Sometimes You Should Just Read for Fun

This summer I started and set aside four young adult novels in a row. They were all books I thought I should read for one reason or another. An agent I was interested in querying represented the book. A writer I respected wrote the book. A writer I respected recommended the book. Or dozens of writers on Twitter were raving about the book. And yet when I picked it up, I just couldn’t get into it. It was an unfortunate coincidence that this happened four times in a row. Often even if I’m not loving a book, I’m still engaged enough to read through to the end. But these just weren’t for me, and that’s ok. It’s called subjectivity, and it’s a real thing that we’re so often on the receiving end of as writers. It’s not surprising we experience it as readers, too.

I was so burned out on trying new books that might disappoint me, I turned to my trusty bookcase downstairs. I don’t keep a book unless I intend to read it again. IMG_2894All 608 of these … ok, yes, I know exactly how many books are on these shelves, and this is where you might start to think I’m a little crazy. My husband certainly does! The thing was, when I went down to decide what to read, I realized I always go back to the same books, despite the fact I’d once loved each of these books enough to want to read them again. So I decided to catalogue them all in a spreadsheet. And since I’ve been tracking what I read on this blog since 2012, I added a column marking that so I wouldn’t fall back on the same old favorites before I gave another book a chance again.

What have I discovered from this so far? Well, I used to tell me what I should read, and I started an older trilogy from one of my favorite romance authors. I … didn’t love it anymore, so I decided it could be removed from the shelves (leaving room for new books to love!). But the next series it told me to read has been a revelation on the joy of  losing myself in the words. It’s a historical romance novel series, so it’s completely different from anything I’d write. I’m five books into it, and I’m just enjoying the stories and the characters (who are delightfully unique in each book!). It’s true I can’t completely shut my writing mind off even with these books, but it’s nice not to be thinking about the market or who represents the author or how I would write a review for the book.

Because sometimes you should just read for fun.

And if you have fun making spreadsheets for your books, that’s just a side benefit🙂.

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Procrastination, Thy Name Is Michelle

I’ve had brainstorming a new project on my to-do list for weeks. It’s remained there while I’ve crossed off everything around it and found other tasks to busy myself with. It’s gotten to the point of being downright ridiculous. But this is not a new problem for me. Three years ago I listed Procrastination as the first step in my drafting process. It’s not a joke. It’s a very real hump I must trudge over before I start working on a new project.

Do you love drafting? Good for you! I wish I did! Unfortunately I’m on the side of preferring revision. Seriously. Loooove revision!

I’m finding it even harder to get over the procrastination hump this time because it’s been so long since I wrote something completely new–almost two years. (Yikes!) My most recent project is a rewrite of an earlier manuscript, so although it included a significant amount of new content, I wasn’t starting from scratch. If only there were a way the draft could always magically appear on the page …

But as much as I’d rather fix words that already exist, I’ve had an itch to work on something new, and an idea has been tugging at me. It’s still a fledgling idea. I don’t have a clue what to do with it yet. That’s why I need to brainstorm. So consider this my call for accountability. I will plan out this new story, and barring any new distractions that would be a really good excuse for returning to one of my other projects (I’m sure anyone browsing my blog can figure out what would be considered an acceptable distraction), my goal will be to start drafting Oct. 1.

Considering this blog post is another distraction from the brainstorming, I’d better get to it!

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YA Review: DREAM A LITTLE DREAM by Kerstin Gier

I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I reviewed a young adult book, but that’s all right. I enjoyed catching up on the middle grade, too. Today I’m reviewing a book I picked up because I thought it might work as a comp title for my violin story, and the magic side of it does, so bonus! But also, I thoroughly enjoyed it, so here goes.

Dream A Little Dream by Kerstin GierMysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv’s dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she’s in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.

The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They’re classmates from her new school in London, the school where she’s starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what’s really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn’t possibly know–unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute….


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

1. Liv’s pull into the boys’ world – Based on the description, you can see this dream world is nothing to joke about. There’s some serious stuff going on there, but Ms. Gier does an excellent job convincing the reader Liv would continue exploring it despite the danger. Her drive to solve a mystery no matter what overrides her self-preservation, and it kept me engaged even when I wanted to shout, “Get out while you can, Liv!”

