Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE & LUCK by Jenna Evans Welch

Hello, readers! Where did the summer go?

In my case, I have a very good answer. On July 12, the Friday after my last post, I didn’t see a set of steps, went down, and broke my foot in an inconvenient spot that ended up requiring surgery. Just this week I am allowed to start putting weight on it again (yay!). I was able to keep up with some work despite the circumstances, but the blog unfortunately was neglected. However, my kids are back to school today, and so despite the fact I usually post reviews on Mondays, you all get one today!

A couple of years ago I gushed over LOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch, and I’ve just gotten around to reading the companion novel, LOVE & LUCK. Just as the first book made me long for a trip to Italy, I’m now itching to drive around Ireland. If I do, I may have to use this book as my guide :). Anyway, here’s the cover and description.

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans WelchAddie is visiting Ireland for her aunt’s over-the-top destination wedding, and hoping she can stop thinking about the one horrible thing she did that left her miserable and heartbroken—and threatens her future. But her brother, Ian, isn’t about to let her forget, and his constant needling leads to arguments and even a fistfight between the two once inseparable siblings. Miserable, Addie can’t wait to visit her friend in Italy and leave her brother—and her problems—behind.

So when Addie discovers an unusual guidebook, Ireland for the Heartbroken, hidden in the dusty shelves of the hotel library, she’s able to finally escape her anxious mind and Ian’s criticism.

And then their travel plans change. Suddenly Addie finds herself on a whirlwind tour of the Emerald Isle, trapped in the world’s smallest vehicle with Ian and his admittedly cute, Irish-accented friend Rowan. As the trio journeys over breathtaking green hills, past countless castles, and through a number of fairy-tale forests, Addie hopes her guidebook will heal not only her broken heart, but also her shattered relationship with her brother.

That is if they don’t get completely lost along the way.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ireland for the Heartbroken – I loved how this guidebook sent the characters to actual tourist sites but put a spin on each one. I also loved how it was talking to the reader and calling the reader names like “turtledove” and “love muffin.” It was like a straight-talking auntie who didn’t let the reader get away with wallowing–unless that was part of the assignment.

2. The sibling relationship – So, having read LOVE & GELATO, I expected this book to be mainly a romance, especially considering it still has LOVE in the title to go along with the other book. (The characters from the first book are in it.) However, the main relationship was between Addie and her brother, Ian, and the potential romance was secondary. Even though I’m a total sucker for a romance, I loved that this story focused on these two, especially since she was getting over a relationship.

3. Rowan – Rowan was just as delightful of a character as Ren in the first book. I was completely on board with him as a potential love interest for Addie, especially since he wasn’t at all pursuing her in that way and their friendship grew during the story.

4. The tension – I looked back at my review of LOVE & GELATO and was reminded how frustrated I was that a particular subplot kept getting dragged out and yet it also made sense that it wasn’t revealed until later. The same thing happened in this book, where I just wanted to know already! And yet it still also made sense to me that Addie wasn’t spilling everything. That’s quite a writing skill, to both frustrate and satisfy a reader at the same time :).

5. The setting – Like I said, this book made me want to go to Ireland, and quite honestly, it’s never been super high on my list before. But the descriptions of the places put an itinerary in my head, and it’s now right after Italy for me (I’ve already checked off England, Scotland, France and Australia).

Have you read LOVE & LUCK? If so, let me know what you thought! If not, you should check it out :).

Reading, Review, Young Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the five things I loved most:

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Review: FINALE by Stephanie Garber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still here? Okay …

Here are the five things I loved most about FINALE.

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

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

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

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

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

Have you read FINALE yet? What did you think?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons

I love entering giveaways, and I love it even more when I win–especially when the book shows up in the mail and I didn’t know I’d won. Best surprise ever! That’s what happened with THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons, and it arrived with a really cool swag pack (pictured below). I started reading this book on the last day of our cruise and had it almost finished by the time we got off the plane home. It’s a super fast-paced read. Well, let me give you the description first, and then I’ll get on to the review :).

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials—because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark—a senator’s son—and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for secret schools where kids are developing special skills, even if they’re conning people. What’s interesting about this one is that Brynn has to consistently confront her own sense of right and wrong–which isn’t so clearly defined to start with–and decide what her limits are.

