Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday Thinks: UCM Children's Literature Festival


A couple weeks ago was the University of Central Missouri's Children's Literature Festival. In a nutshell, it was a gathering of (mostly) middle grade authors who participated in a luncheon, panels, and autographing sessions.

Of course, as soon as I found out about this, I knew I had to go. I immediately made plans with a friend to go, but as the days drew nearer, said friend became unable to come. This meant that I had an extra ticket and absolutely no one to give it to. So when friends fail you, you go to family. Or, friendswhomayaswellhavebeenfamilysinceyouveconsideredeachothersiblingsforfiveyears. 

Anyway, I shoot a text to my brother. It went a little something like this:


And no more was said about it. So I'm just like, "Great, I'll just go by myself, how wonderful." (my parents were coming as well, but I had really been looking forward to taking one of my non-reader friends to the event with me. And it would have been even better if my bro would have said yes, because... okay, it's not that he HATES reading, it's just that he only enjoys certain books. For instance, WWII books, good mysteries, and Civil War stories. 

But he knows how much I love the bookish world, and I really thought he'd go to the festival for me. If not for any other reason than to make me happy.

The morning of the festival, I got up, started running around getting ready, making sure I had all my things in the car, and I had just sat down to check snapchat when the door opened. My mom had gone to take my pups for a grandpa-doggy day while we were gone, as it was quite a drive to UCM and we'd be there all day, and I hit replay on a snap from my dad as I felt her standing beside me.

"Look at your husband." I said.

"Nope," A voice answered, "Not my husband."

Suffice it to say that I was totally freaking shocked to see my brother standing there. Apparently he and my mom had been conspiring behind my back, and he was going to go to the festival with us.

The drive took a few hours, but we finally got there, signed in, and hit the sales area. Throughout the day, my mom and brother swapped the camera back and forth to take pictures, so I have quite a few for you. I also used the Snapchat Story feature for, like, the first time ever, and chronicled our day, though I have been forbidden by my brother to put any pictures on the internets that include him.


From there, we moved to stand in line for the luncheon, and they ended up letting us in super early, so we didn't have to wait long.


video

As we walked into the room we'd be having lunch in, we found tables with author names on a centerpiece. All attendees got to choose their seats with an author, and the first one I looked for was S.A. Bodeen. She wrote books like THE COMPOUND and THE GARDENER, and I'd been trying to meet her for five years. 

Aaaaand of course her table ended up being one of the first to fill. For a moment, I stood reading table names before eventually landing on Angela Cervantes. I wasn't familiar with her works, but we took our seats at her table and actually had the most pleasant time just talking and asking her questions about her books. She gave us so much insight on the publishing industry, and even a good chunk of advice on getting agents and book deals. We ended up talking back and forth around the table for a good hour as we ate, until the guest speaker moved up to the front of the room.



I remembered hearing all kinds of good things about the Al Capone Does my Shirts boosk in middle school, but I never had that much of an interest in them. Let me just go ahead and say that after hearing Gennifer Choldenko speak, I will be reading that series. 

Her talk was about knowing what your story to tell is, and I took a video at one point because I loved what she said. It's pretty self-explanatory.

video

After the speaking, it was SIGNING TIME! I was pretty excited for some of these authors--even the ones I'd met before--so I couldn't wait to get started. 




First, I found R.W. Alley. In case the name isn't familiar to you, he's the illustrator of the beloved Paddington Bear books. He had the second longest line-- second only to Choldenko-- and the wait was worth it to meet such a sweet person that took the time to sketch in each person's books, no matter how many they had (I had like 6).


From there? Cheryl Harness. She wrote these wonderful books for National Geographic that were basically stories and collections of writings from important historical figures, such as George Washington Carter, Myles Standish, Narcissa Whitman, Daniel Boone, and my favorite president-- Teddy Roosevelt. 


Next. Oh my gosh. Next, I met Mary Downing Hahn. I don't know if you guys were like me and spent your middle school years patrolling the library for new finds, but we were required to choose form a set of books at one point. We would read it, do a project on it, and then discuss for a grade. One year, I chose TIME FOR ANDREW. It's a ghost story for ages 8-12, and I loved it. So, naturally, I found her section in the library (I still remember exactly where it is. Follow the right wall as you walk in until you see the windows of the computer lab. Halfway down that wall starts the Hahn section, and it lasts around two top shelves.) and started at one end and worked my way to the other. I read everything my library had of hers, and TIME FOR ANDREW remained my favorite. That's why I was so excited to finally get to meet the author, who was truly lovely and became one of the hilights of the day.



From there, I moved on to Roland Smith. I've had the pleasure of meeting Roland three times now-- twice when he came to my school for speaking events, and once at the CLF-- and he has yet to disappoint. I remember the first time we met, he signed my copy of SEA OTTER RESCUE. The second, PEAK (lovelovelove), and now, THE EDGE. It's always a pleasure chatting with Roland, and one of the things I love about it is that he doesn't just sign and send you on your way-- he actually takes the time to talk to you, and it's great.


From there, we moved on to Michael Spradlin, Roderick Towney, E.B. Lewis, and finally to the moment I'd been counting down to all day-- S.A. Bodeen.

