Thursday, March 26, 2015

BREAKOUT by Kevin Emerson

Author: Kevin Emerson
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 24, 2014
Number of Pages: 304
Source of Book: ARC from author in exchange for honest opinion
        When Anthony's angst-ridden rock 'n' roll lyrics go viral, he's unwittingly cast as the school rebel. The truth is, he's not trying to be anyone's hero. 
        Anthony Castillo needs a new life. His teachers are clueless autocrats except for Mr. Darren, who’s in charge of the rock band program. The girls at school are either shallow cutebots or out of his league. And his parents mean well, but they just make things worse. It’s as if Anthony is stuck on the bottom level of his favorite video game, Liberation Force 4.5. Except there is no secret escape tunnel and definitely no cheat code. 
        Fed up, pissed off, and feeling trapped, Anthony writes his first song for his rock band, the Rusty Soles. His only problem: Arts Night. If he exercises his right to free speech and sings his original lyrics—where his own bombs will drop—he and his band will be through. 
       The clock is ticking. Time for Anthony to pick his battles and decide what’s really worth fighting for.
There is something about this book that struck a chord with me as a middle school teacher. Anthony reminded me of students I have currently and had in the past who feel misunderstood by their teachers...and seeing events from his perspective makes me want to do better by them. For this reason, I think Breakout is a book that teachers should read (especially Emerson's author's note about the inspiration for this character).

Breakout will appeal to the boys in my classroom, but also some of the girls who want to get into the head of the boys and figure out what they're really thinking. But the best audience for this book will be the musicians or kids who feel misunderstood. They will relate to the main character and root for him as they go along on this twelve day journey with Anthony, to Arts Night when his band will play for the school, to figure out how to stand up for what he believes and be true to himself.

At it's heart, this is a book about perspectives and words and choices and wanting to be heard and being true to our feelings. That f-bomb word is a major factor in this book (although the actual word is never written out), but it's about so much more than just one polarizing word and a choice about whether to use it during a performance or not. The power of one word comes more from the intent behind it and the purpose for using it - it's about the emotion that caused that word to come out, as Anthony figures out and defends.

All of that being said, there were some specific references to things woven throughout that at times felt a little overused to me, but they did all end up connecting together at the end in a way that made sense. This could be more because I do not play video games, and so these references throughout would connect more with the intended teen audience who have more familiarity with them.

Kevin Emerson has again written a novel that is an ode to the music-loving teen, a call to action for teachers to understand their students, a story with universal themes of acceptance and finding one's own strength and figuring out what's right that will resonate with many readers, and rocking good writing that teens will relate to and devour. 

Although Breakout is a different tone (and gender of main character) from Emerson'Exile, it is one to hand to students who enjoyed his writing and the music-centric elements.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Author on My Favorites List - Emery Lord

image from Emery's website
I adored Emery Lord's debut novel, Open Road Summer, and was thrilled to hear she had a second book coming. I was even more thrilled when I was asked for my address to have an early copy of The Start of Me and You sent to me. I adored Emery's second book also, and even though it's very different in feel, it maintains that same lyrical beauty to the writing that I was enamored with in her first book. And I love the gorgeousness of her books covers. Emery Lord is, without a doubt, a new author on my favorites list. If you haven't read her books yet, what are you waiting for? You can read the synopsis and my thoughts for each of them below.

Release Date: April 15, 2014
Number of Pages: 352
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher (Thanks Bloomsbury!)
After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

Love this book so, so much! Read it in one day because I couldn't stop until I knew how it ended. It's a special book...well-written, honest characters, sass, romance, music, and heart.

