Introducing: Radiate Literary Journal

Hello dear readers! Today I have the privilege of sharing a new website, and new opportunity for young writers, with all of you!

Radiate Literary Journal is a site where young writers can submit writing pieces. Those pieces will then be edited by the Radiate team, and posted on the site.

I happen to be one of the Fiction Editors for Radiate, and I’m excited to read the pieces that are submitted!

More Information on Radiate:

Our Mission:

Learning: We provide feedback on each submission so writers can learn from their peer editors. Our goal is to let young writers share what they are learning with each other and feature unique submissions.

Growth: “If I waited for perfection I would never write a word.” -Margaret Atwood. Helping young writers reach their potential by sharing their work.

Community: We want to connect student writers. Young writers are the future of literature. Radiate wants to be a thriving community of young writers sharpening each other’s skills.

FAQs:

Who can submit to Radiate Literary Journal? Any student ages 13-22 is encouraged to submit their poetry, prose, essays, or nonfiction to Radiate Literary. We accept works up to 10,000 words and prefer never-published material.We don’t pay for work as a volunteer organization, but we do provide exposure to the writing market for you and and your work and valuable peer feedback from Radiate editors

What do you look for in a piece? Our editors are qualified volunteers that have been instructed in how to best help writers succeed in polishing their work. They carefully select the pieces that have shown the most excellence or growth to showcase in each issue of Radiate Literary Journal. Here’s what they look for in a piece:

  • A complete story arc
  • Life-like characters
  • Inspiration/motivation
  • Excellent use of language
  • Good rhythm and rhyme (if applicable)
  • Comfortable story flow

Can I give feedback on a piece? Absolutely! We love it when young writers share their skills and opinions with each other. If you have feedback on a specific piece, leave a comment or email the editor-in-chief Grace C. at6biobee04@gmail.com. If you want to join our team of editors, please apply. We are always looking for new team members dedicated to helping other writers become great.

How can I get plugged in to the Radiate community? Thanks for asking. A few ways you can get involved are by leaving comments, joining the team, subscribing to the journal, or submitting your work. We also encourage readers to share with their friends so that the Radiate community can continue to grow. As we do, we’ll host contests and community events that you can get involved in.


Here’s the link if you want to check it out: click here.

Until next time,

Writing playlists

I’m a fan of music if you couldn’t tell already. I like music, I like writing, and when I combine the two wonderful things happen. Namely, I get inspired to write.

I’m always on the search for new music to write too, so I thought I would give you some song recommendations according to the theme/genre of your writing project.

And if you want to take a listen to the songs, just click on the titles that will take you to a Spotify playlist I made.

The scholarly essay that you’re writing four hours before it’s due–

Decisions by Ntr.Mnd

First Date by Frad

A brief moment of silence for the lack of better words by Stream_error

Chamomile Tea by Chance Thrash

The Approaching Night by Phillip Wesley

Declarations of love in the pouring rain or just like, at Disneyland or somewhere–

Always, I’ll care by Jeremy Zucker

Talk to Me by Cavetown

If We Have Each Other by Alec Benjamin

Silly People by Blanks

Tear in My Heart by Twenty One Pilots

Teen misfits going on adventures in the middle of the night–

I’m Born to Run by American Authors

It’s Time by Imagine Dragons

With a Little Help From My Friends by Wallows

Runaway Kids by HARBOUR

Idle Town by Conan Gray

Wild Things by Alessia Cara

The same survival story where at the end the guy wakes up in the hospital after being found dead on the side of the road by a farmer or hunter–

Til the Day I Die by TobyMac and NF

Opening Titles by David Arnold and Michael Price

Not Gonna Die by Skillet

The Maze Runner by John Paesano and Pete Anthony

Unstoppable by The Score

Death and break ups–

Lost My Mind by FINNEAS

i think we should break up by Hollyn

How Could You Leave Us by NF

I Miss My Mum by Cavetown

Before You Start Your Day by Twenty One Pilots

Down by Jason Walker

i don’t like u myself by Presence

Mind is a Prison by Alec Benjamin

The escape scene with things blowing up behind the characters who are walking away in slow-mo instead of running like a normal person would be doing–

#SherlockLives by David Arnold and Michael Price

Stayin’ Alive by Bee Gees

Ready Set Let’s Go by Sam Tinnesz

Howlin’ for you by The Black Keys

Immortals by Fall Out Boy

Eye of the Tiger {but it’s the cello version} by 2Cellos

A guild of delicate fairies, mermaids, and a few brooding werewolves on a journey–

Misty Mountains by Richard Armitage and The Dwarf Cast

Dawning of Spring by Anson Seabra

golden thing by Cody Simpson

Woodland by The Paper Kites

Bloom by The Paper Kites

Ends of the Earth by Lord Huron

For when the creepy next door neighbour reveals his true intentions which are luring puppies into his house and then killing them–

Game of Survival by Ruelle

Heathens by Twenty One Pilots

Castle by Halsey

Hide and Seek by Lizz Robinett

Panic Room by Au/Ra

Dig the Crazy by Faith marie

At the End of Time by Atrium Carceri

Some other genre/topic that I happened to miss–

Snake and the Prairie Dog by Cavetown

Seaside by Blanks

Learn to Fly by Surfaces and Elton John

Unfortunate Soul by Kailee Morgue

最強の囮 by Yuki Hayashi and Asami Tachibana


That brings this blog post to an end. If you enjoyed it, please let me know. Also, if you have any song recommendations I would greatly appreciate that.

