ATTENTION

This blog is no longer used. If you would like to continue reading/seeing my blog, please visit:

www.dancingthroughya.wordpress.com


Monday, April 9, 2012

New Beginnings

As of today, I have decided to move this blog from Blogger to Wordpress. If you do not know what Wordpress is, it is another blogging site that is a bit easier to use and allows you to have complete control.

I decided to move because I wanted to do some things with my blog that Blogger wasn't allowing me to and I also wanted to have an easier way to blog. Also I had some concerns, as Google can delete or remove any blog on Blogger if they want to and I didn't want that to happen.


This is the really important thing -- even with all of the changes below, the rest of Past The Ink will be up. I transferred all the pages and posts to Wordpress so you can still go through and read the archives. 


AND this blog is staying up. I'm not deleting it. It will stay here but there will be NO new posts. All new posts will be on Wordpress. 


Okay, next, on Wordpress this blog will have some changes.



  • A New Name: Dancing Through YA. I feel like that name suits my blog better. There is an explanation on the new site as well.
  • A New Domain Name: If you want to access the site now, you must go to:
http://dancingthroughya.wordpress.com

  •  New Features -- these will be coming to the blog soon and some have already been updated.
Now, how do you access the blog? On Blogger there is a handy "Google Friend Connect" button. The button looks like this:



That is not what the button on this blog looks like--there are fewer subscribers-- but you get the gist of GFC. Okay, Google Friend Connect is no longer available on non-Blogger (this means Wordpress, too) blogs.

And so how do you subscribe to the new blog? First, go to the site.

http://dancingthroughya.wordpress.com

Look on the right sidebar. Right at the top is a box called META.


This is also not an exact same image. Here though, you can see the RSS button. Underneath that META box is an RSS box. There is a little orange square in the corner of the RSS box. Click that and it will take you to a screen where you can subscribe in a blog reader (Google, Yahoo, whatever floats your boat).

However, under the RSS box is this:

On the new blog the thing at the top says something else, but it's the same idea. In that little box you can type in your email address. Then, every time there is a new post on the blog, you get an email. You don't even have to go to the site to see the post -- the ENTIRE post shows up in your email.

Handy, right?

So, either:

  • Subscribe via RSS (look for the box called RSS with a little orange thing beside it)
  • Subscribe via email (type your email in the box)
Thanks!

See you there.

http://dancingthroughya.wordpress.com

reader's letters

This is simply a fun thing that I thought of: writing letters to characters from books. I want to note that I am NOT the first to do this; there are features at several great blogs like Wear the Old Coat that feature these letters often, and if you're interested in these readers' letters check out those blogs. Instead I am going to do one long post -- this won't be turning into a series/feature/meme -- and write to some of my favorite characters. There are two parts -- sent mail (the letters I compose to the characters) and received mail (the mail that I receive from characters). 


Paige's Sent Mail

Dear Anne,
Honestly. Get with the program. TELL GILBERT YOU LOVE HIM AND DON'T WAIT UNTIL HE'S ALMOST DEAD. DEAD GILBERT IS BAD. ALIVE GILBERT IS GOOD. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? This has aggravated me for years.

xoxoxo
Paige



Friday, April 6, 2012

on budgets, and libraries, and maybe being a little spoiled

Today I am going to talk about -- wait for it -- library budgets.

Now, I have no personal experience dealing with library budgets. I have never had to manage a library budget or find funds for the library, though I have talked to many people (including my favorite librarians) about them. So up front I would like to put a warning: I may be wrong. I may mess up my facts. But if you are knowledgeable on this subject, please just let me know what I did wrong (via comments or email) and I will correct the error.

Now, onto the subject of library budgets.

In this more modern era, libraries are being regarded a little differently. They're still used, and used widely, but at the same time they seem to be considered "old" in the public culture and the amount of patrons they have is smaller than in past years. (This is a complete wide stroke; I know that there are some libraries that have more patrons or the same amount -- I'm basing this on what I personally know and articles I've read). However, if there are fewer patrons, one of the things that gets cut? The budget.

A simple Google search of "library budget cut" has over 53 MILLION hits. The Yahoo search with the same key words gives me 64 MILLION hits. This is a problem, and there are many saddening stories that go along with it. (Search "library budget cut" yourself and read some of the articles.)

Before I move on to more info on the budgets, I'll share my own personal story. I attended a large library, a huge one, for many years. It was one of the largest libraries in our county, had thousands of people attend it a year, and had a huge book collection. The stacks were constantly being updated and were filled with hundreds of new books a year.

This is a picture of what the library looked like from the outside. It looks small in this picture but it is quite large.



I loved that library. It was big and huge and fun, and I read tons of great middle grade literature (I was mainly reading MG at the time) and I loved seeing the new books. The library was always interesting and had something new to offer. The new book shelf was always huge, the shelves were always updated with the newest titles, I could look a book up in the catalog and check it out immediatly. It seemed like they had EVERY book ever (this is an exaggeration of course, but they did have quite a few)

And I started to get maybe a little spoiled. I mean this that I expected every library to be like this, huge and full of new books.

Then I moved three hours away, to a much smaller town. My town has a library. But it's small. Here's the teen section:



This is not the entire teen section. There is more to it. But the shelf you see in the picture on the left, with those nonfiction titles? The teen section is made up of those shelves -- thick brown shelves with books on both sides. There are three of those double-sided shelves.

And there aren't many new books in the collection. The pictures don't show it, but there is a spinning rack of new titles. Except when those new titles come in, they sit. They aren't replaced by newer titles. They sit for a month or two until someone finally puts them into the regular collection. Yes, this library is much smaller. This does not mean that it is bad or worse or better than the other library -- it's a good library, there's nice books and fantastic librarians.

And I like it just as much as the other one.

