Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book recommendation! SALVAGE by Alexandra Duncan

Sara did a super fun SALVAGE review in gif form a few months ago that convinced me to read it ... but once I had, I wanted to add my own recommendation! (Plus, Alexandra Duncan is a debut author, and we love promoting first novels!)

To address the three superficial things that might make people hesitate to pick this one up:

1. The cover: Personally, my thoughts were — pretty colors, but OMG PASSIVELY POSED GIRL IN A DRESS. If you like the cover, read the book. If you don't like the cover ... read the book.

2. The commitment: This is a BIG book. But it's a stand-alone, so huge thumbs up from me. And the scope is epic, so I think the length is warranted.

3. The lingo: Especially in the first pages, it's a little tough to get used to the jargon in the dialogue that's specific to Ava's world. It'll start making sense soon; just keep going!

And now for the rest:

I love novels in which the main character goes through a major transition. In the beginning of SALVAGE, Ava has never left the confines of the merchant ship Parastrata and its male-dominated polygamist society. She's a haughty girl with a position of respect, and she doesn't know that she should want more from life than physical labor and becoming one of a man's many wives whose main function is to make babies. But her desire for knowledge to learn "fixes" (mechanical skills to fix machinery) hints at the person she could be.

Then Ava makes an impulsive, naive decision ... which is also an epic mistake in her unforgiving society, and to escape death, she flees to Earth — a post-climate-change planet of storms and garbage. She barely survives adjusting to the forces of gravity, and then she must survive the unknown.

Here, her world is expanded. First in Gyre (as the book description says, it's a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean), and later in Mumbai, Ava is confronted with a world that doesn't limit her potential, so she has to renegotiate who she is and who she imagines herself becoming. It's the ultimate culture shock, as she discovers how ignorant she was kept on Parastrata.

The supporting characters are so richly imagined, complex, and diverse — but I'm afraid I'll spoil some things if I describe them. But they were all imperfect and multi-dimensional, and I loved how their relationships with Ava develop.

One example is Miyole, a young girl Ava meets. In many ways, Ava is a mother or older sister figure for Miyole, literally ensuring her survival, but Miyole is self-educated and extremely intelligent, so she's teaching Ava reading and math. And Ava has these moments where she's incredibly proud of Miyole, but she can't help but be jealous of how much Miyole knows and how easily learning comes to her. Such a beautiful, complicated relationship!

The romance question — yes, a romance does develop, but no, there's no love triangle, because interest in two people does NOT a love triangle make! Interest in two people is totally normal, and in SALVAGE it works wonderfully, because one represents the best of the world she left, and one represents the new world she's come to know ... and neither overwhelm the story.

Going into the book, I had no idea if it was the beginning of a series, and as I approached the ending, I almost starting cringing inside, because I saw two paths emerge — one that would lead to a cliffhanger and sequel, and one that would lead to the end of Ava's story. I was so, so happy that Duncan chose to keep this a stand-alone, but I'd be very happy to read companion novels with different characters in the same world, because there's so much potential for this world!

And I'm going to throw a FIREFLY comparison in here, since I haven't seen one yet — between the unusual jargon, diverse societies both on planet and in space (with a dystopian blend of the past and future), and merchant spaceships, I definitely felt a hint or two of the FIREFLY world.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My unexpected love for THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski


Annnnnnd that's my acknowledgment that, when I first saw this book at ALA in January, I didn't even flip it over to read the back because I'm just so. damn. tired. of the passive fancy dress covers, no matter how pretty the title font. (Do I know better? Of course. But when surrounded by literally hundreds of books ... covers are a make-or-break factor.)

Yes, the cover is technically somewhat representative of the book because she DOES wear dresses and there is the tiny bit of intrigue with her holding a dagger (also accurate, THOUGH YOU BARELY NOTICE THE DAGGER) ... but whyyyyyy?


Despite the cover, four people convinced me to read this book:
- Heather, at Children's Book World, who can always be counted on for great recommendations
- Wendy Darling at The Midnight Garden, one of the toughest reviewers I follow, who gave it 4.5/5 stars
- Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, who has nearly identical tastes as mine with this genre of YA
- Kristin Cashore, whose blurb alone will convince me to try out a book 95% of the time

And now I'm going to convince you to read it, too, because IT IS EXCELLENT.

