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Four Excellent Stand Alone Novels I’ve Read/Listened to This Year
May 13th, 2013 by Liza Wiemer

Reviewing my Goodreads “read” page, I was surprised to see how many novels I’ve read this year were a part of a series. It made me think about my reading choices. Sometimes, it’s agony having to wait for the next book  in a series when I’m living to find out what happens next. I mark my calendar, hope for an ARC, and often pre-order! Once in awhile, I actually wait for the series to be completed, especially a trilogy) before I read book two. There are plenty of exceptions- by Maggie Stiefvater, for example, will be one of them.

I didn’t start the Lux Series by Jennifer Armetrout until recently. I gobbled up books 1-3, but now I’m longing for the next one. I loved being able to read three books back-to-back. Now I’m waiting, waiting, waiting along with other fans.

Because I devour so many novels, I don’t want to reread or skim to remind myself what happened. So I don’t. I’ll dive into the next book in the series and get caught up quickly. But this comes at a price. It’s possible I miss some of the author’s nuances that carry through a series.

It’s nice to have a little relief from the waiting. You gotta love the stand alone novels. Beginning, Middle, End. Done! So here’s a few I recommend:

PRINT:

16101080OUR SONG by Jordanna Fraiberg is a hauntingly beautiful, mysterious, and captivating romantic page turner. Masterfully crafted.

For all those YA who have been deeply confused by their relationships when they suddenly take a huge plunge without obvious warning signs, OUR SONG is an eye-opener. What’s been missing? Is the perfect boy really so perfect? How does he impact your self-esteem? Wake up!

The novel opens with Olive recovering from a horrible car crash. She’s only alive because paramedics resuscitated her. Many rumors surround the circumstances behind the accident that just might not have been an accident, but a cry for help. Was it? The circumstances of that rainy night unfold as readers wonder about Olive’s mental state. Immediately, you will know something occurred with her ex-boyfriend Derek because Olive was driving his car. He comes across as heartless and selfish. It’s hard to understand what Olive saw in this jerk. What I deeply appreciate about this character is knowing that there are plenty of girls who go out with guys similar to Derek and take their crap. I hope this novel will be insightful. Who doesn’t know someone who has gone out or hooked up with guys just like this?

As Olive tries to deal with the circumstances behind the accident and her near-death experience, she joins an interesting support group. There, she meets a boy named Nick who helps Olive become more grounded. As they learn to trust each other, they share many adventures. Still, there’s lots of mystery behind Nick. Finding out his story is definitely a highlight.

There are lots of interesting family dynamics going on for both Olive and Nick. Olive’s parents seem to be struggling with their relationship. Her mother has an obsession with gardening and baking. Her father is a workaholic and spends a lot of time away from the family. I love her eight-year-old brother Noah. Despite the large age gap between them, Olive and Noah have a special, sweet bond. Nick has absent parents and readers will wonder why this bright young man has so much time on his hands.

The book unfolds beautifully, weaving words to a song that plays over and over again in Olive’s mind. A message? A warning?

She has a lot to learn about love, life, friendship, and her family. Sometimes a person has repeat experiences/bad choices in order to get it right and find the courage to be their best, strongest self.

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith15790873

Clever, fun, sweet, romantic!

I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this novel about an accidental slip of one letter that leads to an email exchange between Graham, a Hollywood star actor and Ellie, a girl with her own secrets. She lives in Henley, a small town in Maine. She shares life in Middle-of-Nowhere as he tells her about life in Middle-of-Everything, CA. When Graham has the opportunity to arrange for part of his next movie to be filmed in Henley, he goes in search of of Ellie. At this point, each has kept their identities secret from the other. This changes quickly when Graham comes to town. The connection to Ellie runs deep, but it’s not so easy for her to let him in. The boy she communicated with and revealed so much of herself to doesn’t quite jive with this big-time star. He has his own wounds and self-preservation keeps him from pursuing her after the paparazzi go crazy over his new “love” interest. With time running out, they can’t bare to stay apart. This leads to an interesting adventure and some tender moments, capturing “what happy looks like.”

This Is What Happy Looks Like is another wonderful book by the talented Jennifer E. Smith.

AUDIO:

873584An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. YA  – This John Green novel was published in September 2006. It won the Printz Honor Award.

My husband and I listened to An Abundance of Katherines on a road trip. It’s the perfect YA novel to share with family (if you don’t get embarrassed with an occasional sex reference.) – 1. Male narrator. 2. Lots of humor they guys can relate to. 3. Brilliant writing. 4. Male characters who are hysterical and quirky. 5. Incredible story – strong values, insightful.

Colin Singleton has dated nineteen Katherines – not Kat or Catherine or Katie or Kate – and when the last one dumps him, he’s devastated. During the summer between high school and college, Colin goes on a road trip with his BFF, Hassan. Their adventure is a powerful experience as Colin – boy prodigy and anagram expert – discovers where he’s gone wrong with his nineteen Katherines relationships. There are also insightful moments that help define friendship.

Narrated by Jeff Woodman. He did a great job switching from one character to another, changing voices and adding a special touch to their personalities with his intonation. <3 it.

