Get our boys reading! – ‘The Ruins of Gorlan’

ra_ruinsofgorlanIf you love unabashed epic middle-grade fantasy, you’ve probably heard of John Flanagan. Between the Ranger’s Apprentice series and Brotherband Chronicles, I count nineteen books. Each and every one with a totally awesome cover.

Today I’m heading back to where they started, in 2004 with ‘Ranger’s Apprentice Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan‘.

Hang on one book-devouring second…

Nineteen books in just over twelve years? And another one due this year? That is, hands down, awesome work. Bravo Flanagan!

So, what did I love?

  • Positive relationships
  • Incorporation of bullying
  • Mystery
  • World-building

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

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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 sporty Hero’s Journey – ‘Pocket Rocket’

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Brilliant! Talk about filling a Jupiter-sized kidlit hole. Awesome girl playing non-traditionally-female sports and acing it? Bring it on! ‘Pocket Rocket‘, by Ellyse Perry and Sherryl Clark, is the first in the Ellyse Perry series, and it rocks.

Perry is up there with Australia’s top sportswomen, having represented our country in both Cricket and Soccer (football for you non-Aussies). I think she rocks as well!

This book, aimed at primary-school-aged girls, covers Perry’s first few weeks at high school as she tries to get on the school cricket team and win the Club Cricket grand final. It covers issues like changing friendships, settling in, and sticking to your dreams.

 I love that her Dad is the parent we hear most about – their relationship is really positive. And diverse characters are throughout – just like in a real life Aussie school.

The Basic Ingredients for this Junior Fiction book

  • 141 pages
  • ~25,000 words
  • 15 Chapters
  • Humour, friendship, self-belief
  • Swift publishing of Book 2
  • Books 3 and 4 coming out within months

If you’re not scared of the occasional blatant spoiler or ten (okay, it’s all spoilers), read on for my deconstruction… Continue reading

Ten things I fist-pumpingly love about ‘Ten things I hate about me’

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‘Ten things I hate about me’ by Randa Abdel-Fattah is a fab and supremely recommended read. I couldn’t resist making a list of ten things I loved about it!

So here goes…

1. This book is all about believing in yourself and being true to who you are.

2. It’s dealing with race relations in the wake of the Cronulla riots in 2005, but the message is (sadly) still very relevant today. The Main Character, Jamilah or Jamie, is a Lebanese Muslim. That’s a fist-pump for diversity!

3. The email chat between Jamilah and ‘John’ is funny and caring and a great way to show the other side of Jamilah just bursting to come out. Continue reading

How to balance hot YA Book Boyfriends with positive self-esteem – the electric ‘Obsidian’

Beautiful face. Beautiful body. Horrible attitude. It was the holy trinity of hot boys.

obsidian_coverThis is Katy’s p27 take on Daemon Black, one of the most entertaining Love Interests I’ve met in a while. I’ve been reading ‘Obsidian’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and it’s got me thinking about how to create the perfect YA Book Boyfriend.

Adding romance elements to YA can make your book HOT. But this isn’t just about book sales – if you’re writing for teens you need to be considering their self-esteem, and modelling positive relationships.

I also see three elements to a great YA Book Boyfriend, but I think Katy got them wrong. As a character, she’s supposed to get it wrong. We, the readers, are the ones who need to see it right.

Elements of a hot-dayam Love Interest:

  1. Instant (mutual) attraction
  2. He acts like a jerk most of the time
  3. There is a good reason why, and we readers get hints about this early.

I’m not saying this is the only recipe for romantic tension, but it’s one that’s worked time and again. But don’t miss the important fourth element – your MC’s self-esteem.

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Magnus Chase and the Remarkably Similar Plot Premise, a.k.a. If Percy ain’t broke, don’t fix Magnus

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This book was an entertaining read and I’m in no way dissing Rick Riordan. He’s one of the top-selling authors of 2016, with a eye-watering US$9.5 million in earnings. He’s doing many, many things super-right.

Naturally, I’d like to know what just a few of them are!

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer is Book #1 of the Gods of Asgard Series. The thing that struck me as I read this was the definite similarity to Riordan’s best-selling Percy Jackson series. And why not? It worked once.

Heck – it’s working again.

And why? Because the premise is a good one, but Riordan changes things enough that we’re not bored.

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Learning from the best with ‘Obernewtyn’

Obernewtyn

With the recent long-awaited release of ‘The Red Queen’ by Isobelle Carmody, I decided it was time to have a look where the Obernewtyn Chronicles began – way back in 1987 with ‘Obernewtyn’. I have friends that are human, and I also have wonderful friends that just happen to be books. ‘Obernewtyn’ is one of these.

I was a very Y YA when I first picked up this book, and it took a few years and a junk mail run before I’d scrimped enough money to buy a copy of my own. That was 1994. My copy is the one pictured above. I know. Old school. I’ve carried this much-loved book around with me for decades.

Why?

Why did it work so well? How could one amazing book create such a following that Penguin didn’t care that it took three decades and many unexpected books to conclude? Continue reading