Monday, January 26, 2015

Podcasts you should know about

I like to have something to listen to pretty much all the time. Audiobooks, music, and especially

Fiction

Uncanny Magazine : A new fiction collective of speculative fiction, Uncanny Magazine is run by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas, the podcast runs non-fiction articles, poetry and fiction published in the magazine also on the podcast. Three episodes old, the podcast is already promising.

Lightspeed : Lightspeed publishes one story a week out of their monthly issue for free both on their site in text form as well as on the podcast. Lightspeed publishes both science fiction and fantasy short stories. Lightspeed is a magazine that continues on the track started by Heinlein and others but also updating it as time moves on.

Apex Magazine : Apex is an online magazine of speculative fiction in both prose and poetry forms. They publish one story on the podcast every month, stories that are always twisted and beautiful.

Nightmare : This weekly horror podcast works very much on the same principle as Lightspeed, is also edited by John Joseph Adams, working forward from the illustrious horror set up by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Nightmare is very good at mixing the monstrous and the strange with the merely dark.

Clarkesworld : Clarkesworld publishes all or most of their fiction in the form of podcasts as well as the usual magazine. Clarkesworld publishes stories where style does not exist without substance and vice versa.

Welcome to Nightvale : A weird fiction podcast with an ongoing storyline about community radio host Cecil Gershwin Palmer in the fictional town of Night Vale, reporting the various happenings around town. Weather forecasts in the form of various Indie music, a five headed dragon and a faceless old woman each running for mayor and a Dog Park into which you never, ever go into.

Writing craft

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing : Mignon Fogarty explains the ins and outs of grammar and writing styles in this weekly few-minute podcast.

Writing Excuses : SFF authors Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells discuss the craft of writing, one topic at a time, "fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart". The ongoing season 10 is acting as a masterclass for writers, leading us from idea to finished draft, fifteen minutes at a time.

Hide and Create : By topic Hide and Create is very similar to Writing Excuses but it is a very different kind of podcast. Current regulars are Debbie Viguie, Michael J. Sullivan, Jordan Ellinger, and Joshua Essoe, two authors, an editor and a reviewer. About thirty minutes long, the topics they cover mostly tackle craft, with a nice mix of silliness and business stuff thrown in.

I Should Be Writing : Author and grand dame of podcasting Mur Lafferty talks about becoming a writer, interviewing people to ask them things that she wants and needs to know as a beginning author. Covering business, craft and most importantly, dealing with the mental problems of being a writer, such as the imposter syndrome, Lafferty is really good at encouraging writers to chase their dreams.

Writing business

Shipping & Handling : two literary agents, Jennifer Udden of The Donald Maass Literary Agency and Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc. drink wine and talk about what they're reading, what's happening in the business of speculative fiction as well as making predictions for the future.

The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast : Audiobook narrator and all-around sound guy Simon Whistler talks to various self-published authors about their experiences, and how they've managed to make it

The Self-Publishing Podcast : Self-publishing moguls Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David W. Wright talk a slapdash but very much relevant game about the business of self-publishing with occasional guests, frequent bad ad-reads. Content warning for laddish humor.

The Creative Penn : Thriller and non-fiction author Joanna Penn talks to a number of, mostly, self-published authors, almost exclusively on the nitty gritty of making a living as an author. Past discussions include email lists, street teams as well as tools and marketing strategies.

Just for fun

SF Squeecast : The never ending panel discussion of vague positivity. Regulars include Seanan McGuire, Catherynne M. Valente, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas.

Galactic Suburbia : Australian speculative fiction professionals Alex, Tansy and Alisa talk about all things SFnal with a feminist slant.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show : A weekly fannish popdcast done mainly by Shaun Duke and Jen Zink that covers everything from films to books to comics and in a meta way, even fandom.

