Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spotlight: Holly Hearts Hollywood

Alright, ya'll. Today's another one of those spotlights for a new book coming out. In this case, the book came out exactly a week ago. HOLLY HEARTS HOLLYWOOD is a YA by debut author Kenley Conrad. While I can't promise anything about the book because I haven't yet gotten my hands on a copy, I can promise that you're in for a swoon-worthy ride. Kenley Conrad was an acquaintance of mine back in my Inkpop days, and I can personally guarantee the quality of writing from those old comrades.

Kenley Conrad is all about fun. As such, she's created a quiz to help you figure out: Which HOLLY HEARTS HOLLYWOOD Character Are You Most Like? Take the quiz, share your results; when I took it, I got Holly Hart.

And, as always, don't forget to check out the book!

Holly Hearts Hollywood
Kenley Conrad
Release Date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: Swoon Romance

Seventeen-year-old Holly Hart wants to be a star. She moves to Los Angeles from the small town of Cedar Junction, only to hear she’s too fat and ugly to be a famous singer.

But when Shell Shocked Records looks past Holly’s plus-size and less-than-graceful-personality to offer her a recording contract, Holly cannot believe her good fortune. On closer inspection, however, the record execs want Holly to do all the singing, and a thinner and more beautiful girl, Lacey, would lip-sync and get all the credit. Holly goes for it because after all, she wanted to sing.

Contractually bound to secrecy, Holly is more than happy to sit backstage while Lacey shimmies in the limelight and basks in the fame. Before she knows it, Holly is friends with Serena, the pop-star daughter of a music-mogul, flirting with an intern, and developing a strange half-friendship with Lacey.

When Grayson Frost, the biggest country star in America, and coincidentally, a former school bully begins dating Lacey, Holly hopes that he won’t recognize or torment her.

Through a series of embarrassing and weird events, Holly gets to know Grayson and learns that he is much nicer and more mature than he was four years ago. Holly is horrified when she starts falling for him. When Grayson admits he fell for Lacey's voice, what is a girl to do when she can’t legally tell the truth at the moment when the truth matters the most?

Goodreads * Amazon * Kobo Books

Meet the Author:

I'm the author of the upcoming YA series Holly Hearts Hollywood, coming September 2014 by Swoon Romance. I'm a twenty-something cat lady who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working my office day job or writing books, you can find me either singing and dancing or binge-watching TV shows on Netflix.

Website * Goodreads * Twitter * Facebook

And now, a giveaway! The winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card (international).

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Monday, September 29, 2014

On Plot: Climax

So your character was falsely arrested, thrown in jail, and just as they're about to be executed for a crime they didn't commit the warden comes in and slaps them on the back and says, "Just kidding! This whole thing's been a big misunderstanding. You're free to go!"

...then your character goes on their merry way and the end.

If you're wondering if something's missing, you're right. Where's the action? The suspense? The big reveal that the character's long-lost father is really the warden and he's afraid of his son/daughter taking over the family business that is the mafia and so must have them executed by the justice-driven eyes of the law (which really isn't that justified since the mafia owns the law)?

I have a golden rule about writing: don't cheat your readers. They've already invested their time in taking a look at your novel or short story, so why let them down and make them feel like their emotions were totally wasted?

The climax of your story is the top of the mountain, the moment that your characters have been working toward the entire rest of the book. There's no real formula for when, exactly, this moment should take place, but in many cases it's at the end of the novel (due to the fact that the events following it are more of a cool-down, sort of for the character but also for the reader because odds are you nearly gave them a heart attack).

This is the moment when Luke finds out Darth Vader's his father. When Harry Potter faces Voldemort (every time). When Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch of the West. It's the grand finale, the moment the good battles the bad (in some form or another) and you know that only one of them is making it out alive.

Of course, all of these examples are for the more action-y of plot lines (which, admittedly, I'm more well-versed in), but let me say: there is a climax in every genre. Romance, action, sci-fi...you name it. In PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER I'd say it's the moment when Charlie remembers his traumatic childhood. In IF I STAY, it's the moment that Mia decides whether she stays or leaves.

The climax is the moment everything changes (again). Where the inciting incident is the point of no return, the climax is where the bridge falls the moment you step off; when you look behind you there's just a wide black chasm. The only way to continue, is forward.

Like I already mentioned: don't cheat the reader by taking them to the end of the line and leaving them flat. It's like the taboo of having your character die, then wake up and say, "And it was only a dream..."

Yeah, don't do that.

So ask yourself: what's the game-changer? What's the moment your characters have been working toward, and what kind of big-reveal is there going to be? Emotionally and mentally, how is it going to affect your characters? Typically, there's a cost. So ask yourself: what will your characters pay?

