Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pretty Awesome Women

So, let's face it, as women, we kind of get the short end of the stick in the world.  But today, I'm going to give you a list of women who basically blew their male counterparts out of the water, and did it in a time when women didn't really have the same freedoms as they do now.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc is probably one of my favorite biblical figures.  Though, technically, we can't prove her existence, we're pretty sure she actually existed.  She basically ended the hundred years war, claiming divine inspiration from God.  Whether this was actually true or not, Joan of Arc led armies and won battles and basically did all the things that all the men in the world couldn't do in the past 100 years.

Queen Elizabeth I

We should not be shocked at all that I included Queen Elizabeth in this list.  A. I love Tudor England and B. She was pretty damn awesome.  Elizabeth ruled better than any of the men ever had.  She brought a golden age to England and managed to hold her throne for over sixty years.  She beat the Spanish Armada (which was HUGE at the time, because Spain had what most considered an unbeatable Navy) and her people were prosperous under her entire reign.  She was the sovereign that her father had always wanted.  She also never took a husband, making her the only queen to rule singularly in England.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie revolutionized work with radiation.  Anything we know today about radiology was based on her experiments and findings.  We have radiation for cancer patients today because of Curie.  The woman was so dedicated to her work that eventually, she fell victim to leukemia because of daily exposure to radiation.  But not before being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Margaret Thatcher

Want to know a woman who didn't take crap from anyone?  That would be Margaret Thatcher.  She was called Britain's Iron Lady and she earned that title, bring about a free-market to Britain, despite much oposition.  She was the first woman Prime Minister in England and, while she may not have been well liked by those she worked with, she was well liked by her people.  She holds the record for longest time in office.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Malala Yousafzai

I didn't want to write "author bio" this week for Malala Yousafzai, because while, ok yes, she's an author, she is so much more than that.  So this is just her bio for being awesome.

Malala was born in Swat valley and, until recently, had lived there all of her life with her family.  She lived under the Taliban for most of her existence, but her father was incredibly pro-education for women, something that's very rare in Pakistan, especially in her village.

When Malala was 11 to 12 years old, she began to write a blog, detailing her life under the Taliban rule and the things that went on.  She spoke out for education for girls, attesting that education is the most important thing that a girl could have.  While the blog she started was under a pseudonym, she began to do interviews and television appearances, including a documentary done by the NY Times on her life.

When Malala was just 16, she was shot in the head on her way to school.  She survived the attack, and as a result, the entire world rallied behind her.  People were pushing for education for girls, she spoke at the UN and she was even the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  She has started the Malala Foundation to help girls in her country gain an education.

Basically, she's the bravest most awesome person ever.  Despite being close to death, she still speaks out for what she believes in.  She sweet and forgiving person and wants nothing but peace.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Review Me Twice: The Neelys Celebration Cookbooks

I don't have TV, so I haven't watched the Food Network in several years, but when I did watch TV, I quite enjoyed it... most of the time.

See, Food Network shows have this habit of being really... over-the-top perky. Just look at Rachel Ray. Calm down, woman. It's just dinner. It's worse when you have two hosts, because they feed off of each other's behavior. As I recall, the Neelys do this.  But they are one of the most saccharine TV couples you'll ever watch do anything, ever.

The perkiness and the cuteness both shine through in this book... so if you don't like that, skip all the commentary parts (explaining where some recipes came from, what situations they would use these for, stories about holidays, etc.) and get straight to the recipes.

This is a from-scratch cookbook. I don't recall seeing any prepackaged ingredients (I'm looking at you, Sandra Lee).

The Neelys are southerners, so this is good old "down home" (ha! that's their show! "Down Home with the Neelys"!) country cooking. But not to the point that - I think - it alienates non-southerners. (I wouldn't know; this is the kind of food my family makes, because they're from NC.) You've got collards, devils on horseback, mustard slaw, corn bread sticks... but a bunch of not-south-exclusive stuff too. YUM. Yum to everything.

I'm with Alex on the YUM factor.  There was a TON in this book that just sounded delicious and the things that I cooked from it were also delicious.  That's right, I COOKED just for those of you on this blog.

And Alex is right.  There's nothing in this that's prepackaged, which is both nice and kind of annoying at the same time.  Yes, I can make your spice rub really easily, but making their BBQ sauce AND their pork BBQ just for one recipe?  That's a little obnoxious.  So I switched out some ingredients to make the recipe easier for me, and it worked out just fine.

The things I made (potato salad, bacon wrapped shrimp) were both DELICIOUS.  A little time consuming, but really yummy.  This book makes some great things, but personally, I don't think it's a very good beginners cookbook.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Food Symbolism

I love talking about books, but I really love talking about food. Isn't it so great to get to know somebody by talking about food with them? Foods you each like, dislike, prepare differently or the same as each other, foods you want to try... food is so great. And it's important. And in many instances, its symbolism is important, too... sometimes moreso than the food itself.

