Monthly Archive: April 2016

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!

On falling short

We can probably all agree that meeting a goal is one of the most satisfying feelings imaginable. There’s a huge sense of inner pride, accompanied by the belief that you really can do anything you set your mind to. Rarely do I feel as invincible as I do after meeting a goal I set for myself. I’m Wonder Woman! Super Girl! I can take on the world!

Last month, I had a very specific and doable goal. I wanted to finish revising one of the YA contemporary drafts I had completed. I made an outline and broke it down by day, and I marked the big day on my calendar for March 31. FINISH REVISING. I imagined myself buoyed by that reminder, working away to achieve my goal, the same way I always do.

But then life got in the way. I got sick and when I’m sick, all I want to do is sleep or vegetate on the couch in front of a Sons of Anarchy marathon. Normally, I would push myself to write anyway, because I had a goal and hated the idea of letting myself down. But this time, I didn’t push myself. I let my brain be foggy, knowing any writing I attempted would feel forced and uninspired. I let myself rest. I let the calendar days pass unadorned and eyed the milestone that was March 31, knowing I had lost too much time to achieve it.

And I decided I was okay with that.

This is a new attitude for me. I’m usually incredibly hard on myself when it comes to goals and self-imposed deadlines. But I realized there was no point in punishing myself for being sick or chastising myself for losing progress. I knew I could come back stronger than ever if I gave myself time to rest.

I set a new goal for finishing those revisions, for a few days later. When I achieved it, I was proud of myself.

There will be other goals in the future, both big and small. But if I don’t reach them, the world isn’t going to end. Every day is a new opportunity for words, and a new chance to be kinder to ourselves. This year, I’m trying to measure progress less by numbers and days and more by how I feel mentally, creatively, artistically. And that’s the real goal to strive for.

Birthdays, milestones, and love

Today, my husband Steve is celebrating a milestone birthday. Firsts is dedicated to him—there was no question in my mind, from the moment I got my book deal, that it would be. To be honest, I had that dedication written in my head before I even had a book deal. I knew exactly what I wanted it to say.

His birthday got me thinking about love, and time, and how lost we writers would be if we weren’t moored by the support of people who adore us despite (or maybe because of) our strange rituals and weird routines and the click-click-click noise our keyboards are constantly making.

My husband and I have been a couple for just over five years. Shortly after we got together, I made the decision to seriously pursue writing. It was a big deal for me, saying that out loud to him. It made the dream more real somehow, gave it weight, instead of the fizzy quality of a dream. Before then, barely anyone besides my parents and sister even knew I was a writer.

I knew getting published was a long shot, but I decided to go for that long shot, and if I ended up falling short, I’d at least know I tried. So I wrote, and researched, and got ready to query. Steve and I had moved in together by the time I sent my first query letter. I was in our first apartment, sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, my heart hammering furiously as I hit “send.”

When I got my first full request, I was home by myself (I might have jumped on said couch, Tom Cruise-style, and squealed). Steve was the first person I called to share the good news with. When the request turned into a rejection, he was the first person I told, and the first person to tell me it was one opinion, that I was talented and capable and just had to persevere. He learned all sorts of terminology that was new to both of us, but becoming more familiar. Query and R&R and Pitch Wars and critique partner and NA and YA and out on sub. He learned them not because he had to, but because he loves me.

More rejections and requests trickled in over the next several months. In the meantime, Steve and I had many more firsts in our relationship. Our first Christmas together. Our first vacation together—Africa, a place we both felt drawn to. We got engaged and married and bought a house.

After a year and a half of querying, I got my first offer of representation. I called Steve from work, overjoyed when a fabulous agent wanted to set up a call with me. He made sure I was home from work in time to take the call and when I came out of my room bouncing up and down like a crazy person, he was ready with a bottle of wine. Later, he left me alone during revisions and dealt with my obsessive email-checking while I was on submission. He is the reason this website exists (I’m honestly the least tech-savvy person ever). When I got the call from my agent letting me know we had an offer from an editor I was incredibly excited to work with, Steve was the first person I told. (And yes, it’s possible to flail with someone through the phone.)

Steve has been with me through so many firsts. This past year was a blur of Firsts, quite literally. He hugged me when I was stressed out or frustrated and celebrated my victories with champagne and pizza. He made me feel like I could do anything. Three months after publication, he still does. And he always will.

