Monday, November 3, 2014

What a strong woman is...and what is it not.

There’s a lot of woman rage going on lately. For a variety of reasons. And I have some feels about it all, but don’t want to go on a twitter or heaven forbid, Facebook tirade on the whole thing. So I’m doing what I do when I want to get it all out.

Posting it on my blog, so if people choose to read it, they can. If they choose to comment, they can. And, I know, this is unheard of in today’s age of insta-rage and emo-tweetage, disagree with me and that's okay too.

First, I want to state it publicly here, I am a woman. I know. Groundbreaking. Second, I have a lot of opinions. Another huge surprise. Some, may even call me strong. And on some days, I agree with them. Others, not so much. I cry into my bag of Doritos as much as the next person. I love Doritos, by the way.

But there’s this attitude, which is permeating social media and thus other media, seeping into the consciousness of America. That somehow, being a strong woman means I have to agree with everything other women say. And if, for some strange reason I don’t, I may be labeled as a woman hater, or an anti-feminist, like I’m anti-woman. Like somehow, I am the problem with America.

I call bullshit on that.

A strong woman is not someone who goes around naked on a street corner proclaiming “SEE ME!”

A strong woman is not someone who doesn't need a man or anyone else for that matter.

A strong woman is not someone who has the loudest voice, carries the largest stick, or bullies her way into conversations because she thinks the other person is being objectified or being made to be submissive.

A strong woman is not someone who calls attention to herself and then is mad when people take notice.

A strong woman is not someone whose tongue is barbed and lethal.

Somewhere along the road of woman empowerment, people have gotten the idea that being a strong woman means demeaning others, hurting feelings and offending anyone who disagrees so they can further their own agenda.

So what IS a strong woman?

A strong woman knows when to speak out, and when to hold her tongue.

A strong woman knows that knowledge and opinion is fluid, and whenever you think you understand a situation, that’s when you really don’t.

A strong woman can admit her mistakes, take responsibility and say I’m sorry.

A strong woman knows everyone has a story that is as important as her own. No one is better than anyone else.

A strong woman knows that there are more opinions than stars, and hers is only a flash in the universe of ideas.

A strong woman is one who takes care of others, nurtures, supports, and forgives, even when the other person isn't asking for any of those things.

A strong woman is not one to point fingers at the world. She understands things happen, and she can’t control everything, and trying to would be like Sisyphus and the boulder.

A strong woman knows having others by her side, asking for help, or leaning on others is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of her strength.

And I will not apologize for being a strong woman.  Ever. And another strong woman would never ask me to. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Torg's Tips for Queries: Vlog-errific

Hi guys, since it has been a year since I have vlogged, longer actually. I thought I would try out my new laptop and media program and experiment. This is my first try and I totally messed up the tips. Originally there were four. But I kept forgetting the fourth. So I cut it to three. Figured that would be the magic least that's what Blind Melon said. And after recording about thirty versions, I decided I didn't care and knew you would all be forgiving. You will be, right? RIGHT?

So here it And my vlog. And my THREE tips for writing queries. I hope you like it. Feel free to share! 

Anymore tips? Feel free to comment and share!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Confessions of an ADD rea -oooh-SHINY

Hi readers. Summer is finally here (well, academically speaking) and now I hope to be able to blog a little more. I will say, as a writer, having days off in which to do all the things you want/need to do is quite wonderful. So if someone could just find it in their heart to pay me to write, that would be wonderful. Get on that.

So, clearly my recommendations for top books is faltering. I have ideas. It's not that I don't have favorites, I do. I was thinking about how I should do another blog, the one about my top YA books I promised you all a zillion years ago, and I realized something. OK, realize isn't exactly the word because I've always known it, I just never wanted to admit it. I need to read a lot more books. Especially YA. OK, that isn't exactly accurate either. I need to FINISH all the YA books I start before I can honestly give my reasons for loving my top ten. And if that doesn't make sense, let me explain this way. I don't feel I am quite qualified to say which YA books are better than others because I only FINISH the ones I love. Which gave me an idea for this blog post.

And now we have come full circle.

I have long thought I was mildly ADD, I am not even kidding. My lack of ability to multitask. My constant fidgeting. The fact that I start so many things, and finish few. Hallmark ADD, right?

