Another Win and New Release

I found out Finding Frances placed 1st in the YA Novel category of the NEST (National Excellence in StoryTelling) contest run by the Central Region Oklahoma Writers. You can check out the winners page. So that’s nice, too. 

But bigger news is that I’ve released a new book, on the new serial platform, Kindle Vella. This is the Sarah stories, which I’m now collectively calling Always the New Girl. I released it as seven separate stories, as #1 (Now Would Be Good) through #6 (The Weight of Choices) plus the prequel (Binding Off). If you are interested in reading it, you can search for my name or the series name on the Vella page linked above. To read the entire series, you’ll have have to have 703 tokens, which you should be able to get with the free 200 and a purchase of 525 for $4.99. I’d love it if you could:

  • Follow the story
  • Like each episode
  • Review the story
  • Fave the story (you can only do one a week, and only after you’ve purchased tokens)

One downside to this is that you can’t read on an actual Kindle, only in the app or on the website. But I’m really hoping this takes off a little and gets me new readers for Finding Frances (probably wishful thinking, but why not?). 

Review: One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

One Great Lie book coverI’ve been in the worst reading slump lately. From early March until a couple weeks ago, I read only one novel, and it was really hard to get through (not the novel’s fault—it was all me). But I’ve been wanting to break out, so I picked up Caletti’s newest. I started it on Friday and was so sucked in that I finished it the next day. It may have broken the slump (I’m hoping), as I’ve read another book since then, too.

So what made One Great Lie a reading-slump-breaker? Well, obviously it was good, which isn’t surprising given Caletti’s strong track record. This one starts in Seattle, too, with a girl, Charlotte, who has ancestral ties to a Renaissance poet named Isabella di Angelo. Her family had held on to a published book by the poet for centuries. Charlotte herself is a passionate writer and is a little fixated on understanding Isabella, whose association with a much more famous male poet overshadowed her own work. Charlotte’s trying to write a paper about Isabella for a class, but can’t find any information about her. 

This quest is important, but the story really gets started when Charlotte somewhat impulsively applies for a summer multi-week writing workshop in Venice with a very well-known author everyone, including Charlotte, admires. To her shock, she gets in and even earns a scholarship, the only way she could go. 

But things do not go quite as she expected. As one of the youngest there, she still befriends several of the other participants and they all learn that the author is … let’s say he’s complicated and very flawed. But she has an equally important other task while she’s in Venice: she is set on finding out more about Isabella, who was from the city. As the story unfolds, there’s a clear parallel between the horrible historical treatment of women and the gender-based challenges that Charlotte and other girls and women face nowadays. 

Caletti tackles another feminist issue in this book without sacrificing story in any way. I loved watching the tale of Isabella unfolding, and Charlotte’s friendships with local Dante and the other workshop participants are great to see. She had no idea she’d have to step up and do something really difficult and face unfair consequences, but she rises to the challenge and I enjoyed seeing how that happened. 

I loved this book, as I’ve implied, and highly recommend it if you like quality contemporary YA that addresses social issues. 

Another Contest Update

So I know I posted last week after ages, so posting again one week later is a little odd… but I found out Finding Frances got another award, an Independent Publisher Book Award (an “IPPY”). This is another one with tons of categories, but it’s still nice to get some more recognition. Last year they had close to 5000 entries (I couldn’t find this year’s number). This time the book placed third (in another tie—what the heck is up with that?) in the Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction E-book category, which can be seen on this page. 

On the heels of these wins, I felt emboldened enough to apply for another BookBub Featured Deal. And got a big fat rejection a couple days later. So I’ve signed up for another Bargain Booksy deal for June 26 (the ebook version will be on sale for 99 cents from June 25 through July 1, in case that is of interest to anyone... anyone?). Because I found out—and it’s a little embarrassing to write this, but whatever—I have not sold a single book in 2021. A couple books (maybe 3?) sold on Amazon, but apparently they had a few in stock, so not a single one has been purchased from the publisher (I did confirm this with them). No Kindle or other ebook, either. I knew this was going to be hard, but not this hard. Ugh.

