April Reading Recap and a 5-Star Book #amreading

April 2018 Reads

Hello, fellow book junkies! Well, if I had to sum up this month’s reading experience in one word, it would be “eclectic.” Genres spanned from contemporary LGBTQIA to graphic novel to classic Indian mythology to adult fantasy-horror. Most of the books were quite good, and one has entered the golden category of personal favorites.

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Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – YA Contemporary

I’m going to start this review with a little secret. When I was a child, the vast majority of books I read were written by men. That wasn’t a conscious decision, of course, just based on what was available. When I started writing stories of my own, I caught myself constantly writing about male progatonists. It dawned on me that that was kind of strange since I am female, so I decided to give my literary brain a reboot, and I switched reading books by females about females, almost exclusively. For the most part, I think it worked. Sometimes, as I’m writing, I still fall into gender stereotype traps, in which case deliberately subvert them, i.e., making the wise mentor female.

Now that I’m branching back out into reading more books by male authors, one of the ones I chose was Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli–because I adored the title. While this book does explore important themes of having the confidence to be yourself, it is essentially about a boy who meets his manic pixie dream girl. Sigh. 3 stars

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – Adult Contemporary

Hey, literary world, just because this story features a woman dealing with family issues, can we please not call it Chick Lit?!! Do we call adult contemporary books by males Dick Lit?!! Okay, so back to the book. . . Amnesia stories always intrigue me, especially when they’re sort of a do-over story like this one. As the story opens, main character Alice is regaining consciousness on the floor of a gym, and she is confused as to why people keep telling her it’s twenty years in the future. Humorous at times, What Alice Forgets is a powerful exploration of relationships and remembering to remember what we appreciate about life and the people in it. 4.5 stars

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Paper Girls by Brian Vaughan – YA/MG Graphic Novel

A graphic novel about girls in the 1980s who deliver newspapers? Sign me up! The setting, concept, and artwork arefun. The story had its moments and some surprises but wasn’t super strong. Still, I think I’d like to keep reading about these tough girls from different walks of life.  3.5 stars

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We are Okay by Nina Lacour – YA Contempary LGBTQIA

What a good writer Nina Lacour is. Her stories are kind of on the quiet side, and I’m always glad to have read them. She captures feelings of loneliness like no other writer I’ve seen, and her stories are full of feeling and human connection. The LGBTQIA aspect isn’t a huge part of this book, but it makes an impact. 4 stars

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Ramayana by  Vālmīki, William Buck (translator) –  Classic Indian Mythology

This epic Indian story about Prince Rama, gods, and demons was written by Sanskrit poet Valmiki in 300 A.D. It’s incredible how, within this rich mythological world, the human emotions and motivations are still so relatable. 4.25 stars

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The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern #1) by Shannon Hale – YA Fantasy

What a wonderful thing it is to dive into a new book and discover it’s going to be one of your all-time favorites. That’s what happened to me with The Goose Girl. Everything about it is great–the writing, the magical atmosphere, the characters, and, oh, the plot. The plot is really good. All the feelings I had about as a kid about princesses and fairy tales I found again in this book. 5 enthusiastic stars

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The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – YA Magic Realism

After her mother’s suicide, half-Taiwanese, half white Leigh Chen Sanders travels to Taiwan to connect with her Taiwanese roots at last. The scenes set in Taiwan are full of atmosphere and intrigue, magic and emotion. A woman that Leigh meets there, Feng, is a fascinating character that I think will stay with me for a long time.

The cover is a work of art. The title is gorgeous.  The Astonishing Color of After has a nice writing style, too, as magic realism stories so often do. The plot, however, meanders at times. It takes a while to get to the point, and I found myself skimming pages. Overall, this is a powerful story of a girl looking to connect with dead mother mother through her rich Taiwanese heritage. The romantic subplot takes away from what is a much bigger story of self-discovery. 3.5 stars

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins 388pp  – Adult Fantasy-Horror

Anyone in the mood for a dark, modern fantasy should look no farther than The Library at Mount Char. It is unlike any book I’ve ever read, a cross between Stephen King’s The Stand and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide. The world-building is smart and imaginative, and the characters are fascinating–especially Carolyn and Erwin. A terrific read. The only time it slips is during the last act when the story kind of diverts and turns into an over-explanation of things. If you’ve read it, I’d be interested to hear what you think about that. 4.25

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— Eve Messenger

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Help! Which Book Should I Start With? #amreading

Decisions, decisions. All three library books I requested from Overdrive became available at the same time! That means I have only two weeks (no renewals) to read all three, and no idea how long it will take before they’re available again. If I were a faster reader, this might not be a problem, but since my days are also filled with writing my own books, taking classes and, y’know, life, I’ll probably only get to one, maybe two, of these three books–and I’m really excited to read all three!

