Two New Year’s Releases I Adore

Two amazing things are happening on January 1st that I cannot WAIT to share with you guys. First, Justin Levinson is releasing an EP that’s crazy good. His previous album (with The Valcours) was in constant rotation while I was writing and revising my last book so you know it’s good good good. Justin is definitely a wordsmith worth checking out.

Secondly, A.G. Howard’s debut, SPLINTERED, is hitting shelves everywhere. I swear my heart is growing wings and flapping against my ribcage because it’s THAT excited about this novel.

Justin and Anita are so darn awesome both creatively (and personally) that I wanted to do a little review of each of their projects. That way when you’re looking at those holiday gift cards wondering what you should get, these items are already at the top of your list. If this is how the year is going to start, 2013 is going to be AMAZING. Just you wait.

Justin Levinson Take My Time EP CoverArtist: Justin Levinson

EP: Take My Time

Genre: Folk / Folk Rock

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are few things I love more than reading and writing. One of those things is baseball, the other is music. I especially have a soft spot in my heart for folk/folk rock, and Vermont based singer/songwriter Justin Levinson’s latest EP, Take My Time is an exceptionally delicious snack to sink your teeth into.

The three song EP consists of ‘Take My Time,’ ‘Give It One More Try,’ and ‘Bid The Rest Goodbye.’ The overall feeling is moody and atmospheric in the very best of ways. It’s full of lyrics with richly imagined themes of coping with life after love and picking up the pieces of a shattered heart and coming out stronger in the end. Exhibit A:

“Cos’ I will just take my time, go round and round on this ferris wheel ride with my stomach in knots like a mime in a box, I keep singing alone through the gloom.”

Justin writes in a universal language that allows listeners to really connect with the songs because at one point in time, we’ve all had our hearts broken. We’ve all dealt with the aftermath of a love gone wrong, we’ve all been confused about whether or not a relationship can be saved, and most importantly, we’ve all found the inner strength to move on and try again.

“It takes everything within, not to go back to where I’ve been. It’s takes everything within cause I get so lonesome, forget what’s right and the facts they get distorted and I think to myself we could give it one more try.”

The song that best shows this graduation from heartbreak to finding your way through the darkness is the title track, ‘Take My Time’. The lyrics are evocative of someone who is determined to make their dreams come true. Whether it’s love, career, or a personal journey, the person in the song is willing to push themselves — even if they’re afraid. That’s something everyone can aspire towards…being brave even when we don’t feel so sure anymore. It’s a pretty great message.

“I keep myself steady though I fear what’s ahead. I’m set in the moment it’s the best way to live.” 

The composition of these songs is SO good my meager words won’t do them justice. There are violins and acoustic guitars and MORE wonderful backing instruments, and Justin’s vocals are the perfect lighthouse to guide you through the storm. If you’re looking for music that’s got smart lyrics, infectious melodies, and atmosphere for days, this EP is so for you. I know I’m going to be listening to it over and over again.

Check out this video of ‘I Was So Wrong’ off his last album, This Side of Me, This Side of You for a hint of what Justin Levinson offers:

I Was So Wrong Official Music Video – Justin Levinson & The Valcours

Here’s where you can keep up with Justin Levinson online: 

Website: JustinLevinson.com

Twitter: @jxlevinson

Facebook: Justin Levinson Music

9781419704284_p0_v1_s260x420Author: A.G. Howard

Book: SPLINTERED

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads Book Blurb:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Praise for Splintered:

“Attention to costume and setting render this a visually rich read…”–Kirkus Reviews

“SPLINTERED is simply a delicious, disturbing, mad, wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.” –Melissa Marr, New York Times Bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series.

I will *try* to contain myself and not openly gush like the inner fangirl inside of me is dying to do. A.G. Howard is very dear to my little heart for multiple reasons. (One of them being she was in the query trenches with me when we were both looking for literary representation.)

Over the summer I had the privilege of reading SPLINTERED and even if I didn’t know Ms. Howard, I’d be obsessed with this book. It’s unlike any retelling I’ve read because it’s not really a retelling as much as a re-imagining. Howard has completely transformed the Alice In Wonderland story you remember into something much much much darker. If you think you’re getting anywhere CLOSE to the Wonderland you knew, oh my oh my oh my, you are WRONG. So very, very wrong. This book comes alive with new characters. I ADORED the setting, fast-paced plot, and Howard’s beautiful writing style. SPLINTERED has got voice for miles, with unexpected plot twists and turns that will keep you turning pages, and a slew of crazy/mad/wonderful characters that you’ll immediately fall in love with.

This unique take on the sinister side of Wonderland is delightful and I can’t encourage you enough to run to the bookstore on January 1st and buy a copy. TRUST me, you won’t regret it. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, fantasy, and two swoon-worthy guys that you’ll have a tough time choosing between. I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, so I’ll leave you with a taste of A.G. Howard’s sweet prose to whet your appetite.

Reading the opening is all you need to get sucked down the rabbit hole:

“I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

Some of my victims line the walls in shadow boxes, while others get sorted into mason jars and placed on a bookshelf for later use. Crickets, beetles, spiders…bees and butterflies…” Oh, you want to read more? Oopsie. You’re going to have to grab a copy on January 1st!

Keep up with A.G. Howard online by visiting the following places:

Website: Author A.G. Howard

Twitter: @aghowardwrites

Blog: A Still and Quiet Madness

Facebook: Author AG Howard

Goodreads: A.G. Howard

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Query Letter Critique (YA Contemporary)

Original Query:

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music.

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour, Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true.

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling.

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses.

