July #okscbwichat – Special Guest Brenda Drake

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I co-hosted this month’s #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our Special Guest, YA author Brenda Drake.

Brenda Drake

Brenda-Drake-Author-Photo2Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

Brenda is the host of the ever-popular Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, and the Twitter pitch of all pitches, #pitmad. Brenda will be discussing what it’s like to host these mind-boggling contests, and how in the world she still makes time to write! Her debut novel, THIEF OF LIES: A Library Jumpers Novel, experienced a very successful release this month.

Follow Brenda on Twitter here.

During our Twitter chat, Brenda talked briefly of her own perilous journey to publication before we got into the topic for the evening, online writing contests like Pitch Wars and #pitmad. Brenda discussed the ins and outs of running Pitch Wars, and how it all got started. She explained the mentoring process for those who make it into the contest, and talked about why it is so beneficial for a writer to consider being a part of Pitch Wars in the first place.

As an added bonus, Brenda’s right-hand helper, Heather Cashman, joined in the conversation. The chat was an outstanding success and extremely informative. If you’ve ever considered entering a contest like this, you really should look into Pitch Wars. The next installment starts soon!

*If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

**Next month, we have our first topic #okscbwichat, Support Through Social Media! This will follow a special SCBWI MEMBERS ONLY event planned on Saturday, August 20th, right before our regular #okscbwichat. We will be hosting a Social Media Hangout in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City where we will be sharing ideas on how we can better support our fellow members by using social media – from pre-ordering books to posting reviews to using Goodreads effectively.

The Twitter chat on August 23rd will complement this event. We will share ideas we learned at the Hangout during the chat. For more information, check our calendar of events on the SCBWI OK website.

 

See you for the next Twitter chat on Tuesday, August 23rd!

#okscbwichat

 

To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

 

2016 Reading Challenges Update – 2nd Quarter Results

 

Reading Challenges Rock2

Halfway through the year and I’m approaching the halfway mark on my reading goal. I’ve read 39 books out of 80. Not too shabby. Almost respectable, even. (I have to say, it’s been so sweet to not see the nagging comments from Goodreads telling me how many books I’m behind this year.)

Now as far as how I’m doing with reaching the goals for the reading challenges, let’s take a closer look.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge

I only managed to check off one TBR pile book this quarter – shameful! I must double my efforts this next quarter. Especially because I haven’t stopped buying books. ( I have mentioned I have a book-buying problem, yes?) This pile hasn’t stopped growing! It’s currently moving in the wrong direction…

New book(s) I’ve managed to clear off my TBR pile:

 

THIEF OF LIES (Library Jumpers #1) by Brenda Drake

Thief-of-lies_high-res22This is the first book in a series by the wonderful and charming Brenda Drake, the YA author behind the Pitch Wars phenomenon. I loved the premise and the feisty female lead character. Drake does an excellent job with world-building and her fast-paced story has you racing to the end.

I look forward to the next installment.

Gia Kearns would rather fight with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum, suddenly disappears. While examining the book of world libraries he abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.

Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting her heart or dodging an exiled wizard seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French flirt obsessed with Arik and a fling with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Brenda Drake here.

Follow Brenda on Twitter here.

Follow Brenda on Facebook here.

TweetBy the way, if you like Twitter chats, Brenda will be our special guest this month on #okscbwichat. Join us on Tuesday, July 26th from 7-8pm CST.

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – I made a lot more headway on this challenge – almost halfway done, but not quite.

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 2nd Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Read a book about politics, in your country or another – fiction or non-fiction)

Between the World and Me

I can’t count how many people recommended this book to me. Everyone who read it was moved in a profound way. Obviously I signed up to read it.

Powerful doesn’t begin to describe this story.

Coates puts you immediately in the conversation and lets you explore the fear and worry and anger and enlightenment from the point of view of a parent teaching a son how to come to terms with the same. A must-read book for sure.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Ta-Nehisi Coates here.

Follow Ta-Nehisi on Twitter here.

 

 

GEORGE by Alex Gino
(Read a book under 100 pages)

george-small-400x600Although this book could also qualify as my selection for someone who identifies as transgender, I have another title I want to read for that. And I had heard so many positive reviews of this book, I had to read it.

Wow.

This book may be little, but it is mighty.

I cried so hard at the end and hugged it close to my heart. What an important book to add to the world and to put out there for MG readers. Fantastic story that needs to be read.