This novel will make you lol, smile, and appreciate the what makes each of us unique. Highly recommend.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turage – MG, won the Newberry Honor (2013)

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I absolutely LOVED this audio! The change of voices was spot on and captured the essence of the story. There were many lol moments. The story is about Mo (aka Moses), an eleven-year-old girl who was found as a baby after a hurricane without any trace of her parents. She writes letters and sticks them in a bottle to her “upstream mother.” She has a best friend Dale and they have a detective agency. With the agency, they find lost dogs and investigate a murder! The circumstances are funny and touching. I love the Lavender, Dale’s older brother. Mo has a crush on him and it’s quite sweet. Miss Lana raises Mo as her own, and I have to say that I am deeply touched by their closeness. There’s also the Colonel who found Mo during the hurricane and is a father figure in Mo’s life. I love the suspense, the mystery, and the eccentric characters. This is a wonderful book for middle graders. The audio is perfect for a road trip with MG kids. The entire family will love it

Victoria Rebels Blog Tour & Giveaway – Q & A with Author Carolyn Meyer
Feb 19th, 2013 by Liza Wiemer

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From Goodreads:

Queen Victoria’s personal journals inform this captivating first-person account of one of history’s most prominent female leaders.

Queen Victoria most certainly left a legacy—under her rule as the longest reigning female monarch in history, the British Empire was greatly expanded and significant industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military changes occurred within the United Kingdom. To be a young woman in a time when few other females held positions of power was to lead in a remarkable age—and because Queen Victoria kept personal journals, this historical novel from award-winning author Carolyn Meyer shares authentic emotional insight along with accurate information, weaving a true story of intrigue and romance.

Published by Paula Wiseman Books, January 1, 2013

Questions and Answers with Victoria Rebels’ author,

Carolyn Meyer

1. After writing about Queen Victoria, are there any leaders living today who you believe exemplify the qualities carolyn_182x228px-210she possessed? If so, who and why. If not, what made her unique?

Your question immediately prompted me to think about Hillary Clinton–even though you didn’t specify gender–for a number of reasons. Hillary has completely dedicated herself to public service, as Victoria did. She has matured into her role, as Victoria did. She has learned to navigate in a male-dominated world, as Victoria did. 

2. You stated that Queen Victoria “tries to please her unpleasable mother,” which is certainly the circumstances for many teens today. What is your advice to them?

I, too, am the daughter of an “unpleasable mother,” and my advice would be to learn how to negotiate these turbulent waters as well as you can and to retain a sense of who you are at your core. And then, finally, you must learn to forgive them. It took Victoria a long time to learn to do that–as it did me. 

3. You used Queen Victoria’s diaries to help construct some of the details for Victoria Rebels. With the Internet today, may young adults are chronicling their lives on social media sights [sites] such as Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest. Do you see any benefits to going back to keeping a diary? If so, what would they be?

Yes, I do, but it has more to do with developing self-discipline and self-reflection, as weirdly old-fashioned as that sounds, and I think it should be kept private. When I was a young girl, I had a diary with a tiny lock on it, and I was always afraid that someone–my mother!–would read my most secret thoughts. Now it seems, that need for inner privacy seems to have dwindled–even disappeared–and that’s a shame.

VictoriaRebels_cover4. I saw that your favorite job is writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting. Since you write historical fiction, I’m guessing that you also enjoy the research process? What tips do you have for writers who are interested in writing historical fiction and would you stray from “facts” or construct your novel around them?

You guess right! Research is the fun part, and it’s so much easier than writing! I use a combination of research methods–public and university libraries, the internet, and, if I can, traveling to visit the places I’m writing about. I’d advise others who want to write historical fiction to continue the research right up to the final draft and to pay special attention to accuracy. I never change known facts, but when I turn up contradictory facts (as happens as you go further back in history, to the Tudor era, for instance) I go with what works best for the narrative. In many novels I’ve invented characters–a servant is often a useful tool for conveying information–but I didn’t have to make up a single soul in Victoria’s story. They are all extremely well documented; all I had to do was set the scenes.

5. I love “My Writer’s Journal” http://www.readcarolyn.com/blog.htm and noticed in your December 31, 2010 entry that you were really struggling to get past the first line of Victoria Rebel. ” I hate Sir John Conroy.” Obviously, you got past those six weeks of writing and rewriting the first five pages. What was your process in moving forward and persevering? Did something change in your thinking? If so, what was it? Assuming that you were, at times, frustrated, how did you cope?

I just went back and looked at that entry, trying to remember what was in my head two years ago. Apparently I believed I had a really good opening line, but as you’ve noted, I didn’t quite know where to go with it. Eventually I sent the first draft off to the editor (I don’t think of it as a draft, mind you; I always think I’ve finished!); to my absolute horror, she wanted me to cut most of what I had written in the first chapter. She was right, and that got me moving forward more confidently. And I managed to keep the first line.

6. Of all the places you’ve traveled, which has most influenced your writing and why?

I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve always gained insights, but the places that have most influenced me are the ones I’ve called home–Pennsylvania, where I grew up, and New Mexico, where I’ve lived for many years.

7. Do you ever just travel for fun or is it always connected to a book you’re writing? Where are you going next?

As a matter of fact, I’ve just come back from a trip that started in Paris and ended in Madrid with no particular goals in mind except to enjoy great museums and great food and to keep an eye open for new experiences. That’s going to be it for awhile.

Many thanks to Gabrielle from Modge Podge Blog Tours for including me in this tour.

VictoriaRebelsButtonBLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

19th Interview @ WhoRu Blog
20th Interview @ The Reader’s Antidote
21st Guest Blog @ Fantasy’s Ink
22nd Character Interview with John Conroy @ Pages From My Thoughts
25th Guest Blog @ Bibliophilia, Please!
26th Guest Blog @ Books Beside My Bed
27th Top Ten: The Victorian Age @ Moosubi Reads
28th Interview @ Beauty But A Funny Girl
1st Character Interview with Fidi @ Bookcase to Heaven
4th Interview @ Gobs and Gobs of Books
5th Guest Blog @ A Dream Within A Dream
6th Character Interview With Prince Albert @ I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
7th Guest Blog @ Stiletto Storytime
8th Interview @ Emily’s Crammed Bookshelf
11th Interview @ Movies In My Head
12th Top Ten: Victoria’s Favorites @ Curling Up With A Good Book
13th Character Interview With Victoria @ The Mod Podge Bookshelf

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Five Star Review & Giveaway of JUST ONE DAY by Gayle Forman – 12 Reasons Why I Loved It!
Feb 3rd, 2013 by Liza Wiemer

Five Star Review and Giveaway of JUST ONE DAY

by Gayle Forman

 

gayle-bioWhen I read a book that I know may have a profound impact on a YA’s life, I have to share it with my readers. JUST ONE DAY by12842115 Gayle Forman is one of those novels. (I felt the same way about Gayle’s other books, IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT. If you haven’t read them, they’re a must-read too!)

So, that is why I am doing a giveaway for JOD. It’s open internationally if your country allows for free shipping through The Book Depository, so make sure you check that. Ends Sunday, February 14, 4:00 PM CST.

From Goodreads:

A breathtaking journey toward self-discovery and true love, from the author of If I Stay

When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Just One Day is the first in a sweepingly romantic duet of novels. Willem’s story—Just One Year—is coming soon!

 

What I loved about JUST ONE DAY:

1. Including Shakespeare’s plays in the novel: Gayle does an amazing job of breaking down the plays that, even if you’ve never read them or seen them, you’ll be able to understand what she’s referring to. And it just might inspire you to go and see one in person or rent one on DVD.

2. The settings: London, Paris, Amsterdam, NYC, and Boston – Gayle captures these cities so magnificently that even if you haven’t been to these cities, you’ll be able to visualize the sights and sounds and tastes and smells. I’ve been to London, Paris, Boston, and NYC and her descriptions brought me right back.

3. There are other books out on the market about how one day can change a person’s life. But what I love about JOD is that the one day Allyson and Willem share in Paris has its highs and its lows. It’s not perfect, which, in my opinion, is a reflection on real life.

4. This is a novel about stepping out of your comfort zone, self-discovery, personal growth. There’s plenty of pain and joy that goes along with these actions, but if there wasn’t, then they wouldn’t be significant. This novel encourages calculated risk-taking, which I am all in favor of at any time in one’s life.

5. Imperfect characters/no cliched characters: There isn’t one character who is perfect i.e. too handsome or gorgeous, too smart, or fits into a cliche. These are “real-life” characters and maybe you won’t identify will everyone (the family seder and how people interact was very different than my own experiences as an adult with my children – ours our fun. We laugh and people ask to get invited each year – they love my cooking, the telling of the Passover story etc. :D), but you will certainly find someone to connect with on a personal level.

6. Gives the reader a different perspective on what constitutes love. Most of the time, love is not about being swept off your feet and carried up the staircase. Love can be messy and strange and confusing and painful and amazing and inspiring and definitely life-changing. I deeply appreciate how it’s portrayed in JOD.

7. Friendship: Gayle shows the ups and downs between friends, an authentic portrayal of how one can grow close or be distant depending on the stage of your life. Instead of worrying about it, Gayle’s portrayal takes a healthy perspective.

8. Decision making/choices: I love how Allyson learns and chooses to do what’s best for her and not what’s best for her parents. It takes tremendous fortitude to buck the system and decide what is best for you rather than giving into someone else’s dream for you. DREAM big and TAKE ACTION! Love this.

9. Conquering fear: Who isn’t afraid? But if you’re not bold, if you don’t “Dare Greatly” (the title of a book I love by Brene Brown) then it’s very difficult to move forward. JOD epitomizes “Daring Greatly.”

10. The writing/storytelling: Absolutely captivating and brilliant. I love the minute details such as the watch that Allyson wears, the coins that Willem flips over between his fingers. These and many more add richness to the story.

11. The portrayal of adults/parents: Flawed, annoying, kind, welcoming, nurturing, selfish. That only captures some of their characteristics of the adults in this novel. Absolutely authentic to real life.

12. Use of foreign languages: French, Dutch, Chinese – you don’t have to know them to appreciate the language or get the nuance of what’s going on. Gayle clues in the reader beautifully when need be. There will be times when you learn along the way or feel clueless like Allyson does. It’s exactly how it should be.

For more information about Gayle Forman and her books visit her website: http://www.gayleforman.com

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Easy by Tammara Webber Discussion Questions for Mothers-Daughters, Sisters, Friends & Giveaway
Jan 10th, 2013 by Liza Wiemer

PAGE-TURNER THURSDAY

The New York Times Bestseller:

Easy by Tammara Webber

Readers Guide/Discussion Questions for

Mothers-Daughters, Sisters, Friends

International Giveaway:

Rules: 1 paperback copy of Easy. 18 and older. Outside of the US, only for countries where there is free shipping through The Book Depository. Ends January 18, 4 PM, CST. For more information, check the Rafflecopter.

