Top 10 YA Books I Read in 2015

As soon as I typed that title, I knew I’d leave someone’s book out of my list. If it’s your book, please forgive me. My memory isn’t the best, and I failed to keep a definitive list of what I read this past year!

But even if some amazing novel is missing from my list, I vouch that the following books are worth reading. Here are my favorite YA novels I read in 2015.

1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (fantasy). The Reds are commoners, while the elite Silvers have special powers and rule the country. Except when Mare starts working in the palace, she discovers a power of her own — which could throw off the balance, endanger her life, and threaten her family and her heart.

Not only does this book have a fabulous cover, the story within is a compelling tale of fantasy, relationships, romance, and betrayal. It’s a pretty entangled plot, but more than that, I enjoyed the characters who kept me guessing what they would do and how things would turn out.

2. They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire (suspense). Kenzie somehow got voted onto a list of the hottest girls in high school. Every year, that list is the ticket to popularity, parties, and romantic perks. This year, however, if you’re on the list…you have a target on your back. When girls on the list start dying, Kenzie must figure out who’s behind it before someone takes aim and kills her first.

What a concept, right? And St. Claire pulled this off very well. Kenzie is a relatable character, and the plot twists and ticking clock keep you on your toes and cheering for her to figure out who’s behind the killings. There’s also interesting friends, a cute boy, and more. Just a great read.

3. Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs (superheroes). Kenna lives and works in a community of superheroes who oppose a society of villains — yet she is powerless, an ordinary. When she encounters a band of villains seeking to save one of their own, she finds a way to fight against them. But the encounter leaves her questioning her view of heroes and villains and what it means to be good.

When I picked this up, I admit thinking to myself, Seriously? What more can be said about superheroes? Yet Childs and Deebs approached the subject in an original way, infusing the story of superheroes with deeper questions, interesting relationships, and stellar dialogue. Powerless is the first in their Hero Agenda series, and I will be reading the next one.

4. The Murder Complex by Lindsey Cummings (dystopian). In this dystopian society, the murder rate is higher than the birth rate — by design. Meadow has been taught by her father to fight back and survive, but when Zephyr, a government-programmed assassin, puts Meadow in his sights, she’s thrown into an entirely new challenge that requires all her skills, courage, and determination. Not to mention her heart.

I’ll warn you now: The body count in this novel is high. This is a dystopian society on steroids. But I loved this fast-paced novel with fresh characters, plot twists, and high stakes. It’s the first in a two-book series, and I immediately read the follow-up, The Death Code, which I also recommend.

5. Find Me by Romily Bernard (thriller). Wick’s got a promising new foster home, courtesy of her dad being arrested for his felonies. She’s also got amazing hacker skills, a snarky attitude, and a cop in her heels who’s convinced she helped Daddy Dear with his crimes. But when a former friend’s diary ends up in Wick’s hands with the words Find Me, Wick’s hacking skills and criminal contacts might just help her find Tessa’s killer.

Wick is the kind of resilient teen I love to read about. She has a billion ways life has kicked her in the butt, yet she wants a better life for herself and her sister. Bernard weaves a marvelous thriller plot in with deep emotional stakes for Wick and those around her. This was that kind of novel that made me push my bedtime way late into the night to read “just one more chapter” again and again.

6. Winter by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi fantasy). Winter is a sci-fi retelling of Snow White, right along with the super-bad stepmother and a huntsman who isn’t willing to kill the princess. But the whole story is set in a futuristic setting with Earth and the Moon at war and weaves in characters from the three previous retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.

This is the fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder. Whether you know anything about the classic fairy tales, these retellings are highly engaging — but the way Meyer weaves details from the fairy tales into her world is nothing short of brilliant. This is the series I have most recommended to friends over the last couple of years.

7. A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin (historical). It’s the age of Napoleon, but Georgiana’s biggest problem is her parents sending her to a severe boarding school after a few of her science experiments went slightly awry. The rumors about Stranje House promise a life of both poise and punishment, but the school holds more far more interesting secrets. And Georgiana might fit in after all.

Great setting, smart heroine, intriguing characters, page-turning plot, and brilliant writing. I can’t wait for book 2 in Baldwin’s Stranje House series!

8. Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander (contemporary). Charlie is a math genius, but definitely not a genius at love. Until he meets an unusual girl in a donut shop who defies all logic and captures his heart. But when the new girl Charlotte turns out to be dealing with a serious illness, Charlie’s world isn’t just lopsided — it turns upside down.

You might think this is The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s not. Yes, there’s a sick girl, a lovesick boy, and a romance. But much of the book is the unfolding of their relationship and intriguing twists about these characters. It sounds totally cliché, but yeah, I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

9. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (contemporary). Alex is a normal teenager in many ways with concerns about school, family, and love, but everything in her world is also colored by her daily struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. How can she know what’s real and what’s not? And can she somehow find inner peace and romantic love?

