January Reading Wrap-Up

My January reading list is quite diverse, I must say. Each book was special and engrossing and very well-written, and I’d recommend any and all of these. As always, book covers link to Goodreads pages…

Butter by Erin Jade Lange – Butter is an issue book that’s entertaining as well as thought-provoking. It’s a unique story with a compelling concept (lonely, obese teen promises to eat himself to death online, gaining instant popularity), and I read it feeling like one of the voyeuristic students at Butter’s high school: I was morbidly curious as to whether he’d actually carry out his threat. Erin Jade Lange writes in a clear, easy-to-read style, and she gives Butter plenty of conflict. She wrapped her debut up in a way that left me satisfied, yet hopeful.

When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens – So much more than the lighthearted shenanigans-in-the-White-House book I was expecting! Rebecca Behrens does an incredible job of bouncing between two distinct voices: fictional Audrey’s inquisitive, finding-her-place teen voice, and Alice Roosevelt’s more formal (and snarkier!), almost-a-lady voice. Audrey and Alice face similar challenges, and both act out in ways that feel real and warranted. I particularly love how Audrey turns to Alice’s diary when she feels exceptionally forlorn. The reverence she feels for untamable Alice is awesome. (As is the super sweet romantic subplot!) My full Bookanista recommendation is HERE.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – This novel is epic and rich and glorious. It wasn’t at all what I expected, especially since I’ve read in several different reviews that it’s like Titanic on a spaceship. Not much of the novel takes place on a spaceship, actually. In fact, almost all of it takes place on a strange alien planet, and the story is all about survival and acceptance and sacrifice and love, and there’s this chilling mystery running beneath everything else, and it’s just… awesome. Also, Tarver. ♥ Clearly I’m partial to soldiers, but oh my gosh. He is just so full of swoon. I loved this one!

Tampa by Alissa Nutting – While most of the scenes in this adult novel were so graphic and disturbing I wish I could unread them, I have to admit… I found this story riveting. Protagonist Celeste describes herself as a soulless pervert, and that’s an understatement. She preys on teenages boys, lies compulsively, lacks any sense of moral responsibility, and has no concern for the ramifications of her actions — except as they might impact her getting what she wants. She’s utterly unsympathetic, but it was fascinating to be in her head. Tampa touches on a lot of big issues: sexual predators in positions of authority, minor victims and gender assumptions/bias, and the shades of gray in guilty vs. not guilty verdicts. It was a difficult book to put down, and nearly impossible to recover from.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn – This isn’t a book I normally would have picked up because there’s much talk of wolves in the summary, but it is so, so good, guys. The plotting — WOW. And the writing… it’s beautiful. The entire story is visceral and haunting, one of those where you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not. Stephanie did a masterful job incorporating symbolism and metaphors, so much so that I’m already looking forward to rereading this novel so I can pick up all the hints and clues I missed on my first read. The other day Charm & Strange  was named the William C. Morris YA Debut Award winner – well deserved! Such an exceptional book.

What’s the best book you read in January? 

Bookanista Rec :: WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE

Today’s Bookanista recommendation is
When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens (2/4/14)

From GoodreadsFirst Daughter Audrey Rhodes is convinced that living in the White House is like being permanently grounded. Except with better security. What good is having your own bowling alley if you don’t have anyone to play with? After the Secret Service cancels the party she’d spent forever planning, Audrey is ready to give up and spend the next four years totally friendless–until she discovers Alice Roosevelt’s hidden diary. Alice was a White House wild child, and her diary tells all about her outrageous turn-of-the-century exploits, like shocking State visitors with her pet snake and racking up speeding tickets in her runabout. Audrey starts asking herself: What Would Alice Do? The former First Daughter’s outrageous antics give Audrey a ton of ideas for having fun . . . and get her into more trouble than she can handle!

I loved this book. Really and truly. It was fun to read from the perspective of past Pre-Teen Katy, and it was also an easy story to relate to as Adult Katy. It’s a coming-of-age story, one that reminds readers that teenagers are not hopeless and adults (even Very Important Adults) aren’t perfect. It’s so much more than the lighthearted shenanigans-in-the-White-House story I was expecting.

