YA Review: WINTER by Marissa Meyer

Anyone who was following me on Twitter last week was probably expecting this review. For that matter, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, it won’t surprise you either, considering I reviewed the first three books in The Lunar Chronicles series and CINDER, SCARLET and CRESS made it onto my favorite reads lists for 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. No doubt WINTER will be on my 2015 list. I was torn between wanting this book to never end and wanting to race to the end, but despite 823 action-packed pages, it still only took three days :). (I feel I should mention the fourth book, FAIREST, which chronicles the story of evil queen Levana. Yes, I enjoyed it and felt it added to the storyline, but in a I-so-want-out-of-her-head kind of way. Plus, it made me wait an extra eight months for this one :(.) Anyway, on to the description, which, if you haven’t read the other books in the series, will have spoilers.

Still reading?


Winter by Marissa MeyerPrincess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have to power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

Here are the five things I loved most, which I stress because I could wax poetic for a lot longer.

1. Winter – She’s not the traditional Snow White–but she is. Yet again, I am thoroughly impressed with how Marissa Meyer weaves in familiar elements while making this story completely her own. The people love Winter, and I loved Winter.

2. The interlocking stories – I mentioned this with CRESS, but it’s even more pronounced in WINTER with Levana, Winter and Jacin’s viewpoints added into the mix. Ms. Meyer expertly juggles nine (by my count) POVs throughout the novel without losing or confusing the reader. That is downright amazing.

3. The stakes – Oh my stars, as Ms. Meyer’s characters would say. The stakes kept getting higher with every chapter. New challenges for the characters at every turn. New scrapes to get out of–and sometimes changes that couldn’t be taken back. Wow. Just wow.

4. The romance – All of those romances that were set up in the first three books had to be resolved in this one, and I was satisfied with every one. Keeping in mind that these are supposed to be teenagers so they can’t all get married like in the original fairy tales. Thorne is still my favorite :).

5. The ending – I mentioned the length of the book at the beginning of this post, but there was so much happening in this book. Seriously, I was at page 200 thinking, what on Earth–or Luna–else can happen for another 600 pages? Ms. Meyer had so much in store, and every. single. page was earned. I loved every bit, and the ending was perfect.

Like I said, I had to limit myself to five here. Who else had to read this book as soon as it was available? Tell me what you thought!

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While I enjoyed R.C. Lewis’ first book, STITCHING SNOW, it didn’t quite edge up to love for me. But her latest, SPINNING STARLIGHT, rises above the debut, in my opinion. While the two books are both sci-fis and the covers are complementary, they are not connected. But on to the description …

Spinning Starlight by R.C. LewisSixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The fairy tale – I liked the use of a more obscure fairy tale, “The Wild Swans.” I confess I don’t get tired of the Snow White or Cinderella retellings, either, but it was fun to read something different.

2. The challenge – Think about how hard it would be to try and communicate if you couldn’t speak or even make a sound. Then add on to that the fact that in your world they’ve phased out the written word and everything is voice-activated, so you can’t even write out your distress message. I found it somewhat disturbing to consider this is where technology might take a civilization–but also believable in some ways. Yikes!

3. The romance – So on that note, how do you fall for someone when you can’t speak to them? More pertinently, how do they fall for you? I was impressed with how Ms. Lewis developed the romance and made me believe it despite this major obstacle.

4. The flashbacks – Often as writers we’re cautioned about using flashbacks, but when they’re done well, they’re very effective. In this book, they have the dual purpose of showing Liddi’s relationship with her brothers and revealing bits of herself that she can’t due to her inability to speak. I felt they were well-placed and powerful.

5. The stakes – Let’s add another layer of difficulty onto the communication challenges. Once Liddi ends up on Tiav’s planet, even if she could tell him what’s going on with her brother, she faces deep-held beliefs on that planet that could mean the natives won’t help her anyway–including Tiav. So it’s not only a matter of communicating but of trust. Hey, in this case, maybe it’s good she can’t talk?

Overall, it was a well-told story with a fantastic romance in a fun sci-fi world. Hey, I grew up in a family that pretty much kept the TV on anything that included space or aliens :). Anyway, if you haven’t checked this one out, I recommend it, and I look forward to whatever Ms. Lewis writes next!

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FINDING AUDREY and a Couple of Other YA Books You Should Read

It’s been a while since I posted a roundup of young adult books I didn’t get around to reviewing, so I figured it was time.

First up is FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinsella, best known for her CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC series. Basically, I love anything Ms. Kinsella writes. Her books crack me up every time, and the Shopaholic books have the unique distinction of making me want to strangle the character for 90 percent of the book and then somehow cheering her on at the end. FINDING AUDREY is her first YA book and very different. While there is still a lot of humor, it tackles the serious topic of Audrey’s Social Anxiety Disorder. I was impressed with how Ms. Kinsella approached Audrey’s recovery and also the innovative use of multiple storytelling formats with screenplay scenes (a technique I use in my own manuscript!). I highly recommend this one.

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaAudrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.

Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.




I picked up THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy at last year’s Scholastic Warehouse Sale and finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago. I wish I’d read it sooner! It’s a wonderful historical with unexpected magic and a sweet first romance. I actually wasn’t sure whether to categorize this one as middle grade or young adult as the character is fourteen, but she is in high school and the story involves a romance, so I ultimately decided it’s a younger YA. Also, there are two more novels in the series where she’s older. In any case, the story is beautifully written.

The Apothecary by Maile MeloyIt’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London.  There, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and becomes fascinated by his son, Benjamin Burrows—a boy who isn’t afraid to stand up to authority and who dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin’s father disappears, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s ancient book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping those secrets out of the hands of Russian spies. Discovering transformative elixirs they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending nuclear disaster.

During my search for comp titles, I came across THERE WILL BE LIES by Nick Lake. While I quickly realized it wouldn’t work for me due to the dual fantastical/contemporary storylines, I was immediately drawn into the story and couldn’t put it down. I loved the twists in this novel. I saw a lot of them coming, but the main character didn’t, and that was the point. It was a rather long read–I think because the fantasy storyline kept drawing away from the contemporary–but it all comes together in the end and is worth it.

There Will Be Lies by Nick LakeIn four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.



So, those are a few recent reads I suggest you check out. I may have a full review for you again next week. Have you read any of these? What did you think?


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The Search for Solid Comp Titles

As writers, we’re often told to include comp (or comparative, for the non-writers) titles in our queries letters. But it’s tricky. These titles can’t be too well-known, or we’ll look ridiculous. Or arrogant.


No. You haven’t. Sorry. Or even if you have, there’s no way you can predict that.

At the same time, if you choose a novel that’s too obscure, the agent may not recognize it and the comp may fall flat. It’s a tough line to walk.

Then there’s the option of movies and TV shows. Some agents are fine with them and others aren’t because they want you to demonstrate a knowledge of the market. So, basically, you have to customize your comp titles based on each agent’s preference.

I’ve had a particularly difficult time coming up with comp titles for my current manuscript. The best comp title for it is a movie from 1998–The Truman Show. It’s a well-known movie, but I still felt like I needed to have book comps available as well. And that’s where things get tricky. Because the story is more than just this single plot line. It’s told from dual points of view, and includes scenes from the show in a screenplay format and blog posts. So that gives me even more possibilities to search for comp titles. For example:

  • Reality TV: Although the best-known title is probably A.S. King’s REALITY BOY, Heather Demetrios’ SOMETHING REAL is a better match for voice and tone.
  • MC discovers his/her life is a lie: I’ve searched far and wide for a title that would fit this scenario, and most of the titles I’ve found are either fantasy, sci-fi, or thrillers. As deep as I’ve scoured with my searches, I’m afraid anything I find now will be too obscure to use :).
  • MC is a liar–preferably a male voice: I’m reading one right now that I’m hoping will fit this category, but it looks like it will veer away from contemporary as well. There are a lot of girl liars in contemporary YA!
  • Format experiments: I have a number of options I could use for this, but it feels more important to use one of the other two comps instead.

My point in the examples above–particularly those two where I’m struggling–is that if I use the wrong title I could give the wrong impression. Sure, I could insert a thriller title where the main character finds out her life is a lie, but that would imply a different tone for my novel. And although I could choose a comp title where the female character is the liar, I’d really rather keep it as the male character, since my whole query focuses on the lies my boy MC has told. I tend to think it’s better to use no comp titles at all than to use titles that will give the wrong expectations for my manuscript.

What about you? Have you struggled with comp titles for a particular manuscript? Did you finally find the right ones or just forget about it?

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I’m on Team Ravenclaw for Pitch Slam!

For those of you curious about my current project, AS SEEN ON EVIE, I was selected for Team Ravenclaw in the Harry Potter-themed Pitch Slam contest. Over the next few days, agents (or Professors, as the contest has deemed them :) ) will be awarding points to entries within the different houses, which equate to number of pages requested. I’ll find out on Monday afternoon if any agents have been intrigued enough by my entry. No matter what happens, it is a huge honor to have been selected for a team. Here is the link:


I just have to say that although my characters would probably be sorted into Slytherin (the cunning and ambitious Justin) and Hufflepuff (patient and loyal Evie), I definitely belong in Ravenclaw. The online test told me so.

To everyone who entered, kudos to you for putting your work out there! If you got in, fantastic! And if you didn’t, I’ve been there–even recently :). Every contest is subjective, and I always believe there’s a reason for everything, whether it’s the timing or the mentors/agents involved. I received some wonderful feedback from the last contest I didn’t get into that I applied before this one, and I incorporated comments from both feedback rounds of Pitch Slam before submitting my final entry. Onward and upward!

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YA Review: THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee

A couple of weeks ago my critique partner Kip Wilson sent me the lovely gift of a signed copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee. I’d been hearing a lot about this book already from another writer friend of mine, Anna-Marie McLemore (if you haven’t read THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS yet, do it!), so it was already on my to-be-read list. Kip just moved it up! In any case, it’s a fantastic read at any time but especially for Halloween :). Here’s the cover and description.

