Sunday, August 7, 2016

If Book Characters Were Superheroes: Incredibles Edition

Graphic made by Alexandria @ The Book's Buzz
A few months ago, I signed up to be a part of Read Write Love 28's Book Blogger Creativity Project, an initiative that matches bloggers into groups that are then tasked with thinking of an idea for a fun, creative blog post.

I was wary when my group first tossed out the idea of matching superheroes with book characters—I've never been a fan of Superman or Batman or gotten excited over the release of a new Avengers movie. I quickly realized, however, that I do love animated children's movies and that I could base my post on the Pixar classic The Incredibles. So with that, here are five books you should read based on their characters' resemblance to the super-powered Parr family. (The Incredibles character descriptions are pulled from the Disney website.)

"Mr. Incredible is a superhero with great strength and durability. In his everyday life, he goes by the name Bob Parr."
At the beginning of Unremembered, Seraphina has just awoken in a hospital room, not knowing who she is or where she came from. She doesn't know why she was the only one to survive a devastating plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and she doesn't know why she has unparalleled strength, speed, endurance, intelligence, and more. Readers unravel more and more of her hidden identity as the science fiction trilogy continues, but one thing is certain from the start: Seraphina has powers exceeding those of a human, just like Mr. Incredible.

"Helen Parr, known as Elastigirl, is a resourceful and dexterous superhero."
How could I pick any characters other than extremely-talented ballerinas to compare to a woman who can stretch and contort her body into inconceivable shapes to do her bidding? Aside from contortionists, dancers and gymnasts may be the closest people we have to real-life Elastigirls. And even better, the characters in Tiny Pretty Things spend the entire novel competing to be the best at what they do, resulting in gripping and intense drama that had me riveted (and, especially now that it's been released, ecstatic to pick up the sequel).

"Violet Parr is the daughter of Bob and Helen Parr. She has the ability to produce force-fields and turn invisible."
While no one in Six of Crows has the power to become invisible like Violet, one of its six main characters, Inej, comes close. Trained as an acrobat, she can sneak stealthily in any situation, spy on outside conversations, and take roundabout paths to avoid being seen. She may as well have an invisibility cloak—or, like Violet, have the power to simply disappear.

"Dashiell Robert 'Dash' Parr is at age 10 the elder son of Bob and Helen Parr. He has the ability to move at great speeds."
I've read very few YA books with characters who participate in track and field (in fact, I've read very few books with athletic characters in general), but I loved the role the main character's sport plays in None of the Above. The story follows Kristin as she finds out she's intersex, and the fact that she is a superstar hurdler and runner both impacts and is impacted by her discovery of her newfound medical condition. Although this protagonist may not be able to run quite as quickly as Dash, she certainly has a talent for speed—and she faces tough situations with strength worthy of a superhero.

"Jack-Jack is the youngest child in the Parr family. His primary power is shapeshifting, but has a large number of other powers."
In an alternate post-World War II landscape, protagonist Yael has joined a moment whose goal is to take down the all-ruling Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. Thanks to a failed Nazi medical experimentation, she has the power to shape-shift. Her plan? Impersonate a famous motorcycle racer; compete in the Axis Tour; and win, earning herself an invitation to the Victor's Ball, where she'll have the opportunity to assassinate Hitler. The result is a thrilling, complex story about survival on the road and an imperative mission that reads exactly like a superhero story.

What YA characters do you think are worthy of superhero titles? Let me know in the comments. 

And P.S.—Forever Literary is going to be a bit quiet in the upcoming month or so as I spend the next week traveling and then leave for college! I'm planning to return full-force in early- to mid-September, but bear with me as I adjust to the major life changes that are coming up. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Ask Me About Blog Followers

"How many followers do you have?"

It's the battle cry of those who just found out you have a blog and (well-meaningly, most of the time) want to know more.

It's a question most bloggers who are open about their hobby with people they know in person have received—but it's a question that doesn't provide much quality information about the blog or the blogger.

So I'm here today to say that yes, I'm a blogger, but don't ask me about my follower count.

Instead, ask me about how I got into book blogging, how I stumbled upon one YA review site back in December of my eighth grade year, how I found several more from there, how I made a list of blogs to check daily. Ask me how, when I first decided to start my own blog, I got nervous and deleted my first post before trying again and putting it back up.

Ask me how impatient I felt the first few months as I searched for readers—but, even more importantly, blogging friends. Ask me how thrilled I was when a girl I talked to at a Twitter chat sent me a quick business email that spiraled into a long conversation that's now been running for more than three and a half years. Ask me about how getting an email from Summer is still a surprising daymaker (and how I currently owe her a response).

