Life Indeed

Honestly, I’ve been heartbroken since the election, and when I try to blog, anything I say feels a little trivial in comparison to what this country is facing. But I trust in a God who personifies love and grace, truth and justice. That is not lip service. That is not a platitude. I really do trust him, or at least I am trying.

And so, while I will continue to fight for the underdog, today I’m not going to write about the election. I need to hammer out a few posts while letting the outcry for justice stir in my heart before I figure out how to put it onto my blog. I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me. Just know that it is never far from my thoughts, even if I do not write about it for a little while.

Instead, an update on my life (for you sweet readers who care enough to wonder!):

Salt Novel

I turned in my draft about two weeks ago. It feels so good to have it out of my hands for a little while. I know it’s not there yet, but it is improving the way drafts do: slowly, and then all at once.

(Okay, couldn’t resist the TFIOS jab there.)

Of course, it’s not like I can just “turn it off” after spending 10.5 months in that world. I am still thinking of my characters, and I’m especially working on brainstorming titles. Titles are HARD, y’all. Makes me feel for the poets and songwriters who have to title each piece and not just the collection.

What are some of your all-time favorite book, poem, or song titles?

Reading

Right now, I’m about halfway through Illusion by Martina Boone. It’s the third book of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. I’ve also started or am starting a few books of poetry: Yes Thorn by Amy Munson, who teaches at my university; Ultra-Cabin by Kimberly Lambright, a friend from undergrad; and The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins, always a delight. I’ve purchased a small truckload of YA novels, but I still need to get myself back into reading mode after being in full-on writing mode.

How about you? What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Winter

I’m never ready for it. Snowed in Minnesota this weekend, and it’s snowing now. My book event for tonight (up north) was cancelled (my choice), and I’m fighting those winter blues, where all I want is to be in bed.

Do you like winter? Tell me why. I need to hear positive thoughts about it.

Anniversary

On this day in 2013, I had my first conversation with my editor at Harper and first announced my book deal on my social media. And then promptly had my first panic/anxiety attack that wasn’t OCD-related. So I think back on this day with mixed feelings. But OH how I have grown in the last three years. So much growth, so much healing. It’s maybe ironic that this morning I reached out to my therapist, not even because I’m in a bad place. I just felt prompted to contact her last night while I was praying. We’re gonna meet up next month and chat. I’m delighted.

Hope you are all well! I’m hoping to post a lot more frequently in the coming weeks. I miss hearing from you. Drop me a comment please. It helps to know you’re still there.

A Handful of Book Reviews

I’ve been traveling for work, and that means plenty of time for audiobooks, hooray! Here’s what I’ve recently read:


Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo | This is the sequel to Six of Crows, which I thoroughly adored. It was great to be back with Kaz, Inej, and the gang as they sought revenge and justice after the events of the first book. The characters are just so layered and complicated, something I admire and appreciate. This novel was a little harder for me to get into than its predecessor, probably because the heist didn’t seem apparent to me at first. Another difficult thing was having so many narrators to the audiobook. There were at least six, and while I LOVED some of them, there was one I couldn’t stand. And they all pronounced things differently, which, in a fantasy novel with unique names of people and locations, was especially confusing. All told, I did love it though and think Bardugo is brilliant. I am plot’s antihero, and I so admire writers who master it


Kids of Appetite by David Arnold | I absolutely adored Arnold’s debut novel Mosquitoland. I’d honestly never encountered a character voice as unique as Mim’s. Then I was on a panel with the author and he is just a lovely, hilarious, amazing person, which permanently made me a fan. Kids of Appetite was great, somehow both tremendously ambitious but also simple and straightforward. How Arnold managed the paradox, I’m not quite sure, but he did it well. This is the story of a boy named Vic who falls into step with a group of misfits and together they set out to accomplish Vic’s late father’s final wishes. There is mystery, romance, and GREAT imagery. The novel covers just one week, but it’s not unrealistic to see just how much Vic’s life changes in that short time. Very well done


