Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stand-Out Books of 2015!



It’s that time of year again, you fiendish book lovers!

As always, I hope you had a Christmas full of happiness, warmth and BOOKS. Whether those books were wrapped up under your tree or bought with some gift cards!

Hopefully you haven’t burned through ALL your disposable income, as this my sixth annual Stand-Out Books of the Year post! You know you’re going to want to check out my recommendations…

Each year that I post this wrap-up, I seem to be recording less and less reading. Well, that is MOST certainly the case for 2015. Now not only do I have that same full-time job, but I have been doing overtime, went on a work trip and started college courses in September.

In other words… yikes!

Yet we must face that as we get older and gain more responsibilities and goals, well – our free time sharply declines. So you shall see that reflected in my numbers. 

Also: I am only presenting 19 books as Stand-Out’s this year.

Standard rules apply – the books I post here do not have to have been released in 2015 – I’ll just have read and/or reviewed them in 2015. Another customary disclaimer: these 19 books are not the only books I liked/loved in 2015 – just the ones that particularly stood out when I look back over 2015.

Let’s do this!

How many books did I read?

60

That's 60 less than in 2014.

How many pages did I read?

21,683

That's 19,503 less than in 2014.

How many pages, on average, did I read per day?

59

That's 54 less than in 2014.

Don’t let the dwindling numbers fool you, I am a bibliophile through and through! You are just witnessing the results of being a slave to that wretchedly unforgiving beast: Time.

As you read through my list of Stand-Out Books of 2015, you can click on each title to be transported - almost magically you might say - to my original review of the book.

Crisp Contemporary Fiction:


A piercingly raw middle-grade novel putting a family relationship in the spotlight, this book takes those rough growing up and pulling away moments and adds an extra dose of spice with secrets. For me, it was a gripping story that hurt and healed – lovely.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Apparently I had a thing about fractured family tales this year. Believe me, this isn’t the last one. Here we have a YA novel by the author of the best-selling The Duff (which I have now bought but have not yet read) that takes on a story of a distant side character and puts her front and center. Sonny’s habit of lying becomes more problematic than ever when she inadvertently begins an online friendship with someone who thinks she is her beautiful best friend. It’s painful, hilarious and altogether a great read about mending and hope.

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Pretty much anything by Sarah Dessen is a winner, but to varying degrees. What I really felt stood out about this one was how we took a girl in a longstanding high school relationship that had gotten almost too comfortable and then added in a splash of a visiting city boy and the excitement it brings – if only temporarily. But the most important visitor to town is her biological father, with whom she has a strained relationship. Without going into too much detail, I thought the end to this one was really quite spectacular.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Here we embrace a girl who, essentially, lives in a hypoallergenic bubble in her own home. She’s attended by a nurse and her physician mother and is never allowed outside their specially designed home because the world, quite literally, can kill her. She’s accepted her fate in life, though, and looks at things with an inspiring positivity. Yet when an intriguing boy moves in next door, she dares to begin to want something more… This was a page-turner with a shocker I did not see coming!

Fractured Futures, Fantasies and Fairytales:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A wholly unique take on Cinderella, Meyer thrusts us into a creepy, enticing futuristic world where Cinder is a cyborg – a human with robotic parts. It’s a shameful thing to be in New Beijing, where full androids are nothing but slaves. She uses her mechanical savvy to provide income to her stepfamily – and this is where she meets the striking Prince Kai and learns more about the impending potential war with the mad queen of Lunar. This was awesome and I need to read the rest of the books!


The Mistborn series are some serious high fantasy stuff, people. You have to commit to some HUGE novels with a TON of characters and COMPLEX plotting. If you’re willing to be patient and committed, there’s a huge payoff in these books. I was blown away by how it kept surprising me and how intricately put together these books were. Definitely recommended!!!

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

OMG, Jasper Fforde is officially one of my favorite authors now. Wordplay, insane cleverness and just overall AWESOMENESS. What is it about, you ask? This is a society based on a hierarchy of the color perception you have. Eddie hopes to increase his aristocratic level with a marriage to a color higher than he – but his plans are thwarted by a sudden trip to East Carmine where generally held strict rules and mannerisms seem more lax and he is intrigued by a Grey. A GREY! So difficult to convey the utter perfection of this book – all I will say is that you must trust me and have a grand ol’ time treating your brain if you read it.

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Along the same vein as her stunning For Darkness Shows the Stars, Diana here takes on a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a follow-up of sorts, featuring a great female espionage and romance story. It beautifully renders a sci-fi, futuristic world where a revolution of the most horror is occurring. It’s an unusual, arresting story with suspense and the unsettling ugliness of revenge. Peterfreund is fantastic.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Twylla is the seventeen year old embodiment of the Goddess her society is centered on, which means that she is impervious to poison but can kill others simply by touching them. Due to this, she is under guard at the castle and has a position of a glorified executioner – but she tries to find solace in her faith in the Goddess. But when she gets a new, young guard who looks at her like a girl instead of a horrifying instrument of death, something stirs in her. She cannot lie to herself any longer. I cannot say more! This book ended up being SO MUCH MORE than I expected! Simply intoxicating with suspense, royal intrigue, romance and excellently drawn characters. There is supposed to be a follow-up and THERE BETTER BE!!!


