an ode to the precious and some gemma doyle fangirling

my latest book haul!

my latest book haul!

books are such magical things. we can open them and be transported to new worlds, new times, and new adventures. we can laugh and cry and shake our fists along with our favorite characters, and we can fall in love and have our hearts broken with them, too. my ya gothic horror is on submission right now, and i’m in the midst of researching and drafting out my latest project to keep from obsessively checking emails from my agent. i’m also binge-reading a bunch of books and loving every second of this part of work. here are a few titles from my recent book haul that i’ve been super excited about reading.

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY – Libba Bray

ETIQUETTE AND ESPIONAGE – Gail Carriger

A COLD LEGACY – Megan Shepherd

RED QUEEN -Victoria Aveyard

omg the gemma doyle trilogy??? where has it been all my life. so. effing. good. i bought the other two books and am eagerly* awaiting their arrival. i cannot believe it’s taken me so long to get into them.

what debut are you most looking forward to in 2015? and what are some of your favorite creepy books? i need to add some more titles to my (ever) growing list!

*by eagerly awaiting i mean pacing back and forth, cursing the mail for being late, and breaking out into a cold, i-NEED-it-now sweat. the next step will be rocking in the corner and smacking my gums until the precious arrives. not pretty.

xx

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Blackbirds CoverBook Review: IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

Author: Cat Winters

Genre: YA Historical/Mystery with a Paranormal twist

Rating: Five out of Five stars

Back of book blurb:

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Review:

This is one of those books that is so beautifully written you want to go back and immediately reread it. Cat Winters did a spectacular job bringing the haunted feeling of walking around during the Spanish influenza to life. I could actually smell the onions people used to keep the flu away, and feel the gauze suffocating me. The details and historical accuracy really elevated this novel into something otherworldly. I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but hands down this is one of the most breathtaking reads of the year. If you are in the market for something unlike anything else on the shelves this is the book for you.

Mary Shelley Black is a delightful character full of quirks and spunk. She is such a remarkable young woman who deals with everything that’s thrown at her with courage and bravery, and the mystery surrounding the death of her first love kept me turning the pages well into the early morning hours. I’m not a cryer when it comes to novels, I RARELY tear up, but there were two parts in this book that brought on full-blown ugly crying.

MY GOD YOU NEED TO READ THIS. There are so many things I want to chat about so please go buy a copy and make some tea.

Here’s a taste of the first page to whet your appetite:

Portland, Oregon–October 16, 1918

I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way. Gauze masks concealed the passengers’ mouths and noses. The train smelled of my own mask’s cotton, boiling onions, and a whiff of something clammy and sour I took to be fear.

Keep moving, I told myself.

My legs shook and threatened to buckle, but I managed to clomp down the aisle in the brown Boy Scout boots I wore in case I ever needed to run at a moment’s notice. The heavy tread drew unwanted glances and at least one raised eyebrow, but nobody uttered a word.

Praise for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS:

“Winters’s masterful debut novel is an impressively researched marriage of the tragedies of wartime, the 1918 flu epidemic, the contemporaneous Spiritualism craze, and a chilling love story and mystery…Deliciously creepy.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Unconventional and unflinching… More than anything, this is a story of the breaking point between sanity and madness, delivered in a straightforward and welcoming teen voice.”—Booklist, starred review

“Winters deftly combines mystery, ghost story, historical fiction, and romance…the story and setting are atmospheric and eerie.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Winters strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the tenor of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Cat Winters’s debut novel is creepy good… Mary Shelley, with her Boy Scout boots and penchant for aviatrix goggles, is just plain awesomely odd.” —The Boston Globe

“Words like ‘unputdownable’ and ‘irresistible’ are simply not enough for Cat Winters’s In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Days after finishing this story, it remains the first thought I have in the morning, and the thing that haunts me until I sleep.”—Lauren DeStefano New York Times bestselling author of The Chemical Garden trilogy

Keep up with Cat Winters on the interwebs:

Twitter

Official Website

Facebook

Goodreads

She’s also hosting an international giveaway on her blog RIGHT NOW through July 2nd, so you miiiiiiiight want to check it out.

Two New Year’s Releases I Adore

Two amazing things are happening on January 1st that I cannot WAIT to share with you guys. First, Justin Levinson is releasing an EP that’s crazy good. His previous album (with The Valcours) was in constant rotation while I was writing and revising my last book so you know it’s good good good. Justin is definitely a wordsmith worth checking out.

Secondly, A.G. Howard’s debut, SPLINTERED, is hitting shelves everywhere. I swear my heart is growing wings and flapping against my ribcage because it’s THAT excited about this novel.

Justin and Anita are so darn awesome both creatively (and personally) that I wanted to do a little review of each of their projects. That way when you’re looking at those holiday gift cards wondering what you should get, these items are already at the top of your list. If this is how the year is going to start, 2013 is going to be AMAZING. Just you wait.