When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender  girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T! (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

Learn more about Alex Gino here.

Follow Alex on Twitter here.

Follow Alex on Facebook here.

 

 

THE THREE PIGS by David Wiesner
(Read a book out loud to someone else)

The Three PigsI could have picked any number of books for this challenge as I read out loud to my son quite often, but this is one of his favorites, as evidenced by the worn cover and the pages falling out near the back.

David Wiesner is a master of the picture book, with wolf-smsparse words and fantastical artwork that allows for an exploration into one’s own imagination to fill in the story. My son also loves his book, TUESDAY, which is almost wordless and completely magical.

Hold on to your hat and your home, but let your imagination soar! This masterly picture book will blow you away right along with the three little pigs’ houses. Satisfying both as a story and as an exploration of story, The Three Pigs takes visual narrative to a new level. When the wolf comes a-knocking and a-puffing, he blows the pigs right out of the tale and into a whole new imaginative landscape, where they begin a freewheeling adventure as they wander—and fly—through other stories, encountering a dragon and a cat with a fiddle, among pigsilo-smothers. This familiar tale will never be the same old story again. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

Learn more about David Wiesner here.

 

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

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – I did much better on this challenge and actually got my first bingo – woohoo! Of course I’m going for the full blackout.

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 2nd Qtr

 

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

THE BANE CHRONICLES by Cassandra Clare
(Collection of Short Stories)

Bane Chronicles coverAs a serious fan of all things Shadowhunter, I couldn’t resist getting to know one of my favorite characters in the series. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek at the life of Magnus Bane and the illustrations – I only wish there had more more! The tales answered some questions and raised some others. The only drawback is now I feel compelled to reread the entire series of books. What’s a booklover to do?

Fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices can get to know warlock Magnus Bane like never before in this collection of New York Times bestselling tales, in print for the first time with an exclusive new story and illustrated material.

This collection of eleven short stories illuminates the life of the enigmatic Magnus Bane, whose alluring personality, flamboyant style, and sharp wit populate the pages of the #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.

Originally released one-by-one as e-only short stories by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan, this compilation presents all ten together in print for the first time and includes a never-before-seen eleventh tale, as well as new illustrated material. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.

Follow Cassandra on Twitter here.

Follow her on Tumblr here.

 

 

CAREER OF EVIL (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K Rowling)
(A book set in a place opposite of your hometown)

Career of Evil coverLondon couldn’t be any more opposite from my hometown in rural Oklahoma, so this is a perfect match for this challenge selection.

There’s nothing like a hard-boiled mystery novel, is there? I really enjoy reading these books by Rowling, er, Galbraith. Just a fun read. I know, I know, murder and mayhem, fun? I may be a little weird. Either way, I read through this book in a flash to find out whodunit.

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible- and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Robert Galbraith here.

Follow Robert on Twitter here.

Follow Robert on Facebook here.

(I’m sure you know how to find J.K. Rowling, but her other main site’s here.)

 

 

AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
(A book that makes you sound smart at dinner parties)

AABI think this book could fit in many categories, but I love talking about it everywhere I go, and encouraging everyone I know to read it, so I think it fits well here.

So much buzz about this book as THE book to read this year brought this title to my attention. And now I know why.

Fantastic.

Timely.

Heartfelt.

Such an important topic and so well handled by these two incredibly talented authors. Bravo!

Critically acclaimed authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely have joined forces to write an explosive new novel, ALL AMERICAN BOYS, inspired by recent controversial events and the national firestorm over police brutality.

Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins are two young men, one black and one white, whose lives are forever changed by an act of extreme police brutality. Rashad wakes up in a hospital. Quinn saw how he got there. And so did the video camera that taped the cop beating Rashad senseless into the pavement. Thus begins ALL AMERICAN BOYS, written in tandem by two of our great literary talents, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The story is told in Rashad and Quinn’s alternating perspectives, as they grapple with the complications that spin out of this violent moment and reverberate in their families, school, and town. Over the course of one week, Rashad tries to find the strength to accept his role as the symbolic figure of the community’s response to police brutality, and Quinn tries to decide where he belongs in a town bitterly divided by racial tension.  Ultimately, the two narratives weave back together, in the moment in which the two boys, now changed, can actually see each other—the first step for healing and understanding in a country still deeply sick with racial injustice. Reynolds pens the voice of Rashad, and Kiely has taken the voice of Quinn.

