Friday, November 27, 2015

The Girl from Everywhere

If you don't follow Heidi Heilig on twitter (@heidiheilig), you should. Not only is she funny and smart, but she posts the most amazing book-inspired fashions for all the 2016 debut authors.

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)I wasn't at all surprised to find that Heidi's debut, THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, is as delightful and detail-conscious as she is. Sixteen-year-old Nix was born in 1868 Hawaii, but she hails from, well, everywhere. Her father is a Navigator, able to travel across time in his ship, so long as he has an accurate map of his destination. His current obsession is returning to 1868 Hawaii, to save Nix's mom before she dies giving birth to Nix. But much as Nix has loved traveling with her father, much as she likes the idea of meeting her mother, this is one destination she wants to avoid at all costs: if her father succeeds, it might wipe out Nix's very existence.

While much of the book deals with Nix's wrestle with her father's obsession, there's so much more. When they arrive in 1884 Hawaii in search of the much-sought-after map, she meets a range of new characters who challenge her in new ways, and she falls in love with the island that might be the closest thing she has to home.

The characters in Heilig's debut are charming, from strong-willed, smart-mouthed Nix, to her friend Kashmir, a talented thief; to the more-straight laced American-Hawaiian boy she meets in 1884. But what really sold me on the story was the details: the deftness with which Heilig throws in a casual reference to the Arabian tales cheek by jowl with the sky-herring who light the lamps of the Temptation (her father's ship). The story itself is interesting, complex, and fast-paced, but it was the attention to wonderful historical details that made me fall in love with this story. 

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the SandsI've been wanting to read Alwyn Hamilton's REBEL OF THE SANDS since it was announced. (Really: her announcement was at the top of Publisher's Weekly's deal announcements the same week mine was announced. It was hard not to notice!)

So I was not unnaturally thrilled at a chance to read an ARC--and I loved it just as much as I hoped I would. Alwyn's world--a desert kingdom inspired by Arabian culture with religious links to the First Beings (djinn and other mystical creatures)--is so vivid. But it's not an easy world, and for Amina, a sixteen-year-old orphan living in Dustwalk, in the middle of nowhere, all she wants to do is get out. Her opportunity comes in the unlikely form of a boy named Jin, who's wanted by the Sultan's soldiers. But as Amina gets farther from the world she was born to and learns more about the politics destroying her native land and the rebellion growing to change that, the  more she begins to question who she really is--and what she wants.

I loved this book--I loved Amina's strength, and Jin's humor (even when it got him in trouble. Or maybe especially then). I adored the setting, how I could imagine riding through the night across a Nightmare-haunted desert. The story is wonderfully paced too. It has all my favorite things: a unique setting, a powerful romance, and terrifying and powerful creatures. Really, a book for all YA fantasy readers to enjoy.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Under a Painted Sky

Author Stacey Lee is a lovely individual (smart, supportive of other writers), and her debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY is equally lovely.

Under a Painted SkyChinese-American Samantha dreams of returning to her beloved New York to study music (it's 1849): instead she's stuck in the middle of nowhere working a dry goods store with her father, who talks of moving to California. Angry and frustrated, Sammy wanders the town trying to work out her feelings, only to return home to tragedy. When the tragedy is compounded by a horrific accident, Sammy finds herself on the open road with a runaway slave, Annemarie. The two girls disguise themselves as boys and fall in with a trio of cowboys also headed west.

While the bulk of the story is about their adventures on the open road, this is really a wonderful story about friendship and the indomitable human spirit. Sammy has a wonderful voice, and though the plot is quite exciting at times, it was really the story of her unfolding friendship with Annemarie (Andy) and West that kept me reading.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here From the moment you start Anna Breslaw's witty, heart-felt SCARLETT EPSTEIN HATES IT HERE, it's pretty clear that Scarlett is not your ordinary teen--and Breslaw isn't your ordinary writer.

Scarlett's a smart, acerbic teenager who'd rather live on the boards of the fandom for her favorite TV show than interact with the real-live teenagers in her high school. When the TV show is cancelled, Scarlett, desperate to keep some of the top fanfic writers together, proposes a new twist on the show: fanfic with original characters. The only problem? Scarlett models these original characters on real people, including her long-time crush Gideon who has recently, inexplicably, joined forces with the Populars. And that's only the start of Scarlett's complications.

