Wednesday, July 27, 2016

YA Book Review & Blog Tour + Giveaway!: "Almost There" by Laurel Garver

Amazon // Goodreads




                      { Back Cover } 

Paris, the City of Lights. To seventeen-year-old Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.  

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches a plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save.  

Why would God block all paths to Paris? Could real hope for healing be as close as a box tucked in the rafters?








{ My Review }



Almost There made me fall in love with the YA genre all over again. This is the kind of teen fiction I enjoy: An authentic and inspirational novel that accurately portrays the teen life. Throw in a romance thread, family drama, teen angst, beautiful wordsmithing, an artistic element, and weave them together to create an original, page-turning-worthy plot.


Honestly, this is the best YA novel I've read in a while. The plot was well-paced, and the story was a quick-read, but mainly because it was difficult to put down. The characters weren't stereotypical; instead, each character, including the supporting ones, were unique and three-dimensional. They weren't perfect, either. Even the Christian characters came with baggage and flaws, yet they were willing to admit their wrong-doings.


I thought the author did a perfect job of reflecting today's teen angst, dialogue, and struggles. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the well-written descriptions. Many books today are either too description-heavy in a way that distracts from the story, or they're too bare bone, lacking any details to aid in painting my imagination. Laurel Garver wove in setting and character details in a way that planted me in the scene without interrupting the flow of the story, and she did so in a way that made me feel as though I were watching a movie. The overall story itself was unpredictable. In fact, there were certain threads that pulled me along and kept me guessing until the very end. I also really appreciated the use of humor in the story, especially in the scenes that could've otherwise come across as emotionally heavy.


If you're searching for a quick contemporary read that is original, realistic, inspiring, well-written, and does not lack in depth, Almost There will not disappoint!



5 / 5 stars.



{ Recommended Ages 13+. Parental permission advised due to minor mature content. } 



** DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.



{ About the Author }




Laurel Garver is a writer, editor, professor’s wife, and mom to an arty teenager. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys geeking out about Harry Potter and Dr. Who, playing word games, singing in church choir, and hiking in Philly's Fairmount Park.



{ Contact links }



{ Giveaway }



You’re almost there! Just a few clicks here and a few clicks there and you’ll arrive! Arrive where? Why, you’ll arrive at the rafflecopter page to enter the creative giveaway.


a Rafflecopter giveaway






{ Tour Schedule }



July 25
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Introduction
Robyn Campbell-Review and Author Interview

July 26

July 27


July 28

July 29
Peggy's Hope 4U-Author Interview

July 30
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner
 

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Author Spotlight & Interview: Diana Sharples, YA Author of "Running Lean"

I had the opportunity to meet YA author, Diana Sharples, at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference a few years ago. Since then, her YA contemporary novel, Running Lean, has been published by Blink (imprint of Zondervan). I've invited her over today to share about her heart for writing inspirational yet entertaining books for teens, how she chose to write a book that deals with eating disorders, and the advice she has for teen writers. =)

 


Amazon // Goodreads 
Equilibrium. That’s what Stacey and Calvin found in each other. He is as solid as his beloved vintage motorcycle and helps quiet the constant clamor in Stacey’s mind. She is a passionate, creative spirit—and a lifeline after Calvin’s soldier brother dies.

But lately the balance is off. Calvin’s grief is taking new forms. Voices of self-loathing are dominating Stacey’s life. When struggles with body image threaten her health, Calvin can’t bear to lose another person that he loves. Taking action may destroy their relationship, but the alternative could be much more costly.


What is Running Lean about, and what inspired you to write this book?



Running Lean is about a farm boy, Calvin, living in rural North Carolina, who has fallen for a transplanted city girl, Stacey, who turns out to have some issues Calvin just doesn't understand. Being a “fix it” kind of guy, Calvin attempts to diagnose the problem and offers solutions--which doesn’t sit well with Stacey. She denies she has a problem and feels like he’s suddenly judging her, just like the people she used to know. Stacey’s story was originally part of a larger plot involving an ensemble cast of characters, and at the time I really didn’t know much about eating disorders. I soon discovered, though, that Stacey’s story was too important to be glossed over. It needed its own novel. 


