Irons in the Fire

I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. Some were positive things, some were negative things. Some were merited and many were not. In any combination of these situations, my favorite thing that I have been called is “a hustler.”

My first reaction to this allegation was identical to when I was sorted via Pottermore (a.k.a. the most official Hogwarts House sorting there is aside from the actual Sorting Hat). I was sorted into Slytherin and hit with a wave of confusion and a hint of defensiveness.

Me? A Slytherin?! I’ve always thought I’d be a Ravenclaw (smart), maybe even a Hufflepuff (kind). But Slytherins are the bad guys! They cheat and steal and lie and sometimes even kill to win. Slytherins are the hustlers of the wizarding world. I mean, there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin!

And then, the pause came… because not all Slytherins go bad. They’re just most likely to. But what are they known for above all throughout history? Not their potential evil, but their ambition. And just because the phrase “hustle” has one bad connotation, doesn’t mean the word overall is negative. After all, what did I always get praised for on my youth sports teams? Was it my height? Nope. My great hand-eye coordination? Nah. It was my relentless hustle.

I’ve grown to truly accept and even embrace this about myself: I am a Slytherin. I am ambitious. I hustle hard to get what I want.

As a hustler and a lady with drive, I often get down on myself for not being enough soon enough. Because on top of being ambitious, I am also impatient. It comes with the territory. Not only do I want results, darn it, but I want them now! I set a goal and am, at times, relentless in pursuing it, forgetting that age-old adage that good things take time, that the journey is the reward.

Sometimes, especially recently, I get caught up in the immediacy of my desires and forget to remind myself the difference between setting the stage and stagnation. I have to remind my go-getting, Hamiltonian self that Burr did have a point: that sometimes you are not standing still, but lying wait.

For the past year and a half, I haven’t made any big moves in my career as a librarian or as a writer. I’ve been working behind the scenes, certainly, and submitting myself to the daily grind of reading, writing, writing, researching, reading, reviewing, reading about writing, writing about what I’ve read… Despite all this, I haven’t felt much, if any, progression. But that was my own miscalculation. You see, I mistook myself for stagnant when, truly, I’ve been steadily gaining steam, building potential energy, actively casting irons into the fire.

I was recently shown that those irons have been heating up quite nicely.

Some time ago, I put my name into consideration to serve on the evaluation committee for the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award (one of the Illinois state sponsored book awards akin to the nationally recognized Newbery Award). And last week, I got the call. Or, the e mail, as it were.

A dream came true four years ago when I was offered my first positions as a library intern (no doubt leading to my subsequent positions as a *real* librarian). Another dream came true three years ago when I began reviewing young people’s literature for School Library Journal. And now, one more dream is coming true as I embark on my first award committee endeavor. It will be a lot of reading. It will be a lot of writing. But something about my past, something about my hustle, tells me I am more than up for the challenge ahead.

And what’s more? All of those irons that still remain in the fire? I am more than willing to wait for them.

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#BYOBooks: Ravenous

One of the perks of being a librarian (besides getting to go to the library often) is that most libraries give their employees a card whether or not the employee lives in the library’s “boundaries.” And that card often doesn’t carry late fees.*

I’m not going to lie, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

However, it does a number on my ability (and honestly, my desire!) to read my own books for the #BYOBooks2016 challenge.

But, of the 16 books I’ve read in January and February, there was ONE that I owned. So let’s talk about it.

25394547Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly is the companion novel to her 2015 debut title, Monstrous, which I loved.

Now technically, I don’t own this book. Technically, I own an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC). See, I follow the author on Twitter (and Tumblr and Instagram…) and entered for a chance to read an annotated ARC of her second novel… and won!

Not only was it awesome to read this book before it hit shelves, but reading the author’s comments on how things were named, the connections to the first book, and more.. was eye-opening both in terms of the story itself and the writing process. I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity.

But, being that this is a challenge about reading what you own, and that the difference between an ARC and an officially published copy of a book is (in the best circumstances) very slight, Mary at Literary Distractions put the green light on ARCs counting toward the #BYOBooks goal! Huzzah!

Now, to a review. Or something like it.