And as a writer you are told to READ READ READ!! And I'm all "OK, I WILL! I LOVE BOOKS!" And it's true. I do love them. But I think I love the IDEA of them more than I actually love them. For instance, I can spend hours in a bookstore, I spend HUNDREDS on books. I get them home, I ogle and fondle them like a boyfriend and place them on my really cute Cost Plus and Pier One bookshelves and I look at them. See how pretty they are? Look at those bindings. Those covers. Ooh...Pretty.

And they stay there for like...a LONG time. Looking pretty. Maybe on occasion, I'll pull a book out, get comfy on my couch, a blanket, some snacks, maybe some wine, often some coffee or tea, light candles...there is an ambiance for reading, you know what I mean? And I think, "this is gonna be awesome. I can't wait to read." And after about ten pages, I'm all "meh...what can I do now?"

And it made me finally realize, I am the best and worst reader you will ever know. Because I am what every agent, editor, submission reader is, I am the PERFECT reader. Because trying to get a book lover to read and finish a book, piece of cake. Trying to get ME to read and finish a book, you better be a damn good writer, have a damn good opener, and you better not let me down.

And so I was thinking about as a writer, this has helped me, though I never really knew it. Here is a look at me, as a reader.

1 Cover is EVERYTHING. That dumb cliche about it not being important is a load of crap. It needs to be pretty. And I don't want half naked people on it. As in I will not even pick UP a book with two people in a heated embrace, almost kissing and half naked. Same if they have teeth with blood dripping or a half naked woman clutching some object. No.

I like clean covers, with graphic detail, I pretty much try to stay away from anything with people, really. There are always exceptions, but mostly, NO.

2. From the first page, first paragraph, I need to be hooked. I am not the kind of reader who will give it a while until it gets interesting. No. I have a lot of things to do, I have a lot of books I would LOVE to fall in LOVE with, I do not have time to see if it gets better. Hook me now. While you have me. Because if I get past page one and it doesn't seem interesting, you've lost me. Lucky for all the YA writers out there I'm a teacher, so I buy books for them even if they don't seem appealing. But really, when I'm in a bookstore, I read a page or two and put it down if it doesn't grab me. Sorry, but that is the truth.

And that's why books like Fault in Our Stars, Eleanor and Park, or Hunger Games appeal to the masses. Because from page 1, they have you hooked. (and no photos of people on the cover...SEE?)  I don't want back story, or set up or to read about how normal someone's life is. I need a reason to read. And even if I have read the back copy and know the reason is in there somewhere, I don't want to have to wait until page 20 or 50 to get to it. It bores me and I don't have the time.

This is why that first line is so damn important. And the first page. My advice, start with a line that is so absurd or strange or weird or funny, you can't not read on. For example, I happen to think I'm pretty damn good at first lines. And I've always been told as much. Here are some of mine that I think illustrate my point.

From the soon to be published Princess Paradox:

I wish I had the guts to tell my best friend I'd rather gouge out my eyes with a cocktail weenie than attend her wedding. 

I think it works because it's funny and it makes you question things. A) Why wouldn't she want to go to her bestie's wedding? B) Of all the things you could gouge your eyes out with, why a cocktail weenie? (this tells the reader there will be sarcasm and humor, this is not literary prose)

Or there is this from a work in progress Becoming Shane Kelly:

Shakespeare was an idiot.

Ok this one works because of the obvious question. WHUUU??? I mean people who don't even like Shakespeare still give him props as a storyteller. So then it makes you consider why this narrator dislikes Shakespeare. By making a strong statement about something that is widely known or accepted, it creates questions in the reader's mind. This is a good thing for ADD readers like me. Because questions make me turn the page. It is when I don't have questions or when I have forgotten to care about the answers to questions I once had, that you've lost me as a reader. 


And if your first line doesn't have one, your first paragraph better.

Here is another paragraph I LOVE and have gotten really great response on. It's another WIP titled The Thief.

