Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Macking on Indie Bookstores (with a Signed Book Giveaway)

It's 4 AM--that alone wouldn't normally be any sort of precursor to a crappy blog post for me. But I'm currently out of town in Madison, having just attended WisCon 35 and I've had little more than four hours of sleep a night for the last six nights. So. Yeah.*

Assume any typos and limpy wimpy writing are due to extreme exhaustion. Not the topic, which happens to be glorious.


Today a bunch of us are celebrating independent book stores. Because they're awesome, see. If you're not sure why, check out this article by Bruce Somerset, which highlights some of the reasons why we need independent book stores. Comfy and cozy, personable and supportive of communities and authors, indies are like the  doting grandmas of bookstores, except way cool, like the grandmas who also ride motorcycles and play the drums.

I don't frequent any independent bookstores, primarily because there aren't any near to me, so it's impossible to feature a loved local indie without being a liar. But I do know Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, an indie I'm quickly falling in love with. If it were closer than 3 1/2 hours away, I'd probably wear a hole in their carpet with all my foot traffic.

I first discovered Anderson's Bookshop when the ever so amazing Erica Chapman and I attended Veronica Roth's launch of DIVERGENT*. It's while Erica and I were visiting Veronica that we discovered another major signing would be taking place the following week for Lisa and Laura Roecker (the organizers of the I <3 Indies blog fest), Julia Karr, Leah Clifford, Courtney Moulton, Sara Bennett-Wealer, Sarah Rees Brennan, Saundra Mitchell, and Christine Johnson. So of course we went. Lots of adventures were had, and I walked away having had two new super experiences and a love of indie bookstores. I'll definitely go back again.

Win a SIGNED copy of A TOUCH MORTAL by Leah Clifford

Okay, so in honor of independent bookstores, how about I give away a super awesome book that I purchased in this store? Just for fun? I purchased others there, too, but I'm not ready to let go of all of them yet. For now, I'll just give away a SIGNED copy of A TOUCH MORTAL by Leah Clifford. If you'd like to win, just click on the link below the summary and fill out the short form!

Summary: Eden didn't expect Az.
Not his saunter down the beach toward her. Not his unbelievable pick-up line. Not the instant, undeniable connection. And not his wings.


So long, happily-ever-after.

Now trapped between life and death, cursed to spread chaos with her every touch, Eden could be the key in the eternal struggle between heaven and hell. All because she gave her heart to one of the Fallen, an angel cast out of heaven.

She may lose everything she ever had. She may be betrayed by those she loves most. But Eden will not be a pawn in anyone else's game. Her heart is her own.

And that's only the beginning of the end.

Signed A TOUCH MORTAL by Leah Clifford International Giveaway

This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL and ends next Tuesday, June 7 2011.

Oh, and before I forget!! The winner of the SIGNED copy of DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth is:

Michele S.

Congratulations, Michele! Please email me an address where I can send you your book!


Be sure to check out the other I <3 Indie Blogfest blogs. A lot of them are having giveaways in celebration of independent book stores.

Lisa and Laura Roecker
Sarah Frances Hardy
Shana Silver
Elana Johnson
Stasia Kehoe
Shannon Messenger
Carolina M Valdez
Mundie Moms
Myra McEntire
Sara Bennett Wealer
Janet Gurtler
Joy Preble
Ty Drago
Kate Walton
Julia Karr
Randy Russell
Adele Griffin
Helen Landalf
Andrea Higgins
Beth Revis
Tess Hilmo
Sheela Chari
Gail Handler
Crystal Allen
Christine Fonseca

If you tweet about the blog fest, please feel free to include the hash tag #Iheartindies and @ reply me with @cvaldezmiller if you want me to see it.

*I'll blog about this con soon, too. Mega fun, and seriously. Made friends I know I'll have the rest of my life. SCORE.
**I intend to fully blog about these trips with Erica very soon. Talk about wild adventures.