When Audrey Met Alice is two stories in one. It switches back and forth between First Daughter Audrey Rhodes present-day narration and former First Daughter Alice Roosevelt’s century-old diary entries. Author Rebecca Behrens does an incredible job of bouncing between the two distinct voices: Audrey’s inquisitive, finding-her-place teen voice (she uses the term unbearably adorkable!), and Alice’s more formal (and snarkier!) almost-a-lady voice. Alice’s narration, in particular, leaps off the page — so much so that I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t *actually* reading excerpts from her long-lost diary.

There are so many interesting details about life in the White House (past and present) in When Audrey Met Alice. Thanks to security issues and appearances and the media, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that life as First Kid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Both Audrey and Alice exhibit feelings of uncertainty and annoyance, and both girls are faced with the pressures of growing up in the public eye and the frustrations of overprotective parents. Audrey and Alice both act out in ways that feel real and warranted, and often struck me as rather funny. I particularly love how Audrey turns to the diary when she feels exceptionally forlorn. The reverence she feels for untamable Alice is awesome. (As is the supersweet romantic subplot!)

Guys, this is a cool book. Unique in every way, and extraordinarily well-written. If you love upper middle-grade or know of a middle grader in need of fabulous reading material, please do pick up When Audrey Met Alice.

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow Bookanistas are up to:

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What’s Up Wednesday

WUW2

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a  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. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to.And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Rebecca Behren‘s middle grade debut When Audrey Met Alice and oh my goodness… It was SO GOOD. One of the best middle grade novels I’ve read. Cute, cute, cute, and it makes me want to read an Alice Roosevelt biography! I’ll rave about it more in next week’s Bookanista post. Up next? These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

What I’m Writing: I’m taking a break from my revision to beta read my friend Liz Parker‘s incredible YA manuscript. It’s a unique blend of history and fantasy and romance and adventure, and I’m pretty much the worst beta reader ever because almost all of my comments consist of the words awesome and love and wow. I hope at least some of my feedback helps Liz! I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to read for her because I’m learning tons about pacing, characterization, and stakes from her story. After this, I’m back to applying what I learned to my own manuscript. 🙂

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Cheering the Seattle Seahawks on to a win, for starters. Over the weekend, my brother came from Jacksonville to watch the game with us, and we made an event out of it. Beer, pizza, and wings. Good stuff.


He doesn’t have kids and isn’t nearly the Disney freak my girl and I are, but he (sort of) held his own during Head Bandz. 🙂


I finally baked in my new kitchen! Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies… The recipe I linked calls for chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but I was fresh out of those, so I used Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips. They turned out great!

   
Daphne the kitty is fitting into the Upperman family quite nicely. She’s super playful and sweet, incredibly patient with her six-year-old master, and (mostly) tolerant of Daisy, who really just wants to scarf down her cat food. We’re technically fostering Daphne to make sure she’s a “good fit” for our household, but on Saturday we get to sign official adoption paperwork!

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Writing-wise, a recent post from my savvy and witty agent Victoria Marini titled On ALMOST Making It. Similarly-themed, a post from brilliant author Courtney Summers about Closed Doors. On the artistic front, I continue to be inspired by an experience we had when we were in New Orleans a few weeks ago. We visited Gallery Burguieres, a French Quarter gallery owned and operated by artist Ally Burguieres. We were only there for a short while, but I left feeling absolutely inspired. Ally’s paintings are gorgeous — cheery and colorful and whimsical — and Ally was charming. She welcomed us into her gallery and answered all of our art-ignorant questions. She even let us pet her sweet pup. If I had thousands of dollars to drop on original art, I’d totally invest in Ally’s. As it is, we’re on a budget, but we did splurge on an Alice in Wonderland print for C’s bedroom. It looks adorable hanging on her wall!

{Original art by Ally Burguieres}

Tell me… What’s up with you today? 

July Reading Wrap-Up

I feel like it’s been ages since I read some of these…
July was a loooong month! 

