real-talk YA book reviews

Category Archives: Book Chats

Here it is, folks. Another TBR post.

The last time I formalized a list of to-be-reads was back in March, but I’m happy to say that I’ve successfully read– and enjoyed!– all but one of those. So, along with that straggler, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, here are four new additions to the queue this fall.

1.) Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Westerfeld’s Uglies series was one of the absolute staples of my tween readerhood, and a major gateway to the dystopia scene. I know he’s been writing since then, but somehow he hasn’t been in my life for a long while. Afterworlds is getting a whole lot of hype, though, and it sounds like it might be just the thing to reunite us. It’s a rather sprawling novel that tells a duel story: a young woman debuting as a published novelist, and the girl who stars in her book. Their stories interweave and complement each other and it’s supposed to be really graceful and immersive and I want it.

2.) Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger. Steampunk. Steampunk. STEAMPUNK. STEAMPUNK. STEAMPUNK. STEAMPUNK.

Okay, confession, I haven’t actually read any steampunk. But I have spent a LOT of time looking at steampunk-style fashion. And I basically love it so much that my body could explode into a cloud of rainbow butterflies, and each individual butterfly would be weeping tears of pure light, and each tear would have a single glitter gleaming in the radiant sun of my love for steampunk. So why I have not officially read steampunk fiction, I just don’t know.

Etiquette & Espionage is set at a boarding school, and it’s becoming almost cliché for book bloggers to love boarding school books, but what’s not to love? I’m a tiny bit nervous because this is a “girl’s parents want her to sew and wear dresses but girl isn’t like other girls and rebels” story, and that’s a formula I’m getting a little bored with, to be honest. But there’s enough in this one’s favor that I want to give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, tumblr has supplied me with this list of other steampunk possibilities! (Granted, those were chosen based on cover aesthetics, but I’m sure at least some of them are good.)

3.) Something by David Sedaris. I don’t know what, I just know I’ve been interested in creative nonfiction lately, and I’ve heard that David Sedaris has a dry, witty sense of humor, which is right up my alley. I started flipping through Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls at a bookstore the other day (actually it was the Strand in NYC, which is literally paradise, but that’s another story), but there seemed to be a lot of scary medical stories in there, which I can’t stomach to save my life. So possibly not the best choice for me, although I love owls.

4.) Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. This is the one I’m least positive I’m going to read, but I’ve joined the massive following of the Netflix series, and it would be cool to hear the true story in Kerman’s own words. Plus, like I said, I want to read more creative nonfiction. We’ll see.

I’m currently reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and hopefully I’ll have it finished and ready to discuss next week. It’s a pretty unique book, so stay tuned. What to-reads are banging around your vague consciousness? Take it to the comments.


        nbf sign

          I was browsing Facebook yesterday morning as I so often do when I saw someone talking in passing about plans to attend the National Book Festival.

          Naturally, my reaction was “National Book Festival?! Why did nobody tell me, and when do I leave?”

          Upon further research, I determined that the National Book Festival was a free event hosted by the Library of Congress and taking place all day in the Washington, DC convention center, extremely convenient to my university. I was disappointed to read the list of attending authors and found I had heard of only one; it would not be a starstriking-encounter, but I was still eager to congregate with a nation’s worth of other book aficionados, so I rounded up some companions and we successfully navigated the Metro downtown.

con center          The experience started out strong: we had been inside the center less than a minute when we were offered free posters, green with a reading crescent-moon on them. I just got some new posters to decorate my side of the dorm room, so I was very much in a poster mindset and thrilled with the boon.

          Unfortunately, however, as we got deeper into the building, we began to sense a lack of pertinent activities. Most of what was going on was signings for the attending authors–understandable, but again, none of the names meant much to me–, and selling of their particular books.

nbf          There were a number of panels on the schedule as well, which probably would have been interesting, but being college students, we had gotten a late enough start to the day that a lot of things had already happened.

          To further the iffiness, when we visited the food court, we found the options were both exorbitantly priced (typical for a convention center) and limited. Also, the vending machine was out of water, and ate two of my dollars.