2. The pacing – I already mentioned it above, but this book was a really quick read. The stakes kept ratcheting up in each new chapter, plus …

3. The twists – They just kept coming! I loved how layered this book was. It almost felt like the author had started at the end and layered all the clues on top of each other toward the front. That’s how well all the pieces fit together. It’s very well done.

4. The romance – The initial attraction, the uncertainty, the ex still somewhat in the picture, the complication of having other people you’re conning thrown into the mix–quite a lot to add into a teen romance. And this one gets a bit steamy.

5. The ending – It’s the perfect ending to start off a series. I wanted more but didn’t feel like I was left on a total cliffhanger. I will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

If anyone out there reading this has taken a liking to that swag pack, let me know! I’m going to keep the book, but if you’d like the patch or Vale Hall letter/syllabus, I’d be happy to mail it to someone. Just send me a note in the comments or email me. First person to ask gets it, but please North America.

After the Book Deal, Revising, Writing, Young Adult, Your Life Has Been Delayed

After the Book Deal: Next Steps

So, it’s been a couple of months since my book deal was announced, and invariably I get the same question from friends and family when I tell them my book will be coming out in winter 2021:

Why is it so far away???

Um, do you know how much goes into publishing a book? If you haven’t been through it, probably not. I’m learning as I go along, so I will share my experience, which won’t be the same as everyone’s.

What I can tell you are the steps so far.

First, there was a ton of celebrating because I HAD A BOOK DEAL!! There are times when this still doesn’t feel like a real thing. After querying agents for so many years, then signing quickly with Elizabeth and then Bloomsbury for this book, it was quite a crazy ride. However, I will never forget–and I don’t want anyone else to either–that there were seven years of learning and building up my skills that happened before that whirlwind. Sure, there are writers who get there with their first book, but it’s not the norm. Sorry if that seems like a downer, but even though I’m an optimist, I’m also a realist. Thus the feeling of unreality.

Next, there was the waiting for the announcement. Oh, did you think the deal got announced the day we agreed to it? Nope, that’s not how these things work. You have to keep it SECRET until things are all tied up and ready to be announced publicly. Let me tell you, it’s really hard not to hire a skywriter to fly around with a huge sign saying “I HAVE A BOOK DEAL.” But then, once the announcement is out, there’s a whole other round of celebrating with all of the writing friends you’ve made along the journey, and that’s a ton of fun.

Then, it’s time to get to work. Woohoo! I mean, you didn’t think revisions were over once a publisher buys your book? Personally, I love revising, and I’d talked to my editor before we signed about what she had in mind for the book, so I had an idea what to expect. There was just one teensy little glitch. My editorial letter arrived the same day as these:

Yep, I’m the cookie mom for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Now, lest you think my editor is a horrible task master, I never told her this was happening at the same time–or that my daughter’s talent show also got rescheduled during this same window and I was running rehearsals for her act. Or planning friend and family birthday parties for my son. Um, yeah, February and March were absolutely CRAZY. And the weather didn’t help, as things kept getting canceled and rescheduled, including the cookie season getting extended an extra week so that I ended up having to finalize cookie sales the same day I turned in my edits. I was leaving for vacation the next day, and I was about to lose my mind. But, the thing is … I like deadlines. And I REALLY wanted to turn in my first-round revisions before I left for vacation. Because when I did leave on vacation and had nothing left hanging over me, it was AMAZING. It felt like a huge reward for everything I’d finished. I’m so glad I didn’t ask for an extension (which my editor totally would have given me because she’s awesome).

But anyway, back to the edits themselves. I’m sure you’re wondering what it’s like to revise with an editor. It’s fantastic but challenging–as it should be. When you get to this point, your book is going out into the world. It’d better be ready for that. My editor asked in-depth questions and told me this was just the beginning of what we’d be working on, so I know there will be more work to do. I read through her notes, and then we talked on the phone before I started revising. How did I tackle my revisions with all those other distractions going on?

First of all, I kept my online activities to a minimum during the five weeks I was revising. If you were here on my blog you saw reviews every week, but that was misleading, as I scheduled all of those before my edits and the cookies arrived on Feb. 13. I even took photos and drafted captions for Instagram posts in advance so I could just post them on the days the reviews went live. I was on Twitter some the first couple of weeks, but after that it was mainly just to lead people back to my reviews on the blog or give updates on my revision progress as I didn’t want to disappear completely. I actually turned my phone upside down so I wouldn’t see notifications.

