Saturday, October 31, 2009

Review: Ripley's Believe It or Not! Seeing is Believing!

Tags: nonfiction, facts, science, humans, animals, weird

Rating: 4 out of 5


Behold, probably one of the finest collections of strange, interesting, colorfully presented, and jaw-dropping facts around today. I spent a weekend looking through this book with my boyfriend (both of us are self-proclaimed nerds for collections of fun facts) and we couldn’t get enough of the short, weird blurbs and pretty pictures.

SEEING IS BELIEVING! is organized into sections of particular interests. There are chapters for facts relating to people, natural phenomena, technology, the animal kingdom, and more. If you’re an equal-opportunity science lover like me, no page is more or less interesting than the other: all are colorful, well-designed, and frightfully interesting. When I took breaks from reading it with my boyfriend to do some schoolwork, every his frequent cries of fascination or horror would inexorably draw me back to read whatever cool page he was on.

This book is not one you can read in one sitting, and indeed you would not want to. Instead, it’s perfect for the occasional browse, for when you have five minutes to open to a random page and devour it. My boyfriend loved that it was a perfect read for those with a short attention span, as you’re never pressured to read the facts in a particular order or amount to understand what it’s about.

My one complaint regards the construction of the book. While I was reading, the white “binding strip” that’s supposed to be located in the spine kept on sliding out, to my frustration. Whether or not this is an anomaly, I do not know, and I think that the book’s intended audience—fact-loving kids or science nerds—will not mind.

Overall, SEEING IS BELIEVING! is an ideal thirty-dollar Christmas or birthday present for the kid who begs for a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records each year it’s printed. (And, uh, yeah, while I didn’t beg, I certainly didn’t mind getting it for a present!) Its color, layout, and carefully selected thousands of crazy facts will be sure to shock and impress anyone who dares to look beyond the cool holographic blinking eye on the cover.

Similar Books
Guinness Book of World Records

Recommended for: facts-loving people of all ages

Facts (variety, interest, presentation): 4/5
Visuals (pictures, quality, layout): 4/5
Content layout, book construction: 3/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Ripley Publishing / August 2009 / Hardcover / $28.95

Thank you, Carolina, for sending me a copy to review!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Featured Blogger (17): McKenzie of The Book Owl!

Today's Friday Featured Blogger is McKenzie, the prodigious high school student who runs the new but already brilliant YA book blog The Book Owl. McKenzie's also writing reviews for other review sites such as Teens Read Too because the authors and publicists snatched her up quickly, knowing that she's got a way with reviews. Read on to learn more about McKenzie!

1. So! Tell us about yourself in a few short sentences.

Hey there. My name's McKenzie (aka The Book Owl.) I'm a sixteen-year-old girl who loves reading and writing. I live in the gorgeous Northwest with my family and our 13 sheep. I live in the middle of nowhere, really. I'm about 25 miles from the nearest big city. When I'm not reading and doing loads of schoolwork (bleh), you can find me playing soccer, lacrosse, or volleyball.

2. Tell us about your blog. When did you start it and why? Where did the name come from? What interesting things can visitors expect?

I've just recently started my blog. August 6th to be exact. I started my blog because, after reading so many books, I could never keep books straight. I couldn't remember if I'd read the book or not, or if I even liked it. That's where the blog came in. I'd thought about it for a while, and I decided I'd start one, simply to keep track of books I've read.

The name, The Book Owl, came from the fact that I read day and night. I've really grown to love blogging; the atmosphere is so wonderful. I've yet to meet someone I didn't like.

3. What are some of your favorite assigned school readings?

Hmmm, favorite school assigned readings... I'd definitely have to pick Animal Farm [by George Orwell]. That was one of the first assigned readings that actually made me feel a ton of emotion. By the end of the book I was so mad at those stupid pigs! It put me in a terrible mood, but it really made me think about how something like that could happen. I also enjoyed Watership Down [by Richard Adams], although it's been a long time since I've read it.

4. How did you come to love reading? Was there anyone in particular who influenced you?

Reading has just always been a part of my life. I've been reading nonstop ever since I learned how to. No one in particular has influenced me, but there have always been teachers encouraging me never to stop.

5. Name 3 favorite books and why you think everyone should read them.

5. It actually isn't that hard for me to pick three of my favorite books. These ones have really touched me and made an impact on me.

Memoirs of a Geisha [by Arthur Golden]: This book is so enthralling and has such a profound impact on everyone who reads it. I've never felt the same way about books after reading this. Memoirs was really the first book to introduce me to what true, beautiful literature is. And I'll never settle for anything less because of it.

A Northern Light [by Jennifer Donnelly]: Although maybe not as well known, it is still simply stunning. The way the words flow and move together is amazing. This is the only book that I've ever actually stopped reading just to pronounce a line again because it was so eloquent. Plus, you'll learn new words while reading this because of the main character's obsession with words.

Abhorsen Trilogy [by Garth Nix]: I'm not much of a fan of science fiction, but this trilogy by Garth Nix was just wow. My friend said these were a must read, and I was skeptical at first. But the writing and the intricate storyline were amazing. I was completely entranced by these books, unable to put them down. A must read, even if you can't stand sci-fi.

6. That's a great variety of beautiful and interesting books. I love A Northern Light as well. Now, if you could have dinner with 3-5 favorite authors, who would they be, and what would you ask them?

I would invite J.K. Rowling, Jennifer Donnelly, Arthur Golden, George Orwell, and Charlotte Bronte. I don't think I would have anything particular to ask them, besides "Are you happy with your book(s)?" I would much prefer to talk about whatever came up and have a casual conversation about many things.

7. What are some your guilty pleasures?

This is easy. My guilty pleasure is Lost, the TV show. I've watched the 1st season three times through (once on TV, once with an old friend, and once with my best friend and her family) and the 2nd season 2.5 times through (my best friend and I are almost done watching it.) That show is simply amazing. It's so complicated and confusing. But that's what I love most about it. I rarely see what's coming. It's really fun to watch episodes again to see what hints and clues I missed the first time around.

8. Complete this sentence: If I didn't spend so much time reading, I would...

If I didn't spend so much time reading, I honestly don't know what I'd be doing. I'd have way too much free time, and I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

9. What are some of your favorite YA blogs to read? Were there any particular bloggers who helped you while you were getting started on your blog?

Besides your blog, I love The Book Butterfly and Tales of Whimsy. There weren't any particular bloggers who helped me out, but many commented on posts and were very encouraging. Those people make me want to blog.

10. Ooh, I'll have to check those 2 blogs out, thanks! What are some things you just LOVE to receive for presents? :)

Books, obviously. I love unique gifts as well. One of my friends just bought me an antique wedding ring, I believe. I haven't actually received it yet, but she hinted at it. I enjoy wearing rings, the wilder the better, so those always make great presents.

11. And finally, name 2 things about yourself that can spark conversation.

I took karate lessons for seven years, and I'm a first degree black belt. That one always gets one of two reactions: the scared, eyes-wide look, or the (not) humorous "Oh, I won't mess with you then." You wouldn't believe how many times people have reacted that way. Get some new material people. :P

I've hyper extended both of my knees as well. My right one two times, and my left one once. And I'm only sixteen. (That's weird to say, as I just turned sixteen about a week ago!) All three times have been because of soccer. Now my knees creek when I move them in certain directions.