          There was still the central reason I had come, though, and that was a youth poetry slam at six pm. So at 5:45, we joined a large crowd on the main floor and funneled into a large room with a stage set up at the front. All the chairs were taken, so we nabbed spots on the floor near the front where the view wasn’t blocked and settled in to wait (me flopping around every few minutes, because my leg circulation and the ground have never mixed well).

          The slam was very cool. For the first round, all the performers were prompted to slam about topics related to books and reading; for the second round the topic was open. One girl described a controlling ex-boyfriend in an extended Pinocchio metaphor. A guy in a graphic t-shirt, who ended up the champion of the night, rallied against the prevalence of writers and artists being questioned about their “Plan B”. A girl with a blue cast on her arm provided a manifesto against Twilight, which made me realize how tired I am of discussions of Twilight—a loaded fact which probably deserves a post of its own at some point in the future, if I can reconcile myself to creating, well, another discussion of Twilight.

           I always enjoy listening to slam poetry, holding out anticipation for that one poem, that one line, that will send that chill of truth and electricity through me. I realized during the show that I’ve been noticing a trend over the past year of recorded slam poems on relevant social issues circulating the internet. I think that’s awesome. Poetry, and really any form of commentary that sells as its own product beyond just the message it’s promoting, can be such a powerful way to make people truly think about things in a new way, and remember it.

          I was fairly inspired to try writing my own pieces of spoken word; I do love writing “page” poetry, after all. But so often the mark of a good slam performance is outward intensity, almost anger, and I struggle to imagine myself expressing that kind of intensity about anything. I’m a soft-spoken person, and my life has been fortunate enough not to provide me with many personal experiences I could get riled up about. I don’t know. I know there are different styles of slam poets.. I’ll just have to see.

          There was a panel I was interested in called “Great Books to Great Movies”, but my friend had to get home to meet somebody at nine, so we headed out. We agreed that the event overall had felt less like a book con, or a social gathering of bookish people for assorted activities, and more like a very focused arrangement for services related to the authors that were there—get in, buy books and get them signed, and leave. However, this impression might have been different if we had gotten there earlier and attended more of the panels that were offered.

          Despite not being exactly what we had imagined, it wasn’t a wasted day. I’m glad to say I was there, and I gained some confidence about the Metro, as well as learning how to get to the convention center, which could be useful if my fellow Tumblr-type geeks ever assemble there for an anime con or something. Plus, I astonishingly ran into my high school genetics teacher, who moved to DC the same time I did to take a new job. I couldn’t believe the coincidence. And of course, the poetry slam was enough alone to make the trip worthwhile.

          The whole experience made me even more eager to potentially get to BookCon 2015. Irritatingly, although the trip to NYC by train would be vastly easier from here than my hometown, it will take place when I’m already home for the summer. A lot of cons this year are skipping around my travel schedule in the least accommodating ways. But I may have to find a way to attend even so.

           Any other NBF attendees out there? How was your day?

Is it possible for a novel to have a fourth wall?

                For those who don’t know, the “fourth wall” is the theatrical concept of the illusion that in the world of the story being performed, everything is real and the audience is nonexistent—there is no gap in the living room wall and no crowd seated just outside it watching the family proceedings. In other words, the characters never acknowledge or address the audience. When a character speaks to the viewers directly, it is called breaking the fourth wall.

                But the written word follows slightly different rules. Since a reader cannot actually see the scene, the physical environment and proceedings must be discussed and named in a way that they never would be naturally—when we get angry in real life, we never yell “I clench my fists and step towards him menacingly!” (unless maybe if we’re playing Dungeons and Dragons). So does that mean that in written fiction, the fourth wall can never be intact? After all, even in the case of third person perspectives, a narrator must perform this task.

                Still, there are definitely levels. For example, some third-person narrators only speak to the reader in the vaguest way, providing the vital images and offering no further commentary, while others begin to show personality and make comments that alter the reader understanding of the plot. In the realm of first-person novels, we have stories that are written as diaries or are otherwise immediately acknowledged as a story being read (like David Copperfield, I guess, which I haven’t actually read.) And then, to take it a step further, there are cases where the author themself actually chimes in during the story—like Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.

