Greetings From Baby-Land!

*taps microphone* 

Hello? Is anyone out there? 

I know I haven't been around in a while (*cough* about four months *cough*), but I hope I still have a few people interested in reading along... 

Evie 10.16.17.jpg

Long story short: I have vanished, happily, into Baby-Land. My daughter is an absolute joy. (She doesn't really sleep that much—which isn't ideal, to say the least—but at least she's pretty happy most of the time she's awake!) It's been an adjustment, going from almost-full-time writer to almost-full-time mom trying to squeeze in writing time around naps and babysitting hours, but I'm slowly figuring things out. 

On the writing front, about a month ago I was able to complete the latest revision of the middle-grade novel rewrite I've been working on for about a year. Turning a polished draft in to my agent in September felt like such a milestone! While I wait to hear her thoughts, I've been percolating...*drum roll*...a new idea! I've mentioned before on here that new ideas—ones that could actually become a decent book, I mean—are rare for me. I often know what I want to work on right after the book I'm currently writing or revising, but can't see much farther into the future. So, every time I get excited about brainstorming something fresh, it's a big deal. Not going to share details about this new project yet, but rest assured: it has POTENTIAL. :D 

I also used to review books on this blog. Sad to say, I'm not reading as much as I once did. It's partly a matter of time, and it's partly a matter of sleep-deprivation making it hard to focus. BUT! I have to shout out a few recent reads: I adored Courtney Stevens' DRESS CODES FOR SMALL TOWNS, Mackenzi Lee's THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE, and Adam Silvera's THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END. Currently, I'm working my way through a tome on baby sleep (HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS, HAPPY CHILD), but the next fiction work in my TBR stack is Brittany Cavallaro's A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, which comes highly recommended by my sister and fellow avid-kidlit-reader, Mary-Owen. 

And...that's me these days! A lot of baby-time, a bit of writing, a bit of reading. And maybe, in the coming months, a bit of forward momentum in publishing-world? Cross your fingers for me! 

How's everyone's fall going? 


Do You Read Like a Writer?

A version of this post originally appeared on the YA Buccaneers group blog. 


Has being a writer changed how you read? Do you look at words and sentences and plotlines and character arcs differently than you did when you simply read for pleasure?

(Two caveats up front: 1) Obviously, writers can and do and should read for pleasure! 2) I’m not necessarily talking about reading the way your English teachers made you read in high school, mining for symbolism and dissecting a book’s themes from a purely academic standpoint. Unless that’s your thing, in which case, have at it!)

I know that I tend to read differently now than I did before I got serious about my own writing. Reading is a form of inspiration. I look at authors who do such incredible things with words and I want to be like them. It’s also a form of continuing education. I’m constantly on the lookout for that “master class” moment, where an author shows me exactly how something should be done.

How does that play out in my writing life? Here’s an example. With my current manuscript [note: this book became HOW IT FEELS TO FLY], I’ve been struggling with my protagonist’s emotional stakes. The highs haven’t felt high enough and the lows haven’t felt low enough. In layman’s terms, there weren’t enough feels. So I decided to reread Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara. This book killed me—in a good way—when I first read it. I felt a deep ache in my chest for the main character, Wren, and her emotional struggles. I cried.

The plot of Lovely, Dark and Deep is nothing like the plot of my current manuscript, but it has those deep emotional moments I felt like my project was missing. So I read it again, looking at how the emotions built to the climactic scenes. I saw how McNamara was often able to show more by withholding speech and action than if she’d filled the page with Wren’s anguish. I felt gutted all over again. And when I went back to my revision, I tried to apply what I’d learned.

The cool thing about this way of reading is that you don’t have to seek out “literature” to pick up writerly skills. If a book makes you laugh or cry, if you cheer for the heroine or swoon over the hero or want to cut off the villain’s head yourself—in short, if you had an honest emotional response to what was happening on the page—you can learn from it.

So here are my challenges to you: The next time you’re reading something—anything—and you think to yourself, Wow, I wish I could do X like this author, or I really admire how this author does Y, jot it down. Keep reading. Keep looking for clues. When you’ve finished enjoying the book, put on your critical thinking cap and start asking why whatever it was that you loved worked so well. Then, file that information away until you need it. I promise, you’ll be so happy when you’re dealing with an issue in your own writing and you realize exactly which of your favorite authors to turn to for advice.

Here’s the part where you jump in. What authors inspire you in specific, writerly ways? Do you read like this, looking for tricks of the trade and skills you can utilize in your own work? Do you have any advice to share that we can all put into practice? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments.

Meanwhile…happy reading! 


Friday Five: Writing Progress, Book Events, Good Reads, and More

I feel like I start too many of these Friday Five posts off by talking about the weather, so I won't tell you that as I write this, it's a temperature best described as "stupid-hot." But I'm inside, where it's air-conditioned, and here are this week's five good things: 

1) I finally managed to break 10,000 words on a new manuscript. This is an almost total rewrite of an old project, and I've been pretty scared of starting over after spending so much time with the existing version, but in the past two weeks, something clicked. I made myself sit down and write words, and in writing words, I figured out a few new plot details, and I keep having ideas for more, which is awesome. For me, 10K is usually where I feel committed to a project. If I can get that far, I can keep going. So yay! 