2. The literary quotes – As Liv is a fan of Sherlock Holmes (thus the mystery focus), by far the most quotes are from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but Liv also loves poetry, and both she and the boys quote from various poets throughout the book. It was originally written in German, so there are also references to German poets and folk songs. Oh! And after she sees Hamlet, there’s a quite funny dream involving it …

3. The secondary characters – From Liv and her sister Mia’s Christmas-loving au pair Lottie, to full-of-himself Jasper (who she labels Shaving Fun Ken), to Persephone Porter-Pergrin chattering non-stop until she freezes at the sight of Jasper, each character is so well-drawn. I also enjoyed how Ms. Gier used the dream doors to represent the characters in the fantasy world.

4. The swoon-worthy boys – While the description makes it seem like all four of these boys are to be admired, really only two of them deserve attention from a personality standpoint. One of them–Grayson–is off-limits as Liv’s future stepbrother, which leaves Henry. He’s cocky, obnoxious, and continually leaves Liv guessing–which is probably why I loved him. Some readers might not like this kind of boy, but I generally do. Note that Liv tends to be rather cocky and outspoken herself, so it’s a good fit. I enjoyed the romance side of the story, and since it’s planned as a trilogy, I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

5. The ending – I wasn’t sure how this book would leave room for further stories, but it managed to tie up the main story and then end with rather a cliffhanger. However, it wasn’t the kind of cliffhanger I found frustrating. I’m anxious to read the next book but not foaming at the mouth🙂.

Overall, I thought this book was a unique take on dreams, and I really enjoyed the setting. Have you read DREAM A LITTLE DREAM? What did you think?

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I can’t remember the last time I had two MMGMs in a row, but here we are! When I attended NESCBWI this spring, I met several middle grade writers, and I’m still working my way through the books I acquired. One of those books, RUBY REINVENTED, I picked up because I’d read a blog post by author Ronni Arno that included a blurb at the end. So blog tours definitely work! Also, the author herself is absolutely delightful.

Ruby Reinvented by Ronni ArnoWhen 12-year-old Ruby Miller learns that her BFFs are only friends with her because of her famous parents, she finds a place far from celebrity-crazy Hollywood–a Maine boarding school.

In her panic to distance herself from her star-studded folks, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful lying to her weird but wonderful roommate Summer (the first real friend Ruby has ever had), but not awful enough. In fact, now that nobody’s comparing her to her remarkable parents, Ruby can finally let her unique talents as a dress designer take center stage.

But when Ruby finds herself connecting with a boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parents’ Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret… without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her own fashion show.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ruby’s lie – Wait, you’re probably thinking, you love that she lies? Well, no, I don’t love that she lies. What I love is how this lie changes her. It’s awful that she lies, but the lie is what leads to her discovering what’s truly important–and it’s not completely what she expects it to be.

2. The parents – Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows I like to highlight parents, and I particularly like the two sets of parents featured in this book. First we have Ruby’s parents, who are mega-stars. They love Ruby but perhaps have as much to learn as she does. And then there are Summer’s parents, who give Ruby a glimpse of a different kind of family, without paparazzi and handlers. I like how both are handled in the book.

3. The crush – Ruby is so adorable with her crush on Connor, all mixed up with her guilt over not being honest with him. I really appreciated how they got to know each other and the resolution to their story.

4. The friendships – There’s a reason friendship is the focus of so many MG books. Many kids base their worth on their friendships at this age. Ruby certainly does at the beginning of the book. While that’s not healthy, it’s a new friend who helps Ruby see her own value and gain confidence in herself. By the end of the story, I had hope for Ruby’s future friendships and how she’ll view her place in them.

5. The fashion – I loved that Ruby was passionate about fashion and had learned how to create her own designs with her nanny, Ellie. As a side note, her relationship with Ellie was also very sweet. The descriptions of the dresses really came to life, and the way they fit into the overall story was perfect.

If you haven’t read RUBY REINVENTED, I recommend you pick it up!

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If you’re part of the kidlit community, perhaps you’ve heard about author Kate Messner being uninvited from a school because of the content of her latest book, THE SEVENTH WISH, which addresses the story of a young girl whose older sister becomes addicted to heroin. If not, you can read about it here (there’s also an update at the bottom). As a parent, I understand the desire to shield your child from what may seem like a far-off reality. But as someone who’s already had to explain addiction to my six and eight-year-old in at least basic terms because they’ve seen the consequences of it, I understand the importance of a book like THE SEVENTH WISH. Am I going to give it to my children  now? Of course not. But with the right preparation and discussion, and when they’re old enough, yes. This book is entirely appropriate both to show kids why they should avoid addictive substances and to help a child close to an addict.