Now that I've told you about my libraries, onto the story. The first big library is part of a huge group of libraries in an especially large county, and as I mentioned, that library was one of the biggest in that county. I read an article last year talking about library budgets and one library mentioned was in fact, my old library. (This was in a professional journal, just to show you the prestige that surrounds this library). In the article, a woman was saying that she wasn't concerned about her budget, because the library had an $8 million dollar budget.

Yes, 8 million dollars. A year.

Now, back to the other library. I was talking to the teen librarian at this new library, Amy. Amy is the main teen librarian and the one who basically runs the teen section herself. She told me that she was starting to plan summer reading and that they had cut the budget for the program. Again. She had started to plan out a few events -- a writing workshop, a program on dreams and a program on the stars -- but now she was stuck. The money was nearly gone and there was hardly anything she could think of to do that didn't involve some kind of cost.

Yes, that's a huge difference.

I'm not saying that it's bad that one library received $8 million dollars a year -- they use it wisely and they serve a larger population.

But the truth is, and it's a very very real truth, is that some libraries have trouble and they have very small budgets and they just cannot afford much.

They can't buy new books or fund huge events or new technology. (The second library has a self-checkout but it barely works). Some libraries are in danger of closing because they don't receive enough patrons. The number of things that can happen go on and on -- the books and technology are outdated, people don't come, etc etc. It sounds vaguely like a zombie film.

But it's reality for some libraries, and it's becoming more and more of an issue.

And I am not suggesting that all libraries are in financial ruin -- there are some very successful libraries, like the $8 million dollar/huge one.

But it's an issue. Libraries are in danger of closing. People are in danger of losing their jobs, citizens are in danger of losing the materials they need.

And that scares me.

And I wish I could fix the problem. My librarian friend and I were thinking of some ways to solve the issue. Use old supplies from previous programs, make crafts and such that are cheap and inexpensive.

But fixing the problem will be hard. We can solve this problem at our library, but does that mean that thousands of other libraries will be out of financial ruin? No.

I'm glad to say that there are some people trying to help, that it's not completely hopeless for everyone. Check out Authors for libraries and the amazing youtube series our authors, our advocates. And those are simply two programs that deal with authors helping. There are tons of others helping, teachers and librarians and students. You may have seen this video, too. So there are people trying to help. It's a problem and one that will not be fixed easily.

But it can be fixed.
We can try.

We started to think of some solutions at our library; we can all think of solutions somehow.

We can fight to keep our libraries.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review Quotes

I've been thinking on this particular topic lately, as I read through my Google Reader and sift through the many amazing posts and examine the writing styles of all these great bloggers.

Sometimes, in reviews, people will add in quotes. Now, these quotes are usually directly from the book and (usually, not always) writer uses them to prove some sort of point -- here's why the writing was bad/good, here's why this theme was explored, etc.

Here's an example of a quote (this "quote" is completely made up):

And I found Gerald's constant whining annoying. It detracted me from the story and made me dislike him, which impacted my reading as (of course) he is the main character. He whines often, and far too much, and complains in the most troubling of situations for what seems to be no reason:
"Gerald!" Melanie screamed. "Get up!""It's too hot," he said.She rolled her eyes. "GET UP."He didn't. He matched her eye roll and said, "Get me some water." Gerald snorted and walked away.Melanie grunted, trying not to scream (53)
The quotes can be formatted any way the blogger likes, and usually a page number is affixed to the quote to show that, yes, this was actually in the text.

Not every blogger does this. Some simply don't use them, or only use them when they feel the need to prove a point (like complaining about Gerald above) and some use them all the time.

These quotes can show a lot of things, like the writing, the characters, and more, if the excerpt is chosen carefully.

But does it help? Does it change your mind if you wanted to read the book on Gerald so, so badly, and then you read this quotation? Does it change your mind if you find the writing sloppy or the characters poor or any other thing that the blogger comments on? Does it change your opinion on the book?

Or are review quotes simply there, enhancing the review but never doing much to change your mind?

For me, I'm not sure. I think it depends on the content being discussed -- like if there were obvious instances of slut-shaming, I would be against reading the book, or if it showed that there was a topic I disliked (romance, moralizing) I would remove the book from my TBR.

In the end, however, it's up to every blogger, every reviewer, if they want to add quotes sometimes, all the time, never, whenever they feel is best. Everyone has their own reviewing style.

How about you? Does this impact your reading experience in any way?



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cyblis Awards

So last week I discussed the ALA Awards and what they are, how they are organized, and the criteria for the awards. I'm going to touch on this same subject again, this time with a much smaller but still very interesting award for bloggers, the Cyblis Awards.


The Cybils awards are given out every year by children and young adult bloggers for "the year's best children and young adult awards". The award is structured into two rounds and is run completely by bloggers.

The award has been given out annually since 2006 and is run by Anne Levy, the administrator of the awards.

The purpose of the award, according to the official website is, this: "to reward the children's and young adult authors (and illustrators, let's not forget them) whose books contain the highest literary merits and "kid appeal" and to "foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children's and young adult literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obssessed". So essentially this: to reward authors for their books and to foster a community of bloggers. 



The award is a bit different from the ALA Awards and is open to more categories; in that "children's and young adult" guideline there are many categories. 

The categories are the following:

  • Book Apps (this is a new category introduced in 2011)
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Nonfiction Picture Books
  • Easy Readers
  • Early Chapter Books
  • Poetry
  • Graphic Novels
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Young Adult Nonfiction
  • Young Adult Graphic Novels
  • Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Young Adult Fiction
You can view a list of the 2011 winners in all these categories here.

Now, as you can see, the award is very vast and has many different categories. The categories are all judged by two groups in two rounds: the round 1 panelists and the judges (the ones who get to decide the winners).