Ooh, another karate person. I like. :) Thanks for answering my questions, McKenzie! She's currently very busy right now with school (hey, I can relate to that as well), but consider stopping by The Book Owl to drop her a comment!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review and Interview: Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (T2T)

Tags: YA, obesity, self-esteem, body image, football

Rating: 4 out of 5


High school sophomore Andrew Zansky is 307 pounds of fat, and as a result he doesn’t fit in anywhere. He’s awkward around his perfection-seeking family and ignored in school by his more beautiful classmates. When Andrew falls for the beautiful new girl, April, he decides, much to his geeky best friend’s chagrin, to join the football team—partially to impress her and partially because he wants so badly to fit in somewhere.

To his surprise, Andrew is halfway decent at football, and as he begins to grow close with his teammates, he finds that his “stock” has risen. However, Andrew doesn’t really want to play football, however, and he begins to uncover things about his teammates and April that unsettle him and make him question all his actions. What will he do to make sure he stays true to himself?


It’s been so long since I’ve been impressed by and enjoyed a book about an obese kid’s attempt to fit in at his/her high school, but FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE had me grinning, cringing, and unable to put it down. Allen Zadoff writes convincingly of Andrew’s misadventures and eventual self-discovery.

As the protagonist, Andrew is charming without trying too hard, a perfectly proportioned teenager (emotionally, if not physically). Likewise, every other teenager in this book has his or her ups and downs, good sides and bad sides. O., the quarterback who befriends Andrew, is smooth at the top of the social pyramid and yet has real worries and doubts; April, Andrew’s love interest, has legitimate reasons for acting two-faced. Zadoff achieves what many other writers cannot: an effortless three-dimensional characterization that defies black-and-white and stays true to the complexities of adolescent nature.

FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE brings together the best of YA realistic fiction—empathetic protagonist, complex characters, and a relatable conflict—to be a lingering read. This is a book that cannot get too much attention, as it will be worth all the talk and badgering to just read this book already.

Similar Authors
Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things)
Maureen Johnson
John Green (An Abundance of Katherines)
Don Calame (Swim the Fly)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - I like it! It's an original way of displaying the title, hinting at what the book is going to be about while not automatically alienating anyone from picking it up.

Thank you, Stephanie at EgmontUSA, for sending me an ARC for review!

Interview with Allen Zadoff

I have had the pleasure of asking the awesome Allen Zadoff a few questions. Besides for being refreshingly honest, Allen is also hilarious, and his answers and opinions on difficult subjects such as body image and obesity are worth hearing about. Read on, beloved blog readers!

1. Besides for having the same initials as you (which may or may not have been intentional), how else is your protagonist, Andrew Zansky, similar to the teenage you?

The same initials? I had no idea! :-) But honestly, Andrew Zansky and Allen Zadoff have a lot of things in common, the largest being our bodies. I was fat in high school, not quite as big as Andy, but big enough. I couldn’t fit into the desks at school, I hated being teased, and I had a mortal fear of all things related to gym class. There’s a certain mindset when you’re big in the world. A normal-sized person does not sit down, hear the chair creak, and fear they might end up sprawled on the floor in an embarrassing heap. But a large person walks into a restaurant and looks first at the chairs. Are they big enough? If there are booths, will there be enough room for my stomach to clear the space between the booth and the table? I wanted the hero of FOOD, GIRLS to share this world view, and I wanted to use his weight as a jumping off point for a discussion of what it feels like to be different in the world, not just for big kids but for everyone.

2. Food, Girls is one of very few books I've read that feature Asian American characters whose race is not a significantly troublesome part of their identity. What is your experience with and interest in Asian culture, and how did that translate into your writing?

Maybe it’s not a significant problem in the novel, but it’s a problem nonetheless. One of the themes of Food, Girls is that we often struggle to change who we are, when who we are is just fine. It’s all in your perspective. The romantic lead in the story, April Park, is a Korean girl who wears blue contacts and gets her teeth whitened by her dentist father. April doesn’t talk much about her struggles with identity, but I tried to show it in subtle ways. She’s under enormous pressure to succeed from her father, and she’s clearly unhappy with her appearance. (By the way I know a lot of Korean girls in L.A. who have had eye surgery. I just don’t understand it.) I think April’s really struggling, trying to fit in socially, and also trying to find her place in the caucasian world. On the other hand, she has pride in her culture. At one point Andrew mentions Sumo wrestling, and she pointedly says to him, “I’m Korean. Sumo is Japanese. We’re not all the same, you know.”

This is my experience of Asian culture from a caucasian perspective. Many white people see “Asian” as being one big culture. It’s usually not because they’re racist; they just don’t know. It’s a lack of exposure in my opinion. I lived in Japan for a time, I visited southeast Asia, and I live and work in Los Angeles where we have a massive Korean community, the largest outside of Seoul. I’ve had a number of Asian friends over the years, mostly Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. So I know how distinctive the cultures are, and how ridiculous it is to see them as only one thing. But I had Andy in FOOD, GIRLS makes that exact mistake.

If I could go back and write the novel again, I’d give this area a little more attention because I think I didn’t do quite enough with it.

3. Tell us a bit about your writing coach job. What is the best part of that job? What are some interesting and crazy things that have happened to you on that job?

I love coaching other writers because it gives me the opportunity to share with them what I didn’t know when I was a young writer. I was so focused on success and writing well, and it messed me up for a long time. When I got to Hollywood, it only got worse. There’s a lot of pressure to succeed in that world. It took a lot of years, but what I eventually learned about writing is that it’s not about being a genius or being famous, but about doing the work to tell the story in your heart. So many people have a desire to tell a story, and they’re worried about whether they’re “good” or not. I think it’s better to stop worrying about being good and start asking questions about your story. What does my hero want? What is he/she willing to do to get it? How far is he/she willing to go? What does he/she learn at the end of the story? When I keep my focus on the story, I’m in the process rather than the results.

4. What do you wish you knew about over-eating and body image when you were a teenager?

I wish I knew how to stop overeating and love myself! But I’ve found that’s a lifetime journey for me. I wish I knew that you don’t have to be a certain size to be okay. This might be obvious to some people, but it wasn’t to me. I thought the world was divided into fat and thin, and love only went in one direction, towards the thin people. Today I understand that one size does not fit all. With that said, my overeating was more than just a little problem; it turned into a full blown eating disorder, and most eating disorders get worse over time. That’s what happened to me. In high school, I didn’t even know that men could have eating disorders. I just thought I was fat. I wasted a lot of years trying to control my eating because I didn’t know I needed help to get better.

5. As your website says, you've done a significant bit of traveling in your lifetime. Where was your favorite place to live, and why?

I love big cities with lots of street culture—walking cities like London, New York, and Tokyo. I think it’s because I grew up in the suburbs, and I was a really lonely kid. I couldn’t wait to get where the action was. It’s ironic that I love those cities given that I live in Los Angeles, the center of car culture. We never walk in L.A. If an Angeleno has to go across the street, they get in their car and drive the 50 feet. It’s hysterical.

6. So far, you've written an adult memoir and YA realistic fiction. Are there any other genres you'd like to try writing in, or other particular issues/topics you'd like to write about in the future?

There are so many things I’d like to write about, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to do them all. As a reader, I’m a secret fan of thrillers, mysteries, and even horror. So I’d love to try my hand at genre writing as well. But I have a particular love for realism, getting deeply inside the psychology of a character. I’m currently writing another novel for EgmontUSA. It’s not a sequel, and it doesn’t deal with weight issues. But it is contemporary and realistic along the lines of Food, Girls. It’s set in the world of high school theater, a place where I spent a lot of time.

