Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini

It's Kind of a Funny Story
Ned Vizzini 
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Gear-Shiftingly Important
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I purchased this book a full seven months before I read it and I think it's an absolute crime against literature that I waited so long. Then again, I think it was now that I needed to read this book but if I had read it seven months ago it would have definitely still been just as profoundly impacting, just in a different manner.

Anyway, It's Kind of a Funny Story was written from 12/10/04 - 1/6/05, following Ned Vizzini's five day stay in the adult psychiatric wing of the hospital from 11/29/04 - 12/3/04. The book is inspired by his own life events and struggles with depression and chronicles the five day experience in adult psychiatric of protagonist Craig Gilner, who happens to be a young teenager having just started a prestigious high school he worked his butt off to get into. The teen wing is closed for construction and so Craig is thrown in with a whole mix of people, surrounded by young girls his age and middle aged women with no teeth but lots of sass and old men who have definitely seen better days.

The whole book was so well written and well done and just so important. Vizzini dealt with topics like not only depression but just other mental disorders and the way people handle them so well. Most people know that Ned Vizzini killed himself last year and while I remember reading about it when it happened, I didn't remember the time of year, so it was totally coincidental that I was about a third of the way through this book when the first anniversary of his death hit so there's a little tid bit for you. After reading the book, it makes me so much sadder that even after pouring his heart and soul into this book (which, in one tribute article by a close friend of his, is said to have been the case so that's not just an assumption I made) and helping so many people, he still took his own life. The impact he made was immense. With It's Kind of a Funny Story, he created this protagonist who's a teenager overwhelmed by pressure to be the smart kid he's always been, to get A's in this school for overachievers, to be in a relationship, to know where he's going in life, and these are all "tentacles" for him. And he has too many "tentacles" and not enough "anchors" grounding him and giving him a sense of peace. And the kid's only thirteen. And honestly, how many people reading this can relate? Probably a lot. Craig is so well written that if you're not depressed, you still understand him and sympathize and if you are, you find a character to empathize with and root for.

And then other than Craig, there are a whole host of other characters that are diverse and well-written. His roommate, Muqtada, is Egyptian and lies in a depressed slump until Craig brings him Egyptian music to cheer him up. There are two older men who got hella involved in drugs. There's a girl about his age who cut up her face with scissors. All these characters display such varied views of what it's like to live with mental health issues.

The writing itself is done through first person narration via Craig, who, as we established, is fairly young, so everything is written in short, direct sentences, nothing overly flowery or anything, and it fits the tone of the novel. The dialogue is on point and is the driving point behind a lot of the characters, like Humble, one of the residents of the hospital, or Nia and Aaron, two people Craig knows from his life at school, for who the dialogue helps establish how certain mentalities can be toxic and helps them play out certain character tropes.

Overall, I think this novel was phenomenally done and I would recommend it to everyone. It's such an important book and I really think the best way to honor Ned Vizzini's memory is for it to reach as many people as possible and help as many people as possible. I know I'll definitely be rereading it in the future and I know it's definitely the type of book you get something different out of every time you read it or the time in your life you read it so get to it if you haven't

- Noor

What's the strangest place you've ever stayed?
Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life of a Blogger - Goals and Dreams

Life of a Blogger is a weekly meme hosted by Novel Heartbeat. This feature is designed to let readers and other bloggers get to know us on a more personal level by discussing non-bookish topics. This week's topic is...

Goals and dreams!

I'll start with scholastic goals. By the time May 2017 rolls around, I'd like to have at least a 3.8 GPA to graduate Summa Cum Laude. Also graduating is a goal. More presently, I'd like to balance my school work with all my other time commitments.

In terms of long term goals and dreams, I'd like to work as a costume designer in film. Obviously this is something that will take time and a lot of work to accomplish, but eventually I hope to get there.

Other goals? Sleeping, being healthy, staying on top of my blog commitments. Other than that, I kind of just like to face challenges and make goals as I go.

Goals and dreams are a difficult concept for me because they're about as clear as mud most of the time, yet they define who I am.

I would like to be a novelist and poet. I realize of course that these are self-fulfilling actions. Writing novels makes you a novelist, writing poetry makes you a poet. But you know what I mean. I want to have conversations with the world. I am knee-deep in writing poetry in preparation for some slams I have in Boston, Yale, and Virginia and I'm so excited I really can't believe I've gotten this far, even though it's mostly been luck of the draw. Even so, I want to push myself to any limits I can find and I'm very thankful for the people I've met along the way. As for novels . . . I've had a hard time the past few years but enough support from the few friends I have and the self-determination to keep me writing prose, even if it's not much.

I plan to be one day not have to take the goddamn train. Commuting sucks ducks.

