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!

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!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE by Morgan Matson

Happy New Year!

I finished reading my first book of 2018, and I loved it! I’ve had SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE by Morgan Matson on my to-read list forever (it came out in 2014), so I was excited to snag a copy on my annual trek to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. Here’s the description.

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan MatsonThe Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell. But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend.

Apple Picking at Night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um…

 

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendships – Really this novel is all about friendship in its various forms–girl friendships, girl/guy friendships, guy friendships. And then it’s about the more specific friendships Emily forms with Sloane, Frank, Dawn, and even goofy Collins. I loved how unique and complicated each of these relationships were.

2. The list – The list Sloane leaves for Emily is both fun and scary, as you can see just from the few listed in the description. As a teenager, I would have said a resounding “Nope!” to a few of them. However, I completely bought into Emily’s reasoning for pursuing the list, despite it seeming to go against her personality.

3. Emily’s growth – Tying in with the previous point, I loved how Emily grew during the story and discovered who she was without Sloane.

4. The tension – There was so much tension threading through this story. From the growing romantic tension to the increasingly unanswered questions about Sloane, I found it completely gripping.

5. The flashbacks – It’s tricky to get flashbacks right, but they’re very well-done in this novel. Every snippet gave the reader another glimpse into Emily and Sloane’s story, another clue either to why Sloane might have left or why she’d suggested a particular item for the list.

I thoroughly enjoyed SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE and will definitely be checking out other books by Morgan Matson. I’m open to suggestions on what I should read next!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LUCKY IN LOVE by Kasie West

It’s no secret I love Kasie West’s books. They’ve consistently been among my favorite reads in previous years. I haven’t really thought about my list for 2017 yet (although I should start!), but there’s a good chance this latest book will be included. LUCKY IN LOVE is a complete delight. Without any further ado, here’s the cover and description.

Lucky in Love by Kasie WestMaddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The dialogue – I love the interaction between Maddie and Seth. It’s so adorable I had to re-read it sometimes. Here’s an example.

Seth put his arms out to either side. “Hold the phone, Maddie.”

“Hold the phone? Did you really just say that?”

“I did, and I’m owning it.”

“You can have it. It’s up for grabs from where it was left in nineteen seventy.”

“People have used it more recently than nineteen seventy.”

“I’d like recorded proof of that.”

2. The premise – I mean, what would you do if you won the lottery? I really liked how Kasie West handled it. There’s a range of reactions from those around Maddie, from those who who are clearly just after her money to those who seem unphased by her improved financial situation. I thought it was all very realistic.

3. Maddie’s family – I thought the portrayal of Maddie’s family was also quite authentic. I’m biting my tongue here because there’s something I really want to say about how the lottery affects the family, but I’ll just let you all read it, and I’m sure it will be obvious to you.

4. Maddie’s facts – I love how Maddie collects facts. It’s such a cute trait that singles her out. Maybe it also has to do with me liking interesting facts …

5. Maddie’s growth – I liked how Maddie figured herself out in the course of the story. She started out very influenced by everyone around her and had to discover who she was and what she wanted.

So, basically, another fantastic Kasie West novel. Go grab it!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: NIGHTFALL by Shannon Messenger

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on the blog. My life has been a little consumed by Pitch Wars, and I now have my manuscript out in agents’ hands, awaiting their verdicts. But I did pre-order the Barnes & Noble special edition of Shannon Messenger’s NIGHTFALL, the latest installment in her Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so I thought that would be the perfect book to jump back in with a review.

If you haven’t read the first five books in this series, you should stop reading now! Even the description for this book includes spoilers for the previous books, as will my review.

Okay, if you’re still here, on to the description.

Nightfall by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster is struggling. Grieving. Scrambling. But she knows one thing: she will not be defeated.

The Neverseen have had their victories—but the battle is far from over. It’s time to change tactics. Make sacrifices. Reexamine everything. Maybe even time for Sophie to trust her enemies.

All paths lead to Nightfall—an ominous door to an even more ominous place—and Sophie and her friends strike a dangerous bargain to get there. But nothing can prepare them for what they discover. The problems they’re facing stretch deep into their history. And with time running out, and mistakes catching up with them, Sophie and her allies must join forces in ways they never have before.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The crushes – Okay, so I am way too involved in the love lives of these fifteen and sixteen-year-olds. In fact, my nine-year-old and I got into an argument about which team we were on. (Yes, there are teams.) But that being said, I love how well Shannon Messenger portrays the confusing emotions Sophie feels toward the boys and how she sorts through them. It’s so authentic and how I remember feeling at that age. And if you’re wondering, yes, even though the characters have gotten older, the romance part still sits firmly in middle grade.

2. The twists – NIGHTFALL is the sixth book in this series and so you’d think Ms. Messenger wouldn’t be able to keep surprising readers, but she continues to come up with new twists in every installment. I was pleased with the new turns in this latest book, and I can’t wait to see what she does in book seven and (maybe?) eight.

3. The special bonus – I ordered the Barnes & Noble special edition in order to get the bonus section from Keefe’s point of view, and it was so worth it! Granted, Keefe is basically my favorite character aside from Sophie, but I loved how it showed a different side of him.

4. Amy – I loved that Sophie’s human sister was a part of this book and how Sophie’s relationship with her added another layer to her character. It was fun seeing the elvin world through her eyes.

5. Ro – The ogre princess is an awesome addition to the cast of characters. She’s hilarious and also brings a new dimension of understanding to a species the elves have only seen a certain way up to now. Love her!

Every year I’m dying for the next book, and then as soon as I finish it I wish I could somehow force myself to wait longer so I wouldn’t be anxious for the next one as soon as I finish. Because, of course, this book ended with another cliffhanger. Although it wasn’t as bad as the end of NEVERSEEN. I might never forgive Shannon Messenger for that one :). Okay, I do forgive her since she fixed it in LODESTAR, but still. I have a total love-hate relationship with cliffhangers.

What about you? Have you read NIGHTFALL yet? What did you think?