Book Heroines I Adore

unsplash90Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling | Related
“The smartest witch of her age” and fiercely loyal, never gives up. Never.

Shazi from The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Review (and sequel)
“So you would have me throw Shazi to the wolves?”
“Shazi?” Jalal’s grin widened. “Honestly, I pity the wolves.”

Citra from Scythe by Neal Shusterman | Review
Whip-smart, deeply philosophical … but can also kick your ass.

Joana from Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys | Review 
“She must have been a nurse. She looked a few years older than me. Pretty. Naturally pretty, the type that’s still attractive, even more so, when she’s filthy.”
So strong in the face of a thousand hardships

Roza and Petey from Bone Gap by Laura Ruby | Review
Each of these girls is so strong in her own way; I adored every character in this book.

Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak | Related
She can hold her own against any boy, she knows the power of words, and perseveres through tremendous loss.

Isaboe of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta | Related
Fearsome. Unwavering. Isaboe’s resolution and leadership are a thing to behold. She is her own boss. She loves with ferocity.

Quintana of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta | Review 
“‘Do you know who tells me my worth, Phaedra of Alonso?’
The princess pointed a hard finger at her own chest.
‘Me. I determine my own worth. If I had to rely on others I’d have lain down and died waiting.’”
‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

Lately

I am just so tired. No, that’s the wrong word. I am well rested. I guess I’m exhausted… emotionally, mentally.

Online dating is a really great way to feel like a piece of meat. I’ve heard from about 300 guys just since the start of the year, and it’s mostly made me sad.

Writing is such a beautiful thing, and it is usually life-giving to me, but lately, it’s been a battle just to open up my manuscript.

My friends are incredible… but going through some very hard things. I want to support them well, but that takes energy too. 

I have zero dollars. Please save me, tax return.

All in all, life is so good, so lovely and exciting and challenging. I’m just exhausted, that’s all. 

Psychiatrist on Monday morning. I need to see if any part of this is chemical. 

How are you, lovelies? What are your best suggestions for free/cheap self care?

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

So, you want to be a writer?

I got these great questions from a reader/Twitter pal/friend for her school project, and I thought people might have some interest in reading the responses. Just in case, I’m pasting them below!

1. What do you like most about your job and why?

Hearing from readers who were impacted by what I’ve written is always a highlight. It’s one of the main reasons why I write– in the hope that my stories will resonate with readers and make them think. It’s also fun when you get into a great writing groove and hours fly by like seconds. It’s so satisfying to enjoy what you’ve written.

2. What do you like least about your job and why? (Maybe revising? 😛 It’s not very fun!)

The middle part of writing a novel is probably the hardest part. The beginning is fun because you’re charging toward an idea, and the final touches are great too because you’re perfecting everything. But when you’re in the middle, it’s too early to see the finish line– plus, you’re too far past the starting line to easily change course. I can get a little crazy and sad during the middle of writing a novel– for me this is usually drafts two and three.

3. How did you decide to get into the writing field and how did you enter the field? What alternative ways could someone enter the writing field?

I’ve been a storyteller since I could speak and a writer since I learned my letters. I wrote all through junior high and high school, then studied writing in college.

There is no specific requirement to being a writer except to write well. Some people can do that without extensive training. For me, I studied creative writing as an undergraduate student, where I focused mostly on poetry. After college, I took a little break from writing before diving in to writing my first (unpublished) novel. The vast majority of stories about how people got published are the same: write a great book, write a great query letter, secure an agent, and let the agent secure a book deal. I have writer friends who never finished high school, and I have writer friends who have an MFA in writing, so there’s a wide range. It’s critical to spend lots of time reading incredible literature; this is an education in itself!

4. What training would you recommend for someone who wanted to enter this field now? What skills and background are needed to get into this field now?

As I mentioned above, there is no specific education necessary, although many find a college degree in writing very helpful (at least I did!). It helps to be an avid reader and someone with a great imagination. The writers I know are fascinating people who are usually fascinated by the world.

