November Reading Wrap-Up

I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to this November, mostly because I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which sucked up tons of my time. Plus, it’s tough for me to get in to a story when I’m trying to draft my own. Luckily, I managed to get my hands on three totally captivating books…
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson – Perfect for fans of the game The Oregon Trail, as well as those who’ve read and loved Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky, Walk on Earth a Stranger follows Lee Westfall, who’s set on making it to California during the Gold Rush. She carries two secrets — first, the simple fact that she’s a girl (she’s disguised herself as a boy to make her trek across the continent safer), and second, the not-so-simple fact that she can sense gold when it’s nearby. Though Lee’s dealt a hell of a hand in the novel’s opening pages, she’s an awesome protagonist. She’s smart, brave, and driven, and there’s a sweetness about her, too, especially when she shares the page with children or her longtime friend, Jefferson. While there are threads of magic running through Walk on Earth a Stranger, it reads like historical fiction; there’s great emphasis on time and place, as well as many of the challenges travelers faced on the California Trail: disease, starvation, dehydration, theft, racism, sexism, childbirth, and power struggles. I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to pick up its follow-up, Like a River Glorious, which is out now.

Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot (February, 2017) – This book. While I’d been looking forward to reading it since I saw its deal announcement, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m so impressed by what I got. Sad Perfect is the story of Pea, a girl with ARFID, a little known eating disorder that not only makes her averse to the taste/texture/idea of most foods, but gives her great anxiety about eating new things for the first time. Stephanie Elliot does a fantastic job of describing the “monster” that lives within Pea. She made me feel Pea’s fear, and worry, and anger, and sadness in an uncomfortably visceral manner, which made me root for our protagonist all the more. For me, the brightest part of Sad Perfect was Ben, the boy who sweeps Pea off her feet in the most adorable and romantic ways. He’s the best sort of boyfriend: sweet and supportive and understanding, yet he challenges Pea, and always has her best interests in mind. I love how he helped her see that while seeking and accepting help would certainly be hard, it could also be worth it. Contemporary YA fans, mark Sad Perfect To Read, and keep an eye out for it in February.

Other Broken Things by C. Desir – I’ve loved Christa Desir’s writing since I read her debut, Fault Line, a few years ago. Her prose is some of the most unflinching in YA. Her third novel, Other Broken Things, is no exception. It’s an exploration of alcoholism and recovery, narrated by Natalie, a seventeen-year-old girl who’s fresh out of rehab after a DUI. She’s required to attend AA meetings, where she meets her eventual sponsor Kathy, who is both flawed and incredibly supportive, as well as Joe, a recovering alcoholic who Natalie’s immediately drawn to — regardless of the fact that he’s more than twice her age. This story is so complex; I found myself desperate to shake some sense into Natalie while simultaneously wanting to give her the world’s biggest hug. She’s dealing with a lot of heavy stuff: her addiction, a complicated relationship with her ex, distant parents, dissolving friendships, and the loss of her passion, boxing. Plus, there’s Joe, who Natalie leans on, then falls for, despite all the reasons she probably shouldn’t. I love the way this story wraps up — certainly not with a perfect bow, but in a way that feels authentic and true to Natalie’s journey. Check out Other Broken Things if you like stories about ballsy girls facing enormous challenges.

What’s the best book you read in November?

NaNoWriMo Win!

Saturday night, I won* National Novel Writing Month!

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What a relief to be done. And by done, I mean: done with the first 50,000 words of my very messy first draft. I’ve still got the whole third act to write, plus a bazillion hours of revising ahead of me, but this whirlwind month of writing at least 1,667 words per day is over. Phew!

I wish I could tell you more about this project of mine, but for now, holding it close feels right. I will say that I love it. A lot. It’s the first WiP I’ve drafted since The Impossibility of Us that has me feeling inspired and excited and like maybe one day, this thing could actually be a book.

Yay!

So, for now, congrats to those of who’ve already won NaNoWriMo! To those still climbing the 50,000 word mountain, you’ve got this! And to my friends who are revising or editing or brainstorming or drafting at your own pace, you are amazing and I’m totally cheering you on!❤

*Won is a strange term. Anyone who writes any words during the month of November is a winner as far as I’m concerned.

October Reading Wrap-Up

Five books in October (one a reread)…
As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.

