2014 in Books

December 31, 2014 at 6:57 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

You know, I’ll be honest, 2014 is the year I’d like to kill with fire, if that were at all possible. There were a staggering number of reasons for this year to suck, and it fully inhabited ALL OF THEM.

One of the consequences of that is that I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do, and read barely anything new. That’s one of the signs that my stress level is too high. I love rereading books, but when I actually CAN’T read new books? The inability to focus on or absorb new information is one of my biggest signals that my stress is soaring, so I end up mostly re-reading or plowing through fanfic.

That being said, I still read this year, because I’m still breathing, and because I love to blab about books, here are some that I really noticed.

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
I haven’t read any of Rachel’s other books (I strongly suspect a serious case of vampire fatigue still lingering from six years ago), but then I heard that there was something completely different coming out, and it was Shakespeare (cue the fainting couch and smelling salts because SHAKESPEARE). Then I heard it was off of Romeo and Juliet and I was pearl-clutching for a different reason, because while R&J has some undeniably beautiful language, I really hate the play. I do. Reading or watching R&J makes me want to kill All The People. Then Tessa Gratton was raving in a good way about it, so I settled down with it, and HOLY HELL.
I don’t know how she managed it, I really don’t, but she managed to make me invested and passionate about freaking Romeo and Juliet! Except, not them, really, because they’re just the twits causing problems for the people she REALLY made us care about. Benvolio and Rosaline step away from their more famous cousins here, dropping prop-status and becoming dynamic, interesting people with a whole lot more going on that their cousins ever realized. Family! Politics! Curses! Clever Thieves! Smart Ladies! (I am a total sucker for Clever Thieves and Smart Ladies) I was absolutely blown away by this book, and am already itching to re-read it.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Not a YA book (I know, weird, right?) but probably the single most personal book of my year. This book is essentially a biography of cancer, with the more humanistic elements interspersed through history. Technically it was research for a project that may or may not ever see the light of day, but it became an anchor of sorts. For anyone slammed with cancer, either in their bodies or in those they love, there’s this overwhelming and ultimately futile rage: why don’t we know more about this? Doctor Mukherjee balances the science (some of it, admittedly, a little dense, and took more than one reading) with the human, and delivers a rounded, sympathetic, and ultimately uplifting progress report. We’ve come a lot further than we realize, and if some cancers are much further along towards successful and humane treatments, well, some cancers are more common than others. Even for those without an intensely personal interest in the subject, it is well worth a read.

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton
Months after reading it for the first time, I am still unable to talk intelligently about this book. THIS BOOK BROKE MY ABILITY TO BRAIN. It is just so freaking good! I was already in love with The United States of Asgard because of The Lost Sun (Soren! Astrid! Baldur! VIDER!), and I knew Strange Maid was going to be a middle book, and I frequently find middle books problematic but OH MY GODS! Signy is compelling and repelling and complicated and simple, all the contradictions and madness and focus that makes up who she is and who and what she wants to be. I love that she is so unapologetically unstable, and that her obsession with death is not against life, but rather part of it. She is one of the most fascinating, complex, and RELATABLE characters I’ve ever come up against, and her blood-soaked, passion-driven, fierce, defiant story is an amazing journey.
This year we also got to see a collection of three USAsgard novellas (VIDER!!!!), and words cannot express how excited I am for April’s The Apple Throne.

Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
I’m not usually one for contemporary, but Carrie definitely proves an exception. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was exceptional and well-lauded, and PGWB is a strong successor. One of the things I love about this book is that while there is conflict, and there are goals, and there’s definitely a journey, there’s not precisely a plot, as such. It’s a slice of life, wonderful and messy and bewildering and painful, full of drugs, booze, bodily fluids, and a sort of relentless optimism wrapped in cynicism. It’s very, very real, pointy sucky bits included. Rather than pushing indiscriminately towards a conclusion, it takes the time to look around, see everything that’s there, not just what’s directly connected to THE PLOT. It’s messy characters and difficult things and it’s amazing.
Also, you should definitely follow Carrie on twitter, because in between thrifting and The Reedus and the renovation that may never be complete, she drops a lot of big truths and smart things.

The Story of Owen by Emily Kate Johnston
Another Lab Rat, but I’m not biased, I swear, they’re just REALLY GOOD BOOKS. Owen is symphonies and trumpets and dragons and driver’s ed and soccer, and it’s a storyteller and a storyteller’s bias and a bouncy Chesterfield couch. It’s a lot of really amazing elements that come together into this astonishing, touching, painfully funny story, and it’s forthcoming sequel, Prairie Fire is absofreakinglutely fanstastic. Siobhan, our intrepid bard, isn’t telling us THE story- she’s telling us A story, and storytellers, of course, lie. Or at least tell carefully edited versions of the truth. Whether we can believe it or not, whether we trust it or not, Siobhan tells an astonishing, captivating story.
Really just anything Emily Kate writes. I got to read the first third or so of her project for Disney Hyperion and now I am CONSTANTLY DISTRACTED BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKING GOOD AND I DON’T HAVE THE REST OF IT TO READ! Also a very good one to follow on twitter or tumblr, because if you are even peripherally interested in any of the numerous fandoms to which she’s devoted, she finds some amazing stuff.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Actually, this whole trilogy, continuing into The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom. This set was a re-read, and it’s the first time I’ve read them all together, going straight from one book into the next, and they were just as fantastic as I remembered them being. Elisa is one of my absolute favorite heroines of all time. Her journey through politics and magic and adventure is huge and wonderful and riveting, but what really makes this so unique and awesome is her more personal journey. Elisa starts this series as someone convinced of her own complete and utter lack of worth, and she GROWS. She learns and decides and it’s not ever that she becomes someone else, but that she becomes more and more herself, sloughing off all those things she and others have put on her over the years.
Probably my favorite moment is (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t have access to the books at the moment) is when she’s getting ready for something, and she says “I look beautiful to the one who matters most”, and the person helping her is all “Yes! He’ll be blown away by the sight of you!” and she says “I meant me.”
THAT journey, even as just a part of many larger ones weaving together, is perfect.

