Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review of 101 Secrets for your Twenties

So the 101 secrets aren’t exactly secrets (at least not now that they’re published). But they feel like secrets. They feel like something I’d pass between cubicles disguised as some-report-or-another as to hide it from my boss, who’s parading as a real-life, half-dead adult. They’re secrets in that I didn’t realize how true they were until I read them. I knew they existed, but I didn’t know how to put them into words. But thankfully Paul did that for me.

The best thing about this book is when I realized that I’m not alone (Secret 32). I’m not alone in my lousy job, frustration, disappointment, confusion and insecurity. I’m not alone feeling as if my dream is so far away from coming true. But this book didn’t gloss over or skirt around the truth. It’s real and relatable, and proclaims truths which may be hard to swallow (like 73). However it’s what I need. It’s what most twenty-somethings need. Oh so desperately.

If you’re a twenty-something, this book has something for you. It addresses work, love, dating, marriage, relationships, friendships, faith, passion, emotional, financial, and physical health, goals, etc. The advice is concise,and comes from someone who (you can just tell) has been there, done that. Paul’s voice is clear and friendly, as if he’s sitting next to me at a bar, telling me how it is in a straight forward yet encouraging tone.

Plus, 101 Secrets for your Twenties is unbelievably quotable! Consider these great selections:
·         “You have to be on stage to win.” Secret 2, pg19
·         “Attack your insecurities before they can attack you.” Secret 33, pg74
·         “Complaining is passive and powerless. Creating is proactive and powerful.” Secret 38, pg84
·         “Change or die! …Those who know how to change will win.” Secret 62, pg125
·         “Complacency is a disease!” Secret 69, pg139
·         “Declare the truth of your bright future instead of the reality of your lackluster present.” Secret 83, pg165
·         “All explorers have to get lost. That’s when they make their biggest discoveries.” Secret 93, pg182
There were so many connections and ah-ha moments for me, including but not limited to secrets 19, 29, 68, 69, 73, 86, 87. And as I read, I found secrets to share with my boyfriend (43, 96), my brothers (55, 87), high school friends (10, 66), co-workers (11, 45) cousins (15) and on and on.

Out of 101 secrets, there was only one that I’m in denial about (52) and that’s just because I’m not a fan of wine. (I’m a mixed drinks kind of girl.) But even so, that’s a great percentage of relatablility. I can imagine that not every twenty-something would connect with every secret, but I’d bet every twenty-something could find at least one (if not dozens) that speak to their situation. There were even secrets that relate to writers like me. Secrets 4 and 21 had writer-specific inspiration, if not directly then in metaphor.

“Don’t cram your plotline into someone else’s story!” (pg53)

This book isn’t just a list of secrets that you chuckle at then set aside. It is an affirmation. It is a call to action. It’s a reminder not to dismiss your 20s, but not to put them on a pedestal either. So many of the secrets aren’t just oh-that-makes-sense moments, but they require contemplation. And so many beg to be applied to real life.

101 Secrets for your Twenties is a connection and a community. It makes life less lonely (as well as a great college graduation gift). It’s something not to keep secret, but to share. To yell about from the top of a mountain (or here in Indiana, the top of a barely-there hill). It’s something to tweet about, blog about and is worthy of a status update… or seven. It’s just that good!

To Be Released: TOMORROW, July 1

Find it here: Barnes & Noble
Experience the community: All Groan Up

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Balancing Work with Passion

In the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with this question:

How do I balance what I need to be doing to survive with what I should be doing to achieve my dream?
A little back story… Three months ago, I took a second part-time job (who’s offering full-time jobs these days?). It’s a steady position with set hours. I kept my part-time position at a retail bookseller where I’ve been for almost five years. The schedule there varies each week; sometimes I work 15 hours a week while sometimes I’m close to 30. Many times (already) I’ve had to work doubles and even weeks straight without a day off. It’s affected my health, happiness and of course, my writing. However, I’m finally able to pay my bills and save a little something every month.
So, where do I draw the line between happy, healthy and pursuing my dream of being a YA writer while working two jobs (up to 50 hours a week and 19 days straight at the longest) to keep my head above water and build my savings?
Here’s where I’m supposed to share my brilliant, poignant, life-changing answer, right? Except I don’t have one. There isn’t a solution, perfect or otherwise. In short, I don’t know what to do.
I know that big quit-my-job (at least one of them) moment won’t happen for me. There are solid advantages to both positions. I’ve thought a lot about which one I should pursue further, which one I would keep if it came to that, but there’s no easy answer. Ideally, someday in the future, I would leave both jobs and be able to make a living with writing. Then my passion would be my work. However, I'm not there yet. 
On an optimistic note, there are a couple things I’ve done/plan on doing that may help.
1.       Say “NO”            
This is the classic: “No I can’t pick up that shift.” “No I can’t take on that commitment.” “No I can’t do this/that/the other thing.” Unless it's family or writing-related, I probably shouldn't take time away from writing for it.