Rocket Talk : Justin Landon hosts the Tor.com podcast, inviting guests, usually two at a time, to discuss interesting topics related to the field of speculative fiction. Past topics include bright and shiny fantasy, living with a writer and reader, writer and publisher biases. Smart people being smart about the things they are excited about.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

On Editing and Seeing Other Authors

I'm editing this week. Hopefully. I've at least taken several productive steps toward editing. I've printed the novel I'd like to edit (my YA Superhero book ABNORMALS.) I've put it in a snappy red binder. I've begun carting the binder from room to room. It's all part of my editing dance where I do things other than editing in the hopes of gearing myself up TO edit. I hate editing.

My cat likes to "help" me edit. She knows I hate it. Good kitty. 

In the meantime, I had a neat opportunity this week to meet Brandon Mull, author of the Fablehaven series and several others. He spoke at my children's school for an author event sponsored by our awesome local independent bookshop, Anderson's.

As I watched Mull give a great presentation to schoolchildren and pondered my own lack of gumption (Mull's first book came out in 2006, which is one year before the year I started writing. He's since had 14 books published and has contracts for at least 6 more. Le sigh.) -- I also got thinking about whether other writers know about this great thing about seeing authors speak/give presentations. It's a fascinating way to connect with other writers, though most authors at a signing are a little busy/preoccupied they usually have time to share a favorite writing website or podcast or answer questions from the audience about getting started or how they work on revisions or what have you.

It's also a great look into the kind of people that make up the writing world (the conference I attended last fall was another really interesting look into that world!) And while it can occasionally fill me with regret (fourteen books, eh? In one more than the sum total of years I've been writing? I mean…to be fair I've written 9 books in that time. But alas, I'm still over here on the unpublished side. And that's partly because I hate editing so much--most of these books I've written are waiting for a little more attention, need me to write the ending, or otherwise require edits before they can be seen by anyone.)

One of the fun bits at the signing was seeing my son set up the a/v equipment!

But to give you a little taste, here are some of the things Brandon Mull talked about in this school presentation (side note: if you write YA/Middle Grade, it's ideal if you can find a way to see an author give a school presentation, as these are generally a little different than the presentations they give to the general public at a signing at a bookstore.)

  • Told silly stories about his family (here's my dog Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here's my dog Buffy running with my daughter. Here's my dog devouring my son. Just kidding!) 
  • Talked about the importance of imagination
  • Told his most embarrassing story from childhood. It involved falling down stairs and using a leap to try to cover it up and making it much, much worse. 
  • Invited some students up to make up an imaginative world where it rains basketballs and giant pancake creatures roam.
  • Emphasized the importance of imagination again
  • Played a book trailer for his new series, Five Kingdoms
  • Played a silly video from the author he was co-presenting with that evening at Anderson's Bookshop
  • Answered questions from the student audience (I noticed how he would answer questions in a reasonably brief fashion, keeping the presentation moving.)
To me, this is what writing books for kids is all about. During the presentation the kids were all attentive. (Mull had a great ability to keep their interest with a combination of interesting stuff, silly business, and audience participation.) They were excited to hear from the author. They loved the imagination stuff, kids are so imaginative naturally, hearing an adult encourage and support that side of them was very empowering for the kids, I think (including the kids' own silly business. The raining basketballs? Genius idea that the child might not have felt comfortable sharing with others if not for the context of the author visit.) When the presentation was finished, those kids who bought books were so excited to get the chance to have their books personalized. One fourth-grade girl enthused (upon seeing the set of Fablehaven books her mom had ordered) "I won't have to go to the library for a LONG TIME!"

Our school librarian selected this Occulus as a gift for Brandon Mull, which he gushed about (it's plot-essential in one of his books. You can see all, but your sanity may be impacted when you use the Occulus!)

So what's my point? Even if you can't manage to finagle an invitation to an author visit in a school, you should go see other authors at readings and signings whenever you can. Ideally you'll be doing the signings some day, right? Plus it's a great way to get an extra jolt to your own writing goals. I feel much more excited about that big red binder on my desk now. Maybe I'll be the next Brandon Mull, right? You just never know…


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sabrina's 2015 Writing Goals

I've never been much of a goal maker. And given how unorganized I am, maybe I should get in the habit, to help focus my thoughts and practice accountability. In that spirit, here are my writing goals for 2015. They are, other than #1, are rather limited. That's because I have a variety of stresses in my personal life to deal with before I can reroute all of my energy back to writing. A girl can only spend so many hours a day in front of a computer..

