Book Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

The Grace Year is another of those rare books that has left me speechless. This is what I knew about this book going in…

“Survive the year.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.”

I was immediately lured into this world that was at once so bizarre and so familiar in theme. It has all the feels of The Handmaid’s Tale (a dystopian patriarchal society). The Hunger Games (sending away teens who may, or may not, return) and Lord of the Flies (the psychology of people existing under duress and away from the confines of society).

Tierney has just been sent to a remote location for her grace year, and survival against the elements isn’t the only thing she’ll have to endure. Almost immediately the power structure among the thirty-three girls is established and the cruelty of some of them becomes evident, with simmering grudges boiling over into vengeance. Danger also lurks outside the compound as poachers are waiting for the opportunity to kill the grace girls in order to sell their body parts to people looking to capture some of their magic.

From the start to the end my heart was pounding and my mind reeling at every turn of the storyline. Kim Liggett has done an amazing job of building this shocking world and weaving tension and hope amid world that seems so bleak. The Grace Year is available October 8, 2019 and I highly recommend it.  

*I received a copy of The Grace Year from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: The Hollow Queen by Sherry D. Ficklin

Sherry Ficklin continues to thrust us directly into the turbulent machinations of the life in the Romanov Court.

The Hollow Queen is the latest novel in the Stolen Empire series and it does not disappoint. We were introduced to Elizabeth in the novella Winter Queen (link to Winter Queen review) and now, we join Elizabeth as she travels deep into the perilous world of Russian royalty.

With her fiancé and mother both dead, Elizabeth—daughter of Peter the Great—is returned to court in St. Petersburg where she’s been stripped of her title, lands and jewels—all of which now belong to her nephew, Peter the second. Elizabeth understands the peril she faces, her mother has just been assassinated, there is no Romanov heir after her nephew, and there are many—including Prince Menshikov—who would prefer to use the crown of Russia toward their own benefit.

Elizabeth vows to support the reign of Peter, and thereby the Romanov line. But although he’s entitled to the throne by blood, it’s Elizabeth who truly understands how to rule. As her affections for the new Tzar grow, so does the danger to them both. Will Elizabeth be able to overcome the threats from both within and without her country? And will she continuously have to sacrifice her own desires and happiness for the sake of her family’s rule?

Once again the story is steeped so deep in political intrigue, danger and desire that I just couldn’t set the book aside. This is truly one of my favorite series to get lost in and can’t wait for more.

The Hollow Queen is available September 28, 2019 preorder now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

**I received a complimentary copy of The Hollow Queen from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Query Strategies

I recently jumped back into the query pool. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve actively queried a new project and I have to say, it’s as rough as I remember–maybe more so. The querying process will wear an author down on on several levels.

Level 1

First, and the one we all know too well, is the emotional toll that comes from rejection. This level has sub-levels that are directly related to the differing means we have of arriving at this level.

Sub-Level 1A: Straight forward rejection as in “I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with your writing”.

Sub-level 1B: Rejection by lack of other evidence. This is when you can assume that no response is a rejection.

Sub-level 1C: The high of a partial or full request, followed by a rejection.

Level 2

Second, researching agents and publishers is a time-intensive process. You research agents/publishers and their agencies/houses to find out what they represent, their manuscript wish lists, who their current clients/books are, how they interact with the writing community/world on social media, and what their submission guidelines are. It takes a lot of time.

Level 3

Preparing to query is also a time-intensive process. You have to craft the best query letter possible, one that highlights your story, captures attention, and compels the agent or publisher to request more. And you have to do it in about 250 words or less. But you also need to have a synopsis ready, and any writer who’s ever tackled this knows the special room in hell that houses synopsis writing. Is there really a way to effectively condense a 100,000 word novel into a one-page synopsis? (No, really! I’d like to know. If you have the answer, please email me!)

Level 4

This is the actual sending out of the query to your chosen agents/publishers. This step seems like a quick and easy one, until you get started. For each query you have to check, double-check, and even triple-check (at a minimum) that you’ve followed all of the submission guidelines, properly spelled everything (especially the name of the agent/publisher!), correctly entered the email address, included only what is requested by that agent. And then you do it again for the next agent, and the next, and the next….