Release Date: March 31, 2015
Number of Pages:
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher (Thanks Bloomsbury!)
Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love & second chances.
       It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for a year, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?
       Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.
I am so in love with Emery Lord's books! Her writing is beautiful, her stories are quietly powerful, and they are so full of honesty and truth and hope that they make me want to be better. Hope for relationships, hope for the future, hope for teens just starting to figure themselves out. I adored Open Road Summer and immediately knew that I had found a new author to add to my favorites/must-buy list, and although The Start of Me and You is very different, it solidified for me that I was right on that first assessment of Emery Lord's potential as an author of contemporary realistic stories with sweet romances and the importance of friendships and family. Here stories are character-driven, and the characters are done so well. The Start of You and Me has elements to character that are so deftly layered in Lord's hands that I felt as if these characters were my own friends. There is such a realness to her character building that the issues and circumstances of her characters resonate with the reader. The Start of Me and You resonates with elements of grief, divorce, siblings, family suffering with Alzheimers, friendships, crushes, dreams for the future, going for what you want, not seeing the person right in front of you, and pushing yourself to be the best you. What I adore about Emery Lord's stories is that they aren't just about the boy-the boy is there, but it's about the girl figuring herself out first before being ready for a boy. And it's about a great, nice boy-the kind that you would want the girls you care about to end up with. Beyond the nice guys, Emery Lord writes wonderful girl friendships in a way that makes me want to buy her books for my best friends, and hand them to my students to see what supportive girl friendships are really all about. I can't wait to see what Lord will write next, but in the meantime, I'll be recommending this book (and her last one) over and over again!

And I absolutely can't wait for Emery Lord's next book, When We Collided, coming from Bloomsbury in 2016. She is for sure a new author on my favorites list which makes her an automatic must-buy for any new books she writes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blog Tour: The Winner's Crime - Interview with Marie Rutkowski

Author: Marie Rutkowski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint)
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Number of Pages: 352
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher
        Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.
        The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.
        As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

My thoughts on The Winner's Curse
A page-turning read and smart fantasy book with a unique premise. I really enjoyed this one, and am dying to know what will happen next! The main character is likeable and intelligent and fun to read about. At times, it did feel to me as if I was reading an older book (the main character is 17 but I often seemed to forget that). The commentary on war and strategy and slavery and people's perceptions intrigued me. I will definitely be recommending this one.

Thanks to Macmillan, Marie is here today to answer some questions.

What do you wish you could go back and say to your young adult self?
--Find a way to take violin lessons. Read The Outsiders. Your best friend will always be your friend (not that you doubted it). Trust your instincts (you already do; I just want you to be confident about it). It will all be ok. You will really be able to look back at some of the sad parts and smile. I promise. A lot of your dreams will come true.

What do you hope teens take away from your books?
--Emotions are complicated, and it’s absolutely common (whether we’re aware of it or not) to feel more than one thing at the same time, even if those feelings seem to contradict each other.

--Also, that it’s worth thinking about how the world shapes who you are, and how you can shape the world.

What was your favorite book (or kind of books) to read when you were in high school? And now? 
--I loved fantasy. I was really into Robin McKinley and Ellen Kushner, for example. But also, around the time I was 16, I began to read adult literary fiction and particularly loved Toni Morrison, E. Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and others. And I had long loved classics by writers like Jane Austen and LM Montgomery. And I had a longstanding thing for Shakespeare.

-- I still love everything I loved then. I read a lot more YA now (there wasn’t as much of it then. Or at least, that’s my impression. I could be wrong. I definitely read and enjoyed Lois Duncan and Judy Blume and others….but it just seems like there’s more out there now for people who love YA). My recent favorite wasI’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. George Saunders’s short stories are new to me, and they’re sometimes horrifying but also so hopeful, so optimistic about the human spirit that I can’t look away.

If you could leave right now to visit any city in the world, where would you go?
I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat.
(Side note from me: I've been there, Marie. It's a must see once in your life kind of magical, spiritual place. I hope you make it there someday!)
Angkor Wat (from my trip there in 2008)

What do you wish you'd been asked for this blog tour? (and, what is your answer?)
Maybe “What do you think when you hear people describe Kestrel as a ‘strong’ female character, or as a ‘weak’ one?”

I’m interested in this question because of how people, when they use “strong” or “weak” to talk about young female characters, make assumptions about what “strong” and “weak” mean. I think there are different ways of being a strong woman, and it doesn’t necessarily involve physical strength or even action. Here are some things I think makes a strong young woman: determination, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, bravery, intelligence, a loving heart, being a true friend….Kestrel isn’t all of these things, but she possesses some of these qualities. She has weaknesses, absolutely, but I think of her as a fundamentally strong person.

Thanks for having me!

Check out the other stops on the blog tour each day to find our more of what Marie has to say.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Birthday Guest Post: Elizabeth Eulberg's WE CAN WORK IT OUT

I adore Elizabeth Eulberg, a fellow Wisconsite/Cheesehead, and all of her books. She writes the best kind of fun romantic comedy books that I race through and can share with my middle school students, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. 
I became a fan of Elizabeth's after first reading The Lonely Hearts Club, her debut novel, in 2010, and have continued to wonder what happened to Penny Lane afterwards (as we often do with characters we enjoyed spending time with). So I was thrilled to hear that Elizabeth was writing a sequel to that fabulous book! And to help connect the two, Elizabeth wrote three free novellas to see some of the events with Penny to help you remember the characters and story to prepare for We Can Work It Out. 

In honor of the release of We Can Work It Out, I invited Elizabeth to share a guest post here to help celebrate her sixth book going out in the world.

Under Pressure
Guest blog: Elizabeth Eulberg

I’d dreamed of writing a sequel to my debut novel even before I finished writing The Lonely Hearts Club. I was ecstatic when I got word in the summer of 2013 that my publisher wanted me to write my sequel.

I cheered! I danced! Even though I knew exactly how the book would open and what would happen in that first chapter, I made myself do all the work to plan out the book before diving in: re-reading first book, doing character arches, outlining, timeline, etc. Then I was finally ready to start writing! My fingers flew as I wrote the opener, excited to be back with Penny Lane Bloom and her friends.

Then a strange thing happened: I completely froze.

Sure, there have been times when I got stuck writing a book, but this was different. I was freaked out. This was the first time I was writing a book where there would be expectations. While I feel that my readers probably expect certain things from my books (humor, music, boys being stupid, you know, the usual), I was writing something where people would have ideas on what should happen to the characters. People picking up this book would already be invested in them.

What if I made people mad? What if I couldn’t live up to expectations?

I stepped away from the book for a bit and got myself together. For years, I knew what I wanted to do, so I didn’t let that affect the story. I know there is at least one point (maybe two) in the sequel where the reader may throw the book across the room at something Penny Lane has done. But I stuck to my guns and did what I knew the character had to experience. There were times when I felt bad for Penny Lane and what I had to do to her, but I also knew that I couldn’t write a 320-page book where everything is awesome! That’s not real life. That’s not what these characters are about. Plus, how boring would that be to read?

I’m not going to lie and make it seem that I was perfectly fine after the one frozen moment. I had my first full-on meltdown on the phone with my editor and almost pushed the book back (to my credit, my editor informed me that it was pretty impressive that I didn’t have a breakdown until my sixth book). There was a week that I would breakdown in tears and curl up into the fetal position for a couple hours. That was the self-imposed pressure that I had put on myself. It wasn’t pretty.

I finally shared this with a few of my author friends who all had the same response: “Sequels are THE worst!” Now they tell me!

Looking back at the tears and stress of writing We Can Work it Out, I can honestly say that it was worth it. I loved getting to revisit these characters that changed my life. I made some decisions that may not be popular with some readers, but I stayed true to the characters. It’s a book that I’m proud of. Plus, I survived it!

Although if someone could tell the stress hives that have conveniently broken out two weeks before the release that everything will be okay…

Thanks for visiting and sharing your authorly insights with us, Elizabeth!

If you'd like to see Elizabeth in person to help celebrate her newest book, check out her events schedule as she just may be coming to your area! 

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Publisher: Point (a Scholastic imprint)
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Number of Pages: 320
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher at NCTE
        When Penny Lane started The Lonely Hearts Club, the goal was simple: to show that girls didn’t need to define themselves by how guys look at them, and didn’t have to value boyfriends over everything else. Penny thought she’d be an outcast for life…but then the club became far more popular than she ever imagined it would be.
        But what happens when the girl who never thought she’d date a good guy suddenly finds herself dating a great one? She doesn’t need a boyfriend… but she wants it to work out with this particular boyfriend. And he wants it to work out with her.
        Only, things keep getting in the way. Feelings keep getting hurt. Words keep getting misunderstood.
        Penny Lane worked hard to declare her independence. Now she needs to figure out what to do with it — and how to balance what she wants with what everyone else wants. In We Can Work It Out, Elizabeth Eulberg returns to the world of her first novel, The Lonely Hearts Club, and gets to the heart of how hard relationships can be… and why they are sometimes worth all the drama and comedy they create. 

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