Book Recommendation: THE TAKEDOWN by Corrie Wang

I received a free Advanced Reader Copy of The Takedown in exchange for an honest review.

Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to. On track to be valedictorian, she’s president of her community club, a debate team champ, plus the yummy Mackenzie Rodriguez has firmly attached himself to her hip. She and her three high-powered best friends don’t just own their senior year at their exclusive Park Slope, Brooklyn high school, they practically define the hated species Popular. Kyla’s even managed to make it through high school completely unscathed.

Until someone takes issue with this arrangement.

A week before college applications are due, a video of Kyla “doing it” with her crush-worthy English teacher is uploaded to her school’s website. It instantly goes viral, but here’s the thing: it’s not Kyla in the video. With time running out, Kyla delves into a world of hackers, haters and creepy stalkers in an attempt to do the impossible-take something off the internet-all while dealing with the fallout from her own karmic footprint. Set in near-future Brooklyn, where privacy is a bygone luxury and every perfect profile masks damning secrets, The Takedown is a stylish, propulsive, and provocative whodunit, asking who would you rely on if your tech turned against you?
Excerpt taken from Netgalley.com

As someone who spends too much time blogging and on social media, I was drawn to issues raised in this book: lack of privacy in a connected world and what could go wrong as tech advances make it difficult to tell reality from forgery. The story’s main character, Kyla, is the kind of girl you want to hate, the popular girl that struts down the corridor at the start of school arm in arm with her besties ignoring all around her. But when a forged sex video turns everyone against her, you can’t help but sympathize, and want her to catch her hater.

The feminist story raises several  important issues. Why does no one, even her best friends, believe Kyla when she says the video is a fake? Why is the hottest guy in school not called a slut for his serial romances and that thing he can do with his thumb while the Kyla is universally shunned after the video is posted? What are the consequences of not reading those long, tedious disclosure clauses when we sign up on social media sites? Would we be able to take down a video that showed us in an unflattering light from a social media website?

Teens are warned to be careful in their use of social media every day, but the possible consequences of weak, infrequently changed passwords are portrayed credibly in this story. A must-read for those wary of identity theft and social media attacks, and those who should be. Also a reminder of the golden rule because what goes around, comes around.

The Takedown will be released tomorrow, April 11th. You can order it on the sites below.
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

Need more book suggestions? Here are some other recent young adult contemporary and science fiction releases:
The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.

Book Recommendation: THE DISAPPEARANCES by Emily Bain Murphy

the disappearance

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of The Disappearances in exchange for an honest review.

What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?

When Aila’s mother dies and her father is drafted to fight in World War II, she and her younger brother are sent to live with her mother’s best friend from childhood. Aila has met Mrs. Clifton and her son only twice and arrives at her mother’s rural home town, Sterling, grieving and hoping to hoping to discover what her mother was like when she was young. Instead she finds whispers and mysteries.

Sterling is cursed. Every seven years something disappears. The scents of food and flowers, the ability to see reflections in a mirror or a pane of glass, even dreams. They’ve been gone for years and aren’t returned by crossing the town line. For the inhabitants of Sterling, everyday life comes with a sense of loss over the things that have disappeared  and the fear of the next one to go. The only inhabitant of Sterling to ever have escaped the Disappearances was Aila’s mother, which is why most people in town suspect that she caused them.

The Disappearances takes you to a new world, a town set apart by the Disappearances and the magic residents have found in their search the remedy the affects. Emily Bain Murphy’s writing is lovely and Aila will pull into her struggle to fit in in this strange community, her search for the truth about her mother, and her quest to follow clues that will lead her to the source of the curse. The Disappearances will appeal to the literary minded, as Aila follows the clues in her mother’s old copy of Shakespeare’s works and other classics.

The Disappearances will be released on July 4th, 2017. You can tag it as “Want to Read” on Goodreads or pre-order on the sites below.
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

Need something to read right now? See my other recent young adult science fiction and fantasy recommendations:

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

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Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.

