Ranking the Dystopian Teen Novels

First off, thank you all so much for the warm congratulations for adopting our daughter. Sarabeth and I were very warmed by your support and enthusiasm.

Part of Katherine’s name is based off of Katniss from The Hunger Games (just look at her initials). Some people might mock us for our obsessiveness over a teen book (pun intended), but Katniss is the kind of girl we want Katherine to be inspired by as she grows older. She’s strong, compassionate, uncompromising in her beliefs, and fiercely loyal. Plus, Katherine already has a dog named Prim, so it works out.

Yeah, I admit, I read teen novels. But I’m also in the book business, so it’s part of my job to be well-versed in what the hottest thing out there is (I’ll still pass on 50 Shades of Grey, thank you very much). While biographies, history, sports, and some mainstream fiction are part of my circulation, I get a sense of thrill when I’m about to start a new teen book, mainly because the competition out there is so fierce and only the best survive. Believe it or not, the odds are not in every book’s favor, especially in the future day setting.

Here’s four dystopian teen novels that I’ve read and ranked them from best to worst with explanations.

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1. The Hunger Games

Full of depth, originality, and deep characters, The Hunger Games presents a believable future where upper-class citizens revel in the annual deaths of teenagers broadcasted on TV. These books challenge readers to stand up and challenge what’s wrong in this world and to fight for what is good and pure. They are read on a regular basis in our home.

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2. The Last Survivors

Despite the political agenda behind Susan Beth Pfeffer’s series, it’s an extremely different take on the post-American world. The world has not shifted due to evil empires or wars, but by natural causes. An astroid knocks the moon closer to the earth, causing volcanoes to erupt, countries to flood, and the earth to shake, among other major disasters. Written from the diary of a young girl who is just an observer, the books are very believable and a fresh breath away from the tired action/thrillers populating the bookshelves.

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3. Divergent 

Firs off, way too much romance. Way too much kissing and oohing and awing. Nothing can slow a book down faster than the old “we stole glances from each other, then it lead to kisses” garbage (in my opinion, anyway). The concept is good, but a bit confusing as I could never remember what each faction’s purpose was. To be honest, I didn’t even bother to read the next two books, because by the end of the first one, I just didn’t really care.

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4. The Testing

I’m sorry, but shame on HMH Books for publishing this series. Is it Divergent? Is it Hunger Games? To be fair, the reviews on Amazon are exceptional and the first book received 4.5 stars out of 5. That’s impressive. But personally, I can’t remember being so bored with a book. It’s a total hybrid of its dystopian counterparts. And completely predictable. I also don’t plan on bothering with the next two in the series.

True, the competition among teen books is fierce. I just hope that other, better books, aren’t being buried in the commotion of the dystopian hoopla which are just riding on the coattails of greater, braver books.

Have you read these? Which ones are your favorites?

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The Grisham Challenge Book 1: A Time to Kill

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Wow! John Grisham starts his writing career off with a wallop, and a hard act to follow. Racism, threats, juicy courtroom drama, murder, revenge, and controversy.

As solid and enthralling as this work of fiction is, it wasn’t the book that launched Grisham into his superstar status, believe it or not. That doesn’t happen until the release of his next book, The Firm (which I’ll start reading shortly).

But let’s talk about the controversy in A Time to Kill.

A little girl gets raped. No… your little girl gets raped. You have a weapon and a clear shot of  the rapists. What do you do?

Now you’re in the jury box. The man being convicted was just exacting revenge on behalf of his battered and bruised daughter.

Do you convict him?

I know the law states that we are not to seek vigilante justice on our own, that we must leave it to the court to execute justice. It seems plain and simple, really. The man killed. The conviction of a guilty verdict should be implemented.

But Grisham’s brilliancy is that he blurs the lines between black and white (and I mean that both morally and ethnically).

This would be one of those very few scenarios where the movie had just a tiny edge up on the book. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but from what I remember, Mathew McConaughey’s portrayal of our defense attorney Jake Brigance, in his closing argument, describes the heinous rape to an all-white, Southern jury. And then at the very end he says something like, “Now, imagine that the victim is white.”

