Beta Readers: the Good, the Bad and the Awesome

I’ve had a bevy of beta readers for the book I’m getting ready to query. I’ve gotten a lot of notes back and I’m still waiting for some, but as always, I’m learning a lot form this process! Here are some helpful tips I wanted to share, with Clueless pictures to go along with each.

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Not all readers will get you, even if your novel is a future bestseller.

Someone will always give you crazy, useless feedback. This time I had someone tell me my novel sounds like “middle grade.” That was it. No suggestions or explanation. Nothing. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was so perplexed by not only this but her long, LONG list of other problems that I didn’t agree with at all. Was I suddenly just too sensitive? Was I missing something?

As this was just a random beta reader I met on twitter, I decided to ask my other beta readers who I knew a bit better. Some of them were also from twitter (and the fabulous #ontheporch), but I’d seen their work and swapped before, so I trusted their advice. None of them agreed with her perspective and I certainly didn’t, so I just ignored it all. Unfortunately, I’d agreed to read and edit some chapters for her as well, so that was a waste of an exchange for me.

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If multiple beta readers say the same thing, they’re right… most of the time.

I participate in #queryswap on twitter this month, which was awesome! I exchanged queries and chapters with about 8 other writers. My query letter had two possible openings and I was hoping for some feedback as to which one was better. Unfortunately, my betas came back completely divided! Half passionately felt that Opening 1 was better and the other argued that Opening 2 was stronger. In the end, I had to trust my gut. Which one did I feel better captured my book? My tone? It still needed some serious work, but I went with Opening 1.

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Almost everyone will have something useful to say.

Almost everyone has something to offer your story. Even if they give 20 suggestions and only 1 makes sense to you, they’ve contributed. They put in time and helped you. Ignore the 19 crazy suggestions and thank them for the 1.

Sometimes the people that have the most helpful advice will surprise you, too! There were a few people who I was hesitant to give my novel to. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been burned by beta readers who either promised to read my novel and didn’t, or gave me just heart-wrenching, rude feedback. I LOVE constructive criticism, but some people were just tearing me down needlessly! But then I decided to take a shot on some new beta readers. While I did get one not-so-good one, I got a handful of new AMAZING ones! I learned new things about my weaknesses as a writer which are going to be essential in my post-beta editing process! Totally worth it!

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Patience is key.

I always want to rush ahead and continue editing with new ideas, even while my betas are reading! But slowing down and waiting for their feedback is essential. If you’ve already changed what they’re reading, why are they bothering to read it? I am participating in Writer’s Digest’s upcoming Submissions Workshop with Fuse Literary, which will require me to submit my first few pages to agents earlier than planned. So instead of plowing ahead without my betas, I just asked them to have an early meeting with me to go over the first 10 pages, even before some of them had finished the novel. I got great, helpful feedback that gets me moving in preparation for this event without leaving my betas (and their great advice) in the dust.

 

 

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Thoughts on Plots: Big Little Lies

I heard about Big Little Lies the same way that everyone else did. The trailer dropped and I said “Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoe Kravitz all play moms of the same age kids?”

I set up my DVR to record it immediately and when it popped up, I watched the pilot in shock and awe. But as many of us writers do, I headed out to the store and read the whole book before the second episode came out. (I did the same thing with Outlander many years ago. A pilot is just like a reeeaaaalllly long book trailer to me, I swear.)

Big Little Lies is totally not in my genre, but the brilliance of it is that it’s so intriguing that I barely noticed. I couldn’t put it down! I had to know what happened to Jane, if Ziggy was innocent, and who died. From my own school days, I remember all the parent drama that used to fly. So the idea that it could end in murder? Exciting.

I continued to watch the series after reading the book (although I almost stopped after a few over-the-top HBO scenes). In the end, I’m glad I did. It was a well done show! Well acted and well written, but I always have some complaints when they turn a book into a show.

