost (almost!) at 8,000 words. (By the time this post goes up I hopefully will be.)

This story is a little different for me. I'm writing a lot of things I haven't ever written before and third person unlimited is a really difficult POV to be in because I'm so aware of how confusing it can be. But! This is a story, or at least an idea of a story, that I've wanted to write for a while. It's not about one person, but about a group of people, and it's so different writing that type of story. As always, I don't want to say exactly what this story is about until I'm (much) further into it, but if anyone knows of books (especially YA!) that are written in unlimited third person, please let me know. I'd love to see how other writers have managed the POV without it being epically confusing.

I will say (about this story) that there's friendship and love and families and siblings and divorce and adoption. And a plastic safe full of candy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In My Mailbox: FINALLY.

For Review: Two books came from Penguin this week, completely by surprise. I hadn't heard of either of them and they're not my typical reads; Cold Fury seems to be a bit action/adventure/mystery and No Safety in Numbers seems to be a Contagion-like story, which is definitely a departure for me. I don't really have any expectations or hopes for these two, so they might very well surprise me in a good way.

Bought: Ahhh, this is one I've been meaning to get for aaaaaaages. Practically since before it came out. MY EXCITEMENT IS THROUGH THE ROOF (even though I sort of already read part of it and know something big that happens and that makes me want to cry).

Friday, February 24, 2012

TGIF: Required Reading

Today's TGIF question from GReads is:

Which book from your school days do you remember reading and enjoying? Is there a book published today that you'd like to see in today's curriculum for kids?

Mostly I wasn't ever a fan of required reading in school and I missed out on being forced to read the typical books -- I never read Romeo & Juliet and when I read To Kill A Mockingbird it was just for fun. That said, there were a few "required reading" books I really loved.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok - I read this one in ninth grade and while I don't remember much of it, I remember absolutely loving the complexity of the relationships portrayed in this book.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury - Honestly I don't remember when I read this one, but just, how can you not think it's awesome? You can't.

As for current books that I think should be required reading, one of the main ones that comes to mind is The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta. I'm not entirely sure why except that the writing here is so good and the story encompasses so many characters, relationships, and points of view.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Adios, Nirvana

Conrad Wesselhoeft
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
In the year since his twin brother's (Telemachus') death, brilliant teenage poet Jonathan has lost a bit of himself. He doesn't sleep, he rarely attends classes, and when he jumps off a bridge in a snow storm his best friends -- his thicks -- get even more worried about him. When it becomes clear that Jonathan's recent lack of dedication to school means he might get held back a grade, the only chance he has to make things right is an unusual job writing the biography and war memories of a blind and dying man.

Though there's a lot happening in this book, the narration is told so solidly from Jonathan's viewpoint that there's a huge distance between the reader and the action. This is because Jonathan himself is quite a bit removed from things. This is a 200-ish page book, and every page is very much set in the recesses of Jonathan's mind. It's a book that demands the reader be on board with the character above all else.

Luckily, Jonathan's a pretty awesome character. Though it took me longer than I would have liked to really be invested in this book, I think a lot of that was due to the fact that I expected more action and less inner monologuing from Jonathan. This is a character reeling from the death of his twin brother and best friend, whose only family left is his likewise dysfunctional mother, and who is very obviously in a place of desperation. Though we never see Telemachus alive, he is such an integral part of the story, and such a huge part of Jonathan, that he becomes a very real character. Somehow while reading this, I missed him as a character even though I only knew him through his brother Jonathan's memories and thoughts. This alone shows what a powerful character Jonathan is: he carries not only the entire story, mostly devoid of action and very very emotional/mental, but also manages to bring to life characters that the reader has otherwise no reason to care about. Jonathan, who never sleeps and runs on a steady diet of Red Bull and No-Doz, is the heart and soul of Adios, Nirvana, and aside from him there's honestly not a whole lot to talk about.