Using Setting to Create a Three-Dimensional World for Your Story: THE URBAN SETTING THESAURUS

urban setting thesaurusWe received a free copy of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Urban Settings Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces in exchange for an honest review. Since we’re fans of their Emotion Thesaurus as well as their thesauri of positive and negative character trains, we were excited to dive in. (See our review of the other books here.)

The Urban Setting Thesaurus is a wonderful resource for a fiction writer! The bulk of this book and its sister craft book, The Rural Settings Thesaurus, is comprised of two-page entries describing dozens of settings that could pop up in any fiction genre — from a police car to an emergency room, the stands of a sporting event to an art gallery. Each entry provides a wealth of sensory words describing the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even tastes that characterize that setting.

In the recording studio entry, you find sights like vocalists warming up, cords running from instruments to outlets and recording equipment, and the “recording” light to let you know to keep quiet. You hear humming or instruments being played, smell takeout Chinese food or coffee, and feel the snug fit of headphones over your ears. If your scene takes place in a setting you’ve never been to, this thesaurus can help you craft the experience your characters will encounter in a way that will make your story feel more real to your reader.

Not sure where a scene should take place? A flip through entries listed in the table of contents could help you brainstorm. Perhaps your protagonist is mulling over whether to confront her antagonist…she could do that anywhere. But what she sees, hears and touches as she weighs her decision could more vividly show her mood and emotions. What backdrop would carry the most emotional impact? Would highlight her fears and the challenges she’ll need to face?

In addition to the setting entries, there is a wealth of information in the first chapters of The Urban Setting Thesaurus on how to use setting to convey your story with the most impact. These chapters discuss how to use setting to create a mood, to characterize a room full of primary and secondary characters, and to heighten tension. They also illustrate using all the senses to pull the reader into your scene.

I’m sure I’ll turn to this helpful resource again and again.

You can find The Urban Settings Thesaurus on:

Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

Check back on Friday when Laurel will talk about using Angela and Becca’s setting tools to capture the sensory details of new places you find yourself in!

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.

 

 

 

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can read THE WOUNDED BOOK, her adventure story for young readers on Wattpad. Or find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

First Pages: My Search for the Un-put-downable Start of a Story

I’m revising manuscript number five of my not-yet-illustrious writing career. The story is complete, has been read one critique partner and revised, and is ready to go to beta readers. This story has heists, fight scenes and even kissing (new for me since my prior stories were middle grade), and I’m very excited about it. I dream of agents begging me for this manuscript…if they get past the first five pages.

Sigh.

The story’s good, but the start…meh.

With past manuscripts, I’ve polished my first pages. Changed my start from the bus on the way to summer camp (which apparently rates as low as waking up in bed for interest level), to something more active. But I wasn’t looking for small improvements here. I’d really like manuscript five to be “the one,” so I pulled out all the stops on rethinking my first pages. I don’t want okay first pages. I’d settle for good, but not before trying for great.

Can I get to great?

Not sure. I hope so. (The gremlins are whispering probably not even as I write this). But I thought I’d share what I learned by trying.

What had me worried about my opening pages? Critique partners said they were “really close” but not quite there. I tried:

  • starting just before my main character’s life changed (two different ways),
  • just after her life changed,
  • a flash forward to near the climax for the “How did I get here?” effect,
  • a flashback to the incident that set the chain of events in motion,
  • the first confrontation with the bully, and
  • the first confrontation with the other main character/love interest.

once-upon-a-time-719174__480I was pretty desperate for a set of first pages that would draw cries of “YES! THIS!” from critique partners and propel the reader into the manuscript. But kept getting the same very kind, sympathetic response. “Really close.”

What did I do wrong? In retrospect, it’s easy to see that some of my starts were destined to fail.

  • “No action,” said the critique partners.
  • “Scene 1 is too disconnected to scene 2.”
  • “What does this scene have to do with the story you pitched in your query?”

I felt in my gut that there was a set of great first pages for this story out there somewhere. There was this one scene, the scene the 2nd or 3rd in the manuscript depending on which first chapter option I was trying at the time, that worked. Critique partners said, “Things really started happening here.” I knew if I could just introduce the main character enough to set up this scene, that I could pull the reader in. But what words would do that, without getting my query slotted into the form reject pile before an agent ever got to that great scene?

I complained to the Pennies, because that’s why you have a writing group, so someone can pat you on the shoulder when you need it, and I found out something interesting. Julie Artz, whose lovely, heartfelt middle grade story I’d read months before, said she’d been through five versions of her first chapter. In fact, each of the first four chapters of her story had at one point been her first chapter. What? I felt like slightly less of a loser for sweating version after version of my first pages after that. Tara Lundmark, who I met at WriteOnCon when looking for more feedback on my pages, said she’d written ten different first pages for one of her stories. Armed with this knowledge, I dropped the angst and decided to just give in to as many rewrites as it took to get it right.

At this point, I’ve written 8 different versions of the start of my story, as well as polishing several versions, including the one currently titled “Chapter 1” in Scrivener. This is what I learned through the process of trying to make the start of my story unputdownable.

 1. Don’t Fall in Love with One Set of First Pages.searching-for-the-un-put-downable-start-of-your-story

I was stuck on Version 1 of my first pages for hours even after being told by trusted CP’s they weren’t right. I was stuck on Verion 2 for weeks. I loved the setting and how those pages developed my character. Allowing myself to get stuck on that idea blocked other ideas for how to start the story from flowing. Once I decided to not settle for meh, the ideas flooded in, as demonstrated by the fact that I ended up with 8 different starts. And, really, what’s the harm of trying something different? I wasn’t going to delete those words I loved, just tuck them out of the way. I could always go back to them if my new start wasn’t better.

2. Look to Master Books for Ideas.

Okay, admit it, you laughed at that flashback start. Everyone knows not to start with flashbacks. Except when they work. I was pulling ideas from master books. Both Harry Potter and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo start years earlier in their main characters’ lives. The idea for trying a flash forward came from Twilight and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Flashbacks and flash forwards can be done well, just not by me, at least not for this manuscript. But turning to master texts for ideas is great prep for brainstorming the start of your story.

3. Get Fresh Eyes.

I am blessed with wonderful critique partners who love me even when my words aren’t working. My closest critique partners had been hacking at this story idea with me from the idea stage, seven months before I hit my first pages wall. So when I got stuck, I wasn’t the only one too close to the story to see the pages clearly, they were too. That was stressful! Who do you turn to when that happens?

I found a couple great options: Adventures in YA Publishing holds a monthly first five pages workshop that is fabulous. (We also host our 4 on 400 contest monthly, but I can’t sub to that one!) WriteOnCon hosts an online writing conference with forums for posting your work and exchanging critiques with other writers. If all else fails, you can find a new critique partner. Someone I met on the WriteOnCon Forums asked if I wanted to exchange chapters, and since we’d already critiqued each others’ first five page and her comments were helpful, it was an easy decision. Just what I needed! A new reader who knew nothing about my story and had no worries about disappointing me.

4. Remember that Your First Pages Aren’t Your Only Pages.

I was jealous of Gita Trelease’s gorgeous first pages. They’d been right from soooo early in her revision process. Then, I was reminded that she was sweating her climax. The grass may look greener over by your critique partner’s writing desk, but there are weeds in everyone’s lawn.

Also, eventually you need to let those first pages rest so you can fix up the all the other pages in your manuscript. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there for you to take another look at later.

So, after writing 8 versions of my first pages, workshopping at Adventures in YA Publishing and WriteOnCon, and polishing the final pick, are my first pages unputdownable? Sigh. No. But they’re pretty good. Good enough that I’m going to take my own advice and move onto revising the rest of the story.

Maybe version 9 of my first pages will come to me while I revise.

