Great Literary Dads – a TGNA Post

tgnalogorevampToday is my day to post over at The Great Noveling Adventure, so I took the opportunity to give thanks to some of the most inspiring dads in literature. I find that dads can often be under-appreciated in novels and take a back seat to moms many times, but as I had a fantastic dad who had to go it solo in the parenting department for most of my childhood, I want to give a shout-out to all the great dads and other father-figures in our lives who helped shape us from the nebulous blobs of mess we started from into the creative amazing people we became.

Thank you, Amazing Dads, everywhere!

If you know of some great stories with phenomenal dad characters or want to see which books I selected, hop on over to the Great Noveling Adventure blog and join the conversation.

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Book Review – Lost Sun by Tessa Grafton

13021366This is a fantastic YA urban fantasy story that sets Norse gods in contemporary America. Throw in a teenaged berserker, a seethkona, and a few trolls, and other mythical creatures that are not-so-mythical and you’ve got yourself one heck of an adventure in the making. I finished reading this book about a month ago and I still think about it. That is always the sign of a good story to me. I won this book in a blog contest giveaway. It was actually my first ebook win, too. Woohoo! I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading a book by Ms. Gratton before, so this book was one of those total surprises. I just opened it up and gave it a shot.

It was amazing!

The mix of Norse gods functioning within the present day political structure was fascinating and Gratton makes the balance work. The characters at the center – what fantastic emotional connection! That to me is always the crux of what makes or breaks a story and Gratton is a master at this. The whole struggle Soren goes through with suppressing his berserker rage to avoid the fate of his father and Astrid tempting him to give in to it – ah!

Love, love, love this!

A berserker as a teen character? How apropos is that? What teenager can’t relate to warring with their own emotions? The difference with Soren is that if he even gives into his rage once, he feels that his life will be over. He’ll end up just like his father; losing complete control and killing innocent people. His father was finally taken out by a SWAT team. Soren is a pariah at school, with other students steering clear of him. The mark of the berserker on his face – the tattoo of a spear – is a warning to others of his potentially volatile nature.

And then Astrid arrives. She can’t seem to stay away. Astrid is just as well written and poignant. She dreams about Soren and needs him to help her on her quest.

SOREN BEARSKIN

Haunted by unpredictable berserker rage, he distances himself from other students at school.

ASTRID GLYN

A prophet by blood, she dreams the weave of fate and sees Soren changing the futures.

BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL

The most popular god in the States disappears in front of TV cameras, and the country erupts in chaos.

THE DESTINY IS SET.

Astrid and Soren must save Baldur. But in saving a god, will Soren destroy himself…and everything he holds dear? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

This unlikely trio set off together on quite an adventure and the chemistry between them is just brilliant. I absolutely loved Baldur’s character as well. I’d say so much more about this beautiful storyline, but SPOILERS! Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning of the book to get you hooked and make you want to rush out and get your own copy:

My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you. But only if you’re paying attention.

It was a game we played during long afternoons in the van, distracting ourselves from Dad’s empty seat. Mom would point out a sign as we drove past – WELCOME TO COLORADA, THE CENTENNIAL KINGSGATE, bright green against a gray backdrop of mountains – and she’d ask, “Here, Soren? Do you feel the threads tightening around you?”

I would put my fingers to my chest where Dad used to say the berserker fever stirred. “No,” I’d say, “nothing yet.”

And Mom always replied, “Good.”

We both dreaded the day Dad’s curse would flicker to life in me.

LEAVING WESTPORT CITY – COME AGAIN!

“I hope it wasn’t back there, little man!”

“No, Mom, I doubt it.”

CANTUCKEE: HOME OF BLUEGRASS

“Soren, do you hear the clacking loom of fate?”

“I couldn’t hear anything over the banjos.”

But I have felt it, four times now.

When I was eight years old, standing in a neon-lit shopping mall, and my ears began to ring. My breath thinned out and I ran.

Again five years later, when Mom stopped the van for gas and we happened to be across the road from a militia station. The sun was just barely too bright, cutting across my cheek. I knew what I was supposed to do.

Six months ago, I was in the dining hall about to take a long drink of honey soda when the air around me turned cold. I had time to get to my bedroom before this jagged hot fever began to burn.

And today.

I could not stop reading this book.

Book 2, THE STRANGE MAID, comes out next month and if you read Book 1, you will be waiting in line for the new book’s release. I guarantee it. I can’t wait for the next book.