This middle-grade trilogy is a fantastically new spin on fairy tales, heroes and villains, princes and princesses, love and friendship! When two best friends are thrust into the School for Good and Evil they are shocked to find that Agatha – plain and generally not people friendly – is enrolled in Good and Sophie – beautiful and perky – is enrolled in Evil. Not only is this puzzling to them but they find that they are supposed to now be enemies. Will their friendship overcome this error? These books encompass a lot more than what I wrote here but they are a mishmash of surprisingly matire character development and human insight in a world of fractured fairytales, romance and twists. Great trilogy!!


Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Anyone who has been a faithful reader of the Bibliophile Support Group knows that I am a HUGE FAN of Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series, which provides an alternate Jane Austen like Regency era and adds doses of naturalistic magic (a.k.a. glamour). Well, this is the final book and YES I LOVED IT. It’s huge and suspenseful and, as I wrote in my original review, gave me worse nerves than Mrs. Bennett! This an amazing end to an extraordinary series!!

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Imagine this: It’s the 1930s and two immortal beings – Love and Death – have set their set pieces in play, who will win? Poor Henry and Flora have been selected and are in the midst of a planned game, one of many throughout the history of time. They both have dreams and goals and difficulties – and when they realize they are falling for each other all of these things only increase. Because one is white and one is black, and that is just not okay in 1937. Can they overcome the game they have been involuntarily made a part of? Gorgeously written and heartbreakingly presented, this book provided fully fleshed characters and a storyline that kept me hooked from start to finish.

Psychological Drama… or Ghost Story?

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

CREEPY. That pretty much sums up this one. More details? Okay fine. How about a girl with a split personality – but one where one personality comes out during the day and the other only at night, without fail. One where they are convinced it is not a split personality but rather two girls trapped in one body who call themselves sisters? What if one of them disappears? What if we know a deadly fire is going to happen and they will never find her? What then? YOU READ THE CRAP OUT OF THE STORY, THAT’S WHAT. Presented in interviews, news articles, mental health appointments and freaky diary entries this frightening novel is likely to leave you a bit unsettled!

Proof That We Should Read Books for ALL AGES

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Yes, I have seen the movie version of this – and it’s actually a pretty good adaption! But we know the truth of the matter – the book is always better! When young Coraline steps through a door in her home to find a mirror image of everything, except with weird button eye and creepier personalities, she realizes there is something sinister going on… Quite creepy and entrancing, I loved Coraline and its cleverness!

The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt

What if we could quite LITERALLY die of boredom? What if you could ACTUALLY fall through a hole in your schedule? This middle-grade novel of wordplay and subtle lessons, like The Phantom Tollbooth, shines with intelligence and readability. It’s an excellent new addition to a genre of children’s books that expects their readers to be smart and get new revelations of double meaning with each read. Great!!

Okay, there you have it! A collection of different kinds of books that I found to “stand out” this year!

Happy Reading! See you next year!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Bronte

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Bronte is the YA historical fiction novel by Jane Eagland.

Change is in the air. This is what worries Emily – as she loves spending all of her time with her sisters Charlotte and Anne, as well as her brother Branwell in their small, quiet village of Haworth. Their shared stories, often written down, spurs her imagination and takes her on grand adventures.

But when her father falls ill and Charlotte is sent away to school, Emily’s world begins to crumble. Branwell seems less and less interested in his little sisters and Anne may not be as dependable as Emily once thought…

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Bronte interested me in that I love historical fiction and I love Charlotte Bronte. I’ve never read Emily’s Wuthering Heights (though I do own it) and every time I start it I am put off by how much I dislike the characters. Yet I still thought this book may be intriguing.

Sadly, Eagland’s presentation of Emily’s unknown childhood with her fellow famous siblings was not very compelling. It was a very quiet, very straightforward story of siblings, with the dramatic, wild(ish) one at the center. Quiet and straightforward can be piercing and raw when done with the right words and arrangement – however, I never felt that with The World Within.

Though these words pain me to say, I found this book… boring. I kept waiting for something to happen.

Now I don’t mean vampires attacking, mind you. Nothing ridiculous. But some kind of emotion, some kind of harsh reality of life in that time period… something.

Eagland never managed to make me feel invested enough in any of the characters to relish the subtle story she writes here, unfortunately. The only part that affected me was a part involving a pet – which can almost always get to me emotionally.

Other than that, I didn’t care for the character of Emily and the lack of anything ever really happening made The World Within a book that I had to start skimming, due to the huge pile of other books calling my name.

