Sunday, September 30, 2012

Celebrating our Right to Read


 

 

I don’t know how different my life would be if I didn’t have books.  It is actually a terrifying idea.  My grandmother, who was a teacher like most of the women in my family, taught me to read before I started kindergarten, and since then, reading has been my passion.  When I think about elementary school, I pretty much remember racing through my work so I could read.  I remember getting lost for days in other worlds – and I feel so lucky that books still have that power over me.  I am also very lucky that I was allowed to read widely.  I read Stephen King’s It when I was thirteen years old.  It was probably not appropriate for me at that age, but I loved it, and I turned out okay.  My mother probably didn’t even know I was reading it, but I’m not so sure she would have stopped me anyway.  I often read off of her shelf, which is also why I’ve read numerous V.C. Andrews books, none of them probably appropriate for my age.  And it’s okay for parents to say that their child is probably not ready for a certain book yet.  Because we have the right to read, it also means we have the right to choose books which we might enjoy – and which ones we might not.  The books I love are not necessarily going to be loved by everyone else.  And that’s great.  Our differences are what make this world such an amazing place.  But it is not okay for you to choose books for me.  It’s not okay for you to make sure that those books aren’t available to me if I want to read them – that I can’t read that book because it offends you.

But I want to talk to my students, particularly those who refuse to read.  I joke all the time about our summer reading books.  I have suggested before that we send home a letter to students giving them a list of books that they aren’t allowed to read over the summer.  If we told students they could not read something, then I guarantee they would want to.  And I’m only half joking.  But students, I want to suggest this.  Choosing not to read at all is also, in a way, censorship.  Now I know not everyone likes to read.  Because books mean so much to me, that hurts my heart to hear.  But that is your right.  But please think about it like this.  Not all great books are made into movies.  And every movie you watch has been interpreted by someone else.  That is someone else’s vision of the story.  The director’s vision may be a great one, but your vision may be very different.  You won’t know that if you never read.  If you never read, you are censoring yourself from a lifetime of ideas.  You are committing yourself to only seeing things the way others see them.  Instead, discover your own way of seeing things. 

So I challenge you to read whatever you want because you can.  You have been blessed with the ability to read.  You are blessed to live in a country which values your education.  (I am a public school teacher, and no matter what you believe about the state of our schools, I am still an idealist and still believe that this country values education - despite some of the policies to the contrary.)  So you have been given this great gift – literacy.  Use it!  You have the right to get lost in a book – any book – even if someone else doesn’t like that book.  Even if someone else is offended by that book.  Get offended by that book.  That is also your right.  It is your right to read something and not like what it says.  Let’s have a conversation about it.  Let’s discuss those ideas.  But let’s not squash those ideas completely.  Let’s not tell someone they aren’t allowed to think that way.  Let’s read books that offend us and talk about why.  Let’s read books that address tough issues and learn from them.  Let’s just read books so that we can be swept away into a whole new world, one that is just for us, and let’s not let anyone take that away from us.  Because when you read, you create your own version of that book based on who you are, and no one else has that exact same vision.  Isn’t that awesome?  And even though the writer is manipulating you in a way because they are using words to create ideas, you are also manipulating those words and ideas and it is so much better than a movie, where you are just the spectator.  When you read a book, you are participating in that action.  So let’s not take that away from anyone. 

Let’s not take away the right of every human being to be moved and changed by a great book.  To be a better person for the words that are written.  Let’s celebrate the fact that we have the right to read.  And then let’s talk about it.  Because maybe having meaningful conversations about important things will change us all.  And call me na├»ve, but I do believe that books have the power to make this world a better place.  It’s why I write.  It’s why I read.  It’s why I try to pass that hunger for words on to my students.  And it’s why I read banned books.  I hope you will too. 

 
A list of some of my favorite banned books:

Fahrenheit 451

Harry Potter

Twilight

Huck Finn

The Great Gatsby

A Farewell to Arms

The Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Rings

(Really, if you look at the list, I’ve loved almost every book on there in one way or another.  Just goes to show you that the best books makes us feel.  Even if that feeling is anger.)

To learn more about Banned Books Week, visit http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review of THE RAVEN BOYS

Every so often I want to post a review from both mine and a teen's point of view.  This review of The Raven Boys will be the first Teen Perspective review.  I will post my review first, then a teen's review underneath that.  Emily, who is a voracious reader and talented writer, volunteered to be my first victim.  And her review is so much better than mine.  She is just one of the many reasons I love my job.

