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I'm an actress, singer, dancer, and writer. I'm also a freelance journalist, a publicist, a bookseller, and a webdesigner. This LiveJournal, for the most part, pertains to books - book reviews, exclusive interviews with authors, press releases, and booklists. My journal has an emphasis on teen fiction, though there are plenty of items for adult fiction and for juvenile fiction (or "kidlit") as well.
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1. Best Books of August 2014

This month, I read 14 books and scripts. I also wrote roughly 130 pages of new material, most of which was written longhand with pen and paper before I typed and revised everything multiple times. (Many thanks to my beta readers and personal cheerleaders, notably AD, E, K, and C.)

Before my fingers cramp up again, let me point to you to some interviews I did this month, all with authors who are celebrating the release of their new books:

Jen Wang, who collaborated with Cory Doctorow on In Real Life; Kelly Jensen, blogger and author of It Happens; Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird, two of the three minds who created Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature; and Micol Ostow, who is scaring up audiences with Amity.

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2. Poetry Friday: Reality by Anna Wickham

Only a starveling singer seeks
The stuff of songs among the Greeks.
Juno is old,
Jove's loves are cold;
Tales over-told.
By a new risen Attic stream
A mortal singer dreamed a dream.
Fixed he not Fancy's habitation,
Nor set in bonds Imagination.
There are new waters, and a new Humanity.
For all old myths give us the dream to be.
We are outwearied with Persephone;
Rather than her, we'll sing Reality.

- Reality by Anna Wickham

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.



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3. Interview: Micol Ostow

micolIn 1974, Ronald DeFeo Junior killed all six members of his family in their home in Amityville, New York. A year later, another family moved into that home only to move out 28 days later, saying they were terrorized by something paranormal in the house. Their story was captured in a book by Jay Anson, then subsequently retold in various films and other adaptations.

In Micol Ostow's new novel Amity, we meet two teenagers who live in Amityville at two different times. This is not time travel; instead, they alternate narrative duties, weaving their stories together chapter by chapter. Inspired by the real story but wholly fictional, this YA book is now available for late night reading. But I promise, this interview is not scary, and neither is Micol.

Do you recall the first time you heard about the Amityville Horror?

The first time I heard about the Amityville Horror was when reading Stephen King's Danse Macabre, where he talks about the components of an effective horror movie. In fact, I didn't realize it was based on a true story (and that there was a bestselling book about the original crime!) until much later. Once I became interested in a riff on Amityville as a possible subject for a novel, I went back and read the original book by Jay Anson, as well as High Hopes, the book written specifically about the DeFeo family (as opposed to the Lutzes, who moved in after the DeFeos' murders and claim to have experienced hauntings within).

When did the seed for your novel Amity firmly plant itself in your brain?

Around Halloween, 2011. My novel Family had come out in April and I was tossing around ideas for the next book under contract. My husband was out of town and I was indulging in my favorite guilty pleasure: horror movies and Red Vines. The Amityville 2005 remake was on, and something clicked. But it wasn't until several months later that I had a pitch to show my agent, and it was a few months after that before we put something together for my editor. I went back and forth a lot trying to decide whether I wanted to tell the Lutz family's story, or the DeFeos' story. Both concepts – the "possessed," murderous son, and the beleaguered, haunted successors to the house – were equally compelling to me. Ultimately that's what led me to tell two alternate narratives, set ten years apart. That way I didn't have to choose!

amityWhen you started writing the book, did you know the ending? (Readers, don't worry - we kept this answer spoiler free!)

I one hundred percent knew the ending, and it didn't change one bit, strangely. Maybe a hint of clarification here and there. Some of the supernatural bits tend to read more straightforward in my brain than on a first-draft page. But it was an interesting process as compared specifically to Family, my first book with Egmont. The ending to Family changed three times, as did my feelings about where the protagonist needed to be, emotionally, by the story's end. This one was much more clear-cut. The two narratives needed to converge and I could only really see one way for that to happen.

Have you ever been to Amityville, New York?

We have family out on Long Island and therefore drive past the Amityville exit on the LIE several times a year, at least. I always point it out, like a huge dork. But I've never visited the house and to be honest, at this point, I probably wouldn't. It's been renovated heavily so specifically, those iconic half-moon “eye” windows are gone. And more to the point, there's also the fact that 1) it's a little icky to make a spectacle of a place where a family was murdered and 2) it's actually a private home, where people live. Personally, I prefer the make-believe versions of the Amityville story and am happier to spend my time there.

You've written for a number of different audiences - kids, teens, adults, fantasy, comedy, mixed media. Do you consciously try to mix it up?

I really don't try to mix it up, believe it or not! It just seems to work out that way! I was fortunate enough to come into publishing through the back door, in that I worked as an editor in the work-for-hire realm. So some of my earlier contracts were the results of editors seeking me out and offering me the chance to work with them. (Note: this is not the typical author's path to publication and I am very, very lucky. Trust me, I know!) The Bradford Novels were the product of an editor's original concept, and Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa came from a publishing friend suggesting I mine some of my own adolescent experiences and pitch her a story. Even So Punk Rock was actually originally conceived of by my brother, David Ostow, who worked with me on the story and illustrated the book.

Family was the first novel I sat down to write, as they say, "on spec." And because it wasn't under contract and was coming purely from me, I was free to experiment. I had no idea when I sat down to my computer that what would come out was going to be such a massive departure from my previous work. But once it was published, it was treated as a sort of literary debut. So for Amity, I was much more conscious of trying to write something that would match Family in tone and audience.

What genre or audiences would you like to write for that you haven't yet?

As far as what's coming down the pike that's different, I have a chapter book series releasing this spring called Louise Trapeze, about a little girl in a circus family who wants to learn to fly on the trapeze but is afraid of heights. Talk about a departure!

Have you always been drawn to the horror genre?

Yes! My mother is a huge horror buff and always had the TV set to old B-movies, and scary-covered novels on her nightstand. They completely terrified me but obviously burrowed into my subconscious.

I've known people who can watch horror movies but can't read horror novels, and I've known people who can read horror but can't watch it. Do you lean more towards one than the other?

Love them both! Although in general, I watch a broader range of horror movies than I read horror novels. The only category of horror I really stay away from is the straight-up torture. The extreme gore really doesn't do it for me. With the books I tend to lean more heavily toward literary horror or dark thrillers as opposed to paranormal... and basically anything in the Stephen King cannon.

QUICK DRAW! Time for simple questions:

First horror story that gave you goosebumps: The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
(Little Willow adds: I liked that book, too!)

First scary film that gave you nightmares: Frankenstein

Horror movie or book that you love but can only watch or read in the daylight: It by Stephen King

Favorite funny spooky story: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Favorite funny spooky movie: Shaun of the Dead

Favorite horror authors: Stephen King, Joe Hill, Shirley Jackson, Daniel Krause, Sarah Waters for purer horror. Adele Griffin (Tighter), Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers), Libba Bray (The Diviners), Nova Ren Suma (Imaginary Girls), Mariana Baer (Frost), Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs) for creepy psychological thriller/suspense-y stories. Robert Bloch's original Psycho was great. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg.

Favorite season of American Horror Story: Season One, Murder House, was amazing for just flinging all the fundamental tropes at the wall, and doing something different – and genuinely scary! – on TV. And I absolutely loved that finale.