When thinking about the climax (I call it the moment when "shit gets real"), it's also important to think about your character's motivations. More often than not, the climax is going to play directly into what your main character's been working toward for the entire novel (think about it: if Dorothy wanted to get home, she had to kill the Wicked Witch first, right?). Here's where I repeat: don't cheat your readers. On the same line: don't cheat your characters, either.everybody deserves some kind of closure, even if the "big reveal" leaves some questions answered and even more hanging open-ended.

Basically (and excuse my language): both your readers and your characters have dealt with enough of your shit. Give them something, even if it means taking things away at the same time.

Okay...I think I've just talked in circles. So I think I'm done, here. Maybe? *rereads*


If you get anything out of this, it should be this: don't cheat your readers. It's just not nice, or fun.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tea Time: Servants of the Storm

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

Servants of the Storm, Delilah S. Dawson

A year ago Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction — and taking the life of Dovey's best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her. 

But recently she's started to believe she's seeing things that can't be real ... including Carly at their favorite cafe. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined. 

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah — where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk — she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started. 
Dovey's running out of time and torn between two paths. Will she trust her childhood friend Baker, who can't see the threatening darkness but promises to never give up on Dovey and Carly? Or will she plot with the sexy stranger, Isaac, who offers all the answers — for a price? Soon Dovey realizes that the danger closing in has little to do with Carly ... and everything to do with Dovey herself. (source:goodreads)

Cover-Can you believe that creep-tastic cover? Look at how gorgeous and twisted it is. Like, it's almost literally twisted: no girl can stand like that without falling over because of a little thing called gravity, so you know that something seriously sinister is happening, here. Also: the dress makes the girl look...well, girly, and in horror novels that equates into something also seriously sinister.

Ergo: this cover gives me chills. I can't lie: it's one of my favorite covers that I've seen recently, and every time I noticed it somewhere on social media I wanted my own copy for the sole reason of being able to stare at it and appreciate how awesome it looks.

Narrative-SERVANTS (I'm abbreviating) is told in the first person POV from the perspective of the admirably spunky Dovey.  Spunky is just one word I can use to describe the way her personality comes out in this writing, and colorful is another. Dawson managed to do an amazing job in really using the language in her narrative to put the reader in the character's head. It's so southern I could hear the accent in my head as I read along; that same accent was amazingly clear from the first page, when it can typically take a chapter or two for me to really latch on to a particular speech pattern.

And if I say any more I really think I'll accidentally spread over into the character portion of this review, but something else I have to say: the description, too, is fantastic. I hope I'm not spoiling anything when I say that there's a portion of the novel where Dovey is drugged to forget about an event that just happened (an event that's fully described in the narrative), and by the end of the scene even I felt like it was all just a dream. Being able to use language in such a life-like way is a talent I would kill for. Definitely worth the read just for the narrative style, itself.

Plot-The first thing I need to get out of my system about this plot? It kept me up at night. Yep, I said it. There was one night in particular when I said, "Okay, Rae, you can read one more chapter." So I read that chapter, then laid awake long enough to realize that there was no way I'd sleep without nightmares so I picked up the book, again, and waited until a scene ended on a high-ish note.

To sum it up sans-spoilers (well, hopefully): Hurricane Josephine isn't a storm, it's one powerful demon. She takes over the south and basically everyone who died was turned into a servant, forced into demonic servitude for all eternity. Dovey finds this out when she sees her dead best friend, Carly, and embarks on a mission with a ruggedly handsome cambion Isaac to save not only Carly's soul, but hers and Isaac's, and the souls of everyone in town.

This book rocks.

Part of the reason is because Dawson uses cambions, a strange and special and really cool type of demon from old folklore. The reason I love this so much is because once upon a time little high-schooler Rae was actually researching cambions for one of her own writing endeavors, and it's kind of rare to come across someone who's heard of them before. So major brownie points, there.

But I also just love how creepy and original this felt. As already mentioned, Dawson's use of language dropped me right in the middle of the south, and using Dovey's voice the setting was extremely real to me. But I also loved how contemporary the demons were (using drugs to control humans, for example) and the whole "hell no there's no happy ending yet" feel to the whole thing. It was absolutely horrific and it speaks to the part of me that's always loved a good horror novel; it's not often that I find one that's actually worthy of making my skin crawl.

Admittedly, there were a few moments or details that made me slightly cringe. These instances shot me out of the suspense of the book like I was on a slingshot, and it was more because they seemed a bit...ridiculous? I think that's the word I'm looking for. The major one was that, to become a servant to a demon, the demon bit off your pinky finger and as long as they had that piece of your pinky finger, you were there. I eventually accepted it, worked through it, the whole nine yards, but for some reason that took a bit of the dire seriousness out of the plot and I still have no idea why.

