Tuesday, January 31, 2012

You think your book club rocks?

Well, then, I ask you: did a giant alligator show up to your last book club?

This is why my book club rocks:

That's right! In honor of our book Swamplandia!, Jeanie came as a gator.

My neighborhood book club's December read was Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, listed as a NYTimes top ten book of the 2011.

It is about a troubled family of gator wrestlers in Florida, and how they deal with their mom's death. Thirteen year old Ava is  left to fend for herself when her father disappears, her brother leaves for work on the mainland, and her sister falls in love with a ghost. The swamps were beautifully described and the chapters in Kiwi's pov were hilarious, which (personally) I needed to counteract Ava's heartbreaking story.

I read as an e-book, which means I did not see this gorgeous cover-- though this makes the story appear deceptively whimsical, in my opinion. It's got some painfully dark moments.

The book club was split on the book--  there were some depressing themes, and several people said they had trouble getting into it.

I thought it was beautifully written, but Russell really sucker-punches you at times (which says so much for her ability as a writer, but it is tough on the reader). As a group we had a GREAT time, though, which is really the point.

Our January neighborhood pick is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and I'm lobbying for The Hunger Games as the February book.

My Middle Grade book club at the neighborhood elementary school is also rocking. Our pick for the semester is MT Anderson's Whales on Stilts. 
I'm a huge fan of Anderson's dystopian YA Feed, and as I read WoS I revel in his talent.

This book is hilarious, and I don't mean in a middle-school only kind of way. It's irreverent and madly ingenious.

It is so awesome that I am having A LOT of trouble waiting to read it with the group.

We're reading slowly, so we will finish it in a couple of months. Look for a full review in the future!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Fives with Paper Hangover: books for 2012

I'm excited to be doing a Friday Five again-- it has been too long since I last participated!

So I already have a shortlist for the debut author challenge, so here are five from that list (but I agonized over narrowing down the list at all, because I'm so excited to read all the books on my list!):

Sarvenaz Tash         The Mapmaker and the Ghost    
Stephanie Strohm    Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink  
Susan Dennard        Something Strange and Deadly 
Meagan Spooner     Skylark
Kasie West               Pivot Point  

..and stacks and stacks of books not published this year that I am dying to read!

What about you? 

What five books are you looking forward to reading this year?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Something Strange and DEADLY... this week on the blog!

This week on the blog is your BIG chance to win a spot on the ARC tour of Something Strange and Deadly by the talented Susan Dennard.

Each day of the week we're featuring posts by Susan-- you can comment on the day's blog to gain extra entries:

The fun continues--

Today at Pam and Quita's Y(A)? Cuz We Write

Friday at Alicia's Slice of the Blog Pie

Holly will announce winners the following week!

Not sure what an ARC tour is...
How does an ARC Tour work?  Easy.  You fill out the form, Holly chooses FIVE winners, lines them up, and we ship the book from one person to the next.  So, it's shipped to you, you ship it to the next in line, etc.  
It is only open to US residents, due to shipping constraints.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Something Awesome and Awesome: An Interview with author Susan Dennard

We all focus on THE QUERY and THE AGENT, but what happens next?   

As a part of our ARC tour for Susan Dennard’s debut Something Strange and Deadly (sign up to win a spot below!), Susan answered some questions for me about what happens after you’ve sold a book.  

1. What’s the most challenging part about working on/editing a book that has sold?

The self-imposed pressure! At least initially.

When you're first faced with a deadline...well, you know how you think you can write really fast? Um, you can't. At least not nearly as fast as you think. Mostly because on top of the deadline pressure, you've got this huge MUST-BE-GOOD-pressure. That was by far the hardest thing for me (and I know for many other debut authors as well) to handle. Will my editor hate my changes? Will she regret buying my book? Will she like book 2 as much as book 1? AM I A TOTAL FAILURE?

