Underappreciated books

I think we all have one-- or maybe a few-- of those books that we love and cherish but that no one else has ever heard of. Books that are absolutely wonderful, but somehow managed to slip by nearly unnoticed by the reading world after publication. They're the books that are the NYT bestsellers and Printz medalists of our hearts, while in reality, they're a bit unloved as they sit dusty and lonesome upon book store shelves.

It's a bit sad, really, because a lot of the time, the NYT bestsellers aren't even the most quality books. Sometimes, the books that have have the least hullabaloo surrounding them are the best.

I started off this post intending to only showcase one, but I'm weak and I can't do it.

Take three instead:

1. Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge (my review). I really think this is a modern children's classic. It's not at all as popular as it should be.

2. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris. I love Gerald Morris, but I don't think many people know about his books. But what's not to like about King Arthur retellings full of swashbuckling humor to boot?

3. The Last of the Really Great Whangoodles by Julie Andrews Edward: I hold my love for this book in the same compartment of my heart that's reserved for the Chronicles of Narnia. It's a childhood favorite of mine.

I wanted to add on I Capture the Castle as well, but I think people have heard about it since it has a movie and all. NOT ENOUGH, THOUGH.

Also, I still hold that Diana Wynne Jones is the most underappreciated writer ever. Seriously, she's like the queen of children's fantasy, yet she doesn't get half the love she deserves for her brilliance.

Ahem. If I don't stop naming books now, I won't ever.

What's your favorite "unknown" book? Let's give our underappreciated books some love!


Review: Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak

I haven't posted much in the last week, sigh. But it's about time I did a book review.

Book Summary:

Cameron and Ruben Wolfe, are brothers from a family clinging to the ragged edge of the working class. Initially to make some money, the boys hook up with a sleazy fight promoter who sees something marketable, audience-pleasing in the untrained brothers’ vulnerability.

So they hide the boxing from their long-suffering mother. And Cameron hides what's going on in his head from the girls who come to the matches, the girls he wishes he could reach.

But the Wolfes soon find that they’re fighting for more than tips and pay-off money. It becomes for them a fight for identity, for dignity, and for each other.

The question is, in a fight like that, who makes it out of the ring intact?

My Opinion:

"She smiles pretty, and in that split second, I forget. I forget about Perry Cole and all those future punches. It makes me wonder, Do we spend most of our days trying to remember or forget things? Do we spend most of our time running toward or away from our lives? I don't know."

So wonders Cameron Wolfe, the big-hearted, tender protagonist of Fighting Ruben Wolfe. Passages like the one above--full of a quiet sort of wisdom, almost a ache to it--aren't uncommon in this book. They're plentiful, since in only 200 pages or so, Markus Zusak crafts a heartwarming, coming-of-age story full of beauty and uncanny insight. It' not surprising, given that this is the same author who wrote the magnificent The Book Thief and contemporary must-read I am The Messenger.

Yeah, that Zusak.

I haven't gone on a fangirl spiel about Zusak on this blog for a while, so some of you might not know that I'm, well, an obsessive fangirl about his works, to put it lightly. I've been trying to track down a reasonably priced Fighting Ruben Wolfe for the longest time, and last week, I finally managed to snatch up a cheap copy on Amazon.

It arrived yesterday.

I devoured it instead of breakfast.

This is the second book I've read about Cameron Wolfe, having caved and read Getting the Girl, the sequel, a while back. It doesn't really matter though, since even though this novel is part of a 3-book series, each book is standalone.

I loved it.

I love it because it's like an early sneak-peak of Zusak. If you start with the Cam books, move to I am the Messenger, and finish at The Book Thief, you can see a clear progression. The prose becomes more refined. The subject topic, more serious. The books, longer.

Still, you get the trademark Zusak: the swaggering sentence fragments, the standalone single-sentence paragraphs falling in quick succession down a page, the wonderful writing that steals your breath away, the characters that are so real that you can almost hear their hearts beating in between the pages.

