August Reading Wrap-Up

I’ve been sharing monthly reading wrap-up posts almost as long as I’ve been blogging — like, seven years. And I love doing them; recommending fantastic books is one of my favorite things about being a member of the writing/reading community. But, man, these posts take a long time to compile.

Bad news… With a busy tween, a mischief-making foster toddler, and a fledgling publishing career, plus my husband and friends and house and various other commitments, I need to scale back on my monthly wrap-ups.

Good news… I’m not giving them up! I’m just going to streamline them into a more manageable “Three Things” structure. So, I’ll share three things I loved about each of the books I read during a given month, and hopefully that will help you decide whether the stories I feature might be ones you’d enjoy.

This month is all about testing the new format, and I’d love your feedback. Let me know in the comments what you think of the “Three Things” wrap-up!

30971685The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
1. Incredibly unique world building. You’ve never read a story quite like this. Full of rich detail, The Disappearances is historical fiction, but with a magical twist, and a puzzle that’ll keep you guessing through its final pages.
2. Gorgeous prose. Emily’s writing is lyrical and lovely. I found myself rereading sentences just for the pleasure of savoring her word choice, imagery, and rhythm.
3. A relatable main character. Aila is strong, determined, and smart, but she can also be self-conscious and uncertain. She loves hard, though, and she’s unfailingly loyal, which makes her so easy to root for.

29437949Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
1. Swiftly paced. While this adult psychological thriller is told in a past/present format, it never drags. In fact, I had a hard time putting it down!
2. Chilling, but not graphic or gratuitous. MC Grace is stuck in an abusive relationship (she’s her husband’s prisoner, basically), and while Jack is terrifying and manipulative and sadistic, no part of this book made me feel like I was going to have nightmares, or created images I couldn’t sweep away soon after.
3. Super satisfying conclusion. I kept wondering, How is Grace ever going to escape this? Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that I was pretty pleased with how things turned out.

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas
1. Slow-burn mystery. This is a tightly plotted book, full of red-herrings, twists, and turns. I wouldn’t call it fast-paced, though, as it focuses heavily on character development, which only serves the story. And the ending’s a shocker.
2. A host of unreliable perspectives. Main character, Kacey, feels at times untrustworthy and at times completely sincere. In fact, at one point or another, all of Little Monster‘s characters seem to be hiding something, upping the intrigue tenfold.
3. Incredibly atmospheric. This book made me cold. It made me hyperaware when walking into dark spaces. And it made me want to stay far, far away from haunted barns. It really is the YA version of a Gillian Flynn novel!

By Your Side by Kasie West
1. Excellent setting. During the first half of By Your Side, Autumn and mysterious loner, Dax, are trapped in a library. There are a lot of challenges for them to overcome (what to eat, for example) but mostly their situation struck me as pretty darn dreamy.
2. Anxiety Disorder representation. I appreciated reading about a protagonist who is living (flourishing, really) with anxiety. Though Autumn’s disorder presents unique struggles, it does not define her, or drive the plot.  
3. Sweet romance. Kasie West has become a go-to author when I’m looking to read a light book with a gratifying romance. While Autumn and Dax definitely face challenges, their relationship is free of contrived drama, and they’ve got great chemistry.

Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
1. Truly helpful structural tips. Both for romance writers, and those hoping to thread romance into stories of other genres.
2. Quick, easy read. Also, encouraging! Romancing the Beat left me eager to dive back in to my troublesome WiP.
3. Humorously and irreverently written. Bonus — eighties song references!

The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin –
1. Bridges the YA/NA gap. The Big F has the same light, hopeful feel of a lot of my favorite YAs (see my mention of Kasie West above), but its MC, Danielle, is trudging through her first year of community college. It’s nice to see this stage featured in a book.
2. Dynamic characterizations. From Danielle, to her younger brother, to her best friend, to potential love interests Luke and Porter, Maggie Ann Martin’s characters leap off the page.
3. Excellent voice. I can totally see myself hanging out with Danielle and her bestie, Zoe. They read as so authentic, and that’s thanks to this debut’s stellar voice.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in August?
And, what do you think of the “Three Things” structure of this post?


March Reading Wrap-Up

Guess who did almost zero writing in March? Guess who read 12 books? Guess who’s mentally recharged, and ready for another round of revisions and/or the continued drafting of a current WiP?

This girl!

March’s books were most excellent.
As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.
Happy reading!

