2016 Reading Challenges Update – 1st Quarter Results

Reading Challenges Rock2

 

Reading Challenges Rock2

With the lofty reading goal of 80 books this year – more than I’ve ever read before – I’m hoping the three reading challenges I’m participating in will help spur me on to victory.

I’m on target so far with another 12 books under my belt, making my total for the year at a respectable 23 books read. I may just make that crazy goal, yet.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the new books I’ve read, shall we? Maybe you’ll find something that sparks your interest to add to your reading list.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge

New books I’ve managed to clear off my TBR pile:

GLORY (The Dust Chronicles #3) by Maureen McGowan

Mcgowan-Glory-CV-Front_031814-264x400This is the final book in the series that I started late last year. (I won signed copies of the first two books while participating in the YA Scavenger Hunt a few years ago – sweet!) Nice to finally finish the series and see the ending of Glory’s journey. She was a fun character.

Good read. Really enjoyed the series.

Glory is a Deviant. That is what she was always taught, growing up in the domed city of Haven. She has the power to kill with her gaze, but she’s learned to control this power and use it only against the monstrous Shredders who survive on the asteroid dust that mutated their DNA.

Now, living in a settlement Outside, Glory has the chance to embrace her “Gift” and reunite her remaining family. But she can’t hide from the threat of Shredder attacks or the knowledge of what Management is doing to the employees of Haven.

Can she face losing everything she has left to bring freedom to Haven? Will she choose the familiar safety of Cal’s love or risk Burn’s dangerous passion? Ultimately, Glory must decide how far she is willing to go to keep her family safe, and what it really means to be a monster. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Maureen McGowan here.

Follow Maureen on Twitter here.

Follow Maureen on Facebook here.

 

KIKI AND JAQUES by Susan Ross

Kiki and JacquesI received a copy of this book from the publisher from their fall catalog. This was a debut novel that had an intriguing premise, although it mostly fell flat for me. I reviewed this book in detail on the blog.

All in all, it wasn’t a great read for me, just an okay read.

Twelve-year-old Jacques’s mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.

But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Maine town, including the soccer team. So Jacques is surprised to find himself becoming friends with Kiki, a cheerful and strong-minded Somali immigrant. Despite their many differences they are able to help one another triumph over problems with friends, family and growing up. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Susan Ross here.

Follow Susan on Twitter here.

Follow Susan on Facebook here.

 

REQUIEM (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver

bookcover_home_requiemI read the first two books in this series about three years ago and then I somehow missed the last book until now. (I think I was waiting for it to come out in paperback.) Great series. I especially loved exploring the concept of love being a disease that made you insane. That whole argument about are we better off with our emotions or without them?

So glad I finally got to find out what happened to Lena.

Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight.

After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels.

As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancée of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena and Hana’s points of view. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Lauren Oliver here.

Follow Lauren on Twitter here.

Follow Lauren on Tumblr here.

What books are waiting to be read on your TBR pile? Have you taken any books down from your TBR pile, lately?

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – There are some crossovers from list to list, so I’m choosing which ones count here.

There are always wonderful ideas given in the discussions of the Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group. I love looking through the conversations here – so many great reading suggestions for each category! (You can also follow the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder, if you’re curious.)

 

Read HArder 1st Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake
(Read a horror book)

Anna Dressed in Blood coverAn agent who read the beginning of one of my WIPs suggested this book to me as a comp title. I have to say, it was enlightening, and it did help give me some great ideas for my own story. I don’t read too many horror novels, so it was nice to branch out and read a good book in a different genre.

The cover had a quote from a famous YA author I like, touting this book as, “spellbinding and romantic”. While I did really enjoy it, I didn’t exactly find it romantic.

Not one bit.

It was still definitely well worth the read…just maybe keep the lights on. ALL the lights. (Did I mention I don’t read may horror novels?) This book would count as definitely branching out of my comfort zone. Funny, since I’m now writing my first paranormal story. Probably need to read a LOT more like this. *shivers*

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Kendare Blake here.

Follow Kendare on Twitter here.

Follow Kendare on Facebook here.

 

REQUIEM (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver
(Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel)

bookcover_home_requiem(See the description details above in the TBR challenge.)

Yes, I’m counting this book in two separate challenges.

