Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 and more

Thinking over 2013: this has been a tremendous year in many ways, but also a really difficult year, testing my family in some severe ways. I think one of the biggest things I've learned this year is patience (sometimes against my will!) Some difficult things you can't attack head on: you just have to quietly face them and live through them, and putting up a good attitude is key to weathering the storm.

But in the book and writing department, it's been a stellar year. I continue to discover books that thrill me and others that make me think in news ways (and sometimes, a single book does both). My writing is reaching a new level, I think, having placed in some contests and beginning to get responses from agents.

I cheated and listed my top 12 books instead of top 10. And I've just added my top ten characters as a separate list, too.

12. Eleanor & Park (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.
A unique love story: falling in love on a school bus? Without even talking? Loved it... but loved the ending especially. I do recommend this book with some caveats so please check out my review.

11. Catch Rider (2013) by Jennifer Lyne
I've read a dozen stories like this, but I never get tired about reading about an underdog, and this book had the advantage of Sidney, a feisty main character with a really strong voice, and a setting that sets it apart.

10. Incarceron (2007) by Catherine Fisher
Not just one but two excellent fantasy concepts intertwined: a living prison and a futuristic world forced to go back to the medieval ages. And a brilliant twist at the ending.

9. Lirael (2003) by Garth Nix
Everything I loved from the two opposite worlds in the first book, plus some fantastic new world building (the Library!) and characters: the Disreputable Dog, especially.

8. Kisses From Katie (2011) by Katie J. Davis.
This is non-fiction, a stunning story about an 18 year old girl who left behind a cushy American lifestyle and dared to move to Uganda to help orphans there. I cried twice reading this.

7. The Time Fetch (2013) by Amy Herrick. I just love eccentric characters that naturally repel each other but when circumstances bring them together, there is a synergy of nerdy fizzy chemistry.  A great combination of space-time fabric, folklore, fairytale, superstition, science, and delicious food. 

6. Code Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein
What blows my mind about this book is that so much of it is real. Yes, it's fiction, but it's like living through World War II in England and occupied France, with so much gritty, sharp detail.  I was totally immersed. 

5. The Queen of Attolia (2006) by Megan Whalen Turner
I can barely say a thing about this book without hinting at the surprise direction it takes; I can't even give a hint for risk of giving away too much. While this is a sequel, it stands just fine on its own.

4. The Archived (2013) by Victoria Schwab
Absolutely brilliant, creepy premise: the memories of the dead preserved in living copies called Histories. There are some deep themes running in this story, great characters, beautiful prose, action, twists, love, love, love! Can't wait for the sequel!

3. These Broken Stars (2013) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Titanic in space. Love story. Survival story. Great voice. Smart science fiction. Love story.  Even better than Titanic love story.

2. Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis
A powerful contrast of two time periods: a plague in futuristic England and the terrible Black Death in 1300's England. A huge cast of characters that all stood out vibrantly, intriguing science fiction and powerful themes. A long book but absolutely absorbing: I easily could have kept reading. This book is a Hugo and Nebula award winner.

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011) by Laini Taylor
I practically wrote a dissertation instead of a review for this one: it was beautiful, daring, a multi-dimensional love story, a wild plot, it hit nerves, it had incredible settings, and absolutely unforgettable characters: Karou and Brimstone especially.

Favorite characters:

10. Tarver and Lilac, from These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (2013). On their own, these characters were good (great voices), but put these opposites together and they really flared! Same with Eleanor and Park, too.

9. Lala, from Burning, by Elana K. Arnold. Lala’s voice is distinct: analytical and thoughtful and a touch formal. I wasn't sure what to expect from a modern-day Gypsy girl  who is also caught in the past of her very strict Roma family, that rejects almost everything about American culture. But she fascinated me.

8. Olivia, from the Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis. A teeanger who hates cell phones and Facebook? My KIND OF GIRL!!! But mostly I loved her voice, for her thoughts and ideas that wander all over the place.