How to Keep Rolling After a Fall by Karole Cozzo (August, 2016)  – With the exception of the first few pages, I read this book in a day — it was that unputdownable. How to Keep Rolling After a Fall‘s got everything I look for in contemporary YA romance. It’s a perfect mash-up of the thoughtful family dynamic of a Sarah Dessen story, the complex friendships of an Emery Lord novel, and the sexy edginess of a Miranda Kenneally book. Protagonist Nikki, though involved in a terrible cyber bullying incident, is somehow immediately relatable, and becomes quite likable as the story progresses. Part of her charm is due to her interactions with love interest, Pax, who’s all sorts of charismatic and swoonworthy. I was rooting for Nikki and Pax from first meeting, and loved watching their relationship unfold. Fans of YA romance, definitely check out How to Keep Rolling After a Fall when it comes out this August.

First & Then by Emma Mills – This book made me happy, happy, happy. I loved everything about it: protagonist Devon and her stellar voice, the small town setting, the football backdrop, Foster (oh, Foster — so sweet), the incredibly likable cast of supporting characters, and the will-they-won’t-they hints of romance. Devon is the rare MC who’s capable of making me laugh out loud — her wit is perfection. She’s self-depreciating, but in an endearing Jane Austen sort of way, and while she makes her fair share of blunders, she’s so loyal and funny, it’s impossible not to be firmly on her side. I love, too, how realistically high school is portrayed in this novel; friend groups overlap, bullies exist alongside nice guys, and relationships bend and occasionally break. I’m a big fan of First & Then, and I can’t wait to read more from Emma Mills.

Follow the River by James Alexander Thom – Based on true events, Follow the River is apparently something of an American classic. I enjoyed this tale of Mary Draper Ingles’s time as a Shawnee captive, her courageous escape, and her perilous journey home. Follow the River is an intense, graphic story about human spirit written in spare, matter-of-fact prose. My one quibble is that the audiobook, which I listened to, is narrated by a man — an odd choice, as this is a woman’s story. He used weird (distracting) falsettos every time Mary, her sister-in-law, and her female companion spoke. Still, the story is fascinating. If you like history and/or survival stories, Follow the River is likely the book for you.

In Real Life by Jessica Love – Oh, how I love this book! It’s Catfish set in Vegas, and it so good. Hannah and Nick have been online besties for years and (they think) they know everything about each other. When Hannah surprises Nick with a visit in Sin City, she learns the startling truth: He hasn’t been completely forthcoming with her. In Real Life is full of delicious angst, its pacing is fantastic, and its characters, despite their dishonesty with each other and often themselves, are utterly endearing. In Real Life is a whirlwind night in Vegas, full of those often romantic, occasionally awkward moments that make contemporary YA romance so fantastic. It boasts a fair amount of humor, too, thanks to Hannah’s outstanding voice, and its final pages… *happy sigh* I was lucky enough to beta read an early draft of this story a few years ago, and even on second read, Hannah and Nick’s online and in real life (!) relationship gave me all the feels. You must pick this one up!

The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark – This is a steamy book! I’m a sucker for boy-next-door stories, and even more enticing are books about best-friends-turned-sweethearts. The Boy Next Door is both, plus a peek into competitive pairs figure skating — a world I don’t know much about but am fascinated by all the same. This debut is told in alternating point-of-view chapters by protagonists Maddy and Gabe. Maddy is brave and delightfully romantic. Gabe, to be honest, was hard for me to like — at least throughout the story’s first half. But! His arc is steep, and by the book’s climax, I was Team Gabe all the way. This story is full of drama and butterflies, mixed with plenty of sweet and sexy moments, combined with edge-of-your-seat skating competitions that had me flying through chapters. Can’t wait to see what Katie Van Ark comes up with next!

The Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black (May, 2016) – This novel’s evocative prose blew me away, as did its meandering, folktale-inspired plot. Jennifer Mason-Black’s style is lyrical and fantastical — perfect for this bewitching story. Main character Blue has made a deal with the devil; she’s traded her voice for help in finding her missing sister, Cass. Blue begins her journey with a pair of magic boots, her dead mother’s guitar, and heart full of grief, and along the way, she meets a host of eclectic characters who help her discover who she really is. This is a unique, moody story and though it was mostly lacking in romance, I was enchanted.