7. What good books would you recommend to teens struggling with their weight and body image?

Is it terrible of me to recommend my own book? I wrote a memoir two years ago called Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin. I think it’s a really fun and gentle introduction to a very serious problem, and teens might relate. I also recommend Geneen Roth’s book, When Food Is Love. It’s one of the first books that woke me up to the kind of eating I was doing. Beyond that I’d say talk to your doctor, find a good therapist or counselor who deals with eating disorders. Don’t try to do it alone. And know that there is a huge recovery community out there, people of all ages who have struggled with overeating, bulimia, anorexia, and over-exercising. There really is a lot of hope, but when you’re trapped in the food or body obsession, it seems like there’s none at all. This to me is one of the most painful aspects of food disorders—they seem to manufacture hopelessness and self-obsession, and in my experience it’s almost impossible to break that cycle on your own.


Thank you Allen, for your insightful answers! I hope you consider checking out Allen's YA debut, Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have, whether it's for yourself, a friend, or that kid who you think would really benefit from reading a funny book about a serious problem. It really is a fantastic read!

This post brought to you by Traveling to Teens!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (36)

Stupid Cupid by Rhonda Stapleton

Felicity's no ordinary teen matchmaker...she's a cupid!

Felicity Walker believes in true love. That's why she applies for a gig at the matchmaking company Cupid's Hollow. But when Felicity gets the job, she learns that she isn't just a matchmaker...she's a cupid! (There's more than one of them, you know.)

Armed with a hot pink, tricked-out PDA infused with the latest in cupid magic (love arrows shot through email), Felicity works to meet her quota of successful matches. But when she bends the rules of cupidity by matching her best friend Maya with three different boys at once, disaster strikes. Felicity needs to come up with a plan to set it all right, pronto, before she gets fired and before Maya ends up with her heart split in three. [summary from Goodreads]

I've heard Rhonda Stapleton described as a fantastic and pee-in-your pants, split-your-guts-out hilarious writer, and this sounds like a fun concept that can be made heartfelt and memorable at the hands of a talented writer, so I'm interested to read this! Occasionally I just want a fun and light, but still SMART, read. This one sounds like it could be that, what with a rule-breaking protagonist and a multi-male love snafu. Sign me up, please!

Stupid Cupid is the first of a series, and will be released in paperback by Simon Pulse on December 22, 2009.

And now, back to the hole of hectic schoolwork I go. Sigh...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle

Tags: juvenile fiction, middle grade, friendship

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Katie-Rose, Violet, Yasaman, and Camilla have hardly anything in common, except that they’re all going into fifth grade at the same elementary school. Katie-Rose is a little spastic and spends most of her time behind a film camera, but still desires some female friends. Violet is the new girl with a sad family secret. Yasaman gets made fun of for her head-scarf, but she’s brilliant with computers. And Milla’s having trouble trying to remain friends with the popular Modessa and her crony, Quin.

Then, on the first day of school, Violet asks Katie-Rose for directions, Katie-Rose flings her directional arm into Yasaman, who trips and falls into Camilla, making her spill the contents of her backpack. In the process, Milla’s lucky bobblehead turtle is lost, and the drama that ensues might set the whole fifth grade in an uproar…or bring four different girls together in friendship.


Lauren Myracle’s writerly charm and humor persist even as she delves into a sort of chick lit for the elementary school lot. Her characters are fun and real, and the issues they face and the lessons they learn—what it means to be a friend—will touch the hearts of readers of any age.

There are pretty much no weak points in LUV YA BUNCHES. The four girls, who each get to tell their stories via different mediums, are as different yet ultimately as compatible as you and your group of friends. Each girl genuinely has heart, an important character quality that all too often goes missing in the course of writing a story. As a result, readers will want these girls for their best friends—or sisters, or daughters, depending on your age!

Perhaps most remarkable about Lauren’s writing, though, is her ability to incidentally include details that can be big issues on their own. For example, Camilla has two mothers, Yasaman is Muslim, Violet’s mother has issues we don’t usually see in children’s literature, and Katie-Rose is half-Asian. It’s remarkable how effortlessly these details fold into the story, becoming simply an important but not overbearing part of their identity. We need more of those kinds of literature nowadays.

Overall, LUV YA BUNCHES is an absolutely perfect read for elementary-age girls and their mothers. With a heartwarming cast of characters, endless entertaining situations, and an important message of friendship bringing out the best in you, it’s a winner for everyone. Pick it up, and you won’t be able to stop giggling and smiling, reliving the best—and worst—of fifth grade!

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Abrams / Oct. 1, 2009 / Hardcover / $15.95

Thank you, Abrams, for sending me an ARC via a ShelfAwareness promotion.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Presenting...A Faustian Writing Contest!

Dina and Daniel Nayeri, co-authors of Another Faust (Candlewick / Aug. 2009), have put together this FANTASTIC contest for all writers. If you're an aspiring writer and want to take a crack at this topic, read on to see Daniel's explanation, and get excited!

Another Another Faust Contest

Hi everyone. Dina and I are about to kick off a month-long tour for our book, Another Faust, and we want to do it by announcing a contest! We are looking for the most promising writers out there (that’s YOU). And then we want to showcase their work, so that all of the Internet can bask in their awesome writing might (and, you know, give them prizes).


We want you to write your own short story, re-imagining of the Faustian Bargain. (For inspiration, check out Bedazzled, Simpsons' “Tree House of Horrors IV,” and The Little Mermaid). It can be about anything you like (but let’s keep it PG-13, and under 3,000 words), and it’s open to everyone.

All you have to do is send your entry to before January 31, 2010.

Rules and details can be found here:

Make sure to read them so you don’t get DQed!

And the winner gets all kinds of sweetness:

  • A signed copy of Another Faust
  • A handwritten deleted scene
  • A featured article & interview on our site
  • An author’s galley of the sequel Another Pan

Though we’ll feature the top five on our site for comments, the judging WON’T happen by popular vote (so basically, we don't care which contestant has the most friends). Dina and I will personally read them.

So, spread the word! Tweet, retweet, forward, thread, spread, embed this post.

Good luck!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Life, NaNo, and Post-Apocalyptic Author Signings

Hey all! My favorite season (and month, except for that cold spell last week--ick to the thousandth degree) has been chugging along, and I've been finding myself horrendously behind on reading blog posts and reading review books. The following is a "Friday Fabulous"-like (but also sort of unlike) post in which I endeavour to explor what I've been up to and to justify my reason for not being able to be around on the blogosphere so much.

1. First things first: SCHOOL WORK. There' much of it! I'm trying to read four different novels for three classes right now, along with the usual number of shorter articles and small weekly assignments. I mean, it's all well and good that I'm actually enjoying the books I'm reading for my classes right now (thank God the Dickens phase was over), but it means very little time for non-school reading, and I know I am behind on review books. And then there is that tiny little devil inside of me that keeps on seeing interesting new books and going, "Ooh! *buys*" Very bad for my TBR mountain range.

2. Who else is doing NaNoWriMo? My username is stephxsu: click on it to go to my page and make me a buddy! (I have yet to find a way to better identify my NaNo profile's URL other than with the number they assigned me; if anyone else can find a helpful search feature on the website, let me know!). I have my novel idea decently fleshed out in my head right now, and hope to get it down into a decently detailed plot summary or outline by the end of this weekend. Actually, it has to be done by next Wednesday, because my Nano project is doubling as my final project in my Children's Lit class. (Yes! I get to write a children's book for my final project!!) Of course, what that ends up meaning is that I will have even LESS time to read non-school books and hang out in the blogosphere. *sigh* Multitasking is not my strong point.

Here's a sentence to describe my Nano project: middle-grade contemporary fiction on racial prejudice... with a paranormal twist. Intrigued? Excited? Absolutely friggin' horrified? Stay tuned for possibly more info as the days go along. It might be fun for me to write a post about what encouraged me to write this story.

