Review of Karin Bigg’s The King’s 100

The King's 100

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review*

The premise: Sixteen-year-old Piper Parish, princess of the loveless, STEM-only kingdom of Capalon, is a disappointment to her citizens and to her older sister, the queen. When Piper receives an anonymous note stating her mother is still alive and living in the enemy kingdom of Mondaria, Piper chooses to risk death in effort to prove once and for all that she’s not just the queen’s defective little sister. With the companionship of Chip, a piece of tech embedded in her wrist, Piper flees Capalon and enters a world where love and emotional expression are unrestricted.

Posing as a singer for the enemy king’s court of performers, the King’s 100, Piper risks death if she is revealed to be the Capalon princess, but discovers that living a life without the freedom to love might actually be the most dangerous risk of all.

The King’s 100 is a glittering sci-fi love story woven among the camaraderie singers, drummers and magicians by debut author, Karin Biggs.

 

My review: 4/5 stars. I love books like The Selection, with royalty and big ball gowns and Love, so I was excited to read Karin Bigg’s The King’s 100. If you’re looking for a light-hearted romance, with just enough science fiction for flavor, but not enough to be overpowering or confusing, this is a good book for you. The premises are relatively simple– two opposite, and rival, Lands (Capalon and Mondaria– interestingly similar to Capulet and Montague from Romeo and Juliet… coincidence? I think not. Also look for other fairy tale references, such as Cinderella). A Capalon princess searches for her dead (or is she?) mother, the queen. But of course to look for her, Capalon Princess Piper has to go to Mondaria. The differences between the two “Lands” initially felt oversimplified, but was ultimately apt in creating a sense of the two kingdoms and driving home themes later on.

The characterization was well done, so much so that I didn’t realize it was happening (which is a feat, since I often pick up on these things as an author). It was also unexpected since the world-building felt so obvious (not necessarily in a bad way). Part of it, I think, is that the characterization relied partially on the world building (ie Piper is logical because Capalons are). Nonetheless, the characters felt whole and realistic, without being cookie-cutter. It was easy to root for Piper, even during the “scary-movie-situations” where you’re saying “don’t go down the dark stairs” and the character does anyway.

In the same vein, I tend to hate when characters withhold information, deny/lie about their feelings, or generally have issues that could be fixed with talking. From a plot perspective, and in terms of the world, I get it. But its still frustrating. Similarly, while the distinct differences of the Lands made sense in terms of world building, a bit of nuance would have been wonderful. Especially as a researcher I know science isn’t that logical, given the need to infer and interpret, biases in publishing, and the arbitrary nature of statistics. But even with that aside, it would have been nice (namely more realistic and believable) for it to be Capalon-scientists-who-are-logical-except-they-love-cake or Mondarians-who-are-emotional-except-really-into-being-fiscally-responsible.

I have to say, the ending was amazing and made me like the characters and worlds more than I thought I would. There was enough closure to be satisfied, but enough left unresolved that the ending 1) was thought-provoking and 2) feels like the world continues on beyond the story, as it should. Not only was it a great way to end, it lent credibility to both the world and the story. Additionally, the plot was predictable enough that it both made sense and was satisfying, while also having enough novelties to be unique.

Overall, a great debut from Karin Biggs! I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

 

Interview with author Karma Chesnut

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I have previously written blog posts reviewing Karma Chesnut’s novel, Unfit, as well as revealing the cover. I recently had the opportunity to interview her about the book, which is now available to pre-order on Amazon and will be released April 7th! This is a great read, by an incredible author– don’t miss out!

While great fiction is always relevant, Unfit is especially relevant right now. Transmission of disease, airborne like Covid-19, or genetic like in the book, is on everyone’s mind. Also relevant are fears of infection leading to extreme measures, stereotyping, higher burden-of-disease on those in poverty, and separation of those infected. Intrigued? You should be.

