Monthly Archive: January 2016

January, briefly

It’s hard to sum up January as “briefly” when in reality, it was anything but. As far as months go, it was larger than life, and one of the most fun and exciting times of my life. (Please note, “fun and exciting” are not words I ever thought I’d use to describe a January in Canada.) I’m still getting back in a groove after Firsts had a spectacular book birthday and I had truly wonderful trips to Boston for ALA and Toronto for the OLA Super-Conference. For all of you who have read Firsts, or shared some love, or reached out in any way—thank you, from the bottom of my heart! I am truly overwhelmed by your kindness and so proud to be part of the kidlit community.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Two different YA contemporary projects. Both messy. Both complicated. Both of which totally have my heart. One is a completed first draft, and the other is almost there. Next up, revision-land!

Reading: I have read some seriously amazing books already this year—talk about starting 2016 on a high note! First up was Natalie Blitt’s The Distance From A to Z, which came out on January 12. You can read my rave review here! Then I finished my amazing editor-sister Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers (which was nominated for a Morris Award)! I was able to meet Anna-Marie in person at ALA and can now vouch for the fact that she’s not only freakishly talented, but also incredibly sweet.

I was able to take plenty of ARCs from ALA, which left my suitcase heavy but my heart happy. On the plane ride home, I started Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, a book that had been on my radar for what felt like forever. I’ll post more about this one later, but quite simply, it’s a masterpiece.

Next, I finished The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, which is twisty, beautifully written, and entirely unpredictable. This one came out on January 26, and you can read my review here!

To end the month, I read Summer of Sloane by Erin Schneider in one sitting. (Well, I was laying in bed… does that still count as a sitting?) It was the perfect read to transport me from freezing cold Canada to the beaches of Hawaii and I love how funny, heartfelt, and real the story is.

Watching: My husband and I have been mainlining Weeds on Netflix, and I think the series is compulsively watchable. I love how non-traditional the heroine (anti-heroine?), Nancy Botwin, is. She’s often selfish and cruel, but also smart and resourceful. I’m also a huge fan of the dark humor.

Well, that’s January in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to sharing some exciting content related to Firsts in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

YA Scavenger Hunt with Emily Martin!

I’m happy to be taking part in the YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt… and even happier because I’m interviewing my critique partner, Emily Martin, whose debut, The Year We Fell Apart, comes out tomorrow from Simon Pulse! Read on for more!

Hi Emily! I’m honored to be debuting with you and thrilled to be able to ask you a couple of questions for the YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt.

1) Like me, you were a Pitch Wars mentee and signed with an agent shortly after the contest ended. What made you decide to submit your manuscript in Pitch Wars instead of just querying the traditional way?

Pitch Wars!!! I love this contest so much. Before entering, I had never queried, mostly because I knew my manuscript wasn’t ready. That’s the great thing about Pitch Wars—at it’s heart, it’s not really about getting agent attention. It’s about working with another writer to make your novel better, and to get it ready for agents. It was a lot of work (as in, rewriting 75% of my manuscript in a 4-week period), but so, so worth it. In the end, I did land my agent through traditional querying, but it was thanks to all the hard work my mentor and I put in during the contest.

2) The Year We Fell Apart deals with so many themes that both teens and adults can relate to. Is there part of the book that makes you especially proud, or a part that was difficult to write?

There were a few scenes that were particularly difficult to write, but they’re also some of the passages I’m most proud of. Harper makes a lot of mistakes over the course of the story, but every time I cringed, finger hovering over the delete key because I couldn’t believe what she was getting herself into, I knew I’d written something honest. That was always my goal. As a result, Harper isn’t always likable in the traditional sense of the word. She can be selfish and she can be mean, but she also faces a lot of ugly realities like bullying and toxic friendships. As someone who’s made her fair share of mistakes, I can relate to Harper, and though she still has some work to do, I’m proud of how far she’s come.

3) The setting in The Year We Fell Apart is so visceral and really plays a role in the story. As a reader, I could visualize it so well. What went into your research before writing to make sure the detail was right?

Thank you! The setting was based on the two years I lived in North Carolina while earning my masters degree. I wove in details from my own experiences (bonfire parties in the woods, hikes along the Eno river, and lots of deep-fried pickles), but also incorporated some fictional details, like the town Harper lives in. A few shoutouts to my home state of Michigan are also thrown in the mix. Mostly I just tried to have fun with the details I incorporated, and to choose snippets of description that would help set the mood of the scene or develop Harper’s character.

4) Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? What does a typical writing session look like?

