Thoughts From Places: Teen Book Festival 2015

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

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Teen Book Festival 2015

            The Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival at Nazareth College is the best book event I have ever gone to. Everyone is incredibly nice, there are door prizes, and amazing opportunities. TBF starts with an hour long panel with all of the authors. This year it was hosted by one of the authors, Charles Benoit, in disguise. They played truth or talent. Some of the highlights were Heather Brewer and AS King revealing that they are actually ninjas, G. Neri talked about his severed thumb, and Gayle Forman delegated her talent to her daughter. Ally Condie told a story about how she embarrassed herself in front of frat boys, Jessica Brody sang a Spice Girl rap, and AS King said she once shook a hand inside of a cow. Jonathan Maberry once knocked out a nun with a nunchuck, Jennifer Lynn Barnes talked about how monkeys are little fluffy balls of destruction and death, and Julie Kagawa demonstrated her awesome defense skills.

One of the greatest things about TBF is the author panels. This year I went to Michael Buckley’s, Julie Kagawa and Katie McGarry’s, and Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Charles Benoit, and April Henry’s Panels. I went to TBF with my cousin and we both adore Michael Buckley’s Sister Grimm Series so immediately after the opening panel we made our way to his panel. Alright, let’s be honest here: through this panel I gained a bit of an author crush on Michael Buckley. He is such a great guy and I could have listened to him talk for hours. He talked about many things, including his career. He said that he once entered and won a joke contest in MAD magazine with the joke: “why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because it was dead.” What did he win? Well, technically, he won Eddie Murphy. Apparently they shipped the comedian to his house and they got to hang out for a day. They went to the local mall and mocked people because there wasn’t much else to do in his small town. Buckley said he was drawn to the “musicality of language.” He also talked about how he lives in Brooklyn and that one “could throw a rock out of a Brooklyn window and hit a kid lit author” that’s how many live in his neighborhood. He also admitted to stalking Libba Bray once (who can blame him?).

Me and Michael Buckley

Later during the signing part of the day, his line was also the first line we stood for. When I met him I told him how one of my pages at work said I was the older version of his character Daphne. He agreed that it was a huge compliment since she is very friendly and full of hope! He also mentioned that Laura is his sister’s name! I asked him for a photo and when I went behind the table for it he asked me what we should do for the picture. I replied, “Smile?” His response? “Nah, that’s what normal people do! Let’s do this!” Hence the picture above!

            The next panel Kelly and I went to was Julie Kagawa’s. She is the author of the Iron Fey series. She did a joint Q&A panel with Katie McGarry, author of the Pushing the Limits series. I have never read any of McGarry’s books but I enjoyed their panel immensely. The two authors have been friends for a while and their easy banter was amusing to witness. They talked about their writing processes and how they differed and what to do about writer’s block (skip it, talk to friends, or power through it). McGarry also said that she suffers from the “severe shiny object syndrome” in that she gets a new idea and then has to fight not to chase it when she’s in the middle of writing something else. I thought that was a very appropriate phrase!

Me and Julie Kagawa

            During the signing part of the day I met both authors. I talked to Julie Kagawa and told her how much I enjoyed her series. I also got the photo above. I honestly had no idea that she was hugging me like that until I looked at the photo on the way home! She was so cool! I didn’t have a book of Katie McGarry’s but I did have her TBF poster which she signed for me!  

            After eating a quick lunch we went to the “Crime Scene” panel hosted by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Charles Benoit, and April Henry. I didn’t know Henry’s work, but I had recently read Barnes series The Naturals, and I had read Benoit’s You back in 2011 and met him at that year’s TBF (my first one). I was extremely interested in April Henry’s research methods. She once took a course on anti-kidnapping to research a novel. The final exam involved actually being kidnapped and then being graded on how well they escaped.

Each of the authors also talked about how they get through writer’s block. Charles Benoit’s answer was simple, but effective. He stops writing in the middle of a word. So that he already knows what he has to write next because he knows that at the very least he has to finish that word, then the sentence, then the whole thought. Both April Henry and Jennifer Lynn Barnes had three ways each to combat writer’s block. Henry would think about what she couldn’t let happen in the book and worked from there, she would pick a random line of dialogue from something and plug it in her book to see what would happen, and if that didn’t work she would go on Write or Die, a helpful website that starts deleting words if you stop writing. Barnes’ first step would be to figure out if she had written the wrong thing. She would figure out what led her to that block, go back and fix it, then try again. She also said that sometimes she would get stuck because she wasn’t being nice to herself. She would be working too much and forgetting to live a little. If that happened she would just take a night off and watch TV. Her last step was to realize once again that writing is hard and it is supposed to be. When that happened she would call her author friends and they would talk about how hard it was and she would feel better. When things got really bad she would set simple goals for the amount of words written, like after 500 words she can eat a snack or take a shower.  