Tell the Truth Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta | My favorite author, all time, hands down, as regular blog readers know. This is her first book in four years, so I was pretty much salivating for it. Although Marchetta most often writes YA, this novel was an adult crime novel. Let’s be honest: adult crime novels are not really in my wheelhouse. But Marchetta is, so there was no doubt I’d read it. It. Was. Masterful. Of course it was, she is the queen! At its core, this was still a novel about family, her trademark. And it was perfectly executed and I love the characters and it made my head spin and inspired me and intimidated me. And OH how relevant it is for right now. The story is about a British inspector named Bish (Bashir), whose teen daughter was on a bus when it was bombed in France. His daughter is shaken but unhurt, and all fingers immediately point to a girl on the bus whose grandfather was accused of terrorism. Bish gets pulled into that family’s life as he attempts to figure out who was really behind the bombing. The characters, you guys. I’m so in love. I would honestly read this woman’s grocery lists.

2016 Books I’m (More Than) Excited For

I’m sure there will be many, many more as we progress through the year, but from the get-go, these are the ones on my radar:

The Series-Enders:

raven kingThe Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. NEED.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows knocked me off my feet. I can’t wait to find out what happens to this crew of misfits.

Illusion by Martina Boone. Eight Beaufort. That’s all.

Rose and DaggerThe Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. Many of you know that Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn was my favorite read of 2015. I’m more than ready for the sequel.

The Series-Starter:

crown's gameThe Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. This has been pitched as The Night Circus in an alternate Russia. So much yes.

The Standalones:

salt to the seaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. I had the pleasure of hearing Ruta talk about this book when she was in St. Paul this winter. It’s the true story of an accident on the sea that was astronomically worse than Titanic. I can’t wait to see how Sepetys brings it to life.

underwater2Underwater by Marissa Reichardt. I “met” Marissa when she interviewed me about Truest, and now it’s her turn to debut. Listen to this description. Is this not right up my alley? “Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.”

 

What about you guys? What books are you looking forward to in 2015???

Queued Up: Books on My Radar

Here are a few books that I’m planning to read next.

persuasionPersuasion by Martina Boone | This is book two of a trilogy, and it just came out last week! I LOVED the first book, Compulsion. It’s a gothic novel about the South, some old magic, and a sweet southern gentleman nicknamed Eight.

another dayAnother Day by David Levithan | This is a companion novel to Levithan’s Every Day, which I adored. It’s told from the perspective of Rhiannon, the girl A loves.

orbitingOrbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt | This book was already on my radar before I went to Anderson’s YA Lit Conference, but after hearing Gary speak there, I can’t wait to read it! It’s about a (very) young father (thirteen!). Schmidt works at Calvin College, which is another CCCU school, just like Northwestern, where I work.

rest of usThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness | I loved Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, and I love the way he thinks outside the box. This novel is about the non-heroes’ lives. Each chapter begins by briefly describing what crazy stuff is happening to all the heroes and leaders. Picture this book being the equivalent of a story about a first-year Hufflepuff’s life during the time of Harry Potter. Can’t wait. Bonus: check out this EpicReads video explaining the novel!

What’s in your reading queue?

5 Books I Wish I Could Read Again FOR THE FIRST TIME

I love to re-read books, but there is nothing quite like that first time through, when absolutely anything can happen and you can’t put the book down because you have to know what happens next.  I miss that.  There are a handful of books that, when my friends read them for the first time, I find myself jealous of the original, first-time-through reading.

Here are books that I wish I could read again and experience for the very first time:

1. All of Harry Potter, but especially the end of Deathly Hallows.  I finished it on a work trip in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in the early morning hours, while my heart raced and I stopped every few paragraphs to count through horcruxes on my fingertips– “The diary … the locket … the ring … the cup … what am I missing?!”  And that walk into the forbidden forest, not knowing what was going to happen next.  I was weeping like a baby and loving every single moment of it.

2. All of Narnia, but especially Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  When Lucy walked down that empty hallway on the island of the dufflepuds, I was sincerely terrified, having zero idea of what was ahead.  I felt every step with the same trepidation as Lucy … or more (she is braver than I am!).

