Thursday, June 30, 2011

Faves of 2011 (so far): The Characters

1. Best Female POV: Cisco and the Bean (otherwise known as Isabelle and Annie), from Flirt Club. I count these two as a package deal as they're just so great together. I love their friendship and their unique outlook and take on everything that happens to them and the people they know. This book is written as notes between the two girls and their voices are just so, so, so great. LOVE!

2. Best Male POV: Adam, from Where She Went. The brilliant thing about this POV is that because it's a sequel we already know what happened three years earlier but getting the story and its aftermath from Adam is so incredibly, insanely powerful. I can't say enough good things about this book, how it's told, or Adam himself. 

3. Best Couple: Anna and Etienne St. Claire, obviously. I mean really. <3

4. Who I So Want to Be Best Friends With: This is a difficult category as I have a whole list of characters here (including the inspiring Kurt Brodsky and sad-faced Ari), but in the end I have to go with the package deal once again -- Cisco and the Bean (Flirt Club) are my kind of people and exactly the girls I would have loved to meet and be besties with back in junior high. 

5. Who I Fell Completely in Love With: This category is actually for literary crushes, but my answer here seems a bit off-base. Leverage isn't one anyone would consider a swoon-worthy type of book... and yet... KURT BRODSKY. I absolutely love him. He is the best of humanity -- strong, humble, honest, kick-ass, and just a little off-beat.

6. Worst (Best) Villain: The captains from Leverage. UGH. I hate choosing them for anything, even this. THEY ARE HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE. AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL. They are scum. They are everything horrible and bad. I hate them so much there aren't even words. 

7. Best Character Twist: Hamilton Best, from Popular. Just. Omg. Just read this one, you guys, and you'll see what I mean. I loved her and hated her and then OMGWTH. Twisty all over the place.

8. Best Kick-Ass Female: Mel, from Rain. You kind of have to actually read the book to get Mel, but she's definitely one of the fiercest, most loyal, most bad-ass characters out there. Smart, bitingly witty, and absolutely determined. Love her. (Plus, you know, she's a spy.)

9. Best Kick-Ass Male: Obviously Kurt Brodsky, from Leverage. I mean, come on. No contest. Kurt's whole life is basically about weight training so that he can kick people's asses if the need arises. 

10. Broke My Heart the Most: Once again I have to go with Adam, from Where She Went. Adam's pain is so real, so palpable, so obvious and aching. Just brilliantly written.

11. Best/Worst Character Names: 
BEST: Rhine Ellery, from Wither. Just... so... pretty. Loooove it. 
WORST: Ginny Blackstone, from The Last Little Blue Envelope. I don't know why, but her name has always rubbed me the wrong way. Gin or Ginny is fine on its own, but with Blackstone it just... isn't.

12. *Character That Reminds Me of Me: (*Note that I added this EXTRA category for my own list.) Ari, from Other Words for Love. She's just so out-of-step and different and awkward and something in all of that really reminds me of myself and my own eternal weird/awkwardness. I love her, of course.

((BONUS)) Five Favorite Covers: These are in no sort of order. I tried to arrange them at first but Blogger kept giving me guff so I had to just let it be.

Part 3 of this "faves of 2011" will be coming soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Literary v. YA... WAIT, WHAT?

I rarely ever highlight books of genres other than YA and MG here; it's not the focus of the blog and while I feel somewhat qualified to talk about YA, having read so much of it, with other genres I feel less steady on my feet. That said, the topic of literary novels has been coming up again and again, often in articles comparing YA (negatively) to literary fiction. And then in the comments of those articles that compare literary fiction (again, negatively) to YA.


My dislike is based not only on the fact that (obviously) I love YA lit, but also because I also kind of love literary books. I mean, I'm allowed to like both, right? The problem with many of these articles I've read is that it sets up an us vs. them mentality, as if YA lit and literary fiction are on opposite ends of the spectrum, battling it out. As if YA is a threat to literary novels, is somehow diminishing them, as if there's no overlap between the people who enjoy YA and those who enjoy literary fiction.

But it's just not true. It's true I've read more YA than any other genre, but it's also true that some of my most cherished books fall under the category of "literary." I can't help it. I have a thing for pretty words and complex characters and beautiful beautiful breathtaking settings. Just like not all YA is vampires/dark/badly written, not all literary novels are dry/pretentious/boring. I don't like feeling as if the two facets of publishing are enemies because I don't like choosing sides, because both of these genres have greatness in them.

The History of Love? Brilliant. Beautiful.
Sea? Again, brilliant. Beautiful.

I have as hard a time believing that literary writers are all pretentious artistes as I do thinking that YA authors don't care about the quality of their stories and words. After reading certain articles this past week I almost feel like shouting can't we all just get along?? Because, really.

What are your favorite literary novels (if you read them)? What can you recommend for someone who loves The Lovely Bones, Downtown Owl, and The History of Love?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Faves of 2011 (so far): The Books

Inkcrush has started a three-part survey of favorite/best/most winning-est books read in 2011 (so far) and I love all the categories (and lists, duh) so much that I just have to join in the fun. (Days 2 and 3 will come in the next week or so.)

You may notice a few books kind of take over this list, but that's okay -- it's only because they're brilliant.

1. Favorite Book Read So Far in 2011 Where She Went by Gayle Forman. As much as I absolutely adore a few other books out there (most notably Anna & the French Kiss), there's just nothing like the love and angst and heartbreak and hope and just plain brilliance of the continuing story of Mia and Adam. Gayle Forman is a powerhouse. 

