What’s new this month

Still in a slow season for releases (at least for me!) but here are a couple that might pique your interest!

261144638/9 – Nevernight – by Jay Kristoff

“In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.” Sign me up! Interesting world-building, assassin school, plots and intrigue and killer prowess – I can’t wait to dive in and see what Mia is like. This cover has been popping up for months and every time I want it on my shelf! YA has been filling up with assassins recently but this sounds more adult and this trilogy could be epic. Some adventure for the last days of summer!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

255586088/30 – A Torch Against the Night – by Sabaa Tahir

The sequel to the best-selling An Ember in the Ashes follows Laia and Elias as they fight to save her brother. I confess I haven’t yet read the first book but I have heard nothing but good things about this series! Political intrigue isn’t always my cup of tea but I think anyone who enjoyed Rutkoski’s Winner’s series would love this. Sure to be an epic end to your summer!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


Middle-grade vs YA: what’s the difference?

LEVIOSA finalThis was the panel I enjoyed the most at Leviosa Con a couple of weeks ago, mainly because the recurring comment from my critique partners causing me to rethink my story was this: the voice sounds very middle-grade, especially at first – is this story YA?

When I asked them what about the voice sounds middle-grade, I kept getting back these answers: it’s lighter, it’s funny, it’s more humorous, it’s not as dark, not enough angst, there’s not really any romance…

This really piqued my interest! These questions kept buzzing in my head: Why can’t genre YA be lighter or funnier? Why does it require romance? Why is contemporary YA allowed to be fluffy? Why aren’t there more YA fantasy books like mine these days?

I’m from the Diana Wynne Jones / Tamora Pierce generation of readers. Those books are light for the most part, and Jones especially can be very funny. The language is simple. Romance isn’t always present, especially in Jones’ books. But they were shelved as young adult / teen in my library (probably because sex is mentioned sometimes, and Pierce in particular acknowledged that girls have periods, which was apparently supposed to be a secret). The characters were typically 15-18 or even older (Wizard Howl is 27 – 10,000 days people, it’s a lot), there were definitely scenes with dark magic and nefarious villains, questions of identity, and some violence. It’s very different from the YA coming out today.

Howl’s Moving Castle was one of my comp titles (a bit of a risk since it’s older than me, but I felt it was accurate), and it sparked a fascinating debate among my CP’s about how we define these categories for books. MG and YA are intended audiences, not a genre in and of themselves, and when I began researching online I found opinions vary widely on what defines them.

There were a few guidelines I found that generally apply:

  • Age of the protagonist (15 and up for YA, 13 and under for MG – yes, 14 is not a thing, keep reading for the reason why)
  • Length of the manuscript (word count)
  • Subject matter (amount and detail regarding sex, violence, language and other traditionally mature themes, similar to MPAA rating guidelines)

Tone and conflict were the divisive factors. There are exceptions to every rule (including the guidelines above) but these were difficult for people to define. Some said that external conflict is MG and internal conflict (especially regarding identity) was YA. Others said the opposite! Some said humor was reserved for MG and YA contemporary stories, but that genre fiction wasn’t light. And so on, down a rabbit hole that never ends.

At the Leviosa panel the opinions there were (again) different but interesting, so I thought I would make a post from the notes I took there. The women on the panel were able to provide a variety of points based on their different degrees of involvement with MG books.

Who are they?

  • Kamilla Benko – editor at Paper Lantern Lit, author of The Unicorn Hunt (2017)
  • Jordan Hamessley – senior editor of the children’s division of Insight Editions in the Bay Area
  • Michelle Schusterman – MG author of the Kat Sinclair and I Heart Band series

Here’s how they answered the question of what makes MG different from YA:

MG is about friendship and family, while YA adds peril, and it features more taboo subjects and questions of identity (ex: sexual orientation). YA tends to have more romantic relationships. For example, in MG stories characters feeling attraction may hold hands, and in upper MG they may kiss once, but anything beyond that is reserved for YA.

MG allows a protagonist to figure out who they are while YA has them take that self-knowledge and see how they fit into the world as their own person. For example, in Harry Potter books 1-3 Harry is concerned with making friends, getting good grades, and being good at Quidditch. But for books 4-7 Harry learns what his destiny is and just wants to survive it.

The endings of MG stories tend to be more hopeful, while YA endings can be mixed (or bittersweet) and adult fiction can end with no hope of a happy ending.

The villains or antagonists in MG tend to have some funny moments or have exaggerated personalities to make them less dark and keep them from overwhelming their younger audience. (Think the Dursleys in the earlier HP books).