What were some of your favorite reads (or re-reads) through this year?

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Save the Libraries: A Guest Post With Pages Unbound

July 31, 2014 at 6:16 pm (General) (, , , )

The wonderful Krysta over at Pages Unbound invited me to do a guest post about libraries, and you guys have probably realized by now, I am ALWAYS happy to talk about libraries and how wonderful they are. So check it out, and be sure to chime in through the comments and tell us your favorite thing about libraries.

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What I’ve Been Reading 2

June 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

You know that thing where you really do intend to do something regularly, Best Intentions and all that, and you just kind of…don’t?

Welcome to What I’ve Been Reading.

So we’ll hit the highlights, rather than be wholly inclusive.

Dream Thieves I just last night (very nearly this morning, I stayed up WAY too late reading this one) finished The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater, and YOU GUYS! I am utterly incapable of talking intelligently about this book. Every Stiefvater experience just keeps getting better. This book is smart, and funny, and devastating, and so brilliantly put together that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to go back through to see if I could figure out how the frack she does it. I love that the shifting perspectives let us see such varying elements of each character, and yet every perspective shares some common threads- for example, Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan all see some different specifics of Gansey, and yet they’re all simply shading in subtleties of the same person. Even as they each see something (not quite someone) different, each perspective is still distinctly recognizable. Even down to a structural level, the use of parallel sentences is brilliant, leading the reader into a solid impact that’s no less strong for falling into a rhythm. And the beauty isn’t just in the language, or in the characters, though both elements have more than their share of beauty- seriously, the characters are astonishing, gorgeous and rich and so very, very broken, each in their own ways, and we see not only the way they make each other whole but they way they all poke at those sharp, prickly, dangerous edges- but also in the subject matter, the Great Quest, and the history that’s woven through. This was one of the handful of books I was REALLY hoping to get at BEA, and thanks to the folk at the Scholastic booth kindly telling me when to come back, I was able to come home with one. It comes out in September, and seriously, if you’ve haven’t read The Raven Boys, DO IT NOW so you can read this one as soon as it comes out.

Dark Triumph Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers, is also a sequel, in this case to last year’s Grave Mercy. I totally gushed about that one when I read it, but as a refresher: assassin nuns in the 15th century Breton court. It was dark and elegant and riveting, and so seamlessly, flawlessly woven through real history that I gave it a second reading purely so I could compare it to a few non-fiction sources. Totally mind-blowing. Its sequel does not disappoint. We follow Sybella this time, Ismae’s sister-friend from the convent, who’s only ever clinging to sanity in some ways. Even in the midst of her private war with the abbess of St. Mortain’s, the convent was a refuge, and on the orders of the abbess, Sybella has gone back into the not-so-private hell that is her family’s house. This book is terrifying in some respects, largely because of the serious abuses Sybella endures and the desperation with which she clings to fragile threads that might be more ephemeral even than hope, but by the same measure, it’s perhaps more redemptive than Grave Mercy as well. Ismae’s journey was hard, a self-discovery and a true independence, but Sybella’s journey is hellish and raw and beautiful, and the trust and hope that shimmer together into a single being is amazing to watch. It’s a well-balanced story, with action and grace and the full range of goodness (and not) of which Man is capable. If you enjoyed the first book, this one is absolutely not to be missed.

Summer Prince I mentioned this one a while back as one I was still in the middle of, and WOW. The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, was kind of a weird book for me. It’s one I thought about putting down a hundred times, and yet couldn’t quite do it. That changed a little over halfway through, and suddenly the only reasons I wanted to put it down were lines and images to savor. It’s a sneaky, sneaky book, its darkness hidden for a long time beneath bright lights and festivals, and yet the decay is always there, much like the lowest layer of the city. The characters are strong and bold and almost frantically drawn, almost too alive in this fragile moment, where life and prosperity and order is brought about by a season of chaos and a ritual of death. It’s sexy and sharp-edged and so very, very sad, and I love that it deals with an amalgamated Brazilian culture, love that we get this glimpse into something that, even as it strains to move beyond its roots, clings to them in culture and tradition. The music comes off the page, the drop-dead sexy dances, even the tangy stench of the algae vats and the copper tang of blood. Be patient with this one- it takes a while for the language (the slang) to feel natural, and it cuts in and out of things for a bit, but it is totally worth the effort. This book blew me away.

Hero's Guide to Storming the CastleAnother sequel, but a Middle Grade this time, and TOTALLY AWESOME. The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, picks up not long after The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Most of our Princes Charming (rather than Prince Charmings) have separated back to their home kingdoms, but soon Princess Briar’s delightfully shrewish ways have them yanked back together for a chance of saving everything as they know it- if they can stop arguing. Accompanied with incredible illustrations, this volume has the same tongue-in-cheek love of the absurd that made the first one such a stand out, including (but not limited to): correct grammar, un-lawful de-kidneying, hysterical nicknames, and so much more. It’s a great spin on classic characters, each one standing out, each richly drawn (often literally, in the corners of the pages), and each with a strong mix of virtues and flaws- some more obvious than others. It’s an unusual Middle Grade in that most of the characters are adults, some of them in fact married, but they’re hugely fun and we still get to see them grow. This book is a magnificent adventure from beginning to end, and the idea of waiting another year for the next one is kind of painful.

