Archive for the ‘Favorite Authors’ Category

bc-wintergirlsI love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer at the SCBWI LA conference and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

In her books like SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, Anderson writes about scary topics and has her characters say out loud things that teens are thinking way down deep inside. She gives voice to the nightmares and the rages we may all have experienced and then helps her characters (and readers) see a way through to the other side. I could keep fangirling like mad or just let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a passage from the very beginning of WINTERGIRLS, on the morning Lia learns her former best friend is dead  - body found in a motel room, alone:

...When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages…

No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.

I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.

But I have to drive.

…I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed.I laughed. We were perfection.

Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?

The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.

My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number, In pen. Busted me.

Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no-depressed/no-in need of attention/no-in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.

Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into hell on the hill New Seasons…

Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins…

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

This is such a phenomenal and important book. It will move you; it will change you.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

Hi All!

We’ve had some scheduling changes over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’ll now be posting over there more often – every other Sunday. Here’s my latest post where I discuss the relationship between artists and depression in The Creative Soul – Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Libba Bray’s recent blog post Miles and Miles of No-Man’s Land inspired this post. Stop by and share your thoughts. tgnalogorevamp

Mrs DallowayYou may realize that this is the middle of February and I am a tad bit tardy in posting my final Jazz Age January post. Actually this is the final day to post for the challenge, so I’m cutting it just under the wire. Whew!

I have been the unfortunate sufferer of the nasty flu and have been bed-ridden for the better part of two weeks. Although I still haven’t recovered my voice, I am now able to work for brief periods without massive coughing attacks and body aches. I won’t bore you with anymore bodily function issues. Let’s get down to business, shall we?

I think it was most apropos that I read MRS. DALLOWAY while I was ill. I have never read a book by Virginia Woolf before and her stream of consciousness style fit right along with my feverish dream state.

The surface plot for Mrs. Dalloway is simply that Clarrisa Dalloway is preparing to host a party in the evening. But beyond the surface, Woolf explores the thought processes of Mrs. Dalloway as she is prompted to reflect on her life and past events. Central to the novel is reference to the effect of World War I on British society in the post-war years and in particular, the loss of loved ones and the altering fate of those left behind. The consequences of this included the physical and psychological damage done to those who fought and survived, as well as to those who survived despite never having set foot on the battlefield. It all adds up to an odd juxtaposition of people carrying on their lives, with parties, families and friends, while an unspoken suffering erodes their happiness. (Excerpt from book foreword.)

Woolf is much more interested in the inner life of characters than of following a tradition plot. Instead, you find yourself flitting from mind to mind. The story begins with Mrs. Dalloway going out to buy flowers for her party. Then we meet a troubled young couple whose husband is suffering terribly with PTSD. We see the world through his thoughts and then hers and then skip through others traveling along Bond Street.

The story is written in one long, continuous chapter with no breaks. It feels like you’re riding a wave of thoughts and emotions that somehow do weave together with recurring themes. The finality of life being one of them. Here, Mrs. Dalloway reflects on death in the midst of enjoying her day:

What she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?

I found this preoccupation fascinating, especially considering how Woolf ended her own life years later. That being said, not all of the book was preoccupied with mortality. Another major focus was the missed romance between Mrs. Dalloway and Peter Walsh. Two people who knew each other so well, who could affect each other by merely entering a room and yet, Mrs. Dalloway had refused to jazzagemarry Peter Walsh. Their history was reflected on by both, back and forth throughout the tale.

Here is a brief excerpt from Peter’s perspective after he has called upon Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa) unexpectedly in the morning before her party:

There was always something cold in Clarissa, he thought. She had always, even as a girl, a sort of timidity, which in middle age becomes conventionality, and then it’s all up, he thought, looking rather drearily into the glassy depths, and wondering whether by calling at that hour he had annoyed her; overcome with shame suddenly at having been a fool; wept; been emotional; told her everything, as usual, as usual.

Although I couldn’t always tell where Woolf was taking me with her tale, I really enjoyed her use of language and the questions she brought into the reader’s mind. This description of Peter observing a group of young people out on the town is just delicious:

They dressed well too; pink stockings; pretty shoes. They would now have two hours at the pictures. It sharpened, it refined them, the yellow-blue evening light; and on the leaves in the square shone lurid, livid – they looked as if dipped in sea water – the foliage of a submerged city.

