Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke | Review

Posted April 11, 2016 by Tara in Review /// 1 Comment

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke | ReviewWink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Published by Dial Books on March 22nd 2016
Pages: 247
Format: E-book
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Goodreads

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

You know what, guys? I’m a little tired of publishers pushing these mysterious synopses on us to try to build hype around a book. Like, it worked well enough with We Were Liars until it backfired a bit, but it seems like there’s a book every month or so trying to repeat the success of that campaign. “Oh, go into this book knowing as little as possible. That’s the way to do it” only works for certain books…and certain people. The campaign for Wink Poppy Midnight seems to be taking this approach, but I am here today to give you some insight into what this book is really about…and if you should read it or not.

So if you want to go in blind, click away! Avert your eyes! But if you want to know more, read on. As a bonus, you can also WATCH on, because I’m embedding my video review here as well for those who love a different format.

As it says in the blurb, this is a book about three unique characters:

Wink is the archetypal earth mother character. She is a homeschooled red head who lives on a farm and reads a lot of fairytales with her many siblings, whom she refers to as “the orphans.”

Poppy is the archetypal villainous mean girl. She’s beautiful and intimidating. She has a posse called The Yellows who all do her bidding. She uses relationships, including sexual ones, to manipulate people.

Midnight is caught between these two women. He used to be Poppy’s neighbor, and she would crawl in window to sleep with him…and then disappear. Now he and his father have moved across from Wink’s farm and he’s building a friendship/crush with Wink, which makes Poppy impossibly mad.

The storytelling is done through all three first-person perspectives in rapid-fire short chapters. The first half the novel is about character development, where Wink introduces the fairy-tale notion of who she views as the hero and villain in the story of her life. However, the reader feels a significant disconnect from the characters, even with the first-person narratives, because the never feel honest and they never feel like they are telling the whole truth.

At the mid-point of the novel, the plot, conflict, and action of the story become more apparent. A cruel prank takes an unexpected turn and the characters are left confused and scrambling. This is also the point where I just lost all sense of who was telling the truth, what had actually happened, and even what genre the story actually was. There were moments when I thought it might go the routes of psychological thriller, paranormal thriller, after school special, or just plain ‘ole coming of age tale. Of course, I’m not going to tell you any more than that because I’m not going to spoil the heart of the book, but do know that this may leave you turning pages just to figure out WTF is even going on.

In the end, I though this was a good book and an excellent exploration of the expectations placed on adolescent females. We have expectations of who Wink and Poppy are based on their appearances and how other characters view them, and I think these characters feel trapped by the restrictions the world places on them…and the restrictions they place on themselves. It’s no accident that the author sets the to females up as archetypal opposites to one another. In particular, I found it interesting how the sexual experiences Midnight has with both girls were juxtaposed against each other.

Even though the final outcome of the story did not wow me the way I wanted it to, I was still pleased with the journey of reading it. This is definitely “weird” YA that doesn’t give easy answers and holds many layers of meaning. Some readers may be frustrated by the ethereal, fairy tale-like nature of the storytelling, but there will be just as many readers who appreciate a story that makes them work for an understanding of the details and themes.

FINAL GRADE: C

This story was what I expect it to be, and I enjoyed my reading experience. It might have earned a B if it had packed a few more surprises in the ending and if it had more universal appeal. However, this is the perfect read for the more sophisticated YA reader and fans of dark fairy tales.

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I Crawl Through It by AS King | Review

Posted February 4, 2016 by Tara in Review /// 2 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I Crawl Through It by AS King | ReviewI Crawl Through It Series: standalone
on September 22nd 2015
Genres: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: paperback, E-book
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Goodreads

Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving trauma, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults—and they'll do anything to escape the pressure. They'll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them... until they learn the only way to escape reality is to fly right into it.

I love AS King. Like, auto-buy, stand-in-line-for-hours, always-sing-her-praises kind of love her. Her books have this perfect balance of realistic adolescent frustration, feminism, magical realism, and intelligent characters to please me as a super-picky reader. So when I saw I Crawl Through It on Edelweiss, I downloaded it immediately.

And then I was afraid to touch it for six months. I knew this AS King was a little different and, judging from early reviews, not as accessible as her other books. While Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was amazingly bizarre, I Crawl Through It is King’s next step in growing as a writer…all the way to the world of surrealist fiction.

