Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Best Book of August

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.
This Week's Topic is: What was the best book you read in August?

I used this past month to get caught up on a variety of books I'd been meaning to get to. Here's what I read for the month:

If I Stay -- Gayle Forman (YA Contemporary, Audiobook). This book really impressed me. It's written beautifully as it examines a girl looking in on her life in the aftermath of a tragic car accident.
Mockingjay -- Suzanne Collins (YA Dystopian). I wish I could say I loved this. Part of why I held off on finishing the Hunger Games series was because I didn't want to zip through it so fast. It took a lot of effort to get through this one. I'll still see the movies though!

Rebels by Accident -- Patricia Dunn (YA Contemporary). Cool concept: American-born teen with Egyptian-born parents gets sent to Egypt to live with her grandmother to straighten her out. She arrives just in time for the uprising of 2011. My review here.

Mad, Bad and Blonde -- Cathie Linz (Contemporary Romance). I attended a book signing for Susan Elizabeth Phillips' latest (if you haven't read her and you like romance with some depth and humor, she's the gal for you!), and because she's so awesome, Susan asked that any published authors in the crowd stand up and share a line about their own books. After Susan finished her talk and started signing, a small crowd had gathered by Cathie's books in the romance section of the store. She happily chatted about her books and signed them for readers. I loved how much these women supported one another and had to pick up one of her books! It's got a Stephanie Plum vibe but less slapstick. A little mystery, a little romance, lighthearted.

The Book Thief -- Markus Zusak (YA Historical, Audiobook). This is a wonderful book but I had trouble focusing for the audio version. The audio production is great, I just think this would have been better to read in print. It feels like a modern classic, and I liked the richness of history brought together with fairy-tale like narration. 

Which brings me to my favorite read from August:

Wanderlove -- Kirsten Hubbard (YA Contemporary). This is how YA is done! The voice leaped off the page, and I immediately identified with Bria, who decides to take a Guatemalen adventure trip after graduating high school. She's not sure if she's running from her past, or what she's running toward. The imagery of Central America is beautiful and feels very real. I'll post my review in the coming week.

Hop over to YA Highway to see the other linked posts! What was your favorite read from the past month?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Price of a Positive Book Review

Welcome to Monday, everyone! I usually post a book review on Mondays, but I've been in vacation mode after a girl's weekend getaway. I came across this article today on about a entreprenurial guy who gets paid to write online book reviews: Link Here

This isn't anything new -- authors paying for positive reviews on the big sites like Amazon, Goodreads etc, despite policies on those sites that warn against paid reviews -- but it's definitely interesting to read about someone making a career out of it. The reviewer in the artcile worked in marketing for publisher where he solicited reviews for books, until he realized he could do this himself -- and charge for it.

I don't know that there's anything necessarily wrong with charging for a book review in general. If you're a self-pubbed author (and frankly, even if you're not) marketing and publicitiy are often up to the author to really make a difference in sales. The issue here, is paying for a positive and glowing review, even if the book doesn't merit a positive review.

From the article:
“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things,” Mr. Rutherford said. “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”
Interesting; so he doesn't even consider his work as a traditional critical review, but a review viewed solely as a marketing tool. I've certainly seen evidence of this on Amazon, where a little-known book has half a dozen reviews or so and all are ridiculously enthusiastic to the point they are untrustworthy. I look for nuance in collective reviews. If a book is good I want to know why, and if it has weak points, I want to know that, too. A review doesn't need to be "negative" to accomplish this; it just needs to be truthful.

I think the book blogging community handles this well, by either featuring only books the blogger recommends or providing a balanced view. But as for the Goodreads, Amazon, B&N user reviews, how much stock do you put in reviews to determine what you read? Do reviews make or break your decision to read a book? Does knowing that some of the positive reviews may have been paid for change your opinion?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy/Historical
Published: 2011

Image: Goodreads
I'm so excited to finally read one of Maggie Stiefvater's books! I kept hearing her books were wonderful, but I wasn't that keen on reading a series about wolves (Wolves of Mercy Falls). With The Scorpio Races, we have a unique premise of an island with an annual race of water horses native only to the island. The race is exteremely dangerous, riders are often killed, and historically only open to men.

