Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wednesday Words: Reading Widely

A few days ago, I came  came across an article about Ann Morgan, a woman in the UK who set the goal of reading 196 books in a 2012, one from every country of the world along. She succeeded. I also read about Patrick Lenton, a man aiming to tackle as many of the 339 books Rory Gilmore is seen reading during seven seasons of Gilmore Girls as he can. Curious to see where I fit in on a scale of one to Rory, I put added the list of Rory's books to the website List Challenges and shared the link to it on my Tumblr.

And wow did that link spread. Now 586 notes on a Tumblr post is peas and carrots to some people, but it's the most I've ever had. It's been fun reading people's comments on how many they've read and how they want to take on more. Somewhere along the line, so many of us have been distracted by what's new, what's coming, we forget about the books that are already here. And getting back to the Read Around the World Challenge, where is our desire to be more widely read? I'm personally guilty of the fact that most of my reading material is either American or British literature, yet when I read Anna and the French Kiss a few years ago, I was grabbed by the topic of literary translations that comes up in the novel (so much so that I tweeted a link to the article to Anna's author Stephanie Perkins and she and I had a nice little conversation about it =) ).

In a way, the situation makes me sad that there are so many amazing books out there from other places and times past that I haven't read, and part of me wonders if becoming a book blogger has played into me not reading them. Sure I studied that kind of literature in college, but now I have stack of ARCs, of books that technically aren't 'here' yet, to read meanwhile there are libraries full of books that have been there since long before my birth.

A new goal is born: I turn 25 at the end of August. Before I turn 26, I'm hoping to read at least five books that are outside my usual YA bubble and haven't come out recently. Maybe I'll finally tackle The Kite Runner or a novel by Charles Dickens because I haven't yet. Five doesn't seem like a lot, but knowing me and how these books will require more of my time, I think five may actually be generous. Hopefully I will do much better than that, and I will absolutely be using Ann Morgan's list as a reference point in this challenge. Rory's list will come into play, I'm sure, too.

So how do you do it, or do you? Do you stick to one thing (like I tend to in recent years with YA) or are you good at branching out?

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Touch of Magic: Wonder Light

Wonder Light by R.R. Russell (Unicorns of the Mist #1)
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013

*ARC sent by the publisher - thank you!*

In a weird twist of fate, I came home one afternoon to find a package containing this book. I didn't ask for it, I haven't read middle grade novels since I was in late elementary school/junior high myself, but since it was there I figured I'd go ahead and give it a read.

In her debut children's novel, Russell introduces readers to 12 year old Twig. She's been sent to an island in the Pacific Northwest to stay with a family on their secluded ranch where they take care of other 'troubled girls' like her, giving them a chance at a fresh start. It looks fine enough, but there's something in the mists that Twig doesn't quite trust. Despite the fact that Twig is terrified of horses, she finds herself secretly caring for a newly born unicorn and working with the mysterious boy Ben who lives in the woods. A magical and dangerous war is taking place among the unicorns and Twig must face her fears to save this creature, place, and people she has come to love.

All in all, this was a cute fantasy mixing a contemporary world with ancient magical elements. The idea of unicorns having their own sort of society while still interacting with people in their own world was a twist I've never seen before. It took a while for me to fully wrap my head around it, but once I did I was good to go. The only criticism I have about the story was some pacing issues. Within the first few pages, you learn Twig has been branded as 'bad' but you don't learn why for a really long time. Also, the first half was a lot of building up and background while the second half was more action, but this seems to be pretty typical of books that set up a series. After all, in Harry Potter, Harry doesn't even get to Hogwarts until halfway through book one.

This book was a fine and fast reintroduction to middle grade writing, so if that's your target age group, it's worth checking out from your library. If you know young fantasy fans or readers that don't mind a twist on the contemporary, they'll probably love this. I gave this very ARC to the 9-year-old girl who lives next door and she's been gushing about it ever since, so in this case I think you better take her word over mine.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

R.R. Russell's Website

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday Words: Finally Finishing

There's nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes with finishing a book that you've been reading for a very long time. It's like a weight off your shoulders. You can feel good at having accomplished something, that it's a job well done. Sure, maybe you didn't understand it but you can now say "Oh yeah, I read that."

