Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books Week

This week is Banned Book Awareness Week - I added the awareness part since otherwise it sounds like it's promoting the banning of books. I think there are enough people challenging the content of books already.

At the Anderson's YA Lit Conference last Saturday, at the opening of the event we gathered together to read this manifesto aloud, written by author Ellen Hopkins. (It's supposed to be posted on youtube's banned book blog channel but I can't find it!)

 To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion of sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones to break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.
-Ellen Hopkins


For a little lighter fare, I was very amused by Forever Young Adult about their tounge-in-cheek choices for which YA books that should be challenged.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reading Challenges: Make a dent in your To-Read pile!

If you're a book nerd like me, Goodreads can be really fun because there's more to do there than just list and rate what you've read. I'm part of the YA Book Club group that hosts a monthly pick (you read at your own pace and discuss in threads on their forum) and they also put together quarterly reading challenges. I shied away previously because the challenges included 10 books for 3 months. Who can read that fast?

It turns out, I can! I've been reading a LOT. Plus, many YA books can be a little shorter and easier to get through than say, any Jeffrey Eugenides novel (much love for him, though!)

Here's the fall quarterly challenge I'm coming in a bit late to, but I've read a few books that fit the categories. The rest are books I already own that I'm able to fit into the parameters. Reading challenges can help motivate those of us with a teetering stack of books waiting to be read!

Fall Quarter YA Reading Challenge

Duration: September 1, 2011 - November 30, 2011. We are a YA Book Club, so all books should be young adult. You have 3 months to read 10 YA books that satisfy following requirements:
1) In honor of Banned Books Week held during the week of September 24 - October 1, 2011, read a book which was banned or challenged.
Living Dead Girl - Elizabeth Scott (also the October book club pick! I just met this author and she confirmed the book has absolutely been challenged by schools and libraries - it's a pretty intense first person account of abduction).

2) Read a book that is a new release published in September, October or November of this year.
I'll read one of my ARCs, either Legend - Marie Lu (11/2011) or Darkfall - Janice Hardy (10/2011)

3) Read a book set in fall or takes place during a school year or in school.
Either Looking for Alaska - John Green or Moonglass - Jessi Kirby (read earlier in September)

4) Read a book which has a name in its title.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - Michelle Hodkin

5) Read a book that earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews or any other professional publication.
Either Legend - Marie Lu or The Last Days - Scott Westerfeld

6) Read a book which touches upon the subject of teen sexuality, whatever aspect of it you are comfortable with (or not) - pregnancy, virginity, homosexuality, etc.
Love Drugged - James Klise

7) Read a book which is a mystery, thriller, horror or has a crime at its center.
Already Read: Red Glove - Holly Black

8) Read a book which has an artistic teen as its main character - painter, musician, writer, dancer, singer, etc.
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone - Stephanie Kuenhert (or And Then Things Fall Apart - Arlaina Tibensky, read earlier in Sept)

9) Read a book that you are interested in only because of its cover - pretty, disturbing or just plain catchy.
Already Read: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

10) Read a book written by a duo (or a group) of authors, It can also be an author/illustrator collaboration. Or, of you can't find one, a book with multiple POVs.
Not sure on this one yet!

Have you ever partipated in a reading challenge for school, a book club or online? It's really fun! I had never heard of the Kirkus starred reviews and already found another book to add to my list! Next year, though...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Anderson's Books Young Adult Literature Conference 9/24/2011

I feel like a legit book blogger because I now have ARCs!
(ARC = Advanced Reader Copy)

Check out  my loot from Saturday's YA Lit conference:

The bottom three are ARCs for Janice Hardy's Darkfall, Jennifer Hubbard's Try Not to Breathe, and Marie Lu's Legend, which I hear is awesome.

The rest of the books I bought myself. The middle book is The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, which comes out Tuesday 9/27/11. Then Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, which Goodread's YA Book Club is reading in October. I also bought Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman who writes topical YA contemporary but is actually no so serious in person! Lastly, I found Let it Be by Colin Meloy which is a memoir about how 1980s band The Replacements influenced him.

At the conference, anyone I came into conversation with asked, "So, are you representing middle school or high school?" This lit conference is mainly attended by librarians and educators. My answer was, "Neither, I'm a writer." One woman asked, "Which books are yours?" I should have pointed to something on the sale table, but instead I told her I'm unpublished and a fan of YA.

