I don’t read YA. I didn’t read YA when I was a YA. But, I’m here to tell you about two Young Adult books you must not miss.
I was guilted into reading Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen by Glen Husar a few years ago. Of course I wasn’t going to miss Glen’s book signing event. He’s a friend and I suspected attending would be a sort of “home coming week” event as many colleagues of ours would be there.
I was right. The bookstore was packed—standing room only as they say. After the reading as everyone else sauntered around with several copies of the book clutched in their arms, I felt obligated to buy a copy and join those waiting for Glen’s autograph. The long line behind me precluded a lengthy chat, but we did manage to exchange a few words.
Skinnybones sat on my shelf for several weeks until guilt again forced me to take it down and read. After all, it was Glen’s book. The least I could do was give it a try.
“Aren’t you coming to bed?” my husband asked. “It’s after midnight.”
“Yeah, in a minute.” I finished the book that night. I reread it the next day.
I tell everyone I know to buy it. Since then, I’ve read it several more times. My delight in the story and my admiration of Glen’s writing skills grow with each reading. Someday my granddaughter will inherit it. She’ll love it too.
Tamara, a not-quite-15-year-old foster kid, describes with cynicism her deposit with yet another family. She’s anorexic, she’s a liar and truant, and she defines herself as a future model. Jean Barclay is a crotchety 89-year-old rest-home resident with a bum hip and a bourbon dependency. Brought together for a school project, each one realizes that the other has something she needs: Tamara can drive Jean to Seattle to see a series of beloved operas, and Jean can pay for a modeling course for Tamara in Vancouver.
The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence came to me via a suggestion from a friend on Goodreads. Having read one YA, I was a little more predisposed to try another. But a book about the trek to the South Pole written from the point of view of the horse? I mean, come on, let’s get real.
Still the first chapter was captivating, and before I knew it, I was immersed in the world of Captain Scott and his fatal journey to the South Pole. Interspersed with the Pony’s narration, Lawrence adds factual data of the preparation, planning, and execution of the voyage. These bits are as beautifully written as the rest.
In the forests of Siberia, in the first years of the 20th century, a white pony runs free with his herd. But his life changes forever when he’s captured by men. Years of hard work and cruelty wear him out. When he’s chosen to be one of 20 ponies to accompany the Englishman Robert Falcon Scott on his quest to become the first to reach the South Pole, he doesn’t know what to expect. But the men of Scott’s expedition show him kindness, something he’s never known before. They also give him a name—James Pigg. As Scott’s team hunkers down in Antarctica, James Pigg finds himself caught up in one of the greatest races of all time. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen has suddenly announced that he too means to be first to the Pole. But only one team can triumph, and not everyone can survive—not even the animals.
And you? Which YA books have you read and why do you like them?
The muchkin learned how to play Go Fish so off we go to search for a deck of cards. In a small pharmacy in La Penita, Mexico we find a deck of Spanish cards—what the young lady calls a Baraja Espagnol.
We explain, in great detail, the game we want to play with the cards and ask if the Spanish deck will work.
“Oh, Go Fish,” she says.
We laugh and ask if she’d lived in the US.
“No,” she says and explains that she plays the game with her English teacher.
I did the same with my French students. Some things are universal, but back to the cards.
We buy the deck, take it home and discover it has what must be four suits, the numbers from one to seven and the picture cards ten to twelve, but no eight or nine. We ask our Mexican friends why and they shrug. This drives us to the Internet.
According to Wikipedia:
The traditional 40-card Spanish baraja is an ancient deck that existed in Spain since between the 14th-16th century. The suits closely resemble those of Italian cards and Latin suited Tarot decks. In fact, the Baraja, like the tarot, are used for both game playing and cartomancy. The Baraja have been widely considered to be part of the occult in many Latin-American countries, yet they continue to be used widely for card games and gambling, especially in Spain.
The four suits are bastos (clubs), oros (literally “golds”, that is, golden coins), copas (cups) and espadas(swords). The suits are thought to represent the four social classes of the Middle Ages. Coins represent the merchants, clubs represent the peasants, cups represent the church and swords represent the military.
The last three cards of each suit have pictures similar to the jack, queen, and king in an Anglo-French deck, and rank identically. They are thesota, which is similar to the jack and generally depicts a page or prince, the caballo (knight, literally “horse”), and the rey (king) respectively.