1. Finish and publish (?) Pyromancy 
I'm so excited to write this book, especially after reading reviews and comments and reader theories on Prophecy of the Six. This book is going to be amazing, people.

2. Finish and publish various short stories. 
The first draft of my 'Curse Story' is sooo close to being done. I've got to get that finished, polish it up, and send it to the first round of beta readers. Oh, and at some point I should give it a working title.

And then I want to get working on the other two short stories, the one with the firebirds, and the one with the house in the wastelands. Those are just little embryos of ideas right now though.

Really, I have to get back in the habit of writing. I took a break, had technology chaos (got the new laptop working now!), and took care of a wide variety of other things, but it's time to set up a schedule. It's weird for me to manage my own writing time, instead of working out a schedule with other people. I'm somehow more productive when I know others are depending on me, fancy that. :)

3. Do some research on my next solo novel. 
 As time allows, I want to do some more research for the next novel. I think I'd start with the setting - it's going to be alternate world fantasy, but set in an era equivalent to some time between 1900 and 1915. I should probably add figuring that out to my official list of goals. I'm sort of playing in the world already - both the curse story and the firebird story occur in the same world as the novel, though in slightly different time periods.

So I need to get myself back to the lovely UCSD library and look up fashion and culture, cars and farming equipment, economies and cityscapes. I can't wait. And in the meantime, I can think happy thoughts about Kate and Alex and Vivian and that guy I haven't named yet, along with Rhys and Ammalina and all the other supporting characters.


SPACESHIP LIBRARY

4. Educate myself on how to participate in the push for more diverse books. 
I've been rather passively following the campaigns for more diversity in fiction, but I want to do more. Being that I am white, I come from a place of incredible privilege, including that as a kid, I could find heroines like myself in books without any troubles. I want all kids to experience that sense of wonder, This article has a lot of wonderful and sad pictures from the We Need Diverse Books Campaign.
In any case, I want to do more. I want to learn how to write diverse characters, and I want to support the inclusion of diverse books in the publishing world.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks



So there we go - those are my goals as a writer for 2015. Here's to an amazing year for writing and everything else.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dreaming of Books Blog Hop

Hello and welcome to the Proser page for the Dreaming of Books blog hop!



Our blog is run by a group of five up and coming writers. Three of us are writing a YA series together. Our second book came out January 6 (YAY!), but we know most of you probably haven't heard of the series. So for the blog hop, we are giving away a signed paperback copy of the first book in the Prophecy Breakers series. Alchemy is a YA fantasy novel with mages, conspiracies, romance, and daring escapes.

We didn’t know how much we had to lose until we were infected with magic. Sam was in love, Juliette was the main caretaker for her siblings, and Ana and her dad planned the best parties in New York. But we lost it all when we were shipped to Chebeague, an exclusive school for newly infected mages.
Everyone knows about the mages, those who survive the infection and end up with magical abilities. We’ve seen the power of magic, the high-paying jobs, and the world fame. But we never saw the cost. We didn’t know we’d be forced to give up everything: sanity, family, even the right to talk on the phone.
We didn’t know mage was just another word for prisoner.


In our world, magic is a virus, a communicable disease that kills most of the people who come in contact with it. The few who survive gain their own magic, but are subject to constant struggles with insanity, and are barred from normal society for fear that they might infect and kill others. Mages develop one primary power and one secondary power, also called their major and their minor.

So for the giveaway, all you have to do is read the options, and tell us which of the six powers you would pick for your primary power, and what you would do with your new magic! Here are the six powers you can choose from:


Alchemy: The ability to change one material into another.
Pros: The most versatile and powerful magic.
Cons: Few mages who have this as their primary power live very long - either the magic takes too heavy of a toll on their physical body, or they're assassinated by other mages nervous about their abilities.

