Book Review: The Map from Here to There

Last year, a friend of mine gave me the gift of a bunch of random books (both published and ARCs) they’d acquired, read, and were willing to part with. I’ve been slowly working my way through what I was given and reviewing them as I go. There is absolutely, no rhyme or reason to my pattern. I literally eenie meenie miney mo my way through my TBR pile. Which is probably how I ended up accidentally reading this book, which is a sequel, without ever having a clue that it was, in fact, a sequel. So, here’s my adventure in reading something and having a very strong feeling I missed something. 

The Map from Here to There, a sequel to The Start of Me and You, is by Emery Lord, and was released January 20, 2020.

Book Summary: 

It’s senior year, and Paige Hancock is finally living her best life. She has a fun summer job, great friends, and a super charming boyfriend who totally gets her. But senior year also means big decisions. Weighing “the rest of her life,” Paige feels her anxiety begin to pervade every decision she makes. Everything is exactly how she always wanted it to be–how can she leave it all behind next year? In her head, she knows there is so much more to experience after high school. But in her heart, is it so terrible to want everything to stay the same forever?

What I Enjoyed: 

Despite my complete foul up, I totally understood what was going on and everything I missed in the first book, with only the vague idea that this seemed like enough backstory for a whole other book, so that was pretty damn impressive. 

This book, much like the last one I read, was great anxiety representation. I felt for Paige and her panic about the huge, life-changing decisions that come with being a senior in high school and having to decide on colleges. Add to that the fear of a new relationship that everyone around her sees as inevitable, and the fact that her divorced parents have been dating again, and you’ve got a major anxiety cocktail.

And it’s not pretty. Which is probably my favorite thing about this. Paige, who seems like a decent and nice person on the whole, does some epically stupid stuff while in the grasp of this anxiety, and it does some real damage to her relationships. There are consequences and they matter. 

Another thing I loved? The characters and what they faced. Paige’s struggles weren’t the only ones. Paige’s boyfriend, Max, struggles with a renewed relationship with his previously absent father and deciding what he wants to do with his life, as well as the fallout of Paige’s decisions. He also has to decide whether he wants to choose his college to go in line with where Paige gets accepted, an issue that helps push Paige’s anxiety levels up a few notches. Never mind the fact that Max is just adorable. His confident nerdiness with a slice of vulnerability made him the perfect boyfriend and foil for Paige’s nervous overthinking.

Paige has three close girl friends, and they each have their own storylines that are real struggles. Tessa also struggles with her newly long distance relationship, as her girlfriend heads to college. She tries her best to help Paige, her closest friend of the friend group, and often ends up getting the brunt of Paige’s attitude. Kayleigh’s father is getting remarried, and she is dealing with choosing a college that is not the college she and her bestie Morgan agreed upon. Also, Morgan may be falling for her brother and she isn’t sure how she feels about it. After Morgan receives a negative diagnosis, she strikes out on a quest to spread sex education and women’s health education through the state, fighting the school board as she goes. 

And then there’s Hunter. Hunter is Paige’s friend from her job at the local movie theater. For reasons I can’t get into without spoiling things, I really loved the arc of his character. I loved the fact that tropes were completely tossed out the window when it came to him, and I really appreciated the resolution his character reached in the end. He was extremely well-handled, despite the fears I grew toward the minute of the book. 

What I’d Avoid: 

I really think it should say the book is a sequel somewhere on the book. I seriously had no idea I was getting into a story midway. I mean, the author did a good job of recapping, but I kinda wish I knew beforehand. I spoiled the previous book for myself! I wish I could have gotten to see Paige and Max fall in love. Dang it. 

The other thing I had an issue with also might be spoilery. The ending was lovely, however, I wish there was more closure. I get that that was kind of the point at the end, the idea that some things, you don’t know, you will never know, until life and its infinite twists and turns decides them for you. However, there were a couple of questions that I think could have been answered more definitively before the closing of the novel…unless, of course, there’s a third story planned for this series. 

What Can I Learn From it: 

This was prime ensemble casting. As someone who tends to overstuff and then have to cut down on my ensemble casting (you don’t want to know how many characters I had to cut out of Order to streamline the story into something I could be proud of). The author manages to handle a large ensemble of characters without any of them ever feeling like they get lost in the shuffle. 

Would I recommend it:  

Yes. But I would recommend you read it in order. *facepalm*

5 Awesome Things That Happened In February (+ 1 Thing in March)

Hi all! 

Last month was an awesome month for me. If any of you read fanfiction, I’ve decided to format this post in the time honored tradition of a 5+1 fic. So, here’s my five awesome things that happened in February, + 1 from March.

