Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hellooooo Bloggers!

I've been wanting to do this for a while. We all know that blogging is not easy. It's not a job, so we can't do it all day and expect to, well, get our necessities that way. It doesn't provide food, it doesn't entertain the kids, it doesn't get your homework done. Picking which blogs to follow and read, then, is tricky. Plus, since my blogoversary giveaway I have had so many new followers, both here and on Twitter, that I have been sadly behind in following you back. And there are sooo many of you that I constantly want to meet more of you and find out more about you!

So below is a link to a form that you can fill out. This will help me organize my blogroll, discover new blogs to read, generate some ideas about who to interview for my long-dormant Friday Featured Blogger meme. Old followers and people I already follow, please feel free to fill this out as well, so I can learn more about you. (Forgive me if you think I'm being nosy. Most of the questions are not required, but they will certainly help me when I start to look at your blogs.) Your answers will only be seen by me. It will take maybe 15-20 minutes of your time. Thanks, and hopefully you will see me around your blog sometime soon!


In My Mailbox (26)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's blog to see what others got in terms of books this week!

I was away last week so this is two weeks' worth of review books. Yippee!

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
(Random House / Feb. 9, 2010)

Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to his fingers? And will the beautiful girl ever notice him? (Okay, so Will’s interested in more than just murder . . .)

Those who prefer their heroes to be not-so-usual and with a side of wiseguy will gobble up this witty, geeks-rule debut.

I've heard only good things about this book, so I'm so excited to get to read it!

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson
(Random House / March 9, 2010)

Joshua Wynn is a preacher’s son and a “good boy” who always does the right thing. Until Maddie comes back to town. Maddie is the daughter of the former associate pastor of Joshua’s church, and his childhood crush. Now Maddie is all grown up, gorgeous—and troubled. She wears provocative clothes to church, cusses, drinks, and fools around with older men. Joshua’s ears burn just listening to the things she did to get kicked out of boarding school, and her own home.

As time goes on, Josh goes against his parents and his own better instincts to keep Maddie from completely capsizing. Along the way, he begins to question his own rigid understanding of God and whether, as his mother says, a girl like Maddie is beyond redemption. Maddie leads Josh further astray than any girl ever has . . . but is there a way to reconcile his love for her and his love for his life in the church?

Hmm, I don't usually pick up books regarding religion, but I might as well give this one a try. New books = exciting!

Everlasting by Angie Frazier
(Scholastic / June 1, 2010)

Sailing aboard her father's ship is all seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen has ever wanted. But as a lady in 1855 San Francisco, her future is set: marry a man she doesn't love in order to preseve her social standing. On her last voyage before the wedding, Camille learns the mother she has always believed dead is in fact alive and in Australia. When their Sydney-bound ship goes down in a gale, and her father dies, Camille sets out to find her mother and a map in her possession - a map believed to lead to a stone that once belonged to the legendary civilization of the immortals. The stone can do exactly what Camille wants most: bring someone back from the dead.

Unfortunately, her father's adversary is also on the hunt for the stone, and she must race him to it. The only person Camille can depend on is Oscar - a handsome young sailor and her father's first mate - who is in love with Camille and whom she is inexplicably drawn to despite his low social standing and her pending wedding vows. With an Australian card shark acting as their guide, Camille eludes murderous bushrangers, traverses dangerous highlands, evades a curse placed on the stone, and unravels the mystery behind her mother's disappearance sixteen years earlier. But when another death shakes her conviction to resurrect her father, Camille must choose what - and who - matters most.

Oh man, that cover is deceiving. I didn't realize this would be almost historical fantasy! The synopsis sounds a bit like a female Indiana Jones story set in the 19th century...sounds so good!

Trackers #1 by Patrick Carman
(Scholastic / May 1, 2010)

In the 21st century landscape of bits and bytes, everyone leaves a digital footprint ... even the most advanced cyber criminals. And that’s where the Trackers come in. Four tech-savvy kids armed with high-tech video cameras and esoteric coding skills, the Trackers can find almost anyone, anywhere. Told through a collage of videos, text, and websites, Trackers #1 follows Adam, Finn, Lewis, and Emily as they become entangled in a high-tech, high-stakes game of cat and mouse with Shantorian, the world’s most dangerous hacker. At least, that’s who they think they’re tracking....

As the four dig deeper into the shadowy world of online crime, they soon learn that things aren’t always as they seem.

Man, I feel like I need to read one of Patrick Carman's books lately. They all sound like an intriguing blend of sci-fi, slightly dystopian, and action.

The New Brighton Archeological Society, Book 1: The Castle of Galomar by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon
(Image Comics / March 2009)

Out of the ashes of misfortune will rise the next generation of great adventurers!

After their parents are lost on an archeological expedition, four children begin to unlock the secrets of their parents' mysterious lives, discovering a hidden world of mystical artifacts, mythical creatures, and arcane knowledge. Soon they find themselves drawn into a conflict over a great library that has kept two kingdoms at war for centuries, the children must save an enchanted forest, the birthplace of magic itself. Join us as these children become the latest members of the fabled New Brighton Archeological Society, and take their first steps towards their true destiny!

This looks like a quick and cute graphic novel read.

The Story of Cirrus Flux by Matthew Skelton
(Delacorte / Feb. 23, 2010)

London, 1783. Orphan Cirrus Flux is being watched. Merciless villains are conniving to steal the world's most divine power--The Breath of God--which they believe Cirrus has inherited. Now he faces a perilous journey through the dirty backstreets of the city as a sinister mesmerist, a tiny man with an all-seeing eye, and a skull-collecting scoundrel pursue him. Cirrus must escape them, but he'll need to trust some unlikely allies if he hopes to thwart his foes . . . and survive a grand and terrifying showdown.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
(Penguin / Jan. 2010)

Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.

In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

I've heard a lot of good things about this book, and so I'm excited to have the opportunity to be on a blog tour for it.

Facebook Fairytales: Modern-Day Miracles to Inspire the Human Spirit by Emily Liebert
(Skyhorse Publishing / Apr. 1, 2010)

Once upon a time there was an online social network called Facebook, and it brought together people from all over the globe, helping them to reignite romances, launch careers, and even find organ donors. Facebook Fairytales brings to light inspirational “happy endings” stemming from the increasingly popular social-networking site. Author Emily Liebert crafts captivating narratives of real-life stories from interviews with Facebook users who have used the site’s many applications to find biological parents, relay messages to loved ones during the Mumbai terrorist attacks, donate money to Chinese orphanages, and try to hunt down a hit-and-run criminal. Readers will relate to these tales and, simultaneously, be charmed by the little spark of magic that sets them apart from your everyday success stories.

Liebert also interviews and shares the story of Chris Hughes, Facebook co-founder who worked on the Obama new-media campaign, revolutionizing the use of social-networking sites as a political tool. Complete with an introductory interview with Facebook founder and president, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Fairytales is a collection of tales that will inspire you to seek out your “happily ever after” on the world’s most popular social-networking site—and maybe find Prince Charming along the way.