2. Most Powerful Book: Without a doubt, Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen. There's something incredible about a book that I'm still thinking about months (and dozens of books) later. Even the cover is powerful and that's only a fraction of the raw story inside.

3. Brilliantly Funny: Flirt Club by Cathleen Daly. OH. MY GOODNESS. You guys, there's no way to actually explain in words how great and funny and sunshiney and hilario this book is. It's just... just brilliant. And it helps, of course, that the characters are completely and hopelessly geeky. Love. It.

4. Best Ache-y, Heart-Breaking, Tear-Jerker Read: Again I have to go with Where She Went. There's something so agonizing about Adam's pain and the lost love that this story revolves around. That, compounded with all the pain we already know from Mia's story in If I Stay makes this category no contest.

5. Most Beautiful Story: Where She Went, again. Now, I get the feeling it's starting to seem like Where She Went has an unfair advantage here, and maybe it does. But only because the book is so brilliant, so perfect, so wonderful, so sad and hopeful and redemptive all at once, and because I love it so completely. 

6. Delicious Rainy Day Comfort Read: Anna & the French Kiss. This book is almost too perfect for words and part of its perfection comes from the fact that it's just so cozy, like sinking into the absolute best pile of pillows or hiding in a blanket fort drinking hot chocolate on a rainy day. Adorable and sweet.

7. Adrenaline-Fueled, Unputdownable Award: Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan. Maybe because I had a bound MS with no cover and no description, but this story really struck me as being incredible and complicated and intensely interesting. I meant to read a couple pages on the trolley and ended up unable to stop reading.

8. The Most Beautiful Prose Award: Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma. Nova has talked a bit about her more "literary" style of writing, and this book definitely fits the bill but in the best possible way. Unpretentious but beautiful with prose that begs to be read and reread, the writing here is just... astonishing.

9. Most Atmospheric and Vivid Setting: Anna & the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. For a total settings-junkie like me, Anna was a gift. The setting is just... just... THERE ARE NO WORDS.

10. I-So-Want-To-Go-There Award: Again, Anna & the French Kiss. I just want to pull a blue-skidoo and jump into the book and live there forever.

11. Most Original and Imaginative: Popular, by Alissa Grosso. Maybe you saw the twist coming, but I definitely didn't and thought it was incredibly imaginative. I want to re-read it knowing what happens and see how different the story seems, but I just haven't had time yet.

12. Best Under-Appreciated, Hidden-Gem Award: Rival, by Sara Bennett Wealer. I have a feeling that people are probably reading this one as your standard story of lost friendship or high school competition, but man, it is just so much more than that. So much better than anything "standard." There's a depth to this novel, a real heart that sets it heads and shoulders above so many other similar novels. It's smart and true and wonderful and I want you all to read it, okay?

13. I-Had-No-Idea-I-Would-Love-This-So Award: Anna & the French Kiss, which I was seriously planning to be disappointed by. SPOILER ALERT: I was totally wrong.

14. Most Haunting Story: Leverage, again. Haunting in that scary, heading-to-your-car-at-night-and-looking-over-your-shoulder sort of way. I mean, obviously the characters here are fictional, but they're so real that I was a little freaked out what if they were following me? 

15. Outside My Comfort Zone but Gosh How I Loved It: Imaginary Girls. I am so not a fan of fantasy or paranormal or anything supernatural, but this book actually pulled off a fantastical twist in a way that didn't creep me out too much and I could still read it and I actually ended up loving the book. 

16. Series That I'm Loving: I haven't read many series books this year, but I did read a few starts of trilogies and the one I'm most looking forward to being continued is Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. There's such a great world and story set-up here that I'll definitely definitely be reading the second book.

17. Most Memorable Voice Award: Where She Went, yet again. I just... it's so... I love it, okay?

18. Completely Awesome Premise Award: The only nonfiction book on here, Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons. I love love love that it's set up around girl bullying and that it tackles the subject so head on. I really should have read it around age fifteen, but whatever. READ IT, GIRLS.

19. Would Make the Best Movie: Ugh, I suck at knowing what books would make good movies because I'm not good at actually watching movies, but that said I really think it would be awesome to see The Last Little Blue Envelope, by Maureen Johnson, as a movie. It has the right blend of heart and funny and sadness and kookyness, I think.

20. Want to re-Read Already: OMG SO MANY, but mostly probably Anna & the French Kiss just because it's so great, you know? Like, just happy-making to the extreme. 

Parts 2 and 3 will be up in the next couple weeks and I'm really looking forward to them. Thanks to Nomes for creating this awesome idea. :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Where Did These Books Come From?

As of this moment I have 28 books in my TBR pile. Some old, some new, some YA, some adult, some nonfiction. A bit of everything, to be honest, including a celebrity memoir. Here's the breakdown of how I got these books...

All of the books I've won, got for review, or traded are YA. But as for the others...

