Posts by MissRiki

Review: BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican

Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Reading, Thriller, Young Adult | 2 comments

Review: BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican

When I received Brutal Youth in the mail from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The cover is delightfully sinister, with a prep school jacket going up in flames, and the novel is blurbed by some pretty big names, including Stephen Chbosky, James Dashner, Gillian Flynn, and even Stephen King. I mean, when a book is blurbed by the one and only Stephen King, I obviously go in with really high expectations. The big question going into this reading was- would it stand up to all that hype? Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican    When incoming freshman Peter Davidek arrives for his first day at Saint Michael’s, tensions are already high at the private Catholic school known best for its enrollment of expelled delinquents and overtly religious students. After a cruelly tormented upperclassman snaps and goes on a rampage, violently attacking cruel students and corrupt faculty, everyone is on high alert. But this sense of unrest does nothing to stop the culture of hazing that has gone on for years as a sort of tradition at Saint Michael’s. Peter befriends fellow freshman Noah Stein, who bears the scars of a tough past, as well as the beautiful and desperate Lorelei Paskal, and the three navigate the uneasy halls where upperclassmen senselessly torment freshman and haze them with no respite. It soon becomes clear that nobody can be trusted, with even the closest of friends hiding secrets and turning on one another.   As if the cruel upperclassmen vying for revenge weren’t bad enough, the faculty is corrupt and seems to be out to get the students in increasingly sinister ways. Father Mercedes is blackmailing students and running off with church funds; while the embittered guidance counselor Ms. Bromine is upholding the rampant bullying culture of Saint Michael’s in her own ways. As these students fight to make it through their day-to-day activities, alliances are formed and broken, and they find that it really is every student for himself. Find it at: Amazon  | Barnes and Noble This was one of the most thought-provoking and intense stories I’ve read in a long time. The Catholic school setting is the perfect backdrop for the corruption and terror that befalls these students, and with every page bringing a new agreement or a broken alliance; the plotting captivated me. From page one, this novel is packed with action that never lets up, from the initial rampage of an embittered and tormented student, to the final Hazing Picnic when things start to become very real for many of the students. Tensions are high throughout the book, and it is deliciously unclear whom the main characters can trust. Just when you think they’ve found someone to protect them and their secrets, another lie is told and it becomes clear that absolutely nobody in this book can be trusted.   Brutal Youth has a little bit of something for everyone. There are friendships being tested, romances being forged and then thwarted, and corrupt faculty out for only themselves. The book is listed as Young Adult, but often seems to veer over into Adult Literary Fiction. It will captivate audiences in a wide range of ages. Teens as well as older readers will identify with the spot-on feelings of adolescence, including feeling alone and misunderstood amongst peers, and will be riveted by the complex system of alliances and the underhanded motivations of the adults in this novel.   It’s been a long time since I devoured a 400-page novel in one sitting, but I did it with this book....

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Review: A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

Posted by on Sep 5, 2014 in Reading | 0 comments

Review: A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

With summer rapidly waning and Fall swiftly approaching, back-to-school is on my mind. What better way to get in that educational spirit than with a novel set in a historical time period? I was on the hunt for smart historical fiction with a riveting plot and a well-rendered accurate setting. When I came across Makiia Lucier’s novel set against the backdrop of the deadly Spanish Influenza pandemic, I knew I had found the book for me. A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier Safe in her home in Portland, Oregon, Cleo Berry can only imagine the terror of the Spanish Influenza that is ravishing the East Coast. When her guardians go away on travel and Cleo is stuck boarding at school, things begin to hit much close to home. The flu that felt so very far away becomes a real threat as cases begin popping up in the Pacific Northwest. Along with churches, theaters, and other public venues, Cleo’s school is shut down. Cleo foolishly decides to ride out the pandemic in the comforts of her own home, but when she sees an ad for Red Cross volunteers, she can’t ignore the call to action. Although at first out of her element, Cleo begins to identify with the patients she is caring for, and she slowly begins to fall for Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Cleo is drawn to helping people, but at what personal risk? Review Based on the most devastating real-life pandemic ever recorded, A Death-Struck Year is extremely well researched and vividly depicted. I was captivated by Cleo’s story as she dives headfirst into a world she never thought would exist. She’s all at once strong and unwavering in her devotion to the Red Cross, yet still naïve and cautious in her commitment. As a girl who had been spending time questioning her place in the world and what she might do after graduation to make her mark, answering the ad for volunteers led her straight to a path that has her making a world of difference in the lives of those in her community. Amidst the sheer terror and pandemonium that is rife in the novel is a sweet story of friendship. Cleo finds a like-minded and tender soul in Kate, who comes from a long line of nurses. Kate and Cleo hit it off immediately and fall into the comfortable routine of searching neighborhoods for the ill and tending to patients in the sick ward. As the two girls forge a new friendship, Cleo learns that Kate never wanted to follow in her family’s footsteps and become a nurse. She is set to leave on scholarship for a prestigious music school as soon as things settle down in Portland. My heart broke for the things that Kate wanted and might never find in her life, and I was drawn to this friendship forged from tragedy. Another intriguing storyline comes in the form of a budding romance between Cleo and handsome medical student Edmund. Through the chaos and death that surrounds them, Cleo and Edmund forge a tenuous bond, constantly tested by the rigors of caring for the deathly ill. I loved seeing their relationship blossom, confined by both the conventions of the time period as well as their circumstances. It is difficult to even begin to imagine the terror that the people of this time period must have felt in seeing their loved ones and neighbors fall ill to a pandemic never before seen. The Spanish Influenza did not discriminate in choosing its victims, with both the very young and the very...

