How NetGalley Ruined My Life

I know I’ve been a poor blogger and a bad blogging-friend this summer, for I’ve been all but absent (basically). I’m sorry, I really am! But it’s NetGalley’s fault.

Okay, that’s mean–and untrue. It’s not NetGalley’s fault but my own, and my life wasn’t ruined but my summer certainly was. You see, what makes NetGalley so addicting is the idea of all these books just waiting for requests from bloggers, and I can’t resist that. Literary temptation is always my downfall, and my binge on galley requests from months before almost tanked me.

Words of advice: If you don’t have to do it and you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.

What I used to look upon as an exciting privilege turned into a nightmare. It destroyed a hobby that, in the past, provided relaxation and escape without fail. I entered summer with the prospect that, because school couldn’t interfere, I could and would enjoy all the books at my disposal. How wrong I was. You see, all these books I’d requested jumped up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hello.” There was some eyebrow-wiggling, a groan, a gasp, a sigh. Lots of groaning. Groans of regret. Sighs of disappointment.

I was approved! But I wanted rejection! Oh no.

If you take a fun activity and turn it into a job, if you feel like it’s work, then something is wrong. And something was wrong. Speed-reading through this and that NetGalley-approved book became my summer chore, and when I wasn’t trying and failing to churn out a review on non-NetGalley books, I wasn’t reading. I couldn’t read because every book I picked up reminded me of the x number of galleys left–but then it got worse. Enter: Early Reviewers.

Over at LibraryThing–a website that I still cannot navigate without perplexing question marks sprouting around my head–runs a neat giveaway. Each month an ARC stash goes up for Early Review members. Similar to GoodReads’ First Reads, if you win an Early Review book, you should review that book lest you mar your chances for future wins. I won two books, read one, reviewed zero.

Is it all right if I scream? Reading should not feel stressful, but for this summer, it did. If anything, at least I can say that I have made it through the bulk of my NetGalley stack. Only two galleys remain, which gives me some peace of mind. Then, of course, there is a physical to-review stack of giveaway-wins that I feel obligated to review…  at some point…

to-review stack

The good news is that my hate for reading is dissolving. I’m no longer picking up a book only to sit it down after trudging through ten pages. I am actively reading The Ask & The Answer as well as Peter Pan–both of which I find easy to engage in, what with a surprise at every page-turn that Ness throws and the magic J.M. Barrie gives. So long as my to-review stack is reviewed, the pressure to schedule (gross) books and reviews–the pressure I felt from NetGalley books–is non-existent. With only two galleys left, my new direction as a reader and blogger is to steer clear of that ‘organized constraint.’ I want to put the fun back in reading. I want the freedom to read what I want when I want, which–as a mood-reader–is important.

And after three months of fret and fuss, I’m finally getting there.

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Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Weeks Three & Four

SS&D book club

If you’ve followed my SS&D book club posts, you will know that Epic Reads chooses a new book to read every month. Lo and behold: excitement! Because Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly was chosen for August, and Susan sprinkled in extra SS&D fun by hosting her own book club. Not only was A Darkness Strange & Lovely added, but an assortment of weekly prizes. As if that weren’t enough, there is an additional participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a cut scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely–just for participating in one discussion. Pretty awesome, am I right? This week’s prizes are:

  • a signed copy of A Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • a signed copy of Something Strange & Deadly or A Darkness Strange & Lovely
  • signed SS&D swag

Well, today marks the end of the SS&D book club, and I’m sad to see it go. (But keep an eye out for its return next year!) Last week I turned lazy and missed the third discussion, so–just for the sake of it–I’ve lumped it in with this week’s question. I’d hate to ignore week three completely! Seeing as how today, Sunday, is the September 1st, I might’ve missed the deadline to enter for this week’s prizes. No matter, because the discussion questions alone pique my interest and, as a sucker for book discussions, I enjoyed answering them. To see my answers for weeks three and four, continue reading below the cut: Continue reading

ARC Review: Trash Can Days by Teddy Steinkellner

tcd coverTrash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner
Published August, 20th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★★☆☆