Ask me about the first convention I attended, ALA Annual 2013 in Chicago. Ask me how I labored for hours as I tried to design my own business cards because I was 15 and I didn't have a job and I was too cheap to pay a professional. Ask me how I counted down the months, weeks, days before the event, and how I couldn't stop car-dancing on the way there, even when we got hit by a surprise hailstorm en route.

Ask me how, as I talked to publicists and snagged ARCs on the showroom floor, I felt a passion for literature absolutely palpable in the air, and I knew for sure I wanted to work in book publishing. Ask me how I returned home bursting with excitement and carrying tote bags bursting with books. Ask me how the entire experience was so formative, so central to who I am today, that it served as the topic for more than one of my college and scholarship essays.

Ask me about the time I first met a blogging friend in person. Ask me how I felt when I first locked eyes with Willa in the McDonalds in the lower level of the McCormick Place Convention Center, where we had agreed to meet after a more-complicated-than-necessary text exchange, where I had begrudgingly ordered lunch despite my health-nut concerns. Ask me how a smile spread across my face, how it felt like one of those scenes from a romance movie when a couple is reunited after months apart, except platonic, obviously, and except "apart" was a norm that seemed less troubling thanks to the Internet.

Ask me, if you truly need to know about numbers, how many thoughtful comments my discussion posts get, how often I'm told "I'm going to read this book because of your review."

Ask me how much fun it is to embark on new projects like Lit Up Review or A Novel Chat with some of my best friends—not some of my best blogging friends, but some of my best friends, full stop. Ask me how much time and effort I put into these endeavors, in addition to the post-writing and graphics-making and tweet-scheduling I do for my own blog, but how it rarely feels like work because connecting readers with books is one of my greatest passions in life.

Ask me how incredible it is to have one of your favorite authors tweet at you to say they loved your review of their book. Ask me how incredible it is to have friends who will be even more excited about this seemingly-simple occurrence than you are.

Ask me how much I love being part of an entire community full of people who love reading as much as I do. Ask me how much I love being able to talk about every book I read—whether that means discussing it with someone who's read it or convincing someone who hasn't to give it a shot. Ask me how much I love blogging.

Ask me how, as long as I have friends and readers, as long as I get thoughtful comments, I'm not going to worry too much about follower count.

Ask me about the experience, about the details and events that have made my four years of blogging so meaningful, about my passion for reading and talking about books, about the people I've met and the places I've been and the goals I've accomplished. I'll be more than happy to answer.

This post was inspired by a tweet featuring impeccable GIF usage from Kaitlin at Next Page Please—go check it out!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Top Ten College Majors YA Books Made Me Want to Pursue

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for list-loving bloggers that is hosted by the team over at The Broke and the Bookish. Every week, readers compile a list of their favorite books, authors, or other literature-related things that fall under a certain category.

If you regularly read my blog (or follow me on Twitter), you probably know that I recently graduated from high school and will be heading to college in a few weeks. I'm moving to downtown Indianapolis, and I plan to study business (particularly marketing) with a goal of working in marketing or PR for a publishing company.

However, I'm interested in several subjects—falling under the categories of science, math, English, social studies, and more—and if I had infinite time and money to spend on college, I'd accumulate several degrees and pursue a myriad of majors. To reflect this passion for studying and learning (and to prepare for my imminent departure to college), I decided to use today's Top Ten Tuesday topic to share just a few of the subjects I'd like to study—and the YA books that urge me to do so.

This book's protagonist, Emi, is an up-and-coming Hollywood set designer, an interest that adds a fascinating sub-plot to the mysterious and romantic story. Emi's adventures and passion for her planned career taught me so much about the behind-the-scenes work of filmmaking and left me eager to learn more. (And ever since I read this book, I've been paying more attention to the backdrops in movies I watch.)

Ruta Sepetys is amazing at writing about less-often-spotlighted pieces of history, a talent that especially shines in her latest novel. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff during World War II is the most deadly tragedy in maritime history, and yet I had never heard of it until reading Salt to the Sea. As a result, this book (actually, all of the author's books) made me want to learn more about other major events that are written out of high school history classes.

After what should have been a fun spring break trip turns deadly, protagonist Anna is accused of murdering her friend Elise—but the evidence is only circumstantial. And yet the media paints her as a villain, warping public opinion and convincing everyone she is guilty. This story left me both terrified of and fascinated by the power of journalists to determine what everyone believes.