Wait For Me by Caroline Leech (January 31, 2017) – I loved this historical debut so much. Main character Lorna is living on her father’s Scotland farm in 1945, as WWII is winding down. When a German POW arrives to lend a hand with farm duties, Lorna is at once put-off. Her brothers are fighting for the Allies, and Lorna wants nothing to do with the perceived enemy. But as she gets to know Paul, she discovers he’s not the evil Nazi she initially took him for; he’s kind and smart and sensitive, and she begins to fall for him — a very understandable reaction because *swoon*. But being with a German soldier means that Lorna must choose between love and allegiance, Paul and her family. Author Caroline Leech does an amazing job of capturing the essence of her setting and the spirit of her protagonist — it’s obvious she’s got a deep well of knowledge when it comes to Scotland and its history — and she writes a very convincing romance, full of sweetness and steam. Mark this one To-Read now, and look for it in stores at the end of January.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – One of my very favorites. My third read of this novel (this time I listened to the audiobook) and it was every bit as captivating and haunting as it’s been previously. If you haven’t read this Kabul-set story of friendship and love, I highly recommend picking it up.

After the Woods by Kim Savage – This psychological thriller reminded me a lot of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. The plots aren’t similar, but they share an unsettling sort of tension, and a cast of characters who are very hard to trust. MC Julia survived an abduction — one she became involved with because she sacrificed herself to save her best friend, Liv. Now, the anniversary of the abduction is approaching, and Julia’s grappling with resurfacing memories of her time in the woods with her sociopath kidnapper, as well as Liv’s increasingly destructive behavior. It’s obvious that something’s not right with these girls and their families and the case and the reporter who’s sniffing around, but it’s hard to pin down what, exactly, which kept me frantically turning pages. I’m a big fan Kim Savage’s writing style; Julia has issues, but she’s also got a super dry sense of humor, and I loved being in her head. I also really enjoyed Kellan — in fact, the only thing I might’ve liked to see more of is him. Check out After the Woods if you like tightly plotted, expertly written mystery/thrillers.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Everything that’s amazing about YA, basically: unique plot, gorgeous prose, unforgettable characters, plus threads of magic so strange and surreally beautiful, I couldn’t help but be absorbed into this extraordinary world. I absolutely adored The Weight of Feathers, Anna-Marie McLemore’s debut, so her sophomore novel was an auto-buy and, whoa, did it ever live up to my high expectations. It’s the story of enigmatic Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and who deeply loves Sam, a boy who has a penchant for hanging moons about town, and who is keeping a potentially devastating secret. There’s a quartet of sisters, too, arresting mean girls with rumored preternatural powers, and they’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Miel’s roses. When the Moon Was Ours blew me away with its twists, its reverential portrayal of LGBTQIA themes, and the lovely, tangible bond between its lead characters. All the stars (or moons) for this enchanting novel.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Did I tell you guys I joined a book club? Before the Fall was our first read, a selection that had me rolling my eyes because, if I can be frank, on the long list of characters I find compelling, rich, white men are very near the bottom. I’m just rarely drawn to their narratives, and that was the case here, too. Luckily, this story of an unexplained plane crash with only two survivors has a large cast. While I mostly skimmed the sections about Bill, David, and Ben, I was completely drawn into the chapters told from the perspectives of characters like Sarah, Eleanor, and Rachel. I enjoyed, too, the complex backstories and the unique bond painter Scott shared with the only other crash survivor, little JJ. Before the Fall is wonderfully written, full of well-drawn (though at times off-putting) characters, and the way the mystery comes together at the end is satisfying. I’m glad I gave this one a read, even though it’s not a novel that fits comfortably into my wheelhouse.

What’s the best book you read in October?

Win an ARC of KISSING MAX HOLDEN!

It’s Halloween!

Today is significant for two reasons:

1. My daughter gets to dress up like an 80s pop star and collect buckets of candy from our neighbors.

2. Kissing Max Holden debuts in nine months AND its opening chapter takes place on Halloween. There’s kissing. Would you expect anything less? 💋

******

As my fingers drop away, he opens his eyes, catching my hand as it falls. I try not to fidget as he stretches it open, holds it close to his face, and studies my palm like he’s reading my fate. My fingertips are stained an odd carrot color because I spent Halloween the same way I spend most evenings: baking. The orange food tint I used to color marzipan for pumpkin cupcakes is evidence. Layered over the orange, accentuating the dips and valleys of my fingerprints, is the black liner I lifted from his pirate makeup.

He folds my palm into the web of his and drops our knotted fingers to his lap, like the two of us holding hands is the most ordinary thing in the world. “Why are you being nice?”

“I’m always nice,” I say, distracted by the heat of his hand against mine.

“Remember when we were friends?”

“Max. We’re still friends.”

“Not like we used to be.”

“Nothing’s like it used to be.” The admission makes my chest ache.

