BEA Day 4 Recap

Day 4: BookCon (Saturday)

Christina's and my reaction to the
number of people attending BookCon
The fourth and final day of BEA was perhaps the most surprising for me (and I think Christina too), because while past BEA attenders said it would be packed, both of us severely underestimated just how packed it would be. Since we had nothing really going on early in the morning, we slept in (until 8:50!) and took our time getting ready before strolling over to the Javits Center. Even then, while there were a lot of bodies, it didn't necessarily seem overwhelming, though we did meet a woman who said that the BookCon side (since BookCon only attendees were only allowed in certain parts of the center) was out of control—scary even!—and that she was going to stay on the BEA Attendees side only as much as she could help it. (People wanting to get things signed had to go on the BookCon side, since one of the big draws was certain celebrity author signings.)

In light of all these bodies, Christina and I decided to split up. She headed downstairs to the Diversity in Books panel that we were both interested in attending, and I went to Bloomsbury to get a copy of The Bone Season (along with another TMO sampler, but I gave it back since I already had one) and then hurried downstairs to get into the panel. Except that I couldn't get it in, because the room was at capacity and there was already a huge crowd waiting to get in.
The packed Diversity in Books panel

Though I tried to explain that one of those seats that was supposedly taken in there was for me, I was turned away with everybody else and was just going to sit by the exit rather disappointedly until the panel ended when the complaints of several waiting crowd members won out and they opened up the room for them to fill the standing room only part in the back.

Christina has a rather good summary of the panel on her blog here, so I won't rewrite it, but suffice to say the panel was really really interesting. I'm glad she talked me into going! After that, we went upstairs to various booths to chat with publicists and editors and such, but we had to give that up once we got to BookCon side, because it was so busy. So we though we would go to the Epic Storytelling panel early and secure a place in line, but the line was already so long, they weren't allowing any more people to join it!

And thus ended Day 4 of BEA. It was only about noon too, but Christina and I returned to the hotel to change and then headed into the city. First, we went to Books of Wonder, a fabulous bookstore that had several signed copies of a lot of books because of a BEA YA author event that had taken place there on Friday night. After much deliberation (because my suitcase was already full!), I decided to only purchase The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski, and a signed copy of Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, possibly one of my favorite contemporary romance stories.

The High Line - so pretty
and relaxing!
As we stepped out of Books of Wonder though, it started to rain and that's when we grabbed some food, just a snack since we were supposed to meet Alexis for dinner (though that didn't end up working out). After that, we headed to the High Line, but again it started to rain so we ducked into Chelsea Market for a little bit to wait out the rain and found this cool custom jewelry maker booth called Brooklyn Charm and Christina and I both had necklaces made. Then we went up to the High Line and it was wonderful! Warm, so we had to keep moving out of the sun, but we relaxed in the park, first one a bench, then at a table, then on a patch of grass and read. Then we headed to dinner at Salsa Y Salsa, a restaurant only a couple blocks away, and were just headed over to say bye to Alexis when she called to say her goodbyes over the phone because she was falling asleep.

So, Christina and I headed home and settled in for the night. Watched a bit of the Thunder vs Spurs basketball game and then Sense and Sensibility, before going to bed far too late for a 4:30 wake-up call. All-in-all, another satisfying day, though I wish I'd had one more to just stay in NYC and relax. Leaving early Sunday morning was a brutal decision, I think. Especially with me being so "delicate" in the morning and all.

There you have it! My first BEA experience laid out in exquisite detail! Did you have any questions? Thoughts? Did you get to go to BEA or has this excited you to save up and try to go next year?

Alexis, from Alexis Adores Books, awesome "I <3 YA" manicure!

BEA Day 3 Recap

Day 3: The Endurance Test (Friday)

We started Friday at the same time as Thursday, 6:30 for Christina and 6:37 for me. Though I was actually more awake that morning (I actually woke before my alarm), I was more scatterbrained, and kept forgetting things. My room key, my badge, my wallet. That combined with our brief breakfast pitstop to partake in the complementary muffins caused us to leave the hotel about twenty minutes later than the day before. 

While 20 minutes might not seem like a long time, it made all the difference. When we arrived at the Javits Center and went to check our suitcase, we were informed that the bag check we'd used the previous day was already full, and were redirected to the baggage check at the far northeast corner of the facility. Armed with our muffins and our schedule, however, we were not deterred. After finally identifying what the side doors with shorter lines were that we'd read about in tips posts, we plopped down on the floor to wait the hour or so before they opened the exhibition floor.