This is nian gao, a cake eaten at Chinese New Year. Sure, it's probably delicious and it's just tradition to eat it (among dozens of other symbolic dishes) every year, much like how my family has steak for Christmas every year out of habit, but it also has symbolic meaning. In Chinese, the name of this cake sounds similar to the word for "high" or "tall," so it symbolizes reaching toward higher goals in the new year.

These are latkes, literally one of my favorite things in the entire world. In Hanukkah tradition, you fry up these little patties of joy in oil to remind you and your family of the miracle of Hanukkah, the oil burning eight times longer than it had any right to, to allow proper consecration of the new temple. (Yes, I pay attention with my future father-in-law tells the Hanukkah story... I'm a sucker for a good story.)

Did you know that the pretzel shape we all know and love was created by French monks in 610 AD to represent the shape of a child's arms folded in prayer?

So there's lots of symbolism in the foods we eat as, you know, real-life people in the real-life world. But - as most things in most books - we can find symbolism running rampant in the food of fiction as well.

There's so much to say about the food in the Hunger Games trilogy, I could write an anthology about it... but someone probably already has. The decadence of the foods in the Capitol (see Catching Fire) and the horror of the vial of emetic offered to Katniss and Peeta at the banquet perfectly epitomizes the opulence and disregard for the districts of the Capitol. The bread Peeta offered Katniss as a kid represented kindness, a second chance, life... whatever you want to read into it. The berries at the end of the first book... I could go on. Forever.

Remember Hansel and Gretel? They left bread crumbs to find their way home (symbolizing comfort, home, family) which are lost when the birds eat them. They find a house made of food, which they believe to represent safety, but really represents danger. Notice the difference, though... regular, whole-grain, peasant bread was the real safety; gingerbread (a luxury they wouldn't normally have access to) is the danger here.

Remember to apply context when looking at the symbolism of food in literature, too. To a character who grew up in New York City but has lived the last few decades of his life in, say, Arizona, visiting NYC and getting a bagel from the deli on the corner is going to be a totally different experience with wildly different emotional ties than a character like a detective from Chicago who needs sustenance during a stakeout, or a starving homeless child in the winter.

Gathering, buying, cooking, serving, eating, dismissing, refusing food are all acts involving food that could be meaningful. A hungry character who turns down a meal could be refusing to allow the person who offered it to them to have any power over them. A character who wronged another character, then offers them homemade cookies might be demonstrating remorse (or trying to poison them, who knows?).

What instances of food symbolism have you noticed in literature?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Favorite Cookbook

First things first...

Merry Christmas!

Now... let us tell you about our favorite cookbooks!

I know a lot of people swear by Betty Crocker or Julia Child as having written the cookbook you need to own... but for me, it's the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

If you just moved out of your parents' place and you're trying to figure out the basics, like baking a potato or hard-boiled eggs or the basics of food safety (cross-contamination, knife handling, storage guidelines) you need this book.

If you've been making the same ten dishes for dinner for a year and you're bored, you need this book.

If you have a potluck or family dinner or any other event where you need to whip something up to share with people, you need this book.

It's just one of those old standbys that might sit on the kitchen shelf gathering dust for years at some point, but when you need it, you're so glad you know exactly where it is.

Full disclosure? I don't own this cookbook. But I think every other household in my family does.

Are you a lazy cooker?  Do you have a crock pot?  Then Fix-it-and-forget-it is the cookbook that you need in your life.

Honestly, I love my crock pot.  I use it all the freakin' time and I cook so many things in it.  Chicken, pork, steak, anything.  You can cook ANYTHING in a crock pot.

I own Fix it and forget it lightly, if you're someone looking to watch your figure, but I also want fix it and forget it five ingredients.  All of the recipes in the book are five ingredients or less.

There's a ton of different versions of the cookbook and they're all amazing.  I was given my copy of it by someone who had two.  Really, crock pots are amazing and so is this cookbook.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Super Secret Recipe

Ok, so my mother used to make this when we were kids, and I still make it to this day (The Boy loves it and it makes great left overs.)

Now, hear me out.  This is going to sound GROSS.  Really, it is.  But I PROMISE you it's delicious, and it's cheap, and super easy to make.  So if nothing else, it's got all that going for it.

Franks & Noodles

1 PK of flat noodles
1 package (or 8 individual) hot dogs
1 sm can of tomato paste (the smallest you can buy)
1 C. water
1/4 c. of brown sugar
1 tblsp of spicy mustard (or four squirts)
Cheese Wiz
Shredded cheddar cheese.