Sure, there's the plot -- the dying man whose memoirs Jonathan is writing, the deal he makes with the principal so that he doesn't get held back a grade, and the girl he finds himself drawn to, but those are more like sidenotes here. The book is all Jonathan and though his relationships with others, especially his best friends (his "thicks") are sparsely written, they're done so incredibly well. This book is the written equivalent of a simple painting that, with only a few brush strokes, manages to be strikingly vivid. While it took me a while to get into the book, by halfway through I was absolutely caught up in Jonathan's story. The themes this book tackles: life, death, art, what it means to care for another person and to be there for them, never felt overwrought or tacked-on. They were handled deftly and truly, making for a heart-touching sort of read. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Currently, Again...

I did this same meme/post nearly a year ago and since I'm bored for something to post today, here it is again. Enjoy!

Current Book: Terra Elan McVoy's The Summer of Firsts and Lasts. I really loved the first book of hers I read (After the Kiss) and have had this one sitting on my shelves for months and months, just waiting until I wasn't working on my own novel about sisters so I could finally read it. It's one I've sort of been saving just because I've been looking forward to it so much and a little over 50 pages in it's totally living up to my hopes. Fingers crossed that this continues.

Current Playlist: At this exact moment I'm listening to the new Ingrid Michaelson album, Human Again (specific song? "Always You"). I've also been listening to 21 a lot (mostly "I'll Be Waiting") and my playlist(s) for my current WIP.

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: I don't like the idea of guilty pleasures. If something makes you guilty either you shouldn't be doing it or you're just being silly. So yeah, I don't have one.

Current Color: Purple!

Current Drink: I'm not drinking anything at the moment. I meant to have a Ginger Ale but I don't feel like going downstairs to grab one.

Current Food: None, but the last thing I ate was a chicken sandwich and pepperocinis. Delicious!

Current Favorite Show: Downton Abbey, which as we all know JUST ENDED. (Look for me to go into DA withdrawals any day now. THAT SHOW!! Also that ending. Just so... sigh.) And also Cougar Town, which just came back on the air and is not at all about what you think it's about.

Current Wishlist: Secret big things, of course.

Current Needs: I don't know, maybe sleep?

Current Bane of My Existence: Thinking about having to go to the dentist. Even just typing the words makes me want to hide and never come out of hiding ever ever ever.

Current Celebrity Girl-Crush: Ugh, celebrities. I LIKE FICTIONAL PEOPLE BETTER THAN FAMOUS ONES, MOSTLY.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Ten: Novels I'd Save In Case of Fire, Etc.

This week's Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is books we'd save in case of some sort of disaster (you know, like fire, or alien invasion... whatever). To make things easier on myself I'm limiting my list to novels -- no nonfiction, no short stories, no essays. With a lot of these books the specific copy I own has some sort of value to me so it's not just about the story within it.

1. Shatter Me
Tahereh Mafi
For starters, I love this book. Love. Somehow it just really struck a chord with me. But also my copy is signed from when I met Tahereh at her book launch, which makes it extra-special. Yes, yes, yes.

2. Before I Fall
Lauren Oliver
I remember so clearly the day I read this book. It started with a somewhat-scary doctor visit and ended with an eight-hour blackout of the whole city. It was a weird, surreal sort of day and this was the perfect book for me to be reading at the time. It's catapulted to being one of my all-time favorite reads -- both the book and the experience behind it.

3. Sweethearts
Sara Zarr
Another of my all-time favorites, this is a book I've read multiple times. The book jacket is bent (boo) and I have some messy notes inside, passages highlighted. In some ways I feel like this book was made just for me it feels so personal.

4. Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
Another book I've written and highlighted in, this is without a doubt one of the sweetest books out there. Total flailing awesomness. (You know, flailing... like when you can't really explain it in words, so you just sort of fling your arms about and shout "IT'S SO GOOD!" Which is sort of how I tried to explain Downton Abbey to my sister this morning.)

5. serafina67: *urgently requires life*
Susie Day
There are so many great things about this book and this copy of the book in particular. The book itself is like if you took me and shrunk me down into book format: I'd be this book. Serafina and I are the same person, I'm convinced of it. But also! I very, very randomly found an ARC of this at one of the book readings I did for Red years ago. I had no idea what it was about but was lucky enough to get to take it and keep it and OMG MORE FLAILING IT'S SO GOOD!!!

6. If I Stay
Gayle Forman
I could (and would) quickly acquire another copy of this book if something ever ever happened to my hardcover. But nothing better happen to this hardcover because not only is it one of my favorite books, but what Gayle Forman wrote when she signed it is one of the best things any author has written to me. 