3. Finnikin of the Rock.  So many wonderful surprises in this clever book; if only I could go back with a tabula rasa and be shocked once more at the discoveries!

4. When You Reach Me.  Unraveling this one as I went was so exciting that I remember shouting aloud when I finally figured things out.  While I will love this book forever, I will never get to have that “aha!” moment again.

5. That Hideous Strength.  To perch on that terrifying edge of the future, not knowing whether good or evil would triumph … not knowing how good could possibly overcome this pervasive, “progressive” evil … propelled through the pages, needing to know …

How about you?  What books would make your list?

books books books

Just finished …

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead | Brilliant!  This is a children’s book, meant for younger ages than the books I usually read, but it was absolutely incredible.  This is the story about Miranda, a young girl in New York City, who starts receiving mysterious notes from an unknown sender, asking her to “write out the whole story, from beginning to end.”  She is, of course, confused, but after a cast of wonderful characters are introduced, everything begins to fall into place.  I actually shouted aloud the moment that everything finally clicked into place for me– I was that excited.  Absolutely loved it.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley | Another Printz winner, so I had high expectations.  The writing was good, and it had two storylines that merge into one (a device I am rather fond of).  It also was very interesting, especially all the writing about the Book of Enoch, but in the end, the book didn’t wholly touch me.  Whaley didn’t make me love the characters quite enough to care enough.  I wanted to love this one; I really did.  One story is about Cullen Witter, his small town that is going crazy over an extinct woodpecker who has supposedly been seen again in their community, and the disappearance of his younger brother Gabriel.  The other story begins with a young missionary on his first mission.  Seems right up my alley, doesn’t it?  I didn’t hate this book, but it just didn’t go far enough to truly capture me.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness | Oh man.  So good.  I wept.  This is a fascinating story about Conor, whose mother is dying of cancer, and about the yew tree in the churchyard out of their window.  In the evenings, the tree walks and talks to Conor, telling him stories and demanding one from him, all as he deals with the emotions of his mother’s slow fade.  So real, so raw, so dark, so clever.  A must-read.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine | I found myself easily sucked into this re-telling of Cinderella, even though I think that Levine needed a couple more drafts of the manuscript (how pretentious am *I*?  wow.).  Still, a sweet story for children.  Ella was blessed/cursed at birth with the need to obey all orders … as she grows up and falls in love, she seeks a way to end the spell that binds her, and this is the story of what happens.  I honestly did find myself rather heartbroken as I read this story … I applaud Levine for that!

Going Bovine by Libba Bray | This book started out INCREDIBLE and hilarious and interesting– Cameron, a teenaged slacker, is diagnosed with the human equivalent of mad cow disease, which essentially eats holes in your brain, making it like a sponge.  The descriptions were fantastic and dead-on and intense.  And then Cameron starts drifting out of reality and in his unconscious state, he goes on this completely bizarre roadtrip with a dwarf and a yard gnome, guided by a punk angel in torn fishnets.  In a lot of ways, I suppose I have to give Libba Bray credit, since it did seem very dream-like.  The problem was that I was just not incredibly interested– and it went on far too long.  Outside of Narnia, I’m not a huge fan of big quests in books.  This just got too wacky and too long for me.  I finished it though because I was so won over in the first part of the book by Bray’s phenomenal writing.

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare | Okay, so this is book #5 of the Mortal Instruments series, and it’s (obviously) safe to say I’m hooked.  I am writing this mini-review at 1:25am, having just finished it.  I don’t know how Cassie Clare keeps doing it, but she just introduces such heartbreaking plot elements in every novel.  I feel like I can’t truly review this book without any spoilers, since there are four other books before it, all filled with twists and turns and secrets revealed.  I will say that I am PUMPED for the sixth and final book of this series … which I just looked up and discovered is not coming out until March 2014.  Two-thousand-freakin’-fourteenYou have got to be kidding me.  Speechless.  (I don’t know how Potter fans did it … I didn’t start the series till Hallows was released.)  Well, I guess it’s time for bed.

