Posts Tagged ‘favorite authors’

13021366This is a fantastic YA urban fantasy story that sets Norse gods in contemporary America. Throw in a teenaged berserker, a seethkona, and a few trolls, and other mythical creatures that are not-so-mythical and you’ve got yourself one heck of an adventure in the making. I finished reading this book about a month ago and I still think about it. That is always the sign of a good story to me. I won this book in a blog contest giveaway. It was actually my first ebook win, too. Woohoo! I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading a book by Ms. Gratton before, so this book was one of those total surprises. I just opened it up and gave it a shot.

It was amazing!

The mix of Norse gods functioning within the present day political structure was fascinating and Gratton makes the balance work. The characters at the center – what fantastic emotional connection! That to me is always the crux of what makes or breaks a story and Gratton is a master at this. The whole struggle Soren goes through with suppressing his berserker rage to avoid the fate of his father and Astrid tempting him to give in to it – ah!

Love, love, love this!

A berserker as a teen character? How apropos is that? What teenager can’t relate to warring with their own emotions? The difference with Soren is that if he even gives into his rage once, he feels that his life will be over. He’ll end up just like his father; losing complete control and killing innocent people. His father was finally taken out by a SWAT team. Soren is a pariah at school, with other students steering clear of him. The mark of the berserker on his face – the tattoo of a spear – is a warning to others of his potentially volatile nature.

And then Astrid arrives. She can’t seem to stay away. Astrid is just as well written and poignant. She dreams about Soren and needs him to help her on her quest.

SOREN BEARSKIN

Haunted by unpredictable berserker rage, he distances himself from other students at school.

ASTRID GLYN

A prophet by blood, she dreams the weave of fate and sees Soren changing the futures.

BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL

The most popular god in the States disappears in front of TV cameras, and the country erupts in chaos.

THE DESTINY IS SET.

Astrid and Soren must save Baldur. But in saving a god, will Soren destroy himself…and everything he holds dear? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

This unlikely trio set off together on quite an adventure and the chemistry between them is just brilliant. I absolutely loved Baldur’s character as well. I’d say so much more about this beautiful storyline, but SPOILERS! Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning of the book to get you hooked and make you want to rush out and get your own copy:

My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you. But only if you’re paying attention.

It was a game we played during long afternoons in the van, distracting ourselves from Dad’s empty seat. Mom would point out a sign as we drove past – WELCOME TO COLORADA, THE CENTENNIAL KINGSGATE, bright green against a gray backdrop of mountains – and she’d ask, “Here, Soren? Do you feel the threads tightening around you?”

I would put my fingers to my chest where Dad used to say the berserker fever stirred. “No,” I’d say, “nothing yet.”

And Mom always replied, “Good.”

We both dreaded the day Dad’s curse would flicker to life in me.

LEAVING WESTPORT CITY – COME AGAIN!

“I hope it wasn’t back there, little man!”

“No, Mom, I doubt it.”

CANTUCKEE: HOME OF BLUEGRASS

“Soren, do you hear the clacking loom of fate?”

“I couldn’t hear anything over the banjos.”

But I have felt it, four times now.

When I was eight years old, standing in a neon-lit shopping mall, and my ears began to ring. My breath thinned out and I ran.

Again five years later, when Mom stopped the van for gas and we happened to be across the road from a militia station. The sun was just barely too bright, cutting across my cheek. I knew what I was supposed to do.

Six months ago, I was in the dining hall about to take a long drink of honey soda when the air around me turned cold. I had time to get to my bedroom before this jagged hot fever began to burn.

And today.

I could not stop reading this book.

Book 2, THE STRANGE MAID, comes out next month and if you read Book 1, you will be waiting in line for the new book’s release. I guarantee it. I can’t wait for the next book.

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Learn more about Tessa Gratton here.

Follow Tessa on Twitter here.

Follow Tessa on Tumblr here.

bc-wintergirlsI love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer at the SCBWI LA conference and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

In her books like SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, Anderson writes about scary topics and has her characters say out loud things that teens are thinking way down deep inside. She gives voice to the nightmares and the rages we may all have experienced and then helps her characters (and readers) see a way through to the other side. I could keep fangirling like mad or just let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a passage from the very beginning of WINTERGIRLS, on the morning Lia learns her former best friend is dead  - body found in a motel room, alone:

...When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages…

No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.