5. What is the salary range for a person in this field? Entry level to top salary? (I know that’s kind of a funky question, particularly for authors!)

When an author gets published traditionally, he or she is given an advance, which is a sum of money paid to the writer from the publisher upfront. The author then tries to “earn out the advance” in royalty sales; after earning out, all the royalties (minus the literary agent’s cut) go to the writer. Advances have an incredible range. One author might get a $5000 advance. One might get $2 million.

6. What personal qualities do you feel are most important in your work and why?

Since I identified as a poet before identifying as a young adult author, it’s really important to me to have great imagery and strong diction in my stories. Characters are of the utmost importance to me, as they are for many or most writers. I find that writers who write contemporary stories sometimes especially rely on characters, since our books have to build their own “magic,” as opposed to, say, a fantasy novel which might have “real” magic in it. Not to discount characterization for ANY writer. It is, in my opinion, the most important part of any great story.

The other things that I like in books (and try to include in mine) are opportunities to learn and encouragement to think.

7. What are the tasks you do in a typical workday? Would you describe them?

I work a day job (as most young writers do) from 8 to 4:30; then I go home, eat dinner and relax a little bit before I retreat into my home office to write. Some days this looks like generating material; some days this looks like revision; some days this is research; some days this is plotting. There are so many parts of writing a book that are not actually writing. Research takes up a lot of my time. My current work in progress takes place on an island; I spent a whole evening researching boats in the Pacific Northwest just so that I could write one convincing paragraph! But it’s worth it. Details matter! I will usually write from about 7-9 pm, although if things are going well, I will keep working till 10, 11, or midnight. I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep or else I screw everything else up. I also keep a process journal while I write too, in which I brainstorm, sketch ideas, plot, and the like.

8. What types of stress do you experience on the job?

EVERY KIND OF STRESS. Will my agent like this? Will my editor like this? Do I like this? Will it sell? Will I make money? Will I earn out my advance? How do I make sure this character changes enough by the end of the book? Will this story matter to people? AM I A FRAUD??

Plus, there’s a fair amount of public speaking, but I don’t mind that. I know a lot of people do though!!

9. What types of people survive and do well in the writing field?

People who persist. I’m not even joking. Many of the writers you know and love and whose books are on your shelves often wrote another book or two that didn’t get published before one finally did. It’s hard to pour yourself into a project for four or five years, only to have it not get an agent … then to turn around and just start a new project. Writers hear a lot of NOs before that one YES changes things.

This also applies to the writing itself. I use the phrase “show up,” and by that, I mean the actual hours of work put into a project. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by a project the size of a novel, and sometimes that fear is crippling. But showing up every day– putting in an hour or two or five of real work– keeps you moving toward your goal. You have to show up and persist in order to succeed at writing.

10. Are resumes important in getting a job? (or I guess query letters? :P)

The query letter is the key to getting a literary agent, and the literary agent is the key to getting a book deal. Query letters are, for novelists, a whole different type of writing. You spend years with a creative hat on, then need to put on a business/marketing hat to write the letter. A good query will only go so far though– the manuscript has to also be solid!

11. What are the opportunities for promotion? (another weird question for a writer, but it was in the book)

This looks different for different writers. “Moving up” might mean selling more books– or getting a higher advance– or going on a book tour– or having your book be optioned for a movie. Every writer has their own idea of personal success. Making the New York Times bestseller list. Getting starred reviews. Being a keynote speaker at a conference. It all depends.

12. Is the field of writing expanding or taking new directions?

I see writers taking tremendous creative risks lately, and I love it. Plus, there is the whole avenue of self-publishing, which is open to anyone now with things like Kindle Direct Publishing. Trends are constantly changing in the world of novels– best not to hop on trends: they will be long over before your book makes it to print.