2) This past Sunday, I had a great time at Bookitcon: Chapter Two. This annual New Jersey book festival is run by a multitalented book blogger, Nori—who is an actual teenager. Seriously, she's amazing. And the event was too! I got to meet and chat with readers, bloggers, and other authors, participate in a panel discussion about surprises in publishing, and of course sell and sign books. Can't wait for next year. 

3) My husband and I have been watching Penny Dreadful on Netflix. I'd heard good things, but had been nervous that it would be too scary. And it is pretty scary—but it's also incredibly compelling. Gothic horror characters (Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature, vampire-hunter Van Helsing, Dorian Grey, and others) coming together to fight the forces of evil in Victorian London—more, please! We've just begun season two, so I may report back with further thoughts.... 

4) Continuing to love my new yoga studio. Wednesday's class kicked my butt—as it does each week. I love how that teacher, in particular, pushes us to safely go past where we think our edge is. Case in point: a tough set of one-legged poses (King Dancer to Half-Moon to Sugarcane and back up to King Dancer) that left me trembling...but still standing. Thumbs up. 

5) I've been reading some fantastic books lately! Here are four of them.  

Melissa Grey's THE SHADOW HOUR is the sequel to 2015's THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT. If you love urban fantasy, don't miss this story about a human girl (or is she?) caught in the middle of a centuries-old war between a birdlike race, the Avicen, and a dragonlike people, the Drakharin.

SPIN THE SKY is Jill MacKenzie's debut (out this November). I was so excited to read it because it's about a dancer, Magnolia, who goes on a reality TV dance competition to escape her family's bad reputation at home. Spoiler: I adored it, and will be talking it up more in the fall.

Virginia Boecker's THE KING SLAYER is the follow-up to 2015's THE WITCH HUNTER. It's a lush alternate-history fantasy set in a world where magic has been outlawed by the crown...but may not be as dangerous as the power that threatens it. Book two is every bit as good as book one.

And finally, I bought Charlotte Huang's 2015 debut FOR THE RECORD after meeting Charlotte at Bookitcon on Sunday, and I've already raced through it. It's about a singer who's brought in by her record label to front an existing band—and these guys are not happy to have her there. The book follows the group, Melbourne, on tour for a crazy summer, and it's so much fun. 

What's going on in your world? Can you believe it's already mid-August? 


Friday Five: Finished Drafts, Yoga Milestones, Ghostbusters, and Stranger Things

So, here in NYC, it's been HOT. And HUMID. Definite stay-indoors-where-the-AC-is-blasting weather. Luckily, I've had a lot of awesome things going on to keep me from wilting in the heat! Here's this week's Friday Five: 

1) I'm so excited to have sent a revised draft of my latest YA manuscript to my agent! I don't want to talk too much about it online yet, but I don't mind sharing that it's a contemporary ghost story set in Venice—a bit of a departure from my first two YA books, but such fun to write. I can't wait to hear what she thinks of the changes I made! 

2) Last week, in yoga class, I did a forearm stand (like a handstand, but you're on your forearms instead of your hands). It only lasted a moment, and I was so surprised to be up there that I promptly forgot how to come down, but...suffice it to say, my new yoga studio is paying off. 

3) My husband and I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie last Friday, and I loved it. It's so cheesy to say, but seeing those ladies onscreen kicking ghost-butt without having to look sexy or wait for instructions from a dude was really exciting! And Kate McKinnon is *everything* in it. Seriously. Holtzmann for the win.  

4) Is everyone watching "Stranger Things" on Netflix? We binge-watched this eight-episode show over the weekend, and I can't wait for season two! It's a mildly scary sci-fi series set in the 1980s—a mix of vintage Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, with plenty of other references thrown in. A young boy goes missing, a mysterious girl shows up in the woods, there's a lab on the outskirts of town running dangerous experiments.... Watch it! 

5) I've been doing the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge, and you should join in! Here's the list of reading prompts: 

Happy reading! I hope you're enjoying some sunshine while also staying cool. :) 


Friday Five: Book Events, Book Events, Book Events!

Two weeks ago, I was having a hard time coming up with a consistent Friday Five when there was so much ugliness and fear in the world. And today, I'm writing after a period of multiple new shootings, as well as a terrorist attack in Nice, France. It's really overwhelming. But that doesn't mean there haven't been good things happening, as well. So in the spirit of focusing on the positive, here's this week's Friday Five: 

1) I've had some really great book events for HOW IT FEELS TO FLY so far in July! On July 6, I paneled at the Jefferson Market Library in Manhattan, along with a bunch of other authors with new YA releases. And this past Tuesday, July 12, I had the privilege of participating in a panel that was all YA books featuring dancers—aka, right in my wheelhouse. Both events had wonderful discussions and attentive audiences, which is really all a writer can ask for. (I mean, that and selling some books...which I did. Yay!)

2) Tomorrow (July 16), I'm doing the first hometown event for HOW IT FEELS TO FLY! I'm so excited about this one. I've teamed up with fellow author Brooks Benjamin (MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS) and my hometown dance studio, Van Metre School of Dance in Maryville, TN, for a fun dance/book extravaganza. There will be book signings, dance performances, and more. I really hope some people—especially young dancers—show up!  

3) I did a forearm stand in yoga class on Wednesday. This is a pose I've only done successfully once or twice before—and that was several years ago. So I'm thrilled to think maybe I'm getting some of my old skills back! 