“As a black man and a white man, both writers and educators, we came together to cowrite a book about how systemic racism and police brutality affect the lives of young people in America, in order to create an important, unique, and honest work that would give young people and the people who educate them a tool for talking about these difficult but absolutely vital conversations,” said Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jason Reynolds here.

Follow Jason on Twitter here.

Follow Jason on Tumblr here.

Follow Jason on Instagram here.

 

Learn more about Brendan Kiely here.

Follow Brendan on Twitter here.

Follow Brendan on Facebook here.

 

 

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
(Book already on your shelf)

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937As this book was a re-read for my Relaxed and Groovy Book Club, it was definitely already on my shelf. I’ve talked about this book ad nauseum on this blog, because it is one of my all-time favorites so I’ll spare you the details, unless you’re truly interested.

The way Sáenz paints with language gets me every time. He uses evocative language so well to hit right to the heart of the emotional moment of every scene. And his characters Ari and Dante are just the greatest. I loved this book even more the second time around. Find the full discussion here.

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.

 

 

What have you been reading, lately?

What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the third discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club!

This third installment is taking full advantage of the title “relaxed & groovy” as April was just too hectic for me to manage everything, what with the amazing SCBWI spring conference and then the nonprofit I work for hosted its annual Walk for Autism the very next week, I was worn out by the end of the month. I took most of May to regroup and refocus. So I let this go. It’s important to know your limits, I say. Now, I have all the time in the world to talk about this latest fabulous book!

Current 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.

The way Sáenz paints with language gets me every time. He uses evocative language so well to hit right to the heart of the emotional moment of every scene. And his characters Ari and Dante are just the greatest. I loved this book even more the second time around.

Let’s peek at the opening:

     One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke. In the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in though my open window.

     My hand reached for the dial on the radio. “Alone” was playing. Crap, “Alone” a song by a band called Heart. Not my favorite song. Not my favorite group. Not my favorite topic. “You don’t know how long…”

     I was fifteen.

     I was bored.

     I was miserable.

     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.

     The DJ was saying annoying, obvious things like, “It’s summer! It’s hot out there!” And then he put on that retro Lone Ranger tune, something he liked to play every morning because he thought it was a hip way to wake up the world. “Hi-yo, Silver!” Who hired this guy? He was killing me. I think that as we listened to the William Tell Overture, we were supposed to be imagining the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding their horses through the desert. Maybe someone should have told the guy that we weren’t ten-year-olds anymore. “Hi-yo Silver!” Crap. The DJ’s voice was on the airwaves again. “Wake up, El Paso! It’s Monday, June fifteenth, 1987! 1987! Can you believe it? And a big ‘Happy Birthday’ goes out to Waylon Jennings, who’s fifty years old today!” Waylon Jennings? This was a rock station, dammit! But then he said something that hinted at the fact that he might have a brain. He told the story about how Waylon Jennings had survived the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. On that note, he put on the remake of “La Bamba” by Los Lobos.

     “La Bamba.” I could cope with that.

     I tapped my bare feet on the wood floor. As I nodded my head to the beat, I started wondering what had gone through Richie Valens’s head before the plane crashed into the unforgiving ground. Hey, Buddy! The music’s over.

     For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.

This novel is beyond fantastic. You know who Ari is right from the start. You feel for him and wish his day were going better.

The Discussion:

The simple summary above doesn’t begin to do this story and this beautiful, complicated relationship justice. Aristotle, or Ari as he prefers to be called, isn’t just another angsty teen with anger management problems. He lives in a house filled with silences. His dad came back damaged after returning from Vietnam without the words to talk about it. Ari, for his part, wants nothing more than to hear from his dad. His older brother went to prison when Ari was very young and even his pictures have been banished from the walls. The silence of his absence is deafening. Ari is a big thinker. He’s always wondering about how the world works and why things are the way they are. Like in this passage:

I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break.

Dante has completely different problems. For one thing, he’s not Mexican enough. Compared to Ari, who is just the right combination, Dante thinks he’s too light-skinned and too into art and reading and doesn’t really like anything that “real” Mexicans like. Except for menudo, which Ari says makes him a real Mexican. He also gets along with his parents too well. And he’s afraid of disappointing them (they way he’s disappointed Ari) because he likes boys. Dante over-shares his feelings, where Ari keeps his hidden, even from himself.