Such was my feeling this afternoon. In 2012, my brother gave me the only thing I asked for for my birthday: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. It was big and beautiful with its bright red and yellow cover. It had a premise that sounded genuinely interesting to me, and the fact that it was written by the woman whose works profoundly shaped my childhood was just like a bonus.

So I started to read. And then after about 150 pages, I stopped. I got distracted by newer books. I had school and work and there the book sat on my shelf. There were just so many characters and the plot felt so slow and I was having trouble keeping track of things. Then I started to feel embarrassed. Had YA rotted my brain somehow? Was I no longer capable of reading 'adult books' like the ones I so passionately studied as an undergraduate.

No. I refused to let that be true. A few weeks ago, I gave myself a clean slate and started over from the beginning and finally, today, I finished it. All in all, it was a heavy book in the metaphorical sense. I liked how there was no hero, how everyone was broken in their own way, how reading about this town Rowling thought up was kind of like having a bruise and poking it even though you know it will hurt, but you still want to see if maybe this time it won't. I won't say I loved it - I thought it was an okay story, not my usual taste but well written - but I loved seeing a writer I like do something so different. It does make me even more interested in her second life now as Robert Galbraith, but rather than buy that book and have it potentially sit on my shelf unread for another year, I think I'll just wait and get it from the library someday when I'm ready.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

*EDIT - JK Rowling just gave a fantastic answer to a great question regarding this book on Goodreads about writing gritty characters/situaitons which I can really appreciate now that I finished the novel. Check it out here!*

Where's Your Bookmark? (29)

My thoughts on two books by Leila Sales, the upcoming This Song Will Save Your Life and her 2011 release Past Perfect.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fish Out of Water: Of Poseidon

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks (Of Poseidon #1)
Feiwel & Friends, 2012

Oh my sweet goodness, can you tell that Anna Banks had a fun time reimagining mermaids in her debut novel, Of Poseidon. And this was a treat for me too as it was my first positive experience listening to an audiobook!

Emma is on vacation in Florida when she runs into the incredibly handsome Galen. Literally. She smacks right into him. There's an instant physical and emotional connection, though neither of them can be sure why because Emma's just a girl from New Jersey and Galen, well, Galen is a prince of the Syrena (don't call them mermaids) and he's been sent to find a girl who can communicate with fish. Sure Emma has the violet Syrena eyes and can take on a shark, but it feels like not all the pieces are adding up. And would Emma believe it, anyway? In a story told from both points of view and filled with romance and laughs, Of Poseidon is a fun fish-out-of-water story for the summer.

While much of the paranormal genre is about taking fantastical creatures and putting a new spin on them, I was impressed with how much thought Banks clearly put into the Syrena, from how they're organized to their very bone structure. I actually really liked how she didn't necessarily make them better, such as with the mating traditions that are appropriately horrifying to Emma and even a few Syrena themselves. This was a light read in sense that while the stakes are certainly high, it's not like certain death was around every corner. A few things here and there were a bit too sweet to me, but this was a great story for a road trip and I'm very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the sequel, Of Triton.

Author Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14),
me, and Anna Banks
This wasn't my first time reading Anna's work - she also wrote the romance Degrees of Wrong under the name Anna Scarlett which I was part of the blog tour for and loved - and it won't be the last. Plus I can attest to the fact that she's super nice because I got to meet her last year during the Fierce Reads tour.

If you're in the mood for something fun with a few laughs and YA that has romance but no love triangles, then pick up Of Poseidon.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Anna Banks' Website
Anna Banks on Twitter

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday Words: The Great Galbraith

This past Saturday, a truth was revealed that took many by surprise: J.K. Rowling had a new book out, actually it came out in April, and of course you hadn't heard about it because that was the whole point. Because on paper, the woman born Joanne Rowling and the mind behind the legendary Harry Potter series didn't have a book out. Robert Galbraith did.

