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Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy4 Stars

A complete guide to writing and selling your novel. 

So you want to write a novel? Great! That’s a worthy goal, no matter what your reason. But don’t settle for just writing a novel. Aim high. Write a novel that you intend to sell to a publisher. 

“Writing Fiction for Dummies” is a complete guide designed to coach you every step along the path from beginning writer to royalty-earning author. Here are some things you’ll learn in “Writing Fiction for Dummies” 

* Strategic Planning: Pinpoint where you are on the roadmap to publication; discover what every reader desperately wants from a story; home in on a marketable category; choose from among the four most common creative styles; and learn the self-management methods of professional writers.

* Writing Powerful Fiction: Construct a story world that rings true; create believable, unpredictable characters; build a strong plot with all six layers of complexity of a modern novel; and infuse it all with a strong theme.

* Self-Editing Your Novel: Psychoanalyze your characters to bring them fully to life; edit your story structure from the top down; fix broken scenes; and polish your action and dialogue.

* Finding An Agent and Getting Published: Write a query letter, a synopsis, and a proposal; pitch your work to agents and editors without fear.

“Writing Fiction For Dummies” takes you from being a “writer” to being an “author.” It can happen–if you have the talent and persistence to do what you need to do.

My Review
This is a good entry level book for wannabe writers. It’s certainly not the ultimate guide or the only source you’ll ever reference, but if you don’t know anything about writing fiction, it’s a really good book to start with. Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy break writing fiction down into its fundamental components so that it’s easy to understand. They then build up from there to show how all of those components work together to help you write fiction in a way that works. There are sections on structuring your story, building strong character bios, creating scenes step-by-step, and how to get one scene to flow seamlessly into the next until you have a story.

As a pantser, one who writes by the seat of their pants, I found the idea of structuring my novel up front to be interesting and I tried it for the second novel I wrote. I was concerned that having an outline wouldn’t stifle my creativity, but instead it gave me a trail to follow. I now write everything with a very loose outline and that often changes as I go, but it helps to know where I’m going before I write my first word.

Like all Dummies books, Writing Fiction for Dummies contains checklists at the end of each chapter to help you review and retain the information you just read. Probably the sections I found most useful were those on editing. For me, first drafts come easy, but editing is the bane of my existence. Dummies helped me structure and execute drafts in the same way that I structured and outlined my first draft.

Additionally, the book contains useful information on writing a pitch, synopsis, query letter, and how to go about searching for and identifying appropriate agents in order to get published.

Bottom Line
How to Write Fiction for Dummies is a solid entry-level reference and if you’ve never written any fiction and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend it. Randy Ingermanson is also known as The Snowflake Guy and takes a scientific approach to writing. He developed a software application for structuring and writing fiction, called Snowflake Pro. If you buy Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randy offers a 50% discount off of Snowflake Pro. Not a bad deal.

Title: Writing Fiction for Dummies
Author: Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Pages: 385
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon, Barnes & Noble


Cover Reveal – Ready for You by J.L. Berg

Ready for You by J.L. BergAbout the Book
Title: Ready for You
Series: Ready #3
Author: J.L. Berg
Release Date: May 26th, 2014
Genre: Romance
Goodreads: Link

Eight years ago, Garrett Finnegan’s world shattered the day Mia vanished from his life. He’s been struggling to pick up the pieces ever since. Haunted by memories and ghosts of the past, he chooses a solitary existence rather than risk his heart again.

Mia Emerson has made one wrong decision after another but none worse than walking away from the boy who stole her heart so long ago. When her new life is turned upside down, she finds herself returning to her roots and the hometown she left behind. Maybe now she can find a way to heal from the devastating mistakes of her past.

When a chance encounter brings these former lovers together, passion reignites in a way neither is prepared for. Can Garrett move beyond his anger and find a way to forgive? Will Mia’s insecurities and fears cause her to once again flee the life she’s destined to live?

Garrett and Mia will soon discover that they must journey into the past to find their way home.

About the Author
J.L. Berg is a California native living in the South. She’s married to her high school sweetheart and they have two beautiful girls that drive them batty on a daily basis. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her nose stuck in a romance book, in a yoga studio or devouring anything chocolate. J.L. Berg is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.




Book Review – Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter4 Stars

A small Georgia town erupts in panic when a young college professor is found brutally mutilated in the local diner. But it’s only when town pediatrician and coroner Sara Linton does the autopsy that the full extent of the killer’s twisted work becomes clear.

