Friday, May 8, 2020

Friday Fun Post: When Meeting a TBF Author...

Hi everyone! It's May already, and although TBF has been postponed, I'm hopeful that we'll all be able to meet our favorite authors sometime in the future. And so today's post will be about just that: meeting TBF authors. Whether you're volunteering or attending, meeting the authors is usually the highlight of the day, so here's some advice from my personal experience!

1. Be an author assistant! Volunteering at TBF is always so much fun, and even more so when you get your very own author for a day. I was an author assistant for Kim Savage in 2017 and Claire Legrand/Roshani Chokshi in 2018, and both years I had an amazing experience! I loved being able to chat with the authors before the day started and during breaks, and it made the whole "talking-with-authors-you-really-love" experience a lot less intimidating and a lot more free-flowing.

2. Don't be shy! And side note: talk with other readers! I've found that standing in line during the autographing session is a great opportunity to meet new people because you already have something in common with everyone else (and books are great discussion topics). Authors are also so down to earth, so don't be afraid to ask questions, take photos, and get your books or bookplates signed!

3. Let the authors know how much their book matters to you! Or how excited you are to read their upcoming works! I guarantee that it will make them smile, and it's also a great way to start a conversation and start asking all those burning questions you might have. I personally love to ask authors about their writing process and book journeys, what they wish they had known when they started writing, and any general advice they have for others.

And of course, have fun at TBF and enjoy the experience because it really is something special :)

This may be my last post, so I would just like to say that I've had so much fun blogging this year! I've read some amazing books so far and look forward to many more!

Best wishes,

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Book Review: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Hello everyone! I hope you have all been doing well. This week I'll be sharing Perfect by Ellen Hopkins.

Everyone has something, someone, somewhere else that they’d rather be. For four high-school seniors, their goals of perfection are just as different as the paths they take to get there.

Cara’s parents’ unrealistic expectations have already sent her twin brother Conner spiraling toward suicide. For her, perfect means rejecting their ideals to take a chance on a new kind of love. Kendra covets the perfect face and body—no matter what surgeries and drugs she needs to get there. To score his perfect home run—on the field and off—Sean will sacrifice more than he can ever win back. And Andre realizes that to follow his heart and achieve his perfect performance, he’ll be living a life his ancestors would never understand.

Everyone wants to be perfect, but when perfection loses its meaning, how far will you go? What would you give up to be perfect?

I'm a physical-book type of reader, but like many of us I suspect, I've been shifting increasingly toward e-books during this time, and even more recently, toward audiobooks. While I've never been an avid audiobook listener, I decided this week to try listening to Perfect, as it was the only format I had available. As I soon discovered, Perfect is the perfect book to listen to (haha).

Ellen Hopkins has a distinctive verse style, and there is a rhythm to her writing that made me feel at times that I was listening to spoken word poetry, not just recited lines. Each chapter was like a mini podcast episode in each of the characters' lives, and I truly felt like I was inside their minds, listening to their inner monologues, hearing their words as they were meant to be imparted. I’ve read other Ellen Hopkins’ novels before, but listening added a whole new dimension to the story and a newfound appreciation for the structure of her writing.

Onto the actual plot of the story: Perfect provides windows into the interconnected and messy lives of Cara, Kendra, Sean, and Andre--four ordinary yet intricate individuals. The unglamorized description of their teenage experiences--fractured families, distorted body images, complicated relationships, obstacles in expressing love and identity, tragedies, and manipulation--share struggles so often glossed over in YA fiction. Each chapter is spent in the mind of one of the four protagonists, and for that time at least, you understand on some level their motivations, rationale, and desires, whether they be right or wrong. Their experiences are certainly not universal, but there is something inextricably real about their lives, something about their imperfections that makes them relatable nevertheless.

I really enjoyed listening to Perfect, and it was the reality and humanness of the characters that made this novel stand out to me. I would highly recommend it to fans of books like Dig (A.S. King) and Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson). One last note: Perfect is the companion novel of Impulse, and while I have not read the latter, Perfect seems to stand on its own.

