Monday, November 22, 2021

Querying by the Numbers

Lots of folks have been discussing querying trends on Twitter, so I thought it might be time for another deep dive into my querying statistics. As some of you may know, I decided to query my most recent manuscript, an MG contemporary called SECRETS ROLLER COASTERS KEEP, not because my previous agent suddenly became a bad agent but because he no longer felt like the right agent for me. I was lucky enough to sign with Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Literary Agency back in April of this year, so that's where these numbers come from.

I'll forgo all the disclaimers I felt compelled to share last time, but you should take these facts and figures for precisely what they are: one writer's statistics querying one manuscript. If your numbers don't look like mine, that is no reason to fret. Every journey is unique, and every manuscript is, too.

I ended up submitting 77 queries over the course of three and a half months. You might think that's kind of high, and the truth is, it kind of is. But I've been around the block, so once I know my query's working, I commit and go all out. Here's how those replies broke down:

Partial requests: 6 (7.8%)
Full requests: 13 (16.9%)
Rejections: 45 (58.4%)
Non-responses: 13 (16.9%)
Offers: 3

(It's worth noting that I had at least twice as many non-responses until I received my first offer. It's also worth noting that some of these 13 non-responses eventually turned into responses, but only AFTER I'd accepted Jenn's offer of representation, so I didn't go back and change those outcomes in my notes.)

Query Response Times (Rejections) depicts the frequency of response times (how many agents responded in zero days, how many agents responded in one day, and so on) for the 45 agents who rejected my query:


If these response times surprise you, you should know I make a point of querying agents who respond to almost every query and/or who respond quickly. Though I do confirm that they represent my category, I pay way closer attention to the response rates and times reported on QueryTracker than to their #mswl. It's especially important to query fast-responding agents when you're getting your feet wet, as you need to figure out how well your query is performing, but I also feel like agents who treat querying writers well will also treat their clients well.

Now for the positive replies. Query Response Times (Requests) depicts the frequency of response times for the 18 agents who requested a partial or full:


The shape is generally the same, though it spikes several days later. Good news takes longer than bad news, at least in my experience, and these numbers bear that out. You may also want to know that the three query responses that eventually turned into offers are embedded in this graph at 1, 2, and 62 days to response.

Here's how the quartiles break down for both rejections and requests. For the uninitiated, the median is the data point in the very middle of the set; 50% are below it while 50% are above. Likewise, the quartile Q1 is exactly halfway between the minimum and median while the quartile Q3 is exactly halfway between the median and maximum.


What exactly does this mean? Look at the Combined column first. The median is 17 days, which means that 50% of the agents who responded to my query did so within 17 days. Now look at the Rejections column. Since Q3 is 39, we can say 75% of the agents who rejected my query did so within 39 days. I like looking at quartiles and especially the median because measures like the average are more influenced by outliers. Case in point: the Combined average is 23.8 days because that maximum response time is so much higher than the others.

Perhaps you'd also like to know what my response times looked like on partial and full requests. Sadly, the next graph doesn't differentiate between them--you can blame my laziness--but I hope you'll find it helpful.


Somewhat surprisingly, the shape of this graph mimics the shape of the first two, which suggests that many agents respond to partials and fulls in about the same amount of time that they respond to queries. I should also let you know that one agent took 102 days to reject my full, but since I'd already accepted Jenn's offer of representation by that point, I didn't include it here. As for where my offers fall, they're embedded in this graph at 3, 33, and 94 days to response. (The 3-day response was to a partial, so the amount of time it took the agent to review my full isn't reflected in this graph.)

Here's how the quartiles break down (and this time, I did log partials and fulls separately):


As you might expect, it generally takes agents longer to respond to fulls than partials. Also, my numbers are skewed because I received an offer roughly three and a half months after sending my first query, which forced the others to respond and created an artificial upper bound. (My query response times are probably also a little skewed for the same reason.)

I think that's it from me! Have you queried this year, too, and if so, what would you add?

Monday, October 25, 2021

#PitchMe Results and Wrap-up

#PitchMe pitches racked up 66 likes last week from the members of our agent panel (and one pitch scored an extra like from an outside agent, too)! Here's a breakdown of the action: 

#1 PB: THIS BOOK NEEDS A PASSWORD Jennifer Herrington, Elizabeth Bewley
#2 PB: HAND-ME-DOWN BOOTS Tara Gonzalez, Analieze Cervantes, Jennifer Herrington
#3 PB: SLIME TIME Jennifer Herrington
#4 PB: FINDING FADO Joyce Sweeney, Jennifer Herrington
#5 PB: GUS THE MAGNIFICENT Jennifer Herrington
#6 PB: LIGHTS OUT FOR LUDWIG Jennifer Herrington
#8 MG: IF ELEPHANTS COULD TALK Jen Nadol, Pam Pho, Tara Gonzalez, Stefanie Molina, Elizabeth Bewley
#10 MG: THE INFLUENCER Jen Nadol, Jennifer Herrington, Shari Maurer, Katherine Wessbecher
#11 MG: CUTTLEPUNK Jennifer Herrington, Tara Gonzalez
#12 MG: THE SISTERHOOD OF ALOBIBI Joyce Sweeney, Jennifer Herrington, Tara Gonzalez, Lindsay Auld, Shari Maurer, Analieze Cervantes, Katherine Wessbecher
#14 MG: BLACKBIRD Jennifer Herrington, Tara Gonzalez, Lindsay Auld, Stefanie Molina
#15 MG: EVIE AND THE BOY FROM THE SEA Jennifer Herrington, Aida Z. Lilly, Analieze Cervantes
#16 YA: BLOWN AWAY Aida Z. Lilly, Tara Gonzalez, Elizabeth Bewley
#17 YA: GEEK MYTHOLOGY Pam Pho, Tara Gonzalez, Aida Z. Lilly
#21 YA: THE SOLSTICE STONE Aida Z. Lilly, Stefanie Molina, Analieze Cervantes, Katherine Wessbecher, Elizabeth Bewley
#24 YA: FAUNA OF MIRRORS Pam Pho, Stefanie Molina, Analieze Cervantes, Katherine Wessbecher
#25 A: SELF-CHECKOUT Analieze Cervantes
#27 A: THE COYOTE PRINCIPLE Jen Nadol, Katherine Wessbecher
#28 A: OLYMPIC ENEMIES Jennifer Herrington, Elizabeth Bewley
#29 A: SECRET SISTER Aida Z. Lilly, Elizabeth Bewley (plus Melissa Danaczko)
#30 A: BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SEXTING Jen Nadol, Aida Z. Lilly, Stefanie Molina, Elizabeth Bewley

In addition, one of our PBs came to the agent round with an offer on the table, and one of our adult finalists, WITCHCRAFT & WHISKEY, had to bow out of the agent round because it received an offer. (Luckily, we had an alternate waiting in the wings!)

Also, I just want to say that, if you didn't get a like--or even if you didn't get picked as a finalist--I still believe in you, and I hope you believe in you, too. The only trait every published author has in common is persistence, so keep bashing your head against that brick wall until it comes crumbling down.

Last but certainly not least, THANK YOU. Whether you were an agent, an entrant, or a finalist, I couldn't have done this without you. And I REALLY couldn't have done this without PB partner-in-crime Tara Shiroff. Thank you for your insights and your boundless optimism.

Until next year!