 

The interview:

  1. Tell me a bit about Unfit. Why did you write it? What did you like about the process? What was hard about it?

I have been toying with the plot of Unfit in one way or another pretty much since high school. I love biology and the social sciences (I ended up studying Anthropology in college) and am fascinated by human behavior, genetics – everything that motivates us and, essentially, “makes us who we are.” So, long story short, the topics in Unfit are all very dear to my heart. 

What I loved about the process is also what made it so difficult, though. I wanted to write a book that made people think, that not only resonated with the readers’ current views of the world and each other, but that also made them reconsider those views. The problem with a story like that, however, is it can become preachy or trite very easily. Finding that balance was tricky. 

 

  1. Were you inspired by any books in particular? What do you learn about writing from reading?

I took inspiration from a lot of different books ranging from Harry Potter to Atlas Shrugged. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was probably my main source of inspiration when I was deep in the writing process, though. Whenever I would hit a wall, I would open up to a random page and just start reading. It really helped me get into the headspace for writing – of visualizing the scene and following the characters’ movement within that space. 

 

  1. Your book covers topics like eugenics, cycles of poverty/wealth, and corruption that are symbolized even on the cover with the red line. Why do you think it’s important that books talk about tough topics like these?

If you don’t talk about the problems in the world, nothing is ever going to change. I’ve had several ARC readers tell me just how close to home this story hit, and even had a review that read, “the story didn’t seem that fictitious.” What people don’t always realize is that a lot of this story was inspired by true events. Eugenics was practiced in the United States not that long ago. (Buck v. Bell, the Better Baby Contests, etc.) Individuals were forcibly sterilized because they were too poor, too stupid, too promiscuous, etc. It might sound cliché, but I really believe the saying that unless the cycle is interrupted, history is doomed to repeat itself. And books have the power to break those cycles.

 

  1. What advice do you have for other writers?

Writing is hard. It is a solitary endeavor by nature and can easily feel isolating. What really helped me was finding my writing group, Writing Through Brambles. They’re a fantastic group of authors with similar goals who not only have great writing advice, but who push me to keep going even when I start to doubt myself. 

There are so many resources out there for writers; conferences, writing groups, Facebook groups, etc. Find your people and let them help you refine your craft. 

 

  1. What avenues are you going down in terms of marketing? Anything you especially recommend?

Right now, my marketing plan is pretty straightforward. I’m on social media (twitter, Facebook, Insta, Goodreads) and have an author website (https://karmachesnut.com). Those are always great places for any author to start. 

One book that I found really helpful for outlining a straight-forward marketing plan is Buzz!: Your Super Sticky Book Marketing Plan by Polly Letofsky. 

 

If you’re interested in reading more about Karma or Unfit, find her book on Amazon or visit her author website.  Subscribe to my blog on the right, if you haven’t already, for more interviews, book reviews, cover reveals, and more. 

Updates: Unfit cover and Short story publication

UPDATES!

  • The Running Wild Anthology is coming out this summer. My short story, Paper Girl, will be published in it! The cover should be out soon (which I will post when it is released).
    • My story, Paper Girl chronicles a girl navigating relationships with her family while at an inpatient hospital for an eating disorder.
    • As such, the money received from the story will be donated to WithAll (formally The Emily Program Foundation) to help with eating disorder prevention, reducing barriers to care, and supporting friends/family.

 

  • The cover just got released for Karma Chesnut’s Unfit!
    • Here it is below, and if you haven’t read my review of the book, read it here.
    • I will be posting an exclusive interview with the author soon.

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  • Subscribe to my blog (using the tool bar on the right) to get updates, including cover reveals for the Running Wild Press Anthology, release information, and an exclusive interview with author Karma Chesnut soon!

Review of Reverie

Reverie by [La Sala, Ryan]

Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Premise:

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different—reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling.

 

My review: Overall, 4.5/5 stars! I got this book on Amazon after seeing Ryan La Sala on Twitter, especially the beautiful book cover and the fact that he said he studied neuroscience like me.

