My top six Young Adult and Junior Fiction reads of 2016

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This year I committed to reading a dino-load of books and absorbing, by capillary action, every awesome aspect I could find within them. I managed to read 60 Young Adult and Junior Fiction books this year, and I’m overjoyed with that.

So, what were my favourites? In precise alphabetical order, by author (that’s the librarian in me coming out…) here they are:


‘The Things I Didn’t Say’ by Kylie Fornasier

thingsIdidn'tsay

Young Adult Contemporary

Powerful. This got into my head. Beautifully written.

See my review here.

 

‘Illuminae’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illiminaeYoung Adult SciFi

Like nothing I’d ever read before. Mind-blowing.

See my review here.

 

‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J. Maas

YoTOG-NYT-Coverung Adult Fantasy

Hello Fantasy and welcome back into my life! This was addictive.

See my review here.

 

‘Sister Heart’ by Sally Morgan

Junisister-heartor Fiction Historical

Beyond powerful. A must-read that both broke and filled my heart.

See my review here.

‘Deltora Quest’ by Emily Rodda

deltoraquest Junior Fiction Fantasy

Love love loved this series! It reminded me of landmark books of my childhood and left me filled with joy.

I haven’t published a review yet, I want to figure out how it all worked…

‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth

divergent Young Adult Dystopia

When a book helps define a genre, you expect fireworks and meteor-shower-spectaculars from it. I got everything I was looking for with this one. And more.

No review though, because I read it well before I started this blog… sorry you’ll just have to read it yourself… if you haven’t already!


 

So there they are, my best reads from a very good year!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Heather :o)

 

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Rich, witty and enthralling: ‘The Iron King’

the-iron-king

Books are like diamonds. You can give two jewelers the same rock, and at the end of all their cutting and polishing, one will spray rainbows among dancing sunbeams, and the other might as well be a shattered fragment of soap-scummed shower-screen.

Likewise you can have several books set in the same world with a similar premise, and one will stand out. This book is one such sparkling delight…

‘The Iron King’ by Julie Kagawa is set in a world shared with many other novels. It involves characters brought into life by others. It follows many expected tropes.

But Kagawa takes her world and lifts it to another level. She cuts a fine diamond!

This is a successful series, with a lot of avid followers. I can see why. I’ve read another of Kagawa’s series before, so I was ready to be impressed. Things that worked especially well in this book for me:

  • Immersive world-building
  • Clever humour throughout
  • A tantalising romantic sub-plot.

If you don’t like spoilers, now is the time to nod sagely and stop reading… Otherwise, read on!

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How times have changed…

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Made by me using pablo…

Back in 1910, this was how children’s books rolled. It’s one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite series as a child – the famous Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce.

I can just imagine turning up to my critique group with a sentence like this in a middle-grade manuscript… I don’t think they’d laugh me out of the house, but only because they have excellent self-control. And yet I spent hours dreaming of riding horses on a cattle farm in outback Australia because of these books!

The power of words, be they strange or familiar…

Recently someone was telling me how historical kidlit fiction should use modern language to avoid alienating the readership. I’m not so sure. There was something about Bruce’s writing that immersed me in her time.

However, I draw the line at anything like the quote above…!

Putting a little DORK on my FORK: ‘Dork Diaries #1’

dork-diaries

As an ex-librarian, when I found the first ‘Dork Diaries’ on the WRONG SHELF, no – <gasp> – make that the WRONG ENTIRE SIDE of the Junior Fiction section of my library, I knew I had to help it find its way home.

Except when I picked it up, I immediately recognised the title, and took it out instead.

Yes, I hear what you’re saying… ‘But, Heather… this book was published in 2009! How can you not have read it yet?!’

That’s cool – I believe in better late that never when it comes to books.

My first take-home from this book is it’s not entirely my thing. And that’s completely fine because gazillions of other people think it’s their thing. So it’s still valuable to review why it worked. I don’t need (or even want) to write a book just like it (no one should for any book), but I can incorporate some of the winning ingredients into my own writing.

