Month: February 2015

So I Tried To Write in Iambic Pentameter, and This Is What Happened

shakespeareIf you love literature, or you were forced to read at some point in your life, you should know who Shakespeare is. You’ve probably read his sonnets, and have a vague idea of what iambic pentameter is.  And maybe, like me, it intimidates you just a little.

For hundreds of years, nearly up until the modern era, all poetry was written by this standard. Such great poets as Milton, Cowper, and Pope wrote every line of their (sometimes epic) poems in meter.  It was simply the convention of the age.

But somewhere along the way when you were reading these poems, did you ever think that they could be a good mental exercise? As a writer, I’m constantly looking for new inspiration, whether that is from my own life or from others. I also look for new ways to say things. I love new words and fresh ideas.

Last week when I got out of class early, I took a sheet of notebook paper and decided I’d try my hand at writing iambic pentameter. Other people do Sudoku or knit scarves, so why couldn’t I improve my skills by writing poetry? It’s something I’ve wanted to work on for a long time.

At some point in our lives, most of us have at least tried to write poetry. It’s an interesting art. Some lines truly come from the deepest and most inspiring parts of our soul. Poetry can be therapeutic and uplifting, reminding us why we are here. It is also frustrating when you can’t seem to find the right words.

But can you imagine writing the thoughts of your soul in meter, in ten alternating-stressed syllables per line, while making sure every other line rhymes? As soon as I began to write, I could almost immediately see something known as “linguistic determinism.” It is the idea that words, ideas, or modes of writing in a language can influence the way you think. And believe it or not, these can range wildly.

Since all English writers used to write in iambic pentameter, it makes sense that our language lends itself well to this style. They say that, as far as meter goes, iambic pentameter is one of the easiest modes to write in because it imitates the sound of your steps as you walk. That’s exactly why Shakespeare’s lines are so melodic: while there is an innate art, a pulse, to the lines, there is also measured thought behind the words that makes the magic happen.

In my sonnet, I started with an idea, but I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted it to end up. Almost immediately, I had to take my blue pen and scribble out syllables that made the line too long. I really had to think about what words were not necessary. Every other line, I would return to the word that I was supposed to rhyme, and try to think of related ideas. Sometimes it was simple, other times I was at a loss. By the time I finished, I was excited. I wrote a poem in iambic pentameter all by myself.

It’s likely that I’ll go back and revise. I have other ideas that I’d like to explore. But it got me thinking: if we approached other modes of writing with the same technique, would we allow ourselves to question our word choice? Would it make our prose writing stronger if we challenge ourselves to write more poetry? I think so. While every type of writing consists of different strategies and styles, exploring other modes can really improve your work, and help you grow as a writer and reader.

Kayla Dean is a writer with a passion for words, books, and storytelling. She loves YA and the classics, and blogs encouragement for writers at her site

Cover Reveal: Maybe in Another Life

inanotherlifeWe’re dreaming of summer—feet in the sand, soaking up the sun, taking a dip in the pool—but what we’re most excited about this summer is the release of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s third novel, MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE (on sale July 7, 2015). While we (impatiently!) wait for the book, today we’re giving you a first look at the gorgeous cover! Plenty more information below…

Maybe in Another Life:

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college, but on the heels of a disastrous breakup, she has finally returned to her hometown of Los Angeles. To celebrate her first night back, her best friend, Gabby, takes Hannah out to a bar—where she meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

It’s just past midnight when Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. Ethan quickly offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay.

Hannah hesitates.

What happens if she leaves with Gabby?

What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into surprisingly different stories with far-reaching consequences for Hannah and the people around her, raising questions like: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.


Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. She is the author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. You can follow her on Twitter @TJenkinsReid.

MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

Atria Books/Washington Square Press Paperback | 352 pages | ISBN:  9781476776880 | July 7, 2015 | $16.00 

eBook: Atria Books/Washington Square Press | 352 pages | ISBN: 9781476776897 | July 7, 2015 | $11.99



Barnes & Noble

Life in a YA Novel

I’m in my twenties and I read a lot of YA fiction.

A lot.

