Tag Archives: Books

Books I’m looking forward to

I’m taking a short vacation before Summer Reading starts and the library gets really busy. In addition to seeing family and working on going from zero draft to first draft on a new-ish project, I hope to get some reading time in. Here are the books I have on my to-read pile or downloaded to my phone.

Pointe, Claw.Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

I’m about half-way through this book. Rarely do I encounter a book so intense/heavy that I need to step away from it, but I’m finding with this book I can only read in one-hour stretches. It’s brilliant, though also dark, so if you’re looking for a fun escape, maybe try something else. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Jessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

The Star-Touched Queen.The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

This is going to be the first of my road trip audiobooks. I listened to the first chapter and love the Indian-inspired fantasy setting. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most … including herself.

Girl Out of Water.Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

I’ve been looking forward to this book for almost a year now. It should be a good, lighter follow-up to Pointe, Claw. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home—it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

gena/finn.Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

I was lucky enough to meet Kat at an author event near me last weekend, and picked up a copy of this book, which has been on my to-read list for a while. Online friends becoming IRL friends? Yes, please! Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Gena and Finn would have never met but for their mutual love for the popular show Up Below. Regardless of their differences—Gena is a recent high school graduate whose social life largely takes place online, while Finn is in her early twenties, job hunting and contemplating marriage with her longtime boyfriend—the two girls realize that the bond between them transcends fanfiction. When disaster strikes and Gena’s world turns upside down, only Finn can save her, and that, too, comes with a price. Told through emails, text messages, journal entries, and blog posts, Gena/Finn is a story of friendship and love in the digital age.

What are you reading? Any books I should add to my to-read list?

Genre Lessons: Women’s Fiction

Woman reading.I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading women’s fiction. If you asked me what genre I read the least, it would be women’s fiction. There are a lot of excellent women’s fiction writers out there (a few of my friends among them), but it’s not the type of story I typically look for. Women’s fiction and romance tend to be predictable — you may not be able to guess every turn the plot takes, but you always know the couple will end up together. I don’t see this is a fault; in these genres, it’s intentional. It’s what the reader wants. They may want to be surprised by a twist, but they expect a Happily Ever After.

But here’s the thing: having a predictable plot gave me ample room to explore the different beats of the plot. There were conflicts in each protagonist’s work life. There was a secret that threatened to ruin everything. There was an antagonist ex-fiance, a climax, a dark moment when it looked like the relationship was over, and an engagement at the end. If, like me, beat sheets make you cringe, women’s fiction is a good genre to work on breaking down the plot of a story.

Another thing about great women’s fiction: setting. The book I read was basically a love letter to Milwaukee, where it’s set. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but now I have a loose map of the city in my head, and I’d love to visit for one of their cultural festivals! Perhaps in part because there’s less room for the plot to meander, women’s fiction has ample opportunities to develop rich settings. And the way the characters describe their settings speaks volumes about who they are.

Have you read any women’s fiction recently? What writing lessons did you learn?

#ownvoices trans stories

Because I feel one of the best weapons we have against discrimination is empathy, I try to share books with the teens in my community that tell a variety of stories about characters with different backgrounds and experiences. I want my teens to see themselves in books, but I also want them to see Muslims and Jews (who are few and far between in this city), to see refugees and immigrants and people of all races, genders, and orientations.

I will never understand the bathroom bills being proposed in several states, because I cannot fathom the logic behind blatant discrimination and transphobia. There is zero evidence that allowing trans people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has led to assault against cisgendered people. Far more often, trans people are harassed simply for trying to pee. Moreover, if a man (and I use the example of a man, but remember that boys and men are victims of sexual assault, too) wants to assault a woman in a public restroom, no bathroom bill is going to stop him from doing so. He’s already breaking the law and violating another human being. He’s not going to refrain from doing what he wants, what he feels entitled to do, simply because of a bathroom bill.

But I digress. My heart and thoughts have been with my trans friends especially this week, and so this list is dedicated to them. I have mixed feelings about the language used in some of these summaries (not everyone in the trans community is comfortable with phrases like “a boy born in a girl’s body”), but I’ve taken them all directly from Amazon.com. If you have recommendations to add to this list, please share them in the comments!

Redefining Realness.Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

In her profound and courageous New York Times bestseller, Janet Mock establishes herself as a resounding and inspirational voice for the transgender community — and anyone fighting to define themselves on their own terms.

With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another — and of ourselves — showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

Rethinking Normal.Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill

Katie Rain Hill realized very young that a serious mistake had been made; she was a girl who had been born in the body of a boy. Suffocating under her peers’ bullying and the mounting pressure to be “normal,” Katie tried to take her life at the age of eight years old. After several other failed attempts, she finally understood that “Katie” — the girl trapped within her — was determined to live.