Overall, this book was a delightful way to end this Jazz Age experience.

Ah! Lest I forget! The winner of my DOLLFACE giveaway is…

ELIZABETH BEVINS!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

I had a great time with this whole event and with the contest. I’m sure there will be more contests the near future.

Ah, the books of 2013! Wasn’t it a great year? Okay, so not all the books I read actually came out last year, but still the choices were overwhelmingly wonderful. I have a giant To Be Read (TBR) pile from books I accumulated throughout the year. I read close to 65 books in 2013, which was only about ten shy of my reading goal. My list was more diverse this year with more middle grade, historical fiction, and adult books, and even some fantastic picture books thrown in, although the bulk of my reading remained firmly in the young adult category.

Here are my top ten favorites, in no particular order:

EleanorPark_cover2-300x450Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Young Adult Contemporary
(although set in 1986, which seems like borderline historical fiction to me)

My daughter picked this book up at one of our weekend trips to the bookstore. Then she left it untouched in her TBR pile. I’d see it every time I went into her room and eventually it planted a seed. “Read me.” When I started seeing so much chatter all over the Twitterverse about Rowell’s current novel FANGIRL, I mentally put it on my list of books I wanted to read. Then my brain finally clicked. I already had one of her books in the house. I moved it to the front of my own TBR pile and started reading it next. I then promptly fell in love. Ms. Rowell has such an unusual style of writing, of describing things, yet it’s completely accessible and you totally get what she’s saying. Having lived for a time in stark circumstances and knowing how this reflects on the teenage existence, I could really relate to some aspects of Eleanor’s life. Some a little too closely. Her characters aren’t perfect or beautiful by conventional standards – all without apology, which I loved – and yet, their story is still divine. After I tore through this book, I told my daughter she had to read this next. She did and she loved it just as much as I did.

And guess what I got for my birthday? FANGIRL. Can’t wait to read it! I know I will be reading everything Rainbow Rowell publishes from now on.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.

Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.

Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.

Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.

book_messengerI am the Messenger by Markus Zusak – Young Adult Contemporary

Another book choice influenced by my daughter. I read this book at her insistence because she loved this book immensely and wished to discuss it with me, without spoiling it for me. She especially wanted to discuss the ending so she could understand it better. I raced through it, not just because of her request, but because it was a fantastic story. So very different in style from Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, this book still managed to take the reader on an exciting and yet deeply philosophical journey. I loved this book and I loved the fantastic conversation I had with my daughter about this book even more. That’s what great books do – inspire thought and conversation.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

I am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Markus Zusak here.

Follow Markus on Twitter here.

Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.

mexwb_tp_cvrMexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña – Young Adult Realistic

I heard Matt speak at the SCBWI La Summer conference this year and he was one of the few this year that made me want to stretch myself and be a better writer. Truly inspiring. I met him at the autograph party and he told me he’d be coming to Tulsa to speak in September. I saw him then, too. When I reminded him at that event, he couldn’t believe I came. He said he’d told three people that day in LA about the September talk in Tulsa and I was the only one that showed. That shook him up so much, he mislabeled the book he was supposed to be signing to my daughter. He tried to salvage it, but it was obviously messed up. I thought it was hilarious, but he described it as a train wreck and apologized profusely. So endearing. (FYI, my daughter loved it.)

He’s such a down-to-earth guy and a fantastic writer. I loved this book for its honesty and its heart and its spot-on voice. De la Peña is also a huge fan of A.S. King – not to mention friends with her. (So jealous!) He predicts that King will soon be much more appreciated for her amazing talent. I whole-heartedly agree.  For all of these things, I recommend de la Peña as an outstanding author in his own right.

Danny’s tall and skinny.

Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.

Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

cnv paperback USCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Young Adult Historical Fiction

There was so much positive buzz flying around about this book that I had to pick it up. Young girl pilots and spies in World War II? Yes, please. I’m all for the empowerment of our young women and showing them that they can doing anything. I have fond childhood memories of wanting to be like Amelia Earhart. And what girl doesn’t secretly want to be James Bond instead of a girl who’s just a pawn that Bond uses?

