☕ Book Break ☕ | Cinder by Marissa Meyer #popsugarreadingchallenge

#popsugarreadingchallenge2019

A book you meant to read last year

That would be a looong list, but I’ll pick one.

Cinder is a book that’s been on my list forever. 

This is an  imaginative retelling of Cinderella with a futuristic setting in New Beijing. Cinder is a hated stepchild and is also a cyborg. Being cyborg is not a popular thing to be, so she doesn’t advertise the fact that she’s a social outcast. There’s a prince, a ball, and an evil queen. A deadly disease strikes Cinder’s stepsister, and Cinder would do anything to save her. There;s a mystery surrounding Cinder’s past, she can’t remember anything from her early childhood. 

Fast paced and easy to read.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.

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Gritty Contemporary Christian YA: Interview with Author Brian McBride

 

Haunted by the last question their mother ever asked them, the Greyson brothers struggle to cope with their grief and adjust to life after tragedy.

Semi-popular sixteen-year-old Liam spends his nights performing as the lead singer of his high school indie alternative/rock band, Liam and the Landmarks. But something happened to Liam four years ago at his friend’s house – a secret Liam will take to his grave. But in small towns like Summit, Colorado, secrets always seem to find their way out.

Twenty-four-year-old Ezra thought that he could cure his grief when he left Summit behind for a prestigious art school in Chicago, but things only got worse. Now a college dropout working at a gas station mini mart, he turns to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and meaningless one-night stands. But Ezra can’t run forever – life always catches up with you.

With abrasively honest dual-perspective narratives, Every Bright and Broken Thing illustrates the unbreakable bond between brothers and the power in coming home.

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Bookstagrammer, blogger, and author Sunny Huck shared about Brian’s work on her Instagram and peaked my interest so I had to talk with him.

DJS: Your novels are contemporary and gritty. What drives you to write about the issues you do?

BM: Some of it is personal experience; a lot of the issues I write about are things that myself or others I know have faced. Depression, self-harm, mental illness, sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, addiction, etc… 

But some of it is also that there’s a severe lack in the YA market – specifically the Christian YA market – of stories that deal with these things. I can’t name even five Christian YA Contemporary novels that could be comparable to, say, the stories John Green, Amber Smith, or Stephen Chbosky write. The Christian Fiction industry seems to think YA Fantasy novels are the only kind worth publishing. I disagree. I doubt I can fill this gap completely by myself, but maybe I can encourage other Christian authors of YA Contemporary to share their stories, too – THEN we’ll fill the gap!

DJS: What has been the most gratifying about writing realistic Christian fiction for young people?

BM: Hearing the stories of how my books have given people a new view of themselves, of the value of life, of faith and hope, and most importantly of Jesus. Hearing all those stories has been the highlight of this experience. 

DJS: Liam and Ezra go through some pretty harrowing times before they begin their healing journey in Every Bright and Broken Thing. Will you write any more of their story?

I don’t have any new stories simmering for Liam and Ezra right now. But I have a short story or novella I may or may not be planning to carry on Lincoln’s story. But anything is possible. If a good idea comes, I won’t say no to revisiting my boys in Summit. 

DJS: Every Bright and Broken Thing is the story of two brothers dealing with loss and how they react. In a few sentences, what would you say to those who want to support families going through grief?

BM: Hold onto them and don’t let go. I remember a time when I was far away from the Lord and was getting into some bad stuff, but my parents refused to let go. Some parents will kind of back off and say, “oh, well they’re adults now. They have to make their own choices.” But my parents weren’t about to let me go. They held on for months and months. I literally would not be alive today if it weren’t for the fierce, fighting kind of love my parents have for me.

In Every Bright, we see Mr. Greyson grapple with his own suffering and even come to realize how he allowed his grief to cause him to not hold onto his sons like he should. Mr. Greyson had to determine once again that he was going to hold onto his boys. In that, we see a father who was broken become strong again.

So, if you know someone who is suffering, hold on and don’t let go. Sometimes that means telling them the hard truth. Sometimes that just means listening and letting them cry on your shoulder. Whatever the case, hold on and don’t let go.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today, Brian. Keep writing. I expect great things to come from your work.

A winner of the 2016 Wattys Award, Brian published the award-winning Young Adult Contemporary debut, Love and the Sea and Everything in Between, in 2018.
Born and raised in Oregon, Brian moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 16-years-old. He’s been writing since he was thirteen-years-old and has been reading for longer. Brian is pursuing a degree in Social Work, which he hopes to use to help rescue children and families. Perhaps he’ll work to better the US’s foster care system? Or maybe he’ll join an organization that fights human trafficking? A fourth generation pastor, he is deeply passionate about the Church and is also pursuing his Minister’s License. It was this passion that compelled him to launch the Pioneer Mvmt, a social-media-based faith movement. Among other things, he is also passionate about iced tea, animals, adoption, and the arts.
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☕ Book Break ☕ | The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

 

This nonfiction book gives an account of the 1986 fire that gutted the Los Angeles Public Library. Exactly what happened remains a mystery.