Help! Which book should I start with?

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins 
“A library with the secrets to the universe.” Yep, that definitely captures my attention. Protagonist Carolyn was once a normal American. Now she wonders if the cruel tutor called Father who captured her and her adopted siblings and trained them in the ways of the library might be God. Then Father goes missing, and Carolyn must battle fierce competitors for control of the unguarded library.

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Unspoken (Lynburn Legacy #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass is a girl detective from a sleepy English town who has spoken to a boy inside her head all her life. Haunting atmosphere, humorous,  and charmingly creepy. This looks like it could be a really fun read.

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The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Ruby survived a mysterious disease that killed most American children, and it gave her dangerous powers. Now she’s on the run for the only haven for kids like her. When she arrives, she finds nothing at the haven is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader (who I’m pretty sure she gets in a romantic relationship with). A lot of readers say the first couple of hundred pages are a slow burn but that the ending is completely amazing (which how I felt about Six of Crows).

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–Eve Messenger

 

Down the TBR Hole #1

Hello, fellow book junkies! Here’s a fun trick to try when your TBR list gets longer than a Duck Dynasty character’s beard. You know those books you clicked on as “want to read” way back when? They looked wonderful at the time, but in hindsight maybe they don’t need to take up quite so much space on your TBR.  “Down the TBR Hole” is a brilliant way to whittle books off your list. It comes from Lia @ Lost in a Story, and I first saw it on Regina @ Bookish in Bed’s blog, so thanks, Regina! 

How to go Down the TBR Hole:
1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
2. List books in ascending order (oldest first).
3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
4. Read the synopses of the books.
5. Decide: keep it or should it go?

Here are my five picks for the week. Let’s see if any make the cut.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery20893527

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When, oh, when will I finally get around to reading this timeless classic?! Anne of Green Gables is only 320 pages long, so I suppose even if it doesn’t totally keep my interest, it’ll be a quick read. Judging by the quote, it’s a pretty joyful story, too, which is something I can always use more of: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Verdict: Keep

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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

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I’m kind of on the fence about this book. Some readers had a hard time with the oppressor-oppressed romance and relating to the main characters.  It’s also a very heavy story–understandable considering the theme. Lies We Tell Ourselves has a lot going for it too. It’s an important story about racial oppression, which is something we have a long way to go toward needing to improve in society today. Apparently, Robin Talley has a great writing style (which is a big plus for me). It’s also well-researched, which is cool since I’ve been liking historical fiction a lot more lately. Oh, and we mustn’t there’s an F/F romance.

Verdict: Keep (for now)

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The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky Is Everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is anyone else weary of stories about characters whose relatives die? This book opens with a nice, voice-y protagonist mentioning that her mother and sister have died. Uh-oh. I get that people die, and it is a very, very sad thing, but there are ways to build conflict and tension in a novel without needing people to die all the time. The opening of The Sky is Everywhere also has the MC saying her grandmother believes “a particular houseplant. . . reflects my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.”  Quirky. I like it. 

Verdict: Keep

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The Everafter by Amy Huntley

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The Everafter has an average 3.71 rating on Goodreads. That’s a little on the low side, but then again rating isn’t everything. I loved The Graces by Laura Eve, for example, and can’t fathom why Goodreads insists it is only a 3.28 star read. Reviews of The Everafter also abound with the word “depressing.” That’s not a good sign. It’s hard enough to stay positive without reading a depressing story. Sorry but. . . 

Verdict: Go

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie West 

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I really enjoyed books one and two of Kasie West’s Pivot Point and have been wanting to read something else by her. The Distance Between Us intrigues me with its premise: “Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment. However, the book is also labeled by some readers as a “cheesy romance.” (I should’ve have looked a little closer at the cover). I prefer books that explore human connections beyond stereotypical boy-girl romance, so. . . 

Verdict: Go

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Final score: 3 Keep, 2 Go. I’m making progress!