Monday, September 20, 2021

#PitchMe Finalists

Without any ado, here are the #PitchMe finalists* in no particular order:

PB

C.S.'s FINDING FADO
J.F.S.'s SLIME TIME
C.D.'s THIS BOOK NEEDS A PASSWORD
J.W.'s GUS, THE MAGNIFICENT
M.R.'s LIGHTS OUT FOR LUDWIG
K.L's BOOK LAND SAFETY INSPECTOR
A.L.'s HAND-ME-DOWN BOOTS

MG

T.G.'s BEAST SCOUTS OF THE WANDERING REACH (fantasy)
P.Z.'s THE SISTERHOOD OF ALOBIBI (mystery)
R.R.'s IF ELEPHANTS COULD TALK (contemporary novel-in-verse)
D.P.'s GOOD VIBRATIONS (contemporary)
D.A.'s EVIE AND THE BOY FROM THE SEA (fantasy)
A.V.'s CUTTLEPUNK (contemporary fantasy)
G.P.'s THE GRAVEDIGGER (horror)
K.B.'s BLACKBIRD (contemporary)

YA

E.M.W.'s GEEK MYTHOLOGY (contemporary fantasy)
K.C.'s FAUNA OF MIRRORS (fantasy)
J.C.T's POST-MORTEM DEPRESSION (paranormal)
C.B.'s DARK CORNERS, BRIGHT SPACES (contemporary romance)
S.R.K's THE SOLSTICE STONE (contemporary/historical)
K.C.'s ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (speculative)
J.S.C.'s BLOWN AWAY (contemporary)
A.H.'s THE DEATH MOTHER (magical realism)
E.C.'s THE FREE CITY (techno-thriller)

Adult

A.R.'s BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SEXTING (romantic comedy)
N.S.'s THE COYOTE PRINCIPLE (literary mystery)
M.W.'s SECRET SIS (domestic thriller)
J.T.F.'s DRAGONS OF WIND AND LEAVES (fantasy)
H.R.'s WITCHCRAFT & WHISKEY (historical fantasy)
S.S.'s SELF-CHECKOUT (contemporary romance)

Congratulations, finalists! I really can't wait to dig in and help you make these awesome projects just a little awesomer.

If your submission wasn't chosen, thank you so much for submitting, and please, please, please don't give up. I took notes on every entry and wrote down something positive about every single one (and usually a suggestion, too). If you don't find an agent between now and October 21 and would like to hear my thoughts on your pitch, query, and first page, you're more than welcome to respond to your original submission with a request for that feedback. I only ask that you hold off until Thursday, October 21, the day AFTER the agent round, so I can spend these next few weeks reviewing the finalists' work.

*You probably noticed that I picked a few more MGs and YAs than PBs and adults. This is simply a reflection of what the agents who agreed to participate in #PitchMe are looking for right now. Of the 12 agents who signed up, 7 are looking for PB, 12 are looking for MG, 11 are looking for YA, and 5 are looking for adult.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Thoughts on #PitchMe Submissions

 I've now read all 251--or all 249, as there were several duplicates--of your amazing #PitchMe entries. *collapses on sofa* And my goodness, you guys didn't make it easy on me! Of the 249 submissions, I probably flagged at least a third and maybe up to half of them to consider for our spots. As I narrow down the list, here's a little food for thought:

Overall Impressions

  • If you have a connection to your plot or characters--say, if you and your MC are both retired detectives or Chinese Americans--make that connection very clear. Many writers did this well, but several queries made me wonder why this writer was the one telling this story through this lens. Don't ever make an agent guess!
  • Most queries ended with the Query Shark-approved "Thank you for your time and consideration," but many also added something along the lines of "I look forward to hearing from you." In an era when more agents are using auto-responders and simultaneously adopting a no-response-means-no policy, this line may come across as vaguely passive-aggressive. Just something to keep in mind.
  • FANTASY was, by far, the most represented genre across every category. That's not an awful thing, per se--I happen to love fantasy--but because of the volume, submissions within this genre had to work even harder to stand out. Several things that caught my eye: a fascinating world, an uncommon superpower, an especially high concept, or a unique genre mashup.
  • POST-APOCALYPTIC SETTINGS, especially in YA and adult, sort of caught me by surprise. At first, they struck me as fresh, but as I encountered more and more, they became strikes against their projects instead of points for them.
  • Another plot device I bumped into more than once was THE ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS TROPE, and not only in romance. Some of my favorite entries happened to use this plot device, and I know tropes are tropes in part because they're evergreen. But if you're going for unique, especially if you're writing romance, you might want to use another.
  • I also encountered lots of WITCHES across the novel categories and quite a few SECRET SOCIETIES in YA and adult.
  • Fairy tale retellings, or retellings of the classics, weren't nearly as abundant in MG or YA as they probably would have been a handful of years ago, which I think is a good thing and lines up with market trends. Conversely, in PB, I encountered quite a few FAIRY TALE AND/OR NURSERY RHYME REFERENCES. Unless you approach these stories in an unexpected way (and to be honest, several did), I fear they might not stand out. 
  • Finally, I couldn't help but notice several uses of free cities--like the Free City of Detroit, a futuristic city-state. I was surprised to see this concept used by more than one writer, and now that Free Guy has come out, it might show up even more.

PB Notes

  • Per my tweet last week, there were 58 submissions within this category.
  • I have four young kids, including a three-year-old, so I've read quite a few PBs. When the text of a PB flows, even if it's not in VERSE, it's a delight to read out loud. And when it doesn't flow? It's not. You would think a verse would help, but unless it was consistent and the syllables lined up, I thought the verse fell kind of flat. In fact, in many instances, I thought the verse did a disservice to an otherwise great plot.

And now in Tara's words: "I would say that we were blown away by the entries and really looked for something that stood out to us because we know that's what will stand out to an agent...whether it made us laugh, cry or was just completely unique. Stories that were well-written perhaps did not ultimately get selected as winners if they were too didactic or did not have a completely unique element. Agents want to be able to brand you (your books are funny, sweet, lyrical, family-driven, own voices, etc.), so if they ask you to submit additional picture books, they are going to expect that your additional submissions are similar in tone/theme. I would hold off on querying (we had several submissions where people said they had one great idea and no other books) until you have 3-5 fully polished manuscripts in case (and when!) an agent asks you for more work.

"Some of the PBs had a lot of introduction and didn't get right into the action, which meant that the start was a little slow. Some of them did not have much dialogue throughout the story, and that would make a child potentially less interested. Some of them were much too long for a PB (we had a few that said they were over 800 words), and so really knowing that agents are looking to make offers on books that are approximately 500 words would be helpful for some writers. Some indicated in the query that they had a surprise, twisty ending, but since we only allowed a sample of the story we didn't see that awesome ending and that was unfortunate."

MG Notes

  • Per my tweet last week, there were 34 submissions within this category.
  • BULLYING was an extremely common theme among the MG submissions, so if that's your only hook, you might want to add another.

YA Notes

  • There were 74 submissions within this category, which is one less than I reported last week, as there was a duplicate.
  • SIRENS seemed to be the paranormal soupe du jour among the YA entries. I came across VAMPIRES, too, but they weren't as prominent, perhaps because their vampirism didn't play as large a role in how their stories rolled out.  

Adult Notes

  • There were 83 submissions within this category, which is one less than I reported last week, as there was a duplicate.
  • Of all the categories, this one was the most varied. I'm not sure why that would be, but I thought I'd point it out!
  • One question I kept asking as I read these entries was, "Does this love story work in a #metoo-mindful world?" Sadly, in some cases, the answer was simply no.

