My Year of Diverse Reading Part 2

rainbow-books

There were so many things I wanted to say in my post yesterday (My Year of Diverse Reading), but it was getting pretty long and I had to cut it short. So I’ll try to address a few of them here, though my thoughts are a little scattered, so I hope this has some coherent structure, but I promise nothing.

First, when I started my reading year, I hadn’t made any kind of choice for this to be a year of diverse reading. I’d been trying for years (albeit not as hard as I should have been) to broaden my reading horizons. But I didn’t have any plans for this to be the year it all changed.

But I was writing characters with diverse identities, and had plans for more, so it only made sense to add more books to my reading list that reflected more than cis-het, white, abled, and Christian. I’d already done countless hours of research online reading blogs and articles, watching Own Voices movies and TV shows, and of course reading diverse YA, but the percentage in comparison to non-diverse YA was small.

And let’s talk for a second about “diverse” and “non-diverse” or privileged. I’m not a fan of the current label of “diverse”, though I use it in default of anything else. It’s so normative. If you are LGBTQ+, disabled, non-Christian, or a person of color,  you’re “diverse” as in “not normal” as in normal = white, straight, able, cis gender, and Christian. Why does an identity that differs from the “expected norm” have to be called something like “diverse”? Why is there a norm? Why is anyone “different” if we are all essentially different from each other in some way?

I don’t have an answer, so I’ll use the terminology for now, but I look forward to the day when we no longer have to have these conversations. I’m doubtful it will happen in my life time.

Next, I want to talk about why I wrote the post about my reading last year. It wasn’t for “ally cookies” or recognition. I don’t deserve accolades for doing something we should all be doing anyway. I wrote the post in the hopes that maybe even one reader (hopefully more) would be inspired to increase how many diverse and Own Voices books they read in the next year. I listed some of my favorites from 2016 (not all diverse) to give some examples of what books maybe they could pick up in the future. And I wrote the post to normalize the idea of reading diversely.

We talk about “normalizing” a lot on Twitter. Mostly in the context of “Don’t normalize Trump/White Supremist hateful views and behaviors.” But there’s a flip side to that too. We have the opportunity to normalize diverse reading, empathy, intellect, kindness, etc. I know this alone isn’t going to defeat what has happened to our country both in the election and the dredging of dormant views of white supremacy, but it’s a start. Providing all kids with books that reflect themselves as well as the diversity around us will only increase empathy and understanding. It will hopefully lay the groundwork for better discourse in the future and more empathetic individuals to lead this country.

I mentioned a term in yesterday’s post that I’d like to talk more about: monetary voice. It’s the voice that speaks when I spend money. Often it’s the most powerful voice we have. (Which is completely sad, but sometimes you have to work within the system you have.) Purchasing diverse and Own Voices books speaks volumes to a publisher. The more we spend on these books, the more publishers will realize that they are a valuable market. Publishers will then acquire more, put more money in advances for diverse authors, and put more money toward marketing those books, which will then increase their sales and exposure.

You see, right now we have a situation where diverse and Own Voices books don’t sell particularly well (there are exceptions, I’m speaking in general terms). So publishers pay small advances, print fewer copies, and put very little money (if any) toward marketing those books. The books are not readily available, haven’t been advertised, have little buzz, and aren’t prominently displayed on a B&N bookshelf. In case you missed it, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know the old addage: If you believe you’re going to fail, you will. Well, if a publisher believes a book won’t sell, guess what . . .

We need publishers to start taking more chances on diverse books through not only buying them, but aggressively marketing them as well. But that’s not under our control. So what can we do? Buy more diverse and especially Own Voices books. Publishers will see dollar signs rise, and put more effort into acquiring and marketing those books.

But what else can we do to increase the sales of diverse and Own Voices books? Well, let’s go back to normalizing the reading of these books. First, read them, whether you buy them or get them from a library, you are telling someone that these books are in demand. Second, review the books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads are all prominent places where readers look to find out about books they might want to read. Even just giving it a star value on some of the sites will help, though a written review is more likely to sway a reader deciding if they are interested. Third, use your social media to spread the word. Share your reviews or just talk about the book online. The more people see you reading these books, the more they will normalize it as an option for them.

Though all of the above mentioned points are valid reasons to increase the reading of diverse and Own Voices books, there’s another great, basic reason: THEY ARE AMAZING BOOKS! I have been blown away this past year by the beauty, the grace, the poetry of some of the books I have read. For me, they are windows into a world I could never really know about any other way. For many others they are mirrors and there are far too few mirrors for marginalized youth in this country. There were heartbreaks and up lifiting moments, adventure and beauty, love and revenge. I cried tears of sorrow at soul-crushing endings and sighed with contentment at HEA’s. These books will produce all the feels, OTP’s, and ships you can possibly come up with. And I promise you, if you make room in your TBR for diverse and Own Voices books, you will NOT feel like you are missing out on other books. They are just as good (often better) than some of the novels publishers push as The Next Big Thing.

