Monday, June 28, 2021

Review Lola Benko Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen


Lola Benko travels the world with her archeologist dad. She's used to hopping around the globe with no place to call home. But when her dad mysteriously sends her to live with her great-aunt Irma and is thought to have died trying to recover his next artifact, Lola swears he's still alive. She will stop at nothing to find her father even if it means getting caught stealing expensive art from a rich mansion. But if she's to uncover the truth she'll have to trust kids her own age and she's used to doing things on her own.

Lola is a fantastic character, she's into STEM and likes to invent things and dives in head first often without a plan which makes her lovable even in her mistakes. Unfortunately Lola Benko didn't have the world travels and Indiana Jones style treasure hunts I expected but it did have a lot of heart and some fun and sometimes unexpected middle of the night adventures that often went sideways before the characters were able to get themselves out of the mess created. Lola's friends Hannah and Jin are believable and help level and challenge Lola as a character. And the ending had a nice wrap up while also opening the door for the sequel.

I recommend to all middle grade readers looking for a little adventure with a side of mischief and fun that doesn't always go according to plan.

ARC generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jacking Up the Excitement in your Middle Grade Novel

I'm writing from Puerto Vallarta today. Taking out a little time to blog during my family vacation. Don't worry, I won't bore you with candid shots of my kids learning to surf or grisly descriptions of what happens when you jump off a board onto spiny sea urchins. It's not pretty. We'll leave it at that.

Instead, let's take a bite out of jackfruit. 

What does jackfruit have to do with writing riveting novels? Well, let me explain. 

Jackfruit is a huge warty green fruit. It's kind of melon looking, if your melons were aliens or perhaps were exposed to some sort of virus. It's not melon-y at all inside. I've never seen one before yesterday. Honestly, I was super excited to try it. I'm a bit of a foodie and I love adventure, so why not try eating something that looks like a science experiment gone wrong? The guides loved it. What did I have to lose?

A few bucks, apparently. But I gained oh, so much in experience, right?

Not only does the jackfruit look strange but the rubbery pit-filled flesh (promised to be a tantalizing blend of banana, cantaloupe, and pineapple) turned out to be........bland. I could only manage a bite. 

Back at the hotel, I tried blending it into a smoothie. I was greeted with a less-than-enthusiastic shrug from the family and something that sounded a little like "Mmph." Mmmmm was more what I was hoping for.

This brings me back to the point of this post - jacking up the excitement.

Anything you write needs to have a unique, intriguing presentation. No doubt the jackfruit did. I haven't seen that many warts since Halloween. And the chartreuse hue definitely grabbed my attention. 

But as with the fruit, presentation isn't enough. Even if some locals (family and friends) love your novel, you probably want to extend your appeal a little farther than that. And let's face it, no one really wants something bland. 

So here's some tips for writing a compelling novel that lives up to its hype.

Craft a Tight Plot

Include the basic elements of plot in your story. Free write all you want to get the juices going. But it's useful to have some idea of where you are in terms of plot. Some writers do this through structured planning such as outlining. Others prefer to "pants it," writing by the seat of the their pants, or on the fly, with little or no planning at all. Whatever your process, be sure to include these vital elements of plot.
  1. Exposition - this is the basic setup, where you develop enough character and world building to grab the readers attention and introduce them to the world of your novel. This is the period prior to the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting incident - this is the event that sets the novel in motion, the life-changing thing that happens that propels your character on their journey. 
  3. Rising Action - this is when your main character attempts to solve problems and overcome obstacles. This is where twists and turns should happen.
  4. Climax/Turning Point - This is the darkest moment, often referred to as the all-is-lost moment. Your character must confront the dragon and face their own weaknesses at the same time. This is when the most intense character transformation occurs.
  5. Resolution - The problem resolves and the character and their world return to normal, but it is a new normal, incorporating changes to the main character and their world. This often includes personal growth and new understanding of life and the world around them.

Create Relatable Characters

In order to be relatable each main character needs backstory, hobbies, interests, even conflicting opinions. I'm not talking about conflict between characters here, but conflict within a single character, much like we experience ourselves. 

Of course, conflict between characters is vital as well, even between allies. No one gets along perfectly all the time, not even the best of friends. Check your novel to make sure there's enough conflict and tension or your readers will find the relationships unrealistic and, dare I say it, bland.

Characters also need to have weaknesses. There's nothing more relatable than weakness and vulnerability, because we all experiences that, too.

Layer in Imagery and Metaphor

Once you finish your first draft, take a blazing fast read through of your novel. Look for imagery and themes you have included, whether on purpose or by accident. Then intensify these themes. Look for opportunities to add meaning through imagery and metaphor. This will add interest and depth to your novel.

Edit Out Fluff

It's tempting to include flowery adverbs or adjectives. But these actually detract from compelling writing. So does too much information. Consider the following sentences:

Jack clumsily walked too close to a really huge rocky ledge then fell off, screaming and hollering all the way down.


Jack stumbled off a cliff.

Which one makes your heart jump? Which one makes you want to turn the page to find out what happened next?

DISCLAIMER: This post is not anti-Jack or anti-jackfruit. The author acknowledges that while jackfruit may not be to her taste, there are likely people around the world who find it delicious, and quite possibly even riveting. Just like with books....taste varies :)

Happy Reading and Happy Writing!