A Reading Update


I’ve been failing at reading lately! I keep running out of time in the day for some reason. I was in the middle of two books and their lending periods expired before I could finish either one. Then, while I was reading those books, two other books came through as holds and there was no way I was going to be able to get to those. *sigh* Luckily, I think I finally got my OverDrive books under control and I’m on a better path now. I was able to check out one of the books that I had run out of time on and finished it two nights ago. Then I started a new book and it is off to a wonderful start and I know I’ll be able to finish it.

Current Read: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (who is also the author of the fabulous, All the Bright Places)

Just Finished: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

I put this book on my TBR list in 2017 after I saw the book blurbed in a list of fresh, diverse reads. But this book was rough for me. The lending period wasn’t the only reason why I almost didn’t finish this book. Mainly, I do not think I was the intended audience. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about the book. For instance, I don’t understand why there needed to be so much recreational drug use in a book targeted to teens. But then again, there were also moments of really beautiful messages, like when the main character thinks back on her mother’s advice: “Reading would make me brilliant, but writing would make me infinite.”

The book follows college student Juliet Milagros Palante as she announces to her family that she likes girls and then leaves the Bronx for an internship in Portland, Oregon. She spends the summer with hippy Harlowe Brisbane, author of her favorite feminist book, Raging Flower. But things don’t go as smoothly as Juliet envisions. There’s trouble with her girlfriend, trouble with Harlowe’s friends, trouble between Harlowe and her primary girlfriend, trouble with her mom, and trouble understanding how the feminism of privileged white women works for women of color.

Juliet’s journey is very different than mine. I’m white and heterosexual. I haven’t had to face racism or homophobia. I’ve been lucky in life and while I’m trying to check my privilege and learn, it’s still new to me that feminism has issues with intersectionality. These terms and the challenges Juliet faces lend this mature book to college-age students much better than teens. I would have a hard time recommending this book to high schoolers. This book is in your face and doesn’t hold back: Juliet scrubs at a menstrual stain on a bed, Harlowe teaches Juliet that masturbation is better for period pain than Midol, and the word “dyke” gets thrown around a lot. Even though Juliet and I both learned a few things through the course of this novel, this book was not for me…nope… 

Please tell me you’re reading something better than my last book! 


Teen Fiction & the Teen Experience: A Course Curriculum

The “20 Books All Students Should Read Before They Turn 18” list I posted about yesterday made me think about the teenage experience and influential books that capture the awkward and confusing teen years. I felt inspired to create a class syllabus for a fictitious high school literature course. Click this link: TeenFictionSyllabus to view the image as a PDF. Have a look. How did I do? Would you take this class?

A Legit Reading List

Whether it’s 1,000 books to read before you die, the 18 best books of 2018, the 10 best beach reads, or Americans’ 100 favorite books, it’s clear that readers love lists…and debating those lists! That’s why I was surprised to come across a list that I (almost) completely agree with!

20 Books All Students Should Read Before They Turn 18

By Lindsey Murray for Good Housekeeping.com Posted Aug 20, 2018

  1. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  4. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  9. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  11. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  13. Night by Elie Wiesel
  14. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger  
  15. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
  16. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  17. 1984 by George Orwell
  18. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  19. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison  
  20. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle  

This is a pretty well-rounded list. There’s a good mix of classics and contemporary novels. There are challenging, intellectual reads, as well as binge-worthy, fun reads. There is some diversity. There is historical fiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy. And there is a mix of male and female writers.

If I could tweak the list, I would make just a few changes. There are six books on the list, which I’ve marked with the asterisk (*) below, that I haven’t read. I can’t vouch for them – though most of them I’ve heard about. The bold titles are the ones I would remove from the list and replace with a different title. Some of these are books that I didn’t particularly enjoy, and some are tough reads that would be best enjoyed by older young adults, or by teens only if they were reading them along with a teacher who could help explain the book/symbolism/significance.   