P.S. I'll be back on a regular blogging schedule next week. Or you know, maybe not a schedule. But something like way more than not at all. Been missing you guys loads.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Northern Light

It's not easy to review books. Even harder to review a book you love. But toughest of all? To review a book you love in a way that will inspire others to want to read that book as well. Of course, that may not necessarily be the ultimate goal. But a positive review, done well, should be able to do just that.

So when I came across Aleeza Rauf's blog, I was floored. First, I wanted to immediately run out and buy the book she was reviewing positively. I mean, talk about an enthusiastic review. Totally charming. But also thorough and remarkably thoughtful, pointing to all the things you love in a book that you aren't quite able to express you love. Funny and clever, too. Just brilliant.

And then I discovered she was only seventeen.

Meet Aleeza, in her own words:

Aleeza  I’m a 17-year-old Pakistani-American YA writer & avid reader/reviewer. I love books & libraries, cricket, long drives, NEW ZEALAND!, among lots of other stuff. I'm also a reluctant accounting student and lover of all things random.


A while ago, Aleeza reviewed A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and I practically fell in love with the book without having even read it yet. I left a comment on her review, and then I mentioned that I'd love for her to do a guest post someday for me. She later responded by asking if I would post her review of A Northern Light on my blog.

Some background from Aleeza on A Northern Light: Before I begin this review, I’d like to sort of share my history with this book. If you’d like, you could skip to the review part, but I don’t think I can share my feelings about this book—which are pretty strong—without a bit of backstory first.

Last year, I used to go every day to my dad’s bank’s library—I'm homeschooled, and it was the perfect place to study for upcomin’ exams. There I stumbled upon a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version book, which basically features 3 to 4 abridged books in one volume, and one of the novels it featured was A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly (which I later found out was called A Northern Light in the states). Since I am the queen of procrastination, I began reading it in between studying and soon was so swept away by the beautiful story I couldn’t stop until I was finished. And when I did reach the ending, I loved it so much I did my best not to cheer aloud in amazement of the author’s effort since I was in, you know, a library.

That was a year ago. Some time back, when I got the chance to order some books from Amazon, I had only a quota of four books* and I selected this one first-up. My sister was confused, since she couldn’t understand why I was ordering a novel I’d already read when I could order a new very-highly-anticipated one. That’s because I love this novel so much it was never even a question I’d get a copy for myself. And soon after it arrived, I began reading it, tossing away the resolution to not do so before exams (yeah, exams never seem to end in my life). It was just too tempting! And the book…WOW. The condensed version did NOT do it justice. Because I savored every single word of it and only fell even more in love with it, so much that it’s officially my No. 1 favorite book EVER, Hands. Down. And if you know me, you’ll know it’s not very easy to get that title.

But, that’s just my history with the book. And now I’ll review it, and hopefully I’ll do it justice so that you’ll go read and fall in love with it too. I mean, it DID win the Carnegie Medal, was a Michael L. Printz Honor book, and fetched numerous blurbs as well as starred reviews, which in itself makes it a must-read book.


A Northern Light NEW YORK, 1906: Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has huge dreams—she wants to attend college to pursue her love of literature, but with a mother that recently passed away and left her to look after her four younger sisters and manage their farm, she has little hopes of her dreams ever seeing the light of the day. Come summer, she’s working at the Glenmore Hotel to draw in some cash to use for their farm, and there she’s given a bunch of letters by a woman who asks her to burn them. Which she would’ve done, except that woman ends up dead the day after, with her escort nowhere to be found. After many events where Mattie unsuccessfully tries to get rid of the letters, she eventually gives in and reads them, and what she learns not only changes the fate of the deceased woman, but her own life as well.