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The First Fives – Getting Your Opening Up to Par by Riki Cleveland

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Pen and Muse Summer School, The Artistry of Noveling, Writing | 2 comments

The First Fives – Getting Your Opening Up to Par by Riki Cleveland

It’s no surprise that beginnings are hard. When you finally find your manuscript in the hands of an editor or agent, you want to make the best first impression you possibly can- and fast. A lot of times that means within the first five pages, but focusing on the first five sentences, or even words, of your manuscript can help you get over that hump and make the reader want to move further. Today we are going to talk about those all-important first fives: the first five words, sentences, and pages of your manuscript. What makes a compelling beginning? What grabs a reader and makes them want to read on? What should you avoid? There’s been much said on this topic, and today I’ll be sharing the tips and tricks that I found to be most helpful in editing those important beginnings.   First Five Words:   Now, we’re going to say the first five words, but in reality we’re talking here about your opening sentence. Your first sentence may or may not be exactly five words long, but the point is that those opening sentences need to grab your reader right away. Your opening line is your opportunity to make a riveting first impression. Let’s think for a moment about some well-known dynamic first lines in literature.   “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” –Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice   “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” –Vladimir Nabakov, Lolita   “You better not never tell nobody but God.” –Alice Walker, The Color Purple   “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” –Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games   What do these first lines all have in common? First, they establish voice. Second, they present a hook that draws a reader in.  No words are wasted in these openings. There’s an economy of language that leaves nothing but the most important of glimpses at the narrator. Most importantly, there’s no telling- it’s all showing. When crafting and editing the first line of your story, it’s important to begin with only the most important of facts. Start in the action, or with an unforgettable look at your narrator’s voice. Leave the flowery description and lengthy backstory to be revealed later in the story and always start with your hook. First Five Sentences:   Okay, so you’ve grabbed the reader with an unforgettable first line, so now you’re on to that first paragraph, including the first five sentences of your story. These first sentences are going to be important in setting up your reader’s expectations and developing a relationship with that reader. A great tip that has always stuck with me comes from young adult author Tom Leveen. He advises writers to think of these first five lines in terms of a moment that changed your main character’s life forever. You want to start in a moment when things will never be the same. Take this example from Tom’s own young adult novel, Party: “I’m the girl nobody knows until she commits suicide. Then suddenly everyone had a class with her. You know the one I mean. You don’t pick on her, because you don’t know she’s there, not really. She sits behind you in chemistry, or across the room in Spanish.” Boom. Dynamite first line leading into observations about a time when this girl’s life will never be the same. She’s thinking about how easy it is to be forgotten, and how she feels invisible amongst...

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Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Reading | 1 comment

Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

Sometimes you just need a book that’s going to creep you out and make you want to leave the lights on at night. I’ve been on a horror kick lately and while there’s no lack of adult horror novels, I was eager to find some young adult that fit the bill. You can imagine my joy when I found out that Megan Abbott had written another wonderful novel that had been aptly described as spooky. About The Fever   Living with her schoolteacher father Tom and her brother Eli, Deenie Nash is a pretty typical teenage girl. For the most part her apprehensions lie with who’s doing what at school and where she fits into the social scene with her two best friends, but such mundane concerns fall by the wayside when Deenie’s best friend Lise has a violent seizure in class. When other girls within their social circle begin to fall ill in a similar way, the rumors and hysteria begin. The school and community are on a rampage, trying to pin blame and assess culpability. With a mystery illness claiming teenage girls and a deep secret she can’t bear to have discovered, Deenie fights to keep her own panic at bay. As the pandemonium rises, there are more questions than answers. Everyone is suspect, forcing the community to examine what they know to be true about those around them.     Review   Nobody does a better job of depicting the dark inner lives of teenage girls than Megan Abbott. (If you haven’t read her first novel, Dare Me– get on it!) She has this amazing ability to draw out all of the dark pain of female friendship, and in this novel she doesn’t hold back in shedding light on the scary interior dynamics of three friends’ relationship. There’s a dark side to the angst of jealousy, and Abbott explores it with deft storytelling.   This book is so dark! It is extremely well written and seems to have a pulse all its own. There’s a deep sense of unease that permeates the novel from page one that had me on the edge of my seat.  The premise is really quite simple, with a mystery illness attacking young girls and the resultant panic of the community at large, but the emotions and manipulations that unravel in the midst of anxiety are so complex. Everybody has a secret, especially Deenie, and the overwhelming guilt of holding it in adds to the general feeling of malaise that has settled over the community.   Written from three points of view, Abbott does an excellent job of getting into the minds of teens and adults alike. We get not only Deenie and Eli’s point of view, but also that of their father Tom, who is fighting his own demons after losing his wife and the mother of his children to an affair. Family dynamics in this novel are complex as Tom struggles to do right by his children.   With a mystery illness, the backstabbing politics of high school, regular good-old teenage angst, and the overwhelming paranoia of the community, the scene is set for a thrilling look into the very frightening world of teenagers. Abbott’s writing is lyrical and compelling, and I was captivated by this story.       About RikiRiki has a long-standing love affair with all things books and writing. She indulged her love for all things literary with a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University and is currently studying at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Riki is an intern with Entangled...

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Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Reading | 0 comments

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

There’s been a lot of talk lately on the book blogosphere about the likability of main characters and how that affects the reader reaction to a novel. In looking for this month’s book selection, I wanted to find a novel with a main character that looks from the outside like they might be completely unredeemable, or at least wholly unlikable, and see how that affects my opinion of the book overall. When I came across the premise for Tampa, I knew I had found my book. A twenty-six year old female predator who targets her male students? Unlikable? Check!     Tampa by Alissa Nutting  On the surface, twenty-six-year-old Celeste Price has it all. Celeste is exceptionally beautiful and married to a good-looking and very wealthy cop, and she’s about to start a brand new job that she’s been looking forward to for as long as she can remember. But this isn’t just any dream job; it’s a position she’s been plotting to land to keep her closer to her singular sexual obsession. Celeste Price is a junior high school teacher with a lascivious eye for her young male students, and she’s set her sights on one in particular. When Jack Patrick walks into her classroom for the first time, Celeste’s blood rises and she knows that he is the one. He’s perfect parts naïve and willing, and Celeste pulls no punches in his seduction. When their lustful affair spirals out of control, Celeste does shameless damage control, taking no risks with her obsession.   This is one of those books that people are going to have all kinds of opinions about, and those opinions are likely to be quite polarized. As for me, I ran the whole range of emotions in reading this novel. On one hand I was wholeheartedly repulsed by the main character’s singular obsession with seducing these unsuspecting young men, yet on the other hand the author does such a wonderful job of making Celeste a well-rounded and full character that there was a certain amount of curiosity in my repulsion. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing right in any way about what Celeste is doing, yet there’s an oddity in understanding the motivations of this self-professed “soulless pervert.”   You should be forewarned that Tampa is graphic. The entire book is written from inside Celeste’s head, and she’s not shy about depicting her every wanton fantasy, often involving her underage targets. She’s a dirty girl, and there were portions that left me feeling like I needed a good cleansing shower, yet at the same time these descriptions are somehow not gratuitous in any way. They’re necessary to understand this obsession that ultimately drives Celeste to the ruin of not only her own life, but the life of the object of her obsession as well. Her secret is all-consuming and permeates her every waking thought. In private she daydreams about her next conquest, and in public she barely hides her sordid activities.   Tampa is not only a story of one woman’s sexual depravity, but also leads to larger questions of gender roles in sexual behavior. In the aftermath of Celeste’s affair with Jack Patrick a question is raised in court, “If you were a teenage male, would you call a sexual experience with her abuse?” It fosters the question of how we see these young victims. If this were a male predator with a young female student, would we still see the victim in the same way? Because Celeste’s targets were young men and she is a beautiful and desired woman, they are seen more...

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