There are likely plenty of you that would adore this book – so please do read it for yourself. I am one opinion among many, don’t let me dissuade you from giving it a try!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Should You Send Them a Holiday Card?

TGIF, Bibliophiles!

Grammarly.com has provided us with a fun flowchart to figure out who we should be sending a holiday card too.

Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and Death is a YA historical novel with a mythological twist by Martha Brockenbrough.

Throughout the centuries Love and Death have selected their players for the great Game. And always, always, Death wins…

This time new players have been carefully chosen as they lay as infants in 1920. One a white baby boy, Henry Bishop, adopted by a wealthy family with a secured future within their expectations. The other a black baby girl, Flora Saudade, orphaned almost as suddenly as she was born and to be raised by her grandmother.

Neither knows of the Game they are now a part of.

In 1937, Henry is looking to get a college scholarship during the Great Depression and Flora dreams of soaring the skies like Amelia Earhart while singing in her family’s jazz club at night.

Their fateful meeting is the catalyst to a Game like no other.

A Game that may take turns that even Love and Death do not foresee…

The Game of Love and Death was an elegant, ambitious story told from a classic yet fresh mythological point of view. It plays with the idea of humans being the playthings of immortal gods – yet is far more than that.

Love and Death are each fully fleshed, captivating characters of their own. They are dimensional, compassionate and enigmatic. Their stakes in the Game are ambiguous and fluid. They are truly entrancing to read about.

Then we have Henry and Flora – two young people placed in a position to fall for each other when such a thing is unheard of. The odds are stacked against them from the beginning. Yet the way in which it’s written, you ache with them and yearn with them.

These are two characters whose connection may have been chosen by immortal gods but whose choices are all their own. Even the secondary, side characters – such as Henry’s cousin Ethan and even Ethan’s parents to a lesser degree, have more depth than expected.

The Game of Love and Death is a lyrical, memorable, sweeping and gripping novel that is also beautifully romantic. Yet more proof that YA can transcend the genre and be utterly readable to any age.

And, in the case of The Game of Love and Death, should be.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Lost Track of Time

The Lost Track of Time is a debut middle grade novel by Paige Britt.

With her mind full of ideas and bursting with imagination, Penelope has aspirations of being a writer. Yet her mother’s plans for her are quite different – and every minute of Penelope’s days are scheduled and planned, leaving no time for her dreaming since she must use time to be “productive.”

But when the unexpected happens – a hole in her schedule lasting an entire day! – Penelope somehow falls into it. Suddenly she is in a wonderful place called the Realm of Possibility that is being destroyed by the Clockworkers, led by the villain Chronos.

Thrust into a position where her imagination is desperately needed, Penelope begins an adventure like no other – looking to find the Great Moodler, the one person that can save the Realm of Possibility and answer her many, many questions.

The Lost Track of Time
was a charming, intelligent, warm novel of brilliant wordplay!

Anyone who is familiar with my reading habits knows I am a SUCKER for some good wordplay – such as anything written by the likes of Lemony Snicket and Jasper Fforde. Or The Phantom Tollbooth!

Well, The Lost Track of Time is along those lines but takes a fun, endearing take on time in this case. I felt for Penelope almost immediately – stuck with a mother so efficient, organized and driven that she does not allow her daughter to have any free time.

Yet I loved the fact that Penelope respected and obeyed her mother, this was no bratty protagonist! I felt that was a great message for children to see. And then the exciting moment happened when Penelope fell in the “hole” in her schedule and the adventure began!

Some really fantastic scenes pepper The Lost Track of Time, almost all of which are excellent literal personifications of terms regarding time. Really lots of fun! I wouldn’t want to describe any scenes to you, because you need to read it for yourself.

And though I felt the end was a LITTLE abrupt, it was also poignant and optimistic. Truly a good novel that makes me interested in more from Paige Britt.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Little Friendly Advice

A Little Friendly Advice is a YA contemporary novel by Siobhan Vivian.

When Ruby’s long absentee father shows up unexpectedly at her sixteenth birthday party, her old buried emotions come bubbling up to the surface.

It hasn’t been that long that Ruby has been okay, or at least thought she was okay, with her father’s abrupt leaving of her and her mom. The experience had left little Ruby with a fractured childhood, warping her behavior in such a way that only time and her best friend Beth were able to get her through it.

Yet with his sudden return, Ruby wonders how much of that messed up girl was just hidden away in the recesses of her mind – because she feels as though her life is spiraling out of control once again.

So when Ruby gets the hell out of her apartment where her dad is standing, to try and enjoy what is left of her birthday, her friends – devoted Beth, daring Katherine and telltale Maria – have all sorts of advice and thoughts as to what she should do.

It’s only when she meets new boy Charlie that she feels like someone is just listening, not telling. But Ruby’s reality only gets worse when she finds out that her friends may not be as helpful and as truthful as she always believed…

A while back I read Vivian’s The List and was blown away. It was a searing fictional commentary of the various emotional struggles of a teenage girl and the realization of the futility of what seems ever so important to them. It was memorable, disturbing and gorgeously written.