The daily BEA newsletter, Show Daily, is really fascinating and has a lot of really interesting articles as well as ads featuring various booths' galley drops and author signings for the day. I perused that to pass the time and then filled the rest of the time taking selfies with Christina. Our schedule, while carefully plotted, with every moment basically accounted for was full, but surprisingly easy mostly because it involved a lot of sitting and waiting for things. So when they opened the exhibition floor, Christina and I beat a path to the Simon & Schuster booth to grab Scott Westerfeld's Afterworlds. Even though we reached the booth at approximately 9:01am for the 9am drop, there was only a small pile of books left. I'd estimate maybe 15. It was really shocking, honestly. After fighting our way through that chaos, we hoofed it to the Sarah Maas line, arriving at the Autograph Signing area at about 9:03. 

And there was already a line.

Mind you, Sarah wasn't signing until 11. But Christina really wasn't surprised since, as she astutely pointed out, pretty much everyone we'd met the previous day had mentioned going to the Sarah Maas signing. I sat in line while Christina went to pick up galley drop sheets. In the maybe twenty or thirty minutes she was gone, the Sarah Maas signing line moved four times. Four. Honestly, it was a bit ridiculous, but it kept growing and it wasn't a BEA-sanctioned line yet (by which I mean, the BEA volunteers hadn't acknowledged us as an actual line) until they finally moved us into a queue. As I was waiting for Christina to come back, though, I met some other bloggers, namely ScottReadsIt's Jon, and his friend, Kelly, who evidently also has a blog, but since we did not talk about blogger things or exchange cards, I do not know what it is. We had a very delightful conversation that ended in Jon striking out to see if he could track down an Isla and the Happily Ever After ARC, though no one was really holding their breath (if only though!).

This is just the first part of
the Sarah Maas signing line.
It continues around the corner.

Christina returned with CJ, Jon returned sans Isla, and we spent the rest of the time waiting. Sarah, whom Christina and I hosted at our college last year, remembered me, so we had a really great conversation where Sarah was stunning and hilarious and amazing as usual, and I was extremely unintelligent. It was fabulous to see her again though, and from there, CJ, Christina, and I headed out to eat lunch on the steps and take a bit of a rest before diving back into the fray for a 1:00 signing of A Little Something Different. (This was the book I didn't know there was going to be a signing for, and I was so freaking excited that it was here! It was delightful meeting Sandy Hall, the author too.) This afternoon, like Thursday's, was filled with drops, basically us running between Macmillan and all the other publishers.

I dropped in to grab a copy of The Doubt Factory prior to attending the Sandy Hall signing (which I had been told had been canceled, and the only reason we went was because I saw her name on the sheet on our way to Sarah Maas' line earlier, and I just wanted to see if maybe it was still a go), but we headed back over to Hachette's booth at 2, so I could grab a copy of Famous in Love, before rushing over to Macmillan for Sway. We started the line, this time legitimately. The rest of the day was spent running around trying to grab books. 3:00 at Hachette (Little, Brown) for Salt & Storm and The Darkest Part of the Forest. Alexis (from Alexis Adores Books) was kind enough to stay behind at Macmillan and grab me a copy of Trial by Fire, which was dropping at 3 as well (thank you so much, Alexis!!!). She also got to LB in time to grab her own ARCs of Salt & Storm and The Darkest Part of the Forest, though I was going to grab her one in exchange for her getting Trial by Fire for me. Then we headed to the 3:30 drop for The Vault of Dreamers, where I really embarrassed myself. (Ugh, I feel the need to apologize to the universe for that one. Sorry x1000 there.) Then we hopped over to Bloomsbury for the 4:00 drop of The Fire Artist.
The Vault of Dreamers ARCs

After that, the day was over. Christina and I packed our books into the suitcase, dropped them off at the hotel and then headed out for a relaxing evening in Central Park, before grabbing dinner at an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. It started to rain on our way out of Central Park though, which put a bit of a damper on things (no pun intended), but it wasn't for very long, so after dinner we were able to walk around a bit. We got a shake from the Shake Shack for dessert (lines out the door as usual), and then hurried back to the hotel determined to watch Harry Potter. Again, our attempts failed, and we mostly ended up just reading before bed.

Day 2 Spoil:

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist
Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi
A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall
Sway by Kat Spears
Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
The Fire Artist by Daisy Whitney
Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper
Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini
The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O'Brien
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
(I actually got The Jewel by Amy Ewing on Day 1/Thursday, so oops. Picture taking fail.)

