Spoiler-Free Review: “Wave Me Goodbye” by Jacqueline Wilson

If you’re British and you like books, it’s likely you’ve heard of Jacqueline Wilson. This much-loved children’s writer has written over 100 books now and is famous for characters like Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather.

I was one of the kids who had some of the book sets when I was little. I had books like The Lottie Project, Double Act, The Suitcase Kid, Vicky Angel, Girls in Love, The Story of Tracy Beaker, and The Bed and Breakfast Star. She often writes books about girls around ten years old who are going through some kind of drama or tragedy, such as their parents’ divorce, poverty, bullying, and the like.

I actually hadn’t read any of Wilson’s books since the 2000s, unless you count re-reading The Illustrated Mum on Kindle a few months back.

It was cool to see that Wilson is still writing, and my dad bought me her 2017 novel Wave Me Goodbye, about a girl who is sent to the countryside right before World War II breaks out in 1939.

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“September, 1939. As the Second World War begins, ten-year-old Shirley is sent away on a train with her schoolmates. She doesn’t know where she’s going, or what’s going to happen to her when she gets there. All she has been told is that she’s going on ‘a little holiday’.

Shirley is billeted in the country, with two boys from East End London, Kevin and Archie – and their experiences living in the strange, half-empty Red House, with the mysterious and reclusive Mrs Waverley, will change their lives for ever.”

A lot of Jacqueline Wilson’s characters are very similar: around ten years old, female, timid, introverted, and often don’t have many friends due to moving around a lot or being considered “weird.” They’re usually creative and good at imagining things. Shirley Louise Smith wasn’t much different. I was more interested in the time in which the story was told; we hear a lot about soldiers’ experiences in World War II, but I hadn’t come across anything from a London child’s perspective before (I’m not saying that this book is the first of its kind, but that it was an interesting change written by one of my favourite authors).

Shirley is sent away on “a little holiday” to the countryside. I found her mother to be an interesting character; strict, strong-minded, and at first, slightly narcissistic, and unwilling to tell Shirley at first that she (the mother) won’t be travelling with her. She gets exasperated with Shirley’s love for reading and wishes to be more “posh.”

I often felt very sorry for Shirley. She considers herself ugly and hates her short hair. She loves to read and often pretends the girls from her favourite book, Ballet Shoes, are around her. She has trouble making friends and is bullied by others. On top of that, she misses her parents terribly when she is billeted. It makes us appreciate how tough it was for the children during the war as well as everyone else.

I loved the characters Kevin and Archie; in my opinion, they made the book’s story stronger. I enjoyed following Shirley on her adventure and was interested in the background of the family they were staying with.

Wilson did a great job of making Shirley relatable. Shirley loves books which are appropriate for 1939 but are also understandable by today’s children, such as old fairy tales like Cinderella, Mary Poppins, and Alice in Wonderland. The language seemed fairly appropriate for the time “cor blimey”/”bally” but I wasn’t completely convinced with Archie; he was supposed to be around three or four years old but he often spoke in longer sentences that I imagine a toddler would usually struggle with. Nevertheless, he was an incredibly cute character.

All in all, I was impressed with Wave Me Goodbye. The ending was nice, although it left a lot of questions open such as the fate of her father. That being said, it was a story about Shirley, not about the war itself.

Overall I give Wave Me Goodbye four stars out of five, although I would rather give it 4.5 as I remained entertained the whole way through and will probably read it again sometime in the future. Nice job, Wilson!

4stars

Get Wave Me Goodbye on Amazon UK
Get Wave Me Goodbye on Amazon US

 

Spoiler-Free Review: “Angst” by David J. Pedersen

Day 39

I’ve just finished reading a fantasy novel called Angst, written by David J. Pedersen.

“When Angst turned 40, he knew it was over. Angst had longed to be a knight of Unsel, to make his mark in history, to be remembered for heroic deeds and wondrous acts. He grew up knowing he was destined for something great, but now it is too late. Not only is 40 far too old to become a knight, Angst is one of the few able to wield “the magics”.”

Most protagonists in fantasy novels are young and gifted, destined from birth to be the hero and saviour of the story – often not relatable at all. One of the first things that draws readers to David Pedersen’s Angst is the fact that the main character is the exact opposite of this stereotype.

Angst is the perfect name for this character: he is unsatisfied with his life, a gift that should have been cherished makes him an outcast, and he spends his life in skull-numbing boredom. After turning forty, he believes his dreams of becoming a knight, and subsequent hero, are over. That is until he draws a sword that has been unmovable for as long as anyone can remember. It just might be up to Angst to get to the bottom of the problems plaguing Unsel… once his back stops hurting.

