Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Texas Gothic by Rosemarie Clement-Moore

Texas Gothic
Rosemary Clement-Moore
YA Contemporary/Paranormal
Published: 2011

Ah, I still love this cover.

I'm catching up this summer on all the buzzy YA books of 2011, this one in particular had been on my list for awhile.

Amy Goodnight comes from a family of witches; but this is less Harry Potter and more like the lady who runs a New Age-y spiritual shop in a tourist town. Think herbs and crystals and a little bit of wacky that might throw a small town into gossip-mode when one of these "witches" walks into the local tavern. Amy really can't stand the witchy label and works pretty hard at bringing normalcy to the Goodnight family. When her mother and aunt take a much needed vacation together, they leave Amy and her college-aged sister Phin in charge of her aunt's family farm. Amy will feed the goats and the dogs and make sure her uncle is all right (her uncle is a ghost).  

Rumor in town is that the ghost from an old legend is haunting an archaeological dig on the property of the neighboring farm. Amy, though a believer in ghosts, is highly skeptical and definitely does not want to get involved, especially when she discovers cute guy Ben, who finds her outside in her underwear (a very funny moment), runs the adjacent farm. When dead bodies start accumulating, Amy and her sister find themselves recruited to help solve the ghost crime -- but is a ghost responsible, or something else?

This story has more of a paranormal vibe with enough real life rural Texas to keep it grounded. Texas Gothic is also a romance, and Amy has a lot to deal with internally before she can contribute to a relationship in a meaningful way. She's funny, spunky and stubborn, and the supporting characters are pretty great and add to the story. If the idea of a big, creaky old farmhouse with ghosts lurking about gives you the heebies, this has a bit of that, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Writers: How Do You Know When You're Ready?

Photo: Public Domain via
For over a year -- almost two -- I've watched as agent-judged query contests, pitch opportunities and 250-word critiques pass by since I hadn't completed a manuscript.

The day has come!

I finally have "finished" my Work-in-Progress, but when is a work truly finished? I've revised entire sections, I've sent first pages to several writers for critique (an on-going process) and I received feedback from a contest a few months back, which spawned several revisions.

Have you ever revised so much you start to go crazy with changing the same things repeatedly? I'm wondering if this is a clue to send forth my story to a wider arena: blogs offer plenty of opportunity to have pitches and first pages critiqued and judged. Here's a link to one of the upcoming opportunities: Teen Eyes Editorial Contest hosted by: Brenda Drake Writes, Miss Snark and Mother Write Repeat.

How do you determine when you're ready to share your story with a wider audience? Have you personally received feedback from an agent or published author contest (on a blog or elsewhere) that helped you in your revision?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity
Elizabeth Wein
YA Historical
Published: May 2012

Code Name Verity is set in World War II, where Verity has been captured by the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France. She tells her story as a prisoner of war through letters she is allowed to write in order to shed English strategy, airfield locations and codes. Verity is headstrong, bold, and at times, you wonder, delusional. She reveals the history leading up to her capture, detailing training missions and her friendship with beloved Maddie, a pilot who trained prior to the war who ends up running missions for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. You see the sweetness of their friendship matched against the very real stakes of working as informants/participants in the war.

I admit, I had trouble investing in this book in the beginning given the unconventional narration; it's told in first person from Verity, then in third person through the letters, where her identity is rather fluid and not quite clear (on purpose), and later from Maddie's perspective. While not an easy read, it's worth the struggle. I enjoyed  the peek into the British war effort. Many historical details are rooted in truth, and it's evident the author compiled quite a bit of research for this story.

Code Name Verity is full of danger, adventure and mystery with tragic details that I wish I could say are totally fiction, but I know are also based on truth considering the brutality of war. I can see this book making a lot of year-end best lists and award nominations. Overall, it's inspiring to read about the lives sacrificed during the war, and how many women probably have stories like this that have never been shared.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guest Post: Author Kami Kinard Shows How Diaries Inspire

I am beyond excited to feature a guest post by author Kami Kinard! She's here today to tell us how her own collection of diaries inspired her to write The Boy Project (Scholastic 2012).

Inspiring Diary
by: Kami Kinard

Author photo by: Carpe Diem Studios

I’ve been writing fiction for a couple of years now. Not just writing it, actually, but studying it – figuring out what it is that makes some books have a huge impact and others fall flat.

