Ranking the Dystopian Teen Novels

First off, thank you all so much for the warm congratulations for adopting our daughter. Sarabeth and I were very warmed by your support and enthusiasm.

Part of Katherine’s name is based off of Katniss from The Hunger Games (just look at her initials). Some people might mock us for our obsessiveness over a teen book (pun intended), but Katniss is the kind of girl we want Katherine to be inspired by as she grows older. She’s strong, compassionate, uncompromising in her beliefs, and fiercely loyal. Plus, Katherine already has a dog named Prim, so it works out.

Yeah, I admit, I read teen novels. But I’m also in the book business, so it’s part of my job to be well-versed in what the hottest thing out there is (I’ll still pass on 50 Shades of Grey, thank you very much). While biographies, history, sports, and some mainstream fiction are part of my circulation, I get a sense of thrill when I’m about to start a new teen book, mainly because the competition out there is so fierce and only the best survive. Believe it or not, the odds are not in every book’s favor, especially in the future day setting.

Here’s four dystopian teen novels that I’ve read and ranked them from best to worst with explanations.

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1. The Hunger Games

Full of depth, originality, and deep characters, The Hunger Games presents a believable future where upper-class citizens revel in the annual deaths of teenagers broadcasted on TV. These books challenge readers to stand up and challenge what’s wrong in this world and to fight for what is good and pure. They are read on a regular basis in our home.

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2. The Last Survivors

Despite the political agenda behind Susan Beth Pfeffer’s series, it’s an extremely different take on the post-American world. The world has not shifted due to evil empires or wars, but by natural causes. An astroid knocks the moon closer to the earth, causing volcanoes to erupt, countries to flood, and the earth to shake, among other major disasters. Written from the diary of a young girl who is just an observer, the books are very believable and a fresh breath away from the tired action/thrillers populating the bookshelves.

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3. Divergent 

Firs off, way too much romance. Way too much kissing and oohing and awing. Nothing can slow a book down faster than the old “we stole glances from each other, then it lead to kisses” garbage (in my opinion, anyway). The concept is good, but a bit confusing as I could never remember what each faction’s purpose was. To be honest, I didn’t even bother to read the next two books, because by the end of the first one, I just didn’t really care.

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4. The Testing

I’m sorry, but shame on HMH Books for publishing this series. Is it Divergent? Is it Hunger Games? To be fair, the reviews on Amazon are exceptional and the first book received 4.5 stars out of 5. That’s impressive. But personally, I can’t remember being so bored with a book. It’s a total hybrid of its dystopian counterparts. And completely predictable. I also don’t plan on bothering with the next two in the series.

True, the competition among teen books is fierce. I just hope that other, better books, aren’t being buried in the commotion of the dystopian hoopla which are just riding on the coattails of greater, braver books.

Have you read these? Which ones are your favorites?

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Baby A. is Officially Ours

11053691_451150641760475_8000524778489925718_nIt finally happened. It’s a done deal. If I had pixie dust and only needed to think up a happy thought to fly, today would by my happy thought.

Today, Sarabeth and I took our foster daughter to the courthouse one last time to solemnly swear to be Baby A.’s legal and official parents forever.

At 10:05 this morning, “Baby A.” officially became Katherine Anne Toy.

In the year and a half we’ve had her, I’ve never felt like she wasn’t our daughter, but now, it’s 100% official.

All I can say is, Katherine, as your dad, I will do my best to give you the life you’ve always deserved, full of happiness, love, and lots and lots of dancing!

Mom and I love you very much. We always will.

Get more updates on Kat and her foster brother on my Facebook Author Page

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My Daughter’s Life Will Change In Just Two Days

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…As will mine.

It’s hard to believe we’ve had Baby A. for a year and a half! Since she arrived in our home from the hospital, the house has been louder, more joyful, filled with laughs, and it’s been much, much messier!

Sure, there’s been some bad days where my temper has gotten the better of me, or my patience ran out.