But eventually, you have no choice but to deal with that stress and power through. Now that I've seen I can revise to my editor's standards and I can write a good second book (on a deadline, no less!), I realize just how much that pressure was self-imposed and utterly self-defeating. Hopefully my new-found confidence will carry over into book 2 revisions and book 3. ;)
2. What’s the most satisfying thing about writing for you now?

Having written. ;)

Honestly, though, all the satisfaction comes in seeing a finished story and knowing I can now share the story in my heart with someone else. The actual writing is a constant uphill battle (in the rain, with high-heels on, and with fire-breathing dragons attacking from above), but it's ALL worth it when I hear someone has enjoyed my book--when I hear that, for a few hours, I transported them to another world.

3. What has working with a real editor taught you?

Tighten, tighten, TIGHTEN! You don't need all that internal dialogue, and you certainly don't need to reiterate things. Readers are NOT dumb, so a few key thoughts said ONCE will get the point across.

In my older drafts of Something Strange and Deadly, Eleanor was (as my editor put it) "too thinky". For my editorial revisions, I spent a very long time simply tightening her thoughts, cutting redundancy, and removing excessive action tags (like, a character doesn't need to arch his eyebrows AND smirk when just the smirk will express his emotion). I wound up shortening the book by almost 9K words!! And now, all of my new writing is much cleaner and much tighter from the get-go.

4. Does sending things out on submission get easier?

 Absolutely! My second book went on submission, and I was antsy about it for a few days...and then I forgot about it. It's SUCH a slow process, so even though the book has been out several months, I'm not worried about it at all. In fact, most of the time, I forget I even have a book on subs!

5. Was there anything you thought you knew about publishing, but now understand in a different way?

The author has no control! :) Honestly, I thought that the author had all sorts of power over things like cover, marketing, flap copy, etc., but in reality, ALL of that is up to the publisher. Their marketing team knows best, so at the end of the day, it's their decision--not the author's. So while publishers DO want their authors to be happy, they also know that the author's won't always be...and then it's time for some "tough love"--i.e. "Here's your book and that's just the way it is."
Like I said, they ultimately do know better, so it's up to me to trust them to their job while I focus on writing the best darn book I can!

6. Any advice for those of us on the other side?

Dream big and NEVER give up. I spout these words a lot, but only because I truly believe them! If you set your sights high, work hard, and don't let the tough times get you down, you'll get there eventually! I PROMISE!

Thank you SUSAN! You rock, as always, and I CAN'T wait to read your book (insert huge squee)!!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Something Strange and DEADLY... this week on the blog!

This week on the blog is your BIG chance to win a spot on the ARC tour of Something Strange and Deadly by the talented Susan Dennard.

Each day of the week we're featuring posts by Susan-- you can comment on the day's blog to gain extra entries:

Monday at Holly Dodson's blog Super Mom Writes

Tuesday with Erinn at Something Else to Distract Me

Wednesday: an interview with Susan about what happens AFTER you've sold a book HERE!

Thursday at Pam and Quita's Y(A)? Cuz We Write

Friday at Alicia's Slice of the Blog Pie

Holly will announce winners the following week!

Not sure what an ARC tour is...
How does an ARC Tour work?  Easy.  You fill out the form, Holly chooses FIVE winners, lines them up, and we ship the book from one person to the next.  So, it's shipped to you, you ship it to the next in line, etc.  
It is only open to US residents, due to shipping constraints.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

RTW: A rose by any other name smells weird

I think it's been months since I've done a Road Trip with YA Highway! I've missed it!

I must confess: I had a hard time keeping up with blogging at the end of last year. In honor of the new year I've been trying to get back into blogging. Let's not call it a resolution, let's call it an apocalution. If the apaocalypse is coming, I might as well try to be my best me for twelve months.

This week's question, What would your pseudonym be?

My full name is Katharine Amory Owens.

I LOVE the name Katharine. Even though there are always a lot of Katharines around (an abundance you might say), I still think it's a classic, beautiful name.

But did you notice something about how I spelled it? It's Katharine-with-an-a.

Like Katharine Hepburn, for whom I was not named, and my great Aunt Katharine, for whom I was.

