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!

Top Ten Most Interesting Villains

Ok, so once again, I find myself not liking the topic for this week. (10 books I would pick new titles for…picking titles is hard and I’m not going to judge that.  I’d end up doing titles like Harry Potter and That Time There Was A Psycho In Hogwarts.  Which, upon reflection, fits Every. Single. Book.)  I digress.  The point is, I don’t want to put my energy into something I’m not at least a little passionate about, so I changed the topic again.

I think perhaps I’ve done this topic before a few years ago, but being nearly Halloween, I think it’s still a pretty good topic.  I was just talking to someone this past weekend about the complexities of It, so it’s got me in the right mindset.

Also, my definition of “villains” is a bit loose, seeing as not every villain can be a Lord Voldemort type.  (And because he is like the King Villain, I’m leaving him off the list to make room for less well-known baddies.)  Sometimes, these “villains” are simply antagonists that keep making bad choices but aren’t inherently evil.  Ok, glad we got that settled.

Let’s take a look!

Top Ten Most Interesting Villains

1. Amarantha from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

There are so many potential villains I could have chosen for this series, but I had to tread carefully.  (Spoilers and all that.)  But Amarantha is definitely one who ranks high on the list for her sadism and vengeful spirit.  She’s unpredictable and cruel for the fun of it, which makes her a very dangerous foe.

2. The Director/US Government from Internment by Samira Ahmed

This is the only one I chose that was actually a society as a villain–and it’s absolutely horrifying.  In this book, Muslim Americans are relocated to detention centers for the “safety” of the American people.  The Director in particular, if I had to choose a single person, was the epitome of everything that is wrong with this society.  Brutal, cold, and unfeeling, he likes to think he’s doing his best for his country while really just embracing racist actions.

3. Truly Devious from Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Two books in and we still have no idea who this person (or people?) is.  But it’s fantastic.  This series deals with two separate crimes: the kidnapping of a mother and daughter in the 1930s and a killer in the present time.  And in both cases, the criminals are genius-level masterminds, covering their crimes so well that even when you do find a clue, it’s nearly impossible to know who’s actually guilty.  I grew up reading mysteries and I’m still left guessing.

4. Queen Elara from Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I may have disliked where this series went after the first two books, but I can’t deny that Queen Elara is one of the scariest villains to grace YA fantasy in the last few years.  Sneaky and power-hungry, Elara will stop at nothing to get her way and deflect any blame from coming her way.  It’s chilling and it’s masterful.

5. Lada Dracul from the And I Darken series by Kiersten White

Make no mistake, she may be one of the narrators in this series, but Lada is definitely the antagonist.  (“Villain” may be too strong of a word for her in the first few books.)  In this gender-bent take on the actual history of Vlad Dracul, Lada is ruthless, uncaring, and vengeful.  She demands to have what is hers and will stop at nothing to get it–even if it means cutting down thousands of people to get it.  And she will.  But man, you have to admire this girl’s drive in a time when women weren’t typically in leadership positions.  She earned every bit of fear and respect she got.

6. Warner from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Going back to my previously mentioned definition of villains, Warner fits that type perfectly.  He makes a lot of bad decisions, a product of his upbringing more than anything.  It makes him a captivating character because you see there’s some good in him, but he keeps choosing to do terrible things.  But I have a soft little squishy spot in my heart for him.

7. Guy of Gisbourne from Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Any Robin Hood story has to have a good villain.  Most of the time, it’s the Sheriff, but there’s a very good case to be made in this series for Gisbourne to be the main villain.  He’s smart and single-minded in his hunt for what is his.  It’s all in good fun to read each new iteration of the legend, but I enjoy how this one made Guy the one to watch for.

8. Anima Industries from Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

My only entry on this list that was a company (there are quite a few dystopias where I considered it).  When you’ve got a company that’s figured out a way to bring vicious zombies into the world, they’re probably the bad guys.  And like many of the other entries on this list, they’re incredibly ruthless.

9. Queen Red from Splintered by A.G. Howard

Much like what I said about Robin Hood, you’ve got the Queen of Hearts as another villain to always keep your eye on in each retelling.  She’s known as Queen Red in this series, but this lady is crazy.  What else can you expect from a being of Wonderland?  And because she’s crazy, you can’t predict what she’ll do next or where she’ll show up.  She doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but her own.

10. The Virus from The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

I debated about putting this on the list because it’s not an actual person, but I decided I needed to.  A virus can’t help what it does, but the destruction it leaves in its wake can be more terrifying than any single person.  This virus kills almost everyone it comes in contact with, young or old.  Families are destroyed, friends lost, all because they come in contact with this.  And when you’re trapped on an island where the virus is taking over and you have no way off, things are going to get really scary.

