Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best Unputdownable Teen Books of 2013

Narrowing down the 64 books I read this year to the five that were completely, absolutely unputdownable was not easy. I read fantastical adventures, swoon-worthy romances and even a few unconventional selections. I used the words ‘love’ and ‘adore’ a lot (maybe too much) in my personal book journal. And I committed myself to reading an undisclosed amount of sequels. *cough* Too many. *cough* But I did manage to select five awesome, unputdownable YA books that provided all the necessary feels. And some unnecessary ones too.

Eleanor & Park: Rainbow Rowell
Released February 26, 2013
The realness of Eleanor and Park’s relationship is what got me about this book. I wasn’t expecting something that appeared normal (young, inexperienced love) to be so extraordinary (but it was). The descriptions of their love, first hand-holding to first kiss, were beautiful and fresh. This book was both heart-warming and heartbreaking, which is quite a feat. I deem this a must-read of 2013!

Siege and Storm: Leigh Bardugo
Released June 4, 2013
The primary reason why I love this book: Sturmhond. And I’m only partially kidding. He’s mysterious yet over confident, talented and desirable. He’s multi-dimensional, as are most of the characters in this book and series. Alina (the Sun Summoner) is deep and so wrought internally that I’m still in awe. With the tension level at a near-constant high, I found this book hard to part with, even after I finished it. The action was non-stop and I wished so whole-heartedly (still do, in fact) that I could have kept reading right through to the end of Ruin and Rising.

Earthbound: Aprilynne Pike
Released July 30, 2013
The story of star-crossed lovers who are drawn to each other across time has been done before. But Earthbound was different—there’s more to the story. It’s not just the love but ancient secret societies (who doesn’t love a good secret society?) with fancy Latin-sounding names. The main character, Tavia is compelling and strong, and I adore that she is her own woman, not just a bland reincarnation of the women before her (but she still has their knowledge!). Earthquake (the sequel, not the natural disaster) cannot come soon enough!

Crown of Midnight: Sarah J Maas
Released August 27, 2013
The end to this sequel FLOORED me. The slow flow of secrets throughout the novel led to a full-blown, head-turning, artfully-divulged stunner at the very end. I was reeling for days after finishing it. The depth of character and story was outstanding as well! Celeana is not the heartless assassin she may seem, but multi-faceted, intelligent and intriguing. And the love triangle? I’m still swooning. This series will be on my must-read list for years to come.

Just One Year: Gayle Forman
Released October 10, 2013
When I picked up this book, I knew what happened at the end. But somehow (due to Forman’s expertise, I’m guessing) the anticipation made this book unputdownable. The sharp, strong voice of Willem, a lost boy who was attempting to find Allison, a girl he spent just one day with in Paris, kept me entrenched. The absence of Allison for the majority of the novel (I was dying to see her again!) and the everyday experiences that were both menial and great, added up to an unforgettable journey.

What books were unputdownable for you this year?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Problem of Beginning: First Lines in YA

Even though I’ve been writing my work-in-progress for years, I’m still struggling with the first line. Back when I was beginning to write with a purpose, I would go through draft after draft without writing past chapter three. It was an attempt to perfect the beginning before I went any further. That is not the way to write, because one will end up with many beginnings, but no middles or ends.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten past that. I’ve written some middles and ends but recently I circled back to the beginning. I have to get it as close to right as I can. So I’m focusing on that now, for a little bit, before I return to editing the rest.

Yesterday, I read this post from the Write Practice on writing the perfect first line. It reminded me that I shouldn’t write sentence after sentence of potential first lines without first examining how other YA books begin. So I went to my bookshelf and flipped to first page after first page. And I discovered that most of the books on my shelf had first lines that were meant to inform, intrigue or shock.

“In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.” –Graceling, Kristin Cashore

“In life, Elizabeth Adora Holland was known not only for her loveliness but also for her moral character, so it was fair to assume that in the afterlife she would occupy a lofty seat with an especially good view.” –The Luxe, Anna Godberson

These first lines are informative, but it can be argued that they are also intriguing. I don’t disagree, but I think their primary purpose is to inform the reader about the character and the situation. Hopefully, that will be interesting enough for the reader to continue onward.

“Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond, the sweet smell of water luring the man to be picked off like the barn swallows that dared to swoop in for a drink.” -Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis
“After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.” –Throne of Glass, Sarah J Maas
These first lines are classically intriguing because they beg questions. Why was Lynn killing to defend a pond, and at the tender age of nine? Why was Celaena enslaved and what had she done to be escorted everywhere in shackles at sword-point? They make the reader ask questions and, assuming they want to know the answers, forces them to read on. 