I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.

But I have to drive.

…I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed.I laughed. We were perfection.

Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?

The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.

My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number, In pen. Busted me.

Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no-depressed/no-in need of attention/no-in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.

Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into hell on the hill New Seasons…

Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins…

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

This is such a phenomenal and important book. It will move you; it will change you.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

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Why did mention that I was feeling about 65% back to normal  - ALMOST FREAKING HEALTHY!!! – on my last #writemotivation check in? It must’ve sounded too much like a brag or something because the gods of health decided to slap me with one more wave of the sickness. Of the dreaded sinus infection variety.

Blech!

Oh yeah, but they couldn’t let me be completely done with that lingering cough that kept me from ever getting a good night’s sleep. You know, the one that started at the beginning of February? So the was fun. Brain exploding with sinus pain while still coughing until I wanted to take a power drill to my head and open up some breathing holes. I am so done with coughing, sneezing, aching, etc. I think I’ve eaten my own body weight in cough drops this year already. I loathe the taste of tea and honey after the oceans I’ve consumed. I’ve blown through so many boxes of tissues I should replant a small forest on the next Earth Day to decrease my carbon footprint.

Godfather Gif

This week, I’m throwing caution to the wind and stating that I’m over the worst of everything. I may have sacrificed a pomegranate in the light of a full moon while singing a medley of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus tunes. I think that appeased the gods of health. Either that, or they were afraid I’d sing again. Either way, my voice has finally returned to normal and I haven’t had to take any cold medication for several days. No more Emma Stone voice, but I’m grateful that things can start returning to normal.

This month always brings so much more promise. March, don’t tell February, but I like you more. Our SCBWI OK spring conference is at the end of the month and it’s always fantastic. This year it’s in Oklahoma City so I get to run away from home for the weekend and spend it with my favorite writing friends. It’ll be a smorgasbord of literary goodness and I can’t wait to gorge myself.

In the midst of all this healing and fruit sacrificing, I have finally been able to get back to the work of writing and related things. Let’s take a look at this month’s goals to see the damage progress made thus far.

Here are my #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. The smallest of starts, but progress has begun. I am so excited about this project, I can’t even tell you. The only hint I’ll give this early is that it will deal with gender politics and the riot grrrl movement.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Two is better than zero but far from my goal. Need to ramp this up next week with more submissions sent out.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) Three books finished already and another one halfway done. Looks like IMG_20140315_221040there’s one goal I will actually make. What’s really surprising is I just finished reading my first YA book of the year, and it was phenomenal. WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a little more special because it was my copy I had autographed in LA this past summer. I love Laurie Halse Anderson and not just because she write so damn well.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. This was the most painful goal to accomplish. After not exercising for over a month, I did manage  to go for a walk three times. My pace was horribly slow, and I felt like death after the first two times, but goal accomplished. yay. (hack, pant, moan.) I have no idea when I’ll even attempt to get back on the elliptical.

How are your goals coming along this month?

Do you have any exciting spring break/writing conference plans in your immediate future?

Mrs DallowayYou may realize that this is the middle of February and I am a tad bit tardy in posting my final Jazz Age January post. Actually this is the final day to post for the challenge, so I’m cutting it just under the wire. Whew!

I have been the unfortunate sufferer of the nasty flu and have been bed-ridden for the better part of two weeks. Although I still haven’t recovered my voice, I am now able to work for brief periods without massive coughing attacks and body aches. I won’t bore you with anymore bodily function issues. Let’s get down to business, shall we?

I think it was most apropos that I read MRS. DALLOWAY while I was ill. I have never read a book by Virginia Woolf before and her stream of consciousness style fit right along with my feverish dream state.