I'm quite convinced that the Wolfe family are real people. Cameron, the main character, has a voice that's memorable. He's the boy who cares too much about everybody, who's scrawny and a little bit like a loser, who yearns for a girl to notice him, who's afraid, but who'll fight for anything, his heart is so big. Ruben is his brother--hungry, wolfish, trying to prove something. Then there's his tired mother, his out-of-work father, older siblings Sarah and Steve, and a house full of unpaid bills and encroaching despair.

When the brothers get their chance at money and a bit of glory by fighting in underground boxing ring, they seize the day. But really, this book isn't just about throwing punches, since all the action is secondary to the character growth. The brothers earn themselves a bit of self-respect, they mature, and their sibling relationship--it just expands, till you can feel the love the two brothers have for each other, till you can feel the love the whole Wolfe family has for each other. The Wolfe brothers' relationship really comes out in the passages at the end of every chapter--short conversations the brothers have before they fall asleep.

Then, there's the prose. When it's Zusak, you can expect to be blown away. Here's one of the many passages that made me stop reading so I could just sit and take in:

"We run together in track pants and old football jerseys and the city is awake and smoky-cold and our heartbeats jangle through the streets. We're alive. Our footsteps are folded neatly, one after the other. Rube's curly hair collides with sunlight. The light steps at us between the buildings. The train line is fresh and sweet and the grass in Belmore Park has the echoes of dew still on it. Our hands are cold. Our veins are warm. Our throats suck in the winter breath of the city, and I imagine people still in bed, dreaming. To me it, feels good. Good city. Good world, with two wolves running through it, looking of the fresh meat of their lives. Chasing it. Chasing hard even though they fear it. They run anyway."

The hair colliding with sunlight part...that just killed me. It really did.

So, what I've been meaning to say as I've bumbled around in this review, throwing words out left and right, is that I wish this book was readily available in every bookstore. It's beautifully written, and it's one of those books that YA readers need more of. It's a contemporary book with an original plot (nope, no dead characters here) with characters and conflicts that are real.

I just plain wish this book was easier to get a hold of.

If you're a dedicated Zusak fan, I'd definitely recommend that you do the best you can to get a hold of this, short of murder. If you're just a reader who is hungering for a lovely contemporary read, take a look around and see if you can't snatch up a copy somehow.

Rating: 9/10. Don't be scared off by the whole boxing premise. I have zero interest in boxing but I still loved this book.


Waiting on Wednesday

This week's pick: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads):

It's been three years since the devastating accident ... three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

I thought If I Stay (review) was an absolutely beautiful book--bittersweet and thoughtful, and full of lovely characters and well-written prose. It was definitely one of my favorites from 2009 releases.

So of course, I'm extremely excited about Where She Went. This is one of the rare occasions I've come across where a contemporary book that fits into this YA niche of walking the line between commercial and literary has come out with a sequel. I'm particularly curious to see what Adam's voice will be like.

The only thing I don't like is the cover. Sure, it's pretty, but I much prefer the original If I Stay design--this book looks like it's trying to attract the readers of something like Gossip Girl, when really it should be aiming for the readers of Looking for Alaska or Jellicoe Road.

Release Date: April 5th 2011
Goodreads page


I'm okay with YA protagonists that are over 18 years old. Actually, I'd like to have more of that, please.

What's got me thinking:*

Lately, I've been encountering a lot of discussions on whether college age protagonists in young adult books are allowed, or if you can even call it a young adult book if the main character doesn't fall into the Holy YA Age Range of 12-18 years old. Among the publishing community, the general consensus seems to be that protagonists out of high school are a tough sell. The comments of "but college students don't read, so there's no market for it" and "teens don't relate to protagonists that are are college aged" are always thrown in there somewhere during the discussion, which generally results in everyone agreeing and deciding to lower their main character's age to 18 or under.

