Jen’s Top 5 Favorite Books of 2016

I have to admit, I’ve been a terrible reader the past year. In fact, I only managed to consume about 20 books (compared to my usual 60+). I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it was fatigue from working a new job, writing a new novel, and critiquing over 200 stories? Or maybe it was pure lack of interest? (I picked up and put down so many books!) I’m not sure where I can place the blame, but I’m definitely ashamed of how few books I read.

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Even though my book pile was pitifully small in 2016, I still read some great novels. Each of them captured my attention, delivered great entertainment, and made an impact of some kind. So, if you’re looking for a good book to read, check out my top five favorites from this past year.

Jen’s Top 5 Favorite Books of 2016

Edge of Eternity” by Ken Follett

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“Edge of Eternity is the sweeping, passionate conclusion to Ken Follett’s extraordinary historical epic, The Century Trilogy.”

I’m only about a third of the way through this 1,000+ page novel, but I know it’s going to be my favorite book of 2016. “The Edge of Eternity” is the third and final novel in Ken Follett’s series, The Century Trilogy. What I love about it (and its predecessors) is how it brings history to life with sharp, believable characters, engaging plot lines, and a galloping pace. I can usually finish one of Follett’s behemoth novels in just a few weeks (and that’s taking my time). Whether you’re a fan of historical fiction or not, I highly recommend this series!

To read more about “Edge of Eternity,” check out its synopsis on Goodreads.

Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

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“Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

During my driest reading spell in early November I decided to check out Goodreads’s nominations for the Best Books of 2016. I skipped around each genre, reading synopses and adding those that piqued my interest to my TBR list. “Commonwealth” was one of those novels.  Not only am I a big fan of Ann Patchett’s, but I’m also a sucker for family dramas. So, I had to believe this book would save me from the reading desert I’d stumbled into. And it did! “Commonwealth” was chock-full of intrigue, emotion, and drama. I couldn’t put it down!

To read more about “Commonwealth,” check out its synopsis on Goodreads.

Winter” by Marissa Meyer

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“Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.”

Finally! I got my hands on the last book in Marissa Meyer’s series, the Lunar Chronicles. And it was as good as I’d hoped it’d be.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this popular young adult series, it’s basically fairy tale meets sci-fi. The tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White are given new twists and threaded together into a fresh, amazing plot. My only suggestion to those who’ve taken a long break between book three (“Cress”) and “Winter”: Read the series again! Refresh your memory, or else “Winter” won’t be nearly as magical.

To read more about “Winter,” check out its synopsis on Goodreads.

The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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“A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.”

There was a lot of hype about “The Nest” in 2016. I became aware of it over the summer when I kept seeing pictures of it all over Instagram. The cover kept grabbing my attention–over and over. Finally, I surrendered and reserved it at the library. When I went to pick it up, I was apprehensive and a dash cynical. If there’s too much chatter about a novel, I worry my high expectations won’t get met. However, I was pleasantly surprised by “The Nest.” If you like family dramas, then you’ll want to read this one. It’s addicting!

To read more about “The Nest,” check out its synopsis on Goodreads.

Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes

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“A Love Story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?”

Okay, full disclosure, I did not LOVE “Me Before You.” However, it held my attention when so many others failed to do so. This novel is definitely not your typical romance. In fact, I felt it belonged more in the drama section of the bookstore than the romance. But, that’s neither here nor there. “Me Before You” delivers an excellent plot, engaging characters, and a great hook that pulls you through the pages–fast! If you like romances that are less fantasy and more reality, then check this one out.

To read more about “Me Before You,” check out its synopsis on Goodreads.

So, there you have it! It wasn’t a fantastic year of reading for me, but I still read some fantastic books. I hope you get a chance to read one or all of them!

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What are some of your favorite books from 2016? Let me know in the comments section! I’m planning to participate in the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge, so I’ll need plenty of recommendations to help me reach my goal.

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My Neil Gaiman Book Signing Adventure

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Neil Gaiman book signing.

And. It. Was. Epic!

16464868382_44a3911f73_kIt all began when a friend posted about the event on Facebook. At first, I hesitated because:

  1. The signing landed on a work day.
  2. It was at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins (about an hour and a half north of where I live).
  3. I didn’t want to go alone…Yep, I can be a scaredy cat who needs someone to hold her hand when she’s completely out of her element.

My resistance, however, crumbled when my friend solved two of my three dilemmas. He offered both company and a ride. I happily scheduled the day off of work and spent the next two weeks preparing myself to meet one of the most influential, inspiring, and creative authors around.