EasyEasy by Tammara Webber is one of those books that may deeply alter a person’s life. It’s about love, relationships, and rape. Personally, any parent who is sending off a son or daughter to college would benefit from reading Easy. It should be read by sorority sisters and friends. Because what happens in Easy takes place EVERY SINGLE DAY! The events depicted in Easy need to be talked about. Daughters need to be prepared so that they can be proactive and safe just in case they run into a situation that could put them in harm’s way. Sons need to know how to have healthy relationships with young women. If you need guidance with that, then Easy is a helpful source, a launching point for discussion. You may not agree with everything that transpires. That’s okay. It’s about having the opportunity to create a dialogue with those you care about. If you don’t have someone to talk to about these issues or don’t feel comfortable doing so, then that’s okay too. Easy is an outstanding novel to help you formulate your own opinion.

As a parent, teacher, writer, I wanted to create my own guide to share with my friends. Now, I’m posting it on my blog. I personally have purchased Easy for several friends and their college-bound daughters to read and discuss. I was told by my friends that they each read Easy separately, then came together to discuss it. Both moms and daughters said their discussions was extremely helpful and meaningful because of this book.

Note: There also is a helpful publisher’s readers guide in the back of the book. The questions created by me were done before I saw the guide. Use them both.

Link to my Readers Guide – Discussion Questions for Mothers-Daughters, Sisters, Friends.

There are spoilers, so utilize the guide after you read Easy.

http://www.whorublog.com/?page_id=1696

From Goodreads:

Tammara Webber

Tammara Webber

Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.

To see my Goodreads review, click here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/443052366

To learn more about Tammara Webber and all her novels, please visit her website: http://tammarawebber.blogspot.com

(Mature Young Adult/ New Adult)

There are spoilers, so utilize the guide after you read Easy. http://www.whorublog.com/?page_id=1696

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ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes – Review and Giveaway – An Outstanding Crossover Novel for YA & Adults
Dec 21st, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

ME BEFORE YOU

By Jojo Moyes

USA Publishing Date: December 31, 2012

REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY (One copy of the book and a poster – Thanks Pamela Dorman Books/Viking – USA only.)

I reviewed and Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by the publisher at BEA. 

Brilliant! With its unforgettable characters, breathtaking storyline, and unconventional romance, ME BEFORE YOU will leave you standing with your mouth gaping. Expect to laugh, expect to cry, and expect to scream out “Jojo Moyes, how could you? Nooooo!” Most of all, expect a thought-provoking read that might challenge your perspective and definition of the quality of life. I absolutely loved ME BEFORE YOU. Don’t miss it!

This is the perfect crossover novel for older (YA) young adults—eighteen and older.

Some additional thoughts:

ME BEFORE YOU is a novel about changing perceptions and pushing the limits to maximize personal potential. It’s about inner growth and identity, what shapes and defines us. Many will be able to identify with the inner transformation of twenty-six-year-old Lou Clark from waitress to assistant of the once take-charge-of-the-world wonder boy, Will Traynor.

Another extraordinary highlight of this novel is the dynamics of Lou Clark’s and Will Traynor’s families. There were times I hated how Lou’s family treated her, reinforcing her faults instead of helping her and having faith in her to make good choices. But there were also plenty of moments where they rallied, pleasantly surprising me with their generosity and love. With Will’s family, I was in awe of Jojo Moyes’ portrayal of the internal struggles Will’s mother faced and how her hard-shell exterior would occasionally crack to allow the reader to empathize with her.

This novel is not only character driven, but plot driven — a perfect combination of the two. Even the secondary characters will make you think about your personal dynamics with others. For example, Lou’s boyfriend Patrick will make you think about love and relationships. Lou’s sister Treena will evoke thoughts about your siblings and the importance and influence they have had in your life.

Best of all, I was deeply moved by the relationship between Lou and Will. I refuse to spoil it for you. Read ME BEFORE YOU. Enjoy the journey and allow yourself to be swept away by this unforgettable novel.

(FROM THE PUBLISHER) SUMMARY:

ME BEFORE YOU (On-sale: December 31, 2012; Pamela Dorman Books/Viking; 978-0-670-02660-9; $27.95) is an emotionally powerful tale of an unlikely love affair between two people who represent each other’s last hope. Like Love Story and One Day, ME BEFORE YOU will remind readers that sometimes the best love stories aren’t fairy tales.  When it was published in the UK earlier this year, it became a word of mouth sensation and then a major bestseller. Its phenomenal success in the UK is only the beginning; so far, translation rights have been sold in twenty-eight countries. Readers in the U.S. will easily fall in love with the novel’s true-to-life characters and heart-breaking love story.

Louisa Clark (or Lou, as she’s known) lives a life about as big as the tiny English village she calls home. She loves being a waitress and figures she’ll eventually marry Patrick, her longtime boyfriend. When she unexpectedly loses her job, she must scramble to replace the income that her tight-knit family depends on. Out of desperation, she takes a job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor. Will used to live a life full of high-stakes deals, adventurous vacations, and beautiful women. Now, due to a tragic accident, his life is suddenly restricted beyond his control and he has lost all desire to live.

