Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Far From You by Tess Sharpe

I was so psyched to dive into Tess Sharpe’s Far From YouAt the Fourteenery retreat, I heard Tess read a little aloud and her writing blew me away. Add that to the fact that she’s weaved a compelling mystery and touching relationships, and Far From You is a must-read. A little more in depth as to why this should be on your pre-order list:

1. Mystery
I have major respect for anyone that can pull of a good mystery. Tess definitely delivers in that department–I spent a lot of the book thinking “Oh, I bet it’s this person…but what about this person?” (This was especially exciting after reading Gone Girl and figuring out the ‘twist’ on the first page.) When the reveal came at the end, it felt earned based on the clues Tess places throughout, but still dramatic and compelling.

2. Then and Now
Chapters alternate between Sophie’s life before Mina’s death and rehab and after returning home again. Not only does this enhance the mystery part of the novel, but it also lets us gradually see how Sophie’s relationships with Mina and Trev develop and how Sophie’s addiction to pain medication begins. Plus it totally kept me flipping pages–I’d finish a chapter and think “But what happens next?!”

3. Small Town Life
Tess totally creates the sense of small town life, and it never feels cliche or cloying. There’s major pressure on Sophie, since everyone knows about her addiction problems and since many people believe she’s to blame for Mina’s death. She can’t escape her baggage. But the small town atmosphere also means Sophie knows the people around her, and makes the murder feel that much more personal and intense.

4. Addiction
After a bad car accident, Sophie becomes addicted to pain medication. I can’t think of another YA novel that deals with this kind of addition, and it feels so genuine. I also love Sophie’s determination to stay off pills once she gets clean, even while dealing with the major emotional pain that comes along with trying to solve Mina’s murder.

5. The Ones You Love
Tess develops Sophie and Mina’s relationship in a touching, sad, beautiful way. They’re deeply devoted to each other and capable of causing each other great love and pain, which makes both their friendship and their relationship so genuine and heartbreaking. Similarly, Sophie’s friendship/relationship with Trev feels genuine and heartbreaking in its own way. In the hands of a lesser writer, these relationships could have come across as false or contrived, but Tess makes each one lovely and sad and true.

6. Family
Representations of family life in novels are a bit of a pet peeve of mine (in case you couldn’t tell) so I was really pleased to see that the Winters family is just as layered as any of the other characters in Sophie’s life. Her parents love her but are concerned about her and don’t really trust her–aka, they feel like real parents who have seen their daughter go through tough times. Also, Aunt Macy is pretty much the best and I want a spin-off about her.

7. Sophie
Sophie Winters of my new favorite protagonists. She’s dealing with the murder of her best friend, getting framed for said murder, getting clean, etc. and still manages to be super badass. While I was reading, I got a great Veronica Mars-ish vibe from FAR FROM YOU, but Sophie might actually be more kickass than Veronica. Guys, that is major praise from me.

8. Rachel
Obviously Mina is a huge presence in the book, but one character that stood out for me was Sophie’s friend Rachel. In a book that has a lot of (earned) intense emotional relationships, Rachel serves as a breath of fresh air. She’s smart and thoughtful and I always enjoyed her scenes.

9. The Last Line
Kill me with the feels, why don’t you Tess?

10. Tess Is Made of Awesome
Tess is the kind of person I’d meet and think “Oh, man, look at how awesome she looks. She’s going to be way too cool for me. No way could we be friends.” But then of course she’s open and wonderful and passionate and of course you’re friends. She cares deeply about others and wants to make the world a better place, and also runs around with her beautiful dogs and chops vegetables as stress relief. This is a writer you want in your life.

Far From You is out in less than a month, so put it on your to-read/pre-order list now!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

When E.K. Johnston, aka Kate, read a little of The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim aloud at the Fourteenery retreat, I couldn’t stop giggling and knew this was just the kind of book I needed in my life. Fortunately, reading the whole book gave me pretty much that same feeling, plus a lot more. Here are a few of my reasons why you should read The Story of Owen.

1. Here There Be Dragons
Seriously, you tell me you don’t want to read a book about dragons and I don’t trust your judgment in general. The dragons in The Story of Owen are intense and dangerous and therefore awesome. While a lot of series feature paranormal characters that have lost a major sense of threat, I love that Owen keeps them as majorly life-threatening giant beasts.

