Sunday, March 28, 2010

Beth Kephart shares her inspiration for The Heart Is Not a Size

Today, I am delighted to welcome one of my favorite authors, Beth Kephart, to my blog. Beth's new book, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be on bookshelves March 30th and she's here today to share with us the inspiration for the book. Enjoy Beth's post and the pictures that she took in Juarez and please comment below. One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Heart Is Not a Size.

Beth Kephart (words in blue):
My husband is Salvadoran, and I spent 15 years researching his home. I traveled, took photographs, learned the geography. I lived through monsoons, and I picked coffee, and I traveled in the violent aftermath of the guerrilla wars. I wrote a novel about El Salvador then chose to reconstruct it as a memoir and in the midst of that work, I traveled to Spain to begin work on a novel that takes place in Seville. I love, I am trying to say, those parts of the world that are Spanish influenced, and so, when an opportunity came up to travel to Juarez, Mexico, with my husband, son, and two dozen church friends, I said, Yes. Absolutely. I want to be there.

Still, I wasn’t fully prepared for the Juarez that we traveled to in the summer of 2005. I had expected heat and poverty and dust; we were met forcefully by all three. I had expected long lines at border crossings and nights of little sleep. But I had not expected to see children of such substantial beauty emerge from homes that could—and were, while we were there—be blown away by a windstorm.

Juarez to so many of us now is the blaring headlines of drug wars; it is the numbers of children shot dead; it is gang members bursting through hospital doors and killing the doctors who are struggling to save lives. It is the residual of so many young women, gone missing. But to me Juarez will always also be the children who welcomed us with open arms in a squatters’ village—who burst upon dust streets in dresses so rose-red, so violet, so white. Juarez, to me, will be the photographs I took, and it will be this book, The Heart is Not a Size, which means the world to me because there, in Heart, is a world I came to love—a world that taught me something about courage and grace. Juarez is a world that I want to take you to, a world that I want to share.

Miss Em, you have given me so much in my writing career. You have given me, again, a platform—and more than most will ever know. Thank you for inviting me here, to your blog, to tell this story with pictures and words.
Thanks for sharing your story and beautiful pictures with us, Beth!

For more about The Heart Is Not a Size, read my review or visit Beth's blog or become a fan on Facebook. Comment below and one lucky commenter will receive a copy of The Heart Is Not a Size. ♥

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong Book Review

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong
(HarperCollins, Hardcover, April 2010)

In this third volume of Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers trilogy, Chloe is finally beginning to control her ability to raise the dead.  The usual cast of characters—Simon, Derek, and Tori—are with her at a safe house and as they began to unravel the mystery of the Edison Group, Chloe also begins to sort out her feelings for Simon and Derek.

I was hooked on this series after reading the first book, The Summoning.  I loved the whole idea of a psychiatric ward for teens being a front for kids with supernatural powers.  Over the course of the series, Chloe has gradually become more comfortable with her necromancy skills, scary as they are.  While the second book in the series, The Awakening, fell a little flat for me as it served only to get Chloe and her friends from Point A to Point B with little character or plot development, this third volume has a lot to offer.  I enjoyed reading about Chloe's developing feelings for Derek and about her growing confidence in her supernatural abilities.

However...and this isn't a flaw at all, just an observation...I felt like there was more to Chloe's story.  The ending was satisfying, action packed, and closed a lot of plot lines, but throughout this third book, several clues were dropped that perhaps this won't be the last book in the series.  For example, Margaret, one of the adults who takes Chloe and her friends in, looks scared when Chloe mentions that the stone in her protective necklace changed colors, but we never find out what the changing colors means.  Also, there are several allusions that the Edison Group isn't the only group that Chloe needs to fear.  Finally, Chloe meets a demon at one point and his parting words made me think that it wasn't the last she would see of him.  I don't mean to imply that this trilogy doesn't feel finished, just that it would be great to extend it into a four or five book series.  One can only wish.  :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fall Fantasy Flashback...or...Playing Catch-up with Reviews

This past fall I read a ton of great fantasy books and, sadly, did not have time to review them here.  Because I read them so long ago, I can't quite remember all the details of each book so I am going to do mini reviews rather than my normal long review.