How many times have I heard someone say high school is the best years of everyone’s lives? Too many times. For me, high school did not make up the *best years of my life, but they weren’t the worst. The worst is reserved for middle school. I never think back and feel a warm, bubbly wave of heated affection for middle school, because those years mark the cruelest three years of my… my what, exactly? Childhood? Adolescence? No. Middle schoolers are at that awkward in-between age, stuck leaving their childhoods behind as they move on to becoming full-fledged teenagers. It’s the pre-teen years, and for many students, this not only means fluctuating hormones, but changes in social hierarchy. I will shoot the most incredulous look I can muster if anyone claims these years bring back fond memories. Because they don’t. And no child can escape the terrors of †tweenhood. And Teddy Steinkellner? I think he understands this.

Pre-adolescence is a confusing period to navigate, and Steinkellner’s debut novel, Trash Can Days, captures just how uncomfortable it can be. The book surprised me by how realistically the author portrays junior high (or in my case: middle school) life—this is no Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Alvin Ho, or even Lizzy McGuire or Breakfast Club. Characters are betrayed by their friends and family, several are bullied, others desperately wish to fit in while one wants to dominate the top of the social ladder, and a more serious matter of gangs and gang violence threaten to permeate one character’s life. Despite all this, Steinkellner writes with laugh-out-loud humor that balances the novel’s drama.

In first-person narrative, Trash Can Days follows the lives of four characters voyaging through junior high. Jake and Hannah Schwartz—siblings, separated in age by one year—couldn’t be any more different from each other. Jake—with his bushy hair, questionable fashion taste, and endless love for “childish things”—becomes not so much of a nerd but a scapegoat. He’s an easy target for bullies, even for his sister and (former?) best friend. Hannah, however, is the Queen Bee we all know and hate—but Steinkellner humanizes her character, however self-absorbed and irritating she remains. Next is Danny Uribe, a boy whose body is growing faster than his brain, which reels in all sorts of drama that rivals Hannah—and that’s a lot of drama. That leaves Dorothy Wu, the loveable weird girl who feels perfectly undisturbed about her friendless state or low social rank.

It’s on rare occasions that I’m not completely turned off by alternating perspectives in a book, and Teddy Steinkellner’s Trash Can Days is part of the exception. Often, I find that I become attached to one character and will skim-through other passages to read more from that person’s perspective. I can’t say this didn’t happen with Trash Can Days, as I instantly fell for Dorothy. What’s not to love about “weird” characters? They’re exceptionally different from the herd, and that is what makes them interesting. The diversity Steinkellner provides—and not just ethnically, but in depictions and personalities—makes a curious hook for all characters, so as much as I adore Dorothy, I find Danny’s, Hannah’s, and Jake’s storylines equally engaging.

I felt so engaged, in fact, that it maddened me. Why couldn’t these characters have been a part of my childhood or pre-adolescence? I wish they had been, because no matter how devoted I am to Lizzy McGuire, Trash Can Days is an accurate snapshot of school-life. I wasn’t one of the popular elite, but I wasn’t sitting with the “geeks and freaks” at lunch, either. I related to Lizzy because we were alike in this way, but I didn’t always have a loyal twosome who had my back at all costs. Middle school is a vicious place sometimes, and the lives of many middle schoolers aren’t PG-rated—sorry, Lizzy. This is what attracts me to Trash Can Days, and the well-blended humor makes for an added bonus.

Realistic portrayal aside, I found I relate to Steinkellner’s book because I see parts of myself in many of these characters, and I think others will, too. Where Jake and I are alike rests in his habit to brood and wallow. Ugh! (In self-defense, I look back on this period of my life in shame. “It was hormonal,” I say. “What almost-teen/actual-teen isn’t moody?” I don’t puke rainbows and sunshine for anyone.) As frustrating as he is at times, I extend my sympathy toward Jake because I understand him. And Dorothy? I saw my old thirst to write reflected in her, but her character brings so much more than passion to the story.

