Reading

10 Story Elements That Always Hook Me

As I was going through all the old posts on my blog to clean up the categories, I noticed it had been quite a while since I did a general reading post that wasn’t a review. I also noticed a number of my reviews included statements like “any book that includes _____ has my immediate attention,” and I thought it would be fun to compile those statements into a single post. In no particular order…

Any book that includes…

1. Baking I love to bake myself, so I love to read about it too. Kids baking, teens baking, baking contests, baking camps, eating baked goods–any kind of baking is good. Other kinds of cooking aren’t quite the same, but it might catch my attention if the characters are whipping up something less sweet. If you check out my Instagram, probably one in five pictures are baked goods 😀.

2. Time travel – I’m completely fascinated by time travel and love to see how different authors tackle it. Can you change the past if you go back or not? What’s the future like? My debut book is a time travel story, except I wrote it in 2018 about a girl traveling from 1995 to 2020, assuming it would be safe to write life pretty much the same two years ahead. Um, yeah…

3. Alternate realities/dual timelines – I also really love stories with alternate realities, where the character gets to experience an alternate version of their life. Maybe that’s what’s happening to us all now???

I also enjoy stories where it jumps back and forth between the present and another time, and some mystery from the past relates directly to the present. When it’s done well, it’s so fantastic.

4. France – If it’s set in France–and especially Paris–I will want to read it and relive my week there 13 years ago. I’ve actually been a Francophile since I was a child, when a French family moved in down the street from us. As a result, I ended up taking French all through school instead of Spanish, which I know would have been more useful. But I adore anything to do with France. I’ve only been there once, but it was an amazing experience. As a sub-note, I also enjoy stories set in other European countries.

5. Jane Austen – I’ve loved Jane Austen since I first read PRIDE & PREJUDICE my freshman year in high school. I went on to read the rest her works, and my honors thesis for college was a comparative analysis of her books and their movie adaptations. Technically, that thesis is my first published work. There’s a copy in the Baylor University library, but it’s super-outdated now, as there have been another dozen adaptations since I wrote the thesis. I would have had so much fun writing about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…

6. Shakespeare – I fell in love with Shakespeare at an even younger age. In my sixth grade gifted class, we put on a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I was Titania), and I was hooked! I definitely prefer the comedies, although that is more of a life choice than a Shakespeare thing. But any book that includes Shakespeare, whether it is a retelling, discussion, or performance, is likely to catch my interest.

7. Cinderella – Speaking of retellings, I’m a total sucker for anything Cinderella related. It’s funny, because if you were to ask my favorite Disney movie, I wouldn’t say Cinderella, but I really love books that take a character out of obscurity and give them a total makeover. I really like fairy tale retellings in general, though, especially if they mix a whole bunch of fairy tales together.

8. Twins – I’m totally fascinated by twins and love stories where they have to switch places or are separated at birth or some other sort of craziness ensues.

9. Royalty – I love books about royalty. I don’t care if it’s a prince or a princess; I’m just fascinated by royalty. I’m sure it has to do with some childhood fantasy of becoming a princess myself.

10. Theater/Musical Theater – I love going to the theater, and I participated in it all through school (although I was mainly in the ensemble). Now my kids have both gotten into it as well. Love those drama geeks!

What are the hooks/premises that always make you want to read?

Middle Grade Review, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult Review

TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and a Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another roundup of mini-reviews! In light of recent events, I took a hard look at my reading habits and realized that while I certainly wasn’t reading all white authors, I wasn’t making a concerted effort to read and support Black authors–or to bring those books to my kids’ attention. So as a family, we are working to expand our reading lists, and today’s roundup reflects some of the amazing new authors I’ve discovered, along with a couple of books I already had on my TBR list.


How often do you start reading a book and immediately know it’s going to be one you truly love and will read again? That’s how I felt within the first few pages of TRULY MADLY ROYALLY by Debbie Rigaud. I’d had this book on my TBR list since it first came out, and now I’m just sad I didn’t read it sooner.

It’s about Zora Emerson, who’s just enrolled in a prestigious summer program, and unexpectedly clicks with Owen Whittelsey, prince of a small European country.

Basically, I loved EVERYTHING about this book. Zora is a strong teen girl who loves her community and doesn’t let obstacles keep her from going after her goals. The chemistry between Zora and Owen is adorable; their corny jokes are the best. And then there’s a great cast of additional characters—Zora’s best friend, Skye, Zora’s family, the kids at her program, and the new friends she makes at school. As a writer, I also loved the plotting—so well done! I’ll definitely add this book to my re-read list, PLUS I discovered Debbie Rigaud has other books available, so I’m going to check those out.