Currently reading …
The Narnian by Alan Jacobs, all about the life and creativity of C.S. Lewis, my favorite

En route to my mailbox …
The Casual Vacancy by Jo Rowling
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

So. Freakin’. Pumped.

literature, time, and other thoughts

They were drawing me.  The books.

It was like my car was on autopilot– I thought I was headed to Dunn Bros, but when I drove past it, I wasn’t surprised.  Instead, I just let my car take me to Barnes and Noble.

It’s been a little while since I have been here.  Now that I have a membership and have free shipping, I’ve been buying most of my books online.  Today it wasn’t enough.  I had to be with them, surrounded by them, which is why I am drinking a banana chocolate smoothie, typing on my laptop alone, but feeling like I am in the company of friends– or future friends.

To be honest, I feel a little overwhelmed.  There are so many books I want to read, I don’t know when I’m going to find time to get to them all.  I perused the “Summer Reading” table and found more that intrigued me.  From where I sit, I can see the “New Fiction” shelves, and I wonder if I’ll ever have a book there.

I feel pulled so many ways.  I want to readreadREAD, but I am trying to balance that out with plenty of time for writing, which I love even more.  But my writing is informed and inspired by what I read, so I have to keep fueling that fire.  Those two activities alone could keep me busy until I die, I think, and yet– I have even more important things in my life than these.

People.  God.

I know everyone gets 24 hours a day, but I wish I could have more.  How am I supposed to be a loving, caring daughter and friend while working fulltime and writing a novel and feeding an obsessive reading habit– all while never neglecting my true love Jesus Christ and his church?

Praise God that OCD is no longer demanding so much of my attention.  How did I manage?  It feels like a different lifetime.

And yet, I have friends who do all this and take care of a spouse and children.  It boggles my mind.

I want my life to matter, want to leave a mark.  It seems difficult to do when my interests are so spread– I worry that my efforts in each area will be lacking because I didn’t have enough time invested into each one.

I think that one of the reasons I decided to keep a list of books I have read and reviewed (click THE READER tab above) was to try to organize at least one part of my life.  When I sit here in the bookstore, surrounded by all this brilliance, I know that there will be corners I never explore.  Somehow maybe this will help me keep better control of the labyrinth I’m in.

And what a beautiful labyrinth.

books books books

Just finished …
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson | Just from the description, I figured it would be a tearjerker– readers know upfront that Taylor’s dad is terminally ill, and before he dies, he wants the family to spend one last summer together at their lake home, which Taylor hasn’t been to since she was 12.  When they return, she has to face her former best friend and former boyfriend and deal with her dad’s illness.  Yes, of course I cried.  It was a really interesting premise, but I thought Matson could have done more with Henry, the love interest.  (I hate when I can’t really understand why two characters like one another.  Pet peeve.)  Anyway, I give it a solid B.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers | This is not your typical zombie book– sure there is an outbreak of the undead spreading across the country, but the real story in this book is about the dynamics between the six teenagers who have barricaded themselves inside their high school while the attack rages outside.  I was really, really impressed with this book.  A- and it made me check out all Summers’ other books from the library.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers | This is basically a book about b****y teenaged girls fighting with one another.  I was shocked at the cruelty, and I kept thinking, “Are high school girls really this bad?”  I felt like Summers anticipated that question with her book title, answering me, “Some girls are.”  It was frustrating to me because the main character Regina never seems to quite spit out what she needs to say.  That drives me crazy about book characters, and I realized it is probably because I have never really let that happen to me.  I am so vocal and usually refuse to be walked on.  The book gets a B from me– it was well-written, but it was so unedifying that it kinda just left me feeling low.