The Seventh Wish by Kate MessnerWhen Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s cold winter lake, she’s hoping the perch she reels in will help pay for a fancy Irish dancing solo dress. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day offers her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down.

Charlie catches the fish again and again, but each time, her wishes go terribly and hilariously wrong. Just when things are finally starting to turn around, a family crisis with her older sister forces Charlie to accept the fact that some of the toughest challenges in life can’t be fixed by wishing.


Instead of my usual five things I loved most about the book, I’m going to do five reasons you should read this book.

1. Charlie’s honesty – Even before her sister’s addiction surfaces, Charlie feels secondary in her family, and she struggles with her own reactions to that. I loved how honest she was about herself and where she fit into everything. She’s angry with Abby, even while her heart is breaking. My heart was breaking, too.

2. The theme – It says it right there in the description, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by sharing it. You can’t wish away your problems. Every time Charlie makes a wish, it gets twisted up somehow. I especially like the wish about the boy, but I won’t spoil that.

3. The truths – Some of this goes along with the honesty, but there was a particular passage toward the end that really hit home for me.

Instead of showing those videos with the greasy-haired people in D.A.R.E. classes, they should show kids like Abby. Soccer forwards and calculus students, student council presidents and homecoming queens and big sisters. They should show those people lying to their families and sitting ashamed in the hospital, tugging on their sleeves to hide the marks on their arms, struggling to breathe, crying when they have to tell the truth. That because they broke a promise they made in fifth grade, nothing can ever be the same.

Wow. On another note, there’s a teacher in Maine who received an advanced copy of the book last October and worked with her school’s D.A.R.E. officer to create a program using the book. Her post about it and the video at the end of the kids speaking to their future selves is so powerful.

4. Charlie’s friends – I love how unique each of them is. Drew with his gross facts. Catherine with her flour baby. Dasha with her coding. Charlie has a solid group of friends to support and distract her.

5. The dancing and the fishing – Yes, these are two completely different things, but they end up being tied together for Charlie. She needs money to buy her Irish dancing dress, so she goes out ice fishing with Drew and his grandma to earn more and becomes a rather proficient fisherman. Well, then there’s that magic fish … The point is, there’s more to the story than what happens with Abby.

I hope more schools will find ways to incorporate THE SEVENTH WISH and other books like it. Addiction is an important topic, and more kids are affected by it–even at an early age–than they may realize. Yes, educators should be cautious about what they give kids to read at what age. I’m all for that. But if you pair a book like this with a curriculum discussing the topic, it would be so beneficial.

Ok, I’m going to step off my soapbox now. Have you read THE SEVENTH WISH? What are your thoughts?

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

What I’ve Learned in Five Years of Querying

I’ve become a huge fan of the memories that pop up on Facebook. It’s a fun way to look through old photos, videos, and the occasional comment. Anyway, on July 3, a writing-related post showed up that made me smile and shake my head at the naive Michelle of five years ago, but it’s appropriate to this post, so I’m going to share it. Here’s what I put on Facebook July 3, 2011:

Novel update: For those of you wondering, the novel is finished! At least for now … I’m going to start submitting to agents when we get back from vacation. Once I find one, there’ll be more revisions, then once it goes to a publisher, more revisions. It’s a very long process! So now I’m writing the next one…

Well, I was right about it being a very long process! That particular novel, which was then titled ESCAPE FROM THE UNDERGROUND CITY and you can now find as THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES under the Writing tab, eventually got shelved. I’ve since queried three other novels and currently have a fifth novel out with agents. I sent out that first batch of queries for CAVEBOY on July 11, 2011, and one year later I posted what I’d learned. It’s become a tradition to add to my experiences each year, and I now have posts for two, three, and four years of querying. I try to keep the points new each year, but it’s getting harder🙂. Here we go!

No matter how optimistic you are, you’re also a realist. I start every morning thinking, “This could be the day an agent offers representation!” But whenever my Gmail dings, I tell myself it’s a rejection. Why? Because even though I believe that offer will eventually come, I can’t get my hopes up every time a new email comes through. I’ve been disappointed too many times. One day, when I have that how-I-got-my-agent story to tell, I’ll share the statistics. I mean, this is a five years of querying post, so you know that adds up to a lot of rejections!