Yes. An adventure…

Dear God! I had no idea the book signing would be such an adventure. I completely underestimated Neil Gaiman’s popularity.

The epic day began when my friend and I departed Denver at 1 p.m. With the signing starting at 4 p.m., we figured this would give us plenty of time to deal with traffic, drive to Fort Collins, find the bookstore, and get a decent place in line.

Yeah, wishful thinking!

As we pulled up to the bookstore, I asked, “Is that the line?”

“Yeah, I think so.” My friend looked equally shocked by the crowd stretching from the bookstore’s entrance, down the sidewalk, and around the building. We parked the car, hurried across the street, and searched for the end of the line.

And searched…And searched…And searched…

Seriously! There were so many people. I couldn’t believe it.

We finally found the end of the line and hopped in. While we waited for the signing to begin, we marveled at Gaiman’s popularity, the ever growing line, and the eclectic crowd. It seemed everyone and their brother loved Neil Gaiman.

As my friend and I discussed some of Gaiman’s work, a woman behind us jumped into our conversation. Then the guy behind her jumped in as well. And, before we knew it, we were in a small chattering group.

Side note: It always amazes me how quickly book nerds bond. You can be total strangers one minute and best friends the next.

After about an hour, the line started moving.

An enthusiastic cheer went up!

…And then quickly died when we only moved a few feet.

Yeah, in that moment, I knew it was going to be a loooooong afternoon. But, hey, at least it was warm! We’d lucked out with the weather that day–an unseasonably warm 75 degrees!

In fact, it was so warm, I’d decided to leave my jacket at home. Why would I need one when I’d be back in the car by the time the sun set?

Yet another idiotic assumption on my part.

For the first three or so hours in line, I was relatively comfortable. My feet hurt a little, I was a tad hungry, and a bathroom break would’ve been nice. But nothing major. I could easily deal with it all.

Then the sun slowly set…

As the temperatures slipped and the first shiver hit me, my friend kindly offered to go get his jacket for me in his car. And what did I say? “Nah, I’m good. But, thanks.”

Gah! I’m so stupid and stubborn and stupid!

Note to self: It’s okay to accept help from others. You don’t have to suffer because you’re too proud to show weakness.

Thankfully, a bookstore employee came by with hand warmers and I was able to use them to heat up my hands, arms, and feet (don’t ask about the feet; my plan failed). I also tried to–subtly–steal body heat from those around me by scooting closer and closer.

Actually, the chilly weather became a bit of a joke amongst our group. As the hours wore on, we realized the line wasn’t moving. It was just condensing from all the people huddling together.

Anyway, being cold was by far the toughest part of the experience for me. Sure, I was hungry. And, yeah, I had to use the bathroom. And, duh, my feet, back, and head hurt. But it was the cold that nearly did me in.

Thank God for the amazing people keeping me company in line. If it hadn’t been for their entertaining conversation, relatable sense of humor, and (semi) fanatical enthusiasm, I would’ve given up on the five hour journey to the bookstore’s entrance.

10351912_334456836746871_7954107548591425517_nYes, you read that correctly. Five hours! And it took another hour of windy-weaving through the bookstore to reach Neil Gaiman.

As we drew closer and closer to the famous author, my nerves got worse and worse. I had no idea what I wanted to say when I handed him my book: “You’re an inspiration.” Or, “Thank you for all your advice to aspiring authors.” Or, “I love your work!” Or…?

Everything I thought of sounded dumb and cliche. And the closer we got to Gaiman, the more I panicked.

Finally, I decided to mimic those in front of me with a short and sweet, “Thank you.” Yeah, not exactly the most eloquent or memorable thing to say, but at least I wouldn’t embarrass myself with an epic fangirl moment: I’m, like, your biggest fan, like, EVER! That would’ve been mortifying. And, also, untrue. Yes, I’m a Gaiman fan, but no, I’m not the biggest one. I’m pretty sure that lofty title goes to a guy in our group. After he got his book signed, he looked ready to pass out.

As for me, well. I honestly can’t even tell you what happened when it was my turn to meet Neil Gaiman. I vaguely remember leaning in for a picture, and I think I stuttered through a pathetic “Thank you”, but other than that, I have no idea. I likely looked like an overwhelmed, OMG!, dazed moron.

Once I had my book signed, I staggered over to the exit to wait for my friend and the rest of our group. I’m not sure if it was exhilaration, exhaustion, or a combo of the two, but I had the worst urge to giggle. I couldn’t believe I’d just met Neil Gaiman!