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What the series got right:

  1. The overarching eerie mystery of who is hurting Amabella. They struck the tone well and made Ziggy seem sweet, but a little off, so that we do question him.
  2. The casting was perfect. There’s not a single actor I would change. Reese Witherspoon is perfect as Madeline and their choices for the kids were excellent too.
  3. Laura Dern as Renata deserves her own line here. Renata is an off putting, powerful, in-your-face, drama mama. And Laura Dern plays the weariness of her so well. She’s overworked, exhausted, and clear concerned that she’s not a good enough mom. I’ve seen that in so many real moms and I loved seeing it so accurately portrayed on screen.

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What I’m sad they changed:

  1. Why the hell did they have to make Madeline have an affair? It just seems over the top. I get that they needed to stretch one book into a whole mini-series, but seriously? Her husband was one of my favorite characters in the book and I enjoyed their dynamic. Madeline steamrollered him constantly, but he loved her anyway.
  2. No back story for Bonnie! I miss getting to know a little bit about why she did what she did, but I also appreciated how they really highlighted the way Madeline was willing to go to bat for her.
  3. The final sequence left out the husbands! I really liked the fact that it was husbands and wives together, facing down their demons and covering for each other. I really missed that in the show! I think they were going for a girl power moment, but it felt misplaced to me. This book is all about marriage and relationships, after all.

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What I liked that they added:

  1. Those opening credits were awesome. I love the idea of the shots from the backseat of the car- how the kids see their moms! So brilliant. And it set the tone so well for the show.
  2. Yoga class. This was a small scene, but I got such a kick out of seeing a bunch of the feuding parents stuck in yoga class together.
  3. The expanded drama of Amabella’s birthday party. I liked the twist of the moms judging Bonnie for being too sexy.

 

For anyone who just watched the show: read the book! It’s even better!

XOXO

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Cameryn

What I’ve Learned: Querying… Again

A few years ago, I attempted to query my first novel. It was nowhere near ready, but I wasn’t enjoying my job and took solace in the idea that I could find an agent, become a writer, and then quit! While the fantasy was not realistic, it was satisfying and I embarked on an elaborate querying process that yielded no results.

Now, I’m entering the query process again with a much more polished manuscript for my third completed- but fifth overall- novel. This process has inspired me to pull out my old excel charts and query drafts to get an idea of where I went wrong and how I can do better this time, besides the fact that I’ve simply written a better book. My last novel was a little dry in the beginning, not nearly as edited, and more stereotypical YA fantasy. Querying resulted in only a few requests for a partial and nothing beyond.

I’m very early on in the query process now (drafting my query and writing my synopsis while my beta readers read my novel), but I’ve already learned so much from doing this process again, and doing it right this time.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. Before you even write the book, look at what agents DON’T want 

If you’re writing a dystopian- stop. If you’re writing fantasy with a european inspired setting- maybe stop. Every agent I’m looking at now is asking for multicultural or non-european settings. This is something to consider seriously for us YA fantasy writers, who are in a flooded market.

Pay attention to the way the market is moving. Do a little research before you put your heart and soul into writing a novel. If you just read 5 fairytale retellings, probably don’t write one. After Cinder came out, literary agents were all asking for a fairy tale retelling, and boy did they get them! Within a year or two, the market was fully saturated. By the time you’re reading them off the shelves at Barnes and Noble, agents have moved on. Do a google search for literary agents and see who wants what to get an idea, but just remember that these things can change rather quickly.

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2. Really- and I mean reaaaaaallly- edit your novel.

No ones first draft ever popped out perfect. Hasn’t happened. Will never happen. Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, has talked a few times about how she hates writing first drafts, because she just wants to get to the editing. I thought this was hysterical, because I love the first draft, and the editing- not so much. But I’m guessing the reason why she loves editing was the reason why I didn’t like it- you see all your mistakes! You see the inconsistencies, the typos, and the characters who disappear from the story.

This is the time to fix those plot holes, make sure everything is tight and that no boring chapters remain! I was merciless with this novel, cutting out whole chapters and serious conversations because I didn’t want to read them when I was editing. If you don’t want to read them, then agents sure as hell won’t want to read them either!