–Eve Messenger

YA Books for Music Lovers #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! Have you ever noticed how so many book lovers are also passionate about music? I know I sure am. Music and books are a wonderful combination, and they have a lot in common. Both books and music are powerful forms of expression and artistry. They transport us, help us navigate emotions, and can even elevate us as human beings. In honor of the beautiful duo known as books and music, let’s take a look at YA books which incorporate music as a theme. (Music about books would be an interesting topic too, but that one we’ll save for another day.)

Without further ado, here are the top ten, music-themed YA books. If you can suggest other good, music-related YA books–especially in YA fantasy–I am all ears. 🙂

–Eve Messenger

10. The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb

This is one of those books that always has a song reference going. The main character is Aden, a high school senior with a beautiful voice who’s looking to get a solo gig. Heavy themes of grief, teen pregnancy, and drug addiction abound, but they’re strangely glossed over. One of the most compelling aspects of the story is Aden’s struggle to connect with her Jewish identity, which she lost as a little girl when her mother passed away.

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9. The Midnights by Sarah Nicole Smetana

Susannah wants to follow in the footsteps of her rockstar father, with whom she has a complicated relationship. The story has a cool, dreamy atmosphere steeped in music, though the plot is a little disjointed . The Midnights represents yet another music-centered story that’s rife with heavy themes likes grief and loss. Wouldn’t it be great to encounter a music-themed story with depth but also an uplifting feel? I’d also like to see more music-themed stories in YA fantasy. That’s why I’m writing one. 🙂

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8. The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Fair warning: You might want to be in a strong emotional place before plunging into this book about three characters dealing with grief and loss. Music is a central theme–Sasha is a music blogger; Logan is a songwriter. And Woodfolk’s lovely, poignant writing will appeal to fans of Nina Lacour and Jeff Zentner.

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7. The Haters by Jesse Andrews

This book totally captures what it’s like to be in a band with friends. Okay, so it’s also littered with F bombs and explicit sexual descriptions that don’t add much to the story. That being said, the adventure this music-loving band of jazz camp dropouts goes on is really entertaining. Jesse Andrews, of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  fame, is a genuinely funny writer who aptly describes the interactions and special chemistry of different personalities in a band, kids who are in the trenches together as musicians but who also have complicated friendships, emotions, and desires.

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6. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist  by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

 Nick, a guy in a band, asks Norah, daughter of a famous music producer, to pretend to be his girlfriend after his ex brings a date to his gig. Half-assed pick-up line aside, Nick and Nora spend the entire night hopping to different venues in New York City and forming a deep connection. Except, is it really that deep? The 2008 film adaptation starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings suffers from the same weakness as the book in that Nick and Norah don’t really talk to each other that much. Still, the music is a great factor, and so is the New York City setting.

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5. Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez 

Carmen is a violin virtuoso raised by a stage mom who was once a rising opera star but whose career was cut short when she became pregnant with Carmen. Forging through the cutthroat world of music competition, Carmen unexpectedly bonds with her biggest competitor, Jeremy, both of whom live, breathe and adore music. As a main character, Carmen can be a bit wishy-washy, but her scenes with tutor Helen are super good.

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4. The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

Though this isn’t technically a YA book, The Ensemble is a glorious celebration of music and enduring friendship. Over a 15-year period, starting when they are young, the story follows four high-level classical musicians who perform together in a string quartet. Shades of Mozart in the Jungle.

The Ensemble

3. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

This story about humans and alternative dragons who can take human form, has a strong plot, smart writing, and super unique world building. Plus, all the main characters have a growth arcs that are satisfying to read about. The main character is Seraphina, an unusually gifted young musician hired to work at the palace as a court musician.

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2.  The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Though this isn’t totally centered around music, science-y Haitian girl Natasha and Korean-American boy poet Daniel meet in a record store, Natasha wears earbuds a lot of the time,  they go on an awesome karaoke excursion, and both are music lovers, so I’m including it on the list.

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1.This Song Will Save Your Life  by Leila Sales

Introvert Elise has always felt like an outsider, and music is her escape. At a warehouse party she finally meets people she can connect with and discovers her love of DJ’ing. Serious themes but also lots of humor.

