Sunday, November 30, 2014

Win a Signed Copy of Unwind

So do you remember when I met Neal Shusterman?

Yeah, I do too.

What you may not know is that I have a signed copy of Unwind to give away to you!!

Mostly we want to say CONGRATS to all the NaNo winners and we want to say GREAT JOB to all the people who made a go at it but might not have won.  Basically, we're just proud of anyone who wrote this month, and as a reward, we're giving away this book.

I know: the excitement is unbearable.  So, here are just a few rules about the contest:

-You can enter once per day.  And you can do each THING once per day.  So you can tweet us every day and comment every day AND share the giveaway on Facebook.  So many ways to win!

-You have to live in the contiguous United States.  It's not that we don't LIKE people in other countries, but we just can't afford that shipping.

-Contest Starts today, midnight (so it's going on right now!) and ends, Saturday, Midnight.

-Winner will be announced on Sunday, December 7, 2014

-Winner must provide a valid address within one week of winning.  If they do not, the next winner will be chosen and the same rules apply.  If neither claim the prize, we will choose what to do with the book at our discretion. (probably give it away to one of our friends as an awesome Christmas gift.)

-Prize will be mailed via United States Postal Service, with no signature required. A delivery confirmation number will be provided to the winner upon mailing, via email. We are not responsible for delivery errors made by the USPS.

-At the end of the day all rules/regulations/entries/whatever else are up to our discretion

So start in with those entries, and we'll choose the winner in a week!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review Me Twice - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I actually loved this book.  I mean, just completely adored it.  The '80s and '90s pop culture references were awesome (not to mention the ultimate test of my nerdiness).  And there was just the right amount of explanation and back story without completely overwhelming me.

Which is saying a lot, because this story required a LOT of back story to really get what was going on.  But I loved it.  I loved Wade, our main character.  I loved watching him geek out over things and fall for a girl and figure his way out.

I loved that the whole book kind of imitated a game.  Wade and friends were the good guys and the Sixers were legitimate bad guys and you were rooting for the good guys the whole time!  And there were tests and trials and times that the good guys could have become the bad guys but they didn't!

It was just such a good book, and the fact that Wil Wheaton did the narration for the audio book that I was listening to, just made it that much cooler.

What a crazy book! I loved it. I read it instead of listening to it (I got the print version faster than I could get the audiobook).

If you don't know a single thing about the 1980s, I wouldn't recommend it. But I know more than I realized, so it was fun to see all the references. And there are a TON of them. I mean, I was drowning in '80s references.

I liked all of the characters. I had a theory about one of them from almost the moment we met them, and I was kind of upset that it was soooo obvious... but then I turned out to be wrong. So that was kind of fun, actually.

"Compelling." That's the word I would put down for my one-word jacket quote, if anyone were asking for it. I read the first few pages before I left for work on Wednesday, to entice myself to read the rest after I got home. It worked, because I got home, picked up the book, and didn't put it down until I was done with it. And it's not a particularly short book (372 pages).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I don't normally list things I'm thankful for publicly (it feels better to demonstrate my thanks instead of just listing them online) but there are a few things on my list that pertain to this blog, so I'd like to share them with you:

I'm thankful that there are so many great books in the world. And I don't just mean books that I think are great... I mean any book that anyone anywhere thinks is great. (So yes, that indirectly means I'm thankful for the Twilight series.)

Along that same vein, I'm thankful for authors. Without books, there aren't authors. But there can't be books without readers, either, so I'm also thankful for readers.

I'm thankful that I'm literate. We don't talk much about literacy here on the blog, but I plan to talk about it more in the future. Not everyone is so fortunate to be able to read, and I certainly take that skill for granted.

Not to get all sappy, but I'm thankful for my co-blogger, Cassy, because she's a great friend and a great co-blogger and I never would have gotten this far with a book review blog without her.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Favorite Audiobook

This week, we're reading Ready Player One and I, like probably Alex also did, listened to the audiobook.  Mostly because Will Wheaton read it and who WOULDN'T listen to that, but also because a friend of ours recommended the book, based off the audio.

So this week, we're giving you favorite audio.

I just ended up really liking Lean In way more than I thought I was going to (business books not really the books I tend to pick up.)  I really love Sandberg's approach to the idea of leaning into your career, not being afraid of it, and not forestalling it because of something that might, one day, happen in the future.

She is basically telling to you plan your career based on the here and now, not on the 'what if I have a family etc.' of the future.  But she doesn't do it in a condescending way.  I don't feel like I CAN'T go have a family as opposed to a career.  She makes that part of my life as a woman, that choice as a woman, just as valid.  If I want to choose to be a stay at home mom, to give up my career because that what I want in life, then do it.

