Tag Archives: YA Saves

in which I recommend some books

So I have not been great at blogging lately….

….is a gross understatement.

I’d rather not talk about life things right now. Honestly I’d rather not talk about writing things either.

So let’s talk about book things!

Because over these past few months, some totally brilliant books that I love with all my heart have come out. And I want to tell you about them. And then I’m going to give one of them away. So stay tuned.

  1. Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

I refuse to shut up about this book. Because it is about zero gravity boxing on the moon1. And if that doesn’t make you want to drop everything and run to your local independent bookstore to get a copy, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

  1. Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

On an ordinary night a few months ago, I sat down on the couch while dinner was in the oven2 and had the following conversation with myself:

Me: I will read one chapter of Bones and All while I make dinner.
Me: Well that was the most disturbing first chapter ever and now I have completely lost my appetite and will probably have to read another chapter.
Me: Oh look at that, I’ve read half of this book.
Me: My legs are starting to cramp because I have been on the couch for so long and because I keep curling them up to me the more horrified I get.
Me: Oh, it’s midnight and I finished this book in one sitting without even meaning to.
Me: AND I LOVED IT.

If you are a fan of Stephen King but with a little more emotion and a lot more feminism, this is a book for you.

  1. My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp

If you like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this book is for you.

If you don’t like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this book is also for you. Because it’s way funnier than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And also set in an 1800s lumber camp3.

  1. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

So basically I wept my way through this book. Which was bad news, because I mostly read this book on public transit. The writing reads like jazz and the characters feel like people and this book is as pretty as its cover. It’s a thing you should read if you have good taste.

  1. Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

So I’m cheating because this book isn’t out for a few weeks but GUH THIS BOOK.

Here is a dramatic reenactment of me reading this book in Switzerland:

Marx: Um, Mackenzi, why are you being so gloomy and sad today? And why are you curled up on the floor, wailing, with your eReader clutched to your chest?
Me: THIS BOOK! THESE FEELINGS! MAKE IT STOP, IT HURTS.

In honor of these excellent, excellent books that I love with all of my big, stupid heart, I am giving away a signed copy of BONES & ALL! It can be yours! All you gots to do is fill out the little rafflecoptery thing below and then cross your fingers. Because trust me, you want this book in your life.

Click this thing! This is how you enter!

  1. It is also about sports and marketing and celebrity and racism and honesty and one of my all-time favorite young male protagonists.
  2. Okay fine it was in the microwave.
  3. If you want to know more about how I feel about this book, I made it my staff pick at Porter Square Books! Also this book is aggressively read aloudable, mostly because there is so much grown up appeal and ten-year-old appeal living side by side in it.
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Project: Bookshelf with Annie Cardi

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we are joined by Annie Cardi whose debut novel, The Chance You Won’t Return, is absolutely stellar and I’m honestly a bit confused as to why you’re still reading this instead of running immediately to your local independent bookstore to get yourself a copy. She has some bookshelf confessions to share with us this week….

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

  • Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
  • Where I Got It: Advanced copy from the bookstore. Also MarcyKate is both a fellow Bostonian and debut 2015 author, so I was super excited to get this one!
  • What I thought: This book is pitched as Frankenstein meets the Brothers Grimm, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a beautiful love letter to classic fairytales and modern fantasy, and I think it would be a great book for kids transitioning out of middle grade and into YA.

Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell

  • Genre: YA magical realism
  • Where I got it: Courtesy copy from work
  • What I thought: This book is so creative, and so atmospheric, and so Maine. All of those are things that I love…but I didn’t love this book. I think it just lacked some tension, and needed just a little more going on to really keep me engaged.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

  • Genre: YA dystopian
  • Where I got it: So technically this is Marx’s book. But it’s on the bookshelf in the living room that we share. So it comes from my bookshelf. So it counts.
  • What I thought: The ending didn’t quite live up to all the build up, but over all it was a fast, enjoyable read and I’m super excited for the movie. I think the visuals will translate really well to film.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

  • Genre: YA contemporary realism
  • Where I got it: Another advanced copy of a fellow 2015 debut-ers book
  • What I thought: I knocked this one out in a single sitting. Without even meaning to. It just sort of happened. It’s a very heartfelt and sincere look at depression and suicide, and the use of physics to look at those subjects is brilliant. I also love the family dynamics at the core of this book, and the question of if children are destined to become their parents. Guys, there are so many great debut novels coming out next year! Get excited.

And now, meet Annie and her bookshelf!

I get nervous in a house without a lot of books. If I go to someone’s house, one of the first things I do is check out their bookshelf—not even purposefully, but because it’s the most interesting thing in the room. (Okay, if they have a dog or cat, I crouch down to pet said fuzzyface while checking out the bookshelves.)

