Exciting 2014 book releases!

I considered doing a “favorite books of 2013″ list, but those are popping up all over the Internet right now, and I figured people might be getting a little tired of them. Instead, I figured I’d get a jump on posting about all the YA books I’m excited for in 2014. In order of release date, here they are…

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, 1/14/14

This is the long-awaited sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which came out all the way back in 2011. It wasn’t one of my absolute favorites, but I was intrigued enough that I can’t wait to see what’s next for this band of peculiars. Also, they’ve given the book a cover just as awesomely creepy as the first book.

The Unbound by Victoria Schwab, 1/28/14

I read and loved Victoria Schwab’s The Archived and Vicious this year, so I’m very excited for The Unbound, which is the sequel to The Archived. It’s set in a creeptastic world where the dead are shelved like books, and Schwab’s writing style is absolutely vivid and beautiful. I’m basically going to read every book she writes from now on.

White Space by Ilsa J. Bick, 2/11/14

I haven’t read the Ashes trilogy yet, but there are a few people in my book club who are obsessed with it. I only know the Goodreads description of this book, and that’s enough for me: “pitched as The Matrix meets Inkheart, about a seventeen-year-old girl who jumps between the lines of books and into the white space where realities are created and destroyed – but who may herself be nothing more than a character written into being from an alternative universe.” So. Cool.

Sekret by Lindsay Smith, 4/1/14

I have a secret (ha!) about this book: for a while, I was really bitter about it because the concept of psychic spies had the smallest similarity to my first book. Except that my book wasn’t set in Communist Russia, and frankly wasn’t nearly as cool as this book sounds. And guys, THAT COVER. Amazing.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor, 4/8/14 

This is the third and final book of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which is one of my favorites in YA right now. I’m expecting this book to be epic. At the very least, I’ll get to enjoy and envy Taylor’s stunning prose.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, 6/10/14

This is the third book in the Mara Dyer trilogy, and was originally set for release in October 2013. I was all set for it and didn’t realize it had been pushed until only the month before–devastating! I don’t exactly know how to describe these books (you’re better off reading a Goodreads summary for that), but they creep me out like no others I can think of. Read this series with the lights on.

Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne, 7/8/14

Full disclosure: I know the author. I haven’t yet read her book though, and I really think I’ll like it because I’ve been getting more and more into fantasy.

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz, 7/22/14

Okay, so I also know this author. In fact, she’s the one who introduced me to Livia Blackburne. But I’ve been looking for some good YA sci-fi set in space since I finished Beth Revis’s Across the Universe trilogy, and this sounds like it could be just the thing! It takes place on a colony on the toxic moon, which could be very cool.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, 8/5/14

This is the sequel to The Diviners, Bray’s 1920s-set supernatural novel about a serial killer ghost and a group of teens with powers. I pretty much love anything that deals with dreams vs. reality, so the fact that there’s a dreamworld element to this sequel makes me doubly excited to read it.

—————-

There are a ton more 2014 releases in my to-read list, but these are the ones that I’m most excited about right now. Maggie Stiefvater’s third Raven Cycle book also comes out, but there’s no cover or title yet, so I didn’t include it even though it’s one of my top two for next year.

What books are you excited for? Anything else I should add to my to-read list?

What to read at the end of the year

As you know if you’ve read my last few posts, I’ve been revising.  A lot.  In fact, the more I revise, the more I realize I need to revise, so I’m not really any closer to being done.  But, in spite of all this revising, I am still reading and have just realized that we’re down to only about 4 more months of 2012.  Yikes!  Considering the 65 books on my Goodreads “To read” list, I’m going to have to prioritize.

First, let me do some speedy reviews of the two books I finished recently.

I read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races earlier this year and mostly liked it, so I thought I’d give the Shiver series a try.  This is the first book in a trilogy about a girl (Grace) who falls in love with a werewolf (Sam).

I was hesitant to read it because I don’t really like the creature romances so much, but this one was decent.  Not great, but decent.  I had the same problem with it that I had with The Scorpio Races.  The writing is beautiful and descriptive, but the plot…eh.  I found it very slow and at one point considered giving up.  However, I really enjoyed the last 50 pages or so, and I ended up buying the sequel (though I haven’t read it yet).

