Friday, June 26, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: TEN by Gretchen McNeil

Gretchen McNeil
Ages 14 & up

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie are looking forward to two days of boys, booze, and fun-filled luxury. But what starts out as fun turns twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine. And things only get worse from there.

With a storm raging outside, the teens are cut off from the outside world . . . so when a mysterious killer begins picking them off one by one, there’s no escape. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on one another, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?


I love Gretchen McNeil. I don't mean as a writer, though she is incredible in that realm. I mean I love her as a human being. I've been fortunate to know her, and I can honestly say she is one of the most enthusiastic, gracious, and generous people I know. So why did it take me so d**n long to read TEN? I thoroughly enjoyed her book POSSESS, by the way.

Well, my only excuse is that I started grad school around the time TEN came out. I've had a personalized copy on my shelf ever since, and it has also been at the top of my TBR list ever since. Now that I'm graduated and I actually have time to read for pleasure (not just in the bathroom or in my car while my kids are in music lessons), I finally pulled it off the shelf.

I knew I'd enjoy it. No doubt about that. I just didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I did. I started reading Sunday morning and finished it Monday night. I NEVER read books that fast. My average reading time is a month at least. But TEN got its hooks in deep and I could not stop reading!!! I got 3/4 through it by midnight on Sunday and only stopped because I make it a point not to stay up late, and midnight was really pushing it for me. And when I went to bed, I literally had to go through the house and close all the windows and lock them and check the locks on the doors. And I actually slept with my lamp on. I really did.

TEN is so deliciously creepy, so suspensefully thrilling, it has got to rank up there with the best of them. Inspired by Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, McNeil totally channels Christie and King and Harris...wrapping all things terrifying into a yarn aimed at the YA crowd (but equally pleasing to us grown-ups, too!)

If you like things to go bump in the night, then TEN had better be at the top of your TBR list.


Profanity:  High
Violence:  High
Sexuality:  Moderate

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


In Part One, I defined what being a Page-Turner is and why writers should seriously consider writing one. In Part Two I shared 5 Sure Fire Fun-Suckers, things that make books boring.  Today I will discus the first of three Page-Turner Techniques that are sure to make your work in progress a "can't-put-it-down" book.


Seems obvious, doesn't it? But the truth is that you will simply lose many readers after just a few pages. How many times have you opened a book and counted the pages in a particular chapter to see if you really felt like committing yourself to it?  Chances are if the chapter was too long, you put the book down and reached for something else.

Pick up a few books you consider "page-turners." Chances are most of them have pretty short chapters. For example, Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code has chapters as short as a single page. The overall length of two books may be exactly the same, but the fact remains that short chapters achieve two very important things for your reader:

Creates the illusion of a "fast read."

Increases the likelihood that the reader 
will read multiple chapters in a single sitting.

When asked about whether or not the act of reading books is in danger of giving way to electronic media, Author Hernan Casciari said the following

“What’s important right now is our lack of concentration, 
our inability to be able to read, listen or write for more than 20 minutes."

Actually, Casciari hit the nail on the head, and here's why. 

In 2012, the Associated Press published research revealing that the attention span of the average person (adult or child) is a mere 8 second. 8 seconds!!! That's how long you have to capture your readers' attention--and KEEP IT!

To give you an idea of what we're up against, in the year 2000 the average attention span was 12 seconds, and the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

Now, we can bemoan the damage to our brains caused by video games and TV shows all we want, but as writers we need to look at this information through different lenses. Our readers' attention spans are shrinking. So the question is not how do we stop this, but how can best reach our readers on their level?

Try It Out!

If you are working on a manuscript right now, try these tweaks to help make your story more "bite-sized."

1.  Write chapters that are between 3 - 5 pages.

2.  Divide longer chapters into two or more shorter chapters.

3.  Utilize Framing Devices to separate scenes within a longer chapter.
                           -White Space (add an extra blank line between scenes)
                           -Varied Font (use italics to identify quotes, different forms of text such as journal entries or letters, or for dreams, flash backs, etc.)
                           -Asterisks (can be used within white space to separate scenes)

Friday, June 19, 2015


Last summer I read a lot of zombie books (The Girl with All the Gifts, Zom-B, Forest of Hands and Teeth) and a smattering of other suspense, apocalypse, monster stories. This summer I've put together kind of a mish mash of books I've been wanting to read for a while but haven't had the time along with a few newer titles. My list, of course, may change at any moment for any reason.

What I'm reading right now:

What I plan to read in July and August:

And if I have a little extra time to kill...

So, what's at the top of your TBR list?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


The sub-title of this post is "5 Sure Fire Fun-Suckers." This is what my son calls books that are too boring to read all the way through.

As authors, we don't want our books to be boring. We want readers to feel excited about our stories, to keep turning those pages. So what can we do to make our books real page-turners? Well, first we should know what NOT to do.

Here are the top 5 fun-suckers:


My 11-year-old daughter was recently assigned a Newbery Award winning book to read for class. It's a great book. I know because I've read it. But she is slogging through it, groaning the whole way. I asked her why she didn't like the book. Her answer:  "The chapters are so looooooong!"

While many readers do enjoy long, detailed chapters, the fact is that shorter chapters create the illusion, if not reality, of a faster read. Every time a reader gets to the end of a chapter he feels like he's accomplished something, that progress is being made. When the chapters are short, a reader will be more willing to read on into the next chapter, and the next.


When writing scenes, new writers often fall into the trap of starting a scene when a character wakes up and ending it when they go to sleep. Boring. In essence, if your character falls asleep, so will your reader. This also holds true for going unconscious.  Nothing is more aggravating for a reader than when there has been all this build up to a climatic moment only to have the protagonist black out and wake up when the action is over. Don't cheat your reader that way.


