2013 Favorite Books

I always want to read more books than I can squeeze in a year, and 2013 was no exception.

First off, my final tally for the year: 58 books total. Last year, I read 59. However, this year, I finally started to not finish books I wasn’t loving. On top of the 58 books, I started another 30-40 books. I usually give a book a good 50 pages before bailing, but I found I was sometimes getting as far as 100 pages before deciding it’s not for me. I also skimmed a bunch more books for research purposes, but I didn’t include those in my count either.

So how did the 58 books break down? Probably not surprisingly, the vast majority were YA. The deets:

  • YA: 39
  • Adult: 10
  • Non-fiction: 4
  • MG: 3
  • New Adult: 1
  • YA in Spanish: 1

I had quite a few favorite books this year, and I’ve been recommending some in my Twofer Tuesday posts throughout the year, like these two great YA page-turners. I also read quite a few great adult books, including THE NIGHT CIRCUS (mind-blowingly amazing!), THE EXPATS (fast-paced and thrilling!), and THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND (tragically beautiful!).

As wonderful as so many books I read last year were, my absolutely favorite book of 2013 was one that spoke to me right from page one–one of those books that seemed like it was written expressly for me: FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal.


The voice blew me away, the writing was gorgeous, and the characters real. I already can’t wait to read it again. If you’re looking for a modern day fairy tale, I simply can’t recommend this book enough.

Happy reading, and happy 2014!!!

Children’s Poetry Blog Hop

My amazing friend and soon-to-be debut young adult author Jaye Robin Brown tagged me to participate in a blog hop about children’s poetry. Thrilling! I adore poetry!

But, hmm, children’s poetry? I have to admit, I was never a fan of the typical happy, sing-songy poetry as a child, unless you count the craziness of Dr. Seuss, because crazy is pretty awesome.

However! As a linguist and trilingual mom, I’m going to pick one snippet from each language that together represent my poetic tastes for children.

First off, English. THE GASHLYCRUMB TINIES by Edward Gorey is one of my favorite books because of the illustrations as much as the text. How can you not love something that begins like this?

A is for AMY who fell down the stairs.

B is for BORIS devoured by bears.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the book takes us through an alphabet of children who met their untimely demise by at least somewhat gruesome means. Well worth a read!

In German, my favorite is the classic DER STRUWELPETER by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann.

Filled with macabre tales of misbehaving children who suffer the consequences of their actions, these stories are filled with morals like, “Eat your soup, or you will die!” and “Don’t suck your thumbs, or the thumb-cutter will come and cut them off!” My favorite tells the story of Paulinchen, who decides to play with matches:

Paulinchen war allein zu Haus,
die Eltern waren beide aus.
Als sie nun durch das Zimmer sprang
mit leichtem Mut und Sing und Sang,
da sah sie plötzlich vor sich stehn
ein Feuerzeug, nett anzusehn.

Needless to say, things don’t end all that well for Paulinchen:


Finally, Spanish. We have a wonderful book, FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA PARA NIÑOS, and interestingly, my girls’ favorite poem, Muerte de Antoñito el Camborio, is about the murder of a young man, Antoñito, by his four cousins. But it’s such a gorgeous, haunting poem!

Voces de muerte sonaron
cerca de Guadalquivir.

Voces antiguas quecercan
voz de clavel varonil.

Hope these are some interesting examples! Now on to the interview questions:

1. Who was your favorite poet as a child?

Well, I didn’t much like traditional children’s poetry, and I didn’t discover any of the gems above until I was older, but I would have loved those three if I knew about them then.

2. Who is your favorite poet now?

Rainer Maria Rilke definitely gets top honors, but I have some other favorites, including Pablo Neruda and Sylvia Plath.

3. Is there a song you consider to be poetry?

I’d argue that most songs are in fact poetry, but arguments aside, I’ve been listening to Debussy’s Clair de Lune a lot recently, which was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name. It begins:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.


I’m tagging another poetry fan and writing buddy, Angelina Hansen. Hope you can post your favorite children’s poems (or one of your own!) and thoughts next Friday for the blog hop!