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood – Paranormal romance is not normally my thing and witch stories, especially, don’t usually hold my interest. That said, I absolutely adore Born Wicked. Jessica Spotswood writes beautifully and even though her story has a historical setting, her protagonist, Cate, is no delicate flower. She’s smart and strong and determined — I love her. Also, I’d heard a lot about the steamy kisses in this book. They do NOT  disappoint. Born Wicked‘s ending was a heartbreaker. I can’t wait to read its follow-up, Star Cursed.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – My heart broke a thousand times while reading this gorgeous middle grade story, and the final pages gave me chills. Edward Tulane‘s themes of giving and accepting love are relayed with such nuance, and main character Edward, a ceramic rabbit who likes fine clothing (YES), is incredibly compelling. This book’s chapters are short and its language is unembellished, but the story is so profound. If you’ve got kiddos, I highly recommend reading Edward Tulane with them.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry – Pretty much what I expected. Entertaining, sexy, and full of drama. I like a dual narration in romance novels, and Katie McGarry pulls of both Beth’s and Ryan’s voices fantastically. If you’re a fan of Pushing the Limits, you’ll like Dare You To. Noah and Echo even make a few appearances!

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – The Westing Game was an entertaining  middle grade read. The characters were interesting and the mystery was cool, but the story didn’t have the emotional impact necessary for me to fall truly in love with it. My full YA Book Club post is HERE.

The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell – This is a strange novel. It’s very literary — beautifully written, but unconventional. The story centers around a husband and wife who live in seclusion and struggle through some intense (and graphically described) fertility issues. Their marriage is a trip — I was never quite sure what was real and what was conjured by the damaged imaginations of the characters. If you like a book that’s different and dark and surreal, The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods might be the story for you.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken – Yowza… This book was a wild ride. It’s a dark dystopian thriller with tons of twists and turns, and a core group of four characters who I came to truly adore. Chubs, especially, won my love, and Liam is a total heartthrob.  The Darkest Minds is a complex book with heavy themes and heavy moments. It left me with plenty of questions, most of which will hopefully be answered in the next installment of this trilogy, Never Fade.

All I Need by Susane Colasanti – This book came at just the right time — I was looking for something airy and beachy and romantic, and All I Need is those things and more. It’s a fast read, dual narration, and very sweet. It reminded me a bit of Judy Blume’s Forever… in its earnestness and portrayal of two real teens just trying to make their love work. Check it out of you’re looking for a contemporary YA to set the tone for your summer.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – I love this book so, so much. Main character Josie’s life is brutal, but she experiences moments of such sincere beauty. Out of the Easy is layered with a cast of fantastically riveting characters, and its setting (gritty 1950 New Orleans) is enchanting. I urge you to pick this one up if you’re looking for a historical novel that’s equal parts mesmerizing and affecting.

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu – More on this book next week in a pending Bookanista/Debut Author Challenge post, but for now I’ll just say that OCD Love Story is outstanding — one of my favorite debuts of the year. The voice is contemporary YA perfection. Main character Bea’s struggle with OCD is gripping and distressing, yet she possesses an irresistible quirkiness that makes her a narrator you’ll want to befriend. A big ol’ recommend!

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in July? 

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

“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!}

And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Jessica Spotswood’s Born Wicked. It’s an awesome book, but the ending! Cate… Finn… My heart! I need to get my hands on Star Cursed as soon as possible! I also read a middle grade story, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, which was absolutely beautiful. Thanks so much for recommending it, Tem! And in a jarring change of literary pace, I started Dare You To by Katie McGarry, which is pretty darn good so far. In fact, I think I like it even better than Pushing the Limits. Plus, there’s a fantastic scene-related playlist that includes tons of country music — yay!

What I’m Writing: I’m glad I scaled down my word count goal for the last week. Because we had family visiting, I knew my writing time would be limited, and I didn’t want clouds of guilt and pressure hovering over my head while we had company. I was shooting for 2,000 words and ended up doubling that with 4,012 words. The surplus is courtesy of a few bouts of insomnia (boo!), but I passed the 20K mark and I still like my story, so I can’t complain. In the next week, I’m hoping to add another 3,000 words to my story. Here’s an excerpt:

It’d been a weird month. Despite his parents’ not-so-subtle discouragement, Tyler had managed to leap into a new relationship just weeks after moving to Clayton City. This thing he’d started with Jenna was good, new and different and intoxicating, but it was far from effortless. The girl was sweeter than honey and the mere sight of her got him all hot and bothered, but her mood was precarious at best. She was never bad-tempered, exactly, but her timidness had a way of blurring into unjustifiable panic, and that scared Tyler shitless.

He was polite and considerate, had always heeded signals and treated girls with respect. He’d learned by example: Tyler had never heard his father utter a discourteous word in his mother’s direction. But when it came to Jenna, good manners fell just short of enough. Tyler was always on his toes, endlessly aware of and adjusting to her moods for fear of upsetting her.