Have a great weekend everyone!

We Wrote Like Jonathan Stroud for a Day

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to the 50th post on Tales of the Lonely Sun! Today we’re doing a little collaboration with me (Jorja, here) and Mya.

Mya and I both love the Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud. We’ve both talked about it on this blog before, because it’s amazing. Go check it out if you haven’t!

Recently Mya was on Jonathan Stroud’s website and found his writing schedule. You can check that out here. We both thought it was awesome and decided to try it out.

So you can keep us straight, Mya will be in bold and I’ll be in normal text.

One day. 5 pages. A whole lot of tea.

Jorja’s Writing Day:

My writing desk. Ooh. Aah.

My usual daily word count goal is an easily attainable 500 words. I picked this number because its something I can hit even when I’m not feeling motivated, which allows me to make continuous progress. 500 words often ends up being about a page to a page and a half of writing per day (unless I feel like writing more). 

All that being said, five pages is a lot for me. Especially because I use a fairly small font (Fanwood Text in Google Docs) and single space my work. So I had my work cut out for me. 

One thing I knew I needed to do was to plan out what I was going to write the night before. I do this every night because if I don’t… I don’t write. I’m becoming more and more of a “planner” as time goes on. So that’s what I did. The night before I planned out much more than I usually do, trying to make sure I could get five pages out of my outline for the day. I finished that up at around midnight. 

The next morning I had some work to do, separate from writing, for my church. I got a bit of a later start than Mya, but I decided I would just write a little longer if I needed to. I got started writing sometime between 10:30 and 10:45. 

For the most part, the writing day went great! I was in the zone most of the day (that doesn’t always happen, it was a nice surprise) so I didn’t stop to check the time. I remember I ate a sandwich for lunch, but the break wasn’t more than 10 minutes. I knew I needed to get back to writing as soon as possible, to keep my streak going. 

I had minimal interruptions, a steady stream of music playing in my headphones, several glasses of iced tea (its 100-degree weather over here, hot tea is not an option), and five total pages by around 3:00. My total word count came out to 2,750 words, over 5x my daily goal. 

I made a lot of progress in my story, including introducing a character I love, working out the details of my magic system, and deepening the motivation for several of my main characters. 

I considered this a total success! While I won’t be writing this way every day, it helped me gauge a lot about my personal process. I now know my capabilities and more details about how I can make my writing day as productive as it can be. 

“Getting that first draft out is a horribly hard grind, but that (perversely) is where the joy of it lies. There is nothing better for me, nothing more uniquely satisfying in the whole process of making a book, than the sensation at the end of each day—good or bad, productive or unproductive—when I look over and see a little fragile stack of written pages that weren’t there that morning.” -Jonathan Stroud

Mya’s Writing Day:

I don’t have a consistent writing routine or daily goal (yet), but I usually write late at night. Jonathan Stroud’s routine starts at 9:30 am and ends at around 5. Which is a significantly longer “work day” than I usually have. 

At 9:30, I sat down with my laptop on the back porch. Technically Jonathan Stroud says he likes to write inside, but I didn’t feel the need to make everything exact. I went through two mugs of tea during the first phases of the day: staring out the window, rereading yesterday’s work, and attempting the first line multiple times. I wasn’t expecting words to come easily to me in the morning, but they actually did! I was quite productive up until lunch and had a good time. 

Then came after lunch. I moved inside due to the heat and tried to begin writing. This is when brain-deadness set in. Stroud seems to get back to work right afterward, and I did also, despite feeling kind of stuck in my story. I pushed through until around 6, which is later than he ends the day. My progress was a lot slower during this chunk of time and I got distracted easily. 

In total, I wrote 1530 words, which came out to four pages. A page short of how much Stroud tends to write everyday, but for me personally it was a pretty good total.

“Each day I kept strict records of what I achieved; each day I tottered a little nearer my goal. Five pages per working day was my aim, and sometimes I made this easily. Other times I fell woefully short. Some days I was happy with what I got down; some days I could scarcely believe the drivel that clogged up the page. But quality was not the issue right then. Quality could wait. This wasn’t the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages.” -Jonathan Stroud


J: I encourage any of you writers out there to try something like this. Pick one of your favorite authors, see if you can find their writing schedule online, and try it out! You can learn a lot about what works for you, and what doesn’t. You may find a trick that you would never have thought to try that works super well for you, or you may spend the day not writing anything. Either way, experimentation is super helpful. There’s a channel on YouTube called Kate Cavanaugh where she tries out the schedules of many famous authors, and she has a lot of helpful tips. 

M: It’s a great way to see if the routine is something that helps you, even if you think you already know how and when you like to write. I was surprised that I worked so well in the morning, so I will probably start working then on a regular basis. The afternoon was not a good time for me, so I would stick to late evening writing sessions as well.

J: Another positive part of this is you can sometimes do more than you thought you were capable of. Maybe you can write 5,000 words in 4 hours. You’ll never know unless you try.

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” —Christopher Robin

M: The routine wasn’t perfect for me, but it was definitely worth trying. I ended up writing more than I usually do and thought about how I want to go about scheduling my writing. I only did it for one day, but it still had a positive impact on my novel.