Love in B Minor by Elodie Nowodazkij – First of all, how great is this story’s title?! Love in B Minor is a juicy, guilty pleasure read with powerfully written musical and dance sequences, a gorgeous Parisian setting, and main characters, Lucas and Jen, who’ve got chemistry for days. Though this novel is part of the Broken Dreams series, it falls more into the NA category than YA, and can be read as a standalone. It’s an intense, emotional story with three distinct strengths. First, its romance, which is full of sparks. Second, its diverse cast of characters, who have backstories that are layered and, often, haunting. And third, its conclusion, which is a surprising  and exciting deviation from the other Broken Dreams books. Pick up Love in B Minor if you’re looking for a read with scandal and heat and characters who’ll stay with you long after The End.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier – I went into this audiobook expecting a somber fantasy (I guess because of its cover?), but I got a fun, voice-y time travel story. Ruby Red was a bit of a slow start for me — there are a lot of characters and some extensive backstory to get ahold of — but once Gwyneth makes her first planned time travel journey with enigmatic Gideon, the action really picks up. There’s a mystery at the center of Ruby Red, one with high stakes and real-life history and a secret time travel society woven in, and it’s quite compelling. I enjoyed Gwyneth’s innocent nature and amusing inner monologue, and thanks to a stellar set-up at this novel’s conclusion, I’m super curious to find out what happens in this trilogy’s next book, Sapphire Blue.

The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker – My version of a horror novel, basically. Zephyr’s a field-hockey-playing senior whose dad has recently abandoned her family, and she’s struggling with the transitional time that is the end of high school. She’s not super experienced, romance-wise, when she meets new boy Alec, and she’s immediately swept away by his apparent charm. Turns out Alec’s got some serious issues, which manifest in his manipulation and eventual abuse of Zephyr. Remember that 90s movie Fear with Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon? The Girl Who Fell is similar in a lot of ways. I found it hard to put down, and I have a lot of thoughts even now, a week after reading. There were times when I wanted Zephyr to wake up — she’s a smart girl with goals and drive, yet she made some decisions that were clearly ill advised when it came to “spending time” with Alec, as well as her future. That said, I found her behavior to be realistic to her circumstances. Thank God for BFF Lizzie who, save an occasional chivalrous act from hot-and-cold hockey stud Gregg, was this novel’s singular voice of reason. I found myself applauding her constantly. The Girl Who Fell is a strong debut, a novel that’s both important and engaging.

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker – This craft book is clear, concise, and eye-opening. Basic premise: Outline your novel using your main character’s flaw as a jumping off point and central focus, since “story” is all about a protagonist’s emotional journey. So smart, right? With the exception of Save the Cat, Take Off Your Pants is the most helpful “how to write” book I’ve read. I had so many duh moments, and took tons of notes. It’s a quick read with straight-forward, easily applicable suggestions that just make sense. Libbie Hawker’s advice applies to all fiction, from picture books to literary tomes. Big recommend if you’re working on honing your plotting skills, like me.

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski — A reread because this trilogy’s final book, The Winner’s Kiss, came out on the 29th and I read it in 24 hours and just — aaahhhh! My review of The Winner’s Crime (from last spring) still stands. Find it HERE. And scroll down for my thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss.

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – First of all, how happy are we that Macmillan decided to stick with this gorgeous cover treatment? I’m thrilled that my trilogy matches; it looks so beautiful on my shelf! My thoughts on The Winner’s Kiss are about to become a rambling mess, and they’re riddled with series spoilers, so I’m going to post in white. Please do highlight to continue reading, but you’ve been warned: spoilers ahead! –> I loved everything about this final book. Everything. I’d change literally nothing. It’s a beautifully written story full of emotion and fraught with tension. I’m so pleased that Arin and Kestrel spend most of Kiss together, learning to cooperate, trust, and love each other in new and deep and meaningful ways. I’m a big fan of how the prison rescue plays out and after, when Arin reminds Kestrel that she bought him and she asks if she still owns him and he says, “Yes.” Guys, my heart. I had legitimate physical reactions to this story — all of it, but particularly that scene on the tundra. Also, the scene where they finally seal the deal. ❤ I love the resolute strength we’ve continued to see in our two protagonists, but more than that, I love how their weaknesses are presented in this final book, and how they come to terms with those weaknesses and learn to lean on each other, to fill the voids in each other’s hearts. I love Kestrel’s complicated relationship with her father, and Arin’s dealings with the General in the final battle scene. Incidentally, I enjoyed all of the battles scenes (I often find myself skimming anything that has to do with actual combat), for they are fast-paced and intense, full of the scheming and out-maneuvering I’ve come to expect from Kestrel and Arin. More than that, the war plays such an important role in this book’s plot, and Marie Rutkoski gives it the weight it deserves. Additionally, I love how elements from the first and second books come into play in this final novel — Bite and Sting in particular. I love Roshar for his spirit and his comic relief, and I love Sarsine for her kindness and quiet wisdom. And I love how this story concludes a series I’ve been invested in for the last two years — so elegantly, and so satisfyingly: Arin and Kestrel, an equal, loving pair with a true future ahead of them. <– Even if you’re a reluctant fantasy reader (like me!), I suggest you at least give the Winner’s books a shot. They’re breathtaking and affecting and intensely entertaining, and I think you’ll be won over.