4) I've been rewatching the TV show Farscape (aired in the early 2000s, when I was in college), and I've reached season 3...which is all about the 'ship. I mean, other stuff happens, but...John/Aeryn truly happens, and it's amazing and swoony and heartbreaking. I can't wait to be emotionally compromised all over again. 

5) I'm currently reading (and loving) Victoria Schwab's newest YA novel, THIS SAVAGE SONG. What are you reading right now? Anything I should check out? 

Until next week! 


Friday Five: It's the Final Countdown!

Okay, loyal blog readers: this is it. HOW IT FEELS TO FLY comes out in four days! 

How am I supposed to focus on anything else?? Nonetheless, I'll try to come up with a Friday Five that isn't all about me, me, me... ;) 

1) I've read some really great books lately. On Saturday, I blazed through Caela Carter's new YA, TUMBLING. It takes place during the Olympic gymnastics trials, and follows five girls whose fate will be sealed by two days of intense competition. Grace wants to be the perfect gymnast, but she always seems to come in second to her friend Leigh—whose parents push her to have a life that doesn't revolve around gymnastics. Wilhelmina wants a come-from-behind win, while Camille wants to walk away but fears disappointing everyone who's invested in her. And Monica is the girl no one notices—until she starts having the meet of her life. This book has so much power and emotion. If you're a sports fan, you'll love this story. But it's also for anyone who's a fan of girls dreaming big and kicking butt. (I can't wait to talk more about TUMBLING and the themes it shares with HOW IT FEELS TO FLY at my, Caela's, and Jennifer Castle's shared book launch on June 21 at Books of Wonder!) 


2) Another spectacular recent read: Neal Shusterman's CHALLENGER DEEP. It's no surprise that this book won last year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature—it's a gripping, raw, beautiful, and harrowing depiction of a teenager's descent into mental illness. Caden Bosch is a sophomore when his mind starts to fill with strange thoughts and beliefs that eventually take over. These early chapters are interspersed with Caden as a crew member on a ship traveling to Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on earth. As Caden's reality slips further and further away, the sea journey becomes more and more interwoven with his struggle. I don't want to spoil how it all fits together, but I will say that it's stunningly done. To read CHALLENGER DEEP is to get a tiny taste of the havoc schizophrenia wreaks on the mind. I was blown away. 

3) I'm almost at the halfway point of my current manuscript revision! Onward and upward. 

4) Hm. Had some really good ice cream this week. Thanks, Blue Marble!

5) HOW IT FEELS TO FLY comes out on Tuesday! Have you preordered? (If so, don't forget to fill out THIS FORM in order to claim your preorder prize!) Are you coming to see me at one of my upcoming EVENTS? Are you available to give me a hug and calm me down? I'd be so very grateful... :) 

What's new with you? 


Friday Five: How 'Bout This Weather?

New Yorkers love to talk about the weather. Whether it's a heat wave or a Polar Vortex, we can always be counted on to gleefully complain. Except...for the first warm stretch of spring. Excuse me—I need to open all the windows in my apartment. *heart-eye emoji* 

Here's this week's Friday Five: 

1) Did I mention the weather? It's been a balmy between-50-and-75-degrees here in Brooklyn since Wednesday. I wore a skirt with bare legs yesterday. The birds are chirping. The air is comfortable and fresh. Everyone seems...happy. I know it's only March. I know that the temperature can and will drop again. Heck, it might even snow at least once more. But right now—it's perfection. 

2) I made it to Day 15 of the 30-Day Shred! And this week, it was no easy feat. On Tuesday afternoon, I stepped in a pothole and twisted my ankle. I don't think it was a bad sprain—it's already feeling significantly better—but it certainly put a crimp in my workout plans. It's hard to get your heart rate up when you can't jump around. But I stuck with the daily regimen, modifying whatever I needed to modify (i.e. holding a plank instead of doing what Jillian Michaels calls "plank jacks," jumping jacks combined with a push-up position), and hopefully next week I can dive back into cardio. 

3) I am having so much fun working on my current manuscript-in-progress. After HOW IT FEELS TO FLY, which to be honest took a lot out of me, it's such a joy to be working on a book that feels...not easy, per se, but the good kind of challenging. I'm excited to dive in each morning. I know what I need to work on and where I'm going. And I feel confident that, with time, I can make this book my best yet. 

4) I got to read another fellow Fearless Fifteener's sophomore ARC this week! I loved Jenn Marie Thorne's debut, THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, so I was confident I'd also enjoy her May 2016 release, THE INSIDE OF OUT. Thorne is so good at capturing real, honest teen voices and issues. (If you missed THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, about a girl who discovers she's the daughter of a presidential candidate during election season, grab it now!) In THE INSIDE OF OUT, high schooler Daisy learns that her best friend, Hannah, is gay. She decides to jump headfirst into supporting the LGBTQIA cause, but in her newfound zeal, she manages to completely co-opt the story. As the closeted-straight figurehead of a movement that goes viral and attracts tons of protestors, Daisy makes a lot of mistakes that keep the plot racing forward. This tagline from the book sums up her journey: "Every story needs a hero—sometimes it's just not you."   

5) Speaking of YA week is the NYC Teen Author Festival! I'm an attendee this year, rather than a panelist, but there are some *incredible* authors gathering for sure-to-be-amazing events. Will I see you there? 


