Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Best Book of June

Road Trip Wednesday: 

Road Trip Wednesday is a Blog Hop hosted by YA Highway.
Today's topic is the best book you've read in June. 

I just posted a review on Monday of my favorite book from June:

It's perfect read for summer: road trip, cute guy, introspective moments. Parts of the story get a little heavy considering the main character is grieving the loss of her brother who was killed serving in Iraq. The characters feel real and the imagry of the desert and the Pacific Ocean are beautiful. Like her debut YA novel Moonglass, the author excels at pulling themes from nature.

What's the best book you've read this month?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: In Honor by Jessi Kirby

In Honor
Jessi Kirby
YA Contemporary
Published: May 2012

In Honor is the author's second novel, and her debut Moonglass was one of my favorite reads last year, and one of my top favorite contemporary Young Adult novels (meaning no mystical abilities, no vampires or changlings, just real people dealing with real issues).

Can I tell you how much I loved In Honor?!


The story begins with Honor (yup, that's her name) at the funeral for her brother Finn who was just killed in action in Iraq serving with the military. Honor and Finn were not only close, they depended heavily on each other after their parent's died when they were only in grade school. Raised by their aunt, Finn also took great responsibility for his younger sister Honor, although she wouldn't realize just how much until after he died.

Just days after a soldier arrived with the news, Honor recieves a letter from Finn with tickets to one of her favorite singers, with a quick p.s. at the end to tell the singer all about her cute brother. Although Honor is set to head to the University of Texas in Austin right after the funeral, she decides to take Finn's beloved classic Chevy Impala on a road trip from Texas to California for the concert, believing it's a way to honor her brother. Before she leaves, Finn's best friend Rusty, highly inebrieated after the funeral and encopmassing a very Tim Riggin's-like attitude, insists on going with her. Rusty has known Honor and her brother since they were little, but when Finn decided to enlist instead of going to the same college as Rusty on a football scholarship, Rusty distanced himself from both Finn and Honor.

Taylor Kitch as Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights
Over the course of the trip, Honor and Rusty grieve in their own ways, sometimes sharing a memory, crying or snapping at each other. The road trip aspect takes this book from Downer to Adventure, all while mixing in realistic introspection and heartfelt conversations between Honor and Rusty and the people they encounter along the way.

Like Moonglass, In Honor ties description of setting into the narrative; in Moonglass it was the ocean, beach and seaglass, while In Honor it's the desert, the sky and later the ocean. This is a beautiful story of loss and hope but told with that distinctive YA voice. If I could bottle this up and manufacture it, I would.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (the movie)

The trailer says it all: A convincing voice over plays against a shadowy image of a man in a stovepipe hat. Tim Burton producing. Exciting railroad action sequences. And then the Lincoln figure busts out an ax and starts slaying. Watching the trailer in the theater, a few gasps and murmurs were all I heard until the the words Vampire Hunter faded in under Lincoln's name -- then laughter erupted. The premise is ridiculous, the execution is epic. While the film probably can't do author Seth Grahame-Smith's alternate history full justice, since he co-wrote the screenplay, I have faith it will hold onto the rich details and general absurdity of the book.

I'm a huge fan of Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mash-up novel (which is also going to be adapted for film), which clearly showed an understanding of the original characters and story. Rather than just throwing zombies in a Regency-era classic, he infused zombie lore within the characters themselves; the Bennett girls are not simply accosted by Unmentionables, they have secretly been trained in combat for years in their private dojo. Mr. Collins is clueless as ever, even as his own wife slowly goes the way of the undead. Here's to hoping Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter receives the same attention to character detail and that it works on the big screen. It might not draw big box office numbers, but it may live on as a cult classic.

Also, did you know Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dollhouse, A Knight's Tale) is set to play Stephen A. Douglas? OMG.

Have you read the book or are you curious to see the film? It opens June 22.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: How did you spend the summer after graduation?

Road Trip Wednesday is a Blog Hop sponsored by YA Highway

This week's topic:
 How did you spend the summer after graduation?

The topic is inspired by YA Highway's discussion on Kody Keplinger's A Midsummer's Nightmare

It's been a few years... but my summer after high school graduation I spent working. I actually got a job at the housing office of my future college because I went to school in my own hometown. It was kind of cool that I got to familiarize myself with the campus and how it all worked before I became a student.When I interviewed, my future boss was so excited to tell me I'd get to work 40 hours a week.

40 hours a week?! Working full-time in a freezing cold office while the summer went on without me did not exactly excite me. I've never stopped working since. 

