Saturday, October 27, 2012

giveaway winner + blog changes

First things first: apologies for being so behind in this, but I finally do have a winner for the giveaway of Being Friends With Boys and The Summer of Firsts and Lasts, both by Terra Elan McVoy. The winner is LYDIA (so Lydia, check your email, please) -- congrats!

And secondly, an explanation for my recent, sudden disappearance from the blog: I started working full-time. It's a job I'm really liking, but it does leave less time for everything else and mostly what's been getting edged out is blogging. I've been thinking a lot lately about the activities that are important to me -- trying to prioritize how I spend my time, trying to balance things out. And what I've realized is that while it's not impossible for me to blog daily, it's impossible for me to blog daily, get my writing done, and sleep as much as I need to (I wish I didn't need sleep). So my options are limited to either (a) taking an indefinite hiatus from the blog, or (b) figuring a way to blog consistently, but less. Like, 1-3 posts a week. So for now I'm going to try option B -- blogging a few times a week -- and hope that this blog can retain readers even with less frequent posting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday Ten: Authors

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is favorite authors in a specific genre; so here are my top ten non-YA fiction authors. But really I don't read so many adult books, so there are only four authors on this list.

1. Liane Moriarty, author of What Alice Forgot. (Okay, I've only read one of her books, but I absolutely loved the writing style and really want to read more of her work.)
2. Jodi Picoult. I know her books are super-sad all the time and horribly traumatic, but I sort of can't stop reading them.
3. Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie. More sad books, but great, oddly life-affirming sad books.
4. Ally Carter, author of Cheating at Solitaire. Okay, I know Carter is known mostly for her YA books, but her two adult novels (Cheating at Solitaire and Learning to Play Gin) are so great; they're among my favorites.

Monday, October 15, 2012

disappointing books

I recently started to read a book that seemed right up my alley. A contemporary YA, heavy on family and with a romance subplot. It's a book that I'd seen numerous raving reviews for, some of them from reviewers I trust. The writing was great. It had all the elements of a Book Jordyn Loves, but it just fell short.

I was bored. The characters and their romance didn't capture me; the main character wasn't particularly notable; and as much as I loved the family stuff some of the important players were unlikeable. The plots I was really interested in were pushed to the sidelines for plots that I didn't like much, and over halfway through the book I finally admitted defeat and set it aside.

To be honest, I'm still a little surprised I didn't love, or at least like, the book. I'm surprised I didn't have the desire to even finish a book that, by all accounts, was perfect for me. Yet it reminded me that all the right elements don't necessarily make for a five-star read, and that reading really is just as subjective as people say it is. Sometimes books you wouldn't expect are absolutely brilliant, and the ones you expect to love end up unfinished.

What book did you think you'd love but ended up not liking?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Time Between Us

Tamara Ireland Stone
ARC from ALA Annual
Anna Greene, a nineties teen (1995, to be exact) stuck in the suburbs of Chicago, dreams of traveling to far-off places  after high school. When she falls for the new guy at school, she gets a chance for her wish to come true even sooner, but not in the way she'd imagined. Because the boy, Bennett Cooper, is a time traveler. And if not for a mistake in time, he wouldn't even be in 1995 -- instead he'd be at home in present-day (2012) San Francisco.

Time Between Us is the sort of book that just looks so full of promise. Romance, a nineties setting, and time travel -- what more could a 20-something female YA reader want? Well, in this particular case I did want more. Of everything. Let me state at the outset that I like this book. It's a nice mix of emotions, light sci-fi, and enjoyable romance. Anna Greene is no Mary Sue; she's smart, independent, and full of dreams for herself. Likewise Bennett Cooper is a wonderful mix of awkward and cute (and also my favorite character in the book). Their romance is cute, fairly predictable, and clean enough that I'd have no problem handing this book off to young teens.

