Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter + Bonus Writing Tips

When I first read the Publishers Marketplace description for NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST–a gender-swapped YA Romancing the Stone–and that it was by Ally Carter, I didn’t even need to know anything more about it to want this book as soon as it came out. Lucky for me, Ally Carter had St. Louis on her tour schedule. I actually met her five years ago when she came through for PERFECT SCOUNDRELS, but I was so unprepared then for the megastar that Ally is. This time I expected the large crowd of teen girls still asking questions about Gallagher Girls even years after the series has ended. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and didn’t mind waiting an hour to get the book signed even though I strategically sat where I thought I’d get in the front of the line and then they sent it in a completely different direction. (Okay, so maybe I was a bit annoyed, but you know what? Between getting there early for a seat and waiting in that line, I’d read nearly half the book by the time I got up there :).)

Anyway, I am going to give you a review, but first, for my writer friends, I jotted down a few notes from Ally that I thought I’d share.

  • She said there’s always a point where her characters can rush in and be heroes or call the proper authorities, which is also a point where her book can be interesting or her characters can be smart. She finds a way for both to work.
  • When asked about voice, she pointed out that she used different tenses for her different series–first past in Gallagher Girls, third past in Heist Society, and first present in Embassy Row. (I thought this was interesting as I hadn’t particularly noticed.)
  • Her first drafts are basically a screenplay–outlines with dialogue. (As much as I hate first drafts, this really appeals to me!)
  • When I told her I’m a querying writer, she said her best advice is that you want the right “yes,” not just any “yes.”

Now that I’ve gushed about Ally and the event, I’ll move on to the book itself.

Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterMaddie thought she and Logan would be friends forever. But when your dad is a Secret Service agent and your best friend is the president’s son, sometimes life has other plans.

Before she knows it, Maddie’s dad is dragging her to a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and into a totally different life.

No phone.
No Internet.
And not a single word from Logan.
Maddie tells herself it’s okay. After all, she’s the most popular girl for twenty miles in any direction. (She’s also the only girl for twenty miles in any direction.) She has wood to cut and weapons to bedazzle. Her life is full.

Until Logan shows up six years later . . .
And Maddie wants to kill him.
But before that can happen, an assailant appears out of nowhere, knocking Maddie down a cliff and dragging Logan to some unknown fate. Maddie knows she could turn back and get help. But the weather is turning and the terrain will only get more treacherous, the animals more deadly.

Maddie still really wants to kill Logan. But she has to save him first.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The setting – And it’s only because I don’t have to be there. It’s funny, because Ally said she decided to set a book in Alaska because she went on a cruise with her family, and during a tour the guide told her even the ground water had poison in it. I didn’t even need that to convince me I never wanted to return after our own family cruise. The cold in the middle of June was enough (sorry, Alaskans!). Anyway, there’s a letter Maddie writes to Logan that perfectly sums up why this setting is so perfect for a YA thriller.

Well, [Dad] brought me to a place where he leaves me alone all the time and where pretty much even the AIR can kill you.

Seriously.

Things that can kill you in Alaska:

-animals

-water

-snow

-ice

-falling trees

-more animals

-bacteria

-the common cold

-hunger

-cliffs

-rocks

-poorly treated burns, cuts, and scrapes

-boredom

I may definitely die of boredom.

I’m not going to tell you how many of those she ends up using in the book.

2. The stakes – Going along with the setting, there were so many opportunities for the circumstances to get worse for Maddie and Logan, and the great thing about it was: they couldn’t call for help. So that point I mentioned before, about Ally Carter wanting her characters to be interesting and smart? When you’re in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, it’s pretty hard to call 9-1-1.

3. Maddie herself – Maddie is such an awesome character. She knows how to survive in the Alaskan wilderness, but she’s still a girlie girl (which is why she has a bedazzled hatchet). In addition, she knows how to use those stereotypes about teenage girls against the men who intend to hurt her and Logan. She’s smart, resourceful, and strong–exactly the sort of girl the bad guys will underestimate.

