Tackling My TBR List

During November’s NaBloPoMo, I shared eight books that were on my To Be Read list. Amazingly, I’ve read five of the books since then, so I wanted to do a quick update on them.

1. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

This book was a disappointment for me. I was really looking forward to Anna’s quirky commentary and wit. What I got was a lot about her sex life and recreational drug use and not near enough humor. Parts I did like: learning how Anna started acting at a young age – and in theater, mostly. The first time I saw her act was in Twilight and then Pitch Perfect, so it was interesting to hear about her career before those films. She seemed to have a pretty level-headed upbringing despite being a child actor, and she certainly didn’t make money from acting until recently. That being said, I don’t think I would recommend this book. There just wasn’t anything captivating enough about it. If you feel the need to check this one out, I’d recommend the audio CD over reading the book, as Kendrick herself reads it, so at least it’s a bit more manageable. My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

2. We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han  

The third book in the Summer series, We’ll Always Have Summer, picks up at the end of Belly’s freshman year of college. She and Jeremiah have been dating and even attend the same school. It all seems to be going well, but when Belly hears about a mistake Jeremiah made, she’s forced to question whether he is the right guy for her. I read this book in two days because I had to know, who would it be – Jeremiah or Conrad?! Was this a fantastic book? No. Belly was just as immature and selfish as she was in the first two books and the plot was a bit ridiculous, but it didn’t matter – I was sucked in! Jenny Han should really write a television show because her teenage drama is spot on. My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

3. Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

In Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, a young writer named Darcy decides to defer her freshman year of college so that she can move to NYC and experience life as a debut YA author. Her story as a budding writer, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry, as well as her growth as a young adult, help her shape her manuscript about a girl who survives a terrorist attack and now has the power to “cross over” into an even better story. I bought this book a few years ago in Barnes & Noble’s clearance section, thinking it was a great price for such a huge book! Sadly, the size of the book kept me from actually getting around to reading it. As an e-book however, it was much less daunting. And, boy, am I glad I finally read it. I enjoyed both stories, though they were not as interconnected as I thought they were going to be. I really liked following Darcy’s experience as a debut author. Her story about the afterworld, which is told in the alternating chapters, is just as original and entertaining as the framing story. I’d recommend this book to fans of YA literature and people who have participated in the NaNoWriMo experience. My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Huxley’s sci-fi novel envisions a world where people are genetically engineered and brainwashed so that they are good consumers. Thanks to a society where sex is recreational and not monogamous, and drugs are always available to pick you up or wipe out lonely thoughts, everyone is happy. However, a few characters in the novel start to feel different – the basis for the book’s conflict. I think the book was probably advanced for its time, but reading it today, I found the language a bit difficult to understand. The concept of creating people (and clones of the same person) and preconditioning them was incredibly interesting and thought-provoking, but the story went in strange directions and there were some odd writing techniques. For instance, I almost had to picture it like a movie in certain sections because the author would have multiple “scenes” happening all at the same time and I had to keep up with who was talking and what they were talking about. There were some very interesting ideas about sexuality and gender roles – especially for a book published in 1932. Unfortunately, the book had a terrible ending. Terrible because it just ended abruptly without filling the reader in on how all the character’s stories were resolved. There were several main characters, but none of their stories felt finished or complete to me. While an ending like this sometimes leaves room for the reader to fill in the blanks, in this case, I wanted more information. I left not really knowing what I was supposed to make of this strange new world – other than it was certainly not the utopia it claimed to be. There were a lot of messages: the fear of taking science and technology too far, the importance of reading and education, how religion can control people and form society, how free is our free will, just to name a few. I’m sure it’d be a fascinating book to use for discussion in a book club or classroom. In all, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book, but I’m not sure I liked it all that much. My Goodreads rating: 2 stars

