Giveaways, Interviews, NetGalley, Reading, Research, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: NOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood

I’m so thrilled to host Amy Trueblood here today. Sometimes you hear writers say that they’re just as happy when one of their friends gets a book deal as when they do. Well, I haven’t yet experienced the excitement of a book deal for myself, but I was over the moon when Flux acquired NOTHING BUT SKY. See, I was privileged to read an early draft of the manuscript (can I squee a bit because this is the first time my name appears in the acknowledgements??), so I’ve been cheering it on for a very long time. And now it’s a real, live book! Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read the finished version, which is so amazing I can’t even express how much I love it.

NOTHING BUT SKY comes out next week, and I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner. But first, here’s the gorgeous cover and description, followed by Amy’s answers to five questions about what I love most.

Eighteen-year-old Grace Lafferty only feels alive when she’s dangling 500 feet above the ground. As a post-World War I wing walker, Grace is determined to get to the World Aviation Expo, proving her team’s worth against flashier competitors and earning a coveted Hollywood contract.

No one’s ever questioned Grace’s ambition until Henry Patton, a mechanic with plenty of scars from the battlefield, joins her barnstorming team. With each new death-defying trick, Henry pushes Grace to consider her reasons for being a daredevil. Annoyed with Henry’s constant interference, and her growing attraction to him, Grace continues to test the powers of the sky.

After one of her risky maneuvers saves a pilot’s life, a Hollywood studio offers Grace a chance to perform at the Expo. She jumps at the opportunity to secure her future. But when a stunt goes wrong, Grace must decide whether Henry, and her life, are worth risking for one final trick.

And here are the questions for Amy.

1. Until I read NOTHING BUT SKY, I had no idea crowds flocked to watch wing walkers in the 1920s, but I loved learning about it. What inspired you to write about a young female wing walker?

In the summer of 2013, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Tethered to the ceiling of the museum was a biplane with a mannequin hanging off the wing. I was instantly intrigued and went in for a closer look. A placard next to the plane detailed the life of a wing walker by the name of Ethel Dare. In that moment, I knew I needed to learn more about her. Later that evening, I started doing research and discovered that Ethel was one of a handful of brave women who soared through the skies and the idea for NOTHING BUT SKY was born.

2. Following up on the first question, from the first page, I read about Grace’s stunts with my mouth half hanging open. By the time I reached her last stunt, I couldn’t even believe someone would attempt such a thing. Are these real stunts wing walkers performed? How did you research them?

In almost all editorial stages of this book someone questioned me about the stunts Grace performs. All of them came from research I did via historical photos or actual footage I watched on YouTube. From the car-to-plane transfer to the “Showstopper,” these were real stunts these women performed, many times without a parachute to keep them from falling to their death.

Wow. I watched the videos of wing walker Lillian Boyer with my family. We couldn’t believe it.

3. The historical setting is so rich, with tidbits about popular music and film, fashion, the economy, and daily life sprinkled into the narrative. Did you have a particular strategy for balancing the history with the story, or did that come fairly naturally?

Thank goodness for edits. The first draft of this book lacked a lot of important elements of setting and historical detail. At first, I just wanted to get the story down. In the following edits and revisions, I would layer in slang, real-life historical figures, music, as well as clothing. Including all these elements wasn’t easy. Many days writing this book felt like slowly putting together a thousand-piece puzzle.

4. I love how the romance develops in the story, with both Grace and Henry growing together. Were they an easy couple to write, or did they give you trouble the way they give each other trouble in the story?

I wish I could say Grace and Henry’s relationship came easy but writing romance is HARD! I learned that there is a delicate balance between building character arcs and allowing your characters to slowly open up to each other. In the first few drafts, Grace was really tough on Henry. It took a lot of comments from CPs to make me realize she could still be vulnerable even if she was a strong, brave woman.

5. I love it when I find a title in the text of a novel: “My only wish was to be back on the wing with the wind in my face and nothing but sky for company.” Was the title an easy choice, or did you struggle with choosing the perfect title?

That line was in the original draft. The minute I wrote it I knew it was going to be the title. Thankfully, my editor and publisher both agreed it was a perfect fit for the book.

Thank you, Amy!!

Now on to the giveaway. I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, North America only, please. You can enter by commenting below. Tell me what excites you about NOTHING BUT SKY :). And if you want the opportunity for extra entries, click on the Rafflecopter link below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Melanie Conklin’s COUNTING THYME for what seems like forever. We’ve been Twitter friends for years, and she even read a partial of one of my manuscripts once (thanks again, Melanie!), after which she recommended I read THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas. Love the whole series! In any case, COUNTING THYME completely lived up to my expectations, and I’m thrilled to review it for MMGM.

