Monthly Archives: August 2013

Book Review: Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaughn

Just a heads up – I have to read 24 books for my YA Literature class. Expect a lot of book reviews between now and November.

 

Title: Big Fat Manifesto (GoodReads)
Author: Susan Vaughn
Page Count: 320
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Rating:

Goodreads Summary:
Jamie is a senior in high school and, like so many kids in that year, doing too much—including trying to change the world—and fighting for her rights as a very fat girl. And not quietly: she’s writing a column every week in the paper with her thoughts and fears and gripes. As her column raises all kinds of questions, so too, must she find her own private way in her world, with love popping up in an unexpected place, and satisfaction in her size losing ground to real frustration. Tapping into her own experience losing weight, her training as a psychotherapist, and the current fascination in the media for teens who are trying drastic weight-loss measures including surgery, Susan Vaught’s searing and hilarious prose will grip readers of all sizes, leaving them eager to hear more.

Opinion:
I was so excited when I read the article that this book opens with. I thought, Finally! A book about a fat girl who doesn’t apologize for her size and is actually perfectly happy being fat. Sadly, that’s not at all what this book is. From the opening chapter, it’s clear that Jamie doesn’t really believe what she writes about in her Fat Girl column, at least not completely. She doesn’t eat in public. She cries in the dressing room when she can’t wear a size 13 shirt. The more I read, the more annoyed I got that this book wasn’t what I thought it would be.

That’s not to say that it was bad. It was actually really realistic in some respects. I, too, have gotten really pissed off at the horrible treatment fat people receive while still feeling bad about myself because I’m so “overweight.” So I completely get where Jamie’s coming from. I understand her contradictions. They’re realistic and believable. But they’re not what I was expecting from this book, not after reading the first Fat Girl article.

There were other parts of the book that irritated me. The major thing that annoyed me was the portrayal of NoNo. NoNo’s a size 2 (or 4 or 6 depending on the store) and a vegan. She freaks out about every little thing. The dressing room scene early on was just a bit much for me. She clearly has some problems, and they mention her need to take pills. I liked her dedication, but I hated the way she was used as a joke all the time. I really hated the scene where her dinner consisted largely of plain lettuce and raisins. That’s the stereotypical vegan dinner, not the actual one. I mean, I know she’s at her friend’s house and thus has limited options, but Vaughn could have written her dinner to be anything. But no – she chooses to perpetuate the vegan stereotype. Because why write something realistic when you can keep using vegans as a punch line?

Something else that really annoyed me was her boyfriend Burke’s usual snack – four candy bars, split in half and eating in two bites per half. Jamie spends about $15 a week on chocolate bars for her boyfriend. Now, I’m not trying to say that fat people never eat too much candy (they do, as do skinny people), but COME ON. I’m so unbelievably sick of books and movies that show fat people who are always surrounded by candy that they have hidden all over the place and which they eat in large amounts all the time. That’s another one of those stereotypes that’s everywhere and which really pisses me off because I have never once seen that actually be true.

I actually think “really?” was the response I had the most while reading this book. I won’t list all the times that thought occurred to me, as I don’t like giving away anything that happens after the first few chapters, but trust me – I thought it a lot. At one point there’s talk about how dating a fat girl takes courage, something that really pissed me off. You have to be brave to date a fat person? Really? Not the sort of message I expected from a book like this – or at least the sort of book that I hoped this was. I mean, she mentions the National Association for the Advancement of Fat People in the opening article. How do you not expect great things after that?

That’s not to say that I hated this book, because I didn’t. Once I got over the fact that this wasn’t going to be the type of book I expected, I tried to change my expectations. This book brings up a lot of great topics, and it even made me think about some things in a different way. NoNo may not have been given the credibility or the attention I would have liked, but she was still given a little depth, which was nice. I liked most of the overall message, even if I feel like it should have been taken further.

Overall: If you go into this book expecting to read about a fat teenager who’s happy being fat, you’ll be disappointed. If you go into it expecting to read about a fat teenager who alternates between not caring that she’s fat and hating that she’s fat, you’ll probably be much better off. This book brought up a lot of interesting points, although Vaughn falls short of making this book as interesting as it could have been. The side characters were interesting but a bit undeveloped. I will definitely have a copy of this on my shelf when I’m an English teacher, although it will not come with the recommendation I originally thought it would.