Dorothy feels no fear in doing what she wants to do. Unlike many teenagers, what people think doesn’t worry her. She’s bold enough to attend dances solo and scare people in the hallways with feral animal noises. She loves to write and writes about anything, reflecting reality in her fantasies. Her favorite activities include manga-reading, Internetting, video-gaming, and following her morning ritual of brushing her hair 151 times (one stroke for each original Pokémon). She’s strange but quirky. Dorothy is simply Dorothy, and it’s this unique quality that makes her a courageous, beautiful character.

Hannah and Danny are the two I had the most difficulty connecting to. It’s not that I didn’t see aspects of myself in Hannah, because I do, but in a much less diva-like way. In Hannah’s mind, her school is “Hollywood” and she is “US Weekly.” She can write a book with the amount of gossip she files away, which—yes!—she does, but in blog-form. A couple cruel and undeserving incidents happen to Hannah, and although these experiences allow her to change, it’s a turtle-slow process.

But Danny? I have never felt so frustrated by a fictional thirteen year old before. Danny enters junior high a changed boy, and not just physically. Athletic and attractive, he’s much more well-liked than Jake. He’s the guy girls begin to notice, Hannah included, but he also attracts attention from the local gang. From the start, I rooted for him. I wanted him to do well, and then… Danny makes one wrong choice after another. He questions where he belongs: with Jake’s ritzy folk, or with his Hispanic family from the gang-run east end?

I am white, middle-class America living in a less-than-diverse town. Of course I don’t relate to Danny on personal levels, but I feel Steinkellner articulates Danny’s struggle in comprehensive detail. Why Danny upsets me, however, is not about him questioning his place in the community. It’s about him behaving like a terrible friend and not acknowledging it. It’s about his lack of apologies, and how he dares to intentionally lead a friend into a life-threatening situation. Danny makes me angry because he steps up a little too late.

So yeah. Danny pisses me off!

But the book? The book is fresh air. It’s what realistic fiction needs to be: realistic without the cheese-lathered side-dish of hunky-dory.

(*If high school is as good as life gets, then I am a rolling wrecking ball crumpled in eternal regret.

I know, “tweenhood” is an abomination of a word. I did wrong. I am sorry.)

 

Thank you to NetGalley and Disney Book Group for providing a free copy of Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga in exchange for my honest review.

Something Strange & Deadly Book Club: Week Two

SS&D book club

Over at Epic Reads, a new book club read is chosen each month. For August, Epic Read’s pick is one of my favorite comfort books: Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly. Well, Susan decided to spice up this month’s SS&D fun by hosting her own book club, and by adding A Darkness Strange & Lovely and prizes into the mix as well. Each week is an opportunity to win other great books–including signed hardcovers!–as well as a participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a deleted scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Read more about it here and sign up if you like!

This week’s question is a difficult one to answer, and I can’t say I responded with eloquence—but I hope it’s lucid enough, however weak. (Sorry!) Continue reading, if you dare, below the cut: Continue reading

ARC Review: Skin by Donna Jo Napoli

SkinSkin by Donna Jo Napoli
Release date: August 6th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I should know better than to read a Donna Jo Napoli ARC. I really should, and now I am kicking myself in the shin with my other foot for requesting it. What possessed me? Because now I am left to write a negative review for a book that sounded interesting but disappointed me as a reader—and I knew it would. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew. It goes back to Napoli’s 2006 novel, Bound. I must have read this book when I was nine or ten years old, and Xing Xing’s story only had me half-absorbed. I wasn’t engrossed, but it is a light book that I did enjoy. Fast-forward to a couple of years later, however, and I found myself disappointed upon revisiting the same book. Bound, I discovered, is a book that tells a simple yet unoriginal story that lacks in profoundness. It was no longer this fanciful Cinderella re-telling I had cooked up in my head, and I wished to never pick up another book by Donna Jo Napoli.

But is it fair to base the entirety of an author’s work on one book? A book from seven years ago, no less? It’s safe to assume that Napoli’s craft in storytelling has matured since—that is what I told myself. I’d seen a few bloggers talking excitedly about Napoli’s books, and their excitement did a bad thing: it infected me. I was eager to read Napoli’s books. Me. Little old me—with a sad habit of scrutinizing literature—felt excited, and I ignored that twinkling sensation that said, “Warning: Approach with caution.”