Armed with our baraja and new knowledge, we try playing Go Fish. The deck has a flaw though as the munchkin manages to win every time.
Yes. No. Maybe. What’s the hook that gets you to buy the book?
That’s the question any author would love the answer to. As we scroll down the email from Kindle, Bookbub, The Fussy Librarian, etc, the first thing that catches our eye is the cover. Coming in at close second is the title or vice versa. Either way we know both are important.
Here are a few titles. What images do these conjure up? Would you be tempted to buy any based on the title alone? If so, which ones?
Forevermore – Tenderloin – The Baby Trap – The Brown House – Revision 7: DNA – Oenone - Waking Up Dead – Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Domingo’s Angel – The Palaver Tree – The Son – Phone Kitten – Legasea – Night Must Wait
As readers we can reject a book in seconds on cover and/or title. But, if either pulls us in we then take the time to read the description.
In the years that I’ve been writing and promoting my books, I’ve come to the conclusion that readers aren’t particularly interested in author interviews, or author bios, or book excerpts—at least not initially. I think readers, attracted by a cover or title want a quick book description that will entice them to download the sample.
The final decision is made after reading the first few chapters. Either the reader is irrevocably hooked and buys the book immediately or they know it’s a no go and they delete the sample. For some books, the reader may still be undecided after the sample. That’s when they likely go to the reviews, if they haven’t already read them, to help them decide.
So, if my theory is right, what constitutes a great book description? I have some ideas, but I’d like to know what readers think. What is the essential information you want in a blurb?
The blurbs below come from emails I’ve received – some from well known publishing houses. I’ve made no changes to the descriptions other than deleting author names, book titles, and character names to preserve anonymity.
- “In this #1 New York Times bestselling e-book, Z, an experienced foster carer, is pressured into taking Y as a new placement. Y’s challenging behavior has seen off five carers in four months but X decides to take her on to protect her from being placed in an institution.”
- “The sensational New York Times bestseller from X, is a gift for readers, an enchanting, luminous novel about the accidents, both big and small, that affect our choice of friend, lover, and spouse.”
- “X has discovered the perfect gift for her daughter’s twenty-fifty birthday: an ideal husband. Y, however, is fed up with her mother’s endless matchmaking and grading of available Iranian American bachelors.”
- “Z is a fast-paced mystery with a likable protagonist and an intricately woven narrative brimming with bizarre yet believable twists. The first in a series, the book expertly lays the groundwork for X, amateur sleuth, and her love interest, FBI Agent Y. X becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a summer intern at the limestone mine X manages near Z, Colorado (a breathtaking setting that unwittingly becomes an accessory to crime).”
- “This anthology of punchy short stories will grab your heart and your wallet and give them a good shake. The stories are set in the turbulent times of the post Global Financial Crisis world. Intriguing and at times twisted, these tales delve behind the facades of modern life to uncover the real struggles, hopes and dreams of ordinary people. Hopeful, insightful and at times humorous, Y is an engaging and thought-provoking work for our times.”
- “In May 2000, X is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can’t use, money he can’t spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, X begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books.”
- “Our world is being judged and we remain unaware. In a world filled with people, X is uniquely alone. The tiny glowing sparks filling her mind, representing the people around her, confirm it. Clueless regarding the reason behind her sight and her place in the world, X struggles to find an explanation. A chance encounter leads her closer to answers she’s struggled to find, and into a hidden society where fur is optional.”
- “It’s a mother’s worst nightmare: When X’s daughter suffers an unspeakable trauma, she whisks her away to a safe house where they begin the difficult journey to recovery. With over 100 five-star reviews on Amazon, a “thought-provoking and insightfully entertaining” tale.”
- “A USA Today bestselling author weaves a fun holiday romance with a “clever premise” (Booklist). When X finds herself catapulted to a future Christmas morning, will she be able reunite with her beloved husband and expected child?”
- “This deeply poignant bestseller charts the journey of two wildly different families united by their love for one young girl. As adoptee X searches for her place in the world, her relatives encounter love and loss across two continents. Written with “compassion and uncanny perception.”
I would appreciate a comment from you saying which of these, if any, would entice you to buy.
“They’ll come over Saturday,” he says.
“Who?” she asks.
“The two girls I told you about. The girls from Hong Kong.”