Me and Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The photo above was taken of me and Jennifer Lynn Barnes before their panel started. I also met her during the signing part of the day. She asked me if I had guessed who the killer was in The Naturals and I confessed that I didn’t which is one of the reasons I loved it so much.

It is during the signing part of the day that the true wonder of the Teen Book Festival is revealed. The authors will sign as many books as you want, they will talk to you, and take pictures with you. They are treated like rock stars at TBF. I was talking to Kevin Emerson as an announcement came over the PA asking someone to report to the DJ stand and he said, “What kind of book festival has a DJ booth?! I love this place!” During this part of the day the door prizes are given away. This year each winner won 10 books, most of them old ARCs or finished copies of popular books! Between my cousin and I, we won 30 books! (I will be having a contest for some of those books later in the month!) I also met and talked with M.T. Anderson, author of Feed during the signing, as pictured below!

Me and M.T. Anderson

As I said earlier everyone at TBF was really nice. Every time Kelly or I were called over the PA the people behind us would gladly hold our spot in the signing line. The third time we won, we gave the girls who saved our spot their choice of the books we had won! Everyone there is a reader so it was like a giant nerdy party! If you ever have the chance I encourage you to make your way to Rochester to the greatest festival in the YA world.

(Authors that I met at TBF that I did not get pictures with: Charles Benoit, Kevin Emerson, April Henry, Jo Knowles, Emmy Laybourne, Katie McGarry, and Jennifer Niven.)

~Laura!


Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Friday, May 29, 2015

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas


Release Date: August 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 416
Source: Borrowed from Library, on To Buy list
Series: Throne of Glass (#1)

Summary (goodreads.com):  After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.


My Review:

Throne of Glass focuses on Adarlan’s Assassin, Celaena Sardothien, after she is chosen by Adarlan’s Crown Prince Dorian to be his champion in his father’s completion to be the King’s official assassin. This is the first book in the series, but it also technically isn’t. There are five prequel novellas that were published together in a book 2 years later as The Assassin’s Blade. Personally, I didn’t find it necessary to read The Assassin’s Blade before Throne of Glass. However, I can see why one might want to. The Assassin’s Blade tells the background of Celaena’s years as Adarlan’s Assassin that are hinted at in Throne of Glass. (I have decided to read the prequel novellas after I read the other books in the series.)

Celaena is an extraordinary character. In her own way she is an inspiration, obviously I do not mean the assassin part, but she is quick-witted and intelligent, confidant and strong. I like how she isn't stereotypical. She is an assassin, which could be seen as a man's profession in this world but Celaena doesn't act more masculine because of it, nor is she plain or a tomboy. The author makes a point of repeatedly mentioning that Celaena is breathtakingly beautiful and that when people, men and women alike, realize she is Adarlan’s Assassin they are surprised. Throughout the book she uses that underestimation to her advantage! She also enjoys dresses and dancing and other "feminine" things, which for some reason surprised me and it should not have. I automatically assumed upon starting the novel that Celaena wouldn’t like those things because she is a contract killer. I love that Maas proved me wrong and has given readers a character that is badass in every way that matters. My only complaint is that these things, such as how pretty she is and her love of all things fancy, is mentioned repeatedly. Once, maybe twice would have been enough. In later books I hope Maas feels confident in her own writing of such an amazing protagonist that she doesn't feel the need to remind the audience in words. As for the other female characters I liked the addition of characters such as Princess Nehemia and Kaltain, two very different women who have very different ambitions but will do anything to achieve them. Especially, the Princess because, like Celaena, she is a very strong female character that should be admired for her strength and courage.

The banter between Celaena and Chaol is witty and amusing. I enjoyed that Celaena has the type of personality that despite being an infamous assassin it is hard to not to be drawn to her natural charm. Chaol is the Captain of the King’s guard as well as Prince Dorian’s best friend. It becomes his job to train Celaena for the competition. He tries so hard to resist Celaena’s charm for fear of her possibly betraying him and the King he serves and the Prince he has given his undying loyalty to as a best friend. And yet he bends and becomes grudgingly friends with Adarlan’s Assassin. I loved seeing Chaol's development toward Celaena. I love the conversations they have.  Then there is the relationship between the dynamic duo as I have come to calling Chaol and Dorian in my head. They are fantastic characters; they foil each other in great ways and are both equally important to Celaena and the book as a whole. I like that even though Dorian is Chaol’s superior in class and position, they don’t act like it. In fact, Chaol is usually telling Dorian what to do not the other way around. They grew up together and it is obvious in the way they react towards each other.


