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laurie

Book Review: Until I Find Julian

The Summary: I received an Advance Review Copy of Until I Find Julian by Patricia Reilly Giff this summer, and it released on September 8, 2015.



Twelve-year-old Mateo lives in Mexico with his mother and grandmother, and his older brother Julian works across the border in the United States to support their family. When a raid on Julian's work site leaves him out of contact and possibly arrested, Mateo journeys across the border himself to find out what really happened.  



The Review:

I enjoyed this contemporary middle grades story on several levels. The vivid descriptions of life in Mexico transported me into Mateo's world. Both his voice and his heart kept me turning the pages; I read the entire book in one day. And yet, the story as a whole left me a bit unsettled.

As an adult who reads mostly YA and MG novels, I rarely find myself reading through the lens of a parent. I've never been troubled by twelve-year-olds slaying monsters or going away to magical boarding schools, maybe because the fantasy element always reminds me that I'm reading a story. But in Until I Find Julian, I couldn't shed my "mother" glasses. Mateo travels alone through Mexico on foot. He pays a coyote to smuggle him across the border, then makes his way to Arkansas relying on the kindness of strangers. With no money, no food, and without speaking English, Mateo manages to find his brother's abandoned home. Until I Find Julian does ultimately end happily, but all along I felt more worried about Mateo than a desire to journey with him.

I plan to have my own eleven-year-old read this book to see how his reaction differs from mine; this may be a time when I'm too far out of the target audience to be objective.

3 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: First by Cold War Kids

Writer Resources

The online writing community can be phenomenal, but it can also be overwhelming. Some great resources have been shared on the Pitch Wars hashtag over the past week to help navigate the rules and language of publishing. Here are my favorites:

What is a WC, you ask? (Hint: It’s not a potty in France.) The publishing biz loves abbreviations. A few years ago Dahlia Adler shared a fantastic glossary to help you wade through the alphabet soup of MSs, LIs, and CPs.
Literary agent Janet Reid hosts this must-read resource for querying writers. Though new-comers should read the entire website, in the post linked above, the shark herself boils down the answer to the essential question: What is a query letter?
Literary agent Jennifer Laughran keeps her former blog open for references like these, and Wordcount Dracula is one of the most popular posts. In it she explains the accepted norms for word counts (WC) in children’s books.
Literary agent John Cusick addresses taking measure of yourself as a writer. He also recently posted here about effective queries.

Pre-order of the Week – My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights

Last year, my friend Angelica R. Jackson wrote great post on what pre-orders mean for authors. (You can read the full post here.) Today I wanted to share some of that information, along an awesome middle grades book available for pre-order now!

 

Ordering ahead rocks for readers. You get the book delivered to your door on or sometimes even before release day, and you don’t have to worry about a brick-and-mortar not having the title you’ve anxiously awaited. Pre-orders can also be a great boost for the author. These numbers can increase the size of the initial print run and/or the promotional budget.

 

For all of those reasons, I was thrilled to pre-order My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin last week! Check out the gorgeous cover and all the info:

 

 

Football hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.



At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?  
Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin. 

 

I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations, Brooks!

 

Music for today: Mercy by Muse

Heart Problems

I had a post on books all ready to go last week. But the far too common tragedies, national and local, washed over my news feeds, and a familiar sadness and frustration came with them. Suddenly my book love felt small and unimportant in the face of more and more brutality.
 
We all like to think these things won’t keep happening, maybe because we all like to think that other people are basically good. But that’s the problem. People aren’t good. I’m not suggesting we don’t have a gun problem, and a racism problem, and a sexism problem. But truly, deep down, we have heart problems.
 
We all feel sadness, anger, hurt, or entitlement. It’s how we react to those feelings that not only define us, but also tear down or build up the people around us. I read the sentiment on social media this week that we need more regulations and enforcement, not more prayers. The comment broke my heart a little more, because it’s not a one or the other proposition for me.
 
I am a Christian, so I see the world in the light of those beliefs. I believe the world is broken. That people are broken. I believe we need God, and that Christians and non-believes alike make messes of our own lives and God’s intentions for us.
 