Will keeps everyone at a distance with his caustic and high-handed attitude. Unlike his family, however, Lou refuses to tiptoe around him and cater to his bad moods. Soon they become exactly what the other needs. Seeing how hopeless Will is about his future, Lou plans a series of adventures (and mis-adventures) to try to convince him that life can be worth living. In turn, Will attempts to persuade Lou that she doesn’t have to confine herself to the small existence she’s settled for so far. As they set about changing each other’s lives, what emerges is a love story that is as complex as it is beautiful.

It is impossible not to be swept up in the world that Moyes has created in ME BEFORE YOU. Though Will and Lou are the heart of the book, they are surrounded by a cast of characters who are funny, infuriating, and entirely memorable. Readers will undoubtedly recognize someone they know among the novel’s entertaining and memorable supporting cast.

JOJO MOYES is the author of The Last Letter from Your Love. Her follow-up, ME BEFORE YOU, was a Top 3 bestseller in the UK (12 weeks on the bestsellers list), a Richard and Judy Pick, a World Book Night Pick, and National Book Award nominee. She is a writer for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.  She currently lives with her husband and their three children on a farm in Essex, England.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON JOJO MOYES:  Website: www.jojomoyes.com, or follow @jojomoyes on Twitter
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CONQUERING THE ART OF RISK TAKING
Sep 6th, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

On July 16, 2012, the awesome, inspiring, bold, calculated risk-taker, QuHarrison “DJ CTZ” Terry, a senior at Nicolet High School, asked me to write about what it takes to be an effective risk taker. I’m sharing some of that post on my blog with a link to the rest on his:

What is VICTORY? In my mind, it’s taking CALCULATED RISKS. When you look at the best-case scenario and say, “Oh yeah, I can and will take this idea and make it a reality!” And then you look at the worst-case scenario and say, “I can live with that.” I am a firm believer if you want to really succeed, you need to be willing to take risks to get there, be willing to fall flat on your face and the pick yourself up. I am a firm believer that those who take calculated risks rarely fall flat on their faces because it means you’ve done a lot of homework, legwork, planning, testing, implementing. Of course, there’s always the chance that it turns out differently, and you need to be willing to live with it. Then try again, but a different way. To succeed, it takes a powerhouse effort, giving it everything you have and then fifty percent more. And courage – the most ballsy, blast-it, go-for-broke courage. This is how I like to live my life. I am a calculated risk taker.

Let me explain:

To continue reading, click here for the original post: http://lifestyle.vneckmafia.com/conquering-the-art-of-risk-taking/

 

ALICE BLISS Blog Tour Kickoff – Q & A with Laura Harrington and Giveaway
Aug 15th, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

Alice Bliss is the novel for our generation. Like Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Ann Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl are classics from past centuries, Alice Bliss is destined to be a classic of the twenty-first century.

“If a novel could have a heartbeat, Alice Bliss would have one. If an author could capture a slice of America’s soul, Laura Harrington succeeded in doing so!” Liza Wiemer

For Goodreads summary: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9816578-alice-bliss

WhoRuBlog is the first of fourteen blogs sharing interviews, reviews, guest posts, and giving away ALICE BLISS. Please see the the post below this one for the list of all participating blogs & dates.

GIVEAWAY: Enter to win a copy of Alice Bliss – US only.

 So easy –

Post a comment below – 2 entries. Tweet and/or post on Facebook – 1 entry each (let me know). Twitter follower https://twitter.com/lizawiemer or Facebook follower  http://www.facebook.com/liza.wiemer – 1 extra entry each. Follow Laura Harrington on Twitter https://twitter.com/LaurHarrington or Facebook http://www.facebook.com/LauraHarringtonLH 1 extra entry each. GIVEAWAY ENDS: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 22, 8PM CST, Winner is Christie K. (MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO WIN – LOOK AT POST BELOW THIS ONE!)

ALICE BLISS is a People Magazine “People Pick” with 4 out of 4 stars.

ALICE BLISS: “The Best Books of the Summer” Entertainment Weekly.

ALICE BLISS has been selected for the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program.

ALICE BLISS: School Library Journal‘s “Best Books of 2011” in the category “Adult Books for Teens.”

ALICE BLISS Listeners’ Top Book Picks for Books of Summer on NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook.

ALICE BLISS chosen “Book of the Week” by Stylist Magazine in the UK.

Massachusetts Library Association “Must Read” for 2012

Nominated for the 2012 Alex Award

ALICE BLISS is a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club Pick in the UK

 

Take Five Q & A with Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss

Q:  Alice faces some turbulent and passionate moments with two different young men. Although this IS NOT a love triangle story, there is still a question as to whether Alice might eventually choose John over Henry. What qualities in a young man do you think would suit Alice and do those fit John or Henry best?

A:  First of all, Liza, I have to compliment you on asking me some of the best questions I’ve ever been

Laura Harrington, award-winning playwright, MIT professor, and author of ALICE BLISS

asked about Alice Bliss. You’ve really made me think about and explore some of the deeper issues and ideas in the book.

You’ve asked a better question than simply “Henry or John,” but I think I need to explore each choice to answer which qualities might suit Alice best, if that’s even possible.

Alice has history with Henry. They really know each other on many levels: as children, as young adults; they have been present for many of the key moments in each other’s lives.  Henry is also an artist with many talents: he is a gifted pianist and also plays the clarinet.  He reads and thinks deeply, he has the makings of a fine student.  He has compassion, he has empathy, and he is honest about his own confusion, which is never easy. He is true to himself, even if that means being labeled negatively in high school.  And, to my mind, he has one of the absolute essential qualities: a sense of humor.