This past week, I finally finished The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which I’d been reading for months.  It’s YA fantasy about a princess chosen by God to bear a Godstone in her bellybutton and…I don’t even really care to keep going.  If you’re thinking Treasure Troll right now, then you are visualizing this thing correctly.  I was extremely bored most of the way through and only liked it when the author killed someone.  The language felt old fashioned or too wordy or something, and, like with Shiver, the plot just wasn’t quick enough or exciting enough.  The sequel comes out soon, but I won’t be reading it.

Obviously, I’m less than enthusiastic about the reading I’ve been doing lately.  BUT, I am VERY VERY EXCITED about a few books coming out this fall.

1.  Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (Nov. 6th) — This is the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  I can’t seem to find a synopsis of it, so they must be trying to keep the plot a secret.   Here’s the summary of Daughter of Smoke and Bone from Goodreads instead:

“Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?”

2.  The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Sept. 18th) — This is the first book in a new series from Stiefvater.  You might wonder why I’m anticipating it so much when I found The Scorpio Races and Shiver kind of slow.  Well, the answer to that is: really awesome premise.  Again, from Goodreads:

“‘There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,’ Neeve said. ‘Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.’

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.”

3.  The Diviners by Libba Bray (Sept. 18th) — I’ve never read anything by Libba Bray yet, but I saw her speak on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books, and I loved her personality.  The plots of her other books don’t really appeal to me, but this one definitely does.  On Goodreads, it says:

“Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.”

Oooooh I’m even more excited now.  They all sound so damn good.  I can’t wait for September 18th!

What books are you most looking forward to for the rest of this year?

My Saturday afternoon Barnes and Noble haul

For my birthday, my mother-in-law got me a hefty gift card to Barnes and Noble (well, the amount was hefty; the gift card itself was quite ordinary and small and plastic).  So I went to the one at The Grove today to start spending.

The Barnes and Noble at The Grove is MASSIVE.  It is 3 floors and has a Starbucks (I guess most do) and an entire section dedicated to the death of the printed word (aka the Nook).  Of course, the first floor is mostly movies and magazines, but what do you want?  This is LA.

There were quite a few books I wanted to get, but I thought I’d start with a manageable five to start.  In case you aren’t adept at reading backwards and don’t have a mirror handy, I bought:

  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater — I’ve been meaning to read this for a while because I really liked The Scorpio Races.  Stiefvater was one of the authors I saw at the LA Times Festival of Books and she seemed so cool and down to earth.  I want to at least read Shiver, the first book in a completed trilogy, before The Raven Boys, the first book in her next series, comes out in the fall.
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson — Based on the synopsis, I don’t really think the book is my thing, but I’ve read many positive reviews of it.  Plus, my next book (which I hope to start in the next couple of months) will be fantasy, so I wanted to get a little more YA fantasy under my belt before I get going on that.
  • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley — Again, not something I’d ordinarily pick up, but I’ve heard good things.  I first heard of it when I went to a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books with Whaley on it.  He was so darn cute and endearing that I wanted to buy his book and like it.  It’s won all kinds of awards.  Plus, it’s short for YA these days (only about 220 pages), s0 I figured I could get through it pretty quickly.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor —  If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you’ll notice many references to this book in my posts.  I’ve already read it and ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT, so I had to own a copy.  I was waiting for it to come out in paperback, and here it is.  I may reread it before Days of Blood and Starlight (the second book) comes out this fall.  Or I may just flip to a random page when I need to see what vivid, lyrical descriptions look like.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green —  A book about kids with cancer sounds royally depressing to me, but I haven’t heard one negative word about it.  I’m going to give in and be like everybody else and read it, and hopefully love it like everybody else.  I don’t know how it ends, but I can guess that there will be death involved, so that pretty much guarantees I’ll cry if it’s as good as people say it is.

And that’s it for my shopping trip today.  I still have a good portion of the gift card remaining, so I’ll head back to B&N later this summer and stock up again.  For now, I’m going to continue on in Across the Universe  and Shadow and Bone, both of which I’m in the middle of right now.

Has anyone else bought any good books lately?  Any suggestions on what I should buy during my next B&N shopping spree?

Fluffy Literature

Last night, I was talking about books with some friends.  One of them asked me if I’d read a particular YA book (which I will not name so as not to trash it on my blog) and what I thought because she read the first couple of chapters online.  I informed her that I thought it was complete crap, both the writing style and the plot.  She completely agreed.  Then someone said that they didn’t think the author was trying to write “literature,” and it got me thinking about fluff vs. literature.