For the most part MG does have a lighter, quirkier sense of fun in that zany younger kid way. It’s imaginative, and not as concerned with trends as YA is. However, stories that are popular in adult fiction tend to trickle down to YA over the course of a couple years, and from there can permeate MG in a watered-down way.

A lot of what determines the book’s audience is Barnes & Noble’s buying power. They have a huge say in how the books are shelved and what age bracket they think your book fits. (They can also change your title and your cover). They don’t know how to shelve or market an MG/YA hybrid, which has led to a hole for 14-year-old protagonists.  Consistent pushback from publishing houses and authors (and now readers via social media) is slowly opening the door for more variety in this area, but for now freshman year stories in particular are a black hole on the shelf.

For me, all of this was helpful and eye-opening, but I had one last opinion I wanted to get. If you haven’t heard of the agent Joanna Volpe, you’ve probably heard of her clients (Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, Holly Black, Susan Dennard, Sasha Alsberg…) She is legendary for pulling incredible writers out of the slush pile and spotting trends before they happen. Look up her agency, New Leaf Literary & Media, and you’ll see what I mean! I knew if there was a hole in the market clamoring for a lighter YA fantasy novel, she would know about it.

What she told me was that there is a hole, and it would be nice to bring that facet of YA fantasy back, but a debut author probably isn’t going to do it. That makes perfect sense to me – with everything trending darker it’s more popular to push boundaries than to step back and create something reminiscent of 1985. But she thought the right project from the right person could do it.

I loved hearing these women discuss this topic at the panel and it was nice talking to Jo since the question teased me for weeks! I hope you all enjoyed this tiny peek into the conversations that happened at Leviosa Con. 🙂

What’s new this month

Still quiet for me on the new release front, except for these two gems!

272459107/12 – The Shadow Hour – by Melissa Grey

The sequel to the adventurous and charming debut novel The Girl at Midnight, we find out what Echo does with her new-found knowledge about her true identity. I’m looking forward to more crackling dialogue and tension-filled interactions between these amazing characters! I enjoyed the first book so much because of these characters. There’s an amazing sibling dynamic, LGBT romance, and intriguing mythology. Jump into this series now!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

290560837/31 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – by J.K. Rowling

Could there be any release more momentous?! This copy of the stage play’s script allows everyone to access the newest tale about the boy wizard-or in this case, the Boy Who Lived all grown-up. I’ll be honest, Harry becoming a government employee is not the future I imagined, but I have faith in Rowling and I’m sure this will be a fun, moving addition to the series. At least now I don’t have to save up $4,000 to see it in London!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

Event: The Boldly Bookish Tour

BoldlyBookishThis month I had the incredible opportunity to meet my feminist idol / spirit animal Emery Lord!

She decided to crash a few stops on the Boldly Bookish Tour and when I saw her announcement that in 2 days she’d be in Denver I. FLIPPED. OUT. I had David sell our Lumineers tickets for that night and I dropped everything and went!

Emery is just as lovely and hilarious in person as she is on Twitter, and as a bonus I got to see 3 other authors (Tara Altebrando, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Tiffany Schmidt) that I wouldn’t otherwise have met, including moderator Jessica Brody. There were far too many interesting things to cover in any sensible order here, but I’ll put in my highlights for you guys!

First, what they were promoting:

Tara Altebrando: The Leaving – A suspense story about a group of missing children that return to their hometown as teenagers-except for one-and have no memory of where they have been.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Long Game – Sequel to The Fixer, about teenager Tess who solves political scandals among the students at an elite school in Washington, D.C.
Emery Lord: When We Collided – A contemporary summer romance between Jonah, a guy trying to hold his family together after his father’s death, and Vivi, a bubbly, adventurous girl without a care in the world–or so she seems.
Tiffany Schmidt: Break Me Like a Promise – Book 2 in her Once Upon a Crime Family series, this is a retelling of The Frog Prince. Maggie ends up trapped in a bargain to provide a kidney in exchanging for saving her father’s business computer.

Some tips:
I’m always on the lookout for unusual writing tips (as in, ones I don’t hear all the time), and this one struck me:  Create vocabulary lists for your characters so they each have their own vernacular. -Emery Lord

Some inspiration:

If this is what you want to do, you’ll find a way. Find a job that gives you the schedule you need, find a writing group that gives you the support you need, but prioritize this dream or it will not happen. Things that may not make sense to other people – odd jobs instead of a career – are for you, not anybody else, because you know what you want to accomplish. -moderator Jessica Brody

People always tell us now “Oh, you all grew up into such fine young ladies!” – We were good before, but nobody noticed…People think teenage girls are just giggling in a corner being annoying, and there is some of that, but each of my friends was also an incredibly complex person at that age. -Emery Lord

Some laughs:

I asked Emery how she can be so smart and funny on Twitter, even when it involves social issues, and that led to this anecdote:

“Normally with my editor I agree with the notes, like yes, I’ll cut that paragraph or yes, that could be clarified. But the one note that just bothers me so much, is when a joke is underlined, and next to it is the comment,”Could this be funnier???” And I’m like what–no, it IS funny! I wasn’t saving my funny stuff for later, I brought my A game!”

Why YA:

I hear a lot of the same answers to this question, usually something like the writer still relates to teens, or you’re allowed to do more within these genres, but this answer, although common (haven’t we all heard how much potential we have when we’re young?) gives some specificity to it that I appreciate now that I’m older:

Teens have so much potential – your life can change more dramatically and more quickly than it does as an adult. You change schools, you get your drivers license, you join a club or a sports team–suddenly that affects your freedom, your entire social circle, your own public persona. -Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This is true–honestly when we moved to Colorado part of what freaked everybody out is that we were changing our city and our jobs at the same time, just because we wanted to. For some reason, once you’re out of college you stop doing things just because you want to try them. Trying things is what makes life interesting!

What does it mean to be bold:
  • Writing what scares you because you don’t know what you’ll find. An issue, a topic, a question that you may not even see when you first start drafting that slowly evolves as your book does. That could be anything: trafficking in human organs, writing about bipolar disorder – things you’re afraid to explore, especially knowing you’ll end up discussing it in public!
  • Writing a book without knowing the ending. For The Leaving, Altebrando didn’t know where the kids had been all those years – for 2.5 years that she worked on the book! “I would’ve gladly asked anyone I talked to, where do YOU think they were? I have no clue!”
  • “I don’t think of it as writing about characters with mental illness. I want to write love stories between people who happen to have some mental health issues.” -Emery Lord
  • “The best part of your story is the part you want to whisper. Force yourself to say it louder. Then force yourself to write it.” -Tiffany Schmidt

This was such a fun and inspiring event, and my only regret is not having the time to read ALL of these amazing, bold books!

Wink Poppy Midnight

23203106by April Genevieve Tucholke
YA Contemporary / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the cover of this little book and I love the writing inside just as much! I’m not used to books with multiple points of view giving each character their own unique voice. First person narratives tend to start sounding alike, but that isn’t the case here. Even more lovely is the fact that I couldn’t pick a favorite—Wink, Poppy, and Midnight all have their own narratives and arcs that drew me in and I was never left wishing that more time was given to just one of them.

Although this isn’t as spooky as I hoped, there are some creepy moments and the writing lends itself to sending a shiver down your spine at the right moments. Midnight has moved to a new house and just broke up with his old next-door neighbor, Poppy. Their toxic relationship has finally pushed him to say enough is enough. Wink is Midnight’s new neighbor, a farm girl from a large family who seems sweet and mature and everything Poppy isn’t. Nothing is simple in this story, and the manipulative nature of the girls has Midnight caught in a web of truth and lies so tangled it takes a horrible accident to sort everything out.

At least, it seems to be clear-cut, until stranger things start happening.

I guessed some of the outcome but there are enough twists to keep you surprised, and I was left wanting more of this strange world and the three main characters. Having three unreliable narrators was fun, and I wish more books experimented with this style!

This reads like a modern fairy tale, with whimsical elements and a plot that weaves in symbolic elements, astute observations, and events that knock everything you know about the characters askew. I really enjoyed it! Recommended for fairy tale lovers who enjoy some thrills and mystery.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wink Poppy Midnight is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – A weird blend of paranormal fantasy and YA contemporary, this series focuses on a group of teens searching for a buried Welsh king to claim one magical favor for awakening him. The usual Stiefvater elements of Atmosphere, fast cars, magic, and dynamic characters that drive the story. The writing is exquisite. See my review here.
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – Minnow escapes her cult the night the entire Community burns to the ground, only to go from one prison to another. The detectives want to know what really happened that night, but Minnow isn’t talking about what caused the loss of her hands, or anything else. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Siblings Hazel and Ben have loved the faerie boy in the forest for as long as they can remember. Fairfold’s residents are used to faerie mischief and know how to keep their magical forest content to fool with tourists only. But when the forest begins breaking the truce with the residents, Hazel knows it’s up to her to save her town. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren decides to find her biological father on her 16th birthday—largely because she wakes up that morning to discover her mother has abandoned her. Maren doesn’t blame her mother—it was for her own safety after all. Maren has a tendency to consume the people who care about her, bones and all. She hopes finding her father will explain why she can’t stop herself from eating human flesh. See my review here.


chaliceby Robin McKinley
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite novels! A subtle Beauty and the Beast retelling with rich world-building all its own. The slow-burn romance and emotional intensity of the ending get me every time.

McKinley is one of my favorite authors and this story ranks on par with her Damar books for me. Mirasol is a beekeeper tending her family’s plot of land when the ruling council comes to her and declares she is the next Chalice—the second-highest position in the kingdom, responsible for magically binding the rulers with unity to govern the land using different potions. The Master and Chalice perished in a fire leaving no heirs. Mirasol is alarmed but has no choice. Despite no training, no apprenticeship, nothing but a knowledge of honey and the ability to hear the earthlines (magical ley lines that the council influences to provide harmony and prosperity to the kingdom) she must take up the role and bring unity to the Circle. They have a new master, a priest of Fire who is no longer fully human, and if they don’t work together their kingdom could fall.

Mirasol and the new Master are both unprepared for their responsibilities, and the quiet ways they support each other and come to be friends are interwoven with political drama and natural disasters in the kingdom. Mirasol discovers the council means to marry her off to a spoiled prince from another kingdom, and she doesn’t have much time to dissuade them.

The writing is incredible and the story is told with a series of flashbacks that provide so much depth to the characters. As with all McKinley books, animals play a key role of support, and in this case it’s the bees. I love the bees! They are the perfect addition to Mirasol’s world. The pacing won’t be to everyone’s liking—as with all her other books there is a heavier burden on description than dialogue—but I love it and recommend it to anyone wanting a more serious fantasy experience in the YA sphere.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Chalice is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Eighteen-year-old Sabriel is only partly through her apprenticeship to be the next Abhorsen (the one who keeps the Dead from walking in Life in the Old Kingdom) when her father is captured and held in Death. To free him will require all her knowledge and the dubious assistance from the bound servant, Mogget. See my review here.
  • Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – A much more humorous take on the ruler of a Fantasyland and the tasks, frustrations, and hilarious encounters it entails. Part farce, part commentary, this is a fast read any fantasy lover will enjoy.
  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – A YA sci-fi retelling of Sleeping Beauty, Rosalinda Fitzroy wakes up after 62 years in suspended animation to learn that everyone she loved is dead and she is the heiress to her parents’ company—the most powerful company in the world. But not everyone is excited by her return, and someone will stop at nothing to see her removed.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira just wants to do her part to revive the kingdom of Winter before Spring takes over permanently. But her destiny is greater than she could ever suspect. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: In the Hand of the Goddess

handofby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

The titles are overlong but these short books in the Song of the Lioness quartet are some of my favorites. In the first book, Alanna disguised herself as a boy to train as a knight alongside the prince of Tortall and a band of noble boys.

Alanna earns her place as a squire but her closest friends discover her secret identity. Now that they face more responsibility as they train to earn their shields, Alanna must work harder than ever to earn respect in the ranks. As she tries to reject the burdens of her true gender, Alanna must also contend with a plot on Prince Jonathan’s life—when she realizes it’s also a plot against her own. Her growing magical abilities threaten to reveal her to her enemies as she struggles to save the prince anonymously.

The themes and tone of this story have aged with the characters, and this is my favorite in the series. Everything I loved from the first story (secretly beating boys at their own games, political intrigue, dangerous magic, intriguing allies) is present in this installment with better adventures. Alanna fights against the all-too-true realization that when her friends learn she is a girl, their entire treatment of her changes (often in a bad way), regardless of her achievements or opinions. Her refusal to be put in their damsel-to-protect box is the fire of this series and was so important to me growing up. A must-read for fantasy-lovers!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, In the Hand of the Goddess is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job at the royal stables. But when she is unable to hide the magical nature of her gift, Daine must confront her past or risk never controlling her magic at all. A new set of characters and adventures with the same flair that made you fall for the Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel is studying to take over her father’s role as the kingdom’s Abhorsen (a necromancer that lays the dead to rest). When her father goes missing, Sabriel must rescue him despite having only a fraction of the knowledge and training she needs. One of my absolute favorite stories, see my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – Another favorite of mine, Mirasol struggles to accept her new magical abilities within her demense’s government. If she fails to learn in a few months what most apprentices learn for years, her kingdom could collapse. A Beauty and the Beast re-telling coupled with intriguing characters and slow-burn romance. See my review here.

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