7/10

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Possession – Excerpt and Giveaway!

I am super psyched and honored to be kicking off the blog tour for the book Possession by the amazing J. Elizabeth Hill.

For those of you who still haven’t read the first one, you can find it on GoodReads. You can also check out my review here.  Trust me – if you haven’t read this one, you’ll want to do so before September 10, when the second book comes out.

But today’s not about the first book in the series. It’s about the second book, which is even more awesome than the first book (although the first book is still awesome). Today I’m excited to share with you all an excerpt from the first chapter – as well as an awesome giveaway. I hope you’ll read the book description and excerpt. However, if you haven’t read the first book and want to remain spoiler-free, feel free to skip ahead to the end of the post, where you’ll find the link to the giveaway.

Possession

(Book 2 of the Mirrors of Bershan)

By J. Elizabeth Hill

 Possession-J Elizabeth Hill -ebooksm

 Book Description:

 “I never meant any of this, least of all for you to pay the price of my pride.” 

After binding themselves to each other through their magic, Faylanna Derrion and Tavis journey back to her ancestral home, Iondis, intent on restoring the estate to its former beauty. From the moment they arrive, they find the secret horrors of the place aren’t exhausted yet.

Faylanna finds an old journal of her father’s, one that shakes her understanding of her own past. Worse, Faylanna and Tavis are both nearly killed when attacked by one of the men set to guard the Ninth Mirror of Bershan, still residing at Iondis. In the aftermath, he disappears with the newly-found journal. Sure there is more to this event than they know, Faylanna and Tavis return to the capital, Rianza, for help.

More secrets await them there, ones kept for years by people Tavis never suspected. When the truth is revealed, it alters his present and future completely. Can he rise to the challenges this new fate presents him with or will the change be more than he can handle?

The truths each learn about themselves and those they thought they knew will test Faylanna and Tavis’ love for each other. Will they be able to endure the pain and chaos they face, or will it tear them apart?

Add Possession on GoodReads

Excerpt (from Chapter 1):

“Is it time to get ready, Mother?” he tried to keep his concern for her out of his voice.

“We’re not going with Faylanna and Keari.” Her voice was brittle as she spoke.

“Oh. But I thought Keari said all of us were expected.”

“Let it be, Tavis,” she said, an edge in her tone that he’d been hearing more with every day since they’d come back to Rianza.

“I’m sorry. I was just curious. I guess I figured that, with Faylanna and I- Well, I’ve never seen a palace.” He tried to keep his voice even. He wasn’t happy with the idea of Faylanna being so far from him, even for a short while. He’d told her that he would always protect her, but how could he do that from the house?

“That life isn’t for you, Tavis. It’s impossible for both of us,” she snapped.

He held his silence, carefully controlling his face while he let his temper cool instead of reacting to hers. She sat down next to him on the bench. When she spoke into the silence, he heard only contrition and was amazed that her temper could be extinguished as quickly and unexpectedly as it had flared. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“You’re ashamed of me.” It was the only reason he could think of, the only one that fit everything that had happened. He couldn’t look her in the eye, but went on before she could speak. “That’s why you never came back for me, even after you were here in Rianza. You’re ashamed of the peasant farmer you married and the child you had with him.”

She gasped, but he couldn’t make himself take the words back. Tavis didn’t think he was wrong. “No, never. Tavis, I wanted to. I missed you every day after I left. I wanted to go back, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t take you with me. I thought you understood that.”

The hurt in her voice mirrored his own feelings and made him doubt his conclusion, even though he couldn’t think of any other explanation. He looked up at her. “I don’t understand any of it. You’ve never explained anything, Mother. I love you, and I can understand why you left Father. I don’t blame you for that, but why did you leave me with him?”

“Tavis, you need to trust me in this. You can’t go to the palace, and you can’t see the Emperor. You can never be part of that world, any more than I can. I wish I could explain it to you, but there are reasons.” She put her arm around his shoulders and he suppressed the urge to shake her off. “I love you, my son. You were the one thing that kept me going during the years we were apart. I used to try to imagine how tall you were growing and I would remember your smile. Please, whatever you think of me for leaving, remember that I love you, that I left you there because of that.”

