My Top Ten Reads of the Year

I set quite a lofty reading goal for myself this year over at Goodreads with 70 books. And by the skin of my teeth…I still didn’t reach it.

Almost, though. Almost good.

In the end, I read 67 books. They were quite diverse in genre and category. We’re talking adults books from contemporary writers like Chuck Palahniuk and Kazuo Ishiguro to Jazz Age classics by writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway  – then there was some poetry thrown in for good measure.  In the YA category, I enjoyed reading some fantastic series – the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, His Fair Assasin Trilogy by Robin LaFevers, along with a few books that marked the conclusions to other series. There was realistic fiction by Laurie Halse Anderson, science fiction by Amy Plum, and good old fantasy by Maggie Stiefvater. Middle grade made the cut with the fabulous Varian Johnson, R.J. Palacio, and Holly Goldberg Sloan. Not to mention glorious picture books and graphic novels, oh my!

How to narrow down all of these fantastic books to ten favorites?

Impossible!

But…I did my best.

These are the stories that stuck with me long after I closed the cover on the final page. In no particular order. I do whole-heartedly recommend you embrace them all.

NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoI heard Kazuo Ishiguro give an interview on NPR and the more he talked about his writing and his life, the more fascinating he seemed. I thought that if his writing was anything like he was, I had to read one of his books.

This book is so beautiful. The storytelling is so effortless, I just loved it. Even though the characters and their situation were sad and tragic, I was just so in awe of the whole thing. I don’t know if it was because I was viewing it as a writer or not. One thing I do know is that I could not put this book down.

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Follow Kazuo on Facebook.

 

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

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I 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 in LA and got to tell her how awesome she was in person.

She signed this copy of WINTERGIRLS to me simply “Be Brave”.  And yet, isn’t that one of the hardest things to be? 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.)

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Facebook here.

 

THE LUNAR CHRONICLES (Books 1-3) by Marissa Meyer

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Scarlet 2CressFirst off, can I just say, big props to whoever designed those covers? Stunning, just too damn stunning for words, really.

This was a fun and smart re-invisioning of the story of Cinderella. I loved the changes Meyer made to the original, especially giving Cinder a close connection within her adoptive family. The bond she shares with her youngest step-sister is tender and painful, especially when that relationship is tested and threatened.

Meyer is so creative in how she weaves the classic aspects into this new, futuristic world. The characters are well worth rooting for, especially the kick-ass female lead. I really enjoyed the entire series and I read through it all too quickly. I can hardly wait for the fourth book, WINTER, which doesn’t come out until November of 2015. That gives you plenty of time to read the first three books.

(Since this is a top ten list, I’m only giving details on book one. Trust me. you won’t be able to stop once you start. Carve out a weekend.)

Plot Summary for CINDER:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

 Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Marissa Meyer here.

Follow Marissa on Twitter here.

Follow Marissa on Facebook here.

 

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937If my blog post reviewing this book didn’t convince you of my true love and devotion to this book, and that you should run out and grab copy RIGHT NOW! I’m afraid nothing will.

From the very first page, I stopped to reread passages that took my breath away, that made me want to hug this book to me and never let it go.

Here’s the first passage that stopped me in my tracks:

 

As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.

Seriously?

And that was just the writer getting warmed up and talking about the weather. He gets deep and breaks your heart with his words. And you want to thank him for it. This is a book I will read over and over until its pages fall out.

I read this book at the recommendation of a dear writer friend of mine. (Thank you Sharon!) And now I’m recommending it to you. To everyone who loves great story and words and beautiful characters. You will take this story into your heart and it will never leave you.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Benjamin Alire Saenz here and here.

Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.

 

WONDER by R.J. Palacio

wonder 2This story resonated a little too close to home at times. Tears were shed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The chapters that hit me the hardest were, oddly enough, those told from the  sister’s point of view. I think it was imagining my daughter having similar thoughts and how much she could relate to this experience because of her own brother.

There were just as many moments of laughter as tears and the overall emotion was of hope. I loved that most of all. This book is so worth sharing with everyone who needs to experience some empathy for anyone who’s different – and not just on the outside.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about R.J. Palacio here.

