Winter Reading

Even if it hasn’t been much of a winter here in California, I still crave this season of curling up with a good book by the fire. Here are some favorites from our family so far this winter.

These three novels for adults each stand out for different reasons. In We Are Not Ourselves Thomas breaks your heart slowly in this pitch-perfect tale of the American Dream. I will read anything Hornby writes and in Funny Girl he delves into the comedic television world of 1960s London and the many different lives and hopes of the people within it. He provided a thoughtful look at the complexity of creating a show beloved by the masses (and the impact that success or failure has on its creators). I especially loved the line: “What a terrible thing an education was, he thought, if it produced the kind of mind that despised entertainment and the people who valued it.” With Everything I Never Told You, Ng had me at the title. This is the quickly-paced story of a Chinese-American family in the 1970s whose carefully constructed world starts to shift when their daughter goes missing.

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For a unique YA read this winter, check out Katie Coyle’s Vivian Apple at the End of the World. Coyle explores the nature of fundamentalism and the potential threat of a corporate America through the eyes of Vivian who comes home one day to find her parents missing and holes in her roof as if they’d been Raptured. For those of you missing the feels of The Fault in Our Stars, try Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places. I adored her novel for adults, Velva Jean Learns to Drive, so I was excited to read her YA debut  - a touching and often funny love story about two very different teens. Each year, our county participates in Nevada County Reads and Writes and this year’s selection is Trash by Andy Mulligan. This dystopian thriller makes for a dynamic family read, raising many different topics for discussion, like poverty and the power of hope.

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Anabella has two recommended reads for middle grade. She’s a huge Cynthia Lord fan (author of Rules and Touch Blue) and she equally loved Half a Chance, a sweet tale of friendship and the power of art. For the graphic novel fans out there, she read (and continues to reread) Cece Bell’s hilarious and big-hearted El Deafo, which was also selected as a 2015 Newbury Honor Book.

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Please share any books you’ve enjoyed curling up with this winter – we’re always looking for suggestions!

On November 29th, my daughter and I had the opportunity to participate in Indie First Small Business Saturday. I got to live my dream of being a bookseller in a fabulous independent bookstore, The Book Seller, and Ana got to see what it might be like to be a bookseller for a morning. She loved it (surprise, surprise) and the end of her shift ended like this (as it should be):


That day, we wandered around the store, putting our “suggestion flags” into books we love and talking with people about books they might want to give for the holidays. Yeah, it was heaven.

Then, on December 6th, I got to be a part of Scholastic’s 12 Days of YA with CATCH A FALLING STAR. The question they posed to me was — what book would you give your crush?

People often ask me to recommend books and I love getting asked this question. However, over the years, I find the requests more and more challenging because, well, books are a bit like sending someone on a blind date. Sometimes people come back to me having loved a suggestion but some return looking as if I’d just sent them through some sort of botched elective surgery. So what I’ve tried to start doing is figuring out ahead of time what books they’ve loved in the past or what they might want from their reading experience and then we go from there. That’s why when Scholastic asked me What book would you give your crush? I tried to come up with a fun list based on specific crush types. Here’s my list:

If my crush has been known to take a dare…

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan

(I’d include a journal with my own list of dares so we could start our own book.)


If my crush thinks like Sherlock….

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

(Mila is a female sort of Sherlock with a brainy first person narrative.)

If my crush is a dreamer….

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti

(Because a 2.5 million dollar tip would solve everything, right?)

If my crush likes cool world mash-ups…

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

(This one had me at the tag line: Darcy writes the words, Lizzie lives them.)

If my crush has a darkly humorous side…

Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

(Leigh works in a graveyard as her afterschool job; it sort of sucks sometimes. But there’s this cute gravedigger…)

If my crush dreams in music….

The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour

(A post-graduation road trip for a band of teenagers trying to figure out what’s next. And Nina Lacour’s writing sings for itself.)

If my crush has a poetic side…

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

(Woodson’s gorgeous poetry memoir of her youth won the National Book Award, so, yeah, it rocks.)

For this post, I thought I’d also share a few non-YA books for the special wee one, tween, or grown up in your life.   These are three I’ve loved as of late, but you might just “not be that into them” (that’s me, busting out the hip, current references!)

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, a delightful little story with a huge heart

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, a hilarious graphic novel about a family road trip (this is the book Ana most recommends this year when people ask her about her favorite reads)

Us by David Nicholls, a thoughtful, funny novel about a family – a scientist father, an artist mother, and their complicated teenage son – as they embark on a “grand tour” of Europe just as everything starts to shift in their lives.

