Favorite Author Feature: Neal Shusterman

In 2017 I shared Favorite Book Features on my favorite books. This year I’d like to start a new series—features on my favorite authors! I’m going to return to my favorite books shelf and look into some of my favorite authors. I’ll share about their books I’ve read and why they’re an awesome author. Today’s featured author is the incredible Neal Shusterman!

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My new blog series will look into some of my favorite authors!

Neal Shusterman is a successful novelist and writer for television and film. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and went to UC Irvine. He now lives in Southern California with his four kids. Shusterman is the author of the Unwind Dystology, the Skinjacker Trilogy, the Arc of a Scythe, the Accelerati Trilogy (with Eric Elfman), the Nation Book Award-winning novel Challenger Deep, and many other books for teens and kids.

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I loved Shusterman’s Skinjacker Trilogy and Unwind Dystology

The Skinjacker Trilogy—Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound—follows Nick and Allie as they navigate Everlost, the world between life and death where kids who “don’t get where they’re going” end up. It is a mysterious and dangerous world, full of lost souls and crossed-over objects, and if you stand in the same place to long you sink to the center of the earth. I’ve definitely never read anything quite like this before.

Like with Everlost, Shusterman blew my mind again with the Unwind Dystology. This series (UnwindUnwhollyUnsouled, and Undivided) takes place in the future after the second civil war was fought over abortion. Now children cannot be aborted, but from ages 13-18 they can be “unwound,” a process which results in 100% of their body being donated, so they’re not technically dead. These books are eerie and exciting and wonderful.

I think my favorite thing about Neal Shusterman’s writing—besides the incredible stories he comes up with—is his awesome omniscient narration. Most of the time I don’t like omniscient stories because I want to stick close to the main characters, but Shusterman uses the omniscient narrator to take you into the both the villains’ and side characters’ heads and beautifully characterize them in even as little as a paragraph. He puts the omniscient point of view to its best use by really getting deep into all of the characters (no matter how brief) to give the readers all of the perspectives on the situations in the book. These two series are both unique and really cool, and his narration makes the books some of my favorites and Shusterman one of my favorite authors.

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Everlost and Unwind are two of my favorite novels

Though I haven’t read many of Neal Shusterman’s books, I absolutely love the ones I have read, and I can’t wait to try more!


Have you read any of Neal Shusterman’s books? Which ones are your favorites?

What I’m Reading: Graphic Novels

When I read The Lunar Chronicles, I was so sad to finish the books because I already missed the characters. Then I discovered Marissa Meyer had written two more books in the series, set between the main novels and the epilogue in Stars Above. And they were graphic novels.

In my mind, graphic novels always meant superhero, action-packed stories. So I avoided them. But I loved the Lunar Chronicles series and wanted more, so I finally decided to give graphic novels a try.

I loved them.

And Wires and Nerve, volumes I and II, much like the novels-in-verse I’ve been reading lately, opened my eyes to more of what books can be.

It was so cool to see the Lunar Chronicles come to life. I had spent months immersed in this story world, and I could finally see my favorite characters in action. I thought I wouldn’t like reading the comic book style, with pictures and captions, but I found myself excited to pick up the story whenever I had time to read. It was a fun and interesting experience to “see” the story while technically still reading.

I finished the Wires and Nerve books all too quickly, so I rushed back to the library for more, only to find the graphic adaptation of my favorite book: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Reading the Wires and Nerve books opened me up to graphic novels, but the graphic adaptation of Speak affected me in a way I wasn’t expecting. Melinda’s story is powerful in words, but seeing it drawn out, especially when you get to see the art Melinda creates, makes this story even stronger. I almost felt like it was supposed to be in graphic form all along.

After reading these three graphic novels, I am ready for more. I have three more graphic novels checked out from the library (two more adaptations of existing books like Speak and an original) and I can’t wait to read them.

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I can’t wait to read the graphic adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary!

I’ve been working to expand my reading over the past year, reading many books by people of color, lots of novels-in-verse, and now graphic novels. It’s important to open your mind to all that reading and writing can be, and to take in a lot of different voices. But, even though I think graphic novels are cool now, I still don’t think I’ll be reading superhero stories any time soon.


Do you like graphic novels? Which books would you recommend?

Favorite Author Feature: Kiera Cass

In 2017 I shared Favorite Book Features on my favorite books. This year I’d like to start a new series—features on my favorite authors! I’m going to return to my favorite books shelf and look into some of my favorite authors. I’ll share about their books I’ve read and why they’re an awesome author. First up is none other than Kiera Cass!

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My new blog series will look into some of my favorite authors!

Kiera Cass is the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of the Selection Series. She graduated from Radford University and lives in Virginia with her husband and two kids. In addition to the Selection Series (The Selection, The Elite, The One, The Heir, The Crown, and two story collections set in the world of The Selection), she is the author of The Siren. She also has an untitled book coming out sometime this year.

