Sunday, December 29, 2013

Looking Back on 2013

Well, I blinked and now 2013 is almost over.

It's been a pretty good year. The screenplay I wrote was shot and is in post-production. There were many times this project almost died, so that was a huge victory.

I'm making a major revision in my novel before I send it out to another round of agents.

Libraryland was pretty good to me with record numbers for summer reading. And I was able to pull off some crazy fun programs, too.

There were some excellent books and audiobooks that I enjoyed this year and I hope that you enjoyed my reviews of them.

I also hope that 2013 was a good year for you. I know there are times when life just sucks, and I try to remember to enjoy the moments that don't. I worry too much about things that ultimately don't matter, and I'm trying to appreciate the things in my life that do matter.

So here's to 2014: may it be a year without too many life-sucking moments!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merry Christmas to All 2013

Merry Christmas! 

Happy Holidays! 

I appreciate everyone who stops by this blog and I hope all of you have love, warmth, and laughter to share with others.

And I'd like to share this with you:

Lil BUB's Yule Log:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bubble World Book Review

Title: Bubble World
Author: Carol Snow
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0805095715

352 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

You may be bundled up the layers as you sit by the fireside and sip on hot cocoa, but if you want to escape to somewhere sunny, Bubble World by Carol Snow is a perfect beach read.

Escape is a key word here, as Bubble World isn't an actual place, but a virtual world where Freesia lives as she goes to parties and shops with her best friend. Except that Freesia doesn't realize that Bubble World is a virtual world. Not at first, anyway.

As the Bubble World is burst, Freesia is brought back to a reality that is considerably less "de-vicious" that the one she left. (Warning: A lot of Bubble World slang is introduced in the opening chapters. I thought it helped with the world-building, but your mileage may vary.)

Bubble World is a funny book with big ideas about identity, how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. It's thought-provoking without being preachy and with plenty of laughs along the way.

My biggest quibble was that while Freesia is a well-developed character, her real parents are about as one-dimensional as her computer generated ones.

But overall, Bubble World was a frothy, fun read and I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed Beauty Queens by Libba Bray or Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dare You To Book Review

Title: Dare You To
Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0373210633

480 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Dare You To by Katie McGarry is the second of her contemporary romance trilogy following a group of friends. I haven't read Pushing the Limits, which has gotten a lot of positive reviews and was a Teens' Top Ten for 2013. While the two stories are linked by crossover characters, you don't need to read one to enjoy the other.

And I did thoroughly enjoy Dare You To. It's the kind of swoony romance that keeps itself grounded in reality. In Beth's case, her reality is a gritty, bleak one, with a mom who's a barfly and probably worse, but Beth doesn't let herself think about. She's just trying to get through the day, making sure the bills are paid and her mother eats.

Then she meets Ryan at a late night taco joint. Ryan seems to fit the total jock stereotype, good-looking, full of himself, and only out to use someone like Beth. And when she finds out that Ryan wants to buy her dinner just because his dumb jock friends have dared him to get her phone number, Beth shows him no mercy.

But Ryan isn't the stereotypical jock. His family life is broken, although his parents are trying to do everything they can to keep up appearances. He's torn between following his dream of going pro in baseball and the realization that the dream might actually be his father's and Ryan has more options than he thought.

Cut to the twist of fate that brings the two back together. The romance is realistic and true to the characters. The chapters alternate between Beth and Ryan and the reader is able to see how they're able to change their first impressions of each other and learn to love each other, although this love is not easy for either one of them.

Dare You To is a winner for fans of contemporary romance.

Dare You To book trailer:

Sunday, December 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Wrap-Up

Yeah, so I didn't "win" NaNoWriMo this year. I didn't write 50,000 words in 30 days. But ...

Around the middle of November (at about 20,000 words), I realized that my historical fiction needed more research before I could effectively do any more writing.

I knew some stuff about the time and people I was writing about, but not enough of the right stuff. I could have bullshit my way through 30,000 more words, but would be the point of that? That would mean so much more work rewriting later on.

So thanks, NaNoWriMo, for getting me started, but I spent the rest of the month doing research.

And I'm a nerd, so doing research is fun.

I still highly recommend NaNoWriMo for people who need a kick in the pants to start or finish a project.

Maybe next year I'll use NaNoWriMo to finish this novel.

Stay tuned ...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Return of NaNoWriMo

It's been a few years, but I'm giving NaNoWriMo another go. I've participated twice in the past and finished once. I'm hoping to go the distance on NaNo #3.

What I like about NaNoWriMo is the quick and dirty deadline that's randomly imposed. 50,000 words. 30 days. That's it. You either do it or you don't.

And even if I don't, I've started. And that's HUGE. I'm working on a historical fiction I've been thinking about for years. I've previously envisioned it as a play and a screenplay. I've done a fair amount of research. I even outlined it as a screenplay. But I've never started it.

On November 1, I finally did.

And this is why I do NaNoWriMo.

Even if I don't finish. I've started. And that's HUGE.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rose Under Fire Book Review

Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1423183099

368 pp.

Reading copy from publisher via NetGalley

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein is a companion novel to Code Name Verity, which was recently named Number One of the Teens' Top Ten 2013.