I opened my book and admired his signature.

10390100_334456853413536_4687527123228986405_nOnce everyone had their books signed, we left the bookstore. By then, it was almost 10 pm. Sheesh!

After a failed trip to Starbucks (grrr, so annoyed they’d already closed for the night!), and a farewell to our buddies from the line, my friend and I returned to his car and made the trip home.

Later, as I collapsed in bed, I laughed and thought, “Did that really just happen?” Of all the ways for that day to go, I hadn’t expected it to go that way. But, you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing…Well, maybe I would’ve accepted my friend’s jacket, lol. But, besides that and the discomfort of standing in line for over six hours, I enjoyed every second of the Neil Gaiman book signing.

February 6th, 2015 will definitely go down as one of the funnest, craziest, and most adventurous days of my life. Thank you to those who stood in line with me and kept me distracted and motivated. And thank you to Neil Gaiman for being such a creative, inspiring, and patient author. I don’t know how you signed that many books without your hand falling off! Truly amazing.

If you’d like to read more about Neil Gaiman and his work, click here!

Neil Gaiman from Stardust QUOTES You have to believe-1

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Jen’s Top 10 Favorite Books of 2014

Although I’ve cut way back on the book review side of my blog, I still like to spotlight books every now and then. And today, I’d like to spotlight my top 10 favorites from 2014. As you’ll see below, I read and enjoyed a wide variety of books last year: Light and heavy. Adult fiction and YA. Historical fiction, drama, sci-fi, contemporary romance, paranormal…I was all over the map! So, check them out. Maybe you’ll find a few that pique your interest?

Jen’s Top 10 Favorite Books of 2014

#1: Cress by Marissa Meyer

13206828I read Cress in early 2014, and it stuck with me the whole year. Like its predecessors in the Lunar Chronicles series, Cress was fun, witty, adventurous, and downright entertaining. Marissa Meyer has definitely proven to me old tales can be remade in exciting and creative ways. I can’t wait for Winter, the final book in this amazing series, to be released later this year!

To read my full review and more about Cress, click here!

#2: The Martian by Andy Weir

18007564I just finished The Martian during the holidays and…wow. Just wow! Think the movie Cast Away, but on Mars. Seriously, it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. Gripping, intelligent, funny. I might’ve even shed a tear at the end.

The second I finished The Martian, I said, “Well, that has Hollywood written all over it.” And, guess what? The film is set to be released in November 2015. Ha! So don’t wait. Go read it before you see the movie…And then thank me for recommending it to you. 😉

To read more about The Martian, click here!

#3: Winter of the World by Ken Follett

12959233You know what amazes me about Ken Follett? He can write a 1,000 page story that flies by like a 400 page one. What amazes me more? He can write a 1,000 page historical fiction that doesn’t bore me to tears! Just like its predecessor, Fall of Giants, Winter of the World ensnared me from the start and has everything you want in a story: likable characters, rich settings, suspenseful plots, and so much more.

Trust me, don’t let the daunting size of this book stop you from reading it. It’s too good to pass up!

  To read more about Winter of the World, click here!

#4: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

15745753So, I read three Rainbow Rowell books in 2014, and I must admit, I wanted to put all of them on this list. But, I resisted the temptation and only put two (sorry Landline).

I’m sure most of you have already heard a lot of buzz about Eleanor & Park, and I’m sure many of you have already read it (and if you haven’t, you should.) It’s an addictive tale that takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions: Anger. Humor. Fear. Love. I’ve never read a contemporary romance quite like this one. You go from smirking at Eleanor and Park’s resentful start, to grinning at their magical connection, to holding your breath at their uncertain future.

In a nutshell, it’s awesome. So go read it!

To read my full review and more about Eleanor & Park, click here!

#5: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

16131484You know, there has been some debate about this sequel to The 5th Wave. Some have liked it. Some have not. Personally, I did. No, it wasn’t as great as The 5th Wave, and yes, it did feel like a middle book in a series (you know, the wobbly bridge that connects the 1st and 3rd book). But, whatever. I still enjoyed it and I’d still recommend it to others.

And, hey, here’s another book that will likely be adapted to screen someday since they’re already filming the first in the series. So, go read it before you head to the theater!

To read more about The Infinite Seaclick here!

#6: The Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo

10194157After seeing this book cover all over the place for a couple of years, I finally decided to place a hold on it at the library…and then I proceeded to devour it within two days…and then I proceeded to devour its sequels within a week. Yeah, The Grisha series is ahh-ddicting! Magical, mysterious, scary, romantic, all three books (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising) have the perfect elements to make a perfectly entertaining story.

