When Fiction Becomes Reality

If you’re a loyal (or even an occasional) reader, you know that I ❤ New Orleans with a capital ❤ . I love the history, the food, the people, the music… There is always something going on in NOLA, and if you’re there and are bored, it’s your own fault. My darling husband and I just returned from NOLA, where we spent several days doing some touristy stuff (no matter how many times you visit, the nighttime ghost tours of the French Quarter are always a must), and a lot of wandering around on our own.

There’s no real way to adequately describe the personality of a city like New Orleans. It’s schizophrenic in the best possible way.  Every street has its own style, its own flair, its own history, and its own look. This is why you can walk a mere block or two and have it seem like you’ve stepped into another world.  The Vieux Carre is as different from the Garden District as the sun is from the moon.

Though there are other places I have visited that I enjoyed, none of them have captured my soul quite like NOLA has.  Because I thrive on stories – I read them, I write them, I tell them.  And NOLA has endless stories.  Some are horrid and bloody (Madame Delphine LaLaurie, I’m lookin’ at you right now), some are outlandish and nigh unbelievable (the ghost of a pirate guarding Jean Laffite’s treasure haunts Laffite’s Blacksmith Shop, a local bar), and some are downright sad (a boarding school burned, killing several children who couldn’t escape). But ALL of them, no matter the subject, are interesting.

I stumbled across Alys Arden’s book The Casquette Girls purely by accident – one of those “if you liked this, then try that” types of things. I read the blurb, and saw that it was set in New Orleans (relatively) present-day, and that it somehow involved vampires.  This presented a conundrum. With the exception of one or two specific titles, I am not a fan of vampire books. At all. However, I am a fan of New Orleans. So the fact that this book was set in the Big Easy drew it out of the “nope” category into the “I’ll give it a try” category. I’m so glad I did, because, Reader, I am in total love with this book. Arden takes several prominent (and some obscure) urban legends from New Orleans history and, along with some contemporary events, weaves them into a beautiful tale of mystery, magic, and adventure.

First of all, the setting is perfectly presented. It conveys the colorful personality of New Orleans – in all its aspects – very well. It embraces the diversity, the culture, the humanity of the city and its residents unapologetically – even proudly. Additionally, it is set in the days following “the Storm”, which is obviously Hurricane Katrina, but is never specifically named as such. So readers get to experience the devastation, the loss, the frustration of the situation right along with the characters.

And let’s talk about those characters for a minute… The story revolves around Adele – born and raised New Orleansian, half-American/half-French, and telekinetic; Desiree – New Orleans native, mayor’s daughter, and hereditary voodoo witch; and Isaac – high school dropout, relief worker, and animagus. I liked how each of the characters is in a different stage of their supernatural journey: Adele learns of her abilities at the beginning of the book, Isaac knows what he is but is still coming to terms with it, and Desiree has known of her gifts from birth and has been practicing magic her whole life. The characters are dynamic, individual, and interesting all, in their own rights.

The plot of this book kept me rapt, and I literally lost sleep over it (because I stayed up late reading). It expertly intertwines a past storyline with a present storyline and make me care equally about both. The past bleeds forward into the present, and decisions made by characters in the past affect the fate of characters in the future. I liked the limited POV, and that I learned things as the characters learned them; I felt a sense of profound pleasure when I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

I must confess, though, that I did NOT see the plot twist coming, so that was a nice surprise.

I also liked that though this book had vampires, it wasn’t wholly about vampires. Yes, they played a role and essentially acted as a catalyst for the events, but they weren’t the main focus of the story. Which was totally fine by me.

On a sidenote: I read this book before my husband and I went on our latest trip to NOLA, and it was a blast to be able to try to find all the different places highlighted in the book on the actual streets of the French Quarter.  Alys Arden grew up in NOLA, and as an expert on the area, adds in places that only locals (or someone who is a frequent visitor) know about.  I took pictures of some of them.

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Bottom of the Cup Tea Room
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St. Germain House
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Old Ursuline Convent

Overall, I found this book to be fun and thoughtful and clever, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Romeo Catchers.