Bookshelves can also tell you a lot about someone—what they generally like to read, what they enjoy enough to buy, what they love enough o have multiple copies of, how organized they are, etc. etc. Since I can’t invite all of you over to scan my shelves, here are a few of my bookshelf confessions:

photo 1Confession #1: Organization is for libraries and bookstores…

When I want to borrow or buy a book, I appreciate shelves organized by category and author’s last name. At home, things are a lot more haphazard. I try to keep things arranged by general category (YA, fiction, nonfiction, etc.) but within those categories authors get mixed up and books in a series get separated and sometimes books are shuffled into different categories if there’s not enough room on a shelf.

Confession #2: …Except when it comes to color.

One bookshelf is organized by color, ROYGBIV-style, with black and white at the end. I’m actually way more likely to find a book on this bookshelf, because mostly I remember a physical book by how it looks.

Confession #3: I judge books by their covers.

The bookshelf in our living room, the one that gets seen most by guests? Yeah, books are specifically selected for that shelf based on how pretty their covers/spines are. (Books that are especially cool or emotionally important also get priority.)

Confession #4: You can find me in the YA section.

I write YA, so it makes sense that I would have a solid collection of YA novels. It’s one of the categories I buy the most, and I have several shelves devoted entirely to YA.

photo 2Confession #5: Rereading is my excuse for buying more books.

I’ve always been a rereader. When I was younger, I’d reread books all the time—even just paging through sections that I enjoyed. I reread less now, but when I want to read a book and have to choose between buying it or getting it from the library, I ask myself, “Will I want to reread this?” If I do, it goes on the purchase list. If not, I get it from the library first, and then if I love it, I can buy it and add it to the collection.

Confession #6: My books stay on my shelves.

There are generous people in the world who, when you say “Oh, I want to read that,” will take that book off their shelves and give it to you and tell you that you can give it back whenever. I am not one of those people. I lost two copies of The Princess Bride in high school by lending them out, and I still haven’t gotten over the loss. (I’m petty, yes, but they were my books and they don’t make that cover anymore!) If I let you borrow a book, it means I deeply trust you as a human being. You might be named a godparent at some point.

Books are more than just the words on the pages. They contain all the excitement and emotions of your reading experience, all the memories that surrounded your reading experience. They’re a little part of who you are, right there for you to see.

*Some books also from husband’s collection; love means never having to ask to read a book.

Annie CardiAnnie Cardi holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and a BA from the University of Virginia. Her short stories have appeared in The Georgetown Review, Vestal Review, Juked, and other publications. In 2011, PEN New England selected her as a winner of the Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award for the manuscript that would become her debut young adult novel, The Chance You Won’t Return. Annie lives near Boston with her husband and a portrait of a sea captain. You can find her sharing funny gifs and pictures of corgis at: Blog Facebook Twitter Tumblr.

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for our final edition of Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

 

 

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Project: Bookshelf with Anna-Marie McLemore

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we are joined by Anna-Marie McLemore, whose magical debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, comes out next year (and guys, you’re going to want to put this one on your “buy the moment it comes out” list. Or maybe your “will sell my soul for an ARC” list. It’s infuriatingly beautiful.) 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

  • Genre: YA urban fantasy
  • Where I got it: Let’s just say through creative connections.
  • What I thought: My love affair with the Kazam Chronicles has been no secret, and this one, the third, might actually be my favorite out of the bunch. My only complaint was that there was not nearly enough quarkbeast.

The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

  • Genre: YA historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Free bookshelf at work. Man I love that free bookshelf
  • What I thought: I liked this one a lot. It’s very vivid, and the history and magic are both very alive and well drawn. But I just never felt it. None of the emotional connection I really wanted. I will, however, be picking up its sequel, The Boneshaker. 

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

  • Genre: Middle grade historical fiction
  • Where I got it: So I bought myself a copy of this with the intention of having Lois sign it at the Susan Bloom Awards. But me, being a forgetful moron who was totally caught up in everything else going on, totally forgot to have her sign it. F.
  • What I thought: I had read this book before, many years when I was in elementary school, and it was one of the first books I remember really loving. Reading it as an adult, I’m even more impressed with how tight and powerful this book is. What a great story about empathy, love, and courage. Bravo, bravo Miss Lois!

And now, meet Anna-Marie and her bookshelf! 

lepetitprinceWhen Mackenzi asked me to join in on Project: Bookshelf, maybe I should have mentioned that I don’t have one.

I have a dresser that I keep a few books in. A freestanding counter in my kitchen that I store some books under. But I don’t actually have a bookshelf.

Two years ago, I was working part-time, the Boy had just gotten out of school and was looking for a job, and our apartment search was getting a little desperate. For many of the places we saw, we did not meet the income requirements. For a few, we were told in thinly veiled terms that we could apply, but they would never rent to us. I don’t think there’s anybody else like you around here. Or, You’d probably be happier somewhere else. Or, what do you mean, you’re married?