I think I’m still in the process of figuring out my process. 🙂 While writing The Year We Fell Apart, I was working a full-time job in the environmental field, so I wrote at night and on weekends—whenever I could find the time. It actually started as a NaNoWriMo project, so the first (messy) draft came together pretty quickly. Then I spent a lottt of time revising.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I love listening to music while I write. The song “Breathe Me” by Sia was a huge inspiration for this book, and I probably listened to several hundred times while drafting.

5) What element of being a debut author has most surprised you?

All of the support! I’ve been so touched by the amount of encouragement I’ve received from the book community, especially from fellow 2016 debut authors, as well as teen bloggers. It means the world to me to hear from readers, and it’s been one of the best parts of my debut experience so far.

6) If you could go back and give your querying writer self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Believe in yourself! Being a writer is tough work, and it involves a lot of waiting and rejection. With that comes self-doubt—at least for me. But I would tell my querying self (and any other querying writers out there) to have patience and to be open to feedback, but also to trust your gut. It got you this far!

Author Bio:

© Kate L Photography | www.kateLphotography.com

© Kate L Photography | www.kateLphotography.com

Emily Martin lives and writes in the Greater Boston area, though she will always call Michigan home. She has a penchant for impromptu dance parties, vintage clothing, and traveling to new places. When not writing, she can be found hiking New England’s peaks, searching for the perfect cup of hot chocolate, or baking something pumpkin-flavored.

Emily’s debut young adult novel, The Year We Fell Apart, comes out January 26, 2016 from Simon Pulse.

Her work is represented by Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary.

 

 

Book Summary:

22449806In the tradition of Sarah Dessen, this powerful debut novel is a compelling portrait of a young girl coping with her mother’s cancer as she figures out how to learn from—and fix—her past.

Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from. As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

In this honest and affecting tale of friendship and first love, Emily Martin brings to vivid life the trials and struggles of high school and the ability to learn from past mistakes over the course of one steamy North Carolina summer.

Spotlight on Sixteens: THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES

Today for Spotlight on Sixteens, I’m reviewing a book that you won’t have to wait long for, because it comes out tomorrow!

I was immediately intrigued by this book when I read the synopsis, and when I saw the cover, my intrigue turned into a full-blown need to devour the book. And from the first page, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES had my complete attention.

This book is unlike any other I’ve read, and is difficult to classify. It’s intense and psychological and literary, a mystery and a contemporary coming-of-age story rolled into one. It’s about coming to terms with the past and accepting that the future is both uncertain and full of promise. As a lover of books that are impossible to peg in one category, I truly appreciated the originality displayed in these pages.

Imogene Scott is the daughter of a writer of tense medical thrillers. When her father disappears, she suspects that he has gone in search of her mother—the same mother who left the family when Imogene was a baby. Armed with sleuthing skills gleaned from her father’s own books and the precious clue he left behind, Imogene embarks on a mission to find him—and in the process, perhaps the mother she never knew.

This is a book filled with so many shifting layers and depths. It’s like a lake in the sunlight—if you look at it from one angle, you’re certain it’s one color, then you look at it from a different direction and it takes you by surprise. This story took me by surprise more than once. As a reader, I love that—I love when the unexpected happens. And Rebecca Podos is a master of taking the unexpected and wringing it out, mess and all.

I also really loved the female friendship in this book between Imogene and her best friend, Jessa. They’re entirely different, but they learn to appreciate the qualities in each other that the other lacks and lean more on each other as the book progresses.

Haunting and hopeful, visceral and elegant, with a main character I could both relate to and cheer for, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES will stay with me for a very long time.

Add THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES to Goodreads here and preorder it here!

Visit Rebecca Podos’s website here!

Learn more about the Sweet Sixteen debut authors here!

Spotlight on Sixteens: SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN

Today for Spotlight on Sixteens, I’m reviewing SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin, which releases on February 2!

Sometimes, after turning page after page of a truly great book, you think, with total conviction: this book could change someone’s life. That’s how I felt more than once while reading SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN. But not only that—I also had another thought. This book could save someone’s life.

The protagonist in SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, Riley Cavanaugh, is gender fluid and identifies as both a boy and a girl, depending on the day. Some mornings, Riley wakes up and feels more girl; others, Riley’s compass is pointing toward boy. Although Riley’s parents don’t know the truth, Riley starts a blog anonymously, under the name “Alix,” to share what it’s like to be a gender fluid teenager. As Alix, Riley is open and honest and real, and begins to realize the number of gender fluid and LGBT people looking for someone who understands—but Riley is still waiting for the right time to come out in real life. To add to this, Riley has just transferred schools and struck up a friendship—and maybe more— with enigmatic Bec, who has secrets of her own.