16181516I call Ravenous a companion novel although I believe that it is technically a sequel. In Monstrous, the main character, Kymera, is the revived being of a young girl fashioned together with parts of her old body and some of the most fearsome magical beasts in the land. Her creator, who she calls father, sends her out on a mission to save the girls of Bryre from the evil Wizard who is kidnapping them for grave reasons. Knowing this (and Kymera’s ultimate ending) is an advantage going into Ravenous, as Greta’s story takes place in the same world after the events of Monstrous. Reading Monstrous isn’t necessary to wholly understand Ravenous, but I would certainly recommend it for a deeper appreciation and enjoyment.

Ravenous is about one of the very girls Kymera was sent to rescue, one eventually taken by the Wizard: Greta. Now, Greta’s parents have gone missing, her brother has been kidnapped, and her ultimate goal is to find them, dead or alive. The fairytale breadcrumbs lead Greta back to the very place, Belladoma, in which she was held by the Wizard. Battling a witch inspired by Baba Yaga, meeting and befriending magical beasts thought long extinct, and finding the courage deep within herself to achieve her goal despite the post traumatic stress moving forward triggers… Ravenous is truly a one-of-a-kind middle grade fantasy that has strong roots in an already-familiar-seeming realm.

And that is my first #BOYBooks2016 read!

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*I just want to note that although employee library cards don’t carry late fees, we are encouraged to “play by the rules” when borrowing materials. We don’t check things out for extended amounts of times, we don’t renew past the allotted number of times, and we don’t keep books weeks after their due dates. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

Bring Your Own Books – Shelf Tour

In my last post (you know, way back in January) I declared my intentions for the new year. While I have goals and ambitions, per usual, I also mentioned the notion of getting to things when they felt right.

Well, January and the first part of February were more whirlwind months for me- I reviewed 3 books in January alone (see one set of those reviews for a cool Battle of the (YA) Books competition here!) and spent the rest of the time enjoying the end of the holidays and gearing up to find, and then start, a new job.

More on that part of my life later. For now, I’ll just say that blogging amidst all that commotion just didn’t feel right.

But it feels right today.

And today, we’re talking books. Specifically, books that I own and haven’t yet but want to read. The challenge is Bring Your Own Books (#BYOBooks2016) hosted by Literary Distractions and here are my specs (and shelves!):

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My lovingly curated library

My book cases hold an array of books (though, not my whole collection- some still live at my parents’) and nick knacks. The bottom shelves (not pictured) hold CDs, DVDs that don’t fit with the rest of our collection, and bins to hold random art supplies and power cords.

And not on the shelves themselves? A pile of ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies- the perks of working at a library!) and a stack of outdated Runners World magazines (these won’t count toward my reading goals, but I paid a whole quarter for each copy so I better read them!).

So, now you’ve seen them, but what does it all mean?

All together on these shelves, I have 90 books (not counting picture, travel books, or my review ARCs).

I have read 63 of the books pictured.

And I plan to read 36 books on these shelves (9 rereads, 27 new reads).

And it’s that easy!

For more specific info. and up-to-date tracking on my #BYOBooks2016 goals, friend and follow me on Goodreads where I have a whole #BYOBooks bookshelf. I’ll do my best to blog my progress here, but, you know, only when it feels right.

New Year, New Challenges

I spent last year in a kind of haze. The haze consisted of getting used to my new job, my new house, my new puppy, and planning my wedding. While it was a productive, fun, and sometimes stressful year, I definitely fell off the goal-setting + blogging train.

What better time to catch that train again than a new year? And in typical, how-things-are-going-to-go-in-2016 fashion, I’m not posting this on the first day of the new year. Or even the first week. I just got to it when I got to it; I got to it when it felt right.

So, now that the time is right, let’s talk about what the time is right to do this year:

30 by 30
I made some good advances in my 30 by 30 goals, and wrote nary a word about them. In this new year, I’m hoping to address my 30 by 30 achievement backlog and also chart my progress as I hit new things. I’ve got the better part of three years left, so let’s DO this!