The official summary:
As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

First off, if you love Kristin Cashore's books and/or Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars novels, stop reading right now and go buy THE WINNER'S CURSE. You will love it, without question.

THE WINNER'S CURSE has a semi-fantasy, semi-historical feel, and as a reader, I was slowly enveloped in Kestrel's world. So much of this book centers on power struggles — who has it, who doesn't, emotional vs physical power, etc. — and it sets up so many interesting situations.

For example, Kestrel's people have enslaved Arin's people, and though she has bought and literally owns him, she doesn't have emotional power over him. At the same time, her father has almost complete power over her, but she makes small choices every day to subvert that power. Kestrel's admitted to not being a fighter, but her power and value come through an excellent ability to strategize ... but she chooses not to use that ability, thus further defying her father's wishes.

These dynamics come to a head when Arin's people stage a rebellion, and Kestrel's developing relationship with Arin makes her feel sympathy for the enemy. She must finally come to terms with her discomfort with her empire's enslavement of conquered nations. For much of the book she's unsure of who she is, where she stands, and what she wants, but the uprising forces her to choose a side, with dramatic consequences.

Overall, I loved the worldbuilding, which had so many small details that stood out so realistically. I enjoyed the way Kestrel developed as a character, and though I sometimes wanted her to be more decisive, I understood how conflicted she felt. I was very happy with how the book ended, and it left me looking forward to the sequel. Definitely recommend!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BEA 2014 Recap — in tweets (and retweets)!

WEDNESDAY: Arrival in NYC and Book Blogger Con

After a 4am wakeup, I met Sara at the train station!

(Maureen was hilarious.)

And my theme for BEA emerged: Restraint! I ended up with a goal of no more than 20 books total ... which I repeated ad nauseam during the rest of BEA, to hold myself to it.

(Never was a truer tweet posted.)

This was the most worthwhile panel of Book Blogger Con, and it was great to hear from Smart Bitches, one of my favorite blogs!

Afterward, we checked into our apartment (2 blocks from Javits FOR THE WIN), ate dinner, and headed to the Houndstooth Pub for some drinks with other kidlit folks!

As a rule, I don't get in the forever long celebrity author signing lines ... but I made an exception for NPH. And his book (Choose Your Own Autobiography) looks hilarious!

Afterward, Sara and I headed to Housing Works Books (pretty much the coolest bookstore/cafe ever) for a Rainbow Rowell reading.

(AKA the day of BookCon ... dun dun dunnnnnnn)

So happy to support a lovely Philly writer friend (and BEA roomie!) I.W. Gregorio as she moderated this excellent panel!

BookCon was INSANE. Total chaos, and most BEA-goers wanted no part of it.

I tried three times to go into the BookCon area to meet authors doing signings, and each time I gave up and battled my way out of the madness. It reminded me of Black Friday sales, or what I imagine Black Friday sales to be, if I ever attempted one.

I also attended a BookCon panel with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater.

To sum up Saturday.
I ended my four days in NYC with 19 books and a seat on an Amtrak Quiet Car train. Heaven!
Final thoughts:
THE BOOKS AND AUTHORS - I was so happy to focus my BEA time on only getting books I really wanted, with a mix of debut and longtime favorite authors. I loved being able to enthuse to authors how excited I was to read their books ... and my shoulders hurt a lot less. Also, no need to check a rolling suitcase! Woo!

THE PEOPLE - It sounds crazy, but I love waiting in lines at BEA because of all the amazing book lovers you meet and bond with as you sit or stand with each other for up to an hour (and sometimes more, but I kept away from those lines!). Hello, new friends! I also got a chance to speak with super-friendly reps from HarperCollins and Quirk, which is wonderful, because who better to introduce you to great books than the people who help bring them into the world?

BLOGGER CON - As a first-timer but long-time blogger, I honestly didn't learn all that much, but Book Blogger Con did exactly what I wanted it to do — it renewed my enthusiasm for blogging, which honestly has been waning a bit. It inspired a couple new ideas that you'll all be seeing soon enough!

BOOKCON - Though you couldn't pay me to enter the exhibit area, I did enjoy the two smaller panels I was able to attend. But hopefully next year will run more smoothly, because I'm sure I'm not the only BEA-goer who was running scared.

