Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter Solstice on Popham Beach

As the days fade to sunrise by sunset,

Colors glow in russet hues.

We choose to walk in empty spaces,

Where islands float in solitude,

Embering the lingering rays,

That wash dunes flat and grey.

But in the final moment,

The sun defies the solstice,

Painting winter in gaudy tones,

And reflecting infinite sky in endless sea.

Then into blackness, another year goes.

Festive Holidays and Happy New Year! 
I'll be offline next week.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Best YA Books of 2012 & One Favorite Book for Adults

Happy 12/12/12...I should have posted at noon!

A book makes the best holiday gifts if well matched to the reader. Buying for teenagers can be especially challenging. Luckily for the perplexed parents out there, I read a lot of young adult (YA) fiction since that is what I write. My gift suggestions aren't kids' books but complex, literary novels featuring teens making the transition to adulthood. These books would crossover well to an adult audience as well. I've thrown in one adult title, which would be appropriate for teens too. All the books were published in 2012. To read my full reviews, click on the title links.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein was the best book I read this year. Set in Nazi occupied France, this historical novel might be better suited for adults. What makes it YA is the age of the protagonists: the captured Scottish spy and her English pilot are both 18-year-old girls. The novel focuses on their friendship and their bravery. This is a book I will read a second time and pass onto my 15-year-old daughter when she's a bit older. My British husband loved it too.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green is a tragic romance between two teenagers with cancer, but it made me laugh as much as it made me cry. Green is the only YA author that my 18-year-old son still reads (his Hanukkah request was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace in adult literary fiction). Green's YA novel was also recommended by AARP for retired people. Both Green's and Wein's books made the best 2012 YA list in The New York Times.

If you're looking for a lighter story, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith was my favorite contemporary YA romance. An American teenager is seated beside a British Yale student on a flight to London. Their whimsical love story spans 24 jet lagged hours. My daughter enjoyed it too. A similar American-in-London romance is Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill.

Small Damages by Beth Kephart also transports the reader to a new world. A teenaged American girl is sent to Seville, Spain to face the consequences of an accidental pregnancy. This book has a marvelous sense of place with gorgeous, literary writing. It's a quiet, sunlit story meant to be savored.

In The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Pérez, a teenaged boy faces the consequences of  gang warfare. Violence, drugs and swearing make this book best suited to a mature audience. Nothing is gratuitous and this original novel delivers a strong moral message without sounding preachy. It would make a terrific gift for a teenaged boy.

As a teenager, one of my favorite authors was Barbara Kingsolver. Now she's my daughter's favorite adult author. Flight Behavior focuses on climate change, Monarch butterflies and a young woman's journey to finding herself. It was the best book for adults that I read this year and would be appropriate for young teen readers too. My mother, another Kingsolver fan, loved it as well.

Reviewer's Disclaimer: I received free ARCs of Small Damages, The Knife and the Butterfly and Flight Behavior for review purposes. I bought the other books myself. Beth Kephart and Ashley Hope Pérez are blog buddies.

Blog Watch authors: Keri Mikulski writes sporty romances for younger teens. Ellen Booraem writes middle grade fantasy. Alyssa Goodnight writes romantic fantasy for women. Barrie Summy, host of our blogger book review club, writes middle grade mysteries. David Cranmer edits, writes and publishes pulp fiction. Elizabeth Wix has self-published several novels for readers of varying ages. Pamela has self-published a lovely bound edition of essays from her blog, From the House of Edward; my aunt and uncle will get a copy for Christmas. What a talented group!

More Best 2012 YA Book Lists:
Kirkus Reviews
The Atlantic Wire
Good Reads

From the house of two religions: Happy Hanukkah!

