MMGM: COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Melanie Conklin’s COUNTING THYME for what seems like forever. We’ve been Twitter friends for years, and she even read a partial of one of my manuscripts once (thanks again, Melanie!), after which she recommended I read THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas. Love the whole series! In any case, COUNTING THYME completely lived up to my expectations, and I’m thrilled to review it for MMGM.

Counting Thyme by Melanie ConklinWhen eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – Yes, there’s a reason her name is Thyme, and it’s explained. But this title has multiple meanings and I love the play on words. It’s just perfect on so many levels.

2. Thyme’s family – I loved every member of this family, from Thyme’s mom trying to hold everyone–including herself–together, her dad maintaining some fun where possible, her sister acting out, and her brother surviving. And where did that leave Thyme? That central question invested me from page one.

3. The friendships – There were multiple friendship stories happening within the book: Thyme and her best friend back home, Thyme and the girls at school, Thyme and the boy at school, Thyme observing the friendship between the girls at school. I liked how Thyme had to sort out these friendships and discover how she fit into each one.

4. The sound production team – How cool that Thyme found a project in the midst of everything else she was going through. I enjoyed reading about her experiments finding everyday objects that would make the desired sounds for the play. It was an interesting subplot that also fit very well into the overall story as she had to decide where this Thyme project fit into her family.

5. Mrs. Ravelli and Mr. Lipinsky – I loved both of these characters. They were polar opposites, and yet they both played critical roles in helping Thyme adjust to life in New York and giving her purpose. Plus, they’re both extremely well-written characters. I’d really like to try that cake Mrs. Ravelli baked for the Owens …

If you haven’t read COUNTING THYME yet, I suggest you do so. I have a feeling this one will be getting some award attention.

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YA Review: NOT IN THE SCRIPT by Amy Finnegan

I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve picked up in Bloomsbury’s If Only series, so I’m not surprised to add NOT IN THE SCRIPT by Amy Finnegan to that list. It doesn’t hurt that I have a soft spot for anything to do with movies. (Yes, like many authors, I not-so-secretly hope that one day I’ll write a book that gets optioned for film. Any kind of movie will do. I’d even take neighborhood kids acting it out:).) But back to that review …

Not in the Script by Amy FinneganMillions of people witnessed Emma Taylor’s first kiss—a kiss that needed twelve takes and four camera angles to get right. After spending nearly all of her teen years performing on cue, Emma wonders if any part of her life is real anymore . . . particularly her relationships.

Jake Elliott’s face is on magazine ads around the world, but his lucrative modeling deals were a poor substitute for what he had to leave behind. Now acting is offering Jake everything he wants: close proximity to home; an opportunity to finally start school; and plenty of time with the smart and irresistible Emma Taylor . . . if she would just give him a chance.

When Jake takes Emma behind the scenes of his real life, she begins to see how genuine he is, but on-set relationships always end badly. Don’t they? Toss in Hollywood’s most notorious heartthrob and a resident diva who may or may not be as evil as she seems, and the production of Coyote Hills heats up in unexpected—and romantic—ways.

Here are the five things I liked most.

1. The dialogue – The interchanges between Jake and Emma are so snappy and fun. Here’s a great example from early on in Emma’s POV. Emma has just explained that she took a picture of his bio to send to her best friend, who collects pictures of his modeling adds.

“Where does she keep the ads?” Jake asks. “In some kind of scrapbook?”

“No, nothing that formal.” I can’t tell if Jake truly wants to know, or if he’s a little creeped out. But I hadn’t meant to make Rachel look stupid. “They’re just taped to her wall. Like, you know, posters.”

Jake stays quiet, his eyes locked on me. “Darn,” he finally says. “If a full collection of my work could be found in a single book, I’d love to get my hands on it. And burn it.”

[narrative]

“Didn’t we just discuss your character, Justin, wanting to burn stuff?” I ask.

He nods. “Especially the cowboy ads. I’d torch every one of them.”

“No, not those!” I beg. “Your boots were so cool!”

Jake is laughing now too. “The boots weren’t the problem.”

“Was it the hat?” He knows where I’m going with this–low-rider leather chaps, hello!–and he’s shaking his head, looking a little desperate.