Follow R.J. on Twitter here.

Follow R.J. on Tumblr here.

 

REALITY BOY by A.S. King

askbooks_33_967541914This book is one of my greatest treasures – and not just because it is inscribed to me by the phenomenal A.S. King herself. (Okay, that doesn’t hurt – *hugs book tighter*.) I just love her writing so much. It’s honest and raw. I want to call this one ‘The Anger Book’ because it lets you really get down and dirty with feeling all kinds of angry. And understanding where your anger really comes from – that lack of caring, the seeing-but-not-seeing adults who let things happen, the neglect, the injustices that were done when you were too young to be in control of your destiny.

The main character, Gerald, taps right into it all and lets us live vicariously through him as he slowly starts to find his voice and make demands for a new life. Enpowerment on the page. Dig it.

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

 

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson

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Author Kate Messner recommended this book to everyone on the planet during the awesome #weneeddiversebooks campaign. She wanted us to all put up (and not even shut up) and help make this book a bestseller, not just because it was written by a minority author, but because it was brilliant.

She was not lying.

After beginning page one on a road trip and finishing it before I reached my destination, I can attest to the fantasticness of Johnson’s storytelling. Man! I so wish I could’ve gone to school with a kid like Jackson Greene. If I were a kid right now reading this book, I would get into all kinds of mischief plotting my own Jackson-like schemes. I loved, loved, loved this character. I so hope Johnson gets to write more Greene adventures. I will read every one of them.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair — loser of the Blitz — announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn mores about Varian Johnson here.

Follow Varian on Twitter here.

Follow Varian on Facebook here.

 

LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley

LWTO-200x300I was gripped by the story from the first pages. I could feel the tension of of those black students going through their first day of integration so intently, I don’t think my own muscles unclenched until the characters in the book were safely home. How any of them made it through an entire week, let alone an entire school year, living with constant fear and torturous conditions, is beyond me.

I’ve read a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and I thought I knew about the story of integration, but I’d never really thought about the story from the kids’ perspective. They really held the battle on their shoulders. And Talley weaves such a wonderfully nuanced tale that connects today’s struggle for equality with that of the past, making it just as relevant and just as terrifying. Sarah and Linda’s relationship grows so naturally and painfully that I couldn’t stop reading it. Really an excellent book.

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 Learn more about Robin Talley here.

Follow Robin on Twitter here.

Follow Robin on Facebook here.

Follow Robin on Tumblr here.

 

ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein

RoseUnderFire_PBK_CVRThis is the companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY, which I read last year and loved so, so much. Some of the main characters from Verity make guest appearances in this book and I found myself wanting to spend more time with them and I was always sad when they left the stage, as it were. I think that says more about how powerful the first book was than anything else. Once I got into the thick of Rose’s story, I was completely overtaken. And there was a great deal to love about it. This book is chock full of strong female characters facing dire situations during war time and surviving on their own wits, just like its predecessor.

Told in a similar diary style as Verity, this book injects the reader straight into the heart of the main character’s deepest thoughts and fears, and takes the reader through the horrific aftermath of surviving the unsurvivable and how one adjusts back to real life. How you begin to live again after leaving so many others behind. Rose recants her tale in a Paris hotel where she’s afraid of even the maid’s light intrusions. She spends days writing down her nightmarish experiences so she won’t forget and so she can get through it. In doing so, she take us through the worst months of her life where in a place devoid of hope and life, she found both, and friendship as well. Just like its companion book, this is such a well-written story that it will leave you thinking about its characters long after you have put it down. It is well worth the read.

Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors trying to learn how to treat German war wounds; and a Nachthexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.

Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.

 

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012-300x444I’ve waited over a year to read this book! (I loaned my copy to a friend soon after receiving it for my birthday last year and then she moved and it was buried in a box for ages.) All in all, it was well worth the wait. Rowell’s characters are so well-written and so dynamic that they could’ve been people I went to college with. And talk about nostalgia! I was flashing back in my cramped dorm room, reliving those early days with my first roommate within a few chapters. The struggles of becoming an adult and feeling like you have no idea what you are doing, except that you’re pretty sure you’re making a royal mess of everything you touch. The allure of withdrawing into a fantasy world (escaping into a world of stories) is strangely familiar and one I’m sure many soon-to-be college freshman will soon be grappling with themselves.