Maybe if I can make some progress with the Sarah stories, starting with “Now Would Be Good,” on Kindle Vella, I’ll get some new readers for Finding Frances. I mean, it can’t make things any worse, as it’s not possible to have a negative number of readers. Also from the department of maybe-not-bad news: I heard from my developmental editor on this book that she started reading this past week, so I’m hoping she’s as fast as she’s been in the past, and I get it back in a week or two. I can get “Now Would Be Good” ready to post pretty quickly, as I’m not going to worry about sending it to a copy editor first since it’s been gone over so many times as part of my thesis and more. I am still going to send the whole book to a copy editor, so if they do find anything wrong with that story, I can always update the text later. The only thing that will slow me down is if my developmental editor suggests any major structural changes that impact that story (or anything that comes later but I need to set up there). 

Random image: here’s a self-portrait I had to do for a class. My mom says it’s “frownier” than the photo I drew it from. Maybe I was subconsciously depicting how I feel about my less-than-stellar writing career? 

May 2021 Update

So it’s been a couple months since my last post. Although my break has actually been kind of nice, I’m in a weird place. I haven’t been able to read YA lately (or anything other than picture books, really). Still, things have changed a little since then. I decided to send Ugly to a developmental editor my book coach recommended, as she thinks this editor could make the difference for me. So I’m going to give it one more shot. I should get it back from her soon, and then I’ll have to dive in. 

Additionally, I’ve decided to clean up the Sarah stories and publish them through Kindle Vella, which is a new serial platform that hasn’t been released yet, but is coming soon. This book is odd and was always going to be hard to sell. But it’s perfect for serialization, because it’s always been a novel in parts, where each part is a self-contained story, with all of them adding up to a larger story. So each novel part can be one “story” in Kindle Vella, with each chapter (or maybe a few chapters) making up an “episode”. Here’s an article if you’re interested in learning more about Kindle Vella. I’m in the process of finishing up the full draft (meeting with my critique partner today to go over the revised last story), and I’ll make any needed changes and send it to a developmental editor this week. Then, once I make any of her recommended changes, I’ve still got to send it to a copy editor (I could skip this step, but I probably shouldn’t—though I might be able to get away with it for the first one, since it’s been edited so heavily in preparation for going into my thesis). I’m still hoping to get the first story (I’m starting with “Now Would Be Good,” which is technically the second story chronologically, but I’m planning to do the actual first one at the end, as a prequel) published on Vella before it releases, but that probably won’t happen. But I can hope. 

I also found out that Finding Frances has won an indie award called the Next Generation Indie Book Award. There hasn’t been a press release yet, but I was notified earlier and you can see the list here. Once they’ve officially announced it, it will show up on this page. The book tied for first place in the First Novel (70k-90k) category. Now, this award isn’t exactly prestigious and there are a million categories, and I really would have rather placed in the YA category, but it’s still really nice to get some recognition. Somebody somewhere thinks it’s a good book, even if nobody is buying it. Also, the prize is $100, which I assume they’ll split in half since it was a tie. Which increases my income from this book by more than 50%. This book hasn’t exactly been a rousing success. 

Other than that, I haven’t been working on any other YA stories, instead focusing on my picture book venture. I’ve got two different drafts that are coming along nicely, and another new one I wrote a first draft of on Friday. I’m going to be starting drawing up thumbnails for the first one, even though it’s going to be a while before I can actually do the artwork. I’m taking Life Drawing this term, and let’s just say my ability to draw people… needs to develop a little. 

Here is a sketch I did in my Life Drawing class that doesn't suck.

 

A Change

So I’ve made a decision. Despite years of my best efforts, I can’t get anywhere with the gatekeepers in YA publishing. So I’ve decided to stop writing YA, as it’s not worth continuing to put this much energy into something when there’s no hope of getting what I want out of it. Ugly was supposed to be the one that got me an agent, because it’s exactly what they’re all claiming they want: something diverse and different. But despite over 115 queries to agents on it, fewer than five requested anything, and nobody’s giving me anything but form rejections (most don’t respond at all). I do still have one full out on it—my only thing out there, which she’s had since December—so maybe I’ll change my mind if she decides to take me on. But that is unlikely, given my track record so far. I’m 95% done with the Now Would Be Good stories, but that is virtually unsellable because it starts when the main character is 13 and ends the summer she’s 18. Nobody buys YA with protagonists that young, at least not without some serious convincing. I’ve always known this was a problem, but I thought I’d have a chance with it if I could get an agent on Ugly, which for so long I believed would happen. I’ve been working on Sadie Speaks, too, and my book coach thinks this one could make it, but from what I’ve been hearing at conferences, the YA suspense/thriller market’s saturated and it’s hard for new writers to break in. 