Favorite Halloween costume you've worn: I'm super boring on Halloween! I love celebrating and decorating and eating treats and watching movies, but I rarely dress up. I'm kind of a party pooper that way. Last year I wore my “Overlook Hotel” tee-shirt and called it a day. But my daughter usually cycles through at least three costumes over the course of the festivities so I think that evens us out.

Ouija board: Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole or bring it on?
I'm a little superstitious. I'd rather not tempt fate.

Ghosts and/or haunted houses: Believe, don't believe, or open-minded?
I have not had any paranormal experiences myself, but as per the above and being slightly superstitious – I do believe, actually. Kind of. Let's call it open-minded. That works.

Amity Giveaway!

What's your favorite ghost story? EGMONT USA is giving away a signed copy of the finished book to one lucky USA/Canada resident. Leave a comment below with the title of a book, movie, or play that chills you -- or even a personal story! -- along with your email address. You may mask the address, like myname (at) eeemail (dot) com - but we must be able to reach you to get your mailing information. The first comment with the proper info will get the signed book!

Follow the blog tour!

Micol is also visiting the readergirlz blog today. Check out the full schedule at the Egmont USA website.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Micol Ostow (2006)
Interview: Micol Ostow (2007)
Book Review: Popular Vote by Micol Ostow
Book Review: So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow with art by David Ostow

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4. Interview: Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird

If you appreciate children's literature and want to know the stories behind your favorite stories, pick up WILD THINGS! written by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter D. Sieruta. Packed from cover-to-cover with funny stories and little known facts about famous authors, secret feuds, inspired illustrations, and classic characters, this is a great resource for readers and writers alike. The authors - all three proud bibliophiles and bloggers - clearly had fun putting this book together.

Little Willow: This book is filled with anecdotes. Is anyone in your family a master of tall tales?

Betsy: In my family we've all had a predilection towards storytelling, but then I went and married a clear cut storyteller as well. Now I'm so steeped in them that it's only natural that a book like this would be the result. Here in New York City a children's literature gathering often involves members of the old guard (people who've been working in the field for decades) so you get all kinds of fascinating stories. Seems only natural that they should have ended up in a book at some point. As for me, I actually prefer to hear anecdotes to telling them, but some of them are just too good NOT to tell.

Jules: My family isn't necessarily filled with storytellers, but I'm fascinated by storytelling. In fact, I once took a grad course on the very subject, and I loved every second of it. For my final course project, I memorized every word of Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child." That is a wonderful story to tell. I no longer have it memorized word-for-word, but it'd probably not be that challenging to re-learn, since it's probably still hiding in the cobwebbed corners of my brain. "In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk...." (I love that singular beginning.)

Little Willow: That's impressive. Did any of the real-life stories change how you viewed a particular author or book?

Betsy: Well, I don't think I'll ever look at The Cricket in Times Square the same way again. That's all I'll say.

Jules: There's a very tender story about James Marshall and his mother, a story that didn't make it into our book. We did, however, share it at the site, where we are sharing stories cut from our manuscript. I'm a big Marshall fan, but this made me want to learn even more about him.

Little Willow: How did the three of you come together to write this book? Who had the first inkling that you should and would write a book together?

Betsy: That was me. I had this notion that there were some pretty amazing bloggers out there and that their sites would naturally adapt into a book format pretty well. Ironically, of the three blogs that came together here (A Fuse #8 Production, Collecting Children's Books, and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) mine is probably the least book-worthy. But I've an eye for talent and these guys were talented. So I reached out to them and asked if they'd be keen to work together on something. As luck would have it, they were!

Little Willow: Describe the writing process. How did you divvy up tasks between the three of you?

Betsy: First we decided which chapters should be in the book. Then we pooled all the stories we wanted to tell. Once each story was slotted into the right chapter we assigned chapters. There was a lot of swapping of stories between chapters and a lot of rewriting and editing of one another. That may account for the single "voice" found in the book.

Jules: Yep, we each worked on assigned chapters and then passed them around. We made suggestions for editing, adding, deleting, you-name-it. At one point, Peter and I were working on the same chapter and didn't even realize it. So, we eventually merged what we'd written. Whew. That worked out well!

Little Willow: What's your favorite part about collaborations? What does working with others bring out of you?

Betsy: For me, it makes me more confident about the final product. When I write something entirely on my own I may love it but there will always be this little voice in the back of my head that says I could have done more. When I work with other people who are as smart as Peter and Jules, that little voice disappears. I can feel safe and secure in the knowledge that no matter how much I screw up, they'll be there to point me in the right direction. It's an enormous relief, I can tell you.

Jules: I learned so much more about writing, I think, just by watching Betsy and Peter do their thing. And when someone edits your work, you learn TONS. I feel like if I'm a better writer at the close of this project, it's thanks to them. I love collaborating. I mean, no one likes, say, those grad school projects where you're stuck with people who don't pull their own weight OR you're assigned to a topic you hate, but if I dig my partners-in-crime and I love the subject, I'd much rather work in a group.

Little Willow: As a kid, did you have any teachers, librarians, or booksellers that you went to regularly to get (and give) book recommendations?

Betsy: Nope. And what's more, I couldn't tell you single one of their names. That said, my mom worked in an independent bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan and she was always suggesting books or handing books to me. My Aunt Judy was the same, so that's where I found the bulk of my recommended literature.

Jules: I didn't read a TON when I was a kid, which is why I'm trying to get caught up now! I did have a high school English lit and drama teacher who really got me fired up about reading, and I'm still friends with her. She's one of those amazing teachers you'd like to clone.

Little Willow: What aspects of blogging do you find the most enjoyable?

Betsy: I think it's a combination of the pleasure of the regularity (I am required to blog four times a week on my site), the fact that I can highlight books, people, or events that may not be getting a lot of publicity (I always alternate big publishers with little publishers in my reviews), and the different ways in which I can make my opinions known.

Jules: Hands down, I love the community. I love getting to know those folks who are as passionate about children's lit as I am. It's even better when you get to meet them in person.

Little Willow: How has blogging has changed how you read and recommend books, and how you interact with readers and authors?

Betsy: Since I work for New York Public Library and blog for School Library Journal I see a LOT of books in a given year, but there's always this sense that I'm not seeing ALL the books. And boy howdy do I want to see absolutely everything. So blogging, for me, is a way of filling in the gaps. It also allows me to recommend sites to friends who are looking to specialize in certain areas.

Jules: Well, before blogging I rarely interacted with authors and illustrators, but since I do a lot of interviews, I talk to many of them now on a pretty regular basis. As for how blogging has changed my reading habits, I tend to have less time for novels (though I still read them as much as I can), since I'm blogging about picture books and illustration. But it's worth it. I love writing about picture books and art.

Little Willow: What books did you love as a child that you still love just as much today?

Betsy: I was recently weeding my bookshelves, so this question was already in my mind. On my part, I think I'll always love Edward Eager, E. Nesbit, Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep, various Steven Kellogg titles, The Secret Garden, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, and any number of Apple paperbacks found via the Scholastic Book Fairs.

Jules: Shel Silverstein, the Grimm Brothers, Trina Schart Hyman, Maurice Sendak, Beverly Cleary.

Little Willow: Would you rather travel with Max to meet the Wild Things, or go with Harry Potter and attend Hogwarts?

Betsy: Hogwarts. Is there any question? I wonder about folks who would say Wild Things. You'd have to be a very particular kind of person, I suspect. For me, there's no contest.