The breakdown of books I still have on my shelves from ALA... these are books that are coming out in the next couple of months, which is why I haven't read them yet.
Here are the books I got as gifts. 
These are books I bought new that I haven't read yet.
...and books I bought used.
SO YEAH. I'm not sure how representative this is of my TBR pile most of the time, but I guess I do have a few things to say about my book buying/getting practices.
  • I love buying books. Love love love. Whenever I have money to spend it goes towards either books or music. Or french fries, if we're being honest over here. But because I don't often (ever?) have much money to spend, I end up being really strange in my book buying habits. Like, I have no problem buying some random book that looks good at Barnes & Noble, but it's also possible for me to agonize for weeks over the decision to buy a certain book, especially if it's just out and in hardcover. I do feel bad about not buying more new books because this is an industry I really want to support in any way that I can (and, um, you know, I love owning the books), but then when I buy them I feel guilty for not saving my money. So it's a choice between which I'd like to feel guilty over most of the time.
  • I'm definitely thinking that when I get a steady job I will be putting a small amount of money towards books and nothing else.
  • Since I don't have much money, I use GR Bookswap or trade with other bloggers whenever I can.
  • I don't use the library much; I go through spells where I do, but eventually it always ends up with me owing them like thirty dollars and at that point it would have just been cheaper for me to buy the books in the first place. I'm horrible.
  • I feel like I have a higher-than-normal number of grown up books on this list (grown up being mainstream and literary), but I'm pretty sure it's because one day I went into the used bookstore and ended up coming out with a whole stack of mainstream and literary books, which is not normal for me. (Although, I don't know, I do seem to have a lot of Jodi Picoult on the shelves.)
So, how do you get your books?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In My Mailbox & More on the Audiobook

For Review: Last week I received the audiobook of this one for review, and this week the hardcover came in the mail. Surprise! 

ARIGHT SO! Last week I figured I'd give the audiobook of this a try -- I've heard all kinds of good things about the book itself, but I'm still not sold on the idea of listening to the audiobook. I'm not sure how much I like the story so far (and I haven't listened to much of it), but more importantly listening to audiobooks just feels awkward to me. Especially after seeing the first few pages of the actual book I'd so much rather read and see if I like it than listen to the audio, which will probably always be weird to me. So, we'll see.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to Fall in Love With YA

(via weheartit.)

Step One: Be twelve years old and awkward and in a back brace and dealing with the aftermath of some fairly big things that take a while to really come to terms with. Be very smart and not very social and so you take out a book every single morning from the school library. One morning decide you want something a bit heavier, a book that might take more than one day to finish.

Step Two: Find Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever. Have no idea what it's about or what genre it is -- nothing at all, really, except for that the few sentences you read seem good and it's well over two hundred pages and if you don't like it you can just bring it back tomorrow anyway.

Step Three: Read the book and it's amazing.

Step Four: Find more books. Ann Brashares' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Angela Johnson's The First Part Last, and every Sarah Dessen novel you can find. Devour these books.

Step Five: Realize that books like The Truth About Forever are exactly what you want to write: difficult and beautiful and hopeful and messy all at the same time. And so obviously you need to read even more books.

Step Six: Read.

Step Seven: Read.

Step Eight: Don't care that you're the only one reading these books or maybe the only one reading at all, because the books are great and you love them.

Step Nine: Read. Continue reading. Read and read as other authors join the ranks of Sarah Dessen. Authors like Courtney Summers, Suzanne Collins, Gayle Forman, Sarah Ockler, Sara Zarr, and so many others.

So tell me -- how did you fall in love with YA?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Between Here and Forever

Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse
With her older sister Tess in a coma, Abby's life has become all about waiting for her sister to wake up. Not, she says, because she misses her, but rather because she doesn't want to spend the rest of her life tied to Tess, constantly reminding others (and herself) that she could never take her beautiful and perfect sister's place. When Abby finds a gorgeous boy she thinks that if anyone can wake Tess up, it's him: her perfect match. And so she asks him to talk to her, knowing that when Tess wakes up the two will fall in love and all will be right with the world. But what Abby doesn't count on is that her sister's perfect match is less perfect and more complicated than she thought possible... and, for that matter, so was -- is -- Tess.

Abby is angry. There's no other way to put it; she's mad that Tess is in a coma, mad that people have started talking about her in the past tense, and mad that she's constantly reminded how different the two sisters are. Tess is gorgeous, perfect, and smart. Guys adore her, follow her around just for the chance to be near her. Abby, on the other hand, having once fell for a guy who wanted her sister instead, is convinced that she's nothing. She's short, twiggy, and ugly. If others try to tell her differently, she cuts them off, insulting herself before others can and taking even their compliments as criticisms. Abby's incredibly negative view of herself bothered me, but I was able to let it be because there's just so much else in this novel that rang true. Abby's feelings toward Tess are complicated -- she insists her feelings and actions aren't noble, but the fact is that she's spending every afternoon with her comatose sister, jumping at the slightest movement, so ready for her to wake up. There's a love she has for her sister that's very apparent, though she refuses to admit it.

However, as the story evolves so does Abby. She goes from being a miserable, constantly-complaining character who seems to hate herself to being a sad girl who finally admits she deserves to be happy. A lot of this change is due to her friendship with Eli, the "perfect boy" she found for her sister who ends up having plenty of problems of his own. While I at first pegged Eli and Abby's relationship as the too-common case of a perfect boy saving a broken girl, it ends up being much more real and complex than this. Eli is also broken. The relationship they have is messy and confusing and slow-building, but also authentically real with an incredible emotional heart. It's Eli who helps Abby to see that her sister isn't the all-powerful girl she considers her and helps her appreciate that though Abby has some problems, so does everybody else, and she's allowed to want something to herself. The way this relationship was written, especially in regards to Abby's past mistakes, was brilliant. Absolutely wonderful. It was this that went a long way towards my love of the novel and of these characters -- yes, even Abby.

