Book Review: MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I’d heard a ton about this book and did that thing I don’t do very often and pre-ordered a book from an author I hadn’t read before. And while More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I definitely didn’t regret it. 

Before I go on, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.  
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is. 
Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.”
It’s kind of hard to write about this one without spoiling anything, but I do have several thoughts:

Firstly, the intersectionality in this book was so great to see. I loved reading a protagonist who is Latino but not necessarily Spanish-fluent (which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but as a Latina but not exactly Spanish-fluent person myself, it was very nice to see we exist), and I realized while reading this is one of the few YA books I’ve seen with characters from a lower socioeconomic background.

Secondly, this book broke my heart so many times. Emotions go all over the place with this one, with big highs and really sad lows, and I absolutely loved the twist. Aaron and many of the other characters are complicated, layered characters who felt completely real, and they were a treat to read.

I will say that the pacing in the first third of the book or so was a little slower than my liking, and for a while I wasn’t really sure where the plot was going (and when I did think I knew where the plot was going, I was so wrong which was great). But as things began coming together, the whole story wove together really nicely and I definitely enjoyed it.

More Happy Than Not will bring on the feels and really make you connect with the characters. This book was a delight to read and I definitely recommend it to those looking for something different, gritty, and honest.

I’m giving 4/5 stars to this wonderful YA and I can’t wait to read Silvera’s next book!

Diversity note: The protagonist is Latino, gay, and like many of the characters, from a lower socioeconomic background. Other major characters were also PoC, including the main love interest, and the protagonist also suffers from depression.

What have you been reading lately? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by @AdamSilvera. Have you read this intersectional YA? (Click to tweet
Looking for an emotional, twisty, honest YA read? Check out MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera. (Click to tweet)

Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

So I follow a lot of bloggers on Twitter (surprise! not) and I learned very quickly that yesterday was Top Ten Tuesday, a meme created by The Broke and Bookish. Yesterday's theme was top ten reads of the year, and that looked like a ton of fun, so I thought I'd join in a day late.

As it so happens, I've rated exactly ten books 4.5 or 5 stars, so choosing my top reads of the year so far was pretty easy. Yay!

So without further ado, here are the top ten books I've read in 2015 (which may or may not have actually been released this year) so far in no particular order:

Photo credit: Goodreads
  1. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson—This book actually jumped onto my favorites list, because wow, it was just so emotional, and beautifully written, and it really, truly made me feel so many things while I was reading. Also, bonus points for showcasing some diversity (one POV character is gay). (Full review)

  2. Photo credit: Goodreads
  3. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin—I know I'm way late to the party with this one, but I finally got around to reading it and whoa. It was so eerie and twisty, and totally left me wondering what the hell I just read in the best way possible. (Full review)


  4. Photo credit: Goodreads
  5. OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu—So this one was recommended to me by Dahlia Adler, and I'm so, so glad a very smart person picked it off my Christmas book list and gifted it to me. This is the first book I've read with explicit OCD representation, and I thought it was really respectfully done. So much so that I wrote a post about why books like this are so important to me.

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  7. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia—Kind of similar to Mara Dyer, but not nearly as creepy, Made You Up really makes you stop and think about what's real and what's not. This is the first book I've read featuring a protagonist with paranoid schizophrenia, and not only does it have a brilliantly unreliable narrator, but the whole book was completely fascinating and a really, really unique read. (Full review)

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  9. Unteachable by Leah Raeder—So this was my first glimpse at Leah Raeder's work, and now I'm 100% a fan because her work is everything I love about the sexier side of New Adult. Unteachable is swoony, very steamy and really explores the depths of a forbidden student/teacher relationship, punctuated with Raeder's really gorgeous prose.