A recently acquired goal that came along with my major declaration (Global Liberal Studies, concentration in Politics, Rights, and Development) is trying to help mend the disturbing policies and mindsets we treat immigrants, whether they've arrived legally or not, within the U.S. For instance, the Post-9/11 arena was especially difficult for muslims (culturally and religiously), even the ones who've been here several generations. And we all know the extreme vitriol presented against those south of the Mexican-American border. As an immigrant myself it's something I've never thought I'd have much power to do anything about but now I aspire to find that voice and help people that deal with this struggle.

Someday, I would like my own library. It can be small, it can be half a room. But I would like a library. I've wanted one the moment I started reading. You could come borrow books if you wanted but my late fees include capital punishment so don' be late.

I have quite a few aspirations – some stretch life goals, some doable career goals, some tiny personal goals. My dreams are a mix of things that make up a big part of my personality.

One of my big dreams is to be a writer, which sounds really vague, but I figured I’d make this one big blurb of types of writing goals, which I have a few different kinds of. First of all, ever since I was little, I’ve always thought that I wanted to write books. This is a goal I know many people share with me, especially in the blogging community (and in the Journalism/English major community) but is something I still hold close to me. Sometimes I waver in my confidence, but then I remember I have a lot of support – I have this one friend and whenever I make (usually insulting or sarcastic) comments she always tells me that she can’t wait for the day I write a novel, and compared me to her favorite author which is a really big deal and I appreciate a lot and always think about whenever I feel frustrated. Another spoke in my wheel of writing goals is the poetry one. I really want to work on writing more poetry and honing my skills, or even reading it at more events because I really enjoy it and want to incorporate it into my life more. The last writing goal I’m going to talk about is more career/college oriented. My major is Journalism and Professional Writing. It has writing right there in the title. I’m still trying to figure out where I want to go down the road so my goals are a little murky and they keep changing, but I know I enjoy writing articles where I have freedom to research as opposed to breaking news stories so there’s a direction for my type of journalism. I’d love to go into something high-profile, which could be a stretch, but no one gets anywhere playing it safe, right?

I know that got a little long (I feel like everything I write always gets a little too long, I’m sorry) but I still want to mention some of my not-writing goals. Like Amrutha, I really want to travel. I currently really want to visit Malaysia and Amsterdam specifically (and before you ask, it isn’t because of The Fault in Our Stars) but honestly, I just want to roam the world and soak in all of it.

I plan to, when I have my own house or apartment or whatever residence I’m in, have a cardboard cutout in every room, just to give it some character. I’ve got one of Loki right now, but since only one room in my house belongs to me, (and one room in my residence hall) I have to wait before I expand.

And last but not least, I just want to take this year to let go of toxic relationships, eat lots of good food, and move forward with life changes that are all about what's best for myself. 

Hey y'all! Talking about goals and dreams -- I'm fairly ambitious (as everyone at WLABB is, but I'll try and keep it fairly concise for the sake of this post). So I want to be a lawyer, preferably something non-profit/international affairs related, or maybe something related to the actual writing of policy. I feel like those things really allow the justice system to work for the people and its just something I really want to be apart of. Outside of that, I want to do other fun things like write a novel and get featured on Humans of New York and give a Ted Talk. A lot of these are just bucket list items because there are just SO many dreams I have of random stuff non-professional related. This continues to traveling (I want to see every continent and go to space and just experience so many different cultures). Realistically I want to do service projects and maybe road-trip across the country or backpack through Europe. There are just so many things I want to experience and take part in and I feel as though I just don't have enough time to accomplish all of that. Outside of professional/novelty goals, I also just have the regular old goals of being better at managing my time, taking better care of my skin/body, saying every nice thing I think about someone to them, and generally reminding people I love that I really appreciate their presence in my life.

All of these goals are things I really aspire to achieve and honestly try to work at the best I can. I can't wait to hear about your goals!

What are some of your goals and dreams?
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: My Heart and Other Black Holes - Jasmine Warga

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week I'm waiting on My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga!

My Heart and Other Black Holes
Jasmine Warga
Series: N/A
Release Date: February 10th, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray
Waited on by: Marlon

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

I haven't actually been waiting on this book for long, I only read about it a few weeks ago but from the blurb and from the comments already made I'm super excited! Death has always played a huge part in YA novels but it's not often that its suicide, yet young adults have the highest rate of suicide. Thus, it's really cool to see the concept inside a literary landscape we're familiar with -- a budding friendship/romance over the internet from depressed individuals, with physics references and motifs? Will Grayson, Will Grayson, anyone?

- Marlon

What are YOU waiting on?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Books I'd Love to Read If I Had a Book Club

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Here at We Live and Breathe Books, the bloggers rotate so that two of us choose five books each week. This weeks topic is...

Books I'd love to read if I had a book club!

