The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – SALT TO THE SEA

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the first discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club of this year! We’ll have one each quarter and instead of revisiting a favorite read from the past, I’ll be reading a book for the first time right along with you.

This first book is from an author with the most generous spirit and all the talent to make a reader lose themselves in any world she creates. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read her debut novel BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY. I was lucky enough to hear her speak in person about her experience researching and then writing this story. It was gut-wrenching. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. She put all of that into her story, and let me tell you. It’s a book well worth reading.

So is her latest book. I won an advanced copy on Goodreads, which was awesome – free books, yay! (If you had my book habit you’d totally understand.) Even so, I would’ve bought this book myself if I hadn’t won it.

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

 

SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys

Published by: Philomel

Release Date: February 2, 2016

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction

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Plot Summary:

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Ruta Sepetys here.

Follow Ruta on Twitter here.

Follow Ruta on Facebook here.

This is such a fascinating tale that grips you right from the opening pages. Sepetys has a way of finding different angles to shed light on familiar periods of history in enlightening and intriguing ways.

Here’s a look at the first chapter:

joana

      Guilt is a hunter.

My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant

child.

It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.

      I quickened my pace and caught up with our small group. The Germans would march us off the field road if they found us. Roads were reserved for the military. Evacuation orders hadn’t been issued and anyone fleeing East Prussia was branded a deserter. But what did that matter? I became a deserter four years ago, when I fled from Lithuania.

      Lithuania.

      I had left in 1941. What was happening at home? Were the dreadful things whispered in the streets true?

      We approached a mound on the side of the road. The small boy in front of me whimpered and pointed. He had joined us two days prior, just wandered out of the forest alone and quietly began following us.

     “Hello, little one. How old are you?” I had asked.

      “Six,” he replied.

      “Who are you traveling with?”

      He paused and dropped his head. “My Omi.”

      I turned toward the woods to see if his grandmother had emerged. “Where is your Omi now?” I asked.

      The wandering boy looked up at me, his pale eyes wide. “She didn’t wake up.”

      So the little boy traveled with us, often drifting just slightly ahead or behind. And now he stood, pointing to a flap of dark wool beneath a meringue of snow.

      I waved the group onward and when everyone advanced I ran to the snow-covered heap. The wind lifted a layer of icy flakes revealing the dead blue face of a woman, probably in her twenties. Her mouth and eyes were hinged open, fixed in fear. I dug through her iced pockets, but they had already been picked. In the lining of her jacket I found her identification papers. I stuffed them in my coat to pass on to the Red Cross and dragged her body off the road and into the field. She was dead, frozen solid, but the thought of tanks rolling over her was more than I could bear.

      I ran back to the road and our group. The wandering boy stood in the center of the path, snow falling all around him.

      “She didn’t wake up either?” he asked quietly.

      I shook my head and took his mittened hand in mine.

      And then we both heard it in the distance.

      Bang.

Don’t you just love the imagery of “a flap of dark wool beneath a meringue of snow”? There are so many different ways she describes the winter weather, you feel it as you’re walking through the scene with the characters.

With this well-crafted story which not only creates vivid scenes that immerse you right into the bitter cold of Eastern Prussia in 1945, but shows you this world through the lives of four fascinating and complex characters, we not only get caught up in their struggles, but in the mystery that slowly draws them all together.

The Discussion:

The book is told from four points of view, each character with a different reason for fleeing from something. Three of them are crossing the open, dodging the Germans from one direction and the Soviets from another, trying to find safe passage out of the country on a ship, one doomed for tragedy. One is already on the ship, trying to avoid doing much of anything – hiding in plain sight.

Here’s the scene when the three crossing all come together for the first time:

florian

     Others had beaten us there. A teetering collection of weathered horse carts was tucked beyond the brush, a sober portrait of the trek toward freedom. I would have preferred an abandoned site, but knew I couldn’t continue. The Polish girl pulled at my sleeve.

     She stopped in the snow, staring at the possessions outside the barn, evaluating the contents and whom they might belong to. There was no evidence of military.

     “I think okay,” she said. We walked inside.

     A group of fifteen or twenty people sat huddled around a small fire. Their faces turned as I slipped in and stood near the door. Mothers, children, and elderly. All exhausted and broken. The Polish girl went straight to a vacant corner and sat down, wrapping her arms tightly around her chest. A young woman walked over to me.

     “Are you injured? I have medical training.”

     Her German was fluent, but not native. I didn’t answer. I didn’t need to speak to anyone.

     “Do you have any food to share?” she asked.

     What I had was no one’s business.