Lastly, I wanted to say something about the nature of this contest and the issues it creates. Because I want to give the agents a unique and balanced list, I put these projects head to head far more often than I'd like. Do I pick this thriller or that one, and which of these fantasies with a shapeshifting raccoon do I think is very best? An agent can request them all, but I'm a lot more limited, so if you don't make it in, please know that I saw positives in every one of these entries and won't be able to include a lot of really awesome work.

Until next week!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Now Accepting #PitchMe Submissions

UPDATE: And that's a wrap! We received 251 submissions in the first hour, so the submission window is now closed. Keep an eye on this space--and on my Twitter feed--for more #PitchMe tidbits!

Welcome to #PitchMe! To enter, your manuscript must meet two conditions. First, it must be COMPLETE, NEVER-PUBLISHED, AND READY TO QUERY, and second, it must be in one of the following genres:

PB fiction* (all genres)
MG fiction (all genres)
YA fiction (all genres)
Adult fiction (all genres, including commercial, literary, and/or upmarket but excluding erotica)

*Since I admittedly know less about writing and pitching PBs, I’ve asked PB author and two-time #TacoPitch winner Tara Shiroff to help me help you!

1. All submissions must be sent to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com and include A TWITTER PITCH, A QUERY, AND THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. (PB author-illustrators are also encouraged to share links to their online portfolios.) You must also paste these items IN THE BODY OF YOUR E-MAIL; otherwise, I'll disqualify it.

2. Please submit ONLY ONE PROJECT. If you submit multiple projects, I'll only consider the first.

3. It would also really help if you INCLUDE YOUR CATEGORY--PB, MG, YA, OR ADULT--SOMEWHERE IN YOUR SUBJECT LINE, but it's not a requirement.

4. The submission window opens on Wednesday, September 8, at 11:00 a.m. EDT and closes at 12:00 noon EDT or when we reach 150 entries, WHICHEVER HAPPENS LAST. If we haven’t reached 150 entries by September 14 at 11:00 a.m. EDT, the submission window will close then.

5. Once you send me your submission, I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with a summary of these rules.

6. Lastly, because there's so much need in so many places around the world, I PLEDGE TO DONATE $1 FOR EVERY SUBMISSION RECEIVED, which I'll split evenly between Haitian, Afghan, and Hurricane Ida relief efforts.

For more information, including a timeline of events and a list of participating agents, check out this post. We can't wait to read your work!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About #PitchMe

After taking a long break from "The Writer's Voice," I'm back with another multi-agent query contest--this time on Twitter! If you take what I loved most about "The Writer's Voice"--mentoring great writers at wherever they happen to be on their publishing journey--and mash it up with a pitch fest, then you've basically got #PitchMe. Are you interested? Read on!

Here’s the timeline:

September 8: The submission window opens
September 22: Selected submissions announced
September 22-October 19: Mentoring takes place
October 20: Revised Twitter pitches posted; agents like their favorites

Submissions

To enter, your manuscript must meet two conditions. First, it must be COMPLETE, NEVER-PUBLISHED, AND READY TO QUERY, and second, it must be in one of the following genres:

PB fiction* (all genres)
MG fiction (all genres)
YA fiction (all genres)
Adult fiction (all genres, including commercial, literary, and/or upmarket but excluding erotica)

*Since I admittedly know less about writing and pitching PBs, I’ve asked PB author and two-time #TacoPitch winner Tara Shiroff to help me help you!

1. All submissions must be sent to kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com and include A TWITTER PITCH, A QUERY, AND THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. (PB author-illustrators are also encouraged to share links to their online portfolios.) You must also paste these items IN THE BODY OF YOUR E-MAIL; otherwise, I'll disqualify it.

2. Please submit ONLY ONE PROJECT. If you submit multiple projects, I'll only consider the first.

3. It would also really help if you INCLUDE YOUR CATEGORY--PB, MG, YA, OR ADULT--SOMEWHERE IN YOUR SUBJECT LINE, but it's not a requirement. 

4. The submission window opens on Wednesday, September 8, at 11:00 a.m. EDT and closes at 12:00 noon EDT or when we reach 150 entries, WHICHEVER HAPPENS LAST. If we haven’t reached 150 entries by September 14 at 11:00 a.m. EDT, the submission window will close then.

5. Once you send me your submission, I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with a summary of these rules.

6. Lastly, because there's so much need in so many places around the world, I PLEDGE TO DONATE $1 FOR EVERY SUBMISSION RECEIVED, which I'll split evenly between Haitian, Afghan, and Hurricane Ida relief efforts. 

Selections

I'll select 6 entries within each major category--PB, MG, YA, and adult--and up to 6 wildcards. I may pick 6 adults or 3 YAs and 3 MGs or just a single PB; it depends on what I know the agents are looking for and which submissions seem strongest.

Once I've finalized my picks--with Tara’s help, of course--I'll e-mail the winning writers and announce the winning titles here and/or on my Twitter feed on Wednesday, September 22. Then the real work will begin!

Mentoring

For the next roughly 4 weeks, the winning writers will revise their pitches, queries, and first pages with my and Tara’s help. You won’t be obligated to incorporate our thoughts, and the feedback we provide on your queries and first pages won’t actually be featured in the agent round itself. We just want to help you make your pitches, queries, and first pages the very best that they can be.

Liking

On Wednesday, October 20, I'll post the revised pitches ON MY TWITTER FEED for the agents to review. Here are the awesome agents who’ll be liking your pitches:


Each like will count as a partial or full request based on the agents’ preferences. Agents will be able to review and like your pitches for a full 24 hours, at which point you’ll be allowed to submit your materials to all the agents who requested them. These likes represent serious interest in your project, so PLEASE DON’T ACCEPT AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION BEFORE GIVING THE #PITCHME AGENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A COMPETING OFFER.

So get those pitches polished up and plan to e-mail them to me--with your queries and first pages--on Wednesday, September 8, at 11:00 a.m. EDT. We can’t wait to read your work!

Have a question? Ask below!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Q&A with Victor Pineiro, MG Author of TIME VILLAINS

Absolutely thrilled to welcome author Victor Piñeiro, whose MG debut, TIME VILLAINS, came out earlier this month. Victor's wide-ranging career has taken lots of twists and turns, but I love how writing books was always Victor's number one. Read on for how all that turned out! 

KV: TIME VILLAINS sounds like a fun fantasy adventure. How did you first come up with the idea?

VP: Fifteen years ago my brother and I stumbled on a magical forest. We took a wrong turn while exploring Western France and ended up in Paimpont, Merlin’s enchanted woods. It was sunset, we raced around the ancient trees hoping we’d stumble on the legendary Fountain of Eternal Youth, and at some point realized we had to find our way back to our car before dark. The whole experience was so mystical and thrilling that it stayed with me. Over a decade later I had the seed to a story: a magical table that summons anyone from history or fiction to dinner, once you answered the question, “If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would they be?” But why would a table be magical in the first place? The idea tossed and turned in my head for ages before I remembered the enchanted forest. Then I got overwhelmingly excited to create a series around it, casting all of my favorite fictional and historical characters.

KV: Which three guests would YOU invite to a magical dinner party? Why?

VP: My list changes day to day but usually it’s two historical figures and one very out-there fictional character. I’m a huge poetry fiend so probably Walt Whitman, and maybe Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rico’s greatest poet). For the fictional character I’d probably go with Galadriel, Gandalf or Aslan--might as well bring in someone magical to really spice things up!

KV: Career-wise, you've been involved in everything from public school teaching to filmmaking and multimedia content development. How did you end up writing novels?