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Any books on this list that get your heart pumping?

BEA Day 2 Recap

Hello, and welcome back! For today's recap, we'll cover...

Day 2 of BEA: And So It Begins...
Thursday was the first day of the actual exhibition. We started the morning at the Harlequin Teen BEA Book Blogger Breakfast, where we had the chance to meet and chat with other YA bloggers and authors. The featured authors were Jennifer Armentrout, Alexandra Adornetto, Robin Talley, Julie Kagawa, and Adi Alsaid, all representing their new books. (Harlequin Teen was kind enough to provide a goodie bag with their new titles inside—thank you so much!—so I'm looking forward to reading all of them!) 
Harlequin Teen BEA Book
Blogger Breakfast

After each other introduced him or herself and their book, they round robined around the room with the authors moving from table to table to chat with the blogger attendees. During this time, Christina and I met and briefly chatted with Not Yet Read's Tabitha and Book Swarm's Mary, along with two other BEA veterans, and The YA Kitten's Ashleigh Paige, whom we met that morning in the lobby of our hotel.

Our point of entry to the BEA
Now, my mother calls it "delicate," I call it a "mood," but I was, as most people call it, kind of grumpy Thursday morning. Christina and I got up around 6:30, and after two nights of not-enough-sleep, I wasn't exactly awake enough to make new friends. Usually, I am quiet and terse in my replies, which makes many think I am angry or mean, so I wasn't altogether pleased at this point in my BEA experience. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to meet so many new people and make smalltalk with all of them (a feat for me even when I am not running on 4-5 hours of sleep, two nights in a row) and to talk to so many authors and have pertinent, interesting, unique questions for all of them. Zodiac signing (I also snagged a copy of Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar and Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, which someone had just laid on a random table) and then go to our first (and really only) panel, the YA Buzz Books Panel, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Chitchatting with fellow book lovers wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
However, after grumping (me, that is, not Christina) out of the Harlequin Teen Breakfast at 9am to attend Romina Russell's

As is usually the case, I finally woke up at 9, right about the time I met Kamilla, an assistant editor from Paper Lantern Lit, who sat down at our table. Now, I have been a fan of PLL since I learned about them the summer before my senior year. Quite frankly, I think the entire concept of the boutique is amazing, and I would probably sell my first and second born children to work there—it is, without question, my dream job. So having noticed the publisher on her badge, I perked right up and began peppering Kamilla with questions. I feel the need now to apologize, because my excitement likely got the better of me, but Kamilla was so nice, and we had a really wonderful and easy conversation. Maybe this meeting new people thing wouldn't be so bad after all!

The Buzz Panel was interesting, featuring the editors of The Jewel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, The Walled City, I'm Glad I Did, and King Dork Approximately. Each editor spoke a bit about their initial impressions of the book when the manuscript first crossed their desk and then talked extensively of reasons why they were sure readers would love it. And I have to admit, every one of them did a great job selling their books to me. Afterwards, there was a mad dash/mass chaos/a miniature version of the apocalypse as everyone in the room made for the galley table. I got stuck handing books back to people for a time, with my own books tucked precariously under my arm, and then pinned to the wall a time longer as I had tried to make an escape. This was the taste of war I had been preparing myself for. (It ended up pretty much being the only one though.)

Mildly terrified, but triumphant, Christina and I scamped away from the Buzz Panel room to the exhibit floor, ready to start on our list of must-haves and if-time-allows. As we were making the rounds to pick up galley sheets from the various publisher booths, we were standing in the HarperCollins booth when I noticed one of the books advertised on the wall was one Christina had either wanted or mentioned or something. For whatever reason, I felt the need to point it out to her, which is what I was doing when one of the HC representatives stepped out from behind a table with a "Line Starts Here" sign and started the line right in front of us. Confused, Christina and I had no idea what was going on, and in going with the flow we accidentally ended up cutting the line waiting for the ARCs for Falling Into Place, Positive, Anatomy of a Misfit, and one other that I don't remember because I didn't get it. To those people, if you are reading this, I just want to say I am so sorry. It was not our intention to cut people, we were total n00bs, and if it had computed fast enough what exactly was going on, we would have gone to the end of the line, but as it was, I'm sure we just came off as jerks. Sorry, sorry, sorry!