  1. Boil a pot of water.
  2. Put the flat noodles in it and let it cook
  3. While you're waiting for the water to boil/noodles to cook, cut up the hot dogs (I usually cut them in half long-ways and then cut them into sections, making half circles) 
  4. Put the hot dogs in a casserole dish (I think my is 2 quarts and it's tall and round.)
  5. Add the brown sugar, water, tomato paste and mustard to the franks and mix it.
  6. Cover the dish and cook in the microwave for five minutes.
  7. By now your noodles should be done.  Drain them.
  8. Put them back in the pot you cooked them (after draining) and take two big huge spoonfuls of cheese wiz and put them in the noodles (I usually use the big spoons that we use for mixing and such.)
  9. Mix the cheese wiz around until the noodles are evenly coated and all the cheese is melted.
  10. Take the franks out of the microwave and put the noodles on top of the franks.
  11. Take the shredded cheddar and sprinkle it over the top.
  12. Cover and cook for another five minutes in the microwave.  
  13. Remove from microwave, serve and eat!
I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Author Bio: Patrick & Gina Neely

Pat and Gina Neely are just about the bubbliest couple you'll find on Food Network. They co-own their restaurant, Neely's BBQ, which has been featured on "Road Tasted" (hosted by Paula Deen's sons) and they co-host two shows on Food Network: "Down Home with the Neelys" (which premiered in 2008) and "Road Tasted with the Neelys." This week, we're doing something kind of new and different: we're reviewing their cookbook, The Neelys Celebration Cookbook: Down Home Meals for Every Occasion.

Aren't they just so cute?

Get ready, everyone... it's a week full of food-and-book talk, which are, personally, my two favorite things to talk about.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Review Me Twice - In Liam's Wake by Ashlyn Forge

This week, we read In Liam's Wake (which... I believe was a NaNoWriMo novel for Forge at first.  Yay, NaNo!)  As usual, I'm going to start with the things that I liked about the book.

I really liked the characters in this book.  They all had distinct voices and personalities and mysteries.  You never really KNEW 100% what was going on with any of the characters until you reached the end of the book.  I thought that the flash backs were a nice touch, letting us see what happened then as opposed to what was going on now.  Just when you think you know what's going on... BAM, nope, just kidding.  You don't.

I really liked Forge's world building.  We were given the colony, a place that had crazy rules and was a prison, but no one seemed to really think that way except for Liam.  I liked that the topsiders were a part of, yet separate from the colony.  Everyone paid their debts topside, and if they didn't die by the time the debts were paid, they got to go to the colony.  It was their reward.  But there was no love between topsiders and the colony.  It was an interesting dynamic.    

Everything FIT in the world too.  For instance, since it was underground there were water rations and specific foods (like orange juice) were incredibly expensive because they were hard to come by.  Everything really worked together and you could tell that a lot of effort had gone into the descriptions of the colony to make it that way.  I appreciate that.

There were some things that really turned me off to the book, however.  Liam and Riley were both very vocally against homosexuality (which is kind of necessary in the colony because there are so few females.)  But it seemed like the second it came to each other, it was fine.  It just seemed really off to me that they would be so against it everywhere else, but so willing to enter into that relationship with each other.

The other thing is that there was way to much sex/sexual scenes going on in the middle of this book.  I don't mind sex scenes (after all, I'm a Jean Auel fan and you just can't get more sex than that), but I felt like it didn't really serve a purpose here.  It was also just there all of a sudden.  It went from Riley hating Liam to them having sex in about 2.5 seconds.  And while this DOES get explained later, I just feel as if there was too much for too long of a time.

The story also gets lost in itself sometimes.  You really have to pay attention to what's going on or you're going to be lost.  Which... is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're not an attentive reader, it could cause you problems in this particular book.

Over all it was well done, well paced, and well edited, which is always appreciated on this blog.

THIS is how pacing is done. Take note... everyone. It wasn't a FAST read (but then again, I was reading it on my computer, which is slower for me than the old-fashioned paper version) but it was a SMOOTH read, which I love. Things happen fluidly. (Though, you do need to be pretty absorbed in order for this to work. I don't think this makes a good read-it-in-pieces-on-your-lunch-break kind of book, which is how I had to read it. It's better as a sit-by-the-fire-in-a-Snuggie-and-fly-through-it sort of book.)

Whenever you have a setting with very different rules from our real-world settings (usually futuristic or alternate history) it can be difficult to explain all the new stuff without starting off with a laundry list. "So there's this place, and it's divided into these different areas, and there's a caste system that goes like this..." Yeah, that's not going to turn out well for you or your readers. But this was approached very well in In Liam's Wake; you can piece together the important bits within the first 20% of the book (how much do I love that Kindle keeps track of that for me?) and the rest clicks into place as you get to it. It's something I don't have a lot of skill with, and I admire it.

