I know some of you are still email subscribed to me here at this site. Unfortunately, I’m no longer posting here. However, if you’re still interested in getting updates from me, please come visit me here. You can subscribe to me in two ways–you can sign up for my newsletter, which is monthly, or you can sign up to get emails whenever I post a blog entry. I would love to see you there! Looking forward to it!
This weekend, my wonderful designer KJ and I will be migrating a new web design over to this domain name. That means, when you visit JustineManzano.com on Monday, it will look completely different AND ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS.
Why am I telling you this and not letting you be pleasantly surprised?
1) If you happen to visit the site this weekend, it could be a mess or be completely down. Please ignore. We are doing our thing. It will be back up and looking gorgeous by Sunday night or early Monday.
2) If you subscribe to the site and get email updates whenever I post a new blog entry, those will no longer work on the new site. There will be a new place to sign up for blog updates and I’ll hope you’ll continue to follow my journey.
You can also sign up for my newsletter if you want to continue being updated on my progress. https://mailchi.mp/ebb8bfa2eae4/justinemanzanosignup
I will have a huge announcement next week, so come visit me again then.
See you on the other side of this update!
The updates just keep coming this week, and it will probably be like that leading all the way up to the release of the book, so I hope you’ll stay with me and have fun following along for my continued adventures.
The latest of these adventures will give you a sneak preview of The Order of the Key. On Saturday, May 2nd at 2PM EST, I will be doing a live reading of a portion of the book. It’s all part of Write Hive’s Book Nook event, Fantasy May. The month will be filled with events related to fantasy novels.
If you haven’t signed up for their Discord server yet, now is the time. Write Hive is a growing writing community. It’s not just for the conventions. The discussion is ongoing, and you can join it too. I recently became one of the chat moderators, and I’m having a great time.
To join the Write Hive Discord Server, sign up for an account at http://Discord.com, then head over to https://discordapp.com/invite/zbhaWMt. You’ll gain access to a friendly community of writers and book lovers. It’s a mighty good time.
And if you’d like a sneak preview of my upcoming book, The Order of the Key, please join us on May 2 and 2PM EST.
I’m so excited to see you there!
Before I get started, I just wanted to let you guys know—I forgot to mention one link in my catch up last week. I did a lovely interview about the crossover between editing and writing with Kriti Khare. Check it out here.
Anyway, on to the book review!
Another pick off of my To Be Read list, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon is my latest book review. While, I’ll be honest, I chose the book because I recognized Solomon’s name from hanging around in the Twitter YA Writing Community, and little else. And then, as books tend to do when added to my TBR, it sat there for a long time before I actually had time to read it.
I’ve finally gotten there. And I am so glad I did.
Book Summary: Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist–and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.
But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.
When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.
These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?
What I Enjoyed:
The story of Adina and Tovah and their family was a heart wrenching one and Solomon was never afraid to tackle really difficult topics. The tale is beautifully written, and haunting. Based on the description, it appears the story is purely about Huntington’s Disease, but that’s not the case. Huntington’s does play a major role in this story, of course, but the story is as much about the twins growing up and preparing for college. The girls each deal with their own romantic endeavors, college pursuits, and emotional insecurities, all while coping with the worsening health of their mother and the fallout of one of the girl’s being diagnosed as well.
I’ve been eenie meenie mineying my way through my TBR list, so the fact that I managed to get three books in a row that involved detailed descriptions of the Jewish faith, a religion I grew up surrounded by, is almost a little odd, but still much appreciated. I love that the faith is being written into more books by #ownvoices authors. The descriptions and discussions of Tovah’s love for her religion and Adina’s struggle to embrace a God that allows for the tragedy in her own family hit very close to home.
Solomon manages to find a strong balance between the two voices, one of which I found mostly unlikable, albeit sympathetic. I don’t want to say which sister, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I felt the two points of view really saved the day, as I’m not sure I could have read an entire novel from the more troubled character’s point of view.
For all their flaws, the characters and everything they go through felt deeply explored and real, and the story left me thinking far after it was over. More than anything, I loved the fact that these characters each had their own private lives, their own private worlds, and though they didn’t often know what was going on in each other’s worlds, they impacted the way the characters dealt with each other. It was just so planned, well-paced, and never felt unrealistic or out of character.
