What Every Writer Really Wants (But Can’t Have)

With the holidays upon us, this is the season of giving. As writers, not only do we give to others in the traditional sense, but we also give the gift of our words to the world. Yet, most people don’t know how much those words actually cost in sanity, time, and even money.

I contemplated compiling a list of what writers would have on their gift wish list, but beyond the regular things like specific pens or pencils, note cards, sticky notes, a new laptop, light up keyboards, a comfy writing chair, and fancy writing programs, well….that was pretty much all I could think of to share. Besides that, it varies writer to writer.

What Every Writer Wants.png

So, if there was no limit to our wishes, I bet our gift giving/receiving would become a lot more interesting.

Unrealistic Wish List for Writers:

  1. Writing snacks don’t lead to weight gain.
  2. Typing burns a lot of calories.
  3. Your imagination easily translates into words on the page.
  4. Plot holes magically fill without the use of a literary shovel.
  5. Our books write themselves.
  6. We “get it right” on the first try.
  7. When we sit down to write, all the words flow from our brain to the paper. Every time.
  8. People stop thinking writing is a fun little hobby that they’d like to do if they had free time.
  9. Traditional publishing doesn’t take forever and ever and ever. And ever.
  10. Dynamic covers on all our books.
  11. Hundreds or thousands of pre-orders before our release date.
  12. Characters obey.
  13. Chapters flow easily.
  14. No one leaves bad reviews.
  15. Our books become movies.
  16. Children are quiet and angelic as we write.
  17. Book signings have no lull.
  18. Computers never start updates in the middle of our writing time, nor do they do an automatic update/restart before our document is saved.
  19. Our manuscripts can’t be accidentally deleted or lost in a computer or technology failure.
  20. We are never crippled by self-doubt and believe in our awesomeness without being full of ourselves.
  21. We have a super power to not need sleep at writing conferences.
  22. We don’t have introvert moments where we wish we were extroverts.
  23. People don’t exhaust us.
  24. Yoga pants and PJs are fancy attire.
  25. We look just like our edited author photos.

While these probably aren’t’ going to happen any time soon, you can continue working to improve your craft, find better ways to accomplish tasks, attend writing conferences to learn new techniques, and work hard toward your goals without inhibiting yourself. Big dreams have never hindered success.

If you could have one (or ten) writer wish granted, what would it be?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

65 Things Writers Love

It’s the month of love! So, with the help of my friends, I made a list of some of the many weird, useful, and surprising things writers love to play with, eat, do, and use while writing.

love.jpg

  1. Space heaters (warmth is a common theme!)
  2. Scrivener

    “Literally have no idea how I ever wrote, let alone edited, without Scrivener!” –Lindzee Armstrong

  3. Hand bound journals
  4. Note cards

“I use them all the time to write ideas on, outline, remember some grand idea (ha!), or to help keep me on track. When back-to-school supplies are on sale, I have to buy some. I also love using the sticky notes that are like 1/3 of the size to use as tabs with a note on it to mark places in books for research.” –Wendy Jesson

  1. Highlighters
  2. Lemon drops
  3. Dove chocolates
  4. Toys and good luck charms

    “I have a figurines of Rey and BB-8 from The Force Awakens watching over my laptop when I work.” –Melanie Bennett Jacobson                                                                                                      thor

  5. Fountain pens
  6. Pilot Frixion pens, extra fine point
  7. Ergonomic keyboards
  8. Slippers

“Slippers are a must. You can’t be creative if your toes are freezing.” –Micheal Bacera

  1. Liquids

Whether it’s Diet Dr. Pepper, Mello Yello, tea, or straight up water, writers need the perfect drink to sip or guzzle.

“My writing needs are simple–beautiful folders, Uniball ink pens, hot tea with cream in a pretty mug and a brilliant idea. I can typically pull off three out of the four” –Vicky Lorencen

  1. New notebooks (Oh! How we love our office supplies.)

” .17 Spiral bound notebooks. Seriously. I leave the store with like ten of them when they’re on sale. I always have a notebook with me.” –Chantele Sedgwick

  1. Smooth writing pens

“I love these extremely specific spiral notebooks that I buy at Barnes and Noble. They are maybe 5-1/2 x 8″, and they have colored edges (red, blue, grey, light green, purple, and real) with lines that match the edge color of the particular page. They are by Miquel Rius and made in Spain. And they have perforations to remove the spiral edge if you pull them out. Covers come in red, blue, black, and purple.I love Pilot Precise V5 RT pens in blue because they write super-smoothly.” –Kelly Ramsdell