I believe A Little Friendly Advice is a bit of an older title from the author, newly reprinted to have a similar cover to The List. In fact, my understanding is that this is Vivian’s debut novel.

So, though I could recognize some of the insightful, deeper aspects of the characters in A Little Friendly Advice, the dynamic was not nearly as powerful here. I found the psyche of Maria and Beth intriguing – as you read the book you’ll see what I mean – and to be honest I would have liked to have learned more about them and how they became how they are. Yet, this book didn’t delve into that.

All focus was on Ruby. Though I sympathized with Ruby to an extent, it was difficult for me to do so much. She came across as overdramatic, childish and hurtful. Though her mother obviously made many mistakes, also, the casual cruelty she treated her with made me dislike her often. Yes, Vivian excels at imbuing her books with that unsettling reality of human flaws and failures, but it was difficult to get behind Ruby for the duration of the story.

Also, the relationship between her and Charlie felt a bit rushed and – dare I say? – convenient. I’m not saying all of this was bad – far from it – just not what I was expecting from the author of The List.

Revelations were effective and there were moments you could really glimpse where Vivian would go as an author, but as a whole A Little Friendly Advice fell below my expectations just due to the fact that I believe the author’s writing skill improved with time, as well as her plotlines.

Still a good, introspective read however!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Unnaturalists

The Unnaturalists is a YA alt-Victorian steampunk novel by Tiffany Trent.

Fascinated with her father’s work in the Museum of Unnatural History, Vespa Nyx enjoys spending her days cataloging the Unnatural creatures of their world.

Yet her unusual hobby is growing less and less socially acceptable as she nears seventeen and is expected to be a respectable young lady with marriage prospects.

Just when Vespa is beginning to sullenly accept her tedious fate, strange accidents begin to happen at the museum and she finds herself running into a young Tinker boy that believes she has a role to play in the future of New London – as a witch.

But witchcraft is the worst possible violation in New London and punishable by death…

As a fan of steampunk, I was very excited to read The Unnaturalists and had been wanting to for quite some time.

Tiffany Trent excellently presents a fleshed out alternative world with magical creatures, various cultures and even a legend of how New London came to be.

Vespa as a characters is likable – not so stubborn as to be bratty, yet also sufficiently smart and caring. I wish I had felt like I got to know her better than I did – through and through – but I did like her.

One of the focal cultures was the Tinkers, which was a very interesting group of people that the nobility in New London both relied on and persecuted. There was some definite suspense involved in their camp and I found the history we learned about them to be intriguing. Yet, again, I still felt like I could have become more invested.

Keep in mind that I am adapting to a newly packed schedule with the addition of college coursework on top of my full-time job, and this has most definitely effected my reading. Instead of reading a book in two to three days it is taking me sometimes up to TWO WEEKS to read it. This changes the flow, which I recognize. So, as always, take any critique I may present with a grain of salt and read it for yourself.

Overall, The Unnaturalists was an interesting, creative steampunk tale but lacked a direct page-turner feel to it. I felt like everything could have been… more. But I did like it.

There’s a second book called The Tinker King – but I am not sure if the series is being continued beyond that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me is a YA contemporary novel by Meredith Zeitlin.

Growing up as a single child, raised by her dad in New York, Zona has never felt she was lacking anything. Since her mom died before she could remember her, the loss has never truly hurt – though she knows it has never left her dad.

She has her close-knit friends, her new position as features editor at the high school paper and enjoys a trust-based, roommate type of relationship with her journalist father.

When her dad tells her they are moving to Greece for six months for him to cover their economic crisis, Zona is upset for two reasons. One, she does not want to leave all she knows and loves in New York. Two, she knows that his work is not the only reason her dad is taking her to Greece.

That is where her mother’s family lives. Her big family. Her big family that returned her father’s many letters and has never attempted to contact her in her entire teenage life. The big, Greek family she has no interest in meeting.

Despite her protests, her dad is insistent. So shall begin Zona’s uprooting to Greece…

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me was an easy, swift read. It starts off presenting Zona in a rather immature way, putting up a childish fight about leaving the country. However, I cannot say that I didn’t sympathize with her plight – leaving everything behind for six months would be a hard pill to swallow.

Once she gets in Greece, the story picks up. There is some pretty entertaining and enlightening Greek customs that get highlighted. Zona faces many scenarios where she has to decide whether she is going to let new experiences change her.

Truly the best part of the book was everything to do with Zona meeting her Greek family. From the funnier, more obscure moments to the touching, heartfelt scenes – they definitely stole the show. It focuses on regret, bitterness and forgiveness. A pursuit of understanding and moving on.

There’s also some great friendship in Sophomore Year is Greek to Me. Small, but important, events highlighting pivotal everyday life.

