Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Debut recommendation and giveaway! SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY by Julie Murphy

Consider this my enthusiastic recommendation for Julie Murphy's SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY.

It's a dual POV, back-and-forth-in-time narration of two friends, Alice and Harvey.

The official summary does a great job of setting up the novel:
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

I really enjoyed this book because Alice is flawed before, during, and after cancer. She has a callous, selfish streak in her, and she lets it run free a bit when she's diagnosed. And as much as you want to smack Harvey upside the head for loving her, you kind of love her, too, and he's very much aware of how she uses him. (And she is, too.)

Caveat: Some people won't be able to tolerate Alice. Personally, I love complex, dysfunctional characters that make me hate them a little (but who are still sympathetic), so I had no problem with this book. I know it won't be for everyone, but definitely give it a try!

This book showcases a messy relationship between two complicated people, and it stands out because the cancer is kind of ... there. It's not a "cancer book" at all. And I love that it shows that cancer doesn't always bring out the best in people. There's such authenticity in Murphy's characterization of both Alice and Harvey. But Alice is just redeemable enough that I didn't want to throw the book against the wall, and I was rooting for her and Harvey's happy ending, whether or not they ended up together.

In addition to the incredible characterization, I have to give Murphy credit for so deftly handling the narrative style ... two narrators bouncing between the past and present is no easy feat, and she did it with the skill of a veteran. (And I actually wasn't sure how she was going to end it, which is a miracle in and of itself.)

So yes, my recommendation is quite enthusiastic!

Bonus: The cover! The cover! The cover! Simple and perfect and oh-so-accurate! Thank you, cover gods!

See what other people are saying about SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15728577-side-effects-may-vary

SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is available now from Balzer and Bray, and you can win my ARC here, plus a BONUS ARC of GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith (for those who prefer realistic characters in absurd situations!)

(U.S. mailing addresses only, please!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ask Away! I'm a new writer re-learning the rules of grammar & punctuation — help!

We've been seeing more and more questions from aspiring authors in our inbox, so we're turning them into a new, semi-regular feature — Ask Away!

Do you have a burning question about the writing, revising, or querying process? Do you have a dilemma and want some advice or a second opinion from fellow writers?

Email us at firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com, tweet us @firstnovelsclub, or leave a comment on this post — we might answer your question next!

Round Two!


I have a grammar question for you that I cannot seem to find the answer to. I am currently writing a children's chapter book for my daughter. [...] In one of my stories [...] I, as the author/narrator, toss out little funny and informative comments in the story. My problem is the placement of punctuation, specifically commas, when I am using parentheses to show a narrators smart aleck comments. I am just not sure where to put them. Can you help me on this?

- Brian


Hi Brian!

Grammar rules can trip up even the most seasoned of writers. In your situation, there's no need for commas before or after the parenthetical asides. Just do the normal punctuation of the sentences within the parenthesis, and you're good to go!

In general, my go-to place for easy-to-understand grammar/punctuation advice is Grammar Girl — http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

Best of luck!


Ok, readers! What grammar or punctuation issue trips you up every time? My personal Achilles heel is lay vs. lie — I ALWAYS have to look it up! (The answer is here! http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/lay-versus-lie)

Ask Away - Round One! Should you query an agent's assistant?
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