Book Review: The Stars Never Rise

As I’ve mentioned in some of my past book reviews, I am currently making my way through some books that can be seen as a comparative title to my own books. This time around, the book is The Stars Never Rise and its sequel, The Flame Never Dies, by Rachel Vincent. This series was recommended to me as a comparison to my story, The Order of the Key, due to the family connection between siblings, and the main character’s drive to protect hers in the midst of an unbelievable and frightening world.

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Book Summary: Sixteen-year-old Nina Kane should be worrying about her immortal soul, but she’s too busy trying to actually survive. Her town’s population has been decimated by soul-consuming demons, and souls are in short supply. Watching over her younger sister, Mellie, and scraping together food and money are all that matters. The two of them are a family. They gave up on their deadbeat mom a long time ago.

When Nina discovers that Mellie is keeping a secret that threatens their very existence, she’ll do anything to protect her. Because in New Temperance, sins are prosecuted as crimes by the brutal Church and its army of black-robed exorcists. And Mellie’s sin has put her in serious trouble.

To keep them both alive, Nina will need to put her trust in Finn, a fugitive with deep green eyes who has already saved her life once and who might just be an exorcist. But what kind of exorcist wears a hoodie?

Wanted by the Church and hunted by dark forces, Nina knows she can’t survive on her own. She needs Finn and his group of rogue friends just as much as they need her.

What I enjoyed: I found the idea of the Church being in charge in a dystopian future to be an idea ripe for a writer’s playground, and Vincent uses it as such, creating images wrought with the harsher sides of religious rule over the centuries. It also pokes at the idea of the corruption of religion. This is a world that feels rich and lived in.

Nina is a great main character with a strong motivation–she does everything to protect her sister. But even in that, she makes mistakes. She isn’t a perfect hero, and some of the wrong turns she makes are some of the best parts of the book.

Nina amasses a group of friends throughout the course of the story that end up as beloved and dynamic characters. Grayson becomes Nina’s shoulder to cry on, Maddock and Reese become her teachers, and Devi becomes her foil. Devi, in particular, is a fun character precisely because she doesn’t really get redeemed. She’s good, in the more important ways, but she’s also nasty and rude. And then there’s Finn. Finn is Nina’s love interest, the exorcist that saves her. Finn has the best backstory–but I can’t explain anything! It’s all spoilers. But they are all good spoilers, that end up being the most interesting part of the story.

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The second book is a fitting sequel, with a new main big bad, a new creepy section of the world to explore, and the unveiling of some surprising plot elements.

What I’d avoid: I got the distinct impression when reading this story that the author didn’t really know everything she wanted to do with this world. Some surprises and plot twists paid off well, and some felt like they came out of nowhere. Particularly one secret regarding a character in which that character had a special ability that only made sense if the end of the story was already true. I can’t really explain what I mean, but I facepalmed when I realized where it was going. As good as the story and the characters were, this particular event felt strongly like the author asserting their will. It was a frustrating moment.

Another issue I had with the story is that it was billed as a duology and the ending of book 2 left a huge plot thread open. I actually looked up when the next book was coming out. I thought for certain that it was a trilogy. Book 1 and 2 closed well, but there was far too much story left to tell.

Would I recommend it:

Though I had my issues with this story, these were all things I noticed in thinking about it after the fact (aside from that one facepalm moment). I would still say that, on the whole, the story was an interesting and fun ride. I was forced to stop reading a few times throughout the course of reading it, and I always found myself itching to get back. I enjoyed the characters and the entire plot conceit. Despite the issues, it was totally worth the ride. I would definitely recommend this book for lovers of dystopian YA.

What can I learn from it: I think the big lesson I learned from this book is to make sure that any major plot twists I intend to pull off in future books are planned well in advance, and all strange things that can’t be explained in book 1 at least have a firm explanation in my mind, as the writer. And if I come up with a good plot twist later that doesn’t fit the narrative, I’d better have a damn good explanation for it.

All in all, The Stars Never Rise and its sequel were both suspenseful reads that any lover of YA dystopian will enjoy. Just don’t squint too hard at it. You could easily miss the flaws if you aren’t looking too hard.