Amazingly written, Made You Up also lets you see all these events through the unreliable point of view of someone with paranoid schizophrenia. What The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did to help readers understand Aspergers, Made You Up will do for this poorly understood mental illness. I felt the challenges Alex faced and couldn’t help but root for her throughout.

10. Finding Paris by Joy Preble (contemporary). Sisters Paris and Leo must rely on each other; they certainly can’t rely on their flaky mother or gambling stepfather. But when Paris goes missing from a Las Vegas diner one night, Leo and a brand-new friend must track her down with clues Paris has left around the city. Why has Paris disappeared? And what family secrets does she hold?

I’m not a re-reader of books. Once I’ve read a novel, it’s rare for me to go back and read it again — even years after. Yet as soon as I finished Finding Paris, I wanted to turn back to page one and read the whole thing again. I resisted the urge at that moment, but I have every intention of re-reading this quirky, intense, wonderful novel in 2016.

That’s it! My top ten.

What did you read in 2015 that you recommend others read in 2016?

10 More Christmas Gifts for Writers

10 More Christmas Gifts for WritersI have fun doing this every year — coming up with gift ideas for us writers. Because in some ways, we’re easy for shop for. After all, writing and office supplies can make us nearly giddy. One of my favorite gifts last year was a ream of printer paper from a friend. On the other hand, we’re creative types who also enjoy the extra effort at times when we receive something particularly fun for a writer.

I’ve had several posts in the past with gift ideas, but let me add 10 more ideas for the 2015 holiday season. (Click on links or photos below for specific product information.)

 

1. Literary Paper Dolls. I remember making paper dolls as a young girl, but I don’t remember getting to make Edgar Allen Poe. How sweet is that!

2. Chapter One/The End Earrings. I love literary-themed jewelry, and these earrings caught my eye. And you can find about a million other earrings for book lovers all over Etsy.

Book Lover Earrings 12mm Chapter One The End Antique Copper Dangle Earrings - Reader Literary Earrings - Librarian Gift Teacher Writer Gift

3. Novel Teas. Not every writer drinks coffee exclusively; many of us enjoy a cup of tea. Novel Teas have a literary quote with each tea bag. You can also find many book-themed teas in the fandom section of Adagio Teas, like these Banned Books Blends.

Novel Teas contains 25 teabags individually tagged with literary quotes from the world over, made with the finest English Breakfast tea.

4. Aqua Notes. I often come up with great ideas for my book when I’m in the shower. Which is frustrating. But hey, if I had these Aqua Notes, I could simply jot it down right there in the moment — never losing another brilliant idea to soap and spray.

5. Book-themed coasters. Out of Print Clothing is a fun place to shop, with lots of book-themed stuff, including drink coasters. Here’s one of my favorite options, for the sci-fi writer or reader.

Sci Fi Coasters

6. Writing Course Gift Certificate. You’d likely have to make the certificate yourself, but offer to pay for an online class. There are some great, inexpensive courses for writers through various sites, like Romance Writers of America­­® Chapters, Holly Lisle, and Lawson Writer’s Academy — where I’ll be teaching a young adult course next spring.

birthday gift certificate template

7. Bookmark. But not your average bookmark. Etsy has some marvelous options, like mermaid-shaped bookmarks to keep your place. (I think of fellow writer Diana Beebe every time I see this.)

Metal Mermaid Bookmark with Charms

8. Shakespearean Insult Bandages. Someone bought me these a few years ago, and I adore them. No one knew how to deliver a proper scathing insult quite like The Bard. (Check out the other products too at this great website, Gone Reading.)

William Shakespeare Insult Bandages

9. Ebook Stand. This is on my Christmas list. I don’t have one of those cases that becomes its own stand, but I like reading at the table while I’m eating or whatever. You can get a stand that works for mobile devices:

Rolodex™, Adjustable Mobile Device Mesh Stand, Black, Each (1866297)

Or one that can be used for print books as well:

Bookgem Book Holder - iPad Stand, Kindle, Tablet, & eBook Holder

10. Extra laptop supplies. I take my laptop everywhere, and having packed and repacked my laptop case a number of times, I can honestly say it’s far more convenient to have extra supplies stashed in your case so you don’t have to carry them back and forth. Grab a mini-mouse, an extra mouse pad, or a power cord specific to your writer’s laptop to make packing up and working elsewhere more convenient.

Logitech - Mini Wireless Optical Mouse - Black - Larger Front

Poppin Mouse Pad

And here are my previous years’ posts with gift ideas:

10 Holiday Gifts for Readers and Writers

Gifts for the Grammar Geek

Gifts for the Word Lover

Gifts for the Book Reader

Gifts for the Writer

10 Gifts for the Bookish and Writerly

Happy holiday shopping! Hope you can find the perfect gift for the writer in your life — even if that writer is you!

