Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Words: Bye Bye Bookstores?

Barnes & Noble recently announced plans to close 100 of their stores nationwide due to the struggling market. Say what you will about how big chains like this are killing independent bookstores, but I think we're all on the same team in thinking that we don't like it when we see any bookstores having to close their doors, period. Do I love the independents? Sure. Do I have a local one? Kind of - well, 45 minutes away in really great traffic. I'll admit that when I do buy books, it's usually from my local B&N (also, I have a Nook).

It brings up the question that's been around since the advent of e-books: do we really even need bookstores anymore? My answer is of course YES. Bookstores bring jobs, staff people are a valuable resource that can't be simply replaced with an online algorithm, and not everyone is so wild about e-readers. Yes, I own one, but I think the options should exist side-by-side, rather than one replacing the other.  As a reader, I like the feel of a book, flipping through the pages, reading random passages and getting a sense of this story. Online shopping is not the same.

Plus there are bookstore memories I hold dear, particularly at B&N. I remember when I was in my younger and orthodontia filled years that required getting quite a few teeth pulled so my braces would work the way they were supposed to. Not exactly fun, but the bright side was that we had to pass a B&N between my home and the dentist's office. So Mom and I had a deal to help make things a little brighter during my recovery: for every tooth pulled, I could get a book. They always seemed to pull two at a time during these visits, and as soon as we crossed the threshold into this beautiful clean space that smelled like coffee and pages begging to be read, I forgot all about the fact that my face was stuffed with gauze and that things sucked. Books (and my parents always encouraging my love of reading) made it better.

So basically, this news makes me sad. I sincerely hope that B&N doesn't end up going under the way Borders did only a few years ago. We must fight for our libraries and bookstores, because online and the NYT Bestsellers stock at whatever convenience stores we find ourselves are hardly the same.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fiction of the Fates: The Curiosities

The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff
Carolrhoda Lab, 2012

In 2008, Maggie Stiefvater sent an email to her critique partners, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff - what if they started a blog where they each posted a short story or flash fiction piece once a week? And so the Merry Sisters of Fate were born, publicly posting stories as they experimented in short form and challenged themselves.

The Curiosities is comprised of many stories that were originally posted on that blog, but not all of them, and this is a short story collection unlike any others I have encountered. It is weird. Creepy. Bizarre. Gory on more than one occassion. But more often than not, I found it to be captivating and in a lot of ways, brave. That's not to say every story was to my taste, but I feel like I learned a lot from this collection.

For starters, you get to see three distinct voices alter and shift depending on the story at hand,  experimenting and trying new things, but the doodles and marginalia were huge additions as well. Each of these women provided commentary not only on their own stories, but offered their thoughts on others as well. It's a great example on what a strong critique group can be and how they can bring out the best writing in each other.

The only author of this collection whose novels I have previously read were Stiefvater's, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. Like any short story collection, I loved some of the tales and wasn't the hugest fan of others, but overall I say that The Curiosities is a prime example of writers breathing new life into the often over looked and lost art of short stories and being brave enough to think outside the box.

Also, I want to leave you all with this quote from one of Maggie's stories which I absolutely love:

You would think that in a world full of normal people, freaks would be kind to other freaks.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesday Words: Finish or Forget It?

Last night I found myself in a situation that absolutely sucks for book people - I was reading a book that I just could not get into. The plot was weird, there were eight different points of view telling the story, and it just wasn't doing anything for me.

But I kept reading (okay, skimming really) to see if it would get better or pick up or if I was just missing something. It didn't. At the end of it I felt like I'd wasted a fairly large chunk of time, a few hours that I could have been reading or doing something else.

So it begs the question that in cases like this where a book is just not jiving at all, is it okay to forget it and at say at least a girl tried, or was finishing it still a good thing?

I'm torn, to be honest. On the one hand, I'm a certified teacher. Reading things you don't always like can be good for you, to an extent. But this was recreational reading, so was it really worth it? When do you guys draw the line - 5 pages? 50 pages? Force yourself to finish like I did?

These are non-rhetorical questions, people! Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading (I hope!).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Reason to Say Something: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Razorbill, 2007

When a few teachers at my school approached me about the idea of a faculty book club and would I be interested in helping out, I was right on board. When they said they'd like the first book to be YA and could I come up with a few titles that everyone could then vote on, I immediately suggested this novel and was really pleased when after our very democratic vote, it had the highest tally.