Prophecy: The ability to see the future.
Pros: Stock brokers and other powerful businesses are always looking for reliable prophecy mages to predict their prospects and the actions of their enemies.
Cons: Unreliable. This is the most common power, so you have to compete for those cushy jobs with dozens of other applicants. Also, no one likes that person who's making vague and confusing prophecies all the time.

Pushing: Similar to telepathy, the ability to move objects with your mind.
Pros:  Can be a very powerful ability, and has some of the lowest insanity rates. Never have to get up from the couch to get that bag of chips.
Cons: Most jobs involve heavy lifting and construction – not well paid. This is also a very common ability.

Temperature Control: The ability to control heat, particularly the manipulation of ice and fire.
Pros: Never need to carry matches on camping trips. Freeze ex-boyfriends to the ground with a flick of your fingers.
Cons: Extreme physical energy highs and lows, including frequent incidences of fever, coupled with extreme emotional highs and lows.

Super Senses: Increased sensitivity of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. 
Pros: Hear anything anyone whispers about you. Super Sense mages make excellent spies.
Cons: Hear anything anyone whispers about you.  The sudden flood of sensory information can be overwhelming. More Super Sense mages succumb to insanity than any other type.

Healing: the ability to fix all injuries.
Pros: Be able to save the lives of all your mage friends.
Cons: This power can only be used on mages, because if you try to Heal a normal human, they'll just become infected with magic and (most likely) die.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Yes, we can ship internationally!

If you're interested in learning more about us as authors, you can visit the Facebook author pages for Melanie, Sheena, or me, or you can find Sheena on Twitter. Read about the second book in the series, Prophecy of the Six, at Amazon or Goodreads.

And be sure to visit the other blogs in the hop for more awesome giveaways!


Monday, January 12, 2015

SMART goals for writers

It's 2015 you guys! Whatever happened to 2014? I mean seriously. It's like 2013 was the day before yesterday.

Anyway. I'm personally not one for New Year's resolutions. Mostly because I end up breaking them by February. But every year around this time I do review my goals and try to recognize the steps I need to take to achieve them which is a completely different beast. While the New Year is certainly an arbitrary marker for the movement of time, it is however no more made up than most of human society and thus a good time to think about one's goals. I'm a fan of SMART goals, mostly because they're designed to be - relatively speaking - easier to achieve. Which is why I thought I'd take this post to share some ideas for setting SMART writing goals.

Specific

It's all well and good trying to make stuff happen by resolving to "write" or "lose weight" this year. Because our brains apparently work that way, it's much more likely that you'll be able to actually make things happen if you decide to "finish a novel" or "lose 5 kg". "Writing" is an amorphous mass that makes it hard to see the actual steps leading up to it whereas "finish a novel" is a specific goal with easy to see steps leading up to achieving it.

Trying to get your goals into a specific form also helps you with figuring out what you really want to accomplish. If you can't pin down a specific goal, maybe you don't really want it as badly as you thought?

Measurable

Once you've pinned down your specific goal how do you know if you've reached it? Take the goal of "finish a novel". When is a novel finished exactly? When there's a first draft? First pass of edits? Beta-reader comments? Accepted by an agent (assuming one is heading toward traditional publishing)? When it's published? Never?

You need to be able to tell when you've accomplished any particular goal that you've set for yourself. Partly for the same reasons you need to set specific goals. But more than that your brain actually releases dopamine when you complete a task and if you can't tell when a task is completed you'll never get that release. So instead of "finish a novel" go for a goal like "finish the first draft of a novel".

Achievable

To keep yourself motivated it's also important to make sure your goals are achievable. You can set a goal to write 1,000,000 in the next year all you like but if the best you can manage in a day is around 250 words, you'll never achieve it and you'll be demoralized by day 2.

