DNFs, train wrecks, and award season = reviewer fatigue!

photo of sunlight through aspens (c) Katy Manck

Aspens at Grand Mesa, Colorado, Sept. 2014

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, right?

But for this avid reader and intrepid book reviewer, the “stepping away for a little while” got a bit lengthier than planned.

A combination of factors is usually the culprit – simple burnout, outside distractions, and so forth.

But this time around, it’s been harder than normal to get back in the book recommending groove despite my best intentions.

Y’all know that I try hard to choose books outside the big bestsellers and copycat stuff for BooksYALove. But sometimes, things just don’t go the way I expect.

Like when… a book gets noticed by the big wide world before I can craft just the right no-spoilers booktalk to post = Revolution  by Deborah Wiles, a compelling novel about young people in Jim Crow days during the summer of Voting Rights activists coming to Mississippi.

Darned if those National Book Award folks wouldn’t wait till I’d finished writing my recommendation before they announced it as a 2014 finalist!  So I won’t write here about Revolution,  but will urge you to read it along with Deborah’s post on NerdyBookClub talking about how some vital things have hardly changed in Greenwood since that pivotal summer of 1964. (Luckily, I already raved here about John Corey Whaley’s Noggin  which is also a finalist)

Like when… books that sounded so good, so interesting, and so worth reading turn out to be flops. I have very wide-ranging reading tastes and am very selective about requesting review copies, so I can almost always think of someone I know who would love such-and-such book (not every book is for every reader, of course).

But a few titles in a row lately have just been flat-out duds, due to writing that needed stronger editing (no, that girl isn’t poignantly introspective; she’s a whiner) or pop references which are already dated. If I knew who’d written the jacket-flap copy on some others, I’d give them a piece of my mind as the book in my hands bore no resemblance to their description of plot, motivation, etc. Yep, I finally have some DidNotFinish titles, despite my best efforts to choose ones worth our time to read.

Like when… I just can’t turn the page because I know that a character I’ve become emotionally invested in is about to do something incredibly stupid – it’s like watching a train wreck about to happen. A couple of books are waiting on me to be ready for the inevitable outcome – great books, but I’m not yet ready to uncover my eyes and let those characters go and live with their bad decisions. I will, and y’all will get the recommendations of these books, but not right this minute.

Like when… I couldn’t get to KidLitCon blogger conference this year, so I missed my current and new Kidlitosphere friends, all the great discussions about Diversity in YAlit and Kidlit, and the refreshed attitude toward blogging that this gathering always gives me.

Like when… we really are on vacation – watching the aspens turn golden or discovering an orchard stand with heirloom apple varieties is more important than jumping into someone’s fictional world.

So… a little breather, some homemade apple pie, some visits with family and I’ll be back. My To-Be-Reviewed pile has some dandy books which will be published in winter and spring, and you won’t want to miss them!

**kmm

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Curses and Smoke, by Vicky Alvear Shecter (book review) – love, class conflicts, Pompeii

book cover of Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter published by Arthur A LevineOld gods and older gods,
gladiators and slaves,
Pompeii is prosperous and proud…

Enjoy Curses and Smoke for its glimpses into the port city’s everyday life, its recounting of the weird phenomena observed prior to Vesuvius’ most famous eruption, its love story between owner and owned.

Forget not the past…
**kmm

Book info: Curses and Smoke: a Novel of Pompeii. Vicky Alvear Shecter. Arthur A Levine Books, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: As handsome Tag returns to her father’s gladiator school at Pompeii, Lucia’s unease about her upcoming marriage to an old man and the recent loss of her mother are echoed by the earth’s tremors.

It was different when Lucia was a little girl roaming the hillsides and Tages was the medical slave’s small son at her side, before he was sent away to learn the healing arts in Rome, before her mother’s untimely death, before these sulfurous emanations near Vesuvius began.

As Lucia tries to break her betrothal to elderly Vitulius and Tag tries to cure his father’s failing memory, rich young Quintus arrives at the school to play at being a gladiator – with a hidden agenda.

Is there any way for Lucia to escape her dreaded marriage?
Can Tag ever end his captivity in the gladiator school?
Are the old Estruscan gods angry that Romans took their sacred grounds at Pompeii?
Why will no one listen to Lucia’s ideas about the strange things happening?

