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.

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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!

2017! The Year of the Manzanos!

As the holidays approach and I sit down to write my last blog post of 2016, I’m reminded of just how erratic my year has been. Politics were the pits, tons of celebrity favorites died, and a general malaise settled over the world. Things were not looking so shiny. We took some personal hits this year as well. My Uncle Bobby died after a long and grueling battle with cancer. My son was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder, which has really kicked up recently and has us struggling to find the answers. My husband and I had our own respective health issues, one that landed me in the hospital having a small, but not fun, surgical procedure. I ended my publishing contract with no book to show for it.

But there was light toward the end, at least with my career. There was Pitch to Publication, two short story publications, and an Editor’s Choice Award. And there was the prospect of next year on the horizon. Next year, when I start to query The Order of the Key again, in hopes of finding an agent who will love it. And next year when I embark on two new projects that aren’t exactly about my writing, but have some interplay with that career.

Allow me to introduce you to my two new projects. Or should I say OUR two new projects.

geektastic-bannerGeektastic: My son, Logan, wanted to be a YouTube sensation. My husband, Ismael, missed doing reviews. My sister-in-law, Megan, wanted to start a BookTube review channel, but didn’t know where to begin. I wanted a way to show off how damn random we all are, and wanted to have a place to openly be meta about geeky things.

This is what lead to Geektastic. We put our minds together, and decided to create a YouTube channel/blog where we could openly discuss all of the wonderful things that make being a geek so kickass…and so that we could offer an alternative to adults. Fun, kid-filled YouTube channel with gaming, toys and memorabilia, that speaks about some more sophisticated television, books and movies, but in a way that’s totally family friendly.

We’re still working on our first video, but it will be available in January. In the meantime, you can view our website and go follow us on our social media links, because we want you along on our adventure. Check it out at www.geektastic-manzanos.com.

inkwell34434The Inkwell Council: After leaving my work at Fantasy Works Publishing behind me, I was told by one of the writers there that they would miss my editing work. I am also constantly asked by my close circle of writer friends to read their stories, to help polish them up. I came to realize, I could help new writers. Maybe not with entire manuscripts, but I could read their first three chapters, and offer suggestions. It wasn’t about money. It was about giving back to a writing community that gave to me.

A discussion with Ismael revealed he missed writer’s workshops. Last to join was Megan, who was trying to make a living doing freelance edits, but didn’t have enough exposure and wasn’t sure how to build a client list. Moving forward together, we created The Inkwell Council, a manuscript editing service with specific rules. Basically, if you have no writer’s critique group, and you want someone to polish up the first three chapters of your Fantasy manuscript (we could only do one genre we could all agree on) we’ll be there for you. For rules and specifics of our program, please visit us at http://www.theinkwellcouncil.com/. Submissions officially open in January. Please also follow us on social media, which is linked on the website.

Add these two amazing projects to querying The Order of the Key, writing a new short story, and brainstorming on three other novels, and there is a busy year ahead. And the best part of it, is I will get to work with a big chunk of my family, whom I adore.

So, what’s new with your year? Anything exciting to look forward to? New projects? Let me know in the comments.

Either way, here’s to you and yours in the new year. May 2017 be a bright, shining light, leading as far away from 2016 as possible. 😉 Happy Holidays!

Links to Fall For

Ha!  How do you like my title?  Just me, punning.

So, what’s new in my career?  My world?  The writing world in general?  Check out my collection of links from the season.

– I wrote a review of Kelley Armstrong’s latest release, Omens for G-Pop.net.  You can find it here.

– My little sister (or really, my husband’s little sister, but I’ve known her since she was two and we’re super close, so DAMN IT, I claim her) got her first short story published.  Check it out.  It’s on page 45.

– This has less to do with writing and more to do with the other pieces of my puzzle, but my wonderful nephew, Genaro, and his awesome Mama, Jeannie, were featured members on CNY triathlon’s website.  Having recently attended one of Genaro’s triathlon competitions, I just wanted to use this platform to say again how incredibly proud I am of them both.

– If you’re anything like me, every story is an ensemble piece.  Check out this blog post on Helping Writers Become Authors about how to make strong supporting characters.

– I like writing.  I like television.  I like any article that throws these two together.  Check out this article that discusses what you can learn as a writer from watching television.  Only warning – beware, the subject matter is a bit dated.

– Ever feel like you wish you could toss the outline?  Check out this article – It discusses the benefits of writing without an outline.  I find that I use my share of these techniques, although I do still keep an outline.  I don’t necessarily agree with the negative outlook on outline he discusses, but the point of view is interesting.  Thoughts?

– Once you are in the editing phase, it’s time to look into critique partners.  Here’s an article on how to guide your critique partners so that they give you the most useful critique.

– Some things you just have to let go of – R.I.P. (for now, anyway) Dark Galaxy.

– It never hurts to have a list of literary magazines that will pay for your work!

– Contrary to what I always thought I’d be doing as a writer, it seems I’m a writer who writes romance into whatever other genre she’s working with.  For instance, I can’t just seem to write an Urban Fantasy – it’s an Urban Fantasy/Supernatural Romance.  I can’t just write a comedy, I write a romantic comedy.  So, this article was a bit of fun for me – and pretty accurate about life and romance novels:

Please be sure to come back for a visit at the end of this month to check out the things I’m thankful for!  In the meantime, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!