top 10 “top ten tuesday” meme topics

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 | | 1 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

Today’s “official” Top Ten Tuesday topic was the top ten books read so far in 2015.  I don’t know if I’ve blogged enough since January to come up with 10 titles, so I decided to cheat a little and do last week’s topic instead.  I’ve been participating in the TTT meme on and off since 2012, so I had plenty of posts to pick from, but it was fun to go back and look at how my lists (and reading preferences) have changed.

Top Ten TTT (Top Ten Tuesday) Meme Topics

1. Blogging confessions – I remember going over weird (quirky?) things that I do to decide what to share. I can be pretty reserved, but I let loose with this topic.

2. Favorite places to read – Mmmm. Just thinking about my favorite places to read puts me in a happy mindset. 

3. New-to-me authors of the year – This is a great topic that gets recycled every year.  It prompts me to go back over my reading and evaluate what worked, and who I’ll be keeping an eye out for going forward.

4. Things on my reading wishlist – Now this was a difficult prompt!  I don’t give much thought to what I’m searching for when I pick up a book.  I either pick it up or I don’t, and I either enjoy the story or I put it down.  But really digging into my preferences, and realizing that there are holes (or at least shallow parts) in my favorite genres was interesting and informative.

5. Books from my pre-blogging days – Some of the books I liked from the days before blogging do not stand up to the sort of scrutiny I’ve developed as a reviewer today.  And that’s okay.  I continue to harbor a lot of love in my heart for those old favorites.

6. Favorite character names – When I think about a book a couple of years after I read it, I remember the world-building and the plot, and possibly a character or two.  I do not remember character names, unless I’ve done a reread.  My brain’s just not built like that!  That made this topic a difficult one.  However, going back over my favorite books in search of names made me remember why I love a lot of the books I do!

7. Authors who take up the most space on my shelves – Easy peasy, and fun to do.  I took note of where my book hoarding proclivities and blogging interests diverge.

8. Favorite picture books – I use this post as a reference point whenever I go to a baby shower.  Building a picture book library for friends’ children is one of my greatest joys!

9. Most intimidating books – What I loved about this topic was that it spurred so much discussion (both on the internet and in real life).  It turns out that everyone is intimidated by books!

10. Scariest book covers – I’m not going to lie, there are some book covers I can’t look at full-on.  They’re just too creepy!  That said, it was a lot of fun to compile this list.

Did any of these make your list last week?

the truth about twinkie pie

Are you looking for a book as cute and sweet on the inside as its title and cover suggests?  Kat Yeh’s The Truth About Twinkie Pie is it.  I don’t pick up books in the contemporary genre much anymore, but I made an exception in this case.  The lure of a middle grade story that incorporated baking and cooking combined with the adorable art and book design = too much for me to resist.

the truth about twinkie pie by kat yeh
Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei, a name she never says out loud) and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi (short for Delta Dawn). Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets.

That's the recipe for The Truth About Twinkie Pie, a voice-driven middle grade debut about the true meaning of family and friendship.

GiGi and her sister DiDi (yes, those names are short for something and there’s a fun story to go with) move up north when DiDi wins a nation-wide recipe contest and a million dollars.  GiGi isn’t sure why they need to start over in a new town, but she’s excited (and a little scared) about the prospect of her fancy new school and making friends for the first time.  Luckily, GiGi’s habit of telling the truth helps her find a place and a community, even if one of her new schoolmates seems set against her on principle.  While she’s learning lessons about friendship at school, there’s trouble brewing at home.  GiGi is brave, but she’s also human, and there’s only so much that holding your head high can do when your world goes topsy-turvy.

Let’s talk characters.  Confident GiGi has to overcome a few obstacles throughout the book, but the first one is her status as a southern transplant in a rich northern town.  A lot of the story’s tension revolves around the contrast between GiGi’s experiences and sense of “normal” and the other characters’.  Family secrets and the growing pains of friendship make up the rest of the plot. GiGi’s distinctive voice (and the funny stories she tells in it) sell the setting, the plot, and the relationships between the characters.  It is the best part of the book.  

Another fun bit: DiDi and GiGi’s family recipes at the end of every chapter.  These look like tried-and-true Southern specialties, often with simple (processed!), easy-to-find ingredients.  I love that Yeh weaves in stories and describes the appropriate time to serve a certain dish (determined by mood or special occasion), so that they are truly part of the story, rather than addendums to the chapter.  I’m not usually a Twinkie sort of person, but I may have to make an exception and try Twinkie Pie!

This story deals with some heavy topics, but it’s not a tragedy by any means.  It’s not all sweetness and light, but it’s hope-full, and GiGi herself has a cheerful, colorful personality.  She delights in knowing and seeing the good in those around her (most of the time – she’s not perfect!), so the tone is never dark. 

The way that a certain young character’s revelation is handled near the end of the book could be counted a weakness.  It isn’t unpacked or discussed, and I think young readers might miss it completely, though adults will certainly clue in.  It is something that deserves more time.  The only way that treatment makes sense to me is if Yeh is planning to write companion novel, but I haven’t heard anything of that nature.