The relationship dynamics were very interesting in the rest of the book as well; Abby's closest friend is her sister's ex-best-friend, a girl named Claire that Tess shunned after Claire got pregnant in high school. The friendship between Abby and Claire is an interesting one, especially as the story goes on and it become obvious that Abby didn't know her sister as well as she always thought she did. For the most part, Tess is portrayed as your typical All-American popular girl -- smart, pretty, tons of boyfriends, an amazing best friend. But there are hints of something darker inside of her, short periods of time where Abby can remember Tess turning on her or seeming to shun the rest of the world, not eating, not even sleeping. These hints seem to be building to something larger, and they do, but the revelation that at first makes perfect sense seems to become more convoluted and melodramatic in the book's conclusion. There are plot points (one in particular that involves Claire's baby) that, while they technically fit into the story, seem more melodramatic than is needed and more suited to a twist in a soap opera than a plot point in a well-constructed novel. It's at this point that the book lost quite a bit of its magic for me as the story seems to devolve into secrets about Tess' life that seem overly dramatic and end with the book feeling a bit overstuffed.

I liked this book, I loved this book, and then I was disappointed by this book. The story, characters, and so-authentically-hestitant voice of Abby are all wonderful, but the ending took away some of the joy for me. It didn't ruin the book, not by a long shot, but it did leave me with a slightly bitter feeling when this slow-moving and real-feeling story became convoluted by what felt like melodrama.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review - A & L Do Summer

Jan Blazanin
For Aspen and her best friend Laurel, the summer before their senior year in a small Iowa town is their chance to make a name for themselves -- to finally get noticed. But what starts as two girls with plans to raise their status and find boyfriends very quickly ends up as a summer of epic groundings after the two are caught drinking at a party. Now Aspen's summer revolves around her part-time job, doing chores at home, and taking her elderly neighbor's "cat" (read: skunk) for walks in a baby stroller. Not to mention that both girls are in deep with three school bullies who don't stop at idle threats or teenage pranks to make their lives hell.

It seems to be a bit of a pattern lately that I'm reading books that are extremely slow to start. It was about a hundred pages into this novel before the summer actually started and while there's a lot of set-up before this (we're introduced to Mrs. Simmon's and her pet skunk and A & L have their first run-in with the villains of the story, Buster, Ferret, and Kong), I went into the novel expecting (from the pitch on the back cover) a very different story. I expected romance, hijinks, and girls chasing popularity, but got something quite different.

For the most part, this Is a light-hearted summer read. There's romance, parties, and best friends getting in trouble. Aspen and Laurel have an incredibly strong friendship and balance each other out -- Laurel's the spontaneous and adventurous one while the usually more responsible Aspen has a serious feisty and sarcastic streak. The girls are great, but the trio of bullies out to get Aspen and Laurel give the book a decidedly un-fun feel, as if in the middle of this easy summer story there's a seriously evil dude threatening to kill dogs and hurt old ladies. It doesn't take long after the summer starts for Aspen and Laurel to find themselves continually crossing paths with these three and having to lie in order to protect themselves. However, these important developments don't come early enough in the novel to make it the primary focus. Instead, we get chapters and chapters of Aspen and Laurel going on various adventures that only serve to get them in more and more trouble with their parents and the police. The connections of each adventure isn't strong enough to make for a real arc and it's difficult for me to say what the main plot of this book is. More than anything it felt like various disconnected stories that couldn't quite find a way to work together. While Aspen and Laurel were feisty and funny and Mrs. Simmons was a scene-stealer, there's only so much that can do without a solid story backing it up. And this book -- between it's too-bad-for-the-book villains, adventures that felt like they would have worked better as short stories, and over-the-top ending -- just didn't work for me. It was entertaining enough to keep my attention, but definitely not something I'd read again.

Although I do have to say that I've read about seven other reviews of this book and everyone seems to agree that it's a really sweet, fun, recommend-worthy summer book, so I may just be the odd duck out on this one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Ten: Reasons I Love Book Blogging

In honor of The Broke and The Bookish's one year aniversary, this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic (yaaay, alliteration!) is Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Book Blogger. I love this topic, because there's a lot about blogging that I adore.
  1. Finding out about awesome books I never would have been exposed to otherwise. Since I've started blogging and reading other blogs I've realized how seriously limiting the selections in most bookstores are, especially when it comes to contemporary/realistic YA. If not for being so involved in the YA community I probably never would have read such books as Rival, Della Says: OMG!, The Espressologist, Rain, Flirt Club, The Kid Table, or Harmonic Feedback. And I never would have thought to pick up a Courtney Summers book at all, which would be a major loss.
  2. Making bookworm friends. If not for blogging I never would have met (either in real life or the internet) so many people who share my love of books and YA in particular. It's incredibly awesome to be able to have bookish conversations with people.
  3. Getting to know authors. Before I started blogging I'd never been to an author event and mostly thought of authors as very strange and powerful human beings. Somehow they got to write stories and get paid for it! And get people to read them! And to me this is still the coolest thing ever. However, since blogging I've also gotten to know a few authors -- they still amaze me, I'm still in awe, but I've also learned that a lot of the issues I struggle with in my own writing are the same issues that published authors come up against. The difference between us is not the great chasm I once thought it was. Almost as cool as that is the fact that most authors seem to actually enjoy getting emails and tweets from readers, which makes me so happy.
  4. I love writing reviews. This might be an odd thing to say because sure, after a while writing reviews can start to feel like a job, a chore that must be done. But the honest truth is that I love it. I love getting to write down and even analyze my reactions to a book -- what worked, what didn't, and if others will have the same reaction as I do.
  5. #YALITCHAT. If not for being a part of the blogging world and following some amazing authors and aspiring authors on Twitter, I might never have stumbled upon the #yalitchat, a once-a-week Twitter discussion on writing YA. 
  6. I've found critique partners/beta readers. Much like finding good friends, I have a notoriously difficult time finding good CPs and beta readers. I've tried everything from AW forums to in-person writing groups and it wasn't until I started really talking writing with fellow aspiring writers in the YA blogging world that I found a couple of really great beta readers who both give good advice and actually like my writing, even when it's in the rough stages. 
  7. Inspiration. I'm constantly inspired by the amazing books I get to read and review and talk to others about. It's awesome. You might expect that after a while talking about all the books and writing down reviews and thinking about them so much would ruin the experience of just reading for me, but it hasn't. No, it seems to make me love it even more somehow.
  8. Reading excellent books before anyone else and then being so excited for others to read them. Of course I love getting books in the mail sometimes, but what I really love is getting an ARC of a book that isn't out yet, reading it, and loving it, and being so excited because everyone else is going to love it too (how could they not?) and then just be bursting at the seams for the book to come out, for people to read it, to have people to gush over it with.
  9. Reading the other side. I have a bad little habit of going to read all the reviews that disagree with a book I particularly loved (or, um, didn't love). I like to see why other people liked it or didn't like it, how their opinions could be so far from my own. It fascinates me how one book can inspire a thousand varying reactions, some completely opposite each other.
  10. It makes me happy. Blogging doesn't have the must do this feeling that school or working has, and a blog post is so much quicker and easier to write then a novel. It doesn't take the place of anything, but sometimes when I'm stuck on a particular plot point or chapter it's nice to know I can still write a nice blog post. Blogging is a very low-pressure hobby and it makes me smile. :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Realistic YA Revolution and Recommendations