J: Doing it with a buddy can also be super helpful. Mya and I had a steady dialogue throughout the day, updating each other on word counts and struggles and scenes. It was great for motivation. We even did some writing sprints with Carlye. 

M: Plus, it was fun to experience firsthand the process my favorite author uses to write his amazing books! In general, writing with friends can be super helpful and a good bonding experience. 

J: All in all, it’s a total adventure and I totally recommend it!

M: I’m planning to follow more of my favorite authors’ routines in the future and see how else I can improve my writing sessions.


(Quote sources: https://nanowrimo.org/pep-talk-from-jonathan-stroud; https://parade.com/935628/parade/winnie-the-pooh-quotes/ ) 

7 Deep and Meaningful MG and YA Books

Greetings! I hope all of you are doing well. Some of you are probably dying of boredom, while others have just as much to do as usual. Either way, book recommendations can’t hurt, right?

These are some books that I’ve found quite thought-provoking/deep/meaningful/wholesome. They’re the books that really resonate with you and make you think about the world around you in a different way. Many of these are dystopian, but those books really do make you reflect.

A Monster Calls

Synopsis:

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting – he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

I went into this book blind, not expecting the raw, heart wrenching story I found in those beautifully illustrated pages. I was expecting more of a thriller. I wasn’t disappointed in the least, but I thought I should throw that out there.

Conor’s story is a touching one indeed, and also very different. Prepare to cry and not be able to stop thinking about this after you finish. The dark and dramatic illustrations make the themes of life, death, and grief hit you even harder. So definitely read that edition.

A Time to Die

Synopsis:

How would you live if you knew the day you’d die?

Parvin Blackwater has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside.

In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the crooked justice system. But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall — her people’s death sentence.

What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her Clock is running out.

This entire trilogy is life-changing. The themes are super important, and the way Nadine Brandes tackles them in her books continues to inspire me as a writer. This book isn’t preachy, but it boldly woven with powerful truths. With a strong and relatable cast of characters, a gripping plot, and rich world, what’s there not to love? It stands out among the many shallow, hopeless dystopian books out there. No matter what genres you typically read, I urge you to pick this trilogy up.

The Hunger Games

Synopsis:

WINNING MEANS FAME AND FORTUNE.
LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH.
THE HUNGER GAMES HAVE BEGUN. . . .

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and once girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weight survival against humanity and life against love.

At first, I wasn’t interested in reading this wildly hyped trilogy because I thought it would just be senseless killing for an entertainment. I was wrong. It is a darker read with killing and other tragedies, but it is very thought-provoking. As for A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I have yet to read it. But I look forward to seeing what it has to add to this iconic series.

Anne of Green Gables

Synosis:

As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

I read this for the first time as a teenager, but I found it just as lovable. Anne’s vivid personality makes her a believable protagonist you can’t help but root for. Reading about her as she grew up felt quite nostalgic and sweet. Anne’s love for life and joy found in the simple things had me reflecting on our world and wanting to think a little more like her.

Salt to the Sea

Synopsis:

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.

It’s been a long time since I read this book, but I remember that it was heartbreaking. This overlooked tragedy should really be taught to people. Ruta Sepetys wrote about these distinct characters in such a real way that you could never be truly prepared for the end. This is a beautiful novel that I will definitely be revisiting in the (hopefully) near future.

In 27 Days

Synopsis:

Hadley Jamison is shocked when she hears that her classmate, Archer Morales, has committed suicide. She didn’t know the quiet, reserved guy very well, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling there was something she could have done to help him.

Hoping to find some sense of closure, Hadley attends Archer’s funeral. There, Hadley is approached by a man who calls himself Death and offers her a deal. If Hadley accepts, she will be sent back 27 days in time to prevent Archer from killing himself. But when Hadley agrees to Death’s terms and goes back to right the past, she quickly learns her mission is harder than she ever could have known.

Hadley soon discovers Archer’s reasons for being alone, and Archer realizes that having someone to confide in isn’t as bad as he’d always thought. But when a series of dangerous accidents starts pushing them apart, Hadley must decide whether she is ready to risk everything – including her life – to keep Archer safe.

This book was probably my favorite I read last year, and definitely on my favorite-books-of-all-time list. It is so wholesome and meaningful and I fell in love from the beginning. We rave about this one a lot here on the blog, but for good reason.

The City of Ember

Synopsis:

Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness…

But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them? 

The most prominent way this book was meaningful to me was appreciating the world and opportunities we have. The plot and characters were fun and engaging. Despite the dark, bare setting it takes place in, the book was ultimately hopeful. I admit to crying happy tears over the lovely and impacting ending.


Thank you so much for reading this lengthy post! I hope that if you end up reading these books, they mean something to you. Have a lovely day,

A Plethora of Quarantine Reviews

Hello dear readers! I have been reading a lot lately. I have a stack of library books that comes up to my knee on the floor of my bedroom, with more to come. So I figured I would review a bunch of books today. Five to be exact. This is going to be a pretty long post, so let’s get right into it.

Moonscript by H.S.J Williams

3.5/5 stars

Blurb: “It is said that Darkness is empty and whatever vanishes into its depths is lost forever. I know this better than anyone. For I have suffered here in the shadows, and there are none who might find me.”

Seventy years. Seventy years the elven prince has been lost to the darkness, assumed dead by his people and endlessly broken for a book that connects to the hidden realm of his ancestors, a land untouched by evil.