He took off his hat and ran a hand through his sweat-dampened hair. Jenna… She was wound tighter than a monkey’s nuts and she made him anxious as hell, but she was exhilerating in a way he’d never experienced—a prize just out of reach. They’d been making out for a month and the kissing was really freaking good, but Tyler wanted more. Of course he did.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: I’ve gone a whole week without baking, so no tasty recipes to share, but I have been keeping busy with other things…


For starters, last week I hit a big running benchmark: I ran my 1,000 mile of 2013. I’ve been keeping track of my distances each day (whether they be on the road, treadmill, or elliptical), and as I inched closer and closer to the 1K mark, I started pondering physical locations 1,000 miles away that I could have run to. For example, Monterey Bay to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or, Monterey Bay to Spokane, Washington. Not that I have a burning desire to go to Santa Fe or Spokane, but still… Fun to think about.


We had a wonderful visit with family last week. My daughter enjoyed plenty of cousin time, and we did lots of fun touristy things: the aquarium, Carmel, the beach. We also ate lots of yummy food and indulged in plenty of treats and laughs. Just look at those smiles…

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Lately I’ve read a couple of craft posts that have been both helpful and inspiring. First, Why the Hero’s Journey is a Tourist Trap by Lisa Cron (at Writer Unboxed), about focusing on your story, trusting your intuition, and continually asking why?. And second, Trouble Shooting Deep Point of View and Voice by Susan Dennard (at Pub[lishing] Crawl) about understanding your POV character’s world view, and the questions you can ask to get to know that character on a deeper level. I highly recommend both articles! What else…


A cool new book-related Instagram photo challenge, hosted by RaeGunRamblings. I’m having all kinds of fun with this one!


And, of course, gorgeous summer sunrises. The promise of views like the one above are what get me out of bed early each morning.

Tell me: What’s up with you this week?

Bookanistas Rec :: THE GIRL GUIDE

Today’s Bookanista recommendation is The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-Up World by Christine Fonseca

From Goodreads: Finding your unique voice in a noisy world can be hard—very hard. But not if you have a great guide! The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-Up World is a must-read for girls in grades 6–8 as they enter the tumultuous world of adolescence. Packed with fun worksheets and quizzes, as well as stories from older girls and women, The Girl Guide covers everything a teenage girl needs to know on the journey toward her own identity. Proven strategies for dealing with stress management, confronting relational aggression, being safe online, navigating the changing mother-daughter relationship, and more make this the ultimate guide for any girl to get through the teen years and discover her unique point of view in the world.

This book is too cool — I totally wish I’d had a copy when I was growing up. The Girl Guide is chock full of advice and anecdotes and quizzes and worksheets meant to help girls find their “own unique voices.”

When I was a teenager, I loved books and magazines that had specific places blocked off for me to write down my thoughts and reflections. The Girl Guide has tons blank charts and empty bubbles and open lines for lists — it made me want to grab a pink feathery pen and get to work! As if that’s not enough, this book includes all sorts of strategies for coping, living confidently, finding and giving social acceptance, and leading a healthy lifestyle, all discussed in clear, well-organized chapters. But my very favorite parts of The Girl Guide are the quotes from real teenagers, and the bits of advice offered by mothers, pastors, youth leaders, and writers like Gretchen McNeil, Jessi Kirby, and Stasia Ward Kehoe.

I’m going to make sure I have a copy of The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed Up World on hand to give my daughter when she’s in middle school. Not only is this book all kinds of fun, but it educates girls without coming across as preachy or stiff. It reads more like a conversation with a friend than the self-help manual you might expect. If there’s a teenage girl in your life, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Girl Guide to give to her.

Check out what my fellow Bookanistas are up to today!

Shari Arnold marvels at THE MOON AND MORE by Saran Dessen

Tracy Banghart is thrilled by 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil

Christine Fonseca shivers over SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi

Carrie Harris and Elana Johnson reveal the cover of
SALLY SLICK & THE STEEL SYNDICATE by Carrie Harris

Corrine Jackson is nuts for
AU REVOIR, CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK by Joe Schreiber

Jessica Love joins the BY BLOOD by Tracy Banghart book blitz – with giveaway!