The original trilogy of the Selection series are my favorite books behind Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. The books are about America Singer, a girl who was born low into the caste system of Illéa, the country that was created after the United States ended. But all of that changes when she is whisked away to participate in the Selection, a competition to win the prince’s hand in marriage. These books are romantic and suspenseful. Plus it is an amazing dystopian story, which is my favorite genre. I can’t recommend these books enough. You can read my Favorite Book Feature on The Selection here.

I did not enjoy The Siren as much as I did the Selection series, but this book is still full of Cass’s beautiful writing and is an interesting retelling. While the Selection series is based on Cinderella and the book of Esther in the Bible, The Siren is based on the Little Mermaid. It follows Kahlen, a siren who is forced to serve the Ocean and who falls in love with a human. Cass first self-published this book before the Selection series was published, and it was updated and republished in 2016. I met her when she came to Dayton on tour for this book.

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I met Kiera Cass in 2016 when she came to Dayton on tour for The Siren.

Kiera Cass is one of my favorite authors for several reasons. First of all, she just blew me away back when I first read The Selection with her twist on the dystopian genre. She made a beautiful romance novel, based on one of my favorite fairy tales and one of my favorite books of the Bible, and set it in a dystopian future. Dystopian books have always been my favorites, with the revolutions and the ordinary people stepping up to save the world. The Selection does not disappoint. Reading this series (which I’ve done five times) is like getting a hug from your best friend. I turn back to them over and over again.

The other main reason I love Cass is because of our conversation when I got the chance to meet her. I had recently become a Christian and was going through a period in which I wasn’t writing anything because I didn’t know how to anymore. I really admire how open Cass is on social media about her faith, and so during the Q&A I asked her how she handles being both a writer and a Christian. She told me to stay true to my faith and write what I’m most comfortable with. As a person, she is really nice and encouraging. She remembered me and my question when I went through the signing line and continued to talk to me. The very next week I started writing Somewhere Only We Know.

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Kiera Cass’s Books (minus Happily Ever After, because my sister-in-law is reading it!)

Kiera Cass will always be an important author to me. From this blog’s very first post to Somewhere Only We Know to starting a new book now, I will never forget her advice and her books. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!


Have you read any of Kiera Cass’s books? I’d love to know what you think!

What I’m Reading: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

The past couple months I finally got around to reading a series I had heard about for a long time. I’ve wanted to read these books for a while, and I finally had the time to do so thanks to Hoopla Digital providing the audiobooks.

Retelling the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series takes the fairy tales I love and makes them even more incredible by turning them into science fiction stories in which Cinderella is a cyborg. These books and Cinder and her friends reminded me of the show Firefly, with the ragtag crew aboard a spaceship and the heists they try to pull off. But they’re even better than Firefly because they’re all based on fairy tales.

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The Paperback box set of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Set in the future in New Beijing, Cinder forms allies with Scarlet, Cress, and Winter and tries to overthrow the evil Queen Levana of Luna. The four books—Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter—each focus on one of the fairy tales, but they build on top of one another as each character is introduced to the series.

While I didn’t care for the character of Scarlet or the second book in these series that focused on her, I loved this series as a whole. Cress, who is based on Rapunzel, was my favorite of all of the girls, but that’s probably because Rapunzel’s story is also one of my favorite fairy tales. These books are just so imaginative in how they combine a dystopian revolution with the fantasy of fairy tales.

I think retellings are amazing. I’ve written about how some of my favorite stories (Wicked and A Little In Love) are retellings. Taking a story that already exists and putting your own spin on it is a fun and sometimes easier way to write. If you come up with something truly creative—like Cinderella being a cyborg—that idea can explode into a whole series of books.

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Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

I finished listening to the audiobooks of the series at the end of 2018 and received the box set of paperbacks for Christmas. Now I’ve been reading Stars Above, a book of stories set in the world of the Lunar Chronicles!


Have you read The Lunar Chronicles? What’s your favorite book series?

My 2019 Writing and Reading Goals

The beginning of a new year makes me reflect on the work I’ve done over the past twelve months and plan ahead for what I’d like to accomplish in the following year. So today I’d like to share my writing and reading goals for 2019.

Being a stay-at-home writer, I struggle with motivation. I have gone through many iterations of schedules and reward systems to try to figure out the best way for me to stay motivated and get work done. But the problem with doing this is that it became more about hitting the hours and achieving the reward than about doing the work God has called me to.

