Category Archives: Book Club

YA Book Club :: ALLEGIANT


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

November’s YA Book Club selection is
Allegiant by Veronica Roth

From Goodreads – The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.  But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

*Warning :: This post includes thinly veiled spoilers.*

I read Allegiant nearly a month ago, and my opinions are still rather muddled. It’s definitely one of those all the feels books. I liked so much about it…

  • The stark-but-arresting prose. Veronica Roth writes emotion beautifully. I felt Tris’s and Four’s affection, worry, sadness, anger, and passion completely.
  • Tris’s strength. She doesn’t back down when she believes in something, and it’s been fascinating to watch her grow and come into her own as this trilogy progressed.
  • Four (because I will not call him Tobias) and everything he stands for. He’s clearly damaged, but he’s just so inherently good. Tris’s love for him makes total and complete sense.
  • The world beyond the wall. I was desperately curious about what the gang would find, and I was not disappointed.
  • The backstory concerning Tris’s mom and her introduction to life Chicago. I found her history riveting, and I  liked that Tris continued to feel a connection to her.
  • The idea of genetic purity, and the weight it held for different characters in the story. Compelling stuff.
  • Veronica Roth’s fearless storytelling. She writes ruthlessly, with more concern for the integrity of the narrative than the rath it might invoke in some fans. So admirable.
  • Speaking of which… The ultra-shocking death of a Very Important Character did not enrage me. I would have personally preferred a HEA, but I thought the conclusion felt bleakly appropriate.

While I enjoyed Allegiant, I had a couple of issues with it…

  • There were a few instances in the story where the pacing felt off. There were stretches when not much happened at all, then bursts of action that were awesome, but also sort of dizzying.
  • I did not like the dual POV as much as I thought I would. For me, Tris’s voice blended with Four’s, and there were scenes where I became confused as to whose head I was in.
  • Again, this is purely personal, but I preferred knowing Four only through Tris’s adoring eyes. In the first two books he had his flaws, but he was portrayed as powerful and solid and indestructible — nearly fearless. In Allegiant, there were times when he seemed a little… whiney? Not that guys can’t have feelings of doubt and inadequacy, but Four never felt like that guy before. Is it awful that I want him to be purely badass?
  • As far as conflict, did anyone else feel like there was one antagonist too many? Marcus, Evelyn, Nita, Caleb, David, the various serums, the Big Bad Government… Sometimes I wasn’t sure who the true villain was. I suppose that speaks to the complexity of the plot, but at times I found it all a bit overwhelming.

I’ve been so invested in Tris and Four and their supporting cast for the last few years, and the end of their story truly did a number on me. Overall, I thought Allegiant was a courageous and fitting conclusion to a fantastic trilogy.

What did you think of this month’s YA Book Club selection?
(Book Clubbers: Don’t forget to drop by Tracey’s blog to add your link!)

YA Book Club :: SECOND CHANCE SUMMER


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

August’s YA Book Club selection is
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

From Goodreads – Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit, but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains. Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve. As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

Okay, okay… I admit it. With the help of fellow book-clubber Jaime Morrow, I pressured and harassed and threatened YA Book Club organizer Tracey Neithercott until she folded and agreed to invoke Supreme Overlord status where this month’s selection was concerned. I’ve been wanting to read Second Chance Summer for ages (just look at that pretty cover!), and it felt like the perfect end-of-summer novel to discuss with some of my favorite book-loving friends. Thanks for making such a fantastic choice, Trace! ;)

(A few light spoilers to follow, though not much more than what’s revealed in the story’s synopsis.)

As I mentioned in a recent What’s Up Wednesday post, Second Chance Summer was a tough story to get through. The inevitableness of a tragic event is made clear early on — main character Taylor’s father, who she’s close to, is diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live — and the entire book is a journey to a heartbreaking conclusion. As a reader, you’re not really given the opportunity to create false expectations, and neither is Taylor. Her father is going to die, soon, and the emotions that come with that knowledge are intense. Like Taylor, I felt panicky and helpless and sorrowful. My heart hurt for her each and every time she had an interaction with her quickly-deteriorating father. As much as the Edwards family tried to put on a brave and positive front, their grief was evident in every conversation, and in every shared memory.

