January #writemotivation week 3 1/2

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My #writemotivation posting has been a little delayed this week due to a sudden outbreak of migraines slamming into my brain. Life’s way of telling me to slow down and de-stress: medicate, rest, maybe unwind with a good book in front of the fire while my family waits on me hand and foot. (I may have let it all go to my head a bit on the last day.)

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Anyway, I guess they can tell I’m feeling better and I can longer feel my hair growing. Mostly because I finally bathed…without making them bathe me.

So last week was very productive and serendipitous on top of that. I may share some news shortly, but not just yet.

Let’s get on to those #writemotivation goals:

  1. Move MG novel into Scrivener and plot out all revisions still needed. Bonus points for finishing it and sending it off.  I met with my critique group last week and they were such a great help. They were able to flag some passive language remnants from old drafts so long ago still hanging around that needed to be knocked out for good. My eyes kept glazing right over these sections, not even seeing the problems. If I haven’t said it before (until you’re all sick of hearing it) I’m saying it now, THANK GOD FOR MY CRITIQUE GROUP! I LOVE YOU GUYS!!! As far as finishing this revision, I only have a couple of chapters left. I should finish by week’s end! Woohoo! 
  2. Make progress on first draft of new YA project.  Done. Loaded in Scrivener and ready to go. This will be next month’s number one goal.
  3. Prep and plan out all blog posts for the next month. Bonus points for sketching out posts for February. Done. Refining February and March posts this week.
  4. Read at least four books. I’m near the end of book three now and I should start book four soon. This one may be a photo finish.

And my major stretch goal, as some of my fellow writers are calling their bonus goals – submit my completed YA to at least five agents. I have started researching agents to submit to for this goal. Only a few days left for this stretch!

How have you done with your writing goals?

Feeling up to joining us for next month? #writemotivation sign ups are going on now at until February 1st. Take the plunge. You’ll be glad you did.

I’m also posting over on the TGNA blog, today. Mostly talking about my Hemingway experience. Feel free to stop by.

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Jazz Age January Event – Review of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable FeastMy next choice for the Jazz Age January Event is somewhat surprising since I absolutely hated reading Hemingway back in high school. An alcoholic womanizer who ended his days in misery? Why in the hell would I want to read that drivel? As I recall from my fond memories, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was one of the worst books I had to suffer through, and I hoped that I would never have to read another Hemingway book ever again. Never ever. I mean, who thinks teenagers can relate to that crap? That’s what I thought way back then. Flash-forward a few decades and I decided to give the old sea dog another try.

Why, you might ask?

I saw the HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn and really enjoyed it, especially when presented in the lovely Clive Owen packaging. Now, I can’t help picturing/hearing Hemingway just as Clive Owens portrayed him. Not altogether a bad thing, if you ask me. Certainly improved his surly disposition.

A few months after viewing the show, I was discussing it with my father and he had mentioned recently reading the book A MOVEABLE FEAST. He said it was an excellent read. That kind of sold me on it more than anything else. (Sorry, Clive.) Then along came the Jazz Age January Event. Perfect timing to actually pick up the book and suffer through it.

Clive Owen Reads
Read me another story, Clive.

If all else failed, I could imagine the gorgeous Clive Owen reading it to me. Right?

Begun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist form; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 Rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une generation perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London. It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.

Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafes and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.

A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group for expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Although this was an unusual piece to reintroduce myself to Hemingway since it was his last work and it was unfinished when he died, it made me curious enough to want to read some of his other works. I still have no desire to reread THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but I would like to try THE SUN ALSO RISES, as it was the book he was writing during the time period of this book.

I did find the order of the chapters and the skipping around a little jarring at times, but when taken chapter by chapter as brief essays, they were really quite enjoyable. Overall I relished getting a feel for the period and for the writers living in Paris. I did have a strong desire to snag a time machine and zip back to Paris to surround myself with the intoxicating sights he described so well. What a fantastic time and place to be a writer! His insights on his own feelings about writing and his fellow expatriates were honest and touching and sometimes quite scathing, but above all always interesting.

Here is one my favorite sections on writing that I think every author should take to heart:

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of the blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Whenever you find yourself embellishing from your true writing, gut it back to the studs; your foundation of truth. Nicely put.

And that’s just one of the little gems about the craft I stumbled upon. I loved discovering them and I’m sure most other writers will as well.

One other thing Hemingway allows you to experience, to crawl into and feel deep down in your bones, was the hunger of the starving artist. The smells wafting from the open cafés made my stomach grumble as he talked of skipping meals to stretch his income and instead fed on viewing Cézanne paintings at the Luxembourg museum, feeding his artist’s soul. His hunger was almost a necessity to his creative process. He describes it as “good discipline”.