Dante talks about everything.

Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural. Not it my world, they weren’t.

I went home and looked up the word ‘inscrutable.’ It meant something that could not easily be understood. I wrote down all the synonyms in my journal. ‘Obscure.’ ‘Unfathomable.’ ‘Enigmatic.’ ‘Mysterious.’

That afternoon, I learned two new words. ‘Inscrutable.’ And ‘friend.’

Words were different when they lived inside of you.

 

Ari struggles with sharing his thoughts. When he gets sick with the flu and Dante visits him, they end up talking about Ari’s brother. Afterwards, Ari feels like he’s betrayed his family and pushes Dante away. He then starts writing everything in a journal.

 

-I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.

-I told my father I always had bad dreams. And that was true. I’d never told anyone that before. Not even myself. I only knew it was true when I said it.

-I hated my mom for a minute or two because she told me I didn’t have any friends.

-I want to know about my brother. If I knew more about him, would I hate him?

-My father held me in his arms when I had a fever and I wanted him to hold me in his arms forever.

-The problem is not that I don’t love my mother and father. The problem is that I don’t know how to love them.

-Dante is the first friend I’ve ever had. That scares me.

-I think that if Dante really knew me, he wouldn’t like me.

 

That is something I could connect with – a fear I had when I was young (and maybe not so young) – and I knew how lonely Ari felt. And why he pushed Dante away.

Another defining moment in the story is when Ari and Dante witness some boys shooting a BB gun and they kill a bird. Dante confronts them in anger and Ari chases them away before they can hurt Dante. They both come away from the confrontation with new insights about each other.

 

After the boys sit in silence, Ari asks, “Why do birds exist, anyway?”

He looked at me. “You don’t know?”

“I guess I don’t.”

“Birds exist to teach us things about the sky.”

 

Dante cries over the dead bird and asks Ari to help him bury it.

 

I was harder than Dante. I think I’d tried to hide that hardness from him because I’d wanted him to like me. But now he knew. that I was hard. And maybe that was okay. Maybe he could like the fact that I was hard just as I liked the fact that he wasn’t hard.

 

Later, Ari saves Dante’s life when he stops in the road to rescue a wounded bird after a storm and a car swerves around the corner. Ari is hit in Dante’s place. This changes and deepens their relationship in surprising ways.

Dante wants Ari to forgive him. He says he done with birds. Everyone thinks of Ari as a hero. Ari tells Dante there’s nothing to forgive and he acted on reflex – he didn’t even think about it, he just did it. No one should treat him like a hero. Whenever they, Ari gets angry.

One morning, Dante decides he’ll be the one to give Ari his sponge bath.

 

Dante’s hands were bigger than my mother’s. And softer. He was slow, methodical, careful. He made me feel as fragile as porcelain.

I never opened my eyes.

We didn’t say a word.

I felt his hands on my bare chest. On my back.

I let him shave me.

When he was done, I opened my eyes. Tears were falling down his face. I should have expected that. I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to tell him that it was me who should be crying.

Dante had that look on his face. He looked like an angel. And all I wanted to do was put my fist through his jaw. I couldn’t stand my own cruelty.

 

Dante then moves away for a year. Both boys struggle to figure out who they are without the other. They experiment with things – kissing girls, taking drugs, drinking – and they discover some secrets of the universe. When Dante returns, they are fast friends, again. Ari is welcomed back by Dante’s family with more affection than Ari is comfortable with.

 

“I’m sure I’ll disappoint you someday, Mrs. Quintana.”

“No,” she said. And even though her voice could be so firm, right then her voice was almost as kind as my own mother’s. “You’re so hard on yourself, Ari.”

I shrugged. “Maybe that’s just the way it is with me.”

She smiled at me. “Dante’s not the only one who missed you.”

It was the most beautiful thing an adult who wasn’t my mom or dad had ever said to me. And I knew that there was something about me that Mrs. Quintana saw and loved. And even though I felt it was a beautiful thing, I also felt it was a weight. Not that she meant it to be a weight. But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.

 

The summer progresses, and after a family tragedy strikes, Ari comes to understand another secret of the universe.

 

I just drove. I could have driven forever. I don’t know how I managed to find my spot in the desert, but I found it. It was as if I had a compass hidden somewhere inside of me. One of the secrets of the universe was that our instincts were sometimes stronger the our minds…Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.