Yet, I think there’s an undeniable undertone of hopefulness in Second Chance Summer, which keeps the story from becoming unbearably sad. That hopefulness comes in part from Taylor’s ever-transforming relationships with her siblings, Warren and Gelsey (there’s a reason for her weird name). I loved watching Taylor learn to appreciate her odd and exceptionally intelligent brother and coddled ballerina-in-training sister. It was fascinating to see how all three siblings dealt with the impending loss of their father in different ways, and how they learned to lean on each other (and their mother) when times were particularly tough. It was interesting, too, to see how Warren, Taylor, and Gelsey each fostered a unique bond with their dad, and came to cope with the idea of a future without him in their own individual ways.

As well as prompting her to develop her sibling relationships, Taylor’s father’s illness also motivates her to assess the friendships that are important to her, which is where longtime Pocono companions Lucy (sassy and bold) and Henry (sensitive and adorable) come into play. From early on, I was rooting for Taylor to take advantage of her “second chance” to make things right with the friends she unwittingly wronged years before. Lucy and Henry are two of my favorite characters, but the entire supporting cast of this novel is fantastic, and plays a huge role in Taylor’s growth. I found all of them to be incredibly well-drawn.

Speaking of Taylor, she is a main character I had no problem relating to. She’s the self-described unremarkable middle child, and she has a habit of bottling up her emotions and taking off when things get hard. She’s pretty terrible when it comes to conflict, and she has moments of selfishness and uncertainty and awkwardness that feel very authentic to her age and circumstances. That said, she’s stronger and more empathetic than she gives herself credit for. She goes out of her way to do considerate things for others — setting Warren up on a date, helping Gelsey improve her sleepover, buying licorice for her dad (*sniffle*) — that show her compassionate side, and make her a truly likable character. For me, it was Taylor’s relatability that made it especially difficult to watch her experience loss.

Overall, I think Second Chance Summer is a moving and genuine story about about family and friendship, and taking advantage of every moment you have with those you love. Morgan Matson writes beautifully, with rich descriptions and evocatively described emotions, but without a lot of fluff. I found her style similar to Sarah Dessen’s, so if you’re a fan of the Queen of Contemporary YA, definitely give Morgan Matson’s books a go. And, if you’re looking to fit in a fabulous summer-set read before autumn arrives in full, I encourage you to pick up Second Chance Summer.

What did you think of this month’s YA Book Club selection?
Any summery YA reads to recommend?
(Book Clubbers: Don’t forget to drop by Tracey’s blog to add your link!)

YA Book Club :: THE WESTING GAME


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

July’s YA Book Club selection is
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978)

I dig this cover.

From WikipediaSixteen heirs who are mysteriously chosen to live in the Sunset Towers apartment building on the shore of Lake Michigan, somewhere in Wisconsin, come together to hear the will of the self-made millionaire, Samuel W. Westing. The will takes the form of a puzzle, dividing the sixteen heirs into eight pairs, giving each pair a different set of clues, and challenging them to solve the mystery of who murdered Sam Westing. As an incentive, each heir is given $10,000 to play the game. Whoever solves the mystery will inherit Sam Westing’s $200 million fortune, and his company, Westing Paper Products.

I could go blue in the face listing The Westing Game‘s strengths. It is  clever in its humor, tight in its plotting, and subtle in its clue-dropping. It’s the literary version of the classic whodunit board game Clue.

The Westing Game‘s characters are compelling, each unique in his or her goals and flaws. Even though there are a lot of heirs, it’s fairly easy to keep everyone straight. My favorite heir is (of course) spunky kick-‘em-in-the-shins Turtle, though I’m also a fan of Theo Theodorakis (in my head, he’s the strong and silent type) and Dr. Jake Wexler (whose dry sense of humor totally cracked me up). The characters, even more than the mystery,  kept me reading The Westing Game.