Rose Under Fire is not a sequel to Code Name Verity. There are characters from Code Name Verity who make small but important appearances, but the novel really belongs to Rose Justice.

Rose is an American teenager who transports planes for the British and gets captured by Nazis. She's sent to Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp, where she meets the Polish Rabbits, a group of girls who were used for medical experiments. It's near the end of the war, but that makes everything just a little more desperate. When the enemy knows they're losing, how many can they take down with them?

Rose Under Fire is a much more traditional story than Code Name Verity, though it does share a similar journal format. They also share the overarching theme of friendship. But Rose Under Fire is like the American Rose, more hopeful, more uplifting, with something as close to a happy ending as can be possible.

One does not need to read Code Name Verity to enjoy Rose Under Fire, but readers who like one will probably like the other. I'd also recommend Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray as another aspect of survival and friendship during World War II.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teens Top Ten 2013

I hope you're excited for the announcement of the Teens' Top Ten during the week of October 21st!

There were 28 nominees this year and I promoted them with displays and bookmarks at my library.

These are proven teen-approved titles that make Readers' Advisory easy-peasy. Many of the titles are part of series, so you can hook a voracious reader with the promise of more awesome books.

I haven't gotten to all of the nominees, but you can check out my reviews of Butter, Code Name Verity, Of Poseidon, and The Raven Boys.

All of the Teens' Top Ten nominees are included here:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Life After Life Audiobook Review

Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Narrated by: Fenella Woolgar
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1619696969

Listening copy via local library

The thing to remember with Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is that it is a character driven story, not plot driven.

Don't expect the traditional three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end. Don't expect linear storytelling where plot point A leads to plot point B. Because that's not what Life After Life is about.

Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, a girl born during a snow storm in 1910 England, only to die and live and die again. And again. And again. Ad infinitum. But this isn't reincarnation where she comes back as other people. She always comes back as Ursula Todd, a girl born during a snow storm in 1910 England.

But Life After Life is really about choices. Random choices that haunt us, deliberate choices that don't succeed, choices that others make for us that we may not be aware of. Choices that make up a life.

Kate Atkinson pursues these choices through Ursula, putting her during a time of great change. The key to Atkinson's storytelling is repetition. We see the same moments in Ursula's life, sometimes with a slight alteration here or there, sometimes significantly different. But mostly the same.

And I have to admit, if Fenella Woolgar didn't do such a beautiful job narrating, I might have given up on the book. She's able to capture a range of genders, ages, and accents, and really bring the characters to life. Enough that I cared about the characters to keep on going to the end.

I did realize about three-fours through that there was no endgame to Ursula's life. She would never get it "right" and this would be her final life. Once I stopped expecting that, it did make the whole experience more enjoyable.

Life After Life is not a novel for everyone, although I think that those who gave up on the print version should give the audiobook a try.

Life After Life Book Trailer:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Originals Book Review

Title: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316219433

304 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

The Originals by Cat Patrick has a great premise. Three sisters, Lizzie, Ella, and Betsy, live one life, each girl taking a different time of day. Because Lizzie, Ella, and Betsy aren't really sisters. They are clones.

Their "mother" worked at a lab where they covertly cloned the three girls for a rich couple whose baby, The Original, died. Except the couple just wanted one baby and demanded the other two be destroyed. So the girls' "mother" took them and went into hiding.

The three girls lived as triplets for awhile, but the doctor in charge of the lab was arrested and the government is on the lookout for girl triplets. So a scheme was concocted where Lizzie takes the morning shift, Ella takes the afternoon, and Betsy takes the night. All three of them live as "Elizabeth Best," a seemingly normal teenage high schooler.

But things change when Lizzie is forced to take the afternoon shift and meets cute boy Sean. For the first time, Lizzie realizes how not normal her life is and she's no longer satisfied with just a third of it.

While I loved the premise, the book itself failed to connect with me. The pacing, especially the second half of the book, is slooow. And this is when the shit's supposed to be hitting the fan and secrets are revealed. When secrets are actually revealed, it's anti-climatic and not especially logical.

Lizzie's character is pretty well defined, but the other two girls are characterized mostly by how they dress and what music they like.

The budding romance with cute boy Sean is realistic until the second half, where Sean becomes THE MOST UNDERSTANDING GUY EVER and it strains credulity.

Recommend The Originals to readers looking for a book light on sci-fi and heavy on the romance.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

When We Wake Book Review

Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316200769

304 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I believe that good sci-fi should be a reflection of modern society taken to an extreme. And I think Karen Healey does this with When We Wake.

Tegan Oglietti is a sixteen-year-old in near future Australia. She loves music, especially the Beatles, and she believes in stuff. She believes in God, she believes in service to country (her dead father was in the military), she believes in family, and she believes that people can make a difference. She's just fallen in love for the first time and she's happy and hopeful for the future.

And then she's shot by a sniper at a rally. It was an accident, really. The bullet was meant for the Prime Minister. But now Tegan is dead.

Well, kind of dead.

Tegan, who had donated her body to science, is put into a cyrogenic state. And then, one day, she wakes up. One hundred years later.