So, if you’re looking for a quick, fun, adventurous read, here you go!

To read more about The Grisha seriesclick here!

#7: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

13618440Considering Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my favorite books of all time, I placed its final segment, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, at the top of my must-read list for 2014. I can’t even explain how excited I was to get my hands on it. Once I did, I was satisfied with it. I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite in the series, but it wrapped things up nicely, answered all my questions, and made me both happy and sad. It’s always bittersweet to finish a wonderful series, you know?

Trust me, this is a must-read!

To read more about Dreams of Gods and Monsters, click here!

#8: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

8909152Annnd here’s the second Rainbow Rowell book on my list. Thinking about it, I should’ve listed this above Eleanor & Park because, honestly, I enjoyed it more. It’s not as intense and it’s just a tad more addictive. Plus, I totally fell in love with Lincoln. He’s one of my biggest book crushes ever.

*cue googly eyed expression*

…Hmmm…

Okay, I’m gonna keep daydreaming about Lincoln while you go read Attachments. I promise, it’s awesome!

To read my full review and more about Attachments, click here.

#9: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

8755785This was another highly anticipated book for me in 2014. And–unlike some of the other books I had looked forward to reading–City of Heavenly Fire lived up to my expectations. It also polished off The Mortal Instruments series in a satisfying way. As usual, Cassandra Clare wove a wonderful tale of adventure, wit, and love. And, of course, there were plenty of twists and turns, “Oohs” and “Ahhs”, and even a few “Noooooo…!” moments.

If you haven’t had a chance to get into this series, and you enjoy paranormal stories with a dash of humor and lots of action, then I highly recommend it!

To read more about City of Heavenly Fireclick here!

#10: Vampire Academy series Richelle Mead

18660669Oh, yes. I did it. I put the Vampire Academy series on the list. Go ahead and laugh, mutter “Huh?”, and poke fun at me all you want. But, you shouldn’t judge me until you read these books. Talk about addicting! I ended up reading all six of them in just over a month.

And, fine, these are not the most serious, challenging, or life altering books out there. But you know what? Sometimes, light and easy books are the best. And these are some of the best I’ve read in a long time. So check them out!

To read more about Vampire Academy, click here!

Overall, I read some great books in 2014 (and, okay, some not so great books, but we won’t talk about those). I can’t wait to read all the adventures awaiting me in 2015! I’ve already gotten off to a great start with Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.

If you’d like to check out more of my book reviews, click here!

Top 2014 Posts – #5 – Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

To end the year, I’ve decided to spotlight my top 10 blog posts from 2014. I went into my stats page and looked up those articles, stories, and other published pieces that had the most number of views. Some surprised me, others did not.

And look at that! We’ve made it to the halfway point! Here’s my 5th most popular blog post from 2014: Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

IMG_4057This was one of the few posts I wrote that could be considered a “rant”. But, come on, what writer and/or book nerd isn’t passionate about literacy and gets revved up when someone says it “isn’t important”?

…Yes, I’m still fuming over this matter.


“Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.”


Believe it or not, a guest speaker actually spoke these words to over 3,000 teachers last week during an in-service event for one of the nation’s top performing school districts. As you might suspect, the reaction wasn’t positive. In fact, many in the crowd booed this man’s mind-boggling words: Literacy isn’t important.

Literacy. Isn’t. Important.

How…? Why…? How?

This guest speaker went on to declare the four core subjects (math, science, English and history) weren’t a priority either. Furthermore (yeah, there’s a furthermore), he said teachers shouldn’t teach content. They should be motivators. According to him, “Students shouldn’t learn. They should become.”

Yeah

Ironically, this man has written a book about this entire topic. Yet, when asked how anyone could read it if they didn’t know how, he responded, “No worries. It will be read to them.”

Yeah

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Did you know Mr. Guest Speaker that:

  • The United Nations considers it a human right to be literate?
  • “67.4 million children who are out of school are likely to encounter great difficulties in the future, as deficient or non-existent basic education is the root cause of illiteracy.”?
  • According to the CIA, “Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.”?

Let me repeat that last quote for you, Mr. Guest Speaker:

“Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.” I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like literacy and technology go hand-in-hand. Doesn’t it? They work together to keep this world spinning. Moving. Progressing.

occupational-therapy-and-assistive-technologyAs you can see (and most of you already know), I’m passionate about this subject. I’m a literacy advocate, a book lover, and an imagination builder. I have hundreds of books lining my shelves at home (each cherished dearly), and I don’t go anywhere without a pen or a notebook (ya know, just in case I get a sudden idea for a story). When I visit my nephews, I always encourage them to read a book, put a puzzle together, or take flight on the wings of their imagination. And when I see my friends, I always tell them about a book they should read (okay, okay, I sometimes tell the stranger standing in line behind me at the grocery store about a great book, too). And I never stop clapping for those who go to work everyday to teach and motivate our future generations.