Speaking of the mystery… It’s very cool. While each pair of heirs attempted to decipher their clues, I had an inkling of the direction the random words were taking (the song tie-in is pretty obvious), but I had no idea of where those clues would  end up leading until the final pages of the story. There were enough red herrings, enough question marks in the narrative, enough suspicious behavior among the heirs, to keep me guessing. I was satisfied with the final answer to the puzzle, the solution only one heir was able to deduce. The Westing Game‘s conclusion made the entire story worth reading.

So, yes, The Westing Game is a fantastically crafted story. I was engaged while reading, and I would never argue this book’s merit or its quality of writing.

BUT…

I did not love The Westing Game.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in the minority in my opinion, but there it is. While The Westing Game was an entertaining enough read for Adult Katy, Middle Grade Katy would have disliked it. She would have grown weary of all the jumping around, she would have been bored by the adult-centered subplots, and most of the subtle humor would have gone right over her head. Don’t misunderstand — Middle Grade Katy wasn’t a dolt; she just liked her books a little more streamlined and a lot more fun.

Another issue… While the omniscient 3rd-person point of view was appropriate for The Westing Game‘s complex mystery, I found it distancing. I wanted to be in Turtle’s head for the duration of the story — she’s a fantastic protagonist! Considering that this book is most often shelved as Middle Grade, I would have guessed that we’d get the story through the eyes of a young person, and I would have enjoyed it much more had Turtle been the only person to narrate it.

So, there it is. The Westing Game was an entertaining read, one worth the time I devoted to it, but it simply didn’t have the emotional impact necessary for me to fall truly in love with it.

Have you read The Westing Game? What did you think?

What’s Up Wednesday (It’s giveaway time!)

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you.

{Please make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, other participants can visit your blog and check out what you’ve been up to. In that same spirit, I urge you to visit as many new blogs as you can every Wednesday. The most awesome aspect of What’s Up Wednesday and Ready. Set. Write is that they include a built-in support system. Let’s make sure we’re rooting each other on and offering as much encouragement as we can. Who knows… You might make an awesome new writing buddy, or a find a fantastic beta reader, or hook up with an amazing critique partner!}

GIVEAWAY DETAILS TO FOLLOW!

What I’m Reading: I finished Katie McGarry’s Dare You To. It was an entertaining read. Beth, despite all odds, grew on me, and Ryan was pretty freaking adorable. If you like Pushing the Limits, you’ll probably like this one too. Now I’m reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, this month’s selection for YA Book Club, hosted by Tracey Neithercott. So far I’m… confused? I’m not sure I like the story, exactly, but I have this funny feeling that the end is going to be amazing and the payoff will be grand. Only time will tell.

What I’m Writing: I smashed last week’s 3,000 word goal with a grand total of 6,183 words for the week. The best part? I think there may actually be some good stuff hidden among all those words. Win! In other news, I’ve decided to change my WiP’s setting (for some reason I set it in a small Appalachian town I’ve never visited. Why, Katy?). I’m going to switch things up and set the story in a fictional California town, one based on a town that’s about an hour from where we live. The change shouldn’t be too drastic; I’ve still got the small town life atmosphere going for me, but I’ll have to do some adjusting regarding weather and scenery and other such details. Sounds tedious, but setting is kind of a big deal to me, so I’m excited about the change. I think I’ll do a better job of writing about a place I’ve actually been to. I like details. :) Goal for next week: 3,000 words, along with some research on a few religious aspects of my story.

ready set write button

What Else I’ve Been Up To: We had a busy holiday weekend (belated Happy Fourth of July to all who celebrated!)…

   Fireworks are strictly forbidden in our town which, frankly, is fine by me. So, on the Fourth, we headed to our favorite beach for a barbecue and a bonfire. It was a gorgeous night, and we had a blast hanging with friends, playing in the waves, and devouring delicious food. 