After that, we headed to the A.S King signing. While Christina waited in line, I finished the galley drop page rounds and stopped by the NYU Graduate School table to learn a little bit more about the Publishing Masters degrees available at the school, then popped over to Candlewick to grab a galley of Egg and Spoon for my bestie who couldn't make it. By the time I returned to Christina, she had made some wonderful friends, Alexis from Alexis Adores Books, and Z, a teen library for a local NYC library.  We had a great time chatting until the signing, where I snagged another book for B, and then split from Christina again. She went to wait in Melissa Marr's Made for You signing line, while I popped over to Penguin to grab her a copy of Belzhar and I'll Give You the Sun. They was already a line forming, and as I waited, I met some cool ladies, two of whom ran a book club together, and the other of whom is a blogger. We didn't exchange cards though, so I'm afraid my old lady memory has eaten up their names. One of the book club gals was named Olivia though. I remember that. Anyway, I grabbed the galleys for Christina and B and then hustled back to the Melissa Marr line just in time. Christina was only three people from entered the sacred cordoned off area.

After getting a signed copy of Made for You, we headed over to The Iron Trial galley drop, and so began the afternoon of running around for galleys. We met UK blogger, Caroline, from Big Book, Little Book and also met up with Sarcasm and Lemons' CJ, a blogger friend of Christina's. From there, the three of us headed to HC for The Queen of the Tearling, but the ARC was out, unfortunately. Christina did manage to leave her card (my card) though after the rep played a slight joke on her. ;) We headed from HC to Simon & Schuster for the Black Ice and Afterworlds galley drop, and while we were able to get Black Ice, we were told that the Afterwords drop had been rescheduled for 9am Friday morning. Why, cruel publisher?! The last stop of the day was Bloomsbury for the secret YA giveaway that turned out to be a Throne of Glass tote and a The Mime Order sampler. Everyone was pretty happy about that, but seeing as I have yet to read The Bone Season, I had to settle for being content with all the free books, TMO sampler included. (Thank you, Bloomsbury!) Tired, we were ready to call it quits for the day and headed to retrieve our suitcase of books and head home. 
After relaxing in the hotel for a couple hours, we headed to dinner at the Iron Bar & Grill in the heart of the theatre district and then got lost on the subway for like an 45 minutes to an hour trying to make our way to Rockefeller Center. I felt kind of bad since Christina was humoring me on that journey, but at long last we found it and Atlas, and as usual we had a gay old time making ridiculous faces. <3 Satisfied, we made the journey home, failed at watching Harry Potter, and went to sleep.

Day 1 Spoil:

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes
The David Foster Wallace Reader
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman
The Mime Order sampler by Samantha Shannon
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson
Talon by Julie Kagawa
The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi
Let's Get Lost sampler (x5) by Adi Alsaid
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil
Atlanta sampler by Ally Condie
Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto
Made for You by Melissa Marr
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick
Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl and Amy Benjamin

See any books on this list you are really excited about? Do you have any awkward/line cutting convention stories to share?

BEA Intro and Day 1 Recap

So, I attended #BEA14 this past weekend. And I say it so nonchalantly, because there is no way to adequately capture the experience in a legitimate sentence, so I have to toss it over my shoulder like it's not a big deal, knowing full well that it is in fact a HUGE deal, inherently de-legitimizing the sentence! Have I lost you yet? As you may or may not have noticed, this blog has been dreadfully dead since, well, September, and while I could explain to you that I have been writing things for the blog all this while, and you could totally not believe because if I was, why didn't I just post them, I figure, I'll skip all that and just say hello with a post of a different nature.

My lovely friend, Christina of Christina Reads YA, writes these convention recap posts all the time. While this is our first convention as actual attendees, we have volunteered at the Romantic Times Booklovers convention several times. She wonderfully sums up everything that she did or saw or got, and intersperses with these events, observations or interesting anecdotes about the things she witnessed. I don't write recap posts, because I often find that by the time I sit down to write them, there is so much running through my head, I have no idea what to focus on. But this time, I'm going to try, because this will likely be the only BEA I'll have the chance to attend for a while. Why? Allow me to casually drop another biggie: I'm moving to Japan to teach. I'll be in school when BEA is going on next year, so I'd like to be able to remember with excruciating detail what exactly this experience was like, because it was fabulous!

I admit my initial impression of the convention was less than stellar, for reasons that I will explain later, but overall, I had a fantastic time hanging with one of my besties (it was supposed to be two, but one of them, unfortunately, had an issue with her flight and couldn't make it), meeting some of her fellow bloggers, and, of course, being up to my ears in books!