Riley’s voice is everything I could ever want in a YA narrator. Snarky, whip-smart, thoughtful, brave, and authentically teen. And I can honestly say that seeing the world through Riley’s eyes opened mine. I loved that Riley wasn’t perfect and at times, made the same judgments or assumptions about other people that people make about gender fluid or trans individuals.

There are so many brilliant lines in this book, so many powerful truths. But this is my favorite one:

“People are complicated. And messy. Seems too convenient that we’d all fit inside some multiple-choice question.”

Nobody should be confined to identifying as male or female if that doesn’t match how they feel inside. Why do we need to know whether Riley is a boy or a girl? What does that label matter, and what does it mean, anyway? Being a boy or girl isn’t the body you were born with. It’s what is inside you, and if you’re gender fluid, it can be a spectrum that changes from day to day.

As I read, I started thinking about all the people who don’t have access to the Internet, who may not have access to books like this, who don’t know the support is there, who might need it most. The violence and hatred toward gender fluid and LGBT individuals breaks my heart and makes me both overwhelmingly sad and completely enraged. I’m confident that this book—this smart, sensitive, wonderful, courageous book—will open up a dialogue that needs to be had, will open doors for people that were previously closed. I hope this book reaches every single person who needs it, teens and adults alike, because I think it has the power to change lives. And save them.

Add SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN to Goodreads here and preorder it here!

Visit Jeff Garvin’s website here!

Learn more about The Sweet Sixteens authors and books here!

My Weekend in Boston

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably saw the evidence of my recent weekend in Boston, which was a trip full of firsts for me as a newly published author. I got to meet my amazing critique partner, Emily Martin, who I have been corresponding with online for more than two years, which was beyond wonderful. You know when you meet someone and feel like you’ve known them forever? That’s how it felt spending the weekend with Emily!

On Friday night, Emily and I– along with fellow authors Marieke Nijkamp and Anne Cardi– did a panel at Brookline Booksmith moderated by the one and only Jen Malone. It was such a cool experience. Our subject was Real Teen Lives, and  got to discuss writing for teens, our paths to publication, writing challenges, and more. At one point, the audience picked a random page for us to read from our books. For me, that turned out to be page 15. (If you own a copy of Firsts, turn to that page and try to guess just how red my face was!)

It was surreal to be in the company of such amazing authors. Also surreal was a first Emily and I got to experience at the same time—seeing our books in the wild for the first time. It’s a moment I won’t forget!

 

We had such a fun, supportive audience—lots of fellow Sixteeners came out, along with authors Mackenzi Lee and Anna-Marie McLemore (who just so happens to be my very talented editor-sister)! I was nervous at first, but being in such great company put me at ease. Plus, my red-faced reading kind of broke the ice…

Afterward, we signed books and stock for the store. The staff at Brookline Booksmith is so kind and I’d love to go back the next time I’m in Boston!

Before we left, we signed our names on the wall in the bathroom, which is a rite of passage for authors. Here’s what I wrote! I thought it was appropriate.

On Saturday, we hung out on the exhibit floor at ALA. I can’t even begin to describe how cool it was seeing thousands of books everywhere I looked. I felt like a little kid in a candy store. Well, actually, I felt like adult me still acts in a candy store—excited and overwhelmed and way too giddy. I picked up lots of ARCs, despite remaining very aware that I carried my luggage on the plane and couldn’t take on too much extra weight. Let’s just say there were too many amazing books to resist!

 

 

The day continued to bring more awesome firsts. I got to meet my amazing editor, Kat Brzozowski, and so many fellow debut authors, along with wonderful book bloggers and librarians. Talking with so many passionate book people was truly incredible!

In the evening, the Sweet Sixteens participated in our Meet and Greet event with librarians, and it was so much fun. My only complaint is that the time passed so quickly! After our event, we went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and chatted some more. I was able to sit beside Lygia Day Penaflor, who is just as sweet in real life as she is online. (Even sweeter!)

 

On Sunday, I had brunch with my editor and two of my wonderful editor-sisters, Anna-Marie McLemore and Ann Jacobus. It was great to talk writing, books, travels, families, day jobs, and everything else under the sun! Plus, I had Nutella French toast, which is every bit as delectable as it sounds. (I told Kat that I’d try to recreate it at home sometime, but I seriously doubt I’ll be able to!) Afterward, we went back to the exhibit floor, where I continued to pick up ARCs like a crazy book-starved fiend. Anna-Marie and Ann had a signing, so I was able to get beautiful hardcover copies of their books. Later in the afternoon, I watched Emily and fellow authors Dana Elmendorf, Elizabeth Briggs, and Roshani Chokshi at a panel for the Class of 2K16. I was a total fangirl in the audience and in awe of how smart, funny, and brilliant these women are.

