First To-Read List for 2015!

Realistic Fiction (oxymoronic as it sounds):

1. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

I would read ANYTHING by Sarah Dessen. Ever since I first picked up Keeping the Moon when I was 14, I was sold.

Saint Anything didn’t come by smoothly for the writer. Sarah struggled with a story that was going nowhere, and was miserable when she wrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it again. It’s hard to churn out a novel a year, and after writing more than ten books in the same genre, I guess she got a little burnt out. But I’m so glad she took a break, because Saint Anything looks SO GOOD, slightly different and darker than her usual books.

2. Made You Up, by Francesca Zappia

Ever since E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars wrecked me emotionally, I’ve been looking for more stories told by unreliable narrators. Plus, Made You Up also involves mental illness, another theme I gravitate towards. And the cover art! How pretty!

3. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

This book is touted as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park, a “love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die”. Even though I found E&P a little over-dramatic at times, I’m holding out on the hope that this won’t be as overplayed.

4. The Howling Boy, by Cath Crowley

This book is a mystery. No cover art yet, or confirmed publishing date. But after reading – and rereading, and re-rereading – the magical, bittersweet, poignant, inspiring Graffiti Moon, this book CANNOT come soon enough.

Fantasy:

1. Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

More stories from the Grishaverse (that’s Grisha universe, by the way). YES, PLEASE! I’m still savouring the final installment of the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising, so it won’t end so soon. So more Grisha tales are definitely welcome.

2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

Faeries, monster-slaying children, fairy-tale retelling. What’s not to love? And knowing Holly Black, it would be dark and sinister and all kinds of delicious.

3. Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

OMG OMG OMG. I have never been this psyched for a book to be released before –

Okay, well that’s not true. But this is definitely one of the books I’m properly excited about. I mean, just read the blurb. COME ON. Does it not want to make you read it already?! I can only hope it won’t disappoint, because I am all ready to sink my teeth into this juicy novel.

4. Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen

I love how fairytale-ish the premise is, yet how real and current the protagonist’s conflict is, with an age-old curse and an absentee mother. “The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast … unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.” Okay, I’m on board.

What’s on YOUR To-Read list for 2015?

By the way, I am HOOKED on Aussie YA, thanks to incredible writers like Cath Crowley, Lucy Christopher, Melina Marchetta, Karen Foxlee, and Vikki Wakefield. There must be something in those Australian waters that lets them churn out such dreamy prose and create such relatable characters. If anyone has any recommendations, please share the good stuff! :0)

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Book Review: A Little Wanting Song

So after the magic that was Graffiti Moon, I reached for another Cath Crowley book, A Little Wanting Song.

It was everything I hoped it would be – sweet, funny, poignant, with beautiful, heart-breaking prose, characters you fall in love with and find a bit of yourself in, and music (pun intended) woven between the lines.

Graffiti Moon, which I raved about a while back, is a quiet, funny, and bittersweet contemporary novel about two people trying to find a place for themselves and their art. It inspired me to write Until Morning, and now I’m a die-hard Cath Crowley fan. I’d read ANYTHING she writes, including those strange, beautiful prose and poems on her blog.

The premise for A Little Wanting Song is music instead. It’s about how shy Charlie Duskin, who lost her mother seven years ago and is still reeling in the aftermath of her loss, relies on her music to get her through life with her emotionally distant father.

Love and loss are themes done to death before, and by so many fantastic authors like Sarah Dessen and Christie Hodgen, but the thing about Cath Crowley’s writing is that she leaves a lot of things unsaid. So it seems like a very simple YA story told from a teenage narrator’s POV, but there are so many emotions and layers you can get to if you know where to look.

Her prose just DOES THINGS TO ME I CAN’T EVEN EXPLAIN IT.

*insert incoherent babbling and flapping here*

I want to do that too, with my writing. I want to reduce my readers to a sobbing, laughing puddle of emotions and incoherent thoughts.

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I’m convinced there’s something in that Australian soil that produces writers like Cath Crowley, Vikki Wakefield, Karen Foxlee, Lucy Christopher and Melina Marchetta. How can I ever write like thaaaaaat.

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Okay, I set out partly to talk about that beautiful book, and also to complain this writing rut I’m in (NOT writer’s block – I refuse to fall back on that excuse), about how I can’t find anything that makes me want to write and lose myself in the magic of words again. But then I headed over to Laini Taylor’s blog, like I always do when I need something reassuring and uplifting, and it’s helped LOADS.

Seriously, just reading one of her blog posts (she updates less regularly now, alas!) puts me in the happy, hopeful mood. And it makes me want to write! HOW is that possible?! It’s not even a post about writing, but about a friend, Kiersten White’s book (which, by the way, now I’m DYING to read).