I’ve run out of things to say right now, though I’m guessing about midnight when I’m trying to sleep, some other thoughts will pop into my head. That’s how it always works. For now, please consider some of the above ways you can help increase the exposure of diverse and Own Voices books, and how reading about all kinds of characters can help our kids grow to be better people.

And now, I have a lot of reviews to write . . .

My Year of Diverse Reading

rainbow-books

Last year I read 129 books. That’s a record for me. I mean, I think it is. I’ve only been keeping track for the last three years, but I’m pretty certain I have never read this many in my life. 2015 came out at 86 books, while 2014 was a whopping 52. So there’s been a lot of improvement in the numbers.

But total numbers isn’t the only improvement. I’ll admit, until recent years I never made much effort to broaden my reading horizons. I read what was available. Or if I was writing something I might try to read everything available that was similar, but for the most part my reading tastes veered toward whatever appeared on a B&N end cap.

And to be honest, I was always okay with that. I was a white cis-het girl living in a white cis-het world, and it didn’t even occur to me that that was a problem.

But it is a problem. A big one. I was doing what millions of teen readers do: read what is available, as well as read what I see. I see white people . . .

So what made me change? Well, getting more involved in book communities both on Absolute Write and on Twitter opened my eyes just a crack to the huge disparity in children’s literature that is available. And even more than that, the fact that ALL kids need to see themselves reflected in literature, but also that white, straight, middle America needs to see ALL kinds of people in literature too.

So I started reading more diverse books. It wasn’t easy. Living in a mostly white community in rural Michigan where almost everyone is Christian, straight, and cis means that books that reflect other walks off life are few and far between. So I had to start ordering titles on line just to get a few, but my book buying budget is limited. A Kindle helped, especially when I’d wait for books to be on sale. But what really saved me was Inter Library Loan!

The librarians began to tell me I didn’t need to request 20 books at a time. They’d still be there when I wanted them, but no! I needed to have them now! Beautiful little books lined up on my desk just begging to be read! It was like the candy dish you can’t stop eating from because it’s there!

Anyway, reading more diversely was a priority for me not only because I wanted to read and promote diverse books and authors, but also because I wanted to learn and do better so that when I wrote characters unlike myself I could do a better job at it. Nothing can replace the value of Own Voices stories, but writing responsibly is the least privileged authors can do.

But despite my “purpose” in reading diverse books, I discovered something very quickly: I couldn’t get enough of them. There were so many quality books out there that I hadn’t encountered before. I had been missing out! And so are all the readers like me who are settling for whatever YA series the publishing industry has decided will be The Next Big Thing!

Okay, so to the stats: (I don’t feel like making a graphic, so I hope the numbers will be fine.)

  • Total Books: 129
  • Non-Fiction: 9 (6.9%)
  • Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters (MC or important Side Character): 41 (31.7%)
    • Non-binary Characters: 8 (6.2%)
  • Books Featuring Characters of Color (MC or important Side Character): 65 (50.4%)
  • Books Featuring a Disabled MC: 9 (6.9%)
  • Books Featuring a Female MC: 98 (75.9%)
  • LGBTQ+ Identifying Authors: 13 (10.1%)
    • Trans Authors: 2 (1.6%)
  • Authors of Color: 47 (36.4%)
  • Authors w/ a Disability: 3 (2.3%)
  • Female Authors: 95 (73.6%)

Some books were counted in more than one category for obvious reasons. And for others that weren’t so obvious, a trans author is counted under LGBTQ+ Identifying, Trans, and possibly Female if that is how they identify. Same with Female MC. Female Identifying and Female are the same in my opinion, so that’s how I counted them.

So looking at the stats, I need to read more authors with a disability and stories with disabled characters. In my defense, I searched pretty hard for these stories and they are not easy to find. I can also improve on LGBTQ+ Identifying authors and stories, and luckily there are a lot of great examples (not as many as there should be) but definitely a variety.

One problem I encountered is that so many books written by or about people with marginalized identities are “issue” books. It’s like the publishing industry doesn’t want to publish anything that doesn’t involve people with marginalized identities suffering for those identities. We need lesbian space princesses saving an alien race, and brown kids bringing down a dystopian government, and disabled characters riding dragons to fight a horde of trolls. And most importantly, the marginalized part of their identity is not the point of the book!

*sigh* I know I’m not telling any of my fellow writers things they don’t already know. We’ve been talking about these issues in publishing for years. But as a reader, I’m going to make more of an effort to read diverse books, and diverse authors. Not only because I need to use my monetary voice to make my wishes heard in the industry, but because they’re just damn good books!

Edit: Realized i forgot to include numbers for:

  • Own Voices stories: 51 (39.5%)
  • Muslim MC (Own Voices): 3 (2.3%)

Looks like I can do better on reading stories with Muslim characters and by Muslim authors.