Noor's Picks

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I just recently finished Gone Girl (look out for a review next month) and I think this book would be absolutely perfect for a book club because there is so much I want to discuss about it. From the shift in voice of one character to the changing perspectives to the fact that you don't know whether or not this man killed his wife, this book, in three wonderfully written parts, packs in so much commentary about human nature, relationships, and even psychology and it's something that would definitely be experienced well with a group.

American Gods
Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is my absolute favorite author and I actually think absolutely every one of his books should be a book club book, but I picked this one this time. American Gods deals with a lot of interesting themes about mythology and Gods and meshes them together with a story about an ex-convict. There's a lot to the book and there's so much to talk about and so many different things to take away that I think it's an experience best shared!

Handle With Care
Jodi Picoult
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

As I've mentioned before, I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan. This is definitely one of my favorite books by her, if not my absolute favorite (it's just so hard to pick). As with Neil Gaiman's books, many of her books could be book club material, but I chose this one in particular because I thought I'd enjoy the discussion and potential debates that would ensue. I won't ramble on about the plot here (just click one of those links above and read the blurb) but I think the main lawsuit that takes place throughout the novel would be a great talking point because of the controversy surrounding it in the book. And then there's the ending, I know I wanted to discuss that after I read it!

The Little Prince
Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Another favorite of mine, this is a children's book that is much, much more than a children's book. Even if you're not in a book club you should read this book at least once (a sentiment I expressed when I reviewed it last year). I'd love to read it if I had a book club because first of all, I just love talking about this book. Also, there's just so much to gain from the drawings and the musings and sharing in the wonder seems like a fantastic idea to me.

Life of Pi
Yann Martel

After both the book and the movie became fairly popular a few years ago, I'm sure most of you are familiar with (or at least with the idea of) the story of the boy stranded in the ocean with a Bengal tiger. I love not only the way the book is written and would totally enjoy talking about that (and other aspects of the book) in a group, but I love books that ask questions and this one asks a pretty interesting one about reality at the end, so I'd like to see people's thoughts on that.

Marlon's Picks

Christopher Hitchens
Goodreads | Mortality | Book Depository

This book has gotten me and a few others through a lot of tough times. It's Hitchens's most genuine, down-to-earth writing. None of the pedantry and affinity for long-winded tangents appears. It is simply an unfinished meditation on how one dies (unfinished because the author died while writing it). Though it seems very personal, I find that the ideas presented in the book are really quite difficult to unravel by yourself and I would love to discuss it with more people.

The Satanic Verses
Salman Rushdie
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

This is a novel that's actually gotten people killed.
I think it's one of the most important pieces of literature to have ever existed. Not only does it ask its readers to celebrate our "mongrel" nature in the world, and to use our oppressor's language against them, and offer a solution to the problem of language, it marks one of the first major, comprehensive criticisms of Islam from a writer who comes from a non-Western cultural history (though this criticism is only part of a bigger take on systems of knowledge, which is damn awesome). The problem is, it can't be read by itself, one has to prepare by having read, at the very least, Plato's Republic, Voltaire's Candide, Mrs. Dalloway, and Duras's script for Hiroshima Mon Amour. Otherwise, its depth and scope leave most of its critics and supporters unable to actually finish the novel. But, just, wow. This novel seriously changed my life and I would love to discuss it with others.

City of Heavenly Fire
Cassandra Clare
The Mortal Instruments # 6
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

This book is just absolutely huge. There is so much jam packed into these 725 pages that it just blows me away. The way she sets up for another series while concluding the one at hand, the way the characters interact and their developments come to what is presented as a kind of closure. There's just so much in this novel to talk about and I feel a group setting would really be awesome for that. Perhaps we can discuss it at a gig for Simon's band.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

This novel is just so beautiful. The meshing of magic and reality, the way memories find us and what we do with them, how the past haunts us and so much more are all intertwined with two tales: one of a man visiting his old home, and one of and one of another man, years earlier, killing himself and setting a kind of darkness that haunts the boy. It's hauntingly good and one of my favorite works so I'd love to hear what others say about it!

Scott Westerfeld
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Westerfeld kind of creates a part-map, part-list on the problems one might face in the literary world. The book has its fair shares of downs, like a bit of a lucky narrator, I'll admit now, but it also has a strong sense of sincerity and genuine criticism and praise of the world a writer may enter if she can make it. There is tragedy, the looming sense of Imposter Syndrome, the conflation of really polished writing and really not so polished writing . . . yeah there's a hell of a lot to talk about with this book let's do it.

What 2014 releases did you mean to read?
Let us know in the comments!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Triple Review: Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell 
Series: N/A
Genre: Romance, New Adult
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Wow. I am so so upset with myself that I have never read a Rainbow Rowell book before, and now I'm actually ashamed to admit it. I read Fangirl in just a few hours, because I was actually so into the story that I kind of ahem fangirled over it (sorry that was bad but I've been meaning to make that joke for a while now). Anyway, I'll cut to the chase. This book, with all of its quirk and charm and great writing and incredibly constructed characters, is fantastic in every way.