     “Does she have any food?” she asked, pointing to the Polish girl rocking in the corner. “Her eyes look a bit wild.”

     I spoke without looking at her. “She was in the forest. A Russian cornered her. She followed me here. She has a couple of potatoes. Now, leave me alone,” I said.

     The young woman winced at the mention of the Russian. She left my side and headed quickly toward the girl.

     I found a solitary spot away from the group and sat down. I lodged my pack against the barn wall and carefully reclined on it. It would be warmer if I sat near the fire with the others but I couldn’t risk it. No conversations.

     I ate a small piece of the sausage from the dead Russian and watched the young woman as she tried to speak with the girl from the forest. Others called out to her for help. She must have been a nurse. She looked a few years older than me. Pretty. Naturally pretty, the type that’s still attractive, even more so, when she’s filthy. Everyone in the barn was filthy. The stench of exertion, failed bladders, and most of all fear, stunk worse than any livestock. The nurse girl would have turned my head back in Königsberg.

     I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at the pretty girl. I needed to be able to kill her, kill them all, if I had to. My body begged for sleep but my mind warned me not to trust these people. I felt a nudge at my feet and opened my eyes.

     “You didn’t mention she was Polish,” said the nurse. “And the Russian?” she asked.

     “He’s taken care of,” I told her. “I need to sleep.”

     She knelt down beside me. I could barely hear her.

     “What you need is to show me that wound you’re trying to hide.”

Once they all come together on the ill-fated ship, you know their troubles are far from over. Intense and fast-paced, Septeys keeps you turning the pages to the end to find out what each of these characters is hiding and how they will survive, if they will survive. I loved the unique take on such an important period of history, brought to life in a brilliant way. I hope you enjoyed reading it, too.

So…what’s next?

 Next Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough

Published by: Scholastic

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

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Plot Summary:

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. HELEN OF TROY AND PARIS. ROMEO AND JULIET. AND NOW . . . HENRY AND FLORA.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Martha Brockenbrough here.

Follow Martha on Twitter here.

Follow Martha on Facebook here.

Follow Martha on Tumblr here.

 

I met the beguiling Ms. Brockenbrough at the SCBWI LA conference last summer and have been looking forward to reading this book ever since. I can’t wait to discuss it with you all next time!

We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs in early summer. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)

Happy reading!

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – BEAUTY QUEENS

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

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

Returning to this right now is just what my creative spirit needs. Let’s talk books! And what better book than this one, the uplifting tale of beauty queens surviving on a deserted island, left to fend for themselves and discover what they’re really made of.

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

 

beauty queensBEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Published by: Scholastic Press

Release Date: May 24, 2011

Genres: YA, Contemporary, LGBT

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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.

I love the voice of this book! Libba Bray is hilarious and so talented at taking the absurd and making it funny while at the same time forcing us to look at an issue closer, with discernment.

Let’s peek at the opening and first chapter:

(It starts with a disclaimer, er, a word from your sponsor):

     This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it’s safer to fly than to go to the beach. As we said, this book begins with a plane crash. But there are survivors. You see? Already it’s a happy tale. They are all beauty queen contestants. You do not need to know their names here. But you will get to know them. They are all such nice girls. Yes, they are nice, happy, shining, patriotic girls who happen to have interests in baton twirling, sign language, AIDS prevention in the animal population, the ancient preparation of popadam, feminine firearms, interpretive dance, and sequins. Such a happy story. And shiny, too.

     This story is brought to you by The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better™. We at The Corporation would like you to enjoy this story, but please be vigilant while reading. If you should happen to notice anything suspicious in the coming pages, do alert the proper authorities. Remember, it could be anything at all – a subversive phrase, an improper thought or feeling let out of its genie bottle of repression, an idea that challenges the status quo, the suggestion that life may not be what it appears to be and that all you’ve taken for granted (malls, shopping, the relentless pursuit of an elusive happiness, prescription drug ads, those annoying perfume samples in magazines that make your eyes water, the way anchorman and women shift easily from the jovial laughter of a story about a dog that hula-hoops to a grave report on a bus crash that has left five teenagers dead) may be no more consequential than the tattered hem of a dream, leaving you with a bottomless, free-fall feeling.

     This is the sort of thing we are warning you about.

     But let’s not worry, shall we? There’s nothing to worry about. Though there is the threat of a war, it happens in the background, in snippets on the nightly news between ads for sinus medicines. It’s none of our concern. This is a happy story…

Chapter One

 “Are you all right?”

The voice was tinny in Adina’s ears. Her head ached, and she was wet. She remembered the plane pitching and falling, the smoke and screams, the panic, and then nothing.

