Review of The Ryn

The Ryn (Eyes of E'veria, #1)

The Ryn by Serena Chase

THE PREMISE:

DESTINED by prophecy. GUARDED by deception. PURSUED by Love.

Centuries ago, an oracle foretold of the young woman who would defeat E’veria’s most ancient enemy, the Cobelds. But after two centuries of relative peace, both the prophecy and the Cobelds have been relegated to lore—and only a few remain watchful for the promised Ryn.

Finally, a child is born who matches the oracle’s description, but a Cobeld curse accompanies her birth. Led to believe they succeeded in killing the prophesied child, the Cobelds emerge from hiding with plans to overtake the Kingdom.

But the child survived.

Secreted away and called “Rose” for the first nineteen years of her life, Rynnaia E’veri has no idea of her true identity until a chance meeting with an injured knight reveals not only her parentage and true name, but the task assigned her by the oracle: discover the Remedy that will destroy the Cobelds’ power.

Now, her time has come.

Offered the assistance of pirates, scribes, storytellers, a young woman who died centuries ago, and the knight who is quickly working his way into her heart, Rynnaia is fortified with friends. But if the Ryn is to complete her task, she must come to terms with not only who she is, but for whom she must be willing to die. For the kingdom’s survival depends on her.

 

MY REVIEW:

5/5 Stars.

I wrote a review of this book a long time ago but didn’t post it. I met the author, Serena Chase, at a young writers conference/workshop in Minnesota years ago. She taught a class on writing fantasy and science fiction and introduced me to terms like trope (basically cliches of a genre). I remember her being the only self-published author at the event, and its obvious why she was chosen to attend after reading her book.

Even now, I remember being awed by the writing. It was poetic enough to be captivating, but without losing its plot. This fairy tale retelling borrows all the elements you’d want it to, without giving up creativity. The Ryn was well written with great world building and likable characters. The dialogue was realistic and in a perfect ratio with description. I liked the plot and found it hard to put the book down. I can’t wait to read the sequel (The Remedy) and more from this talented author. (Bonus, her instagram features many pictures of her dog, a super fluffy goldendoodle named Albus).

The only complaints I had were that the protagonist cried a lot more than I thought necessary and I think the book could have been slightly more condensed towards the end, both of which I’m sure others would disagree on.

 

Common writing mistakes

I had the honor of beta reading for a fellow writer I met on Twitter recently. I think it is important to help writers getting started in the field, especially in regard to craft which can be carried forward into other works. (Almost like writing a blog with writing advice for other writers… 🙂 )

All in all, I recognized in her work the same mistakes I often made when I was beginning, and have subsequently spent a vast amount of time trying to remedy.

So, what are common writing mistakes and how do you identify (and fix) them?

  1. You start with a paragraph (or 4) about nature/setting. Why this is bad: this isn’t new or intriguing unless there is something really unusual *about the setting* that piques interest. Perhaps the trees are purple. Or there are flying giraffes. If you are describing the setting just to describe it, take it out, or put it later. If you’re still not convinced, see point 3 and make it do work for your story.
  2. Similarly, you don’t start with making the reader care. Why this is bad: Simply speaking, they’ll put the book down. Bring the tension or conflict as close to the beginning as possible– and make us care about it. If the protagonist is in trouble, that’s great, but making us *care* about them and thus be worried about them is even better. This comes through specific characterization, conflict, flaws balanced with likable characteristics, etc.
  3. A lot of sentences are unnecessary or repetitive. What to do: Trust that the reader is smart. Say something once and trust that they got it. Similarly, make your sentences do double-work. Don’t just talk about the scenery to tell about the scenery– have the way the character tell about it in turn tell us about the character. (ie the cliche raining while a character is sad is an overused, but good visual, of this). Try to go through your sentences and if any don’t add to the plot or character, take it out or change it.
  4. Grammar, tense changes, and run-ons galore. How to find and fix these: Try changing the font (color, size, type, etc) and print it out. Read it out loud. If you can break up a sentence, break it up.
  5. The dialogue or description is too on-the-nose. This goes back to trusting the reader. Rather than telling me that the person cried, tell me the pillow is wet and trust that I will make the jump to know what that means. In terms of dialogue, talk in literature isn’t a carbon copy of in-person speech. Take out introductions like “hi”. Don’t info-dump (don’t use the dialogue to have the characters talk about something they both would already know). Make sure we don’t lose the characters to “talking heads”– replace some dialogue tags to actions they do, letting us see their response, the room, and their emotions. Finally, stay in-scene. If you can show a conversation rather than recapping it, do that, keeping the reader in-the-scene and in-the-present.
  6. Your themes are Themes and treated as such. What I mean by that is the use of overused, cliche themes (dictators, end-of-the-world, the chosen one) without any nuance or originality. Give me the chosen one who doesn’t accept leadership. The dictator who isn’t just purely evil but actually well-intentioned, or doesn’t want to be in power anyway. Give me the end of someone’s world, not the entire world. Make the stakes big enough to add tension but not so big I lose interest.

