Category Archives: Challenges

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Debut Author Challenge :: CANARY

Today’s 2013 Debut Author Challenge review is Canary by Rachele Alpine

From GoodreadsStaying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone. Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete. But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes. Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse, and has earned tons of fantastic author endorsements and complimentary reviews.

Such a beautiful cover, right? I like the story beneath it too. Canary is an issue book that deals with a lot of issues: death of a parent (Kate’s mom), athlete elitism (something I don’t see addressed often in YA), academic integrity at an upper-class private school, sexual assault, and anxiety over a military family member’s well-being (a topic that strikes particularly close to home for me).

Kate’s a great narrator. She’s a “normal girl” (for lack of a better term), and I had no trouble relating to her as a high schooler who’s trying to find her niche at a new school and in a new life. My favorite part of Canary are the blog posts — penned by Kate, and mostly in verse — sprinkled throughout the narrative. Kate’s online words are confessions, thoughtful and profound, and sometimes cheeky and clever. Check out a bit of this obviously sardonic “post,” about proper care and handling of a Beacon basketball player boyfriend…

“Maintain a happy attitude, even if you feel sad. Smile and laugh often. Let him know life is perfect for you when he’s around. Agree to what he wants to do, be where he wants to be, watch what he wants to watch, and become interested in the things that interest him. Remember constantly how lucky you are to have acquired a Beacon basketball player boyfriend.”

Another aspect of Canary I appreciate is Kate’s connection with her big brother, Brett. The push-and-pull of their authentic sibling relationship is incredibly well done, and I love the protective role he plays in Kate’s life, especially when it comes to her boyfriend Jack (who I’m still a little torn about). Brett is mature, and he’s often the voice of reason Kate herself sometimes lacks. He’s my favorite of all Canary‘s characters.

I recommend Canary for fans of serious, issue-based contemporary YA, books like Daisy Whitney’s Mockingbirds, and Chelsea Pitcher’s The S-Word

Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.

Also, hop on over to YA Confidential to check out today’s From the Vault post. We want to know what you’d like to see more of in YA.

What’s the last debut novel you read? 


Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge)

From GoodreadsWhen seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi. Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her over-generous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world. Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.

First, I love this book’s cover. I think it’s gorgeous, and it totally draws me in. Its muted color palette and elegant font very much convey the tone of the story. It’s the reason I purchased a copy even though historical fiction (which Stands of Bronze and Gold is, sort of) is not normally my thing. Book Cover = Win

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a hard book to review. It is exactly what it claims to be: a fairy tale retelling set against a historical backdrop, and it does almost everything right. Its characters are engaging. Its prose is lovely, and boasts some of the most delectable food descriptions I’ve read. And its plot, while a bit slow in the beginning, moves along at reasonable pace and includes some interesting twists and turns. All in all, Strands of Bronze and Gold is very well done.

But… I’m not sure it’s the book for me. It’s just not the type of tale that moves me. And that’s what I’m looking for when I read — a story that gives me an emotional walloping, rips my heart out and makes me feel, and then, just when I think I can’t stand another moment of anguish, slowly restores my sense of hopefulness. I found myself wanting more from Strands of Bronze and Gold, particularly in the way of the Underground Railroad thread, and in the hinted-at romance with Mr. Stone. I thought these elements were the most compelling of the story, and I would’ve loved to have seen them expanded on.

For me, knowing that Strands of Bronze and Gold is a Bluebeard retelling stole a bit of its magic. Early on, I had a basic idea of what was going on with Monsieur Bernard de Cressac and his previous wives. And while I liked Sophie and wanted her to solve the story’s mystery and escape Wyndriven Abbey, I pretty much knew she would, somehow. That kept me from becoming truly invested in her plight. But, as I mentioned, there are a few surprises in the story and they, along with Jane Nickerson’s enchanting prose, kept me reading through to the end.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is everything it’s supposed to be — though it’s simply not the right story for me. That said, if you enjoy historical fiction and fairy tale retellings, I suspect you’ll love this one, and I hope you’ll check it out.

