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Category Archives: Fiction

Six sensational recent reads

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to a room of librarian colleagues (and a few teachers thrown in for good measure) about the hottest books for 2017 while reviewing some of the best from 2016. But what have I read recently? A lot. But not everything was a home run, so I’m picking through the trash to get to the treasures.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Kalanithi
    • An insightful and introspective approach to science and facing death from a doctor experiencing the end to his own short life.
  2. Geekerella by Poston
    • A quirky retake on Cinderella with a Con, a pumpkin food truck, evil twin stepsisters, and one spunky Elle.
  3. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Sandler
    • Who doesn’t want to find treasure, especially when it unlocks secrets of the past. But it’s significance is in Sandler’s approach which is to demystify pirates and change the bad reputation they have earned that is uncalled for.
  4. The Takedown by Wang
    • Attempting to take down a vile post on the internet isn’t an easy feat, but Kyla is ready for the challenge and has the guts to see it through even when it’s not pretty.
  5. Saints and Misfits by Ali
    • With a rich voice, Janna details those that are saints, misfits (like herself), and saints like others through her eyes as a Muslim teenager where her actions must match her beliefs.
  6. The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by Newquist
    • Who doesn’t love chocolate? The depth and breadth of this book is its strength, learning about the rivalries, chocolate during wartime, and the history of what was really a drink became the world’s favorite candy.
 

The art of the booktalk

This post originally appeared on the Books Blog for the Times Union

The art of the booktalk. When a friend asks you about the book you’re reading or you’re sharing a recent fabulous read, how do you approach it? Do you ask a question? Perhaps have a pre-planned teaser or maybe you’d rather share an overview. Sometimes I’m so blinded by the emotion of absolutely loving a book that I clutch the book to my chest and whisper I love this book and then just hope that someone will take my word for it. Luckily I’ve got some street cred with this approach.

2017-03-30 15.40.02-1But, I was thinking about the art of the booktalk after spending two days in classrooms talking to tenth graders about choosing a classic book to read for their fourth quarter project. I had a lot of ground to cover and not all of the books I had read. Yet that is nothing new because I booktalk frequently on topics that I may only know slightly and I am a firm believer that you can booktalk a book you haven’t read. I organized the books into categories that helped channel the number that I was talking about and then prepared my cheat sheet (things like publication date, title characters, main ideas, themes or topics, or a relevant current topic that paired nicely). And while this is necessary, I generally don’t use it as much as occasionally reference it since Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

It’s there if I need it, but the preparation solidifies my approach and then I don’t actually need it. Especially when I capitalize on others in the room who may have loved one of the books and ask them to share. When I talk about a book I may ask a hypothetical question or have a one-liner that intrigues someone, saying little more. And I learn from others. I facilitate a book group of local school librarians and everyone has a slightly different approach, all valuable in their own way. There are some I could listen to all day myself, admiring their vocabulary and word choice. I aspire to be better after each delivery and rework it until I hit booktalk gold. We only get better with practice.

So not only am I constantly honing my booktalking skills based on my audience, I also realized I have a lot of classic literature to read (or reread to refresh my memory). Maybe I can make this a monthly post to review a classic book as a way to kickstart this exploration. Which would you start with?

 

Say hello to Goodbye Days

GoodbyeDaysThe first thing I did after finishing Goodbye Days at 5am was plot how to connect with Jeffrey Zentner so that we can arrange a school visit for next year. Yes, Goodbye Days was that good. And after staying up past my bedtime months ago to read The Serpent King, it was apparent that Zentner is a skilled author that focuses his creativity on character-driven novels that speak to readers on a deeper level. This is the case with his newest, Goodbye Days where Carver feels like he has blood on his hands after texting his friends as they drove in a car, knowing that they’d likely text back while driving said car, and were killed when they crashed with a half-written text in the queue of the phone. In an instant, Carver lost his three best friends, the Sauce Crew.

Memorable character: The way Zentner fleshes out each of the deceased characters in flashbacks and the titled “goodbye days” that happen makes each an essential character, even in the afterlife. And while Carver is the main character, Blake’s grandmother has to be the most memorable. Blake, one of the friends in the car, was being raised by his grandmother who moved him from his dysfunctional home to raise him where they could go “bad fishing” and watch movies, garden and chow down at a local restaurant on the weekend. Her sadness is palpable and she has the outlandish idea to have a goodbye day, a day she couldn’t have with Blake. Using Carver to share the details that only he knew, while she shared with Carver the things he didn’t know about his friend, they could both say goodbye. But it’s when readers discover something that wasn’t foreshadowed and a very real conversation occurs that tears run. And that leads to one of my favorite quotes in the book.

