With my reading challenge over, I feel like Super Mario, super-star blasting through bonus books like crazy! While I didn’t document each and every one that I read this month, I did happen upon a lovely little gem that I’ll share soon… But first:
Highs & Lows! — Where I name my Top 5 favs and not-so-favs from this past year. Rather than rank in the traditional sense, (because I can’t make up my mind) I’ll state the book and a brief ‘why.’ Obviously, go read my favs. 🙂
Favs: Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. — Inspirational, in the non-preachy sense. Timely. Also: it’s David Levithan. Gold.
The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black. — Beautiful characters and imagery. Also (spoiler): The gay boy gets his prince. It’s about time!
Mort(e), by Robert Repino. — Insert picture of a crazy badass cats wielding machine guns. Also: Friendship is love too.
Anything Could Happen, by Will Walton. — Debut author with a voice as brilliant as a sparkler. Also: An updated coming-of-age/coming-out story.
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. — Courageous, sorrowful, yet completely necessary. Also: We need to feel the feels.
Not-So-Favs: The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. — It’s Shakespeare, and I have flashbacks of english classes. Also: Don’t even bother watching the movie. (I didn’t.)
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. — Saw the twist from a mile away. Popular for the sake of being popular. Also: Don’t drink.
Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard. — Historically inaccurate. Also: Seriously? The Oval Office wasn’t even build yet!
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. — Drilled into the ground because of racial topics. Also: Skeptical of sequel.
The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks. — The story ended right as things were getting good. Also: Writing thousands of pages doesn’t make an Epic Fantasy.
I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson. — Hidden gem of the year! I’ve heard many talk about this book in the past, and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading it… but holy moly! (Winner of the Stonewall Book Award.)
Fraternal twins Noah and Jude tell the story, in alternating chapters at two different periods of time, of their parents divorce and their mother’s death… but it’s SO much more than that. The twins are both a creative but face troubles of their own, such as romantic interests and grief. Also: Noah is adorable in his admiration of a boy…
I’m getting a metal taste in my mouth. Brian’s reading the titles of the spines of books on the shelves like he’s going to be tested on it.
“I love you,” I say to him, only it comes out, “Hey.”
“So damn much,” he says back, only it comes out, “Dude.”
He still won’t meet my eyes.
Never before have I taken pictures of passages of text and shared them with friends as often as I did with this book. This was made exponentially more special when I received a signed copy for Christmas. *Beaming like the sun*
Looking back at the three titles I completed for The Challenge this month, I realized things were pretty gay — and that wasn’t even on purpose. As the year draws to a close, my list of remaining titles shrinks. In the meantime, here are this month’s completed books.
Since there were only three this month, and they all have a pretty clear theme, I’ll touch on each of them.
Boy, oh boy… Bless Susan from Waldenbooks all those years ago, my first personal bookseller who somehow knew exactly what I needed to read and never judged me. She put Rainbow Boys (book one in this trilogy) into my apprehensive hands and I am so appreciative. She also put Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton into my hands… which… maybe I shouldn’t have read at that age! — but she must have known I was a precocious reader. Susan also gave me The Perks of Being a Wallflower and a few others that really left distinct impressions on me. (Thank you, Susan! Wherever you are!) Rainbow Road was published the fall of my freshman year of college, and I suppose since I came out in the spring of my senior year of high school, I guess I felt that I didn’t really -need- the book anymore. I had only made it to page 26 and stopped. It took me a little while to pick this book up again for this challenge, and as someone mentioned: it looks like it could be a cheesy Lifetime movie. While I put such stock in these books when I first read them, I realize how drastically gay literature has changed over the last 10 years. There have been a few brand new gay YA books this year that I’ve read. Somehow they left me feeling… well… normal? Now that I’m older, I think that reading these ‘coming out’ books have a very different feel than when I was actually growing up and experiencing the feelings explored within the pages. Rainbow Road was in many ways frustrating (character and story-wise) but so nostalgic that I couldn’t help but want to finish it. They definitely do not resonate the same way they used to… and now I question whether or not to keep them in my collection at work or to weed them for fresher titles. Shocking, I know!
