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 email@example.com 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.
Buy it on Amazon HERE. Visit the author’s website HERE.
Dawn Nolan is not someone you would think of as heroine material. She’s scared of thunder, scared of boys, shy and mousy. Her sister Gabby really doesn’t fit the bill either. She get’s pinched for lifting a bracelet within the first couple chapters. Drew is a spoiled rich kid, too good looking to trust or believe in. But author Michelle Lynn gets her dystopian world up and running in record time. Her characters act just as fast, and we get to know them through their choices and reactions to an unforgiving environment.
We quickly realize the world as we know it has all but shut down, civilization hanging on by the thread of strict military control. America is nothing but a legend, ruined by draught, famine, disease and war. England is a brutal empire and punishes its citizens by sending them to slave colonies. Remember that stolen bracelet? I’m sure you can guess what happens to Gabby, and why Dawn decides to become her unlikely savior. The story is quickly transplanted to the mysterious colonies, and it doesn’t take long to understand where those are located. Turns out there are a few Americans left after all.
Lynn delivers what could seem like a complicated backstory with efficiency, only giving us the information we need, then letting our imaginations fill in the rest. I mean, who could really be too shocked that this scenario could one day be our fates? All that’s needed is the term “global warming” at this point for us to understand quite a lot of backstory on our own. I’m so thankful that, instead of dwelling on the details, Lynn dives right into her own reality, and we’re ready for it. Characters’ personalities bloom and details of this new world trickle out steadily, as Dawn and Drew get on with the business of rescuing Gabby.
This author is not afraid to throw in a twist you never expected, and it’s a harsh world she’s created–just when you really connect with your favorite character, you might have cause to worry about his or her fate! By the conclusion, the theme of an incredible bond between sisters comes to the fore, a development I liked as much as I came to like the two sisters. Layers of revelation and an emerging deeper plot make this book an excellent start to a promising series. I’ll definitely continue with book two–I’m not sure I have a choice!
Michelle loves connecting with readers. Check out her social media outlets and blog on her website, http://www.michellelynnauthor.com. Click HERE to read our interview about her new release, Choices, due out this month!
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.
I have to give an obnoxiously loud shout out and virtual air kisses to Joss Radillo today, for hosting Tristan’s coming out party as part of her 100,000 blog visits celebration! If Joss hadn’t reached out to me to to participate in her special occasion, I may never have written this character study or admitted to this beautiful face (Lee Williams) haunting the entire writing of my new serial novel, Catchpenny.
When I first began writing Catchpenny, I had just seen a mini-series called the Forsyte Saga on Netflix. The Welsh actor pictured here, Lee Williams, made such an impression on me that his is the face I’ve always pictured for Tristan throughout the whole writing process of Catchpenny. The mini-series was actually released in 2002, and Lee Williams is now 41-years-old, so he wouldn’t actually play Tristan today. Tristan is 17, just turning 18 in the book. But, here’s a good idea of how hot he’ll be as he matures…
And here’s a closer look at Lee/Tristan’s “Mentholyptus” blue eyes, which Meg often mentions in Catchpenny…
A Short Synopsis of Catchpenny, Part One: Wicked Lover
Have you ever wondered about that girl at the edge of the crowd? The one who has dark, bushy hair that hides her eyes while she’s reading, but tight shirts that don’t even try to hide the size of her breasts? You’ve heard the rumors, you know the rude nicknames, and you wonder what she really does when she’s not in school. She never comes to parties and she lives in a neighborhood where nice girls never venture. Everyone tries to ignore her…but there is something about her that’s impossible to ignore. Especially for the star quarterback, apparently. Because he just asked her to the Homecoming dance, after dumping the head cheerleader.
Catchpenny tells the story from the eyes of “that girl,” and Wicked Lover is just the beginning of this coming of age serial novel. The small town minds of Shirley County have underestimated Meg Shannon for too long. She’s even more fun than she is trouble…but maybe she has finally met her match.
Who is Tristan Jameson?
Tristan is, of course, the quarterback mentioned in the synopsis. He has played by the rules all his life and he’s over it. Meg is fun, honest, and real, in a way that most of the friends in his crowd are not. At first, he seemed to have asked Meg to the dance on a whim, but as the story develops we realize he’s had his eye on her from afar, for a long time. He thinks she’s the most interesting girl in school—it just took him a while to work up the nerve to breach the social barriers that he’s been cocooned in for so long. As he gets to know Meg throughout the course of the evening, she continually surprises him. He’s fascinated and his feelings deepen more than either of them were prepared for. She’s an enigma to him, and he’s ready to take some risks, too.
An Excerpt from Wicked Lover
A narrow column of rock jutted up from the valley, separated from the main cliff by about two feet. We had always called it the exclamation point (or just “the point” for short) when I was a kid, because that’s exactly what it looked like. It was the first and smallest of the buttes, as the valley below met the canyons, and the mountains on either side squeezed the land into a bottleneck, with violent rapids rushing below. The point was wide enough for a couple people to sit on, maybe four people to stand on carefully. I hopped out onto the column of stone, my bare toes gripping the stone when I landed, steady and sure. I’d done it a million times. I focused on the moon; it looked as big as a planet about to crash right into the earth. A yellow sphere of Swiss cheese, in planetary proportions.
“The wolves will be out in force tonight,” I said, then threw my head back in a long howl. A prompt response echoed in the distance, the owner of which was more likely a hound dog hunting with his master than a roaming wolf. I laughed and looked back to see my date turning green behind me. “Don’t worry, I’ve got good balance—my mom says I’ve always been a mountain goat.”
He shook his head, sizing me up from the rear. “More like a mountain lion. Please come back, though.”
He held out his hand, obviously closer to the rim than he was comfortable with, but I ignored it. I turned back to the moon. “It’s not full yet.”
“Looks pretty full to me.”
“No, it’s still waxing. It’ll be full tomorrow.”
“Want to bet?” He stuck his hand out further, daring me to accept a shake on it.
“Okay. I know I’m right.”
The instant my hand made contact with his, his grip turned to iron and he yanked me towards himself, off the point and across the chasm. I crashed into his chest and he moved backwards with me—solid, not stumbling. His arms wrapped around my shoulders like steel girders, his body immovable and his face unflinching.
“You’re dangerous,” he mumbled, eyes blazing.
I tried to say, “You should talk,” but I’d somehow lost my voice.
“Away from the sheer drop.”
“Okay.” I nodded, glad to finally produce a sound with my startled vocal chords. I let him thread his fingers through mine, and he led me back to the car.
In the safety of the limo, he lounged back onto the seat, his eyes smoldering as he watched me. I settled myself opposite, arranging the beads of my cocktail dress and fluffing my curls, not really sure what had just occurred between us. Maybe he was angry with me; he sure looked it. I said, as innocently as I could manage, “Are you afraid of heights?”
“Afraid of having to dive off a cliff to catch you, maybe.”
I snorted. “Right.”
“Reckless,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“Sorry? You’re not like any girl I’ve ever met, Meg. It’s a lot to take in, but there’s no reason to be sorry.”
I fumbled with my beads a little more, unsure of how to proceed. I felt the car start to roll and I looked up in reaction, to see a door in the ceiling just over Tristan’s head. I had an idea. “Hey, we can get a perfect view of the moon from in here. That’s a sunroof, right?”
He looked above his head and his expression cooled. “Actually, I’ve been wanting to try that ever since I first got in.”
“You mean…ejector seat?” I met his spreading grin and he nodded, then reached over to push a button by his armrest. The window in the ceiling slid open and Tristan grabbed my hand, pulling me over to crouch with him on the seat below the skylight.
“Ejector seat!” we yelled together, springing up through the open roof, him laughing and me cheering like a five-year-old. The sky spread over us like velvet lavender, a blanket of winking stars around the glowing lunar orb. It felt so close I wanted to reach up and touch it—moments like that are the closest I ever get to church.
We watched the sky together in silence. I slid my eyes in Tristan’s direction and saw his own closed, his face content. The air was getting cooler, twilight fading into night, and I shivered as Barney picked up speed. My hair started to whip around my face and I grabbed as much of it as I could in one hand to save the ringlets, gripping the roof with the other. I wondered if my “frizz eliminator” would hold up to such abuse, and I squeezed eyelids shut against the wind and frenzy of escaping curls. Strong fingers encircled my wrist, pulling it down and trapping it behind my waist. My eyes snapped open and found him so close I could feel the tickle of his cheek against mine. My hair whirled around us like a tornado.
His voice was deep and urgent in my ear. “Don’t put your hair back.”
“It’ll be an afro in a minute.”
“I like it wild. I like you wild.”
I turned a fraction and my lips brushed against his. His eyes watched my mouth. “Kiss me, Tristan.”
He cupped my face with his hands, so large and warm I felt my cool cheeks blaze instantly, but so gentle he was barely touching me. He looked at me and hesitated, holding my gaze as if he were about to say something first, his face close enough I swear I could feel a spark between our lips. I couldn’t wait another second. I found the heat of his mouth and slid my hands inside his jacket and around his waist. He answered me, caution forgotten along with the moon. Was that him who moaned in relief or me? I couldn’t tell, melted together as we were. As one.
Both our knees gave way and I felt myself collapsing onto the seat below, then toppling to the floor. His arms were around my shoulders and under my thighs, catching our fall in an expert roll. He landed on top, hovering over me and devouring my neck while I locked my ankles around his back. His lips were as soft as his body was hard, and I felt an electric zing at every point where we connected. All thoughts of preserving my pristine Homecoming costume faded into the smell of his skin, the taste of his mouth, and the hills and valleys of his body. I blended into the texture of him.
And look for this scene, a favorite of another awesome book blogger, Romorror Fan Girl, who awarded Wicked Lover 5 Stars:
And that is the opinion of a licensed mental health counselor! Imagine my joy, when I read her Amazon review–especially the way she describes my main character, Meg, as “a beautiful blend of just the right amount of spunk, softness, kindness, insecurity and stays true to her very nature and spirit.”
And then she thanks ME: “Thanks for doing all the teen girls justice and getting it right!”
I definitely should be thanking HER, because it was so important for me to get Meg right. My editor Racquel Henry was constantly reminding me about “word choice” and warning me if I started to “lose the teenage voice.” But most of all, I was afraid that Meg was too real for people to stomach. She’s not a sweet little angel who says all the right things and follows all the rules, and it was important for me to show her authentically, warts and all. She bucks the rules, gets in trouble, and is very sexually uninhibited. I do have a warning for parental discretion in the beginning of the book, but still…
To hear from a professional that works with teens on a daily basis, who thinks it’s “refreshing to see an author portray the raw emotions that teen girls feel and struggle with on a day to day basis” ?