Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d be sharing more about my Pitch Wars’ mentors’ books, and today I’m thrilled to host Beth Ellyn Summer with an interview about AT FIRST BLUSH. Even better, I’m giving away a copy of her book, and Beth is adding on swag–makeup and a signed bookmark! First, here’s the description.

At First Blush by Beth Ellyn SummerWho would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

And here are Beth’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most.

I love the inside look at life as a YouTuber, especially since it’s becoming more common for teens to have channels. Did you experiment with your own channel? Talk to YouTubers? How did you research?

This was definitely a case of binge-watching tons of beauty tutorials and calling it research! I’m deathly camera shy so making my own channel was never an option. YouTube beauty videos have this really fun, sleepover-with-your-best-friends vibe that’s so addictive. I spent months studying how gurus interacted with their subscribers, how they conducted giveaways and handled dramas and scandals. What shocked me most was just how much hate these girls deal with on a daily basis. When pop stars and movie stars get hate, they can avoid social media and Google. But YouTubers literally make their living off interacting with subscribers, so reading hateful comments is all part of a day’s work. I admire anyone who can look past all that to do what they love and make a career out of it.

Lacey’s makeup expertise is so ingrained it’s obvious it originates with you. After reading this book, I feel like I’m probably doing it all wrong and should go watch some tutorials myself. Any tips for those of us who might be in a makeup rut? Who should we watch since Lacey Blushes is fictional?

So, confession: I was always pretty terrible at makeup. Like, awful. My mom did my makeup for me up till college. But then one day I realized I’ve got to figure this out for myself, and I got really hooked on tutorials! These girls made it look so easy, and it’s because of YouTube tutorials that I learned the key to flawless makeup application: a thorough and moisturizing skin care routine, and the right tools. I didn’t realize that you need good quality brushes (you can get really inexpensive ones), otherwise the products don’t apply well. Good brushes are game changing.

My advice if you’re in a makeup rut (and I literally just dragged myself out of one) is to experiment with new brands. Also: play with vibrant eyeliner colors! I have a tough time working with colorful eyeshadows on my lids, and I never have the patience to blend properly, so I tend to stick with my usual neutrals. By adding a pop of teal or turquoise or purple eyeliner, it takes things up a notch without going too far out of a comfort zone.

I highly recommend these beauty channels: Emily Noel, Lisa Eldridge, Pixiwoo, Ingrid Nilsen, Tanya Burr, FleurDeForce, Carrie Rad. I have so many favs but I learn the most from these girls!

I love how Lacey and Cynth’s friendship is portrayed in the book. What suggestions do you have for writing a great friendship?

I’m the biggest sucker for strong friendships in YA. I think a good best friend helps a MC figure themselves out, but I really love it when the friends learn something new about their friendship within character arcs. My favorite way to write a best friend is to make them a polar opposite of my MC. It usually makes for some laughs, all while helping the MC step out of comfort zones. I usually take conversations and silly moments I’ve had with my own best friends and play off that!

Lacey grows so much in the story, figuring out what she wants to stand for and what she wants out of her YouTube career. Did you plan out her arc in advance, or did she reveal herself to you along the way?

I’m a pantser, so a lot of Lacey came to me as I was writing her. But I always knew Lacey would come to the conclusion that dreams can change, and she’d want to do something different from YouTube. I just kept thinking…what would it be like to have a girl who dreams of being a big YouTuber and the true conflict comes when she does get everything she wished for?

The romance! The famous boy who just wants a girl to like him for himself is one of my favorite tropes. I love that he cooks and has major weaknesses where his family is concerned. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one, but was there a particular inspiration for Tyler coming from a family boy band?

Ha! Haha. Yes! My favorite thing about post-publication has been reading the guesses from bloggers and readers about who Tyler Lance is based on! It was kind of a huge mix in my head, to be completely honest. I’m a Hanson girl. I grew up going to their shows, and with walls covered in their posters, and I still adore them. I’m really just fascinated with family bands in general. I watched a feature on R5 once where the focus was solely on Ross Lynch and I just wondered…what would happen to the family if the band broke up? There’s some Jonas Brothers and R5 influence in Simply Complicated as well. Despite all the family drama stuff, I also took plenty of inspo from Harry Styles. I based Lacey and Tyler’s romance off of the media firestorm that was Taylor Swift and Harry Styles’ relationship, and Taylor’s 1989 album was my At First Blush playlist. Hardcore Swifties will probably notice references to Out of the Woods and Style!