We knew what they meant. The Boy is transgender, and did not pass as a biological male.

AMbookshelfThen we found a tiny but adorable studio apartment, and with it, a property manager who didn’t seem to the mind the look of us the way so many others had. A week later, we were moved in, and it was just as well that we had no bookshelf since we didn’t have the wall space for it.

So I only unpacked a few of my books, slipped some into a free space in the cube storage unit we used as a dresser, found a place for a few in the kitchen, and tried to settle into the feeling of not knowing where our lives were going next.

A few months later, the Boy, thankfully, got a job. We might have been able to move somewhere a little bigger, somewhere with enough space that the Boy and I did not have something just short of a romantic interlude every time we wanted to get by each other at the dresser or the kitchen sink. But we’d gotten attached to our tiny but adorable apartment, our neighborhood, the sound of the chickens that lived down the block.

lovespeaksitsnameHalf my books are still in boxes. I rotate them in and out by mood, by season. Every March, I pack up my old set of The Chronicles of Narnia, like folding away a favorite winter coat. My Allende and my Saint-Exupéry come out right around the time the first crocuses are breaking up through the cold ground.

At first I saw it as an annoyance to dig through boxes every time I wanted to reread Sophie’s World or pull out the book of poetry I’d bought in Bloomsbury. But then I grew to like it, this minimalism of only having on hand the books I needed and wanted. It made it easier to take in all the power and beauty of all those words, just a few at a time.

One day, the Boy and I will have a bookshelf, a whole one. We’ll display all our books at once. But for now we’ll enjoy our little apartment, and the rhythm of putting books away and taking them out, rediscovering their pages like meeting up with old friends.

AMbookshelfbiophotoAnna-Marie McLemore writes from her Mexican-American heritage and the love for stories she learned from her family. She lives in California’s Central Valley with a boy from the other side of the Rockies. Her debut novel THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a YA contemporary love story with a magical twist, will be released in 2015 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. You can find her on Facebook or Twitter @laannamarie.

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

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in which a giveaway winner is selected, and my book appears on goodreads

So first and foremost, THE GIVEAWAY! We had one last week, and I didn’t get a chance to pick the winner on Friday like I promised because I was on an uninhabited island seven miles off the coast of Maine1 where wifi was a fallacy. And when I did have wifi at the lighthouse2, I used it up staring dreamily at Goodreads.

Why was I staring dreamily at Goodreads, you might ask? That’s because in a few seconds of spotty wifi on Thursday, I got a Tweet from my friend McKelle:

WHAT!?

Race to Goodreads. Wait five minutes for it to load. Get error message. Run to other part of the island and thrust phone in air searching for bars. Find tiny amount of service. Type title into the Goodreads search bar with trembling fingers. Wait. Wait. Wait. Curse slow wifi with everything in me.

And then…what’s that?

goodreads 2  Is it?! It sort of looks like it is….

goodreads 3IT IS! My book is on Goodreads!

GoodreadsYou might be surprised to hear that after signing a book deal, almost nothing feels different. You still struggle through revision and self doubt and anxiety and plot quagmires and feel like throwing your laptop across the room most days. You still don’t feel like a Real Writer, let alone one with a Real Book Deal. But every once in a while, you get a few glorious moments of feeling like you’ve made it. Like this is actually happening, and your writing is more than just you and your keyboard and the voices in your head. Someone else is going to read this thing you wrote.

Seeing the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement was the first of these moments for me. The Goodreads page was the second. And man was it exciting to see3.

So all of my wifi this week was used up by me petting the Goodreads page for my book.

But here we are now, and so the giveaway!

The winner of Something Strange and Deadly and Heir of Fire is….

ARIEL T!

Congratulations! I hope you love them both, and I will be contacting you soon with more information.

More Project: Bookshelf is coming at you on Friday, as well as another giveaway. Stay tuned.

  1. All of these things are true.
  2. Yes, really, lighthouse. We stayed in a lighthouse.
  3. Slash also terrified because I am terrified of Goodreads. Once actual copies of my book are in the world, I am never again going anywhere near it. I’m going to have to hire someone (probably 14) to manage my Goodreads. And by manage, I mean copy and paste all the positive reviews into an email and send it to me.
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Project: Bookshelf with Susan Dennard

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week I am SO EXCITED to have one of my favorite authors, Susan Dennard, here to talk about the ongoing conundrum of what to do with books when you move. Susan writes amazing steampunk zombie novels, the newest of which, Strange and Ever Aftercomes out July 22 from HarperTeen! 

Also, there might just be a giveaway attached to the end of this post, because Susan’s books are so great I want to share them with everyone. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

  • Genre: Gothic Classic
  • Where I got it: So maybe this one technically isn’t a Project: Bookshelf book, because a friend lent me her copy…but it was still on my bookshelf, and I hadn’t read it. So….counts?
  • What I thought: I’m really into Romantic/Gothic monster books right now, so this was perfect for my mood. Dark, creepy, atmospheric, and so much better than the play!