Technology has changed, but people haven't. There are still secrets and lies and conspiracies and murder. And Tegan finds herself in the middle of it all, while trying to come to grips of being the "Living Dead Girl" and finding her place in this new life.

There's lots of action and even romance as Tegan once again tries to makes a difference in the world. She's an engaging character, maybe a little naive, but smart and believable.

The world Tegan wakes up in is also believable, a world that climate change is devastating, although many people don't care or don't realize the extent of its devastation.

Some readers may find the book too PC, but I didn't find it preachy or overly message-driven. The one quibble I have, and it's rather a ridiculous one, is that the supporting characters who become friends with Tegan are all minority-something. I'm an African refugee! I'm transgender! I'm a Muslim AND a lesbian!

I am all for white people writing about people different from them, but this just seemed too much like a 22nd century Benetton ad and Healey is trying too hard to be inclusive. The supporting characters are not stereotypes and like I said, it's a rather ridiculous quibble, but do ALL of Tegan's friends have to be a statement of religious, racial, and sexual tolerance? (Okay, maybe I find the book a little PC.)

I recommend When We Wake to readers who enjoyed Across the Universe by Beth Revis or Altered by Jennifer Rush. There is a sequel coming out next year for readers who want to continue on Tegan's journey.

When We Wake Book Trailer:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Of Poseidon Audiobook Review

Title: Of Poseidon
Author: Anna Banks
Narrated by: Rebecca Gibel
Publisher: AudioGO
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1620642696

Listening copy via Sync

I realized that my monthly Reader's Corner column had turned into a monthly audiobook review, so I thought I go ahead and just make it an actual audiobook review.

I was able to stock up on some audiobooks thanks to Sync, and the first one I'll review is Of Poseidon by Anna Banks. The story centers on Emma, a good girl who follows in the shadow of her best friend, Chloe. But things change drastically when Emma and Chloe go on a vacation to Florida. First of all, Emma meets cute boy Galen, who has the same mysterious violet eyes that she has. And second, Chloe is killed in a shark attack.

So begins Emma's journey as she learns about the Syrena, a type of mer-people, and her role in a battle between Syrena kingdoms.

Of Poseidon is a good mix of action, romance, and humor. The big plot reveal at the end was telegraphed from a mile away, but it still nicely sets up the next book.

Rebecca Gibel does an admirable job narrating the different characters and giving Emma a strong and slightly snarky voice. My only quibble is that Chloe sounds like she's straight from the Jersey shore, even though she and Emma grew up together and Emma doesn't have an accent. Especially given that Chloe is African-American, it's an odd choice.

I'd recommend Of Poseidon to readers (and listeners) who enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor or The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater.

Here's a taste of Chapter 1:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Genius Book Review

Title: Genius
Author: Steven T. Seagle
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: July 9, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1596432635

128 pp.

ARC provided by publisher via Netgalley

Genius, written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, is a quiet book.

A book, at times, of quiet desperation. Ted is a bona fide genius, the wunderkind that skipped grades and is expected to make a mark. Except now Ted is middle-aged and never really fulfilled all those high expectations.

Ted still wants to make his mark. In fact, he needs to or he'll lose his job and his insurance, right when his wife needs some serious medical treatment. So when his father-in-law, in an Alzheimer's muddle, mentions that he used to be Einstein's bodyguard and Einstein once told him a BIG SECRET, Ted thinks his luck has changed.

If only Ted can pry the secret from the lost memories of his father-in-law.

But the book isn't really about Einstein's BIG SECRET. The book is about Ted and middle-age and choices and trying to connect to the people you love.

The illustrations are sketch-like, suggestions of actions and emotions. Filling in the blanks is the reader's job.

Genius is a quiet book, but ultimately a hopeful one. While it might be a tough sell for teens, it may appeal to those who enjoy thoughtful storytelling.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Winger Book Review

Title: Winger
Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1442444928

448 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

This book should come with a disclaimer. Something like WARNING: May cause spontaneous laughter. May also cause uncontrollable weeping.

Winger by Andrew Smith starts off as a boarding school romp about a 14-year-old genius who plays rugby and dreams about dating his best friend, Annie, who seems out of his league because she's two years older.

Ryan Dean (that's his first name) narrates the story of his junior year at a fancypants private school in the Pacific Northwest. His rugby nickname is Winger and though he call himself a skinny-ass bitch, he never backs down from a fight. He is hilarious in his accounts of life at school and they're often punctuated by the comics he draws.

What could have been a delightfully fun story about Ryan Dean and his pursuit of Annie and surviving rugby turns into something much darker in the last few chapters. No spoilers here, but the gut-punching plot twist is organic and completely believable.

My one quibble with those last chapters is that I wanted more. Ryan Dean's words and pictures are so effusive in the rest of the novel that I understand why there's this shift at the end, but I still wanted more. It's to Andrew Smith's credit that after 448 pages, I wasn't ready to leave these characters.

I would recommend Winger to readers who enjoyed Butter by Erin Jade Lange or Feed by M.T. Anderson.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Theory of Everything Book Review

Title: The Theory of Everything
Author: Kari Luna
Publisher: Philomel
Publication Date: July 11, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0399256264

320 pp.

ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

With a cover like this, you hope that the book will be as fun as it promises. Thankfully, The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna delivers on that promise.

Sophie Sophia is a fourteen year old girl who moves into a new town with her mom. Again. Ever since Sophie's genius physicist dad disappeared, Sophie has been having hallucinations, or "episodes", where hearts roll off of sleeves or the school cafeteria becomes a Ramones rock video.

Then Sophie meets Walt, her shaman panda, who is supposed to help guide her. Guide her to what, Sophie isn't sure, but she hopes it's her dad. Along the way, Sophie befriends Finny, who becomes her gay BFF, and cute boy Drew, who holds out a hope of normalcy for Sophie.

The Theory of Everything is cute, quirky, and a mixed tape of BIG IDEAS about string theory, alternate universes, and love. It's like A Wrinkle in Time's fun-loving, hipster cousin.

I'd recommend The Theory of Everything to readers who enjoyed Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin or Don't Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough.

The Theory of Everything Book Trailer:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Lord of Opium Book Review

Title: The Lord of Opium
Author: Nancy Farmer
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 3, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1442482548

432 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I'm back from my summer hiatus and so happy to be able to review this book for you!

I'm a huge fan of The House of Scorpion, which I listened to on audio, and am thrilled that Nancy Farmer is continuing Matt's story.

I don't think it's much of a secret now that Matt is actually the clone of an evil drug lord known as El Patron and Matt was raised to be his organ donor. El Patron dies at the end of The House of Scorpion and Matt becomes the new Lord of Opium.
The Lord of Opium literally starts the next day after The House of Scorpion ends. If you haven't read The House of Scorpion, you can follow along well enough, but I highly suggest reading The House of Scorpion first. It's a different type of storytelling because it starts when Matt is very young and the reader sees how he grows up and how he learns to assert himself as a real person.

I don't want to give spoilers, but I think fans will appreciate Matt's new obstacles as the Baby Patron, as some call him. Readers get to experience new areas of the land of Opium that Nancy Farmer has created, and there are new secrets to be revealed.

Overall, I do think that The Lord of Opium is an entertaining read, but I also think that it's less of a character study and more plot-driven than The House of Scorpion. There are still moral quandaries and quagmires, but Matt doesn't seem to grow as a character as much as he tries to remain true to himself.

I recommend The Lord of Opium to readers who enjoy thought-provoking science fiction.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


It's summertime and the living is ... busy.

Between work, family obligations, and you know, life ... I'll be taking the summer off from the blog.

Expect me back sometime in August with more book reviews, writing tips, and library stuff.

Have a great summer!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rapture Practice Book Review

Title: Rapture Practice
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0316094658

400 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Aaron Hartzler is a good kid. He loves Jesus. He honors his mother and father. He doesn't go to movies or listen to rock music. He believes with all his heart that Jesus will return in the Second Coming and the faithful will fly up to heaven to meet Him in the Rapture.

And then Aaron becomes a teenager.

Rapture Practice is a memoir by Aaron Hartzler, the son of a preacher man, who learns that belief needs to come from yourself and not from your parents.

I get Aaron Hartzler. I grew up in a Catholic family that switched to evangelical Christian when I was 12. My parents weren't as strict as Aaron's. We went to movies. We owned a television. But we prayed in restaurants before eating our meals. There was a big family meeting when my parents wanted to throw out my comic book collection, but I eventually convinced them that comics told stories about good defeating evil (and thanks to my sister, Susan, for siding with me).

So I appreciated Aaron's story of growing up in a super-strict religious family who only wants the best for him. Who loves him and wants to him to go to heaven. And if he doesn't do exactly as they believe he should, he's disappointing them. And probably going to hell.

The beliefs that Aaron has a child are tested as he becomes a teenager, and he sneaks to the movies and keeps a secret collection of forbidden music (such as Amy Grant and Wilson Phillips). He keeps pushing the boundaries further and starts drinking and making out with girls. Eventually, he's found out, but it's part of his journey of learning who he is and what he really believes.

Aaron shares his story with humor and love. He doesn't mock his Christian family and friends. He has respect for who they are, even if he may no longer believe everything that they do.

I highly recommend Rapture Practice to readers who are questioning, both their faith and their sexuality. Aaron is gay, although his coming out story is not included in this book. I suspect a second book will cover that. But in Rapture Practice, he is certainly thinking about sexual expectations and what they mean to him.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Reader's Corner - May 2013 Update

"I better start hoarding peanut butter."
And so summer begins!

Again, I haven't had much time to do much reading, but I have started Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, and that has been so much fun.

On the audiobook side, I listened to The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. It's a fantastic audiobook and a good, creepy story about a girl who's the daughter of a psychic and a group of boys at a private school who are looking for the tomb of an ancient king. And it's one of the Sync audiobooks this summer, so you can listen to it for free!

The other audiobook I listened to was The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It's an end-of-the-world story where the end isn't a bang, but a whimper. The year Julia turns 12, the Earth starts slowing on its axis. The days and nights become longer. Birds die off. Crops fail. Suicide cults form. But the story centers on Julia's perspective as a girl on the brink of adolescence, living in a suburb in California, and how The Slowing affects her world. The best friend who leaves her. The cute boy who finally talks to her. The parents who show more panic and frailty than they mean to.

