Friday, September 26, 2014

Best Books Of September

Here are the best books that I read this month. As always, the summaries and covers come from Goodreads. The reviews are mine.

Burned – Ellen Hopkins


I do know things really began to spin out of control after my first sex dream. 
It all started with a dream. Nothing exceptional, just a typical fantasy about a boy, the kind of dream that most teen girls experience. But Pattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious—yet abusive—family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and eternal damnation.

This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But is it to hell or to a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers—about God, a woman's role, sex, love—mostly love. What is it? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it?

It's with a real boy that Pattyn gets into real trouble. After Pattyn's father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control until Pattyn ends up suspended from school and sent to live with an aunt she doesn't know.

Pattyn is supposed to find salvation and redemption during her exile to the wilds of rural Nevada. Yet what she finds instead is love and acceptance. And for the first time she feels worthy of both—until she realizes her old demons will not let her go. Pattyn begins down a path that will lead her to a hell—a hell that may not be the one she learned about in sacrament meetings, but it is hell all the same.
In this riveting and masterful novel told in verse, Ellen Hopkins takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride. From the highs of true love to the lows of abuse, Pattyn's story will have readers engrossed until the very last word.

Review: This book is so awesome.

When sixteen-year-old Pattyn starts questioning her religion and disobeying her abusive father, she is sent to live with her aunt on a rural cattle ranch. On the ranch, Pattyn meets an older boy who changes her life forever. Burned is written in a mixture of formal and free-verse poetry.

This book is intimidating because it's written in verse, and it's a thick book. Don't be intimidated. The poems are very easy to understand, and the plot is pretty simple. The book is actually a quick and entertaining read. 

I had a hard time finding things to criticize about this book, but a lot of people criticize it because of its portrayal of Mormons. There are abusive families, abusive communities, and abusive churches within every religion. This book is not about Mormons. It's about Pattyn and her experience as a member of an abusive religious community. I thought the author did an accurate job of showing religious abuse.

Even though this is a book of poetry, it has all the elements of a great novel: complex characters, an intriguing premise, suspense, action, fast pacing, romance, and a twist ending.

I already knew about some of the twists because I read reviews before buying the book, but there are so many twists that you won't see all of them coming. This is a very interesting book. I can't wait to read the next one in the series.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson


Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.

Review: Anyone who is interested in young adult literature needs to read this book. Speak is one of those novels that changed everything. It inspired a lot of copycat books and is required reading in many middle and high schools.

Speak is about Melinda, a freshman in high school. Her old middle school friends will not speak to her because she called the police about their party the year before. As the book progresses, the reader learns that something very bad happened to Melinda at that party.

I love the fragmented way that this story is told. The pacing is a little slow, but Melinda's voice more than makes up for the slowness. Melinda is funny and authentic. Many teenagers (including me as a teenager) have the same attitude that she does toward high school. She hates it and doesn't take it too seriously. The humor is wonderful and surprising. I love this book. I'd recommend it to everybody, especially if you are interested in quality young adult literature.

Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson


“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls. 
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another. 
I am that girl. 
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through. 
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame. 
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit. 
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

Review: This book is both intensely fascinating and difficult to read.

Wintergirls is the story of Lia, an anorexic teenager who feels responsible for the death of her bulimic best friend.

Even though I never felt a connection to Lia, her story was interesting enough to keep me reading. I loved the mixture of reality and Lia's imagination. I also liked the fragmented structure of the book. I've read a few other books about eating disorders, and the way that this one is written sets it apart from the others.

I would have enjoyed this book more if I had liked Lia. Maybe she was meant to be unlikeable, but I didn't feel anything for her. She was so selfish and self-absorbed. That might be realistic for a person with an eating disorder, but it was difficult to read about a character who I disliked so much. I was actually happy when her parents called her out for her selfishness. And, this might make me sound horrible, but I wasn't upset when she almost died. She was so miserable that I wondered if death was the only thing that could make her happy.