Twofer Tuesday: Comp Titles

For the uninitiated, “comp titles,” or “comparison titles” are titles of books that you or your publisher think are similar to your manuscript in some way. For a couple of great posts on comp titles, check out this post on Pimp My Novel and this post on Taryn Albright’s blog.

I’m always on the lookout for comp titles–partially because I like to read what I like to write, but also because I don’t want to suffer the agony of finding an already-published book just like mine out there after putting all the effort into it. I recently read two great comp titles. They couldn’t be more different from each other, but that’s fine because they’e for two different manuscripts. One is a comp for my completed ms I’m shopping (see Currently Querying) and the other is a comp for my current WIP (see this blog post).

The idea of the first book, a YA novel called RADIANT DAYS by Elizabeth Hand, captured my attention before I even read it. An art student in the 1970s whose life intersects with 19th Century poet Arthur Rimbaud? Yes, please!

Once I began reading, I was swept away. Told in alternating POV chapters (1st person for the art student Merle, and 3rd for Rimbaud), the reader is immediately drawn into each character’s passion to create art. I particularly loved the lyrical voice Hand uses to bring the two worlds of these characters together through their art:

I closed my eyes, and for the first time realized how a poem might be like a painting, each word a brushstroke, a color or flash of motion: words combined the way I mixed pigments, or slashed a sun across a wall in arcs of neon below.

Another brilliant character in the manuscript is the vagrant fishing at the edge of the river on both character’s worlds–an Orpheus-like character whose presence brings Merle and Rimbaud together. Merle, who’s lost her home, her girlfriend, and her collection of sketches, doesn’t know where to begin again since she’s lost everything. The vagrant’s response?

“Screw that, Little Fly. You lost everything? Big fucking deal. Boo hoo. You said you were an artist, right? Well, this is where it starts to get interesting.”

The second didn’t really end up being a comp title after all, but I had to read it to find out–and I’m glad I did. VOICES by Arnaldur Indridason is a police thriller for adults set in Iceland. Basically, a thriller set in Iceland? My kind of book.

It was a total page-turner, but was set in a hotel in Reykjavík and didn’t have the MC getting out all that much. However, it was pretty cool to see all the awesome Icelandic names and drool over the buffet meals.

He walked past the table and admired the herring, smoked lamb, cold ham, ox tongue and all the trimmings, and the delicious desserts, ice cream, cream cakes and chocolate mousse, or whatever it was. 

While it didn’t turn out to be a comp title for me, it’s always great to read a master at setting up mystery and suspense. We weren’t sure until the end who had committed the murder in the first chapter–tons of twists and red herrings. And lots of cool woolen sweaters.

Non-dusty Historicals

While I personally love all kinds of historical fiction, I also adore the trend people have recently coined “non-dusty historical fiction.” Sounds exciting, right? Thrilling, even!

But what exactly does “non-dusty historical” mean?

A few examples I think fit this term:

  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (YA, WWII, narrated by Death, possibly my favorite book ever. Read it, read it, read it! Oh, and yeah, here’s what the author signed in my copy when I met him at an SCBWI event in Munich.)

  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (YA, medieval French nuns who are also assassins. Um, hello?)
  • Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen (YA, retelling of Robin Hood by a female member of his gang with one amaaaazing voice.)
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Adult, Fitzgerald-esque portrayal of a twenty-something girl on the rise in New York with some of the most beautiful writing I’ve read this year)

These books are historical but don’t read like traditional historical. In each of these books, the fiction–the story itself–is what draws the readers in, with its voice, characters, or the thrill of an exciting plot that happens to be set in the past because that’s when it would have happened.

If you’re not convinced that there are historicals out there that offer as much of a thrill ride as some of the exciting sci-fi and dystopian stories out there, read this great post by J. Anderson Coats over on the Corsets and Cutlasses blog–btw a great new blog for historical fiction fans: http://corsetsandcutlasses.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/notonthequiz/

I think you’ll agree that “non-dusty historical” is definitely a thing, and a thing worth reading. Bonus points for suggesting other must read examples.!

September #Wipmadness Week 4!

It’s hard to believe we began last week with the midpoint of the month and we’ll close this week with the month’s end. This whole month flew by for me, but I ended up hitting my15K new words goal this past weekend! Since I’m on a roll, I’m going for 6K more this week so I can finish up the month with a nice, even 50K total. How are you all doing on your goals?