Memorable quote: “Funny how people move through this world leaving little pieces of their story with the people they meet, for them to carry. Makes you wonder what’d happen if all those people put their puzzle pieces together.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought to have? What pieces does each person who knows you hold and how would that puzzle look all put together? It’s these precise tidbits in this book and his first that are endearing.

Memorable scene: Just like many of scenes that come together to create the book there are too many to really pick a favorite, but one of the most memorable was certainly when Carver shows up at Thurgood nee Mars’ home where he lived with his father, whose position as a judge makes Carver sweat. He knew this goodbye day was going to be very different from the others. And that moment when he asks Carver to leave the bowl on the counter… oh, you just wait until you get to it!

The book is one feel after another: swirling and circulating around with an electricity in the writing and characters. It’s important and sends a message, but it’s also about the bond of friendship. Expectations. Who we are. Almost too much to explore in one book, yet Zentner masterfully flashes back to capture it all while following Carver’s journey in the present. A must-read.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Authors, Fiction, Young Adult

 

Six sensational new releases

I spend most of my free time reading. Both because it’s my favorite hobby and it’s also my job. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a six sensational list, so let’s get back into it since my #edublogsclub challenge this week is to create a listicle (if you don’t know what that is, look it up!) Here are six sensational new releases in order of their publication date.

  1. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold
    • Not for the faint of heart, Arnold packs a punch. Nina’s relationship with her mother, who does not believe in unconditional love shapes Nina’s relationship with Seth. It’s dark and vividly portrayed and oh, so necessary.
  2. Ronit & Jamil by Pamela Laskin
    • This is Romeo and Juliet where Ronit is an Israeli girl and Jamil is a Palestinian boy and what happens when they fall in love… in verse. Breathtaking!
  3. Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos
    • If you’re named after the poet Pablo Neruda, you must use his poetry to woo the ladies. And Neruda is a hopeless romantic and an artist, but it’s the friendship he forms with Callie, a girl in class that allows him to work through his own feelings about friendships and relationships, especially when one closest to him is fractured and he’s caught in the middle.
  4. The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
    • Remember those early video games? Know how popular virtual reality is now? Well mix the two and you’re back in 1987 with Bill and Mary, the main characters of the story where Bill’s friends want to see Vanna White naked and Mary is a girl coder working on her family’s computer in their store. It’s about their relationship to coding, to each other, and darker secrets that will be uncovered.
  5. The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
    • I’m a fan of offbeat stories and this one is an homage to one of my favorite adult novels, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. In this story, the girls of Devonairre Street cannot fall in love because the men always die. They’re a curiosity that is now attracting tourists to this quaint street. It’s the story of their pain and what kind of future they can have with this awful power.
  6. Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef
    • A powerful look at a woman who is known as a legendary nurse yet wielded significant power as a manager with adeptness at numbers and charts. Her style made some cry and her work essentially drove her sister mad since she felt that Nightingale overshadowed her.

As always, these are just a few of the many I’ve read and a snapshot of some of the newer titles that will be released soon (or were released in the recent past) worth reading if you are a fan of young adult literature.

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Seven days & counting

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A heroine with a deadline. I can definitely relate since I’m recovering from an extremely busy October where I took hold of the motto that you’ve got three choices: give in, give up, or give it all you’ve got. I got through October and Mara needs to figure out who is killing her friends and fellow freeks from the traveling circus that has been her and her mother’s livelihood. They’ve settled in Caudry and at an innocent party, Mara meets Gabe and things change.

Memorable character: For me it was Mara, a girl on a tight timeline to be able to get a hold of her powers in order to save those that she loves.What’s more endearing.

Memorable scene: Really it was the entire atmosphere of the story, not a particular scene that drives Freeks. With the resurgence of the 80s, especially after the release of season one of Stranger Things coupled with American Horror Story doing a sideshow-themed season a few years back, this is a time and ambiance that readers want to go back to. For teen readers it’s to understand and learn, for adult readers of YA, a time to reminisce. Hocking works the setting into each situation that vividly captures the imagination.

Memorable quote: It’s also this carnival world that endears readers and fears for the freeks’ lives. And who better to sum up the desperate need to catch this predator than Gideon, who also selflessly expresses why readers want to see Mara succeed when they hatch a plot to kill it. “A creature like this doesn’t just go away. We can’t run from it, and even if we can, that only means that it will harm others. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to protect those that society forgot or threw away. I can’t just leave this thing running loose to kill anything it wants.”

Boy, don’t you hope that with as little carnage as possible they catch this beast and put an end to the suffering? With romantic overtones that provide some necessary distraction, the book is a story about family: a family that travels in a circus together and wants to live and co-exist, love and laugh like everyone else.

This is advised for lovers of carnival culture, readers that have enjoyed Hockings’ other series that include Watersong and Trylle, and anyone who roots for the heroine to come out on top even when the *ahem* cards are stacked against her.