I’ll try to give a synopsis, but with a book like this it almost doesn’t matter. Everything is a metaphor, everything is confusing, and that’s okay. The story is narrated by several characters, but primarily follows four teenagers all attending the same high school: Stanzi wears a labcoat everywhere, Gustav is building an invisible helicopter, China has swallowed herself (and is, thus, a walking stomach), and Lansdale’s hair grows when she tells lies. Add in that someone keeps calling in bomb threats to their school and a man who stands in the bushes handing out letters of the alphabet, it all just sounds simply insane.

However, this book is supposed to be confusing. It’s supposed to be an open-ended maze with no easy answers. Everything is a metaphor, and each reader can apply his or her life experience to the metaphors and get a unique story. Though King does eventually reveal some of the reasons behind these teens’ strange behaviors and their disconnection from the world around them, other elements remain open to interpretation. Yes, this is a story about trauma and mental health and all the horrible horrible shit that so many adolescents face. But there are so many layers here than I think I could find dozens of new thoughts to ponder upon subsequent rereads.

This book is not easy. One motif throughout the story is the references to standardized testing. The bubbles, the stress, the school’s focus on test result above all others. My favorite part of the whole novel was how brazenly King took this on without overdoing it. The test rules all, but King shows us how much of a dog and pony show it really is. To add another layer, the book itself is the counterpoint to the standardized test. It is not singular, it is not factual, it is not easily interpreted. Life is an open-ended question and there are no right answers. Message received.

FINAL GRADE: B

I Crawl Through It is not for everyone. However, if you are looking for more complex YA, this might be a good starting place. Whether or not you enjoy the story, you have to applaud King for treating adolescents like complex, intelligent beings who aren’t just interested in love triangles and getting the boy. This book channels the legacies of Kurt Vonnegut and other surrealist writers and adds something new to YA that can help the interest level gain critical and literary legitimacy. It’s not my favorite AS King novel, but I do like the direction she is moving and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

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Let’s Get Critical!: The Basics of a Critical Review

Posted January 29, 2016 by Tara in Let's Get Critical /// 6 Comments

let's get critical banner

Do you want to write better reviews, but aren’t sure where to start? Are you worried that you’re starting to sound like a broken record or can’t articulate exactly why you loved or hated a book? Let’s Get Critical is a monthly feature where I focus on different elements of literature and explain, in plain language, how to write about these in your book reviews. You’ll get definitions of terms, examples, and even questions that you can ask yourself in your own reviewing process. To learn more, be sure to check out the Let’s Get Critical archive!

Today we are going to recap the basics!

In this series, I made the decision to start with the basics of storytelling. Many reviewers are good at covering characters or plot, but an excellent critical review will start with considering how multiple elements come together to tell an interesting narrative. These are the six basic elements to start with when beginning your critical review (click “read more” to view the full post covering each topic):

  1. Plot (read more)
  2. Setting (read more)
  3. Characters and characterization (read more)
  4. Point of view (read more)
  5. Theme (read more)
  6. Tense (read more)

As you can see, none of these elements operate in isolation. You can’t have a story that is just plot or just characterization. A good review will consider more than one element in dissecting what she did or did not like about a book.

What is your focus?

So in considering these basics, you will also want to take the time to think about which ones you tend to focus on in reviews and which ones you almost never consider. Do you tend to focus on plot but are not comfortable discussing theme? Have you ever considered how the verb tense affects the emotions of a story?

If you really want to write more critical reviews, a good starting point is to challenge yourself to think about what you discuss in your reviews and what you don’t. And then I want to challenge you to consider a story element you’ve never considered before — work a paragraph in there about characterization and whether or not you felt the author had dynamic or flat characters. If you don’t know where to start, each of the “read more” links above will give you a crash course on each element and questions to ask yourself in adding those elements to your reviews.

Remember that you don’t have to do it all! You do not have to cover all six of the above elements in a single review — far from it! Focusing in on 2-3 will be enough to get you started on critical analysis.

Two simple ways to structure a review

Okay, so you want to put this into action. Great. Here are two simple structures to a review that will incorporate some of these six elements:

In the first format, you can pick two (or three!) story elements and say what you liked and did not like about each. For example, you might pick point of view and characterization. In the first part of the review, you might explain that you really emotionally connected with the main character, but that sometimes you felt that the narrator was unbelievably in the right place at the right time. In the second part of the review, you might point out how the characterization of the main character was great, but that some of the secondary characters were stereotypes.

