It’s a Dark and Stormy Night…

     Writing the perfect opening is hard work. I’m reading a spy novel at moment because that’s the only way to learn a genre. I’m not a big fan of the author’s style of writing, but this is not the first book I’ve read that uses this format.

     The book is Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich (2009, Doubleday/Random House, ISBN 978-0-385-52407-0) and is the second in a series about a doctor named Jonathon Ransom, who actually isn’t spy, but his wife is.     

     Anyway, the opening scene is a news announcement on Reuters news service of a car bomb explosion, then the action centers on Jonathon Ransom for a couple of pages.

     And then the reader goes to Chapter 1, which describes in great detail an exclusive apartment building in a ritzy part of London, where the reader follows the intrigue of an intruder into one of the apartments. The owner of the apartment is murdered by intruder and then the detective who investigates what is considered a routine suicide determines is actually a murder.

     Then we jump back to Jonathon and along the way get a detailed description of the workings of a ultra-secret spy organization in the U.S. In my view, there are a great many details that could have been left out, making this a much tighter and compelling read.

    But I’ll continue to read so that I can understand what sells in this genre and how not to fall victim to this style of writing.

    In the meantime, I have to figure out what’s going to work for my young adult spy/murder/romance historical fiction book set in 1942. At the moment, the title is EARTHQUAKES because it’s set in Los Angeles and my Jonathon has nightmares about the devastation an earthquake can cause. But also because of the metaphorical earthquakes Jonathon is experiencing in his young life.

     The family has just learned their maternal grandfather died on Corregidor, Philippines and their father is now missing. Both men are Marine Corps officers and Naval Academy graduates. There’s one earthquake.

    Earthquake number 2 is finding their next-door neighbor stabbed to death in his house. Plus, people keep breaking into Jonathon’s house to find some secret message.

    I’ve tried several openings, such as having Jonathon wake up one morning from yet another earthquake nightmare and have to rush to get ready for school. First, though, he’s feel pressure to calm down the daily fight between his older brother and their mother about why he should or should not quit college to enlist in the military to save America from the invaders.   

    My editor says that publishers reject stories that start with dreams or with the protagonist waking up.

    Also, I shouldn’t start with the first word being a sound. In this case “whump,” because his brother is pounding on the kitchen table below Jonathon’s bedroom.

     One of my critique group women wants me to have a real earthquake described in the first page or two, but that’s not what I want. I want to focus on the metaphorical aspect.

     At the moment I’m stuck, but I’ll keep mulling it over in my head and it will come to me. In the meantime, I’ll working on making the rest of the novel perfect. Or as close as possible.

     I think the first paragraphs in my other two novels are good and compelling set ups. Terror’s Identity starts out with:

                        At sixteen, guys are supposed to tough, right? But when Mom

pounds of the stairs to our bedrooms shouting, “Aidan! Maya! This is it! We’re leaving…now,” tough is not what I feel.

     My second novel, a middle-grade horse book, Emily’s Ride to Courage, starts out with:

                        Usually, the sweet scent of just-mowed grass and the

                        growl of a tractor cutting a hay field perks me right

                        up. Not this time. This time I only feel dread.

I hope those make you want to read further. Thanks for reading. And, as usual, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah

How to Make an old Lady Cringe!

I’m reading a young adult to review. The story line is decent, but the grammar is atrocious. The usual modern day practice of using a singular subject and plural object. “She put her books on their desk” kind of wording. Makes me cringe. But now, we’ve got the ambiguous gender language thrown into the mix. People who really aren’t sure what they are: male? female? a little bit of both?

So we end up with saying things like “She looked at Gingerpuss and kissed them on their lips.” Huh? Makes me visualize a three-headed person.

Couldn’t we come up with something that explains the concept without butchering our language too much?

Am I the only person who finds this annoying and confusing? Let’s all try to come up with a more compelling term that is at least marginally within the rules of correct grammar?

I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our already confusing language without adding this kind of fallderol.

That’s my rant for the day. Aren’t you glad it is a short rant?

Happy 2019!

 

          For some of us 2018 was not a wonderful ride, what with bad health and bad weather. But we survived and even had moments of great happiness. I hope for you it was a fulfilling year.

But now we have the bright shining adventure called 2019 before us, where the plans we’ve made and the plans we will make still have the potential to be fulfilled.

For me, it’s the joyful grind of revising and polishing the rough draft of a novel that I wrote during the month of November. All 50,829 words of it. Revising is hard work, but so fulfilling because what I end up with is much better, shiny with promise. I can improve the flow. I can check to make sure I got the facts correct. Yes, even in a novel, the facts have to be right.

For instance, one of my critique partners pointed out to me that bananas would not be readily available for a teen-aged boy to eat in 1942 Los Angeles. So, I had to see what would be available. I “googled” availability of bananas in L.A. and found a photo of a big white blob in a night sky with thick streaks of light appearing to emanate from it.   Well, if you use your imagination, you might think this looks like a bunch of bananas. But if you’re imagination is this good, why aren’t you writing stories? Turns out it’s not bananas, nor is it a UFO. But the big white blob in the middle is a weather balloon being spotlighted because somebody thought it was a Japanese war plane come to bomb the city in February 1942.

Careful, Sarah. Finish this novel before you start another.

