Category Archives: Spellbinder

Carol’s Homework Assignment Post WIFYR 3

7456038The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes.

Prologue and first chapter were read: 19 pages. (We never discussed this, Carol, but I assume a prologue is not a legit chapter but a prelude and needs to be included.)

“Paul is dead!” What an opening line! (I’m showing my age, but I immediately saw the Abbey Road album cover. For those of you too young to understand, Google “Beatles Paul is dead.) Once I brought myself back to the present, it was still a killer first sentence (pun intended).

For me, it went somewhat downhill from there. It’s smoothly written, but the author pushed too much backstory, too much flashback, too much telling not showing. (Brenda is going to disagree with me on this.)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some strong storytelling here. What surprises me is how the author breaks every rule Carol presented in class. Okay, with the exception of the “Paul is dead!” opening line.

The point of scene is excellent. The story takes place on a small Caribbean island and the descriptions are as lush as the landscape.

Characters are aplenty. There was the main character, Esti, of course. Then we have: the police officer who questioned her; an old family friend (in flashback); Paul, the victim (in flashback); Lucia, a local who had seen Esti talking with Paul. That would be five in the first nine pages, the prologue.

The actual first chapter introduces us to Esti’s mother, Aurora. Then come the two uppity kids from the school who seem to be members of the elite crowd: Danielle and Greg. Their main purpose seems to be to instruct Esti (and, in the process, us, the readers) about local legends, history, idioms and island patois. Oh, and establish that Danielle is in direct competition with Esti for the role of Juliet in the school play. Apparently, she’s sizing up the opposition.

The chapter had too much going on. The locations were varied and moved rapidly: the school grounds, the theater, another area in the school grounds, a flashback to the cemetery in the States, and, finally, her house. Her house took up the first chapter. The others took place in the prologue, the first 9 pages.

Prologue moved fast, first chapter not so much. Too slow, too much backstory. The two schoolmates showing up didn’t fit with the flow, I didn’t think. It seemed out of place.

Bottom line, it’s a ghost story and a murder mystery. How can you go wrong? Besides, Brenda says I’ll love it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got much in the way of finding improvements for The Other Siders.



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Carol’s Homework Assignment Post WIFYR 2

 Cinder: Book 1 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer419rjQNqYhL

First chapter is 16 pages.

The first line: “The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, …” Quite the attention getter. There’s enough information given between the back cover blurb, the inside flap blurb, and the cover itself for us to know that she’s a cyborg. We don’t know how much, but we can safely assume it’s at least the foot.

The first page focuses on her removing her foot. She struggles getting the rusted screw out, then fighting with the other hardware and, finally, just letting her foot dangle from her leg by its wires. We discover not only her foot but one hand as well is artificial.

Second page begins a detailed point of scene. She has a stall filled with used android and other odds and ends electronic and mechanical in nature. We also get a picture of the stall’s position with relation to other stalls in the crowded market square in New Beijing.

Third page, also finishes with her removing the foot completely.

Because of children playing Ring Around the Rosy, a recently revived game originating during ancient plague times, there’s a hint of a plague or some other widespread health issue.

We are introduced to Sacha the baker and her disdain for Cinder because of her differences from “real” humans. There’s inner dialogue from Cinder indicating a few of the vendors in her area are aware of her differences and are somewhat uncomfortable with it.

Prince Kaito arrives with a broken android. (No, not his tablet, but a walking, talking android, or it was before it broke.) Cinder recognizes the Crown Prince, and the handsomest man in all of New Beijing. We deal with her stammering and fan craziness for a page or so.

For the next five pages we are filled with all kinds of things that might be wrong with the android: it’s old, the problem isn’t readily apparent, how was it acting before it stopped completely, etc., etc., etc. Along with the troubleshooting Q&A, we get a glimpse of character development and some insight into Cinder’s abilities. Possible spoiler: There’s more to her cyborg-ness than just her foot.

Cinder’s android assistant shows up with Cinder’s replacement foot. Cinder makes excuses claiming it’s for another client. Her assistant, though android, is smitten with the prince as well.