  1. Raw almonds

    ” Me, writing: *Need a metaphor, can’t think of one, decide to eat.* Almonds contain the damage.” –Melanie Bennett Jacobson

  2. Ergonomic chairs
  3. The app Self-control to keep ourselves off of social media
  4. Mobile ways to keep track of all our words and ideas

“My current favourite is the voice memo function on my iphone. My ideas come while I’m driving rather than in the shower, so I hit record and talk out loud to myself about plot and character arc ideas, worldbuilding details, etc . . . And sometimes I write whole chapters with my thumbs in my “Notes” app and then email them to myself. This is probably why I get so annoyed when my phone rings . . .” –Kimberly VanderHorst

  1. Cajun trail mix from Walmart
  2. An uncluttered mind

“I also like a clean space. My head is so full of stuff that I like to look down at my laptop and only see it.” –Christine Eller

22.Storyboards

23.. Silence

“I need silence when I write. Music, people talking, the TV… all of that is SO DISTRACTING that I can’t hear the voices – I mean the characters – in my head.” –Shaela Kay Odd

24. Dark chocolate

25. Skinny Pop popcorn

26. Cardigans

27. Legos

legomen

“Dark chocolate and Skinny Pop or the words don’t work. I have an Eddie Bauer “sleep cardigan” that covers my hands and can be wrapped around my body several times. I keep LEGO mini figures on my desk to play with, and often will put together LEGO sets while I think. In the last few months I’ve done the Millenium Falcon and the Mines of Moria. I have a stuffed Moomintroll that I hug, and my dog sleeps under the desk so I can roll her around with my feet.” –Jessica Day George

  1. Goldfish crackers
  2. Chocolate chips
  3. Pajama Pants

“I have to be in pajama pants when I write. My favorites are the men’s lounge pants from Walmart (because POCKETS). I have Captain America, Batman, Superman, and Jack Skellington.

I usually prefer to have a snack nearby. Chocolate chips are a frequent go-to, as well as goldfish crackers, or sometimes potato chips. If I’m feeling heathy it’ll be sliced apples.

I ALWAYS have my water bottle nearby. Cold water helps me focus.

(Last one…) I have to write sitting on the couch. I *can* write other places, but that’s pretty much my spot.” –Darci Cole

  1. Camera

“My camera!! I have a 500mm lens that lets me watch wildlife from afar, and document their behavior with photos. In every season, I lug it with me, hiking, kayaking, sailing. I also use the photos at school visits to talk about descriptive words.” –Tamra Wight

  1. Fuzzy socks
  2. Hoodies
  3. Pellegrino

“I need a hoodie and fuzzy socks. When things aren’t going well in my writing, I can hide under my hood. In the summer – Pellegrino and dark chocolate almonds. In the winter, hot chocolate and trail mix.” –Jolene Perry

  1. Pens

“I’m a pen snob. Nothing is more frustrating than having a creative thought and having nothing with which to record it. My weapon of choice is Papermate blue ink. They never explode, and don’t dry out. These are preferable to chanting in line at the bank, and having everyone wondering if you’re nuts.” –Robin Martin

  1. An empty bladder
  2. Entertainment for wee distractors.

“The only thing I need when I write is a second computer, right beside mine, so my youngest can watch truck shows while I work.” –Bethany Wiggins

“Netflix for my kids. Freedom app to disable my wifi. A trip to the bathroom before I get started. And frequently, chocolate chips.” –LaChelle Hansen

  1. Pencils
  2. Fun sticky notes

“Ticonderoga #2 pencils for first drafts; Pepsi Max; sticky notes with funny sayings; my harmonica of rejection to use when necessary; white out to name a few.” –Linda Boyden

No automatic alt text available.

  1. Hand lotion
  2. Inkjoy pens
  3. Covered knuckles

“A cardi with long sleeves that come down over my knuckles. I like my knuckles to be covered. It’s like I’m about to softly punch the world with knitted knuckles.

And if I can, I love writing under this picture:”

sachiko

–Sachiko Burton

  1. Motivation

“My favorite writing companion is a contract, so I can be sure I’ll get paid. Unfortunately, that’s not usually with me in the creative process, so I need to content myself with a good cup of coffee.” –Tim Davis

  1. “I love Pinterest. It’s perfect for pulling up pictures that look like what I’m trying to write about, and then I have something that I can look at to write a description.