My review of The Raven Boys:

First, a disclaimer: I am a Maggie Stiefvater fan.  I already knew, before I had this book in my hands, that I wanted to write a review for it.  And since I only blog about books I love, I started reading this book knowing I would love it.  So maybe I am biased.  But any of you who have read a book that you were sure you were going to love, only to discover that you did not, in fact, love that book, will know that going into a book with high expectations can often lead to bitter disappointment.  If I read a book I had no expectations for and love it, it is a wonderful find, a treasure.  If I dislike that book, there is nothing lost.  But to go into a book knowing that you’re going to love it and finding out that it wasn’t anything like you wanted and in fact you actually hated it a little bit can leave you off-kilter, like maybe everything you thought you knew was a lie.  The disappointment is palpable.  Raven Boys is the opposite of that.  This book is wonderful in the way that only good books can be.

It’s going to be hard to give a concise summary of The Raven Boys because it is about so many things.  It’s about Blue, who has been told her entire life that she will kill her true love if she kisses him.  It’s about the raven boys (boys who attend Aglionby school) Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah.  It’s about magic and friendship.  It has fast cars and psychics and characters who live and breathe enough to seem to be able to pass through the pages and into my living room.  (Like Persephone, who is probably my favorite secondary character.  The secondary characters is this story are amazing.)  The story is told in third person point of view, but I had to often remind myself of that, since while reading it I was very much in the characters’ heads.

One thing that I think is great about this book is the relationships.  Stiefvater does an incredible job of fleshing these characters out until we know their strengths and weakness, their tics and mannerisms, as if we had actually known them for years.  Then she weaves the relationships together and we get to know the characters even better through their interactions with one another – through what they say, and even what they don’t say.

Stiefvater is very good at world-building.  I am in love with the outdoors, particularly dense woods, and it felt as if I were walking in them as I read through this book.  But the world building was very organic in that you don’t really notice it.  The world-building is not the story, and it does not get tedious.  You just notice the story and the way the characters inhabit that world, and it is only when you look up from the pages that you realize you aren’t actually there.

I really like the fact that even though this is the first in a trilogy, it doesn’t feel like that.  Others may disagree with me, but I didn’t feel like this was an extended prologue.  Even if there wasn’t another story in the works (and of course I can’t wait to read the next book), I wouldn’t feel cheated.  I feel there was a story that was completed in these pages.  The characters’ stories aren’t finished, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them in the next books, but I didn’t feel like I had been set up and let down. 

Maggie Stiefvater must have been sitting on a ley line when she wrote this book, because it is magical.

Emily's Review:

I feel like it has to be said that this is the first “official” review that I’ve ever written. Normally, my method of reviewing consists of clutching the book to my chest and babbling about my emotional state, which is more often than not, completely wrecked. That was how I felt after reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, but I’m going to attempt to write out some coherent thoughts because honestly, this book deserves them.

I went into this book with high expectations because I’ve read all of Stiefvater’s other works, and they were the epitome of actual perfection. So, I started The Raven Boys expecting nothing short of pure genius. And of course, it was delivered.

The book opens immediately with the life conflict of Blue Sargent, who, as the daughter of a psychic, has been told that if she kisses her true love, he’ll die. Not the obvious teenage dream, right? So, she lives her life cautiously, avoiding boys and dating and kisses altogether. That is, until she meets three raven boys, the town’s nickname for the boys who attend Aglionby Academy, known for being attended by the rich and the elite, and she is sucked into their journey through Welsh myth.   

Gansey is the leader of the small group of raven boys, beautifully broken and hungry for the discovery of Glendower, the Welsh King thought to be asleep somewhere in Henrietta, Virginia, the charming and magical town where this book is set. The quest for Glendower has not only consumed his life, but also the lives of his best friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, who are equally a broken as Gansey himself.

It’s probably insanely corny to describe The Raven Boys as magical and enchanting, but there aren’t really any other words for it. But the magic of the book isn’t just in the promise of a sleeping king or the taunting danger of true love; it’s in the characters and how you’re able to love and hate, exalt and pity them throughout the entire story, which I personally want to crawl inside and spend the rest of my life. It’s easy to forget that the book is told in third-person because each chapter brings you so deep into the thoughts and emotions of each character that it’s like you’re inside of their fictional brains.

As always, Stiefvater is able to write the supernatural without it being obnoxious and a stretch to impress. It’s almost believable, this possibility of magic somewhere hidden in Virginia.