But yes, the problem still stands. I still don’t believe in No Room in Neverland enough to write it. And I’m afraid to work all the way to 289 pages before I realise it’s not working again. Okay, time to re-read THIS POST!

Also, this little pep talk from best-selling author, and writer of this hysterically funny and on-point post, couldn’t be more timely. I SPURTED OUT MY TEA READING THIS, CHUCK WENDIG, THANKS FOR THAT.

Have a lovely weekend! :0)

when good books need more face time: in support of under-rated YA titles and genres

Over at her blog, New York Times best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson talks about the popularising of certain genres in YA (namely, the dude-ification of YA – also known as the John Green effect) and the oversight of others.

 

And here’s her suggestion:

I’d like to see everyone who is pissed off about the uneven coverage of YA books (and authors) to call The Damn Media on the carpet and tell them what they are doing wrong. Gather the contact information of the reporters, editors, editorial boards, and corporate owners of media outlets that are writing skewed or under-informed pieces about YA literature and share them publicly. Share what you write to them. Contact Hollywood peeps and tell them about other great books that could be movies.

Then seek out and talk and blog and vlog and shout about the books and authors that The Damn Media is not talking about yet.

 

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Hear, hear.

 

Often, due to limited bookshelf space, bookstores only bring in popular titles or titles from popular writers or genre. For instance, Stephen King is a mainstay. So is Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham and the like.

 

And in recent years, YA fantasy – particularly vampire novels – got a lot of attention, which I call “the Twilight effect”. After that, bookstores mostly brought in books centred around vampires and other supernatural creatures. Which is why most of the Young Adult section is filled with books in the fantasy genre. Veronica Roth, Carrie Ryan, Kimberly Derting, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, Gayle Forman, etc.

 

 

Nothing wrong with those writers or their books, of course. We should all be glad there are now so much YA books out there as compared to ten years ago.

 

But demand begets supply, after all. If bookstores find that more people are reading vampire novels, they’d bring in more vampire novels. But then if vampire novels are the only sort of books found in bookstores, the only sort of books available, the only sort taking up most of the space on bookshelves, then where do the others go? There are many more books out there than those about vampires or angels or zombies or werewolves.

 

 

Of course, this is hyperbolic, since vampire novels aren’t the ONLY sort found in bookstores. I’m just saying, this narrows down the space available for other types of books, like contemporary. Unless you’re a stalwart like Sarah Dessen or Deb Caletti,

 

 

 

or a super-hot breakout author like Rainbow Rowell,

 

 

 

chances are your books aren’t going to get much exposure or reach out to your readers as much as you would like.

 

Kelly Jensen posits the same thing over at her blog:

 

Readers generally see the [New York Times] List as a status symbol, but it’s that status symbol that influences bookstores in terms of what they’re putting on shelves and what books get exposure and more exposure and thus more push and more face time and do you see where I’m going?

This isn’t about taking someone out. It’s about how to lift others up and have their stories and voices heard and seen, too. If what people see on shelves is the same thing, then we’ll continue to get the same thing through the market. We’ll continue to have those sold to us and marketed to us and while they’re not BAD, they’re reductive and limiting and offer us fewer and fewer choices.

 

So if there’s a book that you really like but you feel is completely under-rated, recommend it to a friend, and have that friend recommend it to another friend. Word of mouth is the best form of publicity when it comes to books.

 

Or, better yet:

 

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Fangirl/boy about it. If you love a book, go nuts about it. Trust me, you’ll make the author’s day. Plus, more people will get to enjoy that book and you won’t be alone in your fangirl/boying. That’s why I always rave about the books I love.

 

For some reason, there are a lot of best-selling titles I’ve never been into, like the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I have nothing against these writers – they’re obviously doing something right if so many people enjoy their books – but I’m just not into dystopian fiction or sci-fi.

 

 

What I do wish to see more of in bookstores, however, are books like those from Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti and Cath Crowley. Contemporary YA with flawed, REAL protagonists who learn to be strong and kind and accepting of themselves and others. Contemporary YA with quiet, beautiful prose that creates a storm of emotions in the reader. Contemporary YA that allows us to learn more about ourselves and the world.

 

 

from The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen

 

from Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti

 

from Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

 

from Graffiti Moon

 

And where YA fantasy is concerned, more character-driven stories like Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, or epic ones like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor (but hers is just too perfect, in terms of plot and prose – practically in a league of its own – we can’t expect every writer to write like her) should totally get more attention. Not that they aren’t already. The writing speaks for itself, I always say.

 

But first, the books need to be able to reach their readers.

 

What are some books or genres that you think deserve more attention and appreciation than they are receiving?

PRETTY is a lovely word (as is LOVELY)

Ex-literary agent and author Nathan Bransford dishes out some hard truths:

The thing people should really be worried about is whether they have the willpower to write a novel. That is the hard part. The setting aside of time, powering through when it stops being fun, and getting the whole thing written and edited.