But she is very clear it should be MY choice, and not the choice of my male peers or society's choice because I'm a woman.  I shouldn't ever stay home or forestall my career because I think that I'm expected to.  It's really a wonderfully feminist book, in the right kind of way (totally supportive and there's no male bashing.)

But I also love the audio book because this woman reads it.

Who is that, you may ask?  Why, that's Elisa Donvan.  Here, let me put her in more familiar surroundings.

That's right: she was Amber from Clueless.  And while there were not "whatever"s going on in Lean In, she still did a wonderful job reading the book.

Have you ever heard Neil Gaiman read his own work? Have you heard him say the word "Cinnamon"? Even if you aren't an anglophile, you can appreciate that he has an amazing story reading voice. I love his audiobooks. "Cinnamon" is a short story that, at some point, I found on iTunes for free or really cheap, I can't remember which. I think it's the only audiobook in my iTunes, ever. I remember listening to it on a plane once (actually, a couple times... pretty sure I was flying to Oregon, so that's a five-hour flight and then a two-hour flight).

"Cinnamon" is very much a fairy tale... It's about a princess and her parents and a tiger and you learn a lesson from it, but it's an odd lesson.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Author count is hitting the stratosphere this year.

Because I like to keep you posted on all of the authors I see, here are some pictures from the book signing I went to tonight.

On the left is me with Rainbow Rowell (hard to tell, but she's holding a copy of Fangirl) and on the right is me and David Levithan.  I know: I can feel the jealous rolling off of you in WAVES right now.  It's practically tangible.

There were also some other awesome authors there, Coe Booth (Kind of Like Brothers), Tanuja Desai Hidier (Bombay Blues), and Bill Konigsburg (Openly Straight).  They were all funny and hilarious and wonderful and read passages from their books and really, if you get the chance to see David Levithan ever, go see him because he's hysterical, I think more so because he was with a group of people he was so comfortable with.

 And yes, I was close enough to David Levithan that the man was practically sweating on me.  It was fantastic.  And did I mention that he complimented my shoes?  I almost had to go die in a corner I was fangirling so hard.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Review Me Twice - Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

I have read this book no less than twelve times in my life.  Maybe more.  I don't know, I just know I've read it a whole lot.  I had to read it for Battle of the Books in the fifth grade and I have been in love with it ever since.

And I think that it's definitely one of Paterson's better ones, probably because she wrote it from a very personal place (it's based on what happened to her son's best friend.)  I like it because, while yes, it is very obviously a kids book, it doesn't shy away from things BECAUSE it is a kids book.  It approaches real topics like bullying and abuse and death and grieving.

I love the characters.  Jess and Leslie are two very real, fleshed out kids who have personalities and lives and problems and it's fabulous.  And even the minor characters become real to me.  Honestly, I just think that Paterson really hit the nail on the head with this book.

Plus, you know I can't resist a good banned book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Least Favorite Book by Your Favorite Author

You can't please everyone all the time. We love our favorite authors (that's why they're our favorite authors) but we still have to admit that they aren't infallible. These are our least favorite books by our still-favorite authors.

Coraline - US - Hardback

You may recall that we've reviewed Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I don't hate it, by any means; it's quite good. It's just my least favorite of all the things I've read by him.

It's actually quite surprising how many of his books I haven't read, so this isn't considering all of his work. I haven't read Odd and the Frost Giants, or The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains.

I like this book. But I LOVE the Sandman series, and American Gods and Anansi Boys and Good Omens and Fortunately, the Milk and The Graveyard Book and Don't Panic and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls...

Ok, so I'm cheating a LITTLE bit, because Katherine Patterson isn't actually my favorite author.  But I suggested this post with her in mind, because this week, we're reading one of my favorite books.  Easily in my top five, Bridge to Terabithia.  It's awesome and amazing and I LOVE it.

But Patterson also wrote one of my all time LEAST favorite books.

It's basically a book about a girl where everything goes wrong in her life.  Her family falls apart, gets sent different places, she has to pay off debts, on and on.

Which, I guess on its own isn't a terrible idea for a book, but the execution on it is just so POORLY done.  The chapters are bogged down, the writing style so lethargic and there is absolutely nothing in it that holds your interest.  There's no action or events or anything that make you want to continue reading the book.

I specifically remember my mom reading it to me (because I had to read it for school and I was having the hardest time getting through it) and even my mom couldn't stand to read through it.