Happy reading!

Find Perfect in the Monroe County Library System (Overdrive here), Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Giddyup for a Great Read

Hello everyone! I hope that you are all staying safe in this difficult time. There really is no better time to escape into the pages of a book if you are longing to leave your house... no need to social distance from your favorite book character! Luckily, I have just the suggestions for you if you are looking for a great read.
Ghetto Cowboy by [G. Neri, Jesse Joshua Watson]
Picture courtesy of
Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri  and illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, has everything that you could possibly want in a book. A strong and cheeky protagonist? Check. A budding father-son relationship that you will always root for? Check. A wise old man always willing to provide food? Check. A bunch of horses? You bet. Neri's tale has got something special with its narrator. Cole is strong willed, with just enough sass to breath life into his character. You root for Cole as he navigates a difficult situation and attempts to form a relationship with a parent that he never knew. The twelve year old boy, with all of the triumph and the flaws, slowly learning and maturing to wisdom beyond his years is wonderful to trace.
The setting of a horse farm in the city is unexpected, with the flare of wild west welcome in an urban area. Neri breaths life into the scene, painting a masterful picture of a stable in a city and horses in the streets. Of course, Neri doesn't have to rely solely on his words to paint a picture. There are absolutely gorgeous illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, which are a special treat to look at and bring the story to life. Personally, my favorite is the one where Cole is meeting the horse for the first time.
Neri also provided valuable social commentary in his work, using the book to show the difficulties faced by a young boy growing up with a single, working parent. Cole faces adversity with grace and grows through the opportunities provided to him.
I cannot recommend Ghetto Cowboy highly enough. It is filled to the brim and overflowing with heart. If you are looking for a book the will use words to utterly transport you and provide you with amazing characters, look no further. In fact, here is a handy amazon link if you want to go out and buy it right now (because, dear reader, have I every led you astray?).
Stay safe everyone and take some time to read a good book as you wait for summer weather and an end to quarantine.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday Fun Post: A TBF Book Close to My Heart

Hello everyone! I love the topic of today's post, because I could really go on and on about the books that have made a significant impact on my life, especially growing up.

The books that have shaped me fundamentally are very distinct in my mind from the rest. They have a special place in my heart as well as my bookshelf, and also a special title--I refer to them as the "books of my childhood" (a little dramatic but they truly are). These were the books that I owned when I started to love reading in second and third grade, the ones that made me fall in love with reading even more. These were the books I read and reread so much that they are imprinted in my mind today, and to me, they have immeasurable value.

If I had to award the title of "The Book of my Childhood," it would honestly be a tie. But one of the victors would be Song of the Wanderer (Book Two of The Unicorn Chronicles) by Bruce Coville, a TBF alum (and if you're wondering, the other is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, another fine novel).

(As a slight aside, you might be wondering: Why Book Two? To answer, I had an interesting habit when I was younger of reading book series out of order, and The Unicorn Chronicles was one of them. If you're starting this series today, Book One is Into the Land of the Unicorns.)

I remember being completely captivated by Song of the Wanderer--it was one of the first proper fantasy novels I ever read, and the rich descriptions of magic, mythical creatures, and adventures created a world I longed to be a part of. I still remember bits and pieces of the plot, but more than that, the novel evokes a strong sense of nostalgia and memories of that time. Looking at the creased cover, I remember sprawling on the basement floor, a slight chill in the air, opening to the first chapter where Cara meets with the Queen. Flipping through the now delicate pages, I remember carrying it with me everywhere I went--at home, at school--and the day the first page of the table of contents flew out after being worn through many, many page turns.

I loved Song of the Wanderer so much, I went to the Children's Book Festival sometime afterward to meet Bruce Coville myself. I remember stopping him awkwardly as he passed in the hallway, but he took the time to sign my copy and take a photo with me. "Follow the unicorn path!" he wrote, and I certainly hope I have.