Angst is just an adorable character. Pedersen cleverly captures the mid-life crisis, urge to become something bigger and better, and the fearless, cheeky flirting of a forty-year-old. It was really interesting how these elements fit nicely into a fantasy story.

The story itself was incredibly creative and I’ll have a hard time forgetting many different aspects of the world of Ehrde, including places, beasts, and the concept of the Vex’kvette. I found that I was carrying the book around with me so I could read it on the train and during my lunch breaks.

There were a few things I wasn’t sure about. Something we find out about Heather, Angst’s wife, could have been foreshadowed, along with several other things. I also couldn’t bring myself to like the character Rose, although that is personal preference because I’ve heard she’s a very popular character. Nevertheless, this was a fun story to read and I look forward to reading the next one! I give this book four stars out of five.

Get Angst on Amazon US
Get Angst on Amazon UK

How to Find Beta Readers for Your Book

Day 33

I’ve been asked by a few people how I got beta readers for A Bard’s Lament. I’m not going to lie; it has been a lot more successful than the previous two times I asked (for different books). Quite a few people volunteered, and to my delight, all of them got back to me with great feedback way before the deadline.

Hopefully, my experience will prove useful for other writers who are trying to find beta readers. Here are some Dos and Don’ts I’ve learned.

1. Prepare a Great Pitch

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A pitch is similar to a blurb; it is several sentences that make a person want to read your book. The pitch tells the person a little about your story and makes them want to know more. If someone is genuinely into the story they will be a lot more likely to read it.

2. Build Relationships Before You Need Them

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Social media is powerful. Facebook groups and Twitter, from experience, have proven to be strongest in connecting with readers and other writers. Engage, chat, get to know them and, importantly, genres they like.

This isn’t to say you should go and introduce yourself to dozens of people you aren’t interested in before you “use” them to do you a favour. Connecting with people potentially interested in your work just makes sense, especially if you’re planning on marketing your book yourself.

3. Ask for Volunteers

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Use Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and any other tools at your disposal to advertise for volunteers. Put your pitch and make it clear exactly what you’re looking for: to give a free book to people who are willing to give honest and constructive feedback.

Only a tiny percentage of people who I thought would volunteer actually volunteered, so don’t get disheartened if people don’t respond.

4. Approach People Who Might Like Your Genre

Very few people are going to make the effort to read your book simply because you wrote it. There’s no use approaching your romance-loving neighbour to read a paranormal horror, or the writer you know from Facebook who specialises in fantasy to read your mystery thriller.

Groups are useful because people who read or write the same genre tend to stick together.

5. Don’t Ask Directly

If you directly message someone and say “HEY! Want to beta read my book?” The person, depending on their personality, will either say yes because they want to, say no, or worst, say yes because they feel they should. An awful lot of time is wasted when you send them your manuscript, they mysteriously disappear or become extremely busy, and you sit there waiting for feedback that will never come.

Instead, say “I’m looking for beta readers for my new book, [Title]. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” If they ask for more information, give them your pitch. Even if they aren’t interested themselves, they might know some readers who might be. This way, you are not upsetting anyone by being pushy.

6. Make it Clear What You Want

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Some readers may be interested in your story, but still say no because they’re worried that they aren’t qualified.

Make a list of questions that you’d like them to try and answer. Nothing technical – that’s the editor’s job. Here are some example questions you can use for your beta readers.

  • Does the story open well? Did it make you want to read further?
  • Does the plot make sense?
  • Is there anything that is unclear?
  • Are the characters interesting? Do you care about them and their decisions?
  • Are there any questions you feel still need answering?
  • Was the ending satisfactory?

Questions like these make it a lot easier for your beta reader and avoids them just telling you things like “Yeah, I liked it,” which may be nice to hear but won’t help you at all.

7. Give Them Enough Time

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After you’ve sent your manuscript to beta readers, give them a reasonable deadline, preferably a couple of weeks depending on the length of the story. I gave two weeks for my 13,000 word story but if you’ve written a lengthy novel, it might be better to give them longer.

If you have a deadline, make it clear to the readers from the beginning so they won’t suddenly tell you they can’t do it anymore. People are busy and remember that they are doing you a favour.

8. Be Patient

It can be easy to start chewing your nails and spam the “inbox” button in your email while you wait for responses. However, it will be quite rare for people to get started right away. Give them a week, or maybe give them several, and most importantly, don’t nag them. There’s nothing more of a turn off than someone pestering you saying “have you finished it yet?”