As your friends sign with–and leave–agents, you get an inside look at those agents and start to form opinions about them. I mentioned last year that the caliber of my critique partners and beta readers has gotten higher and higher. It’s because we started out together years ago and many of them have gone on to sign with agents and even be published. As that’s happened, I’ve listened to their experiences. A few have quietly parted ways with their agents. They’ve shared the details with me behind the scenes, and in a few cases I’ve removed agents from my list. But for others, it was simply a matter of that writer and agent not being a fit–not necessarily an issue that would apply for me or other writers. The best testimonials, of course, are the writer friends who recommend their agents highly.

The more connections you make, the harder it is to enter contests because it’s more likely you know the organizers/judges. In year one, I learned the benefit of contests, and I still think contests are a great strategy to get in front of agents. The thing is … I’ve really tapped that contest market and made excellent connections. So it starts to become awkward. There are contests I can’t enter at all because my friends are running them and others where my choices are limited because my CPs have connections to them. There are always Twitter pitch parties, though!

You start to feel almost ambivalent when you send out queries. I remember the buzz I felt five years ago when I sent out my first batch of queries, how anxious I was to check my email for responses. It’s dulled significantly over the years. I still felt it somewhat when I started querying my fourth manuscript, but with the fifth one, even though I knew it was my best work yet and had the highest probability of anything I’d written of garnering agent interest, I found myself less concerned about how each individual agent would respond. My sense of worth in my writing ability wasn’t so attached to their interest in my manuscript. I’m not sure if that means I’ve achieved some level of zen or peace or what. To be honest, it kind of concerned me that I wasn’t caring enough. Don’t worry, though. I still care about the submissions!

You might have to turn down an opportunity because your gut says it’s wrong. Maybe it’s an agent you thought would be a fit–because you shouldn’t be wasting an agent’s time with a query if you wouldn’t consider signing with him/her!–and then you talk and realize you have a different vision for your manuscript. Or maybe you receive one of those if rejections. Some of you understand what I’m talking about. An agent (or editor) says, “I’d be willing to take another look if you do x, y, z.” It can be a heady email because it means the agent loved something about your work. Here’s someone who believes you have potential, so of course you should do whatever he/she says! Except … make sure that if involves changes you can live with and believe in, because it’s still your story. Only revise if you agree with the suggestions. If you don’t, walk away, no matter how hard it may be. If you can’t overcome your doubts, it’s probably not the right fit for you. But if the changes resonate with you, by all means, revise away!

You never know for sure if something will work until you try it. There may come a time when you want to try a creative element with a manuscript–maybe write it out of order or write it all in tweets or–ahem–include screenplay scenes. It might be exactly the right thing for your manuscript. Or it might not. Sometimes you have to put it out there to the people who know the market (agents/editors) to get a true read on it. But if you are trying something unique with your manuscript, keep a close eye on your feedback and be prepared to revise if it turns out the market isn’t ready for your text-messages-from-your-dead-cat manuscript. (Hmm … that might be funny!)

Just because an agent has never requested from you before doesn’t mean they won’t now. I’ve said the opposite of this before. There’s an agent who requested three of my previous manuscripts and didn’t even reply to my current one, but that’s okay. It’s obviously not her thing. But to prove my current point, multiple agents who’ve rejected all of my previous manuscripts have requested this one, so you never know. It’s always worth trying an agent again because maybe your current project is the one that will finally get the agent’s attention.

It’s okay to return to a project you really love. I’ve shared elsewhere about how I haven’t been able to let go of my second project, which is now my work-in-progress again. I felt sort of guilty at first, like it might be a waste of my time to focus on a novel I’d queried extensively and ultimately had to shelve. But I kept having new ideas how to fix it, so I gave myself permission to return to it, and I’m so glad I did. With three more years of writing experience to bolster it, I know it’s a much stronger novel. Now it’s just a matter of deciding what to do with it!