13. What related occupations could I research?

Being a literary agent or an editor (for a publishing house or freelance. Copyediting. Public relations. Creative writing instructor. On the other side of the spectrum, technical writing. As I mentioned, most new writers work a “day job” in addition to their writing. If you have a degree in English, you have a lot of options you can go; such a degree teaches you to communicate well and think critically, and every employer wants that!

14. Is there anything else about being a writer that would be helpful for me to know?

It is a roller coaster of emotions. It can be a tough field for perfectionists or people who have anxiety. (But not impossible— I have both!) It’s tremendously rewarding. You spend a lot of time alone, more than you might guess. You have to be okay with things being icky and uncertain for long periods of time– but draft after draft after draft, it all comes together.

Review: Dreamology by Lucy Keating

dreamologyAlice has dreamed of Max for as long as she can remember– in her dreams, they are happy and in love, going on the kind of crazy adventures that can only happen in dreams.

When Alice moves to Boston, though, Max is in her psychology class at her new school! Except this Max seems detached … and he has a girlfriend.

I really enjoyed this one! There were some really great lines, and I especially loved the character of Oliver, one of Alice’s new friends. I loved the dream sequences, and it was fun to tweet with Lucy Keating while I read it too. An interesting concept, though the conflict at the end confused me a little bit. All in all, an enjoyable, light read!

 

Review: Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin

mara dyer

This is actually going to be less of a review and more of an introduction, so that I can steer away from spoilers.

First of all, those covers! Gorgeous.

The Mara Dyer trilogy is about a girl who survives the collapse of an abandoned asylum she was exploring with her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister. Shortly after the collapse, her family moves to Florida to start over … only things are getting super weird. Enter Noah Shaw, this cocky British schoolboy who knows he is gorgeous, and things really start to get interesting.

Thrillers aren’t really my thing. But I loved this series.

Mara is a badass. The dialogue is hilarious. The intrigue is intense. And Noah Shaw is … well … Noah Shaw.

“You’re supposed to say, ‘All I want is your happiness. I’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means being without you.'”
“Sorry,” Noah said. “I’m just not that big of a person.”

Yes, he’s a little over the top sometimes. (Okay, a lot over the top.) But those over-the-top things are a-ok with me when said in a British accent. I listened to the audio versions of this series, which was narrated by Christy Romano (you know her as Ren Stevens and the voice of Kim Possible), and while a lot of people took issue with her attempt at a male British accent, I was okay with it.

I like that the books were intriguing but not wholly scary. I’m not big into freaking myself out. If you like books that will keep you guessing, dive headfirst into this series.

Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a book cover misrepresent the story inside so much as this one. Let’s take a look at it.noggin

What do you expect from this title and cover?

I pictured a Grasshopper Jungle type of story– weird and wild and fast and sort of hard-to-believe-but-I’ll-go-along-for-the-ride, you know?

Not at all. This story was the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve read so far this year. And maybe for ALL of last year too. In fact, I can’t remember a book putting my heart through the meat-grinder quite like this one did since I read The Fault in Our Stars. My gosh. I’m still reeling.

First of all, what’s this book about? Travis Coates is the second person to have a successful head-transplant surgery. When he died, his head was cryogenically preserved while they figured out the procedure– the medical organization he was with suspected they would have a solution within twenty years, though, secretly, neither Travis nor his friends or family thought it would ever work. So, when only five years later, it does work … well, everything is different. Most notably, Travis is still sixteen and in love with his girlfriend Cate … who is now 21 and engaged to someone else.

This book was intense. All the feels. Multiplied exponentially. While I often love to just binge-read through a great story, I couldn’t with this one. I could only handle small doses– an hour of reading here, a half-hour there. And when I finished it today, I just sobbed and sobbed and then took a nap to deaden the feelings.

Noggin was incredible. Layered characters. Meaningful story. Made my head spin and my heart break. This book was so much more than I ever anticipated.

 

 

Review: Calvin by Martine Leavitt

calvin.jpgSo.

This book is about a boy named Calvin undergoing a schizophrenic break.