Overall, Sophomore Year is Greek to Me was an enjoyable, fast read. I was not head over heels and felt some of the material was quite familiar, but it was nice to read after long, hard days at work and hours of studying.

There’s nothing wrong with a low-effort book here and there!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Info on a Literary Magazine and Writing Workshops!

As you lovely bibliophiles know, I am taking college courses now. It has left me with less time than ever to read and review books. Sometimes it really depresses me, but I know that it will pay off with time and that someday I will be reading more once again!

In the meantime, this week there is sadly no new review! However, I do have some book industry related news and information to share that you'll hopefully be interested in!

Firstly, author Jody Rawley's new YA Kindle novel Rapunzel in Control an international literary quarterly called Adelaide Magazine. This was a huge honor, as they rarely spotlight a YA *or* Kindle book! To see his excerpt click here. To browse the literary magazine for other interesting reading, explore here: http://adelaidemagazine.org/contributors.html

Secondly, there is a Odyssey Writing Workshop starting three new online writing classes and a webinar in January 2016! The application deadline are in December, so you'll need to get to it FAST if you are wanting a chance! Here are all the details:

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust, widely known for its highly praised, six-week, in-person workshop, is offering three intensive online writing classes this winter as well as Odyssey's first webinar.

The online classes being offered are Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction, taught by Odyssey director and bestselling author Jeanne Cavelos; Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel, taught by award-winning author Barbara Ashford; and Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot, taught by award-winning author David B. Coe. Application deadlines are in December.

Odyssey's online classes are unique among writing programs. Sessions are held live through web conferencing software, so students can have an active learning process, asking questions and participating in discussions. Challenging homework assignments help students to incorporate new techniques into their writing process, and in-depth feedback from the instructor and classmates guides students in improving their work. Interactions between classes allow students and the instructor to further explore subject matter. Each student also has a private meeting with the instructor to ask questions and gain additional insight. With class size limited to 14, each student receives personal attention in a supportive yet challenging, energizing learning environment.

While Odyssey's mission as a nonprofit is to help writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work, this winter's classes focus on skills that would be very valuable for writers in any genre, and writers of all genres are welcome to apply.

Last year, forty-two committed writers from the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan participated in Odyssey's three online courses. One student commented, "I’ve taken several writing workshops, some with famous writers, and while I learned something from each one, I never imagined I could get so much out of a workshop until I took Odyssey’s online class.... It’s given me much greater control over my writing and taught me to let the reader experience a scene instead of just hear about it. Jeanne Cavelos is the best close reader I’ve ever seen, and she treats all writing with respect. Take any course she teaches; you’ll work harder than you expected to and make major advances."

To ensure high quality, Odyssey offers only three online courses per year. Instructors are among the very best in the field and fill each course with hard-won insights and invaluable techniques.

In addition, in response to many requests, Odyssey is offering its first webinar this winter: Productivity for Writers, taught by author Alex Hughes. The webinar format allows students maximum flexibility. They may attend live and interact with the instructor, or they may view the video recording at their convenience. The registration deadline for attendance at the live webinar is January 25. Writers may register at any time to view the recording.

Odyssey's winter 2016 offerings focus on key writing skills:

Three-Act Structure in Fantastic Fiction
Course Meets: January 4 - February 2, 2016
Instructor: Jeanne Cavelos
Application Deadline: December 7, 2015
Level: Advanced


Does your story or novel take too long to "get going"? Does it lack momentum, suspense, and escalation? Do you feel you're making plot decisions randomly? Are you missing crisis points of impact and emotion? Do readers say "ho hum" or "hunh?" to your climax? Key to strong plotting is understanding the act structure of your story or novel and developing it to its greatest effect. While writing books and blogs periodically discuss acts, few clearly define what truly comprises an act or explain how plotting in acts can create a more suspenseful, unpredictable, and emotionally satisfying experience for the reader. With a strong act structure, your protagonist will face challenges that will put him, and the reader, through an experience they will never forget. When this course was previously offered, students found it extremely helpful. One student commented, "This class has changed the way I write. Before, the words 'plot and structure' would make me recoil in anxiety and frustration. Now, I see plot and structure as exciting tools to help me create the kind of stories I want to write."

Join Jeanne Cavelos, bestselling author and Odyssey director, recently nominated for a World Fantasy Award for her teaching, as she explains how you can strengthen and transform your work through plotting in acts.

Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel
REVISED AND EXPANDED FOR 2016!
Course Meets: January 5 - February 16, 2016
Instructor: Barbara Ashford
Application Deadline: December 9, 2015
Level: Intermediate


One of our most popular instructors, Barbara Ashford, is offering a revised and expanded version of her most highly rated class.

Finished the first draft of a novel? Still working on it? Struggling with revisions? Getting the big picture can help bring your novel to life.

