Top Ten Goodreads Award Nominees I’m Interested In

Hey everyone!  It’s that time of year again where the Goodreads Awards are looking for votes!  I voted last week in the opening round, so I fully expect the list of nominees to get longer/better this week.  (In fact, the next round opens today!)  So from the nominees available to me now, these are the ones I either voted for or am very curious to read.

Top Ten Goodreads Award Nominees I’m Interested In

1. Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

The main character in this, from the blurb alone, reminds me of myself in college.  That alone interests me.  But more than that, she goes on a semester abroad in London which would be awesome.  And there’s this hint that magic might be involved in this story, which also would be pretty awesome, though I need to see how this turns out.

2. Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

This reminds me a lot of an old-school rom-com.  You’ve got two teenagers working the night shift at a Seattle hotel where they get to know each other over the long hours and try to unravel a mystery together.  Both are a little quirky, but sweet.  I’m going to have to keep this in mind this winter as I look for something to curl up to.

3. The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

Is it possible to not read a Ruta Sepetys novel?  I don’t even care what she writes about, I’ll read it.  I checked this out from the library last weekend and I’m so excited to get to it!

4. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

I’ve had this book checked out from the library for a while.  It’s been a few years since I’ve read a Dessen novel and I really need to get back to her writing.

5. The Toll by Neal Shusterman

This series…the first two books were nearly life-altering.  I’m only exaggerating a little.  They really are fantastically written and tremendously entertaining.  I’m very very excited to read this finally, though I have the feeling it’s going to break me.  I mean, do you remember how Thunderhead ended?  *scream face*

6. Defy Me by Tahereh Mafi

We were left on quite the cliffhanger in the last book and, while this series isn’t my favorite at this point anymore, I’m still interested in knowing what happens next.  I don’t think this one probably deserves to win the award (though I haven’t read it), but I think it’s probably worth the read.

7. American Royals by Katharine McGee

I only just found this thanks to the awards and I gotta say, it appears to be a combination of two of my favorite things: George Washington (yeah, I’m not joking about him being one of my favorite things/people; he’s my spirit animal) and monarchies (though that’s really just because of the drama).

8. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

I hadn’t heard of this one before either, but it sounds interesting.  It reminds me vaguely of like Before I Fall, except after.  This story seems to be about a boy whose crush (girlfriend?) dies and he’ll do just about anything to get her back, including believe in time travel.  And then there are supposed to be unintended consequences and all of that fun stuff.  I’ll be looking for a copy of this.

The Ones That Have My Vote (So Far)

9. The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

I love a good mystery and this series is a great one.  Twists you weren’t expecting, a mystery you seriously cannot figure out ahead of time, and unique and interesting characters.  I have enjoyed this series so so much and it’s only the 2nd book.

10. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

This book took me by storm.  I mean, I was already certain to read it since it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but Oh. My. God.  If y’all haven’t read this, you need to move it up on your TBR.

Famous In A Small Town

Image result for famous in a small townFirst Lines: Brit had been fired from the Yum Yum Shoppe, which came as a  shock to approximately no one.

So I’ve read only one other book by Emma Mills and I liked it.  But this, for as good as the jacket sounded, I just had a hard time finding motivation to read it.  Part of it was definitely the cover, which I still don’t understand even after reading the book.  It literally makes no sense.

For Sophie, her tiny hometown of Acadia, Illinois, is both a blessing and a curse.  She’s known her four best friends her entire life and Sophie has always known this town as home.  But when everyone knows everyone…well, yeah.  When her high school band is chosen to perform at the Rose Parade, raising enough money in this small town to make it there seems impossible until Sophie gets the idea to have country star Megan Pleasant play a fundraiser.  Megan, an Acadia native, would be perfect…except Megan’s publicly sworn never to return to Acadia.  Ever.  As Sophie digs for answers, she’ll unravel years-old mysteries and find herself a new fifth best friend…who makes her heart race and has secrets of his own.