School for Good and EvilThe School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, proved to be my mixed-bag-book for this round. It’s a fantastic concept- two kids kidnapped from a village in the woods and taken to the schools for good and evil, one to each, where they learn to be the type of fairy-tale characters they’ve grown up reading- only pretty, pink Sophie, spoiled and passionately-convinced of her own princessness, is taken to the school for evil, whereas bug-eyed, drab, greasy haired Agatha is taken to the school for good. Convinced that there’s been a mistake, the girls are desperate to make things right- only they have a very different idea of what their goal should be. In a lot of ways, this book was amazing. The schools are beautifully creepy, and there’s a world of fun in the details, and Sophie and Agatha are incredibly well-drawn, giving the reader a much clearer view of both girls than either have or themselves or each other. There’s a prophecy, an enigmatic and potentially dangerous figure, a series of challenges…this book really does have a lot of amazing elements to it. Really, there were only two things that bothered me. One: the ending. Without spoilers, it seemed very…I dunno. Not quite abrupt, more like it forgot it had to wind things up and so the curtain came down before the actors were really ready. Like the story was so much fun that the characters (or the author) didn’t want it to have to end. The second prickle was the bigger one, though- this books comes off as strangely homophobic, at least in hints. The friendship between Sophie and Agatha is both complex and complicated, and there exists a very real, very strong, and very one-sided love that doesn’t have to be given a name. The book alternates between avidly avoiding calling it love and throwing itself at an attempted definition that comes off as both awkward and off-putting. Love is a complicated thing, romance being only one rather small facet of it, and truth be told, their friendship didn’t need a name. The realizations they both make in the course of the book, the understanding each in her own way gains (especially Agatha- she’s unabashedly my favorite, even though there is a character named Dot who’s always eating chocolate), they didn’t need to be nailed down into something awkward. It left me closing the book and going “huh” rather than cheering as I had spent so much of the book wanting to do. I enjoyed most of it, but the unsettling bits linger. If any of you read this, I’m very curious to know what you think.

Maid of SecretsLast one for this round, Maid of Secrets, by Jennifer McGowan. Set in the early court of Elizabeth I, newly ascended to her throne, this book follows Meg Fellowes, an acting-troupe raised thief and con-artist kidnapped into the queen’s Court to serve as a spy for the queen and two of her shadow advisors. I never completely fell in love with this book, and I think that’s more due to stress while I was reading it than anything else, but I did really, REALLY enjoy it. I come from an acting background, and part of that was in Renaissance faires, so opening the pages kind of felt like coming home. I liked that the language gave away its origins and yet always remained accessible to a modern audience, and the attention to detail in clothing and small customs was brilliant. Meg is smart, resourceful, unabashedly ignorant of the larger social graces, and totally over her head in Court. I loved that the Spanish Court, largely a source of enigmatic animosity through the book (and history), is never drawn as a caricature. Those characters are just as distinct as the English players, and those we get to know are well-rounded. Meg’s fellow Maids are unique, each bringing different strengths to the group, and we actually get to watch them finally become a team, rather than just a group. It weaves through the very real intrigue that marked so much of the Elizabethan nobility, especially the troubles that came of having a young, resolutely unmarried, unswayably Protestant queen in a largely male, Catholic world of power. It sounds like this might be the first of a series? I HOPE, and I very much look forward to more of Meg’s adventures.

Currently, I’m reading another BEA prize, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. How ’bout you? What are you reading right now?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Share the Love of Reading

November 11, 2012 at 11:21 am (General) (, , , , )

Most of us read because we love it, not because we have to do it. As a reader, as a writer, as a bookseller, there’s very little that makes me as happy as seeing a kid fall in love with reading.

So it breaks my heart a little bit when parents won’t foster that love by getting their kids books.

Breaks my heart even more when parents can’t.

I know this is a bit early, but over the next month and a half, as you’re shopping for the holidays, take a moment to think about kids who haven’t yet gotten to fall in love with reading, the ones without access to books. There are a shocking number of them out there, and it isn’t just that they don’t have books. Many of these kids have parents who either can’t or don’t want to read to them, or parents who don’t speak English.

These kids don’t usually have access to pre-school or head-start programs, and many of them start school not only not knowing how to read, but having never been read to. They start out at a severe disadvantage, a fundamental unfamiliarity with what reading it, and most of them never catch up. Most states don’t have an education system that allows for it. Held back academically, resentful of reading because of the difficulty it presents, this is something that follows them all through school and beyond. It limits peer associations and social skills, severely limits college opportunities and job possibilities. A number of them drop out because it’s clear they weren’t going to graduate anyway.

It’s a bleak future for kids who never really had another option available to them, but you can help.

Many, many bookstores do book drives through the holiday season to gather books for different organizations. Usually they’re aimed at the youngest children, trying to foster a knowledge and love of reading before they get to school so it’s something they’ll pursue on their own, whether their parents are willing/able to help them or not. Most of the books for this age range, not counting the hardcover picture books, range from $3.99-$7.99. If you can do even just one book through the season, it makes a big difference. That’s another kid who’ll get a book, something that’s purely theirs, and many organizations, rather than simply giving the book and leaving, will work with both child and parent to foster these important skills.

Holiday shopping brings with it a deluge of requests for donations for a lot of good, important programs benefitting a wide range of people, and we all filter through those requests by what’s most important to us and what we can afford.

If this is something that’s important to you, check with your local bookstore and see if they’re supporting a book drive this year. For the holidays, most of the organizations request new books, but if you gently used books to donate, you can usually get the organization’s information from the store and give them your books for other purposes through the year.

A single book can make an amazing difference in a child’s life.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Restful Reading

May 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm (Uncategorized) ()

This is a lazy post, I’ll be the first to admit it. I have spent the past week and a half drunk on reading.

I’m at one of those rare breaks where I’ve finished a draft of one project and need to set it aside for a while, plus I’m not quite to the point of editing a different project, and it’s not really time yet to start a new project. I’ve just finished a ton of work and I’m about to launch off into a ton of work, but for just a little while, I have nothing that has to get done right now.

Which for me means a reading binge.

I don’t read as much when I’m drafting or editing. I don’t want to get pulled into someone else’s voice, and there are so many amazing books in my TBR pile that it’s hard not to get lost in them once I start. I allow myself about two books a week while I’m writing, mostly for when I’m eating or on break at work.

This last week and a half, I’ve been reading between one and three books a day, and it’s WONDERFUL. (At the moment I’ve just streaked through the Song of Ice and Fire series, and those are really more like one a bit per day books). I’ve read fairy tales, read epic fantasies, a couple of contemps, some adventure. I’ve read picture books and middle grade and YA and standard genre, and I’ve been in absolute heaven. I’m not reading to dissect anything (except after the fact for reviews, but that’s different). I’m not reading to learn anything, not reading to find a particular skill (though I appreciate what I notice), I am reading purely for the pleasure of doing so.