When Monday rolled around, I couldn’t believe it was time to go home already. With two carry-ons full of books (grand tally: 23), one very sore shoulder, and a head fresh with great memories, I arrived back in Canada to snow (booo) and one very enthusiastic Chihuahua (yay!). I’m already excited for my next event, which will be in Toronto at the end of the month for the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. If you’re in the city, I’d love to see you there!

Spotlight on Sixteens: THE YEAR WE FELL APART

This week, I’m featuring an author and a debut very near and dear to my heart. I have known Emily Martin since Pitch Wars in early 2014, when we were both on the same team. (Go Team Evelyn!) Emily and I became CPs through the contest and I read an early draft of the book that would turn into THE YEAR WE FELL APART. And now, after reading the finished version, my heart feels both wrecked and put back together at the same time. That’s the power of this book, folks.

As a main character, Harper is flawed. She makes mistakes, both big and small, and carries around guilt and regret. Her biggest mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend and first love, Declan. When Declan comes home for the summer, Harper wants to make things right and win back his friendship—and possibly his love. But she’s not sure how.

Harper feels so relatable to me. She’s exactly the kind of protagonist I want to spend a whole book with. She’s not perfect—not even close. But she’s so real that she ceases to feel like a character and instead is a person. At times, things she was feeling were things I have felt in the past and the experience was very visceral. I wish I would have been able to read this book as a teenager.

This book is about a lot of things. It’s about mistakes, rumors, first love, friendship, family, and the nature of forgiveness. I love that nothing falls easily into place, because that’s real life. The past can be seriously hard to overcome, and Emily writes beautifully about this. The relationship between Harper and Declan is complicated: it’s intense and passionate and also broken, but there’s hope, and both Harper and Declan cling to it in different ways. The hurt and tension and longing is palpable on the pages.

I also loved Harper’s other relationships. Her relationship with her mom, who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her relationship with her friend Cory, and her new friendships with Gwen and Mackenzie, who she meets at a summer photography class she’s corralled into taking. Her friendship with Sadie, which especially struck a chord with me because I’ve had friends like that too—friends who may not have your best interests in mind.

Reality is messy. Being a teenage girl is the messiest of all. THE YEAR WE FELL APART took me back to that time of life, to all of the emotions that come with it. There’s no sugarcoating or finessing or dodging around difficult topics. And for that reason, THE YEAR WE FELL APART is one of the best contemporary YA books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Move this stunning debut to the top of your TBR and buy your own copy when it hits bookshelves January 26th!

Add THE YEAR WE FELL APART to Goodreads here and preorder it here!

Visit Emily’s website here or follow her on Twitter @ThatEmilyMartin.

Want to find out about the other Sweet Sixteen debuts? Check out our website here!

Spotlight on Sixteens: THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z

Today on Spotlight on Sixteens, I’m featuring the first book I finished reading in 2016– a book I truly adored. Read on to find out why… and remember to get your own copy on January 12, when THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z hits shelves!

There are so many reasons why I love THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z. It was love, or should I say amour, at first sight with Abby, who is spending her summer on campus away from home to perfect her French language skills. Her ultimate goal is to attend the Paris School and get away from her baseball-obsessed family. When she starts falling for Zeke, who is unabashedly a jock, Abby has doubts—but Zeke is a different person in French, weaving the kind of romance Abby can’t stop thinking about. But when Abby finds out what Zeke has been hiding from her, she has to figure out whether they could ever work in any language.

This story has layers, people. The relationship between Abby and Zeke is complex and beautiful and sad and hopeful and just so real. Abby is exactly the kind of main character I want to spend a book with. She’s smart and hilarious and vulnerable… and just as addicted to coffee as I am. In fact, I want to spend more than a book with Abby. I want to go back in time and make her my high school BFF.

Speaking of BFFs… I also adored Alice, Abby’s roommate. She’s such a wonderfully drawn character. Alice deals with anxiety, and I think Natalie Blitt handled that so well. The friendship between Abby and Alice—how they support each other and want the best for one another—made my heart truly happy.

The French phrases in this book were woven beautifully, and I loved being in Abby’s head as she thought about different things in both French and English. It was so unique having both languages in the story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the main character was so interested in becoming bilingual, and it felt so fresh and authentic and original. I really gravitated toward the relationship Abby has with the French language. It’s so special to her, something that’s just hers.

