Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Holly Black
Young Adult Paranormal
Published: September 2013

image: Goodreads
Who else other than an established author like Holly Black can manage to get a young adult vampire book published in 2013? While vampires will continue to morph in new forms, the genre seems to excel most when it returns to darker roots. The vampires in Coldtown are not sparkly, swoon-worthy heroes. They're ugly, ravaging beasts.

The book opens with a memorable, stage-setting scene. Tana wakes up in a bathtub, in the house where she partied the previous night. Outside the bathroom door, corpses. An entire house full of them.

Tana survives the massacre, along with her newly infected ex-boyfriend, and another boy who is probably a vampire and definitely trouble. Tana and the boys set out for the nearest Coldtown, the barricaded cities where vampires (and others who were not fortunate to get out in time), are quarantined from the rest of the population. There the guys will be safe and not hunted down by the authorities, and blamed for the massacre. Tana plans to get out through a sketchy plan involving turning in a vampire for bounty and obtaining a marker to be released back out of the Coldtown.

What takes this story a level above what it could have been is a rich backstory involving Tana's mother who had been bitten. Her memories flash back to her mother chained in the basement, trying to wait out the infection, which is technically possible if the newly infected does not feed. The story vacillates between past memories and the current trek to Coldtown. The dynamic between Tana and her ex is interesting, again taking this beyond a typical love triangle to more of an oddball survival story. Another layer that adds interest is how social media predictably skews the image of vampires into cool, intentional social outcasts. The vampires stream 24-hour dance parties, and flocks of people done with mundane living try to make into Coldtowns, oblivious that the reality is not what has been presented.

Tana is not a typical do-gooder main character. Her past relationships are flawed, her current relationships difficult. She is the type you want to wrap in a warm blanket and talk some sense into. Instead, Tana forges headfirst into a bleak world destined to hurt her. To save people she has complicated relationships with. It's not a sentimental take on vampires, but there is hope and some real fun in this story. If you've longed for a little more Ann Rice in your YA vampire fic, here you go.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2014 New Titles and Reading Challenges

Photo: theothernate via Flickr
Looking for what's new to read in 2014? Looking for a good reading challenge?

Stacked: 2014 Contemporary YA Books to Get On Your Radar
Let me just say, I want to tag almost all of these to Goodreads.

2014 Debut Author Challenge
Sign up at the blog above to officially network with other readers and bloggers whose goal is to read 12 books by debut authors in the new year. This blog challenge is specifically geared toward middle grade, YA, and I see they added New Adult (college age).

Bookish blog TBR Pile (To Be Read) Reading Challenge
This one is specifically for books NOT published in 2014, so all of you who tend to pile up books, this is for you--and me! I'm super psyched for this one. On the 20th of each month, Bookish will host a wrap-up post where you can link your reviews and network with other bloggers. Fun!

Latinas in Kidlit reading challenge!
Add diversity to your reading list.
Back to the Classics 2014 Challenge
Brush up on your classics--with helpful category suggestions. Also, prizes!

Even Pinterest has a collection of reading challenges.

Not interested in a blog challenge? Here's a post on YA Highway with lots of links featuring books with diverse characters and settings.

Here are a few lists on Goodreads of books coming out in 2014:
Which books do you have on your list for the new year? Anything you can't wait to read?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Photo: theothernate via Flickr (used w/permission)

Merry Christmas 
Happy Holidays!

May you enjoy many good books this holiday and into the new year!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Favorite Reads 2013!

It's that time of year! I love to see which books topped people's lists. I caught up on a lot of books from previous years, so I don't have too many 2013 books as my favorites.

I started the year with non-fiction (1776 by David McCollough), followed by some adult-market historicals. In spring, I read quite a few romances thanks to prepping for RWA Nationals and then all the freebies from the conference. Standouts include Courtney Milan (historical), Candis Terry (contemporary), Shawntelle Madison (paranormal).

Favorite Reads published 2013:
Eleanor & Park Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA). Two awkward, hurting teens support each other in this slow-burn romance.
Just One Day (Just One Day, #1) Just One Day by Gayle Forman (YA). A trip to the UK, one glorious day of love, and a year of coping with losing that love. Heartbreaking but completely immersive.

Second Chance Summer Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson (YA): In the vein of Sarah Dessen, a summer love story with strong threads of family and self-actualization. This is a book that stuck with me.

Favorite Reads: read in 2013, published a previous year:

Imaginary Girls Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma (YA). A haunting of devotion between sisters and a mysterious lake.

Where She Went (If I Stay, #2) Where She Went by Gayle Forman (YA). A girl looks in on her life while in a coma. Like the previous book, it's contemporary with hints of other-worldly factors.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA): Incredible voice, moving without being overly sentimental. Groundbreaking.

Thirteen Reasons Why Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (YA): A portrait of what it can look like to become suicidal. This is a really important book for the YA market.

The Princesses of Iowa The Princesses of Iowa by Molly Backes (YA): Solid contemporary YA with a main character who isn't a shy, nice girl. It's refreshing. Also nuanced and funny.

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1) Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (YA): A gothic mystery light enough to delight but still managed to be creepy.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kahlin (memoir, humor). Mindy Kahling is my new pop culture hero. You need to watch The Mindy Project, it's so funny!

