Month: March 2015

Read at the Perfect Time: A Ring of Endless Light

ringofendlesslightThere are some books that come into your life at the perfect time. Maybe you’ll read them again throughout your life, and you’ll still appreciate them, but it won’t measure up to that first read. I guess that could seem sad, but I think it’s a beautiful thing. The fact that a book can be exactly when you didn’t know you needed it? There’s nothing more magical than that.

A book that I read at the perfect time in my life was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light. I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I hadn’t read anything by L’Engle before. I wasn’t privy to A Wrinkle in Time or any of her other books. I remember being at the bookstore in the mall with my mom and deciding, based on the back cover blurb, that I wanted this book in the Austin family series.

Vicky Austin is an observant, yet dreamy narrator. She comments carefully on the world around her, loves her family fiercely, and feels at home on the island where her grandfather lives year-round. Her grandfather is very sick, and the Austins have come to stay with him and help care for him.

To complicate this already-difficult summer, Vicky finds herself to be the center of attention for three boys in her life. There’s Leo, a family friend who recently lost his father and relies on Vicky for comfort. There’s Zachary, a reckless rich boy who’s dealing with ghosts of his own. And finally, there’s Adam: a student on the island conducting dolphin research. Vicky struggles to process her feelings for these boys while simultaneously trying to prepare herself for the loss of her grandfather.

A Ring of Endless Light is a story of romance, and grief, and family. It is a story about finding your identity in the confusing time that is adolescence. And even though I wasn’t struggling with grief in my own life (and I CERTAINLY wasn’t fending off three boys!), I think that I read L’Engle’s novel at the perfect time.

Vicky’s loyalty towards her family made me appreciate my own. Her love for the island she summers on made me notice the small details about my own town that made me happy to call it home. Vicky is growing with the summer – all tan limbs and power and intelligence – and I realized that I could feel that way, too. At the awkward age of double-digits-but-not-quite-a-teen, I took comfort in the fact that I would grow into myself. And maybe there would eventually be boys, all different in their own way, who might make making decisions difficult. And maybe there wouldn’t be any boys at all, and that would be okay, too, because there were a lot of things to be happy about. (I totally wanted to go on a date with Zachary, who took Vicky to a country club and drove recklessly fast, and who was a hopeless, handsome mess.)

There’s a beautiful quote in the book about seizing the day that still gives me goosebumps, all these years later:

“If we knew each morning that there was going to be another morning, and on and on and on, we’d tend not to notice the sunrise, or hear the birds, or the waves rolling into shore. We’d tend not to treasure our time with the people we love.”

I’ll always remember the way Vicky described the dolphins as “pewter.” I’ll always remember how she made cafe au lait on the stove, which sounded like the most elegant, yet simple, thing.

I wish I had a profound reason for stating “I read this at the right time.” But there are some books that you just know. And I will always be thankful for that.

[I want to hear about the books that you’ve read at the right time. Let me know in the comments below. Or better yet – write a post of your own and send it my way!]

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

Books on Stage!

By now, hopefully you’ve heard that Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is getting the Broadway treatment! Water for Elephants is the story of a stowaway on a circus train who takes over the care of the star elephant, and soon becomes entangled in the drama and darkness of the show. It’ll be interesting to see how Broadway adapts it!

We always see books being made into movies but it’s a bit rarer to see them become musicals.The effect can be brilliant, to where the musical can overshadow the original work and become a classic itself. It can be funny (hopefully intended, though not always) or it can be completely cringe-worthy.

Here are some musicals based on books that are definitely worth a watch!

wickedWicked by Gregory Maguire
I have never actually seen the musical in its entirety, but the book is amazing and one of the best series I’ve read. While the musical focuses a lot more on Elphaba and Glinda’s friendship, the book is a darker and fuller exposé of the witch’s life and the turmoil in the land of Oz. Elphaba is very much an anti-hero and her lifelong struggle will make your heart ache as she tries valiantly to protect what she believes in and find her place.

Peter Pan by JM Barrie
All things Christopher Walken and Allison Williams aside, the Peter Pan musical is a classic by now. It was immortalized by the 1950s production, when the pixie actress Mary Martin played Peter Pan and flew across the stage on wires. Though, to be honest, I kind of mix up the musical’s songs and Disney’s!