Justin Levinson Take My Time EP CoverArtist: Justin Levinson

EP: Take My Time

Genre: Folk / Folk Rock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are few things I love more than reading and writing. One of those things is baseball, the other is music. I especially have a soft spot in my heart for folk/folk rock, and Vermont based singer/songwriter Justin Levinson’s latest EP, Take My Time is an exceptionally delicious snack to sink your teeth into.

The three song EP consists of ‘Take My Time,’ ‘Give It One More Try,’ and ‘Bid The Rest Goodbye.’ The overall feeling is moody and atmospheric in the very best of ways. It’s full of lyrics with richly imagined themes of coping with life after love and picking up the pieces of a shattered heart and coming out stronger in the end. Exhibit A:

“Cos’ I will just take my time, go round and round on this ferris wheel ride with my stomach in knots like a mime in a box, I keep singing alone through the gloom.”

Justin writes in a universal language that allows listeners to really connect with the songs because at one point in time, we’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all dealt with the aftermath of a love gone wrong, we’ve all been confused about whether or not a relationship can be saved, and most importantly, we’ve all found the inner strength to move on and try again.

“It takes everything within, not to go back to where I’ve been. It’s takes everything within cause I get so lonesome, forget what’s right and the facts they get distorted and I think to myself we could give it one more try.”

The song that best shows this graduation from heartbreak to finding your way through the darkness is the title track, ‘Take My Time’. The lyrics are evocative of someone who is determined to make their dreams come true. Whether it’s love, career, or a personal journey, the person in the song is willing to push themselves — even if they’re afraid. That’s something everyone can aspire towards…being brave even when we don’t feel so sure anymore. It’s a pretty great message.

“I keep myself steady though I fear what’s ahead. I’m set in the moment it’s the best way to live.” 

The composition of these songs is SO good my meager words won’t do them justice. There are violins and acoustic guitars and MORE wonderful backing instruments, and Justin’s vocals are the perfect lighthouse to guide you through the storm. If you’re looking for music that’s got smart lyrics, infectious melodies, and atmosphere for days, this EP is so for you. I know I’m going to be listening to it over and over again.

Check out this video of ‘I Was So Wrong’ off his last album, This Side of Me, This Side of You for a hint of what Justin Levinson offers:

I Was So Wrong Official Music Video – Justin Levinson & The Valcours

Here’s where you can keep up with Justin Levinson online: 

Website: JustinLevinson.com

Twitter: @jxlevinson

Facebook: Justin Levinson Music

9781419704284_p0_v1_s260x420Author: A.G. Howard

Book: SPLINTERED

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads Book Blurb:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Praise for Splintered:

“Attention to costume and setting render this a visually rich read…”–Kirkus Reviews

“SPLINTERED is simply a delicious, disturbing, mad, wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” –Melissa Marr, New York Times Bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I will *try* to contain myself and not openly gush like the inner fangirl inside of me is dying to do. A.G. Howard is very dear to my little heart for multiple reasons. (One of them being she was in the query trenches with me when we were both looking for literary representation.)

Over the summer I had the privilege of reading SPLINTERED and even if I didn’t know Ms. Howard, I’d be obsessed with this book. It’s unlike any retelling I’ve read because it’s not really a retelling as much as a re-imagining. Howard has completely transformed the Alice In Wonderland story you remember into something much much much darker. If you think you’re getting anywhere CLOSE to the Wonderland you knew, oh my oh my oh my, you are WRONG. So very, very wrong. This book comes alive with new characters. I ADORED the setting, fast-paced plot, and Howard’s beautiful writing style. SPLINTERED has got voice for miles, with unexpected plot twists and turns that will keep you turning pages, and a slew of crazy/mad/wonderful characters that you’ll immediately fall in love with.

This unique take on the sinister side of Wonderland is delightful and I can’t encourage you enough to run to the bookstore on January 1st and buy a copy. TRUST me, you won’t regret it. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and two swoon-worthy guys that you’ll have a tough time choosing between. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, so I’ll leave you with a taste of A.G. Howard’s sweet prose to whet your appetite.

Reading the opening is all you need to get sucked down the rabbit hole:

“I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

Some of my victims line the walls in shadow boxes, while others get sorted into mason jars and placed on a bookshelf for later use. Crickets, beetles, spiders…bees and butterflies…” Oh, you want to read more? Oopsie. You’re going to have to grab a copy on January 1st!

Keep up with A.G. Howard online by visiting the following places:

Website: Author A.G. Howard

Twitter: @aghowardwrites

Blog: A Still and Quiet Madness

Facebook: Author AG Howard

Goodreads: A.G. Howard

Query Letter Critique (YA Contemporary)

Original Query:

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music.