The surface plot for Mrs. Dalloway is simply that Clarrisa Dalloway is preparing to host a party in the evening. But beyond the surface, Woolf explores the thought processes of Mrs. Dalloway as she is prompted to reflect on her life and past events. Central to the novel is reference to the effect of World War I on British society in the post-war years and in particular, the loss of loved ones and the altering fate of those left behind. The consequences of this included the physical and psychological damage done to those who fought and survived, as well as to those who survived despite never having set foot on the battlefield. It all adds up to an odd juxtaposition of people carrying on their lives, with parties, families and friends, while an unspoken suffering erodes their happiness. (Excerpt from book foreword.)

Woolf is much more interested in the inner life of characters than of following a tradition plot. Instead, you find yourself flitting from mind to mind. The story begins with Mrs. Dalloway going out to buy flowers for her party. Then we meet a troubled young couple whose husband is suffering terribly with PTSD. We see the world through his thoughts and then hers and then skip through others traveling along Bond Street.

The story is written in one long, continuous chapter with no breaks. It feels like you’re riding a wave of thoughts and emotions that somehow do weave together with recurring themes. The finality of life being one of them. Here, Mrs. Dalloway reflects on death in the midst of enjoying her day:

What she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?

I found this preoccupation fascinating, especially considering how Woolf ended her own life years later. That being said, not all of the book was preoccupied with mortality. Another major focus was the missed romance between Mrs. Dalloway and Peter Walsh. Two people who knew each other so well, who could affect each other by merely entering a room and yet, Mrs. Dalloway had refused to jazzagemarry Peter Walsh. Their history was reflected on by both, back and forth throughout the tale.

Here is a brief excerpt from Peter’s perspective after he has called upon Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa) unexpectedly in the morning before her party:

There was always something cold in Clarissa, he thought. She had always, even as a girl, a sort of timidity, which in middle age becomes conventionality, and then it’s all up, he thought, looking rather drearily into the glassy depths, and wondering whether by calling at that hour he had annoyed her; overcome with shame suddenly at having been a fool; wept; been emotional; told her everything, as usual, as usual.

Although I couldn’t always tell where Woolf was taking me with her tale, I really enjoyed her use of language and the questions she brought into the reader’s mind. This description of Peter observing a group of young people out on the town is just delicious:

They dressed well too; pink stockings; pretty shoes. They would now have two hours at the pictures. It sharpened, it refined them, the yellow-blue evening light; and on the leaves in the square shone lurid, livid – they looked as if dipped in sea water – the foliage of a submerged city.

Overall, this book was a delightful way to end this Jazz Age experience.

Ah! Lest I forget! The winner of my DOLLFACE giveaway is…

ELIZABETH BEVINS!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

I had a great time with this whole event and with the contest. I’m sure there will be more contests the near future.

Ah, the books of 2013! Wasn’t it a great year? Okay, so not all the books I read actually came out last year, but still the choices were overwhelmingly wonderful. I have a giant To Be Read (TBR) pile from books I accumulated throughout the year. I read close to 65 books in 2013, which was only about ten shy of my reading goal. My list was more diverse this year with more middle grade, historical fiction, and adult books, and even some fantastic picture books thrown in, although the bulk of my reading remained firmly in the young adult category.

Here are my top ten favorites, in no particular order:

EleanorPark_cover2-300x450Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Young Adult Contemporary
(although set in 1986, which seems like borderline historical fiction to me)

My daughter picked this book up at one of our weekend trips to the bookstore. Then she left it untouched in her TBR pile. I’d see it every time I went into her room and eventually it planted a seed. “Read me.” When I started seeing so much chatter all over the Twitterverse about Rowell’s current novel FANGIRL, I mentally put it on my list of books I wanted to read. Then my brain finally clicked. I already had one of her books in the house. I moved it to the front of my own TBR pile and started reading it next. I then promptly fell in love. Ms. Rowell has such an unusual style of writing, of describing things, yet it’s completely accessible and you totally get what she’s saying. Having lived for a time in stark circumstances and knowing how this reflects on the teenage existence, I could really relate to some aspects of Eleanor’s life. Some a little too closely. Her characters aren’t perfect or beautiful by conventional standards – all without apology, which I loved – and yet, their story is still divine. After I tore through this book, I told my daughter she had to read this next. She did and she loved it just as much as I did.

