TBR Bingo!

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Hey, all! I had a fun idea that I shared on Twitter today and figure I may as well share here too! It’s a way to finally get yourself to read alllllll those books that stack up in your house (or on your e-reader) that you legitimately do wanna read, but just can’t seem to make the time for…even though you’re suddenly buying fourteen other books.

Basically:

  1. Create a bingo card, which you can easily do here, filled with books you already own and absolutely want to read: https://t.co/9d5RjK1zOG (doesn’t need to be 5×5, either; they have options for smaller ones!)
  2. Every time you see one of those books mentioned on social media, or spot it on a shelf, or whatever, READ IT. Then cross it off like you would on any other bingo card.
  3. Note: if you realize there’s one you’re not seeing anywhere, go ahead and read it anyway – this is how you know it especially needs love! Then you can be the person mentioning it!
  4. As soon as you get bingo, treat yourself to a new book or an ARC read or whatever your usual vice is that prevents you from reading what you already own!

And to make sure you hold me to doing this too, here’s my card!

(Yeah, I know, I can’t believe I haven’t read any of those either.)

Interested in participating? Share your card and/or follow along with other people’s at #TBRbingo!

How is it August??

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My my, it’s been a while, but hello out there to all those who still read this blog, and thank you for doing so! As you may have noticed, I’ve been up to my elbows in blog posts for LGBTQReads and the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, and I’ve also been busy with this little guy:

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Yep! For those who may have missed it, I had a baby in May, and somehow the entire summer flew and now he’s this big boy and I’m going back to work in…two days. Oh God.

So, admittedly, not a lot of writing has happened in…a while. But there is some bookish stuff going on, so, check it out!

  1. Behind the Scenes and Under the Lights are both on sale this month for $1.99! Please consider sharing the sale, buying, gifting, whatever you can do to help support these books, especially the supergay one. You can find them both here: http://amzn.to/2uWg24J but if you’re buying today (August 2), using this link for Under the Lights would be awesome! http://ebookdaily.com/bargain-kindle-books/2017-08-02/B00X3ODI90Ebookdaily125

2. Out on Good Behavior is on sale too! Just .99 at all retailers!

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Amazon USB&N | iBooks | Smashwords |  Kobo | Amazon UK

3. The next anthology I’ll be appearing in, All Out, is up for preorder! You can see what it’s all about at Amazon or B&N! (And if you know me, you can probably figure out which story mentioned in the cover copy is mine!) And of course, you can see it has an official release date of February 27, 2018!

4. The anthology I’ll appearing in after that is up for preorder too, and the gorgeous cover was just released by USA Today! Check out this beauty!

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Preorder here: Amazon | B & N (Note release date: March 13, 2018!)

So, that’s what’s up over here – hope you enjoy whatever you may buy/borrow/read, and enjoy the rest of the summer! (Or winter, for those on the other side of the equator!)

Your First Chapter is a Promise to Your Reader: Great Opening Pages in Diverse YA, by Eric Smith)

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The fabulous #DVPit pitch contest for marginalized writers is back, and I’m excited to be hosting this fabulous guest post by agent/author/blogger extraordinaire to help kick it off! Eric’s words are better than my words, so I’m gonna let him take over now to discuss some examples of killer opening pages in diverse YA! (And thank you, of course, to Beth Phelan, mother of #DVPit, for putting this all together!)

Your First Chapter is a Promise to Your Reader: Great Opening Pages in Diverse YA

When it comes to pitch contests on the ol’ social media, and pitching / getting requests from agents in general, a lot of time you’re going to be asked for the first few pages of your manuscript. Maybe a couple of chapters. Hell, some agents are going to want you to paste those first pages in an email.

Chances are, if you’re a querying writer, you’ve already polished these opening pages to perfection, pouring over them again and again.

Which is great, but before I dig into talking about opening pages… make sure the rest of your manuscript is as polished as those early chapters.

