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 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.
I think any book lover worth their salt has a large To Be Read pile waiting to be tackled. Over the last year or so, I’ve been trying to work my way through mine, which encompasses an entire bookcase–I may have gone overboard. The book I’ll be reviewing today was acquired on the book convention circuit, picking up free ARCs. I never got to this book before it came out officially, and I, sadly, never even read the description before grabbing it up because the cover looked pretty. I know, I’m bad. I know, I should be more selective. But I’m a very eclectic reader. So I dove in.
Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It is a YA Romantic Comedy with a gorgeous cover.
Jolie’s a lot of things, but she knows that pretty isn’t one of them.
She has mandibular prognathism, which is the medical term for underbite. Chewing is a pain, headaches are a common occurrence, and she’s never been kissed. She’s months out from having a procedure to correct her underbite, and she cannot wait to be fixed.
Jolie becomes paralyzed with the fear that she could die under the knife. She and her best friends, Evelyn and Derek, decide to make a “Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It (Which Is Super Unlikely, but Still, It Could Happen)” list. Things like: eat every appetizer on the Applebee’s menu and kiss her crush Noah Reed.
But since when did everything ever go exactly to plan?
What I Enjoyed:
The funny thing about Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It, by Kerry Winfrey, is that its concept strongly resembles the plot of a short story I wrote years ago, “One Percent.” “One Percent” was about a young teen who discovers she needs to have spinal surgery to repair her scoliosis and panics, her anxiety feeding the idea that she would be part of the small percentage of surgeries that failed. Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It starts in a very similar way but becomes so much more as the story evolves from its basic concept (and quickly becomes nothing like my short story.
This book hit all of my happy notes. Each character, even the oddball side characters, felt like a person, each with wants, needs, desires–and nobody was a bad guy. This wasn’t that kind of novel. Jolie is actually her very own antagonist, in a very real way. As Jolie struggles with the very idea of what it means to be beautiful–inside or out–she struggles to create new relationships, and salvage the ones she needs to keep.
Her relationships with her family are well drawn, and we get to see a YA book with a family that acts like a real family. Sure, there’s drama, but the characters are loving and warm to each other, and they are not the bad guys in Jolie’s life. Jolie’s best friends, Evelyn and Derek, are uniqueand come with real problems that aren’t really even the point of the story, but are interesting side stories that become important to us because of how important they are to Jolie.
The romance here is a spoiler, but it’s so well done, and it doesn’t go anywhere you would think it was going to go based on the book blurb.
One of my favorite things about this book was that there weren’t enemies–there were competitors, and there were people who cause trouble obliviously, and there are people getting in their own way. But there aren’t bullies and an arch nemesis. Just life, in all the way that it is difficult, and in the ways it becomes more difficult when you have a physical deformity, a struggle I tangled with as a teen myself, as I coped with scoliosis.
What I’d Avoid: I honestly don’t have anything for this section. This book had a strong plot, strong characterizations, strong theme, humor and was just plain lovable. I’ve got no complaints.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely! Hell, my nine-year-old son wants to read it and I told him to go for it (it’s always a miracle to hear him ask for something he actually wants to read, versus being forced to read). It’s a sweet story and a sweet romance, with only two small detours into subject matter that may be questionable, although when I say that, I mean it skirts the edge of what you’d probably see on your average prime time television show.
What Can I Learn From It: It’s rare to see a book where all of the characters were well-rounded, and not in any way the bad guy. I mean, we’re not even speaking about characters that are the bad guy, but have redeeming qualities. We’re speaking about characters that simply get in their own way, as we as people are wont to do. And not having a clear villain does nothing to damage the conflict of the story–it’s there and it’s strong. I’m eager to try something similar in a different setting, just to see if I can accomplish it.
All in all, Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It was a fun, well-told story I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a book that is about real life–ups, downs, quirks, and insecurities.
I’ve been itching to try the Scribbler subscription box for writers since it was first released. But alas, there’s the issue of budget that never allowed me to sign up. May I take a moment to say “Yay Christmas Bonuses!” Because I get to share my very first Scribbler box with you!
So I intended to take pictures if each item, and my Logan knew it. Hence, we get pictures like this.
The first thing I spotted when I opened my Scribbler box was a near magnetized dry erase board. I used it immediately to write a love letter.
Not only is the book included, but there is also a separate pamphlet that offers an inside look at the editing process. She shows us a scene from Circle of Shadows that was cut in edits, and walks us through everything that has changed since, including a whole storyline that was cut.
