What makes you pick up a book?

I’ve been thinking about the books I read, and why I pick them up.

I’ll admit: I’m a review reader. But I usually go back and read the reviews after I’ve read a book.

If I see a lot of people mentioning a book on Twitter, I’ll download the sample to my Kindle. Same goes for a blog review that piques my interest. (I found Beastly through a blog review, and it’s one of my favorite books.)

Even still, this is only sometimes. Like if I have my Kindle handy, or if I’m not in the middle of reading something else.

We all talk about word of mouth. That’s what sells books. You could have a hundred good reviews on Goodreads, but if people aren’t actually telling someone else to read your book, it doesn’t have as much weight. If I’d looked up Boy Toy on Goodreads and read the mixed reviews, I might not have read the book. But I asked my buddy Sarah Fine for a recommendation, and she said to read it.

I read it. I loved it. You should too. I actually read it twice.

But see? Even that doesn’t carry as much weight unless you know me. Even if you know me, it doesn’t carry as much weight unless I say, “YOU. You must read this book.”

I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary YA, unless it’s on the heavier side. I enjoy Simone Elkeles, Gail Giles, things like that.

But last year, every time I turned around, people were saying, “You have to read Anna and the French Kiss.” So I knew I had to read it.

I read it. I loved it. (It’s by Stephanie Perkins. You should read it, too.)

When both Sarah Maas and Bobbie Goettler told me I needed to read Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, and these are two people who live on opposite sides of the country and could not be more different, I knew I had to pick it up.

I read it. I loved it. (Are you sensing a theme?)

I might not have picked up any of these books if people hadn’t practically shoved them into my hands and said, “HERE. YOU. Read this.”

Everyone reads books they can’t put down. What, in a book, makes you not just review it well, but press it into the hands of someone else? What makes you sit up and say, “HERE. YOU. Read this.”

For me, it’s the understanding of human nature, mixed with an element of surprise. Not the jump-out-and-say-boo kind of surprise. Just something unexpected happening to people I genuinely care about. It’s about a book I can’t put down, not for a minute, not even when I’m feeding the baby. It’s a book that I’ll stay up late to read.

I’m not saying it’s easy to write books like that. I’m just saying that’s what makes me recommend a book.

What about you? What works? What doesn’t?

On being cool.

First, the title of this post is kind of a joke. I don’t know anything about being cool. Seriously, I was the girl in high school who wore glasses, came in early, and spent her free time in the library.

I’m the same person as an adult. I just have a healthy dose of cynicism and apathy.

So I’m not talking about the type of “cool” that people associate with James Dean or Colin Farrell. Or, for you kids out there, I’m not talking about the type of “cool” associated with Justin Bieber. (Though that right there will get me a little bit of flack from my husband.)

I’m talking about the type of “cool” that means treating other people with respect, no matter who you are.

I asked my husband a very basic question about politics the other day. I’m not even going to tell you what the question was, but most people would know the answer. I’ve never followed politics, but because my husband is fascinated by politics, I’ve spent the last year trying to understand it, follow it, and speak intelligently about it. (I’m still working up my nerve on that last one.)

My husband could have pulled the A-hole move and talked down to me. He could have patted me on the head and told me to go back to my little YA books. He also could have done the thing where you answer the question, then keep expanding on it to show how much you know about something. My husband didn’t do any of those things. He just answered the question and we moved on with the discussion.

This sounds like a little thing. It’s not.

I even remarked on it to him. It’s one of my favorite things about him, that he’ll never be arrogant or nasty about anything.

He said it’s a matter of respect.

I remember once I went out with this guy when I was around 22. My mom set us up, and that should have been a warning sign right there. I mean, the guy drove a Buick. Now look: there is nothing wrong with driving a Buick.

Unless you’re 22.

It was a new Buick, with leather seats and all the bells and whistles. I remember he had a button on the middle dash, something about traction control.

