ARC Review | The Mozart Code – Rachel McMillan

The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book follows two former Bletchley intelligence operatives, Simon and Sophia, as they navigate their way around the spy-ring in cold war era Vienna and Prague. Both from aristocratic upbringing and sharing a complicated past, their secrets, and the dangers that pursue them will be the ultimate test for their bond of friendship, loyalty, and love.

I received this as an ARC, courtesy of Edelweiss, and was very excited to read it. I really enjoy reading historical novels, especially WW2 and spy novels.

Rachel McMillan has done a brilliant job painting the historical setting, weaving in lots of authentic imagery, culture, and political tension for these locations and times, and she has given us two main characters with backstories that fit really well inside this arena.

The story is well written and engaging, but I found myself a bit lost trying to keep up with all of the secondary and tertiary characters; at least five of which contributed very little to the story or plot in my opinion and could have been eliminated entirely to recover some word count to flesh out the two main characters a bit more. There were so many names and small “side quests” that it was hard to pin down what was important and what wasn’t, so by the end when everything started to get serious, I wasn’t as connected with these characters and invested in their safety and well-being as I wanted to be for this lengthy of a book. Especially Sophia, who is renowned for finding rare objects, but then we never get to see how she does that, she’s just asked to find an item and then she magically has it within the next few pages. I didn’t feel really grounded in what was happening, who was making moves, or what the stakes were.

The relationship between Simon and Sophia was interesting and complex, and I really enjoyed the flashbacks into their past and the little clues revealed there that played into the present tension and what they were doing there together. I thought that was done well and gave us a really nice picture of how lives can be completely upended by war.

There was a lot of exciting suspense and buildup to the main romantic entanglement that got me really turning the pages to see what happened next, but the culmination of that tension was a bit underwhelming. I can respect that an author wants to write a clean romance, but this one could have gone a little further and still remained well within those boundaries. Their relationship for the rest of the book followed that vein. These two went through one challenging ordeal after the other in the last 40 pages but Simon and Sophia’s response in each case was a bit underdeveloped for me and hard to connect with.

Rachel McMillan is clearly a very talented author who knows how to weave a very complex narrative with lots of players and create a beautiful, authentic setting to immerse the reader in, but this one wasn’t as engaging for me personally, but for readers looking for a well-researched historical narrative and light romance, this is a good read.

The Mozart Code is being published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing and hits shelves 15 March 2022.

View all my reviews

Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

Petey says hello!

Monthly Writing Prompt | February 2022

The field below doesn’t look how you remember. It smells different too. And maybe it’s your imagination, but it sounds different. There’s a stirring inside of you as you sweep your eyes across the scene.

***

Muse Stimulators:

What does the field look like?
What does it smell like?
Is there a sound?
What is the significance of this field to the MC?
Is the stirring one of relief, dread, horror, joy?

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Petey says hello!

I’m Editing my Novel | January 2022 Highlights

Editing is a painful, but necessary process. Blegh.

And to complicate matters, it’s not a process that is easily repeatable from one chapter to the next.

In preparing my manuscript to begin querying agents this year, I am dissecting each chapter, slashing content, adding content, moving content–everything I possibly can to make this novel the best it can be. And in this process, I am incorporating feedback from my critique group as well.

Objective third parties are amazing! If you don’t have a critique group, get one.

Here are my youtube shorts for this month describing the issues I discovered in my manuscript, what I decided was the best method to resolve them, and what my critique group thought about those methods.

There are a few general writing tips in there as well that you will hopefully find useful whether you are writing a new story or editing an existing one.

Please subscribe to my blog and youtube channel for future videos!

Chapter 23 was a total rewrite vs just an edit, which can be tricky when polishing a manuscript as a final draft. Predictably, my critique group found a few residual issues.

Chapter 25 went under the knife! See why moving half of the chapter to another character’s POV was necessary, and why I thought my characters needed major reworking here. This one made me nervous too because there’s a steamy sex scene in it!