Along the same vein, naming stuff can be hard, especially in this genre. I appreciate the use of simple terms like "the Colony" and "the Assembly" because that's how people naturally label things in real life. And then when something needs a new word, it is cleverly done. "Elete"? Perfect. We understand that it is synonymous with "elite" but it's new and different and better.

Like Cassy, I thought the sexplosion in the middle was a little out-of-nowhere, but I've seen more egregious examples of that.

All in all, I really liked this one. Everything fit together the way a good story should, and... seriously, just read it to see the pacing, if nothing else. It's really great.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Edmund Wilson Quote

I stumbled across a piece of art posted by a Facebook friend the other day that used this quote as its focus, and I thought it was something I should share here:

"No two persons ever read the same book."
Edmund Wilson

Isn't that just the epitome of this blog? Sure, Cassy and I are reading the same words arranged in the same order, but we bring our own knowledge, experiences, and emotions to the metaphorical table while reading them.

And if you read the books that we review, you too will have a different experience from those that we have.

It's the magic of books! (Sure, the same thing applies to movies, but to a lesser degree because much of the visual and audio imagination is removed.)

I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate the awesome differences between reading experiences, not only between me and Cassy, but between every reader in the world.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Favorite NaNoWriMo Book

We're big fans of NaNoWriMo around here.  And we've read a lot of NaNo books on this blog.  Today, we're going to pick our favorite book written during NaNo.

I have actually liked a lot of the books we've been given from NaNo writers.  (Superceneries had such a great premise and the drawing in The Lesser Evil were done so well!)  However, it's hard to compete with The Night Circus.  It's beautifully written, really pulling you in and assaulting your senses with it's scenes and its characters.  And it's such a NaNo story.  Morgenstern hated The Night Circus when she first started it one NaNo.  It wasn't at all going the direction that she wanted it to, so she dropped her characters into a circus and VOILA!

I like how creative Morgenstern is.  I mean, the settings that she comes up with and all the ideas for the tents, I couldn't even begin to create worlds like that and she does it so naturally.  It's second nature, like she can see it all so clearly in her mind, so when I read it, I can imagine so clearly and crisply.

It's a great book and, if you're going to pick up and inspiring NaNo novel, this should be it.

Ditto! But that's no surprise. For the third time ever, Cassy and I have chosen the same book for a favorite! (The other two were our favorite Harry Potter book and our favorite Christmas story.)

I would love to see the evolution of this book, with each edit as it went from original NaNo to its published form. It would be very heartening in doing my own editing (which is only showing me how the first 1/3 of my book is a lot like the upcoming Ben Stiller movie and the last 1/3 is depressingly similar to the story of United flight 93 on 9/11, which I didn't realize until yesterday).

Morgenstern talks openly and honestly about the NaNoWriMo process, too. It's nice to hear a success story like hers from the metaphorical horse's mouth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Word Clouds

What is a word cloud, you might ask me?  Why is this ridiculous thing important to literature and writing?  Well, I'm going to tell you.  Below is my word cloud for "I See."

Word clouds take in ALL of the words that you write in any piece of writing and, depending on how much you use the word, adjust the size.  So, if we look at this, the words "going" and "just" are bigger than the characters names (Helen, Hector, Archer.)  That means that I probably used those words WAY too often.  Really, I should go back and edit it, take them out and make sure my character names are at least the largest

Word cloud also takes out words like "it, the, he, she" because, for obvious reasons, pronouns are going to skew your scale a little.  So it's a really good tool for editing because it points out some really obvious things (I can't even tell you why "going" is used that much in my book.  It's a mystery.)

If you look, Cassandra (my main character) barely shows up.  "Cass" is very little right by the top of the "T" in "just".  However, my book is written in first person, so that's normal and probably the way that it should be.

So word clouds are really just fun editing tools.  They look cool AND they're helpful. :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Author Interview - Ashlyn Forge

This week, we're reading In Liam's Wake by Ashlyn Forge.  It's her first published book, which you can purchase a copy of here.  As often happens when we're reviewing break out authors, we have an interview with Ashlyn for you!

  What gave you the idea for this novel?
- The idea of the novel itself wasn't as clear as the the setting. The setting was already established in my head, and I thought of the things in my genre which I haven't seen much of. And it just came ot be.

Who is your favorite character in, “In Liam’s Wake”?
- My favorite character, other than Jerret, would be Met. I'm a big fan of a good bad guy.

What projects are you working on now?
- I'm working on another standalone. book 7 "The Stuff of Dreams." It should be out in 2014.