Read this book because it’s awesome. Also because it showcases a Black teen being awesome.


Is there a place you love so much you’ll read pretty much any book set there?

For me, that place is Paris. I’ve only been there once, but it was a magical visit, and I can’t wait to return, so if a book is set there, I’m on it! But when I read the description for THE PAPER GIRL OF PARIS by Jordyn Taylor, I was additionally intrigued by the dual timelines. The story’s about Alice in the present, who has just inherited a mysterious apartment that has been locked for more than 70 years. Once she enters, she discovers her grandmother had a sister, and the story flashes back to Adalyn during World War II, working in the French Resistance against the Nazis.

I loved how this book followed two distinct, heart wrenching family stories—Alice struggling with her mom in the present and Adalyn heartbroken over keeping secrets from her sister (Alice’s grandmother) in the past. The tension within each timeline and even between the two was fantastic. I found myself completely stressed out over Alice’s concern about what her great-aunt was involved in. Plus, there was a really sweet love story in the present and a deeper one in the past. The resolution was very satisfying.

I highly recommend this book, which came out in May. Such a fantastic read!


I got NEW KID by Jerry Craft for my kids to read (mainly my daughter, who loves graphic novels), and they both finished it within 24 hours. Actually, my daughter grabbed it with the words “My best friend read this!” and read it in less than three hours. My son then tore through it by the next morning, so that was a good sign I should read it too.

It’s about Jordan, whose parents enroll him at a prestigious private school where he’s one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. I loved Jordan’s character—his passion for art, love for his family, and struggle to figure out how to fit his different friends and worlds together. This book tackles many different aspects of racism, outright and careless, from other students AND teachers. By seeing it from Jordan’s viewpoint, it’s clear why ALL of those are hurtful and offensive. Even while there are many characters who don’t get things right, there are also hopeful moments throughout the book.

I especially loved the chapter titles and Jordan’s journal entries. I learned so much from this book, and I will definitely be picking up the companion novel, CLASS ACT, this fall.

This book is great to read and discuss with your kids. Also funny and a book kids will re-read.


DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone is about Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, always there to help a friend—none of which matters to the police officer who handcuffs him over a misunderstanding. Justyce begins studying the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and writing letters to him in a journal, seeking answers. One day, he’s riding in the car with his best friend with the music turned up really loud, sparking the anger of an off-duty cop in the truck beside them. Shots are fired.

I don’t want to get into what happens next because I encourage you to read the book yourself, but this book is extremely powerful and explores a number of different viewpoints and experiences. It delves into several aspects of racism, from daily encounters at Justyce’s school, to his black friend raised mainly in a white community, to the police bias. But it’s also more than just a look at race. It’s about friendship and falling in love and figuring out what you believe about the world and your place in it. It’s extremely well done and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas along these same lines.


This photo shows my expression when I finished reading AURORA BURNING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I had stayed up until 12:15 in the morning to finish the book, and it was a total cliffhanger! But still, the book was an amazing sequel to AURORA RISING, and I can’t wait for the finale!

If you aren’t familiar, the series is about a squad of misfits trying to save the galaxy from an ancient race that assimilates entire planets in its path. The characters are all hilarious, plus there are bonus romantic story lines and tons of action. If you don’t like cliffhangers, wait until the last book comes out to read these 😉.


Now that I’ve told you about some awesome books, I wanted to share a great resource. On June 4, I tuned in to the absolutely fantastic #KidLit4BlackLives Rally on Facebook Live, hosted by The Brown Bookshelf store. If you missed it, there’s a recording on The Brown Bookshelf YouTube Channel. The Brown Bookshelf has put on additional events since, and you can check those out on their Facebook page. One of my key takeaways has been that it’s important to read books that deal with racism directly, but it’s also vital to read and promote books that show Black kids and teens living joyfully.

If you have other book recommendations for me and my family, please pass them along!

Reading

My Favorite Reads of 2019

My reading was back up this year. I finished 101 books, with a good mix of young adult, middle grade, and adult. I’ll include the breakdown at the bottom of the post. But on to the fun part–my ten favorite reads of 2019! They’re listed in alphabetical order by author.

In Some Other Life by Jessica BrodyIN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody – This book is from a couple of years ago, but I just got to it in 2019. I love books that consider the question of what your life would be like if you’d made a different choice. This particular story follows Kennedy as she discovers what her life would have been like if she’d gone to a prestigious private school instead of staying at the public school. That decision has ramifications for many people in her life, and I loved seeing it play out.