Thank you, Beth!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away an e-book of AT FIRST BLUSH, and Beth is adding on an e.l.f. shimmering facial whip and signed bookmark. United States only. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a18/?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: DEAR POPPY by Ronni Arno

With the NESCBWI Conference having happened over the weekend, it seems appropriate for me to review a book by an author I met at last year’s conference. No, I didn’t go again–it’s a bit of a trek for me–but I’m pleased to have found many authors last year whose books I will be picking up as they come out. Ronni Arno is one of those. I thoroughly enjoyed RUBY REINVENTED, and her second book, DEAR POPPY, is equally delightful.

Dear Poppy by Ronni ArnoWhen twelve-year-old Poppy moves to the country, she discovers a secret stash of letters that give her a unique connection to her late mother in this M!X novel about friendship, first crushes, and family drama.

City girl Poppy has always wanted a best friend, but never felt enough of a connection with anyone to gain BFF status. Even without a BFF, Poppy is horrified when her father decides to move her and her older brother out to the family farm. Away from her beloved city and away from memories of her late mom—a fresh start for everyone.

And after a weird first week at her new school, Poppy is convinced she is destined for a boring year—until she finds a stack of letters from 1985 hidden in the barn of the old farmhouse that they move into. Even better? Those letters are addressed to Poppy…from her mom. Poppy doesn’t know what supernatural event brought these letters to her, but she doesn’t care. All she knows is that she finally has the connection she yearns for. Plus, her mom seems to understand everything that Poppy is going through: not quite fitting in, the desire to put down roots, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Has Poppy discovered the friend—and acceptance—she’s always wanted?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The opening – The contrast of the first two sentences immediately drew me in, so I’m going to share them here. I think they not only show you a lot about both Poppy and her brother, but they also demonstrate something about the nature of grief, which is a theme in the book.

My brother is smiling so hard I think his cheeks are pinned to his ears. This would be fine, of course, if we weren’t at my grandad’s funeral.

2. Poppy’s dad – I love how Poppy’s relationship with her dad changes throughout the book, as he transforms from Old Dad to New Dad (also love that she makes that distinction). It’s a tough lesson that sometimes parents take a long time to come out of their grief, but it’s a true one.

3. The letters – The letters from Poppy’s mom were so perfectly timed to what was happening in Poppy’s life and a perfect example of how middle school is the same whether it’s 1985 or 2016. (Wow, this sounds a lot like my last review for ONCE UPON A KISS, except swapping out high school for middle school.)

4. Britt and Brody – I love how there is so much depth to these two characters. You see the surface of the cute popular boy who doesn’t like confrontation and the rebel outcast who’s all about trouble, but when they’re at home the twins have a lot of the same interests–including Poppy and gardening.

5. The resolution – Poppy has a very clear idea of why she’s in the country and how everything should turn out. As a reader, I had a different idea of where the story was headed. I won’t tell you who was right, just that the ending was very satisfying :).

I will definitely be picking up Ronni Arno’s next book. Actually, the next one on her site is an anthology featuring another favorite author of mine, Jen Malone. Looking forward to BEST. NIGHT. EVER!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin Palmer

I’m a sucker for time travel books. In fact, there’s a trunked novel you won’t see mentioned under my writing tab. I wrote it before I had any idea what I was doing, and it happened to be an adult time travel romance. It was truly horrible, but like all first novels, I learned a lot from it. Recently I had an idea for another time travel story, and I might just write it eventually … but the point of this post is to rave about Robin Palmer’s ONCE UPON A KISS.

ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin PalmerIt’s 1986 and sixteen-year-old Zoe Brenner’s world revolves around Depeche Mode, Judd Nelson, exercise-obsessed parents, and her best friend Jonah. Then one day, in a freak Fun-Dip choking accident, Zoe falls unconscious, and awakens in the year 2016. So much has changed, and Zoe needs Jonah to help her make sense of it all. But in this life, Zoe is the most popular girl in school, and she soon realizes this Zoe doesn’t associate with nerds like Jonah.