Often, YA as a genre is considered fluff.  It’s like people think that if your target audience consists mostly of teenagers, the writing must not be very sophisticated and the themes light.  A lot of times that turns out to be true, but it definitely is not true of the good YA books.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone (yes, I know I bring this book up way too often) is not fluff, nor is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  There is a degree of artistry to both of those.  Maybe they aren’t profound, but they manage to be entertaining and beautifully written.  They are fluffy literature.  And that’s exactly how I like my books.  I don’t want long rambling passages about the beauty of a blade of grass, but I also don’t want straight-forward sentences that a five-year-old could write.  I think Laini Taylor and Ransom Riggs find the balance.

I’m assuming that most people who write with the goal of making a living off of it worry about their fluff/literature balance like I do.  On the one hand, I want to write something that will sell and make enough money that I don’t have to have another job.  On the other, I don’t want to sell out and write forgettable junk just to earn a buck.  I mean, I don’t want to end up like John Cusack’s character in Bullets Over Broadway, panicked that he’s become a sellout (forgive the poor quality of the video…it was the only one on youtube):

I was an English major, so I read plenty of “literature” in school.  And you know what?  I’m sick of it.  It can be kinda boring and usually kinda long, and frankly just not that entertaining.  Despite (or maybe because of) all the professors and papers and “dissecting” of the text, I prefer an element of fluff in the books I read.  Not every book has to be analyzed.  Sometimes, a book is just meant to be read.

Now, I’m not defending this YA-book-that-shall-not-be-named.  It’s a little frustrating to me as someone who wants to break into the YA writing world when somebody gets successful with a crappy book.  If the crappy book gets famous, then people who aren’t too familiar with YA assume that all YA is like the crappy book, and therefore none of it is literature.  How untrue.  Like any genre, there are high-quality and low-quality examples.  I can only hope that my book falls into the former category.

Knowing when to give up

No, not give up on writing, Silly.  You should never give up on writing.  What I mean is knowing when to give up on a book you are reading.

I get bored easily.  This may be a major flaw, but alas, I accept my flaws.  So if I don’t like something, I usually give up on it pretty quick.  If I don’t like a movie, I turn it off.  If I don’t like what I’m eating, I…well actually, I keep eating it, but that’s because I love to eat.  But if I don’t like a book, I am torn about whether or not to finish it.  With a movie, you can invest an hour and be halfway through and then decide it’s not for you.  In most cases, if you get halfway through a book, you’ve dedicated some serious time to it, and it may be worth it to push forward.

I have stopped reading plenty of books in the middle.  Many of these were assigned for classes in college, because I’m sorry, professors are delusional if they think I’m going to read a book per week for each class.  Nope, not gonna happen.  Sometimes, I give up on books I’ve decided to read for fun.  The most egregious case I can think of is when I gave up on Atlas Shrugged like 800 pages in.  I mean come on: 800 PAGES IN.  Considering I had something like 400 more preachy pages left, I am glad I called it quits (tip: if you want to read Ayn Rand, read The Fountainhead instead.  Though excessively long, it is much shorter than Atlas Shrugged, and you’ll certainly get your fill of Rand’s philosophies.).

Lately, I can’t seem to get through any adult novels.  As I’ve said here over and over, YA books are my thing.  But as one who loves to read, I try to read a variety of books.  But I’m beginning to think that bestselling adult novels aren’t going to work for me.  Ever.

About two years ago, I started The Magicians and gave up about 50 pages in.  Last summer, it was A Discovery of Witches.  I almost made it to 100 pages there.  Now I’m 133 pages into The Night Circus and I have finally accepted it: It’s. Not. Going. To. Happen.  I felt such intense relief yesterday when I decided that I’ll just return it to the library.  Suddenly, I have hours of time to read other books that I want to read.

It’s not The Night Circus‘s fault.  It’s a good book.  Pretty much every one of Erin Morgenstern’s sentences is a joy to read, unique and rich with detail.  But when you put all those sentences together, it’s not such a joy.  Does the book have to be so damnconfusing?  It jumps around in time and, although each chapter tells the month and year, I still have trouble keeping track.  There are too many characters and I can’t tell which ones matter.  The two characters who the book is actually about haven’t really even spoken yet.  The circus itself is described in exquisite detail, but since I can’t get into the story, I don’t care.  Maybe I’d be more likely to finish if I’d bought the book rather than getting it from the library because I wouldn’t have that time pressure.  When I finally started reading it a week or two ago, I realized I would have to read 25 pages a day to finish.  Then I missed a day, and 50 pages the next day seemed so daunting.  Then I missed another day.  Up to 75 pages.  When it is time to accept that it’s not meant to be and give up?