Writers often approach revisions as an opportunity to polish their manuscripts rather than to take a hard look at the story itself. If your plot meanders and your protagonist’s goals are unclear, polishing your prose won’t help. Award-winning author Barbara Ashford believes the most important skill required to transform a promising novel into a published one is the ability to see the "big picture," to understand how the building blocks of a novel relate to each other, to identify weaknesses, and to make the necessary changes to strengthen the story.

Barbara will discuss the “big picture” elements at the foundation of every novel: premise, promise, theme, world, character, and plot. The course will explore ways to deepen the connection between these elements and create a more unified and powerful story, the key to lifting a novel out of the slush pile and onto an agent’s desk. A student who previously took the course said this: "I am in the outlining stages of a novel. The Odyssey online class Getting the Big Picture helped me focus in on the true nature of my story, what lies at its heart. The class has given me the tools to improve both plot and characters and tie the two more strongly into the theme. These are the most useful class sessions I have ever attended."

Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot
Course Meets: January 21 - February 18, 2016
Instructor: David B. Coe
Application Deadline: December 26, 2015
Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Of all the many tools writers have at their disposal, perhaps none is more powerful, or more overlooked, than point of view. Often thought of simply as the perspective through which a story is told, it is actually far, far more. It is the mechanism by which we guide our readers through the plot points, narrative arcs, and emotions of our fiction. It is the place where all of our storytelling elements--character, plot, setting, prose--come together. And point of view can also provide solutions to some of the most common problems encountered by aspiring writers and professionals alike. Award-winning author David B. Coe, highly praised mentor and teacher of fiction writing, will show how weaknesses in point of view can undermine an entire story.

We will begin our discussion of point of view by looking at the many factors that go into choosing the correct point of view character or characters for our stories, as well as the proper voice for those characters. We will then move to the study of how point of view influences not only character arc, but also our establishment of plotting, setting, and pacing. We'll explore the challenges in writing from the point of view of non-human characters and characters from alien cultures. Finally we will conclude the course with an exploration of the ways in which POV can be used to address a host of common problems writers encounter in their work.

WEBINAR: Productivity for Writers
Live Webinar: February 23, 2016
Instructor: Alex Hughes
Registration Deadline: January 25, 2016 (for live webinar)
NOTE: Writers may register for the recorded session at any time
Level: Intermediate


What do you do if you can’t seem to write?

Writers get words on the page. No matter what else is happening in their lives, successful writers continue to produce great work they can be proud of. And yet, if you ask any group of writers what their big challenge is, most will point to getting those words on the page when life gets difficult. And it will get difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to get the words out anyway and continue to reach towards your dreams even in the hardest of circumstances.

In this webinar, author Alex Hughes discusses a variety of strategies to keep the words flowing even when things get tough. She highlights common obstacles such as distractions, depression, anxiety, creative burnout, industry setbacks, family priorities, being overwhelmed by marketing/promotion, job stress, and much more, along with potential solutions. What do you do when you run into a creative wall? Alex gives you the tools you need to dig out. Furthermore, she lays out the methods that she’s used as a working author to meet hard deadlines, including sprints and Pomodoro, creative support, forming good writing habits, and exercises, and provides detailed resources to help you in your journey. She also covers how to decide when to “move the goalpost,” or make hard (and smart) business decisions when the bottom drops out of your life and/or writing becomes very difficult indeed. A practical discussion of some of the hardest parts of the writer’s journey, complete with an open question and answer session at the end. All struggles welcome.

More information about Odyssey's online classes can be found here: http://www.sff.net/odyssey/online.html or by emailing jcavelos@sff.net.

More information about Odyssey's webinars can be found here: http://www.sff.net/odyssey/webinar.html.

If you've visited the Odyssey site recently, you may need to click REFRESH on your browser to see the new content.

PLEASE NOTE: Those application deadlines are coming up soon! If you would like to apply for more than one course, you must apply separately for each one.

Odyssey Online helps you to learn new techniques and build your skills, and provides in-depth feedback to guide you. If you're ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them, you'd be welcome to apply.

In addition, the Odyssey site, http://www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including free podcasts, a monthly discussion salon, writing and publishing tips, a blog, a critique service, and information about the six-week, in-person workshop.

Start the new year by leveling up your writing skills!

Thanks for being understanding about the lack of a review this week! Show up next Wednesday for a new review!!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Dead House

The Dead House is a YA contemporary psychological thriller by debut author Dawn Kurtagich.

Two decades ago there was a fire at Elmbridge High, leaving dead and missing students.

So much was unknown at the time, though fascination and mystery surround the now abandoned, condemned former boarding school.

Then a diary is found among the rubble.

It is not that of Carly Johnson, a primary focus in the initial investigation – a student who vanished without a trace.

Instead it was written by Kaitlyn Johnson.

Who is she? How is she related to Carly? Did she truly exist?

This new information reopens the case – and an examination of the diary alongside gathered psychiatric reports, video footage, text message and emails creates a far more disturbing account than anyone expected…

The Dead House is CREEPY.