Finale by Stephanie GarberFINALE by Stephanie Garber – The first book in this series, CARAVAL, was one of my favorite reads of 2017, and the finale (😉) makes it on the list for 2019. I was fortunate enough to meet Stephanie Garber when she came through town, and since I was the last person in the signing line, I started reading. The book kept me completely gripped and up late reading, not completely sure how it would all turn out. It’s the best kind of anticipation.


Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book before. It’s one of those that I’d seen everyone talk about and I just hadn’t gotten to. Now that I have, I totally get why it’s so popular. I read this book in less than 24 hours. I loved the unique dossier format. I loved the characters. I loved how the stakes just kept getting higher and twisting in new directions. I haven’t had a chance to get to the other two books in the series yet due to general life craziness, but they are very high on my list for 2020!!


Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani LaRoccaMIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca – 2019 has been an exciting year for my fellow 2017 PitchWars mentees. It’s been fun to watch books that were in the contest out in the world. With its premise of baking meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM was one of the PitchWars books I was most looking forward to, and Rajani totally delivered. I loved how well the plot of the Shakespeare play was incorporated into the modern world and seamlessly explained for a middle grade audience. And the baking throughout the story just made my mouth water. I can’t wait for Rajani’s next book!


Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara RutherfordCROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL by Mara Rutherford – I’d been anxious to read this book since I first read the description. Nor and her identical twin sister, Zadie, live on the floating village of Varenia. Every generation, the most beautiful girl is chosen to go marry the crown prince of Ilara and move to land. Zadie is chosen, but when she’s injured, Nor goes in her place. I do love a good twin story! This book was completely engrossing from the first page, and the stakes kept changing and getting higher. I really loved how it was almost like two stories—the first half a story of sisters and the second full of intrigue on land with danger and romance. Nor is a strong female character I was rooting for throughout the story, and while the love story was great too, it didn’t take over from her main goal, which is protecting her home. I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel!


Scars Like Wings by Erin StewartSCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart – So I’m that reader who will generally shy away from a book if I think it will make me cry, and I was afraid that would be the case with SCARS LIKE WINGS, but it surprised me in the best possible way. It’s about burn survivor Ava, who lost her parents and was severely burned in a house fire. Now she’s going back to school. The very first line set the tone for the book: “One year after the fire, my doctor removes my mask and tells me to get a life.” I could tell from that opening that there would be more than just sorrow in the story, and I’m so glad I read this book. It’s hard at times, but even so it’s one I’d read again.


Across a Broken Shore by Amy TruebloodACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood – With her second book, Amy once again delivers a well-researched historical novel with a strong young female character who stands up for herself believably within her time. The story follows Willa, whose family expects her to be a nun, but who feels called to a career in medicine. It’s set against the backdrop of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1936. I love how well Amy portrays Willa’s family and her struggle to meet family obligations while also staying true to herself. Amy is a wonderful friend to the writing community and to me personally. If you haven’t already read this book, add it for 2020!


The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van DolzerTHE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer – I love how Krista captures the middle grade voice so well, and this book was extra-fun thanks to being set in the unique location of a math camp. I was privileged to read an early copy, and she let me work out the logic problem included ahead of time. Yes, I was a total math geek in school and you might have even found me on the math team in junior high :). But definitely check out this book. I mean, if nothing else, the cover should sell you on it.


Fame, Fate and the First Kiss by Kasie WestFAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West – Somehow I didn’t have a Kasie West book on my list of favorites last year after her being on my list for several years in a row, but this year she’s back on there with FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS. I loved that the frame of the book was the character making a campy zombie movie based on a book series. As usual, the dialogue and romance were top-notch, as well as the supporting cast of family and friends. I know I’m behind on one of Kasie West’s 2019 releases, so maybe that one will end up on my 2020 list.


White Rose by Kip WilsonWHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson – Kip is my longtime critique partner and I’ve already shouted about this book quite a bit this year, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it makes my list of favorite reads. From the moment Kip first told me about WHITE ROSE when we were sitting in a hotel room at NESCBWI in 2016, I was immediately gripped. The story of Sophie Scholl, a young German college student who challenged the Nazi regime during World War II as part of The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group, it’s compelling, heartbreaking, and moving. It’s beautifully told in verse, and as a result it ends up being a pretty quick read, yet you’ll want to go back and read it more slowly to absorb it all over again. Others evidently agree, as it’s been named a School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019.