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading! Let me know if you have any books you’d recommend this season for someone like me who is a bit of an opportunivore when it comes to books.


Thanks to Jen Nadol (whose new YA Contemporary THIS IS HOW IT ENDS from Simon Pulse has a fantastic title) for tagging me in the 8 Terrible Titles Challenge. That was fun. And sadly, some of these are much better than some of the titles I came up with for my new YA Contemporary set in Tahoe (Scholastic, Winter 2016) when I was actually trying. Guess I could have saved myself some time.

The rules? Scroll through your manuscript and stop at a random spot. Wherever your cursor lands, that’s your title. There’s no hunting through your pages for the perfect phrases. This challenge is to see how truly awkward your title could be. Here are Jen’s titles if you’d like to check them out: Jen Nadol’s blog

Okay, 8 Terrible Titles for my new YA Contemporary; here it goes:


That last one is now the official title of the writing process for this book.

YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt

5028484 This year, I’m lucky enough to be part of the 2014 YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt.As part of the hunt, I get to host another YA author on my site. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Michelle Madow! See below to win a copy of Michelle’s book (US Giveaway only). I sent Michelle some interview questions about her Vegas novels, THE SECRET DIAMOND SISTERS and DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH. Writers, take note: she has helpful suggestions for POV and process!:

1.      The backdrop of Las Vegas is such a compelling world for a YA novel– how did you come to choose this setting?

I visit Las Vegas every year for a family event, and I was walking through my favorite hotel — The Wynn — when I thought, “What would it be like to live here?” From there, the idea for The Secret Diamond Sisters formed! I love how the city bursts with magic and excitement. Vegas does everything as big as possible, so being there is like entering a fantasyland. My favorite part is definitely all the different hotels. Each one is a different theme, and they all have such distinct personalities. A few of my favorite hotels are mentioned in The Secret Diamond Sisters (Paris, the Venetian, and many implications to the Wynn), so hopefully readers are transported into these magical hotels while they’re reading the book!


2.    My blog is called POV (Point of View) because I’m fascinated with the idea that we each have our individual lens through which to look out at this funny world of ours. So as a writer, I love that each character we create also has his or her own distinct POV. I noticed your books are told through the points of view of four different characters – can you discuss the challenges and benefits of having multiple points of view in a YA novel?

Writing from four alternating POV’s is challenging for two main reasons—getting the timing correctly, and getting the voices correct.

There are SO MANY differences between these four main girls. Peyton is the oldest sister, the most stubborn, has taken the brunt of the difficulty of dealing with an irresponsible mother who recently spiraled into alcoholism. She hasn’t gotten over a certain heartbreak, and has trouble trusting anyone. Courtney is the responsible, goal-oriented sister, who oftentimes acts as the mediator between Peyton and Savannah, and has put school and work before having friends or a boyfriend. Savannah is the youngest and most naive — she’s been protected by her sisters — and is very innocent in comparison to them, but it also leads to her being an optimist who always believes the best in everyone. She also tends to crush on guys very easily. Then there’s Madison, the queen bee of her high school in Las Vegas, who feels threatened by the Diamond sisters when they first arrive, and who has major struggles of her own. When writing from the point of views of four different characters, sometimes their voices meld together and sound too similar, so when I’m editing, I have to be aware of that and make sure their voices are distinct.

As for timing, I always keep the same pattern in the chapters throughout the series — they alternate in the order of: Savannah, Courtney, Peyton, Madison. So when I’m outlining my books, I need to make sure that the timing works in conjunction of the POV shifts.


3.     Many of my creative writing students wonder about process and practice as an author. Do you have a routine that works for you or any fun writing rituals that you use to keep yourself motivated?

I outline my novels in detail before writing them — this makes it so I know what’s coming next in the plot when I’m drafting, and I don’t get blocked. My favorite time to write is in the afternoon. I can’t write with any distractions, so I write in my room, alone, with no music or TV on. It has to be completely silent. I have a goal of writing 1,000 to 1,500 words, at least five days a week, and try my best to stick to that goal until the draft is finished. When I wrote my first book, I kept a photo of myself with my favorite author, Stephenie Meyer, next to me to keep me inspired. Now, I have copies of my own books across the room, so I can look at them and remember what I’m working toward!


4.     We make a lot of lists in my creative writing classes when we’re writing. Would you be willing to make a list I could share with my students of interesting possible settings to include in a novel or story? 

I feel like any setting can be used to create a good story, as long as the setting acts as a character itself. The setting should contribute to the story, and it should be of interest to you. Some ideas:

– A place you’ve visited and loved, or a place you’ve always wanted to visit

– Places with historical significance: The Titanic, London during the plague or Great Fire, Pompeii, etc.

