YA Author Rendezvous

Creativity Unleashed: Books for the young and the young at heart


December 2015

Fresh Flash Fiction: Sugar and Eggs


Written by
Sarah Wathen

Brown sugar, packed. Thump.

White sugar, heaping. Ssssss.

A teaspoon of vanilla. Splash.

Two eggs. Crack. Splat. Crack. Splat.

I lift the metal bowl to my face, lips a hairsbreadth from slimy golden yolk, and breathe. Glorious.

“What is it about sugary eggs and vanilla?”

Now that other ingredient. I wrinkle my nose and scoop the pungent stuff, spoonful by hated spoonful. The whir of a hand mixer reminds me that humming helps. But there is nothing soothing about a random tune—my grandmother did that and she never hit a note—so I choose something. Fast.

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer…” I hate when people just can’t let Christmas go. Damn if that song isn’t still stuck in my brain. “Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm, huh huh.”

Dough rolled and ready, exactly one quarter-inch thick. I sift through cutters. Heart? Suspicious. Star? Ironic. Four-leafed clover? Just hateful. I smile and select the clover.

“One little, two little, three little clovers.” The dough is satisfying to cut. Solid but pliable, like Play Doh. Forgiving. “Five little, six little, seven little…” The rest of my invented song escapes me. “See, that’s why you stick with the classics.”

I strip off my rubber gloves and bang the tins into the oven. Then wait. And wait. Baking cookies have no business smelling so…so…

“Had a very shiny nose.” I tap my feet, crave the ding. “And if you ever saw it.” My hands sweat in their mitts. “You would even say it—”


A delicate tea saucer. And a paper doily. I plunk down the clover while it’s still steaming. Oil seeps into the doily, an evil halo. But warm cookies are more appetizing than cold cookies, so I shake my head, get a grip. Last minute inspiration sends down a sprinkle of powdered sugar—a kindness or a mockery—and I push through the swinging doors.

My slippers tap checkerboard marble floors. A home shouldn’t echo like that.

Click. Click. Click.

The tick-tock of a disapproving grandfather clock melts my resolve and I slow, my breath shallow.

A firm grip swings me around and I almost drop my offering. “I’ll take it to her.”

Blood thunders in my ears. I can hardly hear my own feeble, “Okay,” so I bob my head and shove the plate into his chest.

“It’s almost over.” His smile is blurred, his finger tracing my jawline warm.

I nod again and a hot tear hits my shoe. An acrid smell escapes her sickroom and buffets my cheeks as he closes the door on my shame.

I scrub my face with both hands, square my shoulders. A galvanizing breath strains my diaphragm. “Okay. Fresh linens.” Stick to the basics. Don’t think. “All of the other reindeer…”

My steps echo to the stupid melody and I wonder if I should perform a step-ball-change to mix things up.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I pause to open the glass door, halt the heavy pendulum.


YA Books to Movie/TV a Thing of the Past?

Written by
Melissa Craven

No way, right? Well, about a year ago, I read an article answering this very question. The author claimed the big boom in Young Adult genres was finally dwindling down and likely not to see such massive interest again.

I respectfully disagreed. But as a YA author myself, a little piece of me trembled in fear at the very idea and I felt a sense of urgency to get my nearly finished work in progress published asap! The article ended with one last glimmer of hope—stating that although nothing significant was rising up to follow in Divergent’s footsteps, maybe the next big thing in YA was being written at that very moment. To which I immediately responded with a cocky, “you bet your sweet…er…” well anyway, I went right back to perfecting my masterpiece and told myself the article was totes wrong.

And it was. Lots of great things are on the horizon for YA in 2016 and I can’t wait to see my beloved genre on the big screen. With The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey hitting theaters soon, we’ll be off to a great start in 2016.

I personally cannot wait for J.K. Rowling’s, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, arriving in theaters later in the year.

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With another Narnia movie in development, and Allegiant: Part 1 due out this spring, as well as Fallen, by Lauren Kate and Significance by Shelly Crane, YA will be out in full force in 2016. And countless other titles (one metric-bazillion to be more exact) are in the works, rumored or scheduled for 2017.

But what about the small screen? Young Adult series are starting to crop up increasingly on television. The 100, by Kass Morgan will be back for a third season in January. Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard is in it’s fifth season and The Vampire Diaries, by L. J Smith is still going strong.  

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2016 will see The Mortal Instrument series by Cassandra Clare become The Shadowhunters on abc Family this January (seriously cannot wait for this!). Considering the failure of the movie, I am extremely excited to see how the show compares. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is also rumored to hit the 2016 Fall lineup.

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The YA book to movie trend is clearly here to stay, which makes the fangirl/author in me extremely excited for 2016.

Author Spotlight: T.D Shields


Written by
Michelle Lynn

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?
My first two books are Into Shadow and Into Light. You should probably read them in that order. I just heard from one of my beta readers for Into Light and she accidentally read it first and then started on Into Shadow… she was very confused!

Both books are set in the not-so-distant future… there has been an enormous war that involved the entire world and the country is only now beginning to recover from it. The country is led by a dashing, handsome war hero who you would like very much if I didn’t kill him off within a few minutes of opening the book.

After his death, his daughter Poppy has to learn to fend for herself and figure out what to do next. She ends up hiding in one of the many cities that were left decimated and deserted after the world war, only to learn that the city of Denver is not nearly as empty as she’d been led to believe.

Into Shadow is really about Poppy finding her way and figuring out how to be her own person after spending so many years as an extension of her father. Into Light is where she returns to confront the man who destroyed her life and killed her father. It all sounds kind of dramatic and dark, but I try to let my snarky sense of humor peek out enough to lighten the mood.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?
Poppy is my favorite, of course! She’s the center of the story and she’s really everything I would like to be myself. She’s smart and loving but tough and able to literally kick butt when the situation calls for it. And she’s a redhead – as I am myself. I have a hard time NOT making the heroine of one of my stories a redhead; I just think it’s the best possible hair you can have.

Your series consists of two books at a time when trilogies are very popular. Can you tell us a little about what goes into a decision like that?
I guess I have a little trouble with premature encapsulation… I wound up the whole story too early so it was only two books instead of three!

But really, so many stories ARE trilogies these days and often that’s just perfect. But sometimes it feels like the story is being stretched out unnecessarily just to make it fit into the three-book mold. Poppy’s story was done at the end of two books.

Besides, how many times have you loved the first two books of a trilogy and then the third was kind of a let-down? I avoided that by stopping with two. I won’t rule out revisiting the world at some point – maybe to give Rivers and Sharra their own story.

How important is reading to your writing? Any particular genres that get your mojo flowing?
If you want the really honest truth… reading is actually a barrier to writing for me. I LOVE to read. I will forgo sleep and slack off on my paying job occasionally when I get caught up in a great book. (Unless my boss reads this and then I definitely NEVER slack off on my day job to read a book! And if I ever did, I totally made up for it later, I promise!)

And when I’m all caught up in a great story from another author, I’m so into it that it crowds out my own stories. I do my best writing when I force myself to put down my reading and listen to the stories in my own head.

I like to read almost any genre, but my favorites are dystopian (big surprise!) and anything with a paranormal twist; ghosts, urban fantasy, and other things that go bump in the night are always fun for me.

What authors have inspired you to write?
It’s so hard to pick just one… but I will go with Kiera Cass, who wrote The Selection series. That is the series that I read just before I finally sat down at the computer with the intention of writing out one of my stories. The world that she created just felt so real to me that I wanted to stay in it a while longer. In the end, the world my books live in is not the same as Cass’s world – which is as it should be, because I want to be inspired, not a copycat. But it was definitely that view of the future that led to my version of it.