He talks about when he had an entire novel lost, when a bag was stolen at the Gare de Lyon. Every writer’s nightmare.

I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write, then it would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.

How many of us just on the cusp of publishing can relate to the struggles he describes?

I was delightfully surprised by what I found in this book. Hemingway may still have been an alcoholic womanizer who came to a sad end, (who am I to judge?) but he did have talent and some fascinating things to say.

I highly recommend this book to my fellow readers. You’ll enjoy it.

jazzageOh and don’t forget, all through the Jazz Age January, I am holding a book giveaway. Enter below to win a copy of the first book I reviewed for this event.

 ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  DOLLFACE Rafflecopter giveaway

January #writemotivation week 2

writemotivation_header1Just a quick post to update on my goal progress. We’ve had a few family birthdays this week, but other than that, nothing major. Plenty of time to get work done.

Here are my #writemotivation goals for the month:

  1. Move MG novel into Scrivener and plot out all revisions still needed. Bonus points for finishing it and sending it off.  Only have five more chapters to finish, which is pretty exciting. I meet with my critique group this next week – always one of my favorite days of the month. That should help me finish one of my chapters out.
  2. Make progress on first draft of new YA project. I’ve moved this project over into Scrivener and started plotting out the new direction. I’m really excited about this project. This will be my sole focus next month when I’m submitting my other projects.
  3. Prep and plan out all blog posts for the next month. Bonus points for sketching out posts for February. January is pretty locked. Still working on February. I have a guest post to prep this next week. Very exciting.
  4. Read at least four books. Little slower on my reading this week. Still on book two, but making steady progress. Hoping to make it through to book three soon.

And my major stretch goal, as some of my fellow writers are calling their bonus goals – submit my completed YA to at least five agents. I do hope this stretch goal sees some action soon.

SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference Line Up

SCBWIOK logoEveryone who follows this blog knows that we have some really great conferences here in Oklahoma. Our Agent Day retreat this past fall was a fabulous success and it was sold out beyond capacity. The three agents were phenomenal and our two key note speakers were such a delight. I learned so much from this event and had a great time.

Our spring conference this coming March looks to be even more exciting. We’ve added some new additions to usual the lineup that should make this our biggest and best conference ever.

For the first time, we are having not one, but two agents on the speaker panel. One of those brave agents will be hosting private face-to-face pitching sessions for the first fifteen people who register. OOPS!!! SORRY, THESE PITCH SESSIONS ARE ALREADY SOLD OUT!!!

You can still sign up to receive a written manuscript critique or an art critique if you hurry – those spots are also going fast.

The conference will be held in Oklahoma City on March 29th. Even if you don’t get a critique, the knowledge you’ll get from hearing these folks will be more than worth it. Not to mention the opportunity to submit to some closed houses and to spend the day with a great bunch of people in a creative environment. Why not not make the trip?

Here’s a list of the fantastic speakers:

Liza Kaplan, Editor, Philomel Books, Penguin Group

Liza Kaplan

Follow Liza on Twitter.

Melissa Manlove, Editor, Chronicle Books
Melissa Manlove

Follow Melissa on Twitter.

Andrew Harwell, Editor, HarperCollins

Andrew Harwell

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Calista Brill, Senior Graphic Novel Editor, First Second Books

Calista Brill

Follow First Second Books on Twitter.

Kristin Miller-Vincent, Agent, D4EO Literary Agency

Kristin Miller Vincent

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary

Tricia Lawrence 2

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

No matter how far along I think I’ve developed as a writer, I always come way from these conferences learning something new and feeling revitalized and ready to get back to work on my own projects. It’s worth the investment in yourself. Make the time and join us. You’ll be glad you did.

Visit ➤➤➤➤➤ the Oklahoma SCBWI page to learn more details about the event and to register for the conference.

Jazz Age January Event – Review of Dollface by Renée Rosen with Giveaway!

jazzageThis is my first selection for the Jazz Age January Event. (You can read all about the challenge and sign up yourself here.) I’ve always felt like I had the heart of a flapper, if not the style of one. What I would have given to have been a rebellious young woman during such interesting times in this country’s history – sneaking out to speakeasies, swilling giggle juice, and listening to hot jazz? It’d have been the cat’s pajamas.

Falling into this challenge and receiving this book for review were both serendipitous events. Ms. Rosen’s agent, Kevan Lyon, put out the request on Twitter for bloggers willing to receive a copy of this book for review and after reading the premise of this delightfully sinister story, I answered the call.

Dollface: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties by Renée Rosen

dollfaceAmerica in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies and a new kind of woman—the flapper. 

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind, and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entree into a world filled with bootlegged bourbon, wailing jazz and money to burn.  She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them, until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles towards one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Although the pacing of this book races, and Vera may seem like a superficial social-climber at first glance, this isn’t necessarily a light read. The setting and characters are full of depth and racked with conflict. When Vera returns to the filth of the stockyards on a mandatory visit with her mother, the tension between her two worlds is palpable.

