Friday, November 29, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wednesday Words: Many Thanks

I don't say it nearly as much as I should, but I am very grateful for books and all they have brought me. Maybe I just assumed that it should go without saying, but then again, if we have a voice, we should use it.

I'm grateful for the characters I've encountered, the places I've been, the things I've seen, and no, I'm not actually talking about books. I mean in real life in the book community. I have been so fortunate to meet amazing other bloggers, writers, and authors who are all as enthusiastic and passionate about stories as I am. I've been to many events at bookstores and this year to my first ever conference, and I've seen first hand with my students and in this online community of readers how a book can change a life. They're transformative and it's a kind of magic that I'm embarrassed to say I've gotten used to.

It's certainly worth stopping and appreciating more than just once a year.

So here's to you, the readers, the writers, the authors, the dreamers and the community we have built together. I'm so grateful for you all.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Choose to Read: Allegiant

Allegiant by Veronica Roth (Divergent #3)
Harper Teen, 2013

It should really go without saying considering this is the third book in a trilogy, but there are some spoilers ahead for the first two books. You have been warned!

Now that some time has past, I finally feel ready to write this review. Veronica Roth brings her action-packed dystopian series to an end in Allegiant. Picking up shortly after where the second installment, Insurgent, left off, Tris and everyone in the city must all face difficult choices, the most pressing being if the time really has come to go beyond the fence. Secrets are around every corner, the things that have been accepted for truth so long may be more fiction than fact, and it will take all the bravery, selflessness, intelligence, helpfulness, and honesty Tris can muster to fight for the people and things she loves the most.

To me, this book did a lot of things right. The backstory about why these people have been living with the faction system and why the city is the way it is finally comes out. There is some truly incredible character growth in this book alone, and when you consider some of the people we've gotten to know over the course of the series, many of them have been on a remarkable journey. I thought that having dual narrators in Tris and Tobias/Four was an excellent move as it gave readers a wider look at the world these characters inhabit and showed that it's not just Tris making big choices, but everyone around here also has something on the line.

And for a series built on the questions of what does it mean to be brave and what does it mean to be selfless, the conclusion made the answer clear: more often than not, they mean the same thing.

Was it a big book, literally? Yes. Did I feel like some areas could have been trimmed, that as a reader I was being given more information than I really needed or cared to know? At times - some elements felt a tad clunky or unnecessary, yet I kept turning the page to find out what happened next. While the first book remains my favorite, I applaud Roth for staying true to the ending she always envisioned and the story she always set out to tell.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Veronica Roth's Website
Veronica Roth on Twitter
Veronica Roth on Tumblr

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Words: Rewind and Reread

There's a line from a song that we used to have to sing when I was in Brownies: "Make new friends, but keep the old." Sure it works on people, but since this is a book blog, let's apply it to reading. In recent years, I've become much more selective when it comes to buying books. Sure I have a handful of authors whose works I will buy pretty much no matter what, but more often these days I'll read a book from the library first and only buy it if I think it's something I'll want to revisit again.

But then time passes and it's easy to get forget about them. Sure they stare at me from my shelves, begging to be curled up with and devoured, but there are also the ARCs for books to come, books I've won or been sent from publishers, books I've been given as gifts. I'll never run out of new things to read, and sometimes I feel like I'm always playing catch-up.

However, this week I've taken a step backwards. The to-read pile stays as big as ever while I'm reimmersing myself in early WWII Germany through the words of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. I love this book. It haunts me. It's poetic. It's subtle and obvious and powerful and the film version is coming out soon so I want to be fresh on the story. I haven't read this story in years, and I was well overdue for a reread.

Balancing my own authorial aspirations with the tales of others is hard, as is figuring out time to fall in love with some books again. The holidays are coming up and can be hectic (I'm putting it mildly). So even though I'll have some time off work and could use this to make a dent in my reading and writing, I know that for my sanity, it's also a great time to visit old characters and worlds. Let It Snow is at the top of that pile, ready to launch me into the Christmas spirit, along with a book or two that will remind me of summer at a time when outside my car is covered in frost.

So here's to rereading, to rediscovering, to taking in pages you've visited before and maybe learning that even though the story is the same, you have changed. Also, here's a vote for Goodreads making it possible to mark a book as "currently re-reading" - I think that it should totally count towards my yearly reading goal! (Plus, I'd be interested to keep track of how many times in my life I've actually read Pride & Prejudice).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hold on Tight: Racing Savannah

Racing Savannah by Miranda Keannely
Sourcebooks Fire, Expected Release Date: December, 2013

*e-ARC Provided by publisher via NetGalley - Thank You!*

Miranda Keannely returns to the world of Hundred Oaks in her latest novel Racing Savannah, the story of a girl whose big dreams and grounded sense of responsibility are pitted against each other, and the added complication of a boy and his own confusing baggage doesn't exactly help.