I’m reading for fun.

Which is something we don’t always allow ourselves. There are things to write, to edit. Books are tools, books are lessons, books are useful.

Well, yes.

But books are also FUN.

So make sure that every now and then, you give yourself a gift of some time to read whatever you want. It’s restful, but it’s also like putting a battery on a charger- you come away from that reading time with all the juices going, ready to dive back in and save the world. Or destroy it. Or build it. Whatever it is you happen to be doing.

Happy reading!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Plenty To Be Thankful For

November 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm (General) (, , , )

I thought about saving this for Sunday, when I do the more general posts, but the more I’ve been turning this over, the more I’ve wanted to answer now. So. Today’s a double header. Over on her blog, Beth Revis is asking a pretty simple question: what book(s) are you grateful for? It’s a simple question, but a less than simple answer.

Because the instinctive answer, perhaps the easy answer, is: all of them.

I am profoundly grateful for the mere existence of books, for the fact of them. For the history they represent, for the scientific endeavours they help produce, for the imaginations they spark, and for the worlds they introduce. I’m grateful for the fifty word stories we read as children, for the convoluted theories we read as students and adults. I’m even grateful for Wuthering Heights and I hate that book.

(Seriously, I hate that book. My sophomore English teacher and I had to work out a compromise that said I could spin all of my assignments to discuss why it’s a terribly book as long as I read the book and did the assignments- it was still a near thing.)

I’m a reader (obviously). I’m a writer. I’m a bookseller. I’m a lifelong amateur student and, if I could afford it, I would gladly be a professional student. Books are the ultimate glorification of language, of words. They’re powerful, they’re life-changing, they’re comforting, they’re frightening. Words have the power to shake apart civilizations. They can inspire us to unthought of heights and distances. They can reach across those same distances to close the gap. They tempt us, sometimes to greater things, sometimes to things that are…not. They can cause wounds, but they can also heal them. Words, written or spoken, can damage or even take a life. Words can also reaffirm life, not only our own but the lives of others, as well.

And we take these words, spin them into fine threads, and weave them into books- amazing, stunning, life-altering books.

And for that, I am grateful beyond words for the mere fact of books.

But to an extent, that answer is cheating. A little. Okay, maybe a lot. Blanket gratitude can still be a powerful and sincere thing, but in trying to define specifics, we come to understand why we’re grateful. So, after a great deal of thought, and in no particular order, here are some of the books I’m grateful for.

Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques. Some of you have heard me talk (or gush) about this book before, but in every way that matters, this is the book that made me a reader. I had always loved reading but this was the book that made it amazing, that made it magical and personal and life-altering. When I was ten, my school had an open house/parents night type thing that included a book fair in the media center. By that point, I’d read through most of the books in our school library. I saw people keep picking up the same book and putting it down again after a moment. Person after person after person. So I went over and picked it up, took a look, and from the cover I could kind of understand why they were putting it down. A mouse? In clothing? Wearing a sword? But I flipped it over to read the back and thought, despite the mice, it didn’t seem that different than the fantasies I already read. So I decided to give it a try. I had my allowance with me, no surprise that I would want to spend it on books, but when I went up to purchase it, the media specialist shook her head and gave it to me instead. Just for being willing to try it. I started reading it a few minutes later. And couldn’t put it down. I read all through the open house, through dinner, through the rest of the night, and long after I was supposed to be sleeping I was actually huddled under the covers with a flashlight. Reading. Devouring. Being changed forever. When I finished the book, it was about two in the morning and I was sobbing hysterically. I went across the hall to my mom’s room- it was empty- and then down to the kitchen, where she was sitting at the table with a mug of coffee and a crossword. As soon as she saw me she stood up, asked if I was okay, was I sick, was I hurt, did I have a nightmare, and I managed to sob out “WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DIE?!” Once she finally realized I was talking about the book, she started laughing so hard she sat down too hard and broke the chair. I had never been affected by a book like that! The characters were mice and moles and squirrels but I CARED about them, so much so that I cried when they hurt and I missed them when they were gone and I cheered for their successes and joys. This book made me care, and it made me look for other books, other characters, that would make me love them just as much. I wasn’t just reading for entertainment anymore- I was reading because I wanted to be immersed in lives. I read my first copy of this book to shreds, and when a house fire claimed my second copy, it was the first book I replaced. I read that one to shreds, too, and finally replaced it with a hardcover. I have a full hardcover set of all the Redwall books, and there are some I love beyonds words, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. Without this book, I might not have been open to all the amazing books that came after.

I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, but a lot of things happened between fifth and sixth grade. It wasn’t just the shock and trauma of entering middle school. To this day, I still call that the summer of death. Four people I was close to, three of whom I loved very much, died within a span of two months. I picked this book up at the library between funerals, needing something to read something but not having enough focus to read anything new, and an amazing thing happened: things started to make sense. As much sense as death ever makes, at any rate. It wasn’t that it explained things, it wasn’t that it gave a solution, but rather it showed a lot of different forms of grief and grieving, different ways to cope, and most of all it taught me that death was a part of life. It was scary and sometimes random, painful even it’s accepted with grace, a haunting spectre over all of us that we can’t let overshadow our lives. This book taught me what it was to live with death. It’s a beautiful book, full of poetry and connections and a child-like (though never childish) sense of wonder, where scientists are the world’s last true mystics, but it is, above all, a book about life. Not death- life. Sometimes I reread it for the language, sometimes for the images and the thoughts and the musings on science, but every time someone close to me dies, I reread it specifically for those meditations on life.