*****

So here are my Favorite Reads of 2016 in no particular order. And yes, there’s a lot of them. Fight me. I can’t pick a favorite child anymore than I could pick a favorite book. They’re all beautiful and special!

  • A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC & A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V.E. Schwab
  • PROMISE OF SHADOWS by Justina Ireland
  • SINCE YOU ASKED by Maurene Goo
  • THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp
  • THE LESSER BLESSED by Richard Van Camp
  • BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES by Randy Ribay
  • PANTOMIME & SHADOWPLAY by Laura Lam
  • BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray
  • A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD by Hannah Moskowitz
  • THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma
  • SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin
  • THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater
  • THE WINNER’S TRILOGY by Marie Rutkoski
  • IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo
  • GOOD KINGS, BAD KINGS by Susan Nussbaum
  • JULIET TAKES A BREATH by Gabrielle Rivera
  • THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig
  • THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi

Check out My Year of Diverse Reading Part 2 for more thoughts on my 2016 reading.

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska

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Book blurb as seen on Goodreads:

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

This is kind of like what I said when I critiqued Gone Girl: I’m a little late to the party. But nonetheless, I’ll have a go at it.

John Green creates characters who are not very realistic, but they are believable, and I suppose that’s all that matters. You’d have to search pretty hard in middle America to find teens who can quote obscure literature, but they’re out there. Most boys don’t have the ability to internally evaluate why their girlfriends are raging bitches and yet continue to see them, but Green’s character does. And you buy it. And that self-destructive teen you knew growing up probably doesn’t remind you that much of Alaska, but that’s because most of us never got to know them. I bet if I went back in time I could find some Alaskas walking the halls of my high school, and I might even like them, if I gave them a chance.

I think that’s what I love the most about Green’s books. The characters. People I may never meet in real life, but they seem as real to me as the neighbors down the street. I can see what they look like, feel how they feel and understand their motivations. Even when they do things that are stupid, Green makes it make sense. At least in the context of the character.

A fellow AWer recently called John Green’s books “pity porn”. I got a chuckle out of that. Because they kind of are. It doesn’t change that I absolutely adore the two I’ve read, but it does put it in perspective. There’s a reason I’ve only read two, and spread them out over a number of years. There’s only so much sadness I can take in one novel.

These stories are moving and profound, and they have the ability to put us into the lives of people we might never have really understood. TFIOS helps us to see people with terminal illness as people, not just a sad story. Looking for Alaska gave us a glimpse into the life of a troubled teen with questionable moral values, but we still felt sad at her tragedy. I think these novels give us another way to look at the world and life and people in it, without our context. Or maybe it’s in our context. Too often these people on the peripherals of our lives can be marginalized and compartmentalized so that they are no longer human beings. Green forces us to see them as human, giving us the context to care for them not as pity cases, or incidents to shake our heads in disapproval, but to mourn their loss and cry over their bad decisions.

I have felt changed after both of the John Green novels I have read. We talk about needing diversity in books, and I think Green is being diverse. Maybe not in the color of skin or religion or the things we usually think of as diversity, but we live in a world where diversity is rampant; in our personalities, our dreams, our experience. Every time I read a novel that opens me up to the experience of another person, I feel enriched. Which is what I feel diversity, in all its forms, can do for us.

My Review: 4 stars

Book Review: Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Orson Scott Card (but really my rant against homophobics, bigots and racists)

Writing F SF

So, I received an email from Writer’s Digest (one of about 15 I receive in a day) advertising a guide to writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. Normally, I briefly scan these ads, then delete, but this time I actually opened the email. As I’m writing a Science Fiction novel right now, I thought I might take a look. When I saw that it was written by actual, successful Science Fiction & Fantasy authors, I decided to give it a try. I mean, it couldn’t hurt, and it might just give me some ideas I hadn’t thought to address in my novel.

So here’s my quick assessment. Yes, this novel knows its stuff. The authors are successful, and had some helpful and informative things to say about how to make your novels (really any novel) better. Of course, you’re going to have to wade through a hell of a lot of talk, talk, talk, about whatever they feel like saying (kind of like my blog posts!) but you will get nuggets of information.

But then I posted on AW that I was reading said book, and the response was not what I expected. It was all about the main author, Orson Scott Card. I knew he had written Ender’s Game, among many other successful novels, but I didn’t know anything else about him. “He sickens me as a human being,” was the nicest thing said. “Grade-A douchebag,” was probably my favorite. So, of course, I asked, “What’s the deal?” and they told me, via a few internet articles on the guy.

ORSON SCOTT CARD WANTS YOU TO FORGET HOW MUCH HE HATES GAYS on Epsilon Clue
10 Homophobic Quotes by Orson Scott Card, Author of “Ender’s Game” on VerbicideMagazine.com
Orson Scott Card’s long history of homophobia on Salon.com

Okay, so whether you were already aware of OSC’s feelings on the subject, or whether you read the articles I supplied, let’s move on. What does this mean for you (or me) as the consumer of his art? And I call it art, because, let’s face it, no matter how much I might abhor his beliefs, he is an award winning, best selling, prolific author. It’s not like any of us can sit here and say he’s not good at what he does.