2. Revised History
Owen and Siobhan’s world is pretty similar to our own–cars, high school, hockey–but living among dragons means that the world has been a little different. The passages about world history (plus dragons) made me laugh and smile, and I love that Kate has thought about her characters’ world so thoroughly.

3. Musical Theory
As someone who’s totally not musical, I love getting to see characters who have that talent, and being inside musical Siobhan’s head was a real treat. Not only does she play multiple instruments, compose music, and enjoy pieces, but she also thinks of the world in terms of music. Getting to hear someone described as a “a tuba to the core” felt so right.

4. Humor
As I mentioned above, it’s hard to read The Story of Owen without laughing out loud. It reminded me of reading The Enchanted Forest Chronicles back in the day (the first book series I remember really making me laugh). Kate’s humor is delightfully wry and her characters make wonderful quips with still feeling grounded.

5. Friendship
I’ve heard a lot of people mention how they’d like a YA novel that focuses less on romance and more on friendship, and now I know I can hand them The Story of Owen. Siobhan and Owen’s friendship reminds me so much of my friendship with guys in high school, and characters like Emily and Sadie feel so genuine as well. This is a group I want to spend time with, and a group that reminds me of my own friends. (You know, if we fought dragons.)

6. Family
Similarly, The Story of Owen does a wonderful job depicting the intricacies and love of family. From Owen’s Aunts Lottie and Hannah to Siobhan’s parents to Owen’s mother and father, the adults populating the world feel real and thoughtful and loving, even if they don’t always make the best decisions. (Also, I really want a piece of Hannah’s smithy pizza.)

7. Last Battle
Oh my gosh, Siobhan in the last battle. In a book that has a lot to do with bravery, this scene killed me. I’m not going to leave anymore details here, but it’s so well written and captivating. The feels!

8. Oh, Canada
Growing up, my experiences with Canadians in children’s lit were pretty limited to the Anne of Green Gables series and Susan Cooper’s The Boggart. I’m glad to add The Story of Owen to the list. Canada’s a beautiful country and I loved getting to see a little more of it in book form (okay, Canada plus dragons).

9. Good Common Sense
One of my personal reading favorites is a set of characters with good common sense. The cast of The Story of Owen so delivers there. And now I kind of feel like it would be a good idea to keep a sword in the trunk of my car in case of dragon attacks.

10. Kate the Great
Kate’s the kind of person who can write a whole novel in her sleep (literally). Who will find out you’re terrified of giant spiders and tell you exactly when you should look away during The Desolation of Smaug and when it’s safe to look back. Who’s a dedicated bookseller/sharer of stories. Who’s a writer you’ll be hearing about long into the future.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

As a fellow contemporary YA writer, I was so excited to read Julie Murphy‘s Side Effects May Vary. Guys, the buzz around this book is so warranted. A few years ago, contemporary was hard sell, and I think Side Effects May Vary is a novel that will continue to prove that contemporary YA is one of the most engaging and powerful genres out there. But if you need more specifics, here are my ten reasons why you should read Side Effects May Vary.

1. Alice
Alice is a wonderfully complex protagonist. She’s the kind of girl you want in your corner–bold, smart, dynamic–but she also makes some serious mistakes. I love that Alice is as fierce as she is vulnerable.

2. Harvey
Can I just give Harvey a big hug? He’s a heartbreaking character–loyal, loving, and totally defenseless against Alice and her issues. Julie’s crafted a character who is pretty swoonworthy (because come on, we all want a little swooniness) and yet so real. Also, I loved seeing Harvey struggle with his own issues–he’s not defined by his relationship to Alice.

3. The List
As someone who has a grudge list, I love the concept of Alice using the last months of her life to get back at her enemies. And while the revenge is satisfying, it doesn’t get Alice everything she wants. But Julie also lets Alice use the list for good and joyful things. As a result, all the list-based activities feel epic and also personal.

4. Now and Then
One aspect of Side Effects May Vary that set it apart from other YA novels about death/illness is that Alice has to deal with surviving. I loved how Julie used the past/present structure to not only look at how these characters engage with each other, but also to reflect on what it means to live and love and fear loss and really put yourself out there.