Making what you want clear and making your book sound interesting and engaging will greatly increase your chances of getting people volunteering to read it! Beta readers are an essential part of self-publishing as they can spot errors before publication and before you fork out for an editor. What kind of book are you working on right now?

Spoiler-Free Review: “Eyes of the Hunter” by Rosa Marchisella

Day 32

‘Sup, everyone! Hope you’re staying warm.

I recently read a book called Eyes of the Hunter, a new fantasy novel by Rosa Marchisella.

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“Prince Erin, heir to the throne of Simanthea, spent a lifetime protecting a dangerous secret no one can know. Not even Caley, Erin’s best friend and devoted bodyguard. 

But even the most tightly guarded secret can’t be kept forever. 

When Caley discovers the depth of Erin’s deception, his rage explodes like wildfire and devoted guardian turns to terrifying bounty hunter. To survive, Erin must outrun the past and evade the Eyes of the Hunter.”

As a lover of fantasy, I gobbled this one up.

After birthing six daughters, Queen Marianna is terrified that if she fails to produce a male heir to the throne of Simanthea, her life will be forfeit. The kingdom rejoices when the birth of a baby boy is announced, and the queen insists that only she care for the baby, whom she names Erin.

She hires a boy, Caley, to protect her son with his life. I truly loved this beginning to the book. I sympathised with the queen, a kind soul who had been basically used by the king “as a breeding mare” for his desire to have a son. Caley was also introduced well, being a shy and quiet boy but delivering when it mattered most. He won the right to become Erin’s guardian.

As a child, Caley was blamed for something he didn’t do and we get a taste of the king’s merciless heart and lack of empathy. When the secret comes out and Erin is forced to run, the atmosphere of the story goes from quiet contentment (if tense) to full-blown excitement and fear.

Caley goes from solid protector to hunter. We see Erin survive, a feat which would not be easy for a pampered member of royalty. However, with Caley’s teachings, Erin can find ways to get through some tough times, which is a little ironic for Caley since he’s now chasing the person he taught.

Rumours fly like wildfire through the land about the hunter, some far-fetched and some not far from the truth, keeping us on our toes as to what Erin will do to shake Caley off, because he always seems closer.

I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and Marchisella creates vivid descriptions. I know when I’ve read a good story because my mind wanders to think about the characters at times when I’m not reading, and as this happened a lot, I know the writer did extremely well in creating a world into which I could invest my time and heart.

There were some things that I wasn’t sure about; for example, some skills and knowledge that Erin had were not mentioned before so they could have been foreshadowed. I also felt that another character got the raw end of the deal towards the end of the story but, as we know, life is unfair, and that is possibly what Marchisella was trying to convey.

I recommend Eyes of the Hunter for lovers of fantasy, especially fantasy with rich worlds. I found myself wanting to know more about the kingdoms, what lies beyond the oceans. I’m hoping for a sequel to this engaging tale! Overall, I give it four stars out of five.

4stars

Get Eyes of the Hunter on Amazon US
Get Eyes of the Hunter on Amazon UK

If We Could All Discover Our Love for Reading

Day 19 [New Year’s Resolution]: If We Could All Discover Our Love for Reading

You know, I got so caught up in thinking about losing our love for writing that I didn’t spare a thought for our love for reading. Reading, after all, must come before writing, and one can’t exist without the other.

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Last year, I played a lot of video games. I worked a lot. I bought hamsters. I even wrote a bit. This year, I’m hoping to write one post a day on this blog, among a lot of other things which I won’t bore you with now.

After re-reading the Harry Potter series, I realised with an unpleasant drop in my stomach that last year I hardly read anything at all. There were some indie books, some work-related stuff, and… well, that’s it, really.

I had lunch with one of my students after a lesson yesterday and she was asking me about all these famous western writers, asking if I’d heard of them or read their work. Her eager little face looked so disappointed when I said I hadn’t even heard of most of them. She seemed surprised that I, a native speaker of English, didn’t know about all her favourite novels that she struggled through as a learner of our complex language.

I felt really bad. So I decided this year that I’m going to spend a lot more time reading. There are loads of books in the spare room I bought or was given and never even opened. Worlds waiting to be explored, characters waiting to be known, pages waiting to be turned. I am shocked it took this long.

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We’re so distracted by social media and the busy pace of life that most of us have forgotten what it’s like to curl up with a book (paperback OR electronic; there’s no shame in owning a Kindle). There’s really no excuse; people who claim to love books, yet say they are too busy to read yet spend three hours a day on Facebook, what are you doing? I’m determined not to be one of those people.

So hopefully you’ll see a lot more posts about awesome books in the coming months! After all, what is a writer that doesn’t read?