7. Hold Still
Nina LaCour
Sometimes the best books are ones that are a surprise, that you haven't heard much (or anything) about before reading, and that's definitely this book for me. I was sent an ARC, I read it, and I love it so much. One of the best "grief YA" novels for sure for sure for sure. Plus, I really love the ARC for some reason.

8. Bittersweet
Sarah Ockler
So many reasons for this book being on this list, but the biggest has got to be that, like with If I Stay, what Sarah Ockler wrote inside to me is one of my favorite author signings ever. Sarah Ockler has been such an inspiration and so helpful to me that I wish I could include more than just this book of hers on the list.

9. Some Girls Are
Courtney Summers
Another signed book! This one has a picture of a werewolf with its head on fire that Courtney Summers drew inside of it. And you just don't get any more crazy awesome than that, really.

Just Kidding
But really, I have a huge list here of books I'd like to be on this list and I just can't choose only one, so we'll leave this at nine with an empty space to represent all our unfulfilled hopes and dreams. (Or just more books.) (Yes, NAME THAT REFERENCE, which I may have used before.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Cinder

Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends
Cinder is a teenage girl and the best mechanic in New Beijing. She's also a Cyborg -- 32.68% robotics. With the "blue plague" plaguing Earth's society and the threat of war (or worse...) from Lunars, the advanced, human-like creatures who live on the moon. When Cinder's step-sister, the only human who cares for her, is taken ill by the blue plague, Cinder's evil stepmother offers her as a test subject for an antidote -- something no Cyborg has survived -- only for Cinder to discover she's immune to the disease that's killing her world. Of course, this discovery just leads to more discoveries, most of them surrounding the Lunars, their evil queen, and the fate of Earth.

Full disclosure: I've never liked the Cinderella story. Even as a kid I thought it was pretty stupid that Cinderella did absolutely nothing for herself and was basically handed her happily-ever-after thanks to a fairy godmother. Thankfully, this isn't the case here. Though a retelling of the more traditional Cinderella tale, Cinder uses the elements of the story very creatively and, best of all, gives Cinder actual backbone. She's smart and resourceful, sure, but more than that she insists on standing up for herself, which was refreshing.

This is a solidly sci-fi retelling of the tale and I loved every element of it -- the Cyborgs, Androids, and Lunars as well as the hints of fairytale -- so it's surprising and a little sad that I didn't altogether love it. My thoughts on this book are a little bit conflicted and at least some of that has to do with my own personal tastes as a reader. I like character-driven books. And, in plot-driven stories like this one, I like well-developed characters who can carry the plot, who make me care about it. While Cinder, Prince Kaito, and the rest of the characters were good, there was something missing. The book was so plot-driven and so full of nearly nonstop action that it was difficult to really get to know these characters beyond the part they played in the story. I'm sorry to say that it's a good bet none of these characters will make a huge impression on me or linger in my mind for days the way the best characters always do. The emotional scenes didn't have the impact on me that I would have expected or liked them to, and I think this is probably due to the fact that though I liked the characters, I didn't really really care about them the way you need to for emotional heft.

The book as a whole felt almost like a prequel to the story's progression in the next three books of the series, but I found myself confused about certain fairly important points regarding Cinder's world. I wanted to know why Cyborgs are considered less than human -- how much robot are they? We know Cinder's percentage, but what's the difference between the Cyborgs of New Beijing and people today who have prosthetic limbs or rebuilt joints? More explanation on points like this, which would be obvious to the characters and the writer, but not to readers, would have been nice.

However, though I was confused about some of the world-building things, the "twists" in the book were obvious from the get-go. Nothing here surprised me and on the one hand this means that Cinder's discoveries were foreshadowed well, but on the other hand... I wanted to be surprised. For as awesomely action-packed as this book was, it was also predictable to the point of almost being boring -- like I said, it feels like a prequel or prologue to the rest of the story that this series will cover.

