Character, Drafting, Writing

When a Plotter Attempts to Pants

It’s been a while since I posted a writing update here on the blog. That’s partially due to it being summer and my schedule changing drastically with my kids being off school and driving them to various camps, partially due to more freelance work, and partially due to drafting a new project. That’s where today’s post comes in.

A couple of months ago, I was looking through my idea list to see what I might want to write next. I keep a whole file of ideas, and usually when I’m ready to write something new, there’s one that jumps out at me. That’s certainly what happened this time as well, and I expected that I’d proceed along my normal system, plotting out the story in Scrivener so that when it came time to draft, I could set myself a deadline and whip out a draft I could then revise into shape. This drafting system  has worked for me for the past several manuscripts, and it serves me well as I HATE drafting.

Unfortunately, this manuscript just hasn’t cooperated. I’m not usually a write-by-hand sort of person, but for some reason, I pulled out a notebook and started writing down miscellaneous notes about the manuscript. I ended up with six pages of random notes that did not make up an overall plot but were a lot of interesting ideas. And I had no idea who I wanted the character to be. I brainstormed with my husband and kids, and they gave me some fun ideas. Then I signed up for One Stop for Writers and went through the character building tool to further figure out my main character’s motivations, fears, and obstacles. But when I sat down to try and plot the actual manuscript the way I always had, I just couldn’t see it. I was coming up blank.

I talked with my agent about what I was considering writing, and I wasn’t able to articulate the story well with her either. She said that it sounded intriguing, and her recommendation was to just start writing it and see how it went. As a plotter, I found this idea intimidating. Quite honestly, I’ve more often gone into drafting knowing my complete plot and learning my characters along the way instead of the other way around, but I decided to give it a shot.

I started drafting three weeks ago, and it’s been interesting drafting without all my scenes laid out. Even though I hadn’t plotted everything, there were certain points I knew internally my character was working toward, and so my scenes have been leading in those directions. But I’ve also surprised myself with a few subplots I didn’t originally have in my six pages of notes, and I think they’ll add depth to the story.

However, yesterday I tipped over 27,000 words, which is about one-third of the way toward my goal for the first draft, and I reached a point where I felt like I could no longer keep drafting without knowing where I was heading more specifically. So, while this experiment with pantsing has been interesting, I’m now going to regroup and see if I can develop a true plan for the rest of the manuscript based on what I’ve written so far.

Overall, I think it was good to just write for a while, but now I need to return to my outlining ways :).

Have you ever thrown out your drafting system and tried something new when starting a new project? How did it work out for you?

 

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West

One of my goals for May was to really figure out Instagram, which obviously is an ongoing process, and so I’ve been participating in a challenge. (If you’d like, you can follow me there @michelleimason.) One of the prompts early in the month was to post about an author you admire, and I chose Kasie West because I’ve loved all of her books and often featured them in my favorite reads of the year. However, when I went over to my bookshelf, I realized I was actually behind on her latest. There was one I’d read from the library and just hadn’t added to my permanent shelf yet, but she had two more books out that I hadn’t read yet. My TBR list is crazy, folks. I keep an ever-growing wish list at my local library (currently at 135 books), plus I have a stack of physical books I’ve either purchased or were gifted to me (currently at 13), plus I like to mix in re-reads as I’ve been trying to weed books out of my shelves downstairs to make more room–and often I still end up keeping the books I re-read since there was a reason I kept them in the first place. It’s a good thing I read fast!

But on to the Kasie West book! I sped through FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS in two days. It’s a companion novel to LOVE, LIFE, AND THE LIST, which I also enjoyed, but that one made me cry, which is not my favorite thing, so I’m going to bump this one up higher on my Kasie West list 😀.

Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her. 

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The zombie movie – I love that throughout the book there are snippets of the script from the zombie movie they’re making and that it’s so campy. It’s also fun how Lacey’s zombie makeup is incorporated into multiple aspects of the story–the mystery, her acting, and the romance.