A book about a girl backpacking across Central America, complete with absolutely gorgeous descriptions of each city she visits? How could Wanderlove not make me want to study travel and tourism?

This indescribably complex novel is concerned with several subjects: the ties between humans, the passage of time, and more. But one of its central concepts is the prevalence of the spiral form in nature—from the small scale, such as the patterns found on pinecones, to the large scale, such as the spiral path of the Earth as it moves through space. This story made me want to study mathematics and geometry and the Fibonacci Sequence and unravel the mystery of why, exactly, the spiral is so perfect a shape.

Set in a fictional country that is home to a collection of several international embassies, this series immerses readers in the world of diplomacy. I've always thought international relations would be a fascinating field in which to work (although I doubt I could actually do it, especially since I only speak English), and Ally Carter's latest series provides a thrilling glimpse into the high-profile profession.

This beautifully complicated and heartfelt story introduced me to a religion I knew nothing about (Hasidic Judaism) and kept me fascinated as the main character questions her faith, accepting some elements and rejecting others. Her story made me want to learn more about other lesser-known religions and read their members' stories.

No one's quite sure what's happening to the girls at St. Anne's, a private high school in eastern Massachusetts. It's second semester of senior year, everyone is beyond stressed about class rank and college acceptances, and suddenly several students begin experiencing a variety of inexplicable ailments—seizures, hair loss, and more. Inspired by a true story about a similar unbelievable epidemic, this book is an engrossing look at several aspects of psychology, complete with a magical realism touch.

As the sister of a high-profile "fixer" whose career is based on working PR miracles for the elite of Washington, Tess is immersed in the world of politics. And when she discovers reason to believe a Supreme Court justice's death was the result of murder, she becomes entangled in a dangerous network of deception that, despite its deadly nature, makes me want to enter the world of politics as well.

This Jennifer Lynn Barnes book is just as thrilling as the previously-mentioned title. Spotlighting a group of highly-skilled teenage behaviorists a who help the FBI solve murders, each installment in the series makes me more and more tempted to pursue a career catching killers, just like the protagonists.

What subjects have YA books made you want to study? Is there anyone out there whose college major was actually inspired by a novel? Let me know in the comments. 

And bonus for people who have made it this far! I'm currently running a Twitter giveaway, and a quick retweet and follow qualifies you to win ARCs of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, and I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Click here to enter, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Art of Starting a Book Review: Nine Ideas for Bloggers

First sentences are always the hardest. Whether you're saying hello to a stranger or drafting a novel, crafting the perfect introduction can take more energy than any other part of the project. Writing a book review is no different.

That's why, way back in 2013 and 2014, I wrote two separate posts (one for my old group blog, one as a guest post for a fellow blogger) offering advice on how to assemble an opening paragraph of a book review. And today, I'm re-visiting and re-sharing these tried-and-true review tips in one new and improved blog post. I've tweaked my old ideas and added a few new ones in the hopes of helping you write the best book reviews possible.

Revised, updated, expanded, and merged into one post for your convenience, here's my master list of tips for starting a book review. If you're battling your brain to develop a fantastic first sentence that varies from the classic "[X book] is [Y adjective or noun]," here are some ideas that could help.

Did the book use a particular writing style, theme, or ploy you've seen before? Use the first paragraph of your review to establish your feelings on that particular element. Then discuss how the element affects the book you're reviewing and whether or not the novel in question lived up to your expectations. Example reviews from me: A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood, Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Talk about your feelings and expectations going into the book and explain why the story exceeded, met, or disappointed them. This works well for novels with heaps of hype or that are outside your comfort zone. Example reviews from me: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn

If the book you're reviewing is a part of a series, you can use your first paragraph to establish what you like about the series and what you wanted from the installment in question. You can then talk about how the novel compares to its predecessors and how it builds on the events, character development, or themes of the earlier books. You can also take the same approach with an author in general, discussing what you like about his or her writing before explaining how the novel in question compares to his or her other works. Example reviews from me: Hallowed by Cynthia Hand, Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi, All Fall Down by Ally Carter

If you're having trouble thinking of a catchy opener, why not borrow from someone else? You can quote an important line from the book (or its epigraph) and then explain its significance—in a non-spoilery way, of course. Or you can repeat a popular idea or saying that the story centers on and analyze the story's success in dealing with the topic. Example reviews from me: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossRival by Sara Bennett Wealer

