Book Review: The Time Trap


The middle grade reading spree continues with a digital ARC of The Time Trap that I got from NetGalley. 

The Time Trap did have a good message for kids whose parents are going through a divorce, but it all seemed very cliche. Telling kids that acting out won’t make their parents get back together, and telling them that they have to accept what happens and move on, is fine, is important, but it felt like the message was too loud. It took precedence over everything else. As a result, voice and character development suffered.

I almost stopped reading after the first chapter because of the lack of voice and personality. The sentences tended to be repetitive. However, I can very rarely bring myself to mark a book DNF.

Usually if I DNF, it’s because I am completely lost or because something bad happened to a dog. Neither happened with this book. I was just bored.  A couple nights later, I picked it up again, hoping it got better. It didn’t, but it only took me an hour to finish it. 

One thing I did like was the method the character used for time travel. That seemed a little original. But the rest was a little too cliche for me.

I know I’m not the target audience for this book, but I think as a kid, I would’ve had similar problems with it. I would’ve gotten bored. Back then, I didn’t care about finishing books unless I had to for school, so I would have stopped reading and I wouldn’t have known how to explain why I didn’t like it. 

I can understand adults making things a little more obvious for kids, but this was too heavy handed. It’s a good example of what I want to avoid doing with my own middle grade novel. I think some telling is okay, but characters, their arc, and the actual story have to be more prominent that whatever message the author is trying to send.

Instead of smothering everything with the message, bring the story to life and pick a few relevant moments to have the character really stop and reflect on it.

When you start querying one manuscript, start writing a new one.

I remember reading on websites, forums, and social media that once I started querying a manuscript, I should focus on writing a new one. The advice was that unless I was getting multiple rejections on fulls, or multiple rejections with similar feedback, I should just leave the manuscript alone.

The first three times I queried, I mostly disregarded this advice. I worked on something new for a little, but was constantly going back to the thing I was querying and editing and revising.

This got confusing very quickly.

Which version of the first chapter did I just get a request on? How many other agents did I send that one too?

There were a lot of times I thought things like, “if only I waited longer to query this or that agent!” or “Why didn’t I just keep the opening how it was?”

One of the few benefits was that sometimes, if agents who had already rejected my query requested a query because of a twitter pitch, they were willing to take another look once they realized I had revised. Unfortunately, all of these second chance queries ended in rejection. In the end, it wasn’t much of a benefit.

Not wanting to go through all that stress again, I took a different approach to querying my fourth manuscript. As soon as my first batch of queries was out, I decided to focus on other projects. I started writing a sequel for Power Surge, but I wasn’t ready yet. I wrote prequel novella, Life Minus Me, which will be published this winter. I worked on revising a space opera, but got bogged down in the revisions and put it aside. Then I went back to the sequel, finished it, and worked on short stories while I let it rest between drafts. I wrote the first draft of a middle grade novel and started revising.

I have to say, this was the least stressful bout of querying I’ve had so far. I did make some changes to my opening chapters after a slew of rejections, but I haven’t read through the entire manuscript since I sent out my first full.

I was more productive in the past year than I was in the year or two I queried my first three books, and spent a lot less time stressing and obsessing over my query.

If I look at this in terms of success? The answer isn’t as clear cut. I am still unagented.

Queries from both batches resulted in offers from small publishers.


Power Surge, the second novel I finished and the first I queried, ended up with two offers from small publishers, and ultimately, I signed with NineStar Press. It was published last year. The prequel novella and sequel are both under contract with NineStar and scheduled to be released Dec 2019 and Feb 2020.

Song of the Forest, the first book I finished and second I queried, did get an offer, which I turned down because the contract was bad. I did not get any other offers and shelved this book. Honestly? I’m glad it didn’t get published. It has some potentially problematic content that would need to be revised and then looked at by a sensitivity reader and revised again. However, back when I wrote it and started querying it, I hadn’t really looked far enough outside my white, privileged bubble to realize. I know better now. I hope.

I have open R & Rs on this from small publishers. One day I might try to fix the problematic content I think is there, and the world building issues mentioned in several rejections. But right now? It’s low on my priority list.

The third one I queried, Like Birds Under the City Sky, got no offers. It was a strange little book where I experimented with form, and ultimately, it just didn’t work. Its currently shelved.