When Clay gets a box of cassette tapes, the absolute last thing he expects to hear on them is the voice of Hannah Baker. The girl he had a crush on for years. The girl who, except for one night, felt so far out of reach. And the girl who committed suicide two weeks ago. But she's left behind tapes and instructions: listen, then pass them on to the next person on this list. Thirteen sides of the tapes, thirteen people, thirteen reasons why she's dead now. So over the course of one night, accompanied by Hannah's voice and a map, Clay makes his way around their town and learns her side of the story.

The first time I read this book in grad school for my YA lit class, I was truly and utterly devastated  This is a fast read, which is surprising considering the topic. But readers, like Clay, feel this compulsive need to keep going, to find out what happened next. This second time around, all of those same feelings were there, but my perspective was slightly changed, too. Because this time, I'm a teacher. I go work every morning, into a building with 2400 teenagers and I want them all to be okay. It's much more than a job to me and most of the people I work with.

This is one of those books that I really believe ought to be mandatory reading if you are going to be working in a high school or with teens. Because it is a gut -wrenching, horrible, awful tale of the underside of being a teenager that so many people refuse to talk about. Because it's not nice. It's not pretty, it's not simple, and it's not black and white. And when enough of those awful things pile up, to far too many teens, suicide seems like the only option they have left.

This was Jay Asher's debut novel, and what a start to his career it was. It's been hugely popular since it first came out about five years ago, and with good reason. If you work with teens and haven't read this yet, it really is a MUST read. It fostered great discussion among the teachers and staff at our book club meeting, and impacted each of us in a different way.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Jay Asher's Blog
Jay Asher on Twitter
Official Website for Thirteen Reasons Why

Friday, January 18, 2013

Where's Your Bookmark? (19)

In which I share a few of my thoughts on the upcoming Prodigy by Marie Lu, the second book in her Legend trilogy.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Venom Readalong: Week 2

This month, I will be participating in the readalong for Venom by Fiona Paul, the first book in the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series. This week, I'm taking on questions pertaining to Chapters 9-16, and I will aim to be as spoiler-free as possible during these posts so as to not ruin the book for people who haven't read this story yet!

Venom is the story of Cassandra Caravello, a girl growing up in the elite class in Renaissance Venice. But despite her seemingly charmed life, she's felt trapped and alone ever since her parents died years ago. When Cass stumbles upon a murdered woman, she's drawn into the dark underside of the city of water, complete with courtesans, killers, and secret societies. She's also falling for Falco, a mysterious and mischievous street artist with a knack for finding trouble. But there's the murder to solve, and her far off fiance to consider...

This week's questions:
-In this chapter (9), Cass comes across prostitutes up close for the first time and finds herself enthralled by the strangeness of it. How would you, as a high-class girl, have reacted?
Well I definitely would have closed the door if I had walked in on what Cass saw, that's for sure. I probably would have been much like she, and the best analogy I can think of is like a tourist. She was seeing a side of life that probably intrigued her, but made her incredibly uncomfortable because of who she is and where she comes from.
-Why does Cass wait so dang long to read Luca's letter, even though she takes notice of it almost every time she passes?
Ever since delving into Venice's underworld and the dangerous games of secrets, I think somewhere in Cass's mind she believes that ignorance is bliss. After all, if only she hadn't wandered to the cemetery that one night, she would have never found herself in this mess. Sure part of her finds it exciting, but she's also terribly tense. Plus, even though Luca is an arranged fiance, she's basically cheating on him with Falco and she's feeling guilty about it.
-When Cass asks Falco "Why should I trust you?" he responds, "Because you want to." Is that a good reason for trust? Why or why not.
To me, that is absolutely not enough. Wanting to trust someone and that person actually being trustworthy are two entirely different things. I get that Falco is Cass's love interest in all of this (duh), but I don't really trust him at all, frankly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday Words: Patience and Probation

If you're reading this blog, chance are that you are someone who likes to read. Or you're someone related to me and want to support my crazy endeavors. But for argument's sake, let's go with the first one.

Reading. It's awesome. It's an escape. It's access to knowledge and amazing people and place and things. And if you're like me, you just want to read ALL THE BOOKS!

Except if you're also like me, that means you also have other priorities. Work. Family. Friends. Other interests. And so, when those other things combine and life happens, sometimes not as much reading gets done no matter how passionate or excited we are.