Anyone who contributes regularly to a blog about children's and young adult literature can participate ( they must be at least 16 and if they are under 18 their parents must sign a waiver). Regularly, according to the site, means that you contribute to the blog "pretty much  at least once a month or so, though there are always exceptions". To sign up, you fill out a form every year. Not everyone is chosen, however, and the judges are combed from the many people who enter. The judges are broken into two groups, the 1st round panelists and the final judges. There are 1st round panelists and final judges for each category. 

The criteria for judges is thus follows:
  • a demonstrated expertise in the genre
  • a demonstrated enthusiasm for blogging
  • a blog that has built a following (not necessarily a huge following -- loyalty counts)
  • the blogger's prestige

People can nominate books for the Cybils starting October 1st. After October 15th the first round judges begin their work. Their role is to "sift through scores of nominated books in your genre". They work for about a month, reading frantically and working hard, and then turn in a shortlist of 5-7 titles in the middle of December. 

Judges start at the beginning of January and announce the winners by February 12, reading all the titles on the shortlist and determining the final winner. 

And of course, it is a LOT of work.

If you want to read actual posts on the work in the Cybils, here are some posts from STACKED (a blog that has participated in the award for the last three years on different topics pertaining to the award): post cybils lifefrom the trencheswhy the awards matter, and life on the panel.

If you're interested in learning more about the Cybils, such as how to nominate titles, see past winners,  or nominate yourself to be a judge (good luck!) visit the Cybils website. 



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Croak by Gina Damico

Sixteeen-year-old Lex Bartelby has sucker-punched her last classmate. Fed up with her punkish, wild behavior, her parents send her to live with her uncle Mort, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her into shape.But Uncle Mort's true occupation is much dirtier than that of shoveling manure.
He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach her the family business.
Lex quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated entirely by reapers who deliver souls from this world into the next. Along with her infuriating yet intriguing partner Driggs and a rockstar crew of fellow Grim apprentices, Lex is soon zapping her Targets like a natural born Killer.
Yet her innate ability morphs into an unchecked desire for justice -- or is it vengeance -- whenever she's forced to Kill a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. So when people start to die -- that is, people who aren't supposed to be dying -- Lex's curiosity is piqued. Her obsession grows as the bodies pile up, and a troubling question begins to swirl through her mind: if she succeeds in tracking down the murderer, will she stop the carnage -- or will she ditch Croak and join in? 

This is just a fun book.

It's fun, and funny, and fast-paced and just all around fun to read. I had some issues with it but it was just a fun, easy, relaxing read that I needed -- and it made me laugh aloud a few times, too.

Lex is a wild girl, constantly assaulting and harming people at her school, her parents, and her principal. Every time they give her one more chance, one "last chance", she blows it. Fed up with her, her parents send her away to live with her uncle Mort, who supposedly owns a farm. But he doesn't -- he's a Grim Reaper who lives in the faraway town of Croak. He teaches her the family business of Killing, and Lex becomes a natural. But soon people start to die, and everyone is in danger as they must solve the mystery. Lex is faced with a question -- will she join in? Or will she stand back?

I really loved Lex's character. She was strong and feisty and sarcastic but at the same time was very close to her sister. She didn't annoy me at the beginning, as some reviewers had said, and I liked seeing her personal change. I also liked the arc that Damico gave her, wondering about justice and rights and wrongs and how to understand what justice really was. It's a fascinating arc and I can't wait to see how Damico takes that arc to a new level in the next book.

The rest of the characters were great, too. Driggs was funny and "intriguing" as the blurb states, and the rest of the crazy wild crew of Croak made me laugh. Uncle Mort was also a strong character who put up with nothing and wanted to protect his niece but also let her free.

In regards to the plot, I guessed the murderer right away. And I was correct. But I didn't really care, honestly, because I was enjoying the rest of the book so much. I really did like the climax, though, because it brought Lex's arc -- what is justice -- to a strong, chilling point and really forced her to rethink her beliefs. I liked how the Reaper mythology was woven through, with tales of old legends and murders (even reapers have histories!). I was a bit confused from time to time on how Killing and scything and all that worked, as it was explained quickly and the reader was trusted to understand what happened. I like that sort of trust, and I'm glad that the author felt like she could trust her readers that much, but it still confused me.

The writing was nice, funny and sweet poking through the words. I didn't quite understand why the story was in third person, as we only really were in Lex's head and no other characters', but it worked for the story and Damico is a strong emerging writer.

I honestly really loved this: it was fun, sweet, and entertaining. While not perfect it was definitely a fun ride and I'll look for the next book in September (eek! don't have to wait a year! yay!).

Four stars.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

Antonia Lucia Labella has two secrets: at age fifteen she's still waiting for her first kiss, and she wants to be a saint. An official one. Seem strange? Well, to Antonia, saints are royalty, and she wants her chance at being a princess. All her life she's kept company with these kings and queens of small favors, knowing exactly whom to pray to on every occasion. Unfortunately, the two events Antonia's prayed for seem unlikely to happen. It's not for lack of trying. For how long has she been hoping to gain the attention of the love of her life -- the tall, dark, and so good looking Andy Rotellini? Too long to mention. And every month for the last eight years, Antonia has sent a petition to the Vatican proposing a new patron saint and bravely offering herself for the post. So what if she's not dead?
But as Antonia learns, in matters of the heart and sainthood, things are about as straightforward as wound-up linguini, and sometimes you need to recognize the signs. 

I think I enjoyed this book more than the first Donna Freitas book I read -- The Survival Kit -- but I still had some reservations.

This book is firmly built in Catholicism, saints, and Catholic and Italian culture. I am not Catholic or Italian, and at times it was hard for me to understand (for instance, when they elect the new pope. I don't know anything about how popes are chosen and that scene was confusing).

