Month: November 2015

Get Writing: Published Books from NaNoWriMo

I believe all readers have stories of their own in their hearts, dying to be written. And there’s no better time to write those stories than during National Novel Writing Month, a movement that challenges everyone to complete 50,000 words (the standard length of a novella).

Think NaNoWriMo only produces amateurs? Think again. Check out some of these traditionally published works from the challenge for inspiration for your own writing.

the night circus coverThe Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern
I am dying for a movie of this visually stunning book about two young magicians forced into a rivalry. Their stage? The Night Circus, a place of whimsy and wonder, but also full of danger as the magicians learn what’s needed to end their feud for good, further complicated by their blossoming feelings for one another.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
This young-adult novel sparked two similarly named sequels, Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After. These are feel-good, chick-flick lit. Anna and the French Kiss follows Anna as she’s forced to attend a boarding school in Paris during her senior year of high school, leaving behind her best friend, awesome job, and huge crush. It’s a story of romantic near-misses, new love, and taking chances.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I am obsessed with the Lunar Chronicles, a series of futuristic retellings of fairytales, with a cyborg Cinderella having to save the earth (and the prince!) from an evil lunar queen. And to think, it all began as a NaNoWriMo project! Not only that, but the sequels Scarlet and Cress were also NaNoWriMo projects.

cinder cover

Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
Intended as a short story, Wool takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where a community thrives in a silo community deep under the ravaged world above. The society is heavily regulated, with rules people unwaveringly believe are meant to keep them safe. But one man, Sheriff Holston, dares to break the biggest rule of all, when he asks to go outside.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Newly orphaned and broke, young Jacob Jankowski jumps the first freight train he sees and unexpectedly becomes part of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This 1930s historical novel follows Jacob as he dodges danger of circus life—a corrupt boss, brutish conditions, and the most perilous thing of all, his love for Marlena, the beauty of the entire show.

fangirl coverFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I’ve gushed about my love for Rainbow Rowell before, and it’s no surprise the geek author is a NaNo winner. In Fangirl, Cath is a college freshman, who’s dealing with her twin Wren not wanting to room with her, her obsession with writing Simon Snow fanfiction, and her surly roommate and overly friendly roommate’s boyfriend. Carry On just debuted this October, Rowell’s new novel based on Simon Snow, the book within the book.

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Another YA novel, this one written by a teen author! Persistence of Memory follows teenager Erin Misrahe, who is struggling with her alter-ego. Of course, that isn’t easy, since her alter-ego is actually a centuries-old vampire whom Erin shares a link with.

Could your NaNoWriMo novel be next on this list? For a full list of the hundreds of published NaNoWriMo novels, check out their website here. As for me, I have some reading (and writing of my own NaNoWriMo novel!) to do.

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 her website.

Movie Review: Mockingjay – Part 2

mockingjaypart2 Though the first Hunger Games book was published less than a decade ago in 2008, it was an instant hit with fans, with tens of millions of books sold in the trilogy. The first film was released only four years later, with book author Suzanne Collins helping to write the screenplay. It was a massive success, with almost $700 million in box office sales worldwide. With the release of Mockingjay – Part 2, the last film in the cinematic quartet – modified from the original published trilogy – premiering last week on November 20th, excitement has reached a fever pitch.

We return to the world of Panem in the middle of an all-out war between the government and the rebellion. Katniss, played by the renowned actress Jennifer Lawrence, is fighting along with other rebels to free the districts from the evil President Snow, who has been skillfully played throughout the film series by Donald Sutherland. She’s been reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who was previously tortured and brainwashed into hating Katniss, which puts a damper on their ambiguously romantic relationship.

Overall, the continuation of this story follows the immense and numerous difficulties faced by both our beloved characters and the viewers who have already invested time and emotion into the three earlier films, which can now be seen on Hulu or cable TV. Katniss finds herself doubting what and who she’s truly fighting for, realizing that both sides of the war she’s in really aren’t that different from each other. The element of propaganda also plays a huge part on both sides of the war, with Katniss at the center of the rebellion’s strategic display of propos.


Though darker in tone and more action-oriented than the other films, Mockingjay – Part 2 successfully portrays its evolution from focusing on just one part of corruption within the government (the actual Hunger Games) to the bigger picture, in which everyone realizes the very existence of President Snow’s Panem will ultimately lead to society’s collapse. Because of this, we are able to delve deeper into Katniss’ desperation and anger even more than the novels did. Certainly more of the intricacy of the battles are put on display for the viewers: all the better to show the carnage and fear of war. This is perhaps even a reflection of today’s war-torn world, with soldiers young enough to still be called children.