As Zoe juggles new technology, attempts to hide her enthusiasm for poet blouses, and manages to keep her super jock boyfriend at bay, she tries to rekindle her friendship with Jonah and use her popularity for a good cause. Will she ever get back to 1986? And more importantly, does she want to?

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The time travel – Yes, I already said I love time travel as a premise, but I liked the way it was done in this book. There’s just a freak accident, and everyone in Zoe’s life is displaced in a different year with different situations–except the characters still experienced a lot of the same childhood incidents for her to recall. It requires suspension of disbelief, but I was happy to go with it!

2. The friendships – The switch in Zoe’s circumstances force her to examine how she previously focused her entire life on Jonah. While that relationship was important and she’s fighting for it in the new reality, there are other people she’s overlooked, and she learns the value of expanding her circle.

3. The commentary on popularity – The groups may be different in 1986 and 2016, and Zoe may be at the bottom or the top, but she finds it’s equally hard to mix things up either way. Does she make a difference? Guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!

4. The pop culture – I was a child in the eighties–not a teenager–so the New Wave music references were lost on me (I need to go watch a YouTube video of “I Melt with You”), but the beauty of this book is that you don’t have to have experienced the eighties to enjoy the references. It’s not about nostalgia–it’s about experiencing the decade through Zoe and figuring out where she fits in. I really enjoyed it.

5. The humor – I was laughing throughout the book, mostly because of the situations. There’s a whole thing with a hot dog that’s crazy, but also because of the way it’s set up–like the popular kids being named after serial killers (Brad Bundy and Andrea Manson). Plus, Zoe’s parents make exercise videos, which was hilarious when it was Discosize in the eighties and even funnier when it’s Holla Your Way to Health in the present–like they’re always a bit behind the times.

I’m definitely going to check out some of Ms. Palmer’s other books. If you’ve read any of them, let me know which one I should read next!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder

I love anything to do with Paris, so I was predestined to love this book. I even have a picture that looks very similar to this cover. Wow, I’m really young in this picture. It’s from 2007, before kids, although just barely as I realized I was pregnant while we were there. Anyway, one of the lovely side effects of reading MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder is that it led me to pull out my photo album and relive the trip with my six-year-old, who has now decided that she must go to Paris like the main character in the book. As much as I would love to take her, that’s a trip you should be a little older to appreciate. But I’m sure you’re ready to hear about the actual book, so here’s the cover and description.

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa SchroederNora loves everything about Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to chocolat chaud. Of course, she’s never actually been there — she’s only visited through her Grandma Sylvia’s stories. And just when they’ve finally planned a trip together, Grandma Sylvia is suddenly gone, taking Nora’s dreams with her.

Nora is crushed. She misses her grandmother terribly, but she still wants to see the city they both loved. So when Nora finds letters and a Paris treasure map among her Grandma Sylvia’s things, she dares to dream again…


She’s not sure what her grandma wants her to find, but Nora knows there are wonderful surprises waiting for her in Paris. And maybe, amongst the croissants and macarons, she’ll even find a way to heal her broken heart.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. Nora’s grief – I realize it’s odd to say Nora’s grief is something I loved about the story, but the reason I list it here is that I appreciated how well-drawn her grief was in the story. Grief is such a complicated emotion, and it hits everyone differently. You can be crying one minute and the next wanting to enjoy something you used to do with the person you lost. It’s handled well here.

2. The treasure map – I loved the places Nora’s Grandma Sylvia sent her around Paris, and when I do return someday, I’ll have to re-read this book so I can check out the ones I didn’t know about. It’s fun to see Nora experiencing Paris with her grandma even though she can’t be there with her.

3. Phoebe – Isn’t it great when two people meet and they just click? Even better when it’s a friendship. I loved how Phoebe encouraged Nora to be strong and carry through on what she already wanted to do. And I’m excited to see Phoebe has her own story :).

4. The mother-daughter bond – I really enjoyed watching how Nora’s relationship with her mother changed during the story, but also how her perception of her mother’s relationship with her grandmother changed. There was some growing up Nora had to do during the course of the story, but twelve’s old enough for that.

5. The buttons – I loved the jar of buttons Nora’s grandmother had given her. She carried one with her every day, and it always seemed to connect to something that happened. In the end, the buttons had a deeper meaning for Nora, but I won’t give that away.

