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May, briefly

Some months, I start out strong and lose energy as the days get longer and my motivation wanes. May was the opposite. While I struggled at the beginning of the month, I soon hit my stride and was able to make some great progress. I feel like I have struck a good balance with writing, revising, reading, and just enjoying life– especially now that the weather has warmed up enough for me to ditch pants and boots in favor of shorts and flip-flops.

This month, I have been…

My book baby hanging out at Chapters Indigo in London!

My book baby hanging out at Chapters Indigo in London!

Working on: Thanks to some brilliant notes from my amazing CP, I was energized to finish revising one of the YA contemporary projects I completed this year. It’s from a boy’s perspective and I had such a blast writing it, and while revising can sometimes be the painful, sobering aftermath to fast drafting, this time I was able to go in and fix what needed to be fixed to make the book stronger. In the meantime, I’m also drafting something new– it’s dark and moody and messy and I’m not quite sure where it’s going, but that’s part of what makes me love it so much.

This month also meant the end of my Boys Tell All series. I’m thrilled that so many people followed the stories– we’re up to nearly 150K views on Wattpad! If you missed the series, you can read all the stories on Wattpad or Tumblr.

Reading: Sadly, I didn’t do nearly as much reading this month as I normally do. I finished Everybody Rise, which my lovely editor was kind enough to send me. It was a really fun read about climbing the social ladder in 2006 Manhattan, and the lies and scheming that go into fitting in with the elite crowd. I also read How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, which comes out in July. I loved this one– the main character, Sam, has such a snarky, smart voice, which I adore in a narrator, and the plot kept me guessing with unique twists and turns.

Watching: I’m full-on obsessed with Girls, a show I have been wanting to watch for awhile now. I’m a huge Sex and the City fangirl, so Girls feels like a younger, messier version, and perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty of being in your early twenties and the doubt, passion, and urgency that dictate life. Plus, I love the humor– I definitely laughed out loud more than once. Lena Dunham is brilliant and basically my new life idol… I can’t believe she created this show at such a young age. (Next up, I want to read her book!)

June will be a busy month– my sister is getting married (I’m her matron of honor!), and I’ll be heading to Toronto to participate in a bookstore event and the CCWWP conference as a panelist with some amazing debut authors. More updates soon!

Spotlight on Sixteens: In The Shadow Of The Dragon King

When I was a teenager, I was full-on obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. I had practically memorized the maps of Middle Earth and imagined how cool it would be to escape my life and go on a quest with the characters. (I also had a huge crush on Aragorn, but that’s beside the point…)

Anyway, reading Tolkien spurred my love of dragons and fantasy. I have massive amounts of respect for any writer who can create a fantasy world out of nothing and make it feel real, as real as the world in which we live. J. Keller Ford proves that she is such a writer in the first book in her Chronicles of Falhallow series, out May 31 with Month 9 Books!

In The Shadow Of The Dragon King is a riveting read. It’s rich with details and has an ethereal quality that’s hard to describe, but as I was reading, I felt like I could escape into the words and be in the world Ford created. The main characters, Eric and David, feel so genuine and authentic. Eric lives in the enchanted realm of Falhallow, while David lives in the modern world—until he finds himself called to Falhallow. Further complicating the plot is David’s best friend, Charlotte, who he has more than friendly feelings for. To destroy the dragon, Eric and David have to learn to work together and trust each other, which is a bit more difficult in reality than it sounds in theory.

I’m so excited for teens to discover this book and fall in love with it like I did with fantasy when I was a teenager. In The Shadow Of The Dragon King is a story with a timeless, classic feel, and I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series!

Add In The Shadow Of The Dragon King to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out J. Keller Ford’s website here.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Please Don’t Tell

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter, where I was even luckier to have the lovely Laura Tims sign it for me. But I had no idea exactly how lucky I was that I had my own copy until I started reading… because I was literally underlining quotes from every single page and dog-earing at random. (Sorry, book!) It’s not an understatement to say I was floored by the writing. It’s bold, gripping, original, evocative, poetic, jarring. It’s light as a lullaby, beautiful as a song, loud as a scream. Sentences hum with electricity, with passion, with raw fear and rage.

