How to Write Irresistible Kidlit

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Cover of Writing Irresistible Kidlit by literary agent Mary Kole (http://kidlit.com)

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Genre: Writing Tips
Author: Mary Kole (Literary Agency) (Personal Website) (Kidlit.com)
Recommended? Yes. If you want to write YA or MG, I really, really, really recommend it.

I’ve read a lot of How To Become An Awesome writer type of books. I’ve also attended conferences, webnairs, and followed a lot of writer blogs, and out of all of those great tools and resources, kidlit.com has always been a favorite of mine. It’s run by literary agent Mary Kole. At my regional SCBWI conference, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar hosted by her and meet her briefly. It wasn’t the first time I heard about her book (she’d mentioned it on her website) but it’s where I finally got to order one. I really loved it, even though I’ve read all the archives of kidlit.com, I felt I learned plenty of new things or insights. The book is broken down into the important things you need to know when writing for the YA or MG marketplace.

It starts with an overview of the Kidlit Market then moves to describing the MG and YA reader’s mindset. I’d like to think I’m well educated with both, but Kole gave insights I hadn’t thought about. She then talks about the importance of a Big Idea in stories, the foundation of storytelling, how to make a great YA or MG character, how to structure plots, and she talks about advanced skills (such how imagery, voice, theme, author authority and authenticity.

In case you haven’t considered the traditional publishing route, the last chapter breaks down everything you need to know about it. The role of literary agents, the query letter, submitting your work, and a few more bonus tips and tricks. Again, I’m well versed in those areas but Kole brought a new point of view and a very interesting one since she’s a literary agent herself.

Reading this book was fun. It forced me to think about my own writing and gives exercises to help you find problems with my plot or characters. Editors, YA and MG authors, and other literary agents give bonus tips and insights throughout the book as well. Kole reinforces everything she says by showing examples from popular YA and MG books. She gives plenty of time to both sections of the kidlits.

GEEKS, GIRLS, & SECRET IDENTITIES

https://i0.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1349153367l/12606292.jpgStars:
Recommended? If you’re looking for a funny, action packed, book then this book won’t disappoint you. Plus, there are a ton of comic book references that are fun to find.

Mike Jung spoke at my regional SCBWI conference. He was funny, energetic and a debut author with a very impressive story (and editor! Arthur Levine — the American editor of Harry Potter!) so, of course, I had to pick up the book. I loved hearing him talk about how he became an author — those are always my favorite parts. It wasn’t instant. He rewrote Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities quite a few times — like, completely sometimes. Originally it was told from Polly’s POV, now it’s in Vincent’s. Even though I generally don’t read MG, Jung won me over. If he was that funny in person, I couldn’t wait to see what his book was like. And, really, I’m not a fan of funny books, so the fact that he made me want to read one was pretty remarkable.

Synopsis from GOODREADS:

A SUPER funny, SUPER fast-paced, SUPER debut!

Can knowing the most superhero trivia in the whole school be considered a superpower?

If so, Vincent Wu is invincible.

If not (and let’s face it, it’s “not”), then Vincent and his pals Max and George don’t get any props for being the leaders (and, well, sole members) of the (unofficial) Captain Stupendous Fan Club.

But what happens when the Captain is hurt in an incident involving BOTH Professor Mayhem and his giant indestructible robot AND (mortifyingly) Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent totally has a crush on?

The entire city is in danger, Vincent’s parents and his friends aren’t safe, the art teacher has disappeared, and talking to Polly is REALLY, REALLY AWKWARD.

Being the only girl in my family, I’m very familiar with comic books. My brother particularly love them, so I had no choice but to read them, too. Well, that’s not true. I could not, but I was always boyish growing up (all boy cousins and only brothers will do that to you). I found myself highly amused with all his comic book tie ins (like the school names, Xavier, and such). Aside from that, the voice, the plot, and the funniest of it all pulled me in. I understood Vincent, Jung really nailed a MG boy. He reminded so much of my brothers at that age. And the little boys I tutor at the library.