As for the plot of Throne of Glass is original. The competition that brought Celeana to the Glass Castle is interesting and the mystery surrounding the death of the champions is not easily guessed. The world building was quite impressive and extensive. I look forward to learning more about the magical purge that Dorian’s father brought about in his quest for domination years before. Overall, this novel was well thought out and I highly recommend it. 

(Also I chose to use the reissued cover for this review because I find the first cover ridiculous and sexist, you can see that cover here.)

~Laura!

Thoughts From Places/Nerdy Review: Tour Because Awesome 2

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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Tour Because Awesome 2 

April 26th at Gramercy Theatre, NYC

 In my last blog post I wrote about the first two missions I had when I went to NYC by myself last month. This blog post is about that third mission I promised to tell you about.

Eilidh Reid's Poster!
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The real reason I took a nine hour bus ride by myself across the State of New York was to see Hank Green in concert at the Gramercy Theatre. I’ve been a Nerdfighter for about 5 years now and I had yet to go to a gathering, or to an event in which John or Hank would be in attendance. (For those of you who do not know what a Nerdfighter is please refer to this video.) When Hank announced that he was going on a North Eastern tour in April I knew I had to go. I looked up the tour dates, decided to go to the last show in NYC, bought my ticket immediately, and then booked a seat on the Megabus. Simple, right? Wrong. It was only after I did all that that I realized that while I had a ticket to the show and a ride to New York I had no place to stay while I was in the City. That’s when the idea hit me. Who are the people who would even go to see Hank Green in concert? Well, fellow Nerdfighters of course! And where are Nerdfighters found? The internet. And so I joined the Nerdfighters of NY group on Facebook and asked if anyone had a couch for me to crash on after the show. Ultimately, I ended up staying in a hotel instead, but just the knowledge that there would be several hundred fellow nerds at that concert made me feel 100% more confident about going.

Misson Three: Go to the Tour Because Awesome.

After leaving the Library I made my way to the hotel I was staying at a few blocks away from the theatre. Some of the Nerdfighters in my group were planning to meet up in front of the theatre at 5 to go get something to eat before the show started. When I got to my hotel it was about 4 o’clock and I was exhausted. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go an extra two hours early to the theatre to meet people I didn’t know or if I just wanted to take a nap. I was seriously considering the nap, when I thought about how the whole point of me coming to NYC at all was to go to the concert and meet fellow Nerdfighters, so I dragged my butt out of bed and walked to Gramercy Theatre. In hindsight that was the best move of my life thus far. If I hadn’t gone to the theatre when I did I would not have met the man I was there to see, Hank Green.

Me and Craig!
I approached the theatre and took a picture of the marquee sign. At first I didn’t even notice that there was already a line forming from the theatre to the end of the block. As soon as I did I went to get in line, but there was a guy standing outside the line talking to the people in line. That guy was Craig Benzine (WheezyWaiter on Youtube and lead singer of Driftless Pony Club) and I was startled! I waited until he was done talking and then asked him if I could take a picture with him! Then I turned around and WHAM! Who was standing behind me? HANK GREEN!  He was standing in the middle of the line making his way through, signing things and taking pictures and being a genuinely awesome person. So once my brain started functioning again I speed walked to the end of the line. And after about ten minutes I met Hank. I asked him to sign my copy of 13 Little Blue Envelopes (he crossed out Maureen Johnson’s name to put his own and then hanklerfished it), talked a little about how I was from Buffalo, and then I asked if I could take my picture with him. I took out my camera and turned it around so I could take the photo myself and Hank got so excited that I was using an ACTUAL camera for a selfie instead of a phone that he HUGGED me and did a really happy squishy smile. Hank Green is an amazing person.

Me and Hank!!