When Puck (Kate) Connolly loses her parents and her older brother threatens to move to the mainland, the family house and everything the Connolly's own,  including her beloved horse Dove, are at stake. The Scorpio Races award a monetary prize, and Puck enlists to save her family. She's continually harrassed because she's a girl. No one, not even her own family, supports her decision to enter the race. Her choice to race Dove, her own horse, rather than one of the giant water horses, further alienates her.

Meanwhile, Sean Kendrick, 4-time winner of the races, is torn between the control that betting men from the mainland have over the riders (much like the competitive and wealthy backgrounds of modern horse racing) and wanting to help Puck, who he feels kinship with (and maybe more...) having grown up with her on the island.

I listened to the audiobook version which is fantastic. Both narrators -- male and female -- sounded just right for the story. This is a fantasy full of adventure, family loyalty and courage. A really great read.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Write On Con -- Today!

Write on Con is keeping me busy. Head on over and check out articles on the publishing industry and the writing craft. You can also get peer feedback on query letters, pitches and first pages in the forums.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn

Rebels by Accident
Patricia Dunn
YA Contemporary
Published: Aug 16, 2012

image: Goodreads
I was fortunate to receive an advanced reader copy of Rebels by Accident through a giveaway hosted by Armchair BEA (a fun blog hop during Book Expo America for all us readers wishing we could attend such a cool trade show).

Rebels by Accident details last year's uprising in Cairo, Egypt through the eyes of American-born Miriam whose parents send her to stay with her Sittu (grandmother) in Egypt after Miriam gets busted at a party. The worst part is Miriam and her friend Deanna, both outcasts at their school, weren't even drinking or smoking pot with the other kids, but they were arrested anyway. Her strict parents, who don't allow Miriam to have a cell phone, Facebook page or dress in trendy clothes, determine Sittu can straighten her out and teach Miriam about her Muslim roots, which Miriam is admittedly ashamed of. All the stories Miriam's heard about her Sittu make her sound like a tyrannical overloard. Given Deanna is having a hard time at school, Miriam's parents convince Deanna's mother to let her go to Egypt, too. Their friendship is inspiring throughout the story and I liked that Miriam had her friend's support.

The whole story takes place in a matter of weeks, maybe just two. Part of me wondered why Miriam's parents would send her to Egypt during a time of such unrest, but as the book points out, Egyptians had been advocating for change for years, but nothing as big as the uprising had ever happened. Social media played a big part, and her Sittu, who Miriam discovers is nothing like she thought, is active on Facebook to support the rebels who want to overturn Egypt's oppressive regime.

What's cool about this story is how Miriam and Deanna seem like normal American teenagers, so we see the social unrest through their experiences. Miriam's view of her parent's home country radically changes once she meets new friends and sees the country through her Sittu's eyes. She also comes to terms with her own self-image issues. Miriam might have strict parents, but she can be as crass and boy-crazy and goofy as any  teen girl. This actually reminded me of one of Simone Elkeles' series because of the free-wheeling dialogue.

This book debuts this week August 16 and is available here: B&, Amazon

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (The Fug Girls!)
YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

Photo: Goodreads

Brick Berlin may be my favorite fictional big-time Hollywood character (joining the ranks of John Lodge Johnson of Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming). Brick's daughter Brooke discovers, after the tabloids, that she has a half-sister, Molly, whose mother just died back in Indiana. Molly's grandparents think it's a good time for her to finally meet her father, who happens to be one of the world's most famous action movie heroes. Molly trucks it from Indiana to Bel Aire, California to join the ranks of celebrity fashion mavens... and their designer clothes-addicted children.

What sets this apart from other Gossip Girl rich kids with rich problems novels is how totally self-aware it is; thank the writers, having a wealth of experience from their hilarious fashion commentary blog. The pop-culture references fly fast and furious, and the most enjoyable part is picking out which references are real and which are totally made up (considering the ridiculousness of reality TV and celebrity gossip magazines, it can be tough to tell). Beyond the spot-on reflection of obsessive designer culture, is a story about sisterhood, friendship, loyalty, and even grief.

Spoiled is a snappy read, laugh-out-loud funny at times, but it also has heart. I'm so glad this wasn't a let-down since I've been a fan of the fugly fashion blog for about five years (they're particularly entertaining around awards season and springtime with their own fashion tournament modeled after the Final Four brackets). The sequel, Messy is out now.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Upcoming Opportunities for Writers

Happy Friday!