  1. I got a book cover and my book went up for presale! Check out this beautiful thing! And the physical copy is up for presale. If you order through Black Rose Writing, use the code PREORDER2020 to get a 15% discount. https://www.blackrosewriting.com/teenya/theorderofthekey. It’s also available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1684335043/ref=dbs_a_def_awm_bibl_vppi_i2
    And at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-order-of-the-key-justine-manzano/1136575285?ean=9781684335046.
    And let me tell you, those were dreams come true. 
  2. I made my first convention appearance. Sure, it was online…but I probably liked that better anyway. All. Those. People. Not that I don’t love people. I’m just easily emotionally overwhelmed when there’s a lot of them. Anyway…my first appearance was at WriteOnCon 2020, in their Indie HQ section. I gave a forum speech titled “Not Right For Me: How to Find Red Flags in Indie/Micropress.” This is a topic anyone following the journey to publishing Order knows about. Check it out here: https://writeonconforums.org/thread/3023/right-find-flags-indie-micropress
  3. I was the guest on an awesome podcast and it wasn’t (exactly) about my writing. I appeared on Ronin Uncensored, where I spoke with host Joshua Lee Ronin about raising a child with mental illness, coping with my own, and how all of this affects my writing. This is me, completely uncensored. I spoke about things I don’t normally speak about and since I’m not big on that thing where people project a representative of themselves in the public eye that looks nothing like the real them, I felt really good about this podcast. Check it (and all of Joshua’s interviews because he’s a super insightful interviewer) here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4uZrIzdDwgbKC8R90qzrva
  4. Have you ever heard about the amazing KJ Harrowick? Well, if you haven’t, allow me to introduce you: http://halon-chronicles.com/. This is her website. Not only is she a kick ass writer, but she is now my web and logo designer. We’ve partnered to reinvigorate this here old site and make it into something as glorious as hers. So expect a new logo, a new site, and loads of awesome looking stuff to come. And go follow KJ. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and she’s glorious. ❤
  5. Now…have you heard of Boogie Down Books?
    https://boogiedownbooks.com/ Well, you should have! I’ve been doing readings of children’s books there for years and wrote a blog post on it and everything! LOL, but I forgive you. Now you need to know about them, because they will be partnering with me to sell the books at my book launch! We’re looking for a great location and have a few great leads I hope to lock up soon. Once I do, you know you’ll be notified. For now, if you’re interested in attending and you’re in the NY area, save the weekend of July 11th. 

And now for the plus one…

  1. I’ve just signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April! Why? Because I am currently starting work on the sequel to The Order of the Key, titled The Skeleton Key. I’ve got a lot of brilliant ideas for this one, and will likely be very busy planning the outline this month. So look for more information on this one as I work through this. 

Anyway, I hope all is well with all of you! Let me know what’s new in the comments. 

All my love, 

Justine

Book Review: Till it Stops Beating

I’ve been meaning to read this book FOR AGES. 

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know about one of my first jobs in publishing was as a reader for Sucker Literary. Sucker was a YA Anthology run by author Hannah R. Goodman. In my time working for Sucker, and also submitting my work to Sucker, Hannah and I got to know each other. And when her book Till It Stops Beating was released in July 2018, I quickly snatched up a copy, and it has lived amidst my TBR list ever since. 

More recently, after a conversation with Hannah, I realized I hadn’t yet read that book, because life got in the way, and my TBR list is years old and contains more books than I’ll ever probably read. I pushed everything else aside and finally picked it up. 

Book Summary: 

Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).

Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever-mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.

Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.

What I Enjoyed: 

I’ve been suffering from anxiety since I was a teenager. My son has suffered from sometimes crippling anxiety for most of his life. He’s only ten. And so, Till It Stops Beating’s main character, Maddie Hickman immediately earned herself a very solid place in my heart. This was genuine mental health rep, with a relatable protagonist, whose anxiety manifests itself in realistic ways. 

Maddie has been through a lot. She’s been through the death of a friend. The addictions of her sister and the boy she once loved, but still can’t shake. She’s struggled through some nightmare scenarios, and when she discovers her Bubbie (Grandma, for those of you who weren’t raised at least somewhat Jewish), it takes her a minute, but Maddie finally shuts down. She implodes, unable to add this to her litany of troubles and her mounting fear of the future. You see, Maddie is a senior in high school, and she has no idea where she is headed, or who she wants to be. 

So, once she pulls herself together from the big emotional drop, Maddie does what anybody would do when pushing themselves to recover—she experiments. She tries to figure out who she wants to be through sheer force of will. She throws herself into life and discovers that what she always needed wasn’t at all what she ever expected. 

Though the first half was incredibly touching, it is in this latter half, as she struggles to find her place after striking out as an adult, that the book truly finds its footing as a story of fighting through anxiety, and finding what matters most–not to live safely, but to live well. 