Jules: The Wild Things, without any doubt. Because maybe perhaps possibly if Sendak is there, too, we can chat.

Little Willow: Would you rather visit Narnia or Never Never Land?

Betsy: That is a very hard question. I go back and forth. Narnia, I guess. Though they both dwell in very distinct metaphors. But I should like to see a faun, so Narnia wins.

Jules: You're going to think I'm just saying the opposite of Betsy now, just to mix things up, but honestly I'd go to Never Never Land. I want to meet Mrs. Darling first, though.

Little Willow: Would you rather have a sip at the tea party in Wonderland or snag a treat from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory?

Betsy: Wonka. Admittedly, you'd never be entirely certain what the Wonka treat would do to you, but I also suspect that the food at that tea party can't be entirely hygienic (there's a dormouse in one of the teapots, for crying out loud!). Plus there's always a chance that Wonka will look like Gene Wilder and I've always had a hardcore crush on that guy.

Jules: Well, given the theme of my blog, I gotta attend the Mad Tea-Party, yes?

Little Willow: Would you rather have the job of The Giver or be the head gamemaker for the Hunger Games?

Betsy: I don't think I'm skilled enough to pass muster as a gamemaker. I suspect I'd construct some little landscape and forget to do something essential like install the video cameras. And I'm always telling and retelling stories of the past ad nauseum anyway, so maybe I'm halfway to Giver-ship already!

Jules: Oh, The Giver! Definitely that. I recently read that book again---this time I read it aloud to my daughters---and it blows my mind how good it is.

WILD THINGS! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta is now available at a bookstore near you.

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5. Poetry Friday: An American Girl by Brander Matthews

She does not care for meditation;
Within her bonnet are no bees;
She has a gentle animation,
She joins in singing simple glees.

- from the poem An American Girl by Brander Matthews

Read the poem in its entirety.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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6. Poetry Friday: Experiment escorts us last by Emily Dickinson

Experiment escorts us last -
His pungent company
Will not allow an Axiom
An Opportunity -
- Emily Dickinson

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.
View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.
Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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7. Interview: Kelly Jensen

Today, I'm celebrating the publication of It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader by Kelly Jensen, a fellow blogger and book reviewer. We share an appreciation for literature and libraries, and I've been following her blog for a long while. It was fun to conduct this interview and learn more about her academic background and literary inspirations.

How old were you when you started reading teen fiction?

I was a teenager when I was reading teen fiction. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky came out in 1999. I was in 8th/9th grade then, and I remember picking both up somewhere around my sophomore or junior year of high school. I read what was out there then, and I carried on reading teen fiction through college and grad school. It wasn't always the first thing I picked up -- I read a lot of adult fiction and non-fiction -- but it was always there.

What was the first YA book (or series) that you read over and over? Have you re-read it as an adult? If so, did your opinion of it change?

I don't really reread. It's not because I'm opposed to it. It's just that there's so much out there I want to read, so it's not the first thing I think to do.

That said, I've really been wanting to reread Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series, especially with the release of the middle grade novels in the series. I read those books starting in high school and I looked forward to picking up each one as they published. Jessica and I went through the same life stages at the same time, and even though we didn't have any actual life similarities, I always related to and "got" her.

Congratulations on the release of IT HAPPENS! How did you land that book deal?

I approached my editor about doing an article on contemporary realistic YA for VOYA, and then on a whim, I asked if she thought maybe it was something she'd be interested in seeing as a full manuscript. It happened really fast. I was asked to put together a proposal and outline, which took me about a week. I sent those to her on a Thursday and had a contract on Saturday (I woke up to it on a vacation at a friend's house at 5 am and it was hard not to wake everyone up and share).

Had you always wanted to write a book guide?

It wasn't always a plan, but it made sense. What I'd envisioned for an article was something much bigger and after I did the research of what was out there, I saw there was a gaping hole in solid resources for contemporary realistic YA fiction.

Did anything get cut from the book?

I'd included book talks with a number of my book annotations, but I ended up cutting them all. I didn't keep them since many felt like they were just variations on the annotations themselves.

Should readers keep their eyes peeled for outtakes/bonus content at your blog?

There likely won't be outtakes or bonus content but that doesn't mean there won't be updates to some of the things I talked about in the book that show up on Stacked.

Any other books up your sleeve?

Last month, I turned in an essay that will be part of Amber Keyser's The V-Word, out with Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster in spring 2016. I'm also putting together a Q&A for the same book that looks at the representations of virginity and female sexuality in teen media.

I'm working on a chapter for another library reader's advisory resource with Liz Burns about "New Adult" fiction, being edited by Jessica Moyer. There's also a possibility of another chapter on a topic I'm supremely passionate about from a professional-development standpoint, but that's a project that's not completely set in stone yet.

There is a novel in me. I've been picking at it bit by bit. I'm really not good at committing to long-term fiction projects, but it's something I really want to do, and I think this story might be the one that gets me to follow through.

How did your college education/college experience prepare you for the jobs you've had?

I can't cite specific examples of how my education prepared me for my jobs, but I can say the experiences I had outside the classroom were what helped shape my career. I went to a non-traditional undergraduate college, which trained me how to think differently about time management and project management. I spent 4 years working on the school's newspaper -- first as a writer, then 2 years as an Arts and Entertainment editor, then finally as a Co-Editor-in-Chief. I spent three years working on the school's literary magazine, too, as both a reader and an editor. Those experiences taught me a lot about working with other people and rallying for things I care deeply about (the newspaper faced budget cuts during my last year, but my co-editor and I went to student senate budget meetings and fought hard to keep our money -- and we did).

While in undergrad, I worked at the library and I did an internship at my college library. The college library doubled as the town's public library, so I got to see both sides of the picture and knew working with the public -- and teens, especially -- was something I wanted to do.

What classes would you recommend for those who plan on becoming librarians?

I went to grad school immediately after undergrad and took many classes across the board in librarianship. If I'm being honest, though, few of the public library/teen services classes did a lot for me preparation wise. My YA fiction course was bad -- I knew more from my own reading and research than I got out of the class. But the one good thing that came of it was meeting my co-blogger Kimberly...and here we are, still blogging about YA at Stacked. Hopefully we're helping people learn about YA in a way we didn't get to.

But if I were to offer suggestions for those who want to go into libraries, it's this: work in libraries. Figure out where you want to work. Figure out how you work. Then read, read, read. And if you feel inclined, write. Blogging can give you a leg up if for no other reason than you have a record you can point to showing that you're willing to learn, explore, and create.

I'm not working in libraries now, since I took on a job at Book Riot as an editor/community manager. But my experiences in libraries, in a variety of good and less-than-good work environments, helped prep me for it, too. The best preparation for any job is working the job and understanding how you work, not what you'll get out of the classroom or your homework.

You've spoken about contemporary literature at a variety of conferences. Have you always felt comfortable with public speaking? Any advice for folks reading this interview who need a confidence booster before their next professional event or school presentation?

I still get nervous all the time about speaking. But I like pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and this works for me.

The reason it works for me doubles as my advice/confidence booster: you aren't invited to speak unless you know your stuff. So when you're at the front of the room, you are the expert. There's something in that knowledge that helps me feel better -- people are listening to me because they believe I can teach them something or I can make them rethink how they look at an idea.

In undergrad, I once spoke at a college-sponsored feminist symposium. I had written a paper in my Harlem Renaissance Lit class about the main character in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and how her name changes and shifts throughout the story and what that meant about her power in those situations. Little did I know that a renowned Hurston scholar was on campus during the symposium but I was alerted to it when I was presenting, since she was in the room listening to me.

