Book of the Week – The Agency Series

Hello gentle reader,

today I’d like to share with you a belated discovery of mine: The Agency series by Y. S. Lee.

The Agency series

It’s a YA Historical Mystery series set in Victorian London. It was published between 2010 and 2014 by Candlewick Press (US-Canada) and Walker Books (UK). It comprises four novels (A Spy in the House, The Body at the Tower, The Traitor and the Tunnel, and Rivals in the City). In the UK the books were published under the title: Mary Quinn Mysteries.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads for A Spy in the House:

Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test.

Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?

Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

The first book in the series won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011. The following instalments were shortlisted for various awards as well.

I enjoyed reading these books because they have an authentic Victorian voice and fun plots. The main character is a strong female character who struggles with a criminal past and her Chinese origin. She’s clever, witty and tough, which I love in a heroine.

I recommend these books if you like Historical fiction and fun whodunits.

Have you read THE AGENCY series? What did you think?

What are you reading this week?

A Writer in the Spotlight – April G. Tucholke

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

Hello gentle reader,

I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! This week it’s April Tucholke, whose debut BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA is a great Gothic Mystery/Thriller/Romance. The sequel BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN is out now!

A writer in the spotlight – 23

April Tucholke

Author: April G. Tucholke

Genre: Young Adult, Gothic, Fantasy

Website: http://apriltucholke.com/

Books: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA (published 15th August 2013 by Dia)

BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN (published 14th August 2014 by Dial)

Biography:

April Genevieve Tucholke loves classic horror movies and coffee. She has lived in many places, including Scotland, and currently resides in Oregon with her husband Nate Pedersen. (Author Photo by Sung Park)

 

My interview (21st August 2014)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Oh, I thought about it as a kid, but mainly because I was a big reader. I got a degree in creative writing when I was in my early twenties…but I don’t think I ever believed I’d actually finish writing a novel. And yet, here I am.

What do you say to writers who want to be published one day?

A. Read. Read everything. Every genre, the new books and the classics.
B. Give up watching TV for a year. Spend the time writing instead.
C. Pick up ten of your least favorite books…and then write down 5 things that each book did very well. This is an enlightening experience. Trust me. Figuring out what’s bad about a book you didn’t like? Easy. Figuring out what’s good about a book you didn’t like? Far more valuable.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

To write BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, where did you get your inspiration from?

A. From this true story out of Glasgow, Scotland: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/8574484.stm
B. From all the places I’ve lived, and all the gothic books I’ve read.

What are you working on now?

I organized a YA horror anthology that will be published by Penguin in fall, 2015 called Slasher Girls & Monster Boys.

I’m also working on a dark, twisting, voice-driven YA mystery that will be published by Penguin in early 2016.

Between the spark and the burn

Which authors inspire you now? Any books you’d recommend?

Susanna Clarke. I’ve read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell three times. I’m in awe of authors who can write long books with epic world building. This is something I’ll never be able to do. George R.R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Diane Gabaldon, Connie Willis…

I’m drawn to dark, odd, beautifully written YA—books by Nova Ren Suma, Chris Howard, Laini Taylor, Melina Marchetta…

I’m inspired by the beautiful language in Zane Grey’s westerns. Truly. It—and I never use this word—transports me, into a world without the internet, and cell phones, and car alarms, and blasting music… Zane is marvelous.

Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m the descendent of pioneers, and this is my history. I reread the series every year or so. The writing style is very simple and direct, but the stories aren’t. Laura and her family are often in serious danger, from wolves, from illness, from hunger…and yet the feeling I’m left with after reading is one of…peace.

Thanks for the interview, April!

Waiting On Wednesday – 55

Hello gentle reader,

this week I’m waiting on JACKABY by William Ritter (expected publication: 16th September 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers). It’s a YA Historical Fantasy set in 19th Century New England. The cover is gorgeous and the blurb sounds amazing. I can’t wait!

Jackaby

From Goodreads:

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you heard about this book? Is it on your TBR list? What are you waiting on this week?

Writers, are you ready for WriteOnCon 2014?

Hello gentle reader,

WriteOnCon is just around the corner, so I’m asking you today: are you ready for this awesome online conference? All the information below is available on the WriteOnCon website.

write-on-con-logo

What is WriteOnCon?

WriteOnCon is an Online Children’s Writers Conference. If you write Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult or New Adult fiction, this is for you! But “WriteOnCon is also not exclusive to kidlit writers. Much of the information provided applies to all writers, and many of the publishing professionals who participate cross over.”

When is WriteOnCon?

WriteOnCon will take place on Tuesday 26 August and Wednesday 27 August 2014.

Where does it take place?

Online!

How much does it cost?

It’s FREE!

“ALL of the features of the conference are completely free, including posting in the critique forums. You don’t need to install special software on your computer to attend the conference. You don’t need to have a webcam to participate in the live events. There are no hidden fees or extra features that cost money.”

(Although the organisers accept donations)

Write On Con

Who can take part?

Everyone!