I’m still debating what to do about the romances I write under a pen name, because those I’ve long planned to self-publish, so I don’t need to convince anyone I’m worth looking at there. But I never cared about those as much as my YA, so I don’t know.

As you might have noticed from my blog here lately, I’ve already been sort of shifting my focus to my art and learning how to make picture books, so I’m just going to make that my only real focus. 

I’m not sure what this means for this site. I don’t plan to delete everything, but I’m not sure if it makes sense to switch to talking only about picture books when it’s been so focused on YA for so long. Do I start reviewing the picture books I’m reading here, or should I make a new site for that? I have no idea. I am planning to publish any picture books I make under my real name, so maybe I should just keep the site as it is and change what I blog about. It’s hard to know. 

I guess I’ll just figure it out later. 

Feeling bit lost at the moment…

Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

The Weight of Stars book coverThe premise of this quiet book is really interesting. A couple of decades earlier, a private space company send a bunch of young women on a one-way trip out of the solar system. While I do not in any way see the appeal of this, it is an interesting concept and I’m sure there are people who would sign up.

Alexandria, the daughter of one of them—born right before they left and given to her surprised father—appears at Ryann’s school one day. Ryann is sort of a tough girl, and sort of a peacemaker. Early on, she’s tasked with befriending Alexandria. She doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot, but after Alexandria gets injured in an accident sort of indirectly caused by Ryann and her friends, Ryann figures out a way to make it up to her, and they eventually work out their differences. Their friendship develops in some complex ways.

There are some really interesting diverse representations in the book: lesbians, Black and Sikh characters, and polyamorous parents. And Ryann’s younger brother has a son. So there’s a good range of characters in here, as everyone in Ryann’s friend group is different from each other. The only thing I should mention is that I did have trouble with some of the characterization. There were several times in the books where the characters would do things that I didn’t expect and that didn’t quite seem to make sense, based on what I knew of them. So there were decisions made that seemed jarring to me. 

However, a lot of people really love this book, so I think the characterization must not have bumped for everyone. So if you’re looking for a quiet book with a variety of different characters and a unique space theme, check this one out.  

Review: Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner

Dear Rachel Maddow book coverThis is a book I picked up for one of my reading challenges, but I was looking forward to it even though I’m not a huge fan of epistolary novels. But I like Rachel Maddow and she always reminds me of an old friend, so I figured it would be a good read. 

Brynn has become an under-achieving student since her older brother died and left her alone with her weak-willed mother and horrible stepfather. On top of that, she was dumped by her girlfriend over the summer. She’s in remedial classes despite being smart and eloquent because she can’t muster the will to do anything better. The one thing she loved was being on the school paper, but she was kicked off when her GPA slipped too low. She wants back on the paper, but not quite enough to do anything about it. When something happens at school that finally gets her riled up enough to do something, she surprises everyone—but she surprises herself the most. 

There are a lot of great characters in the book, some good, some bad. Brynn’s ex-girlfriend Sarah is stuck-up, her tutor Lacey is a great friend (and in a wheelchair), Justin from the paper wants her to figure out how to come back, Michaela the hot new girl has a secret past, and Adam is the school’s resident nasty and entitled future politician. Her mom and stepfather are easy to dislike and her new older friends are easy to like, even if they don’t feature in the story too much. 

You might wonder where Rachel Maddow fits in. Brynn watches the show every night since getting started with Sarah, and she admires Rachel. Brynn writes to Rachel for an English assignment and when she gets a response, her teacher encourages her to write back. Instead she starts writing Rachel long emails, saving them all in her drafts folder rather than sending them. Some of them also get turned in as assignments, and her teacher’s comments are hilarious. The book is entirely told through Brynn’s emails, with a few emails from other people thrown in to liven up the mix. 