John is more of a mystery. And isn’t that part of the appeal?  John is two years older – more mystery, more appeal. He is drawn to Alice – why? What’s that initial spark? And can it be trusted? Is he drawn to her because of how she looks? Because she carries herself a bit differently? Because she’s a bit of an iconoclast?  (All external qualities.) We see that initial attraction deepen as they actually get to know each other and then bond over a missing parent.  And then he enlists, which on the one hand makes him honorable and very much like Matt; and on the other hand presents Alice with the potential of losing another loved one to the war.

Do we make our choices with our heads or our hearts? In the book, following the most wrenching, painful, impossible moment in her life, Alice chooses Henry. This is a strong choice and a true choice and a choice that will give her strength rather than add to her sense of vulnerability.  It is also a choice that reveals that she has a strong sense of herself. She risks true intimacy in this moment, which is so full of hope.

Q: Alice often has difficulty dealing with her mother Angie. Angie can be self-absorbed, careless, thoughtless, neglectful. Alice often is left to take care of her younger sister Ellie and it’s not easy. What is your best advice to young adults who might find themselves in a similar parent/child relationship?

A:  I think there are many young adults who are dealing with this situation; many young adults and children, too, who are coping with very adult problems and issues.  If one parent is missing, the remaining parent often needs to lean on the oldest child, whether the parent is missing due to illness, divorce, military deployment, or any other reason. My best advice is this – reach out to the other people around you for solace or support or help with a task or a job.  That list that Matt asks Alice to make with him before he leaves – who can you call on if you need someone – we all need a list like that.  It’s important to remember when you feel yourself hesitant to ask for help that most people like to be asked, most people want to help.

Q: What is one important life lesson you’ve learned that could be helpful for other young adults? Please explain.

A: My dad didn’t give me an actual compass, the way Matt does. But he sure gave me an internal compass.  What continues to amaze me is that he did it almost entirely without words, purely by example.  The life lesson is this: When I pay attention to that compass – you could call it your conscience or your inner voice or your deeper sense of knowing – I am never led astray.  When I ignore it, when I don’t listen to the small voice inside of me, I always regret it.  This is true in my personal and my professional life. 

Q:  You have fantastic minor characters. One in particular is Mrs. Piantowski, a woman with eight kids who bakes bread for Alice’s grandma’s café. What is it about Mrs. Piantowski that makes her have a minor, yet important role in Alice’s personal growth?

A:  I vividly remember getting a glimpse into other ways of living when I was a kid. I had one friend whose family was way outside of our small town norm. The father was a French horn player in the Symphony, which meant that he was around during the daytime, unlike every other father. And he practiced every day. Hearing that beautiful haunting horn was far beyond my usual experience.  There were six kids, I think, they all played an instrument and they dressed a little differently.  They ate food that seemed exotic to me; they seemed freer.  We had tremendous freedom to play at their house. Not so many rules. 

For Alice, Mrs. Piantowski is mysterious and different; different kind of house, family organization, rules. And she seems to be a different kind of mother. Plus, she’s a  baker! A lover of bread. The staff of life. What could be more essential, more nurturing than that? I think Alice is hungry for some of the more traditional nurturing you can get from your mom, at the same time she is pulling away from or rejecting those needs in herself that are now starting to feel childish. But it’s safe to observe those things, to experience those hungers at Mrs. Piantowski’s.  And I think holding baby Inga – both when she picks up bread – and then later in the book, when there’s a moment that is truly “full circle” – is a very special gift of comfort for Alice.

Q:  Gardening is an important part of Alice Bliss. What is it about gardening that you decided to make it an important metaphor and theme of the novel?

A:  I wrote Alice Bliss the year after my father died and my love and grief for my dad inform every page.  That’s my father’s garden in the book, his apple trees, his grape arbor. I hate to admit it, but I worked beside him grudgingly.  When I was Alice’s age, I had little patience for gardening or canning. or my father’s measured, meticulous way of going about every task. But the lessons I learned at his side – which were largely unspoken – continue to be a daily part of my life. 

Q:  Alice doesn’t seem to care what other people think about her, especially when it comes to appearance, activities, friends. But it’s not because she’s defiant. It’s because she possesses confidence in herself. She embraces her individuality. This is so contrary to a lot of young adults who want desperately to fit in. What can others learn from Alice about embracing individuality?

A:  What a brilliant question – because it is THE question most of us struggle with. Can I be my true self even if it means not fitting in?  And it’s a compelling question for all ages, I believe, as you can be faced with this issue at any point in your life.  I think I can answer your question about Alice embracing her individuality best by talking about where her sense of identity comes from.  If your sense of identity comes solely from your peers and your relationships at school, it can make you terribly vulnerable.  And it is tempting to jettison or undervalue the other relationships in your life when peers become paramount.  But it’s those other relationships and those other activities – inside and outside of the family – that allow Alice to feel free to be who she is.  In writing the book, I was trying to give Alice the tools to survive the losses that she’s faced with. Those tools are: connection to family, including extended family (Gram and Uncle Eddie), connection to her community (working at The Bird Sister’s Café, knowing Mrs. Minty, getting to know Mrs. Piantowski, the baker), connection at school (even though she’s unraveling academically and her best friend abandons her, she dares to try something new – track – and connects to a teammate and a coach).  But this question has made me realize that those tools will help Alice meet the challenges she is faced with AND help her be who she truly is. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON LAURA HARRINGTON: 

