I received a free Advanced Reader Copy of The Takedown in exchange for an honest review.
Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to. On track to be valedictorian, she’s president of her community club, a debate team champ, plus the yummy Mackenzie Rodriguez has firmly attached himself to her hip. She and her three high-powered best friends don’t just own their senior year at their exclusive Park Slope, Brooklyn high school, they practically define the hated species Popular. Kyla’s even managed to make it through high school completely unscathed.
Until someone takes issue with this arrangement.
A week before college applications are due, a video of Kyla “doing it” with her crush-worthy English teacher is uploaded to her school’s website. It instantly goes viral, but here’s the thing: it’s not Kyla in the video. With time running out, Kyla delves into a world of hackers, haters and creepy stalkers in an attempt to do the impossible-take something off the internet-all while dealing with the fallout from her own karmic footprint. Set in near-future Brooklyn, where privacy is a bygone luxury and every perfect profile masks damning secrets, The Takedown is a stylish, propulsive, and provocative whodunit, asking who would you rely on if your tech turned against you? Excerpt taken from Netgalley.com
As someone who spends too much time blogging and on social media, I was drawn to issues raised in this book: lack of privacy in a connected world and what could go wrong as tech advances make it difficult to tell reality from forgery. The story’s main character, Kyla, is the kind of girl you want to hate, the popular girl that struts down the corridor at the start of school arm in arm with her besties ignoring all around her. But when a forged sex video turns everyone against her, you can’t help but sympathize, and want her to catch her hater.
The feminist story raises several important issues. Why does no one, even her best friends, believe Kyla when she says the video is a fake? Why is the hottest guy in school not called a slut for his serial romances and that thing he can do with his thumb while the Kyla is universally shunned after the video is posted? What are the consequences of not reading those long, tedious disclosure clauses when we sign up on social media sites? Would we be able to take down a video that showed us in an unflattering light from a social media website?
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of The Disappearances in exchange for an honest review.
What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?
When Aila’s mother dies and her father is drafted to fight in World War II, she and her younger brother are sent to live with her mother’s best friend from childhood. Aila has met Mrs. Clifton and her son only twice and arrives at her mother’s rural home town, Sterling, grieving and hoping to hoping to discover what her mother was like when she was young. Instead she finds whispers and mysteries.
Sterling is cursed. Every seven years something disappears. The scents of food and flowers, the ability to see reflections in a mirror or a pane of glass, even dreams. They’ve been gone for years and aren’t returned by crossing the town line. For the inhabitants of Sterling, everyday life comes with a sense of loss over the things that have disappeared and the fear of the next one to go. The only inhabitant of Sterling to ever have escaped the Disappearances was Aila’s mother, which is why most people in town suspect that she caused them.
We received a free copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s TheUrban Settings Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces in exchange for an honest review. Since we’re fans of their Emotion Thesaurus as well as their thesauri of positive and negative character trains, we were excited to dive in. (See our review of the other bookshere.)
The Urban Setting Thesaurus is a wonderful resource for a fiction writer! The bulk of this book and its sister craft book, TheRural Settings Thesaurus, is comprised of two-page entries describing dozens of settings that could pop up in any fiction genre — from a police car to an emergency room, the stands of a sporting event to an art gallery. Each entry provides a wealth of sensory words describing the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even tastes that characterize that setting.
In the recording studio entry, you find sights like vocalists warming up, cords running from instruments to outlets and recording equipment, and the “recording” light to let you know to keep quiet. You hear humming or instruments being played, smell takeout Chinese food or coffee, and feel the snug fit of headphones over your ears. If your scene takes place in a setting you’ve never been to, this thesaurus can help you craft the experience your characters will encounter in a way that will make your story feel more real to your reader.
I’m revising manuscript number five of my not-yet-illustrious writing career. The story is complete, has been read one critique partner and revised, and is ready to go to beta readers. This story has heists, fight scenes and even kissing (new for me since my prior stories were middle grade), and I’m very excited about it. I dream of agents begging me for this manuscript…if they get past the first five pages.
