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It’s been forever since I checked in with YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. This week the topic is simple and perfect for what’s been on my mind:

What are you reading right now?

I’m still reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At about halfway through, that’s slow reading for me.

I’ve been itching to talk about it, though, because I think Ms. Tartt has a secret. On top of being a best-selling, Pulitzer-winning literary powerhouse, she may secretly be a YA writer in disguise. Let’s start with the premise of The Goldfinch, according to Goodreads:

Buy it here

Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

I realize that in the course of the narrative, Theo will grow up, and I’ll learn how the trials of his youth shaped him and the circumstances he faces as an adult. But for the first half of this book, Tartt creates a raw, honest picture of a teenager’s life in America. Theo deals with tragedy and loss, guilt and confusion. My heart aches for him and for my real-life sons, who are edging too close for comfort to his age.

The “youth” portion of this novel may not form a complete story on it’s own, but even with plot elements aside, it would hold up as a coming of age tale. My question is, then, which defines a book as YA more, the age and circumstances of the main character, or the intention of the author to write for young people? If the answer is the former, then Ms. Tartt is definitely a YA writer in addition to her other talents.

Happy reading and happy Wednesday, everyone!

Music for today: Bad Blood by Bastille

Happy Halloween! I hope you are all safe and dry out there. The nature of the blog-o-sphere means we don’t always know where our fellow readers and writers live, but I’m praying for everyone in the Northeast as they come through this nasty witch Sandy.

In honor of Halloween today, YA Highway’s RTW asks: What is your favorite scary book or movie?

I’m not a big scary movie fan, but I do enjoy a scary read. Up until last  year, I would have listed something from Stephen King as my favorite scary book. I always turn to the master when I’m looking for some bone-chilling. But last October Neil Gaiman pushed his way to the top with The Graveyard Book.

The picture is from Amazon, and if you’re looking for some scary pages to read for Halloween, I beg you to click on the link and read the first chapter that Amazon has available. Not convinced yet? Here’s the opening line:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Chills! The Graveyard Book is classified as middle grades, but I would say it’s for anyone over the age of 8. Gaiman is a genius with both character and suspense. How about you? What is your favorite scary book?

Music for today: Internet Killed the Video Star by The Limousines (If you dig zombies, check out the video. 🙂

RTW: Best Book of September

Today YA Highway asks, “What was the best book you read in September?”

This gives me the perfect opportunity to review The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, which I read through a SBB ARC tour. The Assassin’s Curse debuts October 2, 2012.

The summary:
When teenage pirate Ananna refuses an arranged marriage, the intended groom’s family orders her assassination. Instead of killing the hired assassin Naji when she has the chance, Ananna saves his life, activating a curse that binds them together. Forced into partnership, Ananna and Naji must work together to break the impossible curse and evade enemies coming at them from all sides.
The review:
I really loved The Assassin’s Curse, enough to make it my best book of September. (And I read some great books this month — Throne of Glass, Starters, A Need So Beautiful, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, and Cinder.)
From the opening chapter Clarke displays a powerful voice, complete with slang and dialect that teeters on the line of “over-the-top” without ever crossing it. The intrigue of magical pirates and assassins hooked me, but the characters really captured my heart. Cursing, thieving, and headstrong, Ananna felt more real because of her faults. And Naji was perfect as the brooding, dangerous leading man with a mysterious past. If you like a slow-building romance with plenty of action, The Assassin’s Curse is the book for you.
5 out of 5 stars
Sometimes before I write a review, I visit Goodreads to help with the summary or to see what other readers have to say. The Assassin’s Curse has many great reviews there, with an average over 4 stars, but I came across one that was truly awful. The reviewer trashed the book, and while I know readers can have vastly different reactions to a book, this one really bothered me. The reviewer felt that the romantic element was completely thrown in at the end, and I couldn’t disagree more. Clarke does an excellent job of “showing” Ananna’s feelings for Naji without “telling.” As a writer, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reviewer missed the subtlety, or if she just didn’t connect with the characters like I did. Is it just me? Does it bother you when you read a terrible review of a book that you loved?
Music for today: Help I’m Alive by Metric 

 For Road Trip Wednesday, in honor of this month’s Bookmobile book, Marissa Meyer’s CINDER, name a fable or story you’d like to see a retelling of. If you’re feeling creative, come up with a premise of your own!

Better late than never! I had this post almost ready to go last night, then ended up spending most of the day waiting for my car to be serviced.