But in its defense, YA is grippingly honest, genuine, and open. The protagonists are going through the process of growing up, and that’s something we can all relate to. Because we never stop growing up. We are constantly in metamorphosis, reinventing ourselves all through the phases of our lives. Still, we can all remember that first coming-of-age, the one that YA literature deals with. Whether it’s realistic, fantasy, or another genre, the emotions are the same.

Of course, there are certain tropes that persevere in YA fiction. So, I present “what life would be like in a generic YA novel.” Both the good and the bad. Let’s see if our lives would be better or worse.

The good:

– You usually end up meeting a cute boy (or girl) who bucks the status quo and has either really brilliant eyes or maybe a random freckle above his eyebrow, and just totally gets you

– Superpowers. If it’s a fantasy YA book, you’re going to have some superpowers

– (Or, if you’re lucky, you find out you’re the crown princess to the Genovian throne)

– A real classy or alternative taste in music. Protagonists of YA all seem to be into either classical, super cool indie music, or angsty 80s/90s punk music. Way better than the top 40

– You either look entirely ordinary as a stand-in for the audience to relate to you, or you’re a super special snowflake and you have something like heterochromia or an inability to gain weight

– Your friends are equally quirky oddballs, but are great for their deadpan one-liners and shenanigans

– If it’s a fantasy novel, you’re likely on some sort of noble quest, where only you can save the kingdom or world or family pig farm

– Everything generally wraps up in a tidy way. You’ve grown, even if it’s just a bit. You’ve loved, you’ve lost, you’ve loved again. You’ve learned some things you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life, and maybe, just maybe you have a happy ending.

The bad:

– Usually you have some sort of tragedy in your past haunting you, whether it’s a dead family member, mental illness, sexual trauma, etc

– Love triangles. I feel like applauding authors who avoid this cliché, but it’s common enough that you’re likely going to wind up in one as a YA protagonist

– If your best friend is a guy, he’s probably going to be in that love triangle, either as your soulmate or a jilted suitor

– If your parents aren’t either dead or abusive, they tend to be pretty clueless and no help to your struggle whatsoever. This also expands to your teachers and adults in general

– You’re not popular. Sorry. In fact, you’re probably an outsider or regarded as a loner, or offbeat, or just ignored mostly

– Actually, you might be pretty insufferable too. YA protagonists can be whiney, moody, sulky, and spend entire chapters pouting and moaning, without actually doing anything. Sometimes over a love interest, which is the worst

– Or you’re a ‘Mary Sue’, meaning you’re absolutely perfect and everyone adores you. Which… isn’t a con for you, but it makes the rest of us kind of hate you. Just a little bit

So, what do you think? Would you take your chances with life in a YA novel? Or maybe your adolescence already did resemble one! Or maybe these tropes are best left to fiction, and you’re quite happy to leave them on the pages of a book.

[Editor’s Note: I’m so glad Gaby decided to write up this fun post! It made me chuckle. And as a writer myself, it made me think quite a bit about what’s been done before, how the scene can be freshened up, and what my target audience likes to read. Do you have any tropes to add to the list?]

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 Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

honesttruthThe beauty of working in children’s publishing is getting the opportunity to read some great young adult and middle grade novels.

(I highly recommend reading a middle grade novel when you’re looking for a nice escape and a book with limited time commitment.)

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, released by Scholastic Press in January 2015, has been getting a lot of great reviews – and for a good reason. This novel tackles sensitive topics in a unique way, and the writing is really quite profound.

The novel is told in alternating first-person and third-person chapters, which I initially found jarring but ultimately embraced. It was a choice made for a reason, and I like when authors try something different.

The protagonist of The Honest Truth is twelve-year-old Mark. Mark is “normal” in that he likes writing haikus with his best friend, Jessica, and taking photographs with his grandfather’s camera. He has a loyal dog named Beau who has been through everything with him. But Mark is not normal in the fact that he is very sick. This sickness has disrupted his life for so long that he decides to run away. And so, Mark packs his backpack and sets off to climb a mountain, with Beau by his side. It’s his one goal, and the one thing he can control.

As a reader I had to suspend my disbelief as this young boy and his dog face challenges and meet all sorts of characters. Back at home, Mark’s parents are scared and heartbroken; Jessica, in her third-person narration, worries about responsibility. Is it her responsibility to tell Mark’s parents where he’s gone? Is it her responsibility to keep her best friend’s secret?