2. The dialogue – Kasie West is a master at dialogue. I always love the banter between her characters, and this book is no different. For example:

“I have to convince audiences everywhere that a zombie loves a zombie hunter. So far, it’s not happening. So far, the only thing future viewers care about is that I’m not someone else.”
“How do you know this?”
“The internet.”
“The internet?”
“Well, people on the internet. Mainly Grant’s fans.”
“You know what a wise philosopher once said?” he responded.
“What?”
“You have to shake it off. Shake, shake, shake it off.”
I smiled a little. He did know how to tell a joke. “Because the haters are gonna hate?”
3. The romance – I mean, what would a Kasie West book be without a swoony romance? And FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS didn’t disappoint me in this area either. I loved how the romance developed between Lacey and Donavan.

4. The mystery – This part surprised me, even though the description talked about there being someone disrupting the set, I’ve never seen this sort of element in a Kasie West book, and I really enjoyed it. It fit perfectly with the whole movie set, and I loved how it was all resolved at the end.

5. The family/friendships – Normally I’d separate these two things out, but I’m down to my last point, so here we go. Lacey’s complicated relationship with her dad, plus the changing relationship with her mom, were really well done. I also really enjoyed how she navigated the new friendship with Amanda, and it was fun to see Abby and Cooper from LOVE, LIFE, AND THE LIST again.

Have you read FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS? What did you think?
Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: FINALE by Stephanie Garber

I have a bit of a book hangover as I’m writing this because I stayed up until after midnight to finish reading FINALE, the final book in Stephanie Garber’s best-selling Caraval series. I’m not surprised, though. Each of the books in this series have been impossible to put down, so when I learned Stephanie was coming to town, I made a point of getting to her event, even though I had a commitment for one of my kids right before. As a result, I was the very last person in line to get my books signed, but it was worth it, and I now have a complete signed set of Caraval books. If you haven’t read this series, then you’re in luck because it’s now finished and you won’t have to wait for any of them like I did :). Start with CARAVAL, next comes LEGENDARY, and then FINALE.

Finale by Stephanie GarberA love worth fighting for. A dream worth dying for. An ending worth waiting for.

It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.

With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.

Welcome, welcome to Finale. All games must come to an end…

If you haven’t read the first two books, you might want to stop here because this review could be spoilery.

Still here? Okay …

Here are the five things I loved most about FINALE.

1. The twists – I saw some of the twists coming in this book, but I think that’s because I’d already read the first two books in the series and was anticipating them. Stephanie Garber still managed to surprise me with quite a few twists, though, and it’s what makes these books so hard to put down.

2. The love triangle – Honestly, I’m not always a huge fan of love triangles. I usually have a really clear idea of who the character should end up with and just want them to decide already. However, there was enough frustration with all points of this triangle for me to be okay with the ongoing indecision and the final resolution worked for me.

3. The Fates – If you’ve read LEGENDARY, you probably, like me, expect the Fates to be all evil in this book. A lot of them definitely are, but I enjoyed how nuanced they were as characters overall. That’s really all I want to say to avoid spoiling anything about that.

4. The quest – While there wasn’t a Caraval in this book, there was still a quest to complete, and just like in Caraval, the rules kept changing and the stakes kept ratcheting up.

5. The ending – You know how when you pick up certain books you have a pretty good idea how they’re going to end? With this book, I really wasn’t sure. I was only about sixty percent on how the love triangle would turn out and wasn’t placing any sort of bets on where things were going with Valendia. I loved that Stephanie Garber was able to keep me guessing and leave me satisfied with the ending.

Have you read FINALE yet? What did you think?

Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer

Hi, friends! I’m on a giveaway spree! In case you’re curious about which two books I gave away from my 7th blogiversary giveaway last week, I ended up choosing two books with a connection to me. The first was THE GREAT SHELBY HOLMES by Elizabeth Eulberg, who is published by Bloomsbury, my publisher! And the second was MASCOT by Antony John, a fellow St. Louis author. But let me tell you, it was very hard to choose, especially since so many people who entered the giveaway just said any author would be great :).

Now on to this week. I’m thrilled to once again welcome my friend and critique partner Krista Van Dolzer to the blog with her latest release, THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN. And hey, it’s also published by Bloomsbury :). Here’s the amazing cover–which Krista’s going to talk about in answer to one of my questions–and description.