   
I’ve been writing, therefor I’ve been baking. When I’m drafting, I’m usually good for about an hour before I have to get up and do something else (clean, run, play with my girl, whatever). My favorite thing to do is fix a treat because baking is mindless and the outcome is awesome. This week, I made Homemade Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (pictured left — no-bake!) and Oatmeal Bars with Dark Chocolate Frosting (pictured right, recipe from the Linen Napkins to Paper Plates cookbook). I also made a Banana Blueberry Cake, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Nordy Bars. I went through tons of butter and chocolate chips.

 
On Sunday we hiked the Pinnacles and it was beautiful. We ventured through some caves and found a lovely man-made reservoir. It was about 95 degrees outside, so our hike was cut short by a sweaty, somewhat grumpy five-year-old, but it was definitely fun while it lasted.

What’s Inspiring Me Now: I’ve been suffering from a bout of Writer Crazies. Meaning, I’ve been second-guessing everything about my WiP (see the above comments about setting…). Is the story too weird? Too edgy? Are the characters unrelatable? Are they boring? New doubts contradict their predecessors, and then a whole new crop of insecurities emerges. I’m terrified that I’m getting it ALL WRONG, and that’s making me grouchy. But, I happened upon the following quote the other day, and it really hit home:

Lose the fear, Katy. Lose. The. Fear.

Ready. Set. Write! Giveaway

As promised by myself and Ready. Set. Write! co-creators Alison MillerElodie NowodazkijErin Funk, and Jaime Morrow, participants in this summer’s most awesome writing intensive now have the opportunity to win a fantastic Writer’s Care Package featuring goodies from all over the world (literally!). Celebrate five weeks of writing productivity by entering to win a journal, tea, a mug, a book on craft, tasty treats, and other fantastic writing-related surprises.

To be considered eligible for the Ready. Set. Write! Giveaway you must have participated in AT LEAST one week of Ready. Set. Write! and shared an update of your goals and progress on your blog (most likely in the form of a What’s Up Wednesday post). To enter, click on the link below and fill out the Rafflecoptor with information about your Ready. Set. Write! progress, as well as any bonus entries you may have earned. The giveaway runs through Tuesday, July 23th. Winners will be announced Wednesday, July 24th. Open internationally.

Rafflecopter Giveaway

Good luck, writers!

Tell me: What’s up with you today? 

YA Book Club :: JUST ONE DAY

{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

March’s YA Book Club selection is Gayle Forman‘s latest novel Just One Day. I posted a glowing review of the story back in February and upon rereading that post, I noticed two things: One, my feelings regarding this story haven’t changed. And two, I stand by my declaration that Just One Day will be one of my very favorite 2013 releases.

I have family in town this week and I am on a whale-watching boat in the Monterey Bay right this very second (hopefully not completely seasick), so I am going to cheat and repost my Febraury review. My apologies if you’ve already read it. If you haven’t… Enjoy!

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From GoodreadsWhen sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines. Just One Day is the first in a sweepingly romantic duet of novels. Willem’s story—Just One Year—is coming soon (October, 2013)!

Gayle Forman is one of those authors, one who is just so awesome she’s taken on a bit of a celebrity status in my head. She’s smart and generous in sharing her wisdom (as evident in blog posts like this one), and she’s thoughtful and classy (even when she’s calling people out for being assholes, like in this post). I was lucky enough to hear her speak at an event last year, and I was blown away by how funny and bright and authentic she was. I’ve come to look up to her both as a writer and a person, and If I Stay and Where She Went are two of my very favorite contemporaries. So, of course I terrified to read her latest release. I mean… What if I was a disappointed?

Thankfully, I was not.

If I had to describe Just One Day in just one word, that word would be RICH. It is a story that is rich in far-reaching themes (finding your identity, lost love, coming of age, making a mark; there are mentions of Shakespeare throughout the novel). It is a story that is rich in lusciously-described settings (Paris, Mexico, Amsterdam, London, among others). And it is a story that is rich in colorful, dynamic characters (I adored Dee most). Every sentence, every page, every chapter of Just One Day made me think and wonder and imagine and  feel, which is the very best kind of reading experience.

I absolutely loved this book.