My 2015 Reading Review (Data! Charts! Yay!)

The grand total is in! I finished 117 books in 2015! 


In 2014, I read 94 books. I gave myself the goal of passing 100 this year. So...mission accomplished! Way to go, self. :) 

I've been keeping a running reading list all year long—and I've been logging a lot more info than simply what I read and whether I enjoyed it. I decided I wanted a glimpse of my reading habits as a whole. And long story short, I'm so glad I did this! Not only is it interesting to see the trends (or at least, it's interesting to me), this is helping me set new reading goals for 2016. 

So, without further ado: 

Clearly, this was a year jam-packed with YA. I read so many of my fellow 2015 debuts' books, and many of them write YA. Plus, I met so many other YA authors at various events this year, and found myself wanting to read everything they wrote! Luckily, young adult literature just keeps getting better and better. I don't regret any bit of that 78.6%. That said, here's goal #1 for 2016:

I want to read more adult literature next year. There are some amazing adult books on my radar—one of them, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, was a Christmas present, and I dove right in. Not that I plan to read less kidlit, but maybe I can strike a better balance. 


This one crosses all age demographics—and I'll say up front that there are a lot of genre-crossing books that I pushed into one category or another. Also, within that Sci-Fi / Fantasy pie slice, I've slotted books that are technically magical realism, steampunk, speculative fiction, and other subgenres. The pie chart was getting so unwieldy with all the tiny slices! But the clear winner here is realistic fiction—a minor surprise, given that I really do love the fantastic and magical. Goal for 2016: 

More nonfiction, for sure. Out of those 117 books, only one was nonfiction. I can do better! 

Moving on: 

2015 was the year of the ARC. Being in a debut group means having the chance to read your peers' books months before release. With my debut year over, that ARC access is about to dry up. So, I expect the library slice to grow in 2016. (After all, I don't have unlimited book-buying funds—or unlimited shelf space in my Brooklyn apartment!)

Those were the three charts I originally planned to make, but once I started parsing my list, I couldn't stop, so here are two more:  

As my bookshelves grow ever more packed, I've been making a conscious effort to return to books I enjoyed rather than always jumping at the newest thing out there. In 2015, I reread seven books that I loved the first time around—and I was pleased to love them again! I want to do more rereading in 2016, when I don't have a constant stream of debut ARCs landing in my mailbox. 

I was also very curious about the diversity of my reading list. I started by looking at the male/female breakdown and was pleased to see how many awesome ladies' books passed through my hands in 2015. But in terms of other criteria (for instance, books with non-white authors and characters), I didn't do quite as well. In 2016, I definitely want to seek out more diverse stories—especially "own voices" books (stories told by authors who share the protagonist's race, religion, sexuality, disability, etc.). My world has expanded so much through the characters I've met in literature—and I want that to happen on an even bigger scale. 

So that's it for now! Do you keep track of your reading habits? Do you have reading goals for 2016? (Oh, by the way—I'm not setting a numerical goal for the next year. I just want to see where the reading winds take me.) 

Here's to a wonderful reading year! 


Friday Reads: A Roundup of Awesome

I've fallen behind on my book reviews once again, but I had to get in a few more shout-outs before I do my "Best of 2015" list (probably next week). So here we go! 

Julie Murphy's DUMPLIN' is amazing. I loved this book so much! I have gushed and gushed about it since reading it a month and a half ago. What's it about? Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson is full of confidence and sass, but when she strikes up a secret relationship with the hot jock at work, Bo, she feels herself start to falter. It doesn't help that her best friend has some new friends—girls who think of Willowdean as the joke she's never wanted to be. To regain her sense of self, she decides to do the craziest thing she can think of: she signs up for her town's beauty pageant, bringing several other "misfits" along with her. The fact that her mom—who gave her the nickname Dumplin'—runs the pageant is only the first hurdle Willowdean has to overcome. This book is sweet and funny and romantic and heart-wrenching and empowering and triumphant. Everyone should read it. 

If that seems like a high bar to set for the books in this post, it's a good thing my next one was just as awesome. Rainbow Rowell is an auto-buy for me at this point. I don't even need to know what the book is about—I'll probably adore it. But for CARRY ON, which is a spin-off of Rowell's FANGIRL (spoiler: I love that one, too), the anticipation was HIGH. This book is the finale of the fictional Simon Snow series Rowell invented for FANGIRL, except instead of being written by fictional author Gemma T. Leslie or FANGIRL protagonist Cath, it's Rowell's own take on Simon, Baz, and their friends' adventures. You don't have to have read FANGIRL to enjoy this one. It's a clever and magical (heh) twist on Harry Potter and other Chosen One stories, beautifully written and filled with wrenching emotion and epic romance. Highly recommended! 

Next up is what has become (sadly) a rarity on this blog: an adult book! (Hoping to rectify that next year, but that's a tangent for another post...) I'd heard wonderful things about Emily St. John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN, and it did not disappoint in the least. This is a literary dystopian that jumps back and forth between the collapse of modern society and a future generation of traveling performers navigating the devastated landscape of what used to be the United States. There are also flashbacks that examine the lives of the people whose descendants are facing this grim future—which includes a religious cult that's taken over a small settlement. I don't want to give too much more away, so I'll just finish by saying that STATION ELEVEN is absolutely gripping. 

