The Feminist YA Book You Need RIGHT NOW

Do you need a feminist book in your life right now?
Do you want a book that is both hilarious and powerful?
Do you want a book about a girl who doesn’t take “no” for an answer?
Do you want a book about a girl who takes on the patriarchy?
Do you want a book about a girl who is as clever as Hermione, but can prank like Fred and George?

This is the book that women all over the country need right now.
I need it right now. I plan to re-read it promptly.
Because I so desperately need a laugh, but I also want to feel empowered.

Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksTitle: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart

Summary from Goodreads: 
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

Who would be interested in doing a read-along of this book? Live discussion? Yes?!
I am thinking the two weeks leading up to Election Day.
Who’s in?? Comment below if you’re interested!

How I’m Resolving to Read More Books

BookshelfI used to read closer to 70 books a year, but it’s been well over 5 years since I’ve achieved my goal of 50 in the Goodreads challenge. It’s frustrating because reading is my favorite hobby. Some of my best memories are devouring books in the summertime whether under the hot sun on a beach towel or lounging on an air-conditioned couch.

I spent some time reflecting on what had changed between now and 5 years ago to result in such a decrease in the number of books I read in a year.

  • I cook more now. I used to eat a lot of microwave meals, and now I cook from scratch most nights. Much healthier, but time consuming.
  • Five years ago, I used my Kindle a lot. It was new and I enjoyed reading on it. I have since stopped using Kindle, and read more paper books. I do have a Kobo eReader that I use now, though less often.
  • I was single. In the evenings, I entertained myself rather than spend time with another person. But my boyfriend is pretty great, and I like spending time with him 🙂
  • My commute was only 10 minutes rather than 35-60 minutes, giving me more time for hobbies.
  • Social media was a less constant presence in my life. I looked up when the Facebook App for iPhone was introduced–2010-2012. The last year I completed my Goodreads goal: 2011. Coincidence?

If I’m going to reach my goal of 50 books, some things will have to change. But there are things I’m willing to change, and things I’m not. Here are the ways I plan to read more this year:

Always have a book with me and use even short periods of time to read. My Kobo eReader will come in handy here. It is small, light, and easy to carry with me. Instead of pulling out my phone while I wait in the checkout line, I’ll pull out a book. On my lunch break, instead of checking Facebook, I’ll read a chapter. When I’m waiting for a pot of water to boil, I can knock out a few pages.

Utilize library apps, especially for free audiobooks. Audiobooks are pricey. But they could be the biggest advantage I have in reaching my goal this year. I started listening to more audiobooks last year during my longer commute. And audiobooks totaled about a third of my finished books last year. My two favorite library apps are:

  • Libby (by Overdrive): This app has the biggest selection of books, including popular titles. But there is often a waitlist for the books I want, which can be frustrating.
  • Hoopla: With this app, I get 10 borrows per month. I mostly use my allotted 10 for audiobooks, but they also have eBooks, movies, TV shows, music, and comics. The selection isn’t as wide as Libby, but I can usually find something to listen to while I am waitlisted for another title on Libby.

Restrict social media use: This is the hard one. The best method I’ve found for restricting my social media use is to not have my phone within reach. If I plug my phone in upstairs, I’m unlikely to check it while I’m down in my office. Using social media once or twice a day (morning and/or evening) will be my goal. An hour of social media scrolling is beginning to feel like binging a whole pint of ice cream. Fun in the moment, but I feel kind of gross afterwards. I feel more at peace, healthier, when I use it less. And reading a good book is the best use of my time!

Set concrete goals: Using Goodreads, I analyzed some of my reading numbers. I want to set a daily page goal–something to achieve daily. I read 9,673 pages for a total of 24 books in 2017. If I want to double my goal, I should double my pages. If I divide 9,673 by 365 days a year. I was reading 26 pages a day. Doubling that–I should be reading 52 pages a day. That’s my concrete goal. It also allows me to calculate deadlines for when I should have books read by with a daily page goal in mind. I’m using an online calendar (Asana) as well as a reading planner (from my December OwlCrate) to keep track of my reading goals.

Are you resolving to read more? How are you planning to achieve your reading goals this year?

Books as Windows and Mirrors

Windows MirrorsA friend of mine introduced me to the idea of books as windows and mirrors. She introduces the idea to her students at the beginning of the school year as a way of discussing book selection.

A book that serves as a mirror is one that we see ourself in. These kinds of books can help us get a better understanding of who we are, what we value, and how we navigate the world.

For me, a mirror book would be about a white girl who loves books and words. A recent read that was a mirror book for me was A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. While reading that book, I posted something about how the book was “speaking to my heart” because the main character resonated so powerfully with how I see the world.