If you have the means and opportunity to meet your online writing friends in person, do it! You know those critique partners who read your manuscripts multiple times, suffer through your email rants, and generally are the best cheerleaders in the world? I have several of those in my camp, and I’ve been working with them for years, but until a couple of months ago, I’d never met any of them in person. NESCBWI was the perfect opportunity to meet not only one of my longtime CPs, but also a number of other writers and published authors I’ve chatted with online. I wouldn’t give up the emails, Twitter DMs, or gchats for anything, but the in-person time was so valuable. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it every year, but it’s now my mission to travel around and meet up with my other CPs, too!

So that’s what I learned in year five. I guess I’ll start working on year six lessons tomorrow, because I’m definitely not giving up! What have you learned on this querying journey? Anything you’d like to share?

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LET THE WIND RISE and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

It’s time for another young adult reading roundup! Between series (how do you make a plural of a plural??) I love ending, attending NESCBWI, and winning a giveaway with several books, my to-be-read pile is so tall I’ve resorted to letting choose what I’ll read next. As I was updating the reading tab on my blog, I realized there were several books I’ve read recently that I really should highlight with a post. But first, I could still use some input about how to label my current manuscript. If you have a minute to check out my post and give me some thoughts, I’d really appreciate it! Now on to the mini-reviews!

First up, LET THE WIND RISE by Shannon Messenger. I reviewed the first book in the series, LET THE SKY FALL, in 2013, and covered the second book in another roundup. I thoroughly enjoyed the final book in the trilogy–but then, I love everything Shannon Messenger writes, so no surprise there! I read this book in a day and a half, mainly because every chapter was a total cliffhanger.

Let the Wind Rise by Shannon MessengerVane Weston is ready for battle. Against Raiden’s army. Against the slowly corrupting Gale Force. Even against his own peaceful nature as a Westerly. He’ll do whatever it takes, including storming Raiden’s icy fortress with the three people he trusts the least. Anything to bring Audra home safely.

But Audra won’t wait for someone to rescue her. She has Gus—the guardian she was captured with. And she has a strange “guide” left behind by the one prisoner who managed to escape Raiden. The wind is also rising to her side, rallying against their common enemy. When the forces align, Audra makes her play—but Raiden is ready.

Freedom has never held such an impossible price, and both groups know the sacrifices will be great. But Vane and Audra started this fight together. They’ll end it the same way.

I totally thought I wrote a review of LADY RENEGADES, the final book in the Rebel Belle series by Rachel Hawkins, but apparently not. You can read my short review of REBEL BELLE and my longer review of MISS MAYHEM. I loved how Rachel Hawkins wrapped up this series, and I have to admit I was a little concerned it wouldn’t be possible. Well done!

LADY RENEGADES by Rachel HawkinsJust as Harper Price starts coming to terms with her role as David Stark’s battle-ready Paladin, protector, and girlfriend—her world goes crazy all over again.

Overwhelmed by his Oracle powers, David flees Pine Grove and starts turning teenage girls into Paladins—and these young ladies seem to think that Harper is the enemy David needs protecting from.  Ordinarily, Harper would be able to fight off any Paladin who comes her way, but her powers have been dwindling since David left town…which means her life is on the line yet again.

I gushed about The Selection series earlier this year, but I held off on reading THE HEIR until I could also read THE CROWN. I’m so glad I did because I sure hate waiting for a finale🙂. I also picked up HAPPILY EVER AFTER and enjoyed reading the novellas that go along with the original series. I wonder if Kiera Cass will do some of those for the second-generation characters.

The Crown by Kiera CassWhen Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.

Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined.

I’ve enjoyed several books by Sarah Mlynowski, especially her Whatever After series for younger readers, so I was excited when I won a copy of DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Just the concept of a group of kids getting ESP from a flu shot is intriguing, but the way she executes it with a first person plural POV is fantastic.

Don't Even Think About It by Sarah MlynowskiWe weren’t always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn’t expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we’ve kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what’s coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.

So stop obsessing about your ex. We’re always listening.

You know those books everyone LOVES that you hesitate to read because you’re afraid you won’t love them, too? Oh, maybe that’s just me. Actually, it doesn’t happen all the time. Often I’ll know from the description that I’m going to adore the book, but sometimes there’s so much hype I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed–because it’s happened a few times. That wasn’t the case at all with THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. I expected a love story, but I got so much more. I don’t want to give too much away, but this book made me tear up, and that is not easy to do. (Just ask my husband. I don’t even cry at funerals.)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. SmithToday should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

That’s all I have for today. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you have any other reading suggestions for me based on the above?

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