Level 5

You realize you’ve made a spelling error, formatting error, forgot to include your sample pages, forgot the actual query letter, accidentally pasted the letter you wrote for another agent, just re-read your sample pages and realize you should make more edits…It’s bound to happen. Everyone has experienced that horrifying moment when you realize you shouldn’t have hit Send quite so soon.

Survival Tips for the Querying Author

So what can you do to make the querying process a little more tolerable?

First, always keep in mind that even with the best manuscript it really does come down to that novel arriving in the right hands at the right moment in time. Rejection isn’t personal, it isn’t you that’s being rejected. Your manuscript really just isn’t the right fit for this person, and you don’t want someone to accept it with a “well, I don’t love it, but I could probably sell it” view. Ultimately you want someone who will love your manuscript, who will be passionate about it and pursue publication because they believe in it, and you. So keep in mind that each rejection puts you closer to the right hands.

Second, be sure you are researching agents and publishers to find the ones who you want to work with. Don’t go into querying with an anybody-will-do approach. Be sure you’re targeting submissions to people who represent the genre you write in, agents who will meet your long-term career plans (for example, if an agent only represents YA, and you plan to write in the adult market as well, you’ll need to consider that). You should be able to tell an agent or publisher why you submitted to them. Do they represent an author you admire, did you hear them speak at a conference or on a podcast, did you read an interview with them? What specific reason can you offer for thinking this agent/publisher is for you beyond the fact that they are open to submission?

Third, and this goes without saying, but will probably continue to cause all of us ongoing issues: read your submission 3-4 times before sending it! Pay attention to the spelling of the agent/editors name–as well as your own!

Fourth, learn to be patient, or come up with ways to distract yourself from the wait. On average you can expect to wait 4-8 weeks for a response (or lack of response!). I know, from the minute we hit Send on that query we begin the constant checking and refreshing of our emails. We can’t seem to get away from it, but what else can we do to busy our minds and make the wait go by faster? A common suggestion is to get busy on your next project. Writing definitely makes the time pass and keeps you occupied.

One trick I’ve adopted is to plot my submissions so that every week I should have something going out or a resolution on an outstanding submission. Part of my research involves making a note of expected response times. I then send out submissions, in part with an idea of response times (long, medium and short waits). I mix my submissions with an even number of 8-12 week responders, 4-6 week responders, and 2-4 week responders. That way every few weeks I’m either closing out submissions and sending new ones or researching more. But in my mind I’m making some sort of progress every few weeks.

When you do start feeling the sting of waiting and/or rejection reach out and talk to someone. If you don’t have a local writing community, the internet has so many opportunities for reaching out. On Twitter the #WritingCommunity threads are very supportive, and there are smaller, genre-specific groups as well. One thing you should never do though, is use social media to slam an agent/publisher who has rejected your work. Sadly, it is something that still happens, and it will not help you achieve publication–nor should it.

Well friends, that’s it, that’s all I have to offer. Above all, I encourage you to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep dreaming! (and drop me a comment when you achieve your dream–or any time)

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Dual Book Review: Keeper by Kim Chance & Seeker by Kim Chance

Keeper (Keeper #1) by Kim Chance

Lainey is a typical teenage girl, she’s trying to find her place in high school…oh, and she just found out her mother is a Keeper. Not only was her mother a Keeper—a witch the ability to open and use the grimoire—but Lainey finds out she’s a Keeper as well.

But the grimoire has gone missing along with the most powerful spell known. Of all the people who are looking for it, the Master is the one person who is the most dangerous. If the Master were to find the grimoire he’d be able to absorb all the magic in the world for his own use.

Along with her feisty superhero-loving friend Lainey has to try and find the grimoire while navigating the dangers of the magic world and people who may not be who they pretend to be.

Keeper is an exciting, fun adventure with an explosive ending that left me ready to immediately open book 2!