In the second format, you can pick three or four elements that did or did not work as a whole in the story. For example, you could say that the plot and setting were fabulous, but that the theme was not clear and the tense was annoying.

Of course, these are just two review structures to get you started. There are a million ways to write a great review! Just remember the most important part of a good review: support your statements! If you tell me the plot was great, explain why you thought the plot was great. Give specific examples from the book…but try to avoid spoilers!

In future posts…

Now that I’ve covered the basics, this series will explore critical reviews in more depth. We’ll talk about avoiding spoilers, likable/unlikable characters, purple prose, rating systems, crafting effective plot summaries, and more. What I want to know from you is if there are any aspects of critical reviewing that I should cover in the future, anything I left out here, or any questions you have? I’ll try to address those in future Let’s Get Critical! posts. And check back next month, when I’ll be covering a the next topic in the series: One Person’s Trash Is Another One’s Treasure (Ideal Audiences).

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How Much Would You Charge to Review Books Professionally?

Posted January 22, 2016 by Tara in articles, Let's Talk Books /// 23 Comments

professional reviews

Ashley over at Nose Graze published an interesting post a few months ago about how making money from your book blog is not something to be ashamed of. This piqued my interested, because I’ve been thinking about the monetization of blogging for a long time. I mean, most of us have at least dabbled in it — affiliate links, banner ads, sponsored posts, etc. — but we’ve all had varying degrees of success in actually making money from our blogs.

Years ago, I think there was some tension in the book blogging community about people who seemed to be “in it for the money” versus people who had the more “pure” interests of sharing a hobby. However, I think our community had worked out some of those concerns and we have, in general, accepted that you can be authentic as a book blogger while also turning a hobby into a source of income. The two are not mutually exclusive. This is a mark of modern times, when the line between work and play are more blurred than ever and technology allows us to commodify our leisure in new ways.

What Ashley brings up in her post, though, was an idea that I haven’t given as much thought to: reviewing books for money. The current model is one of doing all the work on the front end (reading a novel, reading an ARC, writing a review, promoting a book) and then seeking payment in the form of affiliate links or advertisement income based on page visits or clicks. Theoretically, your ability to make money is based on how well you promote the book after you’ve already read it. The idea of reviewing books for money flips this around: I’ll read your book if you offer to pay me first. 

This model might work for some people, but I think a lot of the success of this model hinges on how much is actually being offered up to read and review the book.

Let’s be honest: I’m a bit of a mood reader. I want to read what I want to read, when I want to read it. So to get me to put down the latest best seller or book from my favorite author, I’d either better be pretty confident that the book will be good OR I have to be paid enough to make it worth my time.

For me, I think that price is around $0.50 a page…and that’s just to start. Goodness, if I were able to make a small business doing such a job, think about the time I would spend marketing a book: approximately 4-10 hours reading, plus another 3-4 hours to write, cross-post, and promote the review. For one to two days of work, I’d really expect to make at least $150. And guess what? I doubt anyone is going to offer me that much money to read and review a book. So I doubt I’ll be picking up a side gig any time soon.

Because, here’s the thing: if you are reviewing books for money, these are not going to be the books you would pick up on your own. These books won’t be Throne of Glass or Six of Crows, they will be much more random than that. Yes, there might be a hidden gem, but there will also be other books you will be obligated to finish when you might have otherwise DNF’ed them.

So when I think about how much I would charge to read and review a book, there is more to this formula than just “I’d love to get paid to read!” I wouldn’t be reading off my TBR, I’d be reading what’s available and what needs to be read, which makes the whole process more like a job. Asking to pay me with $20 and a digital ARC isn’t going to cut it. But I’m fascinated by this idea and the vision of a world where paid reviews could even be feasible, even if I don’t think it will ever be reality.

What I want to know is what other book bloggers think about charging for book reviews. First, I want to know how much you think you would charge if you could. Second, I want to know what you think in general about paying reviewers — would we ever be able to be paid enough to make it worth it? Is it possible to commodify a leisure activity that thousands of people already do for free (the same reason why I can’t get someone to pay me for drinking Starbucks or watching Netflix)? I’m still working through my thoughts on this from both the fantasy and realistic standpoint, so I’d love to hear what you think!

