YA Review: EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon

I think the fact I didn’t have much time to read during our trip, combined with my kids being gone for three days last week, put me into a reading frenzy. I read five books in the past week, including two full-length adult books. As I’m sure many of you middle grade/young adult readers understand, adult books seem so long when you’re used to MG and YA, but I still enjoyed them. Sometimes it’s nice to switch things up. I actually have a pile of them because several of the adult authors I still read–mostly romance :)–have had books come out in the past couple of months.

Anyway, I’ve been hearing about EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon forever and kept thinking I should read it, but I confess it wasn’t until I watched the movie trailer that I made it a priority. So glad I did!

Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonMadeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. She is content enough—until a boy with eyes the color of the Atlantic Ocean moves in next door. Their complicated romance begins over IM and grows through a wunderkammer of vignettes, illustrations, charts, and more.

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

 

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The mixed media – I loved the use of drawings, health logs, IMs, emails, etc. But I especially loved how Maddy looked at life as a science experiment and charted out each potential experience. My favorite was “Kiss Mechanics.”

2. The romance – I love how this romance builds from a distance at first. There’s physical tension, and it’s very well done, but it comes later. The relationship is built on them getting to know each other before they’re even able to be in the same room.

3. The humor – One of the reasons I delayed reading this book was that based on the premise, I mistakenly believed it was going to be a depressing read. It spans a range of emotions, but the one that took me by surprise was humor. There’s a whole sequence with a Bundt cake that’s just hilarious. I won’t spoil it by telling you anything more.

4. Madeline’s growth – I really felt for Madeline as a character–to be trapped in your home for your whole life and to know that leaving could cost you your life. What kind of a decision is that? The end of this book wasn’t the point–it was watching her decide what it meant to live.

5. Madeline’s spoiler book reviews – These sort of go with the mixed media above, but as I was paging through deciding what to highlight, I kept chuckling at them. Example:

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND BY LEWIS CARROLL

Spoiler alert: Beware the Queen of Hearts. She’ll have your head.

There’s so much more I want to discuss about this book, but I will ruin it for you if you haven’t read it yet, so GO READ IT! And then come back and discuss it with me. Now I’m anxious to read Ms. Yoon’s other book, since I loved this one so much.

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YA Review: CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

I did not read nearly as much as I thought I would on our trip to Australia, but it’s because I was busy doing things like holding koalas and feeding kangaroos.

Actually, I ticked those off my bucket list on our first day there while visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside Brisbane. I highly recommend the experience if you’re ever in Australia. It was the highlight of the trip, although a close second was singing on the stage of the Sydney Opera House during our backstage tour. Sorry, I don’t know you all quite well enough to post that video here :).

I could share a hundred more pictures, but the purpose of my blog is to share either writing or book reviews, and today I want to talk about the last book that came through on my Kindle during the trip. I didn’t actually read it in Australia, but since I downloaded it there, I felt like that gave me an excuse to share a couple of pictures. Anyway, here is the cover and description for CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The sisters – The relationship at the core of this story is a sisterhood. Their relationship is complicated, and they’re oh-so-different, but at the core is love. It was great to see a novel with a sibling relationship at its center.

2. The descriptions – The writing is just gorgeous. It’s easiest to just give you an example.

The sky was black, the moon visiting some other part of the world, as Scarlett took her first step into Caraval. Only a few rebel stars held posts above, watching as she and Julian crossed the threshold of the wrought-iron gate, into a realm that for some would only ever exist in wild stories.

While the rest of the universe had suddenly gone dark, the grand house blazed with light. Every window shimmered with buttery illumination, turning the flower boxes below into cradles full of stardust. The citrus scent from before was gone. Now the air was syrupy and thick, still much sweeter than the air on Trisda, yet Scarlett only tasted bitter.

3. The romance – I’m a sucker for a rascal of a love interest. It must be all those romance novels I grew up reading. Anyway, I loved how the romance built between the two characters. There was just the right amount of tension.

4. The twists – Wow. It seemed that with every new chapter, a new twist was being revealed. Honestly, I was second-guessing every character–and I LOVED IT! It made complete sense within the world Ms. Garber built. None of the twists were gratuitous. So well done!

