Wednesday, June 26, 2013

cover redesign: fixing delilah by sarah ockler

For this week's Cover Redesign, I'm sharing one that I actually created while putting together Bittersweet's redesign from last week - a redesign for Sarah Ockler's Fixing Delilah. I was planning to do a total cover overhaul of Ockler's complete collection to date much like Sarah Dessen's books were completely redesigned last year. However, I hadn't read The Book of Broken Hearts yet (unfortunately), and the Twenty Boy Summer cover just didn't jive with the others... so maybe I'll release those later when I finally get around to working on them a bit more. But rather than leaving this beaut chillin' on my computer like a villain, I thought I'd bring it along for some sunlight today. Because, as it turns out, Wednesday is cover redesign day.
Fixing Delilah is largely about the family and, as it turns out, the physical belonging of Delilah's family in Delilah Hannaford's grandparents' home, which is representative of the physicality of many relationships we have. So that's what I focused on here, specifically using an image that I could picture as her grandparents' house in the book - old and super picturesque. You can compare it to the original cover below. Tell me what you think, and thanks for stopping by!

Did you like what you saw here? Or maybe you didn't. Let me know below! If you have any books that you'd like to see a redesign for, you can also post suggestions. Classics, history, fiction... you name it. I'd be more than willing to accommodate! ;)

'Til next time!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

my book club + book review: the art of hearing heartbeats by jan-philipp sendker

Title:  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Author:  Jan-Philipp Sendker
Publisher:  Other Press (2012)

Synopsis: A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was the first book of a brand spankin' new book club I started with some of my friends earlier this summer (or spring if you are formal about summer starting four days ago). First, let me tell you about my book club. Or, more accurately, let me show you the banner of our online discussion group with our name...

Bahaha! Yes, we are now and forever more "The Bookleggers." Cute and campy, right? We'd like to think so. Anyway, let me get on with this review.

When our book club picked The Art of Hearing Heartbeats to read, I didn't know anything about it besides the fact that it was a love story. I'm glad to see I'm so selective. Fortunately, it turned out to be really good, jam-packed with these nuggets of wisdom that just blew my mind and really made me think. And as it turns out, I really enjoyed it!

The plot and themes presented in the book were really the nuggets of gold in Hearing Heartbeats. The narrator (of sorts), Julia, travels from New York to Burma, her father's childhood home, to follow the paper trail of her father, who disappeared from Julia's life four years prior to the story. As luck would have it, she finds a man named U Ba that tells her father's story in its entirety, from beginning to end. Tin Win, her father, was born a child that brought with him the superstition of illness, and this only proved itself right as his immediate family either died or abandoned him; he also became blind in the process. His childhood neighbor, Su Kyi, however, took the now-blinded and orphaned child into her home, encouraging him to cultivate his mind in the mountain monastery in their small village. This is where he meets Mi Mi, a crippled Burmese girl who turns out to be Tin Win's love interest. Through circumstances, the couple's budding love and impending marriage is disrupted by an unfortunate situation that bring's Tin Win to the city of Rangoon, and eventually the United States. Coming to terms with understanding her father's past and his undying love for this woman Mi Mi, who is not Julia's mother, frames the plot of the story. I love East Asian/Pacific Island culture, so that also helped me just eat this book up; if you like similar kinds of cultures, especially in the 1930-1950 era, I'm sure you would love it, too!

The lessons and nuggets of wisdom passed on in this book were plentiful. Everything from truly knowing your parents as more than caregivers to the human need for symbiosis, it was just incredible to see these truths come to light. No joke. At one point in the book, Julia asks, "What do we know about our parents, and what do they know about us? And if we don't even know the individuals who have accompanied us since birth - we not them and they not us - then what do we know about anyone at all?" And that was it for me, because it is so true. SO TRUE. After awhile, you take for granted the people you interact with on a daily basis, and you forget to ask them things that really matter instead of simply observing them in everyday life and passing judgment freely. I read this quote to my mom, who immediately said, "What do you want to know?" It was a really fantastic conversation we had, and my entire family joined in on it, too. For that conversation alone, this book was worth it for me.

