Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


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July 2016 SummySeries Reading Wrap-up

The formatting is screwy in this post, but ah well…

Read on!

SUNRISE OVER FALLUJAH by Walter Dean Myers

From Goodreads: A powerful…novel about the heroics and horror of war…Operation Iraqi Freedom, that’s the code name. But the young men and women in the military’s Civil Affairs Battalion have a simpler name for it: WAR.

This is a sort-of sequel to FALLEN ANGELS, which took place during the Vietnam War and was from the perspective of Richie. In SUNRISE, Richie’s nephew, Robin aka Birdy, has joined the military.

There were a few editing issues (example: Birdy references Jonsey on one page and then a few pages later, they are introducing themselves, as if for the first time), but nothing so large as to overshadow the story.

Myers did a tremendous job with the ambiguity of the situation – Birdy’s confusion over what the “right” thing is, plus the frustration and fear over constantly changing rules of engagement.

He also showed, as Birdy wrote in a letter to his uncle: “that the guys who fought in Nam wouldn’t even recognize today’s army.” (pg 1)

Key word back then being GUYS.

I didn’t connect as much as I did to FALLEN ANGELS, probably because my dad was in Vietnam so it felt more personal, but it definitely made me think.

20160705_213735

GHOST BOY by Martin Pistorius

From Goodreads: In January 1988 Martin Pistorius, aged twelve, fell inexplicably sick…within eighteen months he was mute and wheelchair-bound. Martin’s parents were told an unknown degenerative disease left him with the mind of a baby and less than two years to live.

This is a memoir, about how Pistorius regained awareness and found his voice through the use of speech devices. It’s part hopeful and part horrifying and was an interesting and insightful read.

My one complaint, as with the above book, is the editing. It felt a bit uneven without any real references to time and some of the sections near the end were a bit rambling and written like it was an entirely different book.

Still, it’s worth the read, but be prepared for tough subject matter.

20160713_100941SUMMER SISTERS by Judy Blume

“Adult” Judy Blume book that follows friends Vix and Caitlin from their first summer together on Martha’s Vineyard in 1977 through their adulthoods and separate paths.

This was a very “beachy” read for me although, sadly, I did not read it while on a beach. It dealt with some serious issues, but always from a distance, as if I was a neighbor, peeking in on the dysfunctional household next door. I liked the format a lot, focusing mostly on Vix, but gaining insight into other characters’ mindsets, and it was cool to grow up with the girls and see how they turned out, but I really disliked Caitlin. I’m not sure if I was supposed to like her or not, though.

All in all, a bittersweet read that successfully captured the aches and pains of being young, but made me extremely glad to be a grown up without someone like Caitlin in my life.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN by Vaddey Ratner

Adult fiction, based on the author’s own childhood experiences in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia.

I’m only halfway through this book because real-life has slowed my reading time, but so far it’s heartbreaking and beautifully written. OMG, the writing, seriously, it’s gorgeous. There are times I feel swept away by the mythical legends the main character’s father tells and then I’m yanked back to the horrible reality of the atrocities that are happening.

Side note: Growing up, my older brother was one of those kids that read history books for fun. I’d leaf through them sometimes and I still remember an  image detailing the number of deaths Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge leader) was responsible for: 1.5 million. As a child, I couldn’t comprehend this number. As an adult, I still can’t.

Books like this are so, so important. We shouldn’t ever forget and we should learn from history. Just forty years ago, a megalomaniac and the group that blindly followed him attempted to “take back” their country, separating people by their religious and ethnic backgrounds, forbidding minorities to speak their own languages, and trying to make everyone the same.

One and a half million people died.

That’s terrifying. 

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June 2016 SummySeries Reading Wrap-up

Covers from Goodreads, click on the titles for more info.

SUMMER OF LOST AND FOUND by Rebecca Behrens

MG novel that follows protagonist, Nell, as she searches for clues about the lost colony of Roanoke.

Summer Lost and FoundI loved all the details, both about the past and the present. It seriously felt like I was exploring North Carolina with Nell because Rebecca created such a vivid picture of the small community. And the descriptions of the humidity? SPOT ON. I’m in Virginia, I know that soupy misery.

When a book makes history fun, that’s a big thumbs up.

 

JUST LISTEN by Sarah Dessen

YA contemporary about a girl dealing with family drama and being dropped by her best friend.