Shannon Messenger  raves about JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta

Tracey Neithercott adores THE ARCHIVED by Victoria Schwab

Kimberly Sabatini is touched by OUT OF REACH by Carrie Arcos

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Bookanista Rec: BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE

I’ve got an oldie but a goodie for you… Today’s Bookanista recommendation is: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie

From Goodreads: Kate DiCamillo’s first published novel, like Winn-Dixie himself, immediately proved to be a keeper — a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor winner, the inspiration for a popular film, and most especially, a cherished classic that touches the hearts of readers of all ages… The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket–and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship–and forgiveness–can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

I recently finished reading Because of Winn-Dixie aloud to my five-year-old (on the recommendation of my CP, Temre Beltz — thanks, Tem!) and I’m not sure who loved the story more: my girlie or me. Protagonist Opal is just darling. She’s sweet and straightforward and open-minded. She’s curious and precocious, but she’s also desperately lonely. She has an intense desire to fit in, to make friends and find her place in the world. I loved Opal for her bravery and her inquisitiveness and her determination.

Loyal Winn-Dixie crashes (literally) into Opal’s life within the first few pages of the novel. Her world brightens immediately. Winn-Dixie brings change just by being his shaggy self. He’s the catalyst through which Opal’s horizons begin to expand. His wagging tail and cheesy doggy smile help Opal meet people and make connections and even address some of the issues she has concerning her estranged mother and her well-meaning preacher father. Pretty much everything Winn-Dixie did made me smile, mostly because he brought so much joy to Opal.

The new friends who enter Opal’s life throughout the course of this story are as colorful and special as Opal herself. They’re old and young, simple and educated, happy and sad (Otis is my favorite!). They’re a diverse bunch, yet through Opal and Winn-Dixie, they find common ground. The relationships Opal forms with her new friends are unique and beautiful. Each character is wonderfully flawed, allowing Opal to see that people shouldn’t be defined by their mistakes. They let Opal know them for who they truly are, and they teach her about herself in the process. Opal’s journey to self-acceptance and self-reliance makes for a captivating and uplifting story.

I recommend Because of Winn-Dixie to anyone who enjoys lovely writing and charming characters, and especially to those who love a middle grade novel that appears simple on the surface but hides a complex, intricately woven message within the depths of its pages. If you have a child in your life, read Because of Winn-Dixie aloud to him or her. You’ll be so glad you did! (Oh, and if you like films based on children’s literature, the movie adaptation of Because of Winn-Dixie is incredibly well done.)

Jessica Love rejoices over THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH by Anna Jarzab

Tell me: Do you have a favorite middle grade novel?

O is for Oh. Em. Gee!

My favorite book (or movie) moment has got to be the Oh. Em. Gee!

I like to be surprised. No, scratch that… I like to be shocked. I love a plot twist that makes me rethink everything I thought I knew. I love how, as I’m reading one of those Holy shit, that just happened! scenes, my heart begins to race and my skin breaks out in shivers. I love when the absolutely unexpected  reaches out and slaps me across the face. I love being awed by the way dozens of once-hidden clues suddenly become SO OBVIOUS. And I love nothing more than when an author ties numerous seemingly loose threads into a neat and tidy bow.

I love to have my mind blown.

A few books that totally rock the elusive Oh. Em. Gee! moment (there’s a reason these are on my FAVORITES list):

   

   

   

   

Do you have any Oh. Em. Gee! book recs for me?

RTW: October’s Wrap-Up and Book of the Month


Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: What’s the best book you read in October?

Wow… October was a month of aMaZiNg books! For the first time ever, I couldn’t choose just one Book of the Month. Nope, this month, I’m giving you TWO extraordinary recommendations–lucky you! But first, here’s my wrap-up:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d like this one. I’m not a Holden Caulfield fan, and I’ve heard Diary compared to The Catcher in the Rye more times that I can count. That said, I DID enjoy Diary, iimmensely. Junior’s narration was often funny, incredibly poignant, and, at times, heartbreaking. The comics and cartoons sprinkled throughout were a much appreciated surprise. I have no idea what it’s like to be an Indian living on a “rez,” but this book felt absolutely authentic.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – I snatched this middle grade novel up at the library after reading glowing recommendations from Kat Owens, Sara McClung, and Alicia Gregoire. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue what was going on throughout the first big chunk of the story. That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained; I totally was. Miranda and her accompanying characters were vivid and intriguing. Still, all of the cryptic clues and references to the future left my head spinning. But, I just had this feeling that sticking with it would pay off big. It SO did. I literally had chills throughout the last quarter of this book–the ending is that mind-blowing, that stunning. The day I returned When You Reach Me to the library, I went out and bought my own copy because I couldn’t NOT own it. If you’re not sure whether you like middle grade, read When You Reach Me. You will LOVE it!