Loved this book ALMOST as much as Eleanor & Park. It was really close. Rowell has such a unique style with her writing, she pulls you in as effortlessly as breathing. Before you know it, you just accept her reality as your own.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? (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.

 

So there you have it!

My favorite reads of the past year.

And here is a peek at my TBR pile. All the BooksThe poor neglected books I didn’t get to in 2014 that are waiting patiently for me to read in the new year. I may be crazy, but I think I’ll set my reading goal for next year even higher. Why not? I’m feeling optimistic.

What were your favorite books from 2014? What books are you looking forward to in 2015?

Save a Book, Burn a Village! It’s Banned Book Week!

 

 

ABFFE

 

 

As a person who abhors censorship and supports free thought and expression in all forms, Banned Book Week is one of my top favorite holidays. This is the time of year when we highlight those books that may terrify a small percentage of the population because of what they fear may happen if the information held within their pages is shared.

The horror! Run for the hills! Grab your pitchforks and torches! We must destroy what we don’t understand!

I obviously disagree. Knowledge isn’t inherently bad or good, it all depends on how you use it.

But I digress.Slaughterhouse Five

I’ll be celebrating this fantabulous holiday in a few ways, first by listening to a free audio version of Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, read by the author himself. I actually read it the first time when I was in high school. My dad had it lying around, probably found it falling out of an overstuffed bookcase, and the title or cover must’ve appealed to me. I don’t remember much except the last line of the book. If you’ve ever read it, I’m sure you know why. (I actually remember peeking ahead to see if it really ended like it said it did. I’m sure I’m not the only one.) I look forward to rediscovering this story, again. Listening to the tale in Vonnegut’s own voice will be an extra treat.

Learn more about Kurt Vonnegut here.

For the second way of celebrating, I turn to the American Library Association, who just released the yearly list of top ten frequently challenged books with the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (series) by Dav Pilkey in the number one spot. Reasons? Offensive language, unsuited for age group. Now, I’m pretty sure there are no curse words in CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, so what could this offensive language be? And unsuited for age group? I can’t think of anyone that would be more suited to read a story about a superhero named Captain Underpants than kids. Who do they think would be more suitable? Adults?

What are they talking about? Someone please explain this insanity.

Capt UnderpantsHere’s the book synopsis from the author’s website:

Meet George and Harold, a couple of wise guys. The only thing they enjoy more than playing practical jokes is creating their own comic books. Together they have created the greatest comic-book superhero in the history of their elementary school – CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS! But George and Harold’s principal, mean old Mr. Krupp, doesn’t like their pranks OR their comic books. He’s cooked up a plan to catch George and Harold and stop their shenanigans – once and for all! This book is about what happened when that plan backfired, and Captain Underpants leaped off the page to save the day!

And here’s the story behind the story from the author’s website:

This book is based on a superhero that Dav Pilkey invented way back in 1973 when he was a second-grader. The comics that Dav made were very much like the comic book that George and Harold sell on the playground in Chapter 3.

When I began making children’s books in 1986, my goal was to one day make a book about Captain Underpants. I wrote several different versions of this story, including a 48-page comic book, but every publisher who saw it turned it down. When the book was finally accepted in 1996, it was a real dream come true!  Dav Pilkey

Many of the things in the book are taken directly from Dav’s childhood: the practical jokes, the comics, even the cheesy animation technique called “Flip-O-Rama” (Dav and his friends used to amuse themselves by making these flip-action animated pictures in elementary school).

Dav Pilkey had dyslexia when he was a kid. He was always discouraged by wordy texts, small type, and lengthy chapters.