This one is up there with THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER for me. Annabel was relatable and her family life was realistic. Is there anyone who writes about sisterly bonds better than Sarah Dessen??? Plus Owen. Infuriating music snob, Owen. Somehow I liked him anyway, so kudos to the author.

THE LAST STAR by Rick Yancey

The final book in the YA sci-fi 5TH WAVE trilogy.

I hate to ever say this, but: I didn’t like this book

There were multiple POVs, mostly in first person, and the similarity of voices made the whole story confusing and disjointed. Plus the purple prose, especially during a couple of cringe-worthy Cassie passages.

And I know this is a plot driven book, but the characters just kinda fell flat. Even the ending felt anti-climactic and it shouldn’t have because this is, in theory, an exciting book.

Great potential, but it just didn’t deliver for me.

THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater

The fourth and final book in the RAVEN CYCLE. Fantasy? Paranormal? I have no idea how to classify this unique series.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – I love being immersed in the world of these books. The magic, the nature…the Ronan.

Ronan, ferocious and loyal and fragile. (p. 263)

YES.

But, really, I adored all the main characters, even Adam, who had to grow on me.

This book was a satisfying conclusion to a magical series.

I’ll never look at trees the same way again.

Under a Painted Sky coverUNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee

YA historical fiction, set in 1849, about a Chinese girl and a runaway slave who disguise themselves as boys to escape pursuing lawmen.

This book pulled me in completely. I picked it up one evening, thinking I’d read a few chapters before bed, and before I knew it, I was halfway through and had to make myself put it down so I could sleep.

Then I read it during breakfast the next morning and finished it at lunch because I HAD to know how Sammy and Andy’s journey turned out.

Now I’m sad because the book has ended, but I’ll try to console myself with Lee’s next book, OUTRUN THE MOON, which I need to read ASAP. And she has another book coming out in December!

*fangirls*

LOVE STORY by Jennifer Echols

Girl writes about dream guy for her college creative writing assignment, he joins the class, writes his own steamy stories about her.

I thought this would be a sexy, swoony read, but 95% of the book was misunderstandings that could have been solved by simple conversations and I didn’t get my swoon 😦

Out of Darkness coverOUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez

From Goodreads, which sums it up beautifully: Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

This book…

How do I even put my thoughts into words? Beautifully written, painful, real.

Naomi and her twin brother and sister. Their relationship was love. I wanted to put them, and Wash and his family, into a protective bubble and keep them safe forever.

Other characters (no names, as to not spoil anything) made me want to vomit, to scrub my skin off.

The cover is perfection.

The story is haunting.

It’s important.

Read this book.


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YA Buccaneers Reading Challenge Wrap Up

Another summer down! And please don’t tell me it’s still technically summer until the 23rd of September because I am ready for falling leaves and sweater days and all the other lovely things of autumn. In my mind, summer ends in August.

Anyway, I read a ton this summer for the YAB Reading Challenge and here’s more about that:

YAB Reading Challenge 2015

BANNED BOOK: n/a

Dust of Eden coverBOOK WITH DIVERSE MAIN CHARACTER:

DUST OF EDEN by Mariko Nagai. Add this to the list* of beautiful books in verse I’ve read featuring diverse main characters. There were some truly heartbreaking passages in this book, about the Japanese-American internments camps during WWII, and about war, in general.

This is hell, Mina, where men die as soon

as they are freed. This is hell when men do

this to each other.

BOOK BY YOUR FAVE AUTHOR:

I have a lot of “favorite” authors, so this was a tough category. I picked up LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell and it was just as delightful as her other books.

ROAD TRIP BOOK:

I just started REUNITED by Hilary Weisman Graham (hence the half a line above) and it promises to be sweet and funny and exactly the kind of book I need after reading some seriously heavy ones.

BOOK YOU OWN BUT HAVEN’T READ:

THE CEMENT GARDEN by Ian McEwan – disturbing, unsettling, the kind of book you want to un-read. It was adapted into a movie and many of the reviewers were people who wanted to un-see it.

SET DURING THE SUMMER:

THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen – breezy read, loved the sisterly bond.

ADAPTED INTO A MOVIE:

SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Sarah Dessen – one of the best YA female friendships I’ve ever read. And I loved the growth of the main character.

Bone Gap coverBOOK OF YOUR CHOICE:

BONE GAP by Laura Ruby – it kinda lost me at the end, but the build-up was slow-burning beautiful. The cover is a perfect fit for the story. 