So those are my ten favorite reads this year. Of the 101 books I read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 63

Middle grade: 10

Adult: 25

Non-fiction: 3

The high number of adult books is due to me continuing to weed out books from my shelves. Found quite a few this year I won’t be keeping to make room for more YA :).

Do we have any of the same favorites this year? Let me know in the comments!

Blogging, Reading

30 Books in 3 Months Reading Challenge

Hello, friends! I know I’ve been sparse here on the blog, but this broken foot really messed with my schedule over the past six weeks. However, the end is in sight. Next week I get to start wearing regular shoes again. Yay!

One thing that didn’t lapse during my recovery was reading, thanks to plenty of time sitting :). At the beginning of summer, I decided to jump in on an Instagram challenge hosted by author Jessica Brody to read 30 books in 3 months. I wasn’t sure I would complete it in time as I got off to a slow start, but I’m happy to report that I finished the challenge a week early! Here’s a shot of the completed challenge.

I read an interesting variety of books over the summer, mostly young adult but a few adult and middle grade as well, including two books that were read-alouds with my kids. This challenge ended up being a pretty good example of how I approach my reading. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this here on the blog before, but I have a system. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably learned that I have a system for everything :).

When it comes to reading, I rotate the following:

1. A library book – Since I don’t have a Goodreads account, my library wishlist sort of operates like a Goodreads TBR list. If the library doesn’t have a book, I request that they buy it, and they pretty much always do. I use the library to keep up on new books coming out, read backlists of authors I already like, and basically keep up on the market. When I really love the books I get from the library, I end up buying them later anyway 😍.

2. My box of books – I have a physical box of books under my desk that’s waiting to be read. It’s a combination of books I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale last December, books people gave me for Christmas, books I’ve won in giveaways, books I picked up at author events or to support authors I’m connected with in some way, and, most recently, some books my editor sent me. I’ve managed to make a dent in this box since I took this picture, but I’m still considering sitting out the Scholastic Warehouse Sale this year since I know I’ll get a ton of books for my birthday (in November) and Christmas again.

3. Books from my existing collection – I also rotate in books I’ve already read. With so many new books to read, this might seem like an odd thing to do, but there are a couple of reasons that I re-read books I already own. First, I am running out of room on my shelves downstairs and I’ve been trying to weed out any books I don’t want to keep anymore. But every time I re-read something I really love, it’s good for me as a writer, even if it’s not a young adult novel. A couple of years ago, I discovered that I was re-reading the same books all the time and catalogued them all in a spreadsheet. I’ve been tracking my reading since 2012, so I input the last time I read each book since 2012–and continue to add dates as I read books on those shelves or add new books. So now, when I’m ready to read something down there, I use Random.org to tell me which book/series I should re-read next, and I make sure it isn’t one I’ve read too recently. As you can see from my initial graphic, this summer I ended up re-reading The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. I don’t remember the last time I read it, but it was fun to return to it.

So, that’s my system. Sometimes I adjust it if several library holds come in at once or I pick up new books for my box that I just really want to read right away. I’d love to hear if you have a reading system!

Also, have you participated in any reading challenges recently? If so, how did you do?

 

Reading

My Favorite Reads of 2018

I considered waiting until next week to post the list of my favorite reads of 2018, but my kids will be home, so I really don’t think I’ll get much more reading done. I’m only at 79 books completed, down from 100 last year, but I read quite a few adult books this year (still trying to weed out some books from my shelves downstairs to make room). Interestingly, I did reread a few old favorites I decided not to keep, but most of the adult books I reread this year were ones that ended up staying on my shelves.

Without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2018, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. (It seems the most fair way to do it 😀). Most of these actually were published in 2018, but a couple are books I just got around to this year.

Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterNOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter – This book had me from the moment Ally Carter posted the deal announcement on Twitter with the blurb that it was a gender-swapped YA Romancing the Stone set in Alaska. I mean, how could that not be amazing? But then Ally Carter came to St. Louis, and I got to hear her talk about the book and started reading it while I waited in line for her to sign it, and I’m pretty sure I finished the rest of it within a day because it was so high-stakes I couldn’t put it down. Plus, the banter between the Maddie and Logan was so perfect. Basically, the more I’m writing about this book and remembering it, I’m pretty sure it was my favorite read of the year. Funny how that happens.