The book centers around a girl named Cath, or Cather (kinda reminded me of catheter at first but it went away as the book went on). Cath is a brilliantly composed character, and she stays true to herself while still accepting change (albeit, unwillingly) and she is super rad. She writes a fanfiction which is followed by thousands (which is also referenced in the piece a lot, get ready). She is the kind of fanfiction writer that gets people excited enough to design etsy tees inspired by her writing.

I should mention, this girl is a freshman at college, which makes you think that this book would be all about a girl trying to find her place in the social scene or a try hard attempt at a long term college romance. Let me just tell you -- this book is filled with college romance and finding identities and preserving them, but none of it was cliched at all. Cath is just incredibly realistic, which honestly surprised me. It is so hard to find a character that strikes so many nerves (especially a narrating character (especially in a YA teen romance)).

Cath has a twin sister, Wren, and a workaholic dad who lives in Omaha (they go to school in Lincoln). Cath starts out school with a roommate who doesn't want to talk to her, a sister who just wants to party, a semi-sorta-roommate-boyfriend-best-friend hanging out around her dorm all the time, a fiction writing course that only juniors can take with a certain "study buddy," a lot of protein bars, not a lot of willingness to interact socially, and an incredible talent for writing fanfiction. It just so happens that every character I have mentioned is written to have worries and issues but displays personal growth and has interesting quirks. I cannot remember the last time I have read a YA book with such well written characters. I feel as though characters are my favorite part of every book, and I am so impressed when even one character is written perfectly. This book brought the freshman year college life alive for so many students who cannot be pigeonholed into one specific category. Sometimes, people want to write fanfiction and also gossip over a dinner table: the two are not mutually exclusive, which is how I feel it goes most of the time.

Lets talk about the love interest: I won't tell you who he is, but I will tell you that he is such a well done character (geez, I want to stop rambling about how great the characters are but its so hard, you'll understand once you read the book). Our love interest is not our stereotypical washboard-abs kind of guy, nor the straight-As guy, or the bad boy, The love interest is so appealing because he is none of those things: he is just a regular guy, the kind of guy that people know in real life and the kind that has great relationships (great enough to be written about even), despite his surprising lack of stereotype or ability to just get stuck in one certain category.

I don't want to talk much more about the book or how Cath progresses because this isn't a book anyone should have spoiled for them. Fangirl was a 10/10 would recommend & read again. If you're looking to have an awesome time with LITERALLY AMAZING CHARACTERS (CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH) you want to read this book. Get on it asap, don't wait to jump on the Rainbow Rowell train like I did.
- Amrutha

Kiersten's Review of Fangirl
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

If you read my review of Landline a while back (here), then you'll know that Landline was my first Rainbow Rowell book (gasp). After reading Landline, I knew that Rainbow Rowell was an author who I'd probably enjoy no matter what she wrote, and Fangirl did not disappoint. At all. For real. It might have even exceeded the already high expectations I had for it.

Cath is a girl who doesn't like change. Being forced into this new place with new people and without the comfort of her twin sister, Wren, Cath is a bit lost. She's more than timid to start - she eats protein bars instead of real food because she's afraid to go to the dining hall - but throughout the book, we get to see her facing her fears and becoming even more enjoyable than she already was.

Obviously the title gives a bit of insight into who Cath is - she's a fangirl who writes fan fiction about a young wizard named Simon Snow - but, while this is an important characteristic, there's so much more to this story besides Cath's attachment to the fandom. As the book goes on, there's more insight into why exactly Cath is such a fangirl and what it means in her life. Rainbow Rowell did a remarkable job creating this character who exudes normalcy while reading as extremely exceptional.

Along with Cath, there are great supporting characters. Reagan, Levi, and Wren are all so normal. My freshman year in college, I swear I met these people. In fact, the description of Reagan and Cath's relationship in the very beginning of the year (their only interaction being an occasional "Hey, how are you?" or "Can you close the window?") is actually my relationship with my roommate the entirety of last year (we can't all become best friends with our roommates). I think part of the magic of these characters is just how real they are - how normal.

Going back to the whole fangirl thing, there are a bunch of excerpts from the books Cath loves as well as parts of her fan fictions. While these pieces were interesting, I have to say that they were probably my least favorite part. It's not that they took away from the book, but I just loved Cath's story so much that I couldn't wait to get back to her after these parts. (Side note: I am still pretty excited about the whole Simon/Baz spin-off, Carry On, though).

Ok, so I realize that this review is getting rather long and all I have are good things to say about Fangirl, so I think you get the gist. I could not get enough of this book! Rainbow Rowell made me fall in love with these characters and had me hooked all the way through the end. In fact, I was laying in bed reading this book and at 2:30 am, I fell asleep. When I woke up a short 30 minutes later, I continued reading. That's how good this book is. Sleep would not get in my way of reading this book. Furthermore, I highly recommend Fangirl for everyone, especially if you like sweet romances, coming of age stories, and fangirling.