*SPOILERS* Some of the situational things in the book are familiar, of course, as is true with any tragic kind of love story. For example, at one point, Tin Win and Mi Mi, while being separated, exchange love letters to each other, but because of Tin Win's relative who is sponsoring his schooling (and intercepting the letters), neither is receiving any of the letters. Very The Notebook-esque. Some elements of the story were also super poetic, which worked in its favor. For example, the title draws upon an ability acquired by Tin Win when he loses his vision at a young age. He can hear people's heartbeats and can adequately judge them based on this sound. I was like, "Who cares if that's super impossible. That is such a beautiful idea." *END SPOILERS*

The one thing I can say I didn't so much like about this book was the flow of the writing, but this was so menial compared to the message of this novel, it really didn't matter to me because I understood the process behind the book. I'll explain. Jan-Philipp Sendker originally wrote Hearing Heartbeats in German. Kevin Wiliarty translated it for its English-language debut. This translation is most likely why it's not as smooth as some highly-acclaimed classic novel written in the 16th century English old country. But as I said, it really didn't affect my view of the book because of the beautiful story and my knowledge of the fact it was a translation. In other words, it was forgivable.

As a last point, the end of the novel offers a fantastic twist that I didn't see coming, so if you read it (and I sincerely hope you consider doing so) know that I was totally blown away by it and was totally blindsided by the mere possibility of such a thing to be true! IT WAS GREAT!

Truly, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was amazing. If I had to, I would probably rate it 4.5/5, but the message the novel offers would definitely be 5/5. I hope you have the chance to pick it up sometime!

'Til next time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

book review: second chance summer by morgan matson

Title:  Second Chance Summer
Author:  Morgan Matson
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster (2012)

Synopsis:  Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

Okay, to start off, I have to say that despite some of the more YA clich├ęd plot lines and themes that you think are going to be going on in this book, you should definitely read it because it will surprise you. After reading Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Morgan Matson is one of my more favored YA authors, and there's a reason for that:  her dialogue is so well scripted. Often authors fall short on the conversation of characters just because they like to fixate on the emotions behind it all. Not Matson. She focuses on both so well. I think she's actually a screenwriter or something? Don't quote me on that, but if she is, it shows. Below are a few tidbits that a really enjoyed about the book, and then one maybe that I'd like to see different. :)

The characterization of the novel was fantastic. First off, I love it when people pay homage to the whole personality birth-order theory when talking about siblings and the family. Not only is it interesting for you to compare yourself to your siblings, but it's almost like there's an immediate bond with anyone that fills the role that you do in your family. I say this because I immediately identified with Taylor because of the whole middle child kinda thing, so that was neat (although not for your non-middle children out there). But no worries, you non-middletons, this theory rubbed off on all the characters:  Taylor's siblings, her parents, her neighbors. From working in coping mechanisms (Taylor's tendency to run away) and more, Matson really understood what was going on in the characters' heads and psyches and did well in weaving in the history of each character and drawing upon that to create this fantastic plot deep with rich players that simply leapt off the page. I super appreciate that!

Speaking of plot, this story was so heart-breaking and fantastic. As you'll find out in the first few pages (and probably from the synopsis above), Taylor's dad is diagnosed with cancer. His request that they spend his last summer with his family at their cabin is a great idea by all accounts, but dismal for Taylor, as she hadn't left things very friendly when she fled the cabin five years before the story takes place. Now, she must face the demons that she locked up all those years ago. Taylor's journey, aside from the arc of her father's health, is plagued by the painful mending of these broken relationships through a summer job (where she must encounter her ex-best friend), everyday life (where her love interest - who she knew as a child - moved in next door to their cabin), and more. I really liked how there was more things than just her dad's story going on here. If there hadn't been any Henry - her love interest - or friend stuff going on, this book would be SO depressing, let me tell you. And, you know, real life isn't just one battle at a time. I'm also really glad Matson worked in classic movies into her story with the whole community movie on the beach event Taylor had to organize. It's another thing I love about her writing:  she incorporates real-world connections to popular culture. So the plot really brought to life a real situation with which a lot of people can identify. Stories reflecting life is important with writing arts.