Admittedly, I haven’t read any of his works of fiction. I only just recently heard about the Ender’s Game series, and only because the movie was coming out. I thought the movie looked intriguing, and the books were described as some of the best YA books ever written. They were now on my radar, but I wasn’t rushing to consume the media. Eventually, I did see Ender’s Game, the movie. I think it was on HBO, and I did enjoy it. Good story with an interesting concept, if a little see-thru in how it would end. But I wasn’t so enthralled that I ran right out to read the books. Still in the mental TBR pile, I figured I would get to them in due time.

But now, I have no desire to read the books. And I’m only 21% into Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction and I’m pretty much bored with it too. Reading something that is created by a human who has such awful thoughts and views is abhorrent to me. I would no sooner have read Gone With the Wind or A Tale of Two Cities or The Fault in Our Stars had they been written by Hitler. (Yes, Hitler is the God-awful measuring stick we use for all cretins in society!) Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, have written books I will never read. Bill O’Reilly writes books all the time, but I won’t buy them. (Okay, that one time for my dad.) And it’s not that Bill, Newt, or Callista are awful human beings (they may be, I don’t know) it’s that my political beliefs are so strongly different than theirs, that I don’t want to contribute to them financially by buying said books, or in a confidence factor that tells them their beliefs are upheld by those who read what they have written. Even if their books have no political motivation, I just don’t want to contribute to them in anyway. And to be clear, if someone purchased one of these books for me or my children I wouldn’t throw it at the giver and scream I won’t read it. Depending on the book, I might read it, but I wouldn’t seek them out of my own accord.

And what would I do if I found out Susanne Collins was racist? Would I still go see Mockingjay Part II? I’ve invested years into my HG love, so it would take something pretty horrific to stop me from seeing the culmination. But I don’t know. The enjoyment of anything created by someone who would believe racist thoughts would be seriously compromised, and I wouldn’t want to support them in any way. Or what if John Green was revealed to hate Muslims? I’ve only read two of his books, and loved them! Would I deny myself the pleasure of reading others? On this one, probably yeah. Even though it would hurt, but it would never hurt as much as that trust that is broken. The one where you think someone you admire is a good person and they prove you wrong.

DISCLAIMER: Neither John Green nor Susanne Collins is a racist, bigot or prejudice in any way. At least that I know of. Just using them as an example!

So where does that leave me? I may peck away at Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’ve already paid for it, and I may learn something, but I won’t be reading any of OSC’s other books. And I unsubscribed from Writer’s Digest emails. Mostly because if they associate with someone who has such strong beliefs contrary to what I believe, then I don’t want to give them my patronage, but also because those many, many emails are simply annoying.

I guess this makes me a semi-hypocrite. Will I turn my back on every creator of anything that doesn’t agree with my beliefs? No. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I have plenty of conservative Republican friends and family. In fact, sometimes I feel very alone in my liberalism, but they all have value. And so do their beliefs and opinions. But if I can consciously use my dollars and time to counteract poisonous beliefs, then I will. Which is why you will never see me in a Chik-fil-a. (Yet I still can’t resist Hobby Lobby.) Though I won’t go on a witch hunt to expose the beliefs of the people behind every book I read, movie I watch, food I eat, etc., if I have an opportunity to make my sentiments known, I will.

So what do you think? Does knowing an author has beliefs that are strongly against your own cause you to not read their work? How far away from your own beliefs does a person have to be to elicit this response? Or should we keep our opinions about a person’s moral values separate from our opinions about their art?

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone girl
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Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
ISBN-13: 9780553418361
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 8/26/2014
Pages: 432

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Critiquing this book is kind of like showing up to Times Square on New Years Day as the street cleaners are sweeping up the confetti and yelling, “Let’s start the party!!!” Most of you have probably already read this novel, and certainly don’t need me to advise you on whether you should read it or not. There’s been enough hype from the book and the movie that it doesn’t need my help, but I’ll add my own two cents anyway.

Thrillers and crime novels are far, far from the types of books I usually read, so as a genre, I wasn’t very excited. And truth be told, this didn’t encourage me to pick up any others. I still don’t like thrillers or crime novels. But Flynn did do something that pulled me in. Her ability to develop a character study of even the minor characters in just a few sentences was amazing. I not only understood and sympathized with the characters, everyone of them, I recognized myself, or people I knew, in them. It was uncanny how she could peel apart the layers of a person and expose them to the world for all to see.

And her ability to write characters wasn’t her only strong point. In fact, she had no weak points. Plot, suspense, characters, were all above reproach, as was the writing. Never once did I think, “That could have been better.” I love it when a novel keeps me fully invested and I don’t get distracted by poor writing.

