Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks !

Conversations on diversity are happening all over the bookternet, but they all come down to one thing; we need more diverse books. The numbers in YA and kidlit are especially embarrassing, check out the numbers in this editorial from Walter Dean Meyers in the New York Times. Media does not exist in a vacuum and representation matters. And not just so readers can see themselves in books, but so readers can have experiences outside of their world view.

Which is why I'm glad YA author, Ellen Oh, has started the we need diverse books campaign.  The campaign rolls out in three phases which are listed here, but essential from May 1 -3 we  want to make #weneeddiveresebooks trend worldwide. I hope everyone who comes across the blog does something to participate, even if it's just using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks or reblogging a post on Tumblr.

Growing up as an avid reader I've always been aware of the lack of representation in novels. Yes, I love and relate to Sarah Dessen's books, but I also want to see books where black, Hispanic and Asian girls get to have romance or go on adventures. We deserve to be so much more than sardonic sidekicks, faint love interests, faithful best friends or tragic inner city youth.

 We need diverse books because our heroes and heroines come in all shades. 

At Books and Sensibility we are also challenging ourselves, last year 20 percent of our reviews featured books with POC as side or main characters, this year we want to get closer to 50 percent.  

To help open up the door and showcase some books you may not know feature diversity, I've compiled a short list of books we've either read or want to read. 

Books with Protagonist of Color / LGBTQ Protagonist

The Paranormal Romance: Living Violet by Jaime Reed

The Steamy New Adult Romance: The Space Between by Victoria H. Smith

The Epistolary Novel: Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper

The Literary YA Novel: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

The Contemporary / Tough Stuff YA: Love is The Higher Law by David Levithan
The Vintage YA: Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher 

Books Writtn by Authors of Color / LGBTQ Authors

What are some of your favorite books by authors of color or with protagonist of color ? Please share !

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Art of Secrets by James Klise

  • Release Date: April 22nd 2014
  • Genre: Contemporary / Mystery
  • Pages: 272 
  • Publisher: Algonquin For Young Readers

I first heard about The Art of Secrets in January and was instantly intrigued. I really like what Algonquin For Young Readers is doing in terms of diversity and narratives in YA . I've also been  into art books and non-traditional narratives so this was a perfect fit !

A fire, a painting and secrets are the fuel for The Art of Secrets. The novel opens with  a news clipping from The Chicago Tribune about Saba Kahn and her family coming home to find their apartment burned to the ground by an arsonist. The family is quickly showered with generosity from the parents at Saba's exclusive private school, there is even a charity auction set up. But when a piece of art at the auction is discovered to be worth half a million dollars it is stolen and now everyone is a suspect.

While there are some scenes written in lists, memos and articles it's mostly written in these second person monologues where a character is talking to a reporter or detective. The person the character is addressing doesn't interact, so you have sentences where a character asks a question and then answers it. Like they'll say something like, "Do I know her ? Well let me tell you..." While I like experimental narratives, this didn't work for me. It didn't leave any room for character quirks or subtitles. Slight nitpick; I got secondhand embarrassment every time the popular all American jock, Steve Davinski, referred to someone as dawg.

I did enjoy how this novel explored  outsider art, something I wasn't too familiar with. Outsider art is  art created by artist who are outside of the mainstream art culture. The outsider artist this book focuses on is Henry Drager who ,as I was reading, I didn't realize was a real person. As with most art books I was Googling at the end of the day to see what the works actually looked like. Drager has a  pretty interesting story, I wish the book would have developed this real-life figure more.

 The mystery element of this novel is fun because you get a lot of clues  so it's a challenge to see if you can solve who did it.  Sometimes I can guess how a book is going to end, and I had two suspects in mind, but I turned out to be totally wrong ! The mystery completely got me.

While the narrative style didn't work for me, The Art of Secrets has a mystery that will keep you flipping to  to discover whodunnit !

*Received for review from Algonquin for Young Readers

Monday, April 21, 2014

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

  • Release Date: June 11, 2013
  • Pages: 216
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

I honestly have no idea how to begin reviewing a book like Charm & Strange. The entire story is told through the often fuzzy lens of an unreliable narrator, so you never really know what is going on. However by the time I got to the end I was  impressed with this debut novel from Stephanie Kuehn. Charm & Strange has to be the most unique YA I've read in a long time, it challenges so many of the ideas of what a YA novel can be.

It's easier to discuss the set up of the book than the actual plot, because I think that is better left unsaid. This book is really two stories, each chapter alternates between 16-year-old Win Winters and 10-year-old Win the summer he stayed with his grandparents. What I find so unique about Charm & Strange is the set up and how it challenges the conventions of YA fiction. By most definitions YA tends to be very present oriented and about moving forward, but this book is very reflective. The protagonist is a child for most of the time and the plot is more concerned with decoding the past than preparing for the future.

