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Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Wanderlove

Welcome readers. Pull up a chair. Grab a cup of coffee (or tequila—we won’t judge). And let’s talk books.

This month, we’re discussing Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. For those of you who haven’t yet read the book, here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
It all begins with a stupid question: Are you a Global Vagabond?  
No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path. 
Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward. But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back. 
I am, at the current moment, fighting the urge to stop writing this review, pack a few necessities into my backpack, and hop the first flight to Central America. I’d like to say my obligations to this blog are holding me back, but let’s be honest: I’m just broke.

I’m blaming my obsession with Central America (see Article 1, Section A: “Google image search history”) on Kirsten Hubbard and her book Wanderlove. I mentioned this before, but my favorite part of the book was the feeling of wanderlust it gave me. The locations in the book were so vividly described that I can still picture them when I shut my eyes.

Of course, setting is Hubbard’s domain, and not just because she’s a travel writer. Here, she paints a picture of each place for us—and not only the image a reader may have in mind—and even though her descriptions are pretty detailed they don’t slow the story down. Case in point:
“We’re standing on the beach with our backpacks on, facing the ocean. A faint drizzle—what my dad calls a Scottish mist—makes the gray sea and sky bleed together like wet-on-wet watercolor. Even the waves seem sluggish, heaving toward shore. ‘So this is the Caribbean?’ I ask.”
That wasn’t my first experience with the Caribbean (I can’t be positive, but I think there was a lot of sun and turquoise water involved), but it’s unexpected and refreshing. Though Wanderlove can be seen as a love letter to Travel, the book doesn’t pretend all expeditions are rainbows and sunny skies.

I’ll be honest: I love traveling so much that I probably would have liked this book even if the characters were ho-hum and the romance was all yawn and the plot was been there, done that. Seriously.

But good news, the characters are pretty awesome. My favorite: Sonia, a side character who totally stole the show in her scenes.

Bria is probably the first completely average (and when I say average I mean average, not average-hiding-secret-abilities or average-but-really-not) YA character I’ve read and really, really loved. She’s self-conscious and shy, doubts her abilities as an artist even though others see her talent, and is cautious above all. Teen Tracey totally relates.

Bria’s struggle to find her identity is at the heart of the novel. Is she someone who belongs on a safe-yet-predictable group tour with a bunch of middle-aged people? Is she the kind of person who could backpack with strangers around Central America? So much of Wanderlove was Bria figuring out who she was through travel and through her relationships.

Which brings me to … the romance. One of the main complaints a lot of people have with YA romances today is this instalove factor. Characters meet. Bat eyelashes. Fall in love. You won’t find that in Wanderlove. The romance between Bria and Rowan is slow-building and realistic, especially since both are running from something big.

And that’s what I found so appealing about Wanderlove. Bria doesn’t unload her problems onto Rowan the minute he looks at her twice. In the same way, Rowan keeps his problems closed-off from Bria for much of the book. It’s an issue of trust, and a believable one at that. I know I wouldn’t go spilling my problems to some boy I just met, not even if he looked like this:


It’s a long process, trusting someone you’ve just met, and Hubbard handles that expertly, stitching it into the relationship so it builds and builds before the characters openly show they’re interested in one another.

Also believable: The awkwardness between Bria and Rowan at first. Imagine you’re traveling with someone you met 24 hours ago. You might be able to banter a bit, but you’ll probably have some lulls in conversation, too. The fact that Bria and Rowan’s relationship was peppered with those in the beginning rang so true for me. Here, see:
“For a moment, we seem to run out of things to say. The jungle is so loud I can almost sift the sound waves through my fingers, but it’s better than the gracelessness of total silence.”
(Oh, did I forget to mention the gorgeous prose?)

On a whole, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book. For some reason, I had imagined it as a lighter travel novel, and while it’s definitely a travel book it’s really a story about identity—who we are, who we want to become, and how our actions and relationships shape us. There’s no fluff, but real questions that ask you, the reader, to examine yourself.
“ ‘Anyway, so many American luxuries are just that—luxuries,’ Starling continues. ‘You don’t need them. They drag you down, and not just physically.’ ”
And did I mention there’s a cute boy? And art Hubbard sketched herself? Yup, cool.

