Monday, May 26, 2008

The Tables Have Been Turned

We've all read a blog post where the book blogger interviewed an author. Some of us are even lucky enough to be the one interviewing the author. But an author that interviews the book blogger? Now that's turning the tables. Recently, Beth Kephart asked if she could interview me. Me, what would you want to know about me? I'm just a book reviewer, certainly nothing as exciting as being a published, National Book Award nominated author. Beth had all these questions for me and they were so thought-provokingly good that it was real pleasure to answer them.

If you'd like to know a little bit more about me (and see a picture of me that's more than just my feet!), then head over to Beth's blog. Make sure to leave her a little love in the comment section because what could be cooler than an author who interviews a book blogger?! :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn Book Review

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn
(Knopf, Paperback)

"I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes?" Nick and Norah don't know each other until Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. Those five minutes end up stretching into a night-long date as the two make their way around New York, from one music club to the next. Every minute counts as their first date opens wounds, starts an unexpected passion, and heals their broken hearts.

Wow. This book just reaffirms why I love teen books. Nick's story is told by David Levithan and Norah's perspective is written by Rachel Cohn. The two alternate chapters and their unique voices help to emphasize the back-and-forth nature of a first date. Each character makes bold moves and statements and then backs down a little, all the while waiting to see how the other will take it. Nick and Norah are each a little unsure of this blossoming relationship and each one is dealing with ghosts of the past. I've read a lot of reviews that rail against the language and sexually charged scenes in this book. To them, I say "Open your eyes and ears." This is what real life is like—messy, uncertain, harsh, and brilliant all at the same time. As for the songs, as Nick points out, our life is an infinite playlist. Sometimes we find the songs of the moment and sometimes we write them.

Visit the book website for interviews, excerpts, and to hear the actual playlist from the book.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

HOUSE OF DANCE Interview and Contest to win a signed copy

Beth and I have teamed up with HarperCollins to offer three lucky people a signed copy of House of Dance. To enter my contest, just leave a comment on this post or send me an email. I'll randomly select three winners on May 22nd.

Last fall, I fell in love with Beth Kephart's writing when I read her first novel for teens, Undercover. Luckily, this is shaping up to be a life-long relationship because I also loved her second teen novel, House of Dance. Recently, Beth and I chatted over email about how her second novel came into being and I'm excited to share the interview with you below. The photographs were all taken by Beth.

Em: Rosie has a lot in common with Elisa from Undercover—a love of nature, a need to understand those around them, and the willpower to go after what they want—but they are also very different characters. If you had to sum up each girl in one word, what would it be?
Beth: Miss Em, can I just say right here, up front, that you ask fantastic questions? But oh, how hard they are to answer? My heroines, in one word.
Elisa: percolating
Rosie: soulful
Em:Where were you when the idea of House of Dance came to you?

Em: How did you find the story for House of Dance? Did you start at the beginning? Did you imagine one scene and then create a story around it?
Beth: I had wanted to write about loving someone through his final days, so the story began with that impulse. The decision to build dance into the story came from a showcase experience I had, in which I danced with others on a stage. What I loved about that show was how we all came together—all of us who performed. I loved the way women took care of women—how we traded what we knew about beauty, how we cared, how we found just the right barrette for each other’s hair. I loved the way we cheered for the men. So that the final scene of HOUSE OF DANCE was very much related, emotionally, to the communal something I’d experienced. I wrote that scene first, in fact, and then wrote toward it. Then had to adjust the whole thing several times, until it felt complete and right to me.
Em: Why did you decide to set House of Dance in the summer?
Beth: I wanted to give Rosie the stretch of time she needed with her grandfather, and with her own emotions. I didn’t want the clash of school work or schedules, didn’t want the distracting subplotting of school gossip. Rosie, in HOUSE OF DANCE, is forced to find her own way, in every way.
Em: If you could take a picture of Rosie’s mother’s back yard/window sill, what would it look like?
Em: Rosie learns a lot besides dancing at The House of Dance; Marissa teaches her about the beauty of colors and Max teaches her confidence. What made you decide to center the novel around dance?
Beth: I have danced since I was a child, in one form or another. Sometimes on ice, sometimes alone in a family basement or in a studio apartment or with an instructor. When I dance I feel beautiful. I feel set free from my own face, my own body, and elevated by the power of music. I wanted to find a way to write about that. I was also dealing with very great losses in my own life, and dance was keeping me whole.
Em: What did Rosie see when she walked into The House of Dance?
Em: How did your own dance experiences influence Rosie’s lessons?
Beth: The very first lessons that Rosie has with Max are very literal translations of the very first waltz and rumba lessons I had with two extraordinary teachers, one named John Vilardo and one named Scott Lazarov. I experienced those dances just as Rosie does. I was that uncertain, that dizzy, that in love with the whole ballroom thing from the first.
Em: I like the thought of Riot, the protective cat, watching over Granddad. What does Riot look like?Em: One of my favorite things about books is that they can be different things for different people. For me, House of Dance is a story of growing up, feeling lonely and unsure, then realizing that, as Granddad says, life is about living, and finally, about what happens when you start living and noticing the color in life. What is House of Dance for you?
Beth: HOUSE is about the power of love for me. It’s about the power of discovering the most perfect gift to give.
Thanks for the interview, Beth!

Beth is an avid photographer and to see more of her fabulous photos, visit her blog. And don't forget to comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of House of Dance!

Read my 2007 interview with Beth.