My goal with The Adventures of Captain Underpants was to make a chapter book that SEEMED like a picture book.   So I wrote incredibly short chapters and tried to fill each page with more pictures than words. I wanted to create a book that kids who don’t like to read would want to read— Dav Pilkey

 

Nope. Just not seeing anything diabolical mob violence-worthy there. Guess I will take a chance and actually READ THE BOOK before passing judgment. Yes, in solidarity of Mon Capitan el de Underpants, I shall BBW14_Poster_200x300read the first book of this series, and maybe even while in my underpants. Cape optional.

Learn more about Dav Pilkey here.

HAPPY BANNED BOOK WEEK, EVERYONE!

What are you reading to celebrate?

What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 1 Meg Rosoff, the Queen of Weird and Champion of the Imagination

scbwi la banner 2014

 

This week has been incredibly busy with the relaunch of my group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure, and hosting all those AM writing sprints, but what fun! I’m going to continue doing them as it gets me up and writing every day. I didn’t want September to start without beginning my LA conference recap posts, so here’s the first one. I had hoped to bring back some extra signed copies of some books, but due to another sold-out conference, this one with record-breaking attendance, the bookstore was pretty picked over by the time I got around to it. Still, I think I may just have something up my sleeve to give away later in the month.

MEG ROSOFF SPEAKS ON IMAGINATION

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Meg Rosoff, author of Printz Award book HOW I LIVE NOW and THERE IS NO DOG, opened the conference with her keynote entitled “Warning: Peter Rabbit May be Hazardous to Your Health” where she discussed how some psychologists and other “experts” were telling parents not to allow their children to read fairy tales. Why? Because fairy tales were dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

They teach children an unrealistic view of the world. She quoted from an unnerving number of sources, which stated things like this jewel of wisdom:

“Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it’s statistically too improbable.”(This was from a Telegraph article.)

Who can argue with such logic?

In Rosoff’s opinion, they were all missing the point. Imagination is not a dangerous thing for a child to develop, in fact, it is essential. To prove her point, she began her talk with a retelling of GOLIDLOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and she gave it a realistic bent, as these experts would have us do.

(Me paraphrasing extensively.) She entered a house, actually it was a cave. And instead of finding three bowls of porridge what she actually found were three rotting rabbit carcasses. “This is disgusting,” she said.

She went to lie down after this, but instead of beds, there were piles of leaves mixed with bear excrement. When the bears came home, they growled at her – “if they could speak a language, it would probably be French-Canadian” – and then they disemboweled her and ate her.

The End.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy. And quite nauseating, to boot. But hey, it’s more realistic, and according to the “experts”. exactly what children, today, need in their stories. Can you imagine a childhood devoid of imagination? A world where children grow up learning only to think in rational ways? THAT is a truly terrifying tale.

When her own child went off to college and shared fears of not being as good or as smart as the other kids in the physics department, how_i_live_now_3-125x200this is what Meg said to her:

“You may not ever be a genius, but you read books. You know about plot, character, stories. You know about letting your unconscious mind follow things to new conclusions. Reading books strengthens imagination and lateral thinking. A good scientist needs imagination. Reading books may even make you a GREAT scientist.”

Imagination is essential to great thinkers, to creative minds. It’s not something one should outgrow or overcome.

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

Reading about the fantastical, the improbable, allows kids to imagine the what ifs. It’s our job as writers is to try to understand the world and take risks to write the strongest, fiercest, most subversive tales. This means not being afraid to engage with the darker parts of ourselves. That’s where some of the really important stuff can happen. Break the rules, be subversive. Write a book no one else may want to read.

In one review after her second book, it said, “Meg Rosoff is the queen of weird.” She took it as a compliment.

“Imagination is very dangerous. It can change the world. And that’s why we write.”

Learn more about Meg Rosoff here.

Follow Meg on Twitter here.

Barbara Lowell – Author Interview & Book Giveaway

The very first person I met through SCBWI was Barbara Lowell. She epitomizes the spirit of our SCBWI Oklahoma group – open and generous and willing to help anyone who asks. I am so grateful that she was the first to make a permanent impression on me. We met at one of the fall conferences, my first ever to attend. How lucky was I that she also soon became one of my very first critique partners, as well? I’m happy to say that she is still my critique partner to this day. We’ve both learned so much from when we started out as newbie writers, making typical mistakes and writing awful stories. Our whole group has grown and we have all come a long way from those stumbling beginnings. Barbara has fantastic suggestions that help me take my stories in much better directions, and even though she swears she could never write something so long herself, I’m not so sure she couldn’t if that’s where her passion led her. Fortunately for us, she loves writing dynamic and intriguing picture book biographies. I adore Barbara’s writing and have felt it a privilege to be a part of so many of her great stories. I’m so happy that the first of these has finally found its way to publication.

GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL
Grosset & Dunlap. June 26, 2014.

 

George Ferris Book

 

George Ferris, ever confident, didn’t know that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would make him famous, but when engineers were challenged to build something unique and original, he knew he was the person to create it. George had to convince the fair officials, find the money and design and build an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 people at the same time, something no one had ever done before.

 The Interview

 

Barbara was kind enough to stop by my blog to answer a few questions about her writing process and how she came to be the writer she is today. And she’s also donated not one, but two of her books for a fantastic giveaway! (I told you she was generous.) More details on that later. First, the questions!

Barbara Author PhotoValerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this story? What made you want to tell it?

Barbara Lowell: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. What amazed him most was that George Ferris had built an amusement wheel with train-sized cars that could hold 2,160 people at the same time.

As soon as he finished the book, I read it. Those two details and George’s confidence that despite overwhelming odds, he could and would build his wheel inspired me to write his story as a nonfiction picture book.

I also loved how Mrs. Ferris absolutely believed in George. She rode in one of the six cars mounted on the wheel for a second trial trip. The glass for the windows hadn’t been installed. When the car she was riding in reached the top of the wheel, 264 feet, she stood on her chair and cheered.

 

VL: I loved those details about the story. What devotion his wife had to test such a contraption. Mrs. Ferris must have been quite a character herself.

I was surprised by the sheer size of this first Ferris Wheel – so big that each car could hold a 40-piece marching band. Would you ever ride in a Ferris Wheel that big?

BL: I might try the new High Roller in Las Vegas. It is twice the height of George Ferris’s wheel, but holds 1,120 passengers verses George Ferris’s 2,160. 

 

VL: A book of this type requires an extensive amount of research. What is your writing process? How do you start a project like this?

BL: I love history, especially American history and researching is fun. There are many interesting stories to find that are not well-known. I try to research the person or story I am writing about as thoroughly as I can. Since I learned about George Ferris’s wheel in Devil in the White City, I first looked at Erik Larson’s sources. His sources that I couldn’t find in the Tulsa library system, I either found at the University of Tulsa or bought online.

One that I consulted over and over is Norman Anderson’s impeccably researched book Ferris Wheels. I researched the sources used for every book I read and dug deeper and deeper. I was able to find at the NOAA website that the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago in January 1893 was -16. I look for as many primary sources as I can – books written by and interviews conducted with the subject of my book, original documents and artifacts. I found an interview with George Ferris from 1893 – that was a great find. When I was unable to locate the answer to a question I had about George Ferris, I contacted the Chicago Historical Society.

 

VL: That is very diligent researching. It must have been amazing to read George Ferris’s own words and then incorporate that into your story.

Who were your childhood heroes and role models? What drew you to them?

BL: From the time I was in third grade, I loved reading biographies, especially about people I could learn from. My favorite autobiography was Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life. I read many books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. All three subjects faced enormous challenges with great courage. I still read lots of biographies and nonfiction history.

 

VL: I have such a strong memory of learning about Helen Keller, too. I thought she was amazing. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

BL: I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I never tried seriously to become one until my daughter started high school. I thought, now I have the time to work on this and it maybe now or never.

I tried on my own, but I was going nowhere until the wonderful Oklahoma writer, Anna Myers started the SCBWI Oklahoma Schmoozes (writers and illustrators meetings.) I attended the meetings and conferences, took online classes and joined a critique group. I began to learn how to write for children and continue every day to learn and improve. This is a tough business and the support of my fellow writers has given me the strength to pursue my writing goals.

 

VL: You are so right! The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. I may have given up long ago if not for my SCBWI family.

Tell me about the most memorable adventures you had with your friends outside of school.

