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Book Review: Forever for a Year by B.T. Gottfred

FOREVERTwo teens take turns narrating their story in this painfully honest look at young love and all of its ups and downs in B.T. Gottfred’s FOREVER FOR A YEAR.

 

For Carolina, 9th grade brings big changes. She stops going by “Carrie” in an attempt to be taken more seriously. She’s smart and geeky, but hopes to downplay those qualities in her effort to become more popular. Her best friend Peggy, now going by her full name of Marguerite, happens to have an extremely popular (and mean/shallow/insufferable) sister, Katherine, who is determined to make them the hottest girls in their class. This means tutorials on things like what to wear, how to walk, where to sit, and, most importantly, how to get boys to like them. Carolina understands all of this is kind of ridiculous and ultimately not important, but she’s excited about high school and the possibility of overhauling her image.

 

For Trevor, 9th grade means a new school and a repeat of a school year. Recently transplanted from California to Illinois, Trevor is decidedly not excited about high school. He’s not excited about anything, actually. “Life is pointless” is one of his mottos. His mother recently attempted suicide and lives in a depressed fog. Trevor’s mindset isn’t much better.

 

The two teens meet on the first day of school and it’s love at first sight. Really. They both fall hard, even when they know nothing, really, about each other—even when they’ve barely even spoken. It’s just one of those things. They recognize something in each other and are drawn to one another. It doesn’t take long for them to start talking and then start dating. They are both extremely honest about their feelings (though not about everything else in their lives)—awkwardly, painfully earnestly so. They’re both so infatuated and self-conscious and sweet. Carolina is all, Oh my gosh! all the time and Trevor is like, God I love her, but how will this fall apart, and why is everything I say and think so cheesy?

 

A lot of their story is devoted to their increasingly sexual relationship—and the reader is right there with them for every detail. EVERY DETAIL. There are some of the greatest scenes of talking about sex, both between Trevor and Carolina and between each of them and their parents, that I have read in a long time. Trevor’s mom has an extremely candid talk with him. “Talk to her about things. Okay? Don’t not talk about it just because it’s awkward. If you want to do things sexually, ask her how it makes her feel first. Ask how it feels during it, ask her how it feels afterward. This might sound easy now, and in the moment it’s going to seem impossible, but it’s very important,” she tells him. This is just one of many conversations about sex (later Trevor even admits to her that he’s not good at making Carolina have orgasms and his mom replies, “No teenage boy in the world is.”). Both teens freely mention researching different things about sex, watching porn, things like that. When they do start to have sex, it’s not that great for Carolina, and they get caught up in the moment—repeatedly—and skip protection.

 

This is young love. It’s sweet and exciting but also upsetting and sometimes way too heavy. Gottfred shows readers all of the parts of being in love—the secrets, the stresses, the joys, the confusion, everything. No matter how old a person is, love is complicated. Their youth doesn’t make their feelings any less serious or real. At times I admit that I felt like, okay, I get it, you’re obsessed with each other, move the story along! But then I remembered how it felt to fall in love for the first time, and how every detail felt amazing, and what a wild ride it was. And in the end, Carolina and Trevor make some big realizations about each other (after many other big realizations about themselves, their families, their relationship, and more).

 

Readers will root for these two while likely understanding that 9th grade love can’t last. The alternate narration really works here—not only are their voices distinctive, but the way they retell the same part of the story or pick up where the other left off helps move along the story. A lot of it is repetitive—They love each other! Oh my gosh! They make out! Their parents are making them bonkers!—but it’s also real. As much more of a Trevor-type, I found Carolina’s enthusiastic optimism and naiveté a little overbearing at first, but she grew on me as their relationship matured. The book did go on longer than was probably necessary, but that’s kind of fitting, actually, as many relationships do too. I tried to read this with my teenage eyes instead of my nearly-40-year-old-eyes, because adult me often found the repetitiveness and all of Carolina’s exclamations overbearingly tedious. Overall, though, a really honest, romantic, and nuanced (if overlong) look at young love. Those who can relate or who wish they could will eagerly snatch this one up.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781627791915

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Publication date: 7/7/2015

Pages: 432

 

Middle Grade Monday – Making your library work for you

middlegrademondayOver the past six months or so, I have touched every piece of furniture, electronic or computer device, and every book in my school library media center (except the smart board, which I have to wait on for a trained professional.) Some might ask why, and my muscles would certainly chime in on that question. To be honest, it was because the library, the arrangement of the furniture, the amount of equipment, and the location of the books, simply wasn’t working for us. Neither the students nor I were getting what we needed out of it. And I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted – an organic space that encourages exploration and small group work, a place where the students can take ownership of their surroundings, a place where they feel comfortable, not a place where they feel monitored. I had no idea what to do.

