Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

These are in the order that they occurred to me...

J.K. Rowling
(Harry Potter series)
Does this need any explanation?

Shannon Hale
(Books of Bayern series, Princess Academy)
Every single book that I've read by Shannon Hale, I've loved. She writes beautifully, and I'm always enchanted.

Scott Westerfeld
(Leviathan series, Uglies series)
Westerfeld is a master at world-building. Period.

Lois Lowry
(The Giver, Number the Stars)
Lois Lowry is a children's lit legend. I've bought many of her books, though these two are my favorites.

Marissa Meyer
(Lunar Chronicles series)
I'm thoroughly engrossed in this series, and I love what a huge scope the story has and such a wide cast of characters. Confident I will enjoy anything Marissa writes.

Laini Taylor
(Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight)
Laini Taylor's writing is so beautiful and captivating. And her imagination is amazing.

Maggie Stiefvater
(Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Scorpio Races, Raven Boys)
I've enjoyed all of Maggie's books for their originality and gorgeous writing.

Kristin Cashore
(Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue)
Cashore writes fresh, original fantasy with strong heroines.

Cynthia Hand
(Unearthly series)
I can't wait to see what Hand does next because I loved her blend of contemporary and fantasy, as well as her emphasis on positive family relationships.

Stephanie Perkins
(Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door)
This is the first contemporary/realistic fiction author that I can honestly say I ADORE.

Who are your auto-buy authors?  Do we have any in common???

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Love-a-Thon Mini-Challenge #5

The Book Blogger Love-a-Thon is is an online event that spends one whole day celebrating book blogging, book bloggers and book blogs all over the world. This event is hosted by Alexa at Alexa Loves Books and Katelyn at Tales of Books and Bands.

Mini-Challenge #5:
Top Blogging Moments

Three big moments stand out to me:

Being in the Cinder Paperback
I was so incredibly excited when I heard my blog would be mentioned in the back of the Cinder paperback. I've never had my blog recognized by an author, much less in print, and by one of my FAVORITE books.
Blog Post: Cinder Paperback

My First RT and over 100 Hits
I am pretty new to twitter, but have definitely realized that I should have joined a longggg time ago. My blog has grown so much since I joined twitter and it has allowed me to connect with fellow bloggers even more than before. The first post that got retweeted was my post on why you should see Brave on opening weekend. And it was my first post to go over 100 hits. I love to think that something I wrote had an impact and was worth sharing.

When My Bro Made Me My Blog Button
I was so darn excited to have my own blog button. And it came as such a surprise. I had no idea my brother was working on creating a button for me, and when I saw it... it was perfect. I loved how he incorporated both owls and typewriters.  And it makes it extra special that my blog button was made for me by someone I love.

Can't wait to read other people's best blogging memories!

Book Blogger Love-a-Thon Mini Challenge #4

The Book Blogger Love-a-Thon is is an online event that spends one whole day celebrating book blogging, book bloggers and book blogs all over the world. This event is hosted by Alexa at Alexa Loves Books and Katelyn at Tales of Books and Bands.

Mini-Challenge #4: 
Letter to my Beginning Blogger Self

Dear Lauren,

I know you've been toying with the idea of expanding your blog.  You should totally do it.  There are so many good things that will come from book blogging:

  • You'll meet fantastic people who love to read as much as you do!
  • You'll learn about great new books that you otherwise wouldn't have picked up on your own.
  • You'll get in a habit of writing daily.
  • You'll become a stronger critical reader of books and figure out what you like and what you don't.
  • You'll improve in your technology skills and want to learn more about web design.
  • And... again... you'll meet some great people!
I know you're worried that blogging might take the place of your fiction writing. But you'll be okay. If you need to go on hiatus because you get too busy with grad school and writing, don't worry. The bloggers you make friends with will still be there when you get back. 

You'll find a balance with blogging. You don't have to post every day. You don't have to read a gazillion books a week. Just do what you can handle.

Write thoughtful and honest reviews.  Write thoughtful and honest comments on fellow blogs.  Share your love of books and have fun.

Best Wishes,
Your Future Self

Love-a-Thon Update

The Book Blogger Love-a-Thon is is an online event that spends one whole day celebrating book blogging, book bloggers and book blogs all over the world. This event is hosted by Alexa at Alexa Loves Books and Katelyn at Tales of Books and Bands.

I plan to spend some time commenting and spreading love to other blogs today... But my birthday is February 24... so I have plans with family and friends this weekend.

I wanted to participate in the Love-a-Thon, and will be spreading some love, it just might be a bit belated love.  Hopefully I'll be online later tonight!

Book Blogger Love-a-Thon Mini Challenge #1

The Book Blogger Love-a-Thon is is an online event that spends one whole day celebrating book blogging, book bloggers and book blogs all over the world. This event is hosted by Alexa at Alexa Loves Books and Katelyn at Tales of Books and Bands.