My One and Only My One and Only by Kristan  Higgins (contemporary romance): I read at least 4 Kristan Higgins books this year after loving this one. Small town, quirky families, plucky heroines. She is one of my go-to writers for light romance.

What are your favorite reads from the year?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's Up Wednesday


What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop with other writers. Click here to see this week's list of particpating blogs!
What I'm Reading
Still plugging away at Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I'm spending free time writing so I'm not doing much reading at all. Once Friday hits, I'm taking a mini break and catching up on a bunch of books I've gotten for cheap from BookBub. It's both wonderful to have ebook deals emailed directly every day, and also dangerous because, well e-book deals are emailed to you EVERY DAY.
What I'm Writing
I'm revising my summer project (which I wrote thanks to many of your encouragement during Ready. Set. Write!) with hopes that I can get it in good enough shape to enter into RWA's Golden Heart contest (deadline just days away, thus the not reading much part). I already entered a different manuscript, but this project is more fresh in my mind and I really, really want to give it a chance in the GH! Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will be my last year eligible since the award is for writers who are not under a publishing contract. I will gladly become ineligible next year if it means one of my manuscripts goes under contract with a publisher!
The other national award RWA has is the Rita for published novels, which is open to any author, regardless of RWA affiliation. Sadly, the YA category is canceled in 2014 due to lack of entries. Say what now? Lack of entries for YA?! Crazy, right given how huge the category is, and how much its growing. More to the story. RWA changed the definition of what they consider a Young Adult romance, which well-intentioned or not, has caused the perception that many writers' YA romances no longer qualify since their stories involve other plot elements. I personally think the bulk of this is a misunderstanding. RWA's redefining of acceptable YA for their awards does limit some previously eligible entries, though I think people are perhaps interpreting the new definition too strictly. In addition to the defintion change, RWA also changed their method for determining how many entries are needed in order keep a category in the contest. This year you needed like 10 times more individual entries to keep the category. It was a perfect storm of changes that resulted in cancelation.
A bunch of us were on fire about this on twitter and many of us have brought our heartfelt concerns to the RWA board. I chose RWA over SCBWI, mostly due to its local resources, and I want to continue with the organization. I think RWA as a whole just needs a bit more education on what YA is and what it isn't. The perception should not be that YA romance is ONLY romance, given how essential coming of age and family matters are in YA lit. I do understand a romance-focused contest should require books that are romance focused, but a slight tweak to the wording will most likely clear up the confusion this has created.
Uh, so after all that, I'm still shooting for the Golden Heart, and I really hope the Rita is around for YA by the time I am eligible to enter a book.
What Inspires Me
Christmas! I took a break last weekend and baked with my sister-in-law and her mom. Let's just say I am now an expert at spritz cookies using a finnicky cookie press. I made shortbread, and my family dipped dozens of pretzels in chocolate and wrapped them up all cute. I don't have a pic, but I did make this (right) for a craft project gingerbread man contest at work. I turned mine into Princess Leia. Those are pipe cleaner buns. 
What Else I've Been Up To
Writing a lot, we covered that. I bought a bunch of older movies at one of those used CD/games/movies store. We don't have an extensive DVD collection at home so there are a lot of older movies I've been wanting to rewatch and wished we had. I even had a coupon for the used store, which made it even cheaper $3.33 a movie before the coupon. I need to make sure I don't crazy if I go back.
I have a half decorated Christmas tree due to issues with the lights (isn't it always) and am in need of an extension cord which of course I can't find due to having shifted everything in our downstairs when the floors were done and the water damage fixed. My husband does not get the holiday decorating thing AT ALL and I've been trying deal with this myself. The result is a tree with a strip of lights out in the middle and the boxes just sitting around. Although the cat likes his little shady nook. :)
What's up with your Wednesday? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What's Up Wednesday!

What's Up Wednesday is hosted by Jamie Morrow as a means for writers to check in with each other.

What's Up Everyone! My news: I finished NaNoWriMo! And I finished early!!

The other two years I did Nano I was absolutely writing up until the midnight Nov. 30 deadline. This year, I sort of accidentally crossed 50k without realizing. OK, I realized I was close, but I figured I had another session ahead of me. The book itself isn't finished, but I wrote to a pretty good stopping point.

What I'm Reading

Not much since I'm focused on writing. I started Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but I haven't made much progress with it. I was the first to get it from my library branch, and I'm ashamed to say--a travel mug spilled all over it. The pages are all wavy and stained. Yeah, I'm THAT person who ruined a brand new library book. I kind of feel like buying them a replacement.

What I'm Writing

I finished 50k in SUNSET SUMMER. I'm most impressed that I came up with a title before I started the book. That never happens.

First drafts are tough. I wanted to go back and fix stuff a hundred dozen times, but Nano, got to keep pressing forward. I allowed myself one quick re-read and tweak of each scene right after I wrote it, but no going back chapters. I did have to re-do a couple scenes once I realized I was being too nice to my characters and the ending would never work if I didn't set it up right. So where I left off, I still need an ending, but I should be able to pick that up in a few weeks.

Because I have a revision to get to, and a manuscript to enter into RWA's Golden Heart. Part of why I was so driven to finish Nano is these other projects waiting for me.

