Monday, October 29, 2012

YA Book Club: The Raven Boys

I think this actually might be my first successful participation in Tracey Neithercott's YA Book Club!  I vote on the books (usually) and read them (mostly) but then I completely forget to post when the end of the month rolls around!

Anyway, this month's book, The Raven Boys, is one I've already reviewed, and I'll repost my review at the bottom of this post.  BUT I am bringing something new to the table.

I was reading an article today about the propmaster on Dexter (a show I do not watch and which, after reading about some of the things this guy has had to create, I am pretty sure I will not be watching any time soon).  He noted that one of the ingredients in his recipe for blood (!!!) is peppermint--because the blood has a syrup base, which I guess is sweet, and might attract bees--and bees hate peppermint.  I immediately thought of Gansey chewing his mint leaves and wondered if that was the reason for his habit.  (I wonder if it applies to all mint?  Or is it specified which kind of mint leaves he's chewing?)  Anyway, that kind of blew my mind.  Plus: helpful information!

Anyway, here's my review.  

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, I'm gonna go ahead and make it official: Maggie Stiefvater is my favorite author. This book took me a whole week to read because it was so rich with detail and life and I didn't want it to end. Reading a book by Maggie Stiefvater is like watching The Wire--you may start out a little disoriented because the world you're dropped into has so clearly been existing without you forever, but you slowly get acclimated and sucked in and by the end it feels like you've always lived there. Every sentence is its own tiny beautiful thing, which makes the experience of reading very different from a book like The Hunger Games where every sentence is sleek and trim and pushes the story ahead faster and faster. I don't think either is better than the other, but I think it's hard to do either very, very well. Maggie Stiefvater does her thing very, very well.

But what is it about? Blue, daughter of a psychic (properly, the child in a family of psychics, although not a traditional nuclear family) doesn't have power she can use herself, but she does amplify the energy around her. She's also the subject of a persistent psychic reading: if she kisses her true love, he will die. Gansey, wealthy private school student, is hunting for a Welsh king rumored to be in a magical sleep; whoever wakes him will receive a favor. The rest of the Raven Boys--so called because of the Raven crest on their school sweaters--have formed a family of their own, largely because of Gansey's inimitable something that holds them together. Adam is doing his best to get by on his own terms in the world he aspires to earn a place in. Noah is quiet, shy, and seems uncomfortable in his own skin. And Ronan is desperate and angry after his father's sudden and mysterious death. When Blue becomes entangled with the Raven Boys, all of their lives suddenly become amplified in ways they never expected.

This is the first book in a planned series, so while there's a ton of mystery, excitement, suspense, and world-building, there aren't a ton of answers. There's also not a ton of romance, although some groundwork is laid. Since Blue really can't kiss anyone without being worried about killing them, things move pretty slowly. I think, though, that if you go into this book expecting a well-told, well-crafted story, with characters you won't soon forget, you'll enjoy this one and look forward to the rest. I probably wouldn't recommend it to a struggling or reluctant reader, but for my students who are on the cusp of being ready for adult literary fiction, this would be a really good read (Hey former students reading my reviews: I mean you guys. READ THIS.)

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Scheduled Edition

As I gear up for NaNoWriMo, I've been thinking about how I will structure my days.  I have the wonderful luxury of time right now, since I'm staying home all day, and without structure, it's way too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of Tumblr and iPad games.  So this week, I started adding "Read for one hour" to my list of daily tasks.  I want to up that to two hours--back to what I was getting during my commute!--but I was also cramming in the last house/unpacking projects before NaNo so this week it was just one.  What I found was that once I got into a book during my scheduled hour, I was pretty likely to pick it back up instead of my iPad when I had down time.

What I Read This Week: 

 Starting From HereStarting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Starting From Here is the story of Colby, whose mother is dead, and whose father is a long-haul trucker who comes home maybe once a week. Her girlfriend broke up with her to focus on school, and Colby's own grades are perilously low. But when she finds an abandoned dog she names Mo, things start to change in Colby's life. Amelia, a cute reporter from the school paper, wants to interview Colby about her dog...and get to know her better. Robyn, Mo's vet, takes an interest in Colby and Mo and tries to befriend them both. But after the experiences she's had, Colby is reluctant to trust any new relationships, and nearly blows everything before she can figure things out.

This is a quiet story, made interesting by Colby's authentically muddled, unsure heart and mind. Colby's voice rang true, and while it's a short book, there are enough small atmospheric details to flesh out Colby's world. I wished it were a little longer--I wanted to see more of Colby and Amelia--but I think the ending is sweet and lovely just as it is.