It's a quiet story, not a disaster of blockbuster proportions, but I liked Julia and her thoughtful, poignant voice.

The Age of Miracles book trailer:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Free YA Audiobooks All Summer Long!

I mentioned Sync in a previous blog post, but it's been a while and it certainly bears repeating. Especially this year, because Sync is offering an amazing collection of audiobooks. For free.

Sync gives people a chance to experience audiobooks and pairs classic literature with a current YA release. A new pair is released once a week throughout summer.

Just sign up and you can be downloading free audiobooks all summer long. Sync will even send you a text or email reminder when the new audiobooks are available. How easy is that? (And did I mention it is FREE!?!)

The first pair --  Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, read by Rebecca Gibel and The Tempest by William Shakespeare, read by a Full Cast -- releases on May 30, 2013 and will available for download through June 5, 2013.

You can see the full schedule of Sync audiobooks here.

Happy listening!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What to Name Your Characters

I've always loved names. I used to read the phone book and make lists of names I liked. Sometimes it was the combination of sounds, sometimes it was image that it provoked, sometimes it was just goofy.

I'd combine names and make up names, sci-fi sounding names like Hysy Sigee and silly names like Constance Prattle.

I bought a baby name book and used that to name characters, but then I discovered the Social Security Administration's list of baby names. It is nirvana for name nerds like me, especially if your novel takes place in the United States.

The SSA released the data for 2012 this week and while the big news is usually the most popular names (Jacob and Sophia), there is a cornucopia of name goodness throughout the website.

First of all, the database goes back to 1880, when the most popular names were John and Mary. And you can find the most popular names up to the 1,000th (Layton and Eula in 1880; Dangelo and Katalina in 2012).

You can also find the most popular names by decade. I write contemporary YA, so my characters would have born in the 1990's. I can see that Michael and Jessica were the most popular names during the era of grunge.

If you want to get specific by geography, you can also check most popular name by state, up to the 100th(ish) most popular. Say I have a character born in Alabama in 1997. The most popular names were William and Hannah. Colby and Sabrina were 100th. Nationally, William was 19th for that year and Hannah was at 5th. Colby was at 229th and Sabrina 53rd.

If those kid were born in Texas instead, the most popular were Jose and Ashley. The 100th were Joel and Angela. Nationally, Jose was 32nd and Ashley was 3rd. Joel was 126th and Angela was 93rd.

Of course, there are other things to consider when naming a character. Such as the sound, the meaning, the connotations of a name. But if you're writing historical or contemporary fiction, then the Social Security baby name database is an incredible source of information to help you make the best naming choice.

And if you're looking for a last name, you might want to check out the genealogy data from the U.S. Census. It has data of the most common surnames from the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Reader's Corner - April 2013 Update

"The Diviners is the cat's meow!"
So April was not the cruelest month. It was one of those months that zipped on by in a whirl of collection development and library programming.

While I got very little reading done, I did get a chance to listen to some wonderful audiobooks. (I have a feeling I should change this monthly post from Reader's Corner to Listener's Corner.) 

First of all, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is absolutely magical. There's a love story and a coming-of-age story, but really, it's about a place so special that everyone who reads the book wishes they could go to the Night Circus while wearing a red scarf to meet other people who know how special it is. The Circus itself is a character, the most important character of all, built from love and pining and loss.

The other audiobook I listened to was The Diviners by Libba Bray. Evie O'Neill is a flapper in 1920's New York who has the ability to "read" objects and see the past. She lives with her Uncle Will, who runs an occult museum, and together they investigate a series a horrific murders. 

But The Diviners isn't just about Evie. It's a huge, sprawling novel that introduces many characters who also have special gifts. This is the first in a series, so most of these characters are incidental to the main plot but you know they'll have their own storylines in future volumes.

Even though there's a lot going on in the novel, it doesn't seem bloated with unnecessary detail or story threads. In fact, the historical details are entertaining, as well as thorough, and really bring 1920's New York to life.

Also, The Diviners is as scary as hell. 

The Diviners book trailer:


Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Joy of NetGalley

I've been a member of NetGalley for a few years now, and it still surprises me that more people don't know about it.

NetGalley is a website where librarians, teachers, bloggers, book reviewers -- basically anyone who reads and shares those books with other readers -- can get free downloadable advanced reader copies.

This is a valuable tool, especially for librarians, for several reasons. First, it's a great help as a selection tool, so you know what's coming out and how good of a read it is. Second, print ARC's can be a pain in the ass. Yes, it's awesome to get them in the mail directly from the publisher. But you can't put them in the collection afterwards and you can't have the Friends of the Library sell them. I give them away to the kids in the Teen Zone, which is cool, but sometimes the ARC can differ significantly from the final work, and that kid may never pick up the final copy.

So NetGalley fits a much needed niche. By having the ebook available for a limited time (usually 60 days), I can read an advanced reading copy and then have it go *poof* from my ereader after that. I think it's a lot more earth-friendly than printing a bunch of ARC's.

