Saturday, 14 October 2017

Lauren DeStefano's Video on Wither's Publication

Way back in 2013 I wrote a review of Lauren DeStefano 's Wither (spoilers, I really like her series).

Today I stumbled on a vlog the author did on her publishing journey for Wither. The video is below:




You can also watch the video on Youtube here. I recommend that you go to her Youtube channel and show her some love. Her story about publishing is fantastic, and we share basically the same experience with getting a BA in English when you want to be writer (with the exception is that she got a big break and is now a best selling author).

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


Published: 2007
Publisher: Razorbill
Website: http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/

Introduction

Hannah Baker has committed suicide. In the wake of her sudden departure, the people who knew her get a set of tapes with a map. On the tapes is the voice of Hannah narrating the thirteen reasons why she chose to kill herself. Nice guy Clay receives his and he listens to the harrowing story that was her life; one event after another. Everyone who contributed to her decision is on the tapes, and they have, or will have, their chance to listen. Clay is eager to know, yet terrified - why is he on the tapes? What did he do to her?

Themes


This book is like rubbernecking a highway traffic accident. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it gets dark. If you’re sensitive to uncomfortable topics such as the obvious suicide, bullying, sexual situations, etc., stay clear. Some people just don’t want to read about that, and that’s fine. However, I don’t advocate that this book be kept from teens or adults who wants to read it just because of its content. If you are alright with tougher subjects, go ahead and read it. If you don’t think your kid is up to the challenge, talk with them.

Also, you can write some amazing essays with this book. Comparing it to other books, or talk about glorification of suicide, bullying, sexual assault/consent, or the reality of suicides, or how the media handled it (sensationalized).

Hannah’s Character
Got this from here.
She comes off more of a psychopath to me. Clever like Jigsaw or Grandpa Rick, but not something glamourous. At many points in the book she seems to be more of a monster. Not because she has killed herself, but because she tries to drag everyone down to the hell she experienced. Her suicide was her escape, but the tapes were to punish those left behind. She's an emotional blackmailer.

The Courtney Character

Oh, hey, what a surprise, another smear on my name. Her last name is pretty cool though.

My Regular Person Opinion on the Book

Don’t give me that OMG think of the children! overreacting. Teens, adults, seniors, children - they are all capable of committing suicide, and they do. Copycat suicides? Sure, but you can get inspiration from anywhere if you are already in the mindset. The news, the bible, children’s fairy tales, urban legends, history, etc. all have instances of suicide and/or violence towards others. (Of course, video games get a lot of the flak nowadays.)

Thing is, it’s well-written. The voices are spot on, the characters are strong, which surprised me because there are so many. Aside from being on the Jigsaw spectrum, it’s story is unique. Dark, yes, and I don’t believe shielding the masses from stuff that might trigger them will help anyone. Parents should be talking with their kids - it shouldn't take a controversial book in the media to make you parent.

The End

I did love the end, and it’s exactly as I hoped it would be. The circle is broken. I’ll watch the Netflix series and report back, though they have a second season already lined up, which confuses me. It’s done, isn’t it? It’s over. Go home.  

Although I do have to say something about Clay’s tape, and a few of the other tapes. You can click right here and you’ll be directed to a page on this blog that will have spoilers and what I think is a major flaw in this book.

Suitability in a Library

Should you carry this book in your library? Depends. How’s your collection development policy? How do you handle book challenges? Personally, I’d put it in, but that’s just me and my (mostly) irrelevant opinion. Whose opinion counts, might you ask? The heads of your library that have to write policies and procedures, and then implement said policies and procedures, that’s who.

And if you start banning now, you set a precedent, and you'll be having everyone on Harry Potter and Jane Eyre and 1984 and Brave New World and The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm and Fahrenheit 451 and Hamlet and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and... 

I recently read this book and it was great - Intellectual Freedom for Teens: A Practical Guide for YA & School Librarians. I recommend it if you're an advocate for intellectual freedom.

Final Verdict

It’s a good book. Well-written with the integration of the story on the tapes, what’s happening to Clay as he listens to the tapes, and what Clay remembers. Due to the themes, it’s not for everyone - and that’s fine. If a reader is good with dark themes, I recommend this book.

I think there’s too much that happened to Hannah, though, to the point that it becomes unbelievable. I can see that might be annoying to some people. The media attention is unfortunate, but it will subside eventually and we can go back to reading instead of attending all these mandatory book burnings.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Beyond Falling Stars By Sherry Soule

Starlight Saga

*Honest Review Requested by Author in Exchange for Free eBook
Published: April 2017
Publisher: Disenchanted Publishing
Series: Starlight Saga #3
Website: Author’s blog
She’s Also on Wattpad
Amazon: Here
Goodreads: Here


Story

Get in the spaceship, we’re going to Reticuli.