So now my goal list on my cork board only has one item—to write the book I’m working on. Because that’s all that matters

I’m not putting a timeline on it, because that system doesn’t work for me. I can’t rush this. I simply need to remind myself each day that I’m writing for God and that he’s called me to do this work. Motivation comes naturally when I realize I’m working for the Lord.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23)

As far as reading goes, I crushed my 2018 goals. My goals were to read 35 fiction and 10 nonfiction books, totaling 45 books. I ended up reading 43 fiction and 17 nonfiction books, for a total of 60 books.

I’m going to up my goals, but keep them under the totals that I read this year so I don’t push myself too far. The only reason I read as many as I did is because of audiobooks, but I’m going through a phase right now in which I’m not really listening to them and I don’t know how long this phase will last.

So because of that, my goals for 2019 are to read 40 fiction and 15 nonfiction books, for a total of 55 books. I do hope to read more than that, but I don’t know if that’s realistic if I’m not listening to audiobooks as often.

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What are your writing and reading goals for the year?

In 2019 I want to keep things simple and focus on the reason why I’m doing this work in the first place. God called me to be a writer. My purpose is to write stories for and about women finding hope despite pain. And that’s enough for me.


What are your writing and reading goals for this year?

A Book I Turn to When…

Books can be friends and reminders. We turn to books to learn and sometimes to escape. Books can hold special memories and can be comfort to turn back to.

If you’re like me, these are your favorite books—the rereads you keep coming back to for different reasons. Today I wanted to share with you some of the titles I read over and over again, and why I turn to them.

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Some of my favorite rereads: Everlost by Neal Shusterman, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Selection by Kiera Cass, and Somewhere Only We Know by Bri Marino

A book I turn to when…

…I want to go on an adventureThe Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman

The Skinjacker Trilogy—Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound—are incredible books about the world between life and death. The series follows Allie and Nick as they journey through Everlost, and it’s full of so much adventure and imagination that I love turning back to these books.

…I want to escapeThe Selection Series by Kiera Cass

I think I’ve read the original trilogy more times than any other books. I’ve written on here many times how much I love these books. The Selection is simply a fun, swoon-worthy, light read that still packs an emotional punch.

…I want to be inspiredSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is probably my favorite book ever. This is such a powerful story about rape and healing and finding your voice, and every time I read it I feel so inspired.

…I want to enjoy a classicFahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is my favorite classic novel, and one of only a few classics I actually like. I love turning back to this older book from time to time because it is science fiction at its best.

…I want to encourage myselfSomewhere Only We Know by Bri Marino

Writing can be discouraging work, and if I need inspiration to keep going, what better work to turn back to than my own? Rereading my published book reminds me that I’ve done it before and can do it again.


What are your favorite rereads and why do you keep turning back to them?

5 Tips on Starting a Writing Project

Writing a novel is a daunting task.

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quote by Stephen King

Starting with nothing but an idea and a blank page, you have to come up with thousands of words to tell a story. Hours of brainstorming, world-building, drafting, and editing are before you, and it’s one of the scariest places to be.

I’m at the beginning right now. I’ve had my idea for a few months and have been researching. I feel like I’m getting very close to the point when I can actually start writing the novel. And I’m remembering just how scary the beginning can be.

So today I wanted to share with you my tips on starting a writing project. These tips are what seem to work for me at the beginning of the daunting task of writing a novel. I hope something in here resonates with you and can help you tackle the beginning of your own writing project

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I don’t think anything is scarier or more exciting than a blank notebook.

1. Let the idea simmer.

I don’t like to jump in right away once I have an idea. I always find that letting the idea sit in the back of my mind for a while helps it develop. It’s also important when you first think of a story idea to not talk about it to anyone. The story idea will never be as special and exciting to you as when it’s new and only yours, and talking about it with someone else can make it lose it’s specialness, thus making it less exciting to you.

2. Read/watch all of the comparable titles.

After thinking through my idea for a while, I make a list of every book and movie related to it. These comp titles help you see how other authors and filmmakers take on a similar topic, and these titles will also be used down the line when pitching your work to be published. I then spend a month or so watching all of the movies and reading all of the books to help me further develop my own story idea.

3. Immerse yourself in research.

The next crucial step is to immerse yourself in the necessary research for your project. A lot of the advice I see out there is to just start writing and make a note to come back to it later when you need to research something. That might work for some genres, but when you’re writing something more research-intensive like historical or science fiction, I find it best to do all of your research up front. Doing this will help you be better-informed about your topic and I’ve found it helps me come up with story and plot ideas as well.

4. Get to know your characters.

This is probably the most important step before starting a writing project. Stories are all about the characters. And if you don’t know your characters well before you start writing, you will feel lost and the story will lack direction. Of course, characters will surprise you and you’ll get to know them better through writing the story, but you still need to learn about them before you start.

5. Breathe.

Lastly, take a deep breath. You’re about to spend weeks/months/years with these characters and this story. So take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you can do this. And start writing.


What tips on starting a writing project would you add to this list?