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?

PitchWars, Writing

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Aesthetics

In the days leading up to Pitch Wars, mentees posted various novel aesthetics on Twitter, and I thought it would be fun to compile them all here on my blog.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my idea for this manuscript started with the setting in the middle of the novel. We were on our annual family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer (2016), and I looked over and spotted this abandoned house. My writer brain started asking all these questions about it, and of course I took pictures. That was my first novel aesthetic for what would become YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

I knew I wanted my characters to be siblings, a sister and brother. I had come up with a somewhat sketchy plot, and then in September 2016 I attended a daylong Girl Scout event with my daughter, who was a Daisy at the time. Now, I should mention that I am not a fan of the outdoors, and this event involved all sorts of outdoor activities. So when the next event was canoeing and they said they needed a parent volunteer to stay in the knife safety pavilion while troops came through for the demonstration, I jumped at it. There were two teen Girl Scouts leading the demonstration. I helped out for an hour and was privileged to listen to these girls, both of whom were Girl Scout Ambassadors. I asked them questions in between troops, learning about what it meant to be a teen Girl Scout and how rare it is for girls to stick with it.

My main character, Dora, is modeled after one of these girls, although of course I didn’t take any pictures of her. Instead I searched the internet for a photo to stick in my character file. Then I searched out pictures of the other characters who feature prominently: Dora’s brother, Sam; the love interest, Jay; Dora’s best friend, Wren; and, of course, the babysitter, Marie. I love how her picture looks like a mug shot–or maybe a passport photo since they won’t let you smile anymore.

Dora
Sam
Jay
Wren
Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally made a novel aesthetic ages ago, I thought about the images that are most associated with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, and the two objects that are always mentioned in my pitch are Dora’s fishing knife (the murder weapon) and the downstairs freezer (where they stuff Marie’s body in a panic), so it’s appropriate to include those in any photo representation of my manuscript. But even before those two objects come into play, there’s the matter of an ill-advised text Dora sends.

There was a prompt during the Pitch Wars countdown to show your opening scene. My novel opens with Dora working as a roller-skating carhop at the Cosmic Diner, which is loosely modeled after Sonic. She has an encounter with her ex that involves a blue raspberry slushy and his lap …

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a call for the final scene, but considering my novel has quite a few twists, I’m not willing to give that away :).

Do you have any stories behind your novel aesthetics? I love looking through them. It’s so wonderful to get a glimpse inside everyone’s story world.

Character, Writing

What I Learned Re-Reading the First Manuscript I Queried

I’m going to be completely honest here. I’m not really referring to the first manuscript I ever queried. Because that one was ten years ago, and it was this crazy adult time-travel Christian romance that I didn’t even let anyone read before I queried it (I know! Rookie move!). I had no idea what I was doing, and so I don’t consider that for real. What I’m talking about here is one you can see here on my blog–THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES.

I wrote this book like seven (or eight?) years ago now, and I started querying it on July 11, 2011. So when you see those milestone posts on my blog about how many years I’ve been querying, it’s this manuscript that started it all. The reason I’m re-reading it is because I’ve decided to self-publish a copy as a Christmas gift for my nine-year-old. I mean, it’s officially shelved for any real publishing purposes, but my son will love it.

I thought it would be interesting to share what I learned about my growth as a writer while reading this old manuscript. Overall, I still thought the story was fun, and I got a lot of things right, but the issues I spotted are issues many new writers encounter, even with the help of critique partners and beta readers. For most writers, it just takes time to learn the craft and trust your gut enough do what’s right for your manuscript (you’ll understand what I mean by that second part when you get to point number four). And for the lucky few who get published on that first manuscript, I salute you!

1. I hardly used any interiority.

There are action beats and dialogue tags, but if I really wanted to whip this manuscript into shape, I’d add a lot more thought from my main character. There’s some interiority (and if you don’t understand what I mean by that, check out Mary Kole’s post here), but I wanted so much more emotion and explanation from him.

2. So many questions!

When my main character does have interiority, he’s constantly asking questions. It’s okay to use questions sometimes, but in general it’s better to rephrase them into statements. They’re stronger and more active.

3. The story is so plot-focused there’s not much depth to the characters.

This goes along with the first point but also applies to the supporting characters. I gave each of the characters one or two things. The main character has an anger management problem. His sister is brainy. His best friend is bubbly and supportive. But other than that? There’s not much. I could’ve done so much more with it.

4. The early chapters are rushed.

I did some minor edits to the manuscript as I read through it–nothing major, just cleaning it up as I went. When I got to chapter six, I felt like the story had skipped way ahead. And I know why. I was new to working with readers for this manuscript, and the critique I received was to ruthlessly cut five chapters.

So, here’s the thing about that critique. I was new to critiques, and it sounded like good advice. In all actuality, the sentiment behind it–that I was starting in the wrong place and my pacing in the early chapters was too slow–was valid. However, in retrospect, just all-out cutting those chapters was not the right thing to do. As a more experienced writer, I’ve learned how to accept a critique, examine what the actual problem is, and find the right solution for my manuscript. Sometimes it’s exactly what the other writer has suggested, but often it’s an entirely different solution that I come up with–because I know my manuscript better than anyone. But as a new writer I didn’t understand that, and this manuscript suffered as a result. It wasn’t that other writer’s fault. She spotted the problem. I just didn’t apply the critique correctly.

My point with this is not to ignore critiques, just to incorporate them in a way that’s right for your manuscript. Because when it comes to pacing and story structure, you need to ensure your story makes sense and the reader feels grounded. As for my son? I’m sure he’ll just go with it :).