“Am I dead?” she asked the face looming over hers. The face had apple cheeks and was framed by a halo of glossy black curls.

“No.”

“Are you dead?” Adina asked warily.

The face above her shook from side to side, and then burst into tears. Adina relaxed, reasoning that she had to be alive, unless the afterlife was a lot more bipolar than she’d been led to believe. She pulled herself to a sitting position and waited for the wooziness to subside. A gash on her knee was caked in dried blood. Another on her arm still seeped. Her dress was ripped and slightly scorched and she wore only one shoe. It was one half of her best pair, and in her state of shock, finding the other became important. “Can you help me find my shoe?”

“Sure. I saw some in the water. I hope they’re not leather,” the other girl said in an accent flat as a just-plowed field. She had huge, blue, anime-worthy eyes. “I’m Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou Novak.”

“Adina Greenburg. Miss New Hampshire.” Adina cupped her hands over her eyes, looking out toward the sea. “I don’t see it.”

“That’s a shame. It’s a real nice shoe.”

“Roland Me’sognie,” Adina said, and she honestly couldn’t figure out why. She didn’t care about the stupid brand. That was her mother’s influence. Shock. It had to be the shock.

“If I can find my suitcase, I’ve got an extra pair of sneakers in there. I’m a size eight.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I like to be helpful. It’s sort of a Nebraska thing. My pageant sponsor says I’ve got a real good chance at Miss Congeniality this year.”

“Miss Congeniality represents the true heart of the pageant,” Adina found herself repeating from the Miss Teen Dream manual. She vaguely remembered that she used to make a gagging motion at that, but she was too dazed for snarkiness just now. Dazed because, yes, when she’d been looking for her shoe, she’d seen dead bodies in the water. Lifeless bodies.

This may appear to be your average story about a bunch of  beauty queens whose plane crashes leaving the survivors stranded on a deserted island with no plug-ins in sight, but as with all of Bray’s books, there is so much more depth and discovery underneath it all. A commentary on girl culture at its very core and a must-read for every young woman (and every young man! Insight is always wise to pursue. Besides, the male perspective is explored).

The Discussion:

The book is told from several points of view, each of the beauty queens gets to tell their tale, along with some interspersed commentary from The Corporation. When a new POV is introduced, we first get to review the character’s Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page. It’s fascinating to watch how each young woman’s view of herself changes – or the way she thought she should present herself to the world changes – as the experience on the island changes each of them.

Take this example:

Name: Adina Greenburg

State: New Hampshire

Age: 17

Height: I resent this question

Weight: I really resent this question.

Hair: Brown. Obviously.

Eyes: Also brown. Also obviously.

Best Feature: My intellect

Fun Facts About Me:

*I hate high heels. Walking in high heels for eight hours a day should be forbidden by the Geneva Convention.

*I am applying to Brown, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia.

*I was voted Most Likely to Figure Out Who Really Killed JFK.

* My mom is married to Alan, aka, Stepfather #5. He is a complete tool. No, you have no idea.

* My favorite Corporation TV show is the news. If you can call it that.

*My platform is Identifying Misogyny in American Culture. It’s all about helping girls ID the objectification of women when they see it. You know, like when girls are asked to parade around in bathing suits and heels and get scored on that.

*The thing that scares me most is falling in love with some jerkwad and ending up without an identity at all, just like my mom.

*I intend to bring this pageant down.

*You will never see this.

Adina only entered the contest to bring it down, so when she finds herself stranded on the island with her fellow contestants, she’s living in a nightmare scenario. She is such a hardcore, girl-power feminist in the beginning, yet as she gets to know the other girls beyond their platforms, she comes to embrace her softer side, and realizes that this doesn’t make you weak.

What’s also fascinating is watching how the young women use their pageant talents to help them survive. Of course, in the beginning some of them still have their sights set on winning the contest…

“For as long as we’re here, we need to survive. You know, build some shelter, find reliable food and drinking water. We need to organize.”

Taylor’s hand shot up, “Taylor Rene Hawkins of the great state of Texas! Permission to speak!”

“What fresh hell is this?” Adina muttered. “Granted.”

Taylor took back the baton. “Miss New Hampshire is right.”

“You’re agreeing with me?” Adina blurted out. “What are the other signs of the apocalypse?”

“You’re out of order, Miss New Hampshire. I’ll issue a warning. Next time it’s a penalty.” Taylor stood and paced with the baton cradled in her arms like a winner’s bouquet. “You know what I’m thinkin’,  Miss Teen Dreamers?”

“What?” Mary Lou asked.