Have you read Strands of Bronze and Gold? Thoughts?
Do you have a favorite fairy tale retelling?

(Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.)


My first 2013 debut: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge and The Bookanistas)

The Tragedy PaperFrom Goodreads: Tim Macbeth is a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is “Enter here to be and find a friend.” A friend is the last thing Tim expects or wants—he just hopes to get through his senior year unnoticed. Yet, despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “It” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim’s surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, but she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone ever finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine romance, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher. Jumping between viewpoints of the love-struck Tim and Duncan, a current senior about to uncover the truth of Tim and Vanessa, The Tragedy Paper is a compelling tale of forbidden love and the lengths people will go to keep their secrets.

The Tragedy Paper was not on my original list of 2013 debuts, but over the last month I’ve come across too many glowing reviews to pass it up. I mean really… A story about a clandestine romance set at a New England boarding school pretty much screams Katy Book!

The Tragedy Paper‘s format reminds me of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s recent graduate Tim’s story (his tragedy, really) relayed through a collection of CDs gifted to current senior Duncan (who is peripherally and mysteriously linked to the aforementioned tragedy). The Tragedy Paper‘s structure portrays the boys’ parallel plot lines in a way that makes them feel equally important, especially considering that as their stories unfold, Tim and Duncan are both pondering what, exactly, makes a tragedy, as well as working toward completing their all-important tragedy papers.

If The Tragedy Paper‘s format hints at Thirteen Reasons Why, its tone is reminiscent of A Separate Peace by John Knowles. There’s the boarding school setting of course, and then there’s the dynamic between students of different social standings, the one-tiny-moment-can-change-everything theme, and the constant defining and redefining of the word tragedy. All of these things in combination made me think often of Gene and Phineas and how their fatal flaws compared to those of Tim and Duncan.

I think The Tragedy Paper‘s greatest strength lies in its earnestness. It’s a quiet sort of book and the characters who populate its pages are wholesome kids mostly trying to do the right thing. But, they have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and those weaknesses and vulnerabilities are what kept me turning pages. I felt for Tim who, at his core, is a good guy with some serious self-esteem issues. I felt for Vanessa, whose seemingly effortless existence isn’t entirely so. And I felt for Duncan, who endeared me with his dorkiness, not to mention the guilt he carries for his part in the tragedy that changed all of the characters’ lives irreparably.

If there was anything I wanted more of from The Tragedy Paper, it was the “forbidden love” element mentioned in the story’s summary. (Of course, I’m a romance girl and I always want more swoon-worthy moments. ♥) While I got a definite sense of Tim’s pining for Vanessa, I wanted more scenes with those same feelings reciprocated by her. I often wondered if she was leading Tim on because she enjoyed his attention, though she sought him out enough to convince me that she felt true affection for him. More than once I just wanted to shake Vanessa and make her face up to her feelings even though they were difficult and complicated.

The Tragedy Paper was an incredibly satisfying read. It was also an intense read. I’ve found myself thinking about it and its messages since I finished a few days ago. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of contemporary YA, and to readers who appreciate clean, straightforward prose and characters who experience profound growth over the course of a story.

Check out these recommendations from my fellow Bookanistas:

Debra Driza wonders at WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Jessica Love thinks THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY is terrific.

Stasia Ward Kehoe delves into OUT OF THE EASY.

And learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.

Hello, February!

Oy. January was a weird, weird month. I am not at all sad to say farewell. But before I do, let’s chat about two big things I accomplished during the first thirty-one days of 2013:

First, I kicked Jan Plan‘s ass. Thank you, Christa Desir for sharing your motivational idea with me and the rest of the blogosphere. Finish one thing in January, you said, and I did! I received revision notes from my agent at the tail end of December, mulled them over, tackled them, sent my manuscript off for a beta read, and had the new and improved version back in said agent’s hands before the month was out. Win. The best part? My agent was pleased! For now, we’re calling that manuscript DONE.

