The Best Book I Read in June

A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with my husband that went something like this....
Me: So I'm reading A Storm of Swords [the third book in the Game of Thrones series] and It. Is. Crazy.
Justin: I know, right? I told you to read that months ago, silly wife.  
Me: Yeah, well, this book is INSANE. There are characters dying left and right. Nobody is safe! Nobody! 
And then, Justin said something that warrants proper illustration: 


My husband speaks the truth!

So, yes, the best book I read in June was A Storm of Swords by George "Honeybadger" Martin. I can sum up this weighty novel in a handful of words:
Craziness. Death. Badassery. Oh no, he didn't! MOAR death. Wow.
Usually, I have a hard time getting into adult fantasy novels but this one totally sucked me in. Everywhere I went, I tried to sneak in a few more pages of the book: checking out at the grocery store, waiting for a movie to start, reading way past my bedtime. How did Martin craft such a great book?!

First, the constant shift in POV. Each chapter of this series is narrated by a different character, so the plot is always shifting, keeping you on your toes. Plus, if you find a particular storyline boring, no worries! In a few pages, you'll switch to someone's else perspective.

Second, George R.R. Martin has NO FEAR as a writer. He wants to tell a great story first and foremost so he's not afraid to make his characters suffer or introduce crazy plot twists. Or, you know, kill off major people. As a reader, this keeps you teetering at the edge of your seat, unsure what Honeybadger George will do next.

And third, the characters. Oh, Martin is superb at characterization! Every character is expertly crafted, expertly honed. Sansa, for instance, starts off in Book 1 as a spoiled, semi-bratty girl but she has developed into one of my favorite characters.

Can we talk about the Lannisters too? Cunning, ruthless, even incestuous. But somehow Martin manages to make us feel for them, which is crazy because I don't want to feel anything but disgust for Cersei and Jaime. They're awful creatures! But then Martin shows us Cersei's fierce love for her children and Jaime's experiences as a young knight and...lo and behold...maybe I do feel bad for them. (Just a little.)

Anyway, I am now reading the fourth book in the series and liking it a lot so far. Here's to hoping it's as good as the third!

So what are you reading now? Any recommendations? And be sure to check YA Highway for our "Best Book in June" blog posts! 

Weekend Wrap-Up

One of the reasons why I love Washington, D.C.?

The diversity of the area.

If I drive 40 minutes southeast from my house, I end up in the heart of the city, with concrete beneath my feet and with taxis zooming around me. 

But if I drive 40 minutes northwest, I edge into an America of yesteryear. Open views, sprawling farms, and nifty vintage pickup trucks. Also, cows. Lots of cows. 

On Saturday, my little sister and I headed to Dickerson, Maryland---a forty-five minute drive---for the sole purpose of...buying peaches. Yes! We love peaches! And the peaches have ripened early this summer. This is Very Exciting News in our fruit-loving family. 

We are Very Exciting People. Don't be jealous. :)

{What am I doing in this picture? I have no idea.}
{Farmstand tomatoes}

ALAS, I do not have any pictures of the peaches. Why? Because peaches are very camera-shy! They're self-conscious little fruit! (Or maybe I forgot to take the pics... Fail.) 

In other weekend news, I baked two loaves of banana bread. Rather, I made banana cake. 'Cause I don't think my banana bread can technically qualify as bread. It's sugary, butter-filled, and crammed with lots of chocolate chips. In other words, it's a very healthy snack! I promise! (All lies.) 

{Proper dieting food}

And in other, other news, I am very lucky to have very nice friends who loan me very awesome ARCs! My TBR currently includes these titles:

{Crewel, Origin, and Falling Kingdoms}
Eep! I'm reading CREWEL right now and I'm really enjoying the world-building thus far---it's unlike anything I've encountered in young adult fiction. I'm also excited to dig into ORIGIN and FALLING KINGDOMS, especially the latter because it has been compared to Game of Thrones. I just finished A Storm of Swords, the third book in the George R.R. Martin series, and it was utterly fantastic.

A big thank you to Jessica Spotswood and Jessica Sheehan for kindly loaning me these ARCs!

How are you doing? How was your weekend? 

Weekend Wrap-Up

{Tulips for my grandma's birthday}

Ah, Monday! You again?

You're always sneaking up on me!