So I began researching eating disorders … not just the medical aspects, but the personal ones. I read blog posts from people who were caught up in eating disorders (there are many forms), and what I found broke my heart. These complex disorders are about so much more than being thin or looking good, and the stories of those who suffer with them are deep and compelling. What also broke my heart was that at the time there was very little information available to help the family and friends of ED sufferers understand and cope. Because of this lack of information--because of the many posts from guys asking the question, “My girlfriend has anorexia … what should I do?” I decided Running Lean would be Calvin’s story as well as Stacey’s. What inspired me? Once I got into my research, I couldn’t NOT write the story.



Did you weave any of your personal experiences into Stacey's journey?



I don’t have personal experience with anorexia, but as a teen and into adulthood, I went through similar self-esteem and body image issues (as well as other external causes) that triggered Stacey’s eating disorder. Those causes can come from places people might not expect--anything from a need to be in control of one’s life to a response to sexual abuse. While I was researching, I found myself empathizing with many sufferers. I feel that helped me to tap into Stacey’s mindset to a degree. Finding that point of empathy is important in creating characters in a novel, as well as giving the readers a place to connect with them.



Why are you passionate about writing inspirational and realistic books for teens?



I could get deeply personal here and talk about my own youth or whatever, but the truth is there are a variety of reasons, some literary, some emotional, some practical. I wrote my first full novel when I was thirteen. It was dreadful, but it was where it all began for me. And of course it was a YA novel. For a number of years I wrote fantasy novels based on Irish mythology, but the protagonists were always teenagers (or the elven equivalent). I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast of innocence and coming of age, by the idea of a person standing on the verge of “becoming.” And teenagers are just so much fun! They’re allowed to make mistakes. They’re allowed to be emotional. They’re allowed to be more authentic in some ways than adults. Plus, my daughter is now in college, but her teen years and all the drama therein are still fresh. I write for her, her friends, for the kids in our church youth group, and for the teens I meet at book signings. The bottom line for me is that I have a heart for them, and I want my books to inspire, entertain, and give them hope.



Running Lean deals heavily with the topic of eating disorders. Why is it important that teens become aware of the dangers of this disease? 



The National Eating Disorders Association reports that in the United States alone, 30 million people suffer from some clinically significant form of eating disorder, and that EDs are the leading cause of death for women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) That should be reason enough! But as I said above, my focus of the novel was also on the boyfriend of the girl with the ED. Because for every person (female or male) who suffers with an eating disorder, there is a circle of family and friends who are desperately concerned. So it is likely that a teenager reading this blog now knows someone who is battling an eating disorder, if not that person him or herself. It’s also important to know that an eating disorder isn’t just a desire to lose weight and skip lunch or watch calories, but it is a mind altering compulsion that takes a tremendous physical toll. 


For many people with eating disorders it becomes a lifelong battle even after they have been through treatment. And so, as the media feeds us images of Photoshop altered models we’re forced to believe are the standard for beauty and acceptability, the triggers for eating disordered behavior are all around us. I feel it’s very important for teens (and parents) to understand the dangers and the signals, so they can seek help early.








Is Running Lean a romance novel?



In the traditional sense of boy-meets-girl romance, no it isn’t. Calvin and Stacey are already in a relationship, which is tested. But I would say Running Lean is a love story. It is about loving someone through tough times. Another boy in Calvin’s position might throw his hands up and walk away from all the drama--and I wouldn’t fault him for doing so! But Calvin doesn’t do that, because he truly loves Stacey. So the story is about love that is tested, understands, and endures.



What do you hope your readers will take away from this story?



Clearly I hope they will come away with a better understanding of eating disorders, but I think the story is more than that. It’s about faithfulness and sacrifice and perseverance through hardships. Calvin is a hero in the most traditional sense, and I hope readers will learn something about love through him. Oh … and motocross bikes. There are a few of those thrown in too.