Some advice.

For all writers, especially newer ones, you don’t have to write every day. You don’t have to write the same way as anyone else. Do what helps you write and keeps you excited and motivated. Seek out feedback however you can — critique groups online or in person, friends/family, offering to swap work with another author, etc. Invest time in learning about craft (grammar, creative writing techniques) in traditional school or online through videos, blogs, etc. Know that if you don’t prioritize writing, it won’t happen, but also that in some stages of life writing isn’t the priority.

In terms of social media, it can be great, but mostly as a way to connect with individuals (and this takes interaction!). When in doubt, do to others what you’d want them to do to you (comment, share, like, reach out, etc). Your target audience for your work is not other authors, but readers interested in your themes. Overall, while social media is a great tool, it won’t (and shouldn’t be) your main marketing tool.

Are you a writer?

If so, reach out to me. If you blog (or would like to), I’d love to post a piece of yours here. If you want feedback on a piece, I can take a look at a few pages. If you have an ARC or other book, let me know about it so I can read it and review it here.

 

Review of Unfit by Karma Chestnut

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I met Karma through Twitter and we beta read for each other. I fell in love with the start of her manuscript, but she got a publisher and had to stop sending me chapters (ugh!). So when she reached out to me with an ARC (advanced reader copy), I was ecstatic.

5/5 stars. You need to read this book. 

The premise: Nearly a century has passed since the world was devastated by pandemics and wars that wiped out over ninety-percent of the earth’s population. To assure the survival of mankind, the leaders of the rebuilt city of Haven are breeding a better human race: meaning those deemed too stupid, too weak, too poor – too “unfit” – are arrested and forcibly sterilized.

John Hunter is a penniless, self-educated young man from the wrong side of Haven struggling to make something of himself to provide for his wife and their hopes of starting a family. Until the authorities show up at his door and arrest him for the crime of being “unfit.” Heartbroken and humiliated, will John abandon his aspirations and resign himself to quietly accept his fate?

 

My review:

Having grown up devouring and loving dystopian novels, I am often critical of their cliches, abstract and unoriginal social critiques, unrealistic or incomplete world building, and more. That being said, this book is everything a dystopian, or any kind of book, should be.

The characterization and world-building are amazing. There is enough to draw the reader in but not too much that it takes away from the plot and tension. The layers of the story are expertly woven, each building on each other. Similarly, every character (from John and Morgan to minor characters like Tim) feel whole and unique. Their motivations are not just realistic and logical, they take precedence over easy cliches that many authors choose (like the romance trope of the breakup to add tension). The characters are flawed in ways that feel like parts of them, rather than aspects added as an afterthought to make them more complex.

The dialogue throughout is expertly done, not just in terms of the words themselves but also the tags and actions of the speakers. This helps give a sense not only of the physical space and people, but also of the emotions and thoughts contained within them.

I wish I could pinpoint exactly how this was done, but somehow the social critique of this book is big enough to matter without becoming abstract and tired. Rather than tackling issues of Democracy or Autocracy, especially from the lens of  ‘evil’ people (as much dystopian does), it focuses on the slide from good intentions to bad consequences. Other topics, from Eugenics to Classism, are dealt with in a nuanced way that is both more interesting and more realistic.

This book is the first in a series, so I can’t wait to read the next one (soon I hope!). Read this book if you love dystopian or just a captivating story. If you’re looking to improve your craft, this would be a great one to read and analyze.

 

I will be doing an author interview with Karma soon, so sign up for my blog on the right to get notified when that comes out.

 

Review of Crossing the Line by Simone Elkeles

Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line by Simone Elkeles

I have *loved* other Simone Elkeles’ books and was thrilled to see this one was out. I was excited about the inclusion of Mexico and the cartel in YA fiction, with the reversal of an American going to Mexico instead of the other way around. But…

I was really disappointed. 3/5 stars. And that might be generous.