OVERALL - This was my first full, four-day BEA experience, and as a third-year BEA veteran, I definitely subscribed to the less-is-more mantra. It really helped to keep me refreshed and happy and able to enjoy all that BEA has to offer! But next year, I want a lanyard for my nametag, dammit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Debut recommendation and giveaway! SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy

Consider this my enthusiastic recommendation for Julie Murphy's SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY.

It's a dual POV, back-and-forth-in-time narration of two friends, Alice and Harvey.

The official summary does a great job of setting up the novel:
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

I really enjoyed this book because Alice is flawed before, during, and after cancer. She has a callous, selfish streak in her, and she lets it run free a bit when she's diagnosed. And as much as you want to smack Harvey upside the head for loving her, you kind of love her, too, and he's very much aware of how she uses him. (And she is, too.)

Caveat: Some people won't be able to tolerate Alice. Personally, I love complex, dysfunctional characters that make me hate them a little (but who are still sympathetic), so I had no problem with this book. I know it won't be for everyone, but definitely give it a try!

This book showcases a messy relationship between two complicated people, and it stands out because the cancer is kind of ... there. It's not a "cancer book" at all. And I love that it shows that cancer doesn't always bring out the best in people. There's such authenticity in Murphy's characterization of both Alice and Harvey. But Alice is just redeemable enough that I didn't want to throw the book against the wall, and I was rooting for her and Harvey's happy ending, whether or not they ended up together.

In addition to the incredible characterization, I have to give Murphy credit for so deftly handling the narrative style ... two narrators bouncing between the past and present is no easy feat, and she did it with the skill of a veteran. (And I actually wasn't sure how she was going to end it, which is a miracle in and of itself.)

So yes, my recommendation is quite enthusiastic!

Bonus: The cover! The cover! The cover! Simple and perfect and oh-so-accurate! Thank you, cover gods!

See what other people are saying about SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY:

SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is available now from Balzer and Bray, and you can win my ARC here, plus a BONUS ARC of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith (for those who prefer realistic characters in absurd situations!)

(U.S. mailing addresses only, please!)

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ask Away! I'm a new writer re-learning the rules of grammar & punctuation — help!

We've been seeing more and more questions from aspiring authors in our inbox, so we're turning them into a new, semi-regular feature — Ask Away!

Do you have a burning question about the writing, revising, or querying process? Do you have a dilemma and want some advice or a second opinion from fellow writers?

Email us at firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com, tweet us @firstnovelsclub, or leave a comment on this post — we might answer your question next!

Round Two!


I have a grammar question for you that I cannot seem to find the answer to. I am currently writing a children's chapter book for my daughter. [...] In one of my stories [...] I, as the author/narrator, toss out little funny and informative comments in the story. My problem is the placement of punctuation, specifically commas, when I am using parentheses to show a narrators smart aleck comments. I am just not sure where to put them. Can you help me on this?

- Brian


Hi Brian!

Grammar rules can trip up even the most seasoned of writers. In your situation, there's no need for commas before or after the parenthetical asides. Just do the normal punctuation of the sentences within the parenthesis, and you're good to go!

In general, my go-to place for easy-to-understand grammar/punctuation advice is Grammar Girl —

Best of luck!


Ok, readers! What grammar or punctuation issue trips you up every time? My personal Achilles heel is lay vs. lie — I ALWAYS have to look it up! (The answer is here!

Ask Away - Round One! Should you query an agent's assistant?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ask Away! Should you query an agent's assistant?

We've been seeing more and more questions from aspiring authors in our inbox, so we're turning them into a new, semi-regular feature — Ask Away!

Do you have a burning question about the writing, revising, or querying process? Do you have a dilemma and want some advice or a second opinion from fellow writers?

Email us at firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com, tweet us @firstnovelsclub, or leave a comment on this post — we might answer your question next!

Round One!


I receive a very nice rejection (I know!) from an agent's assistant a few day's ago about my 1980s throw back YA thriller. Though the agent was a "pass," her assistant who READ THE ENTIRE THING gave me some pointers and told me she really liked it! So, wow. We chatted back and forth and now I'm wondering — can I hit her (assistant) up re: a different manuscript? What's the best way to do that, without seeming sleazy? I know there's a really thin line between take that opportunity and you're such a parasite. Advice? I have seven, yes, seven, unpublished books I'm semi full-time trying to flog. Ah me.