3. On a far happier note, last Thursday, during my school's October break, I got the wonderful opportunity to attend a B&N Post-Apocalyptic Teen Fiction Panel in NYC that featured the spectacular Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan), James Dashner (The Maze Runner - AWESOME AWESOME AWESOMENESS. You haven't read it yet? WHY haven't you read it yet?), Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), and Michael Grant (Gone, Book 2: Hunger). It was definitely the best author event that I've been to in months, and I was really happy that one of my brothers got to go with me, even though it was a school night. (The other brother was at college and was really bummed that he couldn't go see Scott with us - we're a trio of Scott fans.)

After Scott's awesome slideshow, a nice Q&A session with lots of intriguing--and occasionally slightly disturbing--questions, and presentations of two incredible took trailers, it was time for the signing. I was really happy to have the chance to talk with James Dashner, as we had exchanged emails a few times in August/September and I wanted to tell him how amazing I thought The Maze Runner was. So I was completely flabbergasted when I told him who I was, and he knew me!! We chatted about my blog and his book (which has a 100,000-copy initial print run and is now moving into Walmarts, Targets, and Costcos everywhere--that's powerful stuff!). James told me a little more news about the Taiwanese translation of The Maze Runner, which I'm looking forward to seeing since that's my "mother country," if you so please, and we made plans for an interview on my blog in the near future. It was absolutely incredible to meet a brilliant author destined for bestseller-dom and find that he is completely down-to-earth. Definitely one of the highlights of the evening for me.

That is a picture of James talking about his book, with Scott and Carrie looking on. Immediately after this my camera died, so that was the only picture I got. Sigh.

Then, my brother and I got to speak to Scott Westerfeld, who, when I introduced myself, said something along the lines of, "Oh yes! I know you from Twitter." Talk about my jaw wanting to hit the floor. (In case any of the aforementioned authors are reading this--dear God this is one of those moments when I'm not sure if I want them to read this or not--I... well, I'm not sure. You tell me. Moving on.) Scott is one of those authors whose books basically marked important passages in my high school years, and I get extremely shy and tongue-tied around people I respect, admire, and want to get to know, so you can imagine what I--and my brother, who was standing mutely next to me--was like. But he was a great guy, and signed all of our books happily. (When I told my away-at-college brother that I had gotten his first Midnighters book signed and personalized to him by Scott, he freaked out. In a happy way. It was cute. But pretend you didn't read that so he won't come down to PA and try to kill me.)

This is the picture of what the title page of my copy of Uglies now looks like. Cool-ified, isn't it?

It was an unforgettable night overall, and I was definitely on a cloud for, like, a day and a half afterwards. I look forward to hopefully having more positive experiences at author signings in the future!


Okay, that was, uh, all I wanted to say for now, I think. I should probably go back to doing some more work before I potentially go out tonight, even though it's pouring and I'd just rather stay home and do some more happy work. So if by any freaky chance of nature you were wondering what I've been up to, now you now. I'm excited for NaNo!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

D.J. Schwenk, Book 3

Tags: YA, farming, basketball, college decisions, love, self-confidence

Rating: 5 out of 5


After the football fiasco and taking care of her older brother Win after his paralyzing accident, D.J. Schwenk is happy to settle back into a comfortable routine of playing basketball for her high school team in rural Red Bend, Wisconsin. But try as she might, she can’t entirely escape the limelight. D.J. has college decisions to make if she wants to get an athletic scholarship—and she really needs one to go to college. Problem is, colleges want leaders on the court, and D.J.’s never been one for speaking out.

D.J. also has troubles in matters of the heart. Her good friend Beaner asks her out, and she isn’t sure how to respond to this new treatment. Then, Brian Nelson comes back into her life, after breaking her heart and letting her down more times than she wants to count. Will D.J. learn to take some risks and step outside her comfort zone for a chance to attain happiness and self-achievement?


After a lengthy detour into Win’s physical recovery, I very happily return to a D.J.-centered novel…and am far from disappointed. Indeed, I am utterly in love with FRONT AND CENTER. It is a perfectly written and sweet conclusion that won’t leave D.J. devotees disappointed.

It is a sign of great talent that an author can write a protagonist who is rather severely flawed in her thinking and self-concept, and yet is utterly lovable. D.J. has such low confidence in herself that you just want to beat her over the head with a stick and then give her a great big hug and a pep talk. D.J. is often infuriating, but she approaches everything with such a freshness that you cannot be angry at her. Instead, you will laugh with her, cry with her, and all throughout, cheer her on.

The power of the characters return in full force. The way D.J. narrates her story, there are no weak characters: everyone has a purpose and their own identity. All of the complex character development guarantees that you will fall in love with some, if not all, of them. Brian Nelson in particular is a sweetheart, and fans of him from the earlier books will appreciate his growth and maturation alongside D.J.’s.

The D.J. books contain remarkably authentic, yet relatable, details about situations involving rural living and sports. Even if you have no experience with either, D.J.’s candid and unassuming narration will make you fall right into her world and never want to come out. The particulars of both lifestyles are extraordinarily well researched, the in-school student dynamics realistic and relatable.

If you’re looking for a book containing a strong female protagonist, a contemporary story with equal parts excellent plotting and characterization, a sweet but not overbearing romance, tomboys, and lots of laughs, don’t hesitate to check out Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s books about D.J. Schwenk, starting with DAIRY QUEEN. I’m sad that the series has to end, but beyond satisfied at how Murdock elegantly ties everything together for a hopeful future. This is a series that should not be missed!

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
E. Lockhart
Libba Bray

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Houghton Mifflin / Oct. 19, 2009 / Hardcover / $16.00

Basically, if you don't read this series, I will be forced to hunt you down and ask, WHY???? WHY NOT???!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (35)

Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham

A young girl sets out to save her sick mother and records her adventures in quilt pieces.

Ludelphia Bennett may be blind in one eye, but she can still put in a good stitch. Ludelphia sews all the time, especially when things go wrong.

But when Mama goes into labor early and gets deathly ill, it seems like even quilting won’t help. That’s when Ludelphia decides to do something drastic—leave Gee’s Bend for the very first time. Mama needs medicine that can only be found miles away in Camden. But that doesn’t stop Ludelphia. She just puts one foot in front of the other.

What ensues is a wonderful, riveting and sometimes dangerous adventure. Ludelphia weathers each challenge in a way that would make her mother proud, and ends up saving the day for her entire town.

Set in 1932 and inspired by the rich quilting history of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, Leaving Gee’s Bend is a delightful, satisfying story of a young girl facing a brave new world. [summary from Goodreads]

I'm not a big historical fiction reader, but I REALLY love middle-grade historical fiction that features a protagonist with a strong voice, vivid period details, and a heart-wrenching sense of obstacle and eventual triumph. Leaving Gee's Bend sounds like it will have all of that! Plus, I love when books have physically disabled protagonists: too often protagonists are physically perfect, even if they themselves don't think so or realize it. Middle-grade fiction is going incredibly strong these days, and this book sounds like it will be yet another treasured addition to the shelves! Oh! and also, the cover is gorgeous. I mean, look at it. Sooo pretty and attention-worthy. I love it!

Leaving Gee's Bend will be published by Putnam Juvenile on January 7, 2010.

What are YOU waiting on this Wednesday?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Author Interview with Lauren Bjorkman!

I reviewed Lauren Bjorkman's debut novel, My Invented Life, here yesterday, and if you haven't checked it out yet, you really should! It's a perfect blend of entertainment and, er, thought-provoking-ness, and I was lucky enough to have Lauren answer a few of my questions to share with you. Hope you  enjoy learning about Lauren and her book in this interview!