Laura Harrington is an award-winning playwright, lyricist, and MIT professor. Her debut novel, ALICE BLISS, was published by Pamela Dorman Books, Viking/Penguin.

http://www.lauraharringtonbooks.com/

https://twitter.com/LaurHarrington

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2101135.Laura_Harrington

http://www.facebook.com/LauraHarringtonLH

 

The Final Four By Paul Volponi
Mar 28th, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

THE FINAL FOUR, by Paul Volponi

Ah, March Madness- the NCAA Basketball Tournament that has basketball fans and university graduates following their alma maters to see what will happen with their teams. Now we’re down to the FINAL FOUR – Kansas, Ohio State / Kentucky, Louisville http://www.ncaa.com/interactive-bracket/basketball-men/d1/2012

I’m a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison – born a Badger fan, will live a long life, God willing, as a Badger fan. The truth is that I only attended one UW-Madison basketball game (football’s my sport), and that was many years ago. But still, if my “team” were in the tournament, I would most likely get updates and feel the familiar school spirit. No matter how many years it’s been since graduation, school spirit gets in your blood.

THE FINAL FOUR by YA award-winning author, Paul Volponi is a must read for anyone who wants to get a front row view of what life might be like for college basketball players who make it into the NCAA Final Four. Paul did an incredible job describing the controversy connected to what players are allowed to receive (or not receive) as perks for their “labor” while universities and the NCAA reap in millions and millions of dollars from the tournament. Trust me, it’s an eye-opener!

Side note: Young adult athletes who will be playing any NCAA sport – this novel is important for you and your parents to read. With lots of intense action and description, it’s a fast read and cautionary glimpse into college sports.

Here is my review of THE FINAL FOUR as posted to Goodreads and Amazon:

For those who follow me on Twitter and Goodreads, it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Paul Volponi’s. I became intrigued by his work when RESPONSE received the Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Honor in 2010. After that, I devoured his novels and dubbed Paul the King of Urban YA Fiction.

THE FINAL FOUR is one of Paul’s finest novels. Volponi writes about March Madness, the time when the best college basketball teams play for the NCAA Championship. It’s huge money, huge exposer, huge pressure. Volponi tells the story of two teams battling in the Final Four through the eyes of four players. Interspersed are newspaper and TV interviews, commentary. One of the characters is Michael Jordan. Imagine what it must be like to love basketball, be named after one of the best players to ever play in the NBA, and always having to deal with being compared to your namesake: THE Michael Jordan. Another character is Malcolm McBride, a young man who’a nickname is “One and Done” because he’s only playing one year of college ball until he’s eligible to enter the NBA draft. Malcolm’s outlook on life has definitely been shaped by poverty and the horrible experiences that have plagued his life. Crispin Rice is a character I really enjoyed, a leader for sure. But his life isn’t as storybook as the media makes it out to be. My favorite character is Roco Bacic who survived some horrific experiences in Croatia to come to the US and fulfill his dream of playing basketball. Some of his story is told through a personal journal that captures unforgettable moments of terror.
The reader becomes immersed in the players’ lives on and off the basketball court. The novel is rife with raw emotion, tragedy, and triumph.
There were several passages where I shook my head in awe. Even if you rarely on never read realistic fiction, THE FINAL FOUR should be your first. Get swept away in March Madness.
I highly recommend this novel for young men and women – seventh grade and up – who are reluctant readers. THE FINAL FOUR may very well be just the novel to inspire a love for reading.

To learn more about Paul Volponi and his other novels, visit his website at: http://www.paulvolponibooks.com/

Book Club Questions for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
Feb 9th, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

Book Club Questions for John Green’s

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is the first novel that our Wisconsin YA Bloggers/Authors/Educators/Librarians group chose to read for our book club. (We definitely need an official name!) We’ll be meeting this coming Sunday and I can’t wait to discuss it with these incredible women. I’ll wait to post my review, though I will say that I finished the novel in one night, so that gives readers a clue on just how amazing I found TFiOS. I started thinking about different aspects of the novel, which made me curious about what our book club members thought about a particular character, concept, scene. So, I decided to put a SHORT list of questions together and share them on WhoRuBlog. (I am sure there are other study guides. If I run across them, I will link them at the bottom.)

1. John Green has numerous characters with various relationships/reactions to cancer. What did you like/dislike about these characters? How would you describe their personalities? How do you identify with them? Do they remind you of people you know? • Hazel –

• Hazel’s mother –

• Hazel’s father –

• Hazel’s friend Kaitlyn –

• Augustus –

•Augustus’s mother –

• Augustus’s father –

• Augustus’s half-sisters (spouses, children) –

• Support Group Patrick –

• Isaac –

• Isaac’s girlfriend Monica –

• Peter Van Houten –

• Lidewj –

• Dr. Maria –

2. If you could only choose one scene/moment/dialogue that had the most impact on you, which one would it be and why? And don’t say the entire novel – we know!

3. How (if at all) has TFiOS changed your perspective of cancer or those who are living with it?

4. It was important to Augustus that his actions/existence would leave a mark on this world. How does he do that? How do you do that?