Sharon Draper was the last keynote speaker. She shared hilarious letters from her young fans. It felt great to be around so many people geeked about books and writing.

What books are on your To-Read list?

Book Review: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

Title: Moonglass
Author: Jessi Kirby
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

Moonglass is an example of an excellent stand-alone contemporary young adult novel. On the surface, it seems like another budding romance story about a teenager trying to find herself. What makes Moonglass special is the subtle and unexpected turns the story takes.

Anna's mother passed away when she was 7, and she and her dad have a comfortable but not very intimate relationship. I immediately envisoned her father as a lifeguard version of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. The two move further south on the California coast when her father accepts a position managing a beach and a bunch of lifeguards. Their cottage sits directly on the beach, which sounds fabulous. Anna befriends the lifeguards, who her father pre-warned to stay away from his daughter. There's a little rebellious side to Anna, and it's nice to see this balanced with her rather responsible life. Anna learns this beach was where her father and mother first met, and more of the story of what happened to her mother unfolds as she questions the life her mother led there.

The story progresses over the last few days of summer into Anna's first sememster at her new high school. She makes an unlikely friend who could have been a one-note L.A. socialite, but turns out to demonstrate great friendship and dedication to Anna as she sorts through another stage of grief at losing her mother.

I loved how this story felt immediately engaging. I could easily envision the beach, the cottages and all the characters. It felt like a familiar story, but not at all cliche. Anna's reflection on losing her mother is moving without feeling overly heavy for the rest of the story. This is the author's debut novel - what an amazing job!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Best Advice

The best advice isn't always immediately realized. Sometimes little snippets stick with you and lurk in the back of your mind. It can take time for good advice to float to the top while the rest sinks down to some murky pit in the bottom of the ocean.

The Best Writing Advice

1. Read

I've always been a reader, but since I started writing, I've read double the number of books I usually do in six months. My reading is focused. I'm looking for specific types of stories and subjects. I pay attention to what I like in books, like main characters with flaws, a story that takes the unexpected path rather than being completely predictable, and fun dialogue. I love stories that make me forget about the writing so I can completely dissolve into the lives of the characters.

2. Read widely

If you're a writer, it's important to read in the genre you write, but there's value in reading outside it. I need to read YA to see the trends (plus, I like it!) But picking up a book that's completely different, like for me a contemporary romance, has showed me how good writing and engaging stories transcend genre. Even non-fiction can be inspiring.

3. Listen to stories

I'm a fan of audio books. I wouldn't read nearly as many books if I didn't use my commute time during the week to listen to stories. Hearing a book read is a different experience than reading on the page. The best case scenario is a great narrator who adds an additional element to the story, bringing it to life. Worst case, the narrator's accent or speech pattern is disruptive, or it highlights weak writing. It's almost easier to tell "bad" writing in an audio book because you hear it said and can't skim over the words.

4. Life is too short to wear ugly shoes

OK, this has nothing to do with writing. It may sound shallow, but think about the larger scope. Why would anyone want to wear ugly shoes? Probably because they are comfortable, and people love their comfort. A few years ago at my desk at work I looked down at my sensible loafers and realized they were atrocious. Scuffed and dirty, they were probably the most boring shoe on the planet. That night I threw them away and vowed to only wear shoes I wasn't ashamed to be seen in. I wear a lot of low heels which are just as comfortable as the nasty loafers. Dressing well makes me feel put together and confident. And while it might be a stretch to say this, writer's often lack confidence, and anything creating more confidence has to be a winning move!

What's the best advice you've been given?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Title: Small Town Sinners
Author: Melissa Walker
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

It's difficult to have expectations of a book, because when they're not met, it may not be a matter of the quality of the book but more of personal hang-ups. The premise of Small Town Sinners immediately caught my interest after reading a blog review (plus the cover is great). Lacey, a teen raised in small town Christian evangelical culture, begins to examine her faith when a former schoolmate moves back to town and questions her involvment in the church's Hell House, a haunted house with realistic "sin" situations acted out by a teen cast. For weeks, the two have long coversations in their favorite park about God, faith, religion and family. These questions are important and I'm glad there's a YA book exploring these themes.

Hell Houses are real, there's even a documentary by the same name. The film takes a rather uneven look at the southern evangelical culture that supports scare tactics as a means of reaching out to the unchurched. While it gives a glimpse into this subculture, it veers into strange tangents the longer you watch. A YA story with a Hell House backdrop is enticing, and I appreciated the examination of faith in an open way rather than demonizing one set of beliefs. I see enough of that on TV/online from American political parties.