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 What was the best book you read this year?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill: review and interview

Julia's dream visit to London had not included being partnered with her arch nemesis. Popular Jason will do anything for a laugh, especially at straight-A Julia's expense. When Jason accepts an invitation to a stranger's party, she feels compelled to go with her partner. Too hungover to enjoy sightseeing the next day, Julia regrets her choice. She gets a flirty text from Chris and can't even remember who he was. Jason offers to help her track down the mysterious British texter if she'll write his class papers. The two embark on a wild-text chase that leads them from a graffiti art skateboard park and to other quirky places.

The Cranley Hotel, London by Sarah Laurence
Meant to Be is Lauren Morrill's first novel, but she writes like a seasoned pro. She gets how teens act and talk today and knows what will appeal to her target audience. Her descriptions of London are spot on if a bit touristy, but that is appropriate for this story. Meant to Be is teen tour England. American girls will adore it. With its fun setting, snappy dialogue and slapstick humor, the book would translate well to the movie screen.

If there were an award for best use of cell phones in a novel, Meant to Be would win a trophy. Modern technology is a big problem for storytellers. Cell phones allow characters to connect too easily and texting can disrupt the narrative flow. This debut author cleverly exploits mobile phones to her narrative advantage. Every chapter starts with a text that drives the action. This was a smart editorial choice because readers will want to scroll back through those texts after reaching the final page. I can't explain why without a spoiler, but the ending is both hilarious and satisfying.

Lauren's musical inspiration: The Beatles
Fans of Anna and the French Kiss and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight will enjoy Meant to Be as well. Although there is sexually crude humor and teen drinking, there are consequences and the central romance is quite tame. I'd recommend this book for girls aged 12 and up. Their moms might enjoy it too. My British American daughter is looking forward to reading it over vacation.

My Interview of Lauren Morrill

Photo of Lauren by Steven Folkins

Lauren as a high school senior on a trip to Park City, Utah
Sarah: Why did you choose to write for teens? 

Lauren: I've always heard that you should write the book you want to read, and I have always loved reading YA. All of my favorite books are young adult, and so when it came time to start working on my own novel, YA is what came pouring out. I think my inner voice is permanently sixteen years old. 

What inspired you to write Meant to Be

I love romance and comedy, so when I started working on Meant to Be I knew that those elements would be a huge part of the plot. The book draws a little on Cyrano de Bergerac, one of my favorite classics, so that was also a big inspiration.

 Since you were living in Boston, how did you research the U.K. setting?

Believe it or not, I've actually never been to London! I did a lot of internet research, including making some really intricate Google Maps to keep track of scenes and characters. Thank god for Google street view!

Good job on the online research! I’ve lived in London for two years, and you introduced me to new places. Did you make up offbeat locations or are they real places? 

All the locations are real places. Some of them have been renamed just for fiction purposes, but every restaurant, every hotel, every shop actually exists in some corner of London or another!

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben by Sarah Laurence 2008
Was the mobile phone plot device there from the beginning?

Yep, Meant to Be was always meant to be (hey, see what I did there?) a comedy of errors full of misdirection and missed connection based off the phone issue. With everyone so connected to to their devices, it seemed inevitable.

Who are some of your favorite young adult authors?

I love Sarah Dessen, Megan McCafferty, Stephanie Perkins, John Green ... oh man, I could go on and on. I love YA contemporaries in general, and romance and comedy specifically.

What is the best writing advice you received?

Lauren as a teen rock climber
Don't build any habits regarding where you write or what you need to write. Teach yourself to write anywhere under any circumstances, so that no matter where you are or what's happening around you, you can work on your novel.

 That's sound advice. Can you tell us about your next novel? 

My next novel is called Being Sloane Jacobs, and it's another contemporary comedy. It's told in dual perspectives, and I'm pitching it as The Parent Trap meets The Cutting Edge. It'll be out January 7, 2014.

Thanks, Lauren, I'm looking forward to reading more of you books!

Reviewer's Disclaimer: I bought the ebook on its November 13th release day and received no compensation. Beware of puns such as: "meant to be or not meant to be."

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