Anyone who has read my reviews for a while knows that I’m a huge Daniel Barnett fan. I was thrilled to hear that his latest book, Poor Things, might fall into the YA spectrum. Barnett’s writing is pure poetry, and this one is his goriest, grittiest yet. I’d say it rests rather precariously on the young adult line, and it would certainly appeal to adult horrorphiles, because this author never pulls any punches and his hits can be brutal. Poor Things is bloody and frightening, with language not meant for virgin ears. Parents, if you think your little miracle isn’t ready for something along the lines of Stephen King’s scariest tales, this isn’t their book.
For more mature teens: dive in. Poor Things is also beautiful and touching, a poignant coming of age story.
Main character Joel has it coming from the first pages, as the bullying, arrogantly jocular older brother to a wimpy, pimply, book-reading nerd. You’ll know immediately if you can’t handle Poor Things, because Joel loses everything (including that little brother) in a violent car crash before you can even blink. The change in him is swift and soul deep, and we experience this story through his new life as a crippled nobody in a tiny mining town.
This life changing event, this one tragic moment, serves to destroy and create. It’s a common theme with Barnett—tear it all down, build it all back up—and something worth pondering for any young reader, especially in those days before the brain has developed enough to understand consequences. Physically incapacitated by his broken body, Joel’s mind speeds ahead: “Adolescence is an earthquake, one that feels like it will never end while you’re living it, and eventually there comes a choice. You can crawl under your desk and hide, or you can stand up on top of that shaking desk and dance.”
He isn’t the only character I fell in love with, not by far. The heavy metal loving tomboy with a white-blonde buzzcut, Ash, is one of the strongest female supporting characters I’ve met in a long time. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s tough, and she’s best friends with the biggest dork outcast in school. Ash is all soft underneath, and yes, though Joel is paralyzed from the waist down, there is the possibility of romance. It’s hard to say who is the hero of Poor Things, because throughout most of the book, Ash saves Joel’s derriere again and again. Without her, he could never have…sniff…well, you’ll cry at the end, too.
The town of Honaw itself has enough personality to be thought of as another character–an odd and mildly disturbing one from the beginning. Or, rather, the thing which lies beneath Honaw engineers that creep factor. Okay, that’s it! I can’t say any more or I’ll give it away. Yet, bells and whistles aside, this is a classic monster tale. No monster I’ve ever imagined, however. Only Daniel Barnett could imagine such a strange, sad, dangerous beast from the depths of time, and only this guy could make me love that thing by the end.
This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.
Mountaintop. Humanity’s last stand, after near obliteration from the Threat Below, by which Jason Latshaw’s epic book is titled. The humbled hundred or so inhabitants of Mountaintop, called the Kith, rely on legend mixed with history of the Apriori, their ancestors who once ruled the earth. The Kith are walled into their home in the sky by fear and the persistent Cloudline that obscures vision of Down Below. Their world is meager and desperate, their society stratified and rigid. In the first few pages, a hard line is drawn between main character Icelyn, the prissy, intelligent Cognate daughter of the Kith’s leader, and Adorane, her Veritas best friend and possible brave, brawny love interest. Segregation and prejudice are accepted here as the way for a fragile existence to survive.
Not thrive. Imagine the peak of a mountain at the top of the world, after civilization has fled a deadly, mysterious plague and the planet has probably been flooded by rising oceans. The air is thin. Scrubby trees are more like bushes. Acorn cakes are a staple. Later in the book, Icelyn finds a comb Down Below and she marvels at it. Has she never brushed her hair? You’ll be amazed when you find out what ultrabears and ultralions are. Yes, Mountaintop is the kind of place that, should humanity survive, what’s the point? It’s clear this place is only half of the story. Almost immediately, Icelyn and Adorane wander beyond a rotting, three-hundred-year-old barrier between the apparent safety of Mountaintop and the rumored certain death of Down Below, and there is no doubt about where our heroine and her beau will end up.
But Latshaw keeps his readers guessing right along with the sheltered, pampered Icelyn. The mystery is compelling, even darn right frightening, and each revelation along the way is worth it, not rushed or predictable. In fact, every time I thought I’d figured it out—what the Threatbelows are, or how humanity met its fate, or even who Icelyn herself is—I was surprised by Latshaw’s imagination. He speaks through his vivid characters, some that I adored and others I’d like to choke, and the action happens in their choices, dialogue, and thoughts. Whether the cowardly Kith leader is squirming, the devoted and fearless Eveshone is rescuing Icelyn again, or the constantly shifting morals of Torrain are playing out, this world is revealed by those living in it.