It’s complicated, of course, and it never boils down to just one thing. Good books must have compelling plots, interesting characters, and original writing. But there is another key ingredient to a good book, and in my experience, it is discussed less frequently than anything else.

Going back and reading my own diaries from middle school and high school helped me figure this ingredient out. In fact, reading my old diaries inspired me to write The Boy Project. My book isn’t based on the things that happened to me when I was in middle school. I was a pretty boring kid who loved to read and nothing plot-worthy happened to me during those years.

But the normal stuff happened. Stuff that happens to everybody. And what is a diary, but a place to write down how you feel about that stuff? Have you figured out the key ingredient yet? Let me give you another hint. I typed up a seventy-one word paragraph from my diary. Then I took out all of the words that didn’t have anything to do with my feelings. Here is what was left:

I wish
I can’t believe
more afraid
I’m glad
happy as ever
I’m so glad

Virtually every sentence indicated how I felt about something. And that’s just from one paragraph! My diaries were completely full of my feelings about things: things like  friends, family, wanting to fit in, school and boys. I don’t think I came across a single entry that didn’t have to do with my emotions.

As writers, our imaginations can supply plots, and we can develop skills to finesse language, but none of that is going to matter if our characters’ feelings don’t come across as genuine. Our books fall flat when our readers can’t identify with what our characters feel.

Kami's collection of diaries
Giving characters realistic feelings is important in sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, and historical fiction too. One good example of books that capture teen feelings is the Twilight series. Author Stephenie Meyer takes a lot of flak for her writing style, but we shouldn’t overlook the thing she did best. The thing that made her books international best sellers wasn’t the vampires at all. It was that fact that Meyer captured the feelings of longing and desire better than most writers, and teenagers identify with those feelings.

My diaries put me back in touch with my middle school feelings and inspired me to write a book about a fictitious girl who felt the way I had about the middle school experience. Middle school girls tell me all of the time that they love The Boy Project because it is so realistic. Some say that Kara, my main character, feels exactly the way they do about things. Thanks, Dear Diary, for that!

Readers: Have you used old diaries as inspiration in writing? What do you think you'd find if you cracked open a middle school diary?

You can find Kami Kinard on her blog: Nerdy Chicks Rule, her webiste www.kamikinard.comfacebook page and on twitter.

Please check out the book trailer for The Boy Project here on You Tube!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: Past Perfect by Leila Sales

Past Perfect
Leila Sales
YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

What a fun book! I LOVE the premise. If you ever spent the majority of your family vacations at museums and historical sites (Colonial Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Greenfield Village to name a few), you will greatly appreciate Chelsea's summer job at a Colonial re-enactment village. In fact, her parents work there too, they're the silversmiths, and for as long as she can remember, she worked summers as the silversmith's daughter dressed in Colonial-era garb to entertain tourists.

This summer, Chelsea pleads for a new assignment, just down the way at the village graveyard, and sets her sights on a great summer with her best friend who joined the re-enacters for the first time. Only at orientation, her ex-boyfriend Ezra is seated among the new recruits, which will make it quite difficult to get over him.

The Colonial re-enacters are a proud bunch, especially considering across the street from their historical village is another historical village -- the Civil War-era ReenatctmentLand. The teenage re-enacters from both sides are bitter rivals, enacting their own covert war fought with pranks and sometimes worse, all beyond the prying eyes of the adults. When Chelsea and a rival "Civil Warrior" meet and find they don't actually hate each other, Chelsea must decide if cavorting with the enemy is worth the risk.

Their allegiance to historical authenticity and cracks about era-appropriate clothing make this such a funny, different YA story. I had so much fun with it I just kept on reading and finished the whole book on one summer day.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a GUEST POST!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Fun Friday! +Comic Con News

Ah, summer. Don't you wish you were jam-packed in a convention center with six dozen Slave Leia's and a legion of Joss Whedon fans? Or is that just me...

San Diego's Comic Con is in full swing -- the comics convention to defy all other like-minded conventions -- and many of us are scouring our twitter feeds for scraps of juicy entertainment news. Comic Con has gotten so big it's hardly restricted to comics or even comic book adaptations. Here's a little round up of what I found of interest so far!