5. The pacing – I couldn’t put this book down. I was reading it during my son’s birthday party with a bunch of nine-year-olds running and screaming around my basement, so obviously that classifies it as unputdownable. I think it’s in large part due to what I mentioned about the twists, but also because there was a ticking clock–always a good strategy for keeping you reading!

Also, the ending was a perfect teaser for the next book in the series, so I’m anxious to read on. I sort of hate reading the first book in a series when it first comes out for this very reason, but oh well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. If you’ve read CARAVAL, I’d love to discuss it further with you in the comments!

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YA Review: THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY was one of my favorite reads of 2016, and I also thoroughly enjoyed OUTRUN THE MOON, so I was thrilled when I won a copy of her latest, THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE. Here are the cover and description.

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey LeeAs one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix elixirs that help others fall in love.

All while remaining incurably alone.

For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa dreams of ditching the hermetic life of an aromateur in favor of high school, free time, and a boy to kiss.

When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, she quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice. It’s a calling.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The scents – I don’t think I could talk about this book without mentioning how much I learned about the sense of smell. I can’t even imagine how much research Stacey Lee conducted for this book. Imagine a world where you could read emotions based on how the person smells … well, I suppose that would be both a blessing and a curse. But I certainly found it fascinating to read!

2. The descriptions – Ms. Lee’s descriptions–particularly of the characters–are so evocative and artful. Here are a couple of them that stuck with me after I had finished reading the book.

My own nose–which looks like someone took pliers to Mother’s, tweaked it longer and pinched a bump on the bridge to be funny–doesn’t detect a single wayward molecule, though Mother’s the expert.

Sure, he’s cute, even up close, but overrated-cute. His eyes squint and he has one of those Count Dracula hairlines that, like the economy, is one day headed for a recession.

3. The stakes – On the surface, the stakes in this book might seem more quiet, but to Mim they’re all-important. The contrast between Mim’s calling as an aromateur and her longing for more out of life is so well-drawn. I loved how the tension kept ratcheting up with every choice she made until the stakes became all or nothing.

4. The love clients – Obviously the nature/course of love is a theme in this story, and I enjoyed seeing how it played out with the client Mim and her mother start out with at the beginning of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s super sweet!

5. The resolution – I think it’s a sign of how great the tension in the story was that I was worried it couldn’t end well, but I was satisfied, which is all I can say without giving anything away :).

Have you read THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE yet? If not, go pick it up!

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MMGM: THE SWAP by Megan Shull

Last fall I watched a Disney TV movie called “The Swap” and thought, Wow, I wish I could read that as a book. Turns out it was based on a book! (Also, have I mentioned before how it’s my dream to have one of my books made into a Disney TV movie? Because, honestly, that’s the type of book I write.) Anyway, when I spotted Megan Shull’s THE SWAP at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, I immediately threw it in my shopping cart. (Yes, a literal shopping cart.) Interestingly, the movie was aged up from middle school to high school, but I can understand why. The story is completely appropriate for middle grade readers, BUT it is not a book I’d recommend to younger kids reading up due to some of the gender-swapping content. For example, my six and eight-year-old kids watched the movie and thought it was hilarious, but my son would be freaked out reading about the boy in the girl’s body learning about a girl getting her period for the first time.

Yeah. Not ready for that talk. Moving on. Here’s the description for the book.

The Swap by Megan Shull

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Ellie and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I already had a thousand scenarios of how this premise would play out in a book after I watched the movie, and it was different in the book. References to puberty aside–and really, how could that be avoided?–it’s all handled very tastefully and hilariously.

2. The voices – I have to be honest here. Half the time, I had no idea what Jack’s brothers were saying. They have their own language, but I applaud Ms. Shull. I think she actually exaggerated it for the purpose of showing how different the two characters are, but it works.

3. The character arcs – It’s hinted at in the description, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that Ellie and Jack discover themselves by being someone else. I love how they learn more about who they are inside while they’re taking a break from being themselves on the outside. It’s rare to get a glimpse of how others see you, but that’s what the magic of this story allows.

4. Ellie & Jack’s relationship – Not only do they get to know themselves, but they also get to know each other, since they’re living each others’ lives for a weekend. It was fun to watch how close they become, and how they can use that knowledge to help each other.