Why? Because I can.:)

And because it seems like every dystopian book I’ve been reading lately has also been coming from my TBR pile. Go figure.

 

LADY MIDNIGHT by Cassandra Clare
(Read a book over 500 pages long)

Lady Midnight coverI absolutely love the Shadowhunters world and each series set there that Clare has written. I’ll read these books over and over and never tire of them. Says something right there about Clare’s storytelling ability, doesn’t it?

I’m especially excited about finally getting to read more about Emma and Julian, best friends with that extra parabatai bond. *swoon*

Did someone say chemistry? Clare has that in spades with her characters as well.

Fantastic story, which I devoured only too soon. I will be in agony until the next book in this new series arrives.

And that cover? Too die for!

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other — but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, one in a long line of Shadowhunters tasked with protecting the world from demons. With her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of an secret Los Angeles where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries start turning up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were murdered years ago, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge — and Julian’s chance to get back his half-faerie brother, Mark, who was kidnapped five years ago. All Emma, Mark and Julian have to do  is solve the murders within two weeks . . . before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. As she uncovers the past, she begins to peel away the secrets of the present: What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents — and can she bear to know the truth?

The magic and adventure of the Shadowhunter Chronicles have captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Fall in love with Emma and her friends in this pulse-pounding, heart-rending new volume sure to delight new readers and longtime fans. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.

Follow Cassandra on Twitter here.

Follow Cassandra on Tumblr here.

 

HOLES by Louis Sachar
(Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better.)

Holes CoverJust about every one of my writing friends could not believe it when I said I’d never read this book. “I’ve seen the movie” was not good enough. I promptly agreed to read this book as soon as possible. I’m glad I did. It’s a fantastic story and well told by Sachar. (And of course it’s better than the movie – which was pretty darn good.)

I watched the movie, again, after reading the book, and even though the acting was outstanding – how had I forgotten that Henry Winkler was in it? (I just met him at a book signing, so weird.) and I love Sigourney Weaver in anything she does – the book just delivers a stronger sense of emotional impact. It’s a little heavier, more realistic. You get a better sense of the relationships between the boys in the book and you feel how they suffer day to day at the camp. No Disney gloss-over. So my vote is a resounding, “the book was better”.

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Louis Sachar here.

Follow Louis on Facebook here.

 

What books have taken you out of your normal reading pattern this year?

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – Cassie is the dynamic gal with a head of fantastic curls, always at the ready with great book recommendations. She writes the glorious blog Books and Bowel Movements that I just love. Cassie is doing this reading challenge on her Instagram account, which makes it fun and really easy.

If you’re on Instagram, feel free to join in with the hashtag #readingbingo2016. It’s that simple. You can find me on Instagram at litbeing. You can find Cassie there at bookishcassie.

Reading Bingo 1st Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

THE MIRROR KING (The Orphan Queen #2) by Jodi Meadows
(Book with more than 500 pages)

 

MirrorKing-HC-198x300I read Jodi Meadows’s debut novel INCARNATE a few years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I loved the whole Incarnate series, and I know going forward I won’t be disappointed when I reach for one of her books. I did torture myself by waiting to read this series until the second book was coming out because I know how she likes a good cliff-hanger.

I was so right! She loves torturing her readers!

Right after I closed THE ORPHAN QUEEN, (Arg! That ending was golden!) I immediately purchased THE MIRROR KING, the sequel and the conclusion to this duology. (I have to admit I haven’t read many of these!) That is the sign of great writing in my book – when you want to find out what happens next. Without delay.

Wilhelmina has a hundred enemies.

Her friends have turned. After her identity is revealed during the Inundation, Princess Wilhelmina is kept prisoner by the Indigo Kingdom, with the Ospreys lost somewhere in the devastated city. When the Ospreys’ leader emerges at the worst possible moment, leaving Wil’s biggest ally on his deathbed, she must become Black Knife to set things right.

Her magic is uncontrollable. Wil’s power is to animate, not to give true life, but in the wraithland she commanded a cloud of wraith mist to save herself, and later ordered it solid. Now there is a living boy made of wraith—destructive and deadly, and willing to do anything for her.

Her heart is torn. Though she’s ready for her crown, declaring herself queen means war. Caught between what she wants and what is right, Wilhelmina realizes the throne might not even matter. Everyone thought the wraith was years off, but already it’s destroying Indigo Kingdom villages. If she can’t protect both kingdoms, soon there won’t be a land to rule. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jodi Meadows here.