Orleans researched the fire, the suspect investigators settled on, and in addition gives an interesting history of the library. This compilation of information is highly entertaining.

The book covers much, but somehow it fits together. If you love books, mysteries, or libraries, this is one to check out.

I was fascinated by the various characters’ stories. At times I felt it did ramble a bit, but I liked the material and the author’s easy to read style so much it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. I’d love to read similar books about the history of other public library systems. 

 

Interesting

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Informative

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Entertaining

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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☕ Book Break ☕ | The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I finally read this little book, and I’m glad I did!

It has all the hallmarks of the familiar cozy mysteries, but a unique voice. Precious Ramotswe is the owner of the only private detective agency in Botswana. 

What follows is a variety of cases, some easier to solve than others. I liked the narrative. I felt it had an easy-going style. Besides the various cases she takes on, we learn bits about Mma Ramotswe’s history throughout the story. I found it to be a quick read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this charming mystery. More, please.

 

Cute.

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Easy to read.

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Charming characters.

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Entertaining.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Interview with Hope Bolinger ~YA Author and Literary Agent

This week I was super excited to talk with literary agent and author Hope Bolinger about her recent release, Blaze. 

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From the Back Cover of Blaze

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t walk into the fire.

Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day. 

To make matters worse (and they were about to get a lot worse), he — and his three best friends — receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town’s prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. Of course his mother says yes. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich “in crowd.” 

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the “popular and pretty” table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it were purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.

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DJS: As I read your book, I often found myself chuckling at Danny’s wit. Was it difficult to write humor or did it come naturally? What experiences did you draw on to write humor into your story?

HB: I love humor. I actually started writing as a comedic playwright. If you know me at all, I crack jokes all the time, which does draw many eyerolls from my younger brother as is the tendency of most younger brothers. I think you just have to have a sense of humor to make it through this industry. Certain rejections are simply funny. It’s like publishers are just desperate to come up with a reason not to take on your book. I literally had a publisher say, “There’s nothing wrong with this book. It’s perfect. But we’re not going to publish it.” A lot of awful stuff happened right before I wrote Blaze, and I had two options: to wallow or to poke fun at the ridiculousness of it all. I think all those humorous situations just pent up and turned into Danny.

DJS: Blaze is set in a boarding school, King’s Academy.  What was it about the boarding school culture that drew you to write a story in this setting? 

HB: I wanted to create a modern-day Babylon, and in the original story of Daniel, they basically live in the King’s palace for their education. It just felt like a boarding school. I also wrote it in college, which is basically a boarding school for adults. I think I just had to release some frustrations about the lack of AC in our forty-five year old dorm when the campus kept building such nice things for all the visitors.

DJS: As a writer, it’s easy to become attached to our characters. Can you tell us about one of your characters who tugs on your heartstrings? If you could meet them face to face and tell them one thing, what would it be? 

HB: I love all four of the characters in Blaze. Rayah really tugs hard on my heartstrings because she went through something somewhat similar to me. Throughout the series, we witness the falling out of her parents and how the divorce affects her. Because she’s so shy and timid, she doesn’t often let on how much it affects her. If I could meet her, I’d tell her she’s far stronger, smarter, and more beautiful than she thinks.

DJS: Friendship is a theme in your novel. What advice about friendship do you have for your young readers?

HB: Friendship is so important. Keep your friends as close as possible, and be there for them during the tough times. Friends can help you through the most difficult times of life. If I didn’t have a body of wonderful friends surrounding me during my parents’ divorce, I don’t know what I would’ve done.

DJS: Great advice, Hope. We all need friends to lean on in tough times.

I enjoyed reading Blaze. Thank you so much for spending time with us. Wishing you the best of luck with your novel!

Guys, next month be sure to pop over to Almost an Author for more of my interview with Hope Bolinger when we talk about writing.

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young’s blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.

Facebook: @therosewoman Twitter: @hopebolinger

Instagram: @hopebolinger  Website: hopebolinger.com

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ | The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld is a psychological thriller/mystery that deals with child abduction and abuse.

Naomi has a gift for finding lost children.

Three years have passed since a little girl disappeared and her desperate parents hire Naomi to find their child. The story is told from alternating points of view, Naomi as she investigates the disappearance, and the little girl, Madison.

