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!

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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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Book Obsession - the Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin

the Mara Dyer trilogy
by Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Final Book Release Date: November 4, 2014
I have been obsessed with Michelle Hodkin's debut series ever since I first read an early copy of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER in June of 2011 and stayed up way too late because I couldn't stop reading and woke up too early after a late night because I needed to know what would happen. It instantly became my most often recommended book to all of my friends and students.

Instead of just sharing my thoughts about the final book, I've put my thoughts from all three books in the same place in the hope that if you haven't yet listened to my recommendation to read. this. book. now., this will inspire you to now that you can read through the whole trilogy at once (and not have to wait over three years like I did!).

When it all came full circle...RETRIBUTION
Mara Dyer wants to believe there's more to the lies she’s been told.

There is.
She doesn’t stop to think about where her quest for the truth might lead.
She should.
She never had to imagine how far she would go for vengeance.
She will now.
Loyalties are betrayed, guilt and innocence tangle, and fate and chance collide in this shocking conclusion to Mara Dyer’s story.
Retribution has arrived. 
Oh how I love this series! The ending was worth the wait for Michelle to get it just right, and she did. There were expletives said, sections reread, mind blown, paragraphs & lines savored, questions answered, connections to the previous books, smirks on my face, cheers in my head, and fulfillment felt as I read through this final chapter in the Mara Dyer saga.

Where it all started...UNBECOMING
Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.It can. 
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed. There is.
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love. She's wrong.

THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER is one of the most interesting books that I have read in awhile. It blew my mind, kept me on my toes, crawled under my skin, tugged at my heart, and won't get out of my head. It is a multi-layered story: part psychological thriller, part epic teen romance, part high school story, part mystery, part family dynamics, and part suspense. Oh, and I can't forget the slight paranormal tendencies (in the mental sense not creatures) underlying the events of this book. It is a page-turning, hard to put down, want to know what will happen and how the main character will figure it all out kind of book. It starts with a note from Mara setting up the premise that she's going to be telling you her story (under a pseudonym) of why her life is not normal. It's definitely a book you have to read with an open mind so you can just go with it. At times I thought, "oh, this is like ___" only to find out I was wrong, but I could definitely see the influences of other YA books, but done with unique twists. There are lots of "what is going on?!" and "did that just happen?!" moments, but that's what made it so much more readable.

Michelle Hodkin (a debut author!) has an engaging writing style that is a nice balance of descriptive, exciting, humorous, suspenseful, sarcastic, and intelligent. It just draws you in without even realizing it and you find yourself negotiating "just one more chapter before I go to sleep" fifteen times in a row until you can't keep your eyes open anymore. Parts of this book (especially the dialogue) were so smile to myself entertaining I found myself rereading them just to soak them in more and deeply process the subtle references and entertaining quality.

And the main character Michelle has written in Mara? Not the most reliable, or most sane, but she's got an awesome sass to her that I love, and underneath her insecurity and unsureness has a strength and integrity that drew me to her even more. Mara doesn't remember what happened the night the building collapsed and her friends were killed. One of the best parts of this book is the way that Mara's memories of that night start to come back to her. We get flashbacks through her dreams as she gets them - leaving us feeling as unsure as Mara does about what's going on - but eventually we finally get the whole story of that night and the story comes together really well. It's written in the way that makes you feel like the character is feeling at that point in the book - you'll be scared, hopeful, worried, confused, happy, and freaked out when Mara is feeling that way as you go through the story with her.

Should we talk boys now? How about my newest (and quite possibly best ever) literary crush - Noah Shaw. Really, after reading it, I sigh just hearing his name. I love, love, love Noah's character. He's got a great way of talking (and lots of hidden secrets to come) and interacting and being that is just captivating. The parts I found myself rereading the most were the interactions between Mara and Noah. Now, I should warn you, at first I was a little skeptical because he seemed like the stereotypical bad boy, insta-crush, jerk to girls, love interest character, but there's much, much more than meets the eye (or rumor mill as the case may be) with Noah Shaw. Don't let his early interactions fool you - there is an epic sort of romance that develops between Mara and Noah that will have you swooning by the end.