  • Firefly Reunion Special! ZOMG! If you're a fan, then you've already had your moment to spazz out. If not, let me give you a run-down: That guy from Castle used to be on a short-lived FOX network show about space cowboys, which encompassed everything the Star Wars prequels should have. You can watch the whole series in a weekend on Netflix streaming or DVD and really, why bother with that crowd at the beach when you could be at home in the A/C watching a space opera? Which is also FUNNY.  

  • Maybe you have better things to do than collect alien weaponry and blow up skags (look I'm a nice person by day but you gotta vent somehow), but I am getting all my important stuff done before September when Borderlands 2 comes out. Like the first game, Borderlands is violent, but it's self aware; it's clever, fast-paced and funny. I am always quick to point out how Lilith's Siren perks are super cool. Watch the new Borderlands 2 trailer (please note the trailer is gory in comic book-style animation)

  • is reporting that a new Battlestar Galactica prequel is still a possibility, titled Blood and Chrome, which may end up as a SyFy movie, or else a webseries. If you've never seen BSG, it's like The West Wing in space. It's really well done and no little green monsters anywhere. The most frightening part of the "others" on BSG is many of them look just like you and me...  and also more like fashion models, but you get the point.

  • This last piece might not be specifically Comic Con related, but it was announced that Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, will be split into two movies. WHYYYYY. This trend is so annoying. Other people think so, too.

Are you following Comic Con coverage? Is the twitter feed #SDCC12 making your eyes bleed? Please share!

Also: Make sure to stop by next Tuesday July 17 for a feature post by a Young Adult author published with Scholastic Press! She'll be discussing how diaries can influence writing for middle schoolers and teens. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

YA Highway Giveaway!

Just popping in after being on vacation. I've mostly been posting backlogged book reviews. I just saw this giveaway on YA Highway for their 3 year blog anniversary. The blog is a cool site hosted by several Young Adult authors, and they feature the Wednesday theme YA Roadtrip along with a good list of links every Friday on what's going on in publishing plus some fun stuff, too.

How is everyone's summer? Have you had a chance to go anywhere fun, like a beach, theme park or even just a day in the backyard?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Why We Broke Up
Daniel Handler
YA Contemporary
Published: 2011

Author Daniel Handler is the real name of Lemony Snicket, so you might be familiar with his children's novels. This one is Young Adult with an interesting take on the break-up story: the main character Min (short for Minerva) is essentially writing a letter to her ex telling him all the real reasons they broke up. She has a box of stuff related to their brief courtship: movie tickets, trinkets, earrings etc. that relate to aspects of their relationship, that she plans to give Ed along with the letter.

The storytelling method is a bit uncoventional, which is kind of fun, but also may be the sources of the book's faults. The story itself can be challenging at times because from page 1 (actually from the cover) we know that Min and Ed break up. You can tell from her rants -- which are frequently hilarious and spot-on if you've ever suffered a break-up in high school -- that Ed was never a good fit in the first place. Her friends tell her Ed's not a good fit. His friends don't understand it either. So, the fact that everyone was right and it doesn't work out makes it a bit painful at times to get through. At least it's funny, with some great snippets of angst and reflection that feel genuine. Min has some sidekicks who make the journey worthwhile. Her guy friend is clearly everything Ed is not, and I would expect every reader would want to slap Min upside the head until she realizes the guy for her is right there all along.

Recommended if you like unconventional storytelling, well written YA angst, or you're a Lemony Snickett devotee.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens
Libba Bray
Contemporary YA/satire
Published: 2011

A plane full of beauty queens crashes on a desert island.

Yeah, it already sounds awesome. In the hands of Libba Bray, the gimmick comes to life in one of the funniest and entertaining books I've ever read. The satire is sharp and the feminist edge is fierce. This is the book I want everyone to read: my husband, my friends, bloggers, and I want librarians and teachers to recommend it to students. It's outrageously funny, and it has something to say. The authors that can accomplish this combo are too few already, and I'm glad a YA author -- and a woman -- has managed to get a spot on that list.

So, a plane full of beauty queens crashes on a desert island. What do they do? Horseshoe formation! Right away, Miss Texas organizes the survivors for a role call. All the remaining contestants, er survivors, introduce themselves pageant-style, name and state with their recited platform to follow. Right away factions divide -- searchers vs. beach dwellers, but Miss Texas is determined to keep them unified.She hosts practice sessions for when The Miss Teen Dream Pageant resumes, you know, as soon as they're rescued.