It’s also coming to Broadway this spring in a new form: Finding Neverland the musical, starring Glee’s Matthew Morrison as Barrie.

A Very Potter Musical based on the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
This is my favorite. This musical put on by the students of MIT combines the events of the 4th – 7th books. For those of you who watch Glee, Darren Criss got his start here playing Harry Potter. This is a must-see for any Potter fan, for the spectacle of the tap-dancing Voldemort, the girl playing Draco Malfoy (who is transferring to Pigfarts), and guitar-playing Harry Potter. Plus, the whole thing is on Youtube, so there’s no reason not to check it out (and memorize every song).

les miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo
Do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men? This musical is in the blood of every theatre nerd, but few have likely attempted to read the original tome by Victor Hugo. There is a lot more backstory in the book, other characters that became conglomerates in the musical, and sadly, less singing. 

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
Yes, even vampires can be made musical. (Let’s hope Stephanie Meyer doesn’t catch wind of this, though a True Blood musical could be unexpectedly hilarious). Luckily, the book actually chronicles Lestat’s stint as a rockstar, so turning it into a musical wasn’t completely starting from nothing. As of right now, there aren’t any plans to convert any more of the Vampire Chronicles to the stage, but you never know. 

Actually, upon further research, there appear to be many musical adaptations out there! American Psycho as a musical? Lord of the Rings? Pride and Prejudice? Hmm, maybe everything is better with show tunes and some choreography! If you could see one book made into a musical, what would it be?

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.

Does Sexism Exist in YA?

On Sunday the 21st, the NYC Teen Author Festival (which I blogged a bit about last week here) hosted a symposium at the New York Public Library’s 42nd Street branch. The gorgeous, sprawling building with the majestic stone lions (Patience and Fortitude) out front served as the perfect location for an afternoon of discussion between young adult authors.

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The symposium, which focused on feminism, diversity, and identity in young adult literature featured an incredible lineup of authors: David Levithan, Libba Bray, Gayle Forman, Nova Ren Suma, Scott Westerfeld, Maria E. Andreu, Coe Booth, Sona Charaipotra, Dhonielle Clayton, IW Gregorio, Adam Silvera, Andrew Smith, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Carolyn Mackler, Chase Night, Cindy Rodriguez, Jennifer E. Smith, Jenn Marie Thorne, Will Walton, Terra Elan McVoy, Michelle Knudsen, Jennifer A. Nielsen, Andrew Smith, Lindsay Smith, Jessica Spotswood, and Tommy Wallach.

Alyson and I eagerly took our seats in the Bartos Forum in time to hear the keynote speech about books and gender by Libba Bray, the author of best-sellers like A Great and Terrible Beauty and The Diviners. 

IMG_8650Bray’s keynote started off on a humorous note. She talked about one of her first book tours being sponsored by Midol, an over-the-counter medication that’s used to treat menstrual cramps and bloating. She described the bookmarks that were handed out on the tour: an ad for her book in small font, followed by big, bold letters that asked: Are cramps, bloating, and fatigue getting you down?

“This,” Bray said, “is what authors call living the dream.”

The audience laughed, but Bray brought up a good point: what would it be like if male authors were getting the same kind of sponsorship deals?

“Does sexism exist in YA?” Bray asked. “Abso-fucking-lutely.”

She went on to say that it’s tough as a woman writer to be continually dismissed and told that “our experiences don’t matter.”

A quick look around the internet showed me that there are many people out there who believe feminism means hating men, and because of this perspectives and intentions get skewed. There was no man-hating at the symposium, which sought to shed light on the issue of sexism against authors and readers.

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A few years ago, concerns were raised that boys were no longer reading because it was too female-focused. Bray noted that libraries and schools started making “boy zones,” where boys were given special sections of books to read. What if a boy wanted to read a novel outside of that section? What if a girl was curious about a novel in the “boy zone?”

“When we say a boy can’t read a book with a girl protagonist,” Bray said, “What we’re really saying is: girls are not important. The thoughts and experiences of fifty-percent of the population don’t matter.”

Bray went on to talk about a conversation she had with some teens over pizza at her house, when she asked them about their reading habits. Many of them said they have felt confined to genres or ashamed about the books they want to read. They could all pin-point books “for girls” versus books “for boys” based on the covers, which was interesting to me as someone who now works in publishing.