I had a little bit more difficulty planning for the actual execution of BEA since I was already traveling before I headed to NYC, and I'd been forced into a smaller suitcase because the larger one broke last year (and I totally forgot to buy a new one). But Christina, B, and I planned this trip to death. Christina researched so many different bloggers' previous BEA experiences, perused who knows how many tip posts, and forwarded to us a steady stream advice. Bring a suitcase! Wear tennis shoes. Be prepared to crawl home on all fours at the end of the day—your feet will hurt that much. BEA is HUGE. Steel yourself against goodness knows how much crazy. Quite frankly, it sounded slightly like the publishing world's version of the Hunger Games. After reading all that, I was quite prepared to go to war in the aisles of the BEA show floor.

But honestly, it really wasn't anywhere near that bad.

Now I heard several BEA veterans remark that BEA this year was considerably calmer and tamer than in previous years, so maybe it really was something like a battle before, but this year was really enjoyable and pretty laid-back. And thanks to our battle plan, Christina and I went, saw, and conquered in a relatively pain-free fashion, and we got pretty much everything we wanted.

180ยบ of the main entrance hall of the Javits Center.
In celebration of that, consider this week: Recap of BEA Week, because I'm going to run through each day—what we did, what we got, what we learned, who we met, and, of course, what strange and unnecessary faces we made. Starting with…

Day 1: Wednesday (Blogger Con)
Christina and I did not attend Blogger Con. I, because, lol, can I really call myself a blogger right now? And Christina for reasons she explains on her own first BEA recap post. I took a bus to NYC from DC where I had been visiting friends, and arrived around noon. It just so happens that my bus let me out on the south side of the Javits center, so I got a good look at the size of the facility as I walked along it on my way to the hotel. It was a short 15 minute walk, made only slightly awkward by dragging a suitcase around, but other people were doing it, so it wasn't quite as weird as I thought it might be.

The Yotel is a very interesting place—a pod hotel on the edge of the theatre district. As such, our room was tiny, but we had a pretty spectacular view of the Hudson River and the Javits Center. There was a bit of a hiccup as I tried to get into our room, though, because Christina was asleep and my name was not on the guest list (because there hadn't been space for a third name when we originally booked our room), but I finally made it and dropped my stuff off, and then the two of us returned to the Javits Center and picked up our badges.

Christina and I getting our badges.
We couldn't really see or do much there, though, since they were still setting up the actual show floor, so after that, we headed into the city to a must-visit place whenever we are in NYC, the Strand. That took up most of the afternoon, as Christina and I greedily filled our arms with books and then found a corner to read in. It had been a long time since either of us had had a chance to relax in a bookstore. Despite the fact that we were going to receive a sizable amount of books over the coming days at BEA, Christina and I both left with a bag of books. 
Pure deliciousness @ Max Brenner

We had dinner at Max Brenner, a delicious chocolate bar, and then headed to Broadway to see Aladdin. I am an avid musical fan, but this was my first Broadway musical, and though I had heard mixed reviews about the show, I had a really wonderful time. Genie was every bit as amazing as I'd heard—hilarious and a wonderfully strong singer—Aladdin was great, I really loved his voice, and his friends, Belkak, Omar, and Kassim, who I initially was not so fond of, became some of my favorites. The song they sing when Aladdin meets Jasmine was definitely a highlight, as was their big song in the second act about adventure. I can't wait until the soundtrack comes out. every single song. It drove me so crazy, I had to switch seats during the intermission, because I couldn't focus on the actors' singing.
Really, everyone was great. The characters I was not as inspired by were Jasmine and Jafar (a shame since Jasmine was my favorite Disney princess growing up), but I was having such a great time that it didn't detract from my experience too much. What did, however, was the girl sitting next to me who felt the need to sing or hum "under her breath"

After that, we headed back to the Yotel and finalized our plans for the following day. Exhausted, but tingling with anticipation, I fell into a rather unsatisfying sleep.

Well that wraps up day one. Expect a recap a day with a BEA tips post on Friday. As always, feel free to connect with me in the comments or via email or any of my other social networking sites!

Did you get to go to BEA this year? If so, what was your experience like? If not, did you have any questions I can answer for you? Were there any books at BEA that you were beyond excited for?

Book Review: Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise by Wendelin Van Draanen

Title: Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Genre: MG/YA Mystery
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: September 10, 2013

This review contains spoilers for those who have not read Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City.