Reading
As part of my 30 by 30, I want to read 50 books a year and have done so since I began the challenge. Last year my ultimate goal was to read ALL THE THINGS so that I would have a good, solid base for my readers advisory*. And it went so well: I read 122 books! Now, I’m a children’s librarian and read a lot of children’s literature (but it all counts! more on that on a later post) but I only counted books that are 150+ pgs of fiction or 75+ pgs of nonfiction toward my goal… but that’s still a lot!

The thing is… I’m kind of burned out on reading. What? A librarian?! Burned out on reading?!?? Yeah. It happens, I hear. And it’s happening here.
So I’ve flipped things. I’ve decided to stick to 50 books as my goal, but I will focus on books I want to read instead of books I think I should read. Granted, I am sure I’ll be reading a ton of things I think I should (the Youth Media Awards are just around corner…), but I have so many great titles on my TBR list that have nothing to do with my work (in theory), but I always feel so fulfilled when I finish a great memoir or can chat up a mom about a best seller or Tweet @MindyKaling about her lolz.
Something that’ll help me on this reading journey is my friend Mary’s 2016 B.Y.O.B. Reading Challenge (#BYOBooks2016) over at Literary Distractions, which I’ll talk more about SOON(ish).

*the fancy, technical term for what happens when you ask a librarian to recommend a book.

General
My 30 by 30 really covers a lot of ground in terms of my personal and professional goals (run more, write more, be social, etc.), but in terms of general goals?

  • Blog more.
  • Keep an offline, handwritten journal.
  • Slow down and appreciate.
  • Take more pictures (with my amazing new cameras).

And that’s it!

So now, continuing in my 2016 just-go-with-it style, I’ll say farewell to you and to Chicago because tomorrow it’s off to New Orleans for my Bachelorette Party Weekend: Take 1 (#ItsBrittanysBachNOLA).

The Month in Books – February

As a librarian, I do a lot of reading for both work and play. Last year, I read a lot of things I felt like I should read so I could do a great job of recommending and reviewing books. This year, I decided to try to keep it to as much *for me* reading as possible.

And then, award season hit.

You know about the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, even if you didn’t know them by that title. That’s where many of those medals that pop up on book covers come from: The Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, the Coretta Scott King, among others. So obviously, those become hot-ticket items in terms of what kids want to read, what teachers recommend kids read, and what we, as librarians, need to know about so we can find books LIKE those when all 7 copies of The Crossover are checked out.

Did you also know that your state has book awards, too? Here in Illinois, they are the Monarch, the Bluestem, and the Rebecca Caudill. The latter of those deals specifically with books meant for kids in grades 6-8, so my reading has shifted to a lot of titles on that list which, so far, hasn’t been a problem… I won at reading in February!

Funny, because most of the books I read were real winners, too.

February in Books:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015 John Newbery Medal Winner)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (2016 Caudill Nominee)

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2015 William C. Morris Award Winner)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hidden by Helen Frost (2016 Caudill Nominee)

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (2016 Caudill Nominee)

Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin (2016 Caudill Nominee)

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (2015 Schneider Family Book Award Honor)

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (2015 Randolph Caldecott Medal AND Michael L. Printz Honor)

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle (2014 Pura Belpré (Author) Award)

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Books Read This Year: 25

Worth noting: I gave up on TWO of the books I went into this month reading –X by Ilyasah Shabazz and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini- and one book I didn’t mention, Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen.
For what it’s worth, both X and And the Mountains Echoed were extremely good and it was hard to set them aside for other things. I was a little ways into X when this year’s award books were announced, so I had to prioritize those. I decided to try listening to books instead of music while on the treadmill and I started with And the Mountains Echoed, and while the book was great, it still didn’t help my treadmill efforts (I’ve since found that PodCasts are THE treadmill entertainment for me). Beastkeeper has an exciting premise (a girl whose family is cursed to turn into beastly creatures once they fall in love… SOUND FAMILIAR?!), but I was about 80 pages in and I still didn’t feel excited to be reading it so… I stopped. And was so sad. Maybe another day.

Going into March reading:

Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Let’s talk books!

Whats your favorite Newbery or Caldecott? Have any other favorite award-winners?

Have you ever listened to audiobooks while running? Did you dig it?

It’s Friday, Get Happy

For weeks and weeks and weeks now, I have been saying I would do this. But I have found that the way to start doing something is to stop talking about it and start, you know, just doing it.