Counting Thyme by Melanie ConklinWhen eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – Yes, there’s a reason her name is Thyme, and it’s explained. But this title has multiple meanings and I love the play on words. It’s just perfect on so many levels.

2. Thyme’s family – I loved every member of this family, from Thyme’s mom trying to hold everyone–including herself–together, her dad maintaining some fun where possible, her sister acting out, and her brother surviving. And where did that leave Thyme? That central question invested me from page one.

3. The friendships – There were multiple friendship stories happening within the book: Thyme and her best friend back home, Thyme and the girls at school, Thyme and the boy at school, Thyme observing the friendship between the girls at school. I liked how Thyme had to sort out these friendships and discover how she fit into each one.

4. The sound production team – How cool that Thyme found a project in the midst of everything else she was going through. I enjoyed reading about her experiments finding everyday objects that would make the desired sounds for the play. It was an interesting subplot that also fit very well into the overall story as she had to decide where this Thyme project fit into her family.

5. Mrs. Ravelli and Mr. Lipinsky – I loved both of these characters. They were polar opposites, and yet they both played critical roles in helping Thyme adjust to life in New York and giving her purpose. Plus, they’re both extremely well-written characters. I’d really like to try that cake Mrs. Ravelli baked for the Owens …

If you haven’t read COUNTING THYME yet, I suggest you do so. I have a feeling this one will be getting some award attention.

Giveaways, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review & Pre-Order Giveaway: THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore

I’m thrilled to feature Anna-Marie McLemore’s THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS on the blog today and to give away a pre-order to one lucky winner! Anna-Marie and I were teammates in the first-ever The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012 (Team Krista), and we’ve stayed in touch ever since–which is why I was able to get in on an ARC tour for the book and read it early :). The book comes out Sept. 15, and I will definitely be adding it to my permanent collection! Here’s the gorgeous cover and description.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemoreFor twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The title – This may seem like a strange thing to love, but sometimes I read a whole novel and never figure out where the title originated. For this book, the title showed up on page two, and it completely grounded me in the story. Titles aren’t always powerful, but this one is.

2. The blend of magic and science – On the surface, this story is one of magic–not spells and transformations but an old, intrinsic magic that permeates these families. But at the same time, sciences plays an important role, and the two are woven together in a way I found quite fascinating as the story progressed. It’s unique and masterful.

3. The distinct voices – The story mostly alternates between Lace and Cluck, occasionally staying with one character for a couple of chapters. I loved how distinct the voices are. I wish I could share an example, but the scenes that I felt best exemplified this are quite long. It’s when each of them describe the other’s show. Lace goes into much more detail than Cluck, is more complimentary, and yet you still understand how much Cluck appreciates the mermaid show. Very well done.

4. The romance – I loved Lace and Cluck’s dialogue and wordplay, and if I hadn’t passed the ARC along to someone else, I would have found a passage to share for this :). But I also loved how the feelings built differently on each side, particularly as they each learn the other’s true identity at different points in the story. Imagine falling in love with someone and discovering later they’re your enemy versus knowing from the beginning they’re forbidden. I get shivers just remembering it!

5. The languages – I loved how seamlessly Anna-Marie wove in French and Spanish. Often the words were translated in an easy way, but sometimes they weren’t and it was entirely appropriate. There was a moment with Cluck’s mother where Lace said she must not have wanted her to know what she’d said since she didn’t translate. I never felt like the translations interrupted the flow of the narrative, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

I so love this book that I want to put it in someone else’s hands as soon as it’s available (remember, that’s Sept. 15!). As a result, I’m giving away a pre-order to one lucky winner. North America only, please. Click on the link below to enter.

Click here to enter the giveaway for THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS!

And come back next week, as I’m planning another giveaway. I know! Two in a row :)!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Recommendation: Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter

I know I’m late to the party here, but I read Ally Carter’s Heist Society series before the Gallagher Girls. So when I went to her St. Louis event in February 2013 for the release of PERFECT SCOUNDRELS, I was a bit shocked by the huge turnout of teenage girls armed with hundreds of questions about the Gallagher Girls. I’d only read the first one at the time, so many of the questions went over my head. Fast forward to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale in December, where I picked up books three through five for a steal. I still had quite a backlog, but I checked out the e-book of the second book for our Disney trip (you thought I was finished talking about what I read at Disney World, right?). While I enjoyed the first two books, it was really book three, DON’T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER, that hooked me so I had to read the rest of the books immediately. So, without further ado, here’s my review with the cover and description for the first book.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill YouThe Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a fairly typical all-girls school—that is, if every school teaches advanced martial arts in PE, chemistry always consists of the latest in chemical warfare, and everyone breaks CIA codes for extra credit in computer class. So in truth, while the Gallagher Academy might say it’s a school for geniuses what they really mean is spies. But what happens when a Gallagher Girl falls for a boy who doesn’t have a code name?