Sara’s ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, leads the investigation — a trail of terror that grows increasingly macabre when another local woman is found crucified a few days later. But he’s got more than a sadistic serial killer on his hands, for the county’s sole female detective, Lena Adams — the first victim’s sister — want to serve her own justice.

But it is Sara who holds the key to finding the killer. A secret from her past could unmask the brilliantly malevolent psychopath .. or mean her death.

My Review
This is my first Karin Slaughter novel. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of her until a friend of mine invited me to see her speak at the La Jolla library last year. To say she was a compelling speaker would be an understatement. She did not read from her book, she did not really talk all that much about her books. She spent the vast majority of the time talking about her childhood and how she came to write such dark and twisted fiction. And it was funny! I loved her on the spot!

After picking up her latest book, Unseen, and getting it signed of course, I rushed home and downloaded Blindsighted. As with most thrillers, the book kicked off on the first page with a gruesome murder that only became more disturbing the more we learned about it. The story is riveting, a definite page-turner.

The plot is relatively formulaic. A horrific murder is committed and the race is on to find the killer before he strikes again. The subplot about the town’s coroner, Sara Linton, who also happens to be the town pediatrician and hot police chief, Jeffrey Tolliver who also happens to be her ex-husband is well done and smoothly incorporated. Lena Adams, the twin sister of the victim and also one of Jeffrey’s detectives, has a more complex subplot as she copes with the death of her sister.

My only complaint is that I figured out whodunit before the big reveal. And that was where the plot became a little too formulaic for me. I just assumed it was the character you were least likely to suspect and I was right. However, I didn’t figure it out until late in the story, only a couple of chapters ahead, so it didn’t significantly impact my ability to enjoy the book overall.

For a plot-driven story, the characters were well-developed. Far more so than many in this genre. In fact, Karin Slaughter excels at character development, which makes you want to read the next book because you feel like the characters are real people and you want to know what happens to them next.

Bottom Line
I thoroughly enjoyed Blindsighted. It was gripping, intense, and scared the crap out of me. Pretty much what you want from a good thriller.

Title: Blindsighted
Author: Karin Slaughter
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 400
Category: Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble


the hunters and the queen bannerSynopsis
How do families become members of the aristocracy? Does the universe choose them? Have you ever wondered what happened to The Hunters and the QueenConstantinople? The Hunters and the Queen is a work of fiction in the young adult, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance genres. The story blends elements of romance, darkness, history, fantasy, aristocracy, and reincarnation.

Title: The Hunter and the Queen
Author: Virginia Vayna
Published: March 20, 2013
Pages: 290
Category: Paranormal/Fantasy Romance; Urban Fantasy
Link to PurchaseAmazon

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About the Author
Virginia Vayna was born in Dayton, Ohio. During 1999, she moved to Long Beach, California, where she lived on a sailboat for three-years. She currently holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and she is completing a Master of Social Science. She has worked as a policy researcher, a legal writer, and she currently works as a freelance copywriter. Virginia enjoys writing historical fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, and YA. The Hunters and the Queen is the first book in her Element series.



Book Excerpt

The Dream

A deep sleep washed over Jolán. She was in such a slumber that she didn’t hear Crispus return home. Jolán didn’t hear the conversations held by her brother, mother, and father; and she didn’t hear them turn in for the night. The dream world had a hold of Jolán, and it wouldn’t let her go.

As she dreamed, Jolán saw images of extreme beauty; then, she witnessed pictures of extreme darkness. The darkness was so strong that Jolán began to sweat and turn while she slept in her bed. Her sweat drenched the back of her neck and dampened her hair. Jolán dreamed of beautiful winged men dancing around water fountains while doing arabesques and throwing red, pink, white, and deep blue rose petals into the fountains of rushing clear water. In her dream, Jolán walked over to the fountain, and she picked up a dark blue rose petal and held it in her hand. She watched the winged performers dance around the fountains splashing petals wherever they danced. The sun cast a sunbeam on to her cheeks. She felt a warm breeze blow all around her, and she enjoyed the warmth of the sun on her face. While Jolán held the rose petal in her hand, she smelled the petal and she loved the clean and lightly perfumed aroma it held. As she closed her eyes and enjoyed the moment, a rather short and round-figured man approached her by the fountain. The man had a pleasant face with a short and neatly trimmed moustache. He scooped up water in his palm, and the water turned a brilliant shade of purple. As Jolán stared at the water in his hand, she watched as the water turned black, and then turned to red, and then to yellow, and then finally the water turned back to a beautiful shade of purple. As the man had his eyes locked on Jolán, he studied her beauty, and he examined her curiosity.