This was really good! Sophie is a sweetheart with gutter humor, a combination I found delightful. After discovering the band fundraisers may not make enough for them to go to the Rose Parade, Sophie’s determined to get hometown-legend-turned-country-megastar Megan Pleasant to perform and the proceeds help the band. But as you might expect, it’s not that easy for her.  But her attitude about the whole thing was great.

The characters are fascinating, every one of them. There’s the enigmatic August, who is definitely hiding something. And you’ve got Sophie’s lifelong friends Brit, Flora, Terrance, and Dash, who are all quirky in their own ways. On top of that, there are some of Sophie’s neighbors and the little girls she babysits that are absolutely adorable. So I loved that.

And the plot is actually way more involved than it sounds. There are a lot of little things going on the whole time to keep you interested, overlapping plot lines. There were many times I had difficulties putting the book down to go to bed or work.

It was a lot of fun to read this book. I need to stop underestimating Emma Mills just because her covers are awful.

The Importance of Voting

Hey everyone!  I realize it is now *after* the American elections have been held, but there are some takeaways I’m seeing and it never hurts to talk about them.

Image result for vote

The Mayoral Race in a “Big” City

I live in a moderately large Midwestern city.  It’s a diverse city of just over 250,000 people (that’s pretty darn big for my state, as we’re either the 2nd or 3rd largest in the state).

And we just had a very contentious mayoral election.

My state is generally depicted as a “red state,” meaning we tend to be Republican leaning (with a healthy dose of far right-wing demagogues in our midst).  My city’s mayor for the last 12 years has been a Democrat.  (That’s kind of a long time, but not nearly as long as my hometown, where our 7th mayor in 150 years just got elected.  People tend to keep the job for as long as they want it.)

Enter the Republican challenger.  Now, I know the challenger personally, which is by far the weirdest feeling ever.  I went to school with his kids.  He was my softball coach for years as a kid.  He was a pastor for a time in my hometown (though I didn’t attend his nondenominational church).  My family, upon hearing he was running for mayor, not-so-quietly began sharing our experiences with him with our friends.  (Let me just say he’s a My-Way-Or-The-Highway type.  When his son didn’t make an all-star baseball team, there was a forced “recount” of the vote and my brothers got knocked of while his suddenly made it.  Weird coincidence.)

Anyway, he ran a brutal campaign.

His campaign said that our city was a violent, dangerous city.  He claimed our current mayor was destroying the city.  He used scare-tactics and made wild promises that, as my mother so eloquently put it, “He won’t be getting any sleep ever if he’s going to keep all those promises.”

The problem was this campaign was sorely out of touch with reality.  A brand new park was opened this year that was the toast of the town.  Numerous projects are under development to make the city more exciting and friendly to any event that wants to come.  Things, for the most part, are going well.  So the use of those scare tactics was a serious miscalculation.

And not only that, but this Republican challenger made himself something of an easy target.  For one thing, he only moved within city limits 5 years ago, though he claimed himself a “lifelong resident.”  (He’s from my hometown, which borders this city, but they are distinctly different entities.)  He also said on TV that his favorite part of campaigning was going door to door and meeting all different levels of people, with the implication being that he was meeting poor people.  (He himself is quite affluent and well-off.)  Everything he ran on made him look naive in his ridiculous promises or a fearmongerer.

Last night, the result of the election was the incumbent winning 61% to the challenger’s 39%.  It was the most decisive win for our four-time mayor in all of his elections.  It was a brutal blow for the county’s Republican party, especially as they also lost seats in the city council.

The Takeaways

I keep hearing about this “blue wave” that’s supposedly hitting America, where historically “red” states and cities are starting to flip Democratic.  It seems that was the case in a lot of elections Tuesday, including some in cities that have fought hard for voter rights.