The story’s good, but the start…meh.
With past manuscripts, I’ve polished my first pages. Changed my start from the bus on the way to summer camp (which apparently rates as low as waking up in bed for interest level), to something more active. But I wasn’t looking for small improvements here. I’d really like manuscript five to be “the one,” so I pulled out all the stops on rethinking my first pages. I don’t want okay first pages. I’d settle for good, but not before trying for great.
Can I get to great?
Not sure. I hope so. (The gremlins are whispering probably not even as I write this). But I thought I’d share what I learned by trying.
What had me worried about my opening pages? Critique partners said they were “really close” but not quite there. I tried:
starting just before my main character’s life changed (two different ways),
just after her life changed,
a flash forward to near the climax for the “How did I get here?” effect,
a flashback to the incident that set the chain of events in motion,
the first confrontation with the bully, and
the first confrontation with the other main character/love interest.
I was pretty desperate for a set of first pages that would draw cries of “YES! THIS!” from critique partners and propel the reader into the manuscript. But kept getting the same very kind, sympathetic response. “Really close.”
What did I do wrong? In retrospect, it’s easy to see that some of my starts were destined to fail.
“No action,” said the critique partners.
“Scene 1 is too disconnected to scene 2.”
“What does this scene have to do with the story you pitched in your query?”
I felt in my gut that there was a set of great first pages for this story out there somewhere. There was this one scene, the scene the 2nd or 3rd in the manuscript depending on which first chapter option I was trying at the time, that worked. Critique partners said, “Things really started happening here.” I knew if I could just introduce the main character enough to set up this scene, that I could pull the reader in. But what words would do that, without getting my query slotted into the form reject pile before an agent ever got to that great scene?
I complained to the Pennies, because that’s why you have a writing group, so someone can pat you on the shoulder when you need it, and I found out something interesting. Julie Artz, whose lovely, heartfelt middle grade story I’d read months before, said she’d been through five versions of her first chapter. In fact, each of the first four chapters of her story had at one point been her first chapter. What? I felt like slightly less of a loser for sweating version after version of my first pages after that. Tara Lundmark, who I met at WriteOnCon when looking for more feedback on my pages, said she’d written ten different first pages for one of her stories. Armed with this knowledge, I dropped the angst and decided to just give in to as many rewrites as it took to get it right.
At this point, I’ve written 8 different versions of the start of my story, as well as polishing several versions, including the one currently titled “Chapter 1” in Scrivener. This is what I learned through the process of trying to make the start of my story unputdownable.
1. Don’t Fall in Love with One Set of First Pages.
I was stuck on Version 1 of my first pages for hours even after being told by trusted CP’s they weren’t right. I was stuck on Verion 2 for weeks. I loved the setting and how those pages developed my character. Allowing myself to get stuck on that idea blocked other ideas for how to start the story from flowing. Once I decided to not settle for meh, the ideas flooded in, as demonstrated by the fact that I ended up with 8 different starts. And, really, what’s the harm of trying something different? I wasn’t going to delete those words I loved, just tuck them out of the way. I could always go back to them if my new start wasn’t better.
2. Look to Master Books for Ideas.
Okay, admit it, you laughed at that flashback start. Everyone knows not to start with flashbacks. Except when they work. I was pulling ideas from master books. Both Harry Potter and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo start years earlier in their main characters’ lives. The idea for trying a flash forward came from Twilight and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Flashbacks and flash forwards can be done well, just not by me, at least not for this manuscript. But turning to master texts for ideas is great prep for brainstorming the start of your story.
3. Get Fresh Eyes.
I am blessed with wonderful critique partners who love me even when my words aren’t working. My closest critique partners had been hacking at this story idea with me from the idea stage, seven months before I hit my first pages wall. So when I got stuck, I wasn’t the only one too close to the story to see the pages clearly, they were too. That was stressful! Who do you turn to when that happens?