Katniss is portrayed as more vulnerable initially, and President Coin (Julianne Moore) is more present and more obviously willing to do whatever it takes to win the war, including using Katniss and other innocent people in whatever ways needed. Both the nobility of the war and the savageness of it is on full display. The government heads of both the rebellion and the establishment are portrayed as cold and calculating – a clear indication of how governments are viewed in today’s actual society, where little trust is given to even our elected leaders.

Overall, the film will definitely satisfy fans and give them what they need rather than what they want. Plot points are neatly wrapped up and the drama that was created by the earlier releases continues to build through most of the film. Although it has all the elements of a war movie, Mockingjay – Part 2 does not fail to build upon the themes it has established in the last three movies and continues to comment on the problematic orders of dystopian societies. This ending to a long-loved franchise will continue to resonate with fans long after leaving the movie theaters.

Spencer Blohm is a writer and blogger based in the windy city of Chicago, IL. On the rare occasion he isn’t busy with work or catching up on much-needed sleep, you can find him indulging his other passions: pie-making and classic silent films. He’s a Gemini and his favorite food is SPAM. Find him on Twitter @bspencerblohm.

Review: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

eatinganimals When embarking on a dietary lifestyle change, acquaintances and loved ones alike enjoy nothing more than to pestering a new vegan or vegetarian with unsolicited advice and questions.

“Are you getting enough protein?”

“Oh, I think I had a cousin who was vegan once …”

“Aren’t Oreos vegan?”

“Are you becoming one of those PETA people?”

“Are you sure you can eat that?”

“You haven’t given it up yet?”

These are some examples of people’s reactions to a life-changing announcement.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals perfectly captures the experience of delving into an animal-free diet by framing personal anecdotes with facts and observations about our carnivorous society, as he seeks sociological, philosophical, and scientific answers to his questions about the type of world in which he wants to raise his newborn son. Eating Animals provokes even the most seasoned (pun intended) of vegetarians to answer ethical questions beyond “how do you get enough protein?” and instead defend the core of their personal dietary philosophy. From interviews with farmers and activists to stories of his grandmother’s kitchen, Safran Foer balances humor, academia, and sentimentality.

Although Safran Foer claimed to keep his research as neutral as possible to avoid penning another extreme veganist credo, his research clearly points toward desiring an end to, well, eating animals. That being said, Eating Animals is a valuable read regardless of personal dietary choice. In a culture obsessed with labeling our food as gluten free, paleo, organic, processed, and raw, why not explore the history and social iimplications of how that morsel landed onto your fork? After reading Safran Foer’s book, not only do I feel more justified in my choice to partake in a plant-based/cruelty-free lifestyle, but I can pinpoint exactly why I stand by my decision to become vegan.

For more information on veganism and plant based lifestyles, I highly recommend the documentary Forks Over Knives (available on Netflix), and the books The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone and Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman. Whether carnivore, omnivore, or vegetarian, happy reading!

Jessica Balk, AKA the Vegan Ballerina (, believes in loving cows as much as kittens, and living with creativity, balance, and compassion. Follow Jessica on Twitter @vegan_ballerina and Instagram @vegan_ballerina_.

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

dumplin cover“I guess sometimes the perfection we perceive in others is made up of a whole bunch of tiny imperfections, because some days the damn dress just won’t zip.”  

Just a few pages into Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, and I was ready to push it into the hands of several friends. I read it in just a few days, caught up in the life of Willowdean Dickson.

Willowdean Dickson is a fat girl, and she knows it. After all, her mom’s always lovingly referred to her as “Dumplin’,” so she might as well own it. Her best friend Ellen is tall, blonde, and gorgeous, but they’ve always gotten along through their mutual love of Dolly Parton. But things are changing—El has her boyfriend Tim, and… Will has a job at the local fast-food joint, Harpy’s.

But at least Harpy’s has Private School Bo, a super hot jock. Will’s drooling over him, of course, but she’s floored when she finds out the feeling is mutual. But Willowdean starts doubting herself. How could anyone like her for real, when she has thunder thighs and chub all over? She decides to retake her confidence by doing the craziest thing possible–she dares herself to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant.

Of course, there are a few hitches in her plan. Her mom’s a former winner of the pageant and now runs the thing every year. Willowdean’s already grown up knowing all too well that her mom’s constant diets and weight loss fads are targeted at her. Joining the contest puts not only her mom’s scrutiny on her, but the entire high school and town. Still. She holds her head up high.

“I don’t like to think of my hips as a nuisance, but more of an asset. I mean, if this were, like, 1642, my wide birthing hips would be worth many cows or something.”

Despite her seeming abundance of confidence, Willowdean is flawed. Her relationships with everyone in her life are nuanced. She’s reeling from the death of her morbidly obese aunt, and the chasm between her and her mom left in her aunt’s wake. Her best friend and her are drifting apart. But she’s also profoundly candid about herself and her feelings. She doesn’t let her mom bully her about her weight; this is not a makeover-the-fat-girl transformation book.