Seeker (Keeper #2) by Kim Chance

In the wake of the explosive finale in Keeper, Lainey and Maggie have been spirited out of the Master’s reach by a group of paranormal renegades. Lainey is dealing with the loss of her uncle, Ty’s betrayal, and the ever-present threat that the Master will find her as well as the pressure of having to conceal where the grimoire really is.

Seeker is a solid follow up to Keeper. The pacing remains solid, the characters and storyline develop at a satisfying pace. There was a bit of a lull until the mid-point, but it picked up again and I was left just as satisfied with this book as I was with the first.

Maggie and Ty are so well-developed here, I couldn’t help but be more focused on their progression than Lianey’s, though hers was just as intriguing.

Kim Chance has done a great job of building this world that exists right in the midst of our own and oh, how I want this secret world to be real!

*I received a copy of Seeker from NetGalley and Flux in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: Pretty Guilty Women by Gina Lamanna

At the rehearsal for a wedding at a fabulous Californian resort a man is dead and four different women insist that they alone are responsible.  

Each woman’s story is alternated with a police interrogation in which Detective Ramone tries to sort through the confusing and contradictory accounts that each woman claim’s is the truth.

I was hooked on Pretty Guilty Women from the opening chapter, it was suspenseful and creepy. That feeling lessened a bit as I waited for the story to progress, but the pacing was good, and it held my interest throughout. I wasn’t completely surprised at the revelation of “who dunnit”, but it didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the book for me.

*I received a copy of Pretty Guilty Women from NetGalley and Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

Kammani is a healer, a skill she learned from her father who was banished into a life of poverty after failing to save the son of a ruler. Now the ruler is dying and, according to tradition, the three most beautiful girls have been chosen for the ultimate honor of accompanying him in the tomb—and the afterlife. One of the girls is Kammani’s sister.

Now Kammani will be challenged at every turn as she desperately tries to challenge tradition and her own skills to save her sister.

Gravemaidens is a dark, intense, pulse-pounding story. The supporting characters are well-developed, the setting is vibrant and rich. There were a few plot developments that I found to be a bit convenient, but it didn’t really distract me from the pace and enjoyment of the story. I’m looking forward to the next book!

*I received a copy of Gravemaidens from NetGalley and Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review

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Book Review: A Life Without Living (The Strega Series #1) by S.C. Alban

Kate is married to a man who is handsome and sexy, though he’s also a bit controlling. She also has very vivid dreams that she’s trying to get to—and help—the man she loves, but that man isn’t her husband, and her husband may not even be who she thinks he is.

Giovanni (Gio) has been cursed with immortality. He uses every day of his life to find and save a woman he’s watched die numerous times, the woman he loves. But now there’s a timeline, it’s his last chance to save her, if only he can find her in time.

As the two plot lines converge, Kate and Gio are drawn together by factors that have been in play for generations and may drive them apart forever.

A Life Without Living is definitely outside of my usual reading habits, but I found the writing engaging and the storyline interesting and intriguing. I can’t wait for book 2!

*I received a copy of A Life Without Living from NetGalley and Foster Embry Publishing in exchange for an honest review

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Literary Support Crews

Here’s the thing about being an author: it’s a solitary, always in your head kind of thing. I can ask for help with the very tangible steps in the process (critiques, beta-reading, listening to passages), but there are times when an idea or image is a whisper of a thought in my head, something that hasn’t been worked out yet, and may not be for years. But it’s there, and I want to know everything I can about it while it’s swimming around in my brain.

So how does a writer take a whisper of a thought and turn it into a total sensory experience? Well you imagine each and every sound, sight and sensation that could go with that (imagined) moment in time. And sometimes, you risk exposing the humiliating randomness of your brain, and you ask for help to “experience” what you’ve imagined.

Being the friend of an author isn’t the same as being friends with a photographer, painter, or musician (or so I imagine). To take part in the process with a writer or photographer, you might be asked to pose, with a musician you can hear the creative process as the piece is developed. With an author–well, a lot of time we don’t even know where the piece is going, can’t describe it, and you won’t even see it until it’s done-ish.