I don't want this review to sound like I didn't like the book because despite all my issues with it, it was an enjoyable read for me. Meyer has turned the traditional Cinderella story into something fantastic and made her futuristic world completely original. Despite the predictability, it was fun noticing all the fairy tale elements that are in play and Cinder's journey is such a departure from what you'd expect from a fairy tale retelling. I'm a reader who goes for characters and their relationships above all else; the fact that I didn't really connect to any of these characters hampered my connection to the book, but definitely doesn't take away from the fact that the story is pretty incredible. It's an original world and an original concept. As with Across the Universe, I'm more excited about the full series than book one and I just hope that by the time the second book comes out my enthusiasm for the series hasn't faded away.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In My Mailbox: So Many Books!

Gifted: Ahh, such lovely books from my mother and sister! All of these are books I've been wanting and while Save as Draft didn't live up to expectations, I'm completely invested in Cinder at this point and excited to read Shug, which I've heard good things about. (And also! It's by Jenny Han, author of the fantastic Summer series!)

For Review: These two books came super-unexpectedly and I'm so glad they did! I had literally been thinking about how I excited I was for Wicked Jealous that very day and then -- boom! It showed up! And I'm also anxious to read Keep Holding On.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Brand Authors vs. Everything Authors

I'm not the sort of reader who will read absolutely everything by my favorite authors. I mean, yeah, I've read every Dessen novel, but it's because I enjoy her type of stories. They're character-driven contemporary novels -- right up my alley. If tomorrow she started a series about a zombie-killing werewolf girl (you know, just for instance) I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be rushing out to buy it.

The truth is: I like how, with some authors, I know what I'm getting. I wouldn't call Sarah Dessen formulaic exactly, but there's definitely a certain comfort in knowing what "type" of novel you're guaranteed to be reading. She's an incredible author whose ability to write complex characters and realistic relationships is pretty much unparalleled in my mind. And I love that.

But then on the other side there are authors like Maureen Johnson, who write a bit of everything YA-wise. I haven't read all of her books. I haven't loved every book of hers that I have read. But she's still another of my most favorite authors and (maybe ironically) a big reason for this is how diverse her books are. Even in her contemporary novels there's a good mix of varying types of POV, series and non-series, and character- and plot-driven stories. She's an author who is so far from being "boxed in" to a certain genre or "type" of novel, and that's a little bit of what I aspire to be as a writer.

All of this makes me wonder: is it better to be an author with a strong "brand," like Sarah Dessen? Or is it better to be an author who writes a bit of everything, like Maureen Johnson? Is there even a "best" here, or is it all so unique to the individual writer? So, my question for you - as a reader, what type of authors do you prefer reading? And for any other writers/authors out there, what type of writer would you rather be?

Both of these questions are still things I'm thinking over for myself and I'd love to see what others think.

Friday, February 17, 2012

TGIF: Book Blogger Pride

This week's TGIF question from GReads is this:

What do you take pride in when it comes to blogging?

Honestly what I'm most proud of are the books that I read, love, and talk about. One of my big goals when I started blogging was to highlight books I'm passionate about -- contemporary, underrated books that maybe most people haven't heard of or read. A lot of my favorite books have always been the underdogs, books that never hit the bestseller list, aren't face out in bookstores, and are a little quieter than others might be, and I'm so thrilled to have a platform -- even a small one -- to highlight those books. Because I want the authors of the books I love to be able to keep writing for an audience. I want to be able to be a part of that audience.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Resolve to Finish Less Books

Lately I've been noticing just how many books I read in their entirety and don't really care for. Of the 13 books I've read so far this year, I didn't actually like three of them - these were 1- and 2-star reads for me, but I kept reading and kept reading, in most cases hoping the book would get better.

Because sometimes books do that. You hit the 70 or 100 or 120 page mark and suddenly, boom, everything falls into place. Like magic! Sometimes this happens. Usually though, it doesn't.

And honestly, I love books. I love stories. I eat fiction for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Which is part of the reason why I hate so much to find a book that I don't like: there are so many books I like or love that it seems a little ridiculous to finish books I don't care for.