“I AM A COWARD. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.” –Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein

 “First the colors.
Then the humans.
That's usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
You are going to die.”
-The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

These first lines are pure shock and awe. In Code Name Verity, the narrator admits, right away, that she’s a coward and that she’s good at pretending. Does that mean she is indeed a coward, or is she pretending about that as well? And in The Book Thief, the narrator tells the reader that they are going to die, which is bold. But that’s only part of it. Referring to people as humans is important here as well. It begs the question: Is the narrator not human? These beginnings ensnare readers immediately by surprising them.

So, what can be learned from these instances? First lines should inform, intrigue and/or shock readers, so that the reader is interested enough to keep reading. The first line needs to be blunt but not simple. It needs to be detailed without being confusing. And it can by no means be boring.
I think I’ll take these lessons and apply them to my WIP. I’ll let you know how it works out!

Happy Winter, all!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Most Anticipated Teen Books: Winter 2014

This winter has been especially chilly and snowy so far, and I think I'm going to need books to get me through to spring. So I'm burrowing under blankets, warming my tea and latching onto these highly anticipated YA releases! 

December 31

The Promise of Amazing – Robin Constantine
What it’s about: Wren is average. She’s the quiet good girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to, until her passive strategy starts backfiring. She wants to change but doesn't know how. Grayson was the king of St. Gabe’s until he was expelled for being a “term-paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change but doesn't know how. One fateful night, their paths cross at Wren's family's Arthurian-themed catering hall. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

Why I’m excited: Because the online description says The Promise of Amazing is for fans of Maureen Johnson and Stephanie Perkins, both of whom I adore. I’m always craving a teen romance that breaks the cookie cutter mold, and this sounds like another potentially amazing one.

January 7
The Impossible Knife of Memory –Laurie Halse Anderson
What it’s about: For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over?

Why I’m excited: Because Anderson is a YA master, and The Impossible Knife of Memory is sure to be a must-read of the season, if not the year. Hayley is bound to be a strong girl who will hopefully blossom into an even stronger woman throughout the course of the book.

January 21
Avalon – Mindee Arnett
What it’s about: Jeth Seagrave and his crew have made their name stealing metatech: the devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light. In a world where the agencies that patrol the outer edges of space are as corrupt as the crime bosses who control them, it’s as much of a living as anyone can ask for. For years Jeth’s managed to fly under the radar of the government that executed his parents for treason—but when he finds himself in possession of information that both government and the crime bosses are willing to kill for, he’s going to find there’s no escaping his past anymore.

Why I’m excited: Because Avalon supposedly has a Firefly feel, and if Jeth is anything like Malcolm Reynolds, then I’m on board. Literally. I’ve seen a lot of love for this one in the Twitterverse, so I’m expecting an action-packed space odyssey.

February 11
The Tyrant’s Daughter – J.C. Carleson
What it’s about: In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila has always lived like royalty. Her father is a dictator of sorts, until one day he is killed in a coup. Laila flees to a life of exile in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Overnight she becomes a nobody. Even as she adjusts to a new school and new friends, she is haunted by the past. Far from feeling guilty, Laila’s mother is engineering a power play—conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to gain a foothold to the throne. Laila can't bear to stand still as yet another international crisis takes shape around her. But how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

Why I’m excited: Because this book promises to be a thrilling tale of political intrigue. And if the author can make Laila relatable for the average teen when she’s in Washington D.C. (and in the unnamed Middle Eastern country) then this could surely be a hit.

March 4
Panic – Lauren Oliver
What it’s about: Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do. Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she discovers she is braver than she ever thought. Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him through the game. But he's not the only one with a secret. For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

Why I’m excited: Because the book has already been optioned by Universal, even though it’s months away from publication. Plus I’m super curious as to what the Panic entails. I’m picturing something like the final task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But I suspect it will be much more panicky. And crowded. But just as fantastical.

The Winner’s Curse – Marie Rutkoski
What it’s about: As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Why I’m excited: Because a general’s daughter with rebellious tendencies buying a slave boy with rebellious tendencies is an explosion of tension I can’t wait to devour. Also:

Are any of these books on your to-read list this winter? Let me know in the comments!

*Book descriptions were adapted from those on

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reviews: Sequel Sensations

Sequels are lovely creatures. They are highly-anticipated continuations of the stories and characters we love. I usually have mixed emotions, as I’m both eager to read the next adventure and hesitant of the possibility that the sequel could let me down. Here are a few reviews of sequels that lived up to the hype, at least in my opinion!

