What’s Left of Me: Strangely Unique POV

I love this cover, it’s beautiful. WHAT’S LEFT OF ME by Kat Zhang

Stars
Genre: YA SCI-FI / Dystopian (sort of)
Series: HYBRID CHRONICLE #1 (Only one currently available)
Publisher: HaperTeen September 18, 2012
Author: Kat Zhang (Contributor to Publishing Crawl)

Recommended? Yes! The POV to this story was at first a draw back to me — a MC that can’t really do anything…? — but then it turned out to be so good, so different. It’s premise hasn’t really been done before (that I’m aware of) and even if you’re sick of dystopians, it’s not really focused on that aspect.

Goodread’s Summary:

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

FIRST IMPRESSION:

At first I though the permise was hard to swallow. An MC that doesn’t have control of her body and is just going to… what? Sit around and not do anything? Just tell us what Addie is doing and urge Addie with her thoughts to do something? Erm… I don’t see much appeal in that. At the same time, I hadn’t heard of a story like this one so I felt compelled to read it anyway.

THE PLOT:

It did take me a while to get into the story, but it was well worth it. The first hundred pages really just build up to what the story is about. It sets the world for us, gives us background on the strange soul sisters–Eva and Addie–and introduces the important other characters in the story. Granted, Eva doesn’t do much in these first hundred pages but… something about the way the story was told by someone who was in it yet not was strangely different from all the other stories out there. Plus, Zhang hints to the readers early on that Eva won’t just be sitting around doing nothing the entire time. It’s an important promise made to the reader that is kept. It was interesting to note when Zhang would use ‘I/my’ instead of ‘we/us/our’. To get into Eva’s head and see when she thought of herself as a separate being from her sister, Addie, or when she was thinking of them as the same.

When the action starts, I cared enough about all the characters that were involved that I just had to keep reading. The reason behind each decision made sense. The stakes were high for Eva, Addie, and their family. The tension that fills the rest of the book is so thick and real that it pained me every time something bad happened to Eva or Ryan/Devon or Lissa/Hally. There were twists and turns in the plot I didn’t see coming and by the end I was very satisfied. Sometimes starts to series leave the end of the book with some sort of cliffhanger (think ASHES by Bick) and they drive me crazy, but the end to this — while leaving some questions unanswered — also left me with hope. It also could stand alone novel. If this wasn’t a start to a series, I’d still be satisfied with the ending, which is important in my opinion.

THE CHARACTERS:

The characters in the story were developed well, which must have been difficult to do for Zhang since there were two characters in most of the bodies. There line between Lissa/Hally wasn’t exactly clear to me always, but I never could mistake Ryan for Devon or visa-versa, they were so uniquely different that it was simple to tell them apart.

I did, however, dislike Addie from the start. Perhaps it was because we were in Eva’s head and she unfairly couldn’t do anything and Addie got control of the body but… I just didn’t like her. I understood where she was coming from when she didn’t want to do this or that because of risks and such but… but I still didn’t like her much by the end of the book, either. I just wanted Eva to get control of the body so badly and banish Addie to the side line to watch for years like she had to. I know that’s a bit cruel and all, but that’s what I wanted. I really adored Eva, so I wanted Addie to just get out of the way. Plus, she got in the way of Eva/Ryan, and that bothered me.

THE ROMANCE:

There’s some romance in the book, but it’s not heavy by any means. Sometimes that how I like it, there but not there — sort of like in CREWEL. The relationship between Eva and Ryan developed naturally and it wasn’t one of those dumb instant-love relationships either. At least not on Eva’s part, I’m not a hundred percent sure why Ryan clung onto Eva so quickly (since, for most of their relationship, she couldn’t say or do anything around him) but I did understand Eva’s side of it. Ryan was the first one to want to help her. He was sweet, caring, and was there for her when she was trying to get her body back. By the end, I really wanted these two together. I still do.

I think there is potential for an Addie/Devon romance to brew in the future books, which might be interested. I think I’d be on board for that, too, since they are so similar.

I guess the thing about the romance in this book that’s so different than the others out there is the concept behind it. Two characters that long for each other, but really can’t ever be alone together or be together by the other half of them — the sister/brother souls that share their body — don’t want it to be. I mean, how often do you see that? It’s such an interesting twist.

CONCLUSION:

The writing was wonderful, everything flowed, everything made sense in the end and I really fell in love with the book. I can’t wait for the next one. 

Something Strange & Deadly: The Dead + Steampunk

The beautiful cover of SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY by Susan Dennard

Stars
Genre: YA Steampunk
Series: SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY #1 (Only one currently available)
Publisher: HaperTeen July 24, 2012
Author: Susan Dennard (Contributor to Publishing Crawl)

Recommended? Yes, yes, yes! It’s so clever, unique, has zombies (AKA the Dead), great twists, and amazing characters.