That's sort of depressing. But I have to say, I LOVED my college and I worked for them in some capacity all four years (including working as an Resident Adviser which I also really enjoyed).

That first summer, I answered the 1-800 line for the residence halls (aka dorms), and let me tell you: parents of incoming freshmen are a force to be reckoned with. They freak out, they name-call and they, sadly, say very racist things when those roommate assignments get sent out. I saw an ugly side of humanity that summer. Sometimes in the background beyond a yelling parent I would hear a student pleading with them to just let it go. I did not get paid enough to answer that phone.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
YA Historical
Published: 2011
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.” 

Between Shades of Gray is that other "gray/grey" book; not the naughty fanfic take on Twilight that the mainstream media decided to go bonkers over for some peculiar reason. This book came out over a year ago but is new to paperback, which made for a rather confusing few months when Ruta Sepetys toured to promote her novel about refugees from Lithuania who survived exile brought on by the Soviet regime in World War II; more than a few befuddled attendees had confused her book with the kinky e-book turned publishing enigma. (See this article here in the author's own words)

I would recommend Between Shades of Gray to any reader, teen or not, as it's the type of story that transcends age. Lina and her family are forced out of their home, separated from her father, and stuffed into a dark train car with hundreds of others on a trip to an unspecified destination. In Stalin's regime, this was an attempt to take over the Baltic nations, and the secret government removed citizens with the most influence: teachers, doctors, journalists, artists. Their only crime was existing in a place where a communist dictator wanted control.

But the incredible thing about booting out the more intelligent and enterprising citizens is they banded together and constantly came up with new ideas on how to survive. Lina and her brother and mother are dropped off to a work camp where they share a shoddy hut with a cranky woman. Lina's mother shows this woman kindness despite her cruelty, and pays her rent even though they work 12 hours a day for a small ration of bread. The Soviet guards torture and belittle the workers, with exception of one young recruit who Lina's mother shows kindness to again and again, which Lina cannot understand until later in the story.

Lina sketches the refugees and draws everything she sees, hiding her sketchbook in a covert flap in her suitcase. Througout their exile, she's determined to capture the stories of the forgotten people and memorialzes those they've lost. She develops a relationship with a boy from another refugee family, but even they are separated when Lina's family is uprooted again and shipped off to the icy tundra of Siberia, left to survive a winter with no supplies and shelter they must construct themselves from meager kindling. 

While I knew about Nazi concentration camps, I hardly knew anything about Soviet occupation and the work camps. As the author points out in the extended notes after the book, since the Soviets held control over the Baltic states up until the 1990s, these stories were not told until very recently. This is an incredible look at the cruelty of war and the hope of those determined to survive.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What to Watch: Burn Notice

Season 6 of USA Network's Burn Notice premieres tonight. I'm planning to tune in, but I have mixed feelings.

If you're new to Burn Notice, the premise is right in the intro (contrary to SNL's 2010 sketch What is Burn Notice? a game show that asked baffled contestants to simply state the premise in order to win prizes). Michael Westen is an ex-spy who had a "burn notice" put on him, meaning he was let go from the agency with no cash or resources. Westen ends up back in his hometown of Miami, close by his meddling mother Maddie and his ex, Fiona.

Image source:
Most episodes feature Westen's buddy Sam, played by Bruce Campbell (of the cult fave Evil Dead movies), as a retired Navy SEAL with tons of resources. He serves as a wingman to Westen's personal crusade to use his spy skills for good. Fiona, who has a penchant for middling with explosives, also assists in taking down gangs, crime boss's and skeevy underlings to save various every-day folk. Westen narrates the show, often telling how to make things like a homemade tracking device or how to cause a distraction, which makes him sort of a modern-era Macgyver.

What gives me pause for season 6 is Westen is no longer blacklisted, he's back doing spy duty. He spent most of season 5 questioning the CIA's motives and poring over his burn notice files. The enemies didn't feel as urgent as with earlier seasons, and some storylines seemed to wrap up abruptly. But, season 5 ended with a great cliffhanger that I hope will propel this season into a new direction.

Will you be watching tonight?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Dream Writing Retreat

Road Trip Wednesday: Hosted by YA Highway

This Week's Topic: 
If you could go on a writing retreat anywhere, where would you go & who would you bring?

