January 2009


Check it out: Em (from Em’s Bookshelf) is giving away loads of completely awesome books, and you could be the winner. Enter here

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Since this has a much wider audience than my personal blog, I thought I’d mention it here, too. Even though this isn’t what I usually talk about here. Basically, I thought I knew where I was going to college and then got an offer that shakes it all up, and I don’t know what to do.

To sum it up: I have two options that are fantastic. Option #1 is Jacobs University, an English-speaking school in Bremen, Germany. I’d get to experience German culture, and learn a new language. It would be the cheaper of the two, and I’d have the opportunity to travel in Europe; however, the campus and course catalog don’t match what I want as well as option #2. Option #2 is Fordham University, a great school in New York City, that would be considerably more expensive. However, some of the specifics match what I want more, and I love New York. I wouldn’t have any money during my years there, though! Both offer good options after graduation. 

If you have insight/advice, please share. If you have general advice or if you’re from one of these places or know a lot about the schools or just anything. I can use all the help I can get.

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News Item #1: In case you hadn’t heard, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced earlier this week. The one I was most excited about what Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road winning the Printz Award! Definitely deserved. Check out the whole list of awards here. Possibly more thoughts on some to come at a later date, but don’t count on it.

News Item #2: Harmony is having many contests. Some are ending very soon! Check out her post with links to them all here. My favorite? The one for Alison Goodman’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. Wish me luck (and compete against me). 

Yeah, that’s it. Enjoy. 

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Along for the Ride is classic Sarah Dessen, which means, of course, that it’s awesome. The novel follows Auden, an insomniac overachiever who doesn’t really know how to let loose, live, have fun, and connect with people, through the summer after she graduates high school and before she starts her freshman year at a prestigious university. 

Rather than staying at home with her overbearing, intellectual, egotistical mother, she decides to visit her father, his new wife, and her new sister in the beach town of Colby. When she packs, she fills an entire suitcase with her textbooks to get an early start on college reading–that’s the kind of girl Auden is, but that’s not who she’ll be at the end of the summer.

In Colby, Auden finds her father too immersed in his novel to care about his new family. She finds herself wandering the town at night, first alone, and then with Eli, a local guy who also doesn’t sleep at night. Eli is dealing with his past, and helping Auden rediscover hers and do all the things she missed out on for the past eighteen years, when her parents expected her to be a miniature adult rather than a child or teenager. She also, after a rough start in which she hooks up with a guy who turns out to be the recent ex-boyfriend of a girl who works in  her stepmother Heidi’s store, finds herself some surprising new friends, once she learns to stop judging people at first glance, something she learned from her holier-than-thou mother. A lot happens in Auden’s summer of transformation, and it all comes down to connecting with people and living life. 

As I read, I kept finding similarities in this book to my favorite Sarah Dessen novel, This Lullaby. Both books, for example, involve older brothers transformed by their girlfriends and heroines who have had to grow up too fast and whose worldviews are changed by new guys. There was more, but I don’t remember right now, and it’s not important. Anyway, it was inevitable that I would be comparing the two books, with those similarities that stuck out to me (also I reread the first book just before reading this new one) and I’m sad to say that I didn’t find Along for the Ride to be quite as strong. The characters weren’t quite as real, the voice not quite as distinct, the world not quite as vivid. Of course, not the best of Sarah Dessen is still completely excellent. I loved this book, and was not fond of putting it down. The writing drew me into Auden’s world, into the town of Colby and kept me fascinated with the lives of its residents. Auden, and all the characters, were excellently well-drawn, with people being Sarah Dessen’s real strength in all her books. She makes them real, and she always focuses a lot on the relationships between them (all kinds–friends, family, romance, it’s all here). This book is no exception; everything in that regard was very well-done. This novel does not disappoint; it is typically wonderful Sarah Dessen. 

Four and a half out of six windows:

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In my English class, we started out the first full day by reading an interesting excerpt of Stephen King’s On Writing. It was a few pages photocopied thirty times so we could all circle, underline, make notes, etc. (I’m not entirely sure if this is legal, but schools do it all the time). Interesting thoughts, makes me want to read more of the book, etc. Not the issue. 