That sort of happens in the book, except it’s a jury member who pulls that gut-wrenching punch.

If I were in the jury box, I might have very well given the verdict to the vindictive father and let him walk free. What about you? How did A Time to Kill affect you?

I know a few of you have expressed joining me in The Grisham Challenge. Join the fun and let’s read the works of America’s favorite storyteller together!

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The John Grisham Challenge

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If you were to ask me who my favorite fiction writer is, by default I would have to say John Grisham, probably because I’ve read more of his books than any other fiction author. That’s not to say others don’t live up.

Suzanne Collins hasn’t written as many books, even though I’ve read all eight (actually, nine) of her works.

Jeff Smith is a graphic novelist, so he can’t count as a fiction author.

And Stephen King just wasn’t the right fit for me.

Plus, I love courtroom action, and I think Grisham does it best.

But somewhere in the middle of his writing career, he kind of lost his touch. Sure, most of us can agree that his books set outside the courthouse are left wanting a little more substance (or plot), but the most recent trial books I’ve read by him haven’t necessarily lived up to par, either. I remember loving one of them immensely (The Broker, maybe?), but the ending was so sudden and unsatisfying that I ended up hating it.

So I want to find out what went wrong. At what point did America’s favorite storyteller lose his knack for captivating his john-grishamreaders? (Or hasn’t he?) You see, I want to avoid whatever mistakes he made, and capitalize on his strengths (and there are many), because I may or may not be writing my own courtroom book currently. And in order to do it well, I want to learn from the best.

I’ll be reading them in order of release from A Time to Kill, which I’m almost done with, to Rogue Lawyer. 

Some of them I’m very excited about revisiting, like The Firm, The Client, The Testament, and others not so much, like A Painted House and Playing for Pizza.

But we can’t expect a perfect 100 from someone’s who’s given us almost forty titles. So, Mr. Grisham, here’s to the next couple of years spent together in thrilling courtroom (and sometimes sports, rural, and Christmas) bliss.

Share your favorite John Grisham novel below!

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These Great Affects (Teen Book), Chapter 2 Continued

Most love stories are about two people who are completely different from one another. How different can you get than one being alive and the other being…well, not?…

Click here for Chapter 1

Click here for Chapter 2.1

Selected pieces from Chapter 2 continued…

I couldn’t stop myself. I swiped at the phone he was still holding up and knocked it onto the wet grass, now lost in the falling current. I began to storm off a second time but stopped when he threw another punch my way. “So first you ruin my car, then you try to break my phone. What are you, determined to completely destroy me?”

“ I’m not the one who tried to run you over with my car!” I yelled, my temper getting the better of me now. “In fact, speaking of phones…”—I dug into my wet jeans pocket for my own—“I’m calling the cops. You should never be allowed to drive again.”

I began swiping at the screen on my phone so I could dial 9-1-1, but it wasn’t coming on. It was drenched, so obviously broken. When I looked up in frustration, the guy was already digging around the flooded grass for his phone. It only took him a moment to find it and pull it out of the water.

“Here. Use mine,” he said, handing the sopping devise to me. “It’s waterproofed. Password is Elle Fanning, one word, no spaces.”

I glared hard at him before snatching it out of his hand, which I think almost made him laugh. “Elle Fanning, huh?”

“Oh, yeah. Big crush. It’s hopeless. But if you’re going to call the cops, you might want to step out of the water. I doubt they’ll be able to hear you if you’re standing right in it.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the torrential downpour.

At that moment I was struck by two simultaneous thoughts pulling me in two different directions. One was, What a hopeless jerk. And the other was, This guy is kind of cute. I was appalled at my own shallowness, but I gave in anyway. I stretched my arm out, offering his phone back.

“Why don’t you hold on to that for me for a while,” he insisted. “Your phone’s dead, so I’ll let you borrow mine.”