I mentioned that I don’t generally love epistolary novels, but I feel like this one worked. It was basically just a first person novel with a slight frame around it. Brynn’s emails are clear and full of details that tell the real story from her perspective. And although I was never super-into student government (too cynical), it’s interesting to see Brynn navigate that world. Brynn’s voice is great—funny and snarky, but not too much. 

Overall, I think a lot of people will like this one. It’s got a heroine that seems to be stuck getting herself unstuck, and a sweet romance. 

End-of-Feb Update

Well, I didn’t manage to post last week and I don’t have a lot to say this week. I should get a review up next week, however. 

Amazon took away one of the reviews of Finding Frances, so that’s extremely annoying. Those things are hard enough to come by. Other than that, there’s no news on the writing front. 

I finished my second term on the art degree and am starting three new classes this week. Due to some scheduling weirdness, I’m in two art history classes and one digital art class, so no physical art at all this term. I’ll have to figure out some stuff to make, anyway. I am still taking a weekly watercolor class, so I’ll continue that. Since I don’t have much to report in the writing world, I figured I’d share some of the art I made over the last few weeks. 

This is my first complete watercolor still life. 

Small pumpkin watercolor still life

We had to do a bird’s eye city scene with a character “falling.” That sort of creeped me out, so I gave the character an out. And made it a cat. Why not?

Winged cat over city

This one’s called “The Prize.” It was supposed to be three characters involved in a conspiracy of sorts. I figured a couple of boys arm-wrestling for a kitten would be close enough. Not that they particularly look like kids… I’ll get better—I take life drawing 1 next term. 

The Prize - two boys arm wrestling over a cat

Oh, and I figure I’d post a picture of my new cat, Xander, because why not? (Isn't he cute?) I’m working on a watercolor version of this picture because I love it, so if it turns out okay, I’ll post it here. 

Orange tabby cat on a chair

Review: Hanging Around for You by Stacia Leigh

Hanging Around for You book coverHanging Around for You is a YA romance set in Leigh’s biker world in the mountains of (I think) Oregon. The first two books were clearly tied together, but this third one’s connection is much looser, though it’s there. Pinecone, the heroine, made an appearance in Leigh’s second book (Burnout, previously reviewed here). 

Fifteen-year-old Pinecone has a terrible, narcissistic mom named Twyla who abandons her in the first chapter, leaving Pinecone with Twyla’s biker boyfriend, Ham. Both of them are upset by the abandonment, but what’s worse is what Twyla does after stealing Ham’s truck, which brings the police sniffing around, making both of them very nervous. Still, they make do, with Pinecone going to school while working at the Powerhouse Inn, which Ham owns, and avoiding her best friend, Dawn, because of the awkward situation of her missing, criminal mom. One day, Smiley walks into the inn’s lobby, and Pinecone is struck by his looks, but very much turned off by his interest in joining Ham’s biker club, the Pulver Skulls. 

But Smiley’s on a mission. He’s not just a hang around; he’s looking for info. But it’s important that no one figures that out. Still, he thinks Pinecone might be a way into some crucial intel. Soon, he finds that he genuinely likes her, despite the fact that Ham doesn’t want him around.

At a pivotal Halloween party, Dawn finds out that Pinecone lied about where her mom was and she and Smiley make out. The fallout is dramatic: Dawn pulls completely away from her and Smiley friend-zones her at school soon after. It takes a while for those things to turn around, but fortunately they do. Just in time for quite the confrontation in Ham’s basement. 

This romance may deal with the biker world, but it’s not gritty like you might expect, even though Smiley is really dealing in danger. Pinecone and Smiley make a great couple you’re rooting for, even though Smiley’s shady dealings are a little problematic. I suspect we’ll need a sequel to find out where things really truly land. But this book still makes for a nice story that fans of light YA romance will enjoy. 

Review: The Safekeeper by Esther Archer Lakhani

The Safekeeper book coverThis is a really creative YA sci-fi book with what I would consider fantasy elements, which is mostly set on a contemporary Earth. It really is very unique, with an interesting premise that’s revealed over the course of the early part of the novel. 

The protagonist is the 15-year-old Macy. She’s a good character anyone should be able to relate to. She has an unusual family secret: her parents run a retreat center for very unusual visitors. In the book, a group of visitors arrive and all sorts of trouble comes with them. While helping to work at the center, Macy also is trying to have a life and meets an interesting boy named Nick. Nick turns out to be a very important character with quite a surprise to be revealed. Macy really rises to the challenges that crop up in the story, proving herself to be strong and resourceful when the situation demands it.

