Friday, November 23, 2012

Jenn's Book Recommendations

Happy post-Turkey day food coma, relaxation or standing on a crazy line Black Friday!

It's hard to narrow down a few books that you enjoy and think others will also, but dagnabbit I accept the challenge.

At year's end I discuss books I enjoyed on my blog and steadily keep a tally on Goodreads. So the ones chosen are plucked from my pile over the years.

Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor, illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo.

Anyone who knows me knows I sing Laini Taylor's praises every chance I get. Her National Book Award (NBA) nominated book was my introduction to her work. I had the pleasure of meeting Laini and Jim at the NBA reading and they are as pleasant as they are talented.

Laini's prose is lyrical, vivid, illustrative and takes you on a ride. Add in Jim's gorgeous detail for people and emotions of the scenes she wrote and you have a powerhouse in Lips Touch. Lips Touch contains three stories where kisses play a part, good or bad, and they are original and fantastical as well as emotional. I LOVED this book.

If you haven't read Laini's stuff or seen Jim's illos do so now! Laini's latest series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, does not skimp on the darkness but has a wonderful lightness and beauty to it as well.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

John is another kind and talented author. His book got heaps of praise and deservedly so. Where Things Come Back is a contemporary novel that digs into the heart of a family breaking. There are two separate perspectives in this piece that end up tying together as the novel progresses. But the core story is with Cullen during the summer before senior year of high school when his brother disappears. You're with a family on the brink as they deal with hope and loss and a whole slew of emotions. Cullen deals with it by trying to block it out and imagine alternate scenarios. John delves into such emotion that you are chomping at the bit on every page. I purposely waited on the subway before my stop because I wanted to finish this.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. 

I'm a fan of anthologies and collections and multiple points of view in literature (if you couldn't already tell). So I wanted to add a collection I thoroughly enjoyed and ranges in terms of perspectives from young (Brownie troupe getting in all sorts of trouble) to older (a college student at odds with his dad as they try to get to the Million Man March).

Packer's debut was lauded all over the literary landscape and with good reason. It taps into so many things such as race and insecurity and family and passion that it's relatable on many levels no matter your age. There's a particularly poignant story about a young girl who goes out on her own and realizes she knows nothing about the world as she takes up with characters, who on the outside may be horrific, but end up helping her get back to a life she thought was bad.

Other recommendations I'll make are:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue: A heartbreaking tale of five-year-old Jack as he and his mother escape from being imprisoned. It's all told from the childlike POV of Jack so while you don't see the bad parts you know what is happening. It's a masterful novel to convey so much with so little.
  • Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx: I LOVE Annie Proulx and this is my favorite story collection that I have read, hands-down. Proulx says that short fiction is hard for her to write but she hits it out of the ball park in terms of visuals and people and situations. Brokeback Mountain is in this anthology and the succinct prose is captured in the film painting a painful love story crossing over a few decades.
  • The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins: By now everyone and their mom (including mine) has read The Hunger Games. And deservedly so. This is the YA book that got me back into the genre. Collins manages to make an, at first, unlikable and hard-edged character someone we root for consistently. Katniss has heart and wants a life of simplicity but that all goes to pot after the Quarter Quell. The writing is well paced and dynamic putting you into every moment and Collins has a way with chapter endings, each one leaving you wanting more. 
Those are just some books I'd recommend reading in general because they rock and especially to explore alternate writing styles. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Books I Love

I've read a lot of books this year and these are just a few that stood out for me. My criteria? I read into the night or at every possible moment, ignoring everything around me including fighting children and new episodes of The Walking Dead (if you know me, then you'll know that these books would have to be pretty awesome for me to blow off Grimes and the rest of his posse). So here goes:

1. A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness, Inspired by Siobhan Dowd

The inside jacket flap says this: "The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming..."

People, there are no words for this book. NO WORDS. I loved it, loved it loved it. I was a pile of rubble, of mush, of tear-leaking ruin when I got done. SO well written, so well executed, so magical and powerful. If I can recommend one book with my whole heart this year, this is THE ONE. But be forewarned, it is not the book to read when you need to be up and jolly. This is a book to contemplate by the fireside, tea cup in hand, tissue box at the ready.

2. THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

Inside jacket flap: "Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It's 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult..."