The Spanish phrases were completely wrong (come on! there are so many Spanish speakers you could have consulted!) and interrupted the flow in a way that detracted rather than added to the book (which you know has to be bad for me to think so, given how much I love Spanish). Also, I might be wrong but the girl on the cover does not look Latina…

A lot of the book, especially the dialogue, felt awkward, cliche, and already-done. The ending, without going into any detail, was stupid and ill-fitting. Most of it was contrived and unnecessary.

While many of her books are insta-lovey (boy sees girl or vice versa and falls in love instantly), this one was the same but in the bad way. Perhaps it was because I didn’t care too much about the characters — in fact, I’m not even sure I know who they are. Dalila doesn’t have any real desires or passions, which is part of what makes the ending unsatisfactory — there is no need to fill. They’re also really stupid, and not in the endearing way.

The relationship between the two wasn’t healthy either. It goes from hate to “love” very quickly. Lying is forgiven without batting an eye. They are so cliche and seem to like the idea of each other more than each other — ie I get the feeling that because Dalila likes to break rules and she isn’t supposed to be with him, that’s a big part of the attraction.  This would have been okay if the characters, and their relationships, were more complex than this.

If you’re looking for a good romance, try one of Elkeles’ earlier books, but not this one.

Review of Fallen Love by Alex Stargazer

Fallen Love by Alex Stargazer

This review is special since I had the honor of beta reading an earlier version. Overall, while I don’t read much science fiction anymore, this is a well-crafted book that is high in tension and male-male romance in a way that has demonstrated the growth of Alex Stargazer as a writer. The book should be out February 1st on Amazon.

4/5 stars.

 

The premise

There are many kinds of monster that walk the Earth. Some are ugly. Others speak beautiful words through forked tongues. But the worst possess the grace of angels, and the hearts of demons…

Upperclassman Conall is rich, impeccably dressed, and set for a prestigious career in the Party hierarchy. He doesn’t lack for anything—except, maybe, love.

When he finds Mark, alone, abandoned and hurt, he doesn’t expect one act of kindness to alter the course of his life forever. There is more to Mark than Conall can even dream of. The beautiful, vulnerable boy Conall knows is not human. A dark power lies within Mark—it can make him immortal… but love might be the price.

 

My review

Others have remarked that the book is slow to get going but is surprisingly great once it does and I agree. The writing has leveled up significantly since the beta copy. The style is more consistent and self-assured meanwhile the dialogue is more realistic and the characters more compelling. The slowness to get going is likely a combination of things, including a natural byproduct of sci fi’s need to world build and the lack of apparent conflict right away. This is something I struggle with as well, but is balanced by the tension later on.

In true fantasy style, the politics and world-building in the book serve as a critique of politics and social structures in the real world. Sometimes this was successful and other times felt cliche.

All in all, I commend the growth in writing and look forward to more in the future.

 

Kickstarter

Per Alex’s request, I am including the link to the book’s kickstarter here. Since it is a self-published book, the funds go towards all publishing costs including cover art, any editing, ads, etc that normally is paid for by a traditional publisher.

https://alexstargazer.us20.list-manage.com/track/click?u=58afd4129f6c40f710f179f93&id=93c3933486&e=342d3d855e

 

Book Marketing 101

Based on a twitter survey I did, lots of people want to know more about how to market your book. So here is my (basically) all-inclusive guide to marketing.

