Month: January 2015

Review: The Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me coverAt first glance, Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series looks like your typical dystopian young adult novel. The world is in ruins, there is a totalitarian regime, people are starving, and our lead character has been locked up in an asylum for almost a year.

Tahereh Mafi’s writing is beautiful, poetic, stream of consciousness, full of nature metaphors and personifications. This makes sense because of her narrator’s somewhat shattered mind – she’s been a prisoner for 264 days without human contact. We know nothing about her in the beginning, for several chapters not even her name. Piece by piece, bit by bit we learn more about everyone.

Juliette is in the asylum because there is something very wrong with her. She can’t be touched without hurting other people. Her skin is lethal. She ends up leaving the asylum, intended by the regime’s dictator’s son to be used as a weapon. But the soldier, Adam, who is tasked with watching her is someone from her past. And he wants to help.

The first book is exciting, full of dramatic twists and action that had me turning page after page. It did wrap up very much like any other YA novel, so I was hesitant when I decided to continue reading the series.

And oh my goodness, I was so annoyed with Juliette during the beginning of the second book, Unravel Me. She was so WHINEY. I wanted to close the book and stop reading at times, but something kept me going. One of the secondary characters, the hilarious Kenji, actually repeatedly called Juliette out on how self-pitying she was being, and how her life seemed only to revolve around her boyfriend. Wow, I thought. That’s a remarkably astute and meta observation from the author. Usually in these types of books, the authors are unaware of their cliches. What game are you playing, Tahereh Mafi?

By the end of the second book, I was floored. Juliette had done a complete 180, believable because of the events of the book. Also, that fragmented poetic stream of consciousness sort of writing I mentioned before? While Juliette still thinks of beautiful metaphors for things, her thinking and narration become a lot more sensible and comprehensible as we reach the third book. It’s like she’s finally reassembled herself as much as she can.

The third book, Ignite Me, is what makes this series worth the read. It completely subverts so many of the typical, tired tropes you see in female-protagonist, dystopian young adult fiction. Juliette ends up as a tremendously brave character, who does things for herself and has a strong moral compass. At the same time, she ends up not being scared to make the hard decisions. And the secondary characters shine. I hesitate to write anymore because I don’t want to give it away! I’m just very happy with the way things turned out.

Admittedly, there were still a few bumps and snags in the series. But I think the uniqueness of how this series switches up the usual status quo of dystopian novels makes it well worth the read. Along with Tahereh Mafi’s gift with words and beautiful metaphors.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

girlsatthekingfisherIt opens like a fairy tale: twelve beautiful sisters, shut up tight in their rooms, defy their father and sneak out at night to go dancing. They are enchanting, these sisters, and they sparkle like diamonds in the speakeasies they inhabit.

Does this premise sound familiar? That’s because Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a 1920s retelling of the the tale of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” But whether you make that connection or not, this is still a story worth reading. This fairy tale enchantment follows the Hamilton sisters through The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but remember: for all their enchantment, fairy tales have villains and hard times, too.

Valentine’s novel, released in June of 2014, follows the twelve daughters of a controlling father who, ashamed that his wife could not produce a male heir, has chosen to shut up his female offspring in the upper rooms of the house. He wants nothing to do with his daughters, but he doesn’t want to turn them out, either. Instead, he seems to be waiting for them to be of marrying age so he can be rid of them for good.

The eldest daughter, Jo, has been nicknamed “The General” by the younger girls. She keeps everyone orderly and speaks on behalf of the rest of the daughters. While some of the younger girls have had little interaction with their father, Jo meets with him to go over expenses and various affairs. But there is no warmth in their interaction; Jo’s dealings with her father are cold and business-like.

Jo and Lou, the second oldest sister, have been fortunate enough to leave the house in the past and sneak into movies. When they see dancing scenes in films, they’re overcome with longing and secretly learn to dance (and teach their other sisters) in their rooms. In time, an operation is set up: the Twelve Dancing Princesses visit speakeasies at night, herded in by The General. The Hamilton girls mystify the smitten men in these establishments, and their dancing skills are unmatched.