Fortunately, I work for a large enough school district that we have people on staff who can help. Not only did they come out and talk to me for several hours, then come back and help me make a floor design (in which we got rid of about a third of the furniture and most of the equipment) and a collection map, they figured out a way to get several display pieces and some wheeled table legs to replace two on each of 9 tables, so it’s easier to reconfigure the furniture on the fly. Here, let me show you what it used to look like. This is the former view from my office door:Old office door

The entryway to the library is on the right, and I believe at this point we had already removed the security gates. Completely useless since I lost my assistant position and the students began checking out their own books. Also, not very friendly when we did use it – it rang a siren like when you set off the alarm at a department store. The mini lab of computers you see straight ahead are completely gone, as are most of those tables (they’ve been repurposed in other parts of the building.) And on the right is the circulation desk. Also completely useless since we lost our media assistant position. And a barrier to access and service.

Here are some panoramic views of the former arrangement from the center of the room (about where you see the blue column in the photo above.) The first is an image from the office door on the right to the far side of the room:Old front-2

This one is the other half of the room:

old back-2

And now it looks like this:

IMG_0712 IMG_0713We’ve gone from a standard two classroom and 1 mini lab setup with a traditional circulation desk to one large group space with multiple small group spaces coming off from it in a spiral shape. I’m afraid the pictures don’t do it justice. I’m so excited for the students to come in and use it!

Have you ever undertaken a similar project? What ideas/questions do you have?

 

 

This is how I came to write a short story about my “first time” in the upcoming anthology The V Word edited by Amber Keyser

Since starting this blog 4 years ago, a variety of things have happened. I wrote a book with Heather Booth. I lost my house. I’ve met a variety of authors. And I wrote a short story for a collection of true stories about women having sex for the first time that will be published by Simon and Schuster/Beyond Words in 2016.

Wait, you did what? That’s right, I wrote a short story about the first time I ever had sex for a collection coming out in 2016 edited by Amber Keyser.

thevwordcover

If I’m being honest, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. On this blog I have shared about my history of sexual abuse, I have shared about my economic woes, and I have even shared about my struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But writing about having sex for the first time was hands down the hardest writing I have ever done. It’s so personal. Sex is something that is still so taboo to talk about.

I do not consider myself a writer. I am a librarian. I am a blogger. I am a flinger of far flung dreams who shares her thoughts and feelings in an attempt to stay engaged in the profession I love, to advocate for teens, and to maybe one day make the world a tiny bit better. I share myself because I feel like being open and honest let’s us know that we are not alone, that what you are thinking and feeling is in fact something that connects you to the rest of humanity.

When Amber asked me if I wanted to share my story, I was concerned about a lot of things. I didn’t know if I could write a short story, let alone a truthful one about my first time. So she asked me to give it a try and we would go from there, and I guess it’s okay because it’s in the book. My name is listed on Goodreads as an author!

It was an honor to be invited to participate in this collection. A terrifying honor, but an honor none the less. I mean, I get to share page space with some of my favorite authors, like Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian, Erica Lorraine Scheidt and Justina Ireland (to name just a few).

The cover was revealed last week on Stacked by Kelly Jensen. You can read her introductory post about the book here. She is also doing a Q&A in the book about how teen sex is portrayed in the media.

A lot of people have gotten really honest and shared their experiences. It’s terrifying. It’s awesome.

Just don’t tell my family.

Publisher’s Book Description:

HAVING SEX FOR THE FIRST TIME IS A BIG UNKNOWN. LOTS OF PEOPLE WILL TELL YOU WHAT TO DO, BUT IS ANYONE TELLING YOU WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE?

The V-Word pulls back the sheets on sex. Queer and straight. Relished and regretted. Funny and exhilarating. The seventeen women in this book (including Christa Desir, Justina Ireland, Sara Ryan, Carrie Mesrobian, Erica Lorraine Scheidt, and Jamia Wilson) write about first-time sex—hot, meaningful, cringe-worthy, gross, forgettable, magnificent, empowering, and transformative.

Whether you’re diving in or whether you’re waiting, we hope these stories will help you chart your own course.

Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster
Released date: February 2, 2016
Simultaneous hardcover and paperback release.
ISBN: 978-1-58270-521-7 (TP) / 978-1-58270-522-4 (HC)

Sunday Reflections: On DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, or why today I will choose to put on a bathing suit and make a memory with my daughters

If you have ever had your heartbroken because your 6-yr-old daughter came and asked you if she was fat, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

I love her spirit, please don't break it.