And guess what I got for my birthday? FANGIRL. Can’t wait to read it! I know I will be reading everything Rainbow Rowell publishes from now on.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.

Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.

Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.

Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.

book_messengerI am the Messenger by Markus Zusak – Young Adult Contemporary

Another book choice influenced by my daughter. I read this book at her insistence because she loved this book immensely and wished to discuss it with me, without spoiling it for me. She especially wanted to discuss the ending so she could understand it better. I raced through it, not just because of her request, but because it was a fantastic story. So very different in style from Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF, this book still managed to take the reader on an exciting and yet deeply philosophical journey. I loved this book and I loved the fantastic conversation I had with my daughter about this book even more. That’s what great books do – inspire thought and conversation.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

I am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Markus Zusak here.

Follow Markus on Twitter here.

Follow Zusak’s Tumblr here.

mexwb_tp_cvrMexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña – Young Adult Realistic

I heard Matt speak at the SCBWI La Summer conference this year and he was one of the few this year that made me want to stretch myself and be a better writer. Truly inspiring. I met him at the autograph party and he told me he’d be coming to Tulsa to speak in September. I saw him then, too. When I reminded him at that event, he couldn’t believe I came. He said he’d told three people that day in LA about the September talk in Tulsa and I was the only one that showed. That shook him up so much, he mislabeled the book he was supposed to be signing to my daughter. He tried to salvage it, but it was obviously messed up. I thought it was hilarious, but he described it as a train wreck and apologized profusely. So endearing. (FYI, my daughter loved it.)

He’s such a down-to-earth guy and a fantastic writer. I loved this book for its honesty and its heart and its spot-on voice. De la Peña is also a huge fan of A.S. King – not to mention friends with her. (So jealous!) He predicts that King will soon be much more appreciated for her amazing talent. I whole-heartedly agree.  For all of these things, I recommend de la Peña as an outstanding author in his own right.

Danny’s tall and skinny.

Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.

Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

cnv paperback USCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Young Adult Historical Fiction

There was so much positive buzz flying around about this book that I had to pick it up. Young girl pilots and spies in World War II? Yes, please. I’m all for the empowerment of our young women and showing them that they can doing anything. I have fond childhood memories of wanting to be like Amelia Earhart. And what girl doesn’t secretly want to be James Bond instead of a girl who’s just a pawn that Bond uses?

I remember thinking the minute I finished this book, “Maybe I’m too stupid to write something this good.” It was that fantastic. I can’t think of a better compliment. I look forward to reading the companion book, ROSE UNDER FIRE, this year.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.

Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.

HarrysFinalCoverSee You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles – Middle Grade Realistic

I had not read a book by  Jo Knowles before. I follow her on Twitter, so I vowed this year that I would.

WOW.

There are books that have sad moments, there are books that have funny moments, and then there are books that touch you so deeply, that ring so true they stay with you forever. This book is all of these in one. I was blown away by how heart-wrenching this book was. Even after I set it down, I was crying. I have never had a book move me like that before. The family dynamic was so well-written, so believable. I ached for this family, It was never overdone, just real. I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Insanely loved it.

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Jo Knowles here.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.

invisible-monsters-us-trade-3Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk – Adult Contemporary

A friend of my daughter’s handed this book to me and said this was her favorite author. She checked in on me from time to time to see if I’d read it yet and then to see what part I was reading. When I finally read the first page, I had to send her a message. It was something like, “Holy shit!” My mind was blown in the first page and it didn’t change much during the entire ride. That’s what this story was, a wild, time-jumping ride. Palahniuk, who also wrote FIGHT CLUB, if that gives you any sense of what level we’re working on, broke so many rules of writing it was unbelievable. But unlike someone like, say, oh, I don’t know, Philip Roth for instance, who does it in a pompous look-what-I-can-do kind of way, Palahniuk actually does it with purpose and skill. He twists the plot in on itself so many times, you’d think it collapse on itself, but instead, it connects to the very beginning forming a nicely flowing loop. This book isn’t for everyone and there are explicit discussions of sex that might put some readers off, but I for one loved the book completely and did not find the discussions over the top at all, but realistic glimpses of the characters’ worlds. I can see why this young woman has read this book many times. I think you’d need to in order to glean the subtleties out of it. This wasn’t your ordinary road-trip with transsexual drug addicts and disfigured ex-models in need of a healthy dose of self-discovery, after all.