He wasn’t the only amazing person I met that night though. I met a ton of amazing Nerdfighters. I met some from my facebook group, I met a group of teens from New Jersey, and I met two awesome girls, M. and B. who I hung out with during and after the show. We made a group standing on the corner of 23rd and Lexington, we made a circle and just sat down. We talked about how we found out about John and Hank, where we were from, whether we were still in school or not, and which Hogwarts house we would be in. As we sat there, the line got longer and Hank eventually went back inside (with his dad! Who we surprised by one) knowing who he was and two) making a point of saying hello to him).
Me and Sam!
A little while later, Sam from DPC came out to take pictures of the crowd and somehow I was the only one who knew he was and asked for a picture with him as well. People kept walking by and asking us who we were waiting in line for and every time we said “Hank Green” we would get a blank stare and then an “oh,” which made me sad. Hank should be just as famous as other artists who have played the Gramercy, but at the same time I am glad he isn’t. He has a loyal, nerdy following that truly care about him and people in general. For example only at a concert as nerdy as this one would there be people kind enough that if someone from the very front of the crowd needed to go to the bathroom there was no hesitation that of course your spot would be saved. When the actual concert began there wasn’t that huge push of people from behind trying to get closer that usually happens at rock shows. This turned out to be a very good thing for a couple reasons. One was that it's always really annoying and the second is that standing right in front of my group was a little boy and his mom who no one wanted to squish against the gate. That little boy was Hank's nephew, his mom was the Katherine's sister in law. There was a lot of family love going on in that audience and I loved it! The Tour Because Awesome crowd was honesty the best crowd of people I have ever encountered.

As for the concert itself, it was the greatest show I have ever been to. The lineup was incredible. First there was Rob Scallion and his wicked guitar skills, then Andrew Huang with his infectious energy. After them it was Harry and the Potters, a band that both wizards and muggles alike cannot help but love and Driftless Pony Club who I absolutely adore. And finally Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers the band we were all there to see. They were all exhausted but every single one of them gave their all during that last show. Being there felt like I was a part of one giant inside joke. From the surprise visit from famous Youtubers like Hannah Hart, Grace Helbig, Tyler Oakley and one of the Gregory Brothers to Hank throwing a giant stuffed snake into the audience during Harry and the Potters’ “Save Ginny Weasley,” and from the chants of DFTBA to Hank’s encores of the theme from Ghostbusters and the Batpeople song. 

Thank you to everyone I met that night for making Tour Because Awesome truly magical and of course awesome! 
~Laura!

Thoughts From Places: My First Solo Trip to NYC

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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My First Solo Trip to NYC

 A little bit of spring in the concrete jungle.
 A little over a month ago I found myself getting onto a Megabus bound for New York City at 3 in the morning by myself. I had never done anything like this before. I had never gone anywhere by myself and people kept asking me: aren't you scared? Simply, the answer is no. To be honest, nothing had ever felt so right. I needed to get away from my life in Buffalo, even if it was only for a little while. I needed to prove to myself that I could do something, anything, on my own. I needed to do something to forget; to forget my anxiety, my sadness, my recent past, and my unknown future. And throughout my whole trip, which was a little under 48 hours in total, I was only afraid or anxious once. And that was for a brief moment on the way there when I had a horrible vision of the bus that was currently speeding me forward on a dark highway getting into a crash. However, I very quickly pushed that aside and moved on. For I was a girl on a mission. Well, actually, three missions of sorts.

Mission One: see Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night.

            To do this I had to make my way to 53rd Street. Before I left, I mapped out every route I had to take. Almost obsessively so in that I wrote down which way to turn at corners and things like that. So I knew that when the Megabus dropped me off I also knew that there was a subway station just down the block and that if I got on the 1 train I would be going in the right direction and that I was to get off at 50th, then walk the rest of the way. Except that when I went down into the station there were five cops and one of them politely said, “Sorry, Miss, there aren’t any trains today,” which probably should have alarmed me. Normally, I would have panicked over why there were cops to begin with, was something going on, what was I supposed to do now that they blocked the only option I had researched and how was I going to get to the Modern Museum of Art now? Here I was in a huge city all by myself with a carefully planned out map and not even three minutes into my journey some cop had thrown a wrench in my plan. But instead of panicking, I just went back up to street level, made my way to 5th, and just got on a different train. Even a month later I am still startled by how unalarmed I was. I had come a long way.

            Needless to say, I got to the Museum of Modern Art in one piece. I had decided that instead of just aimlessly wandering around the huge museum I would write down which galleries the paintings I wanted to see were in. I love the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and all their works were on the fifth floor. First, I found Monet’s works which had an entire gallery to themselves. I was astounded to see how LARGE his Water Lilies 1914-26 was. It took up an entire wall of the gallery! And while it was very impressive and beautiful it wasn’t what I came to see. So after wandering around the fifth floor and still hadn’t stumbled upon even one Van Gogh painting I asked a passing guard where to go. I was on the wrong side of the floor.