The Honest Truth is tastefully-done, and certainly brought a few tears to my eyes. One of my favorite relationships in the novel? The bond between Mark and Beau! I’m sure all pet owners will understand that unbreakable bond.

I think this is a great novel for middle grade readers because the characters are vivid and the novel’s format is engaging. The topics of pain, grief, responsibility, and friendship will hopefully spark discussion between friends and in the classroom.

Have you read The Honest Truth? What middle grade novels have stuck with you over the years?

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

Review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

funnygirlNick Hornby is the author of beloved novels like High Fidelity and About a Boy, as well as the screenwriter of one of my favorite films, An Education. Hornby’s characters are funny, flawed, and lovable. The protagonist of his newest novel, Funny Girl, is no different. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy of Funny Girl, which was released on February 3rd, thanks to Shelf Awareness and Riverhead Books. I devoured this book in a manner of days, and I’ve returned to its pages since to relive some of my favorite moments.

Funny Girl follows the journey of Barbara from Blackpool, who idolizes Lucille Ball and wants to make it in show business as a comedic actress. Her curvy figure makes her perfect for sexy bikini parts in films, and she has a difficult time making her agent take her seriously. Barbara, who changes her name to Sophie Straw, has a chance meeting with some radio writers who are offered the opportunity to write a one-off for BBC Comedy Playhouse, which eventually leads to a successful television series with the energetic Sophie at the helm.

(The humor of the situation, that she ends up playing a woman from Blackpool named Barbara, is not lost on her.)

As the novel, which begins in the 1960s, progresses, we chart the course of Sophie’s life based on her personal choices and career choices. The people in her life – specifically her co-star, Clive, and her writer and producer friends, grow and change along with her. It was very easy to grow attached to these characters, who struggle with their personal lives outside of the spotlight.

While the characters and television shows in Funny Girl are fictional, Hornby has steeped his novel in historical accuracy. Real political figures and movie stars are mentioned, and the thrumming heart of a daring time period peeks out from behind its conservative cover. Sexuality is something that is hardly discussed – on television or in person – but as Bob Dylan says, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

Sophie, formerly Barbara, embraces these changing times with enthusiasm and eagerness. She is a young woman who knows what she was put on the Earth to do, and she stops at nothing to get there. However, Sophie still shows moments of weakness or confusion, like when she furnishes her first apartment in a luxurious, old-fashioned style because she’s read about other movie stars doing so. Her first and only interaction with her idol, Lucille Ball, doesn’t go quite as she planned. But despite these things, Sophie perseveres, and as a reader I cheered her on the whole way through.

Hornby writes about this time in history in such an enchanting way, and he has populated his 1960s London with a lot of characters I grew to love. I recommend Funny Girl to anyone who is looking for a read that is poignant, smart, and well… funny.

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

Your New BFF: Laurie from Little Women

“Laurie, you’re an angel! How shall I ever thank you?”

“Fly at me again. I rather liked it,” said Laurie, looking mischievous, a thing he had not done for a fortnight.

“No, thank you. I’ll do it by proxy, when your grandpa comes. Don’t tease, but go home and rest, for you’ll be up half the night. Bless you, Teddy, bless you!”

Jo had backed into a corner, and as she finished her speech, she vanished precipitately into the kitchen, where she sat down upon a dresser and told the assembled cats that she was happy, oh, so happy! while Laurie departed, feeling that he had made a rather neat thing of it.


Meet your new BFF: Laurie from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Because we all have that friend who awkwardly straddled the line into romantic interest territory, but then that didn’t pan out. And it’s probably for the best, because he is totally better off with your sister.

Theodore “Laurie” Laurence is the wealthy young neighbor of the March family. Laurie charms his way into the hearts of the four March daughters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – and he forms an incredibly strong bond with the family, especially Jo. And while this bond with Jo eventually leads to a heartbreaking declaration of love, all things end as they should. Really.

littlewomenIn the 1994 movie adaptation of Little Women directed by Jillian Armstrong, Christian Bale captures all of the boyish charm of young Laurie in his performance. Many of my friends called Laurie their first crush – because who doesn’t want to crush on a wealthy dreamer with those great flowing locks?