The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, even though I just finished reading the whole series.  Just started over, I guess.  I told you I was addicted.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green | Good, but not even close to The Fault in Our Stars.  Still, I adore John Green, and I have this secret desire to one day have published a YA book that has an endorsement blurb on it from him.  DFTBA.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson | Just finished this one ten minutes ago (as I write this review), and I adored it.  Tinker Bell narrates the love story of Tiger Lily and Peter Pan and how everything changed when Wendy Darling came onto the scene.  Masterfully written.  Writer’s envy flaring up!  A wonderful story, but a sad one, which readers are warned about from the very first paragraph: “Let me tell you something straight off.  This is a love story, but not like any you’ve ever heard.  The boy and the girl are far from innocent.  Dear lives are lost.  And good doesn’t win.  In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings.  In Neverland, that is not the case.”

Currently reading…
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by Jo Rowling.  I missed my friends and needed to get back to Hogwarts.  Just wrapping this one up.  I love the story more every time I read it.  Do you remember where you were the first time you read it?  I do.  A hotel in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and every couple of minutes, I would do a frantic inventory in my head: “The diary … the ring … the locket … the cup … what am I missing?!”

About to purchase (once my B&N gift card arrives!) …
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
3 AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

Why I Love YA Lit

Young adult literature is my favorite to read, regardless of how old I am.  While I in no way eschew literature written specifically for adults, YA is at the top of my list for these reasons:

1) So much drama!
I think of myself when I was in high school and college, and it’s true that I was a Drama Queen.  While I am not proud of it, I do think that drama in literature keeps things exciting!  Love triangles, deaths, adventures, secrets, fights … and that’s just at Hogwarts!

2) Incredible characters.
Teenagers are fascinating, opinionated, and passionate.  When we write about them, we end up with characters who are full of energy and who often haven’t found a rhythm or routine to life yet.  Hence, Augustus Waters, Anne Shirley, Stargirl Carraway.

3) So much life ahead of them = so many options!
Not to mention, so many lessons to learn.  I love watching young characters take on the world and grow so much from the beginning to the end of a story.  Anything is possible when you’re seventeen!  Everything is shiny and new and full of wonder, which we see as we watch Liesel Meminger learn to read or Edmund Pevensie discover who he truly is.

4) Accessible.
Don’t get me wrong; I find literary fiction to be gorgeous.  But I side with C.S. Lewis who encouraged writers to always choose the shorter word.  YA lit is like the ESV version of the Bible– dead-on accuracy but also very readable, nothing sacrificed.

And believe me, I don’t think that YA writers need to (or should) sacrifice any of the beauty or imagery or depth.  John Green is a pioneer in this, and I love that he writes for very intelligent teenagers who love to think.  They are out there, he says, and we ought not insult them.  Agreed.

Do you like YA lit?  How come?

books books books

Just finished:
the whole Narnia series (again)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith — it was okay, kinda sweet, didn’t knock my socks off
Mister Death’s Blue-eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn — not the best-written book ever, but especially interesting since it was based off a true event in the author’s childhood

Chloe and the Lion
by Mac Barnett, a children’s book about writing a children’s book, super cute

When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan, a fascinating futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter, set in a society where criminals’ skin is dyed according to their crime.  It was fun to see the parallels with Hawthorne’s story.  I really liked this book except for one scene that was completely out of place and (I believe) cheaply inserted by the author to make her book trendier.

Naked
and Me Talk Pretty One Day, both by David Sedaris — so ridiculously funny!  I am talking literally laugh-outloud funny.  But also sometimes inappropriate.  Proceed with caution. 🙂  But I love David Sedaris, and his audiobooks are even better than the paper versions because you get to hear the stories exactly the way he intends.  I listened in my car and kept wondering what the drivers around me were thinking of the weirdo in the Stratus who was laughing like a madwoman with no one in the passenger seat.

Currently reading:
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis — breathtaking.

The Name of this Book is Secret
by Pseudonymous Bosch — a children’s story, riveting.  The narrator is very, very intrusive, and I kind of adore it.  So good.  Would be a fascinating read for late elementary-aged students, perhaps fifth grade.

Up next:
About fifteen books (mostly novels) about synesthesia, which I will blog about on Friday!

Any suggestions for my next must-read book?