My Plain JaneMY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – Despite the fact I’ve never read JANE EYRE (ducks away from Charlotte Brontë scholars and fellow English majors), I anxiously awaited this book because MY LADY JANE was my absolute favorite read of 2016. MY PLAIN JANE lived up to the previous collaboration by The Lady Janies, with a crazy mix of ghosts, pop culture references, author asides, and extra romance thrown into the classic JANE EYRE. I can’t wait to see what they do for MY CALAMITY JANE, and I hope their collaboration won’t end there!


Royals by Rachel HawkinsROYALS by Rachel Hawkins – I love to laugh, and this book had me laughing out loud throughout, plus I had a huge smile on my face at the end. Daisy’s voice was so spot-on, and that led to amazing banter with all of the characters, but I also just wanted all of them to keep talking. It was that sort of witty dialogue throughout. While this was a huge part of what made the book funny, the humor was also situational, so bonus points for putting the characters into crazy hijinks. And then there was the romance–just perfect!


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanCRAZY RICH ASIANS trilogy by Kevin Kwan – So I’m totally breaking my tradition here by including an adult series, but I have good reason. It’s been years since I’ve read anything new by an adult author. I read new middle grade and young adult authors all the time to stay abreast of the market, but the only new books I read by adult authors are by my old favorites, and I’ve even stopped reading some of them. But when I saw the preview for the movie version of this book, I thought it looked great, and as everyone knows, the book is always better than the movie. That definitely holds true in this case, although I loved the movie too. I had to keep reading through the rest of the series to see what happened to all of the characters, and I found it highly entertaining. It sort of reminded me of reading historical romance set in regency England, with all of the class differences, but a very different setting and a lot of emphasis on food. I am maybe the least adventurous eater on the planet, but I do love to read about it :). Also, if you have only seen the movie, I recommend you do read the books.


Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughBLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough – I read this book in a single day and then was so compelled by the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a girl who lived in seventeenth century Rome, I had to go look up more about her life. The verse, the art, the structure, the important message–it all merges together to make this book a must-read. Obviously many others agree, as it is winning and being nominated for awards left and right!

 


Story Thieves: Worlds Apart by James RileySTORY THIEVES: WORLDS APART by James Riley – Do I have a book by James Riley on my list every year? Pretty much and for good reason. Every single one of them is amazingly creative, hilarious, and leaves me wanting more. Sadly, WORLDS APART was the finale of the STORY THIEVES series, but James Riley has a new series coming out. I’m sure it will be equally fantastic. If you haven’t read the STORY THIEVES series, WHY NOT??

 


Fearless by Kristin SmithFEARLESS by Kristin Smith – This third installment in Kristin Smith’s Deception Game series is a fast-paced read that kept me anxious to find out how Sierra, Trey, and Zane would survive–and who they would end up with. If you haven’t read this series, start at the beginning with CATALYST and move on to FORGOTTEN before you pick up FEARLESS. Kristin writes jaw-dropping twists, swoon-worthy love interests, and page-turning action.


Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin TerrillHERE LIES DANIEL TATE by Cristin Terrill – It’s tricky to pull off a successful unreliable narrator, but Cristin Terrill does it masterfully. In fact, the main character in this book flat out says he’s a liar, and I still wanted to believe he was telling me the truth. The mystery, the twists, the family dynamics, and the ending–this book kept me clicking through pages non-stop, thinking I knew how things would go but not entirely sure and not entirely right either. I’m pretty good at figuring things out, so I love it when an author can fool me.


Nothing But Sky by Amy TruebloodNOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood – I love it when a fantastic story merges with learning something I never knew. That’s what happened for me with this wonderful historical. I can’t even imagine these young women who dared to walk along the wings of planes to entertain crowds in the 1920s with death-defying stunts. Amy Trueblood tells the story of Grace Lafferty gorgeously, with interesting historical tidbits sprinkled into her quest to reach the World Aviation Expo. Plus there’s romance. It’s one you don’t want to miss!


Earth to Dad by Krista Van DolzerEARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer – I loved this story of friendship and family set in futuristic Earth. More than anything, Jameson longs for a best friend, and when Astra moves in, he has that opportunity. I also love how well this book captures the feeling of maybe that’s so vital for middle grade readers. There’s an ever-present hope within the book, even when Jameson and Astra are facing some very tough truths. So well done.


So those are my ten favorite reads this year–so far :). Of the 79 books I’ve read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 38

Middle grade: 18

New adult: 1

Adult: 19

Non-fiction: 3

I can’t believe I read more adult books than middle grade! But unsurprisingly, the bulk of my reading remains young adult.