******

So, because this debut of mine hits bookstores in nine months, and because we meet Jilly and Max on Halloween, I thought a celebration was in order…

How about an ARC giveaway?!

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Guys, I’m giving away *one* advanced copy of Kissing Max Holden!

Entering is SO easy.

Be sure you’re following me on Twitter, and retweet this tweet.

That’s it!

I’ll randomly select one winner to receive an ARC of Kissing Max Holden — signed, if you want. The giveaway ends Thursday, November 3 at midnight. I’ll contact the winner on November 4. International entries are fine!

Best of luck, and Happy Halloween!

KISSING MAX HOLDEN has a cover!

Guys, Kissing Max Holden has a finalized cover, and I could not love it more!

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Let’s talk about the pretty, shall we?

The colors: I liked the grayscale of the winning cover direction, but I LOVE how this new image looks: sharp and crisp, with plenty of contrast. And then there’s the gradient pink of the title; pink is my favorite, and I’m so happy to see it featured on Kissing Max Holden‘s cover. It feels fresh and fun and romantic.

The cover models: I mean, I couldn’t have handpicked a more perfect Jilly and Max. She’s beautiful but approachable, and he’s got dark, wild hair and a jaw that won’t quit. Together? They’re adorable.

The composition: The way he’s coming over the fence for her? Yes. They way she’s touching his face? There’s a history there. The way he’s holding her wrist? Clearly, he wants her. The almost-kiss? Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Also, bonus: My name! At the top! My name — on a book!

Good news! Kissing Max Holden is available for preorder at Amazon! Also, you can mark it To Read on Goodreads.

Head over to Swoon Reads to learn more about the process of designing and executing Kissing Max Holden‘s cover — so much fun!

How to Win NaNoWriMo

There are only two short weeks until November 1st, the start of National Novel Writing Month. Never heard of it? Here’s the gist…

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Cool, right? I’ve NaNo-ed twice, in 2012 and in 2014, and I “won” both times. I never touched the 2012 project again, but my 2014 project went on to become The Impossibility of Us, which will be published in 2018 by Swoon Reads/Macmillan — yay! Point is, I’ve figured out how to NaNo pretty successfully, and I’d love to share a few of my favorite practices so that you, too, can write 50K words in thirty days.

Research ahead of time — like, now.
Is your NaNo project set on Mars? Awesome. Spend the next two weeks reading books about the Red Planet. Are you writing about a person who’s obsessed with riding horses? Great. Reach out to a real-life equestrian today. Are you planning a story about teen counselors at a sleep-away camp? Start cataloguing images of actual camps right away. Trust me — you don’t want to waste your November lost in a black hole of research.

Know your characters, especially the leads.
If character worksheets are your thing, I suggest filling them out before November 1st. Or, do some free-writing. Or, type up a mock interview for your protagonist. Or, print off some photos of what s/he might look like. At the very least, make sure you’ve nailed down strong external and internal goals, motivations, and conflicts for your main character(s) and your antagonist.

Prepare your family and friends.
Talk to your partner/children/parents/friends about National Novel Writing Month. Let them know exactly what you hope to accomplish, and why it’s important to you. If you’ve got a set do-not-disturb writing block in mind, tell them when it will be. That way you’re not fielding visitors and phone calls when you should be banking words. And don’t be afraid to enlist help. If you need your spouse to put the kiddos to bed every night in November so you can write uninterrupted, cement that plan ahead of time.

Incentivize — whatever it takes.
The first time I participated in NaNo, I wanted the Scrivener discount offered to winners. It was enough to drag me through 50K words of an awful (yet unfinished) manuscript. The second time, I wanted a book ready for submission by the following spring, which meant I needed a complete first draft quick. These were the “prizes” that pushed me to win in both instances, but you do you. Dangle a pair of boots, or banana split, or vacation in front of your writerly self. That way when you lose motivation mid-November, you’ve got something other than 50K words to work for.

Front load your word count.
The first week or so of NaNo, you’re going to be excited and fresh and full of energy. This is when you should be writing your ass off. Forget about the daily 1,667 words needed to total 50K at the end of the month; you should be writing at least 2K words in those early days of November. That way, when Thanksgiving rolls around you can take time off without guilt or worry.  

Related: Don’t let yourself fall behind.
Guys, it’s going to be such a struggle to catch up if you slack. That nifty graph they show you on the NaNoWriMo website each time you log your words? You don’t want it to flatline for more than one or two days. Because ugh. Those are days with zero words — zero progress — and there’s no greater hit to your writer psyche than stagnation. It’s hard to climb out of a hole, so do yourself a favor and don’t fall in.