One more time, please. This time with a little less face.

Invisible Monsters initially unnamed narrator was once a beautiful fashion model. But only to draw the attention of her parents away from her brother, Shane. The narrator has it all until the fateful day of the accident where the bottom half of her face gets completely blown off leaving her with nothing more than top teeth and a tongue that hangs out of the gaping wound.

Now unable to speak and constantly wiping drool from her mouth, the narrator still gets attention, but only because she is a hideous monster. So here comes Brandy Alexander, the queen of overly coifed hair and heavily painted face. Only one surgery away from being a “real” woman, Brandy takes the narrator under her awkwardly large wing and equips her with the things she needs to be beautiful again. At least as beautiful as she can be with only half a face.

When Brandy isn’t giving our narrator hats with face veils, new clothes, “speech” lessons, and completely new identities, she is finding houses for sale. Not for purchase, but for prescription drugs to steal.

There are drugs, wounds, blood, fire, and new identities. Palahniuk delivers a dose of jilted beauty queens, messed up transsexuals, and twists on top of twists on top of twists. Invisible Monsters will only leave you wanting. Wanting what, I’m not sure. But you’ll want something. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Chuck Palahniuk here.

Follow Chuck on Twitter here.

toprow-03-onOkay for Now by Gary Schmidt – Middle Grade Historical Fiction

This is the companion book to THE WEDNESDAY WARS. The book that made me an instant fan of Mr. Schmidt’s. If that hadn’t done it, his outstanding keynote speech at last year’s SCBWI LA conference would have cinched it for me. He is the kind of writer I want to be. So much heart. Talent and heart. Ugh! I could go on gush about him for days. The way he writes – like a young kid with limited emotional expression thinks and talks – man! So natural it hurts. You can feel the emotions being stuffed back down so the character doesn’t show the hurt. Freaking brilliant. LOVE IT!!! If you’re looking for a great middle grade book for boys to read, try this one.

As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

You can read the first chapter and watch an interview of the author on his website.

Learn more about Gary Schmidt here.

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sunAsk the Passengers by A.S. King – Young Adult Contemporary/Magical Realism

I am in platonic forever love with A.S. King. She has surpassed herself with her latest novel which begs the question, if I give all of my love away to strangers and leave none for someone – something real – does that mean no one and nothing can hurt me? Does that mean I don’t have to define myself or answer the uncomfortable questions I have about myself? And don’t forget that King always adds her own little cosmic/kismet twist to her stories that blend seamlessly into the real.

READ THIS BOOK!

Let it expand your mind and your heart. Your teen self (hell, your adult self, even) will thank you for it.

Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.

Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.

In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

gone-girl-book-cover-homeGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Adult Thriller/Suspense

I’d heard so many great things about this book. Krista Marino, an editor I heard speak at the SCBWI LA Conference  recommended it as an example of an adult novel with great tension. She wasn’t kidding. I loved how Flynn slowly revealed who the main characters were and who they became throughout the story -  the misleading bits that had you later rethinking what you knew. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there. I did lose sleep a few nights, staying up to read just one more chapter, and then another, and then another…

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Gillian Flynn here.

Like Gillian’s Facebook page here.

Perks of a WallflowerPerks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Young Adult Realistic (also should be historical fiction to some degree)

I had several people recommend this book to me before I picked it up. Two of them thought it was reminiscent of how I wrote – or at least there was a similarity in the voice. After reading the book, I can only say that I am truly flattered by the comparison. Before reading the book, I’d seen the trailer for the movie and I was intrigued. The story did not disappoint. I loved the 90s setting and the letter format. I never thought I was missing anything vital from the scenes, even though everything was being told this way. I had to see the movie after reading the book – this couldn’t have been easy to translate into film, but it must have been fun to try. The movie was nothing short of nostalgic for me and had me reminiscing back to my high school/college days. It was such a delight, and one of the few film adaptations that I’ve seen that was on equal footing with the text. And so well acted. Loved it.

standing on the fringes of life . . .

offers a unique perspective. but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

since its publication, stephen chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over a million copies in print, and inspired a major motion picture.

the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show.

of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Follow Stephen on Twitter here.