“I hate seeing fat girls on TV or in movies, because the only way the world seems to be okay with putting a fat person on camera is if they’re miserable with themselves or if they’re the jolly best friend. Well, I’m neither of those things.”   

The book ends up being fiercely body-positive, about identity and being yourself. It’s about celebrating all of your self-perceived flaws and insecurities. This book is a sucker punch of hilarity and poignancy, backdropped against a Texas small town, and with special appearances from drag queens, Dolly Parton songs, and girl power. There are mean girls and nice girls, and bullies getting some real satisfying comeuppances.  I can already see the movie that this book will inevitably spawn, a mix of Pitch Perfect and My Mad Fat Diary.

It’s such a deliciously satisfying read, I want a sequel! But I’m happy with how it ended. I’m ready to read whatever Julie Murphy comes up with next.

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 her website.

Review: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder

camgirl cover Cam Girl, the third book by author Leah Raeder, was published on November 3 by Atria.

I’ve been an unabashed “Raeder Reader” since her first novel, Unteachable, and I’ve been lucky enough to snag her second and third novels as ARCs so I can share my reviews with you. (Thank you, Atria and NetGalley!)

Read more about the book below, along with my review, and then follow the link for a chance to win one of five signed copies of Cam Girl!


Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art and her best friend—and sometimes more—Ellis Carraway. Ellis and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart. Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything.

Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone. She’s got nothing left to lose.
So when she meets some smooth-talking entrepreneurs who offer to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night stripping on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in.

It’s just a kinky escape from reality until a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they chat intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. It’s an easy decision: she’s starting to fall for him. But the steamier it gets, the more she craves the real man behind the keyboard. So Vada pops the question: Can we meet IRL?

Blue agrees, on one condition. A condition that will bring back a ghost from her past.

Now Vada must confront what she’s been running from. A past full of devastating secrets—those of others and those she’s been keeping from herself…

My Review:

Like Raeder’s previous heroines, Maise and Laney, I may not have been able to relate to Vada Bergen at first glance. Our circumstances are different, and I’m lucky to have never experienced the kind of suffering Vada has experienced. The narrative voice in Cam Girl is so clear; I found myself falling into Vada’s mindset with ease. Her feelings are beautifully described in stark images and vibrant colors (she is an artist, even at her most broken), and with Raeder’s expert attention to detail, I found myself thinking like Vada, too. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. The juxtaposition of darkness and light is awe-inspiring. Even pain, for all its hellish-ness, is beautiful in Vada’s voice.

Unlike the more conventional romance plot of UnteachableCam Girl‘s plot focuses on Vada’s personal journey as well as her relationships with the important figures in her life.

At the center of Vada’s world is Ellis, her best friend and sometimes-lover, a partner that Vada cannot commit to because she’s always imagined herself ending up with a man.

There is Max: a broken man who entangled himself in Vada’s life after the accident. What they mean to each other is unclear. Their relationship is precarious, balancing on the edge of a cliff.

Finally, there is Blue: a stranger that Vada begins chatting with during her cam girl sessions. There is something that the mysterious Blue awakens in Vada, and she cannot deny the attraction she feels for him. But how can she be in love with someone whose face she’s never seen? How can she fall in love with a screen name, when there are flesh-and-blood people in her life?

Cam Girl is a book that forces you to think about things that have not often been explored in new adult books. The camming industry is presented in raw, unapologetic terms, but all of the workers are strong and completely in control of their situations. They are not victims of their occupations, which is incredibly refreshing.  Cam Girl raises many questions about gender, gender identity, and sexuality which I haven’t seen addressed in many other new adult books.

At its core, Cam Girl is a book about relationships, identity, and finding strength even in the most dire of circumstances. It is not a book about miraculous healing. The characters feel pain that is real, and raw, and it cannot be fixed easily – if at all. But Cam Girl is a book about fighting, and a book about love. Readers of new adult books will not be disappointed with this complex, emotionally-charged novel.


Leah Raeder is a writer and unabashed nerd. She is also the USA Today bestselling author of Unteachable andBlack Iris. Aside from reading her brains out, she enjoys graphic design, video games, fine whiskey, and the art of self-deprecation. She lives with her very own manic pixie dream boy in Chicago. Visit her at

CAM GIRL by Leah Raeder

 Atria Books Paperback | ISBN: 9781501114991 | On sale: November 3, 2015 | 432 pages | US $16.00 |

eBook: Atria Books | ISBN: 9781501115004 | On sale: November 3, 2015 | 432 pages | US $5.99


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