3. Choose your beta readers carefully.

What I did wrong the first time was give out a copy of my book to any friend or family member who said they wanted to read it. What I learned? Some of my friends asked me several times for a copy of my book- then never read it. Don’t get me wrong, my first unedited novel wasn’t good, but it still stung. Then I also asked a family member to read it who gave me silly, rather insulting advice. She compared my main character to Katniss for reasons I still can’t understand. If she’d said my novel was super slow or needed some serious plot changes? Then sure, I’d get that.

A new critique partner of mine shared this awesome video with me, by writer Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about how you need to be so careful what readers you ask for advice, because often they will “diagnose” and “prescribe” things for your novel without understanding. She cautions us writers against listening to this and recommends beta readers focus on the feelings they get, rather than getting too specific about problems and fixes.

I learned the hard way that my beta readers should be: 1) people who actively read your genre and will give you the kind of advice you’re asking for. 2) people who write your genre! I found some awesome new beta readers through twitter and the lovely hashtag #ontheporch. I recommend giving it a try!

4. Don’t avoid the synopsis.

Last time, I didn’t want to write a synopsis so I started by querying agents who didn’t require one. This is a) lazy and b) silly because some of the best agents ask for a synopsis! And other agents might ask for a synopsis with their partial request.

Also, writing a synopsis is great exercise as a writer. Condensing 90,000 words into 500 is hard! It was incredibly painful cutting out all my subplots and side characters (some of my favorites!), but it was an important exercise to see if the main story and main characters can stand on their own. Guess what? They can!

5. Have a hook in the query letter.

My first query letter went the standard route of introducing the book without any hook. Well, as I’ve mentioned, the story I was telling was dry, so I had a hard time summing it up into anything exciting. So I just didn’t. I didn’t take the hint that maybe the novel wasn’t ready. I just decided to write a not-so-good query letter with no hook.

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   6. Make sure your opening pages are your best pages.

Polish up those first pages that agents are asking for. Ask betas to spend extra care on the first 50 pages, but the MOST care on the first 10 pages. And when you’re done with listening to your betas and editing those pages, go over them again. And again.

One day, I’ll probably dust off that first book and fix it. It had some real gems within it, but overall it’s not great. The first pages are particularly slow. I was so tired of that book at that point that I just wanted to move on to something else. I wrote a few other novels in between, before I wrote this one. I knew writing this book that the first pages had to hook the reader. So I did! And after a year of working on it, I went back and added even more excitement to the opening pages, because I could and knew I should. I start off big, with a dramatic moment that sets the tone for the whole novel. And so far, my beta readers have loved it.

 

I wish all of you luck with your own querying process! I’ll share updates as I go!

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Cameryn

50 Books Challenge: 2016

I won the 50 Books Challenge in 2016! It’s been a few months, but I thought I’d share all the awesome books I read in case anyone is looking for some suggestions! They’re mostly YA, of course. What did you expect from a YA writer?

If you’re hoping to complete the 50 Books Challenge for 2017, then let me give you a tip: I kept track of all the books I read in my Passion Planner. There’s a lovely blank section in the back, so I printed out a blank list from 1-50 and filled in all my books as I went. I also marked up my monthly calendars with how many books I needed to have read when.

Here’s the complete list of books I read, with my recommendations at the bottom!