VP: It’s funny, being a published author has been the dream and goal since I was a kid, so it’s just taken me quite awhile to get there! In my teens and twenties I couldn’t silence my inner critic long enough to write novels, so I turned to poetry and screenplays, writing and producing documentaries for a spell. From there I became the voice of Skittles, YouTube, Google and other brands on social media, which really helped me hone my skills when it came to voice. I finally coaxed a book out in 2017 after writing daily on my (long) commute for three years. It was a very unconventional first book--the only kind I could coax out on my first try--so I shelved it and started working on TIME VILLAINS. It’s funny how circuitous the path to achieving our goals can be, and how that’s usually a blessing in disguise.

KV: How is publishing a novel similar to making a film, and how is it different?

VP: I think a story is a story is a story. Finding and developing a documentary’s story as it comes together isn’t all that different from doing the same with a novel. The process is surprisingly similar, and even more so with a screenplay. The real difference is in the rhythm of collaboration. With a film, even tiny indie productions, you’re all in constant contact and collaboration. The director is driving it, but they’re checking in with everyone all the time, or showing newly edited scenes daily, etc. With a novel (at least in my experience) you’re on your own for long stretches of time before you send drafts to your editor, agent or readers.

KV: We met through DiverseVoices, Inc.'s inaugural DVdebut program, which paired debut novelists from diverse backgrounds with mentor novelists from similar backgrounds. How has your Puerto Rican heritage influenced your art in general and TIME VILLAINS in particular?

VP: Just the other day I fell in love with the term nepantla, an Aztec word that means in-betweenness--the liminal space between worlds. It’s been adopted by Chicano culture to describe the discomfort they feel trying to walk the tightrope between the world of the colonizer and the colonized.

That’s the tension I love to explore with my characters. It’s my experience as a first generation, light-skinned Puerto Rican, who moved to the US as a child. It’s the experience so many of my friends and family had existing in two cultures laid awkwardly on top of each other.

Whether I’m writing a children’s book about a magical school or a YA book about enduring anxiety, the characters will always be negotiating a life in two worlds. The protagonists will often feel strange that the language they’re most fluent in isn’t their first, that a big chunk of their identity is hidden from even their closest friends, that they’re not deep enough in their native culture to understand the humor.

KV: What other writing projects do you have in the pipeline?

VP: I’m three drafts into my next book and it couldn’t be more different than Time Villains. It’s a YA novel that deals with mental health (mostly crippling social anxiety) and explores being Latinx in an American high school. There’s some light sci-fi/fantasy elements because I love using them to propel the story.

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you'd like to share with us?

VP: Absolutely! There are a few misconceptions that would’ve had me writing novels decades ago, so I take any chance I can get to relay them to other aspiring/young writers.

The most important one (for me at least)--an hour a day can be enough. I always thought I needed to quit my job and write eight hours a day to finish a novel, which held me back for years. Then I read a Murakami interview where he said he completed his first novel by writing an hour a day after work. In that moment I felt like the universe gave me permission to write mine. And whether I got a half hour or an hour a day, I’ve written three novels at that pace and am working on the fourth.

Ah, what great advice, Victor. Writers are people who write, whether it's a little or a lot. No one ever has to wait to start putting their thoughts down.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Book Recommendation and ARC Giveaway on Twitter: YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED by Michelle I. Mason

Michelle and I have been writing friends for a long, long time, so when her manuscript landed an agent, then a book deal, within a matter of weeks, I couldn't have been more thrilled. The fact that her manuscript sold to my editor at Bloomsbury was just the icing on the cake and a fun coincidence--until it occurred to me that I could probably beg an ARC of YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED off our mutual editor.

Which, of course, was what I did:)

YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED has a hugely commercial premise: seventeen-year-old Jenny gets on a plane in New York City in 1995 and gets off again in St. Louis--in 2020. Her parents are now senior citizens, her formerly younger brother is now old enough to be her dad, and her best friend and boyfriend are now married. To each other. What's more, something's going on with the flight's investigation, and as a budding reporter, Jenny can't help but dive in.

I couldn't put this book down. Knowing what was coming, I could NOT leave Jenny hanging until she'd also figured out what the heck was going on, and then I wanted to keep reading because her life was so messed up and I felt supremely bad. Also, because her new best friend, the seventeen-year-old son of the aforementioned best friend and boyfriend, was supremely sweet, and though I could see it coming from 30,000 feet away, their awkward relationship was still fun to watch unfold.

I've already preordered my copy of YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, so with Michelle's permission and a signed bookmark to boot, I'm super excited to pass my ARC along. The giveaway will be on Twitter, so head over there to enter. I wish you all kinds of luck!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

How I Found My Birth Mom

This is a Very Long Story, one I haven't blogged about because I genuinely thought it would make a better book. I still plan to write that book, but after trying--and failing--to get a single chapter down, I decided it might help to write a single blog post first.

Almost two years ago now, I convinced my little sister to audition for a genealogy-based reality TV show with me. Very long first half of this Very Long Story short, we didn't make the final cut, but we did spit in the tubes, so we ultimately gained access to the research they'd begun. They turned over that research almost a year ago exactly--and their research was spot-on. It identified my birth dad and a host of half siblings. But as I mentioned in this post, it couldn't pinpoint my birth mom, since she was adopted, too. At first, I was kind of bummed, but then I was kind of glad. The thought of solving this last mystery on my own made me happy.

My saliva HAD pinpointed the two probable families my birth mom descended from, the Monroes and the Carpentiers. That is, one of her birth parents was likely one of six siblings in this specific Monroe family while the other was likely one of four or five siblings in this clan of Carpentiers. Sadly, two of the Monroes and three of the Carpentiers had already passed away, but if I could reach the others, maybe they would have more clues.

I started scouring the internet for contact information for the still-living siblings. I found three or four phone numbers for each sibling on average, but as you might expect, very few of them still worked. When I was able to track down one of the Carpentier daughters, I literally did a jig. But her mind wasn't all there, so though she mentioned that her sister HAD placed a baby for adoption, I discounted what she'd said.

Fast forward a few months. After speaking to more siblings and poring over my matches, I was able to determine with a high degree of confidence that my birth mom's birth parents were Theodore William Monroe Jr. and Gayle Mae Carpentier. The problem was that both were dead, so they couldn't shed more light on exactly when or where my birth mom had been born. I could make educated guesses based, but without a date or place, I'd kind of reached a dead end.

I kept digging, though, kept fighting. I barked up some other trees. And somewhere along the way, I found out about Utah's voluntary adoption registry. Governed by the health department, the adoption registry matches adult adoptees with biological relatives if both parties come to them. But did you notice how I said that the adoption registry is governed by the health department? They were kind of swamped last year, so you could no longer walk in and fill out an application. You could mail one to their office IF it had been notarized.

This was back in the late spring. The formal lockdown had expired, but my county was under a blanket stay-at-home directive, and I just didn't feel good about violating that (even if I thought my reason was, you know, better than most). I let my application sit. And sit and sit and sit some more. Then, when October rolled around, a still, small voice whispered, "It's time." I strapped on my snuggest mask, went and found a notary, and sent off that application.

According to the website, it could take up to six weeks to hear your application's status. I thought I could handle that; I'm a writer, after all. Two weeks came and went, then six, and then two full months had passed. I decided to check in. A few days later, they informed me that they'd had to send away for the records on my case but that I should hear more soon. That Friday, I got an e-mail.

They'd managed to make a match.

I almost couldn't believe it. I also couldn't stop grinning. After running around and screaming for, like, an hour, I texted the number they'd sent.

It was my birth mom's. I'd found her.