BL: I loved the summer. I lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. We spent our summers dreaming up adventures and then acted them out. A friend’s father helped build sets for a local theater group and one day he brought home a full-size Conestoga wagon. We had a great time traveling out west in our imaginations. One summer we set up our own outdoor laundry and went around the neighborhood asking for things to wash. We played all kinds of outdoor games. There was so much to do that every day seemed to last forever. I loved being a kid and that’s why I like writing for them.

 

VL: Wow! A real Conestoga wagon? You kids must have had a field day with that. I think I would have wanted to camp out in it. Maybe sleep under the stars like a cowboy. I loved being a kid, too. I think you may have something there. 

What are you currently working on?

BL: I finished researching a picture book biography, and I am working on the first draft. I have also recently worked on the first picture book I ever wrote and have rewritten it, not just revised it, for about the sixth time. I think I have finally made it work – but I have thought that before. I also have a new idea for a picture book biography and will start my research by reading the subject’s autobiography. I hope I can find a great story arc there.

 

VL: I can’t wait to take a peek at it. :)

What are some of your favorite books for kids?

BL: I think I can agree with almost every fan of YA – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I also love his book An Abundance of Katherines. I recently read Kathi Appelt’s latest middle grade novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and her book The Underneath is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anna Myers write some of my favorite historical fiction novels.

My favorite book period is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a huge collection of picture book biographies and historical fiction picture books. My two favorites are Deborah Hopkinson’s Apples to Oregon and Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane (Jane Goodall.) I think his is the best picture book biography written. I also like all of Barbara Kerley’s biographies and one of my new favorites is On a Beam of Light (Albert Einstein) by Jennifer Berne.

 

VL: There were some favorites of mine there and some new ones I need to read. Great suggestions.

What has been the best part of being a writer?

BL: Becoming friends with children’s writers. I absolutely love spending time with them and being part of this close community.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara. And I hope to have you back very soon!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

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The Giveaway

 

And now for the fabulous giveaway!

Barbara has generously donated two hardback editions of her new book GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL. So there will be TWO WINNERS! This contest is open to everyone. The contest will run through July 18th and you can enter once a day. Good Luck! The winners can now been seen when you click on the giveaway site. Congratulations!

 

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Barbara Lowell Rafflecopter giveaway

Great Literary Dads – a TGNA Post

tgnalogorevampToday is my day to post over at The Great Noveling Adventure, so I took the opportunity to give thanks to some of the most inspiring dads in literature. I find that dads can often be under-appreciated in novels and take a back seat to moms many times, but as I had a fantastic dad who had to go it solo in the parenting department for most of my childhood, I want to give a shout-out to all the great dads and other father-figures in our lives who helped shape us from the nebulous blobs of mess we started from into the creative amazing people we became.

Thank you, Amazing Dads, everywhere!

If you know of some great stories with phenomenal dad characters or want to see which books I selected, hop on over to the Great Noveling Adventure blog and join the conversation.

First Rule of Book Club

Unlike Fight Club, you actually CAN talk about Book Club…and the book, right?

That’s the whole point of joining a book club; to gather in a social setting and discuss all things literary to our hearts’ content. I recently joined an online book club started by YA author Colleen Houck after receiving an invitation through her Goodreads page. I’ve never been in a book club before and I thought it might be fun. I also thought it would help introduce me to books I wouldn’t normally find on my own and maybe we’d have some stimulating conversations about great stories.

For the month’s selection, we read, THE SHADOW PRINCE, by Bree Despain.

The Shadow PrinceHaden Lord, the disgraced prince of the Underrealm, has been sent to the mortal world to entice a girl into returning with him to the land of the dead. Posing as a student at Olympus Hills High—a haven for children of the rich and famous—Haden must single out the one girl rumored to be able to restore immortality to his race.

Daphne Raines has dreams much bigger than her tiny southern Utah town, so when her rock star dad suddenly reappears, offering her full tuition to Olympus Hills High’s prestigious music program, she sees an opportunity to catch the break she needs to make it as a singer. But upon moving into her estranged father’s mansion in California, and attending her glamorous new school, Daphne soon realizes she isn’t the only student in Olympus who doesn’t quite belong.