5. Shadow and Bone, Book 1 of The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

The first book of the Grisha Trilogy begins with a trek across a dangerously dark and monster-filled area called the Shadow Fold. The main character, Alina, finds she has incredible powers that can ward off the terror of the Shadow Fold. She is sent to the royal court to be trained as an elite fighter. But the luxurious life being a powerful member of the elite isn’t what it seems. I almost gave this book a five-star rating on Goodreads, as it was pretty close to perfect. I raced to finish this one, and then was sad when I made it to the last page. The characters and world were just plain enjoyable to read about. I was hooked from the beginning and I will definitely be continuing the rest of the series. I’ve already got the next book on hold. There are many books about people who have strange powers or abilities (Graceling, Three Dark Crowns, Shatter Me, Under the Never Sky – all books I enjoyed, by the way), but this book still held its own and brought something different and interesting. I would highly recommend this book (especially if you liked the books I listed in parentheses)! My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

What books have you recently crossed off your TBR list?

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Eye-catching Book Covers

eyecatchingcoversYou know what would be an awesome bookish career? I think it would be pretty cool to be a book designer. I was curious to find out how one becomes a book designer and what the work is like. I enjoyed this article on Literally, Darling.com that interviewed Penguin Random House book designer Daniela Medina. She points out that it’s important to have a love of books and that understanding and being able to analyze literature is a useful skill too, as “It’s one thing to design a beautiful cover – which is difficult enough in itself – and it’s another to design a beautiful book cover that does real justice to the words inside.” Another interesting thing I learned is that a book designer is often working on multiple projects at once and they are always in different stages, so there is a lot of organization and project management going on. Jack Noel from Walker Books mentions this too in a post on The Reading Agency. He notes, “With many long-running simultaneous projects you need to be on top of it all, alongside dealing with artists, their agents and production costs.” His advice for young people who are interested in becoming designers themselves is to “Do what you can to learn the computer programs (InDesign and Photoshop, mainly) and create a portfolio – fill it with whatever you want – redesigned book covers, logos for friends, posters for bands that don’t exist. To be a designer you need a little bit of skill and a lot of enthusiasm and a portfolio of self-initiated projects is a good way to show both.” While it would be awesome to see your work come to life as an actual book, it would be tough to be creative all the time, continuously coming up with fresh concepts. This makes me appreciate all the work that goes into each cover.  

Don’t you love looking at the covers of books? I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let’s be real. Don’t you gravitate to the books that catch your eye on the shelf? It’s really too bad that you can only see the spines on a library shelf. They look so much more appealing when you see the full cover. Here are some 2015 and 2016 YA releases that have interesting and beautiful covers. I would definitely pick these books up to see what they’re about.

How about you – which books are you intrigued by? Would you want to be a book designer?

yabookcovers

Finding Inspiration in the Finger

fingerI was driving in my very own neighborhood about a year ago when a car with two teenage boys drove past and instead of giving me the friendly neighbor wave, I got the finger. Yes, the middle finger.

I was shocked!

Why would someone stick up their middle finger like that at me? Was I driving poorly? Did they think I was someone else? A buddy, perhaps, who drives a Chevy Impala, too? Did they regret it afterwards? Or were they just mean, jerky boys?

As you can see, this moment stuck around long after the seconds it took for the boy to hold up the offending finger at me. And clearly, I’m not the only person who’s had a moment like this. In Jo Knowles novel, Read Between the Lines, she includes a dedication to “the man driving the station wagon who gave my family the finger in 2003 even though we didn’t deserve it.” Each chapter in the novel is voiced by a different character who encounters the finger during the course of a single day in a single town. Their reactions to the finger differ: one girl is shamed by it, a boy is emboldened by it, a father is at first stunned and then angered. Some find it liberating and others find it hurtful.