Or maybe I’ll figure out how to polish this version until it’s unputdownable.

DON’T STOP HERE! If you made it through this post, I bet you’re a writer. And if you’re a writer, you’ve written some first pages and have something to say on this topic. HOW MANY VERSIONS OF FIRST PAGES DID YOU WRITE FOR YOUR WORK IN PROGRESS? WHAT HELPED YOU FIND THE RIGHT START FOR YOUR STORY? I’m no expert! Let’s learn together. Leave comments below!

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Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.

Twitter 101 for Writers

womans-hand-writingOver the holidays, my father-in-law mentioned that a friend had just written a book, his memoirs about the Vietnam War. Since my father-in-law knows I write, I felt like I should offer to help his friend, but I write middle grade and young adult stories. What useful advice would I have?

Then I asked if his friend was on Twitter. He wasn’t. That opened up a wealth of information and connections that could help him revise his manuscript, find an agent, or self-publish his story. I thought we might have a few Twitter newbies following the blog, or others who got the “my friend wrote a book” prompt over the holidays, so I decided it was worth a post.

The Twitter writing community is awesome, a great resource at all stages of the writing process. While you’re writing, it can be the water cooler, the place to chat for a few minutes between projects. It’s also a great source ofcraft advice. Once you’ve finished a manuscript, it’s a source of advice on revising your project to make it the best story it can be. You can also find critique partners to exchange your work with and get feedback from. When you’re ready to get your work out into the world, Twitter can help you learn about literary agents or participate in writing contests. Or if your plan is to self-publish, you can find out how and connect with professionals who specialize in packaging books. And it doesn’t take much time on Twitter to see that it’s an avenue for book promotion.

Where can a writer go on Twitter to dig into these topics?

Community

Writing is a solitary process. But Twitter can help you find like-minded folks who’ll inspire you to get your butt out of bed at 5:00 am to get some words written before work, or someone to chat with when taking a few minutes off from banging on your keyboard. Great hashtags for finding writing folks are:

#5amwritersclub
#AmWriting
#1linewed

Look for people writing in your age category or genre, or whose stories interest you. Follow them and over time you’ll carve out “your people” in the Twitter writing community.

Craft

There’s always more to learn – story structure, character development, how to write those darn kissing scenes. I don’t even know what aspects of craft might be important to a memoir…but I know someone on Twitter does. I frequent #kidlit, but found a bunch of hashtags for different genres in just a couple minutes.

#memoir
#TravelWriting
#HistFic (for historical)
#steampunk
#nonfiction

Writing hashtags will help you find experts who tweet about helpful topics, frequently with links to blog posts with even more info. I like:

@writerunboxed
@ayaplit (Adventures in Young Adult Publishing)
@nerdybookclub
And, of course, @WingedPen!

Revising

Once you’ve got a draft of your story, or at least the first few chapters, you need some critique partners to help you refine your story – identify what’s working well, what’s not clear and what’s just plain boring (erm…I mean…the pacing’s off). Find them through the community of writers you’re building or on critique partner match-ups hosted from-time-to-time by bloggers. #amrevising is a good hashtag for connecting with other writers trying to fix their words and for advice on wrangling your hot-mess of a first draft into something great.

Pitching

If you’ve chosen the traditional publishing route and are looking for a literary agent, many have an active presence on Twitter. You can follow them to get a sense of their personality and taste in books. Their Twitter profile should have a link to their website where you can find submissions guidelines. #askagent has querying tips, or try #10queries if you like advice without any sugar-coating.

You can also find writing contests and pitching opportunities on Twitter. The rules for writing contests vary. Some, like our 4 on 400 contest or Adventures in YA Publishing’s First Five Pages workshop, are focused on feedback. Others are selective and aim to refine your work and get it in front of agents. Selective contests include #sunvssnow, #pitchmad, #pitchwars, and many others.