Nervous energy is pervasive. Some people get nervous about first dates. Some are put off by having to present a simple science project in front of their class. Some people just get nervous about being nervous. Not me. As a matter of fact, it excites me. There's nothing quite like the feeling you get just before you’re doing something dangerous. The feeling bubbles inside you like a tide churning, palms sweaty and cold, heart racing a million miles a minute, and the overwhelming sensation that whatever it is you're doing…there's a great chance you'll get caught; the feeling of committing a crime, because that is precisely what I'm doing.

This works because as a whole, the reader gets a lot of info about our narrator. We know they are probably a teen, given the examples they give of nerves. We also know this is contemporary because of the language and reference again to the science class. We also know they are doing something illegal. So then, as a reader, the question is what kind of crime? Are we talking serious criminal activity or a petty crime?

I read somewhere that these following questions should be answered for the reader in the first 5 pages, and it was spot on.
1. Who is narrating? (age, name, background)
2. Where are they? (place, time of year, day, era)
3. What is the problem? (can be a minor one that will relate to the main conflict later)
4. What is happening?

And these all need to be done with zero back story or info-dump. It may not seem like much, but it is necessary.
Here is an example from a pro: Sophie Kinsella's first pages of I've Got Your Number.

How many of the above questions can be answered? IN TWO PAGES. WITH NO INFO DUMP, and HELL YA I WANT TO READ THE REST! (I did, actually, it was fantastic)

3. As a reader, I need to either laugh, cry, be shocked, or surprised in the first page or pages. What can I say? I need to care enough about something before I can become invested. So when I read for the umpteenth time about your "normal teen" who is "average", "shy", or "a misfit" in school, I glaze over and decide plucking each hair out of my eyebrow is more enjoyable than reading about them.

I need original characters with original things happening to them or I am not going to keep reading. Instead I am like this:

4. OK. You've successfully hooked me. I love the narrator, I love the action, I love the tension and I have a billion questions. BRAVO. Chapter 1 was a complete and utter success. WOOOOO!

This is important. You have established you can write. NOW DON'T DISAPPOINT ME! I have read a lot of great first chapters. All those pretty books I told you I have? Read all the first chapters. Then I started reading CH 2 and you know what. FLATLINE.

You built up this amazing hook, then comes the boring back story. Or the "now we are at school and things are normal" or "here is where you learn about my friends or family or my dog Joe." I DONT CARE ANYMORE. You have lost me.Which is a damn shame because I may never pick up your book again. No matter what. Even if you do this:

Remember, I have other things to do. If you can't MAKE me continue asking questions or keep me laughing, surprised, shocked or reacting, I will not continue. And if by chance, I give you the benefit of the doubt, hey, maybe it's just a transition chapter, you better AMAZE me in CH 3. Because I won't keep turning those chapters if they continue to not live up to CH 1.

As a writer, I find myself at every chapter thinking...ok...if my reader thought "how could it get worse?" I need to answer that and give them even more than they thought it could be. Each chapter should increase the tension, propel the characters into reacting, deciding, then choosing a course of action. And when they decide their should inevitably be THE WRONG CHOICE.  Somehow. That's what makes me keep going. I want to be yelling at your character, asking them "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING YOU IDIOT!!!" Because that's when I'm invested.

Think of it this way, no one wants to spend good money, wait in line for hours for the front seat of a roller coaster, just to be taken up that big hill, race down and then the track is flat for the next three minutes. You want twists and turns and more up and down and loopty loops. You PAID for those DAMN LOOPS AND HILLS! If you AREN'T MAKING ME SICK AND CRAZY EXCITED AT THE SAME TIME YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!

OK. Sorry. I got a little carried away. But basically it's this. When agents, agent assistants, editors, publishers are reading your words, they want that roller coaster. They are expecting Space Mountain or the Matterhorn. Don't give them Dumbo. Because they're trying to get readers like ME to read those books. They want readers like ME to finish those books, then pay more money to see the movie and even more money for the next book by said author because I've liked what they've created thus far. This is how you establish a readership. There is no Emily Giffen, Sophie Kinsella, Becca Fitzpatrick, John Green, or Rainbow Rowell book that I won't buy. Because as a reader, I LOVE to finish those books. I laugh, I cry, I think WAIT THAT IS ME!