4. The twists – I love good twists, and this book is full of them. There were several that took me completely by surprise and others that I didn’t see coming until right before they did. Very well done!

5. The dual POV – I really liked hearing from both Maddie and Logan in this story, getting both sides of what they were feeling. It was complicated but also completely believable how they each approached both their relationship and the situation.

So, to sum up, NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST is another fantastic book from Ally Carter, and I highly recommend you pick it up. Just a note that this one is a stand-alone. Also, if Ally’s coming through your city on tour, take the time to go meet her! She’s funny and lovely in person.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: BLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this tweet a little over a week ago:

But a tweet really isn’t enough gushing for Joy’s book. I was trying to remember exactly when I “met” Joy, and so I turned to my email (where I keep EVERYTHING). Anyway, I was reminded that Joy reached out to me during WriteOnCon in 2013. I knew it was a long time ago because she read my MG sci-fi, THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT, but wow!

Since then, Joy has done so much to give back to the writing community, and I’m thrilled to do even the smallest bit to promote her book. I read BLOOD WATER PAINT on a three-hour car ride from Springfield, Mo., to St. Louis, then carved out an extra half hour to finish when we arrived home. And then I had to go search online for extra information about the main character, Artemisia Gentileschi, who was a real person. I guess maybe I’d better share the description :).

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughHer mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost. 

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence. 

Here are the five things I loved most about the book.

1. The art – I’ve always loved art. My favorite period is Impressionism, but I enjoy strolling through museums and exploring art through the ages. I loved reading Artemisia’s point of view as she tackled various subjects and attempted to solve challenges of perspective and color.

2. The structure – I expected this novel to be completely in verse, but it surprised me with narrative sections written in the voice of Artemisia’s mother. These stories of Susanna and Judith were perfectly woven into the broader story of what Artemisia was experiencing, giving her strength and comfort.

3. The verse itself – I was hooked from the very first lines.

Everything begins from here:

the viewing point,

the place where you stand,

your eye level.

That single point on the horizon

where all other lines

converge.

4. The message – What an amazing story of a young woman who doesn’t back down, continuing to defend herself even when she’s publicly ridiculed and physically tortured by the court. It made me heartsick to read what was done to Artemisia, and yet parts of her story–the ridicule and disbelief after a rape–are unfortunately not just a tale relegated to history.

5. The hint of the supernatural – Beyond the memory of her mother, Artemisia is not alone, but I don’t really want to give away anything more than that.

I highly recommend this book. However, as mentioned above, it does include a rape, and while it’s not described in detail, that could still be triggering for some. If you’ve read BLOOD WATER PAINT, I’d love to hear what you thought too.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD by Jane Nickerson

I came across Jane Nickerson’s STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD on an agent website and decided to check it out. I’m so glad I did because it was the sort of book I didn’t know I was looking for but absolutely loved. I couldn’t put down this southern Gothic historical and was sneaking chapters during the car ride with my kids on spring break. Here’s the cover and description.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane NickersonWhen seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The villain – STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD is a retelling of the tale of Bluebeard, and I confess I’m not familiar with it, so I went and looked it up (I totally should have waited until afterward so I wouldn’t have spoiled anything). But anyway, I really loved the character Ms. Nickerson created with Bernard de Cressac. He’s a perfect villain because of his charm. He puts a sort of spell on Sophie so that even while she knows he’s reeling her into a dangerous web, she keeps convincing herself he’s really not who she suspects. So well done!

2. The setting – I felt like I was in Mississippi with Sophie, experiencing the mosquitoes and the humidity, exploring the ancient abbey transported across the ocean. All of M. de Cressac’s extravagant touches came to life in each scene, and I was transported to another time. Gorgeous!

3. The tension – I wouldn’t call this a fast-paced book, and yet I was compelled to keep turning pages to find out how Sophie would handle each escalating tightening of the noose on her life. And while the tension was physical, it was more than that. Sophie had to decide how much of herself she would give up, walking on eggshells with M. de Cressac with each demand he made. While in today’s society, we might think it would be easy to walk away, it was not an easy decision for her.