As other reviews have noted, this isn't a plot driven novel, so much as it is an intimate look at Scarlett's life, her struggles to fit into a virtual and real life that don't always have clear-cut boundaries, her strained relationship with both her mother and the writer father she idealizes (but who has left them behind for a new family in NYC). No one in this story is perfect, and that's part of what makes the story so wonderful--a perfect blend of humor and heartache. Really though, Scarlett's voice carries this story--she's the kind of person I would have loved to know in high school (though I'm afraid she would have been too cool for me).

Some language, discussion of sexual situations.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Burning Glass

A year or so ago, I met a lovely author (really, she's lovely inside and out) who later agreed to read an early draft of my novel. She gave me some wonderful feedback, and later, when I was trying to decide on an agent, helped sway my decision by telling me how supportive her own agent had been--and how he had just sold her first book! (Full disclosure--her agent, Josh Adams, is now my agent as well).

Burning GlassFast forward to last week, when I finally got to hold Kathryn Purdie's book in my hands. (One of my very favorite things about being a 2016 debut is getting to participate in the ARC tours and reading books early). I've wanted to read this since she was still drafting it! And it did not disappoint.

Sonya is an Auraseer, able to read others' emotions, which means by law she belongs to the empire. Her parents' attempt to hide her with traveling Roma caravans failed, and Sonya is immured in a convent where she's supposed to learn how to control her deep empathy. But after a tragic accident leaves Sonya the oldest auraseer in the convent, she's whisked away to the capitol city to take the place of the Sovereign Auraseer (the most recent has been executed for failing to stop the dowager empress's murder).

Already the stakes are high--Sonya's life is at stake if she fails to protect the narcissistic, power-hungry young emperor. But they climb even higher as Sonya struggles to disentangle her own feelings from those around her (including those of the emperor), and as she discovers the great disparity between the wealthy nobles and the impoverished peasantry--and a plot to close that gap. Sonya has to decide who she cares for and what she truly values--a decision that may cost her life.

I loved the vivid, lush setting of the book (loosely modeled on imperial Russia). And though I didn't always like the choices Sonya made, she was a fascinating character struggling against very real odds and I desperately wanted her to succeed. I loved, too, the romantic intrigue (but I won't spoil it by saying too much about it). Now I just have to wait for book two.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

National Author Day!

Today is officially National Author Day, meant to celebrate authors! Seems like a fitting holiday to kick off NaNoWriMo. You can read more about the holiday here, but in the meantime, I'd encourage you to reach out to an author you know and love (whether published or aspiring) with a note of encouragement. Writing can be a tough business--writers have to both develop a thick skin AND remain sensitive enough to write nuanced emotions.

I'm hoping to do NaNoWriMo this month (words written on story today: 0) to finish the first draft of book 2 of my series. I've nearly figured out the plot--we'll see how faithful I still am at the end of the month!

Anyone else doing NaNo?

Friday, October 23, 2015


Dumplin' My absolute favorite thing about Julie Murphy's Dumplin' was its positive-body message: I wish there had been a book like this to read when I was in high school.

Willowdean Dickson ("Dumplin'" to her Mama) is a plus-size teenager with a big heart, who's generally accepting of her body. (But not always, which I liked, because what teen girl always likes who she is?). At her fast-food job, she meets a private school named Bo and not surprisingly ends up crushing on him. But to her surprise, he seems to like her too.

But Willowdean isn't as secure in the relationship as she hopes to be, and in an effort to reclaim some of her confidence, she decides to enter the local beauty pageant (which, not so incidentally, her mother runs) to prove that you don't have to look a certain way to like  yourself or feel beautiful. And when several of her misfit friends join in, even Willowdean can't predict the outcome.

Willowdean had a fun voice, and I liked that her friends were all distinct individuals with different voices. Some reviewers have charged Willowdean with hypocrisy for not always thinking nice things about her friends, but I think that just added to her realism. She's not perfect, but she's trying.

The romance was a fun side-note to the story, but for me the heart of the story was in Willowdean's relationship with her friends. A fun, quick read.

As a side note: I got to meet Julie Murphy at a writing retreat a couple months ago and she's just as generous and fun as you'd expect from someone who writes a story like this.