“That’s a great place to stop,” he says. “Right there.”

I guess it is:). You’ll have to read the book for more.

2. The romance – Oh, how I loved the tension of this romance. The author really made the reader wait for it, and it was great to read it from both characters’ POVs, to get their interpretations of the same situations and shake your head but completely understand why they would see it that way. So well done!

3. The supporting characters – Brett and Kimmi and Rachel and Jake’s friends back home–every single character had depth and relevance to the story. And in a couple of cases, I wasn’t quite sure whether I should be rooting for the character or not. Maybe that was the point:).

4. The fame/real life balance – I enjoyed reading this subplot and seeing Emma navigate how fame had affected both her closest friendship and her relationship with her mom. It was an important part of her growth in the story.

5. The parents – Jake’s mom was fantastic, particularly as she was dealing with a challenge I’ll let you read about yourself, and I also really loved Emma’s dad. Her mom was a character who grew along with Emma in the story, although she wasn’t a POV character so the reader sees that through Emma. All in all, strong parents.

Have you read NOT IN THE SCRIPT? If so, what did you like about it?

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MMGM: STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS by James Riley

Before I get started with my MMGM post–yay!–there’s still time to enter my giveaway for signed paperbacks of MarcyKate Connolly’s MONSTROUS and Trisha Leaver’s THE SECRETS WE KEEP. Visit my 4th blogiversary post for details. Fun statistic: many of my most popular posts are MMGM reviews!

A few weeks ago I posted about The Joy of Reading Alongside Your Child. I mentioned that when my son and I both finished reading STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS, I might let him help me review the book. It’s a little hard to nail down what an eight-year-old loved so much about a book, but I managed to pull his five favorite things out of him. First, though, I’d better give the description. If you haven’t read the first book, this description includes spoilers, so STOP NOW.

Still reading? Okay …

Story Thieves: The Stolen Chapters by James RileyOwen Conners would never jump into a mystery. There are too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming. Mysteries are just not Owen’s thing. So how exactly did he end up in one with his memory erased? And that’s far from the only question.

How did Kiel Gnomenfoot, boy magician, lose all of his magic? Where’s Bethany, their half-fictional friend? And who’s the annoying guy wearing the question mark mask and Sherlock Holmes hat, taunting Owen and Kiel that Bethany is in grave danger?

Bethany is trapped in a hidden room that’s slowly filling with water, and she can’t escape until her friends find her. But is she imprisoned by more than just chains and a locked door? What’s she hiding from Owen and Kiel?

Maybe some mysteries just shouldn’t be solved…

Here are the five things my son loved most–and you’re going to notice a trend:).

1. Moira – Moira is a new character in this book, and she’s a hilarious criminal genius who has awesome plans and says the funniest things. My son and I agreed on this one, especially her names for Kiel and Owen.

“Wake up!” the girl said. “I think I lost you there. Did you faint? You fainted, didn’t you. You stared at me for a second, then looked like you had to go to the bathroom. Kind of like a koala, weirdly. Is this normal for you?”

Kiel put a hand up to his cheek, which throbbed where she’d slapped him. “Not even a little bit.”

“Then follow the plan, my magical koala.”

Or, for Owen:

Something grabbed him from behind and yanked him backward. “Whoa there, killer,” the girl in black said. “Going somewhere? You’re not an owl, Owen. Mostly you look more like an adorable panda who’s always sad. Sad Panda.”

Owen tried to answer, but he couldn’t get a word out, or catch his breath even. “I … I …”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, SP,” the girl said, putting an arm around him.

She’s completely crazy and wonderful at the same time!

2. Characters in general – Per my son: They’re all great people and they’re fun. Side note: he tried to get me to talk about the character he didn’t like, but it would have been a spoiler, so I nixed it:).

3. Kiel – He’s awesome at fighting, always takes a chance, and never gives up. These were my son’s words exactly, and I can’t argue with him listing Kiel as one of his five favorite things about the book, since he was one of my favorites about the original STORY THIEVES!

(See what I mean about a trend? His first three favorites were all character-related.)

4. The books – My son loved the books they jumped into, like Doomsday on Argon VI, a fictional book Mr. Riley created for Bethany to leap into (if you think this is confusing, wait until you read THE STOLEN CHAPTERS!). He also liked that they didn’t know they were stuck in–oh wait, he’s giving something away with that, so never mind:).