What were your favorite reads in 2018? Do we share any of the same? I’d love to discuss them with you!

Character, Reading, Writing

On Sequels Ruining the Original

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, ever since an eagerly awaited sequel came in the mail this summer and from the first few pages had me going, “Whaaat?” I’m not going to call out this book specifically, which is part of the reason I waited so long to post about it (since I do list everything I read here on the blog).

In any case, I really loved the first book of this duology, enough that it has a review here, and I even pre-ordered the sequel so I wouldn’t forget about it. The first book left off on a total cliffhanger, but almost immediately the second book veered off in this completely disturbing direction. The further I read, the less engaged I was with the main characters. Based on everything they’d experienced in the first book and how the author had set them up, I found myself checking out more and more. By the end of the second book, the first book was completely ruined for me too, because with the cliffhanger ending of the first, you really can’t keep one without the other–a real bummer!

I’ve noticed this sequel issue with more than books. I had another experience recently that I wish I could erase, and I will totally call this one out. It was the musical “Love Never Dies,” which is a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” I love Phantom. I sang one of the songs as a solo in our senior showcase in high school, and the stage production is always amazing. I was skeptical about a sequel, but I should have avoided it entirely because it was extremely disturbing on so many levels. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom all acted in ways that seemed at odds with their behavior in the first musical, and there were plot points that really warped events in the timeline of “Phantom” as well. If you have the opportunity to see “Love Never Dies,” DON’T. (This might be the first negative review I’ve ever written on my blog, but I’m still traumatized a month after watching it.)

Finally, while it isn’t exactly a sequel, I recently stopped watching the second season of a very popular TV show for the same reason the first book I mentioned bothered me so much. I binge-watched the first season. The characters were engaging, and the mystery kept me wanting to discover the solution. As I began watching the second season, I was increasingly disappointed. The mystery wasn’t so believable, and the characters started making decisions that didn’t line up with how they’d been established in the first season. It finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to follow their journeys anymore.

So why this rant about sucky sequels? As writers, I think we must be careful about the promises we make to readers in our books, and if we do write sequels or series, we must be consistent. As I mentioned above, what turned me off most was when the characters were inconsistent. I understand characters might change, but if they’re behavior goes completely off the rails, you have to make me believe it or I will check out as a reader/viewer.

I’ve never written a sequel myself, but that’s partially why I felt it was important to document these thoughts. Perhaps somewhere down the line an opportunity will arise where I’ll have a story that isn’t finished after one book. If it does, I want to remember the importance of character constancy and maintaining the essence of the first book. I think those are the keys to turning readers into true fans.

Have you had any experiences with sequels that have turned you off a book or other media series?

Reading

My Favorite Reads of 2017

As I began preparing this post, I was a bit shocked to see that I’ve read less than 100 books this year, although I have 11 days left, so I might be able to squeeze four more in :). However, one of the reasons I’ve read less in 2017 is that I returned to another passion–the violin. While I’ve been playing in my church orchestra for years, I missed playing classically. So in August, I joined a local symphony orchestra, and a number of hours I used to spend reading each week are now devoted to rehearsals and practicing my violin. So it’s a good reason for diverting reading hours!

The other factor is that I’ve been mixing in more adult books from my collection downstairs, going along with my post from August 2016 about the importance of reading just for fun, but incorporating these old favorites decreased the number of books I finished since adult novels are significantly longer.

If you’re new to my favorite reads list, these books weren’t necessarily published in 2017–I just read them in 2017. Also, I read fewer MG books, so I’m going to mix them in with the YA, and I’m not going to rank them. I’ll just list them in alphabetical order by author, with links to my reviews. I do love to alphabetize 🙂 …

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber  Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger   Nightfall by Shannon Messenger  

CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber – I love that a sibling relationship centers this book, but it also features a tension-filled romance, gorgeous prose, new twists in seemingly every chapter, and terrific pacing. Looking forward to the next book!

FOLLOW ME BACK by A.V. Geiger – I read this book in one day thanks to its unique format, gasp-out-loud twists, fantastic pacing, and an ending that has me anxiously anticipating the sequel. Actually, I just paused writing this post to pre-order it, and I’m sad it won’t arrive until June :(.

NIGHTFALL by Shannon Messenger – If you’ve been following my favorite reads lists, this one won’t surprise you. Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series consistently ranks among my favorite middle grade reads every year, and this year’s installment delivered with the same level of humor, adventure and intrigue. Can’t wait for the next one!