For anyone wanting to write a LGBTQIA+ book the right way, use this as your guide. The tension was high, the characters well-rounded, and the plot intriguing and satisfying. The premise alone is such a unique take on magical powers and reality. I struggled a with a few things that prevented me from giving it 5 stars, but I think many others would find it a 5 star book.

 

What I liked: 

Descriptions and dialogue were beautiful and well-written. La Sala is clearly a talented writer, creating prose as magical as his worlds. This also helps cement the vibrant characters and premise. Moreover, this book is LGBTQ+ in all the best ways. Sexuality feels intrinsic to the characters, not just something added for Characterization or to make the book Diverse. In the same way, sexuality is obviously important to the characters but it does not take over as the Most Important Thing, nor should it. In the same vein, where many authors struggle to have their characters directing the plot, Kane and his friends have a refreshing amount of autonomy. They are clearly in control of causing the ending, even though they (obviously) have to struggle to get there. Rather than the plot being something that happens *to* them, its something that happens *because of* them. This is something that often separates good from great writers, so props to La Sala on this.

Continuing on the theme of plot, I was really satisfied with the ending. It was fitting and well-done, with aspects from the beginning (like the diner) that help it feel at-home. Furthermore, there is enough plot twist where things aren’t too predictable, while the twists stay realistic and fitting so they don’t seem out-of-place or solely for throwing the reader off.

I think the ideas of memory and its role in personality/identity was a cool theme that could have been pulled from La Sala’s studies of Neuroscience. Furthermore, the ideas of perception, dreams (and lucidity), grounding (identifying reality), and more were well done.

The small details made this book feel authentic and unique, from Poesy the drag queen to Ursula’s stress baking. Each character is whole, their traits feel intrinsic to their motivations and actions, and together make up a solid, well-written story.

 

What I wish was different:

Who is Kane? I kept feeling like I knew him but then people would interject about how he was before he lost his memory and it was confusing. Perhaps he changed through losing his memories (as can happen) and perhaps this was to intensify his character arc, but there were a few times I felt a little lost. Then again, this plays into what I said earlier about themes of identity in the midst of memory loss, so perhaps it was intentional that way.

One thing I struggle with in a lot of fantasy books, and others too, is that initially the plot can feel arbitrary. Later on, once the characters and world are apparent, this goes away, but at the beginning *why* characters do certain things (and especially why they do that over something else) often trips me up. This only happened a few times (I won’t go into detail to prevent spoilers) but took me out of the story. If you aren’t bothered by this, its a 5/5 book. Even if you are, its amazing.

 

All in all, this was a great book that was well written with characters you want to root for, a wonderfully unique premise, and enough tension to take you through the book in one sitting.

Books I DNF (did not finish)

I recently was reading We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss and was looking forward to reviewing it, except that I decided not to finish it. That being said, here is the premise and a few other books I haven’t finished, and why. (DNF-ing is a relatively rare phenomenon for me– I used to struggle through most books, just in case they got better).

 

We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Premise: 

Luke and Toby have always had each other’s backs. But then one choice—or maybe it is a series of choices—sets them down an irrevocable path. We’ll Fly Away weaves together Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school with letters Luke writes to Toby later—from death row.

Best friends since childhood, Luke and Toby have dreamed of one thing: getting out of their dead-end town. Soon they finally will, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, never looking back. If they don’t drift apart first. If Toby’s abusive dad, or Luke’s unreliable mom, or anything else their complicated lives throw at them doesn’t get in the way.

Tense and emotional, this hard-hitting novel explores family abuse, sex, love, and friendship, and how far people will go to protect those they love. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Marieke Nijkamp, and NPR’s Serial podcast.