When all the arrangements are made for Cinder to work on the android and get it ready for the prince to pick up in a few days, the prince departs.

Shortly after his departure a scream is heard across the way. Sacha the baker has the plague… End chapter.

Okay, four characters in eleven pages. There were other people milling about, a group of kids, but nobody with any real presence, they’re there for point of scene. Sacha is removed from the equation fairly fast, so, basically, we have three characters who, from all appearances, will be central to the story.

There was a lot of useful information and character development in the first chapter. Some of it was a little drawn out, but informative nevertheless. Some things I can definitely take and use.


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Carol’s Homework Assignment Post-WIFYR (Yes, I said “POST”)

The assignment is to read the first chapter of 50 books in the Middle-Grade and Young Adult venue. They can be sci-fi, fantasy, or into whatever genre they fall. I am to read them from a writer’s perspective, paying special attention to: intro to main characters, plot development, intro to other characters, anything useful that points to why these books start out well and, as a result, get published.

So here is the first book. “Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook” by Mary Amato. Middle-Grade. 140 pages.61K7EpEI-qL

From the School Library Journal:

The kids at Wordsmith Elementary School get a lesson on poetry when a thief stages a series of classroom thefts, leaving behind small poems at the scene of the crime. Edgar Allan keeps notes in his crime journal and writes some verses of his own as his classmates compete to solve the mystery. He thinks his home life is strange with his parents both employed as clowns, but when he learns more about the thoughts and personal lives of his classmates through the poetry they write, he gains a deeper understanding of himself and his community. With characters named Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and a teacher who drinks Tennyson Tea, readers will get thinly veiled lessons describing alliteration, meter, and metaphor. … A good springboard for introducing poetry units.

Opening paragraph shows the reader the crime of stealing the class goldfish.

Characters introduced:

  1. Edgar Allan (MC)
  2. Ms. Herschel (teacher)
  3. Kip (a skinny boy whose leg was jiggling against his desk)
  4. Taz (the class clown)
  5. Maia (the person who gave the fish to the class)
  6. Gabriella (the new girl)
  7. Destiny Perkins (Another classmate. I’m guessing she’s going to be an important character later. She’s the first character given both names)
  8. Patrick Chen (Edgar’s nemesis)

Eight characters introduced in the first four pages. One complaint about my storyline was the introduction of five characters in eight pages. Apparently too many characters are not always an issue. Further study on this will be necessary.

It’s a fast beginning. The theft, the discovery, several theories of who did it, and Edgar and Patrick’s competition to discover the culprit before the other are all laid out by the end of the first chapter (page 6). Fast paced and quick. That part I get.

One comment in a review section said, “It’s a little slow paced as the story progresses and sometimes Edgar seems to think older than a fifth grader.” To people who consider that fifth graders must sound a certain way and be only so intelligent, I divert your attention to “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”

I had similar complaints that my characters sound older. They sound like I sounded at 14-16. My friends were, for the most part, the same way. We were avid readers and had been for a decade or more by that age. Nerdy kids who read a lot don’t sound like kids who don’t. They don’t think the same way either. I may try to tone it down some, but if I do it too much, the characters will lose their personalities.

I’ll definitely finish Edgar Allan’s Official… It has the makings of a good ride.

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Spellbinder Saturday: Third Time’s the Charm

Easy as A, B, C . . . from HA

Benotripia3Benotripia: Keys to the Dream World is the third and final book in this series by McKenzie Wagner.

It’s been a great ride sharing the adventures of Roseabelle, Jessicana, and Astro as they rescue the queen (The Rescue), find three mystical, magic stones (The Stones of Horsh), and, in this final installment, enter the Dream World… and destroy it or risk losing Benotripia forever. “Only the final battle remains…”

Keys to the Dream World has everything we’ve come to expect in this series: magic, action, kenzie_frameadventure, danger, mystical creatures, interesting characters, and harrowing escapes. The one thing Keys to the Dream World has the others didn’t is a conclusion… or is there? The afterward takes place four years after the end of the final adventure, but there’s always hope for something new and dangerous for our heroes.

