January’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Book: Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 404

Date Published: May 2006

Publisher: Calkins Creek

How I Discovered this Book: Went to the History Museum of Catawba County in North Carolina a few months ago, which had an exhibit on the polio hospital that had been run there in the 1940s. I expressed a deep interest in the topic (GOD I LOVE THE HISTORY OF PLAGUES…ESPECIALLY polio) to the museum curator and she pointed out that a children’s historical fiction book set in the hospital itself, written by a local author, was for sale in the gift shop. Obviously, this book was meant for me and I bought it immediately.

Thoughts: MG historical fiction always has a sweet spot for me as a reader. The voice of the story, and the main character narrating it, was so distinct, uniquely her and also uniquely of that place, both historically and geographically. It’s a perspective of WWII from the home front, the families and children left behind when their fathers went to fight overseas. I don’t think there are enough books that have this perspective, particularly from a character living in the south, as a region, and, let’s be honest, did you even know that there was a polio outbreak during WWII in the United States. (I only learned this in college during a really specific history course, but otherwise I think I’d still be totally clueless about this usually “hidden” history.) I love that this book was set during WWII, but wasn’t about every single battle fought during WWII, which made it feel more realistically like it was from a child’s perspective, for me personally. Perfect if you want a historical fiction read that will surprise and charm you.

Book: Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,387

Date Published: May 2012

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: Digging through the OverDrive audiobook archive my library provides. Looked up Cornelia Funke, a favorite author, and found this lovely gem.

Thoughts: Love. Love love love love. Set in charming Salisbury, England, this is EXACTLY how I like my ghost stories: creative and historical (there are medieval KNIGHTS, folks!) and spooky and funny, with saucy spunky characters, alive and dead alike. This reads like my very favorite MG books when I was a MGer myself. I also happen to think this is the best comp book out there I’ve found for my current WIP (so I’m totally referencing this book in my query letter in a few months, when I finally can compose said query letter, thank you very much!) if you’re interested. PS: If you’ve read and loved this book in the past, let’s be friends. Also, will you please be my beta reader? (I’m kidding…but not kidding.)

Book: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 2,290 (it was at under 2,000 when I started reading, though!)

Date Published: April 2014

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

How I Discovered this Book: Mentioned in a round-up most-anticipated April releases over on the YA book blog, Perpetual Page-Turner.

Thoughts: Intensely detailed historical fiction that makes you feel like you’re there, in the early-early years of Nazi German. I could actually see the brick of the cobblestone streets, the world building and setting was so detailed. The twist of this story is that the main character is trying to solve her father’s murder…and her Uncle Dolf is no other than Adolf Hitler himself. An intimate, up-close, and brave portrayal of a massive historical figure who usually remains distant (in a far-off-famous-person sort of way) in young adult fiction.

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The Books I Loved in Seventh Grade

Even though I moved out of my mom’s house and into my own place about eighteen months ago, there’s a moderate-sized pile of stuff still lingering in her basement: A half-dozen boxes full of glitzy prom shoes, a childhood shell collection, hard copies of a few papers from high school I was particularly proud of,  faded Girl Scout projects, and other things that managed to survive the severe bedroom/drawer purge that I always conducted the first week of summer.

It finally came time this past weekend to begin sorting through it all, in a final purge, deciding what tiny artifacts of my childhood would be kept, tossed, or shelved in the garage for a yard sale. My favorite thing I unearthed, though, was my end-of-the-year portfolios from elementary and middle school–fifth through ninth grade–each folder containing my best writing samples and a few with recorded lists of all the books I had read during that school year.

I’ve always been a voracious reader–I remember sneaking in chapters under the covers after bedtime, checking out the maximum books from the library (according to my seventh grade report, I went to the library every Saturday, the entire school year), and reading them all before they’re due, never going anywhere without a book in my bag–but seeing the numbers in front of me, in my own handwriting, was really surprising. It was like having Goodreads stats from ten years back. I was surprised to see I managed to read more books in a school year back when I was thirteen (and definitely at least a slightly slower reader than I am now) than I can read in an entire year! I feel like I’m reading constantly–I read at least an hour every day, if not more–so I can’t imagine how I managed to eat/sleep/go to school/do homework/be a kid and read that much all at the same time! In hindsight, my time management skills (or, maybe, my mom’s, who made sure I got everything done) were pretty impressive.