I am still catching up on my Fearless Fifteener debuts, and I finally got my hands on one I was really looking forward to! Fonda Lee's ZEROBOXER is not my usual genre: a science-fiction sports book. That said, I don't care if you're into sci-fi or sports, this book is worth reading. Carr Luka is a rising star in the sport of zeroboxing, which is basically weightless combat in a cube-shaped arena. After several big wins, he becomes the face of his sport—and an inspiration to the people of Earth. But just as his career is soaring to the next level, he uncovers a criminal conspiracy that has implications not only for his own future, but for the future of Human-Martian diplomatic relations. The zeroboxing scenes are cinematic and beautiful, while Carr's personal struggles are rendered realistically and become truly gut-wrenching. This book will make you think and it will make you cheer. 

Courtney C. Stevens' debut, FAKING NORMAL, was among my top reads of 2014, so you can be sure I was eagerly awaiting her follow-up, THE LIES ABOUT TRUTH. Stevens is so good at digging around in the emotional guts of a story. She grabs you by the feels and squeezes. In this book, Sadie is living in the aftermath of a car accident that shattered her group of friends, killing her close friend Trent. She's physically and emotionally scarred. The only person she's been able to connect with is Trent's brother Max. They've been emailing for months, slowly opening up to each other. But as the anniversary of the accident approaches, Sadie has to decide how much more she's willing to open up and let go. Throw in a small mystery about secrets Sadie has long kept hidden starting to appear in her mailbox and you have a seriously engrossing read. Don't miss this one! 

Finally, I recently finished Dahlia Adler's newest YA, JUST VISITING. I love friendship stories, and this is such a shining example of that genre! While there is romance in it, the most important relationship in this book is between the two narrators: BFFs Reagan and Victoria. The plot centers around their college visits, as the two of them assess what they want from their future and begin to realize that their paths might not be as intertwined as they'd always believed. Reagan is studying and working tirelessly to get out of the small town where she was raised, which feels more and more like a prison. Victoria has big-city fashion-design dreams—but isn't in as much of a hurry to escape her home and her life. They plan to room together in college, but when everything they haven't said to each other starts to come out, things get complicated fast. If you like BFF stories, check this one out! 

Phew—that's the end of this post! 

Coming up: I'll share my Top 10 Reads of 2015. And as for 2016, there'll be some changes 'round this here blog, so stay tuned... :) 


It's Time for the Fall 2015 YA Scavenger Hunt!

Are you ready to enter to win a WHOLE LOT of books? Here's what you need to know: 

Somewhere in this blog post, I've hidden my favorite number. Collect all of the favorite numbers of the authors on TEAM PURPLE and add them up. (Don't worry—you can use a calculator!) 

Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the entry form HERE. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify to win a copy of every book from TEAM PURPLE. 

The contest is open internationally. Anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by SUNDAY, OCTOBER 4TH, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the PURPLE TEAM, but there is also a RED TEAM, GOLD TEAM, ORANGE TEAMPINK TEAM, BLUE TEAM, TEAL TEAM, and a GREEN TEAM! Check out each team for a chance to win eight different sets of signed books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page

Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, I’ll introduce the author I am hosting on this hunt: Courtney Alameda! 

Courtney Alameda has spent her entire career trying to con and cajole people into reading great books. A veteran bookseller and librarian, Courtney now spends her days writing thriller and horror novels for young people. Her debut novel, SHUTTER, was hailed as a "standout in the genre . . . [and] sure to please thriller fans" by School Library Journal. Her forthcoming novel, PITCH DARK (Fall 2016), is a genre-blending science fiction/horror novel in the vein of Ridley Scott's film ALIEN.

Courtney holds a B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. She is represented by the talented John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary. A Northern California native, she now resides in Utah with a legion of books and a five pound cat who possesses a giant personality. 

Courtney made a video about a paranormal experience she had while researching SHUTTER. Without further ado: 

Oooh, so spooky! I have to confess, I am a wuss about scary situations, so I will not be following in Courtney's footsteps anytime soon... :) 

Here's what you need to know about Courtney's book, SHUTTER: 

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever. 

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before...or die trying. 

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

Still on the YA Scavenger Hunt? There are two things you need to move forward. One: My favorite number—42. And two: Your next stop on the Hunt. Head to Gina Ciocca's website for more great book content and goodies! 

Still with me? I'm excited to be doing a giveaway of my own, as a thank-you for joining the Hunt! Happy reading... 


Friday Reads: Four More Fearless Fifteeners

The Fearless Fifteeners ARC tour is trickling down as the fall releases start to actually release, but that doesn't mean I'm done reading my fellow 2015 debuts' books! Over the past two weeks, I've read one ARC and three books that are already on shelves in my quest to catch up on everything my fabulous peers have been writing. Here's a brief rundown: 

Emily Adrian's LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED is about Drama kids getting into very dramatic situations. Rebecca Rivers and her theater friends have named themselves the Essential Five. One of their rules: they can't date each other. But after Rebecca falls for handsome, overachieving Charlie, the rules start to change. Then someone at school makes an accusation about Rebecca and the Drama teacher, Mr. McFadden, and everything—friendships, relationships, Rebecca's acting dreams—starts to unravel. I loved this book's portrayal of Rebecca's passion for acting, as well as the sharp character dynamics among the Essential Five. If you like high school stories, check this one out. It's on shelves now! 

