Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lauren, Liesl, Po, and "Pandy": Book review, signing recap, and giveaway!

I'm not a big middle grade reader, but a great book is a great book, and Lauren Oliver's LIESL AND PO is awesome enough to make anyone a middle grade convert. LIESL AND PO is Lauren's first foray into MG novels, after writing BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM for the YA crowd.

LIESL AND PO drew me in, charming me entirely. I felt such an emotional connection to the novel -- about an orphan girl locked in an attic by her villainous stepmother; two curious, friendly ghosts (one human, one animal); the abused apprentice of an greedy, egomaniacal alchemist; and the greatest magic in the world.*

On a completely superficial level, the book is gorgeous. Both the inner and outer covers are beautifully intricate (and perfect for the book!), and the drawings inside capture the atmosphere of the story.

It's a novel about hope, and love, and reclaiming sunshine in a world gone gray. It balances perfectly the whimsical and the sad, acknowledges darkness but emphasizes the persistence of joy despite all circumstances. (All this becomes even more meaningful when you read the author's note, in which Lauren shares that she wrote LIESL AND PO while mourning the death of a friend.)

I fell in love with this book, which reminded me a lot of CORALINE in tone and main character (Liesl and Coraline would totally be friends and go on adventures together), and Will from L&P would definitely be friends with "assistant-apprentice" Will Henry from THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST (though the alchemist in L&P makes the monstrumologist seem downright affectionate!).

On Tuesday, Frankie, Sara, and I headed to Children's Book World in Haverford, PA for Lauren's signing there. We've met her a couple times before, and she's always awesome to talk to and very down-to-earth. Of course, many of the Philly book blogger crew was in attendance! (Love those ladies -- Jamie from Perpetual Page Turner (see her recap here), Jenna and Lillie (the greatest pair of sisters who write and blog), and new blogger-pal Vi!)

Lauren talked about her creation process for LIESL AND PO, and how it was different from BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM because she wrote the first draft in two months, and the story developed organically as she wrote.

She's also working on an adult novel, which I love, because she basically follows (and writes) the stories that call to her, no matter the tone, plot, or genre. Love the diversity! (And after reading all three of her novels, I'll pretty much follow Lauren's writing wherever it goes. This gal is TALENTED.)

Get ready for Pandy.
It will be fierce.
Next up from Lauren is DELIRIUM's sequel, PANDEMONIUM, which comes out in March. She affectionately refers to it as "PANDY" (because who doesn't love a silly nickname for such a dramatic, epic book?) and thinks it would be hilarious if everyone did the same. So here it goes -- March 2012: PANDY is coming. Pass it on.

But until then, we're giving away our two BEA-gotten ARCs of LIESL AND PO, plus an additional SECRET ARC for each winner! And in order to see the gorgeous complete artwork in the book (the ARCs' drawings are only partially finished), be sure to buy your very own copy!

* Whenever I read about anything that's "the greatest in all the world," I always think of Miracle Max:
"Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world-except for a nice MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe ... [smacks his lips] They're so perky, I love that."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

SHINE Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered and showed their support for this book! After going through the many entries, the winner of our copy of SHINE is...

Natalie Aguirre!

If you didn't win, remember we still have our ENTRHRALLED giveaway going on. And please, if you haven't read this book, get yourself to your local bookstore/website/library and grab yourself a copy! You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SCORPIO RACES & Secret ARC Giveaway Winner!!

All of Maggie's books are pretty epic, so it only made sense to have an epic giveaway to celebrate the newest one!

After going through 159 entries, the 5 winners of a signed ARC of THE SCORPIO RACES + another secret ARC are:

Isamlq (Sassyreads)
Joanne Fritz
Jill of the O.W.L.
Kathrine Roid
Mary Preston

Congrats to all of you! If you didn't win, no worries--we still have our ENTHRALLED giveaway to enter, and lots more goodies coming your way this fall!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Winner of DARKFALL giveaway!