If you're a librarian, it's super-easy to sign up and get approved. Just make sure to include that you're a librarian in your bio, and if you're a ALA member, include your membership number and you're pretty much automatically approved.

If you're a blogger, it may be a little harder to get approved, but it's certainly worth it to try. If you're not a blogger, but have thinking about starting a blog to review books, maybe this will motivate you to start one!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Don't Expect Magic Book Review

Title: Don't Expect Magic
Author: Kathy McCullough
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 8, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0385740128

256 pp.

Reading copy via author

Kathy McCullough, author of Don't Expect Magic, donated the paperback copy of this book to the public library where I work. My supervisor gave it to me to read to evaluate whether or not we should include it in our YA collection, since we already have the hardcover edition our JTeen collection. The difference between our YA and JTeen collections is, generally speaking, the difference between high school and middle school. Although there is some overlap, anything with "racier" content is in YA. John Green is in YA. Ellen Hopkins is in YA. You get the picture.

Don't Expect Magic is a "clean" read, no bad words, no sex. But I think it has YA appeal, so I'm going to recommend that it be included in the YA collection. Delany Collins is the protagonist of Don't Expect Magic, a high school student who's suddenly transported from New Jersey to too-sunny, too-perfect southern California after her mother dies. Her dad is Dr. Hank, a self-help guru who she's never really spent much time with, and neither one has any idea how to act around the other.

Then Delaney finds out that Dr. Hank is more than just a self-help guru. He is wand-carrying, wish-granting fairy godfather. And Delaney. Can't. Even.

Dr. Hank is convinced that Delaney couldn't possibly have inherited the f.g. gene, but Delaney does. Now all she has to do is grant her first big wish and earn her wand.

Delaney's a fun character, with lots of attitude and snarky humor. There's even a budding romance. Don't Expect Magic a quick read and I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer or Anya's Ghost by Vera Bosgol.

Don't Expect Magic Book Trailer:

[DISCLAIMER: Kathy McCullough is a friend of a friend of mine. I've never met her, but I hope to someday because she seems pretty cool.]

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reader's Corner - March 2013 Update

"I don't think Elphaba's that bad."
Another crazy busy month is almost over. But I did manage to get some reading in.

I finished reading Scarlet by Marissa Meyer and now I'm almost done reading Don't Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough (review forthcoming).

In audibooks, I listened to the delightful (and incredibly short) I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

I also listened to Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I haven't seen the musical, but I know a few of the songs and have a rough idea of what it's about. The book is substantially different from what I thought I knew. The novel's world-building is phenomenal and its characters are rich and complex. Elphaba grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West, but "wicked" is a dubious term. The novel starts shortly before her birth and continues to her inevitable death. Elphaba is outcast from the moment she's born because of her green skin. But when she makes the wrong choices, does it prove that she's wicked or merely human?

Maguire was clearly influenced by both the original L. Frank Baum book and the 1939 movie of The Wizard of Oz, and yet clearly makes Wicked his own.

Bonus Video: Gregory Maguire discusses the origins of Wicked:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Return of the Random Cat Videos

Pablo the Cat
I can no longer put it off.

This weekend I have to sort through my papers and organize my tax information.

But if you can put it off a little longer, here are some random cat videos to help you procrastinate.

(And that good-looking cat in the picture is Pablo, who gets his fluffy coat and big paws from some Maine Coon ancestor.)

First up is Henri, the French Existentialist Cat. There are a whole series of Henri videos now, including an endorsement deal he got with Friskies. But the first is still the best.

Henri the French Existentialist Cat:

If you think teaching your cat how to walk on a leash is hard, you might have better luck teaching them how to walk their human.

How to Walk Your Human:

Finally, this video was so funny that the tears of laughter blinded me and I had to watch it again. And again.

Scientific Proof that Cats are Better Than Dogs:


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Scarlet Book Review

Title: Scarlet
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0312642969

464 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Marissa Meyer fans will not be disappointed in Scarlet, Book 2 in The Lunar Chronicles. It has all the heart-pounding action, humor, and touches of romance that Cinder has.

Scarlet centers on Scarlet, the granddaughter of Michelle Benoit, a former pilot who once made a diplomatic mission to Luna. When Michelle disappears under mysterious circumstances, Scarlet goes on the hunt for her and teams up with Wolf, a street fighter who is more than he seems to be.

Meanwhile, Cinder is a fugitive and trying to figure out what to do next. While she's on the lam she meets Captain Carswell Thorne, an American Federation pilot who may be more trouble to her than he's worth.

Eventually, Cinder and Scarlet meet up at the best/worst possible time and the stage is set for Book 3.

Scarlet is a rollicking good read with lots of action and some swoony bits between Scarlet and Wolf. It's a little too insta-love for me, but readers who like brooding love scenes will eat it up.

All-in-all, a good read for science-fiction fans and fans of fairy tale retellings. I'd recommend to readers who enjoyed Across the Universe by Beth Revis or Entwined by Heather Dixon.

