Saturday, May 26, 2012

Advice to Graduates & all of us (reflective) - in which Neil Gaiman is quoted, because he said it best

Dear friends who are graduating (and everyone else, too),
I hope you've already seen this video of author Neil Gaiman addressing the University of the Arts Class of 2012 at their graduation.

I hope you've listened to it more than once, especially if you're finishing school (at any level) and are about to go out into the big wide world of work and responsibility and joy and distress and the chance to make a difference.

"Make. Good. Art," says Gaiman. Even if you don't have an artistic bone in your body, those words are meant for you: whatever it is that you are passionate about, do it well, and keep on doing it - through good times or bad, whether it's your vocation or avocation.

It may be your "day job" which fulfills you (like Maggie in Paper Daughter) or something after hours (like Haven in Illuminate).

It may be the first thing you try which makes the biggest impact in the lives of others (like Lex in Croak) or maybe the tenth (like Mercy).

It may be something that you've studied and trained for which turns out to be your best gift to those around you (like Sage in The False Prince) or perhaps not (like Ismae in Grave Mercy).

I hope you'll listen to this talk again when you need a reminder of what you can do to make the world better - just one person, doing whatever it is that you love to do best, finding satisfaction in the doing, not just the result (like Mitch in Payback Time).

Listen well - Make good art, in whatever manner your talent for increasing the world's happiness leads you.
Whether you're a new graduate or older and worldly-wise, remember that every sunrise brings you a new chance to begin to make good art.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Be Bad, by Lauren Myracle, Sarah Mlynowski, E. Lockhart (fiction) - Florida roadtrip, funny friendships

book cover of How to Be Bad by Lauren Myracle Sarah Mlynowski E Lockhart published by Harper Teen
Road trip!
Grab some junk food and a towel, a couple of maps,
some sights to see, and make some memories on the road.

Wonder if Jesse really thought this whole road trip thing through before she and Vicks and Mel left town...

Yes, there really is a Niceville, Florida and a huge Old Joe stuffed gator at Wakulla Springs and a mysterious Coral Castle.

The three teens take turns telling their story as a straightforward trip down to the University of Miami turns into quite the adventure. The three authors who collaborated on How to Be Bad took their own road trip so they could weave Florida's true atmosphere into every page.

Create great summer memories with good times, good friends, and good books, including these intriguing road trip novels, too: 
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, by Emily Horner
Don't Stop Now, by Julie Halpern
The Statistical Probability of Falling in Love, by Jennifer E. Smith

Book info: How to Be Bad / Lauren Myracle, Sarah Mlynowski, E. Lockhart. Harper Teen, 2008. [Lauren's website and Facebook]  [Sarah's website]    [Emily's website and blog]   [publisher site]    [book trailer]  

My Recommendation:  Summer before senior year should be more than just work, everyone says. So Jesse decides on a quick road trip with her best friend Vicks, and yeah, the new girl can go, too. Long miles and long days later, the three have more adventures than they planned on and make some memories they didn’t expect.

It’s just a road trip for three girls who work at Waffle House together – Jesse isn’t really trying to outrun the news from Mom’s cancer doctor. And Vicks needs to visit her boyfriend at college football camp (not calling her for two weeks – huh!). Even misplaced rich girl Mel wants to see huge Old Joe gator and Coral Castle and other unique sights featured in Fantastical Florida. Nine hours to Miami, nine hours back, an easy weekend drive, right?

Jesse does need some time away from Mom and all the dogs at their trailer for grooming and Mom’s boyfriend with the icee cart. They just can’t see how praying about Mom’s diagnosis would help, how going to church with Grandma would make them all feel better.

The little sister to a houseful of big brothers, Vicks loves sports and weird stuff like Old Joe, refuses to be a clingy girlfriend – still not cool that Brady won’t call her from the university after they’ve been dating for a year. She’ll just remind him how she’s different from all those athlete-worshippers he’ll meet in Miami.

Mel’s rich dad keeps moving their family around, so here they are in Niceville, another big house, another place to not fit in. A middle kid, she gets outvoted by her crazy younger brother and perfect older sister on everything. Having a chance to make some real friends - that would make paying for any road trip worthwhile.

A temperamental car, roadmaps gone wrong, detours and cute guys and crazy weather – each chapter is written from one girl’s viewpoint by one author, creating a triple look at a simple road trip that turned into so much more. Who knew that trying to be a little bad could turn out to be good after all?

Extras at the end of the book include the Bad Girls’ Playlist (music for a road trip), a Bad Girls’ quiz, and notes on how writing pals and popular young adult authors E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle wrote How to Be Bad together when they lived far apart. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lost Code (Atlanteans 1), by Kevin Emerson (fiction) - ozone layer gone, Atlantis calls

book cover of The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson published by Katherine Tegen Books
Archery, crafts, swimming in the lake,
bright-colored "bug juice" that all tastes the same,
it's summer camp, just like every other summer camp...

A future Earth unshielded by the ozone layer

Camp Eden is trying to make campers feel like everything is just fine, but their 22nd century world ravaged by global warming lurks just beyond the BioDome with its radiation-blocking panels and artificial sky.