But, besides being pro-education, I’m also pro-technology. I love technology. I don’t know what I’d do without it. And I firmly believe it plays a vital role in our society, our educational systems, and our future. If used properly, technology can improve communication, share knowledge, expand worlds, and connect globally. My God, just look at this blog! I’ve reached thousands of people across the planet with it. I have followers in Australia, Japan, England, Nigeria, Sweden…It’s astounding. I couldn’t do what I do without the technology to back me up. I couldn’t.

However, I also couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a strong literate background. And, let me tell you, that literate background wasn’t technologically driven. Most of my schooling took place in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so besides TVs and overhead projectors, my teachers didn’t have much to utilize in the way of technology to educate me. I didn’t even have my first computer class until 7th grade, and I didn’t own a cell phone until my junior year of high school. My classes looked pretty much like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(According to Mr. Guest Speaker, this is a “sad picture”…Yeah, he got more boos and hisses for that one.)

Yet, despite my less than “techie” upbringing, I’ve managed to adapt to our technology-driven society. Well, I’ve more than adapted. I’ve embraced it and made it a part of my life. I’m blogging. I’m active on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. I’m a whiz on a Mac, and I just got my first Nook. But do you think I could’ve figured all of that out if I wasn’t literate to start?

Let’s take a moment to think about a couple of things, shall we? Without literacy:

  • This blog wouldn’t exist. How could it? I wouldn’t even know how to type the words I’m typing right now because I wouldn’t know how to s-p-e-l-l them. I also wouldn’t have the critical thinking, problem solving, or certain social skills I needed to get this site up and running. Even those pesky math and science classes I swore “I’d never ever need” played a part in the creation of this blog.
  • Technology wouldn’t exist. Who do you think created all of these wires and circuit boards in the first place? An alien who visited Earth for a summer vaca? An extraterrestrial being who generously decided to share a drop of its genius with humankind?

alien_in_UFO_cartoonSeriously, guys. Traditionally educated–literate–individuals were the ones who got us to where we are today. They used their reading, writing, math, and science skills to create our gadget-filled world.

  • Future technology won’t exist. We have fancy-schmancy technology now thanks to those smarty-pants who created it in the first place, but what will happen if schools and educators stop promoting literacy? What new and improved devices will we have in our hands in ten years? 20? 100? What unexplored paths will remain unexplored because nobody had the map to find them?

Okay, so I’m sure by this point some of you might be thinking, “There’s been a miscommunication. Surely Mr. Guest Speaker didn’t really mean literacy isn’t important. He must’ve been trying to prove another point that just didn’t translate well.” Some of the teachers in the audience thought the same thing, so they decided to attend his afternoon session…and they left it even more letdown and confused than before.

 Still not sold? Well, consider this: Mr. Guest Speaker was supposed to be live-streamed on the district’s website for the community to watch. Within five minutes, the plug was pulled (ironic?). Almost a week later, a video has finally gone up, but it isn’t the video filmed that day. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

red_flagThis is obviously a subject I’m extremely passionate about. And normally I don’t take on such controversial topics, but I couldn’t let this matter drop without bringing it to other people’s attention. To think there is someone out there declaring literacy is a thing of the past isn’t right. It needs to be stopped. We can’t let future generations be deprived of a well-rounded education. It’s inconceivable and, really, a travesty.

So, if you believe literacy has and always will play an imperative part in our society’s future, please share this article and information with those you know. Blow the whistle and put an end to the idea, “Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.” How about instead we promote, “Literacy and technology work hand-in-hand.”? Or, “Literacy equals technology. Technology equals literacy.”?

One last food for thought: Did Mr. Guest Speaker ever stop to wonder what would happen if the big, almighty plug got pulled someday? Not to get all dystopian and apocalyptic on you guys, but let’s face it: there’s a chance the power could go out someday. Our phones, computers, iPods, Kindles and everything in between might stop working. What will happen then? What will we have? What will society fall back on? Hmm?

Be an advocate for future generations and support literacy!

