Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees

★★★★★ (4.50)
Genre – Young Adult Contemporary23480844

Summary – Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.
Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.
When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process.
 (Summary from GoodReads)

Initial Thoughts – I didn’t think I would like this book. After all, the main character is purposefully sleeping with boys who have girlfriends. It takes a certain skill to gain sympathy for this kind of MC, and that’s exactly what Flynn does.
Plot – ★★★★★ The plot of this book deals with so many important issues: slut-shaming, rape, double standards, divorce, and family problems. I loved every second of this book.
Characters – ★★★★★  I thought I would hate Mercedes. I mean, it shouldn’t it have been hard. But Flynn somehow managed to provoke my sympathy for this unconventional character.
Story world – ★★★★☆ The story world doesn’t have a huge part in this book. It’s rarely mentioned and could have used a little more setting.
Style – ★★★★☆  Flynn’s simple style caries the book along smoothly.
Closing Thoughts – I would highly recommend this book if you want your feelings twisted  and ripped out of your heart.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

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Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees20983362

★★★★★ (5.00)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

Summary – In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.

Initial Thoughts – This is my first Alexandra Bracken novel. (No, I haven’t read TDM yet. I have the series. I’ll be reading them soon.) And I loved every second of it.
Plot – ★★★★★ This book just kept the pages turning. The different settings and times made me look forward to every section of this book. There was never a dull moment.
Characters – ★★★★★ Etta was brave. Nicholas was kind. (And Bracken dealt with the serious issue of racism throughout time! Thank you!) Sofia was a perfect anti-heroine. (Should I hate her? Yes. Do I? Nope.) I just loved all of them.
Story world – ★★★★★ The story world must have been very difficult to create since they were constantly hopping through not only different countries, but different times as well. But Bracken has clearly done her researched, and I loved learning about different places as I read.
Style – ★★★★★ This was just absolutely flawless. I loved how Etta and Nicholas had their distinct voices and references to the parts of their lives.
Closing Thoughts – I absolutely adored this book. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

Describing Character Appearance

60 Second Advice by Anne Brees

When it comes to what your character will look like, there seems to be a thousand options. The truth is, your reader probably doesn’t care. They don’t care what color eyes or  your MC has. They don’t care if your character is 5’1″ or 6’1″. Your readers will have their own picture of what your character looks, and will probably forget your descriptions only a few lines later.

Diversity is key. There isn’t enough representation in writing. There are more people with stories to tell than straight white men. However, don’t write with diversity because it’s a trend or you feel like you have to. Research and write it well.

Pick a few appearances details and focus on those. What does your character notice about themselves? What do other characters notice? Maybe it’s a certain scar. (Perhaps a lightning bolt on a forehead?) Maybe it’s a missing finger. Maybe it’s wild curly hair. Maybe it’s a slight limp. Your reader won’t remember all of the aspects of your character that you describe, so choose to mention a few and let those represent your character.

Focus on the stuff that’s more important. Appearance means little. Focus on your character arc and flaws and quirks. That will make your character much more memorable than describing their eye color multiple times.

What is your character’s most defining physical feature?

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees

★★★★★ (4.50)23009402
Genre – Young Adult Contemporary

Summary – Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

Initial Thoughts – This is my first Sarah Dessen novel, because I’m not a super into the romance genre. This book offered not only a lovely romance, but a variety of deeper topics such as crime, drug abuse, family issues, and individuality.
Plot – ★★★★☆ This book was compelling and forced you to continue to turn the pages. However, I just felt like it lagged in some parts. Maybe that’s just my personal preference and not really Sarah Dessen’s style.
Characters – ★★★★★  I envy the way Sarah Dessen is able to develop her characters. All of them have their quirks and flaws. The characters were probably my favorite part of the story.
Story world – ★★★★☆ The setting isn’t described often and I felt like I could have used a little more scenery.
Style – ★★★★★  Sarah Dessen’s style perfectly matched this book. It was smooth, easy to read, and made you focus on the story, not the words.
Closing Thoughts – This book was a perfect, quiet read. However, I’m not sure if I’m going to pick up more Sarah Dessen books because I’ve heard that this book is unlike the rest. Recommended for a quiet afternoon in a busy week.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

5 Tips for Building Your Story World

5 Tips by Anne Brees

Your story world adds a lot to the story, though you may not realize it. It molds your characters, shifts your plot, and gives your story those little details that makes it memorable. Once your story is written, it can be difficult to seamlessly weave in your story world. It’s better to decide where your story takes place before you write and see how it adds to the story.

  1. Is it a real or imaginary place? Both options offer a variety of pros and cons. If you chose a real place, you have the opportunity to introduce your readers to another part of the world. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor captures you in the old city of Prague and it’s one of my favorite parts of that wonderful novel. You already have all the details of your setting, you just have to research to find them. However, that means that you have to write by the already set confines of the city. If you write an imaginary place, you get to create whatever you want to fit your plot. However, that means that you have to come up with all the details yourself. In doing this, your story world can be paper thin.
  2. What is the culture? What are the traditions of the culture? What are the popular holidays? What is the traditional and modern fashion? How do people talk? What restaurant does everyone go to for different moods? Where do the popular kids go to hang out? What about the unpopular kids?
  3. What is the history? Did someone famous live here? Did someone infamous live here? Did they have some little part in a war that no one knows about except for the residents of the town? Was something invented there? Did some famous explorer cross through? Are they proud of how little has happened there?
  4. What are they proud of? Do they have a killer milk shake at that little restaurant on the corner? Did a celebrity once stand on that street corner? Was the world’s biggest/smallest/longest/shortest/etc. ___ featured there?
  5. How does your character feel about their location? Does the character love the town as much as the other residents? Is there a bit of grudging pride for what you chose for the above question? Are they afraid to leave it? Can they not wait to get out of there as soon as possible?

What do you use to build your story world?

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees

★★★★☆   (4.25)18667779
Genre – Young Adult Contemporary, LGBT+

Summary – A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

Initial Thoughts – This book was sweet and beautiful and unique and lovely and just absolute perfection.
Plot – ★★★★☆ The plot was enticing and well-paced, but it was just a little predictable in some parts.
Characters – ★★★★★ These characters are so lifelike. They were my favorite kind of imperfectly perfect. They weren’t all smiles and adventures all the time, and added a lot of depth to the story.
Story world – ★★★★☆ I loved the movie aspect of this novel. I learned a lot about a different aspect of life, and I feel like I’ll look at movies a lot differently because of it.
Style – ★★★★☆ I loved how Emi’s background in designing settings came out so well in the novel with the setting. That was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Closing Thoughts – If you’re in need of a sweet romance, this is just the book for you.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

(This is the second book in the The Raven Cycle series. You can find my review of the first book here. Spoilers in the summary below.)

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees

★★★★★   (5.00)17347389
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy
Summary -If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?
Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.
One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.
And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.
Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.
Initial Thoughts – After reading the Raven Cycle, I immediately ordered the rest of the series from my library. I was so excited to start the next book.
Plot – ★★★★★ You have no reason to fear second book syndrome with this book. It kept me up all night.
Characters – ★★★★★ The characters are my favorite part of this series. They are all so complex and realistic.
Story world – ★★★★★ Stiefvater has the rules of her story world set. It can be difficult when writing a fantasy world to have so different rules and laws that it’s too confusing. Not a problem for Stiefvater.
Style – ★★★★★ Stiefvater’s style is perfectly poetic, yet realistic.
Closing Thoughts – Read the Raven Cycle. Read the Dream Thieves. This book is definitely in my top favorites.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)