I have been waiting and waiting to read the final version of my friend Kim Liggett's romantic horror debut, BLOOD AND SALT! It finally slithered into my hands in late August. Here's what I can tell you about the plot: Ash has visions of a dead girl. She always has. And now that she's a teenager, the dead girl looks exactly like her. When Ash's mom leaves New York City to return to the spiritual commune where she was raised, Ash and her twin brother, Rhys, go after her. But in magical Quivira, Kansas, surrounded by a menacing cornfield and protected by Ash's powerful immortal ancestor, Katia, they find more than they bargained for. Including Dane, a boy Ash is immediately drawn to—and not just because he's super-hot. This book has a creepy cult, plenty of unrequited love, and lots of blood. If that sounds like your thing (especially getting close to Halloween), it's out on September 22nd!  

And now for something completely different! Lauren Gibaldi's THE NIGHT WE SAID YES is a dual-timeline romance about first love and second chances. One year ago, Ella met Matt. They and their two best friends spent a night saying "Yes" to every idea, with exhilarating results. Now, about to head to college, Ella sees Matt for the first time since he left and broke her heart. The story jumps back and forth between "Then" and "Now," and you gradually learn more about what brought Ella and Matt together and what tore them apart. But can they start over? Is what they felt before still there? This book made me smile so many times. Ella and Matt have such great chemistry—a must in a YA romance. But this book is also about friendship. I have to give a shout-out to Ella's BFF Meg, the other most important person in her life. THE NIGHT WE SAID YES is on shelves now! 

Finally, I am smack in the middle of Maggie Hall's THE CONSPIRACY OF US, and it is every bit as swoony and jet-set-y (I can make that a word, right?) as I expected. When Avery West finds out that she's related to the most important people on the planet—the Circle, twelve powerful families that control world governments, stock markets, and more behind the scenes—she's whisked off on a race around the globe. There are people who believe she's the fulfillment to a centuries-old prophesy—and people who want her dead. There are also two hot guys: steady, British Jack and Swedish/Russian bad-boy Stellan. I'm not far enough into the story to know which way the love triangle's going to swing, or how deep the conspiracy goes, but I am definitely along for the ride. THE CONSPIRACY OF US came out in January (I know, I'm so late on this one!) and you definitely want to read it before its sequel comes out next year. 

That's it for now! 


Friday Reads: Catching Up With Fearless Fifteener Books!

I've read four Fearless Fifteener books over the past two weeks, and they were all amazing! I'm so excited, over and over (so much that you're probably tired of hearing about it...), to be debuting in a year filled with so much talent and so many wonderful books. Here are my latest recommendations: 

BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly is a charming and powerful middle-grade novel about a girl, Apple, who immigrated to Louisiana from the Philippines with her mom as a child. Now in middle school, Apple is having trouble fitting in. Her friends are striving to join the popular crowd, and Apple—who doesn't have everyone else's All-American looks, or eat "normal" food at home, or have a traditional, PTA-style mom—isn't helping their cause. Apple is eager to shed her Filipino identity, but her mom doesn't want her becoming too American. She also doesn't want Apple pursuing her passion for music. But Apple is determined to become a rock star, no matter what else is going on in her life. Kept afloat by The Beatles and by a new friend, Evan, who accepts her as she is, Apple finally starts to thrive. I think every middle-grader should read this lovely book about belonging and standing out! It's on sale now. 

HOW TO BE BRAVE by E. Katherine Kottaras is a quiet contemporary story about Georgia, who is reeling after the recent loss of her mother and struggling to connect with her father, who has thrown his full attention into his restaurant instead of his daughter. Inspired by one of her mother's final notes to her, Georgia makes a list of things she's wanted to do but never felt brave enough to try. But as she checks items off that list, going outside her comfort zone for the first time, her world continues to change around her. A crush goes wrong. Her best friend seems to be pulling away. And all the while, Georgia is still grieving over the loss of her mother and wondering about the future—a future without her mom in it. This is a quick, powerful read. In fact, I only put it down halfway through to call my own mom. :) Check this book out when it releases November 3. 

THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna Marie McLemore is a gorgeous, lyrical fairy tale. It's Romeo & Juliet set among two rival traveling performance troupes. The Palomas do a mermaid act, while the Corbeaus dance high in the trees. When they land in the same small town to start an annual festival engagement, sparks fly. Each family is convinced the other is responsible for a tragic disaster thirty years ago—and that the incident was caused by black magic. To touch a member of the opposite family is to become infected with that black magic. But after a sudden and toxic storm throws Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau into each other's lives, everything starts to change. The resulting story is magical realism at its best, and the writing, tinged with Spanish and French for the respective families, is just beautiful. Don't miss this book when it comes out September 15!

Finally, I read DAMAGE DONE by Amanda Panitch, a psychological thriller that released this past Tuesday! Here's how addictive this book is: I bought it at Amanda's launch party Tuesday evening and was two-thirds of the way through the book by bedtime. DAMAGE DONE is about Julia, whose twin brother perpetrated a school shooting—of which she was the only survivor. To escape the hordes of reporters, as well as neighbors and former friends who now want nothing to do with them, Julia's family leaves town. In a new city, Julia Vann becomes Lucy Black and tries to move on with her life. But her fragile peace is shattered when a figure from her past shows up...and to say too much more about the plot is to risk spoiling its twists and turns. If you enjoy dark and dangerous books where not everything is as it seems, I highly recommend this book. 