And now a light in the shadows. A chance for freedom. But those willing to help him come from the unlikeliest of worlds.

The orphan girl, yearning for a loving family, and the boy who won’t leave her side. A healer maiden given an unexpected chance for a life beyond narrowed expectations. A grieving creature flown far from home.

They all search for something and now their fates are tied to his. If their quest for life can pull him from the dark mire in which his soul drowns, then perhaps he can be saved.

Or else he will drag them all down to a fate worse than death.

The beginning of an epic saga, MOONSCRIPT is a journey of innocence, despair, and redemption.

Overall:

I have friends who loved this book with every fiber of their being (Looking at you, Hannah) but I didn’t love it. I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t dread picking it up every time I read it. I did finish it. I just didn’t get super into it. 

There are a lot of people out there who do and would love this book. If you love large scale adventure stories, elves, and great themes, be sure to check it out. Fans of Lord of The Rings, this book is right up your alley. 

What I loved:

Themes: The themes in this book were presented very well. You’re are never too far gone to be forgiven, there is a family out there for everyone, the loyalty of friends. Overall, the themes were great. 

Descriptions: There was a lot of setting description, some of it beautifully poetic. I could imagine every place the characters went. 

What I didn’t love:

Characters: The characters are where I really struggled with this book. I felt that the only character who truly had an arc was Errance. And, other than small paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter, we never really got to see the world from his point of view. My favorite character, Kelm, was a sweet and honest young man. While he was a rather flat character, I did enjoy it when he was on the page. All in all, I never really got invested in the characters, which made the rest of the reading experience less immersive and less suspenseful. 

Plot: I didn’t dislike the plot of this book, per se. I just I never really got into it. The reason for that, however, is because I didn’t really get into the characters. 

I was given an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. These were my honest thoughts. 

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

5/5 stars

Blurb: A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.

In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall’s legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

Readers who enjoyed the action, suspense, and humor in Jonathan Stroud’s internationally best-selling Bartimaeus books will be delighted to find the same ingredients, combined with deliciously creepy scares, in his thrilling and chilling Lockwood & Co. series.

Overall:

This book had been sitting on my TBR for ages, due to a friend of mine with obvious great taste (Thanks, Evie) and when Mya got the first book for me for Christmas (Thanks, Mya) I finally got around to reading it.

I was skeptical at first since paranormal fiction had never even been on my radar as something I would read. Ghost hunting teenagers? Not my cup of tea (British pun very much intended). Or so I thought. 

I was very wrong. This book had me hooked in seconds. 

Fans of Sherlock, immersive world-building, engaging character development, and a touch of horror (I don’t generally like horror, and I liked it) would love this read.

What I loved:

Characters: I. LOVE. THESE. CHARACTERS. The Screaming Staircase is told in first person from the perspective of the fiery Lucy Carlyle. The other two main characters are the fearless Anthony J. Lockwood and sarcastic George Cubbins. All three of them stole my heart, especially when they were all together, arguing about cookies or ghosts. Lucy’s narration and perspective on the other characters made this book so immersive, and her sass and stubbornness are amazingly portrayed. Anthony Lockwood is a secretive character whose past is elaborated on as the series continues. Despite the mystery surrounding his childhood, his personality is clear and very entertaining. And then there’s George Cubbins. Though he first comes off as abrasive, he quickly grows on you and his humor makes potentially dark scenes a lot lighter. 

Plot: Despite the fact that I would read about these characters doing literally anything, the plot is super unique and engaging. It showcases all of the character’s flaws and quirks so wonderfully and had me invested and intrigued right up until the end. 

Description: Atmospheric is the only word. All the settings in this book were so vivid, from the streets of London to the clutter of 35 Portland Row to the eerie haunted houses the characters visit throughout the book. I could also imagine each character with extreme clarity. 

Flashbacks: I rarely see a more excellent use of flashbacks than is utilized in this series. They reveal so much about the characters and add so much depth, without wrecking the flow of the overall story.

Suspense: Not gonna lie, parts of this book (and the whole series) legitimately scared me. I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror of any kind, so it’s not much of a surprise. However, the humor in this book balanced the suspense out beautifully. It succeeded in having me on the edge of my seat without giving me nightmares. 

Themes: The characters certainly grew over the course of the book, and much more so over the course of the series. Themes like learning to trust yourself and others, dealing with grief and fear, and many others were showcased. It added another layer of excellency to the books. Although they didn’t change my life or inspire me greatly, they contributed very well to the story.

What I didn’t love:

Ending: I didn’t have a problem with the ending, just the fact that it ended. 

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

5/5 stars. All the stars.

Blurb: April didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

Overall:

Ally Carter is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard she was writing a middle-grade book I was thrilled. I had high expectations for this book, and they were blown out of the water. It’s like everything Ally Carter had ever written was building up to this glorious novel. 

I smiled throughout this whole book. 

What I loved:

Characters: These characters stole my heart and didn’t give it back. They will have it for all eternity. April is the perfect main character for this story, and she was the perfect balance between clever and a kid. Violet is a shy girl who is amazing at art and really grows over the course of the book. And you can’t mention Violet without mentioning Tim, her “guard dog” during her time in the foster care system. Each little glimpse into is past casts him in a new light and I can’t wait to learn more about him as the story continues. Next is the adorable Sadie, inventor extraordinaire, even if her inventions often… malfunction. And finally, Colin. Up and coming con-man, British, and probably my favorite character in the book. They all have their pasts and quirks, but my favorite thing about these characters is that they’re kids.