What’s a Writer’s Job Description?

Writer Job DescriptionI’ve always found it fascinating what people do for a living. There are so many jobs and tasks out there, you can hardly imagine all the possibilities. But I also find it fascinating how people describe their jobs. How do they perceive their own work?

There’s an oft-told parable about three stone masons, or bricklayers, working on the building of a great cathedral. A traveler arrived in town, toured the exterior, and witnessed the construction.

Seeing a stone mason, he stopped and asked, “What are you doing?” This first mason answered simply, “I’m laying bricks.”

Turning a corner, the traveler saw a second stone mason and asked the same question: “What are you doing?” This second mason answered, “I’m erecting a wall.”

Moving on, the traveler spotted a third stone mason and asked again, “What are you doing?” This time, the third mason straightened his spine, beamed with pride, and responded, “What am I doing, sir? I am building a cathedral.”

I suspect the third stone mason experienced far more job satisfaction. He believed himself to be contributing to something big, beautiful, and lasting.

When writers get asked about their job, the easiest answer is simply “I write books.” It’s straightforward, understandable, accurate. However, many writers see it more deeply. Ask them what they do for a living, and you might get answers like:

  • I make up lies for a living, and people love me for it.
  • I weave imaginary worlds and invite others to join me there.
  • I create fictional characters, then make readers care about what happens to them.
  • I use to stories to inspire people to believe in love, justice, and goodness.

When I’m asked what I do, I usually answer, “I write teen novels.” That’s the crux of it. But…I have a different version in my head. Because what I see myself as doing is more like building a cathedral — contributing to something bigger, more beautiful, and lasting.

I tell stories that encourage teens to recognize they’re stronger than they think they are, that humor can get you through a lot in life, and that doing the right thing — however difficult — is the best thing for your heart and for your soul. I write books, but I hope they mean something to my readers.

Even if it’s just a fun story that gives them an escape for a weekend, that’s a goal worth pursuing as well. I think very highly of those authors who have brought me genuine smiles and made me laugh.

I hope teens also view what they do in life now, and in the future, as big, beautiful, and lasting. Because I know it truly can be. But a lot depends on your perspective.

How do you define what you do? Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral? What does that look like for you?

What Fall TV Premiere Are You Looking Forward To?

I’ve been perusing the TV schedule for this fall, with all the series and season premieres. Gone are some of the shows I watched regularly, like Hart of Dixie and Revenge. And new ones have taken their place.

While I might find a gem among the lot of new offerings this fall, what I look forward to more is the return of shows I’ve grown attached to — ones that happily continue, at least one more season. What am I look forward to?

TBBTIt started with this one on Monday night — the 9th season premiere of The Big Bang Theory. It’s tough to keep a series going that long and keep the magic. But I think this series has done well because the characters have grown as the series has continued, yet they still have their quirks and challenges. Also, TBBT hasn’t fallen into the temptation of tangents, like a police procedural that gets lost in the weeds of a romantic relationship, or a medical drama that wanders off into politics, or — let’s face it — most J.J. Abrams shows. TBBT has a clear identity, while mixing it up enough to keep fans watching.

***

CastleThen there’s Castle. I fully admit this is my catnip. A writer turned crime solver? A fabulous ensemble cast? Nathan Fillion? More, please. This show also demonstrates that the chemistry and interest need not die after the hero and heroine finally get together. In real life, there are still challenges involved in being a couple, especially if that couple works together in high-pressure situations as these two do. I do have a couple of suggestions for the show writers, though. We writers out here loved the references to real authors and especially the poker game, which has included such big-name authors as James Patterson, Steven J Cannell, and Dennis Lehane. Also, you might want to show Castle actually writing from time to time, so our families don’t think you just turn out novels in between family laser tag and book signings. Still, eager for another season!

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GrimmTwo fairy-tale based shows came out in the same year: Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Hubby and I watched the pilots of both, chose Grimm, and never looked back. This series has had a few bumps, in my opinion, but the ensemble feel of this show has grown. And we’re now attached to the story of not only the main character, but great supporting characters like Monroe, Hank, Rosalee, and Sergeant Wu. Also, I still recognize fairy tale plot lines from time to time, and I still have moments when I turn to the hubster and say, “Wow, didn’t see that coming.” For all those reasons, I’m ready to dive back into another season of Grimm.

