YA Review: TRUST ME, I’M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I started reading TRUST ME, I’M LYING on the plane back from Alaska, continued in the summer school carpool pickup line, and then breezed through the last 40 percent in a single night. I probably would have read that first 60 percent much more quickly if I hadn’t been trying to catch up from vacation. In any case, I am now anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series, which is accurately compared to Ally Carter’s Heist Society series.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth SummerJulep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.

But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – I was hooked from the very beginning, and the voice is so perfect for the character. This might seem like a strange sample to share, but for some reason this particular paragraph stuck out to me as I was reading. It’s from an action scene, when Julep has just been rescued from a burning building, but you just get such a great sense of her character.

“I shudder as I pass through the back door and into the crisp, ice-cold air of the alley. I cough and hack and wipe off black stuff, and all the while I’m breathing in the sweetest, most delicious scent of gradually decaying garbage and rat excrement. I’ve never been so happy to see an alley in all the days of my life.”

2. The romance – I love the way she’s all twisted up from the moment she meets Tyler. Isn’t that how teen romance is supposed to be? Plus, this gives me another opportunity to showcase the voice.

“Wait, what did I just say? Crap! I meant to say, ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘just a prank’ or anything else that would put him off. Not ‘it’s freaking dangerous and you should definitely be interested now.’ Is some errant part of my psycho-girl psyche trying to show off for him? Without permission? I mentally smack that part of me back in line. Unfortunately, it’s not in time to avoid piquing Tyler’s curiosity even more.”

3. The cons – I love a good caper. I don’t care if it’s believable or not, but for the most part, I bought the cons Julep and her friends pulled. Sure, some of them were outrageous, but that’s what makes it fun.

4. The mystery –  In addition to the cons, there was also a mystery woven throughout the story, a set of clues Julep’s father had left her to follow. Part of the fun was that the reader had no idea what they led to, so it was sort of a double mystery.

5. The twists – I actually chatted with Ms. Summer on Twitter, anticipating one of the twists, and she warned me there would be one everyone expects and several that would catch me by surprise. She was so right! For the last 10 percent of the book (I was reading on my Kindle), I was saying, “No! What? No! Seriously?” These were good twists, folks. Some planted and some not, but wow.

On that last point, I’m really holding my tongue (fingers??) here. If anyone wants to discuss, email me! But definitely check out this book.

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On Balancing the Urge to Slap a Character or Root for Them

I read a number of frustrating books over my vacation, but before you think that means I didn’t like them, I’ll point out that I wrote a review about one of them earlier this week :). Why was that particular book frustrating? Because the girl kept missing out on opportunities where she could have fixed a particular problem, and yet I completely understood why she did.

I just finished reading another book where I was even more frustrated with the main character. In fact, I wanted to reach into the book and slap her. Ok, I’m not actually that violent (unless you ask my brother circa the 1980s), so maybe I’d just shake her and say, “Come on, girl! Get over yourself!” But at the same time, I was still rooting for her to figure things out and finally achieve her happy ending. I wanted the guy to forgive her for all the times she’d messed up, and the author did an excellent job of making me buy into both characters enough to believe that could happen.

In both of these examples, the key was making me care about the character and continue to root for them even when I disagreed with their actions. It’s funny how sometimes what you’re reading validates what you’re writing. I’m in the midst of revising from a second round of comments on my WIP, and I was trying to decide how to address a couple of readers’ reactions to a particular character. Reading these books solidified for me that the character’s actions aren’t necessarily the issue; it’s whether readers will still root for him. They can be ready to deliver a good slap as long as they’ll forgive him in the end.

So now the trick is to ensure I pull that off. I’m still working on it :). But at least I have some good examples as a reference!

Who are some of your favorite frustrating characters?

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YA Review: THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND by Kasie West

I’m back from Alaska! Well, I actually returned last week, but I spent most of that catching up. So, Alaska. Disney is amazing at everything, so the cruise was fantastic. I basically stayed inside as much as possible due to the cold, but when I did venture out, the scenery was breathtaking. Best way to see a glacier?DSC02623 From inside your cabin with a balcony. We kept the door open and I came in and out of the cabin, reading for a while and running out if my husband alerted me to another amazing view. I don’t think this picture can possibly capture how cool this was. We visited another glacier as well (much colder as it was off the ship), but this one was larger.

Ok, so you came here for a review. I read a lot in my cozy cabin :). I haven’t yet decided how many reviews I’m going to post from all that reading, but THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND demanded one. As usual, let’s start with the description.