No mater how you did, I hope you’re still trying. It’s so motivating for me to see your shining faces here each week. We’ve been discussing what inspires us to work on our WIPs this month, and this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about one more great source of inspiration: you all, my #wipmadness writing buddies.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me to share the joys and challenges of the writing life with you all. I’ve read many of your wonderful manuscripts, cheered for you when you got agents (OK, sometimes screamed for you when you got agents!), and gave or gotten virtual hugs at the bumps on the road. Writing may be very solitary, but I definitely need this support network to motivate me as much as I need my WIP to inspire me on its own. So a huge thank-you to all of you!

And on that note, this week’s prize goes to:


Congratulations! Just let me know which book you want: Circle 9 or The Breakup Bible.

Hope you continue to find all kinds of wonderful inspiration–and writing friends–all around you. And best of luck racing to the finish line this last week of September!

Twofer Tuesday: Novels With Beautiful, Beautiful Writing

I read a lot, and what makes me love a book more than anything else is beautiful writing. I’d be the type of agent (if I were ever an agent, which I wouldn’t be) who’s ask for literary, lyrical novels. The kind of novel that knocks me over with that type of prose is rare, and when I find one, I just want to hold it and savor each delicious word.

Unbelievably, I came across not one but two such novels (both debuts) in the past few weeks and I feel compelled to recommend them: RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles and THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS by Rinsai Rossetti.

RULES OF CIVILITY is a novel for adults, which means that just picking it up was a surprise for me, as I normally don’t even bother with books for adults since there are so many great YA novels on my TBR list. This is only the second book for adults I’ve read this entire year. Yet the first pages pulled me in with its atmospheric details and the writing made me weep with its beauty. There were so many zingers in this book I couldn’t possibly note them all, but I have to share one that sums up the tone of this gorgeous book:

For what was civilization but the intellect’s ascendancy out of the doldrums of necessity (shelter, sustenance and survival) into the ether or the finely superfluous (poetry, handbags and haute cuisine)?

The entire book is this beautiful. The. Entire. Book.

THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS is a likewise gorgeously-written flight that had me sobbing by the end, and again, not so much by the engaging plot and complex characters, but by the beautiful prose. This might be the best-written romantic tension I have ever read, and it goes on and on in the most wonderful and perfectly believable tease. With that in mind, a teaser for you:

But having him beside me, with my father’s itch clawing into my back, my fingers shaky because of what I had just put them through, and things beating to and fro, in one direction then another, inside of me, was already more than I could stand.

Can you even stand waiting for more? I devoured this book in one sitting.

I’m already looking forward to more books from both of these authors and in the meantime, these books have edged their way into my short list of favorite books of all time. It’s been a pretty good month to be a reader. 🙂 Hope you enjoy them, too!


Yippee for Week 2 of September #Wipmadness!

Big cheers for everyone who made it to Week 2 of September #wipmadness and hello to anyone joining us! I hope you’re all feeling proud of the progress you made in Week 1–large or small. To celebrate, I tossed your names in my trusty Sox cap and picked a winner for last week’s book:

Deb Marshall step right up!

Just let me know your address and which book you’d like (Circle Nine, League of Strays, The Breakup Bible, or The Forest for the Trees) and I’ll send it off to you. Everyone else, be sure to comment for your chance to win this week!

Continuing with this month’s theme of WIP love, I thought I’d dive into the world of visual inspiration and tempt you all with some photos from my trip to Iceland that have been inspiring me while drafting my current WIP.

Viking ship replica

Blue Lagoon


Heading to Laugardalslaug

Geothermal greenhouses

Although I didn’t get to spend as much time in Iceland as I’d like (which means a return trip must be in my future), I love going there in my imagination every day, and images like this help remind me what a haunting place it is.

What kind of visuals motivate you in your current WIP? I’d love to take a look at any links to pinterest boards, artwork, photos, colors, or textures that have been an inspiration! While you’re at it, feel free to share how you’re doing on your #wipmadness goal for the month!

Welcome to Week 1 of September #Wipmadness!