I love her spirit, please don’t break it.

If you have ever watched as your pre-teen daughter refused a piece of her favorite cake at her birthday party, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

This is my reader.

This is my reader.

If you have ever sat outside the pool while your kids splashed and laughed because you felt too uncomfortable in your own skin to put on a bathing suit and join them in making this memory, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

My vow: don't sit on the sidelines any more.

My vow: don’t sit on the sidelines any more.

If you have ever looked up at the pictures on your wall and realized there are almost no pictures of you with your kids because you hate to have your picture taken, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

A rare picture of me and my girls, my heart laid open.

A rare picture of me and my girls, my heart laid open.

And if you have ever thought that I should sit outside the pool because I’m too fat to join my kids, or said of course that young girl shouldn’t eat that piece of cake on her birthday, or thought that a 6-year-old should be told she is fat and should be ashamed, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.

The Twee doing the #dumplinpose.

The Twee doing the #dumplinpose.

And then you should also read MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu.

Two books that everyone who knows a girl, cares about a girl, or ever has to interact with a girl should read. So, basically, everyone.

Two books that everyone who knows a girl, cares about a girl, or ever has to interact with a girl should read. So, basically, everyone.

My preteen daughter and I read both of these books this year and it changed the way we talk with one another. I don’t tell her she is pretty, I tell her she is kind, smart, a good problem solver. I tell her that I love her. I take more pictures with my kids. I put on my bathing suit and splash in the pool.

I spent a lot of my life hating my body. I was anorexic throughout most of middle school, high school and college. I was hungry and cranky and tired, and I still hated my body even though I had the ideal body type. Now I am older and fatter. I still hate my body. But I don’t want my girls to grow up spending so much of their life and mental energy being concerned about their body. I don’t want them to miss life moments because they are too busy sitting around stewing in a cesspool of self-loathing. I have been there, I am still there, and it sucks.

But reading these books helps. Yesterday I put on my bathing suit and I swam with my girls. I splashed. I laughed. I made a memory. And I taught them that they can love themselves.

Here’s what we do to our girls:

This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. . .

15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly . . .

eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down . . .

25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize . . .

Source: How to Talk to Little Girls, Huffington Post

If you break my daughters with your cruel world, I will never forgive you. They are my heart laid bare for all the world to see. They deserve your love, nurture and protection. No matter what size they may be.

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy is about a plus size girl named Willowdean who loves Dolly Parton but is ashamed of her body. Of course she is, this world tells her daily that she should be. And Willowdean happens to be the daughter of the former local beauty pageant winner who dedicates a large portion of her life each year to coaching the next generation of girls to be the next queen. Never once has she asked Willowdean if she is going to participate. Fat girls don’t get invited into beauty pageants, even if your mom is the coordinator of the pageant.

But this year, Willowdean is leading a rebellion in honor of her favorite aunt whose loss she mourns fiercely. She is going to try and do the one thing her aunt wanted to do but never felt worthy of in her memory: enter the pageant. And when Willowdean enters, a variety of other social outcasts decide to join her.

DUMPLIN’ is a book about accepting yourself, not by changing yourself, because change is never quick or easy, but by truly learning to be comfortable in your own skin and allowing yourself to feel worthy of this thing called life even when you’re not sure who you are or who you want to be.

DUMPLIN’ is about friendship, old and new. Imperfect, but worth striving for, even when it’s hard.

It’s about mothers and daughters and the tensions that can come between them when neither one of them is entirely happy with who they are or what is happening in their life.

It’s about falling in love. And out of it.  And feeling worthy of love. And how you have to find a way to love yourself before you can believe that anyone else could ever truly love you.

As I said, The Tween and I both read DUMPLIN’ recently. We both LOVED this book. It’s moving and thought provoking. It really, as they say, hits you right in the feels. As a long time librarian and book reviewer, this book goes on my best of 2015 list. As a mom, it went right into my Tween’s hands because I wanted her to read it, I wanted us to talk about it, and I wanted her to be a part of Willowdean’s journey to help start her on her own journey. She’ll be 13 next month. I know she picks up on the messages both subtle and not so subtle this world sends to her about our expectations of girls. DUMPLIN’ is not only a fun and fantastic read, but it’s a great tool in the arsenal to make us think and reflect on those cultural messages so that we can tear them down and build ourselves up.

Our DUMPLIN's button we made at a recent Maker Space program.

Our DUMPLIN’s button we made at a recent Maker Space program.