5. Family Affair
I like seeing characters’ worlds completely fleshed out, including family life. Julie’s accomplished that here, making both Alice’s parents and Harvey’s mom feel like real people who take an active interest in their children’s lives. Also, bonus points for a secret Alice finds out early about her mom; Julie handles the issue with just as much care as she does any of Alice or Harvey’s secrets.

6. You’ve Got to Have Friends
Similarly, I love the social dynamics at work in Side Effects May Vary. Minor characters Debora and Dennis feel fleshed-out. (I was especially into Debora’s character development; I didn’t expect her to become such a presence.) Even Alice’s major enemy Celeste and her cohort Mindi feel like real people, not stock villains.

7. Cancer
One of my book/movie pet peeves is that people who are supposed to be deathly ill never actually look/act sick. (I’m looking at you, Satine.) But in the Then sections, Alice’s illness increasingly affects her physically and makes things like vengeance more difficult. It’s not a romanticized version of cancer; the reader can’t forget that being that sick is truly heinous.

8. Dancing Queen
I never got to take dance classes as a kid (I know, tiny violin) so I’ve always been interested in dancer stories. I love that Alice, who’s so fierce, is a ballerina. Even for someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to get caught up in precise, elegant movements and music, the dance scenes come alive.

9. Kickass Writing
Julie’s writing is stellar. The prose is so clean and clear, and then she has these lines that just killed me with feels. (One description in particular of a kiss is the best ever. No, not going to post it here because it works too well in the moment for me to spoil it.)

10. Julie Murphy, Your New Best Friend
Julie Murphy is one of the coolest people around. She’s fierce and funny and makes you feel like you’re immediately best friends. (On one Fourteenery email thread, I had to leave my desk because Julie made me laugh too hard.) When she’s not writing, she works at an academic library; that’s right, writer/librarian combo of awesome. She also knows the best places to buy cute dresses.

Side Effects May Vary is coming out on March 18th, which means you can preorder now. Trust me, guys, you’re going to want this in your hands immediately. All the feels!

ARCs, Spanish Moss, and Read Aloud Circles: What I Learned from the Fourteenery Retreat

13/14ths of the Fourteenery

13/14ths of the Fourteenery

Thirteen* writers. One house. Five days. Infinite awesomeness.

The first ever Fourteenery retreat was a huge success. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. We’d all been emailing for the last year and everyone seemed so cool–how could this hold up in real life? Fortunately, the minute I saw everyone at the airport, it was like the internet come to life in the best way possible. (Major thanks to Natalie for all her organizing!)

So in case you weren’t following us on Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr over the last few days, here are fourteen things I learned from the Fourteenery retreat:

14. The Fourteenery can cook
Homemade cinnamon buns, peach-raspberry crumble, and guacamole? Let’s say we didn’t exactly go hungry on this retreat. I’m glad to know that the Fourteenery can eventually open up its own cafe. My contributions were panzanella and chicken shawarma.

Spanish moss, guys,

Spanish moss, guys,

13. Savannah is really pretty
I’d never been to Savannah before and I was struck by how gorgeous it was–lots of beautiful homes and parks, all surrounded by trees draped in Spanish moss.

12. I’m kind of obsessed with my Fourteenery t-shirt
Can I wear this everyday until the next retreat?

11. If you think you’re the only one, you’re probably not
As a group, we’ve been through a lot, both personally and professionally. I really appreciated everyone’s openness and kindness about all sorts of issues, and I think this feeling will translate into everyone’s books and help connect with readers. (This also makes a game of Never Have I Ever particularly fun.)

10. Never trust the wi-fi
We had wi-fi for about twelve hours before it just gave up completely. Maybe it was the house’s way of encouraging me to get work done and not just blog about all the work I was totally going to get done. Thanks to the Sentient Bean for their iced tea and internet access!

9. Cooking shows provide hours of entertainment (and judgment)
Carrots do not count as French fries, guys.

8. Everyone has different ideas about success and career paths and what it means to be a writer
Every night we talked about some aspect of what we wanted from our writing and our careers, and even though there was a lot of crossover between what people said, no two people had the exact same answer. I’m excited to see everyone’s careers develop in various ways and I know we’ll all support each other in that journey, no matter what challenges come along.