Haden and Daphne—destined for each other—know nothing of the true stakes their fated courtship entails.  As war between the gods brews, the teenagers’ lives collide. But Daphne won’t be wooed easily and when it seems their prophesied link could happen, Haden realizes something he never intended—he’s fallen in love. Now to save themselves, Haden and Daphne must rewrite their destinies. But as their destinies change, so do the fates of both their worlds.

A pulsating romance of epic proportions, Bree Despain’s The Shadow Prince will leave her fans breathless for the next book in the Into The Dark series. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

What this summary doesn’t tell you is how Despain took a new look at the Persephone Myth and explored the idea of her not being a victim where Hades merely kidnaps her against her will and drags her down to the Underworld, but rather where she sees an opportunity to take her own future in her hands a make a conscious choice about her destiny. Set in a modern day world with different characters and a few obvious twists, of course.

We discussed this and many other thoughts and insights about the book with Bree Despain in a live author chat as part of our book club. It was such a wonderfully dynamic discussion that made the experience of the story so much richer. I am now totally hooked on this book club. I may join even more and end up needing a support group for addicts of book clubs.

What about you?

Have you had any experience with book clubs, live and in person or online?

Learn more about Bree Despain here.

Follow Bree on Twitter here.

Follow Bree on Tumblr here.

 

May #writemotivation check in

writemotivation_header1

Doing my first check in with a little over a week to go in the month. That should say something right there. This month didn’t start out so hot. I do feel that I am finally getting back on track after having way too much too handle. I don’t like to bore you with details, but let’s just say it seemed as if everyone in my household was having an existential crisis that required hours of me talking them down off proverbial (and sometimes not-so proverbial) ledges. Chaos was the order of the day, coffee was the beverage, nay, the meal of choice, and sleep was nary to be found.

Thankfully, that is all behind me. Everyone has once again found their inner zen and their raison d’être.

The balance is back.

Yes.

Image Courtesy of Robin Benad via Unsplash cc
Image Courtesy of Robin Benad via Unsplash cc

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Namaste.

We now return to our scheduled programming. So…where were we?

The Goals:

  1. Continue work on suggested revisions for Museum Crashers. I am close to halfway through with this round of revisions. I had a lovely critique group session, yesterday, that was very productive. My critique group loved the resolution at the end and how my character faced his fear. I just have some tightening up to do to get that ending the way I need it to be. I am really enjoying working on this book.
  2. Work on suggested revisions for Institutionalized. This will have to wait until next month. Although I have been thinking about it a lot and have been coming up with new ideas for it while working on the Museum book. I think I’ve solved a lot of the problems I’ve been struggling with and I can’t wait to get to work on this one. Next month, definitely.
  3. If complete revisions, submit to interested parties/begin submission process. Not ready, yet. Will have to wait for next month.
  4. Read 6 books. I’m doing a terrible job on this goal. I’ve only finished two books so far this month. Although I am blazing through Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles right now. I finished cinder-117x162Scarlet_final_USA-Today-117x162CINDER rather quickly and am already well into SCARLET. (Aren’t those book covers gorgeous?) I know I’ll have this one read before the end of the month. And then this peculiarly wonderful thing happened. I was invited to participate in Colleen Houck’s book club on Goodreads. I have to read the current book, THE SHADOW PRINCE by Bree Despain, by the end of the week so I can participate in the next discussion. I’m really looking forward to it. I thought being part of a book club might help me expand my reading tastes a bit by exposing me to books I wouldn’t normally hear about. It’s going to be a fun experiment. And it should force me to read more timely. Nothing like a deadline, right?
  5. The dreaded and yet necessary exercise – whip cracks! 4 times a week. I have been walking regularly, and for longer stints, which is good, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s time to get back on the elliptical. BLECH! On another note, our neighborhood pool opens this weekend, so I’ll be taking the boy to the pool at least once a day until September. Time to get a new suit. Woohoo.

I hope you’ve had a lovely May and if you are up for some goal challenges for June, it’s a great time to sign up for next month at the #writemotivation website.