YA Review: ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine

One day in the bookstore I needed a third book to get a deal and spotted ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine. I’d seen the movie and figured the book must be better because, of course, they always are. Plus, it’s a Cinderella story, and we all know how much I love Cinderella stories, right? Anyway, in case you aren’t already familiar with this classic, here’s the description.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson LevineHow can a fairy’s blessing be such a curse?

At her birth, Ella of Frell was the unfortunate recipient of a foolish fairy’s gift—the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it’s hopping on one foot for a day and a half, or chopping off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse—once and for all.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ella’s resourcefulness – As you can see from the description, Ella has a bit of a problem. She has to do whatever people tell her to do, but she’s very resourceful. From outsmarting ogres to protecting Char, Ella always has a plan. I admired her, and so I was always rooting for her to succeed. Sometimes I wasn’t sure how she was going to get out of whatever mess she was in, but I assumed she’d figure it out.

2. Char – This Prince Charming–or Charmant–is no nameless prince. He has a personality and faults, and he earns Ella. I really enjoyed the way he was a fleshed out character and not just her savior in this version of the Cinderella story.

3. The romance – I loved the way the romance between Ella and Char developed over time. They really get to know each other, so it’s not the typical fairy tale romance or even what you often see in YA, where the guy and girl have this instant physical attraction and everything else follows. Ella and Char start out as friends and the love grows from there.

4. The supporting characters – I could really picture each of the supporting characters in the story–vapid Olive, evil Hattie, grasping Mum Olga, greedy Father, clueless Lucinda, and on and on. They were so spot on!

5. The stakes – Oh, I felt for Ella! Just when her dreams were within her reach, she had to–wait, you might not have read this yet, so I probably shouldn’t say. It’s really well done!

Have you read ELLA ENCHANTED? Or one of Gail Carson Levine’s other books? I’m interested in reading another, so I’d love a recommendation!

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Romance in Kidlit and Other 2014 MOSCBWI Takeaways

Last Saturday I attended the Missouri SCBWI Conference. 2014 was my fourth year attending, and it’s interesting how my attitude toward this conference has changed. My first year, I soaked up everything. I was new to the world of writing for middle grade and young adult. I was just discovering all of the resources available on the internet, and so the information available at this regional conference was golden. These days I go less to learn something new than to catch up with writer friends, meet new writers, and hear something interesting. So for those purposes, it met my expectations.

The first speaker had interviewed seventeen editors and agents to gauge where the market is now and where it’s headed. She didn’t share anything I hadn’t already seen from the editors and agents I follow online, but I could tell that the information was extremely valuable to others in the room, so it was definitely a relevant topic.

The most interesting–and hilarious!–speaker of the day was author Cecily White, author of PROPHECY GIRL, who gave a keynote on “The Space Between Us: Layered Romantic Tension in Young Adult and Middle Grade.” She approached the topic from a psychologist’s perspective, giving background on how experts like Freud and Erikson defined these age groups and how they view the opposite sex. It was quite fascinating and gave a unique insight into why romance is different at these reading levels. Not your typical MG vs. YA presentation! Oh–you want to know what the difference is? Well, I don’t think I can just give her presentation away, but here’s a taste:

  • Middle grade love: Are we friends or what?
  • Young adult love: We’re dating! It’s forever love!

I also found author Steven Sheinkin’s keynote presentation, “Research or Detective Work,” fascinating. Mr. Sheinkin writes narrative non-fiction–which is something I never intend to write–but after listening to his process I’m now very interested in reading his books on Benedict Arnold, the guys who tried to rob Abraham Lincoln’s grave, and the men who staged a mutiny at Port Chicago. Honestly, I didn’t take a ton of notes during his presentation. I just enjoyed listening to him tell stories about how he’d tracked down all of the facts behind these untold histories. And it’s all because he worked for a history textbook company that wouldn’t let him put in the interesting bits! Now I must make sure our school library carries his books … But if you do write narrative non-fiction or even historical fiction and want to get your facts straight, a few tidbits I did catch that I might not have thought of are:

  • You can request FBI files, military files, etc., on people. They might blank things out, but the Freedom of Information Act gives you this right.
  • If possible, interview primary sources or people in the area who are experts on that topic, including authors of other books. He contacted one author who had done in-person interviews no one else knew existed.
  • Check old newspaper accounts.

I would highly recommend Ms. White and Mr. Sheinkin to any SCBWI chapters looking for speakers!