I went where the guard pointed and found Van Gogh’s Portrait of Joseph Roulin and The Olive Trees. I love Vincent Van Gogh more than any other artist, living or dead. I know that most people say that because he is the only artist they know so saying your favorite artist is Van Gogh has become very cliché. And yet I don’t care. I love Van Gogh for so many reasons. I love his use of color and how thick his paint always was. I love how he saw the world differently and how that made him incredibly lonely. I love that he taught himself how to paint and his relationship with his art dealer brother, Theo. I also know that most people who say that Van Gogh is their favorite only know about him because he cut off his ear because he was “crazy” and that makes me incredibly sad. And with all of that in mind I took in those two paintings and felt an almost overwhelming sense of pride in the fact that Van Gogh was being honored at museums around the world.
Me and Starry Night

I stood and took in those paintings for about 5 minutes, but I knew that the time had come to see the painting I had been dreaming about since the 5th grade. I turned and walked a few paces to my right and there it was: Starry Night. If saying that Van Gogh is your favorite artist is cliché saying that Starry Night is your favorite painting of his is doubly so, but once again I don’t care. Starry Night has been my favorite painting since my 5th grade art teacher asked us to draw our own version of it. Ever since that day I have been obsessed with both the painting and the man who seemingly poured his soul into it. And yet I knew that Van Gogh really didn’t even care for this painting, he would probably be astounded and confused as to why it is his most famous work now. I stood there looking at this painting that I had admired for 13 or so years and I cried. I couldn’t believe that I was finally there but while I stood there all I could think about was how I couldn’t believe that I was close enough to finally confirm my suspicion that the oil paint was really, just absurdly thick. I spent 20 minutes near the painting. I think the guards were convinced I was actually casing the joint, Heist Society style. I asked a guy around my age to take a photo of me in front of it, then returned the favor for him. I took zoomed in photos of the stars and the church, the hills and the moon, and I took several shots of other people just looking at the painting. After I tore myself away from Van Gogh I just wandered around for a few minutes, found a quiet place to sit and wrote most of what you just read above.

Mission Two: see Patience and Fortitude, the NYCPL's stone lion ambassadors.
Me and Patience

            Next I walked down 5th Ave to 42nd Street to the Main Branch of the New York Public Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The first time I went to New York, 5 years ago with my High School’s Italian Club (which you can read about here) we drove past the library and I would have killed for them to stop the bus and let me out to see those infamous marble Lions up close. I vowed then that the next time I went to the City nothing would stop me from seeing them and from going inside the building they had guarded for so many years. And, oh! The treasures inside that building! Once I got there I took photos in front of Patience and Fortitude.

 I went in and wandered around until I found the Children’s section. There I saw huge Lego versions of the lions and more importantly Winnie the Pooh. NYPL has in their collection the actual stuffed toys of Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore, and Tigger that the real Christopher Robin played with that inspired A.A. Milne to write his classic tales. As I looked at these love worn toys, I thought about how society’s view of those characters have changed, especially, when it came to Piglet. E.H. Shepard’s illustrations basically captured the essence of the other characters, but he changed the way Piglet was seen. Why? Because the real Piglet toy was terrifying! And while I am grateful he changed his look it also made me sad that he was changed due to looks. I realize that these thoughts are probably too in depth to be made about stuffed animals, but I kept coming back to that idea of society’s ideals and how they even extended to a children’s book character.

Christopher Robin's Toys

After seeing Pooh and his gang of stuffed buddies I decided to just wander around. The building was huge and absolutely astoundingly majestic, nothing like the Central Library back home with its purposefully nondescript design. The fountains at the NYPL’s were even majestic in that they were lion’s heads! The famous Rose Reading Room was closed for renovation and it being Sunday many of the other rooms were closed as well, but that did not stop me from getting lost! However, while I wandered I noticed something: the only books I had seen up to that point where the books in children’s section that could be checked out. Where were the books? This was a public library for Heaven’s sake and not a single adult book to be found! I was just about to pull out my map to see if there was some kind of special room that I had missed,
A Gutenberg Bible
when out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large book in a glass case. I went over and gasped when I realized what I had stumbled upon. I was standing there gazing at a Gutenberg Bible. Then I laughed. I found a freakin’ copy of the first book to be printed via the press, the book that changed the course of book history, and yet I couldn’t find the mystery novels. The irony was overwhelming. I never did find any other books, either. I heard another girl ask a guard where the books where and he seemed genuinely confused by her question! Like why would there be books in a library?! He sent her to room four hundred something and I looked it up on my map and it seemed like a very tiny closet of some sort. I decided not to follow her because it all seemed a bit sketchy. After the Bible I didn’t think I would find anything to top it so I left that amazing building with all its treasure and caught the next bus to my hotel.