Also; there's a huge bombshell about who-or what-Dovey really is. And it was so extremely sudden that I felt like it could have used a better lead-up before bam the reader and Dovey both find out. Then Dovey accepted it really quickly. Given the circumstances, I can kind of understand it, but then again it should have still  been a very large rock to swallow so I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it.

Okay, one more thing: love triangle. There's a love triangle. It doesn't take up too much of the overall plot, but I feel like it's something I should mention in case any of ya'll just love or insanely hate them. Me? It always depends on how it's done, and I'm still admittedly on the fence about this one.

But yeah. Creepy, horrific, and it'll definitely keep you up at night as long as you can get past a few of the the more ridiculous carnival-esque pieces of it.

Characters-I think there are...four characters worth bringing up. *mentally counts* Yep, four that I think are worth talking about due to their prominence within the plot.

The first, obviously, is Dovey. As already mentioned she's a spitfire, full of sarcasm and things that probably shouldn't be said out loud if you want to keep your teeth in your mouth. Being Dovey, she gets away with it and I love her for that. Inquisitive and willing to take risks, and she's loyal to a fault; the moment she even gets a whiff of Carly a year after her death in the hurricane, she destroys her pills that she's been on and begins to try and solve the mystery of what the heck happened to her best friend. Just as much as I loved her personality, I also loved her voice; like I said way up at the top of this thing, her accent and colorful speech made the plot come alive. A few times I kind of rolled my eyes, though; she was smitten with Isaac really fast, and I kind of cringe when that kind of thing happens. Then again,  Isaac has magical powers that make other people smitten with him. So it kind of makes sense. Sort of?

On to Isaac: he's sort of simple. A demon with a clock ticking, and when it runs down he's going to have to make a choice about the rest of his life, and the existence of his soul for all eternity. He's smart and mysterious, and has major connections, and he's secretly plotting to kill the demon woman, Kitty, who he has an extremely complicated relationship with. And he's a bartender. And he's got wickedly gorgeous eyes. (Okay, maybe I'm smitten with him, too).

Kitty. The demon woman wreaking havoc on Dovey's life, friends, family, and home. She's totally evil, and I totally love her for that because heartless demons with a good sense of style and power are probably one of my favorite things ever. And not only is she creating her very own army of loyal servants, she's going to try and start a war against Josephine, herself, and while you don't technically get to meet Josephine the only thing you need to know is that she's got immense power and Kitty's like a cockroach. But Kitty's got ambition and she controls how Dovey's going to spend eternity. So she's got a pretty good shot.

Last is Baker. Sweet, brave, and stupid Baker. I've got to give the kid credit for doing the things he does: he can't see all the demonic things happening around him, so he kind of lets Dovey lead him around blind (there's this scene with an amusement park and after Baker got home I really hope he questioned his life decisions at least a little bit). Then again, he's got reasons: he's a loyal friend to Dovey (and wishes for something more) and he was also a friend to Carly; basically, if Dovey's going on a demon hunt to set their dead best friend free, he doesn't want to get left behind. I did feel like there was a bit of desperation behind him, though, and I'm not quite sure that helped his image too much. Ultimately, I thought he was a sweet kid but was way too obviously out of his league, and in some instances he was a bit more of a naive hindrance than anything else.

One thing I've got to give to each of these characters: they were all fairly believable and realistic, which is definitely something to strive for.

Final Answer: 4.25 / 5

With SERVANTS, there were definitely some instances that I think the author could have made a different choice. But ultimately it was an enjoyable read, suspenseful, and I'm a sucker for a really creep-tastic plot that keeps me up at nights, so I'm sold. And I really hope there's a sequel out there somewhere because that ending kind of killed me.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shameless: Reading Banned Books

Today's post is in honor of Banned Books Week; so, in case ya'll didn't know about BBW go out and read a banned book and love it. Because there's a whole slew of things better off banned than books.

A long time ago I wrote a post on why banning books really grinds my gears, and since it's Banned Books Week, I figured I'd reiterate a few points and maybe bring out a few new ones.

For one, I feel like I should start with this: did you know that THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky was one of the top 10 challenged books of 2013? And, get this: did you know that I named my blog after this wonderful book? Because I identified with it in a strange way, and it inspired me to really start chasing my dreams.

(Check out these ALA Frequently Challenged Books lists)

Other common banned and challenged books include recent popular titles like THE HUNGER GAMES (Suzanne Collins), HARRY POTTER (J.K. Rowling), THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (Jay Asher), LOOKING FOR ALASKA (John Greene), and even TWILIGHT (Stephanie Meyer).

