Non-Fiction Friday: The Girls of Murder City & Giveaway

Author Spotlight: Kelly Jensen

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World is the Young Adult feminist anthology I didn’t know I needed as a teen, but am glad I got to read as an adult. As the last stop for her book tour, editor Kelly Jensen was at BookPeople in Austin, and I was lucky enough to sit down with her before the event.

Midsummer Reads: Hi
Kelly Jensen: Hi
MR: Thanks for agreeing to do this
KJ: Of course
MR: So, let’s just jump right in, when did you first get the idea to do this anthology?
KJ: So, I’d been doing a blog series on stacked for a few years about girls and reading, and why it is we talk about boys and reading but never the opposite. I had for a number of years invited different people in the book world (authors, editors, agents) to write about girls and reading in different aspects in YA fiction and I found I really loved curating these essays and putting together these series, so I wanted to do something similar but do it in a format that teenagers could pick up. Because a teenager is probably not going to read a blog, some will, who are super into it, they will. But I want that kid who is walking around the library looking for something to read. That sort of inspired the idea of doing an anthology and I’d always been fascinated by the conversations that go on online about feminism and it just sort of felt like a good fit to marry the two.

MR: What made it really start coming together, this book in particular? Was there a catalyst?
KJ: I didn’t think that I would be able to do it, in part, because I didn’t have an agent. So, I had no idea how to go about pitching an anthology with literally, like nothing. Nothing to show, except for my own writing. I actually tweeted about it, and my now editor reached out to me and said, “we should talk.” So, we talked and she brought in another editor from Algonquin, we all had a really great conversation, we were on the same page about what we wanted this to look like, both in terms of content and also visually.
MR: Visually, it looks great, it’s really cool.
KJ: They did a great job, they killed it. It was at that point that Elise said, “well, write me a proposal” so I wrote a proposal and then I waited and then I had a contract. And after that I had so many questions through the whole process because I didn’t have an agent, so I couldn’t ask contract questions. They had suggested then, that I find an agent. Apparently, you can do that, after you’ve sold the book

MR: What is the editing process like for something like this?
KJ: I was surprised. I edited the pieces as they came into me and each person had a totally different style and different thing that they needed in terms of editing. It was really neat to see people who wanted to have my input, or bounce ideas off me, the whole way through and then the people that turned in a draft that was pretty much perfect the first time and trying to provide feedback to both of them in a way that is substantial. I really liked seeing how people – their processes are so different. You know, when you’re working with 40 different people and you have 40 different processes, it’s really – it makes you feel better about your own process. When I turned in my manuscript to my editors, there really wasn’t a whole lot in terms of what they had to edit, it was mostly making sure we fit within a page. We had something like 9 or 10 pages over what they can print, so we just had to go and find the places that could be shortened or cut.

MR: So how did you go about getting the authors and their stories? Were there some that you knew you absolutely wanted?
KJ: So, I made two lists. One list was writers who I know had talked about feminism or had some interest in feminism that would at least open an email. And then there’s this dream list of people who weren’t necessarily in the book world but who would have a really interesting perspective. Because from the start we had talked about doing this anthology as making sure it wasn’t just YA writers, so any reader could pick it up and be like, oh this isn’t just in one world, this impact everybody. So, I make this dream list of people I’d like to have in there. I thought to myself well, Wendy Davis really – was a lot of fun to work with. She’s so smart and articulate. When she responded, I didn’t actually expect that to happen, so that was awesome. Some of the pieces are reprint so I just found stuff I liked and then I went through the process of getting the rights to print them. That was nice in terms of rounding out topics and issues and voices, a little of everything. And then as pieces started to come together, I could see where there were holes or places that could use a little bit more or another perspective. It was nice to have this massive list of people, to find someone else. The contributors also suggested other people and that was really helpful to give a broad picture. I got to work with some people who I hadn’t heard of before and that was fun.

