Recommendation Wednesday: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I really liked this book. The voice is so great–it really makes the novel. I also thought the humor was kind of random and spot on. I laughed several times while reading, though I wouldn’t be able to do a pull-quote. Most of it was contextual, and the way everything built up into a moment. The book is also not a traditional narrative; it’s told in lists and in screenplay format and regular prose. Playing with the format also adds to the voice.

What I think really works well about this book is that though it’s about a boy who befriends a girl with cancer (she is the dying girl, obviously.), it’s not about cancer. It’s about how this kid (Greg) who is really closed off emotionally and pretty high strung and selfish processes and deals with someone he knows having cancer. His actions aren’t pretty and he’s very self-involved, and that’s why it works. He stays at arm’s length from his feelings AT ALL TIMES and is not well-equipped to handle anything very serious. It shows in Greg’s relationship with Earl, too.

I also liked the ending because it showed that nothing really changes just because someone has cancer. It’s not usually this life-affirming event that propels those left behind into greatness. Cancer sucks and people are devastated at the loss of life and then life just kind of goes on. Unless, of course, those left behind are self-motivated.

While it’s more sad than anything, I also appreciated that Earl and Greg both had kind of resigned themselves to a certain kind of life and trapped themselves into their own narratives. I mean, it doesn’t have to be the way it winds up, but that’s the choice they both made.

Also, this is a pretty good depiction of social anxiety and crippling perfectionism.

My only complaints about this book are that Rachel is kind of a blank slate (which makes sense for the narrative–Greg, again, wants to keep her at arm’s length), and I would have liked to see Earl and Greg’s relationship developed more. However, even the lack of development in that area seems on purpose. Earl’s home life is pretty terrible, and at one point, Greg admits that he doesn’t even know how to think about or process how bad it is.

Oh, and the other thing that got annoying was Greg saying he didn’t know why anyone would still be reading the book. I didn’t mind the moments when he broke the fourth wall to talk about how trite the language was or how annoying he found himself or why he thought the story sucked, but don’t tell me I don’t want to keep reading, dude. I might have taken you up on that.

All in all, though, the book worked.

Anyway, I read this book before I saw the movie, and I have thoughts on how the adaptation worked, so I’ll be doing a post about the movie soon.

Audiobook Review: The Conch Bearer

In an effort to expand my reading horizons, I decided to go through my Goodreads TBR and check out books listed there. Since I was looking for audiobooks, if the book I had listed wasn’t available, but another book by the author was, then I checked out that book. My plan, then, was to read Mistress of Spices, so that’s how I came across The Conch Bearer.

I had no idea this was a middle grade fantasy book when I started the novel (not that it matters–I love middle grade), so I thought the book was going to deal with magical realism, not be straight up fantasy. However, I found that I liked the fantasy elements, especially since Anand’s experience with the conch seems to really be about someone who receives a spiritual calling. This book is not about religion, but when Anand communicates with the conch, it responds to him in a “still, small voice” and, often, refuses to help him until all human methods have been exhausted. Human methods which include, of course, asking other people for help.

I only have two complaints really: (1) the voices of the people Anand and Nisha encounter along the way aren’t that well differentiated. However, considering that we spend most of our time with the three main characters, it’s not that big of a deal. (2) I don’t know how I feel about the ending.

Again, spiritual calling/higher calling, but I found it odd that [spoiler] the only way Anand could join the brotherhood was to erase his existence from his family’s memory. I feel like letting his family know that he was alive and well but that he was choosing to join the brotherhood, which I would call a kind of monastery, would make more sense. Also, whenever it gets to memory modification, I have lots of question. Okay, so his family won’t remember him, but what about the other people in his extended family? The neighborhood? That’s just a lot. Plus also, THIS is when an orphan narrative would make more sense. His poor mother. [/spoiler]

Other than that, though, I loved that this story was set in India and offered a different take on the chosen one narrative. It’s solid.

It’s time for Battle of the Books!

Every summer, our local library hosts a Battle of the Books for the teens from all the branches to come together and compete over books they read. IT IS AWESOME. Unfortunately, my daughter and I won’t be able to attend this year, so I decided to write this ode to the Battle of the Books instead.

Okay, I just realized that’s misleading because it sounds like I’m going to write a poem about the event, and I’m not. But I am going to tell you why it rocks so hard.


let's get ready to rumble


1. It’s a battle that’s all about BOOKS.

So basically it’s book nerdvana. There’s your auto-win right there.


2. The teens pick which three books they’re going to read.

They vote! It’s very democratic.


3. They read all the books.

This is probably the best part.