First off, a quick introduction to any of you in the interwebs not familiar with the glory of #wipmadness. In March of 2011, Denise Jaden kicked off a “March Madness” writing challenge filled with blog hops every day of the month to motivate fellow writers to work on their goals: writing, revising, and even reading. Over on twitter, there was this strange basketball thing going on at the same time, so we had to hunt for a unique hashtag and thus #wipmadness was born.

#Wipmadness was so majorly awesome that other writers started volunteering to host a month-long weekly check-in on their blogs so that the madness could continue. The best part is that it’s never too late to join in. If you’re working on a WIP and could use a little motivation, you have come to the right group!

Like many of the hosts before me, I’m also going to be offering up PRIZES for lucky commenters on the blog this month. I’ve got four awesome books to share (three YA novels and one on craft) and will send one out each week.

If that’s not enough, we’ll be chatting here this month about the things that make us love our projects! *hugs project* Last week, YA Highway asked about our project’s Love List, and I thoroughly enjoyed coming up with my own list and reading the cool lists that other contributors posted. I’m going to be continuing my draft on that project this month with a goal of 15K new words, and I couldn’t be happier. Who wouldn’t want to spend a month in virtual Iceland?

What about you, Wipsters? Care to share an item or two from your own WIP Love List? Anyone else have specific goals for the month? I’d love to hear them!


Twofer Tuesday: MG Novels with a Side of Tissues

For anyone who missed my last Twofer Tuesday on two great Tudor YA novels, I’ve started up a Twofer Tuesday blog series on two books I’ve read and can’t wait to recommend. Up this week: two Middle Grade novels that had me in tears by the end. Trust me–this is a good thing. I adore a book that makes me cry.

While the vast majority of books I read are YA, I read a good share of MG novels this summer. Without a doubt, my two favorites were FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Dias Lorenzi and ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Both of these novels are about the characters fitting in when they find themselves in almost unimaginably difficult situations, and both authors did a remarkable job making us care so much about them that their pain becomes our pain.

In FLYING THE DRAGON, Hiroshi must leave his native Japan behind to move to America with his parents and grandfather, who needs treatment for cancer not available in Japan. But Hiroshi isn’t the only one who has to make sacrifices. His cousin Skye must serve as his interpreter in school and spend her Saturdays in Japanese school instead of soccer practice as she tries to get to know the grandfather Hiroshi’s known his whole life–before it’s too late.

Carley in ONE FOR THE MURPHYS also must leave her home behind after an incident sends her to a hospital and then a foster home–while her mom still recovers in the hospital. As Carley struggles to fit in with her new family and new best friend, she comes to realize how much she loves her new life. At the same time, she must acknowledge her feelings about her less-than-perfect mom–which get all the more complicated as her memories of the incident return.

I’d love to hear about more recommendations for other tissue-worthy MG reads. In the meantime, hope you love these books as much as I did. But keep the tissues handy when you read them!

Twofer Tuesday: Tudor YA Novels

Welcome to my new blog series! I’m starting this to introduce some great sets of twofers: two books I’ve read and want to recommend.

I got the idea for this series when I recently finished two great Tudor-themed YA novels: GILT by Katherine Longshore and TRANSCENDENCE by C.J. Omololu. On the one hand, these books couldn’t be more different (details below), but I loved them both for different reasons, so anyone else fascinated with that time period will probably love them, too!

GILT is historical fiction at its best. From the first page, I was pulled into the head of Kitty Tylney, best friend to Catherine Howard, the fifth of the infamous Henry VIII’s wives. The details of life at this time and place, the intrigue of the situation in which she finds herself, the conflicted loyalty she feels–WOW! I had to restrain myself from looking up the facts that formed the basis for this story in Alison Weir’s THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VII until I finished.

TRANSCENDENCE is a great contemporary YA that pulls us into different times and places with likewise vivid details, including recurring visits to the Tower of London in Tudor England. Main character Cole’s swoon-worthy romance with Griffon that spans lifetimes makes this book worthy of a read in itself, but when combined with the intriguing mystery Cole uncovers of a cello rival in her past–and present–I couldn’t pass the pages quickly enough.

Any other great Tudor YA reads out there? I’d love to see some more recommendations to add to my TBR pile!