My goal for the rest of February and also March is to not finish any books that are 1-star reads for me. Ideally I'd like to cut out 2-star reads as well, but ONE STEP AT A TIME. So, what about you? Do you finish books you don't like? What about ones you're just a bit ambivalent about?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Ten: The Sad Books

I'm a little distracted at the moment, so forgive me for the fact that this Tuesday Ten post doesn't have the usual pictures/links/descriptions. The theme this week is "books that broke your heart a little," and this week I'm going super-simple with just the title/author and the briefest of descriptions.

1. Splendor, by Anna Godberson - EVERYTHING WENT HORRIBLE OMG THIS ENDING. *dies*
2. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Patterson - This might have been the first book that really truly wrecked me. Prior to reading it I had no idea what it was about and those two chapters about the fastest kid in fifth grade? SO SAD.
3. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver - I just kept hoping for a different outcome.
4. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell - When certain people in this book died, there were many tears.
5. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott - BETH!!!
6. Hold Still, by Nina LaCour - Oh goodness. This book just had so much emotion in it; the desperate feelings of Ingrid come through so clearly.
7. Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen - Brutal.
8. Shine, Lauren Myracle - Drug use!! Horrible, horrible horrible drugs!
9. Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler - I realize the awful sadness comes at the beginning of this book, but it hit me really, really hard. Poor Matt.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: The Six Rules of Maybe

Deb Caletti
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Scarlet's a Nice Person. The sort of girl who looks out for not only her family and friends, but also her neighbors and strangers. She's constantly doing good deeds to try and brighten other people's days, whether that means encouraging her best friend's crush on a guy she's never spoken to or warning her older neighbors about email scams. When her older sister, Juliet, comes home pregnant and married, Scarlet's way of living for everybody else is put to the test as she finds herself developing feelings for Juliet's husband Hayden, who is, like Scarlet herself, a Nice Person.

Upfront I should say that I'm a sucker for stories about sisters, so I was a bit predisposed to like this one. Scarlet and Juliet are, like many sisters, different in some important ways. Though they shared the same upbringing (single mother, absentee father), their mother has always been closer to Juliet, the star. While Scarlet's quiet, nice, and unselfish above all else, her older sister is a little bit rebellious and a lot selfish. When she enters a room, things quickly become all about her. Despite this, Juliet's husband is surprisingly solid and kind - more like Scarlet than Juliet. He, too, is incredibly unselfish and it's easy to see that he loves Juliet completely even while she holds him at arm's length.

At times The Six Rules of Maybe can be a difficult read to get through, no matter how wonderfully it's done. This is because Scarlet is such an insular character; she exists so deep in her own head that the distance between this character (who, yes, is narrating the book) and the actual events sometimes feels enormous and foggy. There were a few scenes where I honestly wasn't sure what had just happened until one of the other, more plain-spoken characters, mentioned something about it. This can be annoying and I'd guess even more annoying if you're not one for character-driven, literary, or slow-going stories, but it fits well with Scarlet's introspective and meek personality.

Scarlet wants to save everyone around her. She wants to save Juliet; she wants to save Hayden. She wants their baby to have an unbroken family. But she also wants to be with Hayden and is getting a little tired of constantly being the good one, the nice one. This book is a little heartbreaking sometimes; Scarlet, despite her feelings for Hayden, mostly does everything she can to help everyone around her. Yet when her good intentions have unintended consequences, the people she's tried to help turn on her - in some cases suddenly and meanly. The story here, the slow change in how Scarlet sees things and her journey over the course of the novel, is written so, so well, and so realistically. Scarlet, Hayden, Juliet, and the rest of the characters are complex; nobody in this novel is one-note. Juliet comes the closest, with her selfishness and the way she so obviously takes all the attention away from Scarlet, but the love between these two sister comes through loud and clear and, like Scarlet, Juliet has her own hidden scars to deal with.

There's some very interesting stuff here dealing with love, especially different types of romantic love both requited and unrequited. The story deals nicely with who these characters love, and why, and what happens when it isn't perfect. In the extended cast of characters (which includes Scarlet's friends and neighbors as well as her family) there are many relationships and almost-relationships, all of which are unique.

Caletti has a literary writing style and her imagery is often breathtakingly beautiful. This is an incredibly well-crafted book with complex characters and relationships. It's not for everyone, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're a contemporary YA fan.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Such Interesting Questions, Young Reader!