If time and money were no object, where would you shut yourself away to write the great American novel? And what friends, crit partners, or inspiring authors (living or dead!) would you bring along?
Writer's Digest is sponsoring a retreat in Greece (check out the details here) -- that would be incredible. Seriously, look at those pictures! But closer to home is fine, too. I would love to rent a house on a beach -- could be nothern California or the Oregon coast -- along with a mix of writers and some industry pros to guide us. I'd like to keep my retreat all women so we can relax a bit without a bunch of guys around :) I prefer some structure, so I would love to have sessions led by the pros with time to work on my own writing in between.
The local RWA chapter I just joined has hosted occassional retreats with the structure I noted above, minus the beach house (it's usually in a hotel). I'm looking forward to my first one! I like the idea of a smaller scale workshop for a different experience than a larger conference.
Now I want to spend the day at the beach. If I can't have the ocean, even Lake Michigan will do!
How about you?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Clockwork Prince
Cassandra Clare
YA Paranormal (series)
Published: 2011
"Will has always been the brighter burning star, the one to catch attention — but Jem is a steady flame, unwavering and honest."

Clockwork Prince delves deeper into the lives of the characters from Clockwork AngelIn the second book of the Infernal Devices series, we see more contrast between Will and Jem, two of the Shadowhunters at the Institute where Tessa lives. If you want a good love triangle, it's here. No one relationship is solidly more favorable, the more we learn about each character, and about Tessa's own desires, the more complex the relationships grow. What makes for a compelling love triangle is that the relationships with each character are explored, along with Tessa's shifting desires. She's young and still trying to figure out her place among the Shadowhunters; it makes sense she might not know yet who she wants to commit herself to romantically.

This isn't just a love story. Lots of chaos is afoot in the magical underworld of Victorian London. Charlotte, who runs the Institute, might be replaced. Meanwhile, the Magister continues to target the Shadowhunters, blaming them for a past injustice. Researching this, Tessa discovers secrets about her own parents and her brother, while Will also uncovers the truth about his curse.

Clockwork Prince is a great mix of fantasy with steampunk elements told from a YA perspective. I listened to the audio book: the male narrator is fantastic, I could listen to his voice all day! The female narrator got a bit grating at times with some of the accents, but overall it's a quality audio production.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Armchair BEA: Wrap Up!

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting this week on Armchair BEA! It was great to visit new blogs and make connections with other bloggers who are passionate about books! I have to say, this is one of the best blog hops I've been a part of. The quality of blogs included were impressive. A lot of you have great sites. I'm looking forward to reading book reviews on all the upcoming releases showcased at the Book Expo in NYC.

Check out the final post on the host blog including an event survey.

As for me, I'm taking advantage of networking with real live book enthusiasts in downtown Chicago at Printer's Row Lit Fest. It's a free event featuring author talks and I'm sure tons of opportunity to buy stuff. This is my first time attending, so stay tuned for a follow up post next week.

I have my free ticket to see John Green, and planning to get there early to make sure I get in. He will receive an award from the Chicago Tribune for his work in Young Adult fiction.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA: The Future of Book Blogging

Day Five of Armchair BEA. The couch dweller's answer to participating in world domination.

The host blog features a post on the future of blogging (it's like blogging now, but in the future! And in space!)

Book Blogging: 101

I am certainly no expert on book blogging; so I'll turn this over to my readers and any bloggers stopping by for Armchair BEA. I started posting reviews of books I read as a way to keep consistency in my blog. All books are those I've paid for or checked out from the library. I've received a few promo copies of books from different events I've attended. I post reviews for almost everything I read on Goodreads and sometimes cross post to B& and

I'd love to hear from those of you who receive ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) or who work with NetGalley to review books that aren't out in the market yet.

  1. How did you get involved in book blogging?
  2. How do you handle a book that you don't care for -- do you post a negative review, or do you stick with only featuring books you've enjoyed?
  3. Any advice for those who wish to become a book blogger?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Armchair BEA: Beyond the Blog

Day Four of Armchair BEA: When you wish you had access to a private jet and unlimited cash ... so you could attend a Book Expo America! Then you could quit your job and read books all day. Ahhh, the life.

Make sure to check out the twitter hashtag #ArmchairBEA today. They will help you sort through the massive amounts of promo info being dumped into the twitter-verse from the biggest publishing expo around. It's almost better than waiting in line for three hours to see Stephen Colbert talk about his not-quite-for-children kids book I Am a Pole. Ok, maybe not. It would be awesome to see him.

Reaching Beyond the Blog

Have you ever wanted to reach beyond your little Blogger or Wordpress world with your writing? The host blog has some great tips today. Also, check out the other participating blogs.