5. Happy Endings are boring. I like books with real endings, tragic endings, heart breaking endings. Hell, I WRITE books with those. Thing is, life doesn't wrap up in a tidy little bow. And everything that ends, does so with sorrow. Otherwise it wouldn't be an end.

Anyway, this was my rant. I realize I write as the reader I am. I write the books I want to read. I think that is the key. But at the same time, I've learned that I'm fickle and picky and I'm not going to FORCE myself to read a book I don't care much about. There's too much else in life to do. So, as you write, keep in mind, you want your reader to NEVER want to put down the book. EVER. You want your reader to constantly feel like this:

When I was at BEA, I listened to a panel about writing YA, and I think Kresley Cole had the best advice:

When you write, write to make your reader HAVE to turn the page. 

And that my fellow writers is sage advice.

What makes YOU turn the page?

Monday, March 10, 2014

One Step Closer

 The life of a writer is really insane. At times, I feel like other parts of my life have suffered greatly for the sake of my work. I sometimes have not been the best mom, daughter, friend or teacher. There have been things that have been swept under the rug for the sake of a few moments on my laptop.

Often, I wondered if it ever really mattered. What was I doing it all for? When people ask me why I write or if I want to be the next Rowling, I say “Of course!” I mean it would be nice, right? But that’s not why I write.
I write because it helps me work out the things that are on my mind. I write because I have stories in my head that I want to tell. I write because I know that out there are other people just like me who have the same fears, wants, desires, insecurities, and they could appreciate the worlds I craft.

And though it would be great to make a ton of money doing it, I don’t DO it for the money. I do because I feel a need to. I do it because it's who I am. And I would love to one day hold a book in my hand with "written by Carey Torgesen" on the cover.
Like most of us, for a long time, I’ve been trying to make that dream come true. But things don’t always come as easy as you want them to, and sometimes the road you thought you were going to take veers off in a different direction. It’s not always easy, taking that path less traveled. It’s downright scary because you’re left wondering if it’s the right way, or if you've gotten yourself lost. Will you end up at your final destination or will you find you have to set up camp where you are?
Well, I don’t know the answer to that yet, but I can say that it’s all part of the journey, right?

With that said, after querying for over a year, shelving and unshelving my women’s fiction manuscript, sending and resending partials, fulls, and receiving all kinds of feedback from agents, editors, and small presses, I can finally say:

In about 9 months I am going to be able to hold my book, THE PRINCESS PARADOX, in my hand.

I'm going to be published by a small press! I’ll have an actual book that will be in independent bookstores locally in Seattle, available on amazon in both print and e-book format, and I will have editors and cover artists, and all kinds of wonderful hard working people that will help me make my dream of being a published author come true.

And it makes me want to do this:

After having to decide between two amazing offers of contract, I've decided to go with Cliffhanger Press, a new press but one I have complete confidence in. Do I have an agent yet? No. Am I still looking for one? You bet. I won’t stop until I have one and I won’t give up writing until I have no more stories to tell. This is not the path I originally intended on finding, but it is one I am happy to be on. And I’m certain that I made the right decision for me.
I will be in fierce editing and revising mode and I am both scared and excited at how much work it’s going to be, but I know in the end, it will be completely worth it.

I thank all of my beta readers, my CPs, and everyone who has ever helped me get this story out there. It’s my baby. I love Nora and Aidan and Finn and can't wait to have their story out there. It’s really the story of me and the journey I have been on in the last few years. And I hope, once it’s out there, you will all celebrate with me!
I will update with more information as I go!

(not the actual cover, just something I created) :)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Torg's Top MUST READ books: Middle Grade Fiction

Ok. I haven’t blogged in a while, and I have read some top ten book list blogs lately, and it has me inspired to do my own. So, each week, I will feature a different genre and highlight my favorite books in that genre.

So here we go! Today’s genre:

Torg’s Top Middle Grade fiction

As a teacher of middle school, this is where in the past, I have done the most of my reading to prepare for teaching my students. I have taught 6th grade, 7th grade, and now I am currently teaching 8th grade. In that time, some of these books I have had to read because I teach them, and some I have come across in trying to find age appropriate books that will pull reluctant readers in and engage them. So, in no particular order, are the top middle grade books everyone should read.