 

Ari comes to realize maybe he didn’t just respond as a reflex when he saved Dante. Maybe there was a bigger reason. Okay, no more spoilers. I promise.

The voice, the plot, the setting all worked together in harmony and kept me firmly engrossed in the world of Ari and Dante. I hope you enjoyed reading this month’s book as much as I did, and that you maybe kept a box of kleenex close by near the end. Well worth it, I say.

 So…what’s next?

July’s Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

beauty queensBEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: February 21, 2012

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

amazon

bn-24h-80indiebound

 

 

Plot Summary:

Teen beauty queens. A desert island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to e-mail. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Libba Bray here.

Follow Libba on Twitter here.

Follow Libba on Tumblr here.

Follow Libba on Facebook here.

This book is more than just a pretty face. Every young woman* should read the wisdom imparted within these pages – for no other reason, in the unlikely event that she is stranded on a deserted island with a bunch of savage beauty queens. Libya Bray is a genius at turning the absurd into the astounding. I’m so looking forward to reading this book, again! I know you’ll love this one.

*(and every young man! Insight is always wise to pursue. Besides, there is a male perspective shown here as well…)

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

Happy reading!

Gwendolyn Hooks Shines a Light on an Unsung Hero – Author Interview and Book Giveaway!

Gwen Hooks Small Head Shot

I have the pleasure of knowing Gwendolyn Hooks as part of our close-knit tribe of SCBWI Oklahoma members. She works tirelessly to perfect her craft until her work shines, and she has such a beautiful soul. All of which comes through in her writing. I just love her.

The road to publication for her latest book, TINY STITCHES: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, was a long one. Some of us who have witnessed the progress of this journey are so thrilled to see this beautiful story finally come to light.

One lucky reader will win a signed copy! So stay tuned!

About Gwen

She was born in Savannah, Georgia. Her father was in the Air Force, so Gwen and her family moved a lot when she was a child. Her first stop in every new city was the local library where she got her new library card. Gwen now lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and their three children.

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.

Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas  illustrated by Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner Colin Bootman (Lee & Low Books 2016) is her first picture book biography

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.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Gwen’s latest book:

TinyStitches_jkt_cover_smallTINY STITCHES: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas written by Gwendolyn Hooks illustrated by Colin Bootman

Release Date: May 15, 2016

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Genres: Picture Book
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Plot Summary:

Vivien Thomas’s greatest dream was to attend college to study medicine. But after the stock market crashed in 1929, Vivien lost all his savings. Then he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.

As Dr. Blalock’s research assistant, Vivien learned surgical techniques. In 1943, Vivien was asked to help Dr. Helen Taussig find a cure for children with a specific heart defect. After months of experimenting, Vivien developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. Afterward, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig announced their innovative new surgical technique, the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Vivien’s name did not appear in the report.

Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.


This book has already garnered rave reviews:

Booklist STAR review

“It is the work Thomas achieved, however, in spite of these enormous challenges, that will pique reader interest as they learn about his design of tiny operating tools and his role guiding surgeons through neonatal operations. Bootman’s lifelike watercolor illustrations beautifully and vividly evoke the carpentry shop, research labs, and the auditorium where, years later, Thomas was finally honored for his work and appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins.”

Kirkus

“. . . a rousing tribute to a man unjustly forgotten.”

 

I can’t wait to read this book! And the illustrations are just gorgeous.

 

The Interview

Gwen Hooks Head ShotValerie Lawson: What inspired you to tell the story of Vivien Thomas?

Gwendolyn Hooks: Thank goodness I have generous and talented writer friends and Anna Myers fits into that category. She called one night and in an explosive voice she said, “I just watched a movie about the man who saved my grandson’s life!”

Whaaat? Was all I could sputter.

The movie, Something the Lord Made, was the story of Vivien Thomas. Anna ended the conversation with, “You need to write a children’s book about him.” I watched the movie, too—several times. I kept thinking, why didn’t I know about him. There are probably plenty of kids who don’t know his story. After a lot of encouragement from Anna, I took on the project and I am so glad she called me that night!

VL: What a gift! And maybe a pretty big challenge. Good thing she knew you were up for it.

Tell us about the creative process of bringing this story to life. How was it different from your previous books.