Want some commonly banned books that can be considered on a more classic scale? Try BRAVE NEW WORLD (Aldous Huxley), OF MICE AND MEN (John Steinbeck), THE KITE RUNNER (Khaled Hosseini), and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Harper Lee).

I mean, okay. Those were all just to name a few, but in that previous paragraph all three of those books were required reading at my high school. And you know what? I'm glad for it.

Common reasons for challenging or banning books tend to include: drug use, alcohol use, sexually explicit scenes, foul language, religious viewpoints, and political viewpoints. Or, god forbid, the books are "unsuited for age group."


Here's the thing: these books are being challenged for being realistic, and that's a huge problem. Sure, we don't round up two people from every state or country and shove them in a giant arena to kill each other, but who, here, actually thinks that's the point of THE HUNGER GAMES? My opinion has always been as follows: people drink, people do drugs, people swear, people have sex. People will have a different religious viewpoint than you do and people will have a different political viewpoint than you do.

Suck it up. Widen your horizons. Accept the fact that everybody in this world is different, and accept the fact that this world isn't as blissfully pretty as you'd like to believe.

Literature is supposed to make us think. It's supposed to make us uncomfortable. Because, guess what? Literature is how we look at our own world through a slightly different lens, emphasizing some aspect of life or another. Sometimes it's ugly, yes. And if it makes you uncomfortable, then think about why. And if it still makes you uncomfortable then politely put the book down and say, "Hey, this book isn't for me."

Nobody's going to lynch you in front of the library, okay?

My biggest problem with banned books is the fact that it involves some Big Brother kind of power making a decision for others. Sometimes it's only one or two people-such as parents telling their children that certain books are not acceptable-and sometimes it involves an entire community-a whole town or school. This is what I'm not okay with, because in these cases it usually involves an adult telling a child that they cannot read something.

Which means that the child will not have the opportunity to be introduced to other things. By keeping them "sheltered" in this way, some believe it's a kind of protection, when in reality it hurts them more than anything because it breeds ignorance in the light of many common issues that plague us, today.

Many of the issues that people have problems with tend to be on the superficial level of the text in question-simply refer back to that list of reasons that I gave you straight from the ALA website. Language, drugs, alcohol...because people get so wound up over these ultimately insignificant issues they miss the big picture offered in many truly amazing books. If you look past the violence in THE HUNGER GAMES, you can find a mockery of media and a girl's quest for identity while everyone around her tries to tell her who she is (this latter one is a common theme among many books; think PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austin: Elizabeth Bennet struggles against the bounds of her society, trying to find herself when everyone-including her own mother-insists that she's a woman and a woman must become a wife, and her value comes from how well she marries. Or am I the only one who saw the similarities in this theme?).

Another example: THE KITE RUNNER. Reasons for being challenged include references to homosexuality and sexually explicit scenes. But beyond all of that is a quest for a boy to come to terms with mistakes he's made and the consequences of doing nothing in the face of conflict. It's another tale about identity and how to find it in a world that's not safe, and probably never will be.

What about books that are challenged because of their religious or political viewpoints? In my opinion, these books are not written for the goal of shoving the author's beliefs down the reader's throats. Many of these only have a slight dusting of it. Heck, I'm not going to stop reading Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN CYCLE books just because one of the characters goes to a Catholic church very Sunday. A series of books written for young readers that has a lot more of a religious opinion (and has also been challenged a lot) is the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy by Philip Pullman. Even as a middle schooler, I could tell that there was a huge criticism of religion, and while at times it put me off I kept reading for the story, itself: the characters within it were at a crossroads, trying to maneuver the world between being a kid and becoming an adult, and struggling to accept that as they grow older, the world will change and nothing can ever stay the same.

All of these books offer a different perspective on life. Life from the past, life that could happen in the future, and, above all, life that's happening right now. By banning books and shutting out these themes and messages to new generations, readers are going to stop seeing the themes between them and learn to focus on the superficial levels, drawing conclusions that in reality aren't even there and wearing rose-colored glasses so dark that they're eventually going to trip over their feet and have a real shock when those glasses fall off.

So what's my point? Banning books is ridiculous. It does more harm than good. It teaches people to accept what's given to them instead of exploring things for themselves. Ultimately, it's not fair to those who never even get the option to decide for themselves.

And those are my reasons. What are yours?

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Monday, September 22, 2014

On Plot: Inciting Incidents

Last week I talked briefly on exposition, the "hook" of your book. This week I figured I'd keep going and talk about the inciting incident because, well, it kind of just makes sense to me.