5. Their really great plan – He loved how they thought ahead of what the villain might do. I also don’t want to give anything away here, so I’ll just say that as usual, Mr. Riley is a master at inserting so many twists you find yourself paging back through to figure out how he did that, but sure enough, he planted everything so well it’s astounding. I was pretty proud of my son because there was one thing he caught that I didn’t:).

So those are the five things my son loved best about THE STOLEN CHAPTERS. I think he chose pretty well. I bet we’ll be sharing some reviews again in the future as we read more books together. If there are others you know he’d like based on this one, please pass along those suggestions!

 

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New England SCBWI Conference: So Worth the Trip!

This past weekend I traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Spring Conference. It wasn’t my first SCBWI Conference. I’ve attended the Missouri conference multiple years, and it’s been very valuable. However, the IMG_2576New England conference is significantly larger and offered the draw of my long-time critique partner, Kip Wilson, who I’d never met in person–until now!!!

Here we are, together at last. We had a fantastic time, staying up way too late discussing our various projects, the conference, and the angsty “what should I do about this” kind of conversations that take much longer over the back-and-forth of email:).

I met a ton of other amazing writers and published authors I’ve chatted with over Twitter as well, including several whose books I’ve highlighted here on the blog. I mentioned a few of those in my blogiversary post earlier this week. I made a point of picking up signed copies of MONSTROUS by MarcyKate Connolly and THE SECRETS WE KEEP by Trisha Leaver to give away. There’s still time to get in on that. Just click here. I also met many new writers and illustrators whose careers I will now be following.

So, on to what I learned at the conference. In a nutshell: fantastic presenters with exceptional content. But here are some of the highlights.

  • Editor Aubrey Poole, speaking on killer openings: Your first line should present a question in a way that is unique to your story. Maybe that’s a voice the reader has to hear more of, a spoiler missing critical details, two facts contradictory enough to intrigue, or a statement that sets the stage for the entire story. Most of all, don’t be boring!
  • Author Erin Dionne on critique
    • On receiving critique: You have to know the core of your story before asking for feedback—not what it’s about but the heart of the story and what you consider sacred.
    • On giving critique: Grammar and wordsmithing are important but not your number one job as a critiquer. Also, ask where the person is in the process and what level of critique they want.
  • Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette on taming the synopsis: One of your primary goals in a synopsis is to avoid questions. You want to bring in your internal story arc in addition to the plot; you may have to go out of your way to include it.
  • Author AC Gaughen on antagonists: The antagonist is not necessarily the villain. It is something that gets in your character’s way; it doesn’t have to be a person but anything, even themselves. Stories are most satisfying when we can see the character arc of the antagonist.
  • Author Jo Knowles on characters: Dig deeper for what your character really wants. Try to go five stages deep. Also, secondary and tertiary characters give complexity to your main character and help establish the world.
  • Author Padma Venkatraman on voice: Go with your heart and your unique pair of ears—or eyes, because most of the time we’re reading. As you begin to write, listen to your voice. We all have one voice. Give yourself that space so only you can write that novel.

I’ve already started applying many of these tips in the manuscript I’m revising (that one that won’t let me go). I shared a few others on the #NESCBWI16 hashtag. I gained so much insight from talking one-on-one with other writers, listening to the keynote speakers, and participating in the more intensive sessions. I highly recommend this conference if you’re in the New England area or have the resources to travel. If not, find an SCBWI conference near you. It’s worth the investment of your time and money!

 

Posted in Character, Critiquing, Giveaways, Querying, Revising, Synopsis, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Fourth Blogiversary! With Giveaways! Signed Books! (enough exclamation points?)

I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for four years. It offers me a fantastic outlet to discuss my writing journey, talk about books I love, and on occasion share a deeper story from my life. I love taking a look back each year to see how others have interacted with my blog. This year–particularly in the past few months–it’s a bit bittersweet because of the post that has brought the most visitors to my blog. But at the same time, I’m glad that post has impacted so many who loved my friend.

On to the statistics I love. (I totally could play with spreadsheets all day.) But stick it out to the end because I just returned from the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Conference (more on that later this week!), and I have two signed books to give away from authors I was privileged to meet there.

