Friday, December 19, 2014

Receiving an Offer of Representation: 8 things to know

As you may know if you follow us on twitter, I recently signed with Josh Adams of Adams literary. For me, the process (as I've written elsewhere) was exhilarating, flattering . . . and very often stressful and confusing and sometimes downright discouraging.

Wait, you're saying. You had an agent interested in your work--how can that be discouraging?

That's what I though too--and to be honest, I was caught way off guard by some aspects of the two weeks following my initial offer before I made a final decision. I found, when I was frantically searching online for information, that there wasn't a lot of information written about making a decision about an offer of representation--though there are plenty of celebratory posts (and rightly so).

Hence, the reason for this post: I wanted to talk about some of the things I wish I'd known before I got my offer of representation.

1. Celebrate!
I was thrilled when I got that first email from an agent saying she wanted to talk to me. After that, nerves set in: what if we didn't "click" on the phone? What if no one else was interested? What if lots of others were interested and I had to make a decision?

This may just be my personal quirks at work, but I think I was so anxious about what came after my initial offer of representation, that I didn't take enough time to enjoy the moment. If you've gotten an offer of representation, this is a huge milestone. Take time to celebrate--go do something you love with people you love.

2. Make sure the agent is someone you're genuinely interested in working with.
There's a false idea circulating the internet that querying writers should query agents from lower on their list with the idea that if they offer, the writer can use that offer to nudge other agents and prompt more (i.e. better) offers. Jennifer Laughran explains in much better detail than I can why this isn't a good idea: it's true that agents will look at your materials more quickly when you nudge them with an offer, but most of the time, those agents will be reading towards "no."

So don't jump to nudge those other agents until you're sure that the first offer is one you'd be happy with--it sometimes happens that this first offer is the only offer a querying writer gets.

3. If # 2 checks out, nudge the other agents.
In my case, I was lucky that the first offering agent was a lovely agent whose clients love her. She could have been a great agent for my book. So, after talking with her, I sent out nudge emails to everyone who had my manuscript--even those who just had open queries. Dahlia Adler and Krista Van Dolzer both have helpful advice for nudging etiquette in this situation.

4. Brace yourself for rejection.
Before getting my offer of rep, it hadn't occurred to me that by asking agents to get back to me in a relatively narrow window of time (in my case, two weeks because it fell over Thanksgiving; more conventional is 7-10 days), I was essentially inviting lots of rejections to flood my inbox. Because even though I ultimately received five flattering offers--I had way more rejections. Rejections sting. Period. Knowing someone loved my book helped, but not as much as I'd expected. It was far too easy to wonder what the rejecting agent saw in my book that the offering agent missed.

It's okay to feel bad about these rejections, even with an offer in hand. As one of my smart friends described this experience, "It's this time you look forward to for so long and then it arrives and you feel sort of awful, and sort of awful for feeling awful because there are so many people who are working so hard to get to this point and haven't yet."

But don't get so caught up in the rejections that you forget the critical point: you have an offer!

5. Take time to de-stress.
I was utterly unprepared for how stressful the whole experience was. In retrospect, I should have known: I was a major basket-case while I was engaged (It still amazes me that my husband still wanted to marry me after that), and I should have known that another major life decision would be equally stressful for me.

And it is stressful. Wonderful, flattering, exciting--and horribly stressful. Sometimes its the stress of wondering if anyone else will offer. (If you're like me, it's almost impossible to make a decision until I know what all my options are). Sometimes it's the stress of having multiple good offers and trying to decide between them.

Expecting the stress can help you plan to consciously de-stress. Unplug for a while. Go do something you love (that's totally unrelated to writing). I spent a lovely morning at the park with my toddler one day and almost managed to forget what was going on in my writing life.

6. Do your research.
This should be a given. Once the offer(s) come in, do your due diligence. Figure out what questions you most want to ask the offering agent. Make sure you get answers you're satisfied with. Talk to clients (if possible, call those clients instead of just emailing--sometimes people are more open on the phone than they are when there's a printed record). Figure out what's important to you in an agent--that will make your final decision easier.