It's probably notable to say that if you're a Sarah Dessen fan, you'll like this book because they draw some similarities that are common in contemporary YA writing. The loss of a parent (no less a father), sibling and family conflicts, recovering from childhood events, and "firsts" are all part of the story. For these reasons, as well as the setting and the basic "feel" of the novel, it's very Dessen-esque, although Matson has a signature writing style that makes it her very own (As I said, her dialogue is so fantastic, and the use of flashbacks really brings the story to life!).

So this is a pretty glowing review so far, but I have to say something that somewhat comes off as criticism, right? Well, Warren - Taylor's older brother - drove me nuts! Honestly. It wasn't even funny. By the end of the story, he came around, but he was completely unbelievable towards the beginning of the story. Between fear of rodents and all of the other stupid things he would do, it was like he was twelve years old, or was written at first like her was 12, but boosted up to 19 in a later draft. Anyway, I didn't like his character one bit, although he offered an extra substance to the story as it progressed.

As a summer read? Definitely do it. I highly recommend both Second Chance Summer and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour to any audience. Matson is a talented dialogue writer, obviously draws from personal experience, and mends everything into a tapestry that's hard to criticize. It was fantastic!

'Til next time!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

cover redesign: bittersweet by sarah ockler

Above is my latest cover redesign, inspired by Sarah Ockler's Bittersweet. The original cover, below, leaves something to be desired and is, for some audiences, confusing. For the cover, I wanted to include two major elements that are important to the journey of the story - figure skating and cupcakes. I also really wanted to take a whack at the newest trend in cover design. These skinny letters draped over pictures is EVERYWHERE, guys! Skinny, tall letters is a trend, no less, but it's finally coming to fruition in the new releases section of bookstores. I kinda like how this one turned out.

Did you like what you saw here? Or maybe you didn't. Let me know below! If you have any books that you'd like to see a redesign for, you can also post suggestions. Classics, history, fiction... you name it. I'd be more than willing to accommodate! ;)

'Til next time!

Friday, June 14, 2013

life story: of milk and mildew

            There are two things you need to know about me. The first is that I have an overwhelming urge to want to save the world. Those kind of aspirations are admittedly crazy in every way, especially for one person. You'll see what I'm talking about later. The second? I'm one of those people that picks up trash in public spaces... thus, saving the world (debatable, but for all blogging purposes something we'll stick with).
            It's not out of obligation. No, I volunteer to pick up trash. No one tells me I have to, no one tells me I should and nudges me onto the side of a highway; I do it because I think it's fun. At this point, you're probably saying that I have zero friends. After all, who suspects that the person who is walking around with a garbage bag and work gloves on the side of the road has a bunch of people knocking on their door to hang out? You're right! No one. But I assure you, I have friends. They're just extremely busy... seemingly all the time. Hmmmmm... I'll be right back...

            Okay, I'm back! One of my friends answered a phone call from me; it's all good. Back to what I was saying. I'm not crazy. But if someone saw me a few weeks ago, digging through the garbage (which is suspicious in itself) they may have thought I was.