Recent searches include floating cities, mermaid Tiaras, inflatable space stations, and plunging necklines. Pintrest really delivers.” –Don Carey

  1. Detailed outlines

“I have a printed, extremely detailed outline (50-ish pages) next to me. And I have to have a second monitor where I can display my writing log (an Excel spreadsheet). I also have a credenza on which is displayed my large Lego sets that kids don’t get to take apart. (I know. I’m the dad in The Lego Movie.)” –Robnison Wells

  1. Things to play with when we’re stuck.

“Ecojot notebooks. My laptop. Also, I have an abalone shell full of really smooth pebbles on my desk, and I play with them when I’m stuck.” –Kate Messner

  1. Ambience

“I like to burn a candle while I write–especially at night with all the lights off. I’ve even started making my own candles.” –Julie Daines

candle

  1. Coffee shops, libraries, dark and abandoned corners (aka places we can write without distractions)
  2. Inspirational pictures on the wall

    I like having pictures and other items that inspire me and remind me why I am in my writing space.” –Scott Rhoades

    pictures

  3. Comfort

“I wear onesie PJs sometimes…and drink Crio Brü like crazy.” –Jo Seable Schaffer

“I have a fuzzy blanket on my lap, sitting in my recliner, and my music playing. Sometimes it’s Piano Guys Pandora station, sometimes Celtic – whatever fits the book mood.” –Jaclyn Weist

“Sweats, with a fleece blanket and the chihuahua on my lap.” –Linda Budzinski

“Bra off and pajamas on.” –Courtney Willis

  1. Cuddly company

“My favorite writing accessory? Cats. Cats. Cats. But not kittens – they keep trying to roll around on the keyboard when I’m writing.” –Hillora Lang

  1. Crunchy snacks
  2. Music

“Extremely inappropriate music for the work in progress. The sweeter the topic, the punk-ier the music. Stupid loud too. I’ll be sorry someday.”—Hayley Barrett

  1. The perfect spot

“I write in the basement on a section of the couch that kicks back with my laptop on my lap, and I turn on a space heater in the winter or I’ve used a heating pad for my back.” –Alice Beesley

“This is going to sound weird, but writing with a standing desk. I write more when standing than when sitting.” –Adrienne Monson Torkildson

  1. Document holder  document-holder

“I have this cool editing stand that elevates the pages and puts them at an angle and has space for pens and other writing implements.” –Susan Law Corpany Curtis

56. Sharpies

57. Scrap paper

58. Silly mugs

59. Mirror

60. Tower fan

61. Reference books

“*Sharpies, highlighters, and scrap paper for the ideas that pop up where they don’t belong

*chocolate covered fruit or cocoa-roasted almonds or wasabi almonds (depending on my writing mood)

*water to refill my Shakespearean insults mug (from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild)

*carefully culled Pandora station of stalker songs (when writing appropriate scenes)

*a handheld mirror for figuring out which muscles do what while experiencing [insert emotion of choice]

*”The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi for when the mirror fails me

*tower fan with remote control so I can turn breezes on (or off) as needed” –Teresa T.L. Bruce

  1. Warm digits.

gloves

  1. Inspirational words.

“Writers that I enjoy act as a Muses to me. Before writing I read a few chapters by them and that fuels my desire to produce work of the same inspiring quality.” –Tom Baldwin

  1. Books about writing and creativity

“Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and Poemcrazy by Susan Wooldridge are my go to books.” Heather VanHoose Truett

  1. Perseverance

“I used to think I needed certain things and a perfect environment to write. But ever since we moved I do most of my writing in my car while I wait for my kids at some kind of lesson or other. It turns out all I really need is something to type on and a place to sit my butt.” –Elissa Barr


erinErin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

A 2016 Gift Guide for the Writer in Your Life

Writers are a curious breed. We know that. Heck, we embrace that.

Yet we know that our weirdness can make holiday gift-buying tricky for our loved ones. What exactly do you give someone who claims to be productive while staring out the window? By taking a nap? By reading books for research on disturbing subject matters? Whose internet search history could be easily tagged by the FBI because RESEARCH!

For all of the writers out there, feel free to pass this list along to your loved ones as a not-so-subtle hint of things they could get you for Christmas (and birthdays and other holidays) that you’d appreciate.

