Book Review #11: The Madness Underneath

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I picked up Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star on a whim. I’d read some of her slightly lighter fare, and since I was on a paranormal/books taking place in Europe kick at that point, I thought I’d give it a shot. Though I enjoyed the majority of the book, it was the ending that made my eyes bug out, that had me ranting to one of my roommates while she attempted to make herself dinner.

Since then, I’ve been looking forward to The Madness Underneath. With a title like that, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Possibly some insane ghosts, or maybe insanity on the narrator’s part due to the aftermath of Star’s events. What I ended up finding was a mixture of neither and both.

Rory spends much of the story trying to cope with the results of the first book’s revelation, and trying to figure out what her new ‘normal’ is now that whatever old normal she’d known is gone. As the summary forewarns, she ends up back with the ghost-hunting shades when new killings threaten the London neighborhood near her school.

And that’s about where the summary ends. I spent most of the book waiting to find out how these new ghosts were appearing and what their motives were, and though some of the answers were hinted at or implied, I have a feeling we’re in for plenty more shockers when book three comes out.

There’s not too much I can say about the two biggest twists of the story, if only because I’m not a spoilery sort of person. What I can say is that I had a hunch about one—although not how bad things would eventually become—and absolutely didn’t see the other coming at all.

If the end of Star led to incoherent vocalizations, then the end of Madness stunned me speechless. Part of me had been waiting for something to happen, but the other part had no idea who would be victimized or how it would go.

The Madness Underneath in no way suffers from ‘middle book syndrome.’ As soon as I turned the last page, I wished the third one would appear on my desk. In lieu of spoilers, what I will say is this: If you thought the Ripper ghost was terrifying, just wait until these villains show themselves. I’d recommend this, but I also recommend you read it in a crowded place.

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Book Review #10: What Happens Next

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I’ve been super eager to read this book for a while now. If you check out exactly how long it was on my TBR pile before I finally found a copy, you’ll know what I mean.

I went into the story having a pretty good idea of what the instigating event would be, and I wasn’t surprised to be right. What did surprise me was exactly how creepy I ended up finding the character of Dax–especially after the truth about him comes out. The horribleness of what he does to Sid and the ways it impacts her are a big part of the reason why I read this story so fast.

While the events of the ski trip are damaging to Sid, I found it enjoyable and significantly more realistic that she didn’t spend every second dwelling on it. The more her relationships with the secondary characters–Corey, her friends, and some of the others she encounters–shift and change, the less time she spends brooding. And yet, the worse she feels when everything comes bouncing back. That made a lot of sense to me–it wouldn’t have been as realistic if she spent every second of the next year or so hating her life.

The romance was believable and adorable. And how awesome was it to see a male love interest who doesn’t fall into the stereotypical body type standards of beauty exactly at the time that Sid is having issues with the same thing herself. If the author chose those details on purpose, that was masterfully done. Sid’s supportive, strong family was also a relief. The love she felt for them, and they for her, so often goes understated in YA contemporary.

My only issue with the book is that I wish the ending had been more developed. I wanted to know how Sid managed to resolve her issues with her Mom and Corey, as well as how a few other things turned out that featured as minor plot points. Then again, all of those issues might have stemmed from my desire to stay immersed in the story a little longer.

A good, compelling read all the way around. I’ll be on the lookout for Clayton’s next novel.

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The Revolving Door of Critique Partners

Check out any writer’s Twitter or blog, and you’ll invariable hear them gush about their critique partners. CPs, as they’re colloquially known, are super beneficial to anyone looking to publish. Having several other sets of eyes can elevate your manuscript above where you can on your own.

I have to confess that I’ve always been super envious of  people with a couple really great CPs. It didn’t actually occur to me to have them until I began pursuing publication with The Recruited, and I had no idea where to search as a result. Any number of people helped me get The Recruited up to querying standards, but very few–if any–fall under the traditional CP heading.

Two of my creatively-minded friends read through an early draft and gave me excellent notes. A fiction writing teacher I had sophomore year of college–also a member of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop–read the draft in about two weeks and wrote me a four page, single-spaced, double-sided edit letter. Once I stopped panicking, I began conceptualizing her notes and applying the changes. Other late-stage readers included a woman I swapped crits with through the forums on AbsoluteWrite. And though I know this breaks every rule in the book, I did ask my parents for help.

There was only one major issue with all of the people who read my manuscript. Though the help they provided was invaluable, none of them were actual CPs. Most of them were people with their own lives and responsibilities, who I wasn’t really able to call on for later read-throughs. A few people were good for a one-time review, but needed more time to work on their own projects.

I’d begun to feel like someone on a speed-dating game show, where you shuffle through table after table of interested parties, only to find that they’re not quite right.

Then, a month ago, something miraculous happened. A woman I follow on Twitter put out a call for people who’d be interested in forming a critique group. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I threw myself out there one last time. A couple small issues coordinating logistics later, and we have a great, varied group of MG, YA, NA, and occasionally adult fiction writers with great ideas and super editing skills. We have a schedule that everyone does their best to stick to, and for the first time I feel like I might have some people for bouncing ideas off of. Maybe it’s too soon for me to be so optimistic, but I’m really excited to finish reading what these awesome ladies put forth.

What about you guys? For those of you who write, where do you turn for critiques? If you have CPs, how did you find them? Let me know in comments.

Book Review #9: The Stepsister Scheme

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“The Stepsister Scheme” was recommended to me by a friend of mine, after a discussion of fairytale retellings. She insisted that this was a particularly good series if I was interested in that sort of thing, and though my to-read list was already long enough, I agreed to give the first book a try.

Usually I am something of a skeptic when it comes to books suggested by friends of acquaintances. Not because any of them have poor taste, but because I simply prefer to select my own reading material. In this case, I was glad I took my friend’s advice.

The opening book in Jim C. Hines Princess series began kind of slowly, relying on the strength of its characters to get the ball rolling. If there was any one factor that kept me reading–even when the action slowed–it was how well-developed the characters were. The three princesses were especially indicative of this fact.

Danielle (Cinderella), Talia (Sleeping Beauty), and Snow (Snow White) are the examples I would suggest to anyone trying their hand at reworking a classic tale. While aspects of each girl’s story remained true to society’s ideas, there were plenty of differences or nuances that served to enhance each character. I was especially enthralled by the idea that there is always a difference between what is commonly known and what the truth really is. I can’t wait to see how this theme is explored throughout the series.

I was only about halfway through “The Stepsister Scheme” when I added the remaining three books to my queue, and so far I don’t regret it in the slightest. It will be interesting to see where Hines takes his three princesses for the next book–especially since the fairytale he’s addressing is one I’ve always thought required some adjustments.

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