Mini-Challenge #1: Favorite Blogs

Yay!  I get the chance to spread the love of my favorite blogs!  These are all blogs that I adore and read regularly.  I usually bombard them with comments all at once on weekends when I set aside commenting time.  And you should read and comment on them too ^_^

Best Reviews:
Real Men Read YA: If you haven't checked this guy out, you should because he's hilarious.  It's so refreshing to get a guy's perspective on our favorite YA titles (he loved Anna and the French Kiss!) and he always gives his reviews a funny twist.
Fake Steph: I love her "WTF Moments" towards the end of all her reviews.  They often make me laugh because I agree with her.  Whether it was "Whoa... that was weird" or "OMG... can't believe that just happened", we've all had those moments when reading a book, and I love that Steph has found a way to feature that in her reviews!
Small Review: I love how she breaks down her reviews into subheadings and her explanations of what worked for her and what didn't are always supported and well-written.  I also love that she does a decent amount of middle grade in addition to YA.  Middle grade love!
A Backwards Story: I love how Bonnie always dedicates part of her review to a book's cover.  She often makes me notice things about the cover that I wouldn't have otherwise noticed.

Best Book Discussion Posts:
The Overstuffed Bookcase: She has done some great events, readalongs, and discussions.  Several posts for the His Dark Materials readalong and several more for Lauren DeStefano's Chemical Garden series.  Her discussion posts are always well-written, thought-provoking, and worth checking out!

Best Blog Layout:
Novel Sounds: Their layout is lovely and their attention to the graphics in each post makes everything they write also a colorful treat for the eyes!
Recovering Potter Addict: I love everything about her layout.  From the Harry Potter that looks like a Powerpuff girl to her buttons in the "Harry Potter Font."

Best Author Blogs:
The World According to Maggie: Maggie Stiefvater's blog, my favorite posts are always her ones about writing, but she often does other funny posts.  And sometimes some angry ones... I certainly don't want to cross her when she's mad.
Squeetus Blog: Shannon Hale's blog, another author blog I enjoy.  I especially liked some posts she did on the absence of female characters in animated movies.
Lois Lowry's Blog: I adore the legendary Lois Lowry, and she keeps a lovely blog.  Maybe it's stalkerish of me... but I especially love when she posts pictures of her office and house.  I love picturing where she works!

Book Blogger Love-a-Thon Interview Swap

The Book Blogger Love-a-Thon is is an online event that spends one whole day celebrating book blogging, book bloggers and book blogs all over the world. This event is hosted by Alexa at Alexa Loves Books and Katelyn at Tales of Books and Bands.

My first post for the Book Blogger Love-a-Thon is an interview with Dana from Little Lovely Books.  I was instantly charmed by Dana's blog because of all the adorable owls!  Dana is a mom of 2 who enjoys blogs, reading, all things entrepreneurship and growing her faith in God. We sent each other questions about books and blogging.  Here are Dana's answers to my questions:

1. What inspired you to start blogging? 
Like many bloggers I know, I started blogging as a way to update friends and family on my kids. That turned into me posting about many different things. In an effort to keep it all straight I started my book blog so that all mybook related posts would be there.

2. What would your ideal cozy reading spot look like? 
Curled up on my couch with a freezing cold Diet Coke within arms reach.

3. What are three things you look for in a good book? 
I am huge on believable dialogue. interesting characters and a great setting.

4. Were there any blogs, friends, or resources that helped you when you just started blogging? 
Unfortunately, no. Very few even knew what a blog was. I just learned by reading other people's blogs and figuring out what I liked about theirs.

5. What are a few of your favorite book blogs? 
When I saw this question I checked my Google Reader and I currently have 35 bookblogs that I follow. I hate to pick favorites but I love Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner (http://www.perpetualpageturner.com/), Alexa at Alexa Loves Books (www.alexalovesbooks.com), Gillian at Writer of Wrongs (gillianeberry.blogspot.com), Kat at The Aussie Zombie (theaussiezombie.blogspot.com) and Eva from A Striped Armchair (astripedarmchair.wordpress.com).

To see what questions Dana asked me, and how I answered them, take a minute to stop by Dana's blog at Little Lovely Books!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Meeting Marissa Meyer (Scarlet Tour)

On Tuesday, February 19, I had the pleasure of meeting Marissa Meyer on her last stop of the Scarlet Tour.  I was so incredibly excited because Cinder is one of my favorite books, and I've heard that Marissa is a wonderful person.
(She is.  Love her.)

Marissa was a fabulous speaker.  She was charming and funny and energetic, despite a quiet and kind of mellow crowd of mostly adults and only a few teens.  I was a little sad for Marissa because the library and bookstore who hosted the event didn't do anything for her birthday.  I have experience in event planning, and was definitely thinking of some easy ways we could have spruced up the event and made it more festive.  If only I'd been in charge of planning instead of just a guest!  I did bring Marissa a card, which I like to do for author events anyways.  But in this case it doubled as a birthday card as well!  Wish I'd brought a cupcake, too!

I'd read a smattering of interviews with Marissa and knew some of her story: her Sailor Moon fanfiction background, her NaNo participation, and her quick publishing contract.  However, these tidbits didn't make up the whole story and it was fun to hear more about where the idea of Cinder came from.  I love how a lot of authors are able to trace back the root of their story to other things they love.  Marissa was able to talk about how her love of science fiction, Sailor Moon, and fairy tales all came together to inspire her Lunar Chronicles.

