NEW YA Book Review: We Are Still Tornadoes #amreading

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Newly out this month from St. Martin’s Griffin is a YA contemporary penned by co-authors Michael Kun and Susan Mullen called We Are Still Tornadoes–a quick, feel-good read.

Set in the 1980s, We Are Still Tornadoes takes us into the relationship between lifelong friends Cath and Scott through letters they write to one another after Cath moves away to college.

As someone who also grew up with a dear friend of the opposite sex (coincidentally, also named Scott), I appreciate how authentically Kun and Mullen capture the open, honest, sometimes goofy, sometimes flirtatious friendship between a girl and a boy.

Cath, Scott and their shared history are totally believable. Scott is very funny. Cath is more cerebral but can hold her own in the humor department. Both are genuinely good people navigating the turbulent seas of post-high school life. They make mistakes, deal with social faux pas, encounter tragedies, and through it all we root for them.

We Are Still Tornadoes’ only weakness is its ending, which would have benefited greatly from more of a build-up and a denouement. No joke, when I arrived at the last page of the story, I kept tapping my e-book screen thinking there had to be more–but nope. Despite the rushed ending, We Are Still Tornadoes is definitely worth the read and deserves a hearty four out of five stars.

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–Eve Messenger

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ARC Review: THE CUTAWAY by Christina Kovac #amreading

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Hello, fellow book junkies! A Goodreads friend really liked The Cutaway by Christina Kovac, so I ventured out of my YA zone and, crossing my fingers, requested an ARC on Netgalley. I got a copy (yay!), and totally enjoyed it. 🙂

The Cutaway is a fast-paced, engrossing adult mystery whose biggest strengths are its top-notch writing, a noble protagonist, and the many fascinating insights Kovac (a career journalist) shares about the world of television journalism.

The setting is Washington, D.C., known as “The District,” the protagonist Virginia Knightly, a newswoman with a painful past and a near-photographic memory. When a young female lawyer goes missing, Virginia vaguely recalls cutaway footage of the woman from years before. As Virginia pursues the story on this missing person investigation and uncovers why the elusive footage is important, she enters dangerous territory, both professionally and personally. But Virginia is not a woman to be trifled with–if anyone can compile a top news story while maintaining her integrity, Virginia will.

Though I guessed the villain’s identity a little earlier than I’d hoped I would, overall, the plot was suspenseful and solidly constructed. I’m definitely open to reading more books by Christina Kovac, and I predict The Cutaway will do well when it comes out in March 2017.

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— Eve Messenger

ARC Review: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Let me start by saying that, even though I’m not big into vampires, Certain Dark Things was a unique and thoroughly entertaining read. This YA paranormal thriller is told from alternating viewpoints of Atl, a naïve young female vampire who’s illegally entered the vampire-free zone of near-future Mexico City; Domingo, a homeless Mexican teen; and Ana, a tough Mexico City cop.

The tenuous balance between humans and vampires, as well as clashes between vampire families and drug cartels, make for an action-packed story. However, the most compelling aspect becomes the relationship between Atl and Domingo. Domingo’s awkward courtship of Atl is genuinely sweet, i.e., this passage told from Domingo’s POV:

“Yeah. I know how it goes. I used to have a girlfriend but that’s not the case anymore,” he told her because he figured it sounded like the mature thing to say. He was attempting to go for “aloof” and “sophisticated,” like they said in the magazines.

World-building is a tricky thing. It can come across as info dumps, which it does early on in this book. However, by chapter 14 the story totally drew me in, and I didn’t want to leave the world and characters.

Moreno-Garcia has a strong writing style. Though in a couple of places descriptions went on a bit long, making me impatient to return to the story, for the most part the descriptions were excellent; for example, this one about the Mexico City district of Colonia Roma:

It was a place for sophisticated older people and hip young ones, with magnificent trees and faded mansions, a taco stand here and there to remind you it was not quite the Belle Époque and you were still in Mexico City.

The Revenant vampire Bernardino is an UNFORGETTABLE character. I also really liked Mexico City cop/single mom Ana. Armed with knowledge gained from listening to her grandmother’s folktales, Ana is one of the only humans in Mexico City with expertise on how to take down vampires. To give you an idea of Ana’s fiery attitude, here’s how she describes a sexist male coworker: “. . . skinny fucker with his cheap tie and his monumental indifference.”

I appreciated Moreno-Garcia’s subtle characterizations, like this one conveying how Atl begins to open up to Domingo. It’s simple but so effective.

He kicked the can in her direction and she kicked it back.

Lastly, don’t skip the glossary at the end. Moreno-Garcia clearly put a lot of research into the story, and it’s interesting to read about the different vampire species from all over the world, their habits, and social structures.

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New Writing/Publishing Terms – What Do They Mean?

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To further my mission to become a successful published author, I’ve been delving more deeply into the online world of writing and publishing (mostly through blogs and Twitter), and have learned a lot, especially about agents, query letters, and great new books to read. Along the way, I stumble across unfamiliar terms, so I decided to post some of them here for the edification of newbies like me and for the amusement of pros who’ve probably known them for years.

Agent/publisher time – This always means U.S. East Coast time, as in, if an agent tweets, “We’ll be answering questions on #askagent at 2pm,” s/he means 11am PST. (I learned this the hard way.)

ARC – Advanced Readers Copy. (By the way, I recently and happily won my first free ARC, Hide and Seek, by Jane Casey.)

#askagent – highly informative twitter hashtag for writers wishing to ask agents questions in real time

HEA – Happily Ever After

Klout score – the reach and engagement of your social media platforms

OTP – One True Pairing. Yeah, it’s a romance thing.

PB – picture book

SimSubs – simultaneous submissions, as in when a literary magazine allows writers to submit stories also being shopped to other publications.

TBR – to be read (as in, “I’m really excited to read the books on my TBR list.”)

TSTL – Too Stupid to Live (in regards to the characters that are just, well, stupid, or weak)– added by blogger Michelle 

Upmarket – literary fiction with commercial potential.

WF – women’s fiction. 

Okay, tangent alert: what is it about the label WF that is so wtf? While I’m usually one who blindly grab books off fiction shelves regardless of genre, I do appreciate the need for genre classification and have been known to look up genre tags to see if a book is something I might be interested in.  However, “women’s fiction?” Really? Human conditions portrayed in literature by men are never categorized as male fiction, so why the sweeping label on women’s fiction that does the same?

I find the sweeping genre classification of the last term, WF, somewhat troubling, so I explore that here a bit beyond a simple definition. I’d be interested to hear your views on it, too. Feel free to share any other writing/publishing acronyms you’ve run across.

Author Randy Susan Meyers intelligently explores this question in ‘Women’s Fiction?’ ‘Men’s Fiction?’ ‘Human Fiction?’ I highly recommend it.