Today, I bring you my thoughts on the second-to-last installment of a favorite series from my childhood, Sammy Keyes. Sammy, after finally learning who her father is, is now set to join him on a Let's-Get-to-Know-Each-Other cruise across the high seas with her best friend, Marissa McKenzie, in tow! However, as things in Sammy's life rarely do, nothing quite goes as planned, and after making the acquaintance of the family behind the Kensington fragrance empire, Sammy, Marissa, her dad, and his best friend, Marko, end up right in the middle of a classic whodunnit murder mystery.

I loved this book. By all accounts, Sammy's life has completely changed now that she's got her dad in her life—and not just any kind of dad, a rock star dad—and her grandmother has married and moved in with Hudson. Suddenly, all the things Sammy never really had—money, popularity, a bed—are available to her and she's not quite sure what to make of it, especially since she's convinced her dad will flake at any moment just like her mother. On top of all this, Sammy frets about losing Marissa, who is moving to Ohio with her mom and brother after the school year ends. One of the highlights of this book is the window Van Draanen gives us into Sammy's new life and her hesitant attempts to adjust to it. Watching Sammy and her dad, Darren, get to know each other is delightful, and her struggle to enjoy her last harrah with Marissa while trying to figure out how they'll stay close after Marissa moves is relatable. The underlying narrative about dealing with change, both those big, unexpected life changes and the ones that come along with growing up, is one that I think many, regardless of age, can relate to or understand. I certainly identified with it. Having just graduated college, I have lived Sammy's struggle to figure out how to make long-distance friendships work, since my friends are now scattered across the country.

In stark contrast to the cute family unit Sammy and Darren fashion for themselves, our resident antagonists/suspects, the Kensington clan, are a dysfunctional family if you've ever seen one. The kids are not at all concerned by their mother, Kate's, disappearance, which kicks off the mystery portion of the story. Sammy falls into an unlikely alliance with Kip Kensington, an adopted addition to the family, and quickly learns that all of Kate's kids, displeased with their late father's will, have a motive to want their mother gone. Sammy continues in her trademark vein of getting into trouble (and dragging Marissa in with her). In this book, though, she also gains the assistance of two willing troublemakers in Darren and Marko, who, despite being adults, get just as invested in figuring out this mystery as Sammy herself does. Trapped on a ship, Kate's disappearance is your typical locked room mystery that follows in the vein of classics like Clue or Sherlock, a fact Van Draanen alludes to directly when Marko re-imagines the game Clue to include the Kensington clan as the suspects.

Van Draanen does a great job balancing the more subtle nature of the character development aspect with the action and suspense of the mystery, a balance made possible due to the uniqueness of Sammy's voice. Sammy approaches a lot of her personal issues such as her reluctance to call Darren "dad" and Marissa leaving, as well as the mystery itself with a tell-it-like-it-is candor, which means we can read about the "mushy" things without getting bogged down in dramatics. We feel her emotions and see her struggles, but she acknowledges them and just as quickly we're off to the races about something else. Her voice ensures the reader can never get bored, always bouncing us from conjecture to personal reflection to action and back again in a way that will even engage readers outside of the book's intended 9-15 aged audience. (I read the first page of this story out loud to my dad, and it had both of us chuckling.) Plus, Sammy's disdain toward being spoken down to by adults means that Van Draanen never talks down to her readers, and she doesn't shy away from tackling "tough issues," a fact I especially appreciated because so many books written for young people do, as if kids and teenagers can't or don't think "the tough stuff" as much or as deeply as their adult counterparts.

My final verdict? Sammy's done it again! Her spunk, her sass, and her penchant for trouble all come through on the page loud and clear, and they make for a fun, enjoyable, snappy read. I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes the structure or suspense of mystery with a dash of family drama, laugh out loud humor, and classic Sammy Keyes trouble!

5 stars

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Thanks to Christina for letting me read over her shoulder!

 Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

The worst thing about getting a book you've been waiting for, anxiously, for almost a year, is finishing it and realizing that you will have to wait yet another year for it to continue. I watched a danisnotonfire video about fiction addictions today, and everything he says is pretty much true. Sometimes, you get so invested in something that you want to live there instead of in reality, and the fictional problems of these characters are so much more important than your own (such as getting a job, looming deadlines, being hopelessly behind on all your other commitments), and just as you're really settling in, imagining exactly where and how you'd fit in with this merry cast of awesomeness, the story ends, and you are violently and suddenly ripped right out of the fantastic into boring, old, seemingly endless reality. And the only question you can form in your head is: why?