Follow Jodi on Twitter here.

Follow Jodi on Facebook here.

Follow Jodi on Instagram here.

Follow Jodi on Tumblr here.

 

THE FIVE RED HERRINGS by Dorothy L. Sayers
(A book with a mystery)

Five Red HerringsI enjoy a good old fashioned murder as much as the next person. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading my first Dorothy L.  Sayers novel last year, STRONG POISON. This one, I’m sorry to say, fell a little flat for me. Missing not only the fantastic chemistry between Lord Peter and Harriett (whom I hope returns very soon!) but also missing was some clarity.

In understandable dialect for one thing! The Scottish vernacular was so thickly shown that I had difficulty discerning what was being said much of the time – NOT ideal in a mystery novel! And the plot was a little lackluster as well. Still, I did adored the scenes with Lord Peter in them, especially when he was full of enthusiasm for a good murder. I hold out hope that the next book in the series will show this one to be a mere stumble.

During a painting retreat, a killer takes a creative approach to the ancient art of murder

The majestic landscape of the Scottish coast has attracted artists and fishermen for centuries. In the idyllic village of Kirkcudbright, every resident and visitor has two things in common: They either fish or paint (or do both), and they all hate Sandy Campbell. Though a fair painter, he is a rotten human being, and cannot enter a pub without raising the blood pressure of everybody there. No one weeps when he dies. Campbell’s body is found at the bottom of a steep hill, and his easel stands at the top, suggesting that he took a tumble while painting. But something about the death doesn’t sit right with gentleman sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. No one in Kirkcudbright liked Campbell, and six hated him enough to become suspects. Five are innocent, and the other is the perpetrator of one of the most ingenious murders Lord Peter has ever encountered. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Dorothy L. Sayers here.

 

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King
(An award winner)

askbooks_35_739671589King has become one of my must-read authors, and I am knocked out by each new novel she publishes. She is a master at using magical realism with astounding impact. This book is where it all began, and it won her a Michael L. Printz honor in 2011.

I chose this book for my February Relaxed & Groovy Book Club pic. Find the full blog discussion about the book here.

Eighteen-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

An edgy, gripping story, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

 

SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend
(Collection of poems)

Sunsets and Haiku coverI received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, when she read about my participation in this reading challenge. So thoughtful!

Una Belle is one of the many generous and talented authors that belong to our local SCBWI Oklahoma chapter. I just adore her. I also wrote a review of her book on the blog. Find the full discussion here.

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

 

So what have you been reading, lately? What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

March Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the second discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club! I’m enjoying the excuse to re-read some of my favorite stories and to talk about why I like them. I hope you’ll tell me whether or not you like the books we’ve read. (It’s really okay if you don’t!)

March’s book is one that I would seriously love to shove into everyone’s hands and watch them read.

March’s Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

Every Day cover

EVERY DAY by David Levithan

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Release Date: August 28, 2012

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Fantasy

amazon

bn-24h-80indiebound

 

Plot Summary:

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

In his New York Times bestselling novel, David Levithan introduces readers to what Entertainment Weekly calls a “wise, wildly unique” love story about A, a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere. It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

With his new novel, David Levithan, bestselling co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day. (From author’s website.)

Learn more about David Levithan here.

Follow David on Twitter here.

This novel is beyond fantastic.

Let’s peek at the opening:

Day 5994

I wake up.

      Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It’s not just the body – opening my eyes and discovering whether the skin on my arm is light or dark, whether my hair is long or short, whether I’m fat of thin, boy or girl, scarred or smooth. The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you’re used to waking up in a new one each morning. It’s the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp.

      Every day I am someone else. I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.

      It has always been like this.

      The information is there. I wake up, open my eyes, understand that it is a new morning, a new place. The biography kicks in, a welcome gift from the not-me part of the mind. Today I am Justin. Somehow I know this – my name is Justin – and at the same time I know that I’m not really Justin, I’m only borrowing his life for a day. I look around and know that this is his room. This is his home. The alarm will go off in seven minutes.

      I’m never the same person twice, but I’ve certainly been this type before. Clothes everywhere. Far more video games than books. Sleeps in his boxers. From the taste of his mouth, a smoker. But not so addicted that he needs one as soon as he wakes up.