 

I liked this book. It tackles important issues (like the death penalty, parental abuse, cycles of violence and poverty, etc) and has strong characters. I listened to it on audible (I was listening to audiobooks for a while to be able to read while driving and doing chores). I’m surprised I wasn’t gripped by it– the premise seemed great, the writing was well done, and yet I kept putting it down and not picking it back up (and finally decided not to pick it up again). Maybe if I had read it as a paperback/hardcover I would have finished it. Who knows.

 

 

Reboot by Amy Tintera

Premise:

Wren Connolly died five years ago, only to Reboot after 178 minutes. Now she is one of the deadliest Reboots around . . . unlike her newest trainee, Callum 22, who is practically still human. As Wren tries to teach Callum how to be a soldier, his hopeful smile works its way past her defenses. Unfortunately, Callum’s big heart also makes him a liability, and Wren is ordered to eliminate him. To save Callum, Wren will have to risk it all.

Wren’s captivating voice and unlikely romance with Callum will keep readers glued to the page in Amy Tintera’s high-stakes alternate reality, and diving straight into its action-packed sequel, Rebel.

 

Again, I loved the premise, but this time I had trouble with the writing and couldn’t get past the first few chapters (which is rare for me, often I’ll give the book a good chance to prove itself to me, for better or worse). The dialogue felt unnatural, the main character (who is supposed to be emotion-less) seems to be making fairly emotion-based decisions (taking pity on someone, being afraid, etc) and as such, the motivations feel unfounded. Furthermore, the amount of telling vs showing was frustrating.

 

Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen

Premise:

It was supposed to be just another flight, another escape into a foreign place where she could forget her past, forget her attachments. Until Clara found herself seated next to an alluring boy named Elias Phinn—a boy who seems to know secrets she has barely been able to admit to herself for years.

When her carry-on bag is accidentally switched with Elias’s identical pack, Clara uses the luggage tag to track down her things. At that address she discovers there is not one Elias Phinn, but two: the odd, paranoid, artistic, and often angry Elias she met on the plane, who lives in an imaginary world of his own making called Salem; and the kind, sweet, and soon irresistible Elias who greets her at the door, and who has no recollection of ever meeting Clara at all. As she learns of Elias’s dissociative identity disorder, and finds herself quickly entangled in both of Elias’s lives, Clara makes a decision that could change all of them forever. She is going to find out what the Salem Elias knows about her past, and how, even if it means playing along with his otherworldly quest. And she is going to find a way to keep the gentle Elias she’s beginning to love from ever disappearing again.

 

I met Jonathan at a writing conference and loved interacting with him, so I bought the book… and couldn’t get very far through it. I don’t remember much about this book except it being confusing, frustrating, and not nearly as good as I had hoped.

 

The Golden Compass Trilogy by Phillip Pullman

Premise:

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal – including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.

But what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other….

 

This is often considered one of the best YA books, but I remember trudging through it years ago like I was walking through the tundra being described, determined to get to the end where I would be warm, safe, and done. Eventually, I decided to just stop and it was such a relief. Looking back, the ideas in the book are great, and the relationships between the characters was well done. Perhaps it was too high of a lexile for me when I started it, perhaps its just overrated.

 

 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This book holds the coveted spot of Only Book Assigned In School That I Did Not Finish. Most books I would read, if not skim, but reading this book was less fun than getting a tooth pulled without anesthesia. I know it is popular for being as such, so to anyone who is assigned to read it, I am sorry. Go into it with Very Low Expectations, and best of luck.

 

and of course, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Do I need to explain this one? Probably not.

Review of The Art of Starving

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The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

The premise:

Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.

A darkly funny, moving story of body image, addiction, friendship, and love, Sam J. Miller’s debut novel will resonate with any reader who’s ever craved the power that comes with self-acceptance.