In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world — and experience heartbreak for the first time — in a body that matched her gender identity.

Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.

If I Was Your Girl.If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Some Assembly Required.Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

In this memoir, seventeen-year-old Arin Andrews details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a boy in a girl’s body, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes — both mental and physical — he experienced once his transition began.

Some Assembly Required is a true coming-of-age story about knocking down obstacles and embracing family, friendship, and first love. But more than that, it is a reminder that self-acceptance does not come ready-made with a manual and spare parts. Rather, some assembly is always required.

Being Jazz.Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series — I Am Jazz — making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn’t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence — particularly high school — complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy — especially when you began your life in a boy’s body.

 

Unreliable Narrators

I just finished a book that has one of the best/most frustrating unreliable narrators I’ve come across, so I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite books with unreliable protagonists this week.

Allegedly.First, the book I read this weekend, Tiffany D. Jackson’s Allegedly. I have so many questions I want to ask Mary.

The description from Amazon:

Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

We Were Liars.My favorite unreliable narrator is Cady from E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. The ending to this book blew my mind.

The description from Amazon:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Vanishing Girls. Another favorite read with unreliable narrators is Lauren Oliver’s Vanishing Girls.

The description from Amazon:

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story perfect for fans of We Were Liars and I Was Here, about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged.

When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

What are your favorite books with unreliable narrators?

Awesome Audiobooks: Illuminae

Happy Election Day! If you’re a U.S. citizen over 18 and haven’t done so already, please go vote! I won’t get into politics here, but in an election as crazy as this one, I think every vote is especially important.

Illuminae.If, like me, you could use a distraction from all the election news, I recommend getting lost in a book. I just finished listening to Gemina, the second book in the Illuminae series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and wow, are these books great. The writing is fantastic — each character has a distinct voice, and the authors managed to make me laugh out loud at some of the tensest moments. Also, if you want an excellent study of dialog and voice, I take a look at Hanna’s and Nik’s conversations with Kady about two-thirds of the way through Gemina.

Gemina.If you like science fiction, thrillers, or are into really gripping characters, I cannot recommend these books enough. Because of the format (the Illuminae Files are a series of documents, transcriptions of chats and videos, and so on), I can’t say exactly how the audio adaptations compare to the text. But these full-cast adaptations are phenomenal, and a welcome escape from the real world.

Happy reading, happy writing, and happy (hopefully) end of election season!

Light, delightful reads

With my first round of book talks coming up, and a major revision underway, my stress level is a little high. When that happens, I like to pick up what I think of as “lighter” books, ones that don’t get too deep or too dark. Don’t get me wrong; I adore dark books, books that make me think, books that haunt me. And the books I’m going to share do handle some deeper topics, but the overall tone and voice are light. All of these books made me laugh out loud multiple times, and had me fall in love with the main characters.

The Great Greene Heist.The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

I read this delightful MG novel in a day, and it’s one I plan to book talk at the middle schools. Jackson Greene is a reformed middle school con artist who gets drawn back into the business when he learns the principal has rigged student council elections so Jackson’s former best friend will lose.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

If you’ve been following this blog, you know this is one of my favorite books of 2015. I read it at another point when I was really stressed and had just come off a string of really dark books, and Simon’s hilarious voice and adorable romance with Blue were exactly what I needed.

The False Prince.The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sage is one of my favorite narrators. When I started reading this book, I planned to read for a half hour or so, but Sage’s voice hooked me so well that by the end of the second paragraph I knew I was going to finish the book that day. He’s the perfect mix of snark and wit. The only other narrator I’ve encountered that I like this much is Baz from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. (Seriously, I will listen to either of these characters tell a story about making oatmeal, because it would be that hilarious.)

What are some lighter books you’ve enjoyed recently? Any older favorites you’d recommend?

Vacation reads, part 2

I’m still on vacation, so I’ve scheduled this post in advance. Last week I shared my new/forthcoming vacation reads. This week, I’ve got some backlist titles I’ve had on my to-read list for a while.

On the Jellicoe Road.On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I started listening to this audiobook before I left town, and it hooked me right away. I can’t wait to finish listening on the plane!

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

I picked this up at an indie bookstore a few months ago, but it kept getting pushed farther down on my to-read list because I had library books with due dates to read. I’m looking forward to finally digging into this.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

I feel like I don’t read enough nonfiction, and I want to have some good nonfiction titles to booktalk when I visit the local schools this fall. I liked Sheinkin’s Bomb, and expect this to be just as fascinating.

What are you reading right now?