4. Sophie’s growth – Sophie spends a significant portion of the book in self-denial, and while it was frustrating at times, it was also understandable based on her background and situation in life. I enjoyed watching her figure out the truth and come into her adulthood during the story, both in regard to standing up for her principles (there’s a subplot regarding slavery) and herself.

5. The mystery – The thread of mystery throughout the story was fantastic, as Sophie followed the clues about M. de Cressac and ultimately solved it. Going along with the Gothic theme, there were some supernatural elements, which were very well done and fit perfectly with the story.

There are two other books that follow STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD, and I will definitely be reading these as well. Have you read these books? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Giveaways, Interviews, NetGalley, Reading, Research, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: NOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood

I’m so thrilled to host Amy Trueblood here today. Sometimes you hear writers say that they’re just as happy when one of their friends gets a book deal as when they do. Well, I haven’t yet experienced the excitement of a book deal for myself, but I was over the moon when Flux acquired NOTHING BUT SKY. See, I was privileged to read an early draft of the manuscript (can I squee a bit because this is the first time my name appears in the acknowledgements??), so I’ve been cheering it on for a very long time. And now it’s a real, live book! Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read the finished version, which is so amazing I can’t even express how much I love it.

NOTHING BUT SKY comes out next week, and I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner. But first, here’s the gorgeous cover and description, followed by Amy’s answers to five questions about what I love most.

Eighteen-year-old Grace Lafferty only feels alive when she’s dangling 500 feet above the ground. As a post-World War I wing walker, Grace is determined to get to the World Aviation Expo, proving her team’s worth against flashier competitors and earning a coveted Hollywood contract.

No one’s ever questioned Grace’s ambition until Henry Patton, a mechanic with plenty of scars from the battlefield, joins her barnstorming team. With each new death-defying trick, Henry pushes Grace to consider her reasons for being a daredevil. Annoyed with Henry’s constant interference, and her growing attraction to him, Grace continues to test the powers of the sky.

After one of her risky maneuvers saves a pilot’s life, a Hollywood studio offers Grace a chance to perform at the Expo. She jumps at the opportunity to secure her future. But when a stunt goes wrong, Grace must decide whether Henry, and her life, are worth risking for one final trick.

And here are the questions for Amy.

1. Until I read NOTHING BUT SKY, I had no idea crowds flocked to watch wing walkers in the 1920s, but I loved learning about it. What inspired you to write about a young female wing walker?

In the summer of 2013, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Tethered to the ceiling of the museum was a biplane with a mannequin hanging off the wing. I was instantly intrigued and went in for a closer look. A placard next to the plane detailed the life of a wing walker by the name of Ethel Dare. In that moment, I knew I needed to learn more about her. Later that evening, I started doing research and discovered that Ethel was one of a handful of brave women who soared through the skies and the idea for NOTHING BUT SKY was born.

2. Following up on the first question, from the first page, I read about Grace’s stunts with my mouth half hanging open. By the time I reached her last stunt, I couldn’t even believe someone would attempt such a thing. Are these real stunts wing walkers performed? How did you research them?

In almost all editorial stages of this book someone questioned me about the stunts Grace performs. All of them came from research I did via historical photos or actual footage I watched on YouTube. From the car-to-plane transfer to the “Showstopper,” these were real stunts these women performed, many times without a parachute to keep them from falling to their death.

Wow. I watched the videos of wing walker Lillian Boyer with my family. We couldn’t believe it.

3. The historical setting is so rich, with tidbits about popular music and film, fashion, the economy, and daily life sprinkled into the narrative. Did you have a particular strategy for balancing the history with the story, or did that come fairly naturally?

Thank goodness for edits. The first draft of this book lacked a lot of important elements of setting and historical detail. At first, I just wanted to get the story down. In the following edits and revisions, I would layer in slang, real-life historical figures, music, as well as clothing. Including all these elements wasn’t easy. Many days writing this book felt like slowly putting together a thousand-piece puzzle.

