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Monday
Dec292014

Best reads of the year, 2014 edition!

It's time for Alison's Best Reads of the Year Awards!

The rules are as follows:

1) I must have read these books for the first time in 2014, though they don't need to have been published in 2014.

2) Books I read as ARCs or manuscripts prior to 2014 do not count, even if they came out in 2014. Sorry, critique partners!

3) Books are listed in no particular order.

4) I am not allowed to choose more than five books per category, but I can choose fewer.

5) Books may receive more than one award.

Here we go!

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT:

Everything Leads to You, Nina Lacour

Complicit, Stephanie Kuehn

I'll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, A. S. King

The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson

(extremely close runner up: Wildlife, Fiona Wood. Good lord, I'm already cheating.)

 

BEST MIDDLE GRADE:

The Secret Hum of a Daisy, Tracy Holczer

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd

All Four Stars, Tara Dairman

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Hook's Revenge, Heidi Schulz

 

BEST ADULT FICTION:

The Rehearsal, Eleanor Catton

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, Adelle Waldman

Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

 

BEST SHORT FICTION:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell

Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood

Tenth of December, George Saunders

 

BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS/COMICS TRADE PAPERBACKS:

This One Summer, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Saga, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Blankets, Craig Thomas

 

BEST NON-FICTION:

Fiction Ruined My Family, Jeanne Darst

How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran

Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, Melissa Milgrom

 

And now for the special awards!

 

THE HAPPY-CRY AWARD: Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins. I don't want to spoil anything by telling you why, but some people appear in this book that I was just SO HAPPY TO SEE. I've only experienced this specific emotional reaction one other time, which was when I read Bitterblue. I have never cried with happiness upon seeing someone in real life.

MOST SATISFYING REREAD: Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld. I read this book a really long time ago, before I was writing myself, and I didn't appreciate how completely freaking brilliant it is. This book isn't technically YA, but if you write contemporary YA, you absolutely must read it. Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most astute writers I've ever discovered.

GORGEOUS COVER AWARD: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mattheiu and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  

THE WTF AWARD: Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith. This is not to say I didn't like this book; I enjoyed it a lot. But I don't think I've ever had such an intense "WTF DID I JUST READ???" moment as I did when I finished this book.

THE "WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG??" AWARD: Blankets, Craig Thomas. People have been talking about this book for AGES, but because it's so large and heavy and expensive and there was such a long wait for it at the library, I never picked it up. That was a huge mistake. It is astonishing. 

THE MOST DELIGHTFUL AWARD: Don't Even Think About It, Sarah Mlynowski. This book is so clever, so funny, and so well executed. I'm furious that I didn't think of the idea first. It reads like Sarah Mlynowski had the best time ever writing it.

THE MOST BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS AWARD: Wildlife, Fiona Wood. The characters in this book were perhaps the most realistically flawed people I've ever read. Every single time one of them made a choice, I was like, "Yup, that's a terrible choice, and that's EXACTLY what she would do." I'm in awe of Fiona Wood.

THE "WHY CAN'T I WRITE SENTENCES LIKE THAT?" AWARD: Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater. Not that much actually happens in this book, but I didn't even care. It was still one of my most enjoyable reads of the year.

THE "WHY IS THIS YA?" AWARD: Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick. This book won the Printz Award this past year, and I really liked it... but I cannot for the life of me figure out why it's sold as YA. If anyone has any theories, I'd love to hear them.

THE "WHY ISN'T THIS YA?" AWARD: Tell The Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt. This book is amazing, but I can't find a single reason why it was published as adult. Help.

THE "TIES YOUR BRAIN IN KNOTS" AWARD: The Rehearsal, Eleanor Catton. This book is half about an event and half about a play about that event, and it's often impossible to tell whether you're reading about a performance or not. Anyone who's interested in the blurry lines between reality and art must read this book.

THE "BOOK I WANT TO SHOVE IN EVERYONE'S FACES" AWARD: This One Summer, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. This quiet, gorgeous graphic novel is perfect in every way, in my opinion. I can't wait to read it over and over and over and over.

Hope you all had an excellent year of reading, and I can't wait to dig into my TBR pile for 2015! 

 

Monday
Dec292014

2014 book-buying and reading stats!

Friends! It's that time of the year when I remind you how completely neurotic I am!

Ever year, I keep a color-coded spreadsheet of all the books I buy and all the books I read. Why do I do this? I really have no idea, except that it's bizarrely satisfying to me. I can't keep my closet or my files organized to save my life, but there's something about all those little rows of data that warms my weird heart.