As I mentioned, this book is super creative. Lakhani's aliens are incredibly original, as is the way they visit Earth. The powers they have are interesting and varied. There’s also bit of the fantastical in the book, which I think is really cool—I love genre-bending stories. 

Highly recommended for fans of YA sci-fi, especially if you're looking for something different.

Pivoting and Staying Busy

If you know me at all, you’ll know I keep myself pretty busy. It keeps me from getting depressed. But I’ve taken on a crazy amount lately, so I didn’t finish reading a book this week and don’t have a review.

I’ve decided to branch out into picture books. I want to write and illustrate biographies of women in STEM fields, though I might do some fiction, too. But since I’m new to them, I have a long way to go. I’ve been reading lots but decided to join some online communities related to picture books to learn more rapidly. I did Storystorm, which is a month-long challenge to come up with an idea per day (technically just the first 30 days) in January. I also joined the 12x12 Challenge, where you try to write at least one picture book manuscript each month. This is focused on the writing part, not the illustrating.  But there’s another online school called Storyteller Academy that focuses on picture books, both writing and illustrating if you want. I signed up for that, too. For this there are actual courses and you take whichever ones you want. I signed up for several for this term: Drawing, Illustrating, Character Design, and Writing Picture Book Manuscripts. I also started taking a weekly class in watercolor painting (finally; I’ve been wanting to do this for a while). Add this to my BFA program, where I’m doing 18 credit hours this semester, the weekly data science class related to work that I’m taking, a really good playwriting class I’m taking, that I have to send ten pages of the in-progress Sadie Speaks rewrite to my book coach every week, that I’m also working on a romance and meeting my critique partner weekly, the two monthly critique group meetings, and the fact that I’ve got a full-time job, and it all adds up to me being crazy busy. But I love it. So.

Two of the classes I’m taking for the BFA are perspective and topics in color, and I’m loving both of them. The perspective class is great—I’ve always been decent at perspective, but I am learning more about measuring, which speaks to the math-minded person I am. And the topics in color class is also fascinating. We’re studying color mostly via acrylic painting, and there’s something very satisfying about mixing paint. I’m learning a lot, even though I still don’t think acrylics will be my medium of choice. As much fun as the process is, the end result doesn’t please me the way watercolor does (though I know you can water down acrylics and use them like watercolors, but I’m still thinking I’m leaning toward watercolor proper).

I’m going to share an abstract painting I did for my topics in color class. We had to take a photograph and make an abstract version of it. I used this photograph of a sunset in Oklahoma City on New Year’s Day 2020:

Oklahoma City sunset

And this is the painting, which I like even though it’s not exactly fine art:

Abstract OKC sunset

I’ll also share a drawing I did for my perspective class, which has lots of problems but is still kind of cool:

Perspective drawing of railroad station

Review: Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with a Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker

Vampires Never Get Old book coverI’ve read a decent amount of vampire literature in my day, and I enjoy it. So I was looking forward to reading this collection of vampire stories. The editors really made an effort to incite a range of stories, with many diverse experiences represented. Some of the underrepresented characters include a girl who uses a wheelchair, a transgender boy, some gay kids, and several Black people. 

The first story is “Seven Nights for Dying” by Tessa Gratton. This gritty story features a bisexual artist protagonist who has to make a difficult decision.

The next is “The Boys from Blood River” by Rebecca Roanhorse, a creepy one with vampires that are summoned. 

Julie Murphy’s lighthearted “Senior Year Sucks” stars a chubby cheerleader who’s also a slayer. What happens she meets a local girl vampire who also happens to be very cute?

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig is about a transgender grave-robber who rescues an interesting boy who’d been buried alive.

“A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire” by Samira Ahmed is a snarky take on vampires in India, exploring social media and the problems of colonization. 

Kayla Whaley’s “In Kind” asks serious questions about living as a disabled teen. 

“Vampires Never Say Die” by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker is another one that touches on social media, and how anonymous it can be. 

“Bestiary” by Laura Ruby is an odd story about a down-on-her-luck zoo worker who can understand animals, set in a slightly dystopian world. 