Once Upon A Kiss by Robin Palmer STORY THIEVES: SECRET ORIGINS by James Riley Geek Girl by Holly Smale

ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin Palmer – I am such a sucker for time travel books, but add in humor, friendship, and romance, and I’m sold!

STORY THIEVES: SECRET ORIGINS by James Riley – I don’t know why I don’t have a review of this book. I think I must have read it during a time when I was too busy to write one, but this whole series is amazing, and you can read my review of the first book here. In this third installment, James Riley delivered jaw-dropping new twists, and he amazes me with his continued ingenuity. The next book is choose your own adventure :).

GEEK GIRL series by Holly Smale – While I’m not ranking these books overall, I’m going to make an exception for this series and say it was my favorite read of the year. I picked up the first book at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale last December and didn’t get to it until the summer. Once I started reading, I COULD NOT STOP. And there are six books, plus novellas. And this became an issue because they are British and weren’t all available in the U.S., and I had to wait TWO WEEKS for books four and five and it was agony. Anyway, these books made me laugh and cry, which is very rare. I only cry over relationship drama, so I really cared about these characters. I’ll stop now. Just … you should read these.

Catalyst by Kristin Smith At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer

CATALYST and FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith – A futuristic world with genetically modified teens, a sizzling love triangle, and twists that just keep coming! This series is yet to be complete, and I can’t wait to see how it ends. Kristin was one of my mentors during Pitch Wars, so I was privileged to work with her one-on-one and to interview her about the books.

AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer – I love the famous-boy-falls-for-unimpressed-girl trope, plus there’s an inside look at life as a teen YouTuber and a great friendship story. Beth was my other Pitch Wars mentor, and she also granted me an interview about her fabulous book.

Lucky in Love by Kasie West Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

LUCKY IN LOVE by Kasie West – I predicted when I reviewed this book a couple weeks ago that it would make my list, and sure enough, here it is. An adorable romance, believable family dynamics, and a fun premise make this an excellent read. But really, Kasie West books make my list every year, so it’s no surprise :).

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon – A book I put off reading because I thought it would be depressing and I was SO WRONG. It has humor, a romance with fantastic tension, and a unique storytelling structure. It delivers on so many levels, and there’s even a movie to go with it :).

So that’s it. What were your favorite reads this year? Any of the same?

Reading

My Favorite Reads of 2016

I know it’s only Dec. 22, but I’m flying away to California (!!!) on Saturday to spend Christmas with family, so I’m knocking it out early. The last time I posted this list early, I ended up binge-reading a series the final week of the year that totally would have edged out something on my list, but oh well. That’s the way it goes. If I read something completely amazing within the next nine days, I’ll just write a special review for it in January.

As in previous years, these aren’t necessarily books published in 2016, just books I read in 2016. I’ve read 110 books so far, but I will have a lot of reading time flying across the country TO THE WARMTH. Yes, I’m excited to leave cold Missouri! (Although the forecast says it will be warmer here on Christmas day than in San Diego. I think it must be wrong.)

Middle Grade

My middle grade count remained lower this year, but there were some real standouts. Also, there were several books I was able to share with my eight-year-old son. I expect I’ll return to reading more middle grade as he demands that I read along with him so we can discuss :).

5. COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin – I usually tend toward adventure and humor with my middle grade, but I loved this story about a family who moves to New York for the youngest boy’s treatment. It has so much heart, and the truths about friendship and family are so relevant for MG readers.

4. THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner – So, I actually have two pretty serious MG books on this list, because THE SEVENTH WISH deals with addiction. It’s handled so well, and as someone who’s had to explain addiction to my children, I appreciate having stories like this out there.

3. STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS by James Riley – I am a huge James Riley fan. His HALF UPON A TIME fairy tale series is genius, and the STORY THIEVES series is fantastic, too. This book is the second in the series, and it’s amazingly inventive in its storytelling style, in addition to being hilarious as usual. My son helped me out on this review :).

2. THE SLEEPOVER by Jen Malone – My kids begged me to read this book out loud to them after I brought it home from the NESCBWI Conference, and we were all laughing out loud throughout the book. My kids are already asking if there will be a sequel. I cringe at the thought of what else Jen Malone could do to those poor girls!

1. LODESTAR by Shannon Messenger – It’s probably no surprise that my favorite middle grade book of the year was the latest installment of Shannon Messenger’s KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES series. I wait impatiently for these books to come out every fall, and she delivers every time. I can’t even believe there are still two more books to come. I didn’t write a review for this one because I was immersed in revision when I read it, but it BLEW MY MIND!!!!