A book that is window allows you to view a world outside your own. These books are the kind that let you step into another person’s shoes, however briefly, and see the world as they see it. These books promote empathy and understanding for people and situations outside our own experience.

For me, a recent window book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book allowed me to see and understand the world from a black teen’s perspective. The book gave me empathy and understanding for all that a black teen might be dealing with, from code-switching, to police brutality, to interracial relationships, and more.

As you set reading goals for the new year, I encourage you to think of books as windows and mirrors. We need mirror books to become more self-aware and understand ourselves.

But we also need window books. Oh boy, do we need window books. We need to push ourselves to better understand other perspectives. With the understanding and empathy that window books provide, perhaps we can create a world with more love, more peace, and more kindness.

And if you want to watch a great video on the power of reading and empathy, check out this gem from the channel Just Write:

My Year in Books 2017

My Year in Books 2017

Overall, I wish I’d read more books and hit my goal of 50. I tended towards lengthy books this year and tackled several series, which definitely slowed me down. Audiobooks were a little over a third of my reading.

Goals for 2018: Decrease social media use. Set weekly reading goals. Read 3-4 books a month. I’m going to keep my overall goal at 50 books, despite not reaching it this year. I know it’s an achievable goal for me, especially now that I’m more savvy at checking out free audiobooks from the library via Hoopla and Libby (by Overdrive).

How was your 2017 in books? What are you pleased with? What do you want to change in 2018?

Behind the Story: Writer’s Block

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!
This week’s topic:
Writer’s Block

I’m going to surprise a few people with my opinion, but…

I don’t believe writer’s block exists.

I don’t believe there’s any mystical force that takes hold of your brain and prevents you from churning out words.

I don’t believe in muses or creative juices running dry.

Instead, I believe there can be things you’re not doing as a writer that inhibit your ability to create.  But I think this inability to create is self-inflicted and can also be self-cured.  Below are reasons I’ve identified for why writers find themselves unable to write:

1. Exhaustion or Poor Health

Even if you’re just sitting at a desk, writing takes energy.  Your brain has to be rested and fully-charged in order to take part in the creative process.  If you’re not taking care of yourself, then your ability to create can be affected.

Are you getting enough sleep?  Are you drinking enough water?  (Your brain is 80% water and dehydration can cause headaches and sluggishness.)  Are you exercising and getting fresh air?

I understand that sometimes taking care of yourself can fall to the back-burner when you have a full-time job or deadlines to meet, but taking care of your health is important.  I’m not perfect in this area either.  I definitely stay up too late, much too often.  But I’ve also noticed that I do my best writing when I’m rested and healthy.

2. Lack of Brainstorming, Planning, Outlining

I don’t know why writers think they can always sit down at a computer and words will magically flow out of them.  That the story and the characters will mystically take control.

Of course, I’ve been writing and had a scene surprise me, or a character behave differently from what I’ve planned.  But you can’t rely on your subconscious brain to tell the whole story.  The story is coming out of your brain.  Therefore, if your brain has neglected to think about where the story is going to go next, then of course you’re going to get stuck.

Sometimes you have to sit down and think about what’s coming next in your novel.  When I get stuck, I make lists.  I make lists of conflicts or bad things that could happen.  I make lists of things my character still needs to learn before the end of the book.  I make lists of what I know still needs to happen before the climax.  Always, before I’m even done with my list, I get unstuck and know what I want to write next.

Brainstorming, people.  It’s awesome.  I make my middle schoolers do it.  You should, too.

3. Lack of Research/Too Much Research

I kept research separate from brainstorming because I think it’s an entirely different beast.  I’ve seen writers get burned on both ends by this one.

Research can help get your creative juices flowing, whether it can inspire a setting or give you ideas of conflicts your protagonist might encounter.  If you aren’t doing any sort of research, then you’re limiting yourself.  You’re limiting your writing to your own experiences.  There are countless times where a little research has gotten me unstuck creatively.

However, at the same time, some people end up doing a whole lot of research and very little writing.  You have to limit yourself in your research.  I like to come up with a set list of questions that I need to answer, and if I catch myself straying too far in my research, I can easily get myself back on track as well as know when I’m done looking stuff up.  I also try to not research when I’m in the middle of a writing session because it will interrupt my groove.  I’ve taken to leaving comments/notes to myself in my story of things I need to look up when I’m done, rather than pause to search the internet.

4. Laziness and Lack of Self-Motivation

“I don’t feel like writing today.  I’m not in a creative mood.”  Sound like a writer you know?