GH: The creative process was extremely demanding for me. The beautiful phrases in my head did not magically appear on my computer screen. I have a stack of drafts about two feet high. I read other biographies and marveled at how the writing seemed so effortless. I worried what an illustrator would say after reading my manuscript. “Seriously. You expect me to illustrate this?” I doubted every step I took. But I did not give up. I kept reading picture book biographies and read everything I could find about how to write them.

When I write early readers, I always feel I can do it. I can visualize the whole book in my mind. With Tiny Stitches, it was a long time before I could see it. Before I could feel it. But I kept trying. I wanted to succeed. I couldn’t let Anna down. Or myself.

I don’t know what Colin Bootman thought when he first read my manuscript, but I’m so glad he accepted the project. I was excited when my editor told me he would be the illustrator. He’s very talented and his books are gorgeous. Colin won a Coretta Scott King Honor award, so he’s got talent! I think he really brought my words to life.

 

VT 16-17rev

 

VL: You didn’t give up. Exactly. And we’re so glad you kept trying. What a beautiful book!

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?

GH: It took six years from idea to publication. During that time, I learned that I have a patience-gene and a determination-gene. I would finish it and find an agent and an editor who believed in it as much as I did. I had the encouragement of my family, friends, and critique partners.

And I had Vivien Thomas. A few years ago, I traveled to Baltimore and had a chance to see Vivien’s portrait that hangs directly across from Dr. Blalock’s in Johns Hopkins Hospital. I felt his energy. I felt his passion. He urged me to tell his story. And I did.

VT 22-23

 

VL: Ooooh! How inspiring! (That gave me chills.)

You’ve also written a series of Early Readers, the Pet Club series, did you ever have a clubhouse or a secret place of your own when you were a kid?

GH: In 3rd grade, my friends and I attempted to build a fort during recess. The school was next to a wooded area and every day, we added branches and anything else we could find. I don’t think we ever finished it. But one day, I took off my jacket so I could work better. Well, I forgot to put it back on and didn’t remember it until I got on the bus. I was a nervous wreck riding home. I knew my mother’s first words would be, “Where is your jacket?”

Somehow, I got to my bedroom and out the house the next morning before she had time to think about it. I jumped off the bus, ran to our fort, and found my jacket. I never forgot my jacket again. I never built or half-built a fort again either.

VL: Kids always sweat their parents’ reactions, don’t they? My leg could be broken from jumping out of a tree, but I’d be more worried about, “Did I rip my new pants? Mom’s gonna kill me!” I wish I could’ve seen that fort. Sounded pretty cool. 

What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced?

GH: I still remember it like it was yesterday. I had to present a math lesson in one of my college education classes. I practiced it until it was perfect. But when I stood in front of the class with all those eyes staring at me, I blanked out. It was as if my brain had disappeared. Evaporated. Vanished. Finally, the instructor suggested I present at our next class. I slunk back to my seat. I have never forgotten that.

VL: Wow. That is truly awful. I think I’ve had nightmares of that happening.  

What was the most memorable adventure you had with your family?

GH: My two sisters who are also my best friends and I had a fantastic time on our trip to Belgium. One sister is adamant about luggage. We were restricted to one carry-on bag and she sent instructions on how to pack. No waiting for luggage. No crying over lost bags. Plus you must be able to handle your bag without help. Apparently, my other sister forgot that part. When we arrived in Brussels, we took a train to the car rental agency. The forgetful sister couldn’t get her luggage situated and we had to stay on the train until the next stop. So we decided to walk to the rental agency instead of waiting for another train.

It wasn’t as close as we thought and we were not happy with sister #2. As the luggage obsessed sister was signing the rental papers, she realized she had not specified automatic transmission when she reserved the car and there weren’t any available. There was a little eye-rolling from the luggage challenged sister because the luggage obsessed sister is the only one who could drive a stick shift. I’m the middle sister and peace maker so I volunteered to serve as navigator. Which turned out okay except for a few instances of driving in circles multiple times in circle intersections. It was hard to stop gawking and look at street signs.

We toured buildings that were centuries old. We ate chocolate and more chocolate. Then we took side trips to Bruges and Antwerp. Bruges was a fairy tale city with live chickens for sale in the market square. At a restaurant, I ordered a ham dish that appeared in front of me as a huge ham hock in a soup bowl. It was delicious! In Antwerp we visited the diamond center. I was blinded with all the glitter. Then it was time to drive back to Brussels and fly home. I loved that trip!