4. I love how the romance develops in the story, with both Grace and Henry growing together. Were they an easy couple to write, or did they give you trouble the way they give each other trouble in the story?

I wish I could say Grace and Henry’s relationship came easy but writing romance is HARD! I learned that there is a delicate balance between building character arcs and allowing your characters to slowly open up to each other. In the first few drafts, Grace was really tough on Henry. It took a lot of comments from CPs to make me realize she could still be vulnerable even if she was a strong, brave woman.

5. I love it when I find a title in the text of a novel: “My only wish was to be back on the wing with the wind in my face and nothing but sky for company.” Was the title an easy choice, or did you struggle with choosing the perfect title?

That line was in the original draft. The minute I wrote it I knew it was going to be the title. Thankfully, my editor and publisher both agreed it was a perfect fit for the book.

Thank you, Amy!!

Now on to the giveaway. I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, North America only, please. You can enter by commenting below. Tell me what excites you about NOTHING BUT SKY :). And if you want the opportunity for extra entries, click on the Rafflecopter link below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Writing

Quick Drafting Tip: Make It Your First Priority

Hello, friends!

I opened up my blog today and realized I hadn’t posted since mid-February. Tragic!

However, it’s because I’ve been faithfully drafting as promised, and I’m up to 32,ooo words. I’ve set my target for 75,000 words, so that means I’m at about 43 percent. I feel pretty good about this as according to my outline, I’m three scenes away from the midpoint, so it looks like I’m on target. Of course, I won’t necessarily end up right at 75,000 words. I input it as my target for my last MS and ended up with a very short draft, but I think that had to do with writing in reverse. After my Pitch Wars revision, during which I added several scenes, it was 70,000 words.

Enough rambling, though. The reason I decided to post today was to give a quick tip about how I’m surviving the drafting stage. (Sorry to those of you who fall on the love-drafting, hate-revising side of the spectrum.) I mentioned in my previous post that I put an end date in Scrivener, and it then calculated how many words I have to write each day to finish. It comes out to about 1,800 words a day.

Really, it’s simple.

Drafting is my main priority, and I’m not allowed to do anything else until Scrivener dings that my project session target has been reached.

Which means:

 

 

 

 

For me the worst offender is Twitter. I can’t even open it until I’ve finished drafting for the day. So for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I’m not tweeting as much lately. It’s especially hard on a day like today, when there’s #PitMad going on. I didn’t make an exception. I scheduled all my pitches yesterday and waited to check on them until I finished drafting.

And to make sure I’m not tempted by notifications popping up on my phone, I turn it face-down on my desk.

The only break I allow myself is checking my email, but unless it’s something urgent or left over from the day before, I write it on my to-do list to handle after drafting is finished for the day.

Anyway, that’s how I get through drafting each day, and by mid-April, I will reach the end of this draft and go celebrate with a super-sized cupcake or some other delicious treat.

How do you survive drafting? Or are you one of those weird people who loves it?

Writing

It’s Drafting Time!

A few weeks ago I posted that I would start drafting my new project on Monday, Feb. 12, and I wanted to report that I have, indeed, started drafting. Anyone who’s been following my blog for a while knows this is my least favorite part of the writing process. I would much rather be revising words already on the page than staring at a blank one. However, I have plotted this project out in quite a bit of detail, so I expect to keep drafting at a steady pace.

I drafted my last manuscript, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, completely in reverse. I started with the first last chapter and worked backward. I really liked that process and thought I would do the same with this new project. However, as I was plotting I found myself jumping around, throwing in a scene here and a scene there. So far I am drafting from the beginning, but it’s possible I will jump around a bit. That’s the beauty of Scrivener. Since I already have my scenes/sequels all planned out, I can pop from one scene to another.

Everyone has a different drafting style and mine isn’t even the same every time, but for those of you who are interested, here’s my approach this time.

1. I outlined in Scrivener using K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL as a guide. She has a couple of posts on her website explaining how to do this, but she does much more extensive outlining than me. I basically make sure I’ve included all the major plot points, and then add the scenes in between. (There are more scenes under several of these flags that you can’t see.)