My favorite part, however, is that Latshaw isn’t afraid to delve deeper than his own story. Though fantastical and unique, his world bears enough resemblance to ours to stoke fear and tickle conscience. Gun violence in Mountaintop mirrors the debate over our right to bear arms, especially when these fictitious leaders are using guns to proliferate fear and violence as a means to control the population. One of them has found an ancient text and quotes Jenny Holzer, “Fear is the most elegant weapon. Your hands are never messy. Threatening bodily harm is crude. Work instead on minds & beliefs, play insecurities like a piano.” Latshaw is good at turning a phrase to grab attention, and we find essential truths in gentle statements as well: “So much of life is lived looking away from each other, afraid to face a person as they really are, deflecting feelings and ignoring vital moments.” Or, not so gentle: “They live in a world of magic, but take it all as a matter of course. They didn’t realize it, but they were Gods.” This last is spoken of the extinct Apriori, when Icelyn sees their cellphones and flat screens in a memory. Gods who invented their own demise? Nervous laugher from the crowd…
The Threat Below would be equally enjoyed by both genders, with a strong, admirable heroine (feminine and regal, with very little whining) and plenty of action and violence (gruesome, though not gratuitous). Latshaw’s writing is top-notch, and teens ready to move onto more adult literature should be able to handle the language and the length of this book. Adults will love it just as much, because there are many layers of understanding in The Threat Below, sort of like a Disney movie that is fun for kids but only truly understood by their parents. Not that this book is an easy fairytale read, and don’t be looking for a sweet ending tied up in a pretty package. The journey is worth it, though, and you’ll love every step. Latshaw delivers beauty and hope in a way you’d never expect.
This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.
To all my author friends and anyone who loves YA fiction, I am happy to announce my new position as a Staff Reviewer at YA Books Central!
This is a wonderful opportunity for indie authors to have their books reviewed right alongside traditionally published authors. We’re excited to bring some much deserved recognition to the indie scene.
So, send your work in, pronto! Here’s the skinny:
YA Books Central indie review requests are now open. Please send ONE pitch letter per book to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. A pitch letter should include the book’s title, genre, publisher (if any), link to Amazon listing (if available), release date, synopsis, and contact person’s name and email. If we think our staff reviewers would enjoy your book, we’ll contact you with instructions. Most of the time we will request ebook ARCs, but occasionally we will request print copies to be included in our monthly book haul video, which goes out to our readers and all of our staff reviewers.
Please note that not all requested books are reviewed, and some books might be reviewed several months after we’ve requested a review copy. Please do not send more than one pitch email per book. You will not receive a reply unless your book is requested.
While you wait, we encourage you to add your Indie book to our database here http://www.yabookscentral.com/add-books there is a $3.99 charge to add a book (even the publishers pay to list books with the site so that’s not just for indies).
Author Michelle Lynn has a new novel out this month called Choices. It’s a romance and I am really looking forward to reading it, since I greatly enjoyed her dystopian Dawn of the Rebellion. Read my review HERE.
SW: Michelle, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell me a little about Choices and your inspiration in writing it.
ML: Choices is about the idea that certain worlds need to be kept separate because they can’t possibly mesh without negative consequences. We’ve got Michaela, a young woman who has never had many options in her life. She is from a prominent family that has certain expectations. They’ve pushed her to date the right boy, to associate with the right people, and even to go to law school. She’s reached a point in her life where she wants to choose anything that is not that life. When she gets the opportunity to live her own life, she forsakes everything from before. The book is about her journey to discover that she may not have to choose between the two lives.
My family is very close. We love each other but we are also very different people. I have one sister in particular who everyone always tells her how she should live her life – at least those outside our immediate family do. I guess I wanted to write a story about becoming independent from the expectations of others without leaving the person you used to be behind.
SW: What are some fun things to know about your characters? Do you ever fall in love with your own fictional love interests (I do!)?
ML: I fall in love with my characters all the time. It’s one of the fun things about writing. In my main character, Jason, I was able to create my ideal man. He’s sweet and loyal. He takes care of the people around him. Plus, he’s a hockey fan. He isn’t perfect but where would the fun be in that?
SW: No fun at all, I agree. You’re used to writing about less than perfect worlds, though, right? Your last series of books was Dystopian, but this new release is Romance. Why did you decide to switch genres, and do you think that’s a risky thing to do as an author?
ML: It can be risky, yes. I have no clue how my readers are going to react to this book. When an author switches genres it’s almost like starting over. You have to go after a completely new set of readers. This book is a bit older so that will be a new challenge for me when it comes to marketing.