VL: That certainly was memorable! How fantastic!

What’s been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year? 

GH: I can’t just pick one.

I met Christina Gonzalez at the Nevada Reading Week conference in Reno. She gave me a copy of her The Red Umbrella, so of course I had to read it. It’s a great book set in Cuba. I love reading about other cultures and countries.

Recently, I read Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. It’s a beautiful picture book with a fun, but powerful message about the importance of a name.

The other day, I complained to a friend that I wanted to do a better job with setting. She suggested I read The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County written by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Janice does a fabulous job of showing setting through her language. I will probably read it 10 more times before I return it to the library.

I read two adult nonfiction books over the last year that I really enjoyed for different reasons.

The Superhuman Mind: Free the Genius in Your Brain by Berit Brogaard and Kristian Marlow. Who doesn’t want to free their genius!

Gwen and author pic
Gwen with author of THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Not only was it an epic story, the book was epic at 622 pages! But I love history and I learned so much about the migration of African Americans from the deep south to the north and west. I also liked Wilkerson’s narrative nonfiction style.

To-Be-Read: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. She feels that exceptional achievement is a result of passion and persistence and not genius or talent. That means I can achieve something exceptional because I’m passionate about books and writing and I can be persistent when I set my mind on it.

VL: Ha! You’re so like me! I can never pick just one book EVER! And my nightstand has about ten books covering it right now. Thanks for some excellent reading suggestions.

What would your dream assignment be? What would you most like to write about?

GH: I’d love to have an all-expense paid assignment with a six-figure advance that required traveling to another country for research. One of my favorite television shows is Mysteries at the Museum. One Saturday, while eating breakfast, I watched an episode about Sir William Henry Perkins. He was an English chemist who accidently discovered a purple dye in 1856. Up until that time only royalty and the rich could afford purple clothes. Soon all the ladies were strutting around town in purple frocks. And since I love purple, it only makes sense for me to visit England and work on that project.

VL: Now that’s an excellent dream assignment! And of course you’ll need a co-writer to help you…carry your luggage. I’m volunteering now.

Tell us what’s coming up next for you. What are you currently working on? 

GH: I wrote two early readers for Lee & Low’s Confetti Kids series. Block Party and Music Time are scheduled for 2017. Pearson Educational UK is publishing a chapter book next year. And I’m writing another early reader that I can’t talk about yet-top secret. I will say, it’s something I’ve always been interested in, but I see a challenge ahead making it young-kid-friendly.

VL: How exciting! And I love top secret projects. We know you’ll be up for the challenge🙂  

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Gwen. Always a pleasure.

**As an added bonus for those in the local area, Gwen will be hosting a book release party on June 9th, in Oklahoma City. The event will be from 6-9pm at the Chi Gallery.

Please come! It will be a fun event!

 

The Giveaway

Gwen is giving away a SIGNED COPY of her new book TINY STITCHES to one lucky reader of this blog!

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To enter, all you have to do is enter below!

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  Gwendolyn Hook’s Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you really, really want to enter, but don’t want to use the Rafflecopter feature, feel free to post a comment below as your entry, and I’ll manually add you to the giveaway.)

Winner will be selected on June 15th.

CONGRATULATIONS TO BARBARA LOWELL!

SHE’S THE WINNER OF THE SIGNED COPY OF TINY STITCHES!

Learn more about Gwendolyn Hooks here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.

 

 

#TBT Post – Why Sensory Detail is Important

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on April 21, 2014. 


 

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O'Keefe

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O’Keefe

 

If you’ve ever been told that your story was boring that it lacked excitement or depth or maybe that your dialogue felt like floating heads talking in an empty room, it might have been because you neglected the sensory details.

Tapping into what your characters see, smell, touch, taste, and hear can allow readers to experience the characters’ world on a deeper level. Adding sensory details can anchor your readers in your world, and make your story breathe with believability.

The key is to do this without overwhelming your writing with too many details. Page-long descriptions of what your character looks like can slow the pacing and lose your reader’s attention, sometimes forever. How do you strike that balance between talking heads in empty rooms and info dumps that put your readers to sleep?

I find studying poetry helps.