So? What’s the best book you read in March?


(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)



There’s a lot about living in Northern Virginia that bugs me — the crowds, the terrible drivers, and the allergens, for starters — but one thing I’ll never complain about is the abundance of restaurant options. Coming from a small Florida town where the dining-out choices were Panera Bread, Firehouse Subs, and a mediocre sports bar, the possibilities in D.C. are mind-boggling. We’ve had amazing Latin American, Lebanese, Thai, and Iranian food, and most recently, we had “fast” food from Burger Tap & Shake, which was incredible. I had a falafel sandwich, sweet potato fries, and a cookies-n-cream shake — yum! If you’re ever in Foggy Bottom or Tenleytown, grab yourself some lunch.


I recently finished Katie Van Ark’s The Boy Next Door, a YA romance set in the world of competitive pairs figure skating. It’s utterly unputdownable, and the character arcs are steep, which I loved. I also read Shannon Parker’s The Girl Who Fell, a contemporary YA about a girl who gets wrapped up in a manipulative, eventually abusive relationship. It’s really well done, and really frightening. Up next? Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Kiss, which is out TODAY and is hands down my most anticipated read of the year. Excuse me while I disappear with my new book!


Twinsters, which is the most heart-warming documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s the story of Korean twin girls who were split up as infants and adopted by two different families. They grew up on different continents, not knowing about each other until they serendipitously connect via YouTube. So good! Also, I saw Zootopia with my husband and daughter, and we all rate it 5 stars. It’s clever and deep and timely and funny. And, finally, the other night my husband and I watched As Above, So Below, a freaking scary movie set in the Catacombs of Paris. I’m kind of over the “found footage” thing, but I’m willing to forgive it in this case because the story was creative and wildly intense, and the atmosphere was dark and exceptionally terrifying.

Listening To

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier — for some reason, I’d pegged this YA a super serious fantasy, but it’s actually a humorous and entertaining time travel novel full of voice and adventure. To me, it reads on the younger side of YA, but it’s fast-paced and all kinds of fun. The audiobook narrator is excellent, too.

Thinking About

Plotting. Why is it so hard?! I’m in the process of drafting my sixth(-ish) manuscript, and I’m no better at planning a book than I was way back when I wrote that first (awful) story. And so, I’m reading Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants, a clear and concise book about plotting with the goal of increasing drafting speed and commercial appeal. I’m learning a lot, and having a lot of duh moments. Highly recommend reading it if you’re someone who’s struggling to become a more successful plotter, like me.


Camp NaNoWriMo! I’ve got a 20K word goal for April, and I’m part of an excellent cabin of writers. I’m such a bad drafter, guys, and I love the idea of community when it comes to slogging through the muddled middle of a new manuscript, which is exactly what I’m in the midst of doing. Can’t wait to get busy in the new month!


That you’ll check out the following Goodreads lists: YA Novels of 2017YA Debuts 20172017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and Books Published by Swoon Reads. Kissing Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting! Maybe you’d like to vote for my debut, or add it as “To Read”. 😘

Making Me Happy

Springtime in Virginia. We’ve been having such beautiful weather.

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 

November Reading Wrap-Up

So many amazing (and varied) books in November!
Here’s what I read…

(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)

When Joss Met Matt by Ellie Cahill – I love this book so much, and I will absolutely read any NA novels Ellie Cahill (Liz Czukas) publishes in the future. When Joss Met Matt is a contemp about a unique and precarious friends-with-benefits situation (sorbet, if you will), set during college and the years just after. The writing is spot-on, the steamy scenes are just the right sort of steamy, and the characters are layered and likable (Joss is delightful and a bit nutty; Matt is so sweet, but a little dense when it comes to romance). When Joss Met Matt is one of those All the Feels books (but without the crazy angst that’s become synonymous with NA), and I can’t remember the last time I rooted for a couple so enthusiastically. It’s out February, 2015, and you should DEFINITELY read it!

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – (Minor spoiler-ish comments ahead…) Oh, Maggie. You slay me consistently, and I promise to buy and devour any and every book you write. I adored this third installment (of four) of one of my favorite YA series. I am a Gansey girl through-and-through, and I loved the more vulnerable side we saw of him this time around (his fear in the cave — my heart was pounding!). I love, too, the palpable chemistry he and Blue share. I mean, they’ve yet to so much as kiss, but still… *swoon* Just as captivating as Gansey and Blue are Adam and Ronan. Their bond (for lack of a better word at this point) is enrapturing (the hand cream — good Lord!). And then there’s Maggie’s Stiefvater’s prose, which is gorgeous and evocative and oh-so-enviable. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this beautifully penned. Incase my fan-girling hasn’t made my feelings clear, BL,LB is amazing and so is its series.