My fourth book, Earth Reclaimed, was the one I left alone while querying, and in 2021, it will be published by Aurelia Leo.

Revising while querying versus leaving the manuscript alone didn’t have an impact on how successful the query was, but the level of stress and anxiety was much lower when I focused on writing new things.

The new projects not only distracted me from worrying about the querying, but they assured me that even if this round of querying failed, there would most definitely be a next time, another chance at getting an agent or a contract from a small publisher.

My recommendation is to be working on a new book while your querying.

However, I understand that what works for me might not work for someone else, and in the end, it is important for writers to do what is best for themselves.

IWSG Day: Rebellious Character Surprises!

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

August’s Question is:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

For me, writing is full of surprises, mostly because my characters tend to take on a life of their own.

For example, with my current WIP, I told myself the mc was a girl because that story would be easier to sell than one with a non-binary main character. However, before I realized what I was doing, the character was telling someone that they use “they/them/their” as pronouns and thinking about being neither boy nor girl.

I thought I could control the gender of my main character, but that character decided they were non-binary (like me) whether I liked it or not.

The idea of characters I’m creating doing unexpected things always seems odd to me, even though it is something many writers have experienced. 

I often find myself wondering why things like this happen. Why do my creations surprise me? Am I really surprising myself? How come I feel like I am not in control of these characters as I create them and make them do things? Shouldn’t I be more deliberate? What is the point of craft advice if my characters are just running around doing their own things with me putting zero thought into how that affects the story on some technical level?

I can maybe  answer one of those questions.

Craft advice is for revision, not first drafts. At least, that is how it is for me. Other writers might be able to think about plot and scene and characterization while they draft. I can’t. I can only think of the characters as living entities and the story as something unfolding as it happens. If I outline, it’s because the story is unfolding in my head much faster than I can really write, and even then, when I start writing, I don’t usually stick to exactly what I outlined.

I think I get surprised because a lot of what I’m doing is not happening on a conscious level. It’s like dreaming. When I draft, my subconscious does the heavy lifting, so it feels like my creations have more agency in the creation of the story than I do.

When I was younger, part of me wanted to believe there was something supernatural about writing. I don’t think that now, but I do love writing about supernatural things.

I always surprise my self when I’m drafting.

My revisions, on the other hand, are far more deliberate and conscious. The biggest surprises there are how patient I am. In real life, I’m not known for my patience.

What kind of surprises do you find when writing?

 

Photo Credit: The back ground photo on the header was taken from Simone Scarano on Unsplash. 

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Book Review: The Bone Garden

The middle-grade reading spree continues with The Bone Garden. I got a free ARC of this creepy but cute little book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t think necromancy could be the cute, but alas, it was. In spite of its cuteness, I wasn’t as engaged with The Bone Garden as I hoped to be, but I still enjoyed it.

The main character, Irréelle, was adorable even though she was essentially made of dead people’s bones. For a creature most would label as a “monster” she was kind and often put others before herself. Early in the book, I got very annoyed at how she loved her creator even though the woman was cruel and abusive, but towards the end, I was very happy when Irréelle learned to stand up for herself. 

However, the side characters were flat and didn’t have much of an arc. They were good friends for Irréelle, but they didn’t change or grow like she did. Even though I loved seeing Irréelle’s friendship with them bloom, I got a little bored watching them stay the same while she developed. 

The antagonist, Miss Vesper, was too cliche for me. 

The story and plot were a little more complex than I expected, and there were a couple times where I was actually surprised. There were some scary moments, but for the most part, the book was just morbid in a cute way. There was necromancy and bones were the morbid part, but the character and her friendships were the cute. 

The prose were accessible but not bland. 

The Bone Garden would be a great story for a kid who likes things like bones, worms, and dirt, but doesn’t want to be too scared by what he/she/they are reading.

Book Review:All the Impossible Things

Alright, so I’m back to that middle grade reading spree! Granted, it hasn’t felt like much of a spree yet since this is only the third middle grade book I’ve read this summer…

Spree or not, I received a free copy of All the Impossible Things from Netgalley  and read the whole thing in one night.