I’m grateful for these next two books for a lot of the same reasons. They get compared a lot- with reason- but they both accomplishe something truly amazing.
What Martin the Warrior did for me *mumble mumble* years ago, these series have done for countless other readers across the world. These books made kids WANT TO READ. Kids who a few months before would have groaned and grumbled about a 100 page book were suddenly absorbed in a 900 page book and wanting more. Waiting impatiently for the next book in the series, and in the meantime, looking for other things to fill the gap. They turned to their friends, to their parents, and then- miracle of miracles- to their teachers and librarians and booksellers, because they wanted to know more. Wanted to find more, to discover more. The more kids read, the more books get produced, and they are devouring them. The more people read, the better they do, in school, in life, and now they have springboard series that launch them into a lifelong love affair with books. For that, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I picked this specific book because it was the first one of hers I read, but really, I’m just grateful for Tamora Pierce. I read Wolf-Speaker when I was in seventh grade. I didn’t know it was book two of a series. I didn’t know there was an entire other series before that. It didn’t matter. Pierce wrote the story so fluidly that I didn’t need the previous installments to know what was going on. I loved the book, wanted more, and when I finally found the more, I was bowled over again and again. Talk about kick-ass heroines! But what made them really kick ass was how beautifully complex they were. They were strong but they were also vulnerable. They had faults and flaws, they had weaknesses, they had strengths, they had amazing gifts and skills they worked for, and they also had obstacles they couldn’t use those gifts to solve. They had to learn to rely on other people, as scary as they could be. And here’s the thing that really got me: they had to deal with things like going to the bathroom in the woods. They had to deal with menstruating and breasts and hormones. They were real. And they still are. Book by book, series by series, she maintains characters that are all distinct in their own ways, but in many ways could be considered ideal role models for girls who are too often told that they have to conform to some tame aspect. She takes up an entire shelf on my bookcase, some of them a little battered, but starting my collection of her books took a significant part of my babysitting money one summer. For her characters, for Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly and Beka, I am grateful.

This next one…it’s…well it’s…

I hate Twilight. I really do. As a writer, it makes me cringe; as a reader, it makes me feel less intelligent; as a female, it makes me genuinely frightened. I hate this book, and I hate this series.
I’m still grateful for it.
Like Harry Potter, like Percy Jackson, the Twilight series got people reading. It reached a massive audience crossing all ages and served as a springboard for other series. I think it could safely be argued that this book launched a hell of a lot of careers, and strengthened others. It didn’t create YA/Teen as a category but it helped define it, helped it stand on its own amidst a number of other categories.
The other reason I’m grateful for this book is a little trickier: this book reminds me on an almost daily basis one of the fundamental truths of reading: everyone reads differently. The same words on the page will be read differently by different people, and they mean different things. They’re taken different ways. And each of those ways, those interpretations? Are completely valid. Twilight reminds me that every book, no matter how much I personally hate it, has readers who love it and will champion it to the ends of the earth in the face of all disdain. There are books I love, books I recommend and gush about and read over and over, that people have come back to me and said they hated. It’s the reason I won’t argue about Wuthering Heights being a classic, only that it’s not romantic in any sense other than the time period and style of the writing. And there are plenty of people, including one of my best friends, who will argue me on that point to their last breaths. And that’s okay.

This last one is a recent discovery, and I’ve gushed about it recently. I can’t talk about this book without gushing. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. I try to talk calmly and rationally about this book but it always ends in me gushing about how absofrickinlutely amazing this book is. Curious yet?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor made me fall in love all over again with language. With the beauty of words and the sheer poetry and grace in the ways they can be spun together. Just as the types and order of the strung objects from Brimstone’s shop change the result, so do the order and choices of the words. I can easily devour books in one sitting, especially ones I love as much as this one, but as much as I didn’t want to stop, there were times when I had to close the book on my finger and just take a moment to savor the images the words painted on the backs of my eyes. Where Martin the Warrior made me fall in love with characters, this book revived my obsession with words, the foundation and the root and the heart of what we do. We can tell a story with gestures, with music notes, with pictures, but what we do as writers, what we absorb as readers, is the words, the language. For reminding me of how elegant my normally clumsy language can be, I am grateful.

And now, just as Beth asked us, I ask you: What books are you grateful for?

Need some incentive to share? To celebrate her gratitude for books, Beth is hosting a giveaway- check out her site or the image below to find out more.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Share the Love

September 4, 2011 at 11:40 am (General) (, , , , )

When I was little and tried to imagine what heaven looked like, it looked an awful lot like the main branch of my county library.

Our main branch is situated right in the middle of the downtown-university area, nowhere near where we lived at the time, so getting to it was a pain, parking was a pain, and timing was everything. Despite that, Mom made sure we got there as often as we could- as often as I’d been good- especially when school was out. At the tender age of five and a half, I knew that place like the back of my hand and could find any book I wanted, even if it wasn’t in the kids’ section. When I checked out books, it wasn’t one or two, it was a STACK, and I’d have them all read within a week.

A couple of years later, we hit a bit of a snag with our summer arrangements. My brothers were old enough enough to stay home unsupervised, so technically they were old enough to babysit me, but that would have been cruel and unusual punishment for all involved and very likely to end in tears and bruises for multiple parties. My brothers and I didn’t really get along all that well at that age. My grandparents were talking about moving down, but they hadn’t yet, and we couldn’t really afford daycare (one of the reasons we went to the library rather than the bookstore). So, bright and early one Saturday morning, my mom and I got in the car and toddled down to the library to talk to the head librarian. I remember nothing about her, because I’m pretty sure that was the only time I ever met her, but at the end of the meeting, we had a rather bizarre little arrangement worked out on a probationary basis.