After she spoke abut the inspiration for Cinder, Marissa read a bit from Scarlet and shared the true gruesome fairy tales of Cinderella and Red Riding Hood.  Then, there was a question and answer period.

 I liked Marissa Meyer's answers to two of the questions during her Q & A.  The first was in response to the question "Are you a mechanic?"  Where she answered she doesn't, but she did a lot of research.  For my own novel, my main character is a blacksmith, and I've never hammered a piece of iron in my life.  But I've done a lot of research.  So hearing her answer this way was encouraging that I'm going about my book the right way.

 The second was in response to a question asking how she manages to write different voices for the characters. She said how some characters would just come to her and how others would take some time.  I had a similar experience when I was writing my angel short story, where it took awhile before I found my main character's voice.  She said she had trouble finding Scarlet's voice, but when it came to her, it worked.  I like hearing writers who have similar processes as my own.  Makes me feel not so crazy and alone in the writing process!

The event ended with book signing, and Marissa's husband went down the line of people writing our names on Post-Its to help with personalizations.  It was fun to chat with him, and it was clear he was so proud of Marissa.

I was extremely smiley and star struck and flustered when I had my chance to talk to Marissa.  I forgot to grab any swag that they had laying out on the table.  Agh!  But I told Marissa how much I loved that she blended two seemingly unlike genres (sci-fi and fairy tales) and how it was something I was working on in my own novel.  I also told her how much I loved that Cinder was a mechanic.  Yay for women in traditionally male occupations!  She was a great listener, recommended a book for me to read, and wished me luck with my writing.

I got both my hardback copy of Cinder and my hardback of Scarlet signed.  Yay!  Hopefully, I'll have a complete signed collection someday because I'm confident this is going to be one of my favorite book series.

I just finished re-reading Cinder this evening, and I'm going to go start Scarlet... NOW!  Watch for a review in the next week or so!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Characters in Harry Potter

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten Favorite Characters in Harry Potter

Today's Top Ten Topic is technically "Top Ten Favorite Characters in ______ Genre" but I decided I didn't want to do a single genre, and instead would like to do Harry Potter.  Last year, at this time, I was in Harry Potter World down in Orlando, Florida.  And I'm feeling quite homesick.  I need some HP in my life right now...

These are in order.  With my number 1 being my MOST FAVORITE.

10. Hagrid
I was so worried that Hagrid might die in the last book, and was so relieved that he didn't.  Hagrid loved Harry so much.  It was a genuine, total, complete kind of love.  Between his dialect and his distinctive appearance and quirks, Hagrid was such a memorable character from the series.

9. Mrs. Weasley
We all loved Mrs. Weasley's shining moment against Bellatrix in the last book.  I both laughed and cheered.  But Mrs. Weasley was also that perfect mom.  Stern but loving.  Held the family together.  I have a super wonderful mom, but if I had to have a wizard mother... I'd want Molly Weasley.

8. Fred and George
This series wouldn't have been as fun without the Weasley twins.  From their epic departure from Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix to their "Holey" jokes, they provided comedic relief when we needed it most.  They showcased Rowling's brilliant sense of humor, and I adore them.

7. Minerva McGonagall
Do I have a soft spot for McGonagall because she's played by Maggie Smith in the movies?  Very likely.  But when she commands the knights and gargoyles to defend Hogwarts in the last book, I couldn't help but cheer.  McGonagall was such an image of strength and loyalty throughout the series.

6. Severus Snape
The complex character.  The double agent.  I predicted early on that Snape was a good guy and connected to Harry's mother.  Rowling did a lovely job of leaving us hints about Snape throughout the series, and his backstory was so beautifully revealed.

5. Albus Dumbledore
I loved everything about Dumbledore.  He is everything you want in a classic wizard: long beard, swirling robes, wise words, powerful magic.  But it was the twinkle in his eye, his love of lemon drops, and his wish for new socks that bumped him to near the top of my list.  I loved that he was a great and powerful wizard, but also so very human, too.

4. Dobby
I cried harder for Dobby than I did any other character in the series.  And he's a house elf?!?!  Am I crazy?  No, I don't think I am.  I loved Dobby for three reasons.  He had ambition.  He refused to aid evil.  He was loyal.  And as I've said before on my blog, sacrifice is one of those things that really gets to me.  Giving your life for another person is something that is sure to make me bawl.

3. Hermione Granger
I love Hermione, probably because I completely understand her.  I've had people get annoyed with me because I've come off as a know-it-all.  I love books and would be more than happy to spend all my time in the library.  And my solution to most problems would be to do research.  Bonus points for Hermione for also being brave, strong, loyal, and loving.

2. Luna Lovegood
I have Luna's wand!  It's shaped like a tulip!

Luna made me laugh and I loved her quirky personality.  Luna is another character who is exceptionally loyal.  She is a great example of someone who is brave by going against the crowd and believing in something even if it's not popular.  I admire that.