Even if you don’t believe the Gospel, try to imagine loving someone enough to sacrifice the life of your child to save him. A person who hates and curses you. Who may be a liar, thief, or murderer. Or maybe just someone who tries to be good, but makes mistakes. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it. But God did. And we are commanded to love each other as He did. Sometimes it’s hard to love the people close to me, much less strangers or even people who would do me harm.
 
I think we could see amazing change if only we could genuinely love like that, and see that love multiplied out in the world. And as Christians, that kind of love can impact lives for Jesus. So I pray that I can love more like that, and that others will, too.

 
Next week, I’ll be back to the book scene. But today, I just needed to share a little of the faith that keeps me going, even when things in this world look bleak.

Book Review: How We Fall

Today I’m reviewing How We Fall by Kate Brauning. This book has been on my TBR list since its release, and I was lucky enough to win a copy at the SCBWI mid-year workshops in Orlando this month.



Buy it here

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:
Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus. Their friendship has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie. Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away.
 
The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus. Then Marcus pays the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance becomes horribly clear. Can Jackie leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?
 
The review:
I really enjoyed How We Fall. The relationship between two cousins, Jackie and Marcus, is steamy, intriguing, and uncomfortable in a way that amps up the tension from the opening chapter. The family dynamics, including both sets of parents and many siblings, also give the story depth and authenticity. I was skeptical at first to see how the mystery of Ellie’s disappearance would play out with the complexity of the love story, and while I would’ve liked a bit more of that plot line developed in the first half of the book, Brauning did pull it all together in the end. My favorite secondary character was Will, a fantastic alternative love interest. I would recommend this book to fans of YA contemporary romance and suspense.
5 out of 5 stars.

 

Music for today: 15 Step by Radiohead

Cover Reveal: Library Jumpers

Brenda Drake has done more to support other authors than just about anyone I know on the Internet. Thank you so much, Brenda, for all the time, love, and support for the YA community and beyond. I am so thrilled today to be able to share in the cover reveal for her book Library Jumpers! Isn’t it gorgeous?

Library Jumpers
Release Date: January 2016
Entangled Teen
Summary from Goodreads:
Gia Kearns would rather fight with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum, suddenly disappears. While examining the book of world libraries he abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.

Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting her heart or dodging an exiled wizard seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French flirt obsessed with Arik and a fling with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed.

Pre-Order Links:

 

 

About the Author
 
Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up is of hereccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical.
 

When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

For the Love of Reading

Imagine if I told you, an adult who reads for entertainment, that you’ll now be required to answer a question with a written response every time you put down a book or an article. The articles will have more questions, with both multiple choice and long written responses. They’ll ask you questions like this: 
 
What is the purpose of this sentence? They had a tiny yard. 
Is it A.) To tell you the size of their yard or B.) To explain why they built a tree house (That’s an actual question from my son’s homework last night. The correct answer is B.)

 

And books…well, to make sure you understand what you’ve read, you’ll have to write short responses every time you read, as well as a longer summary and review when you finish the book.

 

I’m a writer, and that doesn’t sound like “reading for pleasure” to me.  The thing is, I’m also a teacher. I know that you need kids to read, and you need them to get better at reading as fast as possible, because your paycheck depends on it. Even the ones who didn’t eat breakfast this morning or any morning. Even the ones who speak English as a second language. Even the ones who hate reading because it’s hard and boring and just doesn’t make sense.

 

No child left behind, right?

 

You need them to read, and you have to hold them accountable, and you have to prove that you tried, even if you can’t show growth.

 

My fifth grade son starts two full weeks of standardized testing Monday. My third grader already completed his. I expected the homework to decrease at this point. Silly, I know. Instead, my older son’s online lessons increased from two to five. That means five online lessons in addition to his hour+ of old fashioned paper and pencil homework.

 

But the real kicker is for my third grader. The one who already finished his tests. Instead of nine online lessons per week, in addition to regular homework, he now has sixteen. Sixteen online lessons per week. Plus homework. Plus projects. Plus “pleasure” reading and responses every night. Except, when is he supposed to do this reading for fun?