Librarians are not, in fact, babysitters- as far too many parents assume- but some of the librarians were familiar enough with me to vouch for my habits and behavior, so the head librarian gave my mother permission to let me stay in the library during the weekdays without direct adult supervision. The slightest inconvenience, the slightest sign of misbehavior, that permission would be revoked. (During this meeting, I went down to the kids’ section, pulled two books, read them completely, toddled back down and put them exactly where they belonged on the shelves)

Monday was the big trial. As soon as the library was open, my mom dropped me off with my backpack (which had some coloring books and crayons in case I needed a break from reading, as well as one of the stuffed animals I loved to read with/to), five dollars for lunch, and two sheets with names and phone numbers on them, one for me and one to keep with the librarians at the kids’ circulation desk. I found a comfortable chair in a sunny spot (I’m rather like a cat that way), staked my claim with my backpack, and wandered off to round up a good selection of books for the morning. I read, I played quietly with some of the younger kids as their parents looked through books, read out loud to some who weren’t old enough to manage on their own, and when I got hungry, I put away my books, told the volunteer at the kids’ desk that I’d be back, and left the library for lunch. Before anyone gets too scared, there was a Subway right across the street, so it wasn’t like I was wandering around downtown. Then, after I’d eaten, I came back and repeated the routine for the afternoon. When my mom came to pick me up, I picked another few books to check out, we went home, and the whole thing had been such a success we repeated it for a large part of the summer.

I got to know every librarian and they’d give me suggestions for books to try next, or- and this got me really excited- ask me what I thought some of the other kids should read. I’d help with the reshelve carts and the decorations, and help with the storytimes, and I loved it. All of it.

Why am I telling you this?

Libraries have a lot of love to give, but they need love in return, and in the wake of Hurricane Irene, there are some that need extra love right now.

Kate Messner posted a blog with pictures from a small library in Upper Jay, New York whose children’s section has been completely ruined by flooding from Irene, and it’s far from the only library so devestated. I dare you to look at those mountains of ruined books and not choke up a little. For this area and others, the libraries are the only way some kids get access to books, especially now with schools equally damaged or hard to access.

If you love your libraries, your librarians, your kids, your readers, if you love anything about putting a book into someone’s hands, share that love.

Kate’s blog has a list of contacts and info for some of the libraries she knows of that need special help right now, but you can search out other libraries in the northeast that have also been hit. Most of them are asking for checks at this point, given the severe limitations on dry storage space for packages, but some are also working with local bookstores to allow people to purchase books through the store and the store will not only keep track of what’s been purchased and what’s still needed, but also hold the books there until the library is repaired and ready to receive them.

We live in a time when money is extremely tight, but even five or ten dollars can help restore these libraries, one book at a time.

When you share the love, it isn’t just the libraries you’re helping; you’re also helping all the kids like us, the ones who are starting off on a lifetime love affair with reading, the future writers, the future agents and editors and publishers. You’re helping an entire generation fall in love with books.

So please, if you can, share the love.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Juicy Juice!

July 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm (General, Writing) (, , )

No, not the drink box, though now that I’m thinking about it… *craving*

I actually got back from vacation a little over a week ago but immediately went into a straight week and a half of work without any days off. Eep! There was much exhaustion and brain-deadness.

But the vacation was amazing, and exactly what I needed. Funny, really, given that I accomplished far, far less than I expected to while I was up there. But exactly what was needed.

Books read: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma; Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter; Nightspell by Leah Cypess; Trial By Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes; and several old stories/manuscripts of my own (there was a healthy dose of nostalgia there, I admit).

Books I meant to read while I was up there: Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw; Hereafter by Tara Hudson; Hourglass by Myra McEntire; Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly; Blood Red Road by Moira Young; The Revenant by Sonia Gensler; The Dark City and The Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher; A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young; and Graveminder by Melissa Marr. Whoops.

Writing done: none, but that’s okay, I wasn’t actually planning on doing any. I finished a solid round of edits at the end of May and needed to let that project sit before I went back through it, and hadn’t decided what project I was going to tackle next. Had some ideas bouncing around but they weren’t settling firmly enough that I could actually start writing anything.

Research done: TONS, and for two separate projects. I went up there with books about animals and a whole list of critters I needed to study. In addition to the books, my sister and I hit up the zoo one day. A ZOO! I’d forgotten how much fun zoos can be. There was a peacock wandering around the grounds. Just…wandering around, strolling, picking up any food the kiddos dropped, and then running like hell away from said kiddos if they showed an interest in tugging his tail. No peahens around, so he wasn’t attacking anyone, but he very obviously considered the park his turf. Were all of the animals ones I needed to know about? Not at all. In fact, most of them weren’t. But those that were I got to see up close and personal. Like seeing the bobcat sprawl out on a branch like a housecat, licking its paws and looking like an only slightly larger version of my enormously fat cat at home. Like the lynx that could barely be seen because it hid beside a tangle of logs, shy and silent. And the otters! Ridiculously cute! Came back with lots of notes on animals, lots of pictures, and lots of jokes.

On that project, what also proved invaluable was just beaing able to sit down with my sister and toss ideas back and forth. That particular project is a rewrite of a trilogy I wrote a few years ago and I’m having some trouble figuring out the ways some things need to change. So my sister and I spun them out. She sees things differently than I do, so when I toss out a possibility, she sees the consequences and ripples differently than I do. By spinning them out, we can dissect whether or not the impact is actually going to fall in line with what I want. There’s still more to do; I know a fair amount of the changes that need to be made, but there are others that are still more nebulous. Until I figure out some of those very basic pieces, I can’t really start writing.

But then…oh, but then, there was Gettysburg.

Which probably requires some explanation.

My dad is a history buff, and he’s always been particularly attracted to the Civil War. I grew up so bored of Civil War talk and I absolutely hated it when he dragged us to battlefields or museums or such not. It got a little better when I got into high school and fell in love with history, got even better when I hit a major Civil War phase near the end of college and started doing independant research for a project that never really got off the ground. I think I just needed to come to it on my own to become equally fascinated by it.

Gettysburg is about two hours from my sister and we have a friend that had semi-recently made a trip there and was telling us about it, so we decided to go. We ended up going twice.

There’s something about Gettysburg that terrifies and fascinates in equal parts. The scope is huge. The battlefield sprawls for miles, literally through the town itself, and as you’re doing the auto tour, you’re passing monuments that are actually in people’s front yards. There are monuments everywhere- EVERYWHERE- which helps give an idea of just how many individual units were involved in this struggle. Many of the officers on both sides of the Civil War served together in the Mexican War, which was the beginning of a turning point in how warfare was conducted. At that point, casualties were still measured in hundreds.