 

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Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

Posted January 20, 2016 by Tara in Challenges /// 0 Comments

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This year I will be trying Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge.The point of this challenge is to read more broadly and try new genres, authors, and types of books. Though I read a lot of YA, I am always interested in challenging myself to discover new voices and read beyond my comfort zone. The Read Harder Challenge covers 24 categories (two books a month on average) of diverse reading, and I will fill out this post with the titles I read as I cover these throughout the year.

Here are the categories:

  1. Read a horror book: The Troop by Nick Cutter (review)
  2. Read a non-fiction book about science:
  3. Read a collection of essays:
  4. Read a book out loud to someone else:
  5. Read a middle grade novel:
  6. Read a biography (not a memoir or autobiography):
  7. Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel:
  8. Read a book originally published in the decade you were born:
  9. Listen to an audiobook that was won an Audie Award:
  10. Read a book over 500 pages long:
  11. Read a book under 100 pages:
  12. Read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender:
  13. Read a book that is set in the Middle East:
  14. Read a book by an author who is from SouthEast Asia:
  15. Read a book of historical fiction that is set before 1900:
  16. Read the first book in a series that is by an author of color:
  17. Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years:
  18. Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie.  Debate which is better:
  19. Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist issues:
  20. Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction):
  21. Read a book about politics in your country or another. (fiction/nonfiction):
  22. Read a food memoir:
  23. Read a play:
  24. Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness:

I love this challenge because I’m hoping it will introduce me to some new books and guide me to pick up some of the books that have been sitting on my TBR shelf for a long time. I also plan to maybe run a feature highlighting some great books to read for each category, for anyone looking to embark on their own journey to read harder in 2016.

Here’s to reading harder in 2016 — and I challenge you all to join up and challenge yourselves as well!

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The Troop by Nick Cutter | Review

Posted January 18, 2016 by Tara in Review /// 1 Comment

The Troop by Nick Cutter | ReviewThe Troop by Nick Cutter
Series: standalone
Published by Gallery Books on February 25th 2014
Genres: Adult, Horror
Pages: 358
Format: hardcover
Source: Physical library book
Goodreads

Once a year, scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a three-day camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story and a roaring bonfire. But when an unexpected intruder—shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—stumbles upon their campsite, Tim and the boys are exposed to something far more frightening than any tale of terror. The human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare. An inexplicable horror that spreads faster than fear. A harrowing struggle for survival that will pit the troop against the elements, the infected...and one another.

This book is set on an island off Prince Edward Island in Canada. Now, when I think of Prince Edward Island, I think of one of my favorite books: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I think of our family vacation to the island in my childhood, where we camped through the quaint and touristy pastoral land. I think of friendly Canadians and rugged cliffs stretching down to the wild waves of the Atlantic. And now, I think of biological chaos and horror.

This book poo-poos all over my idyllic memories of Prince Edward Island by introducing a biological horror fit for nightmares. The story begins with five boys and their troop leader setting up camp on a remote island for a weekend of primitive camping. Cutter hints at the troop dynamics in the early pages, so it is clear that the harmony of the troop exists atop a sea of tensions rooted in the social world of adolescent boys — you’ve got the jock, the popular kid, the kid with an anger problem, the outcast, and the nerd who have all grown up together and each harbor their own issues with the group. They are all set for a weekend of trail blazing and cooking over the fire when a strange man shows up, looking horribly thin and painfully hungry.

I'm so scared right now. (Photo credit: Associated Press)
I’m so scared right now. (Photo credit: Associated Press)

So you know where this is going. Scarier than a zombie novel, the events that take place on this remote island are the result of a biological terror that shows no mercy. I won’t give away the job of discovering this horror for yourself, but, trust me…I don’t get squeamish about much, and this book made me shout “eww” multiple times. There were a few scenes in particular where Cutter found the perfect balance between the physical and psychological horror that made me exceptionally glad to never be in the situations these boys faced. It’s gory, it’s disgusting, and I couldn’t look away. I loved it.

For pure shock factor, The Troop did it right. However, I also require a good read to engage me with excellent storytelling and good writing. This is where the story fell short of an A (five star) read for me. The story itself is told in three types of narrative. The first is the events taking place on the island, which was the heart of the story. I felt this action was well-paced and packed a lot of punch. However, Cutter uses flashbacks (the second type of narrative) throughout the main narrative to shed light on the boys’ lives prior to the camping trip, and these flashbacks were incredibly cumbersome. I get the need to build characterization, but there were points when little actions introduced flashbacks that pulled me out of the story for several pages and felt entirely unnecessary in their length/quantity. A few flashbacks are fine, but this was just too many.