What did my critique group have to say about my sex scene and my re-characterization of these two characters?

The small changes I’ve been making so far are beginning to amount to some pretty drastic plot alterations, resulting in another complete rewrite of a chapter, but for different reasons than chapter 23.

My critique group had some great feedback for my edit of chapter 26 here, providing an excellent example of “Author Blindness”. With the right tools, this writer’s ailment can be remedied.

“What do my characters do while they wait for the big battle?” Enter the mid-novel slog and exactly where this chapter lands. This is a BIG issue. Mid-novel slog is never a good thing.

Critique group comments on mid-novel slog and my solution to this problem: add more chapters!

Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

Petey says hello!

ARC Review | Promise Broken – K’wan

Promise Broken follows a seventeen-year-old girl named Promise as she navigates a gang-controlled neighborhood where drugs and violence are part of the status quo. To survive, she must confront difficult choices that will shape her future for better or worse.

From the very first paragraph, I was captivated by this story. It begins with Promise in a sticky situation with her friend and the law, foreshadowing more conflict ahead when her aunt finds out what happened. And from there, Promise’s challenging life story and her limited options are showcased brilliantly and intimately in ways that made me both shudder and cheer her on. I was engrossed and invested in her and could not put this book down.

The narrative occasionally shifts to the perspective of Promise’s two friends, Mouse and Keys, showing how a life of drugs and crime can begin because of desperate situations and good intentions, which I thought was one of the most powerful threads in this book.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed by the ending. My only hope is that the author has a sequel planned, which is certainly probable given that most of K’wan’s books are part of a series, and there are a few threads in this book that Promise enough substance for an intriguing second book, so I will maintain hope and keep an eye out.

The ending wasn’t my biggest issue with this book, however. Every female character was sexualized to the point that none of them really contributed much to the plot besides being sexual objects for male characters.

I get that this is a real-world issue women face so it didn’t bother me right away, but I kept waiting for the author’s voice to come through in the narrative that sexualizing women is wrong, but I never got that sense. Even Promise, the main character, did not escape being viewed through this lens and her main arc revolved around her attraction to a guy who only sees value in women through sexual conquest. Promise even acknowledges this about him but doesn’t seem to mind that he’s sleeping around while actively pursuing her.

I did enjoy this book in spite of this issue. K’wan has a unique writing style that can reveal all the complexities of the situation to the reader without sounding boring or overdone. His characters, with their flaws and passions, are relatable and engaging, and you can’t help but want to know what happens to them, even when you wish you could leap through the pages and slap them at times.

K’wan’s Promise Broken will hit shelves on 15 March 2022 and is being published by Blackstone Publishing.

Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

Petey says hello!

ARC Review | A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales – Edited by Alex Woodroe

A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales is a short story anthology published by Brigid’s Gate Press and includes 24 delightful stories embodying the gothic themes of mystery, horror, and gloom with plenty of magic, mythology, and otherworldly elements mixed in.

This collection is professionally compiled and organized, with cover art by Elizabeth Leggett that is a perfect swirl of enchanting and creepy, an excellent Foreward by Alex Woodroe, and a charming Introduction by Stephanie Ellis.

The stories are written by both new and established authors, and there is a story (or two, or three, or more) that everyone will enjoy and will want to read again. As with all anthologies, some stories moved me more deeply than others, but all of them had their own unique touch of intrigue and dread that kept me engrossed in the narrative and furiously turning the pages.

I will be acquiring a physical copy once it is available for purchase on Amazon. These stories are perfect to squeeze into that 5-15 minute window where escape from the real world of doom and gloom is a must just to make it through the day.

I’ll be keeping up with Brigid’s Gate Press, this anthology shows that they have an eye for quality and creativity that promises more great stories in their future publications.

You can follow them on twitter @Brigidsgate.