It used to drive me crazy that no one could get it right. My high school boyfriend even wrote me a poem about it. (I still have it. I could find it if I had an extra 20 hours or so to dig through my boxes before this post goes live. But I'm not jumping into that black hole today.)

I still notice when people email me and misspell it. I'm not saying I keep a list of these offenders, but I do notice.

I love my middle name, and wanted it to be my first name for many, many years. I could never successfully convince anyone else to switch to calling me that, however. I think my one golden opportunity was when I went off to college and met tons of new people, but I missed it. So that's that.

The truth is, I love my name.

Does it bother me that there is potential future confusion with Katherine Owens, a Kentucky mom, who writes. Yes.

Does it bother me that people are much more likely to find her website first? A little.

I've thought of K.A. Owens, but I don't want people to think that I think that I'm some kind of Rowling. I'm probably overthinking that one.

I've thought of the full thing, Katharine Amory Owens, but that seems pretentious.

I've thought of K. Amory Owens but that seems confusing.

I've thought of Amory Owens, but then it doesn't seem like me.

I'm not shy or ashamed of what I do. When I publish, I want credit for it. 
I didn't take my husband's name when we married, because I like my own name. (Though some family members continue to ignore this and send my mail to the non-legal entity that is Katharine Maier, or worse, Mrs. Michael Maier). 

I'll stick with Katharine A. Owens

If it means more years of misspellings, I'll get over it.

Wait, Amory Maier has a nice ring to it...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: Screwing up Time by CM Keller

This is an indie book by Connie Keller, who you might know from the blogosphere (she also has a blog just for this book here).

I bought this book because the premise sounded interesting (time-traveling teens) and because I knew Connie through the web. There's always a bit of hesitation for me about getting a book from someone I "blog know", because reading is subjective, and I worry that they might be upset if I don't like it.

To be honest, there is also some hesitation for me about getting self-pubbed or indie books. I think the fine line between these categories and "published" is being erased even as we speak, but still, I imagine there is a wide range of competence and skill among indie books. Because, while we're being honest, we can all admit there is a WIDE range even among published books, which have been through the so-called "gate-keepers".

I pushed my hesitation aside because I could tell (by her blog) that Connie was intelligent and serious about writing, and wasn't going to just put something random out there.

I'm so glad I did.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Mark Montgomery is a slacker content with his life. He’s a senior at New Haven Prep, has a great friend, and after graduation he’ll get a brand new sports car from his parents, assuming he stays out of trouble. Then, she comes into his life—Miranda with her I-just-escaped-from-a-Renaissance-Fair clothing. Only, she hasn’t. She has come from Bodiam Castle in the Middle Ages and demands a secret ingredient and a book of recipes for traveling through the treacherous colors of time. Although Mark has never even heard of either before, he must find them, or Miranda will die. To save her, Mark must break into a psych hospital to visit his grandfather who once tried to kill him, pass through the colors of time, take on a medieval alchemist, prevent Miranda’s marriage to a two-timing baron, and keep it all hidden from his parents. The sports car is definitely in trouble.

I adored this book. Connie did a great job of setting up the premise, making it believable (and it can't be easy with time travel, psych wards, and alchemy involved), and populating her book with smart, funny characters. The sibling relationship just sang with honesty, and I loved the way she portrayed the castle time period, it was gritty and dank. Not to mention the Grandfather in the Psych Ward-- ooh, he was a delightfully frightening character.

I read a traditionally published book to my son about kids and time travel in the last year, and since we're still being honest here, Connie's book was SO MUCH BETTER. The other book had huge gaps in logic, and was one of those books that strings you along the whole time, gives you no real resolution, and then sets up the next book. I've become really aggravated with these kinds of books lately: the ones that feel like they're forcing you to buy the next book in a series.

Screwing up Time had a complete and very satisfying story arc. Of course not every single loose end was tied up-- I don't believe all books should be stand alone-- but there was the satisfaction of knowing this story was finished, and the journey of these characters at this time was over.