A richly detailed story of love, loss, and the human spirit fighting against the inevitable. (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

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Puppy Love, by Destiny and Hapka (book review) – new dog, new friends, new love?

book cover of Puppy Love by A Destiny and Catherine Hapka published by Simon PulseHer rambunctious puppy +
a handsome dog trainer (with an accent!)
= a perfect match for her! (right?)

Lauren is sure she can get Adam’s mind off dogs, but can’t see how much Jamal in their puppy kindergarten class would like to spend time with her…

Another winsome book in the Flirt series where A. Destiny shares co-writing credits with several different authors; check out Portrait of Us  too (my no-spoiler review here).
**kmm

Book info: Puppy Love (Flirt series) / A. Destiny and Catherine Hapka. Simon Pulse, 2014.   [Flirt series site]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: As 15 year old Lauren swoons over a cute dog trainer and wonders how can she get the senior to look at her and not just her goofy pup, she may be missing a fellow dog owner’s longing glances.

Finally getting a dog after her so-allergic sister goes away to college is a dream come true for Lauren, but if she can’t break Muckle’s bad habits… well, her best friend Robert is unhappy about the chewing and so is Mom.

Puppy kindergarten is the answer, and Adam who teaches their class for teens is so handsome. Meeting hunky Jamal is nice, but their Irish-accented leader is the one for her, she just knows!

Adam’s enthusiasm with dog agility training, plus mishaps in class and at the dog park are making it difficult for Lauren to show him how perfect they are together. And now Robert is plotting something with Jamal… is she just chasing in circles like Muckle?  (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

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Me On the Floor, Bleeding, by Jenny Jagerfeld (book review) – thumbtip gone, mom gone, Maja is… where?

book cover of Me On the Floor, Bleeding by Jenny Jagerfeld published by Stockholm TextMaja really wouldn’t harm herself.
Mum really wouldn’t forget their weekend plans.
Dad really wouldn’t assume the worst (yes, he would).

A classic outsider at her high school, Maja is willing to wander a bit further in search of the truth than the adults in her life are comfortable with.

Not the first book-in-translation that I’ve featured on BooksYALove, but its publisher is my first small press from Sweden. Hope to see more YA from Stockholm Text in the future!

**kmm

Book info: Me On the Floor, Bleeding / Jenny Jagerfeld; translated by Susan Beard. Stockholm Text, 2014.   [author site in Swedish]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: When Maja is injured at school, everyone worries that she did it on purpose… except her mom, who’s gone missing. The Swedish teen’s search turns up more answers than she was looking for.

If she hadn’t been trying to make a bookshelf instead of sculpture for art class, the 17 year old wouldn’t have mangled the tip of her thumb in the electric saw after hours.

If Mum had answered her text, Maja wouldn’t have taken the train to an empty house for her visiting weekend and found Mum’s mobile phone left behind.

If Justin next door hadn’t helped Maja clean up after yet another accident, they wouldn’t have gone to the coffeehouse together, or the bar, or his room.

And Maja keeps flashing back to the whirling saw blade and the blood and Mum’s increasingly odd communications. Where are the answers?

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Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, by Laurie Ann Thompson (book review)

book cover of  Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson published by Beyond Words Simon PulseUnfair things bother you, a lot.
It’s time to do something about it!
But how to make it happen?

If you have an idea for fixing the world, jumpstart it by getting this book at your local library or favorite independent bookstore, and visit the Be a Changemaker website to share your stories and questions.

How are YOU going to change our world for the better?
**kmm

Book info: Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters / Laurie Ann Thompson. Beyond Words/Simon Pulse, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Ever gotten so angry about something that you vowed to make it right? Started a great helping project, but run out of ideas or enthusiasm? Get good advice on making a difference in the world from those who’ve tried, failed, and then succeeded so that you can devote your energies to your cause.

Each chapter begins by profiling a youth-led nonprofit group along with their challenges and successes. Be sure that you think through your passions, skills, and the problem that’s bothering you before jumping into your venture. Learn how to work the media, plan a stellar event, and avoid burnout so that your idea goes the distance.

With good research, a dream team and adult mentor who share your vision, and savvy planning, you can truly Be a Changemaker  and make positive things happen with the tools and tips in this book.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

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Play Me Backwards, by Adam Selzer (book review) – his soul to Satan for chance at her heart

book cover of Play Me Backwards by Adam Selzer published by Simon Schuster BFYRTo turn his life around, Leon needs some help.
His best friend Stan has just the solution… for a price.