 Over on her blog, author Tara Kelly has started a Realistic YA Revolution; she talks about the importance of realistic YA lit and recommends a few books in this sub-genre that she wishes had gotten more attention. I admit I've only read one of the books she mentions (the incredible Fall for Anything, by Courtney Summers), but a few of her others are on my ever-growing list.

I love this idea. As a fan of the genre and a future realistic YA author (CONFIDENCE. IS. KEY.), I love the idea of spreading the love of the books I wish had gotten more attention. Usually when I mention a book, I link it on Goodreads. But this time (because I'm admittedly hoping you'll think about buying these books), I'll link to Book Depository.

The first few books here are ones I absolutely love that I haven't seen many other reviews for or mentions of, and most of them are books I could find in my local Barnes & Noble. Just by happenstance they're all debuts. The books at the end are more great realistic YA literature that are hopefully known a little more.

Rival, by Sara Bennett Wealer is an incredibly smart, sweet, and a little bit heartbreaking story of two girls -- both incredible singers going into the same competition -- who used to be best friends. It's a story told from dual POVs in both the past and present, with brilliant writing and clear, distinct voices for both Brooke and Kathryn. The characters, plot, and writing are all amazing.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan is a love story of the highest quality. The story features Bronwen Oliver, a high school student with a rocky-at-best relationship with her mother, a nonexistant relationship with a brother, and a stepfather who's disappointed her. When she meets the gentlemanly, charming Jared Sondervan, she falls in love with him and everything he can offer her -- not the money, but the stable, wonderful family and a solid, loving relationship. Bronwen is a smart and strong character, one who knows who she is and who she wants to be, who isn't afraid to stand by what is important to her. This is such a beautiful and well-written book with realistic characters and relationships. 

serafina67, by Susie Day is a beyond-hilarious import from the UK.  Sarah (username: serafina67) gives herself a 100-Day Happiness Deadline which she chronicles on her blog for friends and strangers. In 100 days she resolves to be not only happy, but also thinner, boyfriended, and at peace with her dad and his new wife. What really sets this story apart is the absolutely terrific writing -- funny, internet-y, and an absolute honest portrayal of teen life. I'm not kidding you when I say I can't praise this book enough -- IT. IS. BLOODY BRILLIANT. Just... read it. Read it read it read it. Because this book has the feel-good feeling of sitting in the warm sun, eating chocolate-covered strawberries. Honestly; it's that good.

The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading, by Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance mixes high school geek culture and cheerleading perfectly. After geek girl Bethany becomes a varsity cheerleader, she finds herself juggling both old and new friendships, as well as realizing that maybe cheerleading isn't quite as stupid (or easy!) as she thought it was. This book features whip-smart writing, witty and geeky characters, as well as one of my favorite fictional guys of all time. Go! Read!

This is What I Want to Tell You, by Heather Duffy-Stone is a beautiful story with beautifully broken characters -- most notably Noelle, who finds herself drifting apart after her rich best friend leaves for the summer. Told from the perspective of Noelle and her twin brother Nadio, this book explores family, friendship, and the struggle of self. It's lyrical and wonderful and I can't believe more people haven't read it.


I'll Be There, by Holly Goldberg Sloan
The Kid Table, by Andrea Seigel
Exclusively Chloe, by J.A. Yang
Breathing, by Cheryl Renee Herbsman
Sea, by Heidi R. Kling

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review - Mission Unpopular

Anna Humphrey
Hyperion Books CH
Seventh grader Margot Button has enough problems fitting in as-is, what with her tarot-card-reading mother, the popular girl who hates her, and the fact that she looks different from the rest of her all-American family and most of her schoolmates. But when her best friend has to transfer to a different school (because her mother thinks Margot is a bad influence), life gets even harder. Things start to look up when the new girl at school, a super-confident girl from New York City, takes Margot under her wing.