A big congrats to Marcie, the winner of our Darkfall ARC giveaway! (Plus, we'll be sending you a secret book, too!)

Thanks to all who entered, and if you weren't lucky enough to win, please be sure to buy a copy of your own... and check out our giveaways of SHINE (by Lauren Myracle) and ENTHRALLED (ed. Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong)!

Branding in the YA Market

The other night I was watching one of my one true loves--America's Next Top Model.  I don't know if Tyra's gotten even more business-savvy because now she's a YA author but the last episode of ANTM I watched actually brought up some interesting points.

The theme of the show was branding.  I was really hoping to find a YouTube clip of the portion of the show, but apparently the only ANTM things on YouTube are a) parodies, and b) fangirls freaking out over the models' antics.

Anywho.  Tyra brought in Martin Lindstrom, described by the show as the "branding king."  He gave each model one word to be their brand.  As in, if their brand is fierce, when we look at their photos, the first thing that should pop into our heads is, "Man, that girl is FIERCE."  Or unique.  Or free.  Or whatever.

This got me thinking about branding in the YA market.  Branding is something that happens constantly in the book world--it's our shorthand for marketing a book we've read to other people.  How many times have you held a book out to a friend (or posted on your blog), and said something like "This book is a dystopia" or "It's like the Hunger Games, mixed with the Princess Bride" or "It's like an urban fantasy with a sci-fi twist?"  (Sidenote: If anyone can actually describe a book as the Hunger Games meets The Princess Bride, please send me that book ASAP.)

But of course, some books exemplify a brand better than others.  Here's my list of what I think is the ultimate in some of the most popular YA brands:


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Why: This is the first book that immediately pops into my mind.  For me, Katniss is the ultimate.  All the elements I like in a dystopia are there: a post-apocolyptic/war-ravaged version of America, the Big Brother evil government, the rumblings of rebellion, and a twisted version of what America is now that shows me how the dystopia happened in the first place. If someone said to me, "Sooo, what's a dystopia, anyway?" the first thing I would tell them to do is read THE HUNGER GAMES.

Honorable Mentions: THE GIVER by Lois Lowry, 1984 by George Orwell, BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

Paranormal Romance
The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Why: While certainly not my favorite paranormal romance by far, I can't argue that these series was the lit fuse to the explosion of paranormal romance over the past 5 years. Who hasn't read Twilight? Or a summary of the books? Or seen the movie? Or listened to their blogger wife rant about it once or twice? I don't know that it would be the book I would recommend if someone was looking to get into the genre, but it's definitely the book I would reference to explain it.

Honorable Mentions: Wolves of Mercy Falls series (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER) by Maggie Stiefvater, HUSH HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick

Sarah Dessen!
Why: Uh, do you even need to ask why? Sarah Dessen is the name on the lips of every teenage girl (or adult) looking for a quality, make-you-laugh-make-you-cry coming of age story that doesn't require anyone to drink blood, shapeshift, save the world, or wield a sword.  I mean, she had a book made into a movie that starred Mandy Moore.  There is nothing more contemporary than a movie with Mandy Moore.

Honorable Mentions: Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jenny Han, Ellen Hopkins

Urban Fantasy
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Why: I'll admit that urban fantasy is not a genre that I read a whole lot of.  I think a lot of people would've put Cassie Clare's MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series in this slot, but I haven't read them, so for it's the VA series by Richelle Mead.  Mead has created a full vampi-rific world, but also integrated it fully into the real world, meaning we got lots of great crossover scenes and conflicts.

Honorable Mentions: NIGHTSHADE by Andrea Cremer

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Why: Because it's Harry Potter. Duh. But for serious, because Harry Potter has so many magical elements, world-building, character-building, plotting and twists and turns that this beats even LORD OF THE RINGS for me.  Because on top of all the awesome fantastic elements that Harry Potter encompasses, it's also fully relatable to all of us poor folk who didn't go to Hogwarts, which I think is an equally key element to a successful fantasy story as some awesome spells and a fire-breathing dragon.