The inciting incident of your novel is basically what I'd call the cannon. It's huge in some way or another, and it shoots your story off into the sunset at a breakneck speed (figuratively). This is the point of no return, where the plot takes off and your character's life is changed in some way forever.

Think of it another way: the inciting incident is your first domino. If it's never tipped over, then there's an entire series of events that would never happen and at least half of your book would become obsolete.

What I personally love about these things is that they can be so different from novel to novel. It can involve the death of a character, meeting a new character, something good happening or something bad. It can be anything so long as it has an impact on your character's life. Want a third analogy? Picture a giat boulder on top of a hill. The inciting incident is more than likely going to be that tiny little nudge that sends the thing carreening into the village below, and it doesn't care who suffers for it.

Keep in mind, though, that it doesn't have to necessarily be huge or even impact everything in your plot. I'll give you an example of each:

It Doesn't Have to Be "Huge"

In my Secret Project, my main character gets high, and that's basically the cause of everything that happens next. Because of her inebriated state, she almost gets hit by a car, and she's pushed out of the way by a rather rude guy who proceeds to insult her.

The end.

My MC later meets a set of people, thinks nothing of them, and doesn't notice them again until she realizes they're friends with the guy who saved her life. Then she cozies up to them for a reason completely unrelated to the first incident. And so the dominoes fall, all because she met the rude guy when he saved her life.

Nothing catastrophic happened, and yet the plot is kicked off.

Special Note: there is an event that happens ten years before the book takes place, which is considered extremely huge. While it is an inciting incident in some ways, the happenings within the book are kicked off by the event I already described. The point? You can have more than one incident that sets things off in your book, they'll just apply to different story lines that will eventually tangle together.

Which leads me to my next point:

It Doesn't Have to Impact Everything

My other current project, THE HOLLOW MEN, follows two girls: Moe and Ronnie. They both have completely different inciting incidents, as well.

In Moe's case, this incident impacts her entire plot line; her half of the story simply would not exist had her incident not taken place.

In Ronnie's case, though, the inciting incident only pushes through about half of her storyline, inviting questions about a mole within her rebel group and making her retreat even more into her quiet and violent nature than usual. She's really just extra hard on herself. It's not until her path and Moe's intersect that the rest of her story really starts to take off.

My point here: Ronnie's inciting incident didn't kick off her entire storyline because there are still a number of events that rely on outside influences.


I really hope that makes sense. Sometimes I'm bad at explaining things, and if you're confused then shoot me a message and I'll do whatever I can to make myself clearer.

My point is: your inciting incident has to be a point that impacts your character in some way or another so profusely that they might never recover from it. If they do, they'll never forget it. It can also be a tremendous push, giving your character the incentive they need to keep moving forward throughout the novel.

If it helps, here's the events in a few novels I've read, recently, that I personally view as the inciting incident:

Servants of the Storm (Delilah S. Dawson)-Dovey sees her best friend at their favorite cafe, a year after the best friend died.
Dorothy Must Die (Danielle Paige)-Amy Gumm is transported to Oz through a twister.
Gates of Thread and Stone (Lori M. Lee)-Kai's brother, Reev, goes missing.

Notice something: if you look up the summaries to these books on Goodreads/Amazon/Barnes and Noble, each of these incidents is one of the first things you'll read. This can help you figure out your own: write a small pitch/summary of your novel. The inciting incident-the thing that ignites the fire-will probably be one of the first things you write (or hint at) in order to catch the appeal of a reader.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tea Time: How to Be Manly

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

How to Be Manly, Maureen O'Leary Wanket

When Fatty Matty Sullivan finds a self-help book by former football great Tad Manly at a yard sale, he secretly starts following the old pro’s advice to get in shape and get the girl. Summer goals: lose the milkshake weight, join the football team, and turn himself into the kind of guy super hot Cassie Bale will love.

But between taking care of his grandfather, trying to pass remedial Algebra, and getting caught up in his friend Jester’s half-baked weed-dealing schemes, Matty’s summer isn’t quite the game-changer he’d planned. When on top of it all his dad moves back in with his own plans to get rich quick, Matty suddenly has much bigger things to worry about than football and whether or not Cassie’s going to call him back. And it turns out that there might be more to being manly than he thought.

Maureen O’Leary Wanket’s debut is a sharp, comic novel about trying to do the right thing...even when you’re not sure what that is.(source:goodreads)

Cover-Overall, I'd say the cover is simple. The simplicity works, though: handwreitten type, along witht he basic "messy-ness" kind of all play into this theme of the main character, Matthew, wanting to go from (basically) "slob to...hot guy"? Basically.