Don’t be derailed by Thanksgiving (or anything else).
The first November I NaNo-ed, I also threw a friend a baby shower, which required hours and hours of preparation. The second November I NaNo-ed, I welcomed my husband home from a trip to Afghanistan, which required (for me, at least) lots of extra cooking and cleaning and poster-making and balloon buying. And then there’s Thanksgiving, which is so totally inconvenient to a writer’s routine. But! When I’m NaNo-ing, I refuse to let additional commitments impact my word count. I plan head, get up early, stay up late, put my writing first. If you’re going to NaNo successfully, you’ll have to do the same.

Hold yourself accountable.
Log your daily words on the NaNoWriMo site religiously. Watch the line on your graph climb. Tweet about your successes. Instagram your increasing word count. Blog about your experiences — the good and the bad. Celebrate (and commiserate) with other NaNo-ers. Whatever you can do to share your progress publicly, the better. When lots of people are rooting you on, it’s harder to be lackadaisical about your goals. You don’t want to disappoint them!

Stay active in the NaNo community.
This one goes hand-in-hand with holding yourself accountable; the NaNo community is exactly the tool you need to stay on track. Seeing others pumped about their manuscripts, hearing success stories about NaNo projects gone on to become published books, participating in this amazing month of writing with thousands of like-minded people… It’s so inspiring.

Skip around.
Generally, I write linearly, but not during NaNoWriMo. I give myself permission to skip ahead, to jump around, to write the fun stuff first. During NaNo 2014, I wrote my characters’ first kiss within the first few days of November, even though I knew it wasn’t going to actually happen until about halfway through the story. If you’re hung up on a scene or dreading a relatively boring transition, move on. You’ll come back to fill-in later, or you’ll discover the scene that was giving you headaches was unnecessary after all.

It’s okay to write crap.
What matters during NaNo is words. They don’t have to be pretty. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t even have to be relevant, really, because sometimes a brain dump, a page of drivel, is exactly what you need to spark your imagination, thus helping you move the story forward. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll just write a super detailed description of the setting or a character’s outfit, knowing I’ll cut most (or even all) of it later. Doesn’t matter, though, because that warm-up often propels me toward the good stuff. The point is forward progress. Do whatever it takes. You’ll revise later.

Tell me: Have you NaNo-ed?
What are your best tips for success?

September Reading Wrap-Up

Just three books in September, because I logged about a million hours revising and editing my (just announced!) 2018 YA.  :-)
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

Wanderlost by Jen Malone – So cute! Voice-y and fun and sweet, plus Wanderlost gave me a wicked case of wanderlust. To be completely honest, the plot here is rather implausible, but I didn’t even care because the story itself is so full of wit and charm. I’m all sorts of jealous of Aubree’s European adventures, I loved her character arc, and I can totally relate to her duck-out-of-water feelings when it comes to stepping out and taking risks. I adored her super swoony romance with adorable Sam, as well as the expertly-developed (and unexpectedly hilarious) elderly people on the tour she leads. Definitely pick Wanderlost up if you’re looking for a light contemporary YA that’s bursting with heart.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – I bought this novel in an airport bookstore after watching the movie trailer in a random Facebook ad. I loved it. It’s historical fiction with a setting so vividly described, I felt as though I was on Janus with Tom and Isabel. Tragically, our protagonists have lost three pregnancies, leaving them (Isabel especially) desperate for a child. Serendipitously, a row boat washes up on their isolated lighthouse island. Inside is a baby girl, who Tom and Isabel decide to raise her as their own. Obviously there are a lot of intensely bittersweet feelings that come along with such a choice, especially when they discover the baby’s mother is alive, grieving her lost daughter on the mainland. While I became frustrated with Isabel at certain points, I could also relate to her fertility struggles and her longing, which may have played a part in my appreciation of this story. Regardless, it’s beautifully written and deeply emotional, and I highly recommend it if you’re into historical fiction with a literary slant.

Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson – I borrowed this one from the library on a whim, mostly because its cover caught my eye. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I thought it’d be a fluffy, wish-fulfillment sort of story, but it’s not, thanks to author Kim Culbertson’s skillful writing and main character Carter’s overall awesomeness. When Hollywood bad boy Adam Jakes comes to Carter’s small town to film a movie, he tangles her up in a PR stunt, paying her to play his small-town girlfriend, thus improving his image. Carter only accepts because she’s got a legitimate need for the cash Adam offers, but of course it’s not long before she begins to fall for him. Without giving anything away, a lot about this story surprised me, and I ended up smitten with Adam just as Carter was. Give Catch a Falling Star a read if you’re into books by Huntley Fitzpatrick and Leila Howland.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in September?