So how does average guy Owen find himself drowned on the first day of camp, yet alive and a super-swimmer soon after? Why does any visit to the camp infirmary - from sprained ankle to skin rash - involve a blood test? And that voice beckoning him toward the light deep in the ancient prophecy? Can the legend of Atlantis be real? Is Lilly part of the prophecy, too?

I met author Kevin Emerson at KidLitCon in Seattle last September, shortly after this book was headed to his publisher, so I was pleased to see its "book birthday" scheduled for May 22 and truly enjoyed reading Owen's adventures in a solar-scorched future with a mystery that ties him to the distant past.

Be sure to request The Lost Code at your local library or independent bookstore soon so you can help Owen puzzle out this mystery of the Atlanteans.

Book info: The Lost Code (The Atlanteans book 1) / Kevin Emerson. Katherine Tegen Books, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site

My Recommendation:
Drowning on the first day of summer camp was not on Owen’s agenda. He hadn’t planned on being underwater for ten minutes and getting cuts on his neck, either. Or being bullied by his bunkmates or hearing voices call him underwater or kissing a girl or being chased by terrorists…

Owen felt strange at Camp Eden, being outside under the huge BioDome with a real lake and trees instead of safely inside the caves of Yellowstone Hub with his dad. Could those TruSky panels really protect campers from the massive solar radiation blasting Earth since the ozone layer had vanished? Better safe than sorry, they slather on NoRad lotion for all daylight activities.

Failing the swim test was bad, but the itchy wounds on his neck are even worse. Dr. Maria said not to get them wet, but a shower makes the pain stop. Cute lifeguard Lilly told Owen to go with any strange urges he has near the lake, so a night swim with the counselors-in-training sounds great – and he’s suddenly in his element, swimming and diving deep using his new gills. During the daytime, the thick NoRad lotion disguises their necks, and every night the CITs and Owen explore the lake’s depths – and sometimes the voice calls him toward an azure light.

Long-time camper Leech bullies everyone in their cabin, goes fishing with the camp director, and generally is obnoxious. He knows the secret trails in the camp forest and cheats during team challenges. Does he suspect that Owen isn’t just a skinny kid from the Hub anymore?

Touring the Eagle Eye Observatory which watches over the 200,000 inhabitants of EdenWest Dome, wondering if Dr. Maria knows more than she’s telling him about why he survived so long underwater, trying to stay away from Leech while he listens for the lake voice – Owen’s summer is turning out to be no picnic.

Why does the voice tell him of a prophecy? Can there really be people who live and survive outside the Dome? Is the camp director friend or enemy? Can Owen trust the visions about the future of his world and the Atlantis of its past?

First in a series, finding The Lost Code could be the secret that rescues humanity from itself or the final step in sealing their fate. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the author; cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If BooksYALove started today... (reflective) - blogging lessons learned in a year

old catalog drawing of manual typewriter
Not my typewriter.
Today, the 2012 WordCount Blogathon theme asks us to consider what we'd do differently with our blogs: “If I started blogging today I would….”

Hmmm... I'd compare WordPress and Blogger more closely before deciding which one to use. I started BooksYALove just hours before the 2011 Blogathon began, so I went with Blogger where I already had a personal blog for an online technology update course and it was a snap to add another blog. 

From reading other bloggers' experiences with plugins, going to self-hosted blog platform, etc., it sounds like WordPress has an edge over Blogger once it's time to take off the blogging-training-wheels. But I have gotten used to Blogger's interface (even when it changed right in the middle of a blog challenge for me) and really like the theme colors and layout that I selected, so I'm staying with Blogger for now. 

I wish I'd had enough time and confidence to register my domain name from day one so that all my outreach, publicity, and business cards had pointed to that web address from the very start. I probably will go self-hosted soon to give me more control over my own writings, since BooksYALove is meant to be a searchable archive of great books for young adult book fans.

Some things that I wouldn't change: I was immensely fortunate in finding my first choice of blog name available; the "YA" in the middle can mean "young adult" which is the book category that I cover or "ya" like the casual "you" since I'm writing recommendations directly to young adult book readers (rather than to librarians or those who purchase books for others).  And every book has to be one that a significant group of readers will love - I don't review every YA book that I read - so only the books that would rank 4-5 stars get the nod for BooksYALove. 

During my first month of blogging in May 2011, I settled on a blog format that suited my writing style, taking some of my YA recommendations posted on Barb Langridge's website and adding commentary with relevant subject links. Since I hate reading reviews that give away the ending or significant plot twists, I vowed to never do that to my readers - so, no spoilers, ever!

Longtime followers/subscribers have probably noticed some stylistic changes on BooksYALove in recent weeks, as I adjusted font sizes for better readability, added a new logo and blog background (courtesy of my talented daughter, the graphic designer), and started some easy-click book lists in tabs at the top of the page.

And I'll continue to participate each May in WordCount Blogathons, where I've found community (some of us posted in the Blogathon GoogleGroup for an entire year, not just the month of May!), advice, support, and the spark that set me off on this blogging adventure in the first place. Thanks, Michelle & the whole Blogathon crew!