I’m in agony because there are so many great books I still have to share that must be left off the list. All in all it was an excellent year in books. My TBR pile has only continued to grow this year as has my reading goals. I hope to share more fantastic books with you throughout this new year. There’s the sequel to Libba Bray’s Diviner’s series LAIR OF DREAMS, Laurie Halse Anderson release her new novel this month, entitled THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY (Can’t wait for that one – and what a title!) REALITY BOY, a new A.S. King book I have yet to read (and another one due out this fall called GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE – zomg!!!), and I still need to catch up on Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series. Oh! And Jim butcher is finally releasing his next Harry Dresden book, SKIN GAME, this summer. And will there be a new John Green book released? Hmm. That would be awesome. I haven’t even mentioned the most exciting bit – several friends have books releasing this year. I will no doubt drag them over here to the blog for intensive interviews right before their books launch so you can join in the celebrations.

What were your favorite reads from 2013? What are you looking forward to reading this year?

Lauren Myracle is no stranger to controversy. She has been called Satan, Satan’s handmaiden, and many other colorful things, but lucky for us, she continues to write amazing books and with such a great attitude. Even when her book Shine was erroneously nominated for the National Book Award because it so closely resembled a similar title Chime by Franny Billingsly and all nomination discussions were conducted via telephone. After the initial announcement including both titles, Myracle was asked to withdraw her nomination to uphold the integrity of the award. While many of us may have cried foul and stomped our feet in anger, she handled the situation with grace.

Even when Myracle gets a book placed on the banned list, it doesn’t hover somewhere near the middle, trying to blend in with the other books, embarrassed to be there, like the prom queen caught out at 2 AM partying with the hard edge stoner girls, oh no!  It stands up tall and whoops out at the top of its lungs, “Yeah, I’m a free-spirit who can’t be contained, what of it? Now, who wants to party?!!”

In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country. Myracle said, “If you’re gonna be on a list, you might as well be No. 1.”  She doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse. She writes complex teen characters that explore these topics and respond like real teens would. Just the thing to get some parents seeing red. When asked about why she thought she was on the banned list, Myracle responded:

…most people who challenge a book haven’t actually read it. If you’re skimming it, words jump out at you: “fuck,” “penis,” “condom.” It triggers a set of reflexes.

I understand why parents worry about books—they’re worried about their kids. They want to keep their kids safe. But parents aren’t always realistic. One said to me, “I can’t believe you introduced my 13-year-old daughter to thong underwear.” I’m pretty sure she knows about them already. She probably owns a pair.

This reminded me of a story my daughter told me about a friend that actually made her own thong underwear out of the respectable panties her mother bought for her. I asked the only rational thing that popped into my head when given such classified information, “Wasn’t she scared that her mom would find them in her laundry?” I was then informed that the young girl in question started doing her own laundry. I’m sure her mom thought she had taken a responsible turn and didn’t think twice about it. Ah, the mind of a teenager. So devious. So resourceful.

Parents aren’t the only ones who try to protect our children from what they deem as harmful topics. Sometimes even well-meaning librarians who should know better than to censor books that could be helpful to the right student just can’t help being judgmental. Myracle recounted one incident in particular:

I remember going to a library once in Ohio. They had invited me, telling me, “We’d love to have you talk here.” But when I got there, a librarian said, “We don’t have your dirty books on display here.” I didn’t want to get into a fight, but I thought, “You should serve your population—kids have different needs.” I asked if they had a book called Thirteen Reasons Why, about a girl who commits suicide. She said, “Heavens no! It’s pro-suicide.” But it’s the opposite. The book shows how horrible it is for everyone when you take your life.

Kids are smart. Knowledge is power. Let them figure things out. Don’t turn into that grown-up who they won’t come to. (All quotes from Daily Beast article, April 11, 2012. See full article here.)