Since that splenderific day, my birth mom and I have FaceTimed for three hours at a stretch on more than one occasion. We also got a chance to meet when she and her fiancé came for a previously scheduled ski trip.

This picture was taken safely. Please wear a mask in AT&T's stores.

The fact that my birth mom was also placed for adoption was, at least initially, one of my biggest stumbling blocks. Now that I've (finally!) found her, though, I've come to think of it instead as one of my biggest blessings. She knows exactly how I feel because she was adopted, too, and she knows how much I'll always love my adoptive family because she was adopted, too. But I hope she also knows how grateful I am for HER. I would NOT be where I am without her genes and her decisions. She gave me a fantastic start.

Friday, December 11, 2020

A New Query/A New Hope

I know, I know, long time, no blog. What can I say? It's 2020. But one of the many things I've been working on this year is an MG contemporary that I'm rather in love with and that I intend to query. ("Oh, no!" you're probably thinking if you've been around the blog for any length of time. "What happened with you and Brent?" Nothing really, and therein lay the problem. I think we both knew it was time to move on.) As such, I'd love to get your feedback on the first query I've written in almost five years. First draft below!

Dear [Insert Agent Here]:

Twelve-year-old Ingrid Adler really doesn’t like her aunt. She’s a know-it-all, she’s rude, and worst of all, she left the faith. Then Ingrid’s mom passes away, and her aunt nobly volunteers to help her dad take care of her. She’d much rather have her mom.

She avoids her helpful aunt by reading her mom’s diaries. They’re spontaneous and fun, everything her aunt is not. They also reveal a handful of her mom’s last wishes--to help Ingrid know her birth mom and to ride a roller coaster.

Ingrid dislikes roller coasters as much as she hates her aunt, but she also wants to be as courageous as her mom. When her aunt reads the diaries, she doesn’t give Ingrid a chance to weigh in on her crazy scheme, just organizes a massive cross-country road trip on the fly. With her grieving dad in tow, Ingrid grudgingly sets out to ride the baddest roller coasters between here and the Atlantic. But will this roller coaster road trip help her find her birth mom, too?

[TITLE] is an #ownvoices MG contemporary complete at 50,000 words. My previous agent and I parted on amicable terms several months ago, before I finished the first draft. Neither he nor any editors have read this manuscript, and it will be available to submit immediately.

Like Ingrid, I was placed for adoption as an infant and raised in a mixed-race home that was genuine and nurturing. I’ve also recently begun my search for my biological family. Though I’ve identified my birth dad, who was the younger son of a Filipino immigrant and a native Hawaiian, I still haven’t found my birth mom--but I haven’t given up.

I’m also the author of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, a Junior Library Guild selection, and THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN, among other MG novels.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

A few other notes: I've included my previous books, including publishers and release dates, in my signature block, which is why I haven't put them in the paragraph above. I just thought this looked less cluttered, but feel free to disagree! Also, while I'm looking for feedback on anything and everything, I'm especially not sold on the last line of the summary. Lastly, if you have any ideas for the title, please, please, please lay them on me. My best two ideas so far are HOW NOT TO FIND YOUR BIRTH MOM and THE SECRETS ROLLER COASTERS KEEP, but I'm not sold on those, either.

All right, then, have at it!

Friday, June 19, 2020

An Open Letter to My Birth Mom

Dear Birth Mom,

You don't know me. We met exactly once, on the day that I was born, but by then, you'd been in labor for, like, forty-eight hours, so you must have been exhausted. (I'm so sorry about that.) I hope they let you hold me for at least a little while, but they probably didn't. I'm sorry about that, too.

I should probably back up. Last year, I spit into a tube as part of the audition process for a reality TV show. I didn't make the show because my sister and her husband decided to have a baby (which is a whole other blog post), but I DID get the results from that tube I spit into. And guess what?! They found my birth dad.

He died twenty years ago.

In a car accident, sadly. I learned this from his other kids. I know you knew that he had kids, but did you know that one was only six years younger than you were? I guess he lied about his age. Is that why you didn't get married? I used to think it was because he wasn't a member of your church, but as it turns out, he was. Now I'm not sure what to think. Maybe you broke up with him before you found out about me, or maybe he broke up with you BECAUSE he found out about me. (I really hope that isn't it.) Hopefully, I'll get to ask.

As you've probably surmised, my spit couldn't pinpoint you. I'm quite certain it's because you were placed for adoption, too. But here's the most amazing thing--since my spit is half your spit, it found YOUR birth mom and dad.
   
Unfortunately, they're dead, too.

Are you noticing a theme? My head keeps reminding me that our genes weren't built to last, but my heart keeps holding on. I really need to tell you thanks for letting me derail your life. For giving me life, period. And for giving me two parents who went to the moon and back to help me become who I am. But you were adopted, too, so maybe you already know. Still, I'd love to say the words and meet you face to face. Again.

Until then, I won't give up. I'll chase every lead I have. It might take a little longer thanks to this lovely pandemic, but I'm strong-willed. I'm persistent. And I'm going to find you (in the friendliest possible way). 

Your birth daughter,
Krista

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

EARTH TO DAD’s Cover Three Ways

EARTH TO DAD was my first book to sell in more than one territory, and what added to my delight was that each publisher developed their own unique cover. I thought it would be fun to take a look at these covers and and discuss what each one adds to EARTH TO DAD’s world.


The American cover was the first one to take shape, and I fell instantly in love with Jen Bricking’s interpretation of the two central characters and the overall world. Both Jameson and Astra look exactly as I pictured them, and their environment is harsh but, thanks to the rising sun, ultimately hopeful. (I realize this image could just as easily reflect a setting sun, but I’ve always envisioned it as a sunrise, not a sunset. Now I wonder which Ms. Bricking intended to represent...) I also love the star-swept sky, the saturated color palette, and the striking title treatment. They really make the book stand out.


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened the file that contained the Chinese cover, as EARTH TO DAD was my first book to sell in another territory. Well, suffice it to say I was completely blown away. It was so completely different--and so completely unexpected--but I loved it just as much. The bright reds and oranges are exceptionally eye-catching and definitely create a sense of the red planet's importance. Jameson is super cute, but the focus on his dad also feels appropriate. Interesting side note: because the phrase "Earth to Dad" doesn't translate well into other languages, the Chinese publisher renamed the book MY DAD LIVES ON MARS.


The Korean rights sold on the heels of the simplified Chinese rights, but while the Chinese version was released last year, the South Korean version wasn't slated to come out until sometime this March. (Thanks to the coronavirus, I won't be at all surprised if it hasn't come out yet.) This is the long way of saying the South Korean cover was only finalized a few months ago, so I'm thrilled to share it here. While the American and Chinese covers relied on saturated colors, the South Korean version makes great use of pastels to convey a sense of the story's gentleness. Though the book is set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story is much more about Jameson and Astra's burgeoning friendship and how much they come to care for and look after each other. This cover also does a great job of portraying Base Ripley, where Jameson and Astra live, and you've got to love the South Korean title: HELLO, DAD! THIS IS EARTH.

Well, there you have it, EARTH TO DAD's cover three ways. Which one do you like best? And if you've read the book, which one do you think best represents the story?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Please Join Me in a Worldwide Day of Fasting and Prayer

Update: President Nelson invited us to fast again this Friday, April 10. Christians around the world will be observing Good Friday, but people of all religious backgrounds--or no religious background at all--are invited to participate and ask God for relief from this global pandemic.