 

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Book Review: Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab

It’s a funny cycle and it goes like this: I write a book. When marketing said book for potential agents, having comparison titles can be very helpful. I go looking for comp titles from comp title extraordinaire, Megan Manzano. She does it for me for free because she’s my husband’s little sister, and I spent hours when she was a kid playing pet shop with her stuffed animals, so she owes me. She does charge for the service as well, so you should check it out. The next step in the cycle is to read the books she recommends and make sure I agree and know what I’m talking about when an agent says, “what in particular did you think was similar to the book?” That would be a really bad moment to gape like a fish. Anyway, I read, I love, I gush to her in annoying ways via FB Messenger, and then I write one of these. The Monsters of Verity series by Victoria Schwab was recommended to me mostly based on tone, family politics, and monster battles, but I stayed for so much more.

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Book Summary: Below is the jacket copy for the first book of the duology, This Savage Song. I will not include a summary for Our Dark Duet, because that would be spoilery as all get out.


Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided.

Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.

What I enjoyed: I have to really stop and think about this, because on a knee jerk, I want to think I enjoyed everything, but I want to be more specific. This was definitely a novel that swept me up and through me through the dryer in the best possible way, so I’m still a little dizzy over it. Okay, deep breaths.

For starters, the characters–generally my favorite part of the book, I loved these characters. Kate was difficult to love, and at first you kind of loved to hate her, but by the end of her arc, I was blown away by her. She was a complex and truly wonderful character. August was a character I loved from the beginning, but his journey was a gripping ride, as he came to terms with who he was, what his role could be and what it should be. The villains ran the gamut between disturbing (the monsters) and oddly understandable and still disturbing (the human villains).

The mythology of this world was surprising and inventive. The monsters here are born of violent acts, meaning each act of brutal violence creates a monster. Dealing with your own demons is a big theme in this book. I was intrigued by the breakdown of differences between the monsters, and the creation of the war-divided city of Verity. I applauded her use of music as a way to draw forth a soul for devouring in the Sunai. This was a completely unique monster concept to me, and I loved the way this played out, especially in the end. The writing in itself is downright poetic. Like the music from August’s violin, it drags you in and holds you in its comforting lull or pulls you into pieces, depending on the moment.

The tone of the story was another lovely point. It was gritty and real and lived in. No punches pulled.

What I’d avoid:

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about the story, although they definitely weren’t as prevalent as the things I did. Schwab delivered a new and inventive world, and I understood that she wanted to leave some room for speculation, but there were a couple of threads I felt were left hanging. Things like “what happened to the US to create a city like Verity?” or “What happened to certain characters Kate and August weren’t able to maintain contact with?” just kind of never get answered, even though they felt like they would be. They aren’t integral to the plot, but it nagged me a little bit. Bigger questions, like “why are the Sunai SO DIFFERENT from other monsters, and from each other?” could have been purposely left open as something for the reader to suss out and theorize about, but I felt a few more clues would have been very much appreciated.

Would I recommend it:

I actually just did. I hope my husband is enjoying his audiobook of it right now! And I will continue to. I really enjoyed this story.

What can I learn from it:

I’ve been struggling with the bittersweet ending of one of my novels, wondering if I’d gone the right way with it. The Monsters of Verity series, along with its popularity, made me feel much better about this choice in my work. It also helped me trudge forward without fear in my latest work, which does have a gritty backdrop and a slightly selfish heroine. This story is a class in “Write what the story wants, the rest will fall in place” and I love that.

Despite my few tiny gripes, this series had me from the very first line and held me. And, it helpfully works as an addition to my list of comp titles. One of my favorite things about looking for comp titles is discovering new authors and new stories. Have any of you ready This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet? Any recommendations of similar books?

 

My Kind of Book Review: Fragments of the Lost

Hello all! If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here in a month, I was busy working on my latest YA novel, A Light So Dim (I’m 7.5 chapters in) for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve also been reading. After my sister-in-law/co-councilor at Inkwell, a different Megan than the one who wrote the book this review is about, attended BookExpo and we both attended BookCon, the two of us found ourselves drowning in ARCs and purchases books–to the point of not having space on my bookshelves. So, I eeny-meenied my way through the stack, and picked my next read. That read turned out to be Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda.