2.       Kick my boyfriend out (temporarily)
We spend time together most days of the week, but occasionally I should take an hour or two from our time to spend with my words. And he can spend it with his music.  
Basically, I’m tired of using my jobs as an excuse not to write. It’s like justifying ignoring my passion by saying work is more important just because it pays the bills. And that’s just depressing. The end-all-be-all is that my writing is should be a need. It needs to be a need.
               *scurries off to work on that*

Are you in the same position, struggling to balance writing (or your passion) with everything else? How do you take on that challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Most Anticipated Teen Books: Summer 2013

Here are eight novels coming this summer that will be perfect reads for the beach, pool or anywhere the sun's shining! (Okay, they're good for dreary days too...)

July 9

Half Lives – Sara Grant
What it’s about: Half Lives follows two unlikely heroes as they fight to survive, centuries apart but with surprising ties. Icie’s parents have news of an imminent viral attack, so they give her cash, a map to a secret bunker and tell her to get there by any means necessary. Along with three other teens, Icie lives locked away for months with no news of the outside world. Decades into the future, a mysterious cult worships on the same mountain where Icie’s secret bunker was located, and they’re ruled by a teenager with surprising ties to Icie.

Why I’m excited: Because Grant’s from Indiana (though now she lives abroad), and the concept behind the book is particularly intriguing. I’m curious about the cult and their teenage leader, since the book description is particularly vague on that aspect. I read Grant’s YA debut Dark Parties, which is a thrilling dystopian book and although this new release seems more post-apocalyptic, I bet she will shine just the same.

July 30

Boy on the Bridge – Natalie Standiford
What it’s about: American Laura Reid studies abroad in Leningrad during the height of the Cold War in 1982. A young Russian artist named Alexei becomes her guide and she is soon immersed in the real Russia, but their relationship must remain a secret. If found out, Laura could be sent home and Alexei could be punished for associating with Americans. When Laura’s return to the United States approaches, Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She’s not ready to settle down, but what if Alexei is the love of her life? Can she leave him behind?

Why I’m excited: Because I have a soft spot for well-done YA historical fiction, and I’m betting this will be quite well-written. I’m not familiar with too many Cold War era teen books, and I’m interested to see how Standiford will write the love of a young American and Russian in the midst of such deep tension. Also I adore that this is a historical romance novel set barely thirty years ago, so even though it will feel like long ago, it isn’t quite outside of my life span and therefore closer than one might think.

Earthbound – Aprilynne Pike
What it’s about: After Tavia Michaels is the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed her parents, she starts having visions of a boy she’s never spoken to in real life. Tavia searches for answers, but when she discovers that the aunt and uncle who took her in after the plane crash may have been responsible for her parent’s deaths, she flees for safety of Maine, where the boy in the visions tells her to go. Suddenly, Tavia is on the run with no one to trust, and is torn between Benson, the boy who has been by her side the whole way and the mysterious boy who appears to her at night.

Why I’m excited: Because Pike impressed me with her debut series, Wings, and I’m curious to see how she’s grown as a writer. This is her second new release in just a few months, though I haven’t gotten to Life After Theft yet. The book description is detailed and vague at the same time (isn’t that intriguing?) which will surely make the read full of surprises, twists and turns. I’m expecting a mysterious, cross-country adventure with life-changing decisions that will surely make this an unputdownable read!

August 20

Doon – Carey Corp & Laurie Langdon
What it’s about: Veronica starts seeing a mysterious blond boy wherever she goes, and soon she realizes she’s the only one that can see him. When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the chance. But when the imaginary boy follows her to Alloway, she and Mackenna discover a strange set of rings and an unnerving letter, they soon find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, but the girls learn it has a dark underside as well. If they break the enchantment, they might end up trapped in a world that has quickly become a nightmare.

Why I’m excited: Because it’s a retelling of Brigadoon, only updated and YA-ified. Scotland plus a fairy tale-like hidden village and the potential for love? It all adds up to Brigadoon come to the 21st century, which is a fairly unexplored concept in teen fiction in my experience. I’m excited to see these authors collaborate to take on this legend, and I’m sure the read will be fun and fantastical!