What was the hardest part about writing this book? The easiest?
- The hardest part was getting Liam to behave. Some characters take you into directions you weren't planning on. I won out in the end though. The easiest part was the character personalities. They are very defined in my head, and although I don't feel confident in much, I do feel confident that I got that across well enough.

What originally made you decide to write?  How long have you been doing it?
- I started writing when I suffered a loss 13 years ago. It was a good way to escape into a world I could control. I gave it a rest for awhile, just dabbling here and there, and then came back to it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
- No one can tell you to write, and no one can tell you to stop. Keep pushing forward. One of these days, you're bound to break out into a run.

We have to ask, what's your favorite book?
- My favorite book is: Sneetches on Beaches by Dr. Seuss. It's amazing how such a short story could tell such a very big message. The exploitation of insecurities has never been so much fun to read. :-)

Thanks so much, Ashlyn, for taking the time to answer our questions!  If you want more information about Ashlyn and her book, you can visit her website, her facebook, or her twitter.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review Me Twice: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

There are a number of MINOR spoilers in my review. Fair warning.

Daisy is from America, and wasn't getting along so well with her dad & stepmom, so she's sent to England to live with her cousins and aunt. Meanwhile, the world is on the brink of World War III. The inevitable happens (by which I mean two things: the bombs are dropped and she sleeps with one of her cousins).

There's a weird little touch of the supernatural that could be seen as a deus ex machina (except it's present throughout the book so it's not the kind that just shows up to tidy up some loose ends) and I didn't like it the first time I read this book (in college, for adolescent lit) but I like it more now.

My favorite thing about the whole book is one page, near-ish to the end. I almost don't want to tell you about it because it came as such a surprise to me, and if you're looking for it, then it's not a surprise. So don't read the rest of this paragraph if you (1) like surprises and (2) haven't read it yet. There's a giant black circle on a page, just all of a sudden. It actually made me jump the first time I read it, because the pages were thick enough that I didn't see it through the preceding page, and I wasn't expecting it. My class had a brief discussion of it, and we determined that it was meant to do that. It's jarring, and surprising, and at that point in the story, that's a good thing to do to the reader. It was awesome. (To clear up confusion: This is not a graphic novel. There are no images in this book other than the covers, and this giant circle. Which makes it even more unexpected.)

It's a weird book, I admit that. It's definitely not for everybody. If you can't get past a little thing like your main character sleeping with her cousin, you aren't going to enjoy it. But if you're a go-with-the-flow kind of reader like me, you'll probably love it, because it's a well-told story, and it's not too long for its own good.

I have read this book a number of times, by now.  I would say about three times.  And I still love it.  But, upon reading it this time, I realize that the book isn't for everyone.

This book feels... rushed, I guess is a good word for it, but not in the way you think.  I don't think that Rosoff rushed the book, it just feels like it's all happening fast.  It's done from Daisy's POV and it's very much a stream of consciousness type book.  Run on sentences (paragraphs, really) and Randomly Capitalized Words.  It reads like a teenager's diary (which... it kind of is.)

I love the concept of it.  World War III, and intense bond between these cousins, the horror of how life is sometimes.  And there are a lot of issues that are suggested/addressed (Daisy, for instance, is anorexic, mainly because she wanted to piss off her stepmother.  But anorexia is about control, and Daisy even tells you it's because she discovered it was something she could control.)

I actually watched the movie right before I read the book (again), and after finishing the book, the movie is really a let down.  You don't get the same kind of... power from it that you get from the book.  Also, Daisy is a real jerk in the movie and she's not in the book.  Her cousins kind of hit her in a powerful way.

I really enjoy the book, but like I said before, it's really not for everyone.  And that's ok.  If you're pretty open-minded about, well, everything, I think you'll love this book.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Changes from Book to Movie

This is one of those posts you'll most enjoy if you've already read this week's review book. I don't want to exclude anyone, so go read the book! Then read this post. There aren't really spoilers, per se, but it won't be very interesting unless you know what I'm talking about.

So what am I rambling about, you ask? Well, How I Live Now is a movie now! And a damn fine one, if you ask me. But some changes were made that, if you think carefully about them, make perfect sense.

Edmond is the older one. Daisy's cousin/love interest in the book is one of the twins... but in the movie, he's the older cousin. So there are no twins, and the older one has the name Edmond. This cuts down on the number of characters involved, and it makes slightly more sense that she would fall for the one protecting them all, watching out for them, etc. Also, she's picked up at the airport by Isaac.

Joe. Joe was totally made up for the movie. At first, I was like "if we had to get rid of Osbert, why did we add a neighbor kid?" But then I saw where Joe's story led, and I realized it was a great addition, and you wouldn't necessarily want his story to happen to someone in the family.

Leah is eliminated. In the book, Daisy has a friend in America who blathers on about high school girl nonsense until communications are cut. She doesn't exist in the movie, and I think that's a good thing.