Except, none of them know a superhero. That would have been cool. Polly’s a big player in this book–and as a girl who is generally extremely critical of female characters–it means a lot that I liked her so much. She was intense, strong, clever, and believable. I adored her. I totally wish I was as badass as she is when I was her age. Plus her story, her tie in with the plot, was brilliant. Who would have saw that coming?

This book’s an easy read. Not just because it’s MG, but the plot keeps going and never lags. It wasn’t a challenge to finish it in one day. I’m glad the ending leaves open a possibility for something more. I’d like to see where Vincent and Polly’s story could continue to. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any future books by Jung. He’s made a fan out of me.

Crewel: Gennifer Albin

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Recommended? Yes, just yes. Anyone who enjoys YA will love this book. It’s fantastic. It’s really original, the prose is brilliant, and there are so many layers to this story it’ll keep you thinking for ages.

I read this book a while ago. A local Indie bookstore had a book signing for this debut author, Gennifer Albin. Some of you might have heard about her book, CREWEL. It’s been talked about a lot because she’s a debut but got a major offer for her trilogy. Here the concept, straight from goodreads:

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.

This book was an amazing read and remarkable when you consider it’s a debut book. It is instantly interesting and the stakes are so high it’s hard to put the book down. Really, really hard. But at the same time I couldn’t keep reading it. I was so, so, so not looking forward to being done with it. So it took me a couple of days to finish it. I just… knew that once I was done I’d have to wait for the second book! And at the book signing Mrs. Albin mentioned she was still working on the second book so… ugh. It’ll be agonizing to wait…

The main character, Adelice, is stellar. She’s funny, prideful, and all around likeable. The writing is great and the romance — though subtle, which is what I like — is just so heart-tugging. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it. One surprise followed another, I barely ever could really guess what was going to happen next.

And then the way it ended…? Wow. Simply wow. I cannot wait for the second one. I really can’t. It’s going to be so painful to have to wait…

Mrs. Albin was extremely nice, too, and it was so nice to hear how well a debut author in the YA market could do. She’s the exception, but her book is amazing. It’s so original. It’s been spun as Mad Man meets the Hunger Games. Though I don’t see it like that. It’s just so different.

I predict this will be the next big thing in the YA market. If it’s not, then there’s something wrong with the world.

Possess: Hearing Voice

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Recommended? Yes, if you like paranormal things and can overlook the initial overused idea of Catholics and exorcisms. But the Main character, Bridget, is pretty kick ass and well worth the read. Plus, McNeil has a powerful voice that can easily carry the story.

I actually finished this book about a week ago but I’ve been busy… so here’s the late review. I’m not sure why it is, but generally I’m overly critical of leading ladies. I’d say seven times out of ten I really don’t like the main character if it’s a female. Either they are too perfect, which drives me crazy, or they just rub me the wrong way. In the case of Possess, the MC is Bridget Liu and I really adored her. She’s strong, but flawed, and does not mess around. If she needs to get something done then she gets it done — no matter what. Plus her half-Irish Catholic half-Chinese heritage makes her pretty interesting.

The side characters are really amusing, too. Hector, her queer fellow social out cast at their Catholic High School, is hilarious. Kevin, the obsessive friend/stalker, is interesting but I was lukewarm for a while towards the love interest: Matt Quinn. At first, he seems just… like all over high school love interests — perfect, handsome, clever, and sportive. Blah. Boring. But, like a lot of things in this book, if you look passed the initial “oh that’s been done before” moments then you’ll really enjoy it. Matt turns out to be more than I thought.

The story is interesting and keeps moving from start to finish. There’s no boring lull and the end is sort of a surprise. It seems like the end leaves the book open for a sequel but — as far as I’m aware — there isn’t one. If there were, I’d read it.

The problems: cliches and so-been-done moments flash up all over the place in this book. For example, Bridget is a social outcast. What? A girl with paranormal powers is a social outcast, who could see that coming? Not. Plus, just the natural Catholics and exorcism thing. We all have been through that before. Then her mortal nemesis is Miss Perfect Bitchy Popular Pretty Girl. Owww, never seen that one before… not. Still, if you can overlook those few minute details then it’s a good book. It’s entertaining, the MC is kickass, the story just keeps going, and I really enjoyed the ride.