I haven’t read Cinder yet, but I’ve heard only wonderful things about it, and it is on my TBR list. Cinderella was my favorite childhood story. I collected different versions, which frustrated my mother to no end. Pretty in Pink is still my second all-time favorite movie. (Fight Club is the first.)

Fairy tale retellings are huge right now, and I’ve seen so many that I’d love to read lately in query contests. But which story would  I love to see retold, again? Cinderella. But this version would be called Sweep.

No one remembers Sweep’s real name, the one he had before his mother died. Raised by his step-father and step-brothers, who use him for free labor in their janitorial business, Sweep can’t wait until he has enough money saved to run away and make a new life for himself. When a client begs him to go to charity ball in his place, and offers to pay him a month’s salary to do it, Sweep thinks he’s finally found a way to escape. At the party Sweep is mesmerized by a millionaire society girl who wouldn’t have given him a second glance any other day. Just when Sweep thinks everything is going his way, he’s mistaken for his client and kidnapped at midnight. If he can survive his captors long enough for his princess to find him, with only his glove as a clue, Sweep just might get the happy ending he was hoping for.

That’s just a little off-the-cuff idea, but you get what I’m going for: A boy who is rescued by a girl in shining Armani.

Which fairy tale would you love to see re-imagined?

Music for today: Love Song by Adele

It’s time for Road Trip Wednesday! Boy, have I missed you guys! I hope now that summer is over I’ll keep a better blogging schedule. Today’s question is:

What word processing program do you use to write your manuscript, and can you share one handy trick you’ve learned in that program that has helped you while you write?

Today I’m mostly looking forward to read everyone else’s tricks, and to see if some of you can sway me over to Scrivener once and for all. I write in Microsoft Word. It’s not very manuscript friendly, but it’s what I have, and what I’m used to. I doubt it counts as a trick, but my favorite function is the search. When I realize I’m using unnecessary words too much, I can search and cut them all out pretty quickly. My main offenders are “so” and “just.” I also search when my characters go overboard with their habits. Um, roll your eyes much, MC?

On a side note, I met many of my writer-blogger family members here on YA Highway, and I finally crossed the 100-follower mark last week. I’m having a giveaway to celebrate, and to say thank you to all of you! If you’d like a chance at a $25 Amazon gift card, a signed copy of Starters by Lissa Price, or a copy of Finn Flanagan and the Fledglings by Kip Taylor, please scroll down to Monday’s post or click here to enter!

Music for today: Madness by Muse

It’s Road Trip Wednesday again, and YA Highway asked, “What was the best book you read in June?”

June has been so busy that I’ve fallen behind on my reading and blogging. But the best book I read this month was so good that I had to jump in and rave about it. My best book in June was Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

Adapted from Goodreads:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters. When Alina Starkov’s regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

I picked up Shadow and Bone not because of the blurb, but because of the online buzz. Several agents, authors, and bloggers I respect had mentioned how amazing it was, and they were all right.

Shadow and Bone has everything I look for in a book. The writing flows effortlessly. The world is unique and captivating. The pace and plot are well balanced, even though the story takes place over many months. I also loved that it felt complete as a novel by itself, even though it’s the first in a series. But the characters are what make Shadow and Bone great.

I connected with Alina immediately, and I felt her struggles and insecurities. I might normally say that I’m tired of love triangles, but this one kept me emotionally invested all the way through, with the perfect payoff in the end.

I highly recommend Shadow and Bone, and I know I’m not alone.

Music for today:  The Pit by Silversun Pickups

YA Highway RTW: The Best Book in May

May is always a huge month for new releases, and this year all the titles I’d been waiting for lived up to the hype. I read the 5 YA titles above and a few adult books as well. You can check out my reviews of Bitterblue, Insurgent, and Reunited for more info. I’d have to pick Insurgent as the best book of the month, which is really saying something for the middle child of a trilogy. City of Lost Souls was every bit as steamy as I’d expected, though I’ll be glad to get a more finite conclusion in book 6. And The Serpent’s Shadow was an excellent end to the series. I highly recommend The Kane Chronicles if you’re looking for a good MG adventure.

In other news, I’m tacking on a belated response to last week’s RTW. Thanks to skymiles and a very supportive husband, I am going to SCBWI in LA! I am equal parts excited and nervous, and I’d love some suggestions on how to make the most of it. I’ve been to smaller state conferences over the past few years, but nothing like SCBWI. Are any of you blogger-type-people going? I’d love to chat about plans for the conference, and it would be awesome to meet you in person!

Music for today: Not a song, but a very cool trailer for Muse’s upcoming album.  

This week’s Road Trip Wednesday question is:

What book brings back memories?

Books and memories go hand-in-hand for me, but I’ll never forget when I discovered Anita Shreve. I had run out of books at home and didn’t have time to go to the book store, so I picked up the first cover that grabbed me in the grocery store: The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve. She was well-known for The Pilot’s Wife, thanks to Oprah’s Book Club, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I remember that trip to the grocery store so clearly now, because it just always felt like a twist of fate. (I’d never before and haven’t since bought a book at a Kroger.) I was absolutely floored by The Last Time They Met. The beautiful prose. The unique story structure, unlike anything I’d ever read. And of course, the characters and their heart-breaking love story.

Of course I went out immediately and bought all of her other novels, and I’ve read all of the new releases since then. I have loved most of them, and even the ones I didn’t love are still excellent books. But here’s the kicker: The Pilot’s Wife was my least favorite. If I had picked up that one first, the highly-promoted one with the big “O” sticker, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Shreve’s writing, and I may have missed out on all those other amazing stories.

Shreve writes adult fiction, but the common theme that attracts me to her work is the same thing that attracts me to YA. Many of her characters have that knock-you-in-the-gut, life-changing love as teenagers, and they struggle for the rest of their lives to move past it.

In all of the recent discussion of New Adult, I’ve actually thought of Anita Shreve. Her book Testimony is certainly adult in nature, but it is about a scandal at a high school, and in addition to a teacher and one of the parents, most of the main characters are teenagers. If  her books are an indicator, and with the lines constantly blurring, a book that the writer considers NA is probably more marketable as general adult fiction.

How about you? What books get you thinking about times gone by?

** As a post script today, Angelica Jackson is holding a writing community auction to raise funds for the animal rescue Fat Kitty City. She has tons of amazing items up for auction. Please stop by Pens for Paws to check it out!

Music for today: Helicopter by Bloc Party

For this Road Trip Wednesday, the Highwayers asked:

What’s your favorite use for a book besides reading it?

We have so many books in our house that they inevitably end up as decorations. We have some scattered around, but most reside in my husband’s office. (We generally keep his books on the most visible shelves, since so many of mine are YA.)

I’ve also pressed a few flowers with books in my day. But as a child, my brother and I loved to do this:

I’m sure a more artistic person could do a much better job, but this is actually what most of our little scenes looked like back then.

How about you? Do you do anything with books besides reading them?

For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday, the topic is:
Oh, it’s so funny to think back to that time. My school had plenty of semi-formal dances for underclassmen. I’d gone to most of those, sometimes with a boy I was dating and sometimes with friends. During my junior year, I hadn’t really thought much about prom, until spring break.
When you grow up in Florida, the spring break tradition begins early. I had been spending spring break in Panama City since middle school (with parental supervision, of course). The only difference about junior year was that my friends and I could all DRIVE. This meant hours of cruising up and down the strip. On our last night there, we met up with some friends from a neighboring city. I’d known most of these guys for a year or so, except one. I distinctly remember asking one of my best friends, “Who is That?” She answered, “Oh, you know him. Everybody knows Charles.”
But I’d never met him before. We hit it off immediately, and we talked for the rest of the night as the cruising continued. When it was time to leave, he promised he’d get my phone number from a friend and call me. After a few weeks back home, and a tiny bit of drama, he finally did.
On the night of our first date, I asked him to go to prom with me. (Trust me, for quiet, shy seventeen-year-old Laurie, this was a huge step out there.) He said yes. Then he asked me to go to prom with him. (We lived about 30 minutes away from each other, so we didn’t go to the same school.)
Remember in Pretty in Pink, when Blaine says he asked someone else to prom, but forgot when he asked Andi? Well, that happened with my date. He already had a date to his prom when I asked him, and I felt awful later that he broke it off to go with me. We went to his prom with a group of his friends, and we ate at a lovely French restaurant, where I had a salad because I was a vegetarian. We went to mine with a group of my friends, and we ate at the Olive Garden. It was nice to get dressed up, and we had fun, but I don’t really remember staying at prom for very long.

Of course I’m glad that we went. We went to my senior prom, too, after he graduated, which was a much smaller affair. But our first prom together is a really nice memory, because my date ended up becoming my husband. This year will be our 14th wedding anniversary.

Music for today: If You Leave, by OMD (In case you couldn’t tell by my pink prom dress, I had a serious thing for Pretty in Pink back in the day.)