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie WestWhen Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she’d been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend— two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it’s not the real Bradley she’s thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn’t even know. But tracking him down doesn’t mean they’re done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend’s graduation party — three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – Basically I’m a sucker for any story where people have to pretend to be together for some reason, so I knew going in that I would get pulled into this story. But also, what kind of guy dumps a girl in the parking lot at prom? And then tries to get back in with her later? That description just screamed “read me” and I obliged :).

2. The fill-in boyfriend – Yes, I am leaving out his name on purpose. If you read the book, you’ll understand why. Anyway, I really loved his character from the moment he appeared. I could see why Gia couldn’t get him out of her head :).

3. Bec (fill-in boyfriend’s sister) – At first Bec seems to be a stereotypical outcast, but it quickly becomes apparent that she’s someone entirely different, and I loved that about her. She was such a great foil for Gia.

4. Gia’s growth – I loved the way Gia discovered herself in this story. She starts out very unaware of how she appears to others, thinking she’s a fairly well-liked person by the general population. As she sees herself from others’ points of view–particularly Bec’s–she begins to realize her life isn’t as perfect as she thought. There’s one moment that’s particularly gut-wrenching, but you’ll have to read it to find out.

5. The romance – Love, love, love how the romance builds from this chance encounter and a series of misunderstandings, friendship, and … that’s all I’m saying. These two are perfect for each other, even though it takes them a while to realize it. (Well, of course. Otherwise, why would you spend that time reading?)

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I just realized that three of my favorite things about this book were characters. How about that?

If you love contemporary YA romance, definitely go pick this one up! And in the meantime, I’ll leave you with my fill-in boyfriend from the cruise. Don’t we make a cute couple?

 

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Revising for Vacation!

When I was in college, my roommate always cleaned our dorm room or, in later years, our apartment before we left for a break. She said she wanted to return to a clean place. (Hi, Liz!) I didn’t totally get it when we were in college, but I do now. And of course I’m going to apply it to writing.

I’ve been working through the comments from my second round of readers for my work-in-progress, and I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow.* I really didn’t think I’d get through them before I left, but I did. Woohoo! And I imagine the satisfaction I feel is similar to how my roommate felt–that when I return, I won’t be returning to a mess.

I’m not finished with this round of revision. I had three very lovely readers this round, and while a number of their comments lined up, they also offered some unique opinions that I’m still considering. But I at least made one pass through the whole manuscript and will have a decent revision to work with when I return. That’s something to be excited about.

The other day, my five-year-old said, “Mom, I’m sorry you won’t be able to work while we’re on the cruise.”

She was completely serious. Hey, at least she understands I love my work, right? I assured her that I am able to take a vacation. Well, now that I’ve tied up this task, I’m ready to pack up my bags and go party with Mickey Mouse and all the Disney princesses in Alaska. See you in ten days or so!

*As usual, here is my disclaimer to any crazies (not you, my regular followers) that my house will not be unattended while we’re gone. House sitter, alarm system, dog. Got it? Ok.

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MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING by Krista Van Dolzer

Happy Memorial Day! I hope my fellow Americans are enjoying the day off.

I’m thrilled to feature THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING on the blog today. It’s especially appropriate since The Writer’s Voice is in progress right now, and I was on Team Krista in 2012, the first year the contest happened. It was such a great experience, and Krista has remained a mentor and friend to me far beyond those few weeks. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book, and one of you lucky readers can win a signed copy, too! But first, let’s talk about the book …

The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van DolzerTwelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin Robby back to life, Ella Mae doesn’t believe her–until a boy steps out of the scientist’s pod and drips slime on the floor right before her eyes.

But the boy is not Robby–he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and mistreated. When Auntie Mildred refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae convinces her mama to take the boy home with them. It’s clear that he’ll be kept like a prisoner in that lab, and she wants to help.

Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches him English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when the boy’s painful memories resurface, Ella Mae learns some surprising truths about her own family and, more importantly, what it means to love.

As usual when I do an interview, the questions are centered around the five things I loved most.

1. It’s fantastic how you seamlessly wove in historical tidbits that adults have probably heard somewhere–for example, that the general public didn’t know President Roosevelt was in a wheelchair until after his death. Was it challenging to figure out where these would fit? Did you have a file of historical facts you wanted to include and couldn’t?

I didn’t have a file of historical facts, but now I wish I had!

For the most part, I researched the 1950s in general, then drew on that working knowledge as I drafted individual scenes. For instance, the scene in which I mentioned President Roosevelt has a reference to wheelchairs, so I tried to think of someone in a wheelchair that Ella Mae would have known. President Roosevelt came to mind, and it was only as I was fact-checking myself that I discovered the general public didn’t know the full details of his condition until after his death.