(Birds and flowers are on girls books. Snakes are on boys books, according to Bray.)

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The most astounding thing to me? Many of the teens had also been pushed into their reading choices by teachers, librarians, and publishing representatives. Instead of giving children free-reign, authority figures are trying their hardest to pigeonhole readers. I won’t deny that part of this has to do with selling a good amount of books and targeting an audience. But when we limit children’s exposure to varied writing, diverse characters, and characters of the opposite sex, when we tell them “this is what you’re supposed to read,” we are keeping them from seeing how beautiful the rest of the world really is.

Bray concluded her keynote by sharing a touching story about a LGBTQ panel in Texas. The turnout for the panel was so huge that people were being turned away at the door. Authors gave up their seats in order to bring more teens into the room.

“Change can happen,” Bray said. “We make it happen. I believe this and I am banking on the future… Foster empathy, not suspicion. Build bridges instead of cages.”

I think Scott Westerfeld, author of the incredibly popular Uglies and Afterworlds, said it best when it came to describing the power books have on readers:

“Books are machines for becoming other people.”

The symposium opened up my eyes to the incredible strides authors, publishers, and even readers are taking to make young adult literature a well-represented category. It’s imperative that children and young adults are exposed to books about all kinds of people, going through all kinds of experiences. Close-mindedness helps no one. The world is a rich, beautiful place. Don’t you want to experience that?

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

What is NetGalley?

Two years ago I was lucky enough to win a Kindle in a giveaway hosted by another blogger. I’d never given much thought to e-readers before, but now that I had one I wanted to make sure it was put to good use.

Over the past two years I certainly have put my Kindle to good use, and that is in large part thanks to NetGalley. For book bloggers like me who enjoy reading on the go and can’t always afford to lug around a paperback or hardcover, this website has made it possible for me to have my ARCs and read them, too!

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What is NetGalley, you ask? It’s an online service that helps connect publishers and authors to media, librarians, book reviewers, bloggers, and educators. The website (which is free to join, by the way!), connects people to titles and delivers digital galleys (ARCs / advanced reader copies) to e-readers for reading and reviewing. Users can request titles from a large catalog, and publishers can approve or deny the request based on the user’s standing. If you’re in very good standing, you may even be invited to read certain titles!

You may even get a shiny badge like this one, if your feedback/approval ratio is at 80% or above: badge_80

It’s not mandatory to review the titles you read on NetGalley, but it’s the least you can do, right? You’re getting a free read out of the deal! NetGalley thrives on reader feedback, and publishers and authors find the reviews very helpful. One review I wrote ended up being quoted on a book’s Amazon page. Sometimes an author or publisher reaches out to you with more information, like the time I was contacted about an audiobook version of a book I had read and loved. I’ve had only good experiences with NetGalley so far, and I’m so thankful for all of the books I’ve been given the opportunity to read.

This is what a member profile looks like. I recommend spiffing it out with a super cute picture and an informative bio, you know?

netgalleyprofile

Without NetGalley, would I have ever been connected to Unteachable? Would I have gotten to cry my eyes out on the train as I read Me Before You? Would I be such an evangelist for Chris Bohjalian’s Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands if I didn’t become intrigued by the cover on the NetGalley catalog and click “request?”

I think this is a really exciting kind of service. Before this, I feel like I was a very picky reader. I thought I knew the kinds of books I wanted to read, and I stuck with them. But with sites like NetGalley, I’m given the opportunity to try something out and see how I like it, with the idea being that I’ll talk about my experience after. And I will talk about my experience, because I want to help other people learn about all the options that are out there. And if there’s anything we know here at BiblioSmiles, it’s this: so many books, so little time!

Are you a NetGalley member? What has your experience been like? Do you like to review books on blogs or review sites? Are you influenced by the reviews of others? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

(Note: I was not asked to write a post about NetGalley; I just wanted to help spread the love.)

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

A Great Week for YA

Young adult fans and authors are taking over New York City this week for the annual New York City Teen Author Festival. The NYCTAF website lists six participating venues this year: Barnes & Noble, Books of Wonder, Dixon Place, McNally Jackson, New York Public Library, and WORD bookstore. From panels, to readings, to a mega-signing at Books of Wonder on Sunday the 22nd, this week has been good to YA readers.