Socially inappropriate behavior is the norm, whether hanging out in Satan/Stan’s black basement (has anyone seen his parents recently?) or the breakroom of the low expectations ice cream place where the best friends “work” (well, they get paid for being there) – but this slacker decides that another chance at having ultra-cool Anna in his life is worth some real effort.

Even if you missed Leon’s earlier misadventures in How To Get Suspended and Influence People,  it’s time to search for the perfect Slushee flavor, visit your local library or favorite independent bookstore to get Play Me Backwards,  and decide for yourself if Stan deserves an extra A in his name!

And yes, there is an EP of songs from/inspired by the crazy-funny novel here, each track complete with backward message.

**kmm

Book info:  Play Me Backwards / Adam Selzer. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Leon’s had no reason to stop his slide from junior high genius down to senior slacker until Anna’s imminent return to Des Moines shocks him into agreeing to Stan’s personality makeover plan – for the price of his soul.

For years Stan has said he’s really Satan, and maybe his unfailing hangover remedies prove it. But can his master plan make Leon cool again before Anna arrives from  England –  listening to Moby Dick  on unabridged audiobook, finding the Great White Grape Slushee, joining the yearbook staff, and going out with a popular girl – whaaat? Hanging out with Stan and the other goths/slackers in the back room at work is more Leon’s style, but he doesn’t want Anna to think he’s a loser, so here goes.

Somehow cheerleader-cute Paige winds up on the Slushee hunt when Leon rescues her after she’s dumped on Valentine’s Day, and and their drives together turn into something more.

Now, to sneak a satanic poem into the yearbook and finish that zillion-CD whale tale…

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Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld (book review) – transforming death, embracing life

book cover of Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld published by Simon TeenOne book with two stories, two heroines.
Two girls, one creating the other.

Lizzie’s plunge into the realms of death and love underscores her creator’s path from aspiring high school writer to published YA author as Darcy Patel discovers what so many authors have told me: writing is hard, but rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting) is so, so much harder.

Scott Westerfeld’s new novel isn’t a tale of writing, but a twinned narrative about rewriting a novel and rewriting a life short-circuited by not-death. Love is a prominent and problematic feature of both stories, a great deal like real life where the darn details of everyday can get in the way of what’s really important.

Releasing on September 23 (most new media goes on sale on Tuesdays…), Afterworlds  will get big buzz because Scott is a big YA author – and because this big two-in-one volume is that good.
**kmm

Book info: Afterworlds / Scott Westerfeld.  [author site]  [publisher site]  [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Deferring college for a year to rewrite her first novel, Darcy is excited to move away to New York City, exhilarated to find love, and mystified about how she can craft her story’s ending that her editor requires in this novel-within-a-novel.

On a routine trip between her divorced parents, Lizzie is trapped in a doomsday terrorist attack, plays dead so the killers will ignore her, and discovers that she can now sense ghosts – so begins the mystical love story that Darcy wrote to add to her college applications (2000 words a day for a month makes a 60,000 word novel).

Her family’s Indian heritage provides the mythic basis for this afterworld, a tragic incident from her mother’s hometown inspires the ghost girl in Lizzie’s house, but Darcy invents handsome Yamaraj, who has been living among the dead for centuries, confirms that Lizzie is a psychopomp who helps dead spirits cross over, and falls in love with her.

Guided by an agent, a publisher, and a math-savvy little sister to watch her budget, Darcy feels even luckier when fellow writer Imogen hand-holds her through apartment-hunting and then holds onto her heart.

As they both plunge into rewrites of their very different young adult novels, Darcy and Imogen walk an emotional tightrope between togetherness and writing time. As Lizzie and Yamaraj fall in love, she ignores his warning against seeking vengeance while trying to comfort a little dead girl.

Two complete and compelling novels intertwined in a single volume = Afterworlds.

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Buzz Kill, by Beth Fantaskey (book review) – dead coach, teen sleuth, too many suspects!

book cover of Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey published by Houghton Mifflin HarcourtOne geeky teen girl reporter with few friends.
One new quarterback with no personal history.
One rival cheerleader/reporter with a grudge.
One dead coach with a long list of enemies.