Please Don’t Tell is told from alternating perspectives—the narrators are twin sisters Joy and Grace, and the timeline goes from Joy’s voice in the present to Grace’s voice in the past. I loved this fragmented style of storytelling, because it kept me fully engaged and so, so invested in the story. Each sister’s voice was distinct, and Laura Tims does a great job of showing the complicated web of sisterhood, and how guilt and regret and doubt can tangle even the strongest bonds. Through Joy and Grace, she also explores what it means to be a girl and how that can be warped and change shape and lose importance entirely. It’s heartbreaking, but also vividly real.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, because I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that it involves the aftermath of a party where Joy isn’t sure exactly what happened—and the events that follow, which lead her to believe someone else does know, and is willing to use it against her. It’s complicated, twisty, surprising, dark, and wholly, entirely captivating. I couldn’t put the book down and I didn’t want to. Consider me a die-hard Laura Tims fangirl—this is one of the most unique and daring YA books I’ve read.

Add Please Don’t Tell to Goodreads and preorder your copy before its May 24 release date!

Learn more about Laura Tims on her website!

My rock-bottom moment

2008 Laurie being generally ridiculous.

2008 Laurie being generally ridiculous.

The year was 2008, and I had just graduated with a postgraduate diploma in Journalism. I was living in Toronto, modeling part-time, renting a box of an apartment with my faithful little Chihuahua, trying to break into the news media industry. Some of my friends who had graduated with me already had internships, and some had actual jobs. Unfortunately, it was also a time in the economy when jobs were being slashed, so my internship had ended. I was struggling to fill my days, scouring the Internet for job postings and sending my resume to any job I thought might be a decent fit. I wasn’t expecting perfection. I just wanted to pay my rent and hopefully make some connections so that I’d be on my way to a job I liked.

Then one day, I got an invitation to interview for a local news station. After days and weeks of silence on the job front, I was grateful for the opportunity. But the morning of the interview, I felt completely discombobulated. I remember that it was a freezing cold morning and no matter what outfit I tried on, nothing felt right. I didn’t feel right. I felt more like a kid playing dress-up, like I was pretending to be someone else. I shook it off, chalking it up to nerves, and took the subway to my interview. I shook hands and smiled, and things got started.

It was terrible. Worse than terrible, actually. It was like one of those nightmare where you have a huge test you forgot to study for and wake up in a cold sweat, except the nightmare was actually happening to me. I was asked questions I didn’t know how to answer about politics and news stories and events I hadn’t even heard of. I was quizzed, using photos of political figures I couldn’t identify. I was massively unprepared and the interviewer knew it. I felt humiliated and stupid. At one point during the interview, I was asked, “do you even watch this news channel?”

Honestly, the answer was no.

After an awkward good-bye (“don’t call us, we’ll call you!”), I stumbled back onto the snowy Toronto streets, called my mom, and promptly burst into tears.

It wasn’t that I didn’t get the job. It was that in that moment, I admitted to myself that I never wanted the job. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to work in Journalism at all. It wasn’t for me. My heart was in fiction, in the stories constantly churning in my head, in the characters who whispered to me and prodded the inside of my brain. I was just too afraid to say out loud that I wanted to be a writer, that it had always been my dream, that it was what I knew I was supposed to be doing.

It took me another few years before I started writing on a regular basis, before I took it seriously and made it a priority. But I’ll never forget that day in Toronto when I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I was so miserable and depressed and certain that I’d made a giant mess of my life. But looking back, I’m glad I looked like an idiot in that interview. I’m glad I failed. Because if I hadn’t, I might have taken a job I didn’t love and pushed my own stories to the back of my head forever and dismissed them as a silly dream. That failure let me admit something that I might not have otherwise. This isn’t your path. There’s something else you’re meant to do.

Rock bottom hurts. It really, really does. You get up bruised and broken and it’s hard to start climbing out. But rock bottom happens for a reason. Find out that reason, and cling to it, because that reason is what you’re intended for.

Spotlight on Sixteens: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You

The book with perhaps the longest (and coolest!) Sweet Sixteen title is coming out May 17, and you can read my review here for Spotlight on Sixteens!

My love of snark is well-documented. There are few things I adore more in a book than a main character with a whip-smart sense of humor who knows her way around sarcasm. I knew within the first page of The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You that I had found my spirit animal in Trixie Watson, the book’s protagonist and beating heart. She’s no stranger to lobbing quick-witted insults and always has a well-timed jab at the ready, especially for her nemesis, Ben West. But what I love most about Trixie is her huge heart. She’s fiercely loyal and devoted to her two best friends, Harper and Meg.