Sloane and the gang have been through a lot. During all their troubles, they get news that the Lancasters are going to the alien planet Reticuli. It also just makes sense that everyone else can go too, so the whole cast goes to the two-sun beach planet. Once there, not much goes in Sloane’s favor - attempts on her life, a war with her new mother-in-law, and Hayden’s ex just not letting go.

Mystery

We have another round of trying to figure out a who is the person behind some nefarious deeds. In the last book I didn’t see it coming and I felt amazing at the reveal. This time, I thought, It’s definitely not X. Though wouldn’t it be funny if it is X? And…turns out that it is X, and it was still another awesome moment for me (NOOOOOO WAAAAAY!), especially because it’s a little more complicated than it seems.

Flow

For me, it wasn’t as fast of a read as the previous two in the series, but it still had that easy flow and nail-biting what will happen next anticipation. I haven’t had much time on my lunch break to read, so I’d get a few pages read and have to stop, and that was agonizing. The way it’s written keeps you hooked - I think it has something to do with the lack of purple prose and superfluous description, so the plot and general excitement keeps going.

Final Verdict

The whole series was fantastic. Alien-human hybrids, romance, action, a few mysteries - everything to keep you interested. This book did not disappoint and I highly recommend it along with the other two books. I have some more thoughts below if anyone wants to read them, but they contain spoilers.








I didn't make this.

SPOILERS

End of the Series

I have a few thoughts about how the end wrapped everything up.

The “Let’s not do it until marriage” message is a good message. Not one that I agree with, but for a YA audience it’s good. And they seem to be sticking it out, which I think fits better with the story. It's not controlling like Twilight, it's just what they have agreed to.

I didn’t always like Hayden. Maybe for a sixteen-year-old he’s a hotbad-boy, but I couldn’t get past his communication issues. I liked how he ended up though. Looks like no more communication issues by the end scene.

Writing about a girl’s weight is difficult, as we are currently in a difficult cultural climate about women’s body image. Do you celebrate loving your body no matter what the size, or do you advocate for health and therefore a smaller size? I like how Soule handled Sloane’s struggle. Most importantly, Sloane’s happy with herself. The fact that Hayden loves her is just icing on the cake. With her new life she seems to be more active, and she tries not to overindulge, and she is losing weight without making it an unhealthy obsession. On a personal note, I am a huge horror film, video game, novel, and art nerd. Along with my librarianship and writing jobs, I (and most people) have a largely sedentary lifestyle. It’s really easy to gain weight, and I totally did during high school and university. I had to take up running and exercising a dog every day to balance this out (lol). It's just one of those common things about life that happens and it's nice that there's at least one book out there that address it without making it the focus of the book (e.g. a book about a girl's weight loss journey or anorexia).

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Library and Reading Stories from the Internet

(For some reason I had this in draft for several weeks. Opps.)

Just in case anyone is interested, here are some news articles regarding libraries, reading, and schools.


Conservative summer reading list at Alabama high school stirs attention


With a title like that, I thought it was for a standard English class, but no, it's for an "advanced-placement government class". While the reading list arguably shouldn't be so biased, having conservative material isn't necessarily bad. The teacher just should have tried a little harder to be inclusive.





These are some amazing librarians!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Under Sunless Skies by Sherry Soule


*Honest Review Requested by Author in Exchange for Free eBook
Published: July 14, 2016/April 2017
Publisher: Disenchanted Publishing
Series: Starlight Saga #2
Website: Author’s blog
She’s Also on Wattpad
Amazon: Here
Goodreads: Here

Introduction

A few weeks ago I was wondering if Sherry Soule wrote the sequel to Lost in Starlight, as I was thinking about what will happen to Sloane. Then, BAM, I get the news that the author is looking to get reviewers for the THIRD book in the series. I was floored! I know I’m in the running for the slowest writer ever, but she works fast, AND look at her goodreads listing of all the books she has authored (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4925996.Sherry_Soule).  

Sloane and Hayden have broken up, she gets a bombshell of news from her own family, and intergalactical organizations are causing her grief. This time around, Sloane has some mysteries to solve. First and foremost, she has a mysterious blackmailer threatening to leak her secrets, putting her and her family in danger.

