Book Review: In the After by Demitria Lunetta


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Title: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Series: In the After
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen; First Edition edition (June 25, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062105450
ISBN-13: 978-0062105455
Age range: 13 – 17 Years

Book blurb as seen on Amazon.com:

Amy Harris’s life changed forever when They took over. Her parents—vanished. The government—obsolete. Societal structure—nonexistent. No one knows where They came from, but these vicious creatures have been rapidly devouring mankind since They appeared. With fierce survivor instincts, Amy manages to stay alive—and even rescues “Baby,” a toddler who was left behind. After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope. On the surface, it appears to be a safe haven for survivors. But there are dark and twisted secrets lurking beneath that could have Amy and Baby paying with not only their freedom . . . but also their lives.

This will be quick because once again I didn’t take notes and I read this in July, so I can’t remember much of what I would have said. In retrospect, maybe that’s a good idea, because I’ll just be commenting on the things that really stuck with me.

I really enjoyed this book. Post-apocalyptic stories have attracted me over the last few years (understandably so since my own YA novel is post-apocalyptic.) In fact, I loved pretty much everything about this book. The characters were interesting and believable. The plot was enticing and mostly full of great twists and turns. And the action was amazing! I was clutching my paperback with dread on several occasions. The only real drawback for me was the big surprise reveal towards the end and the portrayal of New Hope, but I’ll get to that later.

Probably my favorite part was how Amy, the MC, lived alone for two years. Her only companion was Baby, a toddler she saved from the wreckage of humanity. Everything about the first 146 pages was fantastic. Amy and Baby don’t talk, because talking draws the creatures. They have suppressed their deep, deep emotional issues because survival means you have to be tough. They’ve learned to survive and that means hard choices. Amy even reveals how she considered leaving Baby to fend for herself because she was afraid a noisy toddler would endanger her own life. People think that way. They aren’t always noble and good, and they don’t always make the right choices.

To be honest, I found that part interesting, because my own MC goes through a similar circumstance. She’s alone for two years, but she has imaginary friends to talk to. And when she finally comes in contact with other survivors, she doesn’t make choices that are good for others. She thinks of herself and her own survival first. So yeah, I was thrilled to read this accurate portrayal of humanity, because it bears some resemblance to mine.

In the After is split into three parts (another similarity to mine: not sure how I feel about that), and after the first part, each chapter begins with a portion of Amy’s life in the future, like four months or so. Then we switch to present (or maybe it’s the other way around), but we get glimpses of two different times in Amy’s life and they both help to explain each other. I don’t know that it was necessary to do this, but it was still interesting.

My only beef was with the New Hope dystopian society. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because women are expected to give birth every three years starting at the age of 17. Maybe because the kids are raised in dormitories. Maybe it’s because I’m a little tired of the perfect-society engineering in YA novels. I just don’t think that’s how things would be. And criticizing stuff like this is so hypocritical on my part, since my own YA post-apocalyptic has a totalitarian society. But I think the difference is two-fold. First, they aren’t my ideas, and we always like our own ideas best. 🙂 And second, perfect-societies need a perfect-society maker, which is generally some nut job who decrees that all women should give birth to one child every three years, or that love is a sickness and you need brain surgery, or being divergent is dangerous. I’m just a little tired of that. I think books like the Hunger Games have it more correct. Totalitarian societies don’t care about the intricacies of your life. Be a schlum for all they care, just as long as it doesn’t effect them. Tow the party line and all is good.

The other part that was just so-so was the big surprise dramatic reveal near the end. For me it fell a little flat. It concerns where the human-eating creatures that have destroyed humanity come from. I mean, I saw it coming a little, but it was just a little non-creative in my opinion. Especially after the author set it up to be something else. I’ll explain further in the spoiler at the bottom, but it was a ho-hum plot point to me.

Otherwise, good book. Decent writing. Loved the suspense and some of the realism in characters and life after an apocalypse. Can’t wait to read the sequel!

My review: 3.5/5 stars

***SPOILER*** Here’s where I go in detail about “the big reveal”. So the author sets it up to be aliens-invade-earth-and-eat-every-form-of-meat-in-sight. The creatures are mindless killing machines that devour anything that moves. Which of course, raised the question “How could a mindless killing machine have the mental capacity to build a spaceship, fly to earth and destroy humanity?” But I thought, maybe first wave kind of thing. As the book progressed, I had a feeling the big wigs of New Hope were going to turn out to have caused the problem. I was right, but I thought maybe the creatures were organic life-forms created in a lab experiment. Half-right. The disease was created in a lab, unintentionally, people infected and turn into creatures, and then they escaped. Once they bite somebody, they infect them, creating more mindless killing machines. So basically, the “z-word”. There’s enough zombie books, zombie movies, zombie video games, that I’m pretty much over the “z-word”. Give me something a little more creative. And here’s another issue with the story, but really all zombie stories in general. You only turn into a zombie (or creature in this book) if you are bitten and you get away! Otherwise, zombies or creatures or whatever flesh eater is going to eat you! So why are there always so many zombies, and in this case, creatures, running around? Wouldn’t most of them get eaten? Sorry just a little zombie-issue I have. And if I see one more child/baby zombie I’m going to scream! Logically, if a zombie bites a baby or small child, said child is not going to be strong enough to run away or fight them off. Zombie will eat the child! There will be no zombie children. Or at least not very many. *whew* Sorry. Had to get that off my chest. So that’s my rant. Wasn’t thrilled with the idea that people became mindless killers because they’re infected. A zombie by any other name is still pretty rank and foul . . . ***SPOLIER OVER***


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Book Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard


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Title: Splintered
Author: A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition, First Printing edition (January 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1419704281
ISBN-13: 978-1419704284
Amazon Review: 4.4/5 stars

Book blurb as seen on Amazon.com:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

I bought this book from Barnes and Noble

I was entranced with this book from the start. Not a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, or at least the Disney version, so I was intrigued to read a darker, grittier take on the classic tale. The cover itself is enough to pique my interest, even if it wasn’t an Alice-story. I adore that cover. Attractive girl, but a face with character. Pretty hair but not perfect. Bugs and vines and butterflies haphazardly scattered around. I was dying to read this book!

And at first, Howard didn’t disappoint. Thankfully, the writing was exceptional. Maybe a 4/5 I’d say. Good enough that I took notice, but it also allowed me to melt into the story and not focus on whether I would have written it this way or that. The curse of becoming a writer makes reading others like a daily Beta read. The characters, the story, the plot, the setting pulled me in and I couldn’t wait to find out more. But then I hit a few snags. They pulled me out of the story just a little bit, and I’ll get those out of the way so I can get back to how I liked this book.

First, Taelor. Do we need another spoiled, self-centered bitch who gets the gorgeous good guy even though she’s horrible. I don’t care what kind of sob-story she tells Jeb about her dad, he’s supposed to be Alyssa’s best friend, and he hooks up with the girl who has tormented and bullied her since they were kids? No way. That would be the end of any teen friendship right there. And I think Alyssa’s life was miserable enough without the added Taelor effect that we didn’t need it. They could have skipped Taelor, (maybe kept the bullying), Alyssa stealing Tae’s money, Jeb finding out, the resultant nothing over the situation, and any “guilt” Alyssa felt about connecting with a “taken” guy and just focused on the idea that two best friends were reluctant to ruin their friendship by risking a romantic entanglement. Too much drama.

And then there’s the love triangle. I don’t mind love triangles. I have one in my novel, but something about this bothered me. To start with, Jeb and Taelor bothered me. But add in Alyssa’s mooning over him for years but supposedly Jeb doesn’t notice, and throw in a sexy, evil bad boy in Morpheus and things just got out of hand. I felt there should have been one guy. Either she’s fighting an attraction to her best friend from the real world, or she’s fighting her attraction to a dark, sinister guy she can’t trust. Not both. I would have been happy either way.