Knowles’s writing style is just right for this story – honest and heartfelt – young adults will be drawn to this, especially those who like books by Siobhan Vivian, Jenny Han, Carolyn Mackler, and David Levithan. I found the characters to be realistic and believable. They each seem to feel that there is something more to life than what they’ve been stuck with, but they don’t really know how to make their lives any better. A pretty cheerleader searches for meaningful conversations and friends who aren’t so shallow. A kid who is bullied – both by kids at school and his own father – searches for respect. A 19 year old man strives for a better job than the “temporary” one he has now at a fast food restaurant. A teenage boy wishes his friends would grow up and quit their mean pranks, yet also wishes they were still just kids again, enjoying summers in their tree house. Each character, who was briefly mentioned in a previous chapter, becomes more than what others see when they look at them. The only thing I disliked about this book was that the chapters never went back to the other characters to see how their lives turned out. Instead, we as readers have to imagine what will happen. Maybe getting “the finger” will inspire a change in their lives, or maybe it will simply fade from their memories as time passes.

While most of the characters are teenagers, the final chapter is narrated by a young, female teacher. I could definitely relate to many of her struggles and worries. She has taken the place of another teacher and hasn’t figured out how to gain her students’ trust. Teaching is just not what she thought it would be. She’s considering giving up, but in the final lines of the book, she states, “That just like there is more to her than what they see, there is more inside each one of them. What’s your story? she will wonder as she scans the room from face to face. And this time, when she pleads with them to read between the lines, she will try to do the same.” This is exactly what I tried to do with my students, and what we really need to do with each other: stop and consider what issues other people may be dealing with and be kind to one another. Read Between the Lines hasn’t received as much attention as other YA books, but it’s quietly compelling and worth the read.

Illuminae and a Letter

illuminaeletterA Reading Update:

Last night (or rather very early this morning, as my child doesn’t understand or appreciate sleep), I finished up Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I was intrigued by this book when I saw it in the library because instead of standard prose, the book is written in a series of documents, transcripts, and instant messages. I was also intrigued because I enjoyed Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s novel These Broken Stars. I had high hopes for the novel, and while I might have been a little bored during the pre-middle-ish part of the book, I was hooked at the end and felt very invested in the characters and the plot. I would recommend this book to people who enjoyed the These Broken Stars series, Under the Never Sky series, and Across the Universe series. So, Young Adult science-fiction readers!    

The book takes place in the future, where a company has an illegal mining facility in space. When a rival company finds out about it, they decide to launch an attack on the facility and the civilians. After a bloody battle between warships, several spaceships are able to flee with refugees. This is just the beginning of the story though. The main aircraft is equipped with an operating system that was injured during the attack and has gone a bit crazy. In fact, it launches an attack on one of the airships it is supposed to be protecting when it learns that there is a deadly virus infecting everyone on the ship. Some people from the ship survive, but that means they also carry the virus. Now, the people aboard the spacecraft have to deal with an enemy aircraft looking to kill them, as well as a virus that turns people into psychotic murderers, and an operating system that can destroy them at any minute. Meanwhile, readers follow the story of two teens who had just broken up at the start of the story. Needless to say, the traumatic events that occur pull them back together.

While I really liked the last 50 pages of the novel, I didn’t love it enough to rush out and get the second book in the series, Gemina. Then again, I might be tempted to read it if I happen to catch it at the library or find it on sale! I did, however, like Illuminae more than Across the Universe.

Be warned: if you read Illuminae as a Kindle ebook, you will miss out on several pages of the story. The pages aren’t missing, but the teeny, tiny text and artwork on a few of the documents are too small to view. Increasing the text size did not help and I could not zoom in to the images either.  

A Writing Update:

Yesterday, I finally wrote a letter that I had been drafting in my head for weeks. Now, I just have to put it in an envelope and mail it! We’ll see how long it takes me to do that. For now anyway, it feels good to have the words on the page. Isn’t it a relief to get the thoughts out of your head, sometimes?

Current Read: Across the Universe

imageWould you willingly press pause on your life in order to be frozen and re-awoken three hundred years later? If so, you might think twice about it once you read Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming. image

So far, I’m enjoying the book, but it does keep reminding me of other science-fiction books and shows (Ender in Exile, These Broken Stars, Ray Bradbury’s short stories, The Giver, to name a few). Despite this, it’s fresh enough to keep me interested. One of the reasons for this is the author’s use of short chapters that switch between two characters. You want to find out what happens to the character next, but you’re interrupted by a chapter about another character, so you have to just keep reading. The beginning of the book was gripping and had my stomach on edge as the author described how to cryogenically freeze people. The pain the characters felt was palpable and I’m appreciating the author’s ability to describe the setting and events using all of the senses.