I'm going to geek out as a writer here and just say that there's a passage in the first chapter about the wind that I just think is beautiful, sweeping, and elegant. The kind of prose that has this writerly novice wringing my hands and pacing the floor because I want to write something close to it and have not managed as of yet. That said, as a reader, I loved the historical setting and the way Libba wove it into the story. I loved the generous cast and the way that chapters skipped from one character to the next. It fit the story so well--a story that to me is reminiscent of Stephen King's THE STAND in it's scope. At it's heart it's a story of good vs. evil, interspersed with witty lines and an effervescent main character who I can just see doing the Black Bottom in my head. And if Naughty John doesn't give you the heebie jeebies, you are a stronger reader than me. He is AWESOMELY evil.

3. I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga

Okay, by now I'm sure that you're starting to see a pattern with my choices. I gravitate towards the darker stuff. I won't deny it, it's true. My list is not for you if you are rainbows and sunshine kind of reader.

Goodreads Summary: "What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could—from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret—could he be more like his father than anyone knows?"

I thought that Barry did a brilliant job building the plot on this one. The characters were relatable and real and the killers were definitely creepy. The main character in particular is handled really well, especially since he's torn between wanting to do the right thing and having a scary urge sometimes....not to. This is a great thrill ride of a novel, a Criminal Minds mixed with Dexter for young adults that I read late into the night.

So there are my three, but it's almost not fair because there are really so many more that I could've added to this list, some I'm still reading now. So, because I routinely cheat on our stipulated word count and am apparently, at heart, a rebel with this type of thing, here's a list of some others I enjoyed a lot.

THE BLOOD KEEPER by Tessa Gratton
WHAT'S LEFT OF ME by Khat Zhang
11/22/63 by Stephen King
THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater

AND just to show you that I have a softer, side, I DO, I SWEAR! Here's my all time favorite reading list from when I was a wee bit of thing:

LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott--I wanted to BE Jo and marry Mr. Bear.
THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stefanie's Favorite Books

We're supposed to post our favorite books this year? But... I just... I hate making decisions like this.
*sighs* This is a HARD post for me to do, because there has only been one book this year that I didn't enjoy, and I've read a LOT in the past eleven months. Okay, okay, I'll stop being difficult and just close my eyes and choose. 


*pokes finger into Nook library*

And the first winner iiiiiiiiiiiiiis......

LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins.

"Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket—a gifted inventor—steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door."

I absolutely ADORE this book. This was the first Stephanie Perkins book that I've ever read, and after finishing it, I immediately read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and am eagerly bouncing up and down, waiting for the next installment of this series. Lola is everything I've always wanted to be--independent, carefree, creative, and not afraid of what anyone thinks of her. And not mention the love interest, Cricket Bell, who is one of my fictional boyfriends. I love YA, and this is definitely a very "teenage" type book, but you should read it even if you are an adult. Because I said so. :-) 
(No one I know that's read it has disliked it). Lola is now one of my favorite female characters.

*spins the wheel of awesome 2012 books*

The next winner iiiiiiiiiis.........

TIMEPIECE by Myra McEntire

"Kaleb Ballard was never supposed to be able to see ripples--cracks in time. Are his powers expanding, or is something very wrong? Before he can find out, Jonathan Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, reappears. Why is he back, and what, or whom, does he want?

In the wake of Landers's return, the Hourglass organization is given an ultimatum by a mysterious man. Either they find Landers and the research he has stolen on people who might carry the time gene, or time will be altered--with devastating results for the people Kaleb loves most. Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their extraordinary powers to find Landers. But where do they even start? And when? Even if they succeed, just finding him may not be enough ..."

Let me just say that I adore everything about Myra McEntire. She is hilarious, adorable, and can write a heck of a time travel novel. She has also pinned down the teenage boy voice perfectly, and made me fall in love with a fictional dude (again. Yes, I know, I have a lot of fictional boyfriends. But Kaleb Ballard is seriously fighting for the top spot here. He's muscled AND tattooed AND smart. *fans self*) Timepiece is the second book in the Hourglass series, and unlike the first book I chose above, you need to read HOURGLASS before you read TIMEPIECE. You won't regret it, believe me. Of course, this is another YA (all my favorite books are), but this one is good for adults too. My mom loved it. Mrs. McEntire mixes the love and angst that we all crave with a good dose of time travel physics, so you never get bored. READ IT. 