As a teen reader, I'm going, what? STOP THAT.

On Age & Reading Habits

I'm sixteen, in case you're wondering.

That doesn't stop me from wanting to read about characters older than 18. I'd sure as heck love to go into the Young Adult section and pick up a book about a college freshman adjusting to their new life of freedom, stumbling around a huge campus, fighting with their roomate, and groaning about cafeteria food and being a poor student. I'd sure as heck love to read a book about a protagonist that sets off on an adventure after they graduate from high school, or who's just taken up training as a cop or joined the army or taken a job you can't do while still in school. I'd love it to bits if anyone wrote a book about a college junior's experience as a study abroad student.

I'd lap that stuff right up. Mostly importantly, I'd buy it if I saw it in the Young Adult section.

I'm an older teen. For the most part, in real life, I have no stomach for the heartaches of a 12-year-old, and I don't think I can completely grasp (I can empathize with, sure) the troubles a 50-year-old might be facing, since I haven't experienced it myself. But that doesn't stop me from relating to and being interested in fiction featuring 12-year-old protagonists, 16-year-old protagonists, and 50-year-old protagonists. It explains why the odd teen (me) or adult can't be wrenched away from the middle grade section, while boys my age have been reading fiction about 30-year-old fantasy heroes since they were 13.

Age doesn't matter as much as you'd think.

Maybe it does in real life, but it doesn't in fiction.

This is especially true since 99.9% of young adult books are being written by adults. There's a certain distance there, so that for the most part, I couldn't differentiate between a YA 15-year-old and a 18-year-old protagonist in terms of maturity and the conflicts they face if my life depended upon it. It's all pretty flexible in YA, when it comes to a few years. **

From what I've observed, children and teen readers tend to read up. As a 5th grader, I was curious to find out what middle school was like, and I sated some of that curiosity by reading a bunch of books where the protagonists were 13. I didn't have a problem at all relating to these older main characters. By middle school, I was reading books with high school protagonists, wondering if that's what it'd really be like once I got there.

Now that I'm a high school senior, I'm left either with older teen characters or adult characters. There's no bridge in between though. Just a huge gorge, and publishers saying, "JUMP ALREADY." I rarely find a book featuring a college freshman or a 20-year-old. In fact, I can't even think of one I've read lately off the top of my head.

But I'm still curious. I'd like to know what I'm in for. I think most people my age would like to know. What college is like, what renting your first apartment is like, what starting your career is like.

Most importantly, I think they'd read about it. Perhaps even prefer it over the tales of a high school freshman, or maybe even over the tales of characters their current age. It's a possibility. Maybe that explains why the college students I do know tend to read adult fiction. They're looking out for what's next for them.

New Adult

I feel like I can't talk about older protagonists without mentioning New Adult. I first heard of New Adult when St. Martin put on it's "New Adult" Submissions Contest in November 2009, and the resulting buzz crackled through the internet until it even reached me. For those of you who haven't heard of New Adult, I think of it as a more sharply defined categorization for books that have crossover appeal (books that can be sold and marketed as both YA and adult fiction) and it seems to have become viable in the last few years due to the fact that YA has become such a popular genre.

St Martin's described it as this:

"...[n]ew, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult.”
And from reading Kristan Hoffman's article in Guide to Literary Agents, New Adult will likely feature protagonists from 18-26 years old. As she says:

"But the transition from teen to adult doesn’t happen overnight either. There’s a period of time where adulthood feels like a new pair of shoes. The expectations of independence and self-sufficiency are still new, still being broken in. New Adults are the people who have just begun to walk in those shoes; New Adult fiction is about their blisters and aches."

New Adult is supposed to be geared towards older teens, college kids, and adults who are well, new to adulthood.

And I'm going: YES YES YES.

I'd like some of that.

Where's the barricade?