                Personally, I like it when protagonists are chatty and speak to me directly. If it’s done well, it makes it easier to relate to that character, and to form an emotional bond with them. I also think it would be enjoyable to write a character that way. It just makes a character very immediate and very knowable.

                Thoughts? Comments? What counts as the fourth wall in a novel?



                The intrepid IBTJ research team received jaw-dropping, hold-the-phone, shut-the-front-door intel yesterday. Meg Cabot has two new Princess Diaries books in the works!!

                Mia, now an adult and preparing to take the throne of Genovia, hits a new obstacle when she discovers an illegitimate (not that any child in Mia’s family has been “legitimate”) younger half-sister, whose existence somehow enables an attempt to wrest the throne from Mia’s father. Meg is writing a middle-grade book about the sister and an adult novel about Mia.

                Oh, and by the way? Mia is planning her wedding. The first article I read didn’t name the groom, so I spent ten minutes panicking before determining from Meg’s website that, yes, she is marrying Michael Moscowitz!


                I can’t describe how thrilled I am at the prospect of reading about Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo again. So I thought this would be a good time to look back on the original Princess Diaries series, and more importantly, urge every YA reader to READ IT!

                Oh how I love the Princess Diaries. They are the hot cocoa with marshmallows to end all. Mia is truly the best. She is funny, incredibly relatable (but not a blank slate by any means), big-hearted but not a saint, awkward and flawed but not a caricature. And aside from being very effectively set in a hip urban New York lifestyle—Mia lives in a loft apartment with her painter mom in a whirlwind of authentic Asian food deliveries–, it depicts high school life more realistically than pretty much any other book I’ve read. First of all, Mia and her friends ACTUALLY GO TO CLASS. And receive homework, like all the time, not just when it’s a convenient plot point.

                There’s a mean girl who early on terrorizes Mia’s life, but who, in later books, turns out to actually have a soul (one of the things I’m most cranky at the movie adaptions for erasing). There is no magic makeover that turns Mia into Anne Hathaway; she’s described as a normal-looking girl, but there are still people in her life who think she’s beautiful. Her friends and classmates are fantastic. Her best friend Lilly is so well drawn, and their dynamic is so multi-faceted and rich. And both the everyday and the grand-heist-level shenanigans are just so hilarious. There are ten books in the PD series, which in a lot of cases could turn into beating a dead horse beyond recognition; such is not the case here. The stories truly never got tired or repetitive.

                And yes, as I spoiled above, Mia and Lilly’s older brother Michael are soul mates; but the ten-book path towards their love is anything but a romanticized, silky-smooth Hollywood construction. There are bumps, mountains, and detours along the way. There are *gasp* other people for both of them. There are times when it seems they’re moving on and away from each other. And there are times and times again that their bond is tested and proven true.

                If I haven’t convinced any non-believers out there, let me try this tactic: READ IT. READ IT. READ IT! The Princess Diaries are a worthy inspiration to girls everywhere and a likely treat for older audiences too. I’m so glad they’ve been a part of my life, and I cannot wait for Mia to become a part of it all over again.

            They’re officially making an Eleanor and Park movie!!

            And Rainbow Rowell is writing the screenplay!!

            I just had to get that order of business out of the way right off the bat. I’m so excited that RR is so involved and can ensure that the story is honored properly.

            This exciting adaption news brought again to the forefront of my mind the old question of the movie of Matched by Ally Condie. I really want a Matched movie, you guys. I can’t help it. I’m a romantic fangirl. The IMDB page still hasn’t firmed up any comforting details about the progress that may or may not be being made, but the page is still there, and I’m just gonna take that as good news.

            But here’s the hitch. Yesterday, out of the blue, as horrific revelations so often are, I was suddenly struck in the gut with the force of a fact that I long ago buried somewhere deep in my subconscious.

            The official pronunciation of Cassia (the protagonist’s name)… is CASH-uh.