5. The humor – I tried to find a good example to post, but they’re all too long. Mostly the humor is situational and related to Ellie or Jack being completely confused about what’s going on in the other’s life and having to wing it. I was laughing out loud through much of the book.

I highly recommend this one, but as I said, if you have a younger MG reader, be aware there is talk of bodily functions related to puberty–for both boys and girls–in case you haven’t had those discussions yet.

Posted in Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Movies, Reading, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How to Stalk WriteOnCon Ninja Agents 2017

If you’re in the kidlit community, you probably know about WriteOnCon and missed it as terribly as I did in 2015 and 2016. Well, hallelujah, it’s back! I don’t have anything to query at the moment, but I do have a work-in-progress ready for some feedback in the forums, so I’ll definitely be dipping a toe in. And of course I’ll be soaking in all the amazing knowledge to be gained from the blogs, vlogs, and live sessions starting tomorrow. Woohoo! (If you haven’t already registered, what are you waiting for??)

But back to the title of this post. In case you are new to WriteOnCon, you may be wondering what a Ninja Agent is. Basically, it’s a literary agent who sneaks through the forums leaving comments. Their identities are closely guarded, even after the conference is over. The only way you find out who they are is if they send you a private message with a request.

Anyway, you want to stalk these agents, whether they comment on your query/first 250/first five pages or not. The knowledge you’ll gain from their critiques of others can often be applied to your own materials.

I originally posted about how to stalk Ninja Agents in 2013 and updated it in 2014. Since the forums are on an entirely new platform this year, I decided another update was required. I’m just digging into the forums in earnest today, so I may make adjustments to this post as I learn more, but here we go.

1. Log in to the forum.

2a. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see who’s online (Users Online or Users Online in the Last 24 Hours). Unfortunately, these aren’t in any kind of order. I recommend doing Command+F and searching for “Ninja”–it’s quicker than scanning by eye.

2b. If there are no Ninja Agents online at the moment/in the last 24 hours, scroll back to the top and click on Members. Using the search field on the right-hand side, search for “Ninja” and a list of all Ninja Agents will come up. This list shows you how many posts each ninja has made and how recently.

3.  Click on a Ninja Agent to go to his/her profile.

4.  Click on “View this member’s recent posts” and, voila!, you can see everywhere the agent has commented. To see the post he/she is responding to, click on the title of the thread.

If you want to get even more stalkery, you could keep a Ninja Agent’s profile up on your computer and watch his/her current activity. Or you can locate someone on Twitter who’s already doing that and giving updates. In previous years, there’s always been someone giving Twitter updates once a Ninja Agent was spotted. The hashtag for the conference is #writeoncon.

I tried several different options in the search function to see if there was a way to pull up all of the Ninja Agents at once since you could do that on the previous platform. It doesn’t appear to be possible, but if someone else figures it out, let me know and I’ll add it.

Another option is to go through and follow all of the Ninja Agents individually. Once you do so, if you click on Following in your Profile, it will show you their activity. However, it will mix the Ninja Agent activity with that of everyone else you follow, and it’s not just what they’ve posted. It also lists anyone they follow or become friends with. I did notice that the Ninja Agents tend to follow all of the other Ninja Agents. So, for example, if you click on Ninja Midnight and then Following, it will show you the activity of other Ninja Agents. But again, there’s a lot of activity other than posts mixed in (like “Ninja Dusk changed their avatar”), so whether you go that route depends on whether you want to wade through the extras.

If you’re already in the forums, come find me! My username is michelleimason. My work-in-progress is a young adult contemporary titled YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

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Writing in Reverse: The First Draft Read-Through

When I finished drafting this manuscript in November, I said I intended to let it sit until after Thanksgiving. That plan changed drastically when I received an R&R (revise and resubmit) on another manuscript the same day I wrote that post. I think it came about an hour later. Talk about timing! I don’t know what will happen with that project, but I do know the longer you let a draft sit, the better.

So, instead of a few weeks, this manuscript stewed for more than ten weeks. I finished re-reading it yesterday, and I’m very pleased with what I have to work with as a first draft. It’s by no means ready to send off to readers, but I expect it won’t take me long to get it there, and I’m giving credit to two things: writing in reverse and advance planning. Here are a few things I noticed in my first draft read-through.