The Dream Thieves was just such a book for me. Maggie Stiefvater just has this gift to create vacuums when she writes that just suck you right into the middle of the action, into the middle of the world she's created, and she keeps you there until either the book ends, or you manage to tear yourself away from it long enough to close it. There were perhaps a couple minor things I wish I could change, but this book is glorious. Everyone should read it, if for no other reason than to appreciate her gorgeous writing.

1. Characters: 6/5 (and no, the 6 is not a typo. It's just me being cheesy.)
I'm not one to talk about characters needing to be "relatable," because the world is a big, diverse place. There are plenty of people on it to whom I could never hope to relate; however, Blue, in this book, was very relatable to me, mostly because of the way she feels about the boys—wanting so desperately to fit in with them, but knowing that she never could because of one fundamental difference, in this case, because she is a girl. I also can identify with her struggle to want to be with someone so badly, but knowing that, in the end, you can't be. To do so would mean death.

At times it was painful watching how the boys changed in this book and how their relationship grew as they did, but chalk it up to a certain bittersweetness, because despite all that change, you can tell the boys still care for each other. Both as individuals and as a collective entity, these boys most definitely fall among my favorite characters of all time. The (at times, dysfunctional) relationship between the boys is probably my favorite part of this series.

As a quick nod to the other characters in the book, they too grew more complex, seeming just as real to me as the Raven Boys or Blue did.
2. The Relationship(s): 3.5/5
The inevitable developing relationship between Blue and Gansey gets a shining moment here, just as everything seems to be spinning wildly out of control. Stiefvater does a great job of maintaining that tension between you wanting the two of them to be together and also not because of the horrible, unavoidable fate that relationship will have. She also does a great job of not letting you forget that that caveat exists. I really appreciated how responsibly Gansey and Blue both react to this development. It seemed like a type of discernment not often seen in YA relationships, though I must admit, in the last couple books I've read, the characters involved in the relationship have exhibited a similar type of sense, so maybe it's making a comeback. Or maybe it never left. You can debate me on this one.

The other relationship that pops up rather surprisingly, however, was less convincing. I'm suspicious of why it needed to happen, and it, of all the gentle nudging Stiefvater does to get us where she wants us, seemed kind of heavy-handed. It kind of comes off as a clear authorial decision made just to position people in a certain way for the next book. It was also fairly sudden, which does little to ease my suspicions. I suppose we'll have to wait and see how that turns out.
3. The Antagonist(s): 3/5
The first antagonist we meet was definitely more threatening and scary than the antagonist of The Raven Boys, but I thought he sort of ran out of steam as adding to any of the tension by about halfway through the book. The second antagonist (maybe we can call him that) seemed so flat as a character it was almost comical, so it was hard for me to take him seriously, though Stiefvater definitely does give him an interesting and unexpected twist that fleshed him out in a surprising way. Still, he never quite makes it to full-on antagonist to me.

4. Writing: 5/5
As per usual, Maggie Stiefvater's writing is just...there really are no words to describe it. She has this unique talent that no matter how hard I may try, prevents me from speed-reading her writing. There's something about it so wonderful that I feel the need to experience each word completely. I wish I had her skill to turn a phrase or to describe something so mundane in a way that almost makes it seem magical or that gets right at the heart of it by making you consider it in a totally different light. Yes. Just yes. There were a couple times I remember being confused by what was going on, though. I can't say if that's an issue with her writing or me just misinterpreting, but I'm sure I'll reread this book enough to get it all down in the long run.

5. Pacing: 4/5
The pacing seemed a bit slow, or rather, this book meanders along much like I imagine the mountain roads of Henrietta to. It sweeps along, visits every character, every nook and cranny to build the suspense and tension while simultaneously keeping us confused and slightly disoriented as we continue our slow ascent. But it's all interesting, and it all adds to the plot somehow, so I can't say that the pacing was off. Perhaps the best way to describe this book is patient.

Overall: 4.6/5

My final verdict? Get your hands on this book right now. Unusually, I think it sort of ends up without a clear antagonist, but most of what drives the book is not the fear of the antagonist finding what he's looking for, which would bring him in direct contact with the protagonists, but I think a certain fear of what's happening to the protagonists and the shared desire to know what they are or who they're becoming. The book hits stores on Tuesday.