Overall, I wanted an edgier voice, an angrier Lacey, but those are my expectations which may be unfair to hang on someone else's book. Lacey is a good girl trying to do the right thing, and I know plenty of similar girls from my life in the church. In that respect, it's realistic. I respect the author for taking on this topic in a book that isn't Christian market, but also does not intentionally slam those who profess Christian faith. I see this appealing to younger teens who've grown up in evangelical culture. This is an approachable book that is probably a good first step at examining issues of faith for those who never have.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 I'm a contributor!

I'm excited to announce I'll be contributing TV reviews for the awesome! The site features content appealing to fans of comics, sci-fi, and pop-culture on the fringes of those categories. Articles are more opinion and feature-oriented rather than simply recapping TV episodes. There's a really great one up now about a re-imagined Season 6 Angel.

I'm thrilled to be reviewing 4 new fall shows:
  • The Secret Circle - from the makers of The Vampire Diaries and based on books by the same author, L.J. Smith. Thursdays, The CW (Sept. 15)
  • Ringer - Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to TV and plays twin characters in a dark action-mystery. Tuesdays, The CW (Sept. 13)
  • Pam Am - Christina Ricci stars in a 1960s-era soapy drama about the airline. Sundays, ABC (Sept. 25)
  • Once Upon a Time - Cutie Ginnifer Goodwin is a reimagined Snow White in this curious series by two writers from Lost (they have plugged that pretty hard). Sundays, ABC (October)
I just realized all these shows feature strong female leads. Cool! I admit I have a few doubts on Once Upon a Time, mainly because the staying power a fairy-tale based show seems fragile, despite the resurgence of fairy tale trends in books and movies (two Snow White films will be released in 2012).

As for SlackerHeroes, you can see my first post here where I so helpfully list 10 essential Vampire Diaries episodes from seasons 1 & 2. Picking 10 episodes almost drove me insane, it was downright difficult considering how much plot churns through each episode. If you haven't seen the show, it's a lot of fun, vacillating between campy and a typical teen drama.

I make no excuses for totes belonging to Team Damon, and it's not just because he played Boone on Lost. As my husband said,  his eyes are LASER VILLIAGE. Don't think too hard on that, it doesn't actually mean anything. But look at his eyes, deep into his eyes...

Speaking of this actor and my taste in general, pretty consistent?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

I saw Simone Elkeles at a book signing yesterday for Chain Reaction, the third (and last?) book in the Perfect Chemistry series. She's lively and engaging as a speaker and she's enthusiastic about sharing her book writing experience. I figured it's the perfect time to share a review of her first book in the series:

Title: Perfect Chemistry
Author: Simone Elkeles
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Published: 2011

It's easy to see why Perfect Chemistry won a 2011 RITA award from the Romance Writer's of America in the YA categrogy. Despite a dozen cliches - good girl meets bad boy, initial friction, a bet made by the bad boy to prove he can hook up with the good girl, inevitable crush leading to romance - this story managed to transcend the typical stereotypes with enough unique details and an engaging romance.

Think of this like the Step Up movie franchise. There's a reason the movies keep churning out with a rotating cast of interchangable characters. If you like dance movies and a glimpse into urban life with a side of romance, you get exactly that. Know what to expect with Perfect Chemistry and it will deliver.

Brittany is a popular student from the wealthy side of town who strives to attain perfection to please her family and friends. Alex is a gang member from the town's poorer south side who runs with the gang only to protect his family. Brittany's secret is her mentally and physically handicapped sister who Brittany cares for and fiercely guards from ridicule from those she feels would not understand. Her mother is a shallow woman, and when her dad is physically present he is emotionally vacant. Alex's secret is he's only putting on a game face with the gang since he'd rather go to college and escape a world of drugs, guns and theft. The two are paired together in chemistry class. They hate each other, but of course, they end up seeing there's more behind the facade.

What I liked about the story was alternating points of view. Reading Alex's view of the world helped frame the reality of gang life, even if some of the scenarios seemed more out of a movie than real life. I also appreciated a look into the life of caring for a disabled sibling, which I felt went a step beyond a lot of stories that reach to create depth in initially one-dimensional characters. Mexican culture is shared within Alex's story with a lot of Spanglish thrown around. Having attended a diverse high school myself, I know self-segregation by race and class is common, but I felt the division here was a little too much at times. Interacial dating is not that shocking anymore. In this story it was likely more about a popular rich girl dating a poor gang member rather than a white girl and a Mexican. But I'm not complaining too much because I devoured this in a matter of days and felt a connection with both main characters.