Done? Okay. Let’s continue.

Now, everything I’m about to prattle on about here is subjective. Remember that, writers. When it comes to pitching agents and editors, sometimes it isn’t about how good your book is. Sometimes it’s about taste. What that particular agent or editor enjoys reading. So make sure you’re taking your time when doing your research, and don’t take it personally when something just doesn’t gel.

In my opinion though, a great set of first pages, a great first chapter, is one thing and one thing only.

A first chapter is a promise between a book and the reader.

Are you getting ready to read a fantasy novel and explore a lush, imagined world? Is this a contemporary YA, packed full of swoons? Are we going to be scared? Thrilled? Challenged? Those first pages tell your reader what they are in for, and promises them that they can look forward to more in the chapters ahead.

Don’t break your promise.

And no, an unreliable narrator isn’t an example of breaking a promise, friends. You can usually tell when a narrator is messing with you early on. And even if you can’t, you’re promising more than just a tricky storyteller. There’s the world. The people around your character. The tone. The voice. The stakes.

You should be able to establish that in the first chapter. And then, you should be able to keep your promise.

Let’s have a look at a few fantastic examples of diverse YA reads with kick ass opening pages.

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Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

YAQUI

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”

A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield…

I had a hard time finding an excerpt of Meg Medina’s extraordinary book anywhere to paste here, and I’m not about to type up the entire first page (because copyrights), but you can read the sample first chapter on Barnes & Noble here.

What you’ll find here, is that the opening to this book hits you with the conflict immediately. Not only that, you’re instantly hit with the tone of the book.

In these few pages, we learn who Piddy is. Her family. Why this Yaqui thinks of her the way she does. We meet some of her friends. The setting is immediately set, the stakes are immediately dished out, and readers are ready to keep going.

The takeaway? If you can, hit readers with the stakes right away.

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The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

GIRL FROM

It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for every much longer. I was in the crowded bazaar of a nearly historical version of Calcutta, where my father had abandoned me.

He hadn’t abandoned me for good—not yet. He’d only gone back to the ship to make ready for the next leg of the journey: twentieth-century New York City. It was at our final destination, however, where he hoped to unmake the mistakes of his past.

Mistakes like me, perhaps.

You can read the full excerpt over on HarperCollins’ official website, but right there, those first few paragraphs, sets the scene for Heidi Heilig’s fantasy novel so, so well.

Boom. In two paragraphs, we learn that we’re in a time travel novel. That we’re in some extraordinary circumstances. And that there is some serious family drama going on. As you read further into the first chapter, you understand immediately what’s at the heart of Heilig’s story… a father who wants to save his wife in the past, the result of which may wipe his daughter from existence.

The takeaway? Establish your genre right away. The world, a place where time travel exists, is presented instantly. And like Medina’s book, the stakes are right there.

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The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

SECRET

“BEWARE, YE AROMATEUR; LAY YOUR TRAPS OF LOVE,

BUT DO NOT YOURSELF GET CAUGHT.”

Larkspur, Aromateur, 1698

MOST PEOPLE DON’T know that heartache smells like blueberries. It’s not the only scene, but it’s the main one, and if someone comes to us smelling like blueberry pie, Mother and I turn them away. The heartbroken need time to heal before we can work our magic.

You can read a whole sample of Stacey’s novel over on HarperCollins’ website, here.

There is just so much to digest from that single paragraph right there, but immediately, we know we’re in a world where smell and love are intertwined. In fact, at the end of the first chapter, she wraps it up with “love witches can’t fall in love” and explains the rest of that quote up top.

That if she falls in love, she’ll lose her gifts.

Right away, we know what’s at stake, and what we’re going to see through the novel. Magic. Potions. Elixirs. A challenging choice between one world and another. And if you haven’t read Lee’s beautiful book, let me tell you. She keeps that promise, friends.