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
(Egmont, Hardcover, December 2009)

In her debut novel, Bree Despain captures the quintessential teen problems—romance, family issues, and faith—all while weaving an exciting fantasy story. The secrets surrounding Grace Divine's childhood friend, Daniel, kept me guessing the whole book and the ending left me waiting for a sequel.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
(Scholastic, Hardcover, August 2009)
So many good things to say about this one. Stiefvater's mythology was captivating and intriguing and unlike any werewolf story that I've read (granted, I haven't read that many).  Because Sam will completely revert to wolf form if it gets too cold outside, the use of temperatures for chapter titles was unique and suspenseful.  Shiver is a beautifully written love story and I can't wait to read the sequel, Linger, when it comes out in July.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
(Hyperion, Hardcover, October 2009)

This novel reminded me of some of favorite fantasy writers, such as Hilari Bell and Tamora Pierce.  Set in a world of monarchs and magic, two strangers will have to unite to save a kingdom.  Han has grown up in poverty, but the magic silver cuffs that he wears suggests a there is more to this reformed thief than meets the eye.  Raisa is a princess in a gilded cage but, more than anything, she wants to escape and become a warrior queen.  Thoroughly captivating, this is one of the best fantasy books that I read last year and the sequel, The Exiled Queen, is already on my wishlist even though it doesn't come out until September.

Have you read any good fantasy books lately?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott Book Review

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
(Simon Pulse, Hardcover, April 2010)

Among girlfriends, there is one unwritten rule - do not steal your best friend's boyfriend.  When Brianna starts dating Ryan, Sarah is crushed because she's liked Ryan for years.  Sarah doesn't intend to steal Ryan from Brianna but as the three begin to hang out more, it's obvious Ryan and Brianna's relationship isn't great.  So when Sarah finds out that Ryan likes her back, she kisses him, twice.  Can Sarah and Brianna's friendship survive this and is Ryan worth it?

I've been a big fan of Elizabeth Scott's writing ever since her first book, Bloom.  Her characters are real and endearingly flawed.  In The Unwritten Rule, Sarah is insecure and she feels lucky that Brianna is her best friend.  Though Brianna constantly puts Sarah down, Sarah takes it because, without Brianna, she feels lost.  And as for Ryan, let's just say that I enjoyed reading a book where the boy wasn't portrayed as this evil person breaking up a friendship.  The Unwritten Rule is an absorbing novel about growing up, finding your own way, and the importance of breaking some rules.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting Book Review

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
(HarperTeen, Hardcover, March 2010)


Dead bodies seem to call to Violet Ambrose. Ever since she was little and uncovered the body of a teenage girl in the woods, Violet has been able to find dead bodies--mostly, squirrels, mice, cats, and other woodland creatures. Their "imprint" calls to her, through colors, smells, and noises. Violet has learned to deal with her ability, but when a serial killer starts murdering girls in her town, Violet can't escape the horror. Even worse, it looks like the serial killer is targeting Violet.

The Body Finder is one of the most exciting, original fantasy books that I've read in awhile. The novel is full of suspense and descriptive passages. Violet's ability to see/hear/smell imprints comes across as spooky but also beautiful. Here's a passage from the beginning of the novel. Violet and her friends are enjoying a lazy summer afternoon at a lake when Violet feels the pull of something dead and sees what looks like the sheen of an oil spill in the water.
"Multihued light seemed to be radiating up from beneath the water, centered among the reeds, and then diffusing outward as it reached the surface. Violet had never seen anything like it and she knew that the spectrum of light was defying its very nature by behaving in that way. It could only be one thing. There was something dead down there....The vibrant light continued to play off the waves from below, fading into a fine, colorful mist as it broke through the surface of the water and vanished into the air." (pp. 61-62)
The characters in Kimberly Derting's novel are well-written and believable. Violet agonizes over school, family, and her sudden crush on Jay, her best friend. Quite frankly, it was nice to read about a family that was supportive for a change. When confronted with Violet's gift at an early age, Violet's dad believes his daughter instead of shipping her off to a psychiatric ward. He acts like a parent figure and allows Violet to live a relatively normal life. The book also has an incredibly sweet and touching romantic element, for those of you who are romance fans. In the acknowledgments of the book, Kimberly thanks her editor for helping her to "polish The Body Finder into something that sparkles." And sparkle it does. The plot is creative, the characters fully developed, and the writing compelling. And make sure to keep your eyes open for the sequel which will be published in 2011 and titled The Desires of the Dead.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

House of Dance Contest at Beth Kephart's Blog

Beth Kephart is having a contest over at her blog.  Tell her your definition of dance and two lucky winners will get a paperback copy of her fabulous book House of Dance.

And speaking of fabulous books, Beth just received some great news about her upcoming book The Heart Is Not a Size.  Stay tuned to this blog for some more Heart related posts as we get closer to it's release date on March 30th.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont Book Review

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont
(Atheneum, Hardcover, March 2010)

When 16-year-old Sydney finds out that she's pregnant, she has no idea what to do. So she keeps it a secret from everyone but her best friend Natalie. Sydney thinks that she just needs time to decide what to do and how to tell her mom. Then her mom enrolls her in a six-week canoe camp in Canada and Natalie invites herself along. Sydney has to make the biggest decision of her life on this trip and Natalie's opinions aren't helping.

