How I Ended Up in the YA Section of a Belize Library

Last month I attended a writers conference and retreat…on a cruise ship! Cruising Writers hosts fabulous Caribbean cruises that are a mixture of workshops, writing/editing time, travel, and fun with other authors.

The ports we visited were Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. I had shore excursions in Honduras and Mexico, but I left Belize open. Instead, my husband and I just walked around downtown Belize City, soaking in the sights, the culture, and the people.

After many blocks of our walking tour, we saw a shop selling Mayan chocolate. I definitely wanted to go in and buy something for myself and a friend. A few truffles later, we stepped back out onto the sidewalk, and my husband pointed two doors down. “Let’s go see the library.” Sure enough, the city’s library was on the same block, and we were eager to pop inside and see what treasures it held.

Now Belize is an English-speaking country, having been a British colony from 1862 to 1981. So the books they had on their shelves were, of course, in English. But the library was small, the fiction section requiring only a few bookcases. I was glad to see titles I recognized but saddened by how few books they shelved.

And then I found the YA section, which put a smile on my face:

ya-section-of-belize-library

Until I saw how little was in the YA section:

ya-bookcase-in-belize-library

My small town library has bazillion more YA books than this! One sweet girl who appeared to be about 12 years old strode in to say hello to the librarian, and as I looked at her, I thought, What happens when a bookish girl like her runs out of books to read?

I don’t know exactly what I want to do about this situation. I am looking into options for sending books to this struggling library (they had a whole empty bookcase they could fill with YA books).

But I thought it worth noting how spoiled I feel in the United States to have books so easily at my fingertips. And that’s clearly not the case around the world — even though we know how important reading is to success for an individual and a community.

As I got back onto the cruise ship (which had a pitifully small library too, but whatever — I was there for a week), I had this nagging feeling that authors and readers need to look for opportunities to share our love with those who don’t have easy access to books. I’m placing this goal on my 2017 resolution list.

How have you contributed to providing books for young readers and teens? What ideas do you have to help struggling libraries like the one in Belize City?

Advertisements

Fabulous First Lines

Fabulous First LinesThe other day, I was perusing my bookcase to decide which novel to read next. I have a stockpile from which to choose, but I was in an impatient, wow-me mood so I grabbed a few books off the shelf and simply read the first line. The first two were okay, but the third one grabbed my attention:

I cracked my first lock when I was three.

Immediately, I wanted to know who this teenager was that cracked locks so young and why that was important to her life story.

I got swept into this novel about a spy girl, ALSO KNOWN AS by Robin Benway. It was a great read, and that first line promised a story and tone that the author delivered on the page.

In celebration of other fabulous first lines, I wanted to share a few from books I’ve recently read. Congrats to these authors on penning a great hook for their readers.

I woke up to the smell of Lysol and the end of the world. — TORN, Erica O’Rourke

Where is this girl? Why is she smelling Lysol? And why is it the end of the world? Is that figurative or literal? Clearly, I wanted to read on. (Actually, I read on through all three books in the series, TORN, TANGLED, and BOUND.)

She’s so lovely, so fragile. Those haunted eyes. Those rosebud lips . . . they’ll scream so prettily. — POISON PRINCESS, Kresley Cole

Creep a reader out, will ya? That certainly set the tone for something sinister to come. This line appears in the prologue, and the first chapter is quite different. But it sets the mood properly to let the reader know that this book will delve into dark places.

Trevor Dunham talked quite a bit about his man part just before he drowned. — THE LIFEBOAT CLIQUE, Kathy Parks

A blurb on the front promises that this is a “savagely funny book,” and that first line cracked me up immediately. As I was picking up books at the Houston Teen Book Con, this first line sold me and I immediately decided to purchase. Sure enough, the book had a great balance of heartache and humor that this first line captured perfectly.

We found the monster on a rocky ledge high above the lake. — THIS DARK ENDEAVOR, Kenneth Oppel

What a perfect first line for the first book in the series The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Having read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a YA twist of the story, but I was eager to delve in when we started right away with “the monster.” (Who, by the way, is not Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein was the creator of the monster.)

All of these books turned out to be novels I would recommend.

What are some wonderful first lines from books you’ve recently read or picked up? Share your favorites!

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?

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?

Why Do Teens Prefer Print to Ebook?

Why Do Teens Prefer Print to EbookThat question — Why do teens prefer print to ebook? — has been in the topic of many conversations I’ve had with authors and parents over the last year. It’s a fact that has intrigued me, given how tech driven this young generation is. Why are they on their devices almost 24/7, but when it comes to books, they want to turn physical pages? Could anything feel more old-fashioned?

I’ve decided there are several good reasons why teens are more likely to read a print book than load up an ereader.

1. Teens view their device as a way to interact with others. Watch a teen pull out their cell phone and what are they likely doing? Texting a friend. Looking something up online. Watching a YouTube video. Playing a multiplayer video game. Snapchatting, Facebooking, Instagramming, Tumblring, etc. Devices are a way to connect to the world.

A book, however, takes you into a different world. Youth want to get lost in that book world, and it’s pretty hard to do that when you’re flipping pages on the screen and notification beeps keep interrupting. The real world, with all its connections, intrudes. The better way to shut off that stream of busyness and get lost in a story is to set aside the device and pick up a print book.