2. I follow Ms. Weiland’s scene/sequel structure. You may notice that of the scenes you can see, there is always an even number. That’s because there is a scene and then a sequel. I make a note card for each one.

These scenes and sequels have nothing to do with chapters. I don’t worry about chapters until I’m finished drafting. Sometimes they work great for chapter breaks. Other times I end up combining scenes/sequels into a single chapter and/or breaking up a scene into two chapters. It’s all about where the best break is to keep a reader intrigued.

3. After I finish deciding my major plot points and filling in all the scenes and sequels, I set my drafting goals. I do a modified fast-draft, meaning I set myself a deadline and draft a certain amount of words each day no matter what. In Scrivener, I select Project, then Show Project Targets. There are two sets of targets–the session target (each day) and the draft target (overall). I’ve set my draft target for April 12. Under Session Target, you can choose which days of the week you plan to write. In my case, I only write during the week while my kids are at school. Then I click OK and set my overall manuscript target. Each day, it automatically adjusts my session target depending on how many words I write.

4. I start drafting! As you can see above, I’ve drafted two days and went a little over today :). I’m not 100 percent tied to my outline. I have some empty scene/sequel note cards at the bottom of my Scrivener file in case I decide there’s something else that needs to happen. There’s also the possibility I’ll get into it and something I’ve planned no longer makes sense. But having this road map gives me direction. I feel so much more confident drafting with an outline than I did when I used to draft with no idea where I was going.

I’m excited to be working on something new. What’s your drafting strategy? Do you work with an outline or wing it?

 

 

Character, NetGalley, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS by Tiffany Schmidt

I recently joined NetGalley and was thrilled to be approved for my first ARCs of books coming out later this spring. One of those books was BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS by Tiffany Schmidt. I’d already heard about it somewhere else, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where. In any case, as soon as I read the description, I was sure I would love this book, and I was right.

Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany SchmidtBoys are so much better in books. 

At least according to Merrilee Campbell, 15, who thinks real-life chivalry is dead and there’d be nothing more romantic than having a guy woo her like the heroes in classic stories. Then she, her best friend, Eliza, and her younger sister, Rory, transfer to Reginald R. Hero Prep–where all the boys look like they’ve stepped off the pages of a romance novel. Merri can hardly walk across the quad without running into someone who reminds her of Romeo.

When the brooding and complicated Monroe Stratford scales Merri’s trellis in an effort to make her his, she thinks she might be Juliet incarnate. But as she works her way through her literature curriculum under the guidance of an enigmatic teacher, Merri’s tale begins to unfold in ways she couldn’t have imagined. Merri soon realizes that only she is in charge of her story. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that first impressions can be deceiving…

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I love the premise of living out the story of a classic book, and I thought Ms. Schmidt executed it very well. I was a bit leery of the Romeo and Juliet story line, but then I fall into the category of that not being a favorite despite loving Shakespeare in general. However, as the story progressed, I was satisfied. And then came Pride and Prejudice, made even more perfect by the fact that Merri was reading it as she experienced it and so didn’t already know what to expect. So well done!

2. The hint of magic – Maybe some readers would find it cheesy, but I thought there was just the right amount of magic in the story, leaving me wondering how much the characters themselves directed and how much was magic.

3. The friendships – A delightful cast of characters surrounded Merri, but I especially enjoyed her two best friends and her struggle to balance them. On top of feeling torn between the two friends, there was the added tension of her boy best friend having feelings for her that she had to delicately rebuff. I liked the way it was handled on all fronts.

4. Merri’s growth – Just as Pride and Prejudice is about Elizabeth learning to see many people in her world differently, Merri has to realize her prejudices toward certain characters are either unwarranted or skewed. It was nice that the similarities weren’t just in the romance.

5. The romance – I mean, since I mentioned the romance, I have to bring it up. I loved how it developed, particularly since Merri starts out longing for a romance and learning she doesn’t necessarily want the sort of romance you read in a book.

BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS releases May 1, and I highly recommend you pick it up!