When their father grows suspicious and hatches a plot to marry off the oldest girls, the sisters must fight to keep together and keep dancing.

Valentine’s writing, like a fairy spell, enchanted me from the beginning. The descriptions of the dancing sisters in their beaded gowns, the drunken splendor of the speakeasies, and the handsome men the girls called their dance partners entranced me from the beginning. It was easy to fall in love. While I was able to connect with the older girls, I had a hard time feeling attached to the younger girls of the bunch. Like their father, I felt distanced from these girls – after a while, there were too many to keep track of!

However, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a beautiful read, full of gorgeous lines and unforgettable scenes. I recommend taking a spin on the dance floor with the Princesses. You’ll fall in love with their magic.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

What I Learned from Chicken Scratch

Young writers may think their truest work is far beyond them, and that’s after they’ve convinced themselves that, yes, they are in fact writers. So begins the self-deprecating yet excessively vainglorious task of finding one’s voice in art. Much runs through the mind in this creative savagery. We look back to understand what started this whole mess, and in doing so try to show resolve because we think it sincere. We proclaim to no one in particular that literature has changed our lives, and that we’ve grown sensitive to the unspoken, deeply felt rituals surrounding the written word and its creation. We overlook the work we’ve actually accomplished. The practical gets ignored, and how our engagement with those simpler, less poetic things mattered.

Obviously, I’m talking about day planners. Let’s start from the top:  every September, the powers that be would grant fresh planners to the pupils of St. Lucy’s School in the Bronx. I didn’t know where they came from or who paid for them (thanks mom), but there they were, a new batch of spiral-bound beauties to help us remember our homework and extracurricular activities. Their pages of tightly compartmentalized existence made me feel ready for all that was to come. After mushy summers, order was suddenly brought to the universe. I believed I would accomplish anything because I wrote it down in a book.

I thought the kids who neglected their planners were mad. Was maintaining one really that exhausting? I’ll answer that question for all my erstwhile classmates:

No.

Wrestling with blocks of your own chicken scratch wasn’t just a nagging reminder of how much work you hadn’t finished, but a break from doing anything pedagogically applicable until you reached college, where maybe those skills were expected of you by professors for the sake of creativity or time management. Through a planner’s base intent and structure, you get to make shapes and words that not only mirrored your thoughts, but your own way of thinking. Consulting with myself, I devised shorthand to record homework, sketching out different approaches to its completion in patches of terse reportage. After that, a planner was a great invitation to doodle. Empty stretches left by holiday weekends and Christmas break made for prime drawing space, as if the planner was designed, even with all its hard lines and protocol, to subvert utility. Looking back at months of packed directives, awkward musings, and arcane symbols was similar to gazing at a microchip. At a glance, what I wrote within and across the margins made an alien network of information, my squiggled filigree a mystery to the uninitiated, but still seemingly purposeful taken as a whole. Everything was assembled and, somehow, the work got done.

Planners informed some of my first regular writing exercises, encouraging journalistic acumen and creative silliness. They offered an early chance to edit and annotate, my lumpy lists and atlases melding with the reference materials offered in their back pages. It made owning a notebook necessary and writing seem to close to me, even if I didn’t really think I was writing.

At this point I could go on about the social conditioning implicit in my experience with planners. Conditioning children to micro-manage themselves and regiment their production can be seen as some sad strain of Foucaultian self-surveillance. I could write about all these interesting theoretical thoughts in my planner, you know.