 

Initial thoughts: Two things initially stuck me about this book even though I just stumbled across it recently. First of all, the title, is strangely similar to a short story I published a while ago, The Art of Happiness (which is a second-person narration about a cat and a protagonist with depression), obviously both come from The Art of War and are an ode to the struggle against mental illness. Secondly, the writing style mirrors mine in a lot of ways — capitalizations for emphasis, some short sentences that start with the verb, the sibling that is gone for an unknown reason, eating disorders in high school boys, etc. I really, really wanted to like this book, especially given how few books there are on male eating disorders, especially written by a former sufferer. But a few things weren’t quite right for me so 4/5 stars. 

 

What I liked:

Even before reading the acknowledgements, I could tell Miller knew a lot about eating disorders, and not just the facts, but how it feels. (This is an own-voices story in that the author also previously struggled with an eating disorder). I could list multiple instances where this becomes obvious but to name a few– the protagonist Matt being obsessed with food while restricting, seeing food as something guilty/sinful, anxiety habits like biting nails, and starving as an attempt at control. Beyond this, I was delightfully surprised, as a neuroscience major, at the vignettes at the beginning of each chapter that discussed the biology and psychology of sensation (obviously as part of a larger picture about sensation, control, etc, but nonetheless well done). Similarly, the calorie counts at the beginning of each chapter were a nice touch, not only mirroring Matt’s emotional state for the coming chapter but starting and framing each chapter both literally and figuratively.

The description of some of the effects of the eating disorder were put so eloquently, but also plainly enough that they made sense. Even after years of researching eating disorders, certain aspects didn’t become clear until I read this book, like the fact that some of the effects on the heart are because the heart is a muscle and muscle is eaten away by the body when there’s nothing else to break down.

I also loved the ending, which I will detail at the end of this post to avoid spoilers. Finally, this book tackled multiple issues, beyond eating disorders, in a commendable way, such as Matt being gay, Judaism, etc, but I wish some aspects were pushed a little farther (like how Judaism and spirituality presents in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s book, Our Year of Maybe. Here it feels intrinsic to the characters, even if their beliefs are unsure, rather than a characterization after-thought.)

 

Which leads me into… things I wish were different: 

I understand this book more after seeing it was categorized “science fiction” but really its realistic with magic. Which I really don’t like.

(Side note on the term “magical realism” which I have purposely not used here. I have been taught this term in English classes, but its really a latinx word, from the works of Alejo Carpentier (especially The Kingdom of This World) as a way to express latin american identity as an almost impossible mix of African/European/etc cultures, in a way that seems like magic. As such, I try to stay away from using it unless discussing latinx works that utilize it). 

I appreciate realism+magic in latinx literature, but I still struggle with enjoying it in any context. Especially in this book, the “powers” came off like the magical thinking of schizophrenia, and anyone who didn’t know better might assume “magical thinking” is a symptom of an eating disorder. From a literary perspective, I appreciate the metaphor of Matt’s “powers” but the overlap with other mental health issues and the very obviously contemporary setting were ultimately confusing.

Similarly, the martial arts “pressure points” Matt does on people seem plausible enough that a reader might believe them, but cannot happen in real life. All in all, the “science fiction” aspect of the book was too realistic to be anything but confusing, bordering into the territory of glorifying the disorder.

Additionally, the doctor brings up the eating disorder with a joke. No clinician I know of would ever, while first addressing the issue or thereafter, say “they don’t accept corpses on varsity” (p310). I mean come on. Similarly, while I buy Tariq not knowing how to talk to Matt, I don’t buy that he didn’t notice something was wrong. Sure, people are bad at recognizing/talking about these things, but at the stage Matt was at, he would have noticed.

Finally, Tariq pressuring Matt to be physical was just not ok. Do these things happen? Yes. Should it been brushed off as if its normal? Absolutely not.

 

 

*SPOILERS*

 

Back to the ending.