Reading adult novels makes me long for the fast pacing of YA novels.  Typically, they get right to it.  They’re generally shorter, for one thing, but even the long ones are more action packed.  And I’d say that maybe I like YA because the characters are relatively close to my age, but the characters in The Night Circus are close to my age (at least at the part I’m at now.  It spans a lot of time, so they’re not always my age).  So, hey, maybe it’s because in YA there’s usually some out-there premise involving the paranormal or some such unrealistic element that I just fall into.  But The Night Circus is fantastical as well.

So what is it about YA that I love so much?

I have no answer to that.  I seem to love it consistently, so at least there’s that.  I’m confident that that’s the audience I want to write for, though one day I might dabble in novels aimed at a slightly older or younger audience.

Of course, I don’t love all YA.  Concurrently with The Night Circus, I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  It was written sometime in the 80s I think, so it’s by no means new, but the movie rights just sold so it came to my attention.  And holymygod, I am so bored.

I’ve read just shy of 200 pages, so if I’m not excited yet, I don’t think I’m going to get excited.  The kids in the book are geniuses, and for some reason that means they have to speak in dull sentences and feel robotic (maybe that’s the point since they were bred to be geniuses, but couldn’t at least one of them feel like a person?).  I don’t give a damn about Ender or Valentine.  If there are aliens that might attack, let them eat the kids and be done with it already.  For over 100 pages I’ve been reading about Ender in battle simulations.  Screw battle simulations.  Give me an actual battle, for the love of the written word.  I still might continue, but I have a Laini Taylor book calling my name from my bookshelf, along with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Maze Runner, so Ender’s Game is going to have to get good pretty soon.

It’s just that almost every review I read of Ender’s Game says how good it is, so I feel  pressured to read it.  So when is it a good idea to take popular opinion into account and force yourself to finish a book, and at one point is it time to just give up?

[images sources here and here]

Where do you get your books?

As bookstores keep closing, I think more and more about where I get the books I read.  Often, I order them from Amazon, but I’ve reached a point where I feel guilty doing that.  Maybe I save a few bucks, but I also don’t support the very establishments that I love.  Paying a bit more may actually be worth it.

In the past two weeks, I have obtained books from four different places: small bookstore, chain bookstore, library book sale, library (borrowing).  And here’s my haul…

  1. Atticus Bookstore–This is a really adorable bookstore in New Haven with a cafe inside.  Have some lunch, browse through some books, and enjoy the cozy atmosphere.  The YA section was small, but so was the whole store so I can forgive that.  I bought Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times, which I haven’t read yet but expect to LOVE if based on my enjoyment of Daughter of Smoke and Bone (by the way, the sequel has a title: Days of Blood and Starlight. So. Excited.).  I also bought A Wrinkle in Time, which I somehow never read even though I was an avid reader as a child and read a ton of Madeleine L’Engle’s books.
  2. Library Book Sale–I’m not usually a huge fan of book sales because there are typically a ton of John Grisham and Stephen King books and not much else.  But it is a little exciting to examine a mishmash of books in search of the hidden gem.  I did manage to find a few that I wanted: Angela’s Ashes, Song of Solomon, Commencement,  and The Moon by Night.  Each book was only 50 cents.  Even if I hate them, I think they’re worth every penny.
  3. Library–Even though I’m not helping any bookstores stay in business this way, I definitely use the library a lot.  I’m totally a supporter of libraries because they make books so accessible to everyone (also, it doesn’t hurt that my mom’s a librarian).  I finally finished The Scorpio Races and had to return that after renewing it three times.  I was bored for the first half, but I really started to appreciate the simplicity of life on the island that the characters live on, and in the end it was a beautiful book.  Anyway, I was intending to be in and out of the library fast since I have so many books to read, but I got sucked into the YA section and came out with Ender’s Game.  Oops.  That’s what I’m reading first since it has a due date.  I’m 50 pages in.  So far, so good.
  4. Barnes and Noble–You already know how much I love this store.  Even though it is a chain, it still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I buy a book from a B&N (my favorite one in LA just closed. ::Tear::).  So after the 4 for $2 at the book sale, I went here on and spent like $27 on two books.  That’s okay, I can accept that.  The books are: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Maze Runner.