The issue is the censorship. Someone had whited out all of the “offensive language” so we didn’t read it. Of course, we can all guess what goes in the blanks, but the whiting-out was far more offensive, to me, than the language. Seventeen and eighteen year olds all know those words, we hear them all the time. It’s not as if you’re spoiling our innocence by exposing us to the word “damn;” the very idea is laughable. That’s funny, but it’s also offensive, to me, to do that to someone’s writing, to deem it appropriate except for some part of it, to not give us the integrity of the whole piece of writing. Because you know what, sometimes the whole feeling of something, the whole meaning of it, can be changed by a few words. That’s not true of the excerpt of Stephen King’s book, but it’s the principle of it–removing pages, whiting out words, I find that all very distasteful and offensive. If the whole of the work isn’t good enough for you, then don’t use it in class–don’t decide it’s all okay except students can’t be exposed to some part of it. Any agreement? Dissent?

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The winner of the contest (chosen by random.org) on Karen Mahoney’s guest blog is Adele. Adele, you’ve won an ARC of Jessica’s Guide To Dating On The Dark Side and a signed UK copy of Tithe! What great prizes! I’m emailing you for your address. 

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HarperTeen has made the entire content of The Luxe available free with the Browse Inside feature! Check it out here while it lasts. 

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So lately, I’ve got this thing where I want books with a good romance and a good road trip, both important parts of the story. I’ve got books in mind with one or the other, but not many with both (at least, not both important/well done). So I’m turning to you guys, my well-read readers, for suggestions. Know any great romantic road trip books? 

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The question:

Since “Inspiration” is (or should be) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

The answer:

I am inspired by everything I haven’t read, by knowing that the next great book could be on the next shelf. I am inspired by all the stories that have collected in my crowded brain over the years and beg to be reread. I am inspired by my fellow bloggers, who make me lust after awesome books. I am inspired by everything out there in the world, past and present, that I haven’t actually been able to experience for myself yet, or that I want to re-experience, and the way books can make those things come alive. I am inspired by my quest to understand the world and the people in it, and the insight books provide. I am inspired by the world and the people around me. 

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In fourth grade in North Carolina, we have a writing test where we have to write a short story about some prompt or another. They range from boring (“Write about the best birthday you ever had.”) to bizarre (“Imagine you open your lunchbox and there’s a frog inside. What do you do?”). We spend all of third and fourth grade practicing for this test. The writing skills taught are incredibly bizarre.

We’re not supposed to use boring words. We’re supposed to be creative. For example, we are never supposed to say “bad”; instead, it’s “horrible,” “terrible,” or “awful.” “Walking” is another no-no. “Lumbering,” “striding,” and “skipping” are all preferred. We are also supposed to insert as many adjectives and adverbs as possible to make our writing descriptive. Of course, not boring adverbs and adjectives. Similes and metaphors are also used heavily. Writing the word “said” is enough to get you sent to fourth grade creative writing hell. 

For example, a sane person would write, “Carl didn’t like Susie. One day, on the playground, he said she was dumb. Then he walked over to her and hit her with his blue lunchbox. She cried.” (Not that this is an example of good writing, anyway, but you get what I mean). An obedient North Carolina fourth  grader would turn that sentence into, “A hideous, elephant-sized boy with firetruck-red hair called Carl absolutely despised the beautiful, golden-haired Susie. On a bright, sunny day, at recess on the rocky, dirty playground, he shouted evilly and loudly that she was horribly dumb. Then he, cruelly strode over to her and  angrilly hit her with is sky blue, shiny plastic lunchbox like a Power Ranger. She wept giant tears like a smelly, apple-cheeked baby.” Or something like that. Ridiculous, no?

Needless to say, if anyone actually wrote in this style and tried to publish a book, their manuscript would be laughed out of any reputable agent’s office. 

I am trying to figure out why the state feels the need to teach people to write like that. Most of us know how to read and figure out pretty quickly that it’s insane, and I can’t imagine that there are people in the department of public instruction actually believe this to be good writing. Any theories?

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Going Too Far is a lot more serious and intense than what I was expecting from Jennifer Echols, who has previously written romantic comedies. They’re awesome, but very different from this latest book, and she’s pulled it off beautifully; this is a fantastic novel about love, loss, life, and moving on. It starts when Meg and some friends head out onto a railroad bridge where it’s rumored that some kids died a few years ago, and are caught by a cop, who, it turns out, regularly patrols the bridge. He’s connected to it somehow, and John After, despite being a promising student when he graduated high school last year, can’t tear himself away from that bridge long enough to go to college twenty miles down the highway.