What’s your favorite book and what is it that draws you to it?
Another tough one! I love so many… The Dresden Files, the Mercy Thompson series, The Selection series, The Hunger Games, pretty much anything by Mercedes Lackey.

But if I really have to pick one, I would have to go with The Belgariad by David Eddings. This is a series of five books and it’s high fantasy – full of wizardry and drama and peril. It’s the first series that I really remember being completely immersed in. I have read it a dozen times at least and it never loses its magic (no pun intended) for me.

What age were you when you started writing?
As I recall, I wrote my first book at about age seven. It was around a dozen pages long, hand-written and self-illustrated on lined paper that I tore from a notebook and stapled together. I couldn’t tell you any of the storyline anymore, but I do remember that my heroine was named Philadelphia and liked to be called Philly. I also remember an illustration of Philly sitting in a nest. I don’t know if this is because the story ACTUALLY involved Philly sitting in a nest or if that’s just my lack of drawing ability coming to the fore – maybe the picture was supposed to be something else entirely.

To my parents’ great credit, they almost managed not to laugh out loud as they read my first attempt at a book. Since the story of Philadelphia was quite a serious drama, I was pretty offended by the laughter. That may be why it took another thirty years or so before I made another serious attempt at writing a book.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
It’s not a huge thing for me, but I do run into it from time to time. My preferred method of dealing with it is to play lots of rounds of Monster Busters (a match-three game) on my tablet. It occupies just enough of my mind to let me bypass the block and work out some plot points in the background of my thoughts.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I have a very loose outline. I know where I’m starting out and I know where I want to end up, and I lay out a few major milestones along the way. Then I just write and find out where the story takes me.

It has been said that authors sometimes think of their characters as an extension of themselves. Do yours ever feel real to you?
Oh my gosh, yes! I sometimes have to remind myself that these are not real people. I think of my characters as my friends and it’s actually kind of sad to me when I have to stop and realize that they are actually just figments of my own imagination.

If you were a super hero, what would your power be?
I’m greedy. I would want a bunch of them, kind of like superman. I want the super-strength, the super-speed, the x-ray vision, and definitely the ability to fly. I would also like the power to be invisible, especially when the kids are looking for me to tell me more tales of Minecraft. I could just lie right there in the bed taking a nap and they’d never know where to find me!

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
The technical aspects were a little challenging at first. Just figuring out where to go, what to do, and how it all works can be intimidating. I kind of fumbled my way through it, but it worked eventually.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I would learn more about the whole marketing side of things first. I really had no idea how much work it would be to handle the marketing for the already published stuff while still trying to write something new. For me it kind of turned into an either/or thing. I could either focus on marketing Into Shadow or I could focus on writing Into Light. Now that I’m making final tweaks on Into Light, I can move back into marketing mode again, I guess.

Can you tell us about your next book?
The next book is the start of a new series. Hey, maybe this one will be a trilogy! It’s more lighthearted than Into Shadow and Into Light. It will be called Catbird Seat and it’s urban fantasy, featuring a main character who is a crime-solving cat. It sounds kind of strange, I guess, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest critiques are the ones that are correct! When I read a comment about something that could have been better and realize that they have a very valid point, it stings a little, but ultimately helps me do things better the next time around.

I really dislike it when someone gives me a low rating of one or two stars, but doesn’t say WHY they feel that way. I’m totally on board with your right to not like my book, but I would like to know what it was that turned you off so I can try not to do that again. Then again, maybe if the one-star reviewers left comments I would hate it even more than when they don’t comment, so I should probably leave well enough alone!

The best compliment is when someone tells me they loved the book and can’t wait to see what happens next. The idea that someone else is enjoying my story and wants more is exhilarating. And my mom didn’t laugh at my book this time around (except in appropriate spots). That was a big relief.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Just jump in and give it a try. Until you give it your best shot you don’t know what you can do.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
I can’t write in the daytime. Or when anyone in the house is still awake, really. I will procrastinate all day long and get nothing accomplished, but suddenly at midnight it’s like an alarm goes off in my brain and it’s time to be productive!

Dogs or Cats?
Cats, for sure. Dogs are cute, but I can’t stand it when they slobber on me. And with Roomie as a major character in my first books and my next series starring a cat as the main character, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I lean that direction.

Chocolate or Vanilla?
I’ll never turn down chocolate, but given a choice between the two, I’ll take vanilla.

What is your biggest fear?
It’s an oddly specific, but real fear… I worry that my car will catch fire while I’m filling it with gas. I try to never re-fuel the car while my kids are with me because I don’t want them strapped in their car seats while the car is on fire. I will postpone fueling up for as long as possible in hopes that my husband will just give in and go to the gas station before I have to.

I realize that it’s ridiculous, but in my defense, my brother’s car really did catch fire while he was filling it with gas. It burned down to a charred frame and nothing more, right there in the parking lot of the gas station! Ever since then I have obsessed over it a little.

Also, vampires. When I was a kid (around 4th grade) I slept with a jar of garlic salt and a fork under my pillow. Apparently my mom felt a stake was inappropriate? I’m still not entirely convinced that vampires (of the scary, non-sparkly variety) are not lurking in the dark when I have to go out alone at night.

So, pretty bleak view of the future. Are you insane? And should we be worried?
Yes. And yes.

Just kidding, I hope. I like to look at Into Shadow as the bleak future, but Into Light takes us past that into bright new possibilities (at least by the end of it all). But even amid the desolation of bombed-out, rubble-strewn cities, people still find friends and family and build good lives. Technology keeps progressing and finding new and better ways to do things. And most people want to do the right thing. So even though there’s plenty to worry about these days, I try to focus on the light, even when it’s almost hidden by the scarier stuff.

And as far as my own sanity goes… I wouldn’t lay any bets in favor of my clean mental-health evaluation. 😉

What People Are Saying About Tara and Into Shadow:

“With the verbal brush-strokes of a Renaissance artist, T.D. Shields crafts a vivid picture of a world two centuries in the future. Thousands of books are given such a setting, but it takes a skilled author to immerse us in that world without weighing the story down in descriptions.”

“The faultless writing style sweeps you into a survival story and leaves no reason to ponder how certain events occurred in this incredible adventure. Tackling bullying and inequality between the sexes, pointing out corruption in government officials, and veering between kindness and cruelty, this novel covers all the human conditions.”

Find out more about T. D Shields HERE

Top 10 Books for Middle School Students

Top 10 MS Books Cover Image

Written by
Elizabeth Woodrum

Hello, readers of the YAAR blog! I’m author Elizabeth Woodrum. Some of you may be familiar with my children’s mystery series, The Maisy Files.  But, you may not be aware that I am also an educator with thirteen years of experience teaching language arts.  I currently teach sixth grade at a small school in Ohio.  After having spent many years working with fourth grade students, one of the things I have enjoyed most is getting to discover, and in some cases rediscover, books to share with older students.

I’ve compiled a list of my top ten books for middle school students. Though, I did cheat a little. Since most of the books are part of a series,  there are actually many more than ten books you may discover from this list!  The suggested minimum ages for these books range from eight through thirteen.  So, there should be something for every reader who is around the average age of middle-school students.

I’ve broken my list into the categories of dystopian, science fiction/fantasy, realistic fiction, and historical fiction. Keep in mind that sometimes books walk a thin line between genres.  So, if you’re not sure something is in a preferred genre, check it out anyway. You may be surprised!