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

LABYRINTH

Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

Resurrection Canto, Book of Cantos

The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom hand warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

You can read more of the first chapter over on Barnes & Noble’s website, here.

Right away, you know you’re in for something magical and dark when you step into Cordova’s world in Labyrinth Lost. The first few paragraphs sets the scene, and as the chapter moves forward, we see the brujas and brujos dancing to heavy music, as Alejandra’s deceased aunt seems to reanimate. She’s scolded for interrupting the ritual… and this is all within the first few pages. We are fully immersed, and totally gripped.

Zoraida wastes no time making her promise. And neither should you.

-#-

Now, I’ve only dished out four examples of awesome openings that make their promise immediately, with authors who throw you into their world quickly, dishing out stakes and characters right away.

What are some of YOUR favorite examples, readers? Share, and help your fellow query-ers.

-#-

against wallEric Smith is an author, blogger, and literary agent currently residing in Richmond. His books include The Geek’s Guide to Dating (Quirk, 2013) and the Inked duology (Bloomsbury). He’s the editor of the upcoming adoption-themed anthology, Welcome Home, due out with Flux in September. He can be found on Twitter at @ericsmithrocks. Learn more about his books and what he does via his website, www.ericsmithrocks.com.

Librarian/Teacher Wishlists

Wanna help out schools and libraries in financial need? Here are the wishlists of teachers and/or librarians who could seriously use your help! (Wanna submit yours? Email it to me with your address or tweet it at me and email me your address!)

While these are Amazon wishlists, which means you can easily buy books and have them shipped directly, note that you can also just ship the actual books (or ARCs, where noted) – just click the link that you bought it somewhere else and follow the instructions. (You can email me for the address.) So, whether you’d like to make your donation with money or with hardcopies, you can easily do both this way!

https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/34GNYFOPKC06B/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_2 (ARCs okay too!)

https://www.amazon.com/registry/wishlist/1YY370FPD5YUI/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_ws_x_pwNHyb7YGAP5X … (ARCs okay too!)

https://www.amazon.com/registry/wishlist/Y3GZVNYH821Y/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ip_wl_o_tO-szbNC5RJ4P (ARCs okay too!)

https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1NIPPOJPZJQUG?type=wishlist&filter=unpurchased&sort=default     amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls…   

#AuthorLifeMonth Returns!

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Hey, remember this?

It’s back, beginning February 1st!

2016 End of Year Book Survey

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, thanks to the lovely Jamie of Perpetual Page Turner! I live for this Annual End of Year Survey, even though it hurts my soul to have to narrow down responses.

These are always a little weird for me to do because writing the preview posts for B&N means that I read a lot of books far in advance – my reading schedule isn’t like most other book bloggers’ – and being an author means I might’ve beta read books two years before they come out. So, I’m sticking to books that were published in 2016 and that I read in 2016 (except where noted)!

2016 Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 185 (As of 12/9)
Number of Re-Reads: Ain’t nobody got time for that
Genre You Read The Most From: Contemporary YA

  1. Best Book You Read in 2016:

Clearly I am going to employ the breakdown option:

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Weirdly, while I absolutely loved Six of Crows and The Wrath and the Dawn – like all-time top five fave fantasies loved – their sequels didn’t do anything for me. And I know they were good sequels; I think I’m just way more of a standalone person when it comes to fantasy. A thousand percent a case of It’s not you, it’s me, and I am very glad to see how alone I am on that front.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

Cherry by Lindsey Rosin – not only was this a super fun read, but it wasn’t heteronormative! Which, in fairness, wasn’t a huge surprise when I read it because Christina told me it wasn’t, which is what shoved it to the top of my TBR, but still. I also don’t know what I was thinking going into Girl Mans Up, but I definitely didn’t think I was gonna love it, so that was a delightful surprise and I am very psyched about that Morris nom!

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

I asked Twitter, and apparently it’s between Cherry by Lindsey Rosin, The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie, and This Song is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin.