I wanna be this gal when I grow up!

Hell, yeah! that is my kind of author. I so wanna be Lauren Myracle when I grow up.

I was first introduced to her books a couple of  years ago when I picked up one of her “internet girls” IM series to see what all the fuss was about (and because I like to support banned book writers). After reading ttyl, the first in that series that is written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. It wasn’t so much the texting format itself that bothered me, you adjust to it pretty quickly, I think it was more because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens – it was almost like it was written in code just for them, talking about things they actually discussed when alone with their friends – but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did.

Emotional impact achieved.

This book , which is not written in text dialogue, but in a very convincing teen voice, follows the story of Cat, a young girl living in poverty in a rural North Carolina town. Her estranged best friend Patrick, the only openly gay teen in this backwater town, has just been beaten within an inch of his life in what appears to be a hate crime. The local law enforcement is intent on pinning it on unknown rowdy out-of-towners, but to Cat, it feels too personal. She thinks someone closer to home is responsible and she plans on finding out who. In a place where most folks want things left well enough alone and where even the kids are armed, that may not be the best idea she’s ever had.

All of the characters and all of their relationships have such depth. There are no caricatures of southern hicksville here. It feels like a place I’ve been before and didn’t want to return, in most instances. The level of poverty only felt in rural areas with no future of growth in sight and the emotional despair of the people – some struggling to eek out a livable existence, some trying to blot out the pain through drug use – are palpable. I could relate to Cat’s emotional state as well, having been through a rough estrangement with one of my very best friends when I was in high school. The reason she is estranged from Patrick is a familiar one, too. My situation wasn’t anywhere near as severe – Cat experiences a sexual assault from a family friend – but I must say that closing myself off from everyone I knew was a natural response . When something happens to you that you can’t talk about, even to your best friend, you push the world away and embrace a world of solitude and silence. When Cat’s closest family members choose to turn a blind eye rather than see she’s been hurt, this teaches her to bottle it all up, shut off from the rest of the world, and close her own eyes to what others are going through. It takes this awful incident with Patrick to reawaken Cat and to start forcing the truth to light.

As I read this story, I began to wonder about my own situation back in high school and my estrangements from the people who loved me. Would I have risked everything to find out what happened to my best friend if something like this happened? Would I have done the right thing? I hope so.  Any book that touches me emotionally and makes me think long after I put it down is brilliant and one I wouldn’t hesitate to let a child of mine read.

Here is the book trailer for Shine. It is truly beautiful.

To keep up with everything Lauren, follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Dr. Seuss has played a prominent role in our family. I read to my children from a very young age, knowing that one day, they would take off without me on their own reading adventures. Well, one of my children did. My son, Trevor was different. My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of four. He needed the security of repetition, of familiarity. He could never get enough of Dr. Seuss. We once flew from Oklahoma City to Denver on vacation and although Trevor loved being in an airplane, it was something new. His anxiety was extremely high. On that flight I must have read Go, Dog. Go! and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish at least twenty times. Each. (I can still read those two books with my eyes shut. *wink*)

Shortly after that trip, we expanded Trevor’s Seuss library – and I may have buried those two books just to save my sanity. (That incessant rhyming was driving me mad!) I’m sorry to say that I fell out of love with Dr. Seuss every time Trevor found my hiding place and those two books resurfaced and I was forced to read them again.

We ran into another situation with Dr. Seuss when Trevor hit grade school. He found a friend in his autism classroom that also loved the Dr. Seuss books. In fact, they both loved Dr. Seuss so much that they would spend the whole day talking in nothing but Seuss dialogue. All his classmate would have to say to get things started would be, “Hey Trevor, ‘Are you my Mother’?” and off they’d go exchanging lines from that book until they moved onto the next one. After much arguing, banning “Dr. Seuss talk”, crying in frustration, I learned to find the silver lining in this problem; he had found a friend.