As for me, I have a few stories to share as well:

Use Twitter To Your Advantage:
As wannabe published writers, we're frequently told to use twitter for networking. Following great advice from the prolific Kristen Lamb (check out her very active blog and the #MyWANA hashtag on twitter, which stands for: My We-Are-Not-Alone (as writers)) she suggests -- can you believe this  -- to have fun with twitter by following interests outside of publishing. It's smart because the more you use twitter, the more fun and worthwhile it is, and when it comes to promoting your own work, you'll have a wider audience to promote to (as long as you keep it genuine and don't spam everyone).

One day saw a tweet about a blogger looking for writers for her pop culture website. This led to a 9 month gig writing TV feature articles. I connected with other writers and loads of people read my posts, commented, and followed me back. Writing for deadlines strengthened me as a writer, and I pushed myself to create opinionated articles.

Use Those Outside Interests In Your Blog:
I delved deeper by following TV blogs and review sites on twitter, just having fun with it. I did a TV theme on my blog for the A to Z Blogging Challenge in April and connected with a wider audience of bloggers that way. Watching TV is often an escape for people, and it's easy to talk about. The A to Z hosts asked for contributors to their blog for the remainder of the year. Another great opportunity!

Network With People Already In Your Life:
I have an acquaintance from another corner of life who I met online 12 years ago (back when people thought you were weird for chatting online with strangers). I wrote one little article for his site, and it turns out, he sold his site to a company with significant resources. I have that foot in the door, which may lead to more writing opportunities, given they want me and it works out with my schedule. Who knew?! Sometimes the people in your life already have opportunities. Ask if you can write a blog post for another blogger and start there. Find something that has nothing to do with books and offer to write a blog post or an article for a site devoted to what you already like.

Professional Groups Can Connect You Further:
From local writing groups to SCBWI and RWA chapters, finding people already devoted to writing can connect you to larger resources. Some SCBWI folk I know also publish articles in children's magazines or freelance for newspapers. You can actually get paid for these!

Have you written for sources other than your blog? How did you find them?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Armchair BEA: Networking in Real Life

In the spirit of SNL's Stefon*:

Day Three of Armchair BEA: you know, it's that thing, where a giant glob of people all flock to New York, but you can't go. It has everything: cratefulls of bookmarks, hosted giveaways, bloggers connecting with other bloggers...

So, blogs are cool and everything, but have you taken the social networking experience to the next level?

Let me tell you how easy it is!

I started going to book signings at the incredibly amazing local bookstore Anderson's Bookshop about five or six years ago (check out their events page). I've seen Jodi Picoult, Stephenie Meyer (pre-movie franchise - it was still nuts), Libba Bray and Meg Cabot. Oh yeah, they bring in the big names. When I started fanatically reading every YA I could manage giving I still worked a day job, I realized that Anderson's brought in all the top children's and YA authors early on, meaning I could see them before they sold out events. I've seen tons of other great authors that are buzzed about, almost all are willing to chat with fans during the signing. I've gotten writing advice from Simone Elkeles and Carrie Ryan just for showing up to free events like these. (Free, but buy the book and support the store and author!)

I noticed the same folks showed up to many of these events. Going solo, I would have loved if someone said hi and introduced themselves. Why not be that person? Exert all your extrovert abilities, and say hi to someone next to you. I've done it. I met a well known book blogger who happened to drive in from another state. Who knew? I already followed her blog!

A twitter buddy posted about going to see Beth Revis (Across the Universe) and I thought hey, if I go, we can meet! When we met up, I told her I was looking for a local writing group. She invited me to hers, which was part of the national organization SCBWI. I ended up joining which connected me with even more resources and local chapters - there are lots in the Chicago area. Sometimes one contact can open up even more connections.

The more active you are on blogs and on twitter, the more connections you make. Registering for a conference is a great way to meet fellow bloggers and writers. On some of my followed blogs, people were making plans to meet up at BEA. How cool is that! If you go solo, you can still meet up with a friend. All it takes is a little courage to reach out and make the connection. Sometimes it's scary if you're shy, but in my experience, most book bloggers and writers have been very friendly.

Check out the #ArmchairBEA hashtag on twitter for more giveaway opportunities. Here again is a link to participating blogs.

And because he's the best, here's Stefon:


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Armchair BEA: Best of 2012 and Giveaways!

Day two of Armchair BEA: an event for those of us sitting at home/work/beach (ah, beach!) rather than making our way through the bustling crowds at NYC's Book Expo America. Starting today, BEA is Live Streamed on the host blog.