7. Brace yourself for rejecting.
There's a reason why I'm not an agent. I'm terrible at telling people no. Having to tell four people who loved my book that I'd chosen a different agent was heart-wrenching. I still get cold chills about it. I hated it. It was absolutely the hardest part of this whole process--and again, something I did not consider when I'd spent time air dreaming about how thrilling it would be to get multiple offers.

If you get more than one offer, you will have to tell someone no. Hopefully, this will be an easy decision--you'll click with one of the agents, their vision for the book will mesh with yours, and everything will be clear. But if not, know that this part of the offering process can be extremely hard. Do what you need to do to get through it (stock up on chocolate, call a writer friend, have a drink). And know that it's okay to feel badly about having to reject someone.

8. Celebrate.
Yes, I know, you already did this when you first got the offer. But I think it's important not to forget to celebrate at the end, when you've said yes and you've signed the contract and you're moving on. For me the week was such an overwhelming mix of emotional highs and lows and stress (I had two calls the day I was supposed to decide) that I was simply spent. It took another call from my new agent to remind me that I really did need to celebrate this!

And then it was time to get back to the work of writing (something that, admittedly, suffered during those two weeks).

For those of you with agents, what do you wish you'd known before you got your offer? And for those still hunting--what questions do you have about getting an offer?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

3 Reasons Why a Year-End Review is Important, Especially for Writers

A couple of weeks ago I joined the Female Entrepreneur Association after fangirling over their posts for weeks. As I continue the transition from being a writer to being an "authorpreneur", I'm increasingly drawn to the business side of the process, which will become more relevant as each month draws closer to having a real life book to market. Thankfully, I've grown up in a family of entrepreneurs and I've been one myself so this isn't scary to me, but it is a lot to prepare for so it's been good for me to start thinking about it early.

Up until now, much of my focus when it came to writing was about craft and learning to write a good book. Now that I also have to start setting up my business, it's been encouraging to surround myself with businesswomen and look at my writing life through different eyes. This month, FEA encouraged us to review our year, asking leading questions about what we accomplished, what we didn't, and why. When I first looked over the workbook, I didn't know how much I'd have to say on the topic. I edited a book. I don't need a whole workbook to tell me that.

But as I put more thought into each question, I realized I'd actually done so much more than that. I got an agent, I overcame obstacles I was sure were impossible, I presented my first workshops, I coordinated workshops for the Women's Fiction Writer's Association, I grew as a writer and a person, and I surrounded myself with a community that kept me going, even during the hard times. After writing all that down, I had to admit to myself that this has been my best year yet.

As writers, it often feels like we're only checking off one or two accomplishments a year, and that can make the journey seem long and arduous and discouraging. But often times we're chalking up a lot more wins than we realize. Here are 3 reasons why you should sit down with yourself and do a year-end review before 2015 begins:
  1. You don't have a boss. We're called "authorpreneurs" for a reason. Whether or not you're published or making money with your writing yet, if you are actively writing, you're building something that will one day be a small business. You are your own boss, with no one to pat you on the back and tell you "good job", and no one to let you know where you could have done better. Part of being a business owner is managing and validating yourself and a year-end review is a great way to do that.
  2. You'll discover where there's room for improvement in your process. If you set goals for the year (and I hope you did! if not, add this to your list for improvements!), take a look at what you weren't able to accomplish. And even more important than that, why. When you understand why, you can put plans in place to avoid those pitfalls again in the coming year.
  3. You'll be grateful for all the progress you didn't realize you made. In my own year-end review, once I got the ball rolling on my accomplishments, I was shocked to find I'd soon run out of room on the page! As a writer, there's so much more to growing than what can be easily calculated with numbers. Seeing in writing all the ways I'd improved my craft, my understanding of the industry, and my personal growth made my heart swell a size or two. Take the time to be proud of yourself and let your favorite employee know how much you appreciate their hard work.
So try to carve out a quiet hour during this crazy busy time to celebrate the year and plan for the year to come. You'll be amazed at what you learn. Here are a few questions to get you started: - What did you accomplish this year? - What did you do to make those things happen? - What did you hope to accomplish but didn't? - What held you back? - What can you do to make sure these same challenges don't hold you back again next year? - What do you want to accomplish in the year to come? I wish you all happy holidays and your most productive year yet!