But the books are still there, calling to us, begging for homes. If you saw my last book haul video, you know that's my current case. This morning, I made a list, and I have at least 15 books in my possession currently (or on the way from giveaways I've won) that I keep meaning to read, but I've fallen behind.

Now I'm a fast reader, but I also have a pretty packed life at the moment so fifteen is an awfully big number for me to look at for the moment. Which is why I have put myself on a temporary book buying/checking out from the library probation. I want to feel caught up and get to know these stories taking over my bookshelves and dresser and desk and... well, you know what I mean.

Am I the only one who gets this way when it comes to feeling a little bit overwhelmed by reading (that isn't school related)? I'd love to hear what you all think.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Which Side Are You On?: Team Human

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
HarperTeen, 2012

I have said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not usually too huge into vampire stories. I was forced to read Twilight by my YA Lit professor in grad school and while I found it to be merely not terrible, I've just never been drawn to the appeal of vampires. Of course, I keep giving them a chance. I liked the few Chronicles of Vladimir Todd books I've read, but still, not quite there for me, yet.

This is probably why I liked Team Human as much as I did. It helps when the narrator is about as un-Bella as possible because she's not exactly the captain of Team Vampire either. Mel lives in the small town of New Whitby, a place where humans and vampires have lived side by side for literally hundreds of years. But the species usually keep to their respective groups, that is, until Francis, a 200 year old 17-year old vampire starts coming to high school and Mel's best friend Cathy falls in love with him. Throw in the threat of zombies, a missing person, and Kit, a gorgeous human boy who has been raised by the vampires Mel can't stand, and you've got an entertaining story on your hands.

One thing that I found to be particularly great about this story is that all of the characters are flawed. It sounds nuts to state this as a positive, but it's true. Mel is incredibly biased against vampires, and she struggles very hard with the fact that Cathy not only loves one, but wants to be turned into one. Is she immature about it at times? Sure, but I would be too. I loved how her feelings towards Kit balanced things out and acted as a way for her to see another side. The incorporation of zombies in a new way was inventive, and the two main plot lines fit together well. Secondary characters could have used a bit more support in my opinion, but they served their purposes well all around.

The thing about this story that I had the hardest time with was Francis - I really couldn't see what was so fantastic about him, why Cathy would be willing to give up life as a human for him, but since the story is told through Mel's eyes, I guess that makes sense.

Plus I have my own prejudices against vampires to overcome. =)

So if you're like me or know someone like me who is sick of the vampire craze, pick up a copy of Team Human. It's a bit of a satire, a bit of a mystery, and a whole lot of human feelings.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Venom Readalong: Week 1

This month, I will be participating in the readalong for Venom by Fiona Paul, the first book in the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series. This week, I'm taking on questions pertaining to Chapters 1-8, and I will aim to be as spoiler-free as possible during these posts so as to not ruin the book for people who haven't read this story yet!

Venom is the story of Cassandra Caravello, a girl growing up in the elite class in Renaissance Venice. But despite her seemingly charmed life, she's felt trapped and alone ever since her parents died years ago. When Cass stumbles upon a murdered woman, she's drawn into the dark underside of the city of water, complete with courtesans, killers, and secret societies. She's also falling for Falco, a mysterious and mischievous street artist with a knack for finding trouble. But there's the murder to solve, and her far off fiance to consider...

This week's questions:
-What do you think of Falco so far? Do you trust him?
Well Falco is obviously the bad boy, which always makes me nervous (which can be a good or bad thing!). I don't think we know him well enough yet to decide if he's trustworthy - the boys with the bright blue eyes defintely likes adventure and living on the edge, but I think he also knows that sometimes he has to draw a line and say 'no.' Whether or not he knows how far he can go before things get dangerous, though...
-Thoughts on Siena?
Siena is Cass's ladies maid and I really like her so far. We haven't seen much of her yet, but a few scenes leave me believing that Cass underestimates what a valuable ally this girl will be to her adventures and investigation. I have hunch we can expect to see big things from her!
- Do you think that Cass is too accepting or not accepting enough of her position in society, or do you feel she is just accepting enough?
I think Cass struggles with what her position means in Venician society. She was born of a rank where there are certain expectations, but fulfilling them doesn't seem to always coincide with her spirit. She doesn't mean to be difficult, but she also wants to be herself. I'm not sure Cass realizes how fortunate she is to be a member of the upper class (even if at the lower end of it) because it affords her opportunities others don't have, even if those opportunities do feel like burdens sometimes.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wednesday Words: Vote Early and Often

This week's edition of Wednesday Words is coming to you a few days early and it has nothing to do with the publishing industry at large. This time, I'm using my blog for something a little more personal, but still very much book related.