Speaking of cool …. Kirsten Hubbard was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions about her book, her travels, and her travel philosophy (hint: it’s not the same as Rowan’s) for me. Check back Monday for the interview.

Also, look for a really cool video chat with Kirsten Hubbard in April on YA Highway.

What did you think of the book? Write your thoughts in the comments below, and link to your blog review below.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RTW: Best Book of March

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: What was the best book you read in March?

This has just been one of those months. You know what I mean? I started it with a big move from Virginia to Massachusetts and have been getting settled ever since. And even though all I’ve wanted to do was curl up with a good book, I’ve resisted. Sometimes there are more important things. Like finding the box that has your underwear.

Which brings me to my Best Book of March. I read two. The one I’d pick as my favorite is our YA Book Club read, Wanderlove.

Before I joined the Real World, I had a severe case of wanderlove. It started when I was young and taking charge of our family vacations. (Not that I got my way all the time. During my Agatha Christie phase, my idea of taking the Orient Express—yes, it still ran back then, until three years ago, in fact—got shot down pretty quickly.) I spent a semester studying at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and after my first day in the city I was completely, totally, 100 percent infected with wanderlove. The disease lasted through the rest of college and after, when my friends and I backpacked around Europe for a month.

And then I got a Real Job with Real Responsibilities and Real Bills and, well, you can pretty much guess what happened. I still have my bucket list of places to visit, but I no longer use my life savings to travel for a month. No, I save and save and save.

That’s why I loved Wanderlove so much. It brought me back to all of those trips I took when I was younger and didn’t know why every adult hates April* or why taking a vacation from work is so hard—even if you have vacation days.

So in honor of that, here are a few photos of places Wanderlove brought me back to. You should know, while Ive been to all of these places, none of the photos were taken by me.** I used film when traveling because I didn’t have my super awesome Nikkon D-SLR at the time. (I’ll see if I can dig up the real photos and scan them in for my post on Friday.)

New Zealand countryside

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Climbing Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand

Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, Australia



Gaudi gardens, Barcelona


I’ll be doing a full review for the YA Book Club. On Friday. (You didn’t forget, right? Good.) Anyone still interested in joining but fuzzy on the details, go here.

Oh, and I’m still taking your outlining tips. Next week, expect a post of your genius ideas. On behalf of all pantsters, I thank you.

Where on Earth gives you wanderlove? If I had to pick, it’d be New Zealand.

* For those of you who don’t know, it’s the dreaded tax season.
** Click the photo to go to the source.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Your Outlining Tips

So this is a totally self-serving post, but here we go. This is me while attempting to outline a story thats too complicated to just jump into:

It’s not a pretty sight over here. It’s a miracle I can even write this post, what with all of the scribbly lines going on in my head.

All of you plotters out there, help a pantster out. What are your tips for outlining?

I’m going to compile all of your super smart and amazing tips into a post for the future, so you won’t just be helping me, but pretty much the whole of humanity. For serious.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Go Away I'm Reading: The Hunger Games Set

So remember that time Sarah Enni, Erin Bowman, and I created these dust jackets to put on your books to tell people to bug off while you’re reading? And then the Internet was all like:

So the three of us were, like, majorly shocked and flattered. I swear, this is what we looked like:

Minus the makeup. And definitely without the fan blowing in our long, flowing hair. Also, and I can’t speak for Erin and Sarah, but I was definitely in my pajamas.

Anyhow, the whole experience got us thinking about creating more fun dust jackets. We’re considering opening a store for dust jackets and e-reader covers and cases—and maybe other ways to kindly tell people to go away. But before we do, we want your input!

I’d love you forever and ever if you could fill out this short survey. It’ll take you a minute, tops.

And just to bribe you, I give you not just Ryan Gossling, but RYAN GOSSLING HOLDING A BABY.

Ahem. Moving on.

Because we had so much fun making the last set of covers and because we’ve all come down with a severe case of Hunger Games mania, we’ve created a set of covers specifically for those who believe the word trackerjacket belongs in the dictionary.

Yes, that would be the Go Away I’m Reading Hunger Games set.

Head to Erin’s blog to download “At the Reaping, BRB.”

And find “BRB, Drinking With Haymitch” on Sarah’s blog.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

YA Book Club: March Reading

And the winner is….