The same goes for goals that you have no actual control over. While I would of course encourage you to dream about selling your novel to Tor for a $1,000,000 advance, I don't think you should set it as a goal for yourself because it contains a mountain of moving parts that you don't actually control. Maybe the market's glutted with the kind of books you're trying to sell. Maybe the editor who might buy it just bought a similar book the day before yours landed on her desk. Maybe they want it at a $6,000 advance but definitely no higher. Maybe it goes into a bidding war between multiple publishing houses and you realize that it has a much better home somewhere else.

No matter the reason, you should make sure that your goals are achievable. But you should also stretch yourself a little. If you can do 250 words/ day with effort, try making a goal to write an average of 350 words every day. Something that's still achievable but slightly challenging.

Relevant

So let's say that your ultimate dream is to become a published author. There are many goals to achieve on the road to that success. First draft, first sale, first published. Marketing, editing, education and so on. So maybe setting a goal like "master the author signature" isn't a good idea. In order to determine if a goal is relevant to you right now you should be asking yourself questions like: "does this seem worthwhile?" or "is this the right time?". I'm sure you, dear reader, are smart enough (pun intended and I'm sorry for it) to figure out the rest.

Time-bound

Last but not least your goals need to be time-bound. Humans in general seem to work better when they're working on a deadline, however made up. In general I find that adding a due date to a goal creates a sense of urgency that motivates me to take action right now instead of waiting 'till tomorrow to start. It's important to make sure this date is also realistic.

Having your goal be time helps it from being swept up in the various little emergencies that everyone has in their life. Dog peed on the rug? Still gotta get those words in! As Neil Gaiman says: Make Good Art.

If you're working on more than one goal this will also help you prioritize work. Need to finish a novel and a short story but the short story needs to get done in two weeks but the novel is three months away? Keep chipping away at that novel but put most of your work toward finishing that short story.

Bonus point: Accountability

This is not really a part of the SMART goals phenomenon but I find that I work better and more consistently when there's someone to check in with. If no one besides me cares about whether or not my work gets done it is shamefully easy to decide that I'll just create one more civilization. Having regular check-ins keeps my projects in my mind. This is probably also why NaNoWriMo works so darn well for me. It's millions of accountability partners also working toward the same goal. Try to check in with your accountability partner at least once a week and even more often if you can find a way to work it in. Just make sure that you're not replacing actual writing time with time spent your accountability partner.

Additional bonus point: Character goals

You can also use SMART goals as a plotting device. Your characters need concrete, measurable and especially time-bound goals as much, if not more than you do.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Karen's Writing Goals: 2015 version

For whatever reason, I'm dreading this post. I'm having trouble staying motivated as a writer. It's been a hard slog the last few years and writing down what I want to do is sometimes demoralizing, if I compare it to the list of things I wanted to do last year and realize it's 50% the same, for example.

But I've also made a pretty good run of doing New Year's Resolutions related to writing (it was a NY Resolution that initially got me into writing, in 2007.) So time for a new batch. What's on your list of things to do for 2015? Any places where we can overlap or share resources?
Photo credit: Flikr user: Dafne Cholet
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dafnecholet/

Straight out writing goals:

  • Finish Jak the AI killer short story, send to F&SF via CC Findlay's e-submissions
  • Finish Guide Me Through the Deep Space Night, 2014's nano project and the sequel to a prior Nano project, A Star to Lead Me (which is actually complete!) These books are very fun space-set SF and in Guide Me I've introduced aliens for the first time (even though I write a lot of SF, I have avoided aliens because so much of their treatment in SF is cliche. Let's hope I can avoid the traps.) 
  • Finish False Magic (another unfinished Nano project.) This is my only fantasy novel and has a really interesting magic system and I'm very excited about it. At World Fantasy Con 2014 I had a conversation with a researcher/lecturer in warfare and I got several ideas for how to manage the final conflict in this one. The book is 90% done, I stopped right before the final conflict. My thinking at the time was something like, "Oh, I know what will happen now. Plus this is such an exciting spot. No WAY I won't get right back to this project." Um. er. (this was my 2012 Nano project, I believe…) 
  • Finish Abnormals. What, another Nano project that isn't quite complete? How *strange*! This is my superhero story from 2013. A writer/artist friend has a great piece of art that I was planning to license to use as a cover, so the motivation here would be to finish this book and then publish it myself. 
  • One more pass on Adrift. This is the only novel I wrote at a time OTHER than National Novel Writing Month aka Nano. I wrote it one summer a couple of years ago. It's a middle grade SF novel and takes place in the same "universe" as my other space-set SF novels (Convergence, A Star to Lead Me, Guide Me, etc.) It's a cute story, it's finished but I keep going back to it because I know it could be stronger than it is. I have shopped this around traditional publishing and received some encouraging rejects, but rejects all the same. I'm not sure what I hope to achieve with another pass on this, but I'm midway through it so I might as well complete the pass. Afterwards I need to decide if I want to try submitting it again or if I should just publish it myself. My awesome cover designer has a cover about 80% of the way finished for it that I *adore.* 