– An abandoned town

– Another planet

– A magical world within our world

The possibilities are endless, and what’s important is that it’s a place that is interesting to you! Your interest and passion will make the story sparkle.

Thanks, Michelle, for these fabulous responses to my questions!

WIN a copy of Michelle’s book (US Giveaway only)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Diamonds in the Rough Summary:

All-access doesn’t mean no problems.

The three Diamond sisters survived the summer in style after coming to live with their long-lost billionaire father. But making a place for themselves at their exclusive new Las Vegas private school is throwing them any number of gold-plated curves. Savannah’s YouTube stardom turns into a Sweet Sixteen reality show extravaganza—with complimentary enemies on the side. Dangerous flirtations don’t keep Peyton from a gamble that will risk far more than she planned to bet. And when Courtney and the sisters’ archenemy, Madison, uncover two explosive secrets, it will rock even this town of glittering illusion—and turn their lives upside down all over again.

Sisterhood, first crushes, and scandalous secrets explode in book two of Michelle Madow’s riveting series, The Secret Diamond Sisters.


Author Bio:

Michelle Madow wrote her first novel, Remembrance, in her junior year of college. Remembrance is the first book in The Transcend Time Saga, a three part series about reincarnation and true love. The series was inspired by Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” music video. Michelle’s latest YA novel, The Secret Diamond Sisters, about three sisters who discover they are the secret heirs to a Las Vegas billionaire casino owner, was published in March 2014. It is the first in an upcoming trilogy. The second part, Diamonds in the Rough, will be coming out in November 2014.

Michelle lives in Boca Raton, Florida, where she is writing more novels for young adults. She loves reading, spending time with family and friends, traveling, shopping, sunshine, Disney fairy tales, Broadway musicals, and spends way too much time on Facebook (/MichelleMadow) and Twitter (@MichelleMadow).

Read the 1st novel in The Secret Diamond Sisters series!



Each year in my Creative Writing 1A class, I like to start with a discussion of point of view, voice and character. This year, I gave my new students the first chapter of PICTURE ME GONE by Meg Rosoff (Putnam, 2013). I’m a huge fan of Rosoff’s first novel HOW I LIVE NOW and PICTURE ME GONE equally enchanted me this summer when I read it. Rosoff crafts the novel from Mila’s first person point of view. Mila is from London and the novel opens with the news that she and her father plan to take a trip to upstate New York to visit a family friend. However, when this friend goes missing with no explanation, they decide to take their trip anyway and attempt to find him. Mila is a sort of female Sherlock Holmes, keenly observant of her surroundings. In the opening line, Rosoff writes: “The first Mila was a dog.” Mila goes on to explain she’s been named after her grandfather’s “long-dead dog”- a terrier. But she’s not resentful of this.

I ask my students, “What do we know so far about Mila?” Inevitably, I get a response like, “She likes dogs?” Then, after some discussion, the students come up with a list of details the author has shown us through Mila’s almost clinical voice that reveal elements of her character.

So why the dog? “Everyone likes dogs,” suggests one of my students. “I don’t!” chirps his friend. Another student raises her hand. “She doesn’t resent being compared to the dog. She’s sort of proud of it.” Someone else follows up, “Maybe she’s telling us she’s like a terrier, persistent, you know, without actually having to tell us that.” Right. She’s showing us, I say. And thus begins another year of Creative Writing. We talk about how story becomes powerful when an author shows his or her readers clues and details – sensory and emotional. And this starts with a strong voice and an interesting character (or characters) who want something, who have a problem.

PICTURE ME GONE is a beautifully-written, atmospheric novel and this Sherlock-like girl held my attention completely. She also proved a lovely way to begin our class discussion of point of view, voice and character.

I had knee surgery July 7th. The byproduct of too many years as a basketball player and a fall skiing last January. I’ve had knee surgery before – in high school for a basketball injury – and I remember healing pretty quickly and being back on the court in no time. Memory’s a funny thing. This time around, well, not so much. I’m forty, so that played into it, but I’m sure that last surgery took a lot of rehab and time. I just don’t remember it. iceknee

Three days in, on painkillers, I couldn’t even follow the plot of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as my daughter watched it on Netflix. Wait, why is that ant so huge? Two weeks in, hobbling on crutches, I said to my husband, “I had no idea it was going to be like this!! What was I thinking?” He got me more ice. And a snack. I did my exercises, complaining to my surgeon almost three weeks in that I had simply no idea I still wouldn’t be able to straighten my leg?! He was patient and sweet. You’re getting there, he said. It takes time. Do your exercises. Ice it. You’ll be off crutches in no time. You’ll be back in the gym soon.