  1. Figure out your market audience. For example, if you’re in YA, your primary market is 12-18 years old (who you are aiming to read this) but the secondary market (who might also purchase) include adults such as parents, librarians, adults who just love YA, etc.
    • Where can you find them and how do you take advantage of this? YA readers are going to be in school, so you could schedule an event there such as a book reading or a talk about writing/an issue addressed in the book.
    • Use the right tools. ie for social media, don’t use Facebook for young teens. Don’t use TikTok if your market is older. Are there podcasts you could get on? News sources that would publish an article on you/your book, including schools you attended, cities you have lived in, etc?
  2. You, the author, as a brand. 
    • This is fairly basic but not to be overlooked. Your website and social media should be your name, and consistent across all channels (including images, colors, etc). Make sure your website includes contact information, information about your book (where to buy it, what its about), and events you will be at.
  3. The book as marketing. 
    • The cover and the blurb are what many readers use to decide if they should read your book– make sure these are great. If you are self-publishing please, please, please use a graphic designer. The worst thing is having a great book with an obviously DIY cover that people won’t take seriously.
    • Get (a) great review(s) for the cover. Do you know someone, or is there someone within your publishing house, who has name recognition within your genre? Reach out (or have an agent/publisher/etc reach out) with plenty of time before publication (at least a few months) and to multiple people, from least likely “reach” requests to most likely “safer” requests.
  4. ARCS and pre-orders.
    • Once you have ARCs (advanced reader copies– edits and cover done, usually in electronic form but can be print as well) use sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss+ to give copies in exchange for reviews. This way you can get reviews before the book comes out.
    • Get creative with promoting, especially for pre-orders. As many people as you can get to pre-order, the better your book launch will be. You could offer signed copies, custom bookmarks, or other merchandise related to your book.
  5. Blog tours and social media
    • Set up a blog tour! Reach out to blog owners to publish on their blog to promote your book (and yourself!) to the blog’s following. For an example of how to set this up, click here. 
    • Set up a Goodreads giveaway. Goodreads giveaways are a great way to gain exposure in exchange for a copy of the book. *But* the success rate can vary so try one and see before giving away all your books.
    • Do giveaways. In exchange for following blogs/social media/etc, enter people to win a copy of your book, a bookmark, etc.
    • Social media is great, but it isn’t everything. You may gain a few sales this way *especially if you interact with people personally*, but this should not be your main marketing strategy.
  6. Book launch
    • Set up an event the day of your book launch, either in person (ie a reading at a library or bookstore) or online (ie on Facebook or Twitter). Offer incentives for people showing up (like food in-person, giveaways for both, etc).
  7. Libraries, small book stores, etc. 
    • Reach out to libraries and small book stores to get them to order your book/audio book/etc. You might wonder what the benefit to having your book in a library would be, since you don’t profit beyond the initial sale, but it expands your audience which expands your reach in terms of word-of-mouth.
  8. Get creative. Look at Youtubes/Blogs of what has and hasn’t worked for other writers. Take the best of this advice and tailor it for your book/audience.

Ultimately, you are trying to convince people to spend money and time on reading your book, over other books and other things. How can you convince them to choose yours? Are they getting something from it (ie merchandise as in your preorder campaign)? Are they invested in you as a person (ie close friends/family, people you met at events)? Was it recommended by someone else (this is the hardest but best one, and where reviews come in)?

Review of The Upside of Unrequited

Image result for the upside of unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

This books was a lot of firsts for me. First YA book I listened to as an audio book (or at least first completely- I’ve tried reading others but stopped part way through). First book with a protagonist also named Molly. First book with a character named Molly that I actually liked. A lot. The upsides of this book are numerous.

 

Overall: 5/5 stars.

What I liked:

When we talk about #WeNeedDiverseBooks, this is exactly what we need for them to look like. Just like Simon vs the Homosapian Agenda (same author) this book deals with themes instead of Themes. What I mean by that is sexuality and Judaism and body image and mental health are important to the story and the characters but they aren’t the Defining Characteristics. The people and plots are more complex than that.

The ending was satisfying but not too cliche. The emotions Molly feels are so realistic and poignant. Some people have remarked on Goodreads that she comes across as self-centered because she’s focused on how lonely she is rather than being happy for her sister but *hello* this is a major theme in the book. This is what anxiety looks like. This is what adolescence feels like.

Other issues people have had with the book are that she doesn’t become more secure until the end, but again. Adolescence. Anxiety. In a perfect world should we be secure without a significant other? Yes. Can we be insecure and still find love? Yes. Can being in a relationship give us confidence and is that ok? Also yes.

The mothers in this book are incredible. Like all the characters they feel real and tangible and distinct, whereas many YA parents have been victims of stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. The major events in the book (ie legalization of gay marriage) add a refreshing layer of reality.

Having Molly be into something other than sports or art was also great. Who doesn’t like Pinterest and crafts and baking anyway?

In terms of craft, this was well written– the dialogue is strong and the imagery is captivating. The language is realistic for teenagers without being condescending. It was fun to read, serious enough to deal with major issues but not to the point of being sad or depressing, and had a great mix of tension and satisfactory conclusion.

Overall, it was a fun, mushy book– everything you’d want out of a YA romance, and nothing unexpected that you don’t.

 

What I wish was different:

**spoilers**

I get the theme of needing to put oneself out there and be rejected. I get the hesitancy of admitting your feelings to the person you really like. But I have to say that Molly being rejected just didn’t fit quite right. Its important to be rejected and to learn that that’s okay and  I get that she wanted to be with Reid anyway, but I would have liked for her to be the one to choose to not pursue anyone else.