Previous Top 10 2014 Posts:

#6 – How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips

#7: Into Paradise

#8: Music Monday – Love The Way You Lie

#9: Operation Disney

#10: Over The Edge

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Sources

UNESCO

The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency

Book of the Month: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

11870085The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

Synopsis

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Jen’s Review

That about sums things up 😉

Okay, seriously. I’m not normally into stories about cancer and sickness and whatnot. They’re just too sad and depressing. However,  I made an exception for The Fault in Our Stars after hearing so many wonderful things about it. And I’m glad I did! This is a special story everyone needs to read. It has a touching plot, plenty of takeaway messages, and a cast of sincere characters. I especially love Augustus (I think most readers do). Simply put, he’s a good guy. A good, sweet, authentic, lovable guy. In fact, when my sister was trying to think of a name for her next kid, I suggested August…She almost used it, too. Darn!

I won’t lie. This is a heartbreaking story. And you will need tissues. But the pain is worth it, I promise!

1010396_212218672304022_342272204_nPlus, the movie is coming out in a few days, and you know my rule of thumb: read the book before you see the movie. So go read it!

Jen’s Rating 

4 Star

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The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Jen’s Top 10 “How Have You NOT Read This” YA Books

It seems lately whenever I bring up one of my favorite books/series, people respond with a blank stare, a careless shrug, or, worst of all, an “I’ve never heard of it” type of comment. AHHH! So, I decided it’s time for me to give you the heads up on some books you MUST read if you haven’t.

Jen’s Top 10 “How Have You NOT Read This?” YA Books

1. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

8490112On average, I read a book a week. AKA, I read a lot. However, no matter how many pages I turn, or how many stories I finish, Daughter of Smoke & Bone remains one of my favorites of all time. And it’s troubling how few people are even aware of it. No offense to Hunger Games  or Twilight, or even Divergent, but I wish the mass population would revere this story. Simply put, it’s awesome. Daughter of Smoke & Bone has everything a reader craves: intrigue, romance, humor, and, of course, adventure.

So go read it! And be sure to spread the word how awesome it is.

Check out my full review here!

2. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

11235712Sighhhhh…Just…God, just go read this series, okay? I can’t even begin…I can’t even tell you…AHHH! Just read it. Goooo.

Check out my full review here!

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

136251Believe it or not, there are still people in the world who haven’t read Harry Potter. *cue gasps* Every time I encounter one of these rare beings, they usually tell me, “Well, I tried watching the movies, but I just wasn’t into them.”

…That’s all I have to say about that.

*clears throat*

READ HARRY POTTER!

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

19063-1When people ask me, “What’s your favorite book?” I first glare at them, and then I tell them I don’t have a favorite (what book nerd does?). Then, when they still won’t leave me alone, I spout off a handful of memorable titles. The Book Thief is always on the list. Always. And it should be on yours!  I promise, it’s a tale you’ll never forget.

Check out my full review here!

5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

6050678Barking spiders! You haven’t read the Leviathan series? Are you mad? What’s not to like? A round-the-world adventure? A would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne? A commoner girl disguised as a boy? Daring deeds? Fun? AMAZINGNESS!

Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!

…Hmmm, I think even I need to go read this–again. So much fun!

Check out more about Leviathan here!

6. Legend by Marie Lu

9275658Amongst all the dystopian books out there, Legend is my favorite. Think Les Miserables set in the future with a deadly virus, two badass protagonists, and lots of rip-roaring action.

In a nutshell, Legend is…

Read more about Legend here!

7. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

16101128Have you ever read a book as slow as possible? Because you’re dreading the end? Because you know when you turn that last page, the story will be over and you’ll be sad for days and days? Well, that’s how I felt while reading The 5th Wave. Although I’m not a huge fan of stories revolving around aliens, this one is both awesome and terrifying. It actually made me stop and think, “Oh crap. What if this actually happened?”

Dun, dun, dun…

I dare you to read it…Okay, forget the dare. I’m telling you to read it. Scoot, scoot.

Check out my full review here!

8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905Rainbow Rowell is officially one of my favorite authors of all time. In fact, I had a difficult time choosing which of her novels to recommend. The truth is, I recommend all of them (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park, and Attachments). Rowell is a master at character development and writing stories that have meaning and relevance. Trust me, you won’t be the same after experiencing one–or all–of her books.

Check out my full review for Fangirl here!

9. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

7171637Adventure. Wit. Tears. Mystery. Romance…The Infernal Devices has it all! This prequel series to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments is a MUST-READ! Especially if you’re looking for a new giddy book crush.

Oh, Will Herondale

“How rude. Many who have gazed upon me have compared it to gazing at the radiance of the sun.”