My hopes for the rest of the book are that it continues to surprise me, despite its sci-fi tropes, and that the characters will be people I care about and root for.

What are you currently reading?

I’ll Give You the Sun: A Dream Cast

imageJandy Nelson’s Young Adult novel I’ll Give You the Sun is just the sort of book that would be great as a movie. It offers both a male and female teenage lead, a cute British love interest, an eccentric mother, a grumpy tortured artist, a ghost grandma, plus a whole lot of teen angst and drama. Read this post to hear me gush about the novel some more. Hollywood is already buzzing about this movie. As of yet, a Gossip Girl writer and two producers from If I Stay are signed on to the project.

In summary, the novel focuses on twins Noah and Jude as they navigate their early teenage years dealing with sexuality, sex, love, their futures, and their parents’ possible divorce. Jude is beautiful and popular. She’s daring and can surf as well as any of the boys. She fights with her mother about how she dresses and parties, yet strives for her mother’s love and attention. Noah is the weird one. He is a loner and sees the world as works of art. He wants to attend a prestigious arts school. He is also questioning his sexuality, which has him worried because he thinks his macho, sports-loving dad won’t understand. An unexpected turn of events throws their world into turmoil. Suddenly, Jude is the loner, trapped in her guilt and grief, while Noah becomes the daring, social butterfly and stops painting. Can a ghost grandma, tortured artist, and British bad boy get the twins back on track with their lives?

casting_GiveUtheSun

Would you go see this film?

~ Visit the Dream Cast page to see more of my book to film casting ideas.

Current Read: The Kingdom of Little Wounds

imageMe, a week and a half ago: Hm, this book sounds like something I would love. It’s a mix of historical fiction, fairytale, and mystery. Oh, and it’s a 2014 Printz award nominee? It must have great writing.

Me, days later: Ugh, this book is going nowhere…and gross, did I really just read that? Didn’t it say this was Young Adult? Yikes. I’m not sure this book is for me.

I really wanted to like The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. The blurb was great. Or rather, the blurb was the best part about it. Here, read about the book first, and then I’ll tell you why it missed the mark for me.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.image

Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem—and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

I’m struggling to get through this book. I have considered abandoning it on several occasions, but then I think, if I just read a bit further, maybe it will get better. I’m now 48% of the way though and the book hasn’t gotten any better. Here are a few issues I have with the book:

  1. It’s labeled YA, but it shouldn’t be. Even though I’m not a teenager and am technically mature enough to handle the content of this book, I was still surprised at the sexually graphic scenes included. I would not want my child reading this book and can only imagine the phone calls from concerned parents if I were to use this book in the classroom. I’m all for celebrating everyone’s freedom to read and understand some teens wouldn’t have a problem with this book, but I also believe in age-appropriate content. This book feels very adult.
  2. There are too many points of view. The book changes narrators in each chapter, but I don’t know who the protagonist is, or who I’m supposed to care about. There is a king who spends a lot of time on the toilet, a servant who lies to get herself ahead, a mute servant who is treated like she’s less than human, and two ambitious courtiers who are trying to gain power (one of whom stores gems inside his royal jewels, if you know what I mean). No one is very “likable.” They seem petty and self-serving instead of complex and interesting. The POV is odd, too, because it’s not really first person. It’s like first person, but then an omniscient presence creeps in every so often and tells us things that the character wouldn’t know. This feels like a mistake to me. Like an editor should have told the author that the point of view needs more consistency.
  3. The plot drags on with very little action. I feel like I’ve been reading and reading and nothing is happening (I’ve already spent over a week on it). The story is getting more and more depressing at this point. If something interesting doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to give up on this book.

What do you think, should I keep reading to find out why this book was a Printz nominee, or simply give up?