When Jolán looked up and met the man’s eyes she asked, “How did you do that?”

The man didn’t say anything, but instead he reached behind Jolán’s left ear, and he pulled out a long willow branch with a beautiful white dove perched on its limb.

Jolán let out a vibrant laugh and said, “Oh, My! You’re a magician!”

The man slightly shook his head, indicating that he was not a magician. Jolán looked at the white dove, and she reached out to pet the bird’s head. The bird allowed Jolán to pet its head, and then the bird started to coo in a subtle manner. Jolán thought she had never pet a bird on its head before.

As the man allowed Jolán to continue petting the bird, he looked at her and said, “I am Voipele. I am the spirit of the forest. The Sky World created me to watch over all of the living creatures that dwell within the boundaries of the woods, but I am having a hard time protecting them right now.

Jolán thought to herself “Wow, this is an awesome dream,” but she didn’t say anything to Voipele. Instead, Jolán continued to pet the dove.

Voipele continued to say, “The sky world created you too, Jolán. We have the responsibility of protecting the elements and the good spirits on Earth.”

Jolán nonchalantly replied, “I have a hard enough time with my own responsibilities, Voipele. I don’t think a sky world would have much use for me.”

Jolán turned inward towards Voipele, and she thanked him for allowing her to pet his bird. She then walked away.

As Jolán walked by the water fountains, she started to see the fountain water turn brown, and then she watched the water turn to black. The dancing winged performers began to slow down, and then freeze in motion. Once the performers were completely frozen, they solidified into a concrete like substance. The once colorful rose petals were now all gray and dry, and they lacked color and vibrancy.

Jolán heard her brother’s voice in the distance, so she immediately began running towards his sound. As she ran, she felt her heart beat; and she heard screams and voices calling her name. Jolán ran faster to get to her brother, but she couldn’t see him, and she couldn’t hear him anymore. All Jolán could hear were the sounds of pain, and the sounds of awful screams.



running on empty banner

About the Book

Title: Collette Ballard
Author: Collette Ballard
Release Date: May 6th, 2014
Publisher: Tulip Teen/Spencer Hill Press
Genre: YA Contemporary/Thriller
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N

Running on EmptySynopsis
What does it feel like when you die—in those final moments? Do you feel the physical pain, or just the pain of your regrets? What does it feel like when you realize you can’t answer these questions because you’re not the victim?

You’re the killer.

River Daniels lives an ordinary life as a high school junior growing up in the confines of rural Texas until her boyfriend’s brutal attack leaves her both a murderer and a fugitive. When River’s closest girlfriends come to her aid, they make a hasty decision to not only help her, but leave their own troubled lives behind and join in her escape.

The girls manage to elude police for months, but with every near-miss, River’s life spirals further out of control, until she finally hits rock bottom. Realizing she must stop endangering her friends and find evidence proving she acted in self-defense, the girls decide to make a risky move. River must face her ugly past and the one person she was protecting the night her world caved in, the guy she has loved for as long as she can remember.


About the Author
Colette Ballard
Colette grew up on a dairy farm in rural Kentucky. She survived the high school experience back in the day when Aqua Net was bought in bulk and mullets were cool. That’s also when she realized that her constant daydreaming wasn’t a curse, but a useful skill—one she used like a lethal weapon to combat her frustration over the haunting question: What does the alphabet have to do with math anyway? Unfortunately, her ninja daydreaming skills only increased her desire to write—not her algebra grade. After surviving the hairstyles and torturous math classes of her high school years, she wandered a bit—even moving to the farthest northwestern corner of the United States, then to the farthest southeastern corner. She finally settled in the one red-light town she started in, where she continues to live today with her husband and three children.

Tulip Romance
YA Fusion


The Hurricane by Jennifer DiGiovanni5 Stars

Travis and Becca grew up within shouting distance of each other, but led very different lives. When quiet Travis leaves for college, Becca senses that part of her life has chipped away, one she never expected to miss.