 

 

Tragic creativity

whatgirlsaremadeofI am kind of obsessed with Elana K. Arnold. I first read Infandous and was enamored with the creativity and depth of the characters. More importantly, though was how the story was told. I had a few readers at the time for it who loved it as much as I did and that added to its appeal. Then, I downloaded What Girls Are Made Of from Netgalley and realized that Arnold is a masterful storyteller. Both books are similar in delivery with essentially two stories woven together and focused on a notable relationship between a mother and daughter with a varied cast of secondary characters and situations to make them distinct.

I absolutely thought that fans of The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis or The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith could connect with Arnold’s based on the intensity of the female main character. So without any more rambling, let’s introduce the memorable character.

Memorable character: I want to talk about Apollonia or Nina’s mom as catalysts for Nina’s obsessive behaviors, yet Nina is the driving force behind the book. It is her reaction to being in a relationship with Seth and then not being in a relationship with Seth that creates the conflict in the book. Readers shield their eyes, cringe, and cry for Nina especially when she is treated so worthlessly by Seth. And the words her mother speaks to her have the greatest impact on what drives Nina’s behavior.

Memorable quote: “There is no such thing as unconditional love. I can stop loving you at any time.”  Yes, that is the nugget that Nina’s mother gives to Nina. I do not need to say anymore.

Memorable scene: Arnold’s portrayal of Nina’s journey creates a series of memorable scenes, along with the interspersed chapters featuring divine characters in tragic situations. Nina uses what she knows, what her mother tells her, and her experiences at a high-kill animal shelter to shape her thoughts and feelings on just what love is. But to me the most powerful scene is the story of how Nina’s mother and father met in Italy. When we talk about how children imitate, mimic, and create their own understanding of the world first through the experiences of their parents as their first teachers, this is an important connection to make.

Arnold’s book is haunting at every turn and painfully real. This is a necessary book, yet I can see some readers needing to put it down because it is too real. For some this will be a mirror, for others it will be a door and I am thankful to Arnold for creating these vivid portrayals of girls who are not just sugar and spice.  If you haven’t read anything by Arnold, I advise you to add one or both of the titles mentioned to your pile and then share widely with your teen audience.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2016 in Authors, Fiction, Miscellaneous

 

Book hug

 

I had an experience when I read Page by Paige, the graphic novel by Laura Lee Gulledge. It’s one of those books that I was reading, then looked up to realize no one was experiencing the euphoria I was feeling at that moment. It was the beautiful illustrations and the perfect encapsulation of every introverted, self-doubting girl (read: basically every girl that has ever gone through puberty). And oftentimes it wasn’t the words but how the illustrations and words connected with each other that made me hug the book when I was finished: and hugged like the best friend you haven’t seen in a year.

2016-12-09-20-04-47Memorable character: Unequivocally Paige. She is the star of the show and the title character and it wouldn’t be the book about her battle with herself, being in her head, being her every single moment of every single day. Her emotions pour out on the page through the skilled hand of Gulledge to create pages like the ones included through this post. She’s someone who is growing and maturing and reflecting, even when it’s difficult. See all of her huddled around her head? (Don’t mind all of the post-it’s sticking out of the side. We’ll get to some of the others in a moment…

Memorable quote: It wasn’t so much what she said or was thinking, but the collision of 2016-12-09-20-04-59“notice me” in her eyes when she happened upon her love interest. Everyone who has begun to fall in love has felt this way, yes? The perfect marriage of creativity and empathy for Paige.

Memorable scene: Her taking the plunge. Ready to move forward even with her self-doubt, even after confronting her mother, worried about her continued relationship, being sure she remains true to herself, being a good friend, putting her artwork out there, being vulnerable. It’s the plunge that made readers love Paige even more than we already had. She speaks to everyone and it doesn’t have to be “as a girl”, but really every teenage experience feels the same way be it in love, artistic or academic expression, in relationships with family. 2016-12-09-20-06-30Gulledge succinctly interweaves this fear when she’s holding her heart in her hands hoping not to step on the hundreds of banana peels that litter the floor.

My appreciation for this book is the same giddy happiness I had when I finished Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh. Classically executed with readable font, mesmerizing illustrations, likable characters with the right amount of unselfish vulnerability inside of a great story. If it’s been sitting on the shelf since it’s 2011 publication date without a lot of movement, dust it off and put it on the top of the shelf. If it’s not in the collection, purchase it. If you have a teenage girl to buy for for Christmas, you’re done– wrap this one in a ribbon and bow– that’s just my advice! But seriously, go out and cuddle up with it next to a fire and live or re-live those years of epic self-doubt ruled the psyche.

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