Honorable Mentions: Tamora Pierce (SONG OF THE LIONESS), Kristin Cashore (GRACELING, FIRE), Robin McKinley, Dianna Wynne Jones

So of course I must have missed some great picks. And I'm sure my top picks are different from your top picks, so let me know!  What books do YOU think exemplify these YA genres/brands?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

ENTHRALLED: The spooktastic Halloween review and giveaway!

No title pun intended, but ENTHRALLED: PARANORMAL DIVERSIONS was a welcome diversion from reading novels, especially during the chaotic month of September when I didn't have more than 10 minutes at a time to read.

The anthology includes sixteen short stories and was edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong.

It's well worth the read if you're in the mood for standalone paranormal stories, and as a bonus, in many of them you get to return to the worlds of your favorite YA novels/series (which definitely lets you appreciate the story more, but prior reading isn't necessary).

Here were a few of my favorites, and why I loved them:

Scenic Route by Carrie Ryan
A dark and excellently tense zombie story set in the FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH world, but with new characters and a new setting --- and you didn't have to read the novels to be sucked into the story.

Red Run by Kami Garcia
Creepy, creepy ghost story that had me shivering and wondering who to trust. I soooo pictured this as a horror movie -- totally atmospheric.

Skin Contact by Kimberly Derting
In the world of DESIRES OF THE DEAD, Rafe follows a horrifying vision involving his girlfriend and her unhinged, dangerous father. Heartpounding and heartbreaking.

Leaving by Ally Condie
I love the mix of time travel, grief, and loneliness --- and the connections you make to other people.

At the Late Night, Double Feature, Picture Show by Jessica Verday
Cannibal Girl Scouts, vampires, and the girl who acts as bait for her supernatural hunter family. Love it.

Gargouille by Mary E. Pearson
Gargoyle romance? This haunting story makes you believe it.

Overall, there's a great variety of paranormal elements, and a solid mix of light and dark tones among the stories. This anthology is a lot of fun, and one of the best I've read.

I got my copy at BEA (thanks, HarperCollins!) and had it signed by Melissa Marr --- and now it can be yours! Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win, and if you're not the lucky winner, make sure to buy a copy of your own!

* The giveaway is now over. Thanks for entering! *

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo: The Ultimate Goal-Setting Exercise

Last year, I signed up for Nanowrimo.  I was really excited about it, even if I worried about having enough time to do it.

Last year, I totally failed.

But I did learn some things.  And re-reading those posts today, I learned some other things.

For example, I learned that last November I hoped that by this November I would be finished my current WIP and ready to start something new.

Yeah.  That didn't happen.  I am considerably further than I was--I finally have over 50k words in my current draft, but I'm not close to finishing.

So, what am I doing?  Signing up for NaNoWriMo again this year, of course!  This year, I'm going into it with a slightly different perspective.

Nanowrimo is one of those funny experiences when, at the beginning, you feel like this:

I'm going to climb every mountain! Ford every stream! Follow every rainbow!  Write ALL the words!!
 Even though 50,000 words in a month is a pretty ridiculous goal.  But, sometimes ridiculous goals work out...

This statue of a human is soooooo cute! I bet if I sell my voice to the sea witch, I'll become human and wash up on the EXACT shore he's walking on right then and he'll fall in love with me even though I'm mute and smell like fish!
 But more often than not, they don't.

So rather than using 50,000 words in the month of November as my goal, I'm using it as one of many goals.  My ultimate top-tier goal, if you will.  But I'm also setting some smaller, more manageable goals that I think I'll be able to achieve, and I think Nanowrimo will help me do that.

November Goals (that I would really like to meet and think I can):

1) Write!  Even when things get busy, keep writing.  Don't lose hope!

2) Write at least 3 times a week.  Right now I have a consistent period of time blocked out every Thursday when I write.  But I'd like to add a block on Monday and a third block during the weekend.