What I’d Avoid: Do you ever feel like a book is doing too much? I loved this book. I did. But sometimes I would get blindsided. In four hundred pages, Solomon tackled many intense topics: Huntington’s Disease, struggles with religion, an eighteen year old’s relationship with a twenty-five year old teacher, stalking, body image, suicidal thoughts, mental illness, a teenager having a pregnancy scare, and some seriously sexual scenes.
That’s a lot for one book to tackle, let alone a book that’s technically a young adult novel. Some of the sex scenes in the book, while written in a lovely way, felt like they belonged in a far more adult novel. And I’m no prude, trust me.
But even more concerning is the fact that, in some places, it didn’t feel like some of these important issues were able to be tackled effectively when competing with the other ones. And that is an issue.
What Can I Learn From It: One thing I learned is how heavily flawed a character can be while still pulling you along for a ride you want to be on. I often wanted to chuck things at one of the characters, but her struggles were understandable enough that I didn’t completely hate her and still wanted to know where her story went.
Another takeaway was that I shouldn’t be afraid to tackle more difficult topics. I’ve been struggling while writing the sequel to my debut, fearful of how deep I dive into the child abuse angle I set up in the first story. Now I realize I have something to share with the world, and if I can do that realistically, and without fear, I may be able to help someone out there feel seen.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, I would absolutely recommend this book. It stayed with me for an entire week after I completed it and still haunts my mind. However, I would definitely warn any future readers of the triggers associated with some of the heavy topics discussed here.
Oh boy, what a year the last two months have been. I don’t think I need to tell anybody what I’m talking about here.
For me, it’s weird. On one side of my life, I’m quarantined. My husband is an essential worker, so he’s out of the house every day. We worry for him, but we’re so proud of him. Although…he’d cringe under that attention, but we keep giving it to him anyway. LOL I’m blessed to be able to work from home in much the same way I’ve done at my office, so I’ve been doing that while sharing computer usage time with my son, who is doing remote learning. We all have seasonal allergies, and whenever we start to feel off, we’ve been temperature-taking in a paranoid rush to check for Covid-19.
And then there’s the other side of my life. The side I speak about the most on here. My writing career. And that may be at its most successful. It’s a weird confluence of events. But if I’m going to be home all day, I’ve been keeping busy. So here’s what’s new over these last two months. I hope this blog gives you a break from the monotony of life stuck at home.
Here’s a quick catch-up on the latest things going on in my writing career. And then next week, I should have a book review for you. This way it isn’t ALL about me.
The Order of the Key is now on Goodreads: You guys, I have a book. A book on Goodreads! Like a real author! Because I am a REAL AUTHOR. A REAL REAL AUTHOR. Add my book on Goodreads! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52554076-the-order-of-the-key
Remember I told you KJ Harrowick was doing a whole design package for me? Wanna see some of it?
First, here are my gorgeous social media banners.
Now, check out my beautiful business cards:
There is also a new website coming soon. We’re at the 75% point of the design process. I’ll be letting you know when we’re switching over, because the site will go offline for a short period of time. It’s so gorgeous. I can’t wait to share it with you guys.
Camp Nano WHAT O?:
So, I thought I could do it. I truly believed I had time to sign up for CampNanoWriMo this year. And I probably would have made it if it wasn’t for that damn Covid-19. But with everything going on, I was far too distracted to really commit to 50,000 words. So, I lowered my target word count to 20,000. Then, I got back my first and second chapter edits from my beta reader AKA Ismael. I thought, at least I was writing something, and that is absolutely true. You can’t edit a blank page. But MY GOODNESS, I needed to reevaluate my plan. My husband poked all kinds of holes in my thought process, in that wonderful way he does. But that’s okay. My brain was not ready to handle writing my sequel like a speed demon. I needed to take some time to get back into this and figure out exactly where I want this world to go. I already know. But how do I make that happen? I don’t want to rush that. So, I’m going to keep working on it. I’m going to keep pushing myself. And hopefully, with much more time and patience with myself, I’ll get what I want.
You guys, I have so many goodies coming for you in the pre-order prize pack I’m working on and for the launch party. It’s going to be awesome. I’m keeping a copy of everything for myself, because that’s how hyped I am. I can’t wait for you to see. I have most of it here at home already. I’m waiting for a few custom objects to come in and it will be time to start assembling the packages.