As a teacher, I’m always cautious of content I’m sharing with my students.  So, I’m placing an age recommendation from Common Sense Media with each book description.  Parents, if you question whether or not a book is appropriate for your child, I highly recommend the site.  But, be warned. They are very specific and you will spoil the book for yourself if you read their descriptions. Personally, I would have no trouble sharing any of these books with my sixth-grade students, who are generally around eleven years of age. In fact, I have read several of these books with them.


With books like The Hunger Games and Divergent,  everyone is familiar with the term dystopian by now.  The following are a selection of books that may not be as well known, but still entirely deserving of attention by dystopian lovers. For those unfamiliar with the term, if there are any of you still out there, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia.  A dystopian society is generally one in which things are as bad as they can be. Usually there is some form of a totalitarian government or a natural disaster has caused such turmoil that the world is intolerable. Often, the characters are complacent and accept their world until someone begins uncovering secrets.  Though the recent surge of dystopian novels may lead you to believe that an all out war is the only solution to these types of societies, some dystopian novels have a calmer approach. Though there is often an uprising of some sort, extreme violence is not a requirement.

The Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


The Books of Ember contain three books and a prequel.  The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and The Diamond of Darkhold tell the story of the people of Ember.  The Prophet of Yonwood is a prequel and was published as the third book in the series.  However, I have not read it.  Some of my students have, and they shared that it was good. But, it takes place far before the events of Ember.

The City of Ember introduces the reader to the character of Lina Mayfleet.  The story is told in third person, but focuses mostly on Lina.  We learn about Ember, a city which would always be in darkness if the light keepers didn’t regulate the lights. But, the people of Ember have started experiencing black outs and shortages of supplies.  Doon, one of Lina’s former classmates, is sure that Ember is in trouble.  After Lina finds an ancient message, she is convinced that there is a way out of Ember and that there is actually something beyond the city.  Lina and Doon work together to discover that all is not as it seems.

I’ve read this book with my students and most of them greatly enjoyed it.  I was able to figure out the twist involving the location of Ember very early into the book.  However, the ending, and the reveal, has always surprised my students.  This is a very tame dystopian novel, with light action and a little sadness.  Common Sense Media’s recommended age is for readers 8+.

The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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The Shadow Children is a seven book series which begins with Among the Hidden.  I admit, I have not yet finished the series.  But, the books I have read are excellent! In the first book, we’re introduced to Luke.  He is one of the shadow children.  In the world developed in the series, there is a population problem and every family is restricted by law to only having two children.  So, Luke, being the third child, must keep his existence a secret. That has been relatively easy since his family’s farm is located in a somewhat secluded area.  But, all of that changes when a new housing development is built next to his home.  Luke’s movements become even more restricted.  But, one day, he sees a new child’s face in a home that already contains two children.  Luke’s real journey begins as he ventures out to meet this other shadow child.

Parents can rest easy knowing that the dystopian elements are not overly graphic. There are some emotionally charged events and light action in the series opener.  Common Sense Media’s recommended age is 9+.

The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry

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The Giver quarter contains four books,  beginning with Newbery-Medal-Winner The Giver.  Unlike a lot of series, each book could actually stand alone. However, they do build on each other in a way that will make more sense if you read them in order.  But, the second book isn’t necessarily a continuation of the first, and so on.

In The Giver, we meet Jonas.  He and his family live in a seemingly utopian community in which everything is decided upon by The Elders.  Families have two kids and everything from their daily vitamins to their careers are managed.  At the age of twelve, children receive their career assignments. Jonas is given the assignment of the Receiver of Memories.  Being placed in the position means that Jonas will receive the world’s collective memories from the previous receiver, who has now become the titular character of The Giver.  Only The Giver and his protégé know the full, true history of the world. In part, it is this ignorance that keeps the community in its utopian order.

It is through receiving the memories and talking with The Giver that Jonas, and the reader, learn about the hypocrisy of the society.  Unlike more overt dystopian novels, the rebellion aspect is limited mainly to Jonas and The Giver.  Because of this, I’ve seen it classified as both utopian and dystopian, depending on who is doing the reviewing.  But, since the people are oppressed, even if they don’t really know it, I’m still considering it a dystopian novel.

I found it interesting as a reader to learn more about the world the story is set in through Jonas’ receiving of the memories. There were quite a few interesting and novel aspects. There are some disturbing events and revelations that arise as the story reaches its climax. They are written in a way that makes them suitable for young readers. But, the content may be objectionable to some. I suggest parents check out this book’s description on Common Sense Media’s website here.  Common Sense Media’s suggested age for the series is 11+.

The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie


The series is made up of the books Matched, Crossed, and Reached.  The story begins as the main character, Cassia, learns who The Society has chosen to be her mate.  However, there is a “glitch” in the system.  As the story continues, Cassia is faced with many choices. She begins to question the government’s decisions.  The world in the Matched trilogy is not as over the top dystopian as many readers may have come to believe is the norm.  A main aspect of the trilogy is a romance with the backdrop of a dystopian world that is slow to reveal its secrets.  The books will likely appeal more to female readers because of the romance aspects and the narrator being Cassia.  However, as the series progresses, it takes on a multiple perspective format.  Prominent male characters are also narrators later in the series.  Common Sense Media’s recommended age is for readers aged 12+.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

The Selection

The Selection series will also likely appeal mostly to female readers. It consists of three main books, The Selection, The Elite, and The One.  The dystopian aspects of these stories don’t reveal themselves in a heavy-handed way.  The main focus is on America Singer as she finds herself in The Selection, an event in which a prince chooses his bride.  It is a bit of a fairytale story, set amidst a turbulent society.  However, the dystopian drama mainly takes a back seat to America’s romantic entanglements throughout most of the series.  For those who really love to get your hands on a good series, this one has extra content.  There are novellas and two more novels that take place 20 years after the end of the original series. The first, The Heir, is already released. The final book, The Crown, comes out in May. Common Sense Media’s suggested age is 13+.

Science-Fiction and Fantasy

I’m sure all of you avid readers are familiar with these genres.  In general, fantasy contains some sort of element that does not exist in reality, such as magic. Science-fiction is often considered to be a type of fantasy, except it must contain a large focus on technology.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer


The Lunar Chronicles consists of four main books and one prequel.  Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter are the main books.  Fairest was published third, but takes place before the main series.

This is one of the most unique series I have ever read.  Well, I’m actually still reading Winter, which was just released four days prior to my writing of this post.  But, I still hold that opinion.

The books are a futuristic telling of some of your favorite fairytales.  I admit, I actually picked up Cinder on several different occasions and placed it back on the shelf at the bookstore.  After reading that Cinder is a cyborg, my fantasy-genre-preferring brain said, “No, thanks!” But, I’m glad I finally gave it a try, because I couldn’t put it down.  These stories are what I would call genre-bending.  I am classifying them as science-fiction because of all of the futuristic technology.  There are genetically mutated humans living on the moon, space travel is an everyday occurrence, Cinder is a cyborg, and androids are as common as sliced bread. There are some aspects that could qualify as dystopian.  But, I’m categorizing based on the most prevalent feature.

It may not be too hard to guess that Cinder is the future’s answer to Cinderella. But, she is so much more than that.  The first book begins with Cinder, a mechanic, living in plague-ridden New Beijing with an evil step-mother and two step-sisters.  Of course, she has a chance meeting with Prince Kai, and eventually their stories become intertwined when Cinder accidentally receives a message intended for the prince. Cinder sets off on a course that will help her unravel her mysterious past and meet some rather interesting characters, including an evil Lunar queen, along the way.

I found it fascinating how the author spun new stories that are somewhat parallel to the stories we all know.  You’ll meet future versions of other fairytale characters with cleverly updated stories of their own as the series progresses.  I don’t want to give away too much in terms of what other fairytale characters are involved. But, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how these old tales found an entirely new life. Common Sense Media’s recommended age is 12+.