Jem still had his eyes closed. “If they mean that it gives you a headache, they aren’t wrong.”

Read more about The Infernal Devices here!

10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

1217100I could easily list thirteen reasons why you should read this book, but I’ll only give you one: it’s life changing. So read it!

Check out my full review here!

Okay, I have about a hundred more books/series I could list, but I’ll end things here. Just take my word for it, these are books you MUST read! You won’t regret it.

What about you? What books make your “How Have You NOT Read This” YA book list?

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If it wasn’t for you: A thank you to the women authors who’ve inspired my writing

“The best readers are the best writers.”

A friend spoke these words to me years ago, back when I was still a “closeted writer” who feared her lack of an English/writing degree would prevent her from being accepted in the official “writers club”. At the time, I didn’t really get the meaning of this quote. I mean, I definitely liked it: “The best readers are the best writers.” Well, that’s great, I thought, because I read. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot, a lot!). Yet, as the years have gone by, and my stack of read books has grown taller and taller, I’ve finally come to understand it.

Reading = Knowledge

Reading = Inspiration

Reading = Writing

More Reading = Better Writing

It’s true. Well, at least for me. Reading books  has taught me how to write (and, yeah, sometimes how not to write). There’s no doubt in my mind that books have strengthened my storytelling skills, expanded my creative horizons and given me a plethora of inspiration (oh yeah, I totally just used the word plethora). Now, I can’t tell you exactly how many books I’ve read (500? 1,000? 10,000?), but I can tell you which authors have impacted me the most.

Today, in honor of celebrating women in fiction (#ReadWomen2014), I’d like to pay tribute to the female author’s who’ve effected me the most. If it weren’t for their various inspirations, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

Patricia BeattyThe Dream Starter

9780688066871What a young person reads becomes part of his or her mental luggage forever! This is the learning time, short but vital to the future adult. That mental luggage deserves to be filled with the best stuff only, not pap. It may have a long, long way to go.” – Patricia Beatty

The day I picked up “Charlie Skedaddle” by Patricia Beatty was the day I became a book fanatic. It was also the day I realized I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After reading and absorbing Beatty’s novels (multiple times), I nervously began writing my own. Admittedly, most of this “writing” took place in my daydreamin’ head, safe and sound where nobody but me could experience them. However, a few made it into a notebook I kept hidden under my pillow, and one even made it onto a computer when I was in 6th grade (a 32-page story about a girl who traveled back in time to the Civil War era…Yeah, it was awesome.). Despite my terror to admit to the world I wanted to be a writer (that confession wouldn’t come for years, after I graduated college), I was able to admit my creative passion to myself. Even though I was only 10-years old, I knew I wanted to spend my life telling stories.

So, thank you, Patricia Beatty. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with reading, and I wouldn’t be pursuing my dream of being a published author.

Marie LuThe Style Guru

9275658One of the up’s (and down’s) of reading a lot while you write is you accidentally mimic the author you’re currently reading. This happened to me while I was devouring Marie Lu’s “Legend”. Suddenly, my writing became clearer and more precise, my characters more likable and endearing, my plot faster and tighter. Ever since that happy accident, I’ve aspired to keep writing in a fashion similar to Lu’s. To use my words and sentence structures in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them there. To weave simple, yet complex story lines around my audience–around and around–until they’re trapped and can’t break free, even after they’ve finished the book.

So, thank you, Marie Lu. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand what good storytelling looks like and how to ensnare an audience.

Maureen Johnson & Cassandra ClareCleverness & Wit

17334064And if we get caught, I will claim I made you go. At gunpoint. I am American. People will assume I’m armed.” – Maureen Johnson, “The Name of the Star”

People tell me I’m a funny person. And I’ve been told I can be a funny writer, too. However, I don’t like to write comedy. I just don’t. My comfort zone tends to be in the suspense/horror/thriller categories. Yet, despite my preference to write about tenser subject matters, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare have shown me even dark genres need to be lightened up every now and then. Adding dashes of cleverness and wit to a story can add surprising depth and meaning to a plot and its characters.

So, thank you, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand how humor can give any story layers and make it more memorable.

Let me give you a piece of advice. The handsome young fellow who’s trying to rescue you from a hideous fate is never wrong. Not even if he says the sky is purple and made of hedgehogs.” -Cassandra Clare, “The Infernal Devices”.