The third narrative device was my favorite — every few chapter, the story introduced documents from events happening off the island before, during, and after the events of the novel. These included documents about how this biological terror came to be, interviews with key people, and news articles. The backstory about the creation of the biological terror added a layer to this story bringing up big questions about human hubris, the dangers of science, human greed, and corporate greed. There are a lot of shitty people in this book who do a lot of shitty things and I liked being privvy to the story going on behind the scenes as much I enjoyed the boys on the island doing shitty things in response to a particularly terrible situation.

And, as for the writing itself: Cutter doesn’t shy away from gross descriptions. If ever a novel were aimed at older adolescent boys, this is it. There is an art to being appropriately gross without being ridiculous, and I think Cutter found that sweet spot for me (sometimes I’m like an adolescent boy…no shame!). However, the writing depends heavily on the shock value and descriptions and leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to nuanced character development and…well, nuance in general.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Troop was a highly enjoyable reading experience for me in the same way that I love breezing through a Jodi Picoult or James Patterson book: it’s fun in the moment, maybe something I’ll recommend to a specific friend, but not something I’ll put on my “best books I read in 2016” list. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes zombie novels and horror tales, but I’d also strongly advise against reading the book if you are appalled by violence against animals or bodily horrors. I’m following this on up with The Girl With All The Gifts, so we’ll see how that one goes next!

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2016 Printz Award Winners (And More!)

Posted January 11, 2016 by Tara in Events /// 0 Comments

Well, another year of the American Library Youth Media Awards has come to a close and the winners of most awards were announced this morning. This is like the Oscars of YA literature, so it’s #kindofabigdeal and I get excited about the results every year — I watched the live broadcast this morning while I brushed my teeth and did my make-up because I’m a little obsessed.

I did not follow the race as closely this year as I have in the past. My epic reading slump had a big role to play in that. However, I did follow the School Library Journal’s Someday My Printz Will Come blog over the past two months and had a good idea of what’s out there in kidlit land and what had a good chance of taking home a foil sticker — even if I didn’t have time to read through the major contenders and form my own opinions. But here are some highlights:

Michael L. Printz Award

The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

PRINTZ WINNER: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby [Goodreads]

bone gap

2016 printz honorsPRINTZ HONOR: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick [Goodreads]

PRINTZ HONOR: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez [Goodreads]

Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner

The Margaret A. Edwards Award, established in 1988, honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.

WINNER: David Levithan

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Me with David Levithan at NCTE in 2013.

SHUT. UP. Yes. Yes. This man does so much for YA and I think this was a fabulous pick for this award. I hadn’t even thought about him as a contender but he’s been on the YA radar for more than ten years…he’s definitely made an impact in this field. Levithan is one of the pioneers of queer YA — without him, we wouldn’t have books like Will Grayson, Will Grayson; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Boy Meets Boy, and The Realm of Possibility.

The Stonewall Book Award

Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award is given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.

STONEWALL YA WINNER: The Porcupine of Truth written by Bill Konigsberg [Goodreads]

stonewall winners 2016

STONEWALL YA HONOR: Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak [Goodreads]

The Morris Award

The Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

MORRIS WINNER: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda [Goodreads]

simon vs the homosapiens agenda

morris finalists 2016

MORRIS FINALIST: Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas [Goodreads]

MORRIS FINALIST: Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert [Goodreads]

MORRIS FINALIST: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes [my review]

MORRIS FINALIST: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore [Goodreads]

This list was probably the one that excited me the most. I loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and I believe that The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was, hands down, the best book I read in 2015. I’ve got Conviction queued up on my Kindle, too. Hands down, these are all great books and you can’t go wrong with a Morris book.

Many, many more books were honored today than I have mentioned here. Please check out the full list here if you want to read more. Which books were you excited to see take home medals today? What was overlooked? Share your thoughts!