But I'm wondering, why aren't there any books out there already where protagonists are older than 18? Why does this have to be a new thing? Why can't I just stroll into the bookstore right now and pick up Minnie's College Adventures, Book One?

I'm not saying there aren't books like that out there. There are crossovers and college books, scattered around somewhere, I'm sure, but I don't think there's a sizable amount.

The problem is that they're not easily accessible in the young adult section. I think they should be. At least part of it, I think , is due to this misconception that I admit I'm having trouble wrapping my head around as I skim through all the blogs and threads and articles I've been reading about this age dilemma. But this is what I've gathered: YA writers who are worried about writing about older protagonists seem to point the fingers at publishers and agents who either call for a protagonist's age to be lowered or term a book with a older main character a "tough sell." Then publishers and bookstores just go on and point the fingers at readers, saying there isn't a market.

I think there is one. I think of the defining characteristic of young adult fiction as coming-of-age. I think a lot of people are coming-of-age during college or even when they're 25, and therefore it can still be YA, if an author decides that's what the character is going to be going through. What's more, I want those books in YA.

Fellow teens and young adult readers, would you be interested in fiction about college aged protagonists? Would you buy books featuring main characters in the so-called dead zone of 18-26 years old? Do you think there's a need for more of it, or are you content with what's already out there?

Maybe I'm just weird in craving older protagonists appearing on Young Adult shelves, but I'm hoping not.

*I'm hoping a post of this nature hasn't been written already, as I've been out of the loop for a bit.
**In real life, no. Those little freshman squirts are confused and lost and hopeless. Seniors know what they're doing, at least to some extent. Actually... on second thought, perhaps yes. I think I'm pretty much the same as I was a few years ago. I guess it's a bit of both.


Reorganizing my bookshelves (a tale told gif-style)

So today I finally gathered up my courage and set about trying to tidy my SO HORRENDOUSLY MESSY EVEN A TROLL WOULD BE GROSSED OUT BY IT slightly messy bedroom.

At first I was like:

No, why am I doing this? Please don't make me.

And then I became resigned to it. I had to buckle down and woman up and today was the day I was going to pick up my clothes, just like a mature person of sixteen should.

About an hour in, I was exhausted. Yep, you heard me right, moving featherweight papers about is exhausting.


I felt like giving up, collapsing on the couch, and nibbling on some chocolate.


But I didn't. Tree-fulls of paper were disposed off. Candy wrappers went kapoof. Dirty mugs were returned to the kitchen sink.

My room is now gloriously beautiful. There's light. There's air. There's room.




That's right.

But anyways, gif* spamming aside, I just really wanted to share the results I got, book-wise, since I managed to do some reorganizing while cleaning.

I still have my main three bookshelves in my closet, but I'm donating a huge stack of books ( learn how to write cursive! & star wars, the novels! types), which freed up some prime real estate space.**

Here's what it looks like:

The right side of the shelf is full of my "favorite books/ books I need at a fingertips' reach." Since I'm such a changeable person, I intend it to be a rotating sort of thing. For instance, I'm about to chuck Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close's butt right outta there. I wish I could find my copy of I Capture the Castle--the shelf looks wrong without it. But anyhow, close up:

I doubt you guys can read the titles, so here they are from left to right:

1. Beloved by Toni Morrison
2. Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge (placeholder until I can find Fly By Night for this spot.)
3. The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
4. Howl's Moving Castle By Diana Wynne Jones
5. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
6. 3 Volumes of the literary magazine, Poetry.
7. White Shroud by Allen Ginsberg
8. Grimm's Fairy Tales
7. Good Poems Edited by Garrison Kellior
8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
11. Looking for Alaska by John Green
12. Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
13. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
14. Atonement by Ian McEwan
15. Cracked Up to Be Courtney Summers
16. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
17. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
18. Hold Still by Nina LaCour
19. Paper Towns by John Green
20. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
21. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
22. The Journals of Sylvia Plath
23. Margaret Atwood Selected Poems
24. The Blind Assasain by Margaret Atwood
25. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
26. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Now for the ones stacked on top
27. The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones
28. Making Your Own Days Kenneth Koch
29. Poem a Day
30. Margaret Atwood Selected Poems II
31. The Magic Thief
32. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews
33. I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
34. Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce
35. Harry Potter
36. My Poetry Journal