In the Civil War, they were measured in thousands. At Gettsyburg alone, sixty-some-odd thousand over a three day span and its aftermath.

Years ago, that vague project never really left the ground, and I was okay with that. The idea never finished forming. But, as we were going through the auto tour, through town, through the museum and the cyclorama and even the gift shop, that idea was niggling at the back of my mind. We went to dinner at the Old Dobbin House Tavern, we went on a ghost tour, we heard stories from the fringes of the battleground and the terrible, horrific aftermath, and the idea started forming some more. I wrote out some notes, sketched some character ideas, and then it just started running.

So now I’m neck deep in Civil War research and absolutely loving it, looking so forward to being able to start the actual writing. I’ve got a LOT of research to do first. I’ve never given a serious attempt to writing historical fiction; there are reasons for that. But I love this story already and I think it’ll be worth it.

For that alone, it wouldn’t matter if I’d ended up doing NOTHING else productive on my vacation.

The trip wasn’t all about reading and writing, of course. We did SO MUCH, the perfect balance between running around like crazy doing things and sitting on the couch staring mindlessly at the TV. I have a newfound appreciation for Disney Channel shows (LOVE Phineas and Ferb!), as well as Say Yes to the Dress, and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding outright terrifies me. We hit up a theme park, toured some graveyards, the Old Jail at Jim Thorpe where they hung the Molly Maguires (okay, so maybe my historical interests take on a somewhat morbid bent, it’s all still gorgeous), we hung out with friends at a coffeehouse for truly horrible open mic nights, and we spent an entire weekend at an amazing music festival.

It was truly a break from the routine, and now that I’m back, I feel completely recharged. Coming back to work is a bit of a readjustment but I left Florida feeling rather lost as far as where I needed to go next. I had vague ideas, even some solid ideas, on projects but none of them were enough to actually go off of. I don’t think I’ve ever finished a project without knowing what I was tackling next after a break for reading.

And now I’m all juiced up again! I have a to-do list and a stack of books and a nearly as impressive stack of notes already and despite the daunting nature of the tasks ahead of me, I am ridiculously eager.

Vacations can be rough to manage, they can be expensive (oh my GOD THEY CAN BE EXPENSIVE), but they absolutely are absolutely worth it.

And now, being all juiced up again, the blog recommences! Welcome back!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Sometimes You Win

June 7, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, , )

One day at work last week, one of the managers popped her head into the break room while I was on (who would have guessed it?) break and asked if I could do my break later because there was a dad in the store who was more than a little frantic. His wife has the kids during the school year and he has them during the summer, and he found out that his daughter hadn’t read a single book during the year outside of what she’d been explicitly assigned by her teachers- and even those had gone mostly unread. He was appalled and determined to make up for that lack over the summer.

Daughter was less than thrilled.

It took a little while and more than a few questions to both Daughter and Father, but we finally determined that Daughter is ten years old (ten and a half!), does not like fantasy, doesn’t like anything girly, doesn’t like anything long. The list of what she doesn’t like could go on forever. When I asked her what she does like, she just stared at me blankly.

So, we went to the appropriate section, started at the A’s, and I told her about every book that I knew anything about. What the story was, what I’d heard about it, what my thoughts were on it if I’d read it. I skipped over any that I was pretty sure she’d dismiss out of hand- though it just about killed me not to talk about Dragon Slippers– and whenever she seemed even remotely interested, we pulled the book and set it in a stack on the floor. By the time we got through 47 shelves of books, she had about twenty in the stack.

It’s better than it sounds, actually- many of those were first in a series.

During this tour, Father was up at the front of the store with Little Brother, mostly because he was afraid to jinx her. Little Brother loves to read, to the exclusion of all else, in fact- Father’s mission for him this summer is to get him involved in some team type stuff. He’s hoping for sports; I think he’d settle for mathlete at this point.

Once we got from A to Z, Daughter and I sat on the floor back in the kids’ department and went through each of the books one by one. We talked about them more, I helped her read through the first few pages of each- going into sixth grade, she’s only reading around a second or third grade level- and I did my best to find what was going to be a good fit for her so far as I knew. When Father finally couldn’t take the tension anymore, he came back to check on us. We’d put five books aside to be reshelved, but that still left a stack of fifteen that she was actually interested in.

I thought Father was going to cry for joy.

I figured he’d want it whittled down a little further. Fifteen books aren’t exactly easy on the pocketbook. He surprised me, though; he scooped up every single one of those books and took them up to the register.

I thought if Daughter read even three of those books, Father would consider it a worthwhile investment. (And what Daughter didn’t read, Little Brother would devour)

Much to my surprise, I just saw Father again.

With another stack of books.

And a grin that looked about ready to split his face in two.

Turns out, Daughter was almost halfway through the stack of books and loving almost all of them. He wanted to reward her so she asked her what she wanted as a treat.

She said the next books in the series.

SCORE!!!!

I was SO tempted to run a victory lap around the store! Except we were, you know, still open and full of customers and I hate running.

But still! She was reading! And loving it!

There are days when I get so frustrated because things in other arenas aren’t going so well, because I don’t feel any closer to getting my own book on the shelf. There are days when I feel like I am waging war against the world and the world is kicking my ass.

And then there are the days when a little girl who hates reading comes back into the store because she loved a book and wants more.

Days like that?

Everbody wins.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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The Things That Make Your Skin Crawl

May 22, 2011 at 9:00 am (General) (, )

Every now then, I hear something that- as a reader, as a writer, as someone who came through the public school system- absolutely makes my skin crawl.

In this case, it was a woman who came through my line while I was working the registers. She’s a preschool teacher, and as we were talking, it came about that she hates reading. Hates it. Doesn’t do it for pleasure, doesn’t do it at home, and hates how much she has to read for the kids at school. Hates it.