In reading reviews for a certain YA book I came across one Goodreads reviewer who, though they didn't particularly care for the book itself, thought that it brought up some good questions to discuss with young adults. My first thought in reading this was something along the lines of, well, that's kind of crap. I mean, are the teenagers supposed to read this book that isn't very good just because there are some good questions for them in it?

Then I thought: self, hold up a second.

Isn't it true that sometimes the books that have good questions in them, interesting things to think about, aren't necessarily the ones we five-star and rave about? Take The Future of Us for instance: I liked that book. Liked, but didn't love. I thought there were some big flaws and it often came across as unintentionally funny; as if I were laughing at the book instead of with it. Still, I couldn't help but think that wow, the book was bringing up some really interesting topics. In my review I mentioned the questions of changing your future.

Like I said, The Future of Us was a good book and I enjoyed it, but what if you don't enjoy a book? Is it worth reading a book with plot, characters, or both that you don't like, if it raises interesting questions? And if so, is this more important as a teenager than a grown person?

As far as fiction is concerned we read (or at least, I read) for the stories. But should we sometimes be reading for the questions/topics instead? What are your thoughts on this?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: She's So Money

Cherry Cheva
Maya, straight-A student and good-girl extraordinaire, runs into a bit of trouble when her parents leave her in charge of the family restaurant while they're out of town. Maya's used to her life revolving around school and the restaurant so running the place for a few days should be no problem. Unfortunately a run-in with a couple of rude customers quickly turns into a much bigger problem when Maya gets herself slapped with a huge fine that - if she can't come up with the money quickly - could put her family's restaurant out of business. This leads to an ill-advised partnership with the hottest, most egotistical boy in school, and a cheating ring that starts small but soon becomes more than Maya can handle.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book. The premise seemed so outlandish, but I was happy to discover that this crazy premise is handled really well. This book fits squarely into the "comedy of errors" camp and benefits hugely from the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. This is a funny book - a YA comedy, dare I say? - and realizing this makes it easier to accept the crazy plot.

Maya and the rest of the characters (especially her partner-in-crime, Camden) aren't always likable, but it doesn't matter as much as you'd expect. It's clear from the outset that Maya's a well-intentioned girl who, under extreme pressure, panics and goes along with the first hare-brained scheme she thinks up. It's her loyalty to this scheme that really makes things interesting and that, eventually, makes it difficult to like her. Because while it's easy to understand the beginning of the cheating ring, it's quite a bit harder to justify the continuation of it especially as things begin going out-of-control. Once again, this is where the book's commitment to comedy is such a good thing; it's hard to take too seriously a book that cracks jokes continually, even in the worst of times, and because of this She's So Money is operating on a slightly different level than many other, drama-heavy YA novels.

Maya and Camden's whip-smart and hilarious interactions are often laugh-in-public funny and I'd recommend this book for YA readers looking for a straight-up comedy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Review: Sorta Like A Rock Star

Matthew Quick
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
The impossibly upbeat Amber Appleton has, by any standards, a hard life. Her and her mother are currently homeless and living on the school bus her mother drives after being kicked out of her most recent ex-boyfriend's apartment. Her alcoholic, anorexic, entirely dysfunctional mom is the only family Amber has, yet despite this Amber remains firm in her belief that things will work out for the best. She has strong faith in God, in her mother, and in the general goodwill of people. She spends her days doing good deeds for others despite her own situation.

I wanted to like this book. I really really did. It was recommended to me by quite a few fellow bloggers and reading about a relentlessly positive main character sounded awesome. Unfortunately, Amber Appleton's character and story never quite clicked for me. Though I loved (loved) her positivity and faith, her actual personality was a bit off-putting to me. It may be the fact that the voice of this narrator was just so out there, full of tons of slang that I found it difficult to get used to, or it might be that to be perfectly honest much of Amber's actions were inappropriate as were her reactions to other's actions. In the context of her life this made perfect sense, but I still found it hard to connect or empathize with her personally.

