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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

4 YA Fantasies to Read

So I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy kick, which has nothing to do with working like crazy and wanting an escape from real life.

Almost nothing.

Anyway, I assume your to-be-read list is like mine—tall and mocking. Nothing says fun like a teetering tower of books. Here are four more to add to your pile:


The Wrath & the Dawn was one of my favorite books last year, and I count its sequel, The Rose & the Dagger, as one of my top books of 2016. The world was just as lush, the characters just as layered, and the prose just as evocative as the first. What I loved so much about this book was that Ahdieh doesn’t pointlessly complicate Shahrzad and Khalid’s romance with misunderstandings or wavering feelings. These two never falter in their love for and faith in one another, and it made me love them (and the romance) all the more. On top of that, the book is fast paced and exciting—there’s war, betrayal, magical carpets, and flying serpents. It’s exactly the story I was hoping for in this series conclusion. Renee Ahdieh is now and auto-buy author for me.


This book surprised me in the best way possible. I knew it was about a girl and a boy and a book. I didn’t expect it to be such an experience. We have the main story—Sefia is in search of her aunt, using a mysterious object (a book) to guide her way. But that’s only the most basic plot. There’s a story about the past, a book within a book, a monster boy with big heart, and a pirate you’ll adore. Here’s where it gets even more fun: the pages of The Reader are marked up in the same way Sefia’s book is. (Don’t miss the hidden messages by the page numbers!)

The Reader is a love letter to language and reading. It’s no surprise, then, that Chee’s prose is beautiful—the kind you highlight and come back to again and again.

I’m currently dying for the sequel. Like, I’m pretty sure that’s why I have a headache and stuffed-up nose. This is an actual medical thing. 

Cool fact: I’ll be posting an interview with author Traci Chee next month on The Swanky Seventeens blog, and a longer version here. Stay tuned.


There are so many reasons I adored The Daughter of the Pirate King, not the least of which is that it’s set on the high seas and is about a bunch of pirates. (I mean, PIRATES, guys!) But even more than that, I loved Alosa. 

Raised by the Pirate King, Alosa is ruthless and driven, staging a kidnapping to get to a legendary treasure. 
Slight spoiler (highlight to read): I really liked how Levenseller lets Alosa be ruthless, killing people purposefully and without remorse. I was worried she’d be softened to be more likable, but this felt like a realistic pirate girl bent on making her father proud. Besides, there were plenty of other things that softened me to Alosa.
She’s smart, she’s calculating—but she’s also spirited and funny and exactly the kind of heroine I want to hang out with for 320 pages. I loved watching her play the role of the outsmarted damsel … then outthink her captors time and time again.

And then there’s Riden, the first mate who’s smart and kind and, yes, totally swoonworthy. Their romance was slow building and so entertaining—it’s a battle of wits between them, which I adored.

Daughter of the Pirate King has a quick, cinematic quality (think Pirates of the Caribbean minus Johnny Depp), which made the book fly by. I read this in one sitting—it’s that exciting and fast paced.

I will now commence impatiently waiting for a sequel. 

It’s no wonder the film rights to Caraval have been sold: Reading this book was like watching a film—gorgeous set pieces, splashes of color all over the place, and a world unlike any I’ve ever read about. (In my mind, it took on the same quality as Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.) The world of Caraval is beautiful and bone-chilling, the sort of place you want to get to know and never visit.

Garber’s story has been compared to The Hunger Games, which isn’t exactly accurate, unless you count the fact that both have a game. But Caraval felt more like a mystery, a puzzle: Follow the clues to win the game.

Of course, nothing is as it seems at Caraval, and Garber kept me guessing. Who is Legend? Where is Scarlett’s sister? Is Julian good or bad? Will everyone make it out alive?

It was easy to like Scarlett—she’s practical and cautious (to a fault, as she learns throughout the story), but her hesitancies felt real. Above all that, she’s fiercely protective of her sister.