The tiny sliver of my brain that loves numbers (this is a very small sliver, and it’s mostly dominated by my interest in book sale stats, WIP word counts, and my own pathetic bank account digits) wishes I had more records. I’d love to know how many/which books I’ve read in my entire lifetime.

So, without further ado, the lists!

In fifth grade, with my lovely reading teacher, Mrs. Neff…(please excuse my egregious spelling!)

Reading List_0001Reading List_0002

These are the only two lists in the folder. I don’t know why there are two separate lists–maybe we did one every semester, or kept a different list for Fall and Spring half years–so the records are a little incomplete. I feel like I must have read more than what’s listed here, but maybe not. Also, I’m disappointed I didn’t rate the books on this list, but it’s interesting to see whether I picked up a book thanks to a recommendation (either through a friend, teacher, librarian, or the Reading Olympics list) or through my own library perusal. Though completely anecdotal, the list seems to reflect that recommendations are important guides for younger readers (at least, it was for this young reader)!

I still remember the moment when Harry Potter was recommended to me in fifth grade that year. I was an after school safety and one of the teachers in charge of the program pulled out one of those Scholastic book fair order packets and pointed out the little blurb and book cover of book one. “Apparently this is supposed to be really good.” I still have the book that arrived a few weeks after my mom offered up the $5 check. Obviously, that set off a reading binge! I begged and pleaded for the second and third books for Christmas and finished both before going back to school in January.

Now this list is more complete: It’s the motherload of book stats. Every single book I read in seventh grade, from September until June 2001-2002:

Reading List_0003Reading ListReading List_0004Reading List_0005

It’s funny to see the series I practically ate for breakfast. (Redwall, anyone? Redwall Minecraft (aka “AbbeyCraft”) is in the works!) And how I bent the rules (ranking was only 1-5) to satisfy my need to express how I really felt about a book. Despite the guidelines, I gave The Red Pony a “negative one”–and I still remember how much I disliked that book, a good indication of how much I would dislike Of Mice and Men in later years, though I did like Cannery Row–and a ten to Ella Enchanted, one of my favorite books of all time. The level of difficulty I gave for Seabiscuit (“Hard!”) makes me laugh because I still remember when my dad gave me that book as a random gift one day and I picked it for that month’s required book report. I had never read a book that difficult before–it was advanced non-fiction–and it wasn’t that it was hard to read, but hard to read on a deadline. I recall panicking to finish the book by the end of the month, struggling through the chapters, needing to look up words I was unfamiliar with constantly. I had never been that challenged by a book before, nor read one so slowly. But the work was worth the effort. I still vividly recall many of the descriptions in that book, though I haven’t opened it’s pages since I read it TWELVE years ago. I remember the descriptions of the rubber suits that the jockeys would run around the track in, in mid-day heat, to lose weight, and the single leaves of dehydrated lettuce that they’d reward themselves with.

I still remember many of the characters and plots of the books on these lists. It’s kind of fantastic, when you think about it, how books stick with us for so long. Mia from Princess Diaries and Grandma Dowdel from A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder.

I’ve been interested recently in figuring out my writer DNA, as encouraged by Robin LaFevers and reading through these old lists has been a good way to jog my memory for my favorite and biggest impact books.

Do you remember what books you read in fifth and seventh grade? Have some of them stuck with you, all these years? Were they your favorites, or the ones you really despised?

No Time to Read “Real” Books: My Reading Habits and a Love of eBooks and Audiobooks

January is coming to a close and my reading goals (if not my writing goals) are on track, for the most part. As planned, I’ve read five books this month. (Though one of them wasn’t a writing craft book like I’d wanted it to be. I’m only 8 percent through Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go.)

When I was updating my reading accomplishments on Goodreads, it struck me:

I’ve read five books this year, but haven’t flipped a single page.

Of the five books I’ve read this month and the two I’m currently reading, 3 are audiobooks and 4 are eBooks.