1.       Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbruck
 “I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for a while, and that’s the truth, the whole truth. The unvanquished truth.”

In a world where bullying and people feel left out and disconnected from others, this book, even though it was published in 2001, still resonates in a way that in undeniable. This is a book that makes even the most reluctant “I don’t like reading and never will, it’s boring” reader turn the page for more. And if you already like reading, then you’ll fall more in love with books.

For anyone who thinks all middle grade books are full of snot picking and fart humor, this book will introduce you to a whole new world, one where middle grade fiction can be full of heart and humor, and weighty issues such as pre-judgment, overcoming obstacles, how the disabled and handicapped are treated, and death.

The narrator, Max Kane, is the classic school bully doomed to a life in special education classes. At over 6 feet at only 12, he’s managed to use his physical presence to get by. He’s been told his whole life how dumb he is and he believes it. So he uses brute force and his absentee father’s reputation as a convicted killer to shrink away from anyone who would ever come close to him.

The real heart of the book is when Max meets Kevin, aka Freak. At first, Max wants nothing to do with Freak, but soon Freak breaks through Max’s defense because he is the first one to see Max as something other than a bully, he sees Max as an equal. Together, with Max’s brawn and Freak’s brain, they become one whole unit as Freak the Mighty, slayer of dragons, rescuer of fair maidens, and believer in all things. Together they take on school bullies, a flawed education system, and eventually Killer Kane himself.

Even as I type this, I get misty thinking about this book. The story unfolds in a beautiful way, and we see how these two misfits who don’t seem to fit in anywhere, find each other. The way Philbrick crafts this book is a study in character creation. Yes, the plot moves the story, but seen through the eyes of Max and Freak together, we see how much they need each other and how each of them completes the other. They are perfect foils to use a literary term.

Suffice it to say, if you haven’t read this book, I do not care how old you are, get it NOW. And while you’re out, get some tissues. You’re gonna need them.
This one has a tissue index of: how many tissues are in a box?

2.       Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

"Maybe there's a little bit of Jesus inside of all of us. Maybe Jesus is just that something good or something sad or something...something that stays with us and makes us do stuff like help Trevor up, even though he's busy cursing us out. Or maybe...maybe Jesus is just that thing you had when the Jesus Boy first got here, Samantha. Maybe Jesus is the hope that you were feeling."

A sixth grade girl is changed forever when a new kid arrives one day. Frannie, the narrator, becomes a tad obsessed with the new kid, nicknamed “Jesus boy” because he is white and has long hair. In an all-black community in the 1970’s, it wasn’t everyday a new white kid joined the class. Jesus boy seems to be not only odd, but soon Frannie’s bestie (a preacher’s daughter) starts believing he actually IS Jesus. With his calm manner and his avoidance of conflict, Frannie begins to believe it too.

Woodson tackles issues like bullying, prejudice, and disability with beauty and elegance without ever getting preachy about it. And Frannie as a character, who has endured a lot of pain, poverty, and judgment about her older deaf brother, never loses hope that things will be better. Frannie is an inspirational character who is a great example that a strong heroine doesn’t have to be about muscles. Quiet strength and faith are just as much of a force to be reckoned with.

Frannie’s grandmother is always there to give her advice about the world and her place in it. Though it is simple, the story hits hard with lessons about doing the right thing, even when it isn’t easy.

This is a quick read and can be done in a night. This is a great one to read with your kids because it will inevitably bring up questions and discussions about faith, hope, and how to treat others.
Torg’s tissue index:  two

3.       Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

“It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

What is there really to say about this book? So much that it is hard to pare down. As a teacher of literature one thing I will go on record saying is that Harry Potter will, like it or not, will stand the test of time as a classic. Rowling pretty much wrote this generations’ Star Wars.

I am the first one to admit I am not a fan of fantasy. I really don’t read it because I don’t relate. Even when I was a kid and everyone around me fantasized about living in a castle and riding unicorns, I was wondering what it would be like to travel through time and live in space. Still, to this day, if I had a choice to read about the renaissance or modern day history, I will always choose the modern. It’s in my blood. Which is why Harry Potter is all the better of a book.

Because if you can make me, a self-professed non fantasy reader, read and enjoy fantasy, you are doing something right.