Reading this book was a sort of spiritual experience for us both. We laughed. We cried. We talked. We bonded. We made decisions about how we were going to live our lives differently because we didn’t want to miss the moments of life. Willowdean missed so many moments because she thought she wasn’t worthy of them, and I think so many of us can identify with that.

Coupled with the equally profound MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy is a must read. Together, these two books really help us understand the ways that we build up and tear down girls. We step right into the psyche of a mind that has been honed and cultivated in a culture that says the way you look matters first and foremost; a culture that objectifies and sexualizes girls at very young ages and throughout their lifetimes; a world that demonizes girls that don’t fit conventional beauty standards; a world that crushes the spirits of girls as early as age 6, which is when my youngest child came home and asked me if she was fat because the kids at school were teasing her.

Book Review: Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swensdon

 rebelmechanicsPublisher’s Book Description:

A sixteen-year-old governess becomes a spy in this alternative U.S. history where the British control with magic and the colonists rebel by inventing.

It’s 1888, and sixteen-year-old Verity Newton lands a job in New York as a governess to a wealthy leading family—but she quickly learns that the family has big secrets. Magisters have always ruled the colonies, but now an underground society of mechanics and engineers are developing non-magical sources of power via steam engines that they hope will help them gain freedom from British rule. The family Verity works for is magister—but it seems like the children’s young guardian uncle is sympathetic to the rebel cause. As Verity falls for a charming rebel inventor and agrees to become a spy, she also becomes more and more enmeshed in the magister family’s life. She soon realizes she’s uniquely positioned to advance the cause—but to do so, she’ll have to reveal her own dangerous secret.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Rebel Mechanics is a fun steampunk novel that features magic, awesome inventions, and has just the right amount of swoon. Set in an alternate history version of the early U.S., a group of rebel mechanics are trying to start a revolution to tip the balance of power and income inequality that is held by the magisters (the people with magic in this world). The rebel mechanics believe that if they can create their own machines to provide things like light and locomotion, then the balance of power will be tipped in their favor as they will no longer have to rely on the magic of the magisters.

On her first day in the big city, Verity stumbles into a group of rebel mechanics and is drawn into their cause. She becomes a valuable asset when she is hired as a governess to one of the most powerful magister families in the city. At first somewhat naive, she has no idea for example how both groups of people feel about children born of a commoner and magister couple (what we would call a mudblood in the Harry Potter verse), Verity quickly comes to understand the righteousness of their cause. She also doesn’t understand at first how high the stakes really are, but as she is drawn into the ongoing battle she is forced to make a variety of personal decisions that may have long lasting implications.

Part of the fun of steampunk is seeing the different contraptions that are built, and that is done in a fun way here with underground competitions and journeys through the night sky on the steampunk version of a magic carpet. In fact, author Shanna Swendson recently said that she kept singing the Aladdin song A Whole New World while writing this scene and it will surprise no one who reads it.

When reading alternate history tales, it’s fascinating to see the various ways in which the author chooses to tweak a familiar narrative. For me, the author includes some fun steampunk elements, a couple of interesting twists on Colonial American history, and adds in some compelling characters. I’m not going to lie, I am a big fan of Verity. She is naive and slightly overwhelmed in this new place, but she is never meek or trembling with fear. She is, in some ways, reminiscent of Anne Shirley, one of my favorite characters of all times.

The only thing I struggled with while reading Rebel Mechanics is the concept of time. The first 60 or so pages involve Verity’s first day in the city. A lot of stuff happens in that first day, so much stuff that I wondered if it all could in fact happen in just one day. In fact, later in the book, when I realized that all this had happened in just a course of a few days, I wondered if I was misreading the timeline in some way. The concept of time just seemed too compacted to me as a reader, with too much happening and too many feelings/ideas being developed in what seemed like an unrealistically short amount of time.

Overall, I really liked this book. It features a strong female main character who is intelligent, driven, and takes big personal risks because it is the right thing to do in her opinion. This steampunk/alternate history version of the early U.S. is fascinating and engaging. And if you have a book discussion group, there are a lot of fun activities you can do while discussing this book. From the simple, tying a gear to a red ribbon, to the more complex, creating a Rube Golberg machine, there is no shortage of fun to be had.

Definitely recommended. I look forward to reading more about Verity and the Rebel Mechanics.

More Steampunk at TLT

Friday Finds – July 24, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: This is what courage looks like

Cover reveal: Original Fake written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Middle Grade Monday – Online Museum Resources

Book Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

July #ARCParty

The Faith of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a #FSYALit guest post with author interview

App Review: Candy Camera

Dark Shadows in a Glittering Metropolis: Magic and Religion in Jaclyn Dolamore’s Dark Metropolis Series (a guest post for #FSYALit)

Around the Web

Race and representation in Asian American Kid Lit

A mistake in  Shadow Hero?

