It's Beta Club Day! On today's agenda, our first middle grade! So, I hope you'll take the time to take a look and let the author know what you think.
For newbies: If you haven't been here on beta club day yet, don't be afraid to jump in with your comments. All feedback is welcome as long as it's constructive. And if anyone has an itch to be critiqued, the rules for submitting to the Beta Club are under the "Free Critiques" heading at the top of the page.
Alright, please read through the author's excerpt, then provide your feedback in the comments. My detailed critique is below.
Author: Deniz Bevan (check out her site here!) Title: The Face of a Lion Genre: Middle Grade Historical/Time Travel
Austin met the cat during his first week in Turkey.
Bored with helping his parents clean their villa, he set out to explore the town. Every few minutes he had to climb onto the stone wall edging the street – there were never any sidewalks in this country – when a car or bus full of tourists whizzed past on the narrow road, a stench of diesel fumes floating behind. As the roar of each vehicle faded, the seaside sounds rushed back into his ears: the drone of motorboats slicing the water, cicadas buzzing in the distant tops of the fir trees, and below everything else, the unending rhythmic crash of waves breaking one after another on the sand.
He waited on the wall as another car zoomed by, then peered through the exhaust and added up the houses he had passed. His mum had said there were forty houses in the original village. Something had to be wrong somewhere, because he had counted every house for the past ten blocks and there were still a few streets to cross before he reached the ice cream shop –
An unearthly howl filled the air, drowning out the disappearing rumble of the car. It came again, a long-drawn out screech, close at hand. Austin ran to the crossroads and looked down into the weed-filled garden of a boarded-up villa. On a patch of paving stones, two kids crouched over the prone figure of a thin grey cat. One gripped its front paws as the other tied a couple of tin cans to its tail. The cat wrenched and jerked its back legs.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
His yell was swallowed by the roar of two buses zooming past behind him, and a truck loaded with watermelons that came clacketing up the street. He looked down, ready to risk a jump, and saw a garden shed directly below. He leaped, and as the boys glanced up, hands still on the squirming cat, he vaulted off the shed's roof to stand beside them.
"What are you up to?" He glared, trying to look as imposing and foreign as possible – easy enough, given the contrast of his blond hair and blue eyes to their own dark features. They looked about eight years old, four years younger than him. They shot each other shifty glances out of the corners of their eyes.
"Abi, yabancı bu. Bizden büyük."
"Ya birini çağırırsa? Hadi gidelim."
It was impossible – but he had understood what they said! They were afraid because he was older – what if he called someone?
He took a step forward, as if to grab the cat. As one, they released their grip, leapt up and ran off.
The cat crouched low on all four paws, eyes wide and ears taut, but did not move as Austin approached. If it would just trust him… With one hand extended, palm out, he waited. Either the cat would sniff the offered fingers or get up and run.
Slowly, slowly, he bent and untied the twine binding the tins to a tail puffed out and crackling with electricity. The cat did not twitch once, even as Austin broke away the last of the metal and tossed it aside, but eyed him the entire time, as if waiting for a signal.
He stroked the cat between the ears and, to his surprise, heard the low rumble of purring. The yellow eyes narrowed and, for a moment, he had the silly idea the cat was actually smiling at him.
He had been bending forward, petting. He overbalanced and nearly tipped over, palms flat on the tiles to keep from pitching head first into the cat.
Had it actually spoken? He gazed at the shadowy creature, who had stopped purring, but stayed still, yellow eyes fixed on him. Had he really heard –
"Thank you, Augustine."
There it was again! Not meowing or purring, but chirping, like a new species of bird. And under that tone, he could have sworn the cat had spoken in English.
He peered around the garden. No, there was definitely no one else near. He sat and stared back into the unblinking eyes. Far down on the beach, he could still hear the ordinary shouts and laughter of tourists, and the unending whine of cicadas and crash of surf. The smell of fried fish floated up from the restaurants on Ocean Boulevard.
He said the first thing that came into his mind. "My name's not Augustine, it's Austin. After my great-grandfather." He kept his voice low, as though he might be overheard. Silly, talking formally to an animal – the cat wasn’t really talking was it?
But the chirping English came again. "In Latin, your name is Augustine, or Augustus. In Ancient Greek it would be Σεβαστός."
Sebastos. Austin heard the cat's mrrp!, the soft Greek letters, and yet understood the name as if it was in English. "But no one speaks those languages anymore!"
"Perhaps not here, Augustine. Yet I know a number of languages from a variety of places, and times. In return for your kind gesture today, rescuing me from those young hooligans," the cat rested a paw on Austin's knee, "I may be able to do something for you. Not a favour, exactly, but I fancy you're a little bored here?"
"How did you know?"
"You were not walking with a friend and you had time to notice an animal in distress." The cat sat up, so that they were nearly face to face. "I can lead you to an adventure."
"An adventure? Where would we go?"
"Not where but when."
Below is my detailed critique. Please select FULL SCREEN to view, then once the document is open RIGHT CLICK to ZOOM and view the comments. Alright, so what do you think? Are you hooked? What did the author do well? What things could be improved? Agree or disagree with my crit?
Thanks ahead of time to all of you who comment and thanks to the author for volunteering!
**Today's Theme Song**
"Time Is On My Side" - Rolling Stones
(player in sidebar, take a listen) *sorry Deniz, couldn't find your song choices on playlist.com, so had to pick another*