Top 5 “Please, No More!” Books

Yes, I know it’s Top 10 Tuesday, but time and  life restrict me from spending as much time blogging as I’d like.  So, it is what it is.  And I bring you Top 5 Tuesday.  At least for this week.

Any reader worth her salt is aware that publishing works on a pendulum.  A particular “type” of book breaks all known conventions and the author sells a half-dozen million copies and buys a house in the Hamptons AND a house on Mackinac Island.  And then EVERY WRITER EVERYWHERE has to write the same book, only their lead character is named Mary Sue, rather than Katniss.  And publishers herald these new books as “Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games meets The Berenstain Bears” to try to get readers to part with their cash. We’ve all seen it; we’ve all been suckered bought into it.

Well, I say NO MORE!

Here are 5 types of books I refuse to read any more of.

  1. THE DYSTOPIAN

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The dystopian has literally been done to death.  Though I will acknowledge that The Hunger Games did all the heavy lifting to pave the way for this (sub)genre to flourish, I have never been even a casual fan of dystopian novels.  Why, you ask? That’s an excellent question.  Let me tell you.  For one thing, they’re all exactly the same similar. I mean, ok.  We get it – government sucks, the ruling class are all jerks, it’s hard to choose between two cute boys, and murdery girls are super-cool.  How many ways can you think of to write that?  Apparently, loads of ways.  Unfortunately.

2.  THE VAMPIRE

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So, there are some really, really good vampire books out there.  One of my personal favorites is Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot.  It’s subtle and terrifying in its simplicity.  The problem with there being a (very, very) few good ones means they are outnumbered 347893728187:1 by the terrible ones.  I’m not sure how all the authors missed the memo, but vampire ≠ gorgeous, angsty, teenage drama kings.  Also, just fyi, vampires don’t fall in love with spectacularly stupid girls, they suck their blood and leave them for dead.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

3. MEAN GIRLS

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Yes, we know – high school is terrible, teenage boys are tiny demons, and teenage girls are literally hell spawn.  Writers, take note: stop recycling this narrative.  Rather than vilifying high school girls and perpetuating “clique culture”, start focusing on healthy relationships.  Give YA readers examples of EDIFYING female relationships.  (Shout out to Leigh Bardugo @LBardugo for masterfully demonstrating this in her new Wonder Woman: Warbringer.)  Show girls that they don’t need to be intimidated by one another, and that other girls aren’t their competition; rather, they’re their support team.  No, not everyone is going to be nice; not everyone is going to get along.  But this different mindset would go a long way toward changing the trajectory of high school relationships.

4. LOVE TRIANGLES

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So. Many. Love triangles.  If I pick up another YA book with a love triangle, my eyes are going to bleed.  Seriously, it’s hard enough to find one “perfect” dude, but the odds of finding two within the same vicinity of each other?  No shot.  And have you ever noticed, it’s always a girl choosing between two guys, and never the other way around?  I mean, is there ever a legit question about who she’s going to end up with, anyway?  Of course Bella was going to choose Edward; Simon didn’t have a prayer with Clary once Jace stepped into the picture; and anyone who thought Mare was going to pick Maven when she could have Cal is out of their mind. Though I don’t object to the idea of a ❤ triangle, I have yet to find one that’s well done and actually leaves me wondering who our heroine will choose.

5. SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE

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You know the one.  (Cue movie trailer voice guy.) “In a special land where everyone is special and has special powers of speciality, SHE is born ordinary. With brown hair and brown eyes and nothing particularly attractive about her, she has no specialness.  UnTIL, ONE DAY, she discovers she is a Super Special Secret Princess and her destiny is to, in the most special way possible, SAVE THE WORLD!” Ugh.  Give me a break.  So over it.

Ha.  Top 10 5 Tuesday turned into a bit of a personal rant.  It happens.  But, as you loyal and brilliant readers know, this is just a drop in the bucket that dips into the magical wishing well full of books I ❤ and adore.

What types of books are you completely over?