According to the back of the book, Kuehn is studying to get a doctorate in clinical psychology, so the way she write about how the mind works  probably comes from a deeper academic understanding. I'm sure she  has a wealth of experience that informs her writing and I am going to definitely read her next novel to see what she was going to do next.

This novel does fall on the more mature side of the YA line, it has some fairly mature concepts and a couple more graphic description than I'm used to seeing in YA.

Charm & Strange may be short, but debut author Stephanie Kuehn delivers a one of a kind, eerie and cerebral read that will only make sense when you flip the last page.

Books & Sensibility is really making its way through the ampersand books between Laini Taylor's seriesEleanor & Park, Tumble & Fall and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bookshelf Redesign !

I've been wanting to share this post for a while !

If you've seen my Bookshelf-spration board on Pinterest you can tell I've been wanting to do a bookshelf overhaul. A while ago, I was gifted two of the Target Room Essential 5-shelf  bookcases (These go on sale for 29$ often !) and went to town.

I liked the old black bookcase, it was barely a year old, so instead of throwing it out completely I took off the top portion and pushed it in the corner for extra book storage. I also took down the floating bookcases.



Now, on to the new shelves....


For the new shelves I was inspired by make-up guru's Meghan Rosettee's Apartment tour video and decided to put the shelves around the TV and leave the bottom space for the printer.



It's been changed around a bit since I did this post. The white shelves really make the colorful spines pop ! I also like the flexibility of having some shelves purely decorative.

 Let us know, what do your shelves look like ? 

Monday, April 14, 2014

YA Author Group Tour at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA

This event was in January, so this post is super late, but better late than never ! 

It's been a while since I've been to an author event, so I was over the moon when I saw that three authors were coming through Richmond and making a stop at  Fountain Bookstore, our local indie. I've  been fortunate enough to to go to events in Washington, D.C, New York City and Virginia Beach, but I have to say  the Richmond ones the best. They typically tend to be smaller and more intimate and just more fun !

This time around the three authors visiting were Megan Shepherd, Stephanie Perkins and Victoria Schwab
All  of the authors played really well of each other and discussed the struggles of writing a sequel as well as some of the hurdles of  fighting controversy in YA literature. Here are some things I picked up on:

  • Megan Shepherd only intended for The Madman's Daughter to be a standalone, but her publishers asked for more.  
  • Stephanie Perkins had been writing Lola and The Boy Next Door for ten years and it was originally an adult novel. She also mentioned that her first novel, Anna and The French Kiss was a NaNoWriMo project.
  • Victoria Schwab wrote her first in a coffee shop  (unpublished) novel while she was in her senior year of studying design in college.
There was also some really good discussion among the authors about the definition of YA fiction and what makes a YA book about teenagers different than an adult novel about teenagers. 

The authors were so generous with their time (and swag) and I think I will definitely make  special effort to read all these books this year !

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Audiobook Review : Lexicon by Max Barry

  • Release Date: June 18th 2013
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Length: 12 hours 36 minutes 

At an exclusive training school at an undisclosed location outside Washington, D.C., students are taught to control minds, to wield words as weapons. The very best graduate as “poets” and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose. Recruited off the street, whip-smart Emily Ruff quickly learns the one key rule: never allow another person to truly know you. Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy, until she makes [a] catastrophic mistake 

In Lexicon A secret shadowy group known simply as the organization is comprised of Poets, people  trained in the art of persuasion  using the power of words. It's a seemingly simple idea that is eerie, thought provoking and more powerful than you can imagine.

Our protagonist is Emily Ruff,  a young, promising student at the organization. We also meet Wil Parke, a man whose is suddenly on the run when he becomes the central key to the future of the organization. These two completely different story lines converge in an ending to the death.

Wil's storyline  reads just like any classic chase thriller, after being kidnapped at the airport he goes from Virginia to Portland to Australia on the run from a renegade Poet. Accompanying Wil is Elliot, an unemotional and logical ex-Poet also on the run from the organization.

Lexicon features a lot of my favorite  storytelling techniques;  shifting point-of-views, non-linear narrative and  epistolary storytelling thrown in every now and then.

The plot and world building in this novel is smart and sleek. Because words are what Poets use to persuade people, there is a lot of discussion about how we perceive words in our daily lives. Most glaringly in new media.  Lexicon asks the questions ; do we form out own opinions or are we being persuaded without even realizing it?

I've heard a few mentions of  how this book is about " teens who learn the power of persuasion", but the book spends minimal time in the academy where the students are taught before they join the organization. These sections have the usual boarding school tropes, but I found these parts to be the least interesting.

At times the book did feature some clunky love scenes and glazed over plot points. I think it would have been interesting to get a whole book about each character, but I can see why some of it was left to the imagination.