 5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

Series Started: YA: The Conqueror’s Saga; Romance: Five Boroughs by Santino Hassell and Cyberlove by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

Sequel: The Long Game by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (YA) (and very much Map of Fates by Maggie Hall, which I read in 2015)

Companion: Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt (YA) and Love on the Ledge by Zoraida Cordova (NA)

Series Ender: The Ends of the World by Maggie Hall (Yeah, that’s a 2017, but so it goes)

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

Santino Hassell

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger – I am not remotely an Urban Fantasy person but I thought this was a lot of fun, full of great representation, and it has drink recipes!

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

I often read books in one shot so this is always hard for me to gauge, but I feel like I remember being really bitter at having to put down The Abyss Surrounds Us at work.

 9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

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11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Lada from And I Darken by Kiersten White

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. Honestly, in any given year she writes a book, that book’s gonna be the answer. So to be fair, I’ll add another: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read? 

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis. That’s one of my favorite LGBTQIAP YAs of all time now and people were talking about its greatness for SO LONG, but I was too lazy to pick it up for NO GOOD REASON.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?

 “On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”  (Kiersten White, And I Darken)

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

Under Threat by Robin Stevenson (144 pp)
Crooked Kingdom
by Leigh Bardugo (536 pp)

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda Panitch. She is goooood at twisty psych thrillers.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Avery and [redacted] from It’s Not Me, It’s You

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Frances and Aled from Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis, which thank God Becky Albertalli finally got me to read. Should also mentioned that I would never have picked up This Song is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin if not for Rachel G. telling me it had an ace MC.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

I feel like this should be easy, and yet? I’ll go with Stellan here, because I’d been firmly Team Jack in The Conspiracy of Us and then somehow Map of Fates turned me.

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow (Runner up: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig)

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

I mean, Leigh Bardugo’s pretty unbeatable here, right? Ketterdam 4eva. (Runner up: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova)

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

A World Without You by Beth Revis – full-on hysterical crying fit. Nina LaCour’s 2017 We Are Okay did the same. Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner was a slightly more human level of crying.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Well, I read it in…2014, maybe? But This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp 4eva.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

I guess that would be When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore? I just do not see anyone who writes like her, and the representation and imagination and imagery in that book are all just stunning. I feel like “unique” should be something that works with format in a cool way, but this was the only book I could settle on that felt right.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Asking For it by Louise O’Neill, and no, it definitely doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2016?

Queer Lit on my Mind, which isn’t exactly a book blog but it’s a (now-) friend’s Tumblr on which they post some of the most thoughtful and interesting reviews of LGBTQIAP books I’ve ever read.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2016?

Victimhood and Survival Get a New Perspective in E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued By a Bear (on B&N Teen Blog)

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

What We Aren’t Talking About When We Talk About Feminism in YA

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I vacillate on whether or not I’ll do it again, but I’m really, really proud of #AuthorLifeMonth and how many authors it brought out of their shells on Instagram, and especially how many people said things like “I’ve never realized how much I’ve accomplished before.” Those two things were exactly the point, and I love that it worked.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?

Starting LGBTQReads. The love that site received upon launch was wonderful, and it still gets so much interaction every day. The messages I get on Tumblr in particular are so freaking wonderful, and it’s been amazing to help people find the books they need and to be a source for authors to promote stuff they’d ordinarily have trouble finding a place to do so.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

The post introducing #AuthorLifeMonth!

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

I’m actually pleasantly surprised with the viewership on this blog, considering how infrequently I post on it these days. But I want more people to play Choices and interact with this interview!

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

I haven’t even been to The Ripped Bodice yet (fingers crossed for February!) but it is EVERYTHING. They did host me for a Skype chat one month when they chose Out on Good Behavior for their book club and that was amazing ❤

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Yep! Goodreads challenge was 175 books and I completed that, and goal was to finally set up LGBTQReads and I did that.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2016 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?