TRANSLATED FROM ANOTHER LANGUAGE:

LIZARD by Banana Yoshimoto

The is the second book I’ve read by the author and I felt a bit ho-hum about the first, although I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. I thought maybe something had been lost in translation, but I think it had more to do with the writing style (very little dialog, a lot of inner musings). It worked a lot better for me in this book because it was short stories instead of one long story full of seemingly disjointed scenes.

SET ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT:

FALLEN ANGELS by Walter Dean Myers. A tough read because of the subject matter (young men in Vietnam), but so, so good. I like Myers’ to-the-point writing style. I’ve only read one other book by him (MONSTER), which I also enjoyed so I think I might have to binge-read more of his books next summer.

HISTORICAL NOVEL:

THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS by Anton DiSclafani – I loved the concept, but never really connected with the story/characters.

PUBLISHED YOUR GRAD YEAR: n/a

GRAPHIC NOVEL: n/a

RORY GILMORE BOOK: n/a

NON-FICTION:

LOVE IS A MIX TAPE by Rob Sheffield. This book brought up a lot of feelings since I was also young and in love in the 1990s. Even though there were sections that seemed rambling and unrelated to the story, it all somehow still worked.

*in case you’re interested:

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai (here is a blog review I did a few years ago)

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson


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Writing fun, reading bingo and even more books from the 1980s!

Firstly:

I’m coming to you from my new laptop!!! I finally retired my five and a half year old Walmart special. It was a good run but I was tired of a battery that only kept a 20 minute charge and a keyboard that curled up on one side.

Secondly:

I entered Nestpitch with JULES and got several requests from agents! I’ve sent off my pages and now it’s back to the query trenches.

I took part in the YA Buccaneers 2015 Writing Bootcamp, which was a blast, although I should have made a goal more concrete than “write” because I slacked off all over the place.

Next up is Ready.Set.WRITE! and I’m making specific goals which I’ll post on Monday, June 8.

RSW6

I’m also having fun with YA Buc’s Reading Bingo

YAB Reading Bingo 2015

And it’s once again SummySeries (my totally made up word for when I spend the hot, humid months catching up on reading). I’m currently in the middle of THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen which I’ve read before but…

CONFESSION: I’ve only read two Sarah Dessen books. For shame, since I call myself a YA contemp lover. So I’m starting with her first book and going until I get to her most recent. #RandomSummerGoals

Speaking of random, I found another one of the Sweet Dreams teen romance books at a yard sale in Maryland (FYI, this is not the state where I live). I may have shrieked and danced around while my husband rolled his eyes at me.

(cover and description from Goodreads)

Crossed Signals cover

A teenage romance, this book is about Amy Tyler’s friendship with her best friend Laura and how this was affected by Amy’s growing relationship with Ben Richardson, Laura’s ex-boyfriend.

The hair! That sweater!

And finally:

I met writer friend Rebecca Behrens when she was in the DC area for a book event and she was super sweet. She’s the first online friend I’ve met and now I want to meet all of you 🙂 Tell you what, if I win Mega Millions tonight, let’s have a giant writing meet-up – I’m paying!

Note: I’m having some issues with formatting so my text size isn’t uniform through this post. Oh well…new laptop can’t fix all the issues of The Internetz.


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What’s Up Wednesday

Whats Up WedWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk that allows us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up.

WHAT I’M READING

It’s SummySeries, time to catch up on book series, although this year I’m not sure yet which ones I’m going to read because I’m too excited/distracted – for the first time ever, my library is having an Adult Summer Reading Program!!!

Which means I plan to read some Big People Books* in the next few months!

*Years ago, I worked with a girl who was going to community college and she’d always jokingly refer to 4-year universities as “Big People School” or “Big People College.”

WHAT I’M WRITING

Ready. Set. Write! ready set write button

A summer writing intensive hosted by the two lovely ladies responsible for What’s Up Wednesday, plus Alison Miller, Katy Upperman, and Elodie Nowodazkij

Here are my goals:

Finish the alt ending I’ve been working on for my WIP that’s off at beta camp + get some work done on my new WIP.

WHAT ELSE I’VE BEEN UP TO

Still waiting on my car. It’s universally accepted that it’s broken, yet no one can figure out exactly why. If I only had to drive a mile or so at a time, I’d be in business, but seeing as it stops working after short distances…

Blah.

On a positive note, I am lucky enough to have a Saturday Farmer’s Market just a few blocks away, so I’m going to browse this weekend.

Also, the weather has been fantastic this week – I like avoiding the hellish inferno that is summer for as long as possible.

WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW

ENDURANCE – Look, I’ve found my word for the year! (five months late)

I’ve never had great physical endurance, even as a kid. I could sprint like a champ, but when faced with a long race or a running game (like soccer), I was the one constantly calling, “time out!” so I could collapse on the ground.

Hmm…maybe my car lacks endurance and that’s the major issue?

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of athletic conditioning type workouts lately, hoping to improve since I want to shave my mile time. The fastest I’ve ever run a mile is nine minutes and that makes me sad because I was nine when I did it and I’ve never been able to top my kid self. Hopefully I can later this summer when I get back on the treadmill.

So there’s that, but there’s also everyday endurance, the kind that gets you through the little annoyances of life, like a broken car or a laptop that won’t start (thankfully it finally did) or a sinkful of dirty dishes which I swear I just washed five minutes ago.

Like Rocky Balboa would say: Ain’t nobody gonna hit as hard as life.

But I like getting up each morning and kicking it back 🙂


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RTW – Lovefest!

This week’s topic is: It’s (the day before) Valentine’s Day! Let’s jumpstart the lovefest by blogging about what you love most about writing (and/or reading)!

I love all the great memories I associate with reading and writing.

-Being a kid and my mom taking my older brother and me to the local library. I know I’ve mentioned it once (or a dozen) times on the blog that bro and I would check out every single copy of Three by the Sea, just because we could.

-My elementary school librarian reading to us in the library “pit.” I can still picture the ugly green carpet.

-Getting permission in high school to complete a special senior year project of writing a novel because my creative writing teacher was the most awesome, supportive woman ever. She even had several bound copies made for me.

-My creative writing classes at community college, which were the first times I shared my work with people not my age. My classmates included a pastor and a retired farmer. Or at least in my frozen teenage memory, he will forever remain a farmer who wrote such a great character observation that it still sticks in my mind.

-Swapping books with my family. I’m helping my dad clean up his enormous collection of books this spring and I can only imagine how many I’ll end up with before all is said and done. Some he’ll insist I read, but others I’ll take because I won’t be able to help myself.

-Seeing a whole new generation fall in love with reading. One of my friends told me her one-year-old has started bringing books to her and her husband to read to him.

-Which reminds me of my older brother “reading” to me when we were kids. He’d start off out loud, then trail off after about a page and continue on silently. So it’s more like he’d read and I’d sit there beside him, waiting for the story to start up again.

-Finally, cats and YA.

The Cat Recession


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The Classically Banned Book List

It’s September!!! Which means cooler weather and creativity and all things baked goods!

And a new month means a new reading list! And more exclamation points!!!

Okay, calming down, here’s what I have on tap for this month (all descriptions/covers from Goodreads):

A new classic*:

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This has been on my bookshelf for years, so it’s like 2 birds with one stone. And I can finally watch the movie, which I’ve been putting off until after I read the book.

…The story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder — a murder recounted by the teenage victim…The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she was confronted by the murderer one December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she was raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished.

A Banned Book** (since Banned Books Week 2012 is September 30-October 6)

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

This is also on my bookshelf

Troy Billings is seventeen, 296 pounds, friendless, utterly miserable, and about to step off a New York subway platform in front of an oncoming train. Until he meets Curt MacCrae, an emaciated, semi-homeless, high school dropout guitar genius, the stuff of which Lower East Side punk rock legends are made. Never mind that Troy’s dad thinks Curt’s a drug addict and Troy’s brother thinks Troy’s the biggest (literally) loser in Manhattan. Soon, Curt has recruited Troy as his new drummer, even though Troy can’t play the drums. Together, Curt and Troy will change the world of punk, and Troy’s own life, forever.

Book I’ve never finished

Sorry, War and Peace, 2012 will not be your year. Better luck next time. The honor instead goes to *drum-roll*

On the Road by Jack Kerouac!

I may or may not eventually watch the movie. It depends on how much hair I pull out while making my 3rd attempt to get through this book.

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.

Since I expect it will take me much time to get through my never-finished book, I’m keeping my other options open. I’ll, of course, be reading whatever is up for YA Book Club and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Plus, I’m aiming for 20k on a new WIP and hoping my paying work contract gets another renewal. I’m looking forward to sweater days and the smell of wood smoke – what are you up to this month?

*based on this EW list that lists great books that came out between 1983-2008

**based on the ALAs list of top 100 banned/challenged books between 2000-2009