I think that’s mostly because I got the main character, Allyson. I understood her need to please, empathized with her initial absence of identity, felt the gaping hole she suffered when things with Willem went to hell. When I was eighteen, I was a lot like Allyson — that perfection-seeking girl with a lack of confidence and very little autonomy. That’s why it was so compelling to watch her grow into her personality and become self-reliant, a full, well-rounded person. That’s why I was rooting for her even when she was at her lowest and, frankly, sort of hard to like. By the time I reached the final page of her story, I wanted to be Allyson’s friend. I wanted to travel Europe with her!

Now. Let’s talk about Willem. I want to read his story, Just One Year, like, RIGHT NOW. Just One Day ends in a pretty staggering cliffhanger. The story will continue on in Willem’s narration coming this October (*sigh*), and I cannot wait to hear his side of the story. As of now, I know him only through Allyson’s romanced eyes. In Paris, he is charming and fun and sexy and impulsive, but I get the overwhelming sense that there is much more to Willem than the persona he presented to Allyson. I didn’t love his apparent love ‘em and leave ‘em ways, but I think we’re going to learn that there’s a very real and reasonable explanation for his behavior. I am so looking forward to learning more about him, his presumably complicated past, his feelings concerning LuLu, and what exactly happened on that fateful morning in Paris.

Fans of contemporary YA, fans of romance, fans of beautiful writing, fans of books: please, pLeAsE, PLEASE go buy Just One Day. It is a gorgeous, emotional, whirlwind of a read, and you will love every minute of it.

Tell Me: Have you read Just One Day? How do you think it measures up to Gayle Forman’s other novels?

(Don’t forget to drop by Tracey’s blog to see what other YA Book Club participants thought of Just One Day!)

YA Book Club :: THE RAVEN BOYS


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

October’s YA Book Club selection is: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stievfater

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)

From GoodreadsIt is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive. Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

I’ll start by saying that I liked The Raven Boys more than Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, but quite not as much last year’s The Scorpio Races.

The Raven Boys is a strong novel, one with beautiful prose, a dark, atmospheric setting, and unique, complicated relationships. The mystery element intrigued me, and the unique world of Tarot cards, ley lines, and ages-old magic kept me turning pages. The only thing The Raven Boys didn’t have was Sean Kendrick.

(If you don’t know who Sean Kendrick is, please stop reading this blog post, pick up the nearest copy of The Scorpio Races, and open it immediately.)

You know how in life we’re indifferent about most people, we like some people a whole lot, and we  come to love a special few? Well, for me, books are similar. Many are pleasant yet unremarkable. Then there are a few I make lasting connections with. Books I adore despite possible flaws. Books I know inside out and still can’t get enough of. The Scorpio Races is one of those books. I love it deeply, and I still think about it even a year after reading. It’s difficult not to measure books of similar moods and genres to Scorpio. It was especially difficult not to measure The Raven Boys against it, considering The Raven Boys is the first book Maggie Stiefvater has published since Scorpio‘s release.

So, when I compare The Raven Boys to The Scorpio Races, The Scorpio Races comes out on top. Truth. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy every page of The Raven Boys. It’s a brilliant story.

Even though they’re not Sean Kendrick, the boys of Aglionby are fascinating (Ronan is my favorite — Chainsaw FTW!), and their relationships are incredibly complex. I found the dynamic between Gansey and Adam captivating. Blue is mesmerizing too, the kind of girl teenagers can look up to, I think. The product of an unconventional upbringing, Blue is  strong and determined, yet thoughtful. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the creation of compelling and clever female protagonists is one of Maggie Stiefvater’s greatest strengths.

The Raven Boys: A definite recommend if you haven’t read it yet. I’m very much looking forward to its follow-up, thanks in particular to the (incredibly chilling!) admission from Ronan regarding Chainsaw on the last page…

Tell Me: Have you read The Raven Boys? How do you think it measures up to Maggie Stiefvater’s other novels?

(And don’t forget to drop by Tracey’s blog to see what other YA Book Club participants thought of The Raven Boys!)

YA Book Club: Zombies FTW!