So when I had to read Bridge to Terabithia, by the same author, I was stunned at how much I enjoyed it.  I could not believe that they were written by the same person.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review Me Twice: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder


I read this book a long while ago, when I picked it out for the blog. It was more quickly available from the library than the things we were reading sooner, and it was short and a quickish read.

But that means I totally forgot everything about it. I read a spoiler-filled summary to remind myself of the plot points and remembered what happened in the book (one friend who can't dream big, one friend with severe and untreated bipolar disorder, they go on a road trip and it's all ridiculous) and then I could remember reading it, but I also remembered it not grabbing me. I finished the book despite my lack of feelings for it, but mostly just so I wouldn't feel bad when I grabbed the next book on my to-read pile.

I've heard really great things about Wunder's other books (especially Probability of Miracles) so maybe this is just atypical of her writing, but I was not invested, personally.

I really wanted this book to end differently than it did.  I won't tell you how it ended, but I wanted it to be more hopeful.  And I feel like it maybe wasn't the best representation of bi-polar disorder in the world, which makes me not like it even more.  Most people don't have the extreme case that Zoe has in this book.  But, I guess then it wouldn't been a very interesting book.

Also, I feel the ending is kind of rushed.  It's like, "Huge things that happens!!!  Page and a half that sums up the REST OF MY LIFE but doesn't really answer any of your questions, it just causes you to ask more of them."

I have fairly strong feelings about endings (if you haven't garnered that) and if I don't like it, it can ruin a book.  And, to be honest.  I didn't have particularly strong feelings about this one anyway, so overall, I'm kind of meh.....

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Procrastination Station

Writer's block... if you haven't gotten it in the past two weeks of writing, you probably will soon. And I'm not trying to jinx you or anything... it's just something that happens. One way to help combat it and end it more quickly is to distract yourself for a while. (You just have to be careful to write more than you procrastinate.)

A lot of regions have Procrastination Stations on their websites, with fun distractions to get your mind working on something else for a little while. Sometimes they're the types of things that can jumpstart your writing, and sometimes they're just the kind of things that get your mind doing something else so it can relax from thinking about your novel.

This post is my own recommendations for Procrastination Station activities. I keep a bookmark folder in Chrome of some of my favorites. That way, I don't see the links while I'm working (I always have Chrome open while I write, in case I need to do a little quick Google research, look up a new character name, make sure I'm using a word correctly by checking the dictionary, playing music from Pandora or Spotify, and obviously to keep the NaNoWriMo dashboard up so I can update my word count every time I take a break) but they're right there when I need them.

Inspiration-Type Procrastinations

Word of the Day (
The word of the day feature on can be entertaining, informative, and sometimes inspire you to try to use it in your novel. Lots of websites have a "word of the day" tool.

Word Clouds (Wordle)
Use Wordle to make a word cloud out of what you've written so far. It's fun - but also helpful - to see which words you're overusing, or not using enough.

NaNoWriMo Region Website
My region (Hampton Roads) has a cute little Procrastination Station section on their website. It has little games (hangman, word matching, etc.) that don't take up much time, but can get your brain moving in a different direction.

Procrastination-Type Procrastinations

Jigsaw puzzles (Jigzone)
I've always been a fan of Jigzone for a customized time-waster. Since you can change the cut of the puzzle, you can set it to an easier mode to waste five minutes, or a harder mode to waste twenty.

Sudoku / Samurai Sudoku
I got bored with regular sudoku years ago... but I love Samurai Sudoku (five sudoku puzzles stuck together). Like with the jigsaw puzzles, you can choose from different difficulty levels to decide how much time you want to spend on it.

I've also discovered that, this year, when I'm on a computer with two monitors, I play Hearthstone on one monitor and have my novel and Chrome (with my writing tools open) open on the other. If I get out one or two sentences while I wait for my opponent to play their turn, I can get out at least 100 words per game. It's not the most productive I could be, but it's like mini-sprints... I challenge myself to write the next sentence before it's my turn again.


What are your favorite writing procrastinations? Share them with us in the comments!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Favorite Road Trip Book

This week, I learned that there's another genre that I don't read much of: road trip books. But there is one that I have read, and greatly enjoyed, and it shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is about a guy named Shadow who gets out of jail to find that his wife has moved on. Then he runs into some deities and adventure happens.

There's a companion book, called Anansi Boys, that I'm pretty sure I've discussed at some point here on the blog. (It features my favorite supporting character... a lime.)