As this is National Poetry Month, it’s also a nice segue into the importance of reading more poetry for its own sake. What the poets can teach us, aside from paying attention to the rhythm and flow of words, is one thing many of us struggle with – economy of words. Poets also pay close attention to how words sound and feel when they come off the tongue. And more importantly, the emotions words evoke.

This can be the heart of sensory imagery. Word choices that trigger deep memories connected to our senses and can help paint pictures and allow readers to fill in the visual background themselves without you needing to describe every detail for them.

I reviewed a book of poetry this week on my blog that was a collection of poems about my home state. I was amazed at how some of the poems put me in touch with long-forgotten memories. Just the mention of ice old bottles of orange Fanta pulled from a lay-down cooler in one poem took me back to Oklahoma summertime and riding bikes with my friends to the town pool. It was an awakening of the senses from a few stanzas.

With the barest of words, poets can evoke scenes in your mind. “Brushstrokes” as one of my writing friends calls it. This is what you want in your own story.

Just in case you’re not familiar with sensory detail, I thought I’d show a quick example from a writer who does this so well. Here’s what a scene would look like without its sensory details from OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys (and then I’ll show you the scene as it originally appears in her book).

 “Hello, Louise.”

“I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. “Willie, this is Josie.”

“So…you’ve returned.”

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

“You look good.”

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

“You heard about Tuscaloosa? Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…”

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids.”

“I don’t like ’em much, either.”

“Really? So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.”

“You clean and make martinis? Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie.

“I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-but it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?”

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

“Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.”

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

“Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

“Neat.”

This is what “talking heads” dialogue looks like.

Although, the writing isn’t bad, as is, you have no sense of where they are in time or place, how they are reacting to what’s being said, etc. Let’s see how the scene changes when we add all of the sensory details back in:

 

 “Hello, Louise.”

The voice was thick and had mileage on it. Her platinum-blonde hair was pulled tight in a clasp engraved with the initials W.W. The woman’s eyes, lined in charcoal, had wrinkles fringing out from the corners. Her lips were scarlet, but not bloody. She was pretty once.

The woman stared at me, then finally spoke. “I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. She dragged me in front of the chair. “Willie, this is Josie.”

I smiled and bent my scabby legs into my best curtsy. The arm with the red nails quickly waved me away to the settee across from her. Her bracelet jangled a discordant tune.

“So…you’ve returned.” Willie lifted a cigarette from a mother-of-pearl case and tapped it softly against the lid.

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

Willie said nothing. A clock on the wall swung a ticktock rhythm. “You look good,” Willie finally said, still tapping the cigarette against its case.

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother, leaning back against the settee.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

Mother’s back stiffened. “You heard about Tuscaloosa?”

“Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother, looking into her lap. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie, tapping her cigarette harder and harder against the case.

Mother’s hand reached up to her neck, fingering the pearls.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…” She nodded in my direction.

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids,” she spat, her eyes boring a hole through me.

I shrugged. “I don’t like ’em much, either.”

Mother pinched my arm, hard. I felt the skin snap. I bit my lip and tried not to wince. Mother became angry when I complained.

“Really?” Willie continued to stare. “So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.” I smiled at Mother and rubbed my arm.

“You clean and make martinis?” Willie raised a pointy eyebrow. Her sneer suddenly faded. “Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie flatly, still tapping her cigarette.

I moved closer to Mother. “I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-” Mother’s toe dug into my ankle. “But it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?” said Willie.

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?” She shifted in her chair. I spied what looked like the butt of a gun stuffed down the side of the seat cushion.

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

I stared at her. “Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.” I pulled the ribbons from my thick brown bob and reached for the lighter on the table.

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

Willie sighed. “Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

Her mouth opened in surprise, then snapped shut. “Neat.” She eyed me as I lit her cigarette.

 

See the difference? You get sight, sound, and even touch. These sensory details connect you in the world and let you feel what the characters are going through. They paint the scene. So, ready to get started?

If you think you could use a little more poetry in your life to help you get in touch with your sensory details or even to work on your rhythm and pacing and you need some reading suggestions, our state Poet Laureate had a few recommended poets to get you on your way:

Stephen Dunn

Ted Kooser

Billy Collins

Sharons Olds

Tony Hoagland

Mary Oliver

Martin Espada

Charles Bukowski

George Bilgere

Wendell Berry


 

Our Oklahoma Poet Laureate at the time of this post was the dynamic Nathan Brown. I highly recommend his poetry (and maybe even his singing.)

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!