What I’d Avoid: 

While I loved the prose in this book, and the characters were relatable and fun, I did find that part 1 and part 2 of this book felt like two completely different books. High School just kind of ends abruptly there in the middle, and suddenly we are on this road trip we haven’t even really seen Maddie come up with. I almost wish this would have been a long percolating idea in her head from the beginning of the book, so it didn’t feel like such a plot shift. This happens a few times. There is also a book that Maddie is writing in the first half for her senior project, and it’s done before we really have time to feel her triumph. I get that there was a lot happening in this book, and we couldn’t linger that long on too many parts, given the span of time being addressed, but this made me feel like the book was running away from us. The pacing was just a little off for me. 

Would I Recommend It: 

Yes, absolutely. Maddie is a great character, and her collection of friends and family are heartwarming and endearing. I was carried along with her journey and enjoyed exploring her emotions. She’s a complicated person, which makes her feel very real, and the mental health representation makes this important reading for the young adult market. 

What Can I Learn From It:

The writer and editor in me finds a lesson in each book, and here’s the one that can be found here. Always write from the heart. Write your truth and don’t go easy on it. Some thoughts we have aren’t the most likeable. Some things we do make us look like jerks. But that’s the reality of who we are. Not everything gets resolved in the end in life, and that should be true for fiction, too. We don’t always get to say our sorrys. We don’t always get to say our goodbyes. 

Cover Reveal: The Order of the Key and Pre-Order info

It’s here! It’s really happening! The Order of the Key now has a brilliant cover!

The text is a little small on that one, so I’ll paste it below.

Jacklyn Madison never expected to be attacked by a beast on an evening snack run. Add a rescue mission enacted by a trained regiment of teenaged warriors, and her night officially becomes just like a scene from one of her beloved comic books. Turns out, her parents were once members of the Order of the Key, gifted humans that protect humanity from creatures spilling through inter-dimensional rifts. Unable to control her newfound abilities, Jacklyn and her family rejoin the Order.

After an attack on their headquarters leaves Jacklyn questioning their leadership, Kyp—the boy who led her initial rescue—reveals a darker secret. The Order’s leader may be corrupt, and Jacklyn’s questions could put her family in danger. Drawn into the search for proof, Jacklyn must use her guts and magical brawn to protect her family, her friends, and herself from the monsters spilling from rifts, and those hiding within the Order.

And now for the really big news. The Order of the Key is now available for pre-order at Black Rose Writing’s Website!

If you order here, use the code PREORDER2020 at checkout for a 15% discount.

And save those receipts. I’ve got a pre-order giveaway in the works and I’ll be posting about it soon.

I’m Going to WriteOnCon 2020!

It’s official! I’m giving a talk at WriteOnCon 2020, this weekend! There will be loads of wonderful tips for writers of kidlit during the various events over the weekend. Check out the schedule here.

I will be over in the Indie HQ talking about how to spot red flags in small and micropress publishing. Come join us!

The Order of the Key Update

I’m really trying to keep up with posting things here more often, but this month has brought changes in my day job that interfere with it. Still, I’m working on it.

All late on posting this here (some of you have probably seen this on social media already), but I recently had the chance to scope out the proof of my book! So have a gander at the inside layout and the first page.

Let me know you’re thoughts! I can’t wait to see what you think.

Title Page
Page 1

Farewell CraftQuest

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. The CraftQuest team is still more like a family, and we’ve got big things going on in our individual futures that made it impossible to continue as we were.

Personally, I will be taking freelance edits at some point in the future. That information will be made available here on the site. That probably won’t happen until after The Order of the Key is released in July. I will keep everyone posted.

Below is CraftQuest’s statement on the closing of our business. We’ve loved working with you.

Hi all!

It is with heavy hearts that we must announce CraftQuest is officially closed for business. We all have a great love for the community and everyone we have worked with in our time together, but alas, though we love the work we’ve done with CraftQuest, we are no longer able to continue to maintain those duties as we each move on toward our publishing goals. We remain a team, although no longer in an official capacity. In this vein, we have decided to split all proceeds we have acquired as a company 50/50. Half to @Americares which is providing mental health support services for families dealing with the earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and half to @WWF_Australia to assist in protecting and rebuilding wildlife and natural resources lost due to the wildfires. As we close the business, we ask that you continue to remain in touch with us, as we are still a part of this crazy writing community. Some of us will continue freelancing, others are still writing, and others continue to have our hands on the pulse of the literary twitter world. To that end, please continue to follow us: 

@Maria_Tureaud
@SouffleLumiere
@Megan_Manzano
@Justine_Manzano
@IsmaelManzano76
@Valiance 

We wish you all the best on your writing adventures!