It is the classic tale of an everyman who ends up finding out he is the one meant to save everyone, at least Muggles anyway. The thing I love about Harry Potter is that even though there is attention paid to building the world of Hogwart’s, readers are not drowned in a sea of fantastical jargon and otherworldly creatures. Are they in there? Sure. But they aren’t what drives the story.

Classism, family, and friendships are what the story is about. Everything else is a side note. So, I am able to believe in this world and love these characters as if they were my friends because I know them inside and out. I know their interests, personalities, quirks, and their entire families. Rowling weaves a tale so strongly bound by family and relationships that rather than me thinking “here we go with trolls and dragons”, I think “Is someone going to get hurt? Will they go back for Harry?” These are the things that pull me through the pages.

Not to mention, I love how Rowling takes cues from Greek and Roman mythology rather than relying on just the typical “fantasy” type beings. Cerberus, a phoenix, and a bit of Pandora ’s Box all make appearances.

It is a book series that will stand the test of time as not only great world building, wonderful craft and structure, and damn entertaining storytelling.
This one has a tissue index of: one to ten depending on which book you are reading.

4.       The Giver by Lois Lowry

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

The Giver was my first dystopian novel I ever read aimed directly at teens. Before then my experience in science fiction dsytopic worlds were always for adults; the classics like Brave New World or 1984. Those books were my favorite in school. And still, when I think about them, I think about how amazing they still are. They continue to fuel my imagination as a writer.

But what Lois Lowry did was what I would call nothing short of amazing. She made dystopia reachable to teenagers. She asked the big questions all dsytopic writers ask: “What if?” And every year, as I teach this novel, I fall in love with it all over. It is simply put, one of the best books ever written, period. And it is the best book for teens specifically.

The plot is simple. Jonas lives in a utopian society where everything is wonderful. No poverty. No greed. No hunger. No war. Everyone is happy. Until Jonas receives his Assignment and meets his mentor and trainer, The Giver. Soon, the perfect world he lives in is uncovered bit by bit to be dark, twisted, and horrifying.

Lowry’s prose is gorgeous, her descriptions poignant, and the way she delivers one twist after another, it awes me. She pulls me into this futuristic world by making me think it is one thing, then as we figure out the rules for the world, she pulls the curtain back, revealing the darkness behind each rule.

The book is an easy read for most middle schoolers, but the content and ideas should be discussed. She uses symbols, allusions, character foils and it’s only as you get further into the book, you realized the things you thought you read, were never there.

Lowry is a master at her craft. And the ending? It is my favorite part. Though it is a bit polarizing, it leaves the reader without a clear resolution. The ending is interpretive and it is for each reader to understand for themselves. It was a bold move, and I think it worked.

If you have never read it, you must. Again, a short read, only 180 pages. You won’t regret it.
This one has a tissue index of: five tissues

5.       Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

“It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can’t fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open. Inside is something that we can manage, something that isn’t as awful as it had a first seemed. It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe murderers and kidnappers in the world, most people seem a lot like us: sometimes afraid and sometimes brave, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind.”

This is a perfect instance where you cannot judge a book by its cover. I wish the folks who did the cover would get off their butts and change it though, because this is a book I never wanted to pick up. It just looked “boring.” I have never been more wrong in my life.

This book is everything a book should be: meaningful, poetic, rich in character and in verse, story, humor, just everything.

This story is actually a story within a story within a story. It literally has three levels and completely different story strings in it. The first, on the surface, is about a girl, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, who goes on a cross country adventure with her grandparents using the same journey her mother disappeared on many years ago. As she is traveling and stopping at destinations like the Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone, she entertains her grandparents with a story about some of her friends, one Phoebe Winterbottom who shares the experience of a missing mom. As she tells the story of Phoebe’s mom, it begins to mirror her own search. At the same time, Sal’s grandparents tell Sal about how her grandparents met, then about her mom’s childhood and life.

Because the stories interweave, readers are always left wanting more of the story they were hearing, thus keeping them turning the page. At the end, you realized nothing is what you thought and every prediction you made was wrong.