 

New short story being published!

I just found out that SHARE (https://shareblog.press/), a new publication that publishes one story a month, will be publishing a short story of mine, Twenty-four! The publication explores “personal stories of adversity, hardships, achievements and growth.” While 24 is not a direct biography of my life, it explores issues that I am passionate about, like mental health advocacy, supporting others with mental health issues, mental illness making children have to become caretakers, issues with society’s dialogue around beauty, and more.

The story is one I wrote for a fiction workshop, more-or-less a satire about the fashion industry told by a model struggling to support herself and her ex-model mother suffering from depression.

 

Also, some update on other stories!

The tentative publication of my YA novel, Starvation, is November 2020 — stay tuned for more information. I’ll be posting a cover reveal, bonuses for signing up for the pre-order, calls for ARC (advanced reader copy) reviewers, and more!

Also, the short story anthology I have a story in, Running Wild Press Anthology, Paper Girl about a girl in an in-patient eating disorder treatment center, is wrapping up edits and should be out Spring/Summer 2020!

 

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Review of The Liar’s Daughter

The Liar's Daughter

The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

I got this book in hardcover off of Amazon, since it came out recently. I’ve never picked a book because I loved the author on Twitter (she also happened to be in Minnesota, so of course she and her book were amazing).

And… I’m so glad I did. Wow. 5/5 stars. 

I loved the past and present chapters (hmm sounds like a book out next summer… by me…) and the psychology of the cult and its members (also that these things were not explicitly stated but implied). I was also impressed by the accuracy of the psychotherapy– the therapist in the book did textbook CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

The descriptions were lovely. The characters were unique and vivid. The tension was *high*. I read the whole book in one sitting, in about 2 hours. So yeah, it was that good.

All the motivations and emotions were believable. There was enough revealed about what was going on that I was intrigued rather than frustrated. I did think, for a while, that things would never get better (which is why I kept reading) but the way the ending was handled was perfect. Even the inclusion of words like “groovy” to show how out-of-touch Piper was with other kids worked great– and worked a lot better than the author telling us.

The author mentioned that she was in a doomsday church/cult when she was younger and this translates to a realistic depiction of the Father’s rhetoric and the followers’ response. You not only see how much control they have over the followers, but also why the followers trust the leaders. You understand why someone would believe them. I was glad this stayed less gory than I was anticipating, especially with the intense (but very apt) cover.

I was most intrigued by the themes of this book, namely how do we determine what is real and not. How to trust memory when it is fallible. Knowing who to trust and why. Reconciling after being lied to. The idea of what makes family.

I think this is one of the best depictions of a character you don’t quite like, but have sympathy for. I didn’t like a lot of Piper’s actions, but I felt sorry for her and understood why she was thinking the way she was. I liked how she interacted with the kids and the older boys– you could tell she was caring and maternal and wanted the best for them.

There’s also a romance sub-plot which was great, especially because it was a sub-plot and didn’t become the Most Important Thing like in other stories. Nor did it take away Piper’s autonomy.

All-in-all, this was an amazing YA contemporary novel with lots of tension and the right touches of mystery, romance, and psychology.

 

If this sounds intriguing to you, support Megan and buy her book on Amazon here

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Review of Opposite of Always

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

The Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

3/5 Stars

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for a while. I was really looking forward to reading it, not only because of the refreshing diversity and the cover, but also because of the premise.

I almost quit a couple times but kept going hoping it would get better. Taste is subjective and I’m sure there are lots of people who would love this book, but I am not one of them.

*The cons* The dialogue felt stilted. There was so much that was cliche about this — dying girl. Time travel. Boy in love with the best friend who’s in a relationship. Boy who is “average at everything” (and best friend who is the best at everything). Prom being the pinnacle of importance. I like a good cliche every once-in-a-while, but not so many together. The writing style wasn’t my favorite– I would have liked more implied (ie seeing feelings by how things were described) and less internal dialogue/ less “saying” what was already implied. I liked J, but liked him less as he talked more and was obnoxiously unaware of certain things.

There is *no* reason Kate couldn’t have told him what was wrong with her while he was at the hospital. Except for plot. This took me out of the story and made me put down the book. Also I had a hard time believing the time travel was triggered the way it was — like really? Of all the potential ways?

*The pros* I thought there was some great imagery and characterization– each character was vivid and unique. I liked the idea of this premise and the theme. I loved that the majority of the cast was POC and explored important issues like incarceration, divorce, death, love, etc.