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: I unintentionally read this series out of order. Whoops. But even backwards, they are outstanding. If you’re looking for smart British humor with a fantasy twist, this is that book.

Historical Heartthrobs by Kelly Murphy

  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Where I got it: Gifted
  • What I thought: This book is awesome. Very tongue-in-cheek biographies of historical figures that are tight and interesting. Also I appreciated that they didn’t just feature the good guys (because let’s face it, John Wilkes Booth was crazy, but also a stud) and highlighted some lesser known historical hotties (hey there, Ada Lovelace).

Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden

  • Genre: YA contemporary
  • Where I got it: The Great Simmons Book Grab of 2014
  • What I thought: So I was prepared to not like this book. Way outside my comfort zone subject-wise, abrasive narrator, voice that hits you in the face and it hurts. But then about seven pages in, there was a Lion in Winter reference. Lion in Winter is one of my great loves, and I will follow any book that references it to the end of the earth. So I stuck it out. And while this was not totally my cup of tea, I liked it.

And now, meet Susan and her bookshelf! 

So, I wish I had some super cool bookshelf to share with you all. Or even better, I wish I had a library worthy of Belle and the Beast, but the truth is, I’m super disorganized and super lazy. How does that equate to my bookshelf? Well, I’ll explain.

In the last 2 years, I’ve moved 4 times. Books make up (no joke) the bulk of my moving boxes. For the first 3 moves, I actually went to all the trouble of unpacking all those books, arranging them nicely (by genre!)…only to then have to frantically re-pack said books and move to another new house*. (See the carefully arranged books in our tiny condo? Even my dog, Asimov, was impressed.)

Reading nook

My husband and I finally bought a house one year ago, and in that time, we’ve renovated the crap out of it. SO much work and SO many weekend trips to Home Depot. One of the many, bright-eyed ideas we originally had was to do an Ikea hack of Billys (built-in shelves are, obviously, every reader’s DREAM). We bought the Billys, we set them up…

And then a year passed. No “building them in” ever actually happened (and in our defense, there were much higher house priorities–like building a freaking kitchen). My books stayed packed in our basement, and my shelves became the perfect cubbies for receipts, dust, and cats who insist on climbing things they can’t get down from.

Well, about a month ago, I decided I really wanted at least a few of my books out for perusing. So after 3 back-and-forth basement trips, I had 3 (out of 7) boxes in my office. I unloaded the books…and then ran out of space before I was even through box 1.

Crap. Okay, I thought, back in the condo I had books vertically. So I, yet again, turned all the books vertically. This got me through 2.5  boxes. The other half-box got returned to the basement (where it is now a favorite place for cats who insist on shredding boxes).

As for the books actually on the shelf…well, look for yourself. There is no rhyme or reason–I’ve just got stuff squeezed wherever I can fit it. The only slightly organized spot is the middle shelf with my special Star Wars, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys collection (half of which are–you guessed it!–still in a box).

Bookshelf3

So that, my friends, is why my bookshelves look like a disaster and why most of my books remain in the basement. Funnily enough, we’re now considering moving again, so hey! Maybe I just saved myself a few hours by never unloading those boxes. And double hey! Maybe in our next house, I can finally get those Billy built-ins. ;)

*This makes me sound like I’m being evicted or doing something nefarious that forces me to flee. Nope, sorry. Alas, I just keep picking homes that the owners decide sell, so then I’m forced to move out. Again.

SusanDennardSusan is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels–and not novels about fish, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues. You can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on her blogtwitter, facebook, or newlsetter. Her Something Strange and Deadly series is now available from HarperTeen, and look for her new Truthwitch series from Tor in 2015.

And now, to celebrate the release of the release of Susan’s third book, Strange and Ever After, I’m giving away a copy of the first book, Something Strange and Deadly, as well as an ARC of Heir of Fire, the new book in the Throne of Glass series by Susan’s critique partner and bestie, Sarah Maas.

strange 2heir
Want these beauties to be yours? Just click the link below and fill out the Rafflecopter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends 7/25.

Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

 

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Project: Bookshelf with Rebecca Podos

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week I am hosting none other than my fabulous agent, Rebecca Podos, who is not only an agent to the stars but an author with her debut novel, The Mystery of Hollow Places, coming out in 2016. What’s so awesome about her library? Let’s just say it’s a little Gorey…

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself, since this is published by the imprint that will publish my novel and I am trying to familiarize myself with their list
  • What I thought: This book was outside my usual genre, but I really loved it. It was complicated and messy and sort of riveting. Also I loved the exploration of both online ethics and young women coming into their sexuality.