Oh the joy of pseudonyms!

While her first novel under her name, The Casual Vacancy, was met with mixed reviews, it was still an instant best-seller. Why? Because she wrote it and everyone knew it. On the other hand, Robert Galbraith's 'debut', The Cuckoo's Calling, had a modest opening in terms of sales (only about 1500 sold), but garnered much higher praise from the literary world. It got several starred reviews and Library Journal even declared it their Mystery Debut of the Month. Of course once the story got out on who exactly Galbraith is, the novel became an instant best seller.

It's refreshing in this day and age to me that the secret was kept as long as it was, and I almost wish it could have stayed a secret longer. Rowling herself said that she liked being anonymous again and getting feedback that was purely based on the writing. Of course now her future writings as Galbraith ('his' novels are intended to be a series with the second installment due out next year) will be looked at through rose-colored Rowling glasses. I actually hope she's able to stump us all again sometime. How fantastic would it be if every time she has a new project/series it came out under a different name? I mean, she shouldn't have to resort to that just to get honest feedback and criticisms, but I think we deserve to be fooled time and again by this master story teller.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Where's Your Bookmark? (28)

In which I talk about The Distance Between Us, the new contemporary novel by Kasie West.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dragons and Danger: Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Seraphina #1)
Random House, 2012

In the mood for a young adult series with elements of high fantasy and a reimagining of dragons unlike anything you've ever seen before? Then look no further than Seraphina, the debut novel by Rachel Hartman.

For forty years, an unsteady peace has existed between the humans and dragons. They don't understand each other, but at least dragons can take human form and there are still ways of telling who they really are. But it actually only emphasizes that nothing is really as it appears, especially for Seraphina. An extremely gifted musician to the royal court, she works every day to literally cover up her worst secret: she is half dragon, and her very existence is illegal making it impossible for her to truly belong anywhere. When a well-liked royal is killed in a manner that looks highly draconian, Seraphina finds herself in the middle of a mystery as people search for dangerous truths.

Hartman has a strength for world building, and it is clear that she thought long and hard not just about the physical setting of the kingdom, but how all the seemingly insignificant details of this world are actually crucial to making it come together. There's a very clear culture among humans and a separate belief system among dragons. Values, appearances, manner of speaking all come into play. And this book also goes deep. While there are dragons, there are not wizards or spells or enchantments. There are, however, questions and mysteries on politics, ethics, and the nature that relationships and laws are never cut and dry, black and white. In the two days that it took me to read this 450 page tale, the blending of these elements was done in a way that made it clear to see what was important and what was on the line.

However, like I just said, at 450 pages this book is big one. There's a glossary to help readers keep track of the terminology that comes along with this world along with lists of who characters are. In that sense, the book was a bit heavy. This isn't to say I don't like to be challenged when I read - I do, I love it! - just that at times I had to stop the flow of my reading to think "wait, who are you again?" There were instances of the pacing being uneven, too, but things picked up towards the end setting readers up nicely for the adventures to come in book 2, anticipated to come out in in early 2014.

Overall, I really liked this book and will probably continue to check the series out from my library to see where it goes next. If you like traditional high fantasy with a twist, then this is a series you don't want to pass up.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Rachel Hartman's Website

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wednesday Words: Ear Candy

I have said for so long now that I'm not a fan of audiobooks, but today I confess to the Internet that I was so wrong. Well, not completely. Let's just say I'd like to modify my previous statement.

For those of you who don't know, SYNC is a program in its third summer making audiobooks available to download for free for one week. They pair a YA or middle grade novel with an adult story or play with similar themes and they're yours to keep as long as you remember to get them in time. This year has had more than a few titles I've either read or have been meaning to read, but still, audiobooks? I was skeptical. My first audiobook experience in grad school was a total dud. I hated the story, the narrator sounded all wrong, and since it was for a class I had to listen for hours and hours to the whole thing. Not fun.