Money on the bottom corner, doughnut plus crumbs (off-topic, but I've been craving a doughnut for about three weeks, now. Not quite sure why). It all plays in. Even what I'm going to call the "green stuff" in the upper corner. Which I mean, I'm a total advocate for covers having to reflect the novel within, and this cover definite does that.

Narrative-HOW TO BE MANLY is told from the first person POV of our main character, Matthew "Fatty Matty" Sullivan.

And I will say this right away, to get it out in the open: the narrative was the weakest part of the novel for me. When I read the first line, I thought of about three other ways it could be written to pack a bit more punch, and throughout reading I found myself mentally editing: combining sentences and breaking them up in order to alter the flow a bit and change up the sentence length.

Mostly, what got me was that the entire novel felt like telling. Either stories to describe people came up telling (and in awkward places) or else scenes, themselves, were filled with less description than I would have liked. The style was flat, which made imaging the world of the book a bit harder. It also made it harder for me to engage with the plot and the characters a bit more. So much advice from agents and editors comes in the form of "the voice must stand out," and in this book, it didn't. Sometimes the Unfortunately, I would have probably put the book down without a second thought for a year or two if I wasn't so adamant about reading a book all the way through.

In summary: flat narrative, and too much telling/not enough showing.

Plot-The concept of this novel was something I found interesting. And, really, I liked it. The idea of a boy who is unhappy with his weight trying to become "manly" through an old self-help book is something that can be taken right out of reality, so I was extremely interested to see where the author took it.

There was a classic mix between the main character trying to better himself through the book while there were so many setbacks happening in his life: deadbeat dad, drug-dealing friends, a mentally-ill grandfather, a decaying house that they can't afford to fix up.

So on the surface, I think the plot is a good one. However (unfortunately), I feel like my misgivings about it relate back to the narrative; there was just something missing, which made the timeline feel a tad fast, so when a few of the plot points came about I wasn't as invested as I could have been in the happenings.

Characters-To start with, I liked the characters. Something that I'm always extremely wary about when reading any book that takes place in or around high school or high school students is the excessive or heavy stereotyping (dumb jock, bitchy cheerleader, nerdy nerd, etc.). And while there was a small smidge of those typical personalities floating about, what I really enjoyed was how the plot didn't rely on those stereotypes, and they didn't wind up being completely overbearing.

Our main character, Matty, takes up the bulk of the story (bad pun?). From the first page there's a huge worry about his weight, mostly because he needs a larger size of jeans (and he's already almost at the largest there is). And even though his grandmother succeeds in thouroughly embarrassing him in public (both in the dressing room and then having a grand conversation with the coach of his high school's basketball team...along with the coach's daughter, Jessica), there's a lot of love in his heart for his family, which consists of the grandmother and grandfather. While much of the book revolves around Matty trying to lose some weight and lean up, his mind was also on a plethora of other things: his neighbor in the hospital (loads of guilt, there), the fact that their house is falling apart, his no-good father shows up (and obviously nothing good can come from that), the girl he likes (Cassie), trying to figure out a way to make money...it never ends. Yet I have to admit that Matty's chaacter does pull through, even at the end of some bad decisions. He's got an extremely good heart, which made me like him a heck of a lot better than the majority of the characters.

All of the characters have great, individual personalities. I could probably name them just by dialogue, they're all pretty distinct. The only negative thing I have to say about the characters in the book as a whole is that I feel like the author was just skimming the surface. Like I said, there's great personalities in each of them; I really only wish that more time had been spent looking a little more into them, as well. They could have all been fleshed out a little more.

Ultimately, like I said: I really enjoyed the concept. The book is overall on the short side (about 165 pages), and I think a lot of the fleshing out I mentioned could have been fixed by simply a few things here and there.

Final Answer: 2.75 / 5

If you'd like to check out the book for yourself, look for it on Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

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HOW TO BE MANLY by @Maureenow earns almost 3 out of 5 stars from @Rae_Slater. Read the review (Click to Tweet)

Special thanks to Rachel Miller from Giant Squid Books for providing me with an eARC of HOW TO BE MANLY for review.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pessimism Can Pay

So on the first day of of my Practicum in Grammar class this semester (yes, I'm a grammar nerd and I love that class; no shame), I ran into somebody I knew. So, obviously, I sat with him and we're now class buddies. After talking for a few minutes while waiting for our professor to show up, he realized something that he didn't mind pointing out to me.

He said, "Wow, you're kind of a pessimist. I never new that."

He said it like it was an interesting revelation, and honestly I found it kind of funny. I'm extremely self-aware--a consequence of years of self-consciousness that I've managed to mostly rid myself of. Therefore, I know that I'm a pessimist.