Antonia is a feisty, vibrant girl who was named after St. Anthony, and loves the saints. Every where she goes she prays to the saints, always knowing exactly which one to pray to. She keeps track of the saints in thick notebooks filled with mass cards and notes on the saints' powers -- ie, what to pray to them for -- and information on each saint. And every month, Antonia writes to the vatican suggesting a new saint. There's a saint for cooking? Why shouldn't there be a saint of fig trees or pasta? And every month, she suggests herself to be the new saint. Since she was eight, her biggest dream has been to be a saint. Her romantic life is just as tangled, as she decides between her crush Andy and her friend Michael.

This time, I think I enjoyed the plot more. Obviously the plot is a bit farfetched, but if someone wanted, they really could write to the Vatican and beg to become a saint. Freitas seemed to understand that her plot was farfetched as well. However, the plot was again predictable. I knew who Antonia would choose right away, as it was fairly obvious. And the ending of what happens to Antonia and her dreams of being a saint is also easy to figure out. But, I did like reading Antonia's letters to the Vatican. They were fresh and full of voice, and pretty darn hilarious. The plot was fun to read about, and I think that it would make a good "comfort read", but really the story was simply just predictable.

The reason I really enjoyed this book more than The Survival Kit was Antonia's voice. She was fresh and funny and sounded like a real (saint-crazed) teenager. She was funny, too, and her use of capitals when she became excited was funny rather than being gimmicky. I can understand how some reviewers thought that she was immature, and think that the letters were stupid, but I thought it was cute and didn't mind. The characters seemed a bit more developed here. We learned about Antonia, Michael, Andy, and Antonia's mother in greater depth. However, again some characters were not developed, like Antonia's friends (they again seemed to be pawns in the story) and Antonia's cousins (they seemed a bit too stereotypical).

So, yes, I did enjoy this book more. It would make a fun "comfort read" and it's pretty darn funny, not to mention having mouthwatering food in it. (Don't read this book before breakfast/lunch/dinner!) And above all, I found it to be more interesting than the first Donna Freitas that I read.

Three point five stars.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

A love made out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast ship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years into the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her reawakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone -- one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship -- tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of the list of murder suspects, there's only one that really matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could have never seen coming. 

In a nutshell, Across the Universe is a space opera. I'll quickly call upon dictionary.com to define the word.  It defines space opera is this: "a science fiction drama, such as a film or television programme, esp. one dealing with interplanetary flight". And to be truthful, if you remove the definition of "film or television programme" with "book" you have this story. Ut's a science fiction drama that deals with interplanetary flight.

Space operas seem to becoming more popular in YA now, with titles like Glow and the upcoming release Starglass. It will be interesting to see if they stay popular, but at the moment it seems that they are holding strong, with more sci-fi planetary titles coming out and more being sold.

But I digressed, so let me return to what I thought about the book.

Across the Universe is a strong action thriller for sure, and if you read it based simply on pure adrenaline it would be a fast and interesting read. The action scenes are quick and fast, they keep you interested and are well written. The action scenes may have been my favorite part of the book.

But the rest of the book....not so much.

I found the plot to be fairly predictable. The "real baddie" is easy to guess and his reveal is far from a surprise.  Who unplugged Amy is also easy to figure out. Revis attempts a bit of foreshadowing but most of it doesn't succeed and is too obvious. The "secrets" that form around the ship are easy to guess as well and many of them are tropes I've seem before (contaminated water, using forms of mind-control, etc). I found the plot to be pretty dragging and less of the science fiction epic that I had expected.

The characters....Hmm. I will say that my favorite character in this entire book dies, and if you've read the book it will be easy to guess which one. Amy and Elder seemed to be pretty decent characters. Elder's journey -- discovering that his mentor was not all that he expected and that his whole life is essentially a lie -- isn't that fresh but it's a good read. I preferred Amy's journey better, seeing as she coped and recovered in a new world, and I related to her more than Elder and really enjoyed how she reacted with being separated from her parents. I also didn't really like the romance (which isn't a shocker for me, but I really disliked the romance in this book). Elder seemed like he just suddenly started loving Amy and Amy seemed like she just started realizing he was around. I did like their relationship, however, and how they interacted around one another, even as they seemed more like friends than lovers.

And the truth is, the ending is pretty cheesy, and how the characters act (I'll just say there are some pretty soppy reminders to "stay together forever") seemed out of their characters.

Revis's writing is really just fine, easy enough to read but sometimes chunky and fragmented. She has a lot of room for improvement but I think in her next few novels her writing will become better (as the old saying says: "every book is better than the last").

I personally did not really enjoy this book, but if you are interested in science fiction, fantasy, space, romance, and the "space opera" it would be worth picking up. I will note that I am curious how this series continues and I will try and read the second book at some point. Essentially, this book wasn't for me but some people will like it.

Three stars.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

YALSA Awards

Most people have probably heard of the Newbery and Caldecott. These awards are given out each year in the middle of January (honoring the previous' years books) and celebrate the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". You can find more information about the Newbery here and more about the Caldecott here.

However, besides these two awards -- which may be the most well known -- there are plenty more distributed each year. The annual awards ceremony -- where all of the ALA awards are given -- lasts almost two hours.

Let's back up a second. ALA  or the American Library Association is a large organization that helps librarians and libraries, and the organization is the one that distributes the awards such as the Newbery and Caldecott. It's a very big group that many (I wouldn't say all, but it's a large number) of librarians are a part of. ALA is the main organization, but through the organization there are a great number of groups that specifically deal with a certain topic.

Now, back to the awards. There are many great awards that they give out each year. Awards for audiobooks and nonfiction and children's books and YA and distinguished authors and debut awards, every award you could possibly think of that somehow relates to books and literature.

Today I'm specifically going to talk about the YA awards. These awards are distributed by one of the groups of ALA, YALSA. YALSA stands for the Young Adult Library Services Association. You can view their website here.