    1. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    4. *Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
    5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky → replace
    7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    9. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
    10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding → replace
    11. *Looking for Alaska by John Green  → replace
    12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    13. Night by Elie Wiesel
    14. *The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger  → replace
    15. *The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
    16. *The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath → replace
    17. 1984 by George Orwell
    18. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    19. *Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison  → replace
    20. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle  

What would I replace the six bold titles with? Hmm…probably the same books that I keep recommending over and over and over again!

  1. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
  2. March by John Lewis
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Every Day by David Levithan
  5. The Giver by Lowis Lowry
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  7. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

What did you think of the “20 Books All Students Should Read Before They Turn 18” list? Would you make any changes?

Experiencing the War Storm Tour: Part Two

In yesterday’s post, I gave a play-by-play of a book signing I attended in May: Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm Tour. After passing out some prizes to the audience, the owner of a local bookstore introduced Aveyard and two other authors who were joining her on the panel. The audience clapped and no one walked through the door!

Luckily, a moment later, the authors walked into the room. Victoria even tripped on the one step going up to the seating area! She’s beautiful, by the way, gorgeous hair and a very expressive face. The three authors and a youth librarian put on their mics (which weren’t great – they should have practiced that part) and Victoria joked about tripping “like Jennifer Lawrence.” The youth librarian moderated the event, asking questions about their writing process and rituals, inspiration behind the books, what character from their own book they’d want to hang out with and why, and their favorite emoji. The authors would each respond to the question and sometimes they would ask each other related follow-up questions. Here’s what I learned about Victoria Aveyard:

  • Victoria says she treats writing like a job and tries to stick to regular, week day hours.
  • She uses map drawing and playlist making to feel like she’s being productive when she’s not exactly writing.
  • Her puppy keeps her busy, too. I’m not really an animal person – no, I’m not cold and heartless, just allergic! – so I wasn’t really interested in this part of the program when all three authors discussed their pets, but clearly the rest of the audience was.
  • Victoria said the character from her books she would like to spend a day with was Julian. At first, I was like, “Who is that again?” but then remembered that Julian is Mare’s teacher during her time at the castle. He’s wise and gives her important information – though she doesn’t always understand it at the time. This was a surprising answer to me, as there are so many other more interesting, stand-out characters. She also mentioned Farley, a tough-as-nails chick, who is based off Victoria’s best friend and roommate. In real life, Victoria’s friend has long, beautiful hair, but in the book, Farley frequently has a shaved head! This was kind of like a joke she played on her! She also mentioned Shade, and a ripple of breathless, “Shaaaade” went around the room. Again – not from me! I mean, he’s a fictional character. Who – well, skip this if you haven’t read the first three books in the series yet *SPOILER ALERT* – he dies in, like, book 2! So how are you still lusting after him in book 4?! That’s like thinking Jacob and Bella should be together (which, BTW, Victoria was asked about during Q&A – “Team Edward or Team Jacob?” She replied, “What year is this?!” and also answered Team Edward – as it should be).
  • Victoria alluded to a future project where all of her inspiration – pictures, music, maps – will be shared on some kind of online platform for readers to enjoy.

After the moderated discussion, there was about 15 minutes of Q&A. Some questions were good and some were ho-hum. Especially when the moderator said, “Ok, this will be the last question,” and the person chosen asked, “Like, what was like the inspiration for like, your characters?” You could tell the audience was a little let down because Victoria had already answered this while responding to other questions about the characters.

I should note that the other authors in the panel were Brittany Cavallaro and Lori M. Lee. Cavallaro is a creative writing instructor at the Interlochen Arts Academy, with a young adult fiction series based on imagining Sherlock Holmes has a descendant who is a girl. The first book is called A Study in Charlotte. Her website is here. Cavallaro was a good speaker and I think I would pick up her book based on the day’s discussion. Lori M. Lee is a Wisconsin writer of the Gates of Thread and Stone series, a young adult fantasy series where the main character can manipulate time. You can learn more on her website here.