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

  • Genre: YA….adventure? Spy novel? Thriller?
  • Where I got it: Snagged off the free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: This book had a little bit of Chuck, a little bit of Taken, a little bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and I loved every page of it.

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan

  • Genre: YA magical realism
  • Where I got it: ARC from the bookstore
  • What I thought: This is the YA brothers book I have been searching for! Not a YA sibling story that actually ends up being about a love interest. Not a sibling story that really doesn’t have anything to do with siblings other than two of the characters happen to be them. This book was really truly about these two twin boys, and I adored it for that alone. Plus it was so creepy and gut-wrenching and heartfelt. The plotting could have been a little tighter, but the two boys at its core and their relationship are just outstanding.

And now, meet Rebecca and her bookshelves!

1

This is what my library looks like from the doorway, with my back smashed up against the hallway light switch so I can photograph as much of it at once as possible. Welcome. Let us begin! Because my bookshelves are tentatively organized by genre, that shelf on the right is a sliver of my Anthologies/ YA section. Unsurprisingly, this section is the biggest – I almost never get rid of a YA book, am always collecting new ones, and spend my pennies on childhood favorites (shout out to the amazing Book Barn in Niantic, CT, where you can find a copy of Number the Stars inside a gutted vegetable stand.)

2

This is our Adult bookshelf. Notable pieces: an extensive Stephen King section (Bachman books too), Lots of undergrad Eggers, the copy of On the Beach I read one million billion times in high school, and my husband’s unlikely Anne Rice collection. He and I actually combined our bank accounts before we combined our libraries; my main objection was that he was going to displace so many of my books with his Anne Rice. So we got a bigger Adult bookshelf. Marriage is a compromise.

3

My library is the tiniest room in the house – and yet it just had to have the litter boxes in it – so there are clumps of books all over to maximize space. This is the favorite-childhood-fantasy-series-and-favorite-grownup-fantasy-series clump. They hang right next to my Bob’s Pit armchair for easy access.

4

Here’s the Literary Journals/ short story collections/ graphic novels section. It’s pretty slender – a weird mix of Bradbury/ King/ Gaiman/ Proulx. That empty bottom shelf is an access tunnel for the cats to get to their litter boxes, and I have to keep it that way, so I must carefully ration the collections I bring on.

5

This is definitely the jewel of the room, accumulated through library sales, book shows and probably e-bay. It’s the Edward Gorey section! Within two seconds of meeting me, it’s pretty obvious that Edward Gorey is my favorite illustrator (I don’t always permanently affix pictures to my skin, but when I do, they’re Edward Gorey drawings.) If I had to pick one out as the treasure among treasures, it would be The Curious Sofa: a pornographic work by Ogdred Weary. It is not pornographic, but it is suggestive:

6

picRebecca Podos is a graduate of the MFA Writing, Literature and Publishing program at Emerson College, whose debut YA novel THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES will be published by Balzer & Bray in 2016. She’s also a literary agent representing Young Adult and Middle Grade at Rees Literary Agency in Boston, and is thrilled to represent books by talented clients like Mackenzi Lee!
Note from Mackenzi Lee: I did not bully her into writing that last line.
Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

 

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in which I participate in #MyWritingProcess

So I have been tagged in a thing that has been circulating around a lot of writer’s blogs recently, fondly known as #MyWritingProcess, in which writers answer a series of questions about their work. Since I got tagged twice by my two critique partners, I felt like I should probably do it.

Here’s a better explanation of what it is that I didn’t write:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…

So. Let’s do this.

1)     What am I working on?

Right now, I’m in a period of between. I am just about to jump into edits on THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. Meanwhile, the first draft of a newer manuscript, this one about gender and first love during the Dutch tulipomania, is being mulled over by one of my lovely critique partners. So at this moment, I’m less working and more waiting.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since SHADOW BOYS is pretty understandably on my brain, let’s talk about that!

What makes this book different from all the other young adult historical fantasy books1 coming out next year? Here are five things:

  1. It is a steampunk book that is not set in Victorian England and has no magic
  2. The story centers around a sibling relationship, not a romantic one
  3. There are old-school cyborgs
  4. The main character does not like to read or love books
  5. It includes 100% more gears, Coleridge, dissections, half-human monsters, book throwing, clock towers, unsexy kissing, spiced wine, and Christmas markets than almost any other YA book out there. Guaranteed.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

So I write primarily things set in the past. I was a history major in undergrad, and I first found my love of history through historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction because it feels like fantasy—a time and place too far away from where we are now for me to imagine as someone’s reality—but the times and places are real, and we are connected to those stories by the universalities of the human experience. Sounds corny, but that’s why I love historical fiction. It makes history somehow feel simultaneously impossible and real.

4)     How does your writing process work?

Now this is the question, isn’t it? I’m still trying to figure out if it does actually work.