            It was a beautiful spring day, probably the first day of the year where it feels like summer. I had just finished raking and cleaning out gardens in a little downtown park in the small suburban town in which I live and was driving home, sore and aching, yet feeling a sense of accomplishment that I find extremely difficult to attain.
            It was the golden hour of the afternoon, the time of day where the sun is just at the point where it skims the landscape in its dusky glory, just perfect light for bonfires to be lit and mosquitos to venture from wherever they seemingly disappear to during the day. Sunglasses on, driving, radio static breaking through the hum of the car engine. It was pretty great. And that's when I saw it.
            A car wash stands as the gateway to my hometown's small downtown district. Closed down, weeded over, abandoned for all its worth, this little red building had been a hot spot in its heyday. I remember as a little tyke travelling through the little station. It had two long hallways made specifically for cars to cruise through and enable the owners to use the equipment inside to make the car presentable for any occasion. First date, prom, job interview:  what have you, it was always there. But in recent years, the cute little station had undergone an owner change that was for the worst. The doors that once hosted many-a-car were closed and chained with padlocks. The red paint that adorned the concrete brick walls began peeling. The bright yellow letters on the overhead flat roof reading, "Car Wash," (surprisingly) saw much better days. The air pump for tires in the parking lot went into disservice. And, finally, the concrete construction with two holes to contain travelers' McDonald's wrappers and gas station snack recepticles overflowed into the surrounding area.
            Now, while the normal person would be totally fine with the fact that garbage was blowing everywhere, I took it as a personal attack on my goal to save the world on this fine afternoon, and instantly pulled into the abandoned car wash parking lot, ready to settle the score. After all, this hadn't been the first time I noticed the problem. No one had emptied these "garbages" in at least two years. Again, sad story about car wash in disservice...
            I parked my car right next to the concrete trash can-esque center, inspected the problem fully, and fetched three jumbo garbage bags from the trunk of my car. (Yes, I keep garbage bags in my trunk:  deal with it.) I opened up one end of one of the garbage bags, watching it billow in the slight breeze, and first dealt with the garbage scattered throughout the vicinity. Among the trash, there were realtor yard signs, gummy worm package wrappers, and surprisingly, a large cardboard box. Not thinking much of it, I stuffed everything in the bag and headed back to the source of the scattered items.
            The pseudo garbage cans, even at first glance, were a monstrosity of a problem. Garbage of all kinds - plastic, glass, paper - were thrown into the collections with little care. Each time the wind picked up, the bottles at the top of the heaps of trash would rattle, threatening to throw themselves off the pile and onto the asphalt. But even worse was the smell; these open pits were so exposed to the elements - rain, snow, what have you - that the water had not only penetrated, but made the entire pile of forgotten elements soggy and probably something much more disgusting as the trash descended into the concrete hole.
            Proceeding with caution, I started digging through the trash, scooping each and every bit into the first garbage bag, which seemed to fill up faster than I had anticipated. But then again, when people are throwing away (and I'm not kidding here) a 101 Dalmations sleeping bag, shirts, and robotic dogs into a roadside car wash's outside trash can, you know there's going to be a problem. Despite the minor smell issue, as I went along things actually were pretty peachy. Everything seemed to be mostly dry, manageable to handle, and relatively small. There weren't even any personal hygiene items, which are common in places like this. I tied off my first garbage bag with ease, opened up another, and started filling that one as well.
            A couple handfuls into the second bag, that aforementioned problem arose. All of a sudden, I could smell something awful permeating the air around me, even more so than before. It smelled either like puke or my cooking, which coincidentally smell and taste the same. Bile rose in the back of my throat, and I briefly stepped away. A moment passed over me when I thought it may just be a passing stench riding the breeze. But it was not; I knew better than that. I worked up the courage to grab a handful more of garbage, and in clear sight, there was my problem.
            I've heard of soured milk before, but surely there was no preparing me for what I saw. Under the weight of the other garbage, a gallon milk jug had been squished, and its contents spilled over the remaining trash can contents. Curdled, in big chunks like cottage cheese, it had festered in its place for a long time, long enough to be overpowering to the nth degree. "Yuck, yuck, yuck," I tried to suppress as I jumped back, but it was too much.
            I approached the can again and saw the opaque white curdles at the bottom of the bin, and said out loud, "Yeah, about that... I can't." I immediately moved away from there and onto cleaning out the second concrete hole in favor of the first, but I knew it was inevitable I would face the gag-worthy collection just waiting for me feet away. Luckily, for now, I could avoid it. And avoid it. And avoid it. And avoid it. Then, the second hole was cleaned out. My gloves were a little soggy from the trash at the bottom of that second bin, but it wasn't hard to get over it. I tied off the second bag and then took a deep breath.
            The curdles were still awaiting me at the bottom of the pit, on top of what one could only assume were more disgusting things. But I wasn't going to stop here. I had come so far. Two entire jumbo bags full of garbage. And the car wash looked better when there wasn't trash overflowing the vicinity. Who else will do it if you don't? I asked myself. Unfortunately, I knew the answer:  no one. And it would look SO good if this trash was cleaned out and replaced with dirt and some beautiful flowers. I have to do this, I thought. So I took a deep breath and reached toward the sour milk-stained remains in the bin.
            Sour milk stained my gloves, seeping into the fabric and into my skin, and I felt the bile rise again. I swiftly brought the contents into the bag and continued on. Through moist, damp, disgusting contents that once littered dashboard roadtrips, baseball game concession stands, or gas station shelves - I can only imagine. Through mold and mildew-stained pieces of paper. I cleared it, scraping the bottom, dropping the final bits of trash into the third and final garbage bag, dropping in my soaking work gloves in behind - by this time, they were caked with the curdled milk - and tying the clear plastic tight into itself.
            I walked directly to my car, the smell of sour milk lingering on my body. "That was so gross. Yuck," I audibly proclaimed just to verify how disgusting it was to myself. "I'm never doing that again." The first bag had torn in spots from the pointed wire of the realtor yard sign, but I didn't care. I shuddered as I dropped into the driver's seat of my car and drove as a fast as I could home. I was halfway there when I realized why I could still smell the wretched milk-puke-my cooking smell. Drawing my hand to my nose, I realized it actually had seeped into my skin.
            Within seconds of pulling into my driveway, I was in the shower. I imagine it was a bit like the scene from Baby Mama with Tina Fey washing the dye out of Amy Poehler's hair.

