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. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Jess Keating - How to Outswim a Shark Blog Tour

Jess Keating's middle grades debut book, How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, was mentioned by a lot of my teacher friends last year as one to read, and now the second book in the series, How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel, is out. I've been following Jess on twitter and always interested to hear her perspective on things, so I'm thrilled to be welcoming her to my blog today as a part of her release week blog tour, and I'm especially excited about the topic she chose that can be used with students!
Twelve Nonfiction Books to Pair with How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel!
Hey, guys!
I'm so happy to be hanging out on Jillian's blog today to celebrate the release of my latest book, How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel! Thank you, Jillian!
As a zoologist turned author, I am always looking for ways to integrate real life science and biology facts into my stories. I think fiction and nonfiction don't need to celebrated individually—they can be buddies! As you saw with the first book in the series, How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, every chapter of this new book starts off with a fun animal fact. (Did you know that the Japanese spider crab can grow to be thirteen feet wide? Crazy, right?!)
I think combining nonfiction with fiction not only gets readers interested in awesome topics, but also keeps them curious and engaged—learning without even realizing it. To help further integrate How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel into classrooms, I wanted to share some wonderful nonfiction picture books that you can pair with it! Without any adieu whatsoever, here are some favorites!
1. For a look at the man who helped pioneer marine exploration, try MANFISH: A STORY OF JACQUES COUSTEAU, by Jennifer Berne.
2. For an inspiring story of a young girl who became one of the world's most renowned oceanographers, try LIFE IN THE OCEAN: THE STORY OF OCEANOGRAPHER SYLVIA EARLE, by Claire A Nivola.
3. CORAL REEFS, by Jason Chin is a beautiful look at reef systems of our oceans.
4. I don't know a single kid who isn't into sharks, and NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS by Katherine Roy is a must read for shark lovers.
5. Many readers have already asked me how they can help out animal species, and books like PROJECT SEAHORSE, and THE DOLPHINS OF SHARK BAY, both by Pamela S. Turner are great examples of marine conservation efforts.
6. As you'll see in How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel, sharks can have some nasty reputations. Explore this further with SWIMMING WITH HAMMERHEAD SHARKS, by Kenneth Mallory. Excellent read!
7. For the animal nuts, LIFESIZE OCEAN by Stuart Jackson-Carter, is a gorgeous look at animals up close, in their actual size. This won't stay on your classroom shelves for long.
8. What about the shoreline? You'll get an amazing view with LOOKING CLOSELY ALONG THE SHORE by Frank Serafini, with incredible photographs.
9. To explore the deepest parts of the ocean with readers, check out DOWN, DOWN, DOWN: A JOURNEY TO THE BOTTOM OF THE  SEA, by Steve Jenkins. Many species are covered in this one.
10. All of the creatures in the ocean depend on invisible critters. OCEAN SUNLIGHT: HOW TINY PLANTS FEED THE SEAS by Molly Bang is great for a broad look at ocean ecology.
And a bonus! Are you looking for a book to pair with both of my books? WHAT'S NEW? THE ZOO: A ZIPPY HISTORY OF ZOOS by Kathleen Krull is a wonderful introduction to the history of zoos!
Did I forget any? What ocean and marine animal titles do you love?

Thanks for visiting today, Jess, and Happy Book Birthday Week!

Thanks to Sourcebooks, you can enter to win a paperback copy of Jess Keating's newest book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My 2014 Reading Retrospective

I like looking back at my reading "year in review" and being reminded of all of the worlds I've spent time in and characters I've gotten to know over the past year of reading. In looking back at this year, I read many more picture books, tried to get to more middle grades because of my committee obligations, and started a #bookaday picture book read aloud goal with my classes for this school year. All in all, 2014 was a great year of reading, although I did feel that I was doing more reading out of obligation instead of just by choice/pleasure, which might have impacted what I was able to read, and felt like I missed a lot of YA books I wish I would have had the chance to read.

The Stats
2013-2014 School Year Novels Read: 114
2014 Calendar Year Novels Read: 119
Total Books Read in 2014: 439
Book Pages Read in 2014: 49,755

The Best of What I Read
Not all of these released in 2014, that's just when I read them. Also, I have not included any 2015 releases that I read or picture books in this post, but will be talking about those soon.

The book I wish I would've read earlier because it was so amazing...
WINGER by Andrew Smith

The series ender I've been waiting over a year for, which didn't let me down in any way...

The book I recommended the most to other readers this year...
THE SECRET SKY by Atia Abawi

The book I wish my high school self would have had available...

The book I felt especially lucky to read early and help build buzz for...
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

The book that I read in one sitting on the beach & was glad I had time to read straight through...
RITES OF PASSAGE by Joy N. Hensley

The book I gave as a gift because it is magical...
A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd

The book I was so thankful was written-if only because I wasn't ready to leave this character...
SINNER by Maggie Stiefvater

The book everyone was buzzing about, and I'm glad I read spoiler/hint free...
WE WERE LIARS by e. Lockhart

The book that most changed my perspective and related most to what was in the news...
HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon

The romance that lived up to the long wait for it, and left me swooningly happy...

The book I waited to read until the whole trilogy was out, and was glad I did...
SHADOW & BONE (& the rest of the Grisha trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

The book by the author who continues to show me what National Book Award writing sounds like...
THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer

The book that had me laughing out loud and wanting to hand it to every boy reader I know...

The book that made me realize maybe I do like steampunk...

The book that was such a good fantasy story it made me get over my "no more girls in pretty dresses" cover issue (and the sequel is great, too!)...
THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkowski

The book that was the most unique and left me wanting to reread it immediately after the final lines...
IN THE SHADOWS by Kiersten White, illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo

The book series ender most requested by my students...
GASP (Visions book 3) by Lisa McMann

The new book series that has been most often passed hand-to-hand by students in my classroom...

The books I read advance copies of last year, and talked about the most this year...
BETTER OFF FRIENDS by Elizabeth Eulberg &
EXILE by Kevin Emerson

The books I wish I would have gotten to because they've been recommended to me so often this year, but haven't yet, so will be on my "backlist" TBR stack to get to this year...
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

My Goal(s) for 2015
~Read more YA books, even if they don't fit the criteria for my committee lists, because I need to know them for my students.
~Continue to read picture books at a high rate so I can continue on with #bookaday read alouds next year, which means I need a new set of 180 picture books to read!
~Make a priority to read diversely & books taking place in the communities like my students live in.
~Try to read into my gap with historical fiction, especially for my 7th graders who are required to read in that genre for curriculum/standards, so I have more titles to recommend.

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