Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

I did not read nearly as much as I thought I would on our trip to Australia, but it’s because I was busy doing things like holding koalas and feeding kangaroos.

Actually, I ticked those off my bucket list on our first day there while visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside Brisbane. I highly recommend the experience if you’re ever in Australia. It was the highlight of the trip, although a close second was singing on the stage of the Sydney Opera House during our backstage tour. Sorry, I don’t know you all quite well enough to post that video here :).

I could share a hundred more pictures, but the purpose of my blog is to share either writing or book reviews, and today I want to talk about the last book that came through on my Kindle during the trip. I didn’t actually read it in Australia, but since I downloaded it there, I felt like that gave me an excuse to share a couple of pictures. Anyway, here is the cover and description for CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The sisters – The relationship at the core of this story is a sisterhood. Their relationship is complicated, and they’re oh-so-different, but at the core is love. It was great to see a novel with a sibling relationship at its center.

2. The descriptions – The writing is just gorgeous. It’s easiest to just give you an example.

The sky was black, the moon visiting some other part of the world, as Scarlett took her first step into Caraval. Only a few rebel stars held posts above, watching as she and Julian crossed the threshold of the wrought-iron gate, into a realm that for some would only ever exist in wild stories.

While the rest of the universe had suddenly gone dark, the grand house blazed with light. Every window shimmered with buttery illumination, turning the flower boxes below into cradles full of stardust. The citrus scent from before was gone. Now the air was syrupy and thick, still much sweeter than the air on Trisda, yet Scarlett only tasted bitter.

3. The romance – I’m a sucker for a rascal of a love interest. It must be all those romance novels I grew up reading. Anyway, I loved how the romance built between the two characters. There was just the right amount of tension.

4. The twists – Wow. It seemed that with every new chapter, a new twist was being revealed. Honestly, I was second-guessing every character–and I LOVED IT! It made complete sense within the world Ms. Garber built. None of the twists were gratuitous. So well done!

5. The pacing – I couldn’t put this book down. I was reading it during my son’s birthday party with a bunch of nine-year-olds running and screaming around my basement, so obviously that classifies it as unputdownable. I think it’s in large part due to what I mentioned about the twists, but also because there was a ticking clock–always a good strategy for keeping you reading!

Also, the ending was a perfect teaser for the next book in the series, so I’m anxious to read on. I sort of hate reading the first book in a series when it first comes out for this very reason, but oh well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. If you’ve read CARAVAL, I’d love to discuss it further with you in the comments!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY was one of my favorite reads of 2016, and I also thoroughly enjoyed OUTRUN THE MOON, so I was thrilled when I won a copy of her latest, THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE. Here are the cover and description.

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey LeeAs one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix elixirs that help others fall in love.

All while remaining incurably alone.

For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa dreams of ditching the hermetic life of an aromateur in favor of high school, free time, and a boy to kiss.

When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, she quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice. It’s a calling.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The scents – I don’t think I could talk about this book without mentioning how much I learned about the sense of smell. I can’t even imagine how much research Stacey Lee conducted for this book. Imagine a world where you could read emotions based on how the person smells … well, I suppose that would be both a blessing and a curse. But I certainly found it fascinating to read!

2. The descriptions – Ms. Lee’s descriptions–particularly of the characters–are so evocative and artful. Here are a couple of them that stuck with me after I had finished reading the book.

My own nose–which looks like someone took pliers to Mother’s, tweaked it longer and pinched a bump on the bridge to be funny–doesn’t detect a single wayward molecule, though Mother’s the expert.

Sure, he’s cute, even up close, but overrated-cute. His eyes squint and he has one of those Count Dracula hairlines that, like the economy, is one day headed for a recession.

3. The stakes – On the surface, the stakes in this book might seem more quiet, but to Mim they’re all-important. The contrast between Mim’s calling as an aromateur and her longing for more out of life is so well-drawn. I loved how the tension kept ratcheting up with every choice she made until the stakes became all or nothing.

4. The love clients – Obviously the nature/course of love is a theme in this story, and I enjoyed seeing how it played out with the client Mim and her mother start out with at the beginning of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s super sweet!

5. The resolution – I think it’s a sign of how great the tension in the story was that I was worried it couldn’t end well, but I was satisfied, which is all I can say without giving anything away :).

Have you read THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE yet? If not, go pick it up!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman

I love books–and movies, for that matter–that play with time and space. When I came across the description for TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman, I was intrigued by the premise. How much difference can one decision make? I really liked the way this story explored the question.