When I first get an idea, I resist the urge to start writing immediately because that generally results in fifty or so misguided pages that trickle into nothing and abandonment. Instead, I usually spend six months to a year with an idea bouncing around inside me before I ever put pen to paper2. This period of researched-fueled incubation can be best summed up by a quote from Emerson Cod, the private detective in Pushing Daisies: “Well that idea just made a stupid idea feel better about itself.” The year a book spends in my head is my chance to get all the bad ideas out of my system (and let me assure you, these ideas are bad. I just found my original outline for SHADOW BOYS and…let’s just say I spent a lot of time way off base) and give the good ones a chance to fight their way through.

After a year, I still don’t know everything about the story, but I know enough that I can crank out a first draft3. Even though that first draft is barely readable and generally a mess, it is how I figure things out. Terry Pratchett says a first draft is just you telling yourself the story. I learn what my own book is about by writing it. Once that first draft is done, I let it rest for a while. This distance gives me time to get unattached emotionally from what I wrote and be more objective about it. And then…revise! Revise revise revise! Which is fun and hard and there’s no process or rhyme or reason to this, it varies so much between projects.

An unrelated but really important part of every book I write is the creation of two things: the Pinterest board and the playlist. I love finding songs and images4 and poems and lyrics and art that relates to my project in a variety of ways. I’ve found answers to plot questions and character conundrums in songs and art. Sometimes I find images that I like so much I work the image into my project. The Pinterest board and the playlist are both crucial to my process, and provide me with something other than an open word document to stare at when I get stuck.

And that’s my process! Now, the hop continues! I’m tagging:

Rebecca Wells, a Simmons MFA-er, bookseller, and writer whose prose will make you weep with envy.

Jessica Arnold author of the delightfully creepy YA novel The Looking Glass, eBook designer, and magic enthusiast. That last thing is only sort of a lie.

 

  1. All two of them.
  2. Or rather fingers to keyboard.
  3. It should be noted that I do not go back and revise as I draft. It’s the only way I keep my forward momentum.
  4. In spite of being a writer, I’m really visual.
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Project: Bookshelf with J. Anderson Coats

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re hosting J. Anderson Coats, whose book, The Wicked and the Just, should be on the reading list of everyone who loves historical fiction. Or Wales. What does she have on her bookshelf besides some creepy-ass candles? Read onto find out! 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

  • Genre: Adult historical fiction
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself after the author did a reading at Porter Square Books, complete with a theremin demonstration by a local thereminist. What is a theremin, you ask? Aside from being the first electronic instrument and the subject of this novel, it is the weirdest music making device you will ever come across. You can find video here, and I encourage you to watch and be mystified.
  • What I thought: This book is stunning and haunting and I’m so glad I read it. The language is beautiful and poetic without ever feeling trite. However, like so many adult books in this genre, there are huge stretches of time where I felt like nothing was happening. It wasn’t happening beautifully, but I still got a little weary. It read very slow. But still highly recommended!

Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz

  • Genre: Tween contemporary
  • Where I got it: Picked up during the great Simmons book grab of 2014
  • What I thought: While the emotional landscape of this book is impressive, there was too much going on. Too many characters. Too many emotional journeys. Too much wrapping up of those emotional journeys. In the end, it felt muddled, and the emotional impact was lost in the amount of it. Also the ending was so corny! Lots of over the top eye rolling was happening on my end.

Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Snagged from the free books shelf at work
  • What I thought: This book is so funny! Contemporary fantasy in the style of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. And Jennifer Strange is much like her fictional sister, Thursday Next, in her unfailing practicality.

And now, meet J’s bookshelf! 

I’m a bookshelf decorator. As in, my home has a lot of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to spare me needing to paint the walls a nice color or purchase art or really expend any effort whatsoever when it comes to decorating.

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #0 Decorating I2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #0A Decorating II

I’m also a librarian by profession.

You’d think this would mean my books are organized in some way.

But they’re not. By and large, they’re organized in one of two ways: 1) order of acquisition; or 2) size.

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #1 Order of Acquisition2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #2 Size

There are some exceptions. One of them is a small but growing collection of books by people I know*:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #3 People I Know

*If I know you and your book isn’t here, it’s probably because I gifted it to someone. Please don’t throw things. :)

Another is a two-shelf unit across the hall from my bathroom known as the medieval bookshelf.

“Medieval bookshelf” is somewhat of a misnomer, as there are books about street ballads, historical artisans and craftspeople, and folklore that live there. But it is where all the books I use for research live, and they are organized by place and/or subject. Some of my most favorite things live here, notably a copy of Brut y Tywysogion (Welsh: Chronicle of the Princes) that came from Japan of all places and cost something like 17,000 yen.