You guys.

I've been trying to meet S.A. Bodeen for a grand total of five years now. Each time, something got in the way (Last year, a surgery). But after some email correspondence, I was finally going to get to say hello. Not only that, but I was going to get to interview* her.
That's right.

So as I found all my books to be signed, I headed for her area. I'd actually spotted her earlier, but I'd put on a pair of blinders so I could save her for last. Finally, I carried my bag down the hallway and got to meet one of my faves. Graciously, she signed the stack I had, which included allllll of her YA/MG books, and after getting everything signed, we made our way to the staircase (where it was slightly less noisy) and got down to business.

The very last thing I did before leaving was find the author I'd had lunch with, Angela Cervantes. I had a copy of her first book, and wanted to end the day just as I'd started it-- talking with Angela. We'd had a great time at lunch, and I can definitely say that I left CLF with one more author friend than I'd come with. That's one of the best things about going to an event like this where you have a luncheon-- the fact that you get quality one-on-one time with an author that you might never have met before, which is exactly what happened with Angela. I do read MG occasionally, but not often enough that I'd be super familiar with a current MG author. I'm glad I took that seat at Angela's table.


With my time at the festival over, I stopped by the University of Central Missouri's trophy case to take a picture with the UCM sign to commemorate my day there. 


All in all, Children's Literature Festival was a great experience. I attended one of the three days, and I'm positive that the other two were just as nice. If you're ever in the MO area around March, you should definitely look into the festival. You can clinky this linky to check out the fest's webpage, and keep tabs on next year's event.

Happily,
Stephanie


 *You'll have that interview coming within the next couple weeks... Cooking up some plans over here ;)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday Reviews: The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles


Title: The edge of Everything (#1)
Author: Jeff Giles
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Format Read: ARC
Rating: Two Stars

Description from Goodreads: For the perfect love, what would you be willing to lose?

It's been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who's still reeling from her father's shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors' mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods-- only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe's evil attacker and others like him. X is forbidden from revealing himself to anyone other than his prey, but he casts aside the Lowlands' rules for Zoe. As they learn more about their colliding worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future. 

I've started to see this everywhere. It's been all over my insta feed (beautiful pictures, you bookstagrammers, you), and I had my copy of it, so  decided I'd see what all the hullabaloo was about.

To be frank, I still don't know.

I mean, the concept was FANTASTIC. I loved the idea of the Lowland bounty hunters, and I love (some of) the characters. Banger, Ripper, Regent, Dallas, JONAH. But the two main characters were kind of lost on me. I feel like I didn't have a good enough grasp of who they were, and though I read from cover to cover, I just didn't really like either of them.

Normally, insta-love doesn't bother me (Hello, Twihard central over here), but in EDGE OF EVERYTHING, it definitely did. I think it's because, with insta-love, sure they may like each other from the very beginning, but they generally aren't smooching and cuddling within like three days. Especially when they know nothing about each other. Especially when one of them just saw the other try to kill someone.

The plot was great, but I didn't enjoy the execution of it. Nothing happened that really made me root for the characters. In fact, the only reason I was even remotely okay with not DNFing this book is because of the secondary characters that made pop ups. Banger, Ripper, Regent, Dallas, JONAH. It was them that I liked, even if they only got a few pages total of spotlight.

And what's sad is that this story had some REAL potential. Like, the synopsis and the blurbs made me so hyped to read it, but I was disappointed at what I found. It's sad when you read a book and can't get invested in the main characters, can't cheer them on, can't enjoy it. And sadly, that's where I was at.

I also feel like the world building of the Lowlands needed a lot more whipped cream. I finished the book, and I still know very little about what it's like there, or how the rules work, or who runs the place, and I have so many questions about it. 

As for the ending? It didn't make me go OMG I DIDN'T LOVE THIS BOOK BUT I'LL READ BOOK 2 SO I CAN FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS. It made me sigh because I was glad it was over.

I give THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING a single star review, and that star is for the secondary characters that shine like gold.

(Un)Happily,
Stephanie

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thursday Thinks: Bloggers Matter


Sometimes you make really good author friends. Sometimes, those author friends write new books. And sometimes, those author friends ask you to beta their WIPs.

That's when you go


Immediately followed by



It's a special kind of thing, to be asked to look at someone's work and give feedback. Even more so when you have a great relationship with that person and you know that they are genuinely interested in what you think.

And I know I've made a post about this before, but I think sometimes bloggers fall into a rut and they stop wanting to do posts and reviews and interviews. Blogging is a lot of work. It truly is-- posting isn't a quick, five minute ordeal. It can take hours just to get one post right, and it's a real labor of love. 

Sometimes you get to where it feels like it's just too much. You get overwhelmed with schedules and finding time to read and time to blog, and you stop. 

I did, but I had the intention of coming back. A lot of people don't.

And I just wanted to tell you bloggers out there that what we do DOES matter.

Beta reading is only one of the perks of doing our job, but it's a fantastic thing, to be asked. Relationships with publishers. Bookish friends. Knowing your review helped sell a book.