Every character from Sal, to Phoebe, to the grandparents, to the lady with the red hair, comically named Ms. Cadaver, are so rich and developed. Creech writes with beauty and wit and wisdom, but crafts it from a tween’s point of view so effortlessly. Past and present is entwined in a mosaic of words and images that are flawless. It is books like these that make me want to be a better writer. If you have ever wanted to write multiple narratives into one book, you need to read this to see how it is done well.

This book is so much beyond a coming of age story. Again, it is about family bonds, friendships, and garnering the strength to move on even when all you want to do is bury your head in the sand. It is deep and moving. And it is one of the best middle grade books ever written.
Oh yeah…this one has a tissue index of: A WHOLE DAMN BOX.

6.       Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

“She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a cork board like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.”

This is one of the few middle grade stories that are told with a male protagonist, which is why this is a great book for both males and females. Though Leo is 16 and in high school, this book reads like a middle grade book because of its easy flow and nice pace. It takes the view of Leo, who is curious all people are, about the new girl in school. Susan, who goes by the name of Stargirl, is someone who marches to her own beat.

Stargirl knows everyone’s birthday, dances in the rain, sets her desk up with a tablecloth and flowers in a vase,  and cheers for the opposing basketball teams. At first, people shun her, but soon they begin to appreciate her new ways of approaching life.

However, as time goes by, what people used to love about Stargirl when she was new become the things they make fun of her for now.  Leo, however, continues to see something in her that he can’t let go. But when Leo and Stargirl get close, he asks her to become like everyone else. She obliges, but the light she once had begins to fade. Leo gets stuck between being happy or letting Stargirl go and learns a powerful lesson about acceptance and the cost of individuality.

With a lightness and touch of humor, as usual with Spinelli, we experience how hard it is to be in high school and we relearn the lessons we all know so well. Spinelli is a wizard at creating contemporary novels with characters who live on the fringe of society and his constant message is that we need to look at these people who seem so different from us, and learn from them, perhaps becoming our own version of strange.

After reading Stargirl, you’ll want your very own Stargirl singing songs on the ukulele and buying you your own version of a porcupine necktie. Oh, and you’ll find yourself talking to Mr. Saguaro too.
Tissue rating: 1-2 tissues

7.       Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

This was a difficult decision for me, whether to put this on the list or not. I decided to put it on here because not of the great storytelling, although it is decent. I put it here for the characterization of a deaf girl who because of her mother’s own fears keep her isolated emotionally and socially from her peers by not letting her daughter learn how to read and understand sign language.

The other reason I put it on this list was for the amazing story of a friendship between animal and human. The story is loosely based in reality.

Joey is a 13 year old deaf girl struggling to fit into a hearing world. Joey was not born deaf, but came to it due to a tragedy that I won’t go into as I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say she struggles with her mom because her mother is so afraid of anything else happening to her and feels guilty. While it is hard to believe a parent would do such a thing, learning the reason why helps a bit.

But the strongest part of the story is when Joey meets a local scientist who is teaching a chimp how to sign. Through the friendship that forms between Joey and Sukari, Joey begins to learn how to communicate. About midway through the book, the story slides into a slightly different narrative. The story soon changes when Charlie, the scientist, suffers a heart attack and dies, thus leaving Sukari homeless. And without the means or the legal authority to take care of a “wild animal” Sukari has to be taken to a research facility.

There are some pretty horrific scenes not for the faint of heart. I literally cried out loud as I read this section. As an animal lover, it is hard to read. And the fallout is pretty traumatic. Though the bias and slant of this book is pretty evident, it doesn’t take away from the power of the book.

The continual piece threaded throughout the text is that Joey struggles to find her place in a world not made for her, and her trial mirrors Sukari’s search for a safe place of her own. In order to help Sukari, both Joey and her mother must face their fears.

It’s a powerful story of triumph, courage, strength, and forgiveness.
I give it a tissue rating of 5.

So that’s it for now. I may add to this later as I read more books. Middle grade fiction is a tricky thing. You want a book to be not too heavy but to stand the test of time, it needs to hit all the right notes. For me, every single one of these do that, yet all in different ways.

If you read one of these, let me know what you think.

If you have any other recommendations for middle grade must reads, please leave them in the comments below!