Plot: This book had a mystery element to it that propelled the story along in a series of questions, answers, and more questions. The characters drove the plot, which made it much more engaging. Saying much more would give away some of the excellent plot twists, so I’ll leave it there. 

Themes: I’m a sucker for found-family stories, and this is the epitome of that trope. It leaves you with that warm and fuzzy feeling and is one of my favorite themes ever. Your family isn’t just who you’re related to. That’s just the best. 

Description: Although the descriptions aren’t as atmospheric as books like The Screaming Staircase or Caraval, Ally Carter used them as a way to expand on April as a character, and how she sees the world, which I just loved. 

What I didn’t love:

I have no complaints. Ally Carter is a genius.

In 27 Days (Blink) by Alison Gervais

4.5/5 stars

Blurb: Hadley Jamison is shocked when she hears that her classmate, Archer Morales, has committed suicide. She didn’t know the quiet, reserved guy very well, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling there was something she could have done to help him.

Hoping to find some sense of closure, Hadley attends Archer’s funeral. There, she is approached by a man who calls himself Death and offers her a deal. If Hadley accepts, she will be sent back twenty-seven days in time to prevent Archer from killing himself. But when Hadley agrees to Death’s terms and goes back to right the past, she quickly learns her mission is harder than she ever could have known.

Time ticks away as Hadley looks for ways to not only talk to Archer but to know him on a deeper level. But just as she and Archer connect, a series of dangerous accidents starts pushing them apart. Hadley must decide whether she is ready to risk everything—including her life—to keep Archer alive.

Overall:

Carlye and Mya recommended this one to me, so I grabbed the kindle copy from the library. It’s safe to say that those two know what they’re talking about. I read it all at once, almost walked into a few walls too, I couldn’t put it down.

What I loved:

Characters: I found the characters in this book interesting. Main character Hadley could have had some more internal conflict, in my opinion, since most of her conflict was linked with Archer. Archer was developed very well, and his huge Italian family was absolutely amazing.

Plot: I knew from the blurb that this book was going to be very unique and deal with some heavy topics, such as suicide. I thought it was done very well, and was presented in a very considerate and realistic way. It focused on the real effects and consequences of suicide and was very impactful.

Themes: The themes in this book were tied so closely with the plot, so I feel like I already touched on them, but again it was a very impactful read.

What I didn’t love:

Pacing: The pacing was a little off for me during certain parts of the book. The climax especially felt a bit rushed.

Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? By Ally Carter

5/5 stars

Blurb: Have you always wanted to write a book, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re really great at writing the first few chapters . . . but you never quite make it to the end? Or do you finally have a finished manuscript, but you’re not sure what to do next? Fear not — if you have writing-related questions, this book has answers!

Whether you’re writing for fun or to build a career, bestselling author Ally Carter is ready to help you make your work shine. With honesty, encouragement, and humor, Ally’s ready here to answer the questions that writers struggle with the most.

Filled with practical tips and helpful advice, Dear Ally is a treasure for aspiring writers at any stage of their careers. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at how books get made, from idea to publication, and gives you insight into the writing processes of some of the biggest and most talented YA authors writing today.

Overall:

This is the only non-fiction book I’m reviewing today, so I wont be going over characters and plot and stuff like that.

This book was super helpful, and I recommend it to writers everywhere. It had really great perspective on plotting vs panting, editing, outlining and a bunch of other stuff. It had solutions to so many writing problems that I was having. I also loved that it wasn’t just Ally’s answers, she got input from a ton of other authors to, which showed a lot of different methods. 10/10 recommend.


Woo, that was a long post, but I hope at least one of these books interested you. I can vouch for the fact that they’re wonderful time-passers during quarantine.

Until next time,

Interview with author P.D. Atkerson

Today I come to you with an exclusive interview with PD Atkerson, the author of the AKA Simon Lee series and the Of Aleanare series.

You check both of the series out on Goodreads here.

So without further ado, I present to you the interview that is long overdue.

1. Where did you get the inspiration for Simon Lee from?

If I had to pick, I’d probably say it’s a mix of the Alex Rider books and the White Collar TV show, though my books are a lot different from them as well.

2. Where do you write most often?

I probably do ninety percent of my writing in the main room in our house. The rest of the time I write either in bed or at my desk.

3. Which three fictional characters are you most like?

My mom and sister say Mozzie (from White Collar ironically), Rita Haywith (from Sign, Sealed, Delivered), and Frodo. Because I couldn’t pick them. 🙂

4. What is your favourite childhood book?

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

5. When did you write and complete your first novel?

I finished a couple three or four years ago, but I never published them and I’d burn them if my mom would let me. 🙂 The first book I finished and published was last January.

6. Do you have any hobbies outside of reading and writing?

Does learning French count? Other than that, I’d probably say Cardistry, though I’m not very good at it and most of the time I forget about it too. Maybe low carb baking too.

7. 5 songs that remind you of the latest book you’ve written

Oh, that’s a hard one! This might be more of songs I listened to while I was writing: Even Then, by Micah Tyler, Let You Down, by NF, Yes & No, by David Dunn, Human, by Rag’n’Bone Man and LOL maybe They Call Me Mando, by ChewieCatt, but that might have had something to do with watching the Mandalorian.