What is “it,” you ask?

Well, I have this friend from the internet, Mel (check her out at Mel’s Miles!), who is notorious for her Gratitude Friday posts. On many Fridays, she whips up a list of things she’s grateful for: the big things, the small things, the things that often go unnoticed in the day-to-day. I always look forward to her Gratitude Friday posts; reading them always puts a smile on my face and, better yet, has given me perspective during some really, really tough times. She says it gives her perspective, too, making these lists. And you know what? I think that’s something I can get behind.

While Mel talks about things she’s grateful for, I’m gonna take it in a similar direction and talk about things I’m grateful for, things that happened in the past week that made me smile, things I’m looking forward to.

I’m gonna talk about things that get me happy.

Who’s with me? It’s Friday, let’s get happy.

I bet you never saw THAT song coming in this introduction. Shwing!
(Related: Did you know Pharell Williams is turning “Happy” into kid lit? NOW YOU DO!)

So, let’s get to gettin’ happy.

That fiancé of mine.
Of course, he makes me happy on the whole. But sometimes it’s great to think of the little reasons that person you’re spending the rest of your life with gets you happy, too.
This week? He went grocery shopping solo, was easily convinced that watching Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary show live and saving our usual Sunday night shows for Monday night was a good idea, and added me to his gym membership so I could run inside on Chicagoland’s cold, cold winter days. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure I’ve already developed some serious abs thanks to all the laughing he makes me do.
Yep, he gets me happy.

Those parents of mine.
My mom is being a superstar wedding planning assistant, arranging venue viewing brunches and collecting names for my guest list. And my dad is, as always, this constant pillar of calm and reassurance. Oh, and he does my taxes which is, like, the bomb.
In every little way, my parents are happenin’. And they get me happy.

A manager who gets it.
I started my “new” job in the very beginning of November, which puts my 6 month mark in May. What’s so special about my 6 month mark? Well, that’s when I am eligible to use my paid time off, of course!
However, with all of the possible traveling I’ll be doing in 2016 (honeymoon and Italy for a wedding!), I can’t really use much of it this year for, you know, relaxing.
But then, my manager… she just gets it. She knows what a whirlwind life I had from the end of September through December of last year. She understands how difficult it can be to transition from part time work to full time career. And most importantly, she understands how time away is important regardless of how busy (or not busy) your personal or professional life is. So she’s helping me to make a few fun getaways work this year while still keeping my paid time off in tact for all the wedding bonanzas I’ll be needing it for next year.
Amazing! Gets me so, so happy!

Warm.
Warm cars, warm hats, warm drinks, warm water for hand washing, warm suit jackets for being business casual, warm blankets to snuggle while I read, warm hugs when I get home… Yep, pretty much everything warm gets me happy when it feels like -28 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I think this worked. It’s Friday, and I’m happy!

Thanks again for the wonderful, happy-getting idea, Mel! I hope this got you, and everyone else reading, happy.

So spill: What gets you happy these days?

The Month in Books – January

It’s the last day of January, and I want to try something new. I used to just keep all of the books I read on a page (ala 30 by 30 and races), but something about that just wasn’t jiving with me. I still keep track of my yearly reads on Goodreads.com and give them a little review there, too, but I think it’d be cool to start putting it OUT THERE, you know?

So here you go, out there world: all the books I have read so far in 2015. Granted, I did not start all of these into 2015. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was more than halfway through a few of these on January 4, but I count anything I finish in a month/year as being read in that month/year. Because… well… yeah.

January in Books:

Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Worth noting: I got about a third of the way through What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, but I just wasn’t into it. I know, an author/runner memoir and I couldn’t get through it? Yes. Not to razz the guy, but I just didn’t like Haruki’s writing style or tone. And I know the book was translated and perhaps that was a big reason for the rambling-haughtiness, but I just couldn’t stand it.

And since, as I said, I often carry over months/years reading a few books… why not let you know what those are currently, too?

Going into February reading:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And having gotten six new Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) from ALAMW (American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference)…IMG_0908

I’m definitely hoping to do a LOT more reading in the coming months… if that’s even possible.

So what are you reading lately?

Want to talk about any of those books up there? Let’s do it!