Loop by Karen Akins – Aah! This is a fun, twisty book, and an amazingly unique spin on time travel. Karen Akins’s debut is pretty much a study in how to pull off a feisty, genuinely amusing YA voice. Traveling through time in Bree’s head was a treat, and getting to know irresistibly sweet love interest Finn wasn’t so bad either. I adored the way their interactions played out (thanks to time travel, there’s narrator Bree and future Bree and, well, things can get a little nutty in the romance department when you’re not sure what your future self has done with the boy who claims to have a relationship with you). Needless to say, I found myself laughing out loud more than once. My only issue with Loop? Its crazy cliffhanger ending! I don’t want to have to wait for more Bree and Finn!

On Writing by Stephen King – How have I never read this? I loved it, as many told me I would. On Writing is (obviously) about the craft of writing, but it begins with a brief summary of Stephen King’s defining life moments, which were fascinating. Still, it was the sections on writing (see what I did there?) that captivated me most. King’s advice is so candid and forthright, presented with a touch of humor and plenty of anecdotal evidence, including some self-depreciating examples from his own work. The man is so clever and so prolific, and his suggestions are so smartly presented. This one’s a book I’ll reread from time to time when inspiration is waning.

Losing It by Cora Carmack – Though many, many friends have recommended this author to me, I finally picked up this book because of an odd reverse blurb situation. Its author blurbed When Joss Met Matt (see above) and I loved that book so much, I figured it’d be likely that I’d enjoy the blurber’s writing as well. (Does any of that make sense? I hope so…) Anyway, Losing It was full of fun voice-y bits and some almost slap-stick situations that totally made me laugh. It’s a book that deals with college theatre, which is a world I know very little about, so it certainly held my attention.  My only quibble has to do with the romance, which just didn’t hit me in the feels the way other NAs have. Still, I’ve heard that Cora Carmack’s All Lined Up is excellent, and I look forward to checking it out.

VIP by Riley Edgewood – How I adore this first act in Riley Edgewood’s three-act debut serial, Rock & Release. I’ve read it twice, once as a beta, and once as a fan. VIP is definitely the steamy (sometimes literally!) sort of book NA is known for, but more than that, it’s a gorgeous story. Riley has this lovely way with words that gets under my skin and stays with me. Even her sexiest scenes are written with elegance and nuance, and they read almost like poetry. MC Cassidy is such a fun heroine to get to know. She’s not perfect, but she has the *best* heart, and she’s funny in this endearingly self-depreciating way — so easy to root for. And then there’s Gage, who is one of the most desirable NA guys out there. He’s hot (obviously — look at that cover), and he’s a musician, and he’s goes after what he wants. But he’s also sweet and attentive and truly caring, which makes him impossible not to love. If you’re looking for a read that’s full of emotion and seduction and beautiful, beautiful words, I highly recommend Riley’s VIP.

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid – All the stars for this book! I finished it the other night and I’m still thinking about, and still smiling from the sheer joy of its reading experience. Let’s Get Lost is a collection of five short stories that have Leila, a girl who’s on an answers-seeking road trip to Alaska, in common. Though we only get to spend a short time with each of the characters (save Leila), I grew to know them all so well. As soon as I pegged one as a favorite, his/her story would conclude and I’d get to begin a whole new adventure with another charming protagonist. Though I loved each character and felt invested in each story, Sonia’s was my absolute favorite because… romance and humor and winsome boy. ❤ Along with Let’s Get Lost‘s characters, I adored Adi Alsaid’s whimsical 3rd-person writing style, and his descriptions of the varied settings. This whole book feels like a John Hughes movie, and I’m a huge fan. 

So, what’s the best book you read in November?

What’s Up Wednesday


“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to. And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Losing It by Cora Carmack and thought it was a fun read. Perhaps not my favorite of all the NA I’ve encountered, but some trusted sources tell me her All Lined Up is excellent, so maybe I’ll try that one sometime. Now, I’m reading Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid, a series of lovely, interconnected short stories about delightful people (so far). This one’s a contemp written in 3rd person which, when done well, I love. Luckily, this one is done VERY well. Plus it’s about a road trip, and road trip books are my jam.

What I’m Writing: Still NaNo-ing, and I’m getting SO CLOSE! Hoping to finish today (before Thanksgiving) so pardon me if WUW comments go unresponded to for now. I will get to them ASAP. Goal: Win NaNoWriMo!