Princess of All Awesomeness

“Hey, Britney,” you say, “you know it’s August, right?  And you haven’t done a Monday review in three weeks?”

Yes.  I know it’s August, and Review Monday has been suspiciously absent.  I also know that this (see: blogs are ridiculously late) is what happens when things don’t go as planned, and you’re forced to scramble to make sure everything gets done.  It’s super annoying when life and responsibilities get in the way of reading and writing.  It’s a good thing I had a head start on my sister for the Great Reading Contest of 2017, because if I hadn’t, I think she would have caught me up this past month.

That said, I have gotten some reading in (though not as much as I’d like), and one of the books I read was part of the #ARCAugust challenge.  I had been anticipating reading Wonder Woman: Warbringer for months.  There were two reasons for this: 1) I ❤ Wonder Woman, and 2) one of my favorite authors, Leigh Bardugo, wrote the book.  I was interested to read a book wholly devoted to Wonder Woman, and I wanted to see how Bardugo represented her.  When you’re anticipating a book that much, and have such high expectations for it, there’s always the danger that it doesn’t stack up.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer definitely stacked up.  Here is the cover, and a partial blurb as found on Goodreads:

warbringer

 

 

She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . . . 

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world. 

 

 

With a book like this, it’s hard to know what to focus on for a review.  I mean, I could fangirl all day long about Leigh Bardugo, but that doesn’t tell anyone about the book.  I could fangirl all day long about Wonder Woman, but that still doesn’t tell anyone about the book.  So I’ll try to focus on the things people care about: plot, setting, and characters.

PLOT: What originally seemed to be a pretty straightforward plot became surprisingly twisty in a way I definitely wasn’t expecting.  (I should have known Bardugo wouldn’t ever write anything straightforward.)  Though a “super hero book”, the danger doesn’t seem outlandish, and has possible real-world repercussions.  I liked that there was a lot of history woven into the story, of both mythical and realistic nature, and that the history affected the present.  Overall, the story itself was a great one – enjoyable, and complex enough to be interesting from the first page until the last.

SETTING: This was done SO well!  I liked the glimpses I got to see of Themyscira (yes, I had to Google the spelling.  Don’t look at me like that – unless you just watched the film, I’m pretty sure you had to Google the pronunciation), and of the Amazon civilization.  Also, magical, disappearing horses.  The island is done well enough that you truly feel the impact when Diana enters the “regular” world, and how difficult it is for her to process the vast difference between her home and the rest of the world.  And speaking of the rest of the world…  I loved that Bardugo put Diana on the subway in NYC.  What better way to introduce her to New Yorkers?

CHARACTERS: Bardugo did great work with this cast.  For one thing, it is diverse without being “token”.  The diversity of the characters deepens that sense of historicity I mentioned earlier, and lends the story a deep richness.  There are several characters in this story – Diana Prince (for she isn’t Wonder Woman yet) is just one of them.  So, though this book has Diana in it, it’s not just about her.  Each character – Alia, Nim, Jason, Theo – is important to the story, and each is well-developed and interesting.  And one of the most important things Bardugo does with these characters is establish strong (and I mean epic STRONG) relationships – between siblings, between friends, and between females – all something I wish we saw more of.  Basically, all the ❤ for these characters, their sass, their support for one another, and their bravery.

Snaps to Leigh Bardugo for taking a strong female character and making her more powerful, smarter, and more relevant than just being the “hot one with the rope”.  This Diana Prince is the Wonder Woman I want my daughter to grow up reading about.

Now, bring on Marie Lu’s Batman: Nightwalker!

*A huge thanks to Random House for providing me with an ARC of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Top 10 Tuesday tomorrow, friends!

Peace out!

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First the Ripper, Now Dracula

Call me crazy, but I love books based on old, murdery mysteries.  I don’t like to read about bloodbaths, but give me a good, old-fashioned mystery based on history, and I’m all in. A lot of this has to do with my interest in history; more than I’d like to admit, this has to do with my dark sense of curiosity.