House of Dance by Beth Kephart Book Review

House of Dance by Beth Kephart
(HarperCollins, Hardcover)


Rosie's Granddad has lived just across town all her life but she has never really known him. All that changes during her 15th summer. Granddad is dying and it is Rosie who has to help care for him. Rosie spends the summer organizing his possessions and slowly learns the important of music in her grandfather's life. Lost and feeling alone, Rosie starts to take dance lessons and begins to discover herself.

You know the kind of book that makes you laugh, makes you cry, and makes you want to start at page 1 as soon as you finish the last page? House of Dance is one of those books for me. Rosie's life has been lonely and yet she understands the importance of love and friendship. She is a courageous soul - bravely taking care of her dying grandfather and determined to learn to dance in a few short months. Growing up is never easy and Rosie struggles to understand herself as well as the people around her.
"That was my thought of the hour: that maybe all of us are [a mystery]. That Granddad had been young before he'd been old. That Mom had been a daughter once, like me. That there were things on the verge of vanishing that I barely understood."
Beth Kephart's writing style perfectly captures what we all experience as teens, that tumultuous journey of emotional and philosophical growth. It is heartbreaking to know that Rosie's Granddad will die soon, but House of Dance is ultimately a novel of hope. Rosie shows us that life is a dance and you have to take that first step in order to start living.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Weekly Geeks, Childhood Books, and My Tricky, Smart Mom

I've always loved reading Dewey's blog. She's got a great mix of book reviews, book musings, and contests. Her latest venture is Weekly Geeks, wherein a whole bunch of bloggers contribute to whatever the weekly theme may be. This is the first week that I've actually had the time to join in and I'm so excited about the theme - childhood books.

I've always been a big reader. When I was little, my mom made my brother and I have "quiet times". Not nap time, but rather an hour in which we had to be quiet. She probably did this for her sanity, but it was really clever of her. She gave my brother and I record players and some read-along-books that came with records. So my quiet times consisted of Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and Peter & the Wolf. I'm not sure if I actually "read" along but I sure was quiet for an hour.

Then came elementary school and I learned how to read under my desk. Most teachers didn't notice and the ones that did probably didn't care. About this time I discovered A Little Princess. Everyone raves about The Secret Garden, but I honestly hated the whiny little Mary. For me, A Little Princess remains my favorite Frances Hodgson Burnett book and probably my most favorite book of all time. I love frank, queer, little Sara who misses her papa and makes up stories for the other boarding school girls.

However, the most important books of my childhood are probably the Berenstain Bear books. That smart mom of mine bought us practically the whole collection. And you can bet that if my brother and I wouldn't clean our room, then The Berenstain Bears and The Messy Room would make an appearance as our bedtime story. Or if we asked for too many treats in the grocery store, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies was sure to be the bedtime book that night.

Books have always been important to my family. It's perfectly acceptable to read a book at the dinner table. It's also perfectly normal to try to talk to my dad while he's reading and not get a response til 5 minutes later. In reading this over, I realize that it makes the perfect Mother's Day post. Thanks, Mom (and Dad) for all the great books and for those tricky life lessons disguised as books.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder Book Review

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder
(Simon Pulse, Paperback)

Ava is being haunted by her boyfriend, Jackson, and she kind of likes it. Jackson died at the end of the school year and he was her whole world. So when she starts seeing him in the mirror and hearing his voice in her head, Ava doesn't complain. In fact, she makes excuses to stay home so she can be closer to Jackson. After all, it was her fault that he died. But does having a ghost as a boyfriend mean that Ava can't live her own life?

I've tried verse novels before and never liked them. However, I Heart You, You Haunt Me captivated me from the first page. Schroeder definitely has a talent for telling a story in as few words as possible. I finished this book in about 30 minutes but was completely struck by how descriptive it was. I felt like I knew Jackson (the dead version and the alive version). And I could understand what Ava was going through. The settings and characters were described very well and the character's emotions kept me fully invested in the story. Lisa Schroeder is a debut YA novelist with a lot of talent and I will be adding her future books to by wish list.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Airhead by Meg Cabot Book Review

Airhead by Meg Cabot
(Scholastic, Hardcover)


Emerson Watts has always been a tomboy. She'd rather stay at home and play video games with her best friend than go with her sister to see some silly model at the new SoHo Stark Megastore. But Em has to babysit her sister, which means tagging along to the mall. Then disaster strikes and after a bizarre body switch-a-roo, Em's life is suddenly all about fashion and the next hot party.

I love Meg Cabot and to quote Trashionista, one of my favorite book review sites, she is absolutely barking mad. But I mean this in the nicest, best, please write another book about Em Watts, kind of way. Em Watts is like me, except I don't play video games. Em Watts is nothing like Nikki Howard, America's top teen model. So when I read that Em's brain is implanted in Nikki's body after a horrible accident, I said Really? Is that possible? Yes, Meg Cabot did her research and this has happened with monkeys. So we're talking about technology that is out there. Anyway, let's forget about the crazy sci-fi plot for a second. Airhead is seriously readable. I couldn't stop. Em is a likable character (hey, she even has my name!). And her predicament is scary, exciting, and believable. It is the first book in Meg's new series so several plot details are left open. There's a little bit of mystery, such as why Em can't tell the world that she now has Nikki's body. There's a little bit of friendship because Nikki's clueless friends are the only people that believe her crazy body-swapping story. And there's a little bit of love because Em is completely in love with her best friend Christopher but has never told him. Yes, Meg Cabot is a genius and Airhead is a great book even if you're not into body-swapping (which, um, most of us probably aren't).

For more fun, read Meg's Diary. She posts often and it's random and full of laughs.