Last month, Lisa Burstein (author of the YA book Pretty Amy) announced a contest in honor of her upcoming novel Dear Cassie. Since that book will be told all through journal and diary entries, her contest had simple parameters: write the diary entry of a fictional character.

I've been doing more reading of and tinkering with writing short stories lately, so I decided to give it a go. I wrote an entry from the perspective of Amy Pond, companion to the Eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who, and sent it in.

And today, I found out my entry is one of four finalists! That alone is exciting, but here's the really fun part: the winning entry will be published in the back of Dear Cassie - with the author's name and everything. How cool is that?!?!

So I need your help. The link to Lisa's website and where you can vote is below, and it would be the most awesome thing ever if you voted for my story (it's entry #2 and please forgive the fact that it shows up as two jumbo paragraphs - I can assure you my formatting was all nice and pretty in multiple paragraphs and I don't know what's going on with that). So yeah. Please vote. Then hit refresh and vote again. And while you're doing that, tell your friends to vote too.


Lisa Burstein's Website - VOTE HERE!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Corsets & Clockwork: Part 4

I'm currently making my way through finished reading Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances (Running Press, 2011). I'm new to all of the authors featured in this collection as well as the world of steampunk, so this has been an interesting read.

Story: The Emperor's Man
Author: Tiffany Trent
Summary: Garrett serves in the Imperial House Guard with no memory of his life before this job and is assigned to guard Athena, the Princess Royal, during the Hunt. When she goes astray in the forrest and exposes Garrett to the magical beings who live there, he must decide if he really is the Emperor's man after all.
Thoughts: This was an interesting story, though light on the romance (practically none) and steampunkishness (this was more fantasy/paranormal in my opinion). While I liked it, I feel like the ending was a bit on the abrupt side.

Story: Chickie Hill's Badass Ride
Author: Dia Reeves
Summary: In 1961, Sue Jean's boyfriend Chickie is an exceptional inventor who is only interested in fixing up his car and making out while she wants to be more actively involved in the civil rights movement. But on a night when magic is in the air and a little boy is taken by what looks like the KKK, Sue Jean and Chickie fight to get him back.
Thoughts: I really don't know what to say about this story except that I just wasn't connecting with it at all. It sort of felt rushed and too much going on, and I didn't think the time period fit well with the steampunk going on. This one just wasn't for me.

Story: The Vast Machinery of Dreams
Author: Caitlin Kittredge
Summary: A newspaper has one version of how their star serial story writer came to be, but Matt tells the real story of how he met the girl of his dreams, Isabelle, in 1915, except that the story keeps changing.
Thoughts: This story ups the creepy factor, that's for sure. Everything you think is happening gets turned on its head. Like so many other short stories, I feel that this one's ending is a bit too sudden, but Kittredge's voice and the way she chose to have the story unfold kept me turning the pages.

Story: Tick, Tick, Boom
Author: Kiersten White
Summary: Kitty hates being under her father's thumb, secretly inventing explosives by night. But perhaps more than that, she hates the dull Franklin Greenwood, the man her father seems to have picked for her, especially after she meets a mysterious man one night who literally and metaphorically sweeping her off her feet.
Thoughts: Now at least this anthology is ending on a high note! I loved this story, from the concept to Kitty's gumption and voice. I recently purchased Kiersten's novel Paranormalcy and after reading this story, I cannot wait to dive into that book!

And so ends my reading of Corsets & Clockwork. This collection had a little bit of everything, and did a good job introducing me to new authors and steampunk in general. I certainly liked some stories more than others, but over all I'm glad I gave it a read!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wednesday Words: Best of 2012

Happy New Year, Internet! No big long post from me today; instead here are the videos I made of some of my favorite books of 2012. I could have gone on and on about the many amazing titles I read last year, but instead I forced myself to pick only five in two categories, series books and stand-alone novels.

Series Video:

Stand Alone Video:

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!