I never felt more nervous as I did then. She asked me some tough questions during the Q&A portion, and I thought I was going to die right there. But after, she came up to me and said she came because she was curious to hear my take on this and she asked me those questions because she knew I could think about them and articulate a response. That may have been the presentation that sort of turned things around for me, knowing that even if someone in the room is smarter than me on a topic, they don't have the same take on it that I do, and they're there because they're interested, not because they want to bring me down.

You've been blogging at stackedbooks.org for five years now. What do you enjoy writing and sharing the most -- a book review, a list of books with similar themes, general book news, or a completely unplanned but suddenly inspired post?

If it's a book I love and want people to read immediately, then it's a book review. I love writing fun booklists. But the most fun are those unplanned and inspired posts, for sure.

Kimberly and I believe we'll do this as long as it's still fun. When it stops being fun, we stop. And at this point? It's still a lot of fun. If I don't like what I'm writing, I just stop and do something else.

How did you become a contributor for Book Riot?

Rebecca asked me! She and I have been following each other on Twitter for years, and so we've always sort of known what's going on with each other in the book world. Last June she approached me and said if I ever wanted to be a contributor, then I should apply. I did and the rest is history.

When you read a book summary, what are the magic words? What immediately makes you think, "I've got to read this book!"?

Dark, gritty, and edgy are three words I love. They don't have to be in relation to realistic fiction. I'll read most genres, especially when those words are involved.

Other things that grab me: dancing, a midwest setting outside of Chicago, anything feminist or that sounds like it's going to focus on navigating girlhood.

The words "magical realism" can catch my eye, but I approach those a little more cautiously/critically.

What are your top ten favorite books?

This is the worst question. The WORST. And the reason this is the worst question is because my favorite books are all favorites for different reasons -- it can be about the story or about the writing as much as it can be about the sensory experience of where I was or what that particular book brought to my life.

I'm not going to give you ten. Instead, here are three of my favorite books, off the top of my head, as I am writing this answer: The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, and All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

Little Willow adds: I also love books by Courtney Summers + Check out my interview with Courtney Summers!

Visit Kelly at kellybjensen.com and stackedbooks.org and get IT HAPPENS from your retailer of choice today.

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8. Poetry Friday: In the Gloaming by Meta Orred

In the gloaming, oh, my darling,
When the lights are dim and low,
And the quiet shadows falling,
Softly come, and softly go;
When the winds are sobbing faintly,
With a gentle, unknown woe;
Will you think of me and love me?
As you did once long ago?

In the gloaming, oh, my darling,
Think not bitterly of me.
Tho’ I passed away in silence,
Left you lonely, set you free;
For my heart was crushed with longing,
What has been could never be;
It was best to leave you thus, dear,
Best for you and best for me.
It was best to leave you thus,
Best for you and best for me.

- In the Gloaming by Meta Orred

In 1877, Annie Fortescue Harrison composed a song using this poem as lyrics. The song has been performed countless times since. I like this version by The Story.

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9. Interview: Jen Wang

If you like multiplayer RPGs and graphic novels, then you should pick up IN REAL LIFE by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang when it hits the shelves on October 14th. This full-color graphic novel, which has a front-cover blurb o' praise from Felicia Day of Geek & Sundry, is based on Cory's short story. Thanks to Gina at First Second Books, I had the opportunity to read the book early and then virtually meet writer-illustrator Jen Wang. Let's dive right into our interview:

Creative types the world over have had to take day jobs to pay the bills, and many have stories about their worst day job - but let's stay positive here and ask, what has been your favorite day job?

My favorite day job was working the front desk at a hostel in San Francisco, sometime after college. Every day was a different set of people and it was fantastic for observation. Being the host can be challenging but you also got to talk to a lot of cool people who want to know all about your city. I was actually inking KOKO BE GOOD at the time and would try to do a page or so during the slow hours of my shift. There weren’t that many!

What are your favorite mediums and tools of the trade?



I’m pretty standard when it comes to tools. I draw comics with a mechanical pencil and ink with a #2 Raphael 8404 brush. I also have an assortment of Pentel brush pens at various stages of dryness that I like to play around with. I held off for the longest time but I’m ready to get a Cintiq. I think that’s the next step for me!

KOKO BE GOOD, your first full-color full-length graphic novel published by First Second Books, is set in San Francisco, your old stomping ground. What are/were your favorite San Francisco haunts?

I haven’t lived in San Francisco for a while so things have probably changed a lot, but I still love the Castro Theater. They have great programming and nothing is better than that pre-show organ player.

Any cool writing courses, groups, or spots you'd recommend to aspiring authors and artists in the Bay Area?



Unfortunately I didn’t take advantage of many art and writing resources in the Bay Area when I was there, but there’s always volunteering for 826 Valencia, which does great writing workshops for students. There’s also events like Litquake and SF ZineFest that can get you in touch with other creative members of the community. A met a ton of peers just going to A.P.E. (Alternative Press Expo) every year!

What inspired KOKO BE GOOD?

KOKO BE GOOD started with the main character in a short comic I drew my second year of college. Like most people that age I was going through a lot of big changes in my life and she encapsulated all those feelings I couldn’t quite articulate and gain any sort of perspective on. After college I wanted to expand on the story and close out that period of my life with a big project and KOKO the graphic novel was born.

How was it writing a full-length book versus single comics and anthology contributions?

The main difference between the full-length book and the short comic was it took a super long time! Drawing the short comic took maybe less than a week but the book took more than a year to complete.



IN REAL LIFE was based on a short story by Cory Doctorow. Tell us about the journey from short story to graphic novel.

After KOKO I was struggling with my follow up project and First Second approached me about doing the adaptation for ANDA’S GAME, Cory’s short story. I’d never talked to Cory before but he had previously written a great review of KOKO for Boing Boing and was looking forward to working with me and that was super exciting.

Was this your first adaptation based on someone else's story?

Yes! I’d never adapted anything before and part of the appeal was First Second allowed me a lot of flexibility in translating the story to comics. Cory’s prose is very dialogue driven, which would’ve been a little visually static, so I was able to move it in a more action-driven direction. It allowed me to use my skills as a writer too, which made the overall experience more fun for me.



Describe the collaboration process - Did you and Cory review the original short story together, decide what would be changed and what had to be kept, and then you put pen to paper following an agreed-upon beat sheet or storyboard, or did you launch right in and get notes as you went?

I wrote a couple different drafts of the script, and Cory would go over each one and make notes and suggestions. Interestingly the first draft was a very literal translation of ANDA’S GAME, and it was clear I wasn’t very good at faking a Cory voice. The more I followed my gut instincts and wrote as myself the more natural the story became. The final story is very different from the original but it is a combination of my voice and Cory’s vision.



I love the shift in the colour palette between the story's real world and the gaming world. Which colour scheme did you decide on first? Which world was "easier" to create and plot?



The real life material came more naturally, so it was easier to draw as well. I liked drawing real life Anda with her fuller figure and messy hair. For the color palettes, I put a more monochromatic filter over the real life stuff and in the gaming world I just added more textures and didn’t skimp on the color!

Which parts of Anda's story resonate with you?