Because that’s really what this all boils down to: there are too many disenfranchised voters out there who, for one reason or another, have been removed from voter rolls, don’t have a valid ID because of money or hours that they can access them, or any other obscene laws states have put in place to make it harder for everyone to vote.

When I first turned 18, I didn’t take voting very seriously.  I thought it was cool that I was now able to, but that was about it.  I didn’t bother with primaries or elections until I was out of college.  (The first time I voted was to vote absentee in the 2012 presidential election, at 21.)  It didn’t seem like my vote really mattered when it was combined with so many thousands of others.

But Every. Vote. Matters.

In my county, they were ecstatic about the unusually high voter turnout across the county.  You know how many eligible voters came out?

Just over 30%.  In the county.  And this was great news.

I’m utterly appalled.  I realize it wasn’t a “big” election for anyone in my county.  A few mayor, some city council members, but no senators, representatives, or presidents.  But 30%?  More people couldn’t be bothered to come out and cast a vote?

And let me even share this.  I have social anxiety when it comes to going new places.  Having just moved in April, my polling place was new to me.  I was pretty nervous about going there.  Would I know where to go inside?  Would I get lost, even though I literally pass the church on my way to school every day?  (I don’t know how it works where you live, but in the Bible Belt, our polling places are nearly always churches.)  But I overcame it because I needed to show my support for the mayor.  One of my friends votes absentee  every year because her life is crazy and she’s never sure what time she’s going to have to go vote.  There are options.

Next year, we have a big vote ahead of us.  Lots of Reps and Senators are up for reelection.  Obviously it’s another presidential election last year.  (The upside is it’s also the year for the Summer Olympics, so…)

Your voice matters.  Your vote matters.  Your candidate might lose, but you made your voice heard.  You didn’t make it easy for the challenger.

Voting is about you sharing your opinion anonymously.  Do it.  It really truly matters.

Top Ten Books I Could Reread Forever

I have been on a total reread kick this year and I’m not really sure why.  Is it the familiarity?  Is it that I respect these authors and I want to model my own writing after them?  Is it that I’m rediscovering some of my old favorites and I want to see if that magic is still there?  (Probably a little of all of the above.)

So I figured there was no bigger compliment than talking about the books I love so much that I just keep rereading them over and over again, and usually for the same reason–they hit me right in the heart.

There’s actually a way to sort your books on Goodreads by the number of times you’ve read them and that made this super easy.  (On a completely unrelated note, I’ve read Twilight FIVE TIMES?!)

Top Ten Books I Could Reread Forever

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

One of only two books on this list with a male protagonist, my current count for this book is 6 reads.  This is in large part because I teach it every year. I can literally tell you what happens in what chapter.  But every time I read it, no matter how well I know the story, I still find myself drawn into the story.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book is so nuanced that you can’t help but find it charming and real.  I’ve read it something like 4 times already (which is saying something since that book is like 550 pages), but every read has me falling in love all over again with Liesl and Rudy and Papa and Mama.  I find something different to love about them every single time.

3. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

So maybe this book is Greek mythology fluff.  I don’t care.  This representation of Hades as a depressed, taciturn god who sees his own death as an inevitability and Kate as the optimistic, selfless heroine just gets to me.  Neither of them are perfect, but they are kind of great for each other.

4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I just recently finished rereading this one for only the second time, but I love Elisa’s transformation in this story so much.  And knowing what I do about where this series goes, it’s so cool to look back at all the clues dropped that I never picked up on before.  This is an ace fantasy series that does not get the credit it deserves.

5. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

The third book in the His Fair Assassin series, Annith’s story has always been my favorite.  I’ve related to her far more than I did Ismae or Sybella, though both of them were also amazing leads.  Annith is kind of a goody-two-shoes because that’s how she survived.  If she did what she was supposed to–before she was asked–she was less likely to be tortured.  Her strength to step out into the world on her own and make her own way is always inspiring and fun to read, especially as she makes numerous missteps along the way.