This was bad. But not as bad as the situation Sep finds herself in.

I’ve been telling myself vitiligo is just a lack of coloring, so no matter how far it goes, it can’t look that bad. But it does. I can’t understand how—but it does. It’s revolting. A little shiver hums inside me, elusive and eerie.

Normally, I would be ashamed of myself for thinking this way, for being such a shallow jerk. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t think this at all. Normally, I would have empathy. If it weren’t me, I could look and be kind, charitable. But it is me.

On the first day back to school, high schooler Giuseppina, or simply “Sep,” awakens to white lips. No amount of scrubbing, waiting, and hoping will make the whiteness go away, as Sep soon discovers that vitiligo is taking over. What she does learn, however, is the lengths she will go to hide it. Her condition is nothing a little lipstick and clothing can’t cover, until it begins mapping her skin is places she can’t conceal: the palm of her hand, her neck, her face… Shaken with fear and embarrassment, Sep feels desperate to make her skin’s white patches revert to normal—and angry that they won’t. In Sep’s eyes, vitiligo has won, for once it becomes too wide-spread to mask, it will have doomed to her a loveless, lonely life.

As the saying goes, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s skin-deep. But isn’t it easier to believe this when addressing other people’s flaws and not your own? I’m like Sep: a person who can sympathize and empathize. I’m not a shallow jerk who stares at and makes fun of someone for the way she or he looks, and I certainly don’t think any less of that person. Yet, if I were in Sep’s shoes, I’d feel horrified, angry, terribly unlucky, and self-conscious, because my appearance matters to me. I relate to Sep in this way, yet worrying about her looks and trying to keep vitilgo hidden is the novel, and this is not the story I had hoped to read.

Skin is difficult for me to review, as I am torn between the story I had imagined versus the story Donna Jo Napoli has written. Not only does Sep waste too much time trying to cover up her condition, she spends it rushing to experience love and romance before it’s too late—before vitiligo conquers her body, because no one will want love her then. If she can’t love herself, who else will? The novel, overall, carries a noble message within its pages—that beauty and love go deeper than surface appearances—yet it’s a cliché sitting on top of a weak story. While Napoli’s message is an important one to learn, I don’t buy it. Not here, not for Sep.

I can’t just look to others to be kind to me. I can’t control that. I have to learn how to be kind to myself. To the animal that is me. To this body. This skin. This me.

The rational part of me knows that this is the job ahead.

It sounds so simple.

The world is a giant deception. Hardly anything is simple.

But for Sep, it does seem simple.

Through most of the novel, Sep focuses on covering up vitiligo with lipstick, cream, clothing, and lies, and within four chapters I am to believe that she reaches an overnight understanding of what it means to love oneself? Sep stops battling her skin and finds inner-peace in return. No doubt some people in this world, like Sep, quickly discover equanimity—however temporary—or a deeper-than-skin acceptance of who they are. I am not one of those people, and I know that feeling comfortable in my own body is easier said than felt. What I think of Skin doesn’t amount to very much, as the shallow storyline limits its own power and ability to move readers, but I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that it took over 300 pages for Sep to accept herself. I’m disappointed by how suddenly, and so simply, she overcomes this nightmare she fights against for months. I wish Sep came to this realization sooner in the story, as quarreling against the public perception of beauty—and still learning to accept oneself—beats a story about trying (and failing) to blend with the herd.

Thank you to NetGalley and Amazon Children’s Publishing for providing a free copy of Skin in exchange for my honest review.