One more down side, the ending comes quickly and wraps up in like two pages. So for those out there that don’t like rushed endings, beware.

But the best part of the book? The voice. It’s flawlessly weaved throughout the story and really interesting. It nails a snarky teenager and can keep you entertained even when you encounter one of those so-bee-done-before moments.

Girl of Nightmares & Auracle: Vastly Different Paranormal Experiences

Rating:

Recommended? Yes. For all the reasons I recommend reading Anna Dressed In Blood. But the ending of this book… oh, it’s brilliant. It’s amazing. This book will haunt you for days after you’re done reading.

Just like Anna Dressed In Blood, I loved this book. It’s another remarkable book, that’s well worth the read. The ending of this book was amazing. It was perfect and so sad at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this entire book. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, wondering what was going to happen and which characters were going to end up dead. Again, I either loved the characters or hated them — there really wasn’t any half-feelings. Though I was conflicted a few times on how to feel about Jestine and Carmel from time to time.

I really like Thesus Cassio Lodwood. I can’t think of a main character I’ve enjoyed more than him at the moment. He is easy to relate to, even though I doubt many of us go out hunting ghosts at night — or love a ghost girl, either.

The writing was pretty great, too. The way Blake can just slip in the most disturbing imagery as if it is no big deal was impressive. She really has a talent for description, too, I could picture everything in my head clearly from her words. I just… was in awe of this book once I was done with it (which took all of one day because I couldn’t put it down).

I wonder if there will be another… I really want there to be, because I enjoyed the story so much, but end felt like closure, like it’s officially The End for Cas’s story. Either way, I’m going to read Blake’s next book (whatever it is). I’m a fan. The ending of this book still haunts me. I think about it all the time. It’s just so… right for this book. Everything is so right in this book. I loved it.

AURACLE by Gina Rosati

Rating:

Recommended? Sure. It’s worth reading, somethings bothered me in this book but if you are looking for something mildly funny and light but filled with drama then this would be a good book for you.

This book didn’t really get a fair shot from me, I’ll admit. I had just finished reading Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake and I was still thinking about it when I was reading this book. So I didn’t really allow myself to be fully immersed in the story. It’s an interesting one. The concept is the main character, Anna, can astral project and during a mishap another girl gets into her body and starts to control it, leaving her stuck without a body. With the help of her best friend, Rei, she starts her journey to get her body back. I really liked Rei but Anna… I mean, I liked her, but I couldn’t really relate with her. She was so good and pure and oddly spiritual (in a new agey type of way, not traditional) that I just couldn’t buy it.

A lot of this book taps into new agey things. And the balance between the power of negativity and positivity. I’m not into that type of thing at all. Give me a horror story any day, but don’t make me think about new agey spirituality. That aside, it was an interesting read. I liked Rei, I liked Seth, and I liked Anna well enough. But… there were things in this that bothered me a lot.

I don’t like excessive exclamation marks, particularly in narration — even if it is first person POV. This was done multiple times. As was CAPITALIZING WORDS TO MAKE A POINT, which I dislike. I just feel like it’s a cheap way out of good dialogue. You should be able to show the emphasis of these words WITHOUT DOING THIS. I know JK Rowling did it, but still, I’d rather not deal with that.

Rosati did a great job of packing a lot of tension and drama into the book, though. And I’m sure a lot of parts would have been very amusing for people that have a better sense of humor than me (I have a dry one, more Parks & Rec than SNL). The way she explains the other dimension Anna is in is very real and sometimes even beautiful. She has a great talent to explain the unexplainable. I will most certainly read whatever her next book is, so I’m not saying she’s a bad writer. She just does things that I would never.

Plus, the solution to the problem is pretty obvious — at least it was to me. And Anna really brought most of her problems down on herself because she was either stubborn or just… stupid for not thinking of the obvious answer. But, like I said, I really like Rei and his family. I’m glad I read this book, and I’m glad I bought it, but when I just read a book I loved as much as Girl of Nightmares, I guess I was expecting something else. Or something more.

Anna Dressed In Blood: Remarkable Read

Rating:

Recommended? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Do you like a little horror? A little romance? And a whole lot of WTF just happened moments? Go find this book and read it now.