This is a difficult book for me to review. Clocking in at 400 pages it's much longer than any other MG I've read and for a good portion of the novel the story seems to move incredibly slowly. At first, thanks to the length and pacing, I wasn't sure I'd even finish the book. And then, as I got nearer the end, I wasn't sure I'd review it. Generally, I'm able to go into a book without bias, but it wasn't the case with Mission Unpopular. Margot's relationship with her new friend, the seemingly carefree and sophisticated Em, reminded me so much of a friendship I used to have (unfortunately I was much older than Margot) and this made it difficult to sympathize with Em's character. It also made me sad that Margot continually made excuses for her. I say this not to whine about my own issues, but just so you know that there's a bit of bias in this review that I wish weren't there.

This book reminded me in so many was of the incredible nonfiction book Odd Girl Out as it was essentially all about junior high female friendships and changing peer groups. Margot, whose wish to be a part of the popular crowd has led her to make some at-best questionable decisions (like stealing a ham, for instance), is devastated when her best friend Erika has to switch schools. She's not sure how she's going to handle mean/popular girl Sarah J. without her best friend at her side. The mortification Margot feels over everything from her hair to her clothes was palpable and brought me right back to my own junior high days and how confidence-crushing the smallest thing can be. When full-of-confidence Em comes along, boasting good clothes and the fact that she's from New York, Margot latches on to her -- especially after she sees her standing up to Sarah J., something Margot herself is to terrified to do.

While it made sense why Margot wanted so badly to become friends with Em, it was almost painful to read as Em continually lied to the people around her, including Margot, and used made a lot of excuses for the ways she treated others. There's a definite atmosphere of mean girls here, between Margot and Em vs. the more popular girls, especially Sarah J., who Em vows to make cry. This is definitely a very true-to-life book, which is why I think Margot's transformation from unpopular-but-sweet into Em's right-hand girl was a little unsettling. There are a few events toward the end of the book -- one in particular -- that I almost couldn't believe I was reading. While these events made sense in the scope of the story, I had a hard time making them fit with Margot's character.

Subplots in this book include Margot's relationship with her mother, who remarried years earlier and now has toddler triplets that Margot often has to babysit. As you might expect, I absolutely loved this family aspect of the book. Margot's complicated feelings toward her sisters and stepdad were right on target and there was the added element of her dealing with looking different from the rest of her family since she's half-Indian on her dad's side. I think that this part of the book was balanced really well with the real heft of the plot: Margot's friendship problems.

Mission Unpopular is definitely a well-written and true-to-life novel, but the length and pacing (especially in the beginning) made it difficult to keep my interest. There are a few extremely attention-getting things that happen in this book, but many of them are in the last fourth of the novel. If I were younger (the books target demographic), I don't think I would have kept reading long enough for it to get interesting. As it is I almost didn't finish the book.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What to Look for In A Book Blog

I find Klout, the website that measures your influence via Twitter and Facebook, incredibly fascinating. According to them, I have a Klout score of 45, influence 133 people (all on Twitter since I don't have a Facebook account), am a "specialist," and am influential mostly about blogging and authors. Aside from Klout thinking I'm also influential on the topics of Facebook, relationships, and moms, it all seems pretty spot-on to me.

I mention this by way of a discussion on influence and true reach on the internet. Those 133 people I influence are what Klout considers my "true reach." It's less people than the 361 that follow me on Twitter, but still way more than I'd expect considering I don't have a hugely popular blog or a book deal. And this brings me to the main point... book blogs. More specifically, the "true reach" and power of book blogs. Thanks to a conversation on Twitter and this post, I've found out that some publishing companies really prefer a blog to have at least 1,000 followers before sending review books.

The reason this bothers me (and it definitely bothers me) is probably the same reason it's bothering a lot of other book bloggers: because a flat follower count is not an indication of a blog's influence or quality. As I write this post Ten Cent Notes has 263 followers -- a modest amount that I'm happy with, but definitely not the 1,000+ I've recently come to feel like I should be aiming for. This doesn't include any email subscribers or people who actually type in the URL, of course, but more than that it doesn't take into account content. I know that there are some people -- even with all the other blogs and reviews out there -- who rely on my reviews and trust what I say about books. I put a lot of time and thought into my reviews (as well as the rest of the blog) and having readers who appreciate what I say is an amazing thing. But knowing that my blog, based solely on follower count, isn't popular enough to build a relationship or be considered by publishers is incredibly disheartening. And if I'm being honest it kind of makes me angry.

Because -- and I'm not saying anything that my fellow bloggers don't already know -- the easiest way to get new followers is by running contests that require or give extra entries for following. And while I love blogs that run giveaways, there are a lot of blogs that have thousands of followers based solely on the giveaways they host. It has nothing to do with content and it's obvious because, often, there isn't much content. I definitely agree that, especially with how many book blogs there are now, there needs to be some standards in order for ARCs/review copies to be sent. I just think that the 1,000 follower mark leaves out too much information and more often than not targets the wrong blogs.