I attended three literary-themed events this week, and although only one of them was associated with the festival, I’m happy to say that I think I celebrated young adult literature in a very fun way. It’s all about connecting and rejoicing over the written word (which is what I wanted BiblioSmiles to be all about in the first place!) – and that’s a beautiful thing.

On Monday, thanks to Lionsgate entertainment, I had the opportunity to attend an advanced screening of Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent series. I took along the lovely Kim, who had been emotionally-invested in the books after reading them. I’ve yet to read the series, but I have all three books on my Kindle. After seeing the movie on Monday night, I definitely want to read them! The action-packed plot kept me interested, and the cast is certainly not bad to look at! (Always a plus in my book.) I’d love to hear what fans of the book series thought of the movie. And hey – if you ever want to write a review for the blog, please feel free! So thanks to Lionsgate for the fun night out – the free popcorn and soda didn’t hurt, either!

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Here’s the trailer for Insurgent. I definitely recommend seeing it, even if you haven’t seen the first one. The plot is easy to understand and the characters are very compelling.

 

On Tuesday night Alyson and I attended a NYCTAF event at Books of Wonder! Gabriele and I attended a panel there a few months ago, and it was awesome. I was so excited to be there with Alyson, celebrating the release of David Levithan’s new (musical!) novel: Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story. The event was titled “YA That Sings,” and also featured Elizabeth Eulberg, author of the new We Can Work It Out (sequel to The Lonely Hearts Club)and Jennifer Niven, author of All The Bright Places (which Gabriele reviewed here).

IMG_8603The three authors celebrated the role music has played in their writing and their novels themselves. As a writer it was really interesting to me to hear about how David Levithan usually plays music while he writes, but when writing a novel with musical numbers, he had to work in relative silence.

(He still wore his headphones sometimes, he confessed).

Elizabeth Eulberg, whose novels prominently feature The Beatles (her main character is named Penny Lane), said that she did in fact listen to The Beatles while writing. But she’s usually listening to The Beatles anyway. She told some hilarious little stories about getting into scuffles with people who disagreed with her musical taste. I haven’t read one of her books yet, but her personality, coupled with the hilarious excerpt she read, made me realize I need to change that very soon!

Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places has been garnering quite a bit of attention, and so many readers have connected with Violet and Finch. Niven discussed the playlists she made for each character, and how she also had a general playlist for the story itself. She would listen to them at the gym or in the car, so she was never far removed from her story.

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The highlight of the night was probably the “Reader’s Theater” style readings that the authors did of their work. One author would read the narration while the other authors would step in to read for the parts of different characters. Alyson and I laughed a lot. I also want to say that I really appreciate Books of Wonder for running fun, organized events. So often, especially when signings are involved, events get chaotic and standing in line feels like the most miserable thing in the world. So kudos to Books of Wonder for making the entire evening pleasant!

IMG_8616IMG_8623On Wednesday, Alyson and I were lucky enough to attend a special event here in NYC: a trailer screening for Paper Towns! The trailer came out officially on Thursday, so we had a whole twelve-plus hours on everyone else. The obvious highlight of the night? John Green was there to talk to the crowd! He was accompanied by the director of Paper Towns, Jake Schreier, as well as Halston Sage, who plays Lacey. Screening attendees were treated to another surprise: we got to see two clips from the movie! From what I saw, it looks like Paper Towns is going to embody all of the awkwardness and heartbreak and pain and exhiliration of high school, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Sitting about two feet away from John Green was also probably the coolest thing ever.

Alyson and I stuck around after the screening was over to talk to a camera crew about our reactions, so maybe we’ll show up in a promo for the movie at some point! Obviously if we do, you’ll be the first to know. Here’s the trailer for Paper Towns, which comes to theaters on July 24th.

 

Are you a young adult fan? What do you like about the genre? Have you attended any YA events recently? I’d love to hear about them!

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

Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

mosquitolandI was pleased to receive an advanced copy of David Arnold’s debut novel, Mosquitoland, courtesy of NetGalley and Viking Children’s Publishing. Mosquitoland, which released on March 3rd, is an off-beat coming-of-age novel that pulled me in with its premise, but kept me reading with its charm.