Story

I was hooked on this book! I couldn’t stop reading because I NEEDED to know who the blackmailer was. I know some books make it obvious who the blackmailer is, and I DID NOT see this one coming. Everyone was acting so suspicious I couldn’t fathom who was behind it. It was an awesome experience that I haven’t felt in a while. There was also the aspect of will they/won't they get back together going on.  

This book feels to be more paranormal romance, with a light layer of sci-fi, and I enjoyed the atmosphere. The sci-fi is a backdrop and it’s unobtrusive. There's no attempt to explain crazy futuristic technology or science and I appreciate that.

Characters

Once again, I really like Sloane. I see her as the kind of girl that gets things done. She's a journalist for her school’s newspaper, a blogger, she has too many mysteries to count to figure out, and she still makes time for her friends. She pines over a boy and that drives me crazy, but in the end, she’s still just a teen. She has problems that are both relatable and paranormal, and the mix is perfect. The book is from her perspective and you get more of her interesting lines and thoughts.    

Two of my favourite quotes are:
If you stabbed me, I’d probably bleed frosting.
I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color.

Hayden angered me for about 70% of the book. LISTEN TO SLOANE SHE HAS SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO TELL YOU. I hate reading about on and off again relationships because I also hate them in real life. When an ex comes back after treating your heart like a cigarette butt and is like, hey, let’s get back together! Sure, entertain the idea. Then tell him it’s a good thinking point, as is the idea of setting him on fire.

It is realistic though. It happens all the time. A guy breaks up with you and you’re still totally in love, and you’re like I’M FINE, but secretly you hope he’ll take you back. As an adult I was screaming in my head that she needed to leave him be. He’s being a few shades of Edward Cullen/Christian Gray creepy. I wanted her to be the best kind of awesome she can be without him, and she was, though she was still pining for him. She was chasing him, which I hate, but this is a fictional character...and real people do this too. They do things we don’t like. It just made me want to shake her because she’s better than that, and punch him because he’s being mean and she deserves better.  

As for chasing boys:
(With the exception of the two with text denoting the possible creators at the bottom of the images, I have no idea who made these originally.)



Final Verdict

I highly recommend this book, and the first one in the series, for older teens who are looking for a fun romp with romance and sci-fi. Even if sci-fi isn't your thing, give these a try. These two books were written in an easy flowing way that are easy to get lost in. I have only read the first two books from this series, I am interested in checking out some of the author’s other books because I like the writing style.  

Fun (Maybe) and (Definitely Pointless) Fact:

I wore a lot of black back in the day. Then my mother told me to stop buying black clothes. So I switched to shades of darker blue...then she asked if I was in a blue cult. I know it’s more of a generational thing, but I would love to have Sloane as a daughter, as I know that there’s nothing inherently wrong with looking a bit different. But her mom seems pretty awesome too, even when she wants her daughter to be a little more “normal”. (Side note: Normal people worry me.)  I would have loved to read this as a teenager, and I would have been drooling over all the cool stuff Sloane has.   






Thursday, 9 February 2017

Teens' Vandalism Charges Receive "Read Diverse Books" Sentence

I know I haven't been posting but I'd like to post that CNN reported some teens vandalized the Ashburn Colored School back in September. Their punishment? Read diverse books.

If you just do a quick Google search you'll see the benefits of reading fiction, and the one that always sticks out to me is that it builds your ability to be empathetic. Empathy is something I think society is lacking.

As for the books they need to read? The article only lists a few, but they have to read and report on one book a month with the possibility of some films too. I wish I could see the whole list. Personally, I've only read To Kill a Mockingbird and I've seen (and recently rewatched) Schindler's List.

I love this punishment and it is something I could definitely employ in the future. Punishment for demonic offspring? Read this book and write a report. Maybe they would be grounded until they do.

As for the teens here? I also like this punishment. However, they should be responsible for the clean up of their damages, both financially and helping with the physical cleaning.






Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman





Publish Date: June 18th 2013 
Publisher:  William Morrow Books 
Author: Neil Gaiman 
Website: Author’s Website 

Note 
            I wrote this months ago and then I couldn’t find my file. Don’t judge me.

Introduction
            A grown man has returned to his childhood village and he visits the nearby farm he used to frequent. As he sits on a familiar bench in front of a pond, he remembers that the girl who lived there, Lettie, told him that it was an ocean. The memories that slipped away from the adult trickle back and he recalls the Hempstock farm, the cruelty of his family, and how an ocean can be anywhere, if you ask it nicely. 