As for Mission Three? The mission that started this whole affair to begin with? Well, you'll have to read the next blog post to find out.

(It should be posted on BWE tomorrow and will be linked here as soon as it is available.)


~Laura!

Review: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Friday, May 15, 2015

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Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige


Release Date: April 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 452
Source: Borrowed from Library, on To Buy list
Series: Dorothy Must Die (#1)

Summary (goodreads.com): I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero.
But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know?
Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road - but even that's crumbling.
What happened? Dorothy.
They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.
My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas. I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I've been trained to fight. And I have a mission.


My Review:

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD! 

The story opens with Amy Gumm, a girl from Kansas being caught up in a tornado. Sound familiar? It should, the same thing happened to Dorothy Gale in the story Wizard of Oz. Amy knows that story well and is more than a little freaked out that when the storm ends she’s in a place that looks an awful lot like that fabled Oz. Except this Oz isn’t like the story. Dorothy Must Die took everything I loved about the Wizard of Oz and twisted it in such a way that it was a new mangled, dark version of the beloved story. And that is exactly why I loved this book. I spent the majority of the time telling whoever was closest to me at the time how much the book was messing up my mind. The Wizard of Oz has never been my favorite story, but it’s my mom’s and her late sister’s favorite. I have seen the movie countless times and they took me to see the story on ice when I was little. My aunt loved the Cowardly Lion more than anything and I have always felt close to that lion because of her. So it really messed up my mindset when Dorothy Must Die’s Lion was the exact opposite of Cowardly. He was terrifying and strong and horrible. The Tin Woodsman went around killing people and replacing his limbs with sharp objects. The helpful, nice Scarecrow? Forget about him, he’s a maniac who does experiments on people. Tattooed Munchkins went around cursing, the yellow brick road was crumbling, and the bad guys may be the only ones who know what the heck is going on.


So much was happening in this book. Amy had a lot to do, she was relearning about this new Oz, meeting the “real” messed up versions of the characters she had heard about all her life, she met new people, and most importantly she was learning about how Dorothy needed to be stopped. According to the blurb on the back of the book the premise of this book is that Amy must “remove the Tin Woodman's heart, steal the Scarecrow's Brain, take the Lion's Courage and then...Dorothy Must Die” and the entire plot of this book should be that, right? Not so much, unfortunately. Readers learn that that is Amy’s mission, but it is just getting started as the book ends. Hopefully, the next book in the series sees Amy a little farther on her mission to kill Dorothy. Despite not actually getting the book I thought I was getting I like that the plot is a slow build. Amy is training and spying on Dorothy throughout most of the book and that was okay with me. I think this is the type of story that needs to be not drawn out exactly, but taken at a slower pace to really get the feel of this new Oz and all the nice details that refer back to the original tale.

~Laura!

Review: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes


Release Date: November 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 308
Source: Borrowed from Library, on To Buy list
Series: The Naturals (#1)
Other Titles in the Series: Killer Instinct (#2)

Summary (goodreads.com): Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.


My Review:
I devoured this book. I couldn’t read it fast enough. Ally Carter called it “the Criminal Minds of the YA world” and rightly so. The main character, Cassie, is a natural profiler. She is able to get into people’s heads by exploring their behavior, personality, and environment. For me, it was a combination of Cassie’s skill, the unique perspective of the killer, and the suspense of the crime that made this book great! Cassie can imagine what it would be like to be a killer; she understands what they wanted and why they did it. I find it fascinating that anyone can enter someone’s head like that. I loved that Barnes really explored how Cassie was a natural at profiling, in that while many can learn how to by learning the steps, Cassie just knew. She found it hard to explain the things she saw that led her to the conclusions she reached. I also liked when the narration of the novel deviated from Cassie’s point of view to that of the killer’s. As Cassie was learning to profile killers the way professional profilers do she learned to always call the UNSUB (Unknown Subject) “I” or “you” so as to get closer to them. So, to have the Killer’s narration using second person was incredibly creepy and also very insightful. Personally, I felt closer to Cassie and Dean because of those small glimpses into the killers head, I felt like I was profiling along with them.