As for the YA Buccaneers' Summer Reading Challenge, I was able to add one book: THE ROYAL WE by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (aka The Fug Girls, whose site I have been reading for years...). I slotted this book into "Historical" because it takes place over about a decade, starting in the mid-2000s. Yes, I know that's a bit of a stretch, but how else am I supposed to finish my bingo board? And anyway, THE ROYAL WE, which is about an American college student who studies abroad and falls in love with the English crown prince, was fantastic. I highly recommend it. :) 

Here's the current status of my Summer Reading Challenge bingo board: 

YAB Summer Reading Challenge 7.24.15.jpg

Friday Reads: Catching Up, Part 2

Remember last week how I said I had so many books I wanted to review? Here are four more wonderful books that I read during my trip into the revision black hole that was late April through early June. Pick up any one, and I doubt you'll be disappointed. 

I was so excited to read SOMETHING REAL, Heather Demetrios' debut from 2014. It's the story of Chloe Baker, born Bonnie™, who has lived almost her entire life on reality TV. Her parents' show, Baker's Dozen, chronicled every moment of her childhood—and after a few years of cancellation, it's about to go back on the air. Chloe hated the spotlight enough to change her name in an effort to become anonymous, but she's about to find herself back in front of the cameras whether she likes it or not. This book is a scathing takedown of Jon & Kate Plus 8–style reality TV, but it's also a powerful coming-of-age story as well as a sweet romance, as Chloe gets closer to Patrick, her longtime crush. Bonus: when you finish, you can dive right into THE LEXIE PROJECT, an interactive serial companion novel Demetrios is writing about Chloe's sister, Lexie! Learn more about that HERE

While I was home in Tennessee a few months ago, I read Laura Ruby's gorgeous BONE GAP. Everyone had been raving about it online, and I'm so glad I listened to the hype! When beautiful Roza went missing, Finn was the only person who saw it happen—and since he couldn't describe the kidnapper, no one believed him. Now Finn and his older brother Sean are on their own, heartbroken for different reasons at Roza's absence. Meanwhile, Finn just might be finding new purpose and life in his friendship-and-maybe-more with Petey, a local beekeeper who think's she's ugly until Finn finds her beautiful. This book is fantasy/magical realism, and the writing is lovely and dreamlike. As the magic and the darkness unfold, you have to keep turning pages to discover what, exactly, is going on. (And it might not be what you think.) I highly recommend reading this book! 


Sarah Dessen is pretty much the grande dame of YA literature, and her 12th book, SAINT ANYTHING, just came out in May. (Side note: I can only dream of a point in my career where I have 12 published books!!) This is one of my favorite Dessen books. It's about Sydney, whose older brother Peyton has always been the center of attention—lately for all the wrong reasons. Now Peyton's in prison after a drunk-driving hit-and-run that left a boy paralyzed, and Sydney's parents can't focus on anything other than their incarcerated son. After transferring schools, Sydney meets the Chathams, a family that's everything hers isn't: warm, enthusiastic, and loving. Thanks to her new friend, Layla, and a new crush, Layla's brother Mac, Sydney starts to feel like the world isn't such a bad place, after all. While Sydney and Mac were adorable, I loved how much focus in this book was put on family relationships, as well. A must-read for YA fans! 


Finally, I'm so glad I picked up Katherine Locke's SECOND POSITION, about two dancers who reunite several years after tragedy tore them apart. Yes, I gravitated toward this book because it's about ballet, and while I'm working on my dancer-centric second book, I'm trying to stay in that world. But I'd also heard amazing things online—and they were true. Zed and Aly were best friends who'd just become something more when they were in a car accident, which caused Zed to lose his leg and put Aly on the path to a devastating breakdown. At the start of the book, they see each other in a coffee shop. Zed's now teaching at a performing arts school in DC, and Aly's on a leave of absence from ballet while she deals with a serious eating disorder. The chapters alternate between their points of view, filling in their backstory and exploring their anxieties about rekindling what they lost. This is a story about two broken people deciding if they can make each other whole—if they should even try. It handles tough psychological issues beautifully. Definitely check it out! 

Read anything good lately? Let me know in the comments! 


Friday Reads: More Fabulous Fearless Fifteeners!

It's been a couple weeks since I last posted about books on here, because last week was the NYC Teen Author Festival and my schedule was PACKED. (Want to see some photos from the events I did at the Union Square Barnes & Noble and at Books of Wonder? Check out the slideshow on my Events page!) But a busy schedule didn't mean I wasn't reading. I just…didn't have much time to write about what I was reading. So today, I wanted to squeeze in a few quick reviews. Enjoy! 

THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE is a near-future science fiction story where the next generation of humans has learned how to store memories outside their minds, instead using objects called Links to capture perfect records of their experiences. But what happens when someone starts stealing those objects, basically erasing huge swaths of people's lives? Genesis Lee gets caught up in trying to find the Link thief, partnering with a member of the Populace (basically, a lower-class person who still stores his memories in his own head)—only to realize that crucial bits of her own memory are being erased. Author Shallee McArthur fills the plot with twists and turns, and the fact that our narrator is experiencing memory loss of her own keeps the stakes high. This book is on shelves (and online, of course) now! 