The audiobook  has two narrators. Zach Appleman and Heather Corrigan. Appleman has an amazing voice, at first I thought his voice sounded to old but it really grew on me. I was shocked to find out that Zach Appleman is (quite young) and not Australian, his accent sounded so real to me.

Wish I could see the same for Heather Corrigan while I thought she was a great narrator for Emily's inner dialogue , her Australian accent left a lot to be desired.

While I enjoyed the audio book something tells me a book that deals with the power of words, probably reads better on page.  I gathered that a few pages were from forums and websites and I bet those looked better than they sound.

This story reinvents the idea of what magic is and what it means to amaze.
Lexicon is an intense, smart and thrilling read that starts with  high speed chase keeps moving to a blow out of an ending.

 I'm excited to dive into Barry's other novels.  I'm thinking Jennifer Government.

In a few places I've noticed that Wil's last name is said to be Jamieson,  but he's called Wil Parke in the audiobook I listened to...

Also you can take the Lexicon quiz which is more interesting after you read the book. I'm Virginia Woolf so. . . yeah.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

  • Release Date: January 28th 2014
  • Genre: YA Nonfiction / Memoir
  • Pages: 428
  • Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Synopsis: In full color and illustrated with art and photographs, this is a collection of the journals, fiction, letters, and sketches of the late Esther Grace Earl, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 16. Essays by family and friends help to tell Esther’s story along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green who dedicated his #1 bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to her.

This book debuted around the time I finished The Fault in Our Stars (I know... super late to the party) but I had no intention of  reading it. Then  I saw it on the shelf at the library and decided why not ? I had seen some of the Esther's videos on YouTube, visited her family's foundation website when she first passed, and I thought I knew most of  Esther Earl's story. 

Well, that turned out to be completely wrong.

 Esther Earl was an amazing girl, who was surrounded by an equally amazing and loving family and I'm so glad they were able to put this story together.

The book is pretty thick, but it's a relatively quick read. Esther Earl, who will be known by millions for being the girl John Green devoted TFiOS to, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age thirteen. This memoir is a mash up of Esther's diary entries (which she allowed her parents to read and potentially publish as she was an aspiring writer), letters she wrote to her parents for presents, YouTube video transcripts, updates from the family blog and personal essays  from Esther's family and friends.

The story these pieces tell is one of strength, but is also completely heartbreaking. Towards the end, Esther knows she won't have a long life and I can't imagine being so ready and prepared to deal with your own mortality. There is a diary entry where she talks about going with her family to pick her cemetery spot and I just got chills.

For obvious reasons, this book is an excellent companion to The Fault in Our Stars. Esther was a fan of John Green and they developed a friendship with him. Her experiences fostered some of the details in TFiOS, but Esther is in no way Hazel, despite sharing a middle name and similar diagnosis. One of the biggest differences between the TFIOS characters and Esther is her faith. Her father is a former pastor and Esther's strong belief seems to be what really powers her through. Esther is also one of five children and she deals with some guilt over monopolizing their parent's time and money. At one point her entire family was living off $300 a month.

From Boston Globe

A large chunk of this book has to do with Esther's involvement in Nerdfighteria, the fandom based around John and Hank Green's YouTube videos. Esther was in a prolific core of online friends known as Catitude. The internet gave her a place to choose whether or not she wanted to be identified by her disease. Her relationships with Catitude only grew and for her Make A Wish they were all flown out to Boston with John Green. While sitting in a hotel eating pizza isn't nearly as glamorous as flying to Amsterdam, it was a wish come true for Esther. John Green's forward in the book details this weekend and I really like his honesty. Green says he is still just really mad about Esther's death and by the time you finish this book you'll completely agree.

In a bigger picture scale, this book is evident of the power, importance, relevance of the kind of communities built around fandoms like The Harry Potter Alliance, The Vlog Brothers, Starkid and other YouTuber's. Esther involvement in these communities and other fandoms (she was a Whovian too!) is what allows her story to be told. Despite recent reports of abuse in the YouTube community, I think Esther's story proves the internet can be a place where people who feel isolated can make connections and teens who don't think they have a voice can find one. Many members of Catitude and HPA were present at her funeral and their essays detailing their online/IRL relationships are some of the best.

I will say, the only part of this book I  skimmed  was the very end where they put in some of the bits and pieces of draft fiction Esther had written. I thought that was a nice touch, but it felt jarring after reading her Dad give her eulogy.  

This Star Won't Go Out is a wonderful and creative memoir and an absolute must read for anyone who has read The Fault In Our Stars.

I love that the cover photo is a Dailybooth Selfie ! (Dailybooth...anyone remember Dailybooth ?)

Learn more and donate to The This Star Won't Go Out Foundation website, This foundation was created by Esther's family (Esther means star in Persian) and assists families in paying for cancer treatments. 


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