The only negative I have to say, besides the fact that I don’t generally like books like this, is I kind of predicted the main plot twist just from reading the blurb. Which was no big deal, because it didn’t ruin the story or anything and I didn’t know for sure what the rest of the story would bring. Basically, no suspense ruined.

And the ending was satisfying, if totally messed up. Actually, this whole book was messed up. It went from character studies of normal people to some pretty crazy stuff, which kept it interesting. I didn’t really like either of the main characters. Heck, I don’t think I liked any of the characters, but I still wanted to know how it ended. Flynn didn’t disappoint. There is no real happy ending for anyone, just an ending. I don’t know if she plans a sequel (which would be even more messed up) but maybe it would offer a more conclusive ending. At any rate, I’ll imagine my own resolution, which may be what Flynn intended. Not that I didn’t like the ending. It was . . . appropriate. Kind of like life. The end of one story is the beginning of another.

My Review: 3.5 stars (I took off a bit because I didn’t like the genre. If I had, it would have been a 5.)

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Young elites
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Title: The Young Elites
Author: Marie Lu
Series: A Young Elites Novel Series , #1
ISBN-13: 9780399167836
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/7/2014
Pages: 368
Age range: 12 – 17 Years

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I cracked open this novel. I enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend Series, so I assumed I would also like this, but it is Fantasy, and I don’t read a lot of Fantasy. It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting in the main character of Adelina Amouteru. Besides the fact I couldn’t pronounce her last name, she was dark. Very dark, and Marie calls this the villain’s story at the back of the book. While I didn’t necessarily see her as the villain, she was an intense character with a lot of baggage. You see her make choices that you know will lead to her downfall (kind of like Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith) but you still want her to win or that her choice won’t lead to the eventualities you’re expecting.

And don’t expect a rosy happy ending. Having read Marie Lu’s work before, I wasn’t expecting sunshine and rainbows, but I also wasn’t prepared for what actually happens. As usual, Lu is great at endings, even if they don’t leave you warm and snuggly afterwards.

So basically I loved this book, if I haven’t said that already. It was superbly written, which I needed after some sub-par YA’s I’ve read recently. The characters were intensely deep and I loved the stories of Adelina’s youth, and her reactions to what happened. They seem sinister and potentially evil, but I could see myself in her interactions with her little sister. Sisterhood is a rare bond bordered on both sides by hate and love. I can’t wait to read more of this series, though I’m sure it will be heart rending from start to finish. I expect “good” to prevail in the end, but I actually like when characters don’t walk away from stories like this with their happily-ever-after. HEA’s are unrealistic after people suffer so much. I prefer as-happy-as-you-can-be endings.

My Review: 4 stars

Book Review: Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space by Chris Jones

Too Far From Home
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Title: Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space
Author: Chris Jones
ISBN-13: 9780385521901
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 3/6/2007
Sold by: Random House
Pages: 304

In the thirty-seven years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, space travel has seemed more and more a routine enterprise-at least until the shuttle Columbia blew up, and the Challenger before it, reminding us, once again, that the peril is all too real.

TOO FAR FROM HOME vividly captures the dangerous realities of space travel. Every time an astronaut makes the trip into space, he faces the risk of death from the slightest mechanical error or instance of bad luck: a cracked O-ring, an errant piece of space junk, an oxygen leak….There are a myriad of frighteningly probable events that would result in an astronaut’s instant death.

Yet for a special breed of individual, the call of space is worth the risk. Men such as American astronauts Donald Pettit and Kenneth Bowersox and Russian flight engineer Nikolai Budarin, who in February 2003 were on what was to be a routine fourteen-week mission maintaining the International Space Station.

But then the shuttle Columbia exploded beneath them. Despite the numerous news reports examining the tragedy, the public remained largely unaware that three men were still orbiting the earth. With the launch program suspended indefinitely, these astronauts had suddenly lost their ride back to earth.

TOO FAR FROM HOME offers a vivid and detailed portrait of the odd life of the people who live in zero gravity. The book chronicles the efforts of the beleaguered mission controls in Houston and Moscow as they work frantically against the clock to bring their men home, ultimately settling on a plan that felt, at best, like a long shot.

Latched to the side of the space station was a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-1 capsule,the rocket equivalent of a 1976 Gremlin. (It made headlines in 1971 when a malfunction left three Russian astronauts dead.) Despite the inherent danger, the Soyuz became the only hope to return Bowersox, Budarin, and Pettit home. Their harrowing journey back to earth is a powerful reminder that space travel remains an incredibly dangerous pursuit.

Written with immediacy and an attention to detail, TOO FAR FROM HOME rivals the finest contemporary adventure-driven narrative nonfiction.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

I feel as if I don’t need to give much of a review after that blurb. It pretty much says it all, but I do have a few things to add, so here goes.

The reason I read this book was for research. I don’t read non-fiction a whole lot. It’s not that I don’t like non-fiction, but there are only so many hours in a day and if I’m going to read, it’s going to be YA for learning and enjoyment. The only time I really read non-fiction is for research. My local library is a little low on space related books, so when I found this account of the Columbia disaster and the events following, I figured it was my best bet at learning what it is like to live in space. I was right.