Laini TaylorWeirdness is Goodness

8490112“I write books for youngish people, but they can also be read and enjoyed by oldish people, aka grown-ups. You know grown-ups? They tend to be a little bigger and hairier than kids. But not always.” -Laini Taylor

Okay, I admit it. I can be weird (hellllo, I’m a writer; we all have a weird screw inside of us, right?). Well, it wasn’t until I read Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” that I was able to confidently infuse that weirdness into my writing. Taylor taught me that being quirky–saying things, thinking things and creating things that make the reader go, “Huh?”–can be a wonderful and powerful tool. For example, rather than having a protagonist with brown hair and blue eyes, why not have a protagonist with blue hair and brown eyes?

“Think outside the box!” Taylor’s writing shouts when you read it. “Like way, way outside the box. Do it, do it, do it!” So, I try. Every time I sit down at my desk, I think, “Be odd. Be different. It’s okay. Laini Taylor said so.”

So, thank you, Laini Taylor. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have embraced my eccentric tendencies and breathed them into my stories.

Marissa Meyer: The Delightful Contortionist 

11235712Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time.” -Marissa Meyer, “Cinder”

I’ve always prided myself on being a writer that likes to brainstorm concepts that are as original as possible. I’m always sniffing around the misty alleys of my mind, trying to find an idea that just might be “the next big thing” in the YA market. I’ve never been a fan of taking already written stories (like a fairy tale) and putting a unique spin on them. Then I began reading Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” and my entire outlook changed. Her crazy sci-fi contortion of “Cinderella” totally sold me on the unoriginal-original concept. Why not put a new twist on an old story? Why not embrace a solid foundation and build your own–original–world on top of it? Being a writer means being creative, and if I can create a spectacular story using a tried and true formula, you should. Why not?

So, thank you, Marissa Meyer. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be willing to open my eyes and see there are stories all around me that can be bent, shaped and warped into something fresh and dazzling.

Rainbow Rowell: Character Jedi Master 

16068905Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” -Rainbow Rowell, “Eleanor & Park”

One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer has always seemed to be my characters. And I think I’ve finally figured out why: Until 2013, I’d never read a Rainbow Rowell book. Guys, if you want a “how to” lesson on character building, this is your teacher. In her novels like “Attachments” and “Fangirl” Rowell has inspired me to dig deeper and reach higher when it comes to my characters. She’s shown me characters shouldn’t be 2-D individuals who entertain an audience. They should be 3-D humans who punch through a black and white page, straight into a reader’s heart. Characters should be likable, relatable, convincible. Characters should leave a dent even after the last page is turned.

So, thank you, Rainbow Rowell. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even know how to begin writing  better, deeper, truer characters.

Kathrynn Stockett: The Cheerleader

4667024If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, ‘She never gives up.’ But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, ‘She. Never. Gives. Up.‘” -Kathryn Stockett

 When people ask me what I do for a living, I joke and say, “I’m in the Industry of Rejection.” Sadly, it’s a true statement for most writers. I began sending query letters back in 2009 after I finished my first real manuscript. I was so excited, so certain I’d written a story that would get me an agent…Then I got my first rejection letter, and ooouuucchhh! That was followed by a second, and oooh, eeks! Then a third, a fourth, a tenth, a twentieth…That’s when I realized I’d chosen a career that wasn’t only hard, but could very well break my spirit.

“I loved your story, but…”. “Unfortunately…”. “Your story still needs work…”. “We regret to inform you..”. “Thank you for your submission. However…”. “Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors.”

Yeah, let’s face it, rejection hurts. Every. Time. And, I’ll be honest, after a particularly harsh round of “Thanks, but not thanks,” responses from agents, I’ve considered throwing in the towel (or maybe even smothering myself with a pillow). The biggest reason I haven’t though is because of Kathryn Stockett, author of the wildly popular novel, “The Help”.

Did you know Stockett’s bestseller was rejected 60 times before an agent finally gave her a chance? 60. Times! And, yet, after each stinging rejection, she didn’t give up. She went back, revised and then sent out more query letters. That’s how much she believed in her story. Despite the “Unfortunately”‘s and the “Best of luck”‘s, she refused to quit. Stockett’s never say die attitude has taught me that rejection isn’t the name of the game. Determination is. If you believe in your story, you should never give up on finding it a home. Keep writing, keep fighting! (Read about Stockett’s relentless journey here).

So, thank you Kathryn Stockett. If it weren’t for you, I may have given up on my dream a long time ago. And if it weren’t for you, I may not have the stamina to keep going now!

Thank you to all the women authors who’ve inspired me. This short list doesn’t even come close to naming all of you out there. But, trust me, if it weren’t for each and every one of you, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.