1. Hello, Lauren! Can you tell us your motivation behind writing this book?

There was drama around my high school reunion when many of my classmates came out. Afterwards, certain stories kept haunting me, until I realized I had to write about sexual identity.

And I have a sister, so I know how intense and wonderful that can be :D

2. Roz is snarky yet vulnerable, open-minded but unknowingly naive and blind. How much of yourself do you see in Roz?

I love how you describe Roz! I was way shy in high school and probably too considerate and understanding. So it was satisfying to write Roz’s snarky comments. I can think snarky thoughts, of course, but I rarely express them. Everyone is vulnerable, in my opinion. Some people just hide it better than others. I was definitely naïve in my teen years, but not so much anymore. I enjoyed writing Roz’s obliviousness.

3. Which authors have influenced your writing style in My Invented Life?

It’s hard for me to analyze my own work in that way. Instead I’ll tell you some of the authors I especially admire—John Green, Carolyn Mackler, and Ellen Wittlinger. I don’t believe I write like them, but they have definitely influenced me. A recent review in Publisher’s Weekly said my story evoked David Levithan and E. Lockhart. David Levithan’s novel Boy Meets Boy showed me that a book with “issues” can be a romp. And E. Lockhart. EEEEEEEEEEE!

4. Oh, wow, those are worthy comparisons! What was your relationship with your sister like when you were Roz's age?

My sister, Jolene, is three years older than me. I totally worshipped her like Roz worships Eva. The single year we overlapped in high school, we barely talked to each other, after being close for many years. The reasons were different than those for Roz and Eva. But the sadness I felt about the distance between us inspired me to write My Invented Life. We’re close now, btw.

5. I'm very glad to hear that! :) So what is your favorite Shakespeare play?

I’m terrible at choosing favorites. I really love his romantic comedies, Much Ado About Nothing in particular. In the tragedies department, I’ll go with King Lear because it was the first Shakespeare play to really grip me, although I have a thing for Othello, too. Told you I can’t decide.

6. Hehe, it's okay. Personally I'm a fan of Othello. Now, what is your favorite part about being a published author?

Imagining people reading my book—and they’re laughing or crying.

7. Got any favorite autumn/Halloween traditions?

Dressing up is so much fun. Last year I was struck-by-lightning-girl. I also like to pick apples for cider and applesauce.

8. What is one book you wish you had written, and why?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. He takes on a hard subject (belonging) and brings so much humor and tenderness to it. He made me laugh and cry on the same page. And his sensibilities as a slam poet show through, too.

9. Favorite joke?

Whatever just made me laugh! What was that, again? Seriously, my mind is like a sieve when it comes to jokes. Though practical jokes stick in my mind for much longer.

Recently, a friend of mine disguised his voice when he called me on the phone, masquerading as a deliveryman. He told me he was about to dump 4000 pounds of cow manure in my yard. Where exactly did I want it? I had a mini-heart attack before I realized.

10. Can you share with us any news about future writing projects?

My contract with Holt is for two young adult novels. I’m revising book 2 right now—Miss Fortune Cookie. It’s set in San Francisco Chinatown, and features a difficult friendship triangle with a Mini Cooper, fake IDs, and teen pregnancy. My agent is calling it a Chinese-American Juno.


Oh, I'm looking forward to Miss Fortune Cookie SO MUCH now! Thanks, Lauren, for answering my questions and stopping by today! I hope that this interview and my review of My Invented Life will encourage you to pick Lauren's debut novel up. It's a fantastic read!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman

Tags: YA, GLBTQ, sexual identity and labeling, theatre, siblings

Rating: 3 out of 5


Sisters Roz and Eva used to be close, until cheerleading, competition over school theater roles, and boys drove them apart. Now, however, Roz believes she has a chance to win Eva back: some evidence supports Roz’s hypothesis that Eva is a lesbian who has trouble admitting it, even to herself. In an attempt to make Eva more comfortable with coming out, Roz declares herself a lesbian, right as the drama club begins rehearsing for a Shakespearean play.

Little does Roz realize the consequences that would result from her announcement. As she and her friends/fellow drama geeks exchange insults and pranks, Roz realizes that the application of “labels” is more complicated than she thought, and she may be quite blind to the workings of the human heart.


MY INVENTED LIFE is a spunky and witty GLBTQ book that deals with the fluidity of sexual identity, and the complexities of placing labels on people. The fantastic narrative voice and the unique premise will make this a delightful read for nearly anyone.

This book’s strongest point is its protagonist. Roz is a feisty girl with a good blend of sass, passion, and self-delusions. Her witty, laugh-out-loud narration—always direct, never dully over-eloquent—will draw you into the story even if you may cringe at some of her behavior and want to shake some insight into her. For the most part, the secondary characters are also well-drawn: they’re people with endearing quirks, people who you’d like to hang out with. They’re complicated and funny, occasionally bitchy and selfish. In other words, they could’ve been our high school friends.

Because MY INVENTED LIFE is so energetic and fast-paced, it occasionally runs the risk of getting annoying. Every once in a while I felt like I had gotten too much of Roz’s snarky mentality, and her secret desires—her invented life—sometimes gets repetitive, in an “okay we get it already” way. Similarly, I had trouble understand the sisterly dynamic between Roz and Eva. Sibling relationships are especially difficult to write about, since they contain the requisite family love as well as voluntary platonic devotion, and I felt that Roz and Eva’s relationship—particularly Roz’s almost grovel-like approach to her sister—pinged around in all directions in a way that jarred me and made me the slightest bit skeptical of the believability of their relationship.

That being said, MY INVENTED LIFE is a fresh approach to homosexuality. In this story, the characters’ sexual orientations are rather fluid, defying categorization. You can never completely say that this one’s a lesbian, that one’s totally gay, and so on and so forth. This is admirable because labels regarding sexual orientation are hardly ever direct in real life: there is a huge amount of gray area between heterosexuality and homosexuality, an area that many people unknowingly dwell in. I thought that MY INVENTED LIFE did an exceptional job of capturing the complexities of labels; readers will think twice about when it means to assign people to strict categories.

All in all, readers can take MY INVENTED LIFE at two levels. It can be read as a witty romp through the intertwined lives of theater geeks, or one can consider the usage and flexibility of homosexuality in the story. Either way, it makes for a satisfying read without being offensive to any kind of readers.

Similar Authors
Kirstin Cronn-Mills (The Sky Always Hears Me, and the Hills Don't Mind)
Dale Peck (Sprout)

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - I'm not too keen on it. It's a closeup of two rather scary-looking girls with disturbing expressions on their faces, along with a title font that doesn't match what I believe is Roz's personality. Oh well. Hopefully others will be able to look beyond the cover for a truly good read.

Henry Holt & Co. / Sept. 29, 2009 / Hardcover / $17.99

Thank you so much, Lauren, for offering me your book for review!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review: Rough Magic by Caryl Mullin

Tags: fantasy, Shakespeare, magic

Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest get revisited and retold in ROUGH MAGIC. Sycorax is a sorceress whose unfortunate lot in life banishes her to live on a magical island with her ugly son, Caliban. A man named Prospero and his daughter Miranda shipwreck on the island, and Prospero makes Caliban his magical slave. Caliban returns with Prospero and Miranda to the mainland, where he befriends Miranda’s plain daughter, the princess Chiara.

To protect Chiara from being a pawn in her father’s political plans, Caliban brings her back to his island, where they must undergo a series of difficult tasks in order to restore the island’s magic. Along the way they meet Calypso, a mysterious and magical woman with connections to them that they don’t know…


ROUGH MAGIC will appeal to lovers of ambitious fantasy chronicles, but not those looking for Shakespeare-related literature or well-written characters. Indeed, I was more than disappointed especially as the premise sounded interesting and promised the discussion of issues such as feminism. Unfortunately, it is a poorly written and narratively overdone tale.

