Review: Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

2 stars (It was okay).

So, about six months ago, I came across a list of great science fiction YA published recently. I think it was bemoaning the lack of marketing publishing companies are putting into their sf lists. I love both science fiction and YA, and so do my two oldest sons (ages 13 and 11), so I checked out the list.

And while I did come away with some things to add to my to-read list, I also noticed something that left me a bit unsettled. ALL of the books on the list had female protagonists.

Okay, so maybe it’s just an attempt to catch up after decades of a heavily male-dominated genre. And boys can read about girls–my boys do all the time!

But.

We talk about representation. And the truth is, my boys seem to enjoy books written in the last 20 years or so more than they enjoy older books. And if none of the books in their preferred genre have boys in the starring role, then . . . ahem . . . I think we may have a representation problem.

It feels weird to say it.

Surely, I thought, there must be some YA science fiction with male leads. So I did some Googling and found a list of 100 of the best science fiction YA published in the last 10 years. Perfect!

I read down the list. And you know what? Out of those 100 books, a grand total of 15 had at least one male protagonist (some had dual boy/girl leads). That means over 85 had girls as main characters, and fewer than 15 had only boys.

I decided then to read those 15 books (no promises I won’t abandon any of them part way through, since I am definitely not one to feel compelled to finish a book I’m not enjoying). Nyxia was the first.

And I have to say that while this was only a 2 out of 5 stars *for me,* it’s a book I’m wholeheartedly recommending to people. Its voice and characters are great. The plot clips along nicely. It’s got mystery and plenty of cool science fiction elements.

I almost feel guilty writing down what my biggest problem with it was: It was just so, so alpha male that I didn’t relate with it much at all. *laughs* Lots of high-stakes competition, fight scenes, problems with authority, anger management issues . . . you name it.

I did like it, but sometimes it got to be too much for me. And that’s okay! I am not this book’s target audience!

If you or someone you love might be the book’s target audience, give this one a try. I bet you’ll love it.

Review: Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

3 stars (I liked it). My middle grade son rates it 4 stars.

Space Case cover (link to Goodreads)

If you like mystery, space, sarcastic middle grade voices, fun, or any combination of the above, chances are, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a quick read with lots of humor and the perfect situation to allow a kid to need to solve the mystery.

It wasn’t the best mystery I ever read, but I was never bored, and it made a day of picking hundreds of apples from my apple tree more pleasant (I had the audiobook running while I was way up in the tree, fighting the wind threatening to knock me out of said tree).

There are sequels, which my son read as well and liked. I love the merger of science fiction and mystery, something I feel there isn’t enough of. I may be biased, though, as my current WIP is a sf mystery (though for YA).

Review: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

5 stars (I loved it!).

Nevermoor cover (link to Goodreads)

Forgive the teeny-tiny cover image.

Everyone knows Morrigan Crow is cursed to die on her eleventh birthday and to make bad things happen to those she comes in contact with until then. But when, on the eve of her 11th birthday, she is recruited for several jobs that she can’t possibly do after she’s dead–and by some rather mysterious and very interesting people, no less!–her life begins to change in completely unpredictable ways.

There are twists upon twists. Morrigan’s mentor reminds me of a ginger-bearded David-Tennant-as-10th-Doctor. Very energetic, cryptic, and zany. The world is magical and a bit steampunky and a bit Harry Potter. Much of the feel of everything reminded me of Harry Potter (specifically book 4), but there was enough that was unique that it didn’t feel totally derivative. The prevailing emotion throughout is wonder–that “Wow! So cool!” feeling that J. K. Rowling so often gets just right.

I immediately recommended the book to my picky 11 year old, and he devoured it and the second book in the series. We’re eagerly awaiting the third, which comes out this spring.

I can’t guarantee your kids will like this book, but if they like Harry Potter, City of Ember, Doctor Who, or Aru Shah, chances are good they’ll like this too.

Review: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

4 stars (I liked it a lot).

This novel, told in verse, follows a Syrian pre-teen as she travels to the US with her mother to live with family in Cincinnati when their hometown becomes unsafe.

I should have read the print version of this one. The narrator was fine, but I think certain aspects of the book don’t work if you don’t have the visual formatting to draw attention to certain words and phrases, to give them weight. The result was that I wasn’t ever really *into* this book, and I think I would have been if I had had the physical copy and had been able to savor certain parts rather than just barreling through them with the audiobook. I also felt like it was a little heavy handed with the message at times, though in verse form, I think I would have been more patient with that.

The main character was fully realized, and the message is timely and important. Would be great for fans of Out of the Dust and Wishtree.

How Not to Get an Agent

When I was writing, revising, and querying my first book, I wasn’t on Twitter yet. I didn’t know what not to do, so I learned the hard way about everything embarrassing.

So, if you really want to not get an agent after you finish writing a book, here’s an easy checklist to make sure you’re on the right (wrong) track:

  1. After you finish your first draft, only have friends and family read it. (Or, better, don’t have anyone read it at all.) If you don’t have anyone who knows anything about writing read it, you’ll never know about your book’s flaws. And since even seasoned writers write first drafts full of flaws, your book is sure to have them. If you want to avoid getting an agent, it’s best to send your book off into their inbox full of those flaws.
  2. After making minimal revisions, send a query letter that is three pages long. Yes, I did this! And it definitely didn’t get me an agent.
  3. Query soon after completing your first draft. You don’t want to wait to not get an agent! Why spend years perfecting your draft if you could get rejection now?
  4. Make silly, unprofessional jokes in your query letter. The agent will be sure to ignore anything that comes after them!
  5. When trying to figure out what a query letter is and how to write one, do a basic Google search rather than zeroing in on the magnificent website, Query Shark. That way you’ll find advice from a wide variety of people, most of whom are not experts.
  6. Avoid joining Twitter.

Of course, there were many mistakes I didn’t make, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make those mistakes! If you’re really serious about not getting an agent, you could try

  1. Not researching the agents you query to find out if they even represent the genre and age range your book fits into
  2. Responding rudely to a rejection from an agent
  3. Querying 100 agents all at once without finding out if your query letter works first
  4. Overlooking typos and grammatical errors in your query letter

Honestly, the possibilities are endless! If you really want to remain unagented, I’m sure you’ll find your own creative way to do it, just as I have.

Best of luck to you.