I remember watching a bit of the TV mini series with Jeremy Irons at some point, and while I remember bits and pieces, it was very different to read. So much of the friendship between Sebastian and Charles is subtle and touching (and heartbreaking)… I hadn’t remembered how much of the book was focused on how bloody drunk Sebastian was all the time! Honestly, I was a bit bored with the relationship between Charles and Julia… but maybe that’s because he should have been with Sebastian… Oh, the fanfic that could be written! Speaking of fanfic… (well, sort of) apparently there’s a new YA retelling of Brideshead Revisited?? “Even In Paradise” by Chelsey Philpot. Charlotte Ryder instead of Charles… Hmm… we’ll see how THAT turns out!
Finding a book that scares me is a challenge in itself. Thanks to reading Stephen King at such a young age, I don’t think I’ve ever found a book that actually scares me… makes me cringe? — Yes. Haunted me? — well… this one maybe will. It’s an older book, but it’s about a young black dancer who is living in New York City with his white southern journalist boyfriend… who share some interesting sexual exploits… The boyfriend is brutally raped and murdered in a hate crime, and the main character moves in with a female dancer from his studio and develops a relationship with her. Something about the first chapter captured me and forced me to read on. While it’s certainly a bit dated, a lot of what Dixon writes still resonates today, not only with regards to inequality between gay and straight members of society, but also the racial divide. I do feel like there was a lot of back story for each of the main characters that should have been explored more in-depth, but at the same time, I appreciate the brevity of the story. I can see why Dixon was noted as being the next Toni Morrison before his death in 1992 due to complications from AIDS. It was truly an emotional novel. Did I cry? No. Did I cringe? Yes. Did it scare me? In some ways… so I suppose I can call that a completed item.
The end is near! After this month, only FOUR titles remain in the 2015 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. All that remains: book three of a trilogy, a book based on its cover, a book a friend recommends, and a book based on or turned into a TV show. Gosh, what am I going to do if I finish ahead of schedule??
This month I was able to take a big-big chunk out of the challenge list — thank you, summer! — I’ve only got 12 more until I finish the whole list! That’s crazy!! AND that’s only the challenge books, not even the other books on the side that I’m reading that sadly don’t fit into any of the remaining criteria. That said, this was probably my most enjoyable month so far — I loved all of these books! So here we go!
If I were to highlight all these books as much as I want, this entry would be a mile long…This time, let’s try something different: 5 words (or less) to describe why I loved each book, so you can skip all the ramblings underneath.
Red Queen — Local debut author hits big!
I remember picking this book up sometime in the fall of last year while it was still an ARC. It was in such a pretty little Velcro case, too! I had to practically pry it from the bookseller’s fingers because she said it was THAT good — then the next day, WHO shows up at the bookstore looking for it, but Victoria Aveyard herself! I had to tweet her out and admit to taking it… Then I had her sign that very copy at her launch event 🙂
Mort(e) — BAD-ASS CAT.
I met Rob at Book Expo America in 2014. It was my first time attending and everything was shiny and new and I was snatching books from all over the place. While things were winding down on a particular day, I was slowed down by a long signing line spilling out into the walkway. This abrupt roadblock awkwardly placed me right in front of the SoHo Press booth. I spotted the nifty cover and so I picked up a copy to read the back — “The author is signing right over here!” said a tall, slim African-American woman. “What’s it about?” I asked. “It’s about a cat and giant ants that want to take over the world… and… well… The author can sign it for you!” Admittedly, I was apprehensive, but also greedy for a signed book. A very nervous looking Repino was sitting at a table full of his books… I knew I had to say something to break the ice, so I mentioned I was a blogger and I would TOTALLY write a review for his book when I finally got around to reading it. He chuckled a bit and said he appreciated it. WELL, Rob… Here we go!
Yes, Mort(e) is about a cat and giant ants that want to take over the world… but it’s also a touching story of unrelenting dedication and the bonds of friendship (& love). Told in a refreshing voice, Repino chronicles the life of a house cat and his connection with the dog next door. Yes, a normal, non-talking house cat — at least at first. Down below the Earth’s surface lives a gigantic (gross, grubby) queen ant that has decided to rain Hell down on the humans for stomping on and burning all of her little children. She unleashes a “hormone” into the atmosphere that causes a mutation in the animals on the surface enabling them to walk upright and speak (and fire guns and stuff). Suddenly it’s an all-out war between humans and animals, and the animals are kicking some serious butt. Our hero comes to his self-awareness during a traumatic event between his family and the neighbor, resulting in his dog-friend’s disappearance.