  10. Photo credit: Goodreads
  11. Black Iris by Leah Raeder—Another (really friggin' amazing) Leah Raeder book! Unlike Unteachable, Black Iris is a NA Thriller, and it is super, super dark (as well as sexy because, c'mon, this is a Raeder book). Once again I was really impressed by Raeder's prose, but more than that I loved seeing how she combined this super dark plot with incredibly layered, twisted characters and a hell of a lot of diversity. (Full review)

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  13. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli—This book was so cute. SO. CUTE. Unlike many on this list, Simon vs. is a really happy, adorable book with a super cutesy m/m romance and actually had me giggling and saying "aww" out loud while reading. (Full review)

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  15. Half Wild by Sally Green—So Half Bad jumped onto my favorites list when I read it, which meant I had super high expectations for Half Wild, and boy, those expectations were 150% met. Half Wild is super dark and exciting and the series has my favorite depiction of witches since Harry Potter and as a bonus? The MC is bi and there is angst and stuff between boys. My heart. (Full review

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  17. Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson—So this is one of my favorite NA romances, and I keep recommending it because it gave me all the warm fuzzies and a full spectrum of emotion while reading. Justin and Landry's journey together was a memorable one that I still think about, and the next book in the series, Focus on Me, comes out this month and I seriously can't wait. (Full review)

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  19. Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler—This was another really great NA read; very swoony and sexy, and I loved the awkward flirting, and the student/TA relationship was A+. Furthermore, Last Will and Testament presented a situation rarely seen in NA—a college student who loses her parents in an accident and becomes the guardian of her two younger brothers.
What are some of your favorite reads of 2015 so far?

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae shares her top 10 reads of 2015 so far. What books are on your list? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Prologues

I had a request for a vlog on prologues, so here we go. Some thoughts on those sneaky chapter zeroes and why they're sometimes problematic.



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What do you think about prologues? Do you use them often or enjoy them while reading?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Why are prologues often pointed out as a problem? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)  
How do you know if your prologue is working? @Ava_Jae vlogs about prologue cliches & problematic openings. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #12

Photo credit: hehaden on Flickr
It’s nearly July, which means it’s time for this month’s fixing the first page critique! Woot! As these things go, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Let’s do this.

Title: ALMENDRA’S JOURNEY

Genre/Category: YA Fantasy

First 250:

“Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Just then the door to her room opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back. 
‘Good morning, Woo,’ said Almendra, her face splitting into a grin. She pecked the wolf on the nose and took a large mug of hot tea from the tray. Breathing in the familiar scent of mint, she clutched the cup in her hands and raised it into the air like one would a goblet at a feast, her hazel eyes alight with humour. 
‘Cheers!’ she said loudly and ‘May today be the day!’ before bringing the cup to her lips, an expression of bliss on her face. Woo walked towards the window and drew back the curtains with the help of his teeth – the sky outside was murky grey. Almendra drank up her tea and placed it back onto the tray just as Woo was leaving the room. 
In one big leap, she bounded out of bed, ran across the carpeted floor and slipped behind the screen, her long, brown hair flying in her wake. Almendra picked up a thick rope, lying in a coil on the floor, with an iron hook on one end, then wound it around a huge wheel it was fixed to on the other end, opened the window and threw the rope down. 
A second later the hook hit the ground with a clunk.”

Okay. So I’ve frequently mentioned that characters waking up is a somewhat overused opening, and whether or not it’s working here is hard to say based off just the first 250 words. Right now, the biggest thing I’m noticing (besides some wordiness which I’ll address in a minute) is a) there isn’t any hint of conflict and b) I’m not really sure what’s going on. Obviously I don’t expect everything to be explained in the first page, but there are a few things here that could be expanded on, like what Almendra is doing near the end of the excerpt. Does she always go out her window like that? Is she not allowed to leave and sneaking out her window?

As I’m not sure what the conflict is here, it could be interpreted as Almendra’s daily morning ritual, in which case I’d recommend moving the opening closer to the inciting incident.

Also, I like her wolf. :)

Okay, now the in-line edits.

Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. As I said above, I’m hesitant to recommend opening with your character waking up. It’s been done a lot, and as this doesn’t look particularly different (character wakes up, has breakfast, leaves), I think you may want to consider starting later in your story. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Jjust then as the door to her bedroom door opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back entered
‘Good morning, Woo,.said Almendra, her face splitting into a grin. She pecked the wolf on the nose and took a large mug of hot tea from the tray. Breathing in the familiar scent of mint, she clutched the cup in her hands and raised it into the air like one would a goblet at a feast, her hazel eyes alight with humour. The bits that I’m recommending you cut are phrases and words that I feel aren’t really pulling their weight and/or read a little clunky.

‘Cheers!’ she said loudly and ‘May today be the day!’ she said loudly before bringing the cup to her lips and sighing with the first sip, an expression of bliss on her face. Or something like that. But rather than saying there’s an expression of bliss on her face, it’d be more effective to show how that bliss makes her react physically, so we can put two and two together without being told. Woo walked towards the window and drew back the curtains with the help of his teeth – the sky outside was murky grey. Almendra drank up her tea and placed it back onto the tray just as Woo was leaving left the room. Now that I’m reading this a second time, I’m more sure than ever that this opening is starting too soon. The issue is nothing has really happened, so the opening doesn’t hook you in as well as it could. The bit about her wolf is interesting, but I think it could be shown a different way that doesn’t require us seeing her morning routine. 
In one big leap, sShe bounded out of bed, ran across the carpeted floor and slipped behind the screen, her long, brown hair flying in her wake. There’s no way she did all of that in one leap unless she can fly. You may want to consider rewording. Almendra picked up a thick rope, lying in a coiled on the floor, with an iron hook on one end, then wound it around a huge wheel it was fixed to on the other end, opened the window and threw the rope down. 
A second later tThe hook hit the ground with a clunk.”

So I’m thinking overall, the biggest issue is there isn’t enough going on in the opening to really pull me in, which could be relatively easily fixed by moving the opening closer to the inciting incident. Other than that, there’s also some wordiness here, which usually indicates wordiness throughout the MS, so I recommend you take some time to go through your WIP and look specifically for places where you could condense your sentences.

I like the glimpse of the world we’ve gotten here, and I’m definitely curious about that wolf and what kind of world Almendra lives in that a wolf can bring her tea. :) This sounds like it could be an interesting story, we juts need a stronger hook to pull readers in. If I were to see this in the slush, I’d probably pass for that reason.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250, Farida!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks starting in the right place & wordiness in the 12th Fixing the 1st Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I've mentioned Made You Up a couple times here on the blog, and recently featured a guest post from the lovely Francesca Zappia, but now I've read the book and I have feels to share.

As I like to do before I begin, here is the Goodreads summary:

"Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar
Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal."

Made You Up has to be one of the most unique contemporary YAs I've read in quite a while. From the very start it had me questioning what was real and what was a delusion (I've heard Made You Up marketed as "the ultimate unreliable narrator" and it is so true!). While I can't speak about how well or not represented the schizophrenia was, as I don't have the expertise to do so, I can say as a story it was totally fascinating and I loved how it made me think the whole time I was reading.

Initially, I found the pacing a teensie bit slower than I usually like, but I was still absolutely interested in the characters and what was going on. Alex's struggle made me connect to her immediately, and the cast of characters from Miles, to Tucker, to the triplets, and everyone else just felt very true to everyday high school experience (minus, you know, the out of the ordinary stuff going on).

Overall, I definitely recommend Made You Up to those looking for a fresh, unique contemporary YA and anyone looking for a brilliant example of an unreliable narrator in YA. As a bonus, I was happy to see mental illness handled respectfully, and very I'm curious to see what those with a better understanding and experience with schizophrenia think about the representation.

Great story with great characters and really wonderful writing. Made You Up lives up to the hype for sure. 4.5/5 stars.