7. Sidney, from Catch Rider by Jennifer Lyne.  I fell in love with Sidney Criser not just because she's an underdog, but because she's poor and smart, tough and stubborn, full of attitude but not snarky. She's a little bit of a redneck, but she also has this really neat way of seeing the world

6. Wesley, from The Archived, by Victoria Schwab. So I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a tall, dark and brooding guy. So Wesley was a surprise. He's tall, dark and funny. He immediately won me over with his back-and-forth banter and what he does at the end of this story made me suck my breath in: gutsy! 

5. Verity, from Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. She played three different roles in this story, and it took a while for me to get used to her (the book has a very odd point of view). But here's a taste of why I loved Verity:
She cocked her blue cap back at a hellish angle. "High time they put the RAF in kilts," she remarked, flipping the hem of her uniform skirt disdainfully.
4. Augustus from The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  I loved Augustus because he was so darn SMART and his metaphors just made me laugh and shake my head at the same time: like, how did you make that connection, boy? Are you for real? Who cares, I love you anyway. 

3. Eugenides (Gen), from the Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I liked him in his first book, Queen's Thief, (snarky, clever, resourceful) but he gained all new humble and brave dimensions in this book that made me really fall in love.

2. Brimstone, from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor.   I just loved that his title was “The Wishmonger” – and I loved his gruffness and gentleness and ugliness (he's a monster. Sort of) and mystery. He’s a Gandalf kind of character, and that is the highest possible compliment I can give to a character.  Sadly, he does not show up in the sequel. 

1. Karou, from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. I loved that Karou loved to buy or make gifts for her friends. I loved the tricks that she played, but that she also felt bad about what she did and tried to fix it. I loved her loneliness and her lostness and her “be that cat” moments. I loved how she learned and changed with the wishes she made. As much as I loved the first book, I'm not as big a fan of the sequel. Karou is quite a different character in the second one, but my heart breaks for her, and I am hopeful for the final book coming out in 2014. 

What's your favorite book and/or character from 2013?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The magic and wonder of Christmas

I still have my child-like wonder when it comes to Christmas, though these days with all the adult busyness, sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle. Here's one thing that helps me stay grounded in the joy of Christmas:

Starting on December 1st, I dig out my old Christmas song book and sing at least two songs to my kids at bed time, every night through December. I hand copied  forty Christmas songs in this notebook when I was fourteen years old...
And illustrated at least 20 of the pages (not claiming to be an artist... this was just my way of expressing my love of Christmas)

I was trying to think of how to express that feeling of Christmas magic here, and even though I'm a writer, sometimes words fail me, but music and art capture it.
Did you ever stick your head under your Christmas tree to try
to get as close as you could to the magic?

Snow and lights

You might have seen a short excerpt of this wonderful song as a commercial on TV, but it's worth listening to the whole thing: This Is My Wish, sung by Jordin Sparks.

An old one, but oh so beautiful:

And the very heart of Christmas:

Also, do you remember that scene in Anne of Green Gables when Matthew picks up Anne at the train station and they ride in their buggy to her new home? And she chatters his ear off, but suddenly she's struck dumb by the sight of the cherry trees in bloom along the Avenue? That also captures that wonder I feel sometimes.
She came out of her reverie with a deep sigh and looked at him with a dreamy gaze of a soul that had been wandering afar, star-led.

Many blessings to you all this holiday season.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best in Show young adult 2013 books

Cutest couple, favorite cover, romance most worthy of any ice bath, sleeper hit: just a few categories in today's  Young Adult books Class of 2013 Blogfest. 

Superlatives Banner
The Class of 2013: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year and runs from Monday, December 16th through Thursday, December 19th. 

Favorite Cover  
The Binding Stone by Lisa Gail Green 
The blue-red-orange color scheme; the desert background; the overlaid lacy pattern; the light trailing off the opal; the Djinn's red silky wrap; love, love, love.

Cutest Couple  
MacKenzie and Wesley, from the Archived by Victoria Schwab
Well, technically they aren't a couple, yet, but they have all the vibes...

Most Likely to Succeed 
(Pick a Printz Winner) 
Starglass by Phoebe North
This book has a literary, thought-provoking feel to it.