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Overdrive is My New Best Friend, Except When Every Book is Checked Out #amreading

Checking out ebooks on Overdrive is one of my favorite things. Who would ever have guessed that would happen? Flashback to three years ago, me on my soapbox, declaring: “I must have hard copies of books. Reading books isn’t the same without something to hold in my hands, pages to flip.” So now I’m pretty much converted. I officially read more e-books than hard copy books. I like being able to enlarge the font or brighten the screen on my Kindle Paperwhite, especially with its cover that makes me feel like I’m holding a real book (thanks for the Christmas present, hubby.)

Which takes me to why I’ve come to love Overdrive. It’s so great to be able to log in to Overdrive using my local library card and get access to all the ebooks in my county library system. And then have them send directly to my Kindle. Lately, however, it seems every single book I want on Overdrive is already checked out. This even includes older books like Unspoken from 2012 and Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds from 2011.

So now I’m in this odd book-reading holding pattern. Since I must have something to read every day, as I wait for books I really want to read, I’m settling for books I kinda want to read–but which aren’t overly long so I’m not too invested once the book I really want comes off hold. You get me, right, fellow book junkies? 😀

Here are the elusive little whippersnapper books Overdrive refuses to release to me yet. All of them so good. All of them so not-yet-available.

Oh, and if Murphy’s Law of library books holds true, after waiting so (im)patiently for all of these books, probably all four will come off hold at exactly the same time, right? Meaning I’ll have two weeks to read them all. (Overdrive doesn’t allow renewals, so two weeks is it.)

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Title details for Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan - Wait list

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Title details for The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan - Wait list

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) by Alexandra BrackenTitle details for The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken - Wait list

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Title details for Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney - Wait list

–Eve Messenger

 

Do longer titles mean better books? YA books with the looooongest titles. #amreading

Books with super long titles sort of whisper, “I am going to be so well-written. Just wait and see.” But is it true? Are YA books with longer titles better? Let’s find out.

Here’s a list of fifteen YA books with titles of six words or more, each rated from 1 to 5 stars.

6-Word Titles

Titles 6-words
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sara J. Maas   – 4.5 stars
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – 4.5 stars
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – 4 stars
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King – 4 stars
The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil – 3.75 stars
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness – 4 stars
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – 4 stars
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – 3.5 stars

Holy royalty checks, Batman. Did anyone notice that on Goodreads The Perks of Being a Wallflower has over ONE MILLION ratings? A million. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with that many. How could I possibly give this classic book only 4 stars? But I did. Oh, and A.S. King? Her books are so interesting, smart, cool, and different. I love them all. Okay, so there are lots of excellent reads in this six-word title group, but none with five-stars, so let’s see how 7-word titled books fare. . . 

7-Word Titles
titles 7-words

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North – 4.5 stars
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina – 3.75 stars

Okay, not bad. The First Fifteen Lives is so well-written. Technically, it’s adult fiction but feels like a bit of a crossover. Still no five-star books. Let’s move on to YA books with eight-word titles. 

8-Word Titles

titles 8-words
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton – 4.25 stars
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 4.25 stars
Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – 4 stars

All three of these books are so enjoyable. Who can resist a book with the gorgeous and unusual title of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender? And that cover!  Alas, neither of these books earned five-stars, so it’s on to the nine-word titles.

9-Word Titles 

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Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – 3.75 stars

Only one YA book (that I could find) had nine words in the title–which is probably my favorite title, by the way. Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe–it’s a magical title! I wish I liked the book more. The writing is lovely and philosophical, but the plot meanders a bit.

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And now, for the grand champion, the longest-title on the list. No other books had ten-word or even eleven-word titles, but this one, oh, this one.

12-word title 

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente – 4.25 stars

Yes, a twelve-word title, and a stunner. Wow! Those were all long titles. All combined, the titles of these fifteen books add up to over 100 words! Something else I noticed was that 50% of them include the name of a character. I wonder if that’s a long-title thing.

The search for long-titled YA books continues. What are some of your favorite YA books with titles of six words or more?

–Eve Messenger

Brainstorming Techniques for Writers & Bloggers

I had an epiphany recently that vastly improved my approach to writing and blogging. I’d somehow fallen under the notion that the only way I knew of to generate  writing/blogging ideas was to free-write (write without stopping or editing) until the answers came. And, yes, that kind of worked, but I was getting frustrated with having to write so many blind pages. Free writing didn’t always seem that efficient.