2. The message that there are two sides to every conflict (or war) and that individuals shouldn’t be judged by ethnicity is especially appropriate today. There were so many nations involved in World War II. Why did you choose to tell the story of a Japanese character versus German? Was it strictly because he would stand out so much physically?

Yes, the primary reason I made my regenerated man Japanese was because he would stand out so much physically. I wanted the characters to be able to have an immediate reaction to the way he looked.

3. I loved how much of an impact Takuma, as a single person, had on so many lives. Takuma struck me as culturally appropriate but not stereotypical. How did you go about developing his character?

I’m so glad you thought Takuma was culturally appropriate but not stereotypical! I spent quite a bit of time researching Japanese culture in an effort to get his character right. One thing I learned is that Americans tend to value independence whereas Japanese people tend to value interdependence, being a small part of a larger and more important whole. That quality suited the character I wanted to develop.

That said, Takuma’s character has changed from draft to draft. In my earliest drafts, he was very much like Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way—so a critique partner suggested that I make him less perfect to give him more dimension. It was a valid point, so I tried to apply it, but the changes I made just never felt completely right. I went back to his old character, and though he is somewhat one-dimensional, I stand by that decision. I’ll let you decide why you think he is the way he is. (For the record, my mom and I have very different explanations, both of which are valid within the context of the story.)

4. The voice felt so strongly middle grade despite the seriousness of the situation, particularly in regard to Ella Mae’s roller-coaster emotions about her friendships with both Takuma and Theo. Did her voice come naturally to you, or did you have to really work on keeping her at that age?

Ella Mae’s voice came so naturally that I’ve started to wonder if I was a twelve-year-old girl in 1952 in another life :). I’ve worked on this book off and on for the last four years, and no matter how much time I spend away from it, I can always pick Ella Mae’s voice right back up. Of all the characters I’ve written, Ella Mae is my favorite.

5. I really loved the ending, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll make it a more general question. Did you know from the beginning how the story would need to end, or did it surprise you as you were writing?

I’ve always had a very clear idea of how this story was going to end. As soon as I wrote the first chapter, I knew exactly how I was going to write the last few chapters. Not everyone likes the ending—one editor in particular rejected the manuscript precisely because she didn’t like the way it ended—but in my mind, it always had to end this way.

Thanks, Krista!!

If you haven’t already picked this book up, do it now! But I am giving away a signed copy to one lucky winner. North America only, please. Click on the Rafflecopter below to enter. Good luck!

Click here to win a signed copy of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING

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Why Subjectivity Is Your Friend

Like many writers, I have a love/hate relationship with the concept of subjectivity. It’s the indefinable reason for countless rejections in the publishing world, many of them even quite complimentary. It’s also the source of invaluable opinions from other writers who provide feedback on your work. (I’ve blogged on the benefits of multiple subjective opinions before.) And someday, subjectivity may result in both an agent and an editor who love a manuscript so much they champion it all the way to a finished, physical book you can hold in your hands. Without subjectivity, you never get there. So, all in all, subjectivity is your friend.

It’s like the children’s story we all know: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Goldilocks wasn’t comfortable in Mama or Papa Bear’s bed or chair. She didn’t like the porridge too warm or too cold. It had to be just right. And I, for one, don’t want a representative who’s lukewarm. (Wait, did Goldilocks pick the lukewarm porridge??)

But …

That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated sometimes and need to give myself a pep talk, so I figured I could pass one along to my readers as well. I’ve been thinking about this lately in a couple of different contexts.

Querying

It’s always hard to know when to query, when to revise, and when to finish querying a project. I’ve gotten better about having faith in the work I’ve put out in the world, and you know what? I can spot a subjective response more easily than I could a few years ago. I used to jump on any agent feedback I received. Now I’m better able to let it simmer, weigh it against what feels right for my manuscript, and sit on it if it doesn’t ring true to me. It’s not always easy, but then when someone else comes along a month or two later with opposite feedback? Justification! (Of course there are times the feedback does ring true, and I absolutely act on that.)

Receiving Critiques

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I receive those first comments from a critique partner, I want to dive right in.

And that would be a mistake.

Because I need to see comments from everyone who is reading for me before I start revising. The light bulb moments happen when I synthesize feedback from all of my readers, even recalling what readers from a previous round have said if I’m on round two, three or four. It all comes back to my word of the day: subjectivity. I ask a variety of people to read for me because they have different backgrounds and experiences and world views. They approach my story from different places–much as my eventual readers would, I expect–so their subjective responses are necessary to whip the manuscript into shape.