This all occurred eight or nine years ago, but Song of the Wanderer still has great personal significance. Like my other "books of my childhood," I will never forget it, as I firmly believe it is imprinted somewhere in the fabric of who I am. These novels sparked my love of reading and writing, and that is truly fundamental to my identity.


Friday, April 10, 2020

TBF Book that Holds My Heart

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)
Book cover courtesy of Goodreads
Hi TBF readers! I hope that you are all staying healthy and reading some fantastic books! I have a suggestion that is particularly close to my heart today. 
    I have been going to Teen Book Fest for years now. Unfortunately, I had not read this author’s books when he attended in both 2014 and 2015 (I am still crying over this). It took me a couple of years after to read Neal Shusterman’s incredible work. The book that I keep coming back to, years after I read it is Shusterman’s Scythe, which I will forever assert to be one of the most creative and all around incredible books that I have read. The concept itself is chilling and fascinating. A society where death has been conquered but there is a group employed in controlling the population by taking life. A society ruled by a computer and controlled by a computer. The world building is phenomenal and Shusterman has this fantastic grasp on human psychology so he is able to sell this horrifying idea as realistic. The characters that Shusterman creates are neither sinners nor saints, but incredibly vibrant, sympathetic, and three dimensional. 
    I think that Shusterman’s story was one of the things that prompted me to become interested in psychology and philosophy, philosophy being one of my intended majors in college. It asked questions about what it meant to be human, what it meant to be alive, and what it meant to struggle with ethical questions. Citra and Rowan did not come up with perfect answers. Neither did Scythe Faraday. They all had different approaches, different ideas of right and wrong, different things that they placed importance on that colored their decisions. The third book of the trilogy was recently published and I loved that Shusterman did not decide to conduct an easy ending, where everything falls into place perfectly. Shusterman has never failed to make this incredibly alien world have a toll of truth. One of the more powerful treasures of this book is this: “My greatest wish for humanity is not for peace or comfort or joy. It is that we all still die a little inside every time we witness the death of another. For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There’s no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that.” These are the types of questions that Shusterman struggles with. In a world where death has been conquered, what makes these people human? In a world where killing is a venerated profession, how can a sense of morality remain in society? 
    Shusterman’s story has never failed to make me think, question, consider. It is my favorite thing about his writing. I love that he forces the reader to grapple with these questions of life. Shusterman doesn’t offer easy answers, but he does ask fascinating questions. I think that the questions of human society and dilemmas of life and death perhaps are resonating even more during this pandemic. Because, despite all of the horror that Shusterman invented in society, he always gave a message of hope: “Hope in the shadow of fear is the world's most powerful motivator.” The powerful message of hope in the stories of Shusterman make them so compelling. This book series has been absolutely life changing for me and was one of experiences that helped me to realize my love of philosophy and psychology. 
    TBF authors are all incredible! Neal Shusterman has had a special impact on my life, and it is so amazing that he was in Rochester just five short years ago. I only hope that he decided to return to TBF sometime in the near future and I will get a chance to meet him in person.
    Stay safe and healthy in this trying time! Read a couple of wonderful TBF books and take heart-- just as story heroes and heroines are able to get through anything, as a society, we will get through this and TBF will eventually happen!
    Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Book Review: Saving Marty by Paul Griffin

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well. Although I've been home for the past few weeks, I've definitely taken advantage of Overdrive to read some amazing books lately. This week, I will be sharing with you Saving Marty by Paul Griffin.

Eleven-year-old Lorenzo Ventura knows heroes are rare--like his father, who died in the war, or his friend Paloma Lee, who fearlessly pursues her dream of being a famous musician. Renzo would never describe himself as a hero, but his chance comes when he adopts Marty, a runt piglet.

Marty is extraordinary--he thinks he's a dog and acts like one too--and his bond with Renzo is truly one of a kind. At first, the family farm seems like the perfect home for Marty, but as he approaches 350 pounds, it becomes harder for Renzo to convince his mom that a giant pig makes a good pet. So when Marty causes a dangerous (and expensive) accident, Renzo knows Marty's time is up. He'd do anything and everything for his best friend, but will everything be enough to save Marty?