On a very basic level I indentified with Anda as a teenager who spent all her time afterschool holed up in her room talking to internet friends. I started meeting other cartoonists online at her age and having a place where I could meet peers and indulge in my interests really changed my life. But also Anda is naïve and learning a lot about how the world works. She doesn’t have a lot of life experience, she’s just reading about everything on the internet and thinks she understands it all when she doesn’t. The idea of being well-intentioned but still making mistakes and learning from that is something that really resonates with me.

Are you a gamer?

I’m not that much of a gamer, but I like a lot of indie games.

What games do you play and recommend?

More recent ones I’ve played that I’ve liked are Gone Home, Analogue: A Hate Story, and Monument Valley. There’re also a bunch of cool interactive fiction games out there like the Twine game Howling Dogs by Porpentine. Of course I also play a lot of games on my phone. IN REAL LIFE would not have happened without a lot of Tetris and Plants Vs. Zombies.

I love Tetris. 

What artists -- musicians, actors, painters, authors -- have inspired your personal style?

My drawing style came out of reading lots of manga and watching Disney cartoons as a kid. The weirdest thing about that is I don’t really watch Disney movies or read manga anymore but those roots are so strong they’ve stuck.

Who would you love to collaborate with, if such things were possible?



I think it would be super fun to collaborate with a game designer! Indie games and comics have a lot in common and they’re both exploring new and exciting ways to tell stories. Doing it on my own seems daunting, but working with someone would be so cool!

You hear that, game designers? Contact Jen! :)

Do you have any beta readers who read your early drafts?

I don’t share early drafts with peers because I don’t want too many opinions muddling my focus, but I do share them with my boyfriend, Jake. He’s the perfect sounding board because we have different individual tastes but we tend to agree on what does or doesn’t work. It’s a good way to have perspective on what I’m doing.

Any words of encouragement for female artists and/or gamers who love being creative but are hesitant to realize their potential, who think of their art as a hobby but ought to really turn it into a career?

I can’t really speak for games but the advice I’d give to female artists is, just do it! There’s no reason not to! Indie comics are a very robust and female-friendly community. Put your work online, go to conventions, meet people online, and I promise you’ll find lots of people who will support your creativity. Everyone just wants to read more cool comics!

Visit Jen at http://jenwang.net

Get a sneak peek at IN REAL LIFE at firstsecondbooks.com!

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10. Poetry Friday: La Reina by Pablo Neruda

I have named you queen.
There are taller than you, taller.
There are purer than you, purer.
There are lovelier than you, lovelier.
But you are the queen.

When you go through the streets
No one recognizes you.
No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks
At the carpet of red gold
That you tread as you pass,
The nonexistent carpet.

And when you appear
All the rivers sound
In my body, bells
Shake the sky,
And a hymn fills the world.

Only you and I,
Only you and I, my love,
Listen to me.

- The Queen by Pablo Neruda

Yo te he nombrado reina.
Hay más altas que tú, más altas.
Hay más puras que tú, más puras.
Hay más bellas que tú, hay más bellas.
Pero tú eres la reina.

Cuando vas por las calles
nadie te reconoce.
Nadie ve tu corona de cristal, nadie mira
la alfombra de oro rojo
que pisas donde pasas,
la alfombra que no existe.

Y cuando asomas
suenan todos los ríos
en mi cuerpo, sacuden
el cielo las campanas,
y un himno llena el mundo.

Sólo tú y yo,
sólo tú y yo, amor mío,
lo escuchamos.

- La Reina, Pablo Neruda

Original Spanish text and English translation both provided by AllPoetry.com

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11. Best Books of July 2014

July 2014: 43 books and scripts read

Middle Grade Fiction
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

Teen Fiction
Poison Ink by Christopher Golden (third time I've read it)

The Play's The Thing
The Bad Seed play adaptation by Maxwell Anderson, based on the novel by William March
(The novel came first, then the play, then the film. I like them all.)

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12. Hope: Holly Schindler

A tiny ray of hope appears inside me, the same way a little stream of light pours from the hallway through my bedroom door's keyhole at night.

- from the novel The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler

For similar ponderings, please check out Definitions of Hope, a series of hopeful musings from various authors and other artists.

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13. Poetry Friday: Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

- Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley



If you can't see the video player above, click here to hear Ozymandias as read by Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad.

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14. Poetry Friday: There are two things from Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

There are two things:
True things.
And lies.
When you figure out
which is which
it's like you are on the inside
of the balloon
looking out,
seeing the pin coming toward you
in the sunlight
but not being able
to move away.

Or maybe,
the thing is
that all of us are two people:
the one inside
the balloon.
And the one
holding the pin.

This poem is featured in the epistolary novel Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers. Though the majority of the story is conveyed in letters and emails, one of the characters, Ruth, has a poetry journal hosted on tumblr - which, as of this posting, is not an active account in real life. (Yes, of course I checked!)

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15. Poetry Friday: If I can stop one heart from breaking by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

- Emily Dickinson

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16. Poetry Friday: Fear is like a mountain by Lisa Schroeder

Fear is like a mountain,
looming large
in the background,
taunting you with its
magnificence.

It seems so much
bigger than you,
and the thought of
climbing it,
of overcoming it,
seems impossible.

But it is not you
against the mountain

The mountain does
not exist simply
to make you
feel small.

It exists for purposes
beyond your
understanding.

To climb it is simply
to take one step
and then another
step and then
another step;
a walk uphill.

It is all in how
you look at it.

And when you reach
the top, there is no more
mountain.
Only a view that
takes your breath
away.

- from the book The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

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17. Best Books of June 2014

June 2014: 18 books and scripts read

Recommended for ages 11 and up
The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz
Summer State of Mind by Jen Calonita
Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

Recommended for ages 14 and up
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Non-Fiction Pick
Making Your Life as an Artist by Andrew Simonet

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18. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt


What do you do when you think the person you love the most is about to make a terrible decision?

And what's more devastating: discovering what she's done or realizing you don't know her as well as you think you do?

The most important person in Nell's life is her older sister, Layla. Less than 2 years apart, the girls are thick as thieves - or, at least, they were. When Nell begins her freshman year of high school, she is excited to be sharing the halls with her best friend, Felix, and her awesome sister, who's a junior. But gradually, it becomes clear to Nell that Layla's hiding something and is spending time with someone she doesn't want Nell or anyone else to know about - and, much to Nell's surprise, it's someone she knows, too.

Nell doesn't know what to do. She can't imagine talking to either of her long-divorced parents about what's happening with her sister -- she's much closer to Layla than either of her parents, and she definitely doesn't want to push her sister away or violate Layla's trust. But Layla's not around much, and when she is, she's not in the mood for heart-to-heart conversations with her little sis. Nell can't tell Felix what's happening, either, because she feels like it's not her secret to tell, and she can't be disloyal to her sister, plus she doesn't want to burden Felix, who has more serious things going on in his household right now. More than anything, Nell wants Layla to return to who she used to be, the role model she looked up to, the happy, dynamic Golden girl who willingly shared her secrets, her laughter, and her life with her little sister instead of keeping her at arm's length.

Nell never minded living in her sister's shadow. She was never jealous of her sister's personality or athleticism; she accepted early on that Layla was the superior Golden, stronger, shinier, more outgoing - that's how Nell always saw her, perfect, up on a pedestal - and since their parents didn't outright compare them and Layla never called herself better than Nell, the younger girl was content with who she was. After all, the girls were so close that they were "Nellayla." No one and nothing could break their bond. The only thing that bugged Nell was when her sister or parents treated her like a baby, like she wasn't mature enough to understand what was going on, or she wasn't old enough to participate in something.