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #4 Medieval Bookshelf

Another is my husband’s textbooks from back in 2006 that haven’t been read since but apparently have been legacied onto this shelf:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #5 - Textbooks

(The creepy-as-hell candles need to be regifted STAT)

Also, here’s another legacy. When my son was little, he was allowed one shelf in the living room to keep whatever books he wanted so he didn’t have to keep running to his room to bring his favorites. He’s sixteen now, but this is what was left on the shelf from the last time it was used:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #6 - Kid Shelf Legacy

(And yes, Skepticism and Animal Faith was placed there by him, at age ten or so.)

And here’s why we’re about due for another bookshelf:

2014-6-2 Project Bookshelf #7 - Overflow

Being surrounded by books is comforting, which is why I’m not keen to impose an order. They remind me of people I know, people I love, so it really doesn’t matter where they are as long as they’re easily at hand.

Coats - Author Photo 200J. Anderson Coats is the author of historical fiction for young adultsthat routinely includes too much violence, name-calling and pettyvandalism perpetrated by badly-behaved young people. Her first YA novel, THE WICKED AND THE JUST, was one of Kirkus’s Best Teen Books of 2012, a 2013 YALSA Best for Young Adults (BFYA) winner, and a School Library Journal Best Books of 2012 selection. It also won the 2013 Washington State Book Award for Young Adults. 

 Thanks for tuning in! Join us next Friday for more Project: Bookshelf.  Can’t wait that long? Visit the Project: Bookshelf archive.

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in which your book deal questions are answered

It has now been two weeks since my book sold. One week since I announced it to the wide world. In that week since, I have been reminded that I have both the best people in my life and am part of the best community. So thank you to all you friends and strangers who were excited for me and made my big news impossibly bigger.

In the last week, I’ve discovered that people have a lot of the same questions after you tell them you just sold a book. So I decided to compile my answers all in one convenient place. A book deal FAQ, as it were.

Hopefully all your questions are answered here, and if not, leave them in comments!

 

What’s your book called?

Apparently a lot of people missed this. It’s called THE SHADOW BOYS ARE BREAKING. This title is subject to change, as all titles are, but for now, this is it’s name.

 

Can I buy it now?

I know, I want it right now too! But alas—it doesn’t come out until next fall (as in 2015).

 

Ugh why does it take so long?!

Funnily enough, my book is actually coming out really fast in terms of a typical publishing timeline. Right now at my publishing job, we are working on books that won’t come out until 2017. Publishing takes a long time. Books are made up of a lot of pieces and it takes a lot of time for all those pieces to come together.

 

Speaking of your day job, are you going to quit it?

Aw that’s cute. In spite of Suzanne Collins and JK Rowling setting examples otherwise, not all children’s authors are rolling in the dough. Someday I would love to quit my day job and write full time, but today is not that day, because Boston is expensive and student loans are building at my back and I have to support my Diet Coke habit. So no, I’m not quitting my job, both for monetary reasons and because I really like my job. Jobs. Both of them.

 

What’s the cover going to look like?

I have no idea! Authors really don’t have control over that. But all of Katherine Tegen’s books have such lovely covers, I can’t imagine it will be anything less than extraordinary.

 

Um, why are you not publishing under your real name?

I’ve been a little surprised by how many people have been shocked and affronted over my decision to publish under a different name than the one that appears on my driver’s license. Turns out my last name has a lot of passionate defenders.

So here’s the deal about this—first of all, Mackenzi Lee is my real name. It is just my real name with the last bit hacked off. As previously discussed, my last name is long and intimidating, and after focus grouping it for over twenty years, I’ve discovered that most people’s initial reaction to my last name is panic. And I don’t want people panicking when they see the cover of my book. It is also very important to me as an author to be easy to find, and while many of you might think my last name is lovely and charming, try spelling it out in the nonexistent Goodreads search engine feature after only briefly glancing at it or hearing it said once in passing. I promise you will end up just banging your fist on the keyboard. That’s sometimes what I end up doing. So the dissection of my name is something I have thought long and hard about. It is not a snap decision. It was not decided by my agent or my editor or my publisher. It is not a rejection of my cultural heritage. It is instead a deliberate and well-thought out choice on my part in order to make me more easily accessible to the people who might someday read my book.

 

Wait, what happened to that other book you wrote?

What a good memory you have! So last summer, when I signed with my agent, it was not with this book. Back then, this book was only a few confused chapters saved in my file of ideas that might never get written. So yes, I did write another book before this one. It was about glass making in nineteenth-century Venice, and while I loved it dearly, and my agent loved it dearly, and even some editors loved it, it did not get published, and after sending it out to publishers for quite a while, it became time to, in the words of Elsa, let it go. There are so many factors that go into what books get published—it’s not always just which books are best—and for various reasons, this book did not get picked up. Maybe someday I’ll dig it back out and try again, but for now, it’s being left behind. Am I sad about this? Yeah, I guess, a little, but I also couldn’t have written SHADOW BOYS without writing that other book first.

 

So what’s book two going to be about?