It’s been a while since I read a book that left me a bit unsettled each time I put it down to go to bed, go about my daily tasks, etc. But this one did it. Uh huh. CREEPY.

Let’s dive deeper into that, shall we?

Dawn Kurtagich uses the various means of storytelling very well. We have newspaper clippings, diary entries and more – as mentioned above – to piece together a story that has multiple layers.

I do not want to give anything away. But I will say that we start with a subdued, but effective, introduction to Carly and Kaitlyn. Knowing that there will be death and fire in their future creates an ongoing ominous vibe that never decreases.

Often the chapters would start with an indication of how many days are remaining until the “incident”.

*Shudders*

It’s an English boarding school. We have some mentally unstable students – or ARE they? – and a set of circumstances very outside the usual.

You’re never quite sure what to believe – as our narrators may only be so reliable.

There is intrigue galore – not only with that is happening to Carly/Kaitlyn but also regarding her parents death, which she cannot remember.

It is very difficult to describe the many awesome, chilling things that happen without giving away too much – so I can just strongly encourage you to read The Dead House for yourself??

It is remarkable but in that way that lasts. It makes you uneasy, puts you on the edge of your seat and makes you wonder just what you believe.

I really, really, really liked The Dead House.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Last Ever After

The School for Good and Evil: The Last Ever After is the final book in the middle grade fantasy trilogy by Soman Chainani.

As a huge fan of The School for Good and Evil and The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes, I pre-ordered this last book.

If you have not read the prior two books, I would strongly suggest avoiding this review for any potential spoilers – the books are too good to spoil!!

I am trusting that you are not continuing to read unless you are already a fan…

Back in Gavaldon, Agatha is happy that her prince, Tedros, is not really a prince in her hometown – and neither is she a future queen. Yet, very quickly, she begins to doubt their Ever After.

Part of the problem is that Tedros and Agatha’s story has not truly finished yet – it is still being written. Their tale is still connected with Agatha’s old best friend, Sophie.

Now enemies with Agatha, Sophie has embraced the now young School Master, whom has convinced her of their love and that love on the side of Evil changes everything. Evil has taken over both schools and villains of the past are reawaken to change their fates.

Only Tedros and Agatha stand a chance against their prior best friend – only they can try to stem the tide of Evil taking over the entire realm…

Chainani is excellent at writing a story that is unpredictable. Primarily soaked in platonic friendship, rather than romance, The Last Ever After yet again has us questioning things. How far gone must someone be to no longer fight for them? When can you decide that someone you once loved dearly is beyond your help?

It also provides some other great questions about the reasons someone may turn to the Evil side – or even why they turned to Good. There’s a great chunk of the novels that are, subtly, quite philosophical.

On top of that, this finale is just as creative as the others – essentially rewriting and representing classic fairy tales while keeping its new one fresh. I personally love Agatha – she is very good hearted but struggles with self-doubt, meanwhile always keeping her snarky, smart humor. It’s a combo not seen often in female characters. Sophie is also complex and Tedros is given more dimension that you might initially expect.

All in all, this was a clever, rich, luxe conclusion to a wild ride of a fantasy trilogy. The ending was satisfying, even if I felt like I could use more. Personally, I could have used a little glimpse in the future or just… MORE. But leaving me wanting more, in this case, wasn’t such a terrible thing.

Really a great end to a great series. I look forward to more from Chainani in the future!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Through Waters Deep

Through Waters Deep is a Christian historical WWII era romance by Sarah Sundin. It is the first book in her Waves of Freedom series.

In 1941 Massachusetts, Mary Stirling enjoys her position as Boston Navy Yard secretary – she excels at it but happily can avoid any particular attention in her role. There’s nothing she likes less than attention…

When naval officer Ensign Jim Avery comes to Boston on a new assignment, they recognize each other as childhood friends – in fact, Mary clearly remembers Jim’s infatuation with her best friend.

As their friendship and camaraderie grows, events take a darker turn – someone seems to be sabotaging the USS Atwood. Tensions are growing regarding the divided opinion on potentially entering into the new war…

This is a dangerous time on the Boston shipyards…

I have previously enjoyed Sarah Sundin’s Wings of Glory series, as they have a rich historical background with WWII. Unlike some other historical fiction romances that brush over detail of the period, Sundin makes it come alive.

They also have a strong, patriotic vibe. Moving from the Air Force to the Navy, her novel was just as fascinating and elegant. Plus, the Christian element is always refreshing when done right – meaning without a preachy aspect. There was moment in particular that gave me chills – though I won’t give the details here.

Mary and Jim are both likable characters – they have childhood traumas that shape some of their adult personality and provide depth to them. Their relationship is slow building, grounded on getting to know each other and friendship – much appreciated for a reader like me that detests insta-love scenarios!