A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales is available for pre-order today on Amazon! and officially launches on January 31st! It will be available in Kindle and Paperback.

Happy Writing!

~MJ & Petey

Petey says hello!

Monthly Writing Prompt | January 2022

The eyes are captivating, full of emotion. It turns them on you. Paralyzes you. If you look away it might…

But even if it doesn’t, if somehow you break away from it unscathed, you will not be unchanged.

Muse stimulators:

  • What is “it”?
  • How does the POV feel?
  • What emotions are recognizable in “its” eyes?
  • Why would the POV be unchanged?
  • What happened five minutes before?
  • What happens next?

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Petey says hello!

Editing Series | Chapter 23

Sometimes that masterpiece needs a complete rewrite. Here are some reasons why mine did.

If you want to skip to a helpful writing tip, you can jump to 3:18. 🙂

I will be posting a post-critique group video on this same chapter in the future to let you all know what they had to say about it. I’m anxious to learn what my first round of editing missed that they are able to catch. I’m so grateful to my critique group, they truly are an amazing group of writers and are such an incredible resource for me.

If you enjoyed this video, please like and subscribe and I’ll see you in a future video!

If this series is helpful for you and you want to learn more about how I can help you polish your novel:

-Check out my writing services

-Follow me on twitter

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Editing Series | Chapter 24 Critique Group Comments

What did my critique group have to say about my editing of Chapter 24?

Quite a lot, actually. Click the video below to learn more.

This just goes to show how blinded an author can be to the limitations of their own work, even when they identify and acknowledge issues and try to fix them.

Our greatest challenge is translating what we see in our head to the page, and I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to know if I’ve succeeded in doing that completely unless another person (preferably more than one) reads and critiques it.

Having a critique group to provide insight and feedback is such a great tool and it’s really helped me craft the best version of my story, and it’s what is going to make all the difference in getting this manuscript published.

If you enjoyed this video, please follow my blog and subscribe to my youtube channel, and I’ll see you in a future video!

If this series is helpful for you and you want to learn more about how I can help you polish your novel:

-Check out my writing services

-Follow me on twitter

Happy Writing!

MJ

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Editing Series | Chapter 24

The second video of my Editing Series is live!

Chapter 24 is a first draft that I haven’t read since I finished writing it during NaNo 2020. This short video describes the main issues I encountered during editing.

If you want to skip to a helpful writing tip, you can jump to 2:18. 🙂

I will be posting a post-critique group video on this same chapter in the future to let you all know what they had to say about it. I’m anxious to learn what my first round of editing missed that they are able to catch. I’m so grateful to my critique group, they truly are an amazing group of writers and are such an incredible resource for me.

If you enjoyed this video, please like and subscribe and I’ll see you in a future video!

If this series is helpful for you and you want to learn more about how I can help you polish your novel:

-Check out my writing services

-Follow me on twitter

Happy Writing!

MJ

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Editing | An Introduction

Are you struggling with identifying why the novel you completed during NaNoWriMo isn’t ready for publication? Are you curious if other writers experience the same first draft issues that you do?

I am launching a new series on my YouTube Channel: Editing Series (kinda lame name but oh well) which will explore exactly that and offer some writing tips along the way.

I finished a rough draft of my novel during NaNoWriMo 2020 and it needs a lot of work, but I’ve made it my goal to get this novel ready to start querying agents in 2022.

If you are interested in learning how I am going about reaching that goal, and what issues I encounter along the way, please subscribe to my YouTube channel because I will be breaking down each chapter’s issues as I complete them in the hope that it will help me stay on track for my publication goal, and also provide insight into what might be missing from your first draft.

Check out my Introduction video below to learn more:

If you enjoyed this video, please like and subscribe and I’ll see you in a future video!

If this series is helpful for you and you want to learn more about how I can help you polish your novel:

-Check out my writing services

-Follow me on twitter

Happy Writing!

MJ

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