- Kiersten

Noor's Review of Fangirl
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

My journey involving finally reading this book was a long one. I was in a bookstore in Houston earlier this winter break and they didn't have it, and then I figured I'd pick it up when I went to the event for The Darkest Part of the Forest but they didn't have it there either, and then I wound up in Barnes and Noble later that same day and they did have it, but I left it in my friend's car and couldn't get it until we got back to school and I honestly have so many books that I figured I would just read it later but then I kept thinking about how much I wanted to read it and how great Rainbow Rowell is and how much I loved Eleanor and Park (review here) so I just bought the ebook and ended up reading the whole thing within a few hours, like Amrutha. I didn't even realize I was going through the book so quickly, because I couldn't physically see it diminishing and I wasn't particularly paying attention to the percentage in the corner of my screen. I remember looking and seeing, at one point "68% complete" and not registering that in my head and then all of a sudden it was over????? I was a little sad I didn't keep tabs because I like to savor the last page and I didn't know the last page was the last page but it's okay.

Anyway, this book was totally phenomenal. I know I had to stop reading every so often and just collect myself and breathe because of how great it was. It centered on Cath, college freshman and fanfiction writer, trying to juggle all these new life adjustments, and it was just so well done, I don't even know where to start.

All the characters were so well-written, you could feel them coming off the page and I actually ached to want them in my life not because they were these "perfect" fictional characters but because they were so flawed and human and likable that I just wanted to befriend them myself. I really loved Reagan, who is Cath's roommate and for a good few months doesn't communicate with her other than simple questions about the room. Like Kiersten, this was also my relationship with my roommate freshman year (although we had a few other conversations and things, we just never got that close). However, eventually their dynamic changes and we see more of Reagan's personality than what her side of the room looks like and I absolutely love her. From her sarcastic comments to how mean she is to everyone, and the way she just exudes dominance, Reagan was such a great character in my opinion.

And then there's Levi, who's known Reagan since forever and hangs out in their room 24/7. I love him, too. I love that he's always smiling and that he lives on a ranch and genuinely cares about other people. And fiction-writing Nick was an interesting one too. Reading about their notebook-writing dynamic was very interesting and I liked seeing how everything played out, especially with the class and Professor Piper (another great character). I could go on and on about every character mentioned in the book because each one was fleshed out so well. From the twin sister (Wren) who wants to be a totally different person in college to the mom who's been out of the picture since third grade and the dad who struggles with his mental health, the book is full of people who are so real in so many ways.

Cath herself is very realistic because instead of a typical "changing as she goes" plot or mentality, she stays stubborn and unrelenting throughout, and the changes you see are subtle and reasonable. Things that could happen. I also really liked that she didn't just write fanfiction, but she was well-known on the internet for writing fanfiction. It was a nice touch and it added to the plot and her character. I wasn't so sure I loved the insertion of the fanfiction itself into the book (or even the fiction it was derived from). While the Simon Snow or the fanfiction excerpt didn't detract from the story, I just liked the Cath story better. However, it was nice to see glimpses into the world and see the ways she manipulated the original story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I think everyone should read it. It wasn't a typical story in the slightest. From shying away from the usual love triangle approach to incorporating fanfiction and fandom culture into a novel, it was such a great book and I'm probably going to reread it again when I'm in the mood for something to lift my spirits.

- Noor

Do you read fan fiction? If so, which are your favorites?
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stuffed Animal Saturday [19]

Stuffed Animal Saturday is a meme that we post here at We Live and Breathe Books to showcase the book we're currently reading with one of our favorite stuffed animals and discuss our stuffed animal's opinion (well, it's really our opinion, but that's besides the point). We hope you enjoy our quirky feature as much as we enjoy writing it!

This week, Dolly the Dolphin and I are reading Tape, by Steve Camden (which we actually picked up at BEA 2014 as an ARC, but it has now been published).

So far: Because college and because hectic, Dolly and I haven't read too much of Tape yet, and because of this, Dolly doesn't have much to say, other than that she loves the cover and the idea and has really high hopes for this book.

Sneak peek: Dolly was really intrigued by the opening of the book, so we wanted to share some of that with you!

It's probably best not to think about it too much, right? The universe and everything. I'm here. That's what matters. I'm here doing this and it happened. Just like you said, so I guess the universe is happy. Was it always meant to be now? Sorry, I'll leave it alone. Everything happens when it should. This is what you did, setting down and pressing record, and now it's gonna be what I do. I'm talking into the speaker -- how does that even work? Everyone always said "it's important to get stuff out, Ameliah, put it down, it's part of moving on." I never really listened. I guess I just didn't want to do it their way. Maybe I wasn't ready, I dunno. This feels different. This feels right. So much has happened. There's so much to say, so I'm going to say it. It's half twelve now and I'm recording my voice on to this tape. Just like you. 