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

 nicholas flamel

This six book series is a fantasy that centers around the legend of the French alchemist Nicholas Flamel.  In the first book, appropriately titled The Alchemyst, we meet brother and sister Sophie and Josh Newman.  They are thrown into a clash between Flamel and the evil Dr. John Dee, who wishes to destroy the world.  If he can get his hands on an item that Flamel has been protecting for his long life, he’ll be able to.  But, as it turns out, Sophie and Josh may be the only ones who can stop him.  They are prophesied to be powerful magicians, which is quite a surprise to them.

I enjoyed reading this entire series, which is filled with magic, immortals, and historical figures.  If you enjoyed books such as The Harry Potter series, you’ll definitely enjoy this series.  The recommended age by Common Sense Media is 10+.

Realistic Fiction  

Realistic fiction is just as it sounds.  These stories are set in the real world and could actually happen.  All three of these books come with my highest recommendation, because my sixth-graders loved them.

Wonder by RJ Palacio


I’ve read Wonder with my students for two years now. They really enjoyed it.  This book is about acceptance and friendship.  It is the first book I read with them as it has a great message for kids at what is often a difficult age to navigate.

August Pullman was born with such a rare combination of genetic abnormalities that there isn’t technically a name for his condition, which has left him disfigured.

The story begins with August learning he is going to be going to a regular school for the first time.  The story covers his fifth grade year.   One of my favorite things about the story is that it has multiple narrators.  The majority of the story is told by August, but readers also get to see August through the eyes of two of his new friends, his sister, his sister’s boyfriend, and one of his sister’s friends.

Throughout the story, August encounters a lot of bullying and discrimination because of his face. But, he also makes some friends and teaches others about friendship and loyalty.

Parents should know there are some sad moments and some intense scenes involving bullies from another school.  Also, some of the narrators are high-school students, so their narration is more mature. If you’re concerned, please check out the book’s entry on Common Sense Media’s website.  But, their recommended age is 11+.

If I could choose only one book to recommend to every person, adult and child alike, this would be the book.  Read it.  It’s that good! In fact, I asked last year’s students which book they would suggest for me to read with future sixth-graders if I could only choose one.  Most of them chose Wonder.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

walk two moons

This Newbery Medal winner is another one of my favorites.  But, you may need some tissues by the time it’s all over.  I had to walk around my class with the tissue box on a couple of occasions while reading this book with my class.

The great thing about this book is it has the structure of a parallel plot.  Salamanca Tree Hiddle is the main character. As Sal goes on a road trip with her eccentric (and hysterical) grandparents to find her missing mother, she tells the story of her friend Phoebe.  The two girls’ stories are similar in that at one point, Phoebe’s mother is also missing.

This may not sound like a light read, but the reality is that most of it is rather light-hearted and funny. Sal’s grandparents bring a lot of levity and Phoebe’s story is often so ludicrous, you start to wonder if Sal is spinning yarns just to entertain her grandparents.

But, things do turn serious and parents should know there are some mature topics that are dealt with. But, they are done so in a way that is appropriate for young readers.  Again, if you’re concerned, check out Common Sense Media’s website.  Their recommended age is 10+.

Ungifted by Gordon Korman


Most middle-schoolers are probably already familiar with Gordon Korman.  He’s very popular, at least with my students.  Ungifted is the book I chose to end the year with last year. It is hysterical, but also has a good message. Most importantly, it grabbed my students from the very first page and didn’t let go until the last word.

Donovan Curtis is a popular kid and a bit of a trouble-maker.  He’s not very motivated, and he is not a great student.  When he accidentally demolishes his school’s gymnasium, he is petrified of his parents finding out he was responsible and learning his punishment.  But, a mistake, perhaps a twist of fate, finds him receiving a letter congratulating him on being accepted into a school for gifted students.  He ponders his options, and decides it may be best to hide out at a new school for a while.

Donovan meets his new school’s decidedly dorky robotics team when he is placed in their homeroom.  Throughout their time together, they face stereotypes on both sides.  Ultimately, friendships are formed and loyalties tested.

My students were roaring with laughter on more than one occasion. Where Wonder teaches similar life lessons with a touch more serious subject matter, Ungifted is simply light-hearted fun.  Even its tense moments are broken by funny antics.   Common Sense Media recommends this book for ages 9+.

Bonus! Historical Fiction

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park


I couldn’t write a list of recommended books for middle-school students and leave out this one.  It’s a historical fiction because it takes place with a backdrop of the civil war in Sudan that lasted from 1983-2005 and ended with South Sudan becoming its own country.  This is another one of my student’s favorites.  Some of them had a tough time deciding between this story and Wonder as their favorite.

You should know that this story is based on the real life of Salva Dut. You’ll have a chance to learn more about him as he wrote a message to readers at the end of the book.  If you listen to the audio book,  you’ll get to hear him read the message himself.

This story focuses on two different characters at two different times.  Salva’s story begins in 1985 when as a child he becomes a refugee of war after his village is attacked.  He is separated from his family and they are always on his mind as he wanders. He joins with other refugees and they make it to safety, but not without heartbreaking struggles and loss along the way.  The story follow him into adulthood.

Alternating chapters with Salva’s story is that of Nya, who is entirely fictional.  However, she represents many young girls in a similar position.  Nya’s story is also set in Sudan, but begins in 2008. She must walk miles each day to a pond to collect water for her family. She makes the trip multiple times each day.  Unfortunately, the water is contaminated and her sister falls ill.

Readers will enjoy wondering about the connection between Salva’s and Nya’s stories.  I can say without a doubt that it was definitely a “teacher pride moment” when all of my students’ gasped at the same time when it was revealed. I was glad I found a book that had them so entranced.

Parents should know that there are unsettling events that happen to Salva during his years as a refugee.  But, they are never described graphically.  Common Sense Media’s recommended age is 11+.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this list of recommended books and found a few new ones to check out! Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Telling Stories


Written by
Cammie Conn

Most of my friends/family/acquaintances know that when I’m not trapped in a good book or typing away at a keyboard, I’m onstage. Acting, like literature, is one of the many things that keeps me waking up in the morning. While the two are vastly different art forms in most respects, my love for them boils down to one thing: a love of storytelling. A passion for words. A compassion for humanity. The more I’ve read and written books and performed from scripts, I began to realize how intertwined theatre/films and novels are. I fell in love with reading as a small child, when I discovered that books could transport me to new and wonderful worlds. The same can be said of performing, after I was cast in my first show and began to watch theatre/film performances in earnest. What I so love about these art forms is that they convey everyday, human emotions that most of us don’t even like to admit that we have. Reading and watching performances provides for an emotional catharsis that we as human beings need in order to live healthfully. While enjoying art has many benefits, I find even more enjoyment in creating it. As a young person, it can be very daunting trying to find my place in the world; deciding which path to take, where I want to go, why I want to go there. But I’ve always believed that, no matter what happens, I want to change the world through art. Affecting other people’s lives for the better, while doing what I love … I can think of no higher calling. It always brings me such unspeakable happiness when I watch someone’s passion unfold after reading/viewing a story. It’s happened to me, when I read beautiful books that forever change my outlook on life. And I’ve seen it happen to others. Once, my school’s theatre department took a small field trip to a nearby professional theater that was hosting a well-reviewed performance of “Lés Misèrables”. We all had our tickets clutched in hand, bumping around on the dark school bus, eager to watch the show. Once we arrived at the venue and started filing off, one of our theatre teachers noticed that the bus driver — a burly, straight-faced man — was still sitting at the wheel, alone. He hadn’t a ticket to get into the show. Luckily, my theatre teacher had an extra ticket and offered it to the man, who accepted it gratefully. As the night wore on, we watched the production, which was beautifully performed and emotionally electrified. (For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Lés Misèrables, I HIGHLY recommend it!) The basic plot is about a prisoner during the French Revolution, who was locked up for nineteen years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister’s son. During the course of the show, the prisoner realizes that he can redeem his past by overcoming the hardships that life throws his way and making the right decision always, even if it places his family in danger. In the end, he dies a righteous man. When the show was complete, we stood, wiped the tears from our eyes, and made our way back to the school bus. On her way out, our teacher passed the bus driver. He was still sitting in one of the seats, and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he shook with sobs. I think of this moment every time that I start to doubt my ability to write or perform or tell a story of any kind. Art is not something that helps us live: it’s what we live for. It’s in our very nature to create and enjoy other creations. Stories are meant to be told. Stories NEED to be told, for your sake and for the sake of people like that bus driver.