Do you have any advice for teen writers?



Finish the book! Whenever I work with young writers I find one problem cropping up with so many: they get inspired, they start writing furiously, they get stuck on something, they get frustrated or bored, they think of something new to write, and they give up on what they haven’t finished. Truth is, though, that writing is rarely a flurry of inspiration from start to finish. There are times when the words or ideas seem to dry up or when you’ve written yourself into a corner (or a mud pit) and can’t see how to get out, and you just feel like quitting. It happens to all writers. Keep going, though. Even if what you write seems awful, keep going until you get to “The End.” You can always go back and fix the lousy parts, but you’ll never feel satisfied with anything you’ve done if you don’t see it through.



How can readers connect with you and stay up-to-date on your upcoming projects?



Shh, don’t tell the marketing people, but I’m not really up on the latest social media sites. The best way is through Facebook, either at my author page, Diana L. Sharples, or my personal page, Diana Sharples. I’m currently updating my website and working at posting more on Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and such, and you can find me just by searching my name. I also hope to have news soon on the sequel to Running Lean, tentatively titled Running Strong, which is about Calvin’s best buddies, Tyler and Flannery. So, check first on Facebook, and I’ll blast any news--along with lots of pics of the Harley and the fur-kids.




ABOUT DIANA






Diana Sharples lives in north Georgia with her husband and daughter, and a house full of rescued pets. She wrote her first teen novel at the age of thirteen. Although she holds a degree in communication design/illustration from the Atlanta College of Art and won awards for her work in science fiction and fantasy illustration, she never lost her love for story telling and in addition to infusing her artwork with narrative, she wrote several epic-length fantasy novels. As her daughter was entering her teen years, Diana refocused her writing efforts on contemporary young adult fiction, and in time began winning pre-publication awards in that genre as well. Her debut novel, Running Lean, was released from Zondervan Books (a division of Harper Collins) in 2013, and she is currently working on the sequel and another series of stories with elements of mystery. Diana is also a motorcycle enthusiast and can be found riding her Harley around the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.



~ ~ ~ 


Thanks for joining us today, Diana!


READERS: Do you have any questions for her? Leave them in the comments below! 
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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

**Big News!** + Writing Journey Timeline: Part 3

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** Be sure to stick around to the end of this post for the big news reveal! ** 



It's been a while -- almost three years, in fact -- since I last gave an update on my writing journey in a timeline format. This time, rather than giving a month-by-month display of my writing journey, I've decided to summarize the writing-related highlights of each year that's passed. 

If you missed the previous timelines, be sure to check them out in Part 1 and Part 2. I love to write these updates -- not just because you can witness how I went from teen writer to published author, but also because I can look back and remember each stepping stone that has led me to where I am today. 



{No, this is not my "excuse" to boast! That's never my intent. Every writer has a journey, and that's one thing I love about blogging, the fact that it allows me to document this process.} 



2014 
{20-years-old}







Highlights from this year . . . 




  • I launched Monday's Minute Challenge on my blog
  • I mentored two teens online through my Write Now Teen Creative Writing Mentorship
  • I became friends with Caroline George and went on a book tour with her. You can read more about that year here
  • Purple Moon received film interest from two separate producers, but unfortunately the projects fell through. (And yet I still include this in the highlights because it flatters me that it at least gained film interest! Maybe one day...)
  • I joined the Teen Advisory Board for Devozine, the teen imprint of Upper Room Ministries
  • One of my short stories was published in Guide Magazine
  • One of my devotions was published in Devozine 
  • Purple Moon was a Selah Award Finalist in YA Fiction and Debut Novel at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference
  • I wrote a rough draft of the sequel to Purple Moon and edited my second standalone novel
  • I joined the Favoron Productions team as one of their Casting Coordinators and screenwriters



2015 
{21-years-old}









Highlights from this year . . . 