Evelyn also wrote up a great collection of tips and tricks for writing fantasy—mainly focusing on building magic systems and how it figures into and impacts world building.
This sticker gives me life.
An invitation to an exclusive chat with Kristin Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray, was also included, but, as is always my luck, it lands on the day and (believe it or not) exact time of a seriously important doctor’s appointment, so I won’t be able to attend. 😦
There was a great little notebook with a sturdy cover, built for the kind of writer that writes on the go. You can work on the writing prompt they sent in that adorable little notebook.
And lastly, this warm scribbler beanie, perfect for the snowy weather I’ve been trudging through–as modeled by Logan.
So, what did I think of my first Scribbler box? I loved it! Just having a bunch of cute things that relate to my life as a writer, while also relating to my life loving YA novels is just perfect. I do wish the writing chat was something I could attend—for instance, not in the middle of a normal workday—but other than that, every single piece included is going to get a lot of use from me.
I can’t afford to do this every month, but I think there are more of these in my future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Based on a game I recently saw making the rounds, come join me while I spell out my name in fictional characters–and then tell you why I love them.
Jason Todd–aka the second Robin, as in Batman and Robin. Died, got better. Became The Red Hood.
Jason Todd is currently my favorite fictional character of everything, anywhere. Because we’re dealing with DC Comics here, and they don’t always do a good job of consistency in characterization, sometimes Jason isn’t written in the best light. And really, he’s kind of an asshole. An anti-hero in the truest sense, Jason Todd breaks Batman’s strictest rule–he kills to protect the people of Gotham. Having returned from death only to discover the man who beat him to death with a crowbar, The Joker, still lived, Jason decides that the only way to keep someone like that off the street is to kill them.
Sure, he veers into bad guy territory, like the time he tried to kill his successor for the Robin title, Tim Drake, but Jason is tormented by memories of his death, feelings of abandonment by Batman, and the fact that he was trained to be an assassin by The League of Assassins. He lost it for a while there. Now he’s stumbling through a redemption path fraught with questions of why he’s still here, and whether he really wants to be or not. It’s rough, it’s dark, and it’s a departure from the “yes, sir!” mentalities of Dick Grayson and Tim Drake’s earlier run.
Plus it’s just fun to see Jason struggle to reintegrate into his family, and try not to care about Bruce Wayne. It’s a compelling story arc. And we all know how I love those.
Ursula, The Sea Witch–Does this one really need explanation? I mean, she’s the feared witch of the sea! She even makes King Triton nervous. She’s charismatic and charming, her big song and dance number is catchy as hell, she makes being an octopus look sexy and bawdy! The Little Mermaid really never stood a chance. I firmly believe that this was the beginning of me sympathizing with morally questionable characters, a trend that has followed me into adulthood. I mean, who didn’t wonder what Ursula did to lead Triton to banish her?
*Sings Poor Unfortunate Souls and saunters out of the room*
Simon Lewis–For those of you who know nothing about The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Simon Lewis is the regular guy in the story. He starts out as the only human among a bunch of supernatural friends. Though a vampire bite in the first book turns him into a vampire, he still has a very human point of view on everything.
Anyone who knows me, knows I have a love/hate relationship with Clare and her series’, and while badass archer Alec Lightwood became my favorite character down the line, it was Simon and his acerbic, sardonic wit that pulled me into the story, even though I was flagging on it from the very beginning. Simon is the “you” in the story. He is your representation. The things you find odd are the thing he comments on. The things that are annoying are mocked by Simon. He is sweet, he is innocent to the world around him, and we all kind of root for him. In the end, though I won’t spoil you, his story ends up being at the heart of main character Clary’s journey.
Tara Maclay–I really loved Seth Green as Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I had a really hard time accepting Tara when she was initially written into canon. As far as I was concerned, he and Willow were meant to be, and here was this lady, flirting with Willow! Add to that the fact that I thought they were just queer baiting with the clear close relationship between Willow and Tara, and playing with Willow’s witchcraft dabbling with a metaphor to her dabbling in lesbianism, I actually hated the storyline in its first few weeks. But Tara grew on me as I came to realize that, while not a perfect storyteller or human being by any means, creator Joss Whedon did mostly right by this couple, making them an enduring relationship on the show, and a beautiful and inspiring character in her own right.