What Inspires Me

Deadlines. Seriously.

Other than that, it's a season of giving and I'm glad to see how generous people can be. Tornadoes wrecked entire towns in my state and across the Midwest last week. My workplace has a community service committee at work who researched different reputable charity agencies and my team is donating to relief efforts here in Illinois and also to the Philippines (one of my coworkers is from the Philippines and still has family there--they are all OK). It shifted my focus at the right time from: what can I buy for Black Friday? to: how much and where can I give?

What Else I've Been Up To

Our downstairs was gutted for weeks after a water heater leak. Workers have been in and out, the cat's litter box was relocated into a not-very-desirable area, my home office was stuffed with things that belonged elsewhere, and my living room has been crowded with guitars, amps, and stuff I'm not sure of (though the cat enjoyed climbing the boxes). Now all the work is done and I can have my space back!

Planning for holidays. I'm the potato queen this year, cooking up this fabulous and easy Bourbon Sweet Potatoes recipe, along with mashed. I'm also doing a croissant and brie appetizer which makes me feel fancy.

Additionally, I'm stoked for a new Muppets Thanksgiving special (with Lady Gaga-OMG). It airs Thanksgiving night on ABC! I would attach a link but everything I found had slow buffering video content and pop-up ads. UGH. So just know: MUPPETS.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Please visit the other blogs and check in! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's Up Wednesday

Hey everybody! I'm checking in for What's Up Wednesday, a writerly check-in started by Jaime Morrow.

What I'm Reading

Not much reading because I'm Nano-ing: that is, National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. BUT, of course I am reading SOMETHING:
Jennifer Echol's Endless Summer, which is keeping me in the right mindset for my summer-set YA contemporary.

What I'm Writing

I'm at the halfway point! 25k words! My Nano project is tentatively titled SUNSET SUMMER set in a coastal Oregon town. I just tried and failed to come up with a cute pitch, so let's just say the story is in the vein of Second Chance Summer or My Life Next Door (two YA contemporaries set in summer with strong themes of family).

What Else I've Been Up To

My RWA chapter brought in a forensic anthropologist (like Bones!) for a workshop on CSI for writers. There was a fake crime scene and everything. We analyzed blood spatter (spatter, not splatter) and discussed some basics to cover and some No-nos to avoid (like cops touching evidence without gloves--derp).
Forensic Anthropologist & author Mari Freeman
While most TV and movies are pretty inconsistent with realistic crime scene investigations, she said Castle is one of the worst offenders. Though the premise itself is ridiculous; famous crime writer tags along with the NYPD on their investigations? At least they realize their own ridiculousness by putting Nathan Fillion in this:

What Inspires Me

I want to publish a book. I need to write book for book to be published. So I am writing book. Sometimes it's just the facts, folks.

Also, today is my anniversary! Nothing fun going on today, though we celebrated last weekend with a few nights at a funky little inn in Wisconsin. We even at cheese and drank beer for dinner one night.

Stop over to Jaime's blog to see the other What's Up Weds posts!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: Game. Set. Match. by Jennifer Iacopelli

Game. Set. Match.
Jennifer Iacopelli
New Adult Contemporary
Published: May 2013

image: Goodreads
I read this over the summer--my first foray into New Adult, the genre readers and writers pushed for through indie publishing. Essentially, New Adult is fiction involving college-age characters, most of which is contemporary romance themed, but that is evolving as the genre develops.

Game. Set. Match. is set an elite training facility for burgeoning tennis pros. I loved the tennis details, tennis being one of the only sports I know pretty well from playing and watching it. The story is told from three character points of view: a high schooler with raw talent who is need of an attitude adjustment; the daughter of two tennis pros who has everything to prove, and a current star going pro who is not happy to share her coach with the player had a regrettable fling with. Each have their own romantic entanglements, but the female friendships are explored as well. I think the author knows tennis because the action felt authentic. I even read part of this while at the gym with Wimbeldon on in the background, which was pretty cool.

Here's a link to by on Amazon and B&N

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: Imaginary Grils by Nova Ren Suma

Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
YA Contemporary/Magical Realism
Published: 2011

image: Goodreads
It's been a month or two since I read this book, and it's still sticking with me. It has mixed reviews on Goodreads; readers really love it or did not care for it at all.  Imaginary Girls captivated me from the start. It's haunting, strange, and not at all what I expected, in a good way.

Chloe and her older sister Ruby have a complicated relationship. Ruby essentially raised Chloe given their mother's unreliable behavior, and Chloe idolizes Ruby, who seems to glide through life like nothing can stop her. But when a girl drowns in the town's resevoir, Chloe is sent away to live with her dad.

Two years later, Ruby has convinced Chloe to return, and they're back to the way things were. A summer of late night drives for cheesecake and doing whatever they want. But Ruby is more protective of Chloe than ever, passionately so. At night, Ruby stares at the reservoir from a perch on the roof, always watchful. Then Chloe encounters a girl at a party--the girl who drowned. It can't be possible, and yet it is. She is living, but not quite normal. Ruby is protective of her too, meaning the only person Chloe has ever trusted has secrets that even Chloe can't know.