This past weekend, a brand new online convention premiered. Write Hive was an amazing experience, and not just because I was on two panels! Coordinated across Twitter, Discord, and YouTube, this conference contained text, audio, and video panels. You can see the entire Discord server here: https://discord.gg/2ZRXqf. The YouTube channel is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo8rJLG2bcSAOs121BTGa6A. I was a panelist on the “Fanfic Forever” text panel (exclusively on Discord), and the “Tech Savvy Writer” panel. The video for that one is on is embedded below. It had a Q&A session on Discord as well. It was such a good panel, and I really hope you guys get some good info out of it.
Reviews: Book reviews have started coming in for The Order of the Key! And the best news? They are good reviews!
Check out this 5 star review from Nicky Flowers of Indies Today: https://indiestoday.com/the-order-of-the-key-by-justine-manzano/
And another great review from book blogger Rae of Rae’s Reading Lounge: https://energyrae.com/2020/04/18/the-order-of-the-key-justine-manzano/
It’s always so incredibly reassuring when someone you’ve never met loves something you’ve created. SO SO Happy.
Blog Tour: The fantastic Xpresso Book Tours is hosting my book tour! Want a chance to host my book? Want a review copy? Join the tour. Learn more here. http://xpressobooktours.com/2020/04/22/tour-sign-up-the-order-of-the-key-by-justine-manzano/
Ok, that’s all for this chunk of time. I’m working on a new book review for you guys next week to share with you.
Last year, a friend of mine gave me the gift of a bunch of random books (both published and ARCs) they’d acquired, read, and were willing to part with. I’ve been slowly working my way through what I was given and reviewing them as I go. There is absolutely, no rhyme or reason to my pattern. I literally eenie meenie miney mo my way through my TBR pile. Which is probably how I ended up accidentally reading this book, which is a sequel, without ever having a clue that it was, in fact, a sequel. So, here’s my adventure in reading something and having a very strong feeling I missed something.
The Map from Here to There, a sequel to The Start of Me and You, is by Emery Lord, and was released January 20, 2020.
It’s senior year, and Paige Hancock is finally living her best life. She has a fun summer job, great friends, and a super charming boyfriend who totally gets her. But senior year also means big decisions. Weighing “the rest of her life,” Paige feels her anxiety begin to pervade every decision she makes. Everything is exactly how she always wanted it to be–how can she leave it all behind next year? In her head, she knows there is so much more to experience after high school. But in her heart, is it so terrible to want everything to stay the same forever?
What I Enjoyed:
Despite my complete foul up, I totally understood what was going on and everything I missed in the first book, with only the vague idea that this seemed like enough backstory for a whole other book, so that was pretty damn impressive.
This book, much like the last one I read, was great anxiety representation. I felt for Paige and her panic about the huge, life-changing decisions that come with being a senior in high school and having to decide on colleges. Add to that the fear of a new relationship that everyone around her sees as inevitable, and the fact that her divorced parents have been dating again, and you’ve got a major anxiety cocktail.
And it’s not pretty. Which is probably my favorite thing about this. Paige, who seems like a decent and nice person on the whole, does some epically stupid stuff while in the grasp of this anxiety, and it does some real damage to her relationships. There are consequences and they matter.
Another thing I loved? The characters and what they faced. Paige’s struggles weren’t the only ones. Paige’s boyfriend, Max, struggles with a renewed relationship with his previously absent father and deciding what he wants to do with his life, as well as the fallout of Paige’s decisions. He also has to decide whether he wants to choose his college to go in line with where Paige gets accepted, an issue that helps push Paige’s anxiety levels up a few notches. Never mind the fact that Max is just adorable. His confident nerdiness with a slice of vulnerability made him the perfect boyfriend and foil for Paige’s nervous overthinking.
Paige has three close girl friends, and they each have their own storylines that are real struggles. Tessa also struggles with her newly long distance relationship, as her girlfriend heads to college. She tries her best to help Paige, her closest friend of the friend group, and often ends up getting the brunt of Paige’s attitude. Kayleigh’s father is getting remarried, and she is dealing with choosing a college that is not the college she and her bestie Morgan agreed upon. Also, Morgan may be falling for her brother and she isn’t sure how she feels about it. After Morgan receives a negative diagnosis, she strikes out on a quest to spread sex education and women’s health education through the state, fighting the school board as she goes.
And then there’s Hunter. Hunter is Paige’s friend from her job at the local movie theater. For reasons I can’t get into without spoiling things, I really loved the arc of his character. I loved the fact that tropes were completely tossed out the window when it came to him, and I really appreciated the resolution his character reached in the end. He was extremely well-handled, despite the fears I grew toward the minute of the book.