In this article about Audible.com, the “world’s largest producer and seller of digital spoken-word entertainment,” I was struck by this statement:

“I’ve heard from friends and family that audiobooks are the only way they find time to read anymore,” said Hugh Howey, best-selling author of Wool (forthcoming in print from Simon & Schuster).

This, for me, is partly true. I spend a minimum of an hour a day driving the commute, and I usually spent somewhere more in the ballpark of an hour and a half and three hours in the car a day, depending on traffic and other activities I’m committed to. Audiobooks open up extra hours of reading time that otherwise would have been lost to mindless radio stations. I get more read a year because of the availability of audiobooks.

I love reading physical books. In fact, sometimes I prefer it. I read slower when reading paper and can savor passages more, can reflect on the excellence of the craft. I’m encouraged to reread sentences that struck me.

On Kindle, it’s about reading faster, flipping those digital pages and getting to the next chapter. With audiobooks, I actually double-time them, so the narrator talks at warp-speed and I can listen to twice as much book in half the amount of time.

I own two Kindles–a Fire and a normal one, both gifts–and I am constantly reading on them.

It’s easier to download five eBooks for free from my local library–while lounging on the couch in my pjs–than to spend another half an hour in the car driving to the library to get physical copies.

Also, no late fees, ever. When they expire–when my loan is up–they simply disappear off my Kindle. (This is a great thing because, as my boyfriend likes to tease me, I probably keep my library in business because of my regular late fees.)

Same for audiobooks. They’re so easy to download from my library’s website, and less clunky to travel with than an audiobook on a pack of CDs (also, you can’t listen to CDs at the gym. You need to listen to your iPod). This ease and preference probably could open into a broader discussion of brick-and-mortar bookstores chances in the Renaissance of online bookstores, but I’m not going to go there for now.

With January being a completely page-free month, I was wondering if this is normal for me now. Though I still go to book stores and the physical library and I still buy paper copies of books–will they soon be in the minority?

I’m interested to see how my reading habits develop over the next year, but without those statistics in existence yet, I thought I’d look at my past year in reading.

In 2012, I read 64 books. Of those, 28 were physical books, 22 were Kindle or Google Reader eBooks, and 14 were audiobooks.

Rounding up those percentages, that’s 44% paper books, 34% eBooks, and 22% audiobooks.

Honestly, these numbers surprised me. My memory has me stuck on the idea that I read more on Kindle than I did of physical books this year. Glad I keep track of it all on Goodreads, or else I’d be clinging to that misconception!

I wonder if the percentages will tip this year.

How do you prefer to read your books? Despite preferences, do you still read more eBooks than paper ones because of convenience?

(Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

Go Read 5 YA Books, Then Talk to Me

Just as a preface, this post was inspired by a request from G.P. Merwede, who’s not a #1 fan of YA literature, but wanted to hear more of my thoughts on the matter. I totally respect that there will be a difference of opinions and I want to make clear that don’t like him or anyone else any less for having reading tastes different from mine. To each their own. But, let’s all be informed on the issues, shall we, instead of blindly hating a whole library of books?

There’s be a lot of scorn aimed at YA literature in recent months and years. People have been calling for a YA rating system (because of “profanity”), generalizing all YA literature as dark, depraved, and lurid, and generally believing that YA literature is poorly written, trashy, and unoriginal.

When you were children, didn’t you love books? Didn’t you read age-appropriate books (I’m sure you weren’t picking up tombs of acclaimed “great literature,” such as Anna Karenina or Moby Dick for pleasure reading) that still have a soft place in your heart?

Do you really want to insult your 14-year-old self by saying that everything you read back then, everything you enjoyed, was complete crap?

If you’re an adult and sticking up your nose right now; if, on the tip of your tongue you’re about to say that you didn’t have “refined” tastes yet, you didn’t know what “real literature” was yet, just stop.

Just stop.

The only reason that I can possibly imagine people believe all these bad stereotypes about YA lit is that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Literally, they haven’t read enough YA books (or any at all) to have a well-supported opinion.