- Laura


Hi Laura,

Congrats on getting such a thorough, helpful rejection (seriously, everyone who's ever gotten a form rejection knows that specific pointers are worth their weight in gold!). Obviously you're on your way to getting an agent!

If the assistant isn't acquiring manuscripts yet, I would say not to try to submit anything else to her right now. But keep an eye on her on social media, and she'll likely soon be promoted at her current agency or switch agencies and start acquiring her own books. At that point, feel free to query her. She'll likely be posting the genre(s) she'd like to represent, so you'll be able to target her interests more specifically with a different book.

In the query, you may want to reference how much you appreciated her compliments and suggestions for your previous book, and that you have another book that you'd like her to consider representing ... or don't, if you don't want to remind her that she rejected your book on her boss's behalf before. That's up to you, since you know exactly what your emails back and forth have entailed.

Here's the hard(ish) truth: If this assistant loved your book enough to represent it, or loved your writing enough to ask if you had anything else you could show her (and the agent), she would've made a move. A lot of agent assistants start taking on books because there's that ONE book that they felt so passionate about that they just couldn't handle their boss passing on it without offering to represent it themselves.

As someone who's been in the querying trenches and dealt with the up and down rollercoaster of getting the absolute nicest, most helpful rejections, it's incredibly important to remember that, no matter how pretty the wording, a rejection is a rejection.

(However, that's not to say that you shouldn't send her a brief reply email thanking her for the time she took to read your manuscript, and for the helpful suggestions! Being polite and appreciative is never a bad thing.)

I can tell that you have a good handle on the delicate nature of professionalism in querying, and that's 90% of the battle.
Keep it up, and best of luck in the trenches!

- Donna


... And to get a second opinion, I asked fellow FNC-er Sara her take, and here's what she had to add:

I agree with Donna that I don't think it's a good idea to just go ahead and query the assistant now. Truthfully, it's equally possible the assistant was just being nice or that she'd actually be potentially interested in working with you. But if you feel like the assistant was more open to your work, you could email her and ask if she will be taking on her own projects in the future, and if so, would she be open to you querying her another book at that time.

- Sara

Ok, readers — what advice do you have for Laura? Do you agree or disagree with my suggestion? If you've been in a similar situation, what did you do? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Katy Perry & Bella Swan: The Sequel!

Back in May of 2011, I pondered if Katy Perry and Bella Swan were secretly critique partners, because Katy Perry's song "E.T." seriously sounded like it was pulled straight out of Twilight.

Well, it looks like Katy Perry's at it again. This time her song is called "Dark Horse," and when I hear it, the only thing I imagine is this face:

Except, maybe more like this:

Or this...

That's right. I'm pretty sure "Dark Horse" is the sequel of their critique partnership, except this time she's not writing the story about Edward...she's writing it about Jacob.

This is how I imagine this going down. Like last time, I'm highlighting the lyrics of the song in red, so you can see what part is me and what part is the original song. Enjoy! 

(And if you haven't heard this song yet, scroll down to the bottom of the post to see the video. Please ignore the ridiculous misappropriation of Egyptian mythology & culture.)


Jacob walked up to Bella, smirk playing on his dusky lips. "I knew you were," he said. "You were gonna come to me. And here you are." He tossed his wet hair from his face. "But you better choose carefully, cause I'm capable of anything."

"Of anything," Bella breathed. "And everything."

She let Jacob pull her close. Rivulets of rain ran from his slick hair down neck, soaking his shirt and revealing his muscled, broad chest. "Make me your Aphrodite," she teased, but another part of wondered--what if?

"Make me your one and only," Jacob replied, pushing her away. "But don't make me your enemy, Bella." He pointed to the right, the path to Edward's house. "So you wanna play with magic? You should know what you're falling for."

Bella looked away. A part of her knew Jacob was right. Edward was dangerous. All the Cullens were. "But do you dare to do this?" She asked. Was he really going to fight Edward for her?

"I'm coming at you like a dark horse," Jacob stared at her, and she shivered. Or a wolf, she thought.

Thunder rumbled in the clouds above the reservation. The rain would come soon again. Jacob reached for her, pulling Bella against his chest once more. "Are you ready for a perfect storm?"

"A perfect storm," she repeated, whispering.

He leaned in, pressing his face against hers. "Cause once you're mine, there's no going back." His breath brushed hot against her cheek. "Mark my words, Bella. This love will make you levitate. Like a bird without a cage. You don't need Edward's magic when I have my own."