I found a couple great options: Adventures in YA Publishing holds a monthly first five pages workshop that is fabulous. (We also host our 4 on 400 contest monthly, but I can’t sub to that one!) WriteOnCon hosts an online writing conference with forums for posting your work and exchanging critiques with other writers. If all else fails, you can find a new critique partner. Someone I met on the WriteOnCon Forums asked if I wanted to exchange chapters, and since we’d already critiqued each others’ first five page and her comments were helpful, it was an easy decision. Just what I needed! A new reader who knew nothing about my story and had no worries about disappointing me.
4. Remember that Your First Pages Aren’t Your Only Pages.
I was jealous of Gita Trelease’s gorgeous first pages. They’d been right from soooo early in her revision process. Then, I was reminded that she was sweating her climax. The grass may look greener over by your critique partner’s writing desk, but there are weeds in everyone’s lawn.
Also, eventually you need to let those first pages rest so you can fix up the all the other pages in your manuscript. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there for you to take another look at later.
So, after writing 8 versions of my first pages, workshopping at Adventures in YA Publishing and WriteOnCon, and polishing the final pick, are my first pages unputdownable? Sigh. No. But they’re pretty good. Good enough that I’m going to take my own advice and move onto revising the rest of the story.
Maybe version 9 of my first pages will come to me while I revise.
Or maybe I’ll figure out how to polish this version until it’s unputdownable.
DON’T STOP HERE! If you made it through this post, I bet you’re a writer. And if you’re a writer, you’ve written some first pages and have something to say on this topic. HOW MANY VERSIONS OF FIRST PAGES DID YOU WRITE FOR YOUR WORK IN PROGRESS? WHAT HELPED YOU FIND THE RIGHT START FOR YOUR STORY? I’m no expert! Let’s learn together. Leave comments below!
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.
Over the holidays, my father-in-law mentioned that a friend had just written a book, his memoirs about the Vietnam War. Since my father-in-law knows I write, I felt like I should offer to help his friend, but I write middle grade and young adult stories. What useful advice would I have?
Then I asked if his friend was on Twitter. He wasn’t. That opened up a wealth of information and connections that could help him revise his manuscript, find an agent, or self-publish his story. I thought we might have a few Twitter newbies following the blog, or others who got the “my friend wrote a book” prompt over the holidays, so I decided it was worth a post.
The Twitter writing community is awesome, a great resource at all stages of the writing process. While you’re writing, it can be the water cooler, the place to chat for a few minutes between projects. It’s also a great source of craft advice. Once you’ve finished a manuscript, it’s a source of advice on revising your project to make it the best story it can be. You can also find critique partners to exchange your work with and get feedback from. When you’re ready to get your work out into the world, Twitter can help you learn about literary agents or participate in writing contests. Or if your plan is to self-publish, you can find out how and connect with professionals who specialize in packaging books. And it doesn’t take much time on Twitter to see that it’s an avenue for book promotion.
Where can a writer go on Twitter to dig into these topics?
Caraval is the story of Scarlett, a girl who is desperate to escape her violent and controlling father and to take her younger sister, Donatella, with her. Scarlet hopes marriage to a man she’s never met, a marriage arranged by her father, will save them. Donatella doesn’t believe it will, so she persuades a handsome sailor to transport them off their island home and to Caraval, a legendary once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show.
But even before Scarlett reaches the gates to Caraval, Donatella disappears. Legend, the mysterious showman who runs Caraval, has made finding Donatella the puzzle every player will try to solve. Whoever finds her fist wins the prize, the granting of a wish. Scarlett must follow the clues in Legend’s game to find her sister, but winning won’t be easy. In Caraval, no one is what they seem.