Next, in case you’re new here or just need a reminder, I do EVERYTHING in Scrivener, so I imported the document from my editor into my Scrivener file. It included all of the questions from my editor, the notes I’d made in response, plus the notes from our phone conversation. Then, I made a revision checklist. This checklist was a compilation of both little items I could check off quickly and major things I needed to fix–like rewrite the ending :). What works best for me is to start with the biggest items first and work down to the smaller items for a couple of reasons. One: they will take the most time and then they are out of the way. Two: I will have the most distance from those items when I get to the bottom of the list and am reading back through everything to see if I nailed them or they still need more work.

So, as you perhaps guessed from what I stated above, I did not revise linearly, by reading straight through the manuscript and tackling items as they popped up. Instead, I addressed each big-picture item individually, which Scrivener makes so much easier to do than, say, Word. I’ve blogged about this before, but the way that I did this was by using the Collections feature. I had already created collections for various subplots in the book (the love interest, the best friend, the antagonist, etc.), so it was easy to click into those collections and revise just those sections. Sometimes notes on these areas overlapped and so when I went into another subplot I’d already tackled something, and that was just a bonus :). This worked really well because by the time I got to the read-through, I had some distance from those big-picture items and could ensure the continuity was working.

Another feature I made use of during revisions was the split-screen option, for several purposes. I could pull up my notes from my editor while working on a scene to compare what I was doing to what we’d discussed. Or sometimes I would pull up two different scenes to compare how I was foreshadowing a particular incident or if I wanted to move something how it impacted the other scene. Or just keep my checklist open while I was working through scenes. Super helpful!

Does this mean my book is ready to go? Ha ha ha! There’s the answer to that question: Why is it so far away???

Because next I will have another round of edits. If you were reading closely, you saw that my editor said this was just the first round of changes she wanted to address. As I was working on the edits, I could totally see that there were areas we weren’t touching yet, and maybe that was because they were fine, but maybe that was because they were for the next level of edits. Plus, once you make a round of changes, you always open yourself up to potential new issues. It’s the nature of the beast.

But I’m excited because I know this book is getting better and better. I’ll continue to update here as I go through the publishing process. I’m not sure if I will approach revisions any differently the next time around, but if I do, I’ll be sure to share. At least I shouldn’t have cookies to deal with. But you know what? There will probably be something else, and that’s okay because I actually thrive on that sort of pressure. Bring it on! The payoff is worth it.

Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

ENCHANTÉE and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Hello, friends! I have returned from vacation, where I spent many hours reading, and once again I find I’ve built up a few mini-reviews on Instagram and even one on Twitter, so I’m going to compile them here. Before vacation, I was in a total daze from a combination of my first round of edits and serving as the cookie mom for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I’m actually planning a post about what happens after the book deal for later this week, but on to the mini-reviews!

Despite being far from eighteenth century France on the beach in Cozumel—or the Belize countryside, or my cabin in the middle of the Caribbean Sea—I felt completely entrenched in the setting of ENCHANTÉE thanks to the beautiful writing of Gita Trelease (at one point my kids were begging me to play Spades, and I was like, “No, there’s a duel happening!”). I thoroughly enjoyed how magic was mixed into the history of the French Revolution, plus there’s a lovely romance thrown in, along with the main character making increasingly terrible choices. The ending was quite satisfying as well. Highly recommend!


So, I picked up Brigid Kemmerer’s A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY because she’s a fellow Bloomsbury author and I had been hearing great things about this book. WOW, WOW, WOW! I was in the middle of my edits, and when I’m not on deadline, I usually stop working about an hour before the kids get home to read every day. I SOOO wanted to do that with this book, but I resisted because I knew I had to finish my edits before vacation. Instead, I ended up reading the last half of this book on a Friday night into Saturday. Oh my goodness, the twists, the romance, the stakes! If I hadn’t been so entrenched in edits and Girl Scout cookies, I would have written a full review here on the blog. (But, Michelle, you did have full reviews on the blog during those weeks, you might say. Guess what? All written and scheduled before Feb. 11.)