Bella blinked. "I don't know, Jacob. I'm down to earth. What if I choose to walk away?" But could she? Could she walk away from her best friend? Especially when he could give her everything Edward could--and he wasn't afraid to touch her like he was.

He arms tightened around her. "Don't walk away." His lips trailed across her neck and she gasped. "It's in the palm of your hand now, baby," he whispered against her skin. "It's a yes or a no."


"No maybe."

She could feel herself melting against him. Her resolve, her thoughts of Edward, everything was being washed away by the rain that had begun to fall. All she was left with was Jacob. His love. His arms wrapped around her. His lips, so impossibly close to hers. "I just need to be sure, Jake, before I give it up to you..."

He touched a finger to her lips. "Give it up to me." And then his mouth was on hers.

Annnnd, end scene! I hope you enjoyed Katy Perry & Bella Swan's second critique session as much as I did. Let's hope they go for a trilogy!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Salvage: Review (in gif form!) and Giveaway!

Do you like space? Do you like strong female main characters? Do you like islands made of trash? If you said yes to any of these, then you should definitely check out SALVAGE, by Alexandra Duncan. It's out from Harper in April and thanks to Children's Book World (my most favorite-est of book stores) I was able to grab an ARC of this book.

I have to admit, when I saw the cover I was like:

Because I'm kind of way over the whole girl-in-a-dress thing.

But then I read the back of the book: "Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood."

and I was like:

So I started reading.

And the world building took a little getting used to, but it was pretty solid. So I felt like:

But I was pretty sure I knew where the story was going. But THEN Duncan through us a curve ball! 

And I was all like:

And I just had to keep reading! If anyone tried to interrupt me I gave them this look:

I totally fell in love with the world of SALVAGE. Between the merchant tribes in space, the Gyre, and Mumbai...I just looked around Duncan's world like this:

At the end, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was like this:

But on the other hand, I was like this:

Because it was over! And I wanted more! More Ava! More love interests! (Yes, there are a few!) More merchant tribes in space!

Really, I just want to be part of their world.

Alas, my reading of SALVAGE is over, and I will have to content myself with Internet stalking Alexandra Duncan (who, by everything I can tell from her blog, is adorable) and re-reading SALVAGE. But one of you lucky people can win a copy of SALVAGE, and experience it's awesomeness before it releases on 4/1, just like I got to!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Writing Pitfalls: Don't Put a Bow on It!

Writing is so hard for so many reasons. Plots, subplots, character arcs, world do you keep it all straight, right? Not to mention, you’re not only trying to keep it straight in your mind, but the reader’s mind too. Unless you’re an X-men, you can’t jump into the head of your readers to make sure they’re understanding everything just the way you want them to. Which means, when you’re writing, you might be tempted to throw a line in here or there to give your reader a shake that says, “You get it, right? Tell me you’re with me!”

I call that kind of thing “putting a bow on it.”
This is awesome for your birthday, not your book.

Now, if you’re giving someone a birthday present, putting a bow on it is a great extra touch. It makes everything look pretty, and polished, and put together.

And writing is a story is also like giving someone a gift, but it’s a different kind of gift. A story is a working gift--if everything in your book has a bow on it, then there’s no fun left for the reader. Nothing for them to figure out. It’s like giving someone a jigsaw puzzle already put together. No fun, right?

Here’s an example of putting a bow on it:

Muscles he didn’t even know he had ached. Could you even pull the muscles in your fingers? Was that a real thing? If so, he’d done it. His arms and legs felt like rubber. Really heavy rubber. There was a burning pit in the middle of his body where his abs had been, two hours ago at the beginning of swimming.

Practice had been really hard.

Did I really need that last sentence? Nope. You knew when I talked about the muscles and the rubbery feeling and the burning that swimming practice had beat this character up. You didn’t need me to put a bow on it and tell you that practice had been hard.

Here’s another example:

Her cheeks burned as blood rushed to them. The blush spread from her cheeks down her neck, until she could feel her shoulder blades and her belly and her kneecaps burning too. The laughter of her classmates echoed in her ears, pushing all other thoughts from her mind.

She was so embarrassed.

You might not know what happened, or why, but from reading that short paragraph you definitely know that this girl was super embarrassed. You didn’t need me to put a bow on it for you.