Basically, I’m dying to return to Paris now, and I’m years away from it, but at least this book gave me a taste. I guess I’ll go read Phoebe’s story and relive the London portion of that same trip :).

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Movies, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SWAP by Megan Shull

Last fall I watched a Disney TV movie called “The Swap” and thought, Wow, I wish I could read that as a book. Turns out it was based on a book! (Also, have I mentioned before how it’s my dream to have one of my books made into a Disney TV movie? Because, honestly, that’s the type of book I write.) Anyway, when I spotted Megan Shull’s THE SWAP at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, I immediately threw it in my shopping cart. (Yes, a literal shopping cart.) Interestingly, the movie was aged up from middle school to high school, but I can understand why. The story is completely appropriate for middle grade readers, BUT it is not a book I’d recommend to younger kids reading up due to some of the gender-swapping content. For example, my six and eight-year-old kids watched the movie and thought it was hilarious, but my son would be freaked out reading about the boy in the girl’s body learning about a girl getting her period for the first time.

Yeah. Not ready for that talk. Moving on. Here’s the description for the book.

The Swap by Megan Shull

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Ellie and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I already had a thousand scenarios of how this premise would play out in a book after I watched the movie, and it was different in the book. References to puberty aside–and really, how could that be avoided?–it’s all handled very tastefully and hilariously.

2. The voices – I have to be honest here. Half the time, I had no idea what Jack’s brothers were saying. They have their own language, but I applaud Ms. Shull. I think she actually exaggerated it for the purpose of showing how different the two characters are, but it works.

3. The character arcs – It’s hinted at in the description, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that Ellie and Jack discover themselves by being someone else. I love how they learn more about who they are inside while they’re taking a break from being themselves on the outside. It’s rare to get a glimpse of how others see you, but that’s what the magic of this story allows.

4. Ellie & Jack’s relationship – Not only do they get to know themselves, but they also get to know each other, since they’re living each others’ lives for a weekend. It was fun to watch how close they become, and how they can use that knowledge to help each other.

5. The humor – I tried to find a good example to post, but they’re all too long. Mostly the humor is situational and related to Ellie or Jack being completely confused about what’s going on in the other’s life and having to wing it. I was laughing out loud through much of the book.

I highly recommend this one, but as I said, if you have a younger MG reader, be aware there is talk of bodily functions related to puberty–for both boys and girls–in case you haven’t had those discussions yet.

Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

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, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman

I love books–and movies, for that matter–that play with time and space. When I came across the description for TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman, I was intrigued by the premise. How much difference can one decision make? I really liked the way this story explored the question.

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender…

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises… 

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she’s dreamed of going: a land of chocolate croissants, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue—but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can’t hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – I so love a clever title, and you can’t get much more perfect than this one. Because her name is Summer and it’s summertime, so she’s experiencing two summers and there are two Summers in the two realities. Anyway, I’m sure you got it before I explained it :).

2. The descriptions – I loved the descriptions, particularly of France (a country I’d love to visit again), but also of her home town, and the way Ms. Friedman would slip in the slightest hint each reality could be a dream.

The wind rustles the leaves on a lemon tree above us. I feel detached from the table, separate, watching myself having a conversation with this handsome French boy. That can’t be me, I think hazily. It’s another Summer. One who isn’t scared. Over Jacques’s shoulder, I notice a tableful of girls blatantly staring at us, their mouths half open. I totally understand their shock. I share it.

3. The friendship – In both realities, Summer experiences the uncertainty of a changing friendship. It’s much more confrontational in the Hudsonville storyline, but it’s still there in the Provence storyline. On the other hand, there’s another relationship that’s much more prominent in the Provence storyline, but explaining that would give away a major plot point.

4. The romance – There are two very different romances happening in the two storylines, and yet I found them both sweet in their own unique ways. As with the other point, I’m really holding back here so I won’t give anything away.

5. The ending – I loved the ending of this. The story is set up as: here’s what could happen if she goes to France or doesn’t go to France. Certain events happen on certain dates no matter what, and then you get to the end and … well, it’s just brilliantly done. Enough said.

Have you read TWO SUMMERS? What did you think?