Scarlet Book Trailer:

Scarlet Audiobook Excerpt: 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Reader's Corner - February 2013 Update

"Patrick Stewart should play the Major."
I'm starting to get slammed at work with planning summer reading and other programming, so I haven't been able to read as much as I'd like.

I am almost done with Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, Book 2 in The Lunar Chronicles. It's been a lot of fun so far and a review will be forthcoming.

In audiobooks, I took a break from YA books last month. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson has been on my TBR pile for awhile, so I decided to listen to it instead.

What a charming story! It hits every Anglophile button for me. There's wit and social satire and quaint village life and romance. In this case, the romance is between sixty-something Major Pettigrew and his Pakistani neighbor, Mrs. Ali, who runs the village shop. Both are widowed and what starts out as a friendship turns into something more.

Of course there are obstacles, most notably Mrs. Ali's nephew and Major Pettigrew's country club friends. But I don't think it's too spoilery to say that a few set-backs, including a near riot at a dance, a runaway bride, and a shooting, doesn't keep the Major down.

Bonus video: Helen Simonson talks about Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Altered Book Review

Title: Altered
Author: Jennifer Rush
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 1, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0316197083

336 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Altered by Jennifer Rush is a real thrill ride of a novel. Lots of action, lots of twists and turns.

The story centers on Anna, who lives in an old farmhouse with her father. Downstairs is a secret lab where four young men are kept in high-security cells for tests and observation. Anna long ago figured out that her dad works for the Branch and that the four men are genetically altered super-soldiers. She befriends the guys, smart-ass Cas, studious Trev, angry Nick, and the leader of the group, Sam.

On the day that the Branch comes to collect their test subjects, Anna is caught in the mayhem that occurs when the guys make their escape. Soon she's on the run with them as they follow clues that they hope will tell them who they really are. The clues also lead Anna to question everything she thought was true about her life.

Altered is well-paced, with just the right mix of high energy action sequences and quiet moments. There's also more than a dash of romance between Anna and Cute Boy Sam, which ups the stakes.

Overall, Altered is a quick, fun read that I would recommend to readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Angelfire by Carolyn Allison Moulton.

Listen to the first chapter of the Altered audiobook:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Safekeeping Book Review

Title: Safekeeping
Author: Karen Hesse
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1250011343

304 pp.

ARC provided via publisher

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse is a bit of an odd duck. It's a quiet book, an interior journey as much as it is a physical one.

It's the story of Radley, a young woman who was volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti when America implodes in civil unrest. She rushes home to Vermont, or at least tries to, but finds that new security measures means she own her own, on foot, trying not to be noticed by police.

When she gets home, her parents have disappeared. She decides to hoof it to Canada, where many Americans are seeking asylum. Along the way she meets a girl with a dog and a secret.

The book is interspersed with black and white photographs that Radley's mother supposedly took. They are stark, lonely photos of found objects and isolated landscapes.

The story is really Radley's journey as a pampered, protected girl who first learns in Haiti what hunger and sorrow is. But there she was merely an observer. Back in America, she learns first-hand what it means to survive and what it means to be truly alone.

The blurb on the book may make it sound like a dystopia, but anyone expecting the heart-pounding action of the The Hunger Games or the fight the power resistance of Delirium will be disappointed. Safekeeping is not a dystopia. It is a long trek of being left with your thoughts when you're walking in the rain and you have miles to go.

I think the book is more of an experiment rather than a cohesive narrative. The photographs added nothing to the story for me. There is a character that's introduced near the end that's too deus ex machina and whose actions (or lack of action) make no sense.

But I admire Karen Hesse for trying something different, even though it wasn't entirely successful for me. I'd recommend Safekeeping to die-hard Karen Hesse fans.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reader's Corner - January 2013 Update

"Wasn't this supposed to be a 3-hour tour?"
I hope 2013 is treating you well so far!

I'm still behind on some book reviews, but I hope to catch up on those later this month.

The most recent book I've added to my to-be-reviewed pile is Altered by Jennifer Rush. Also on the to-be-reviewed pile is Safekeeping by Karen Hesse.

I've barely cracked open the first few chapters of Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, but lots of fun packed into those beginning pages.

Lately, I've had some trouble with audiobooks (the downside to borrowing them from the library is that you can get a couple of discs in and then get a disc that WILL NOT PLAY). *sigh*

But I did get to listen to the complete audiobook of Nation by Terry Pratchett. Librarian confession: I've never actually read a Terry Pratchett novel before. Love Doug Adams and Neil Gaiman, but Terry Pratchett has escaped me.

So happy I finally got a chance to experience Terry Pratchett with Nation. It's a Printz Honor book and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it. Mau is on his way to become a man when his village is wiped out in a tsunami. Ermintrude (aka Daphne) is a Victorian young lady on her way to meet her governor father when the tsunami strands her on Mau's island.

Nation is filled with big ideas about race and class and religion and nature and gender and science and a few other things, but populated with compelling, real characters that I became fully invested in. The novel ends unconventionally, but honestly, and I may have teared up a little.

Bonus video: Terry Pratchett discusses Nation

Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love and Other Perishable Items Book Review

Title: Love and Other Perishable Items
Author: Laura Buzo
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0375870002

256 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

This novel was originally published in Australia under the title Good Oil, which makes sense once you read the book. The American title makes it sound a little chick-lit, but the book is much smarter and funnier than that.