Wanderlove edged out The Disenchantments* by one vote, so check your local bookstore or library and get ready to read it. Aside from giving us all a major case of wanderlust, I think as a book club we should pay special attention to setting.

You can blog or comment about anything you want, but if you have time, consider these points:
  • How did setting play a part in the story?
  • Could this story have been told in a different setting and still been the same?
  • What tips you picked up from Kirsten Hubbard when it comes to setting?
  • Did you feel the use of illustrations enhance the story?

Happy reading, and because I truly love you:

You’re welcome. 

*If you’re dying to read this, feel free to suggest it for April.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vote for the March Book Club Pick


Thanks for your book club suggestions on Friday. I knew you guys would have some great ideas, as usual. So now, let’s put this to a vote.

Let me know what you want to read and discuss this month for the YA Book Club. The book with the most votes wins. On your marks. Get set. And … go:

What would you like to read for March's book club?
  • The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
  • Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
  • Everneath by Brodi Ashton
  • Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
  • Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
  • Wintertown by Stephen Emond
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

(Click the book covers above to read the Goodreads blurb about the book.) I’ll reveal the winner on Wednesday. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Suggest the March Book Club Pick

All right, guys, it’s voting time. If you want to participate in the YA Book Club (or if you just have control issues and want to pick the book we’ll all read), leave your suggestions in the comments.

You should know:
  • The book should be available to buy or borrow right now.
  • It doesn’t have to be a new release, though ideally we’d pick something that everyone hasn’t already read.
  • Let’s stay away from series—unless it’s the first book in a series or unless it’s a sequel to a previous Book Club book. (The list of previous books is here.)

For all of the details and such, click here.

On Monday we’ll put your suggestions to a vote and then—POOF—

Magic ... you can start reading. We’ll have the monthly chat on Friday, March 30. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Girl on Fire

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: What would your memoir be called?

You know, I’ve actually thought about this before. Not because I’m in the middle of writing my memoir or anything. I’m not. But too many people have suggested I write a memoir that I’ve entertained the idea long enough—about three full minutes at this point—to come up with the most perfect title, like, ever.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a superfun rare disease that has provided me with the superfun pastime of burning alive. And since my feet constantly burn like someone’s dipped them in acid, lit them on fire, and somehow prevented them from turning to ash, I thought it only appropriate my memoir be titled:

Girl on Fire

No, not that girl on fire. More like this:

To be honest, if I ever find a way to minimize my pain without becoming a morphine addict, or if I find a way to prevent flare-ups, I probably will write a memoir one day. As a writer, when you live with a disease most doctors can’t identify, let alone pronounce, you get a strong sense of duty. Raising awareness is, well, kind of in your job description.

And since less than 1 percent of the world population can identify with my burning pain, I’ll print gratuitous photos of Katniss in a lit-up ball gown.

What would you title your memoir?

Monday, March 5, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Excuse me while I dust off this place.

There. That’s better. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I blame it on the fact that I moved 500 miles and still can’t find my jeans.

I can, however, find my books, which means I can tell you about some of the books I’ve read recently. None of these are my top pick for February, but that one’s getting its own review. Because I play favorites like that.

I loved Beth Revis’ debut, Across the Universe, so I’d been itching to read the sequel, A Million Suns, for about a year. Friends, it was worth the wait. As much as I liked Across the Universe, I thought A Million Suns was a better book.

I the second book of Revis’ trilogy, we’re still trapped on the claustrophobic spaceship Godspeed with Elder (now the ship’s captain) and Amy (an Earth-born loner in a world of ship-born people). Again, we learn secrets about the ship and its trip to Sol-Earth, and again we’re faced with a mystery.

The story’s a quick read as we flip between Elder’s point-of-view as his control over the ship disintegrates and Amy’s point-of-view as she unravels a clues hidden by Orion. The mystery and uncovered lies and conflict on the ship were enough to keep me up way past my bedtime.

The relationship between Amy and Elder is strained here, especially once Amy starts doubting her love for him: Does she really love Elder or does she only think she loves him because he’s the only other teen on the ship? The “do I really love him” question is a refreshing dilemma and is authentic to the story. I also loved the conflict created as Amy deals with the sexual assault that happened in Across the Universe and the pain of missing her parents, who are still frozen on the ship.