“Mirrors, Windows, & Selfies” by Mark Oshiro deals with a teen vampire sheltered from the world by his parents. He also uses social media to try to interact with he world, which turns out to be his escape. 

Dhonielle Clayton’s “The House of Black Sapphires” is a rich tale about a family of vampires set in historic New Orleans.

“First Kill” by Victoria “V. E.” Schwab has a vampire slightly obsessed with a slayer.

These stories run the gamut in terms of style, setting, and themes. In some cases, the main characters are vampires, and sometimes not, but the vampires in the story are always complex and interesting. In some cases, the ethics of underage vampires comes up, too, and there are even references to classic vampire literature. 

Overall, this is another enjoyable YA take on the age-old myth of the vampire, a must for fans of the genre. 

2021 Reading Challenges and Last Year’s Recap

I’ve decided to do several reading challenges each year and part of that is announcing to the world that I’m doing them, as well as reporting on the success of the prior year’s.

First, the Recap of 2020

Last year I signed up for three: Goodreads, King County Library System’s 10 to Try, and BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge. I succeeded in completing the first two (though I had to fudge a little on the Goodreads one), but I did not make on on the Read Harder one. 

On Goodreads, you set your own goal of a number of books to read. Last year my goal was 110, which I met partially by reading about 20 picture books.

For the KCLS 10 to Try challenge, I read the following:

  • Retelling of a fairytale or myth - Geekerella by Ashley Poston
  • Teaches you a new skill - TED Talks by Chris Anderson
  • About a journey - The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
  • With a friend - Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • About a person you’d like to meet - Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton (I’m aware she’s dead)
  • About nature - Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick
  • About music or a musician - Total F*cking Godhead; The Biography of Chris Cornell by Corbin Reiff
  • About current events - The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark
  • Recommended by KCLS staff - On Writing by Stephen King
  • By an author whose gender is different from yours - Fables: The Dark Ages (Vol. 12) by Bill Willingham

For the Read Harder Challenge (which is a lot harder than the others) I managed to complete only 17 books of the 24 on the list:

  • A YA nonfiction book - The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
  • A retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color - Pride by Ibi Zoboi
  • A mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman - Fake ID by Lamar Giles
  • A graphic memoir - Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney
  • A book about a natural disaster - Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
  • A play by an author of color and/or queer author - How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel
  • An audiobook of poetry - SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The LAST book in a series - The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
  • A debut novel by a queer author - Texts from Jane Eyre by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
  • A memoir by someone from a religious tradition (or lack of religious tradition) that is not your own - Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
  • A romance starring a single parent - Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai
  • A sci-fi/fantasy novella (under 120 pages) - “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
  • A picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community - The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan and Tom Knight
  • A middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK - The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
  • A book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non) - Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
  • A book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author - #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
  • A book that takes place in a rural setting - Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

These were the seven categories I failed in:

  • A historical fiction novel not set in WWII 
  • A food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before
  • A book about climate change 
  • A doorstopper (over 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman
  • A book by or about a refugee 
  • A horror book published by an indie press 
  • An edition of a literary magazine (digital or physical) 

Now, The 2021 Plan

For Goodreads, I’m going to account for the fact that I know I’m going to be reading a lot of picture books this year but have otherwise slowed down, so I upped it only to 120.

For the KCLS 10 to Try, here is the list and my planned book:

  • Makes you laugh - Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
  • Non-human characters - Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • About the future - The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
  • Epistolary novel (Written in letters, emails, etc.) - Dear Rachel Maddow: A Novel by Adrienne Kisner
  • By a Black author - Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Published this year - TBD (I’m sure I’ll manage something…)
  • About pop culture - The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller
  • Re-read an old favorite - The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
  • Set where you were born - Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
  • Recommended by staff - You Should See Me in A Crown by Leah Johnson

For all of these I managed to choose YA books, which helps me make sure I can get them done, since I have limited time and an obligation to my blogs…

For the Read Harder Challenge, here are the 24 categories and my planned books:

