☕ 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

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Storytelling

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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My Writing Journey~Sometimes You Need a Story

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

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What Is YA and Who Reads It?

I gave the short answer: “When the protagonist is a young person.”

That didn’t quite satisfy. After all, scads of books have a teen as a main character, and those aren’t always categorized as Young Adult. A conversation ensued about various popular books labeled as YA.

It’s not as straightforward as one would think.

I thought I’d ask some YA authors.

“Young Adult readers range from age 13 up. Many of my readers are adults who prefer the “clean” nature typically associated with YA. Stories may feature mature themes, but do so without resorting to graphic sex or violence.”

Felicia Bridges, author of the award winning International Mission Force series

While Young adult novels are written for people between 12 and 18 years of age, about half of YA readers are 18 and up. Within the genre the categories include most of those that are found in adult fiction, such as Mystery, Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Sci-Fi, and more.

The protagonist is young, usually 14 to 20 years of age. The themes are relevant to teens and their experience. I think what defines the genre is the age of the main character, although coming of age novels for the adult market may also have a young protagonist, so that isn’t the only criteria.

“YA novels give insight into the issues teens are facing and the steps they can take to battle them. Sometimes those issues aren’t one the reader has faced personally, but viewing the struggle through a character’s life tears down judgments. And the world really needs less judgment and more understanding.”

Sarah Tipton, author of Betrayal of the Band, 2018 Carol Award Winner

Teens have a different set of problems they are concerned with, and this comes across in young adult fiction. Friendship, self-discovery, identity, and first love are all things adults can relate to, but these are in the forefront of teens’ thoughts as they navigate the turbulent years preceding adulthood.

Young adults are often idealistic and full of hope, and that is reflected in much YA fiction. It is entertaining and has all the feels. Some brings attention to issues we should take a hard look at and can foster understanding.

Recently I followed a conversation in one of my Facebook readers groups and was surprised at how many people suffer from literary snobbery and will not so much as crack open a young adult book. I think they are missing out.

Do you have a favorite YA novel? Share it. I’m always adding to my TBR list.

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ | A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

 

~A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness~

Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.

Coner wakes one night to find a monster peering into his bedroom window, but it’s not as scary as the nightmare he has every time he goes to sleep.

I read this short book in one sitting. Everything else I was doing had to wait while I read this masterfully woven tale of fantasy and a crushing truth that is oh-so-hard to bear. It is a frightful and tender story of grief. Coner has to grapple with his monsters, real and imagined.  Patrick Ness captured Coner’s mixed up feelings and inner turmoil perfectly. This one is going to stick with me for a while. Sweet and sad. The story is fantasy, but the emotions are raw and real.

A story about coming to terms with grief unlike anything I’ve read before.

When I picked the physical book up, it was surprisingly heavy. The illustrations are dark and dramatic, and the story heartbreaking. I felt the combination was artistic and effective.

 

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Page Turning

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Setting

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Emotion Provoking

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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#PitMad, NOLASTARS Spring Retreat, and Announcement

This coming Thursday, March 7th, is #PitMad!

PitMad is an opportunity for unagented authors who have complete novels. Writers pitch your novel in a tweet with appropriate hashtags. Agents search tweets for specific genres and if they like a tweet, the submission process begins.

If you’re on Twitter March 7th, please leave a comment or retweet my tweets to show your support at my twitter donnajostone. Likes are reserved for agents interested in my project.

I will be pitching all three of my finished YA novels. Last month I sent out a few queries for the first book in my series, but shifted gears with the intention of pitching all three at the next PitMad.

It’s a bit unusual to have three completed novels at the same time. The drafts were all finished around the same time primarily because I dictated them while I was waiting to recover from my cipro injury before I started editing. Hiring an editor was not an option for me at the time. My typing isn’t as good as it was before I got sick, but it is passable. Currently, I’m doing my best to reduce a 93,000 word manuscript to 80,000. I’m well on my way and hope to complete the edit before the 7th. It’s a pity I can’t take all those discarded words and put them on another project.

Besides editing, I’ve been writing synopses and working on tweets. Condensing an entire novel into a single tweet can be challenging. You only get 280 characters, including spaces and hashtags. It’s an excellent exercise in being concise.