The first thing I want to say is that I want to meet Gandalf the dog and give her treats and play fetch and be her friend. Really, I want to meet and befriend all the animals.

Second, this book was beautifully written and made me cry more than once. Even though at times it was heart-breaking, it was also heart-warming and up lifting. 

In some ways, All the Impossible Things was a book of contradictions. There were times when on the surface, it felt like not much was happening, but below the surface, everything was happening. There may not have been much as far as external action or adventure, but the internal growth was incredible. 

All the Impossible Things is a story about a girl with magic wind adjusting to life in a new foster home, one with two loving retired people and a whole bunch of amazing animals: dogs, goats, horses, a donkey, chickens, and a giant tortoise. The author did a fantastic job bringing the setting and all its four-legged inhabitants to life. The sense of wonder never flagged. Additionally, there was never a page with no emotional beat. Red/Ruby was constantly learning, growing, being set back, and moving forward throughout the book.

As someone who is used to reading genre fiction, this book was quieter than what I’m used to, but I was never bored with. I was invested enough in the character and her arc that despite its quietness, I just had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to Red. It was a good reminder to me that the action in a story can be small as long as what is happening inside a character is compelling.

I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the foster-related representation. I have no first hand experience with foster care, and only have acquaintances who have adopted children through the foster care system.

I can say the sentences, character and story are beautiful, thought provoking, and emotional. Based on that, I’d recommend All the Impossible Things.

Book Review: Waking Up the Sun


Waking Up the Sun was a cute romance set in a dark yet enchanting forest where two people, the only two people in the forest, gradually fall in love with each other. 

My favorite part about this was the mental illness representation. The main characters panic attacks, combine with his description of his cycles of anxiety and depression, felt true and relatable. 

More importantly, both the main character and the narrative voice had a positive attitude towards medication. The main character had a potion that helped him manage his mental illness. When he was in the forest without it, he coped, but realized he did better with it, and took the initiative to make more of it. Once he was back on the medication, his symptoms were clearly easier to manage. They didn’t disappear, but they were more manageable, which made it feel very authentic.

I read so many stories where medication is portrayed in a negative light, that I was happy to see a book where it was shown as something helpful. 

I also enjoyed the forest setting. That, combined with the story itself, had a fairy-tale feel.

At times, the story and dialogue felt a little contrived to me, but I often find myself thinking that when I read romance. I wasn’t always as engaged with the voice as I wanted to be and I would have liked a little more tension or high stakes. 

Still, it was a nice relaxing read after a stressful week.  Waking Up the Sun is a good choice if you are looking for a calm, sweet fairy tale or something to help you unwind after a busy day.

Get your copy here.

Book Review: City of Ghosts

For the next couple of weeks, while I try to finish my own middle grade novel, I’m going to be on a paranormal middle grade reading spree. City of Ghosts is the second title I’ve read since I started and it was so much better than the first book I read off my middle grade list.

City of Ghosts had everything I look for in a book while still being accessible for younger readers. I think had I picked this up when I was twelve, I would’ve happily read the whole thing.

As far as characters go, Cass and Jacob won me over right away. I loved their friendship, how Cass was charging into danger while Jacob was warning her away. I loved his comic book obsession. I loved the tension created by introducing Lara to the  mix. The only issue I had with the characters was that I kept thinking they were a few years older than they actually were. I kept thinking Cass was fourteen or fifteen, not twelve.

A few times, the narrator broke the third wall and started talking like she was reflecting back on events. I’m thinking maybe part of why I kept thinking the character was older was because the narrative voice was supposed to be older than the character. I’m not a huge fan of narrators breaking the third wall to say “If I’d known…” but there was so much else to love about the book that I can deal with it.

On the surface, on the sentence level, this book was a work of art. Schawb wrote sentences that were beautiful while still keeping them accessible for a younger reader. She didn’t dumb the language down like some middle grade authors, but didn’t make it overly complicated or wordy like some adult authors do.

I was able to picture every little detail of the city without getting bored or bogged down. The description of the setting and its history made me want to go and visit Edinburgh.

The involvement of Cass’ parent’s was a nice touch. They were entertaining and they actually cared about her. At times, they helped the reader better understand Cass. At other times, they created more tension.