7. Seeing ARCs is mega exciting
We got to see and hold copies of Sekret, How to Love, Side Effects May Vary, and Fault Line. It’s so exciting that these books are all bound and ready to connect with their readers.

Coffee and water, my morning writing time fuel

Coffee and water, my morning writing time fuel

6. You’re more likely to be productive when you’re around productive writers
I got so much work done, and I think part of that was because everyone was writing and going over edits. On my own, I’d be way more inclined to get to a tough section and go do laundry/take a nap/dance around the room for a while.

5. When in doubt, refer to Christa’s rules
Christa knows best.

4. I need to get a porch
Morning writing time on the back porch? Hand me my laptop and a cup of coffee, please. (Just watch out for the mosquitoes.)

3. The Banana Candle exists
DO NOT WANT. Thank you, Jenny, for bringing this hilarity/horror into our lives.

2. The Fourteenery bookshelf is going to be so freaking amazing
We read aloud from our respective projects and, holy cow guys, I was blown away. Everyone’s writing is stellar and all the stories were so engaging. We cover a wide variety of topics too–from desegregation in Virginia to creepy Southern gothic swamp tales to assassins and thieves to dragon slaying, there’s a lot of goodness coming.

Throwin' Ovs

Throwin’ Ovs

1. I love the Fourteenery
Okay, technically I already knew this, but the retreat underscored what an awesome group this is. Everyone is so generous and thoughtful and encouraging. These women inspire me as a writer and as a person, and I’m beyond honored to be part of this group. I can’t wait for you guys to get to know all of them, too, as our books are published over the next year or two.

Make sure to check out all the Fourteenery authors and get to love them, too.

*We were missing one particularly awesome member, Corinne Duyvis, who lives in Europe. Next Fourteenery retreat in Amsterdam?

(Thanks to Julie for 3/4 of the above images!)

Getting Psyched for the Fourteenery Retreat

This weekend marks the first-ever Fourteenery retreat, in which thirteen of our fourteen debut 2014 authors descend on Savannah, GA for a few days of writing, bonding, cooking, nail polish, wine, and lots of Southern gothic fun. Which of course means I need to share my feelings and expectations of the experience in gif form:

What I wish packing were like:

What packing is actually like:

Getting off the plane and meeting everyone for the shuttle to the retreat house:

When I see everyone for the first time:

When someone says something hilarious (aka every five seconds):

Sharing industry gossip:

Writing time:

Stressing over book stuff:

Any “bad decisions” made:

When I realize that we have to go home eventually:

When I remember that we get to plan more awesome stuff for 2014:

Make sure to follow along on Twitter (#svrt) and Tumblr for all the real-time retreat fun.

The #14me Contest is Open! What Would You Tell Your Fourteen-Year-Old Self?

Me at fourteen:

  • Clunky shoes, carpenter jeans, wacky t-shirts, a different nail polish color on every finger
  • Fangirl for The Outsiders and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • New school–losing old friends, finding new ones
  • Writing a couple of really bad novels That Will Never See the Light of Day
  • Collages and quotes all over my walls
  • Not sure about this whole high school thing. Or growing up.

Sometimes I wish I could sit down with my fourteen-year-old self and let her know that it’s all going to work out (for the most part). To keep reading, to keep writing, to keep finding kindred spirits. That it’s okay she doesn’t really care about going to the cool parties. That she can maybe speak up more in class (in general) and not be afraid of her own voice. That she’s got some great stuff coming in a few years, so power through the stress and insecurity.

Wish you could talk to yourself at fourteen? The Fourteenery (a fabulous group of 2014 debut YA authors) is hosting a contest in which you’re invited to share a little advice to your four-year-old self. Share your funny/sweet/thoughtful/dramatic advice by reblogging on our Tumblr or tweeting with the #14me hastag. And you can win some seriously awesome (signed!!!) books.

Check out all the details on the Fourteenery and get brainstorming. The contest runs through midnight on Sunday, April 14. Spike’s excited:

So get reblogging/tweeting!