Trixie’s senior year at the Mess, a school for geniuses, is ever-so-slightly derailed when one of said best friends, Harper, starts dating Ben’s best friend. See, Trixie has hated Ben since he broke her arm on the monkey bars—and even though that was ten years ago, Trixie hasn’t forgotten. Trixie and Ben’s rivalry is pretty legendary, and her sole aim in as a senior is to beat out Ben for the third spot in the school ranking. But when she finds out Ben might harbor feelings for her that go beyond mutual loathing, something she never thought was possible begins to happen—she starts to realize she might actually like him, too. When Harper gets expelled for cheating—something Trixie knows she would never do—Trixie and Ben team up to find out the truth, and get to know each other in the process.

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and there’s no shortage of plot twists and humor and romance, sweet romance! I absolutely adore Lily Anderson’s writing style. It’s incredibly fresh, unique, and laugh-out-loud funny.

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is a book that more than lives up to its name—and that’s no small feat, because that’s one hell of an awesome title. I’ll be wildly raving about and recommending this book to everyone, and consider me an official Lily Anderson fangirl for life!

Add The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out Lily Anderson’s website for more information!

 

Spotlight on Sixteens: Summer of Supernovas

Some books are so vivid and lifelike that they practically sparkle… well, Summer of Supernovas, out May 10, is one of those books!

People put their faith in a lot of things. Science, religion, music, friendship, love. Wilamena Carlisle puts her faith in the stars. But when Wil fears that her Fifth House—the house of relationships and love—is doomed, she’s on a mission to find her perfect astrological match before time runs out. Problem is, she falls for two brothers—one whom the charts deem right, and the other who couldn’t be more wrong. And Wil made a promise to honor her mother’s legacy, so she’s not taking any chances with cosmically doomed love.

On the subject of love… quite simply, I fell in love with this book. I know people often say how they couldn’t put a book down, but Summer of Supernovas was literally glued to my fingertips. One page—more like one line—of Wil’s voice had me completely starry-eyed. It’s quirky, unique, hilarious, and so insightful, all rolled into one unforgettable character. I wanted Wil to burst from the pages and become my BFF. Thanks to Darcy’s exquisite writing style, it often did feel like Wil was about to jump from the pages, vintage dresses and all.

This story is everything. It’s humor and heart and risks and disappointment and self-discovery. It’s fear and chance and comedy and tragedy and regret and forgiveness. Most of all, though, it’s about different kinds of love. Family love and friend love and romantic love. I adored Wil’s relationship with her Gram, who raised her after her mother died. And Wil’s dueling feelings for Grant and Seth, the brothers at opposite ends of the astrological spectrum, left me breathless and at the edge of my seat.

Wil ties her fate to the stars, and puts her faith in everything they offer. No matter how much or little a reader can relate to that, we can all relate to putting our faith, our hopes and dreams, in something another person might not understand. For this reason, I think Wil’s words are going to feel like a warm hug for all readers. She’s a heroine who is trying to do the right thing and honor her mother’s wishes and also make her own heart happy in the process.

There’s a line somewhere in this book that I love so much I wrote it down after reluctantly turning the last page: “Because it isn’t the stars keeping us together, it’s… love. And it always will be.” Whether you believe in destiny or not—if you read your horoscope religiously or couldn’t care less about signs—this is the kind of cosmic beauty immersed in every page of Summer of Supernovas. A book like this—a book this funny, heartwarming, and completely one-of-a-kind unique—comes around about as often as a supernova. Don’t miss out!

Add Summer of Supernovas to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out Darcy Woods’s website for more sparkle and swoon!

April, briefly

April was definitely a whirlwind of a month, and my routine got derailed by a lot of fun non-writing stuff! My sister’s bridal shower happened halfway into the month (I’m her matron of honor), followed by a trip to Las Vegas for her bachelorette party. The mini-vacation was a blast– full of great weather, delicious food and drinks, and good friends– and proved to be just the getaway I needed to feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle anything.

This month, I have been…

Working on: I finished a second draft of the YA contemporary project that has been consuming most of my time (I wrote about it earlier this month here). Since it’s about sisters, it was quite serendipitous to finish on National Siblings Day. I wasn’t sure what to work on when I was done… I have a first draft of another project that I’m itching to start revising, plus another couple brand new ideas kicking around in my brain. Then all of a sudden, a different idea appeared out of nowhere and it’s all I could think about. (The last time that kind of urgency happened, Firsts happened). Sometimes that’s what being an author is all about– not just following but trusting your instincts.

