NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 13

I've had this book on my TBR shelf for ages, and it's the perfect selection for my 13th title of the year. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Razorbill, 2007) is one of the hottest YA novels of recent memory--talked about, argued about, and most of all, read (more than 21,000 reviews of it are posted on Goodreads). So now I'll be one of its readers too.

"A brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a gifted new author."  --Kirkus (starred review)
an international best seller
If depressing teen stories are not your thing, you'll probably want to steer clear. But by all accounts, this is important reading. I'm excited! You?

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thank You, Wellsville!

A huge thank you goes out to the Eagles of Wellsville Elementary in Wellsville, Kansas! I loved visiting their school last week. The students there are smart, attentive, and apparently really good readers. (One class finished the book only minutes before my presentation.) I had a fantastic time.

Barring any last-minute surprises, the Wellsville visit wraps up my school year. I've loved visiting with all the students I've seen this year--over a thousand and counting! This fall, I'll be making an appearance at my alma mater, Pawnee Elementary School in Overland Park, Kansas, to help celebrate their 50th year anniversary. I hope to visit several more schools and festivals in the coming months. If you're interested in scheduling a visit in person or via Skype, email me at claire [at] (substitute "@" for the [at] ) or visit the web page here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Four Questions For Writers

Thanks so much to Jennifer Ann Mann, author of the marvelous Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry and the sequel, Sunny Sweet Is So Dead Meat, for tagging me in this blog tour! If you haven’t read the Sunny Sweet books, you’re in for a treat—funny, heartwarming, and ultimately revealing, Sunny and Masha are my favorite literary sisters. The idea of the tour is to take you from blog to blog to see how different writers answer the following four questions. You can read Jen’s answers to the four questions on her blog post here. And when you come back, read on for my own responses.

1. What are you working on?
Right now I’m working on revisions for The Wand & the Sea, which is the sequel to The Key & the Flame. It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like The Wand & the Sea will be published in the summer of 2015. I’m also working on another book, but it’s too early in the process to talk about it. Suffice it to say it’s a middle-grade novel with some supernatural elements to it.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
That’s a tough one! I think my stories have interesting plots but also delve quite a bit into character. People have told me that my writing style is a bit old-fashioned, which I consider a compliment.

3. Why do you write what you do?
I write fantasy and sci-fi for kids mostly, but not exclusively. I love writing that stuff because it’s just fun. I’ve written angst-ridden, serious fiction before, and it can be a drag on your emotional state after awhile. I write the kind of books I love to read and have always loved—books about ordinary kids who have that once-in-a-lifetime chance to live through an extraordinary, magical experience. And hopefully, they grow and change in the process.

4. How does your writing process work?
Before writing paragraphs and chapters, I spend a lot of time taking notes, brainstorming, and doodling (as much as what I do can be called doodling; it resembles nothing you’d recognize). I outline my books loosely, and then when I can’t stand the suspense anymore of wondering what will happen, I start writing to find out. I always end up deviating from the initial outline, but I always pin down the end of the story before beginning, and I do like to outline more specifically what’s going to happen in the next chapter as I go. Otherwise I’m likely to get stuck having the characters stand in a circle and stare at each other.

image by Mummelgrummel (own work) and used with permission according to this Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fun Friday: Colbert vs. Neil Gaiman

I love seeing and reading writer interviews. Here, two of my favorite people (neither of whom I've ever met) face off in a 2009 interview on The Colbert Report.

Neil Gaiman is the phenomenal author of Coraline, Fortunately, the Milk, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and yes, the Newbery-winning The Graveyard Book, among many other fantastic books. Visit him online here.

Stephen Colbert is the host of The Colbert Report on the Comedy Central Network. He will take over as host on Late Night with David Letterman sometime in 2015. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS by Katherine Marsh

Title: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
Author: Katherine Marsh
Pub info: Hyperion, 2012; 384 pp
Genre: YA historical
I'm a sucker for a good historical novel, and this one's premise was so unusual that I just had to pick it up. You should too.

Goodreads summary:
Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?
Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?
Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.
He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer.
After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper’s carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can't even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past.
Masterfully written, grippingly paced, and inspired by real historical characters, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the tale of an extraordinary hero and his inspiring quest to become the master of his own destiny.
New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2012
The Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2012
Status: finished 4/20/14
My impressions:
Katherine Marsh tells this unusual story of a court dwarf in lush detail, bringing the end of the sixteenth century alive without overwhelming the reader with a history lesson. Jepp is an endearing character to follow, and while he suffers cruel treatment, his humiliations are tempered with judicious editing. At first I was reluctant to call this a YA novel, though that's how it was marketed, because it could be a story for anyone, despite the main character's age (16). But I can imagine another sort of author dwelling on the unsavory details of Jepp's life instead of the hope. The story is compelling, the pace quick, and the entire narrative believable, despite how removed it is from our current experience. If some elements of Jepp's story seem a little contrived, a bit deus ex machina, it's a small complaint for an otherwise wonderful novel.