If a book turns out to be dramatically different than its cover or synopsis would indicate, I often start out my review by pointing out the misleading element and discussing the way it skewed my expectations. It can be easier to talk about what a book is not rather than what it is, and describing your preconceptions provides the perfect segue into your thoughts on the book itself. Example reviews from me: Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid, Like No Other by Una LaMarche

What did you love more than anything else about the book you're reviewing? Write an opening paragraph about that element, followed by paragraphs about how your favorite aspect affects other aspects of the story. Ask yourself, "How does X impact Y?" and find a way to tie each point back to the first paragraph. Example reviews from me: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, Inland by Kat Rosenfield

If a story features an unusual plot or distinct atmosphere, you can engage readers by taking a paragraph to describe the story's setup or feeling. Don't summarize the plot, of course, but try to convey the tone and premise of the book itself. This kind of introduction can be a great way to supplement a vague Goodreads summary or provide a taste of the book's writing style. Example reviews from me: Tighter by Adele Griffin, Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn, No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Sometimes a book leaves you so torn up, so emotionally distraught that you can't organize your thoughts into a coherent review. Sometimes a complex story leaves you confused as to what even happened, and sometimes an adorable novel will make you want to substitute heart emojis for words in your review. When that happens, be up-front with your readers; start your review by describing your emotional state upon reading the final page, and then go on to list the elements of the book that led you to feel that way. Example reviews from me: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Don't feel like writing an introduction at all? If you write your review in list form, you can usually get away with including a short intro—or skipping it altogether. Best of all, list-style reviews are easy for your readers to follow and understand, providing a clear, detailed picture of what you liked or disliked about the book. This approach works especially well if you can find a way to tie your list's title or theme into the title of the novel you're reviewing. Example reviews from me: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, My entire "Three Reasons to Read" feature

What are your go-to review-writing tips? How do you overcome firs-sentence writer's block? Let me know in the comments, and best of luck with your next book review. I'm sure it will be a great one. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Gripping Story of Religion Gone Wrong: No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss | Goodreads

Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release: February 24, 2015
Source: Library
Abigail doesn't know how her dad found Brother John. Maybe it was the billboards. Or the radio. What she does know is that he never should have made that first donation. Or the next, or the next. Her parents shouldn't have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there with Brother John for the "end of the world." Because of course the end didn't come. And now they're living in their van. And Aaron’s disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But maybe it’s too big a task for one teenage girl. Bryan Bliss’s thoughtful, literary debut novel is about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love.
Imagine your parents have staged an upheaval of your entire life. Selling your house and non-essential possessions and giving the money away, they force you to drive across the entire United States, leaving behind your education, friends, and other family members. And worst of all, your parents make each of these terrible, terrible decisions simply because a man told them the end of the world was approaching. They have been brainwashed by the charismatic leader of a cult religion, and you are forced to share the experience.

This is No Parking at the End Times in a nutshell, and the story is just as horrifying, fascinating, and strangely empowering as it sounds.

First off, I adore the premise of this book. I love books that deal with religion—both the good sides and the bad sides of various different faiths—and No Parking at the End Times does not disappoint in its portrayal of the dangers of extreme cults. Readers get to sit in on Brother John's brainwashing sermons, glimpse his corruption, and watch Abigail's parents continue to believe and give scraps of money to the church as "tithing." Brother John's nonsensical preaching will leave you repulsed-yet-engaged and feeling absolutely terrible for the real people who fall into similar cult religion traps—especially the children who get dragged along for the ride.

What really makes No Parking at the End Times stand out, though, is its cast of characters—particularly Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron. The twins have distinct ways of dealing with their situation: Abigail tries to remain optimistic and support her parents despite their misguided decisions, while Aaron becomes sarcastic and angry and makes plans to return home. These mindsets compliment each other perfectly, portraying a range of fully developed, fully understandable emotions. And both show the character's struggles so clearly that readers cannot help cheering for Abigail and Aaron to stand up for themselves and convince their parents to abandon Brother John.

I only have one complaint about this novel: the story of how Abigail's parents grew to trust Brother John in the first place is a bit underdeveloped. Readers are told the family struggled with financial difficulties around the time Brother John began advertising, but nothing serious enough to make the average person abandon his or her life and religion and join a cult. A full understanding of the parents' motives is not necessary to enjoy the story, but I could not help feeling that some essential piece of background information was missing.

But while Abigail's story could have benefited from more development at its roots, I adored it anyway. No Parking at the End Times is short, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch in its 267 pages. Perfect for fans of stories about religion gone wrong, challenging situations, and familial bonds, Bliss's debut is a solid addition to the contemporary YA genre. I cannot wait to try his second novel.