In the midst of a major hurricane, Travis returns to his shuttered hometown to check on his father. After months apart, Becca sees Travis again and realizes that something has shifted between them. Will it take the combined forces of nature to finally bring them together?

The Hurricane is a modern tale of unrequited love filled with complex characters, difficult family relationships, and a secret from the past that becomes the key to a young couple’s future.

My Review
I love The Hurricane. It’s a sweet romance with enough teen angst thrown in to keep me turning the pages. Becca discovers that the boy next door is more than just the caretaker’s son when he rescues her in the middle of a devastating hurricane. Like many girls in this situation, she wonders how she overlooked him for so long.

Becca Thompson comes from a different world than Travis Brennan, even though they live next door to one another. Becca’s family has money and Travis’s family works for the Thompsons. Travis has to work to put himself through college while Becca attends an exclusive prep school. Yet, they’ve known each other their whole lives.

As Becca begins to see Travis in a new light, she realizes he’s always known everything about her and she knows nothing about him. Over the holidays, they build on a lifelong friendship and it grows into something more. But the two different worlds they come from becomes a bigger issue when Becca’s parents, wayward documentary filmmakers, suddenly decide to exert parental control.

For a teen romance, the plot is more multi-faceted than many in the genre. There is a lot standing in the way of Becca and Travis’s happiness, not least of which are the class differences. But there are also ex-girlfriends, Travis’s reputation as a heartbreaker, Becca’s parents, and as is typical with teens, rampant misunderstandings.

No one does characters quite like Jennifer DiGiovanni. Becca is loveable and sweet, Travis is as patient as he is hot, and might just be the perfect boyfriend. But by far, my favorite character is Becca’s younger sister, Avery, who is hilariously spunky. As Travis says to Becca about Avery, “I like your sister. She’s a shorter, louder version of you.” I love the fun, funky, and quirky supporting cast. Best friends, snobby neighbors, and even controlling, yet mostly absent, parents are more than just stereotypes.

Bottom Line
I loved The Hurricane so much the first time I read it, that I read it again after the author revised it. I smiled, laughed, and cried. Both times I read it. It’s a quick read, full of light moments as well as some pretty emotional ones. And it’s damn hard to put down.

Title: The Hurricane
Author: Jennifer DiGiovanni
Publisher: N/A
Pages: 229
Category: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to Purchase: For a limited time, read it for free at SwoonReads


YA Book Review – I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore5 Stars

In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now. The Nine had to separate and go into hiding.

The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is the thrilling launch of a series about an exceptional group of teens as they struggle to outrun their past, discover their future—and live a normal life on Earth.

My Review
That might be the single best hook for any book I’ve ever seen. It certainly hooked me and I bought it based on that alone. The story started off strong and only got stronger. It’s one of the few books that has given me chills that wasn’t written by Stephen King. But it’s not gorey suspense in the tradition of King, it’s just good, screaming alien fun. Well, maybe not fun so much as thrilling, like a rollercoaster ride that is more turns and twists than the slogging uphill climb.

Number Four, also known as John Smith, is on the run from the Mogadorians, or Mogs, and moves to Paradise, Ohio to hide out. It’s hard enough being the new kid at school and even harder when you’re just a little bit strange. John’s legacies, his alien abilities, begin to manifest as he hides out in small town America.

Add to that the fact that the school’s penultimate “it” girl likes him, much to the anger of her football star ex-boyfriend, and the Mogs aren’t the only thing John needs to watch over his shoulder for.

The plot moves along at a clipped pace as John and Henri, his guardian, keep a watchful eye out for aliens, John’s abilities begin to develop, and oh yeah, the school bully wants a piece of him. John befriends nerdy Sam, whose father disappeared and Sam is sure aliens are involved. Even John thinks he’s a bit out there, but it doesn’t stop the two from becoming best friends.

The plot continues to build until the Hollywood blockbuster climax that never lets up. The romantic subplot is sweet and angsty as only a teen boy’s perspective can bring.

The characters aren’t particularly deep, but it’s not a character-driven story. This is about the plot and the plot brings it, so it’s okay that we don’t have solidly developed characters. There is enough to them that they feel real and their motives are clear, never acting against character.

Bottom Line
I Am Number Four is a fun thrill-ride and is difficult to put down.