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Other than tons of writing, I’ve been doing Thanksgiving prep. We’re having a quiet meal at home (with Seahawks football!), but the many foods Thanksgiving are my husband’s favorite, so there’s a lot of cooking in my immediate future. He deals with the disgusting turkey carcass, and I do everything else. Fair trade! 🙂

This little lovely has had all week off from school, so we’ve been hanging out plenty. Lots of coloring and puzzles and books and shopping.

I received the most EXCELLENT package from my #SipSwap buddy, Sarah Marsh, who is so generous and kind, and obviously has amazing taste in Harry Potter commodities. Plus, Chocolate Strawberry Tea, friends. So yummy!

What Works For Me: I spent all month making my way through Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and I found it incredibly inspiring — especially in the midst of the all the NaNo craziness. He’s so real and frank about his process and the industry and his past, plus he’s drily funny, which I dig. I highly recommend On Writing if you’ve yet to read it. What’s your favorite craft/writing/creativity-focused book?

What’s up with you today? 

What’s Up Wednesday


“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by my friends Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us if you’re looking for something to blog about, a way to let your blog friends know what’s been going on with you. If you’re participating, make sure to link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog each week. That way, others can visit your post and check out what you’ve been up to.And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…And now, here’s what’s up with me this week…

What I’m Reading: I finished Lauren Oliver’s Panic. While it’s not my very favorite of her novels, I did find it compelling. I’ll talk about it in more detail in tomorrow’s Bookanista recommendation. Over the weekend, I flew through The Vincent Boys by Abbi Glines. Guys, this is by no means award-winning literature, but I kind of loved it. It’s a perfect read-in-the-sun, guilty-pleasure romance. Next time you’re in the mood for a book of that sort, definitely pick this one up. I also read Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon, which was packed with awesome reminders and inspiring quotes about creation of all kinds. It’s a great, quick read, perfect for when you’re in need of a creative boost. Now, I’m reading The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, which is intriguing so far. I’m digging its unique storytelling method.


What I’m Writing: Blog posts! Catching up now that my agent is reading my WiP, Good Girls (which I talked about in a Next Big Thing post on Monday). Also, I’ve got a whole bunch of mini Shiny New Ideas floating around in my head, and I’ve been pinning up a storm (secret Pinterest boards FTW), looking for further inspiration and trying to make them all fit together. Exciting!

What Else I’ve Been Up To: Exercising with more regularity, watching some Gossip Girl, and hanging with my girl. It’s spring break, so we’ve been spending lots of quality time together. Movies, bike rides, frozen yogurt…

My productivity level has dropped quite a bit, but we’re having a blast. 🙂

I ordered my very first Stitch Fix box, AND crossed another item off my Thirty Before 35 List! In case you’ve never heard of Stitch Fix, it’s an online personal stylist service. Fill out a profile about the types of clothing you like to wear (including favorite colors and your size), schedule a shipment, and get five pieces to try on at home with the clothes you already own. Buy what you love, send back the rest in a pre-paid envelope. It’s easy, and really fun!

I really liked all five pieces of clothing I received (four tops and a maxi dress), but I think I’m only going to keep these two because, yanno… BUDGET. Looking forward to scheduling another shipment soon!

What’s Inspiring Me Now: In case you haven’t heard, my friend Jessica Love (co-author of up-and-coming Push Girl) has sold another book! This one’s all her, and it’s aMaZiNg! I read an early version last year, and I can hardly express how much I loved it. You all are going to adore Hannah and Nick and their crazy Vegas weekend! I can’t wait to have my very own copy of In Real Life so I can reread it, and then sit it on my bookshelf, right between my Stephanie Perkins and Sarah Ockler novels. Congratulations, Jess! I’m thrilled for you!

Tell me… What’s up with you today? 

December’s Reading Wrap-Up and Books of the Month

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Happy New Year’s Eve! December was a super-busy month, what with the holidays and the Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest and all, so I didn’t get as much reading done as I’d hoped. Still, there were a few books I managed to get through that definitely deserve mentioning:

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – A humorous craft book on grammar and why it’s essential. This one was a fast read and it had me smiling more than once. If you’re someone who rolls her eyes at the misuse of its and it’s or the ever-tricky apostrophe, you’ll appreciate this book.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler – This was such a fun book! Read more about why I liked it in my Bookanista recommendation.

The Liar Society by Lisa & Laura Roecker – This one came highly recommended by several Bookanistas and Agent Vickie, and now I know why! Kate was a fantastically funny narrator, though the pain she felt at losing her best friend was also palpable. And the suspense in this one was masterfully built. Recommend!