And, just as a reminder, McKenzie Wagner turns fourteen this year. We hope she continues to write and share more of her imagination and stories.

See you next time for Tips on Tuesday

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Saturday’s Spellbinder: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BBAlchemyst

My TBR (To Be Read) list is so long, that once I get around to some really great book, I often feel I’m the last one at the party! And I’ve just done it again!

I’ve had what I thought was the full set of Michael Scott’s epic set for a couple of years or so, and I’ve had them on my TBR list for even longer, but I’d only actually read the first 15 or so pages of the first book: The Alchemyst.

I was deep into the second book in another trilogy, when—not having it with me one day, I picked up The Alchemyst and started over. That was seven days ago. Within about three days I’d given up the trilogy, knowing I would go back to it. Just to let you know, I walk in the early mornings as often as I can (make myself do it). I walk within the smallish community I live in, one time around about a half mile. I’m finally up to 3 times many days. And I read. Try to avoid parked cars, so I don’t walk up the back of them when I’m not paying sufficient attention. I finished today and told my husband, “I still think T. H. White’s the Once and Future King (the whole tale of King Arthur) is my favorite of all time books. But Alchemyst has GOT to be in my Top Ten now!”

Can’t wait to dig into book two: The Magician (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel). But I have to finish the trilogy I was on, so I can pick up book two (for more than my short morning walk). And then book three. And four. And five. And even six. Yes, SIX! All published, starting from 2007, at about one a year.

85b5c0a398a05ffb9e0a0210_L__V192421766_SX200_Michael Scott lives and writes in Dublin, and is known as an authority on mythology and folklore. With the years and years of materials he’d gathered, thought about, found and written, my mind is boggled at the scholarly take on the mythology and folklore from many ethnic backgrounds in this tale. And that’s only the first of them. I loved how he wove together magicians, good and evil, with weird creatures from multiple backgrounds. Many I was familiar with, and greeted as if they were old friends when they were called on stage. Others were delightfully new to me, and I loved, feared, hated them equally with my “old friends.”

Some are “old friends” because they are historical characters or mythologies. Scott claims the only characters he “made up” are the teen twins, “normal” kids who get to explore times and historical characters we all might want to meet. And The Story! I cannot imagine what it would take to add this pair of twins, who learn what magic is, to the odd, interesting and international mix of characters, critters, and creatures from all times and backgrounds. Additionally, it has humor, spunk, mystery, tension, intrigue, magic and the lore of ages. Put this one high on your TBR list!!! I dare you to resist reading the rest of them . . . I’m starting Book 2, The Magician, on tomorrow morning’s walk!

See you next for Tips on Tuesday!

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Spellbinder Saturday: It’s All About Taste . . . Buds

Easy as A, B, C . . . from HA

EvertasterThis week’s spellbinder, Evertaster, by Adam Glendon Sidwell, is about Guster, a boy with remarkable taste buds, his family, evil chefs (even more evil than Gordon Ramsay) and the race to find the perfect recipe for the perfect food: The One Recipe.

Poor Guster is constantly hungry. He can’t eat if the food isn’t prepared perfectly. It’s not that he’s a food snob; he has a “condition”: He’s an Evertaster. Evertasters, it seems, can tell you what’s in any given food just by tasting it. They can tell if there is one drop too many of lemon extract is a tart, making it inedible. Cheap ingredients taste like mud. He can even tell you the soil type and nutrients found in the soil where the foods were grown.

His mom tries, but, while Guster’s brother and sister find the food delicious, he finds it greasy, flat, and practically poison to his taste buds. Mom decides to take him to nearby New Orleans to find something he can eat.

And so the adventure begins.

An old pastry chef in New Orleans has an abundance of pastries Guster can eat, but the old man tells Guster that they, too, will eventually pale in taste. He is an Evertaster and there is only one thing that can satisfy his cravings for the perfect food: The One Recipe. The old man gives Guster the gift of an old-fashioned metal egg beater and tells him to keep it safe. It will show him the way.