1. Sirius Black
What wouldn't I give for a seven book series about the Marauders, preferably from Sirius' point-of-view?  J.K. Rowling, that would make me the happiest girl in the world.  I wrote some Sirius Black fanfiction back in the day because I was so fascinated by Sirius' rebellious backstory.  Being put in Gryffindor when his entire family was Slytherin.  Him running away from home.  His flying motorbike.    Everything about Sirius fascinates me, and I loved visiting Grimmauld Place or his visits with Harry.  Was not a huge fan of Gary Oldman though... pictured Sirius as more devilishly handsome.  But I do think Gary Oldman had the godfather role down.  And Sirius was a great godfather.

And as a side note... Did you hear about the 15th Anniversary covers?  I heard Kazu Kibuishi speak at the 2011 National Book Festival (writer and illustrator of the Amulet graphic novels) and I think his covers are GORGEOUS.  I love the detail, and I think he picked such a iconic, memorable moment to feature on the cover of Sorcerer's Stone.
Kazu at the 2011 National Book Festival

The 15th Anniversary Cover
I know I left out some lovely characters from Harry Potter... (Neville, Ginny, Lupin, Tonks, Mad-Eye, Arthur Weasley, Kreacher, Dudley)  It was so hard!  Who would have been your top picks?  What do you think of the 15th Anniversary cover for Sorcerer's Stone?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Boundless

by Cynthia Hand
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Purchased eBook via Kobo
Big Themes: Angels, Destiny, Love Triangle, Family, College

Review of Unearthly
Review of Hallowed


Some minor spoilers for earlier books in the summary, but I did NOT include spoilers in the actual review.

This book begins after the death of a loved one and at the start of Clara's freshman year of college.  Clara, Angela, and Christian are all having new visions.  They can't figure out what their visions are telling them, so they focus on navigating college life.  Clara tries to move on and forget about Tucker, but even when she's around Christian... it's challenging to forget her first love.

Excellent World-Building:
The angel mythology that Hand created for this series is so excellent.  I'm sad this is the last book because I want more of this world she's created.  In the first book, I was skeptical about Hand's world-building.  I didn't understand the visions or what a purpose was.  But that's because Clara didn't understand yet.

And now, having finished the series and seen Clara's growing understanding of her purpose as an angel, I can say that Cynthia Hand does a marvelous job of tackling a topic of having a "purpose" in life.  This was one of my favorite parts of the series: seeing how everything fit together and how the visions played into each character's choices and destiny.

Bonus: Angels have awesome abilities.  They make logistical sense, and we see them in action in Boundless.  There's some awesome angel training scenes.

Action Packed:
I was really surprised at how much action and suspense was in this book.  I had a moment where I thought that surely I was at the end of the book, but then I wasn't!  I'm always a big fan of conflict and tension and this book delivered on that.

Family Relationships:
One of the things I praised highly about Hallowed was Clara's relationship with her mom.  It's so refreshing to see positive parental relationships in a YA book.  I'm not saying Clara doesn't have conflict with her parents, but it's clear that they love each other and can talk to each other.  This book continues the positive parental bonds by giving us more of Clara's dad.  And interestingly, Clara's dad still felt quite dad-like despite being an angelic being.

There's also a great subplot with Clara's brother that further shows that family bonds are important.  While their sibling relationship is rocky, it's also clear that they love each other.  It reminded me of my own relationship with one of my brothers, where we feel this need to compete with each other and be right all the time.

Love Triangle:
Gosh.  What can I say that won't spoil anything?  Some people are very disappointed with how things ended.  And I can understand where they are coming from.  With a love triangle, readers can't help but predict and imagine how something might turn out.  I think I could have ultimately been happy with Clara choosing either Christian or Tucker.  I was a big fan of Tucker after Unearthly.  However, both the books and other reader's arguments have also swayed me to see Christian as a good choice for Clara.

Ultimately, I was happy with the book's ending.  I cried.  And ultimately was happy.  I have read reviews and discussions where people are disappointed with the results of the book's love triangle.  But I can't deny that my emotional reaction upon completing the book was joy and satisfaction.  I understand other's issues with the ending, and do wonder if I could have been equally happy if Cynthia Hand had written the love triangle differently.

Overall Rating:
I did not expect to enjoy this series as much as I did.  The books read like contemporary novels with great world-building based in angel mythology.  I would have readily continued this series past three books, and will miss the world and characters that Cynthia Hand created.  I give this final book in the series five stars.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Behind the Story: Writer's Block

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I'll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I've discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week's topic:
Writer's Block

I'm going to surprise a few people with my opinion, but...

I don't believe writer's block exists.

I don't believe there's any mystical force that takes hold of your brain and prevents you from churning out words.

I don't believe in muses or creative juices running dry.

Instead, I believe there can be things you're not doing as a writer that inhibit your ability to create.  But I think this inability to create is self-inflicted and can also be self-cured.  Below are reasons I've identified for why writers find themselves unable to write:

1. Exhaustion or Poor Health

Even if you're just sitting at a desk, writing takes energy.  Your brain has to be rested and fully-charged in order to take part in the creative process.  If you're not taking care of yourself, then your ability to create can be affected.