Kerri Maniscalco is an author after my own heart.  She has chosen to tackle some of the most iconic historic mysteries possible, and has given them new life (haha) and a new spin.  I am a firm fan.

I read Stalking Jack the Ripper (the first book in this series) shortly after it was released, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story-telling from debut author Kerri Maniscalco. Having done very little research on either the book or the author before reading, I was excited when I got to the end of the book, and it was clear there was going to be a sequel. History buff that I am, I was as ecstatic as only a nerd can be to discover the next installment of the Wadsworth/Cresswell adventures would take them to Romania and settle them within the Dracula mythology. I had high expectations for Hunting Prince Dracula. I was not disappointed.

If anything, from the first book to this, Maniscalco’s writing has gotten better (as is natural), and her story-telling voice has grown stronger. Where there were a few times in Ripper I felt the leaps in logic were a little long-strided, I didn’t feel that way at all with Dracula. The plot is very thoroughly laid out and described, and doesn’t miss any steps. Though the mystery reveal is well-hidden until the end of the book, the reader isn’t kept in the dark at all when it comes to necessary clues and information. As far as the story itself, I found it to be very satisfying.  (And darned if she didn’t get me again with the twist!)

One of the things I really like about these books is the relationship between Audrey Rose Wadsworth (though I still cringe at that name – I mean it’s really, really terrible) and Thomas Cresswell. There is a mutual admiration and respect between the two of them that isn’t based on attraction, and that’s a rare find in YA fiction these days. Yes, it’s evident that the two of them have feelings for one another, but that is not the basis for their relationship. Cresswell appreciates Wadsworth for who she is; he isn’t intimidated by her intellect, he allows her to take risks, and doesn’t feel threatened by her independence. And Wadsworth understands Cresswell’s want to protect her and doesn’t deride him for it (though she does throw in a perfectly understandable eye-roll every now and then).

Something else unique about these books is the profession Wadsworth and Cresswell are working their way into. Maniscalco has chosen something out of the ordinary – forensics – for her characters to study, which is something that sets them apart from others of their social cohort. It’s not strictly “ladylike” for a high-born girl like Audrey Rose to be elbows-deep in someone’s gizzard, but does that stop her?  Definitely not.  And good thing, because their knowledge of all things dead also gives Wadsworth and Cresswell a slight advantage when it comes to investigating the crimes that take place in the book. Their unconventional training gives them an unconventional perspective on things, and their partnership gives them strength.

I really liked how this book isn’t an over-the-top “vampire book”. Rather, it acknowledges the history of the setting, and allows that history to color the mystery, but doesn’t for a second try to convince readers that Dracula is behind the murders. I believe that would have brought into question the credibility of the characters. The characters solve a real mystery, instead of chasing ghosts and goblins. And, also, readers (mostly) aren’t stupid, so better not to waste time trying to convince them of the existence of vampires.

Overall, this is a fun book, compulsively readable and clever. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of the Adventures of Wadsworth and Cresswell – in America! (And I’m having a dickens of a time trying to figure out who the big bad will be this time.  It would be too much of a time gap for them to be after H H Holmes, and too late for Billy the Kid…)

Little, Brown and Company/Jimmy Patterson Books provided me with an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tomorrow, on Top 10 Tuesday, tune in for a list of the Top 10 Fictional Librarians!  Because, well, who’s cooler than librarians?

(Truly) Heartless

When it comes to books, I’m a generally positive person.  I recognize that different people like different types of books, and know that not every book is going to be for me.  I accept this as a given.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed when a book I anticipate is going to be wonderful falls completely flat for me.  Such was the case with Marissa Meyer’s Heartless.  Now, I am a big fan of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which includes loose, twisted retellings of several fairy tales.  There were great plots, she made interesting choices, and populated the books with great characters, including strong females.  I was looking for more of the same with Heartless.  I was sorely disappointed.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere.  A talented baker, she wants top open a shop and create delectable pastries.  But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen. 