Story and Fantasy Elements
            I had read this book last year, though I read it quickly and it honestly didn’t strike me as too special. I re-read it this year, much more slowly, and I took in more detail. I noticed more of the fantastical elements. This book has layers and layers to it, so I suggest that you don’t try to zoom through it too quickly just because you like to read a book a night or you really want to be a speed reader (or something).
            I really like the fantasy elements here. There’s no wand pointing and simple magic words. What happens with the Hempstocks is older and beyond human explanation, and they are also bound by laws and basically, the way it is done. What I mean is that they can’t bend the rules and do everything so it is convenient to the plot. 
            Something that I would love to research (but I lack the time between adventuring), is the Hempstock women and if they correlate to the mythos of the triple goddess, of the three stages of a woman’s life. What I am referring to is the tripartite concept of the maiden, the mother, and the crone. I would love to write an essay exploring if all of the Hempstock women on that farm are really the same entity in different points of time. If I were still in school I would definitely try to persuade a professor to let me do it!
            One more interesting aspect of this book was all the imagery of water. I think a neat essay could explore the water in terms of religion, along with whatever else might come up in the book that I missed. 

Characters
            The main character…doesn’t do much that affects the plot. He mostly reacts. For some people that’s infuriating. He is just a child, and a believable child mostly, but he’s mostly an observer. In The Golden Compass, Lyra has agency and does things, but the main protagonist of this book does not. 
            I loved the Hempstocks, and I immensely enjoyed Lettie’s plucky attitude. She would be an interesting character to include in an essay about that one character a lot of books have that just know how to get things done (like Hermione).   

Child Abuse Interpretation
            I read this just as a fantasy novel about a boy who got caught up in some affairs that he, as a regular human boy, was not supposed to be part of. Some ladies in my book club said, matter-of-factly, that it was a story of abuse. None of the fantasy and wonderment ever happened. Rather, it was just a coping measure for the protagonist to deal with the abuse of his parents. This is similar to the theory that Harry never went to Hogwarts and all the books are a fantasy to deal with the abuse. 
            Personally, I don’t subscribe to the abuse interpretations for either. However, it would make for some interesting essays, though I am sure it’s already been done before (I haven’t checked, but I assume). I’m sure your teacher or professor would be impressed if you brought it up in an essay though, just to show that you have read up on the book and other interpretations that they might not have taught.

Complaints
            Although this doesn’t take away from my overall rating (5 stars on Goodreads), seriously, I am so tired of reading everyone’s full names in books over and over. Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock, Ursula Monkton, Harry Potter, Lettie Hempstock…stop it. There is only one Lettie, only one Ursula, one Harry. Usually, no one thinks in terms of full names in their heads. You don’t look at your kid and think, Lexi Alsop looks bored, maybe we should go to the park. Or, Wow, Lexi Alsop takes up the entire bed. Stop, stop, stop, please, Neil Gaiman. 

Final Verdict
            It is a beautifully written novella. I recommend it to people who like fantasy without the medieval setting and without it being extravagant. This is the only Gaiman work I’ve read, so I don’t know how well it holds up to his other work. If a reader doesn’t like exploring subtexts or thinking too much into what they are reading, I would still recommend it. Just reading it “straight up” was an interesting ride. Not that I think this would happen too often because of Gaiman’s reputation, but it is not a children’s book, despite the young protagonist. Unless you want to explain the muted sex scene to your kid.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Rome and other things

I can't believe that my last post was in November. I have been reading a lot of nonfiction and general fiction so I haven't been adding to my list of books to review.

But where have I been?

I went to Rome.

And I also crossed something off my bucket list: going to Pompeii.






And I got to do something I never thought was actually a thing...


I hiked up Mount Vesuvius! I know it wasn't a race...but...my partner-in-crime and I got up there first. So we won. Just saying. And I still don't want to post pictures of the most amazing human being alive - but he took the pictures of me and most of the pictures, quite frankly (short people problems).







We also went to the Colosseum.










We also got to stand in line at the Vatican. The line-cutters were annoying (Jesus hates line-cutters, obviously, and of all the places in the world to cut in line...).


There were so many amazing sights.




There are just way too many pictures that I could post. It was amazing.

But that was last September. Lots of other things have happened, but I forgot to transfer all my pictures off my old computer, so I'll post about it later. Or never.

As for blogging, I had lost some steam for reviewing YA lit. I believe it is coming back, though I know I can only focus on so many things before I get burned out. My manuscript is cooling down and I'm painting a lot, trying to get all of my ideas out. I am running with Lexi. Ginger takes a lot of time now that he is old and his health is declining (which was discovered just before I left for Rome). He also keeps me in this city away from my home and my partner (not complaining, he has been my constant companion for 16 and a half years). But I love my job, btw. It is amazing. I get to help people in ways that I didn't think I could.   