Most Likely to Make You Miss Your Bedtime 
(Book you couldn’t put down)  
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
This book just came out, but I predict it's going to hit the bestseller lists soon. It's already been voted the top young adult book of the year by the Huffington Post

Best Repeat Performance 
(Favorite sequel or follow-up)  
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
This one also made the Huffington Post top ten YA books list.

Favorite Finale or End of Series Novel
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
And this one made Huff's top ten list too. 

Romance Most Worthy of an Ice Bath:  
These Broken Stars
Yes, I'm using this book again. It's  THAT GOOD!

Breakout Novel
(Your favorite book by a debut author)  
These Broken Stars
Sorry, another repeat, but it's true. 

Best Old-Timer
 (Your favorite read of the year published BEFORE 2013.)  
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Time travel back to the beginning of the black death in Europe. This book won both a Hugo and Nebula Award and it was another book that I couldn't put down. 

Book Most Likely to Make a Grown Man Cry 
The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston
The parents in this book, what they went through... and Teeny... no dad could read this without crying.

Most Pleasant Surprise 
(Book you didn’t think you’d like, but totally did)  
Burning by Elana K. Arnold
I didn't care for the first chapter, but I'm so glad I kept reading because this book about a modern day Roma (gypsy) girl had a surprising voice and strength. 

Most Creative Use of a Love Triangle  
 Parallel by Lauren Miller and  Pivot Point by Kasie West
Both of these books put a brilliant spin on the love triangle. 

Sleeper Hit 
Catch Rider by Jennifer Lyne
A quirky character (a touch hill billy) with a really wonderful voice. 

Favorite Outlier  (upper  Middle Grade)
The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick
So many things I loved about this book; but at the top of my list it's the eccentric characters that generated a synergy of nerdy fizzy chemistry. 

My own category:

Most heart-wrenching love story
Tarver and Lilac from These Broken Stars
I very much loved this book... can you tell?

What's your favorite book from any of these categories?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Class of 2013: Elements of Fiction

I love the different categories we get to explore in the YA Class of 2013 Blogfest. Today it's all about our favorite books, categorized by elements of fiction: plot, world-building, theme, dialogue, etc...

Superlatives Banner
The Class of 2013: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year and runs from Monday, December 16th through Thursday, December 19th. 

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (The plot you wish you’d thought of yourself.)  
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Oh Oh Oh this plot! Titanic in space, and sooooo much more. The ending, I'm still trembling from that ending!

Most Formidable World (Setting you definitely would NOT want to visit):
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Palmares Tres is a futuristic city built as a giant enclosed pyramid rising out of a bay in Brazil. It's also a sentient city; the world building is so vivid! However, the rulers of the city demand a cruel sacrifice.

Wanderlust-Inducing (Setting you’d happily travel to): 
 Seige and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
A fantasy world like czarist Russia with just a touch of steampunk. I really love this setting.

Loveliest Prose:  
The Archived by Victoria Schwab
Mackenzie's flashbacks with her grandfather were not only beautiful prose, but they were a mesmerizing counterpoint to the mystery and action of the main storyline. 

Best First Line:  
"What do you want your name to be this time?"

Most Dynamic Main Character  
Elisa from The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
One of those rare sequels where the character arc continues to arc instead of flattening out. Elisa faces losing her _____, and faces her more beautiful sister, and I love her own unique way of handling both challenges. 

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending:
   These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
The ending, I'm still trembling from that ending. (Sorry if I'm repeating myself. Just can't help myself). 
But, since I already used These Broken Stars for another category, there's another great twisty ending:
Parallel by Lauren Miller
When another reviewer  said this story was like the movie Groundhog Day but in reverse, I couldn't resist getting this book.  Abby wakes up nearly every morning wondering what's changed in her life because of her parallel's decisions, and the last change at the very end - WOW. 

Best Performance in a Supporting Role:
Trev from Altered, by Jennifer Rush.
Trev is full of quotes and surprises. Indulge me,  I can't help but share a little excerpt with him here: 
"What if she isn't alive?" I slumped against the seat. "What if all this wishing is for nothing?"
"'In all things it is better to hope than to despair.'"
"Whose quote is that?"
Trev smirked, folding his hands together. He loved it when I asked him for more information, when I gave him the opportunity to show off. "Johann Wolfgang von Goethe." 
"What's the Aristotle one? The one about hope?" 
His eyes lost focus as he dug for the quote I wanted. I could see the moment when he remembered it, the glimmer returning to his amber eyes. I'd never met anyone with a real lightbulb expression like Trev's.
"'Hope is a waking dream.'"