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Most Anticipated Books in 2016

Posted January 8, 2016 by Tara in Let's Talk Books /// 7 Comments

One of my favorite activities every year is researching upcoming new releases and discovering new books and authors that I will want to explore in the following months. Even though I’m in a weird place when it comes to reading motivation and personal tastes, I still managed to set aside time to find titles that have piqued my interest! I tend to prefer standalone novels over series/trilogies, so this process is always filled with delightful surprises and books you should definitely put on your 2016 radar, too. Here are the new releases I am most excited to read this year:

A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Release Date: 3/1/2016

study in charlotte

Okay, so this book is a Sherlock…retelling? Sort of. The story involves Sherlock’s great-great-granddaughter, Charlotte, and Watson’s great-great-grandson, Jamie who have both landed at the same modern day boarding school. And, surprise surprise, they are thrust into solving a mystery together. Both are pretty similar to their famous family members, so the story serves as a way to reimagine Sherlock and Watson as modern teenage sleuths. I’m not big into the Sherlock Holmes world, but I’m big into mysteries AND boarding school books, so I’m hoping this one satisfies my love for both. (check it out on Goodreads)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Release Date: 3/22/2016

Wink Poppy Midnight

This would not normally be on my radar, but this seems to be a dark tale with the potential for unreliable narrators and dark, twisty-turny storytelling. The title comes from the names of the novel’s three protagonists. Wink is a mysterious neighbor girl. Poppy is the queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy. One is a hero, one is a villain, and one is a liar — but the first impression of which is which might be the wrong one. I love books with grey morality. Sign me up! (check it out on Goodreads)

The Girl Who Fell by Shannon M. Parker
Release Date: 3/1/2016

the girl who fell

This one could be hit or miss, but it sounds like something that might resonate with me as a reader. It is the story of Zephyr, a well-rounded high school senior who falls in love with her dream boy…and the relationship ends up becoming very possessive and unhealthy. I’m always interested in the messages that books send girls about relationships, and this book covers a realm of abuse that I’ve not read explicitly in YA (I’ve read books about emotional abuse that are not intentionally about abuse and lots of books about physical/sexual abuse). We’ll see if it passes muster with this overly-critical old book lady! (check it out on Goodreads)

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
Release date: 8/2/2016

enter title here

Like Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, this is the story of a teenage writer trying to juggle life, relationships, and a publishing contract. Reshma Kapoor knows her overachieving life is not interesting enough to be the subject of a book, so she purposefully embarks on a life worth writing about. She has the whole plot for her life-cum-novel in mind, but she finds out that you can’t script your own reality — no matter how hard you try. I love the premise of this and the look at the life of a teenage writer, so I’ll be picking this one up for some light reading over the summer (I picked up the ARC at NCTE). (check it out on Goodreads)

We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Release Date: 1/19/2016

we are the ants

Two things with this book. First, a reviewer on Goodreads said this is great for fans of Andrew Smith and AS King. That alone would draw me to a novel because those are two of my favorite authors. Second, THIS IS AN ALIEN BOOK. I’m still on the eternal quest for a good alien book and I’m hoping (HOPING!) that this could be it. It seems like the kind of literary, critically-acclaimed, rich, deep, and slightly wacky book that I tend to enjoy. Basically it is a story of a boy whose life is falling apart when he gets the chance, via his many encounters with aliens in regular abductions, to determine if he will push a big red button that will end the world. Bonus? It’s got a gay protagonist. Was this book written just for me? Seems like it. (check it out on Goodreads)

There may be some honorable mentions to this list (The Incident on the Bridge by Laura McNeal and The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas) but I decided to just stick to five books this year. I have a TBR stack filling an entire book shelf (seriously, there are probably 100 books kicking around from conferences and gifts and whatnot — even with my successful 2015 book buying ban, I still have tons more books than I had in January 2015) and I want the freedom to just read what strikes my fancy as I work through those this year.

So that’s what’s on my radar this spring. What books are you most excited for in 2016?

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This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp | Review

Posted January 4, 2016 by Tara in Review /// 2 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp | ReviewThis Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Suspense, Contemporary
Pages: 292
Format: E-book
Source: ARC from Edelweiss, ARC from NetGalley
Goodreads

10:00 a.m.The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
10:02 a.m.The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.
10:05 Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Well, if this book was relevant in June when I read it, it’s even more relevant now. Those following the news know that mass shootings are now almost a daily occurrence in America, and many shooters are targeting locations where we think we feel safe: churches, holiday office parties, and schools. So it is no surprise that adolescents are thinking about these issues. This is Where It Ends offers a glimpse into a brief, but horrifying, fifty-four minutes of a fictional school shooting, highlighting the events leading up to the shooting and the minute-by-minute timeline of events as they occur though the eyes of four protagonists.