I would suggest Perfect Chemistry for older teens since there are a lot of references to drugs, crime, sex etc. All of these concepts are examined and consequences discussed or shown. I can see it as an appealing story for younger readers especially considering the diversity.

As a side note from Simone's live talk, she said the story was rejected by a publisher initially because that publishing house had already put out a book with a Mexican character that year. Isn't it sad to hear? Even though the books were totally different and the characters not alike at all, it was considered too much to publish two books in a year with Mexican characters. I see chatter online about how YA fiction is whitewashed. Maybe it's not that writers aren't putting multi-racial characters forward, but publishing houses are operating under an archaic mindset that's holding us all back.

Not cool, publishers! Look how well Perfect Chemistry sells! Simone Elkeles is an NYT bestselling author thanks to the series.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black AND Red Glove (#1 & #2 Curseworkers series)

Title: White Cat (curseworkers #1) and Red Glove (#2)
Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
Published: 2010, 2011

Holly Black wrote my favorite story in the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology about an Angelina-like character who adopts a brood of zom-nom children and her babysitter lives to tell. White Cat is the first book in her YA Curseworkers series. I listened to the audiobook version of both stories narrated by Jesse Eisenberg, the Academy Award-nominated actor of The Social Network and more importantly, a nerd-turned-badass in Zombieland. Jesse is a perfect match to read for the character and an example of how a narrator can an enhance a story.

In White Cat, Cassel is a seemingly normal kid with a weird name among a family of "workers," which is slang for folks who have mystical abilities to influence people. His grandfather is a deathworker (bad) while others work in luck, dreams or even emotions. Naturally, as one would expect, these workers are exploited by crime families. Cassel's mother is in jail for work she's done manipulating and conning using her curse-magic. His older brothers are emotionally distant and his father is out of the picture. Cassel's no saint though, he has his own con game going at the co-ed boarding school he attends. He's essentially a bookie, taking bets on everything, exploiting the rich kids to take care of himself.

After a few incidents of embarrassing sleepwalking get Cassel kicked-out of school, he pieces together that his strange dreams involving a white cat may hold clues to the murder of his friend Lila 3 years earlier. Cassel always believed he killed Lila, because he was told he had, although he doesn't remember doing it. He has memories of standing over her dead body, but of nothing else.

It's a strange and utterly convincing world to picture life as we know it with an undercurrent of mystical abilities. This feels like more of a contemporary story with elements of fantasy. It's gritty and a bit dark but also fun.

I can't say too much about Red Glove without giving away what happens in the first book. Basically, the next story dives deeper into the mobster families who control the workers in Cassel's life, and Lila's connections with that family. Cassel finds himself recruited by a crime boss at the same time the FBI wants him to assist with an investigation because of the connections he has with his own family of workers.

At school, which Cassel manages to re-enroll in after being kicked out, the Hex club is getting some heat from fellow students for supporting worker rights (it's a political issue and legislation is suggested to require all workers to register with the government). Non-worker students fear those who have mystical abilities, and they are turning on each other. Cassel must decide who he can trust, at school and in his family, and whether there is any "right" option in his life.

I really enjoyed both books. The take on mystical abilities feels realistic rather than a worldview you have to put aside doubts to buy into. Great characters and exciting storytelling. If you like dark humor and inventive urban fantasy, I highly recommend the series.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11/01: Diary Entry

Music ties closely with events for me. I remember on the morning of September 11, 2001 hearing U2's "Beautiful Day" on the radio and thinking how true it felt. The sun shined and the air felt lightly cool on the way to my temp job where I answered phones.

What's great about keeping a journal is the ability to reflect on exactly what was written at that time. This is my entry a few days after the attacks:

So, I didn't write about it, but last week the World Trade Center was blown up. Destroyed. Planes crashed and the whole tower fell and the 2nd one fell. I was at work at my temp job. All I did was answer phones. I was online on [an online message forum I belonged to] and I heard about it in the office as it happened. I wrote online & so did Healther, we wrote back and forth as we found out what happened, and on

It was a horrible day. All we did at home was watch the towers burn and people run in the streets screaming.