Sure, there is such a thing as too subjective. I know I have my buttons, and when I’m reading for someone and they push on a sensitive area, I note it. But you know what? As writers, we need to know about those, too, and decide if we want to address them or not. And just as with agents, it’s important to check the comments against your gut to determine what’s right for the manuscript. I incorporate much of what my CPs and readers suggest but definitely not all.

So, I’m all for subjectivity … except for that brief moment when I open an email and it makes my heart skip in disappointment. But hey, it’s temporary. And it’s never the final word on my publishing journey. I’m still waiting on that email that will make me break into a spontaneous chair dance. Plus, I’m also working on my next project. Speaking of which, I just posted a description, so you can read about it here!

And in the meantime, I’ll repeat this mantra, and you can, too:

Subjectivity is your friend. Subjectivity is your friend.

If you say it enough, you really will believe it :).

What are your thoughts on subjectivity? How well do you keep it in perspective?

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YA Recommendation: Alex Flinn’s Modern Fairy Tales

I won an ARC of MIRRORED, Alex Flinn’s Snow White retelling (scheduled to come out in September) from Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog. After finishing it, I had to go back and read the rest of these modern fairy tale retellings. I wouldn’t call them a series, but a few of them are connected through Kendra, a witch who appears as a mentor to the evil stepmother character in MIRRORED. Understanding why she might have missed the signs with Violet was one of the reasons I wanted to go back and read the other books, but really I just love fairy tale retellings, which you already know :). The books include:

BEASTLY – Beauty and the Beast

A KISS IN TIME – Sleeping Beauty

CLOAKED – A mash-up of The Frog Prince, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Six Swans, The Golden Bird, The Valiant Tailor, The Salad, The Fisherman and His Wife

BEWITCHING – mainly Cinderella with a short version of The Little Mermaid

TOWERING – Rapunzel

Since MIRRORED is the book coming out this year, I’ll include the cover and description below. You can read these out of order. However, in MIRRORED Kendra does mention incidents that happened in the other two books in which she appeared (BEASTLY and BEWITCHING). It doesn’t really spoil anything since these are familiar fairy tales anyway, but they don’t stick exactly to the original tales. Also, although Kendra is not a POV character in MIRRORED (it starts with Violet, then the Snow White character, Celine, and finally a boy named Goose), I still found myself questioning her motives–thus the reading back through the earlier books. Anyway, here’s the info on MIRRORED:

Mirrored by Alex FlinnMirror, mirror in my hand…

Beauty is the key to everything. At least, that’s how it seems to Violet—ugly, bullied, and lonely. To be beautiful, in her eyes, is to have power and love. And when Kendra, the witch, teaches Violet how to use magic, she may finally get what she wants.

For Celine, beautiful since birth, her looks have been a hindrance. She discovers that beauty is also a threat—especially to her stepmother, Violet, who doesn’t want anyone sharing the attention she worked so hard to get and who will do anything to be the fairest of them all.

But beauty isn’t only skin deep and love isn’t based on looks alone. And though Violet and Celine may seem to be completely opposite, their lives are almost…MIRRORED.

Here are the five things I loved most about this collection of modern fairy tales:

1. Commentary on beauty – Beauty was a major theme in both MIRRORED and BEASTLY, and I really liked how Ms. Flinn explored both sides of it. As you can see from the description above, the main characters in MIRRORED are victimized both for having/not having beauty. I thought she handled it very well.

2. Flawed characters Ms. Flinn has a knack for writing flawed characters and getting you to cheer them on. I didn’t like either character in A KISS IN TIME at first but as they adapted to their circumstances and got to know each other, they made each other better. BEASTLY was all about a horrible boy becoming a better person. Even villains have an opportunity to show you their side of the story. As I mentioned above, MIRRORED starts out from the future stepmother’s viewpoint.

3. Unexpected – Just when you think you know where the story’s going, it surprises you, and actually in a way that makes perfect sense with the familiar tale. There was one in particular that led me down a path I wasn’t sure I liked, and I was so happy when it surprised me. I’m not going to say which one it was so I don’t give anything away.

4. Magic in the real world – It’s always interesting to me how an author chooses to have characters react to the existence of magic. I liked the way doctors tried to find an explanation for the beastly curse and people came up with logical explanations for everything a princess who had been asleep for 300 years said. Of course, there were other times when the characters just had to admit there were no explanations :).

5. The romance – Hey, these are fairy tales, so I have to talk about the romance. What I liked about the romances in these stories was that they were about more than physical attraction. The characters got to know each other–in most of the books over a decent amount of time. Only one was pretty much love at first sight, but we can let one slide :).

If you haven’t already read these books, I recommend starting with BEASTLY and working your way through them so you can be ready when MIRRORED comes out in the fall. If you have already read them, which was your favorite?

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