            Yeah, it was exactly like that, except Tina wasn't there, obviously. After the shower, however, I did feel much better, especially after I cleaned the steering wheel of my car and the sour milk smell disappeared from its interior for good. Thank God.

            In the end, for what it's worth, I'm not crazy. Given, I was the person both talking to myself and bent over an abandoned car wash's concrete trash cans in order to clean them out. But while I may have seemed like a crazy person at the time, the garbage bags I filled were taken away within days, and those holes are being filled with topsoil and flowers. So maybe crazy does work.

'Til next time!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

cover redesign: the truth about forever by sarah dessen

            Okay guys, so it's probably been about a year since I first picked up The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, which I completely and utterly loved. And when I was thinking about coming up with a cover redesign meme for posting, I instantly thought of this book. Truth, like every other book in Dessen's collection, has such strong imagery that I definitely wanted to incorporate something with Wes's art in the book, the "heart in the hands" lawn art he makes. I also wanted to include something with Wish catering, her mom's job as a real estate developer, and her dad and all that kind of stuff, but the cover would end up looking like a decoupage collage of everything and anything, which would be awful. I ended up with this:

So what do you think? I kind of laughed because after I'd finished it, I saw this article (HERE) on this trend of using grass on book covers; who knew it was such a big thing in 2009? Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it.

Do you want to see a different book cover redesigned? Comment below. I just may get around to it.