      “Good morning, Justin,” I say. Checking out his voice. Low. The voice in my head is always different.

      Justin doesn’t take care of himself. His scalp itches. His eyes don’t want to open. He hasn’t gotten much sleep.

      Already I know I’m not going to like today.

Not your average story right from the start. And it just gets better. This character Leviathan has created is amazing. The situation he’s put this character in, switching lives every day, allows ‘A’ to comment on the human condition in a unique way and offer up fantastic insights. Here’s one near the beginning of the book:

I know from experience that beneath every peripheral girl is a central truth. She’s hiding hers away, but at the same time she wants me to see it. That is she wants Justin to see it. And it’s there, just out of my reach. A sound waiting to be a word.

Leviathan’s character ‘A’ sees more about humanity because of the way he lives, the way he experiences life.

The Questions and Possibly Some Answers:

How ‘A’ lives cannot be an easy thing to adjust to, how would you cope with losing your identity every day? Or changing bodies every day?

It’s hard enough trying to figure out who you are living life as an average teen, can you imagine not having anything to ground you to reality? No home or family to retreat to when you have a bad day? Not even a familiar vessel to call your own?

This story really gets down to the essence of what makes us human, doesn’t it?

I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else. I will never feel the pressure of peers or the burden of parental expectation. I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned how to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present, because that is where I am destined to live.

A tries to tread lightly in the lives of each person he becomes – to do no harm is the first rule. Then love comes into the picture and A abandons his carefully constructed rules.

It’s one thing to fall in love. It’s another to feel someone else falling in  love with you, and to feel a responsibility toward that love.

A hijacks the next day’s body, Nathan, to see Rhiannon again. When Nathan wakes up remembering details of what happened this leads to trouble for A.

Still, A continues to pursue his love of Rhiannon. A tries to find a way to see Rhiannon every day, and to make her see him as the same person inside, even though the body outside changes every day. No matter what body type or gender, no matter how far A must travel, or how complicated that makes life for the person A has taken over, A must see her at all costs.

It’s fascinating to see A possess so many different types of people. When A wakes up in the body of an addict craving a fix, the pursuit of Rhiannon is put on hold as the physical craving is so overpowering, nothing else gets through.

It is a mistake to think of the body as a vessel. It is as active as any mind, as any soul. And the more you give yourself to it, the harder your life will be. I have been in the bodies of starvers and purgers, gluttons and addicts. They all think their actions make their lives more desirable. But the body always defeats them in the end.

We also get to see A reflect on religion from a unique perspective when one body goes to church and another meeting with Rhiannon is made impossible.

I have been to many religious services over the years. Each one I go to only reinforces my general impression that religions have much, much more in common than they like to admit. The beliefs are almost always the same; it’s just that the histories are different. Everybody wants to believe in a higher power. Everybody wants to belong to something bigger than themselves, and everybody wants company in doing that.They want there to be a force for good on earth, and they want an incentive to be a part of that force. They want to be able to prove their belief and their belonging, through rituals and devotion. They want to touch the enormity.

It’s only in the finer points that it gets complicated and contentious, the inability to realize that no matter what our religion or gender or race or geographic background, we all have about 98 percent in common with each other. Yes,  the differences between male and female are biological, but if you look at the biology as a matter of percentage, there aren’t a whole lot of things that are different. Race is different purely as a social construct, not as an inherent difference. And religion – whether you believe in God or Yahweh or Allah or something else, odds are that at heart you want the same things. For whatever reason, we like to focus on the 2 percent that’s different, and most of the conflict in the world comes from that.

The only way I can navigate through my life is because of the 98 percent that every life has in common.

If only everyone could navigate through life with this open-minded perspective, right? The author has weaved so many of these great observations on humanity into the story that it’s just a delight to read.

Now at some point, you may start to think that A has quite a wonderful view of life, and maybe it might even be pretty cool to be able to change lives every day, but then as Rhiannon comes to understand A’s life more and really tries to grapple with A’s reality, she challenges this perfect view.

A tells her:

It’s so hard when you’re in one body to get a sense of what life is really like. You’re so grounded in who you are. But when who you are changes every day – you get to touch the universal more. Even the most mundane details. You see how cherries taste different to different people. Blue looks different. You see all the strange rituals boys have to show affection without admitting it. You learn that if a parent reads to you at the end of the day, it’s a good sign that it’s a good parent, because you’ve seen so many other parents who don’t make the time. You learn how much a day is truly worth, because they’re all so different.