Goodread‘s summary:

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper.

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

Out of all the books I’ve read lately, this has to be my favorite. I loved it. Eleanor was a stellar heroine, she was strong, witty, and willing to do what needs to get done. Even though the story was set in the past (where girls were, of course, not equal with men), Eleanor didn’t let that stop her. Through the story she grew and broke out of the mold that her mother and society were trying to force her in.

The plot was brilliant. Dennard’s zombies, the Dead, are different than all the others I’ve read about. I loved the steampunk qualities added to the story, with the Spirit-Hunters, and the world that Dennard created. The pacing of the story was very good, there were a lot of high-tension moments followed by a nice (but important, plot filled) lull that allowed you to rest and not burn out.

There were small hints throughout the book how it would end, which I realized only while I stopped to think about it later, but… I was extremely surprised by some of the turns in the book. I didn’t see the end coming, yet when they happened I couldn’t help but think ‘Why hadn’t I seen that coming?!’ which just makes it ten times better. Surprises that throw me off because they weren’t already set-up in the story are just stupid, after all, but that didn’t happen here.

There were two love interests in the story, Clarence and Daniel, but even so there really wasn’t a love triangle. They were rivals–or at least didn’t act like it–which I liked. There were just choices that Eleanor had to make. Both boys were their own characters, different and layered, but I really loved Daniel. It’s always important for me to actually want the characters to end up together, and that happened in this story. I’ve read a few books where I just felt ‘meh’ about the romantic relations, but this book had my dying for Daniel and Eleanor to get together.

Just a quick warning: as soon as I started to read this book, I couldn’t stop. It took up my entire Saturday afternoon. Make sure you don’t have a full schedule or else you’re going to have some issues…

The worst thing about this book is that it’s part of a trilogy… and they aren’t all out yet! I cannot wait to read the next in the series. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after I was done — which is, really, a sign of a good story. There were so many layers, wonderful characters, and a brilliant leading-lady.

I really, really loved this book and you really, really, really need to read it. Trust me.

Horror (Of Not Writing)

My copy of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association (edited by Mort Castle)

My copy of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association (edited by Mort Castle)

Before NaNo2012, I decided to educate myself in how to write horror. The idea I had for my NaNo manuscript was dark and I thought it’d end up either being in the YA Horror genre or the YA Paranormal Thriller one. (I’ve been told it turned out to be Horror because of its overall sinister tone, which is good to know!)

Of course, one of the best ways to learn about a genre is by reading it. I think I mentioned my October Horror Book marathon before on this blog. Most of the books I read were YA (and zombie related, which has nothing to do with the plot of my NaNo story… I just love zombies) and dark, but not all could be considered horror. There’s just really not a huge pool of YA Horror books that you can dive into — though when I heard Laini Taylor talk about DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT, she said the genre is on the verge a huge growth spurt.

Gretchen McNeil is the first YA horror writer that comes to mind for me. I really enjoyed reading her book POSSESS, which was marketed as a Paranormal Thriller but could really go either way. TEN is her latest book and while I have it… I haven’t read it yet — bad me, I know. Another inspiration and most read, I think, is Courtney Summers’ THIS IS NOT A TEST (which I only now realize I didn’t write a review of… I promise to do soon!). It’s a zombie book, but not overtly/grotesquely so even if you aren’t a zombie fan I think you can still enjoy this book. Her voice and the overall tone of the book… it’s just amazing.

Of course I’ve read the classics, like Lovecraft and King, but what I mostly took away from them is how to build suspense and frighten the readers. You can’t really hope to write like either of them in this day and age and think you’ll get away with it. No one could write a book the length King’s usually are, unless they’re already an established writer, plus he gets wordy — nothing wrong with that when you’re a superstar like him, of course. Lovecraft, while a great horror writer, lacked in character development.

While I was looking into writing horror, I came across the Horror Writers Association (they even have a YA Horror section!). After reading through their website, I decided to buy a copy of ON WRITING HORROR to see what they had collected. In my opinion, reading books helps me with writing more than reading books about how to write, but I still find them fascinating.

There’s a wonderful collection of essays by writers on subjects I’ve never even considered (such as Freaks and Fiddles, Banjos and Beasts: Writing Redneck Horror by Weston Ochse) and the history of the horror genre. Over all, I think the book helped me get a better grasp on the genre and all that is expected of a writer that aspires to compile a horror manuscript. I’d recommend it to anyone curious about what it means to write horror.

If you are particularly interested in horror books, I’d also like to refer you to Hellnotes. It’s a blog and newsletter devoted to the genre. They have contests every once and a while, too.