Whew. I'm exhausted already. ;) Each of these projects alone isn't a huge amount of work. They need 5,000-10,000 new words, but I will have to re-read the books to get to where I'm ready to write the new words. While I'm re-reading I might as well do my first pass mark-up edit (I edit on paper, so this is an amusing phase where I carry a binder around with me everywhere for a month or two, mostly not reading the novel but just carrying it with me like a boat anchor. The ways we torture ourselves as writers are many and sundry.) 

In addition to all those goals, which I'm having difficulty sorting into an appropriate order of which comes first, I also need/want to be doing more to sharpen my writing and keep myself in a creative mindset. 

To that end, some "sharpen the saw" (if you don't know about Steven Covey's 7 Habits stuff, go check it out at the link. Hugely supportive and positive life coachy stuff from way before there were people whose job titles were Life Coach.) goals and activities for 2015:
  • Maintain my involvement in my online writing group. Get back into the saddle w/my in person writing group (I've missed our meetings for several months due to incredibly bad overlaps in schedule. February I should be able to get back into these twice monthly meetings.)
  • At least one writing-related thing each day. Options include:
    • New words
    • New story ideas (sketched out roughly)
    • Reading about writing (I have several very good books about writing that I should be reading and am not…like for instance:)
    • Listening to podcasts about writing
    • Watching videos of writing (particularly the Write About Dragons stuff of Sanderson's. He seems to have outlining down to a science and that's my kryptonite, so I'd like to get through more of this material and see what I can pull into my own process.) 
    • Journaling, with some eye toward documenting progress on writing goals or other meta-writing
  • Another writing class, probably a virtual class. I don't anticipate traveling for writing workshops or conferences this year but that may change as the second half of the year takes shape. I'm most strongly considering a Dave Farland class, but there are many others. If I were to go to an in-person workshop, I'd probably consider the Superstars Writing Seminars first. The Writing Excuses cruise sounds great, but I can't take that much time away from my family. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My favorite books of 2014

I don't think any year could be quite as awesome of a reading year as 2013, which was the year I first started reading Code Name Verity (and Rose Under Fire), and the year I started reading the Raven Boys series. I didn't find any books this year that rose to that level, but I do have a new favorite author for fun reading, and I did find some amazing books.

There are some obvious gaps - I'm only 1/3 of the way through Ancillary Justice, though it might have made the list otherwise.
Also, looking at the other 2014 YA best of lists, I'm apparently the only person on the planet who was bored by E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. It wasn't bad...I just didn't connect.

Note: these books aren't ones published in 2014, just ones I read in that calendar year.

10. 

 2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. Eighteen-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can't travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She's an "ape," a "throwback," but this is one ape girl who won't give in.