Oh dear god, I didn't realize there were quite that many books in that shelf. I bothered typing it out though, because I'd basically recommend each book I listed, for different reasons. Some are childhood favorites, some are new favorites, some are YA books with a particular voice or style that I want to look at more closely, and some are just the best books I've ever read in my life.

Anyways, the left side consists of books that are on my TBR pile, books that I've been meaning to re-read or go back to and ponder for a great length of time, and books that I need to review. Basically, my "get started on it" pile.

There's far too many books on there for me to list, but towards the right, there's a whole lot of Hemingway, Woolf, Atwood, Morrison, and Faulkner. To the left is more of Young Adult reads.

Anyhow, hope you enjoyed!

What's the state of your bookshelves and to be read piles at the moment?

Edited to add: Of course, AFTER I publish the post and write out all those titles, I realize you can click on the picture and see all the titles perfectly well. LOL.

Anyhow, I'll leave you guys with this. I swear it's the most adorable thing I've seen in my whole existence.


*I would credit the gifs, but I plucked all of these out of tumblr where they weren't credited, so I don't know who made them. BUT THANK YOU for making livening up this post, nameless gif-makers!
**I call it prime space because it's the shelf near to my computer, so if I really wanted to, I could just not get up from my chair ever and lean over with no effort whatsover to *** pick up a book to read anytime.
***Boy, you really get a sense of how hopelessly lazy and messy I can be in this post, don't you? hahahahahaha.


my january 5th resolutions

I'll admit the last bit of 2010 slipped past me unnoticed as I braved the torturous trial of college apps reveled in wonderland.

But now that I have my wits about me, I feel I ought to do some resolutions. Late ones, of course, but self-improvement is always a good thing to think about.

Before I start my own, I'd like to share Virginia Woolf's resolutions, which I find quite fascinating:

January 2, 1931:
Here are my resolutions for the next 3 months; the next lap of the year.
To have none. Not to be tied.
To be free & kindly with myself, not goading it to parties: to sit rather privately reading in the studio.
To make a good job of The Waves.
To stop irritation by the assurance that nothing is worth irritation [referring to Nelly].
Sometimes to read, sometimes not to read.
To go out yes—but stay at home in spite of being asked.
As for clothes, to buy good ones.

January 4, 1936:
To read as few weekly papers…as possible [until The Years is finished];
to fill my brain with remote books & habits;
altogether to be as fundamental & as little superficial, to be as physical & as little apprehensive, as possible.

Now, for my own:


  • to blog nearly daily and to let my thoughts roam & gallivant & grow across this little nook of the internet like mold as much as possible. This is how I will do it: since I can't seem to fall asleep right away anymore, I will think of topics right before I drift off to dreamland, and write a post the next day.
  • to catch up on all the review copies I have lying around, and to be more timely in the future with my dealings with authors and publicists
  • to enact a new meme that I had an idea for yesterday, where I'll share a poem I've read that I like once a week or once every two weeks and comment on it.
  • to strive to make sure I have a perfect balance of somewhat silly posts and more serious, contemplative posts.
  • to comment more on other blogs, and to properly thank the lovely people who do comment on mine.
  • to once and for all settle on a header I like.