What I’d Avoid:
I really think it should say the book is a sequel somewhere on the book. I seriously had no idea I was getting into a story midway. I mean, the author did a good job of recapping, but I kinda wish I knew beforehand. I spoiled the previous book for myself! I wish I could have gotten to see Paige and Max fall in love. Dang it.
The other thing I had an issue with also might be spoilery. The ending was lovely, however, I wish there was more closure. I get that that was kind of the point at the end, the idea that some things, you don’t know, you will never know, until life and its infinite twists and turns decides them for you. However, there were a couple of questions that I think could have been answered more definitively before the closing of the novel…unless, of course, there’s a third story planned for this series.
What Can I Learn From it:
This was prime ensemble casting. As someone who tends to overstuff and then have to cut down on my ensemble casting (you don’t want to know how many characters I had to cut out of Order to streamline the story into something I could be proud of). The author manages to handle a large ensemble of characters without any of them ever feeling like they get lost in the shuffle.
Would I recommend it:
Yes. But I would recommend you read it in order. *facepalm*
Last month was an awesome month for me. If any of you read fanfiction, I’ve decided to format this post in the time honored tradition of a 5+1 fic. So, here’s my five awesome things that happened in February, + 1 from March.
- I got a book cover and my book went up for presale! Check out this beautiful thing! And the physical copy is up for presale. If you order through Black Rose Writing, use the code PREORDER2020 to get a 15% discount. https://www.blackrosewriting.com/teenya/theorderofthekey. It’s also available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1684335043/ref=dbs_a_def_awm_bibl_vppi_i2
And at Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-order-of-the-key-justine-manzano/1136575285?ean=9781684335046.
And let me tell you, those were dreams come true.
- I made my first convention appearance. Sure, it was online…but I probably liked that better anyway. All. Those. People. Not that I don’t love people. I’m just easily emotionally overwhelmed when there’s a lot of them. Anyway…my first appearance was at WriteOnCon 2020, in their Indie HQ section. I gave a forum speech titled “Not Right For Me: How to Find Red Flags in Indie/Micropress.” This is a topic anyone following the journey to publishing Order knows about. Check it out here: https://writeonconforums.org/thread/3023/right-find-flags-indie-micropress
- I was the guest on an awesome podcast and it wasn’t (exactly) about my writing. I appeared on Ronin Uncensored, where I spoke with host Joshua Lee Ronin about raising a child with mental illness, coping with my own, and how all of this affects my writing. This is me, completely uncensored. I spoke about things I don’t normally speak about and since I’m not big on that thing where people project a representative of themselves in the public eye that looks nothing like the real them, I felt really good about this podcast. Check it (and all of Joshua’s interviews because he’s a super insightful interviewer) here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4uZrIzdDwgbKC8R90qzrva
- Have you ever heard about the amazing KJ Harrowick? Well, if you haven’t, allow me to introduce you: http://halon-chronicles.com/. This is her website. Not only is she a kick ass writer, but she is now my web and logo designer. We’ve partnered to reinvigorate this here old site and make it into something as glorious as hers. So expect a new logo, a new site, and loads of awesome looking stuff to come. And go follow KJ. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and she’s glorious. ❤
- Now…have you heard of Boogie Down Books?
https://boogiedownbooks.com/ Well, you should have! I’ve been doing readings of children’s books there for years and wrote a blog post on it and everything! LOL, but I forgive you. Now you need to know about them, because they will be partnering with me to sell the books at my book launch! We’re looking for a great location and have a few great leads I hope to lock up soon. Once I do, you know you’ll be notified. For now, if you’re interested in attending and you’re in the NY area, save the weekend of July 11th.
And now for the plus one…
- I’ve just signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April! Why? Because I am currently starting work on the sequel to The Order of the Key, titled The Skeleton Key. I’ve got a lot of brilliant ideas for this one, and will likely be very busy planning the outline this month. So look for more information on this one as I work through this.
Anyway, I hope all is well with all of you! Let me know what’s new in the comments.
All my love,
I’ve been meaning to read this book FOR AGES.
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know about one of my first jobs in publishing was as a reader for Sucker Literary. Sucker was a YA Anthology run by author Hannah R. Goodman. In my time working for Sucker, and also submitting my work to Sucker, Hannah and I got to know each other. And when her book Till It Stops Beating was released in July 2018, I quickly snatched up a copy, and it has lived amidst my TBR list ever since.