Jarra makes up a fake military background for herself and joins a class of norms who are on Earth for a year of practical history studies excavating the dangerous ruins of the old cities. She wants to see their faces when they find out they've been fooled into thinking an ape girl was a norm. She isn't expecting to make friends with the enemy, to risk her life to save norms, or to fall in love



Here's the weird thing about this book - if I were to do a top 10 least favorite books, this would also be on there. I absolutely adored the first half of this book. I wanted to never stop reading about Jarra's archaeology class, and the fascinating, dynamic world she lived in. But then I got to the halfway mark, and there was a Coincidence. The Coincidence required a large suspension of belief. Worse, I soon realized the major flaw of the book:

Jarra is a Mary Sue. In fact, she may be the most exaggerated Mary Sue I've read in ages. Everything she does is perfect. And - this gets worse in the sequel - even when she thinks she's screwed up, no, everything is actually better than fine! Everyone is rushing to reassure her about how wonderful she is!

It's probably not sounding now like this book belongs on my top ten. But my rage is more connected to my initial love for the book (also, a great deal of my bitterness comes from the sequel, which is one of those ones where the Mary Sue is put in charge of a group of adult experts and somehow manages to outthink the entire military and academic profession to find the solution to a crisis). Still, I'm putting this book here, in memory of that love, and because the first one is still worth the read. Just pretend the sequel doesn't exist. Trust me.

9. 

 Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet? 
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

One of my favorite romance novel blogs has come up with something called Romancelandia, which is basically the unlikely alternate universe where all romance novels seem to happen. It's a magical place where dukes are plentiful (and handsome), love always conquers all, and no one ever has BO. Sometimes I feel like a lot of YA exists in its own special universe too. With rules like:
a. Something like 75% of the teens are lacking at least one parent.
b. Love interests ALWAYS come in pairs.
c. Also, newly discovered magical powers seem to inevitably be accompanied by a mysterious handsome boy.

I'm sure there are other rules that I'm blanking on – suggestions?

Anyway! I love that YA world. I'm not dissing it, I'm just saying that Eleanor and Park is one of those books that seems to be cut straight out of the real world, and it's all the more chilling for it. But it's also all the more lovely in its portrayal of Eleanor and Park meeting and falling in love. I don't want to say much more about the book, because it's the characters that matter, not the plot. If you haven't read this yet, go do it now.

8. 


No plot summary, because this is book 3 in a trilogy.

The third book in a trilogy is hard, but Sarah Rees Brennan pulls it off. I got the ending I wanted, but I'm still mad about the cost to get there. But, you know. Good mad. Not throw-the-book-against-the-wall-mad. And Kami is still the best heroine in the history of ever. Plus, her dad rocks, which is not something one often says about YA dads.

Also, the amazing snark continued:

“I suppose some were born acting, some achieve action, and some have action thrust upon while they wail feebly ‘Dear God, no, let me sleep in.’ I’m only acting once, and then never again.” 




7. 

Love can be a dangerous thing….

Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna’s tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.

But Portero is a stranger town than Hanna expects. As she tries to make a place for herself, she discovers dark secrets that would terrify any normal soul. Good thing for Hanna, she’s far from normal. As this crazy girl meets an even crazier town, only two things are certain: Anything can happen and no one is safe.




You know what you need? A book about a half black half Finish bipolar teenager and the crazy town she moves to! Don't worry, I didn't know I needed that either, until I got to the end of chapter 1 and was totally hooked. Nina would have to tell us if the portrayal of Hanna is appropriately Finnish. :)

Seriously though, this is NOT a book for everyone, and especially not for young teenagers. Hanna is, as many bipolar teenagers are, suicidal. So, trigger warning for suicidal thoughts. Also, the gore level is relatively high. There's one scene that still makes me cringe to think about it.

But, for all that, this is a dark, lovely book, and I can't wait to read the next one in the series.

6. 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Speaking of things I didn't know I needed, I didn't think I needed any books about WWII. I didn't think I wanted to read a book that was entirely letters. I didn't think I'd make it past the first fifty pages.

So yeah, I was wrong. This is another book that lives on the strength of its characters and the beautiful friendships that arose between them. And yes, it broke my heart, even though I should have seen it coming. Despite that sadness, when I think of this book, I think of the vivid images of Guernsey Isle it evoked, and the warmth of the friendships it described. Such a lovely book.

5. 