The goat is eliminated. Without getting too specific, the goat's story is one of my favorite things of the book. And the goat doesn't exist in the movie. It's not required, but it's good, and I suppose Joe and his story "replace" it fairly well.

Otherwise... it's pretty close to the book. Which I suppose might be easier both because (1) the book's plot and characters lend themselves better to a direct adaptation to film, and (2) it's an indie movie, so they didn't overprocess it into a lack of recognition. (Case in point: If you didn't show me the title of the movie World War Z, I would - at best - guess that it might be a companion story to Max Brooks' work. Which I suppose it is anyway. But it is not "based on the novel.")

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Favorite YA Book

Can you even begin to believe that we've never posted about our favorite YA book? Well, we haven't, so we're going to now!

We have, actually, talked about the books I chose as my favorite YA books, though. I chose it as my favorite series and we each actually picked our favorites from the series.

There are two reasons I think this series makes the perfect example of YA fiction.

It grows. Most of the people I know who didn't grow up with the series, but rather were adults the whole time, have the same complaint about the movies: they started off sweet and cute but then they got dark. Well, yeah. Of course they did. They're following the life of an average (if magically inclined) adolescent boy. That's how life goes. You're a kid and things are innocent and can be taken at face value, and all of a sudden you're somewhere between kid and adult and things are confusing and scary and twisted and dark. Not to sound cynical, but to some degree, that should be true for most people. Adolescence is confusing, and the mood change in the early middle of the HP series perfectly encapsulates that.

Also, there's something for everybody. You're an awkward/outcast kid who wants a character to identify with: take your pick (Neville, Luna, Draco, even Harry at several points). You're a hopeless romantic: I can name twenty couples in this series you'll enjoy. You love a misunderstood "bad" guy: you'll go nuts over Snape. You prefer a classic epic tale with a traditional hero: hello, Harry. You enjoy humor in the form of bumbling nice guys: Hagrid's your man. You're seeking a book you can cry at because omg death: read the last one, you'll dissolve into a blubbering puddle of angst and emotional fulfillment.

I am about to give you the most unsurprising answer of all time.  And if you tell me you're surprised, I'm going to assume that you're new here.

Why do I love this book so much?  Well, for one, it's not your typical vampire novel.  There are no sparkles, not sickening romances, no "only can come out at night and watch out for that garlic!" vampires in this book.  I love how incredibly biological and REASONABLE the whole thing is.  

Also, it's funny.  Cal is our main character, and 19, and so relatable I can't stand it.  He's a punk and such a teenager in so many ways that you can't help but laugh at it!

Not to mention Westerfeld is an amazing writer.  He knows how to drive a plot just right, to give and take and lead you in, in all the ways that a writer should know how to do.  This is one of my favorites by him (actually, the Succession series is #1, but that's not YA, so I can't count it on this post.)

There's just something about this book, something that I think makes it stand out and be DIFFERENT, and it just makes me love it, every single time that I pick it up.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Some YA Books to Buy Your Teen

Ok, so tomorrow we're actually going to be talking about our favorite YA book of all time, but I figured, with Christmas coming up, there are probably a lot of you out there buying for teenagers, or kids getting right into that age.  So I'll save my #1 favorite book for tomorrow, but today, I'm going to give you a list of some great books for teens.

The Book Thief is an AMAZING book about friendship and family and doing the right thing (but on the most extreme level.)  It's about love, and caring, and reading and the importance of all of it in life.  While the book will make you cry basically from start to finish, it's so moving and heartwarming and the perfect book for really any kid between the ages of 12-100.

There's not much by Spinelli that I don't just absolutely love, but Stargirl is probably one of his best.  It's such a great story about being true to yourself, and being who you should be, despite those around you.  The point is happiness, not to make other people happy.  The book is actually from Leo's point of view, telling us the wonderful, and the terrible, ways that he sees Stargirl.

Honestly, I could put John Green on this list about five time (which is about how many books he's written), but I put this one on here, even over Looking for Alaska (my most favorite by him.)  If you're kid is a band nerd, buy them this book.  It's funny, so HILARIOUSLY funny, and most of that humor came from being a band kid for years.  Seriously, this book is for band kids.

You know why I love this book?  This whole series, actually?  Because it's such an awesome portrayal of friendship.  And, if you ask me, a pretty realistic one.  Shit happens, and sometimes, it happens without your friends around.  And sometimes you can only communicate to them through letters and magical pants.  And sometimes your friends are on your side, and sometimes they're on your side, even if you think that they aren't.  But at the end of the day, good friends are always there and give you exactly what you need.