MR: One of the stories I really connected with was “Girl Lessons” by Sarah McCarry and I remember reading it, sitting outside on my lunch break just reading and I started crying because I connected so much with this story. Were there any that you really connected with like that?
KJ: Hers is so good. Hers was one that as soon as I read it, I got that feeling as well. The one that really got me, and I was sort of surprised – reading as an editor is totally different than reading as a reader, in terms of, yes, you get the same impact of what a story is trying to tell, but you’re trying make that story have that real “pow” for the reader. So, it wasn’t until I was reading pass pages, I was reading everything out loud, and this time as a reader instead of an editor. I got halfway through the book when Jessica Luthor’s piece comes up. Hers is about her relationship with her husband, she’d been with him for a long time, and sort of how different they are in the relationship as individuals and the relationship together has changed over the course of their time together. I just started crying my eyes out, this is such a nice piece and I related to a lot of what she said in it. I thought it was a beautiful piece about what relationships are like and that’s the type of conversation you don’t have when you’re younger and it’s nice for her to be like, it’s work. This doesn’t happen magically, it takes work and it takes compromise and sometimes terrible things happen and you get through it if you work together.
MR: I remember hers, and I remember at the end she says, this is my relationship, it’s not going to be the same for everyone, I thought that was a really great addition to that piece.
KJ: Yeah

MR: One of the other things that really struck me was me was the conversation with Courtney Summers and Laurie Halse Anderson, specifically how people call stories like theirs “rape stories.” Could you speak a little bit about why when men write women getting raped for the sake of their stories and why those aren’t called “rape stories?”
KJ: You know, it seems to me that whenever there’s a girl at the center of a story and it’s written by a woman, it’s a book that is for girls and women and it’s very geared towards that specific readership and it gets marketed that way and we don’t see the same thing when men write about women and girls. We don’t see the same thing when men write these epic fantasies and do very similar things. Culturally we see it as a women’s issue and we don’t see the broader impact. It’s an issue of frustration. There is this idea that we already have a rape book, we don’t need another one. And yet, you get 12 fantasies in a row written by men with rape scenes that are just there with no purpose other than to develop the male character and devalue the female character. And that’s an issue. Culturally, outside of reading, that’s a thing that we are really complacent in. [insert really long tangent about Game of Thrones and how dudes should just stop writing]

MR: Speaking of Courtney Summers, though, her other piece was about unlikeable girls. What are some of your favorite unlikeable girls in media?
KJ: I like Theo, in Brandy Colbert’s Pointe, she’s just this really complex character and not particularly likeable, and she’s working through so much internal [stuff] that it sometimes manifests in not likeable ways. But that’s also reality. I regularly say that I’m not likeable person, and most of the time I’m not and that’s fine.
MR: You don’t have to be
KJ: Exactly, I think that’s just how you survive in the world. There are ways to be competent and respectful and pleasant but-
MR: You don’t always have to be nice
KJ: Right, like we’re complex, we’re not one-dimensional people. In music, I don’t know if you know Marina and the Diamonds?
MR: Yess!
KJ: She’s super, at least in the persona that she gives, not likeable but yet I love her and I know so many other women love her. I think because she represents this idea of like, here’s what you think women are, and yet this is not reality.

MR: So, what is next for you?
KJ: I am working on another anthology, it’s another YA anthology on mental health. I’ve got 20 contributors so far. The pieces that they have been submitting are out of this world good. It’s hard, it’s such a different topic than feminism. As much as they are personal stories in feminism, it’s a little bit different –
MR: Mental health stuff – you have to be in the right headspace to go through that kind of stuff.
KJ: Right, and I can only read one at a time and I need so much space between them. Because it’s so much about – how do you tell someone, “can you talk about this terrible time a little bit more?”
MR: Like, “I need you to push a little deeper”
KJ: Yeah, it’s like they’re probably already at that limit. And I also don’t want myself to be so impacted that I can’t work now. It has been interesting in terms of editing since these are people that we are having an open conversation about mental health and we can say, “listen, things aren’t good right now and it’s going to take me a little extra time.” And it’s nice to be able to know that that’s the reason and be okay with it and know that it will get done without pushing.
MR: That sounds great, I’m excited for that. Thank you so much for this!
KJ: Yeah, you’re welcome, this was fun.

Book Review: How to be You by Jeffrey Marsh

An interactive experience, How to Be You invites you to make the book your own through activities such as coloring in charts, answering questions about how you do the things you do, and discovering patterns in your lives that may be holding you back. Through Jeffrey’s own story of “growing up fabulous in a small farming town”–along with the stories of hero/ines who have transcended the stereotypes of race, age, and gender–you will discover that you are not alone, can deepen your relationship with yourself, and find the courage to take a leap that will change your life.

So, first things first, if you haven’t heard of Jeffrey Marsh, please go check out their vines! I’ve been following them for a while now, and they’re always so inspirational. I was so excited when they announced their book.

I wish that I had actually read the full description and known that it was interactive ahead of time. As it is, I didn’t have time to sit down and actually interact with this book. But the beauty of this book, is that I can come back to it again and again and I can do the exercises every time I read it with different results.