Dolly loved this passage, because without giving too much of the plot away, it introduced her to the fact that time might be viewed non-linearly in this novel, and how that is going to be an obstacle for who is presumably the main character, Ameliah. Dolly says it also told her that Ameliah is going to be kind of a rebel character, going against what other people tell her, and also that this book is going to be about the fight for true love. Dolly is very excited to find out how this book goes and so am I!

- Amrutha

Are you and your stuffed animal reading anything interesting? 
Let us know in your own Stuffed Animal Saturday!

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Darkest Part of The Forest Book Event + Giveaway!

After our triple review of The Iron Trial, in which Kiersten, Marlon, and I all gave the book 5 stars, it should come as no surprise that I really, really like Holly Black. I remember reading Tithe many moons ago when I was a pre-teen and I absolutely loved it (and the subsequent books), but the fact that it was Holly Black, while a tidbit of information lodged in the back of my mind, didn't really register with me until I started revisiting her as an author in my current years and thought "Wait, she wrote those books I absolutely fawned over when I was younger. That's amazing!" I love it when authors do that to me (you'd be surprised how often it happens). And then of course, there are the amazing Spiderwick Chronicles which everyone can agree are great. And I'm working on familiarizing myself with the rest of her works because she is just absolutely magnificent!

So, hearing she was doing an event near me for The Darkest Part of the Forest, I jumped at the opportunity to go. The event was at the [words] Bookstore in Maplewood and I went with my friend Maria, who I know from college and is a fellow lover of books (I mean, we met in a creative writing class). Before I talk about the event itself, I want to mention how much I loved the bookstore itself. It's an independent bookstore and it was so beautiful and nice from not only the inside, but also the location and the outside banner. Everything about is was so lovely, I just wanted to spend hours there. It's only about 25 minutes from where I live when I'm not at school, and they apparently host a lot of events, so I'll definitely be returning there. 

Just look at how nice the place looks from the outside! Imagine how much more literature-related wonder was awaiting once we stepped through those doors!

It was a lot of wonder. Once we purchased our copies of the book, we had a bit of extra time to kill before the event itself started. We spent it exploring the bookstore and also taking pictures that some might describe as silly but I would describe as adorable. 

You can come to your own conclusion about our shenanigans involving finding books with faces on them so we could pretend they were part of our own faces.

Yeah, I've actually got quite a few more bookstore pictures of us goofing off, but you came to this post for Holly Black so I am getting to the Holly Black. But before I tell you that, I'm going to tell you about how we were about to go sit down and then we saw Holly Black in the bookstore and I almost cried and I couldn't breathe and I know Maria was contemplating calling an ambulance and I kindof lingered around wherever she was standing for a while, trying to soak in the Holly Black. But then I calmed down a little and finally went to the seating area, where we sat in the first row. The event took place in a downstairs section of the bookstore, where there were more shelves (where they kept overstock books) and couches and a very nicely arranged place for Holly Black to do what she was planning to do. 

I particularly liked the way the name of the bookstore was painted over the back wall, I thought it gave the space a very nice touch. There were a few rows of seats and Maria and I sat front and center. Unlike previous events where I've encountered Holly Black (City of Heavenly Fire release and BEA) this was a very small, intimate event with very few people, which made it so much better. 

At 4:00, Holly Black herself made her way down and sat upon one of the couches, dressed in a beautiful purple dress, and introduced by an event coordinator of the bookstore. And so began the event. 

She started off by reading an excerpt from The Darkest Part of the Forest. Hearing her read it just made me want to pick up the book and delve into right away. It was my first experience with the story -- I hadn't started reading in the forty five minutes between buying it and sitting down -- and it sounded so magical. 

After reading, she talked a little about how she came to write this book and how, after writing a few stories about fairies in the modern day and taking a break to focus on other creatures, she thought she had a great idea for a book about fairies in the modern day and went from there. She kept this part fairly short and told us, the audience, that she wanted us to ask her questions and she'd answer them and if we didn't ask her questions she'd ask us questions. 

And so, the better part of an hour was spent in this sort of discussion with Holly Black and it was absolutely spectacular. First of all, she's a wonderful soul. She's funny and she's genuine and you just want to be around her. She told us a lot of interesting things about herself and her writing process as a whole, and her writing specific to this book, and a slew of other things. 

I found it really interesting to hear about her describe the writing of The Darkest Part of the Forest, because I'm reading it now and knowing how some of it came together is so insightful. She spoke about how she wanted something that was our world, but slightly removed, a variation of sorts, where fairies could exist but be the norm. She talked about having these two siblings in love with this prince they built up in their head and how you could have a changeling raised beside the child it (he) was supposed to "replace." It was all such a fascinating conversation. She also mentioned how the quote in the epigraph she took the title of the book from was one she'd been wanting to use for years and could never find because it had been misattributed when she first heard it and she could finally use it and it fit so well with this book. 