The Naturals was also incredibly suspenseful to me. My eyes couldn’t read fast enough, I needed to know what happened next more than I needed my next breath! I never knew what was going to be thrown at the characters, who was going to wind up dead next, or who the killer was. This book definitely was a lot darker and bloodier than I’d have thought for a YA book and I think that sets it apart. It wasn’t dulled down for the sake of the readers’ age (if you are wondering if your child can handle this just ask yourself if you would let them watch shows like Criminal Minds or CSI, if they can watch that they can read this).

Despite this being a dark novel, it was surprisingly funny. Sloane, while also a brilliant statistician, was somewhat of a comic relief for me. Sloane is very literal. She rapidly became my favorite character and I hope to see more of her in the next books. There was also quite a bit of drama included. I mean, what else does one expect when you put five brilliant, naturally talented teenagers together in one house? There is a love triangle, but not one that I found annoying or distracting. The love triangle between Cassie, Michael, and Dean is fascinating in itself. Usually, I can tell which person the main character will end up with, but with Cassie I really have no idea. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if she tells both of the boys to buzz off. I hope in the next novels to see more of the personalities and backgrounds of Cassie’s new team. Overall, I highly recommend The Naturals to anyone who is interested in crime dramas!
  
~Laura!

Beware, Spoilers May Be Coming Soon To BWE Reviews!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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Writing a review of a book I have read without spoiling major plot points is hard. Just so incredibly, stupidly difficult that sometimes I throw up my hands, close out of my depressingly empty word processor, and say “FORGET IT. I CAN’T WRITE THIS!” You would think that after writing 175 reviews I would have a handle on it, but no. 

Last time I felt like this blog was no longer fun I made some big changes. I stopped confining myself to just reviewing YA books and reviewed anything I read. When I started to travel I added posts about where I had gone and what I saw there, still mostly from a literary and sometimes historical point of view. 

This blog has grown with me and I feel like once again I must throw off the self-implemented restrictions. Yesterday I wrote a review of All Fall Down by Ally Carter. Something that should have taken maybe an hour at most took all day. I just couldn’t talk about it without giving something away. I have found that happening more and more whenever I try to write a review. I have gone back through my reviews and I have noticed that whenever I had a hard time I would revert to the same type of topics, characters and setting, because no matter how good or bad a book I didn’t want to spoil it for my readers. Never once did I talk about plot even when I really wanted to.

After writing 175 reviews I have finally come to the realization that I cannot continue like this. I am sick of skirting around the main topic of a book just because I am terrified of spoiling someone else. Why continue forcing myself to write something that I do not enjoy? These are not the types of reviews I want to write because they are not the ones I like to read. Honestly, I don’t even read reviews before I read a book. I read reviews that discuss plot points and what worked and didn’t work AFTER I have already read the book because after I will understand what the reviewer is even saying.

So, I think the only way to solve this is if I do a little bit of both ways of reviewing. I might try to start a review by doing my now run of the mill response of why I liked the book or not without spoiling anything and then under a “BEWARE OF SPOILERS” sign or something I can actually discuss what I really want to without the fear of upsetting a reader. If, however, I only feel comfortable writing about the book while also discussing plot then so be it. I will just try to always remember to add the spoiler warning. Maybe I will have a tag as well just in case.

I hope you can all understand the change in reviews and I hope you all still enjoy them.



~Laura! 

Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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All Fall Down by Ally Carter


Release Date: January 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 320
Source: Bought
Series: Embassy Row #1

Summary (from book jacket): 
Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:
1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her – so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping an eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace – no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her… and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.


My Review:


All Fall Down had a lot to live up to, what with being the new series from the master of YA intrigue, Ally Carter, and for me it fell a little short. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it immensely, it’s just that it didn’t have that un-put-downable quality that Carter’s other two series started off with. It is very hard for me to not compare Embassy Row to Gallagher Girls and Heist Society, but it is its own story and should be treated as such.

Background stories are very important to a new series, but when more than half of the short book is nothing but background information it doesn’t exactly grab the reader’s attention. All Fall Down felt like a prequel novel. It didn’t truly grab my attention until the story stopped being about what happened in Grace’s past and focused on what she was going to do about her situation in the present. That said, however, it did end with the same amazing, when-does-the-next-one-come-out kind of cliffhanger that Carter is known for. This above all gives me hope that Embassy Row book two will be the kind of Ally Carter book I know and love.