Really, pick anything by Ellen Hopkins ever.  We've always recommended her on here and big reason is that she doesn't lie to kids.  She writes from a very personal place, a place that she saw her daughter in, that sometimes here daughter is STILL in.  If your going to discourage kids from doing drugs, this book is probably the best way to do it, because it's so very real.

I know Unwind has come up on here a lot, but honestly, I can't recommend this book enough.  It is so moving and powerful and, honestly, has one of my all-time most favorite, most powerful and well written scenes I've ever read in my life in it.  Shusterman handles the volatile subject of abortion so perfectly, so powerfully, and so respectfully, that I can't even begin to recommend this book enough.

Stay tuned tomorrow for mine (and Alex's, of course) all time favorite YA book.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Author Bio - Meg Rosoff

This week, we're reading How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.  We've talked about this book a few times, and it's also been made into a movie.  Alex and I love this book and decided that, this week, we want to share the love.

She looks very much like Meryl Streep in this picture, no?

Rosoff was born and raised in America, but went to London for her education.  She spent a few years there, and then came back to the United States to work.  In 1989, she permanently moved to London, where she currently resides.

Rosoff has worked a variety of jobs at ad agencies and publishing companies, before deciding to write in 2003.  It was shortly after her younger sister passed away from breast cancer that she started writing.  How I Live Now was published in 2004, just one short week after Rosoff herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Rosoff has a website that links to all of her social media.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Review Me Twice: Supercenaries by Josh O'Brien

I am easily distracted by typos. It's what makes me a halfway decent editor: if I see incorrect punctuation, spelling, or grammar, or a missing (or extra) word, my mind stutters in reading and tries to make me fix it before moving on. The thing about reading (and reviewing) NaNoWriMo novels is that the average person does not have a professional editor fixing these details before the reader gets a go at it. (But hey, I've found typos in bestsellers, too, so it's not an exclusively NaNo thing.) There were a lot of those in Supercenaries, so I was fairly distracted.

But! (There's always a but.) I really liked the characters. They were introduced well. It was sort of like a laundry list at the beginning (each chapter shows you a new character until we have all of them ready to start interacting) but I liked it. Within each chapter, they were succinctly and descriptively introduced. It wasn't like saying, "This is Joe and his superpower is this and he is currently doing this with his life until joining Supercenaries." Each one is a little different, and is recruited a little differently, and - this is the thing that impresses me - has a slightly different voice. Geographically speaking, I was a little confused, because one character would be quite clearly English, and the next could be from... literally any large city in the world. And so on. But they have distinct voices, even though they aren't in the first person. That's the only way I can describe it.

Josh warned us, before we started reading, that he believed the ending to be a little rushed. This is coming from someone with the same problem (see Cassy's spot-on critique of Epilogue from last year), but I agree. I think it's a NaNoWriMo thing... you hit 50,000 words, and DING! you just finish as quickly as possible, because your goal is met.

All in all, I'd say once it's finished being tweaked and edited, Supercenaries will make for a solid superhero book that fits into the current trend without being swallowed up by it.

I actually really liked Supercenaries.  It was well thought out, and had a good plot to it.  I wasn't thrilled with the way the characters were introduced, but as the book progressed, it was a lot easier to keep track of characters than I had initially anticipated, which is good.  It's very easy to get caught in the trap of having so many characters you can't keep track of them.

I like that O'Brien wasn't afraid to take risks.  There was a lot of things that I didn't expect, but in a good way.  You weren't sure what was going to happen next or who was bad or good or anything.  I was able to figure out (part of) the ending.  But I didn't figure it out until MUCH later in the book (and we all know that I have a predilection for figuring things out before I should), so it was well done.

The only real complaint I had was that things were... TOLD to me a lot.  For example, a character mentioned having back up and then told the reader that "Rhien usually worked that stuff out."  The very next sentence was, "I've already worked that stuff out."  There was a lot of that kind of thing in the book, but I feel like with a good edit, that kind of thing could be fixed.  

The end was rushed.  I think that it could have gone a LOT of awesome places, but that doesn't mean that the ending was bad.  It was interesting and fit well with the rest of the book.

As always, I was happy to have the opportunity to read a NaNo book.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Gift Suggestions for Readers and Writers

Yep, it's the time of year for holiday gift guides to spring up everywhere, giving you ideas of what to buy for all manner of specialized groups. Well, I'm here to suggest ideas for the reading and writing enthusiasts on your good lists!

Is your beloved reader behind the times? Or have they used their e-reader so much, it's in disrepair? Make sure they're the kind of person who would like an e-reader, and would use it (and maybe find out their preference as to which one, too).

Print Books
Or, for the more old-fashioned among us, there's always a print book. There are so many variations to this, too: a first edition of a favorite classic; a signed copy (Cassy gave me a signed Leviathan one year!); a new book you think they might enjoy based on their tastes.
For the writers: a thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, Stephen King's On Writing, a book of names, any reference book related to the genres they write, Elements of Style by Strunk and White... the list goes on forever.