Bonus: As a writer, chances are, you’re friends with other writers, so maybe you’ll find something great for the members of your critique group.

Double bonus: Maybe you’ll find something to put on your wishlist to buy with a royalty check! Continue reading

Writers are Readers: Best Books on Craft and Creativity

As we all know, writers must be readers. We’ve covered this territory on the blog before–the importance of reading deeply within your genre, the importance of reading widely, the best lessons we’ve learned simply by reading. But reading books specifically on craft and creativity can be one of the very best ways to grow as a writer even during those difficult periods when you don’t have enough writing time. (Is there such a thing as enough writing time?)

In a continuation of our Writers Are Readers series, I asked our contributors: What’s your favorite book on craft or creativity? Here are their wise and wonderful responses.
“I initially picked this up because I was interested in learning about the man behind the creative and dark works of Mr. King. Out of all his collective advice and thoughts, I think the most important thing I took away from him is to write what you are and not fear what that is.”
“It’s the first book I’ve ever read by him and liked. I may not enjoy his storytelling, but I enjoy the way he teaches how to tell stories.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so INSPIRED to write after any other craft book. This is much more of a – BE CREATIVE BE AWESOME! Than focusing on specifics of craft.” ~ Jolene Perry
“It got me to look at my writing process in an entirely new way. It focuses on rediscovering the enjoyment of the writing process, learning to take a more relaxed, slower-paced approach to writing rather than stressing over production schedules and word counts. It’s very much about taking care of yourself as a writer, and I’ve found my productivity has actually increased and my stress level decreased now that I’m taking the advice of this book.” ~ Megan Paasch
“I have to put in another vote for Big Magic, because it helped me learn to separate pure writing from all the mental hangups I’ve accumulated over the years. Just thinking about it makes me want to go read it again!” ~ Christine Hayes

Elizabeth George’s Write Away. Not only does she talk process regarding outlines and revision, but she makes fantastic points about how to keep the story pacing at a nice clip (e.g., talking heads–read the book to find out what that means).” ~ Sydney Strand

“For focusing on craft, I love Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-AssWriter. SO much good stuff in there to help focus your manuscript and tell the story YOU want.” Jolene Perry
“I love Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Not only is she funny, but she reminds me to be gentle with myself–and that (almost) everyone’s first drafts are carp and you just have to push through and get it down.” ~ Rosalyn Eves

“I love Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. It’s written for kids (middle grade audience) but makes a great beginning writing book for anyone. It covers all the basics with exercises to practice in each chapter. Simple, direct, and fun!” ~ Ilima Todd

“My resource isn’t actually a book, but the two things that have helped me the most are the Writing Excuses podcast, and Brandon Sanderson’s Creative Writing lectures on YouTube (2012/2013 and 2014-2015). It’s been enlightening to hear successful authors talk about their craft and the tools they use to improve. Sometimes the process seems insurmountable, but these guys break it down into manageable chunks.” ~ Darci Cole

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. I love how Maass focuses in on the micro moments and characteristics of both character and story arcs to thoroughly enhance the emotional impact of a book.” ~ Tasha Seegmiller

Story by Robert McKee, which addresses some of my biggest weaknesses (like plot and structure). He made me think about stories in a different light and I feel like he goes deeper into story development than a lot of other craft books.” ~ Jenilyn Collings

Thanks to all my fellow contributors for their great input! I know and love many of these and can’t wait to start reading the rest, but tell me: What did we miss? 🙂

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Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

Helen’s Five Favorites from 2014

This entire week we’ve been highlighting our five favorite reads from 2014 in the genre that each of us write. In case you want to visit/revisit any of the previous posts, here’s the breakdown:

Today: My Five Favorites (Young Adult Fantasy and New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Some of my book picks were published this year, some earlier, but I’ve enjoyed reading each and every one of these in 2014! At the end of this post, I also have a special excerpt to share from one of my favorite romance reads.

Aurora Sky (Vampire Hunter #1) by Nikki Jefford
(Upper Young Adult Fantasy)

If there is one thing eighteen-year-old Aurora Sky wants, it’s to get off the iceberg she calls home. Being kissed before she graduates wouldn’t hurt either.

Then a near-fatal car wreck changes everything. Government agents step in and save Aurora’s life in exchange for her services as a vampire hunter. In Alaska. Basically she’s a glorified chew toy. All thanks to her rare blood type, which sends a vampire into temporary paralysis right before she has to finish the job… by hand.