And that's it! I'll be (hopefully) posting reviews that I started but never finished. I want to get back into reviewing. I do review on Goodreads, and I've been posting there. But this is my blog and I hate abandoning projects. So...I'm back.





Friday, 13 November 2015

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath







Publish Date: 1963
Author: Sylvia Plath

Note
Everyone has heard of Sylvia Plath's one and only novel, and it seemed like everyone in high school had read it except me. Everybody I knew was a feminist, idealizing suicide and not belonging, and I just put it on my "To Be Read" list. So if you're like me and the only thing people ever spoke about this book was the suicide aspect (because that's all they were reading it for, honestly), you might not know what else the book is about. It’s Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963. It was not published in the US until 1971, eight years after her death. In a nutshell, it’s about madness, identity, role models, gender norms, society, and happiness.

Introduction
Esther Greenwood, clever academically and aspiring writer, has won a trip to New York with some college classmates to intern at a fashion magazine. It is here, on her own in the adult world, that she learns about herself, sex, men and women, and her friends. Once she leaves New York to the next leg of her journey though life, she hits a standstill. By any standards, Esther is different - her actions for her age don't always make sense, and it makes life difficult for her. These difficulties put her on a deliberate path that most people shy away from.

The Beginning
The beginning of the novel is so different from the rest. In New York, Esther is making decisions and learning, and I felt that she was growing up though she was a bit strange and sometimes surprisingly mean. It feels like a coming of age story with a sharper edge an usual. She’s telling the reader her view of the world, and if you're paying attention, she's very cynical about it, but she’s conflicted about how she fits into it. It's when she leaves New York that we get the real turning point. An event sets her off into a spiraling depression, but from her cynicism in her New York experience, you can see that it isn't out of the blue. It’s like she’s walking down a dimly-lit staircase one step at a time – the reader is waiting for her to start going back up towards the light, but she keeps going down.

Themes
If thinking about depression, trying to understand depression in others, or if you think people should just buckle up, this book isn't for you. Same goes for suicide. It's not a bad thing, it's just hard to listen to people complain when they should have gotten the hint before reading. (If you hate vampire romance novels, don't read Twilight and complain about it.)
That said, you can easily write intriguing essays using this novel in university or high school. I’ve read that this book is studied in high school, so unless you come from a school with blinders on, I’d say it would be alright. Possible essay topics include:
  • Oppressive gender roles;
  • Models of women that are available for Esther to model herself as;
  • Psychiatry of the 1950s (madness vs depression…can someone write a comparison to the works of Emilie Autumn and The Bell Jar? Please?);
  • The role of the media;
  • The stigma of mental illness; and 
  • The imagery and metaphor of the bell jar.
 Characters
Esther is difficult for some readers because she lies to herself and others, so who she is doesn’t resonate for a long time (and she is trying to figure it out as well). However, that was the fun of Esther. When she did irrational things I was confused. Is she just so “feminist” I don't get it? Is she just "crazy" and she cannot be comprehended? I kept trying to make sense of her but I couldn't, even at the end, and I like that about her.
There is one character that surprised me from one chapter to the next. I am on the fence about the believability of this character, but hopefully it will continue to make readers think. Mental health issues are heavily stigmatized and yet they can also be romanticized. It’s such a terrible thought that someone could be faking the need for help, but the way that she acts and describes her situation left me believing that she was romanticizing her “craziness” rather than genuinely experiencing distress.
The book generally has a disparaging cast of men, and the women are diverse. Her mother, her sexually liberated friend, her “goody-goody” friend, the baby-factory neighbour, her doctors, her benefactor, her boss…there are many characters. As Esther is trying to write her own identity, she looks towards a whole host of people to compare herself to.

Final Verdict
I definitely recommend this for a library collection (it's currently in our hospital’s small fiction collection). It would be a hard sell for a teen book club, though if everyone wanted to read it because they had heard that they should, go for it (unless you fear overprotective parents). Overall, I'm glad I read this at this point in my life and not when I was 16. (Sorry, 16-year-old me.) Not that I wouldn't have understood it, but everyone was reading it for the insanity, the suicide, the implications of sex, and a loose idea of feminism, and I think I would have been swept away by the hype.
I don’t think this line would have struck me so deeply:
“I wonder who will marry you now, Esther.”