The relationship between the two sisters goes deep. They are fiercely devoted to one another to a codependent level. Chloe's doubts are interwoved with her love for Ruby and her inability to see wrong in her sister. The writing here is excellent, a little more on the literary side than commercial fiction. I don't know if this truly Paranormal, maybe Magical Realism as there are no "abilities" explained, only mystical elements clouded in mystery.

One of the coolest things I found out after reading the book is that the town is based on a real life place in the Catskills that is now covered over with water, an entire town razed, people relocated elsewhere to build this water reservoir. Here is a link to the history as provided by reviewer Wendy Darling on Goodreads (check out her reviews, they are awesome).

I listened to Imaginary Girls as an audiobook, which I would recommend.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Miss Snark's Baker's Dozen 2013 Agent Auction

image: Miss Snark blog
Attention writers! It's that time of year again for the Miss Snark blog's mega contest! The prize is page requests from literary agents, up to full manuscript requests!

This is the contest that led me to working with my agent. It yields results!

Click here for all the details.

The Basics


Starting NEXT WEEK (last week of Oct. - first week of Nov.) submission windows open depending on the genre you write. The contest is open to un-agented writers who have a full, complete manuscript ready to go. The number of accepted entries is capped so you need to watch the time and submit as soon as the window opens. Have it ready to, your finger on the trigger (mouse). Then, it's out of your hands!

The submission is a one line pitch of your story and the first 250 words. Not every entry will make it onto the blog for agent bidding. The Authoress reads the entries to narrow down about 75 finalists across all the categories, with the help of a published author friend. Yes, it is subjective. They are looking for stand out entries. Like any contest, this isn't the only way to have your work seen by an agent (you can always query any agent open to submissions).


$10 via Pay Pal. The Authoress blogger organizes all this herself to help new writers break into the business. I also think this cuts down on some "why not?" entries that might not be ready since it requires some monetary investment.

Winning Entries:

The chosen entries will post to the blog and each will be available for critique from a pre-selected genre-specific editor and author, in addition to the blog community itself (AKA: You). The comments can be tough, and again subjective.

The Auction:

Early December is when the agents bid on pages (you know, like an auction). An agent who bids 25 pages means you send them your first 25 pages. If an agent outbids them up to a full, that agent gets first preference of being sent your work. The best part is, any agent who bids on your work, you can still send pages to and they are already familiar with your pitch because of the contest.

Have any of you entered similar contests, or this contest? Will this be your chance this year? Good luck to everyone! Let me know if you have any questions, or go directly to the link above.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Second Chance Summer
Morgan Matson
YA Contemporary
Published: May 2013

image: Goodreads
I love a good summer book (and am planning to draft one for NaNoWriMo 2013!). This book was just what I expected. Second Chance Summer fits in with the Sarah Dessen, Jessi Kirby, Jenny Han lexicon of Young Adult contemporaries, girls navigating life and their damaged families.

When Taylor's dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer with only a few months to live, her parents decide she and her siblings' busy, over-scheduled lives will stop in order to spend the summer together at their old cottage in the Pocanos.

It's been five years since Taylor's family spent the summer at their cottage, where Taylor left abruptly, causing a fracture with her best friend and with Henry, her first boyfriend. Neither are stoked to see Taylor return, but living in a small community means she bound to keep running into them both. As the summer progresses, friendships are mended, and new relationships formed, but all while her father's health deteriorates, and her family tries to cope.

This is a sweet book that doesn't shy away from the more difficult aspects of grief and terminal illness. Overall, it is hopeful and full of moments that show the characters evolving. Great summer (or early fall) read!

Friday, October 11, 2013

National Novel Writing Month 2013!

It's creeping closer... NaNoWriMo! The worldwide initiative to motivate us toward writing a 50,000 word draft during the month of November. It's free to sign up, and the prize for finishing is having created a draft of a book. I hear people say, "I have an idea for a book!" So, where is the book? As the wise and funny author Maureen Johnson once said: There is no idea for Book. There is only Book.

You must write the book.

So, write the book!

This was my revelation a few years ago, which thankfully came to me just in time for National Novel Writing Month, which a friend told me about. So I did it. I finished. The draft was a hot mess that I spent many months revising, and eventually shelved, but I DID IT. It showed me I could write a novel.

Here's the thing. It really does help to plan a little. Sitting down to start page 1 with no plan is risky. It's fun at first:

But a point comes along where either the story gets weird (wacky plot twists) or your plot doesn't have enough juice to make it to 50k.

It is. But! The best part of signing up for the challenge is the online support. The NaNo website is pretty detailed with lots of articles, motivating posts, and tips for a successful experience. The forums are active right now, hop over and poke around, maybe get a few questions answered.

Depending on your region, you might also have in-person events scheduled by generous writers in your area. My suburban Chicago are has a very active group that plans pre-planning workshops, a potluck this month, and write-ins at area coffee houses in November. I have not met up with the group in previous years, but would like to this year.

Not that the support guarantees success. Only YOU can sit down and hash it out every day. It's not easy, but that's why so many people have ideas for books. The idea is not a book until you write it.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Why or why not? Are you a planner or do you write by the seat of your pants?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's Up Wednesday

I'm back for What's Up Wednesday after a terrific summer of posts with the Ready. Set. Write! tie in.