This is another choice with lots of possibilities. If you're crafty, like me, you can make your own: cross-stitched, felted, paper-crafted, homemade paper, leathercrafted, hand-drawn... I've even seen crocheted and knitted bookmarks!
Or, you can buy nifty ones too: magnetic, book page corners, ribbon, basic paper, plastic, metal... so many bookmarks! These make great stocking stuffers too!

There are so many neat bookends out there! Now, be mindful of your recipient here... for most of my life, my bookshelves have been so jam-packed, there's no ROOM for a bookend. But if your gift-getter has room, or could put a special selection of books on top of a desk or other piece of furniture, bookends would be ideal. (I'm actually hoping to get some for my desk at work to hold files and notebooks!)

Book totes
Cassy has given me three book totes as gifts! (One has the blog's name! And one says it's a sewing bag but I usually put books in it anyway. No bag gonna tell me what to do...) You can buy a wide selection of totes with funny/cute/sweet/interesting/smart sayings, or use a service like Zazzle or Cafepress to choose your own!

Book-smelling stuff
There are (as we told you last year) book perfumes! No, not a perfume you spray on your books... a perfume that makes you smell like a book! There are also candles that make the whole room smell like books. (As if you don't already have so many books that this is already a thing for you.)

Unless you're picking out gifts for our contest winner from several weeks ago, your recipient may not have a copy of Scrivener, one of the best writing softwares we've come across. And they might want one! As evidenced by the fact that we could buy a copy and give it away to a stranger, you can pay for it, but use your gift-getter's name, and give them the download/login information. (You could print this information and a little "about" page as their physical gift.)

Magnetic Poetry
I've never used it for writing inspiration, but there are as many writing methods as there are people. Plus, it can just be fun!

This one might be just me, because I'm pretty in love with wristwarmers, but I like having them for both reading AND writing. Keeps me warmer while curled up reading, and while typing!

NaNoWriMo Swag
Sure, by Christmas, NaNoWriMo is almost a whole month past, but their store is available all year long! There's also Camp NaNoWriMo to consider, and besides, your NaNo-ing friends will probably still be editing through the winter! They have posters, shirts, and so much cool stuff.

Coffee / Caffeine / Tea / Alcohol
Okay, that's a lot of things to cover. Let's give it a shot. Lots of writers/readers like coffee. I am not one of them, but I get it. There's a wide range of prices you can aim for here: go all-out with a Keurig or coffee grinder, go mid-range with specialty coffees or a French press, or get stocking stuffers like K-cups or a bag of their favorite coffee. Same goes for tea, really. For alternate caffeines, I personally like Bawls, and there are lots of caffeinated candies and drinks (and soap, and other stuff) from Thinkgeek. And there's always alcohol, too, especially if you want to emulate some of the classic greats. Think of the writer's block! Then give them alcohol to break it.

Reading or Writing Space
This is the kind of gift you can't give everyone. Probably only the people you live with, and you know extremely well. But wouldn't it be lovely to give your favorite reader a cozy nook (not a Nook, but that's nice too; see above) to curl up in? And your favorite writer would love a secluded, personal place to sit and write, uninterrupted, however they want.

Book Art and Accessories
There is no end of these things on the internet. Jewelry, purses, scarves, art... You can't let me even get started because I could write a month's worth of posts on this alone! This can be extended to accessories and art that incorporate printing press blocks, punctuation, typewriters...

Experience Gifts
Lots of people like to go the route of giving the gift of an experience, instead of giving stuff, which is a great idea! There are tons of options for reading/writing experiences: conferences, movie premieres, author talks, book readings, book signings...

Buy Cassy's Book, "I See"

Shameless Self (Kinda) Promotion
I say kinda, because Cassy in no way put me up to this, but here it is anyway. She wrote a very good book for NaNoWriMo 2012 and it is available for purchase via Amazon. It's an excellent pick for readers who enjoy modern twists on mythology, and/or fiction in a contemporary high school setting. And I'm not just saying that because Cassy is awesome; her book is, too.

When all else fails... gift cards!
While I understand the stigma against gift cards, I don't personally agree with it, because I love getting gift cards! It's like getting money, but with two improvements. (1) When I get cash, I hold on to it forever and don't spend it. A gift card makes me spend it because I know exactly where it's going to be spent! (2) It shows that the gift-giver knows something about you, even if it's just that you like a certain restaurant, or books, or a particular store. (Unless they get you an Amazon card, which means they just want you to pick out something you like instead of feeling guilty about getting rid of something you don't like that they gave you. Or they know you have a Kindle.)