I also want to thank the heavens that Stiefvater can write teenage boy-girl relationships and budding romances without it being WOW WE’VE ONLY KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR TWENTY MINUTES BUT LOVE LOVE LOVE CAN’T YOU TELL WE’RE IN TOTAL LOVE? BECAUSE WE ARE, WE LOVE EACH OTHER FOREVER, etc etc. Like, I got through this entire book without getting nauseated once. Hallelujah.

So, really, everyone needs to read The Raven Boys. Seriously. Everyone. Your friends, your mom, your mailman, the cashier at Wal-Mart. Everyone needs to experience the perfection. The fate of humanity depends on it. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

RECLAIMED is coming out with Spencer Hill Contemp!


So I can finally shout to the world that my debut novel, RECLAIMED, will be coming out with Spencer Hill Contemp October 2013!  I’m really so excited and thrilled to be working with the awesome people at Spencer Hill Press.

Edit:  Here is the announcement from PM:
Sarah Guillory's RECLAIMED, in which a girl determined to flee her small town finds a reason to stay when she falls in love with twin brothers, one who can't remember his past and the other who doesn't want him to remember, told in three alternating points of view, to Danielle Ellison & Patricia Riley at Spencer Hill Contemp, in a nice deal, for publication in October 2013, by Rebecca Mancini at RightsMix (World).

Long Story:  I can partially thank Twitter for this.  Really.  If I hadn’t been on Twitter, I probably never would have participated in WriteonCon.  And if I hadn’t participated in WriteonCon, my query wouldn’t have been seen by my awesome editor.  So thanks to Twitter!  And WriteonCon!  And my awesome editor, who saw that there was a story in my pitiful attempts at the query!  (And I promise I don’t use exclamation marks like this in my book.  I’m just really excited.)  J

So, Ninja Editor saw my query in the WriteonCon forums and asked me for the full.  I was working on reorganizing the first fifty pages or so, so I worked frantically all weekend and sent the full on a Sunday night.  The following Sunday, awesome editor Danielle Ellison tweeted about a manuscript she was loving.  I crossed my fingers and prayed it was mine, not getting my hopes up.  Then she tweeted other glowing comments about the manuscript and I just knew it wasn’t mine.

I get up at 5:25 a.m. every morning to go running.  Since my full was out, I’d started checking my email first thing when I got up.  (No, I’m not obsessive or uptight in any way, why do you ask?)  So when I opened my email Monday morning and saw I had an email from Spencer Hill, I held my breath.  When I opened it and saw that they were excited about my manuscript and wanted to talk, I didn’t even finish reading the email.  I started jumping up and down and woke up my husband, who was dead to the world and tried to be excited for me while still half asleep.  I went for a run, but even running in the thick humidity felt like flying.

We scheduled a Skype call for that evening, and somehow I managed to teach six classes and tell no one that everything I ever wanted might be happening.  But there was a hurricane brewing in the gulf, so there were plenty of hurricane preparations to focus on.  At least that gave me something to do instead of staring at the clock.

The Skype call with Danielle Ellison and Patricia Riley went great.  I was probably grinning like an idiot the whole time. They were so excited and passionate about my book, and that meant so much to me.  I’ve been working on this manuscript for over two years now, and my blood is in it.  The fact that they totally understood and loved my characters was surreal.  They offered publication, and I tried to play it cool when really I wanted to run out into the street and howl at the moon or something.

Then Hurricane Isaac hit.  Luckily we were spared some of the worst of it, though we were without power and internet for a couple of days, which made me even more on edge.  Since school had been canceled, I paced the house for several days, all nervous energy and excitement.  I baked and redecorated and drove my husband crazy.  At one point he threatened to drug me.

And then the contract was signed and sent and I vacillated between wild excitement and disbelief.  I kept thinking I was going to wake up and realize it wasn’t really happening.  But it is!  So if you’ve read this far, thanks, and give yourself a cookie.  Because I’m going to have several. 

Oh yeah!  Here's a pic of me signing the contract.
 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cover Reveal for Trisha Wolfe's FIREBLOOD

Here is the cover for Fireblood, by Trisha Wolfe, which will be coming out with Spencer Hill Press on October 8, 2013.
 
 
 
 
 
Fireblood


To save a kingdom, Zara must choose between a prince who could be the answer and a rising rebellion that threatens to take control.