Aside from Amber, there was a cast of similarly unique-and-quirky characters, including a very zen Vietnam veteran and her "Freak Force Federation" friends. Sometimes quirky works. Sometimes it doesn't. For me, these characters were a bit over-the-top quirky and it was often difficult to see them as real when their personalities felt reduced to 2-D. This made the story (even more) unrealistic and difficult to buy into, which, depending on your reading tastes and what sort of book you're looking for, isn't always a bad thing. Unfortunately what I wanted and expected from this book was a realistic story of a modern-day Pollyanna type character: unrelenting optimism in the face of a crappy situation. What I got was a zany, quirk-filled adventure and a tragic story of how Amber's life goes from awful to more awful and then turns around again.

I didn't hate this book, but I didn't love it either. Many, many others laud its praises and I wish I could be among them, but sadly despite the book's occasional moments of real emotion and clarity, I found the characters too flat and the story too erratic to really keep me interested and invested in it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

If You Like... Well-Known YA Authors

Part three of my If You Like series focuses on two well-known authors of contemporary YA -- the ones that I (and probably many other readers) consider a sort of "prom king and queen" of the genre.

If You Like
Sarah Dessen
Dessen's books feature female protagonists and a variety of real-life problems. Family, as well as romance, usually factors into the stories quite heavily and I'm constantly impressed with her depictions of the intricacies of sisterhood. For many YA readers she was one of their first introductions into the genre that has seen a lot of growth since the publication of her first novel, That Summer.
sarah ockler - Yeah, yeah, they have the same name. But more than that, Ockler's heavy focus on family and her ability to write real-life stories that are complex and relatable, puts her in the same category as Sarah Dessen. And much like Dessen has cornered the market on sisterly relationships, Ockler's uncanny ability for writing truly complicated and realistic female friendship subplots is unparalleled in YA.
bunheads, by sophie flack - This book, with a great protagonist and romance subplot, has much in common with a Dessen story and a similar sort of vibe, while not being too alike.
ann brashares - The writing of Brashares, though very different from Sarah Dessen, has the same ability to immerse the reader completely in the story and make you forget about reality for a while.

If You Like
John Green
His debut novel won the Printz Award and Green's ability to write smart, complex teen characters make his books stand out. Most of his books are narrated by male characters and heavily feature romance. Unlike Dessen, he focuses much more on peer relationships than family and his style is definitely literary-leaning.
hannah moskowitz - The differences between Green and Moskowitz are obvious: she's female, and had her first two books published while still a teenager. But writing-wise, their styles are not that far apart and the book that continued to come to mind while I was reading John Green's latest was Moskowitz's novel, Invincible Summer
the book thief, by marcus zusak - Historical and complex, this book has the same literary writing and complexity that John Green's novels have and it's a safe bet that John Green superfans will probably also like this book.
the catcher in the rye, by j.d. salinger - Okay, so yeah, everyone's heard of this book. But not everyone has read it, and if you like Green's novels, especially his first two, this is a must-read as the main characters are similar as is the mood of the books.

Friday, February 3, 2012

TGIF: Book Appeal

This week's TGIF question from GReads is on book appeal.

When you're browsing goodreads, the library, or another blogger's reviews, what grabs your attention to make you want to read it?

Ah, the question of appeal. It's pretty much impossible to answer, but I'll give it a try:

1. Personal recommendations from readers I trust. Buzz and/or hype doesn't do much for me, but when I fellow reader, especially one who knows me and whose opinion I trust, tells me I'll probably like a book, I pay attention. If not for Khy relentlessly recommending Anna and the French Kiss to me, I probably never would have given it a chance. Cindy Pon told me I'd like Hannah Moskowitz's first novel, Break, and she was so, so right. Quite a few people have recommended Melina Marchetta's contemporary novels to me and though I haven't yet read Jellicoe Road, it's due to them that I was so eager to read The Piper's Son for the Cybils and that I now have Saving Francesca on my bookshelf.

2. Cover. I know this is incredibly superficial and covers half the time have nothing to do with the story inside, but I can't help it: I'm so very influenced by covers. So much so that even if I read and hate a book, if it has a stunning cover I'll still want to reread it in case, by some miracle, the second read has me loving it. Covers played a huge role in me picking up both The Summer I Turned Pretty and The Kid Table. Their summaries helped, but it was the cover that really did it.