It amuses and amazes me how many people have asked this. I’m too excited about book one (which is already written) to even think about book two (which is not). I don’t know what book two will be about. While I am definitely anxious about writing it, because I am a writer and thus plagued by irrational anxiety that I will never have another good idea again, I was calmed by wise words of encouragement from my agent: writing book two is like that scene in Harry Potter 3, where Harry knows he can conjure the patronus because he’s already done it before. So I am trying to be confident in my ability to conjure another patronus!

 

Is the whole world different now that you have a book deal?

You know, it really isn’t. True, I’ve been doing a lot of out-of-context grinning and some spontaneous dancing over the past two weeks, and probably will keep doing that for the next year and a half, but my life isn’t really that different than it was pre-book deal. It’s funny how things can change and still stay the same.

Have any other book deal questions? Leave them in comments! 

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Project: Bookshelf with Amitha Knight

Welcome to PROJECT: BOOKSHELF, a continuing series in which Mackenzi Lee tries to read every book on her bookshelf in the course of a summer while friends, writers, and readers drop in to tell us about their respective shelves. This week, we’re joined by Amitha Knight, a fellow Boston-area kidlit writer and Susan Bloom Discovery Award winner! She’s here to tell us about her bookshelves, and one special book that stands out. 

But first, let’s take a look at my reading wrap-up.

This week, from my collection of unread books on my shelf, I read…

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

  • Genre: YA historical fantasy
  • Where I got it: Thieved. But I won’t tell you from where.
  • What I Thought: Oh this one started out so strong. The writing and the setting are so, so pretty, but pretty isn’t everything. It lost steam about halfway through, and the plot drags, with too much of it is packed into the last eighty pages.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

  • Genre: Middle Grade Steampunk
  • Where I got it: ARC picked up from the bookstore
  • What I thought: I think my expectations were too high for this one, because it did absolutely nothing for me. Unobjectionable writing, but I had zero emotional investment in anything that happened. The world was underdeveloped, characters were flat, and there was none of the imaginative charm factor I was hoping for. The prettiest thing about this book is the cover.

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

  • Genre: YA fantasy
  • Where I got it: Purchased for myself to complete the trilogy
  • What I thought: I really love this series, and while this wasn’t technically a bad ending, it just left me sort of unfulfilled. So much of what could have been done….wasn’t. Argh. I’m beginning to think there’s no such thing as a good way to end a series.

Guys, I am in such a reading slump! I am not liking anything I have picked up recently!

….And on that vaguely depressing note, meet Amitha and her bookshelf! 

We have several bookshelves in our house: my writing/research bookshelf in my office, my kids’ bookshelves in their rooms, a scifi shelf, and not to mention the growing pile of books at my bedside table. But our largest bookshelves sit in our living room, where we can see them, admire them, and be appalled at what a haphazard arrangement of books it is.

Amithasbookshelf

Once upon a time, our bookshelves were organized by author with a few categories separated out (my books from India that don’t have barcodes, his scifi collection, and my rapidly growing children’s literature collection), because my husband, the son of a former librarian, downloaded a program that allowed us to scan in our books and organize them. So we had all our books in order and cataloged on the computer…

…And then we moved. In our haste to unpack and feel moved in, we thought we’d just empty the books onto our shelves and then reorganize them later. That was a few years ago now and of course, “later” still hasn’t happened. Ah well.

Dragon

As far as the books themselves, I go to a lot of book signings and have numerous signed books from children’s authors (Shannon Hale, Gene Luen Yang, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few of the more famous ones), but one of the books I love the most is a book I tracked down and bought used online: a copy of The Secret Garden. This book isn’t particularly valuable (and I was dismayed to discover that it is abridged), however this specific edition has a lot of sentimental value.

Secret Garden

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite novels as a child almost certainly because I fell in love with this specific book cover. I remember checking this book out from the library and thinking it was one of the most beautiful books I’d ever held. Obviously, I had to return the book, but for a few years afterward, whenever I went to a bookstore I would look for this specific edition of The Secret Garden, just to see if it was just as pretty as I’d remembered. Many years later, I tracked it down online. Interestingly, the thing that had fascinated me the most—the sundial—was actually on the back of the cover, when in my mind it had been embossed in gold and on the front of the book, instead of the girl. While the actual cover (which is still lovely) isn’t as amazing as my memory of the cover, just looking at it brings back one of my very favorite reading memories of rocking in our backyard hammock over summer vacation and being so caught up in this story that I never wanted to put it down. Little kid me would be so excited to know that I found this book. Grown up me thinks it’s pretty cool too.

broAmitha Knight is a full-timer writer, a doctor, and a mother of two. She was named a winner of the 2012 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and received a Letter of Merit for her writing from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2011.  If you’re interested in children’s author signings, she maintains a calendar of events for the Boston area (also on Facebook). Follow her: Twitter / Google Plus /Goodreads

 

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