Secondary characters deserve a mention too - maybe because I have two brothers myself and am the middle/only girl, I really enjoyed Mara's relationship with her brothers - especially her older brother Daniel. He's great. He watches out for her, covers for her, protects her, and pushes her to get out there. I want a big brother like him. We also see Mara at her new school after they move out of state and meet her new friend Jamie. He is awesomely sarcastic and witty and good comedic relief. He also serves as commentary to set the stage for what's going on in the new school's dynamics. I enjoyed reading both Daniel's and Jamie's characters; I would have liked a little more of Jamie though.

This book all leads up to an ending that is unexpected and left me wondering What?! How did that happen?! It made me want to go back and reread the whole book with that new perspective and see if it changed my thoughts on earlier parts of the story. It ends at a point that added a final cliffhanger of a twist and left me hoping that there would be more - and there will be a sequel (thank goodness because I need answers!) You may feel a little off balance at the end of this one, but I truly think that's part of the reason that it is so good. I want my stories to surprise me once in awhile and this one was definitely surprising. Be on the lookout for THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER in September!

When it left me dying for more...EVOLUTION
Mara Dyer once believed she could run from her past.She can’t.
She used to think her problems were all in her head.They aren’t.
She couldn’t imagine that after everything she’s been through, the boy she loves would still be keeping secrets.She’s wrong.
In this gripping sequel to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the truth evolves and choices prove deadly. What will become of Mara Dyer next?

I'm not totally sure how to express my feelings about this book because there are so many! My immediate thoughts at the end of it included some unprintable words because I was so blown away. I obsessively loved THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER when I got an early read of it last year, and was eagerly anticipating reading the sequel, THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER, and was extremely lucky to be able to get an early copy loaned to me, and it completely lived up to the anticipation I had going into it. This was a strong second book that definitely matched up to my love of the first book.

I adore Michelle Hodkin, but I finished this book feeling like she's a diabolical genius of a writer. It surprises me that she wasn't a writer before this, and I hope she continues to be one for a long time. Maybe that's part of the reason that I enjoy her writing so much, it came from a spark of an idea for a story, and because her background is diverse, there's a spark to the writing that just really clicks for me. The way the writing is paced, the intelligence to it, the unreliable narrator, the mood, the witty banter, the uncomfortable suspense of not knowing what's going to happen, the love and support of family, the heart at the center of this chaotic psychological thriller, and, yes, the romance, all grabs me and doesn't let me go. I read 544 pages in two days (and those were teaching/working days!) because I just couldn't stop reading. It's a long book that doesn't feel long. It's a sequel that keeps the story moving, but is interesting in its own right. So much was revealed in this book about what's really going on with Mara and Noah and everything that happened. I appreciated that we were given so much information and many questions were answered, but some still are not and more were created that make me anxious to see where this is all headed.

Interestingly, I didn't think this book had as much of the creepy feeling as the first one, but it definitely had suspenseful and psychological tension to it. Favorite characters were back, and new intriguing ones were introduced. Family support and love is still central to the relationships that hold Mara together. And I can't forget the romantic storyline between Mara and Noah Shaw, which because of their unique abilities, becomes even more difficult for them to manage. At its heart, there are questions of truth, reality, trust, faith...all the things that make for a conflicted character who is just trying to hold it all together against odds that seem stacked against her.

As much as I loved this book, there was one thing bugged me. There was a clue fairly early on to a twist that seemed so obvious to me, and Mara is very intelligent, and so it seemed like she should have realized it, but I guess she is dealing with quite a bit of psychosis stuff at this point, so I should cut her some slack for not catching it. I'm still thrilled there is going to be a third book, THE RETRIBUTION OF MARA DYER, coming in 2013, especially after the twists and reveals of the ending of this book! Not sure how I'll be able to wait so long!
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