Pretty CrookedPretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The basic setup: former public school student Willa moves to a new town and starts at a fancy prep school. She makes friends with the rich, popular girls until she realizes that they can be pretty awful, so she starts stealing from them to fund secret gifts to the bussed-in scholarship students the popular kids make fun of.

Ok, I was intrigued. And there was a lot here that was fun. I liked a lot of the supporting characters--like Willa, I was actually much more interested in the three scholarship students than I was in the popular girls. I also thought Aidan, the love interest, was a lot of fun (although I am a sucker for the better-than-he-has-to-be super-charming rich guy: Logan Huntzberger, Gansey, I am looking at you guys.) I did, however, get frustrated with Willa a fair amount. I think my biggest frustration--assuming I am willing to suspend disbelief about the actual crime-committing, which, sure, why not--is that Willa fixates so much on new clothes. I understand why she went for that the first time, but she knows that at least one of these girls can barely buy school books and supplies! I don't know, it just felt like maybe she should have changed things up a bit. There were a few other times, too, that I found Willa just kind of...insensitive.

I will say, though, that I was definitely into the mystery around Willa's mom, which was not resolved in this book. For that reason, and because I did find this to be a fun read overall, I will be checking out Pretty Sly when it comes out in March!

View all my reviews

Waiting In The Wings

Ok, properly, I'm in the middle of this one.  I'm loving it so far, though!

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Last Duchess

 I've been waffling on sharing this or not, and how much to share, and how, and when.
But y'all, I am the most excited.  I found my NaNo project yesterday.  I know it's going to morph and change and be WAY different from what I outlined, so I'm not going to say much about it now.  Except.

Lucrezia di Cosimo de'Medici, probably the real-life duchess in question. (Source)

Do you know Robert Browning's spectacular, subtle, DEEPLY creepy masterpiece "My Last Duchess"?  It is my favorite poem of all time, ever.  You can read it here.  It's pretty dense but rewards a careful read.  I've taught it a couple times around Halloween, and while it takes a while to get to the meat of the story, the reactions when we do have always been pretty great.

Anyway...during the month of November, I'm going to be working on a contemporary version of the story told and hinted at in the poem.  What I love most about the poem is the tone, and the way the creepiness sneaks up on you, so I want to try to get to that point (although I'll be happy if I can just bang out the nuts and bolts of the story next month, and then target the tone in my revisions.) But this was definitely the kind of thing where, BAM, I just suddenly knew, yeah--this is MY project.  This is what I want to be writing.

I'm sharing because I'm excited, but also because I want your help in compiling a reading list: what's your favorite dark contemporary?  I've read a few (Breaking Beautiful comes to mind) but it's actually not usually the top of my list.  I want to build my genre awareness a little as I work on this.

And if you know what you're working on for NaNo (if you're NaNo-ing), let me know in the comments!  I was pumped before but this is like a whole new level, so I want partners in excitedness!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Booklovers, Assemble! Save Books of Wonder!

Hey y'all, I need your help.  Or rather, the Happiest Place on Earth needs your help.  No, not Disney.  They've done a really good job getting that phrase out there, but I promise you, O loyal blog readers, they've missed the mark.

Me and Gayle Forman!

Me and Tahereh Mafi!
As you can clearly see, Books of Wonder is the happiest of all possible happy places.  They have the most amazing author events (like the two above!) and as a result, they have an incredible stock of signed books that you can just waltz right in and buy.  Their selection is fantastic, the staff is great, and basically I just want to live there.

Except, you guys.  Money.  I guess it's hard to be an independent bookstore these days (DUH, says anyone who's ever seen You've Got Mail) and they're dealing with some large and unexpected expenses.  Now, listen, I'm really not keen to live in a world without Books of Wonder.  And while I'd normally think twice about making a donation to a for-profit company...well, this is the kind of bookstore that I want to be able to someday take my kids to, and in the meantime, I want to be able to go there and nerd out freely.  Even though I don't live in New York City anymore, this bookstore has figured prominently in all of my plans to visit the city.  But all that might go out the window if they can't raise a lot of cash in a hurry.  They have an IndieGoGo page--which as far as I can tell works a lot like Kickstarter--with some very cool perks for donating.  (You can tell how beloved they are when you see some of the artists and authors who are helping them out by creating artwork for this campaign!)    Even if you're not in a place to donate right now, I know many of you will be in the market for at least one kids' or YA book in the next month.   I urge you to check out their website--where you can purchase many signed editions!--and buy through them instead of your usual big box merchant.  And everyone can help by spreading the word.  Tweet, blog, whatever--but please, please help save this magical bookstore. 