Altered – Gennifer Albin
Released October 29, 2013
After reading Crewel, I immediately dove into Altered, its sequel. Even though Altered is a continuation of Adelice’s story, it’s a book of discovery as well. Adelice is on a new world, meeting new people while still on the run from Cormac. And if it wasn’t hard enough to be on another world, Adelice has to deal with the fact that this world moves slower, so her sister is quickly spinning away from her on Arras. This was a delicious, unanticipated twist. Speaking of unanticipated events, what happened between Adelice, Erik and Jost in this sequel took me completely by surprise. I don’t want to spout any spoilers, but I would like to say that it’s a mark of a great writer when she can make me weary of one character only to make me re-think my assumptions and grow to love him in the sequel. And all with words! I can't wait for the third book in the series, as I crave more of the Karios Agenda, Falon, Adelice’s sharp tongue and of course more developments on the Adelice-Erik-Jost front.

Independent Study – Joelle Charbonneau
To be released January 7, 2014
Sequel to the dystopian thriller, The Testing, this book ramps up talk of a rebellion while piling on action with conspiracy. Cia has moved on to Government Studies and subsequently been distanced from the only person she trusts in Tosu City, Tomas. One of the things that I love about this series is how deeply Charbonneau delves into Cia’s thought process. Also, I adore that Cia is a strong, smart and unapologetic female lead (even though this is becoming more common, it’s still refreshing!) I feel like Cia’s extracurricular adventures will catch up with her soon, especially after the cliffhanger at the end of this book! Speaking of, I appreciated that the cliffhanger was just right: not too big, not too small and just frustrating enough. I can’t wait to dive into Graduation Day, the next and last book in the series!

Just One Year – Gayle Forman

Released October 10, 2013
There was a point very early on in Just One Year where I could not set it down. It’s odd because I knew how it ended from reading Just One Day, as this is less of a sequel and more of a companion. In Just One Day, Allison and Willem have one glorious day together in Paris, but are separated. Just One Year is Willem’s story of the following year, as he searches for his mystery girl (because he never learned her actual name). So, even though I assumed their story would end at the same place, I needed to know Willem’s side of the story. I needed to know how he got to that apartment where Allison introduced herself, one year after their one day. I love almost everything about this book, notably the traveling and the everyday experiences that were both menial yet great. The only thing I wanted was more of an ending for Willem and Allison. I understand Forman’s creative choice, as they truly don’t know one another (as they did only spend one day together), so it would be unrealistic to provide them with a happily ever after moment. However, that didn’t stop me from wanting more, as a reader and as a romantic.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

How I Won NaNoWriMo 2013

Somehow, NaNoWriMo seemed easier this year. Part of me can't believe I just wrote that, because it's completely ridiculous. This past month was by no means easy nor is writing 50000 words EVER easy. However, compared to last year, this November wasn’t quite as fingers-creaky-from-typing, need-coffee-desperately, HOW-CAN-I-POSSIBLY-DO-THIS?!?! I wasn't nearly as frantic and I wasn't plagued by doubt.

2012 was my first foray into NaNoWriMo. I remember thinking every day that there was no way I could do it. (I even wrote a post about struggling to commit for fear of failure.) However, this year when I sat down to write, the words came easier. They were less of a struggle. And there are three things I can attribute this to:

I Had a Plan
For NaNoWriMo, planning is a big part of the process. I have to admit I’m a plotter by nature, but I went a little further for this NaNoWriMo. I made an outline of the plot and set a word count goal for each of the three parts of my story and a daily word count goal (for the days I had time to write, which was most). Last year, I only had the first one. I did allow for spontaneity but the important thing was that when I was stuck, I had my outline, plans and goals to fall back on. They spurred me on.

I Made Writing a Habit (before November)
Starting in late summer, I began working on my work-in-progress (WIP). I wrote an average of 2000 words a week and did a lot of plotting/planning/characterization/mapping/etc. It wasn’t a lot, but it was practice. So when the time came to ramp up my word count from 2000 words a week to 2000 words a day, it was doable. I was ready.

I Knew I Could Do It
Because I’d already done it once before. Last year, I wasn’t convinced I could write 50000 words in 30 days. I’d never even come close, so when I managed to do it, I was ecstatic. However, this year, I knew I could do it because it would not be the first time. So it seemed easier. Or at least I had more confidence and there was less pressure. I knew it was not impossible.

So, yes, I’m a NaNoWriMo 2013 winner. Yay!

However, I haven’t forgotten what I wrote last week on the blog. The middle of my WIP still sags, but it’s there. I wrote it anyway. I didn’t want to stop for muddiness, sagginess or anything. So, I’ll be the first to admit that my story isn’t ready. It’s not even close. From the first sentence to the end, it needs editing. The middle needs an overhaul. This is the next task on my list.

But for a few days, I’m going to relish that I wrote through the muddiness. I’m going to savor that I’m a repeat NaNoWriMo winner. I have words. 50100 of them to be exact, which is more than I had on November 1st. I think that's the point of NaNoWriMo, not to have 50000 words at the end of the month, but to have more words than you had at the beginning.