The room we were in was a conference room with a low ceiling, and it became very cozy with 200ish people. The room got rather warm and stuffy. More A/C and air flow would have been a plus! The authors were on a raised platform behind a long desk – like for a city council meeting. Since our seating wasn’t tiered, I had to peek around heads to see all the authors – thus why I didn’t bother taking any pictures during the discussion. I had hoped that the event sponsors would post a few photos because I saw them with cameras, but I haven’t had luck finding them anywhere online. The authors were in front of lots of windows with the blinds closed. Had I been in charge of this event, I think I would have created some sort of backdrop, and other instagramable promotional materials, so people could take pictures and share them.

At the end of the panel, the authors left and we got instructions for how the signing would work. We’d be released by row, and lead into the library. I know the bookstore owner wanted to let people cool off, so she sent the line outside, but I think I would have preferred sitting in my chair to standing in line for hours. I felt bad for the library patrons there that day, as the line was very chatty and loud – especially considering we’re all bookish people and we’re in a library! The authors were seated at a table tucked behind the last row of bookshelves, so you couldn’t even see them until it was your turn.

When I approached the front of the line, a worker made sure that my book was labeled and turned to the right page so Victoria would easily be able to sign it. I was also able to give my phone/camera to a worker to take a picture for me – but my phone is old and stupid and the first one didn’t work. Luckily, the next one did, but I felt bad about holding up the line. I should have just brought our mini-iPad along. Here’s how my brief interaction with Victoria went:

V: Hi there, how are you?

Me: *super awkward* Good, good, how are you?

V:  Good, thanks for asking! (She’s so polite!)

Me: Good, so I really liked how in the last book, or I should say the third book, how you really drew the battle scene out so it wasn’t over right away.

V: Thanks. I had a lot of fun writing it. Did you want a picture?

Me: Yes, please. *smile awkwardly for camera*

Then I said thank you and walked away. I spent just about an hour in line and was in the fourth row. As I left the building, I could see that other people were going to be there for a loooooong time. I’m curious to know what time Victoria got to leave.

Overall, I’m glad that I went to this event. I’ve been lusting after all the cool, bookish things other bloggers get to do, and now I finally got to experience one myself. I feel much more prepared for the next book signing I go to, too!

My Top Tips for Attending a Book Signing:

  1. Follow the event rules so it’s fair for everyone.
  2. Purchase the book in advance if allowed.
  3. Bring along a friend so you can chat in line.
  4. Have a good camera/phone so you can take a decent picture.
  5. Have something prepared to say to the author when you get to meet them.

Have you ever attended an author reading/panel/signing? What did you think of it? What tips would you give for getting the most out of the experience?

Experiencing the War Storm Tour: Part One

When I saw the facebook ad for Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm tour in my feed, I was excited that I’d finally be able to attend a real, bookish-event – and props for it being free (beyond the purchase of a book) and in my area. Two local bookstores were hosting the event, but it would be held at a library so more guests could be accommodated. While Aveyard was the headliner for the event, she would be joined by two other authors for a discussion, and then all of their books would be available for purchase and signing afterward. I jumped at the chance to register for the event. After jealously reading posts by other book bloggers about book signings and book conferences, I was finally going to attend one myself!  

In case you’re unfamiliar, Victoria Aveyard is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the young adult fantasy Red Queen series. She is also a screenwriter and holds a degree in Writing for Film & Television. Red Queen follows Mare Barrow as she navigates a world divided by two classes of people: reds and silvers. Silvers have incredible powers that allow them to rule over the common Reds. But this system starts to change when Mare, a Red, finds out that she has powers of her own. While the shocked Silvers try to claim Mare for their own, Mare secretly helps the Red Guard with their rebellion. Personally, I rated the first book a four, because while I enjoyed it, it also reminded me of a lot of the other YA series I had read before it. I rated the second book, Glass Sword, three stars because Mare becomes depressing and doubts herself and the book really becomes a downer. However, the third book, King’s Cage, was so much fun to read and I gave it five stars!    