Helpful Links:
IndieGoGo Campaign to Save Books of Wonder
Books of Wonder Home
Books of Wonder Upcoming Events (y'all: Libba. Bray.  This Thursday, the 25th.  Seriously.  If you are in NYC this week and you are not there, I don't understand.)
Order a copy of The Diviners to be signed by Libba Bray at the Oct. 25th event!
Order a signed copy of The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand!*
Order a signed copy of Adaptation by Malinda Lo!*
Order a signed copy of Burn For Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian!*
Order a signed copy of Crewel by Gennifer Albin!*
Order a signed copy of Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore!
Great blog post by teen bloggers Megan and Rachel--if you don't believe me, check out their reasons why you should help save this bookstore!

*All signed copies subject to availability, but seem to be in stock at the time of this blog post!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Creepy Crawler Edition

I hit a big milestone this week: I finished unpacking!  Yaaaaay!

However, as I unpacked, I sorted our books into boxes of their own, so I could sift through them all and decide which ones get shelf space right away.  We have sixteen 50qt. boxes full of books--that's 200 gallons of books!  I kind of want to build a fort out of them and just live in there.  I am absolutely, positively starting the new year with some kind of read-what-I-own challenge.  (But I can name at least fifty books I've been meaning to buy.  I blame you guys: it's a total peer-pressure, all-the-cool-kids-are-reading-it kind of thing!  This is the best problem anyone has ever had.)  So hopefully next week I will have some shiny new bookshelf pictures to share!

We had a really nice weekend visiting my mom and step-dad, with the added treat of my step-sister and her 16-month-old daughter for a few hours yesterday.  She is a real cutie (and, I'm told, loves to read already!  My immediate reaction when she was born was, "I get to buy this kid books for her whole life, this is awesome.")  And on the ride back, I finally had the uninterrupted time I needed to finish reading Railsea!  I checked on Goodreads, and it's actually not even in the top ten longest books I read this year.  But it's one of those books that moves slowly (in a way that I wound up really liking) and so it felt like a real accomplishment to finish.  (The end made me really happy, too.  This was a good week of reading.)

What I Read This Week: 

  The Cavendish Home For Boys and GirlsThe Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Calling all middle school teachers: this book may be the world's greatest Halloween-time readaloud. The writing just begs to be read aloud, with a style reminiscent of Roald Dahl and an action-packed ending that surpasses even his supreme creepiness. There is one chapter in particular that ends with a revelation that I know would have had my sixth graders from last year FREAKING OUT. Now, maybe you don't want a readaloud that will make kids jump out of their seats and scream and fall down on the floor (I promise you that's what would have happened if I read this to my former students) but those are my favorite moments. This book is SEVERELY creepy and a lot of fun to read. Just a tip: don't read it over meals. Or in the dark. Basically, you want to sit in the middle of a bright, uncluttered room, where you won't have any reason to think you see anything moving out of the corner of your eye. But definitely find a room like that, because you want to read this creeptastic story of shiny, perfect Belleville, and shiny, perfect Victoria Wright, and what happens when her skunk-haired, messy, musical friend Lawrence disappears into the shiny, perfect Home run by the shiny, perfect Mrs. Cavendish. [Spoiler Alert: not everything is as shiny and perfect as it seems. But you probably figured that out from all the roaches sprinkled across the margins of the pages and throughout Belleville.] Now is the perfect time for a delightfully, revoltingly horrifying read like this one--check it out!

RailseaRailsea by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite the fact that I adored China Mieville's other YA novel, Un Lun Dun, I was nervous about this one. A YA riff on Moby Dick? Friends, I can't even tell you how much I hated Moby Dick in high school, but let me try: our teacher had us all draw characters out of a bowl, to make things more fun. Then for the rest of the book, we "were" that character. I was the whale. Truly, when I find the words to adequately convey how much I loathed the whole Moby Dick experience, I will feel like I have arrived as a writer. In the meantime, please just think of the thing you hated the most in high school, and imagine someone told you you would really love this new YA novel that was based on that thing.

So you can understand how much work this book had to do to get five stars out of me.