Other topics of conversation included her favorite pizza topping: olives. 

She also mentioned how she started out in her college's teaching program (which happens to also be the same college Maria and I go to, shoutout to TCNJ) and then thought about how she wanted to meet writers and know writers and she switched to English. I asked her about when that moment was where the meeting writers thing stopped becoming an aspiration and started becoming her reality, because as many of her fans know she's close friends with many other popular writers. She talked about how some of the people she met didn't have books out when she met them -- she met Cassandra Clare because she said something funny on the internet -- and how she toured with Tamora Pierce (and flipped open her book covers) and talked about some of her journey from Tithe to now. She also joked about how some authors she looks up to just think they know her because she shows up to enough of their events. They'll just recognize the face and assume they're acquainted and she recommended the tactic. 

At one point, she asked how many writers there were in the audience. I, of course, raised my hand. She asked if anyone wanted to discuss what they're writing and she looked me in the eyes and I guess I had a face of terror on because then she talked directly to me, teasing me about how I knew I wanted to and I made another, different, expression of terror mixed because I didn't really know how to talk about my writing, but thankfully someone else spoke up and mentioned her road trip novel. And then there were more questions and she was absolutely lovely. I wish I could encompass everything she said here and I wish I could capture her spirit and her wonderful nature in my words. 

After the talk, we went upstairs for the signing. She was happy to sign not only The Darkest Part of the Forest, but also other books. Some people brought galleys or copies of books for their friends and she signed all of them and had conversations with everyone as she was doing so. Because the event was such a small one, our individual conversations as we were signing were a few minutes in length as opposed to the seconds one has at larger ones. When it was my turn to sign, she immediately asked "So what are you writing?" HOLLY. BLACK. ASKED. ME. ABOUT. MY. WRITING. Holly Black asked me about my writing after the conversation was already over. She's such a caring individual she just genuinely was wondering about a fan who is also someone who writes and asked me about it. So we had a conversation and I told her about things I'm writing and also about how I have this problem where I have an idea an I think "This is the Best Idea Ever, this is the novel to beat all novels" and then a few thousand words in I start thinking it's stupid and then I think of another Best Idea Ever and abandon the other one for the one and rinse and repeat and she gave me writing advice and told me about how the most important thing is not to stop writing and keep going and push past that bridge. She told Maria and I that we should be each other's editing partners (an idea we thought was really rad) and show each other everything and motivate one another not to stop. Everything she said was so important. 

And she even took a picture with us! 

But honestly, Holly Black and everything she said is so important for so many reasons. Not only is she an excellent author, but she's an author who doesn't treat fans as an "other." She was so excited to hear about everyone's writing and made sure to ask every single person who acknowledged they were a writer about what they were working on and didn't talk to us like she was an author who's written a horde of successful books and we're all amateurs, which was probably true (The people I remember speaking out loud hasn't been published, I don't know if any secretly famous people were lurking but I said "probably true" so don't be upset). She spoke to us like equals and got excited when someone mentioned the world's largest pistachio because she researched that for this book and genuinely wanted to help people who were struggling. Authors like her and so important and they're what make the writing community a better place. This was such a great experience that was amplified by the fact that it was such a small an intimate setting. There's a lot more I could say but this post is already pretty long, so I'm going to go finish reading The Darkest Part of the Forest now.

- Noor

The Giveaway

Anyway, while I was there, I picked up a SIGNED copy to giveaway to one of you lovely people!

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below. The giveaway is open US only, unless you are willing to pay the shipping, and is open through February 12th. You must be 13 or older to enter or have a parent enter for you. The winner will be selected shortly after and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Good luck! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Life of a Blogger - Achievements

Life of a Blogger is a weekly meme hosted by Novel Heartbeat. This feature is designed to let readers and other bloggers get to know us on a more personal level by discussing non-bookish topics. This week's topic is...


Achievements. I suppose I have some. I also suppose that achievements are something relative to how you see them, so here goes nothing.

One recent achievement that I was really proud of was pulling off all the shows I worked on last semester. On top of taking a full course load, I designed two shows (with one of them involving A TON of alterations to the pieces) and stepped up from assistant to designer on a show within a month of the opening. The last of those three was definitely the most challenging since I was thrown into the process and had to work really fast. There were also over 150 different looks in the show, so it was really crazy and I'm very proud of myself for pulling it off.

Maintaining a high GPA in life is something I've always strived for and been proud of. In high school I graduated 11th in my class, which was cool. Now I'm still maintaining a high GPA, although I'm trying to get it even higher.