Jamie writes Women's Fiction about women searching for truth in life and love. She is currently working on revisions of her first novel in preparation for submission to publishers. In the meantime, she blogs about her journey toward a well-balanced life and a career in publishing--her struggles and successes along the way. She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband and two young daughters and is a Workshop Coordinator for the Women's Fiction Writers Association. You can read more about her here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Muscle Fatigue and Writing

We are excited to welcome our new monthly contributor Megan Paasch!

One of the most common writing adages is to write every day, be it a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word . . . write something every day. It’s great advice! The idea behind this is that the creative part of your brain is like a muscle; you need to exercise it on a regular basis to keep it strong. And to an extent, this is true. But there’s one tiny thing this comparison doesn't take into account: you can overwork your muscles if you aren't careful.

Anyone who’s ever been in to weight lifting knows that if you want to build muscle, you don’t actually strength train every single day. You do it every other day, with a day off in between. That day off gives your muscles time to knit and bulk up and . . . okay, I’m not sure what they do exactly, but they do something important, and if you don’t give yourself that break, you increase your risk of muscle fatigue, or worse—injury.

For me, and I suspect for a lot of you as well, writing is like that too. Now I’m not saying to skip a writing day every other day. I do think that, as long as you’re able, yes, you should try to write every day. But if you get blocked, or frustrated, or you start hating your work and want to print it out just so you can tear it to shreds, set it on fire, stomp it out, then set it on fire again . . . mayyyybe it’s time to take a break. It’s really okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

I know, I know, it’s really hard to make yourself stop worrying and obsessing about why a scene isn't working, or why a character isn't sitting right with you, or why everything you type appears to curl up into a fetid mass of garbage. It’s hard to force yourself to step away and think of something else. But trust me—if you do this, that big noodley mass of curls in your noggin will let out a relieved sigh and thank you for it.

Then, when you’re ready (hopefully this should only take a few days), get back to it. You might find yourself looking at whatever wasn't working for you in a new light. You might decide you like it. You might know exactly how to tweak it to make it better. Or you might deem it unfixable, cut it, and try something else. But no matter which you do, the decision to do so will be made with a much clearer head. And in those rare circumstances you come back from your break and still find yourself stuck, well, that’s when you should take another prevalent piece of advice and write through the block. After your break, you’ll be much better equipped to do so.


When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband.
A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here

Friday, December 12, 2014

Helen's Five Favorites from 2014

This entire week we've been highlighting our five favorite reads from 2014 in the genre that each of us write. In case you want to visit/revisit any of the previous posts, here's the breakdown:

Today: My Five Favorites (Young Adult Fantasy and New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Some of my book picks were published this year, some earlier, but I've enjoyed reading each and every one of these in 2014! At the end of this post, I also have a special excerpt to share from one of my favorite romance reads.

Aurora Sky (Vampire Hunter #1) by Nikki Jefford
(Upper Young Adult Fantasy)

If there is one thing eighteen-year-old Aurora Sky wants, it's to get off the iceberg she calls home. Being kissed before she graduates wouldn't hurt either.

Then a near-fatal car wreck changes everything. Government agents step in and save Aurora's life in exchange for her services as a vampire hunter. In Alaska. Basically she's a glorified chew toy. All thanks to her rare blood type, which sends a vampire into temporary paralysis right before she has to finish the job... by hand.

Now Aurora's only friends are groupies of the undead and the only boy she can think about may very well be a vampire.

This is a great read for anyone who enjoys upper YA paranormal. The main character is a heroine who's forced to make the transition from a typical high school teenager to a vampire hunter. I loved how Nikki Jefford captured both Aurora's paranormal challenges as well as her typical high school struggles. Compelling story with great humor, awesome action, and super cast of characters! Loved it.

Awaken (Awakened Fate #1) by Skye Malone
(Young Adult Fantasy)

Running away from home was never Chloe Kowalski's plan. Neither was ending up the target of killers, or having her body change in unusual ways. She only wanted a vacation, someplace far from her crazy parents and their irrational fear of water. She only wanted to do somethingnormal for once, and maybe get to know her best friend's hot stepbrother a bit better at the same time.

But the first day she goes out on the ocean, strange things start to happen. Dangerous things that should be impossible. Things to which 'normal' doesn't even begin to apply.