Best Use of Theme:
Starglass by Phoebe North
"That's the problem with picking sides, Terra. You end up fighting for someone else. But who is to say that someone else has ever been fighting for you?"

What's your favorite book in any of these categories? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten New to Me Authors 2013 & Popularity Contest

I've got  a double header going on today:


Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and the Bookish Blog

Superlatives Banner
The Class of 2013: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year and runs from Monday, December 16th through Thursday, December 19th. Share your favorite reads of 2013! 

Today's list is based on a Popularity Contest Theme. 

Class Clown: Sturmhond from Seige and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo

Most Likely to Become a Rock Star: Tomohiro from Ink, by Amanda Sun

Biggest Flirt: Oliver, from The Art of Wishing, by Lindsay Ribar
Well, he is a genie, after all. 

Mostly Likely to Start a Riot: Laila from the Binding Stone, by Lisa Gail Green
She's a genie, too, but an entirely different sort. 

Fashion King and/or Queen:   Lilac, from These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman/Megan Spooner
Lilac's dress... it has a more significance than you'd suspect.

Girl You’d Most Want For Your BFF:  Olivia from the Secret Ingredient, by Lewis Stewart

Boy You Wish You’d Dated in High School: Wesley from The Archived, by Victoria Schwab
I just want to take him home. 

Most Likely to Become President, Trev from Altered, by Jennifer Rush
I kinda want to take him home with me, too. 

Quirkiest Character:   Sidney, from Catch Rider by Jennifer Lyne
A touch wild and hill billy and fun all the way

Villain You Love to Hate: The Darkling, from Seige and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Love him! Hate him! Can't get enough of him! My only complaint with this book is he didn't show up often enough to suit me!

Favorite Parental Figure - Aunt Kit from The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick
This book is upper Middle Grade, but too good not to mention.  And Aunt Kit is hilarious!

Coolest Nerd: Abby and Caitlin from Parallel, by Lauren Miller
You should see these girls plot their plans for getting into Ivy League schools!

 Top Ten list of New-To-Me Authors in 2013
To make this list a little easier to write, I picked only debut authors.

10. Rules of Disappearing, by Ashley Elston

9. Ink, by Amanda Sun

8. The Art of Wishing, by Lindsay Ribar

7. The Binding Stone, by Lisa Gail Green

6. Parallel, by Lauren Miller

5. Pivot Point, by Kasie West

4. Altered, by Jennifer Rush

3. Catch Rider, by Jennifer Lyne

2. The Time Fetch, by Amy Herrick

1. These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman/Megan Spooner

You will hear me raving a lot more about these books tomorrow and Thursday as the Class of 2013 blogfest continues!

What was your favorite new author this year?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Steampunk + Bollywood = Bollypunk fun

I have read three books by Susan Kaye Quinn, and am eager to start my fourth: Third Daughter. There are only a handful of authors that I follow and snap up their books as soon as they come out; Susan's one of them. And steampunk India?  An irresistible combination. 

Here's some more info on Third Daughter and some unusual and fun prizes:

Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn
(The Dharian Affairs Trilogy #1)
Publication date: December 13th 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Steampunk

The Third Daughter of the Queen wants her birthday to arrive so she’ll be free to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon may force her to accept a barbarian prince’s proposal for a peace-brokering marriage. Desperate to marry the charming courtesan she loves, Aniri agrees to the prince’s proposal as a subterfuge in order to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.

Third Daughter is the first book in The Dharian Affairs Trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance takes place in an east-indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue. And, of course, kissing.


Susan Kaye Quinn grew up in California, where she wrote snippets of stories and passed them to her friends during class. Her teachers pretended not to notice and only confiscated her stories a couple times.

Susan left writing behind to pursue a bunch of engineering degrees, but she was drawn back to writing by an irresistible urge to share her stories with her niece, her kids, and all the wonderful friends she’s met along the way.