With a little nod here and there to Animal Farm by Orwell, Repino’s engaging Sci-Fi is action-packed and even humorous at times. I may not know a whole lot (nothing) about ants and their biology/chemistry, but if what Repino has written about their ‘colony-mind’ and seemingly immortal/never-ending consciousness is at all true… that’s freaking creepy! Bonus points for having a remarkably satisfying ending. (AND even MORE points for a sequel in the works!!).
The Awakening — Everything deserves a second chance.
This is one of those books I HAD to read in school… which, of course, means that I didn’t. In fact, I got to page 11. At least that’s the conclusion I draw based on the dog-eared page. Now I’m going to say something that I never though I would say, but good literature like this is simply wasted on the young! Why would you ever force a teenager to read a story about a woman who is struggling with the monotony of her marriage and the thrill and infatuation of new love (or is it love??). Teens are trying to work through their first loves and infatuations and unrequited feelings and sexual frustrations. Okay, so some teenagers are certainly more emotionally mature than others, but seriously. Come on english teachers. How can they relate? I’m so thankful that I gave this book a second chance by someone’s glowing recommendation. Hmm… what OTHER books did I “read” in school that I should revisit?
Anything Could Happen — I needed this at 14.
I met Will this year at Book Expo America. The ARC of Anything Could Happen somehow ended up on my desk, and I knew from the cover: “Op, this is a gay book. I need to read this… I haven’t read one of these in a while.” I had the intentions of reading it once I finished up with grad school (which maybe tells you how long I had it) — well, meeting Will bumped it up to the top of my list.
When I was young and reading gay literature, I realized it was so much of the same story over and over again… the secrets, the surprise outing, the betrayal and heart ache… and while those all factor into the overall experience of the ‘coming out’ narrative, Will’s book is a much needed upgrade from the traditional. We’re faced with a character in the South, which we can assume is conservative. We’re also presented with a heterosexual love interest that has two dads. The story has some classic elements such as school bullying and unrequited love, but Will wrote a much more realistic take on a young man coming out to himself and his family — and in such an uplifting and positive way, leaving me hopeful and joyously celebrating our protagonist by the end of the last page. Good for you, Will. And good for Tretch — what a cute little bug that boy is 🙂 Thank you for such a beautiful, and current, gay young adult novel.
Fangirl — So relevant to college life!
Okay, I’m started to get pretty long-winded now! Time to crank through these next few. Fangirl reminded me of one of my best friends in college. Though, actually, when I recommended she read this book, she said she did and she didn’t like it (whoops)! But that’s okay! It’s not a reflection of my time in college, but it certainly reminded me of my experiences. Few (if any) people know that I was contemplating writing fan fiction in my middle school days after reading some written about Sailor Moon, and OMG, Gundam Wing! In college I began that contemplation again, and while I never put fingers to keys to type anything up, I certainly had a number of stories and slash-fics in my head. So this one was nostalgic in some ways — which always feels warm and fuzzy.
Anne of Green Gables — Who knew she was funny?
I CRACKED UP when I listened to this book on double-speed. Anne is such a vibrant character on her own, not to mention an incessant chatterbox, but to have her prattling on at twice the normal talking cadence made it seem like she was all tweaked out on caffeine. Towards the end I picked up to read the book, since I was gifted such a beautiful copy by Aracely’s Books, and I still found some humor in the voice. What a treat!
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl — Youtube sensation turned book? YES!
In my quest to find “a book that scares me” I’ve turned to a few spooky/creepy books in hopes that SOMETHING jostles me. This will make me sound like a freak, but I love stories and movies and shows about the supernatural and demons and possessions and all that (sorry Mom). I got to meet Paige at Book Expo this year (notice a trend, folks?) and though I knew I recognized her name, I hadn’t yet watched any of the YouTube series this book is based on. She was kind enough to give me not only a copy for my job at the library, but also one for -me- to have, so if course I had to read it! And while the subject matter was spooky and creepy, which I enjoyed… It’s difficult for me to get scared by a book. But I still liked it a lot, and I’m looking forward to book two. Maybe I should start watching the web series too…!
Bioshock: Rapture — 40/50’s era underwater dystopia.