The problem is that the book, at least in my opinion, lacks spark. I liked these characters, but never really really felt for them the way I like to feel for characters in stories. And while the time travel was set up nicely, with rules that guided it (I love when time travel has rules to it), the vast majority of the book takes place in 1995 and Anna's curiosity about the future -- hers and the rest of the world's -- never reaches the level that I'd assume it would. While she wants to go other places, she's oddly disinterested in discovering other times. Which brings me to another complaint, though I admit it's a superficial one: where are all the 90's references? I mean, this book takes place smack-dab in the middle of the decade, yet there are so few references to anything 90's that it's often easy to forget Anna's story doesn't take place in 2012. For adults reading the book out of nostalgia, this will be a let-down and for teens who are interested in the 90's setting, there's not a whole lot to latch onto.

It takes a while for Time Between Us to really take off and even when it does there's nothing earth-shattering in the way of plot twists or the stakes of the story, but it reminded me of The Future of Us in the way that it slowly, deliberately considered the effect that changing the past has on the future and how small decisions can cause a ripple effect across time and lives. Bennett is incredibly precise in his time travel and his interest in the butterfly effect were parts of the story that I absolutely loved and I wish they'd played a larger role, especially in the first half of the book. Anna's story is charming and definitely readable, but unfortunately never shot off into must-read status for me, though I know many others have disagreed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday Ten: Funny Book Titles

This week's Tuesday Ten from The Broke and the Bookish is a rewind, so I've decided to tackle one of the earliest themes -- ten "most hilarious" book titles. I'm limiting myself to the books I've read and though the titles aren't often LOL-worthy, they are odd, offbeat, and, yes, funny. Sometimes a bit ridiculous, too.

1. You'll Never Nanny In This Town Again: The True Adventures of A Hollywood Nanny
Suzanne Hansen
Oh, I quite like this book. It's decades old, but still a great "insider" look at the lives (and families) of the rich and famous, with a particular focus on the ways "the help" is treated especially in regards to their children. As someone who works with kids, I loved the often-relatable-if-exaggerated accounts.

2. 52 Reasons to Hate My Father
Jessica Brody
This title (much like its story) just reeks of spoiled-bratdom. 

3. Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Austin Kleon
This is a great little gem of a book, with an attention-getting title. Totally recommended, by the way.

4. The Babysitter Murders
Janet Ruth Young
This one is completely un-hilarious, but instead a hundred percent startling and a little scary. For the paperback release the title was changed to the more-apt Things I Shouldn't Think.

5. Stupid Fast
Geoff Herbach
Ahhhhhhahahaha I love this title. Say it really fast and it sounds awesome. I don't know why, it just does. Stupidfast!

6. Withering Tights
Louise Rennison
I am such a fan of puns. Wordplay.

7. How to Say Goodbye in Robot
Natalie Standiford
This title just never fails to make me smile. So, so good.

8. Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life
Sandra Beasley
It occurs to me now that memoir-type books often have awesome titles. Got any more great ones for me? (Also, as an aside, the book itself is also really awesome and so informative when it comes to food allergies.)

9. Sleepwalk With Me
Mike Birbiglia
Again, a memoir. Again, a slight little twist on words. And again, very recommended.

10. I Now Pronounce You Someone Else
Erin McCahan
I really can't say enough good things about the title or the book.

Going through my list of 'read' books on Goodreads I've discovered that I've read a novel called How to Be Bad, and also a novel called How to Be Good. Huh. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

no more review books.

This has been coming for a while now. For quite some time I've felt increasingly disinterested in the vast majority of the review pitches I get and even most of the books sent to me by publishers. I think it has to do with how selective (or you could say picky) I am as a reader, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that I have a wishlist 50+ books long and I'd much rather spend my time reading those books than ones I'm sent for review in most cases. Every book I accept for review is a couple hours, at best, that I will spending reading and reviewing that book, without feeling as free as I normally feel to set it down if it loses my interest.

So with all of this along with the fact that my life just got a lot busier, I've decided that I will not be accepting review books for the foreseeable future. I'll still be reviewing, rest assured -- but I'll be reviewing the books I really want to read. Books that I beg, borrow, or (most often) buy for my own enjoyment.

I have a few review pitches in my inbox right now that I'll be responding to, but from this point forward, I will no longer respond to review pitches. (Well, until and unless I open myself back up to review books.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

nominate for the cybils!!

So the Cybils (the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards) is starting. Nominations in all categories are open and you should check them out here. Last year I was a round one panelist (aka judge) for the Young Adult Fiction category and this year one of my favorite bloggers, Clementine Bojangles from Early Nerd Special, is on the panel.