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour, Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true.

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling.

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses.

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens (the name isn’t necessary right here) takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music. (This doesn’t really add anything or propel your query forward.)

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour (how?), Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true. (How? Don’t be vague here, this will help the reader understand the stakes. Is there a potential record deal? A label coming to their show?)

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling. (Wait…how is Jonathan here? In the previous paragraph you said she had to sacrifice a summer with him. I’m missing the connection to how she’d have to sacrifice, if he can tour with them.)

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses. (But why would one bad show destroy her confidence, when technically, the battle of the bands was bad if she tried fainting? What is the catalyst that makes it SUCH a bad show that she’s retracing? I think strengthening that a teeny, tiny bit more will make a big difference.)

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS. (Perfect closing!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The aftermath:

Let me start by saying I really like your voice…but…I’m not fully grasping what the actual stakes are here. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a good story and I totally get that she’s trying to find out who she is and become a confident, strong, girl..but what happens if she fails? What major choices does she have to make and how will that affect the people around her? I think beefing up some actual conflicts will help build the tension in the query. That’s really what’s missing.

In one way, there’s almost too much going on and the focus gets lost in the series of events that are listed. (Interesting as they are.) For example: We know there’s a battle of the bands and Charlie’s trying to sabotage it, and there’s something going on with Jonathan…then she’s on tour, and magically loving the rockstar lifestyle and partying and fighting and Jonathan is suddenly here and she’s making a move on him, then a bad gig happens and she falls apart. But those aren’t stakes, they’re kind of like a powerpoint presentation of mini conflicts.

What is the main focus of your story? What is the HUGE thing laying on the line? See if there’s a way for you to pick the BIG conflict and pull that out.

If there’s something at that bad gig that’s life-changing for everyone in the band – go into that! Tell us why that’s so important and why it’s so devastating when/if she screws it up. Is there an A&R person there, ready to sign them if the show goes well? Is there a music journalist that could write a review that’s a career changer/destroyer? 

What makes that the crucial turning point in your manuscript? I can already picture conflict for daysssssssss there. THAT is the conflict that needs to shine in your query. My god, my god, my god if Charlie messes ____ up it’s not only the dreams she’s come to desire, but all of her bandmates hopes that could be crushed FORVER. AND she could lose ________ as well. The tension and stakes are building simply by bringing your focus into a bull’s eye. 

Mini conflicts and subplots are great in books, we just need more core stuff in the blurb. Try leaving some of the smaller subplots (and list of events) out, get into the bad show part sooner, and show us what’s at stake.

Thank you so much for braving the query critique and for sharing your work on my blog! I really hope my notes are helpful and my goodness, this sounds like a fun read. Keep up the amazing work!!! :)

 

Friends hate me writing my book.

Friends hate me writing my book.

First of all, hi blog friends. *waves* It’s September, my how the summer FLEW by. I’m still in the writing cave, but something came to my attention last night that had my little hackles all raised and scary-like. And when I get mad, it’s NOT a pretty sight. There’s red-hot fury, then there’s stringy drool and panting and A LOT of obscene gestures as I transform into the HULK. Here’s why. Someone came across my blog by searching:

“Friends hate me writing my book.”

Let me clarify, that the search term and subsequent finding of MY blog didn’t make me bare my teeth and go all crazy-eyed. No friends, it’s the sadness of knowing there are people out there who would actively shoot down their friends dreams. Writing a book is hard. Sharing your words, your art, your freaking bloody little heart on your sleeve for everyone to pee on, is soul sucking scary hard.

Having people in your corner is so important when all those little doubt devils rear their ugly heads. If you’re the person that’s been beaten down, I want you to take a deep breath, because I’m about to tell you something important.

You are amazing. 

Don’t you ever forget that. Having a dream, then having the strength to put the time (and effort) into writing and rewriting your book until you bleed vowels and eat consonants is no easy task. If your friends go as far as HATING the very thing you’re passionate about, well, I can only say that they’re truly not worth giving up what sparks your soul for.

Keep writing your book. Keep your chin up. And when all else fails, write those naysayers into your project and kill them off slowly, and painfully. Bleed your frustrations into your pages, your art will thank you.

Hold your head high, put those blinders on, because if you ask me (which, I’m aware that no one did) those friends are sounding mighty jealous that you’ve found something you love doing. Write your book. Do your thing. And know, that one day after you’ve edited the heck out of that manuscript, I’ll be waiting in line to get my grubby little paws on it. To hell with anyone who tries to crush your dreams.

Write on.

*steps off box, ends rant*

Summer, summer, summertime reading

You may have noticed that it’s been pretty quiet over here the last few weeks, and I’m really sorry to leave you guys hanging. But there are a few reasons for my neglect silence…

One: I’m getting that old familiar NEED to write my next book. It’s starts out quietly, then all hell breaks loose and all I can think about is my WIP, WIP, WIP, WIP. So yeah, that’s happening and I can’t fight it. Right now I’m plotting and letting the creative process do its thing. Know that I love you, but it’s going to be quieter than normal around here. At least until September-ish.