The  best solution is usually the simplest one. There are TONS of brainstorming techniques other than free writing. I knew this but wasn’t using them. Using a variety of brainstorming techniques mixes up the brainstorming process, makes it fun and interesting, and maybe even saves time.

Maybe you’re working on an outline but have a plot hole you’re struggling with, or you’re planning a blog post that’s missing  key ideas. Try some of these brainstorming techniques to fill in the gaps. You probably already know this, but when brainstorming remember to never censor yourself. The BEST ideas come right after the most outlandish ones. Good luck! –Eve Messenger

BRAINSTORMING TECHNIQUES FOR WRITERS & BLOGGERS by Eve Messenger

ROLE PLAY

1. Perspective Shift

Approach your brainstorming topic as if you were in a different place or time, or even as if you were a different person. What if you were in your favorite hiding spot as a kid? What if you were on Mars, in the middle of an ancient forest, in a great library, or sitting at a Paris cafe with  Lost Generation writers? What might your approach be if you were your favorite writer? What if you were the best you living life in your dream situation?

2. Attribute Change

This is like Perspective Shift, except you’re only imagining changing one aspect of yourself. Approach your brainstorming topic as if one attribute about you is different: gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, nationality, profession, etc.

3. Super Power

Imagine you have a super power that lets you get right to the root of your answer. Explore your topic from that super power perspective. If your topic feels murky, imagine you’re Aqua-man (or Aqua-woman), who can see clearly beneath the water and swims quickly and powerfully toward the solution.

BE A REBEL

4. The Opposite Approach

It’s remarkable what good ideas can be sparked by exploring bad ones. Deliberately try to cause problems for your topic. Now write down those problems and see what solutions come.

5. The Five Whys

In this brainstorming technique, you get to be the little kid who asks “why” ad nauseam. Starting with your brainstorming topic/problem, ask why at least five times: “Why is this happening?” Answer. “Why is that happening?” Answer. And so on.

MIX IT UP

6. Z to A

Write whatever comes to mind starting with each letter of the alphabet, Z to A. For example, let’s say you’ve got a lot of half-ideas floating around in your head and you want to solidify which you should write on. First, solidify your question: “What should I write about in my next blog entry?” Then open up the floodgates to your subconscious and let the ideas flow. Each idea you write must begin with the next successive letter of the alphabet.  The trick in brainstorming is to not beat yourself up about bad ideas. In this brainstorming technique, you’ll come up with 26 ideas. Pick the three best ones.

Zoo animals in YA fiction.

Young people are frustrated by not being properly represented in YA fiction.

X-ray closely the dark underbelly of  publicity for YA books.

and so on until you reach “A”. . .

7. Cubing – D/C/A/A/A/A

Approach your brainstorming topic from six different angles:

  1. Describe
  2. Compare
  3. Associate (what does your topic make you think of?)
  4. Analyze (what is your topic composed of?)
  5. Apply it (how can your topic be used?)
  6. Argue for or against your topic

8. List

This brainstorming technique is simple and straightforward. Just make a list of the story/passage/character ideas and elements you want to convey.

9. Fill in the Gap

You probably already have some solid ideas for your novel or blog post, but now you’re looking to fill in the gap. Make connections from your solid ideas to the one that’s still missing. Build the bridge. Fill in the hole.

10. Commonalities

Parallel your topic with other similar topics. What does your topic have in common with what other writers have written? List the commonalities and apply them to the topic you’re brainstorming.

11. Sentence Starters

Give yourself sentence starters.
“What if ___________.”
“The way this will work is if ______________.”
“The best solution to this problem is  ________________.”

HAVE FUN WITH SCHOOL SUPPLIES

12. Mind Mapping

This brainstorming technique is probably the one many  of us  learned about in school. Get a big piece of paper or a dry erase board, In the center, write your brainstorming topic. Without censoring yourself, write down all ideas related to that topic–the sillier and more outlandish the better. After exhausting all ideas, start connecting them and branching other ideas off of them.

13. Starburst

Draw a large six-pointed star. At the tip of each point write: who, what, when, where, how, and why. In the middle write your topic/goal/problem. Now answer each of your “tip” questions.

14. Index Cards

Get a stack of ten or so index cards. On each one, jot down a key image or idea from your brainstorming topic. Now shuffle the cards, pull out one at a time, read your idea/image, and  brainstorm responses.