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

August’s YA Book Club selection is: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, which dropped June 19, 2012 from St. Martin’s Griffin…

This Is Not a Test

From Goodreads: It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

{Back in May, I reviewed this book over at YA Confidential. I’m reposting below because, upon reading my initial thoughts, I’ve realized that my opinions regarding This is Not a Test and Courtney Summers’ writing in general haven’t changed a bit. So, here ya go…}

I don’t really consider myself a zombie girl, but I ADORED this book.

Much like Sarah Dessen, Melina Marchetta, and Lauren Oliver, Courtney Summers can be counted on to provide a captivating story. This Is Not a Test is full of twists and turns, flawed-but-awesome characters, and a teen voice that rang almost alarmingly authentic. While This Is Not a Test is not regular Courtney Summers contemporary fare, it is just as absorbing, just as unputdownable, as any of her other novels. Possibly more so.

This Is Not a Test begins with the world as we know it coming to an end. A zombie apocalypse is a brilliant backdrop against which to observe human—specifically teen—behavior. People’s true colors shine vividly when resources are limited and their lives are at risk. Cortege High School becomes the perfect little microcosm to study shifting motivations, constantly changing loyalties, and breaking points of the teens hunkered down inside. Surprisingly, the Dead lurking outside Cortege High are not the biggest challenge the teens have to face; they torment and torture each other far more than the zombies ever do.

Main character Sloane Price is another unpredictable element of This Is Not a Test. Her back story proves to be horrifying, but much like the protagonists from other novels written by Courtney Summers, she doesn’t do a whole lot to make herself likable. She’s stubborn and self-centered, and she has a tendency to be sort of blind when it comes to the emotions of those around her. Still, Sloane’s so real, so very damaged and vulnerable, it’s hard not to root for her. She thinks the way teens think, and she says what teens—albeit wrecked teens—say. She’s depressed, but she’s smart and fair and loyal when it really counts. I wanted Sloane to pull it together so badly, both for herself and for the other teens stuck inside Cortege High with her—particularly Rhys.

Speaking of Rhys… I won’t give too much away, but awhile back I read a blurb about This Is Not a Test that called the book “sexy.” I had my doubts—this is a story about zombies, for crying out loud. But yeah, I admit it: This Is Not a Test IS sexy. And Rhys? Also sexy. Come to think of it, Trace and Cary (two more boys from Cortege’s group of six) aren’t too shabby either. And Grace, Sloane’s fellow female, is awesome in her own right. Even Harrison, who’s a bit of a cry baby, has his redeeming moments. What does all of this mean? Courtney Summers writes characters who rock. She also writes books that rock!

Have you read This Is Not a Test? Thoughts? What’s YOUR favorite zombie story?

Five on Friday

1. WriteOnCon begins August 14th! Never heard of WriteOnCon? Well, you’re missing out! From the website…designed to give attendees many of the features of a live writer’s conference, but in an online environment. Thanks to technologies like blogging, vlogging, livestreaming, and chats, WriteOnCon connects writers with both industry professionals and fellow peers from the convenience of their own homes. Critique forums allow writers to receive feedback and exposure for their work, and the entire program is designed to be both informative and entertaining. 

Guys. There are tons of authors, writers, and agents involved with WriteOnCon. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people, get your work critiqued, and learn from some of the best. Oh, and WriteOnCon is FREE! Click on the image below for more information…

2. I have the world’s best CPs. Not only have they provided me with amazing feedback on my WiP this summer (thank you, TarynTemreChrista, and Alison!), but their writing… Holy hell these girls are amazingly talented! Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of reading work by Alison (upper-YA contemporary with a wicked twist of magic and a male narrator who has all kinds of issues and still manages to rock) and Temre (middle grade contemporary with the most charming magical thread and an absolutely adorable protagonist who I can’t wait to share with my daughter in the future). While the stories of these two writers couldn’t be more different (seriously–they’re worlds apart), they’re both utterly engaging, unputdownable, with voices that are unique and enviable. And, if reading Alison’s and Temre’s incredible manuscripts isn’t enough, I get to read Christa‘s next week. Lucky me!