5. Hazel uses the word “hamartia” or “tragic flaw” to describe Augustus when he stuck a cigarette between his lips and it also describes Peter Van Houten and his drinking. The differences between these two are night and day – and a brilliant metaphor. What was your perspective/reaction?

Feel free to add your own questions or comments by clicking the “comments” button below. Also, if you find a link for other study guides, feel free to add it. Thanks.

ADDED February 19:

A huge perk of getting the CD version of TFiOS is the incredible seven bonus videos on DVD narrated by John Green. He explains the name choices, the history of how the book came to be, the background of The Hectic Glow etc. We watched them in our book club and I think we all really enjoyed them. It also impacted our discussion, so that was definitely a positive!

Have questions about TFiOS? Check out:  OnlyifyoufinishedTFiOS.tumblr.com (The password is the last word in the acknowledgments) – Please don’t go to this website unless you have finished the novel!

Also for book club, I brought a chicken salad that was inspired by the novel. Though chicken salad isn’t specifically mentioned, food from Holland is included, and this definitely is similar to chicken salads I found on the net for recipes from Holland. This recipe was given to me by my friend, Sarah Kealy. Enjoy.

Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked and diced boneless skinless chicken

1 cup celery

1 cup chopped parsley

1 cup toasted pecans

3 apples peeled and diced

Dressing:

2 Tbs OJ

4 teas Dijon Mustard

salt and pepper to taste

1 teas honey

2 Tbs lemon juice

1/4 cup canola oil

Added 12-17-2012

Make the DRAGON CARROT RISOTTO:

Hazel and Gus eat dragon carrot risotto. pg. 165

Recipe posted here:

http://wp.me/PAaOH-pH

Dragon carrots are PURPLE. They’re not too hard to find, but call around first. I got in touch with an organic farm. For more details from our Novel Cuisine Luncheon check here: http://www.whorublog.com/?p=1570

Coping with Finals – Papers & Exams
Dec 5th, 2011 by Liza Wiemer

Are you slammed with writing papers and studying for exams? Freaking out and feeling paralyzed on how to get through this intense time? Most likely, there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to get all the work done. Perhaps you procrastinated and now it feels like you’re living in HELL. Been there. Done that. Hopefully, these tips will be helpful.

1. Start with the basics. If you haven’t done so already, write out the date and time for the exams and when the papers are due.

2. Get organized. Know what you need in order to study or write. Need to go to the library and check out books? Research on the net? Borrow notes from a classmate? Actually read the material? (If you haven’t done this, obviously you know you’re in a rough spot and most likely can’t make up a quarter or semesters’ worth of reading. Do your best. Read the first three paragraphs of each chapter section and skim until you reach the last three paragraphs. Read those. In no way am I advocating this as a method of learning – but if you’re in crisis mode, it’s a decent solution.)

3. Block out time to work on the papers and study for the exams, then stick with the schedule. Isolate yourself if you need to and whatever you do, make a promise to yourself that you’ll avoid all social networking during that time. Social networking has a way of being a total time sucker! Don’t fall into the trap.

4. Know your teacher/TA/professors’ office hours. Take advantage of any study sessions they may have. If you have questions or know that you don’t understand something, don’t wait to get help. If you’re writing a paper and you’re not sure you’re on target, BRING IT TO YOUR PROF and ask her to look at it and give you direction. This shows you care and are concerned, so don’t worry about looking stupid or that you’ll feel foolish. If necessary, explain to your prof what’s going on and see if you can get an extension. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. And if you don’t get it, at least you asked.

5. Load up on protein. Protein prevents sugar highs and lows so it’ll help sustain you. Keep a few of your favorite munchies and caffeinated drinks and water with you.

6. Do your own work.

7. Avoid taking someone else’s prescription drug to enhance your ability to concentrate or focus. You might believe that you can do it once or justify it in order to get through this difficult time, but everyone’s body reacts differently to meds, and like any drug there can be serious ramifications. Or maybe not. But is it worth the risk? Once tempted who’s to say you won’t be tempted again? Be respectful of yourself and your body. Look at the big picture. Ask yourself: A year from now, five years from now how important was this?

8. Destroy your unrealistic expectations. Just flush the idea of perfection right down the toilet. Who the heck is ever perfect? Do your best in the moment based on the circumstances you’re facing. Teachers/professors can and do overburden their students. They don’t have a clue what others have assigned. Live with doing your best in the here and now. Don’t ask more of yourself. It’s totally unreasonable. Don’t berate yourself for any reason. Even if you procrastinated, move on. Take hold of the here and now and do what it takes so that you can be satisfied that you took charge in the moment. Negative self-talk is a huge waste of time and destructive. Stop. STOP!

9. Don’t take a “screw-it” attitude. If you’re thinking that you’ve already screwed it up, so why try, you’ll only hurt yourself. Self-destruction isn’t pretty. Seriously, just do something positive with the assignment. Even if you know that you could have done better, accept what you ARE doing as the best in the moment. And if you’re in crisis, even if it’s of your own making, talk to your teacher/TA/professor. Not everyone has a heart of gold and will cut you slack. But go in with a clear plan. Show that you have given it some serious thought and be reasonable. I’m hopeful that these educators will want to see you succeed.

10. Many need to pull all-nighters. If you can, snatch a twenty to thirty minute snooze during the day. SET YOUR ALARM. Good luck. And when it’s all over, do something nice for yourself. ☺

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