I really wanted to read The Reader by Traci Chee, Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, and Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana, and own all of them, so hopefully I’ll get to them early next year! Also still haven’t read Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak, which was my answer for this question last year, so that’s just embarrassing.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert. I freaking loved Pointe and this character is bi and Jewish, so, no-brainer!

3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura. (Does Katherine Locke count as a debut despite having two Romances out already? Because if so, The Girl With the Red Balloon for the motherfluffin’ win.)

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?

Series Ending: The Savage Dawn by Melissa Grey
Sequel: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?

Honestly? Focus on it less. Looking forward to my personal life taking far more precedence in 2017.

6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Uhhh there are a lot of these, so I’ll just mention the five I’ve blurbed: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake, Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley, Whenever I’m With You by Lydia Sharp, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, and Geekerella by Ash Poston! (Yes, I know that’s a lot to blurb in one year but there was just no saying no to books I wanted to read that badly and then adored!)

That’s my year! How was yours?

Ten Books I’ve Added To My TBR Lately

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Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! Today’s topic is completely self-explanatory, so, voila!

29331371Prom Queen Perfect by Clarisse David – because Sue compared it to Gossip Girl in this post and that’s really all I need to know

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovitch and Audrey Vernick – I don’t usually read MG but this one looks super cute, and I like to have books on hand about Real Things to recommend to my friends for their kids. Knowing a good MG to rec for kids of divorce seems like a good thing!

The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando – I still have to read The Leaving, but I’m a big enough fan of Altebrando’s other stuff that any of her contemp YA goes onto my TBR automatically

Birthday by Meredith Russo – I was such a fan of If I Was Your Girl, whatever Russo did next was obviously gonna be an instaread, even if it falls outside my category of preference

Certainly, Possibly, You by Lissa Reed – Really enjoyed the first book in this series, and bought this one about halfway through it. I’m writing this post over a week in advance and honestly I’ll probably have read this by the time it posts. (Update: yup)30199421

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Oh come on

See All the Stars by Kit Frick – Kit’s always been an awesome supporter of YA, and her debut sounds seriously excellent

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert – This was obviously an auto-add seeing as Melissa is my fabulous editor at the B&N Teen Blog, but I’ve also heard this book is amaaaazing from her CPs, and knowing how many agents were vying for it and how quickly it sold…yeah, I’ve got good feelings

These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – recently read and realllllly liked These Vicious Masks by this duo, so obviously I need the sequel!

By Your Side by Kasie West – insta-add, always

What have you recently added to your TBR?

Top T(w)en(ty) Books on My Fall TBR!

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Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! Today’s topic is about our fall TBRs, and since mine is made of two different categories, I’m gonna share two different top ten lists. See, fall is a massive reading season for me, because I strictly observe all the Jewish holidays that fall within, which means in the month of October I’ll probably read what’ll average to a book a day. And so I’ve decided to use those days to read:

My Most Anticipated 2017 ARCs That I Already Own

and

2016s I Want to Read Before Year’s End

And so, here they are!

My Top Ten Most Anticipated 2017 ARCs That I Already Own

(which I start reading now for blogging purposes, since I generally do the Contemp and LGBTQIAP+ previews for B&N Teen Blog)

30201161The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

28245707Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Looking for Group by Rory Harrison

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

2016s I Want to Read Before Year’s End

25203675The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Killer in Me by Margo Harrison

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee

23677341We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

Bound By Blood and Sand by Becky Allen

What’s on your fall TBR?

Interview with Pixelberry Crew!

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So, there’s a possibility you’ve heard me gush before about a few certain phone apps, namely High School Story, Hollywood U, and Choices (which has three “books,” each of which is its own kind of sub-game), because they’re frankly fantastic writing and ridiculously for the YA/NA crowd. Well, it turns out that one of the crew responsible for these games, all made by Pixelberry, is Andrew Shvartz, the Swanky 17 author of the awesome-sounding Royal BastardsShvartz is Pixelberry’s lead designer, and he, COO Kara Loo, and Choices head writer Max Doty were kind enough to answer some mildly obsessive questions for me about the games, the process of writing, and more!