Paul Griffin masterfully melds the heartrending and the hopeful in this unforgettable story about the power of friendship . . . and the unsung heroes all around us.

Reading Saving Marty (and also Greenglass House from my last review) reminded me what I've always loved about middle-grade novels--how the complexity of life is portrayed through relative simplicity. The plotline, characters, and writing are easy to follow, but the world they collectively create and the messages they impart are full of meaning. The friendship between Lorenzo and Marty, the lovable housepig, is central to the story, and Marty's presence helps Lorenzo work through obstacles in his life, specifically, trying to understand a father that he never knew. 

I especially love the characters--Lorenzo, Lorenzo's mom, Double Pop, Paloma, and of course, Marty--who each possess distinctive personalities, as well as the dynamic among them as they experience triumphs and hardships together. All of the secondary characters are multidimensional as well--there are no archetypes; each person, whether overall "good" or "bad," has a heart, and motivations behind their actions that bring humanity into their characters. 

I also love the role of music in this novel as something that ties Paloma and Lorenzo together and also provides Lorenzo a link to his father, and there are pages of sheet music shattered throughout the novel of the songs they play. All of these elements create a story that is more than just the friendship between a boy and his pig, but a larger series of events and personal growth catalyzed by Marty's presence as Lorenzo learns lessons about acceptance, heroism, and selflessness. Life is imperfect and endings can be bittersweet, and Saving Marty portrays all of these ups and downs. 


Find Saving Marty in the Monroe County Library System (Overdrive here), Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Your Next Favorite Social Distancing Read

Hi everyone! 

It's been a crazy past couple of weeks in Rochester and around the globe. Social distancing and staying home has become the theme of the month. Libraries have closed (truly a terrifying development). It is in times like this that we all need a good book to transport us to another world for a couple of hours. Well, I've got the perfect suggestion of a book that accomplishes just that.

Book jacket summary: 
"Will the princess save the beast?

For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?

His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can't shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…

As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending."

Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta’s Academy Book 1) by [Menon, Sandhya]
Cover courtesy of Amazon
Of Curses and Kisses, by Sandhya Menon (the brilliant author of When Dimple Met Rishi) is exactly the sort of comforting book that we've been craving right now. It evokes the sensation of being wrapped in a warm blanket and offers a portal into another world, full of romance and mystery. If you are a student missing being in school, this is the perfect story set at a boarding school to give you the vicarious learning experience. Although, this school has archery taught by an Olympic athlete and is populated by students from the nobility, so it's not quite the run of the mill high school experience. 

In all seriousness though, this book is so much fun to read. Princess Jaya is a strong willed, clever, and determined female protagonist. Menon makes her incredibly three dimensional, as she struggles with her own desires and the rules that her family has laid out for her. Grey is an absolute delight of a character, taciturn and morose, but with the perfect amount of gruff kindness. You really just want to give him a hug. The dynamic between Jaya and Grey is fantastic, with Jaya's plot to make Grey fall in love with her transforming into a genuine spark. You know what they say about best laid plans... 

The secondary cast of characters is just as strong, with Daphne Elizabeth in particular standing out as someone that you just really would want to be friends with. Menon's plot is fresh and inspired, a unique take on a classic fairy tale. I can assure you, you've never heard a beauty and the beast story like this before. The importance of myth as an old curse plays out is intriguing: you really want to know how the curse can finally be broken. If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice, you'd like Of Curses and Kisses, as Jaya has Elizabeth Bennet's indomitable spark and Grey is quite like the standoffish Mr. Darcy. Their love story unfolds, shaken by past assumptions and a family rivalry, but it is something that you can't help but root for.

I would highly suggest that you get this book immediately and dedicate a couple of at home hours to it. This books is guaranteed to make you smile in these trying times. In fact, here's the link to Amazon if you want to buy it now:

Also, check out if Overdrive has it if you wanted to read an excerpt before you decide that you need a forever copy. 

Stay healthy and stay cheery: reading books is the best cure for social distancing blues.