Okay, so maybe the planner as social tool would keep me too consumed in the process of production to notice I wouldn’t get to own the stuff I meticulously planned to make, from elementary school onward. That’s writing, isn’t it? In a world where your work is undervalued if not outright ignored in the marketplace, you’re lucky enough if you get to say you own it at the end of the day. But once the year ended and my planner lied stuffed and tattered, it felt like my handiwork. It now wore a year of twitchy expressions and the imprints of my hands. It speaks the way I do. My bad habits and attempts at forming better ones – my life –are made manifest in its lines. Is a scheduled appointment or birthday reminder art? Maybe not, but the commitment of keeping a planner and making yourself known and physical in such a way at least raises the question. Appointments that would end in parting or thoughts that would stay stuck in your head are transposed so you can see them differently, translating the most basic occurrences of your life through an active craft of writing. When unpredictable messages begin to leak from your documented old routines, the primary purpose of planning to do and know, not just preparing to perform either, is revealed.

Book-lovers are sensitive to the physicality of records, knowing that their personal scribbles and footnotes change a copy into their copy. That’s why I chose the Hobonichi Techo as my planner for 2015. Designed by the casually brilliant copywriter and renaissance man Shigesato Itoi, the techo is meant to record thoughts that appear in the “hazy, blank period of time [people] can’t put a name to.” As planners become more than a compendium of tasks, they become what the techo strives to be. This might seem like glib pandering to notebook fetishists, but the techo keeps things understated, flexible, and, honestly, how dare you for doubting Itoi. Taking feedback from users, the techo allots each day its own page of graph paper to customize as they see fit, and is filled with data like a spice and herb visual guide, descriptions of heads-or-tails games from around the world, and a pictograph on how to wash oneself in a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Like any good planner, it provides more info than you usually need, just in case.

“Even as the planners are all the same containers, they have unique shapes as clay formed by hand,” states Itoi in his mission statement for the project. “There will be days when you couldn’t catch a fish, and there will be days you won’t fish. But with 365 days in a year, over time your net will fill with plenty of minnows. Such is the wealth of our thoughts.”

dayplannerItoi’s concept is admirable, yet it still prompts a certain self-awareness that makes me question if I’m interesting enough for a fancy, devil-may-care creative planner. “Am I drawing enough absurd doodles in the margins around my daily tasks?,” I might ask myself as I count the ways I can make my shorthand notes look sloppy-chic in all the right ways. “Surely I could’ve pressed more lilacs between last May’s pages. They’d perfectly frame that romantic poem I wrote on the 24th, right next to my last physical’s bloodwork results.”

Hobonichi’s website displays user-submitted photos of techos, which doesn’t help. How long does it actually take these proud record-keepers to manicure a page? Could they really just slap perfectly framed pictures of their dogs next to sophisticated drawings and still manage to immaculately write all their goals around them? Surely their penmanship isn’t that whimsically rounded all the time? Many might want a perfectly messy life, one that plays hard but looks easy. I’m not sure if my messiness fits the bill.

My concerns are ridiculous, of course, but so are my planner habits. I’m sloppy, but I like to work with the lines I’m given. Any neat partitions separating my ideas are just there to give me comfort and pretend I’m being efficient. Messy, but practical. Just like Benjamin Franklin.

 “Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.”

Franklin was supposedly industrious enough to have a planner named after him.  “The morning question: What good shall I do this day?” was a masthead of one of his documented day pages, a pretty noble frame of mind to get you going, especially for a man whose definition of “good” and “getting oneself going” proved quite flexible. Though it seems in his planner he didn’t let himself off the hook. He recorded his transgressions with black dots in an effort to track moral imperatives he set for himself, like “Order” and “Temperance.” Tracking one’s own failures is an interesting premise overshadowed by the can-do associations of the day planner. In conversations of personal achievement and goal-setting, procrastination seems to end as soon as we get in the habit of using one. There only seem to be tasks completed and work that will surely get done once they’re committed to planner stock, which as we all know is made of fairy pulp bound in unicorn floss and magically engineered to guarantee success.