What I'm Reading 

I just finished Eleanor and Park, at first not thinking it would live up to the hype. But of course, totally loved it (even if Eleanor drove me crazy half the time). It seemed like a book that shouldn't work, about two awkward teens who don't like each other, but it was wonderful to see them each open up the way they did. Just really well crafted and different than a lot of what I've read.

I read Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave, two of Jill Shalvis' Lucky Harbor romances, and a few other books I have reviews ready to post. And then, Burn by Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, which was pretty good until the end when some sort of paranormal-ish stuff started going on ... and then the book ended. So I guess this is a series (lol).

What I'm Writing

Thanks again to Ready. Set. Write! I finished a draft this summer. I'm going through a first revision, it's up to 60k words which is just where I want it. I'd love to make it through the second draft this month and send out to a few readers, then start a new project for NaNoWriMo!


Free I read YA bag!
I attended Anderson's Books YA Lit Conference, an event mostly aimed at librarians and educators, but open to anyone. I love being in the same room with so many passionate reading advocates. I met one of my favorite authors, Gayle Forman, and snagged Just One Year, which released this week. I'm midway through it, loving seeing the other side of the story from Just One Day, one of my favorite reads from this year. Met Christa Desir, another author whom we briefly shared an agency. Her debut Fault Line, an important book exploring the repercussions of sexual assault, and releases next week (add to your Goodreads list!).

One of the keynote speakers was Steven Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the director of the movie.
Steven Chbosky with Becky Anderson 9.30.13
What Else I've Been Up To

Took a vacation to Portland, attended their Comic Con, got sugar shock from Voodoo Donuts, met up with a few friends at a micro brewery. Then we visited the Oregon coast for a few days where I ate some the best food of my life at Castaways Tini Tiki Hut. I just loved waking up a block from the ocean. Sitting on the sand watching the sun set, walking out on the beach in the morning. LOVE.

Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, OR. photo: Stephanie Scott

What's up with your Wednesday? Make sure to visit the other blogs linked on Jamie Morrow's blog.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave
Rick Yancey
YA: Sci-fi
Published: May 2013

Image: Goodreads
I wrote off this book for awhile, confusing the author with someone else (for some reason I thought this was a mainstream author like James Patterson writing his first YA book, but Yancey has won several awards for children's lit prior to this book). A reviewer on Goodreads whose opinion I trust gave it 5 stars and called it a Must Read. That and the Goodreads group I belong to is reading this for their book club this month.

The 5th Wave is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller where a lot of people die and only the bravest survive. Seriously, a LOT of people die in this book, and it's pretty grim. I would say it's Hunger Games level violence, so keep that in mind if you are looking for a lighthearted read.

The alien apocalypse has arrived. At first no one really knew what to do, and 17-year-old Cassie's father was optimistic the visitors might have peaceful intentions. But the aliens strike, causing catastrophic events that wipe the segments of the population out with each wave. Soon, Cassie, her father, and young brother Sammy are living in a refugee camp with other survivors, and within time, the government comes to bring them to shelter. Only, they only want Sammy. Something is definitely up, and when more survivors are killed, Cassie questions who she can trust.

The story is told from several other POVs, a shadowy hunter, and Ben, a boy Cassie went to school with before the invasion whom she had a massive crush on (wrote about him in her diary and everything). I don't want to say too much further since all these characters' lives intertwine based on how the plot progresses.

I liked that this book focused more on survival and family rather than a love story, though there is a little bit of that thrown in too. Cassie is a cool, relatable character. The voice in this book is extremely engaging, which really adds to the page-turning here. This reminded me of a mix of War of the Worlds and survival aspects of The Walking Dead from a YA angle.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne

Truly, Madly, Deadly
Hannah Jayne
YA Thriller
Published: July 2013
image: Goodreads
Contemporary thrillers are pretty big in Young Adult fiction right now, so we'll be seeing more of them debut over the next year. Truly, Madly, Deadly took me back to the Christopher Pike books, though this story is admittedly a little more grounded. Sawyer and her best friend have an endearing repertoire; they're funny, realistic friends.

I loved that Sawyer lives in the model home of a new housing development separated from town. Have you ever walked around or driven through a neighborhood under development? Partially-built lots, no neighbors, not-yet-permanent roads, construction machinery casting shadows during off-hours--the perfect set up for creepery.

So, the story starts with Sawyer and everyone in school mourning the loss of her boyfriend Kevin, a popular student and athlete, who died in a car accident. Sawyer hints that Kevin wasn't so perfect, a fact that she hides from friends and family. Details of Kevin's accident are suspicious, and the police are investigating whether it was murder. A the same time, Sawyer receives a mysterious note--someone knows exactly what happened, and now they're watching Sawyer. The rest of the book is a guessing game of who killed Kevin, and who is stalking Sawyer and why.

This is definitely a lighter thriller, though people do die (which is why I related it to Christopher Pike). The story is shades of dark without becoming graphic. I do wish the backstory with Sawyer and Kevin had been explored a little further, there was a lot of potential there. But overall I liked the characters and enjoyed the mystery.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Forever YA's Diversity Series

Please stop by Forever Young Adult's Heck YA, Diversity! series. Why?