These kinds of summarizing sentences are something I see in published works too, and I think if you set it up just the right way, with the right circumstances, it can help deliver a final blow and be a very powerful thing. But nine times out of ten, I think less is more when it comes to writing. Less words means more work for you reader--but if you do it right, more fun too.

Are you plagued by trying to put a bow on it? Or do you have another writing pitfall you get caught up in?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Debut recommendation & giveaway! LANDRY PARK by Bethany Hagen

Bethany Hagen's debut, LANDRY PARK, is a dystopian pitched as "Downton Abbey meets The Selection," but I would edit that to say that  "Downton Abbey meets FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS" is way more accurate.

The two books share the same quality of being set in a dystopian future but having the feel of a historical — FDSTS is a retelling of Austen's PERSUASION, and Bethany Hagen is a huge Austen/Bronte fan.

So what's LANDRY PARK about?

In future U.S., after a bunch of wars, society is split into the haves (the Gentry) and the have-nots (the Rootless).

The Gentry force the Rootless to handle nuclear charges that supply all the energy to homes and cities. (AKA, long work days, no benefits ... plus the added perks of poverty, cancer, and an early grave — and they'd better act grateful to the Gentry for their lot in life.)

LANDRY PARK's main character is the future Queen of the Haves — Madeline Landry, the descendant of the guy who invented the portable nuclear power and saved what was left of the U.S.

It's Austen-esque in the class awareness, and how the Gentry's job is basically to throw parties at luxurious estates, get married to another member of the Gentry, and further the line of rich people. But Madeline wants to get a college education first, which is a big no-no, considering her priority should be marriage and babies.

The conflict centers on the rumblings of war and rebellion, and how Madeline is slowly discovering that her family isn't as noble as history says, and that maybe she should feel bad about the way the Rootless are treated (literally, they're not classified as human beings).

You'd think Madeline wouldn't be a sympathetic character, but Hagen does an excellent job showing that, despite how Madeline is initially a spoiled, sheltered, entitled product of her environment, she also has the potential for growth and a desire to learn about the world outside the confines of Landry Park.

I really liked that, throughout the novel, Hagen allowed a push-pull of conflicting desires in Madeline — following the family tradition offers her an easy life of luxury that's all she's ever known, and Madeline is not so noble and selfless that she's 100% willing to give all that up without a second thought. To me, that added a layer of authenticity (as much as I wanted to scream, "Open your eyes!"), and it makes her character transformation all the more satisfying.

And, as with any Austen novel, there's romance! David Dana is the Gentry's Golden Boy, but as Madeline gets to know him, she begins to suspect that there's more to him than meets the eye. She soon is pulled deeper and deeper into the plight of the Rootless and the true Landry legacy.

Overall, LANDRY PARK is a well-written debut that kept my interest, and it had a satisfying ending that clearly leads to a sequel. (Why, of COURSE it's a trilogy! But this is one I'm looking forward to!)

Sound good? Go read it!

LANDRY PARK is available now, and we have one ARC to give away!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So Fetch! New Trends in YA Part Four: The Middle East

Today we conclude our series of what's so fetch and what's no longer going to happen in YA!

To recap, what's hot:
1) Killer Girls
2) Psychological Thrillers
3) Getting Incepted

And what's not:
1) Dystopia
2) Paranormal Romance
3) Love Triangles

To finish off our list, today Gretchen Weiner says...

to...The Middle East!

I'm really pleased about the introduction of this trend. This one looks like it's still growing--which is understandable, because it's definitely not easy to write about a different culture in a way that is both interesting and respectful. But I'm super glad that there are authors out there willing and ready to try, because diversity is always a) a hot button topic in YA lit and b) something that is often sorely lacking in YA and MG. (Blogger Steph Su, among others, does a great job of pointing out how sometimes diverse YA books end up getting white-washed.)

So if you're looking for something diverse, check out these books:

THE SECRET SKY by Atia Abawi
From Goodreads: "A novel of love during a time of war by NBC's Afghanistan correspondant. Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places."

From Goodreads: "When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?"


From Goodreads: "As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.  But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants."

**So clearly THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY is not about the Middle East, but I'm putting it on here as a honorable mention because I think it falls into a similar category of books that are being written about very right-now issues and things that many teenagers are either a) dealing with, b) aware of, or c) are in the process of becoming aware of.  Also, this book looks fabulous, and I want to get the word out about it!**

And Regina George says:



I don't know. Honestly, I couldn't think of any other major trends that seem completely out right now, or that I'm tired of seeing. So I'm posing the question to all of you: What is so not fetch anymore? What are you excited to see go? And what are you most excited about to see more of?