3. Any mention of my favorite topics. I think every reader has favorite/"pet" topics that they just love reading about. I have quite a few, but the ones that spring to mind right now are sisters (Imaginary Girls), friendship troubles (Rival), and complicated love stories that may or may not be romances (Vaclav & Lena).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: Chopsticks

Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral
Glory is an incredibly talented teenage pianist who, after a now-infamous (and disastrous) performance, has disappeared. This is, as the book says, the story of where she went. But it's also the story of her family, her descent into madness, and the boy-next-door she falls in love with. The story is told primarily through pictures with very little text and Chopsticks, which has a website and paid iPod/iPad apps is being called a "concept novel,"and it's definitely the first of its kind that I've read.

This book is, above all else, visually stunning. The pictures are beautiful and very effective at conveying the mood of the novel. It's a book that, regardless of story, is just so pretty and so atmospheric. Though pictures make up the majority of the book they're effective in setting not only the mood and setting of the story, but also establishing characters (and their pasts) and moving events forward. It's a quick read, but an engrossing one, and readers looking for something a little different will love it.

However there is, at least for me, something missing here. As great as the pictures are they also lead to ambiguity and I'm not entirely 100% sure what happens in this book, especially the latter half. I feel like I missed, somehow, the part where Glory and Francisco (the boy next door) met, and I'm not sure what prompted Glory's descent into madness. The ending, as well as events leading up to it, is a bit vague and I'm not sure if this is done intentionally -- to have the reader fill in the blanks and leave it open to interpretation -- or if I'm just not understanding this storytelling form well enough. This is definitely not your basic, straightforward storyline and while this will surely work for some readers, it didn't entirely work for me. I wanted more detail, more information about the characters and events, than this type of novel allowed. It's an interesting and beautiful work for sure, but very different (in both good and bad ways) from the typical novel.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: The Babysitter Murders

Janet Ruth Young
Dani's been having disturbing thoughts. The seventeen year old girl loves her best friend, her mother, and especially the little boy she babysits (Alex), but lately she's been having thoughts of hurting them -- anything ranging from the most hurtful insults to graphic murder -- and she doesn't know how to stop it. Confessing her unwanted thoughts leads to a media frenzy in her small town as everyone speculates on who the "nanny nutjob" might be and Dani becomes vilified as she tries to simultaneously keep herself safe while figuring out how to stop her thoughts.

This book was sort of terrifying. It's told in a disarming way -- third person present tense -- which distances the reader from Dani but also gives a more objective view of the events. It's a struggle to adjust to this sort of writing, but in the end it works well for the story. Dani is sort of an everygirl character (responsible, good friend, good daughter, good grades), but her terror at the thoughts she's been having is palpable. On more than one occasion she hides kitchen knives from herself just in case.

Let's be clear: Dani doesn't want to hurt anyone. Quite the opposite. These are people she loves and she consciously, actively wants to keep them safe, but she isn't sure how. When she can no longer handle the thoughts on her own she knows that she must do whatever she can to keep Alex, the boy she babysits, safe. This means confessing her horrible thoughts to his mother, who immediately calls the police. What follows is both the public outcry at the fact that Dani isn't arrested, and the private struggle Dani and her mother go through as they find help for her.

This is a very interesting (and scary, quite honestly) book about a very specific type of OCD. It's well-written and the subject matter is so captivating that the book is difficult to put down. However, many of the characters, especially a schoolmate who has a crush on Dani, feel two-dimensional: a little flat, as if their entire character is dictated by the role they play in the book's plot. The dialogue is sometimes a bit forced and cheesy, and the subplot involving Dani's best friend always seems to just take up space; next to Dani's very strange, very huge problems, everything else seems a little silly. All of these flaws only accentuate that, really and truly, this is a book about a premise, a subject matter. Everything -- characters, dialogue, relationships, subplots -- comes secondary to that.

And you know what? It's not bad. While this would really bother me in many books, here the flaws are more than forgivable for the simple fact that, next to Dani's problem, nothing else matters. Though the ending is a little odd, the story stops in the right place, bookending Dani's journey and leaving the reader satisfied with the story. It's a very complete picture of a very different sort of mental illness and it's troubling, difficult, to read. Despite that, this is a book (and a character) that, even in the direst of circumstances, never surrenders to the dark.