Are you falling out of love with YA?

Book Riot has a great list of upcoming YA.

Have some fun with this literary road trip map (via Library as Incubator.)

Exciting movie news for Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’

This is just lovely.

Dark Shadows in a Glittering Metropolis: Magic and Religion in Jaclyn Dolamore’s Dark Metropolis Series (a guest post for #FSYALit)

faith and SpiritualityToday I am very excited to host a guest post as part of the #FSYALit Discussion on the Dark Metropolis series by Jaclyn Dolamore. Dark Metropolis is a book that I became familiar with as a Cybils judge and it is truly a fascinating book. Set in a dark world of fantasy, it adds a very interesting twist to the zombie tale while taking a very hard look at the issue of economic inequality. I could talk about this book forever, but instead let’s listen to what L. N. Holmes has to say.

I’ve always been a fan of magic. As a Christian, that might be a controversial statement. The Bible has many verses rebuking magic and its practitioners. However, the fictional magic of fantasy novels is what I truly like, because it is an excellent literary device for examining the human condition.

darkmetropolis

Take, for example, the Harry Potter series. Some Christians despised it, but other Christians defended it as a “Book of Virtues with a preadolescent funny bone” and “a meaningful connection to the most significant principles of Christianity.” In the books, J. K. Rowling used magic as an avenue to discuss abuses of power and the consequences of good and evil choices.

Jaclyn Dolamore also uses magic to discuss big ideas with her readers in her young adult series, Dark Metropolis. The heroine Thea, a waitress at a cabaret club in an alternate 1930s Germany, becomes unintentionally involved in a government conspiracy when her best friend, Nan, disappears. Freddy, a “reviver” that brings people back to life with his magical power, is connected to this conspiracy. When he starts frequenting the club where Thea works, the two form an unlikely duo against a city where people are gradually disappearing.

Although not as famous or as polished as the Harry Potter series, Dolamore’s fantasy strongly relies on magic as a plot device. Neither inherently good nor evil, enchantments oftentimes serve the whims of the caster. There are people who choose to abuse it—the government in the first book and Ingrid and King Otto in Glittering Shadows (book two)—and others who simply use it for practical purposes. Many non-magic users are directly affected by these actions.

glitteringshadows

In the books, Christianity and magic are not at odds. On the contrary, in Dark Metropolis, Thea notes that Father Gruneman of her church “reminded her of a fairy-tale creature himself, a wizard who had crawled out of a magic cave” (Dolamore 21) after he hands her a book of fairy tales. He later refers to Freddy’s magic as “a gift” (Dolamore 144). Father Gruneman embracing magic allows for him to deal with its existence objectively and take necessary action to help Thea and Freddy when they need it.

Dolamore’s books focus more on Norse mythology than Christianity, however. This is subtly mentioned in Dark Metropolis and further explored in Glittering Shadows. Without giving too much away, the origin story of magic in book two is a direct nod to a specific Norse legend. The characters mirror the plot as they focus more on this mythology than religion.

Ironically, it is an important character of book two that is connected to the Norse mythology that tries to explain the purpose of Christianity. Ingrid argues with Nan in book two that “even as you are looking for humanity in yourself, humans are looking to transcend those feelings inside of themselves. That’s why they go to church” (Dolamore, 194). While Ingrid’s motivations are not entirely pure during this argument, her ideas about religion may ring true for some Christians.

Admittedly, the books were not always enjoyable reads. Oftentimes the plot dragged. Thea was irritatingly indecisive at times. There were many instances where the plot and character development could have been stronger. While the first book focused mostly on Thea and Freddy, Nan’s story was far more interesting. Finally, there were too many instances where the characters were too passive in their actions.

That being said, Dolamore did well with portraying old stories in new ways. Her exploration into folklore, mythology, and religion—and how they intertwine—may be stimulating enough to readers to keep their interest. Fans of Cassandra Clare may also appreciate Dolamore’s style.

Dolamore’s descriptions of magic were vastly different from Rowling’s, and yet I found it to be an interesting commentary. The serious tone in the Dark Metropolis series encouraged philosophical thought about these subjects without dictating answers for the readers. It created a world where magic and religion could co-exist.

About DARK METROPOLIS:

darkmetropolisCabaret meets Cassandra Clare-a haunting magical thriller set in a riveting 1930s-esque world.

Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder’s mother is cursed with a spell that’s driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.
Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city’s secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own.

Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they’re not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.

Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, this is a chilling thriller with a touch of magic where the dead don’t always seem to stay that way. (June 2014 from Disney Hyperion)

About GLITTERING SHADOWS:

glitteringshadowsThe revolution is here.

Bodies line the streets of Urobrun; a great pyre burns in Republic Square. The rebels grow anxious behind closed doors while Marlis watches as the politicians search for answers—and excuses—inside the Chancellery.

Thea, Freddy, Nan, and Sigi are caught in the crossfire, taking refuge with a vibrant, young revolutionary and a mysterious healer from Irminau. As the battle lines are drawn, a greater threat casts a dark shadow over the land. Magic might be lost—forever.

This action-packed sequel to Dark Metropolis weaves political intrigue, haunting magic, and heartbreaking romance into an unforgettable narrative. Dolamore’s lyrical writing and masterfully crafted plot deliver a powerful conclusion. (June 2015 from Disney Hyperion)

You can find all the #FSYALit posts here.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

lnholmesLeeAnn Adams (or L. N. Holmes, if referring to her by her pen name) is a writer and editor for Germ Magazine. She is the winner of the 2012 Katherine B. Rondthaler Award for Poetry, the 2013 President’s Prize for Creative Writing, and has won first place for her nonfiction in a literary magazine from the North Carolina Media Association Statewide Media Awards. Her writing is featured in Garbanzo Literary Journal, Salt Magazine, Incunabula, the Wilmington News Journal, and is forthcoming in F(r)iction. She would love for you to visit her at her WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

App Review: Candy Camera

Knowing my obsession with pictures – my last smart phone had over 14,000 of them saved by the time it bit the dust – The Tween and The Bestie came to me a couple of days ago and shared that their new favorite photo app is Candy Cam. They declared it better than Instagram – gasp. And if you work with Tweens or young Teens you know that Instagram is incredibly popular.

I tend to take a lot of pictures one, because I’m a mom who loves her kids and two, I use them on the blog, to make posters and signage for the library, etc. You can also upload pictures and use them to make GIFs, ads and short movies. So I care a lot about high quality photos. To be honest, I tend to take a regular photo and edit them afterwards so that I can manipulate the same photo over and over again until I get the picture I like. So the primary appeal of Candy Camera for traditional users, that it takes real time photos, isn’t a strong appeal for me. The app description says it is good for editing photos but I can not speak to this feature because I am not interesting in laying down $7.99 to try that part of the app out.

candycameralogo

Info page http://www.jp-brothers.com/#!candy-camera/c1j5v

So why Candy Cam? The Bestie says it has better filters and it allows you to choose a filter before snapping your pic. The Tween says it just makes the best pictures.

Candy Camera is available for both Android and iPhones. There is a free version, which is what we downloaded to review. You can purchase an upgrade for $7.99, which is kind of pricey for a camera app in my opinion. But the upgrade allows you to have more editing capacity and add stickers. I don’t care about adding stickers, but I am always interested in finding quality post photo editing options for my smart phone or tablet. However, as I mentioned, I thought $7.99 was kind of a steep asking price for a photo app.

Here are some selfies that The Bestie took using Candy Camera:

candycam1

candycam2

candycam3

Here are a couple of pictures I took of The Tween:

candycam4

candycam6

What I liked:

Candy Camera allows you to select your photo size. I am fond of the square size pictures used in Instagram while The Bestie prefers more traditional sized photos. You can set up your photo size and layout before snapping a picture. In fact, if you choose say a series of 4 pictures it will take the picture in quick succession similar to a photo booth type setting and create a collage for you.

A screenshot of The Tween taking a picture of The Bestie using the sketch filter.

A screenshot of The Tween taking a picture of The Bestie using the sketch filter.

You can set up a timer to snap your picture, choosing between 3, 5, 10 and 15 seconds as a countdown option.

It does have some nice fitlers.

If you upload a picture it gives you an option to create this kind of layered effect, which I adore:

A button we made feature DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy, an upcoming book that should be on everyone's best of 2015 list.

A button we made featuring DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, an upcoming book that should be on everyone’s best of 2015 list.

I really like the way it fuzzed the outside edges. And it does allow you to kind of move the main picture from side to side and choose the positioning of the fuzzy edges.

It does have the options to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. It also allows you to whiten, rotate and crop.

What I Didn’t Like:

Candy Camera was not intuitive to me to begin using and it didn’t have the best instructions. Luckily I had the tweens to teach me how to use the app.