And then, of course, there's the November Goal of my Dreams:

3) Write 50,000 words!  Finish my book!  Have it edited by Thanksgiving!  Query by Christmas!  Have an editor by New Year's!  Sign a book deal that makes me a BAJILLION dollars by Valentine's Day and I am suddenly a full time writer!

Yeah.  That's why it's good to start small. :)

Are any of you doing NaNo this year?  Or do you have any new writing goals you're trying to accomplish?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SHINE on, Lauren Myracle! Plus Giveaway!

So if you've been on Twitter or YA book blogs the past few days, you've seen the explosion caused by the National Book Award asking Lauren Myracle to withdraw her nomination, after they accidentally nominated SHINE for the award.

If you need to catch up, here's an article from the School Library Journal to bring you up to speed.

I'd read an ARC of SHINE from NetGalley back in Februray and loved it.  I was so excited to hear that it had been nominated!  And then, of course, the debacle began.  Needless to say, I have some words for the National Book Award people.  And they are not kind.  Or family friendly.  So I'll just say: this really burns my cookies.  But I don't want this to be a negative post, because as hard to read as this book is at times, because it's so intense, this book is a beautiful, positive addition to the YA world, and deserving of all the praise showered upon it.  So in honor of the wonderfully classy Lauren Myracle, and this beautiful book, I'm reposting my original review of it.

Make sure you scroll down past the review, because we're also giving away a copy!  This is a book that should be on every bookshelf!

Shine by Lauren Myracle
Here's the Goodreads Summary: "When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author."

Intense, right?  I have to say, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cover.  It's gorgeous!  The theme is kept going inside the book, with a repeated haunting black and white photograph of a dilapidated house and some tree branches of the first page of each new chapter.  Score one for the design team!

I wondered if this book was going to feel over-the-top on its "hard" issues--I mean, drugs and hate crimes in the same novel?!--and lose the mystery side that it had.  But I was totally wrong, and now know that I should never doubt Lauren Myracle again.  This book pulls you in so strongly--it's almost a physical sensation of sinking into Cat's world of Black Creek.  Even as a lifelong northerner, I could not only see and understand what it felt like to live in a tiny backwoods town in the South, but I could feel it.  Myracle does some of the best world-building I've ever seen in this book--tight and as fully-realized as the most intricate fantasy novel!

Myracle did what is so hard for so many writers to do--she wrote a book about hard issues without trying to directly teach readers a lesson or have the plot feel didactic.  Even our protagonist, Cat, has moments of seeing things both ways, which adds another level and deeper thought to the two main issues happening in Black Creek: the hate crime committed against Cat's friend Patrick, and the drug use that runs through the town.

As for the mystery, I felt kept in the dark in a good way.  I liked the Cat was smart and a little scrappy--she was resourceful and brave, but realistically so.  I liked all the twists and turns Myracle put into her plot.  There were few things that felt coincidental or set-up just to move the plot along.

This book gave me chills.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Happy Book Birthday to THE SCORPIO RACES! Plus Secret ARC Giveaway!

The First Novels Club wants to wish a very happy book birthday to Maggie Stiefvater's THE SCORPIO RACES!

I was super excited to score an advanced copy of this book from BEA.  Out of the 90+ books that we picked up during that week, SCORPIO RACES was one of the first 5 that I read.  I saved it until I went on vacation in June to Martha's Vineyard.  Why save it, you ask?  Because if you've ever been to Martha's Vineyard in June, it's still kind of cold, and a little tempestuous, and there are these awesome clay cliffs.  After reading all of Maggie's cliff-climbing adventures on her blog and how they related to this book, I figured this was the perfect place to start reading.

Here's the Goodreads summary:
"It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. 

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. 

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen."

This book is way different from the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.  And while I loved Sam & Grace, Cole & Isabel (especially Cole!), I loooooooooved Sean and Puck.