Now, I think I should start by saying that, while Fragments of the Lost has a great cover that immediately gives the book a spooky, mysterious vibe, I never would have purchased this book if it hadn’t been given to me for free at an event. It’s not that the story doesn’t sound cool, and while I love some good mystery in my reading choices, my tastes normally run a bit too weird to pick a straight YA Mystery. But seeing as how I had been given it for free and it was the selection made through my very professional eeny-meeny method, I went for it. I turned out very glad I did, and am now adding the rest of Miranda’s novels to my to be read pile.

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Book Summary: Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?

What I Enjoyed: The format of this story is what initially captured me. The fact that each chapter was titled according to something Jessa found in Caleb’s room and told the story of Jessa discovering it there, and a memory it triggered. As Jessa packs, another piece of the story is unwrapped, and we begin to build a picture of these characters, and the order of events that led to the accident. This structure-based release of information served the plot so well, and we got the opportunity to fully see the situation through Jessa’s eyes, and to solve the mystery yourself, or at least follow each step on Jessa’s journey to the truth.

This mystery was very well conceived and executed, and every piece of the puzzle slotted into place in a satisfactory manner, even if it sometimes took awhile for it to find its way there. The characters were each intriguingly flawed in their own way, and the message of the story was strong. We are not alone in this world, and each piece of a person’s life story is also a piece of those who loved them.

What I’d Avoid: There wasn’t much here that I was unhappy with. I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. When I glanced at other reviews, I found they had an issue with the pacing, but that never felt like a problem to me. It read smoothly, and the slower pace of the story was necessary to birth the frankly surprising turn in the mystery at the end. The build up to the twist was masterfully wrought.

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely. Anyone who loves a good mystery and doesn’t have an issue reading and loving YA (let’s face it, people who hate YA are out there) would enjoy this book.

What Can I Learn From It: This story was a master class in the slow unraveling of a mystery, and how to craft a mystery that makes sense and doesn’t feel like a total swerve when the ending is revealed. I don’t know if I could ever manage something similar, but I’m definitely motivated to now.

In the end, Fragments of the Lost was a mood piece that lived in the dark place of losing someone who was once so much a part of you. It was a great, touching read, with depth of feeling, interesting and complex characters, and a satisfying mystery. Check it out.

My Kind of Book Review: Foolish Hearts

I recently completed working on my second completed novel, Never Say Never. As I prepared to pitch, I asked my buddy/little sister/co-editor/beta reader person, Megan Manzano, for a book recommendation. I needed a comparison title to include in my pitches. She didn’t have anything right away, but with #Pitmad rapidly approaching, happened upon a book that had her rushing to me in excitement. The book in question felt like Never Say Never. It wasn’t exactly like it, but it had the same mood, the same vibe. That book was Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills.

Naturally, I rushed to read it. By chapter 3, I was in love. I rarely blog book reviews, but I’m planning to start doing more this year. My format will look like what you see below. Now, onward to the vital statistics.

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Book Summary: When Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the it-couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with prickly, difficult Iris. Thrown together against their will in the class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the goofiest, cutest boy Claudia has ever known, Iris and Claudia are in for an eye-opening senior year.

Smart, funny, and thoroughly, wonderfully flawed, Claudia navigates a world of intense friendships and tentative romance in Emma Mills’s Foolish Hearts, a young adult novel about expanding your horizons, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and accepting―and loving―people for who they really are.

What I enjoyed: The vibe of this book is fun and light, while still tackling real, human problems. Nobody is perfect here, everybody is a little odd, the dialogue is fun and snappy. I loved the relationship bits, and I have major love for the guy who snags Claudia’s interest, likable and over-the-top, Gideon Prewitt. With a cast of characters that truly felt like people cycling in and out of a real high schooler’s life, and an interesting plot about preparing for a play (the drama geek in me happy danced a bit), this story is all at once touching and relatable. Claudia is a fun heroine, a little deadpan, a little flawed, but a good person a heart. Tackling topics like avoiding change and fearing the unknown future, two topics that I’ve had a personal lifelong struggle with, Foolish Hearts follows Claudia into new friendships, new experiences, and new emotions. I clutched this book to my chest when I completed it.