That’s what I love so much about Scarlett: There’s a super hot guy she’s pretty sure she’s falling for, but everything she does is to save her sister. (Though let’s be serious, I loved the romance between her and Julian and was ready for them to JUST KISS ALREADY from the moment they arrived at Caraval.)

I’m so excited there’s a sequel so we get more of Scarlett and Tella. If you’re looking for a fantasy in a wholly new and originally world, this is it.

What have you been reading?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Changing As a Writer


When you get to be a certain-aged adult (which is basically anything over 25), you get this idea in your head that you’re the you you’re always going to be. It’s the idea that growing is for kids and once your body has settled on a shoe size, that’s that. You’re you.

I had this idea about my writing after I wrote my first novel. I drafted that sucker in a month. I felt pretty pleased with myself.

“That’s the kind of writer I am,” I told myself. “I don’t outline. I write fast. I love drafting. And I’m pretty sure revising is of the devil.”

I held onto that version of writer me. I am a pantster, a fast drafter, and a despiser of all things revision.

But by the time I was ready to write the next book, I was … broken. I couldn’t start it.

I became very shouty at myself. The Man sent me these really worried looks, then he put on his noise-cancelling headphones and mumbled something about writers.

“I DON’T OUTLINE!!” I said it over and over again. Except, maybe I do. Because for that second book, I made an outline. And then I could write.

So that was it. I had been mistaken after the first book.

“That’s the kind of writer I am,” I told myself. “I outline. I write fast. I love drafting. And I’m pretty sure revising is of the devil.”

I held onto that version of writer me. I am a plotter, a fast drafter, and a despiser of all things revision.

But by the time I was ready to write the next book, Gray Wolf Island, I was … broken again. Only this time it was worse. I outlined. I started it. And I was slow.

No, that’s a lie. I was SLOW.

“I AM A FAST WRITER!!!” I said it over and over again. I whined about it to friends who were very kind with my fragile writer brain.

No matter what I tried, I stayed broken. I wrote the entire book slowly. Writing each page was like pushing blood up through my pores. It was a disgusting and scary process for someone who still considered herself a fast writer who loved drafting.

When it came time to revise, I steeled myself for the horror.

It wasn’t there.

The revision thing? Way easy.

I had no idea who I was anymore, because the Writer Tracey I knew despised the whole ordeal, but this me? This me was tossing around words like “fun.”

Last week, I turned in a round of edits on Gray Wolf Island and the process was—yes, I’m going to say it again—fun. Unlike drafting my new WIP. Which brings me to a revelation I had: I’ve changed.

I’m not the type of writer I was when I first started. Drafting is full of doubts and fears, while revision is a process I love. And that’s okay.

I think we stuff ourselves into boxes, partially because so many writing articles force us into them: Are you a plotter or pantster? Do you write fast or slow? Do you revise as you go or do you get it all on the page first?

It’s taken me a long time to realize it’s okay to change. It’s okay to vary your process from year to year or book to book. We’re not expected to stay the same version of us from the cusp of adulthood into eternity.

Kind of freeing, isn’t it?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pain-Free Guide to Slashing Your Word Count

In the before days (several months ago), I had a very specific and painful process for cutting words, sentences, scenes, and chapters from my books:
  1. Procure chainsaw.
  2. Slice off limbs.
It wasn’t the kind of approach to cutting I wanted to use long term. Mostly because I only have four limbs.

Fact is, cutting a manuscript hurts. After days and weeks and months of writing a story, the last thing you want to do is trash words. It feels wasteful. There are writers in the world starving for words, and there you go throwing yours out.

During my last round of revisions, I had a breakthrough. I’ve actually been holding onto this gem of a tip for months because I kept forgetting to post it I had really important things to do and stuff.

So here it is—four pain-free* steps to cutting your word count:

1. Print your manuscript.
After reading my book so many times on screen, doing a full read on paper is super helpful.

2. As you read, strike out words, sentences, paragraphs, even full scenes and chapters to cut.
Do not freak out. You’re simply scribbling out ink on paper. Your manuscript is still safe and sound—and in its original, lengthy glory—on your computer. Later, you can veto any marks you make, so go wild.