Henry James summed up writers well when he said: “We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of the art.” He was talking about horror writers in particular, but I think it applies to all of us. Don’t you?

But lately… I haven’t been writing. I’ve written down a lot of ideas (I often suffer from the Shinny Idea Syndrome that Gennifer Albin mentioned) and did some research for a contemporary YA I’ve been thinking about writing. I’ve been reading a lot, too. I’m three books closer to my 100 book goal and since it’s just January 8th, I think that’s pretty good, but I just feel horrible about not revising my NaNo manuscript at all lately…

On the bright side, I have my SCBWI book talk/critique group this Thursday night so I’m forced to do something with my NaNo-script. Though I’m very open to being late to it and/or missing it for another opportunity that might come up Thursday night…

On an unrelated note, if you want to enter for a chance to win a copy of some amazing YA books check out Publishing Crawl. They have three amazing giveaways going on right now!

BAD HAIR DAY: The Geek’s Back

BAD HAIR DAY by Carrie Harris (I really love the cover, it’s so eye-catching!)

Stars
Genre: YA Mystery
Series: Kate Grable #2 (sequel to BAD TASTE IN BOYS)
AuthorCarrie Harris

Recommended? Not really. It’s a quick read and funny, so if you’re into those things then…

I didn’t like this book as much as the first in the Kate Grable series (first one: BAD TASTE IN BOYS). It just didn’t have the same “must keep reading” pace the first one did. Worse yet, there weren’t really any zombies, so that’s a bummer. I do so love zombies.

This time it was werewolf-ish things, which I’m not fond of… werewolves are probably my least favorite mythological creatures. Kate was, again, doing dumb things. The first time around her reluctance to tell others about the drama she found made sense somehow, there were enough explanations, but this time… it was just silly. Why wouldn’t she tell people her mentor got arrested? Why did she have to do everything by herself when she had a cop on hand that would believe her instantly? Harris introduced us to this very nice, very helpful cop at the start.

And Aaron (Kate’s boyfriend/love interest)… I really was never sold on him. He’s too perfect. In the first book he wasn’t given much time, and they weren’t dating yet, so I didn’t mind. This time around, he was again pretty much spot-on perfect and their relationship was just… meh. I didn’t feel the passion and I didn’t really invest myself in the relationship. If it failed, I wouldn’t have cared. I like guys with flaws, there’s no such thing as a perfect person, even if it is just a book.

There was a girl in the book that “threatened” the relationship because she was all over Aaron and she was truly pointless. That was too much unneeded drama added, which didn’t do anything for the story. Plus in the end, her character made no sense. She did two complete 180s in the story in the span of, like, five pages. First she went, really, really, really crazy (beyond normal teen girl fighting-over-a-guy crazy), when there was no hint to her being that insane before–seriously, she tried to run Kate over with a car. That’s bat shit crazy and mega extreme. Then in a snap, she was all sane again and… interested in Kate’s little geek brother? What? HUH? Why? Her character made no sense and wasn’t needed.

Who the bad guy is was obvious from the start, and again his reason for being crazy made little sense. I just didn’t feel it. Yet again, Kate solves the problem by accident. I won’t say how, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but seriously…? She lucked into the solution for the zombie problem (her medicine) and then lucked into her solution a second time? If she’s such a brainy girl, why can’t she just figure it out herself? I didn’t buy it. It was too convenient. It’s not like the story is very long, Harris could have added more–like, at least Kate figuring it out without pure chance–to make it more than just 200 pages.

Then there was another unneeded mild annoyance. I am by no means a Twilight fan. I couldn’t care less for that series (or the movies) but Harris really hits on it a lot. It was mentioned at least three times (snark about sparkling vampires, being team Edward, etc) and it just seemed unneeded. I remember it happening in the first book at least once. I’m unsure why Harris feels the need to throw it in there.

Looking over my review, I realize I didn’t point out anything postive. Harris is a good writer, she has a witty voice and obviously a clever person herself to come up with such medical centered plots. The pace was again very good (it was the concept and lack of character developments that ultimately hindered it) and she does pack in a lot of story in just over 200 pages, which is extremely impressive. I’m still a fan of hers, even if this book wasn’t as good as the first one. I enjoyed reading it and I don’t regret it, there were just things that were lacking.

If there is another book in this series, I’m not sure I’ll pick it up. If Harris writes a new, unrelated book I know I will read it. She’s a good writer, this book just wasn’t my type.

Welcome 2013: Please Be An Awesome Year

welcome20132Welcome 2013, please be an awesome year. It’d be highly appreciated, I assure you. I’ve made my New Year’s Resolutions this year and I hope to keep them all.