ROUGH MAGIC was difficult to swallow because it tried to tell four characters’ stories in the course of about 200 pages. The story moves over several decades and lifetimes; as a result, important, character-defining events are merely glimpses that poke in and out within one chapter, never to be mentioned again. Additionally, nearly every chapter tends to awkwardly explain in flashbacks the life-altering events that occurred since the last chapter. This skipping-stone method of narration ensures that we readers never feel as if there is any action going on, since everything important seems to have happened invisibly between the chapters!

All of the characters are weak because they did not have the time and room within the book to develop. I had immense difficulties connecting with and understanding the motivations of any character, so either vague or lumbering were they when they took up space on the pages. ROUGH MAGIC reads more like an extensive character study of four very different characters rather than an actual story.

That being said, the world that ROUGH MAGIC creates for us is a rough-and-tumble, fantastical one. I enjoyed the idea of the island’s wildness being almost a character in itself. While the enormous task of developing four characters over a period of several dozen years was ultimately unsuccessful, the storyline did bring up a number of interesting “mini-stories” that I would’ve perhaps liked to see in short story format—in particular, Sycorax’s development from reckless sorceress to repressed courtwoman under her husband’s hand.

Unfortunately, ROUGH MAGIC was not very successful in telling a clear and intelligible story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its attractions. Readers and writers may do well in considering this book as an example of what not to do with one’s own writing: overly ambitious and directionless saga-stories will drag a perfectly intriguing idea down to its death.

Writing: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Plot: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - It's a very pretty picture that, ultimately, has very little to do with the characters or the plot. I pictured none of the female characters as looking like that.

Second Story Press / Sept. 2009 / Paperback / $9.95

Thank you, Jill of Second Story Press, for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Featured Blogger (16): Lauren of I Was a Teenage Book Geek!

Lauren of the blog I Was a Teenage Book Geek (GREAT name, first off) is a relatively new YA blogger from the UK, but she's already made a big splash in the big ocean of YA blogs! Not only does she leave truly thoughtful comments on others' blogs, she can also write one heck of an impressive review. You know how you can just tell when a blogger is destined for greatness and possible future book deals? Yeah, you can totally tell that with Lauren's writing. And now you get to say you knew them way back when, and I get to say that I interviewed her waaaayyy back in the beginning, hehe. So without further ado...!

1. Welcome, Lauren, to Steph Su Reads! Tell us about yourself in a few short sentences.

I’m Lauren and I’m from London, England. My hobbies are reading YA fiction, writing my own stories, and playing videogames. I got married last year on Halloween and I’m in the middle of relocating to the beautiful seaside town of Brighton. No pets yet, but when I finally move for good I’m going to adopt a kitten. (I’m allergic to cats, but I’m super-fearless.)

2. Tell us about your blog. When did you start it and why? Where did the name come from? What interesting things can visitors expect?

I’d been reading several YA book blogs for months, and I was really impressed with the quality of the content and writing… but I thought it looked like a lot of work. Then one day the urge to join in the fun got too much, and I cracked. I started I Was A Teenage Book Geek in August. On Tuesdays I’ll usually post about a YA book that isn’t a recent release, something that’s years or even decades old. I think it’s great that new titles benefit from the buzz that bloggers generate, so this is a way of showing some love to the books that missed out on this kind of attention the first time round. Most of the books I feature will be speculative, fantasy or will have LGBT interest, because those are the subjects that interest me most. And yes, blogging is even more work than I thought, but I’m loving it.

3. I think that Time Travel Tuesday is a fantastic idea--there are certainly many great old books that deserve more recognition. What were some of your favorite books when you were very young?

I used to read a lot of my mum’s childhood books. Her actual childhood copies, which were usually hardback and dusty. I loved What Katy Did, Little Women, and absolutely anything by Noel Streatfeild. I was a real girly girl.

4. Name 3 favorite books and why you think everyone should read them.

First, it has to be The Hunger Games. This book is pretty close to perfection. It’s dystopian, it’s exciting, and it has one of my favourite protagonists of all time - the awesome Katniss. Also, it has some of the best world-building ever.

Second up, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. I love speculative, and this one somehow manages to ask huge questions about what makes us human while at the same time being genuinely moving. It’s not often that speculative fiction makes me cry, but this book did.

Thirdly, because I should probably have a non-speculative choice, Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. It’s this beautiful time-travel story about a girl who goes to boarding school and begins to switch places each night with a girl from 1918. It’s just perfect.

5. I'm adding Charlotte Sometimes to my wishlist! Now where would you go on your dream vacation?

I really want to go to Japan, because it has this amazing mix of rich tradition and vibrant modern culture. Plus, it’s the home of Final Fantasy. (I’m obsessed with Final Fantasy. The biggest compliment anyone’s ever paid me is that I look like Yuna from FFX). If we’re talking big dreams, I’d like to go into space. As a child, I really expected that you’d be able to stay at a hotel on the moon by 2010. Frankly, I feel let down.

6. Do you have any books you turn to when you're feeling down, or books that have changed your outlook on life?

If I’m feeling down, I’ll probably reread Charlotte Sometimes for that comforting nostalgic thing. As for books that have changed my life… Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson, which definitely isn’t a YA title but completely changed how I think about narrative. Feed by M.T. Anderson is another. It’s one of the saddest and most deceptively meaningful speculative titles I’ve ever read. I heart it. Most recently, Ash by Malinda Lo. I’m an aspiring writer and Ash reminded me to be true to myself, and to tell the stories I want to tell.

7. Yay, Ash! Malinda will be very happy. In your opinion, what UK author deserves more international recognition and readership?

I adore Gemma Malley. Her first two books, The Declaration and The Resistance, follow ‘surplus’ teens in a world where drugs have allowed people to live forever… but at the expense of new life. I’m so excited about her next book, The Returners, I can hardly stand it.

8. Ooh, good thing I have The Declaration on my TBR shelf, waiting for me. What books are you most looking forward to in the year 2010?

The Line by Teri Hall, Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, The Returners by Gemma Malley, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. Oh, and the next books in two series: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink. (Yes, I know you said ‘most’ looking forward to, but this is such a great time for YA titles. I can’t choose!)

9. What are some things you just LOVE to receive for presents? :)

Well, books of course - I guess everyone says that. Also anything from Hotel Chocolat, and mix cds. In my experience, if someone makes you a great mix cd, they really love you.

10. Aww, mix CDs. You bring back nostalgia for me. And finally, 2 things about yourself that can spark conversation.

I do the best impression of a dog barking you’ve ever heard. I guarantee it. Actually I do two: one of a little yappy dog, and one of a big scary dog. Just a vocal impression obviously. (I don’t look all canine or anything.)

Something less freaky, you say? Um... I tend to believe what I want to believe, for as long as I can. Earlier this year, my workmates were forced to inform me that Komodo dragons don’t in fact breathe fire. I was devastated.


Wait, you mean Komodo dragons DON'T breathe fire? DARN IT! Hehe, only kidding. Thanks for the wonderful interview, Lauren! If you haven't checked out her blog I Was a Teenage Book Geek yet, what are you waiting for? I guarantee you will be blown away by her writing, and you might end up seeing her name on the cover of a book yet! :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cover Lust (5)

It's been a while since I've done one of these. Today's post has no unifying theme, but they're all gorgeous covers that I'd go gaga for.

Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Bright grass, open sky, a pretty but not over-the-top pretty girl--what more do you want for this absolutely FANTABULOUS third book about D.J. Schwenk. Seriously. Kristin Cashore's blurb on the cover doesn't even cover the half of it (though she's absolutely right). I'm hoping to get my review of this book written over the weekend so I can further share with you how much I love this series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

It hasn't been published in the U.S. yet, but how wonderful is that cover? I love the flower designs juxtaposed over the actual tree photograph in the background, and the boy's face subtly peeking through translucently. You know that I didn't even realize there was a guy's face there the first several times I looked at this cover? I just thought it was a cool picture of, like, a mountain. Or a rock. Or something.

Oblivion Road by Alex McAulay

This one's color is similar to Finnikin of the Rock. Maybe today's theme is "climate", as these last two certainly have a wintry feel to them (and perhaps that's because it's SNOWING outside?? In October! Ridiculous). I love the sharpness of the details--everything is focused--contrasted with the sans-serif font. That jacket's not all that appealing to me, but this is still a very attractive cover.

So what do you think about these three?!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (34)

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him.

In return for this gift, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires—and no one is more surprised than Sydelle when, without any explanation, he chooses her. Taken from her home, Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. He drinks too much and bathes too little, and if that isn’t enough to drive her to madness, North rarely even uses the magic he takes such pride in possessing. Yet, it’s not long before she realizes there’s something strange about the wizard, who is as fiercely protective of her as he is secretive about a curse that turns his limbs a sinister shade of black and leaves him breathless with agony. Unfortunately, there is never a chance for her to seek answers.

Along with the strangely powerful quakes and storms that trace their path across the kingdom, other wizards begin to take an inexplicable interest in her as well, resulting in a series of deadly duels. Against a backdrop of war and uncertainty, Sydelle is faced with the growing awareness that these events aren’t as random as she had believed—that no curse, not even that of Wayland North, is quite as terrible as the one she herself may carry. [summary from Goodreads]

This is probably the best synopsis of an upcoming book that I've read in WEEKS. A troubled wizard, a heroine with unknown qualities that put her at the center of unwanted attention, a tempestuous (no pun intended) relationship. It's bringing back the good old-fashioned fantasy romance, and I am dying--dyyyyingggg--to read this book!

Oh, and plus, it's being published by EgmontUSA, who have yet to publish anything bad. So yeah. There you go. :)

Brightly Woven will be published by EgmontUSA on March 23, 2010.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Tags: YA, lying, murder, NYC

Rating: 4 out of 5


Micah is a pathological liar, but she’s through with lies—it’s the truth from now on. Honestly. After all, with all the suspicion surrounding around her with the terrible death of her boyfriend, Zach, the last thing she wants is to lie and continue to have people think she’s a horrible person. After all, she loved Zach: why would she have been involved in his death? Besides, Micah has plenty of other secrets she has to worry about… But which ones are real and which ones are false?


Readers will be swept away from Micah’s narration from page one. LIAR is as compulsively readable as its protagonist is a compulsive liar. You will jump into this book, aware of Micah’s lying tendencies, and then struggle desperately to try—and fail—at staying one step ahead of this girl, this story.

Having a story told by a pathological liar brings to light the all-too-easily-dismissed problems of first-person narrator: that this POV is, in fact, completely at the mercy of the narrator, and thus can be a total fabrication without you knowing it. Justine Larbalestier explores just this paradox in LIAR: how much of Micah’s story can believe when we know she is a liar and her side of the story is the only one we get?

Interesting premise and paradox aside, however, Micah is also an intriguingly complex character. She’s flawed, and has viewpoints that make you want to shake her until she sees things clearly, and yet Micah is so fully convinced of her unchangeable situation that you can’t help but go along with her, no matter how much you want to disagree with her. Micah’s narration jumps rapidly from past to present and back again, which is a surprisingly effective way of slowly doling out the story to readers, as well as consistent with Micah’s personality.

LIAR is a remarkable book where the story and its form complement one another for maximal success. It’s a story that will probably leave you with more questions and answers, but it absolutely proves the old edict right that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Similar Authors
E. Lockhart
Gabrielle Zevin
Pam Bachorz

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Bloomsbury USA / Sept. 29, 2009 / Hardcover / $16.99

Thank you, Anna, for sending me a copy for review!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen

Tags: YA, moving, lying, OCD

Rating: 3 out of 5


Sara Black is the new girl at the nation’s most intensely academic public high school, where her father is the new janitor. With super competitive classmates who won’t give her the time of day, a mother in France with her new lover, and a father in OCD, it’s little surprise that Sara begins telling lies to maintain her sanity and reputation.

As she falls in deeper with a group of the school’s most intimidating girls, however, Sara’s lies grow and grow until she has trouble keeping them straight. She’s running the risk of breaking her father’s heart and having her reputation permanently ruined as one of the most popular girls in the school decides to look into Sara’s stories…


LITTLE BLACK LIES is a high school drama-filled novel, similar to Gossip Girl except without the same high level of sexual escapades, and set in the most unusual of locations: a nerdy public school. Don’t let the academia fool you, though: the girls are still as bitchy, the drama still as intense.

The characters in LITTLE BLACK LIES, while not immediately endearing, still grow on you after about halfway through the book. We can feel for Sara as she navigates life without her mother, in a new school full of classmates who would do nearly anything to beat their friends. The stresses of her new life make Sara’s lies and actions justifiable, though not necessarily admirable. I particularly admired Cohen’s treatment of OCD in this novel, as a disorder that breaks hearts, strains relationships, and pushes teens to lie for the sake of preserving their social status.

I mentioned earlier that I thought it was a watered-down version of Gossip Girl. There are definitely still bitchy girls who manipulate, blackmail, and hurt one another. While the antics of the Anton High “in” crowd of are amateurs compared to other mean girls in media, they’re still believable enough, and you will still feel for Carling, the head mean girl with the bad family life, despite her manipulations. Cohen generally succeeds at balancing readers’ hatred of and caring for these characters.

LITTLE BLACK LIES will appeal to a wide range of teenagers who can identify with Sara’s difficulty in balancing her family life and school life. It’s a good story, and even if it took a while to get to its feet, my nervousness for what will happen to Sara in her huge, tentative house of lies kept me reading into the night.

Similar Authors
Cecily von Ziegesar (Gossip Girl)
Sarah Dessen

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - It's alright. The bottom third panel is the most relevant to the story, but overall the composition--the streaks of hot pink, the half-there photos--would make me pick this book up out of interest.

EgmontUSA / Oct. 13, 2009 / Hardcover / $16.99

Thanks, Stephanie at EgmontUSA, for sending me an ARC for review!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

In or Around NYC This Sunday?

In or around New York City and have a free afternoon tomorrow, Sunday, October 11th? Check out these bookish events that you shouldn't miss!

Great Middle Grade Author Signing!
Books of Wonder, NYC
1:00 - 3:00pm

Featuring the following authors:

RICHARD PECK (A Season of Gifts)
ANN M. MARTIN (Everything For a Dog)
MICHAEL D. BEIL (The Red Blazer Girls)
PETER HOWE (Waggit Again)
MATT PHELAN (The Storm in the Barn)

There will be readings, Q&A, and signings--not to mention that Mitali, Sharon, and I will most likely be there!

And also this one, at 4pm:

Attention all tween girls in the NYC area!

The Amanda Project is the first series that invites tween girls to become a part of the mystery and contribute their own stories and ideas! Come celebrate the publication of the first in the 8-book series - Invisible I - and launch of The Amanda Project!

Hear author Melissa Kantor read from the book and talk about writing collaborative fiction.

AND, in the spirit of Amanda, we're also taking submissions from tween girls who aspire to be writers! Send your latest piece of fiction (up to 500 words) to, and we'll pick a select group of writers to read at the event!