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
(Amazon Encore / Feb. 2010)

Genna Colon is a fifteen-year-old girl living in Brooklyn. She doesn’t have a lot to show for herself besides bad hair, an impossible crush on a classmate, and a dysfunctional family. What she does have—an intelligence beyond her peers—is not winning her many friends in school, so she seeks safe haven in her favorite place in the city: a quiet, enclosed garden with a fountain. When Genna flees into her sanctuary late one night, she makes a desperate wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War–era Brooklyn.

Displaced in the past, Genna realizes she has eluded one harsh reality only to surface in another. She must confront new horrors and all-too-familiar prejudices, while holding tightly to a cover-story that threatens to unravel at any moment.

I've heard nothing but praise for this book, and so am really excited to have the opportunity to review this! Thanks, Sarah!

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
(Random House / March 9, 2010)

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She's content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry's mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry's generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother's past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

I couldn't get through FOHOT and so this one wasn't really on my radar, but now that I have it...damn, the finished book looks SO pretty. Maybe I'll try to read it, and if that doesn't work out, maybe I'll have a giveaway...

From Around the World Tours:

Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White
(Greenwillow Books / March 2, 2010)

When someone leaves three mystery flowers outside her dorm door, Laurel thinks that maybe the Avondale School isn't so awful after all — until her own body starts to freak out. In the middle of her English presentation on the Victorian Language of Flowers, strange words pop into her head, and her body seems to tingle and hum. Impulsively, Laurel gives the love bouquet she made to demonstrate the language to her spinster English teacher. When that teacher unexpectedly and immediately finds romance, Laurel suspects that something — something magical — is up. With her new friend, Kate, she sets out to discover the origins and breadth of her powers by experimenting on herself and others. But she can’t seem to find any living experts in the field of flower powers to guide her. And her bouquets don't always do her bidding, especially when it comes to her own crush, Justin. Rumors about Laurel and her flowers fly across campus, and she's soon besieged by requests from girls — both friends and enemies — who want their lives magically transformed — just in time for prom.

Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis
(Balzer + Bray / Apr. 27, 2010)

Joy is used to hearing Whispers. She’s used to walking down the street and instantly knowing people’s deepest, darkest desires. She uses this talent for good, to make people happy and give them what they want. But for her older sister, Jessica, the family gift is a curse, and she uses it to make people’s lives—especially Joy’s—miserable. Still, when Joy Hears a frightening whisper from Jessica's own mind, she knows she has to save her sister, even if it means deserting her friends, stealing a car and running away with a boy she barely knows—a boy who may have a dark secret of his own.


That's it! And now to do some schoolwork, and then maybe I can get around to doing some reading... :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White

Tags: middle grade, magic, flowers, boarding school

Rating: 3 out of 5


On Laurel’s fourteenth birthday, she receives a seemingly impossible letter from her mother…because her mother is dead. Not long after, Laurel becomes interested in the “language” of flowers—in the way that different flowers can send different messages. To her shock, she discovers that her flowers are actually effective in bringing about what she wants them to, and soon Laurel has her hands full juggling bouquet requests from classmates who may or may not be her friends, working out her feelings for a boy, and unraveling the Flowerspeaker secret that generations of women in her family have possessed.


Amy Brecount White’s debut novel is a surprisingly charming magical realism middle-grade novel that sweetly combines magic, romance, and teen drama into something that will be well enjoyed by young girls who enjoy a combination of Harry Potter and Twilight.

Despite the occasionally annoying teen speak (draaawwwn out syllables, luv instead of “love,” lots of seemingly life-or-death ultimatums), FORGET-HER-NOTS is actually very well written for its intended audience. Right from the start, White draws us in with her thorough and fascinating knowledge about the language of flowers. Laurel, despite being a typically lonely and insecure teenage girl, never drops into the land of annoying protagonists. She is sweet and vulnerable, yet determined to master her gift and to help everyone out.

FORGET-HER-NOTS focuses mostly on Laurel’s struggles to establish lasting relationships with the people around her, and it is well done. The girls whom Laurel befriends have their good and bad points; the tension between Laurel and her politician widower father are believable, despite the fact that Laurel believes their fights come about due to the influence of the flowers. I appreciated that the magical elements of this novel were never used to excuse the characters’ up-and-down behaviors—for, indeed, they were realistic, and readers will be able to relate to Laurel’s mixed feelings about the people around her.

Despite a slow plot and occasional underdeveloped supporting characters, FORGET-HER-NOTS will be a treat especially for middle school girls who will find White’s narration relatable and the magical realism elements irresistible.

Similar Authors
J. K. Rowling
Stephenie Meyer
Eva Ibbotson

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 2/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - I think the pressed-flowers look of the cover complements the often whimsical feel of this magical realism novel quite well, in spite of its lack of...well, specialness or excitement, I guess.

Greenwillow Books / March 2, 2010 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $16.99

ARC received from Around the World Tours.

Friday, February 26, 2010

How Do You Use Ratings? Pt. 1

Ratings are fickle things. Most authors I've talked to have a wary view of them, particularly of the typical 5-star sort you find on sites such as Goodreads or Amazon. Some bloggers rate books almost obsessively, minutely breaking their rating down into numerous components such as writing, character appeal, romance, ending, cover, etc. Other bloggers don't assign ratings to books.

For publishers--and please, correct me if I'm horrendously wrong, as I am simply going off intuition here--blog ratings most likely don't mean two craps: the most important part is getting word of the book out there, which publishers will do for their big-name titles, no matter how bad the book is or how negative the critical reception has been (see: Fallen. Heh. I couldn't resist it. Sorry. Moving on now). The thing that "matters" for authors and publishers seem to be the starred reviews from the big honchos of book reviewing: publications such as Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews (long may ye reign!)--and even their importance is a little murky and shifting with today's customer-as-reviewer economy.

So in what context, then, should the ratings assigned to books by bloggers and found on book social networking sites be considered? And how can we best use the legend/threat/customer-is-always-right thing that is ratings to ensure the most pleasant reading and recommendation experience for the greatest number of people?

This topic will be broken up into two parts. In the first, this post, I break down how I use my 5-point rating system, what it means when you see a particular rating attached to a particular book, and how the rating is affected by factors such as genre and expectations. In the second, a post perhaps a week or so from now, I will talk about how I, as a reader of books and blogs, use the ratings I come across in different aspects of the blogosphere and the online book community.

I mention briefly in my review policy that I use a rating scale of 1 to 5, with half-"stars" (we'll call them stars here so we're on the same page) given. I break my rating down in 3 categories: writing (how well the author conveys his/her intention through the style he/she uses), characters (dimensionality, believability, interestingness), and plot (pacing, predictability, originality). Of course my ratings are subjective and moody just like myself, which is why they only truly add up to the overall rating I assign the book about 25% of the time. The remaining 75% accounting for my arithmetically challenged ratings can be explained by the "invisible", subjective factors--which I will attempt to describe below.

Here, then, is my breakdown of ratings, and why they might mean different things for books from different genres, etc. Think of it as one of those "holistic" rubrics that English teachers hand out before timed or standardized essays, bwahahaha. Okay, not. And NOTE! The following descriptions apply only to ratings that appear on this blog. Since Goodreads doesn't allow half-stars, I sometimes have to consolidate.