Here’s a play-by-play of my experience at a book signing, in case this is new to you, too. Two weeks before the event, I was surprised by a three page email full of instructions! Here I was, naively thinking I’d show up, watch a discussion panel, and get in line for a book signing. Apparently, the large interest for the event made it more complicated. I was encouraged to line up outside the front of the library until registration began at 12:30 – for the panel starting at 2pm! I love that authors have become rock stars! Further FAQ information explained that you must buy War Storm from the event sponsors in order to have your book signed. People who hadn’t registered for the discussion could still get a book signed – if they bought their book from the sponsors and got a special signing pass. People who attended the talk would be first in the signing line. With multiple messages leading up to the event – including one the day before the event and one the day of to let us know there was a rain plan in place – I was expecting quite the hoopla.  

Finally, Sunday, May 20th arrived. It was a humid, dampish day. I was running a little later than I had wanted to be, but left the house around 12:05 and got to the Delafield Library parking lot (which I had scoped out on Friday!) around 12:20pm. The parking lot still had plenty of parking spaces, so I thought the emails had perhaps overblown the sitch’ a bit. I followed two girls (wearing olive green jackets just like me!) around to the front of the library. Sure enough, there was a nice-sized line wrapping around the front of the building. Everyone in line looked like a teenager or a parent of a teen (I’m 32 FYI). There were lots of T-shirts and book bags with bookish references, especially Harry Potter. Before long, a woman joined the line behind me. She brought up the “dramatic” emails and name-dropped some other author readings she had attended – none of which had so many emailed instructions! A few other people joined the line behind her. At 12:30, the line surged ahead as the doors were opened. The new person behind the woman said, “So, what’s Red Queen about?” Apparently, she hadn’t read any of the author’s books! Like, why are you standing in line for this? I don’t get it! The woman gave a pretty good spiel about the book (I think she might have been a librarian), which boiled down to “It’s like the Hunger Games and The Selection mixed with Divergent.”

When I finally got into the library lobby, it got very confusing. Multiple lines converged and diverged, and none of them were really moving anywhere. People who hadn’t registered for the event but were still hoping to get standing room were clogging up the lines, and to top it all off, the library was also open – on a Sunday? – so there were confused patrons trying to get through, too. I gave my name at the “Registered” table, got my event pass, and then joined the slowest moving line of my life to purchase a copy of War Storm. Note to self: buy book ahead of time in the future so I can skip that rigamarole. Along with War Storm, they were also selling the author’s three previous novels, plus a coloring book, and the books for the two other authors who were participating in the panel. Somehow, the girl who hadn’t read any of the author’s books ended up in line in front of me, and I saw her purchase the entire four book series – in hardcover! She might have also bought a book by the other authors, so she easily dropped $75 – $100 on books right there! Whoa!

Next, I went down the steps to the conference room (and had to wait while organizers solved an issue for a girl who bought the book off Amazon instead – didn’t you read the EMAILS?!). I went in and found a seat. A woman went around asking people for their names to put on Post-It notes so the authors would know who to address the book to. I stood up and followed her to get a Post-It and when I did that, I realized there was a much closer seat available. I’m really glad I moved closer because they released us by row for the signing line, so I was only in the 4th row and it took an hour to get my book signed. I’m sure the people at the end of the line were there for at least three hours. Anyway, I was sitting next to a family from Minnesota – mom, dad, a young teen, and a tween – I had heard the mom say they drove from MN while we were outside in line. To the right of me were two seats with pages taped to them saying they were taken. As per the emails, people were allowed to mark their seats and then patronize Delafield businesses before the event actually started. I took out my kindle to read since it was already almost 1:15 by this time and we were supposed to be in our seats by 1:45. However, the group behind me was loud and chatty and I could not tune them out. They talked about Holly Black’s Cruel Prince – a novel not on my TBR list, as I really didn’t care for her books back in the day. One of the girls/women (I’m bad with ages) said, “If you like Cruel Prince, you should read Sarah J. Maas’s books.” As she’s a current favorite of mine, I had to listen in to hear their thoughts – and be prepared to jump in to defend Maas if need be. Then they started a discussion about how unsatisfying it is to read books on an e-reader. I didn’t take it too personally – I thought the same thing until I had to read one-handed while nursing my baby. E-readers are lifesavers then.