Now madmen are hunting her. A mysterious guy with glowing blue eyes is following her. And her best friend's stepbrother seems to be hiding secrets all his own.

It was supposed to be a vacation. It's turning out to be a whole lot more.

This was a fun YA read! Skye Malone spun a creative story revolving around mermaids and other mythical creatures, and I loved the lore connected to the various characters. The story had plenty of action and Malone kept the intrigue factor high as she unfurled secrets and threw in unexpected twists. It does end on a semi-cliffhanger, but the other books in the Awakened Fate series are already available. I already bought book two and can't wait to hop into it!

Her (Him #2) by Carey Heywood
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

You know her side of the story, now learn his.

"It was useless. I felt branded beneath my skin by a girl who left without even saying goodbye."

When Will Price was assigned a partner for a sixth grade class project he had no idea she would become his best friend. After years of friendship, she eventually became so much more. Then, one day she left with no explanation. 

Will’s life shattered right before his eyes and he was left alone to pick up the pieces. Floundering, Will must figure out a way to carry on, to find a way to exist without her. 

Seven years later, a chance encounter leaves him desperate to get her back. He has one week to make her his again. Not everyone gets a second chance with the love of their life and Will is determined to never lose her again.

 If you like friends-to-lovers stories, this book is for you! Her is Will Price's side of the story and is based off Carey Heywood's NYT Bestseller Him, which tells the story from Sarah Miller's point of view. I actually read this one first because I enjoy reading stories told from male points-of-view, and I adored it. Carey Heywood did such a great job portraying Will's emotions, angst, and inner turmoil as he tries to win back his old friend and love.

Charade (Games #1) by Nyrae Dawn
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Nineteen-year-old Cheyenne tries to portray the perfect life to mask the memories of her past. Walking in on her boyfriend with another woman her freshman year in college threatens that picture of perfection.

Twenty-one-year-old Colt never wanted college and never expected to amount to anything, but when his mom's dying wish is for him to get his degree, he has no choice but to pretend it's what he wants too.

Cheyenne needs a fake boyfriend to get back at her ex and Colt needs cash to take care of his mom, so they strike a deal that helps them both. But what if Cheyenne’s past isn’t what she thought? Soon they’re trading one charade for another—losing themselves in each other to forget about their pain. The more they play their game, the more it becomes the only thing they have that feels real.

Both Cheyenne and Colt know life is never easy, but neither of them expect the tragedy that threatens to end their charade and rip them apart forever.

Nyrae Dawn has such an amazing gift for writing authentic characters with real issues. For me, the emotional development of characters in new adult stories are key, and I loved being part of Colt and Cheyenne's journeys as their relationship progressed and became something meaningful. The books in this series may be read as standalones, and I read this one after buying a signed copy from Nyrae at an author event *cue fangirl scream.* Without providing any spoilers, you might want to include a box of tissues if you give this one as a gift.

The Untamed Series by Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Rich, beautiful, and wild, Reagan McKinley has everything she needs...but nothing that she wants. That is, until she spends one hot night in the arms of sexy, unbridled Dare Wilde.

She's a girl trapped in a rigid world she desperately wants to escape, and he's an untamed artist with an attitude, hell-bent on freeing her--body, mind, and soul. But Reagan's life is not her own, and Dare is not welcome in it. She can't include him in her carefully-controlled, extremely public lifestyle...and yet she cannot give him up.

Will a shared passion for art--and, increasingly, each other--be enough to keep them together? Or will it be the thing that ultimately tears them apart?

The epic saga is just one click away...

Available for the first time: all 5 books in the Untamed Series collected into this special omnibus edition--a $13 value, over 1,000 pages long! Get ALL of Dare Wilde--wrapped up in a big, red bow--just in time for the holidays.

Reagan McKinley is a damaged soul in the guise of a woman who has everything, and her journey with artist Dare Wilde is emotional and action-packed. This isn't just a story about finding your true love, but it's also about finding courage and inner strength to stand alone. I loved each of these novellas and am looking forward to reading more from these authors!

I'm also happy to be able to share a short excerpt from the authors Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green, two very lovely and FUN women that I've been fortunate enough to get to know this past year.