(clipart of antique typewriter courtesy of Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fated (Soul Seekers 1), by Alyson Noel (fiction) - spirit worlds, souls unbound, evil or good

book cover of Fated Soul Seeker book 1 by Alyson Noel published by St Martins Griffin
She sees him in her dreams,
those visions that sent her over the edge of sanity,
leading her to an adobe house in the desert,
to the grandmother she's never known,
to the small town where she sees him, in the flesh.
Bound together by love or for evil?

Happy book birthday to Fated, hitting bookstore shelves today (May 22, 2012) in the USA - lucky UK readers have been devouring this first book in the Soul Seeker series for some time, and raving about it, too.

You may start to see its book trailer on TV or explore the Soul Seekers website or like its Facebook page, but you have to read the book for yourself to discover what Daine finds out about herself, her spirit animal guide, and twin brothers Cade and Dace.  Noel also has released a short story in which Ever from her popular The Immortals series meets Daire.

Book info: Fated (Soul Seekers, book 1) / Alyson Noel. St. Martin's Griffin, 2012. [author's website]   [publisher site]   [UK book trailer]  [US book trailer]

My Recommendation:  Time’s flow restarts, and the glowing people observe Daine from shadowed nooks, as she traverses the Moroccan marketplace on the way to her 16th birthday dinner. Not jet lag, no matter what her mother says – why can Daine alone move among the time-frozen people and animals? And why does she suddenly see severed heads on bloody spikes along the city walls, a murder of crows, the glowing ones attacking?

All her life, it’s been just Daine and her makeup-artist mom, traveling from movie set to movie set, her school classes done online, no other family, no problems. But now these visions and Daine’s uncontrollably violent reactions to them have changed all that.

Suddenly, her grandmother calls – for the first time in Daine’s life, she has another relative – and it’s decided that she must go to her rural New Mexico home and learn how to cope with her… abilities? For Paloma (mother of the father who died before Daine was born) is a seer and a healer who claims that these gifts are part of the teen’s heritage.

First time separated from her mother, first time to attend school, first time to ride a horse – Daine gradually shakes off her mental exhaustion to realize that whatever haunted her in Morocco is even stronger here. As she learns from grandmother Paloma about their family lineage as Soul Seekers, she also discovers that nearby vortexes lead to other worlds and that a strong family of ruthless soul-eaters will try to use them – and her – to bring more evil into this world.

A blind girl who sees auras, a vision quest for Daine’s spirit animal, twins separated at birth who mirror the light and the dark of this struggle – who could imagine that this small town of Enchantment would be the site of a soul-battle on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? First in the Soul Seekers trilogy, Daine strives to discover if she’s truly Fated to be part of all this. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Haiku (reflective) - the sun and not-the-sun

2012 annular solar eclipse seen at sunset near buildings
courtesy of
It's Haiku Day for the WordCount 2012 Blogathon, so I took yesterday's (invisible-from-Florida) annular eclipse as inspiration:

Strangest afternoon,
Sun-disk nibbled by the moon -
Hiding in plain sight.

Yes, I know that haiku isn't supposed to rhyme - it just happened...

(annular solar eclipse photo (c)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Memories of Africa (reflective) - tales of travel, hope, survival

The idea of "getting lost in a good book" brought to mind several memorable stories that I've recommended on BooksYALove over the past year.  These books set in Africa are worth a second look; click on each title to read my no-spoilers recommendation in a new window/tab, then find them at your local library or independent bookstore.
book cover of Now Is The Time For Running by Michael Williams published by Little Brown
Now is the Time for Running, but not just to play soccer. Deo must help his disabled older brother escape guaranteed death in Zimbabwe and stay alive long enough to find sanctuary in South Africa. Wild animals, deceitful travel companions, and city gangs all pose unpredictable dangers to the young teen.

Author Michael Williams lives and teaches in South Africa, where he's seen  first-hand the prejudice of city folk against the flood of refugees caused by political instability, as well as dedicated street-soccer coaches who turn around lives today.

book cover of This Thing Called the Future by JL Powers published by Cinco Puntos Press
Fourteen-year-old Khosi wonders and worries about This Thing Called the Future, trying to balance her schoolwork with caring for her little sister and grandmother while Mama works away, wondering if she should pray only to God-in-the-sky instead of using traditional remedies, knowing that "the disease of these times" could end all her dreams of going to college.

Named to the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 list, this novel examines life and love in the South Africa shantytowns where beliefs from the past collide with the modern reality of the AIDS virus.

book cover of Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta published by Knopf
Brought from unremarkable Ohio to exotic Liberia by his father's work in the 1980s, Linus decides to reinvent himself as a cool guy. Reading about Africa, he learns that the black mamba snake is secretive and rare. Yet the first thing Linus sees when the plane lands in Africa is a black mamba!

The U.S. Embassy residence area is called Mamba Point, but no one ever sees black mambas there...except Linus. An old man in the neighborhood tells him about connections with spirit animals - is the venomous snake truly his 'kaseng'?

(For all books, review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.)