3. When you’re done editing on paper, open your digital file and highlight all of the sections you marked to cut.
Forget about all of your other edits. Simply go page by page through your printed manuscript and, whenever you’ve marked a word or passage to be cut, highlight it in the file.

I use Scrivener, so at this stage I simply highlighted words or chunks of text bright yellow, as noted on my printed page. I didn’t stop to think about whether I wanted to cut that text. It’s a very fast transfer from paper to Scrivener file.

4. Revise.
Now it’s time to revise as you typically would. I should point out that, at this point in my revision, I was completely unaware I was a genius. I feel very humble pointing that out.

Here’s what happened: Whenever I got to a word or section highlighted yellow, I knew I had two choices: cut or keep. Except in my mind, I’d already let those words go—twice. And so cutting wasn’t punch-to-the heart terrible like it was in the past.

It’s sort of like telling your brain to be prepared because some time real soon you’ll be getting rid of words and scenes and it better not put up a fight. And then telling it again. By the time you get around to cutting those words and scenes, your brain will be like YES, THANK YOU, I GET IT—NOW STOP.

Alright, lay it on me: What’s your best writing or revising trick?

*Results may vary.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Currently: The Summer Edition

Listen, I know Currently posts are supposed to go up on Tuesdays but I’m a hard-core rebel and nobody, not even the internet, tells me what to do.*

When you finish rolling your eyes, read on:

The flowers are blooming, the sky’s ultra blue, and stepping outside feels like walking into someone’s mouth. It’s summertime.

For me, that means drive-in movies. I’m lucky to live close enough to two drive-in theaters that I don’t even have to build a time machine and rewind to 1955. Though I’m sure I could rock a conical bra.

Last weekend, The Man and I saw X-Men: Apocalypse at the theater. Days of Future Past is still my favorite, but this one was fun, too. Bonus: James McAvoy’s voice.

About a billion books came out on Tuesday and I pretty much want to read all of them. But I’m most excited for My Lady Jane, a not-quite-true tale of Lady Jane Grey. 

To be honest, the Princess Bride mention in the blurb sold me. But on top of that, I’m a big fan of Jodi Meadows’ Orphan Queen series and Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly trilogy (best love triangle ever—even if you hate love triangles).

I’m in that in-between space where all of my usual TV shows have gone on vacation and I spend 60 percent of my time explaining to The Man exactly why overpaid Hollywood actors shouldn’t get months and months of vacation when none of us do. And then he puts on his noise-cancelling headphones and I have to feel the injustice alone.

Anyhow, I recently found this trailer for Space Between Us. It’s about a teen who grew up on Mars and steals a rocket to fly to Earth for the first time. It looks a lot less crazy and a whole lot more adorable and heartbreaking than my description. And it’s starring Asa Butterfield, who I absolutely adore. (I just saw him in A Brilliant Young Mind, and he did a fantastic job portraying a boy with autism.)

I’ve been revising Gray Wolf Island, so naturally I’ve been listening to the playlist on repeat. (You can see the entire playlist here. One day when I befriend a web designer and exploit our friendship for a fancy website, I’ll have the whole playlist on here.)

Here’s one that will make more sense when** you read GWI. It’s the song I imagine for two of my characters’ first kiss. I’m pretty sure connecting this song to the scene makes me super cheesy (and not, like, Roquefort or something fancy; I’m talking neon orange “cheese”) but WHO DOESN’T LIKE CHEESE?

I guess maybe the lactose intolerant? In any case, cheese is delicious and I’m keeping this as my first kiss song:

My first round of revisions for Gray Wolf Island are due back to my editor on July 1, which means 80 percent my brain is dedicated to my revision. In case you’re curious, the other 20 percent is split like this:

15 percent: cute puppies on Instagram
5 percent: food

But the unexpected good news? I’m enjoying the revision process. A long time ago I thought I was a pantster who loved drafting and hated revising. Now drafting is a bit like bloodletting and revising is freeing.

If that makes no sense to you, just mutter “perfectionists” and give a disapproving shake of your head.