Now Aurora’s only friends are groupies of the undead and the only boy she can think about may very well be a vampire.

This is a great read for anyone who enjoys upper YA paranormal. The main character is a heroine who’s forced to make the transition from a typical high school teenager to a vampire hunter. I loved how Nikki Jefford captured both Aurora’s paranormal challenges as well as her typical high school struggles. Compelling story with great humor, awesome action, and super cast of characters! Loved it.

Awaken (Awakened Fate #1) by Skye Malone
(Young Adult Fantasy)

Running away from home was never Chloe Kowalski’s plan. Neither was ending up the target of killers, or having her body change in unusual ways. She only wanted a vacation, someplace far from her crazy parents and their irrational fear of water. She only wanted to do somethingnormal for once, and maybe get to know her best friend’s hot stepbrother a bit better at the same time.

But the first day she goes out on the ocean, strange things start to happen. Dangerous things that should be impossible. Things to which ‘normal’ doesn’t even begin to apply.

Now madmen are hunting her. A mysterious guy with glowing blue eyes is following her. And her best friend’s stepbrother seems to be hiding secrets all his own.

It was supposed to be a vacation. It’s turning out to be a whole lot more.

This was a fun YA read! Skye Malone spun a creative story revolving around mermaids and other mythical creatures, and I loved the lore connected to the various characters. The story had plenty of action and Malone kept the intrigue factor high as she unfurled secrets and threw in unexpected twists. It does end on a semi-cliffhanger, but the other books in the Awakened Fate series are already available. I already bought book two and can’t wait to hop into it!

Her (Him #2) by Carey Heywood
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

You know her side of the story, now learn his.

“It was useless. I felt branded beneath my skin by a girl who left without even saying goodbye.”

When Will Price was assigned a partner for a sixth grade class project he had no idea she would become his best friend. After years of friendship, she eventually became so much more. Then, one day she left with no explanation. 

Will’s life shattered right before his eyes and he was left alone to pick up the pieces. Floundering, Will must figure out a way to carry on, to find a way to exist without her. 

Seven years later, a chance encounter leaves him desperate to get her back. He has one week to make her his again. Not everyone gets a second chance with the love of their life and Will is determined to never lose her again.

 If you like friends-to-lovers stories, this book is for you! Her is Will Price’s side of the story and is based off Carey Heywood’s NYT Bestseller Him, which tells the story from Sarah Miller’s point of view. I actually read this one first because I enjoy reading stories told from male points-of-view, and I adored it. Carey Heywood did such a great job portraying Will’s emotions, angst, and inner turmoil as he tries to win back his old friend and love.


Charade (Games #1) by Nyrae Dawn
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Nineteen-year-old Cheyenne tries to portray the perfect life to mask the memories of her past. Walking in on her boyfriend with another woman her freshman year in college threatens that picture of perfection.

Twenty-one-year-old Colt never wanted college and never expected to amount to anything, but when his mom’s dying wish is for him to get his degree, he has no choice but to pretend it’s what he wants too.

Cheyenne needs a fake boyfriend to get back at her ex and Colt needs cash to take care of his mom, so they strike a deal that helps them both. But what if Cheyenne’s past isn’t what she thought? Soon they’re trading one charade for another—losing themselves in each other to forget about their pain. The more they play their game, the more it becomes the only thing they have that feels real.

Both Cheyenne and Colt know life is never easy, but neither of them expect the tragedy that threatens to end their charade and rip them apart forever.

Nyrae Dawn has such an amazing gift for writing authentic characters with real issues. For me, the emotional development of characters in new adult stories are key, and I loved being part of Colt and Cheyenne’s journeys as their relationship progressed and became something meaningful. The books in this series may be read as standalones, and I read this one after buying a signed copy from Nyrae at an author event *cue fangirl scream.* Without providing any spoilers, you might want to include a box of tissues if you give this one as a gift.

The Untamed Series by Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green
(New Adult Contemporary Romance)

Rich, beautiful, and wild, Reagan McKinley has everything she needs…but nothing that she wants. That is, until she spends one hot night in the arms of sexy, unbridled Dare Wilde.

She’s a girl trapped in a rigid world she desperately wants to escape, and he’s an untamed artist with an attitude, hell-bent on freeing her–body, mind, and soul. But Reagan’s life is not her own, and Dare is not welcome in it. She can’t include him in her carefully-controlled, extremely public lifestyle…and yet she cannot give him up.