You Deserve Your Own “Renegade Version”

Written by
George Sirois

In 1991, the first of three theatrical Highlander sequels opened in theaters, and it was looked at as a massive failure. The bonding company responsible for the film’s completion stepped in and took it away from the filmmakers, resulting in a 90-minute movie that made absolutely no sense. A few years later, the producers and director had an opportunity to re-visit the movie and they fixed what went wrong and streamlined the story in a much , the bonding company’s interference was a blessing in disguise, since the film’s failure allowed director Russell Mulcahy and producers Bill Panzer & Peter Davis to look back at the entire film, remove what went wrong (including their own storytelling issues), add what was left on the cutting room floor and basically re-invent Highlander II to such a degree that they took an abominable film and made it work.

To differentiate this version from the one that was in theaters (that was called Highlander II: The Quickening), this new cut was known as Highlander II: Renegade Version.

With that in mind, allow me to introduce myself. My name’s George Sirois, and I want to take a second to thank the good people of YA Author Rendezvous for giving me this brand new platform to speak to you each month. Now, why did I start my first blog post here with a random piece of film trivia? To prove a point, and that point is that no matter where you are in life, everyone deserves their own “Renegade Version.”

Back in 2002, I self-published my first novel. It was called “From Parts Unknown” and it was based on a screenplay I had written over ten drafts of between 1999 and 2001. It was a fun story to write, but when I tried to sell it, it went nowhere. So I thought that my chances of success were greater if it were a novel. A year-and-a-half later, I was finished and an acquaintance thought I should self-publish it since it catered to a niche market.  After finding a great deal from iUniverse, the novel was released in November of 2002.

And once again, it went nowhere.

I thought that I would just have to move on from this story, and eight years later, I did with the release of my second novel “Excelsior.” But by the time this one came out, the landscape had changed dramatically from what it was back in 2002. The Kindle was born, eBooks followed, and the self-publishing boom began. When I was asked by a veteran self-published author about “From Parts Unknown,” she told me flat out, “You gotta get those rights back. Get them back and re-publish the book yourself as an eBook.”

So I did, and when I re-read the book, I realized that it didn’t hold up. The quality wasn’t there anymore. (Maybe it was never there.) I still believed in the story, but I no longer liked the execution. Therefore, I decided to take the steps that led to what was going to be my very own “Renegade Version.”

These are the steps I took for this journey that officially began on September 4, 2011 and ended on January 19, 2015.

First thing I did was make sure the original novel was pulled. If you self-published, this is a pretty easy thing to do. Just go to KDP Select, click on your book, and hit the “Unpublish” option. If you worked with a company such as iUniverse, then you have to contact them and let them know you wish to discontinue your title with them. You’ll have to send an email or snail mail letter to the company, and unless your work is bringing in a lot of money, they’ll likely let you go without any problems. But you have to make sure you have the rights before you start. There’s no point in going on this adventure if you can’t.

Once iUniverse gave back the rights (it wasn’t selling, and they already had my setup fees, so why not?), I re-read the book and took notes. Like I said before, I still believed in the story, and so I made sure it held up. For the most part, it did. But when I looked deeper, here’s what I spotted, so when you’re looking at your own manuscript, keep these in mind:

Outdated Technology: For some reason, I still had characters using VHS tapes. That HAD to go, along with many other items that made my future look more like the 23rd century from the 1966 Star Trek point of view than the 2009 one.

Updated History: A lot happened between 2002 and 2011, so it all had to be considered for addition, whether as a specific moment being mentioned or people or events inspiring elements in the story.

Thin Characters: Several characters had just a couple of scenes and then dropped out or were killed off. If this new version was going to work, then I had to introduce readers to people they’d want to follow.

Blank Canvas: This is what I call a world without description. If your characters are to properly interact, they need a world in which to do so, and I only now realized how little description I had in the original story. Some color was desperately needed for this canvas.

I also asked my friends for their opinion on the book. If there were any logic problems that I missed the first time around, they let me know. If something needed further explanation, they let me know. And when I was in the editing stages and working with my beta readers, I listened to their suggestions as well.

As the story grew and grew, and my enjoyment of this new iteration grew along with it, I realized something very interesting. My characters were moving in a very different direction than they did back in ’02. And so I let them, and this is the biggest tip I can possibly give to anyone: If your characters are moving in a specific direction, follow them. Don’t pull them back and tell them to stay on the path you had mapped out.

This was especially true with two characters, the Gladiatorial Combat League Champion Kyle Flyte, and my main character’s wrestling teacher Verne Dappy. Originally, Kyle drops out of the story at the halfway point and Verne only has a few scenes. Early on in the new version, Kyle and Verne are old friends and share a long conversation that I absolutely loved writing. I wanted more of them both, and so I kept them around. Their roles in the second half allowed them to be heavily involved in the subplot I had come up with in early 2011, the subplot that made me want to write this Renegade Version more than anything else.

Fast forward to 2015 (maybe I should have just said “skip ahead,” there I am with the VHS references again), and the final version of “From Parts Unknown” is finished, it has a home with a publisher, and it’s now available on eBook with a paperback version coming soon. I’m thrilled to say that I’m happier with this story now than I ever was before, and I hope that you’ll want to go on a similar journey with your own work. But keep in mind that I’m not suggesting you go back and tinker with a story that already works just fine. At some point, you have to move on. But because of the freedom that the digital age allows us, we no longer have to dwell upon what might have been. And if you know what missed the spot the first time around, and if you know how to make it right, then go for it! Get your story right, because if you’re happy with it, your readers will be too.

No matter who you are, everyone deserves a “Renegade Version.”

Creating a Fantasy Supervillain

Written by
Christopher Mannino

As a speculative fiction writer, I’m always looking for new and interesting creatures. Often villains and magicians in fantasy have special abilities, things they do that are beyond normal,and might be terrifying.