The Dusty Bookshelf Challenge

Most of every year is routine, for each autumn, winter, and spring is much the same: class, assignment, work, class, assignment, work, read, read, read, drown in textbook, scream. Study for exams. Stab exams with pencils. Read, read, read. …Drown in textbook. Stab textbook. Hit textbook. Kill textbook. Scream. Battle-cry. Victory-yell. I’m not a violent person, and books are my most valued items, but hobby-reading doesn’t reside on the same level as school-reading. Believe me when I say I wouldn’t feel the smallest drop of rage or regret if one my textbooks was ripped apart. I’d revel in the highest merriment. Who cares if they cost hundreds of dollars? As any student knows, unless you enjoy studying, to constantly absorb yourself in a textbook for exams becomes taxing. It’s wearing, and it’s dull–especially if the content is dull. While school-reading drives me batty, hobby-reading balances my crazy with just enough sanity.  Where I run in to  trouble is when school and other matters seep into the untainted parts of my life. Downtime gets slaughtered, coping mechanisms poof, and chaos erupts like Godzilla on an endless rampage.

beauty & beast gaston no picturesThat’s what happened to me this spring. It was one class–one, measly class–that tossed me overboard. My tolerance for stress shrunk to an inch as my work ethic deteriorated. I am so done, I said. Done, done, done. This one class broke me, possibly for the best. When I go back to school, it will not be to finish my science pre-requisites–and yet! While medical anthropology gave me enough backbone and fury to quit doing what I don’t want to do career-wise, it almost killed my love for reading. …But not my love of books.

You see, I’m a book hoarder. I get such a thrill in purchasing and borrowing books a little more than I do reading books, so by the time summer comes and school’s exhausted me, I don’t read. Scratch that. I do read, but not nearly as much as I would like. What’s worse are my bookshelves, or more specifically, what is on my bookshelves. Unread books upon unread books, and the collection only aggregates.

Right before the New Year, I vowed to several bookish resolutions–challenging myself. I immediately broke my promise not to buy books unless I intended to read them shortly after buying them. (I mean, it is kind of difficult to read all 16+ books purchased in one month, and then the 20+ books brought home from the library…) This only adds to my owned-but-unread books problem. If anyone recalls, I also challenged myself to read at least five books that I own, and not to involve myself in more than three reading challenges. I’ve kept good on the latter, but I’ve managed to read two books from my personal collection–excluding purchases I instantly read.

I hope to change this. Really. Enter the Dusty Bookshelf 2013 Challenge. This challenge is for anyone who has let books sit on his or her shelves for too long, or even to tackle unowned books that have found a long-term residence on a to-read list.  If you’re interested, sign up by joining the Goodreads group or by commenting on this post–don’t forget to link your own blog post, however, that includes the Dusty Bookshelf badge with a list of books you’d like to read! In all, there are four levels to choose from:

  • Pixie Dust: 0-5 books
  • Dust Bunny: 5-10 books
  • Cobwebs: 10-15 books
  • Grungy: 20+ books

Because it’s late in the year and I do have a number of books-for-review I need to clear, I am aiming for the Pixie Dust level. A list of books I want to read can be found here, as it’s also where I will keep track of my progress. (Although my goal is to read between zero to five books, I listed ten for variety’s sake.)

Happy reading, everyone! I hope your TBR piles are tamer than mine.

the dusy bookshelf

Comforting your sick, lazy self + Twitter

What a fancy seeing me here! I’ve kept quiet for almost the entirety of July, I am well aware. Blogging sat in the back of mind for a couple of weeks, and then it invaded my conscience and found a voice. It said things like, “Post!” and “Review!” and I said, “No.” After leaving one of the more stressful school years behind this spring, I felt I deserved a break. I was done. Kaput. Out of energy. I wanted a vacation from cramped schedules and due dates and ARC reading. Well, I cannot do anything about the books I’ve received for review, but I did–clearly–go away for a short while. It wasn’t all fun: I first came down with a two-week bug followed by a bout of laziness, or you might say my two-week bug was laziness followed by more laziness.

medical conditional called laziness

During this great period of Doing Nothing, I read a bit of this book and that book, watched a show here and there… Which made me think: I love comfort books. But not only that. I also love TV shows and movies for comfort, especially ones I can watch on repeat a hundred times. In every sense of the word, I am a book nerd, though I’d be lying if I said I don’t love sitting in front of the screen for hours just a bit more than reading.

comfort reading

If I feel flu-ish or like a couch potato, I become drawn to certain books that meet certain criteria. When sick, there is no chance I’ll seek a book weighted in politics, intricate plots, and complex storylines. All of these qualities, when brought to life by good writing, can make an excellent piece of literature, but who wants that with a fogged brain? I demand light and simple yet interesting. I don’t want a book whose plot flies ten feet above my ability to grasp it, but I don’t want a book that puts me to sleep either. To name some personal favorites, I compiled a few lists…