There are more motives for murder, offbeat theories, and potential killers in this story than you can shake a honey-stick at, as loner Millie tries to prove that her dad couldn’t have killed the coach and finds an unexpected ally in new-to-Honeyville Chase who fends off cheerleader Vivienne’s advances as smoothly as he quarterbacks the team to victory.

And how I wish that the video of Viv’s humiliating encounter with the Stingers’ mascot was really on YouTube!  Grab this at your local library or favorite independent bookstore for a fun football Friday read anytime.

**kmm

Book info: Buzz Kill / Beth Fantaskey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2014. [author site]  [publisher site]  [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: When the Stingers’ belligerent head coach is murdered at his own football field, Millie puts her reporting skills (and deep knowledge of Nancy Drew mysteries) to work to find the killer.

Millie’s rival on the school newspaper staff is trying to pin the crime on her dad (who’s been named as acting coach), the cute new quarterback (who has no background online at all) decides to help her investigate, and her librarian (who’s guided her through those difficult years after Mom’s death) reveals a decision which shocks her dreadfully.

With 100% overlap between the suspect list and the roster of Coach Killdare’s enemies, socially inept Millie and suavely charming Chase discover motives aplenty, find clues that don’t add up, and unearth some dangerous secrets in this funny maybe-romantic mystery, along with an inept detective, old movies, homemade pie, a smelly dog, and international paperweights. (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)

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Dirt Bike, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly, by Conrad Wesselhoeft (book review) – grief, honor & gaming

book cover of Dirt Bikes Drones and Other Ways to Fly by Conrad Wesselhoeft published by Houghton MifflinPlaying chicken with big trucks on the highway,
joysticking into the Drone Zone,
adrenaline removes Arlo’s grief…for a while.

Trying to cope with Mom’s murder, Siouxsie’s progressive neurological disease, Dad’s retreat into the bottle – Arlo keeps his dirt bike running, scrounges change to play Drone Fighter at his tiny town’s online cafe, but then what? One early morning phone call changes things (but not everything).

Traveling recently through bone-dry northern New Mexico where the author strands this small town, I can see why anyone there would want to find a way to get away, even if it means trading the make-believe of gaming for real drone piloting and its violent consequences.

Read this April 2014 book now – right now!
**kmm

Book info: Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly / Conrad Wesselhoeft. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2014. [author blog]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Arlo’s gaming skills could pay his sister’s huge medical bills, his dirt bike prowess could salvage his reputation in their small New Mexico town, but it’ll take something more to rescue his family from their endless grieving for Mom.

When the US Air Force wants Arlo to fly real reconnaissance drones over Pakistan from their base at White Sands, based solely on his Drone Fighter video game world ranking, the 17-year-old’s journalist dad is skeptical – until the Colonel erases their debts for Siouxsie’s treatments.

When gorgeous Lee slides into dusty Orphan County to stay with her aunt until her dad returns from his Afghanistan deployment, Arlo thinks she’ll scorn scruffy dirt bikes after leaving her smooth Harley in Seattle – until she helps his Evel Kneivel-style jump go higher and farther.

Zooming down I-25 from the New Mexico-Colorado borderlands whenever the Colonel phones, Arlo has too much time to think on his way to White Sands. Even if he can discover the most-wanted terrorist’s whereabouts with his drone, how can he recover what his family lost when Mom was murdered?

Mountain vistas, Mom’s ashes spread atop the mesa, small-town football as seen from the snack bar, and a moto-stunt for the ages fill this don’t-miss novel about love, grief, and honor.

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Green Teen Cookbook Winner!

book cover of Green Teen Cookbook published by Zest BooksThanks to everyone who entered the drawing for a free autographed copy of The Green Teen Cookbook. Reading all the summer things that y’all like to cook with made me so hungry!

I numbered the comments (excluding my responses) from 1 to 17, entered 1-17 into the random sequence generator at random.org , and it gave me this list:

screenshot of random.org showing winner is number 16

 

 

So commenter #16 is our winner! Jenna, watch your email for my note from Katy@BooksYALove.com to get your mailing address so that Zest Books can send your Green Teen Cookbook directly to you.

Update: because Jenna lives out of the USA, the autographed copy will be sent to commenter #8 (next on the random list): Connie Burke!

Happy, healthy cooking to all – and watch BooksYALove for more YA books beyond bestsellers (with no spoilers)!
**kmm

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