Next week: my picks for the top YA books. J




Monday, January 13, 2014

The Nine

It is my super duper pleasure to introduce you to one of the most fabulous people on twitter and the planet. Miss J Elizabeth Hill. She has written some incredible books, which you can now purchase for an amazing deal (see links below) and it's my honor show off her newest work, The Nine.


The Mirrors of Bershan, Book 3


Civil unrest is being stirred by unseen hands in the Rianzire Empire. The Prince’s secret has been revealed; laws have been changed. Worse, a second Mirror of Bershan has gone missing. When the Emperor involves himself directly in this mystery, the results are disastrous.

After defeating the demon Aviatrez, Faylanna and Tavis return to Rianza, hoping their troubles are over. Faylanna is uneasy about the recently revealed truths of her childhood. Tavis is worried for his father, Crown Prince Keari. They find all is not well and nothing is as expected on their arrival.

Unable to ignore her problems performing magic any longer, Faylanna insists on leaving Rianza in search of a solution. Tavis’s inability to come with her is no deterrent, nor is the unborn child she carries. Faylanna leaves his side as Tavis is duty-bound to remain in the capital with his father. For the first time since meeting, they’re parted and neither expect the reaction of the magical bond they created between them.

Can Tavis fulfill his duties and survive unexpected challenges, even as he fights the constant demand from their bond to find her? Is there a solution for Faylanna to find and what will be the price if she finds one?

Available on:

Kindle             Smashwords              Kobo               Nook               Print

and if you haven't yet read her first of the series, here it is. I mean, come on...the cover is GORGEOUS! Plus, she's a stellar writer too. 


The Mirrors of Bershan, Book 1

"Doesn't she know you can't do real magic alone?"

Faylanna Derrion’s graduation from the Voleno Academy is marred by her father’s demand that she return to the family estate, Iondis. He refuses to accept her decision not to bind herself to another Magicia in an unbreakable partnership, insisting she must do so with his help. No one understands her need to prove she can succeed on her own.

Then her mentor and his partner are taken before her eyes by a terrible darkness, forcing her to flee, even as her father’s soldiers try to force her to go home. On her journey to find help, she meets Tavis, a farmer in search of his mother, who she can’t manage to refuse. The revelation that he’s a novice Magicia causes Faylanna to question everything she’s believed.

At the same time, a dream that’s haunted her since childhood begins to change and the unknown man in it calls to her. His words are sweet but she’s not quite willing to believe he’s anything more than a dream, until she can’t deny it.

As secrets are revealed and events unfold, will Faylanna hold to her solitary path or will she choose the one that now beckons her with new possibilities?

Available on:

Kindle             Smashwords              Kobo               Nook            Print


The Mirrors of Bershan, Book 2

"I never meant any of this, least of all for you to pay the price of my pride."

After binding themselves to each other through their magic, Faylanna Derrion and Tavis journey back to her ancestral home, Iondis, intent on restoring the estate to its former beauty. From the moment they arrive, they find the secret horrors of the place aren't exhausted yet.

Faylanna finds an old journal of her father's, one that shakes her understanding of her own past. Worse, Faylanna and Tavis are both nearly killed when attacked by one of the men set to guard the Ninth Mirror of Bershan, still residing at Iondis. In the aftermath, he disappears with the newly-found journal. Sure there is more to this event than they know, Faylanna and Tavis return to the capital, Rianza, for help.

More secrets await them there, ones kept for years by people Tavis never suspected. When the truth is revealed, it alters his present and future completely, just when he thought he understood the path his life would take. Can he rise to the challenges this new fate presents him with or will the change be more than he can handle?

The truths each learn about themselves and those they thought they knew will test Faylanna and Tavis' love for each other. Will they be able to endure the pain and chaos they face, or will it tear them apart?

Available on:

Kindle                          Smashwords             Kobo               Nook               Print

About the AWESOME Author
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Julie Elizabeth Hill exported herself to Vancouver, British Columbia after many years of staring longingly at the map following every snowfall. For as long as she can remember, she's been making up stories, but it wasn't until high school that someone suggested writing them down. Since then, she's been hopelessly in love with story crafting, often forgetting about everything else in the process. She is the author of The Mirrors of Bershan trilogy (Bound, Possession and The Nine).

Twitter: @jlizhill