Book Review: Sailor Moon Short Stories 1

Title: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Short Stories 1
Author: Naoko Takeuchi
Genre: Magical girl shoujo
Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA
Release Date: September 10, 2013

In this first of two collections of short stories, we find our favorite Sailor Guardians and their friends encountering new mysteries, enemies, allies, and once more saving the day. After the daughter of a foreign diplomat transfers to her school, Chibi-Usa's male classmates suspiciously stop attending classes. Upon investigation, Chibi-Usa discovers the new transfer student is a vampire! Mamoru’s birthday gift to Chibi-Usa turns out to be the brainwashing device of a depressed folk tale heroine come-to-life, seeking sympathy from fellow women and girls! Chibi-Usa’s Pink Sugar Heart Attack becomes literal when defeating a local sprite that has possessed the dentist she and Usagi visit to get their cavities treated. Then, other local sprites wreak havoc in the lives of Mako, Ami, and Rei as they and Mina and Usagi study for high school entrance exams. Finally, Chibi-Usa and her newfound BFF’s help out the quirky proprietor of a mysterious pawnshop that is under attack by both human and otherworldly entities!

I'm back after an unintentional two week sabbatical! This post brought to you by the surprise package waiting on my porch when I got home yesterday. Inside were two books I had totally forgotten were due out, one of which was the first volume of translated short stories from the Sailor Moon series. The volume, contrary to what I thought when I first saw the Japanese volumes in the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya earlier this year, is not a special edition extension of the story, but rather a collection of  the bonus chapter stories that appeared at the end of the original 18 tankoban (manga volumes). When the series was rereleased in Japan in 2003 to promote the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon live action drama, the number of tankoban was slashed to 12, a reduction made possible by putting more chapters per book and removing the bonus chapters to make space for the extras. Of course, they couldn't just cut those out entirely, since they were part of the series' canon, so they were compiled into two tankoban and sold separately. What this meant for me was that some of the short stories in the volume, I'd read before (multiple times), some I had seen as animated shorts, and others I didn't even know existed.

The stories were all delightfully silly and fun! Despite being short, individual stories, they were split into two groupings that shared a common theme—the first being Chibi-Usa's Picture Diary and the second the Exam Battles faced by the older girls as they prepare for their high school entrance exams. The stories, as usual, focus more on the backstory leading up the final conflict rather than the conflict itself, a hallmark of shoujo stories. But that works out quite well, as the stories' main purpose mostly seemed to be character development. We are treated to personal character introductions featuring information on favorite colors, favorite foods, blood type (a distinction comparable to zodiac signs in Japan often used as a matchmaking, personality, or behavioral prediction tool), hobbies, etc. Being a huge fan of character development, I appreciated these extra stories right from the get-go, even more so because one of my biggest complaints about the Sailor Moon series is that the other Sailor Scouts are often forgotten when it comes to fleshing out their characters.

The pacing was about what you would expect in these stories, and as mentioned previously, each story is self-contained, despite being a part of a larger thematic narrative. We also get to meet two new characters—Chibi-Usa's BFFs—who had a surprising relationship to one of the trademark side characters of the series that I never knew about! Throughout these stories, we get to experience Takeuchi's gift with puns and what I imagine must have been the result of extensive research.

My biggest issue with this volume likely lay in the translation, which must have been extremely hard to work out this time around. I'd have to read through the Japanese volume to be sure, but Japanese often uses sentence endings to reinforce something such as the speaker's foreign origin or inhuman nature (for instances, talking cats or cat-humans might end a sentence with nyao, the Japanese counterpart to the English onomatopoeia, meow), a feature we distinctly lack in English. I can only guess that this is what accounts for the translator's inexplicable use of the letter "z" and improper grammar to denote what I think must be a(n evil) spirit of Chinese origin or the hard to understand valley girl speak of Chibi-Usa's kogal friends in the bonus chapter and, at times, even harder to understand explanations of their slang as given by Chibi-Usa. (I would also like to note that Chibi-Usa's BFFs don't look like third graders at all. Irrelevant, but it needed to be said.)

My final verdict? I would definitely recommend this book to Sailor Moon fans, particularly if you want to see the girls in a more relaxed setting and learn more about who the other four Inner Scouts are as individuals. It's a fast and fun read, perfect for a break taken from studying for classes or preparing for yet another meeting. Four stars, one star docked for the at times hard to follow translation.

Who's your favorite Sailor Scout? Any you wish you'd gotten the chance to get to know better or that you wish had gotten more screen time in the series? Hit me up! I love talking about Sailor Moon, and I'd love to hear your opinions on the ground breaking series.