8. If you could go back and change something about one of your books, what would you change?

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have published my fantasy books. I don’t know if it was because I’m not good at writing fantasy, or something else, but they just weren’t as good as I’d hoped they’d be.

9. Who is your favourite character that you’ve written?

That would probably have to be Lee, without much of a hesitation. That might have something to do with the fact that he’s sarcastic, and I may or may not be. LOL 

10. The best or meaningful snippet that is included in one of your books

“When you were little, I always made sure you went to church, but it was never your choice,” his dad said. “I don’t even know if you ever believed what you were learning. But I know you’re smart enough to know that no one can make you believe any of it. You have to make the choice on your own.”

Lee sighed and just nodded, fighting the urge to run out of the room. This was something his brains couldn’t help him with.

His dad placed his hand on Lee’s shoulder and forced him to look at him. “Do you know what we celebrate this time of year, besides delicious food?” he asked. “We celebrate the birth of Jesus, of Hope. But even more than that, we celebrate the forgiveness God gave us when he sent his son.”


Once again, you must go and take a look at her books, they’re pretty awesome.

I hope everyone has a wonderful day!

Writing Endings and Saying Goodbye

Endings: one of the hardest parts of the writing process.

When you commit to writing a novel, you’re not just putting words on paper– you’re embarking on a journey. You’re diving into the hearts and minds of real human beings (even if they’re not biologically human– don’t give me that excuse) and seeing the world through their eyes, pushing them through the joys and hardships of life, watching them grow and bond and develop. Some live and some die. But even the best novel ever written has to end somewhere.

Of course, writing an ending doesn’t meant you’re saying goodbye for good– these are your characters, and this is your story, so they’ll be with you forever! But the same doesn’t exactly go for your readers; they’ll expect and want a good ending when it comes to that. So here are three tips to make your ending impact your reader as much as that long-ago first line.

#1: Coming Full-Circle

This is when the first line/beginning of your story ties in with the ending by including the same phrase or situation. I LOVE it when books come full-circle, especially with long series!

Here’s an example from Jill Williamson’s Mission League series (which I really recommend, by the way!):

Beginning: The first book opens with Spencer playing basketball with C-Rok and his “gang” in the park. This hook, while seemingly small in the long course of the four-book series, does serve to lead into the major events that bring Spencer into a new– and much more thrilling– chapter of his life.

End: The very last scene of book four at the end of the series brings Spencer back to the old park and once again playing a game with C-Rok and his boys. In this way, this series brought the story full-circle.

I had another example coming your way, but I conveniently forgot what it was while writing the above xD

#2: Waiting ’til the End

Here’s a don’t for endings… Please don’t wait until the last minute to tie up an alarming subplot or storyline or questions the reader might have. Please do that BEFORE the resolution of the story, or at least long enough before the very last scene that you don’t end up just telling the reader what really happened. Say you’re writing a romance story, and earlier on in the story someone disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

If the very last scene is a wedding or proposal scene (because let’s be honest here, most romance stories do end that way), it would be jarring for you to suddenly mention “and as it turned out, Bob had not died but in fact had just been taking a really long time at the grocery store” whether that be spoken directly or in the narrative. Readers become disgruntled when their questions aren’t answered in a timely fashion (or at least I do, especially when I don’t like super-sweet romantic ending scenes).

#3: Give room for further development

Remember, this may be the end of your story, but it’s far from the end of theirs.

Your characters will still keep living and growing even without their stories being committed to paper, or at least you can give the illusion of that by teasing into their future lives in your ending. I mean, you could just have a really big dramatic climax and then they calmly walk off the battlefield, but I’m sure we all prefer nice, solid, resolute endings where we can feel fully satisfied that the end is just the beginning.

It also gives the reader a nice, solid, resolute feeling of the story having actually ended– by not ending the characters’ lives (I mean that in the most figurative way possible). Every person continues growing and learning throughout every stage of their life– unless they don’t, but we’re using positive change arcs in this example– and single arcs are really just capturing one stage. That way, the readers can feel as if these characters are moving on to another.


And with that… the time has come for a rather bittersweet announcement.

This post is my last here on TotLS. I’ve had such a wonderful time among this community and the other three girls, and I’m so happy for this experience. But, yes, for multiple reasons, I’m officially leaving the TotLS team this week. I’ll still be posting on my personal blog, Imperial Scribis, and I’ll be putting up writing-related stuff from time to time, so come say hello!

But this is my goodbye on this amazing platform. So cheers, everyone, and don’t forget to always be a happy camper!

Until we meet again,

~ Merie Shen

How to write strong male characters & story contest winner

No, there is not a typo in the title. Today is not about strong female characters, but the wonderful male species.

A lot of Young Adult books nowadays are all about the strong female characters. The girl who has two boys pineing after her, a corrupt world to change, and the ability to die just after fulfilling her duty as the chose one.

So I thought I would shake things up a bit and present a different topic today. How to write strong male characters.


He has kindness

For this study I picked a book for each trait. Enter Adam Black from A List of Cages by Robin Roe.

Adam is a kind fellow with a big heart. He is a friend of everyone, cheering them up with a charming smile. And I think that’s one of the biggest things a strong man could have. The ability to be kind to everyone and to still find the magical scroll or something.

He is loyal

I can say his name without needing to offer out the title or author. Samwise Gamgee.