So, an interesting take on “somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit” — Since Rapture is a fictional place. I was actually considering reading one of the Oz books, or perhaps The Secret Garden. I really wanted to read a book based in Australia, but since I’m drawing titles from books I already own, I’m fresh out of Outback stories. I was hoping this book might also possibly be a “book that scares me” — especially since the games were so enchanting and terrifying…oh gosh, the music alone! — yet again, I closed the book unafraid and unspooked. I blame it all on reading Stephen King at such a young age. Anyway, all the same — I’ve never read a book based on a video game franchise, and this served as a nice prequel. Actually, it made me want to play the games all over again! (Which reminds me, I still have to play the last one set in the flying city of Columbia…)
If you’re still with me, congratulations! You made it through this super-sized entry! I felt I had to compensate for posting late… even though I’m being slick and backdating to the end of July. See ya next month!
I was interviewed by the lovely Nicole Brinkley (@nebrinkley) a little while ago and it was published online today! How awesome is it that I’m featured on YA Interrobang?? VERY! I’m so appreciative to have been a part of Nicole’s column and I’d love it if you all went over and showed some support.
For those unfamiliar with YA Interrobang (@yainterrobang), it’s an online magazine all about the world of Young Adult literature. In other words: everything right up my alley. Though you may be skeptical since they only launched in August 2013, trust me, Nicole knows what she’s doing, and she had created an awesome ‘zine. There’s Author News, rants, event announcements, giveaways (who doesn’t love a good giveaway??) and so much more. The content is quality and there’s a lot of it. Ever since I Twitter-met Nicole at BEA earlier this year, I’ve been a fan.
So go read my interview, and go support another awesome blog.
Why didn’t I read this when I was younger? I had to go back through my old Amazon.com orders to remember when I purchased this book, and it turns out it was part of one of the last orders I ever made when I was still living in Richmond, Virginia. I ordered this book along with The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard, the Enchanted DVD, and a Pokemon graphic novel — a pretty odd assortment, yet strangely appropriate.
Of the sixteen books that survived my Gauntlet, this was actually one of the first I finished. (My hold for the audiobook version came in before some of the others, which was remarkably well done.) Also of the ones I’ve read from the list, this may be one of my favorites… and it is so bittersweet. I think I said bittersweet in one of my last reviews… it is so tragic.
Hero is about a teenage boy named Thom. His mother is presumed to be dead. His father is a smidge gruff and stern, but still lovable. They live in a world where Superheroes exist. !n fact, his father is a Super, but has become estranged from The League. Like many teenaged boys, Thom is trying to live up to his father’s expectations… but also hide some pretty big secrets: 1) he has superpowers and 2) he is gay. Throughout the book, Thom struggles with acceptance, fitting in, dating, discovering who he really is… which is all quite typical in my opinion. So what makes this book so appealing?
First, superheroes are awesome. The cast of characters in this novel are incredibly memorable. Thom has to go through an initiation of sorts at The League’s headquarters and is assigned to a team of similarly skilled budding new Supers, including Typhoid Larry (walking CDC nightmare), Scarlett (flying, fireball-throwing pizza delivery girl), and Ruth (chain-smoking, future-seeing old crone). Oh, Thom’s power is being able to heal things. The team is sent out on little missions and things, and start to uncover conspiracies within The League… all really solid elements. Good good good.
Second, and I point this out second because it’s not the main part of the story, Thom’s sexuality, accepting himself for not only being a Super, but for also being gay, and discovering a bit of romance. There is a tenderness to Thom that makes him so likable. He is also self-deprecating in an endearing sort of way. (Because what teen isn’t a little self-deprecating?) There are so many wonderful passages in Hero… the prose is not only elegant, but also witty. I want to paste oh, so many of them here… but instead I’ll tell you to go read the book.
As for the tragedy: Perry Moore died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011. He was the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia film series (2005 – 2010). He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, he graduated from Norfolk Academy, interned at the Virginia Film Fest… And I knew none of this at the time I purchased the book. Moore was working on a sequel to Hero sometime before he died. Thankfully, I don’t think a sequel would be necessary, but it would at least satisfy everyone’s questions of “what next?” Hero was wrapped up pretty well. There were a few surprises that spurred on some tears, but I attribute that to the impact of the audiobook.