“The Conference is designed to give attendees many of the features of a live writer’s conference, but in an online environment. Thanks to technologies like blogging, vlogging, livestreaming, and chats, WriteOnCon connects writers with both industry professionals and fellow peers from the convenience of their own homes. Critique forums allow writers to receive feedback and exposure for their work, and the entire program is designed to be both informative and entertaining.”

“The schedule features more static elements during working hours, and most live events are saved for the evenings. Transcripts/replays for live sessions are also available for those unable to attend and all of the conference content is archived on the website.”

How does it work?

“During the conference, keynote addresses, agent panels, and lectures are presented as blogs, vlogs, moderated chats, webinars, podcasts, and livestreaming. There is also a critique forum, where participants can post query letters and writing samples to receive helpful feedback and comments from their peers and industry professionals. And there are also daily contests, giving random winners everything from books to personalized critiques from agents.”

All you need to do to participate is register at http://www.writeoncon.com/forums.

Then you’ll be able to use the critique forums, either to help out other writers with their queries/first pages or to post your own.

To attend the live events you’ll need to go to http://writeoncon.com/chat/ at the time of the event. “Should you like to participate with a comment or question, you will be able to do so using the field at the bottom of the chat window.”

To find a critique partner, you can check out the Crit Partner Match Up.

Have a look at the FAQ if you have any more questions.

Where are the full program and schedule for this conference?

They should be available on the WriteOnCon website very soon :)

Please note that the conference schedule uses Eastern Standard Time but international attendees are obviously very welcome to attend.

Is it worth my precious time?

Yes, yes, yes!

I took part both in 2012 and 2013 and I learned so much! I definitely recommend it, because everyone can find something of interest to them, whether they’re writing a first draft, revising or querying.

So don’t hesitate and join the fun! Here is my profile if you want to say hi (please do!). I’ll be happy to help with your query or first pages if need be, just ask!

And see you there…

Film recommendations – YA books turned into films

Hello gentle reader,

Happy Friday! Are you looking to watch a film based on a YA book this weekend? There are many excellent ones. However it has recently struck me that when the media mention YA books turned into films, they always give the same titles: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent or The Fault In Our Stars. Since I don’t think those films – although very good – need any more publicity, I decided to list a few titles you may have overlooked…

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Book by Lemony Snicket published in 1999

The_Bad_Beginning

Film directed by Brad Silberling in 2004 starring Jim Carrey and Emily Browning

A_Series_Of_Unfortunate_Events_poster

The Eagle

Book by Rosemary Sutcliff published in 1954

The-Eagle-of-the-Ninth

Film directed by Kevin Macdonald in 2011 and starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland

the-eagle-movie-poster

Stardust

Book by Neil Gaiman published in 1999

stardust

Film directed by Matthew Vaughn in 2004 starring Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Robert De Niro, Henry Cavill and Ian McKellen among others.

Stardust Poster

The Secret Life of Bees

Book by Sue Monk Kidd published in 2002

The Secret Life Of Bees

Film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood in 2008 and starring Dakota Fanning, Paul Bettany, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys.

Secret_life_of_bees_movie

Which films based on YA books would you recommend?

Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Waiting On Wednesday – 54

Hello gentle reader,

this week, I’m waiting on RADIANT by Karina Sumner-Smith (expected publication: 9th September 2014 by Talos). It’s a YA Fantasy and the first book in the TOWERS trilogy. I’ve “met” Karina on Twitter a while ago and I’ve wanted to read her book ever since!

Radiant

From Goodreads:

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

Have you heard about this book? Is it on your TBR list? What are you waiting on this week?

On Querying and Originality in Fantasy

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in January 2014, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

If you’re a writer in the query trenches now or if you’re planning on looking for an agent and getting traditionally published in the future, you know that getting rejections is part of the process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume the Querying Writer has done her research, finished and polished her manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of relevant agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines.

There are many, many reasons for an agent to send the Querying Writer a rejection, and for nearly every single one of them there’s a solution. Sometimes, the agent will tell you what’s wrong with your submission: it’s called a personalized rejection. Other times, the agent won’t tell you why she’s rejecting your manuscript: it’s the infamous Form Rejection.

Thankfully, a few agents use Twitter to reveal the most common reasons why they reject a submission. They use the #10queriesin10tweets or #tenqueries hashtags. And one reason that keeps popping up when it comes to Fantasy manuscripts is this one:

sara-megibow-tweet

The premise isn’t unique/original/inventive enough.

In a sea of submissions, agents and editors are looking for a Unique Concept. Or a Familiar Story With An Unexpected Twist. They want the Unfamiliar. They want to be Surprised. As we do, as readers.

So how do you avoid being rejected for lack of originality? Here are a few pointers:

  • Research the industry: find out what’s on the shelves right now or what will hit the shelves in the next 18 months. This will give an idea of what agents/editors have already seen and aren’t looking for.
  • Avoid tropes in your writing: I recommend this website to find out which writing devices have been overdone.
  • Read: writing a Fantasy book requires reading Fantasy books, to avoid the annoying predicament which consists in writing a book that already exists.

Are you worried about how original your manuscript is or isn’t? Have you had rejections stating your premise felt too familiar? What have you done to ensure your book was as original as possible? Feel free to leave me a comment below!