 

Tomorrow, I'll be participating in a worldwide day of fasting and prayer to bring needed relief from the effects of the novel coronavirus. Because I've experienced the blessings of fasting and prayer in my own life, I wanted to invite you to participate and experience those blessings, too.

How do I fast and pray?

To fast, you purposely refrain from eating and drinking for a set period of time. I plan to fast for approximately twenty-four hours, so after eating dinner tonight, I won't eat again until dinner tomorrow.

But fasting is so much more than just not eating. To have the best fasting experience, consider combining it with prayer. When I begin my fast, I'll ask God to please moderate the effects of this new coronavirus, to strengthen the immune systems of those who've been infected and those who are working tirelessly to help them, and to relieve the suffering of those whose lives have been upended by this pandemic. I'll renew this prayer several times throughout the day, and then, just before I eat, I'll close my fast by thanking God for this opportunity and by asking him one more time to bless those around the world who've been negatively impacted by the coronavirus.

I'll also donate the value of the meals I didn't eat--and probably even more--to a charity that's working to assist doctors, nurses, and hospitals and/or relieve the physical, mental, or economic suffering brought on by this pandemic.

So to sum up, here's what you do:

1. Stop eating and drinking for a set period of time, usually twenty-four hours.
2. Pray to whichever deity you revere for needed relief from this pandemic.
3. Donate the value of the meals you didn't eat--or even more, if you're able to--to a charity like the American Red Cross, No Kid Hungry, or your local food bank.

What if I can't fast for a medical reason?

There are several subsets of people who shouldn't fast for medical reasons. For instance, pregnant women and people with certain chronic illnesses shouldn't go without food or drink for any length of time. But everyone can participate in the spirit of a fast by praying and donating to a worthy cause.

What if I don't make it the full twenty-four hours?

That's totally okay! The first time I tried to fast, I turned into such a blubbering mess that I had to go home and eat lunch. Fasting isn't easy; things worth doing rarely are. So even if you don't make it the full twenty-four hours, you can still say you fasted. God will still honor your effort.

Is fasting painful?

Yes, especially if you've never done it before. You ARE going to feel hungry. Your stomach IS going to growl. But these sensations only serve to remind you that you're fasting, that you're sacrificing something to benefit your fellow humans and to plead for God's help.

I didn't see this blog post until after the fact--can I still fast?

Absolutely! You can fast and pray on any day for any reason. God never takes a break:)

Who came up with this idea?

I'm not completely sure, but I'm going to say God. In fact, fasting is an element of many of the world's religions. I especially love what Isaiah had to say about fasting in Isaiah 58:

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

"Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.

"Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;

"And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

"And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

"And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."

Aren't those amazing blessings?!

If you choose not to fast, I completely understand. But if you do decide to try it, thank you, thank you, and good luck. I hope you have a unique and inspiring experience.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Presidential Primaries and Lucky--or Unlucky?--Losers

Confession: I like politics. I DON'T like politicians and their frightening inability to get anything done, but I like following the news and generally being informed. I have opinions on most issues and, of course, most candidates. I don't share these opinions often, but at this pivotal juncture of the 2020 election cycle, I thought it might be worth digging into some relevant data.

First, a bit of background: I was a registered Republican until President Trump became the leader of the party in 2016. Now I'm an unaffiliated voter who leans right or left of center depending on the issue. Since I will never, ever vote for our current president, whose character I think thoroughly disqualifies him, I've been following the Democratic nomination process with more than just a passing interest.

It occurred to me last night that voters have been nominating what I'm calling lucky losers. So what is a lucky loser? It's a candidate who finished second in a presidential primary, then went on to secure his or her party's nomination in a subsequent election cycle. There are multiple examples, including John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton, to name the most recent few. In fact, since 2004, the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote, nearly half of the major parties' nominees have been lucky losers, as you can see below:
(i) = incumbent, (i*) = un-elected incumbent, ** = candidate who won most delegates but lost nomination
I've bolded the names of my so-called lucky losers so they're easier to spot. As you can see, Republicans have been much more likely to nominate lucky losers than their Democratic counterparts. In fact, Hillary Clinton was the first Democratic lucky loser in almost fifty years.

But what do John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton have in common? NONE OF THEM WERE PRESIDENT. Lucky losers haven't won a presidential election since George H. W. Bush in 1988, and the only other lucky loser who eventually won the presidency was Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because Bernie Sanders looks poised to become the second Democratic lucky loser in as many election cycles and, as history has taught us, lucky losers tend to lose. Now, in Bernie Sanders's case, this wouldn't make me feel too bad. As much as I admire him for sticking to his principles, I can't in good conscience endorse most of his policies. But I also can't imagine reelecting Donald Trump, which is exactly what I fear will happen if Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

In Pursuit of Patience

Three and a half years ago, in the fall of 2016, I got the impression it was time for Chris and me to try to have another baby. This was kind of monumental. From the time Monster was small--from the time he was born, really--I'd assumed we'd have another. I could almost hear her footsteps pattering around the house, and when I looked for my kids, I constantly looked for a fourth.

The timing had never been right. During most of 2013, spilling into 2014, I'd been majorly depressed. I felt like I SHOULD have a baby, but I didn't WANT another, which just made me MORE depressed. I'd been taught for years and years that children were a gift from God and that having and raising them were two of life's main purposes, so if I didn't want another, I was clearly horrible.

After going to a therapist once or twice a month for more than a year, I went back on medication. That put baby plans on hold, as I was under the impression that you couldn't have a baby while taking antidepressants. I was part relieved, part sad.

By sometime in 2015, I was feeling pretty good. I weaned myself off medication without talking to my doctor. (This was NOT a good idea.) Then 2016 struck. As I detailed in this post, Chris received a job transfer that really threw me for a loop. Still, I came to the conclusion I included in that post:

"I believe God was doing more with my life than I could do with it on my own. It's hard to let go, but I believe He loves and cares for us as a father loves and cares for his children. And because fathers are anxious to see their children succeed, He will help us steer our ships if we're willing to trust Him. In other words, when we let Him in, He won't ever let us down."

Three months after writing that, I was getting the impression it was time for Chris and me to try to have another baby. I was nervous but excited. As I detailed in THIS post, Chris and I had had to deal with infertility before. But this time, I was sure we were definitely doing what God wanted us to do. I was confident that meant the sailing would be fairly smooth.

I smile as I write that now. Hadn't I already learned that God carried out His plan, not what I thought His plan should be? I should have, but I hadn't. I was in for a crash course.

One month went by, then two. A sister-in-law announced that she was pregnant. I was mad despite myself. This sister-in-law had always gotten pregnant on the first or second try. Why had she never had to work? I shared some of these feelings with another sister-in-law, one who's miscarried several times. She completely understood.

Then, a month later, SHE announced that she was pregnant.

I cried a lot that winter, tried to get inside God's head. I hadn't really expected to get pregnant that first month, but what about the fifth or sixth? And why was God dispatching babies to every other family in our family? Was there something wrong with us? Were we less faithful, less deserving?

By the time March rolled around, I thought I was all cried out. Then a third sister-in-law, who'd put off having kids for years, announced that she was pregnant, too.

It was right around this time that I admitted to myself I was probably more depressed than I'd ever been before. I would go on crying jags that would, like, compress my chest and make it difficult to breathe, and my suicidal thoughts were slowly developing into suicidal plans. I spoke openly with Chris about the problems I was having, but they never went away. By April, I conceded to seeking medical help. We scheduled an appointment right away.