About Katherine:
Katherine Marsh was born in the suburbs of New York City and began her career as a high school teacher and journalist. Today she lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and two cats. She is also the author of The Night Tourist (Hyperion, 2008), which won the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery, and its sequel, The Twilight Prisoner (Hyperion, 2009).

Check out Katherine's website here. Follow Katherine on Twitter here, and on her Facebook page here. You can listen to an interesting interview with Katherine about Jepp and its origins here (NPR's All Things Considered).

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: May 5.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Writers Playing the Waiting Game

Oh, sweet limbo! How we curse it. How we think, Yeah, just wait. When I'm a published author, there'll be no more of this wondering what's going on, waiting for an agent to get back to me, tapping my feet while an editor considers my work. I can't wait for that.


I guess you see where this is going. Every writer, published or not, plays this fun game of wait-and-see. Wait for the editor's edits. Wait for the copyedits. Wait for galleys. Wait for that expert source to get back to you. Wait for publishers. Cover art. Bloggers. Reviews. You get the picture.

So what can you do?

Here's the thing: A writer's career is not a one-person show, no matter how much we talk about the lonely life of scribbling away in the garret. You can't force anyone's hand, whether it's an agent, editor, reviewer, or someone else. But you can force your own hand and do your part of the job--i.e., write the books.
So no matter what you're waiting for, there's something you can be doing. Try one or more of these:
  • brainstorm new ideas and/or dig up old manuscripts that you might be able to revive
  • sketch out the next book in your series
  • write something totally new and outside your comfort zone
  • try your hand at "flash fiction"--a short-short story
  • write a few "evergreen" blog posts and stock up for the future
  • update your website
  • work up a new school-visit presentation
Your job doesn't stop just because you're waiting on the next step. Try juggling more than one project at a time; get more irons in the fire. Being able to jump from one project to the next gives you flexibility and keeps your creative muscles toned.
You might as well get used to it. We can't afford to sit around during those long wait times. You'll always have them, and the better you use them, the more productive you'll be.

image by Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA (Bored, bored, bored  Uploaded by Jacopo Werther). Use permitted under this Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fun Friday: Tennant Reads Shakespeare

If you didn't know that April was National Poetry Month, well, you're probably in good company. Here's your poetry gift for today: Actor David Tennant reads Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" It's also David's birthday, for which we can thank his parents for giving us a great actor.

Yeah. You're welcome.

(Click here to get the iPad app, which showcases many different performers reading Shakespeare's sonnets.)

David Tennant is a Scottish-born actor known for his roles in Broadchurch, Doctor Who, and onstage as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company. And loads of other wonderful stuff.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 12

I picked up Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh (Hyperion, 2012) last year because I was astounded by the premise. How many YA novels do you know that deal with the experience of court dwarfs in 16th-century Europe? Yeah. About that many. Totally unique. That grabs me.

"This highly unusual story about a highly unusual hero will also feel like your story. Few of us are imprisoned dwarfs, but all of us want to guide our own lives."  --Jonathan Safran Foer, New York Times best-selling author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

"This shining gem is a must-have."  --School Library Journal

New York Times Notable Children's Book of 2012

Dwarfs--real ones!--during the Age of Exploration. Not your typical YA material, gang! Go out on a limb with me.

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: 17 AND GONE by Nova Ren Suma

Title: 17 & Gone
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Pub info: Dutton Juvenile, 2013; 354 pp
Genre: YA thriller/paranormal

There's nothing more interesting than following an author from her debut novel through her career and watching her take off. As soon as I read Nova's first book, Dani Noir, I knew I'd found a keeper. Her third book, 17 & Gone, did not disappoint.

Goodreads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

With complexity and richness, Nova Ren Suma serves up a beautiful, visual, fresh interpretation of what it means to be lost.
Status: finished 4/10/14

My impressions:
This is a tough book to review without giving away too much. Suffice it to say that Lauren's journey of getting to know--and obsess over--the many lost girls she discovers is complex and utterly believable. A thread that runs through Nova Ren Suma's books is an exquisite balance between what is known and what is unknown; the real world and the world just beyond. A strong theme in this book is that 17-year-old girls are all too often left to chance. It seems harsh, even unrealistic, to ask, Who cares about another 17-year-old runaway? And yet it's a fair question. When a 10-year-old goes missing, a neighborhood mobilizes. But a 17-year-old is on the cusp of adulthood, and if she runs away, well, maybe there's a good reason. Suma doesn't want us to leave these girls by the roadside. They matter, and Lauren matters. You'll read this book and come to know Lauren intimately, and what she cares about, you'll care about. It's a fascinating journey we take with her.