Especially Puck.  This girl is tough as nails.  And not in that, tough-but-cute way, but more in that be-careful-it-bites way.  She's tempestuous, and witty, and stubborn, and pretty much everything I love in a main character.  I didn't always like her or agree with her choices, which for me is the sign of a fully fleshed out character.  If I can read and go, "Oh girl, no you didn't!" but still love her in the end, then I know she's a character that's become a true friend.  Also, her name is Puck.  Which is awesome.

Then there's Sean.  Sean made me nervous for awhile.  As fiery and fierce as Puck was, Sean was cold and closed off.  He brooded.  He stared.  He angsted.  I wanted to hug him so badly, but I feared he would just brush me off and give me the kind of death glare I felt sure he had patented.  In short, it took me some time to warm up to him. It's so difficult to write a closed-off character, because what on earth is the reader supposed to relate to if the character isn't willing to let them in?  And yet somehow Maggie managed to do it.  The more Sean pulls away on the page, the more quickly I found myself reading, wanting to know if I ever got to peak through a crack in his tough exterior.  And we did! Finally! And it was marvelous and oh-so-satisfying.

So those are the main characters. Sort of. Because the thing is, the more you read, the more the town and the island become a character too. Thisby lived and breathed. It had a strong Irish flair, but it wasn't Ireland--it was a world that sits somewhere between the real and the magical.  That's my kind of world!

And oh yeah, there's this other thing. Massive killer water horses that people race for fun and profit. No, for serious. And I'll be the first to say that I'm not a horse story person. I love inspirational sports movies, unless they're about horse racing. And I love animals...but I'm severely allergic to horses. (No, for serious!) But I LOVED the water horses. They were creepy and feral and I may have had a nightmare or two about them while on the Vineyard that caused me to demand that my husband share a twin-size bed with me so I wouldn't get eaten by them in my sleep. BUT, in true Maggie Stiefvater fashion, they were also beautiful and bizarre and interesting, and I kind of wished I could pet one (just real quick, before it bit my hand off.) Again, like with Thisby, they were fantastic, and yet somehow so real. When I finished the book, it seemed strange to think that killer horses DIDN'T come out of the autumn waves.

(BTW, there's kissing in this book too. And adventures. And a cat.)

So have I gushed enough about THE SCORPIO RACES? Are you all dying to read it? You should be!

Lucky for you, it's out today, and you can go to your local bookseller and pick up a copy!

Or, you could be even awesomer and be one of FIVE people to win a SIGNED ARC of the book! Right here! Right now!

And, because autumn is the time for ALL the books, we're throwing in a little extra Halloween treat. A second ARC. Of what, you ask?  Ah ha, good question! Here's the answer: it's a secret. But five--count'em, FIVE--lucky winners will get a signed copy of Maggie's wonderful new book, PLUS a secret ARC of our choosing!

What do you have to do to win, you ask?

Why, just fill out this form!

Monday, October 17, 2011

What books do you recommend most often to non-YA readers?

Over the past three years, I've been slowly but surely converting my "adult" friends and family to YA novels, or at least adding them to their reading repertoire. One recommendation at a time, I'm convincing people that young adult literature isn't "just for kids."

Depending on the person's genre preferences, I've found myself going back to the same handful of books that I feel showcase just how awesome YA can be and that also seem most appealing to adults.

(Seriously, I don't think my set of the Hunger Games trilogy has actually been on my bookshelf for more than a month of the past year, I've passed it around so much! I call it "the gateway book.")

Below is some of my go-to list (though it's nowhere near complete), and I love expanding it. What's on yours?

Urban Fantasy
White Cat by Holly Black

Looking for Alaska by John Green
If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Paranormal Romance
Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Free Verse
Karma by Cathy Ostlere

High Fantasy/Adventure
Fire by Kristin Cashore
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Contemporary Romance
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Dark Humor
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Gothic Horror
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eyes in the Mirror Review!

So, ever read and book and get like 20 pages in and then something happens that you not only didn't expect, but it actually makes you put the book down and say, "Wait, WHAT?"

Yeah, that happened to me with EYES IN THE MIRROR by Julia Mayer.