I don’t want to spoil anything about any games but first of all, I have to ask: How dare you? 

Andrew: Muhahahahaha.

Kara: Well, despite Andrew’s first reaction, we’re not actually evil. But we are always trying to tell the best story, even if that means breaking some hearts along the way!

Let’s start with the basics: how did Pixelberry start, and where did the concepts for HS Story, Hollywood U, and Choices come from?

Andrew: Pixelberry was founded in 2008 by a small group of friends who’d been working together for a while, first at a mobile games company called Centerscore and then later at Electronic Arts. Our biggest game before Pixelberry was called Surviving High School, and it was an episodic interactive story for the YA audience, all about teen romance, friendships, drama, etc. It was actually really big for its time, one of the biggest original hits of the pre-smartphone era, and it ended up running for hundreds of episodes. It even had a crime-based spinoff, Cause of Death.

After we left EA and started Pixelberry, Surviving High School was kind of our guiding light. It showed us that there was a really big market that wasn’t being served, of mobile users who wanted story-based games, and in particular, stories that deviated from those represented in traditional gaming: stories about romance, focused on character, and frequently about women. At the time, sim games were really popular, so we decided to combine our existing experience making narrative games with a simulation design, which is how High School Story was born. Hollywood U was the logical extension of that, taking a lot of what we’d learned and applying it to a slightly older setting.

We considered a lot of different options for our next game, but Choices stood out right away. It was a way for us to get back to our roots in a lot of ways, to go back to episodic interactive narrative, and to really let our writing team, which I think is the best in the business, shine.

How did the writers for the games come on board?

Kara: Mostly people want to come work at Pixelberry because they’re passionate about stories and games. We have a really intense application process and interview system that I can’t talk too much about or it would ruin some of the things we do. We’re actually right now looking for awesome writers… if anyone’s interested in applying, there’s a link on our Careers page: http://www.pixelberrystudios.com/careers/

Bless you guys for the lack of heteronormativity in your games, especially in “The Freshman” in Choices, which really well balances inclusion without the pretense that everyone in the world views queer relationships exactly like straight ones. Please tell me we can expect this to keep up with future installments and games! And in general, how much is diversity a priority in the game creation?

img_5344Max: Representation and inclusivity are really important to us. In crafting “The Freshman,” we knew right away that we wanted players to at least have the option to date a woman, and we’re certainly interested in exploring that relationship further in sequel books.

To some extent the way our values inform our writing might lead to experimentation book to book. For example, in an upcoming story, we may let you switch POVs, inhabiting some characters that are straight, others that are gay, and others with a more fluid sexuality. Above all, it’s about staying true to the characters while striking the right balance in terms of giving players the freedom to roleplay and choose who they love.

Are any of the storylines, characters, or dialogue based on real people, other than the ones that are openly celeb-inspired?

Andrew: Sometimes we might take inspiration from current events, like when we had a storyline in HSS about the harassment of girl gamers. But we usually try to keep things original, and definitely try to present them in our way. It’s definitely something to be careful about; one time, I named a serial killer character after a friend of mine, and it still comes up as the top result when you search his name!

High School Story has so many different categories of kid, from the basic “jock” or “nerd” to the more specific “foodie” or “mountain climber.” How do the Pixelberry crew generally identify their own high school “types”?

Max: As you’d expect at a gaming company, we’re almost uniformly jocks…

…just kidding! Actually, there’s an incredible variety of “types” represented in our office, from pure nerds, to anime fans, school presidents, student journalists, artists, and more… and actually, yes, a couple of athletes too.