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender…

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises… 

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she’s dreamed of going: a land of chocolate croissants, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue—but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can’t hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – I so love a clever title, and you can’t get much more perfect than this one. Because her name is Summer and it’s summertime, so she’s experiencing two summers and there are two Summers in the two realities. Anyway, I’m sure you got it before I explained it :).

2. The descriptions – I loved the descriptions, particularly of France (a country I’d love to visit again), but also of her home town, and the way Ms. Friedman would slip in the slightest hint each reality could be a dream.

The wind rustles the leaves on a lemon tree above us. I feel detached from the table, separate, watching myself having a conversation with this handsome French boy. That can’t be me, I think hazily. It’s another Summer. One who isn’t scared. Over Jacques’s shoulder, I notice a tableful of girls blatantly staring at us, their mouths half open. I totally understand their shock. I share it.

3. The friendship – In both realities, Summer experiences the uncertainty of a changing friendship. It’s much more confrontational in the Hudsonville storyline, but it’s still there in the Provence storyline. On the other hand, there’s another relationship that’s much more prominent in the Provence storyline, but explaining that would give away a major plot point.

4. The romance – There are two very different romances happening in the two storylines, and yet I found them both sweet in their own unique ways. As with the other point, I’m really holding back here so I won’t give anything away.

5. The ending – I loved the ending of this. The story is set up as: here’s what could happen if she goes to France or doesn’t go to France. Certain events happen on certain dates no matter what, and then you get to the end and … well, it’s just brilliantly done. Enough said.

Have you read TWO SUMMERS? What did you think?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee

A couple of weeks ago my critique partner Kip Wilson sent me the lovely gift of a signed copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee. I’d been hearing a lot about this book already from another writer friend of mine, Anna-Marie McLemore (if you haven’t read THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS yet, do it!), so it was already on my to-be-read list. Kip just moved it up! In any case, it’s a fantastic read at any time but especially for Halloween :). Here’s the cover and description.

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi LeeIn 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

And here are the five things I loved best.

1. The re-imagining – It’s not a FRANKENSTEIN retelling. It’s a “here’s how someone would have fictionalized the true story of FRANKENSTEIN in a world where mechanical geniuses could attach clockwork body parts far beyond their time.” Ms. Lee explains the liberties she took even with the FRANKENSTEIN passages to fit her premise, and I loved it! Yes, the original is amazing, but this new twist on it carries its own brilliance.

2. The familiar – Even though it isn’t a traditional retelling, so many of the original themes of FRANKENSTEIN make an appearance in this story. As background, I’ll say that I never read FRANKENSTEIN in school. I picked it up along with several other classics after college, and it was one I especially enjoyed. Mary Shelley effectively makes you empathize with both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. THIS MONSTROUS THING is written entirely from the viewpoint of Alasdair, but it still gives a compelling glimpse into the minds of both characters.

3. Alasdair – I loved Alasdair as a character, with his struggle to reconcile what he’d done and the push and pull of his desires for the future versus what was right. I also appreciated his resistance to who had written FRANKENSTEIN. It’s such a teenage boy response. I’m not spoiling this for anyone, right? Maybe some YA readers won’t know, but it’s not really a secret :).

4. The setting/world building – I enjoyed the world Ms. Lee created, this alternate history where mechanical parts had been integrated to such a degree. Here’s a snippet.

A gasp of December air slapped hard enough that I pulled my coat collar up around my jaw. The sun was starting to sink into the foothills, and the light winking off the muddy snow and copper rooftops turned the street brass. A carriage clattered across the cobblestones, the clop of the horses’ hooves replaced by the mechanical chatter of the gears. I got a faceful of steam as it passed.

5. The resolution – I was quite satisfied with the ending. And no, I’m not going to tell you if it ended the same way as FRANKENSTEIN–which, by the way, if you haven’t read that, you should really read both.

So, I highly recommend you go out and pick up/borrow a copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING. If you’ve already read it, tell me your thoughts in the comments!

 

Critiquing, Revising, Writing

6 Reasons You Should Critique for Others While Revising

Did you miss me? I know I threw that four years of querying post out there and then deserted the blog for a couple of weeks. My family went to the Lake of the Ozarks, and then I had a week of craziness catching up with some deadlines. But I’m back!

So, I’m in the midst of revisions yet again, and I’ve also been doing quite a bit of critiquing. I’ve always felt the best time to critique for others is when you’re revising your own work, and I really thought I’d posted on that before, but I couldn’t find it, so here are six reasons you should critique for others while revising yourself.