YALSA distributes all of the YA-related awards. Most--not all--of the awards have one honor and three honor books (sort of like 2nd and 3rd place: you are still a winner and still acknowledged though you aren't 1st).  Some awards however, do not follow this scheme and instead honor 10 awards or more awards than the "average joe" award.  The awards are selected by committes. All members of the committees must be ALA/YALSA members and librarians. YALSA says that their awards are to honor the best literature for teens.  For each award I'm going to explain what each award is, exactly. For each award there will be a picture of the actual award given and a link to the award's site if you're interested in learning more. All statements in quotation marks are direct quotes from the YALSA site. The websites are a great resource and explain more about the award, such as when it was founded and it's criteria, as well as including lists of past winners of the award and winner's speeches.

Let's get started.

Alex Awards: The Alex awards are given to 10 books for adults that "have special appeal to teens ages 12-18".  These books can be of any genre, as long as the books were published in the previous year (example: 2011 books were honored in 2012). The award has been given annually since 1998. The award was originally given by a special project, the YALSA Adult Books for Young Adults that Margaret Alexander Edwards had sponsored. The award is named after Alexander Edwards, who was a "pioneer in young adult library services". She was called Alex by her friends, hence the award's title. YALSA says that the purpose of this award is to provide a list for young adult librarians to share with their teens and increase their teens' outlook on adult titles. The award is now sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust.

Margaret A. Edwards Awards: The Margaret A. Edwards Award honors "an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contributions to young adult literature". This award, instead of simply focusing on one of the author's titles, honors their entire body of work and all of the achievements that they have done over the course of their career. This award is again named after Margaret A. Edwards, whom the Alex awards are also named for. The Edwards awards have been established since 1988. The purpose of this award is to "honor an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and the world". Many of the authors honored with this award are very famous, or at least very well known -- just a scan down the list proves that. What do S. E Hinton, Judy Blume, and Madeline L'Engle have in common? They all won Edwards Awards. This award is sponsored by School Library Journal. 


William C. Morris YA Debut Awards: This award honors "a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens". This award focuses only on debut books. Debut books are books written by authors who have never published a book before; their debut title is their first book. This award is one of the more recent awards (the Alex, Printz, Morris, Nonfiction, and Odyssey awards are the five  most recent) -- it was formed in 2009. The award is named for William "Bill" C. Morris, an "influential innovator" and who left an "impressive mark on the field of children and young adult literature". The books in the award are based on: compelling, high quality writing; the integrity of the work as a whole; and it's proven or potential appeal to a wide range of readers. This award is the only one to have "potential or proven appeal" (ie, teens will be interested in reading the book) in its guidelines, and the award criteria is a bit more open, though the award is limited to debut titles.

Nonfiction Awards: This is the only YALSA award that focuses specifically on nonfiction. While some of the other awards may have nonfiction titles (and this is specifically mentioned in most award criteria) this award was specifically designated to honor "the best nonfiction book published for young adults ages 12-18". This award also gives a specific amount of time for the books published: November 1- October 31 of each year. (This is different than most of the other titles, which only require that they be published in the preceding year.) The award's purpose is to recognize the best in the field of nonfiction for teens and help give recognition to the genre. Interestingly enough, the award also states that it's purpose is to show YALSA as a strong leader in nonfiction. Hmm. This award is very recent, having started in 2010.

Odyssey Awards: Like the Nonfiction award, this award specifically focuses in on a genre: audiobooks. The awards honor "the producer (not the author or the person who reads the audiobook) of the best audiobook for children and/or young adults, published in English in the United States". This award is different because it opens the playing field to children's audiobooks as well. It also removes any audiobook not read in English (for example, an audiobook read in Spanish) from the award. The award is based on the following criteria: literary merit and the quality of the audiobook (narration, sound quality, background etc). This award has existed since 2008.




Okay, I have one more award to talk about. The Printz Award. The Printz is a bit like the Newbery award mentioned at the beginning of the post -- the Newbery for young adult literature. Both the Newbery and Printz awards both have very similar goals. This award is the one that is probably the most well known out of all of the awards, and one of the most recent.

Printz Awards: This award honors a book that "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature". The criteria for the award is literary merits such as story, voice, style, setting, theme, accuracy, characters, illustrations and design (how the book is organized). This award is probably the YALSA award that is grounded the most in literary merits and quality. The purpose of this award is to bring quality literature to young adults and showcase the best fiction for young adults. The Printz Award is named for Michael L. Printz, a school librarian who was very active in YALSA and a longtime member of the organization. The award has existed since 2000 and is now considered the most well-known YALSA award. Anyone can nominate a title for this award.


These may be YALSA's most well known awards, and they are the ones cited as awards on YALSA's awards page but they are not the only awards and booklists that YALSA creates. There are many more smaller awards and many booklists, such as Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA), Fabulous Films for Young Adults, Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and many more.

If you have any questions on these awards, comment below. If you are interested in searching and learning more about the awards you can view more information in the links for each award (click on the bold font titles  of each award) or you can view them on the awards page.

Hope that you learned something about YALSA awards :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ohmygod, or why i love melina marchetta

Melina Marchetta is a perpetual fan favorite. If you check her books out on Goodreads, they all have at least a 4.0 rating (which is insane on the site, even with somewhat inflated ratings). And there is, of course, a running joke on the site that everyone loves Marchetta, which is true. She's popular in both Australia and is taught in high schools there and in the US is well loved with weeks celebrating her.

It seems like everybody loves Marchetta!

And I can put myself into that camp.

I've read every single one of her books.

And how did I end up reading her? I started blogging. I'm absolutely serious. I started blogging and writing reviews on Goodreads (one of my favorite sites, fyi). Everyone loved Marchetta. And I figured, hey, I like contemp, I'll check her out.

So I ordered Jellicoe Road. Now I have to order books often due to where I live, so just ordering a book is a bit of a gamble. What if I hate it? Then I'll be out twenty dollars and returning's a hassle. But everyone loved it. So I started to read the book at school, a bit confused by the notoriously confusing beginning and continued to read. And then I loved it. (You can read the crazy gushing/slightly melodramatic Goodreads review here.)