NOLASTARS/RWA is having a Spring Writing Retreat Saturday, March 9th. Check it out. If you are local and are looking for a group, it’s a great organization. See how friendly we are?

 

 

In other news, this month I begin my new position as the YA columnist over at Almost An Author. Woot! My first Almost An Author post is scheduled to go up on March 21st. I’ll share a link on the home blog right here, so come back and visit, or you can subscribe to get posts in your mailbox, or visit Almost An Author.

Do you have any topics you’d like to see me cover in the blog? Leave your comments below.

Please consider signing up for the blog and/or my newsletter to keep in the know.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | ~Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu~

~Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu~

Moxie Girls Fight Back is the motto of these high schoolers who are fed up with being groped, talked down to, marginalized, and assaulted while those in authority turn a blind eye.

There’s a contrast between Viv’s reality and her grandparents, and that showing quite well without disrespecting either generation. The same sensitivity is shown when talking about people with different political backgrounds and belief systems.

As I was reading this I relived incidents from my own junior high and high school days. I think this book is a call to action. It’s not enough to just make it through until you graduate because the problem is never going to go away. It is a pervasive attitude that is passed down and tolerated unless boys are taught better.  

This book is set in a realistic high school environment where there is language, assault, and stuff that kids encounter. I would hope that most administrations would not be as blatantly anti-female as the one depicted in this book, but it reads as if it could be true. This is a book with feminist characters, and a simplified definition of feminism.

There is a bit tossed in hinting about two girls in a relationship. This encompassed all of a few sentences and felt a little odd, but I can see it playing out in real life that way.

This is a book about empowering girls to insist on an education and the right to walk the halls without being groped or worse. It’s a book about girls demanding accountability from authority. It’s fresh and thought provoking.

Well written and relevant. LOVED Viv and the portrayal of her family. Splash of romance. Besides being a compelling and well told story, this is a thoughtful book that could be used as a starting point for good discussions.

I definitely see the need for this type of book. This issue is not going to go away and I think novels can open our eyes and help us understand the world better.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

~Clock Dance by Anne Taylor~

This story follows one character and told from one point of view, but it tells about different, life-changing periods of Willa Drake’s life.

Willa settles into her later years until one day she receives a frantic phone call from a total stranger, a neighbor to an ex-girlfriend of Willa’s son. The neighbor, after finding Willa’s phone number on an emergency contact list, mistakenly thinks that Willa is the grandparent to an unknown child.

Willa, not the assertive type, is unable to explain to the woman that she is not related. Over her husband’s protests, she decides to fly out to see if she can help.

The characters could’ve been my neighbors. Extraordinary storytelling about ordinary people. I felt a camaraderie with the main character as she slowly became more self-aware. The ending felt a little abrupt to me because I wanted to keep reading about Willa. I wanted her to find happiness and I wanted to share in it.

This is a story about a woman finally taking control of her life in a quieter way. I’ve known so many women who remind me of Willa. Society has taught us to go with the flow, get along, and fulfill our expected roles. I felt like this was a quiet rebellion after a long period of smothering a woman’s spirit.

Lovely, believable characters. Heartwarming and bittersweet at the same time. Satisfying conclusion, even if left me wanting more. I’ve added some of her books to my TBR pile. Amazing writing.

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Storyline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Charming

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Protected by Claire Zorn~

~Protected by Claire Zorn~

“Books are especially useful if you have no one to talk to; they give the illusion that you choose not to talk to anyone, as opposed to the fact you simply have no friends.”

Protected is a novel about grief, bullying, and coming to terms with tragedy. Hannah has lost her older sister Katie in a car crash. The same crash has left her father with injuries that cause him daily pain and make it difficult for him to walk.

The story is told in scenes out of sequence, hopping back-and-forth in time. I honestly don’t know how she managed to write the story this way and keep the clarity of the storyline. I never got confused. I listened to this on my Kindle with no line breaks or anything to tell when the time shifted and had no problem keeping oriented.

There’s a mystery surrounding what exactly happened. Hannah knows, but she’s not telling. Her dad doesn’t remember. Listening to this book made me anxious to find out.

The death of Hannah’s sister has caused a complete reversal in many areas of Hannah’s life. Previously, she was bullied horribly at school.

Much in this book is disturbing. The bullying was extreme. The complicated family dynamic made my heart ache for Hannah. Her sister, Katie, isn’t a very likable character and I wanted to quit this book more than once because of it, and yet I kept reading.There’s quite a bit of language and it does deal with serious topics. It does end with a satisfying resolution.

If my teen read this book I would want to read it along with them and talk about the issues that come up.

 

2015

Children’s Book Council of Australia Award Nominee for Older Readers

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Young Adult Fiction

Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction

The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine~

~Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine~

 

“I don’t like the word soon because you don’t know when it’s going to sneak up on you and turn into NOW. Or maybe it’ll be the kind of soon that never happens.”

 

Caitlin depended on her older brother, Devon, to help her navigate the world. But when he is one of the victims of a school shooting she has lost her guide. Her father, overcome by grief, is of little help. Functioning in an environment that is not friendly to her was difficult already, and now she must deal with the fallout of her brother’s death.

 

The story is told from the point of view of an 11-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome. Even so, the descriptions of Caitlin’s world and attitudes of those around her came through clearly. I could tell what her counselor was thinking at times, the surprise you feel when a kid on the spectrum makes a pronouncement, in all innocence, that smacks you in the head and makes you do a double take.

 

This novel stirred up so many emotions in me. My heart cracked open every time Caitlin tried to figure out “closure” and how to get it. A beautifully written, emotional read with an important message and a satisfying ending. This book touched me.

 

This novel was written with a tremendous amount of sensitivity. It’s on the short side but is not light weight. It covers heavy topics. There are no graphic descriptions or extreme bullying, but the characters do struggle with the issues stemming from school violence.

 

Very relevant to the situation in our schools and culture today. I was of two minds about a book that dealt with both the issues of special needs with school violence. Too many people have wedded these. It’s a complicated issue. I felt like this novel did a beautiful job with the topic while honoring storytelling.

 

One thing I hope everyone can agree on is that empathy and understanding can go a long way in helping all humans deal with the tragedies life throws our way.

 

If you’re looking for a book about the power of friendship, relationship, and the struggles of grief, this one might fit the bill.

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All the Feels

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Character Interaction

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Relevant

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Storytelling

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum~

 

~What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum~

 

“There’s a famous expression that if you’ve met one person with autism, then… you’ve met one person with autism.

So you met me.

Just me.

Not a diagnosis.”

 

 

David Drucker has what used to be known as Asperger’s although he does not claim the label.

 

David is at the bottom rung of the social ladder . Kit, on the other hand, is one of the popular crowd. When her father dies, she can’t bear to hang out in the lunchroom with her chatty  regular crew and decides to sit with David, who eats his lunch all by his lonesome at a table devoid of company. A friendship ensues which eventually leads to a romance.

 

David is sweet, socially naive, and blunt. He carries a notebook around with him that his older sister helped him start when he first began high school. It lists things to remind him of proper social behavior, and clues to help him identify people. David, like many on the spectrum, does not easily recognize people, not to mention being totally lost socially.

 

The idea of David’s notebook reminded me a bit of the nonfiction book “The Journal of Best Practices” compiled by a man on the spectrum as an assistive tool to help him be a good husband. I can so see this kind of notebook being a necessary part of an aspies life to help navigate all the intricacies of day to day interaction.

 

Kit has her own set of issues to deal with.

 

I liked this book. I felt the portrayal of David was realistic, and I liked his character. There is a little bit of stereotyping by David himself when he denies his autism, even though it’s obvious he’s on the spectrum. I LOVED the positive relationship David had with his big sister, and the fact that he had supportive parents.

 

Adding to the story was a bit of a mystery about the car accident, which Kit asks David to help her solve. The answer is surprising.

 

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Plot

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Realistic

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Heart Tugging

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

David does have to deal with some serious bullying, but I felt it was realistic, considering some of the stories I’ve heard.

 

 

 

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