My second thought was about how different this ‘girl’ book was from funny ‘boy’ books of a similar ilk. More focus on clothes and looks and the opposite sex. Hmmm…

But what worked in this book that I can take into my own writing?

  • Friend-making
  • Love interest (not hopeless)
  • Besting the nasty popular kid through personal skill
  • Fab illustrations.

My favourite thing is the way MC Nikki keeps on saying all these awesome and/or outrageous things, and then tells us it was only in her head. A clever trick. I would internally gasp, like ‘Did she really say that?’ and then find she didn’t. Sometimes I was relieved, sometimes I was disappointed!

‘But I just said it in my head, so no one else heard it but me.’

And you know what else I love? In the acknowledgments, author Rachel Renee Russell thanks her agent who saw ‘the potential of this book when it was merely fifty rambling pages about a quirky girl and her fairy godmother.’ This book no longer has a fairy godmother. (Quirky girl? Still a tick.)

From that, I figure that compelling character and great writing will win out. Maybe we don’t need to get that submission perfect. Maybe, even if it’s the wrong genre aimed at the wrong age group, if we write well enough someone will see the potential.

Write on, people!

A fab message in a package kids will love: ‘All The Lost Things’

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Not all Picture Books are created equal…

There are books you hate your kids to love. Ones that tell them beauty is everything and they need to wait for someone else (probably a handsome prince) to rescue them from their problems.

I change the words when reading some of these (eg the beautiful girl becomes a smiling girl) but that doesn’t fix the stupendous plot and morality issues. Besides, now my daughter is starting to read and she’s figuring out my subterfuge…

So, on to picture books you love your kids to love! ‘All The Lost Things’ by SCBWI Aus West author/illustrator Kelly Canby, is one of these. I don’t need to change anything when my daughter and I read this book together.

What does Olive, the main character, care about most? Her family, her community, and hope. She’s funky. She’s happy. She’s inquisitive.

Go Olive!

A wonderful book with a great message and engaging illustrations. And not a handsome prince in sight.

 

When writing and maths don’t gel: cutting your word count

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Made by me using pablo…

So, I want to shed 7,000 words from one of my WIPs. It’s about 350 pages long…

Ever the mathematician, I figured it was as simple as deleting 20 words per page and – hey presto – I’d be at my magical number.

100 pages into my cull, and I’m down 1,500 words. Roughly, that equals NOT ENOUGH.

As one of my bosses used to love to say: “Toughen up Princess”. This is not even murdering my darlings, this is just 20 puny words per page. I can do this!

Step 2 is going to be Murdering Some Of Those Darlings (hey, why hold back? entire scenes even??!), so I hope I can step up the word removal before I get to that. I want this draft to be within the accepted norm for word count for a Young Adult.

Cut cut cut!

How to create and maintain suspense: the riveting ‘Black’

Black.jpg

I read this book in one sitting. NOT because it’s short (it’s actually 276 pages). NOT because I was reading-deprived after a month of writing (which I was, but that’s not the real reason). NOT EVEN because I didn’t want to go to bed before I figured out what super-scary stuff was going down that would otherwise give me nightmares.

No. I read this in one sitting because it’s that damn good.

I lent it to an author friend and she couldn’t put it down either.

Black‘ by Fleur Ferris is totally worth reading.

Obviously, me being me, I then wanted to figure out why this book was unputdownable for two sleep-deprived children’s writers.

Roughly speaking, it’s split into two almost equal parts. Part One, where we’re anxiously trying to figure out what is happening and waiting for it to all go bad. And Part Two. Where it goes bad, and we’re caught up in Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall’s fight to regain herself. I understand what makes the second part tick. I can write action and up the stakes and have people fight for their lives.

But the first part of the novel is a brilliant study in creating suspense.

I knew I had to work out how Ferris had done it. Want to know too? Read on.

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