While closure is good at the end of a novel, too much closer at the end of chapters creates the sense that this is a good point to stop reading. Page-turners do not have tidy chapter endings. They are messy. They are exciting. They leave you hanging.  The goal is for readers to reach the end of a chapter and feel compelled to turn the page to see what happens next. We will discuss this in greater detail when I post Part 3 of this series.


Reading a novel is not like long distance running, where the runner sets his pace and keeps that same rhythm for miles and miles. Nor is it a sprint to the finish line, one quick heart-pounding dash. If a story is slow and detailed and thoughtful all the way through, the reader will get bored. But the reader will also get burned out if there is nothing but action-packed thrill on every single page. You want to vary the pace, with some chapters being fast and exciting, and others slower and more introspective. These slower scenes allow your reader to catch their breath, so to speak, to recharge for the next adrenalin surge.


Long ago authors used to be paid on the word. The longer the book, the more money they earned. So books were tomes of lengthy descriptions that really had nothing to do with the plot. Times have changed. We live a fast-paced society where we are used to getting what we want right now. Many readers expect to get to the heart of the story without having to slog through pages of unnecessary description. Of course some description is important to set the scene, but where authors once would expound about a woman's dress or the architecture of a building for pages on end, now a line or two, or even is some cases a few words will do just as well. Leave the rest up to your readers' imagination.

So there you have them. 5 Sure Fire Fun-Suckers, and some tips on how to avoid them.

What are some of the most boring books you've ever read?

Sunday, June 14, 2015


 Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is sponsored by Shannon Messenger at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. For a complete list of today's participants, visit HERE.

Sharman Apt Russell
Yucca Publishing
Ages 12+

In 1528, the real-life conquistador Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked in the New World where he lived for eight years as a slave, trader, and shaman. In this lyrical weaving of history and myth, the adventurer takes his young daughter Teresa from her home in Texas to walk westward into the setting sun, their travels accompanied by miracles--visions and prophecies. But when Teresa reaches the outposts of New Spain, life is not what her father had promised.

As a kitchen servant in the household of a Spanish official, Teresa grows up estranged from the magic she knew as a child, when she could speak to the earth and listen to animals. When a new epidemic of measles devastates the area, the sixteen-year-old sets off on her own journey, befriending a Mayan were-jaguar who cannot control his shape-shifting and a warhorse abandoned by his Spanish owner. Now Teresa moves through a land stalked by Plague: smallpox as well as measles, typhus, and scarlet fever.

Soon it becomes clear that Teresa and her friends are being manipulated and driven by forces they do not understand. To save herself and others, Teresa will find herself listening again to the earth, sinking underground, swimming through limestone and fossil, opening to the power of root and stone. As she searches for her place in the New World, she will travel farther and deeper than she had ever imagined.


This book was recommended to me by my professor, as it was written  by a friend of hers. I like this professor so I agreed to check it out. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but as I started reading about de Vaca and his daughter, I was completely drawn into the story. Russell's writing is a lyrical blend of mythology, history, and magical realism. Teresa's world is so vivid, I felt as though I had stepped into a painting. The book has the feel of legend, and the author incorporates the mystical elements so effectively as to convince the reader that these elements might really be as much a part of history as de Vaca himself.

While I do question whether the literary style of the writing would actually appeal to middle grade readers or adolescents, the vocabulary and subject matter are certainly appropriate for younger readers. Overall, Teresa of the New World would make a fine addition to any home or school library, and would especially complement curriculum about the European exploration of the New World.


Profanity:  None
Violence:  Mild
Sexuality:  None

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


A while back I gave a presentation at the Kanab Writers Conference in Southern Utah on "How To Write A Real-Page Turner" and thought it might be fun to pass along some of the key elements I shared there to you.

So to start with, WHAT IS A PAGE-TURNER?

This term is probably one of the most sought-after compliments an author can receive about our books. It means we have succeeded in keeping our readers engaged from the first page to the last, and that they have connected with our story in a way that is both satisfying and invigorating. Books like that are never forgotten, and are most likely to be the ones readers will rave to their friends about.

Here are some quotes from reviews of page-turners, quotes we authors all want to hear about our books:

"I just couldn't put it down!"

"I have to know what happens next."

"Kept my attention to the last page."

"A book I would definitely read again."

And my personal favorite because it came from a review about The Last Enchanter...

"Holy Moly! Read this book now!"

Now you may be thinking that writing a page-turner is only for specific genres such as thrillers, action-adventure, or horror.  If you think that you could never write one because you are write romance, or picture books, or even non-fiction, think again.

Page-turners transcend genre and target audiences. The Da Vinci Code, an action-packed suspense/mystery, is definitely a page-turner. But so are Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen, a non-fiction narrative about the history of the 1898 World's Fair and America's first serial killer; The Hunger Games, a young adult dystopian about kids who kill each other in an arena; Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a contemporary middle grade novel about a boy with a facial deformity; The Help, a historical novel about the racial tensions of 1960s south; and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, a picture book about a very demanding little mouse.  In other words, it doesn't matter what kind of book you are writing or who you are writing it for, you CAN write a real page-turner.

Not every book has to be a page-turner. There are plenty of wonderful, slow-burning books out there, and many readers enjoy the kind of tomes they can snuggle up with in front of a cozy fire, or pace their read over several weeks or months. If that's the sort of book you want to write, then read no further.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is sponsored by Shannon Messenger at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. For a complete list of today's participants, visit HERE.

In the Library