And then I found out, wait! Marchetta had written MORE books. Of course I was delighted. I headed over to my public library which, despite being extremely small, has plenty of Marchetta love, having almost all of her books in circulation.


I picked up Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi. And I LOVED them. Their characters, plots, setting, writing, everything. Melina Marchetta had begun to establish herself to me, and I loved her books. I asked for Finnikin of the Rock for Christmas (and received it!). I requested Froi of the Exiles when it came on Netgalley from the US publisher and I hunted high and low for The Piper's Son (the ONLY Marchetta I hadn't read; I literally couldn't find it anywhere) until I finally found it and patted myself on the back.


Yes, I am a Marchetta fangirl.


Yes, I will read any book she publishes (hello, Quintana of Charyn -- I may just have to order it when it comes out in Aussieland).

Yes, I love her characters and her writing and her swoonable boys and her amazing plots and everything she has to offer.


But if there is one thing that I'm greateful to Melina Marchetta for, it's this: she essentially introduced me to the world of fantastic YA literature.


Her books were really the first YA titles I read and seriously loved. I ordered Jellicoe Road when I was first getting interested in young adult, first starting to understand the beauty and elegance of it as I transistioned out of middle grade, which I had loved for so many years. I barely had any YA books, just a measley two or three. When people told me to read Marchetta, I listened. And ohmygod, thank goodness I listened.


I devoured her books. They were fantastic and amazing and my first real understanding of how impressive and rich and real YA could be, how it could push boundaries and be proactive and fascinating and explore family stories and friendships and romance, how it truly could save (ie the fantastic online reaction of YA Saves last year).

Melina's books really helped me get a feel for how amazing contemp YA is, and how much I really truly love it. I read mostly contemporary, honestly, along with mystery and fantasy (with the Lumature Chronicles at the top of my list, obviously).

And Melina's books showed me the amazingness of Aussie YA, an amazing sub genre I discovered, full of many great books either being released in the US or staying in their native homeland.

She really helped me understand and expand my horizons of YA, understand what good young adult literature is. I'm greatful to her and to the bloggers and reviewers who told me to read it (thank you, thank you!).

And I now recommend Marchetta any chance I can. I tell people to read her books, I tell them about Aussie YA and I tell them about the amazingness of YA. I'll happily continue to read her books, as I have honestly enjoyed each and every one.

I could go on forever and ever about how much I love Marchetta and how frickin' nice she is in real life (honestly, read this post for proof) but honestly I love, love, love her books and I'm so greatful to her for showing me how lovely and wonderful YA can be.

                                        Thank you, Melina.


Now, to wrap up this post, I created a button for people with Marchetta Fever, based on this review


You should, if you're a true Marchetta fan, be able to understand the significance of the orange poppy. :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing!
Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most importantly, will it get me girls -- especially Aleah?
So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah's house in the night. But deep down I know I can't run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop. 

Felton's growing up. He's always been given the unfortunate nickname of "Squirrel Nuts", but all of a sudden he's growing. He's shot up a few feet, his voice has deepened, hair has started to grow all around his body. As he's grown, his talent for athlethics has grown: he's amazingly fast, "stupid fast". The football coaches are impressed and want him on their teams, but Felton's not even sure he wants to play football. He just wants to run, run away from his family situation and run towards freedom and towards relationships (hopefully with the pretty piano player, Aleah).

This is a book that no doubt has oodles of boy appeal. The appeal is basically dripping everywhere, from the cover to the blurb to the story itself. I am not a boy, obviously, and I am not a football player. Originally I had my doubts about the book, as it seemed to be so perfectly marketed towards boys and out of my range. But the good reviews for Stupid Fast kept piping up, and it won a Cyblis in Young Adult Fiction last year. And I can understand the hype perfectly.

This book, while being marketed to boys for sure, is a very impressive read that I think girls will also read and enjoy.

Some male main characters in YA tend to be unrealistic; they're too funny or they make too many crude jokes/think of inappropriate topics, etc. There are lovely boys, as well, but in many stories where the male character is the central character (not a supporting character) the humor is amped up a thousand times and the boy starts to feel unrealistic. This is not the case here. Felton is humorous, for sure; he cracks jokes and he can be crude at times. But he's also more than just jokes and inappropriate humor: he's sensitive and is a three-dimensional main character, acting like a normal boy with feelings and emotions. And on the other end, he's not too sensitive and emotional, making for a relatable character.

I really liked the perspective between Felton and Aleah's relationship. There's no instalove here, simply a slow relationship that grows. Felton admires Aleah, for her impressive piano playing, but at the same time he's a bit afraid of her, as they are in two completely different social groups. But slowly the two become friends with crushes on each other and then they start to date. It's a really sweet and cute subplot and I really enjoyed the romance. Their relationship when the book ends (after a few events have occurred to distance them from each other) is also very realistic and sweet.

And the family story! So many times we complain about parents in YA, how they've simply been killed off or are barely present. The family story in Stupid Fast is very strong and very sweet, with a realistic portrayal of mental illness. The story is complex and it's a fun one to discover so I'll simply explain the basics: Felton lives with his mother, Jerri, who married young and has lately fallen into a descent of confusion, and his younger brother Andrew, who is a piano player like Aleah. The story is so rich and complex and so, so realistic.

Herbach's writing is strong as well. He sounds like a teen, using slang and swear words and quick, fluid descriptions. His writing is easy to read and to the point; it's sparse but still rich and full. And best of all, it sounds like a boy.

If there is one thing that I disliked about this book, one thing that made me bump the book down .5 stars, was that at the beginning I felt disoriented. For about the first five chapters, I felt confused and I felt like the book was just another male-oriented book I would dislike. Obviously as I continued, I started to love the book. But this original issue made me drop the book down just a tiny bit.