The first chapter still needed work. I said before that I hoped writing in reverse would making writing my first chapter easier, and it did in many ways, but from the first words, I was still mentally polishing it up. I’m not sure it’s possible to nail a first chapter in a first draft, no matter how you approach it. I do think, however, that I started the story in the right place this time. Of course, that’s ultimately up to my readers to tell me :).

The pacing feels on target. As I was reading, I felt like the pacing moved along well. In the past, I had a tendency to start meandering around the middle (is that just me??). But writing in reverse, I was always looking at what had to happen right before that scene to get there, so there’s nothing extraneous. If anything, there are a couple of scenes that might be a bit abrupt and I need to add.

I will be killing many darlings. I mentioned in my 25,000 words from the end post that I’d decided to add a twist I hadn’t planned for in one of the early chapters. Reading through again, I know this twist is the right call for the story as it will greatly increase the tension throughout. However, when I got to the later part of the story where it wasn’t incorporated, there were so many great lines that I now won’t be able to use. So I guess that’s a downside to writing in reverse, since if you’re writing forward, a later twist might not affect what you’d written earlier. But it’s ok. If I managed to write such fun dialogue how it was originally, I’m sure I can switch it around to accommodate this change :).

Overall, my first draft read-through left me feeling very pleased with the results of writing in reverse. I will definitely be using this strategy to draft my next project as well. Now on to the revisions!

Posted in Revising, Writing, Writing in Reverse | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

YA Review: LOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch

dsc06233Happy New Year! I’m a few weeks late, but I have excellent excuses–er, reasons. I was across the country for the first week of the year, doing things like attending my first Defense Against the Dark Arts class. (And, no, I’m not too old for Hogwarts.) Then I spent two weeks furiously revising so I could send my manuscript off to readers. Now that the MS is out of my hands, I can relax, and the timing is perfect, because last week I read a delightful YA book that I have to share with you. (Side note: on the adult side, if you’re a Meg Cabot fan, I also highly recommend THE BOY IS BACK. Could not stop laughing as I read that one–in a single evening!) But back to the YA … it’s another of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale purchases, LOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch. I’d been hearing a lot about this book, and from the first few lines, I was sucked in. Here’s the description.

img_3322Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Here are the five things I loved most about the book.

1. The romance – It’s right there in the title: LOVE. So obviously the romance has to be amazing, and it is. What I like about it is how there’s really more than one romance going on in this story–Lina’s and her mom’s. And actually, there’s an interesting parallel, but I won’t spoil it.

2. The journal – I both loved and hated Lina’s mom’s journal. I hated it because she took SO LONG to read the entries. Obviously if she’d read the thing all at once the story would have been over and she’d have had no mystery to solve, but it drove me crazy. At the same time, I believed her reticence to read her mother’s words and her drive to try and discover what had happened in her mother’s past on her own. Thus the love/hate relationship with the journal.

3. Howard – Lina comes to Italy expecting to hate Howard for not being involved in her life, but he’s nothing like she imagined. I loved watching their relationship develop and how it showed the growth of a family.

4. The dialogue – I’m a sucker for snappy dialogue, and this book has it in spades. It’s great between all of the characters, but here’s a snippet between Lina and Ren. They’ve just met, and after a conversation about how Lina always wins at games, Ren challenges her to a race to his house to meet his mom.

He stopped in front of a set of curlicue gates and I help him push them open with a loud creak.

“You weren’t kidding. Your house is close to the cemetery,” I said.

“I know. I always thought it was weird that I live so close to a cemetery. And then I met someone who lives in a cemetery.”

“I couldn’t let you beat me. It’s my competitive nature.”

5. The setting – There’s the fact that this book is set in Italy, which of course makes me want to go there, but it’s made even more interesting by plopping Lina into a cemetery–much too soon after the death of her mother. See, Howard’s the caretaker for the Florence American Cemetery, a memorial for World War II veterans. As a result, instead of drawing Lina in with its gorgeousness like you’d expect, it’s a source of conflict. It’s very well done.

Maybe I would have mentioned the gelato as one of my favorite things if I could’ve tasted it, but I did find the flavor Lina was dying over in the book at my local grocery store. I’m sure it will be a pale substitute to what I’d get in Italy, but I’m still anxious to try it.

Have you read LOVE & GELATO? What did you think?

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