Okay, so I can’t remember anything else. I read this on vacation weeks ago. I’m pretty sure there was something else, but oh well. On to better things. Other than the aforementioned issues, I really liked this book. It was magical and entrancing. Seeing the age-old story through a darker lens was like a delightful little guilty pleasure. It was so much better than the sugar-sweet Disney version and much more like the Tim Burton imaginings. And clever. Howard has a beautiful imagination that runs wild and free, spinning into strange territory and taking what were once loved and sterile characters and turning them into something completely different, for better or worse. I’m definitely anxious to read the next book, and the cover is equally as enticing, but my library doesn’t have it and I can’t buy it. I purchased Splintered in paperback, so Unhinged has to be in paperback. That’s just how I roll. But it hasn’t been released in that format yet. *sigh*

My Review: I actually did a calculation this time, instead of a number I thought would fit. I gave it a 4 for writing, a 5 for imagination and a 3 for plot. That comes out to an average of 4/5 stars!


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Buy The Moth in the Mirror (Splintered) on Amazon.com


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Query Letters: The Bane of my existence!

Courtesy of thewinmedia.com

Courtesy of thewinmedia.com

bane – noun
1. a person or thing that ruins or spoils
2. a deadly poison
3. death; destruction; ruin

DC Comics did a great job naming that character. I’ve never read the comics, but Bane in the movie personifies the definition perfectly. He murders and pillages, spreading violence and mayhem, almost taking Batman’s life. Almost . . .

That’s pretty much how writing query letters makes me feel. I’ve written close to a hundred tries. Yes, literally a hundred. Between my first manuscript and my current one, I’ve tried, and tried again, with very little success. And by success I don’t mean attracting the attention of an agent, though that’s the purpose of a query. No, I’m referring to a positive response from my peers before I send that bad boy out.

I queried exactly three agents on my MG manuscript a few years ago. The best word to describe that is premature. Not only did my contemporaries over at Query Letter Hell* on the Absolute Write forums tell me it needed work, but the MS was far from ready. I chalk it up to a learning experience, and after spending a great deal more time on the MS, I ended up trunking that project. Once again, a learning experience.

For my current WIP, I’ve taken two or three different stints through QLH. Still nothing great. Which is okay. I don’t mind the work. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing, right? I keep telling myself that.

The problem is, besides the obvious fact my queries are junk, there are so many opinions about what makes a good query. And a query that breaks all the rules and is torn apart by your peers could wow the agent of your dreams. Do you trust anonymous people online to critique your work or go with your gut?

There’s no concrete answer, which makes the process all the more difficult. Do you take a chance on a query that’s critique-approved or even something you love yourself and risk losing the agent you really want? It’s a gamble, and a costly one. Sure there are thousands of agents out there. Somebody is going to believe in your work. But the “better” the agent, the better chance you have of getting published.

So here’s my untested solution: I’m going to mix the two. Recently I entered the Like a Virgin Pitch Contest for YA writers. It consisted of a query letter and the first 250 words of your novel. I was a runner up. Not bad for putting myself out there for the first time, but I mostly attribute my limited success to my first 250. Still, if the query were that bad, I wouldn’t have gotten runner up, would I?

And besides that tiny vote of confidence, I came to the conclusion that those critiquing my query letters don’t know my novel like I do. In fact, most of them don’t write YA, so they don’t necessarily know the market. The biggest complaint I heard was that my MC didn’t have a name. “For the purpose of the query, your MC should have a name,” was a common comment.

Ignore a consensus at your own risk, but here is one time I decided to go with my gut. The name of my novel is I Have No Name. The MC not having a name is vitally important. What’s more, it is something that sets it apart from other post-apocalyptic novels out there right now. If I describe my story as “How a teenage girl survives after a plague wipes out the human population,” the reaction might be, “Um, okay, heard that before.” But if I lead with “Mentally broken, a teenage girl tries to forget her past and the pain of losing everyone to a plague, including her own name,” that might sound a little more interesting.

Of course, that example isn’t enough, but I know that I have to use the core conflict of the story to attract the right agent. I might get a good agent if I describe my novel as “a girl falls in love with her kidnapper, but will she choose him or the innocent romance she has at home?” but that’s not the story I want to sell. Yeah, it’s in there, but that’s the spice not the sauce. I want an agent who will recognize the sauce for what it is. Hearty, satisfying and deep. (At least I think so.)

So, I will write the query I want, including what I think sets my story apart from others, and still use the critiquing process to perfect what I have. I’ll listen closely to advice about the language, the structure, and how to present my story in the most interesting non-cliched way possible. In the end, if my peers tell me it’s junk, but I just can’t agree with them on the core purpose of my letter, then I’ll have to go with my own. After all, it’s not their neck on the line. It’s mine. And I have to be happy about my effort above all else.