  1. Facing Your Giants – Max Lucado
  2. Wandering Star – Romina Russell
  3. The Vintage Teacup Club – V. Greene
  4. In the Eye of the Storm- Max Lucado
  5. Dreamstrider – Lindsay Smith
  6. The Darkest Minds – A. Bracken
  7. Glass Sword – v. Aveyard
  8. Cinder – M. Meyer
  9. Lady Midnight – Cassandra Clare
  10. The Great Hunt – W. Higgins
  11. Scarlet – M. Meyer
  12. Cress- M. Meyer
  13. Winter – M. Meyer
  14. Burning Glass – Kathryn Purdie
  15. Sleeping with Bread – The Linn Family
  16. Seven Black Diamonds – Melissa Mar
  17. Daughter of Dusk – Livia Blackburne
  18. Snow like Ashes – Sara Raasch
  19. A Court of Thorns and Rosese – S. J. Maas (the one re-read on my list!)
  20. The Heir – Kiera Cass
  21. Graceling – Kristin Cashore
  22. Flawed – Cecelia Ahern
  23. Beyond the Red – Ava Jae
  24. A Court of Mist and Fury – S. J. Maas
  25. The Crown – Kiera Cass
  26. The Star-Touched Queen – R. Chokshi
  27. Falling Kingdoms – M. Rhodes
  28. Rebel Spring – M. Rhodes
  29. Gathering Darkness – M. Rhodes
  30. Frozen Tides – M. Rhodes
  31. The Iron King – J. Kagawa
  32. Beautiful Creatures – K. Garcia and M. Stohl
  33. My Lady Jane – Hand, Ashton and Meadows
  34. Ice like Fire – Sara Raasch
  35. The Crown’s Game – E. Skye
  36. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling
  37. The Keeper of the Mist – R. Neumeier
  38. Shadow and Bone – L. Bardugo
  39. Ruin and Rising – L. Bardugo
  40. Siege and Storm – L. Bardugo
  41. A Gentle Thunder – Max Lucado
  42. Empire of Storms – S. J. Maas
  43. Three Dark Crowns – K. Blake
  44. Girls with Swords – L. Bevere
  45. The Black Key – Amy Ewing
  46. Supernatural Ways of Royalty by K. Vallaton
  47. Walking in this World – J. Cameron
  48. The Shadow Queen – C.J. Redwine
  49. Settle for More – Megyn Kelly
  50. Crystal Storm – M. Rhodes
  51.  BONUS- 365 Day Devotional – Max Lucado

Recommendations:

  1. A Court of Mist and Fury– Sarah J Maas didn’t disappoint with her follow up to ACOTAR! This one turns up the heat with some super steamy love scenes, but as always with Miss Maas, she tells a killer story to go with it. As Feyre struggles to overcome her PTSD, her bargain with Rhys kicks into full gear, but she soon starts to lose her love for the Spring Court and considers a different future!
  2. Lady Midnight– Cassandra Clare does it again! She always tells the best stories, with amazing characters, killer action, and forbidden romances. With the parabatai bond causing Emma and Julian to experience some strange reactions to their budding romance, Emma pulls away, but there’s a twist! The book left me on a cliff hanger and I’m dying for the next one.
  3. The Lunar Chronicles– I know, I know. I was behind on this one! I resisted the lure of Cinder the Cyborg for some time, but then gulped the entire series down in a week! So good. I love the light, fun writing style- even while covering some heavy topics. Approachable and enjoyable!
  4. The Falling Kingdoms series– A really fun fantasy series with lots of romance and drama to keep you turning the page! There are fascinating character dynamics that change throughout the series. I appreciate the idea that Cleo has more than one great love throughout the series. Because don’t most of us have a few different loves throughout our lives?

Happy Reading!!!

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Cameryn

The 8 Best (Non-Sparkly) Vampires

Vampires have gotten a seriously bad rap lately. When Twilight became a tween sensation, it almost turned the entire supernatural genre into an extension of the romance genre. Tsk, tsk. Bad Twilight. Let’s remember all of those fantastic vampires that kick ass and do something other than pine for Bella!

angel 1. Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping…waiting…and though unwanted…unbidden…it will stir…open its jaws, and howl. It speaks to us…guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey.”

Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and later his own spinoff) gets the Number 1 spot because of David Boreanaz’s major skills at being both psychotically evil and a wonderful, brooding boyfriend. Both were insanely convincing! From helping Buffy and saving her friends, to tormenting Buffy to the edge of insanity, Angel does it all and makes it look good.

simonlewis 2. Simon Lewis, The Mortal Instruments: “Well, when a mommy vampire and a daddy vampire love each other very much…”

Simon from The Mortal Instruments book series (and the one movie) earns his spot on the list by being the Daylighter. (Sorry Vampire Diaries, Simon can walk in the sun without a ring.) He gives up his immortality and his memories to save his friends, and he always injects some much needed humor into the group. Throughout the series, he’s a human, a vampire, a ladykiller, and eventually, a shadowhunter. Also, if Isabelle Lightwood wants to date him, how can he not make the top of the list? (The new Shadowhunters tv show will begin airing on ABC Family in 2016!)

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3. Caroline Forbes, The Vampire Diaries: “Everyone needs to stop kissing me!”

Caroline starts out as a prissy, uptight cheerleader who gets in the way and acts as a compelled toy for Damon. Just a little way into The Vampire Diaries‘ long run, Caroline somehow becomes a vampire badass. She’s smart, funny, strong-willed and an integral member of the team.

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4. Drusilla, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “I can see [the stars]. But I’ve named them all the same name, and there’s terrible confusion.”

Who doesn’t miss this insane, doll-carrying, slightly psychic vamp from the early years of Buffy? Spike and Dru were the perfect bad guys: psychotic murderers and crazy in love. But Drusilla’s unique abilities to have no idea what’s going on right in front of her, but still be a lethal threat, makes her rank above Spike.

The Vampire Diaries Pictured: Ian Somerhalder as Damon Photo Credit: Art Streiber / The CW © 2010 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

5. Damon Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries: “I do believe in killing the messenger. Know why? It sends a message.”

The Vampire Diaries‘ Damon has an excellent character arc showing his transition from a chaos-loving, revenge-obsessed torturer to a semi-productive member of society. He’s a veritable seven layer dip of emotions, regularly murdering people in fits of rage. However, he prioritizes his family and friends and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty to save them.

minaharker6. Mina Harker, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: “You’re sweet… and you’re young. Neither are traits that I hold in high regard.”

From the very first vampire story, Mina Harker is the lead female character of the original Dracula novel. Harker shows up in a lot of vampire stories, but I am a particularly big fan of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Harker is the only woman welcomed into the Gentlemen’s league. Even though many don’t want her there, she saves the day repeatedly.

ca. 1998 --- Actor James Marsters --- Image by © Stephen Danelian/CORBIS OUTLINE

7. Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”

Oh, Spike. Who can say no to that face? Even with the bleached ’90s Buffy hair. The original ‘bad boy gone good’ vampire tale (Sorry Damon), Spike is only low on the list because compared to Angel and Drusilla (both from Buffy as well), Spike is the less unique character. However, Spike avoided being a one-trick pony with his impressive transition throughout the series. Thank you Joss Whedon for making it feel believable that the evil baddie from Season 2 could somehow become a love interest only three years later.

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8. Selene, Underworld: Tanis: You don’t scare me, Selene. Selene: Well, we’ll have to work on that.

Selene from Underworld is a vampire Death Dealer, working for her vampire clan as an assassin. She is fighting in the war between vampires and lycans and wants to eliminate the lycan race. Ice cold with deadly skills, Selene doesn’t show much of herself to anyone until Michael Corvin comes along, a human. Suddenly, her priorities change. Selene is killer to watch on screen as she pulls off crazy stunts to save Michael.

Thoughts on Plots: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses came out a few weeks ago, hitting the New York Times Bestseller list at Number 2. As a fan of Sara J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, I had to read it. It is a fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast – or at least the first half is. The book takes a serious U-turn about halfway through and becomes something very different. But never fear, it is still excellent! Here are the pros and cons.

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Pros:

1. Characters that you root for. From the first chapter, I understood and liked Feyre as a character. She’s smart and says what’s on her mind. Tamlin, the Beast to her Beauty, is perhaps a more simple character, but very enjoyable to read. He’s the tortured, responsible warrior type. Lucien, the third primary character, is very dynamic, as his painful honesty is very enjoyable to read! Lastly, there’s a wonderful redemption arc involving one of Feyre’s sisters that I did not see coming at all! (I love it when I don’t see things coming!)