The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van DolzerTwelve-year-old painter Esther can’t wait to attend Camp Vermeer, the most prestigious art camp around. But when her stepdad accidentally drives up the wrong mountain, she lands at Camp Archimedes–a math camp!

Determined to prove herself to the other campers, she tackles a brain-teaser that’s supposed to be impossible–and solves it in a single day. But not everyone is happy about it…someone wants her out of camp at any cost, and starts leaving cryptic, threatening notes all over the camp’s grounds. Esther doesn’t know who to trust–will she solve this riddle before it’s too late?

Featuring tricky logic puzzles readers can solve along with the characters and starring a unique, smart, and crafty young heroine, this story has just the right mix of mystery, humor, and wit.

Here are Krista’s answers to five questions about the things I loved most.

1. Readers who pick up this book may not realize Esther was a character in one of your previous books, DON’T VOTE FOR ME. What made you decide she needed her own story?

Esther was one of my very favorite characters in DON’T VOTE FOR ME, so the thought of writing her a book was certainly appealing. I think what really sealed the deal was that I’d been trying to come up with a math mystery for a while, and when I realized I could do it as a (very) loose retelling of the biblical story of Esther (just as DON’T VOTE FOR ME is a (very) loose retelling of the biblical story of David and Goliath), I jumped in with both feet.

2. It’s evident within the book how much you love math—and how much disdain Esther initially has for the subject, despite her affinity for it. What was your inspiration for setting this story at a math camp?

Because I knew I wanted to write a fun math mystery, the math camp just made sense, but your question made me realize that some of Esther’s feelings are autobiographical. I was always good at math, but I didn’t really fall in love until I studied it in college. That might have been because, for the first time in my life, math wasn’t easy-peasy. It was challenging and stretching, and I actually had to apply myself. Doing something hard is great for your self-confidence.

3. The cover for this book is amazing! I love all of the detail, and I think it would be great if you could tell us a little about the significance of some of those details.

The cover is amazing. I absolutely love Danielle Ceccolini’s design, and Iacopo Bruno couldn’t have done a better job executing her vision. One of the first details I noticed was the sneaky yellow balls scattered around the illustration. In addition to the weight in the bottom right corner, the yellow balls make an appearance in the first puzzle in the book. I also love the tube of paint and the palette in the background that ties everything together, both of which, of course, are nods to Esther’s artistic side. And the ruler! And the compass! And the abacus in the title treatment! So many little details make my mathematical heart sing. 😊

4. The mystery in the story—interlocked with a logic puzzle—is super fun. What tips do you have for writing a mystery, particularly for a middle grade audience?

First tip: don’t write a mystery that involves a logic puzzle. 😊 Every time I fiddled with one clue, I had to fiddle with the others. Thank goodness for great copy editors who spotted so many mistakes!

Second tip: don’t be afraid to let your imagination loose. Adults dismiss so many clues to so many would-be mysteries because they don’t want to take the time to try to figure them out, but kids always take the time. They want to find something extraordinary hidden in the ordinary, so let’s give them just that!

5. I love the group of math nerds. How did you go about developing the personalities of the kids who would be at the camp? Did you create them to complement Esther or develop them independently of her?

Getting to know the math nerds was one of the best parts of writing this story. Angeline and Brooklyn distinguished themselves right off the bat, and Munch, Graham, and Marshane came along easily, too. I loved how self-assured Munch was from the very start, and the friendly rivalry that developed between Graham and Marshane inspired me to make their back stories overlap. So I would say I let their personalities take shape as the plot grew and evolved. By far, the trickiest part was making sure they were distinct (and in fact, we downplayed some roles so this most important group would have a better chance to shine).

Thank you, Krista!

I love this book so much I want to pass along a copy to one of you, and Krista has also offered a signed bookmark as well. To enter, comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

Blogging, Giveaways, Middle Grade

Happy 7th Blogiversary to Me! With a mystery signed book giveaway!