The day ended with a First Five Lines critique by two agents and an editor. It’s always interesting to hear industry professionals respond on-the-spot, especially to gauge their individual tastes. One of my writing friends received some very helpful feedback through the critiques, so yay!

Overall, I was glad I attended, although I’m excited to try something new next year. Some of my writer friends across the country have been urging me to branch out, so I may be headed toward the northeast …

Were any of you at MOSCBWI? What did you think?

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MMGM: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman

It’s only been two weeks and I have another MMGM. Can you believe it?

I’ve been waiting to read ALL FOUR STARS ever since October 2011, when it was entered in the same Secret Agent contest as my first middle grade manuscript. That first page is pretty similar to what I remember :). About six months after that–after Tara Dairman had signed with her agent and had a publishing deal–she offered critiques for all of the entries on Krista Van Dolzer’s Writer’s Voice team for my second manuscript, so I’ve had more than one encounter with her, although she might not realize it. In any case, I’m excited to review her book today. Here’s the blurb.

All Four Stars by Tara DairmanMeet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated, but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world. But to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret. Easy as pie, right?

And here are the five things I loved most about ALL FOUR STARS:

1. The food - I’m not a foodie by any stretch of imagination. In fact, I’m a pretty picky eater (although nowhere near as picky as Gladys’s friend Parm), but I loved living vicariously through Gladys and her descriptions of exotic foods. Hey, if you can have adventures through books, you might as well experience new foods through a book!

2. The parents - Poor Mr. and Mrs. Gatsby. They have no idea what to do with their daughter’s hobby. Seeing them through Gladys’s eyes is comical, and yet by the end of the story, she comes to appreciate them more.

3. The friendships - At the beginning of the book, Gladys is so wrapped up in cooking she doesn’t care much about friends. The cooking ban forces her to branch out and make new friends, which she finds in surprising places. I really enjoyed what she learned about finding things in common with the most unexpected people.

4. The disasters – The book starts out with a disaster, and they keep piling up. Nothing seems to go right for Gladys–with the exception of the fluke that gets her the reviewing job–and this provides some excellent humor in the story. There were several laugh-out-loud moments.

5. The ending – All I can say about this is that the ending fit perfectly with everything else that happened in the book. Ahhh, Gladys!

Have you read ALL FOUR STARS yet? What did you think?

Posted in Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

YA Review: JUST LIKE THE MOVIES by Kelly Fiore

I read Kelly Fiore’s first book, TASTE TEST, and really enjoyed it, but when I saw the description for her second book, it was like she’d decided to write a book just for me :). I mean, have you read the part of my bio where it says I watch too much TV? I should probably clarify that a lot of that TV is actually re-watching my large collection of movies, which consists mainly of romantic comedies. Anyway, here’s the description for the book.

Just Like the Movies by Kelly FiorePretty and popular track star Marijke Monti is confident about almost everything – she’s got good friends, a great family, and she’s on her way to the State Track Championship. In fact, the only thing Marijke isn’t confident about is her relationship with hometown hottie Tommy Lawson. Lily Spencer has spent her entire high school career preparing for the future, but she’s about to graduate and still hasn’t even had a boyfriend. The only thing she has had is a long standing crush on motocross team captain Joe Lombardi, who she is sure doesn’t know she exists.

When both Marijke and Lily end up alone at a late night showing of Titanic at the local revival theater, the girls find themselves admitting their troubles to another person for the first time. “Why can’t things be like the movies?” Marijke complains to Lily. “Why can’t you just hold up a boom box or set up a flash mob to get the guy of your dreams?” Which gives Lily an idea – why can’t life be like a movie? Why can’t they set up their perfect romantic situations, just in time for their senior prom, using inspiration from their favorite flicks?

Marijke and Lily brainstorm movie-inspired ways to attract, attain, and enrapture the boys of their dreams, then they commit themselves to being secret cohorts. But, unlike the movies, life isn’t perfect – sometimes it takes more than a script and a spotlight to find your happily ever after.

And here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The premise – You probably already gleaned that from my intro, but it bears repeating. I mean, why hadn’t someone already written this book?

2. The movie scenes – Sure, this goes with the premise, but a novel is more than the premise–it’s also the execution. I loved seeing which movies the girls used to try and win their boys. And yep, I’d seen every one :). I bet there will be a number of girls downloading/renting/whatever some of the movies mentioned in this book to see just how romantic these scenes are.