Then it got worse: the girl behind her in line was a first year teacher who absolutely agreed with her. The two got to talking about how they do as little reading with the kids as possible, because they personally dislike it so much and don’t see that it makes a difference.

I pretty much wanted to curl up in a tiny ball on my register mat and sob.

I understand that not everyone likes to read. I don’t get it, but I understand it. Like any hobby, it has its followers and its detractors. Okay.

But we’re talking about teachers who purposefully limit the reading in their classrooms because they don’t personally like it.

Which means entire classrooms of children who are being taught that reading is a chore, that it isn’t fun, that it’s not a skill worth pursuing or something to be done for pleasure. Entire classrooms of children that will need serious, passionate coaching from other teachers, parents, and friends to recover from these lessons, IF they’re fortunate enough to get teachers in the future who don’t feel the same as the teachers they have now.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had teachers who didn’t personally like to read, who didn’t sit on the couch at home curled up with a book in their free time, but I have never had one who didn’t passionately encourage reading in their students. Even those who didn’t teach reading or English still believed and taught the importance of reading. Most of my math teachers didn’t talk about books but they did talk about the incredible importance of being able to clearly read the problems. My Algebra I teacher, Mrs. Nelson, used to create problems for us based on reading speed and number of pages, simply because she knew there were those of us who loved to read and she thought it might make us more enthusiastic to do the work (it didn’t, and I still hate math, but I did appreciate the effort).

And there was Mrs. Cooper, my fourth grade reading and writing teacher, who used to watch me read ahead to the end of the book while the rest of the class read a chapter aloud. Then, for every other day the class read the book aloud, she’d send me to the library so I wouldn’t get bored hearing things I’d already read. By that point I’d actually read through most of the books in our elementary school library, so through the rest of fourth grade and all of fifth grade, one of the media specialists would walk me up to the middle school library up the hill (the two schools shared P.E. fields) so I could read there.

I have a way of getting in trouble when I’m bored- this was in everyone’s best interest.

But more importantly, it was a way to keep me reading, even when I got bored with what the class was doing. There were some of us who always worked ahead, so she worked with us. For those in the class who were unenthusiastic readers, she worked to find ways to get them excited. She looked for books that followed their interests, created activities that combined reading with things they like to do.

Our class loved playing “Heads Up, 7-Up”, a game I remember loving but only marginally remember how to play. We asked constantly to play that game. So, Monday through Thursday, we’d spend a few minutes before or after lunch reading about other kinds of games, or reading small mysteries, or things of that nature, and then Friday, if we’d done everything we were supposed to do during the week, we’d get to play the game. Kids devoured the reading projects for the anticipated reward, but they were still reading.

When I reached sixth grade, Dr. Carroll- a man who has done more to shape me as a reader and writer than any other single person- had us do book journals for everything we read, single sheet questionaires that basically proved that we’d read the book. We had to do a certain number of them over the course of each nine weeks, but for every journal we did over that, we got extra points where we needed them. This was an amazing option for the kids who weren’t as strong on the writing portions, or the ones who had trouble with the grammar rules and editing- the added reading also helped them recognize those basic structure rules, which in turn helped them with their other assignments. Sneaky, sneaky. And brilliant. Though I have to admit, I hated two things about those book journals: I hated giving away the ending, and I hated having to pick a favorite part a/o character.

Fast forward a few years to tenth grade. By this point, we’ve gotten into the serious required reading, where just reading isn’t enough. We have to read certain things, we have to dissect them looking for things the authors may or may not even have meant to do, and we have to do papers on these dissections. Books here are a lot more hit or miss. Sophomore year, Mrs. Geiszler assigned us Wuthering Heights. Most of my friends and I called it Withering Blights. I loathe that book. I got partway through it, because I’m willing to give almost anything that much chance, but I desperately wanted to put it down and never, ever touch it again.

Which would have meant failing that set of assignments.

But seriously, I HATED this book! I wanted the moors to open up and swallow Heathcliff and Cathy whole so they could be out of everyone’s misery- including mine.

So Mrs. Geiszler worked out a compromise with me: I could twist every assignment to talk about how much I hated the book, dissect it to explain exactly what didn’t work and why certain things were so detestable, as long as I finished the book and did the assignments. I know a lot of other teachers who wouldn’t have bothered. A lot of others would have just told me to do the assignments as given and failed me if I didn’t. But Mrs. Geiszler understood that we weren’t going to love every book we had to read for class, so she looked for ways to keep us reading in spite of it.

These are the teachers who helped shape me as a student, the ones who knew how important reading is to everything we do, and went the extra mile to keep everyone reading, even those who didn’t particularly like it.

So then back to these two teachers in my store who hate reading. I kind of wanted to shake them and ask if they had any idea what they were doing to these kids. Because kids who aren’t encouraged to read rarely make the effort to do so. These are the kids- like some of the unfortunates I graduated with- who leave high school barely able to make their way through a Frog and Toad book. The earlier kids get hooked on reading, the more likely they are to stay readers.

Readers who support authors by buying books.

Readers who think outside the box because books keep their imaginations flexible.

Readers who- oh by the way- get higher test scores.

Readers who do better academically, and are more likely to pursue- and be funded for- advanced degrees.

Readers who have the potential to change everything as we know it by advancing medicine, technology, engineering, and so, so many other arenas.

Readers who just might turn into teachers that share that love of reading to others, to keep changing the world.

If you’re a parent, and you think your child might have a teacher who doesn’t promote reading in the classroom, PLEASE work with them at home. Read before bed, or as a way to unwind after dinner, or even in the car. Take your kids to library or bookstore sponsored storytimes.

Teachers, I know funding is uber-tight and time is stretched thin, but see if your schools will allow you to start an after-school storyime or something of that nature. See if you can find older students- especially high school students who need community service hours for scholarships- to serve as reading buddies. I remember being a reading buddy- I loved it. And Rita, the kindergartener I partnered with, grew to love reading, despite coming from a home where her mother could barely read road signs.

Readers, see where you can volunteer, to get into the classrooms and work with those kids to keep them reading. I know reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t let that influence kids away from reading.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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