August 27
Love in the Time of Global Warming – Francesca Lia Block
What it’s about: Penelope has lost everything—her parents, younger brother and her home. This world is on the edge of destruction, but still beautiful and lovely at the same time. As Pen navigates this dark world which is full of strange creatures, she gathers companions and loses them, finds love and loses it, and comes face-to-face with her mortal enemy.

Why I’m excited: Because Block is a YA mainstay, with over 30 novels to her name. The title itself is intriguing (remember Love in the Time of Cholera?), and even though the book description is short, I have a feeling this will be a full-tilt adventure, maybe with a little social commentary on global warming mixed in. I’ll be sure to pick this one off the shelf come late August!

Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan
What it’s about: Based on true events, this novel tells the story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-old boys who take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing in hopes of setting a new Guinness World Record. While the two teenage boys are locking lips, they are trying to figure out their own feelings for one another. But they manage to become the focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out and gender identity issues. This novel comes as the 10th anniversary of the publication of Levithan’s ground-breaking, Boy Meets Boy, is being celebrated.

Why I’m excited: Because Levithan is a YA master, and I’m sure this will be another revolutionary read. I’ve been trying to catch up on his collection ever since I read Boy Meets Boy last winter, and even though I have a ways to go, I think this will be my next selection. It sounds like a great exploration of gay teen culture and I’m expecting a read full of realness and relatability no matter your gender, age or orientation.

September 10

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
What it’s about: Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Well, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan isn’t just part of her life, it is her life. Cath and her sister Wren ensconced themselves in the fandom to get them through their mother leaving, but while Cath’s sister has grown up and away from Simon Snow, Cath can’t let go. Now they’re going to college and Cath is on her own, with a surly roommate, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the world and a handsome classmate who wants to talk about words. Can Cath let go of Simon Snow and start living her own life?

Why I’m excited: Because I adored Eleanor & Park for its realness and freshness (enough to read Rowell’s adult fiction novel), and I’m expecting the same from Fangirl. The concept is relatable—who hasn’t gotten a little over-obsessed with a book, movie or band? Cath could easily be a Potterhead or Twihard, which I think is exactly what Rowell is going for. I’m sure this story will suck me in and become quite unputdownable in its reality and relatability.

Relativity – Cristin Bishara
What it’s about: Ruby Wright knows that wishes can’t come true and that some things can’t be undone. But if she had her way, her dad would never have married her stepmother Willow, her best friend George would be more than a friend, and of course her mom would still be alive. When Ruby discovers a tree in the middle of an Ohio cornfield with a wormhole to nine alternative realities, suddenly Ruby is seeing what could have happened if her wishes came true. Her ideal world—one with everything and everyone she wants most—could be within reach. But is there such a thing as a perfect world?

Why I’m excited: Because parallel universes are in, at least in my world (see my review of Tandem, coming this October). I think it’s an up-and-coming niche for YA, and Relativity sounds like a well-done take on this concept. The idea that Ruby has not just one parallel universe but nine to explore will surely make this a complex tale. This is Bishara’s debut effort and I’m eager to dive into what will hopefully be an intriguing yet heart-wrenching story.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!

Thanks for reading!


*Book descriptions are adapted from those on the Barnes & Noble website.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Day with Dessen

Okay, so I didn’t have a whole day with Sarah Dessen. (As if I could be that lucky!) More like a minute or two while she was signing my books and a half hour of Q&A and trivia with dozens of others. But the trip did encompass my day, and I was happy *cough* ecstatic *cough* to journey two hours to Cincinnati for Joseph-Beth Booksellers discussion & signing with Sarah Dessen. Her newest book, The Moon and More, was released this past Tuesday and is her 11th published novel. She is known for her heart-felt portrayal of teens with real issues set in Carolina beach towns, and is a bestselling author many times over. During the discussion, I extracted these pointers for an aspiring author such as myself.

I love how animated she is!

Read your Weakness
Struggling with plot? Read a book that has a great, well-written plot. Struggling with writing dialogue? Read a book that has masterful dialogue. Or, as Dessen did in college, take a playwriting class, as it can help improve dialogue writing skills. Basically, if you feel you are inadequate in a certain aspect of writing, read a novel that does it well. It can show you how to be great. 

Plot Sense
When Dessen begins writing, she has to have some sense of where the book is going, so she writes a few notes in what she calls a book ‘skeleton’. It’s not an outline, but something simpler which gives her more freedom. Her skeleton consists of the first line, first scene, climatic scene and the last scene, but all of these are subject to change as she writes. It gives direction without keeping the writer beholden to a detailed outline, which is a good medium between being a pantser and a plotter.