3. The prom proposals – Is this a thing? Do boys don armor or rent semis to ask girls to prom? If so, I really missed out in high school! In any case, it made for some very fun elements in the story, although I would have liked to read Lily’s exposé rating the prom proposals …

4. Marijke’s growth – Both characters have something to learn in this story, but to me, it seemed that Marijke had the farthest to go, and I was glad to see her take the journey. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t go into it here, but it’s an important one.

5. The friendship – At first glance this story is about love, but the friendship between Lily and Marijke was the true heart of the story. It might sound odd that two high school senior girls don’t already have a best friend, but the reasons each of them needed a friend rang true. I enjoyed the way their friendship developed.

Have you read JUST LIKE THE MOVIES yet? If you were going to recreate a romantic scene from a movie, what scene would you choose?

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Adventures in Pitch Wars Hashtag Stalking

Normally at this time of year I would be stalking ninjas, but due to the timing of Pitch Wars and WriteOnCon, I didn’t participate as much in the latter this year. I have become an entirely different kind of stalker–a hashtag stalker. Specifically, this one:


Now, it’s a little overwhelming to watch the whole hashtag. I discovered a handy trick, though. I usually follow Twitter in Tweetdeck on my desktop, but by accident I noticed I could narrow a search on my phone by “People I follow.” And I thought, I wonder if I can do that in the web interface, too? It turns out you can. So I’ve been keeping a tab open in my browser with a search for the hashtag and just the people I follow, which of course includes the mentors I submitted to, along with the organizers and my writing friends. Honestly, watching the full hashtag is just too overwhelming.

But really, this stalking thing can drive you crazy. It’s as bad as stalking agents. I’ve been chatting with some of my writing friends behind the scenes, and here are some of the things we’ve been thinking. Maybe you’ve been thinking these things, too?

“Why isn’t Mentor A tweeting AT ALL? This complete silence is driving me insane!”

“Hints? There are four chosen manuscripts with the word ‘The’ in the title? That’s not mine. Ok, that takes up 4 of the 75 spots, leaving 71. And lots of titles with alliteration. Not mine either. A title longer than 4 words. Also not mine. If at least 3 of those are YA … oh, forget it, I’m not going to try and figure out the math.”


“My title has ‘The’ in it! And alliteration! And it’s longer than 4 words! I’m in!” :)

“Oooh, a chat!” *views chat while eating lunch* “Hmm. Mentor B set some aside because she likes them but doesn’t know how to help them. Will she tell me if I’m one of those? Ugh. What if I picked the totally wrong mentor and they don’t think they can help at all? Oh! How cool would it be to have mentors fighting over my manuscript? Do they have virtual light sabers? What a roller-coaster!” *closes chat*

Mentor C just tweeted that he’s requested from some people but doesn’t need to see more from others to make a decision. Is he TRYING to torture me?” I actually heard one mentor say she was! Evil mentor! :)

“Is there a way to hack into this behind-the-scenes place where the mentors talk? Because I really want to know what entries they’re fighting over and what’s already been picked! Not just mine but writer friend A and writer friend B and …”

Mentor D says, ‘I love this sample but I’m not sure I can help it. It’s probably ready to query.’ Is that me? If she didn’t read the whole thing, how does she know it’s ready?” Although, still awesome that she loves the first chapter that much.

On the other hand:

Mentor A says, ‘I rejected this manuscript because I can’t find anything to critique. It’s ready to query.’ Forget Pitch Wars. I’m not waiting until November to send this to agents!” Ha! Kudos to that writer!

Mentor B made all of his requests and I didn’t get one. Bummer.” Let me just say that if this happened to you, shake it off! (Hey, is that a new song or something?) Everyone says this, but it is so true: taste is sooo subjective. No matter how careful you were selecting your mentors, unless you’re, say, Suzanne Collins, you probably wouldn’t appeal to all of them. Or look on the bright side: maybe they think you are Suzanne Collins and you don’t need a mentor!

Mentor C just tweeted that she’s loving all the entries in [genre X]. Argh! Mine’s [genre Y]! She’s not going to pick me!”

Mentor D said a ton of people are mislabeling their submissions. Did I get mine wrong? Am I completely off-base with this manuscript?”

Mentor A is completely in love with this manuscript. Is it mine???”

Mentor B said this first page made her laugh out loud. My CP put an LOL note on my first page. Maybe it’s mine!”

Mentor C is only tweeting about his favorite candy. Who cares about candy? I need to know what he’s reading!”

And the ultimate question:

Mentor D has made her pick! Is it me?”

Well, I guess we’ll find out next week.