1.) Authors like Jenny Han, bloggers, and publishers weigh in on diversity in Young Adult fiction--tropes, stats, and inspirational stuff. It's all good!

2.) I have a Guest Post up about YA books set outside the U.S. Come say hi!

Have a great holiday weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's Up Weds and Final Ready. Set. Write!

What's Up Wednesday! Check Jaime's blog for more deets.
What I've Been Reading
I'm going through Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA as research for my current WIP. I was laughing about how 3 out of 4 book references the author made I've read on my own (Reviving Ophelia, The Warrior Woman, The Body Project. So basically, this is the type of book I'd read regardless of the research angle). Also reading Kody Keplinger's Shut Out which surely is on a banned list somewhere given the plot is the football team's girlfriends go on a hook-up strike to force an end to their endless feuds with the soccer team. Keplinger is really great at taking an edgy topic and showing real people behind it, along with consequences, humor, and shedding stereotypes. Go Kody! In the car I'm listening to Meg Cabot's Underworld.  

What I've Been Writing

So, it's the last check in for Ready. Set. Write! And... I wrote next to nothing this week. I might have written last Wednesday... BUT the good news is I wrote 2/3 of a first draft during the summer challenge, and I have this group to thank for the motivation! Thanks everybody. Looking forward to keeping up with you all on Wednesday posts.

What Inspires Me/ What I've Been Up To
Vacations! Just a long weekend, really, but it was so nice to get away to a rented house, hang out with the girls, go shopping, swim in the pool, and cruise the Mississippi. The only drawback is we weren't there long enough!

Girls Weekend!
Mississippi Riverboat
We ate fabulously; the first night we dined at a restaurant featuring local produce and regional wines and drinks. After the riverboat cruise, we started to eat at a diner next door, but one meek voice piped up--Are you sure you all want to eat here? She pointeed out that water was dripping onto the table from an ancient window-mounted A/C unit. I volunteered to tell the waitress we were leaving--we hadn't even gotten water yet, it wasn't like we'd been there long. A few girls felt bad, but why? We walked in, the place smelled kind of musty, and we determined to spend money elsewhere. A good reminder to speak up, especially since the place we found for lunch after that was phenomenal! (Everyone busted out their phones and looked for eateries with high ratings on Yelp, which took us through a curious tour of Dubuque but led to a gem with food we weren't going to find at that diner).
Check out other bloggers' final Ready. Set. Write! linked here. And then tell me how your week went!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mortal Instruments the Movie and Twilight's Inevitable Shadow

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
So, Mortal Instruments, the movie. Guys, it's not looking good.

Despite the success of Cassandra Clare's book series, that success is not translating into movie sales. Always a bummer to hear when you want YA adaptations to work out, especially so they can continue.

The movie opened at #3 with $9.5 million in sales. Sure, the end of summer the box office numbers tend to be lower, and if this was an indie drama like Tiger Eyes, it might not be so bad. But this movie was HYPED. It was supposedly the next Twilight (though what isn't these days if it's based on teen fiction?).Commercials starting back in spring aired during CW shows like The Vampire Diaries, and I've seen tons of online ads, and heavy promotion about casting news and trailers for the past year. And yet.

Entertainment Weekly may be the outlier here, they gave the movie a B- which is pretty good if you compare how they rate similar blockbusters. But the overall Rotten Tomatoes score (which gathers critical reviews into a "freshness" percentage) is a lowly 12%. That's even lower than when I checked last Friday (17%).  Meaning almost all critics are panning the movie.

Some of the critics' points:

  • Seems like a Twilight wannabe
  • Collecting scraps from other movies
  • Overly long
  • Viewers not familiar with books will be confused
  • Nonsensical

Yikes! So what went wrong? Maybe it was simply the idea of adapting another paranormal teen romance. Or, was it more in the execution? Movie adaptations can get blasted by fans of the source material for not including enough, but to make a book-to-movie work, the plot and characters have to be scaled down. Books delve into more detail and show more nuance than movies can handle (thus complaints about the rushed-seeming 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice vs. the 1995 mini-series which captured everything--a 2-hr movie cannot fit everything from a book).

It sounds like Mortal Instruments suffered from trying to tell and show everything, which might be great for fans of the book, but not so much for the uninitiated who don't have the background of all the characters.

The Twilight comparisons are legit, though not quite fair. Twilight had publishers clamoring for more paranormal teen romance, so I guess we can blame them for the wealth of material. I say blame, but in truth, readers WANTED those books. It's no secret YA fiction would not be what it is today without Twilight's success, no matter how you feel about the franchise. It put a focus on teen fiction that wasn't there before, and now great books like The Maze Runner and The Fault In Our Stars and even decades-old Tiger Eyes are being adapted for film. But Twilight got so huge, that other paranormal romance movies inevitably, and yes unfairly, get the comparison. If it's not different enough, a movie-goer or critic unfamiliar with the nuance of the book is not going to see it as wholly different from That Other Teen Vampire Movie. And Mortal Instruments isn't solely about vampires (though they're in it).

What do you think? Did you see the movie? Have you read the book series? How do filmmaker's miss the mark when adapting books for the screen?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What's Up Wednesday, Ready. Set. Write!