And I figure I need to get some personal resolutions down in permanent ink. So here's mine:


  • to keep a dream journal regularly
  • to walk the dogs every day
  • to turn away from less productive pursuits, i.e. watching tv and movies and browsing other nodes of the internet where I'm only an inactive observer. Instead, I should read, read, read and blog, blog, blog. If I can find a way to make the unproductive productive (i.e. watch tv for the purpose of learning how to screenwrite, then that would be lovely.)
  • to be altogether more kindly to the people in my life
  • to consider each word I say with great care
  • to finish another practice novel with all the trimmings: many, many drafts, many revisions, many beta runs, and much agonizing
  • write everyday: whether it be through blogging, school and scholarship essays, dream journal, new novel, poetry, short story, or free writes
  • to strive to fill my mind with new knowledge ; to go the library and rent out tomes of books so that I will be someday able to converse intelligently about Dadaism and Plato and music and to by the end of the year, know twice as much as I know now.
  • to be more confident
  • to care less about things that don't matter and to care more about things that do

  • to not let it get in my way that many people have more resources and advantages than I do in terms of their education, and to instead create my own opportunities to learn and grow. But to also be thankful and keep in mind that I'm lucky to have the resources and advantages I do, since some people don't.
  • to once and for all clean up my careless commas, ponder my usage of dashes, and to fix my horrendously awful use of semicolons, which I'm sure you've all had to suffer through.

And that's about it, I think.

What are some of your resolutions?


hypothetical bookish situation #4: if j.k. rowling wrote a harry potter prequel

So I reread the whole Harry Potter series last week (nope, I don't have a life. MY LIFE IS HARRY POTTER), and realized that the last HP movie would be coming out this year. HP is coming to an end in 2011.


But I'm foolishly hopeful an optimist when it comes to J.K. Rowling's intentions. Filled with fizzy, floaty optimism and buoyant thoughts of Harry Potter, I start daydreaming.

And then I think...

What if she wrote a Harry Potter prequel? (Think le Dumbledore and le Grindewald escapades. Or le James and Lily Potter escapades at le Hogwarts. Yes.)

*le gasp*

my face at the thought of this happening for real:


Just think, in addition to these:


How about:

1. James Potter and the Marauder's Map

James Potter has just begun his second year at the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and is happy to be back with the friends he made as a first-year: fellow Gryffindors Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew.

He's ready to get back to trouble-making, face off with greasy rival Severus Snape with a jinx or two, and win over green-eyed Lily Evans.

But once at Hogwarts, James discovers that Remus is a werewolf. In the wizarding world, werewolves aren't good news...but James , Sirius, and Peter are determined to help their friend as much as possible.

It's going to take all of the Marauders' cleverness and effort to make this work. Perhaps becoming an Animagi will help. Perhaps creating an all-knowing map of Hogwarts will solve all their problems and allow the Marauders to bend more rules than ever...that is, if they don't get caught.

2. Albus Dumbledore and the Elder Wand

Albus Dumbledore has always been gifted and destined for greatness. He's just finished his final year at Hogwarts with top marks and is set to embark on a Grand Tour of the world with his best friend Elphias Doge.

But tragedy soon strikes: his emotionally-scarred sister Ariana, who can't control her magic, accidentally kills his mother. Now head of the family, Albus is forced to return to Godric's Hollow, where all his ambitions and skills are going to waste as he's left to the mind-numbing task of taking care of Ariana.

But then he meets Gellert Grindelwald. Brilliant Gellert, whose charisma and talent immediately attract Albus. Soon, the two are inseparable, and together, they concoct plans that will make them the most powerful wizards in history and put Muggles in their place--if only they can find the long-lost Deathly Hallows...

And now I'm thinking: a world with these books in them would be a better world.


  • the world would be full of sunshine and unicorns and HOPE.

  • Rowling would make several more truckloads of money from rabid fans

  • people like me would once again have a purpose in life

  • more movies! more midnight release parties! more books for my Harry Potter collection!

  • I think I would cry from happiness. Basically.

Now, if we could just perform inception on J.K. Rowling's mind...

*just in case there's any confusion: the book summaries and covers are fakes by me. No copyright infringement intended. The faux covers are modeled off of the adult HP covers.