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?

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/?

Giveaways, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review & Giveaway: FOLLOW ME BACK by A.V. Geiger

A couple of weeks ago I won a giveaway for A.V. Geiger’s FOLLOW ME BACK, and as I just read the book in a day, I think it merits a review. Also, for some reason they sent me two copies, plus swag, so I’m doing a giveaway! Details are at the end of the review.

Follow Me Back by A.V. GeigerAgoraphobic fangirl Tessa Hart doesn’t dare tell a soul about the traumatic incident that caused her to drop out of a prestigious summer program, the month after high school graduation. Instead she spends her days immersed in the online fandom of her pop star obsession, Eric Thorn. She knows it sounds crazy, but he’s the only one who seems to understand her, even love her…

That’s what he says over Twitter anyway: that he loves each and every fan. But the truth is he’s terrified of them. Ever since a super-fan murdered the lead singer of British boy band Fourth Dimension, he can’t shake the feeling he’s next. Murderous fangirls may be one in a million, but with 14 million Twitter followers, the odds aren’t in his favor.

When a plan to alienate his fans instead leads Eric to befriend @TessaHeartsEric via a fake Twitter account, the two form a bond that neither could have imagined. For Eric, Tessa is the one honest voice in a sea of fakery. For Tessa, her mysterious online friend might just give her the courage to let go of her traumatic past and untangle herself from the world of online fandom and celebrity obsession. But this is no fan-fiction fairytale come to life. Dark secrets from Tessa’s past surface, and the fanatics in Eric’s fandom get a little too close for comfort. When the two arrange to meet IRL, fake identities are revealed and what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish, turns deadly.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The unique storytelling format – The story is told through a combination of police transcripts, Twitter DMs, and traditional narrative. They’re woven together perfectly, so that you’re given just enough information in the present to wonder what happened in the past before you read about it. And with this being a thriller, that’s no easy task!

2. The pacing – While I alluded to pacing above, it’s worth breaking out as its own point. I did not want to put this book down. With every chapter, there was something new revealed, some new piece of information that kept me anxious to read on and discover either what was about to happen in the present or what had happened in the past.

3. The romance – I loved how the relationship developed between Tessa and Eric, even if she didn’t know who he was. In general I like the trope of characters who fall in love from a distance, and I appreciated how it wasn’t all smooth sailing, with misunderstandings that had to be worked out.

4. The twists – I said “What!” out loud more than once reading this book. Not every twist caught me by surprise, but there were a couple, and I love it when that happens. Well done!

5. The ending – Whoa! That’s really all I want to say about it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I am now dying to read the next book in this series. It’s the kind of situation where I hate that I read the book right when it came out because now I have to wait a whole year :(.

To win FOLLOW ME BACK, plus a tote and bookmark, click on the Raffelcopter link below. North America only, please. The giveaway will be open until Aug. 2. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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!

Revising, Writing, Writing in Reverse

Writing in Reverse: The First Draft Read-Through

When I finished drafting this manuscript in November, I said I intended to let it sit until after Thanksgiving. That plan changed drastically when I received an R&R (revise and resubmit) on another manuscript the same day I wrote that post. I think it came about an hour later. Talk about timing! I don’t know what will happen with that project, but I do know the longer you let a draft sit, the better.

So, instead of a few weeks, this manuscript stewed for more than ten weeks. I finished re-reading it yesterday, and I’m very pleased with what I have to work with as a first draft. It’s by no means ready to send off to readers, but I expect it won’t take me long to get it there, and I’m giving credit to two things: writing in reverse and advance planning. Here are a few things I noticed in my first draft read-through.

The first chapter still needed work. I said before that I hoped writing in reverse would making writing my first chapter easier, and it did in many ways, but from the first words, I was still mentally polishing it up. I’m not sure it’s possible to nail a first chapter in a first draft, no matter how you approach it. I do think, however, that I started the story in the right place this time. Of course, that’s ultimately up to my readers to tell me :).

The pacing feels on target. As I was reading, I felt like the pacing moved along well. In the past, I had a tendency to start meandering around the middle (is that just me??). But writing in reverse, I was always looking at what had to happen right before that scene to get there, so there’s nothing extraneous. If anything, there are a couple of scenes that might be a bit abrupt and I need to add.

I will be killing many darlings. I mentioned in my 25,000 words from the end post that I’d decided to add a twist I hadn’t planned for in one of the early chapters. Reading through again, I know this twist is the right call for the story as it will greatly increase the tension throughout. However, when I got to the later part of the story where it wasn’t incorporated, there were so many great lines that I now won’t be able to use. So I guess that’s a downside to writing in reverse, since if you’re writing forward, a later twist might not affect what you’d written earlier. But it’s ok. If I managed to write such fun dialogue how it was originally, I’m sure I can switch it around to accommodate this change :).

Overall, my first draft read-through left me feeling very pleased with the results of writing in reverse. I will definitely be using this strategy to draft my next project as well. Now on to the revisions!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS by James Riley

Before I get started with my MMGM post–yay!–there’s still time to enter my giveaway for signed paperbacks of MarcyKate Connolly’s MONSTROUS and Trisha Leaver’s THE SECRETS WE KEEP. Visit my 4th blogiversary post for details. Fun statistic: many of my most popular posts are MMGM reviews!