Title: I Am Number Four
Author: Pitticus Lore
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 452
Category: Young Adult SciFi
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble


YA Book Review – The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey4.5 Stars

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Review
The 5th Wave is unlike almost any book I’ve read. It’s dark on a whole new level and almost completely devoid of any hope, and yet it’s riveting. The story starts off after the 4th wave, when Cassie doesn’t know who she can trust. Through flashbacks, we get to see how she got to this awful point and it’s terrifying. Now she’s on a mission to get to her younger brother, Sammy, the only family she has left and therefore the only person on earth she cares about.

The tale unfolds through 91 chapters broken up into 13 “books.” Most of the story is narrated in first person from Cassie’s point of view, but about a third of it is told from another survivor, nicknamed Zombie, and a small piece through the eyes of a mysterious “silencer.”

As Cassie tries to survive and get to her brother, she runs into the sexy and mysterious Evan Walker. Against all instinct, she decides to trust him because she doesn’t feel she has any other choice. Meanwhile Zombie and a crew of other kids, train to take down the aliens. It becomes clear that Cassie and Evan are on a collision course with the Zombie and his friends and that keeps the pages turning.

The plot is complex and well structured, but it is long and plods along in some spots. I found it difficult in the middle to keep going, even though I really wanted to know what happened to Cassie, Evan, Zombie, and Sammy. But the story picks up during the second half and takes off, making it very difficult to put down.

Cassie is an interesting character and reminds me much of Ellie Linton from the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden. And maybe what both kick-ass characters have in common is that they’re both conceived and written by male authors, giving them a harder edge than many female protagonists. But Cassie’s roughness is part of what I love about her.

Zombie and Sammy are also likeable and I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I actually really like Evan. I know a lot of readers found him creepy, but I love that he’s willing to risk everything for Cassie. When he says, “Before I found you, I thought the only way to hold on was to find something to live for. It isn’t. To hold on, you have to find something you’re willing to die for.” I knew my feelings about him were forever changed.

Bottom Line
The 5th Wave is scary, intense, and at times, hard to put down. At 497 pages, it’s long for a debut author and my only real complaint is that the middle sags quite a bit. But it’s worth slogging through to get to the other side which is an E-ticket ride all the way to the finish.

Title: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 497
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble


Bird After Bird by Leslea TashSynopsis
Dear Birdy, Princess Birdzilla von MuffinStuff, Keeper of Dreams, Lover of our Fine Feathered Friends, queen of my life and light of my world, I hope this letter finds you well. If you are reading this then I am gone, and sweetheart, I am so sorry.

Chi-town professional Wren Riley is 25 and a rising star in the business world. She can eat a man alive and laugh about it to her girlfriends in seconds flat–and she does, on the regular. Behind the power suits and the flashing, flirty eyes, however, Wren has a secret, vulnerable side. Following a devastating loss and the discovery of a bird journal she and her father made together years before, Wren sets out to seek peace, closure, and something she just can’t name. Is that something tied to the little paper cranes she keeps finding along the way?

Laurence Byrd grew up a lanky Hoosier kid with the good/bad fortune of having the same name as the state’s perennial basketball legend. With a better affinity for dogs than sports or school, he ends up in the Army instead of the Chicago art school of his dreams. Still, his service to our country is something he can be proud of–until an argument with the girl who means the world to him results in a series of events that blows his life apart. With no one left to understand him, black sheep Laurie pours out his heart into letters and drawings he never intends to send–then he folds them into paper cranes that he leaves behind like messages in little winged bottles. He never dreams someone might be finding them.

God damn it, Sylvia, for a few moments I tricked myself into feeling really alive. I cut it off before anyone got hurt, but just for a moment or two, I really thought I might feel something again–something like trust. Something like love. Not the kind of love we had, but something new. Something like hope.

Spoiler alert: Wren and Laurie are going to meet. And when they do, their lives are never going to be the same.

Check out Some of These Amazon Reviews
“There were nights I *had* to force myself to go to bed. I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could hang out with Laurie and Wren.”

“Definitely worth the read, so go on, make yourself a cuppa and sit for a while, listen to the birds and become immersed in this beautiful story of how love and loss can lead you to love deeply again.”

“I loved this book like crazy. I read it in a day. And I recommend it highly.”