There will be failure, but I will own it. I won’t fail because I took the advice of others against my own judgment. I’ll fail on my submission and my choices and what I feel in my heart is my best effort and the best representation of my work. But I’ll also succeed on that too. And that, as a writer, is all we can hope to do.

*You must be a member in good standing with at least 50 posts to post your work in this section of AW and have the password. That’s no biggie though. Just ask around and someone will provide. And you’re always welcome to fill your 50 post requirement with critiques of your own.

Internet down! Internet down!

My internet is down. It’s been off and on for weeks, which is annoying, but I was writing. So really, it was a good thing. But today while Minions are sleeping I was going to work on query research and blog posts to go with. No internet: no research. 😦 Very, very annoyed! Writing this on my phone which is way to slow to try research. Looks like I may actually have to start trying queries longhand. *gasp* I’m afraid. Very afraid.

And I’m spent . . .

Courtesy of quickmeme.com

Courtesy of quickmeme.com

It’s finished! My novel is officially done. All right, I understand a novel is never finished until it’s bound in hardcover and shipped to B&N (or wherever you buy books), but as far as I’m concerned this is finite.

Actually, I’m being a bit facetious. There are two parts I’m considering adding, but not only have I not thought them through enough, the book stands fine without them. And I’m already reconsidering how many times my characters have pounding hearts and sweaty hands. Might need to re-assess some of the emotional signs I’ve put in there. But I may never be satisfied with my work. That’s just me. It’s ready to query, and that’s what’s important at the moment.

Finishing a novel, feeling that thrill of accomplishment, that pride and joy at bringing alive a story that exists only in your head, is an exhilarating moment. The only thing I’ve experienced that’s more moving is the birth of a child. That’s a tear-in-the-eye-lump-in-the-throat-laughing-and-crying-at-the-same-time moment. A novel’s birth is a little more subtle, muted.

It’s a solitary endeavor that few people can understand. You’ve worked. You’ve sacrificed. And it’s been alone. Yes, the support of your family has been a constant, and everyone asks how the novel’s coming, but it’s still mine and mine alone. No matter how many beta comments I’ve taken, discussions I’ve had with friends about how to get an agent or advice from Hubby on how I should resolve an issue, the final product still rests on my shoulders. Every decision that was made, was made by me alone.

And it’s scary. Terrifying. When I query that agent, they aren’t going to know how many beta readers have contributed to ironing out the plot, how many times Hubby has read and found typos, how many friends have read (or maybe never finished 🙂 ) the novel and given their feedback. It’s all on me. Their comments, if I’m lucky enough to receive them, will instruct me how to write better. Their rejections will tell me that it isn’t for them.

But their requests for fulls are mine too. Should I ever be published (I will be published! I will be published!) all my contributors will get a nod in the acknowledgments section, but it’s still my name on the cover. And that, my friends, is the final reward: a name in bold letters that most readers ignore and a chance to share that story that lived and breathed inside you with the world. That chance is all I ask for.

Back home . . .

Photo courtesy of scenicrefelctions.com

Photo courtesy of scenicrefelctions.com

So I’m home. When I left, Minion #3 was watching The Empire Strikes Back. When I returned, the credits were rolling. A whole Star Wars movie full of peace and quiet (and writing time) gone. Ironic that Darth Vadar’s theme was playing over the credits when I walked in.

And for what? Minion #5 has a scrape on the leg. Not even a big one. A scrape so minor Hubby either didn’t notice, or it didn’t show up at bath last night. Doc says what we are seeing is the thinnest of scabs forming over the thinnest of scrapes known to mankind. Grrrrrr!

But, I’m not that angry. Yes, frustrated, but when it comes to your kids you can’t be too careful. If Hubby had seen the scrape before, or had they not been playing in muddy worm-infested water last night, I might not have worried about it. Oh well. At least I can get back to work. Just as soon as I can get the anguished screams of my traumatized toddlers out of my mind. They don’t like it when their schedule is thrown off. And seeing Mommy come back and forth to daycare definitely throws that off. *exhale* All right. Let’s get to work. That book won’t edit itself.