She responds to him:

But you never get to see things over time, do you? I don’t mean to cancel out what you just said. I think I understand that. But you’ve never had a friend that you’ve known day in and day out for ten years. You’ve never watched a pet grow older. You’ve never seen how messed up a parent’s love can be over time. And you’ve never been in a relationship for more than a day, not to mention for more than a year.

I loved these contrasting views on life. So wonderful to think about what gives life meaning, what makes it fuller.

There were some many other amazing conversations like this in the book, I could talk about this story forever!

I really shouldn’t go any further unless I want to give away the ending, and I really don’t want to do that – but ahhh! didn’t it just make you weep?

Another Day coverI hope you enjoyed reading this month’s book as much as I did. Leviathan recently published a companion book that came out late last year called ANOTHER DAY, which tells Rhiannon’s side of the story. How great is that? I can’t wait to read it!

 So…what’s next?

April’s Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: February 21, 2012

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

amazon

bn-24h-80indiebound

 

 

Plot Summary:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Benjamin Alire Saenz here and here.

Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.

Ignore the fact that this book has so many award stickers on the cover it’s ridiculous. Don’t let that intimidate you. This book is a damn good read. From the very first page, I stopped to reread passages that took my breath away, that made me want to hug this book to me and never let it go.

Here’s the first passage that stopped me in my tracks:

“As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.”

And that was just the writer getting warmed up and talking about the weather. He gets deep and breaks your heart with his words. And you want to thank him for it.

Trust me, you WANT to read this book!

The next meeting of this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs will be the last week of April. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional.)

Happy reading!

January Reading Challenges Update

Reading ChallengesRock

Reading ChallengesRock

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve upped my reading goal to 80 books for this year. That’s a little insane since I’ve never met my reading goal. Ever. I did come close last time, so maybe I was feeling brave and a little drunk on new year’s resolutions the day I made that goal. Who knows?

I’ve made a sizable dent already by reading eleven books this month. Woohoo! That is a personal record. Maybe I wasn’t so crazy setting that goal.

Anyway, I am currently participating in three reading challenges (I picked up a Reading Bingo Challenge from a blog friend and fellow book lover) and I want to share my progress for this month, and some of the books I’ve read so far.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge I’ve tweeted my accomplishments, but haven’t taken advantage of the buddy reads idea, yet. I think I’ll try that next month.

The books from my TBR pile I’ve managed to clear off already are:

THE SKIN GAME (The Dresden Files #15) by Jim Butcher

skingame_lg-200x300Jim Butcher really knows how to layer a story with complex plots and how to keep you guessing to the very end. One thing I love more than anything is his use of humor. Even in the midst of the worst moments, his main character, Harry, can throw out a fantastic quip that has me rolling and also wondering if he isn’t just a bit insane. I absolutely love this series, and I am fascinated by the depth of characters and story lines that Butcher weaves into each one. The dynamic between Harry and his badass pint-sized sidekick Murphy is pure genius and she is also one of my favorite female characters in this genre – yep, the vanilla human with no magical powers who dares to fight monsters.

Butcher is the king of taking his characters so close to what they want and having it ripped away from them, just to be put through the worst possible scenarios while taking a hell of a beating as they try to survive by any means necessary. On occasion they don’t survive, which breaks our hearts even more. And yet, I still can’t stop reading each book at a break-neck pace. I’m already anticipating the release of PEACE TALKS (book #16) later this year.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it….

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jim Butcher here.

Follow Jim on Twitter here.

 

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Abertalli

Simon vs Homo Sapiens coverI was intrigued by the title and the cover and by all of the online love this book received by writers I respect. This debut novel was well worth the time. I really enjoyed the secret relationship Simon had with Blue and how honest he could be with someone he didn’t really know. The lengths he went through to protect this relationship from being harmed – what made this one more real than others in his life? Great concept and so well executed.

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Becky Abertalli here.

Follow Becky on Twitter here.

Follow Becky on Tumblr here.

Follow Becky on Instagram here.

 

What books are on your TBR pile?