Publishers, if you're listening, here are some things (I think) you should actually be looking at:

  • Time. How long has the blog been up and running -- three months? Six months? A year? Blogging is one of those things that doesn't really seem like it would be work until you go and do it; in my experience most bloggers who stick around after the 6 month mark are doing this because they honestly love books and want to share that love. These are the bloggers who are going to stick around and build a readership.
  • How often do posts go up? Different people have different opinions on this one but for me unless there's at least a post a week I'm going to lose interest... and I'm betting a lot of other readers will as well.
  • Quality. This is, of course, unquantifiable, but generally posts should be fairly well-written and thought out. And interesting.
  • Stats. Follower count, site hits... whatever. The tricky thing here is that I'm not sure any one form of stat counts includes everything and some bloggers don't keep track of counts. That's why there are so many other variables that should be looked at.
  • Reader participation, a.k.a. comments. Blogs that get comments are doing something right.
That's about all I can think of right now, aside from the obvious common sense stuff like making sure the blog actually reviews the genre in question. Bloggers? What do you think of all of this -- should follower count be the be-all-end-all? What else should be considered? Did I miss anything?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A New Playlist: Fame

In honor of finishing a draft of the sister story and not quite being ready to rewrite/revise either of the two novels I still have going, I'm STARTING A NEW STORY. This one is kind of scary because I haven't had the idea for very long (and usually I have ideas for years before they actually work), but I'm hoping that sheer determination will see me through. That, and this magnifique playlist. The story (it'll probably be known as #famestory on Twitter) is a contemporary YA -- of course -- about a girl who used to be a child star.

AND HERE'S THE PLAYLIST. It really literally took me all day because these playlists for my novels always do.

  1. After Hours, by We Are Scientists
  2. Trust Your Stomach, by Marching Band (which I can't find on YouTube at all for some reason)
  3. Mobile, by Avril Lavigne
  4. Fences, by Paramore
  5. Footballer's Wife, by Amy MacDonald
  6. I Turn My Camera On, by Spoon
  7. Price Tag, by Xenia (The Voice performance) (the song doesn't start until 1:07)
  8. The Fear, by Lily Allen
  9. The Golden Age, by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
  10. Drop the Other, by Emika
  11. The Moneymaker, by Rilo Kiley
  12. I Am Not A Robot, by Marina & the Diamonds
  13. One Girl Revolution, by Superchick
  14. Paparazzi, by Lady Gaga
  15. Crazy Beautiful Life, by Kesha
  16. Everybody Loves Me, by One Republic
  17. That's Not My Name, by The Ting Tings
  18. The Tide Is High (Get the Feeling), by Atomic Kitten
  19. Falling Down, by Selena Gomez
  20. Piece of Me, by Britney Spears
I always really love making the playlists for my novels; it's easily one of my favorite parts of the whole process.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Commercials Want Me to Do:

I've been listening to a lot of radio lately. An almost embarrassing amount. I'm thisclose to becoming someone who "listens to your station 24/7!!!" And the only thing more annoying than the fact that they play the same songs over and over (I mean, I love the songs they're playing... but seriously?) are the commercials.

OH MY GOODNESS THE COMMERCIALS. Here are the things the commercials really, really want me to do.

  1. Use Ovation Hair Therapy. You know what would make this product more appealing? If I could go ten minutes without hearing a commercial for it. At this point I could be completely bald and not use Ovation on principle of annoying radio commercial alone. I kind of want to commit radiocide (that's a thing, right?) every time the commercial comes on. Pull a Bubba-shot-the-jukebox-style trick on the radio. GAHHHHH!!!
  2. Get a "Mommy Makeover." You guys, the radio thinks I need to be THINNER and have BIGGER BOOBS. It also thinks I have 65,000 dollars. It also thinks that if I did have that much money my first choice would be to buy a whole new body. Now, I'm not entirely anti-cosmetic-surgery, but my goal for the rest of my life is to avoid non-essential surgeries and also the way these commercials sound is just a little... entirely superficial and ridiculous and weird. "Ever wanted that beautiful body but thought you couldn't afford it!!??" Um, no, actually my thoughts have never gone in that kind of order and even if they did... I just don't think a radio commercial is going to be the thing to convince someone to get cosmetic surgery.
  3. Take part in a clinical drug trial for a weight-loss drug. Oh, radio. This sounds like a really really bad idea for me. For one thing I'm kind of a medical nightmare and for another I don't need to lose 30+ pounds. That would... probably kill me, actually.
  4. Send my children to a Christian school with a name I don't remember. This commercial, like the "Mommy Makeover" one, has a really weird, passive-agressive, guilt-trippy tone to it. It seems to suggest that unless I send my kids to this school I don't want them to learn about the Bible or have faith. Something about that really really rubs me the wrong way. But no worries! I've totally outsmarted the radio by not actually having children to send to school in the first place! I know. I'm so sneaky. 
  5. Try some sort of menopause drug that also helps you lose weight. IT'S ALMOST LIKE THE RADIO DOESN'T ACTUALLY KNOW HOW OLD I AM OR HOW MUCH I WEIGH.
Please, notice how many of these commercials have to do with appearance and changing your appearance and not feeling good enough with how you actually look. I won't get on a soapbox or anything, but that, more than most things, makes me super-angry when I start to think about it too much.

Anyway! What do your radio commercials want you to do?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review - Paper Covers Rock

Jenny Hubbard
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
After failing to save his friend Thomas from drowning, poet-boy Alex is overcome with grief. Not wanting to get kicked out of the boarding school they attend, Alex and his buddy Glenn agree to lie about the circumstances that led to Thomas' drowning. However when some of Alex's grief and guilt finds its way into his poetry, his teacher and mentor starts to suspect there's more to the story than what the boys are telling.

I'm not sure what I was expecting out of this novel, but it definitely wasn't what I got -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The novel itself is Alex's journal, the one he hides in the library and writes in whenever he can to tell the story of Thomas' death and his insane crush on his teacher/mentor, Miss Dovecott. The book is highly literary, even going so far as to borrow chapter headings from sentences in Moby Dick and referring to Alex sometimes in the first person and sometimes the third. Though I generally really love a more literary style, I expected this type of literary to annoy me. And it did, but not much. The truth is that Alex, though often seeming unrealistic (not as a male voice, but as an actual person, regardless of gender) is exactly the type of character who would reference books he hasn't yet read and pepper his storytelling with lines of poetry.