Reading: I started the month with In The Shadow of the Dragon King by my Sixteen to Read sister J. Keller Ford. It’s a really awesome fantasy featuring dragons and time travel. Next, I read Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke, which was twisty and magnetic and lush and everything I love in a book. While in Vegas, I finished Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (I heart everything Dahlia writes), and 99 Days by Katie Cotugno, which dealt with slut-shaming and guilt and really resonated with me. I ended the month with Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow, which was one of my most anticipated 2016 reads. I can say beyond a doubt that it’s one of the most beautifully written, moving, meaningful books I’ve ever read.

Watching: I was finally able to watch The Revenant, which I’ve been excited about for a long time. (Although, to be honest, I’m excited about anything Leonardo DiCaprio does!) I can definitely see why he won an Oscar for this one. It’s a raw, powerful performance in a brutal but beautiful movie.

Now that the warmer weather seems poised to stay (touch wood, because in Canada, you never know), I’m looking forward to a relaxing but productive May that hopefully involves some deck writing!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Summer of Sloane

I started reading this on a frigid winter night here in Canada, and it was exactly the book I needed to transport me somewhere else. Precisely, to the beaches of Hawaii—and thanks to Erin Schneider’s gorgeous writing, I almost felt like I was reading on the beach with a fruity drink in my hand instead of in my pajamas bundled up with the wind howling outside.

Yes, Summer of Sloane is the kind of book with the power to take your mind somewhere warmer and more exotic. But don’t mistake this for an airy beach read. It’s a story that tackles so many things with grace, humor, and truth.

Sloane has just finished her junior year of high school and she and her twin brother, Penn, are off to visit their mom in Hawaii for the summer, like they do every year. Only this year is different. Because before she gets on the plane, Sloane suffers a devastating blow—she finds out that her lifelong best friend and her boyfriend, the two people she loves and trusts the most, hooked up behind her back. After expressing her anger through a well-thrown right hook (not going to lie, I loved that part!), Sloane boards the plane with a broken hand and a shattered heart.

But Hawaii might just be the change in setting Sloane needs. After vowing to make it her summer and leave the drama back in Seattle, Sloane meets handsome and charismatic Finn, who makes her believe she can move on from what has happened and learn to trust someone again. But Finn has demons of his own, and Sloane is torn between the undertow of her past and the new life she could have on the horizon.

Right away, I was pulled in to Erin Schneider’s writing style. It’s the perfect blend of heavy and light, serious and funny. Sloane was strong but vulnerable, sad yet hopeful—and the moments where she learned to put herself first made me want to cheer out loud. Her struggles were extremely realistic. Even though she’s thousands of miles from home and the people who betrayed her, the ties with her past aren’t easy to sever, and the good memories don’t just get blotted out because of the betrayal itself. The way Sloane grapples with her dueling feelings made my heart hurt.

On another note, all of the supporting characters here are so wonderfully fleshed out, with quirks and heartaches and hopes of their own. I found myself invested in what happened to all of them.

This is a book with a lot of depth. And if you’re reading it before bedtime, know that there’s a great chance you’ll stay up a lot later than you intended because you’ll need to know what happens next. Summer of Sloane is virtually unputdownable.

Add Summer of Sloane to Goodreads and preorder your copy before it hits shelves May 3!

Visit Erin Schneider’s website!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Jerkbait

Jerkbait by Mia Siegert hits shelves on May 3, but here is my rave review for Spotlight on Sixteens!

So, Jerkbait was one of my most anticipated 2016 releases. And it’s kind of ironic, because the main characters in the book are hockey players, and I’m a Canadian who knows nothing about hockey. What I was more interested in were the themes in this book, especially how gay athletes are treated in this sport. I wanted to see how the author, Mia Siegert, portrayed this treatment through her characters.

What I got was a book that’s bold, brave, and unflinchingly honest. A book that’s also sensitive and made my heart ache. A book that has catapulted itself to one of my favorite 2016 YA reads.