The room continued to fill up – I’m guessing there were seats for 175-200 people. After everyone who registered for the event got a seat, other people were allowed to fill in the seven empty seats or to stand along the back wall. Before the owner of one of the bookstores introduced the authors, she had us reach under our chairs, calmly, to see if there was a pink heart. If so, you got a prize! I was not one of the lucky ones. Prizes were ARCs, book bags, and other bookish items. Then the owner introduced the authors and we all clapped to welcome them…and no one came in! Whoops, a little miscommunication!

To see what happened next, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!

Mmmbop, ba duBOOKS

At the end of last year’s NaBloPoMo, I was off to Chicago for Hanson’s “Finally It’s Christmas” tour, and now, I’m off for another Hanson concert! This time around (also the name of a great Hanson song and album!), Hanson will be performing with a symphony orchestra. So, in honor of one of my favorite musical groups, here are some brief book reviews paired up with the lyrics to Hanson’s most popular song, “Mmmbop.” Enjoy! Tip: click on the image to make it bigger and easier to read.

And you’re welcome in advance for getting this song stuck in your head for the rest of the day!

What to Say Next: Keep Writing Diverse Characters

The reviews and ratings may be all over the place for What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, but personally? I really enjoyed it. Buxbaum got many things right in this book: interesting and varied characters, cute friendships and relationships, and distinct character voices.

David Drucker, a student at Mapleview High, is used to sitting alone at lunch. When Kit Lowell sits at David’s lunch table instead of with her two best friends, it sparks an unexpected friendship between two very different characters.

But near the beginning of the book, I read about David describing where he does – or does not – fit in on the Asperger/autism scale, and I knew there would be backlash for this book. There would be criticism regarding the accuracy of David and his portrayal of a person with autism. Perhaps the book romanticizes autism too much, making it seem possible to live a “normal” life – whatever that is – and become popular if you just get a haircut, buy new clothes, and follow some basic social rules, but isn’t the important thing that a character like David is a LEAD in a novel? Like David points out, there is a whole spectrum and that means he is just ONE example. If you’ve ever interacted with more than one autistic student/child/peer, you’d clearly realize that the label is limiting.

Readers don’t walk into books completely ignorant. Do they?

They have knowledge and experiences to compliment the texts they’re reading. This leads to my big issue when bloggers and reviewers say that authors aren’t writing characters with mental illness or disabilities correctly: we are all wired differently and live a million different experiences, so who’s to say that this isn’t ONE possible experience? Can’t all of these characters help show readers what living with autism (or mental health issues or disabilities or diverse backgrounds) is like? Is there really a right or a wrong way to be? This is what David points out in the book:

It seems to me that it’s now up to other authors to paint a different picture of autism so that we can understand and appreciate it for all its individuality. Instead of scaring writers away from writing diverse characters for fear of reader criticism, any mistakes or errors or misrepresentations should provide important discussion points for readers and help make authors and future novels more aware and authentic. While I can understand the need for accurate, honest portrayals, I don’t see why we can’t have characters who are just as unique as people are in real life. We can all exist together – whether in the the pages of a book or in the real world.

How do you feel about the portrayal of disabilities and/or mental illness in fiction books?

Do you feel that readers are so naive that one character’s depiction will shape their understanding of a particular issue?