Savannah's just moved to Hundred Oaks with her dad and his pregnant girlfriend and needs to navigate her school life, family life, and her future. She's always been good with horses and hopes to continue at the horse farm where they live, but Jack Goodwin, the owner's son, makes things messy. Never mind the fact that he's got a reputation as a bit of a playboy. Savannah has been told that staff is absolutely not to mix with the family. But she does go to to school with him. And she doesn't want to like him, but feelings are there. Is Savannah selfish for disregarding many of the rules when it comes to Jack and her emerging dreams of being a jockey and possibly going to college?

This is the second Keannely novel I've read, and I must say, it did sit better with me than the first. Stealing Parker was an unfortunate trigger for me, but this novel had no such effects. Instead we had a girl, a small town, horses, big dreams, and big choices on the line. I was charmed by the setting and grateful for a more open-minded cast this time.

It was a short and sweet quick break from some of the heavier titles in my reading pile lately, and I'm fine with having read it just once. While the Hundred Oaks books aren't strictly a series, readers highly benefit from reading all of them, and in publication order. There were a few scenes where I could tell characters were there as Easter Eggs, nods to the other books, and had I read them I would have been able to keep track of who they were, but instead my thoughts got a bit tangled. Also, sometimes the pacing was a bit off to me, especially when it came to Savannah and Jack's relationship - it felt rushed at times.

All in all, if you're looking cute contemporary in the world of horse racing, Racing Savannah is worth a trip to your local library. I still have every intention of reading Keannely's debut Catching Jordan and will be keeping this author in mind when browsing the shelves.

Miranda Kenneally's Website
Miranda Kenneally on Twitter

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday Words: Genre Binges

As you'll see in my reviews in the next few weeks, I've been reading a lot of dark books lately. Part of that was due to Halloween and wanting to get in the spirit of the, well, spirits. But mostly it was the result of two series I love, Divergent and Legend, coming to an end. They're dystopian. They're gritty. They're in worlds I don't think I'd ever want to find myself in, thank you very much.

Put that on top of the fact that the film adaptation of Catching Fire is almost here and that is a lot of a very gruesome genre. I love the stories, but as fall turns to winter, I think I may have binged a little bit. Now I want books with warm fuzzies to go along with my hot chocolate or tea. I recently read Rainbow Rowell's Attachments to bring in the cute which was the best sort of remedy.

Dare I say it, I've even been mentally craving books meant for grown ups. It's shocking, I know. I have had an ARC of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things since ALA this summer that I'm dying to get into, and yesterday the copy of Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding that I was lucky enough to win from LittleBrown (along with a baseball-style shirt that goes with the book and its main character - Go Westish Harpooners!) came in the mail and I can't wait to jump in.

So today I pose a question: do you ever binge on genres, and if so, what do you do if you find yourself overloaded? Also, what are you all reading? I don't care that my to-read shelf on Goodreads already has 165 things on it - I'm always eager for recommendations.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Back With a Vengance: A Darkness Strange and Lovely

A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard (Something Strange and Deadly #2)
HarperTeen, 2013

Due to the fact that this book is the second in a trilogy, I will do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum, but some regarding the first book are unavoidable. You have been warned!

Dennard keeps readers on their toes and in the middle of a lot of action in the second installment of her Something Strange and Deadly trilogy. When we see Eleanor Fitt at the begining of this book, it appears that she is at absolute rock bottom. She has sold almost everything she owns to pay for her mother - who hates her - to get care at an institution. The Spirit-Hunters are an ocean away. She's been outcast by everyone she knows, with no one left who cares about her. Yet it is the violent and horrifying visions that she isn't out of harm's way that make her leave for Paris in an effort to find the Spirit-Hunters and stop the evil Marcus once and for all. But not even battling the Dead could have prepared Eleanor for the choices she must now make.

There is a lot going on in this book, both in terms of action but even more than that in regards to the mythology surrounding Marcus, Eleanor, and her newly realized necromancing abilities. The result of this is a lot of new characters to get to know along with watching Eleanor go from bad to worse. At the end of book one, she awoke a dark magic inside herself, and this book spends a lot of time showing how it tears at her, how what it needs versus what she wants to do are at odds. At times I cringed at her choices, but this tension drove the plot forward and I'm very interested to see how it will be resolved next year.

As Eleanor changes, so do her relationships. Yes, Daniel is back (thank goodness!), but these past few months have taken their toll on an already heartbreaking situation. Eleanor's choices affect not only her relationship with him, but also with the impetuous Jie and Spirit-Hunter leader Joseph. And then there's Oliver, a new addition to the cast whose moral compass doesn't exactly point north and plays by his own rules.