Imagine, for instance, a creature with visual omnipresence. Omnipresence means that you can exist everywhere at once, able to see and witness everyone and everything. Unlike an omnipotent character, who knows everything, an omnipresent character would be able to see everything themselves. It’d be impossible to keep any secrets from this godlike ability, because everywhere you go, whether sleeping or awake, the character’s there, watching. Imagine for example, Sauron with visual omnipresence- he takes one look at the Ring- book’s over in chapter one. Same thing with Voldemort, President Snow, Darth Vader- you get the idea. Even in history this idea is terrifying. Want D-Day or the next drone strike to be a secret? What if the villain sees everything all the time? In nearly all fiction, the protagonists do things the villains aren’t aware of. Crafting a story around this feat is daunting.
Let’s make this super-villain more three-dimensional. As of now, he just has a superpower, albeit an impressive one. Imagine the villain also has a supernatural means of transportation. While he’s still able to see everything anywhere, he can’t actually get to places without traveling. We won’t let him fly directly, that’s too Marvel Universe for us, so instead we give him a flying car. Yes, he can hop on a flying car and travel rapidly to any location in the world. How fast? Let’s assume he can get anywhere he wants within a single night, even making multiple stops. Scared yet? This character can see everything, and now get anywhere within one night. It’s like having a TARDIS with the viewfinder always switched on.
The guy’s still not interesting enough, though. Let’s give him some minions. All villains have them. This character’s got dozens of them- all enslaved to his will. They do whatever he says all year round, making anything he asks for. Yeah, now we’re cooking, a character with visual omnipresence, able to travel anywhere within a night, who has a horde of servants.
Now we need to stop focusing on the evil/supernatural aspects and give our character some personality. President Snow and his blood breath and love of roses, Darth Vader’s persistent asthma and respirator- that sort of thing. Hmmm… well, let’s start by making the character fat. Too many villains are really thin and gaunt. It seems the skeletal look usually frightens people, so let’s make our character as chubby as possible. In fact, give him nice red cheeks, almost comical looking.
Let’s also give him a backstory. Maybe he used to be a farmer. Yes, he was a farmer long ago, before things went terribly wrong. His mother used to say “Plant, plant, plant! Plough, plough plough!” He’s never forgotten the last thing his mother demanded, asking him to hoe the fields, right before the accident. To this day, the guilt around her final words consumes him, and he can’t stop repeating them.
This character, by now, should be truly terrifying. Let’s take a look at what he might look like, if an artist was to draw a rendition:

Click HERE to see an artist rendition.

And no, I won’t even get into the obsession with little kids. That’s too frightening, even for me.


Written by
Debbie Manber Kupfer


Dear Santa Paws,

Now let’s get something straight. I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas. Never did get the attraction to snow. Nasty, yucky, stuff—makes my fur all wet. So if you could keep it away this December that would be great.

Better still how about a sunny December in Hawaii instead? Then I could lounge on the beach and take a nice long catnap. Then when I wake up, the waiter will serve me a fresh fish on a platter.

Yes, that’s what I want for Christmas (and a new catnip mouse would be nice.)

Yours Sincerely,


Accepting Constructive Criticism


Written by
Beth Rodgers

It may seem difficult at times to put your work out there for someone else to critique it, whether it’s for editing in the process of publication, grading, or otherwise. The fact of the matter is that without hearing other people’s opinions, you are obviously bent on your own opinion on the writing you have done, and, let’s be honest – you think it’s great. We all do. It’s only natural to have emotional ties to the writing you have done. It is also possible that something you hated writing or hated the outcome of once it was fully written could be completely loved by one or more of your readers.

Criticism gets a bad rap. The word has a negative connotation. When people hear that someone is being critical or is criticizing something, they think negatively. Again, this is only natural and is a part of life. An important idea to remember, however, is that criticism does not have to be bad. Without criticism, think of how many pieces of writing, movies, TV shows, or other works of art would go out to the masses due to the biased opinion of the work’s creator.

Have you ever read a book you didn’t like? Have you ever watched a movie or TV show that you wish you hadn’t bothered with? Have you ever thought how nice it would be to be able to tell the author or creator of whatever it is you read, watched, etc. what you might have done differently? Everyone is a critic. Everyone judges. It’s something that is as normal as a typical daily routine. Yet, criticism and judgment can turn out positively. There are always at least two sides to every idea/topic/issue/etc. Just because you think something is great doesn’t mean the rest of the world does, and just because you think something was awful doesn’t mean the rest of the world didn’t love it. You are entitled to your opinion just like anyone else. Just because someone tells you that they suggest changing something doesn’t mean you have to do it. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. What it does mean is that you have to attempt to see that person’s viewpoint and analyze not only whether you agree with it, but determine whether you feel that others may see things the same way as the original critic. That is why having more than one person read your work and give you feedback is important. Even if the people you choose to read your work do not give the same advice, even if one person tells you how great it was while another says it was good but there was room for improvement, while another tells you they couldn’t stand it, sharing what other people had to say with the group of reviewers you have established for yourself will help you to gauge whether they truly noticed everything in your writing.

Just because you are the writer does not mean you are the only reader that writing will ever have. The definition of constructive criticism is “the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The purpose of constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.” It is essential that this definition is not only remembered, but taken to heart. No writer has ever penned the perfect piece the first time around. If they say they have, they are lying to you. Read the following quotes from well-known people and authors to further your understanding of the power of constructive criticism:

Winston Churchill, Former British Prime Minister:

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Hillary Clinton, Politician and Current Presidential Candidate:

“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

Neil Gaiman, Author:

“I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so.”

Why do you think there are reviews on sites that sell books, appliances, and any other item you can possibly think of? The reason is simple. It is because people want to know what others think. They want to see differing opinions to help them make the most informed decision possible. So should it be with writing. Writers must be able to make informed, intelligent decisions based on suggestions that others have made. When something sounds negative, consider the actual intent behind the suggestion, and then determine whether the person is in any way coming up with something that is a possible revision that can be made. Just as you are entitled to your opinion, so are your readers. This is why only certain books make the New York Times Bestseller list, why certain movies and TV shows win Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmy Awards, why certain music wins Grammys and American Music Awards, etc. If you have ever thought someone unfairly lost an award, an election, or anything else, you have a different opinion than those who did the voting. You are entitled to this. Remember this when someone reads your work and gives you suggestions. Your emotional and other connections with the work you have written is essential to you being motivated to continue writing. This is extremely important. Never forget this. However, don’t forget that others are entitled to their opinions as well, and their opinions may just help you improve your writing and sustain a more solid style from that point forward. Every little bit helps. You just have to see it that way.

Author Spotlight: Kayla Howarth


Written by
Bethany Wicker

Time for another Author Spotlight and a chance to get to know Kayla Howarth, author of the Institute Series.

What are the titles of your works and can you tell us a bit about them?

The Institute, Resistance, and Defective (Books 1, 2 and 3 of The Institute Series) follow my heroine Allira Daniels and her struggle to live a normal life. Her brother is Defective, a term used for people who possess supernatural abilities. They are seen as dangerous and are segregated from the general population by law and forced to live at the Institute.

Everything Allira does is to protect her brother, Shilah, from having to be sent to the Institute. (Even if she completely screws that up sometimes … okay a lot.)


You have many great ones to choose from, but who is your favorite character from your books?

Are you really asking me to pick one of my favourite children? Because that’s what it feels like!

I feel closest to Allira, obviously being inside her head for three years while writing the trilogy.

But my favourite character might actually be Drew, the enigmatic boy who learned early on in life that to survive, he had to screw people over. He had the biggest struggle and growth as a character and earned a place in my heart. (And a lot of readers’ evidently.)  


Out of all the action, what was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

There are so many scenes that I read and reread over and over again because I loved them so much, and looking back now, it wasn’t so much the action scenes, but the ones where friendships and relationships developed.

Any scene with Allira and Tate was always fun to write.

The awkwardness between Allira and Chad gave me butterflies of nerves.

Allira and Shilah’s sister/brother relationship.

Any of the interactions between Allira, Drew, Jayce and Jenna in book #3.


Your endings have the perfect closure, but were there alternate endings that you considered?