Diversity note: Made You Up's protagonist has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Have you read any great books lately?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to MADE YOU UP by @ChessieZappia. Have you read this unique contemporary YA? (Click to tweet)

Looking for a wonderfully unreliable narrator in a fresh YA? Check out MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia. (Click to tweet)

How to Polish Your WIP Before Sending

Photo credit: LucasTheExperience on Flickr
So you’ve traded with CPs and betas several times, completed more rounds of revision and drafts than you care to think about, and now it’s nearly time to send your MS out. Whether “out” to you means querying, submissions, or to your agent or editor, this can frequently be a nerve-wracking experience.

The final step, however, before hitting “send” on those e-mails is to do one last polish to fix minor issues that can sometimes pull readers out of the narrative or bring attention to the writing. These are some things I try to look for when I do a final polish:

  • Overuse of adverbs. While I’m not a writer who believes that all adverbs are evil and need to be annihilated, too many adverbs are frequently a sign of not-as-strong-as-could-be writing. Luckily, this is a relatively easy (if not time-consuming) fix. I generally do a quick “ly” search and eliminate the unnecessary ones, adjust phrases and words to make them stronger and make sure I don’t have too many on a single page. 

  • Repeated words/phrases/writer ticks. Arched eyebrows, smirking, lip-biting, runnings hands through hair and sighing are actions that my characters tend to repeat a lot. I’m not sure exactly why they’re such crutch phrases when I’m drafting (possibly because I do these things a lot myself?), but invariably my CPs find at least one of these way, way overused in my drafts—and so I do a quick search and destroy to weed some out.

  • Unnecessary dialogue tags. This is a very common and easy mistake—and one I still catch myself doing frequently. If you have an action tag with dialogue, then you don’t also need a dialogue tag. For example:

    Meh: “What is it?” he asked, tucking her hair behind her ear.

    Better: “What is it?” He tucked her hair behind her ear.

    It’s redundant and pretty easy to spot.

  • Similar character/place names. In early drafts of Red I had SO many S names. S character names, S place names, I just really liked S okay? But unfortunately it gets confusing when you have too many character or place names that sound similar or all start with the same letter, so this is something to keep an eye out for. If you’re not sure, it can sometimes help to write out all the character and place names alphabetically—it’ll become obvious very quickly if you have too many that all start with the same letter or sound similar.

  • Continuity errors. This frequently happens when you revise in stages like I do. Sometimes, when you change something major (or even not major, but something that affects other things) you miss little continuity issues. Or you’re like me and forget that you killed off a character in this latest revision round, so that character is magically accidentally resurrected in the final chapter—oops. This can be a little trickier to spot on your own, especially if you’ve looked at your MS so many times, but CPs and betas are quite excellent at honing in on them. 

  • Told emotions. I’ve already written a post on how to show emotion effectively, so I won’t get into the details again, but this is another very easy to catch fix. When I’m searching for told emotions, I like to do a quick search in my WIP for emotion tags: sad, scared, happy, excited, nervous, etc. Like most search and destroy methods, you don’t need to get rid of every example of told emotion, but many times there are ways to show emotion much more effectively than just naming the emotion, and that’s what you’re looking for here—opportunities to make the sentence stronger. 

  • Paragraph/sentence length variety. This one can be checked with a quick visual scroll through. Pay attention to the shapes of your paragraphs and where your periods end. Try to avoid giant bricks of text and if you know you tend to overuse a particular sentence/paragraph style (i.e.: short or overly long sentences) keep an eye out to make sure you haven’t overdone it. 

So those are my go-to polishing checks—now I want to hear from you. What checks do you do when polishing your WIP?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Think you're ready to send your MS off? @Ava_Jae shares some quick checks to look for with your final polish. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Finding Time to Write

On misconceptions about writers and free time, commitment to writing, and how to find time to write.



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What do you think? Have you come across this misconception?

Twitter-sized bites:
"If you don't find the time to write when you're [busy] you won't find the time...when you're not." (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says, "finding the time to write takes sacrifice." What do you think? (Click to tweet
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