And I am so excited.

Being a Cybils judge last year was amazing. It was busy and crazy and fun and so much work and something I'd wanted to do for years. I still have one, maybe two, blog posts saved as draft about the experience that I could never quite describe well enough to hit 'publish' on. It was a crazy, incredible time. For a while I was reading a book a day. This year, though I'm not a part of the Cybils, I have an understanding of how the whole process works and am crazy excited about the nominations. Last year I discovered so many books I loved amidst all the nominations, and even if they didn't win I found new beloved books and favorite authors (this is how I discovered the Threads series, for instance). This year I want the judges to have, once again, tons of really great books to wade through, read, discuss, maybe possibly fall in love with.

So if you don't know what to nominate, here are some YA suggestions (for either the YA Fiction category or the Fantasy & Science Fiction category). Some of them have already been nominated, but I think they're still worth mentioning as great recently-published books. And also I don't feel like going through the nomination lists looking for every title. Alternately, you can also use this list as a handy to-read guide, because these books are all wonderful.

Also here's a link to the nominations page.

Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson -- A great, great, amazing take on the classic tale of Peter Pan. It's aching and haunting and beautiful and so many of its observations are spot-on honest.

Fangirl, by Ken Baker -- Oh goodness, this is just a straight-up adorable love story that rises to the very top of "adorable love stories." Great characters and a great commitment to their personalities and circumstances makes this book stand above the rest.

Nothing Special, by Geoff Herbach -- The sequel/companion novel to Stupid Fast, which won the Cybils last year. Enough said.

A Million Suns, by Beth Revis -- Incredible follow-up to Across the Universe. This is the sort of sci-fi book that keeps you up late, unable to sleep until you see how it ends.

Mothership, by Martin Leicht & Isla Neal -- Another awesome sci-fi; this one's light on the drama and heavy (in the best possible way) on the comedy and romance.

The Disenchantments, by Nina LaCour -- A wonderful, slow-moving coming-of-age story surrounded by music, love, and friendship.

Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi -- Crazy beautiful writing with a heroine of tremendous inner strength and a seriously messed-up world. A bit of dystopian, a bit of sci-fi, a bit of paranormal. I honestly don't know what genre it's supposed to be.

Bittersweet, by Sarah Ockler -- Classically great YA.

The List, by Siobhan Vivian -- This one should be required reading for teenage girls and their mothers. And their fathers. And the teenage boys, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: Fangirl

Ken Baker
Running Press Kids
(ARC received at ALA12)
Fangirl is not a perfect book.

I have to say this at the outset because I have so many great and wonderful things to say about this book that I just feel like you need to know that I do, in fact, realize it's not perfect. I know that plausibility is stretched in some cases, that Josie's dad's story felt too convenient and mostly unconnected from everything else. I know that. But here's the thing: while it may not be perfect, Fangirl comes kinda close, at least for me it does. The story of Peter Maxx, a teen superstar (think Justin Bieber) and Josie Brant, the music-loving, song-writing high school girl who falls in love with him falls squarely under that term I loathe: fluff. The book is cute, entertaining, light... all those things that are sort of backhanded compliments in the world of books. But it is so much better than that.

Fangirl stands out from many other celebrity-focused novels by its complete commitment to the characters at the center of the story. Despite being steeped in the lives of the rich and famous, it never reads in the glitzy, distanced, tabloid-esque way that it very easily could. Ken Baker is the head news correspondent for E! News, and his knowledge of the subject (fame! celebrities!) gives the story a realism it might not have otherwise. He pushes past the trappings of a celeb-inspired novel to get to the characters, emotions, and relatability underneath.

Peter has the sort of backstory that on a reality show would be milked for all it's worth: his dad's own musical career burnt out years ago and his mom died, so he's famous and beloved, but also imperfect. While Peter loves making music (and would love it even more if he had a little more creative control...), he hates having to be "on" all the time and this, mixed with grief over his mother, makes him a bit of an anxious mess. And this is played out so well without being overlooked and without taking over the book. Meanwhile high school Josie has her own personal problems, most of them stemming from her parent's divorce. Both of these characters (Peter and Josie) have anxiety problems and though it's nothing incapacitating, they're handled in a way that adds dimension to their characters.