Actually, that's a lie. I tend to refer to myself as a realist. That glass-half-empty/full question? Normally my answer is: "Um...it's at half?" So it's kind of passive, there. Yet I know that I mostly flip between pessimism and realism; my compromise is calling myself a realistic pessimist.

Then again, that's a lot of labels. And I typically don't like to deal with labels, but occasionally I become a bit of a self-imposed hypocrite so sue me.

Back to the story: said guy who was really surprised that I'm a pessimist then followed up with: "I mean, you're always so bubbly and happy."

It's kind of stuck in my mind (obviously, since that was about a month ago, already). And I mean, here I am thinking: well, normally I try to be in a good mood. I really do try. But at the same time, I value basic acts of honesty so if somebody asks me how I'm doing I might just reply with a bitter-toned: "Awful. Today sucks and I hate everybody."

Maybe it has to do with deliverance. Because occasionally I'll say something like the phrase above, and get a response of: "Wow, you sound really happy about that..."

The point of today's post is that pessimism isn't really a bad thing, in my opinion. Realism isn't, and neither is optimism. Personally, I think it helps me really see the world around me and channel it into my writing: if I thought everything was peachy-keen all the time then I wouldn't see much worth writing about. Being honest with myself about how I'm really feeling, or what I really think about a certain day, also helps me develop my characters; honesty is necessary to dig down deep and really figure out what's at the core of a person (regardless of the fact that my characters aren't actually honest with me most of the time; psh. Details.).

Basically, it's taken a long time to get to this point, but I'm happy with myself. I embrace my occasional bad moods and bitter statements. On days when I'm in a really bad mood, I become the ultimate sass-master. It happens. I'd be a liar if I said it didn't and frankly I've gotten too tired of trying to hide everything I've ever been feeling.

So I mean, pessimism isn't a bad thing. Not when it's totally applicable to my writing life, and not when apparently I handle and "hide" my pessimism so well. I guess. Anyway, like I said, it allows me to be totally honest with myself which, looking at where I am in life now (college) is incredibly helpful.

And I really think this can be applied in another way to novels; more importantly, to the characters in our novels. Pessimism is typically seen as a negative trait. There's actually a lot of negative traits out there. But is there a way to make them, somehow, not seem so bad? In the delivery of them, maybe?

Anyway. Those are my thoughts, at least.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

On Plot: Expositions

So I've been honestly racking my brain for things to write about here. I know I haven't covered anywhere near every topic ever, but I'm also afraid of repeating myself. However, I'm not too sure that I've actually talked much about individual plot components.

Let's change that, shall we? I'll even start from the beginning.

Ya'll all remember that "plot mountain" from elementary and middle school. Personally, I've always hated it; then again, I'm not much of a visual learner. At the same time, it is a good, basic visual, and it always starts with the exposition.

Exposition = (roughly) your first chapter/page/250 words. Choose any of the above. It's the very beginning, the hook of your book, the little shiny thing that needs to catch your reader's eyes. It needs to be interesting, in some way; it needs to invite your reader to keep turning the page.

What's the magic formula for this? Sadly, there isn't one. Some say start with action, others with something slower. Granted, there's both pros and cons to both of those (if  the beginning of your novel is too slow your reader will get bored, and if you shove them in the middle of an action scene too willy-nilly, they'll get lost). There's an extremely delicate balance of excitement and background that needs to be involved in writing the beginning of your novel.

It can also be seen or said that the way you can start your novel depends on the genre. I kind of figure this baloney. This would be the thing that says action-filled beginnings go with thrillers/action/dystopian/sci-fi and slower go with gen-fic and contemporary. One look around the bookstore should debunk that myth pretty well for you, though.

In addition to grabbing your reader, your exposition has a few other things to get done: introduce your main character(s), establish a setting (including helping the reader establishing a genre), and pave the way for your inciting incident. That's a big job.

And like I said, there's no right way. Basically you've got to do what's right in your gut, and don't be afraid to move your beginning around once you're in the second, third, fourth, etc. draft until you find the right place and the right way to suck your reader in.

There is a bit of help I can provide you with: The Write Life has this list compiled from a bunch of literary agents, quoting them on the worst ways to begin a novel, and I've found it extremely helpful and occasionally funny. It includes the obvious:

-Do not begin with your character waking up slowly
-Do not have your character look in the mirror and describe themselves
-Do not fake out the reader: the entire first chapter's only a dream? Waste of time.

Something else to be aware of is the weight that voice has. First person, third person? It doesn't matter. Every writer and character has a voice, and I would put money on the fact that you can pull off almost any kind of exposition with the right voice. Find it, study it, explore it, write it.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tea Time: The Dream Thieves

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle #2)

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. 