About Nova:

Nova grew up in small towns across the Hudson Valley and now makes her home in New York City. Her YA novels Imaginary Girls (Penguin/Dutton, 2011) and 17 & Gone were both named 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound by YALSA. She also wrote the middle-grade novel Dani Noir (Aladdin, 2009), reissued as Fade Out for a YA audience (Simon Pulse, 2012).

Nova's next book, The Walls Around Us, is due out in spring 2015 from Algonquin YR. Like a few other authors on my TBR 2014 list, she is a contributor to the YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, coming from Dial/Penguin in fall 2015.

Check out Nova's distraction no. 99, which is one of the best writer blogs out there. Her news and events can be found here, on her website. You can chat with her here on Twitter, and watch a video interview with Nova right here

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win!  Next giveaway: May 5.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fun Friday: Who Gives a #^(! About an Oxford Comma?

I'm a fan of the Oxford comma, people, and not just because it's named after the Oxford University Press, which makes it sound like a supersmart thing. It's come from years of editing using the style book most favored by American publishers, The Chicago Manual of Style. But its use is--gasp--optional. Here's today's informative video on the topic:

And here's today's irreverent take on the topic. (Caution: an R-rated word is featured. You've been warned.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 11

Yippee! YA! Month rolls on with Nova Ren Suma, one of my favorite new(ish) authors. Her 2011 YA novel Imaginary Girls is luminous and not to be missed. So I'm thrilled to be reading her third novel, 17 & Gone (Dutton Juvenile, 2013). It's about 17-year-old Lauren, haunted by visions of girls who have gone missing. I know it will be fantastic.

"Elegant, riveting, powerful, and poignant, this suspenseful, supernatural tale slips under the skin, inking out a haunting tapestry of menace and madness."  --Libba Bray, bestselling author of The Diviners
"A compelling, skillfully written page-turner."   --Booklist
 "With a complex and intriguing plot, this novel should have no trouble finding readers."  --School Library Journal

Nova is an exquisite writer, blogfrogs! Pick up a copy of 17 & Gone and read along with me.

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

 Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Pub info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012; 578 pp
Genre: YA historical paranormal

The glitzy streets of Manhattan may be the duck's quack to Ohio native Evie O'Neill, but a restless spirit has her fighting for her life before you can say sloe gin fizz. This book is a must-read if you love your thrills mixed with a bit of history. Welcome to April! It's Yippee! YA! month on the blog.

Goodreads summary:
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.
Status: finished 4/2/14

My impressions:
Okay, I was a little biased going into this book. I love Libba Bray's writing, so I was prepared to enjoy the book. I also love the 1920s time period. And I love New York City. So, win-win-win.

But wow.

Part of this book is like cruising through a noisy speakeasy, meeting character after character who you'd love to know better. You get just enough of a taste of each life to become invested, and then you're whisked away to the next. Each character is interesting and multifaceted; each is linked to the others. All of them kept me turning pages, from gutsy flapper Evie to the scholarly Uncle Will, orphaned poet Memphis Campbell and his psychic brother, and Ziegfeld Follies girl Theta Knight and her sweet piano man, Henry.

Then there's Bray's stunning, detailed picture of 1926 New York, from fashions to cigarette ads to catchy slang and hot jazz. This tumultuous time period--a whistle in the dark between the tragedy of the Great War and the devastating Depression to come--is the perfect setting for the rise of an evil spirit.

And that's the final piece: The ghost story. This isn't a pretty haunting, and the murders are quite grisly, but they're kept firmly in PG-13 realm. (Picture a ghoul coming at a young girl with a bloody hatchet, and ... fade to black.) The creeps are genuinely chilling, and the story flies by as if unencumbered by its massive page count. I stayed up late several nights to finish it and now absolutely can't wait for the sequel. Additional plus: This story is self-contained and completely stands on its own--no cliffhangers here--but the stage is set for more evil to sprout in the next volume.

About Libba:
Libba Bray is the New York Times-bestselling author of The Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing); the Michael L. Printz Award-winning Going Bovine;  and Beauty Queens, an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist. She is originally from Texas but makes her home in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, son, and two sociopathic cats. The sequel to The Diviners is called Lair of Dreams and is due out from Little, Brown in August 2014.

Catch Libba online at her website here and the separate website for The Diviners series. She is also active--and very funny--on her Twitter account here. You can see two fantastic trailers for The Diviners: The official one is here; this other one was created by a fan but is absolutely fantastic. (I know it looks like a movie trailer, but as of this writing, The Diviners has not yet been produced for the big screen. Paramount Pictures has optioned the book, which Libba will adapt, but no word on a release date yet.) 