Two: I’ve been reading like a complete maniac. Like, lockdown, no leaving the house, my eyes are crossing and bleeding from the abuse, I haven’t eaten a decent meal in days, my friends hate me for being aloof, reading. Why? Because I think there’s no better way to know the market than to read everything you can get your grubby little paws on. And let me tell you, I’ve been LOVING this part of my research. Sometimes this writing gig isn’t bad :)

Here are the books I’ve read over the last two weeks (if you’re into summer reading lists):

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake

STARCROSSED by Josephine Angelini 

DREAMLESS by Josephine Angelini

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor

FALSE MEMORY by Dan Krokos

DIE FOR ME by Amy Plum

UNTIL I DIE by Amy Plum

CARRIER OF THE MARK by Leigh Fallon

GRACELING by Kristin Cashore

FIRE by Kristin Cashore

BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore

PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White

SUPERNATURALLY by Kiersten White

ENDLESSLY by Kiersten White

POSSESS by Gretchen McNeil

ONCE by Anna Carey

INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher

SAPPHIQUE by Catherine Fisher

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood 

Aaaaaaand here’s the next batch of books that I’m getting ready to dig into:

WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr

CITY of BONES by Cassandra Clare

SOMETHING STRANGE and DEADLY by Susan Dennard

SHADOW and BONE by Leigh Bardugo

THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting

THE FORSAKEN by Lisa M. Stasse

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH by Bethany Griffin

FALLEN by Lauren Kate

THE DEMON KING by Cinda Williams Chima

So what’s on your summer reading list?

(FYI: All the books above are links, so feel free to click on them to read their descriptions.)

Ten Books I can’t get enough of in 2012

I’ve been asked by one of my lovely blog friends for a list of books that I’ve read (and recommend) so far this year. Well, I aim to please – so here’s ten of my favorite reads of 2012. I’m sure this list will continue to expand and grow with all the terrific books coming out the second half of the year.

(Please note some of the books aren’t new releases, they’re just books I’ve read since January and adore! Also, they’re listed in no particular order.)

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS – Rae Carson

I’ll admit to being hesitant at first, since I’m not normally a fan of high fantasy – but this book took me by surprise in the best way. I LOVED it.

FRACTURE – Megan Miranda

This was a fun, fast paced thriller and I can’t recommend it enough. I definitely didn’t see this ending coming, and I’d reread it again in a heartbeat.

FEVER – Lauren Destefano

I know I raved about WITHER in my best books of 2011 and FEVER did not disappoint. It’s amazing. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my agent sister. I can’t WAIT to get my grubby little hands on SEVER, the final book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

CINDER – Marissa Meyer

Again, this was something I was worried might not be my thing – but I was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. I devoured it in one sitting and am anxiously awaiting the next book. Get yourself a copy of this and be amazed by the excellently told story of Cinder.

UNDER THE NEVER SKY – Veronica Rossi

Oh my gosh, where to start? I could gush forever and a day about how much I loved this book. It might be one of my ALL-TIME favorites. Just sayin’.

THE WAKE TRILOGY – Lisa McMann

I started with the first book (WAKE) and immediately bought the second two (FADE and GONE). This is a fast read filled with lots of twists and memorable characters.

TIMEPIECE – Myra McEntire

I just finished this book two days ago and I love it. The ending will make you scream for book three. Thank goodness there’s a continuation because I’m not ready to let go of these characters just yet. If you haven’t read the first book HOURGLASS, do so immediately!!!

THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT – Jennifer E. Smith

I was skeptical that this might be too slow (or too fast) paced because it takes place over 24 hours, but (once again) I was dead wrong. This was definitely a fun read.

STARTERS – Lissa Price

I can’t even begin to describe how awesome this was, if you haven’t gotten a copy yet – drop everything you’re doing and run to your local bookstore. Lissa is another one of my agent sisters, but I’d devour it even if she wasn’t. (What can I say? My agent has fabulous taste :)) If you liked the HUNGER GAMES, you’ll love it. SO GOOD.

EVERNEATH – Brodi Ashton

This is a book GoodReads recommended I try and I’m super glad I did. It’s one of the best mythology retellings I’ve read. It’s fresh and clever and I could go one for days. LOVED IT.

*    *    *

That was hard picking just ten! There are soooooo many other great books I’ve read recently. (One of them being UNRAVELING by Elizabeth Norris, and INSURGENT by Veronica Roth.) If you’d like to see what else I’ve been reading (and suggest your favorite reads to me) friend me on GoodReads by clicking here.