So, it turns out, all my road trip books... actually non-fiction.  So about actual road trips.  Who knew?  And since we'll be discussing Carsick in just a few weeks, I'll talk about one of the only other road trip books in my repertoire

The book is about a kid who was so about being off the grid and green that he gave away all his money and hitchhiked to Alaska.  He was young, college age, from a middle to high class family and just completely fell off the grid.  Gave away all his money to charity and went to Alaska to live.  And actually did ok for awhile, until he got hit by the winter.

No one is 100% certain what happened to him.  They're pretty sure that he got caught there, unable to swim and that the river he cross in the summer was too high for him to cross again before the winter time hit and he starved to death (pleasant, right), but it's a lot about the psychology of why he left and hitchhiked across the country in the first place.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Write or Die

As we near the middle of the month, we start to feel the pressure of our word counts.  Some of us are ahead (congrats!), some of us are behind (you can catch up, don't worry!) and some of us are just right on track (great planning!).

Wherever you are, sometimes you just need a little motivation to get some work done.  Which, is why I submit to you:


Write or die is an especially great program if you are behind.  It's free, if you just use it on the internets, but you can buy the full version for just $20, and you put in the amount of time that you would like to work and then you can put in the level of intensity that you want to work at.  At it's lowest setting it will just flash some colors at you.  At the next level, it will make some unsavory noises, and at it's top level, Kamikaze, if you sit dormant for too long, Write or Die will start deleting the words you have written.

Write or Die has done some upgrades since the last time that I've written about them.  There are now REWARDS for writing.  You can get pleasant sounds for meeting goals.  Kitten purrs and the like, along with pleasant pictures.  However, there are also unpleasant pictures that appear, like spiders across your screen, motivating you to write and make the pictures disappear.

So if you're struggling, it's definitely something I recommend doing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Author Bio: Wendy Wunder

Wendy Wunder (which, amazingly alliterative name) is one of those authors there isn't a lot of public information about.

Wendy Wunder
That's her! (from here)

She's written The Probability of Miracles (2011) and this week's review book, The Museum of Intangible Things (2014).

She hasn't updated her blog in three years, so I can't even begin to tell you what she's up to these days, and unfortunately, she has no Wikipedia page.

But that doesn't mean we won't have a great time reading and reviewing her book!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reivew Me Twice - The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

It should not be that hard to get through a book that short. Granted, I don't have much interest in the Romanovs, and I don't have much background information on them, so it's just not my topic. But I felt like it should have been more driving.

Then again, it is November. Which means novel writing, Halloween recuperation, Christmas preparation, and I had some personal stuff going on this week. So maybe I wouldn't have been able to get into any book we read this week.

I would give this book the benefit of the doubt and give it another shot at another time, but this week, it just didn't do it for me.

I can understand Alex's frustration.  I picked the book because it's short and, well, to be frank, the Romanovs are one of my favorite parts of history.  And the best parts of the story are at the end...

Which I didn't get to either this week.  And while I have an advantage over Alex in the fact that I have already read this book, I'm with her that this is a TOUGH month for us.  (NaNo is KICKING OUR BUTTS!!)  So I will at least give you the benefit of my 'I have already read this book' experience.  The ending is the best part.

The thing about this book though is that it was written before the last two Romanov bodies were found a few years ago, so it's a fictional interpretation of what could have happened.  Now, it's a little less so because we KNOW what happened.  It takes a little of the love and mystery out of the book.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Write With the Door... Open?

Stephen King gives excellent writing advice. If you haven't read his book On Writing, I highly recommend it. It's useful and funny. However, this NaNoWriMo, I'm flying in the face of some of his best writing advice:

"Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open."

What does that mean?

Well, the quote means you should keep your writing to yourself while you're getting the first draft out, because outside influence is more of a hindrance than a help at that stage. And during the editing process, you should allow others in, because of the old adage that two (or more) heads are better than one.

But this year, for NaNoWriMo, I'm making my in-progress novel publicly available at

so you can watch the first draft develop. I'm still writing in Microsoft Word, but at the end of each day, when I'm done writing, I post what I've written that day (with my total word count so far in the title of the post).

It's experimental, it's fun, and you're welcome to go check it out.

The biggest problem I've already run into is that I already know that in about a week or two, I'm going to really want/need to go back and change some stuff in the writing I've already posted. I haven't yet decided how to deal with that, but I think it might be that if I change something in already-posted content, I'll repost with the changes and mark it as a "rewrite" post. It'll confuse the total word count but that's okay.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Favorite Writing Tool

Me (Alex) and my trust NaNoWriMo 2014 notebook

NaNoWriMo makes me feel a little old school, because I pull out a composition notebook around September to start preparing for it. My composition notebooks are my favorite writing tools (with the specific pens I use for this purpose in a very close second place).