Are you getting enough sleep?  Are you drinking enough water?  (Your brain is 80% water and dehydration can cause headaches and sluggishness.)  Are you exercising and getting fresh air?

I understand that sometimes taking care of yourself can fall to the back-burner when you have a full-time job or deadlines to meet, but taking care of your health is important.  I'm not perfect in this area either.  I definitely stay up too late, much too often.  But I've also noticed that I do my best writing when I'm rested and healthy.

2. Lack of Brainstorming, Planning, Outlining

I don't know why writers think they can always sit down at a computer and words will magically flow out of them.  That the story and the characters will mystically take control.

Of course, I've been writing and had a scene surprise me, or a character behave differently from what I've planned.  But you can't rely on your subconscious brain to tell the whole story.  The story is coming out of your brain.  Therefore, if your brain has neglected to think about where the story is going to go next, then of course you're going to get stuck.

Sometimes you have to sit down and think about what's coming next in your novel.  When I get stuck, I make lists.  I make lists of conflicts or bad things that could happen.  I make lists of things my character still needs to learn before the end of the book.  I make lists of what I know still needs to happen before the climax.  Always, before I'm even done with my list, I get unstuck and know what I want to write next.

Brainstorming, people.  It's awesome.  I make my middle schoolers do it.  You should, too.

3. Lack of Research/Too Much Research

I kept research separate from brainstorming because I think it's an entirely different beast.  I've seen writers get burned on both ends by this one.

Research can help get your creative juices flowing, whether it can inspire a setting or give you ideas of conflicts your protagonist might encounter.  If you aren't doing any sort of research, then you're limiting yourself.  You're limiting your writing to your own experiences.  There are countless times where a little research has gotten me unstuck creatively.

However, at the same time, some people end up doing a whole lot of research and very little writing.  You have to limit yourself in your research.  I like to come up with a set list of questions that I need to answer, and if I catch myself straying too far in my research, I can easily get myself back on track as well as know when I'm done looking stuff up.  I also try to not research when I'm in the middle of a writing session because it will interrupt my groove.  I've taken to leaving comments/notes to myself in my story of things I need to look up when I'm done, rather than pause to search the internet.

4. Laziness and Lack of Self-Motivation

"I don't feel like writing today.  I'm not in a creative mood."  Sound like a writer you know?

I love writing.  If I could do it full-time, I'd be the happiest girl in the world.  However, are there days that I don't feel like writing?  Of course.  Are there days where I'd rather watch a Downton Abbey marathon or curl up with a book I've been dying to read?  Yes.  Writing is still hard work, and sometimes I just want to relax.

However, I make my butt get in the chair, even when I don't want to, and I write.  Usually the first twenty minutes are rough.  But after I've gotten down a couple hundred words, I will usually make it to a full hour and maybe even a thousand words.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write more often than just "when the mood strikes you."  And there's seriously no better feeling as a writer than to sit down thinking "you're not in the mood" and then to crank out a scene that you LOVE.

If you struggle with motivation, there are several things you can do.  You can set up a reward system for yourself.  I love buying myself a bouquet of flowers for my desk when I've met my word count goal for the week.  You can set up a calendar and give yourself a sticker for every day that you sit down to write.  You can allow yourself a favorite warm beverage or piece of candy... but only if you're writing.

Some people work better by limiting something until they are done or rewarding themselves with activities.  For example, I'm not allowed to go to this website until I have this many words.  Or I can't watch this TV episode until I finish this scene.

I also find that setting up a schedule to write at the same time each day, and then recording in my planner how much I accomplished is helpful.  I like routine and I like keeping track of my progress.  I'll record my word counts for the day as well as time spent brainstorming or researching.  I've also recently started recording time spent blogging, in part to make sure I'm balanced in how much time I'm spending on writing vs. blogging.

I hope this post helped you in offering strategies for being successful as a writer, especially if you find yourself struggling in any of the above "blockages."

What are your opinions on writer's block?  Do you disagree with me?  Did you find any of my tips or self-cures helpful?

Let me know what other writing topics you would like to see on Behind the Story!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Top Ten Best Bookish Memories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

Top Ten Bookish Memories

(And I promise not all of them are Harry Potter memories!  Just four of them...)

Persuading my Little Brother 
to Read Harry Potter
I'm beginning with my Harry Potter memories.  I wish I had more documentation of this part of my life in photographs, but I don't think I realized at the time how much this period of my life would end up meaning to me.  I began reading Harry Potter in 8th and 9th grade.  And after plowing through the first three books, I wanted other people to read them.  Especially my younger brothers.

I'm pretty sure I got one younger brother to read them fairly easily.  But my other brother, who is four years younger than me and would have been in 5th or 6th grade was a much tougher audience to persuade.  I think Harry Potter might have been too challenging for him to read at the time because he was still reading mostly Magic Treehouse books.

But I was relentless.  I turned to bribery.