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. MMGM: YOU’RE INVITED by Jen Malone & Gail Nall – Oh, I loved this book, so I’m glad people are still coming to read about it! Also, I met Jen in person this weekend, and she’s absolutely delightful.

9. What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying – Every year I learn something more about the querying process. Assuming I haven’t found an agent before I reach five years, look for the next one in July!

8. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Another awesome book. I read it on my own and then read the whole series out loud to my kids. Go read it!

7. 5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Tweeting Tomorrow – An updated version of another post you will see even higher on this list. This post is targeted specifically to writers considering pitching during Brenda Drake’s quarterly #PitMad on Twitter.

6. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – An older post, but it’s linked to on a Scrivener board somewhere:).

5. About – Thanks for reading about me!

4. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent.

3. 5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow – The original post from No. 7, this one included #PitMad and another contest from Authoress, On the Block.

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – Aside from what I’m reading, my most updated page. Whenever I finish a book, I check the acknowledgements for the agent and add the book to this page, maintaining a resource for writers who want to read up on agents’ books before querying.

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – In January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, but I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of Ashley’s other friends who have reached out to me and said it meant so much to them as well. The statistics for this post are so high it’s likely to stay on my stats for many years, but I’m ok with that because it will keep Ashley’s memory strong.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Many of these are the same, but humor me:).

10. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – Maybe because of the movies? I see a lot of searches for DIVERGENT come through.

There’s actually a tie for No. 9. How random is it that there are two posts with the exact same number of hits? It makes the mathematical corner of my brain light up with giddiness. Both are repeats from last year, just down a couple of spots.

9. Why It’s So Hard to Get Your First Novel Published

9. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway!

7. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE

6. About

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

We’re not going to count the 797 unknown searches as No. 1, although I really want to know what they were! I’m sure the known searches are a representative sample.

5. Searches for me! Or maybe not for me:). I’m thinking the person who searched for “michelle mason, lost love of my life, where are you?” probably wasn’t looking for me–particularly since that’s my married name–but it still made me laugh.

4. Writing/Querying – I didn’t have quite as many writing/querying searches that led to my blog this year, so I’m going to think about that for the coming year. I’m not sure if that’s because I had less content or the searches weren’t finding me.

3. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books – Interestingly, the most common search was for middle grade agents. I’m not surprised by this as it’s why I started the list in the first place–because I struggled to find a good list of MG books with the agents who represented them. Many searchers also landed on my blog by searching for specific agents.

2. Searches about Ashley – Many people were seeking answers about Ashley’s death in the weeks following it–and still are. I don’t have all of the answers, but if you end up at this post because she’s mentioned here, feel free to reach out.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – As always, by far the most people end up at my blog by searching for a book I’ve reviewed. Although you can probably tell from the list of popular posts above, I thought I’d highlight a few of the most searched:

  • Divergent series by Veronica Roth
  • THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND by Kasie West
  • Half Upon A Time series by James Riley (most searched)
  • The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
  • PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen (totally homework questions)
  • SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF by Wendelin Van Draanen (also specific questions and the second most searched)
  • The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann

So that wraps up my statistics from the past year. Is there anything else you’d like to see more of in the coming year? I’m always open to suggestions!

On to the giveaway! So, in January of 2015 I posted about the 2015 debuts I couldn’t wait to read, including MONSTROUS by MarcyKate Connolly. It’s a gorgeous middle grade now out in paperback (plus MarcyKate’s next book, RAVENOUS, is in hardback), and I have a signed copy. We’ve been chatting on Twitter for years, and she’s so lovely in person. But that’s not all! Also included in the giveaway is a signed paperback of THE SECRETS WE KEEP by Trisha Leaver. I was lucky enough to be included in a dinner group with Trisha and had several discussions with her. I’m excited about her other projects, too, but since I had already gushed about this book on the blog, I wanted to share it with one of you. So, to enter the giveaway for these two books, click on the link below. North America only, please.

Click here to enter to win signed paperbacks of MONSTROUS and THE SECRETS WE KEEP

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The Joy of Reading Alongside Your Child

Yesterday I read an article about kids starting to drop off reading around age 8 due to an increase in electronics use. It made me incredibly sad, in large part because my son recently turned 8 (or 2, depending on how you count those Leap Day birthdays:) ), and the world of reading has truly opened up to him in the past few months. Now, we’re pretty strict about electronics anyway. We only let him play on the iPad twenty minutes a day, and he has to earn it. Sometimes he can earn up to an extra ten minutes, but I digress.

My kids’ school currently is holding a read-a-thon, so both of my kids are reading like crazy, and I love it. (The school is using a program called Whooo’s Reading, which I highly recommend!) Anyway, a couple of months ago I started reading STORY THIEVES by James Riley aloud to both kids. We were probably six or seven chapters from the end when the read-a-thon started and paused reading aloud so they could focus on their own books. Over the weekend, my 8-year-old decided to finish it himself as part of the read-a-thon. As soon as he did, we had the following conversation:

8-year-old: Mom, I have to read the next book right away.

Me: Ok, I’ll see if the library has the e-book.

8-year-old: Yes, do it! I have to know what happens next!

Thankfully, the library had the book available. He started reading the next morning, and a couple of hours later this happened.

8-year-old: Mom, I have to tell you what’s happening in the book.

Me: But I haven’t read it yet!

8-year-old: But I need to, Mom!

Me: Fine. Go ahead.

So I let him spoil a little of the book for me, but honestly, I didn’t mind too much. I was thrilled that he was enjoying the book so much he had to talk about it. And obviously I started reading the book myself so that I can stay ahead of him and avoid any further spoilers:). Now we are having daily conversations as we compare notes on where we are in the book. Perhaps when he finishes I’ll let him write the review–or we can write it together the way we’ve been reading together.

It’s a unique kind of joy to have a mini book club with my son. I look forward to sharing this same experience with my daughter in the future. (I’m back to reading STORY THIEVES to her so she can see how it ends as she’s still a couple of years away from reading it on her own.) My mom and I have been swapping books for years, so it’s sort of a family tradition.

I’m so glad I read middle grade and get to experience this with my kids. What about you? What books do you enjoy reading together?

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YA Review: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US by Kasie West

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I’ve written a review. But then, I read a few adult books in the past month, and I don’t review those on the blog, so we’ll use that as part of my excuse. Moving on …

After starting a book I really wanted to like and just couldn’t get into, I decided to pull a book out of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale box that I was sure to like because I’ve loved every other book by this author. So today I’m reviewing THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US by Kasie West.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie WestMoney can’t buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted. And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom’s porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise. Enter Xander Spence: he’s tall, handsome, and oozing rich. Despite his charm and the fact that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, Caymen’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

Here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The humor – I’m partial to sarcastic humor, so the main character in this novel is a perfect fit for me. I was chuckling through the whole thing. Here’s a short snippet when Xander has just asked her what kind of doll to buy for his grandmother.

“I’m partial to the eternal wailers.”

“Excuse me?”

I point to the porcelain version of a baby, his mouth open in a silent cry, his eyes squeezed shut. “I’d rather not see their eyes. Eyes can say so much. Theirs say, ‘I want to steal your soul so don’t turn your back on us.'”

2. The romance – I love the tension in this romance. It was a great mix of internal struggle with Caymen’s built-in rich boy issues and run-ins that kept making each of them second-guess how interested/involved the other person was. I believed neither would be ready to fully commit until the end.

3. The twist – There was a side plot running throughout the story with Caymen’s mom, and I had an inkling of what it was, but even though I figured out part of it, there was still a surprise twist that got me. So well done, Ms. West!

4. The hunt for the future – I wasn’t quite sure how to title this point, but I think a lot of teenagers believe they must have everything figured out by their senior year, and you don’t always know when you head off to college what you want to do with the rest of your life. I liked that these characters were still trying to figure it out.

5. Caymen’s growth – This book says it’s Pride and Prejudice meets Pretty in Pink, and I can see that. Caymen definitely had to get over both her pride and her prejudice in order to be with Xander. Considering where she started out, I wasn’t sure she would!

Well, this was the last book of Kasie West’s I hadn’t yet read. Fortunately she has another one coming out this summer, so I won’t have to wait long for another.

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