Pitch contests allow you to pitch your story in a 140-word tweet. This is no easy feat! See our post here on writing a killer Twitter pitch. Pitch contests include #pitmad, #pitchmas and #sffpit.

Self-Publishing

If you’re going the self-publishing route, you’ll need things like cover art, a cover designer, and an editor to give your words a final polish. Tons of advice is available over on:

#selfpublish
#indiepublishing

Promotion

If you’ve checked out any of these hashtags, you probably found that there’s lots of book promotion happening on Twitter. #amreading is a good place to start.

 

The bottom line is there’s a mountain of information out there to help you no matter what point you’re at in your writing journey. But don’t forget to turn off your internet and get back to writing!

What are your favorite spots for hanging out with the Twitter writing community and getting writerly questions answered? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any tips for my father-in-law’s friend writing memoir, please let me know that too!

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

Recommended: Stephanie Garber’s CARAVAL

caraval

Caraval is the story of Scarlett, a girl who is desperate to escape her violent and controlling father and to take her younger sister, Donatella, with her. Scarlet hopes marriage to a man she’s never met, a marriage arranged by her father, will save them. Donatella doesn’t believe it will, so she persuades a handsome sailor to transport them off their island home and to Caraval, a legendary once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show.

But even before Scarlett reaches the gates to Caraval, Donatella disappears. Legend, the mysterious showman who runs Caraval, has made finding Donatella the puzzle every player will try to solve. Whoever finds her fist wins the prize, the granting of a wish. Scarlett must follow the clues in Legend’s game to find her sister, but winning won’t be easy. In Caraval, no one is what they seem.

There are several things I love about this story. The rich, magical world of Caraval, the tight bond of love between sisters that pulls Scarlett deeper into the game even as she’s desperate to head home for her wedding, and Scarlet’s growing attraction to Julian, the sailor. This story will pull you in, but remember, it’s only a game.

I received an advanced reader copy of Caraval in a Goodreads giveaway and was asked to review. I also purchased a copy for myself and another for my niece for Christmas because…love!

Caraval will be released January 31st. There’s a great pre-order giveaway. Details here (preorder and submit receipt by January 31, 2017).

Find Caraval at:

Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

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Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.

A Book to Pull in Reluctant Readers: Neal Shusterman’s SCYTHE

scytheNormally, I don’t write reviews for books by established authors. Scythe was published in November 22nd, 2016 and already has 1,994 reviews on Goodreads, so my 1,995th is not going to have a big impact on Shusterman’s sales. But as a mom with one bookworm and one reluctant reader, I am always on the lookout for books that will pull in a tween/teen boy. This is one. My son picked it out and after he’d finished it, he literally pulled the book I was reading out of my hands, put this one in it, and said, “Read this first.”

Scythe is set in a Utopian world where death, disease and war have been conquered. “Splatting” or jumping from great heights to feel the thrill of an adrenaline rush, only to be revived afterwards, has become a thing. Because where there is no fear of death, life also has less joy and purpose.

But population levels still need to me managed. This is done through scythes, men and woman who humanely reduce the population. Scythe is about two teens, one girl and one boy, who are chosen as apprentices to a scythe, and about their struggle to learn the “killtrade” and grapple with the task of selecting humans to “gleaned.”

This topic sounds gruesome, and there are certainly scenes involving killing. But Shusterman focuses not on the blood and guts but on the moral dilemma that the apprentices face. He shows the “gleaning” process for several different scythes, helping readers to draw their own conclusions about the ethical implications of the different methods.

But the real draw for this story is the two teen apprentices, Citra and Rowan. The teens feel genuine. Readers will feel their tension as they come to see that the scythe is a necessary profession in this future world and is best done by the people who are least drawn to it, those who place the highest value on human life. When Citra and Rowan discover a bigger problem facing their Utopian world and try to right it, it leads to action, adventure, and plot-twists that keep the pages turning.

Scythe was released November 22, 2016.

Find Scythe at:

Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

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Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult thrillers with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and writes for The Winged Pen here.