3. YA Book Club, brain child of brilliant Tracey Neithercott, has an official August selectionThis is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. I’ve read this book, therefor I can say with supreme certainty that it’s amazing. We’ll be discussing This is Not a Test via our blogs and blog comments on Monday, August 27th, so you’ve plenty of time to hunt it down (like you’d hunt down a zombie), read it, ponder it, and write about it. I can’t wait to blog hop and check out everyone’s thoughts on this astonishing book. For more info, click on the image below…

4. I have agent-suggested revision notes! You might recall that, with great trepidation, I sent my WiP off to Agent Vickie a few weeks ago. Then I waited nervously and ate a lot of chocolate and tried not to bug her while she read the manuscript I’ve been working on for more than two years. Well, Agent Vickie has now read it and she’s on board with it (yay!), and she recently sent me an email full of shrewd feedback and invaluable suggestions for improving the story. Mostly, this revision will consist of digging deeper, strengthening character motivations, and fleshing out backgrounds. This is the phase of writing I enjoy most (drafting = yikes!), and I’m currently letting all that feedback simmer in the depths of my mind so I can start brainstorming and dive headfirst into the work next week. Can’t wait!

5. Kindergarten. My girlie started school on Wednesday. First of all, how am I old enough to have a school-aged child? And second, how am I going to fill my days now? I’ve been a stay-at-home mama since the day my daughter was born. Now I’m just a stay-at-home… person? I mean really. One can only do so much grocery shopping and cleaning. Luckily, I have plenty of CP reading and regular reading and revising (see above) to keep me busy. And thankfully, my girlie is doing fantastically at school. So, I guess I should just be grateful for all the extra writing time and stop watching the clock, counting the minutes till pick-up. Right? RIGHT?!

Pretty girl all ready to go!

A little nervous and a little sad once reality set in. Luckily, she pulled it together and let me leave with minimal fuss. (Thanks to my dear friend Meghan for acting as paparazzi and snapping this photo through the classroom window… I love it! ♥)

A successful first day! (Again, my sweet friend Meghan… She brought my girlie flowers at pick-up time!)

Tell me: What do you have going on this weekend? Reading? Writing? Fun in the sun? (We’re cooking out with neighbors and going to a professional soccer game… Fun!)

YA Book Club: WANDERLOVE


{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the image above.}

February’s YA Book Club selection is Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

From GoodreadsIt all begins with a stupid question: Are you a Global Vagabond? No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path. Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward. But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

Tracey provided some structure for this month’s book club post in the form of a few setting-related questions, which I think is an excellent idea. I’m planning a Bookanista recommendation for Wanderlove in a few weeks, so I’m going to save my official review (Spoiler: I kind of loved it!), and focus on the talking points below:

1. How did setting play a part in the story?

While Wanderlove‘s characters are fantastic and its writing is beautiful, it is, at its essence, a story about finding one’s self after high school — pretty basic YA material. What makes it exceptional is its unique setting, one very few people could have captured as stunningly as Kirsten Hubbard (she is, according to her bio, a bit of a  Global Vagabond herself).

Kirsten used her story’s setting to challenge its characters, especially Bria. The ocean, the language barriers, the currency differences, the strange foods and customs, the dangers of traveling alone in a foreign country — it all threw Bria for a loop, forcing her to take a good hard look at herself and attitude. Had Wanderlove been set in, say… a midwest suburb… I doubt its underlying themes of independent exploration, self-discovery, and autonomy would have been illustrated as effectively as they are in lush and vivid Central American.

2. Could this story have been told in a different setting and still been the same?

Certainly not the same, but I think the story could have been set in any tropical, slow-developing, mostly-foreign-language-speaking area of the world. Bria needed to feel totally displaced and occasionally helpless, a fish out of water, to take control of her life and accountability for her decisions, both past and present. I loved the richness of the Central America setting, though. It definitely gave me a case of wanderlust!