But I wouldn’t give up a single minute with my foster daughter.

And in just two days, she will be, officially and forever known as our daughter.

Sarabeth and I can’t possibly be more happy and proud of our little girl. Every day she surprises us with something new that’s she’s learned and cracks us up over something she does.

Our daughter has become the greatest little person I have even known.

July 22, her adoption day, cannot possibly come fast enough.

Now I need to stop writing about it because otherwise I can’t stop crying!

No, life isn’t perfect. There are many things we’d like to change, many more miles to cross to reach certain goals, and many struggles yet to overcome, but when it comes to our daughter, nothing can possibly give us more joy and satisfaction.

Keep updated on our Adoption Day by following my Facebook Page!

How We Got Engaged

slide12July 19, 2008, seven years ago today, lives were changed.

Plans were altered.

Questions were asked.

It was unlikely that Sarabeth and I would ever meet – me from California, she from Florida. The chances were slim at best.

We didn’t meet on either coast as one might think, but in the middle of God’s country, Colorado Springs where we met at school.

It took me maybe two weeks at most to ask her out. But like all good things, our everyday courtship ended and I had to go back home to California and she back to Florida. We dated each other from our prospective hometowns for a year and a half.

That’s eighteen months with over 3,000 miles between us.

It wasn’t easy. I hate talking on the phone to begin with, and at some point I gave up and dumped Sarabeth.

Worst mistake ever.

I don’t know how or why she ever accepted me back when I came to visit her on her birthday. But I’m glad she did.

I made many promises that I was going to propose to her, but every time, I found some excuse or another to put it off again and again.

I had moved up to Seattle to work at a camp early in 2008 (almost as northwest of the continental country as one can get, while Sarabeth was almost as southeast as one could get).

She came to visit me on July 18 and that night I told her I couldn’t propose to her yet. I needed to wait.

Again.

Maybe around Christmas.

To her, a snail could crawl from Florida to Washington quicker than I was going to propose.

I picked her up from her hotel the next morning to bring her to the camp I was working at to show her around campus. I was wearing a raggedy shirt that she had expressed disinterest in at some point in our relationship. After all, I had no reason to dress up.

The chapel was first on our tour. Before we reached it, one of my colleagues came out and said I had an important call to take. So I passed my girlfriend off to him and asked him to take her to the chapel and I’ll meet her there in a few minutes.

I ran to the offices not to take a call, but to shed my raggedy shirt, and put on a nice button down I had purchased and checked for the trillionth time that the box was still in the breast pocket. I removed it and clamped it tightly in my sweaty hand.

While this was happening, my colleague led her to the chapel where she found a video of me projected onto the big screen talking about how much I love her and how glad I was that she was there. Then video ended with me saying, “Now, I have just one question to ask you…”

And right below the screen I walked in through the door with the ring in my hand while John Mclaughlin’s “So Close filled the chapel through the speakers.

I asked the question. She said yes.

We sat on the steps and talked and laughed and made plans for the rest of our lives.

“I have just one more surprise for you,” I said.

I then led her down to the camp’s lakeside as the morning sun danced in its reflection, and there on the sand was a table set up with flowers, two chairs, and a couple of servers (the camp cooks) ready to take our breakfast order.

Our own private breakfast on the lake.

And lots of pancakes – she loves pancakes.

But I knew our engagement anniversary would be celebrated for years to come, and I wanted to set a tradition. So later I took her to our favorite restaurant, Cheesecake Factory in downtown Seattle. It was a good choice because so far there has been a Cheesecake Factory in every state we’ve lived in.

Well, this year, Cheesecake Factory is being postponed until Wednesday the 22nd. We’re taking our daughter to celebrate her adoption day and our foster son.

Traditions are meant to be tweaked.

As long as they’re still shared with the ones you love.

Adoption Week is here!! Follow my Facebook Page for updates!