White Rose

Image result for white rose kip wilsonFirst Lines: The cars screech to a halt, officers pull us out by the arms, haul us inside and off to separate rooms, my heartbeat pounding all the while, boom-boom, boom-boom.

Now that I’ve taught books related to the Holocaust in my classroom for the last 5 years, I find myself very attuned to them.  Like, I’m always finding a new one crossing my path, but I’m always reluctant to read them because, you know, darkness.  (I tend to internalize a lot of that, so it’s hard to want to read books I know will make me sad.)  Still, this one about a German organization standing up to Hitler–and based on the very true story–caught my attention.

Sophie Scholl is a young German college student disillusioned by the Nazi propaganda machine.  With her brother and some of his friends, they start a secret organization called the White Rose to write and distribute pamphlets criticizing Hitler and demanding action.  But when Sophie and her brother are arrested and accused of treason, how long can they hold out against the government they despise?

Not knowing about the White Rose, beyond their name at least, was a definite bonus while reading this because I was in suspense practically the whole time. Sophie, our narrator, sees that what Hitler is doing is wrong and she can’t stand that people are being hurt–and later killed–under his leadership. But everyone’s so afraid of saying something that they sit back. Sophie’s tired of it.

It is a remarkably timely story of complicity through silence. There were times reading this where I immediately connected it with what’s happening in the news or something that I’ve seen recently in day-to-day life. It’s a universal feeling, seeing that something’s wrong and wanting to do something about it. But do you act on that or do you just keep your head down?

The story is told in verse, which makes it an incredibly fast read. I did enjoy getting through a book that quickly again. But the verse also allows Sophie to highlight what’s actually going on without us getting bogged down by descriptions and details. We’re kept simply to her letters, her perceptions, and the very limited verses of other minor characters who impacted her life. You get it. You see everyone’s perspectives, no matter how short, and you just…understand.

As with most stories about the Holocaust, it has its moments where it gets hard to read because of what the Nazis are doing, what the normal Germans are doing (or aren’t doing), war, concentration camps, and Jewish persecution. It’s a heavy topic, but the verse keeps it a little lighter, at least.

It really is a touching story. I’m definitely going to be taking a closer look at the White Rose in the future.

Lovestruck

Image result for lovestruck kate watsonFirst Lines: Shooting an arrow into a crowd of people on the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro is highly illegal.  Good thing I A) don’t care, and B) can’t be seen.

First of all, can I just say how A+ those first lines are?  This was a random grab at the library because I love Greek mythology and after falling in absolute love with the book Destined about Eros and Psyche, this similar-looking story was a must for me.

Kali is a cupid-in-training and she’s in an Olympus mountain-size amount of trouble.  One of the first rules of being a cupid is don’t shoot yourself.  Now Kali finds herself in love with her target, the musically talented, indie rock, and cute Benicio.  Eros is certain to kill her, even if he is her dad.  And trust her, it sucks to be the daughter of one of the most beautiful and fatalistic love stories in history.  Gag her.  And it also sucks that she’s supposed to be a cupid when she wants nothing more than to be a muse.  To take back her destiny and her heart, Kali must defy the gods, tempt the Fates, date her mortal love, and hope she doesn’t lose her best friend Hector in the process of it all.

This was really cute!  In this story, we follow Kali, who is admittedly a little bit of a brat. She’s sassy, self-centered, and overly dramatic…but she is also a Greek goddess and that’s kind of their MO, you know? She fits in with the pantheon. I actually kind of liked it because it was amusing, especially her inventive insults.

The plot isn’t necessarily anything new, but it feels like it. Kali accidentally sticks herself with one of her arrows, falling in love with Ben the musician. Now she has to deal with these new (and somewhat unwanted) feelings before they take over her entire life. On top of that, her new love life is threatening her oldest friendships.

In this respect, I think it deals with very real issues that everyone experiences in relationships but it’s framed in a different way. Normally we’re not seeing it through the eyes of goddesses, for one thing. But also, it just felt a little different because you fall into Kali’s love along with her and you see the ups and downs. I love books that don’t shy away from the downsides of love–without resorting to cheating or other plot devices to add drama.  Most relationships have enough drama without adding any of that to it. There are all those little things a significant other does that can be so irritating, and Kali discovers that for herself. It was stunning to see that represented in a YA novel and it was pretty entertaining.

I did think it was a little slow to get the story really going, though. The first chapter was amazingly fun and I quickly figured out Kali’s personality and her situation, but once she sticks herself, things slowed down. It took some time for me to feel like I was truly invested in the story and interested in finding out the ending. But the second half definitely has some wonderful reveals.

And for the most part, I liked the characters. It’s not like there’s a single character who stands out as being terrible or anything, but the whole…Greek gods thing…that did get a little old some times for their muchness.

But truly, it was a cute read. I enjoyed it a lot.