Not many people would stick by their friends’ side with an evil ring for a 1780 mile hike. Or help their friend after being betrayed and scorned.

Yet Sam offered many times to help his friend, sticking it out on the long trek, and even carrying the burden. Literally.

He isn’t Prince Charming

When I say, “not Prince Charming,” I don’t mean one scene where he admits he isn’t perfect or has a bad habit of being an overprotective boyfriend. I mean a literal flaw.

When I think flawed my mind jumps to Owen Edmonds from the Delusion series by Laura Gallier.

Owen is anything but perfect. He still has lust and selfishness and envy, even after being saved by Christ. Owen is stubborn and blinded by his disbelief. He admits to those flaws and tries to change, but it doesn’t take one dramatic death scene to change.

I could write another whole post about character flaws which fascinate me, but unfortunately I cannot at the moment.

What makes a flawed male character strong is when he finally overcomes those things, and still makes mistakes later down the road. Give your male character some anxiety, jealousy, some cowardliness for a change

He is determined

Charlie West anybody? Charlie West from The Homelanders series by Andrew Klavan is a personal favourite of mine.

He wakes up without memory of his past year, listening to his death sentence outside the locked room. What does he do? He fights back.

Charlie gets beaten down and can easily give up, he doesn’t! He recites Churchhill in his head, telling himself to never give in, in nothing, great or small, large or petty- never give in. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

And when it seems like the whole country is against him, Charlie keeps fighting for justice.

That is the kind of male character I want to read about. The boy who keeps doing what is right despite all the wrong around him. The boy who toils day and night to make a difference.

He is a defender and protecter

Another brilliant character from Andrew Klavan, this boy being a ‘preacher’s kid,’ Sam Hopkins.

Sam stands up to some bullies defending a crazy girl Jennifer. He is like, left on the side of road two steps away from death. But even when things get really weird and stuff, he is still around to protect and defend the innocent.


Now I know lots of you were more eager to find out if you won opposed to the writing of a male characters.

For this writing contest we teamed up with the lovely ladies Lila Kims, Oceane McAllister, Skye Hoffert, and Hannah Dragina who had won the last contest.

Our topic for the stories was fractured fairytales, in which we assigned a fairytale to each contestant.

So now without further ado, I present the winner:

Congratulations to Abigail McKenna! We all loved your story so much. The judges will contact you with the prize sometime soon.

And to all of the others that entered, your stories were also wonderful! Don’t forget to keep an ear out for the next season as it’s right around the corner.

Have a lovely day everyone!

First Chapter Formula

Hello dear readers! Today I am sharing the results of my research on the topic of writing the first chapter.

I recently tackled the first chapter of my book because what I had previous written as my first chapter was, in a word, boring.

To combat this I read the first chapter of several of my favorite books and took notes on what they included. Once I got about six books in I began to notice a pattern. Then I checked my notes against 9 more books. I read the first chapter of 15 total books and came up with the following “formula”. Formula is used loosely in this context, of course, because when it comes to art, rules are made to be broken. But this “formula” is tried and true and can be used as a great springboard for your story.

Most of the books had most of, if not all of, the following things:

Main Character’s Personality:

Arguably the most important thing to showcase in any first chapter is your main character’s personality. If you will be writing from several point of views, you may or may not want to introduce this in the first chapter, but make sure your reader starts to get an idea for who the main character is. One book that does this really well is 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons. (you can read my review here if you haven’t already). She makes sure to showcase Tessa’s fierce independence very quick;y so that the readers know who Tessa is and what her struggles are.

An Average Day:

Eleven of the fifteen book I studied began with the main character going about an average day. One example of this is Cinder by Marissa Meyer. When we first see Cinder she is living her normal life. Struggling with her cybernetic limbs, working her stall in the market, and generally having a rough time. Which brings me to the third part of the formula…

Main Character is Dissatisfied:

This is another common component of first chapters. The MC is living there normal life, but it they are often dissapointed in one way or another. Take The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. We see Percy Jackson on a school field trip, a relatively normal activity, but for Percy as a character, he hates it. He hates school in general, he’s getting picked on and he is not happy with that aspect of his life. This is often a bridge to…

Internal Conflict:

Something commonly introduced in first chapters is the internal conflict of the main character. Even if it’s only hinted at, this aspect of the first chapter, if included, is a great way to keep readers interested in your story. Internal conflict is what makes readers relate to and empathize with the main character, so its often used as a hook right at the beginning of a story. For example, in Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. We see Sophie, on a field trip and not exactly happy about it (I just now realized how its kinda like The Lightning Thief). We instantly see Sophie’s desire to belong, to be a part of something, to fit in. It acts as a very effective hook.

Tension:

Next up is introducing the main conflict. This is very common to introduce in the first chapter, since it sets the tone for the whole book. Maybe it’s a glimpse of a larger problem to come, maybe it goes as far as including the inciting incident.

Sometimes the conflict introduced doesn’t relate directly to the main conflict, but it causes suspense anyway, which can help convince a reader to keep reading.

One example of this is in Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. When Stargirl, a quirky new girl, shows up at Micah High School, there’s a noticeable buzz. Everyone is whispering about her in the halls, and the other students aren’t quite sure what to do with her. This sets up the events of the whole book, since the main conflict is the school’s reaction to Stargirl’s eccentricities.

Something Unique:

Every story brings something to the table that no other book has done before, or at least presents something in a different way. Advertising this in the first chapter is used as a hook in many stories.