How do you prioritize future updates, and how much does reviewer feedback feed into them?

Andrew: This is a long and complicated process, because there are a million-and-one ideas on how to improve a game and only so much that can be done. We have a lot of meetings to figure this out, and we try to get feedback and ideas from everyone. Player feedback definitely plays a huge role in our decision-making process; we try to read all the reviews, and we regularly compile lists of the most commonly requested features, improvements, etc. One of our big goals is that every update has at least one thing that will make our players really happy, and their feedback is our best way to figure out what that will be.

Obviously, as a YA/NA author, I love that most of these games are all geared toward that same audience. What have been some things that are really important to you to include as part of writing for teens?

Max: I feel like there’s a bit of an attitude that writing “for teens” requires you to understand this alien species, the Post Millennial. Honestly, I don’t see teens as very different from adults, except they lack two resources fundamental to adulthood: life experience and freedom.

The former means that each experience is new and fresh. First love hasimg_5340 no context. By the time you’re onto Tenth Love, you know the drill a bit better and you can look out for certain pitfalls and red flags, but you’re also a bit more jaded, more guarded. I think The Freshman draws on the rawness of a young love story, with lots of unintentional drama and heightened emotion.
A lack of freedom (most teens are dependent on their parents for food and shelter and therefore must play by their parents’ rules) means that stories about oppressive power structures tend to resonate more with a teenage audience. I think that partly informs The Crown and the Flame—a teenager is more likely to respond to a story whose protagonist wants to destroy the existing power structure and reshape the world as she sees fit.

Choices has three games/books right now, one “contemp,” one “fantasy,” and one “thriller.” I know there are some novel-writers on the Pixelberry staff – does what you write for Choices correspond to what you write elsewhere, or is it a dip into something different for you?

Andrew: I personally write YA fantasy, which is funny because the Book I worked on in Choices is the crime thriller. Our writing team is really varied in terms of what they’ve worked on elsewhere.

Kara: I love writing fantasy, so it was really great to work on The Crown & The Flame, but I also love when what I’m working on for Choices pushes me in a direction that I wouldn’t normally go. Sometimes it’s really exhilarating to try a new genre or take a story in a direction you wouldn’t normally go and realize that you actually have a lot of fun writing it!

My favorite character in any of the games, which would surprise no one who’s read my first NA, is Professor Hunt of Hollywood U. Who are the faves among the Pixelberry crew?

Andrew: Heh! Hunt’s a big favorite all around. I’ve got a big soft spot for Nishan and Sakura in HSS, and I had a blast writing Dave Reyes in Choices.

Max: I love Bianca’s entourage in HWU. Shae and Lance are awesome, especially as you get to know them better and dig into the complexities of their backstories. In HSS, I love Kara, especially once you get into her relationship with Mia. I respond to characters that switch sides, I guess—either villains who become heroes or vice-versa. Those kinds of turns always interest me and make for complex characters.

Kara: I love writing Val Greaves in The Crown & The Flame. I love writing for characters that are a little meaner and will really just say what they’re thinking, even if it isn’t exactly tactful.

And, sorry, but I must ask: when can we expect to see more???

Andrew: All the time! We’ve got plans to add new chapters every week, and you might even see some brand new Books soon…

Kara: We know people are excited for more, so we’re writing as fast as we can! In fact, we better get back to that right now!

*looks up from where she’s obsessively refreshing Choices on her phone right now* Uhhh I mean thanks so much for letting me pick your glorious brains, and please keep up the awesome work!!

My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Fantasy YAs!

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Happy Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish! This week asks bloggers to pick their top ten favorites from any particular genre, and since I’d never be able to pick my top ten contemp, I went with my second-fave genre, fantasy! So, behold, my top ten all-time fave YA fantasy novels/series/whatever, in no particular order:

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

And I Darken by Kiersten White

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

If you have any recs for someone who loved all ten of the above books/series, feel free to drop them in the comments!