I think I’ve said before that writing can be lonely at times. It’s just you and your words. You slaving over your story. You and your own thoughts that can easily morph into doubts. You don’t know if what you’re writing is any good, if anyone will ever get to read it, much less love it. And because of that, you’re hesitant about showing anyone your work. And then it becomes REALLY just you and your story. After a while (usually around the middle), your story starts to get tiresome, and you’re not sure if you should just give up on the whole endeavour.

But then you remember how immensely gratifying it had been to complete your previous stories. And you decide to push through.

Aww thanks, Ryan!

So that’s where I am now, trying to keep up my flagging enthusiasm for Neverland, keep my eye on the finishing line, so to speak.

Thank goodness for little reprieves such as these:

This has to be one of the most hilarious interviews of McFly I’ve seen. Alan Carr + the boys = a total riot!

This one NEVER gets old. Some people say this is a terribly display of how spoiled First World kids are, but I think they were crying about the injustice of losing what they’d earned (how much trick-or-treating do you have to do to get two bags of candy?)  more than they were crying about the candy itself (though, of course, they were crying about the candy too).

And this! Another classic: Dominic Monahan prank-interviews Elijah Wood.

I died laughing.

And to those who say Orlando Bloom is just a pretty face who can’t take the piss out of himself, check out this video:

Still love him. Once my Legolas/Will Turner, always my Legolas/Will Turner!

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Oops. Those eyes though!

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Sigh. Is it any wonder why the writing’s going slowly?

Anyway, remember Graffiti Moon, that wildly beautiful contemporary YA book by Cath Crowley that I raved about a while back? I only just discovered her blog (how did I only find it now?!) and OMG it might be one of my favourite blogs now, along with Laini TaylorNathan Bransford and Maggie Stiefvater’s. I mean, just look at these random gems Cath posts!

Some prose (click on the link for the full piece!):

Someone will offer you the last page of your life today. You won’t know it’s the last page. They won’t say and you won’t ask.

They’ll be waiting for you on a corner that you walk past every day. You’ll think maybe you recognise them. It’s something about the way they’re clicking the thumb and index finger of their left hand together when they speak – you do that all the time, you’ll think.

So you’ll take the page, they know you’ll take the page because you’re that kind of person. You say sorry when it’s not really a sorry kind of situation. You say sorry at least five hundred times a day. You counted once. It’s a habit. You don’t even know where you picked it up.

You’ll get a strange kind of feeling when you walk down the street. The sky, an uncut blue overhead and the mist coming out of your mouth like a ghost. At one stage you might get the idea that you can suck the cold air right back inside. You can’t, you’ll realise. Air that’s breathed is breathed for good.

The paper will stay in your pocket all day – maybe along with a couple of chocolate wrappers and a piece of gum you didn’t know what to do with because you couldn’t find a bin.

You’ll probably touch it a couple of times during the day – feel the corner when you talk to the one you want but spend most of the time looking at the air just to the left of their ears. Maybe you’ll touch it when your boss says you messed up and you believe him.

In the end you’ll take it out and read it on the train. You’ll be coming home like everyone else, watching the blur of lights out the window, the glass between you and the night, between you and the breath of stars.

Some poetry:

You is my mad aching ship

My sad puzzled light

My honey ocean

My late night, impossible wish

I’m sure the grammatical choice (“is”) is there for a reason, but I don’t want to delve into literary criticism here.

And some more prose:

You’ll look up today. You’ll notice the sky. It might be streaky or blue or brushed with white buckled clouds but there will be a piece of it that seems exactly right. You might take a photograph so that you can remember.

You’ll think about the words that you love – maybe nova and opal and shadow and nest. Maybe flicker and frost, kismet or linger. Maybe bliss. Maybe kiss.

SO MUCH BEAUTY in her words. All that imagery! So tender and sweet it’s almost heart-breaking. I just want to hug those words…

Like this!

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MAD MAAAAAD LOVE! I wish I had her sensitivity for words. Graffiti Moon was gorrrrgeous. It’s just the kind of intense, bittersweet, funny, poignant contemporary YA romance centred around two characters looking for themselves and each other that I wish I had written. Or will someday be able to write with much much aplomb.

Speaking of pretty words, there’s something soothing about finding pretty art in the sinkhole that is Pinterest on a lovely blue-skied morning.

Wolf painting by chantelyoung on Etsy
a painting by Carson Ellis for Wildwood, a lovely MG book series by Colin Meloy
Obviously, Quentin Blake.
The Little Prince by Woo Hee Kwon

Okay okay okay. Enough procrastinating. I’m gone. Have a great week, everyone! :0)