MMGM: DEAR POPPY by Ronni Arno

With the NESCBWI Conference having happened over the weekend, it seems appropriate for me to review a book by an author I met at last year’s conference. No, I didn’t go again–it’s a bit of a trek for me–but I’m pleased to have found many authors last year whose books I will be picking up as they come out. Ronni Arno is one of those. I thoroughly enjoyed RUBY REINVENTED, and her second book, DEAR POPPY, is equally delightful.

Dear Poppy by Ronni ArnoWhen twelve-year-old Poppy moves to the country, she discovers a secret stash of letters that give her a unique connection to her late mother in this M!X novel about friendship, first crushes, and family drama.

City girl Poppy has always wanted a best friend, but never felt enough of a connection with anyone to gain BFF status. Even without a BFF, Poppy is horrified when her father decides to move her and her older brother out to the family farm. Away from her beloved city and away from memories of her late mom—a fresh start for everyone.

And after a weird first week at her new school, Poppy is convinced she is destined for a boring year—until she finds a stack of letters from 1985 hidden in the barn of the old farmhouse that they move into. Even better? Those letters are addressed to Poppy…from her mom. Poppy doesn’t know what supernatural event brought these letters to her, but she doesn’t care. All she knows is that she finally has the connection she yearns for. Plus, her mom seems to understand everything that Poppy is going through: not quite fitting in, the desire to put down roots, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Has Poppy discovered the friend—and acceptance—she’s always wanted?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The opening – The contrast of the first two sentences immediately drew me in, so I’m going to share them here. I think they not only show you a lot about both Poppy and her brother, but they also demonstrate something about the nature of grief, which is a theme in the book.

My brother is smiling so hard I think his cheeks are pinned to his ears. This would be fine, of course, if we weren’t at my grandad’s funeral.

2. Poppy’s dad – I love how Poppy’s relationship with her dad changes throughout the book, as he transforms from Old Dad to New Dad (also love that she makes that distinction). It’s a tough lesson that sometimes parents take a long time to come out of their grief, but it’s a true one.

3. The letters – The letters from Poppy’s mom were so perfectly timed to what was happening in Poppy’s life and a perfect example of how middle school is the same whether it’s 1985 or 2016. (Wow, this sounds a lot like my last review for ONCE UPON A KISS, except swapping out high school for middle school.)

4. Britt and Brody – I love how there is so much depth to these two characters. You see the surface of the cute popular boy who doesn’t like confrontation and the rebel outcast who’s all about trouble, but when they’re at home the twins have a lot of the same interests–including Poppy and gardening.

5. The resolution – Poppy has a very clear idea of why she’s in the country and how everything should turn out. As a reader, I had a different idea of where the story was headed. I won’t tell you who was right, just that the ending was very satisfying :).

I will definitely be picking up Ronni Arno’s next book. Actually, the next one on her site is an anthology featuring another favorite author of mine, Jen Malone. Looking forward to BEST. NIGHT. EVER!

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YA Review: ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin Palmer

I’m a sucker for time travel books. In fact, there’s a trunked novel you won’t see mentioned under my writing tab. I wrote it before I had any idea what I was doing, and it happened to be an adult time travel romance. It was truly horrible, but like all first novels, I learned a lot from it. Recently I had an idea for another time travel story, and I might just write it eventually … but the point of this post is to rave about Robin Palmer’s ONCE UPON A KISS.

ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin PalmerIt’s 1986 and sixteen-year-old Zoe Brenner’s world revolves around Depeche Mode, Judd Nelson, exercise-obsessed parents, and her best friend Jonah. Then one day, in a freak Fun-Dip choking accident, Zoe falls unconscious, and awakens in the year 2016. So much has changed, and Zoe needs Jonah to help her make sense of it all. But in this life, Zoe is the most popular girl in school, and she soon realizes this Zoe doesn’t associate with nerds like Jonah.

As Zoe juggles new technology, attempts to hide her enthusiasm for poet blouses, and manages to keep her super jock boyfriend at bay, she tries to rekindle her friendship with Jonah and use her popularity for a good cause. Will she ever get back to 1986? And more importantly, does she want to?

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The time travel – Yes, I already said I love time travel as a premise, but I liked the way it was done in this book. There’s just a freak accident, and everyone in Zoe’s life is displaced in a different year with different situations–except the characters still experienced a lot of the same childhood incidents for her to recall. It requires suspension of disbelief, but I was happy to go with it!

2. The friendships – The switch in Zoe’s circumstances force her to examine how she previously focused her entire life on Jonah. While that relationship was important and she’s fighting for it in the new reality, there are other people she’s overlooked, and she learns the value of expanding her circle.

3. The commentary on popularity – The groups may be different in 1986 and 2016, and Zoe may be at the bottom or the top, but she finds it’s equally hard to mix things up either way. Does she make a difference? Guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!

4. The pop culture – I was a child in the eighties–not a teenager–so the New Wave music references were lost on me (I need to go watch a YouTube video of “I Melt with You”), but the beauty of this book is that you don’t have to have experienced the eighties to enjoy the references. It’s not about nostalgia–it’s about experiencing the decade through Zoe and figuring out where she fits in. I really enjoyed it.