The light of early morning sunshine woke me. Or maybe it was the heat of Dare’s gaze. I felt it on me before I even opened my eyes. It was a weird sensation—both familiar and unnerving. Slowly lifting my eyelids, I found him sitting on an armchair off to the side of the bed, watching me sleep. 
No, not watching. Drawing. 
Eyebrows knitted together and lips pursed in deep concentration, his gaze flitted from me to the sketchpad propped on his bent knee. His hand moved across the surface and the only sound in the apartment was that of pencil on paper. Up and down and side to side, with long, sweeping strokes. 
It sounded beautiful. And almost made me forget where I was.
In bed.
After a night of mac and cheese and Dare.

What are your favorite reads from this past year? Comment below!

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. 

Find out more about Helen at

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rosalyn's Five Favorites from 2014

Asking me to only choose five books I love from 2014 is a little like asking me which of my children is my favorite (answer: it depends on my mood when you ask me, though of course I love all of them). Asking my five favorites from the genre I write is a little easier, especially if I limit that genre to YA speculative fiction.

So, with the understanding that there were many more books I loved, here are some YA fantasy books that stayed with me long after reading.

 Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Cruel BeautyBased on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

This debut novel by Rosamund Hodge was a finalist in the Goodreads Readers Choice awards--and with good reason, I think. The writing was lovely, but the characters were fascinating. I fell in love with strong-willed Nyx--and with Ignifex. I have a definite weakness for bad boy lordlings, and Ignifex, with his mix of understanding and cruelty, is definitely that. While I didn't love everything about the love triangle Hodge sets up, I was entranced by Nyx's predicament and I loved that the book didn't make everything easy for her. Her choices were complex, as she was. More than that, I loved Hodge's subtle allusions to the Cupid and Psyche myth (she said in the afterword that she was influenced by both C. S. Lewis and T.S. Elliot's Four Quartets, which is reason enough for me to love it, even without the spectacular storytelling). For readers who like the kind of romance that makes your heart twist.

Strange Sweet SongStrange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

A young soprano enrolls in a remote music academy where nothing, not even her mysterious young vocal coach, is as it seems.

Outside Dunhammond Conservatory, there lies a dark forest. And in the forest, they say, lives a great beast called the Felix. But Sing da Navelli never put much faith in the rumors and myths surrounding the school; music flows in her blood, and she is there to sing for real. This prestigious academy will finally give her the chance to prove her worth—not as the daughter of world-renowned musicians—but as an artist and leading lady in her own right.

Yet despite her best efforts, there seems to be something missing from her voice. Her doubts about her own talent are underscored by the fact that she is cast as the understudy in the school's production of her favorite opera, Angelique. Angelique was written at Dunhammond, and the legend says that the composer was inspired by forest surrounding the school, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. But was it all a figment of his imagination, or are the fantastic figures in the opera more than imaginary?

Sing must work with the mysterious Apprentice Nathan Daysmoor as her vocal coach, who is both her harshest critic and staunchest advocate. But Nathan has secrets of his own, secrets that are entwined with the myths and legends surrounding Dunhammond, and the great creature they say lives there.

This book had all of my favorite elements: a hint of dark magic, eerie settings, a strong heroine, gorgeous prose, and a lovely romance. Totally captivating.

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1) The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkowski

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Rutkowski wrote the kind of book I aspire to write: richly imagined, smart, and devastating. In Kestrel's world, there are no black and whites--only nuanced shades of grey. Kestrel reaps the benefits of privilege because of her father's expertise in war, but she comes to find that the empire her father conquered is much more complicated than she imagines, and that there is much to admire in those she's been trained to see as enemies. Here, again, I adored the love story--Kestrel and Arin are striking characters in their own right so it's impossible not to root for them. The twists in the novel were shocking and perfect. I'm anxiously awaiting the newest instantiation (The Winner's Crime), which comes out  next spring.

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2) The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same.

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life.

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...