She doesn’t have to sneak her notes anymore, which is too bad.

Susan writes from the Chicago suburbs with her three boys, two cats, and one husband. Which, it turns out, is exactly as a much as she can handle.
Author Links:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Family endures yet another year of NaNoWriMo

My family during NaNoWriMo:
Me during NaNoWriMo:

Even though I only wrote about 23,000 words in November this year, falling far short of the 50,000 word goal of NaNoWriMo, I'm still pumped, and I'm still a NaNo junkie. It truly is my favorite time of year. It's a time when I can put off all other things without feeling guilty: the one time of year when my writing comes first, guilt-free.

This was my 7th year, so my family is used to the drill. I don't think they like NaNo very much (probably because of that glazed look in my eyes: either from being sleepy because I was up too late writing, or glazed because I'm far off in novel land, conversing with my characters), but they know how important it is to me and they try to grin and bear it.

As always, the pep talks were inspiring (you can read them all here). Here's a few tidbits:

From Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians.
Let’s say you’re not a writer hard at work on your first novel. Let’s say you’re a Tribute who’s just been selected for the Hunger Games. You’re freaking out because you’re facing almost certain death in the Arena. And instead of a published author, I’m going to be that drunk guy who’s supposed to be telling you how to survive.
His analogies between writing and the Hunger Games were amusing and also a little scarily apt!

From Malinda Lo, author of Adaptation:
Inspiration is like that hot girl or guy you met at a party one time—and when you talked to him or her, it seemed like you totally clicked. There was eye contact; there was flirting; maybe there was even a bit of casual brushing of your hand over theirs, right? I know. I’ve been there. At the end of the night they asked for your number and said, “I’ll definitely call you. We should hang out." But then they never did, and you were left waiting for a call that never came, feeling increasingly like a fool. That’s what inspiration is. It’s seductive and thrilling, but you can’t depend on it to call you.
Oh, and this one, also from Malinda Lo:
How often am I filled with inspiration before I start writing? Pretty much never. Instead, I usually stare at my work-in-progress with a vague sense of doom.
I can so relate to that!

From Marie Lu, author of the Legend trilogy, some excellent tips:
Pull your favorite, tattered, dog-eared book off the shelves. Find a chapter that leaves you breathless. Start typing it out in a new document, word for word. Don’t just type blindly; think about what you’re writing. For me, something about this exercise helps me see the genius in the other writer’s storytelling, and will stimulate my own writing and thoughts. Be careful, of course, that you don’t end up plagiarizing it right into your novel… but there’s something to be said for drawing inspiration from another.
Write a long list of all your characters. Then, start drawing random lines connecting random characters to each other. Don’t think—just connect. Afterward, look down at your page. Try to figure out a connection between each of the two random characters you just linked—something scandalous, maybe, or something sweet. Something three-dimensional and unexpected. Some explosive scene that throws the two together.

From Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor and Park.
One of my challenges as an author is staying inside the fictional world I’m creating. I have to write in blocks (at least four hours at a time, at least four days in a row) to make any progress. During NaNoWriMo, I never left the world of the book long enough to lose momentum....I stayed immersed in the story all month long.
That's what I love about NaNoWriMo, the immersion into the story, staying so closely connected to it, day in and day out. Of course at times that means times of discomfort and disillusionment, but if you push past that, the story sweeps you away to amazing places.

How does your family handle your creative escapes?

Also, I'm excited that it’s time for the 3rd Annual YA Superlative Blogfest hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and Katy Upperman. A great way to highlight our favorite YA novels, covers, characters, and story elements. Coming December 16-19

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Still recovering from NaNoWriMo

I meant to have a post ready today, but I'm still recovering from NaNoWriMo, and from a nine hour drive from Kansas back home to Wyoming.

But just a quick note here to say I'll have a post soon, and in the meantime, every wanna-be-published writer should be heading over to the Baker's Dozen auction at MSFV's blog today to see what agents are bidding on.

I'm also going to be looking for a twitter hashtag something like #bakersdozen2013 to follow the auction, or if that doesn't work, #msfv.
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