“I’ll get mine fixed, eventually,” I said, hating that the edge was dulling in my voice. “Besides, you need to call your parents so they can pick you up.”

“You think I’m in a hurry to tell them about this?” he waved his hand in the air as if shooing a fly. “I’ll be taking my time walking home so I can put together a well-rehearsed confession.”

“You’d rather tell them in person?” I asked, surprised.

“Why not? If I tell them over the phone, it’ll take away from the Affect.”

“The affect?” I asked, a little intrigued.

“Yeah. The Affect. That’s what I call the moments that you can capitalize on for future use to affect certain emotions. Sure, it’s gonna suck when I tell my parents that I crashed my car, but years from now, when I tell my kids about today, which I inevitably will because, let’s face it, this day will be pretty hard to forget. So when I tell about today, I want to be able to describe the looks on my parent’s faces. That’s the effect you can’t get over the phone; that’s the Affect that will make the story worth telling.”

“Wow.” I literally did not know how to follow up with that. “That’s gutsy.”

“Gotta do it for the kids,” he said with a smile that kind of affected my breathing.

“I do think your kids’ll be pretty impressed about the totaled car and the flooded street.”

“That’s certainly a good aside, but I was thinking the big Affect could be meeting their mother and talking to her in the falling sewer water.” I think by that point the mascara had leaked down far enough to reach my mouth because I think I choked on some. Thankfully the guy saved me from having to respond. “Anyway, I better get home so I can keep my story going to tell our kids. You’ve got my number. Gimme a call sometime.”

“Wait,” I managed, as he began to walk away, my voice more hoarse than it had ever been. “I have your phone, how would I call you?”

He held out my phone. He must have somehow gotten it from me while he was wooing me and I was being too taken to notice. “I’m gonna get this fixed for you. I expect to get a text or something from you. You know your number.”

He walked away toward his house and I didn’t bother to stop him this time except to say, “Mock bird 60. No spaces.” He raised my phone as though in salute and smiled, then continued on his way.

And that’s how I met my first love who would not live long enough to tell our story to anyone.

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These Great Affects: 501 Words From Chapter 1

You delivered. In my last post I promised I’d share an excerpt for every ten new fans I got for my new Facebook page. Keep spreading the word about my upcoming teen book and I’ll keep revealing more excerpts.

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An excerpt from Chapter 1:

I don’t think we were really supposed to meet. I was supposed to have died and he was supposed to have run away—or gone to jail, whichever he decided.

So one Saturday I was at home with Mom and Dad. Mom and I were fighting, which was kind of unusual. My mom was trying to get me to join some extracurricular activity at school, like track or drama or something. Being a hardcore introvert, I wasn’t too hot on the idea of staying at school any longer than I needed to; judging by the classes, school wasn’t doing much to sell their other activities.

“I’m just saying,” my mom was saying, making a mess flipping one of the pancakes in the skillet, “it’d be good for you to do something outside of school or writing.”

“So that’s my extracurricular activity—writing. If others want to join in, they’re more than welcome,” I said. I was warming the syrup up in the microwave and pulling the dishes out of the cupboard.

“So start a writing club on campus,” my mom suggested.

I laughed derisively. “Oh, yeah. That’ll go over real well with all the people that already think I’m a total geek.”

“Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t it like the in thing to be a geek now?”

I sighed. “No, Mom. Being a nerd is cool, or even a dork is passable, but being a geek means you’re just a loser. I don’t want my pancake to be that big.”

“But isn’t it cool to be a loser now?” asked my dad, sitting at his Toshiba laptop. I hated these sort of patronizing talks with my parents almost more than anything.

“Mom, seriously. I don’t want that much.”

“You’re too skinny,” she said, turning the burner up. “You can stand to have a little more food than us.” Because clearly she still thought I was an infant who needed fattening up.

Maybe things weren’t like that for her in the fifties when she was in high school, but in today’s world, you can’t afford to just “fatten up.” I mean, sure there’s all sorts of Public Service Announcements and stuff about not bullying, and everyone seems to be on board with all that—except the bullies. Being an introvert was bad enough for my already-fragile self-esteem.