Okay, this is probably cheating since you really shouldn't read The Dream Thieves without first reading Raven Boys, but I have loved the world Stiefvater creates here. The plot of this one is complicated and twisty--complicated enough that sometimes I wasn't entirely sure what it was--but I love the characters enough that I'm pretty sure I'd follow them just about anywhere. Charming and clever and funny and heart-wrenching all at once.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3) Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

Taylor's book is the third in a trilogy, and where I've found conclusions somewhat hit or miss, I think Taylor nailed this. The book is long--but it was well worth the read. Taylor's prose is breath-taking: sometimes I found myself rereading passages just to savor it. And the love story at the heart of the book, that of Karou and Akiva, is heart wrenching. I think this book perfectly illustrates the point Ilima made last week, that high stakes work best when they're combined with small-scale emotional stakes.

And okay, I can't quite stop here. Other YA books worth noting (just didn't quite fit the genre theme):

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl (technically NA since the main character is a freshman in college, but feels very YA and was marketed as such). Plus, she just announced that she's releasing a companion novel--the fantasy novel that Kat writes about in Fangirl! I can't wait.

Kasie West's The Distance Between Us, a darling YA contemporary. Actually, all of her books are worth checking out!

Pierce Brown's Red Rising. YA sci-fi, another Goodreads Readers Choice finalist. Fast-paced, gripping futuristic world--the first book I've seen compared to the Hunger Games that actually merits the comparison, I think. Warning: this is fairly violent (and graphic) and probably not appropriate for younger teens.

What were some of your favorite YA fantasy reads this year?

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she's often found reading. She's represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Elaine's Five Favorites from 2014

Happy December! This week, we're each spotlighting five of our favorite reads from the genre/age group we write for. For me, this meant picking five favorites from the eighty-one middle grade and chapter books I've read so far in 2014. (Not all of these books came out in 2014, but I read them all for the first time this year.) In the end, I was able to narrow it down to ten, so I decided to spotlight five here and five on my blog. So without further ado, here are five of my favorite middle grade and chapter books of 2014!

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

Kevin has a bad attitude. He's the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way--and he's even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on? Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader's journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people's lives.

Not only am I crazy about this book, but my son and daughter and their classmates are crazy about it as well. It is totally engaging and visually fascinating, and the characters and construction of the whole story are just awesome. I'm a fan of any story that invites kids to celebrate poetry and learn empathy, especially when the author is as talented as K.A. Holt.

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

Dear Jamshed,

America is not so different from what we thought. I told you I wouldn't see a single cowboy riding across the plain, and I haven't.

I have not even seen a plain.

Still, there are some silver linings. They are:

1.) Trapper and King, the cat and dog who live in the apartment building. They are cuddly and waggy. I am not allowed to play with them, though, becayse they are supposed to catch mice and keep burglars away.
2.) Ironman. He owns a pig and talks to me a lot. But he is a grown-up.
3.) Kids. I can hear them playing outside. Too bad they do not want to play with me.

I wish you were here.
Do you wish I was in India? 
Write back soon.

Your friend,

This sweet, funny chapter book was not only one of my favorites, but one of my seven-year-old's favorites as well. Lowji is such an endearing character with such a unique perspective, and between the cast of kids, adults, and animals, there's plenty of humor and excitement to keep young readers turning the pages.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafeh

I Am Malala. This is my story. 

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.

No one expected her to survive.

This is the young readers edition of Malala Yousafzai's memoir. At seventeen, she's the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and I finished reading this just days before that announcement was made. I remember seeing it at the bookstore and thinking, "This is such an important book for young girls to read. And such an important book for young boys to read." A great nonfiction choice for showing kids how much good they can do in the world--and how much that's needed right now.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

This book is funny and suspenseful and all kinds of clever. There are seven girls here, and each is so well-drawn and distinct that they feel absolutely authentic. I had such a great time reading this book, and don't doubt that slightly older middle grade readers who are ready for a good mystery would absolutely devour it. Julie Berry is so fabulous at so many things, and this book is definitely another bright and brilliant feather in her cap.

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

This book received so many accolades--four starred reviews, multiple best-books-of-the-year lists--and deservedly so. I love books where the main characters are dealing with difficult things, and the adults in their lives, though imperfect, are there for them and helping them. Albie is the kind of kid young readers will root for and remember, the kind of character who might make a difference in their lives. And that's a great thing. 

What books did I miss in 2014 that I need to catch in 2015? (There were a lot of them!) What were your favorites--middle grade, chapter books, or otherwise? Click here to see my other five favorites...