The Institute had a whole extra chapter at the end that was cut and reserved for Resistance. The scene answered a lot of unanswered questions readers have when they reach the cliffhanger ending of book one. I, myself, as a reader hate cliffhanger endings, and I hated that I did it to my readers, but the scene that was cut just wasn’t strong enough of an ending to the story. It lacked the punch that was needed and would have had readers questioning, “Well, okay … but what now?”

Both Resistance and Defective ended how I’d planned from the beginning.


What authors have inspired you to write?

Suzanne Collins. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a major Hunger Games fan. Before that series, I hadn’t really read much at all since high school. THG inspired me to start reading again, and that inspired me to write my own stories.


What age were you when you started writing?

I’d taken an elective writing class in high school, but didn’t do any writing after that until I was about twenty-eight. That’s when I started shaping The Institute.


Writer’s Block. A common enemy to all authors. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what helps overcome it?

I hate it. I HATE it so much! I used to just force myself to push through it, telling myself I could just go back and fix the drivel later. That doesn’t work so much for me anymore.

I will try reading, but usually if I’m in a writing slump, I’m in a reading slump too. I will try different projects, which is probably why I have four … crap, FIVE unfinished works in progresses right now. *face palm*

But when all else fails… coffee.


Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real? Like Allira and her badass-ness?

They’re not real? What? I don’t understand the question. Why would you say such a mean thing?


If given the choice, would you be normal or defective?



If you were Defective, what ability would you have and would you have a cool nickname?

I would really love the ability of power of suggestion. I write this as I beg my child to go put pants on for the thirtieth time today, only to get a resounding ‘no’ in response.

As for a name, right now I’d settle for anything other than, “Mummy… Mummy… Mum. MUM! MUMMY!”


Allira must have been fun to write. Where did you get the idea for her? Is she similar to you?

Allira started off very much like me until I realized no one wants to read about a socially awkward, insecure, second-guessing yourself kind of person for 350 pages. She ended up developing into the kind of person I want to be. She’s someone who will stand up for what she believes is right, and even though she does have flaws and insecurities, she doesn’t let them own her like perhaps I do.


Australians have awesome accents, but if you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose? Would you keep the Aussie one?

I’d like to refine my Australian accent to sound more like Nicole Kidman and less like Rebel Wilson. I love the Aussie accent but not the bogan (trashy) version of it. Sorry Rebel.


Publishing books can be challenging and stressful. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

I put it out there before it was ready and had to fix it up after it was published. I didn’t realize how big the indie publishing world was or the amount of help available pre-publication. So I regret not doing more research beforehand.


We are all eager to see what comes next. Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

There will be very short novella written from Chad’s perspective. “Through His Eyes (The Institute #3.5)” fills in the eighteen month gap in between Resistance and Defective.

Then shortly after, “Losing Nuka” will be released. Nuka from The Institute Series is all grown up and gets her own book where she searches for her birth mother, only to find herself involved in an underground illegal fight ring called “Litmus” where Defectives are pitted against other Defectives. The Litmus Series will have three books, each from a different person’s perspective. It’s very different to The Institute Series even though it’s technically set in the same world.


As an accomplished author, do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

When I first published, there were so many times where I thought to myself “I’m wasting my time!” My husband kept having to remind me that it’s not an overnight success type of thing.

It’s easy to get disheartened when your sales are in a slump, or you get a bad review. You spend countless hours/days/months/years slaving over a story that you just hope others will love as much as you do, and when they don’t you feel like you’ve failed. For some stupid reason, our brains are wired to focus on the bad reviews and not the positive ones. It’s a lot easier to remember when someone says something negative than when they pay a compliment.

The key is to take it all in stride, improve where you can, and just continually learn to grow and master your craft. I guess I’m trying to say, ‘Don’t give up’.

This cliché (but true) piece of advice brought to you today by lack of caffeine.


Do you have any strange writing habits?

I have to edit out a lot of ellipses from a first draft. Generally, when I’m thinking about what a character should do or say, I reflexively type … like they’re actually thinking about it too. My first drafts usually read like all of my characters have stutters or can’t think straight.


Now, time for some random, fun questions. What toppings do you like on your pizza?

Meatlovers. Any kind of meat. NO PINEAPPLE EVER. Pineapple is a fruit. Fruit does not belong on a pizza. All of you smarty-pants out there saying “Tomato is a fruit and it’s nice on a pizza,” you just shhh now. It’s not the same and you know it! Pineapple is a fruity fruit.


Dogs or Cats?

I love both. Right now we have one dog at home, but I’d love to have a cat again one day.


What is your biggest fear?

Oblivion. No wait … That was Augustus Water’s answer in The Fault in Our Stars.

Mine? Anything to do with my son, really. I’m the overprotective mother who freaks out any time my child goes near water, falls over, gets sick … I try not to be, but it seems my mother instincts are stronger than my common sense.


So there you have it: a look into the mind of Kayla Howarth. If you’re interesting in checking out her books then the links have been placed below.

The Institute

Songs to Write to!

Written by
Lauren Mayhew

I know everyone is different when they write and some people like to work in complete silence, whilst others have to have music playing. I personally, cannot write in silence, but if I play familiar songs, I find myself singing along to them and not doing any writing.

I do find a lot of inspiration in music though – I don’t steal people’s lyrics, if that’s what you’re thinking. I simply mean that certain songs evoke emotions that make me want to write certain things.

Below are a few certain scene types in all books and a few songs that I think are great to write to and get you in the mood to create something epic! I’m trying not to be too obvious with this, so no Titanic theme tune here! (The names of the songs also have links to their YouTube videos!)

Romance/ Love Scene:

Over and Over Again by Nathan Sykes
Always by Bon Jovi
AND every Adele song ever written…

Battle/ Fight Scene:
Ash and Smoke from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Soundtrack (Actual Battle Scene)
Call the Police by James Morrison (More of an argument song)

Comedy/ Light Hearted Scene:
Little Joanna by McFly
The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars

Death Scene:
Hi & Low by The Wanted
Close Your Eyes by RHODES

Uplifting Scene OR if you, as a writer, need some motivation:
Wings by Little Mix
I’ll Be Your Strength by The Wanted

I know there are many more generic scenes than this in a book, but I thought I’d pick out a few that are used most often. I’d love to know what you listen to when writing!

December – New Releases

by Patrick Hodges

Several great books to tell you about this month, including one making her literary debut and one from our newest member!


11/14 – In Their Shoes: A Collection of Short Stories by L J Higgins

ITS COVER-page1-page1

Throughout our lifetimes, most of us will face different hardships, and create many amazing memories. All of those blend together to make you the person you become. Each of us have a different story, taking a different path. Whether you believe someone has taken the right path or not, it is important to remember that we all want the same things in life – to be happy and to be loved for who we are.
In Their Shoes is a collection of short stories that allows you to have a glimpse into someone’s life, giving you insight on how it may feel to be them for just a moment.

Genre: YA/Short Stories



12/4 – The Girl Who Collected Butterflies: A Supernatural Ghost Thriller (Haunted Minds) Volume 3 by John Hennessy

ButterfliesBoys made fun of her. Girls tended to avoid her. Teachers didn’t understand her. Marissa Coton collected butterflies. For her Very Special Project, Marissa took some butterflies and placed a name under each one. To her classmates, the selection appeared to be random. No harm done. But when the children in Marissa’s book begin to die in mysterious circumstances, the evidence points to the mysterious girl with black eyes who wears a red bow in her hair. There’s method in her apparent madness. There’s a reason why she’s doing it. By the time her secret is out, it will be far too late.

Genre: Young Adult/Paranormal


12/4 – Rigel (Appointments on Plum Street Book 1) by Eli Ingle

RigelAppointments on Plum Street is a series set across six worlds, three dimensions and multiple times zones. The first book, Rigel, starts the story as we see the young orphan Rigel on Earth, miserable and alone. Then one night his life is changed forever when a crew of airship pilots tear through the sky and offer to take him to another world.