A child of abuse, Tara has a natural inclination toward magic, and is ridiculed by her family because of it. When she joins The Scooby Gang, she is quiet, shy, and initially, will only talk to Willow, fearing alienation by any who don’t dabble in magic. But by tackling crisis after crisis head on, and after being protected by Buffy, Willow, and their friends when her family comes to call, Tara grows into a strong, confident woman, who often plays a large role in the gang’s adventures. She becomes so confident, that she walks away when Willow, the love of her life, begins to use magic like a drug, only coming back when Willow is clean for a long time, despite her love for her. Though in the end, she dies (DAMMIT, JOSS!), her character’s loss is felt for the remaining season of the series, and is known as one of the most shocking moments of the series.
And yes, I am aware she comes back to life or something in the comic books after the show, but I refused to accept those as canon the moment I realized they made Dawn into a giant for mostly no good reason. The comic books are deader than Tara to me. Sorry not sorry.
Inej Ghafa–The Wraith! The Spider of Ketterdam! As one of the ragtag group of criminals that makes up the six in Leah Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Inej has a background that, though tragic, strengthens her. As the team’s intelligence gatherer, Inej uses her past as an acrobat to help her survive in the crime-ridden city of Ketterdam. Initially she is kidnapped from her life as an acrobat and forced into a life as a sex slave. She is coded as being of middle eastern dissent, and she is brought to a pleasure house called “The Menagerie” for her “exotic looks”. Not content to be used in such a way, she uses her stealth to provide information for a future crime boss, and quickly comes under his protection. She makes herself invaluable to him, and plans to use the money the Six make on their criminal exploits to pursue her dreams of ridding the world of the slave trade.
Gotta love a woman who turns things around to her advantage. Even when she’s falling in love with said future crime boss Kaz Brekker (who is another character study for another time…there is no K in my name, darn it), she always has a clear mind to his faults and refuses to weaken herself for him. Definitely an inspirational character.
Nadia Stafford–She’s an assassin with a heart of gold. The lead character in the Nadia Stafford series by my favorite author, Kelley Armstrong, Nadia appears cute and unassuming. She’s the girl next door, but she’s hiding a gun under her jacket and won’t hesitate to kill in self-defense. There’s something appealing about that. *scratches chin* Can’t imagine why…
After the murder of her cousin when she’s young, Nadia becomes a police officer like the rest of her family. A trained sniper and so, a badass with a gun, Nadia goes off the rails when she fails to get a kid killer imprisoned…so she kills him herself. Publicly. Shunned by her family and fired from her police work, Nadia follows her dreams and starts a wilderness retreat…which she can’t seem to keep afloat financially. But her brand of vigilante justice catches the interest of a mob boss that needs bad guys taken care of…the rest is history.
By turning her childhood trauma into life as a vigilante assassin, Nadia is able to overcome what happened to her cousin, and unravel the mystery of what happened to her that fateful night. Despite her tendency toward specialty jobs, Nadia makes herself a name in the hitman world, a world usually dominated by strong arms or sexuality, without using any of those things.
And she also catches the interest of a man with somewhat less morals, but a willingness to turn things around…for the right woman.
Ender Wiggin–Though the Ender’s Game series of novels have been somewhat soured by Orson Scott Card and his 1) BLATANT and RAMPANT hate for the LGBTQ+ community; and 2) Card’s tendency to write relationships between the siblings in the stories that smacks of incest, Ender’s Game was my favorite novel for quite a long time.
Bred into a family of high intelligence in hopes that he will become the future of the battle against a breed of alien that threatens to destroy the Earth, Ender grows up in a family that nurtures and accepts him. All except his bully of an older brother, Peter, who tortures him to the point of traumatizing him.
When Ender is sent off to battle school, he is forced to prove himself among other rather exceptional children, most of which view him as a threat. Ender quickly learns that the only way to stop an attacker is to make sure they can’t come back at you again, and begins to fight with a brutal precision. While he works and eventually leads in surgical, deadly strikes, he also has an endless well of compassion and respect for life–a fact that eventually tears him apart when faced with the repercussions of his actions. However, it is this compassion that leads the calculating Ender into hero status, and helps him understand the alien threat.
So, that’s my name in characters I love. A common thread I have noticed is a hard edge, intelligence, cunning, and a willingness to overcome all obstacles. I tend to lead toward complex characters who are sometimes difficult to love, though not all of them fall into that category. The largest common thread I’ve discovered is that these characters are easy to respect. Either way, all of which are characters you should get to know…but if you’re as disgusted by Ender’s author as I am, only read Card if someone is throwing away his books…then toss them in a dumpster fire when you’re done. The others you can safely pursue through normal methods, I promise.