This book was recommended to me as a novel that was deeply affecting. It is that. It’s dark and gripping without going into details. We know that horrible things are happening, but the descriptions were not over the top in my opinion. It was hard to read at times due to the subject matter. 

The story examines the cycle of abuse, and that was my least favorite part of the book, although the exploration of the physiological aspects of how Madison survived had me quite enthralled. Very evocative and emotional. All the ends of Madison’s, story/mystery tied up, but we are left with our main character’s issues, including the thing that drives her to investigate missing children. It’s labeled as a book one, so I assume a series is in the works. Beautiful, seamless writing and a haunting story.

Thanks to Sharon Peterson for recommending this book.

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What Book Do You Wish You Had Written?

What book do you wish you had written?

I was tagged to answer this recently on Instagram by author @melaniejwalker  as part of the #authorschallenge2019 hosted by @debratorreswrites .

I would love to write a book that had and has the impact of Flowers for Algernon.

Being a precocious reader with older siblings, I read this book when I was very young, sneaking it from my sister’s bookshelf. The story resonated with me and influenced my thinking. It’s one of the books I recommend for all highschoolers to read.

If you haven’t read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, go get a copy! It’s not a long book. I would consider it easy to read, even though all of the topics explored may not always be easy to think about. It’s about a mentally disabled young man who agrees to engage in an experiment to increase his intelligence. His story is told through a series of diary entries.

In my experience, even kids who aren’t into reading all that much seem to connect with this book. The story brings up loads of discussion worthy topics.

Flowers for Algernon always makes me think about the memoir, Switched On, by John Elder Robison, the true story of a person on the autism spectrum who participated in experiments meant to increase emotional intelligence. Switched On tells about his experiences during the procedure and the aftermath. 

I recommend both of these books.

The IG prompt made me consider my own work. I am often intentional about why I write the novels I do and who, in both a general and specific sense, I hope to communicate with.

I guess I could say I have written exactly the book I wished to.

One of my novels is about a family dealing with grief. I wrote it because there was a need. I could not find a novel addressing the issue of impending loss and grief against the backdrop of a family also dealing with autism.

As I spend time in the querying trenches, the ability to see how a particular manuscript fulfilled its intended purpose, at least in part, is a great encouragement to me.

I hope to see all my novels reach the readers who need to hear the stories. I hope to someday soon know hearts are being touched.  

#amquerying

 

 

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Beta Readers: Do I Need One?

 

What’s a Beta Reader and Do I Need One?

This post originally appeared at Almost an Author here.

All writers need feedback. Should you use a beta reader?

What is a Beta Reader?

The majority of people define a beta reader as a test reader, a person who reads your manuscript after it has been critiqued, polished, and edited. Most writers will provide a list of questions for their beta readers. These questions ask for general feedback about character development, plot, setting, and so forth. Some writers feel it is best not to ask leading questions, while others ask readers to evaluate certain areas that they think need attention. Beta readers are generally intended to catch big picture story problems or plot holes.

Some people use beta readers as editors and proofreaders, but betas are not a substitute for editing. Betas can stray into critique as well.

Paid Betas

There are many paid beta reading services. These might be considered a budget version of a content edit, or a first pass content edit, and seem to stick to test reading only. I had one individual offer to read my manuscript for free and she did a fair job. I provide a list of questions for my betas, but she had her own, which were similar to mine.

If you plan on using a paid beta reader, shop around. Ask for recommendations and referrals.

Ready for a Beta?

Free beta readers can be found in online groups. If you decide to take the plunge and use a beta reader, save time and aggravation. Submit the first chapter and see if they respond with appropriate and timely feedback.

It pays to be leery of beta reading offers from people who don’t read in your genre. There’s nothing like having a beta offer to read and then confess they do not like this genre right before they suggest rewriting the manuscript to please them. On the other hand, a good beta will be able to read across genres and offer constructive feedback.

I’ve gotten everything from single word answers to a full blown expository review. I always read all comments. One reader gave strange answers to the response questions, repeatedly citing an incident that wasn’t in my book. I wanted to ask if she’d been watching Netflix while beta reading. BUT, she did comment in track changes on my MS, catching several typos and a couple of crucial loose ends. Go figure.

I’ve met some amazing writers through beta reading groups. The community is generous and most try to do their best. A few people have reached out to me and helped me without asking for anything in return. I’ve met some wonderful writers who I consider to be some of my most valued critique partners and beta readers. They help me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise because I’m too close to the project. A good beta reader’s value cannot be overestimated.

My all-time favorite betas are two wonderful ladies in the UK. For some reason, the criticisms are easier to take and the encouragement makes me smile. “This part is a bit muddled” and “Brill!” just tickles my ear.

Do you use beta readers? Tell me about your experience.

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May Book Roundup

Book Round Up!