Life with a child on the autism spectrum can sometimes feel like you have chaotic Things rushing about trying to help you fix a small problem only to end up with a wrecked house. The story of The Cat in the Hat and the other longer stories helped me fall back in love with Dr. Seuss and embrace the chaos. Who says life has to be neat and perfect? Who says our kids have to be that way either?

Seuss really wrote stories for his audience and not for the parents. Although his stories may have a moral or a message, they do not take precedent over the telling of the story itself. What parent would want a writer to tell kids that if they totally wreck the house and break all the rules, but manage to clean up and hide all signs of their crimes, they don’t necessarily have to tell their parents anything about it? I love that. I love how he ends The Cat in the Hat with a question – making kids think for themselves and NOT giving them the answer. Refreshing, no?

My son is seventeen, now, and although he can read by himself – all the way up to a third grade level – and he does read many other books, he still likes for me to read to him. And his favorite books are still by Dr. Seuss. I love you, Trevor.

And I love Dr. Seuss. Happy Birthday!

I may have mentioned that I am an avid reader; a devourer of books. If you are going to be a writer of any worth,  then you HAVE TO READ. Yes, it is mandatory. Read in the genre you are writing for, and although it’s great to read the classics, make sure you are also reading what’s current. If you hate to read or even worse, loathe the audience members for whom you are writing, stop now. Exit, stage left. Pottery class will begin shortly next door.

Reading the work of other writers can teach you so much. Seeing how someone else has tamed the words onto the page and tackled the story arc successfully may help you see where your own story may be lacking. Study the way your favorite authors accomplished the task of telling a complete story and you will learn something about how to make your own writing better.

Ever been told by an editor that your story lacks that intangible thing called “voice”?

When I open one of Rachel Cohn’s books, it’s like cracking open the skull of the nearest teenaged girl and blasting her thoughts through a thousand watt amp.  Her books scream out with a unique teen voice. She gets it.

I love Rachel Cohn. She not only authored one of my favorite YA series Gingerbread, Shrimp, and Cupcake following the fascinating character Cyd Charrise through her search of self-discovery and the ultimate cup of coffee, but she’s also co-authored several books with another favorite author of mine, David Levithan. Together they’ve written Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, and their latest collaboration Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.

I first encountered Rachel in 2008 at the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) Summer conference in LA. Not surprisingly, Rachel did a talk on “Teen Voice”. Something she said during that talk stuck with me. She said that one of the biggest mistakes writers make when writing YA is to idolize their teen years instead of writing things the way they actually were. It’s all about the emotions. “The emotions of being a teenager are the same as they were 50 years ago.” You can’t go to the mall or watch popular culture and expect to develop a true teen voice; you have to tap into the emotions. Right then, I about jumped out of my chair because I was very in touch with what it was like for me when I was a teenager. Angsty was my middle name. Now all I needed was the courage to let those emotions spill out onto the page. (That is a completely different post.)

Rachel’s latest book, Very LeFreak, is about a young college girl more obsessed with technology and what’s happened to her elusive online crush than whether or not she’s failing out of school. When we first meet Very, short for Veronica, she is listening to her iPod in one ear, her iPhone plugged into the other, while working on her laptop. She always has her phone against her skin so she doesn’t miss a vibration alerting her to a message of any kind, especially from her secret crush. She ends up in rehab for the technology-challenged after attacking an ex-boyfriend who destroys her laptop.

I did feel odd reading this on my Nook, like I was somehow cheating when Very couldn’t have so much as an ohm of electricity. I felt like I myself should go on a week-long tech cleansing or at least take a walk outside in solidarity. That’s how connected I felt to Very. But in my defense, I couldn’t stop reading…and I was trying out my library’s newest program – downloadable eBooks. (Again, that is a different post for a different time.)

Overall, I’m happy to say that Rachel Cohn is my first. First blog review, first library eBook, first YA author crush forever. Her book Very LeFreak is superb. She has an amazing teen voice you will fall in love with, laugh with, even as your heart aches. In the end, Very’s story shows how we all need a sense of balance in our lives. And for us writers-in-training, we can learn what an authentic voice sounds like and maybe even find some balance in our own writing.

To learn more about Rachel Cohn, visit her website at: http://www.rachelcohn.com/