Sunday, December 22, 2013

A New Year’s Toast to Our Favorite Books of the Year


At this point, you’ve probably read a lot of lists of the year’s best books.  While we agree with so many of the fantastic books praised by the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and NPR, we’d also like to point out the top three books that we devoured this year that didn’t make it into those lists.

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

The story takes place on the floating city of Internment where you can be whatever you want to be, but you can never leave. Even getting too close to the edge of the city can lead to madness, as the main character, Morgan, knows from her own brother’s experience. But when the first murder in a generation rocks the city, Morgan can no longer stop herself from wondering what's truly keeping her in her place.

While at first glance, this may look like another dystopian book in an oversaturated market, in DeStefano’s hands it is so much more. Easily one of the most beautifully written books we’ve read this year, DeStefano’s prose is so poetic, yet effortless. We’re so glad this is just the first in her new series. If her Chemical Garden series is any indication, we're in for a really gripping ride.

Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead

The latest book in the Bloodlines series follows Sydney Sage, a human torn between her family, her career as someone who bridges the worlds of humans and vampires, and her relationship with her very sexy, very undead boyfriend.

It must be harder to get on to the best of the year lists if you are in the middle of a series, but Mead’s books just keep getting better and better.  The characters and relationships evolve and deepen, and the plot twists become more intricate. If it were up to us, The Bloodlines series would never end.

Two Boys Kissing by David Leviathan

Based on a true story, the book tells the story of two 17-year-olds boys who take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new world record and take a stand against a homophobic attack.  Narrated by a Greek Chorus of gay men lost to AIDS, the rest of the book is filled with other teen boys dealing with relationship issues, coming out as gay or transgendered, and struggling with self-loathing.  

We have no idea why this book was overlooked by the best of the year lists. Not only is it gorgeous and full of pathos, that made Betsy openly cry on the subway, but it’s an important contribution to LGBT literature that should be taught in schools. Or maybe not, because it’s even better to discover it on your own and savor it, and then talk about it over and over until your friends have no choice but to read it and repeat the process. 
We don’t own the images, but hope Simon and Schuster (Perfect Ruin), Razorbill (Fiery Heart), and Knopf (Two Boys Kissing) won’t mind us borrowing the cover images to go along with the gushing reviews.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not Your Momma's Book Club

Does anyone else have a book club whisperer? The friend who manages to keep the book club going for years despite the constant flux of people moving, getting new demanding jobs, and having babies? For me that person is my friend Ella, who loves nothing more than books, wine, and connecting people. I asked Ella to share her thoughts about a recent foray into starting a book club for kids because I though it was just too cute. Spoiler: there was no wine involved, but she did score a wonderful middle grade author to make a special appearance. If you haven't read her books, I highly recommend them.
Over the past few years, my six year old daughter observed how much fun mommy and her friends had at book club, mostly after she went to bed. So she decided she wanted to host her own book club which meant, of course, that I needed to plan it for her.
Luckily, my good friend Courtney Sheinmel is a popular kids book author, responsible for bringing the wonderful series Stella Batts into our lives. Courtney agreed to come, read a bit of Book 2 and take questions from the audience.
The kids loved the experience and asked really great questions. Stella Batts' main character is a third grader, and one of the most profound questions came from a 3rd grade boy, who asked if Stella was left back because she is “always in third grade in every story.” Courtney explained that for continuity, she writes Stella as a forever third grader and makes no mention to birthdays and holidays, so that Stella's adventures can be relevant throughout the whole school year. Other readers asked how Stella got her name, about the process of writing in a kids’ voice, and where Courtney gets her inspiration for Stella's adventures.
Courtney in turn asked the kids how they would like to see Stella's story evolve and even explained fan fiction to the kids. The grown-ups had as much fun as the children, and enjoyed asking Courtney for her own adult and young adult book recommendations.
As a parent, I saw first-hand how a kid focused book club could provide an enjoyable and easy way for children to hone their  literacy skills and I loved how the experience encouraged reading comprehension. In preparation for the day, we enjoyed reading the books together and discussing plot and character related questions. I’m glad we had this experience and look forward to participating in future events.
Photo: Author Courtney Sheinmel and Ella's little bookworm, Sasha.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pitch Wars: Resistance is Futile

Like so many (many, many, MANY) others, Betsy and I have cast our hardworking, critique-loving hats into the ring, and entered our YA paranormal novel Essex Hill into Pitch Wars. What are Pitch Wars? It’s a contest run by the fabulous Brenda Drake ( and her team of slush-tastic readers that pairs published/agented authors, editors, or interns with writers hoping to woo agents. 

Many of the contest entrants are posting reasons why the participating mentors should choose them– all under the hashtag #PimpMyBio. So, since all the cool kids are doing it, Betsy and I thought we’d dust off the jazz hands, polish the tap shoes, and tell you why you should pick us.

We’re Ready for Boot Camp
We’re hardworking, perfectionist, team-players who aren’t just here to be told how amazing we are. Our egos are way in the back of the hall closet along with those roller blades, just in case roller blading ever makes a comeback. We WANT criticism and feedback and a swift kick in the ass. We’re ready and willing to murder our darlings and rip our manuscript apart, poke at its guts with a stick, and put it all back together like some bionic-super-story: better, stronger, faster.

Collective Consciousness
We’ve been friends for over 20 years and in that time we have collaborated on numerous creatively challenging projects – from producing a weird downtown Shakespeare adaptation in an old deli on the Lower East Side, to battling one of the most obnoxious landlords in all of NYC, and planning each other’s weddings just three months apart, and of course, novel writing – so we know how to work together. Over the years we have developed a highly sophisticated, possibly psychic process for sharing ideas, critiquing each other’s writing, and coming up with a finished product we both really dig. It’s at the point now where we feel a bit like the Borg – our hive mind generates this work and we often can’t recall who wrote what or where certain ideas came from.

Plus, with two writers working on the project, we have twice the productivity output! And just think – in the time it takes to mentor one project, you’ll have boosted the careers of two writers! That’s two for the price of one! You can’t afford NOT to choose us.

Operators are Standing By
Have a question for us? Need an answer ASAP? We’re there for you night or day. Betsy lives on the East Coast and has a pre-schooler and an almost two hour commute, so she’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:00 am Eastern Standard Time. Carrie is in California and has insomnia, so she’s usually awake until 1:00 am Pacific Time. That means one of us is awake and on call to knock out some bad-ass rewrites at all hours of the day (except from 4:00–6:00 am EST/1:00-3:00am PST).

And finally…

There Will be Cookies
(That’s right, we’re not above bribing you with baked goods. Lots of baked goods. Lots. Martha Stewart should be scared.)

PS big thanks to Dannie Morin and Christopher Keelty for putting together the PitchWars Mentee Contender Bio Blog Hop.