The thing is, Mieville is just such a good storyteller. Sham ap Soorap, the protagonist, is one of those characters who slowly, slowly wins your heart and suddenly you realize you'll never get it back. And there are like six other characters who quietly do the same thing. This book didn't grab me right off the bat, and I can't even begin to summarize the plot (Questing? Self-discovery? Adventure? Evading almost certain death at every turn? I mean, yeah, totally. But I would have to read it eighty more times to be able to really give you a brief overview that's more detailed than that.) It's a story that's just as concerned with the telling as with what's actually happening, and while I kept wanting to roll my eyes at the interchapters full of information or meta-data or whatever, I couldn't because the sly narrative voice was too much fun. So I'll just say: if you like adventure, try this. If you like to read about journeys (literal as well as internal), give it a shot. If you grin your face off at stories where loyalty to one's mates knows no bounds, you want to pick this one up. If you're in the mood for something vastly different from anything you've read lately, here's your book. You might not even want to read it all at once--I read three other books in the middle of reading this one intermittently--but do give it a shot, and do stick it out. It's a really rewarding read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: NaNo, Here I Come!

Today's Road Trip Wednesday asks:

 Are you doing NaNoWriMo, or have you ever? Does having a deadline inspire you?

As I mentioned on Sunday, I will be doing NaNoWriMo this year. (My username over there is SilversteinELA--I could always use more writing buddies!) And this year, I'm going to finish.  (I prefer the term "finish" to NaNo's "win"--listen, I love videogames and boardgames as much as the next nerd, but in this case I feel like it doesn't quite fit what I'm trying to do.)  

And yes, I am HUGELY deadline-motivated.  NaNo is already motivating me to do a few things: 

  • Finish unpacking and stay on top of the housework!  My goal is to be completely finished with our unpacking by the 26th (a Friday), so that I can take the last two weekdays in November to give everything a really good, thorough clean and start outlining my chosen project in a little more detail.
  • Start actually writing down story/character ideas, picking up craft books, comparing methods of outlining, and throwing together quick-and-dirty outlines of some of my ideas.  I've just got a running-record style Google Doc with tons of unconnected bullets: worlds, what-ifs, characters, first lines, concepts.  Just last night, I had one of those moments where I had to sit up in bed, grab my computer, and jot a note IN ALL CAPS--I think I've found the heart of my story.  Now I have to find the bones, the skin, the liver, the spleen...but that's what November is for!
  • Look at my calendar and customize my daily word-count goals.  I'll be writing on weekdays only, since Mr. S often has to work late and our weekends together are really important.  I might be taking an overnight trip in mid-November, and of course there's Thanksgiving, so I've got four days at half-speed.  I've marked each day's goal on my calendar, so I know in advance exactly which milestones I need to hit.  The goal for regular days is 2500 words (totally do-able, since I'm home all day and I'll only have to worry about maintenance housework) and for the four half-days, 1250. 
And, if you are also doing NaNoWriMo: be sure to check out this AMAZING roundup of NaNo tips, advice, and other good stuff from Katy Upperman!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Home, Sweet Home Edition

You may have noticed that I missed a week of Sunday Sunshine (I mean, or maybe you didn't notice, but I did).  That's because, last Sunday, I was looking at this:

The view from Fort Worden State Park.

I flew out to Seattle last week for the wedding of a dear friend from college.  Because she is a really awesome, funky, strange, wonderful performer, and her husband seems to be all of those things as well (he's a shadow puppeteer, y'all!) they had this totally unique, homegrown, potluck style wedding up at a state park in Washington that used to be a military fort.

Can you spot the deer?  They turned out to be really okay with people creeping up to them and watching them eat.
The food was made by family and friends (it was definitely the most delicious AND the most healthy food I've ever had at a wedding) and at the rehearsal dinner, the entertainment was a series of performances by the many, many talented people who love the happy couple.  At the hall where the wedding and reception were held, there was a whole table of typewriters on which guests could type messages and paste them into a guestbook.  There was decoupage and a DIY photo booth and drinks served in mason jars.  And the thing that made it extra-amazing for me was that the place was packed with friends from college, some of whom I hadn't seen since we graduated.  It was an incredible weekend, and as you can see from the photos, the famous Seattle rain held off and we had great weather for exploring the park and surrounding areas.

Plus, while I was in Seattle proper relatively briefly, I still got a chance to go for my all-time favorite doughnut in the whole world:

Maple old-fashioned.  I would have gotten an old-fashioned and a maple bar, separately, but then I would have died.
President Obama has eaten these doughnuts; an NFL player actually got into a little trouble for going in after hours to grab a few of their maple bars.  I totally understand how he felt.

And then, because I'm not in college anymore but I spent two days acting like I was, plus two cross-country flights, I got knocked back by a gross cough/cold/sore throat thing that basically made me want to do nothing but sleep for several days.  Totally worth it, but that also contributed to my lack of blogginess.  And my lack of reading-ness.

So, in brief, here's what I've missed:

Congrats to the very cool Rebecca Behrens: I feel like I'm late to the party of spreading this awesome news, but her book When Audrey Meets Alice will be published by Sourcebooks in 2014!  You can read about it here; I was hooked as soon as I read the premise and the first line, so I was double-excited to hear her good news (as a blog pal but also as a reader!)