Cammie Morgan may be fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (three of which involve a piece of uncooked spaghetti), but the Gallagher Academy hasn’t prepared her for what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she’s an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, and track him through a mall without him ever being the wiser, but can she have a regular relationship with a regular boy who can never know the truth about her? Cammie may be an elite spy in training, but in her sophomore year, she’s doing something riskier than ever—she’s falling in love.

Here are the five things I loved most about this series:

1. The premise – A spy school for teenage girls? Yes, please!

2. The titles – How can you resist such clever titles?

  • I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU
  • CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY
  • DON’T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER
  • ONLY THE GOOD SPY YOUNG
  • OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF TIME
  • UNITED WE SPY

I actually have a funny story about the last one. Ms. Carter had us vote on the title options for the final book in the series, and we chose UNITED WE SPY. I don’t think our vote really mattered in the scheme of things, but it was still fun!

3. Cammie’s growth – These books got better and better as they went along. Cammie grows up so much, which makes sense with the books spanning two years of her life. She starts out pretty naive, with her biggest concern being how to interact with a boy, but by the end she’s dealing with world-changing stakes. Thinking back to the first book, I was amazed at how much had happened, and yet I believed in the girl Cammie became.

4. The plot details – I have to say that as the series progressed, I felt like the plot of the first book became irrelevant, and then in book five, BAM!, what happened in the first book became relevant again. I was very impressed with how Ms. Carter wove in the early story with what seemed like a very different direction later on.

5. The pacing – As I mentioned above, I enjoyed the first two books, but it was book three that got me hooked to the point where I couldn’t put the books down. In fact, one Thursday I finished the third book and then stayed up until after midnight to read the whole fourth book. I’d say that one was my favorite in the whole series.

There’s also a cross-over novella with characters from the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series that made me want to see Kat attend the Gallagher Academy. Wouldn’t that be fun? Anyway, Ally Carter has officially become one of those authors for which I will have to buy every book.

Have you read this series? What do you love about it?

 

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY by Nikki Loftin

Yay! I’m back to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Well, for this week anyway. I’ve been on a bit of a young adult kick lately since that’s what I’m writing at the moment. However, I managed to squeeze in a middle grade read last week, and it’s definitely worthy of a review. So here’s THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY by Nikki Loftin.

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki LoftinWhen Lorelei’s old school mysteriously burns down, a new one appears practically overnight: Splendid Academy.

Golden bowls of candy in every desk? Mouth-watering cafeteria meals, served by waiters? Optional homework and two recess periods a day? This place is every kid’s dream!

But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew begin to suspect that their teacher, the hypnotic Ms. Morrigan, is not who she seems. The mountains of syrupy pancakes and heaps of marzipan leave a sickening taste in their mouths as they uncover a sinister mystery at the heart of their classroom.

What Lorelei and Andrew soon discover chills their bones, and might even pick them clean!

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The cover and title – I’m grouping these together because they’re both about my first impression. I love the alliteration in the title, and it’s absolutely perfect for the story. So is the illustration on the cover. The three shadows peeking out the door. The trees looping into the words. Lorelei and Andrew. Just perfect.

2. The metaphors – I love it when an author comes up with a metaphor that gives me such a perfect image of what the character sees. Here are a couple of examples:

Mom. The word hung in the air like sparkles of dust in the sunlight, bringing with it memories and pain.”

“‘Have it your way, dear,’ she said, and something in her blue eyes flashed, like lightning far away.”

3. The allusions to eating – I don’t think I’m spoiling anything since the tagline says, “Were we being fed? Or fattened up?” It’s pretty clear what’s going on at this school, so it’s fun to read into the things teachers say that wouldn’t normally have another meaning but become quite ominous when you suspect they plan to eat you. There are many of these in the book, and they’re cleverly done.

“‘Where’s … Andrew?’

“‘Oh, your little friend? You don’t need to worry about him anymore. I–what’s the expression you kids use?–oh, yes. I really chewed him out.'”

4. The mystery – There are many threads woven into this story, and while the main mystery isn’t much of one, there are others being slowly unveiled in the background. What happened to Lorelei’s mother? Is Principal Trapp in on it? It kept me engaged, wondering how it would all come together in the end, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I love it when that happens!

