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!)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

So Fetch! New Trends in YA Part One: Killer Girls

Gretchen Weiner knows what's hot and what's not. And so does the FNC! (At least in the book world.) 

While checking out many upcoming titles at ALA, some definite trends emerged--and some trends were clearly absent. Some of the pitches we heard at the buzz panels and in the booths reminded me of Mean Girls--I kept waiting for a publishing rep to say, "Seriously, this book is SO fetch! You have to read it!"

Originally I was going to try to put all these books in one post, but the thing just kept growing...and growing...and growing...and I just knew I couldn't fit all these awesome new books (and these great new trends) in one post. So this is the beginning of a four part series of what's the hot new thing in YA books--and what's been hit by a bus, Regina George style.

Today, Gretchen Weiner says:

to...Killer Girls!

Teen girls as assassins? Yes please! There were several books we saw at ALA that were pitched as "Dexter meets YA" or "Dexter meets Pretty Little Liars" or "Dexter meets..." anything, pretty much. Personally, I'm excited for this trend because I'm always on the lookout for something a little more dangerous and edgy than the average YA book. I'm glad I won't have to look far this spring!

If you want to see some kick-ass girls literally kick ass, you should look for:

UNINVITED by Sophie Jordan

Pitched as "The Scarlet Letter meets Minority Report," in UNINVITED, main character Davy must struggled with the results of her genetic testing--she's coming back positive for the murder gene. Suddenly her world is turned upside down, and everyone she thought was on her side turns against her.

DEAR KILLER by Katherine Ewell

From Goodreads: "Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known. But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there."

KILLER INSTINCT by Shannon Greenland 

From Goodreads: "She’s not evil, but she has certain... urges. Lane is a typical teenager. Loving family. Good grades. Afterschool job at the local animal hospital. Martial arts enthusiast. But her secret obsession is studying serial killers. She understands them, knows what makes them tick. Why? Because she might be one herself. Lane channels her dark impulses by hunting criminals—delivering justice when the law fails. The vigilantism stops shy of murder. But with each visceral rush the line of self-control blurs.
And then a young preschool teacher goes missing. Only to return... in parts. When Lane excitedly gets involved in the hunt for “the Decapitator,” the vicious serial murderer that has come to her hometown, she gets dangerously caught up in a web of lies about her birth dad and her own dark past. And once the Decapitator contacts Lane directly, Lane knows she is no longer invisible or safe. Now she needs to use her unique talents to find the true killer’s identity before she—or someone she loves—becomes the next victim..."

And here's something Regina George has told:


Of course, no kind of book ever disappears completely--and dystopia is no exception. We did see a book here and there featuring some sort of dystopia-type setting or circumstances, but for the most part they were sequels to books or the third in a trilogy. Overall there was a distinct lack of books with back copy that started, "In a world..."

I have mixed feelings about this one, because I did love the dystopia trend a lot. I was a sucker for dystopia, really. But towards the end I found that more and more books were setting up really interesting dystopias that ultimately didn't have a logical follow through or resolution. For me, that means it's time for dystopia to hibernate a little, so it can reappear a few years down the line in some kind of grander, fiercer, 2.0 style.

Don't forget to continue tuning in as the FNC reveals the other big YA trends to come!
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