  1. Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel 
  2. Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism - White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  3. Read a non-European novel in translation - The Disaster Tourist: A Novel by Yun Ko-eun and Lizzie Buehler
  4. Read an LGBTQ+ history book - Queer: A Graphic History by Dr. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
  5. Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author - Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger and Rovina Cai
  6. Read a fanfic - A Wattpad story based on Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl (https://www.wattpad.com/story/61458965-coffee-kisses-a-cather-and-levi-fanfic)
  7. Read a fat-positive romance - Take a Hint, Dani Brown: A Novel by Talia Hibbert
  8. Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author - Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  9. Read a middle grade mystery - From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  10. Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color - Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker
  11. Read a food memoir by an author of color - Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
  12. Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color - Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias by Pragya Agarwal
  13. Read a book with a cover you don’t like - Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  14. Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada - Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
  15. Read a memoir by a Latinx author - Children of the Land: A Memoir by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
  16. Read an own voices book about disability - Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Mariene Nijkamp
  17. Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain - Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
  18. Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader - Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff 
  19. Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist - The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  20. Read a book of nature poems - The Radiant Lives of Animals by Linda Hogan
  21. Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability - Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls
  22. Read a book set in the Midwest - The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan
  23. Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness - Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  24. Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die - Vicarious by Paula Stokes

I managed to make 12 of them YA, plus one middle grade and one picture book. I feel much more confident about finishing this year’s than I did last year. Now I'm off to my indie book store to start buying them!

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue book coverThis moving book by Australian author Cath Crowley is really something. It explores grief and love in a deep way, bordering on philosophical but without straying from the novel that it is. 

Rachel had a huge crush on Henry in Year 9 and she bared her soul the night before she moved away, only to get crickets in return. She was humiliated and never really forgave him for choosing Amy over her, despite their long best-friendship. Now she’s back in town after failing Year 12 after her brother drowned. She doesn’t care about Henry anymore. She’s still numb. 

Henry has been hung up on Amy forever and doesn’t see how she strings him along and uses him. She breaks up with him early on in the book and the only thing he wants is to have her back. 

Rachel’s aunt arranges for her to work in Henry’s family’s bookstore, which she’s unhappy about, and she takes it out on Henry by being quite the grump. He finally calls her out on it and begins to break down her defenses just a little bit. 

Any reader will love the setting of the bookstore, which features heavily in the plot. Henry’s divorced parents are arguing over what to do about the shop, which would pull in a lot of money if they sell. Much of the novel’s ideas are expressed through discussions and character thoughts on books, some obscure, some not so obscure. The bookshop also has an unusual section called the Letter Library, where people are allowed to write in the books and encouraged to leave letters between the pages for others to find. Rachel’s job is actually to catalog that part of the shop. 

Rachel and Henry are both wonderful, fully-developed characters. The secondary characters are great, as well. I loved George, Henry’s sister. And George’s love interest is really nice yet still believable. Even Henry’s parents and Rachel’s aunt and mom are complex despite not really being super important to the story. Where things wind up at the end isn’t really a shock, but you’re never quite sure how it’s going to go. 

This book is definitely worth checking out, especially if you love the meta experience of reading about books, or just want a good emotional journey. 

2020 Books in Review

Here’s my annual review of my year’s reviews, where I look at my favorite five books of the year. 

The first favorite book I’ll mention is Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I reviewed in February. This is a very dark book with an ending I didn’t really see coming. It’s also got an interesting format: two different timelines with two different points of view. 

We Are Okay is another book by Nina LaCour. I pretty much love whatever she does, but this slim book about friendship took me on quite the emotional ride. Here’s my July review. 

Although I am a fan of Pride and Prejudice, I’m not always a fan of fresh takes on it. But I reviewed Pride by Ibi Zoboi in September and really enjoyed it. It’s a really fresh take, featuring two Black teens in modern-day Brooklyn. 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater is a nonfiction book I reviewed in October. This one is also about a Black teen, as well as a nonbinary teen and the unfortunate interaction they have (and then the aftermath). It provides some interesting perspective on justice. It’s really good and has stayed with me. 

The last book I’ll mention I reviewed in November: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron. This one is a reboot of Cinderella (obviously), but it is one of the most original books I’ve read in a while and I really enjoyed it. It’s about a Black lesbian girl living in this oppressive post-Cinderella world. It deals with some deep subjects but manages to stay entertaining. 

There you have it: my top five for 2020, dumpster fire year. At least there were books.