Nell cannot imagine something major happening in her life without telling her sister about it -- but she doesn't know if Layla would say the same thing about her. When did that change, and why? In the words of Bess Rogers, "It's hard to see the shift when you're so close." (1) Though Nell has a crush and other entanglements in the book, her true heartache comes from her sister, from this strange space that's developed between them. When Nell's suspicions are confirmed, when she learns for sure what's going on with Layla, she has to decide what's more important: keeping her sister's secret (and her trust) or making sure she's safe and sound.

Layla, you know I'd happily lie for you to save your life, or to fix your life, but it's a different story entirely to lie about something that I believe is ruining your life.

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt employs a unique and effective technique: Nell, narrating in first person, largely uses "you" when thinking about her sister, reliving memories from their childhood or considering things she wishes she could say to her:

You were so much a part of me I thought we shared a name until you told me: "I am Layla," and you tapped your chest, then reached out to touch mine. "You are Nell."

What divides us is clear to the world around us but has always been murky to me.


When alone, Nell often considers Duncan and Parker Creed, a pair of brothers she knew whose lives ended tragically - and separately, though Nell thinks they were clearly connected. If you lost a peer at a young age, you will understand how Nell feels when she says:

If Duncan and Parker Creed were still alive, they'd be eighteen and twenty years old. [...] To me they will always be fourteen and sixteen, and it's the strangest thing in the world that I'm older now than Duncan and almost as old as Parker.

The ways in which the boys left this world were sudden and scary, so even though they weren't close friends of Nell's, their deaths left indelible marks on her. She allows the thought of the Creed brothers to haunt her in a beautifully lyrical way, without ever being supernatural or a cause for concern; instead, she treats them like a sounding board, and their loyalty and perceived closeness parallels that of the Golden sisters.

You know that poster in the science lab? Albert Einstein with the quote, The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once. I'm not sure Einstein actually said this - maybe it just looks good under a picture of him with his insane hair - but I wanted to tell Einstein that sometimes time is of no use.

Everything in the world was happening at once. Every clock was ticking. Every radio station was playing. Someone has turned up the speed on the treadmill while I was still trying to walk.


The way the book begins, the way the book ends: beautiful bookends. And how Reinhardt fills what happens in-between, and her choice to tell this story from Nell's point-of-view - memorable and remarkable, how she reveals the complexities of something which seems so simple, something so many of us take for granted: love. Unconditionally.

We Are the Goldens is about the promises we make and break - promises we make to ourselves, to our loved ones, whether those promises are expressed in words or actions or simply in thoughts, because thoughts have a power all their own. It's about worries and questions and answers, the answers we didn't want but got anyway, and the answers we never get, ever. This book has love and loyalty and art and literature and a play and a party and soccer and stains and disappointments and tears and fiction and truth and windows and views and performances and breath and silence and support.

I wanted to feel without thinking. Sleep without dreaming. I wanted to twinkle underwater like the lights of the city.

(1) Bess Rogers is a singer-songwriter whose music, words, and voice I greatly enjoy. The lyrics "It's hard to see the shift when you're so close" come from her song Brick by Brick, which appears on her album Out of the Ocean. I could listen to that album every single day and never tire of it.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:

Interview: Dana Reinhardt
Book Review: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Book Review: The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
Booklist: Tough Issues for Teens
Booklist: Sisters

Learn more about Dana Reinhardt and her books at http://www.danareinhardt.net


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19. The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

This summer, 13-year-old Nina is going to make the world a better place, one day (and one good deed) at a time.

After looking around her neighborhood, Nina decides to help out her friends and neighbors - and maybe even her own family - in small but remarkable ways. She decides to do 65 anonymous good deeds, one for every day of summer vacation. While some of these activities and gifts are planned in advance, others are spur-of-the-moment, but all of them are based on what the people around her truly need. Sometimes, it's an item to make them smile, or something related to a household project; other times, it's simply a shoulder to lean on. Nina listens to people, and she listens to her heart, and she can tell when someone needs a pick-me-up or a helping hand.

Nina's own house could use some smiles, too. Nina cherishes her memories of her grandmother, who passed away a year ago, who taught her to value simple truths. Now, with her grandma gone, her two lawyer parents immersed in their current case, and her college-bound older brother barely ever home, Nina misses having real conversations with her family. Meanwhile, her best friend Jorie is flirting with boys and planning their dates for the homecoming dance, and Nina's not really into that yet. Even though she is kind of seeing her long-time friend Eli in a new light...

As the summer continues, some neighbors seem to appreciate the good deeds while others are grow suspicious, thinking they are pranks. Mostly, though, Nina's actions have the intended result: they brighten someone's day and serve as a reminder than somebody cares. As her "little efforts" rub off on others, Nina realizes that "doing good is contagious," and she continues to practice random acts of kindness, just because she likes helping others.

The transition from middle school to high school can be all sorts of things -- overwhelming, intimidating, exciting, nerve-wracking, eye-opening -- all at once. This book captures that transition very well, and moves through the summer with a naturally flowing narrative fueled by a thoughtful, selfless protagonist. Nina is a truly good person, without a hidden agenda, and this novel is filled with moments that are poignant and uplifting without ever being preachy or cloying. As the story develops, Nina's resolve and voice grows stronger, and she never once is tempted to brag about her good deeds. She is refreshing and inspiring.

Hurwitz does a wonderful job of examining the strangeness and sadness that comes when friendships are tested, when you feel like you are growing apart from someone you've known for so long. Many books and films showcase the end of a friendship, often with the old friend burning or blowing off the protagonist. But not all friendships end in a big blow-up. Not all friendships end. They change, just like (as) people change. The bond between Jorie and Nina stretches like taffy throughout the book, stretching and straining as their priorities change:

In first grade, when Jorie moved into the cul-de-sac, we had playdates and did the things first-grade girls do. That was enough back then. But now? Jorie and I are in between two places. Like an intermission between the first and second acts of a play. I'm not sure how things are going to end up. - Pages 9-10

I miss the girl who couldn't glue, brought me the towel after we jumped into the water, made sure I was okay. The girl I knew. - Page 114

This is just one example of the connections Nina makes. Hurwitz masterfully creates distinctive characters and allows her leading lady to have clear relationships and storylines with different people, including her brother, Matt; her workaholic parents; Eli, who is literally the boy next door; Eli's adorable little brother, Thomas, who fancies himself a superhero; Sariah, a new friend in her summer art class; and the others on her street, ranging from high-strung Mrs. Millman, bossing around her dog and her husband, to the extremely pregnant Mrs. Cantaloni and her energetic three young sons, to quiet Mrs. Chung, to the elusive Mr. Dembrowski. Oh, and a fox.

In short: The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is delightful. Pick it up, and pay it forward.

Favorite supporting character: Thomas.

Favorite (and unexpected) scene: Running. (Another favorite moment: The swings.)

This is Michele's second novel for tweens. If you liked Nina's story, make sure to pick up the author's first book, Calli Be Gold!

Related booklists:
Transition Times
Middle School Must-Haves

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20. Poetry Friday: A Solitary Bird from The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

A solitary bird, hollow it flew
Through a haze of months marked by the moon
Come to a meadow, shiny with dew
Where hollow birds sang, and deep inside grew
The secret hum of a daisy in June.