  • I ventured into building my acting career a bit more and was cast as a {very small} featured role in Providence, a Christian film. I also worked on set as a Production Assistant. (This filmed during the week of BRMCWC, so unfortunately I wasn't able to attend that year.)
  • I completed my year on the Teen Advisory Board for Devozine
  • Another devotion of mine was published by Devozine
  • I taught a teen writing workshop and completed the book tour with Caroline
  • After coming to a standstill on the edits of my standalone novel and feeling as though something was off with the story, I decided to take a break and began to work on a new project. That didn't last long. My heart was still with the other book. So, after several months, I decided to take it back out. I spent three months during the fall in my writing cave, rewriting the entire novel from start to finish. 
  • I attended the Blue Ridge Christian Novelist Retreat, and it's there that my standalone novel placed in the top three in four contest categories. =) (If you ever have a chance to attend this retreat, do it! The location during autumn was breathtaking, and I loved how intimate the retreat was compared to big conferences).
  • I mentored another teen in my Write Now Teen Creative Writing Mentorship





2016 
{22-years-old}






Highlights from this year {so far} . . . 



  • I began my internship with Cyle Young at Hartline Literary Agency (my current agent). 
  • The proposal to my second novel was sent out to publishers. 
  • I began working on rewriting the sequel to Purple Moon
  • I spoke to a group of students at University of South Carolina Aiken (thanks to a connection made with a blog reader!)
  • I landed a role in a short Christian film titled A Beautiful Life, produced by Grace Like Rain Entertainment {trailer soon to come!}
  • I met my favorite author and writing role model, Karen Kingsbury!
  • I launched the teen magazine I've dreamt of starting since I was a preteen, PursueMagazine.net
  • I attended BRMCWC and accompanied Cyle Young in some of his appointments with prospective clients
  • Another devotion of mine is to be published in a fall issue of Devozine
  • I'm currently working on a teen devotional project {details soon to come!}
  • I launched a freelance editing business, Pink Ink'd. A novella that I edited, written by Donna L.H. Smith, was a finalist in the novellas category in the ACFW Genesis contest.




. . . And now for the big news!





If you're signed up for my mailing list or follow me on social media, you've probably already heard this announcement . . . 




Over the past few years, I've been working on a secret project. A Young Adult contemporary romance novel. A story that first gripped my heart when I was 17-years-old and hasn't let go since. And now, it's finally time to release this story to the world. ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀










My latest novel, UNWRITTEN MELODY, will be published this fall by Clean Reads (formerly Astraea Press)! Clean Reads is a company that aligns with my vision to produce stories that are clean yet authentic and shed hope into readers' lives. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them!






Obviously, the release date is quickly approaching! This means I'm already on the hunt for beta readers who would be willing to read a free copy of the ebook in exchange for an honest review. Join my street team for more information





I'm also in the process of scheduling a blog tour. If you'd like to participate, please comment below or send me an emailAll blog tour participants and street team members will receive first look on the back-cover-blurb, cover art, and book trailer. {You'll also have the chance to participate in exclusive giveaways!}



If you'd like to stay up-to-date on the publication process, continue following my blog and social media accounts. {For a complete list of my social media accounts, visit the homepage on my website.}


For a sneak preview of UNWRITTEN MELODY, be sure to check out the book's Pinterest board by clicking here. =) I'll post the back-cover-blurb as soon as it becomes available. 
 
⠀⠀⠀ ⠀

A huge thanks to everyone who has followed and supported my writing journey thus far. I treasure each comment, email, tweet, positive book review, etc. I receive. If it wasn't for the feedback I received on PURPLE MOON, I don't think I would've had the motivation to push through the never-ending edits and rewrites of this second book. {Honestly. The writing journey can get tough at times, ya'll. The process of writing this book was not as smooth and simple as it was with Purple Moon.} 



And, of course, thank you to my new publisher, Clean Reads -- as well as my hard-working agent, Cyle Young.



Now it's time to take a break from writing and focus on editing and marketing and all that fun pre-release stuff! =D







~ ~ ~ 

How is your writing journey coming along? Anything you'd like to celebrate as well -- such as the completion of a book, chapter, or even a scene? Let me know in the comments!






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