Mixed with the budding romance is a great mystery involving the impending war. It was eye-opening to see the resistance of many of the American people – as well as realizing how the American Navy was already under attack prior to Pearl Harbor, though it is not widely known.

I found Through Waters Deep to be a satisfying story and I will happily read book two when it is released!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Masque of the Black Tulip

The Masque of the Black Tulip is an adult historical novel with a contemporary mashup and the second in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig.

Many years ago I read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and enjoyed it. I am finally getting interested in continuing the series, which last I checked now has twelve novels and is not done yet!!

I would definitely recommend reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation first, as it introduces the reader to the fictionalized world of flowery espionage in England during the days of the Napoleonic wars. We also first meet our cast of characters in it.

Though The Masque of the Black Tulip puts emphasis and focus on a different set of characters, they are within the same family and social circle. So, I still recommend reading it first.

Okay, now onto deets of The Masque of the Black Tulip!

Having discovered the shockingly delicious identity of the Pink Carnation, modern day graduate student Eloise has even more questions. Especially when she reads of the deadly French nemesis, the Black Tulip. Such a tantalizing morsel of info.

So, Eloise dives into the archives of the attractive but hard to read descendent Colin Selwick. Figuring out the old codebooks and chicken scratch writing in letters will probably be easier to do than interpreting the actions of her sometimes crush Colin.

Her research finds an unlikely pair at the center of the action, related to the Pink Carnation, who had every intention of stopping the Black Tulip. Not actually spies themselves, the two get mixed up in more than they possibly could handle – including finding themselves realizing romantic feelings in an extraordinarily bad time to do so…

The Masque of the Black Tulip was loads of fun!

I’ve seen some people complain about Eloise, that her contemporary role is boring compared to the romance and espionage of the Regency era we are primarily narrated in. I disagree, I find her appealing, hilarious and relatable.

Regarding the primary storyline during the Napoleonic wars, I found Henrietta a more likable character than Amy was in The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Far less wanton and much more brainy and witty. That’s the way I like my gals!

Henrietta and her brother’s best friend Miles have some excellent dialogue interplay and they have a foundation in friendship – knowing each other very well – that makes the rest of the story play more smoothly and believably than the first novel, for me.

On the actual suspense and spying aspect, as it was so long since I read the first book, I did occasionally get a bit lost. Overall, though, it was an entertaining jaunt of a novel. It was lighthearted to read with an adventurous spark, delightful humor and plenty of romantic tension. It didn’t take itself TOO seriously, making The Masque of the Black Tulip an enjoyable mystery!

I will continue to dive into this series – though I am still not in state to scramble all over myself to get the next book. It’ll happen when it happens.

I *am* curious about what happens with Eloise and Colin though…

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Spark Cover Reveal!

Holly Schindler’s Spark:


When the right hearts come to the Avery Theater—at the right time—the magic will return. The Avery will come back from the dead.
Or so Quin’s great-grandmother predicted many years ago on Verona, Missouri’s most tragic night, when Nick and Emma, two star-crossed teenage lovers, died on the stage. It was the night that the Avery’s marquee lights went out forever.

It sounds like urban legend, but one that high school senior Quin is now starting to believe, especially when her best friend, Cass, and their classmate Dylan step onto the stage and sparks fly. It seems that magic can still unfold at the old Avery Theater and a happier ending can still be had—one that will align the stars and revive not only the decrepit theater, but also the decaying town. However, it hinges on one thing—that Quin gets the story right this time around.
Holly Schindler brings the magic of the theater to life in this tale of family ties, fate, love, and one girl’s quest to rewrite history.

~

“In my hometown, the restoration of a former movie theater on the town square provided the genesis for my new YA novel, SPARK. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of seeing their name in blazing neon across a gigantic marquee? Let me invite you to dim the lights and draw back the velvet curtains—let your imagination run wild as you enter my fictional Avery Theater, where literally anything goes…”
—Holly Schindler

~


Holly Schindler is the author of three previous YA novels: PLAYING HURT as well as the critically acclaimed FERAL (starred PW review) and A BLUE SO DARK (starred Booklist review, ForeWord Book of the Year silver medal, IPPY gold medal). A writer of books for all ages, Schindler’s MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, has made the master list for children’s book awards in Illinois, South Carolina, and Alabama. She is also a hybrid author, having independently released comedic women’s fiction (FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS) and the forthcoming PLAY IT AGAIN, her adult follow-up to her YA PLAYING HURT. She can be reached through her author site: hollyschindler.com, and hosts special sneak peeks and giveaways for subscribers of her newsletter: tinyletter.com/hollyschindler.com

~


Spark “Premieres” May 17, 2016, but you can buy your “tickets” now. Links to pre-order -

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Spark-Holly-Schindler/dp/0062220233/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443300868&sr=8-1&keywords=spark+holly+

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spark-holly-schindler/1122566794?ean=9780062220233

IndieBound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062220233

Add to your TBR list -
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26155766-spark