4. They get together to practice, which means nerding out about the books by coming up with questions to submit for the battle.

That’s right. The questions are (almost) all written by the teens participating. They go into a bank, and the librarians pick which ones they’ll use for the battle.

The questions are submitted anonymously (so they don’t know which branch picked which questions).



So, this is how it works, and I am assuming this is also how a math competition works (correct me if I’m wrong; my only experience with math competitions is watching Mean Girls).

You tell 'em, Cady!
You tell ’em, Cady!

So, the teens are all in teams according to their library branch. Sometimes if a branch is small, it will be absorbed into another branch’s team. Or two small teams may combine to make one larger team. Teams are important. No teen is an island. (Don’t worry: both branches get the glory if the combined team wins). THEN:

  • A question is read
  • The teams confer
  • They write down their answers on a white board
  • They give their answers
  • Points are awarded for the right answers

It is very suspenseful! Even if you haven’t read the books! The first year we went, my dad was super into it and keeping track of the scores (they are not displayed), and it was all very “GO TEAM WIN BEAT THAT OTHER TEAM DESTROY THEM.”

Except it’s in the library so it’s all silent/under our breaths/whispered.

Use your inside voice, please.
Use your inside voice, please.

But, yes, lots of suspense, and if you have read the books, lots of knowing the answers and saying them to yourself but not out loud because you don’t want to cheat. I imagine this is what it’s like to be in the audience at Jeopardy! Or a spelling bee.


6. Points are tabulated.

This part is very important because there is food while we wait. The food is provided by very generous sponsors like local restaurants and grocery stores. (The teens all sign a thank-you note/letter to give to the establishment after the event. So this event also teaches manners and etiquette. The library: it does everything.)

And there are two rounds, so there are half-time snacks and then post-game snacks.

During the final tally, a really cool thing happens:


7. An author visit!

So, last year, the library started this thing where they invite the author of one of the books (the one that has the most votes, I think).

Marissa Meyer (of Lunar Chronicles fame) came last year.

Marissa Meyer and my daughter
Marissa Meyer and my daughter

She gave a talk, answered questions, and signed/gave out swag. It was pretty great. One of her promo items was a postcard with a New Beijing landscape, and she wrote a message on it for my best friend’s daughter (who lives in another state), and I was able to mail my friend’s daughter a postcard from Marissa Meyer. So that was exciting.

This year, the author is Rick Yancey (of The 5th Wave fame).




We are going to miss seeing him. So that’s less exciting for us. But I’m sure all the kids (and adults) who will be there will find it exciting.

The author ALSO sits on the judging panel for questions. Did I not mention that? So the teens get an opportunity to talk to him/her during the breaks. It’s all very chill.

(Okay, so maybe the author visit is the best part.)


8. The winner is announced!

There is a plaque. (I feel like there may be a trophy, but I can’t remember.) There are pictures. There is cake.

The plaque goes to the winning branch, and the winning branch’s name is inscribed on the plaque where it hangs in the teen section of the library for all to admire.

And then the battle is over, and we all wait for next summer for it to begin again.


I seriously look forward to it every year. It’s probably my favorite library program/event.


Okay, so I have to know: Does anybody else’s library do this? Have you ever participated in a battle of the books? Does your library perhaps do something equally cool?

Adventures in Coloring

My first two coloring book purchases.
My first two coloring book purchases.

1. There are a lot (A LOT!) of coloring books for grown-ups out there.

2. Picking which coloring books to buy is an exercise in frustration AND fun.

3. Some of the books have so many details that it’s a little overwhelming.

4. However, I discovered that I actually do like the coloring books that have more detail.

5. I do not, however, have any interest in coloring pictures of nature, animals, or patterns. (Unicorns do not count as animals; they are jerks.)

6. Listening to audiobooks while coloring is A+++ (another idea I got from Andi!).

7. It is very, very easy to spend hours coloring. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

8. I can think a picture looks a hot mess while I’m coloring, and, in the end, it turns out fine. I think/hope I will get better at picking colors that go well together.

9. Coloring a picture with a lot of detail is a little like problem solving or putting together a puzzle.

10. Not pictured, my other two comic book purchases: Goddesses and Splendid Cities. Not previously linked: Color My Fro.


This post contains affiliate links. If you buy any of the books using the links, I will receive a small commission from the sale.


Audiobook Review: The Living

Okay, here’s the deal. I do not read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction nor am I the target audience for this book. The latter is really important because I found this book to be extremely predictable, though I know a lot of teenagers will not. It’s just that I read a lot of stories, and I have watched a lot of movies, so I pretty much called everything that was going to happen.

