Sunday, May 8, 2016

I'm Moving

It's not you, Blogger, it's me.

I'm moving my "Books and Big Ideas" blog to Wordpress: right here. Blogger has been my friend for a long time, but I think I'm ready to try something new. Some of this content may be transferred over at some point, sure. But by relaunching I hope to post more regularly (especially come summer) and change my focus: there will still be book reviews, and I still want to talk about what I read (though in a more focused way, like exploring classic middle grade), but I want to also talk more about my personal endeavors in writing and education, what's going on in the book and education world, etc. It feels like an appropriate step forward in my writing life.

So, in about 2 weeks, I'm starting anew and I'm VERY EXCITED about it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 New Releases I'm Most Excited For!

This post may seem over a month too late (real life is mostly to blame for that), but in fact this is something that is never definite. I'm learning about new releases all the time. In general, this list has the books I am most excited for, so it is not comprehensive of all the books that have piqued my interest, and these are also mostly books that I decided I wanted to read after reading their synopses, rather than "it's supposed to be really good, apparently." I've found this has the most success with me, and it allows me to discover books I might otherwise not have.

Books marked with a * are ones I'm most excited for and will probably preorder or buy this year, which I usually save for those that I have faith in and/or seem like they will be quite personal to me. Others I may wait for paperback, or get from the library, or an ebook sale.

In the Memory of Light by Francisco X Stork (January 26): I've actually started reading this from the library (I was going to buy it but got impatient). It came to my attention because it's about depression, but about the recovery process and figuring it all out, which interests me greatly right now.

*Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (February 25): I enjoyed Solitaire once I got into it, but I've had my eyes on this young author's second book since seeing her talking about it on social media. And the audio preview completely won me over--the tone is perfect. This is a book about academic pressures, living up to an image of yourself, friendship, diversity, fandoms and stories as escpamism, and probably more that I'm not getting from what I've seen so far. Regardless, this is for me. Unfortunately the US publication date hasn't been announced yet, so I'm going to order the UK edition through Book Depository, even if I'm not a fan of faces-on-the-cover.

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (May 10): This is a contemporary involving friendships and probably be some crazy escapades..the plot summary is vague. But I came across it when reading an interview with the author about mental health and anxiety, so I'm interested in it for that perspective. Plus, it should be fun.

*Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (May 17): I'm so glad I discovered this middle grade book, because I've been trying to explore the market as I'm currently writing in that category, and this one appeals to me in so many ways. It's about a girl struggling with anxiety and depression but keeping it to herself, and escaping by writing about a magical forest, and when she has to live with her grandparents, she discovers the forest is apparently real. So this sounds like a very important, wonderful, relatable book.

Literary Starbucks: Freshly-Brewed Bookish Humor, No-Whip, Half-Caf by Nora Katz, Wilson  Josephson, and Jill Poskanzer (May 17): This isn't a novel but an expansion (with new material, and in more of a story format?) of this wonderful blog.

A View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (May 31): This is an essay and other writings collection, and as I've loved what I've read (and watched, in the case of speeches) of Gaiman's blog posts and such, I'll be reading this at some point.

You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour (June 7): A story about the close friendship between two gay teens, a boy and a girl. It looks beautiful and emotional, and yay for complex friendships.

*Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper (July 19): Another middle grade book with a fantastic, relatable concept. This one is about Elyse, who has an unusual skin disorder (some magical realism going on here) where the words people say about her appear on her skin. This becomes challenging as she deals with the changes in middle schools and kids becoming meaner, but the words that hurt the most are the ones she thinks about herself.

*Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (July 31): Obviously.

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia (August 2): This is a comedy that makes light of the impossibly perfect things students have to do (or feel they have to do) to get into good colleges (noticing a theme here?). While it isn't about struggles with these pressures and perfectionism like I original thought, it sounds interesting in its own right: believing it will give her a competitive edge on her college application, a girl named Reshma works with an agent to write a YA novel, but since she thinks her life is kind of boring, she decides instead to do all the cliches in YA novels. Very much expecting meta hilarity here.