What Others are Saying:

“Candy Camera is one of the leading ah-mazing photo editing apps to master the art of selfie. Even coming as freeware and featuring a plain interface, the application packs a real punch. Alongside standard editing options like adjustable brightness, cropping, or rotating, you can apply dozens of great looking yet natural filters in real time, which means you get the results even before you take a picture. The popular Lomo and out focusing effects are also very convenient in the app, while (please, don’t go mad with the power) the slimming and make-up functions will make you look fabulous and your ex extremely jealous.” – Source: http://articles.informer.com/5-powerful-apps-for-selfie-addicts.html

“Candy Camera comes with more than 30 filters, which you can preview in real time as you’re getting ready to take the shot. It can remove blemishes, apply make-up, and enhance your images with variety of frames.” – Source: http://www.phonearena.com/news/10-camera-apps-for-taking-the-perfect-selfie_id52635#1u3pVIpGKqjeuAgT.97

Final Thoughts:

Although both Tweens swear by this app, BeFunky is still my current fave. You can read my review of it here. You can find all of our Tech Talk posts and App Reviews here.

Price: Basic app is free. The pro package is $7.99 which I did not purchase and can not review.

What you can do:

  • Edit your photo, including cut and paste and several beauty edits
  • Choose from around 30 filters (though the filter labels are hard to read)
  • Set a short timer
  • Choose your photo size, including choosing several multi-photo format options
  • Shoot a short video

My rating: 3*, mostly because I like the wide variety of filters you can choose from

My top 5 photo apps are:

  • BeFunky
  • ComicBook – makes great comic book pages
  • PhotoShake – I use it to make bookmarks and grid photos
  • Over – for adding text
  • Hipstamtic – for the various lens and film combinations

The Faith of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a #FSYALit guest post with author interview

Today as part of our ongoing discussion on Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit (#FSYALit) guest Catherine Posey is discussing The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. She even reached out to author Rae Carson who was kind enough to answer some questions for this post. You can find all the #FSYALit posts here.

girloffireandthornsWhen I first encountered Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, it’s needless to say I was intrigued. A heroine with a “Godstone” embedded in her body? A girl destined to become a leader in the land who doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of the perfect looking, size 0 young woman? A high fantasy with a unique magical system and feminist dimension? Yes, please! Then, to make things even better, once I dove into the books, I discovered that the novels featured a rich faith dimension that didn’t feel preachy. This, more than anything else, solidified my love of the novels, considering my own interest in the realm of faith and spirituality in both literature and readers.

Of course, there’s a lot to say about the topic of faith in Carson’s trilogy, and I obviously can’t cover it all here. But I can highlight several aspects I think are worth mentioning.

The Will of God

The religious culture of the books reflects multiple faith aspects, but one overarching theme is the notion of the “will of God” or the “plans of God.” For example, Elisa’s struggle with the fact that she is the bearer of the Godstone is apparent throughout the trilogy. Since she was born with the Godstone, obviously it is God’s will for her to play a unique role in her country’s history. Right? In the second book, The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s Godstone reminds her that “God has plans” for her, and that she hasn’t fulfilled them all. The way she comes to term with this part of her identity invites discussion about how sometimes we feel a desire to do something significant, but actually doing it feels impossible. We can sense a “calling” to do something, but we don’t feel adequate. Both of these sentiments are explored in the trilogy, making it something that some religious readers may be able to relate to. It isn’t necessarily easy for Elisa to come to terms with what she is “destined” to do—nor does she understand exactly what she is supposed to do.

God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?” [Girl of Fire and Thorns]

Her grappling with questions while still holding on to her faith is apparent in all three books. The bumps along the way in Elisa’s journey reinforce this idea that the road ahead for all of us will not always be clear or make sense, but as the saying goes, it’s often not about the destination, but about the journey.

“It’s nice to consider that God many not count imperfection as an obstacle to working out his will in the world.” [Crown of Embers]

Appealing to a Higher Power

It is clear that for Elisa, her “Godstone” is a source of power for her, and symbolizes her connection to a higher power. She often taps into the Godstone and begins “praying” when she needs peace or is in danger. This is another example of how her spirituality plays a role in her life. But, it might be helpful to note that it is usually when Elisa is in trouble or in need of power that she appeals to God. Some of the phrases Elisa says to herself in the midst of stressful situations resemble Biblical scripture, but this in no way turns the story into anything stuffy or too religious. It does, however, create parallels with readers whose religion is focused, in some way, on a holy book.