This might be changing with the generation who are toddlers and preschoolers now, because they’ve had more experience reading books on iPads and ereaders. But we’ll see…

2. Teens don’t have credit card accounts to purchase ebooks. And this is a biggie. Because you can’t buy stuff online without a credit or gift card number. My sons have often given me cash for items they want online, which I then buy with my yes-I’m-a-credit-worthy-adult VISA number.

Teens want freedom (understandably), so having to schlep to Mom and Dad every time they want a book on their device and get a credit card number kind of stinks. It’s more freeing to simply check out a book at the library or purchase one at the bookstore.

Parents and grandparents could impact this by having their teens establish book wish lists online and regularly purchasing and sending selections to a teen’s ereader. Also, public libraries have electronic book loans (like Overdrive) which make ebooks more available to teens.

3. Print books make a statement of self-expression. Tell me about your favorite books, and I’ll tell you something about who you are. Carrying a print book can be like a statement of style — conveying to the world around you how you view yourself. No one sees what’s on your ereader, but if you’re carrying around an anime book? A teen angst contemporary? A vampire novel?

Self-expression is a big deal as a teenager, because you’re honing in on who you are, what you like, what you’re about. Showing off what you’re reading can be part of that, and print books do it better.

4. Print books allow teens to identify fellow readers and connect. While carrying around that print book, it’s easy to start conversations with fellow readers. “Oh, I read that!” “Did you like it?” “If you like that one, you should read ___.” We book nerds adore these moments of finding others who love the books we love. We also collect reading recommendations from like-minded readers. Friendships have sparked through noticing what someone else reads and commenting on it. Around the books we read, we build community.

This is especially true for trend books, like Harry PotterHunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars. If you easily see the book cover in someone’s hands, it’s a conversation starter. However, ebooks are not visible to others, so you lose that opportunity.

5. Parents are more willing to buy print books for their teens. Parents supply quite a few books their teens read. And we know they’re actually reading the book when it’s a print copy in their hands. If a teen is on his/her ereader, who knows what they’re doing? It could be the book; it could be video games; heck, it could be something illegal…

Parents still lean toward putting a print book in their hands of their children, and that means teens are still reading print books.

Do I think the print book > ebook for teens trend is changing? Yes, I do. My teenagers didn’t grow up with iPads in their hands, but this upcoming generation did. Schools are also moving toward using devices for education, including making textbooks available on ereaders, so teens are getting used to reading on screens. Moreover, I believe the book industry will (eventually) find creative ways for young people to buy books without needing credit cards.

BUT I think there will always be room for print books. At least I hope so. Although I use an ereader plenty, I still love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of freshly printed book paper, the crisp flipping sound as I turn pages. I like seeing the spines of my favorite books on my shelves.

Do you prefer print or ebook, and why? Why do you think teenagers still lean toward print books?

Sources: Young adult readers ‘prefer printed to ebooks’ – The GuardianDon’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Tech-Savvy Teeens Remain Fans of Print Books – Nielson.com

Summertime Madness Book Lovers: My Picks

I’ve been immersed in YA reading this year, which is my favorite genre, of course. My TBR (to be read) pile looks like a crooked skyscraper. I completely relate to the “so many books, so little time” feeling.

So when humor author, and delightful conference roomie, Jess Witkins posted her recent book picks as part of the Summertime Madness Tag, I knew I wanted to play along.

Here are my choices for the questions included in Summertime Madness for Book Lovers!

1. Show a book with a summery cover.

Boys Like You by Juliana Stone. I’ve been reading through the young adult nominees for the RWA® RITA® awards, and this is the last one on my list, which I need to read pronto before the awards ceremony this Saturday, July 25.

Boys Like You

2. Pick one fictional place that would be the perfect destination for your summer vacation.

Narnia, please. I can’t wait to turn in my essay on What I Did for Vacation titled “The Real Lion King and Me.”

Magicians Nephew

3. You’re about to go on a flight to your Summer Vacation. But you want to read a book that lasts for the whole flight, so what novella do you choose?

Before there was Hunger Games or Divergent, there were dystopian stories like A Clockwork Orange, published in 1962 and featuring a teenage protagonist. Since I’ve never read this classic novella, I think it’s about time.

Clockwork Orange

4. You have a case of Summertime Sadness. What happy book do you pick up to shine a smile on your face?

I keep meaning to re-read A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. It’s a middle grade book of short stories chronicling two kids’ summer visits to grandma in the country, and I recall laughing out loud as I read.

A_Long_Way_from_Chicago

5. You’re sitting at a beach all alone, which fictional character would be your beach babe?

Let me be clear: My real-life character would be my husband, who beats any book crush I’ve ever had.

But…if I must choose…Thorne Carswell from The Lunar Chronicles. He’s introduced in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, but he’s a main character in Cress. He’s got that sassy swagger with a heart of gold. *swoon*

Cress

6. To match your ice cream you want an icy cool sidekick, which fictional sidekick do you pick?

Right now, I’m all over hanging out with a character in my current work-in-progress (working title: Daring Charlotte): Kat would be an awesome BF to have on a summer vacation. But if I’m going with a published choice, how about Hermoine? She’s smart, brave, fun, and socially conscious (SPEW, anyone?). Plus, I love cats, so Crookshanks would be welcome.

Harry Potter Philosopher's Stone

What do you think of my choices? And given these questions, what books would be on your list? Share your favorite answers!