I can’t fully control most of them, but I can do my best. I don’t want to reveal them all (I totally believe in jinxing myself!) but I will share a few. I wrote them all last night, sealed them up, and put them in a box in my desk drawer so I won’t be able to see them until I open them next year… and I don’t remember all seven off the top of my head. How bad is that? It was just last night.

Some of my 2013 Resolutions:

  • Read at least a 100 books (genres to focus on: YA, contemporary, horror, steampunk YA, pretty much anything YA, actually…)
  • Do something productive toward my goal of getting published EVERY DAY (things like writing, revising, plotting/outlining story ideas, reading, researching, etc)
  • Get a literary agent this year! (‘Cause that’d be awesome)
  • Start my career (as a recent college graduate, I have a job that’s OK but definitely not something I want to make into my career.)

2012 hasn’t been a bad year. It was the first full year I’ve been out of college. Sometimes I find myself regretting my decision to graduate a year early and not go to graduate school. But I didn’t graduate early or did go to graduate school I wouldn’t have been able to travel and intern in Australia and New Zealand for the first half the year. I made awesome friends and saw beautiful things. I did some ridiculous things that I never thought I’d do like swimming with jellyfish (so scared of those things!) and sharks at the Great Barrier Reef and jumping out of an airplane at about 14,000 ft over the Australian rain forest.

While all of that was amazing, I’m happiest about how much I’ve developed as a writer this year. I’d say I’m considerably better than I was this time last year. I’ve begun to reach out to other writers, attended my first writer’s conference, made some very good friends, and joined a few critique groups. The latter has really helped me see the errors in my own writing. I also finally figured out how the publishing world worked. At the start of the year, I was so scared of query letters, synopsis, and researching literary agents, but now I’m not. Granted, I still don’t like synopsis so much (but I learned the trick is to write them before you write the story!) and I’ve actually developed some love for writing query letters. And I love researching things. I really do, so the whole literary agent research work wasn’t so bad once I reminded myself that. It’s different doing research for something you love versus forced-research-college-stuff.

Overall, 2012 was a good year. I’m not really a big fan of odd numbers (I know, weird) so I’m weary of this oncoming year for no good reason. I do think that more good things are in store for this coming year. I hope that there are a lot of great things in store for you, too!

Good luck!

Synopsis Help: Where To Go?

Tumblr: Inspired to Write

A lot of aspiring authors fear synopsis. I used to, too. I mean, how can someone expect you to sum up your work of 70,000 words in only 1,000? How can someone ask you to give away almost every twist and turn… and worst of all, the ending? HOW?

Then the even more dreaded question: How to I actually write one that doesn’t suck?

Many will tell you that it’s easier to write a synopsis before you even write your story. If you’re a plotter, then I’d say that’s the way to go. The first manuscript I wrote (after a billion revisions) ended up being around 90,000 words. I wrote the synopsis after all that and it was a dread experience. For TERRIFYING TORA, I wrote the synopsis before I even wrote the manuscript, and let me tell you, it’s ten times easier to revise a two page synopsis for any plot updates you decide along the way than to re-write it from scratch after you have a fully developed story. It’s a lot harder to figure out then what’s important and what can be left out. But if you’re not a plotter, well… you can’t really do that, can you?

You could go to a few nice boards that offer you a place to post you synopsis and get it critiqued. AW’s Writer’s Cooler and YACHAT (obviously, you can only use this if you write YA) both have spots on their boards for you to do that.

That being said… I wouldn’t really advise doing that. I’m about to sound extremely paranoid, I know, but I could never bring myself to do that — even if it could be very helpful. Why? Because your entire plot is out there for the whole word to see. I, for one, hate spoilers with a burning passion of a thousand suns. If anyone put effort into a search, they could come across your post and read it. Thus, they’d know how your story ends and how many people really will go through with reading a story where they know the ending…? Plus, if you’re querying agents and they decide to look you or your story up, they could easily fall upon that post as well and see how much help you got writing your synopsis. I’ve heard from some literary agents that they’re always weary when they come across things like this (either for first pages, query letters, etc) because it means the author needs a lot of editing help and they’d rather have one that didn’t.

(But I could always delete the post after I’m through being helped!) Yeah, I suppose, but chances are other people replied and they quoted your original text. (But I could ask an admin to delete the entire thread!) True, you’d kind of look like a jerk asking for all those people’s help then once they did go through the effort, you delete it all. (But wouldn’t it really help to get other writers opinions…?) Yes, I think it would.

And that’s why I would recommend you join a critique group or find a few writer buddies. Publishing Crawl did a post about that recently. There’s other resources out there for synopsis help, too. What follows is a list of sites that I’ve always found helpful. Enjoy:

There are a lot of other resources out there, but these really helped me when I was first trying to grasp writing a synopsis. I hope it helps some of you, too.