“Take it. Go on.”

I nodded, stuffed the bills inside my one good pocket. My mother wouldn’t splurge on a plumber, but she’d give me two dollars like it was spare change. I gave her a hug, and for a moment she stood there, her body stiff with surprise. My gesture had caught her off guard. I started to pull away but she drew me in closer, tightening her embrace. This was the nature of our relationship; we were always out of step. When I wanted nothing to do with her, she wanted me nearby, and when I grew desperate for her approval, for her attention, she was too busy for me.

“Go-go,” she said, still holding me tight.

After I boarded the streetcar, I stared out the window, watching her walk toward the slaughterhouse. Before the streetcar started up, she turned back and waved to me. I pressed my hand to the glass and felt a tear forming. I hated when I felt sorry for her. Seeing her make that walk back by herself made me feel as if I’d abandoned her; I was only trying to help myself. No matter what, I couldn’t let myself end up like her. I just couldn’t.

Ah, the complicated intricacies of the mother/daughter relationship. Who hasn’t had those same thoughts? Rosen not only nails the complexities of the child/parent dynamic, she really paints vivid pictures of this rich historical setting, from the night life of Chicago during Prohibition with fascinating details that don’t overwhelm the story, to the gritty mobster wars leading up to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, to the intimate family lives of all involved. Rosen grounds you right in this time and place and brings this tale to life and it rushes by in a blaze of booze and bullets and passion. All in all a great read.

In the spirit of sharing, I’m holding a giveaway for this fine book throughout this month as we celebrate the Jazz Age. (Open to U.S. residents only.) Follow the link below to enter. You can enter each day from now until February 8th. For an easy entry, leave a comment telling me your favorite slang or phrase from the Roaring Twenties. It was such a great time for colorful language, don’t you think?

 ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  DOLLFACE Rafflecopter giveaway 

 

Learn more about Renee Rosen here.

Follow Renée on Twitter here.

Follow Renée on Facebook here.

January #writemotivation Week 1

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After surviving several arctic blasts, things are beginning to thaw out here in Oklahoma. We’ve gone from a low of a bitter 4° (before considering the dreadful wind chill) to a balmy 55° set for tomorrow (time to break out the sunscreen). There hasn’t been much to do other than bundle up and read, much to my delight. I did manage to get a fair number of things checked off my writerly do-to list. I also found a lovely reading challenge for this month that is so perfect in timing I felt compelled to jump on board. I had been reading my way through a fast-paced Miss Fishergangster novel to review for my blog about the same time I was on Netflix, binge-watching the entire first season of a fantastic Australian series all about a lady detective in the roaring twenties called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The show’s based off the Phryne Fisher books (pronounced FRY-knee) written by Kerry Greenwood. So much fun! It reminded me a bit of my younger days when I used to tear through all the Agatha Christie novels from my hometown library.

Murder, mystery, mayhem!

Just my cup of tea.

jazzageSo what should I see on a fellow writer’s blog a few days ago but an invitation to join the Jazz Age January reading event and celebrate even more of the roaring twenties. Isn’t that just the berries? This event was set up by Leah over at her Books Speak Volumes blog. Feel free to pop on over and check out her suggested reading list and even sign up yourself. I’ll be posting my first book review this weekend with an added bonus of a book giveaway! Woohoo! You don’t want to miss that!

There will be plenty more from the the Jazz Age throughout this month. For now, let’s check on those goals.

My #writemotivation goals for the month are:

  1. Move MG novel into Scrivener and plot out all revisions still needed. Bonus points for finishing it and sending it off. I went through the tutorial twice just to make sure I’d know what I was doing before I got started. I finally imported my baby over and it was painless. I am so in love with Scrivener right now. It’s like having my own (very cheap) assistant who never gets me coffee. 
  2. Make progress on first draft of new YA project. Haven’t started this yet. More likely next week at the earliest.
  3. Prep and plan out all blog posts for the next month. Bonus points for sketching out posts for February. I have planned out most of my posts for January and have begun writing them up. Bare bones sketching for February started, too. I’m getting so organized, it’s scary.
  4. Read at least four books. Thanks to all the snuggly weather, I’m on my second book already. Yay!

And my major stretch goal, as some of my fellow writers are calling their bonus goals – submit my completed YA to at least five agents. We’re not stretching, yet.

Not a bad start to the new year. I hope you’re all doing well with your goals. One day, one word at a time. We can do it!

If you ever have a question or  need cheering or motivation of any kind, remember to join us on the Twitter hashtag, #writemotivation. We’d love to lend our support to our fellow writers.

My Favorite Reads of 2013

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?