And so, Hero entered my life some four years ago in a rag-tag Amazon order, in the author’s hometown (that I will always fondly think of as another home,) and made the journey with me to forge a new life, where I “became more and more of who I really was, and less of this person I thought wanted to be.”
“Once in a while, life gives you a chance to measure your worth. Sometimes you’re called upon to make a split-second decision to do the right thing, defining which way your life will go. These are the decisions that make you who you are.”
Thanks, Perry Moore – your Hero made quite an impact on this reader.
The 2014 ALA Awards were recently announced and I just had to gush a bit. Thanks to my awesome local bookstore, The Odyssey, in South Hadley, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the award winners when they started on their respective tours some months ago.
First, I want to congratulate all of the nominees and other winners — It is no small feat to be recognized for your work!
But this entry is really about those few authors I have a particular fondness for and that I think deserve some extra special mentioning.
Though I never had the chance to meet Rainbow Rowell, I’ve heard so many wonderful things about her, and I was able to get a hold of a special copy of Eleanor & Park…
As some may remember, this was one of my books of choice for my Young Adult Literature class this past semester. In fact, this book was read by more people in my class than any others — and for such a book to get such a buzz going, I think it is definitely one to take note of.
Eleanor & Park received a Michael L. Printz Award Honoree, as well as the Odyssey Award for outstanding audiobooks for young adults (which I can attest to! It was wonderful!).
Next up: Tim Federle. I actually met Tim at an event for the launch of his book Tequila Mockingbird, but then learned of his book Better Nate Than Ever. This book (which is being followed by Five, Six, Seven, Nate!) is waiting for me on my Kindle (though, I’ve secretly read a bit of it already… I haven’t “officially started” yet). Tim is hilarious, not to mention talented. I never thought I would find myself so excited to read a book aimed at pre-teens, yet it sends a powerful message and is wonderfully written. Better Nate Than Ever is the recipient of the Stonewall Book Award Honor for outstanding LGBTQ titles.
Speaking of the Stonewall Book Award, there are two more titles that I want to point out! Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills and Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo were both winners in this category.
Like Rainbow Rowell, I have not met Kristin Cronn-Mills, but Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was one of the required books for my class last semester and I think everyone was so pleasantly surprised by it! Writing a trans character is not only brave, but can be difficult to grant a strong voice. Kristin brought such life and truth to her cast in this book that I couldn’t help but feel connected. A win well deserved!
I’ve spoken about how brave, true and powerful these books are, but one that shines through has to be Fat Angie with a big purple heart. e.E. came to The Odyssey on her At Risk Summer Tour and I was lucky enough to have a chat with her after her reading. Instantly I felt connected — and she must have too, because she asked that I tell her to write to her once I finish reading the book to let her know what I thought… As in to her personal email account! That doesn’t happen every day! Little-e-Big-E wrote this book with such honesty and heart that I felt truly inspired. I am so incredibly pleased to hear that Fat Angie also won the Stonewall book Award.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to congratulate Holly Black for winning a Newbery Honor for Doll Bones. I met Holly for the launch of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown at The Odyssey and I was surprised to discover that she almost became a librarian! Though Doll Bones is another book I have yet to read, it goes without saying that Holly deserves the recognition for her marvelous work.
Congratulations, again, to all of the nominees and award winners! Keep writing!
People may think my book choosing methods are strange, but honestly, I just find it amusing. Considering my lack of interest in sports, a book bracket may be as close as I get to some type of Fantasy League. Here’s the breakdown:
I chose two books from eight different categories, yielding sixteen titles total. (Well, six. I doubled up on two categories.)
Stephen King Classics:Cujo vs Misery
Travel:A Year in Provence vs PTown
LGBT fiction:Will Grayson, Will Grayson vs The Brothers Bishop / In The Line of Beauty vs Hero
YA series (having 3 or more titles):Insurgent vs Rebel Heart / Beautiful Darkness vs Reached
Kindle Books (fiction):Ten vs Better Nate Than Ever
Fiction:Little Children vs Dogs of Babel
Once selected, I set the titles against one another in their respective categories and flipped some coins and followed the paths of the bracket tree. The resulting list will govern the order of the books I will read over the course of the next year. With my recent acceleration in reading (like reading 35 books in 14 weeks for class) I imagine this will be a breeze. I may push a title to the front of the list as an audiobook becomes available through OverDrive or my library.