This book was exactly what I needed. I wanted to know what it was like for humans living in space, what it was like to blast off, what concerns and precautions were there in relation to space travel and space living. Some of it is obvious, but I learned so much just from reading this novel that I realized I really didn’t know anything about space exploration. Even better, it was a personalized account of the astronauts, their past, what they dealt with and how they related to each other. If you are going to do research on space, even for futuristic science fiction, I highly recommend this book.

The prose kept me enthralled from the beginning, despite the fact I’ve never had any interest in space travel. Seriously, not even as a kid in the Shuttle Era, did I even entertain a thought about wanting to be an astronaut. It has never appealed to me. So for me to say I was completely engaged by this story is a testament to Chris Jones ability to stick to the facts, impart non-fiction knowledge, and still tell a good story. I cheated for the last third of the book and skimmed, but not because I was getting bored. I just knew I had a lot more research to do and this is a long book with small print. Though I enjoyed the personal stories of each astronaut, I needed to move on to other parts of my research.

One thing it did highlight for me shortly after I concluded reading was the utter lack of acknowledged science in Science Fiction. I don’t read a lot of Sci-fi, so I don’t want to judge all of it, but I have read a few YA books lately, and they, and this book has prompted me to write a Keeping the Science in Science Fiction post you can look for next week.

In conclusion, if you enjoy non-fiction adventure chronicles without a ton of action, or if you just like reading about space and astronauts, or if you are researching for a space related novel, this is the book for you. Maybe someday when time isn’t so pressing, I’ll go back and read every word with the rapt attention I gave the first 2/3’s of the book. But for now, I have a huge list of research to do, so it will have to wait!

My Review: 4 stars

Book Review: Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta

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Title: Entangled
Series: Entangled Series , #1
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/4/2014
Pages: 336
Age range: 14 years
ISBN-13: 9780544336247

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Alone was the note Cade knew best. It was the root of all her chords.

Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan.
Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

I purchased this book for my Kindle on Amazon.

This one will be short. I don’t have a lot to say about Entangled. It was a good, entertaining read that was pretty quick and had me moderately invested the whole time. I enjoyed the author’s use of musical terms to help explain how Cade was thinking and feeling, and even though she was one of those hard luck cases that hates you first before you can hate her, I actually kind of enjoyed it. It wasn’t over done and seemed realistic based on her background. The theme of the story, connecting to other people, became a gradual idea and you saw Cade grow through all of it. She needed her connection to Xan, but she wanted her connection to other people she had gotten to know.

And the writing kept me in the story most of the time. I never stopped and thought, “Oh, she should have shown there, instead of told,” or “The dialogue is clunky.” Everything flowed together nicely. There were a couple of times her prose style made me do a double read so I could figure out what she was talking about, but other than that I enjoyed it.

This book would be an entertaining read for fans of Science Fiction with it’s interesting take on the universe. The villains were properly scary and the big reveal wasn’t something I saw coming. The ending was interesting and a little heartbreaking, though I knew there had to be something that would keep her from a happily-ever-after. It just didn’t feel like a HEA book. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.

My Review: 3/5 stars


Buy Unmade on Amazon.com
Add on Goodreads

And on a side note, I’m looking for recent YA Science Fiction novels to read. I want to get a good handle on the genre before I start writing. Any suggestions?

Book Review: Burn Baby, Burn Baby by Kevin Craig


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Title: Burn Baby, Burn Baby
Author: Kevin Craig
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press (December 11, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1620076519
ISBN-13: 978-1620076514

I purchased this book on Amazon for my Kindle

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley-the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby. The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

So I finished reading this book last weekend, but I’ve been putting off writing a review, because for the first time ever, there is a realistic possibility the author will read the review. That’s a lot of pressure. Sure, if I wanted to gush about the parts I love, and I will, that would be easy. But as my readers know, I almost never just say “good” things. Because I believe in an honest and comprehensive approach. Especially if I think my review could help a writer improve. Even if it isn’t the author of the book I’m reviewing. After all, I’ve learned so much about what not to do and what I can do better by reading the good and the bad from published authors. They are my school, my teachers, my mentors (even if they don’t know I exist!)

There’s a part of me that says I should give up writing book reviews. As I get closer to being a published author myself (no, there’s no news, just blatant optimism that someday . . .) I feel maybe writing reviews of authors I may someday meet, or work with, or even compete against, isn’t a good idea. Still, I value honesty, as long as it’s done in an appropriate manner, so for now I shall continue.

As to why Mr. Craig may actually read my review, I sort of know him. Well, as much as you can know someone you occasionally chat with on Absolute Write and passively follow his blog. He knows I’m reading it, though who I am may not register on his radar. Like I said, very minor acquaintance. I could probably never say anything and he’d never know, but that’s not me. I’ll write my review, be honest, and still tell him I wrote it. And on with the book review . . .