'Til next time!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

editorial: bookstore-pocalypse

            In light of recent events, a message must be shared, a message that impacts readers tall and short, young and old, few and far between. Yes, the bookstore-pocalypse is upon us! If you're reading this, it means the time has come:  the books we have anticipated for months (and have consequently landed on our "Waiting for Wednesday" posts) are not landing on shelves of "a store near you." Why? The economy is a hard place, filled with starving cats and dogs, not nearly enough money, and oodles of sorrow. In short, book stores can't afford to keep every title on hand across the nation.
            This problem came to my attention when Sarah Ockler, acclaimed YA author of Twenty Boy Summer and Bittersweet, to name two, wrote a blog post about her most recent release The Book of Broken Hearts not being cast as a pine-rider this season on Barnes & Noble's nationwide shelves. The post can be found HERE. I urge you to read it; it's devastating, and yet she handles the situation with such grace. Go, Sarah!
            Back to the point. Now, there are more factors than just a tough economy going on here. I would be in remiss if I didn't mention the fact that technology has a large say in this depression-inducing revolution, too. You can order, buy, and even download novels straight from your electronic device these days, in case you were living in a cave and didn't know. While convenient for some, it's a real pain for others. People like me, the ones who LOVE physical copies of books and long walks on the beach (and won't give it up) can't access given titles at a moment's notice anymore.
            Now, I know what you're saying. "Those days are behind us," says little Ricky, the 5-year-old who reads Dr. Seuss on his iPad as he strolls into the sunset while recording a Vine and sending it to 4 year-old love interest Charlotte up the street. It doesn't pay to have a physical store when you can just sell stuff online and cut a lot of infrastructure costs in the process. It's enabled by the aforementioned technology boom. Well, color me old-fashioned, but I have a hard time letting go of the fact that someone can walk into a bookstore and buy a physical story that can change their lives right then and there. Oh, and there are a lot more people where I came from as well.
            You want proof? Look around you, bookseller CEOs. Why do we still have cities? Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned in the 1930s that by now we would not even travel to a place of employment, but rather we would do all our communicating and such with great new technology like video phones. We wouldn't even have to leave the house! The funny thing looking back on the predictions is this:  we have a lot of the crazy things he envisions, yet we still have central business districts; we still have skyscrapers; in suburbs, we have malls. People WANT to be together, go figure. They want to browse for books with friends. They want to grab a coffee and take their time actually walking around, picking up books, and reading the back covers. Against all odds, people still want bookstores to be around.
            So there's a demand. But where is the supply? Small and locally owned bookstores are having a hard time keeping their doors open, and it's for the same reason general stores continue to go out of business:  the national chain stores (for example, Wal-Mart) create a monopolistic corner of the market. In the book industry, stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble are doing just that. But... oh wait... they're struggling, too. Go to; it forwards you to Barnes & Noble's website because Borders closed, which was traumatizingandIdon'twanttotalkaboutit. *Gasp for air.* And now word's out that Barnes & Noble is going all "public school system" on us and doing some major budget cuts. This fact is brought up in the post written by Ockler above. So what does the future of the book industry look like? If the Wal-Mart equivalents are making major cuts or closing, small businesses are having a hard time not collapsing, and even public libraries are being cut across the nation, is the era of the bookstore coming to an end? Is this one of the only industries that won't survive the great sector shift of the 2000s?
            Readers, it is not the time to sit around with that passive aggressive behavior reading books on your couch, but you may continue after you do just a few things. Here's a list of things that you can do to help the bookstore-pocalypse from progressing:

1. Buy books off the shelf and support your favorite authors. Whether local or chain bookstores, make a point to do this. Show bookstore owners that they need to order your favorite authors' books. Authors are nothing without you, and we readers are close to nothing without them.
2. Start an electronic coup. Take to Facebook, Twitter, Websites, Goodreads, Personal Blogs, or whatever and let companies like Barnes & Noble know that you want a certain author's book on their shelf. Write reviews for the books, let everyone know that you're reading it and want to continue having the opportunity to shop for these books in a physical store. And that's right, you CAN tweet @ anyone who has a Twitter account, including Barnes & Noble.
3. Tell your library they should have a copy of the book. If it's on their shelves, more people can read it. When more people can read it, they may consider buying the author's next book.
4. Buy a couple copies of your favorite author's book. Some people aren't readers, but a great book is a gateway drug. Especially with series and authors, people chain-read books like no one's business. I'll have to post sometime about last year's Sarah Dessen obsession. It was kind of pathetic, but in a great way... like in a four 500-page books in three weeks sort of great way.

Authors are counting on you, and we're counting on them. We shouldn't let each other down.

'Til next time!
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