My brother is going to be a magnificent game designer someday, and even back then at age 11, he was creating made-up games for us to play.  His favorite made-up game at the time was called "Pokémon LIVE!"  Which pretty much involved him acting like Pokémon and me being the trainer and acting out the video game.  I hated playing this game because every time we played I had to start from the beginning again because we didn't have a good method of recording our progress in Pokémon LIVE!

So my form of bribery was that I would play one whole hour of Pokémon LIVE! for every chapter of Harry Potter that he read.  I was such a good sister.  And it turns out... I converted him... As you can see from the evidence below...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 
Book Release
I actually wasn't allowed to go to the midnight release party for Goblet of Fire.  We were at my grandparents' house at the beach, and my parents told us they would go and pick up the book at midnight so that it would be waiting for us in the morning.  

Well, we might not have been allowed to go to the release party, but we definitely didn't go to sleep like we were told.  My brothers and I shared one bedroom at my grandparents' house, and we spent the night talking.  It is one of my favorite childhood memories: staying up with my brothers, rebelling against our parents' wishes, too excited to sleep over a Harry Potter book.  

When we heard our parents get back, we all pretended to be asleep.  They put the book on our bedside table, and as soon as they were out of earshot, we crowded together to read the first chapter.  We didn't do more than the first chapter because I think we got frustrated that we all read at different speeds (and we couldn't read aloud because our parents would hear us).  But that excitement and bonding moment with my brothers is definitely one of my favorite bookish memories.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 
Book Release
This is another memory that involves the beach, my brother, and Harry Potter.  Notice a trend?  This summer, I spent entirely at the beach with my youngest brother (the one pictured above).

And this time, we did attend the midnight release party at the same bookstore that my parents had purchased Goblet of Fire.  We made a whole evening of it.  First going out to dinner and then strolling the boardwalk and buying huge bags of Jelly Belly's to eat while we waited in line (and pretend we were eating Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans).  We didn't dress up, though I distinctly remember a Bellatrix being near us in line.

I accidentally drove North instead of South for several miles on the way home that night because I was so distracted by my excitement.  But I treasure that I got to spend this final book release with my brother at one of my favorite bookstores, munching on jelly beans.  Good times.

Harry Potter World
I made the trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter last year for my birthday.  My whole family went with me, and we experienced the magic together.  I chronicled my trip in a series of blog posts (with lots of pictures!) below:

Rereading these posts makes me want to go back!  Can you be homesick for a theme park?  Because I am... sigh.

National Book Festival 2009
I am a Washington D.C. native, which makes me one very lucky girl.  Why?  Because every year I'm able to go to the National Book Festival and hear amazing authors speak for free.

In 2009, it was freezing cold and rainy.  I was not a veteran Book Festival attendee back then, and silly me brought a whole backpack of books to be autographed.  Backpacks full of books are heavy.  My shoulders were sore by the end of the day, and most of my books had some sort of water damage from the rain soaking through my backpack.

Nevertheless, this was the year that I met Lois Lowry and Shannon Hale for the first time.  Lois Lowry was such a trooper signing for hours in such cold, damp weather.  Shannon Hale was so incredibly cheerful and adorable and delightful, that after this meeting I went on to read all of her books.  (I'd only read Princess Academy when I met her, but her Books of Bayern series is outstanding!)

Below is a picture of me (with wet hair and my heavy backpack of books) with the legendary Lois Lowry:

National Book Festival 2010
This year was probably my favorite in my National Book Festival experiences so far.  I learned my lesson about lugging around books, and this year I didn't bring any.  Instead, I brought snacks and water, which was incredibly smart of me because this year it was hot.  And instead of standing around in lines all day, I parked myself in the Children's/Teen Tent all day and heard so many fabulous authors speak.  (This is the way I recommend doing the National Book Festival: find a good seat and stay there all day.)  Some of my favorites of the day include Suzanne Collins, Phillip Hoose & Claudette Colvin, Rebecca Stead, M.T. Anderson, and Michael Buckley.

Below is a picture of the wonderful Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal winner for When You Reach Me.

National Book Festival 2011
This year I was really a pro at the Book Festival, and so was my mom, who is a fabulous photographer.  So for the 2011 National Book Festival, I actually did an entire blog post on the day with clear photographs (I didn't really have many good photos from the previous years).  Authors include: Sarah Dessen, Katherine Paterson & John Rocco, Jack Gantos, Gordon Korman, Cassandra Clare, Brian Selznick, Rita Williams-Garcia, Kazu Kibuishi, and Rachel Renee Russell.  You can read my full post with details on each of the authors:

And here is a picture of Brian Selznick because he was my favorite of the weekend:

National Book Festival 2012
This year I didn't see quite as many authors speak because my friend, Caroline, was visiting and she really wanted to get autographs, and I stood in line with her.  But I did hear John Green (and I had just finished The Fault in Our Stars), so that was especially amazing because I'd never had the pleasure of hearing John Green speak.  The crowd reacted to him as if he were a ROCK STAR.  Screaming and shrieking.  And it was 10am.  Pretty wild.