What I’d avoid: I definitely wanted to feel more connected to Zoe. While the story is supposed to be about Claudia growing away from her and accepting that she must become her own person, feeling detached from Claudia’s best friend made it somewhat difficult to feel Claudia’s fear. It doesn’t truly harm the story, but there are places where I wish Zoe got a little more screen time, so I could truly feel the disconnect forming instead of simply be told it was happening.

Would I recommend it: For fans of YA Contemporary Romance, this book will make your heart flutter. But it’s not all about romance. It’s about friendship. The cast is diverse and realistic. Definite recommend.

What can I learn from it: I need to read this again and examine the ways she managed to introduce the reader to a large group of high school characters and keep them in the surroundings without diving too deeply into their character development, and also never really losing track of any of them. I attempted this in Never Say Never, and I’m truly hoping I managed this even half as well. Possibly? Either way, ALWAYS BE LEARNING.

In the end, Foolish Hearts was a fun, light and enjoyable read. I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s getting a place in my Pitmad pitches thanks to its very similar tone. Foolish Hearts + Greek Mythology = Never Say Never. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Book Review: The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

I know what you’re thinking. A book review? Nah. Get thee to Goodreads! But alas, this review will be there too. That’s not why I’m putting this here. For one, I discuss my writing career here, so this seemed like a good fit. For two, one of the tips I learned from this book was not to be rigid about what I post in my blog. Just post what interests you and the audience will come! So, in a time where I’m struggling with what to write here, and doubting what you guys might find interesting from me, I’ve decided to take Mr. Wendig’s advice and post about stuff that interest me. As my audience, speak up and tell me what you want/don’t want to see. I might not change, but I’ll definitely take any suggestions under consideration. And now, onto the book review!

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The Kick-Ass Writer:1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig

This book was two things for me.

1) It is a comprehensive collection of tips and tricks of the writing trade, told by an author I generally enjoy, who works in genres I find interesting. No offense to those wonderful writing books out there that are written by literary fiction writers. They are usually very helpful as well, but there is something more enjoyable about someone who loves to write in Science Fiction/Fantasy, discussing the best ways to make it in that field, because that’s my jam.

Tips in this book touched on a few different sections that every writer needs to know about, some of which are pretty soundly lacking in other writing books I’ve enjoyed in the past. While it does cover the basics of writing, such as setting, theme, plot, grammar, and mechanics, it also deals with query letters and synopses, and other such tools to actually get yourself published. It discusses the ups and downs of traditional publishing, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing, without dumping on any of those routes (in fact, it makes a great case for hybrid publishing). And finally, it dives into author platform (don’t let Wendig hear you discussing author platform. He soundly dislikes that term) and how to build an audience without becoming a sales bot…something I think half the people I follow on twitter could use (sorry guys! I know you’re just doing your thing!).

2) This book wasn’t just informative. It was interesting and hilarious. It was written in what was the perfect tone for someone like me, who is irreverent and sarcastic like it’s my job. And it was motivational! At a time when my first book is playing rejection bingo, and my second book is in the Unholy Lands of Edit-onia, I really needed to hear many of these tidbits. And mostly, it was just good to see that I wasn’t alone in all of my weird writerly quirks–even the published authors with the huge followings endure this crushing, soul-sucking doubt! Yay?

All in all, this book is a must read for all my writer friends, so please–check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

5 stars from me, folks. Check it out! And, if you liked this review and want more, or if you have any other suggestions for the blog, please holler in the comments section. But not really…I don’t like yelling unless I’m doing it. Until next time…

Booktubing: Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer

Some of you may know that I have a YouTube channel that I run with my family, called Geektastic. Well, sometimes I do book related things, and occasionally, I’ll cross-post them here, because I think my target audience may find them interesting.

So, below, please enjoy my booktubing premiere, and if you enjoy, please like it and subscribe to our channel. We’d love to have you!