What's Up, Wednesday? (Already...)

What I'm Reading

I finished up a round of books--the audio book of Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler, which is a Sarah Dessen-style book about a girl who lives in her sister's shadow, and now her sister has cancer, plus Truly, Madly, Deadly, a YA suspense by Hannah Jayne, which I enjoyed for the writing, but I wished had delved deeper in the character's past issues. I saw missed opportunites, but overall a quick read that reminded me of the Christopher Pike thrillers I read as a teenager
I put a book down after 20 pages last night; a book from the New Adult genre that I... I just was not going to make it through. I could forsee myself getting pretty offended by cheap melodrama. I skimmed some Goodreads reviews and they were either ZOMG LOVED THIS! or 1-2 stars What a trainwreck. So now I know where I fall. I love a fun, flirty romance, but the characters have to feel real and not like pawns. OK, I'm done now.
What I'm Writing

If I write more today I can probably close in on 40k words of my new project. Not bad for a month! I'm chugging along, doing my best not to go back and edit (SO HARD). Also, I'm learning from past projects not to keep adding new characters and side plots--I've had to delete stuff mid-thought because I'm veering toward that. Never a shortage of people and ideas to explore, I suppose. I would love to reach 60k by Sept. 1 but that's like a week away. Hm. Maybe early September.
For this week, I want to write for at least one sitting each day through Friday. Sat-Mon is a girls trip (yay!) and I'll resume writing next week Tuesday.
What Inspires Me
Write On Con: the support writers provide for each other, and seeing familiar usernames and excerpts from writers I met over the summer at conferneces or who I know from blogs.
My RWA chapter: a few of us are forming a YA-focused in-person critique group. We are a small number in the group so we've gotta stick together! 
Writers on twitter: a few RWA buddies from the other Chicago chapter started a twitter hashtag for Summer of All The Words (#SoATW) where M-Thurs at 10pm CST you write for an hour and then check in on twitter. Drop in when you can. My problem--I start writing at 10 and can't stop until 12:30. What bedtime?
What Else I've Been Up To
I ate two amazing meals with friends last weekend, one at a new sushi place where the food passes by in an automated conveyor tube (I had a picture but the quality was bad), and a French place that mostly does appetizers like meat and cheese plates and crostini things. Keep in mind I am still counting calories and busting my butt at the gym so I picked the best of the best, tried not to stress about it, and moved on.
Watching last season's Dexter (we are always behind since we're reliant on the DVDs), this season's Breaking Bad, and finishing up all the leftover shows on our DVR from last year--either watching or deleting forever.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Links! Free e-Books and Other Stuff

Happy Friday, everyone! I'm finally sorting through my conference loot--the stuff beyond books, like ebook downloads, business cards, scads and scads of bookmarks. I will have to do a prize pack or something to spread the love.

In the meantime, here are some links to book stuff:

For Readers:

  • Ah, New Adult. Here, The Independent attempts to explain the New Adult genre. If you're curious about this category that hovers between YA and well, everything else, you can download a free e-book sampler (excerpts from full novels) from Between the Covers featuring J. Lynn (Jennifer Armentrout), Cora Carmack, Molly McAdams, Sopher Jordan and more. Many of these authors discount their full-length books (I've seen from $1.99- $3.99), which is partly why New Adult has taken off. Keep your eye out for deals.
I met Erin Knigtley--see, she's sweet!
  • If you like regency romance, the wonderfully sweet Erin Knightley has a free novella up on Smashwords: Ruined by a Rake. You do not have to register with Smashwords to download, I just tried it. And, she has a giveaway on her site!
  • Everybody's on the novella bandwagon, even YA books. Veronica Roth has a short story tied to the Divergent universe, and Lauren Oliver did the same with novellas for Delirium. 
  • Deals: If you haven't yet read John Green's hilarious, sad, beautiful YA novel The Fault In Our Stars, it's discounted to $3.99 for Nook and $3.99 Kindle. Those sales don't last long so go get it!

For Writers:

  • Pitch Madness is coming, hosted by contest-hostess-extraordinaire Brenda Drake. Pitch to pre-selected literary agents. Check her site for details.
  • The Agent's Inbox is another contest going on next week.
  • Nathan Bransford comments on predictable movie storytelling (blamed in a Slate article on go-to screenwriting  book Save the Cat! and its very specific pacing strategies), and how this is an opportunity for writers.
  • And for those in a driveable distance to Chicago area, I have the scoop on Anderson's Books YA Literature Conference on September 28: Gayle Forman (!), Steven Chbosky, Michael Grant, Adam Gidwitz are the featured speakers, and a number of other authors will be there: Rick Yancey, Myra Mcentire, Shannon Messenger, and my agent-mate Christa Desir (who I'd love to meet so hopefully I'm going!). Details are NOT up on Anderson's site, but here's where they will be when posted.
Any news to share? Please do, and say Hi in the comments!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Write On Con Aug 13-14

Just a reminder that tomorrow Write On Con starts, the free online conference for kidlit writers created by kidlit writers.

Many events do not require you to participate live; blog posts, interviews, and videos can be viewed at any time when you get the chance. There are hosted chats and live forum events, so check out the schedule to see what is when: Write On Con program

To register, sign up for the forums--that's it! 