When Zara Dane is chosen to marry Prince Sebastian Hart, son of the man who ordered her father's capture, Zara knows she must fight to save everything she loves from ruin.

Being betrothed to the prince means a life trapped behind the towering stone walls of the Camelot-forged realm. Under the watchful eye of the prince's first knight, Sir Devlan Capra, changing her future becomes difficult.

When an unlikely rebel reveals the truth about the deadly secrets that fuel King Hart's twisted world, Zara's path to rescue her father becomes clouded by deception. The Rebels clear her path by forcing Zara's hand with an ultimatum: sway Prince Sebastian to join the Rebels, convincing him of his father's evil nature, or they will take him out.

But Zara is uncertain about a future under the Rebels' command and where the prince's heart truly lies. She must decide who to trust, what to believe, and what she's truly fighting for before the king destroys all of Karm, including her heart
.
 
 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Books I'm Excited About: 2013


Really, these are books that everyone is excited about.  And I realized that most of these are the final installments of trilogies.  I love stand alones, but somehow I keep getting sucked into these trilogies! 

 

 Clockwork Princess   March 19   Cassandra Clare

I loved the Mortal Instruments Series, but I will admit, I think I am falling more in love with the Infernal Devices.  For those of you who don’t know about these books (and where have you been?!), they are about Shadowhunters, which are humans descended from angels who battle demons.  This series is set in Victorian London and has steampunk elements like automatons.  That right there should entice you to read.  London!  Steampunk!  Romance and swords and angst!  That’s the way to this girl’s heart.

 
While I love all the characters (Henry is so great), I absolutely adore Will.  He has some of the best lines.  I’m really looking forward to how Clare wraps this series up, though I know that no matter what happens with the love triangle, there will be heartbreak.  Both Will and Jem are such wonderful characters, and while I care a lot about Jem, I want Tessa to end up with Will.  I just don’t see how that can happen without destroying Jem, one way or another.  I’m not so sure I can wait until March, but I’m not so sure I want it to end either.

 

Shades of Earth   January 15   Beth Revis

Across the Universe was a book recommended by a student for our school book club.  I’m the sponsor, and my more dedicated members of the club often research books looking for interesting new releases.  We voted on and chose AtU, and I loved it.  The series is about Amy, who was cryogenically frozen and loaded onto a spaceship, and Elder, who is training to be the next leader.  They are on their way to colonize a new planet.  But Amy is woken up before they get there, and someone is killing the frozen human cargo, and the whole thing just goes downhill for them (but totally awesome for the reader) from there.

 I loved Amy and Elder and was immediately sucked into their story.  Then A Million Suns came out, and I think I enjoyed that one even more.  Now I am eagerly awaiting the release of Shades of Earth.  There are a lot of ends to tie up, and I’m very interested in seeing how Revis brings this series to a close.  I’m pretty sure it’s going to be explosive. 

 

The Moon and More   June 4    Sarah Dessen

I love Sarah Dessen.  I will admit, up until two years ago, I’d never read any of her books.  But one of my students was a huge fan, and she went on and on about how I needed to read Dessen’s books.  I was going to get around to it eventually, but I just hadn’t yet.  Then I went to ALA in New Orleans, and Dessen was there signing.  I bought three, got them signed, and then devoured each one in one sitting.  There’s just something about Dessen’s writing that draws me in.  The characters are real and the writing is solid and the stories are so addictive that once I start one of her books, I don’t stop until I’ve read it in its entirety.  So I’m really looking forward to this new story.  Summer romance and the beach?  I’m in!

 

Seige and Storm  2013  Leigh Bardugo

I pre-ordered Shadow and Bone because of the buzz on Twitter.  And the cover.  Isn’t it gorgeous?  I ordered it from Books of Wonder, so I have a shiny signed copy as well as a poster and buttons and I was happy dancing when they all arrived.  And then I read that book in one sitting.  Notice a pattern?  Shadow and Bone is about Alina, who discovers she has the power of the sun and must figure out how to use that power to help her world.  And there’s kissing, so that’s a bonus.  I have always loved Russian literature, so I loved that this had a very Russian feel to the fantasy world.  Alina is such a strong character, and I have to admit, I have a crush on both Mal and the Darkling.  Oh the angst!