Anyway, now Johnathon eats a handful of strawberries grown in his own yard.

I also have to make sure the experiment he does in chemistry class is actually a believable experiment. The one I put down at first was having him slowly heat up powdered potassium until it melts and then add vinegar to see what happens. Well, I can’t find that such an experiment is possible. From what I can find out, potassium would just burn, rather than melt. So now I have to find an experiment that will work.

Isn’t that fun? Already, I’ve learned two new things.

I’m pleased to say my “beta” readers are enjoying reading my story, which is tentatively named “Earthquakes.”

What are you reading while you await my latest book?

 

By Sarah Maury Swan

 

 

 

Are You Looking for Books to Buy?

Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.

These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.

 

Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe

Rachel Rene Russell

Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.

BIBLIO: 2017, ALADDIN/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0560-8

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0561-5

 

Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?

 

My New Crush Gave to Me

Shani Petroff

Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-13032-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-13051-8

 

 

I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.

 

Spy Toys

Mark Powers

Illustrated by Tim Wesson

At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys.  They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.

BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-68119-665-7

 

Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.

 

 

 

 

Eek, the Gift-Giving Holidays Are Here!

Much as I hate to admit it, this year’s almost done. It’s almost time for the gift-giving holidays. So, I thought picture and chapter books would fit the bill. I’ll mention older kids books next week.

 

BUT, I also have to mention that my 2nd novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage is, as of today, live on Kindle! “Over the Moon, Alice,” as Ralph used to say in the Honeymooners TV show. I know, I know, he was threatening her bodily harm, but I’m just going to jump that high. It will be out in paper back next Friday through Amazon.

 

It’s always a pleasure to read one of Mr. Smith’s books. His illustrations are quite charming and intriguing.

 

A Perfect Day

Lane Smith

Illustrated by Lane Smith

Mr. Smith’s beautifully carries along this story about a perfect day. But is the day the same for all the creatures enjoying it? Cat thinks it’s pretty because the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming. Dog likes the day because it’s warm and he cools off the wading pool that’s been filled for him by Bert. Chickadee is happy because the bird feeder is full, thanks to Bert. Squirrel, on the other hand, is not as happy because his way to the seed is blocked. Never mind, he finds the corn on the cob that’s been dropped for him by Bert. Uh oh! Here comes the bear, who turns everybody’s perfect day into a not so perfect day. He eats the corn left for squirrel, and bends the birdfeeder pole to get to Chickadee’s seed, and dumps Dog’s wading pool water all over his big brown body. Then he rolls through the flower bed and squishes Cat’s daffodils. Which makes it a perfect day for Bear. Inspired by the loss of a friend, and a bear that visits Lane’s back yard, the book is bound to get lots of readings by children and their readers.

BIBLIO: 2017 (orig.,) Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, Ages 3 to 6, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978162625362

 

 

I found the information about Ragdoll cats interesting. An ex-sister-in-law has two of them and she had tried to explain them to me, but this is a much better description.

 

Adventures at Tabby Towers: Disappearing Darcy

Shelley Swanson Sateren

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

Part of series about a cat hotel, for cats whose families are going on a trip without them, this story features a Ragdoll cat named Darcy. Ragdolls are large, passive cats that will flop like a ragdoll when held. They are very affectionate and loyal to their humans. Darcy is very unhappy staying at Tabby Towers, because his special friend, Joy, is in the hospital for heart surgery and he’s not allowed to be with her. Joy is unhappy because she’s frightened and doesn’t have Darcy to comfort her. Tabitha Catarina Felinus a.k.a. Tabby Cat is granddaughter to the Tabby Towers owners and loves staying there when she can. She’s worried about Darcy because he won’t stop crying, even though she’s giving him extra attention. Darcy escapes and runs back to his owners’ house in the rain, where Tabby Cat and her grandmother find him. They sneak him in to see Joy and of course the nurses find that Joy’s much calmer holding her beloved Darcy, so they let him stay for a while. There are several lessons about cats and their behaviors gently taught in this book and human behaviors are also hinted at. Nice, sweet read beginning readers will enjoy.

BIBLIO: 2018, Picture Window Books/A Capstone Imprint, Ages 6 to 8, $25.32.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1546-4

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1550-1

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1554-9

 

This a part of series that always starts with “Come Home Already.” The characters are well depicted.

 

Come Home Already!

Jory John

Illustrated by Benji Davies

Duck wakes up to another glorious morning which he plans to enjoy with his friend Bear. But Bear has gone fishing and he didn’t invite Duck! Can’t be! Bear, however, is quite happy to be off by himself for a change. Duck, on the other hand, is not thrilled with the idea. What’s he to do by himself? He doesn’t want read or paint or cook or play his drums or watch a movie. He misses his friend. Bear, on the other hand, is not doing as well as he planned. He can’t set his tent up, and it starts to rain, and he doesn’t catch any fish. In the meantime, Duck decides to look for bear. Bear is now scared how that it’s dark and he hears noises. The noise is, of course, Duck who helps set up his tent and set things right in his camp. Bear is glad to see him and admits he missed him. After a restful night, the two friends head home. But Bear sighs when Duck says he’ll always be by his friend’s side. Sweet story about friends and when to be quiet.

BIBLIO: 2017, Harper Collins Children’s Books/Harper Collins Publishers, Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-06-237097-6