So, today I’m celebrating Steve, the love of my life, the person who has stood by me through so many firsts. The person who is my last, my only, my everything. Writers, hug the non-writer people in your life who love you. They’re endlessly amazing. And if you have someone like Steve in your life– well, you’re very lucky indeed.

 

Spotlight on Sixteens: Crossing The Line

Today, Crossing The Line by my Sixteen to Read sister Meghan Rogers has the spotlight… this thriller is out April 12 and you don’t want to miss it!

I have made my love of twisty plots no secret, but I definitely know how hard they are to write. It’s not easy to keep readers on the edge of their seats, to keep them always second guessing, to keep them from fully trusting some of your characters. To leave readers in that perpetual state of tension is a difficult feat indeed.

It’s also one that Meghan Rogers makes look easy in her debut, Crossing The Line. And that is a true measure of her talent.

Jocelyn Steely was kidnapped when she was just a little girl and made to work as a spy in North Korea. I won’t give anything away as to why she didn’t try to escape—but let’s just say it’s both shocking and very sad. When her agency sends her to infiltrate the group her spy parents once worked for in the United States, Jocelyn sees an opportunity for freedom—and to expose KATO, her North Korean agency, for its horrible practices and robbing kids like her of their childhoods. But Jocelyn doesn’t exactly get a warm welcome in the United States—especially not from the agent known as Scorpion, a boy she has faced off with in the field more than once. With barely anyone trusting her, Jocelyn has to finish what she started—and uncover new and unsettling information in the process.

As a heroine, Jocelyn is a total badass. I don’t just mean that because she’s a highly trained spy who literally kicks ass—she struggles with her inner demons too and has more emotional baggage than most people who live a whole lifetime. I totally loved her relationship with Scorpion, which was fraught with tension—at first, just distrust, then some serious chemistry. Seeing their tenuous bond get stronger was one of my favorite parts of the book. The pacing is perfection, with twists and turns around every corner, and Meghan’s writing style is so fluid and intelligent. I stayed up way too late reading this book on more than one occasion, telling myself “just one more chapter.” And that’s the mark of an unputdownable book.

Oh, and I definitely won’t give anything away—but the ending, folks. That ending. I cannot wait for the next book in The Raven Files series!

Add Crossing The Line to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out Meghan Rogers’ website or visit her at Sixteen to Read!

Spotlight on Sixteens: My Kind of Crazy

Today, I’m reviewing a particularly awesome book that just so happens to celebrate its book birthday tomorrow! Wave your sparklers together for Robin Reul’s My Kind of Crazy!

When I saw the deal announcement for this book, I went kind of, well, crazy. I was absolutely dying to read it. That concept! That voice! Plus, the use of the word “promposal,” which is just awesome. And while attending ALA Midwinter in Boston, I was lucky enough to scoop up an ARC.

And people, this book is every bit as crazy good as I hoped it would be.

Seventeen-year-old Hank Kirby meant for his attempt to ask beautiful Amanda Carlisle to prom to be romantic, not creepy and illegal. All he wants to do is write out “PROM” in sparklers in her yard. Instead, he ends up setting a fire and fleeing the scene. He’s seriously hoping nobody saw, but the strange girl who lives across the street from Amanda saw everything—and mysteriously, wants to befriend Hank. Peyton Breedlove loves to play with fire—literally—and she thinks Hank shares her pyromaniac tendencies. A friendship and trust are forged, and although Hank considers walking away from Peyton’s weirdness, he realizes his feelings for her might be deeper than he imagined—and that she might need him even more than he needs her.

I’m a sucker for voice-driven YA contemporary, and My Kind of Crazy has all kinds of voice. Hank is such a fantastic protagonist. He’s funny and real, uncertain and freaked out, hopeful and hopeless, strong and vulnerable. I’ve made it no secret that I love reading boy POV, and Hank is a new favorite in that department. I really enjoyed how his relationship with Peyton develops as the book goes on, and that it’s a slow burn (no pun intended, but it kind of works, right?) as he figures out his mess of feelings.

My Kind of Crazy is my kind of book. When a book is as hilarious as it is heartfelt, the sad things that happen are amplified—if you’re able to laugh through several pages and get sucker-punched in the feels when the next chapter starts, that’s a testament to truly great writing. I’m so excited for the world to discover this book—and looking forward to whatever Robin Reul writes next!

Add My Kind of Crazy to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out Robin Reul’s website!

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