Now I really need to cool it and read all of these books before I get any more.  That might be tough.  Especially because The Night Circus will arrive at my library any day now, and I had to put it on hold like four months ago so I can’t miss my chance to read it now.  Of course, it is an adult novel and so I will probably hate it.  For some reason, I’ll start it anyway, only to give up 100 pages in when I wonder why it was not written as a YA book (yes, I am biased).

So where do you get your book fix?

Young adult fiction: then and now

I have only recently begun reading young adult fiction again (and, as you know, writing it) after years of thinking that I’d outgrown it.  In middle school, I read YA books CONSTANTLY.  Summers were the best because I had unlimited reading time and my mom is a librarian, so between that and Barnes & Noble, I had a steady supply of books.  I remember the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I read about 42 books (of course, my equally enthusiastic reader friend Kristine read over 50, but who was counting?).  After a hiatus of about eights years, I’m at it again–and I have to say I’m kind of disappointed.

Maybe it’s just because I was the target age group for YA books when I was in middle school, but I think the books were a lot more magical back then.  Among my favorites were the Sweep series by Cate Tiernan, the Circle of Three series by Isobel Bird, and the Fingerprints series by Melinda Metz.  To be honest, I can’t tell you a lot about the plots of these books at this point.  I’ve forgotten most of them, but I can still remember very distinctly the feeling that I got when I’d finish one–a feeling of utter amazement and contemplation that made me lie on my bed for hours afterwards digesting the wonderfulness of the books.

These days, I don’t get that feeling.  I’ve read The Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, Twilight, and [most of] Delirium.  The only one that came close to leaving me in awe was The Hunger Games, but then I found the second two books in the series disappointing.  I mean, none of them were bad; at times, they could even be quite good.  But I’m looking for something to knock my socks off, and so far, nothing has (although Daughter of Smoke and Bone is pretty damn good so far).

Another difference between then and now: the books used to be a lot shorter, but the series a lot longer.  Sweep: 14 books, most around 200 pages.  Circle of Three: 15 books (I think), most or all less than 300 pages.  Then you take The Hunger Games: 3 books, nearly 400 pages each.  The others I mentioned are similarly long.

I don’t know if fewer longer books is better than more shorter books for me as a writer.  The 100,000 words that I’m aiming for would end up as about a 350-400 page book I think (confession: every week or so I paste what I have so far into a word document that has the page set to roughly novel-sized pages with YA novel-sized font and spacing.  With that, I already have 100 pages!  Further confession: I print out 2 of those book-sized pages and stick them into my copy of Mockingjay and pretend that my book has been published.  It’s good times.), so that’s in tune with the current trends in page count.

A comparison of YA books from now and from 10 years ago wouldn’t be complete without mentioning dystopias.  Because that’s what most of them are.  Most of them can be described by saying, “In a near-future dystopia, a 16 year old girl is faced with a life-altering decision…”  (oh crap.  That partially describes my book.  Well, regardless…)  It’s a definite commonality between YA books published these days, and I don’t remember reading any dystopias way back when.  And you know what, it can be really cool when it works.  But then sometimes it’s just boring (hopefully my book will fall into the former category).  The only really obvious common subject that I remember about the books I used to read was that a whole lot of them were about Wicca (prompting my friend’s parents to worry that I was dabbling in witchcraft).  I guess another commonality was that the main character usually has an ability/power of some sort.

One aspect that has remained the same in YA fiction is that they almost always have a female protagonist.  That goes for every series that I mentioned in this post as well as most others that I remember reading.  What’s with that?  Do women like writing YA more than men, and women naturally gravitate towards female protagonists?  Are most 11-15 year olds who actually read female?  Or maybe I’m crazy and it’s just that the books I happen to want to read (and write) are about women.

I shouldn’t criticize the current YA bestsellers out there; something is drawing people to them.  Maybe I just need to fully surrender myself to them like I did in 7th grade when I was home-schooled and had oodles of free time to read.  Now, I read in 15-page chunks that are very disruptive to the flow of the story.  And with all the anxiety I’m feeling about getting my own book done and then revising it and then getting an agent to read it and then getting an agent to like it, I just can’t lose myself in a good book the same way.

[image sources here and here]