For more information:

Hope to see some of you there!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Author Interview with Becca Fitzpatrick!

I love Becca. Really, I do. Did I mention that I really love Becca? She was possibly the most excited author ever over that crazy week back in, like, May, when six or so of us bloggers all WoWed her debut novel, Hush, Hush, in the same week. Since then, Becca's been nothing but helpful to me, offering me an ARC, donating another ARC for a giveaway on my blog, and now answering my questions! So don't hesitate to pick up Hush, Hush when you stop by your local bookstore next Tuesday--it will make your stomach churn with deliciousness. (And if you don't believe my ENDORSEMENTNYAHNYAHNYAHNYAHFTCBLAH, you should re-check out my review of it. Even that review makes my senses tingle.) Welcome, Becca, to Steph Su Reads!

1. When you were writing the character of Patch, did you have any particular people/characters in mind when imagining how Patch looks, thinks, or acts?

I loosely based Patch on a guy I knew a long time ago. I took the memory of that guy, let my imagination run wild, and voilà, Patch was created. He was probably the easiest character to write, because he showed up on day one in full personality, ready to go.

2. Ooh, I know just the kind of guy you're talking about. :) How well do you relate to Nora? If you were in her situation, would you react the same way?

Oh man, I have no clue! She has a lot of pretty freaky things happening to her. As a reader, it's easy to sit back and say exactly how I'd react, but I don't think I can guess with any certainty what I'd do. Once, when I was a teen, I saw a hysterical woman at the grocery store who couldn't find her child. She was running every which way, grabbing people and shouting at them, trying to find her child. I remember thinking she should just calm down, ask store employees to stand by the doors and organize a quick volunteer party to search the store. Years later, as a new mom, I thought I'd lost my two year old in a Super Target. I freaked out. I was crying and screaming and running up and down the aisles in a panic. I'd like to think I'd be cool and calm when faced with a frightening situation, but the truth is, I'd probably flip out.

3. What was the most difficult part of the story to write? What was the easiest?

The most difficult scenes to write were the motel scenes – they're so twisted and messy and Patch is, for the first time in the novel, vulnerable. It was hard to strip down his guard and pull it off convincingly. The scenes where he's being a closed-off a-hole are much easier to write.

4. Despite his flaws and dark nature, many people would agree that Patch is extremely alluring and swoon-worthy. What do your agent, editor, and other important people in your publishing process think of Patch?

Both my agent and editor have said Patch is their favorite part of the story. He's a very strong character, one readers will either love or hate. I like that about him. He doesn't care what people think of him, and as an author, that makes him incredibly fun to work with. I don't feel like I'm always looking over my shoulder, trying to make him likable. He is who he is, deal with it.

5. Patch is decidedly a bad boy, and bad boys have an almost irresistible appeal. Who are your favorite "bad boys" in YA lit?

The first bad boy I fell in love with was Heathcliff. At seventeen, I remember thinking he was exactly the kind of guy I wanted to have fall in love with me. At thirty, he scares the candy out of me. Other favorite bad boys: Robin Hood, Dallas from The Outsiders and Nick from The Demon's Lexicon.

6. What do you do when faced with writer's block or frustrating moments in your writing?

I switch gears and update my website, blog, return emails or rethink my plot. Whenever I hit writer's block, it's usually because I've written the story into a dead-end.

7. How are you going to celebrate the official release date of Hush, Hush?

Why, I'm throwing a party! My indie bookstore, The Readers Cove, has agreed to let me throw a launch party in their store. Lots of books, friends and cupcakes. I can't wait!

8. Who would your dream author blurb for any of your books be by?

Diana Gabaldon, Sandra Brown, Richelle Mead or Laurie Halse Anderson. Dream on, Bec, dream on.

9. (Hear that, authors? Now you know what you can do to make Becca's year. *winks*) What are some good books you've read recently that you would recommend to other readers?

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey is the horror story of the year – perfect for Halloween. I LOVED Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, but it won't be out until March 2010 (mark your calendars!) The Dark Divine by Bree Despain is an excellent paranormal coming out in December. I thought her present-day take on the prodigal son was genius.

10. Anything you'd like to add?

Just a big thank you, Steph, for having me here today!


Thank YOU, Becca, for letting me be a part of this incredible journey with Hush, Hush! Drop by her LiveJournal for always interesting peeks into her writerly life, and don't forget to pick up your copy of Hush, Hush soon! It's one of those books that you will never forget.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: David Inside Out by Lee Bantle

Tags: YA, GLBTQ, self-identity

Rating: 3 out of 5


Growing up in the Midwest, David is frightened when he suspects he might have feelings for Sean, a fellow runner on the cross country team. He devises many different ways to force himself to stop thinking about Sean: self-punishment, overexertion at meets, going out with his close female friend.

But nothing seems to work, and encounter after encounter with Sean seem to push David very nearly over the edge of losing control of his emotions. Can David be true to himself when he is afraid of what the world will think of his real feelings?


DAVID INSIDE OUT is a quiet but powerful read about the complexities of coming out in a wary society. Details are sparse, and while the simplistic narration and underdeveloped characters may turn off some readers, others may appreciate those techniques as a subtle yet effective way of bringing a difficult issue to light. David’s uneven summarization of the events in his life is indicative of a confused individual attempt to sort out his emotions.

Many of the characters, unfortunately, are unlikable or feel incomplete, even though they are partially that way due to their hinted-at complexities. Their motivations are muddled or unbelievable: David’s relationship with his accepting mother seems uncomplicated to the point of childishness. I actually found that the character whose actions I understood the most was Sean, caught in between homosexual feelings and the paralyzing fear that he will lose status and acceptance if he does not continue to lead the “normal” life.

DAVID INSIDE OUT is not for the faint-hearted or innocent-minded: there are quite a number of descriptions of sexual acts. That being said, it is a fascinating look into the struggles to come out in high school, and can very well be a must-read for anyone interested in GLBTQ studies.

Similar Authors
David Levithan
Brent Hartinger
Nick Burd

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Henry Holt & Co. / May 2009 / Hardcover / $16.99

Thank you, Lee, for letting me review your book!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (33)

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien

After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents are arrested.

Badly scarred since childhood, Gaia is a strong, resourceful loner who begins to question her society. As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she herself is arrested and imprisoned.

Gaia carries an encoded ribbon from her parents, and its secrets hold vital information about certain advanced children who were "birthmarked" by tattoos. The Protectorat, who safeguards the population within the wall, needs Gaia’s code and its genetic counterpart to offset the hemophilia that plagues the Enclave.

Sgt. Grey, a young, handsome guard of the Enclave, is used by the Protectorat to manipulate Gaia and gain her cooperation with decoding the ribbon. As Sgt. Grey faces his own complicated past and Gaia recognizes the moral ramifications of her actions, they take desperate steps to escape.

Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where one girl can make all the difference, and a real hero makes her own moral code. [super-long summary from Goodreads]

Two words (again): DYSTOPIAN LIT. Oh my gosh. I first heard about this from Sharon, back when it was tentatively titled The Baby Code, and I've been waiting desperately for it to have a cover so that I could choose it as a Waiting on Wednesday feature. This seems utterly perfect: the dystopian setting, a strong-sounding though physically flawed heroine, a hint of a romance. And that cover, while not exactly what I'd imagined, is reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, which has a similar premise about the value placed on outer beauty, so in this sense the cover is a good choice, as it will attract Westerfeld fans. March 2010, can you come soon?

Birthmarked will be published in hardcover by Roaring Brook Press on March 30, 2010.


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