Meg, on the other hand, can’t wait to get out of their tiny Alabama town, go to college in Birmingham, and then see the world. She was excited about a spring break trip to Miami, the first time she’ll see the ocean, but that comes crashing down when she hears her punishment for trespassing onto the bridge: she’ll be riding with Officer John After on his night shift for a week, learning something about the law.

When their lives collide for a week, Meg and John will both have to face their pasts, complete with hard questions and even harder answers. 

I absolutely loved this book. Some books are solidly good, some are really great, and a very few are take-your-breath-away, can’t stop reading amazing, and for me, Going Too Far falls into the latter category. It’s powerful without being over-the-top, and reveals universal truths while still being a very personal story. The past haunts us all, and this book addresses wonderfully the hold that it has over us. It’s also a very good look into the complicated, real relationships between people, and the power of love (as cheesy as that sounds, it’s not). 

Speaking of the people, well, wow. Everyone in this book is believable, complex, and layered. The characters and their relationships are complicated, as people are. Meg’s voice, too, stands out as authentic and very fitting to the character. Everything feels real and moving and intense, but (and this is key), without ever feeling over-the-top, lifetime-movie-esque melodramatic, when it could have so easily strayed into that territory. I really, really can’t stress enough how much you all need to read this book. It’ll be out in March, but go ahead and preorder this one. You’ll devour it, you’ll love it, and it will stick with you.

Five and 1/2 windows out of six and a heart:

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Jennifer E. Smith’s The Comeback Season was one of my favorite books of 2008, and I’m very pleased to have Jennifer here today for a guest blog! Aside from being an author, she is also an editor, and she wrote about the craziness of her life. Enjoy!

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I’m one of the lucky ones.  Not only do I have one job I love…I actually have two.  Besides being a writer, I also work as an editor at a major publishing house.  So I spend my days working with amazing authors, helping them through the publication process, learning from their successes and mistakes, and then at the end of the day – after all the hours of reading, the pages of notes, the line edits and copyedits and art meetings – there’s this beautiful book to show for it all.  And afterwards?  I have my own writing too.  Being a writer is something I’ve wanted since I was ten, and now it seems almost impossible that I’m actually doing it.  I hope everyone can be this lucky.  I hope everyone gets to do what they love someday.  
 
Still, most people have a pretty romantic notion of what these kinds of jobs entail.  So I’m here to set the record straight.  Contrary to popular opinion, editors do not spend the majority of their days poring over manuscripts, or chewing on the end of a pencil in a book-lined room while consulting a thesaurus every now and again.  And the same goes for writers.  I know very few who pass the time sitting in front of a notebook with a cup of tea, staring off dreamily whenever a new idea comes to mind.  The truth, in both cases, is a little more hectic than that.  And so I thought I’d outline for you a typical day in the life of a writer/editor:
 