5. The underlying messages – I like it when a book is able to convey important messages without hitting you over the head. Nikki Loftin does this well. Lorelei and Andrew both have issues they struggle with. Andrew’s weakness for food is what tips him off about what’s happening at the school, and his explanation to Lorelei could possibly help kids with the same issue. I don’t want to give away Lorelei’s main struggle since it factors into the climax, but it’s an excellent message as well.

I’ll definitely pick up Ms. Loftin’s next book when it comes out. Has anyone else read this one? What did you think?

Writing

10 Tips for Titling a Manuscript

I posted once before about why titles are important, and agent Suzie Townsend also posted about titles here. What it comes down to is that for most agents, the title is your first impression. You include it in the subject line of your email, so even if it’s at the end of your query, it’s still the first thing an agent sees. I expect this is probably true of editors, too.

The title conveys the tone of your manuscript and–assuming it’s not a one-word title–gives a hint of your writing style. So, how do you come up with a title that makes an agent lean in and say, “I definitely want to see what that query’s about”? I haven’t quite perfected it, but here are some steps I take–not necessarily in this order.

1. List key words, including character names and descriptors. My initial brainstorm consists of throwing out all the words that could be in the title and putting them together in combinations to see what works. To be honest, none of these early titles make the final cut, but they get me thinking.

2. Search the manuscript for key phrases. Sometimes you already have the title somewhere in the manuscript–something a character says or thinks that encompasses the whole thing. This has yet to happen to me, but I’ve read books where the title jumps out in the text and I think, “So that’s where they got that.” SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY comes to mind since I read it recently.

3. Pull out the Thesaurus. Ok, so I actually use the Thesaurus online, but you get the point. I plug in the key words I came up with and list out synonyms that might work better for the title. Then I try those words instead of the ones in my initial brainstorm. Sometimes the Thesaurus gives phrases instead of single words, and that can be helpful, too. There might be a way to twist those phrases into something amazing.

4. Check out topic-specific dictionaries. Since DUET is about a violinist, I went to music sites and read through lists of musical terms. I wanted something that would provide alliteration with “Devil,” and “duet” worked well. There are sites out there for just about any topic you can think of.

5. Make up a new word. I love it when I see a title that twists a word or combines two words to make something new and it’s just perfect. Like PARANORMALCY or VIRTUOSITY. So clever. I explored this for CAVEBOY and DUET but never came up with anything that fit. To my delight, it’s going to work for this one. I’m down to a few final choices, and they all include a twist on an existing word.

6. Plug your key words into Amazon. Browsing existing titles is a great way to get your brain going, and sometimes you can use a title that’s already out there in a new way. I know I appreciate a title that takes something familiar and makes it new–like HEIST SOCIETY (HIGH SOCIETY) or A FAREWELL TO CHARMS (A FAREWELL TO ARMS).

7. Search for quotes. I also do a search for common quotes and phrases with my key words and themes. As with existing titles, quotes are familiar, and if you can find a way to twist them into something new, they can immediately resonate with readers.

8. Check out the rhyming dictionary. One of the ways you can twist an existing title/quote or just come up with something fun is to plug one of the words into a rhyming site. You never know. There might be a rhyming word you could insert in the place of another that would perfectly convey your story. Or, search for your key words, and one of the rhymes might spark an idea from a title/phrase that’s familiar.

9. Pull out the actual dictionary. I guess you could do this online, but this step is easiest for me with a hard copy. There are a couple of reasons to do this. With CAVEBOY, I wanted to use alliteration. I’d come up with the first part: THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO … I decided I wanted three words that would start with the same letter, and I really wanted “bats” to be one of them. So I pulled out the dictionary and read the whole B section. Ultimately I came up with BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES. I also pulled out the dictionary with my WIP because I knew I was going to create a new word, and I needed it to start with IN, so I read through the whole section from “in” to “inwardly.” It’s amazing how inspired you can be just by reading through a section of the dictionary.

10. Play around with the words. Once I’ve tapped these resources, I just play around with the words, putting them in as many combinations as I can think of until a few really stick out. Then I ask which ones convey the right tone, fit with the genre, and will catch someone’s attention. I’ve yet to have a single title jump out and say “Pick me! I’m the one!” I usually end up with a list of five or so. If I’ve worked on a query letter, I plug them in to see if they work. And then I get other opinions. Sometimes I really love a title that my CPs and family members think is awful. So, as with everything else, the title must get approved, too.

And that’s where I am right now–running the title options by others, even though no one else has actually read the manuscript yet. I’m not in a hurry to finalize the title. I have one I’m leaning toward that I can use as a placeholder for now.

How do you come up with titles? Any other resources you use?