The pastry shop is attacked by men in red chef hats and red aprons. They demand the old chef give them the recipe. Guster and his family escape during the melee’.

I can’t give away too much (you know how I am about spoilers… and the lack of alerts). The egg beater, it turns out is a coded map and that’s all I’m saying on that matter.

Their adventure is world-encompassing: South America, Africa, an island off Greenland, and more, to gather the ingredients for The One Recipe. Not just any ingredients, but very special ones; special eggs, a specific type of butter… oops; better stop. Don’t want to giveSidwell too much away.

Evertaster is fast- paced and never slows down. Sidwell is masterful at pacing events from one scene to the next and forcing the reader to keep turning pages.

Evertaster is Middle Grade, but a fun read for everybody, if for no other reason than reading the description of the taste of foods, good and bad. Sidwell nailed it. You can feel the textures on your tongue, the smells fill the air.

See you next time for Tips on Tuesday

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Spellbinder Saturday: The Kill Order is the Last Word… or is it the First?

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

51riRZQCtRLThe prequel to the New York Times best‑selling Maze Runner series, The Kill Order is the story of the fall of civilization and the disease that started it all. James Dashner, a very human and funny man in person, has definitely got a warped sense of imagination. This final book of The Maze Runner series, touted as being a prequel, is surprising in that you don’t meet the characters from the trilogy itself until…well, let’s just say “practically forever.” And even then, you’re left guessing (rightly, unless you, too, have been touched by The Flare’s madness) until…well, you know…right at “forever.”

This is not Dystopian, as much as it is Apocalyptic: you almost fail to see, at the end, how anything of the Earth we all know (and some of us love) could possibly move forward. You will not find the answers in this volume. In almost every sense, it is a different, and unrelated story of the end of civilization, or even of humanity, as we know it. You are fooled, if you believe that there is anything more for human beings by the end of this tome. Or should that be “tomb”?

I was privileged to ask James at one of his signings whether I should read the “prequel” first, as its 315751c88da07a57290a2210_L__V192573004_events all happened prior to The Maze Runner trilogy. His take was that, no, it should be read after you know what it is a prequel to. And so I read the four in that order.

Many may feel they have all the information they want in the trilogy itself, and don’t “need” the prequel to “explain” anything else. Yet, that’s not what it is, that’s not it at all. It is a completely different, and still “satisfying” story on its own. If any of you have tired of dystopian, and think you’d like a little apocalyptic, this certainly fills the bill. To have read The Hunger Games trilogy, followed by the Divergent trilogy, shortly followed by the Dashner trilogy and its “prequel” has been intense, strange, interesting, and totally involving. But for me, next time…if there is a next time…I’d like to split up the multi‑volumed readings with a few others, of somewhat lighter fare, so that I can enjoy the occasional good night’s rest without obsessing over how rapidly the actual world seems to be descending to these depths.

The Kill Order is a much darker book than the other three — each of which, by the way, seems darker than its predecessor. It ends with a bleak and foreboding feel of The End. And yet, we know it goes on. That new characters are introduced. That new challenges must be faced. And, yes, there is a slight carry‑over from the “prequel” into book one of the trilogy. But if you’ve read the trilogy, and haven’t had enough of a world in despair, and ruin, and angst, and inhumanity, you may have the feeling that the “prequel” will only be able to offer backstory to events with which you are already familiar.

You will, mostly, be wrong in that presumption. With only one small caveat, you will meet all new people. They will be having different challenges than the trilogy, in a world created by the final volume, but with different, and all‑new apocalyptic adventures in store. It’s still worth reading, even if you have read the trilogy…as long as you’re ready for doom, gloom, and the ever fertile ground of James Dashner’s strange, disturbing, and always twisted imagination. Keep telling yourself that’s all it is: a great imagining of what the world could become, should we lose our vigilance, our nerve, our sense of cohesiveness, and…eventually…our minds.

Enjoy The Kill Order. If you can.

See you next time for Tips on Tuesday

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