Now, since I like to end on a good note...

1 star. A book whose published status I sincerely and horrifically question. It reads like a brainstorming of a first draft of a writing exercise assigned by the most mediocre writing program desperate money can buy, a writing exercise that should probably be discarded and erased from one's consciousness the minute it's turned in for a (bad) grade. Unsurprisingly, a lot of self-published books would fall into this category for me. Without the helpful hand of critique partners, agents, or editors, these authors have invariably published a piece of drivel that they self-inflate to be the best thing since, like, The Da Vinci Code. I'm appalled to even post a review of this book up anywhere, let alone let the name of its title cross my lips. It truly, honestly, sincerely-with-all-my-heart deserves to be returned to the bottom of the "past writing projects" file cabinet, and revised only when the author has enough distance from it that he/she can see its multiple large flaws and completely overhaul the idea. I've only given one 1-star review on my blog ever, thankfully.

1.5 stars. The lowest rating that I've given to a book published by an established and respectable publishing house, figuring as at least two professionals in the publishing industry must have liked it to have published it. These books are--and it can't be put any other way--quite bad. Often it's a novel written by an author who's written about 20 books prior to it, and thus their publishing company has probably lost sight of the fact that this? their latest manuscript? Quite subpar compared to their very first book, the one that helped them break into the industry, y'know? Characters are flat, plots are either unoriginal or poorly executed (i.e. I'm not engaged). The story remains always a "story" and never escapes the borders that fiction has erected around it.

2 stars. Books that I give 2 stars to are, it seems, those that were probably marketed to the wrong audience, or bad books that were marketed precisely to the only audience that is able to indulge in them. So here you've got your paranormal romance MG/YA bestsellers whose mediocre writing and unoriginal characters/plot are covered up by the fact that it's *gasp* TRUE, ETERNAL, AND UNDYING LUV! and *swoon* VAMPIRES!--and those YA books written by authors who probably should've stuck with writing adult or children's fiction. These books just miss the mark for me: most of these have an established fan base, but are not the types of books that I'd read and enjoy on my own.

2.5 stars. 3 stars is pretty much the cutoff point for books that I would've picked up on my own and have finished; ratings less than 3 indicate that it's not a book I'd recommend. There's nothing too wrong about books I give 2.5 stars to; like 2-star books, they're usually just the wrong book for me. What distinguishes a 2.5 from a 2 is that the 2.5s are, in fact, pretty well written in their genre. There's an audience for these books; again, the audience just wasn't me.

3 stars. Here's where things get trickier. I've noticed that most of the books I give 3 stars to fall into 2 groups: books that are not my type (girly, semi-predictable, white suburban middle-class, happily-ever-after) but that I would still recommend for people who enjoy that type of books, and books that were raved about by fellow book-lovers and, sadly, fell way short of my expectations. The last 3-star book I reviewed that fell into the first group (let's call it Type A) was The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg--a perfectly pleasant and enjoyable teen romance novel that wasn't quite my cup of tea due to its predictability, saccharine romance, cardboard supporting characters, and cookie-cutter whiteness. I specifically named that example because I was still rather entertained by said book--call it a guilty pleasure, if you will. I won't give an example of a Type B 3-star book, as that is less flattering, but let's just say that Type B 3-star books tend to be books that have been long hyped about in the YA blogosphere and Twittersphere, and whose 5-star ratings on Goodreads typically consist of fangirly gushings of "OHMIGOD this is the best book I've ever read! Girl X and Boy Y are sooooo cute together!" and the like. As for some 2.5-star books, Type B books generally get a welcome reception into the world; it just wasn't really for me.

3.5 stars. Again, can mostly be divided up into Type A and Type B. A Type A novel (refresher: not the type of book that's usually on my radar, usually on account of excessive girliness, predictability, and commercialized appeal) that I would probably consider one of my favorites if, you know, I was the type of reader who loved those types of books. Type B books earn 3.5 stars if I can see the author's intentions and admire it but the intentions didn't quite manifest themselves completely in the book, or if it's a book I've been looking forward to that falls just a cut below my really liking it and wanting to recommend it to lots of people. I've also noticed that 3.5 tends to be the highest rating I give to middle-grade novels sent to me for review. Guess that means I'm a YA snob, eh? Ahh, I tried. Consider a 3.5 rating on a middle-grade novel very, very good, and pass it on to the middle schooler in your life.

4 stars. Okay, honestly? I know there are two more levels of ratings above this and all, but I just might love 4-star books the most, and this is hard for me to explain. There are several "categories" of 4-star books. There's the (usually) paranormal romance book with mass audience appeal that I still enjoyed despite the fact that it was most likely a done-before paranormal romance idea (at the most basic level: human girl with the irresistible supernatural male crush, magical element that threatens to keep the two lovers apart) with writing that reminds me of the first time I read Twilight: "Well, golly, this is easy to read. If she can get this published, so can I!" There's the good book written by the established YA author that will easily be up for awards, despite the fact that the story idea wasn't all that original and/or interesting and probably would not have been published had the manuscript been submitted by a first-time novelist. There's the aforementioned Type A novel that completely blows all my preconceptions away and makes me fall in giddy--though certainly not eternal and undying--love with it (e.g. Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker--great book!). There's the book with the so-so execution but brilliantly unique concept. There's the book that's funny in the way I love: smart, witty, and neither condescending nor forced. Essentially, humor I could never in my life accomplish (examples: Dream Life by Lauren Mechling; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff).

And then there are The Books. Ohhh, The Books. How I love you. Most of the time I don't even know why I only give you 4 stars and not higher, because I usually cannot stop talking about you to other people and driving them crazy with my recommending it. These books are great: original concept, top-of-the-line writing, entertaining, enthralling, eye-opening. These I would love to read again for the first time; these I usually end up buying the finished copy of for my permanent book collection. And maybe that's where the distinction lies: I'd love to read these books again for the first time, because they made the experience of reading so incredible for me. Some of these I'd never even dare to learn from, as their level of writerly sophistication is so utterly different from whatever writerly sophistication I'd like to hope I can master one day. And sometimes these books have a great message that's slightly hampered by the author's writing style--a style that's good but not outstanding, not really something they can fix, and yet something that readers can, for the most part, ignore in favor of the story. Books in this special 4-star category include: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves, Soulless by Gail Carriger, The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.
You can usually tell which type of 4-star book it is by the tone and content of my review.

4.5 stars. Really, really good books that seem to have very little unifying theme other than the fact that I believe they're all written in the style that best expresses what they're trying to express. Whereas with The Books in the 4-star range I'd love to read them again for the first time, 4.5-star books are most likely one-time reads for me, albeit incredible one-time reads. They were just so enjoyable and impressionable and completely in line with what I'd want to take from books as a writer that I feel satisfied with having read them once, and encouraging others to read them at least once too, as they are absolutely essential in that respect.