 

I know, I know. I could homeschool them. I could pull them from their accelerated/advanced magnet school. But it’s not just their school. This pervasive sickness is invading education culture in our country. I’m not venting to complain, but to lament.

 

They’re killing the love of reading.

 

If you want kids with higher lexile levels, make them fall in love. Hook them with whatever hooks them so they can’t put the words down. Make them hunger for it. Comic book superheroes, wimpy kids, princesses, elephants, or wizards away at boarding school. Feed whatever stokes that fire. Read aloud and silently, outside or on bean bags or stretched out on the floor. Open up their imaginations and pour stuff in until something sticks. Celebrate the day they’re late to class because they couldn’t stop reading. Let them draw their book reports, or just stand up and talk about what was awesome or what was cheesy, or write their own fan fiction with a new ending.
Because once they fall in love, they won’t be able to stop. They’ll read that longer, more complicated book because everyone’s talking about it at lunch, and it has a zombie and an evil alien warlord. Or they’ll learn what the word obsequiously means because that’s how that freshman acted around the student body president in that one contemporary romance.  

 

See, my son should be able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with joy and anticipation and maybe even a little disappointment that the beginning is so long. He shouldn’t have to worry that if he doesn’t read the right number of pages each night, he won’t make his goal of 1,050 pages for the quarter, or that he might have to stop and read some easier, short books in between to complete the right number of reports.

 

There are some things you just can’t measure on standardized tests or additions to the portfolio. Every kid is different. If you teach a kid to love reading, maybe you won’t see the results right now. But you will change the world. You’ll change his or her world. And isn’t that what really matters? 
 
Music for today: Everything Is Wrong by Interpol. 

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

I’ve read plenty of books since my last book review. But none of them struck me with enough force to put fingers to keyboard to sing praises. I haven’t really fallen in love with a book for a while. I want to thank Jacqueline Woodson for reminding me what that feels like.

In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson gives an autobiography of her childhood in captivating verse. She explores issues of geographical identity, race, religion, and personal dreams in a way that keeps the pages turning and leaves the reader hungry for more.

You may notice the seals on the picture above; Brown Girl Dreaming has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Medal, an NAACP Image Award, and the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. I’m sure even more will follow. When reading this book, you know in just a few pages that you’ve discovered a modern day classic, timeless and stunning, that children and adults alike will be reading for generations to come.

If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and go read this book!

5 out of 5 stars.

Writer Recharge (The End)

Thank you so much to Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij for helping me set some goals this February! Writer Recharge was a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter to set goals, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to see how everyone did!





WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



So, this one isn’t exactly a win, but it’s not a total fail either. I did revise the first 10 chapters and managed to cut two full scenes and over 4,000 words. I also saw another plot thread that may end up getting the ax, so that part worked out fine. On the new stuff side I’ve only written a measly 3,000 words. It’s so hard to get all those old scenes out of my mind and start fresh! But I feel like now that I’ve gotten one chapter down, the flow will start to pick up. 

READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



I did finish All the Bright Places, and I’ve got Brown Girl Dreaming bought and ready to read next.

STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



This one is a fail. In my defense, I had my in-laws at my house visiting for a full week, so that cut down on much interaction with strangers. But I have a doctor’s appointment today, so I’ll try to sneak it in this afternoon! 

SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



Well, we’ve managed not to buy any more sugary things, and I guess it’s actually a good thing that we haven’t eaten all the Girl Scout Cookies yet….

CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



I did finish all my crit group comments in time, and I had some great feedback from my group on my own chapter as well. It’s amazing how you can see your work differently when someone else reads it aloud. Like, man, this scene is going on forever! And I am planning to share the opening of my work-in-progress for my other online group, so that’s a big step!

FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Oh, another fail. Maybe soon! 

Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to see how you did!

Writer Recharge 2015

Okay, so I’m super late to the party. But Writer Recharge is just what I need to kick myself into gear. Maybe just getting some goals down and out in public will help me to power through! Hosted by Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij, Writer Recharge is a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter. Set goals for yourself, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to join in!



WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to catch up with all of you!