I don’t actively chronicle my failures in my planner, but they’re in there. The repetition of delayed publication dates, news articles meant to be read; all the projects I can’t seem to bring myself to officially put on the backburner. Reminders like that sometimes make my planner look like it belongs to Jack Torrance, but it’s also a plain revelation of how I work in my own words. I didn’t have to overthink or romanticize my process to figure out why or how I write. Within my planner, the story of my stories can be told. No meaning necessary.

Andrew Marinaccio is a Bronx-based journalist with experience in music criticism and tech business reporting. He often scrambles to write things down. Sometimes those things wind upon the Internet.

Tomorrow is National Readathon Day!

NationalReadathonDay

If you’re looking to do some good in the new year, and you’re currently trying to tackle a big “Must Read” pile, then you’re in luck! For the first year ever, January 24th will be National Readathon Day, a fundraising effort put together by the National Book Foundation, Penguin Random House, Goodreads, and Mashable.

Did you know that 40% of adults in the United States are at basic or below-level reading proficiency? Without access to books and reading programs, these numbers could potentially keep growing.  And shouldn’t all children have access to books and quality programming? National Readathon Day has been created in an effort to “expand the audience for literature.”

Until January 26th, you can open a fundraising page here on FirstGiving and help raise money for the National Book Foundation. The funds raised will go towards programs like BookUp, an educational after-school program that has provided children with 25,000 free books since its inception in 2007.

And what about the Readathon part of National Readathon Day?

You can get involved by joining readers across America in a marathon reading session on Saturday, January 24. From Noon – 4 PM in our respective time zones, we will sit and read a book in our own home, library, school or bookstore.

Whether you choose to read one book, or ping-pong between two, I hope you bunker down and get some pages read! An afternoon dedicated to reading! What can be better than that?

Be sure to use the hashtag #timetoread to share your National Readathon Day experience. I’d love to hear what book you choose to read, or how you pledge to help spread the goodness of reading in your community.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

 

Cover Reveal: All Played Out by Cora Carmack

Holy smokes are we excited to bring you the cover for Cora Carmack’s All Played Out! All Played Out is a New Adult Contemporary Romance, and it’s the third book in the Rusk University Series, published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. It is due to be released on May 12, 2015! If you haven’t had a chance to read this sexy, fun series yet, be sure to grab All Lined Up and All Broke Down!

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Pre-Order Your Copy Today!

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Add All Played Out on Goodreads!

About ALL PLAYED OUT:

First person in her family to go to college? CHECK.
Straight A’s? CHECK.
On track to graduate early? CHECK.
Social life? …..yeah, about that….

With just a few weeks until she graduates, Antonella DeLuca’s beginning to worry that maybe she hasn’t had the full college experience. (Okay… Scratch that. She knows she hasn’t had the full college experience).

So Nell does what a smart, dedicated girl like herself does best. She makes a “to do” list of normal college activities.

Item #1? Hook up with a jock.

Rusk University wide receiver Mateo Torres practically wrote the playbook for normal college living. When he’s not on the field, he excels at partying, girls, and more partying. As long as he keeps things light and easy, it’s impossible to get hurt… again. But something about the quiet, shy, sexy-as-hell Nell gets under his skin, and when he learns about her list, he makes it his mission to help her complete it.

Torres is the definition of confident (And sexy. And wild), and he opens up a side of Nell that she’s never known. But as they begin to check off each crazy, exciting, normal item, Nell finds that her frivolous list leads to something more serious than she bargained for. And while Torres is used to taking risks on the field, he has to decide if he’s willing to take the chance when it’s more than just a game.

Together they will have to decide if what they have is just part of the experiment or a chance at something real.

And don’t miss the first two books in the Rusk University Series…

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All Lined Up, Book 1

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All Broke Down, Book 2

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HeadshotAbout Cora Carmack:

Cora Carmack is a twenty-something writer who likes to write about twenty-something characters. She’s done a multitude of things in her life– boring jobs (like working retail), Fun jobs (like working in a theatre), stressful jobs (like teaching), and dream jobs (like writing). She enjoys placing her characters in the most awkward situations possible, and then trying to help them get a boyfriend out of it. Awkward people need love, too. Her first book, LOSING IT, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.