3. What tips did you pick up from Kirsten Hubbard when it comes to setting?

Setting can be — should be! — a character in and of itself. I’ve heard this advice many times, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it executed as skillfully as Kirsten does in Wanderlove.  She used setting not only as a vibrant backdrop, but as a tool to express her story’s themes. Plus, Kirsten’s descriptions are rich and imaginative, and she makes use of all five sense when discussing the countries mentioned in the story. She made me feel like I was backpacking with Bria and Rowan, eating mango, lounging in a hammock, gazing at a million sparkling stars, which made Wanderlove unputdownable. I didn’t want my vacation to end!

4. Did you feel the use of illustrations enhanced the story?

I did! I loved the illustrations, and thought they added a unique layer to the story, and to the setting. It was a treat to see — not just read about — what Bria saw during her trip, especially since drawing is such a huge part of her identity. The illustrations also helped demonstrate her character arc. Her drawings grew with her, and as the story progressed, I started to look forward to them with the same enthusiasm with which I anticipated the progression of Bria’s relationship with Rowan. Incidentally, I predicted what the last illustration of the story would be, but I did NOT allow myself to page ahead for a peek. I wanted to wait it out with the characters. :)

Tell me: Have you read Wanderlove? What were your thoughts on its unique setting?

If you haven’t read it, will you?

YA Book Club – THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

(YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
For guidelines and additional info, click the above image!)

February’s YA Book Club selection is The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

The Fault in Our Stars

From Goodreads - Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Yay for a contemporary Book Club selection! Contemporary YA is where my heart’s at, so I couldn’t be happier to discuss John Green’s work. I’ll do my best to keep this post spoiler-free…

First of all, I’m not a huge fan of “cancer books.” I’ve read my fair share, but I don’t love it when authors use illness as a plot device. That said, I found The Fault in our Stars to be incredibly well done–equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. This is not *just* a cancer book.

John Green’s style is so distinct–witty and insightful, with perfectly timed punchlines and just the right amount of emotion. He possesses the ideal narrative voice to tell a story which could have easily been bogged down by sadness and grief. During many of the moments I was overwhelmed by the wretchedness of Hazel and Augustus’s situation, one of them would spout something totally off the wall and hysterical and I’d feel a huge wash of welcome relief.

Hazel Grace was a darling protagonist. Her observations about life and love and death were strikingly YA and incredibly profound. At one point she says about Augustus: I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once… Simple and beautiful and perfect. I would have happily remained in her head for another three-hundred pages. And Augustus… I never thought I’d be attracted to a video-game-obsessed boy with one leg, but yeah… Gus was pretty much a stud. To view him through Hazel’s adoring eyes was a treat. The two of them made one of the most naturally compatible couples I’ve read in YA.

While we’re on the subject of amazing TFIOS characters, I have to say: Isaac was freaking awesome. Quite possibly my favorite character of the story. That’s all I’ll say, though, because I believe he should be experienced under a totally fresh, unbiased perspective. Oh, and I also have to give a shout-out to both Hazel and Augustus’s parents. They were incredible–refreshingly involved, anxious, loving, normal moms and dads. Three cheers for fantastic fictional adults!

My one gripe with this book was Peter Van Houten. While I got him and his attitude and the reasons that he was the way he was, I didn’t particularly like him. His scenes made what was already a sad book almost unbearably depressing. Every time he appeared on the page, I found myself wishing for a witty and/or romantic Hazel/Augustus interaction instead of a rambling monologue from self-centered and borderline crazy Van Houten. Maybe that’s just me though… I am a romance girl, after all. :)

TFIOS doesn’t take the place of Looking for Alaska as my most beloved John Green novel (maybe because Alaska was my first? Maybe because it’s one of the few books to ever make me laugh out loud? Maybe because Miles was just SO uniquely awesome?), but it was still a wonderful read. Though I didn’t cry (admittedly, I’m not a crier) and I’m not sure I’d put it on a list of my very favorite books, I enjoyed it immensely and I’d definitely recommend it. I mean, it’s John Green… he’s yet to write a book that disappoints.

Have you read The Fault in our Stars? What did you think?