I went to Chicago that next Saturday anyway (for a Jimmy Eat World concert -their new album  Bleed American released that month as an unfortunate coincidence) but it was scary to travel to a big city and not know what's going to happen.
I rarely ever see clips of the towers burning and the people in the streets anymore. It's amazing what was shown on TV as it was happening, but I feel like we've almost been sheltered from those images since then. I'm not sure I want to revisit any of it for the anniversary. Once is really enough to see a person jump from a burning building.

I wish I had written it in the journal, but at one point mid-day, one of the news channels showed a scrolling message across the screen that 50,000 were suspected dead. That figure is ridiculously high to the actual casualties, which was around 2,900. It's still too many, but I always thought it could have been worse if not for the first responders who saved so many lives. I never saw the estimation again but I remember feeling terrified to think that many people had died.

Rolling Stone Magazine October 2001
Alicia Keys is another musician I associate with the aftermath of the attacks. She performed in the celebrity telethon that aired on all the major networks a few days after to raise money for the victims. I loved her image on the cover of the following month's Rolling Stone. I kept the issue for a long time, as a reminder of sorts that everyone had to adjust to the idea of large scale terrorism in our own country. Even artists, celebrities, our whole culture.

I visited NYC for the first time the following year with my best friend Katie who had moved to Connecticut after college. Even a year later there were memorial photos and artwork hung up on the fence surrounding the gaping hole that was the towers. As busy and loud as the city can get, anywhere along the fence felt somber, like a memorial. I suppose it was.

Will you watch any of the coverage commemorating the victims? Are there any blogs or articles reflecting on the attacks that particularly moved you?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

Title: And Then Things Fall Apart
Author: Arlaina Tibensky
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

LOVE. I love this book. I devoured it in a few sittings, completely immersing myself in the summer of Keek, (short for Karina) with her analyzations of family and  boyfriend issues and obsession over The Bell Jar, all while sweating through chicken pox-induced fevers.

Considering the story takes place in one location and is almost entirely Keek's reflections, the pacing is quick and her musings are funny and introspective. Keek spends a few miserable weeks as a shut-in recovering from chicken pox, an affliction that apparently increases in severity with age, and Keek is 15. Her parents are newly separated; her dad's a wreck trying to keep the family restaurant functioning, while her mother takes off to California to help Keek's aunt with a newborn in the NICU. Keek feels abandoned by her boyfriend, who she recently had a fight with, and she's drifted apart from her best friend, leaving her scratching by her lonesome at Gran's house. She's disconnected from the internet, cable TV and has no cell phone reception. What she has is a vintage typewriter from Gran and a copy of her favorite book, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

While a lot of heavy themes run through the book, the tone is conversational it feels more like an array of spastic thoughts. She types up these thoughts to take her mind off everything she can't control. The parallels made to Esther Greenwood of The Bell Jar are clever and fitting and fuse well with the story. Keek becomes obsessed with Esther, comparing her life to the character and even testing out a few recipes Esther ate (gross ones like a jelly-filled avocado and raw hamburger on a cracker). Gran proves to be a source of comfort, helping Keek deal with her sickness and her parent's break-up.

I related to the premise: I read The Bell Jar at 15, was an only child, experimented writing stories on an old typewriter, wrote bad poetry, had family issues, and even once had some sort of rash episode that left me insanely itchy and blotchy for 24 painful hours. I would imagine even if none of these apply to you, this is an enjoyable glimpse into the life of a teen girl trying to make sense of an awful world with a dose of humor. It's my favorite book of the summer.

Friday, September 2, 2011


#FridayReads is a hashtag on twitter to note what you're reading for the week. I think you have a chance to win something by random chance, but mainly it's cool to see how many folks on twitter are reading and what.

Lately, I've been a reading machine, whipping through books as fast as I can. I just bought 6 books at a busted up Borders (beyond going out of business, this particular store's entire strip mall was under renovation and looked like an abandoned inner city slum - inside, still full of books), adding to my growing To-Read pile.

Readers: do not let me check out any more books from the library unless it's an audio book! I'm on a strict ban from borrowing any books beyond what is currently on my bookshelf.

I just finished Arlaina Tibensky's And Then Things Fall Apart, which I loved and will review on the blog (the Goodreads description does not do it justice), then started Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker. These are two very different books, both about girls the same age who are only-children. I loved Tibensky's fresh funny voice so much it's hard to not apply that expectation to the next book. Small Town Sinners is slower and simpler with a totally different vibe.

What is your choice to read this week?