Will a shared passion for art–and, increasingly, each other–be enough to keep them together? Or will it be the thing that ultimately tears them apart?

The epic saga is just one click away…

Available for the first time: all 5 books in the Untamed Series collected into this special omnibus edition–a $13 value, over 1,000 pages long! Get ALL of Dare Wilde–wrapped up in a big, red bow–just in time for the holidays.

Reagan McKinley is a damaged soul in the guise of a woman who has everything, and her journey with artist Dare Wilde is emotional and action-packed. This isn’t just a story about finding your true love, but it’s also about finding courage and inner strength to stand alone. I loved each of these novellas and am looking forward to reading more from these authors!

I’m also happy to be able to share a short excerpt from the authors Jinsey Reese and Victoria Green, two very lovely and FUN women that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know this past year.

EXCERPT

The light of early morning sunshine woke me. Or maybe it was the heat of Dare’s gaze. I felt it on me before I even opened my eyes. It was a weird sensation—both familiar and unnerving. Slowly lifting my eyelids, I found him sitting on an armchair off to the side of the bed, watching me sleep. 

No, not watching. Drawing. 

Eyebrows knitted together and lips pursed in deep concentration, his gaze flitted from me to the sketchpad propped on his bent knee. His hand moved across the surface and the only sound in the apartment was that of pencil on paper. Up and down and side to side, with long, sweeping strokes. 

It sounded beautiful. And almost made me forget where I was.

In bed.

Naked.

After a night of mac and cheese and Dare.

What are your favorite reads from this past year? Comment below!

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. 

Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.

Elaine’s Five Favorites from 2014

Happy December! This week, we’re each spotlighting five of our favorite reads from the genre/age group we write for. For me, this meant picking five favorites from the eighty-one middle grade and chapter books I’ve read so far in 2014. (Not all of these books came out in 2014, but I read them all for the first time this year.) In the end, I was able to narrow it down to ten, so I decided to spotlight five here and five on my blog. So without further ado, here are five of my favorite middle grade and chapter books of 2014!

Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt

Kevin has a bad attitude. He’s the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way–and he’s even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on? Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader’s journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people’s lives.

Not only am I crazy about this book, but my son and daughter and their classmates are crazy about it as well. It is totally engaging and visually fascinating, and the characters and construction of the whole story are just awesome. I’m a fan of any story that invites kids to celebrate poetry and learn empathy, especially when the author is as talented as K.A. Holt.

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

Dear Jamshed,

America is not so different from what we thought. I told you I wouldn’t see a single cowboy riding across the plain, and I haven’t.

I have not even seen a plain.

Still, there are some silver linings. They are:

1.) Trapper and King, the cat and dog who live in the apartment building. They are cuddly and waggy. I am not allowed to play with them, though, becayse they are supposed to catch mice and keep burglars away.
2.) Ironman. He owns a pig and talks to me a lot. But he is a grown-up.
3.) Kids. I can hear them playing outside. Too bad they do not want to play with me.

I wish you were here.
Do you wish I was in India? 
Write back soon.

Your friend,
Lowji


This sweet, funny chapter book was not only one of my favorites, but one of my seven-year-old’s favorites as well. Lowji is such an endearing character with such a unique perspective, and between the cast of kids, adults, and animals, there’s plenty of humor and excitement to keep young readers turning the pages.

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafeh

I Am Malala. This is my story. 

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.

No one expected her to survive.

This is the young readers edition of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir. At seventeen, she’s the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and I finished reading this just days before that announcement was made. I remember seeing it at the bookstore and thinking, “This is such an important book for young girls to read. And such an important book for young boys to read.” A great nonfiction choice for showing kids how much good they can do in the world–and how much that’s needed right now.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.


This book is funny and suspenseful and all kinds of clever. There are seven girls here, and each is so well-drawn and distinct that they feel absolutely authentic. I had such a great time reading this book, and don’t doubt that slightly older middle grade readers who are ready for a good mystery would absolutely devour it. Julie Berry is so fabulous at so many things, and this book is definitely another bright and brilliant feather in her cap.


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

This book received so many accolades–four starred reviews, multiple best-books-of-the-year lists–and deservedly so. I love books where the main characters are dealing with difficult things, and the adults in their lives, though imperfect, are there for them and helping them. Albie is the kind of kid young readers will root for and remember, the kind of character who might make a difference in their lives. And that’s a great thing. 