Here's the Goodreads summary:
"Every teen girl fantasizes about having a double and best friend rolled into one-an alter ego with whom she can trade places, allowing her to disappear. Samara is a troubled and lonely adolescent, prone to cutting, who desperately craves both intimacy and escape from her unfulfilled life...until she meets her reflection, Dee, the seeming answer to all her problems."

I thought this book was going to be a psychological journey through Samara's world. And it was, but in a way I totally didn't expect. I thought Dee was going to be a mental manifestation of what Samara wanted her life to be.  But about 20 pages in, the book took a paranormal turn and it turned out that Dee was not only a mental manifestation, but a physical one too, and the mirror that both girls looked into wasn't just a mirror, but more like a magical looking glass from Alice in Wonderland.  The rest of the book follows Dee & Samara in alternating narrative chapters, showing the reader what life is like on both sides of the mirror, and showing Dee and Samara that life is never simple.

What I think I enjoyed most about this book is the unexpected twists and turns that kept coming through the narrative. After finding out about the looking glass twist, I thought the book was going to go in the direction of each girl finding escape in the other's life, and it was going to be a much lighter book than I originally expected. But that wasn't true at all--and I liked that. Mayer didn't shy away from tough issues that are so prevalent in the teen world, because that's what made this book feel authentic.

The other thing that impressed me about this book was to find out that that the author was a teenager when she wrote the first draft of this book!  I always find this impressive for two reasons.  First of all, I remember all of my attempts as a teenage to write a book-length piece of writing.  How I would sit down at the computer and think, "I'm going to write a book about wizards! And princesses! And a magic ring! And it will be 500 pages and AWESOME!" but then I never got past page 30 or so before I got bored and started to do something else.  Or, I finished something, thought it was perfect, and then never looked at it or did anything with it again.  So to see a writer who, as a teenager, successfully completed a novel, then had the ability to revise it and continue to work on her craft, and see it through as far as it could go (in this case, to publication!) is always awesome for me.

I think Eyes in the Mirror is worth checking out if you like books that don't shy away from hard topics, like Laurie Halse Anderson's, or if you like a paranormal edge to your contemporary novels.  It's out from Sourcebooks Fire now! Go check it out!

(Disclosure: Sourcebooks Fire is super nice because they sent me this book for free.  And so I reviewed it for free! No chocolate necessary.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review and DARKFALL Giveaway! Janice Hardy's THE HEALING WARS: The fantasy trilogy you should be reading.

Let's face it -- reviewing the final book in a trilogy has its challenges. I mean, at this point, your audience is one of three people:
PERSON 1: Read the first book, or maybe the first two, and wants to know if the last one is awesome.

PERSON 2: Heard about or seen the books, but hasn't picked one up yet. (Maybe even owns an ARC or finished copy, or passes them in the library, or just thinks the cover's pretty and the title's intriguing.)

PERSON 3: Has zero interest in fantasy or upper-middle-grade fiction and isn't sure why they're reading this post.

So here's my 3-part review of Janice Hardy's DARKFALL
(and The Healing Wars trilogy as a whole):

PERSON 1: Heck yes, DARKFALL is worth your time and money! The characters continue to develop, the plot thickens like no one's business, and the ending lives up to your expectations and then some.

PERSON 2: This trilogy is well worth the read (even if, like me, you're not a big middle-grade or fantasy reader).