Stupid Fast is a clever, original book that I really adored. It'll be perfect for both boys and girls alike. I'm so excited it won the Cyblis; hopefully more people will be interested in this fantastic, quick read. And I can't wait to read the companion novel, again featuring Felton.

Four point five stars.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Popularity

Ahh, popularity.

The mean girls from Mean Girls being...mean.
You know, "she's more popular than I am" or "I wanna be popular" or "I'm so unpopular", etc. There have been plenty of movies on the subject. Mean Girls is maybe the most popular. We've all had issues with popularity, and I'd be surprised if you haven't. I want to be more popular, I don't like being popular, I'm such a nerd, why can't I be popular, the popular girls suck and I want to destroy them, to name several examples.

This situation has popped up in many, many contemporary books. It happens to plenty of people, whether you're concerned about your popularity or bullied or harmed by other, more popular people. And the situations, of course, also are often found in media.

But the problem of popularity also crosses over into the blogging world, sadly.

Note: not all bloggers are kids in green shirts.
Not all blogs are popular. There are extremely popular blogs and then moderately popular blogs and then small blogs and then blogs that are barely noticed.

However, sometimes, sadly, being popular gets you more stuff. More ARCs and more chances to be on a blog tour. More chances to interview big authors or get swag, more chances to host giveaways. The more stats you have, the more followers, the more people interested in reading your blog the better chance publishers will notice. (Kelly's post on stats here is a good explanation of stats & what they really mean.) And so people want to be popular, because they want....stuff.

And free stuff is nice. I like free stuff. I'm not judging people who want to gain more free stuff.

But it makes me sad when people just want to be popular. Now, this next part will probably sound like I'm an annoying mother, and I am sorry OH SO VERY SORRY, but there really is no other way to say it:

BEING POPULAR IS NOT EVERYTHING.

Now, I'm probably reminding you of your mom, or a counselor or guidance worker. You've heard this before. C'mon.

Picture me as this lady, minus the math problems (ick).
But it makes me sad that we still have to point this out, prove that being popular is not everything. Midlist blogs can still get free stuff. I get emails asking if I can review books. I get ARCs. I've been offered to do blog tours before.

Being popular is not everything. You can still receive stuff, get fans, get comments, get anything your heart desires.

So I'd like to thank all the blogs I continually read, the ones that pipe into my reader. They aren't all popular, have thousands of fans, host plenty of giveaways and have mailboxes stuffed with books. But they're good blogs with quality resources and reviews. And that's really all I want to get out of a blog.

So I'd like to thank all the blogs I read. And remember (hear goes the teacher thing again): your blog does matter.

No matter how popular it is. And popularity isn't everything.

So thank you, bloggers, no matter how popular you are.






Friday, March 23, 2012

New design!

You may have noticed that there is a new design on the blog. This design is very simple and I made it myself, mostly because:

1) I could never find any good templates that actually LOADED (about half of them loaded into unreadable xml statements)

and

2( I wanted a simpler, fresher design.

Couple things to note:

  • There is a weird thing with some formatting. Some of the reviews are highlighted weird (they should be readable still, if they aren't tell me) and the blockquotes are a bit messed up (block quotes are how I format the blurbs on my reviews).

The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas


When Rose’s mom dies, she leaves behind a brown paper bag labeled Rose’s Survival Kit. Inside the bag, Rose finds an iPod, with a to-be-determined playlist; a picture of peonies, for growing; a crystal heart, for loving; a paper star, for making a wish; and a  paper kite, for letting go.
As Rose ponders the meaning of each item, she finds herself returning again and again to an unexpected source of comfort. Will is her family’s gardener, the school hockey star, and the only person who really understands what she’s going through. Can loss lead to love?







 Rose was always close to her mother. After her mother dies from cancer, she and her family (her father & older brother Jim) must recover from her death. Rose’s mother was infamous for making Survival Kits for the parents of children she taught. These kits contained items to help the parents through their difficulties of missing their children and they were very popular. Rose discovers one of these kits in her closet, containing six items that will allow her to move on from her grief. As she tries to break out of the grief and return to her normal life, she wonders if she can ever love again. 

Now, this book came recommended heavily. I figured that since I enjoy contemporary fiction it would be a good read for me. The theme of grief, while important, has been a bit overused in fiction as of late, and the romance (a key part) isn’t my forte. I found myself disliking the book quite a bit even as I liked some parts. 

In the end, I feel kind of unsure on what I think. 

I’ll start with the good. The characters were all very unique. Where Freitas could have fallen into stereotypes – cheereladers, football boyfriends – she managed to subvert clich├ęs and make them unique, original characters that avoided tropes. However, I felt like most of the characters didn’t get much development. Rose and Will developed, changing as they continued their (very cute) romance. But the other characters seemed static, never changing or developing. I also felt like I didn’t know many of the characters. Rose and Will had personalities and I understood their feelings, families, and histories. But the others – like Rose’s three best friends – never seemed to even really be developed. They were simply there, almost like props, just to move the story along. 

For the plot, it was yes, a bit predictable. I expected it to be predictable almost instantly, though I may have been being cynical. But it was sweet, and the romance made me smile. The romance is also very well developed, forming over a long period of time instead of the dreaded “instalove” formula that appears in so many books. There were some things that seemed off, however. The Dad’s sudden change is very predictable and his character seemed to suddenly change after his pivotal event. I felt like the climax of the story was also a little off, as it was all based around one event (the dad’s pivotal moment). However, the story was sweet and it would make a nice fit for romance fans. 

The writing was nice, smooth and easy to read. I thought that Freitas’s authors note also added a bit to the story (read: always read the authors notes!). She explained that the Survival Kits actually did exist. Her mother, whose situation parallels some parts of the story (she sadly also died from cancer) created the Survival Kits for her friends and family, and like Rose’s fictional mother, became infamous for her kits. I thought that changed my reading of the book a bit, as I could see it more as an semi-autobiographical novel as well as a sweet romantic read. 