As I Descended by Robin Talley (September 6): I just finished reading Macbeth for school and loved it, though admittedly, I loved the summary of this from the beginning: "...a retelling of Macbeth set at a contemporary Virginia boarding school. It centers around a lesbian couple who set out to dethrone the school's resident Mean Girl, only to find themselves struggling to hang onto their sanity and their lives when they accidentally summon a trio of brutal, manipulative ghosts" (This summary has since been replaced, and it includes the phrase "Cawdor Kingsley Prize,") I say I'm not into retellings, but I have a weakness for Shakespeare and exploring the malleability of his stories, so...perfect.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (September 27): I still haven't finished The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (the last book I haven't read and just may not, because I should reread the second one first because let's just say I'm not great at reading sequels back-to-back like that), but I did enjoy Taylor's writing style and I'm intrigued by what she's coming up with next.

*Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King (October 11): A new A. S. King book, yay. I'm especially interested because it seems to explore a loss of creativity, and I like the concept of meeting oneself from the past and the future.

*Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz (October 18): Another middle grade book, this one about OCD. I just found this while writing up this post and I'm so glad I did. Especially interested in the need for things to be perfect and how these obsessions start to make being creative difficult.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer (November 8): I haven't gotten around to finishing The Lunar Chronicles yet (later this year, hopefully), but I've found Meyer's stories very fun, and this one's an origin story for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, so that sounds up my alley. 

The Inexplicable Logic of My Heart by Benjamin Alire : There's an Ari & Dante sequel coming next year, but I also am excited about another YA novel from him. (Though I should read his adult novels too.)

That's about it, as of now! There's plenty that has piqued my interested, and I'm sure I'll discover more (especially in the literary fiction realm), but right now I'm REALLY EXCITED about these.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Favorite Books I Read in 2015

Well, it's that time of year again. (Kind of. I'm late.) I read a total of 56 books in 2015, and while some disappointments are leading me to change what/how I read in 2016 (aka, less forcing things I'm not in the mood for and making sure I'm really interested in the synopsis/I have similar tastes to whoever recommended it), I read some great books that I'd like to share. Because they vary so much, I can't bear to rank them and instead I'm splitting them by market category.

Middle Grade
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness ("short thoughts" review): Aside from just being a gorgeous book, the story was so wonderful and important. It's about how children are capable of emotions that adults might not realize, and we should address that instead of making it seem like everything is okay. Bonus points for use of storytelling.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (review): My anticipation for this book did not disappoint, further solidifying Rebecca Stead as one of my favorite writers (especially for middle grade fiction). The main character's experience with and curious but anxious thoughts about a first-time maybe-sorta-possible relationship reminded me of myself in middle school a lot. Additionally, the friends have this amazing support of each other, and it tackles some issues facing girls without painting them as black and white.

I also reread Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (thoughts: 1, 2, 3, includes some spoilers), which I fell in love with when I was 11 and 12, but I never reread the third book and hadn't thought about it for a while until Jen Campbell posted a very interesting video and then hosted a readalong, which I joined in on. It left me with a lot to think about and I enjoyed noticing a lot of the symbolism I hadn't seen before. (Also, yes, I love the mulefa.)

Young Adult
 I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (review): This was such a lovely ride. The meta ending, while a bit odd at first, I found to raise interesting questions.

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King (review): Another new release that didn't disappoint my expectations, though the surrealism isn't for everyone. However, I was engrossed and seemed to understand what was going on even if it was very weird, and I could relate to the overwhelming pressure of academics and having the "correct" answers.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (some sort of review/discussion forthcoming): I loved this for personal reasons I'm still not sure I want to talk about yet. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting and I think that the main character's choice at the end is one of the most important things, and I felt the same way as he did. The satire was also fun.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera ("short thoughts" review): I loved the way this was crafted and it had a lot to say about memory, sexuality, homophobia, and so much more. It left me thinking.