But here's the caveat. Thanks to SYNC, I listened to the entire audiobook of Of Poseidon by Anna Banks. And I liked it. I'm about to start listening to The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater which I recently downloaded, and just the other day I finished listening to The Scorpio Races (also by Stiefvater) and wow. I've read that book before, but I fell in love all over again. The biggest thing that affected my change in opinion was the readers. The story of course has to be compelling, but if I don't like the reader, then I'll probably be too distracted to care for the story.

While I won't be spending the money and signing up for Audible any time in the foreseeable future (my library has a big enough collection to hold me over for quite a while), I do utilize it to preview the readers. I can tell pretty quickly if a voice actor sounds like a character to me, like I'm listening to theatre auditions or judging a speech tournament. If I think it will fit, then I have found myself a new companion for the long walks I like to take especially when the summer weather is cooperative. Other times, I love listening to stories while I knit/sew/clean/etc.

So if you people of the Internet have audiobooks that you highly recommend to a skeptic like me, tell me! I can't wait to keep listening.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Secrets and Surprises: Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard (Something Strange and Deadly #1)
Harper Teen, 2012

Historical fiction meets zombies.

Sounds a little out there, right? Well, you're right about that. In the wrong hands, this could go terribly, terribly wrong. Luckily, Susan Dennard knows just how to handle this in her debut novel, Something Strange and Deadly, the first book in a planned trilogy.

It's 1876 and the Dead are rising in Philadelphia, though at first that's the least of Eleanor Fitt's worries. Her brother is missing and her mother's primary goal only seems to be on marrying Eleanor off to a wealthy bachelor to solve the family's money troubles. But when the Dead deliver a message from her brother, Eleanor seeks answers from the Spirit Hunters: a creole man Joseph, a young Chinese girl Jie, and a stubborn and mysterious inventor Daniel. Together can they figure out who is behind the Dead rising and what they're after?

I'll admit that I had one false start with this book, purely because I wasn't quite in the right mood for it. However when I picked up for a second time and another chance, I zipped through this action packed steam punk story.  Eleanor is a girl who thinks and while she is ahead of her time in many ways, she doesn't completely throw the societal conventions of the day she's been raised with out the window. She's strong and caring and cautious and daring all at once. The same can be said for the Spirit Hunters, all misfits in their own way but together they make a hell of a team.

Though the pacing at times was a little off to me (things always seemed to slow down whenever Mrs. Fitt and her attempts at getting Eleanor paired off came into the picture), I was easily lost in this story. I'm not usually much of a zombie person, however that's fine here because they weren't the whole story. Neither was the romance (which was incredibly well done - charming and subtle until it wasn't because then it was witty and fantastic), neither were the family issues, neither was the mystery. All of these elements balanced each other out really well, pushing the story forward.

All in all, I'm so happy that I gave this book another chance. Thank you so much to the people who commented here on the blog telling me to read it - you were so right! I can't wait to check out the prequel novella and I'm so happy I won't have to wait long for book two,  A Darkness Strange and Lovely, due out July 23, 2013!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Susan Dennard's Website
Susan Dennard on Twitter

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wednesday Words: ALA Recap

The past week has been an absolute whirlwind as I took in my very first conference ever, spending four days at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois. And what a time it was.

The first word that comes to mind is intense, and by that I mostly mean overwhelming. Some of this easily could have been avoided - packing sooner, figuring out my schedule further in advance because the book of programs was already online, etc. However, plenty of other aspects come along and all you can do is brace yourself. For starters, McCormick Place where the conference was held is absolutely huge. At one point, finding an event I was supposed to attend felt like trying to find Narnia. Also, there are 30,000 other people also trying to find their way around, make their own meetings, and that will be the case whether the conference is in Chicago or Kalamazoo.