I love writing.  If I could do it full-time, I’d be the happiest girl in the world.  However, are there days that I don’t feel like writing?  Of course.  Are there days where I’d rather watch a Downton Abbey marathon or curl up with a book I’ve been dying to read?  Yes.  Writing is still hard work, and sometimes I just want to relax.

However, I make my butt get in the chair, even when I don’t want to, and I write.  Usually the first twenty minutes are rough.  But after I’ve gotten down a couple hundred words, I will usually make it to a full hour and maybe even a thousand words.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write more often than just “when the mood strikes you.”  And there’s seriously no better feeling as a writer than to sit down thinking “you’re not in the mood” and then to crank out a scene that you LOVE.

If you struggle with motivation, there are several things you can do.  You can set up a reward system for yourself.  I love buying myself a bouquet of flowers for my desk when I’ve met my word count goal for the week.  You can set up a calendar and give yourself a sticker for every day that you sit down to write.  You can allow yourself a favorite warm beverage or piece of candy… but only if you’re writing.

Some people work better by limiting something until they are done or rewarding themselves with activities.  For example, I’m not allowed to go to this website until I have this many words.  Or I can’t watch this TV episode until I finish this scene.

I also find that setting up a schedule to write at the same time each day, and then recording in my planner how much I accomplished is helpful.  I like routine and I like keeping track of my progress.  I’ll record my word counts for the day as well as time spent brainstorming or researching.  I’ve also recently started recording time spent blogging, in part to make sure I’m balanced in how much time I’m spending on writing vs. blogging.

I hope this post helped you in offering strategies for being successful as a writer, especially if you find yourself struggling in any of the above “blockages.”

What are your opinions on writer’s block?  Do you disagree with me?  Did you find any of my tips or self-cures helpful?

Let me know what other writing topics you would like to see on Behind the Story!

Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2013




Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.
Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2013

My goals are a mix of “personal bookish accomplishments” as well as how many books I want to read and where I want to purchase my books.

1. Finish novel and begin querying in Fall 2013.
I’m writing a steampunk novel for my Masters thesis.  It’s a retelling of a classic piece of literature, and I’m having a total blast writing it.  I’m setting aside the entire months of June and July for revisions (summer vacation from teaching), and August is my deadline for completion!  Wish me luck!

2. Graduate with my Masters in Children’s Literature.
Once I have my Masters in hand, my goal is to find a job in Children’s Publishing.  I would love to work with middle grade or YA in an editorial or marketing role.  I’m currently exploring different avenues and entry level positions.

3. Post at least one book review a week.
My schedule for January has me posting two to three book reviews a week because I’m trying to catch up from my hiatus.  Reviews are slated in my posting schedule for Mondays, occasional Wednesdays, and Saturdays.  I’d love to keep up a two a week schedule, but as it’s tough for me to READ two books a week (with teaching middle school and writing my thesis), I didn’t think that was a realistic goal for me to maintain.

4. Read 12 debut novels.
Last year was my first year attempting the Debut Author Challenge.  I purchased 12 debut novels… but didn’t get around to reading 12 debut novels.  This year I’m setting a goal to post a “Debut Review” on the last day of every month.  This is a way of setting a deadline for myself, and I work well with deadlines (even the self-imposed kind).

5. Read 3 Newbery books and 3 Printz books.
I took a graduate course in Newbery books as well as heard a guest speaker who served on the Newbery committee.  It gave me a real understanding and sense of honor for these awards.  I’m always excited to hear what books are awarded medals each year, and I want to continue reading Newbery and Printz award winners each year (not just when I’m taking a class!)  I also enjoy trying to figure out why this book was chosen/selected versus other books, and identifying the winner’s merits.  I’m a total nerd!

6. Read 7 steampunk novels.
I am likely going to be doing an independent study in the Spring on steampunk, and therefore know I will be reading a bunch of it.  I also want to read what is out there in terms of YA steampunk so as to place my own novel in context.  Is it similar to what’s already been published?  What does it have to offer that’s new?  I have some theories, but I really need to read more in order to prove my assumptions correct.  Some books on my list: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress, Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, and The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann.

7. Read 3-5 contemporary novels.
This is a genre that I’m slowly growing to enjoy.  This year I read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (review forthcoming).  All of which I enjoyed, despite not being an avid contemporary reader.  This year I will undoubtedly be reading Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen, and Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry.  I’ll be watching for a few more contemporary reads to add as well.

8. Read 3-5 historical fiction novels.
This is a genre that I used to love.  I totally grew up on the American Girl series. (Felicity was my favorite.) I’d love to renew my love of historical fiction because lately I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy and science fiction.  I’ve heard great things about Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly and Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson.  But I’ll gladly take recommendations of great historical fiction.