This round of revisions also reminded me that I had a breakthrough during my first round of revisions and never shared it with you. How greedy. So next week I’m blogging about the painless process that helped me cut words from GWI when it was just a young WIP.

Yep, painless. It’s a trick-your-brain kind of trick. 

All the 2017 books. I’m lucky enough to belong to the Swanky 17s, a fantastic group of YA and MG authors debuting in 2017. There’s been a ton of cover reveals recently and some of them … you have to check them out for yourself.

You’d like my brand-spanking-new Facebook page. I’m cringing so hard while writing this. You can’t see that because of the whole being on the other side of the internet thing, but it’s true. I’ll probably have wrinkles from it years later, and I will call them my cringing wrinkles, or crinkles for short.

In any case, if you like Facebook and you like liking things and you think you might like my page, then have at it.

I’ve been playing this puppy video on repeat. I can’t tell you why I love it so much (I don’t want to spoil the twist) but it has the power to restore even the most shriveled of hearts.

So, what’s new with you this week?

*I forgot.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Report: 3 to Read

I’ve been slacking on my book reviews. I do have a reason, though: I’ve been lazy.

(I said nothing about that reason being a particularly good one.)

But I want to be better, like those on-the-ball women who have kids and jobs and still manage to polish their nails before Instagramming pics of their coffee mugs.

So here’s what I’ve been reading—and you should be, too:

The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara’s life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara’s family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items - but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. 
But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

I held off on reading The Accident Season for a while because I was a loser who judged the book by the cover, and the cover said horror (who knows where I got that idea) and I wasn’t in the mood. But I read a review that made me insta-buy this book.

It’s the mystery that first got me reading—why does the accident season happen? Can they ever overcome it? But Fowley-Doyle’s prose is what really sucked me in. It’s beautiful and atmospheric. There’s a bit of magic to the story, and it’s not always clear what’s real and what’s not. You won’t get all the answers, but for me that was okay. This book is meant to be experienced and the writing savored.

Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help? 
It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son. 
In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

I’ll admit I was drawn to this book out of hunger. But waffles! And then when I heard Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda comparisons, well, I was sold.

Like Simon, Tell Me Three Things has an email romance between the main character and a mystery admirer. I guessed the identity of the mystery guy (called Somebody Nobody), immediately, but that’s okay. The book is more about Jessie coming to terms with her new life, making friends—and, yes, guessing who Somebody Nobody is.

The romance is great, but what really makes the story is Jessie growing into her new life. That, and the great cast of characters—especially Jessie’s new step-brother and Somebody Nobody.

Smart. Responsible. That’s seventeen-year-old Breanna’s role in her large family, and heaven forbid she put a toe out of line. Until one night of shockingly un-Breanna-like behavior puts her into a vicious cyber-bully's line of fire—and brings fellow senior Thomas “Razor” Turner into her life. 
Razor lives for the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, and good girls like Breanna just don’t belong. But when he learns she’s being blackmailed over a compromising picture of the two of them—a picture that turns one unexpected and beautiful moment into ugliness—he knows it’s time to step outside the rules. 
And so they make a pact: he’ll help her track down her blackmailer, and in return she’ll help him seek answers to the mystery that’s haunted him—one that not even his club brothers have been willing to discuss. But the more time they spend together, the more their feelings grow. And suddenly they’re both walking the edge of discovering who they really are, what they want, and where they're going from here.

I’m such a sucker for Katie McGarry books. If they’re somewhat predictable—two characters with Big Issues fall in love and there are Major Complications—it’s in the best way possible. I know what I’m going to get, and it’s going to be good.

Here, we have a boy raised in a motocycle club just trying to get through each day and a girl whose family either ignores her or treats her as a surrogate mother for her many brothers and sisters. My heart broke for her, but it was Razor who really tugged my heartstrings. He tries so hard to be good, to do the right thing—man can McGarry write a bad boy who’s not really so bad.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Katie McGarry book without romance, and I was totally on board with this one. It’s at times sweet, at times steamy, and truly full of heart.

What have you read (and loved) recently?