What books did I miss in 2014 that I need to catch in 2015? (There were a lot of them!) What were your favorites–middle grade, chapter books, or otherwise? Click here to see my other five favorites…

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Elaine Vickers writes middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, or generally anywhere there’s food and/or books for her consumption. 🙂

Tasha’s Five Favorites from 2014

My contribution to this week’s book spotlighting event, I realized five of my very favorite books all had a sort of element of magic, or at least was written in a way that felt magical. They each follow a female character (aka Women’s Fiction) who is working to negotiate through what she has known and the possibilities of life enriched.  I have three others that absolutely justify attention, which I will feature on my own blog tomorrow.

The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

This books explores the relationship of two sisters, Olivia and Jazz, after their mother commits suicide. Jazz is very logical and practical, and put in charge of her sister who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights. Olivia is certain she needs to take a journey to some far off place, a journey she decides to embark on by train hopping. As they negotiate the issues that arise from the eccentric journey, the people they meet along the way, and the obvious opposing means they have each selected to negotiate the reality of their mother’s death, they reach a point where they each have to face the reality of their life, and their relationship with each other.

The writing in this book is lyrical. The character development, description of everything (especially Olivia’s synesthesia), and the heartfelt connection Walsh creates between the sisters makes this a charming book.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

Jio is usually known for her dual time period books, and this starts out with the same feel, but then quickly unfolds as something completely different. In it, Jane receives a card on her 29th birthday instructing her to find the six different kinds of love before her next birthday. If she fails, there will be grave consequences. The trick is that Jane can actually see love – she experiences a sort of vision when this kind of love is present, much to the disbelief of her neurologist, and the science writer she falls for despite her efforts.

I have been a huge fan of Jio’s writing since I first read her, but this book knocked my expectations out of the park where they were already decently vast. The Look of Love rotates through multiple points of view (again, different from her usual two) and each switch allowed me to fall in love with the character, regardless of their faults (which they all have).

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. 

This books is showing up on lists all over the place and for good reason. Hoffman takes the beginning decades of the 1900’s and explores them through the eyes of two characters, Coralie who is an incredible swimmer and plays the role of mermaid in her father’s museum, and Eddie, a Russian immigrant whose own history is full of tragedy. A photographer by trade (eventually), he stumbles upon a mystery after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that eventually leads him to meet Coralie.

If you have read Alice Hoffman before, you will know that despite her incorporation of the magic, her writing tends to be dark (probably a content warning on that) and more serious (If you’re only familiar with the movie version of Practical Magic, this may surprise you). This is the case with The Museum of Extraordinary Things as well, but there is still the sense of wonder and powerful reflection that is characteristic of Hoffman’s writing.


The Witch of Belladonna Bay by Suzanne Palmieri 

Bronwyn left her home of Magnolia Creek, Alabama when her mother died, and hasn’t been back for fourteen years. But when she gets a phone call that her brother is in prison for murdering her best friend, and his daughter, Byrd, is more than her father can handle, she returns. There, magic that she has been trying to hold off since she left comes back. She has the task of trying to sort through the past she tried to leave behind, solving the mystery of what really happened the night her best friend died, as well as providing the support and guidance to Byrd. It soon becomes clear that love AND magic are necessary to fix the family.

Palmieri writes voice in a way I’ve never seen before. The characters are so incredibly vivid, and the magic an obvious accompaniment. This has the plot to keep the reader wondering and the description to leave you in awe. *content warning for language – contextually valid, but warning none the less.

The Book of Life (All Soul’s Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness

This is a little bit of a cheat, because for this book to make sense at all, it requires that you have read the other two books. But I loved them all and looked forward with anticipation to the conclusion of the series. There are no spoilers in this review at all (for the other books either). Diana is still trying to discover the secrets to the book she found in The Discovery of Witches, Ashmole 782. Age old traditions, and the people who maintain them, are violently opposed to a relationship between a witch and a vampire, and their efforts to break up this relationship that has been deepening over the course of three books are intensifying as well.

I often tell people this is the smartest brain candy I’ve ever read. The story is an absolute delight, and at the same time, the readers gets to learn about various pieces of history (primarily from centuries old Europe). Along the way, we get to discern the truth from tradition as Diana works to understand the power she inherited but never learned, has studied but doesn’t know. All of this is enhanced through Matthew’s genetic studies, as well as several other events that continue to encourage the plot to build to a pinnacle that will leave the reader satisfied.

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter and can be found here.