Next on my list iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis...........

FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater


When Sam met Grace, he was a wolf and she was a girl. Eventually he found a way to become a boy, and their loved moved from curious distance to the intense closeness of shared lives.


That should have been the end of their story. But Grace was not meant to stay human. Now she is the wolf. And the wolves of Mercy Falls are about to be kill in one final, spectacular hunt.


Sam would do anything for Grace. But can one boy and one love really change a hostile, predatory world? The past, the present, and the future are about to collide in one pure moment - a moment of death or life, farewell or forever."

It's no secret that I worship Maggie Stiefvater. She's never written a story, book, blog post, or heck, even a grocery list that I didn't love. (Just kidding about the grocery list. I'm totally not a stalker. Maybe.) She just has SUCH A WAY WITH WORDS. Forever the is last installment of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and even though Maggie seems to have gotten a lot of flack about the ending, I loved it. I thought it was the perfect ending--or really, beginning, rather-- to Sam and Grace's tortured love story. I am usually not big on the last book of any series, but this one hit the nail on the head perfectly, in my opinion. Even though it's about werewolves, this series is not your typical werewolf story, and you won't feel burnt out if you read it. It's a love story more than anything. And as in everything she writes, Maggie's prose drips like honey off a biscuit (can you tell I'm writing this before lunch? Sorry.). READ IT NOW. 

Okay, I was just kidding about the closing my eyes and choosing thing. These were my three favorite books of 2012, but there were so many more that I enjoyed immensely. Because I can't do a "favorite books" post without mention the oldies but goodies, I have to throw out my favorite books that I will read over and over for the rest of my life. 

1.) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
3.) THE THIEF OF ALWAYS by Clive Barker
4.) HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh (this is book that made me want to be writer. I wanted to be just like Harriet when I was ten years old. Plus, a good tomato sandwich never gets old.)

I've bought seven new books this past week, so I can't wait to read them and maybe have some new favorites before the end of the year! This time of year is chock full of new releases. I LOVE IT. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

My Book Choices

by Krystalyn

For the month of November, we decided to share with you some of our favorite books. I have chosen two from my Goodreads list that I have read in the past year and one classic.

Code Name Verity

A Scottish agent gets captured and interrogated during World War II in Nazi occupied France.

I'm going along with most of the reviews of this book that say the less you know about Code Name Verity going in, the greater your experience will be. It's the kind of book that I thought about for days, kept it on my nightstand, and kept going back to read certain passages.

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna spends her senior year studying in Paris and meets Etienne St. Clair.

To balance out the heaviness of Verity, I chose something light and fluffy. If you like fun, happily ever after romance novels, then this book is for you. Anna and Etienne also make appearances in the companion novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door.

The Secret Garden

Orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to live with her reclusive uncle in Yorkshire.

This book has it all: Gothic mansion on the Yorkshire moors (always a selling point for me), personal demons that must be overcome, discoveries around every corner. I own at least three copies of this book and nearly every movie made of it. The Secret Garden was my first Broadway show. I own the soundtrack and the script. When I was younger, I could often be found acting out the entire show, costume changes and all.

To say this book made an impact on me is an understatement, but I found I wasn't the only one. When I taught first grade, I read this book to my students. Imagine my surprise once I read the last page and a little boy, who I thought had no interest in anything but worms and torturing the girls, came up to me. He loved it, and that made my heart sing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Breaks, Books, and What Not

We need a little break.

It's a new month which usually means a new picture, right? Well...yes, but not this month...or next. My lovely crit partners and I are loaded down with work and family commitments (aren't we all this time of year) and have decided that there is just no possible way that we can keep them AND write our stories for this blog without gaining ten pounds from stress eating and developing a nervous tick. So we are taking a break. BUT we will not leave you completely in the lurch. This month on our assigned Fridays we will each post our recommended reading lists of books that we just couldn't put down  this year and next month we'll each pick a story written by one of the other femme fatales that is our favorite of theirs so far. Then come January, just in time for New Years, we'll post Jenn's photo inspiration pic and open the site up to submissions once again. So, enjoy your holidays and we will be back with new fiction very soon. In the meantime, stay tuned for Krystalyn's book list this Friday!