 

Somehow I read all of THE DATE TO SAVE by Stephanie Kate Strohm without realizing its connection to IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU, despite the fact the latter was one of my favorite reads in 2016. Let’s blame it on the 189 books I read in between—although it made soo much sense when I read the acknowledgments why certain aspects of the book seemed familiar. Like the interview format and variety of voices and the humor. Plus this one included a fun mystery. I recommend you read the two together, which is what I’ll do when I come back to them again in the future. And isn’t that the best sort of recommendation—that you want to read a book again?


I started reading LEGENDARY over Christmas break and actually finished it on Christmas evening, as the kids were all running around the house. As I expected, I am now on tenterhooks awaiting FINALE. LEGENDARY included all of the gorgeous writing and page-turning twists of CARAVAL (one of my favorite reads of 2017) but had a different sort of tone coming from the viewpoint of Tella instead of Scarlett. As a result, the romance was a bit more steamy, but it fit Tella’s character completely, and I’m quite curious to discover how the romances of both girls will conclude in the final installment. Not to mention all the other threads left hanging … Is it May yet??


I thoroughly enjoyed SEALED WITH A SECRET by Lisa Schroeder. A companion to MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS, which I reviewed in 2017, this book follows Phoebe through London as she tries to fulfill the steps of a magic spell she finds in an antique makeup compact. It’s full of friendship, sisterly struggles, other family dynamics, and London sights. I’ll be holding on to this one for my daughter to read in a year or two!


Okay, that’s it for now, but I may have a full review next Monday. We’ll see how the rest of the book I’m reading shapes up :). Happy reading, everyone!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody

I’ve been on quite the reading/review spree lately! Honestly, though, it feels fantastic, because for a while I felt like I had read quite a few books that I liked but didn’t wholeheartedly love and want to review. Anyway, the cover of IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody first caught my attention, but I’ve also read other books by the author and so knew I would be in for a good story, especially once I read the description. Here goes.

In Some Other Life by Jessica BrodyThree years ago, Kennedy Rhodes secretly made the most important decision of her life. She declined her acceptance to the prestigious Windsor Academy to attend the local public school with her long-time crush, who had finally asked her out. It seems it was the right choice—she and Austin are still together, and Kennedy is now the editor-in-chief of the school’s award-winning newspaper. But then Kennedy’s world is shattered when she walks in on Austin kissing her best friend and she wonders if maybe her life would have been better if she’d made the other choice. As fate would have it, she’s about to find out . . .

The very next day, Kennedy hits her head and mysteriously awakes as a student of the Windsor Academy. And not just any student: Kennedy is top of her class, she’s popular, she has the coolest best friend around, and she’s practically a shoe-in for Columbia University. But as she navigates her new world, she starts to question if this alternate version of herself is really as happy as everyone seems to believe. Or is it possible this Kennedy is harboring secrets and regrets of her own?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – What if you could see how your life would look if you chose differently? Everyone has something in their life that they wish they’d done differently–because no one makes perfect choices all the time. But the trick is: would you really be better off? It’s such an interesting question. I loved watching it play out.

2. Frankie – I love Kennedy’s little brother. He’s the perfect constant in both worlds. It’s adorable how he keeps asking her questions to try and figure out how he’s different in the other reality, when what neither of them realizes is that she needs him to be the same.

3. Kennedy’s dad – I also love Kennedy’s dad and the role he plays, particularly in the original version of her life, but the contrast in the second life is an important part of her character growth. I just appreciate it when parents are portrayed in a positive light, and Kennedy’s dad is a really great character.

4. The newspaper – Kennedy’s devotion to her newspaper, The Southwest Star, is admirable on a couple of levels. One, it’s something she’s super-passionate about. And two, it shows her determination and dedication to succeed. These qualities manifest in both realities but result in different outcomes.

5. The ending – I have to admit I wasn’t completely satisfied with one aspect of the ending on the relationship side, but overall I really liked how the ending resolved from the point of Kennedy growing as a person and figuring out where she’d made mistakes in both realities so she could be stronger where she ended up. Can you choose a different life? Well, I’m not going to tell you the answer to that. But you can definitely choose to be a better person.

Is there some choice in your life you wish you could see the other option play out? There’s a particular post-graduate scholarship I went for that I feel like I tried the wrong route. I don’t regret it because if I’d gone the other route and gotten it, I might not have moved back to Missouri and met my husband. But I guess I’ll never know. That could have been my IN SOME OTHER LIFE!