I recommend this book- you can find it on Amazon.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Year in Reading

I had a great reading year. I hoped to break 100 books for the year, but I fell a little short, with only 89. I didn’t realize I was so close (yet so far away) until about mid December, and by then I knew it was unlikely I’d cram 11 books into the last days of the year.

I think in the summer I had so many that I got too sure of myself- I didn't take into account that in the Fall, when I'm teaching, my numbers go waaaaay down. 

Though I didn’t reach my goal I still feel great about having read more books this year than last. You can see the list of 89 below, but I wanted to pull out my favorite reads of the year and highlight them. I settled on the top 15, which are (in no particular order):

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

The Giver by Lois Lowry

No Passengers Beyond this Point by Gennifer Choldenko

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Holes by Louis Sachar

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The Missing Person’s League by Frank Bonham

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

What I read this year:
Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Masterpiece by Elise Broach
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Matched by Ally Condie
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
In the Dead of Night by John Marsden
Satisfaction Guaranteed by Lucy Monroe
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
Happily Never After (Beta) by Holly Dodson
What my Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Wake by Lisa McMann
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
A Killing Frost by John Marsden
Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
The Time Machine by HG Wells
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (non fiction).
Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
A Load of Old Ball Crunchers: Women in History by Jo Brand
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Messenger by Lois Lowry
A Clash of Kings by George R. R.  Martin
No Passengers Beyond this Point by Gennifer Choldenko
Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams
The Half Life of Planets by Brendan Halpin and Emily Franklin
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
On Writing by Stephen King
The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wind at the Door by Madeline L’Engle
Phoenix Rising (Beta) by Alicia Gregoire
No System At All (Beta) by Erinn Manack
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost
The Tale of Desperaux, and
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Shug by Jenny Han
Happily Never After (Beta) by Holly Dodson
Aaron and Ahmed by Jay Cantor and James Romberger
The Exile by Diana Gabaldon
Flutter by Erin Moulton
Holes by Louis Sachar
Making Waves by Tawna Fenske.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Elliott and the Goblin War by Jennifer Neilsen
The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
Erebus (BETA) by Holly Dodson
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
The Missing Person’s League by Frank Bonham
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Ms Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto
Bossypants by Tina Fey.
The 39 Clues #1 by Rick Riordan
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
The Christian Mama's Guide to Having a Baby by Erin MacPherson
Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva
the murder of roger ackroyd, Agatha Christie
the boomerang clue, Agatha Christie
the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle
Screwing up Time by CM Keller
Penny and Hank (BETA) by Erinn Manack

What was YOUR favorite book of the year?????

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012: Finally here! and Debut Author Challenge

I'm excited to be participating in this year's Debut Author Challenge, hosted by the Story Siren. I was inspired by Pam and Quita's participation last year.

Here are the books I've chosen so far. I'll be reading these twelve MG or YA 2012 debuts, plus a few more.

I'll be posting about the books I read as well as keeping track on the tab above (entitled 2012 Debut Author Challenge)

Check the tab to see my list, read my reviews, and check my progress!

Please note: I know there aren't 12 books listed below.
I am still building my list!

I want to add a few via word-of-mouth during the year!

Photo (available under a creative commons license) by Bravo Zulu on Flickr

Debuting in JANUARY
Robin Mellom           Ditched: A Love Story  
Anne Nesbet            The Cabinet of Earths   
Ivy Adams                 The International Kissing Club  

Debuting in MARCH
KM Walton               Cracked

Debuting in APRIL
Sarvenaz Tash         The Mapmaker and the Ghost    

Debuting in MAY
Stephanie Strohm    Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink   (An agency-mate!)
Shelley Coriell           Welcome Caller, this is Chloe  

Debuting in JULY
Susan Dennard        Something Strange and Deadly (WOOOOOT!)

Debuting in the FALL
Meagan Spooner     Skylark (WOOOOT again!)

Debuting in DECEMBER
Kasie West               Pivot Point  

So- are you doing the Debut Author Challenge?

 Is there a book you think I need to add? 

Let me know in the comments!