Mostly though, what this is is an adorable love story between a teen popstar and a (as the title says) fangirl. Their romance plays out in the typical 21st century ways -- through Twitter, IMs, and text messages, which makes me love the book so much more. Because while the story is told in third person, the conversations between Peter and Josie add a first-person connection and make it impossible not to root for them. This book completely captures crushes and all the angst, worry, and borderline-obsession that comes with them. It's a book I really couldn't put down; a huggable, obsession-worthy YA novel that you should probably definitely read.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

a bit on writing, publishing, and agent-searching

Through a link on Nathan Bransford's blog, I came across this article ("A Right Fit": Navigating the World of Literary Agents) which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. If you're interested in the publishing business at all, it's worth reading, but I wouldn't say that I agree with the writer's conclusions. His main conclusion is that getting an agent is all about who you know. Recommendations from author-friends, going to conferences, etc.

From a personal standpoint, I've heard this bit of "advice" far, far too many times. It's a fairly prevalent thought, that the best way to get noticed by a literary agent is to be recommended by one of their clients or to meet them at a conference. And I know that stuff works; I know there are authors who met their agent at a conference or were friends with one of the agent's clients or maybe had some other "in." But when I was querying, I started to hear this so often that it felt like the only way was to have some sort of inside track. The fact that I didn't go to conferences (I went to one, years ago, and it was awesome, but I haven't made a habit of it since then) and had nobody recommending me to an agent drove me, admittedly, a little batty for a while. If my publishing future depended on me meeting someone at a conference or getting that all-important recommendation, it might never happen.

How I eventually did get an agent was entirely through the slushpile. I sent a query.

I know that connections can help, probably help tremendously in some cases. But I don't believe for a second that it's all about who you know. I think it's about a variety of things: what you're writing, how well you're writing, who you query, timing. And honestly, for those who aren't already surrounded by those in publishing, who can't make it to conferences, who aren't in "the club," as the article puts it, the idea that getting an agent depends so much on who you know can really wreck you.

Knowing people can be helpful. Writing well, researching agents, and being determined can be worlds more helpful though.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

tuesday 10: backlist reads

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten "older" books that you don't want people to forget about. I'm going to be focusing on YA published before 2010 -- I know, I know, that's not very old. But with so much attention constantly on new releases, it's easy to bypass a book just because it was published a few years ago.

1. Two-Way Street
Lauren Barnholdt
Published 2007
This is the first Lauren Barnholdt book I read and one of the first "YA road trips" books I've read -- it still stands up as one of the best of both categories. Less focused on wacky roadside attractions and more focused on the relationship between the two people in the car, this is a sweetly sad, emotional read that surprises. And despite me just calling it sad, it's actually really fun. It's the story of Courtney and Jordan (her ex-boyfriend), who got into the same college before Jordan dumped Courtney, and are now stuck driving to their new school together. It's so good. And so not quite what I was expecting.

2. When It Happens
Susane Colasanti
Published 2006
Susane Colasanti's first book -- an opposites-attract love story -- is still her best. It's your typical boy-meets-girl romance, but it's just done so so well

3. Bass Ackwards and Belly Up
Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
Published 2006
Looking at my shelves right now I realize that this book is missing and whether I got rid of it or something else happened to it, it feels like an error because this is a great book. Three best friends bail on their college plans to do the unconventional thing and "pursue their dreams" -- college not included. I at first thought it was going to be a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants knock-off (and, yes, there are some similarities), but it's a very different story altogether.

4. Jerk California
Jonathan Friesen
Published 2008
Tourettes. A road trip. A quest for truth and acceptance. This book is so worth reading.

5. Breathing
Cheryl Renee Herbsman
Published 2009
A love story between a girl with athsma and the boy who seems to make it disappear. Full of southern dialect, hot summers, and complicated, confusing feelings, this book is sort of exactly the type of book I like. The "love story" between Savannah and Jackson is never quite as clear-cut as I wanted, which made the book all the more awkward and great.