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my blog. I’ve made a lot of changes to the blog in the past seven years, starting out with a focus on middle grade, finding my writing voice in young adult, querying for many, many years and sharing that process. I foresee this blog changing again as I approach the publication of my debut novel in winter 2021. I don’t know what that will look like; I’m still thinking through it all. But for today, I’m going to stick with my tradition of pulling statistics from the last year and sharing them here on the blog–mostly because I just enjoy analyzing the blog for myself. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting, too :). But definitely read through to the end, because I will have a celebratory giveaway as usual. It seems appropriate that it has a middle grade theme in keeping with the blog’s beginnings :).

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. FINDING AUDREY and a Couple of Other YA Books You Should Read – This 2015 post was in my top ten last year as well. It includes mini-reviews of FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinsella, THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy, and THERE WILL BE LIES by Nick Lake.

9. Your Life Has Been Delayed (YA Time Travel) – Hey, thanks for reading about my book! It will be out in winter 2021, and I will be sharing all sorts of news as it’s available. That’s one thing I know for sure about where the blog is headed :).

8. Happy Sixth Blogiversary to Me! With a $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway for You … – Maybe you guys do like my statistics. Or an Amazon gift card? 🙂

7. YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass – Great books!

6. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Three years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and I am glad people continue to read about her here and honor her memory.

5. What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying – Ah, my other annual post–which I will no longer be writing. However, if you are still querying, I encourage you to check out this series because querying can be a long journey, and this particular post is all about perseverance. In my case, I ended up signing with my agent a few months after the seven-year mark.

4. YA Review: NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter + Bonus Writing Tips – I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ally Carter twice, and she’s just lovely. This book is a fantastic page-turner, so definitely check it out, but she also gives some great tips for writers as well.

3. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – I wrote this post in 2013, and people keep coming back to it. It’s a good reminder for all of us. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s important to get feedback from others on your manuscripts.

2. I Have An Agent! – Well, hey, I was hoping–and sort of figured–this post would be high on the list. I searched for an agent for seven years before connecting with Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic, but it was so worth the wait. She’s so fantastic to work with and my debut book is now forthcoming from Bloomsbury in winter 2021. Go team!

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – Even though I’m no longer researching agents myself, I continue to maintain this list for those who are. I think it’s super helpful to know what sort of books agents represent to get a feel for their tastes.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Interestingly, most of these are different this year. However, there are several MG books, which is a reflection of their longevity on my blog. When I first started out, I wrote an MG review every week.

10. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – There’s the subjectivity post again!

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Only one of my favorite MG writers ever.

8. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – The second book in a popular middle grade series.

7. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – A popular series. I’m still baffled by those movies 🙂.

6. About – Hey, thanks for reading about me :).

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – In previous years, this book has been in the top 10 for the year as well. It’s the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I haven’t made it through all of them yet as I’ve been spreading them out, but they are fantastic!

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits.

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

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Unfortunately there are more than 235 search terms WordPress is unable to identify for me, but here are the top five searches WordPress can tell me.

5. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books & Searches about me – I was quite surprised to find there were an equal number of searches for agents as me leading to my blog this year. I must be moving up :).

4. Random questions – My favorite was: “advantages of making your own money 8th grade.” I probably had some review about an MG book with an eighth grader making their own money that led them here. I hope they found an answer!

3. Searches about Ashley – As I stated above, I hope friends of Ashley continue to find comfort in my post about her.

2. Writing-related searches – Several visitors ended up at my blog due to some variation on the question, “Should I get multiple opinions?” This definitely explains the popularity of the subjectivity post. But there was also someone who stopped by questioning whether they should quit after querying for two years. I hope they left with the answer of “Don’t give up!” Because as I’ve already stated, I queried for seven years, and I now have an agent and a book deal.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – By far the most searches that led people to my blog were for books I’d reviewed. It’s quite interesting to see the questions people ask, often about particular plot points or simply for a review. Either way, I’m happy to be a resource.

So what am I giving away this year? Well, if you happen to follow me on Twitter as well, you may have noticed I’m excited about a particular event happening this Saturday, the Oh Middle Grade BookFest. I mean, how often do twenty-four middle grade authors come to town? Since I will be there, I’d love to pick up two signed books for one of you. The giveaway will be open for the next week, but if you comment by end of day Friday, May 3, you can give input on which two authors I should choose :). Sound fun? Here is the list of authors: https://omgbookfest.org/omg-missouri

Oh, and if you are here in St. Louis, come check out the event and bring any other middle grade readers you know along.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

 

UPDATE on May 6: Below is a picture of all the books we had signed at OMG BookFest. Many of these belong to my kids, but two are for the lucky winner of this giveaway. Which two? You’ll find out if you win :).