And my favorite books of December: Crossed by Ally Condie

From Goodreads: In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky – taken by the Society to his certain death – only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake. Cassia’s quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander – who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia’s heart – change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

This follow-up to last year’s Matched seems to be getting mixed reviews, but I kind of loved it. Yes, it was slowly paced and the ending wasn’t exactly satisfying, but this was the middle book of a trilogy. Not all can be resolved! I was mesmerized by Matched’s setting, its ever-evolving and unpredictable characters, and Ally Condie’s quiet, elegant writing. I’ll definitely be reading the conclusion to this trilogy!

And, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

[Imaginary Girls cover]

From Goodreads: Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby. But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

This book was bizarre in the very best sense of the word. The writing is stunning, one of those where I found myself rereading sentences in hopes of fully absorbing their awesomeness. And the characters… Ruby. Yikes! I hated her fully, but then I was absolutely smitten with her too, very much the way Chloe seemed to feel about her. The premise of this novel is unique, one I hesitate to talk too much about because the unknowing is quite creepy. I will say that it is guaranteed to keep you guessing with every turn of the page!

What’s the best book you read in December?

RTW: Best Book of September

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: What’s the best book you read in September?

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – This one came highly recommended by both Agent Vickie and talented author friend Jessi Kirby. Let’s just say, I was not disappointed. Plot and Structure is one of the best craft books I’ve read and I plan to use everything I learned from it to draft, revise, and rewrite. Clear and concise, fast-paced, and full of fantastic examples. Recommend!

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – I’m not going to go into this one in too much depth today because I’ll be posting a full review for Fall Book Club on Friday. Please do check back then!

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles – I enjoyed the third and final book in the this trilogy more than the second book, Rules of Attraction, but not quite as much as the original, Perfect Chemistry. Nikki and Luis were both fantastic narrators with believable motivations and arcs, but I find this author’s style to be a bit too telling at times. Also, it takes A LOT of violence to upset me, and there was one scene in this book that actually made me feel a little nauseous. Fair warning to the faint of heart.

Forgotten by Cat Patrick – The concept (a girl whose memory “resets” every night, leaving her with no recollection of the past but with strange glimpses into the future) was definitely intriguing. It’s fresh (to YA, anyway), and quite well-written. Main character London was sympathetic and likable, and love interest Luke was adorable. I’ve read reviews stating that the conclusion of this book came out of left field, but I didn’t feel like that at all. I found it to be action-packed and satisfying. Recommend!

And, September’s Best Book of the Month: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly…

From GoodReads: BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break. PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape. Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present. Jennifer Donnelly, author of the award-winning novel A Northern Light, artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart.

I’ve had Revolution sitting on my nightstand since March. It’s outward appearance is a bit daunting, to be perfectly honest. It’s part historical (not my preferred genre) and it’s HUGE (123K words). But, I’d heard some wonderful things about it (particularly from my sister-in-law, who loaned it to me), so I was determined to give it a go.

I’m so glad I did, because this is one stunningly sophisticated novel. While Andi’s voice is authentically YA, the book’s themes are mature, and the subject matter is very graphically addressed. Andi is an addict (she over-uses prescription drugs an effort to cope with her grief), there is much suffering in both time periods, and there are beheadings described in great detail. Seriously.

Because of all its intensity, Revolution is layered and incredibly rich, both in Andi’s present day narration and  Alex’s French Revolution-era journal entries. And Jennifer Donnelly totally takes you there. She’ll make you feel Andi’s deep, deep depression, as well as Alex’s unyielding loyalty.  You’ll hear the soulful guitar music, you’ll taste the crusty bread, and you’ll smell the stench of dirty Parisian streets. You’ll fall for Virgil, who’s subtle yet awesome, and you’ll root for Andi to recover from her loss and her guilt, and to reclaim her life.

Now that I’ve finished Revolution, I want to read the rest of Jennifer Donnelly’s work. I also want to travel to Paris and research the French Revolution and explore the catacombs. It’s that kind of book, one that broadens your horizons and makes you think more critically about the world around you.

Definitely check out Revolution if you haven’t already!

So, what’s the best book you read in September?

On making it yours…

You may have seen my tweets about the local writing seminar I attended on Saturday (Sumner, Washington’s Write in the Valley, in case you’re wondering). It was a fun event; small and intimate, with a diverse panel. There were traditionally published authors (Kimberly Derting! Love her books!) and self-published authors, authors of fiction and nonfiction, and a Book Doctor who shared all kinds of useful information.

The audience was full of writers, both starting out and experienced, and some fantastic questions and conversations came up. One topic that seemed to dominate much of the discussion, though, was that of plagiarism. People seemed very afraid of copying another writer’s work (unintentionally, I presume) and getting called out on it down the road. They used gentler words to discuss plagiarism (“borrowing” and “honoring”), but the gist was pretty much the same: How can a writer ensure that their work is original when there’s so much published material already out there? 