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets the handsome and mysterious Jest.  For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction.  At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny.  But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Just the last sentence of this is enough to make me want to read this book.  I expected a fantastical tale about the Red Queen, complete with many murdery cries of “Off with their heads!”.  This was not that tale.

Let’s talk about “Cath”.  (Ugh. Unless you are the Simon Snow devotee, this name is not OK.)  This is one of the most useless, spineless main characters I have ever encountered in a book.  She has a dream to be a baker and run her own shop, which is contrary to everyone else’s plans for her to become queen.  Guess what happens.  (If you guessed that she runs away, defies everyone who wants to make her into something she’s not, and opens the best bakery in all of Wonderland, you’d be 100% wrong.)  It only took me about 27 seconds to realize that Cath lacks agency and will, and I spent the entire book being frustrated at her victim attitude.  She doesn’t make things happen, she lets things happen to her.  And then she sits and whines about it.  Then, when things get crazy, blood starts flying, and Cath figures out her terrible decisions are the cause, she blames someone else, which just infuriated me.  And I’m supposed to believe that this girl who spent 7/8 of the book being weak and whiny suddenly turns into the cold, cruel, imperious Red Queen?  Sorry, not buying it.

There were a couple of things I did like about this book.  Cheshire was a wonderfully written character, and by far one of my favorites.  I like how he embodies arrogance and feigns a complete lack of care for anything going on around him, but says the most profound things at just the right times.  I also really liked Jest and his pure heart.  He is loving and optimistic, and true.  The “world” of Wonderland was well-done, and just mad enough to be fun, but not too nonsensical where it feels like Meyer is trying too hard.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Wonderland.  More mad tea parties, more checkerboard cake, more Jabberwock, just more.

There were also some great lines in here.  Meyer has a beautiful way with words, and if I couldn’t really appreciate the story, I can at least appreciate her wordsmithy.  She has a very lyrical way of writing, which is a must for any Wonderland story, I think.  One of my favorite phrases turns out to be a prophecy, and a bit of a foreshadow.

Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.

Overall, ironically, I think what this book is missing is heart.  It didn’t make me feel anything other than annoyance for Cath, and I didn’t care enough about Jest or anyone else to be really invested in what happened.  I had high hopes for this one, but it really let me down.  I almost want there to be another installment, because I think now that Cath is the Red Queen, I might like her better, and would care about the continuing story of her being stabby and evil, but, then again, maybe not.

If you’re interested in fairy tale retellings, here are some of my favorites:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – this reimagines the Cinderella story with a cyborg and a moon colony.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is an assassin trained from birth to kill the Beast.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson – a Southern gothic-set version of the Bluebeard fairy tale with a mystery, and romance, and a lot of suspense.

Tune in tomorrow for Top 10 Tuesday!

Coffee Break: The Case for YA Literature

I have a confession to make: I read a lot of YA (young adult, for those of you who are wondering) literature.  Ok, ok, maybe it’s not a confession, since if you all are paying attention, you know that already.  But it’s true, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I actually have an extremely eclectic reading taste – I’m game for almost anything, save terrifying, bloody horror books, and Amish fiction.  This is because I ❤ books, I appreciate authors and want to support their heroic work, and I like to learn things about all the things (except stabby, murdery psychopaths and sweet, sweet Amish love).

I have always been a #reader, but over the years have read for different purposes.  As a child, I read because I enjoyed it; as a student, I read because I had to; as an adult I still read because I have to, but not because it’s required – rather, it’s a compulsion.  It’s not for a grade, but for the soul.  Because I’m old now, and can do what I want (*insert sarcastic laughter here), I read what I want.  My time is limited, and I don’t see the point in torturing myself by wasting precious hours reading something I don’t enjoy.  I enjoy YA literature.

“But, why?” you ask.  “YA lit is for, you know, teenagers.”  I respectfully disagree.  Saying that is like saying teenagers shouldn’t read contemporary fiction, or nonfiction because those genres aren’t written to target a teen audience.  YA literature is a unique creature unto itself, in that it can be about anything.  YA literature is not tied to genre limitations; is is not stifled by literary conventions.  YA authors aren’t afraid to put it all out there and write about cyborg Cinderellas or about children hunting other children to amuse evil adults; they aren’t afraid to take risks.  They aren’t afraid of what their audience may think – they know kids are up for anything.