I’m really looking forward to the sequel, and might buy my ten-year-old cousin a copy of City of Ghosts for her birthday.

Book Review: Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll


I requested Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll on NetGalley because I’m currently writing a middle grade horror story, and I haven’t read much middle grade this years. Last year, when I listened to the audio book of Doll Bones, I remembered why I read books in that age category even though I was an adult.

I had been hoping Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would be as magical, spooky, and enthralling as Doll Bones was. Unfortunately, it didn’t come close.

The concept, a haunted doll that cursed people who were rude or didn’t ask permission to take its picture, was great. There was plenty of suspense and tension. After taking a picture without permission and insulting the doll, bad and scary things kept happening to Al, and they gradually got worse as the book went on.

The problem was that Al was very flat as a character. Maybe some kids reading this book would be okay with that. Others would get bored. When I was in elementary school, I was a very reluctant reader. Eventually, it was finding books with fascinating characters that made me fall in love with reading. As a kid, a book like Doll Bones might have held my attention because of the well developed characters. Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would have bored me.

I did like the lesson it taught about consent. I know that word often has sexual connotations, but consent is important with other things too. It’s important in all aspects life whether it is taking pictures, kissing, borrowing things, or playing. In today’s society and political climate, it is especially important for boys to learn about consent.

A book where a boy takes a picture without consent, is punished for it, realizes he was wrong, and apologizes, is valuable even if the character was dull and didn’t grow in any other way.

I didn’t like Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll enough to order it for my cousins’ kids, but I appreciate the suspense and the lesson it taught.

IWSG: Fantasy is Still My Favorite Genre

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

June’s Question is:

June 5 question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

Fantasy is and always has been my favorite genre to write in. I think this is simply because I like making things up and I don’t like being bound by rules about what is and isn’t possible.

Sure, fantasy worlds have their own sets of rules, but as the author, I get to make up what those rules are and how far they can bend before the break. I grew up playing games with my mom were arm chairs could time travel if they spun fast enough and people could turn into mannequins of they made eye contact with mannequins for too long.

Every time I watched TV show that had an ounce of magic in it, I’d make up my own stories about the the characters, continuing their story and adding myself to it. Back then, the word fanfiction wasn’t part of my vocabulary, but that is the best word to describe my early stories, even if I never wrote them down.

Fantasy was the genre that made me want to read. For many years, I thought I liked historic fiction, and I also thought I hated reading. However, when I read Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars Expanded Universe(technically science fantasy), and The Chronicles of the Deryni, and Wicked, that was when I started to love reading.

And was before I discovered urban fantasy novels like Tithe and The Dresden Files.

Whether I’m reading or writing, my mind just gravitates towards fantasy. I enjoy the occasional hard science fiction or contemporary novel, but often, a story needs to have some kind of magic to really win me over.

The same goes for writing. There is always something magical, something that doesn’t quite follow the laws of physics or at least the rules of what is possible.

I love infusing the real world with magic, and my best writing has been urban fantasy. Creating new worlds is fun, but it is more time consuming. Patiences hasn’t always been my biggest strength. Sometimes I try to write science fiction, but it mostly turns into science fantasy.

I could ramble on and on about why I like fantasy, but what it comes down to is freedom to let my mind run wild, and to just make stuff up.

Book Review: Space Opera

Space Opera was a strange book that seemed to break all the rules. Even though the end was slightly anticlimactic end, it was an enjoyable ride. However,  it did take me while to get into. This was not the kind of book I got sucked into right away and read in a few hours.

The long rambling yet slightly lyrical sentences combine with a snarky, intentionally all over the place omniscient narrator made it hard for me to engage with the character. I didn’t always care what happened X many years ago and just wanted the narrator to hurry up and get back to focusing on one characters. Granted, there were plenty of times I enjoyed all the world building and back story, I just could have done with a teeny tiny bit less of it.

The characters were fascinating, both the humans and aliens. They were colorful, lively, and flawed.

I expected this to have me laughing constantly, and while it was funny, I think some of the jokes went over my head.

With all the backstory of the world and characters that was given, I thought it was all going to come together in a spectacular way. And it did come together, but I was a little let down.

Space Opera was entertaining. Sometimes it made me laugh, other times it made me think. However, it failed to hold my attention for long periods of time.