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.

 

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.