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never worried about this. There are hundreds of ghost stories on the market, thousands of books set in old houses, innumerable protagonists dealing with the loss of a loved one, countless teens sent to live with relatives, zillions of girls forced to choose between two boys. Yet, I know my story, Where Poppies Bloom, is unique. It’s told from my perspective, with my life experiences to back it up. My characters are original, the setting is my own creation, and my inimitable author voice carries the story. I did the creative work to draft, revise, edit Poppies, and I’m certain that no one else has written (or will write) a story quite like it. Nobody can tell Callie’s story the way I can.

People have been writing stories since they dwelled in caves. To think that you’ve come up with an idea that’s never been done is a little presumptuous and a lot arrogant. My mom and I were just talking about this the other day: She mentioned that every piece of women’s or literary fiction she’s picked up lately has been about a middle-aged, middle-class woman with a cheating husband who has to rebuild her life from scratch. Gosh, I feel like I’ve read that book one or two (or one-hundred) times.

I mean, really… How many fictional YA girls are there out there who have an exceptional ability and are fated to save the world? How many dangerous paranormal boys have we seen fall in love with a Mary Sue? Was Stephenie Meyer the first author to write about vampires? Of course not. Before her was Anne Rice, and before her was Bram Stoker, and before him was John William Polidori. I’m willing to bet every subsequent author drew inspiration from those who came before them. But did they commit an act of plagiarism? No way. They each gave the old vampire tale a spin of their own. Edward Cullen sparkles in the sun… didn’t you hear?

That said, there are only so many basic plots. I’ve found arguments for the idea that there is only one (ONE!) plot with millions of variations. I’ve also seen research that claims there are three (The Basic Patterns of Plot by William Foster-Harris), seven (The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker), twenty (20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias), and thirty-six (Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti).

We can subscribe to whatever idea of maximum number of basic plots we want. What’s important is that we embrace that fact that, when boiled way down, there are only so many original ideas. Every story, at its very core, can be sorted into one of these: man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. the environment, man vs. machines/technology, man vs. the supernatural, man vs. self, or man vs. god/religion. It’s what we DO with the fundamental “plot” we choose that makes our stories innovative and imaginative and  memorable and ours.

Tell me… What, in your opinion, makes a story unique? 

A few random-ish things…

Ahh, the start of a new week… I’ve got a few random things to share on this lovely Monday morning:

Last night I watched Disney’s Prom. I’ve wanted to see it since I caught the trailer ages ago, but I don’t make it to a lot of movies and when I have “free” time at home, I’m usually writing or cleaning or reading. So…

I finally got to spend a full ninety minutes lost in high school melodrama. It was glorious. Honestly, I’m partial to any movie set in a high school (The Breakfast Club, Clueless, The Girl Next Door, Grease, and Ten Things I Hate About You are a few of my favorites), and Prom was fairly average high school fare. A little slow, a little fluffy, but still cute enough to hold my attention and leave me with a tiny crush on Jesse, the movie’s bad-boy-heartthrob and, in my opinion, a baby Johnny Depp.

Tracey Neithercott’s Fall Book Club has officially begun! Click HERE for the official stuff (don’t worry, it’s all easy). Wondering what we’re reading?

Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. I started this weekend and yeah… absolutely loving it so far. I highly recommend you jump into the fun and join the Fall Book Club.

I’m revising again, this time with a heavy focus on pacing. I recently read James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure (thanks for the recommendation, Jessi Kirby and Vickie Motter!) and it has been immensely helpful. Here’s what my copy looks like:

Sheesh. You’d think I’d never read a craft book! But there’s just something about James Scott Bell’s approach, his simple way of explaining what’s already trapped in the mind of any avid reader, that spoke to me. So, I highlighted the heck out of Plot and Structure, then drafted a revision plan that’s working miracles. Yippee!

Over the  last month I’ve become obsessed with this:

Best workout DVD ever. Seriously. I happily hop out of bed a half-hour early each morning to do it. I love Jillian Michaels’ no-nonsense approach. I love how I feel when I’m done. I love that my daughter now knows what “Down Dog” is. And the results! I’m seeing them! It’s so motivating!

And, finally, these photographs beg to be shared:

That’s my husband there on the left–you know, the deliciously handsome one :)–and that’s the Washington State University flag he and his buddy are raising in Afghanistan. Yep, our beloved Cougs are representing half-way around the world. Crazy to think about, right?

And one final, incredibly important thing: Happy birthday, Dad! Love you!

So, how was your weekend?