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Research, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd

Last week I promised I would feature additional middle grade books by writer friends, and I’m so pleased to host Gail Shepherd here on my blog for MMGM. Gail and I met nine years ago through a critique partner match-up on a blog and swapped chapters on middle grade novels we were working on at the time. I can’t believe it was so long ago! As soon as I read THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, I reached out to Gail to ask her for an interview, and she graciously answered my questions and has also offered up a signed ARC and some swag for one lucky winner. Details are at the bottom.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail ShepherdLyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?

Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, Grandma Lady starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie’s daddy.

Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center, comes to stay with Lyndie’s best friend, Dawn. He’s as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, his optimism is infectious. But it goes against everything Grandma Lady insists upon.

And here are Gail’s answers to five questions about the book.

1. I loved how seamlessly you wove history into the story–through a school project, research about D.B., a visit to the history museum, etc. How did you decide which historical accounts to include and the best ways to do so?

There were two main thematic threads I wanted to tease out in Lyndie B’s story: The first was the idea of how countries and communities become divided by politics or ideology—I mean, obviously this is still a contemporary question. So there’s a natural fit with the Vietnam War and the American Civil War, where a country is at war with itself. And then the second thematic question was about how families get fractured, or heal themselves from fractures. So the research on D.B.’s family history fit well with that theme.

Those two themes intertwine and are related—in both the Vietnamese war and the American Civil War, particularly in Tennessee, families often split—some sided with the Confederacy and others with the Union. The idea of families split apart runs through the book, of course. D.B. was abandoned by his mom. He’s taken away from the foster family he loves. He’s lost touch with his uncle. And Lyndie’s family is coming apart at the seams in quite a different way—her father and mother are at odds, Lyndie is not getting along with her grandma. But also, other people in the community had fathers or brothers who were lost in the Vietnam War, like Lyndie’s nemesis, Pee Wee, and the homeless woman, Bernadette. Really, the entire community (a kind of family writ large) has been fractured by the war. So the research fell naturally along those thematic lines.

It’s a particularly interesting question to me, how we heal or bridge our differences in a family or community so that we can thrive.

2. The friendship storyline is so believable, particularly for Lyndie’s age, how she allows her grandmother’s attitude to influence her insecurities about her best friend. What made you decide to tap into that aspect of MG friendship?

Little kids bond without a lot of baggage. When you’re six or seven or eight, you just tend to like people unless they rub you the wrong way or they’re mean to you. But at eleven or twelve, like Lyndie, you’re just beginning to lose your innocence around friendship. You start to be influenced by social pressures. Lots of “best” friendships split up at this age (mine certainly did)—often because we’re aware of how others are seeing us.

Lyndie is coming of age, and part of her job in growing up is to figure out how much truth there is in what she’s being told—she’s struggling with it. She’s struggling with her own insecurities, too. She doesn’t see herself as a “good person” in the way her best friend Dawn is. She doesn’t always know what’s right. So she’s subject to a lot of self-doubt that can interfere with the purity of her friendships.

3. The family dynamics are also very believable and heart-wrenching, from private, organized Lady and gentle Grandpa to tormented Dad and broken-hearted Mom. How did you determine what characteristics to give each of these family members to make this family what it is?

Lyndie’s grandma, Lady, was always very real to me. She’s the one character who really didn’t change much in revision. Maybe because I come from a Southern family. Some of my relatives are very iron-willed, judgmental, upright, dignified, exacting, in this way, so she came to me naturally. As for Lady’s husband, Grandpa, I wanted him to be the one person that Lady could feel safe with, taken care of. He’s a hint that even Lady has vulnerabilities.

I made Lyndie’s father and mother political opposites (Daddy a war veteran with PTSD, Ma a former hippie peace protester) so we could see that it is possible to love across a political divide, even though it’s not always easy.