1. It helps you think more critically.

As one of my current characters would say: Duh! But here’s the thing: when I go a long stretch without reading anyone else’s work for the purpose of offering feedback (reading for fun doesn’t count), I get out of the habit of looking at it objectively. Yes, as I’m reading that published book, I’ll notice a typo and I might notice if I would have commented on a particular plot point or characterization if I’d been that author’s critique partner, but I’m not reading each page looking for ways to improve the book. When I read for someone else, I’m trying to help him/her make that manuscript shine, and that triggers something in my brain that spills over into my own revisions. No matter how much I put myself in a revision mindset–and I love revising!–I always have better ideas when I’ve been critiquing recently.

2. It convicts you when you have the same issue in your own manuscript.

For some reason, seeing your issue in someone else’s manuscript makes it so much clearer in your own, like a spotlight shining on that particular scene or character weakness. For example, I remember reading for someone and spotting a believability issue that suddenly made me realize I had the same problem in my own MS. It wasn’t even something any of my readers had pointed out yet, but I knew I had to fix because eventually someone would notice and I’d have a hole to repair. Something along the lines of: Why didn’t Character A just ask Character C about this? Ha! We all have one of those at some point, don’t we?

3. It reminds you if you’ve skipped a step in your revision process.

If I’m reading someone else’s manuscript and I notice one of my crutch words/phrases or see an issue with inconsistencies, it reminds me to go through my own manuscript to look for those. Or sometimes to read certain sections aloud again to ensure the voice matches the character. These are all steps I take in my own revision process, but often critiquing reminds me I should do them again for my own.

4. It inspires you to new heights.

I mentioned this in my post on What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Querying, but I have the privilege of working with some pretty amazing CPs and writers at this point in my journey. Several of them are agented, a few have book deals, and I’ve even read for other writers who are published. (Not the books that are published but their other projects that hopefully will be!) So when I read for them, I’m often inspired to take my revisions to a whole other level. I’ll see how Writer A used a particular metaphor that was so perfect for her character and think how I need to apply that to my character or read a particular description and realize I should beef up my own descriptions. So, thank you, friends, for inspiring me!

5. It opens you up to other worlds.

I don’t know about you, but I live in my own little world much of the time. Even with the books I read to keep up with the market, I still lean toward a certain kind of story, so critiquing often leads me to read something I might not have otherwise. That’s a good thing! I need to have my world shaken up every once in a while, to experience some other types of characters who might need to enter my characters’ worlds at some point (maybe not if they’re aliens or dragons, although you never know). It’s broadening to get inside another writer’s head for a while.

6. It keeps you from getting too tied up in your own story.

Perhaps others will disagree with me on this one, but then I did work for a PR agency for ten years, where I jumped between a dozen clients in the same day. I think it’s helpful to escape my characters for a bit each day and see what some others are doing. What are those other voices like? It helps me to ensure mine are still unique and staying true to their story.

So, if you’re in the midst of revising and you’re stuck or even if you aren’t, go ask someone else if you can read for them. It’s a great way to focus your own revisions. At least, it works for me!

Anyone else have thoughts on how critiquing helps you revise?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: MISS MAYHEM by Rachel Hawkins 

I binge-read all of Rachel Hawkins’ books last spring and absolutely loved the Hex Hall series. As a result, I perhaps didn’t give REBEL BELLE as much credit, although I did include it in a round-up of books you should check out. After a year without any new Rachel Hawkins books to read, MISS MAYHEM was a complete delight, so I will give it the full review it deserves. If you haven’t read REBEL BELLE, the following description and review will include spoilers for it, so you should STOP READING NOW.

Still reading? Okay.

MISS MAYHEM by Rachel HawkinsLife is almost back to normal for Harper Price. The Ephors have been silent after their deadly attack at Cotillion months ago, and her best friend Bee has returned after a mysterious disappearance. Now Harper can return her focus to the important things in life: school, canoodling with David, her nemesis-turned-ward-slash-boyfie, and even competing in the Miss Pine Grove pageant.

Unfortunately, supernatural chores are never done. The Ephors have decided they’d rather train David than kill him. The catch: Harper has to come along for the ride, but she can’t stay David’s Paladin unless she undergoes an ancient trial that will either kill her . . . or connect her to David for life.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – Since I didn’t give a full review of the first book, I’ll start with the premise. I liked how it wasn’t the typical Chosen One storyline. Harper didn’t inherit the Paladin powers–they were transferred to her as the previous Paladin died. Also, these books have a definite Buffy vibe. There’s even a Scooby Doo reference in this one :).