And what's better than neurotic oddness besides SHARING your neurotic oddness? (Nothing. The answer is nothing.) Therefore, behold, my book-buying and reading statistics for 2014!

 

THE BUYING STATS:

In total, I bought 131 books this year, which is actually DOWN one from last year! (My buying total has risen steadily each year since I started keeping track in 2010, so I think I deserve a round of applause.) Here's the breakdown:

41% YA;

18% middle grade;

21% adult fiction;

9% nonfiction;

11% graphic novels.

These numbers have been pretty much the same year to year up until now, but this year is markedly different. Lots more adult and lots more graphic novels than usual!

11% of those were ebooks, which is down from last year, despite the fact that I had an e-reader this year and didn't have one last year.

8% of these were audiobooks, which is a new phenomenon for me this year. I love them.

I bought 55% of my books at indie bookstores and the other 45% at Barnes and Noble. As always, I did not buy a single book from Amazon.

10% were books I'd already read as ARCs but felt the need to own anyway.

79% of the books were written by women.

I only finished 66% of the books I bought, which is down from last year's 75%. Curses!

First book I bought this year: SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, Trish Doller

Last book I bought this year: THIS SHATTERED WORLD, Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Month I bought the most books: February and August, with 16 each

Month I bought the fewest books: July, with 5 (such restraint!)

I'm not going to tell you how much money I spent on books because it is ABSURD. It was, however, up 8% from last year, despite the fact that I bought fewer books. This makes sense, as I have discovered a deep love for graphic novels this year, and those things are freaking expensive.

  

THE READING STATS:

I read 143 books this year, up one from last year! (Man, I'm consistent.) The breakdown was as follows:

50% YA;

10% middle grade;

19% adult fiction;

20% graphic novels;

9% non-fiction. 

This is also WAY more balanced than last year. Good job diversifying, me!

10% of those books were rereads.

15% of those books were ARCs.

9% of these books were audiobooks.

80% of those books were written by women (and that's actually DOWN from last year.)

Month I read the most books: September, with 16

Month I read the fewest books: October, with 7 (I guess I was burned out from September?)

First book I read this year: SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, Trish Doller

Last book I read this year: ONE MORE THING, BJ Novak (and oh, how strange it was.)

  

Stay tuned; tomorrow I'll post my favorite reads of the year! 

Thursday
Dec182014

FOR REAL blog tour link roundup!

The FOR REAL blog tour has come to an end! Did you miss any stops? Never fear! Here's a comprenehsive roundup of links!

 

How to Rewrite Your Book from Scratch in 75 Days (and Not Die): A Step-by-Step Guide, reposted by Bustle.com

 

A chat with Estelle of Rather Be Reading, in which I discuss what Claire and Miranda would likely buy each other for Christmas

 

I dream-cast FOR REAL, via YA Hollywood

 

I interview my sister, Erica, about sisterhood, via I Am A Reader

 

My very first podcast appearance, First Draft with Sarah Enni, in which I talk about traumatic revisions, New York City, stories from my former life as a lighting designer for theater, and eliminating the guilt from my writing process

 

I discuss my five favorite reality shows, via Falling for YA

 

An interview with Reader of Fictions, in which I discuss crazy marriage customs and what the plot of FOR REAL used to look like pre-revisions

 

An author spotlight via The Daily Dahlia, in which I rave about my critique partners and share a picture of me dressed as a Flashdance-themed zombie

 

An interview with Pop Goes the Reader, in which I discuss my research process, my influences, and Phil Khoegan

 

I talk about the ten most bizarre reality shows of all time, right here on this blog

 

and a bonus: my agent, Holly Root, talks about FOR REAL on her Tumblr!

 

Thank you to everyone who hosted me AND to everyone who has talked up or bought FOR REAL this past week! I so appreciate your support.

 

 

Tuesday
Dec162014

The Ten Most Bizarre Reality Shows of All Time

While I was writing my For Real, I had to think up concepts for eleven fake reality shows. (Some of my favorites: TwinCognito, in which twins switch lives and attempt to fool their friends and coworkers; Catwalk, the definitive pet fashion show; and Speed Breed, in which young women race to become pregnant.) Since I didn’t want to accidentally mock any real shows, I had to extensively research what had actually aired during reality television’s long and storied history. It’s a good thing I looked—one of my original fake shows, which involved a family fighting over someone’s estate, was indeed the concept for a real show.

Here, for your viewing pleasure (or, you know, sheer horror,) are the ten most absurd reality shows I came across in my research. These are all real, I promise.

#10: Fire Me, Please: CBS, aired for one season in 2005

Two people report to new jobs in different locations with the objective of getting fired as close to 3:00 PM as possible. The person who is sacked closest to the appointed time wins $25,000. The show is filmed with hidden cameras, and the managers are not in on the joke (though the owners of the companies are.) This was the first reality show to use a laugh track.

#9: Date My Mom: MTV, aired for three seasons beginning in 2004

Singles go on "dates" with three moms, who try to convince them to date their sons/daughters. The contestants make their decisions solely on the mothers’ descriptions, then choose a winner at a beachfront ceremony with all three mothers. Only after the winner is revealed do the daughters/sons show themselves. It has been alleged that this show was, in fact, scripted.

#8: The Singing Office: TLC, aired for one season in 2008

Office workers are “ambushed” by ex-Spice Girl Melanie Brown and ex-NSYNC member Joey Fatone and asked to participate in a singing audition. The top five singers from each office are coached and taught choreography, then compete against another office in front of a live studio audience. Competitions included Jet Blue Airlines vs. the Los Angeles Zoo and the Anaheim White House Restaurant vs. Sit ’N Sleep Mattresses.

#7: Trick My Trucker: Country Music Television, aired for one season in 2007

A personal trainer and a personal stylist give out-of shape truck-drivers makeovers with a focus on improving their physical appearances, diets, and exercise regimens. The truckers are are then tracked for several weeks, and the one who makes the most improvements to his lifestyle is rewarded with gas money. This show is a spin-off of CMT’s Trick My Truck, in which rigs are “stolen” and customized.

#6: Parking Wars: A&E, aired for seven seasons beginning in 2008

This show focuses primarily on employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and follows them as they ticket, tow, and “boot” cars. It also shows members of the public trying to retrieve their impounded vehicles. In later seasons, the show begins following parking officials in Detroit, Providence, Staten Island, North Hampstead, and Trenton as well. Unbelievably, a hundred and four episodes of this show aired before it was canceled.

#5: Drop! the Celebrity: ITV, aired for two episodes in 2003

Twelve British celebrities get in a plane, which ascends to 12,000 feet. Video of them is broadcast to a studio audience of one hundred people, who vote on which celebrity they’d most like to see parachute from the plane. The winning celebrity is the one who remains inside the plane longest, and £10,000 is donated to charity in his/her name. The show is most famous for the moment TV presenter and singer Cheryl Baker sprained her ankle during a bad landing. 

#4: Boys Will Be Girls: E4, aired for one season in 2006

Two band managers audition singers who have previously been members of boy bands. When the final four are selected, the twist is revealed: they must pass themselves off as a girl band called The Honeytraps. At the end of the series, the band recorded a cover of “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” by A Flock of Seagulls. The single was never sold in stores but did fairly well on the British download charts the month it was released.

#3: The Baby Borrowers: NBC, aired for one season in 2008

Couples between the ages of eighteen and twenty care for a baby, then a toddler, then a pre-teen, then a teenager, and finally an elderly person (which makes no sense, given the name.) Each caregiving session lasts three days. The parents of the young children monitor the surrogate parents via video and are allowed to step in if the contestants appear to need assistance. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry formally requested that NBC cancel this show, as they feared it would traumatize the young children involved.

#2: Chains of Love: UPN, aired for one season in 2001

Four people are literally chained by the wrists to one person of the opposite sex for four days, including when they are sleeping. One person is eliminated at a time, and the man/woman in charge decides how much money the eliminated person should receive from the $10,000 pot. At the end, the man/woman in charge can opt to continue dating the winner (unchained) or send him/her away and keep the remaining money. Contestants are unchained only to change clothes and use the bathroom. 

#1: Bridalplasty: E!, aired for one season in 2010

Twelve brides-to-be and already-married women make plastic surgery wish lists. Each week, the winner of a wedding-themed challenge receives one surgery from her list, and one bride is eliminated. The winner receives her dream wedding and her entire plastic surgery wish list. Her husband-to-be does not see her new look until their wedding day. The show included an “Exclusive Injectables Party,” hosted by plastic surgeon Dr. Terry Dubrow, who also performed all the procedures on the show.

 

Tuesday
Dec092014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, fourth edition

It's been a while since I've posted a What's Making Me Happy This Week—the world has been so weird and sad and incomprehensible lately that all I've wanted to do is bang my head against the wall and yell, "OMG, NEWS, WHY MUST YOU SUCK SO MUCH?" But this is the week FOR REAL became a real book people can actually BUY, which is extremely happy-making, so it seems like a good time to get back on track. Here are some other things that have been making me happy these past few weeks:

1) Big Hero 6. Much like Frozen, the trailer for this movie looked incredibly stupid, and I wasn't planning to see it until Pop Culture Happy Hour raved about it. But those NPR pop culture geeks have excellent taste, so I decided to give it a shot, and I am so glad I did. It's clever, it's action-packed, the animation is amazing, and it has such a big heart. I cried like six times during it. ("But Alison," you say, "you cry during every animated movie." Well, yes. You're not wrong. But still.) It was a thoroughly delightful experience all the way around, and I highly recommend it for kids and grownups alike, especially ones who like robots.
 
2) Jane the Virgin, which has also surprised me with its excellence! I totally wrote this off after seeing the posters, but so many people I trust were talking about it that I gave it a try. The premise is absolutely ridiculous—it's about 24-year-old virgin who ends up pregnant due to an error made by a distracted gynecologist. But the show turned out to be hilarious, smart, goofy, and really sweet. Jane is so relatable and flawed, and she acts (and looks!) like a real person, which I so appreciate. And only TWO of the main characters are white, which is pretty amazing for a show on the CW. I'll be watching the rest of the season eagerly.
 
3) Margaret Atwood. Margaret's 75th birthday was last week, and I went to an event in her honor. Erin Morgenstern and Chuck Wendig read things they're written in her honor, Lev Grossman read a section of The Handmaid's Tale, and then Neil Gaiman interviewed Margaret. It was extremely strange, at times—they went on this long tangent about a machine that enables long-distance kissing and didn't actually talk about writing very much—but it was pretty delightful just to be in the same room at someone who has been one of my literary idols since high school. At the end, we all sang happy birthday to her. I'm also in the middle of reading her new short story collection, Stone Mattress. One of my friends picked it up the other day, read the first sentence, and shouted, "Oh, screw you, Margaret Atwood, why do you have to be so GOOD?" Yup. That pretty much sums it up.
 
4) Allie Brosh, author of Hyperbole and a Half, did a long interview on Marc Maron's podcast, WTF, and it was extremely interesting. Allie has been really open about her struggles with anxiety and depression, but this was possible the most honest interview I've ever heard about anything. I strongly urge you to check it out, whether or not you struggle with those issues yourself. (Skip the first 20 minutes—Allie's not in those.)
 
5) This past week, I got to go to two events for My True Love Gave to Me, the holiday-themed anthology edited by the amazing Stephanie Perkins. (They were on the same day, back to back. I'm kind of a fan.) Holly Black wore a Krampus sweater and ranted about how mistletoe is parasitic. David Levithan asked whether a turtle dove was a bird with a shell on it. Gayle Forman wore a blinking Christmas sweater AND blinking earrings. I finally got to meet Kelly Link, who's been one of my favorite authors for years and years. Everyone signed my book. It was delightful. Plus, I got to spend the whole rest of the day at the Met Museum with Myra McEntire, a contributor to the anthology and my most excellent friend. She was so excited about the Byzantine Art I thought her head was going to explode.
 
6) I'm a huge fan of Sarah Enni's podcast, First Draft, which consists of long-form interviews with middle grade and YA authors. And a couple weeks ago, Sarah came to my apartment to interview me! I felt like a total celebrity. She asks such good questions and is so good at putting her subjects at ease, and the 90 minutes we spent talking flew by. My cats also loved her and purred on her lap the entire time—you can hear them in the recording. I'll post a link to my interview as soon as it goes live!
 
7) The Least Wanted Song. Back in 2009, This American Life interviewed Dave Soldier, a composer who polled the public about what they liked most and least in a song, and then they created the "most-wanted" and "least-wanted" songs based on their data. I just rediscovered this, and every time I hear the least-wanted song, I laugh until I cry. Start listening around 14:30. You will not regret it. 
 
And last but not least...
8) FOR REAL came out on Tuesday! I'm very excited for my launch party tonight at BookCourt in Brooklyn. Come if you're in the area! If not, you can buy the book here, here, or here. Thanks for all your support!