I remember thinking the minute I finished this book, “Maybe I’m too stupid to write something this good.” It was that fantastic. I can’t think of a better compliment. I look forward to reading the companion book, ROSE UNDER FIRE, this year.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.

Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.

HarrysFinalCoverSee You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles – Middle Grade Realistic

I had not read a book by  Jo Knowles before. I follow her on Twitter, so I vowed this year that I would.

WOW.

There are books that have sad moments, there are books that have funny moments, and then there are books that touch you so deeply, that ring so true they stay with you forever. This book is all of these in one. I was blown away by how heart-wrenching this book was. Even after I set it down, I was crying. I have never had a book move me like that before. The family dynamic was so well-written, so believable. I ached for this family, It was never overdone, just real. I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Insanely loved it.

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Jo Knowles here.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.

invisible-monsters-us-trade-3Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk – Adult Contemporary

A friend of my daughter’s handed this book to me and said this was her favorite author. She checked in on me from time to time to see if I’d read it yet and then to see what part I was reading. When I finally read the first page, I had to send her a message. It was something like, “Holy shit!” My mind was blown in the first page and it didn’t change much during the entire ride. That’s what this story was, a wild, time-jumping ride. Palahniuk, who also wrote FIGHT CLUB, if that gives you any sense of what level we’re working on, broke so many rules of writing it was unbelievable. But unlike someone like, say, oh, I don’t know, Philip Roth for instance, who does it in a pompous look-what-I-can-do kind of way, Palahniuk actually does it with purpose and skill. He twists the plot in on itself so many times, you’d think it collapse on itself, but instead, it connects to the very beginning forming a nicely flowing loop. This book isn’t for everyone and there are explicit discussions of sex that might put some readers off, but I for one loved the book completely and did not find the discussions over the top at all, but realistic glimpses of the characters’ worlds. I can see why this young woman has read this book many times. I think you’d need to in order to glean the subtleties out of it. This wasn’t your ordinary road-trip with transsexual drug addicts and disfigured ex-models in need of a healthy dose of self-discovery, after all.

One more time, please. This time with a little less face.

Invisible Monsters initially unnamed narrator was once a beautiful fashion model. But only to draw the attention of her parents away from her brother, Shane. The narrator has it all until the fateful day of the accident where the bottom half of her face gets completely blown off leaving her with nothing more than top teeth and a tongue that hangs out of the gaping wound.

Now unable to speak and constantly wiping drool from her mouth, the narrator still gets attention, but only because she is a hideous monster. So here comes Brandy Alexander, the queen of overly coifed hair and heavily painted face. Only one surgery away from being a “real” woman, Brandy takes the narrator under her awkwardly large wing and equips her with the things she needs to be beautiful again. At least as beautiful as she can be with only half a face.

When Brandy isn’t giving our narrator hats with face veils, new clothes, “speech” lessons, and completely new identities, she is finding houses for sale. Not for purchase, but for prescription drugs to steal.

There are drugs, wounds, blood, fire, and new identities. Palahniuk delivers a dose of jilted beauty queens, messed up transsexuals, and twists on top of twists on top of twists. Invisible Monsters will only leave you wanting. Wanting what, I’m not sure. But you’ll want something. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.

Follow Chuck on Twitter here.

toprow-03-onOkay for Now by Gary Schmidt – Middle Grade Historical Fiction

This is the companion book to THE WEDNESDAY WARS. The book that made me an instant fan of Mr. Schmidt’s. If that hadn’t done it, his outstanding keynote speech at last year’s SCBWI LA conference would have cinched it for me. He is the kind of writer I want to be. So much heart. Talent and heart. Ugh! I could go on gush about him for days. The way he writes – like a young kid with limited emotional expression thinks and talks – man! So natural it hurts. You can feel the emotions being stuffed back down so the character doesn’t show the hurt. Freaking brilliant. LOVE IT!!! If you’re looking for a great middle grade book for boys to read, try this one.

As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

You can read the first chapter and watch an interview of the author on his website.

Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sunAsk the Passengers by A.S. King – Young Adult Contemporary/Magical Realism

I am in platonic forever love with A.S. King. She has surpassed herself with her latest novel which begs the question, if I give all of my love away to strangers and leave none for someone – something real – does that mean no one and nothing can hurt me? Does that mean I don’t have to define myself or answer the uncomfortable questions I have about myself? And don’t forget that King always adds her own little cosmic/kismet twist to her stories that blend seamlessly into the real.

READ THIS BOOK!

Let it expand your mind and your heart. Your teen self (hell, your adult self, even) will thank you for it.

Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.

Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.

In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

gone-girl-book-cover-homeGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Adult Thriller/Suspense

I’d heard so many great things about this book. Krista Marino, an editor I heard speak at the SCBWI LA Conference  recommended it as an example of an adult novel with great tension. She wasn’t kidding. I loved how Flynn slowly revealed who the main characters were and who they became throughout the story -  the misleading bits that had you later rethinking what you knew. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there. I did lose sleep a few nights, staying up to read just one more chapter, and then another, and then another…

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.

Like Gillian’s Facebook page here.

Perks of a WallflowerPerks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Young Adult Realistic (also should be historical fiction to some degree)

I had several people recommend this book to me before I picked it up. Two of them thought it was reminiscent of how I wrote – or at least there was a similarity in the voice. After reading the book, I can only say that I am truly flattered by the comparison. Before reading the book, I’d seen the trailer for the movie and I was intrigued. The story did not disappoint. I loved the 90s setting and the letter format. I never thought I was missing anything vital from the scenes, even though everything was being told this way. I had to see the movie after reading the book – this couldn’t have been easy to translate into film, but it must have been fun to try. The movie was nothing short of nostalgic for me and had me reminiscing back to my high school/college days. It was such a delight, and one of the few film adaptations that I’ve seen that was on equal footing with the text. And so well acted. Loved it.

standing on the fringes of life . . .

offers a unique perspective. but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

since its publication, stephen chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over a million copies in print, and inspired a major motion picture.

the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show.

of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Follow Stephen on Twitter here.

I’m in agony because there are so many great books I still have to share that must be left off the list. All in all it was an excellent year in books. My TBR pile has only continued to grow this year as has my reading goals. I hope to share more fantastic books with you throughout this new year. There’s the sequel to Libba Bray’s Diviner’s series LAIR OF DREAMS, Laurie Halse Anderson release her new novel this month, entitled THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY (Can’t wait for that one – and what a title!) REALITY BOY, a new A.S. King book I have yet to read (and another one due out this fall called GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE – zomg!!!), and I still need to catch up on Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series. Oh! And Jim butcher is finally releasing his next Harry Dresden book, SKIN GAME, this summer. And will there be a new John Green book released? Hmm. That would be awesome. I haven’t even mentioned the most exciting bit – several friends have books releasing this year. I will no doubt drag them over here to the blog for intensive interviews right before their books launch so you can join in the celebrations.

What were your favorite reads from 2013? What are you looking forward to reading this year?

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200It’s been awhile since I’ve written about the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge. The last time was my review of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries vlog series on Youtube. How much fun was that? I have really enjoyed the year-long bicentennial celebration of one of my favorite books, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen, and I loved discovering what a vast fandom her books have. So many works inspired by the fictional relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, such an amazing achievement for an author! One could read nothing but these works if one so chose.

To end the year with a bang, and in the month of Austen’s birthday no less, I crammed in as much P & P action as I could. As the new year approached, I finished reading the original text and then watched two movie versions of the novel. Austen’s use of language to vividly portray such wonderful, flawed characters, was by far, my favorite part of this year-long celebration.

Speaking of characters, some of my favorite lines from the book involve the frequent discussions of character:

  • “I did not know before,” continued Bingley immediately, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”

“Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.” (Elizabeth Bennet to Mr. Bingley.)

  • “There are few people in this world whom I really love, and still fewer who I think well. The more I see of the world, the more I am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.” (Elizabeth Bennet to her sister Jane.)
  • “I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in part of the world, where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire – and give me leave to say, very impolitic too – for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out, as will shock your relations to hear.” (Elizabeth Bennet speaking with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy.)
  • “I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation, and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.” (Letter from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet.)
  • “When my eyes were opened to his real character – Oh! had I known what I ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not – I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched, mistake!” (Elizabeth Bennet speaking to Mr. Darcy.)
  • “Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application, have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. how far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.” (Elizabeth Bennet speaking to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.)