“That was rhetorical, Miss Nebraska. I’m thinkin’ that when we do finally get rescued, we want them to find us at our best. And what could be better and more in line with the Miss Teen Dream mission statement than having them find that we have tamed and beautified this island? It’s like extra credit. And you know how the judges love extra credit.”

The island soon shows itself to be hostile and not so easily tamed. The young women who’ve broken up into two groups – the Lost Girls and the Sparkle Ponies (no, YOU’RE seeing parallels to LORD OF THE FLIES) – fight for survival harder than ever, even holding contests for best personal arsenal design.

After a long day of working hard on their creative survival skills, the young women open up around the campfire.

Miss Montana stared into the fire. “Sometimes I just want to go in a room and break things and scream. Like, it’s so much pressure all the time and if you get upset or angry, people say, ‘Are you on the rag or something?’ And it’s like I want to say, ‘No, I’m pissed off right now. Can’t I just be pissed off? How come that’s not okay for me?’ Like my dad will say, ‘I can’t talk to you when you’re hysterical.’ And I’m totally not being hysterical! I’m just mad. And he’s the one losing it. But then I feel embarrassed anyway. So I slap on that smile and pretend everything’s okay even though it’s not. Anyway.” Miss Montana pasted on an embarrassed half smile. “Sorry for the rant.”

“Why do you have to be sorry?” Nicole asked.

“Well…I don’t know.”

“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?” Nicole asked. “You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, “Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.'”

“I say sorry all the time. The other day, this lady bumped into me with her grocery cart, and I said I was sorry,” Mary Lou said, shaking her head.

Shanti raised her hand. “I move we officially ban the word sorry from our vocabularies while we’re here.”

“I second that, if that’s okay,” Petra said, grinning. “If not, sorry.”

“I third it. Sorry.”

“I just scratched my nose. Sorry.”

“I just scratched my ass. Sorry.

“I’m getting up to stretch my legs. Sorry.

“Sometimes I just want to burn down all the rules and start over,” Mary Lou said. Everyone waited for the punch line of “sorry,” but it never came.

The young women continue thrive while learning how to survive. They discover they are stronger than they thought.

The girls had lost track of how long they had been on the island. During the daylight hours, they dove into the surf with abandon, emerging tanned and sure-footed, as if they were selkies who had let their timidity float out on the tide like a false skin. Only Taylor remained vigilant in her pageant work, getting up every morning, rain or shine, to go through the paces of her routine, from first entrance to talent to final interview.

“When we get rescued, I guess I’m the only one who’ll be in fighting form,” she’d say while circle-turning and practicing a stiff wave.

“I’ve been thinking about the boys who crashed on the island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.

Lord of the Flies. What about it?”

“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if  there had been girls?”

“Yeah?”

Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

Adina gazed out at the expanse of unknowable ocean. “Maybe.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.

The girls are thrown a curveball when a boatful of reality TV teenaged pirates show up and test their newfound girl power. If you thought it was interesting before the guys showed up, whew! You ain’t seen nothing!

Such an entertaining way to delve into the complex issue of gender roles and society influences. This book really makes you think. And I love a book that makes me think. I looooove Libba Bray. Once you read any of her books, I’m sure you will, too.

So…what’s next?

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

saveyou_bgI WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña

Published by: Delacorte Press

Release Date: October 12, 2010

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

 

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Plot Summary:

Kidd is running from his past and his future. No mom, no dad, and there’s nothing for him at the group home but therapy. He doesn’t belong at the beach where he works either, unless he finds a reason to stay.

Olivia is blond hair, blue eyes, rich dad. The prettiest girl in Cardiff. She’s hiding something from Kidd—but could they ever be together anyway?

Devon is mean, mysterious, and driven by a death wish. A best friend and worst enemy. He followed Kidd all the way to the beach and he’s not leaving until he teaches him a few lessons about life. And Olivia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

This book wrecked me and, yet I’m coming back for seconds. If you’ve never read a book from this author, he’s one to get to know. Not only is he a fantastic guy in person, he does fantastic things for his readers. He’s not only heavily involved in the We Need Diverse Books project, his first picture book LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET won the 2016 Newbery Medal. Trust me, this is one author to follow.

As the end of the year will be pretty busy for me, I suggest this one as reading on your own. We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs next year with a new theme and fantastic new books. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)

Happy reading!

Book Review – GEORGE by Alex Gino – a TGNA post

 

tgnahead

 

After a nice long break from participating in the The Great Noveling Adventure blog, I’ve decided to join the group again. I just missed it too much. I’ll only be posting once a month, which will be much easier on me and will allow me to pursue my other goals without becoming a burden.