***

iZombieBut the show I’m most eager to follow again is iZombie, a comic-based show co-developed with Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, anyone?) which premiered last year. It’s a great twist on the zombie story, with protagonist Liv Moore eating brains, experiencing her meal’s memories, and then using that information to help solve their murders. There are so many fun little references thrown in, the supporting characters are perfectly cast, and the script has great dialogue. This almost makes up for Veronica Mars having such a short run. Actually, I take that back — nothing makes up for that. Anyway, I’m still ready for some more iZombie. Coming in October…

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Miss FisherI would be remiss if I didn’t mention the series I’m currently catching up on, courtesy of Netflix. I discovered this Australian delight earlier this year and binge-watched two seasons. I nearly squealed with glee when I saw that the third season was now available. (Can’t get the show here in the States while it’s airing in Australia.) It’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a fabulous show set in the 1920s and featuring larger-than-life Miss Fisher as a private detective. I confess to not having read the books by Kerry Greenwood, but this author clearly created an engaging character worth several seasons of a TV series. I hope it continues, but I’m savoring every episode of season three right now.

Your turn! What fall TV premiere are you anticipating with eagerness? What shows do you think you’ll give a trial showing? Anyone gems we might have missed that we should binge-watch on Netflix?

Sharing Hunter Has a Book Trailer!

Sharing Hunter is my young adult contemporary novel which finaled in the RWA­® Golden Heart® competition. It will be out on submission to publishing houses soon, but even before its release…I have a book trailer. Which is awesome!

The owner of BookVidz, Kim Handysides, approached me about making a trailer. She’d read some of the novel and thought it was a good match for her company. I was absolutely thrilled with this idea! Bookvidz took my premise and presented it so well in a professionally packaged video. So of course, I want to share it here:

Isn’t that cool?!

If you’re an author looking for a quality video company, I highly recommend BookVidz. Check out their services and more videos at Bookvidz.com and be sure to like their Facebook page.

Some People Will Hate Your Book

Heart & BookComing off a year in which my manuscript placed in a few contests, including the biggie RWA Golden Heart contest, you might think my book is just so dang wonderful, who wouldn’t love it? I’d like to think that too. But even though my book’s not yet on bookshelves and available to get book reviews scathing enough to make me scurry into a dark hole, I have no such belief.

Instead, I’ve realized that some people won’t like your book. And that’s okay. Among my fabulous contest scores are some mediocre and a few terrible scores. Why did some judges give it high marks and others wanted me to go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole novel? Because my novel isn’t for everyone. No author’s is.

The fact that not every reader adores Sharing Hunter puts me in good company. Check out these reviews, and then the book that sparked them.

“…no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…” – The Chicago Tribune

“…an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” – The Saturday Review

THE GREAT GATSBY, Scott Fitzgerald

“…no better in tone than the dime novels which flood the blood-and-thunder reading population… his literary skill is, of course, superior, but their moral level is low, and their perusal cannot be anything less than harmful.” — in The New York Times

THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Mark Twain

“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. [The main character] who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him.” – The New Republic

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, J.D. Salinger

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” – Graham’s Lady’s Magazinei

WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Emily Bronte

“the plan and technique of the illustrations are superb. … But they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” — Publisher’s Weekly

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Maurice Sendak

Just take that last one. Guess what? Sendak didn’t write this book for everyone. It’s found its way into the hearts of children, of all ages, over the years. Here’s how the Library Journal‘s described it: “This is the kind of story that many adults will question and for many reasons, but the child will accept it wisely and without inhibition, as he knows it is written for him.”

As much as I wish everyone would love my story as much as I do, some people won’t like my book, and a few may even hate it. Yet I wholeheartedly believe there’s an audience for my story. (And I’m crossing my fingers it’s a rather large audience.)

What book did you love that others didn’t? Or what book did you dislike that others loved?

Sources: 11 Beloved Books With Shockingly Bad Reviews – Buzzfeed.comMaurice Sendak’s Thin Skin – Slate.com12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When They First Came Out – Huffington Post15 Scathing Early Reviews of Classic Novels

The Golden Heart Speech I Wrote, But Didn’t Give

The RWA Awards Ceremony Program

The RWA Awards Ceremony Program

When you’re nominated for an RWA Golden Heart award, they tell you to write a speech. Even if you have absolutely no belief that you could possibly win, they repeat the need to have coherent words on a page to read just in case your name is called and you have to make your way to stage and say something into the waiting microphone.

Last Saturday night, when 2000+ writers and their guests convened for the annual RWA RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony, the name announced for the Golden Heart, Young Adult category was Stephanie Winkelhake, a four-time finalist. My other fellow finalists — T.L. Summer, Diana Munoz-Stewart, and Mary Sullivan — and I applauded her well-deserved win. And I look forward to seeing all of our books on shelves in the coming years (so watch for them!).

But I still have this speech I wrote, and it seems a shame to waste it. So here goes nothing:

Who would you thank in a speech for an award you received? Have you ever delivered a victory circle speech?