“Aloud I say, ‘The gate that leads to life is narrow and small so that few find it.’ My Godstone lurches, and the force inside me begins a slow spin.” [Crown of Embers]

A Destructive Spirituality

Though the trilogy includes references to “God’s plans” and the notion of “destiny” through Elisa’s journey to become a powerful and important leader in the land of Joya d’Arena, the books don’t shy away from illuminating how the idea of “God’s will” can manifest negatively. For example, the animagus in the beginning of The Crown of Embers at first threatens to send fire into the crowd unless Elisa gives in to his demands and turns herself in. However, he burns himself up instead, becoming “a living torch,” and screaming, “It is God’s will!” This is a clear example in the series of how people’s faith and religious beliefs can have a negative effect on themselves and/or others. This is something else I appreciated about how Carson wove faith elements throughout her trilogy—she doesn’t shy away from depicting the way faith and religious beliefs can be destructive, in some cases. At the same time, the faith aspects of the trilogy were overall more positive to me than they were negative.

A Spirituality of Connectedness

Many of the relationships in the story communicate ideas that appearances can be deceiving, and that compassion and kindness should be offered, even if undeserved. If someone betrays a friend, can that relationship ever be redeemed? These are some of the issues and questions the books bring up, reinforcing yet another spiritual dimension of the story. Elisa grows in love and compassion for those she encounters; her ability to help those close to her heal from life threatening wounds illuminates the notion of making sacrifices for people.

“I will do anything. I’d give my own life and heath if I could. He’s a good man, the best man…I imagine pouring my life force out of my body, through our clasped hands, filling Hector, knitting his wound. The Godstone becomes a fire.” [Crown of Embers]

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It’s clear that The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy illuminates important aspects of faith and spirituality, whether it’s through Elisa’s raw honesty about her struggle to understand her purpose or her willingness to forgive those who have wronged her. I would also argue that Rae Carson’s fantasy series effectively portrays faith dimensions that have the potential to appeal to readers of various faiths.

Rae was kind enough to answer some of my questions around this topic of faith and spirituality in teen literature, and I’m extremely excited to share with you those questions and answers!

The religious/spiritual aspect of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy is such a rich dimension of the narrative—what led you to include this aspect of the story? Or did it just emerge organically?

Thank you. I was a deeply religious teen who never saw myself represented in books. This was baffling to me. In the U.S., the vast majority affiliate with some kind of religious faith, which makes religion a huge part of the coming-of-age experience. So where was my story? Why didn’t anyone write about my experience?

Growing up religious comes with a lot of confusion: Why do all these churches teach things that are so vastly different? What happens when you realize that your beliefs are diverging from those of your parents and peers? Why do people do such horrible things in the name of religion, while others derive such comfort and peace from their faith?

I wanted to explore all of those hard questions, and I wanted to write stories that reflected the reality of so many teens who grow up in a faith environment.

Do you think your own spirituality affects your writing? Any thoughts on how that happens or any thoughts about this with other books?

Not even a little. I gave up religion a long time ago.

However, being nonreligious does not prevent me from empathizing with people who hold different beliefs than I do. In fact, as an author, it’s my job. I worked very hard to make my treatment of faith respectful, empathetic, and even affectionate. Many people assume that I’m religious because of my books, and I’m delighted that readers found the faith elements in the trilogy so convincing.

Are there any books you read as a young reader (teen or younger) that really affected you in a profound or meaningful way?

I loved Judy Blume’s brilliant Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. I probably read that book five times at the age of ten. I was also profoundly impacted by the original Star Wars trilogy, which is as unsubtle and fond a commentary on spirituality as I’ve ever seen in fiction, particularly in regards to the power of belief and the dichotomy of good and evil.

Any books for teens (fantasy or other genres) that you would recommend for readers looking for an engaging and creative plot, but maybe are also interested in faith aspects as well?

I strongly recommend Aaron Hartzler’s Rapture Practice and John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back. Both explore religious themes with humor, affection, and honesty. Teens who, for one reason or another, must deal with stringent “content” restrictions can safely enjoy anything by Ted Dekker or Lisa T. Bergren.

Thank you, Rae, for taking the time to answer these questions! It’s a pleasure to have you participate in this post!
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About The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do. (Publisher’s Book Description)

Meet Our Guest Blogger:

Catherine Posey has a Ph.D in Curriculum & Instruction (Emphasis: Children’s Literature). She is a blogger at Bookish Illuminations. You can find Catherine on Twitter: @KatePoseyPhD

July #ARCParty

I got some new books while I was away in Ohio so the girls and I decided that last night was a great night for an impromptu ARC party. For those of you new to TLT, here’s how an ARC Party works: The Tween and The Bestie go through each title, reading the back cover info aloud to one another. After examining the covers, they then give each book a yeah or nay, letting me know if they are interested in reading each title. Here are the books we looked at last night and their initial reactions.

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arcparty7If you prefer to see the Storified version of these tweets, you can do so here.