It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other's arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won't be the same people who landed on it. The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

A lot of the books on this list celebrate the unexpected. I thought I know the basic outlines of a story about a boy and a girl stranded on a planet together. But dang if this didn't take all my expectations and blow them out of the water. There was one part that's about... umm... 2/3 of the way through the book that made me go, "WAIT NO, WHAT?" and then furiously read to the end. And it still managed to surprise me.

If you decide to read this (and you totally should), be aware that the next book features a different couple, so the trilogy is connected world rather than one love story spread over three books. I'm on the waiting list for the sequel at the library- is it ready yet? How about now? How about now?

4.

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record.  The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.
For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one.  Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders?  Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.
With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets.  She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Fun fact: Brenna Yovanoff is Maggie Stiefvater's critique partner.

This book had a lot of flaws. The ending was rushed, and the author tried to pack too much into a relatively short book. But I didn't care about any of that. Reason #1 was the language:
I stand in front of him, trying to figure out how to look friendly or normal and where to put my hands. I never used to have to think about any of that-it just came naturally. It seems ridiculous suddenly that people have hands and no place to put them.

"I'm sure your parents already told you to be careful about talking to strangers and not to go places alone, right?"
I nod, peeling a stray piece of tape off the counter. The number of times I've been told this in the past twenty-four hours is beginning to rival the number of days when the thermometer at the bank has broken a hundred. Days when the sun sits over the city, blindingly white and baking everything to a hard, brittle crust. The nights when I let Lillian's ghost in bed with me, because maybe she's cloud and vapor and not really real, but the dry chill of her next to me is better than empty silence and brutal, unrelenting heat.


But mostly, what made the book was the relationship between  Hannah and Lillian. Lillian died from complications due to anorexia, and Hannah is still very angry with her. Too often, ghosts are portrayed as idealized versions of their human selves, or as monsters. But Lillian is still herself, but finally able to address the frailties that led to her anorexia, and why no one could save her. It still breaks my heart to think of it.

3. 

In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans live and work side by side – while below the surface, tensions and hostility simmer. 

The newest member of the royal court, a uniquely gifted musician named Seraphina, holds a deep secret of her own. One that she guards with all of her being.

When a member of the royal family is brutally murdered, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation alongside the dangerously perceptive—and dashing—Prince Lucien. But as the two uncover a sinister plot to destroy the wavering peace of the kingdom, Seraphina’s struggle to protect her secret becomes increasingly difficult… while its discovery could mean her very life.


This was one of the first books I read this year, and I loved it instantly. Admittedly, because I read it in January of last year, I'm having difficulty recalling minutae of the plot. So I'll just say awesome, unique dragons + fantastic worlbuilding + music + love story + fabulous heroine = total win. And the sequel is ALMOST OUT. Have you all read this yet? You should. 

2. Ilona Andrews

Okay... this isn't really a book, but a celebration of my new favorite author. I can't pick any of their (Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife writing team) books as one of my favorites, but I basically glommed their entire backlist in like a month. They are the people whose fault it is that I can no longer proclaim my hatred of urban fantasy loud and clear, because their Kate Daniels series is essentially crack in book form. They do write adult fantasy and not YA, and there are Adult Scenes, but they're not terribly egregious.

And holy cow, how I love them. I own all their books. No joke. I recommend starting with the Kate Daniels series, but you have to give it at least two books, because the first one is kind of shaky (it's their first novel). But their growth in the series is exponential, and I was totally hooked by book 2, and a slavish fan for life by the end of book 3.





1. Sorrow's Knot.
In the world of SORROW'S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them.


I almost didn't read this book because of its cover. The cover screams hippy-dippy native american story about how Life is Magic and Everything is Connected. But I really liked the author's first book, so I gave this a chance, and I'm so glad I did. This is a dark, complex, deep story about death and how we deal with it, and a perfect metaphor for how hard it is to let go of those we love. My definite favorite book that I read last year. A+. Read it now.


There you have it! What were your favorite books of the year? What do I need to add to my reading list right away?