I'll choose one random commenter (U.S. only this time) with your choice of these 2 books:

YA: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert

Urban Fantasy: The Guardian by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Just let me know which book is your preference along with a way to contact you. Don't forget to stop by the participating blogs for more giveaways!

My Favorite Books Read in 2012:
  1. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green. Published in early 2012, this one is worth reading even if you've never touched a Young Adult book in your life (or if you're new to the genre and riding the Hunger Games wave). It's a story about real teens, no magic here, dealing with cancer. And it's funny. It's also heartbreaking, but I promise you'll laugh.
  2. Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys. This actually came out last year but it's the paperback edition came out recently. With the buzz surrounding that other "grey" book, sales of Between Shades of Gray have picked up. Some clueless folks, or possibly dyslexic who knows, actually showed up to Ruta Sepetys' blog tour, surprised to hear about the surviving refugees of World War II occupation of the Baltic nations rather than a personality-free girl wanting naughty sex. Let's just hope they bought the book and learned a bit of history in the process.  
  3. Black Heart - Curseworkers #3 - Holly Black. The author creates a truly original YA series about a contemporary world with a twist; people's unique magic-like abilities are exploited by the mob. Cassel is character who is tough and an underdog to root for. Listen to audiobook to hear Academy Award nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg narrate. 
  4. Catching Jordan - Miranda Kenneally. How YA contemporary fiction should be done. This is a story about a female quarterback on the high school football team; they totally accept her, which is part of the issue. Is she just one of the guys, or can she manage a romantic relationship? What happens when she's recruited by her top college, will they take her seriously, or think she just wants to play cute girl and not play ball? This book is not cliche, and it's a fun journey.
What are your favorite reads from 2012? Are there books you're excited to see debut this year? Please share! Don't forget to check out the giveaway link, you might find some books from your wish list there!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA Week!

Do you wish you were in NYC this week for the book industry's biggest trade show? Did you even know there was a ComicCon-like event for books? It's called Book Expo America, and chances are if you're reading this, you're not actually at the Expo.

Sad. Neither am I.


You can vicariously live through the attenders with Armchair BEA, which connects book bloggers all week with interviews, giveaways and info from the expo.

Keep an eye on the #ArmchairBEA hashtag on twitter for discussions where you can connect with other bloggers:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012:  11:00 pm-1:00 am EST (8:00-10:00 pm PST)
Wednesday, June 6, 2012:  12:00 Noon-2:00 pm EST (9:00-11:00 am PST)
Thursday, June 7, 2012:  8:00 - 10:00 pm EST (5:00-7:00 pm PST)

To kick-off, each participating blog answers a few questions about their own blog, then it's time to network.  Please check out the other participating blogs here! And stop by the host blog linked above for more information including upcoming giveaways.

Q: How did you get into blogging?

A: I've technically blogged for 10 years, going back to But I've been networking with book bloggers and writers since early 2011. The network of writers, authors and fans of books is so welcoming and encouraging. I've learned a ton about publishing and have a To Read list a mile long. I love it!

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I usually have a print book or ebook going along with an audio book in the car. I mostly read Young Adult since that's what I write, but I just finished Elmore Leonards' Raylan, which the FX cable show Justified is tied to (it began based on one of Leonard's stories featuring the same character). He is brilliant in his use of dialogue, which is what makes the TV show so worthwhile. He writes dialogue like it's spoken, with so much flavor. You feel like you know the characters, who by the way, are mostly criminals. In the car I've got Maggie Stiefvaters's The Scorpio Races. I've heard such great things, I'm looking forward to getting into it.

Q: What's one non-book related thing about you?

A: I love playing video games.

Q: What is your favorite part of the book blogging community?

A: I like the diversity. Some sites are straight book reviews, others do author and blogger interviews, while some feature tons of giveaways and host blog tours. Some blogs by librarians are the best I've found since they work directly with readers every day. I also follow blogs that discuss issues within the publishing industry, like examining why the YA market features so few characters of color, and why those characters frequently don't make it on the cover.

Q: Have your reading tastes changed since starting the blog?

A: I started a story I thought might be a Young Adult title, but I needed to do research on the genre. I'd read a handful over the years, but to write for that audience you have to know what's out there. I've become a bit obsessed! I've always had eclectic reading tastes, I'm willing to try out all sorts of books. My focus has actually narrowed, so it's more of an effort to read something outside of YA.

Tomorrow: I'll link to hosted giveaways you won't want to miss, and will blog about the best books I've read so far in 2012.