The sixteen-year-old protagonist, Mary Iris Malone, has been uprooted from her “normal” life after her father shacks up with a waitress from Denny’s and moves them from Ohio to Mississippi. Mary, or Mim as she is referred to, does everything she can to rebel against her father and his new wife.  When she learns – while eavesdropping – that her mother is sick in Cleveland, she decides to do what any rebellious, Mim-like teenager would do: swipe a coffee can of cash from the dresser and hop a Greyhound bus to Cleveland.

Mim encounters a lot of crazy characters in her travels, and quite a bit happens very quickly. The initial bus ride is full of a whole slew of characters, each with their own outlandish physical characteristics, and I almost had to stop reading. This barrage, paired with Mim’s tendency to speak her mind, was hard for me to take in at first. But I pushed on, because I’d heard so much good press about Mosquitoland, and I wanted to find the charming story everyone has been so hyped about.

I had to tell myself: This is not your world. This is the world of Mary Iris Malone, and really crazy and wonderful things happen.

(Damn straight.)

And it happened, my BiblioSmilers. Between the introduction of Walt and the silly, swoon-worthy Beck van Buren, and Mim’s introspective look at her childhood, I fell heart-first into the shiny, weird, gut-wrenching world of Mosquitoland. As Mim journeys on towards Cleveland, she takes detours that end up being incredibly eye-opening for her (and no, that’s not a pun on her blind right eye), At the beginning of the her journey, Mary Iris Malone may not be “okay,” but by the end? She’s made some progress, and that’s a beautiful thing.

“I think about how quickly things have changed for me. But that’s the personality of change, isn’t it? When it’s slow, it’s called growth; when it’s fast, it’s change. And God, how things change: some things, nothings, anythings, everything… all the things change.”     

Reading Mosquitoland was a nice reminder that sometimes reading requires letting go (though you should hold on to your displaced epiglottis if you can). Giving yourself up to the world of a main character can be an exciting, emotional experience – and that’s just what David Arnold’s debut ended up being for me.

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

St. Patrick’s Day Reads

Gather your four leaf clovers, pots of gold, and shillelagh sticks, for it’s time for St. Patrick’s Day and a celebration of all that is Irish. Us Americans are completely enthralled with the holiday (or just the excuse to drink and drink, a fine testament to the Irish legacy). Luckily, there are plenty of books out there to get you ready to gallivant to Ireland, kiss the Blarney Stone, and tumble down the green countrysides.

Check out this list to get you in the mood to wear all green!

dublinersPretty much anything written by James Joyce
Whether it’s Dubliners, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce keenly illustrated Ireland as his characters’ stomping grounds. And, if you ever visit Dublin, they have the places from his books commemorated with plaques throughout the city. There’s also the annual Bloomsday celebration in honor of the author’s life! The day has a plethora of Ulysses readings, people in Edwardian costume, and of course, pub crawls.

psiloveyouPS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
Dubliners Holly and Gerry are the perfect couple. Holly can’t imagine life without Gerry, until he dies of a terminal illness. A widow at 30, Holly is despondent, until she finds a series of letters Gerry left her. The letters take her on a path back in time through their courtship and relationship, and also forward as Holly too must move forward with her life. Plus, it’s also a loosely-adapted movie with the dreamy Gerard Butler.

inthewoodsThe Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
A mystery series backdropped against Dublin, where a team must piece together the grittiest and most nebulous of crimes. The first book, In the Woods, is full of psychological mind-benders and twists. Detective Ryan and Maddox are strung along on this crazy ride and you’ll be holding your breath as they try to uncover what really happened. 

brooklyncolmBrooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Perfect for those with Irish ancestry, Brooklyn explores the life of a young women leaving life behind in Ireland for America. In early 1950s Brooklyn, where Eilis Lacey must forge a new life, putting an ocean between her and her family and everything she’s ever known. She works hard in a department store, falls in love, and manages to find a new life. But there comes news from Ireland that threatens to destroy everything. 

artemisfowlArtemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
Okay, so this is a fantasy/sci-fi series. But it still takes place in Ireland! Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is clever enough to take over the world. He decides to steal a fairy to hold for ransom, but he gets more then he bargained for when the fairy ends up being Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. Shenanigans, mischief, and madness ensue, and Artemis Fowl has to hold tight to his wits to be able to catch up. 

How will you be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Are there any books that put you in the Irish spirit?

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.