Others have said it, but let me repeat it. Agent-judged contests are a great opportunity, and this one in particular has an extra mentoring layer that gives it even more weight, but don’t be discouraged if you aren’t selected. There are a lot of factors that go into being chosen. And some of them might even be positive–like maybe the mentors think you don’t need that mentoring layer. I used it as an example above because I’ve seen mentors tweeting it. I’m hopeful that if that is the reason the mentors will let applicants know. And if it’s another reason–like you need more help than they can give you in the time period necessary–don’t be discouraged by that either. The journey to publication is a long one. I’ve certainly learned that, and I’m not giving up.

Good luck, everyone! I hope the wait over the weekend isn’t too unbearable. I’ll still be hashtag stalking, but I also have a lot going on, so it won’t be all-consuming. Happy Labor Day to those celebrating on Monday!



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MMGM Interview & Giveaway: AT YOUR SERVICE by Jen Malone

I’m back! I know it’s been forever since I had an MMGM, but this is a good one because it’s for a book that comes out tomorrow–AT YOUR SERVICE by Jen Malone. I won an annotated e-ARC of this book a couple of months ago, and I loved reading it this way so much Ms. Malone is offering another one to a lucky reader. Yay! Details are at the bottom of the post. Ms. Malone also agreed to answer some questions about the five things I loved most. But first, here’s a description of the book.

At Your Service by Jen Malone

Chloe Turner has pretty much the BEST life. She gets to live in the super fancy Hotel St. Michele, New York City is her home town and her dad Mitchell Turner, concierge extraordinaire, is teaching her all the secrets of the business so she can follow in his footsteps. After helping him out with a particularly difficult kid client, Chloe is appointed the official junior concierge tending to the hotel’s smallest, though sometimes most demanding, guests.

Her new position comes with tons of perks like cupcake parties, backstage passes to concerts, and even private fittings with the hippest clothing designers. But Chloe hasn’t faced her toughest challenge yet. When three young royals, (including a real-life PRINCE!) come to stay, Chloe’s determined to prove once and for all just how good she is at her job. But the trip is a disaster, especially when the youngest disappears. Now it’s up to Chloe to save the day. Can she find the missing princess before it becomes international news?

1. I loved reading the annotated version, but I also loved the footnotes. I got a glimpse inside your mind, as well as an extra glimpse inside Chloe’s mind. (Sophie Kinsella also used this in I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER. Have you read that book?) What made you decide to use footnotes? And how much fun was it to do the notes? Yes, I’m sneaking in multiple questions :).

I haven’t read that one yet, but I love her books – going on my list! Because the novel is written in first person, it would have sounded a little unnatural (“You know, Bob…” ) for Chloe to have been giving all these NYC facts as asides; however, I really wrote this book as a love letter to New York and I so wanted to include the factoids. Footnotes seemed like the perfect solution. Also, as you might realize by the end of this interview, I tend to be a tiny (HUGE) bit wordy and this was a way to get even more words in there. Don’t tell my editor!

2. I loved the New York details, and yet you live in Boston. Are you originally from New York or just a fan? If the latter, how did you research the city?

I’m originally from Baltimore, and now live in Boston. My NYC connection is a weird one; my husband and kids are ginormous New York Yankees fans in the middle of Red Sox Nation. In fact, my twin boys’ room is like a shrine to them and we once had a cable serviceman walk upstairs, spot their room, and immediately refuse to stay to do the work. As for me, I adore the city and, for this book especially, I think it really helped to be able to write from a happy tourist’s perspective. I’m not the least bit jaded, as I might be if I was jostled on the subway platforms day after day. Chloe is a native – and very proudly so – but she’s also enamored of her hometown and adores showing it off to visitors (conversely she gets a wee bit annoyed when anyone has less than a glowing review of The Big Apple). We’re lucky that my husband goes to NYC for business several times a year and, whenever possible, we tag along. Most of the tourist spots featured in the book were ones we’d visited in the past few years, though I did have to have my hubby spend half a business trip circling the city to take pictures of every penny machine for me. I also relied on my NYC-living editor and some Brooklyn friends to make sure I got the details right.

3. I love the premise of a junior concierge, with the glamor and the grunt work that come along with it. What other scenarios might Chloe have found herself in if you’d had the space? I’m thinking deleted scenes here …

Well, I can’t give away too much because I’m hopeful Chloe will get to have more concierge adventures. In this book, I wanted to make sure the royal disappearance was introduced before we got too far into the story, so we’re only inside the hotel for the first third of the book or so and that leaves me sooo many fun options to explore going forward. For example, at the Copley Hotel in Boston, they have a dog available for guests to “borrow” from the concierge. You can sign up to walk her or even reserve her to hang in your room with you for a scheduled time. At night she goes home with the concierge. So I think if there’s a sequel, Chloe will definitely be campaigning for a puppy and, when her dad repeatedly says no, she’ll brainstorm this creative solution as a way to get her pet :).