He wanted to be angry with her, for the love that hadn’t been enough, and for the way she seemed determined to keep him hidden. Yet he couldn’t, not matter how hard he tried. “I know. If I’m not going to the palace, then I think I’ll stay here in the garden and practice a little. I’m still having some trouble with water. I can’t seem to make it hold the shape I want.”

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About the Author

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Julie Elizabeth Hill exported herself to Vancouver, British Columbia after many years of staring longingly at the map following every snowfall. For as long as she can remember, she’s been making up stories, but it wasn’t until high school that someone suggested writing them down. Since then, she’s been hopelessly in love with story crafting, often forgetting about everything else in the process.

The first book in the Mirrors of Bershan trilogy, Bound, is available from the following places:

Amazon.com

KoboBooks

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

Contact:

Twitter – @jlizhill

Blog – http://jelizabethhill.wordpress.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/J-Elizabeth-Hill/345946002103430

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And now for the giveaway!

Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a chance to win free books?

(Especially free books that are well-written and entertaining and just all-around awesome.)

Just click on the link below for your chance to win signed paperback copies of both Bound and Possession. Three winners will be chosen, and each winner will receive a set of both books.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/OTNhYTMzNDQzYjc0NmU5ZjcyNjY5ZWJjOGVlOTFlOjI0/

Book Review: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Title: Eating Animals (GoodReads)
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Page Count: 341
F/NF: Nonfiction
Genre: Food, Animal Rights

Goodreads Summary:
Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between carnivore and vegetarian. As he became a husband and a father, he kept returning to two questions: Why do we eat animals? And would we eat them if we knew how they got on our dinner plates?

Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, and his own undercover detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits-from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth-and how such tales justify a brutal ignorance. Marked by Foer’s profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, as well as the vibrant style and creativity that made his previous books, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, huge bestsellers, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we’ve told–and the stories we now need to tell.

Opinion:
I’ve had this book for several months and only just got around to finishing it. I really don’t know what took me so long. This is a fantastic book, the sort of book I wish everyone would read. Foer manages to advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle without saying that anyone who eats meat is stupid or immoral or anything like that. In fact, he interviews several people involved with the production of meat. He doesn’t agree with them all the time, but I think he treats them fairly.

He’s very sympathetic to meat eaters while still refusing to back down from his position once he’s made one. He brings up the question of animal rights versus animal welfare. He explains how animals are processed and describes (in too much detail, really) the horrors that animals have to suffer before and while they are being butchered.

What I enjoyed most about this book, though, were the side effects of eating animals that I had never thought about before. I knew already that factory farming is horrible for the environment and for the animals, and I knew abstractly that it was bad for our health, but Foer goes into more detail about just why it’s so bad for our health. He mentions the side effects of spraying pig feces into the air and having all that crap seep into our lungs and our water supply and everything else. He talks about what happens after the chicken is dead and just how gross the meat they’re sending out to us really is.

Here are just some of the most interesting facts that I learned from this book:
• The source of the “Spanish” flu that killed 50 million people worldwide in 1918 started as bird flu.
• 4 million chickens are scalded alive each year in the US.
• Chicken feces are now classified as a “cosmetic blemish” and can therefore be present in the chickens they sell for food.
• USDA inspectors have about two seconds to examine each bird.
• People in the US are given 3 million pounds of antibiotics each year; livestock are given 24.6 million pounds – when they’re not even sick.
• 1/3 of the land surface on the planet is dedicated to livestock.
• More than 99 percent of the meat eaten in America comes from factory farms.
• Animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than any other industry – 40 percent more than the transportation industry.

10/10

If I wasn’t already a vegan, I would be after reading this book. I highly recommend everyone read this book. If you care about your health, the planet, and/or the suffering of animals, you will want to read this book. When people think of where meat comes from, they generally think of a nice family farm where animals live a good life until they are sent to be killed quickly, and that is not the case at all, at least not anymore.

Hey, look – I’m not dead!

This month hasn’t gone quite how I imagined it would. I thought I would have most of my dystopian novel planned by now. Instead, I’ve put that one on hold again to work on another novel. It’s not that I don’t still love the dystopian novel, because I do. I just still feel so overwhelmed by that novel.

Not that I haven’t worked on that novel at all. I spent the first week or so of this month watching documentaries that I thought would help me picture what the United States would be like 80 years from now. Those documentaries include the following: Standing Army, Superpower, I.O.U.S.A., An Inconvenient Truth, Detropia, Trouble the Water and Tapped. I’ve also been flipping through my old International Relationships book and reading one of the political books that’s been on my shelf for years.

I have notes on all of those documentaries and books. I feel more knowledgeable than I did last month, so that’s something at least. But as time went on, I found myself less interested in reading or watching those documentaries. I guess it was just too depressing, and I like to spread out those negative emotions so I don’t get too overpowered.

Part of the problem this month is also that I was supposed to be put in a school three weeks ago. I’m two semesters away from graduating with my Masters in Teaching, and one of the things I have to do this semester is my practicum. That’s where I spend at least 60 hours in a high school classroom and observe the teacher and then slowly start taking a more active role, helping him/her teach and actually teaching 10 lessons myself. My orientation meeting was July 29. I was supposed to have my placement by then. I didn’t. I was supposed to go in and meet my teacher Aug. 5-7 so I could be there for the first day of school. I didn’t have a placement. It’s now 3 weeks after the orientation meeting, 2 weeks after the semester started, and I still don’t have a placement. So I’m freaking out rather a lot, and that has made it hard for me to concentrate on anything else.

So between all those “the world as we know it is about to end” documentaries and the fact that I’m now worried I won’t have enough time to do everything I’m supposed to for the practicum, I’ve been rather unhappy lately. Plus most of the fiction books I’ve been trying to read are horrible and not at all the nice distraction I was looking for.

Which brings me to the novel I’m currently working on – Degeneration. I don’t know if that’s necessary a happy book, considering it’s about a family that hates each other that get together for a wedding, but at least it was something else to think about. This is the novel that I wrote twice as a screenplay and then once as a novel, so I’m familiar with the plotline and characters. Besides, I really wanted to work on a novel that I knew what to do with.

So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m working on the second draft. Or at least I’m about to. Earlier this month, I imported the novel into Scrivener and fun putting it in e-book format. I put it on my Nook and read through it. It’s rather short – about 48k – but I still really like a lot of it. I made notes on the big-picture stuff that I need to change. I made her trip to visit her family longer (a week as opposed to a weekend, which wasn’t nearly enough time). Yesterday I created a new Scrivener project for draft 2, making index cards for all the scenes in the new draft. This morning I copied the existing draft into the correct files so I can see which scenes I need to edit and which I need to write for the first time.

So for the rest of the day, this is what I will be doing: (re)writing Degeneration and checking the practicum site to see if I have a placement yet.

Book Review: Dragonfly by Leigh T. Moore

Title: Dragonfly (Dragonfly #1)
Author: Leigh T. Moore
Page Count: 265
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA

Goodreads Summary:
Three bad things I learned this year:
-People you trust lie, even parents.
-That hot guy, the one who’s totally into you, he might not be the one.
-Things are not always how they appear.

Three good things I learned this year:
-Best friends are always there for you, even when they’re far away.
-That other hot guy, the one who remembers your birthday, he just might be the one.
-Oh, and things are not always how they appear.

Anna Sanders expected an anonymous (and uneventful) senior year until she crossed paths with rich-and-sexy Jack Kyser and his twin sister Lucy.

Pulling Anna into their extravagant lifestyle on the Gulf Coast, Lucy pushed Anna outside her comfort zone, and Jack showed her feelings she’d never experienced… Until he mysteriously withdrew.

Anna turned to her internship at the city paper and to her old attraction for Julian, a handsome local artist and rising star, for distraction. But both led to her discovery of a decades-old secret closely guarded by the twins’ distant, single father.

A secret that could permanently change all their lives.

Opinion:
I put off writing this review as long as I could. I guess I was hoping that if I left it alone for a while, I would come away with some more positive things to say about this book. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I didn’t enjoy this book at all, a fact which pains me to admit since I received this book for free from the author. I feel horrible leaving a bad review after that, but I figure authors take that chance when they give away their books for review.

The main character
I wanted to like Anna, but I never really did. She felt flat to me. She kept going back and forth between Jack and Julian. Her newspaper interest seemed to come out of nowhere (or maybe I was bored and not paying enough attention; it could really go either way). She kept saying she was going to become a stronger person, but she never did. I’m all for weak characters who eventually realize what they’re doing is wrong, but she never really seemed to come to her senses. There was no real depth to her character. She was just sort of whiny and annoying – and this is coming from someone who usually likes emo characters.

The love interests
Maybe I would have liked Anna more if I could have understood what she saw in the love interests. I can understand her attraction to Julian. He’s a hot artist who’s never really been serious with anyone but who seems to be interested in her. It’s a cliché, but I could understand it. Although, really, Julian’s an idiot, too, for reasons I can’t explain without giving away something we learn later on. But just let me say he does something stupid that doesn’t affect the plot but which really irritates me.

Jack was a complete mystery to me. He’s an attractive rich boy with a boat. I’m sorry, but I don’t get the obsession. Think he’s cute? Sure. Daydream about him? Yeah, why not. But to start getting physical with him the first time you go somewhere together and then constantly obsess about a guy who’s clearly just using you? I get that plenty of teenagers grope each other on a first date – I guess I just wish I felt more connected with the characters so her taking off her top didn’t seem so out of the blue.

Really, I don’t know why she was interested in Jack at all, and I have no idea why either guy was interested in her.

Lucy
I expected Lucy to play a much bigger role in this novel, but really she didn’t do much of anything. I don’t really know what her purpose was besides to attempt to make Jack seem like a nice guy. She was barely in the book at all, and when she was she just sort of felt flat, as well. I was hoping for more from her.

The secret
I knew what the “secret” was long before Anna did, and I’m not sure if I was supposed to or not. Either way, I think it was sort of poorly executed. I don’t know any teenager who would be this obsessed with her friends’ parents, even if one of those friends was her friends-with-benefit. The conversation that she has with everyone involved just seemed so unrealistic to me, especially as we got nearer to the end. It just didn’t work for me. I didn’t care about the secret at all.

The drag race
This is a scene that only exists to make her realize her feelings for Julian. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the novel at all. It also annoys me that she was drinking and driving, and that fact wasn’t really acknowledged at all. I don’t know. The whole scene just felt forced and annoying, and I don’t like when books show drinking and driving in a positive light.

The ending
I have to admit that I didn’t realize this was a series until I reached the end. I don’t know how I missed that, but I did. This is a series that doesn’t really wrap up anything with book 1 – it just expects you to jump right into book 2. Some sort of closure at the end of the first book would have been nice – especially since I have no intention on reading the rest of the series.

Overall: I’ve never felt like I was too old to read a young adult book. I’m only 24 – it’s not like it’s been forever since I was a teenager. However, I think I might be too old for this book. Perhaps if I was an immature teenager, maybe I would have enjoyed this book. As it stands now, though, I thought the characters were stupid and shallow, and I wasn’t interested in learning more about them. I do, though, have another Leigh T. Moore book on my Nook right now – I’m hopeful that that one will be better than this one.

2/10

Camp NaNo – complete

Another Camp NaNo has come to an end. My goal this month was to finish draft 3 of Tilt Your Head and Smile, my NA novel about a young woman who graduates college, can’t find a job, and struggles to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Slightly before four o’clock this morning, I wrote the last sentence of the manuscript. I was four hours late finishing, but I still finished before I went to bed, so I’m counting this as a win. Here are some statistics:

Word Count: 105,897
Chapters: 25
Hours Spent Writing:48.5
Average Words per Chapter: 4,236
Average Words per Hour: 2,183

Now, the hours spent writing number is only the time spent actively writing, not the time I spent staring at the screen doing nothing or reading Twitter or playing stupid Facebook games. But I’m still happy with what I accomplished this month. This is the first NaNo I’ve done in grad school when I actually had a bunch of homework to do, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to write. I’m glad to say that my fears were unfounded. Of course, it helps that I only had school for half the month – although it was an intense half a month.

This morning was the first day in a long time that I didn’t wake up feeling like I was supposed to be doing something. It was nice, but now I’m just sort of sitting on the couch wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll probably end up spending the day reading. I’ve started reading a non-fiction book that I feel will help me plan the next book I’ll be working on – my political dystopian novel.

Right now, my plan is to spend the month preparing for the next draft of Alone (the aforementioned dystopia). I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I have three different novels that I want to edit (not counting the one I just finished). I also have several other novels that I’ve never actually managed to finish. I guess I’ll just take this one step at a time and see what I want to do after I figure out Alone.

Anyone else participate in Camp NaNo? If so, how’d you do? If not, did you accomplish anything else fun this past month?