My biggest issue with the book, though, is that I felt like it could’ve been a lot shorter. There’s just a lot happening in the beginning to lay the foundation for everything that happens after The Big One hits, and so much of it felt extraneous–especially when Shy will have a conversation with someone and then recap that same conversation in the next breath. I get why so many characters are introduced (they do become important later), but I couldn’t help thinking that if the book were turned into a movie, a lot of that would have been compressed and the gist still would’ve been gotten.

Also, I know it’s important to have a big conspiracy as the framework for the novel, but (and this is a personal peeve of mine) The Big One hitting and being stranded on a cruise ship because of that is ENOUGH OF A CONFLICT. Like, I know our characters need to have a quest and it has to be complicated, but that’s complicated enough for me.

I don’t want to get too down on the book because I did listen to the whole thing, and I was interested in how it would all turn out. I also think it would probably be REALLY popular with teenagers. Shy is an interesting character, and I can see kids imagining how they would react in his situation. The language was also mostly believable (the girl characters, not so much — this may have actually been the fault of the audiobook narrator; I was not overly impressed with how he did the girls’ voices), and the exchanges between characters felt authentic. I also found myself thinking like a boy for parts of it, which is troubling but also shows how into Shy’s head I was. (Oh, and it’s troubling because the things I was thinking were not nice and was totally something a Nice Guy would think.) (These thoughts mostly involved Carmen. If you read the book, you’ll know why.)

So, yeah, this was mostly okay for me.

I did find myself thinking that this would make an excellent crossover with Beauty Queens and that Shy probably would have had a much easier time surviving if he had read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. So yay for books that make me think of other books.

Top Ten Books that Celebrate Diversity

Ah, a topic near and dear to my heart. Obviously, I think books that feature POC or are written by POC qualify for this, so I have lots of choices. But I really want to focus on books that celebrate diversity in the sense that they show within the narrative why different viewpoints/experiences are valuable as opposed to just opening us up to different viewpoints and experiences, if that makes sense.

hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
hosted by The Broke and the Bookish


1. The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer — Cinder and her merry band of misfits are going to save the world, and they each have a special skill set that will help them accomplish that goal.

2. The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan — The Greek and Roman demigods are going to save the world, and they each have a special skill set that will help them accomplish that goal. (Heeeeeey, wait a minute.)

3. The Westing Game by Ellen Rankin — I recently reread this book and was struck by how many different points of view it includes. The characters are all different ages, races, ethnicities, education levels, etc. One character even has cerebral palsy. Oh, I’m sorry, a mysterious muscle disease.

4. This Side of Home by Renée Watson — Lest you think all black people are a monolithic entity with the same ideas about gentrification, how to wear their hair, and/or interracial dating, Watson introduces you to twins Nikki and Maya (and their friends) who have very different ideas about the changes happening in their neighborhood.

5. Where Does the Day Go? by Walter Dean Myers — As I said in my review, this book treats the ideas and opinions of the children seriously and with respect, which leads to them having a thoughtful conversation that builds on the ideas that each of them shares.

6. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson — Kamala is the best, and I won’t hear otherwise. Plus also, let her show  you why only having one kind of heroine represented is problematic. (Sooooo problematic.)

7. Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz — What’s most impressive about this book is that black, bisexual Etta who thinks she is worldly still gets to learn that no, not so much.

8. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson — It’s a middle school heist story about a bunch of kids that each have a special skill set that will help them accomplish that goal.

9 / 10. Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang — These companion graphic novels are about the Chinese Boxer rebellion and showcase main characters involved at very, very different levels of the conflict.

I’ve also created a Goodreads shelf for all the books I’ve read for this year’s Diversity on the Shelf challenge if you’re looking for even more books featuring characters of color.

The Artist’s Way & the Artist Date

TThe Artist's Way by Julia Cameronhis fall, I’m teaching a fiction writing class for the first time, and I’m super excited. Because I’ve never taught the class before, I’m using a co-worker’s syllabus. (Sidenote: I was going to build the class from scratch but another co-worker talked me out of that, which is probably a good idea–especially considering that I have to build my two other core courses over again.) So, since this co-worker uses The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for the class,  I will, too.

Continue reading “The Artist’s Way & the Artist Date”

June 2015 in Review + Looking Ahead

Well, this post is late. Between wrapping up the end of the summer semester and traveling at the beginning of my summer break, I have not had time to really sit down and get started on any kind of post. But I’m happy to be back now.

In June I read nine books:

Continue reading “June 2015 in Review + Looking Ahead”