Adult/Literary Fiction/Modern Classics
1984 by George Orwell: I could've done without the 30 pages of textbook stuck in the middle, but other than that I found this very engaging. Definitely one of the best dystopian worlds I've read (not everyone has to be indoctrinated, only the people who have power!), and it had plenty of interesting things to say. Plus, I'm a sucker for hopeless endings.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I enjoyed the different styles these stories were written in. They were both funny and sad, all centering around the passage of time, and seeing the characters woven throughout in different stories was really well done.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: I thought this was a complex exploration of racism and very interesting; it focuses a lot on beauty, especially from a female perspective, and I love the exploration of the psychological impact a lack of representation has (relevant to today!). I also enjoyed the writing style as well.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera: Short Thoughts

Well, this book was an emotional roller coaster. It was also more of a general roller coaster too, as after a certain point I just couldn't stop reading and it kept throwing new twists and I was putting everything together.

Despite the smiley face on the cover, this is not really a happy book, though "happiness" is one of its main themes. It's a grim, intense story about memory, sexuality, nature vs nurture, suicide, relationships, hate crimes and homophobia, and all set in the diverse socioeconomic landscape of the Bronx. Furthermore, there's an added science fiction element of a company that can erase memories to make people "recover" and "start over," which allows Silvera to raise a lot of interesting and important questions.

Not everything in life works out how you want it to, after all, but man is that particularly true for our protagonist Aaron Soto. Things seem to be going great with his girlfriend, but while she's away, he finds comfort in a new male friend. Now conflicted about his sexuality, and knowing how his circle of friends won't accept him as gay, Aaron wonders if he can just get the procedure to forget and make everything better. (And then things get complicated in great ways, but I don't want to spoil it!)

Despite the sci-fi aspect, the story still takes place very much in our present, forming a very realistic backdrop of intersections between race and class, and the effects of homophobia and abuse within it. I also appreciated how the feelings of and relationship between the characters were complex. Some of them could have been defined by jealousy, betrayal, and bitterness, but they were instead portrayed in many lights, and their feelings toward each other were not easily categorized, and that made it much more interesting and effective.

More Happy Than Not hurts, but it's thoughtful and tackles some very important subjects and it's absolutely worth the read.

Spoilery section (you have been warned)
The reveal that Aaron had already undergone the procedure was really effective storytelling. It's a twist, but it's also great because it displays so clearly that this is who he's been for his whole life, and all the pieces fit into place so well. The procedure was also described as used for treating mental illness such as PTSD or panic attacks, which made me think about the possible effectiveness and implications of that, even if it wasn't explored directly in the novel.

...I'm still thinking about the ending, I'm not even sure I can coherently say anything. But I think it was fitting for Aaron to be stuck with only prior memories--not that he deserved it, but it made thematic sense. There were parts of his life that he just couldn't escape from, and now he never can.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Books I Want to Read in 2016

2016 may be a crazy year for me, but it's one I'm excited for in regard to reading because I'm changing things up a bit. In addition to reading what I've got on hand (except anthologies/reference/collected works books which are more of a "read as needed" and "lifetime reading list" type of thing), I want to finally get around to those that have been on my reading list forever, and I want to start a project of reading children's/middle grade classics (and newer releases) that I never got around to. My library and its Overdrive service are going to become my best friends, because I realized that buying them for the purpose of having a good children's collection is not necessary right now and something I can always do later on. Ultimately, by knocking out some of these titles I've wanted to read for a long time, I hope to feel really accomplished with slashing down my reading goals. (Next year: reading more classic YA?)

So! Without further ado, here are books that I'm (very probably) going to read in 2016, accompanied by others of course that I'm not going to plan for. There are a lot more here than I would like, but the middle grade books are short and shouldn't take that long. I'm also not including books that will be released in 2016, as I don't buy most new releases and I'm going to make a separate post about that (I'm excited though!). Chances are one or two might be read next year, though!