 

 

Website ** Twitter ** Facebook ** Author Goodreads

Will you be reading All Played Out? What do you think of the cover?

Review: The Prince by Sylvain Reynard

PrinceFor fans like me who devoured the Gabriel’s Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard, here’s a welcomed treat. A novella connecting Gabriel and Julianne’s world to that of Reynard’s upcoming novel, The Raven, releases tomorrow on January 20th.

This novella, entitled The Prince,  is set on the Gabriel timeline during Gabriel and Julianne’s trip to Florence, where they share their collection of priceless Dante illustrations at the Uffizi gallery. Unbeknownst to the couple and readers, there’s a sinister, otherworldly tone in play. The Prince brings that tone to light.

Reynard has chosen to introduce a supernatural element into his fictional world; the character of The Prince has been around for centuries, and he’s not too happy to see his precious Dante illustrations in the hands of some grubby professor and his sweet, weak wife. He wants to exact his revenge on the professor, but he also has to deal with a foiled assassination attempt on his life. Readers struggle along with The Prince, who struggles to hold on to his power and get back what is rightly his. He’s an intriguing protagonist: are we supposed to side with him? Are we supposed to worry about who he may harm, and what he is capable of?

I found this character to be in an interesting predicament: he is an old soul in both sense of the word, trying to remain inconspicuous in a modern world. In his private corridors he may listen to medieval music and examine scrolls while being attended to by his various supernatural servants; out in the modern world he prefers to ride a fast, flashy motorcycle.

I appreciate the action in the book, a very different sort of pacing for Reynard, whose Gabriel novels unfolded in a tortuously sweet fashion. I look forward to seeing this new tone and pacing expanded upon in The Raven.

Most interestingly to me as a Gabriel’s Inferno fan is this: now that I know that there are otherworldly elements in Gabriel and Julianne’s world, I now feel differently – in a good way! – about the references to the divine. There’s an interesting dynamic at play, and I thank Sylvain Reynard for capturing my interest.

Are you ready to read The Prince? You can get your copy at any of the links below. For now, here’s an excerpt featuring Julianne and Gabriel!

In the distance, the Prince could hear voices and muffled sounds.

He approached silently, almost floating across the floor.

Desperate groans and the rustling of fabric filled his ears, along with the twin sounds of rapidly beating hearts. He could smell their scents, the aromas heightened due to their sexual arousal.

He growled in reaction.

The corridor was shrouded in darkness but the Prince could see that the professor had his wife up against a window between two statues, her legs wrapped around his waist.

Her voice was breathy as she spoke, but the Prince tuned out her words, moving closer so he could catch a glimpse of her lovely face.

At the sight of it, flushed with passion, his old heart quickened and he felt the stirrings of arousal.

It was not his custom to observe rather than participate. But on this occasion, he decided to make an exception. Careful to remain in the darkness, he moved to the wall opposite the couple.

The woman squirmed in her lover’s arms, her high heels catching on his tuxedo jacket. Her fingers flew to his neck, undoing his bow tie and tossing it carelessly to the floor.

She unbuttoned his shirt, and her mouth moved to his chest, as murmurs of pleasure escaped his lips.

The Prince felt more than desire as he watched the woman’s eager movements. He caught a glimpse of her exquisite mouth and the toss of her long hair that would no doubt feel like silk between his fingers.

She lifted her head to smile at the man who held her close and he could see love in her eyes.

(Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, iTunes.)