The first time I read this novel I was a bit puzzled by the simplicity of the prose. At that time, I believed you needed to use Big Words often to be a good writer (thank you, Steph Meyer!), and this novel barely employed any. And I was struck by how, despite this, the novel read so beautifully. Mattie is a lover of all things literature, and you wouldn’t believe how well the author has incorporated this fact into the story. This book pretty much nails the rule of ‘show, not tell’. Every day Mattie learns a new word, its origins and all, and does her best to use it in that day. And a fellow word-lover myself (actually, I can safely bet that whoever’s reading this review is also fond of words, right?), I loooved this aspect.

And you can see how much she loves words through the following passages:

"I had looked around. I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and more besides. I’d seen a bear cub lift its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maple in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pines always. Even on the brightest of days."

"What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Books. Not just one or two dozen, but hundreds of them. In crates. In piles on the floor. In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room. I turned around and around in a slow circle, feeling as if I'd just stumbled into Ali Baba's cave. I was breathless, close to tears, and positively dizzy with greed."

The setting is so, so vivid, I felt as if I were really transported back to the early 1900s. In the same way, I felt like I personally knew every character and felt their connections to each other. Especially how Mattie feels about Royal, her spankin’ good-looking neighbor who she’s attracted to, even if she maybe shouldn’t be. I distinctly remember the first time round I read this book, how my heart both soared with hers and then came crashing down when things got rough. I actually began crying and very badly wanted to punch Royal’s face and moan with the unfairness of it all. Yep, my connection with this book runs VERY deep.

And it’s not just this: Mattie yearning to be both an educated woman and eventually an author, as well as have a family and a loving husband…it was so very relatable. Especially since I often go through the same dilemma, even in this day and age, thanks to the backward society I’m from. I remember this quote really affected me:
"And I knew in my bones that Emily Dickinson wouldn't have written even one poem if she'd had two howling babies, a husband bent on jamming another one into her, a house to run, a garden to tend, three cows to milk, twenty chickens to feed, and four hired hands to cook for. I knew then why they didn't marry. Emily and Jane and Louisa. I knew and it scared me. I also knew what being lonely was and I didn't want to be lonely my whole life. I didn't want to give up on my words. I didn't want to choose one over the other. Mark Twain didn't have to. Charles Dickens didn't."

So, yeah, that’s my review. Jennifer Donnelly is now one of my all-time fave authors, and her novel Revolution also definitely deserves to be read. In fact, if you read both and compare them, you’ll be seriously shocked the same author penned both books. I mean, yes, they’re both at least partially historical, but that’s kind of as far as the similarities go.

Bottom line: Mattie may have lived more than a century ago, but she is just as real as me and oh-so-similar. Even 5/5 stars wouldn’t do the book justice. Read it and I hope you’ll agree. :)

*You have to understand that I live in Pakistan. Books aren’t easily available here, and Amazon has crazy-high shipping rates for down here, hence the tight quotas my das sets me.


Please do check out Aleeza as a writer, reader and reviewer. She's something pretty special.

Aleeza's Blog
Aleeza's Twitter


Be sure to check out what the other Bookanistas are highlighting:


  • Elana Johnson sings praises for SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD

  • Shannon Messenger is wild about WILDFIRE + an ARC giveaway

  • Lisa and Laura Roecker dotes over DIVERGENT

  • Megan Miranda thinks MOONGLASS is marvelous

  • Jessi Kirby praises POSSESSION

  • Carrie Harris reveals the BAD TASTE IN BOYS Book Trailer

  • Sarah Frances Hardy delves into DIVERGENT

  • Stasia Ward Kehoe delights in BITTER MELLON

  • Christine Fonseca relishes in the RED GLOVE
  • Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Review of Moonglass (with a Personalized Signed Book Giveaway)

    I haven't been blogging.

    So sorry. I know some of you have been waiting to find out who won Elana Johnson's ARC. I'm ridiculous sorry about taking so long. I do have excuses, mainly involving sickness, traveling, deadlines, and the insane amount of time it takes me to tally up entries. But excuses mexmooshes. I'm sorry. I truly am.

    So, without further adooooo:

    The winner of Elana Johnson's Personalized Signed ARC of POSSESSION is:

    Meagan S.

    Congratulations, Meagan!! Please email me with an address so Elana can send you your personalized signed ARC. Thank you so much to all who entered! I appreciate all of you.

    **If you haven't done so yet, be sure you enter to win the signed hard cover of DIVERGENT, too. Ends today. And see below for the details to win a PERSONALIZED SIGNED copy of MOONGLASS. Which I loved, by the way. Super loved. Like, YOU-MUST-READ-THIS-BOOK loved. Read below to see why.

    **Also, I swear I'll start blogging more than just reviews soon.

    MOONGLASS by Jessi Kirby

    Summary: From Jessi Kirby, a debut novel about confronting the past in order to move ahead.

    I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I've thought maybe my mother drowned in both.

    Anna's life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It's bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love- a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface.

    While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide means that nothing- not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna's mother's death- stays buried forever.


    There's one place on Earth I want to go to more than any place else. New Zealand. But I didn't grow up wanting to go there. I merely read about it a few years ago--in a work of fiction. The setting was so vivid, so inspiring and beautiful, even with all its fictional flaws, that I made a vow to go there someday. Maybe live there.

    Okay. So.

    Guess what new place I'm determined to go to? The latest addition to my bucket list? Crystal Cove. MOONGLASS has done this. No, Jessi Kirby has done this. Reading MOONGLASS was a bit like sitting at the beach, digging my toes in the sand, the scent of salt in the air, the sound of waves crashing and children laughing and seagulls screeching in the distance. I swear I could smell the coconut sunscreen. When I closed my eyes, I could see the white teeth against tan skin, the finely cut abs coming up out of the red swim trunks...the sparkling sea glass half buried in the sand. Kirby knows how to paint a picture and then suck you into it. I don't know that I've ever been more absorbed in a story's setting.

    But while the setting might lure you in, it's the characters that will have you reading to the end at a breakneck speed. What starts out as a more typical new-girl-in-a-new-town story quickly turns into something much more complex, more beautiful, and far more heartbreaking. It is exactly what a story of a girl who has lost her mother should be. No melodrama or trivialization. And most importantly, no stereotypes (and yet perfectly relatable characters). Just a girl who is lost, finding her way as best as she can to answers--and to herself. Anna also happens to be the kind of character I would love to have as a friend, so spending a book with her was cake. She's laid back, more of an observer than a reactor, just on the edge of snarky, but kind--and she's confident in her differences and who she is. Her only real insecurities revolve around her mom, and those drive the plot in a very natural, genuine way. Then of course, there's the secondary characters which feel as appealing and three dimensional as Anna. The romance is built up beautifully, and in an unexpected way. The love interest contradicted nearly all of my expectations--and I'm a sucker for any book that can take me by surprise like this.

    As if that weren't enough, the prose is gorgeous with turns of phrase that will have your breath catching. And the images Kirby creates--it's like opening a picture book. So sharp, so memorable. And so perfectly in tune with Anna, delivered to us through her eyes, adding to our understanding of who she is.  All of it--the setting, the characters, the writing--it's like a trifecta of bookish awesomeness. It's not an action-packed, suspense-filled sort of book, but it's packed with tension and curiosity and love and humor and heart-wrenching soul-searching. MOONGLASS is more than just a coming of age novel. It's a quest for forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance of a reality that cannot be altered.

    MOONGLASS is now available.


    Today is the last day to enter to win the Signed Hard Cover of DIVERGENT. So be sure to ENTER HERE before midnight tonight.

    Enter to win a Personalized SIGNED copy of MOONGLASS by filling out the short form below (opens in pop-up window). Giveaway ends midnight EST Thursday, May 26, 2011.This giveaway is international.

    Personalized Signed MOONGLASS by Jessi Kirby ENTRY FORM


    Be sure you check out what the other Bookanistas are highlighting today:

    Elana Johnson marvels at Moonglass
    Christine Fonseca raves about It’s Raining Cupcakes
    Shelli Johannes-Wells chats with Pure and The Summer of Firsts & Lasts author Terra McEvaoy
    LiLa Roecker and Carrie Harris have a passion for Possession
    Beth Revis admires the audiobook of Anansi Boys
    Megan Miranda swoons over Strings Attached
    Shana Silver delves into Divergent
    Sarah Frances Hardy gabs about Gossip from the Girls Room
    Matt Blackstone is tantalized by Bad Taste in Boys
    Stasia Ward Kehoe glories in a guestanista review of The Rendering

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Review of POSSESSION and a Personalized Signed ARC Giveaway

    Before I jump into my review, I just want to shout a huge


    to fellow Bookanistas Veronica Roth on the release of her book DIVERGENT and Jessi Kirby on the release of her book MOONGLASS!

          divergent                     MOONGLASS

    Be sure to pick up a copy of each!

    Also, make sure to enter to win a personalized signed ARC of POSSESSION by Elana Johnson. 
    Details below!

    POSSESSION by Elana Johnson

    Summary: Vi knows the Rule: Girls don't walk with boys, and they never even thinkabout kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn...and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi's future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

    But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they're set on convincing Vi to become one of them...starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can't leave Zenn in the Thinkers' hands, but she's wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous--everything Zenn's not. Vi can't quite trust Jag and can't quite resist him, but she also can't give up on Zenn.

    This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.

    My Review

    I've read a number of great reviews of POSSESSION, so it's tough to find something new to say about it. But I'll give it a shot.

    First of all, you've probably already heard about the characters. If you follow Elana Johnson's blog at all, you may have already guessed that this is something that would come easily to her. To be sure, the characters in POSSESSION just pop. You can't help but immediately feel connected to them--Vi especially. She's got a rock solid voice (much like Johnson on her blog). Snarky. Funny. Vulnerable. Emotional. Vi feels things really hard. Way deep down inside, quick to piss off, quick to delight. She's naturally cynical, but hopeful, and has this flair for drama that will make you groan and laugh all at the same time. She's adorable, this kid. And as strong as she is, as brave and tough, she's got such a softness to her that makes you want to reach out and pull her into your arms. This is a kid desperate for affection and terrified of abandonment, especially the more deeply she falls in love.

    And for good reason. When we come into the story as readers, so much has already happened. Vi has a boatload of history that has painted her into a corner, forcing her hand, whether she realizes it or not. But the backstory is weaved in smoothly, almost effortlessly. Without much effort, we learn who she is, and the past that haunts her and makes her cling to the few connections she has in present day. In this way, Johnson takes a futuristic world and makes it feel relevant to today, because this is something most of us can understand.

    And I must say, the world itself is pretty dang cool. It's not all thrown at you at once, either. It's a world that sort of unfolds, layer by layer, treating us to something new page after page. All the technology is imaginative and totally COOL. It makes you want to experience those things, too.

    Johnson's world is unique, but not only because of it's dystopian/SF elements. It's especially distinctive because of the supernatural elements that she pulls into the story. This, of course, isn't even alluded to in the summary, so I won't say much more about it. Suffice it to say, I found it crooked-smile endearing.

    POSSESSION overall is a fast-paced read, filled with action, humor, and a romance that first knocks at your chest and then pries it open. It'll be available for purchase June 7.


    WIN a personalized signed ARC of POSSESSION by Elana Johnson. Enter to win by filling out the short form below. I'll draw a name from the entries and Elana will sign an ARC and send it to the winner! Ends midnight EST, May 12, 2011.

    (Open internationally)


    Be sure to check out what the other Bookanistas are highlighting today:


    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    I Like Sex, Except When I Don't

    The problem with this title is that it implies I don't always like sex and that's what I'm going to write about.
    Blink. Blink. Blink.
    Anyway, you're here. Don't leave. This is about sex. Just not mine. Not really.
    Lately, I'm sure you've noticed an increase in the number of YA books featuring sex. All kinds of sex. The quiet, fade to black kind. The slightly more risqué, let-us-see-the-clothes-coming-off-kind. And the naughty you-could-possibly-still-be-a-technical-virgin-but-you're-hardly-innocent-anymore kind.
    And really, it's probably a fairly accurate portrayal of what teens are doing these days. It's not nearly as taboo of a subject as it used to be.
    But here's the thing. While lots of teens are doing it, whether in love, in lust, in apathy, or in drunk...not every teen is doing it. There are lots of teens who make the choice not to. Even when they're in love. Imagine that.
    So. My point. Yes. My point.
    I think it's okay if YA books don't have sex in it, too. I don't think it makes it any less of a book--any less interesting or exciting or can't-put-it-downable. I don't think it's necessarily less realistic either. I know, depending on the characters. But just because a person seems like he/she should/would/could have sex, doesn't mean he/she is.
    The fact is, you can make anything work. Just like anyone can choose to have sex, I think any character can choose not to have sex. It's not an obligation. Even if they've had sex before. Or are majorly lusty. A choice is a choice is a choice. Just have to make it realistic and true.
    Sometimes I think writers feels compelled/pressured to put sex into their stories because, well damn, it's hot. Right?
    But here's what I think. Books without sex can be mega sexy. Like dripping hot sexy. Think about it. What's hotter? Nakedness? Or This?
    KateBeckinsaleClick image for source. 
    Seriously. The, um, culmination of the sex act is like, OMG, right? But how unbelievable is the leadup? The flirtation. The moving closer. The two steps back. And CLOSER. Noses touch. Nibble the lower lip. Flick of the tongue. Dancing. Floating. Imagining.
    There is so much tension in that. Beautiful spanking hot tension.
    And when you close the deal? Tension GONE. Goodnight. Roll over and go to sleep (essentially). And if this is the first book of the series? Well. It's tough (but not impossible) to maintain that kind of tension with a romance.
    There are two rules I adhere to in my writing. Well, lots actually, but two main ones.
    Now, having sex can and often does increase the stakes. And can do the same for tension, actually. But it has to make sense for the story. And for crying out loud, don't make your book babies have sex for the sake of it. They've got like 80 years ahead of them to go at it. If it works, as in, raises the stakes and actually adds to the tension, then BY ALL MEANS HAVE SEX. But the expectation should not be there. A teen romance is a teen romance, not an adult one (essentially). Let's keep in mind some of the fundamental issues of teenagedom. I'm talking CURIOSITY. WONDER. DISCOVERY. DRAMA. There's a certain beauty to this.
    There are all sorts of ways to incorporate these issues into your stories, including in YA books with sex. But oh man, the lead-up. The dance. The slow discovery. That. It cannot be measured. It cannot be regained.
    If you read it, do you remember how after you read Twilight, you were like, "OMG why didn't they have sex?" And then the second book you were like, "Seriously? Come ON." By book four? You were practically insane, dripping sweat with WAITING. Come on Meyer, you said to yourself. Whatever you thought of the writing or the plot or the characters or whatever. You remember? The pillow? The feathers went flying? Bella's headboard broke and you were jumping on your bed? YES YES YES! Right along with Bella?
    Yeah. That's a good reason to wait.
    (Seriously? If you're a good enough writer, you can do this with a kiss. Hello, HARRY POTTER with a hot kiss FINALLY a bajillion books later.)
    Or, you know. Don't wait. Sex isn't the end-all and be-all. Lots of cool things come before/during/after/instead of sex that may or may not have anything to do with sex.
    Will my characters have sex?
    Blink. Blink. Blink.