But what’s important is to have those people in your life that you can turn to and say, “So, I have this totally random thing I’d like your help with.”

And so it was, in Scotland when my own family and friends (my literary support crew!) helped me capture the sounds and images of what it might be like to march into an enemy castle…

Storming the castle…

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Book Review: All Boy by Mia Kerick

Callie is attending Beaufort Hills Academy in an effort to put a humiliating high school experience behind her. But, as much as she wants to be her own person, she can’t get past her desire to fit in.

Jayden is also looking for a new start at Beaufort Hills Academy, one that involves living—for the first time—as a boy. With his strict religious upbringing, Jayden has never had the freedom to live the life he feels is true to his inner self.

Callie and Jayden are drawn to each other, and soon discover that keeping secrets isn’t so easy. But love is love–right?

All Boy is an achingly raw story about two teenagers who are looking for the freedom to live their lives, and to be accepted for who they are in a world that isn’t always receptive to the unique spirit of individuals. Mia Kerick has done a flawless job in presenting the pain and isolation of these two characters. The emotions are palpable, the writing is smooth and the story completely compelling.

**I received a copy of All Boy in exchange for an honest review.

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Not An(other) Author Blog

Yesterday I wrote a blog post that was focused on something I was currently thinking about. Friends had a baby and I wrote all the rambling little thoughts in my head. And it felt good, which is a breakthrough for me because I’ve really been struggling with my blog for quite a while.

As a writer, there are a lot of things you’re told you should do. Having a blog is one of them. I’ve had a blog since long before I considered myself a writer. I wrote about all the weird little observations I had about life and parenting, sometimes just blogged about nothing particular, I simply relocated my bizarre, irrational train of thought from my brain to the digital world and hit “Publish.”

But as a writer there’s the belief (and so many people will tell you!–so, SO many people) that you really have to focus on your platform, your social media presence, and ensuring that you have great, focused content. So I worked on making my blog more reflective of me as an author.

I visited the blogs of other authors (you should really check them out, they have amazingly helpful articles!) and worked hard to cultivate the content I thought would offer something from me…an (*ahem*) published author (I hope you read that with a thick, thick tone of ironic self-importance).

I obsessed about the kind of content I should offer in my blog, what kind of relevant, focused topics could I cover that would make my blog stand out, or even just keep people from sharing it as an example of what not to do. Periodically I came up with (and even wrote!) a few writing related blogs, sharing what I know about submissions, finding inspiration and craft. It didn’t take long for my posts to slow down to a slow crawl as I struggled with finding the inspiration to write more content.

I did an entire series of author interviews (which I love and will continue periodically because I firmly believe indie authors & their books don’t get enough exposure), and I’ve been continuously posting book reviews (which I’ll also do because *insert previous reason and include all authors/books*). But I could not find the motivation to come up with new, focused content.

And yesterday, I was more excited about a blog post than I have been in a very long time, and it wasn’t because of the topic. It’s because I was doing what I started blogging to accomplish: just regurgitating the thoughts in my head out into the world! There was no pressure, no need to make a point, no “audience” that I was trying reach. It was just me and my words, and it was then that I had my great blogging epiphany: I can’t do focused!!! My mind really isn’t focused, why should my blog be?

So, I’ve entirely reconsidered my “platform” as a writer and here’s what I’ve decided: I can’t construct a presence. The only way to be authentic as both an author–and a human–is to put my most authentic self out into the world. I can’t construct myself as a well-polished, poised and articulate writing professional online because there’s no way I can carry that off in real life. I’m real, and I’m flawed, and I can’t help what sparks my passion from day to day. One day I might be really interested in sharing something I’ve learned about the writing or publishing industry, but the next day I’m obsessively contemplating the binding properties of Cheeto’s dust. And that’s the shit I’m gonna blog about (oh, yeah, I’m also gonna cuss–and use the word “gonna”–as much as I damn well see fit!)

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