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Bookworm Interview: Alyson Lopez

Want to get to know more about the BiblioSmiles contributors? Read below to find out all about Alyson

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Q: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less:

My name is Alyson, and I don’t have a middle name or a nickname. I’m about to embark on my last semester of grad school and I’m a first year middle school science teacher. I’m a total science nerd, because duh. I love fashion from growing up in New York City and I’m always making ambitious plans, usually influenced by the book I’m reading, and it usually involves traveling.

But really, almost nothing makes me happier though than a good story that I can completely lose myself in, no matter the medium (photography, books, movies, blogs, TV shows, etc.) I enjoy living in a bubble with my head in the clouds.

Q: What books did you love as a child?

The entire Magic Tree House series started my love for reading and books. After that I devoured every fantasy story I could get my hands on. Elantris and The Inheritance Cycle were teenage favorites.

Q: What kinds of books do you love now?

I used to browse the fantasy/fiction section of Barnes and Noble, flipping through books until I found something I liked but then I found YA from a little quote on Tumblr that introduced me to John Green and Looking for Alaska. I’m sure some readers know the quote I’m talking about. I didn’t realize YA was the genre I loved until I started to really look at the books I loved and the ones I was starting to pick up.

I’m also trying to reconnect with my roots because I feel pretty white-washed. I’m Puerto Rican and Dominican but barely speak Spanish and as the years go on I lose touch with more and more of my roots. So aside from YA I also love stories I can relate to (let’s face it I’m not a teenager anymore); authors like Junot Diaz, and Raquel Cepeda seem to really understand that weird identity of being Dominican but growing up in NY, unlike our parents who don’t get it because they’re straight from the island.

So all in all, identity stuff and romance.

Q: Where’s your favorite place to sit down and read?

The train or Barnes and Noble. When living at home my commutes have always been long (1.5 hours for middle school, 1 hour for high school, 2 hours for summer classes in college). I like having having a long stretch of time disconnected from the rest of the world when I’m able to just get sucked into a story. If I don’t have as book I’ll just sleep on the train, and that’s way more boring.

Q: Do you set any goals for yourself as a reader?

I just want to read more. I read 27 books in 2014! Definitely a record for me.

Q: Have you ever met any of your favorite authors? What was that like?

No, but at BookCon this past year I saw John Green in the TFIOS panel and I pretty much died. I’m really bad about taking advantage of living in NYC when it comes to meeting authors. I’ve had lots of opportunities but never acted on them.

Q: How do you mark your place in a book?

Any which way. For a while after my best friend and I traveled to LA as my college graduation gift to myself I used used a bookmark from The Last Bookstore. But honestly I dog-ear my pages, or use what I can find, or sometimes I just try to memorize the last page I was up to. I’m pretty lax about it.

Q: What books are you on your “must read” list?

To Goodreads!
There’s like 40 books on my Goodreads “to read” list. So I’m not gonna go through all of that.

I’m into Gayle Forman right now, so since I finished If I Stay and Where She Went, I’m due to read Just One Day, Just One Year, and Sisters in Sanity.

I’m also slated to read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown for a book club I’m in.

Q: Here’s a famous question: if you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why? Where would you go, and what would they order for dinner?

Junot Diaz or Raquel Cepeda. They’re both living, and I would just love to talk to them about how they found their identity and became comfortable finding that balance between the culture you’re from and the culture you live in now. I’d love to go to the Heights for some Dominican food and order the whole menu for us to share. Haha.

Q: What’s your favorite post you’ve written for BiblioSmiles? What’s your favorite post that someone else has written?

Let’s face it, I’m terrible at writing posts, but I’m pretty good at Instagram! I really liked the photo showing my fork as a bookmark on Thanksgiving. I laughed at myself for that. I really love the Anatomy of a Bookshelf posts, and hope to include my own sometime soon!

Alyson Lopez is a middle school science teacher who enjoys reading YA, dressing up, pretending to be an adult, and the finer things in life, like watching TV in bed with no pants on. She’s finishing up grad school this May and cannot wait to be done with being a student. It blows.