For such a short book (this clocks it at less than 200 pages, at least in the ARC edition), there's a lot going on here. Not only the aftermath of Thomas' death, but also questions about the sexuality of a few characters in the book, Alex's romantic feelings for the young Miss Dovecott, his family situation, and explorations of faith and lack of faith. There's a lot here and sadly I didn't feel like most of these important themes and subplot were fully explored, which left me feeling a bit unsettled by the end of the story.

Additionally there were a few nitpicky things that really bothered me. It was definitely not believable to me that Alex would be able to remember conversations verbatim the way he did and I also found it difficult to believe that, at only 21 years old, Miss Dovecott would be hired as the English teacher at an all boy's boarding school -- or even that she would be qualified. I suspect this is something that might not bother others, but it definitely rubbed me the wrong way.

That said, I really enjoyed Alex's relationship with Miss Dovecott, especially as he was struggling to find a balance between going along with his friend (Glenn) and working on his poetry with someone who honestly wanted to help him. Though there were definite hints of romance between them, for the most part the plot avoided being completely inappropriate and really added to the story as a whole. I did wish there was more about Thomas (the boy who drowned) in the book, but this is much more a novel about the depths and confusion of friendship than it is about grief, which was  unexpectedly nice. This was definitely, in spite of its faults, a book I enjoyed reading and one I can easily recommend to you.

Paper Covers Rock is out June 14th.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In My Mailbox - Audiobook!

For Review: I've never really been a fan of audiobooks -- I think that there's a lot lost when you take away the visual aspect of reading. That said, Blood Red Road sounds really interesting and I'm definitely going to give it a try. If I like the story but still can't stand the audiobook part of it, I might just have to get a hard copy of the actual book. This is such a crazy book to get because I've never received an audiobook before... and, in fact, I've never listened to an entire audiobook either, unless The Composer is Dead counts.

Questions for you! What's your opinion on audiobooks? Should I give them a real try or not? Also, for those who have read Blood Red Road, is this book one that can work as a stand-alone?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review - Where Things Come Back

John Corey Whaley
The small town of Lily, Arkansas is a place of never-ending ennui. It's the typical sort of small town, where every teenager dreams of getting out but most only end up coming back to their hometown and living out their days in a nowhere sort of place, as a nobody sort of person. But then a thought-to-be-extinct species of woodpecker (the Lazarus Woodpecker) is found in Lily and suddenly the town has hope, as well as an influx of attention from scholars and bird watchers.

Cullen Witter thinks the town is being scammed, preyed upon by a fame-hungry scientist. But when his younger brother, the incredible Gabriel Witter, goes missing, Cullen and his best friend Lucas Cader have bigger worries than some maybe-living bird. However the mystery of his brother serves as fuel for his anger against the Lazarus woodpecker and the way Lily seems to care about the bird so much more than it cares about his missing brother.

This is definitely a more literary novel and as such the plot is a bit difficult to sum up. Yes, there's a Lazarus woodpecker and a missing brother, but there's also a wonderful best friend (Lucas Cader), a couple of girls, and, interspersed with Cullen's story, a third-person narrative that starts with a Christian missionary and seems completely out of place for most of the novel. Like many literary novels, this one is setting- and character-heavy; Cullen, Gabriel, and Lucas are such original and wonderful characters while the town of Lily, Arkansas has a very true-to-life feeling and is a character in itself. The family dynamics at play -- Cullen and Gabriel's especially, but also Lucas' -- add depth to the novel. This is the type of book you really have to read in order to understand; there's a lot of beauty here, as well as sadness and grit and hard reality. The book opens with the death of Cullen and Gabriel's drug-addicted cousin, setting the stage for a drama that plays out less melodramatically than you'd expect with such soap-opera-ish events as drug-induced deaths and younger brothers disappearing.

For those who value strong settings or like beautiful, literary novels, I definitely recommend this one. In spite of so many of the events being downright depressing, Where Things Come Back is a book that manages to be nicely enjoyable in a very comfortable way, and I love that. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Five Books I Can't Wait to Read

I've had to stop myself from buying more books lately (and I'm hoping I'll be able to keep it up) -- partly because I'm saving as much as I can for a car and partly because I already have so many books to read that are sitting on my shelves and right now they would make me feel guilty for buying something new. (Unless, of course, it was a really awesome book that I MUST OWN.)

And with this in mind, here are five books on my shelves right now that I can't wait to read.

1. Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
To be 100% honest from everything I've heard about this book I'm betting it's either going to be a DNF (did not finish) or I'm going to be absolutely and completely in love with it. So obviously I'm hoping for the second option. I'm thrilled that it's about sisters (awww!) and by Nova Ren Suma, who is one of the most inspiring writers out there to me. Plus, that cover. Brilliant.

2. Momzillas
Jill Kargman
It's been quite a while since I've read a funny book for adults and this one looks absolutely wonderfully humorous, and I'm hoping it lives up to that. The whole idea of it is really interesting to me.

3. It's Not Summer Without You
Jenny Han
I'm super excited to read this one and the third/last book in the trilogy (We'll Always Have Summer). I don't know when I'll actually get to them but I loved the first book so stinkin' much and can't wait to finish the series. 

4. Populazzi
Elise Allen
I don't entirely know why, but I'm just really really jazzed about this book.

5. Life As We Knew It
Susan Beth Pfeffer
I've been wanting to read this one for so long. I've heard lots of really good things about it and it's incredibly intriguing to me.