Ah, such fantastic language, and oh, what a beautifully written heroine, don’t you think?

Watching the movies just let me revel in my favorite bits of the story, with some lovely eye-candy to boot. As many in the challenge have said, you always love your first P & P movie the best, and mine is the 2005 version with Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFadyen. Although I did enjoy the 1995 Colin Firth mini-series as well, (who doesn’t love that swimming scene, right?) I felt the emotional impact was stronger in the 2005 version. I mean, come on, Matthew Mcfadyen’s trembling hand after he helps Kiera Knightly in to the carriage? Who didn’t feel weak at the knees right then?

(Let the debate begin!)

P and P 2005

P and P 1995

Have you been following this celebration? What are your favorite parts of Pride & Prejudice?

book_messengerI fell in love with THE BOOK THIEF, also written by Markus Zusak, when I read it a couple of years ago.  As one of my writing friends put it so eloquently, it’s a perfect book for “those who love words and the human spirit”. (Unapologetically stolen from Helen, because she is awesome. And because I gave her the credit.) I also audibly gasped in delight and may have even punched my husband in the arm when I first saw the trailer for the movie adaptation. I can’t wait to see it and then read the book, again.

My daughter had to read THE BOOK THIEF for school last year and I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for her to fall in love with it, too. I forgot that there would be parts that would also break her heart. She cried and asked why the sad things had to happen and wanted to rewrite those bits. I totally understood that. We had some interesting discussions about death and personal choices and great stories.

But this review isn’t about THE BOOK THIEF (which if you haven’t read, you are depriving your soul of happiness and light, but that’s just my opinion), so let’s move on.

This year, my daughter picked up I AM THE MESSENGER all on her own. Even after suffering through the pain and loss of the first book by Zusak. She just makes me so proud. I read this book at the behest of my daughter who loved this second book immensely and wished to discuss it with me, without spoilers. She had questions about the ending, especially. She wanted to discuss what happened with me so she could understand it better. I raced through it, not only because of her request, but because it was a fantastic story. So very different in style from Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, this story still manages to take the reader on an exciting and yet deeply philosophical journey.

In I AM THE MESSENGER, Zusak speaks through the point of view of a young slacker named Ed. His siblings have applied themselves, escaped the dump they grew up in on the bad side of town, and achieved successes that have made their mom proud, but Ed remains in the same neighborhood, floundering in mediocrity. 

If nothing else, I can lay claim to the title of Youngest Cabdriver in these parts – a taxi-driving prodigy. That’s the kind of anti-achievement that gives structure to my life.

Who hasn’t felt like this? Like you’re wandering aimlessly through the universe as an insignificant speck or that you’ve no idea what you’re doing with your life? Or that you have nothing of value to offer anyone? I know I have. This delicate structure of reality Ed lives in is disrupted when he unwittingly becomes a hero and thwarts a bank robber’s getaway plan, despite his best efforts not to get involved.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

I am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

When the first playing card arrives, with a list of addresses on it, Ed collides with destiny. He instinctively feels that this is a turning point for him. A defining moment. He follows the clues, steps out of his mind-numbing bubble, and into the lives of the people at the end of the addresses. While he observes these people he comes to understand what it is that he must do for them, what message he must deliver. The results are often unexpected and sometimes shocking. Ed starts changing, growing more confident, while still unsure why he’s been chosen for this task or where it will ultimately lead. Along the way, he fumbles in such a beautifully human way when he takes a stab at fixing his own life and finally tells Audrey how he feels.

It comes gushing out, with words like spilled milk. “And I wish it was me touching you and not that other guy. I wish it was my own skin touching with yours…”

And there you have it.

Stupidity in its purest form.

“Oh, Ed.” Audrey looks away. “Oh, Ed.”

Our feet dangle.

I watch them, and I watch the jeans on Audrey’s legs.

We only sit there now.

Audrey and me.

And discomfort.