In Jerkbait, Mia Siegert handles so much so well. Twin brothers Tristan and Robbie are both hockey players, but Robbie is the superstar—he’s the one who is guaranteed to be a draft pick and has a bright, shiny future ahead of him in the NHL. So when Tristan finds his brother in the bathroom after a suicide attempt, he has no idea why Robbie would try to end a life that’s only just beginning. Tristan wants Robbie to get help, but their parents don’t want to do anything that would damage Robbie’s potential—which includes admitting his depression. Reading this made me unbearably sad. Robbie is put on such a pedestal, but really, his life on skates is all anyone but Tristan seems to care about. People want to be part of Robbie’s glory, to live in his orbit, to reach greatness with him—but they have no clue how dark it is inside his head.

I don’t want to say too much and give anything away, because this story goes a lot of places, some of which I did not expect at all. Issues like bullying and Internet predators are explored, and Mia Siegert isn’t afraid to go there and get ugly, get dark. As a reader, I appreciated her honesty. As a writer, I was in awe of her talent.

I was so invested in Tristan and Robbie as characters. Tristan is trying to forge his own path—while he’s good at hockey, it’s not his passion, and he’s interested in trying out for musical theater, despite the flack he gets for admitting it. Robbie absolutely loves the game, but everything is tainted for him because he doesn’t feel like he can be the person he really is—he’s terrified that coming out will ruin his career before it even starts. That he even feels he has to choose between doing what he loves and being honest with himself is heartbreaking. He’s a different person in public than he is behind closed doors because he thinks he has to be. The scenes where Tristan and Robbie are able to relate to each other and summon the courage to defend each other made me want to get up and cheer. They’re more than characters to me. They’re real people. I’m sure that so many athletes in real life will be able to relate to them and their struggles. These readers will be able to see each other in Tristan and Robbie and hopefully gain strength because of it.

I want this book to find its way into the hands of teen athletes everywhere, no matter what their sexual orientation. The words between these pages are an important lesson. Electric and explosive, yet soft and nuanced, Jerkbait is a powerhouse of a debut that is bound to leave a mark on the world of YA lit.

Add Jerkbait to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Find out more about Mia Siegert at her website!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Suffer Love

For today’s edition of Spotlight on Sixteens, I’m featuring Suffer Love, a book that will make you all starry-eyed when it hits shelves on May 3!

There are some books that make you forget you have an actual life outside their pages—a life full of responsibilities and obligations and things that have to be done. Books that make you feel like a kid again, hiding under the covers with a flashlight to fit in just one more chapter before your parents come to check if you’re asleep. Books you devour in one day because you can’t seem to stop reading.

Suffer Love is such a book.

I don’t even know where to start. There’s hurt and betrayal and secrets and two broken families after an affair and a door littered with ugly slips of paper, and the raw emotion from the fallout literally emanates from the pages. Both Hadley and Sam are angry and sad and feel like their worlds have been altered beyond repair, and they find some solace in their attraction to each other and the connection that follows. But Sam knows what Hadley doesn’t and keeping this huge truth from her may ruin everything.

The romance in this story made my heart a fizzy mess. It’s both sweet and intense, fun and serious, and such an amazing depiction of all the emotions that come with first love. Before Sam, Hadley had been losing herself in other boys—boys who were nothing but a distraction, and when Sam enters her life, you can feel the fireworks ignite and something shift in her head. And Ashley Herring Blake doesn’t just write romantic love beautifully—she writes all kinds of love with dizzying accuracy. Friend love—friends who are there for you no matter how much you change, and just want to understand how to help the new version of you. Family love—the kind that gets bent so far out of shape you think there’s no way it can ever go back. And maybe it can’t, but it just might be able to make a new shape, and Ashley threads forgiveness into this story—not as a Bandaid for problems that aren’t easily fixed, but as a light that can come out of the darkest places if you have the faith to let it shine.

This book is everything. Romantic, funny, heartbreaking, insightful, and smart, with Shakespeare references that I absolutely loved. The dual POV between Hadley and Sam lets us get inside both of their heads and hearts. At so many points, I wanted to give them a hug and make them talk to each other and figure things out. But that’s the beauty of Suffer Love. Hadley and Sam feel like real people, authentic teenagers, kids who you might have known growing up. Kids you might have been growing up. With this debut, Ashley Herring Blake wrote a book that won’t just be wanted, but needed.

Add Suffer Love to Goodreads and preoder your copy!

Visit Ashley Herring Blake’s website!

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