Strange-Maid-Final-Cvr-medium-198x300

Learn more about Tessa Gratton here.

Follow Tessa on Twitter here.

Follow Tessa on Tumblr here.

Book Review – Wintergirls

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

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

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

I am that girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I have to drive.

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

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

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

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

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

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

Jazz Age January Event – Review of Mrs. Dalloway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELIZABETH BEVINS!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

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

My Favorite Reads of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

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

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

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

Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.

Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.

Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.

Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.

book_messengerI am the Messenger by Markus Zusak – Young Adult Contemporary

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Markus Zusak here.

Follow Markus on Twitter here.

Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.

mexwb_tp_cvrMexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña – Young Adult Realistic

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

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

Danny’s tall and skinny.

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

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

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

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.

Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.

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

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

WOW.

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

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

Learn more about Jo Knowles here.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.

Follow Chuck on Twitter here.

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.

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

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

READ THIS BOOK!

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

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

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

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

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

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

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

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

Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.

Like Gillian’s Facebook page here.

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

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

standing on the fringes of life . . .

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Follow Stephen on Twitter here.

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

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

My Favorite Reads of 2012

IMG_20121128_163625I read close to sixty books this past year, which was about twenty short of my goal – ouch! As a really lame excuse, I do have to say that I was on track until I got sucked in to reading the first four books in the Game of Thrones series. Those averaged out at a little over a thousand pages a piece. I could have swapped each one out for five short books, easy. Ah, well. They were worth it.

I read more young adult than anything else, but that’s to be expected since that’s what I write, although I did read my fair share of adult novels, poetry, and even some classics. As far as genres, I read mostly fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction this year, which was surprising. There were some fantastic contemporary fiction novels in there as well.

So many beautifully crafted words by some of my favorite authors and some by newly discovered ones.

Here are my favorites:

(In the order that I read them)


will graysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

A book authored by the dream team. Could YA get any better? Well, if Libba Bray and A.S. King ever do a mash up, I might just die.

Some people may think I’m crazy, but I loved this book more than Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Don’t worry, that’s on this list, too. I think that book is mandatory for every favorite reads list made from now on.) I’ve loved John Green since I saw him in LA at the SCBWI summer conference right after his first book Looking for Alaska came out. I think he knows this and he has me on some stalker watch list. As for David Levithan, he pretends he’s an editor but he needs to quit that day job and keep writing wonderfully strong characters that just happen to be gay. His book Boy Meets Boy is not to be missed. He also shows up by himself later on this favorites list.

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. (Plot summary from John Green’s site.)

Learn more about David Levithan at his site here.

Learn more about John Green at his site here.

beauty queensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray

I bow down before the queen of teen YA. I never ever thought I’d read a book with such a title or cover, believe me. (Yes, damn it! I did judge.) This may appear to be just 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. If you have read her Gemma Doyle series, which I also adored, this is quite a departure from that writing style. It’s more like her Going Bovine, although nothing really compares to Going Bovine, does it?

Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. 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 Bray’s website.)

Learn more about Libba Bray here.

TFiOSThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

As promised, TFiOS.

I said before that I am a huge fan of John Green. He had me at Looking for Alaska and I’ve read every novel since. This book is one of his best. Green’s humerus bone must be infused with adamantium because his sense of the comedic is sublime. We even forgive him for following the most hysterical scenes with extremely poignant, heart-wrenching moments that have you grabbing for the tissue box. Always questioning, always thought-provoking in a non-condescending way, always everything I want in a book.

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love. (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble).

elegy for trainsElegy for Trains by Benjamin Myers

This is the only book of poetry to make the list and this book of poetry is very special to me because it was written by the son of one of my writing mentors, the ever amazing and wonderfully talented, Anna Myers. Ben is a fantastic writer and poet on his own merits and won the Oklahoma Book Award in poetry last year for this very book. This year, at the Oklahoma Book Awards, I was privileged to hear Ben give a heartfelt introduction as his mother, Anna, received a lifetime achievement award for her 19 published children’s books. Ben’s second book of poetry, Lapse Americana, comes out later this year.

Benjamin Myers’ poems range from Virgil through Shakespeare to Woody Guthrie.Just as facets in gems come to life when light strikes them, so do the themes, images, and tropes in Elegy for Trains when the brilliance of Benjamin Myers’ wit, sensitivity and intelligence illuminate his words. His poems make us see Oklahoma and the world afresh. You will read this book, then want to read it again! book overview from Amazon website.