Squeezed in, between us.

She soon says, “You’re my best friend, Ed.”

“I know.”

You can kill a man with those words.

No gun.

No bullets.

Just words and a girl.

Amazing, right? There are so many other scenes just as quotable and memorable. The universal questions raised are worthy of their own philosophy course.

I loved this book and I loved the fantastic conversation I had with my daughter about this book even more. That’s what great books do – inspire thought and conversation. Read this book; you’ll be glad you did.

Learn more about Markus Zusak here.

Follow Markus on Twitter here.

Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.

There are books that have sad moments, there are books that have funny moments, and then there are books that touch you so deeply, that ring so true they stay with you forever. See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles is all of these books in one. This is the first book I’ve read by Knowles, and I now want to read everything she’s ever written.

Here’s the plot summary:Big See You at Harrys

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The family dynamic was so well-written, so believable you’d almost wonder if she’d sat at your breakfast table and took notes – just the right amount of bickering and irritation and love. Fern’s voice did remind me of my own twelve-year old self – torn by feelings of self-doubt, guilt for letting the family down, irritation at being responsible for one’s younger siblings, etc. She also had a boy for a best friend, just like I did.

Here’s a short passage from early on in the book where the main character Fern tries to talk to her brother Holden about him being gay:

We’re quiet under the pine, smelling Christmas in summer and listening to the traffic on our street pick up as people start getting home from work. It’s my favorite thing about Holden, being able to sit quietly together and not talk. Just think together and not have to say a single word. But today, for the first time, I feel something floating between us, a question I’m sure I know the answer to. I feel the weight of the answer separating us for some reason I don’t understand. If it doesn’t matter to me, why should it matter to him?

“I don’t care if what Sara said is true,” I tell him quietly, hoping my words will make the floating thing go away. He takes a deep breath like it hurts. I wait for him to say something, but he just sits there, staring at the pine needles. And it almost feels like the floating thing has swallowed him up, leaving me all alone.

I was blown away by how heart-wrenching this book was. Just when I thought I knew where this story was going, WHAM! It pulled the floor out from underneath me. I saw the tragic event coming about two steps before it happened and internally I screamed NOOOO!!! I ached for this family. I felt their grief in a very physical way. UGH! I just can’t tell you much about the plot without spoiling it, and I don’t want to ruin this perfect book for you one little bit. All I can say is that even after I set the book down and walked away, I cried. A lot. This is definitely a two tissue box book. I have never had a story move me like that before. Ever.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Insanely loved it.  I know you will, too.

Jo Knowles mentions in the acknowledgements of the book that it was her agent, Barry Goldblatt, who encouraged her to write a story about growing up in the restaurant business. I can’t imagine he’d have thought such an amazing tale would’ve come to fruition from that bit of advice.

The actual family restaurant/ice cream factory that may have inspired this story. (Picture from author's website.)

The actual family restaurant/ice cream factory that may have inspired this story. (Picture from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jo Knowles’ books here.

Read Jo’s Live Journal entries here.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.

I may have lost some time from losing consciousness when coughing my brains out and then during the drug induced haze that followed, but I’m very much back in top form as we head toward the end of the month. I love it when a deadline approaches; it means it’s time to really get to work.

Here are my  #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I did a fair job with this goal. I visited my #writemovitation friends’ blogs and hopped on Twitter from time to time, but there’s room for improvement, for sure.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I worked revising on my middle grade novel this week and it is going very well. Some of the major changes I’ve had to make turned out great and actually increased the tension and added to the mystery element perfectly. I should have made those changes so much earlier.

Why are we so resistant to the changes that are the best for us? Hmmm.

For extra credit, I made some headway on critiquing my friend’s manuscript that I’ve put off forever. I hope to have that done by the end of the month, even though that wasn’t an official goal. It’s just way overdue.
3. Keep on freaking exercising. I actually picked this up again and did well this week. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

4. Read, read, read. I’m almost done with my second book for the week. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy. It also fits into Banned Book mexwb_tp_cvrWeek as it was challenged by an Arizona school for its racial issues, which I find so ironic. This book is about struggling to find your way in the world when your biracial. I didn’t see it as racist in the least. It’s a very important book for a huge section of the population; kids who can identify with the main character and understand the struggle of straddling two worlds and know what it means to feel the guilt of striving for success, of trying for a better life while leaving your parents and relatives behind. It’s also about baseball. It’s a heavy book.