The third book in my dystopian trilogy was very heavy. Between the action, the deaths, and finding a perfect ending, it was so emotionally taxing to write that I had a hard time writing anything for months. I would start them and then not be able to go on, feeling drained. I needed something light, which I thought this would be. It ended up being a little more complex than I planned, but books tend to take on a mind of their own.
SW: So, what is it about the Romance genre in particular that interests you?
ML: It’s very pleasant to write. Some of the characters have troubled backstories, but there’s nothing truly dark. I’m used to writing about the end of the world. That takes something out of you. The romance genre as a whole is more about hope.
SW: You’ve talked about your books having some New Adult themes, yet you classify them as Young Adult. Why is that?
ML: The term ‘New Adult’ has come to mean something more than just the age of the characters. It used to be that YA characters were teenagers and NA characters were twenty-somethings. That was the distinction. Now NA is more R rated than PG-13. There’s nothing wrong with that, I read smut, but it just isn’t my book. My characters are in their twenties but the more adult themes are implied rather than spelled out.
SW: Yes, I wish we had a little more control of the changing distinctions as authors. Genre choosing is already such a slippery slope.
You’ve written quite a few books at this point! Do you have any tips for writers just getting started? What was the most helpful thing you learned along the way, and what was the biggest pitfall?
ML: The most helpful thing I’ve learned is to not do it alone. Where’s the fun in that? It truly takes a village – editors, cover artists, beta readers. I’m a writer, I leave the rest of it to the people who can do it better than I can. It’s one of the mistakes I made when I initially published my first book. Since then, I have found amazing people to work with and an incredible writer’s group that I can’t imagine what I ever did without.
SW: I believe you’re speaking of YAAR? Yes, Young Adult Author Rendezvous is an excellent, diverse group of authors.
Family is a big theme in your books. Why is that? Does your own family enter into your novels?
ML: I love my family. We’re very close. But, they aren’t really represented in this book as much as my trilogy. Michaela is close to her brother, but her family is a bit messed up – as is Jason’s. My family would do anything for me and they’d accept me no matter what I did. Michaela’s family is learning to be a bit more like that, but they have a long way to go.
SW: What has been the hardest criticism to take about your work? Did it help or hinder your writing? How about your favorite praise?
ML: The hardest criticism is when someone doesn’t like your book but fails to tell you why. Those pesky one star ratings. Even if it isn’t fun to hear, I like to know why someone didn’t like my work. I realize it isn’t for everyone. Criticism teaches us a lot more than praise does.
SW: Have you ever experienced writer’s block. If so, how did it hit and how did you get over it?
ML: Yeah (laughs), how about right now? It’s less about not being able to write, and more about actually making myself sit down and do it. It’s a discipline. It usually hits me when I reach a relatively slow part in my book. I’m excited to write actions scenes, less so for the mundane stuff that has to go in a book for it to make sense. Sometimes, I just have to force myself away from any distractions and pound it out.
SW: That’s funny. I feel the same way about writer’s block and experience it in much the same way. I could do it…but I really don’t feel like it right now.
Tell us something weird about yourself that very few people know.
ML: I have one of those weird memories that forgets important, every day stuff, but remembers random things. As you can tell by my book, I’m a hockey fan. Just call me the stats master. I might remember certain players shooting percentage while forgetting to feed my bird. Or, I can remember exactly what someone said to me two weeks ago but forget an appointment for that day.
SW: Well, then I must read Choices, because I know absolutely nothing about hockey. It’s settled! Thanks so much again, Michelle, and good luck with your new release.
Not that Meg hasn’t deserved YouTube for a while, but darn it I had to learn to use Adobe Premiere before I could make a trailer! I guess you could say I was a video virgin, but now that I’ve popped my own cherry, how did I do? Sorry, just keeping to the book theme here and feeling a bit exhausted. Indie authors are super heroes.
So now I’m an artist, and author, and a videographer. Thanks again to Her Last Boyfriend for doing the music. Take a look and get the book, HERE on Amazon. If you have no idea what Wicked Lover is, go HERE.
Today, I enjoyed an interview with Nancy Gaskins, on her BlogTalkRadio channel, Author Universe. Originally, this was a selfish endeavor to promote my new book, Catchpenny. I did just that, and got in a plug for myself and my husband’s band, Her Last Boyfriend. I even learned something new about my own book, which was that I don’t believe it would be appreciated by young adults only (as I had been marketing it). A good love story is a good story for anyone, regardless of gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. It was a great interview, check it out HERE.