Once I got the hang of the exhibit floor and the lay of the land, it was a good kind of intense. I got to meet amazing people - other librarians, bloggers, publishing types, and authors. I got recognized for the first time from YouTube which was amazing. I got to hang out with new authors Debra Driza (Mila 2.0) and Mindy McGinnis (Not a Drop to Drink) and when they saw me, they actually recognized and remembered me. I met writers whose books I've enjoyed since I was younger like Ally Carter and Laurie Halse Anderson. I spent a lot of fun times with my roommates, Heidi and Kyle who are both fellow librarians/teachers/bloggers.

If I had to narrow it down, here would be my five tips to new conference attendees:
1. Bring a backpack and wear good walking shoes - not a wheelie backpack because those can be really dangerous on the exhibit floor, and be prepared for a lot of hours on your feet. I know tote bags are more stylish as are sandals, but your back and feet will thank you later.
2. Be professional and remember it's okay to say no - especially if you're attending for the book/publishing side of things, it can be very tempting to want to take all the ARCs and free books you can. However, remember you have to get them home somehow, plus ARCs are limited. There were several times when I took one/was given one but later gave it back because I didn't think it was something I (or my students) would connect to as strongly as someone else might. Don't be a hoarder, and remember your manners - it actually goes a long way.
3. Try something new - I'm not always a social butterfly, so I used ALA as a chance to branch out of my comfort zone. I went to a YA blogger social which ended up being a blast. I went to a reunion for my library school. I successfully hailed a cab for the first time in my life! Growing is good!
4. Learn something - especially if you sign up for the full conference and not just the exhibit hall, make the most of your time. I went to panels on ARCs, school/public library ventures, upcoming titles and trends to keep an eye out for, and how to use Tumblr to connect with other libraries and librarians. Some events were better than others, but each one taught me something.
5. Make connections and have fun - have cheap/free business cards printed up so when you meet people, you can easily give them your contact information and try to enjoy yourself! Take advantage of the opportunity to connect with people from this industry who are passionate about the same things you are.

ALA13 was a blast, and while I won't be attending next year in Las Vegas, I feel like I'm much more prepared for what future conferences will be like. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

ALA Book Haul

In which I share the books and ARCs I acquired this year at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Chicago. Thank you to all of these publishers for their amazing generosity!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Simply Genius: An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Dutton, 2006

It's hardly a secret that I am a fan of both John Green and his writing. I'm proud to be a Nerdfighter and Green's stories often surprise me, leading me to discover new things about the story and myself. However, one way in which I feel I'm in the minority when it comes to this author's body of work is when I declare that after The Fault in Our Stars, Green's sophomore novel An Abundance of Katherines is my favorite book of his.

A recent road trip proved to be the perfect occasion to reread the story of Colin Singleton, a former child prodigy and recent high school graduate who has just been dumped. Again. And for the 19th time, it's by a girl named Katherine. While on a road trip with his best friend Hassan, the boys wind up in the small town of Gutshot, Tennessee, meet up with a colorful cast of characters including the incredibly un-Katherine girl Lindsey Lee Wells, and Colin finally has the Eureka moment he's been hoping for his whole life: he thinks he can develop a mathematical theorem that will predict the life of a relationship, hoping this will be his ticket to doing something that he believes really matters and avoiding future heartbreak.

Green's books never shy away from the big questions that life throws at us that can be hard to find answers to whether you're a teen or an adult. Katherines is no exception, but I still say this is the most light hearted of his solo novels. It's about relationships: with our friends, our parents, our romantic interests past, present, and future. It's about what matters to each of us, how others see us, and how we see ourselves. Plus there are anagrams, footnotes, and impressive looking math equations that I don't fully understand but they're awesome. Each of these characters brings something to the table, not always good things, and that's what makes them feel real. Glimpses of these characters remind me so much of people I knew in high school and college, and I love that about this book.

So if you're in the mood for a book that will make you think a little bit, laugh a lot, and still fits the bill for a summer read, I highly encourage you to check out An Abundance of Katherines.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

John Green's Website
John Green on Twitter
John Green on Tumblr
John Green on YouTube