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi LeeIn 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

And here are the five things I loved best.

1. The re-imagining – It’s not a FRANKENSTEIN retelling. It’s a “here’s how someone would have fictionalized the true story of FRANKENSTEIN in a world where mechanical geniuses could attach clockwork body parts far beyond their time.” Ms. Lee explains the liberties she took even with the FRANKENSTEIN passages to fit her premise, and I loved it! Yes, the original is amazing, but this new twist on it carries its own brilliance.

2. The familiar – Even though it isn’t a traditional retelling, so many of the original themes of FRANKENSTEIN make an appearance in this story. As background, I’ll say that I never read FRANKENSTEIN in school. I picked it up along with several other classics after college, and it was one I especially enjoyed. Mary Shelley effectively makes you empathize with both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. THIS MONSTROUS THING is written entirely from the viewpoint of Alasdair, but it still gives a compelling glimpse into the minds of both characters.

3. Alasdair – I loved Alasdair as a character, with his struggle to reconcile what he’d done and the push and pull of his desires for the future versus what was right. I also appreciated his resistance to who had written FRANKENSTEIN. It’s such a teenage boy response. I’m not spoiling this for anyone, right? Maybe some YA readers won’t know, but it’s not really a secret :).

4. The setting/world building – I enjoyed the world Ms. Lee created, this alternate history where mechanical parts had been integrated to such a degree. Here’s a snippet.

A gasp of December air slapped hard enough that I pulled my coat collar up around my jaw. The sun was starting to sink into the foothills, and the light winking off the muddy snow and copper rooftops turned the street brass. A carriage clattered across the cobblestones, the clop of the horses’ hooves replaced by the mechanical chatter of the gears. I got a faceful of steam as it passed.

5. The resolution – I was quite satisfied with the ending. And no, I’m not going to tell you if it ended the same way as FRANKENSTEIN–which, by the way, if you haven’t read that, you should really read both.

So, I highly recommend you go out and pick up/borrow a copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING. If you’ve already read it, tell me your thoughts in the comments!


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Several years ago I won a contest for a signed copy of Matt Myklusch’s first book, THE ACCIDENTAL HERO, and I became an instant fan. I loved all three of the Jack Blank books and passed that enjoyment on to my husband. I look forward to sharing them with my kids soon. (You can read my review of the final book in the series here, but be warned of spoilers.) My seven-year-old was already eyeing the cover of Mr. Myklusch’s latest, SEABORNE: THE LOST PRINCE, with interest. Check it out.

Seaborne: The Lost Prince by Matt MykluschWhen 13-year old Dean Seaborne runs afoul of the Pirate King, he is given one last chance to redeem himself before he gets thrown to the sharks. His orders are to find and steal the treasure of Zenhala, a mysterious island where gold grows on trees. Dean infiltrates the island posing as its legendary lost prince, but the longer he stays in Zenhala, the more he questions his mission—and himself.

Forced to undergo intense and fantastical trials to prove his royal lineage, Dean can’t help but wonder if he really is the lost prince he’s pretending to be. With sea serpents, assassins, and danger on all sides, he might not live long enough to find out.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The humor – I tried to find a good passage to demonstrate the humor, but it’s not really one-liners or even paragraphs at a time that make the humor in this book. Sure, those happen, but it’s more about the situations Dean finds himself in.

2. The adventure – Sea serpents! Kites that skim across the ocean! Kayaking and soaring over waterfalls! Pirates! I mean, this story is all about adventure.

3. The dialogue – The dialogue is clever throughout, but I especially liked the interchange between Dean and one of his seconds in the trials because of how it could be interpreted multiple ways.

Dean nodded. “Fair enough. I hope you’ll make it easier than your brother did.”

“The regent told my father you had only good things to say about Junter’s service.”

“I was being polite.”

Jin grimaced. “No need for that. Junter’s performance yesterday was an embarrassment. He disappointed my father and brought shame to my family. Rest assured, I will not fail as he did.”

“Good man,” Dean said. He studied Jin, trying to get a read on him. He was more talkative than his brother and said all the right things, but what he left unsaid rattled Dean. He wouldn’t fail in what?

Exactly! This conversation is one of many where the choice of words is key.

4. The twists – Is Dean the lost prince? Who wants him to be? Who doesn’t? There are so many rabbit trails in this book, but I’m not surprised. That’s one of the things I loved about the Jack Blank series as well–always a twist on the horizon! I’m sure there will be more in the rest of the series.

5. The stakes – Just when you think you understand what’s at stake for Dean, things step up a notch–but not necessarily in a life-or-death way. Yes, he has to face life-threatening trials, but the stakes end up hitting him even harder than his life as he has to decide who he wants to be as a person. Very well-done.

Have you read this book yet? Or the Jack Blank series? Let me know if you’re a Matt Myklusch fan in the comments!

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