Also appreciated: Revis isn’t afraid to kill. More than that, she’s not afraid to kill characters she’s first made us love. She’s also not afraid to hit her characters with tough choices. Here, Elder’s faced with a decision I’m not sure I could have made. Which is to say, the characters of Amy and Elder were more real to me in this book than the last. Also, I’m antsy for the final book.

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to classify this book. Is it fantasy? Well, there are dragons and sylphs. Sci-fi? This society has futuristic technology. As for the world, it seems to take place at once in the past and at the same time in the future. The result is a land where you can’t take anything for granted. Just because the archives are paper journals doesn’t mean the citizens don’t have electronic communication devices. Somehow, though, it works. The strong world-building was my favorite part of the novel. We’re slowly introduced in to the laws and customs of the world, and become immersed quickly.

The story unfolds much like the world: without hurry. Because the story revolved around a mystery (namely, why is Ana the only new soul in a world where everyone is immortal and reincarnated?), I never found the story sluggish. The slow-building romance between Sam and Ann was believable and sweet—even if it’s technically between 16-year-old Ana and a teen boy who’s lived for thousands of years. My only gripe is with The Big Reveal. I wanted to love this story—the world is so original, the romance is real, and the writing beautiful—but when we learn why Ana was born as a new soul I was kind of disappointed. But I’ll say this: I seem to be in the minority here. Most people seem to have adored this book.

I love fairytale retellings and I love sci-fi, so you can probably guess what I thought of Cinder. For starters, I was happy to see that most of the Cinderella story had been changed. Yes, there was a wicked stepmother and awful stepsister, but there was also a sweet stepsister and cyborgs and a moon colony at war with Earth. And right about now you’re probably thinking, “How can all of that possibly fit into a Cinderella retelling without making for a ridiculous story?” Well, I don’t really know how. It just does.

Cinder, who’s part human, part cyborb, is a likeable character who’s tough and vulnerable at the same time. Most of the characters are well rounded and interesting, especially Cinder’s sidekick droid Iko, who might be my favorite character in the book. That goes for Prince Kai, too, who’s infinitely more interesting than Prince Charming ever was. The romance is particularly well done, and Cinder’s worries about getting too close to Kai are justified and make for great believable conflict.

I’ll admit: I was a bit worried about the ending. Would she run from the ball only to have Kai find her and give her a missing boot? While I did foresee exactly how the whole missing glass slipper came into play and guessed the twist early on in the book, the ending didn’t disappoint and I’m looking forward to the next book.

I never, ever read more than one book at a time. Except this one time. When John Green nearly killed me with my own tears.

So I was in the middle of The Fault in Our Stars and something happened in the book that made my face turn beet red and the veins at my temples bulge and my body heave with sobs. When I finished using up the last of my tissues, I put that book down and bought Ditched. I read this book before finishing The Fault in Our Stars and I’ll be honest: It was just what I needed.

It’s not too serious. I won’t make you cry. It’s goofy at times. And while it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, it’s a fun book with some lovable characters, including a middle-aged 7-Eleven clerk, an older 7-Eleven customer, and two potheads. Seriously.

The story is told as a What Happened Last Night tale to two women at 7-Eleven by a teen girl who was ditched at prom by her best friend. Who also happens to be the boy she likes. The story itself is funny (she’s accompanied most of the night by two potheads and their dates, all of which are totally entertaining), but it’s made even better by the two older ladies’ commentary on the night.

Plus, Justina is pretty funny herself—in a totally pathetic, sometimes cringe-worthy way. For instance, her note to us about the part of the story she’s just told the ladies at 7-Eleven:
“I don’t tell Gilda and Donna the part where I considered tying my dress together with the tampon string before realizing the darn thing was too short.”
So as you can see, this is the perfect book to read if you’ve been recently humiliated and need to laugh at someone else’s humiliation.

What have you read recently and loved?

One more thing: A week ago (or so), Google decided to remove Google Friend Connect from Wordpress blogs because, well, it’s Google and it can do whatever it wants. Anyhow, my dear friend Erin Bowman lost her GFC widget. If you follow her blog (and you should; she writes about YA fiction, books, the publishing process, and writing), go here to resubscribe and continue getting her posts in your feed.