I’ll start with a few things I believe Craig could have improved on, but I’m going to qualify it first. I’ve read other books from a deep teen POV, as this is, and I find I don’t particularly like the writing style. I think Monument 14 by Emmy Labourne was one I’ve commented on before. While I think it is excellent to really get into the voice of a teen, especially when writing 1st person (and trust me, this had plenty of voice) I also like when authors “upgrade” how teens really speak and feel. Not so they don’t sound like teens or you lose the voice, but maybe not repeat certain words too much (unless it’s a distinct character trait.) For example, multiple teens use the word “pariah” in this book on multiple occasions. As a word, it’s fine, but repeated so many times seemed a bit redundant. I like a little more polish to my teen voices, while still retaining the flavor.

Another issue I had, and something I am guilty of myself, is telling and not showing. I’m specifically referring to how the characters feel and what they were thinking. There were longish bits of dialogue that spelled out a characters thoughts or feelings that seemed a bit excessive to me. I’d rather be shown by body language and a few well-chosen words than long descriptions that kind of repeat themselves. Even though this is how I communicate on a daily basis, and especially on this blog! Sorry guys for all the lengthy posts!

So what did I like? Well, a lot actually. I’m sure many of you have heard of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and though I know when you hear those words, you immediately think of minorities in race, sexual orientation and maybe disabilities, but not everyone would consider a burn victim disabled. Personally, I think this book fits the bill perfectly. The WNDB campaign, in my opinion, is about showing readers another side of life they may not experience everyday, and being Francis Fripp is something very few people can really understand. Francis was badly burned by parental abuse as a child, but his emotional scars run much deeper than the physical.

This book explores the adverse affects of physical, mental and emotional abuse inflicted by a parent and their long reaching, long standing hold on the victim. It also shows the truly terrifying life of being the victim of vicious bullying. But it also lets the reader into the world of a kid who sees himself as the victim and plays that role, to the exclusion of allowing others to befriend him. He is so certain that he is unworthy of love, friendship and really anything good in life, that he hides behind his burned facade and protects himself from further hurt. Really what he has done, is allowed others to see him as a “social pariah” as he puts it in the book. It’s easy to question by the end of the book if he is really an outcast, or if his self-esteem and defense mechanisms have prevented anyone else from forming attachments to him.

I loved how Kevin developed the bully from someone who tormented Francis at school, in a sort of typical high school fashion, to someone truly evil. It was a great transformation from this kid we can all see as at least one person we know, into a monster that probably grows up and abuses his kids. And we can see how the whole “stand up for yourself” mantra, doesn’t always pan out. And neither does the “tell and adult”. I’m not saying that victims of bullies shouldn’t stand up for themselves or tell adults, they should, but the reality is much darker and more complex than that. Craig gets it, and shows in his novel how the world of high school bullying is not cut and dry, or as simple as some adults like to make it out to be.

And can we get to the climax?! Holy crap! I read most of this book with interest and a genuine appreciation for the story and the storytelling, but it wasn’t until the climax chapters that I was riveted to my Kindle screen. It was brutal, suspenseful and there was no clear way this was going to end. The fear was real, mine and Francis’! Craig pulls you in, making the scene as tangible as if you are experiencing it yourself.

I think the real gem of this story, though, is the humanity it brings to the pages. It’s easy to see people with severe deformities as their deformities. Even good people who would never bully or hurt others, look away, or look too long, or just don’t see the people in front of them as people with thoughts, feelings, dreams and emotions. They are a victim, or a burn or a lost limb. Someone to be pitied. But reading novels like this makes characters who are different than what we are, more real to us than the people we see in life who deal with the same issues we read about. Hopefully, taking a step inside Francis’ head, or the head of other people who are different, whether that be race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, handicap or medical issues, can help us readers see them as just people. Maybe through imaginary characters, their real-life counterparts can become real to us as well.

There’s a lot more I could talk about with this, but it’s getting long as it is. The last chapter was beautiful and gratifying. The villan was terrifying in a way only a real evil person can be. Francis was both moving, sympathetic and maddeningly dense, but I love MC’s who are far from perfect and help to create some of their own problems. The “message” (though it doens’t feel like a message book) is deep, moving and important for all teens to hear. I’d even say it is one of the books I really wish teens would read, much like Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary issue-based YA novels. Heck, I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA. If you want to work on your WNDB challenge, you can add this one to your list. It is thought provoking, emotional and substantial.

My Review: 3.5/5 stars

Check out some of Kevin’s other books:


Buy Half Dead & Fully Broken on Amazon.com
Add on Goodreads


Buy Summer on Fire on Amazon.com
Add on Goodreads

Book Review: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis


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Title: In a Handful of Dust
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: Not a Drop to Drink
ISBN-13: 9780062198532
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Publication date: 9/23/2014
Pages: 384
Age range: 14 – 18 Years

Book blurb as seen on Goodreads:

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier

I received this book as a gift (but I know Hubby bought it on Amazon!)