He has always had a connection with the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, being that there are so many similarities between his life and the comic strip (including a toy tiger and a girl next door named Suzie), so when Hobbes starts talking to him again at age seventeen, Calvin decides the only way to make it stop is to take a pilgrimage across Lake Erie to meet Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic strip. If he can make one last strip about a seventeen-year-old Calvin who is “normal,” Calvin will be healed.

And so he heads off.

I loved it. I loved everything about this book: the format (it’s a letter to Bill Watterson and the dialogue is written like a play), the main character (brilliant, brilliant boy; adored Calvin!), the humor, AND the fact that I didn’t know if what I was reading was actually happening in real life or in Calvin’s head. I thought it was so rife with thought-provoking conversation and delightful humor. I read over half of it in one setting and finished it off the next night.

Fans of Calvin and Hobbes will especially love this book, all the references to the comic strip and to Spaceman Spiff, what a great dose of nostalgia. I’m not sure how close it was to describing a real schizophrenic break– it had a tremendously different tone than Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (review), which I read a few months ago.

It was a total delight, one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far. If you read it, let me know! I wanna hear your thoughts– Goodreads is a little split, and it’s hard for me to understand why!

Review: In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

I met Jen Brooks during a panel discussion we were both a part of last November, and I was fascinated by the excerpt she read from In A World Just Right. I bought a copy that very night, but I haven’t had a chance to dive in until yesterday. I started it yesterday. I finished it yesterday. I was home sick from work, so I legit just read for eight hours straight.

in a world just rightThis book.

Let me tell you.

The premise is clever: ever since Jonathan went through a traumatic accident at age eight, he’s been a world-maker, that is, he can invent worlds and come and go from them as he pleases. The one he spends the most time in is Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend, where– you guessed it– Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. In real life, that’s not even close to being true. Jonathan is a bit of an outcast, mostly invisible to his classmates.

Fascinating, right?

Things get trickier from there, once the real Kylie Simms starts paying attention to him and Jonathan starts learning the extent of his powers and has to deal with some pretty huge moral decisions. Like, fantastically huge. He really, really wrestles through things, and I loved him for it.

Then things get even trickier. Really.

Let’s just say that this is as close to a YA Inception that I’ve ever read. That’s a good thing– no, a great thing.

About halfway through, I tweeted to Jen that “I can’t figure out how in the world(s) this will end,” and she tweeted back, “Fingers crossed you like where it ends up. :)”

After my eight-hour journey of my mind being blown, I tweeted her, “PERFECT ENDING!”

Not my typical read, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. You guys know I love books that make me think. This book will make you think.

Enjoy!

Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

It feels like a million years ago that Marisa Reichardt first contacted me– she wanted to interview me for The Sweet Sixteens (interview here). I sent her a PDF copy of Truest, since there weren’t even ARCs at that time. Since then, Marisa has become so dear to me, someone I can go to about all my writer-problems, someone who gets it and is brimming with compassion and empathy.

underwater3Now it was my turn to read her book!

Underwater is Morgan’s story– readers learn in the earliest pages that she was witness to a school shooting and has since been dealing with agoraphobia. Yes, Morgan has not left her family’s apartment in months. Then a new guy moves in next door, and things start to change.

My favorite part of this book was how much I understood what Morgan was going through– the panic, at first, then later, as she begins to venture out (starting with just the welcome mat!), the way she has to sit with so much uncertainty and fear– but how she accommodates to it! I had the distinct thought, “This is exposure therapy. This is also how you treat OCD.” Afterward, I looked it up online, to see if my guesses were right. The sites that I looked at talked specifically about exposure therapy being the best treatment for agoraphobia.

Mind. Blown.

Here I thought we with OCD had the corner on the exposure therapy market! Not so.

Some reviews I read said that the book is a little dark and heavy– but I disagree. Well, time out. Yes, it begins dark and heavy. But it should. We are dealing with PTSD here, people, not a hangnail! But what I loved most about Underwater was how it bent toward the light.