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win!  Next giveaway: May 5.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

April Giveaway


In case you missed the newsflash, the first Monday of every month features a NEW GIVEAWAY on the blog! Take your pick of any of the books I've reviewed the previous month. This month's theme was Mostly Middle-Grade March Madness ("mostly" because there is one title for adults in the mix). Here are your choices for this month. Click the links to read the reviews of each:

by Charlotte Rogan
adult literary thriller / historical

edited by Chris Van Allsburg
anthology of fantastical tales, ages 8+

by Clare Vanderpool
historical Newbery winner, ages 9+

by Tim Federle
contemporary humor (sequel to Better Nate Than Ever), ages 10+

by Jasper Fforde
fantasy, ages 9+ (Book 1 in the Chronicles of Kazam series)

by Jasper Fforde
fantasy, ages 9+ (Book 2 in the Chronicles of Kazam series)

by Neal Shusterman & Eric Elfman
sci-fi (Book 1 in the Accelerati series), ages 9+ 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No.10

When I first heard of The Diviners (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012), I got that wonderful, shivery, goose-bumpy feeling that means, I have to read this! I might have felt it even if I hadn't known it was written by Libba Bray, but the fact that it was just added to the anticipation. I mean, Libba Bray, people: she of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy and the sublime Going Bovine. It's a ghost story/occult murder mystery set in one of my favorite places--Manhattan (New York, not Kansas, just to be clear)--and one of my favorite time periods--the 1920s. What could possibly keep me away?

"1920s New York thrums with giddy life in this gripping first in a new [series] from Printz winner Bray...The intricate plot and magnificently imagined details of character, dialogue and setting take hold and don't let go. Not to be missed."  --Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"The compelling and dramatic supernatural plot explores self-actualization, predestination, the secrets everyone hides, and, of course, good versus evil. An absolutely terrific read and, thankfully, the first in a planned series."  --School Library Journal (starred)

I'm already a little bit afraid to go to sleep after reading this book late at night! Ready to be chilled? Pick it up and read along!

** Also, blogfrogs, side note: Anyone notice that my shirt (kind of) matches the cover? Totally unplanned.

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writer Wednesday: Tools of the Trade

When I was a kid, I wore tennis shoes all the time. My reasoning was that you never know when you might need to make a quick getaway. Operating under that same mentality, I still like my life to be small and portable, to travel without checking luggage. I want to take the most important things with me, without a lot of hassle.

Because you just never know.

So I love tech that serves double or triple or quadruple duty. Early on I embraced the Walkman, then the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. They allow me to take not only my music and calendar but even my writing anywhere, even if I'm on the run. (Was I a con artist in a former life? Why is this a thing?) Of course, the ultimate portable writing tools are the notebook and pen, but notebooks get heavy, they fill up, and more notebooks must be purchased. And the notebook doesn't give me that blessed technology that I embraced at age ten, the keyboard.

So when I discovered last week that Microsoft had released Word for the iPad, I kind of screamed. In a good way.

It's a dream come true: store my manuscript in the cloud; call it up on my iPad whenever I like; send it back to the cloud; and when I get home to my laptop, there it is, edited and looking just as fabulous as ever. No formatting issues, no tinkering, nothing. Just seamless.

I'm not writing an advertisement for Word for iPad, because frankly, I don't care if anyone else uses it or not. My point is: When you find a good writing tool, welcome it. Splurge on those fantastic gel pens that you can only find in the fancy stationer's store. Buy that book of maps. Go on that research trip. Get the tool that works for you and say, I'm investing in my writing.

I realize that might not be true. You may be just BS-ing your way to a pretty new laptop that you'll use to buy new Sperry shoes and post pictures of your cat on Facebook. But I hope not.

I always talk about writing in my office with my door closed and my cup of coffee beside me, as if that's the only way I can work. But recently I had about an hour and a half to kill after dropping my kid at a choir rehearsal before the concert began. I brought the iPad with me, knowing full well I'd probably not work.

But somehow, I did. My tools were right there, and the environment was so novel that I didn't sit and agonize. I just hammered out the next scene. And I even got a little bit of a Real Writer thrill: Didn't Hemingway and Fitz hang around in Parisian bars, scribbling away in a haze of blue smoke and Scotch fumes? I'm just like them! Well. In the lobby outside the concert hall, but still.

Tools are important. Find the ones that work for you. Get them. Use them. Love them. Your writing is worth it. 

image by Petar Milošević (own work) and reproduced under this Creative Commons license. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.