Monday, February 10, 2014

So Fetch! New Trends Part Three: Getting Incepted!

Welcome back, and get ready for part three of what's new and hot in YA!

We've already told you about killer girls.

And then we told you about psychological thrillers.

Today, prepare for the weird. Because today Gretchen Weiner says:

to...Living Double Lives/Getting Incepted!

There are several books we saw at ALA--and probably some we missed--that turn the whole idea of sleep, dream, and life in general upside down. If you read David Levithan's EVERYDAY and you liked it, then these books are probably for you.

Here are some upcoming titles that are going to make your brain do this:

OTHERBOUND by Corinne Duyvis

From Goodreads: "Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every single time he blinks, he’s transported into the mind of Amara, a girl in another world. As a mute servant who’s tasked with protecting a renegade princess, Amara lives a life of magic and danger and pain; she’s completely unaware that Nolan can see through her eyes. Until he becomes more than an observer. Until he learns to control her—and the two of them communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then furious. She’s already spent a lifetime as property and punching bag. The last thing she needs is another force controlling her. All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive . . . and discover the truth about their connection."

WHITE SPACE by Ilsa J. Bick
From Goodreads: "Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it's as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she's real. Then she writes "White Space," a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard. Unfortunately, "White Space" turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she's never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she's dropped into the very story she thought she'd written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they--and Emma--may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose. Now what they must uncover is why they've been brought to this place--a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written--before someone pens their end."

ONE PAST MIDNIGHT by Jessica Shirvington
From Goodreads: "For as long as she can remember, Sabine has lived two lives. Every 24 hours she Shifts to her ′other′ life - a life where she is exactly the same, but absolutely everything else is different: different family, different friends, different social expectations. In one life she has a sister, in the other she does not. In one life she′s a straight-A student with the perfect boyfriend, in the other she′s considered a reckless delinquent. Nothing about her situation has ever changed, until the day when she discovers a glitch: the arm she breaks in one life is perfectly fine in the other. With this new knowledge, Sabine begins a series of increasingly risky experiments which bring her dangerously close to the life she′s always wanted... But just what - and who - is she really risking?"

Honorable Mention: 
**MY REAL CHILDREN is actually an adult novel, but it looked so good that I picked it up at ALA. Bonus points, it fits into this new trend so perhaps will have some crossover for those of us that like books with a more literary feel!**

Synopsis from Goodreads: "It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?"

And with every new, there must be an old, and so today Regina George is saying:

to...Love Triangles!

Just like real life, every once in awhile a love triangle pops up in the YA world. Except in the past couple of years, when EVERYONE and their mother was in a love triangle. I'm happy this trend is over because if you think about it, a love triangle is extremely difficult to write. It's hard enough to come up with a compelling main character. It's doubly hard to come up with a compelling and fully fleshed out love interest. And then you go and try to add another equal-but-different fully fleshed out love interest? I can only think of a few books that really did this successfully (::cough::VampireAcademy::cough::). For this reason, I'm glad to see this trend go. Why make writing even harder than it already is? I'm looking forward to some quality, one to one ratio love stories in the future.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of our new trends series!

Friday, February 7, 2014

So Fetch! New Trends Part Two: Psychological Thrillers

Yesterday the FNC told you all about the killer girls trend and how it's going to be one of the hot new things in YA books this spring and summer. Today we have part two of the new trends in YA!

Today, Gretchen Weiner says

to...Psychological Thrillers!

This may be the biggest upcoming trend we saw at ALA. Looking through my books to see which titles to mention, there were TONS. This seems to go hand in hand with the killer girls trend, and the nightmares these books are going to give me are definitely worth it! For me, there's nothing like curling up with a scary story on a cold night. It certainly helps that my DVR is filled with episodes of Elementary, and Bones, and NCIS, and can guess what kind of story I like.

I am super excited to get wrapped up in the mysteries in these books!