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – I managed to read a couple off this list, too. Yay! I actually also read a book under 100 pages when I read through the entire SHATTER ME series, which included a couple of novellas, but I don’t want to count that towards this goal. There are some suggested readings in the discussions of the Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group that look more enticing. I love looking through the conversations here – so many great reading suggestions for each category! (You can also follow the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder, if you’re curious.)

Read Harder Challenge Janjpg

Books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

ORBITING JUPITER by Gary Schmidt
(Read a middle grade novel)

Orbiting JupiterThis is another beautifully written book by the master storyteller. If you haven’t read any of his books, I urge you gather them all up now, sit back and enjoy. And I envy you that first-time read of some truly amazing stories.

Schmidt crafts a wonderful and heartbreaking story that draws you in and makes you feel everything for Jack and Joseph and makes you want so much more for them.

I love it when I close a book with tears still fresh in my eyes. Ah! such a great story!

When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him:

Joseph almost killed a teacher.

He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain.

He has a daughter. Her name is Jupiter. And he has never seen her.

What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl.

Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help.

But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen. The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

This tender, heartbreaking novel is Gary D. Schmidt at his best. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.

 

SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi
(Read the first book in a series by a person of color)

 

shatter-meI was drawn to the cover and the description of a character who’s touch is deadly. I wanted to know her story. Then this series fit in with this challenge as my selection for the first book in a series by a person of color. Of course, once I read the first book, I couldn’t just stop; I read the entire series, including the two novellas told from the two main male characters, Warner and Adam.

Mari has such a unique writing style. She has a beautiful use of language that paints vivid emotional pictures, and really draws you in to her story. Her heroine, Juliette was fantastic. I loved following her struggle to self-discovery and finding her own inner strength. Such a wonderful series.

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice:
BE A WEAPON. OR BE A WARRIOR. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

What books have taken you out of your normal reading pattern this year?

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – Cassie is the dynamic gal behind the Reading Bingo JanBooks and Bowel Movements blog that I just love. Cassie is doing this reading challenge on her Instagram account, which makes fun and really easy. If you’re on Instagram, feel free to copy the picture and join in with the hashtag #readingbingo2016. It’s that simple. You can find me on Instagram at litbeing. You can find Cassie there at bookishcassie.

Books I’ve read for this challenge this month:

THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker
(A book that became a movie)

Color Purple coverThis is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. What finally made me pick it up was hearing how much the book impacted one particular reader. Author Matt de la Peña mentioned how influential this book was on him personally, and how surprised he was to see similarities in his life with that of Celie, the main character. Good enough recommendation for me.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and watching Celie discover her own inner strength and seeing her way to forgiveness over bitterness. Beautiful story.

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Alice Walker here.

 

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart
(A book rec from someone in your family)

We Were Liars coverMy daughter recommended this book to me. She rarely steers me wrong. This one was no exception. I love when a book surprises me and moves me. This one did both.

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate,
political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about E. Lockhart here.

Follow E. Lockhart on Twitter here.

Watch E. Lockhart read the opening of WE WERE LIARS here.

Follow the WE WERE LIARS Tumblr page here.

 

So what have you been reading, lately? What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

A New Year, A New Blog – Let’s Get Serious!

After a most tumultuous year, I’m ready to get back to work on my writing in earnest. I have two manuscripts that need one good revision each, and then some beta reading and feedback, and one final polish before I’m ready to shove them out of the nest to watch them soar to the sky or crash and burn. I also have one other manuscript with some exciting interest that I need to finish. Pronto. This means making some changes to my daily routine to ensure I’m focused and productive.

Every. Single. Day.

 

My office bulletin board before changes…
…and after! Complete with goal-tracking calendar and shiny stickers! (This is an older picture; there are a lot more stickers on there, now. Trust me!)

 

 

Another thing I’ve done is reviewed my outside commitments. As I’ve taken on a much larger role with my local SCBWI group, (I’m now the Social Media Coordinator for SCBWI Oklahoma and co-host for the monthly #okscbwichat we hold on Twitter) I’ve decided to pull back from participating in the group blog The Great Noveling Adventure. I will miss TGNA tremendously, but this will allow me to spend more time completing my manuscripts, and prepping them for submission – my major goal for the year!

I’ve also revamped my vision for this blog and have planned out some exciting ideas for the coming year.