What's the trilogy about? (Taken from Janice Hardy's website.)
Nya is a Shifter, someone who can heal by shifting pain from person to person.She’s hunted by those eager to exploit her ability for their own purposes, determined to make her a weapon, a killer, even a symbol for the war that’s brewing.
     All Nya wants is to protect her family and regain her people’s freedom, but the more she’s drawn into the plans of others, the more she realizes how key to everyone’s victory she really is.
     And how much she’ll have to sacrifice just to survive.
     A fantasy adventure for ages 10 and up, The Healing Wars trilogy follows Nya, a war orphan with the unique ability to heal—or destroy—with her touch.
And here's five reasons why you should read it!
  • If you're looking for a strong and smart heroine to root for, Nya's your girl. For years, life has handed her one struggle after another, and she has to make multiple heartbreaking choices throughout the books, but she keeps moving forward.
  • The stakes are huge, and they're both personal and political. Entire cities are on the brink of destruction, and the lives of Nya's sister and friends are at risk -- with Nya (unintentionally) in the center of it all.
  • The world of The Healing Wars is fantastically multilayered and realistic, and the concept of using healing and pain for political power makes this fantasy stand out from the rest.
  • The plot twists and turns throughout the trilogy, with almost constant action, but it never veers into the realm of implausibility.
  • These books are awesome. Seriously. They're that perfect mix of adventure with heart, intelligence, and depth, and I totally love Nya. Basically, you know it's a fantastic trilogy when my biggest complaint is that I wish there were fewer vowels in the character names. Not kidding. Go read them.

Links: My reviews of The Shifter and Blue Fire.

PERSON 3: Keep an open mind (and see above)!

So... have I convinced you yet? DARKFALL is out now, so go get yourself a copy! (And I'm giving away my ARC to one lucky reader below!!)

A huge thank you to HarperCollins/Balzer&Bray for sending me the ARC!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


THE PREDICTEDS, by Christine Seifert, looks like a dystopia.  I mean, check out this cover:

This pixelated girl screams, "I'm being controlled by the government, get me out of here!!"
It sounds like a dystopia.  Look at the Goodreads summary:

"Your future is not your own...
"We wanted to know what makes a good kid good and a bad kid bad. Can you blame us for that? We found an astoundingly, marvelously simple answer: The brain isn't so much a complicated machine as it is a crystal ball. If you look into it, you will see everything you want to know."
-Dr. Mark Miliken, senior researcher at Utopia Laboratories
Who will it be?
Will the head cheerleader get pregnant?
Is the student council president a secret drug addict?
The whole school is freaking out about PROFILE, an experimental program that can predict students' future behavior.
The only question Daphne wants answered is whether Jesse will ask her out...but he's a Predicted, and there's something about his future he's not telling her."

So if it looks like one and sounds like one, is must be one, right?

Not exactly.

THE PREDICTEDS is a little more complicated than that, and that's part of what I enjoyed about this book.

First off, there's Daphne.  She's a strong, independent protagonist.  I felt like she almost had a Nancy Drew quality to her.  She felt sneaky and fierce.  And who doesn't enjoy a little romance?  Jesse had a lot of qualities that I look for in my book romance interests.  He was a little emo--he totally shed a tear or two, if not on page, then definitely off-page.  And I could totally see his going all wandering minstrel to get a girl back, carrying around a guitar and serenading her from the street.  BUT, he didn't.  Which I also appreciated, because as much as I love me some emo boy, it can get old pretty quickly.  Instead, Jesse was equal parts tough and broken, which made for an interesting read.  Also, I really appreciated Seifert's secondary characters.  I felt like many of them had a dimensionality (is that a word?  It is now!) to them that often goes by the wayside, especially in dystopian-esque books where there's so much world-building and plot-moving that needs to take place.

Secondly, there's the setting.  How clever is it that the town is called Quiet, and it's where the kerfuffle goes down?  SUPER clever, is the answer.  Also, it made for some unintentionally funny lines, which I appreciated, such as going to the Quiet movie theatre.  Ha.  Get it?  But seriously, Seifert did an excellent job of sculpting this tiny town into a very real place.  Even though I grew up just outside of a major city, I recognized pieces of my own high school experience--having the local diner be the place to go on Friday night, the allure of the college kid parties--it all felt real to me.  And while setting is always a key element to a quality novel, it felt extra-important to me in THE PREDICTEDS, because I needed to believe that Quiet was a town where this could happen in.  And I definitely did.