I'm a tactile person. Things seem more real to me when I can touch them. I'm also a visual person. It is easier for me to be able to write in margins or doodle or dedicate an entire page to a sketch. I also love the feel of flipping through pages covered in ink writing.

Bonus? This year, the color of my composition notebook kind of matches the idea of my book.

While I do get a little tactile just like Alex during NaNo (I have these great generic super hero notebook that say things like 'Kapow!'), I really love Scrivener.  I have loved it since the first day I finally pony upped the money to pay for it (and by me I mean Alex because she bought it for me for my birthday.)

It let's me divide my book into the most miraculous ways (this NaNo, I'm dividing it by school grade level, and then have it further divided into different parts within the school grades.)  I have a separate section for keeping track of characters and their features and families.  There's a place to keep my research and outlines and anything to do with my story.

I love that Scrivener keeps everything organized in one place.  I don't need four documents, in four separate programs, to keep my characters straight.  It's all in one place and it's an affordable program!  If you win NaNo, it's only $20.  If you don't win NaNo.  It's still only $40.  If you are looking for a great program for writing, pick up Scrivener.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Romanov Family

If I wasn't obsessed with Tudor England, I would be obsessed with the Romanovs.  There is just something about the tragedy that's always drawn me to them, and thus I've read a number of both fiction and non-fiction book on the subject.

Not quite the number of books I've read on Tudor England, but enough that I'm probably not going to have to Google much more than the spelling of their names for this post.  In case you have been ignoring everything about history ever for the past hundred years, the Romanov family were the last ruling family of Russia before the Communists came in and took over it.

Their end was tragic and, to be honest, really unnecessary, but it happened.  This week we're reading The Kitchen Boy, which is a fictional retelling of the last days of the Romonov Family.

A few things you should know about what was going on in Russia circa 1900s.  Everyone was incredibly poor and hungry and Nicholas II (The Tsar and ruler of Russia) had absolutely no
idea how to run a country.  I mean, the man just didn't.  His father died much sooner than everyone anticipated, kind of leaving Nicholas without first teaching him HOW to run a country.  Everyone figured they had more time.

Then he went and married Alexandra who had even LESS of an idea on how to run a country, and you could see where it would all go downhill.  I'm not going to get into the details about how they ran the country, who was broke and starving, into the ground, but let's just say the big catalyst was Rasputin.  Nicholas went to go control the troops at the front during WWI (HUGE disaster.) and Alexandra let and religious fanatic run the country (bigger disaster.)

Nicholas and Alexandra had five children, four daughters and one youngest son who suffered from hemophilia.  However, this was an incredibly closely guarded secreted.  It was feared if the public knew that their one heir was weak and sickly, it would weaken their position on the throne.

Of course they were captured, kept in a house for months on end, and, finally, on the 17th of July, 1918, the Tsar and his family were marched into the basement of a small home.  They were made to stand like they were going to take a photo.  And they were all shot in cold blood.

There were always rumors that one daughter survived because the son and one daughter's body were never found.  And our book this week is centered around the idea of what happened to the last two bodies.

Also, back in the 1920s, a woman named Anna Anderson claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.  She was probably the most famous imposter.  Many movies have been made on Anastatsia and lots of literature about a surviving child.

In 2007, Alexi and Maria, the last two bodies of the Romanov family, were actually discovered, finally completing the mystery of the family.

Monday, November 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo Blog for All

NaNo has officially started!

So if you're here, reading this posts, it's either A. because you're not participating in NaNo or B. because you're procrastinating.

Either are likely scenarios around here.  Alex and I, as always, will be participating like we always do (and keeping mildly up to date on here), but mostly, we're going to be encouraging you to head over to a writing blog that I've started for you guys.

While later on, I will be posting my writings, during NaNo the idea is I'm posting digital write-ins, writing sprints, advice days, and just a place for everyone to gather and talk about NaNo.  I'm going to keep word counters to the side of the blog and, right now, it's just Alex and I, but we would LOVE for you to contribute.

If you give us your NaNo user name, we will add it to the counter on the side and we can all compare how we're doing!!!  (good motivation to keep writing, isn't it?)

If there are other writing ideas you have for it, let me know.  I'm really looking for it to be a community writing space, not just during NaNo but past it as well.

Happy Writing!!