Alcott’s novel from the late 1860s generally focuses on female characters, and so many believe that her male characters fall by the wayside. But there’s still much to enjoy about Laurie’s presence on the scene, and here are some reasons that Teddy, as Jo affectionately calls him, should be considered your new BFF.

1) Laurie’s all for being yourself. Josephine March would rather be called Jo, because she doesn’t want to be seen as “feminine” and “weak.” Laurie has a dream of pursuing music, which at the time is seen as a more feminine pursuit than a masculine one. While he eventually finds himself in a more business-oriented role like his grandfather hopes for, he never loses his appreciation for the arts and creative endeavors.

2) Laurie genuinely appreciates the girls’ ventures. The March sisters love to put on dramatic plays written by Jo. They’re full of princesses, magicians, and heroes. While the other sisters originally despair over Jo wanting Laurie to join in on their fun, Laurie makes it clear that he takes his roles very seriously.

3) He’s protective of his friends. When Laurie and Jo meet at a party, Jo is embarrassed of her dress, which is burned in the back. Laurie chats with her and asks her to dance, and the two of them dance away from the crowd in order to hide the burn marks. When Meg sprains her ankle, Laurie offers to take the sisters home in his carriage.

3) He won’t let a rejection get in the way of his friendships. Spoiler alert: Laurie asks Jo to marry him. I mean, they’re perfect, right? They both shun normal gender roles, They both enjoy laughing raucously and having fun above all else. But Jo doesn’t see her friend Teddy in the same light. Although Laurie takes the rejection to heart, he’s eventually able to move past it and see that they’re better off as friends.

… Or as in-laws. Because, you know you’ve found a good BFF when you can put aside any previous romantic notions and be genuinely happy that your best friend is marrying your younger sister.

What do you think: would you like a friend like Teddy Laurence?

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

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is exactly the sort of book I shouldn’t read. Because it’s WAY too real and possible, and thus gives me nightmares. But at the same time, it was amazing and spectacular and an engaging look into the fundamentals of the human spirit.

Picture this, an outbreak of swine flu that hits too hard, too fast, and 99% of the human population is wiped out in a matter of days, weeks. Technology fails, nations crumble, and civilization is destroyed. Cars are left strewn on highways, skeletons hunched over steering wheels. There are towns that are nearly feral, and others that have become cult-like.

Station Eleven switches between the initial outbreak and the twenty years after modern life was eradicated, and some of the moments in-between. Our main characters belong to the Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who perform Shakespeare in the towns they stop in because, as goes the Star Trek quote, “Survival is Insufficient.”

Kirsten is our main lens of the novel. Kirsten, who in another life would’ve went on as child actress, growing up into a successful actress (or even an unsuccessful washout), would’ve never had to worry about survival. Instead, she’s a butt-kicking, awesome lady who can sink a knife in your heart one moment and recite Titania’s lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream the next. Of the worldly possessions she carries with her, two are comic books given to her from the actor Arthur Leander, whom she was in a play with on the night the virus hit. The comics, Station Eleven, form a beautiful allegory for the humans now trying to survive on Earth. Things get meta.

And everything comes back to Arthur Leander, who collapses on stage in the very first chapter. We see his ex-wives, his son, his best friend, and of course, Kirsten.

I loved this book. It was so heartbreakingly human at times. A little too much so. Emily St. John Mandel has the gift of looking into our hearts and capturing what they’re saying—our dreams, hopes, worries, fears. There were several weaving storylines that all intersect with one another by the end. It’s a motley of coincidences and fate, which I adore in a story.

I DIDN’T like the existential crises it gave me when reading late at night. But I am eternally grateful there were no zombies in the books. It terrified me, because it was so realistic, down to each detail. The newscasters trying to stay on the air until there was no one left, before television and the internet blipped out of the world forever. To children born after the outbreak, the relics of civilization such as cars, phones, and electricity are little more than fairytales.

There are images from this book I won’t be able to forget. I won’t be able to forget the vivid space-world of Station Eleven, the comic book. Or the quarantined plane that no one goes near, the inhabitants sealed to their fate. I won’t forget the way Emily St. John Mandel manages to recreate all the feelings of being human in this strange, feral new world, feelings of longing, of despair, of joy, and of love and of hope.

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.