9. Do majority of eBook purchasing from indie booksellers through Kobo.
I’m a little upset by what I’ve read about Amazon’s business practices and their interactions with publishers, authors, and booksellers.  Despite loving my Kindle Touch, I want to shift my book purchasing to support independent booksellers.  I got an iPad for Christmas and downloaded the Kobo app.  Through Kobo, I can purchase eBooks from my favorite indie stores, like Browseabout Books in Rehoboth, Delaware or Politics and Prose in Washington D.C.  I want to purchase eBooks from the stores that offer me great book events, opportunities to meet my favorite authors, and a great shopping experience.

10. Start novel #2.
I’m not even done with book one, and I’m already thinking ahead to book two!  That’s partially because book two was started before I even began book one.  But then there was the “Dystopian Boom” and I realized I had to figure out a way to make my dystopian trilogy different from all the others being offered.  I had a unique premise, but I needed a different ending.  Most dystopians end with either the protagonist running away from the dystopian society or rebelling against the dystopian society.  I wanted an ending that would be neither of those.  And I found one!  A fantastic twist!  I can’t wait to return to this project when I finish my steampunk novel.

Whew!  Does anyone else feel like they need to print out all their goals and resolutions and post them on the walls to keep them in sight?  I have a lot I want to get done this year!

What are your Bookish Goals?

Movie Review: Brave

Brave
Disney / Pixar
Released: June 22, 2012
Rated PG

Summary:
Merida refuses to be wed off to one of three heirs to Scottish clans, and searches for a way to change her fate.

What I Loved:

The Animation
Pixar had to upgrade their software to handle Merida’s hair and the clothing details in the film.  Merida’s hair is pretty breathtaking.  I totally wanted to dye my hair red and get a perm. (Wonder if that will become a trend?)  The Scottish landscape, castle, and magical forest were beautiful to behold.  One reviewer claimed Brave’s animation “appears neither better nor worse than Madagascar 3 or The Lorax.” (link)  I disagree, and with a brother who specializes in 3D animation, I can see the difference in the level of detail, environment texture, use of light and shadows, and overall character design.  Brave is far superior in animation to films like Madagascar 3 or The Lorax and anyone who says otherwise clearly does not have a knowledge of the craft.

The Mother/Daughter Conflict
Merida is at battle with her mother over following traditions, accepting female gender roles, and submitting to an arranged marriage.  I thought this was a very organic conflict for the time period the film was set in, and yet still very poignant for today’s girls.  As a female in today’s world, I still experience conflict over how a female is expected to act and how to get what I want.  For example, I still feel like being sweet and compliant are traits expected from women, whereas confidence, assertiveness, and intelligence can get you labeled a cold b***h.  One male reviewer cites Brave had a “superficial girl-empowerment theme.” (link)  I take offense to that, and calling a movie that empowers women ‘superficial’ is sexist, especially when this is the first time Pixar has tackled women’s issues and what could be a risky move for them in a male-driven movie market.  I admired how Pixar handled the resolution to the conflict.  The mother represented traditional female values whereas Merida represented a more aggressive and assertive modern woman.  In the resolution, in order to break the spell cast on her mother, Merida had to use a blend of traditional and modern.  Merida had to sew a tapestry (domestic and traditional) as well as fight with arrow and sword (aggressive and modern).  I thought Pixar put a lot of thought into the women’s issues in the film and it gave the film a depth we haven’t seen in princess animated narratives.

The Humor
Our theater was wild with laughter from children to adults, girls to boys.  Parts of the movie were pretty scary and dramatic, so the humor was definitely necessary.  Most of the humor came from Merida’s brothers, the scheming and cake-loving triplets.  They were hilarious and adorable in their hijinks and mannerisms.  Another source of comedic relief were Merida’s suitors.  I particularly liked one suitor who spoke so incoherently that no one could understand him.  Merida’s mother also got several laughs from the audience, though I’ll refrain from giving away any plot spoilers.

The Celtic Mythology
The wisps, kilts, clans, bear lore, Scottish accents, tapestries, and other bits of Celtic culture gave this fairy tale a fresh feel.  It is a culture that hasn’t been explored in any recent animated feature films and was a welcome addition to the movie.

Word of Caution
The bears were quite scary and probably the reason that this animated feature has a PG rating instead of a G rating.

Overall Opinion
Brave was another outstanding movie from Pixar that I will be purchasing to go alongside my copies of Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Wall-E.  Merida’s journey of discovery is magical, exciting, funny, and heart-warming.  I highly recommend this movie to people of all ages, but especially mothers and daughters who will be touched by the story’s conflict.