Grrrrrr. I am not a patient person (insert laughter at enormous understatement here).

Meanwhile, in related news, my editor at Scholastic gave me the editorial letter for my new YA novel I’m writing for them. It was long. And she, as usual, made fabulous points. I got feedback from my agent and she, as usual, made fabulous points. This book needed a ton of work (read: the first draft was a freaking mess). I knew this when I sent it. Because first drafts generally are – freaking messes.

My knee. The revisions. I indulged in a few minutes (read: days) of being totally overwhelmed. My knee didn’t work! My book didn’t work! My husband went out for Haagen Dazs bars. (Have I mentioned how much I love my husband?)

Four weeks in at the gym, as I did my sad little slow turns on the spin bike, one of my trainers said, “Trust the process.” I tried not to throw a dumbbell at his head.

But he was right.  Over the last couple weeks I’ve been re-writing the book and guess what? All those notes from my editor and agent have made it so much better. Yesterday, I walked up and down stairs the normal way. Today at the gym, I did twenty minutes on the spin bike and my knee felt great. My lovely trainer, Amanda, took a picture to remind me.


Trust the process.

Of course, I knew this already. Because of writing. Books always start out messy, frustrating piles of words. Overtime, hopefully, after many drafts, they become a novel. This knee, after many revisions in the gym, will be on the slopes in no time.

Bonus Track: If you missed my post on Book Vacations over at Hiver & Cafe’s blog, check it out. You still have a few days to enter for a signed copy of CATCH A FALLING STAR.

I turned in the first draft of my new manuscript to my editor, school is closed for the summer, and we’re winding up my daughter’s dance and theatre activities until August.  This means we’re melting into some of my favorite weeks of the year:  summer reading! Time to sit and enjoy some new books without too many distractions. Okay, I’m also getting knee surgery but that just means more guilt-free reading time, so I thought I’d list a few of the books I plan to dive into this month.


Extra Special Bonus: My ten year old daughter, Ana, is joining POV today as a guest blogger to share a few of the books on her summer reading list.


From Kim’s list, for adults:

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil (Grove Press)

The New Valley, his collection of linked novellas, shimmered with lush storytelling and rich characters. His debut novel, which has been called futuristic Russian folklore, promises the same. Plus, he created all the gorgeous illustrations inside so it’s like also getting an art book for your coffee table. It’s a two-for-one! Casually leave it out in your house where people will spy it and think, whoa, nice book.The Great Glass Sea











I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum (Touchstone Books)

This one had me at the title. Love it. Maum’s novel looks like a fresh take on marriage and infidelity, plus it’s set in both England and France. Mostly, I’ve heard that it’s funny and anytime someone can take something painful and find the humor in it (see anything Jonathan Tropper writes!), I find it a useful lens.


for YA:

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson (S&S Books for Young Readers)

I just started this book and it’s terrific – everything a YA book should be: a great set up (what happened to Sloan?), rich characters (Emily, the MC, is funny, sharp and interesting), and there is a cute smart boy. This is my kind of YA and I can’t wait to recommend it to my students in the fall for their independent reading.since you've been gone

















From Ana’s list (in her own words):

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic)

I read Rules by Cynthia Lord and I really love her concepts and her characters. In Rules, Catherine wished she had a normal life because her brother was autistic, but throughout the book she figured out that normal is different for every family. One of my favorite characters from Rules was Jason. He was different from everyone else and he became friends with Catherine. One of the reasons I want to read Touch Blue this summer is because I really like Cynthia Lord’s writing. Touch Blue seems like a similar book to Rules because it has a girl who is challenged by something she wants and befriends two new people who help her figure out what she really needs.

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Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion)

This is Rick Riordan’s second series, Heroes of Olympus. I read his first Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and I loved how he told the story in first person (Percy’s POV). I also love the character Annabeth. I read the first book in this new series and I love the characters Leo, Piper and Jason. I’ve already started reading Son of Neptune and in this book Percy Jackson’s POV returns as well as a character named Hazel and one named Frank. I like how it rotates POV every few chapters. These books are filled with action, humor, and Greek Mythology, which I love.


Amulet #6 by Kazu Kibuishi (GRAPHIX)

This one doesn’t come out until the end of August but I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ve read the other five and they are about a girl and her family who come to live in their grandfather’s house and she finds an amulet necklace that starts talking to her (weird!) She chooses to be a Stone Keeper and the whole series is about her fighting the bad people (the elves) and learning how to control the amulet’s magic. These are graphic novels and the drawings are amazing. I highly recommend it, but start with the first one or nothing will make sense.


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