6. The Key to the Golden Firebird
Maureen Johnson
Published 2004
Maureen Johnson's debut novel has a bit of a Dessen-y feel compared to her other novels, and it's one of my favorites. A little more dramatic than, say, Girl at Sea, but still full of great humor.

7. Scribbler of Dreams
Mary E. Pearson
Published 2001
A modern twist on Romeo & Juliet, this is another love story between teenagers whose families hate each other. And I don't know what to say about it except that I absolutely, positively love it. So, so great. 

8. How to Build A House
Dana Reinhardt
Published 2008
One of the most sparsely-told, brilliant little books I've come across. It's the story of a girl dealing with her father's divorce by joining a volunteer program that has her building a house for a family whose own home was torn apart by a tornado. It's a love story, a family story, a journey of self. It's really, really good. (If you read and liked The Summer I Learned to Fly, you'd probably love this one.)

9. I Was A Non-Blonde Cheerleader
Kieran Scott
Published 2005
Oh, it's basically just what you expect from the title (just better), and it's so cute, so good, so awesome.

10. The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading
Charity Tahmaseb & Darcy Vance
Published 2009
Another cheerleading book where the cover says it all. And again -- so cute, so good, so awesome. It's a mix of geeky and traditionally popular that I just love, love, love. (Even years after reading this book I can't help but spazz out about how good it is.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

terra elan mcvoy giveaway.

Last month Terra Elan McVoy emailed me wanting to do a giveaway of her latest two books -- Being Friends With Boys (my review here) and The Summer of Firsts and Lasts (my review here), both signed (and personalized) by her. And of course I said yes. Because her newest book, Being Friends With Boys, has a large musical theme I asked Terra some musical questions about her books and she had some great, in-depth answers. Scroll down to read the music-infused interview, or just stop here and enter the giveaway.

Giveaway Rules: One winner will win both books. US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A big part of Being Friends With Boys is the band that Charlotte's friends are in -- how important is music for you when you're writing? Do you listen to certain music when you write, make playlists for the current WIP (work-in-progress), or does it matter?

Music definitely matters to me when I'm writing, but it can't be too intrusive. I tend to listen to the same bands over and over while I'm writing a particular book. For After the Kiss, I listened to a ton of Neko Case. During Being Friends With Boys I listened almost exclusively to the National. For The Summer of Firsts and Lasts I took out a bunch of old tapes my sisters had made for me, and listened to those. Writing Criminal [Terra's upcoming book], I listened to Depeche Mode constantly.
Once the book is finished, I also have fun making playlists for them, whether they are songs that describe the characters' feelings. (See my Summer of Firsts and Lasts playlist in my blog archive.) I've also made a playlist from Trip to Charlotte for Being Friends with Boys, but I haven't released it yet because it might spoil things for folks. Maybe when the paperback comes out...

If you had to choose a sort of "theme song" for your books, what songs would you choose for Being Friends With Boys and The Summer of Firsts and Lasts?

Choosing just one theme song is pretty tough, because there's often so much going on in the books. But I think "Summer Girls" by LFO really captures the feeling of The Summer of Firsts and Lasts, and "Brainy" by The National for Being Friends With Boys, because the lyrics there apply in more than one instance, and that's one of the first songs by them that I heard, and I was in love straight off.

The band in Being Friends With Boys is called Sad Jackal -- what real-life band would you compare their music to?

Gosh what a great question that nobody's asked me yet. And, not to make this a giant advertisement for The National, but I was listening to them so much while I was writing because I like that their lyrics are very dreamy and nonsensical in some ways, and they don't follow strict rhyme like a lot of other songs do. This would be something Charlotte would really dig and try to emulate, and I think she'd listen to them a lot. But Oliver's voice is nowhere near as deep as Matt Berninger's, broody as Oliver might be, so saying they sound like The National isn't quite right. When I think of Oliver singing, the word "crooning" really comes to mind, so I think he probably sounds more like someone classic -- maybe Chet Baker. Overall though there's more in synth in Sad Jackal than in The National too, so I think they're ultimately closer to Death Cab for Cutie once Fabian and Eli come on board. So, yeah, a combo of The National, Chet Baker, and Death Cab, and you've got Sad Jackal.