This book is so great for anyone of any age. Even those of us who think we have it figured out. (Spoiler: we don’t.) Jeffrey Marsh does a great job of relating the their ideas of loving and being yourself to all people. The struggle of trying to find yourself is universal and they not only tell us you don’t have to “find yourself” but they also tell us the best ways to stop trying to find yourself and stop trying to fit into other people’s expectations of you. The best piece of advice in all of this, though, is that you can congratulate yourself just for trying. The goal is not to “complete” something, the goal is a journey of learning. And that journey doesn’t stop.

My favorite parts of the book are the Hero/ine segments. They talk about pioneers of equality throughout history and just people they regard as a hero/ine (including my future wife, Wonder Woman). The segments show that people are much happier just being themselves, even when it’s hard. He emphasizes that you shouldn’t try to BE those people, but rather use them as an example to be YOU.

A quick read (without the interactive parts) and really fun and inspirational. 4.5 bards.

Book Review: Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

28698224Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series “I Am Jazz” making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence particularly high school complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy especially when you began your life in a boy s body.

So, I super enjoyed this book, even though you can tell it was written by a fifteen year old. At first, the writing style of speaking to the reader sort grated on my nerves (because it was teenager-speak and I am clearly old and crotchety). However, she has a lot of important and meaningful things to say, so eventually I got used to it and I just enjoyed the book. She’s funny and sincere and once I got over my original annoyance, I realized she does have a great voice (I mean, people have been listening to her tell her story since she was tiny).

I really appreciated how she always insisted that she lives a normal life. She also emphasizes that she is really lucky to live that normal life because of her family, and how they’ve supported her for her entire life. She uses her privilege and her platform to remind readers that not every trans person is that lucky. Multiple times throughout the book she throws statistics out there about the number of trans lives that are lost every year. She uses those statistics to remind herself that she is lucky, but also to remind herself of why she has this public platform: to save other trans folks and to educate others about trans issues.

I also really loved that she normalized her mental health issues, as well. She made sure to say they were separate from her dysphoria, but that they were still a part of her. I think it’s important to normalize mental health and getting help and emphasize the fact that it literally happens to anyone and there is no shame in getting help.

I think this is a great book for literally everyone, but most especially parents of trans kids who want to have some kind of perspective on what their child is going through, and for trans kids just so they can see that they’re not alone. Overall, I’d give it 4 bards.


Book Review: Breaking Free by Abby Sher

18381760Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Slavery, by award-winning author Abby Sher, recounts these women’s incredible journeys from sex slave to survivor to savior— but it doesn’t stop there. The book delves even deeper into the horrors of human trafficking, an issue at the forefront of global outreach and activism.

With help from Somaly, Maria, Minh, and many other survivors and counselors, Sher tells the riveting story of what it means to be liberated from sexual trafficking and find the trust and conviction to help educate new survivors.




Its not often I get the opportunity to read a non-fiction book, so when I got the ARC of this book I was excited.  Abby Sher does a phenomenal job telling the stories of Somaly, Maria, and Minh.  All three women overcame horrific circumstances and yet had somehow found the courage to  tell their stories.  I think that its important for their stories to tell.  You always think, that can’t happen to me, or it only happens in third world countries.  But the reality is, human trafficking happens everywhere.

What set this book apart for me was that it wasn’t scary or depressing.  It told what happened to these ladies, but it focused more on the present.  And how they have broken out of the viscous enslavement and used their experiences to help others.  They all say they don’t want to be known as a hero, but they are.  They speak for the voiceless, the scared and the still enslaved.  They speak for people everywhere with a dream to better the world.  They are modern day heroes.

The book was an easy read, very fluid.  It was short and to the point.  I really enjoyed the glossary in the back of the book to help define and explain terms and situations.  I ran into some formatting issues but most likely it was due to the fact I was reading it on an e-reader.  This is a must read for everyone.

5 Bards


Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is

Top Ten Scariest Looking Book Covers

Some That Make Me Want To Read the Books: 

1. The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle

2. Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

3. Haven by Hope Collier

4. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn

Some that I’ve Read: 

5. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

6. Asylum by Madeleine Roux

7. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

8. Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Meglomania and Modern Medicine by Andrew T. Scull

9. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

10. Frankenstein (1818 Text) by Mary Shelley

What are some of your favorite scary/creepy covers? 

Happy Halloween!!!

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