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The Critique:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Almost fainting onstage should be a foolproof way to lose a battle of the bands. But seventeen-year-old singer Charlie’s sabotage backfires, and her all-girl band the Wretched Gretchens (the name isn’t necessary right here) takes first place anyway. Cue the sappy “Hallelujah” music. (This doesn’t really add anything or propel your query forward.)

It’s not that Charlie wants her band to break up—she’s just sick of her stage persona being cooler than she is. With a mic in hand, Charlie’s a siren with Joan Jett’s pipes and Shakira’s hips. Offstage, she can’t even confess to Jonathan all her songs are about him.

When the Wretched Gretchens get a chance to play their first tour (how?), Charlie sacrifices a summer with Jonathan to help her bandmates chase their dream of fame. Killer shows and rave reviews convince Charlie that dream could be hers, too—and, even scarier, it could come true. (How? Don’t be vague here, this will help the reader understand the stakes. Is there a potential record deal? A label coming to their show?)

Desperate to prove she can handle the rock star lifestyle, Charlie channels her inner Courtney Love offstage. Partying all night with hot musicians? Bring it. Fighting with her guitarist best friend as the band crumbles? Cake. Fast-forwarding her relationship with Jonathan beyond awkward smiling? Thrilling. (Wait…how is Jonathan here? In the previous paragraph you said she had to sacrifice a summer with him. I’m missing the connection to how she’d have to sacrifice, if he can tour with them.)

When a bad gig pushes Charlie away from the other Gretchens and back into her shell, she must decide if she can exist only as a Gretchen or be confident as just Charlie—without the backing of the band’s catchy hand-clap choruses. (But why would one bad show destroy her confidence, when technically, the battle of the bands was bad if she tried fainting? What is the catalyst that makes it SUCH a bad show that she’s retracing? I think strengthening that a teeny, tiny bit more will make a big difference.)

RIP HER TO SHREDS is contemporary YA complete at 74,000 words and told from alternating perspectives of the four girls in the band. It will appeal to fans of Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS and the film ALMOST FAMOUS. (Perfect closing!)

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cheers,

Name Redacted

The aftermath:

Let me start by saying I really like your voice…but…I’m not fully grasping what the actual stakes are here. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like a good story and I totally get that she’s trying to find out who she is and become a confident, strong, girl..but what happens if she fails? What major choices does she have to make and how will that affect the people around her? I think beefing up some actual conflicts will help build the tension in the query. That’s really what’s missing.

In one way, there’s almost too much going on and the focus gets lost in the series of events that are listed. (Interesting as they are.) For example: We know there’s a battle of the bands and Charlie’s trying to sabotage it, and there’s something going on with Jonathan…then she’s on tour, and magically loving the rockstar lifestyle and partying and fighting and Jonathan is suddenly here and she’s making a move on him, then a bad gig happens and she falls apart. But those aren’t stakes, they’re kind of like a powerpoint presentation of mini conflicts.

What is the main focus of your story? What is the HUGE thing laying on the line? See if there’s a way for you to pick the BIG conflict and pull that out.

If there’s something at that bad gig that’s life-changing for everyone in the band – go into that! Tell us why that’s so important and why it’s so devastating when/if she screws it up. Is there an A&R person there, ready to sign them if the show goes well? Is there a music journalist that could write a review that’s a career changer/destroyer? 

What makes that the crucial turning point in your manuscript? I can already picture conflict for daysssssssss there. THAT is the conflict that needs to shine in your query. My god, my god, my god if Charlie messes ____ up it’s not only the dreams she’s come to desire, but all of her bandmates hopes that could be crushed FORVER. AND she could lose ________ as well. The tension and stakes are building simply by bringing your focus into a bull’s eye. 

Mini conflicts and subplots are great in books, we just need more core stuff in the blurb. Try leaving some of the smaller subplots (and list of events) out, get into the bad show part sooner, and show us what’s at stake.

Thank you so much for braving the query critique and for sharing your work on my blog! I really hope my notes are helpful and my goodness, this sounds like a fun read. Keep up the amazing work!!! 🙂

 

Float On Friday Good News is on the way…

It’s FRIDAY!!!! I hope your weekend is wrapped up in a summertime dream. Go out and have some fun, or stay inside and curl up with a great book. Either way, let your imagination run free. See you back here on Monday.

Until then, let’s interwebs dance. XO

Artist: Modest Mouse

Song: Float On

Video Credit: Kichirou08’s youtube channel

Quotes about hope and a song to go along. See what I did there?

1.) When the world says, “Give up,”
Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”~Author Unknown

2.) Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.  ~Christopher Reeve

3.) All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.  ~Terri Guillemets

4.) Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.  ~George Iles

5.) The wings of hope carry us, soaring high above the driving winds of life.  ~Ana Jacob

Video credit: MrBoots10’s youtube channel

To quote one of my favorite musicians: “Hope you have the best week of your whole fucking life. Get to it XX” – Ryan Adams

Heard it on the radio

It’s all summertime-y so this post is going to be SHAMEFULLY short. Like it’s over already. No, seriously it is. 😉 Have a great weekend! Here’s a nice cover of a great summery song. XO

Artist: The Bird and The Bee

Song: Heard it on the radio

(Hall & Oates cover)

Video credit: ‘s Youtube Channel

Worst NYC Heatwave…Ever

It’s kind of like being slapped in the face* with a warm sponge outside today. Not. Cool. Literally. So here’s a song to pay tribute to the heat wave attacking NY. Hope wherever you are, it’s a little cooler out there. Have a great weekend, and drink lots of water! XO

Artist: Martha & the Vandellas

Song: Heatwave

Video credit MusicArtistWorld Youtube Channel

***IF you’ve never been slapped in the face by a sponge, perhaps you should go try it out. Immediately. <33333