5 stars. There are also two types of 5-star books. There's the kind that so completely bowled me over by the strength of their writing that I completely excused any possible weaknesses the book might have (usually in characterization). And then there's the kind that I read and reread and still love to death every time I do so. This latter category is further broken down into two types: books that are exemplars of their more lighthearted (usually contemporary realism) genre (e.g. Fat Cat by Robin Brande, The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale, Poison Study by Maria Snyder), and books that effectively combine readerly engagement with thought-provoking concepts (e.g. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the upcoming Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien).


And there you have it! Did you learn something new? Dedicated readers of my blog, have you been able to see these trends and divisions in my reviews, and to take them into consideration when "using" my reviews? I look forward to next week's post about trends I've spotted in other bloggers I respect, when reviews do or don't influence me, and the deal with an excess of 5-star reviews... but in the meantime, I'd love to hear from you! If you want to write a similar post about your own rating styles, feel free to do so and link back to it here. If you have any comments or questions, mention them below, and I might be able to include them in next week's post.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn

Tags: YA, college, technology, addiction, sex

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Columbia University freshman Very LeFreak is a vivacious, confident girl, the life of the party and eternal schemer of outrageous activities. True, her busyness makes her rather scatterbrained, non-academically inclined, and a bit of a heartbreaker. But that doesn’t really matter, because her heart’s taken by El Virus, the mysterious man she “met” on the Internet and is madly in love with. Trouble is, Very hasn’t heard from El Virus in weeks and months, despite the fact that she is constantly checking her phone, email, and IMs to see if he’s contacted her. When her technology addiction begins to seriously negatively affect her real life, Very decides to go on a mission to discover the whereabouts of El Virus.


VERY LEFREAK is an unfortunate disappointment by a highly respectable author. It contains the chatty, witty, and pop culture reference-loaded writing of her previous books, but lacks cohesion and the ability to make us empathize with the characters.

Very is an appealing character because her thoughts—and therefore her narration—are refreshingly fast-paced, modern, and slightly scattered in the way that many 21st-century teens are, whether we admit it or not. She is unlike any character I’ve encountered in literature before, with her ever-ready repertoire of pop culture, random tangents, and connections we’d never make ourselves, but which seem perfectly logical coming from Very’s mind.

However, the fact that we are in Very’s head so much makes it extremely difficult for us to grasp what is going on in the story. Very’s observations are certainly interesting, but there is a lack of narrative cohesion tying together Very with the people in her life. The little we glean of Very’s friends is so colored by Very’s desires for who she wants them to be that we don’t get even close to a solid picture of who they are. While I understand that this may in fact be the manifestation of the typical limitations of fiction writing—everything we know about the characters, we know through a biased lens—the paradox doesn’t completely translate into reader enjoyability and comprehension here.

Similarly, there seemed to be a lack of plot in VERY LEFREAK. The book is so much a dissection of Very’s thought processes that it oftentimes forgets to effectively move the story along via relevant events, conversations, and even overarching themes. The technology addiction that the book’s synopsis claims Very suffers from actually doesn’t even play a major role in the book—which disappointed me, as I thought it was an interesting and pertinent topic that could’ve better been explored. I read about half of the book before realizing that absolutely nothing pertaining to character growth had happened yet. One can get away with that in an adult book, but for YA fiction, that just might be the kiss of death.

Overall, I believe VERY LEFREAK might be an interesting read for writers and academics curious about issues regarding fiction’s metalanguage—are the supporting characters really incohesive, or is that just a product of the intensely close third-person narration of this book? Can a story be a story without character development or plot?—but I fear it may be a struggle for the YA audience it’s being marketed at. Appreciators of well-written, character-driven novels might give this one a go and find that they enjoy it immensely.

Similar Authors
E. Lockhart
Diana Peterfreund

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 2/5
Plot: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - I do like the style, the whimsical feel of it, but that is not AT ALL how I pictured the vivacious and ineffable Very to look like.

Knopf / Jan. 12, 2010 / Hardcover / 320pp. / $16.99

Review copy received from publisher.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (53)

Endless Summer by Jennifer Echols

Lori should have known better than to date a pirate.

After finally getting together and going out on their first real date, only Lori and Adam could manage to fall asleep—and wake up seven hours past Lori’s curfew. Their parents forbid them to see each other. So Lori takes it upon herself to date boys scarier than Adam until her dad gives in.

But Adam won’t play along. He’s afraid Lori might fall for these scary boys. And when she goes out with the scariest boy of all—Adam’s own brother and her ex-crush—even the threat of being sent away to military school can’t keep Adam from swashbuckling his way back into Lori’s heart.

Can this forbidden love stay afloat, or will it sink in the watery deep?

I stumbled across a bunch of dystopian novels last week, but I'm in the middle of reading some disappointing books that had attractive high-magic/fantasy/sci-fi concepts that just aren't living up to the hype, and so I decided I want something light. And there's really no better place to go for a fun, lighthearted, genuine read than Jennifer Echols.

Now, I'll tell you a story about Endless Summer. When I first saw the cover, I was appalled. I like all the books I own by a particular author to be in the same format (hardcover, paperback) and have the same cover design. But the covers of the Simon RomComs are being redesigned because the publisher felt that they weren't attractive enough to the audience they were marketing the books towards. (I am terribly, terribly saddened by the news. I love Amy's covers! I love how the RomComs are so distinctive! Ah well. Executive decisions...)

Now what was I going to do? They were going to have to redesign the cover of The Boys Next Door so I could buy matching books! Fortunately, I read on Jenn's blog that Endless Summer is actually going to contain two novels: the first in the series, The Boys Next Door, and the new story about Lori and Adam. And all for the affordable price of $9.99.


The Boys Next Door was completely adorable (see my review), and I'm glad we get the chance to go back to those characters' world. And now, for you unfortunate people who have not read the book/series yet, now's your chance!

I'm super excited.

Endless Summer will be published in paperback by Simon Pulse on May 25, 2010.

Magic Under Glass' New Cover!

I was, sadly, silent while the blogosphere and Internet was all abuzz a few weeks ago with the white-washing cover controversary surrounding Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel, Magic Under Glass. (It was due mostly to schoolwork.) However, the new Magic Under Glass cover has been popping up now, and here it is:

Yeah, I couldn't find a bigger picture of it. Sorry! Now compare it with the original cover:

Isn't the new cover gorgeous? I really don't understand why Bloomsbury didn't just do the second cover first. While I admit that I like the lighting of the old cover, and think it would look very lovely on another book, the new one looks, on the one hand, much more professional. I mean, what was up with Number One's Photoshopped-floating-shadow translucent-title overlay? Hello?! Anyway, I digress.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about how I felt the new cover of Justine Larbalestier's Liar (changed, once again, after media outcry about its whitewashing) was...pretty, but had not gone far enough to correct the decades-old issue of whitewashing on covers. For reference, here is the cover of Liar again:

My issue with this image is that it's just too pretty, too unlike the author's descriptions of Micah in the book, too acquiescent to the majority (read: white) ideal of beauty. Because honestly? How many black girls look like this model? (How many girls of any other race, for that matter?) The supermodel-worthiness of the model, along with the "stillness" of the cover, left me dissatisfied and feeling that Bloomsbury had not done enough. No, far from it: they had simply gave themselves a lightly reprimanding slap on the wrists, and put the white majority's idealized version of black beauty on the cover.

This time, however, I think Bloomsbury's on a better track.

I'm still not completely satisfied, of course. There's still a "staticness" about these covers, a sluggishness, that conveys little movement for stories that are wide and sweeping and what have you. But I'm super happy they didn't put the teenage equivalent of Freida Pinto (Latika from Slumdog Millionaire) on the cover:

Or Aishwarya Rai (from Bride and Prejudice):

Because--do you see what I'm trying to depict here? There's no denying that Freida and Aishwarya are stunning. I don't care what race you are, or what your sexual orientation is, but there's almost no way you can NOT think either one of these ladies beautiful. Their beauty transcends almost impenetrable racial boundaries and appeals to the societal ideal of beauty.

That's why I'm much happier with the improved cover for Magic Under Glass than I was for that of Liar. On the cover of MUG is now a girl who could be my classmate, or my good friend back in high school. She's pretty too--but her beauty is so much more grounded in reality. I don't feel like a freaking ugly loser when I inevitably subconsciously compare myself to the cover of a book anymore. Like it or not, book covers do influence our impressions of a book, and now the good thing is that I can eagerly pick this book up in the store now and be allowed to think, I could be her. She could be me. I can be as brave and resourceful and beloved as she is.

And that, my friends, is an EXCELLENT thing for readers to think and feel.

So by all means, go out there and recommend this book like crazy. I bet there will be grateful girls out there, girls who are happy that finally, finally there's someone like them on the cover of a book: someone flawed, someone different, and someone amazing in their uniqueness and differences. This is one small step towards expanding society's standards of beauty, towards lowering teenage girls' insecurities over their appearances because they don't look like the only faces they see in prominent media positions. And that is a very beautiful thing.

So thank you, Bloomsbury, for this small gift. But you know what they say about the third time. Don't mess up again.

I leave you with the new MUG cover again. So you can bask in it, as I am.

Wheeeee look at me! I'm real and unique and therefore I am beautiful!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready

WVMP Radio, Book 1

Tags: paranormal, romance, vampires, music, radio

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


In order to put her con artist days behind her, twenty-something-year-old Ciara Griffin takes a marketing internship at the local radio station. She soon discovers, however, that the DJs are all vampires! Vampires are trapped in the time at which they died and so need to be immersed in the culture of that particular era in order to stay sane. Unfortunately, the owner of the struggling radio station is considering selling it to the generically commercial Skywave megacorporation, which would mean the end of “life” for the vampires.

Ciara comes up with the bold and daring idea of “outing” the vampire DJs to increase the station’s revenue. After all, no one is going to truly believe that the DJs are vampires—it will just make a great marketing ploy. Ciara’s idea is a success, and she even begins to get close to one of the vampire DJs, the hot and sensitive Shane McAllister.

There are some vampires, however, who don’t like what Ciara has done to WVMP and the safe anonymity of the vampires…


Calling all fans of smoldering romance, sassy heroines, and badass vampires: this brilliant series by Jeri Smith-Ready is sure to make your year! Not since Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series have I read a vampire book that’s so hot, funny, intelligent, and well written.

If you like your protagonists bold and witty, look no further than Ciara Griffin. Her irreverent narration makes WICKED GAME a nonstop entertaining and mindblowing read. Ciara is a remarkably well-developed heroine: not only is she an original thinker who exudes appeal in the here and now, she also has a tender family history that is almost always subconsciously at odds with the woman she has turned herself into after her complicated childhood. This balance of present-day confidence and psychoanalytical complexities ensures that readers will never tire of learning about Ciara and following her around.

Fans of the HBO hit show True Blood will LOVE Jeri Smith-Ready’s vampires. No more are they impeccably perfect and sparkly. These vampires are dangerous: the risks that Ciara takes on with her job and romantic pursuits are almost deliciously tangible. At the same time, the vampires are also flawed, neurotic in their compulsions and need of staying connected with their era. It is this weakness, this humanity in these vampires that make them appealing and all the more “realistic” to paranormal fans. I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say that I’m bored by perfect paranormal creatures and naively “innocent” romances between humans and supernaturals. Toss in a hint of danger—that lethal combination of supernatural superstrength and human vulnerabilities—and you really crank the heat up in the romance and action departments.

I could say more about the sexy but not offensively purely erotic romance, or the complex vampire bad guys, or the phenomenally brilliant writing, or the number of times I cracked up reading the dialogue or evidence of Ciara’s con artist background—but I think I’ll leave off here. Suffice it to say that it is highly unlikely that a more well researched, smart, and supremely enjoyable paranormal read is currently out there. Jeri Smith-Ready has sated my demands for excellence in this genre, and has left me wanting much more from Ciara and her unforgettable vampires.

Similar Authors
Richelle Mead
Diana Peterfreund
Charlaine Harris

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

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - As far as covers go, it's not that exciting. But this style is typical of many paranormal romances, and it's what's inside that counts!

Simon & Schuster / March 2009 (reprint) / Mass Market Paperback / 432pp. / $7.99

This copy was not provided for me by the author or publisher.

I'm Back!

Well, swimming is over. Don't have much to say about that, because unlike last year, this weekend was only mediocre, lol. Now, of course, I get the rest of my life back! I have lots of schoolwork and reading to catch up on though...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Away at Conferences!

So it's that time of year again where I leave for three days to go to my swimming Conference championships. Last year I did great and was really happy; this year, the competition's a lot fiercer, swimming means something different to me than before, and I'm just looking forward to swimming my best and seeing what happens. I'm not going to put up scheduled posts this time because I'm going to dedicate ALL my attention (yes, even my premeditated ones, lol) to getting through this weekend. Enjoy your weekend, all, and see you on the other side!
Hopefully I will be looking like that this weekend! :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Think Like a Writer (1)

I am working on a Directed Creative Writing Project with a professor this semester, writing a dystopian YA (maybe) novel. Let me tell you, I had NO idea how HARD writing dystopian fiction is! It's essentially a subgenre of science fiction, which is some respects could be harder than writing fantasy, because while in fantasy you can introduce elements into your story and explain their existence with the different "rules" of that fantasy world, science fiction is a reimagining of our world as we know it, and thus you have to take into consideration our past, present, and this future that you're describing. You must be aware of the "ripple effect" (which actually doesn't just go for sci-fi), in that everything you introduce to your dystopian world has to be logically sound according to the rules of our world, and actually probable. And, perhaps most importantly, you must express this world, this genre, the fact that this story is a possible future for our world, all in the first few pages, or else the reader will be confused and will not be as immersed in the story as you want to be.

My professor encouraged me to look at the beginnings of successful sci-fi novels, and I thought it would be a neat idea to turn it into a meme of sorts. In Think Like a Writer, I examine the first few paragraphs/pages that I think work extremely well in setting up the setting, story, genre, characters, and conflict. After all, this isn't just a reading blog, but also a writing one.

Of all YA dystopian fiction, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is probably the best and most famous (and rightfully so). The concept may in fact have been used before in books such as Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, but let's take a look at the first few pages of The Hunger Games to see how amazingly well Collins sets up this dystopian world now, shall we?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

Well, stop right there. Assuming that the reader knows this is YA, from this one sentence alone, we are already given the sense that Collins is writing about a world that is different from ours. After all, how many teenagers do we know share their beds with someone else?

My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.

No need to write "my sister Prim," as Collins is aware that that is a fact that she can easily give us in less "telling" terms. The roughness of the mattress suggests a struggling setting, and calls to our minds related images such as cottages, dirt floors, and similarly rough canvas clothing. All with just three simple, yet expertly placed, words.

Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

Here, our minds linger on the word "reaping." What is it? All we know right now is that it's something that gives Prim nightmares. Thus establishes its ominousness.

In the first paragraph alone, we get a sense of the setting (an illuxurious world), the main character's living arrangements and essential surface facts (with her family, so most likely not an adult), and a potential social conflict (the reaping). All of these we can glean just from the first paragraph, so much more information, and all just from the careful selection of words on Collins' part. Amazed yet? Let's continue.

I prop myself up on one elbow. There's enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother's body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim's face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.

Here we get confirmation of Prim's sibling status, plus how the narrator feels about her. We also get the idea that the father is, for some reason, not in the picture. And the last two sentences about the narrator's mother reinforces the idea we got from the first paragraph that this is a different world than many of us know, and that this family has fallen on hard times.

Sitting at Prim's knees, guarding her, is the world's ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower.

Already we have had several mentions of flora: primroses, squash, and buttercups. This first-hand knowledge of wildlife is not something most readers will have, and further establishes this story's world as lower-class, perhaps, located in a place where wildlife knowledge is common even to young people.

He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he's a born mouser, even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.

I've often wondered why this paragraph about the cat is necessary, but I think I come to the conclusion that it's to show us Katniss' nature without explicitly telling us so. The difference in Katniss and Prim's reactions to the mangy cat tells us a lot about the two of them. It establishes Katniss as the practical "breadwinner" of the household, and Prim as her opposite, her "foil," the character that brings out Katniss' nature for us readers. Also, mice and rats are apparently problems in this world.


I'm going to stop there, because that took a lot more time and energy than I had thought. But you get the picture. This is only a little more than the first page of the first chapter of The Hunger Games, and it packs an incredible amount of information in such a small space. This kind of non-explanatory, "everything is off but in a way that makes sense" feeling is so important in YA sci-fi/fantasy and is one of the reasons that distinguish an average book from an exceptional one. That's all for now; more fun next time!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

900-Follower Blogoversary Giveaway Update

Well, I really don't know how you guys continue to do it. And I feel kind of bad because I haven't written much lately in the way of good blog posts (school, swimming, and stressing out about summer plans have been the cause of that).

To make up for it--and also because we've reached another milestone, woohoo!--the following additions will be made to my blogoversary giveaway:

First, I will be adding an ARC of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver to the pile of ARCs to be won. Before I Fall is being raved about as one of the best books that people have ever read, and so I think it'll be fantastic.

Second, there will now be FIVE winners for the giveaway! And the new distribution of prizes will now be as such:

First-place winner will win FOUR ARCs, as well as THREE books of their choice.
Second-place winner will win THREE of the remaining ARCs, as well as TWO books of their choice.
Third-place winner will win TWO of the remaining ARCs, as well as ONE book of their choice.
Fourth-place winner will win ONE of the remaining ARC, as well as ONE book of their choice.
Fifth-place winner will win the remaining ARC.

The your-choice book prizes are still any book published between Jan. 1, 2010 - Feb. 28, 2010. To see the complete list of ARCs you can choose from if you win, as well as other giveaway-related info, please  go HERE. Don't forget: you must enter by filling out the form!

Waiting on Wednesday (52)

Faeriewalker, Book 1: Glimmerglass by Jenna Black

Dana Hathaway doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in big trouble. When her alcoholic mom shows up at her voice recital drunk, Dana decides she’s had it with being her mother’s keeper, so she packs her bags and heads to stay with her mysterious father in Avalon: the only place on Earth where the regular, everyday world and the magical world of Faerie intersect.

But from the moment Dana sets foot in Avalon, everything goes wrong, for it turns out she isn't just an ordinary teenage girl—she's a Faeriewalker, a rare individual who can travel between both worlds, and who can bring magic into the human world and technology into Faerie.

Soon, she finds herself tangled up in a cutthroat game of Fae politics. Someone's trying to kill her, and everyone wants something from her, even her newfound friends and family. Suddenly, life with her alcoholic mom doesn't sound half bad, and Dana would do anything to escape Avalon and get back home. Too bad both her friends and her enemies alike are determined not to let her go . . . [summary from Goodreads]

I have to admit that, with the oversaturated market, faerie books need to be really, REALLY good in order to capture my attention and win my love. But this one sounds very promising! It reminds me a bit of Holly Black's Tithe, which I love infinitely. And also, upcoming YA author Karen Mahoney gave this a high rating on Goodreads. (Yes, I am a big leech of recommendations. Aren't we all? *grins*) I hope that come May, this will be as good as it sounds!

Glimmerglass will be published in paperback by St. Martin's Griffin on May 25, 2010.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Giveaway Winners!

The winner of Wish by Alexandra Bullen, sponsored by the fabulous people at Scholastic, is:

#104 Becky G.!

The winner of the 5-book Simon & Schuster V-Day prize pack is:

#76 Dahlia!

Congratulations! I've emailed you both, so please respond within 72 hours with your information so I can forward it to the publisher.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: After by Kristin Harmel

Tags: YA, death, grief, love, family

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Nearly a year after the car accident that killed her father, Lacey Mann still can’t help feeling guilty for his death. If only she had not taken so long getting ready that morning. If only she had yelled out when she saw the car approaching. But now her father is gone, and her family has spun off in different directions, and try as hard as she can to be the good daughter and keep everything working, there’s still a huge part of her that is still not healed.

When the new guy, Sam, begins to show an interest in her, Lacey doesn’t know how to react. She’s tired of being pitied, tired of always being thought of as the girl with the dead father. But then Lacey starts a group at school for students with dead parents, and slowly she learns how love changes and can fit into her new life without forgetting the past.


AFTER is a gentle and sweet read about death and love. The book doesn’t cover any new ground, but it makes for a quick, pleasant read.

The characters’ dilemmas regarding, grief, friendship, family, and love are realistically complex. Grief affects people differently, and in AFTER we get to see many different facets of it: Lacey’s younger brother’s silent withdrawal, her older brother diving into a relationship that she can’t understand, her mother flinging herself into work and neglecting the rest of the family. The different situations, breakdowns, and verbal showdowns that Kristin Harmel portrays in this story are rendered accurately and sensitively.

However, many of the characters’ interactions with one another still felt rather forced to me. While I appreciated and could even understand Lacey’s uncertain feelings toward Sam, it is not well explained why Sam had such a persistent interest in her. And, unfortunately, there really was nothing new in this book: there are already a number of YA books on grief out there.

AFTER is a quick but ultimately forgettable read that may perhaps best be enjoyed by readers who either understand what Lacey is going through or are looking for an easy and quick read.

Similar Authors
Elizabeth Scott
Gayle Forman

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - I like the font, and the color scheme, but I'm not quite sure what it has to do with the story. It's pretty, of course.

Delacorte / Feb. 9, 2010 / Hardcover / 240pp. / $16.99

Sent for review by Random House.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Love Letter to No One in Particular

I know--or at least the numbers show--that quite a number of people read my blog. I also know that I'm not the type of person who participates in "en masse" events, such as wishing people Merry Christmas, or Happy New Year, or Chinese New Year (was that today? yesterday? oh crap I'm so bad..), or, oh hey, look, Valentine's Day. I saw the way the people whose blogs I subscribe to wished all of their readers Merry Christmas/Hannukkah back in December. And on a similar note, I noted the way everyone posted about Mockingjay when its cover and title were released earlier this week. Every other blog post that showed up in my reader was about that.

I'm ABSOLUTELY not saying that that is a bad thing to do! I understand the general excitement and good cheer of those events as well. I am simply saying that that is not the way I choose to express my passion and sincerity. Not that any way is better than the other. I just wanted to write about why I feel this way.

For me, communication is an extremely personal, intimate, and, therefore, difficult process. I believe that the truest emotion and thought cannot be expressed in language, and that the very act of attempting to convey your thoughts to another party means that some of your original intent is lost in the process. It's a dilemma that all writers--but really, anyone who is literate and/or communicative--face. If you think about it, it's actually funny that I should love to read and write so much, so aware I am of the limitations of language.

There's a common saying that human beings are social creatures, and while I agree (even an uberintrovert such as me enjoys good company), I also find it rather paradoxical that we must employ language in order to facilitate our social-ness. In that sense, all beings with a conscious, with a soul, are, deep down, individuals. You can never really understand another person as well as yourself (and if you disagree with me on this, as 40% of my brain is doing right now, note that I'm not saying that you'll be able to express yourself completely, even to yourself. Many things are simply outside the realm of possibility and comprehension allowed by language).

Believing this, I try to break down the inevitable communication barriers between me and others as much as I can. I do this by being sincere, genuine, and honest to myself. When I smile at a stranger I pass on the street or the lady who hands me my food at the ordering counter, it's a smile that comes from way inside me, a smile that uses the eyes and the soul as well as the mouth. When I talk to customer services on the phone, I try to be as courteous and accommodating as possible, recognizing that these are actual people behind the bodiless voices in my ear.

I've befriended those bodiless voices as I've attempted to solve package delivery or Internet issues. I've had strangers stop me with a hand on my arm on the subway and tell me that I have an amazing smile. These are incidents that I cherish, even as I take them with a blush or an embarrassed grin. Because in a world where people can so easily hide behind impersonableness, textureless words on a smooth screen, the disembodiment of the cell phone, and a tall counter or glass window, such basic forms of communication are, unfortunately, all too rare and thus considered amazing feats, when they should really be so commonplace that people should expect genuine smiles or thanks as their dues for simply existing.

What does this have to do with Valentine's Day, since that's kind of what's got me thinking about this? I agree in a sense that Valentine's Day has become a heavily commercialized "holiday" that many businesses exploit to make profits off of. The times I went on Facebook today, I always saw one or two of my friends' statuses which said something along the lines of, "Valentine's Day is the STUPIDEST holiday ever" or "Can it be February 15 already?" or "I just don't understand why people celebrate Valentine's Day."

Whether or not I've been on the receiving end of valentines, I've never been bitter about this holiday. When my high school sold carnations for Valentine's Day and classmates all around me received flowers but I didn't, I wasn't bitter. Of the twenty or so Valentine's Days I've lived through, three of them were shared with two other people.

This Valentine's Day, I'm single for the first time in two Valentine's Days. And I became even more aware of what this holiday was about, why we celebrate it, and why we--and I above so many others--get so mushy and romantic on this day:

It's a celebration of love.

I agree that love shouldn't be confined to just one day out of the whole year. That love is encompassed in tangible objects such as flowers or chocolates or expensive gifts. Genuine love--in all forms, not just romantic--should exist and be celebrated in all forms, every day. So many of us believe that the only kind of love that counts on Valentine's Day is the romantic kind, but that's far from the case. Today, I thought about all the friends I have; the family I care about, even though I might not get along with them all the time; the books, each a special present of its own, lining my bookshelves; beautiful music; the view on my walk up to campus; and the strangers I've come in contact with and received genuine smiles from, the kind that crinkle the eyes and leave you floating for the rest of the day.

There is love in all of that.

Today, I watched as people holding flowers greeted their lovers as they met them coming off the SEPTA train on my campus, and I smiled. I saw a harried young man, bundled up against the cold, penguin-walking up our slippery walk, a single flower clutched in his hand, and I smiled. I listened to the male a cappella group at my school serenade people in the library this afternoon. I read people's blog posts, both Valentine's and non-Valentine's Day related.

And I smiled.

Is there such a religion as aestheticism? Because that's what I believe in. I believe in the power of love and beauty, of finding the little things in life that make your day, of doing small and effortless favors for utter strangers that benefit everyone immediately. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It's true. Love and beauty are the things that cannot be expressed in words, and they are the exact things that we should remember to enjoy and notice in our lives.

It's not such a bad thing to have Valentine's Day. We all need a reminder to celebrate and appreciate love every once in a while. Why else do you think romance is so beloved in the books we read and enjoy? Even those of us without romantic loves in our lives like knowing that it exists. Valentine's Day gives me a chance to remember all of the people I've loved having in my life, the privileges I've been given, the opportunities I've been fortunate enough to have to do the things I love.

I don't do mass emails, mass texts, or blog posts wishing everyone a happy whatever-holiday-it-is because that's not the way I express my love. Instead, I write long, rambling posts like this one and cast them out into the world with the hopes that someone will get something out of it. These "love letters" that I write--here, in my journal, in letters to other people--feel to me more genuine than any cheerful mass-communicated phrase with an exclamation point attached to the end. That's how I express myself, and that's what it means for me to show my happiness and love.

Here are some people's blog posts to get you inspired to celebrate life, love, and genuineness: teen blogger Robby's heartwrenching post today inspired me to write this love letter to no one in particular. Steph Bowe has amassed a post full of beautiful love-related pictures that I'd love to see blown up and placed in the best art gallery in the whole world. Author Beth Kephart always has simple, sweet, and beautiful blog posts and pictures on her blog that are worth taking 5 minutes out of your life to savor.

This unconventional Valentine's Day post ends here. I hope everybody had a great weekend, wherever you were and whatever you did. Now excuse me, I'm going to go continue spreading the love. :)

In My Mailbox (25)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Check out Kristi's blog to see what other bloggers got in terms of books this week!

I had a FANTASTIC week in review books; all of these look so good!

Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham
(Penguin / Jan. 2010)

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.

I've been wanting to read this for so long and I'm extremely lucky I now have the chance to for review. Thank you thank you, Sarah!

Token of Darkness by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
(Random House / Feb. 9, 2010)

Cooper Blake has everything going for him—until he wakes from a car accident with his football career in ruins and a mysterious, attractive girl by his side. Cooper doesn’t know how Samantha got there or why he can see her; all he knows is that she’s a ghost, and the shadows that surround her seem intent on destroying her.

No one from Cooper’s old life would understand what he can barely grasp himself. . . . But Delilah, the captain of the cheerleading squad, has secrets of her own, like her ability to see beyond the physical world, and her tangled history with Brent, a loner from a neighboring school who can hear strangers’ most intimate thoughts. Delilah and Brent know that Cooper is in more trouble than he realizes, and that Samantha may not be as innocent as she has led Cooper to believe. But the only way to figure out where Samantha came from will put them all in more danger than they ever dreamed possible.

Theatre Illuminata, Book 2: Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev
(Feiwel & Friends / May 25, 2010)

Act Two, Scene One

Growing up in the enchanted Thèâtre Illuminata, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith learned everything about every play ever written. She knew the Players and their parts, but she didn’t know that she, too, had magic. Now, she is the Mistress of Revels, the Teller of Tales, and determined to follow her stars. She is ready for the outside world.


But the outside world soon proves more topsy-turvy than any stage production. Bertie can make things happen by writing them, but outside the protective walls of the Thèâtre, nothing goes as planned. And her magic cannot help her make a decision between—

Nate: Her suave and swashbuckling pirate, now in mortal peril.

Ariel: A brooding, yet seductive, air spirit whose true motives remain unclear.

When Nate is kidnapped and taken prisoner by the Sea Goddess, only Bertie can free him. She and her fairy sidekicks embark on a journey aboard the Thèâtre’s caravan, using Bertie’s word magic to guide them. Along the way, they collect a sneak-thief, who has in his possession something most valuable, and meet The Mysterious Stranger, Bertie’s father—and the creator of the scrimshaw medallion. Bertie’s dreams are haunted by Nate, whose love for Bertie is keeping him alive, but in the daytime, it’s Ariel who is tantalizingly close, and the one she is falling for. Who does Bertie love the most? And will her magic be powerful enough to save her once she enters the Sea Goddess’s lair?

Isn't the cover beeeeautiful? Thank you so much, Lisa!

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake
(Simon & Schuster / Dec. 1, 2009)

In a secret underworld, ninjas and vampires are one and the same.

British author Lake's promising U.S. debut takes three of the most overused ideas in fantasy—the boy with a destiny, vampires, and ninjas—and combines them into a highly effective adventure. Marked by destiny, Taro has no idea that he is anything but a simple peasant until ninjas murder his father, driving Taro and his mother from their home. Protected and mentored by the ninja Shusaku and accompanied by his best friend, Hiro, Taro must come to terms with the heritage that makes him invaluable to two lords vying for control of feudal Japan, the revelation that the murderous samurai are not the noble heroes he admired, and his unexpected transformation into a kyuuketsuki (a vampire).

Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood by Eileen Cook
(Simon & Schuster / Jan. 2010)

Popularity is the best revenge.

In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls—and now, at the start of her senior year, she's the cheerleading captain, the quarterback's girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she's ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she's moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn't dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that's ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

Watch out, Lauren Wood. Things are about to get bitchy.

She's So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott
(Simon & Schuster / May 25, 2010)

When having money is all that matters, what happens when you lose it all?

Perfect, picturesque Orchard Hill. It was the last thing Ally Ryan saw in the rear-view mirror as her mother drove them out of town and away from the shame of the scandal her father caused when his hedge fund went south and practically bankrupted all their friends — friends that liked having trust funds and new cars, and that didn't like constant reminders that they had been swindled. So it was adios, Orchard Hill. Thanks for nothing.

Now, two years later, Ally's mother has landed a job back at the site of their downfall. So instead of Ally's new low-key, happy life, it'll be back into the snake pit with the likes of Shannen Moore and Hammond Ross.

But then there's Jake Graydon. Handsome, wealthy, bored Jake Graydon. He moved to town after Ally left and knows nothing of her scandal, but does know that he likes her. And she likes him. So off into the sunset they can go, right? Too bad Jake's friends have a problem with his new crush since it would make Ally happy. And if anyone deserves to be unhappy, it's Ally Ryan.

Ally was hoping to have left all the drama in the past, but some things just can't be forgotten. Isn't there more to life than money?

Thank you, R, for this one!

Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
(EgmontUSA / Oct. 13, 2009)

When you look in a mirror, who do you see?

A boy? A girl?
A son? A daughter?
A runner? A dancer?

Whoever and whatever you see–
just put out your fist and give yourself an "I am" BAM!

This jumping, jazzy, joyful picture book by the award-winning team of Walter Dean and Christoper Myers celebrates every child, and every thing that child can be.

wtf by Peter Lerangis
(Simon Pulse / Nov. 10, 2009)

One Plan, Two Parties, Six Players:

Jimmy: the driver
Cam: the connect
Byron: the know-it-all
Reina: the conscience
MC: the crasher

On one Friday night these six will test their limits to the extreme. Some are driven by lust, others by greed. One just wants to have fun, and another desires to be free. If everything goes as planned, they will all get what they want. But within twenty-four hours, bones will break, bodies will touch, hearts will race, guns will be draw, and everything will go oh so very wrong.

Books Borrowed from Library:

Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu
(Walker Books / Feb. 2, 2010)

Everyone has a secret. But Lucy’s is bigger and dirtier than most. It’s one she’s been hiding for years—that her mom’s out-of-control hoarding has turned their lives into a world of garbage and shame. She’s managed to keep her home life hidden from her best friend and her crush, knowing they’d be disgusted by the truth. So, when her mom dies suddenly in their home, Lucy hesitates to call 911 because revealing their way of life would make her future unbearable—and she begins her two-day plan to set her life right.With details that are as fascinating as they are disturbing, C. J. Omololu weaves an hour-by-hour account of Lucy’s desperate attempt at normalcy. Her fear and isolation are palpable as readers are pulled down a path from which there is no return, and the impact of hoarding on one teen’s life will have readers completely hooked.

Scones & Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
(EgmontUSA / Dec. 2009)

Seek tirelessly and you shall not find a contemporary heroine of middle-grade literature as refined and romantic as Miss Polly Madassa. Still swooning over the romantic conclusions of Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables, twelve-year-old Polly decides her purpose in life: helping along lonely hearts in search of love. Polly's only task this summer is to make deliveries for her parents' bakery, leaving ample time for this young cupid to find hearts to mend—beginning with the kite-store owner, Mr. Nightquist, who will pair perfectly with Miss Wiskerton (the unfairly labeled town curmudgeon). Polly's best friend Fran Fisk is in desperate need of a mother ever since hers ran off with a man she met on the Internet; Polly must find a match for Mr. Fisk. And while she's at it, it wouldn't hurt to find Clementine, Polly's teenaged sister, a beau worthy of her (so she can shed that brute, Clint). Polly's plans are in full swing, so she definitely cannot be bothered by the advances of classmate Brad Barker.

But maybe Polly should have turned her attention to Miss Austen's Emma next, because she quickly learns the pitfalls of playing matchmaker. How will Polly patch up her own relationships, while ensuring that destined love can take its course?



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