2. The voice – I love Rachel Hawkins’ writing in general, but Harper’s voice in particular has a Southern humor to it that is just perfect. Here’s a sample from when she and her friends are at a fair.

“Look, I’d love to tell you I was totally disgusted by the fried food on display, but A) some of those trucks were raising money for various charities and schools, and B) deep-fried Oreos were sent from heaven to prove God loves us.”

Don’t you just get such a great sense of her personality from this one sentence?

3. The descriptions – This goes along with the voice a bit, but I also really love the descriptions of other characters. It’s never just a simple description, which is why I said it goes with the voice, but tells something about Harper, too.

“For all that his eyes were freaking me out, I wished I could see them right now. I could read a lot in his face–the tightness of his mouth told me he was going to be stubborn about this, the tugging at his hair meant he was nervous–but his eyes would’ve told me more. How freaked out he was, for example.”

4. The drama – Oh, the drama! Spoiler alert if you ignored my other one. At the end of the first book, her just-dumped boyfriend absorbed the powers of the Mage, making up the third corner of the triangle with Harper and her new boyfriend, David. Talk about awkward! I loved watching how this played out, particularly as new characters made it into more of a rhombus. The emotions involved were very believable and not over-dramatized at all, despite the fact that I called this point “the drama” :).

5. The ending – So, the ending is the one thing I commented on when I did that round-up that included the first book, and Miss Hawkins has done it again with this one, delivering an ending that completely changes everything in the story world. I have no idea what’s coming in the third book, but I can’t wait to find out! Unfortunately, I picked this book up the week it released, so I’ll have to wait a whole year :(. So it goes.

Have you read MISS MAYHEM yet? Tell me what you thought!

Giveaways, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: I SO DON’T DO MYSTERIES by Barrie Summy with a giveaway!

I promised you all that I would do my first giveaway from my Scholastic Warehouse Sale haul in the New Year, so I’m excited to kick off my first MMGM of 2014 with exactly that. The details are at the bottom of the post.

I picked up I SO DON’T DO MYSTERIES by Barrie Summy completely based on the back cover copy. I hadn’t heard of this series before then.

Sherry (short for Sherlock) Holmes Baldwin is spending spring break in California with her best friend, Junie. She can’t wait to hang out in the sun, hit the mall, and spend time with cutie-pie Josh.

Then … a freaky change of plans. Sherry’s mom, a cop killed in the line of duty, contacts her. Not only is she a ghost, she’s a ghost in danger of flunking out of the Academy of Spirits, and she needs Sherry’s help. Unless she solves an important mystery in San Diego, she’ll be banished to an afterlife for ghost failures!

If Sherry wants to be a normal seventh grader (as in, one who doesn’t communicate with ghosts), she can’t tell anybody about her mom–or what she has to do. Not her brother, not Junie, and especially not Josh. It’s up to Sherry alone to save the day. Except … she SO doesn’t do mysteries.

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

1. The voice – I have to be honest. When I started reading this, I thought Sherry felt a little old for seventh grade. It had to do with the way she talked about her crush. I think this is why 13 is a hard age in middle grade. She’s a teenager, but there’s still a lot of child in her, too. The further I got into the book, the more that unique mix fit perfectly for the age.

2. The family dynamics – The above description doesn’t get into the fact that Sherry didn’t have the best relationship with her mom while she was alive or that her dad is getting remarried to one of her teachers. Aside from the thrill of traveling to solve a mystery, she has to come to grips with a lot of real-life issues. They’re not all resolved in this book, and I’m interested to see how those relationships develop in the rest of the series.

3. The mystery – Of course I have to mention the mystery. I admit I figured a lot of it out in advance, but I’m not sure the majority of readers in the target age group would. It was definitely a unique mystery, and I learned something about rhinos in the process. You’ll just have to read it to find out for yourself.

4. The friendship – Friendship is always a major focus in middle grade, and this book is no exception. Sherry and her best friend are at the age where they’re figuring out who they are now and who they want to be, so that brings up some conflict. I liked the way it was handled.

5. Sherry’s descriptions of people – This ties back to the voice, but I got such a sense of Sherry’s character by the way she described the people she encountered. If she didn’t like them, that was very clear in her description. And if her opinion of someone changed, you saw that, too. I really want to give an example here, but if I do it would give away who the villain is, so I won’t.

On to the giveaway. It’s for a paperback copy of the book. United States and Canada only. To enter, just leave a comment on this post by noon on Sunday, Jan. 19. I’ll announce the winner next Monday, Jan. 20. Good luck!