I will be doing NaNoWriMo in November!  I know people have lots of Opinions about NaNo, but here's my reason: I want to build some habits that I can continue through the rest of this year away from full-time work.  If I can't get into some writerly habits now, without a job outside the home to worry about, then I may have to come to terms with the fact that I don't have a novel in me.  I'm spending the next two weeks making some very, VERY rough outlines of projects I might want to tackle, as well as trying to get things in good working order around the home so that I will really be able to give as much time as I can over to writing during November.  My username is SilversteinELA so if you're NaNoing, look me up!

And finally:

What I Read This Week:

Let it SnowLet it Snow by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you think it's the wrong season to read a Christmas book, think again! It's always the right season to read a collection of work by these three crazy authors. Maureen Johnson might be the funniest author I've read this year (or at least she's neck and neck with Libba Bray for the title.) Her story opens the book with a blizzard, a ceramics-related arrest, a microwaveable pizza disc, and a whole stew of other unusual ingredients. John Green picks up the middle section, weaving in a few elements from the first story while introducing a new and excellently Green-y set of characters, and then Lauren Myracle ties it all together with a Very Starbucks Christmas (seriously, did Starbucks sponsor this book?) This was just the right read to cheer me up during a day of traveling that started at 4am Eastern and ended with me crashing on a friend's sofa at something like 10pm Pacific Time. It would, of course, also be a fabulous book to read during the winter holiday season. Or if you're in a Starbucks.

Please Ignore Vera DietzPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. The pieces of this book must have taken a lot of time and effort to put together. First of all, Vera is the main narrator, but there are small segments in the voice of her dad, her dead best friend, and a local landmark. Second of all, there are a lot of temporal transitions--the story builds in a roundabout way, jumping back to whatever pieces of Vera and Charlie's history are relevant at the moment. It's done in a way that feels exactly like remembering--it's perfectly easy to follow and is logically non-linear. The voices of all the characters--down to the inanimate one--are clear and distinct and funny (usually, unless they're heartbreaking.) I was initially skeptical of a plot description that sounded like a mystery (not my usual genre) but really this is a coming-of-age story, I think. Or a family story. Whatever it is, it's a unique contemporary story, told well.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 8, 2012

Banned Books Week Giveaway Winner

Just a quick post from the road: April Y. is the winner of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! She'll be receiving three banned or challenged books:

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

She'll also be getting a giftcard to, which is a really fabulous website that lets public school teachers identify materials or experiences that would benefit their students and then lets the public chip in (any amount helps!) to fund those projects.  (It's a little like Kickstarter, but for things like books, school supplies, musical instruments, and field trips.)  You can search for projects in your community or in a subject area that interests you.  If you're looking for a good cause to support, I can't recommend this one highly enough (and I'm not even in the classroom to use it anymore!)

Congrats, April!  And thanks to everyone who entered!  Keep reading and never let anyone take away your books!

Monday, October 1, 2012

PSA: Cybils Voting Now Open!

Don't forget to enter my Banned Books Week/Blogaversary Giveaway! 

Hey gang: it's time!  Think long and hard about your favorite books (published specifically for kids or young adults) with publication dates between Oct. 16, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012.  Know your choices?  GREAT.  Now go nominate them for Cybils awards!  You only get to nominate ONE title per category.  A book only needs to be nominated ONCE in order to be eligible for the award (and yes, the hardy, tenacious first round judges WILL be looking at EVERY nominated title!).

What's been nominated so far?  Here's the YA Fiction List, the Fantasy/Sci-Fi List (separated by MG/YA), and the MG Fiction List.  You can check out all the lists of what's been nominated in the right-hand sidebar of the main Cybils website, and I encourage you to nominate in any category you're interested in (a list of categories and their descriptions can be found here.)  But I especially encourage you to nominate something awesome in the YA Fiction category, because that's where I'll be a second-round judge!  The amazing, hard-working first round judges need some really, really fantastic books to read (ok, maybe that makes their jobs harder, but at least they should get to have some fun) before they create a shortlist and pass that along to my fellow round two judges and me!

In summation:
  • Cybils nominations are open now through 10/15.
  • Eligible books are published specifically for kids and teens between Oct. 16, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012.
  • You may nominate ONE book in each category.
  • Each book only needs ONE nomination, so don't re-nominate something that's already on the list!
  • Make. Good. Choices.

Thanks, everyone!  Remember, you don't get to complain about your favorite book losing if you don't nominate it!  ;-)