 

I decided to make one single post about my favorite reads of the month, rather than separate ones, since I read a series and, to be honest, I ran out of time!

I may read a few more this month, but I wanted to post about May’s kindle first reads selection in case anyone hasn’t picked theirs up yet. Am I the only one who lets the month slip by?

I began reading Cynthia Voight’s series of books labeled the Tillerman cycle. No less than three of my beta readers compared my writing to these books, so I thought I should check them out. The funny thing was, my readers weren’t all looking at the same manuscript.

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Homecoming

This is the first in the series. Four children are left to wait for their mother in the parking lot of a mall. When she doesn’t return, they decide to go in search of relatives. They walk across the country. I actually started this one at the end of last month, but put it here because it is part of the Tillerman series.

⭐️

Dicey’s Song

Newbery Winner. This book picks up where the first one left off. I would recommend this to any young readers, especially girls. I wish I’d known about this series when my daughter was younger. I recommend for all readers, especially girls in the age bracket of upper MG to YA.

⭐️

A Solitary Blue

Lovely book. Feels a little different than the first two. This is the story of Dicey’s love interest and his childhood.

⭐️

The Runner

Goes back in time to the children’s uncle and his high school days right before he goes to Viet Nam.

⭐️

Come A Stranger

Tells the story of Dicey’s friend, Mina and the prejudice she faces.

⭐️

I love the way the series show how lives are intertwined and connected. Each book is important and stands alone. Her writing style seems natural and unaffected, but powerful She doesn’t shy away from tough topics. The characters feel real.

⭐️

Sons from Afar

Dicey has two brothers and one sister. At the beginning of this book the children are a bit older and this one focuses on the two boys. The younger boy has never met his father. The book explores the differences between the two boys and the way they come to terms with the struggles of growing up without a father.

⭐️

Kindle First Reads

Valencia and Valentine

By Suzy Krause

I picked this one for my kindle first reads selection for May. This is an interesting book that has a character with some mental health issues. It is entertaining, funny, and poignant. I read it from cover to cover, if you can do such a thing with a Kindle book. It reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, would you still at the top of my favorites list. There’s a bit of a mystery involved. The two stories meld together in the end. It’s a little sad and a little sweet. It’s a book that made me think, but mostly it made me feel.

⭐️

Tiger Eyes

By Judy Blume

Another one of my beta readers said that my story and style reminded her of this book. If only! Davey (a teen girl) is faced with a terrible tragedy and loss of her father when he is murdered while in his store. Davey, her mom, and Davey’s little brother travel across the country, ostensibly on a visit, but it turns into an extended stay.

This one had me crying. Beautifully done and heart rending. There were a few chuckles as well. I love this book. If you like emotional, touching, coming-of-age, I think you’ll like this book. This was made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it. Have you?

⭐️

Saint Anything

By Sarah Dessen

Sydney is one of the quiet girls. She doesn’t cause any trouble. That rule is filled by her charming brother, Peyton. When he gets behind the wheel under the influence, he runs over a boy on a bicycle, forever changing everyone’s lives. The boy ends up in a wheelchair and Peyton ends up in prison. Sydney decides to change high schools and meets a new set of friends. This is a novel of self-discovery and family relationships.

⭐️

The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah

This was a re-read. If you haven’t read this book yet go get it!

⭐️

Little Women

I’m still rereading this one. You can never go wrong with Little Women.

⭐️

Did you see any favorites in this list?

What have you been reading lately?

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ | ~Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler~

~Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler~

‘Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.’

Kate Battista  still lives at home, and runs her father’s house even though she is an adult. Besides dealing with her eccentric father, a scientist who spends his days in his  lab, she contends with her younger sister, Bunny. Despite her abrasive personality, her young charges at the daycare she works at love her. The parents and staff do not.

Dr. Battista cooks up a plan to wed Kate to his lab assistant, Pyotr. Pyotr must get married to stay in the country, and both men are agreeable to the plot. They neglect to consult Kate on the matter.

I love Shakespeare and Shakespeare adaptations. Anne Tyler has written a witty and well done retelling. Kate was multilayered and I felt myself liking her more and more as the story went on. Anne Tyler is a wonderfully skilled writer.

Having this familiar story reimagined in a modern day setting made me think about the attitudes towards women during the time of Shakespeare and today. The treatment of Kate in parts of the story sparked a lot of discussion around our house.

I’ve been involved in productions of The Taming of The Shrew and watched television adaptations, but, oddly, this is the first time I read a novel based on the story as far as I can remember. I plan to read more of these retellings in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

There is some language in this book, and having it right at the start felt jarring to me. I kept reading because I read Anne Tyler before and liked her other work and because I like Shakespeare.

Humor

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Characters

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Storytelling

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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