I loved this book. I loved it from the start to the finish. I loved everything about it. I loved Cas. I loved Anna, even when I wasn’t supposed to, and I loved the cover art. I mean, come on, look at it, how can you not want to read it after looking at that? Once I got more than five chapters in, I hopeless. There went my weekend, I couldn’t put it down. I’m dying to read Blake’s next book, Girl of Nightmares. I read about that book at Pub Crawl and instantly wanted to read it but I knew it was the second in a series so, obviously, I had to buy the first.

This story is amazing and completely engaging. It starts in action and ends in action. There’s something going on in every chapter, every second, and it all means something — but, you probably won’t realize it right away. There are characters that you’ll love and character that you’ll hate. But I guarantee it’ll be one or the other. There’s not one that I feel just faintly one way about.

At first, I thought this was going to be like Supernatural. I was a huge fan of that show for a long, long, time. The first five seasons of which was amazing, so I figured I’d like this book. That Cas was going to be a mini Dean Winchester but it’s not really. Or a mini-“Cas” (Castiel), which was all I could think about at first when I learned the MC’s nickname was also Cas. But the story is its own and fantastic. Even though everyone’s read about ghost killers before, right? Well, most people, at least. This was different from the rest. It was unique, and I really did like Cas a lot.

Blake is an amazing writer. She tells a fair share, but that’s just what happens when a story is first person POV. It’s present tense, which is perfect, because it’s full of urgent-action-filled-moments. I didn’t notice a lot of unneeded adverbs or adjectives. And I love her for showing that fiction, particularly YA, can be filled with semi-colons and that there isn’t anything wrong with that.

The best part was that I never knew what was coming. I really didn’t. I thought I did a couple of times but I was always wrong. And the ending… I just can’t wait to read the next book. Which, really sadly, I did not buy yet. Damn that little voice in my head that whispered what if you don’t like it? I should have already bought Girl Of Nightmares. I could’ve returned it if I didn’t like the first one… I guess I’ll just have to go buy it tomorrow. I was planning on reading another series starting tomorrow (I’m sort of on a read-a-thon) but that’ll just have to wait.

Deadly Cool: First Love Is A Killer

Rating:

Recommended? Yes. If you like YA and murder-mysteries, this book is well-worth reading.

The main reasons I decided to read this book are (A) the cover/title/catch-phrases are pretty intriguing  and (B) Gemma Halliday is represented by Holly Root. Usually, the teen-Nancy-Drew-sleuth thing isn’t what I’d consider reading but I liked the way the back of the book sounded, the first couple of pages were pretty interesting/witty/funny, and the cover was beautiful so I figured, why not? And I’m so glad I did.

The books not perfect. There are slightly silly (on the verge of stupid) things, like the whole “censorship” throughout the book. Teens don’t censor themselves when they talk, trust me, when I was sixteen I wasn’t using the word ‘effing’. Besides, censorship in general is just idiotic. Forbidding the use of words only gives those words more power. Plus, if I read ‘effing, in my head it’s fucking, no one is fooled by it and it means the exact same thing so why not just say it? Be authentic. And then, of course, the whole reveal thing at the end — like with any murder-mystery — was just kind of there. I was surprised, I think, by who it was, but the whole ‘I’ll take a minute to explain everything to you’ bit was a little… unattractive. Plus, everyone who isn’t Hartley (main character) and Sam (man character’s bff) is kind of a stereotype. That was a little annoying, too. I’m also unsure if I really believe the motive behind the murders, but whatever. Crazy is as crazy does.

Aside from that, the voice is great.I can always overlook  a couple of plot issues when the writing and voice combined are nearly perfect. It’s actually a really amusing story line and I really liked Hart, Sam, and Chase. No books perfect but this is really worth reading. One of my favorite parts of the book is how Hart starts out trying to find the murderer for her cheating ex-boyfriend but ends up doing it for herself. She needs a little help here and there, but in the end she pretty much figures out who did it all by herself. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a good murder-mystery with a witty, clever, likeable, strong leading female. There’s a second book called Social Suicide, I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to. I just have so many books that I’ve bought and haven’t gotten to yet…