So why is YA literature thought of as being less than

Currently, YA literature is experiencing an explosion in popularity.  YA books are ending up on best seller lists; they are taking up huge amounts of space in bookstores; they are being turned into blockbuster films.  Are there really that many teens reading books?  NO.  While there are a lot of teens who read, the explanation for what can only be called the YA Phenomenon is this: adults are reading YA books.  Why?  BECAUSE YA BOOKS TALK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS that adult books don’t.  Here’s an example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published by HarperCollins this past February, is about an inner-city girl who witnesses her childhood best friend shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed, and the implications and fallout of that situation.  It places the reader squarely within the story, and provides a perspective most readers may never get.  No AF (adult fiction) books are talking about this topic – something that is very timely and relevant.  Yet Thomas is brave enough to do so, and to an audience that is open-minded enough to consider that other perspective.  Another example is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This book follows Junior as he moves from the reservation to the suburbs where he navigates the minefield that is trying to make friends while battling social stereotypes.  This book highlights specific identity issues facing indigenous peoples, and resonates with many who feel marginalized.  *Looks around – AF?  Anything on this?  No?

The examples I used here are two contemporary novels, set in reality.  Many YA authors choose to tackle these issues, as well, only in a fantasy context.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is a good bellwether for this: she highlights society and class, as well as identity, but sets the story in a post-apocolyptic world.  YA books deal with questions of drug culture, suicide, death, violence, identity, sex, acceptance, family, relationships, mental health, etc., ad infinitum.  You name it, there’s a YA book that talks about it.  YA is valuable because people can relate to the books, no matter how old the reader is.

YA books also provide:

Escapism – Most people don’t want to sit down, crack open a book, and read about depressing things.  They want to, at least for a little while, bail on their real life.  Settings in YA books are often fantastical and foreign, and allow readers to step away from their lives and experience something that speaks to their imagination, rather than their reason.

Excitement – Let’s get real here for a minute.  There are some AF books that are boring AF (see what I did there?).  YA books, no matter the genre, are always moving.  Because teens are always moving.  There is drama; there is action – and most of the time, the two are happening at the same time.

Strong Characters – In case you haven’t met one for a while, and need to be reminded, let me point out: teens are opinionated.  They are learning, they are developing their own thoughts and world views, and they want to see the same thing in their book hero(ine)s.  Many YA books are written in 1st person point of view, so the reader hears the character’s voice specifically.  The voices are strong and sure, and inspire that same confidence.  Additionally, there are many, many strong female characters in YA lit, who represent some of the most individual voices in literature of any genre.

Hope – For all the “issues” found in YA literature, rarely do things end on a negative note.  This is because the authors realize they are writing for the next generation, who have a lot to look forward to.  Soul-crushing situations are resolved, hurts are mended, and the bad guy is rightfully punished.  Teens are creative and they’re smart, and they have a habit of looking forward, rather than backward; YA authors do a wonderful job of giving them something bright to move toward.

It crushes my soul when I hear critics (and by critics, I mean other readers) bash YA literature as “shallow” or “dumbed down” derivatives of AF.  Because this is not the case.  YA literature is just as sophisticated and important as every other genre of book out there, because it does its job: it speaks to its audience.  And it’s audience listens, and loves it.

Just one last thought: if it wasn’t for YA authors, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter; we wouldn’t have Katniss Everdeen; we wouldn’t have Anne Shirley; we wouldn’t have Bilbo Baggins.  Some of the most iconic and beloved literary characters ever created are products of YA literature.

So next time someone scoffs at you because you choose to spend your time reading a YA book now and again (or always), don’t be ashamed to stand up for those authors who choose to create iconic characters and memorable settings, and who choose to face the hard issues head-on and try to make sense of them.

(All those gorgeous covers, though…)