In all, The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a sweet story filled with recipes, family secrets, growing up, and figuring out how you’ll end up who you want to be.

Recommended for: fans of Lisa Graff’s A Tangle of Knots, those who like their food and literature served together, and anyone who appreciates character-driven middle grade fiction.

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

the queen's hat

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 | | 2 comments
I’m not all that interested in collecting picture books for myself, but I do want to be the sort of honorary aunt who has the most extensive library and gives the best books as gifts to the children she knows.  To that end, I’ve been paying more attention to picture book trends and award winners in recent years.  I don’t automatically think, “Not for me,” when I see a picture book anymore.  When I walked by the Scholastic booth at Book Expo America and saw the cover of Steve Antony’s The Queen’s Hat, I knew I had to check it out. 

the queen's hat by steve antony cover
A wild romp around London as the Queen loses her hat!

From Steve Antony, the author and illustrator of Please, Mr. Panda and Betty Goes Bananas!

A sudden gust of wind sets off a marvelous adventure for the Queen, lots of Queen's men, and one very special hat. Just where will that hat land? Following a hysterical, epic hat chase, the Queen is reunited with her hat -- and the royal baby!

Young children will love the cumulative nature of the story, the fun mayhem that breaks loose, and Steve Antony's winning art style. The Queen's Hat shows some of London's most famous sites, and back matter explains their significance.

The Queen’s Hat is an adorable picture book illustrated in a limited palette of red, black and blue (which makes some pages a puzzle for the eyes – in a good way – a la Where’s Waldo?).  Steve Antony plays with the idea of a hat stolen by the breeze, and takes his characters on a romp through London, to (and through! and over!) its most famous landmarks.  Certain figures grace every page: the Queen of course, and her hat, but also her argyle-sweatered dog and a palace butler (complete with tea service).  The adventures of the hat, its wearer, and her cohort make funny reading for young and old alike.

One of the strengths of the book is the accuracy of the blue line architecture drawings of London landmarks.  They’re illustrated in exquisite, 2-D detail.  The historical significance of each is explained on a page at the back of the book as well.  The fun in most of the page spreads is in the handful, then dozens, then hundreds of palace guards crawling and climbing over the monuments as they try to retrieve the Queen’s hat. Of course, some (most?) of their feats are out of the realm of human possibility, so there’s a lot of imagination and whimsy involved.  Which is just how it should be in a picture book!

In all, The Queen’s Hat is a charming, cheeky and entertaining picture book that’s likely to be requested and re-read over and over again.

Recommended for: young fans of Jon Klassen’s Hat books and the Where’s Waldo? series, as a gift for children who will visit London in the near future, and for anglophiles of all ages.

The Queen's Hat will be released in the U.S. by Scholastic on August 25, 2015.

Fine print: I picked up an ARC of this book for review at BEA 2015. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

book expo america 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015 | | 4 comments
Book Expo America.  Attendance is practically mandatory if you work in the publishing industry, and it’s definitely THE place to be if you’re a YA blogger.  I’m starting to see BEA recaps everywhere I turn (on the interwebs), so here, have mine too.  After all, I went this year, after declaring that I wouldn’t!

Why (and how!) I went
Last year I shared how book blogging helped me get a new job.  My company created the position from scratch and hired a newbie (me).  Now that I’ve settled into the role, I recognize that I’ll need to learn new skills to really maximize this opportunity.  Also: I have a new boss!  As of last month.  From the beginning he really stressed owning your professional development goals.  So when I got the unexpected news that my BEA press badge was approved, I put together a quick proposal for professional development (looked up a template email on the internet, modified it, calculated a travel budget, cobbled together an education calendar and submitted the whole thing within an hour and a half. approved in 5 minutes. golden!).

What I learned
I’ve never done professional development before, folks.   To prepare I went through the BEA program guide and highlighted all of the sessions that looked even remotely helpful to my current role.  Sessions on data and innovation, copyright, Google Analytics, and women in leadership made the list.  Yeah, I didn’t realize BEA had a program that covered that many angles either! 

What did I learn?  To be truthful, session quality varied greatly.  I did some speaker scouting for the Education team back at the office, was bored out of my skull in a basic web analytics course, and gleaned one or two insights on copyright and DRM management.  The good news is that while work paid for transport & food, I arranged to share a college friend’s hotel room for my lodging, so the cost was minimal on my employer’s side of things (that kept the guilt monster at bay).

Who I saw
Of course, no trip to BEA is complete until you’ve met up with an awesome internet friend for the first time.  I’ll just warn you now, I didn’t make notes about who I met each day, so I’m sure I’ll leave people out.  If I do and you’re reading this, please remind me in the comments! 

Emma and Nicole, my BEA buddies for the past 3 years, were there for me again.  We chilled in lines together, checked galley drops, and took fantastic photo booth pictures.  Nicole of YA Interrobang was so great in the leadup to the show – she sent me tweets almost every day to keep me apprised of the YA signings and giveaways.  I fangirled a tiny bit when I finally met her. DC local (and book club friend!) Sajda of Across the Words was at BEA for the very first time, so we met up in lines, at parties, and just to chat.  Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library and I always find a lot to talk about (and we seem to be going for the same titles!), which is lovely.  I also said quick hellos to Jamie of The Perpetual Page Turner, Andi of Andi’s ABCs, Cassi of My Thoughts Literally, Jess of Books & Sensibility… and that’s the point where my memory gets faulty.