Middle Grade
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket
  • Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle
  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle
  •  A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Sandry's Book by Tamora Pierce
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman (I've had this for a long time but I don't think I ever read it)
  • The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente
  • Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
 And if I have time, I might reread L'Engle's A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Young Adult
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by  Sherman Alexie
  • Winter by Marissa Meyer (I don't think I'm going to bother to read Fairest)
  • UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
(And possibly: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio, Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas, Falling into Place by Amy Zhang, and/or more of the Unwind books.)

Adult/Literary Fiction/Classics 
  • Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
  • The October Country by Ray Bradbury
  • A collection of George Orwell essays
  • The Celebrated Jumping Frong and Other Stories by Mark Twain
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  •  Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Saturday, October 31, 2015


So, I made a Twitter, which was something I had wanted to do for a while to follow authors and other book people, but I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to condense my thoughts to 140 characters. Turns out, I might enjoy it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King: A Rather Personal Review

There are so many reviews whose writers didn't "get" this book, so let me tell you: I got it. In context, I didn't find it all that strange, and it just made sense to me. (I'm not sure what that says about me.) Some of the reasons why I connected are maybe too personal to divulge. Some of my delightful reading experience is just A.S. King's knack for pulling me into a book so it is the only thing I can think about for a while...but this one I think I'm going to be thinking about for a long, long time.

A plot summary is somewhat pointless, but I'll try: this is a surrealist YA novel about buried internal trauma and external pressures and how not facing these problems never work. Two academically gifted teens fly away in an invisible helicopter to try to escape. A victim of date rape swallows herself. A victim of physical abuse tells lies that make her hair grow longer to try to fit in when she is really being abused at home. Everyone is worried about what others think and how they fit in. And someone keeps making repeated bomb threats to the standardized test-addled school, but the students also feel like they're ticking time bombs.

Of course, I Crawl Through It isn't for everyone. It is certainly weird, but I also didn't find it TOO weird, although I am partial to experimental . There is quite a bit of semblance of the real world and plot and character arcs are present as outlined above; none of it felt random to me in context. (Again, I'm not sure what it says about me that I was not at all concerned about, say, independently talking scars.) Most of all, the novel swallowed me up. I didn't feel distanced from it, like I felt distanced from the Vonnegut I read. I read it over a period of less than 30 hours because it wouldn't let me go.

Because I've felt like exploding, too. I've wanted to build an invisible helicopter and fly away. I've had that panic when the letters (aka multiple choice answers to a standardized test) are not correct. I've been concerned about how others perceive me and where I fit in, or if I fit in at all. Maybe sometimes I've even wanted to swallow myself, for different reasons. And so when I got to the part when the individuals on the island (that the helicopter takes the two characters to) rattle off their universities and majors (which were thankfully not all STEM; a stereotype I hate), I almost started crying, because it rang so true.

Plus, there's this quote:

"Because nothing is perfect. Perfect is a myth. I want you to remember this. Perfect is a boldfaced lie. It's a ham sandwich without ham. It's a blue sky on Mondays when it rains on Wednesdays."

And also in the acknowledgments (which also includes the amusing sentence: "Andrea Spooner, please edit this sentence so it somehow conveys the full appreciation I have for your trust."):

"Students readers, thank you for reading. Thank you for writing to me. Thank you for being you. You are not ovals. You are not letters. You are human beings, and every time someone rolls their eyes at you because they think your opinion doesn't count, picture me giving them the finger."

It's a quick read. It may be only a glimpse, but it's powerful. It isn't for everyone, and I'm not even sure I would recommend it to others. But I think it's an experience I think I should share, in the spirit of sharing personal relationships with stories that are in themselves a very personal exploration for the author. That's where the real power and influence of literature resides. Not in a Goodreads consensus, but in reaching the needs of readers, even if it isn't everyone who picks it up.