Toxic by Jus Accardo – The follow-up to my CP’s debut, Touch, will be available Spring, 2012. I can’t give anything away, of course, but mark your calendars… it’s fantastic!

Hourglass by Myra McEntire – I loved this premise–time travel, the chance to change lives in the span of one hour. Main character Emerson was spunky and cool, though she sort of fell apart every time an attractive boy stepped onto the scene. The boys in the book were pretty hot though… certainly good distractions! I also dug the twisty ending and the atmospheric descriptions.

Teach Me by RA Nelson – Eek… Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! I wasn’t sure about this one going in: High school senior has a sordid affair with her teacher, obsession and betrayal ensue. But, thanks to main character Carolina (and her majorly over-the-top shenanigans) I ended up enjoying Teach Me. Carolina is super smart and makes awesome observations about people and life, but she’s a social outcast among her peers. She somehow manages to garner sympathy even when making some questionable–okay, disturbing–choices. A well-written, compellingly honest contemporary.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laine Taylor – This book. Oh, THIS BOOK. Simply brilliant, and definitely one of my October Books of the Month. But, I’m not going to go into a full recommendation today because Smoke and Bone is the book we’ll be discussing for Fall Book Club. Check back Friday for my lovefest review.

And my second Book of the Month, Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins


From Goodreads: 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’d heard from more than one person that Lola was better than Stephanie Perkins’ debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss, which I absolutely loved. I sincerely doubted that anything could be better than Anna, but yeah… I have to say, I think I enjoyed Lola just a *tiny* bit more.

Seventeen-year-old Lola Nolan is an amazing protagonist. One of my favorites of any YA, I think. Lola is all kinds of conflicted. While she’s highly emotional, she’s also genuine and loving and unique and creative and funny. She has a humorous way of describing tough situations that lightened what was, essentially, a serious novel. And while Lola is a sweet girl, she’s not exactly a good girl. She’s self-centered. She lies. She sneaks around behind her parents’ backs. And that rocker boyfriend mentioned in the synopsis above? He’s twenty-two, and not exactly wholesome (he actually turns out to be slightly less-than-perfect, but he had his reasons and I have to say, I didn’t hate him). All of this discord within Lola’s personality made her delightfully real. She’s someone I wish I’d known in high school, someone I would have loved to be friends with.

And Cricket… what a perfectly lovable romantic interest. I see him as he’s pictured on the cover (adorable), and cherished every aspect of his sweet, highly intelligent, awkward, loyal, bumbling, pin-striped personality. He’s just right for Lola (obviously), yet he’s wonderfully flawed (like a real boy!). He knows what he wants, and while he’s full of conviction, he’s patient too. Plus, he’s friends with Etienne! I challenge any female reader to dodge to Cricket’s charms. Seriously. He’s enchanting.

Lola is set in San Francisco, which is probably obvious if you’ve given the cover a look. The city comes alive within the pages of the book, so much so that I want to visit again and take time to savor the atmosphere Stephanie Perkins so perfectly captures. All the major landmarks are there (the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, Muir Woods National Park), but there’s also a more subtle mood that hangs in the background, a sparkle that’s all San Francisco, yet not at all cliché or stereotypical.

And Lola‘s supporting characters… fabulous! Andy and Nathan (Lola’s dads) were distinct, strict, bona fide parental figures. Best friend Lindsey was an excellent source of comic relief. Calliope (Cricket’s twin) was an unpredictable sort of mean girl. Even Norah turned a corner and became someone I wasn’t expecting.

Lola, at its heart, is about finding your authentic self and embracing it for all it’s worth. A very worthwhile message weaved cleverly into a layered, entertaining story full of family and friendship and love. If you think you don’t like contemporary, or romance, or “chick-lit,” think again. Stephanie Perkins has a talent for creating real-life characters you’ll fall for head-over-heels, and for writing romantic scenes that’ll have your heart skipping. Please, please, please, buy and read Lola and the Boy Next Door!

What’s the best book YOU read in October? (And don’t forget to check back Friday for my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone!)