The Raven Boys

UnknownThe Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
Published September 18, 2012
416 pages (hardcover)

I saw a rant on Book Riot recently entitled “Let’s Avoid Defining Beach Reads.” It is a denouncement of the “Great Beach Reads” display tables at Barnes & Noble (and the like) that include “an excess of travel lit, a lack of tragic historical, a great and overwhelming fiction theme that includes the sun on covers, and many violent thrillers that end in chase scenes.” The idea, of course, is that you can read all kinds of books “even on the beach.”

Yeah, yeah. We should all be reading Pulitzer Prize winners all the time. Life’s too short for a bad book and all of that. We get it. But here’s the thing: it is officially summer. In Atlanta, that means temperatures in the 90s (and above) with wicked, oppressive humidity. For nearly three months of the year, it is miserable outside. I’m sorry, but I just can’t handle something like The Orphan Master’s Son right now. It’s too much.

Beach reading is and should be escapist reading. When I’m staring at the ocean, trying to forget how freaking hot it is, “tragic historical” isn’t going to cut it. I don’t want to read about massacres or war or sadness. I’m all for fun, light, easy vacation fare! Somehow, that fluffy, mindless reading makes summer more bearable. Is it quality literature that you are going to gush about and gift to friends? No, probably not. But, sometimes, you just need a book with a shopping bag on the cover to help take you away.

So, what does great summer reading look like for me? Books like Mermaids in Paradise and Skios: silly, farcical romps that are breezy and laugh-out-loud funny. Sweet and charming best-sellers like A Man Called Ove. Quirky, cute, creative, and highly readable books like Where’d You Go, Bernadette. And, of course, fun, page-turner YA books that are post-apocalyptic (like The Hunger Games) or magical (like Harry Potter) or supernatural (like Beautiful Creatures). Continue reading

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published February 21, 2012
368 pages

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of YA books. I love The Hunger Games trilogy. I devoured Libby Bray’s The Diviners (and am anxiously awaiting the August release of the next book in the series, Lair of Dreams). I enjoyed Rebecca Stead’s homage to Madeleine L’Engle, When You Reach Me.

But the YA books that always get me the most are those that I know will help kids navigate the rough waters of adolescence. Because, let’s be honest: being a teenager (and a “tween,” for that matter) isn’t the best.

Looking back, I had it relatively easy. I was pretty happy, school was easy, and I had a lot of friends. But I was super awkward, my family was not well-off, and my parents had recently divorced. Also, I looked like this: Continue reading

Love Letters to the Dead

Love Letters to the Dead
Ava Dellaira
© 2014
327 pages (hardcover)

A couple years ago, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was adapted into a movie. It was one of Emma Watson’s first movie forays outside the wizarding world of Harry Potter, so it got a fair amount of press:

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Where Things Come Back

Where Things Come Back
John Corey Whaley
© 2011
228 pages (hardcover)

Several months ago, my stepmother, Tina, pointed out that I have a tendency to give higher ratings to YA books than books of other genres. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I think she may be right. The only book to which I’ve given a 5/5 since starting this blog is a YA book (The Fault in Our Stars). And, of the ten books to which I have given a 4/5 thus far, two are YA books (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Spectacular Now).

Tina had been giving my affection for YA books some thought, and she came up with a possible theory for why I might think that many YA books are more enjoyable than your average adult novel. She posed this question: Are YA authors more focused on/in-tune with their audience? Are they, unlike authors of adult fiction, writing more for their audience than adult-fiction authors?

My brother, who is a children’s book editor, chimed in with a resounding yes. He pointed out that a YA author has to be cognizant and respectful of his/her audience in ways that authors of adult fiction do not. A YA author has to be aware of things like vocabulary, reading level, and emotional maturity.

And, let’s face it: adult fictions writers’ work is often borderline masturbatory. Some (the bad ones) don’t care a lick about their audience. They think they have an incredibly fascinating story to tell and an even more fascinating manner in which to relay it. Unfortunately, their story is often not as interesting or creative as they think it is. And, to top it off, it’s often poorly written or too long-winded or too convoluted. Perhaps adult-fiction authors are not thinking enough about the best way to deliver their message to their audience.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

18166936The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton
© 2014
301 pages (hardcover)

I am a big fan of magic realism (aka magical realism). When done well, it is vivid and captivating and beautiful. Passages like this (from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude) make me swoon:

As soon as José Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. Continue reading

#tbt, Part 2: Three Great Books I Read to My “Kids” (and You Should Read to Yours!)

It’s time for another round of #tbt!  (If you missed Part 1, here it is.)

This time, the throwback is to 5th grade  . . .  but not when I was a student.  I’m looking back at some of the books that made a big impact on me when I taught elementary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

When I was teaching, my favorite time of day was the 20 minutes or so directly after recess in the early afternoon.  The kids would come in from outside, breathless and full of energy (and a little stinky from being out in the Louisiana heat), but acting like angels.  Without a peep, the 33 of them would file in and arrange themselves quietly on the reading rug.

When everyone was settled and perfectly quiet (no “shh-ing” necessary), I would sit on my chair in front of them, open a book, and start to read.  For those 20 minutes, the only sounds you would hear from the kids were laughter and the occasional gasp of delight or surprise.  They loved reading time.

Here are three of my favorite books that I read aloud to my kids and that you should read aloud to yours (if you don’t have kids, you should still read these books, but maybe not aloud): Continue reading