My agent Sarah LaPolla is participating (along with 18 (!) other great agents). They'll be posting articles, possibly chatting in live events, and lurking the forums reading those posted queries and first pages under disguise as Ninja Agents. 

This is a really easy opportunity to connect with other writers and get feedback on your own work. Take some time to post comments to other writer's posted query letters and first pages and you might find some new friends. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Ultimate Anti-Hero: How Breaking Bad Keeps Us Rooting for the Bad Guy

Breaking Bad returns Sunday for its final run. Intense and brilliantly crafted, it's one of my favorites, despite sometimes being difficult to watch. Why? Because Breaking Bad features the ultimate anti-hero. The character who does so much bad, and yet we find ourselves rooting for him to win.
Breaking Bad final season promo
In honor of this epic show's last season, I thought I'd break down what makes an anti-hero so compelling, and how writers can use aspects of the anti-hero in their own writing.

(Note: No spoilers here beyond what's shown in the the first episode of the series. All other comments will be general and not plot specific!)

Essential Anti-Hero Traits

Somebody To Root For

Any great main character needs to do something to capture audience loyalty. The title of Blake Snyder's screenwriting book Save the Cat is about just that--show a character saving a cat, or a good deed, and you begin to win that loyalty.

When Breaking Bad's Walter White is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, he knows his meager high school chemistry teacher's salary won't be enough to cover the medical bills. After running across a former student fleeing a drug bust, Walter schemes to use his chemistry skills to make meth, a short-term plan to build cash and secure his family for the future.

Of course it's terrible and illegal. But Walt's cancer is inoperable--he may only have months to live. Also, he gets zero respect in his teaching job, his wife is pregnant, and his relationship to his teenage son is fractured. Walter isn't making meth to pay cash for a sports car, he's doing it out desperation to provide for his family. There is a reason he's turning to illicit drugs--the clock is ticking on his life, he's rotting away at a job that doesn't appreciate him, his family needs him.

  • Characters who "do bad" for noble reasons give viewers and readers a reason to latch on.


Dude, this guy is layered. If Walter were just an average chemistry teacher, maybe that's not so endearing. But Walter once worked on a Nobel prize-winning project and co-founded a tech company with fellow researchers. So he's brilliant, but scraping by in Albuquerque's public school system. His son, Walt Jr., could have been just an angsty teen, but his cerebral palsy is another motivating factor for Walter to risk his life to care for his family. The journey becomes more personal--Walter wants to redeem his past failures. His life is a failure, and the cancer serves as a motivator toward extreme behavior.

A rich backstory doesn't always need to be fully explained--I'm pretty sure we still don't know all the details of Walter's falling out with his research partners. But we see this failure revealed through snippets, and each layer makes Walter's criminal behavior more complex.

  • Create a rich backstory and layer it in throughout scenes, dialogue, as your plot progresses. Relate your character's flaws to their past hurts, and tie this in to their overall character arc and journey. (easy enough, right?)

Secrets and Lies

Walter surely can't tell his wife Skyler he's cooking meth with a former student, so he constructs little lies (which unfold into more elaborate lies) to explain time away from home and where this cash is coming from. While you see Walter struggle with various aspects of the drug trade, he's accumulating cash, paying bills, and starting to set up provisions for his family. The moral consequences of lying to his family are shown pretty clearly, which leads to much nail-biting; do you root for Walt, or against him?

As with writing, a story doesn't go far if every character tells the truth all the time and suffers few flaws. The key here is motivation. Walt is lying to Skyler for a reason. It doesn't make it right, but we side with him because his intentions are noble. It's his actions that are morally questionable.

  • Characters intentionally hiding shades of truth, or spinning the truth to their advantage, especially for a good reason, creates compelling tension and leads to conflict, which every story needs.

Make the Conflict Personal

Walt's meth starts gaining attention in the drug community and with law enforcement--after all, this award-winning chemist isn't going to make a crap product. The head DEA agent on the case happens to be Walt's brother-in-law. What's brilliant about this is it's not Walter's brother, but his wife's brother. Secrets and lies will potentially hurt Skyler more deeply when/if she discovers the truth. Walter evading the DEA might mean no promotion for his brother-in-law (and conversely, if his brother-in-law catches this meth king, then Walter is busted).

Walter's partnership with Jesse is the other greatest source of personal tension on the show. Jesse still refers to his former teacher as Mr. White, and the mentor/mentee relationship plays throughout the series. Walter tries to instill values and education into Jesse at the same time they plot their drug trade. He might not care as much if Jesse was a random guy he had no history with, but given Walter's feelings of failure, he still sees Jesse as a chance to redeem his own personal failures.

  • If the main character's decisions directly affect outcomes of other character's lives, the conflict and stakes intensify.

A few other notable anti-heroes:

Dexter Morgan from Dexter: A serial killer who kills murderers and other serial killers.

Boyd Crowder from Justified: a career criminal with swagger and loyalty to a rather muddled criminal code.

Amy Dunne from the novel Gone Girl: is she a victim or a brilliant mastermind? Or both?

What do you think about anti-heroes? Are they compelling, or do they make you hide beneath blankets because of moral quandary?