Well, Justin left for Afghanistan on Saturday evening, which wasn't very awesome. *Sniff* Fortunately, he only has five weeks left overseas! After that, he'll be home for good and everything will be wonderful and there shall be much rejoicing in the land of Caroline. Yay!

Until then... 

I've been hanging out with my family and brunching it up with a few friends. Yesterday afternoon, I drove down to Crystal City to meet with Jessica Spotswood, Robin Talley, and Livia Blackburne. We're all represented by the same agent and it just so happened that Livia was visiting DC for the weekend, which gave us the perfect excuse to chat about writing and devour tapas at one of my favorite restaurants, Jaleo

I think I've successfully converted Jess and Livia to pan con tomate! I'm still working on Robin though... I don't know how she can resist the siren call of crusty bread + tomato-ey goodness + yummy cheese. Perhaps she is an alien? :)

{Yargh! This picture came out blurry. Also, not loving my hair.}
Oh! I also have exciting news!

Rather, my good friend Ellen Oh has super exciting news! 

Today, Ellen gets to reveal the cover of her YA novel, Prophecy!!! I've been lucky enough to read an early draft of Prophecy and It. Is. Utterly. Awesome. I mean, it's about a kickass warrior girl who kills demons in ancient Korea! I can't wait to get my hands on the finished copy. 

So be sure to head over to Young Adult Books Central later today to check it out! 

*Props chin on hands* How was your weekend by the way?

If I had gone to BEA...

If only I could have attended you! 

Alas, I couldn't make it to BEA this year but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can go in 2013 or 2014. The adventures to be had! The friends to make! And, of course, THE ARCS TO GRAB! 

Granted, I'm a pretty slow walker---I blame it on my very small gait!---but I'd definitely ramp up my speed to gather as many ARCs that can I fit into my arms. If I had gone to BEA this year, these are the books that I would've sprinted toward: 

Fantasy Reads!

I've wanted to get my hands on this book ever since I read the deal announcement on Publisher's Marketplace. Plus, weren't there six or seven publishers who wanted to buy it? Hello, dream situation! 

Understandably, Crewel was one of the biggest ARCs of BEA and the premise certainly has me intrigued:  a society of women who can weave time with matter. Must. Read. Now. 

I'm lucky enough to be friends with Meg in real life---she is lovely and funny and whip smart---and I simply can't wait to read her debut novel! SKYLARK was chosen as a YA Buzz Panel Pick this year and I'm super excited to dig into this dystopian fantasy.

Please, Let Me Read You!

So this book is set in the 1920s. Have I mentioned that the Roaring Twenties is my FAVORITE historical era ever? Yep. I need to read this. 

I fell in love with Stead's novel When You Reach Me, which won the Newbery Prize in 2009. Her newest offering, Liar & Spy, just received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly so I'll definitely be on the lookout for this when it comes out. 

Yes, I Read Adult Books Too

THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers
A book about Iraq veterans written by an Iraq veteran. Me = Intrigued.

Also, a bookseller at Politics & Prose read this in one sitting and described it as: "It's visceral; the language is so poetic, so literary." Me = Very Intrigued.

I'm a mega fan of Deb's cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, and so my taste buds are watering for her debut cookbook. Until it comes out, I shall bake a few more of these strawberry cakes, which is the best cake I have ever made. I'm not kidding! It's really that good. Even my uber-picky Chinese grandma loved it!

Man, I wish, wish, wish I could've gone to BEA!

Next year, folks. There's always next year. :)

So what would you have grabbed if you had gone to BEA? Or if you did go to BEA, what are your most treasured ARCs? (Also, can I borrow said ARCs? Pretty please? What if I made you cake?)

Writing Advice to My 24-year-old Self

I've been in a reflective mood lately. 

Maybe it's because Justin is home. Maybe it's because I'm turning 30 this year (eep!). Or maybe it's because I'm in North Carolina right now, visiting the town where Justin and I spent our first three years of marriage. 

Whatever it is, I'm thinking a lot about that 24-year-old girl I used to be. Five years ago, I got married. I quit my job and packed my bags and moved into an apartment that Justin had found for us. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a new beginning for me.

New marriage. New house. New career. 

Ah, yes! A new career. With Justin's urging, I finally embraced my childhood dream of becoming a writer. If I could only borrow Hermione Grange's timeturner, I wish I could give my old self some advice....

{Then: April 2007}
Butt in chair, woman! 

