My Favorite Reads of 2014

I read a lot of really great books this year, so I thought I’d write up a list of my favorites. (There are some I loved that didn’t end up on this “favorites” list, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t good! Just take a look at my Goodreads to see what all I’ve read). Also, I cheated and listed a few books that were published last year but I only got around to this year.

In no particular order:

Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle

This book. Guys, THIS BOOK. It is one of the strangest books I have ever read, and that’s one of the many reasons why I love it. On the surface it’s about an apocalyptic infestation of killer grasshoppers, but underlying that is a beautiful story about a Polish boy who tells the reader his family history throughout the book and relates it to his current struggle with bisexuality. There’s a lot going on, but it’s told in such an insightful, funny, and thought-provoking way that the end result is just beautiful.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012)

The writing is simple and philosophical in this book, and creates a very smooth, engaging read. The two Mexican-American boys in this novel stole my heart; they are both so believable and adorable that I wanted to hug them on every page. Their struggle to understand their love for one another, and to understand themselves, caught me up in the novel’s world and wouldn’t let me go even long after I put it down.

Fangirl

Fangirl (2013)

For a long time (until roughly five minutes ago) I thought this book was published this year. Well, no matter the pub date, this book is AMAZING. I found the main character, Cath, incredibly relatable. She’s so wrapped up in her writing and the fictional world of Simon Snow (aka Harry Potter) that she can’t seem to function in college the way she wants to, but still has to find a balance between the real world and her own world. Also, Levi is great.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor and Park (2013)

Basically I just love anything out of Rainbow Rowell. I was amazed by how hard this book hit me in the feels. I mean, seriously, the feels. It starts when an unconventional girl and an unconventional boy start sitting together on the bus, which blows into a startling romance that has them risking social rejection, abuse, and separation. Both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander, #8)

Written in my Own Heart’s Blood

This is the eighth book of the Outlander series, which got super popular this year thanks to the Starz show adaptation. I’ve been waiting for this book for a very. Long. Time. And it didn’t disappoint! It’s always great coming back to Claire and Jamie (and of course, Lord John) and their adventures riddled with inappropriate jokes and sexy times. Also, the ending. ❤

Noggin

Noggin

Okay, this book hit me hard. Really hard. It’s brilliant and inventive in its premise, which is that a teenage boy is brought back to life when his head is attached to a donor body. The main character made my heart bleed. Seriously, he made me tear up more than once, mostly because he was supposed to be a symbol of hope who kept getting hit by all these unfortunate scenarios. It really made me sit back and think about what we should be thankful for in life.

Love Letters to the Dead

Love Letters to the Dead

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would, especially considering it’s an epistolary novel. The prose is elegantly crafted, and every single sentence is gorgeous. It deals with loss, shame, and family in a way that’s both old fashioned and original.

All Our Yesterdays

All Our Yesterdays (2013)

I wanted this back when it was in hardcover, but this year it came out in paperback so I snagged it. So very glad I did. It’s really hard to pull off time traveling these days, but this one nailed it. The novel is split into two POVs: the main character from the past and the main character from the future, who goes back to her past to set up a series of events to prevent her future from happening. It’s really clever and actually made my heart pound with how well it sets up tension.

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #2)

Hollow City

This is the second of the Miss Peregrine’s books by Ransom Riggs, and it’s even better than the first. It’s really fun to get to know the supporting characters better, and of course, the old-time photographs are an awesome touch. But WHY did it have to end in a cliffhanger?! *impatiently waits for book three*

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris’ Autobiography

Yes, I actually read a non-fiction book this year. Because, c’mon—it’s NEIL PATRICK HARRIS. And more than that, the way he wrote the book is fantastic. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure style of autobiography! Who else has done that?! (Answer: no one. Now go read it).

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)

Ruin and Rising

This proved to be the best of the Grisha Trilogy. The writing was lovely, the characters were more realized than before, and intense, dark things were happening all over the place. Oh, and of course the magic and worldbuilding were spectacular. There needs to be more of this type of fantasy in the YA section.

THE END

On Saturday evening I finally typed out the last sentence of my latest book, the third and final installation of my YA Timekeeper trilogy. This sentence—actually, the last two sentences—have been haunting me for months. To be finally able to write them was a cocktail of relief, happiness, and grief.

Relief because this book was hard. Emotionally, physically, mentally, it drained me of everything I had. Which is what I suppose a third book of a trilogy is supposed to do, but man, I haven’t written a book this difficult in some time. It was well worth it, though. The fighting only made the winning sweeter.

Happiness because the trilogy is COMPLETE. *cue “At Last” in the background* I never thought I would write YA books, but embarking on this strange, lovely story was a huge development in my life, and now I want to write more YA. Because it’s fun. And meaningful.

Grief because it’s over. I’m tired and happy to be done for now, but in a few weeks I’m going to be sad that I’ll never get to write another book with these characters, in this world, in this way. And also because of the nature of the ending, how my characters evolved, and what’s become of them. I’m tearing up just writing this because they came to mean so much to me.

So for a while, before I start my next project, I’m just going to remember this one and be glad I finished. And maybe drink a few glasses of wine.