1. I love a book that can wow me. A book that’s unique, emotionally compelling, and intelligent. My reading, however, should never be restricted to “smart” or “impressive” novels–reading should be fun, and that entails rehashed plots or predictability equally as much as it entails originality. So long as the reader enjoys the book, who cares?  Straight-forward books that offer non-complex world-building often become some of my favorite comfort material, and here are only a select number of preferred light reading:

anna

*Anna & The French Kiss and I didn’t get off on good footing the first time around, but now–well, yes. I understand the book’s appeal. I understood it the first time I read it, but that understanding is now on par with zealous fans. I’m not a zealous fan–just to be clear–but I like this novel for how simple and light it proves to be. It’s predictable with the perfect about of fluff and drama, and once you accept Anna & the French Kiss for it is, you just might like it, too

2. One word: manga!

Ladies & Gentlemen: Mikasa Ackerman of Shingeki no Kyojin & why she's top BAMF. You are welcome.

Ladies & Gentlemen: Mikasa Ackerman of Shingeki no Kyojin & why she’s top BAMF. You are welcome.

I stand before you at the cusp of entering a manga obsession. I’ve never been a manga person, as I can count on one hand the number of manga I’ve read before this week (two). Having finished EVERYTHING that is currently available of Shingeki no Kyojin (SNK/Attack on Titan), I died. Then, upon realizing that SNK is not the only manga out there, I undied and began my search. I’m brand new at this–a beginner. I can’t provide a decent recommendation list, but I will say that–just like any novel–manga storylines are either complex or simple.  Not all are mind-blowing or likable, but the added bonus of a good manga artist and writer (not to forget: a good translator) make even the sophisticated plots fairly comprehensible. I appreciate this.

e7: blue mondaySo on that note:

*The Eureka 7 manga is an adaption of the original anime show of the same name. Between the two, I highly recommend the anime.

3. Those books I will re-read and re-read and… re-read…

When it comes to reading, my biggest problem is allowing myself to get swept up in one book only to be distracted by three more. I don’t accomplish too many re-reads for this reason, but the aforementioned titles are books I will re-read in an instant. They remain as some of my personal favorites, and I give high praise to each. Whenever I’m down with a cold, this is a handful of what I reach for on my shelf.

Fact: Something Strange & Deadly is my favorite comfort book to re-read. At four read-throughs, it’s my second-most read book (only topped by A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness).

film preview

Maybe it’s because I’m a nostalgic person–or perhaps it’s because I loved my mother’s pampering when I was little–but when I’m sick or avoiding chores, I seek things which define my childhood: Spice Girls, Harry Potter, Disney, and well…

1. “Family-fun movies”

2. Shows that know a good time…

Unless you’re my grandmother who solely lives for Lifetime movies, there is a high chance you will enjoy these shows. I will watch every single episode back-to-back–recycle and repeat; no rinse.

*Now, bumping into people who refuse to watch ATLA is almost as frustrating as discovering people who deny watching it. If you think you’re too old for ATLA and LOK, if you think you’re too old for anything animated, then get out of my face or prepare to be agni kai’d off this planet. I will burn you into ashes of shame and humiliation from which you will never rise. Insulting these shows is outrageous. It’s blasphemous. You don’t stomp over a sacred creation without consequence. Thank and bless Michael Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko, amen.

atla water tribe

Speaking of, Korra’s second season is coming this September! Who else feels excited?

3. Re-visiting a few more childhood favorites…

I am sorry? You don’t like Pokémon or Sailor Moon? We cannot be friends.

twitterYes, I am now on Twitter. Maybe? I am here! But, uh, not tweeting. I am intelligent enough to create a Twitter account, but I am not intelligent enough to tweet. Standby as I finish Twitter for Dummies. In the meantime, drop me a comment, because feed is superbly boring when there’s no one to spam it.

Tell me: What are your favorite shows and books to revisit?