I also heard Lois Lowry speak about her new book, Son, which is a sequel to The Giver.  She was wonderful.  You could tell she really enjoyed writing this book, and she seemed so happy to be there and in a much better mood than the rainy day I first saw her on in 2009.

The last speaker I heard this year was Maggie Stiefvater, who I've seen before.  She was energetic and entertaining and brilliant as always.

Below is close-up of John Green that my mom took:

Meeting Kristin Cashore
I just met Kristin Cashore this past year when she was touring for Bitterblue, and it was extra special because she was in part responsible for how I managed to find my MFA program in Children's Literature.  If you want to hear the whole story, you can check out my post on meeting her:

And here is a picture from the event:

Meeting Maggie Stiefvater (the first time)
Maggie is one of my favorite authors, and I first met her when she was on tour for Scorpio Races in 2011.  Maggie lives in Virginia, so she's actually in my area quite often, but I kept missing her because I'd always have things going on when she'd have an event.  She is such a great speaker, and you should definitely hear her if you get a chance.  Not only was meeting her great, but I also won a doodled on copy of Scorpio Races at this event.  You can check out the whole post on meeting Maggie here:

And a picture from the event:

I'm so excited to read about other people's best bookish memories!  Feel free to share in the comments or leave me a link to your post!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Long Walk to Water

Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
Published by: Clarion Books
Form: Text for School
Big Themes: True Story, War, Refugees, Water, Family, Disease, Leadership


This book is a dual narrative about two children in Sudan: a boy named Salva in 1985 and a girl named Nya in 2008.  When civil war reaches Salva's home, he is separated from his family when he must run for his life.  Salva walks thousands of miles as a refugee, and most of the book chronicles the true story of his grueling travels.  Nya's story reveals the state of current life in Sudan in 2008.  While violent and heartbreaking to think of what these children have endured, the ending of this book is hopeful and inspiring.

Kid Approved:
My students LOVED this book.  The book we read previously was Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, which is hilarious and has tons of kid appeal.  But most students said they liked A Long Walk to Water better, despite it being a much more serious book.  I had students getting upset when I'd announce that we were done reading for today, and many students would sneakily read ahead.  I've never had students so engaged in a book before.  They couldn't believe it was a true story and loved seeing videos of the real Salva when we were finished reading.

Fast Read:
You could easily read this book in just a couple of hours.  I read the first two chapters one night, and when I sat down the next night to read a little more... I ended up finishing the entire book instead!  The story is gripping, especially knowing it is a true story.  But it's also a slim book at 128 pages.  If you need a quick, but worthwhile read, definitely check this one out.

Dual Narratives:
The dual narratives do a beautiful job of accentuating certain themes in the book and drawing parallels between Salva and Nya's lives.  I don't want to spoil the book's ending, but the ending is wonderful in how it connects the two narratives.  (My students LOVED the ending.)

Educational and a Reminder of How Lucky We Are:
I didn't know anything about the country of Sudan before reading this book, and now my ears perk up whenever I hear mention of it in the news.  I have a better understanding of this region of the world now.

This book is also a great reminder of things we take for granted here in the United States, especially water.  We are so incredibly lucky to have access to clean water from the tap inside our homes.  I've taken to drinking less bottled water and more tap water since finishing this book.  There's really nothing wrong with tap water where I live, and it's much better for the environment for me to drink from the tap.

Overall Rating:
This is an excellent book for ages 11 and up (due to some violence).  This amazing true story will leave you inspired.  I give it 4 and a half stars.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: Raven Boys

The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic Press
Form: Autographed Hardback
Big Themes: Death, Psychics, Magic, Legends, Ghosts, Mystery


Blue lives in a house full of psychics, including her mother.  And while Blue doesn't have any special psychic abilities herself, that doesn't mean her life is normal.  In fact, she's been told that if she kisses her true love... he'll die.  But what will happen when she is irrevocably drawn into the lives of four boys on a quest to find a lost Welsh king?

Autographed Copy:
I seriously love Maggie.  I've heard her speak several times, follow her blog, and have read every book of hers... except Scorpio Races... which I promise I will get to!  (I've started this book twice and... well... I don't know what's wrong with me!)  I pre-ordered this book from Fountain Bookstore and received a beautiful autographed copy, pictured below:

This is probably the book's biggest strength, and I think something we can come to expect from Maggie.  Especially with her two most recent books, Maggie is fresh and original in every possible way.  This book is so different from anything you've read before.  I can't say, "It's kind of like this book combined with elements of this book and fits inside this genre."  You could even go so far as to say this book is a little strange, and even a fan like me wouldn't disagree with you.  Before reading Raven Boys, would I have ever heard of ley lines?  Nope.  Would I have thought teenage boys with legendary Welsh king obsessions are hot guy material?  No way.  Even the names of characters in this book (Blue, Gansey, Ronan) are completely unconventional.  If you want to read something fresh and different, then Maggie is your girl.