 

I love that Tariq (Matt’s boyfriend) doesn’t save him. That being in a relationship doesn’t make all his problems go away, and in fact he doesn’t get better until he is on his own. I think there is too much of that narrative in general, but especially for people with eating disorders/body insecurities/mental health issues. In a way it helped keep the glorification of the disorder to a minimum, but also helped it stay realistic– you can be supported by other people, but they can’t help you. Even if its with support, you have to be the one to do the work (therapy, treatment, whatever it may be) on your own.

 

Some of my favorite books of all time

Beyond the mainstream Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc, here are some of my favorite books of all time. Of course, given all I’ve read and all the amazing books out there, this is by no means exhaustive.

 

Fantasy

The Winner’s Curse series

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)

Not only is the cover amazing, the story is too.

Premise: As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

 

The Selection series

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

Continuing the theme of beautiful ballgown covers… this story is The Bachelor meets royalty/fantasy in all the best ways.

Premise: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

 

The Nightshade series

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I’ve read this book, and the series, so many times. Werewolves the way they were meant to be.

Premise: Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she’ll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters’ laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known.

By following her heart, she might lose everything- including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice? 

 

Unfit

I just read and reviewed this (and its not out yet) but check out my review: here.

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?

 

 

Contemporary

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

Anyone who knows me knows this is by far my favorite book of all time. Does it glorify cancer? Yes. But does it do everything else right? Yes. Any time my work feels wrong, I look to this book as an example of what to do to make it right– characterization, plot, themes big enough to matter but small enough to be tangible, enough emotion that even on my 20th read I know I’m going to cry, unpredictability that fits the story perfectly, and more.

Premise: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

 

Our Year of Maybe

Our Year of Maybe

I read this after following Rachel Lynn Solomon on Twitter, after she was a mentor on Pitch Wars, a competition for a mentor to help authors pitch their work to agents. And wow, I’m glad I did. Read my review: here.

Premise: Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one blurry, heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for. 

 

A Mango-shaped Space

A Mango-Shaped Space

This book is definitely easier to read (likely more for middle school readers) but I’ve always loved it. Perhaps I’m biased given my passion for psychology, but I’ve loved the depiction of synesthesia, the cat, and Mia.

Premise: Mia Winchell appears to be a typical kid, but she’s keeping a big secret—sounds, numbers, and words have color for her. No one knows, and Mia wants to keep it that way. But when trouble at school finally forces Mia to reveal her secret, she must learn to accept herself and embrace her ability, called synesthesia, a mingling of the senses.

 

The Hating Game

The Hating Game

I’ve read a decent number of romance and contemporary novels, but this is definitely one of the best. I reviewed it previously: here.

Premise: Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.

Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.

If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth-shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.

Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

 

 

Books I think are over rated:

Despite all the hype, I think these books are bad, problematic, or just not for me.

Turtles All the Way Down

Sorry John Green. I loved The Fault in Our Stars, but this fell really flat for me. I know he himself has struggled with OCD, but the plot and characterization were lacking and even as someone who studies anxiety disorders, the way the OCD was explained and described didn’t make sense.

 

Eragon

Great for a teen debut? Yes. Well-written and original? No. I mean even the title is just dragon with an E instead of a D. If you want a book of all fantasy cliches in one, this is for you. I think there is even a blogger who went through a few chapters of this book as an example of how to edit your own book and what not to do in writing..

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

This book (of the play) wanted to do way too much and ended up doing nothing satisfying. The characters were different than in the original series and the plot felt contrived. This was obviously an attempt to take advantage of the Harry Potter fandom, without the level of writing fans had come to expect.

 

13 Reasons Why

I know there’s been a lot of pushback on this one since the Netflix series. Beyond the obvious issues with glorifying suicide, blaming characters for the suicide that occurs, etc, I have always hated this book (and refuse to see the show). Years ago, I read it 2 or 3 times because I kept forgetting I had read it (obviously not very memorable). I actually met the author at a writing conference and for some reason he rubbed me the wrong way. Anyway, I can probably give you 13 reasons why you shouldn’t read this book, or you can just trust me.

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

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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.