Here are some of the changes coming soon:

With a reading goal for the year of 80 books and a starting TBR pile of 50 books, I'll have plenty of books to read.
A preview of my current TBR pile numbering 50 books at present. I hope to read all of these before the end of the year…and then some!

I will continue to read, read, read, and to encourage you all to do the same.

I’m participating in a few reading challenges, and I will share my progress along the way – as well as any fantastic books I discover. As always, I hope you share any books you fall in love with, too.

I will also introduce a read-along book club to share some of my favorite reads this year. Nothing too stressful or demanding, but a bit more interactive. And an excuse to re-read some of my faves of all time. (And get others to read them!)

Speaking of interactive, I have a strong desire to practice writing short stories. I know it’s an area that can help me expand my writing skills. (We should never stop learning or expanding or skills, right?)

To encourage others to write, write, write, along with me I’ll be introducing a monthly flash fiction writing prompt that might even involve some prizes to add some excitement.

 

One Flash Fiction prompt could be using a picture like this and prompting you to tell a story about this boy...
One Flash Fiction prompt could be using a picture like this and prompting you to tell a story about this boy…

 

I’ll still include the popular book reviews and craft posts and the odd personal story or interview from time to time to keep things lively.

One more new addition will be a monthly #TBT (ThrowBack Thursday) post where I will share some of my favorites that I originally posted over on the TGNA blog.

I hope you enjoy the changes, and join in the some of the more interactive activities.

Should be fun!

Here’s to a productive new year to all!

-Valerie

 

 

 

Reading Challenges for 2016

Reading ChallengesRock

I adore reading challenges. They give me an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite activities, reading books! They also help me expand my reading scope, and let me try out different authors or genres that I wouldn’t necessarily come to on my own.TBR Challenge Books

I’m about to successfully complete the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge I signed up for. Woohoo! Look at all these books I’m going to finish reading thanks to this fun challenge!

Now I’m looking forward to next year’s challenges. I’ve picked out two new ones as the Roof Beam Reader blog won’t be hosting the TBR Pile Challenge anymore.

#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge – I had so much fun participating in a TBR Pile challenge last year, that I wanted to try another reading challenge that had to do with TBRs this year. I fear I will never run out of books for this type of challenge, and it helps me pull books from the bottom of my TBR pile at least once a month. This year’s TBR reading challenge promises more interaction with Twitter chats, and also encourages you to read with a buddy.

ROCK-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – This reading challenge wants you to expand your reading tastes, or at least sample things from other menus. “We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is – a perspective shift – but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.”

There are 24 tasks to accomplish in this challenge. (See chart below.) You can add to the challenge experience by joining in social media discussions either on Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group or by following the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder.

I’m already planning out the books I’ll be reading. The interaction on the Goodreads site is really helpful in giving you ideas for books to choose for each task. I’m very excited about this one!

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016

 

If a reading challenge sounds like something you might enjoy, there are a wide variety to choose from, including:

The Cloak and Dagger Challenge – A challenge for mystery, crime, suspense, and thriller book enthusiasts.

Banned Books Challenge – This challenge encourages you to read books that have been banned or challenged.

Around the World Challenge – The goal of this challenge is to visit as many different and unusual places around the world through books as possible.

2016 Debut Author Challenge – The goal of this challenge is to introduce readers to this year’s wonderful group of debut authors.

And there are so many more – I found some challenges for Jane Austen readers, readers of comic books, horror, romance, steampunk, you name it. Whatever you’re interested in, I’m sure there’s a challenge out there just waiting for you.

So what are you waiting for? Set some reading goals for 2016 and have some fun doing it!

 

 

Great Reads Make Great Gifts – a TGNA post

tgnahead

 

It’s Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m sharing some great lists of top reads of the year for all of you bibliophiles out there.

 

 

Here’s a preview:

It’s a bibliophile’s favorite time of year – the time of year when everyone reveals their top picks for the best reads of the year!

This is where book addicts of every stripe can indulge their habit, and find even more books to love. If you or someone dear to you has an empty space on a bookshelf that needs to be filled with a good story, a wonderful new book to make you (*cough* or a friend) feel whole again, here are some fabulous top reading lists to check out.

Do your part to help orphan books find a forever home.

Adopt a new (or gently used) book, today!

 

 

To see the rest of the post, and to view all the fabulous links, click here.