Now, I’m a bit of a dork, and I love knowing how cars work. I’ve been known to read the manual. (Yes, really.) I said to him, “Hey, I’ve never seen a car with a button for traction control. How does that work?”

He said, really snootily, “It controls the car’s traction.”

Well, gee.

Not one to be put off, I said, “But how? What does it do?”

I needed an answer. I mean, does it slow the wheels down? Change something about the pull from the engine? I was fascinated by the fact that something like traction could be controlled by pushing a button.

He kept trying to make things up, and I kept asking more questions, and finally he got really flustered and snapped, “Just stop asking questions about the car, okay?”

I think you can all deduce that the first date was also the last.

I mean, he could have just said he didn’t know.

We totally could have looked it up in the manual.

But really, I didn’t start this post to talk about old boyfriends. I actually started it to talk about writers.

A few years ago, I read a post on a very popular agent’s blog about one of that agent’s authors coming out with a book. I loved, loved, LOVED the concept of the book, and I was really excited about it. Here’s the kicker: the book was coming out eighteen months later.

Every now and again, the agent would mention the book on the blog. Around the time I thought the book was due to be released, I couldn’t remember the title. I actually emailed the agent and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, but I can’t remember the title.”

The agent wrote back. The book was coming out soon. I followed the author on Twitter.

On the day I ordered the book, I sent a tweet to the author (a debut author), that essentially said, “Just ordered your book! Been looking forward to it since I first heard about it on [agent’s] blog! Can’t wait.”

I didn’t expect a response. She didn’t know me from anyone. Really, no response would have been fine.

Here’s what I got back:

yeah thanks

That’s it.

Now, look. I’m not going to judge anyone’s Twitter style. Like I said, she didn’t need to write back. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions of the interaction right there.

I will tell you that I was kind of turned off.

Her Ladyship's Companion (Berkley Sensation)A few years ago, I read the debut novel of Evangeline Collins, Her Ladyship’s Companion, and it was frigging awesome. It also has a stunning cover. (It’s totally a romance novel, so if that’s not your thing, it won’t be for you.) 

I wrote an email to Evangeline Collins, telling her how much I loved her book. Again, no  response would have been fine. I know people have lives, and some people get boatloads of emails from readers. Besides, the purpose of my email was to say, “YAY! I loved your work so much that I wanted you to know!” Not to say, “Please engage me in conversation.”

But Ms. Collins wrote back. To thank me. That’s class.   And when her next book came out, I immediately pre-ordered it. And loved it.

I had another one of these today. A friend asked for some book recommendations on Twitter. Here’s  the conversation:

@BrigidKemmerer oh any book recommendations? im running low. and we need to finally pick a date for a playdate for the boys

Yes, we do!! I just read Boy Toy by @barrylyga and LOVED it. Also The Iron King by @Jkagawa. Good stuff.

If I know they’re on Twitter, I always mention the author when I recommend their books. Not only do they know I liked their stuff, but it usually links back to their website in case people want to find their stuff easily.
Boy Toy
I didn’t expect either of those authors to respond.

Barry Lyga did, to say thanks. I almost went all fangirl, because seriously Boy Toy is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s tough to make a book moving and gripping and un-put-down-able while still making it funny enough to make me laugh out loud in places. Incredible book. I almost want to stop writing this post to go read it again.

And the author, the author, took time out of his day and thanked ME.

I mean, come on.

That’s pretty cool.

Time for some book reviews…

I’m the first person to admit I don’t like to write book reviews. It feels a little too much like writing a book report, and I hated doing those for school, so I’m sure as heck not going to do one for fun.

But I love hearing what other people thought of books, and I routinely buy books based on other people’s opinions, so I thought I’d share a few of mine.