Young Adult

It’s always super-hard for me to choose my top five young adult reads of the year because it’s what I read the most of, but here are the five that I can’t get out of my head.

5. The Selection series by Kiera Cass – I gave this an honorable mention last year because I started reading it the last week of 2015, but since I read three of the five books (if you count the spinoff books) plus all of the novellas in 2016, I’m going to count it for this year. Because I really do love this series and feel the need to mention it again :). I devoured the original series within a week and then waited to read THE HEIR until THE CROWN came out (so glad I did that!). This reminds me that I should check out Ms. Cass’s other available book, THE SIREN.

4. IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU by Stephanie Kate Strohm – Yes, I just reviewed this book, but the reason it makes my list is because it pulled me out of a long reading slump where I liked the books I was reading but wasn’t in love with them. It’s clever, funny, and has great romantic tension. What’s not to love?

3. UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee – It took me a while to get to this book–I think because of the western setting–but once I started reading I was kicking myself for the hesitation. I love any book with girls disguising themselves as boys, but what I loved most about this story was the friendship. And the romance didn’t hurt either :). Now I’m wondering why I haven’t read Ms. Lee’s latest yet. Getting on that now …

2. P.S. I LIKE YOU by Kasie West – Since discovering Kasie West last year, I’ve devoured all of her books. I eagerly awaited the release of P.S. I LIKE YOU, and it delivered above and beyond what I expected. I mean, it’s a YA version of You’ve Got Mail. How could sworn enemies falling in love via letters not deliver?

1. MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but it was the most delightful thing I read this year. Magic, romance, humor–it has it all, with complete irreverence for the real history, and yet it had me looking up the history, so I guess that means it’s doing history a service? I’m not really sure, but I want more books like this one!

We’ll see how many books I get through before the end of 2016. I’ve already loaded up my Kindle with some reads for the plane. Notably, my favorite YA read the past few years has always been a book from Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. I’m reading her new standalone, HEARTLESS, right now, so we’ll see how it stacks up!

What were your favorites this year? Do we share any of the same? Let’s discuss!

Reading

Sometimes You Should Just Read for Fun

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

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

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

Because sometimes you should just read for fun.

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

Reading

The Joy of Reading Alongside Your Child

Yesterday I read an article about kids starting to drop off reading around age 8 due to an increase in electronics use. It made me incredibly sad, in large part because my son recently turned 8 (or 2, depending on how you count those Leap Day birthdays 🙂 ), and the world of reading has truly opened up to him in the past few months. Now, we’re pretty strict about electronics anyway. We only let him play on the iPad twenty minutes a day, and he has to earn it. Sometimes he can earn up to an extra ten minutes, but I digress.

My kids’ school currently is holding a read-a-thon, so both of my kids are reading like crazy, and I love it. (The school is using a program called Whooo’s Reading, which I highly recommend!) Anyway, a couple of months ago I started reading STORY THIEVES by James Riley aloud to both kids. We were probably six or seven chapters from the end when the read-a-thon started and paused reading aloud so they could focus on their own books. Over the weekend, my 8-year-old decided to finish it himself as part of the read-a-thon. As soon as he did, we had the following conversation:

8-year-old: Mom, I have to read the next book right away.

Me: Ok, I’ll see if the library has the e-book.

8-year-old: Yes, do it! I have to know what happens next!

Thankfully, the library had the book available. He started reading the next morning, and a couple of hours later this happened.

8-year-old: Mom, I have to tell you what’s happening in the book.

Me: But I haven’t read it yet!

8-year-old: But I need to, Mom!

Me: Fine. Go ahead.

So I let him spoil a little of the book for me, but honestly, I didn’t mind too much. I was thrilled that he was enjoying the book so much he had to talk about it. And obviously I started reading the book myself so that I can stay ahead of him and avoid any further spoilers :). Now we are having daily conversations as we compare notes on where we are in the book. Perhaps when he finishes I’ll let him write the review–or we can write it together the way we’ve been reading together.

It’s a unique kind of joy to have a mini book club with my son. I look forward to sharing this same experience with my daughter in the future. (I’m back to reading STORY THIEVES to her so she can see how it ends as she’s still a couple of years away from reading it on her own.) My mom and I have been swapping books for years, so it’s sort of a family tradition.

I’m so glad I read middle grade and get to experience this with my kids. What about you? What books do you enjoy reading together?