I think the most exciting part of this new series is the setting of Embassy Row. Grace lives in the American Embassy of the fictional city Adria in Valancia. Because of this unique setting most of Grace’s friends are not American, Alexei is Russian, Rosie is German, and Noah is half Israeli, half Brazilian. Everyone has to be careful of where they go, what they say, and who they say it to because on Embassy Row anything could be the spark that lights the flame of war. Unfortunately, Carter does not really elaborate on how her fictional country of Valancia fits into the World. As an American reader I understand why an American diplomat’s granddaughter should not cross Russia or step foot in Iran, but it would be helpful to know Valancia’s position in the World. Some more world building is needed for me to really care about the politics Carter is trying to get readers invested in.

Grace, the main character, also provides a slight problem for me. I think Carter has spoiled her readers with expecting her books to contain badass, intellectual, witty, caring female protagonist. So when Grace spends the entire novel trying to prove to both her family and friends as well as the reader that she is not crazy it was a big letdown. Everything she did screamed, not crazy exactly, but not alright mentally either. I have come to expect Carter’s characters to rise above tragedy and betrayal in extraordinary ways. I feel bad for Grace, but I do not feel the overwhelming desire to see her to succeed. I am not very attached to her as a character yet and I’m hoping that throughout the series she will become more likable after the events that unfolded in the last few chapters of All Fall Down.




 ~Laura!

Review: Who Could That Be At That Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

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Who Could That Be At That Hour? by Lemony Snicket


Release Date: October, 2012
Publisher: Little Brown
Age Group: Children’s
Pages: 258
Source: Library
Series: All the Wrong Questions #1
Other Titles in the Series: When Did You See Her Last? (#2), Shouldn’t You Be in School? (#3)

Summary (goodreads.com):  The adventure began in a fading town. Far from anyone he knew or trusted, a young Lemony Snicket started an apprenticeship for a secret organization shrouded in mystery and secrecy. He asked questions that shouldn't have been on his mind. Now he has written an account that should not be published that shouldn't be read. Not even by you. Seriously, we recommend that you do NOT ask your parents for this, the first book in his new ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS series. Lemony Snicket, in case you don't already know, grew up to be the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events series.


My Review:

I think it is spectacular to be reading a book about the biographer and narrator of the extremely popular A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket's early life. Anyone who has read ASOUE harbors a quiet curiosity about Snicket and instead of fully answering those questions right out the mystery surrounding him grows. And while this is without a doubt a different series from his previous one Lemony Snicket's writing style is here in full force. One of the most memorable parts of Snicket's writing in ASOUE is when he uses a word that is perhaps unfamiliar to his young audience and then goes on to say "a word which here means" a very specific definition that can only have meaning in that particular instance, but is not exactly wrong. In All the Wrong Questions readers learn where Snicket got that habit from, which was really exciting for me.

Who Could That Be At This Hour? introduces a wonderful new cast of characters, mysteries, and settings that are intriguing. I loved the relationship between Snicket and his chaperon, S. Theodora Markson, who out of a list of 52 people was dead last. Snicket chose her so that he could spend more time doing his own thing and that is played out throughout the book. Like ASOUE Snicket plays with the idea of useless, senseless adults to make the kids of the novel reach their full witty potential.

I really liked the setting of Stain'd-by-the-sea, the town that was drained of its water so that it was easier to harvest the ink from the octopi in the caves below. I liked the idea of seashell paved roads and a seaweed forest. The cast of eccentric characters that Stain'd-by-the-sea brought with it are perhaps my favorite part of this novel. I loved the brothers who drove the taxi together with one pushing the peddles and one steering and asked only for tips such as "if you haven't read The Wind in the Willows, you really should." The sub-librarian whose name is ridiculously appropriate, Dashiell Qwerty, and the married police duo of Mimi and Harvey Mitchum who do nothing but argue with each other and dote on their son Stew, a Dudley Dursleyish character are all characters that make the book stand out.


The mystery surrounding Hangfire, Ellington Feint, and the Bombinating Beast is complex and intriguing. The obvious but almost frustratingly unanswered questions such as what kind of education did Lemony Snicket have? Why were people trying to poison him? What does the S in S. Theodora Markson stand for? are all set up to seem like they are the wrong questions to ask which is what will keep readers on the edge of their seats waiting for a sequel!


~Laura!