5. There’s too much summarizing.

There are a lot of passages where I summarize what happens instead of actively showing it, and that takes away from the experience. It still gets the point across, but I know it can be so much better. I think this is another area where as a more experienced writer I can tell the difference between when I should tell vs. when I should show.

6. Who’s talking??

This manuscript features three kids on an adventure, and in an effort to avoid too many saids, I apparently just deleted a bunch of dialogue tags. But as I was reading through, there were several times I wondered which character was supposed to be talking. If there are more than two characters, you need something, whether it’s a dialogue tag, an action beat, or an internal thought to signify who’s speaking. Even when I did have beats or tags, they were often after the dialogue when they should have been before. I did a lot of shifting for those. There’s not a set formula for this, but it does need to be clear who’s talking. I just try to find a good balance of tags, beats, and thoughts in a conversation.

Could I go back and fix these issues if I really wanted to? Sure. But as fun as it was to go back and read this manuscript, I don’t have any passion for it anymore, and that’s a necessary ingredient to whip a project into shape. So for now, I will just anticipate the joy on my son’s face when he opens his present.

Have you ever gone back and read your first project? If so, what did you learn about how your writing has improved?

Giveaways, Interviews, PitchWars, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: CATALYST & FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

As promised, today I’m featuring an interview with the second of my Pitch Wars mentors, Kristin Smith. Her debut, CATALYST, came out in 2016, followed by the sequel, FORGOTTEN, just last month. I’m thrilled to be giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding swag–signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet! Here’s the description of the first book to whet your appetite.

Catalyst by Kristin SmithIn a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

And here are Kristin’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most–in this case, about both books :).

1. The premise for this series is so cool (and a bit scary)! A society where the rich genetically modify their children? Where did you come up with the idea?

Why, thank you! 🙂 The spark of the idea came in the form of a vivid dream. This idea then led to a lot of what if questions. What if there was a society of people who were matched according to their genetics? Then taking that a step further, what if these people were genetically modified and matched according to their genetics? What would a society like this look like? What might be some challenges for a society like this? And through this, the idea for CATALYST was born.

2. I love how it’s set in a futuristic Las Vegas. The gritty city and surrounding desert, then the new setting of Pacifica (a futuristic L.A.?), are so well drawn. How did you research? How did you decide what to keep from the present and what to change?

I lived for a short time in Las Vegas so I’m very familiar with the area, which really helped when writing CATALYST. And yes, even though it isn’t specifically mentioned, I do picture the Capital of Pacifica (Rubex) as a futuristic L.A. area. I’ve been to L.A. and up and down the Pacific coast, so it wasn’t too hard to draw on personal experience, like how cold the ocean water is no matter what time of year.

I did take some liberties when it came to buildings and structures that may or may not exist in 100-120 years. I think that was the most interesting thing about writing a story set in the near future. I was able to play around with things like architecture and buildings, while staying true to landscape and landforms like mountains, oceans, and deserts that shouldn’t change too much over time. It was a good balance between research and imagination.

3. There are so many twists in these books. Do you have a strategy for planting twists, particularly across a series?  

Um, I wish I could say that I have this magical formula, but the truth is, I really don’t. I generally know the direction the book or series is going, but sometimes I even surprise myself. If there’s a big twist (or several), then during the revision stage, I go through and make sure there have been enough clues sprinkled in so it doesn’t feel too farfetched. I’m a firm believer in the saying that “books are not written, but rewritten.” I do like to keep my reader always guessing.

The other key thing for this series is the backstory, which the reader doesn’t really know much about until the 2nd book, FORGOTTEN. I had to fully flesh out characters we don’t see or know that much about in order to be able to do these twists. I think that’s what made this story such a big undertaking. I couldn’t truly delve into Sienna’s story until I had completely fleshed out her dad’s story, which is what leads the reader to a lot of questions and a lot of twists.

4. The boys! You have two strong love interests with Zane and Trey, and I don’t even know whose team I’m on. I was leaning one way after CATALYST, and FORGOTTEN tipped me the other direction. Did you start writing the series with a clear ending in mind for the love story? Any suggestions on writing an effective love triangle?

Ahh, this is such a great question! When I first started writing the series, there was no question in my mind who Sienna would end up with. But now, I’m not so sure. They are both incredible guys, each with their own strengths, and Sienna loves them both in different ways. And I think that’s the key to an effective love triangle. Each love interest must stand on his own, meaning, each one should offer her something different. Perhaps in one the MC finds adventure and security, but the other provides compassion and companionship.

In addition, a good love triangle should be about more than just the three characters trapped in the triangle. It shouldn’t be a plot in and of itself. But when you can weave it into a story that has bigger stakes, then I think you’re on the road to creating a successful love triangle.

5. In FORGOTTEN, you tell the story from both Sienna and Zane’s viewpoints. What tips do you have for writing from two different POVs?

Don’t screw it up! Lol. No, really, I think it’s all about finding the voice of your characters. It requires you to dig deep and really get to know your characters better. Sienna was easy because I already knew her voice. Zane was a bit trickier because A) I had to tap into a male voice and B) I had to tap into the voice of a guy who has been bred since birth to be this poster child for his father’s genetic modification company. He’s well-bred, well-spoken, and well-rounded.

I would suggest doing character sketches or character interviews to really get a feel for the mind of your character. It may take rewriting chapters if you find your voice drifting. The main thing is to stay true to your character.

Thank you, Kristin!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet. United States only, please. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a19/?