- from the novel The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

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21. Author Spotlight: Mary Rodgers

Author, screenwriter, and composer Mary Rodgers has passed away.

Ever heard of Freaky Friday? Rodgers wrote that famously fun story about a mother and daughter who accidentally swap bodies. Published in 1972, Freaky Friday was adapted for film three times: the 1976 version with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, based on a screenplay by Rodgers; the 1995 made-for-TV movie with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann; and the 2003 version with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.

When I was little, I checked out a copy of Freaky Friday from the library. I was a good two-thirds of the way through the book when I discovered a printing error: a chunk of pages repeated, and the ending was missing! I let the librarians know and switched it out for another copy. I then read the other books in the line, A Billion for Boris (aka ESP TV) and Summer Switch, in which the brother and father switch places.

Freaky Friday is not the only Rodgers book to be adapted for TV and film. In 1984, Summer Switch was made into an ABC Afterschool Special. The third Andrews family book was a movie as well, under the title Billions for Boris, and it featured a young Seth Green as Benjamin "Ape-Face" Andrews. Mary Tanner Bailey, who played Annabel in Billions, was also Rachel Fairbanks in The Voyage of the Mimi, and she was recently seen on an episode of Nashville.

I have not read The Rotten Book, which is not related to the Andrews family stories, nor have I read Freaky Monday, a book released in 2009 which is credited to both Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach, in which a student and teacher switch bodies. Hach wrote the screenplay for the 2003 Freaky Friday. Hach is also known for her stage work, having written the libretto for the 2007 musical Legally Blonde. (And let's not forget that Legally Blonde was a novel before it was a movie or a musical! The book was written by Amanda Brown.)

Once Upon a Mattress, the Tony-nominated musical comedy based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, features music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer. Once Upon a Mattress opened in 1959. It was the Broadway debut of the hilarious, remarkable Carol Burnett, who got a Tony nomination for her work as Princess Winnifred. Once Upon a Mattress has had countless productions all over the world. The Tony-nominated revival in 1997 featured Sarah Jessica Parker, Lewis Cleale, and Jane Krakowski, and the show was adapted for TV in 1963, 1972, and 2005.

Mary also contributed songs to the famous album Free to Be...You and Me, with Marlo Thomas and Friends.

Mary was a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a student. Her family tree is full of art, music, and creativity. Her father, Richard Rodgers, was also a composer. He is the Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Mary's mother, Dorothy, wrote My Favorite Things: A Personal Guide to Decorating and Entertaining in the 60s, then collaborated with Mary on the book A Word to the Wives nearly a decade later; the mother-daughter team also contributed a monthly advice column in McCall's. I had not heard of either of these titles until this morning - and as I write this now, I've just discovered another, The House in My Head, in which she details her dream house "from concept to realization," and yet another, A Personal Book. Mary Rodgers had five children, including a daughter (Constance, aka Kim) who is a painter and designer and a son (Adam Guettel) who a composer and librettist.

Which Freaky Friday film is your favorite?
What are your favorite songs from Once Upon a Mattress?
Let me know in the comments below!

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22. Summer State of Mind by Jen Calonita


Harper McAllister planned on spending the summer hanging out with friends and lounging around at home. A nice, low-key time. But after she goes on an unplanned shopping spree in an effort to impress her rich friends, Harper's dad makes an effort to bring her back down to earth by sending her off to summer camp. Her twin brother, Kyle, is also camp-bound. He's happy about it. Harper, not so much.

The back cover summary of this book, which mentions Prada and the country club, might make Harper sound like a rich snob, but we learn early in the book that her family's wealth is a recent acquisition. Two years ago, her father's wedding video company produced a low-budget music video for a rapper who was unknown at the time. When the song became record of the year, Harper's dad suddenly became the go-to guy for music videos. His production company took off, and his family moved from, quote, "a tiny house in middle-class Mineola to a mansion in J. Lo country." Harper's friends, popular and wealthy, don't bat an eye at price tags. They are used to wearing brand name clothes and going on family vacations to other countries. Two years into this world, Harper has gotten a little used to those things, too, but she hadn't really realized it.

Luckily, Harper's time at camp reminds her of her roots. She's a well-meaning girl, and she tries to bond with her fellow campers (with varying degrees of success) all while attempting to prove to her brother and to herself that she can hack it out here in the wilderness. The longer she's away from the city, the more comfortable she becomes with getting dirt under her fingernails and participating in camp activities. Summer State of Mind is a fun movie-ready, kid-friendly story with lots of sunshine, sibling rivalry, new friends, and first crushes, plus a creative project (yay for teamwork!) towards the end.

(Question: Did anyone else picture Lorde as London Blue, or was that just me?)

Bonus book: Summer State of Mind by Jen Calonita is a companion novel to Sleepaway Girls, which also takes place at Whispering Pines. If you read Sleepaway Girls first, you'll recognize Sam and some of the other counselors and camp workers that appear in Summer State of Mind. If you read Summer State of Mind first, you should go pick up Sleepaway Girls and see how it all began!

Have you ever attended or worked at a summer camp?
Are you the outdoors type, or would you rather stay in?
Have you ever been on a zip-line?
Let me know in the comments below!

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23. Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood

13-year-old Iris feels abandoned. Her mum recently left the family. Her dad isn't doing the best job holding down the fort. Her older brother is running with a bad crowd. Now a group of Irish Travellers has set up camp in front of their farm. Even though her dad doesn't want her to get mixed up with the campers, Iris can't help being curious about them. She strikes up a friendship with a 14-year-old nicknamed Trick, an Irish boy who has seen so much more than she has, whose life is even less predictable than hers. Soon, Iris' family falls apart in ways she had never imagined.

Set in the UK, Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood is seen through the eyes of Iris - no pun intended, the point being that Iris is a good narrator for this story. She's at that critical age with a critical family situation. She's curious and naive, innocent and observant, torn between staying loyal to her family and seeking out something new. The boys who surround Iris - her father, her brother, and her new friend Trick - are even more troubled than she is. Iris is aware that her brother's new friends are reckless but doesn't know how to stop him from hanging out with them. All she knows is she wants to protect him, but she can't. She becomes distant from Matty, the girl who was once her best friend, and defies her father's orders by hanging out with Trick regularly.

My favorite brother-sister moment comes when Sam, an artist, finally responds to his sister's request to draw something special on her wall. This scene serves multiple purposes: illustrating the siblings' relationship, giving Sam a way to channel his pent-up energy and anger, and giving Iris something special. I also liked the moment when Iris listens to Sam tell the story of how he met his new friends and thinks to herself, "I just wanted to understand," and later, when she purposely keeps herself busy cleaning plates while her father and brother argue so she can hear what's going on and be right there to diffuse things, if need be.

The book's prologue tells of something that happens very, very late in the book. Though it is purposely vague, it does set the reader's mind on that path, so that when the tragedy finally occurred, I wasn't as surprised or shocked as I would have been had that first page not set things up. I can appreciate the prologue and its later repeat/reveal from a storytelling standpoint, as it's a structure that's used in many books (and movies, and TV episodes) - I'd love to hear if other readers liked it or not. Did it soften the blow, or make it easy to predict? Would you have had a different reading experience had the prologue not been included?

This is C.J. Flood's debut novel, and I enjoyed it. I think my favorite moments were the little ones, not the big ones. As I mentioned earlier, Iris is observant, and I liked when she noticed and described things that were so telling about her family and about herself, such as the state of their home:

The living room curtains were closed, but there was a gap in the middle where they didn't quiet meet. Mum had talked about replacing them ever since she shrank them in the wash last year. I promised that as soon as I had some money, I would do it myself.