Title: Bird After Bird
Author: Leslea Tash
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Pages: 290
Category: Contemporary Romance
Link to PurchaseAmazon


Tomorrow When the War Began by James Marsden5 Stars

When Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip in the Australian bush, they find things hideously wrong — their families are gone. Gradually they begin to comprehend that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town has been taken prisoner. As the reality of the situation hits them, they must make a decision — run and hide, give themselves up and be with their families, or fight back.

My Review
There are not enough words to adequately describe how MUCH I love this book. It’s intense, and thrilling, emotional, raw, witty…everything I love in a book and more. The story is set in Australia, where a group of teens decide to take one last camping trip before school starts back up. While camping deep in the bush, their country is overtaken by an enemy that is never fully defined, but that feeds the plot so perfectly. And because the teens don’t know who is behind it, neither does the reader.

As the reality of what has happened slowly dawns on Ellie and her friends, a chill washes over the reader. It is so utterly believable that you can’t help but get caught up in the story, feel the initial shock and growing fear as they realize everyone they love is gone, their pets dead, and they have no idea what has happened.

Slowly they put the pieces together and decide to fight back, first against their own fears, and then against the enemy. The emotion that John Marsden brings to the story is authentic. As a high school teacher, he has a deep understanding of the teenage mind and draws his characters so beautifully real that it’s hard to remember they’re fictional.

The characters deal with the realities of life in a country ripped from under them and the ugly realities of war. They’re the only ones left to do something, and yet nothing in their lives has prepared them for it. The story starts off a little slow, but not haltingly so. John Marsden beautifully sets up his pivotal moment, building to the unfolding horror like a steady climb up the steps of Hell, where the kids have been camping. And then it takes off at breakneck speed, from one intense moment to the next, allowing us only small moments to catch our breath.

I think what I love best about this story is the way the characters are so deeply affected by what has happened and what they have to do. So many stories of this nature have the characters deal with emotions in the moment, but there never seems to be any lasting damage from the events. Often, characters are broken by what happened before the story starts and play into the character arcs. But in Tomorrow When the War Began, the characters are profoundly affected by what they need to do, and we see them break before our eyes.

The characters are what really make this book what it is. Yes, it has a pulse-pounding plot, but the nuanced complexities of Ellie, Homer, Fi, Robyn, Corrie, Lee and Chris take the story from just a thriller to something so much deeper. Ellie is a fun-loving only child who considers her friends to be family. The way she adores her friends makes me adore her even when she’s getting on my last nerve.

Homer is the guy I want to hang out with, the one I want as my best friend. He’s a crazy Greek with streak for getting into trouble, but would never abandon you in the thick of things. He’s definitely the guy you want along on your camping trip or an attack on an unknown enemy.

Corrie is Ellie’s best mate, the one she’d do anything for. Their relationship is at the heart of the story and ultimately the most emotional and heartbreakingly real. Corrie stands by Ellie when Ellie snaps and alienates everyone else, but she does it with love and a touch of humor.

Robyn is sweet and principled and is constantly finding those principles put to the test. Standing by her long-held beliefs or standing by her friends is a battle she fights nearly every day and it’s both painful and satisfying watching her grow.

Fiona, or Fi, is the sweet, wholesome, rich girl from town hanging out with the “rural inbreds” and she’s so clearly out of her element that most of the comic relief is at her expense, but she takes it with grace.

Chris is the town stoner, but he’s no Jeff Spicoli. Chris is far deeper than I originally thought and the more I learn about him, the more I like him.

And finally, there’s Lee. What can I say about Lee except that I love him. So completely and truly. He’s a musician and the only one of the group who the others don’t really know. Ellie invites him along as a last choice because she finds him “interesting.” He ultimately becomes her love interest, but he’s much more than that. Lee is the center to Ellie’s craziness. He’s willing to do what needs to be done, regardless of how awful he finds it. He’s not immune to the consequences of their actions, but he understands better than the others that war sometimes means difficult choices and that beating yourself up constantly over those choices isn’t prudent.

Bottom Line
Tomorrow When the War Began is probably the best young adult dystopian novel you’ve never read. John Marsden has created a totally believable and horrifying world and plunked his complex characters into it to play out a what-if scenario that is brilliant on so many levels. The fact that it is just the first book in a series, and that I read the entire ten-book series in under three months, is a testament to how incredibly much I love the Tomorrow series.

Title: Tomorrow When the War Began
Author: John Marsden
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Pages: 293
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

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