Books… right?!
Yes, there were books.  On Wednesday and Thursday I stalked the Exhibit Hall floor in between panels, and picked up a few great titles.  My big book day was Friday, when I decided that I could count myself happy (and victorious) if I picked up Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red and Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules.  I accomplished those two things, so the day was a success.  If you’d like to see the other titles I snagged, feel free to check out the Instagram photo evidence.

In hindsight
I don’t imagine I’ll be attending BEA again in a professional capacity.  There are other, more uniformly useful opportunities to explore.  But hey, you never know unless you give it a try, right?  The best bits of my trip: Hanging out with my people (the ones with books in their souls), attending the fantastic Macmillan Kids blogger party, chatting late into the night with a college friend, bookkkksssss, and a final dinner in the city with my cousin and her two children at the Wythe on Friday night.  I went home a happy and exhausted blogger, and I hope I’ll be able to do it all again next year.

Tell me, how was your BEA or Armchair BEA experience?

top ten most anticipated books for the remainder of 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015 | | 6 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you know that I went to Book Expo America 2015 in New York over three days in the last week of May.  I planned to skip the show this year, but forces in the universe aligned (an unexpected press badge, a college friend with space in her hotel room, and an approval for professional development) to make it possible.  I went, I had a fantastic time living and breathing books with my favorite online book pals, and I brought home many interesting titles.  Now that they’re all safely here on my dining room table, I’ve had time to think about which ones I’m anticipating most.  Today’s TTT topic?  Weirdly perfect.  Welcome to the list of releases I’m most excited to read for the rest of 2015! I got lucky and picked some of them up at BEA (yay!).

Top Ten Most Anticipated Books for the Remainder of 2015

1. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott – I saw this pitched as Little Women meets Game of Thrones.  Even though I’ve never read GoT, that description piqued my interest like whoa.  Another thing: Elliott writes fantastic female friendships.  I was going to read her next book anyway, now I’m that much more excited!  Releases August 18.

2. Walk the Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Isn’t everyone in the YA book world excited for this book?!  I mean: gold, magic, Western, romance (plus the most gorgeous book cover ever!).  I’m sold.  Releases September 22.

3. Lady of Magick by Sylvia Izzo Hunter – ICYMI, I had a total meltdown last August over how much I loved Hunter’s first book, The Midnight Queen.  It was a Cecelia book through and through.  Good news!  It was the first in a series.  I can’t wait for more magic, political intrigue, alternate history, transformation and romance.  Releases September 1.

4. Brilliant by Roddy Doyle – I adored Roddy Doyle’s beautiful, bittersweet middle grade family ghost story A Greyhound of a Girl.  I often think of the gorgeous word-pictures it made in my head, and I don’t know that I’ve ever read a writer who has done dialogue quite so well.  I was determined to pick up this title at BEA, and I’m happy to say I succeeded!  Releases September 8.

5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – I am not quite sure how this title made it onto my radar, but I’ve been looking forward to it for over a year now.  If anyone can do an extinction event, collapse of empire, and meld it with a personal struggle and journey narrative, I’ve heard that Jemisin can.  I haven’t read her yet, so I’ll have to see for myself!  Releases August 4.

6. Hunter by Mercedes Lackey – I’ve been reading Mercedes Lackey’s fantasy for over a decade now (what.).  That is… a long time.  Sometimes her books work for me, sometimes they don’t.  I remain a fan, and this new YA series with monsters and a Hunger Games-esque vibe sounds like it’s right up my alley.  I can’t wait to see how it goes.  Releases September 1.

7. The Scorpion Rules by Erin BowErin Bow is one of the best authors that blogging has introduced me to.  I don’t think I would have picked up Plain Kate without the urging of several trusted blogging friends, and my world would be poorer for it.  This, her next book, sounds completely different and absolutely awesome.  So. Flipping. Excited.  Releases September 22.

8. Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl – If you ask where I’ve been recently, and why the blog has been quiet, I’ll sheepishly admit that I’ve been reading Marvel fanfiction at an astonishing clip since last September.  We’re talking millions of words read, none of them traditionally published.  I’m so far in it’s ridiculous and somewhat frightening.  Anyway, given that… situation… it’s fair to say that I’m all in for a YA novel featuring one of my now-favorite superheroes.  Releases October 13.

9. Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith – Fantastical dream espionage plus Empire plus intrigue equals *(@$&%)&^.  Oh sorry, that was just my brain freaking out and having a small dance party.  Yes, I’m interested.  Releases October 6.

10. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – First of all, that cover art!  Second of all, fantasy plus a heist!  Criminals and magic!  That combo is totally one of my weaknesses (I’m thinking Holly Black’s White Cat and Emily Lloyd-Jones’ Illusive).  I haven’t read Bardugo before, but I hear this one can stand alone and I’m more than happy to give it a try.  Releases September 29.

What books are you most excited for in 2015?
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