So what can I say about this book? *sigh* I had high hopes that were not met. The first book in this series, Not a Drop to Drink, was amazing. or at least I adored it when I first read it. Sometimes I’m so into a story I don’t notice whether it’s really a fantastic book or not, and maybe that was the case, but regardless, the second one didn’t give me that breathless rush of finding out what happens next.

As far as the writing goes, I might have overestimated McGinnis’ abilities when I read Not a Drop to Drink. Maybe my own estimation of writing has changed due to my continued experience in writing as well as reading critically. Or maybe her first book really was that good. I’d have to read again to find out, but that’ll have to wait a bit. I will say that McGinnis’ stark, gritty writing inspired me to be more clean and sparse with my own revisions on I Have No Name, and I was complimented on the writing for that by several agents. In a Handful of Dust felt a little trivial in the first few chapters. I wasn’t sure whether to think the writing was sub-par, or just that I needed to become attached before I could flow into the prose. Luckily, after just a few chapters, I did become one with the story, though it never grabbed me as fully as NADTD.

As to the story and the characters, 10 years has passed since NADTD and Lynn is a woman while Lucy is a teen. Lucy is falling in love with the neighbor boy, Carter, just as a polio epidemic breaks out. Lucy and Lynn are forced to leave their pond and the community they have come to accept, because they may be carriers of the disease. Carter also is forced to leave for the same reason, but they don’t travel together because Lynn doesn’t want Lucy catching it from Carter.

I’m afraid I didn’t connect with Lucy as much as Lynn, though that may be because after reading Lynn’s story, I wasn’t ready to jump ten years into Lucy’s. She was a side character to me, one I wasn’t invested in nearly as much as Lynn. I wanted more, and I wanted Lynn to find happiness. She did, in the form of raising Lucy, but I just wanted more and I didn’t get it.

And then there was Lucy’s all consuming desire to find out if Carter would always carry the disease, or if there was a cure and if they could be together again. You know, the one she pretty much forgot half-way through the book. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. She didn’t completely forget, and she did have a lot to deal with, but there was a point where she pretty much left him to his own devices and didn’t seem to think on him much more. I thought that could have been followed through a little better.

And the introduction of Fletcher seemed pointless, other than to give them a companion and help them through their journey. But it left too many unanswered questions. How did he and his wife get separated? If he was so in love with her, why was he making eyes at Lynn the whole time? Is it even realistic that she might still be out there and is it realistic that he should still be looking for her? None of this was ever answered. I don’t mind not knowing what happens in the future after a book ends so I can make up my own continuing story, but there were too many questions within this story left unanswered.

Like when they crossed the Mississippi and the Missouri and other creeks and rivers, but they saw very few people. If these were viable sources of water, why weren’t there scores of people living everywhere along the banks. Lucy and Lynn even question this, and they drink from the water which is safe, but the question is never answered. If the water shortage was so dire that the government collapsed and people took to shooting each other over a pond, why weren’t they lined up along major waterways trying to survive. It would make sense. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine a world where there isn’t enough water when I live on Lake Huron. Even if we had major shortages, if we had these huge bodies of water I can’t see it becoming what McGinnis’ imagined.

There were a whole lot of things that happened in Las Vegas that just didn’t work for me either. Like the explanation as to why there were no guns in an entire city. Yeah, I wasn’t buying that. And it almost felt like the big reveal of horror going on was just for shock value. Lucy should have figured out what she wanted for her life without a nasty, jolting realization of evil. But I guess.

Lastly, I’ll say that the big reveal on what happens to Carter, was . . . anticlimactic. I don’t want to ruin anything, but it just fell a little flat to me. Not what happened, because I feel like it was an appropriate part of the story, but rather how it was delivered and resolved. There needed to be more clues and lead up and Lucy thinking about Carter more. McGinnis didn’t attach me to Carter enough, so I didn’t care all that much what happened to him.

Okay, so I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book, but the truth is, I did. I love McGinnis’ stark writing style, though I think she executed it better in NADTD. She could work on her dialogue, because some if it didn’t flow well to me, and the first few chapters had some info dumping that was awkward, but those are difficult things to get around. Every author faces the problem of trying to work in important details the reader needs with out sounding like you’re reading off a textbook. I preferred Lynn as the MC to Lucy, but both stories were still very interesting and I was anxious to find out what happened next. I almost thought McGinnis was going to leave us hanging after Las Vegas and save California for another book, but she gave us a decent, bittersweet ending. It was far more gratifying than the ending of NADTD, though it didn’t have the poignancy of that novel. Lynn having to shoot Eli was a heartbreaking event I am still shattered from. IAHOD was satisfying, though not perfect, and I love my endings not-perfect!

Overall, this was an entertaining read with some action, some deep thoughtful parts and with gritty realism and a stark look at a world devoid of ample water. I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t soul-rending like the first one. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it was a good book to read.

My review: 3.5/5 stars