4. The story’s setting a decade after the Vietnam War brings to light the issues faced by soldiers who fought in the war and families who lost soldiers to the war—both immediately and due to trauma afterward. What made you decide to set a story at this time, and how did you research it?

I grew up with the Vietnam War in the background, running on the TV, in every newspaper. Families I knew had brothers and fathers going away. That war has shaped my world view in a very deep way. I became an adult in the 1980s, and my memory of the time is very sharp. So those two things together influenced the setting and time period. I did a ton of research—every book I could get my hands on—The Things They Carried, Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, and many others, plus books on PTSD and trauma—The Evil Hours was the one that really shook me. Not much of the research made its way directly into the book. But the background was necessary so I could understand Lyndie’s daddy.

5. I loved the feeling of hope at the end, for Lyndie’s family and friendships. What do you hope your readers leave the book feeling?

Oh, my. Well, that the truth is worth pursuing, even if it feels hard. I do entirely believe that. That families and friendships can be resilient, they can recover from great stresses. That our country and our communities, like the flag on the gate at Lyndie’s grandma’s house, are worth caring for, worth fighting for.

But there are lots of ways to care and lots of ways to fight—you don’t have to physically go to war, necessarily. History has taught us what a dead end that can be. Caring for your country can mean being honest about its history. Caring for your family can mean being honest with each other. I want readers to feel that we can get better. And that it’s worth trying.

Thank you so much, Gail!

As I mentioned, Gail has offered a signed ARC, plus swag (book plates, bookmarks, pins), for one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment here or click on the Rafflecopter for extra entries.

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins

Get ready, friends, because I think I might be on a bit of a middle grade spree coming up. Two writer friends just had middle grade books come out, so I definitely plan to feature their books in the near future, but I also happened to pick up RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins, and I absolutely adored it. I’ve featured several of Ms. Hawkins’ young adult books here on the blog, but this is the first middle grade book of hers I’ve read. It’s equally delightful. Here’s the cover and description.

Ruby & Olivia by Rachel HawkinsRuby is bold and opinionated, while Olivia has always been respectful and well behaved. But Olivia’s good-girl image is tarnished when she takes the fall for her twin sister’s misdeed. And now Olivia is stuck with Ruby all summer—at a community service day camp for troublemakers.

To kick off the spirit of service, the campers are tasked with cataloging the contents of Live Oaks, a historic mansion in their town. Sorting through objects in an old house sounds boring, and working together is the last thing the girls want to do, but the stuff is actually kind of cool. There’s everything from mink stoles to golf clubs to antique dolls . . . and . . . wait . . . is that doll watching them?

It isn’t long until little tricks—like mysterious music playing, doors slamming, and shadows rising—start to spook the girls. They’d like to think the other campers are pranking them, but they soon realize that this empty mansion might not be uninhabited after all. To solve the mystery at Live Oaks, Ruby and Olivia will have to put their old grudges aside and figure out how to be a team.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendship – These two girls are so different, and their path to friendship is further complicated by the fact that they have history–Ruby used to be close friends with Olivia’s twin sister, Emma. This friendship is messy and prickly and the girls both get hurt along the way, but it’s honest and real. It’s very well done.

2. The families – The dynamics in both family relationships are excellent and unique. Ruby is dealing with the loss of her grandmother and is very close to her mom, while Olivia has a sticky relationship with her twin after taking the fall for something she perhaps shouldn’t have, leaving her alone with her parents for the summer for the first time ever.

3. The humor – Humor is a staple of Rachel Hawkins’ books, and this one is no exception. Ruby is the main source in this case, as humor is her default, although Olivia steps up sometimes too, once she feels comfortable with Ruby.

4. The mystery – A spooky house with creepy dolls, taxidermied animals, and doors that randomly close? Yes, please! I loved how the girls decided to investigate.

5. The resolution – I really enjoyed the final resolution to the mystery. It wasn’t one of those stories where you could figure it out entirely on your own. There were hints where it was headed, but you had to wait until the end with the characters to find out what was truly going on, and it was a great payoff.

I will definitely be looking for other middle grade books from Rachel Hawkins. I know she has one other. If you’ve read RUBY & OLIVIA, what did you think?