Be Disciplined
Discipline is a key point for an aspiring author, and an experienced one. Writing is about training yourself to sit down every day and put words to paper. Dessen writes at the same time each day, as she has for years. And on days when she can’t write (when she’s on tour and such), she can feel in her bones that she’s supposed to be writing. In her own words, “A lot can be said for just showing up every day.”
Just after she signed the books!
Thanks again, Sarah, for coming to the Midwest! I finished The Moon and More last Thursday and recommend it highly. It's not just a feel-good beach read but is also a real-life, heart-wrenching novel that will pull you in like warm sand between your toes.

Oh yes!


DISCLAIMER: This post in an unofficial account of the event with Sarah Dessen on June 7, 2013 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, OH. The views that I present in this article are my interpretations of the event. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of Sarah Dessen, Viking Press (an imprint of Penguin) or any affiliates.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Reviews: Upcoming Releases

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to have access to DRCs (Digital Review Copies) of books that are going to be released this fall. I have already devoured two, with many more on my reading list. Here are my reviews of two great YA books that are coming to a shelf near you!

The Shade of the Moon: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Release date: August 13

There was something about this book that entranced me, as I devoured all 300 pages in just one day. However, there were some aspects that disappointed me as well.The Shade of the Moon is book four in the Last Survivors series, and was preceded by Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone and This World We Live In. It’s been three years since the third in the trilogy was released, and when this story picks up with Jon, Miranda’s younger brother, it’s been two years since the tornado that devastated their plans at the end of This World We Live In. Now, Jon lives with his stepmother Lisa and half brother Gabe in the Sexton clave but the rest of his family (his Mom, sister Miranda and brother-in-law Alex) is stuck in rundown White Birch outside, where food, wages and fairness is hard to come by. Relations between those living inside the clave and those who work for them from White Birch are ridden with tension, and when riots erupt during a soccer match, Jon and his family are caught on opposite sides.
            The plot was well-written, keeping me on the edge of my seat. However, I did feel that the romance of this book, the love between Jon and Sarah wasn’t fully developed, as I struggled to feel their passion. Sarah is a doctor’s daughter and member of the clave who argues for fairness and tries to stand up for the people of White Birch. Her character was strong and uncompromising, which was a great offset to Jon’s feigned indifference to some of the clave/community relations. But I do wish the beginning of their romance was explored more thoroughly as to be more believable. Also, Jon’s family in White Birch seemed to lack a presence in this novel. I understand that Jon’s position inside the clave made his a powerful story when the riots began, but as a reader I missed Miranda and Alex, who were the main characters of the previous three books. I won’t spoil the ending, but I felt like it was a well-written conclusion but open enough to allow for a variety of (hopefully happy) futures for Jon, Sarah, Miranda, Alex and Gabe. Even with the touches of disappointment, I was satisfied with this conclusion and am glad that I read it.

Tandem: Anna Jarzab
Release date: October 8

Days after finishing this book, I was still thinking about it. I was still thinking about the spectacular, heart-wrenching ending, and still struggling to decide just how much I loved this book. The concept (parallel universes) is something I’ve never seen/read before, and I was incredibly intrigued right from the beginning. The story takes place in Aurora, which is a planet similar to Earth except that history diverged during the Revolutionary War when, on Aurora, George Washington was killed prematurely. So even though Aurora has Shakespeare and Homer and the inhabitants speak English, the United States is the United Commonwealth of Columbia and the Kingdom of Farnham, both monarchies. At the start of this story, Princess Juliana of the UCC is kidnapped and the General reaches into Earth for her analog (who looks exactly the same but is otherwise different). Sasha, with the help of handsome bodyguard Thomas, is forced to fill in for Juliana and even host her betrothed, Callum the Prince of Farnham. But when Sasha discovers Juliana left of her own accord and the General turns on Thomas, Callum and her, it appears Sasha may be stuck in this parallel universe forever.
            As I mentioned, the premise of this story is amazing, creative and (in my experience) one-of-a-kind. The story was well-organized, and I especially adored Thomas’ strong yet mysterious character as well as the set up of a love triangle (Sasha/Thomas/Callum) which I hope will be explored further in the sequels (as this is a planned trilogy). I have to admit that Sasha, the main character, was slightly more dramatic and whiny than I usually prefer, but since she was thrown into another world without warning, I suppose she’s allowed to be a little over emotional. Also, I noticed in some scenes there was more telling than showing, and I do prefer the latter. I had high expectations for this novel (as I’ve been anxiously awaiting it for months) and I would say that those expectations were fulfilled. Tether, the sequel is due out in just about a year, and I am already eager to get my hands on it!

Happy June!