Finally, I loved the concept of being predicted!  Seifert starts her book off with a bang--literally.  There's a shooter in Daphne's school (thankfully no one is hurt), which hurtles the reader into a town and a school plagued by fear, doubt, and the need to "fix" the problem.  Enter, of course, the testing procedures that had already been done in order to create a list of the predicted students.  It was so interesting to me reading how the school deals with this list, and the students, and what the fallout of a situation like that looks like.  Working in a school, it made me look around at the middle & upper school kids around me and wonder what would happen if testing like that was done in real life.  Seifert did a really great job of showcasing mob mentality, and how hard it can be to stand up for what you believe in, even if your belief isn't popular.

THE PREDICTEDS is out now, so definitely go check it out!

(Sidebar: I received a review copy of this book from Sourcebooks, who are v. nice to do so.  Sadly, they do not give me money or even chocolate to write this review.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Always a Writer

I am a person who likes to imagine their live in a very compartmentalized way.  Here is a picture of how my brain organizes my life:

Note the black-and-whiteness of it, the clear defined lines that keep one part separate from all others.  

When these things cross over--for instance, at our housewarming party when we invited lots of different people--or if I'm at work and someone stops by to visit me, it makes me nervous.  I wonder if everyone will like each other from the different parts of my life.  I worry because in my head, at any given time most people aren't involved in 3/4ths of things that are going on with me.  I wouldn't expect the FNC to show up at a swim meet, just like I'd be surprised to see the kids from my team at a book signing.

The few weeks ago I had inservice for the beginning of the school year.  One of the meetings I went to was the English Department meeting, which I go to as a lower school representative. We chatted about books at first (I hyped up THE SCORPIO RACES and WONDERSTRUCK as two of my favorite summer reads!) and it turned out that the new middle school English teacher is also a YA writer.  The chair of the department, when she found this out, announced, "We have a writer in our midst.  We'll certainly have to take advantage of that!"

To which two other teachers--one fourth grade, one kindergarten--replied, "We have two writers," and pointed to me.

Enter point where the boundaries in my life get fuzzy.

This announcement caught me off-guard for two reasons:

1) I wasn't paying full attention to the meeting.  (It was the fourth meeting of the day.  I have to admit, I was daydreaming about a potential new story idea.)

2) How did they know I was a writer?!  In my head, my writing is a private thing.  I share it with the FNC--but we've spent years building our friendship and trust in one another.  How did these two teachers, who I've only made small talk with a few times before, know that I was a writer?

It weirded me out.  I wanted to reach into the room and gather up all the words people had said and shove them in my bag.  I hadn't given them permission to announce this private part of my life--this part that, in my mind, was completely closed off from the rest of my life.

I thought about it for awhile for the rest of the day, and on the car ride home.  And at some point, it occurred to me:

Writing is all about grey areas and breaking boundaries.

I know, I know.  Not exactly the revelation of the century, right?  I already knew that was what I was trying to do in my writing.  But I didn't realize until now that it doesn't only happen on the page--writing causes grey areas and smudgy boundaries in your life too.  That just because I'm at work, or hanging out my parents, or at a swim meet, doesn't mean I'm not a writer right then too.

Again, it's not like I'm explaining rocket science to all of you out there.  A lot of you probably figured this out a long time before I did.  It still felt important to me, though.  Along with realizing that I'm always a writer--that it's infiltrating every part of my supposedly-compartmentalized life--I realized that people care about that part of my identity.

Those two teachers didn't have to point out that I was a writer.  They could've stayed silent and let me speak up for myself (and since I thought my writing life didn't connect to my work life, I probably wouldn't have) but they didn't.  They cared enough to at least share that knowledge with someone new.

I think, if having grey areas and smudgy boundaries means that people care about a more whole version of you, that I'm okay with it.  Even if it still weirds me out a little.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Winners of the 2012 CWIM!

We have two winners of the 2012 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market giveaway!

Congratulations to Annie and Laurie, and thanks to everyone for entering!

If you weren't one of our lucky winners, you should definitely invest the $18.45 and purchase a copy of your very own --- CLICK HERE to find out why!
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