I've gathered some great writing opportunities coming up in the next few months that will help with writing craft and preparation for pursuing publication:

Can't make it to one of the big summer conferences? Write On Con is an online writing conference held August 14-15 focused on children's lit: Young Adult, Middle Grade, picture books, chapter books. It's free, and to register you just need to create a sign-in for the WriteOnCon forums. The forums are open now and writers are already trading feedback on opening pages and query letters.

The conference is a mix of hosted forum events where literary agents and authors weigh in on pitches, query letters, writing excerpts, along with hosted live chats, blogs and video blog posts. With exception of the live chats, everything else you can catch up with on your own time, and the content remains available after the conference.

I participated last year -- it's a great way to connect with other writers, and learn about publishing and writing. (Did I mention it's free?)

Deana Barnhart

Next up: Are you finally FINALLY finished with that novel you've been working on for a year and some change? (*ahem,* that would be me, and by "finished" I mean I've written an ending, but am actively editing). 

Gearing Up to get an Agent is hosted by Deana Barnhart, a YA writer. This is a series of events in September on how to prepare your writing to pursue publication. It's an opportunity to polish pitches and strengthen writing submissions within the hosted blog community, then it all follows up with an agent-judged pitch opportunity -- she's lined up 8 - 10 agents! This is NOT strictly YA, and it will depend on the agents involved which genres they are looking for (more to come according to the blog!).

The event also features publishers from small presses for writers wanting to explore options other than the traditional agent route. Check out her blog to see if this might be an opportunity for you!

Writing Contests
Looking for feedback from people in the industry? Try entering your work in a contest. Tons of resources exist online depending on what you write, but read through submission guidelines carefully to see who judges contest work, what any required fees go toward, and most importantly, whether you receive feedback forms. All of these factor in to whether it will be of benefit to you.

Romance Writers of America (RWA - which I joined this year) has tons of contest opportunities hosted through local chapters. You don't have to be a member to enter. Most of the RWA contests follow the same structure: your entry is read by at least 1 published author who then (in most cases) provides a feedback form with comments based on your work. Finalists go through to a publisher or agent-judged round (Some writers have found agents through these contests). The attached fee -- I've seen anywhere from $15 - $35 for an entry -- goes to the hosting chapter. Considering these authors are reading through entries in their free time, I think the fees are fair.

Image: Public Domain
If you write Young Adult, many of the contests don't limit the YA entries to romance -- each chapter tailors the contest to their own preferences. Other categories might include historical romance, romantic suspense, paranormal/fantasy.

Here's a great site that tracks a lot of the RWA contests and more: Stephie Smith's Contest Chart.

My local chapter Windy City RWA is hosting The Four Seasons Contest with a September 1 deadline (it looks like the 2012 info is not yet up but we'll get on that quick!). The YA judging agent is Sara Megibow. She's famous for her #10queriesin10tweets on twitter. If I could enter this I would -- she's a rock star agent! 

I hope you explore some of these links and pass them forward. I'm grateful to you all for sharing information like this over my past few years of blogging -- the writing community is so supportive!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Roadtrip Wednesday: Best Book Read in July

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.
This Week's Topic is: What was the best book you read in July?

I caught up on a lot of books last month that I'd had on my list (I defninitely got my taxpayer's money worth of library lending in July!). I finally read Catching Fire -- two and a half years after reading The Hunger Games. I also revisited Meg Cabot's Heather Wells series reading Size 14 Isn't Fat Either, since she has a new edition to the series this year. I loved Past Perfect by Leila Sales (review here), a wonderful summer YA read about teens working in a historical re-enactment village.

But I have to say the best book I read was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This book was so different, and more of a challenge, but entirely worth it. Reading about heroic young women in World War II was inspiring and terrifying at the same time. This book could easily be shelved outside of YA, and part of me thinks if it had been written seven or eight years ago before YA really exploded, it might have been considered general market or literary fiction -- and would end up as an Oprah bookclub pick. I would read this again, and I hardly ever re-read books. Here's my posted review.

Which brings me to this rather cheeky tie-in: Forever Young Adult has their monthly calendar up for August with a Code Name Verity theme.