Normally, I don’t write reviews for books by established authors. Scythe was published in November 22nd, 2016 and already has 1,994 reviews on Goodreads, so my 1,995th is not going to have a big impact on Shusterman’s sales. But as a mom with one bookworm and one reluctant reader, I am always on the lookout for books that will pull in a tween/teen boy. This is one. My son picked it out and after he’d finished it, he literally pulled the book I was reading out of my hands, put this one in it, and said, “Read this first.”
Scythe is set in a Utopian world where death, disease and war have been conquered. “Splatting” or jumping from great heights to feel the thrill of an adrenaline rush, only to be revived afterwards, has become a thing. Because where there is no fear of death, life also has less joy and purpose.
*Spoiler alert for Cress. Skip asterisked sentence if you have not finished and plan to read!*I walked into The Heartless Ball with my daughter and her best friend, ready to celebrate the launch of Marissa Meyer’s latest book, Heartless. All around us were characters straight out of Marissa’s books and other fairy tales. Cress floated by in a dress with the yellow and orange wings of a monarch butterfly, her costume for The Lunar Ball (in the book bearing her name.) Alice, of Wonderland fame, and Little Red Riding Hood were in attendance. *spoiler alert* The girls I was with wore the formal, red gowns of Lavana’s ill-fated wedding to Prince Kai in Winter. And, of course, there were several Queens of Hearts in attendance to celebrate the launch of her very own story.
Heartless is the prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s the story of Catherine Pinkerton, a girl who dreams of opening her own bakery but who is pushed towards a royal match by her ambitious parents and becomes the Queen of Hearts.
Marissa told the audience of her start in writing as an author of fan fiction. She transitioned to creating stories of her own when she entered a writing contest which required including any two of ten prompts in a story. She chose the prompts: set the story in the future and include a fairy tale character. From there came the idea of making Cinderella a cyborg, and Cinder,
the first book in The Lunar Chronicles was born. It became a six-book, New York Times best-selling series.
Marissa entertained the audience by inviting fans to the stage to show off their talents, composing an impromptu love poem to the cute hat in one of the costumes in the front row, conducting the audience in singing Happy Birthday to one lucky audience member, and reciting a nursery rhyme while balancing a copy of Heartless on head to ensure perfect posture.
Heartless was released on November 8th and is available in bookstores near you, along with other books in The Lunar Chronicles series. Thanks to Northshire Bookstore for hosting this fun event!
The first Cybils Awards were presented in February 2007. If you are really sharp, you probably just figured out that makes this year the 10th anniversary for Cybils! 10 points to your favorite Hogwart’s house for being a genius!
Yay! Congrats, Cybils!
Cybils Awards are given by the KidLit blogging community each year to the best books in the following categories.
Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is all anyone at Griffin Mills High School can talk about. Hawthorne Creely can’t believe all the attention Lizzie’s getting. She was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. Nothing bad ever happens to people like Lizzie. Plus, she graduated and moved away three years ago. Don’t people have something better to obsess over? Hawthorne imagines Lizzie somewhere safe, laughing as hundreds of people show up for her vigil.
But as everyone else moves on from the gossip and the search parties, Hawthorn becomes more intent on finding the truth. She stumbles into Lizzie’s old job as a waitress in a diner, then starts hanging out with her boyfriend and searching for clues to the disappearance.
While book’s title and the search parties focus on Lizzie Lovett, this story is really about Hawthorne, a girl who’s disappointed by high school’s failure to live up to its billing as “the best years of your life” and unsure of her future. Hawthorne is the perfect combo of girl who doesn’t fit in and snarky commentator on high school life. She pulls the reader into the story with her keen insights on the shortcomings of the people around her as well as her obliviousness to her own shortcomings. She’s someone anyone in high school or who’s been to high school can relate too. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is a fun and absorbing read. Hawthorne will drag you with her on her search for the truth about Lizzie, and along the way, find the truth within herself.
The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett will be published January 3, 2017. You can find it here:
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and is also a contributor at The Winged Pen.