On their journey they come across other children and Rigel finds that they are all at the centre of a legend thousands of years old … and he has no memory being part of it.

The Darkness, trapped for so long in the Dark Realm, is beginning to stir and venture out from its prison, taking hold a world at a time, led by the malignant and cruel Frivlok. But with limited experience, strength and cunning as a result of hundreds of years of hiding, how will they ever succeed against Frivlok and his Dark Parade?

Genre: Steampunk/Sci-Fi/Fantasy


12/7 – Wicked Rescue Mission by Chasity Nicole

Wicked Rescue Mission.jpgWhat do you do when the world is perfect one moment and in shambles the next? When your girlfriend’s kidnapped and taken to Hell by the Devil’s son? All we know is that Ember overheard a conversation between Piper and her father one night before Blade kidnapped her. She left us a message on a crumpled painting that gave us pieces of information. Leaving the eight of us to put it together to save her.

Our only mission is to get her back because our lives mean nothing without her. But, we’re only teenagers with superhuman powers, and we don’t have the power to walk between Earth and Hell. So, we turn to the only person we believe we can trust.

But the people we thought we could trust are turning against us in ways we never expected. So now, we must hurry to save Ember before it’s too late.

Genre: Young Adult/Paranormal

Click HERE to visit Ms. Nicole’s Amazon Author Page


12/21 – Freedom Will Ring by Leigh Mitchell

Front CoverIn a dystopia created by nuclear World War III, America Hawthorne emerges from the underground bunker that she was born and raised in. She finds herself in the New World—a world that is littered with broken societies, and full of danger, anarchy, and unimaginable terrors.

America seems to have found a new home within the walls of the safest society in the New World when she is taken in at Greyholt, but when Greyholt burns to the ground in a mysterious attack, America transitions from citizen to survivor, and from survivor to slave.

With the help of a few new friends, America hatches up a plan to free all of the slaves and ruin the society of Ravenstone for good—but first she must complete a series of tasks designed to destroy her mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to earn her freedom. She learns about love, loss, and friendship as she sparks a rebellious flame in the hearts and souls of the enslaved—will they survive the rebellion?

Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian


12/31 – Doll by Miracle Austin

DollMany would be too afraid to even whisper that Pepper Fox deserved every single thing she had coming to her.

Her enemies swarmed the halls of Frost High and beyond.

Tomie, Sari and Opal defined her tormented victim list.

Opal shined the brightest on Pepper’s list.

Will these three outcasts devise a plan big enough to give the Queen Bee a taste of her own medicine?

Genre: Young Adult/Paranormal



To Review or Not to Review: That is the Question

To Review or Not to ReviewWritten by Jeffrey Collyer

As a writer, I think about book reviews far more frequently than is healthy. A 5-star review can put me in a great mood, ready to conquer the world. A 2 or 3-star review can make me feel every moment of my writing life is a waste of energy – that this one thing that gives me such great joy is ultimately worthless. It’s all completely out of proportion of course, but such are the sensitivities of many writers.

But recently, I’ve been thinking about the whole review ‘thing’ a little differently. And wondering just what purpose they serve.

You see, not all reviews are equal. Not all reviewers take the same approach to rating the book. Reviewers and readers are often looking for different things in the review. And writers look for yet other things.

Is it possible to offer a review that meets all of these different needs? I don’t know, but here are a number of things to consider when you’re about to review your next book.


  1. Do you give reasons?

Many reviewers will give a rating based almost exclusively on how much they enjoyed the book. Now, that’s fine for many readers. Not so good for others.

Let me give an example. I will often read reviews that say something along the lines of, “I could totally relate to the MC – 5 stars”, or, “Don’t bother with this book. A waste of time – 1 star

The problem with these sorts of reviews is that while they give the reader’s personal view of a book, they don’t help a potential reader in any way because there is no “Why”.

You could love a book because of the fast-paced action, high drama, and awesome characters. But the person reading your review might prefer stories that are more thoughtful, spend a lot of time on the character development and beautiful prose, or with lots of world-building. One of those story-types isn’t inherently better than the other – they serve different readers. But a detailed review will help a potential reader work out what kind of story it is, and therefore whether it is likely to appeal to them.

And from a writer’s perspective, the more detailed a review the better, as it serves as helpful feedback to know what worked or what didn’t.


  1. Are you a lenient reviewer or harsh?

As a reader, one thing I do if I come across a review is likely to sway me, I’ll have a look at other reviews the person has written. If they’re all 4 or 5 star – or 1 and 2 star – I’ll ignore it.

Why? Because for me, the review has to mean something. If a person finds pretty much everything they’ve read good enough for a 4 star or better, or alternatively is so hard to please that nothing gets more than a 2 star, then their reviews don’t provide any differentiation.

What I like to see is a broad range of review scores. That way, I can get a better idea of what that reviewer likes and doesn’t like. If their explanations resonate, I can have greater confidence that it might be something I’d enjoy too.


  1. Is the story one that you should have enjoyed?

To a certain degree, I’m talking about genre here, but it can be much more nuanced than that.

For example, if you really enjoy fast-paced suspense thrillers and get given a copy of a fantasy novel, there’s a reasonable chance you may not enjoy it. Then again, is it Urban Fantasy, or the classic swords and sorcery type? If the latter, is it a fast-paced stand-alone book, or is it Epic Fantasy – the type of story that takes three or more huge novels to complete, with an enormous amount of world-building detail, and a huge character cast?

And even then, there is a world of difference between much of the ‘new’ type of Epic Fantasy by writers such as Brandon Sanderson, versus Tolkien. Sanderson is renowned for astonishing fight and battle scenes, and is careful to make his magic-systems consistent. Tolkien, on the other hand, writes gorgeous prose and includes tons of detail on the story itself.  To enjoy the style of one, isn’t necessarily to enjoy the style of another.

I’ve read 1-star reviews of Lord of the Rings where the reviewer just found it tedious; too much hard work to get through; too much ‘unnecessary’ detail. They’re wrong, of course. Tolkien carefully crafted his masterpiece: every detail has meaning. It simply wasn’t a style of story that appealed to the reader. That’s fair enough, but should the reviewer have been more thoughtful in his/her comments – or perhaps simply not reviewed it?


  1. Are you giving a rating based on quality or on your personal taste?

I suspect most people would say both, but you’ll lean one way or another. For me, I focus more on quality: by which I mean what is the prose like; grammar and formatting; is it a well-crafted story (i.e. not just a well-told story).

For me, a 5 star book would be one that is just about as close to perfection as you could get in a book. That it why I have only ever given one 5-star review.

It is also why I scratch my head when I read reviews that say something like, “Yes, there were spelling and grammar mistakes, but I loved it anyway – 5 stars”.

Of course personal taste plays a part, too. I like Epic Fantasy: to be drawn into a world that comes alive to me. I like to get into the heads of the characters, to really feel the emotional journey they take. I love knowing that the real story isn’t about the action, or the quest, or whatever: it’s about the individual striving to overcome his or her own personal struggles and learn about him/herself. For me, if there’s little detail, then there’s little depth. And that’s how I’ve written my own works in the Aylosian Chronicles series.

But that’s just my own personal taste. Would someone reading my review of a book understand that?


So, next time you finish reading a book and decide to write a review, take a moment to consider what you’re writing, why, and whether a person on the other side of the world who reads your review will get where you’re coming from.

Or maybe you have different thoughts on reviews? Please tell us.



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