The writing in this book is everything. It’s humorous and heartbreaking, and at different points, I was laughing out loud or on the verge of tearing up. There were so many quotes I wanted to frame and put on the wall, because they’re as beautiful and inspiring as any artwork.

THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z is a book everyone should read. It’s about learning who you are, about reconciling the person you want to become with the place you came from. It’s about distance, both physical and metaphorical. And the distance from the first page to the last page is a journey I’ll definitely be making again.

Add THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z to Goodreads here and preorder it here!

Visit Natalie Blitt’s website here!

Find out more about the amazing Sweet Sixteen debuts here!

 

‘Twas The Night Before Pub Day…

‘Twas the night before pub day, and all through the house
I wouldn’t know what’s stirring, because I’m sprawled on the couch

The work has been done, the words strung in lines
The effort put in, so I’m drinking some wine

We’ve come a long way, me and this book
A lot of my time and patience it took

A rapid first draft, rounds of edits that followed
Crushing self-doubt within which I wallowed

An agent, an editor, a dream team of stars
Giving me faith that I could go far

A cover design that I loved at first sight
First pass pages that tried to put up a fight

Writing acknowledgments gave me the feels
And made me realize that all of this was real

That I’m no longer a fourth-grader penning big schemes
That my real life is as grand as any of my dreams

That I did what I always most wanted to do
I took an idea that came to me out of the blue

And made it a story people want to read
A story I’m incredibly proud of indeed

Tomorrow morning might look the same
I’ll likely be tired, and my hair won’t be tame

But I’ll get to do something I haven’t before
Go and find the book I wrote in a store

So on my book birthday eve, I’m reminding myself
That tomorrow, happiness will be on a shelf

That it really happens– dreams really come true
That you really can accomplish what you set out to do

No matter what you want, how big or how small
I’m living proof that you can do it all.

‘Twas the night before pub day, and I’m going to bed
With old and new stories swirling through my head

When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be able to say
“Hey world, my debut novel came out today!”

(But I’ll start the day with a coffee—some things never change.)

xoxo, A Very Grateful Almost-Author

Spotlight on Sixteens: UNDERWATER

Today’s edition of Spotlight on Sixteens features a book that had a huge impact on me. UNDERWATER by Marisa Reichardt is a story I’ll be thinking about for a very long time. I’m proud to call Marisa one of my Sixteen to Read sisters, and I’m thrilled to share my review of her debut novel!

UNDERWATER is the story of Morgan, a high school student who hasn’t forgiven herself for the role she thinks she played in a horrible tragedy. Morgan literally can’t move on—she is confined to her apartment, too afraid to venture beyond the front door. She takes online courses and has lost touch with her former friends. She has stopped swimming, which used to be her passion. But when newcomer Evan moves in next door and reminds Morgan of everything she used to love, she starts to wonder if she’s capable of living again—really living—and letting go of her debilitating fear.

UNDERWATER is the story of a girl dealing with the aftermath of something terrifying, something nobody should ever have to go through. It’s the story of a family that has unraveled. It’s about forgiveness and acceptance and grief and confessions and truth. And it’s so stunningly real. Every page, every sentence, every word is authentic. This book made me hold my breath. This book made my heart hurt. This book made my eyes widen. This book made me compulsively turn pages. The words were alternately claws digging into me, sirens in my ears, weight on my chest, tears in my eyes. What Morgan felt, I felt. I spent a lot of this book hurting because she was hurting so badly. As an author, making readers care about a character that intensely is not easy to do. This is a testament to Marisa Reichardt’s jaw-dropping talent.

As devastating as this book is, there is also so much hope infused in the pages. It’s the kind of hope that feels slippery and out of reach at times, and that makes it real. There are different levels of hope and strength and they’re intertwined. Sometimes they’re twisted up in a knot but if they can get out of that knot, they can both become lifelines. When the book starts, Morgan is too scared to step onto her welcome mat. But as the story goes on, she gets stronger in so many ways. You’ll cheer for every inch of her progress. If you’re like me, you might cheer out loud and startle the Chihuahua sleeping on your lap.

Marisa’s prose is piercing. It’s a storm and a lullaby. The scope of her skill as an author is enormous and I’m still in awe. She has the rare ability to write the kind of voice that not just fully absorbs a reader, but fills the reader up. Her talent is both jaw-dropping and inspiring.

This is a book I need to read again. (Good thing I preordered months ago!) This is a book everyone needs to experience, and it’ll be in bookstores everywhere on January 12!

Add UNDERWATER to your Goodreads bookshelf here and preorder it here!

Check out Marisa’s website here!

You can read more about the Sixteen to Read authors and our debuts here!

%d bloggers like this: