February and March Reading Highlights

February and March Reading Highlights

Last week, I announced my goal to share the top books I’ve read this year in a series of blog posts. I originally thought this could take a couple of months – I mean, I’ve read over a hundred books so far this year! But then I started combing through my ratings. Turns out that while I read a respectable number of titles in February and March, there weren’t many that elicited a strong response from me. In fact, there were only a handful that stood out:

February

  • Half Bad by Sally Green – YA Fantasy – Riveting story – I loved the choppy and unusual start to the book. Written in second person (which I’ve rarely seen) and with evocative imagery, it draws you in and makes you want to know more. Then, to see the main character mistreated by everyone except family (and even then, some family still treats him like crap) you find yourself rooting for him throughout the book. Very good read – so much so that I had to immediately check out the next book in the series!
  • By Your Side by Kasie West – YA Contemporary Romance – This book had me at ‘locked in a library’ – but surprisingly, the library incident didn’t affect the story in the way I anticipated. Instead, I found myself ensnared by Autumn’s anxiety disorder and Dax’s mysterious background. I felt that the romance played less of a part than in West’s other books I’ve read – partly because Autumn herself was torn between two boys. Despite the love triangle and disappointing lack of bookish appreciation during the library scene, I enjoyed the story and would highly recommend to fans of the YA contemporary genre.

March

  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – YA Fantasy – Excellent fantasy with a swoon-worthy romance. I love the strong female lead, and the INCREDIBLE writing. Her prose is like reading jewelry, seriously beautiful.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – YA (NA) Contemporary Romance – This is one of my favorite books ever. Cath was incredibly easy to identify with, and the cast of characters surrounding her provided a foil for different aspects of her personality. The romance was utterly adorable – and rather realistic. The whole book is pretty realistic, actually, complete with the inevitable mistakes and repercussions that come with new adulthood. Highly recommended, especially for extroverts who want a glimpse into how introvert minds work. 😉
  • The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson – YA Contemporary Romance – EXCELLENT book. Stuffed with oodles of sarcastic humor and a hate-to-love romance, I adored every second of this book. Even better, while there were a few predictable plot twists, there were a few that blindsided me out of nowhere. But seriously, the best part was the banter. So. Much. Banter. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard reading a book.

See what I mean? Out of twenty-seven books read, I only rated five (five?!) as five stars. Granted, these five are some serious gems: I’ve already read three out of five more than once. In fact, I read The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You three times.

Honorable Mentions

  • Half Wild and Half Lost by Sally Green – YA Fantasy – I’m bitter because I like happy endings, and I didn’t like how the trilogy ended … but for those that like their books a little bittersweet, this is a series for you. I’m personally not a fan of the whole ‘Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers who die to be with each other’ trope … yeah. Spoiler alert, I guess.
  • The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo – YA Fantasy – I really enjoyed this series, but not quite as much as I loved her Six of Crows duology. Honestly, I think a huge part of my problem is that I fell in love with the Darkling, and he’s (spoiler alert) not the hero. 😛
  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – YA Contemporary Romance – Okay, I really enjoy romances that start out with anonymous letters/notes/emails (in this instance, emails) because I feel it gives the characters added depth – yeah, it’s a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ but I think it’s a bit more organic, like dialogue. And the inevitable misunderstanding/drama when they learn the identity of the mystery writer is always a plus. Especially in books like this one, where the drama is relatively low key. Very cute but also thought provoking (the main character deals with the loss of a parent and the subsequent moving on with life).
  • Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer – YA Science Fiction/Graphic Novel – The only reason I didn’t give this 5 stars is because I’m not a huge fan of the art style. I love the story and the characters … just not big on traditional comic-book type drawing. I’m more of a manga girl … but it’s still a great graphic novel! I can’t wait to read the rest. 😀
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New feature: monthly book recommendations!

New feature: monthly book recommendations!

In an attempt to prevent a future social media hiatus, I’m toying with a few ideas for regular blog posts. I have a super secret one in the works (one that should appeal to fans of my books *wink**wink*) but first, I wanted to experiment with a reading-related post. After all, reading is a huge part of my personality: just ask my co-workers who have to listen to me rant and rave about books for eight hours straight. (Well, we do work too, so maybe my book rants are more like five hours … but still.)

Actually, my above book rants inspired the idea for this post: namely, once a month I’ll share my top favorite books from the month before. However, since this year is already half over (and there are a TON of books I read and adored so far this year) I’ll post bi-weekly until I’ve caught up. This way, you all can see what books inspire me … and maybe I’ll find a couple of new book-friends to fangirl with! 😀

To give fellow readers a better grasp of what stories I’m most passionate about, I’ll only share books I’ve rated as 5 stars

January:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik  – YA epic fantasy with truly gorgeous world building and unexpected plot twists. I really liked the dynamic between Agneiszka and her ‘Dragon’ – I always enjoy reading about characters that don’t know how to relate to others, and I have a bit of a soft spot for hate-to-love stories.
  • On the Fence by Kasie West  – YA contemporary romance by a new favorite author. Very realistic, with swoon-worthy guys all over the place (granted, most of them were brothers) and a compelling undercurrent on the importance of being yourself and not locking away unpleasant feelings.
  • The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson – YA contemporary romance that will make you melt from the awkward adorableness. There’s a bit of cringe-drama, but it’s a bit realistic and necessary for the plot to progress … and it all works out in the end, which makes everything all better in my book.
  • Roseblood by A.G. Howard – YA Fantasy Retelling of the Phantom of the Opera, with nice paranormal twists and a compelling element of mystery. Excellent story.
  • A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro – YA contemporary retelling of Sherlock Holmes with a fascinating, gripping story and intriguing characters. I love that there isn’t blatant romance between the main characters (Charlotte Holmes, a descendant of Sherlock, and James Watson, a descendant of Dr. John Watson) and instead focuses on their becoming friends. The mystery was perfect, with just enough hints for me to follow along, but not enough for me to immediately guess the culprit or their reasoning.
  • The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – Contemporary romance – one of my two non-YA 5 star reads this month. I picked this book up because my favorite author recommended it as a perfect ‘hate-to-love’ romance … and she was right! I loved the ups and downs and sassy dialogue and unexpected twists thrown in all over the place, with laugh-out-loud moments and a great ending.
  • World of Warcraft: Illidan by William King – Fantasy/Video Game Lore –  Illidan.JPGmy second non-YA 5 star for the month. I’m a huge WoW geek, and I’ve adored almost all the Warcraft books published thus far (Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects tore me to pieces and I prefer to think it doesn’t exist) but this volume is near the top: mainly because Illidan is my absolute favorite WoW character ever. (Side note: yes, I’m in heaven with the new expansion, Legion. All hail demon hunters and Lord Illidan!!! 😀 ) While you don’t necessarily have to play the game to enjoy this book, I would recommend reading Richard A Knaak’s War of the Ancients trilogy first to better understand Illidan’s backstory.

 

What makes a good writer?

There are a ton of answers to the above question: time, patience, dedication, tried-and-true formulas … however, my favorite response is both simple and appealing.

A good writer must first be a good reader.

Honestly, this approach is how I wrote my first three books – and is probably partially to blame for my difficulties with book four. If you’ve followed along with my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a voracious reader. I used to brag that I’d read anything and everything, but after utilizing Goodreads for a few years, I’ve realized that I have a definite preference when it comes to what I truly like to read. My genre of choice is young adult fantasy, with a slow increase in young adult contemporary romance (a new development over the last year or so).

It’s not surprising that the genre I write in happens to be YA fantasy. After all, it’s a variation on ‘write what you know’. I’m by no means an expert on YA fantasy, even if I have read a lot of books in that category. It’s more that I focus on creating something I would want to read. I know what I like in my stories – action, tension, character growth – but also magic, fictional races, and medieval societies. I also know what I don’t like: the overused and cliche tropes or the story aspects that annoy me (personally, I’m not a fan of love triangles – which is funny, because I started my first book with one …)

In my opinion, if I don’t want to read what I’ve written, why on earth would anyone else want to? Again, this is where I’ve stabbed myself in the foot with book four: I’m not feeling it. I don’t particularly want to read it, let alone write it. I’m not sure why. Maybe I went a wrong direction with the plot somewhere. Maybe my intended destination for the characters and the story isn’t the correct one.

Am I going to give up? Heck no. Instead, I’m going to take a page out of my reading manual. I’m going to do what I usually do when I can’t get into a specific book; when I know I want to read it, but I just can’t seem to get more than a page read at a time.

I’m going to start another book. 😉

Granted, I’m stubborn when I read too, so don’t be surprised when I go back to the original and force my way through another few pages, because gosh darn it, I like the stupid book, I just can’t seem to get anywhere with it.

Obviously, I’ll be reading constantly during the process. I can’t call myself a good reader if I’m not, well, reading. 😀

This social media thing is hard. =/

Yes, yes. I know. I dropped off the face of the internet.

Again.

I don’t even have a decent excuse this time. Not unless you count my short attention span and tendency to get distracted by the smallest —  oooh, a new library book just downloaded to my kindle! 😉

Okay, I guess extensive reading binges do count as a decent excuse to disappear from social media. Though I’ve been posting ratings and the occasional review on Goodreads, so I guess I haven’t totally dropped off the interwebs. Here’s a brief glimpse of the 74 (yes, seventy four!) books I’ve devoured so far this year:

  • Reread the entire Court of Roses and Thorns series (including the newest installment)
  • Laughed myself silly at:
    • The Upside of Unrequited
    • All The Feels, All’s Fair In Love and Fandom
    • Noteworthy
    • The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You
  • Waited over a month for Geekerella to be available from the library
  • Drooled over the gorgeous writing in Star-Touched Queen
  • Finally read the Grisha trilogy (seriously, why did I wait so long for this?!)

So yeah. I’ve been a bit, uh, preoccupied.

But the one really awesome side effect of all this reading? My creative battery is now fully charged. That means I’m going to dive into Camp Nanowrimo this July!

You heard it here first folks. I plan to have the entire rough draft of my fourth book in the Blessings of Myrillia series completed by the end of July!!!

Stay tuned for updates, progress reports, and maybe even a snippet or two. 😀

P.S. Did you see my epic news in April? UnBlessed is an award-winning novel! Both the paperback and kindle versions now sport a shiny award seal!!!

amazonfullcoverwish01

If you’re still on the fence on whether you’d like to add this award-winner to your bookshelf, check out the first few pages free here – or read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

Vacation finally comes to an end.

Vacation finally comes to an end.

*cracks knuckles* It’s time for things to get serious around here.

😀

Now that my major vacations and brain drains are complete, I’m going to be focusing on some major writing.

  • Goal one: get book four fleshed out and ready for some hard-core beta reading.
  • Goal two: if stuck, work on some of my other ‘fluff’ ideas to get creativity flowing again.
  • Goal three: in addition to the above, make reasonable attempts to connect on social media.

That last one is going to be my hardest. Why poor little reclusive authors such as myself are expected to have social anything, I’ll never know. Still, I do like connecting with my fans – so if you have any burning questions (other than when will the next book be ready – I’m working on it!) send them my way! Additionally, if there’s something you might like to see (blog posts, tweets, Instagram photos, or Facebook updates) feel free to share your ideas below.

Thanks, and it’s good to be back again! 🙂

Author resources: the importance of a good editor.

“Duh,” some of my readers might be thinking to themselves. “Of course an author should hire an editor, everyone knows that.” Most aspiring authors know this as well: every self-help book and article about publishing stresses the importance of hiring an editor.

So why this post? Because despite the frequency of this advice that borders on common sense, as a reader, I still run into cringe-worthy grammar mistakes or plot holes.

AND because I made my own mistakes when I started my own writing journey. Granted, I did hire an editor, so I didn’t have cringe-worthy errors in my initial manuscript … but I wasn’t an award-winner either.

However … after reediting and redesigning the cover for my first book, UnBlessed, I now am an award-winning author. Coincidence? I think not.

So what makes an editor good? All editors are good – no, really! The tricky part is getting the right editor for the right job. Originally, I hired a standard copy editor, meaning she focused on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Great, right?

Yes … and no.

What I truly needed was a content, or substantive, editor: someone to look at the actual story, to dissect my plot and dialogue and point out the weak spots and my bad habits. Which is why I thank my lucky stars that I found my current editor, James Roberts.

My experience with James has been both enlightening and uplifting. I’ve learned so much about my own writing, and relearned many things I’d forgotten from my high school English days. I appreciate his willingness to explain the reasons behind his edits (and I think he enjoys having an author who genuinely wants to improve her writing to make his life easier – but I could be wrong. 😀 ) The best part of working with James, in my humble opinion, is the fact that he comments on what works well in my writing, in addition to the areas that need improvement. I’m not a particularly fragile writer (though my ego hasn’t been thoroughly tested), but it’s heartening to hear the good stuff with the bad.

So, all you authors out there: make sure you get the right editor for the job. If you find one that fits with your personality and writing style, even better. And if you want to try and steal my awesome editor away … you can try. 😉

Do you like free books?

How about a free autographed book?

Even better, a free autographed book with an exclusive piece of fanart featuring the first line of said book?

Then you might want to follow Behind the Willows.

She often has montly Book-at-the-Door giveaways, with a chance to win a book she’s read and enjoyed. All you have to do is guess which book she’s offering in a comment, and you get entered for a chance to win the book, art print, and any other potential goodies.

Hint for fans of my books: this month’s giveaway features a signed copy from yours truly … but you still have to guess which of the three it might be. 😉

But hurry! The giveaway ends April 25th!