A few weeks ago I posted about The Joy of Reading Alongside Your Child. I mentioned that when my son and I both finished reading STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS, I might let him help me review the book. It’s a little hard to nail down what an eight-year-old loved so much about a book, but I managed to pull his five favorite things out of him. First, though, I’d better give the description. If you haven’t read the first book, this description includes spoilers, so STOP NOW.

Still reading? Okay …

Story Thieves: The Stolen Chapters by James RileyOwen Conners would never jump into a mystery. There are too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming. Mysteries are just not Owen’s thing. So how exactly did he end up in one with his memory erased? And that’s far from the only question.

How did Kiel Gnomenfoot, boy magician, lose all of his magic? Where’s Bethany, their half-fictional friend? And who’s the annoying guy wearing the question mark mask and Sherlock Holmes hat, taunting Owen and Kiel that Bethany is in grave danger?

Bethany is trapped in a hidden room that’s slowly filling with water, and she can’t escape until her friends find her. But is she imprisoned by more than just chains and a locked door? What’s she hiding from Owen and Kiel?

Maybe some mysteries just shouldn’t be solved…

Here are the five things my son loved most–and you’re going to notice a trend :).

1. Moira – Moira is a new character in this book, and she’s a hilarious criminal genius who has awesome plans and says the funniest things. My son and I agreed on this one, especially her names for Kiel and Owen.

“Wake up!” the girl said. “I think I lost you there. Did you faint? You fainted, didn’t you. You stared at me for a second, then looked like you had to go to the bathroom. Kind of like a koala, weirdly. Is this normal for you?”

Kiel put a hand up to his cheek, which throbbed where she’d slapped him. “Not even a little bit.”

“Then follow the plan, my magical koala.”

Or, for Owen:

Something grabbed him from behind and yanked him backward. “Whoa there, killer,” the girl in black said. “Going somewhere? You’re not an owl, Owen. Mostly you look more like an adorable panda who’s always sad. Sad Panda.”

Owen tried to answer, but he couldn’t get a word out, or catch his breath even. “I … I …”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, SP,” the girl said, putting an arm around him.

She’s completely crazy and wonderful at the same time!

2. Characters in general – Per my son: They’re all great people and they’re fun. Side note: he tried to get me to talk about the character he didn’t like, but it would have been a spoiler, so I nixed it :).

3. Kiel – He’s awesome at fighting, always takes a chance, and never gives up. These were my son’s words exactly, and I can’t argue with him listing Kiel as one of his five favorite things about the book, since he was one of my favorites about the original STORY THIEVES!

(See what I mean about a trend? His first three favorites were all character-related.)

4. The books – My son loved the books they jumped into, like Doomsday on Argon VI, a fictional book Mr. Riley created for Bethany to leap into (if you think this is confusing, wait until you read THE STOLEN CHAPTERS!). He also liked that they didn’t know they were stuck in–oh wait, he’s giving something away with that, so never mind :).

5. Their really great plan – He loved how they thought ahead of what the villain might do. I also don’t want to give anything away here, so I’ll just say that as usual, Mr. Riley is a master at inserting so many twists you find yourself paging back through to figure out how he did that, but sure enough, he planted everything so well it’s astounding. I was pretty proud of my son because there was one thing he caught that I didn’t :).

So those are the five things my son loved best about THE STOLEN CHAPTERS. I think he chose pretty well. I bet we’ll be sharing some reviews again in the future as we read more books together. If there are others you know he’d like based on this one, please pass along those suggestions!

 

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US by Kasie West

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I’ve written a review. But then, I read a few adult books in the past month, and I don’t review those on the blog, so we’ll use that as part of my excuse. Moving on …

After starting a book I really wanted to like and just couldn’t get into, I decided to pull a book out of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale box that I was sure to like because I’ve loved every other book by this author. So today I’m reviewing THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US by Kasie West.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie WestMoney can’t buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted. And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom’s porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise. Enter Xander Spence: he’s tall, handsome, and oozing rich. Despite his charm and the fact that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, Caymen’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

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

1. The humor – I’m partial to sarcastic humor, so the main character in this novel is a perfect fit for me. I was chuckling through the whole thing. Here’s a short snippet when Xander has just asked her what kind of doll to buy for his grandmother.

“I’m partial to the eternal wailers.”

“Excuse me?”

I point to the porcelain version of a baby, his mouth open in a silent cry, his eyes squeezed shut. “I’d rather not see their eyes. Eyes can say so much. Theirs say, ‘I want to steal your soul so don’t turn your back on us.'”

2. The romance – I love the tension in this romance. It was a great mix of internal struggle with Caymen’s built-in rich boy issues and run-ins that kept making each of them second-guess how interested/involved the other person was. I believed neither would be ready to fully commit until the end.

3. The twist – There was a side plot running throughout the story with Caymen’s mom, and I had an inkling of what it was, but even though I figured out part of it, there was still a surprise twist that got me. So well done, Ms. West!

4. The hunt for the future – I wasn’t quite sure how to title this point, but I think a lot of teenagers believe they must have everything figured out by their senior year, and you don’t always know when you head off to college what you want to do with the rest of your life. I liked that these characters were still trying to figure it out.

5. Caymen’s growth – This book says it’s Pride and Prejudice meets Pretty in Pink, and I can see that. Caymen definitely had to get over both her pride and her prejudice in order to be with Xander. Considering where she started out, I wasn’t sure she would!

Well, this was the last book of Kasie West’s I hadn’t yet read. Fortunately she has another one coming out this summer, so I won’t have to wait long for another.