As a basic qualifier, let’s say that you don’t have enough information, or haven’t done enough homework to know one damn thing unless you’ve read at least 5 YA books recently. A smattering of both classic favorites and recently published books. Once you’ve read 5 YA books and have done enough of your own research to have a real opinion–rather than parroting somebody else’s statistics–then come talk to me. I’d love to have a real, informed debate about the topic. If you still hate YA literature after reading 5 books, you have my full permission.

In a similar line of thought, if you’re going to leave comments below, you first have to list 5 YA books, ones you’ve honestly read start to finish. It’s like a resume, to prove that you’re qualified to join the discussion.

If you’re counting up books on your fingers and realizing you’re short of the required 5, try out some on the Goodread’s list of the best/most popular YA books, or some of the past winners of the Newbery Award. Also, I’m providing a list of some of my personal favorites. Once you’ve read five, then we’ll talk. Okay?

Book Thief (so well-written, the sentences and sentiments so beautiful . . . you’ll cry. Also, you writers might feel a tiny twinge of despair that you’ll never be able to write such an awesome book. Deep sigh.)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (if you haven’t read this yet, get a copy Right.Now.)

The Scorpio Races (so so so amazing)

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

The Language of Flowers

Holes

Harry Potter

Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thirteen Reasons Why

Divergent (if you liked The Hunger Games, another recommendation)

The Giver

(PS: All book links will take you to Goodreads, so you can add them to your “to-read” list! Friend me and we can share book recommendations :])

Are You a Series Addict?

I love reading series. Once your hooked, they give you something to look forward to (Book 2, Book 3, Book 4!) When I was in elementary school, The Magic Tree House books had just started to come out and in quick succession I fell in love with the Babysitter Club books (who didn’t?), Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Animorphs (I know, such a fad!), Harry Potter, and later The Princess Diaries, Sword of Truth, and Hunger Games. I especially love coming late to the game and falling in love with a well-established series so that, instead of counting down the days until the next book, I can start from the beginning and read through ten volumes without stopping.

In case you’re a series junkie like me, here’s some more to whet your appetite:

If you liked The Hunger Games, you’re going to love Divergent by Veronica Roth. Set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, the surviving population is split into “factions,” similar to the Districts in Hunger Games and the Houses in Harry Potter, and sixteen year old members have to go through a pretty rough bout of initiation. The second book in the trilogy came out this month, so there’s no delay! (Unless, like me, you have way exceeded your book budget and need to wait for a library loan copy. Deep sigh. I wish I had unlimited funds to buy every book I want as soon as I want it.)

This isn’t a book series, but it’s a pretty awesome guest blog series: Where Writers Write over on Kristin’s blog White Space. It totally satisfies my dual obsessions with pretty organized office interior design and learning more about about a writer’s routine and creative process. Regularly reading about other writers’ daily writing schedule and writing spaces totally inspires me to revamp my own.

Another guest blog series I’m increasingly fond of is the Turning Point series over on Distraction no. 99, the blog of YA author Nova Ren Suma. These guest posts detail the turning point in various published authors’ careers. Whether it was that first publication credit, the moment they got their first agent, or the moment they let go of their first book and moved onto a new project, the series offers a broad range of perpetually encouraging articles.  Check it out!

I Didn’t Win the Megamillion, But I Did Win . . .

What a lovely package to find in the mailbox!

What an awesome package to find in the mailbox!

A free copy of The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, all the way from Florida! Lauren is a book-loving librarian (goodness forbid there’s any other kind!) who has started an awesome book-giveaway contest on her blog. She aspires to give used books a good home!

Like most libraries, we have a mini store that sells donated books. I’ve decided that periodically, whenever a book I love is dropped off, I’m going to purchase it and give it away on my blog. Because I love you all. And I love supporting libraries. And I love books.

And I was the lucky winner of her very first book giveaway! I’m super excited to start reading it–I’ve heard nothing but good things about Sarah Dessen before, but I’ve never actually sat down and read her myself. Thanks again for the book, Lauren; I can’t wait!

In other news, a few weeks ago I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, by the lovely Robin Coyle. Thank you Robin! I got this award a few months ago, too, but I don’t think there’s any restrictions on how many times your blog can be appreciated! It’s nice to know my blog is still going strong and deemed worthy of winning awards.