Honestly, I'm really proud of all the work I do here on We Live and Breathe Books. I feel as though having this blog with people who actually want to read what we have to say is such an achievement and I'm really thankful for my co-bloggers (even though they are sometimes difficult to work with) and everyone who reads this blog. You guys are the coolest.

Also, one thing that I was really proud of achieving was my senior year of high school at my last dance competition. At the competition, I received a Platinum (the highest medal type, which depends on score, at the specific competition) and I placed fifth overall. I never thought of myself as the most amazing dancer but I had always wanted to get the highest medal at a competition so I was really happy that I was able to before graduating.

I'm sure there are more, minor achievements, but I think I've talked enough about myself for one blog post.

I don't really have many achievements I can easily think of but I guess I can try?

I've logged over a thousand hours playing Kingdom Hearts games

I have a pretty high overall GPA? That's something I'm pretty hyped about. The past couple of years have been kind of a roller coaster of soul searching and lots of bad decisions but also some awesome stuff. I realize that grades shouldn't define someone but I sort of live for that validation that I'm keeping up academically.

I once ate eight I-hop pancakes in one sitting. Also I am good at cuddling.

I am currently in NYU's CUPSI team for 2015 and also it's treasurer. I find this actually incredible. I haven't written a lot of poetry the last few months and I never thought I'd be slamming in CUPSI, because I watch Button Poetry religiously and I am often crushed by it. So what mixture of left over teenage angst and random words got me here? Idk???? But I'm excited!

I am a pretty laid back person, and it's taken me a while to achieve this level of not giving a damn but I am here. I have climbed this mountain.

Well that's all for me I guess?

I don't think I've really achieved much ever??? Like this is gonna be really short compared to my usual rambles considering I'm pretty bad at life.

Okay, so this one is a personal achievement that I want to keep up but it's staying on the Dean's List! That means maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher (I don't know if it's different for different schools, but that's what it is for TCNJ). This past semester was really tough for me for a lot of reasons and it kindof kicked my butt and I honestly didn't have an idea of how I was going to do in any of my classes (except one) until after I submitted the finals, so that was nerve-wracking on it's own. Was I getting straight A's or straight D's? I didn't know and not for lack of keeping tabs on my grades. There was a lot of weird stuff that went on with my classes last semester. I've never been that stressed in my life and my mental health has never been in such a disastrous state. However, I survived and my GPA wasn't too badly wounded and I want to make sure I stay on the Dean's List for semesters to come, for my own personal sense of accomplishment mostly.

I just messaged a group chat of some of my friends asking what my achievements were because I couldn't think of them and the first thing one of my friends said was "not sleeping for a week." I don't think that counts as an achievement but I'm just gonna leave it here.

The next thing my friend told me I achieved (I think most of the things I'm going to write are things my friends told me because I can't really think of myself in terms of "hey look how awesome and accomplished you are") is "writing killer poetry and winning competitions." I don't really think my poetry is all that good and by winning competitions I don't mean like hella intense national level competitions I just sometimes read poetry at like school events or local events and sometimes there are places involved and sometimes I win or place? I don't know it's all pretty weird to me, like last week someone (who I don't actually know so I don't know how she heard that I do poetry) messaged me asked me to read at some charity event and I was like "woah? why do people want me to do thing???? am not good at thing???????" Who knows, man. Who knows.

Last, but not least, my other friend in the group chat said "At least Noor isn't lame" and the friend who gave the suggestions from earlier replied "Yeah Noor is super cool" and then my third friend said "If I could describe Noor in one word it would be Hella"and honestly, that's probably the biggest achievement of them all. Even though I maintain that I am pretty lame, but like, in the raddest way possible. But yeah, being not-lame (or being lame to the point of hilarity), especially in the eyes of the people who matter most to you, is what really counts, awards and trophies be damned.

(I probably have other random academic or other "normal" achievements I could think of if I tried but I think it's more fun to read about these so this is what you're getting. Peace out cub scouts.)

???????????? I'm twelve. I don't have achievements???????????? Sometimes I manage to function semi-normally and I celebrate those rare days because nothing is more of an achievement to me. There are a few blue moon moments in which I make a joke which is funny and those are really the cherished moments of my life.

Like Kiersten, I'm really proud of my dance accomplishments, but more specifically, graduating from my dance school. I graduated after starting to do Indian Classical dance when I was 4 years old, so its by far the thing I have stuck by the longest and the graduation ceremony is a 3 hour solo performance and wow I just can't believe that happened. This was honestly just a fab time in my life.

Another big accomplishment for me was first semester of college I managed to weasel my way into a graduate level research project and as a freshman that was a pretty big deal for me. I just felt like college-things were really falling into place so I'm really happy about that.

To be quite honest I try not to look at mini things that I achieve (like grades or other random stuff) as achievements worth writing about because I like to reserve my pride and sense of achievement for big things that I feel are especially awesome so I don't get too content with minor stuff.

What are some of your achievements?
Let us know in the comments!