The young ladies have agreed to cook a genuine Chinese meal for them.
“The kids and I will pick them up and go shopping for the ingredients.”
They arrive with shy giggles. They take off their parkas and boots and with the kids help cart the groceries to the kitchen. Language isn’t too much of a problem although she has no idea what some of the utensils they ask for could possibly be.
For two hours the girls cook and for two hours she wipes oil off the stove, the counter top, the wall beside the stove. She knows she’ll be cleaning for a long time after the girls leave but the smells are delicious as wontons appear as if by magic. The kids are diligently filling and shaping the wontons as instructed. Some go into the soup, others are deep fried.
More instructions and demonstrations, more patting and shaping and stirring. Noodles, rice, pork and chicken … She can’t keep up with the names of them all. More delicious aromas set their mouths to watering.
Finally the girls declare all is ready. They sit in the dining room and survey the heavily laden table. How can they possibly eat it all? Ten minutes later, the platters and plates are empty. They lean back and sigh with satisfaction. Was it worth all the work and the mess? Yes!
If stranded on a desert island and only allowed one book, I’d take Mixed Marriage written by Elizabeth Cadell and published in 1963. Written in diary format, it’s the story of a young English girl about to marry a young man from Portugal. Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, does it? So why is it so special to me? The writing style is superb, the characters lovable, the story line intriguing, and, most importantly, the portrayal of family spot on and timeless. Uncle George huffing about as patriarch of the family could be your uncle. And, it’s funny, often laugh out loud funny. Here’s a snippet of the bride meeting the groom’s family.
After lunch, entire disappearance of everybody; all reappeared for dinner, with addition of Ana, Valeria and black-clad companion known as Senhora Dona Beatriz; in all fourteen at table; Mama said with obvious sincerity that so nice to have little family party.
Another charmer is The Blue Castle, written by Lucy Maude Montgomery and published in 1926. While depicting an era foreign to us, it too has a timeless quality that sucks us into the story of Valancy’s love and adventures. Colleen McCullough was accused of plagiarizing The Blue Castle when she wrote The Ladies of Missalonghi, and indeed, there are passages that seem to have been lifted almost word for word.
I liked another oldie, Jim the Conqueror, written in 1929, so much that I searched for other books written by the author, Peter B. Kyne. I found one called The Pride of Palomar which turned out to be an unbridled racist rant.
I’ve tried other authors like Wilkie Collins and found those books to be unbearable reading now even though I liked some of them when I was younger.
Scrolling through the thousands and thousands of books available today, I wonder what people fifty to eighty years from now will think of our efforts. Will our novels still be available to readers then? And, if so, will our stories charm or revolt?
“Your furnace is on the fritz. It will cost $2,300 to fix it or $2,895 to put in a new one. What would you like me to do?”
So reads the email from my aunt, who has come from Australia, and is house sitting for us in Canada while we spend the winter in Mexico. We know it’s cold at home and my aunt hasn’t spent a winter in Canada for years. In fact she immigrated to Australia to get away from the cold. Whatever will she do?
We email back and ask her to please have a new furnace installed. She responds that the installers will come the next morning and that she will spend the night in the house. “I checked the Internet. All I have to do to keep the pipes from freezing is turn on the cold and hot water taps at the highest point in the house and let a pencil lead thickness of water trickle out all night.”
It’s minus a bazillion degrees. How will she stay warm if she stays in the house? Frantic for her safety, we manage to place a call. “Oh, don’t worry about me,” she says. “Your wonderful brother-in-law brought over an extra large extra thick down filled quilt he purchased from the Morinville Hutterites and I’ve baked muffins to feed the installers. They said they’d be here at 8 am and would be done by noon. Good thing I was here. The furnace motor had gotten so hot; I think your house might have burned down.”
We sigh with relief and thank our lucky stars that she wanted to spend a winter in Canada and stay in our place, as house sitters checking daily might have missed the problem.
More emails report that she’s been cross country skiing, shoveling snow with the neighbors, drinking hot toddies, and generally enjoying herself, but no, she has no desire to move back to the cold.
There are no further problems and we arrive home to a house well cared for, but… four of the six lights above the bathroom sink are burned out.
“Do we have spare bulbs for the bathroom?” I ask her.
“Oh, the lights are fine. I unscrewed them. I have fewer wrinkles in dimmer light.”
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.