Learn more about Benjamin Myers here and here.

Divergent

The Divinsurgent-by-veronica-roth-297x450ergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

This is one of the best dystopian series I’ve read. I devoured this debut novel and it’s sequel by Roth. Now I’ll have to wait an entire year to see how everything turns out! ACK!

I believe I picked this one up because of all the positive, passionate word of mouth comments about it out in the twitterverse. I love discovering new writers that way.

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. (Plot summary from author’s site.)

Learn more about Veronica Roth on her website here.

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I picked up this book because Sepetys was on the faculty for the SCBWI summer conference in LA this past August and I wanted to have some knowledge of the writers and editors that were speaking. Sepetys was one of the most motivating and moving speakers at the conference. Her passion for writing definitely came through in her work. This is a fictionalized account of her family’s history. She wrote this when she started asking, “What’s my story?” – the whole story.

This book was a surprising view of  life under Stalin’s rule through the eyes of a people who suffered just as much as the European Jewish population- the citizens deported to Siberian labor camps because of their anti-communist views. Truly moving and endlessly fascinating.

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina’s father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive? (Plot summary from author site.)

Learn more about Ruta Sepetys on her website here.

shineShine by Lauren Myracle

I love this book so much, I devoted an entire blog post to it.

Lauren Myracle is another writer I started reading because she had been placed on the banned authors list, and I don’t mean just casually placed on it somewhere near the middle. In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country.  That takes quite a bit of parental ire to achieve. She raises difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse and explores them with characters that respond like real characters would. I loved her response to being asked about her own children’s reading habits. She said, “As a mom, I want my kids to read any fucking book they want! I want them to read.” That is exactly the kind of writer I want to support. I was an instant fan.

A few years ago, I picked up one of her “internet girls” series to see what all the fuss was about. After reading ttyl, a book that was written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. I think it was because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens (and there were enough controversial issues for the fanatics to get their panties in a wad), but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did. Emotional impact achieved. I must now go back and read everything else she has ever written outside of the texting series. She has lived up to my expectations and then some.

When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.

Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author. (Plot summary from Amazon.)

Learn more about Lauren Myracle from Wikipedia here.

year of the beastsThe Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci & illustrated by Nate Powell

I love Cecil Castellucci and not just because she’s quirky and sweet and has a really high-pitched Minnie Mouse voice that doesn’t match her hardcore rocker exterior. I first read her book Queen of Cool years ago and loved it. In her latest book, she joins forces with a fantastic illustrator, Nate Powell, to merge the graphic novel with YA. The result is mildly intriguing at first; you’re thinking, “Oh, what a clever marketing gimmick!”.  Then, as you near the end, (or sooner if you cleverer than I am) you begin to realize that the pictures at the beginning of every chapter actually have meaning; the images make such an overwhelming impact at the end when you realize their significance. Such a completely different kind of story and yet universal at its core. Loved this book!

Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone’s love and friendship to the test. Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci on her website here.

Learn more about illustrator Nate Powell on his website here.

Wednesday-WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

This was such a fantastic book with so much heart, I fell in love with Gary Schmidt forever and ever while reading this one and vowed to read all of his other books in the near future. He was one of the keynote speakers at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference, actually closing out the conference, and I think he was one of the best. This book came out of an actual experience he had with a teacher who hated him…and he hated her.

He was stuck with her alone one afternoon a week and she made him read Shakespeare to keep him out of her hair. The only thing was, he loved it. The parallels may end there. Schmidt set the story in Vietnam era small town America where conflicts of culture and what to stand up for still creep in and impact everything, including how his main character learns to deal with his own father. Great book. Read it!

Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.

He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare…outside of class?

The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things than homework to worry about. There’s Vietnam for one thing, and then there’s the family business. As far as Holling’s father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all of the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Gary Schmidt on his website.

Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan

The talent poured into this one is just inhuman. It’s almost indescribable. Such a beautiful book. So fantastical, so creative, so touching in such an unusual way. Argh! You should so read this! I love love love everything I have ever read by Levithan.

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

Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s 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.

David Levithan 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. (Plot description from author’s website.)

Center of EverythingThe Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Another writer friend passed on this ARC to me because she knew I was such a big fan of Linda Urban’s. We had both just loved her debut middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect. This book is just as stellar and is a straight-forward kind of perfect all on its own. I probably cried more than normal having just lost someone dear to me when I read it, but I think it made the book even better. This book comes out in early March.