I had the pleasure of seeing Matt speak again this week here in Tulsa. One of the things I took away from this talk was how a single book can change a person’s life. He talked about how the right book at the right time can do that; change lives. For him, it was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. A professor at college gave it to him because she thought he would get something out of it. He did. It was the first time he really connected with the characters of a story. He thought his life, his childhood, had been awful.  This story opened his eyes. This book changed his course and he became a writer.

Then, while he was in his MFA program, his dad was laid off from his job at the San Diego zoo, where he’d worked ever since dropping out of school when Matt was born. It was a devastating blow to his sense of identity and he was depressed for a long time. One day, when Matt was visiting, he asked what Matt was reading. It was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His dad asked him if he could read it. Matt had never seen his father read a book in his life, but he said of course. His dad read it and then asked for more books. Eventually, his dad started checking out his own books from the library, then secretly got his GED, went to college and is now a third grade teacher.

Wow. I love that story.

Books change lives. That’s why I’m a writer.

We’re taking a break from #writemotivation in October and will return in November, just in time for NaNoWriMo. I’ll probably have one more update for September. Meanwhile, some exciting things are coming up soon on the blog, so stay tuned!

scbwi2013

I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.

 

Matt de la Peña.

-Resources-Image-1Matt de la penaH175W175A1

And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

MAtt Autograph

Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

Matt Books

Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

When trying to write the kind of story you want to tell, and the kind of story kids want to hear, all sorts of pesky things can get in the way; rules of society, parents’ ideas of a “proper” story, censorship nazis, the list goes on and on.

JonScieszkaDuring the SCBWI Summer conference, John Scieszka (pronounced chess-kah), talked about this problem in his keynote address entitled The Importance of Being Subversive in Writing for Kids: Not Every Book Should Put You to Sleep. He said there are a lot of people between you and your audience; You have to get creative to sneak your ideas past them.

He told about how in his book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, he told the tale from the wolf’s point of view. Nothing could be more subversive. He got to mess with everything – that’s what was so fun. little_pigsMy kids loved this book when they were little. Maybe that’s where they got the idea for the stories they told me whenever they got into trouble. It wasn’t me, Mom. Aliens used mind control and took over my body to make me spread peanut butter all over the television. I wouldn’t do something like that!

Just in case you haven’t read this book, here’s a quick summary:

“You may think you know the story of the Three Little Pigs. But you don’t know the whole story until you’ve heard A. Wolf’s side of the story. Mr. Wolf huffs, and he puffs, and he has a very bad sneezing cold. He also needs a cup of sugar to make a birthday cake for his dear, sweet granny’s birthday. Read and learn. Then decide for yourself–Big Bad Wolf . . . or media frame-up?” (Plot summary from author’s website.)

It may seem like just a funny story, (which it is) but I also think it plants the seeds of critical thinking and realizing there are two sides to every situation. Also, just because someone tells us we should believe them, doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Scieszka manages to pull all of this off without beating kids over the head with a sickly sweet moral story. Fascinating.

stinky_cheeseDuring his talk, he also told about how The Stinky Cheese Man (a collection of subversive stories) received a monumental amount of rejections. One of the harsher rejections asked him to “please don’t send us anything ever again”. Ouch. Another suggested that “this isn’t really a great story to put kids to sleep.” He said he didn’t want to put kids to sleep.

The first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (who won a Caldecott medal for that monumentally rejected book) told us this:

“You’re born being subversive. It gets beat out of you.”

Our duty is to stir kids up.

He says that you can get kids excited about reading by giving them the kinds of stories they want to read. One way he did this, besides writing a few subversive books himself, was to establish GUYS READ, a web-based literacy program for boys meant to address the declining interest in reading by boys. His GUYS READ website has a list of many books approved by boys themselves.

So the next time you find yourself censoring a crazy idea or trashing a storyline because no parent will buy it, think of Jon Scieszka and be subversive. Our kids need you to stir them up and get them excited about reading.