As an example, these are the first few lines of I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter:

“I suppose a lot of teenage girls feel invisible sometimes, like they could just disappear. Well, that’s me – Cammie the Chameleon. But I’m luckier than most because, at my school, that’s considered cool.

I go to a school for spies.”

This is obviously an unusual thing. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to a school for spies (or do I?). It’s worth mentioning that these first few lines also serve the purpose of introducing the internal conflict, how Cammie feels invisible. Which makes them ingenious in my opinion, but I digress.

This “unique aspect” can be a situation the character is in, like in the quote above. It can be a part of the world, like in The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. It can be a writing style like in Heist Society by Ally Carter. You know what makes your story unique, embrace it!

And Everything Else…

The rest of these things showed up less often in my research, but might also be fun to include:

  • Introduction of the main love interest
  • Introduction of other major characters (family, best friends, mentor, etc.)
  • Backstory
  • A prolouge
  • Main character’s hobby
  • Allusion to future events
  • Allusion to past events
  • Big, mysterious questions

Here’s the thing about this “formula”: ignore it if you want to. Or ignore parts of it. Don’t start your book one way or another because other people do it that way. As Merie said last week, You Do You. If you want to start your book out by blowing up the Earth, do it. Including the things I mentioned above can be helpful, and there is nothing wrong with using any or all of them, but in the end, your story is your story. And no one knows how to tell it but you.

Until next time,

Publishing young | What I learned

Publishing young is an ideal for many young writers. There is a pressure to not only finish writing a book, but to release it to the world by a self-set deadline. And some young writers, like myself, do just that. But at what cost?

Why do we feel the need to rush to publication? Because the dream of having beautifully bound pages filled with your story is an exciting one. I for one couldn’t wait to have readers to call my own. I daydreamed of fanart, book signings, and sequels. I wanted to be a published author, and I wanted to make that come true as fast as possible.

Unfortunately for my smol infp-t self, my aspirations were a bit unrealistic–especially for a fourteen year old publishing her first novel. I made a lot of mistakes and later on have realized what I should’ve done, so these are the experiences and takeaways I will bestow upon you today.

Publishing the first novel you have ever written isn’t the brightest idea.

The exception is if you wrote your first novel, wrote a few more, then came back to your first idea and majorly revised it with more experience. Even this doesn’t always work, but it can.

This can be really hard to accept, especially if you’re absolutely in love with your book and can’t understand why it should be kept to yourself. And you don’t have to keep it to yourself… let family and friends read it if you want. Recruit a team of beta readers or find critique partners to give you feedback. There is nothing wrong with sharing your story and learning and growing.

But publishing is about putting your best work out for readers to be impacted by and enjoy. Readers pay money and commit time to reading a book. If you plan to have a career as an author, you want to make a good first impression. So selling your first attempt at something likely won’t live up to their expectations for what a good novel is, and you’ll likely feel disappointed later on.

And there’s no need to. You don’t need to be young to succeed in the publishing world. You need to start writing and stay committed, but you should be focusing on learning how to write well instead of expecting to master it on the first try. Of course, you’ll never write a perfect book, but you’re fifth novel will be a whole lot better than your first. So keep on writing new books, experiment with different techniques, and find your writing voice. Learn something new in every scene you write.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Don’t think that your novel only needs a couple rounds of edits and it’ll be good to go.

Because editing isn’t just about grammar and typos! (shocker) It takes hard work and lots of time to sort through all the plot holes, character development issues, and world building deficiencies. It would be impossible to go through your novel two or three times and catch all the errors. Shannon Messenger drafted Keeper of the Lost Cities twenty times before it was published. Her efforts and persistence definitely show.

There isn’t a need to rush through edits. Take a break between drafts and editing rounds. Give yourself time to step back and evaluate your work from a different perspective. If you scrunch all your later drafts, revisions, and edits into a two month period, chances are they won’t be very thorough.

Though you can do your best, you can’t rely on yourself for all your edits. Find beta-readers! Ask a writer friend if they want to swap manuscripts for critique. Don’t be afraid to ask for help–the writing community has got your back. Whether or not you’re publishing your book, getting advice from other writers and readers can definitely help you improve in the craft.

Recruit Professionals

At the time Hide and Seek was first released, I had done almost everything myself–the editing, formatting, cover design, and launch tour. Bad, bad choice.

I thought that I had the editing skills to make my book nearly perfect and an editor would be of no use to me. No, frens, no. I haven’t hired any editors yet, but I know now that every self-published author should get one. Your own editing, and your friends’, can only go so far. An editor is experienced and unbiased, and they are wonderful beings who make messy manuscripts shine. It is a worthy investment that I plan to make when I next publish a book.

Cover design is key. I later on realized that the cover I made on Canva sucked, so I hired a cover designer to make a new one. She made a great cover for a good price, and I totally should’ve done that from the start. People do judge a book by its cover, so don’t expect to sell a book with your amateur design skills slapped on the front. Find something that’ll appeal to your target audience.


If you’re feeling discouraged, don’t be! This seems like a lot, but it’ll be worth it. Keep on pushing through that outline or draft or editing round. Lose and find yourself in the stories that call you to put them to paper. There is no shame in being a learner or a beginner. Enjoy and savor this season in your writing life.

Stay safe, and find loveliness in the everyday things. 🙂