6. The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Again, a book I don’t think gets enough credit.  Do you realize how hard it is to write a conversation between a character in someone’s head and the actual character herself?  This is just about the only alien book I’ll ever tell you I loved, but it totally deserves it.  Wanda’s character just…I understand her.  I feel her on a level I rarely feel characters.

7. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

I adore this series for the humor.  Rose not only battles evil Strigoi vampires, but she battles seriousness with her own brand of sarcasm and wit.  I love that.  I will admit that as a teacher now myself, Rose’s relationship with Dimitri is now kind of weird for me, but you still can’t help but love that Russian in a cowboy duster.

8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Able to tear me to bits in no time, I just can’t help but love this story.  The elements of the story are raw and real.  It’s difficult not to feel the pain that Mia goes through.

9. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This story.  For all its darkness (and trust me, there’s lots), it still retains something of a hopeful note to it.  That little light at the end of the tunnel is what keeps us going through the story.  Not to mention there are some very interesting, very heartbreaking characters.  I’m a sucker for those.

10. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Let’s not even pretend this wasn’t going to make the list.  Goodreads tells me I’ve only read the series 4 times, though it feels like more than that.  (Well, maybe not the later books.)  In fact, last week being Spirit Week at school, I dressed up as Harry and Hermione on two separate days.  These characters are part of my life like none other.

Top Ten Halloween Freebie

Hey everyone!  So I’ve already done like 2 Halloween related ones that I did to replace the category I didn’t want to do (and November’s not looking good either, in my opinion).  For this one, I think we’ll just take a look at the last 10 books I added to my to-read list.  Sound good?  Cool.

I had a lot of fun writing this!  I hope you find some new books to check out.  (Many of these aren’t out yet–so put them on your TBR!)

The Last Ten Books I Added To My To-Read List

1. Wait For Me by Caroline Leech

After finishing In Another Time, I knew I needed to check out this book, which is also a historical fiction set in Scotland.  Except this time, it’s about a Scottish girl who starts to fall in love with a German POW.  (German POWs were sent all over the world to work, since the men were all off at war.  Think Summer of My German Soldier.  Even in my tiny hometown in northern Indiana, we had German POWs to help on the farms.)

2. Once a King (A Clash of Kingdoms, #3) by Erin Summerill

My understanding of this series is that this book is set in the same world as the other books, but we’re following a different narrator this time.  And this is a character I fell in love with in the last book, so I’m really excited about this.

3. Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

This book actually comes out today.  It’s a fantasy story where maidens are chosen to join a dying ruler in the afterlife.  It’s an “honor” but it’s really nothing more than human sacrifice, you know?  And when our narrator’s sister is chosen as one of these gravemaidens, she’s determined to change that.

4. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

This just came out earlier this month, but it’s basically the most political YA book of this fall.  No one is allowed to talk about a girl’s 16th year, otherwise known as her “grace year”.  It’s the year a girl’s skin supposedly becomes an aphrodisiac and can lure men away from their wives and girlfriends.  Girls are banned to the forests to release their magic without harming anyone, but it’s not safe.  Poachers wait in the woods to capture grace year girls to make a fortune on the black market.  This book has already been optioned as a movie by Elizabeth Banks.

5. Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

This book had me from the description “contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast.”  Sign me up.  Princess Jaya Rao has a running feud against the Emerson clan, who is targeting her little sister.  So when Jaya finds out she’s attending boarding school with Grey Emerson, she’s determined to make him fall in love with her and crush his heart into a million little pieces and burn the remains into ashes.  Ahem.  But Grey’s reclusive habits and the secrets he’s hiding him make him alluring…not like the enemy she thought he was.