 

 

TweetIf you’d like some company as you write, please join us each week day morning on Twitter!

I host AM #wordsprints over on the TGNA group Twitter handle @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST. We sprint in 20 minute blocks with ten minute breaks in between each session. This season, I’m throwing in some fun challenges each day to keep things interesting.

Hope to see you there!

I AM OKLAHOMA – Gwendolyn Hooks – Interviews with Authors Behind the Series

gwen July 2
I am honored to be hosting five delightful and talented fellow OK SCBWI writers this week in anticipation of their fantastic new series for children, which debuts October 6th. It’s called I AM OKLAHOMA Children’s Series, and each book is a biography about an important Oklahoman who helped make this state great.
 I Am Oklahoma
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Today, I am interviewing the final author in the series, the lovely and talented Gwendolyn Hooks. She is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

 

The Interview

 

gwen July 2

Valerie Lawson: How did you become involved in this project? 

Gwendolyn Hooks: It pays to have wonderful friends like Darleen Bailey Beard. We’re in a critique group with Jane McKellips and Pati Hailey. Darleen talked about the need for younger Oklahoma biographies and we agreed.

 

VL: The right critique group is so essential! And what an amazing group you have!

 

How did you choose your book’s subject? 

Leona Cover 2

GH: A few years ago, I went to a Christmas concert sponsored by Langston University’s music department. Leona Mitchell was the featured singer.

She was amazing. Her voice was so strong and beautiful; I sat mesmerized. She gracefully twirled around the room, sometimes a little flirty. The audience loved her.

How did this lady from Enid, Oklahoma, end up in opera houses all over the world? It was a question I wanted to answer.

 

VL: Excellent question! As a native from Enid, I grew up passing a street every day named after her. I never knew much about her life, except that she was an opera singer. I can’t wait to read this story!

What did you discover most surprising about researching Leona Mitchell’s life? 

GH: The number of brothers and sisters.

14!

I listened to an interview when she was asked to name her siblings. She did it so effortlessly. I think I would have stumbled and forgotten a few of those names. Maybe more than a few.

VL: Astounding! I can barely keep my siblings straight, and there are only 4 of them.

What made her a great Oklahoman?

GH: Throughout her career, Leona has always said Oklahoma was her home. She credits her family, her high school music teacher, and the music department at Oklahoma City University for her success.

And I felt her state pride when I heard her sing our state song, Oklahoma. Sometimes it was hard for her to get back to Enid, but it’s forever in her heart.

VL: If you continue with this project, whom would you like to write about next?

GH: Oklahoma has a lot of fascinating people who have made this an extraordinary state. There are libraries and schools named after people, but I bet a lot of children have no idea who they are or what they contributed to Oklahoma. A few years ago, I taught at Kerr Middle School. I bet 95% of the students had no idea why Kerr was chosen for that honor. I think that’s also true about the Ralph Ellison library.

I moved to Oklahoma when I was in high school and attended Northeast High School. One year, I went to Dunjee High School in Spencer for a Student Council conference. At that time, Dunjee was just the school’s name. It was much later that I found out he was the publisher and editor of the Black Dispatch newspaper. He published it from 1915-1955. It continued to be published until the early 1980s.

The Black Dispatch was the paper the African American community read to find out when Count Basie was coming to play on Deep Second, what social club was hosting a gala, and the latest church news. Dunjee was also known for his commitment to civil rights and wrote editorials blasting unfair laws. He questioned why African Americans were required to pay for bonds that only supported white schools. He worked with Thurgood Marshal who became a Supreme Court Justice. The more I research Dunjee, the more I’m captivated by him.

 

VL: That is so fascinating. And a part of our history that isn’t really taught in schools. I’d love to read that story!

What are you currently working on?

GH: I am working on another picture book biography. I really enjoy reading and writing them. I love history and I would love to bring new life to these fascinating personalities and show young readers why they are important to all of us.

My next biography is scheduled to be published in April 2016 by Lee and Low Books. Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is the story of an African American who only had a high school education, and yet designed the operation that allowed doctors to save the lives of babies born with tetralogy of Fallot or blue babies.

VL: I am so beyond excited about this book. I know it’s going to be amazing. You’ve worked really hard to tell this beautiful and important story about Vivien Thomas. 

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and your wonderful stories. 

 

Learn more about Gwendolyn Hooks here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.