Today is my day for July, and I’m posting a book review of that fantastic Middle Grade novel GEORGE by Alex Gino.

Here’s a preview:

Book Review George

Hello Adventurers! It’s wonderful to be back after a much needed break. I’ve kept busy on my own blog and have managed to do a fair amount of reading while I’ve been away. One of my favorite reads so far this year has been this slim, unassuming book with the simple design that packs quite an emotional punch. Leave it to a Middle Grade author to tackle such a huge topic like transgender and to get it so right. This is an important book that needs to be shared – with young and old alike.

On to the review!

To read the full post, click here.

We are also putting together TGNA’s second anthology, FALL FRIVOLITY, and you can be a part of it! To be considered, simply submit a short story of 1000 words or less with a fall theme to tgnasubmissions@gmail.com. We’re accepting submissions through August 1st. For full submissions guidelines, 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?

 

 

#TBT Post – Great Dads in Literature

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Novelizing Adventure blog and it was originally published on June 15, 2014. 


As today is the day we get to celebrate the great father figures in our lives, I thought I’d take a moment to pay homage to some of the fantastic literary dads that inspired, encouraged, and just made our favorite stories all the better for us having known them. As my dad was the one who instilled the love of reading in me, I dedicate this list of five great fictional dads to him.

Happy Father’s Day!

Arthur Weasley – The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.HP 1Although he wasn’t Harry’s father, nor did he try to be Harry’s father, he played a very important supportive role. (He also taught us that not every great father figure has to be one’s actual father.) Arthur Weasley held a special place in his heart for Muggles and he taught his children that there were more important things in life than power or wealth. In an early confrontation with Lucius Malfoy where Lucius makes a disparaging remark about his family, Arthur states, “We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy.”

 

Clementine’s dad – CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker.ClementineClementine is such wildly beautiful character. She reminds me of my daughter in some ways, with maybe a few more visits to the principal’s office under her belt. And her dad knows just what to do when she comes home from school after a really bad day, so bad that she doesn’t even want to talk about it, because her best friend’s mom sent a note to school saying, “Watch out that my daughter isn’t left alone with Clementine”.

When her dad comes in and sees her still wearing her mad face, he hands over the keys to the service elevator because he knows the only thing that will make her feel better is riding the service elevator. When she comes back, she overhears her parents talking about the note. Her mom is upset because they are treating Clementine as if she is a common criminal. Her dad laughs and says, “Well, that is insulting. There is absolutely nothing common about Clementine!”

 

Ken Dietz – PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King.Please Ignore Vera DietzKen Dietz is a high school drop out, turned accountant, and a recovering alcoholic. He believes he can keep Vera from making his mistakes by being brutally honest with her and by making her earn her way through life, regardless of whether or not the brutal honesty of finding out her mother worked as a stripper before she abandoned her when she was twelve might be utterly devastating or that making her work 40 hours a week while going to school to earn her own way may leave her virtually no time to do her homework.

He devours self-help books trying to be the best dad he can be and when Vera fails, he thinks these are his failures. He doesn’t give up and he still pushes and is still with her through her darkest moments. “With Vera, I’m trying to find ways to teach her how to grow her own self-esteem. I’m not sure if it’s working, but it’s all I have. Because my father left when I was three, I have no idea what a father is supposed to do, so I’m winging it.”

 

Atticus Finch – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.To Kill a MockingbirdAtticus is the epitome of compassion, and courage. He teaches Scout and her brother Jem that they should not shoot mockingbirds with their air rifles because it’s a sin. Mockingbirds never harm other living creatures. He defends a black man accused of rape, even though he knows it won’t end well. He also discourages Scout from fighting with others to defend him because of backlash from the trial. He tells Jem, “I wanted you to see what real courage is. Instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, and but begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” He also teaches Scout that you can’t judge someone until you see from their point of view, “until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it.”

 

Eddard Stark – A GAME OF THRONES by George R.R. Martin.Game of ThronesThis character’s untimely demise sparks off a war and chaos of monumental portions, which speaks to his character’s regard, not just from his family, but those who followed him. Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, teaches his sons that to understand what it’s like to disperse justice, they must be the hand that directs the blow. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” When he is asked by the king to leave home and come to the capital to help run the entire country, he does his duty, against his heart. When he sees corruption, he speaks out and tries to address it. Although he is not without fault, he does seem to be the only one there with good intentions.

That’s that’s my list of five honorable fathers of literature. I know that’s just a starting place. I’m sure there are many more.

Can you name any of your favorites?

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: Scholastic Press

Release Date: May 24, 2012

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

bn-24h-80

amazon

indiebound

 

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!

#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.)