4. I have a serious weakness for royalty. If there are princes and princesses in a story, I’m probably going to love it. Do you have a similar weakness, or was it just a given that royalty would be the ultimate challenge for a junior concierge?

I definitely have a weakness for royalty, but I have to give full credit to my amazing editor, Annie Berger, for this one – it was her idea. It works perfectly though because everyone instantly understands it would be terrible to lose a guest but So. Much. Worse to lose a royal guest! The whole world would pay attention to that news story … which isn’t good for a Junior Concierge who is trying to make a reputation for herself.

5. In line with that last question, I have to say that the penny presses were a brilliant complication. I could just see a kid wanting to collect all those pennies. Do you collect coins? Or something else? Maybe your readers will start sending you pennies!

Thank you! It took me a while to hit on that solution, but it allowed me to give the kids a concrete list of clues to follow and sooo many kids love cranking these machines (all three of my kids have full collector’s books of these pennies). And (I’m SOO thrilled) I just ordered custom At Your Service pressed pennies to give away at the launch party and at school visits – I can’t wait to see them! I’m also crazy excited for a Girl Scout bus trip from Boston to NYC next spring where a whole slew of girls and their moms are going to race through the city to collect as many of the pennies from the book as they can. I personally collect heart-shaped rocks I’ve found (or my kids have found) on the beach, but I do have a collection of coins – one from each of the 47 countries I’ve visited (so far).

Thanks so much for reading At Your Service and for inviting me to hang on your blog!!

And thank you, Ms. Malone, for visiting! Now on to the giveaway! You may enter via the Rafflecopter below. It’s an electronic book, so international is fine!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

WriteOnCon! With Advice If You’re Posting in the Forums

It’s WriteOnCon time! WriteOnCon is a free, online conference for picture book, middle grade, young adult, and (this year) new adult writers. If you fit into any (or all!) of these categories, you should definitely check it out! The information I’ve gleaned from this conference over the past few years is beyond measurement.

One of the most popular features of the conference is the forums, which allow you to post your query, first page, and first five pages in separate forums. As an added bonus, Ninja Agents–so called because although a list of agents is given they have code names–slink through the forums and leave feedback on the posts. Sometimes they even request additional pages or full manuscripts through private messages. If you want to receive one of these coveted requests, it is in your best interest to post in all three areas (query, first page, first five pages) as an individual Ninja Agent may only stay in a single forum. One of my most popular posts last year was on How to Stalk WriteOnCon Ninja Agents. It gives detailed instructions on how to find them, so if you want to be sneaky …

If you are posting in the forums, I would like to give some unsolicited advice. Maybe you already know this, and maybe you read my Thoughts on Revising from Public Critiques Post, but here it is anyway:

  1. Don’t try to explain everything, especially with a query. If someone asks you a straight clarification question, by all means, answer it, but if you try to get into too many details, you’re likely to end up making your query even more confusing or adding more details than you need. Often it’s easier to just revise and say, “Does that clear things up?”
  2. Remember your intended audience. If critiquers don’t recognize a reference to something–whether it’s a comp title or something the character is watching or technology they’re using in your first pages–maybe that’s ok. Will an agent know the comp title? Will the 11-year-old know that show? Will the 16-year-old know that gadget? Possibly you have to explain it, but possibly you don’t. Trust your instincts.
  3. When it comes to the first page, if a commenter is questioning something that will be answered later, don’t move it up just to answer his/her question. If that information shouldn’t be revealed until page three–or page fifty, for that matter–save it for the right moment. If an agent is intrigued enough by your writing and voice, they’ll stick with the story to get those answers when the time is right.
  4. Unless a comment automatically resonates with you, wait until you have several to revise. That’s the value of this kind of event. You’re going to receive feedback from multiple writers, so wait to hear from more than one before you jump on that gut reaction. They might not all agree. If they do, it’s easy to know what to fix. If they don’t, that’s when you have to sit back and figure out what’s not working. Because if everyone’s commenting on the same section but not agreeing on the solution, probably something needs to happen there.

I think that’s it. So go forth and post in the forums! If you do, let me know where you are and I’ll stop by. I haven’t posted my own yet, but I will soon!

Posted in Agents, Conferences, Critiquing, Querying, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments