Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

Girl Online: Or The Unexpected Enjoyment of Going Outside Your Reading Comfort Zone

Sometimes I’ll read something and see a book or movie mentioned or used in comparison and I’ll think, “Oh, that sounds interesting” and order it and then completely forget why by the time it comes in. That happened recently with Zoe Sugg’s Girl Online, a book I ordered before Christmas.


Don’t let the cover fool you. This book is actually about the Crusades.

I think I ordered it because I saw a blurb about how Sugg—a fashion and beauty vlogger—was the first British female author to outsell J.K. Rowling or something like that. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Girl Online follows Penny Porter, a teenage blogger from Brighton who ends up traveling with her family and best friend to New York City because her mother is organizing a Downton Abbey-themed wedding for a wealthy American couple. While she’s there, she meets Noah, a dreamy and mysterious boy (is there really any other kind?). The two fall madly in love—as teenagers are wont to do—and the romance causes Penny’s blog to go viral and costs her her online anonymity.

As I read it, I was reminded of those great first loves we feel when we’re teenagers—loves that are often as transient as they are transcendent and are all the more beautiful because of it. And that’s never a bad thing to think back on. It also seems like Sugg is trying to warn her impressionable teenage demographic about the dangers of sharing and oversharing aspects of their lives online.  If the only thing a young adult—or anyone, really—gets out of reading this book is to think before you share, then that’s a pretty good takeaway. Less selfies, more self-restraint!

My fellow coworkers teased me about ordering it, saying that it didn’t seem like a book that I would read and I have to admit that it’s not the kind I would normally seek out; I’m clearly not Sugg’s intended audience. I couldn’t care less about fashion and beauty tips, nor about the ghostwriting “scandal” surrounding the book, which I only learned about while doing some very light research for this post.  Nevertheless, I’m a firm believer in going outside your reading comfort zone (and now I can check off one of the reading challenges from Abbey’s post the other day). I’m also a firm believer that reading a crappy book is better than watching a crappy television show or movie. And I have the science to back it up!

"Back dat asymptote up."

“Back dat asymptote up.”

No matter how awful a book is, reading is still something you actively do. Your brain has to create entire rooms, wardrobes and people. Sometimes it has to create alien worlds and things that literally no one has ever seen.  On the other hand, when you’re watching television, you’re a passive participant. The creation is already done for you.

Girl Online didn’t reinvent the wheel; it’s riddled with clichés and it’s so saccharine that I should probably go to the dentist now that I’ve finished it, but I didn’t hate the time that I spent reading it. If you have a few listless hours, I see nothing wrong with filling them with a simple story.

Were you ever pleasantly surprised after reading a book outside your comfort zone? Sound off in the comments below!



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On Reading 100 Books (Actually, more like 50)

On January 21, 2014, I shared this picture on social media with the accompanying caption positing that I would attempt to read one hundred books during the year.


I’m so artsty it makes me sick.

Almost as soon as my fingers pounded out the goal, I realized that reading one hundred books was out of the question; it was already practically February.  So instead I said that reading fifty would be more likely.  I don’t have a calculator in front of me, but that’s like one every week or something.

As of writing this, I’ve read fifty-one books and am on my way toward finishing number fifty-two.

Now, I realize that this isn’t a great accomplishment by any means.  Still, I was impressed with myself for setting a goal and achieving it.  While I’ve always enjoyed reading–I do work at a public library after all–there was something almost stifling about knowing that I had to finish this goal.  In fact, almost as soon as I posted the picture, one of my friends commented that it’s better to keep the goals that you set to yourself because announcing the goals tricks your mind into thinking they have already been completed.

There were many times when I started reading a book and just couldn’t get into it, and wanted to stop.  For instance, I started reading The King in Yellow after watching True Detective over the summer, but I didn’t finish it until early December.  That’s outrageous! The book is only 256 pages.  I should have been able to knock that out in a weekend.  So I set it aside and read other books.  All the while I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that the time I put into reading those hundred or so pages would be worthless unless I finished the book in its entirety.

So I pressed on toward my goal’s end.  I knew I had to, but it wasn’t just because I’d already put it out there on the Internet. I had to do it because if I don’t finish a book, I feel like I’m disrespecting the author.

When I first take a book in my hands, open the cover and feel the paper, crisp and dry between my fingers, I’m entering into an agreement with that author and into a relationship with that book.  For however many pages, I belong to that book and it belongs to me. When I put it down, even for a few days, I feel like we’ve abandoned each other. By not being interesting or not grabbing my attention, the book has recanted its agreement with me.

A recent study showed that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, such as when you read fiction, improves your ability to show compassion.  Maybe that’s why I have trouble abandoning those books—because I know inside those pages, I’m someone else, maybe even someone better, if only for 300 or so pages.

Please save your psychoanalyses until the end, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve listed the fifty-one books on the next three pages, broken into three categories:  Good, Godawful and Great (because I like alliteration. If I liked assonance, I’d call them All Right, Awful and Amazing).  I briefly thought about ranking them, but then I realized that my rankings would do nothing to sway you if you’d already read a particular book and loved it and vice versa.  All I can say is that I highly recommend all the ones that I’ve put in the Great category.


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The Young Authors Give Back Tour: Pittsburgh Edition

Today at Eleventh Stack we’re happy to feature a guest post from Gigi, a Teen Specialist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Brookline. For additional coverage of this event, please visit our blog colleagues at CLPTeensburgh.

Calling all YA fans, new adults, teen dystopia connoisseurs, and anyone with a YA book on their laptop waiting to be published: the Young Authors Give Back tour is coming to Pittsburgh!


Four newly-published YA authors are coming together on a national tour to teach free writers’ workshops to aspiring young authors while hosting book signings for YA fans of all ages. Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kat Zhang will be sharing their talents and advice at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Brookline on Thursday, June 6th. The Young Writers Workshop (ages 13-18) starts at 4:30 (click here to register!) and the all-ages book signing begins at 6:00 p.m.

So why do you want to come meet these authors and get your own signed copy? Because with the publication of their first novels, you have the chance to become one of the first fans! Nothing says clout like owning a signed first edition from the next J.K. Rowling, eh? Seriously, though, outliers aside, what are these authors writing about? Is it something you’d like? I’m glad you asked!

The Books

zhangWhat’s Left Of Me, Kat Zhang. It’s the cover on this one. Zhang explores the world of two souls in a single body. One is meant to fade away in childhood, but it doesn’t happen for this character. Told from the perspective of the not-yet-disappeared soul trapped inside a body she can’t control, her autonomous sister helps hide her because it is a crime to be a hybrid (“a house divided against itself cannot stand“). And where could she go if she could move again, if she should fall in love while gazing out of her body prison? It was a theme I thoroughly enjoyed and a story capable of grabbing my emotions, reminding me almost too vividly of certain separation scenes in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

Something Strange and Deadly, Susan Dennard. So Philadelphia thinks they have zombies, eh? Well, I’ll give ’em a chance to Dennardshow their stuff within a book like this! Dennard considers an alternate zombie history in 19th century Philly, illuminated by a corset-girdled heroine who joins ranks with the charming (even the ones who aren’t supposed to be) Spirit Hunters who wrangle the walking dead that rise at the whims of a deluded necromancer. This one reads like a movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see related cemetery-stained cravats on the silver screen soon.

maasThrone of Glass, Sarah J. Maas. This is the only one I didn’t get a chance to read yet; however, reviews in general seem to be good, and I’m excited to see what the love triangle of a female assassin looks like because I hear it’s one of the better-developed ones in recent years. This book falls under the genre of high fantasy, which is also called epic fantasy, but since I find most fantasy epic, I’m going to call it epic-er fantasy. Follow this fierce lady as she fights her way through an assigned tournament to the death as the only way to win her freedom. There’s also a bit of murder in the book…I mean, besides the kill-everyone assassin stuff.

Taken, Erin Bowman. There are no men in this book…or so it begins. In Claysoot, any young man who turns 18 is taken by The BowmanHeist, a mysterious phenomenon wherein he simply vanishes. Imagine a place bereft of men, where dystopian young ladies are left to mourn and bear the children conceived through “slatings” organized and encouraged by the elders to perpetuate existence. “You grow up quickly in Claysoot,” says Gray Weathersby. Luckily, brothers are left behind to ask questions and a certain Gray uncovers a note from his mother that might lead to…well, the rest of the book. I felt this was a really strong showing for dystopian fiction. I bought the world; I’d buy the book. If only I didn’t have to wait, since, naturally, it’s a series.

Using examples from their books, the authors will be covering plot, world-building, characters, pacing, point of view, and–most importantly–industry: how do you get your book published once it’s done? During the open signing, come ask these authors all your brain-to-page publishing questions or do your pop-culture duty and pick up a signed copy for yourself, friends, and/or family, becoming a premier fan of these fantastic new authors. Books will be available for purchase, provided by local downtown bookstore Amazing Books.

And now, a word from our authors!

About the Tour

—a note from Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kat Zhang—

Simply put, the idea for the Young Authors Give Back tour was born over a series of emails between friends.

The four of us all contribute to an industry blog together and we knew we wanted to organize a group tour in the spring of 2013. A tour that brought us to some not-as-often visited cities. A tour that let us meet readers and sign books, but also a tour that let us do something different.

We wanted to give back. Pay-it-forward. Inspire.

However you choose to word it, we wanted to connect not only with readers but with writers. Young writers.

We’ve been writers most of our lives. We started writing young, we published (relatively) young, and we remember all too well that overwhelming urge to get out of school, rush home, and write. Write-write-write. (Even if there was tons of homework to be done.) We lived and breathed stories and heroes and quests and good vs. evil and happily ever after—still do, actually!—and we couldn’t write fast enough. Or often enough!

And so for this tour, we decided to incorporate small-group workshops into our schedule. Free workshops open to young aspiring writers (junior high thru college/ages 13-22). We’ll talk about craft and answer questions. We’ll write together. It will be awesome.

So that’s our plan and vision for the Young Authors Give Back tour: Travel. Pay-it-forward. Host workshops. Visit bookstores. Meet with readers and writers alike. (And, of course, live-blog the whole epic road trip via this tumblog.)

It should be a blast, and we hope to see you at one of the events!

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10 Things You Need to Know Before You Read The Casual Vacancy

As I’m writing this post there are still over 700 folks waiting to read J.K. Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy in all the formats we could purchase [click here to learn why we don’t have the e-book]. Because there is almost nothing worse than waiting a very long time for a book that disappoints, today’s post serves as a guide to whether or not you might like it. No spoilers here: simply indicators that will tell you whether or not to hang in there with the wait, or graciously let go and make the line a little less long for everyone else.

Ready? Okay.

1. This novel is nothing like Harry Potter, and you need to be at peace with that. If you are open to a beloved author doing something completely different with style and theme, hang in there. If, however, you are secretly holding out hopes that The Casual Vacancy will be anything like the adventures of the boy wizard and his pals, you are just going to wind up chucking the book across the room. And since it clocks in at 503 pages, you might hurt somebody, or someone. Possibly a kitten. Please, think of the kittens.

2. Politics and class warfare permeate the plot. This should heavily influence your decision, especially if you read to escape from the 24/7 News Cycle of Gloom and are still recovering from the loud, screamy info-barrage of the recent presidential election. Test yourself with this summary: when a local councilman dies, the small town he lives in drives itself bonkers during the search for his replacement. If that plot description turned you green at the gills, it’s time to let go.

3. There are a lot of characters to remember. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing–just a litmus test for whether you should hang in there or not. Some people love novels with tons of subplots and complex character interactions. Others don’t. If you’d rather focus on the adventures of one engaging hero/ine, this might not be the book for you. Conversely, if you love village gossip and elaborate machinations, hang in there.

4. Many of those characters are not very nice. Again, this is a personal preference. Many people read fiction to understand and engage with reality better. Others read fiction to escape. I can guarantee you that most of the characters in The Casual Vacancy are not folks that you’d want to hang out with in real life. However, they are fascinating, troubled mirror images of the kinds of people we live and work with every day. Do you want more or less of this dynamic in your life? Choose accordingly.

5. Less than a dozen people are on hold for the Playaway edition of the novel. If you are determined to read this book, and you’re on hold for the audiobook, why not consider transferring your hold to the Playaway version? Playaways are delightfully compact MP3 players that come pre-loaded with your book of choice. Just add your own headphones and a AAA battery, and you’re golden. Plus, you can then read the book on the bus, or during your daily walk / run, without lugging a lot of text around. Interested? Ask a library worker for more details.

Please, think of the literate kittens.
Originally seen on thatcutekitten.com

Still here? Good for you. The Casual Vacancy is an intriguing novel about contemporary social issues, in the vein of Jodi Picoult (minus the melodrama, plus a few style points) or Chris Bohjalian (minus a little formality), and is definitely worth waiting for. Now what you need to know is what you could be reading in the meantime. Here are five suggestions:

1. The Year of the Gadfly, Jennifer Miller. A privileged, yet troubled, teenager stumbles upon generations of secrets at her new school. Tonewise, this will give you a good sense of what reading The Casual Vacancy is like; it also has its share of unsympathetic characters and small-town viciousness, albeit in American style.

2.Still Life, Louise Penny. Three Pines is a lot quieter than Pagford, but the dynamics and culture of small-town life play  an important role in both books, making this a good pick for those intrigued by this kind of setting. First in a series, Still Life explores how a town comes apart, then back together, after a murder.

3. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh. Wait, what? The poverty and desperation some of Rowling’s characters experience looms larger than life in this iconic tale of the down, out, and drugged-up in Edinburgh. Grittier than The Casual Vacancy, to be sure, but excellent preparation for that novel’s less savory elements (do not substitute the movie, unless you’re really ready to take a walk on the wild side).

4.  The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Fay Weldon. If you can’t wait to see how Rowling’s characters outwit each other in small-town politics, you might enjoy reading–or perhaps revisiting–this tale of a woman wronged who achieves revenge through a series of carefully orchestrated plots. Ruth’s elaborate scheme to get back at her cheating husband, Bobbo, mirrors on a smaller scale the Pagford citizens’ attempts to get elected to the parish council.

5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce. This, too, was an extremely popular novel this year, and may be difficult to get a hold of. The most “contemporary British” of my picks, however, is also worth hanging around for (the lines are considerably shorter, too). When Harold receives word that a former co-worker of his is dying, he decides to walk to her hospital to pay her a visit. Which is very sweet, except that her hospital is 627 miles away!  Closest in characterization and setting to The Casual Vacancy, but with a softer edge to it (and, arguably, a better ending).

Bonus suggestion:  Peyton Place, Grace Metalious. 350+ pages into The Casual Vacancy, and just after a very small-town shocking-hilarious thing happened at a council meeting, it dawned on me: Rowling’s written the British Peyton Place, an uncomfortable novel that exposes the seamy underbelly of people’s secrets and lies, as well as the propensity of folks to gossip about their neighbors while hiding their own foibles. Also, unpleasant things happen to children and teens.

Hopefully you now have enough information to answer that burning question, “Should I stay on the waiting list, or should I go?” Have you read The Casual Vacancy yet? Are you planning to? What would you recommend for other readers patiently waiting in line, and why?

–Leigh Anne


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