Maggie makes me feel smart and edgy and cool:
Just look at the cover.  It's not the kind of YA book cover I'm ashamed to walk around with.  That brushstroked raven is cool.  The title is serious with a no-nonsense font choice.  There's no half-naked men or girls with hair blowing in the wind or dramatic dresses made of smoke or flowers or butterflies.  Even though I read books with those covers, they don't make me feel like an intellectual when I'm out in public. (Oh the wonders of the eBook and hiding what you're reading!)

And, not only is the cover cool, but this is also a smart person book because Maggie is a phenomenal writer.  She's the kind of writer who makes me weep a little inside because her writing is so beautiful and eloquent and purposeful.  I feel smarter after having finished one of her books, like I've absorbed new writing techniques and observed a master writer.  And I am pretty proud of the fact that I've been reading Maggie's books since before she hit the NYT bestseller list.  I've loved watching her find success and knowing before the rest of the world that she was a superstar.

Vivid Characters:
This was the strongest pull of the book for me.  I felt like these characters were real people, despite their very unrealistic names... Blue?  I'm a teacher, and I've seen some CRAZY names.  But I've yet to have a kid named after a color.

There were several reasons why these characters came to life for me.  The first was the multiple points-of-view.  A novel with multiple POVs is tough to write, but this isn't the first time Maggie has done it.  In Raven Boys, we see the story from several characters, and I think getting inside their heads and each having a different outlook on the world really brought you closer to them as a reader.

The second reason why I felt these characters came to life was because Maggie does a brilliant job of showing instead of telling.  She doesn't tell you that Gansey is obsessed with a Welsh King.  She shows you.  With Gansey's notebook.  With his conversations.  With his actions.  She puts her characters in conflict and shows you who they are by how they deal with conflict.  One of my favorite characters was Adam, and he was a character who was revealed slowly through the conflicts he faces.

Pieces to the Puzzle:
Maggie has woven a complex story around lesser known mythology.  There is a lot we don't know in the beginning, and as this is a series, still a lot we don't know at the end.  I'm impressed with the story and mystery she's created weaving together a legend, a murder, and a prophecy.  I adore books that deal with fate and strange coincidences and this book is full of them.  It makes me so happy.

At times there were things that happened or things characters said that I'm still not sure if I'm supposed to understand yet.  (Chainsaw the raven being one thing I don't understand.) As the first book in a series, this is probably to be expected.  But it is holding me back from rating this a "five star favorite."  I reserve the right to come back later and bump up the stars.  But for now, I want to wait and see how everything pans out.

Overall Rating:
This is a fresh and original story that is beautifully crafted by one of my favorite authors.  If you love a good mystery or legend and great characterization, then this is a must-read!  I give it four and a half stars.

Friday, February 1, 2013

February Debuts 2013

Each month I'll be doing one post to highlight book releases by debut authors that I have my eye on.  Check back at the end of the month for reviews! Or feel free to try to sway my opinion to read other debuts as well!

Debut Author Challenge:
February Releases

by Laura Lam 
Release Date: Feb. 5

Goodreads Summary:
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
What grabbed me:
This sounds like such an imaginative and unique story, and I love the cover!

City of a Thousand Dolls 
by Miriam Forster 
Release Date: Feb. 5

Goodreads Summary:
An exotic treat set in an entirely original, fantastical world brimming with deadly mystery, forbidden romance, and heart-stopping adventure.
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.
Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.
What grabbed me:
This sounds like a gripping and suspenseful read set in a fantastical world. Add a dash of romance to the adventure and mystery, and this sounds like my ideal read!

Pivot Point 
by Kasie West 
Release Date: Feb. 12

Goodreads Summary:
Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.
In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
What grabbed me:
I love this concept of two completely different lives stemming from a single choice and how intriguing that she can see the possibilities and both options have serious pros/cons. I love everything about this premise!

Dance of Shadows
by Yelena Black
Release Date: Feb. 12

Goodreads Summary:

Dancing with someone is an act of trust. Elegant and intimate; you're close enough to kiss, close enough to feel your partner's heartbeat. But for Vanessa, dance is deadly – and she must be very careful who she trusts . . .
Vanessa Adler attends an elite ballet school – the same one her older sister, Margaret, attended before she disappeared. Vanessa feels she can never live up to her sister's shining reputation. But Vanessa, with her glorious red hair and fair skin, has a kind of power when she dances – she loses herself in the music, breathes different air, and the world around her turns to flames . . . 
Soon she attracts the attention of three men: gorgeous Zep, mysterious Justin, and the great, enigmatic choreographer Josef Zhalkovsky. When Josef asks Vanessa to dance the lead in the Firebird, she has little idea of the danger that lies ahead – and the burning forces about to be unleashed . . .
What grabbed me:
The cover is creepy but beautiful.  I did ballet up until middle school and will always have a fondness for it.  I love to read books that take me back to that past love.  Plus this sounds like a suspenseful read!

by Elsie Chapman 
Release Date: Feb. 26

Goodreads Summary:
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.
What grabbed me:
Yikes!  Killing your twin?!?!  Definitely sounds similar to Hunger Games.  Looks like a fast-paced and exciting read!

Some debut novels from January that I purchased and also plan to read:

Which debut novels are on your list?