But I digress. At the end of the interview, Nancy highlighted some of my marketing strategies, addressing her audience of regular followers who were looking for tips and insight into authorpreneurship. She described my book cover design and explained why she thought it was eye-catching. Then, she mentioned the sneak peak of The Tramp that I put at the end of Catchpenny, as a smart marketing decision.
And I had an ah-ha! moment.
Could sharing some of my own tips, tricks, insight, and pitfalls (oh yes, many pitfalls) actually help other beginning or aspiring authors? If so, I am happy to share.
So, I’ve started a new column on this blog, “Happy 2 Share!”
I’ll do what I can to help. In the spirit of the column, please help me in return by sharing any post you like on your social media outlets. And if you’d like to see a post on any topic in particular, please email me or share a comment below.
Big thank you to Sara F. Hathaway, author of Day After Disaster, for her guest post today! Read what Hathaway says about creating memorable, consistent characters…
Characters are key to a great novel and developing them can expand your mind to new places. Readers appreciate being able to feel the emotions and understand the feelings of each character not just your main character. Make sure that all your characters have their own stories and motivations. Some of your characters may come straight out of your life and some may be completely fictional but either way you have to bring them to life and keep their profile consistent throughout the story.
When I created Day After Disaster, I did it over a very long period of time so maintaining the same characters throughout the story was a challenge. To tackle this obstacle I kept a notebook that has notes not just on my characters but on timeline of events, camp layouts, supply lists, etc. so that the flow of the story is never broken.
Here’s some character details that you will want to have written down and refer to often:
Physical characteristics – age, height, hair and eye color, build, etc.
Background – where were they born, how was their childhood, what motivated them to get where they are today?
Family tree – who are their parents, siblings, etc. and where are they now? How was their relationship with these people?
Main personality traits – how do they react to situations, what do they know, were they formally educated, etc.
You should lay out all the details for each character. Even if you never use any of the information in your book you should still consider these factors. They are key to bringing out who the person really is and why they react the way they do.
*Helpful hint – a great place to go to find new character information is any type of forum on the internet where individuals are asked to introduce themselves. You will gain knowledge about people from many walks of life. Of course you need to change names and personal information but there is a never ending supply of character details all over the internet. You can combine details and create vibrant characters of your own.
Sara F. Hathaway is the author of the book, Day After Disaster. Sara grew up in the country where she developed a profound interest in the natural world around her. After graduating from The California State University of Sacramento with a Bachelor’s degree in business management, she returned to her passion for a rural existence. She has extensively researched and practiced survival techniques and utilized forgotten life-sustaining methods of the generations past. She currently lives with her husband and two sons in California where she is at work on the sequel to her first novel and helping other authors skyrocket their careers to the next level. For more information and a free copy of “The Go-Bag Essentials” featuring everything you need to have to leave your home in a disaster visit: www.authorsarafhathaway.com
Day After Disaster is an apocalyptic, adventure novel, featuring a dynamic young woman, mother and wife, Erika, who is thrust into a world turned upside down by a series of natural disasters. Finding herself alone in a city mutilated by this disastrous situation, she must save herself. Once free of the city confines, she desperately tries to navigate through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to get back home to her family. Not knowing if they are alive or dead she must call on all of her survival instincts to plot a course through this broken environment.
The thing that I like about this group is that it’s organized and professional; rules and guidelines are specific and clearly stated. For example, review “swapping” is not allowed. Reviewing at least four books a year by a fellow RRBC member is required, and there are so many members that you are sure to find something up your alley. Honest reviews are encouraged, with the understanding that one should simply not review a book that won’t receive a generally positive review. No foul language or slamming is allowed, and after reading some of the hateful reviews on Goodreads…whew! Thank goodness for a safe haven.
I joined RRBC when I was in the midst of publishing my first two books, three months apart. So, I’ve been too busy to interact as much as I’d have liked. One thing they do that I’m really interested in is their “Pay it Forward” week, when one author is spotlighted and other members drop all their own marketing efforts for the whole week to support that author. Now that I am nearing the end (for now) of my own marketing campaign and so ready to just write, I’m definitiely going to get involved in that.
Like many writers, I experience a certain degree of social anxiety in most human group encounters. That’s why I hide behind the page. The idea of throwing a book launch party for my first book that I wrangled for over a year just heightened the discomfort factor. I didn’t want to do it, I really didn’t. But everyone told me I HAD to do it, I would be shooting myself in the foot if I didn’t, and I was basically a pussy for not throwing some kind of local, in-person book event.