I AM HER REVENGE is another high-stakes story, but set at a modern-day English boarding school. Vivian was raised by her cruel, domineering Mother to become a weapon. Specifically, Vivian's only purpose is to destroy the son of the man who broke Mother's heart so many years ago. When Vivian first arrives at the school where she is to meet her mark, everything goes according to plan. But then someone from her childhood shows up, intent on stopping her from fulfilling her mission. Plus, the guy she's supposed to ruin…is really not that bad. And what about the secrets Mother has been hiding? This is an atmospheric thriller about, yes, revenge, but it's also a story of a girl who was raised to be a cipher, and is now realizing she can be more. She can become a whole person—if she can survive Mother's wrath. I AM HER REVENGE comes out on April 7th! 

Last one for this post: BECOMING JINN by Lori Goldstein. On her 16th birthday, Azra Nadira wakes up with a silver bangle on her wrist. That means that her powers as a jinn are now hers to use—or rather, she is ready to be used by the Afrit, who rule over jinn society. Azra has to start learning how to grant wishes right away. The problem is, she doesn't want to be a jinn at all. She doesn't get along with the other girls in her Zar—her jinn extended family—and she would rather focus on the two guys in her life, hot lifeguard Nate and kind neighbor Henry, than study her spells. Most of the plot follows Azra's discovery of her abilities and her efforts to connect with her Zar while still trying to feel like a normal teen, but there's a sequel coming, and by the end of this book it's clear where the story's headed. (No spoilers, but it sounds exciting!) BECOMING JINN releases April 21st.  

I've got more book recommendations coming soon, so stay tuned! Now, a bit of business: next week, I'll be participating in the YA Scavenger Hunt, coordinated by Colleen Houck. If you're interested in winning books—potentially lots of books—visit my blog April 2-5 and join the hunt. I'm on Team Blue: 

More instructions to follow next week! So for now, happy reading. (And next week, happy hunting!)


Friday Reads: MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold

It seems appropriate that David Arnold's MOSQUITOLAND ended up in a post by itself, because this is a book that isn't like others I've read recently. The narrator, 16-year-old Mim Malone, has an incredibly unique voice—just this close to being over-quirked, but with all of those quirks coming together in the end to create a believable, fully rounded whole. Mim is a girl with a lot to say and a lot to discover, and her story is truly a must-read. 

So what is that story? Mim's parents have separated, and her father has remarried. Dad and Kathy have moved Mim from her hometown outside of Cleveland, Ohio, to Mississippi, which Mim refers to with no small amount of scorn as "Mosquitoland." When Mim finds out that her mom is ill back in Cleveland, she skips town on a Greyhound bus headed north. Most of the book follows Mim's journey, which is filled with colorful characters—both good and evil—and vivid southern settings. In addition to the main narrative, Mim fills in her own backstory in letters to Isabel. As she's on the road, you slowly learn what took her to the precipice and what she's really hoping to find when she reaches her destination. And that destination, for us readers, is so well-earned. (That's all I'll say, for fear of spoiling the journey!) MOSQUITOLAND is a coming-of-age odyssey that grapples with mental illness, first love, and a host of other tough issues, and it's really something special. It's out March 3! 

Probably no Friday Reads next week, as I—*ahem*—have to launch my own book. But stay tuned for more great reads in the future, as my to-read list gets longer and longer...



I'm excited to have read two more Fearless Fifteeners books this week! It's almost 2015, which means our debut year is almost here, and the more incredible books I read by my talented peers, the more excited I am to be debuting alongside them. So here's what you should be looking out for next year: 

I fell in love with the title of Kelly Jones's middle-grade debut the moment I heard it: UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER. Then I fell in love with the cover—look at that grouchy chicken at the top! And when the ARC arrived in my mailbox on its tour, I was excited to fall in love with the words, too. When 12-year-old Sophie Brown moves with her parents from Los Angeles to a farm in the middle of nowhere, she finds herself caring for a chicken, which she names Henrietta. But Henrietta isn't an ordinary chicken—she can move things with her mind! And she's only the first of Sophie's great-uncle's missing chickens to show up and wreak havoc. Sophie has to adapt to small-town life while protecting her inherited flock from a nefarious chicken-napper. This book is charming and funny—text and illustrations—and I would recommend it to city kids, country kids, kids at heart…anyone who enjoys a good story. 

I also got to read Cordelia Jensen's beautiful and heartbreaking SKYSCRAPING this week. In fact, I raced through it in one day. This powerful novel-in-verse depicts a year in the life of Mira, a high school senior who thinks she has it all together. Then she learns a family secret that changes everything. She tries to distance herself from her family, but her father's health crisis brings her back. Novels-in-verse have to make every word count, and Jensen does just that. The writing is spare, raw, and elegantly crafted. And yes, I cried at the end. (I also loved the 1990s New York City setting—so cool to see my city through a native teen's eyes a decade before I moved here!) This book releases next June, so if you're a fan of honest, sad, and ultimately uplifting stories, put it on your calendar now. 

I can't believe we're almost done with 2014! Next week, I'll be sharing my Top 10 books I read this year. I'm still trying to narrow my list down—SKYSCRAPING was number 92 (!!!), so I have a lot of really tremendous books to choose from. In the meantime, if you're itching for a Top 10 list right now, check out the YA Buccaneers' picks HERE. We have pretty good taste for a band of fearsome pirates! :) 

See you next week!