Standard disclaimers apply: I bought these books with my own money, no one made me write this, I find calling these actual “reviews” hilarious, if it burns, see a doctor.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I downloaded it to my Kindle at 7pm last night, and I finished before 8am this morning. I couldn’t put it down. My husband says I have a brother fetish, but that’s not true. I will say I’m intrigued by the brotherly dynamic, mostly because I’ve never been around brothers at all. I had one brother, my husband only has sisters, and really, the only brothers I’ve ever seen interrelate are my stepson and my son. They’re 13 and 3, so I have a ways to go before I can get any novel fodder from their relationship.

But I’m also intrigued by people who serve in the military, people who have the guts to put aside everything that’s important to them personally to serve their community as a whole. I admire that a great deal, and this book explores what it costs them. The book opens when Boaz, a marine, returns from spending 3 years at war, and his family isn’t sure how to relate to him — and he’s not sure how to relate to them either. It’s told entirely from the point of view of his younger brother, Levi, who, at 17, is struggling to find out what it means to be a man, and misses the brother he once looked up to. The book is gripping on many levels, and I highly recommend it. There’s a tiny bit of language in the book, but I think it’s appropriate for anyone over 12.

Right Behind You by Gail Giles
This book intrigued me right from the premise. A young boy struggling with his mother’s breast cancer diagnosis is helping his dad in the garage, when his snotty neighbor stops by to heckle him. He snaps, throws gasoline on the other kid, and flicks a lighter. The snotty neighbor dies, and the main character goes to a juvenile detention center.

That’s just the first chapter. The book goes on to explore his detention and eventual release, and his attempt to assimilate into society after such a horrific act at such a young age. The voice was right on in this one. Right on. I wanted to find this kid and give him a hug.

The subject matter seems heavy, but you’ll feel for this kid from the first page, I promise you. Probably better for 14 and up.

Matched by Allie Condie
Yes, I’ll admit it. I bought this book because of all the hype. (I mean, seriously, wasn’t that the whole point?)

It wasn’t bad. I know there are a lot of people out there saying, “What’s all the hype about?” and that’s not fair. The book is a good, solid read, and it kept me thinking long after I put it down. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the romance, but I was intrigued by the society, and I was especially impressed by seeing different “stations” of life, from official to menial laborer, from daughter to grandparent to brother to friend. The last 30% of this book was the best, but if you’re picking it up to find the next Twilight, this ain’t it.

It will definitely make you think. I can tell you that.

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey
I loved this book.

I’m going to be up front and say I was so over vampires it wasn’t even funny. I never wanted to read another vampire book, I never wanted to see another fang, I was just done done DONE with the frigging angst and bloodlust already.

But I loved this book.

I’m living proof that Twitter sells books, because I bought this book after a random stranger was raving about it on Twitter. And the praise was deserved. The heroines (yes, there are two) are clever and funny, and I loved them both. The romance and action received equal attention, and the story definitely moved. The story slowed down the teensiest bit when we learned a bit of the family history, but it was kind of like slowing down for a sharp curve on the highway — as soon as you straighten out the wheel, you can pound the accelerator.

The vampire mythology at work here is clever (they’re born but go through the “bloodchange” in their teens), there’s a whole cadre of brothers (hello, Brigid’s obsession), and the dialogue is so smart it made me laugh out loud in several places.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s on bargain at Amazon right now. (I love that I can link right from a post like this now.)

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Holy crap. And I mean that in a good way.

The writing is incredible. Another one I finished in less than 12 hours.

I can’t imagine the emotional trauma the author must have felt to write this. It’s not for the faint of heart: it’s written from the point of view of a 15 year old girl who was kidnapped at age 10 by a pedophile, and she’s been held prisoner by him ever since. I don’t know that I’d recommend this book for anyone under 16, but now I’m thinking back to the girl I was at 14, and I would have torn through this book. Use your judgment.

This book will haunt you. It will sit with you. You will put it down and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. You will look at other people and wonder. You will look at other children and wonder.

You will look at your children and you will guard them like a hawk.

How about you guys? Any good recommendations for me?