Elaine Vickers writes middle grade and chapter books when she's not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She's a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, or generally anywhere there's food and/or books for her consumption. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tasha's Five Favorites from 2014

My contribution to this week's book spotlighting event, I realized five of my very favorite books all had a sort of element of magic, or at least was written in a way that felt magical. They each follow a female character (aka Women's Fiction) who is working to negotiate through what she has known and the possibilities of life enriched.  I have three others that absolutely justify attention, which I will feature on my own blog tomorrow.

The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

This books explores the relationship of two sisters, Olivia and Jazz, after their mother commits suicide. Jazz is very logical and practical, and put in charge of her sister who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights. Olivia is certain she needs to take a journey to some far off place, a journey she decides to embark on by train hopping. As they negotiate the issues that arise from the eccentric journey, the people they meet along the way, and the obvious opposing means they have each selected to negotiate the reality of their mother's death, they reach a point where they each have to face the reality of their life, and their relationship with each other.

The writing in this book is lyrical. The character development, description of everything (especially Olivia's synesthesia), and the heartfelt connection Walsh creates between the sisters makes this a charming book.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

Jio is usually known for her dual time period books, and this starts out with the same feel, but then quickly unfolds as something completely different. In it, Jane receives a card on her 29th birthday instructing her to find the six different kinds of love before her next birthday. If she fails, there will be grave consequences. The trick is that Jane can actually see love - she experiences a sort of vision when this kind of love is present, much to the disbelief of her neurologist, and the science writer she falls for despite her efforts.

I have been a huge fan of Jio's writing since I first read her, but this book knocked my expectations out of the park where they were already decently vast. The Look of Love rotates through multiple points of view (again, different from her usual two) and each switch allowed me to fall in love with the character, regardless of their faults (which they all have).

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. 

This books is showing up on lists all over the place and for good reason. Hoffman takes the beginning decades of the 1900's and explores them through the eyes of two characters, Coralie who is an incredible swimmer and plays the role of mermaid in her father's museum, and Eddie, a Russian immigrant whose own history is full of tragedy. A photographer by trade (eventually), he stumbles upon a mystery after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that eventually leads him to meet Coralie.

If you have read Alice Hoffman before, you will know that despite her incorporation of the magic, her writing tends to be dark (probably a content warning on that) and more serious (If you're only familiar with the movie version of Practical Magic, this may surprise you). This is the case with The Museum of Extraordinary Things as well, but there is still the sense of wonder and powerful reflection that is characteristic of Hoffman's writing.

The Witch of Belladonna Bay by Suzanne Palmieri 

Bronwyn left her home of Magnolia Creek, Alabama when her mother died, and hasn't been back for fourteen years. But when she gets a phone call that her brother is in prison for murdering her best friend, and his daughter, Byrd, is more than her father can handle, she returns. There, magic that she has been trying to hold off since she left comes back. She has the task of trying to sort through the past she tried to leave behind, solving the mystery of what really happened the night her best friend died, as well as providing the support and guidance to Byrd. It soon becomes clear that love AND magic are necessary to fix the family.

Palmieri writes voice in a way I've never seen before. The characters are so incredibly vivid, and the magic an obvious accompaniment. This has the plot to keep the reader wondering and the description to leave you in awe. *content warning for language - contextually valid, but warning none the less.

The Book of Life (All Soul's Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness

This is a little bit of a cheat, because for this book to make sense at all, it requires that you have read the other two books. But I loved them all and looked forward with anticipation to the conclusion of the series. There are no spoilers in this review at all (for the other books either). Diana is still trying to discover the secrets to the book she found in The Discovery of Witches, Ashmole 782. Age old traditions, and the people who maintain them, are violently opposed to a relationship between a witch and a vampire, and their efforts to break up this relationship that has been deepening over the course of three books are intensifying as well.

I often tell people this is the smartest brain candy I've ever read. The story is an absolute delight, and at the same time, the readers gets to learn about various pieces of history (primarily from centuries old Europe). Along the way, we get to discern the truth from tradition as Diana works to understand the power she inherited but never learned, has studied but doesn't know. All of this is enhanced through Matthew's genetic studies, as well as several other events that continue to encourage the plot to build to a pinnacle that will leave the reader satisfied.

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter and can be found here.