Sunlight pierced through the gap, turning bits of dust to glitter.
- Page 68

Another lovely passage:

The next day came, and the next week, and we went on with our lives, which were just the same except for being messier and less organized and much, much quieter. - Page 81

My favorite sentence in the book is the closing sentence. Beautiful and true.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for Flood's next book, Everywhere River.

Visual note: I really liked the font the text was set in, which the publishing data page cites as "Incognito." Kudos to whoever selected the font. I also really like both the UK and the US covers of the book, which I think are pretty and appropriate for the story and the setting.

I have included this book on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist, under the category of Parent/Child Relationships. I would have listed it in another category, too, but that would have revealed a major plot point...

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24. Snowblind Optioned for Limited TV Series


Fantastic news for one of my favorite people, Christopher Golden -- his spine-tingling book Snowblind has been optioned for a series! As reported in Deadline:

Universal TV, David S. Goyer Eye 'Snowblind' Limited Series

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Television and David S. Goyer have optioned TV rights to horror novel Snowblind, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden (Ghosts Of Albion, Joe Golem And The Drowning City). The New England-set book, published earlier this year by St. Martin's Press, tracks the denizens of a town still reeling from the disappearance of over a dozen people who were snatched during a sinister snowstorm 12 years prior.

Goyer is coming off of Da Vinci's Demons and Man of Steel and will supervise development and executive produce alongside Golden and Pete Donaldson. Project is being developed as a limited series. Snowblind also comes with a choice celebrity endorsement from horror maven Stephen King: "Snowblind is instantly involving and deeply scary. It will bring a blizzard to your bones (and your heart) even in the middle of July. Throw away all those old 'it was a dark and stormy night'; novels; this one is the real deal. And watch out for that last page. It's a killer."


Read the entire article by Jen Yamato at Deadline.

Read my review of SNOWBLIND by Christopher Golden.

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25. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Emi Price, an aspiring film production designer wrapping up her final year of high school, is balancing schoolwork with her film job while nursing a broken heart. Her ex - who has broken up and gotten back together with her multiple times - is working on the same film, making for some awkward moments on set. When Emi gets the chance to design a room that appears in a few scenes of the movie, she pours her heart into the project - but a key piece she placed in that room is removed, and her heart gets broken again.

Then life presents her with unexpected opportunities and people and things which change (solidify) the shape of her heart. You'll notice I didn't say "fix" her heart, or fix her. That's because what happens to Emi next helps her realize her dreams and herself.

Emi's best friend is a rock. Charlotte does not care one bit for Emi's ex, Morgan, and wants her friend to find someone better. Level-headed and direct, Charlotte is the kind of person you would want to run your business.

Emi's older brother becomes a remote caregiver. Toby, a location scout, is off to Europe for two months to find the best places to film. As a graduation present, he gives Emi the keys to his apartment and says she can live there for the summer under one condition: that something great has to take place there while he's gone.

"Like what?" I ask. I'm a little worried, but excited too. [...]
"That's all I'm gonna say on the subject," he says. "The rest is up to you."


His larger-than-life personality and determination inspires Emi to follow her dreams; his absence forces her to do it on her own.

And then there's a letter written by an old Hollywood star who recently passed away, a letter that Charlotte and Emi find tucked into something they bought at an estate sale. When they try to track down the person the letter belongs to, they end up finding a young woman named Ava who had no idea she was part of this legacy. En route to this discovery, Emi gets the chance to work on an indie movie that just might make her summer as epic as her brother hoped it would be.

Some relationships, be they familial, romantic, platonic, or professional, are, sadly, one-sided. The very best ones are balanced, symbiotic, with give and take, truly beneficial for all involved. The best people are the ones you can truly be yourself with, and who challenge you to live up to your potential. (I, like Emi's mom, think we should all have "a fierce belief in [our] own potential.") Emi, Ava, Charlotte: each of them have people in their lives they should be spending more time with, and others they should pull away from; and they can learn from each other, and lean on each other, if they dare. Because letting someone in means being vulnerable, and telling the truth can be painful, but ultimately, the only way you can grow and be happy is if you toss off what's holding you back and start reaching forward.

A good story, be it in print or on screen, told in words or pictures or music, can move you and shake you and shape you. Early on, Emi, who expresses the story in first-person present-tense, shares this in the narrative: My brother, Toby, and I talk all the time about what movies do. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream... Then, in her day-to-day- life, Emi must deal with events and people who are not what she expected - not necessarily for better or for worse, just different.

Emi loves what she does, and the respect and appreciation she has for the amount of work it takes to create a film will rub off on readers. She searches far and wide to find the perfect items that will "make the set transcend an artificial invention, the addition that will make audiences believe that what they're seeing is real." The following passage describes how Emi views her chosen profession:

This is what I love about production design. The writers imagine the story, tell us where people are and what they do and say. The actors embody the characters, give them faces and voices. The directors and producers transform an idea into something real. But the art department, we do the rest. When you see their rooms and you discover that they love a certain band, or that they collect seashells or hang their clothes with equal space between each perfectly ironed shirt or have stacks of papers on their desks of a week's worth of dirty dishes in the sink and bra strewn over brass doorknobs - all of that is us.

You don't have to be in the entertainment business or pursuing a career in design or production to "get" Emi or the movies she makes; you just have to understand what tugs at her heart: creativity and creation, and details and inspiration, among other things. In the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

In her first novel, Hold Still, author Nina LaCour shared her strong, steady voice in a story about grief, told by a young woman whose her best friend took her own life. LaCour's second novel, The Disenchantments, which was just as strong as her first, lent that voice to a male protagonist. Her voice continues to ring true in Everything Leads to You, coming through characters who feel fully realized, with their talents and flaws shown side-by-side, without shame, without pretense. When characters are described and discussed, their personalities and intentions come through first and foremost, so when their races and ages and classes and sexualities are discussed, it's matter-of-fact and honest but not, as Cosima Niehaus from Orphan Black would say, the most important thing about them. People can be influenced by where they came from, or who they love, or how much money they have in their pockets, but what's more important is how they treat others, and how they move through life -- how they live.

I want to confess. I thought her story was comprised of scenes. I thought the tragedy could be glamorous and her grief could be undone by a sunnier future. I thought we could pinpoint dramatic events on a time line and call it life.

But I was wrong. There are no scenes in life, there are only minutes. And none are skipped over and they all lead to the next.


I connected to this story as an actress and as a writer (I'm a novelist, a playwright, and a screenwriter -- and good goodness, how I wish the screenplay in this book, Yes & Yes, was a real movie!) Most of all, I connected to this story as a person who likes to create things, who was born with passion and drive, the need to make things happen. I keep talking about this book, just as I keep talking about Nina's previous books, because all three of them are remarkable and solid and so very, very good. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you aren't already reading books by Nina LaCour, you should be.

Personal story: As luck would have it, the day I began reading this book, I booked a project. I brought the book with me to set, where I filmed a scene that challenged me in a wonderful way. Also, when a producer spotted the book with my things in the holding area, she immediately picked it up, read the back, and nodded in interest, then gently put the book back down. I was clearly in good company.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Book Review: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Booklist: Filmmakers in Fiction
Booklist: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Person
Booklist: Transition Times

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