            Every time I think about this fact, my whole body trembles with “no”. From the very first page, I have pronounced Cassia “cass-EE-uh”. And though it may seem odd, yes, it is a big deal for me. Cass-EE-uh feels to me like a perfect and immutable representation of Cassia’s character, nay, her very soul. And because Cassia’s affair with Ky, the boy her dystopian society doesn’t want her to be with, is characterized from the start by his name appearing accidentally on the screen that tells her who her official soul mate is, as well as the fact that Ky later spends time secretly teaching Cassia to write both of their names (in the world of Matched, writing by hand is illegal), names are a very symbolic and central part of their relationship.

            I am so invested in my own personal and– if we operate on the author’s-word-is-the-last-word philosophy– incorrect pronunciation that I fear it could severely impact my enjoyment of the movie. How can I swoon over the quiet and tender romance scenes with Ky twanging out CASHuh as he takes her in his arms?

            This crisis has gotten me thinking. This incident of misinterpreting details and ending up out of sync with my fellow readers at large was not an isolated one. I somehow always pictured Four in Divergent (that well-known standalone novel with no sequels! La la la la!) as blonde and blue-eyed, even though I’m pretty sure he was specifically described as having dark hair and eyes. Even more bizarrely, for the first three books in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, I pictured one of the main characters as entirely the wrong race. Despite being well aware that his family was from China, it was only in House of Hades that I finally got it through my muddled head that Frank Zhang has a traditionally Asian appearance, and is not African-American. How could I possibly have gotten that image? The world may never know.

            Do I have a point other than that I’m crazy and a sloppy reader, and that Ally Condie’s pronunciation of a name she invented is objectively incorrect? I guess what I’m wondering is how important it is that our understanding of a story carefully follow what the author intended. I mean, I certainly think just enjoying what you read is a highly legitimate goal—that’s kind of the premise of this site. But authors make choices, even ones about fine details, carefully and with good reason.

          My other point is that the whole process of playing out a story within our minds is pretty fascinating. How much do we actually visualize what we’re reading, like a mental movie, and how much are the images more subconsciously perceived? I can’t really even answer that question about myself. But I would love to hear what a neuroscientist has to say about it. A lot of times, when I really try to picture a character clearly, I can’t do it. Their features kind of wobble and melt and shift, like a boggart that can’t figure out what your greatest fear is. I actually think it’s easier for me to picture scenery than faces; what makes it easier, for either one, is when I end up picturing a person or place from my real life. Although it can be a little strange when I have a casual acquaintance mentally cast in a story. (Anecdote: I incredibly clearly pictured Jessica Darling from Meghan McCafferty’s books as Anna Kendrick, who played Jessica in Twilight. Weird stuff.)

         Have you had times when you got off track about a pronunciation or image and ended up traumatized when you realized the discrepancy? And how much do you picture things while reading? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

            Today, I’m psychoanalyzing myself about one of my favorite, oddly specific literary tropes: the little-known microcosm. I love stories that reveal weird, highly structured worlds and cultures that spring up around certain activities.

            Take, for example, my current loan from my school library, The Card Turner by Louis Sachar, author of Holes (which, incidentally, is also a perfect example, maybe even a better one than the one I’m about to describe.) The Card Turner is about a teenage boy who finds employment as card turner for his blind great uncle, a Life Master in the card game bridge. He attends a bridge club filled with regulars, and is intrigued by the complex written and unwritten rules of the game, the fast-flying and inscrutable lingo, and the suggestions of scandalous past bridge-related happenings.

            Another of my favorite examples is What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, which is partly about a committee that meets in the upstairs room of a small restaurant over a period of several weeks with the task of assembling an expansive model of their town for some sort of community exhibition. They develop rhythms of working together to match up little houses, buildings, and pieces of landscaping to their corresponding slots in the base.

            There’s no hard-and-fast definition of the phenomenon I’m talking about, but you feel it when you read it: people coming together to do something unlikely and unusual, and sharing a culture because of it that no one outside would understand or even know was there. And I rarely read a novel with this quality that doesn’t fascinate me, and stick in my memory long after the last page.