 

 
Divergent finale  (Not titled yet)  Fall 2013      Veronica Roth

There was so much buzz around Divergent before it even came out that it was one of the books I was most excited about picking up at ALA in New Orleans. I fell in love with dystopian literature in high school, devouring books such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.  And Divergent didn’t disappoint.  Set in a future Chicago, five factions work to solve the world’s problems according to their beliefs in what those problems are and how they should be solved.  Tris chooses the Dauntless faction over her family (Abnegation), then (spoiler alert) uncovers a plot by her new faction to destroy her old one.  She has to decide what family and faction mean while not getting killed and saving those she loves.  And I didn’t even mention Four, who is such a great character – smart and sexy and broken.  And Divergent is so much better than that summary! 

 So of course I ran out and got Insurgent the day it came out, and of course the ending of that book made me scream in frustration that Roth wasn’t an autobot and had to sleep and stuff because I needed the next book as soon as I had finished Insurgent!  Ahem.  But now I have waited patiently and will have to wait a little longer than I thought since the book won’t be released until the fall.  But I’m willing to wait, albeit impatiently, because we all know that great books can take a while.  And I’m anticipating this one will be phenomenal.

 

Requiem  Spring 2013   Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is a fantastic writer.  I’ve read Before I Fall several times and loved Delirium, which is set in a world where love is a disease and they have found a cure.  Ingenious, right?  But then Lena meets Alex, and she decides she might not want to be cured after all. 

 
(Spoiler alert)  I knew Alex had to be alive, so I was a nervous wreck the entire time reading Pandemonium because I knew her budding relationship with Julian was not going to end well.  And it didn’t.  So now I know there will be major conflict in this final installment of the series, and hopefully answers about her mom.  I am very interested in how Oliver will wrap up the series, and I can’t see how it can be done in a neat and tidy way.  And as a writer I like open endings.  As a reader, I need to know all the things and see all the happiness.  I’m sure Oliver will be able to strike a nice balance between the two.  Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the ride.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review: HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr


HOW TO SAVE A LIFE is the first book I’ve read by Sara Zarr, but it won't be the last.  I started reading the book this morning and just finished, and all I really want to do is run out and buy everything else Sara Zarr has ever written.  So yeah, it’s good.

The story, a contemporary YA, is about Jill, who is coping with her father’s death, and Mandy, who is eighteen and pregnant.  Jill’s mom decides she wants to adopt Mandy’s baby, which is how the three of them all end up living together.  If you want more of a summary than that, then you’ll just have to read the book.

But this book is about so much more than these three characters.  It’s about life and loss and what it means to be family.  It’s about letting people in, letting them love you and see you even though you are flawed and will never live up to their expectations.  Or sometimes your own, for that matter.

Zarr does an amazing job of creating flawed characters who you root for.  It’s not easy creating multi-dimensional characters, ones who are so real they must live somewhere other than between the covers of the book, but Zarr has done just that.  All of the characters are well-developed – not just Jill and Mandy, who alternate telling the story.  Jill’s mom and Jill’s boyfriend Dylan and new friend Ravi are fleshed out so perfectly.  Even Mandy’s mom, who is really only in the book through Mandy’s memories, is thoroughly developed.  Though I must admit, I didn’t like her and could only see her flaws.  But through her character, I understood Mandy that much better.

The story is tight as well.  It had emotional resonance without being maudlin or trying to manipulate me.  If there is one thing I hate as a reader, it’s being manipulated.  This story allowed to dislike certain things about a character while still seeing the good in that character.  Zarr never told me how I was supposed to feel about a situation.  She let the story unfold on the page and allowed me, the reader, to make up my mind how I felt about that.  This is a story of hope, but it’s not cheesy or saccharine sweet. 

Finally, the writing.  These days I find it so hard to find a book that has both great writing and great story.  Usually, it has one or the other, so when I find a book that has both, I’m thrilled.  I’m not hating on writers, because I am one, and I know just how hard it is to get both story and writing to blossom at the same time.  So when it does happen, I have to stop and applaud the writer, because as a reader I am fully satisfied, and as a writer I am in awe.

I read plenty of books that I don’t like in one way or another.  Some are good but not great.  Some are pretty awful.  You won’t see me reviewing those books here.  I don't believe in giving a glowing review to a book that hasn’t earned it, but I also won't waste space pointing out the flaws of a book I didn’t really like.  That’s for others to do.  My job here is to crow about the ones I do love – the ones that I want to buy for all my friends, the ones that inspire me to work harder at my own craft.  This is one of those books.  Thanks, Sara Zarr, for crafting this book just for me.  It feels that way at least, like all the best ones should.