November 23, 2011

Book Review: I'll Be There

This is the first year since 2006 that I've been in the States for Thanksgiving, and I find myself grateful for a lot of things. For my family, who believes I'm capable of greatness even on the days when I refuse to change out of pajamas. I'm thankful for the collection of close friends and confidants who have urged me to keep on writing stories. I'm thankful that I have a place to live, good food to eat, and an individual espresso maker.

And, this week, I'm thankful for I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Genre: YA, I suppose (although I only think it falls under that umbrella because it has several young people in it)
In a nutshell: beautiful, gripping, thoughtful, and heart warming. 

First of all, look at this cover... I think it's the best one I've seen in years. If I could ask this cover out on a date, I'd think about it.

I don't often say I'm "thankful" to have discovered a particular book, but this one is very special. It is about two brothers who have nothing to cling to in life but each other until they move into a small town where a chance meeting changes the course of their lives. Sam, the oldest brother, goes into a church to hear some good music only to hear Emily singing terribly, so nervous that she latches onto his face in the back of the crowd to get through it. This is very much a story about connection: what happens when we reach out and touch each other's lives, even in seemingly small ways.

This is one of those rare reads that I am desperately trying to get everyone I know to read. It is so, so lovely and heartwarming despite its moments of terrible sadness. It made me cry, and it made me laugh loud enough to wake people. It made me so, so anxious to know what happens that I stayed up to some unacceptable hour to finish it. But I didn't want it to end, either. The relationship between the two brothers, Sam and Riddle, is touching and haunting. In fact every relationship in this book is pretty lovely to discover. The book has us skipping between all the character's thoughts, so we get to have access to pretty much every important perspective. The young voices are crafted so thoughtfully and so believably. And although there are things that made me angry and upset, I never found this story depressing. There is so much that is uplifting in it, and the sad moments only make those richer.

I know I haven't really told you what this book is about. I don't want to ruin it: you should get to experience it for yourself, and I highly recommend that you do. 

Being Awesome

Have you guys heard about the blog 1000 Awesome Things? If you haven't, you should: it'll be good for you. Check out this video. I hope it brings some shine to your day!

November 19, 2011

Book Review: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult urban fantasy

Those who know me understand how passionately I feel about Maggie Stiefvater's work, so I was excited to crack her newest book open. The story is set on the island of Thisby where every year magical, killer water horses climb out of the sea and roam the beaches in search of human flesh. My friend Tori likes to call them 'horse nymphs', but trust me when I say they're much more awe-inspiring than they sound. It's tradition that the locals try and tame these beasts and ride them in a deathly festival called the Scorpio Races. Puck decides to ride her own, non-magical horse in order to keep a roof over her family's heads. Sean races because it's in his blood: he's described as having 'one foot on land, one foot in the sea'. This story is about what happens when two people with a lot to lose choose to race--and fight for--each other in a world that's as beautiful as it is deadly.

If I could only use one word for this book it would have to be atmospheric. That's the thing I loved most about it: the island of Thisby is a character on its own, one that influences and affects each character profoundly and in different ways. The descriptions of setting are stunning, so visceral that you really do feel like you're there. It makes you want to be there, even if it does have demon horses. Stiefvater uses townsfolk and local lore in a way that makes Thisby jump off the page. I don't know how she does it--only that, as a writer, I wish I did.

The magical element is taut and unique. I was a huge horse girl when I was younger, so I loved reading the race descriptions and all the talk about bits and snaffles.

There are a lot of YA novels that go very, very heavy on the hunky, sexy love angle; I can really only take so many pages of heavy petting. But the love story here is beautifully crafted and totally understated, which made this story special for me. So much of what goes on between them happens in subtext as they quietly edge their way towards a relationship. I love that neither one of them had to give up who they were in order to be together. There was definitely sexy tension, and it was powerful without being anywhere near overpowering. This book is, above all, about connection, not just between two lovers but between family members, human and nature, man and beast.

The writing is, as always, beautiful, and the narrative voice is strong and sure. This is a unique and lovely book; if you're into YA, it isn't to be missed.

**Update 5/4/2014: I have now listened to the audiobook version of this novel an embarrassing number of times and recommend it very highly. If you're into being read to, it's a real gem.**

November 16, 2011

YALLFest 2011

I recently had the opportunity to hop down south and go to YALLFest: the first annual Young Adult book event held in Charleston, SC. I got to stay and hang out with my fabulous critique partner, Ryan Graudin, who posted a lovely recap of this amazing festival. I got to meet (and by meet, I mean skulk near) some of my favorite YA authors: Carrie Ryan, Michelle Hodkin, and many more. Alas, a certain literary crush of mine with lumberjack chic wasn't able to come to the festival, so I wasn't able to woo him as I'd planned. Next time?

I brought back a lot from my weekend in Charleston: new authors to read, books to rave about, and a healthy dose of writerly inspiration. Oh yeah - some pictures, too.

November 14, 2011

I DO Judge A Book By Its Cover.

I've got all sorts of things to blog about, but since I'm about to get on a plane and my eyeballs are burning, I'm going to go with this: book covers. I've got a thing about them. And by 'thing' read 'obsession and highly particular views'. A book's cover is what often makes or breaks whether or not I pick it up and buy it. I know that's a little silly--like voting for a politician because I'm partial to their ties--but I'm not going to lie. I do judge a book by its cover.

There are a lot of YA covers, I've noticed, that make me want to cringe. And as someone who would like to be published in this genre someday, this concerns me a little. I don't want a cover that looks like it was inspired by an article from Teen Beat. Like this one:

I mean... really? First off, this guy looks nothing like the book's main character. Why is it that book designers want to put pouting boys on YA covers? What is his face trying to tell us here--that he's high on prescription drugs? Because this here cover just looks silly. (The book, however, is quite nice.)

When I do find a cover I truly love, it's difficult for me not to take it home with me. Which is one of the reasons I just spent money I don't have on this:

This cover is a piece of art all by itself; that's what a good book cover should be. Just saying.