Normally I love books that have a quirky style and a lot of poetic language, but I think it was too much of a good thing in this book. I thought the crossed out words and some of the descriptions were a little distracting and didn't add anything to the story.

Elijah was the best part of the book for me. I thought he was a very well-developed, realistic, and believable character. He added some much-needed humor. I also loved seeing a young adult book where a girl meets a boy and a romance does not develop.

I didn't like this book as much as I like some of the author's other work, but it is still a story worth reading.


~*~

All The Things = 16 books. (Whenever I finish one, a new one appears!)

I’m currently reading: Middlemarch by George Eliot. (I think I’m going to be reading Middlemarch for a long time.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Quest: When TV Makes Me Ridiculously Happy


I know that this blog is supposed to be about books, but I want to tell you about the awesomeness that is The Quest.

The Quest is a fantasy-based reality show that aired on ABC. The show is unique because it is a blend of reality competition and scripted story. The cast is a mixture of real people and actors who are playing characters. In the first season, the twelve contestants were brought to a castle outside of Vienna, Austria and told that they were in the magical kingdom of Everealm. Their job was to save Everealm from the dark power, Verlox. The contestants interacted with actors who guided them through the quest, but the results of the challenges and eliminations were based on the contestants’ abilities and decisions. Contestants were “banished” until only one remained. The winner was crowned the “One True Hero” and got to battle Verlox.

The finale of season 1 aired last week, and I already miss this show. It made me so happy to see people on television who were unapologetically nerdy. The contestants threw themselves into the fictional world of Everealm and seemed to love every minute of it. Yes, the show was occasionally illogical and cheesy, but I loved seeing adults use their imaginations. The show was the ultimate form of wish fulfillment for some of the contestants. They grew up dreaming of being heroes, and the show gave them the chance to live their dream.

I think the real world beats the imagination out of people. Adults don’t “play.” They work, take care of children, worry about money, spend hours stuck in traffic, and hide the parts of their personalities that are a little unusual. Adults who like to dress up in costumes and pretend to be someone else for a few hours are looked at as “weird.” The Quest celebrated that weirdness. The best part of watching the show was seeing the sense of wonder in the contestants and knowing that they had the freedom to be their nerdy selves in Everealm. That wonder and freedom is often missing in the real world. It was amazing to see it on television.

I have no idea how TV networks make their decisions about which shows to renew and which to cancel, but there is a petition to get The Quest a season 2. You can sign it here.


I really hope that this show gets a second season. I’ll miss it if it doesn’t.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Colorado Gold Conference 2014


Why was there no blog post last week? Because I was at the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference and didn’t pay the hotel for the use of the internet.

The Colorado Gold Conference is put on every year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This year, the conference was September 5th – 7th at The Westin in Westminster, Colorado. As always, the conference was amazing. The sessions were helpful, and the hotel was very nice.

Maybe I’ve been taking writing classes for too many years, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t find general craft sessions at conferences very interesting. I did go to sessions on dialogue, tension, and character development at Colorado Gold, but I liked some of the genre-specific sessions much better. This conference had genre-specific sessions about the Victorian era, science, the brain, witchcraft, sex, more sex, even more sex, violence, and more violence. It was awesome.  

Writing conferences are usually overwhelming for me. I’ve never been very good at taking notes, and I learn so much that everything jumbles up in my brain. This isn’t a bad thing. I remember what I learned when I need to remember it. But, it makes it a little difficult to write a review of the conference.

I learned one fact that clearly stands out in my mind: Murderers often bite their victims. It’s an animal instinct that takes over when people kill each other.

Out of all the sessions I attended, that fact is the only thing that I clearly remember. I learned it in a session called Dying to be Here: Techniques of Murder and Mayhem. The session was aimed at mystery, horror, and thriller authors. I have no idea when I’m going to use this information, but it sure is yucky.


If you go to a writing conference, try to attend some genre-specific sessions, even if you don’t write that genre. They’re pretty interesting. And, if you live near Colorado, check out the Colorado Gold Conference. It’s one of the better conferences that I’ve attended.