Fifteen-year-old Amelia takes a part-time job as a cashier at her local supermarket. When cute boy Chris trains her, Amelia falls hard for him. She realizes that charming, funny, smart, and occasionally brooding Chris is twenty-one, and therefore out of her league. But she cannot stop thinking about him. Or talking about him. Or making a fool of herself over him.

Meanwhile, Chris is pining for a girl who broke his heart, watching his friends become more successful than him, and wondering what the hell to do with his life.

The book is written from both Amelia's  and Chris's POV, which reinterprets their relationship from different advantage (and disadvantage) points. It's a very talky book as Chris and Amelia discuss literature, feminism, and what makes them angry. Chris, who originally treats Amelia as a bit of an Eliza Doolittle, finally realizes that Amelia has her own opinions that can teach him a thing or two.

Love and Other Perishable Items is achingly honest in how much a crush can feel like love and how much love can hurt. Chris and Amelia are two characters who should belong together, but shouldn't. You root for them, even though you know that they know how impossible it is. The resolution of their story was oddly satisfying, hopeful but not definite.

I would recommend Love and Other Perishable Items to readers who enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines by John Green or The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tune Book 1: Vanishing Point Book Review

Title: Tune Book 1: Vanishing Point
Author: Derek Kirk Kim
Publisher: FirstSecond
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1596435162

160 pp.

ARC via Netgalley

Another graphic novel book review for graphic novel fans! Derek Kirk Kim's Tune is a webcomic about Andy Go, an art school drop-out whose life gets considerably worse and wacky after he meets a couple of aliens. Tune Book 1: Vanishing Point is the print version of the first ten chapters of Andy's adventure.

Chances are you know at least one person who is like Andy, a pop culture geek who thinks he's talented enough to drop out of school and become successful overnight.

When that doesn't happen, Andy is pressured to find a job, any job, by his parents. Having realized that he is qualified for absolutely nothing, Andy decides to apply for a job at a zoo. Except he doesn't know that this zoo is in another dimension and he's the exhibit.

And, oh yeah, he finds his long-time crush Yumi's diary and discovers that she loves him. But now he's stuck as the main attraction at an alien zoo.

Tune is an absolutely fun read, although I would recommend it to older teens and adults. Derek Kirk Kim has a cool manga style that brings plenty of humor to the black and white illustrations. Book 1 sets up Andy's world and explains how he comes to be a zoo exhibit. Book 2 of Tune comes out in print later this year, but you can read it now online.

If you want a Book 3, check out this video from Derek.

Bonus Video: Derek Kirk Kim explains the situation about Book 3

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cardboard Book Review

Title: Cardboard
Author: Doug TenNapel
Publisher: Graphix
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0545418737

288 pp.

Reading copy via local library

Ever since I heard Doug TenNapel speak about Cardboard at the ALA conference last summer, I've been dying to read this graphic novel.

I ordered it for the library and devoured it as soon as I could (yeah, I'm a little behind on my book reviews). Cardboard  begins with a down-out-and-out dad who doesn't have the money to buy his son, Cam, a birthday present. Cam's mom has recently passed away, and dad feels like a total failure.

When the dad comes across a mysterious street vendor willing to sell him -- for the last bits of change in his pocket -- a magical cardboard box, the dad is skeptical. But the dad is good with his hands and figures he and Cam can make something cool out of it.

Yes, the cardboard box is magical. Yes, they do make something cool out of it. Yes, it does go all horribly wrong.

This is a great graphic novel for kids and parents. What's unusual is that the main POV is the dad, rather than Cam. There's also a bully-next-door who has a major character arc. Cam is a supporting character for both the dad and the bully rather the main focus, but the different character arcs dovetail together to make a compelling, cohesive story.

With beautiful, full-color artwork, all the characters are distinct and the world-building is inventive.

I highly recommend Cardboard to all graphic novel readers, young or old.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Looking Ahead to 2013

Welcome to 2013, everyone!

Another year is upon us, which means fresh starts and big plans.

The big thing for me this year is that the screenplay I wrote last year is going into production later this month!

It's been a rollercoaster getting it to this point, but so worth it. First, major thanks to Kelli Bennett, my producer extraordinaire. She approached me with a crazy idea to make a microbudget film and I said, why not? I've always wanted to write a script that was nonlinear and from multiple points of view and I thought such a script would be perfect for an independent feature. Kelli kept challenging me to make it clearer, make it meaningful, make it better.

There are still challenges to come, distribution being the big one, and I'll keep you posted throughout the year.

On the fiction front, I just got back a critique from agent Mary Kole, via one of the Writer's Digest seminars. I was pleased with what Ms. Kole had to say, and after I revise via her suggestions, I think it's time to send my baby out into the world. Keep posted on that, too.

Professionally, it's never too early to start planning Summer Reading Club for the library. This year the theme is Beneath the Surface. I'm already scouring Pinterest for craft ideas. I'll share some of my favorites with you in the coming months.

May 2013 be full of sunshine for you!


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