Chris went into this appointment thinking our window had closed. We'd tried. We'd failed. Time to move on. That said, I was less convinced. Why had I received that prompting if our family was complete? I know God sometimes allows us to take steps down the wrong path so we can pinpoint the right one, but that answer didn't sit. I was hopeful that the doctor would provide a better one.

Maybe you've already guessed what I learned at that appointment. As it turns out, I was wrong--there IS an antidepressant childbearing women can take from conception to delivery. Multiple studies have shown it has little to no impact on developing babies, and it's safe to take for days, weeks, months, even years.

This changed everything, of course. I walked away from that appointment feeling like I'd found the answer I'd been looking so hard for. And sure enough, a few months later, once this wondrous medication had had time to take effect and I was feeling good again, I got pregnant on the first try.

I could almost hear God's voice speaking softly to my heart: "THIS was the way for you to go. THIS was the path I chose for you. Wasn't it better than the path you would have chosen for yourself?"

What did I say after our house in Mesquite finally sold? "And because fathers are anxious to see their children succeed, He will help us steer our ships if we're willing to trust Him." You see, I ALREADY KNEW that God's way always works out. But when the next storm arose, I forgot and wrung my hands. What will we do, what will we do, what will we do, what will we DO? And yet I already knew: keep calm, carry on, and let Jesus take the wheel.

God allows us to pass through faith-promoting tests and trials just so they'll promote our faith. And if we let them work in us--in us, through us, and around us--then the next time we're confronted with a faith-promoting test, we'll be able to press forward and, if not rest fully easy, then at least rest easier.

Why am I sharing this now? Because I'm waiting to hear back on a non-writing endeavor that would mean the world to me. And because I've been on submission with one project or another for the past almost a year. I HATE being on submission. It's dumb and demoralizing. But as I hope I've FINALLY learned, I know how to handle it.

Have I had difficult days? Sure. Have I prayed for an end? Of course. But more often than not, I've prayed for strength to persevere, and that's made all the difference.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Whitney Award Nominee!


I'm thrilled to announce that THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN is a 2019 Whitney Award nominee. Thank you to everyone who read it, everyone who voted for it, and everyone who loves math and books as much as I do. Readers make this world go 'round:)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Reading Roundup: August 2019

Well, I'm finally caught up on these monthly reading roundups! At least until tomorrow:)

1. SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER by Anne O'Brien Carelli An informative MG historical set in a small French town during World War II. Certainly worth a read.

2. ALL THAT MAKES LIFE BRIGHT by Josi S. Kilpack A novelized account of the early years of Harriet Beecher Stowe's marriage to Calvin Stowe. This story was hard to read at times, as, in Calvin's mind, Harriet never seemed to measure up to his late wife's legacy, but I appreciated their keep-trying attitude. I also appreciated Harriet's preference for writing over cooking and cleaning:)

3. EVER THE HUNTED by Erin Summerill The first in Ms. Summerill's YA fantasy duology, EVER THE HUNTED follows the outcast daughter of the king's favored--and recently murdered--bounty hunter. When the king's adviser tells her that the crown's prime suspect is her father's longtime apprentice--and Britta's longtime crush--she sets off to hunt him down. This could have gotten bogged down in a flat journey motif, but Britta's main objective shifted relatively often, so it kept things interesting.

4. MISS WILTON'S WALTZ by Josi S. Kilpack The last in my most recent flurry of Josi S. Kilpack requests, this sweet historical romance was also the hardest to remember. I read it as quickly as the others, though, so I must have enjoyed it:)

5. THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Erin Entrada Kelly Ms. Kelly is the queen of heartbreaking MG reads, and this one was no different. It might not be the right book for kids who've grappled with abandonment or verbal abuse, though.

6. BLOODLEAF by Crystal Smith I liked this one a lot more than I expected to. The first chapters reminded me of Mary E. Pearson's THE KISS OF DECEPTION, but even though the twists were easier to see coming, the plot diverged enough from THE KISS OF DECEPTION's that it very much held my interest. I'll have to keep an eye out for its sequel, GREYTHORNE, which comes out next year.

7. VOW OF THIEVES by Mary E. Pearson Speaking of Mary E. Pearson, her sequel to DANCE OF THIEVES came out this month, and it didn't disappoint! I very much enjoyed this duology.

Did I really only read seven books in the month of August? Clearly, I've been slacking!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reading Roundup: July 2019

Here's the second installment in my reading roundup catch-up!

1. INSIGHTS FROM A PROPHET'S LIFE: RUSSELL M. NELSON by Sheri Dew Russell M. Nelson, the current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been in the spotlight for as long as I've been in alive. Still, Ms. Dew managed to compile a pretty vast collection of lessons and anecdotes I'd never heard (or just forgotten). I liked learning more about his early career as a pioneering heart surgeon and the Christlike service he's performed in the United States and around the world. (Interesting side note: Ms. Dew is the president and CEO of the book's mainstream publisher. I wish I were the president and CEO of a mainstream publisher:) )

2. ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake The cliffhanger ending--almost literally--of THREE DARK CROWNS sent me scrambling for this book, but I ended up liking it a little less than I liked the first. That might have been because my favorite of the triplets, Katharine, was wildly different in this sequel. (She had a very good reason to be different, and yet I, along with Pietyr, still missed the old Katharine.)

3. TWO DARK REIGNS by Kendare Blake Perhaps unsurprisingly, I liked this third book in the series a little less than I liked the second. Whereas the first book's plot felt tight and expertly crafted, I thought this one's plot meandered. It made me wonder if the books were victims of their own success (i.e., if the publisher asked Ms. Blake to stretch them out).

4. ARCHENEMIES by Marissa Meyer A fitting sequel to RENEGADES. These books are super long, but the world is detailed enough--and the characters and their relationships are conflicted enough--that their overall page counts just let you sink into them.

5. WE HUNT THE FLAME by Hafsah Faizal I'd been looking forward to this YA fantasy for months (at least in part because Ms. Faizal designed this website!), and the opening chapters were super promising. But once the book settled into its unfortunately generic journey motif, it had a harder time holding my interest.

6. HER GOOD NAME by Josi S. Kilpack A Christian romantic suspense that reminded me of the sorts of books I read as a young teenager. Hooray for nostalgic reads!

7. DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY by Brodi Ashton A YA contemporary that poses an intriguing question: what shenanigans do diplomats' children get away with in our nation's capital? Ace reporter Piper Baird, who just won a scholarship to one of DC's top prep schools, is determined to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed Piper's voice and read this one pretty fast.

8. THE LAST WORD by Samantha Hastings I got to hear Ms. Hastings and several of her fellow Novel Nineteens talk at my local B&N, and this book sounded so fun that I had to pick it up. It didn't disappoint!

9. UNDER LOCKER AND KEY by Allison K. Hymas This MG contemporary was a rollicking read about a self-described retrieval specialist and a job gone wrong. I thought it was reminiscent of DON'T VOTE FOR ME in both setting and tone, and I think David and Jeremy would be the best of friends:)

10. THE LADY OF THE LAKES by Josi S. Kilpack A novelized account of Sir Walter Scott's in-real-life romance(s) that I quite enjoyed. (Did you know Walter Scott was knighted after discovering a cache of long-lost Scottish jewels? Because I sure didn't!) The book included chapter notes that separated fact from fiction, but I returned the book without remembering to read them. Still, the general premise made for a compelling story.

Have you read any of these, and if so, what did you think?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Reading Roundup: June 2019

I've fallen woefully behind in these reading roundups, but I'm going to try to catch up over the next couple of weeks. Read on for June's reviews!

1. TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green If John Green wrote a mystery, it would sound just like this book. *pauses to listen to earpiece* Ladies and gentlemen, I've just been informed that John Green did write this book, so there you have it. I was right. I know Mr. Green is sometimes criticized for writing teenage characters who are far wittier and engaging than, say, actual teenagers, but I'd rather read a book with characters who say cool stuff than characters who, you know, don't.

2. STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon M. Draper A delicate MG historical with a message that's still timely (since we can't seem to figure out how to treat one another with kindness and respect). Ms. Draper mentioned that this book was loosely based on her grandmother's childhood, which is super sweet, but the storytelling may have suffered because she was trying to be true to a factual account instead of a made-up one.

3. THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake I FLEW through this book. Though the premise seems far-fetched--three triplet princesses with competing supernatural powers must kill each other off if they want to take the throne--Ms. Blake totally sold it.

4. THE BEAUTY OF DARKNESS by Mary E. Pearson I LOVED Ms. Pearson's DANCE OF THIEVES, so imagine my delight when I learned she'd penned other books in the same well-thought-out world. The first half in particular completely sucked me in, and I must admit that I fell for Ms. Pearson's trickery hook, line, and sinker.

5. THE EMPEROR'S OSTRICH by Julie Berry No one does MG absurdity quite like Ms. Berry. Though I probably enjoyed THE SCANDALOUS SISTERHOOD OF PRICKWILLOW PLACE a little more, this was still a ton of fun.

6. THE KINGDOM by Jess Rothenberg One of my local librarians loves to talk books with me every time I check out, and this was one of her recent recommendations. I probably didn't love it quite as much as she did, but it was a diverting read.

7. FIELD NOTES ON LOVE by Jennifer E. Smith A contemporary romance with a ripped-from-the-headlines high-concept hook, this one's right up there with THE COMEBACK SEASON, THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE, and HELLO, GOODBYE, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN on my list of Ms. Smith's favorites. (What can I say? I have a LOT of favorites...)

8. RENEGADES by Marissa Meyer This was a blind pickup at my local library, and it turned out to be a hit! Though the plot does move methodically, especially at first, I found both the characters and the world to be wonderfully developed. A much more nuanced look at a world controlled by superheroes than your average summer blockbuster.

What have you been reading lately?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reading Roundup: April and May 2019

I'm a month behind again, but better late than never, right? Read on for my readlist (a term I'm totally trademarking)!

April

1. PAPER CHAINS by Elaine Vickers A thoughtful MG contemporary about family and friendship. I especially liked the hockey angle and the fact that Katie was adopted. As an adopted kid myself, I think we may be an underrepresented demographic in children's literature.

2. THE GLASS SPARE by Lauren DeStefano An adventurous YA fantasy with a super intriguing concept, this book stars Wil Heidle, a princess whose touch turns living things into gemstones. Sometimes I thought the plot took a backseat to Wil's relationship with an equally cursed prince, so if you don't like your fantasy with a healthy dose of romance, this might be one to skip.

3. FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West Ms. West always gets an automatic read from me, and this book might just be my new favorite of hers. I loved spending time on the set of a campy book-to-film adaptation of a best-selling vampire romance, and I also loved that Lacey's love interest turned out NOT to be her costar.

4. INTERNMENT by Samira Ahmed This near-future YA contemporary imagines a world in which our government has rounded up Muslim Americans for no other reason than that they're Muslim American and incarcerated them in so-called relocation camps. I'd really, really like to think we as Americans learned our lesson when we did this very thing to Japanese Americans in the 1940s, but if anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, I guess anything's possible.

5. KING OF SCARS by Leigh Bardugo I read SHADOW AND BONE years ago and never made it past that book. Then I picked up SIX OF CROWS and was completely blown away. KING OF SCARS, in my opinion, was somewhere between the two--not as intricately plotted as SIX OF CROWS and its sequel, though the writing was pretty great. I got the impression as I was reading KING OF SCARS that the main characters were reprising roles from the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and when I looked it up after the fact, that appears to be the case. That said, I didn't have a problem following the action even though I never read SHADOW AND BONE's sequels.

6. THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE by Ally Condie The first chapter of this book really took me by surprise, and then the rest of the book also kept me on my toes. I never knew where it was headed, which definitely kept me turning pages. The setting, a mining ship, was also super interesting.

7. THE GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi Set during the Roaring Twenties, this YA historical fantasy is definitely my new favorite of Ms. Chokshi's. The plot was multilayered, the characters leaped off the page, and the rich historical setting was a character unto itself.

8. THE CURSED SEA by Lauren DeStefano A fitting sequel to THE GLASS SPARE. I especially liked how Ms. DeStefano allowed the relationships between her characters to drive the story's conflict.

May

9. THE LIGHT OVER LONDON by Julia Kelly I'm a sucker for World War II epics, and I particularly enjoyed this one. Though they took some time to get to, my favorite scenes involved Louise and her anti-aircraft unit. The guns they set up around London to take down the Luftwaffe were manned in large part by women. They required a whole team to operate--spotters, calculators, and, like, coordinate inputers--and though, legally, only men could fire them, women often served in every other position. Who knew?

10. CONTAGION by Erin Bowman If you've been looking for a fast-paced sci-fi thriller, look no further than CONTAGION. The first couple of chapters were a little slow, but the rest of the book more than made up for it. I flew through this one.

11. THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR by Susan Meissner Ms. Meissner is another of my go-to, must-read authors; the fact that this latest book was also a World War II epic was just the icing on the cake. I didn't enjoy this one as much as SECRETS OF A CHARMED LIFE, perhaps because I was already familiar with the plight of Japanese Americans during World War II, but it surprised me to learn a handful of German Americans also found themselves imprisoned in these relocation camps. My favorite part was the last third, in which one of the main characters was repatriated to Germany (despite being born in Iowa).

12. THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson I read Ms. Pearson's DANCE OF THIEVES a few months ago and absolutely adored it, so imagine my delight when I discovered that new series was a spin-off of The Remnant Chronicles, which started with this book. I enjoyed this one, too, though not as much as DANCE OF THIEVES. (Also, like THE GLASS SPARE, if you prefer the romantic subplots in your YA fantasies to remain subplots, this might not be the book for you.)

13. THE HEART OF BETRAYAL by Mary E. Pearson The sequel to THE KISS OF DECEPTION. I liked this one even better, as the plot was more detailed.

14. DRY by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman This YA thriller scared the living daylights out of me, as I can imagine a metropolis in the American Southwest running out of water someday. Well worth a read.

15. FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar Not as memorable as HOLES or as wacky as SIDEWAYS STORIES, but this MG sci-fi could definitely hook reluctant readers, as it's a quick and easy read.

16. LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry This World War I epic has a most unusual frame: Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, catches Aphrodite, his adulterous wife, red-handed and puts her and Ares, the Greek god of war, on trial in a Parisian hotel room. As a part of her defense, Aphrodite tells the stories of a pair of star-crossed couples who met during World War I. I was indifferent to the frame, but I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of our pair of star-crossed couples. In fact, I enjoyed them so much I went and bought this book after turning the library's back in.

17. CHARLIE HERNÁNDEZ AND THE LEAGUE OF SHADOWS by Ryan Calejo A fun MG adventure built around various elements of Hispanic mythology. The voice was also great. I think kid readers will really love this one.

18. MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS by Meg Medina I really enjoyed this MG contemporary. I don't generally think of MG contemporaries as page-turners, but this one was for me. I guess that Newbery committee really does know what they're doing:)

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, what are you reading? Anything I need to add to the stack on my nightstand?