 

Courtesy of Gwen C. Katz

Courtesy of Gwen C. Katz

My Third “Third Book”

I recently came to an interesting realization: I am currently in the middle of writing my third “third book.” The first was the last of a trilogy I started in high school, the second is the third installment in a series I started a few years ago, and right now I’m in the trenches of the third book of a YA trilogy.

And I realized something else: third books are the hardest books I have ever written.

I don’t know what it is, but for these three different projects, it all came down to the same exact formula:

Book One – “Eh, it’s not perfect and I’ll need to revise it a million times, but I’m still pretty proud of it.”

Book Two – “Holy crap this is awesome!”

Book Three – “Everything seems to be going oka—WHAT THE HELL IS THIS”

The first books are where you get the lay of the land, the feel of the story, the scope of the characters. The second book is a little more familiar, but still in that lovely stage of discovery.

The third book?

Well, the third book is usually when everything goes to hell, and apparently I go to hell right along with it. “Is this okay? Does this character’s journey make sense? Is this ‘big’ enough? Does it fit with everything that happened in the first two books?”

Not that I don’t think these third books aren’t good, or that I shouldn’t have written them. I just feel that by the third book, I get really tangled up in the world and characters, and it messes with me a bit. All I see is the ending, and instead of strolling to it like I would in the first two books, now I’m sprinting towards it and waving my arms and yelling like a lunatic.

JUST STAY RIGHT THERE I’LL BE THERE IN A MOMENT

 

Of course, all of this can be fixed in revisions, and I can address those questions when the first draft is finished. Still, the actual writing of a third book is intimate and challenging, and usually makes me want to rock back and forth while eating lots and lots of ice cream.

But I still love writing them.

 

Pitch Wars: Why I Wrote My Book

As part of a fun Pitch Wars 2014 blog hop, a question was asked of all the mentors’ picks: Why did you write this book?

In the spring of 2010 I did something I thought I would be too terrified to do: I studied abroad for four months in London. And it was terrifying. It was one of the most memorable periods of my life peppered with great memories, but the chaos of public transport and the panic-inducing necessity of interacting with strangers ALL THE TIME took its toll.

But there are these little moments I have, snapshots in my memory, that transcend all the anxiety and confusion I felt. One of those moments is seeing Big Ben for the first time, and the handful of times I managed to see it after.

It is absolutely beautiful. Not quite as big as I thought it would be, but still pretty big, and the details in the tower are insane. I don’t know why, but whenever I spotted it in the distance, or stared at it across the Thames when I went to the Embankment, I felt calm. That clock tower centered me. It fascinated the hell out of me.

A few years later, jump to 2013. There was a contest going on at that time for unconventional love stories. So I thought, well, why not? As I was driving to work, I thought about the little golden keychain I have of Big Ben, which I bought when I was in London. And then I got the idea for a book.

What if the world relied on clock towers like Big Ben to run time? What if there are mechanics who have to maintain these towers? And what if one of these mechanics meets the physical embodiment of a clock tower? And–here it is–they fall in love?

Oh yeah, and they’re both boys. In Victorian England.

I couldn’t concentrate on work the entire day. I ran back home and started writing the first scene immediately. It’s a story that was bizarre to me, a category and genre I’ve never written before. But I really, really liked it. And then I loved it.

After some big revisions, I entered TIMEKEEPER into Pitch Wars without much hope. It’s a weird story, and maybe I’m so used to writing adult novels that my YA voice sucks. Then my mentor, Elizabeth Briggs, wrote me and said she loved it. I ended up becoming her alternate, but due to some good news received by her first mentee, I graduated to her mentee instead. Thanks to her, I’ve made some awesome revisions to the book that help make it more well-rounded and complete.

I’m ridiculously excited about this trilogy. My characters get to explore not only the well-trod yet always fascinating Victorian London, but also India during the rule of the British Raj. It’s a diverse YA book with a gay main character, but focusing more on his adventures rather than the fact that he’s gay. Book Three is (slowly) coming along, so while I continuously work on Book One, I’m still chipping out the sculpture of this story. Pitch Wars has been so helpful in that regard, and I’m really proud to be a part of it!

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What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You (Or Your Writing)

“I expect what you’re not aware of would fill several books, Dursley.” – Mad-Eye Moody, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

If you’re a writer, chances are that you will come across the saying, “Write what you know.” However, I have always looked upon this saying with some skepticism. Frankly, I don’t know that much, especially when I first started writing. If I only wrote what I knew, I would be writing books about cake, Doctor Who, and funny cat pictures I find on the Internet.

Therefore, I believe that you should always try to write what you don’t know.

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The Beginning of the End: Starting Your Novel

It’s one of the very first questions you ask yourself when you’re about to begin the novel you’ve been pining to write: how, exactly, do I begin this thing?

I think most writers, especially those just starting out, pick the wrong place to begin. I myself have been a victim of the “wrong beginning” syndrome, but I’ve found some valuable advice to help me plan how the story should start off.

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Finding the Right Structure for Your Novel

Trying to find the right story structure for your novel is kind of like being a drunken architect. You only have some idea of what you’re doing, but you’re too excited to step back and wonder if an entire floor made out of gummy bears is practical. It’s your creation—you initially get to decide where the story goes, and what happens when. This can be absolutely daunting, but there are some basic steps to take that won’t leave you locked out of your own creation because you said cotton candy keyholes were the next big thing.

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