For Ruby Pepperdine, the “center of everything” is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors in her donut-obsessed town of Bunning, New Hampshire, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi’s hug.  That’s how everything is supposed to be—until Ruby messes up and things spin out of control. But she has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear Ruby read her winning essay. And it depends on her twelfth birthday wish—unless she messes that up too. Can Ruby’s wish set everything straight in her topsy-turvy world? (Plot summary from Barnes & Noble website)

Learn more about Linda Urban here.

cover_ravenboys_300The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

What a way to finish out the year! I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, but she topped herself with this imaginative and oftentimes lyrical story. I would sometimes reread passages because they were so lovely, just let them roll around on my tongue and fill my head with imagery. I cannot wait to read its continuance.

Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. But she is too practical to believe in things like true love. Her policy is to stay away from the rich boys at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The boys there — known as Raven Boys — can only mean trouble.

This series has a dedicated website. You can read the first fifteen pages online here.

Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.

What were you favorite reads of 2012? What are you reading now? Tell me! I need some suggestions outside my usual realm. If you want to know what I’m reading right now, check out the tab at the top of the page. I hope to read a more diverse collection of genres this year as well as more authors that are new to me.

The Booker Award and couple of repeat offenders drop by.

One nice thing about going on vacation was that I received several awards while I was gone. It was like coming home and checking the mailbox to find it stuffed with wonderful packages instead of junk mail. Thanks so much to Paula at stuff i tell my sister for giving me another Sunshine Award (I never get tired of that colorful one) and thanks to Sarah Henson at Word (en)Count(ers) for another Versatile Blogger Award (I’m always trying to be versatile). I’m loving the repeat awards just as much the second time around. (See this post for my response to the first time I received both awards.) Greed, thy name is Valerie.

Then, I received a brand, spanking new award from Suzi Retzlaff at Literary Engineer. She passed The Booker Award on to me, and I must say it is the most interesting award I’ve received so far.

The rules for the Booker Award:

This award is for book bloggers only. To receive this award the blog must be at least 50% about books (reading or writing is okay)

Along with receiving this award, you must also share your top five favorite books you have ever read. (More than five is okay) You must give this award to 5-10 other lucky book blogs you adore.

Now for the hard part; whittling down all the books that I have fallen in love with throughout my life that have for one reason or another moved me in a very special way down to just five ten (I couldn’t make it down to five). Impossible, you say? Yes! I agree. So I just randomly drew these lucky souls out of a bowler hat:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – one of the first books where I really discovered the magic of the written word. It sunk its teeth into me and never let go.
  • Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler – such a beautifully poignant story about loss and what comes after. It just made my heart ache over and over.
  • Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King – my first introduction to the wonder that is Amy King.
  • Ethan Between Us by Anna Myers – one of my favorite books by my dear friend.
  • Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie – such a fantastic writer. This book has one scene that is so horrifically violent, so devastating, yet told in such a way that it is emotionally moving as well. I cannot get it out of my head to this day.
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green – started my love affair with all that is John Green.
  • The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood – one of the first dystopian books I ever loved.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – who wouldn’t love a book narrated by death?
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I loved everything about this book. It stands the test of time.
  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt – I never thought a book about animals could be so emotionally evocative. This is a book meant for writers to read.
  • Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume – she really answered all of my serious questions that no one else in my life at the time could answer. This is why I write the kind of stories I do now.

So many other books on my shelves are screaming, “What about me? Didn’t you love me just as much?” Poor, sad books. Of course I did. I wish I could tell all about you as well, but that would take all day. I can let the kind people reading this blog learn more about the other books I’ve read so far this year here. As for the rest of you, I’ll dust your shelves extra well and maybe even reread a few of you soon, all right? (I’m not the only one who talks to their books, am I?)

As for the lucky stories listed above, when I read each of them, at some point along the journey, I had a visceral response to what the characters were going through that connected me to it forever. That’s all I really want in a story; an honest emotional connection that grabs me right in the gut and makes me continue thinking about it long after I’ve reached the end. I really am easy to please.

What about you? What qualifications does a book need to meet in order to make it on to your top ten list?

And finally, I hereby bequeath this most revered of blog awards onto the following worthy bloggers:

I look forward to seeing your literary selections in the near future.