While they wait for help, the girls prove themselves resourceful; most are top acheivers in their class looking for scholarship money through the pageant, but even the more stereotypical beauty queens have something to contribute. They build huts and decorate them, they construct a water irrigation system, create fish-catching nets. They look past vanity and eat grubs for protien when they're starving. When rescue finally (sort-of) comes, they realize they've managed pretty well on their own.

Meanwhile -- and there is a lot of meanwhile in this book -- the head of the Miss Team Dream Pageant is in cahoots with a derranged dictator of a small country (think the version of Kim Jong Il from the Team America movie) and is planning a weapons deal on the very island where the queens crash-landed. The volcano on the other side of the island is hollowed out with a secret government lair within it.

Yeah, I'm for real.

Mixed in with chapters are commercials from the Miss Team Dream sponsors that will have you laughing out loud at the absurdity and the creepy relevance to things that exist in our own culture. Also, the author uses footnotes liberally to further explain the products and invented pop-culture references within the story. If you've ever read Terry Pratchett, king of hilarious footnotes, Terry: you have met your queen!

The beauty queens are a diverse cast who are self aware of their own diversity; the Indian-American wants to eliminate the African-American from the pageant since they both know only one "diverse" contestant can make the top 5. The book even pokes fun at writing conventions when toward the end, we finally learn the names of Miss Montana, Miss Ohio and another Miss who before that were relegated to only their state names. The book even ends on a freeze frame.

This book is so funny, I absolutely loved it. You will laugh, I promise, but hopefully that larger message born out of satire is what will stick.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern
Published: 2011
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there when yesterday it was not.

I finally read one of the most buzzed-about books of 2011! It's new to paperback this week, so even more reason to check it out.

The Night Circus is a mysterious traveling magical circus. The story takes place during the late 1800s through the turn of the century, with a myriad cast of characters involved in creating, performing and attending the circus. As a reader, you are also a particpant in the illusions of the circus, the rich imagry and fantastical wonders as it unfolds for you. You understand the circus in snippets, but not entirely until you are already pretty invested in the story.

Behind the magic, a competition takes place between two young magicians who aren't informed who they are fighting, for what purpose or even what they are supposed to do. The competition is as much a mystery as the circus, and it's all a secret. It's kind of like The Illusionist meets Cirque de Soliel mixed with Water for Elephants.

This is the book everyone read last year and it made lots of year-end lists. It's intriguing, and quite different than other books out there. It's clever, funny at times and of course, mysterious.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: Tangled by Erica O'Rourke

Erica O'Rourke
YA Paranormal Romance - The Torn series (book #2)
Published: 2011

I don't read a ton of paranormal YA these days, but this series is a great mix of contemporary with mystical elements. Mo, short for Maura, lives in Chicago with a family rumored as connected to the mafia; her father is in jail, and her uncle controls most aspects of her life in a way that (he says) is meant to protect Mo and her mother.

Her uncle wants Mo to I.D. some thugs as part of a rival Russian mob infiltration (his competition), but she knows it's a set-up and won't agree. Suddenly, the nice things she has access to start slipping away, and even her life is in danger when men she assumes work for her uncle threaten her. Mo's uncle set her up with a bodyguard named Colin, a good looking guy a few years older than her. They begin an attraction in book 1 (Torn) but it continues here, although it's forbidden on many levels (she's in high school, he's over 18, he works for her uncle).

Meanwhile, Mo is also dealing with a mystical world that most people can't see, but Mo can since she accidentally took the place of her best friend (in Torn) at the pivotal moment her friend was set to receive power to control the magical realm. Now thrust into this role, Mo follows the orders of a different kind of mob -- a magical one. But of course, to further complicate matters is the helpful but entirely over-peristant Luc who she is supposedly destined for.

Mo makes decisions for herself, despite how much she's ordered around. So fear not if you detest weak girl characters who can't think for themselves. She also has a few chances to just act like a teenager which is also refreshing, along with believeable obstacles since people actually notice when she's missing unlike many YA books where characters frequently ditch school to save the world and none are the wiser.

Find out more about the author on her blog here. The post I linked gives background on her development of the story and the charcters from the Torn series.
Also, the third book in the series, Bound, released at the end of June!