            Why is that?

            I think maybe this type of thing fits with the way my brain works. I’m the kind of person who has an elaborate internal ritual surrounding the front doors of my school every day: is that person behind me close enough that I should hold the door for them? Look at them in the reflection so you don’t trap yourself by making obvious eye contact. Is this a case for holding it as I enter so they can come along behind me, or a full hold it open, let them go first deal? I create complex sociologies in everything I encounter. So when I see my overanalysis of the mundane echoed outside of my head, my brain is thrilled to have found its kin.

            Furthermore, reading is all about being invited into a new world— and how cool is it to be a visitor in a tiny community whose existence would otherwise have never even occurred to you?

            Does anyone get what I’m talking about? Any time you read something with a microcosm aspect, let me know about it, because I’ll need little other reason to give it a chance.

       A while ago on Tumblr, I read a popular post requesting the existence of a central, glamorous, overblown awards show for books, to parallel the Oscars and Grammys. That post has stuck with me more than I realized. It would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Why isn’t there?

      The awards show thing got me thinking: there are a lot of aspects enjoyed by other media forms that are not present to the same extent in book culture. There are conventions for authors or industry officials to mingle, but where are the book cons, where ordinary readers can geek out? Harry Potter robe owners aside, book cosplay is a pretty tiny voice in the cosplay world– I for one has seen almost none. I’m sure there are high-faluting critical publications available for literature, but where are the trashy grocery store fiction magazines, to go with ones that dish about hot new movies or TV shows?

     The obvious cynical answer would be that books don’t get these things because not enough people read, and there’s no big money in books. And maybe that’s part of it.

      But I started thinking about it from a different angle: reading, in some ways, is a necessarily solitary experience. Don’t get me wrong– half the reading experience for me is screaming about books or communally picking them apart with friends or fellow internet users. But that’s all after, before, or around the fact. When you’re actually absorbing the content, you’re on your own. Books are small, and it seems like no two people read at the same pace, so gathering around a paperback and pouring over each sentence together just isn’t very doable. Compare this to dozens of strangers piling into a theater together for a movie, or having a viewing party on the couch for the season premiere of Pretty Little Liars, and you’re walking a lonely road. I think maybe that’s part of the joy of seeing a favorite book adapted to the screen– not only do you get to see the world you love come to life, but you get to have your friends and fellow fans at your side when you enter it.

      But just because we’re starting out a step behind other groups doesn’t mean we should give up.

      I’ve loved Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and The Olympians, and subsequently, Heroes of Olympus, series since the fourth grade. And somewhere in the time in between, I aged out of the theoretical marketing range for his work. That doesn’t mean I considered for a second no longer reading them, because who needs societal limits? But I wasn’t exactly surrounded by other readers, and I didn’t really have anyone to fangirl with when a new book came out. I started to have twinges of concern. Was I the bad kind of a weird for still loving these stories? Was I literally Riordan’s oldest fan?

      Then one day, I forget why, I logged into the Tumblr account I had made and never used and searched “Percy Jackson”.

      I think my mind actually blew up. There were enough pages of results that they were for all intents and purposes endless. People were creating beautiful drawings of all the characters. People were debating theories and opinions and romantic pairings. People were uploading pictures of their favorite quotes and chapter titles. “Normal” people! People above the age of twelve! Some of them had handmade Camp Half-Blood t-shirts! Some of them even knew more about the series than I did! As I scrolled through it all, I felt my love for Percy Jackson rekindled tenfold, and any doubts I had had were completely erased. I would give a speech on the steps of the Capitol Building about Percy Jackson. I would be the national poster child of Percy Jackson fanhood. And more to the point, reading the books is at least 50% more fun now that I have a massive, noisy community to share it with.

     So what am I saying? I’m saying I love Tumblr. I’m saying there should be book conventions, and more book cosplay– I know it’s harder without explicit reference images, but written character descriptions can give a lot to work with. I’m saying I want Book Oscars. I’m saying I’m glad I’m a book blogger. I’m saying we should all read louder and prouder and with more partying. Somebody get on this, please!