The rules of accepting the nomination are as follows:

  1. Thank the person who nominated me. Check.
  2. Include a link to his/her blog. Check!
  3. Nominate fifteen blogs I enjoy and follow: Way back when I originally won the award, I only nominated 9 out of the 15 other bloggers I was required to, so this gives me the opportunity to finish up!
  4. Lastly, tell you seven things about myself.

If you really want to know seven things about me, you can read the list I posted last time. For good measure, here’s a fresh thing most of you probably don’t know: Though I’m a bit rusty nowadays, I know all the official AKA dog breeds and can identify pretty much any pure breed dog I encounter in a pet store or see in a movie. This is a holdout from my childhood days of reading and rereading dog breed books from the library.

As for the six new bloggers whom I nominate:

  1. Annie Cardi, a YA blogger and soon-to-be published YA author.
  2. Carol Deminski, a writer and super aggressive submitter of stories. If you’re not motivated to submit your stories, you should probably prod yourself into gear by checking out her blog.
  3. Mary Stone Dockery, an amazingly impressive poet.
  4. Tami Clayton, especially for her hilarious Letters from Benedict series. Her blog always makes me laugh.
  5. Lauren Writes, because her blog is awesome and quirky.
  6. White Space, especially because of Kristin’s amazing Where Writers Write series–I LOVE snooping and looking at other writers’ desks and creative spaces!

In even more good news–I just keep piling it on!–I got a short story accepted at Nailpolish Stories, a publication I mentioned last week, and it’s out in the April issue released yesterday. Go check it out! :]

Published in The Susquehanna Review: “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father”

Lots of good news! As some of you know, I had a story accepted by the national undergraduate literary journal, The Susquehanna Review, back in June.* This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for the 2011-2012 issue which means that:

  1. My short non-fiction piece, “What to Expect While Grieving for Your Father” (which won the 2011 Bloomsburg University English Department Award for Creative Non-Fiction and 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s Creative Non-Fiction Contest) is finally published!
  2. I got my hands on a copy of the journal (so excited to read it from start to finish!)
  3. As the launch party was a celebration of the dual launch of both the print journal and the online journal, you can read it for yourself now too!

All contributing writers who attended were granted the opportunity to read their writing to a big room of people. While being video taped.

Have I ever mentioned that I recently developed a slight fear of public speaking? It stems from a really horrific public speaking class I was required to take in college. Before taking it, I liked public speaking the same way I’ve always enjoyed reading books aloud to my younger sister and to unsuspecting passerbyers I can convince to sit still long enough to listen. Not that I was an impressive orator by any means, with long passages memorized, or the ability to speak with a passionate eloquence which could thrill an attentive audience. If I didn’t have the confidence that I was good at it, I at least had the confidence that I could do it and that I had the right to stand in front of people and be heard. So therefore, I had no natural build-up of nerves when I prepared for my first graded speech presentation. That was, I wasn’t nervous until the professor dedicated an entire class period to a never-ending, incredibly detailed list of reasons why one should be afraid of public speaking and the knee-quivering, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding effects that everyone should have. “If you don’t have these feelings,” he told us, “it’s unnatural.”

Therefore, when I stood at the podium (read: music stand) with my printed story in hand, I was more annoyed than nervous when my voice started to quiver and break, when my heart started to race so fast that I was gulping to keep it in my chest, and when my legs started to shake underneath me like an earthquake (not ideal when one is wearing five-inch-high heeled boots). Thankfully, my voice evened out after a page and, since my story is rather emotional, perhaps listeners chalked it up to that. Two really nice students came up to me afterwards to shake my hand, compliment the story, and admit that they had been reduced to tears in their seats. I was still so flustered that my manners failed me and I didn’t do more than mumble an awkward apology for causing them to cry–and I certainly didn’t manage to ask their names–but if you’re reading this, thank you again! [waves through computer screen]

In other good news, I’ve been featured on the Bloomsburg University College of Liberal Arts blog. It talks more about the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, if you’re interested in that. You can read the post here.

*Personal Submission Response Time: 3 months, 6 days.