This is Where It Ends is definitely shocking and sad. This book does not sugar coat school shootings and the violence they inflict on both victims and bystanders. I’m noting this because most YA tends to have violence occur offstage or euphemistically — this book places the violence and fear at center stage. People die. I always have to give a nod to authors trying to achieve a sense of realism in YA, and I get that Nijkamp was trying to do that. However, it came across as artificial in the end. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a constructed reality that never quite pushed at my emotions in the way I know the book intended. The character development in the story fell short and, thus, the book as a whole fell short of my expectations.

First, the author does a wonderful job at including diverse characters, explicitly noting that some of the protagonists are queer and/or people of color. Kudos! However, the multiple points of view were very confusing for the the first 40% of the story, which made it hard to be fully present in the novel. I really had a hard time remembering who each of the characters were and differentiating their narrative voices. Why is it such a trend lately to have four+ narrators in a 300 page novel? It didn’t work for me in We All Looked Up and it doesn’t work here. Although this is a very fast read, a few of the characters felt flat (our shooter, in particular) because the multiple POVs made it hard to fully develop them all in such a short, action-packed read.

If you enjoy reading the dark stuff, like I do, this may still be something you want to pick up. I did actually enjoy reading it because I enjoy tension and danger in a story, it just doesn’t stand up to a critical eye. Young adults will like it because the topic is timely and the details don’t shy away from the horrors of what is happening, but more sophisticated readers may find the danger sensationalized and the characters lackluster.

FINAL GRADE: D+

Ultimately, this is yet another case of a book being too big for itself. The premise packs a lot of promise, but the story isn’t able to deliver. I feel like this has been happening to me a lot lately. Is YA just running out of new ideas? Or have I hit reading saturation? I’m leaning toward the latter, which is why I took so much time off from reading. Anyways, I bumped this up a bit because of the attention to diversity, but it is not one I will likely purchase or reread in the future.

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Bout of Books 15

Posted January 3, 2016 by Tara in Events /// 3 Comments

I am thrilled to be kicking off 2016 with participation in my first read-a-thon: Bout of Books 15!

BoB15-200x200

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 15 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.

My plan for this read-a-thon is to finish all of the books I started this fall, including:

  1. Disclaimer: A Novel by Renee Knight
  2. Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer
  3. The Girl With All The Gifts by MR Carey
  4. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker
  5. Fangirls and the Media: Creating Characters, Consuming Culture edited by Adrienne Trier-Bieniek
  6. The Troop by Nick Cutter

Progress

Monday 1/4
Number of pages I’ve read today: 86 (casual) and 32 (academic)
Number of books I’ve finished today: 1
Total number of pages I’ve read: 118
Total number of books I’ve read: 2
Books: Writing You Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day (finished), Fangirls and the Media (finished), Disclaimer: A Novel (52%), Ethnography in Education (12%)
Challenges: introduce yourself #insixwords

Tuesday 1/5
Number of pages I’ve read today: 299 (casual) and 42 (academic)
Number of books I’ve finished today: 1
Total number of pages I’ve read: 459
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
Books: Disclaimer (finished), The Girl With All The Gifts (30%), I Crawl Through It (20%), Ethnography in Education (25%)
Challenges: Would You Rather?

Wednesday 1/6
Number of pages I’ve read today: 60 (casual), 33 (academic)
Number of books I’ve finished today: none
Total number of pages I’ve read: 552
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
Books: Girl With All The Gifts (34%), I Crawl Through It (25%), Ethnography in Education (47%)
Challenges: (none)

Thursday 1/7
Number of pages I’ve read today: 44 (academic)
Number of books I’ve finished today: none
Total number of pages I’ve read: 596
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
Books: Ethnography in Education (75%)
Challenges: (none)

Friday 1/8
Number of pages I’ve read today: 143 (casual), 28 (academic)
Number of books I’ve finished today: none
Total number of pages I’ve read: 693
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
Books: The Troop (55%), Ethnography in Education (82%)
Challenges:

Saturday 1/9
Number of pages I’ve read today: 151 (casual)
Number of books I’ve finished today: 1
Total number of pages I’ve read: 846
Total number of books I’ve read: 4
Books: The Troop (finished)
Challenges:

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