2. Pretty sexy. These books take the steam level up a few notches from Maas’s Throne of Glass series. No fade to black in these books! The romance is exciting and believable, but readers should be at least 16 to indulge in this book.

3. Gets you amped up for Book 2! The way the book ends has me DYING for Book 2, which won’t hit the shelf for at least a year. After surviving all of her tests and torments, Feyre’s life has changed in several key ways (no spoilers, don’t worry!) She has plenty to worry about for the next book, after she was forced to cut a painful deal that involves her becoming a regular plaything of the Night Court’s High Lord.

Cons:

1. Not another love triangle! (But I secretly love it).- In the end, Feyre gets the man she loves, but there’s another attraction brewing with a man who has ability to enter her mind. She’s intrigued by him, but she will be forced to spend a lot of time with him in the next book! It seems pretty clear that it’s going to be an intense love triangle with Feyre pulled between a straight-laced warrior and a dirty politician. While I’m definitely tired of the Gale/Peeta crap that will never end, I really like the characters and appreciate the unique situation that Maas created for the triangle. It’s not another Katniss whining ‘I can’t make up my mind!’ At least, not yet.

2. Felt like two different books. (Part 1: life at Fae court. Part 2: life in a prison/fight to the death) The first half, Feyre is getting to know the magical Fae world. She’s falling in love with Tamlin and struggling to get over her former life. The second half, she is plunged into a prison and forced to serve as a maid/exotic dancer while competing in three Herculean tasks where she’s expected to die. Whaaaaaaat? And side note, in Part 1 she kills a Fae in cold blood and only feels slightly bad. She doesn’t brood on it at all. Then in Part 2, she kills two Fae and now she says that those deaths will haunt her forever. I don’t see why they would be so much worse than the first one. (Thoughts? Let me know!)

But, what can I say, I still loved the book and am really excited for Book 2! There’s no official word on it, but it’s clear that it will have a Hades/Persephone element!

What do you think? Will you be picking up a copy of A Court of Thorns and Roses?

Thoughts on Plots: Red Queen

Red Queen, the debut novel by Victoria Aveyard, is an exciting YA fantasy that came out in February 2015. It was one of the biggest YA hits this year, becoming an instant New York Times Bestseller. Elizabeth Banks is already in talks to direct the movie!

It’s about a dystopian society where a poor, starving girl is brought to the big, fancy city and is forced to participate in a society she doesn’t understand, where she must fight in a series of games. She’s caught between an old, loyal friend who is attracted to her and a new love that she meets, who she must cling to for self-protection. Sound familiar? With the plot having some remarkable similarities to other novels you might have read, you won’t be surprised to learn that Red Queen has made a killing this year! What can I say? The formula works!

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I bought Red Queen when it hit the shelves, partially because of the awesome cover, but also because I’d heard so much hype. I read it as part of my 50 Books Challenge and found it very readable and fun, though I often found myself picking out pieces of other popular YA novels, like The Selection and, of course, The Hunger Games.

What I will say for this book, as an individual, is that it has really cool, unique magic. Awesome magic always gets me to read a series, even if the plot is a little basic. The premise is that the wealthy elite have silver blood, and the poor have red blood. The silver-blooded elite have supernatural abilities in varying forms, while the red-blooded poor have none. When Mare is discovered as having both magical powers and red blood, she is forced to join the silver-blooded society and live under the tyrannical control of the evil Queen, who passes her off as a long-lost silver blood. She plans to marry Mare off to her son to keep the whole situation quiet. Mare finds herself in between the two princes, Cal and Maven, not knowing who to rely on or who to trust, as she works to assist the rebellion of the Scarlet Guard from inside the silver-blooded society.

The Pros:

– Unique system of magic that is very interesting and fun!

– Enjoyable, quick read. I read it in a day!

The Cons:

– The plot has a lot of similarities to other popular YA novels.

The final verdict: An enjoyable and easy read, but don’t expect too much from the story.

Ramblings on Writing