The Grisham Challenge Book 1: A Time to Kill

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Wow! John Grisham starts his writing career off with a wallop, and a hard act to follow. Racism, threats, juicy courtroom drama, murder, revenge, and controversy.

As solid and enthralling as this work of fiction is, it wasn’t the book that launched Grisham into his superstar status, believe it or not. That doesn’t happen until the release of his next book, The Firm (which I’ll start reading shortly).

But let’s talk about the controversy in A Time to Kill.

A little girl gets raped. No… your little girl gets raped. You have a weapon and a clear shot of  the rapists. What do you do?

Now you’re in the jury box. The man being convicted was just exacting revenge on behalf of his battered and bruised daughter.

Do you convict him?

I know the law states that we are not to seek vigilante justice on our own, that we must leave it to the court to execute justice. It seems plain and simple, really. The man killed. The conviction of a guilty verdict should be implemented.

But Grisham’s brilliancy is that he blurs the lines between black and white (and I mean that both morally and ethnically).

This would be one of those very few scenarios where the movie had just a tiny edge up on the book. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but from what I remember, Mathew McConaughey’s portrayal of our defense attorney Jake Brigance, in his closing argument, describes the heinous rape to an all-white, Southern jury. And then at the very end he says something like, “Now, imagine that the victim is white.”

That sort of happens in the book, except it’s a jury member who pulls that gut-wrenching punch.

If I were in the jury box, I might have very well given the verdict to the vindictive father and let him walk free. What about you? How did A Time to Kill affect you?

I know a few of you have expressed joining me in The Grisham Challenge. Join the fun and let’s read the works of America’s favorite storyteller together!

Also, join my Facebook Author Page for updates on my newest works and family life!

Adoption Update (Enter A Hundred Exclamation Points Here)

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I’m sitting at work on the phone with a customer and, just now, I get a text from Sarabeth:

“Adoption Date!!!!!!!!! July 22 @ 9:45!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Yes, friends. After having Baby A. be a part of our home for the last 548 wonderful days, she will now officially be recognized as a Toy by the state and the world.

Sitting here at work at my desk, it’s very hard not to break down and cry right now.

Next week, we will be revealing Baby A.’s real name and so much more! Keep checking back for updates.

July 22nd 2015: The best day of our lives so far…

Follow the adoption updates closely here!

The John Grisham Challenge

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If you were to ask me who my favorite fiction writer is, by default I would have to say John Grisham, probably because I’ve read more of his books than any other fiction author. That’s not to say others don’t live up.

Suzanne Collins hasn’t written as many books, even though I’ve read all eight (actually, nine) of her works.

Jeff Smith is a graphic novelist, so he can’t count as a fiction author.

And Stephen King just wasn’t the right fit for me.

Plus, I love courtroom action, and I think Grisham does it best.

But somewhere in the middle of his writing career, he kind of lost his touch. Sure, most of us can agree that his books set outside the courthouse are left wanting a little more substance (or plot), but the most recent trial books I’ve read by him haven’t necessarily lived up to par, either. I remember loving one of them immensely (The Broker, maybe?), but the ending was so sudden and unsatisfying that I ended up hating it.

So I want to find out what went wrong. At what point did America’s favorite storyteller lose his knack for captivating his john-grishamreaders? (Or hasn’t he?) You see, I want to avoid whatever mistakes he made, and capitalize on his strengths (and there are many), because I may or may not be writing my own courtroom book currently. And in order to do it well, I want to learn from the best.

I’ll be reading them in order of release from A Time to Kill, which I’m almost done with, to Rogue Lawyer. 

Some of them I’m very excited about revisiting, like The Firm, The Client, The Testament, and others not so much, like A Painted House and Playing for Pizza.

But we can’t expect a perfect 100 from someone’s who’s given us almost forty titles. So, Mr. Grisham, here’s to the next couple of years spent together in thrilling courtroom (and sometimes sports, rural, and Christmas) bliss.

Share your favorite John Grisham novel below!

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