I took what I thought was the easy way out…
I organized a group “cultural event” with a friend of mine: art, live music, literature. It was billed as a one-night pop-up art show. As an artist turned author, it didn’t seem like such a stretch. I was actually launching two books within three months of each other and I had used my own artwork for the covers of both. The show was called “MAKE,” because it was all about how the artistic process happens. We showed sketchbooks, first drafts, videos of art making, and several artists performed live demos on the spot.
But, as you can see, I didn’t even get any good shots of my own room (the last one pictured above). What those nice men who bought a book and CD are blocking is my research altar, with all my books, notes, red-pen-endowed manuscripts, composition notebooks, and family trees. Why did I not think to take pictures of my space? Well, as I said…I have social anxiety…
My favorite part of it was the Music/Manuscript Symbiosis table and HERE is the post I blogged about that book/book soundtrack experience:
However, I did produce my very first video–a skill I had been wanting to develop for years–for my friend in another room. She’s a glass artist and I thought the most interesting thing that people would want to see at the MAKE show was the process of herbblowing molten glass at 2,000 degrees! Since I was helping a friend, I made myself finish the piece at all costs (something I had blown off for myself time and time again). I knitted all her raw video together to make an engaging, seamless piece, and I’m proud of my work. Learning Adobe Premiere Pro has been this daunting task hanging over my head for years, and now I feel free to move past the basics with video. Finally.
In addition to all my pre-book research and pre-art sketches and actual artwork from my past life as an artist, I also had the unique opportunity to showcase the original music soundtrack for my book, produced by Her Last Boyfriend.
I cannot explain how much I love these people. My husband produced a concept album so aligned with my book that one could not exist with the other. His longtime bandmate, Gerard, had been collaborating with him remotely for almost a year and he flew down from New York for the show.
Gerard even brought his friend and fellow musician Tara Lynn down with him! Together, they performed my book in music, in a way that was so cathartic I can’t even explain. How would you feel if you wrote a book, it was put to music, and then you got to sit there and watch it be performed live? It was a climax to this promotional stint that was magical in a way that I am decidedly not. So basically, if I had not done this whole MAKE show event, this magic would not have been a part of my life.
Oh, but this was an expensive event for me. Let’s get down to brass tacks. It was such a big deal, you know? Not just me, but the live music and the artists, too. So I had to go large with it, right? I made these expensive press kits, because that’s what I was “supposed” to do. I spent at least $400 on them and I think many are still sitting in someone’s trunk. Then I had to rent the venue. Not only had to buy the books (CreateSpace) AND the CD’s (CD Baby) to sell, but also lost several months of writing in the process of planning. I even had T-shirts (Galloree)! Okay, I didn’t really need those, but it seemed like a good idea to model one…until they didn’t show up in time. And I spent lots of time on those. Hey, you can still get one on demand:
At the end of the day, I sold a handful of books and CD’s, and the take home was nowhere near the cost of the event. Let’s be brutally honest here. I probably spent about $800 on the whole thing, all said and done. I may have made $100 in sales. Maybe.
So…was it worth it? Well, would finding your next project that you never imagined would fall into your lap make it worth it? Would suddenly being asked to move all your artwork to another venue, to be the backdrop of a contemporary dance performance help soften the blow of being in the red? It’s all experience in the beginning, right? Live and learn, go with the flow?
My next literary project is on the DL, as per the new partner’s request. Bah! It’s out of this world, though, let me tell you. But that’s for another post.
The dance project I can share a hint of. Here’s book/CD/art display #2 for last weekend, at Orlando’s Center for Contemporary Dance right after I took it down from the MAKE show:
Video isn’t yet available, but I will post it when it is. In the strangest, mysteriously advantageous turn of events, I went to clean out the space the next day after the MAKE show and I met a woman I never would have met had we not both been waiting for over an hour in the Florida summer heat for someone to show up and unlock the door for us. When she finally showed up, that someone told us we had to “expedite the process” for her, because she had a show that day, and she never apologized for being over an hour late on a Saturday morning. Me and Emma (who I would soon acknowledge as a sort of artshow angel, and she I), well our mutual anger and disgust bonded us together in way that doesn’t happen on a normal, perfect day. We made lemons into lemonade.
And the prints that were the basis for the cover art of my second book, Catchpenny, shared space with a breathtaking performance of carnal physical beauty and expressive modern dance. Like I said, the video will come later, but here are the performers after the show. Emma is silhouetted off to the right, giving a speech.
So, was it worth it?
In ways that can’t be measured like Facebook analytics and in ways that weren’t logged on my new PayPal card reader, yes. I didn’t sell much, but I lost a heck of a lot of business cards. The success of this event must be measured in pregnant possibilities, exciting new connections, old friends, new friends, and…all in all…a damn good weekend. You can’t hide behind the page forever.