First things first, working at home is indeed awesome, especially since your last job involved a 75-minute commute and an itty bitty cubicle tucked to one side of the break room where you had to smell everyone's microwaved lunches. So it's okay to revel in your pajamas and slippers for a few days but after that...butt in chair! Time to write!

My advice? Buy a calendar and write down your goals for each day. Like, drafting a damn good query letter in the morning and locating 4-5 magazines to send it off to. That way, you can focus on specific tasks and you will feel much shame when you slack off in your duties.

Shame = The Ultimate Motivator.

Rejections, get used to them

A word of warning: you will get rejected A LOT. You will get rejected so often that you'll think about running away, joining the circus, and cleaning elephant poop for the rest of your life because---at the very least---you can hang out with the elephants.

You'd be like the Poopsmith on Homestar Runner!

Anyway, you probably want me to give you some sage advice about how to accept rejection with a happy face. Well, I'm very sorry little padawan, but I don't have much for you. I mean, I still tear up sometimes when I get a rejection, especially editor rejections because those things hurt REALLY BADLY. But it does get easier. You just have to grit your teeth and dig in your heels and keep on trucking. 'Cause if you want to write, then write. If you want to get published, then you have to deal with rejection. One day, you will get a yes.

And that day shall be filled not with shame but with awesomesauce!

Find other writers! Force them to be your friend!

Right now, you are a writer-hermit. You scour writing blogs each day and pour over writer's forums but you never comment. You're too scared. Too nervous. And you're scared of "coming out" as a writer because what if you fail and people laugh at you?

Oh, my poor dear.

You need to surround yourself with writer friends. You need people in your life who understand this crazy process of submission and rejection and publication. They're the people who truly get what you're going through and they're the ones who will buoy you when you feel down and kick you in the shins when you get too mopey.

Don't go through this alone. (Plus, writer friends are a lot of fun! You like fun!)

ANYWAY, I can probably talk for hours about all of the lessons I've learned writing-wise in the past five years. Man, I had so much to learn! And I have more to learn still.

But I'm curious. What would you tell your former self? What lessons have you learned since you started on this crazy-making process?

Friday Five

{Taken over Memorial Day weekend in the Shenandoah Valley}

Justin is home! Justin is home! Yay!

Even if it's only for two weeks, it's so nice to have my best friend here with me. Whenever Justin leaves for long stretches of time, my brain enters a sort of deployment mode and I get used to sleeping by myself and eating by myself and watching Game of Thrones by myself. (Yeesh, this sounds so depressing!) But life is so much brighter and awesomer when he is HERE! Next to me! To talk to IN PERSON!

I sure have missed him.

Can I tell you guys the sweetest story that'll make you go "Aww"? It'll only take a minute! Promise!

Although Justin works as a consultant, he often flies home from Afghanistan with a bunch of Marines or Army soldiers. Thus, oftentimes, there are a lot of smiling families waiting at the airport when I get there, bursting with balloons and flowers and cheery Welcome Home signs.

Yesterday, bright and early in the morning, I noticed a family---a few women and two little girls---craning their necks each time the arrival doors opened. Finally, the soldiers started to emerge and one of the little girls broke free from her aunts and took off sprinting.

"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" she cried before her mom dropped her bags and scooped the girl up for a big hug.

Heart. Melted.
Eyes. Crying.
Ovaries. Bursting.

I wish I'd gotten the whole thing on camera!

This video made my heart melt too. Or am I just in a sappy mood? Nah, your heart shall melt as well!

On the writing front---or should I say revising front?---I feel like I'm making good headway on my agent's editorial notes! I've beefed up the world-building (although not quite enough) and I've smoothed out some character motivation. On paper, I should be almost finished! But....

...I've decided to rewrite eight chapters of the manuscript. I know! Silly Caroline, but I truly believe the book will be stronger for it and I want the novel to be as strong as possible before we go out on submission. Eep, submission! That word is both thrilling and terrifying to me. Perhaps I'll just hide in my little revision cave for awhile where I won't have any rejections thrown my way.

I am a wuss!

Well, I hope you guys have a most fabulous and wonderful weekend! Justin and I will probably have a low-key weekend since he still has jet lag but I'm hoping we can squeeze in a couple movies and some good food. Did I mention that a Pinkberry has opened near my house? Or how the Game of Thrones season finale is on Friday?!