6. The Empire of Dreams (Fire and Thorns, #4) by Rae Carson

Y’ALL, THERE’S ANOTHER BOOK IN THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS SERIES.  I about did a spit-take when I found that out.  It doesn’t release until April, but this girl got her hands on an ARC.  Boo-yah.  It’s not told from Elisa’s perspective, but she’s still a character in the story.  Instead, we’re following an orphan named Red Sparkle Stone, who admits that her name is weird.  But it looks to have the same political machinations as the previous books as well as a girl who desires to prove herself.  I love it.

7. Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

I truly never know what McGinnis is going to write about next, but you can almost always guarantee it’s going to be about the most unlikely of heroines.  In this story, we meet Ashley, who goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends.  When she catches her boyfriend cheating on her, her own drunken rage sends her storming into forest on her own…until she falls into a ravine.  She wakes in the morning to discover she’s utterly lost–and far from any signs of civilization.  I’m here for this survival story, I tell you what.

8. The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

I’m still a little iffy on the way these are all supposed to be Christian lit, but the fairy tale angle grabs me every time.  And this one being Beauty and the Beast grabs my attention.  But I’m very worried because reviews I’ve seen are saying this one is super preachy, which I don’t do well with at all.  So it may be on my to-read list, but it’s on probationary status.

9. The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

This book unfortunately doesn’t come out until February, but it looks delightful.  It’s essentially a Shakespearean-esque rom-com, full of misunderstandings and plans to trick people.  Becca, while being teased about being single, impulsively lies and says she has a boyfriend.  Brett, the captain of the football team, overhears her lie and decides to step in as her mystery man.  It’s a win-win for both of them–their friends stop bothering them.  But it’s hard to “date” someone when you know nothing about them.  Still, there’s something there between them, especially since they’re both struggling to hold their lives together at the moment…and this might be the realest thing about their lives right now.

10. All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

Billed as something akin to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this book is getting bananas good reviews already and it’s not even out until March.  A queen bee, a star athlete, a stoner, a loner, a valedictorian, and a music geek are all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap.  Someone has locked them in a room with a bomb, a syringe of poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill…or they all die.  They all are hiding secrets, but what’s the connection between them all?  And as time runs out, what’s going to happen?  Dude, this is going to win awards next year, mark my words.

In Another Time

Image result for in another time caroline leechFirst Lines: Maisie’s shoulders burned, her palms were torn, and her ax handled was smeared with blister pus and blood.  Again.

This caught my eye for a couple of reasons.  1) I’m loving this girl’s look, the head scarf, all of it.  2) It’s set in Scotland, which I’m kind of obsessed with right now, especially when you also make it historical in any way.  This is World War II, so I was definitely game.  And 3) it covers a part of history that doesn’t get recognition.  My favorite kind to read about.

It’s 1942 and Maisie wants to do her part to serve her country.  But being only 17, she isn’t old enough to enlist–so she joins the Women’s Timber Corps as a lumberjill.  Maisie loves her new freedom in the Highlands and her growing friendships, especially with the enigmatic John Lindsay.  As John and Maisie work side by side felling trees, Maisie can’t help but feel there’s a spark of something more there.  But every time she starts to get close to John, he pulls back.  It’s not until Maisie helps John after a logging accident that she truly begins to learn his secrets.  Is she strong enough to help put him back together, especially if there’s nothing left to piece together?

This was really cute!  In this story, we meet Maisie, who is spunky and determined to do her part in the war (and also to get away from her parents). The Women’s Timber Corps isn’t exactly what she had in mind, but she wants to do the best she can regardless.

It’s a story that’s as much about friendship as it is about love. The story is billed as a love story, which it is, but most of the time is actually devoted to Maisie and her budding friendships with these other women of the WTC. It was really neat to see those develop, especially as all of the characters grow throughout the story.  I’m such a sucker for character development.

I got pretty into this story because of the characters, but props to the plot. I don’t want to say that it was daring, per se, but there were some big events that happened that felt realistic, like when Maisie had to make a really difficult choice and went with the harder of the two options because that’s just Maisie. This was just a really interesting story.