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. 
Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...(source:goodreads)

Cover-Let me just take one, quick moment sum up how this cover makes me feel.

Ready? *takes breath*

*squees loudly*

Okay, done. But, seriously. That cover is freaking gorgeous and basically completely encapsulates what the book is about. There's Ronan (it's obviously Ronan), with, well, things coming out of him. Which is basically what most of THE DREAM THIEVES is about: Ronan's dreams intruding into reality and vice-versa. It's dark and light, shadowed and mysterious. Basically? Perfection.

Narrative-I take back every bad thing I said about Stiefvater's writing style in THE RAVEN BOYS. Told in third person POV from the perspectives of Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and occasionally a new character who goes by the name Grey, the narrative is...well, it's gold.

What constantly got me was the way I was put into the shoes of the character. Simply by the language and emotions evoked, I was sucked in and short of breath half the time, particularly in a few instances that are told from Adam's point of view. I don't understand it. I just know that it kept me hooked and reading, almost like a poem (even though I don't even read poetry so it's not really my strong suit).

And of course, there were a few times where I was just laughing at inopportune moments (earning me strange glances from passersby in the hallways at school). Stiefvater has such a quick wit that she manages to pass on to her characters that I don't even know how I managed to get this far in life without it.

Plot-In the same way that THE RAVEN BOYS could be said to be mostly about Gansey and Blue, THE DREAM THIEVES is very much about Ronan. Very much. At the end of the first book in this series he lets loose the bombshell that he took his raven, Chainsaw, from his dreams, which kicks off the introduction to this sequel.

Ronan has this fantastic gift of being able to take things out of his dreams and bring them into reality. The entire book, then, is spent with him trying to both run from the nightmares that occasionally come loose, and also attempting to get his abilities under enough control that he can willingly take things that he wants instead of objects appearing from his consciousness by mistake. We (the readers) learn a ton about his past, the death of his father, and also that he's not alone in this gift. There's actually somebody (that he hates) who winds up sort-of helping him, but I digress.

Of course, it's a Raven Cycle book, as well; regardless of what I said, this book also follows Gansey closely as he continues to look for his treasure (a king supposedly buried nearby). Of course, the forest that he and the other boys, with Blue's help, disappeared. So that makes things difficult. So Ronan needs to use his dream-ability there. And then there's Noah, who's dead and losing energy. And Adam's going crazy. And Blue's...well she's Blue (or Jane, according to Gansey).

And then there's an explosion. Explosions rock.

Have I mentioned how much I love the subtle waves of magic that are threaded through the book? It's not overloaded. And the characters' lives actually don't get pushed into the background and replaced with "more important" things. The supernatural and reality are so carefully balanced. And this review is getting long.

And can BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE get here, yet?

Characters-While there's the introduction of a few new characters, what I really loved about this book was how the existing characters were fleshed out. As already mentioned, we learn a lot more about Ronan: his father's murder, and also the reason why there was a section of his will that forbade his sons from setting foot in their own home.

There's also more going on between Adam and Blue: previously, they were a cute little couple, but with Adam going  a little crazy, and also his abusive past, things get a little rocky. We see Blue getting closer with Gansey (only slightly, I swear), but their firm friendship still stands strong.

Gansey, himself, is kind of wonderful. He has his self-imposed mission, sure, but what makes me fall in love with him just a little more is that he also cares deeply about his friends. Only, some of them (*cough*Adam*cough*) are too proud to accept help because it feels like pity. A recurring thing I noticed, though, was his insistence at keeping his friends safe and in line: making smart decisions, staying in school, not throwing away their future over something silly like pride or embarrassment. He's like a male mother hen, concerned first and foremost with the actual lives of those he calls friends, and their roles in the treasure hunt come second.

And I have to mention Noah. Poor guy. Occasionally he reenacts his own death, and he's legit running out of energy to keep his ghost visible and, well, there.

Now, there are a few villains, and I won't name them, but I will say that while not too much is actually known about their lives or their past (we get details, of course), they still manage to come out as, well...real. Attention-seekers, eager to find someone like them, running from their past...it all comes out and came across as incredibly real to me. Human, you know?

So, obviously I'm biased. But I really hope I backed myself up enough to qualify THE DREAM THIEVES as getting one of my incredibly rare perfect scores. If you haven't, already, read this book. Or read THE RAVEN BOYS, first, and then read this book.

And then join me on the long wait until the third book, BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE is released in October.

Final Answer: 5 / 5

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An explosive sequel (literally, there's an explosion). @Rae_Slater reviews THE DREAM THIEVES @mstiefvater (Click to Tweet)