One final note: I would absolutely love to get my own Survival Kit someday

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What is Literary?

So literary.
Pretty books-- picture from www.nomisblog.com
It's a term that gets tossed around a lot, a term that gets ridiculed and celebrated. People say that literary books are the most boring books of all time. People say that literary books are the best books the world have ever created, and isn't it obvious that literary books tend to wind awards? People say that commercial is better than literary or vice versa (and I'm not going to get into that debate, but there are some nice posts on the topic here and here). 

But what on earth is it?

As always, we'll start with a definition and expand from there. This definition comes from dictionary.com.


.
  • pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings,especially those classed as literatureliterary history.
  • pertaining to authorship: literary style
  • versed in or acquainted with literature well-read.
  • engaged in or having the profession of literature  or writing:a literary man.
  • characterized by an excessive or affected display oflearning; stilted; pedantic.
These definition(s) show a lot of the different feelings over literary and what it means. Some people think that it is a good thing (i.e, well-read), or horrible (stilted, pedantic). So obviously there are many differing opinions on the term literary.

Literary in itself is defined as writing about literature. Now, some literary books have bases in literature, whether these be allusions to literature or literature being a major plot point.

Another key part of literary books is that the characters seem to be more prevelant, the plot important but shadowed by the characters.

But these are broad, reaching terms. 

Literary in its essence seems to be based around characters and their emotions and feelings. Characters are important to the story. But does that mean there cannot be a plot to the story? Of course not. And does the story have to be based in or around literature, or even have references to great literary works?

No.

So the definition is almost arbitrary. 

And books can fall in between literary and commercial. For me, personally, when I write literary books, I focus much more on the characters and how they interact with each other, and the writing. However, that does not mean my experience with writing literary fiction is the same of any one else's. Terms like these, that describe an entire genre, are hard to determine. There are always exceptions and always books that fall in between.

Personally, I'm going to say that my definition of literary is this:
a story faced more around characters and with more literature based intentions.

That is my personal definition. Do you agree? Do you want to murder me? What do you think of the definition of literary? Comment below.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Shattering by Karen Healey

Seventeen-year-old Keri likes to plan for every possibility. She knows what to do if you break an arm, or get caught in an earthquake or fire. But she wasn't prepared for her brother's suicide, and his death has left her shattered with grief. When her childhood friend Janna tells her it was murder, not suicide, Keri wants to believe her. After all, Janna's brother died under similar circumstances years ago, and Janna insists a visiting tourist, Sione, who also lost a brother to apparent suicide that year, has helped her find some answers.
As the three dig deeper, disturbing facts begin to pile up: one boy killed every year; all older brothers; all had spent New Year's Eve in the idyllic town of Summerton. But when their search for the serial killer takes an unexpected turn, suspicion is cast on those they trust the most.
As secrets shatter around them, can they save the next victim? Or will they become victims themselves? 

 Last year I read Karen Healey’s debut novel, Guardian of the Dead (which may be known in some circles as “that cover with the creepy eye mask thing”, those circles being my sister and I), and really enjoyed it for its unique combinations of mystery and mythology. Her second novel, The Shatteringwas one I eagerly anticipated and I’m glad to say it met up to my expectations. 

The novel once again takes place in New Zealand, Healey’s forte it seems as well as where she lives. Keri, Janna, and Sione are three completely different teenagers spending the summer in Summerton. (Keri and Janna live there; Sione is a tourist.) They have one connection: all three of their older brothers committed suicide. However, none of their brothers left behind a note, any kind of reason, and didn’t act suicidal. The three decide that they think their brothers were murdered and team up together to figure out just who killed them. 

The plot, I think, is a bit genre-bending. For the first half or so of the book the story seems contemporary, rooted in a modern day time period off the New Zealand coast. There are a few mentions of witches – the town of Summertown has a witchery store that Keri’s brother’s girlfriend works at – but for the most it seems to be contemporary. Then about halfway through the story the focus becomes much more based on fantasy and mythology, as Maori mythology is woven through and the witchery shop becomes more prominent. I found this to be a little jarring, especially as it’s such a sudden switch, but it does work well for the story, as our three main characters must slowly begin to believe in magic. 

The other qualm I had with the plot was the ending. The climax of the story is a battle and as the story winds down the characters must recover from the battle and move on with their lives. The ending seemed rushed, trying to fit in tons of information in only a few chapters. I wanted it to go slower, especially after such a dramatic battle scene, but the book went quickly and wrapped everything up in a number of rushed pages. Other than those two issues I found the plot to be pretty unique, an interesting take on grief and suicide. 

The characters I liked. They were strong and independent, and Keri, Janna, and Sione both had strong, unique voices. Keri was quiet; Janna was a rebel type; and Sione was in the middle, unsure of his identity. These descriptions are of course broad strokes, and they are truly three-dimensional and in-depth characters. The issue I had with the characters was this – how they were written. Keri may be the most central of the characters, the one that holds up the narrative. She’s written in a very likable, strong first person voice. However, Janna and Sione were written in more of a detached third person. I liked Keri’s perspective more – I felt I grew to know her more in first person – and while I enjoyed reading about Janna and Sione, I felt less connected to them in third person. This change of perspectives seemed a bit strange to me, but it confirmed my theory that Keri is the more central of the trio. I really did enjoy all three characters but my opinion was detracted by the writing. 

However, the writing is pretty. It’s fluid and sweet, and Healey certainly can show and write how teenagers act and talk. She seems better at first person then third ( Guardian of the Dead is written in first) but her writing was still strong. 

I enjoyed the story, and I will stick around for Healey’s other books – she seems to be a strong emerging writer. I had some issues but if you enjoy mythology, fantasy, or contemporary, this would be a good choice for you – and you’ll learn a bit about New Zealand. 
Four stars.