Second, I ran 161 miles. That’s an average of just over five miles per day over thirty-one days. If I maintain that average all year, I’ll have run nearly 2,000 miles by 2014. I kind of want to do it! But, my poor joints are already achy. I feel like the rusty, creaky Tin Man before he’s oiled. We’ll see… 2,000 miles is definitely a worthy goal to strive for, but I’m not sure if my old bones can hang. Wish me luck?

Happy Friday, and happy February!

What was your biggest January accomplishment? 

Debut Author Challenge

I mentioned on Friday that I’m all signed up for the 2013 Debut Author Challenge. Just to make it officially official in my head, I compiled a list of twelve 2013 debut releases I plan to read over the course of the year. Here they are, with each cover linking to the book’s Goodreads page (release dates are subject to change, of course).

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter, #1)The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd, January 29th

Infinite SkyInfinite Sky by C.J. Flood, February 14th (I adore this cover!)

Pretty Girl-13Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley, March 19th

Taken (Taken, #1)Taken by Erin Bowman, April 16th (This cover too… Loveliness!)

The Neptune ProjectThe Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke, May 21st

Charm & StrangeCharm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, June 11th

45 Pounds (More or Less)45 Pounds (More or Less) by K.A. Barson, July 11th

CanaryCanary by Rachel Alpine, August 1st (I think this cover rocks too!)

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Between, #1)Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Gemevieve Tucholke, August 20th (And this cover… Gorgeous!)

RedRed by Alison Cherry, October 8th

Fault LineFault Line by Christa Desir, November 12th

These Broken StarsThese Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, November 12th (Not the official cover, obviously.)

Incidentally, I’ve had the pleasure of reading two advanced copies of 2013 debuts: Kristin Halbrook’s Nobody But Us, and Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me. They are both fantastic, and I highly recommend adding them to your own list of 2013 debut novels. And if you’re looking for more 2013 debuts, check out the Meet the Lucky 13s page for tons of titles, authors, and links.

Tell Me: What 2013 debuts are you most looking forward to? 

Five on Friday

1. Have you heard about the Jan Plan? It’s my friend Christa Desir‘s idea, and it’s very simple: Finish a project in January. Any project. At your pace, in your time, for your own benefit. Originally, I’d planned to finish the first draft of my NaNo WiP, but I just got at editorial letter from Super Agent Victoria (yay!) and I’ve decided that the project I’ll complete this month will be a revision of Cross My Heart. Nothing too crazy needs to be changed, but Victoria has given me some awesome ideas for upping the tension and tightening the pacing in the first half of the story. I’m all in. I hope to have Cross My Heart submission-ready before February. And when I do, I’ll tackle my NaNo Wip.

2. I’ve read some amazing books lately. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, which I mentioned during the YA Superlatives Blogfest but never officially reviewed (it’s disturbing and gorgeous and heartbreaking – read it!), and Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, which is captivating and romantic and gritty, not to mention beautifully written (thanks for the recommendation, Tracey!). Currently, I’m reading Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. While dragons aren’t usually my thing, so far I’m enamored by this book’s unique concept and incredible world building.

3. Speaking of books, I’ve got some highly anticipated novels in my very near future. I’ve preordered Shades of Earth by Beth Revis, Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, and Just One Day by Gayle Forman (one of my literary heroes!). Plus, I’ve recently been told that The Age of Miracles and The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread (a pastry cookbook!) are must reads. Thanks for the recommendations Erin and Jess!

4. I signed up for the Debut Author Challenge! I haven’t signed up in previous years, but I always do my best to support new authors. Often debut releases end up being some of my favorites. 2013 is a huge year for debuts, seeing as how some of my friends have their first books coming out: Erin Bowman, Christa Desir, Ann Rought, Amie Kaufman, and Cristin Terrill, to name a few.

5. My husband, girlie, and I went to Phoenix to visit my parents for the New Year. I love the desert…

My girlie fed ostrich, and I let a bird land on my head. Yes.

Sunrise loveliness.

Happy New Year from us. :)

Oh, and this happened. Don’t forget to be awesome!

Tell me: What’s new with you? Are you participating in the Jan Plan? What are you reading these days?