6:38am – Wake up.  Hit snooze.  Manage to wake dog while I’m at it.
6:46am – Hit snooze one more time.  Just a few more minutes.  
6:54am – Okay, okay, I’m up.  Put on coat to take dog out.  Stand in freezing cold hoping he’ll choose to do his business quickly. Think of a brilliant beyond brilliant way to fix current work in progress, but it’s already disappeared by the time I’m back inside.
7:08am – Remember idea but am in the shower.  Will remember later, I’m sure.
7:52am – Leave for work.  Remember idea on the way, but fingers are too cold to write.  Gone again by the time I make it to the elevator.  
8:08am – Check email.  Check voicemail.  Several authors need several things.  Scurry around.  Make photocopies.  Get paper cut. Return phone calls.  Start thinking perhaps authors are kind of a pain, then remind myself that I’m one too.  Revise thought immediately.  Authors rule.
12:12pm – Lunch break.  Jot down what’s left of the morning’s idea, but too much going on in the office to write anything coherent. Resolve to do it later.
1:45pm – Jacket meeting.  Check email.  Marketing meeting.  Check email.  Publicity meeting.  Check email.  Author meeting.  Check email.  Another paper cut.  Check clock.
6:00pm – Try to spend a few minutes coaxing out the morning’s brilliant idea, but am whisked off to a book party for another author. Spend much of it in the corner, looking on jealously as they make their speech.  Try not to blame them for finishing their book.  It’s nottheir fault they have more time than I do.  (Or have won way more awards.)  Start backing out the door.  Need to get home and begin writing immediately.  
8:00pm – Arrive home.  Say hello to dog (after all, must always be gracious to your fans).  Sit at computer.  Try to remember why that idea seemed so genius this morning.  Type some nonsense, just to fill the page.  Erase it immediately.  
8:08pm – Eat dinner.
8:32pm – Return to computer.  Check Facebook.  Check MySpace.  Check email. 
8:44pm – Get snack.  (Not remotely hungry, but better than sitting in front of blank page).
8:48pm – Stare at screen some more. 
8:52pm – Notice manuscript in work bag.  Begin editing instead of writing.  Seems silly to work on my own idea when I’ve got someone else’s right there…
9:55pm – Still happily editing when something clicks.  My idea!  It’s brilliant again!
9:56pm – Return to computer.  Write a few hundred words.  Feel proud of myself.  Dog looks proud too.  Switch off computer again. As long as my number one fan is happy, then I’m happy too.  
 
So there you have it.  Glamorous?  No.  Leisurely?  Definitely not.  Wonderful?  Absolutely.  

Thanks, Jennifer! 

Check out my review of The Comeback Season and the author’s page on Myspace. Her next book, You Are Here, will be out in May, and I can’t wait to read it. 

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wow
Girl To The Core by Stacey Goldblatt

07.14.2009 from Delacorte Books for Young Readers

What kind of person is at your core?

Molly O’Keefe’s boyfriend, Trevor, is moving too fast, but when she catches him kissing his ex, Molly thinks it might be her own fault. After all, it was her idea to take things slow. In fact, her best friend, Vanessa, recently talked her into buying a neon spandex Halloween costume, and her nine-year-old neighbor, Claire, somehow got her to participate in a sixteen-mile walkathon. Despite Trevor’s apologies and Vanessa’s attempts to hook her up with rebound guys, Molly is utterly heartbroken. Then she finds comfort in a most unusual place: Girl Corps, a club Claire belongs to. As a fifteen-year-old, Molly hardly fits the Girl Corps profile. Still, she can’t deny that being with the little girls in the group gives her a sense of confidence and identity. 

But now Molly’s newly enlightened self is at odds with almost everyone in her life. As for Trevor, he won’t leave Molly alone, and that means trouble, because whether she likes it or not, Molly still has feelings for him. Will Molly turn her back on what she has learned, or will she stand her ground and embrace the strong girl at her core? 

This looks like a solidly good book about a girl trying to figure herself out. The cover’s fun, and Molly sounds like a great character. I can’t wait to read this one.

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Here’s a few links for today. 

First of all, Readergirlz is giving away sets of The President’s Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White in honor of the inauguration. I read the older three books years and years ago, and would love to win my own copies and see if they’re as awesome as I remember! Go here for details

Harmony at Harmony Book Reviews is giving away an ARC of Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages! Check it out

And finally, Presidential poetry–by which I mean Elizabeth Alexander’s poem from the inauguration. Brooklyn Arden has posted a transcription of it. Lovely.

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No review, but I figured I should at least blog about what I read casually. 

I finished my summer reading this weekend (not as crazy as it sounds; I have second semester English, and this week is the first of the new semester), and the books assigned this year were George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I preferred Huxley’s novel, but both were decent, and relatively readable when compared to some past assigned reading. Though they both had expectedly depressing endings.  However, they are also both perfect examples, in my opinion, of books made into classics for their importance rather than their quality.

Neither book is particularly well-written. The characters are flat on the page, and the settings hardly mentioned. Brave New World in particularly could have really used a copyeditor. If we’re going on literary merit or normal people appeal, these books are far from remarkable. It’s the ideas that have made them classics, the dystopian cautionary tales about conformity and information control. While I find the ideas intriguing and important, I really didn’t think that reading the books was particularly productive. Regardless, they didn’t suck, I was able to read them without hating words, and I guess that’s an improvement over last year’s books. 

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