I’m very interested in checking out what else this author writes because her writing style is engrossing, easy to read, and entertaining.

Writing Tip Thursday #3: What To Do About Writer’s Block

Hey everyone!  Sorry I missed last week’s installment of this.  I was busy dealing with my writer’s block, which then occurred to me that it would be a good topic to talk about, especially with NaNo right around the corner.  So here’s what happened to me and what I did about it.

What To Do About Writer’s Block

About 1.5-2 weeks ago, while writing my novel, I realized I didn’t know how it was going to end.  I’d planned everything out, but in the process of writing a pivotal scene, I realized the emotions weren’t right and that I wasn’t ready to do a Really Bad Thing to my main character, so changed the scene.  I really like where it went and I think it brought more depth to all of the characters involved, so I don’t want to cut it.  But that meant now…my ending didn’t work right.

Simply put, I was stuck.  I felt like a sailor without any guides, drifting aimless in a sea of words.

So I did just about the only thing I could do, being 45,000 words into the story: I went back to the beginning.

That’s right.  I went allllll the way back and started rereading and editing as I went.  And I’m telling you, it helped me so much.  By the time I’d gotten to that 45,000th word, I had a much better idea of who my characters were than I did at Word 1,000.  Because of that, I needed to change scenes.  I needed to make my heroine stronger and more brazen.  I needed to add scenes now that the mystery in the story made more sense to me.  It also meant that I cut a couple thousand words, but I also added back at least 5,000 in new scenes that I now adore.

This also helped because it showed me where my plot holes were.  I saw the times my mystery didn’t quite work or seemed stupid.  I saw the scenes that needed foreshadowing or needed more context later.

Most of all, though, I noticed I still hadn’t figured out my villain’s motivation except that he’s a horrible person.

That was, surprisingly, the trickiest part of this whole thing.  I had 4-5 things in motion that he was doing to thwart my heroine…and yet I didn’t know why.  Once I realized that, I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I had to figure it out.

I tried getting him to talk to me in my head.  (The voices can be very helpful in that way.)  There was one sentence he kept growling to me over and over, but it didn’t tell me why he did these things.  But I kid you not, the moment I picked up a pencil to jot down what little I had figured out, the rest of it came pouring out.  Suddenly, all my clues and pieces worked.

So I went back to editing.  I needed to make sure the pieces I’d already written made sense with this motivation I’d finally found.  I still have some new clues to drop to make it make more sense, but I’m on my way.

Here’s basically my advice: if you’re stuck by writer’s block, it probably means something’s not right somewhere.  Maybe it’s the plot not coming together the way you want.  Maybe it’s characters or even the conflict itself being weak.  My recommendation is to go back through what you’ve written and look it over with as impartial an eye as you can.  Does this need to be there?  Does this feel right?  Are my characters acting the way they would naturally and not just the way I want them to?

Sometimes your own feelings can get in the way.  Sometimes the stress of your day comes between you and your best writing.  There may be days when it’s not possible to leave your day at the door–and maybe you don’t want to if that helps drive your writing.  I can be very inspired by what irritates me.  But it can help to take a step back and look at your story with a critical, English Lit major eye.  Or at least that helps me.

Others obviously have other fixes for writer’s block.  Some people go for a walk or let the story sit for a few days.  Some clean their houses or do more research on their topics.  For me, it’s about going back to the roots of the story.  If I find a tangle in the web, then untangling that may just be the inspiration I need for the ending.

Whatever you do, don’t give up.  Unless whatever you’re writing is actually terrible (and I have a binder full of those).  But if you’re truly passionate about what you’re writing, you need to keep pushing on.  A setback is just that–a setback.  It’s not a nosedive off a cliff, something that will kill your story.  You just need to find out what went wrong and work from there.  It might be a lot of work (it took me nearly 2 weeks to edit what I have so far and write those new scenes), but you’ll feel better about it.

Hope this helps!