As far as my hardcore introversion goes, I spent most of my time reading Nicholas Sparks novels, writing poetry or short stories in preparation for being the next Harper Lee, and watching episodes of Gossip Girl when my parents weren’t looking.

My mom turned back to me and asked, “So what do you think you’ll sign up for?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Can you at least let it go for like one day?”

“Why is it such a big deal?” she asked, walking her plate to the sink. “Why are you so adamantly against doing anything outside of your comfort zone?”

“Because it’s uncomfortable!” I said. “Besides, it’s the principle of the idea.”

Share this on Facebook and and I’ll reveal more as it develops.

Click here for the synopsis

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A Sneak Peek at My New Teen Book

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So you know when you’re fifteen, you’re at that awkward stage where your parents still think you’re a kid and it seems like they’re prohibiting you from crossing over into adulthood? Or how about how you’re not quite old enough to hang out with sixteen-year-olds because they’re all out driving their cars with other licensed drivers? Well yeah, that was a terrible age. And it was an even worse age for me than other fifteen-year-olds because that was the year I killed my first love. Only, we didn’t fall in love until after that happened.

Meet Adelle Hitchens, the center of my upcoming teen book, These Great Affects. She’s an unambitious writer who is a “hardcore introvert” who watches Gossip Girl behind her parents’ backs. Like most adolescents, she thinks love isn’t for her.

Enter Trill Vikus. Self-obsorbed, handsome, unpredictable, and a terrible driver. He’s obsessed with the band Fun. and is convinced that if Elle Fanning ever met him she’d want to marry him, and he’d accept.

Most love stories are about two people who are completely different from one another. How different can you get than one being alive and the other being…well, not?

For every ten followers my new Facebook page gets, I will share 500 words of These Great Affects until it is complete and ready for publication. Happy sharing!

Click here to read an excerpt from chapter 1

On Writing: Read Less

ibooks-shelfSince 2011 I’ve kept a log of books I’ve read and the dates I read them. At the beginning of each year I go back and count the number of books I read that year.

So far my average has been about 30 books a year.

And then it dawned on me. I’ve got three books in development, two ofEditing_Red_Pen1-300x225 which are to be completed by the end of this year, and I’m only allotted so much time within the year to write them, then edit them, edit them, and edit them again.

Looking at my track record of reading 30 books a year and having one book published every two years, you’d think I was striving to be a professional reader, not writer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I will never underestimate the power and benefit of reading, especially for writers. You can’t possibly write without constantly reading, so why am I resolving to read less?

Out of 365 days a year, there are a total of 8,760 hours.

I sleep on average seven hours a night, so that’s 1,251 hours I’m forced to disregard, which means I only have 7,509 waking hours.

mathWith 2,640 of those hours being spent at work (and commuting to work), I’m now brought down to 4,869 hours.

Additionally, I have a daughter to play with and a wife to adore, movies to watch, and walks to take, so averaging in three hours a day plus weekends, I’m now at 2,709 hours available to devote to writing.

But wait. There’s time spent doing errands, miscellaneous trips to Taco Bell and new pizza joints, social worker visits, time wasted scrolling through iTunes and surfing on IMDB… a rough estimate brings my writing time down to 1,1749 hours for the year 2015.

Compared to the 7,509 hours I’m awake, 1,749 hours seems kind of small. But it is what it is and as my daughter grows older, that number is going to go down even further.

So the question is, do I spend that thousand-plus hours out-reading my previous book totals, or do I spend that time working to achieve my sub-goal of becoming a bestselling author so I can quit my day job and earn an additional 2,640 hours to my schedule, traveling the country with my family, reading (and writing) all I want on a sunny beach?

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So yeah, I’ll keep reading in order to keep improving my writing skills, but it is not going to be as big of a priority as it has been. For me, it’s a bigger accomplishment to write two books and read 15 than read 40 books and write nothing in a year.

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