Don't undervalue yourself. It's hard, but the rewards are always worth it.

Happily,
Stephanie

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tuesday Reviews: Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Title: Caraval (Caraval #1)
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Format Read: ARC
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Description from Goodreads: Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world...

Welcome, welcome to CARAVAL-- Stephanie Garber's sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett's father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett's long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval's mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season's Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Lemme tell you something before we get started here.

I LOVE a good fantasy. Strangely enough, though everybody had their own fantasies, good ones are hard to come by. When you find them, though, they blow up. They're the next big thing. And as this started happening with CARAVAL, I grabbed it off the shelf. I'd wanted to read it for a long time, but I hadn't had a chance to get to a nice, longer book in a while. Now, I did.

People. My ARC had 401 pages, and I read it in less than a day.
LESS. THAN. A. DAY.

I stayed up until like 2:30 for this bad boy, and I have no regerts (Intentional typo. If you haven't seen that Milky Way commercial, click below my sign-off).

So I start the book. I get about, eh, 60 pages in, and I've already decided that this book is weird. 

W E I R D.

Mom asked how it was so far, and I literally told her, "It's weird. But, in a good way?"

I had no idea what was in store for me.

I read a but more, and found myself on page 103, texting my brother to tell him I was completely in love with this character, Julian.

BUT HOLD UP. LEMME TELL YOU BOUT JULIAN.

He's horrible. Egotistical, arrogant, slick as oil.

So, naturally, I love him.

So once I decide I love this character, we start down the path of CARAVAL, learning how it works and trying to find Tella. 

Amongst this, I decide three things: Julian is a snake (luvs), Tella is selfish, and Scarlett is much like me.

As we're going along this journey, I can't help but marvel at how well Stephanie Garber had crafted this world. Everything was so intricate and perfect and delicate. The strings were tied in so many places that you could snip one in half and still have enough attached to hold the story together. The descriptions were specific, but there wasn't so many of them that I found myself wanting to skip paragraphs, which often happens for me in fantasies.

That could have been because I had other things tempting me to skip paragraphs. Snakes and such. But that's not the point.

And then I'm reading along and my world gets totally flipped. PLOT TWIST NUMBER ONE, AT YOUR SERVICE.

I start questioning everything I thought about everything I knew and I'm just sitting there with my mind spinning. Surely not. But... surely so.

And those are my favorite moments in a book (besides the nice snakes). When I think I know what's going on, but then suddenly, I don't. Suddenly, something I read made me question EVERYTHING. It's one of the most magical experiences a book can give you, and it was so incredibly fitting for CARVAL, because... well, go back up and read that description for me, will you?

You back? Good.

The entire point of the game of Caraval is that it's just that-- a game. No matter what happens in the game, it will always remain a game.

I mean. Unless, of course, it wasn't just a game.

You're not supposed to get swept up in Caraval. You aren't supposed to let it sweep you into madness. It was just a game.

Or was it?

THE WHOLE TIME I'M READING THIS BOOK, I'M STARTING TO QUESTION EVERYTHING. IS THIS REAL? IS THIS NOT REAL? IS ANYTHING REAL?

And the plot twists. You guys. I counted at least five that knocked me on my butt. I don't think I've ever been so ingrained in a book that I've had plot twists get me like this. They come out of the shadows and just shove you into somewhere you never expected to be. And then, they leave you to figure out what happened.

As I read, my mom kept looking up at me because I'd be laughing or shrieking at a twist, at my own shock of being deceived, and it had been ages since I'd felt stricken enough to react to it out loud.

And then we get to the ending, and I'm whirling. I'm trying to piece things together as I read, and I'm lost, and then suddenly, everything is cleared. 

The book ends. But in the back of my head, I remembered Caraval. It was just a game, it wasn't real.

Or was it?

I cannot say enough about this book. If you enjoy fantasy, you NEED to get your hands on this. I haven't found a story like this in a long time, and it deserves to be told and shared with as many people as it possibly can be. Four point five stars, and the five is only because of something I can't share with you without spoiling literally everything. But I loved it. And I bet you will, too.

Happily,
Stephanie




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday Thinks: Rewriting Process


That's not Kermit you see up there. That's me. 

As most of you know, I've written a contemporary YA ms. It's been setting on my shelf for a while, because I knew it was missing something-- I just didn't know what. Something about it was just... off. It wasn't right.

About a month ago, I picked it up, looked through it, started thinking on what would make it better, and came up with nothing. So, I started to rewrite it, seeing if I liked the way it came out more this time, and I did. After the first couple pages, I figured out what one of the things bothering me about the other ms was, and I fixed it. After the first chapter, I realized another thing. And after the fourth, another thing. 

Guys, I'm on a roll over here. 25k has gone by quickly, and I spend every moment of my free time writing. It's gotten so bad that I've had to force myself to pick up a book or two so I can keep the blog going, because my head is just so stuck in, quite literally, my own little world.

It's my goal to finish it by the end of April. I'm not even halfway in, so we'll see what happens, but I think I can do it. 

Now, I'm going to sign off and get started. I keep thinking about my current chapter, and I'm getting distracted.

Happily,
Stephanie

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