Though at times I was a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of this book and how much was going on, I enjoyed it. If you liked book one, hang on to your seats with this installment. Susan Dennard isn't afraid of exploring the dark side of the City of Light, but readers might be when they're done with this book.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Susan Dennard's Website
Susan Dennard on Twitter

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday Words: Don't Judge a Story by its Ending

All stories should be composed of three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I say should because sometimes, things fall a little flat. But for the sake of argument, let us assume that if a story is published, these three very basic components have been met.

Now, these parts are not equal. Not even close. In the beginning, there's exposition. The stage is set. The main players are introduced. You get a feel for what's going on. That leads into part two: rising action. Conflict arises. Characters develop. Stakes are raised. Choices are made. All of this builds up to the story's climax. It's the moment we've all been waiting for! The big event! Go big or go home! Only after all of this comes part three, usually shorter and to the point. Here is the falling action and finally, the story's resolution. The dust settles, and here's where we are.

It's all very complex to do at all, and to do it well is truly a gift. All parts are not created equal, yet despite the story math outlined here and every plot structure chart English and Language Arts and Creative Writing teachers have been drawing since the dawn of time, why is it that the part people focus on more than any other always seems to be the end?

I mean, okay, in some ways I get it. Maybe it's because culture has trained us to be like this. Who doesn't love a good old fashioned Happily Ever After when the good guys win, the bad guys lose, justice for all?

But life isn't that way. Sometimes the good guy doesn't get what we all know he deserves. Sometimes the slimeball gets away with his heinous ways. This is the world we live in. Does it suck when these things happen? Of course. Believe me when I say that life teaches me this over and over again. Life isn't fair. It happens. It happens in reality and it happens in books, too.

Some stories quite literally get fairy tale endings. Do I love that? I do. And some stories don't, and while these stories rip our hearts out, make us cry, and leave us feeling like we've been punched in the gut, I think the stories are better because of it, and therefore I am too. I learn from these stories. I learn about the human condition and what it can endure. I learn about the lines we can and cannot cross, but sometimes we must. These stories are the ones that stand out to me.

This is a topic I spend an awful lot of time thinking about. Maybe it's because I work in a high school where I'm constantly surrounded by endings. 

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, wanting to find the endings that do justice to my characters, my beginnings, and my middles. 

It's about doing the story justice, not the story being just.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Summer Swap: Being Sloane Jacobs

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill
Delacorte, Expected Release Date: January, 2014

*Electronic ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley - Thank You!**

If I have a soft spot, it's for cute, romantic contemporary stories. I inhale them, but since I've read so many, I'm also particular. There has to be some humor. There has to be some conflict. There has to be something that makes me think. I found all of this in Lauren Morrill's debut novel Meant To Be earlier this year and they're back in her next book Being Sloane Jacobs.

Sloane Emily Jacobs is the daughter of a US Senator and is a former competitive figure skater. Her mother is determined for her daughter to make a comeback, her father is bribing her to keep a secret, and she is sick of being Sloane with pressure coming at her from every single direction. Then there's Sloane Devon Jacobs, a tough hockey player from Philadelphia who can't admit to anyone that she's lost her mojo when it comes to playing, so she masks it by fighting. But it covers so much more than that, like her complicated relationship with her mother and her fears of being stuck in a life she doesn't want. When the two Sloanes literally run into each other in Montreal where they are each supposed to spend their summers on their respective ice, they decide to pull a Parent Trap-esque switch, each believing the other girl's life is easier. As the summer unfolds, though, each girl learns about the type of Sloane she really is, and who she wants to be.

This book is, in a word, cute. It's all kinds of cute and it has a lot of things I love. Canada. Travel. Life-swapping. Girls who learn to let their walls down. HOCKEY. And that's all on top of the fact that there are TWO cute, crush-worthy boys, too. I only have a few criticisms with this novel. One is in terms of details that didn't quite add up to me. For example, the girls switched lives, but not phones, so why at one point does Sloane Devon get a voicemail meant for Sloane Emily? Also, this book has some truly great secondary characters (I particularly loved Sloane Devon's friend from skate camp, Andy), but at the end of the story I felt like they were sort of forgotten. A little more resolution with them and seeing the supporting cast get some more time would have been welcome.

Overall, this book is a great escape to take you out of your own life for a few hours. I finished the whole thing over the course of a few evenings and sneaking pages in during lunch breaks at work. During a particularly stressful time, this was just the kind of book I needed to take my mind off things for a while. I like this book for what it is, and that it doesn't try to be anything else. If you liked Meant to Be or are a fan of Stephanie Perkins-style stories, this one is absolutely worth your time.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Lauren Morrill's Website
Lauren Morrill on Twitter