COLD CALLS by Charles Benoit

From Goodreads: "Three high school students-Eric, Shelly, and Fatima-have one thing in common: "I know your secret." Each one is blackmailed into bullying specifically targeted schoolmates by a mysterious caller who whispers from their cell phones and holds carefully guarded secrets over their heads. But how could anyone have obtained that photo, read those hidden pages, uncovered this buried past? Thrown together, the three teens join forces to find the stranger who threatens them-before time runs out and their shattering secrets are revealed."

THE KILLING WOODS by Lucy Christopher

From Goodreads: "Emily’s dad is accused of murdering a teenage girl. Emily is sure he is innocent, but what happened that night in the woods behind their house where she used to play as a child? Determined to find out, she seeks out Damon Hillary the enigmatic boyfriend of the murdered girl. He also knows these woods. Maybe they could help each other. But he’s got secrets of his own about games that are played in the dark."

This was the first book I picked to read out of my ALA pile. I almost missed my train stop THREE times because Christopher's writing pulls you instantly into the world of Darkwood. I sat in my car for 40 minutes after getting the train just because I couldn't put this book down before it was over! This is definitely a move-to-the-top-of-your-TBR-pile book!


From Goodreads: "Small towns are nothing if not friendly. Friendship, Wisconsin (population: 689 688) is no different. Around here, everyone wears a smile. And no one ever locks their doors. Until, that is, high school sweetheart Ruth Fried is found murdered. Strung up like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield. Unfortunately, Friendship’s police are more adept at looking for lost pets than catching killers. So Ruth’s best friend, Kippy Bushman, armed with only her tenacious Midwestern spirit and Ruth’s secret diary (which Ruth’s mother had asked her to read in order to redact any, you know, sex parts), sets out to find the murderer. But in a quiet town like Friendship—where no one is a suspect—anyone could be the killer."

This is my second read from ALA. I'm about halfway through. For me, NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU hits the perfect combination of funny and creepy. I'm totally in love with Kippy Bushman. For me this has a Bones-esque feel to it--a solid dose of humor, but a serious murder mystery as well. Kind of like Bridget Jones joins CSI. And this book actually came out in January, so you can read it now!

LIV, FOREVER by Amy Talkington

From Goodreads: "When Liv Bloom lands an art scholarship at Wickham Hall, it’s her ticket out of the foster system. Liv isn’t sure what to make of the school’s weird traditions and rituals, but she couldn’t be happier—especially when Malcolm Astor, fellow artist and scion of one of the school’s original families, starts falling for her. Fellow scholarship kid Gabe Nichols warns her not to get involved with a “Wicky,” but things are finally going Liv’s way, and all she wants to do is enjoy it. But Liv’s bliss is cut short when she is viciously murdered. In death, she discovers that she’s the latest victim of a dark conspiracy that spans 150 years and many, many lives. Gabe, cursed with the ability to see their ghosts, turns out to be Liv’s only link to the world of the living. Liv must rely on Gabe’s help to prove to Malcolm that she’s still present… lingering with the other spirits. Together, Liv, Gabe, and Malcolm fight to expose the terrible truth that haunts the halls of Wickham before more lives are lost."

THE VANISHING SEASON by Jodi Lynn Anderson

From Amazon: "Girls started vanishing in the fall. For Maggie Larsen, the town of Gill Creek is only a stopgap before college and freedom. Until she meets Pauline and Liam. What starts as an uneventful year suddenly changes. Someone is killing teenaged girls, and the town reels from the tragedy. As Maggie's and Pauline's worlds collide and change around them, they will both experience love and loss. And by the end of the book, only one of them will survive."

And here's another trend Regina George has told:

Paranormal Romance

Judging by what we saw at ALA, gone are the days of the "I'm just a girl--but I'm also a vampire!" and the "She thought senior year would be boring...until she realized she was a werewolf!" Not to mention the, "Nothing interesting ever happened in Spoons...until the dark brooding boy with the mussed hair and deep, soulful, elf-like eyes moved in." By all accounts, paranormal romance has returned to it's coffin to chill out for awhile, taking it's small towns and soulful bad boys with it. Personally, I was beyond ready for this trend to be over--because while there was a lot of great books that came out of it, and while this trend brought a lot more mainstream and adult crossover support to the YA world, I just couldn't handle anymore straight up romance books. Give me the gore! Give me the death! Give me the psychological thrillers, please (and if you want to add a dash of romance, so be it--but no damsels in distress, please!)

Tune in tomorrow for part three of upcoming trends in the YA world! (Hint: these books will haunt your dreams!)
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