5. The humor – I was laughing throughout the book, mostly because of the situations. There’s a whole thing with a hot dog that’s crazy, but also because of the way it’s set up–like the popular kids being named after serial killers (Brad Bundy and Andrea Manson). Plus, Zoe’s parents make exercise videos, which was hilarious when it was Discosize in the eighties and even funnier when it’s Holla Your Way to Health in the present–like they’re always a bit behind the times.

I’m definitely going to check out some of Ms. Palmer’s other books. If you’ve read any of them, let me know which one I should read next!

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Quick Tip: Check Frequently Used Words by Chapter

I’ve posted before about checking my manuscript for frequently used words (How I Tackle Revisions: Crutch Words; How Repeated Words Affect Your Voice). Some of these are crutch words–thought, just, really, very, etc.–and others are words that crop up in the course of an individual manuscript because of its focus. I usually do this after a second or third draft, mainly because I know so much of the sentence-level writing will change after I receive feedback from readers. But this manuscript is a bit different. I’ve been trading chapters weekly with another writer, so although I’ve just finished my first pass revising the last chapter on my own, the first half of the manuscript is already more like a second draft based on the feedback I’ve received.

Since I won’t be through the swapping process for several weeks, I decided I’d start weeding out overused words. I’ve always dumped the full text into Wordle to create a graphic representation in the past, but I remembered there was a feature in Scrivener that tracked word frequency. I did a search and happened upon an article that had an interesting suggestion: to check word frequency by chapter instead of overall. To do so in the Mac version, you open up the chapter, select Project –>Text Statistics, then click the arrow next to Word Frequency.

Here is the screenshot from one of my chapters before revising. At the chapter level, I care about a plethora of the word “was” or “had”–I want to fix passive voice–but I find it equally as interesting if a word appears twice. Because if a word shows up two times in a single chapter, it deserves a closer look. In this particular sample, I will definitely be addressing those two sighs, and unless it’s for emphasis, one of those ideals will probably go.

What I like about checking repeated words at the chapter level is that it forces me to look more closely than I generally do when I execute this process at an overall manuscript level. I’m less likely to skim over some of the words because they aren’t appearing that often. We all have words that we fall back on, and there are so many more out there that could better convey our character’s point. As always, though, I caution you not to write out your voice just to avoid a common word. Sometimes it’s still the best word, even if you just used it in the sentence immediately before :).

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MMGM: MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder

I love anything to do with Paris, so I was predestined to love this book. I even have a picture that looks very similar to this cover. Wow, I’m really young in this picture. It’s from 2007, before kids, although just barely as I realized I was pregnant while we were there. Anyway, one of the lovely side effects of reading MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder is that it led me to pull out my photo album and relive the trip with my six-year-old, who has now decided that she must go to Paris like the main character in the book. As much as I would love to take her, that’s a trip you should be a little older to appreciate. But I’m sure you’re ready to hear about the actual book, so here’s the cover and description.

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa SchroederNora loves everything about Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to chocolat chaud. Of course, she’s never actually been there — she’s only visited through her Grandma Sylvia’s stories. And just when they’ve finally planned a trip together, Grandma Sylvia is suddenly gone, taking Nora’s dreams with her.

Nora is crushed. She misses her grandmother terribly, but she still wants to see the city they both loved. So when Nora finds letters and a Paris treasure map among her Grandma Sylvia’s things, she dares to dream again…


She’s not sure what her grandma wants her to find, but Nora knows there are wonderful surprises waiting for her in Paris. And maybe, amongst the croissants and macarons, she’ll even find a way to heal her broken heart.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. Nora’s grief – I realize it’s odd to say Nora’s grief is something I loved about the story, but the reason I list it here is that I appreciated how well-drawn her grief was in the story. Grief is such a complicated emotion, and it hits everyone differently. You can be crying one minute and the next wanting to enjoy something you used to do with the person you lost. It’s handled well here.

2. The treasure map – I loved the places Nora’s Grandma Sylvia sent her around Paris, and when I do return someday, I’ll have to re-read this book so I can check out the ones I didn’t know about. It’s fun to see Nora experiencing Paris with her grandma even though she can’t be there with her.

3. Phoebe – Isn’t it great when two people meet and they just click? Even better when it’s a friendship. I loved how Phoebe encouraged Nora to be strong and carry through on what she already wanted to do. And I’m excited to see Phoebe has her own story :).

4. The mother-daughter bond – I really enjoyed watching how Nora’s relationship with her mother changed during the story, but also how her perception of her mother’s relationship with her grandmother changed. There was some growing up Nora had to do during the course of the story, but twelve’s old enough for that.

5. The buttons – I loved the jar of buttons Nora’s grandmother had given her. She carried one with her every day, and it always seemed to connect to something that happened. In the end, the buttons had a deeper meaning for Nora, but I won’t give that away.

Basically, I’m dying to return to Paris now, and I’m years away from it, but at least this book gave me a taste. I guess I’ll go read Phoebe’s story and relive the London portion of that same trip :).

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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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