In my review of Nina de Gramont's first novel Gossip of the Starlings, I said that she perfectly captures what is like to be an adolescent on the verge of adulthood. The same holds true for this novel. Sydney is forced to grow up when she finds out that's she is pregnant. The juxtaposition of Sydney's upcoming decision and the carefree world of summer camp illustrate the two worlds that Sydney is straddling. Natalie's desire for Sydney to keep the baby sets up a nice pro-life/pro-choice debate, but it also serves to show how friendships change as we grow up. I thought this novel had great character development, a thought-provoking topic, and a unique setting. I'm excited that de Gramont has ventured into teen literature and I can't wait to see what she writes next.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cybils Young Adult Fiction Finalists - a Round-up of Reviews

I'm currently in the process of reading the seven Young Adult Fiction finalists for the Cybils award and am really enjoying them. All of the books that I've read thus far deal with major ISSUES, like alcoholism or suicide or abuse. In order to combat the heaviness, I've been reading light, frothy, non-Cybils books in between. This helps me clear my head before moving on to the next book. Unlike last year when I read over 90 nominated novels as a first-round panelist, this year I only have to read seven so it's nice to be able to take my time and savor each book instead of feeling like I have to rush immediately into the next one.

Enough about my reading style though...I promised to post other bloggers' reviews of the finalists, since I can't actually review any on my blog until after the winner has been announced. Below are reviews that have come to my attention in the last week. If you've reviewed one of these books and you're not on this list, leave me a comment and a link to your review and I'll add it. (p.s. I have no idea if these are positive or negative reviews. I didn't read them before posting because I didn't want other reviews competing with my own thoughts as I read these books.)

Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
Reviewed by:
Sarah at YA Librarian Tales
Sarah at Sarah's Random Musings
Alea at Pop Culture Junkie
Norah at TeenReads

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford
Reviewed by:
Sally at Reading Junky

Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers
Reviewed by:
Tirzah at The Compulsive Reader
Sophie at So Many Books
Sarah at Sarah's Random Musings
Jocelyn at Teen Book Review

How To Say Goodbye In Robot by Natalie Standiford
Reviewed by:
Tirzah at The Compulsive Reader
Erin at Forever Young Adult
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
Reviewed by:
Sarah at YA Librarian Tales
Sarah at Green Bean Teen Queen
Shelf Elf
The Book Muncher

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Reviewed by:
Tirzah at The Compulsive Reader
Priya at Book Crumbs

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reviewed by:
Tirzah at The Compulsive Reader
Jenny at Forever Young Adult
Priya at Book Crumbs
Megan at SimplyMegan
Sally at Reading Junky
Amanda at A Patchwork of Books

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My 2010 Book Wishlist

A new year means tons of great new books. Here are some that I'm looking forward to reading (and buying) in 2010.

The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart (already read and loved!), Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Every Little Thing In the World by Nina de Gramont (already read and loved!)

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong, Linger by Maggie Stiefvater, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting (already read and loved!)

What's on your 2010 book wishlist?

A note about buying books...
Between my job and this blog, I get a ton of books for free, but I also buy a ton of books. I've already read three of the above books in advance reader copy form. However, when those books hit the shelves, I will buy at least one copy of every one. Why? Because I love books and I think it's important to support the authors of my favorite books. As Beth Kephart recently said on her blog, "I believe in books, and I will pay to keep them coming." Of course, this also means that I'm doing a good job of keeping the bookshelf manufacturing companies in business, too. :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Favorite Books of 2009

One of my favorite things to do in January is to look back at some of the best books from the previous year. Below are some of my favorite reads in 2009...

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart
Fire by Kristin Cashore
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker
Lips Touch by Laini Taylor

Last year, my blog resolution was to read 200 books. For the second year in a row, I am proud to say that I read over 200 books. This year, I am not going to set a reading quota; instead, my goal is to read more diversely. In addition to the young adult books you see reviewed on this blog, my list of 200 books was filled with adult fiction and a handful of non-fiction. In 2010, I want to read more non-fiction and I also want to work towards my goal of reading all the Man Booker Prize winners. Usually I read 2-3 of these a year, although in 2009 I only read 1--The Gathering by Anne Enright, a thoroughly depressing book.

However, when all is said and done, my only real New Year's Resolution is to pet my cat more. ♥
Em's Favorite Books of 2007 and 2008