More recently, after a conversation with Hannah, I realized I hadn’t yet read that book, because life got in the way, and my TBR list is years old and contains more books than I’ll ever probably read. I pushed everything else aside and finally picked it up.
Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).
Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever-mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.
Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.
What I Enjoyed:
I’ve been suffering from anxiety since I was a teenager. My son has suffered from sometimes crippling anxiety for most of his life. He’s only ten. And so, Till It Stops Beating’s main character, Maddie Hickman immediately earned herself a very solid place in my heart. This was genuine mental health rep, with a relatable protagonist, whose anxiety manifests itself in realistic ways.
Maddie has been through a lot. She’s been through the death of a friend. The addictions of her sister and the boy she once loved, but still can’t shake. She’s struggled through some nightmare scenarios, and when she discovers her Bubbie (Grandma, for those of you who weren’t raised at least somewhat Jewish), it takes her a minute, but Maddie finally shuts down. She implodes, unable to add this to her litany of troubles and her mounting fear of the future. You see, Maddie is a senior in high school, and she has no idea where she is headed, or who she wants to be.
So, once she pulls herself together from the big emotional drop, Maddie does what anybody would do when pushing themselves to recover—she experiments. She tries to figure out who she wants to be through sheer force of will. She throws herself into life and discovers that what she always needed wasn’t at all what she ever expected.
Though the first half was incredibly touching, it is in this latter half, as she struggles to find her place after striking out as an adult, that the book truly finds its footing as a story of fighting through anxiety, and finding what matters most–not to live safely, but to live well.
What I’d Avoid:
While I loved the prose in this book, and the characters were relatable and fun, I did find that part 1 and part 2 of this book felt like two completely different books. High School just kind of ends abruptly there in the middle, and suddenly we are on this road trip we haven’t even really seen Maddie come up with. I almost wish this would have been a long percolating idea in her head from the beginning of the book, so it didn’t feel like such a plot shift. This happens a few times. There is also a book that Maddie is writing in the first half for her senior project, and it’s done before we really have time to feel her triumph. I get that there was a lot happening in this book, and we couldn’t linger that long on too many parts, given the span of time being addressed, but this made me feel like the book was running away from us. The pacing was just a little off for me.
Would I Recommend It:
Yes, absolutely. Maddie is a great character, and her collection of friends and family are heartwarming and endearing. I was carried along with her journey and enjoyed exploring her emotions. She’s a complicated person, which makes her feel very real, and the mental health representation makes this important reading for the young adult market.
What Can I Learn From It:
The writer and editor in me finds a lesson in each book, and here’s the one that can be found here. Always write from the heart. Write your truth and don’t go easy on it. Some thoughts we have aren’t the most likeable. Some things we do make us look like jerks. But that’s the reality of who we are. Not everything gets resolved in the end in life, and that should be true for fiction, too. We don’t always get to say our sorrys. We don’t always get to say our goodbyes.
It’s here! It’s really happening! The Order of the Key now has a brilliant cover!
The text is a little small on that one, so I’ll paste it below.
Jacklyn Madison never expected to be attacked by a beast on an evening snack run. Add a rescue mission enacted by a trained regiment of teenaged warriors, and her night officially becomes just like a scene from one of her beloved comic books. Turns out, her parents were once members of the Order of the Key, gifted humans that protect humanity from creatures spilling through inter-dimensional rifts. Unable to control her newfound abilities, Jacklyn and her family rejoin the Order.
After an attack on their headquarters leaves Jacklyn questioning their leadership, Kyp—the boy who led her initial rescue—reveals a darker secret. The Order’s leader may be corrupt, and Jacklyn’s questions could put her family in danger. Drawn into the search for proof, Jacklyn must use her guts and magical brawn to protect her family, her friends, and herself from the monsters spilling from rifts, and those hiding within the Order.
And now for the really big news. The Order of the Key is now available for pre-order at Black Rose Writing’s Website!
If you order here, use the code PREORDER2020 at checkout for a 15% discount.
And save those receipts. I’ve got a pre-order giveaway in the works and I’ll be posting about it soon.
It’s official! I’m giving a talk at WriteOnCon 2020, this weekend! There will be loads of wonderful tips for writers of kidlit during the various events over the weekend. Check out the schedule here.
I will be over in the Indie HQ talking about how to spot red flags in small and micropress publishing. Come join us!