Book Jacket


rank 27
word count 37325
date submitted 06.08.2013
date updated 17.02.2014
genres: Thriller, Fantasy, Young Adult
classification: universal

Crayton House

Heidi Whatcott

Mackenzie has no memory, no plan, and no one to trust, but her decisions will determine the fate of our world.


They took her from her home, hid her past, and erased her memories. They control her life, but Mackenzie isn't helpless. She has a talent for deception and will do anything to protect the other girls at Crayton House. With only her instincts to guide her, Mackenzie begins to uncover the pieces of a frightening mystery.

There are deadly shadows that mustn't be woken in the library. All spider webs must be destroyed. The local high school is way too accommodating. A monstrous creature is hunting one of the girls. An old man vows to destroy them, claiming "Crayton House is a poison that will spread until nothing is left."

It's a dangerous masquerade where no one is who they pretend to be and nothing is what it seems, but no one can play this game like Mackenzie. Only Brandon, the enigmatic son of her guardian, sees through her mask. She needs to turn him into an ally before he exposes her, but she has never come up against him and won.

Then she makes a devastating discovery. The girls look to her for protection, but she may be the greatest threat they have to fear.

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Villageanne wrote 316 days ago

Crayton House

I can see much potential in your writing style. I love that you use words and phrases that the girls would use in these circumstances. I could clearly see the story unfold and play out in my mind as I intensely read each chapter. This story had the ability to draw me into the storyline with the first chapter. I was both confused and interested enough to keep reading. I love a good fantasy and this proves to have a great start. I found that I had to read the next chapter to get more of the storyline. A sure sign of a great author.

You wrote just enough information to keep me reading. Yet you gave me enough information to make me hunger for more. I found the first six chapters to set the stage for my mind to seek out more information on you, as an author. I could not find much about you online and hope that will change as "Crayton House" is published. I like to research authors before I read their books. It seems to help me as a reader get into the story in a unique way.

I can see both young adults and adults reading this fantasy mystery. I loved your personal writing style as it developed in the first six chapters. I am following to see just what will happen next as the plot thickens for the adventure.

I loved the cover for this book as well. It gave me a glimpse into the mind of the main character. I sense she felt imprisoned yet I see light amidst the darkness of her world. I can't wait to read more as the characters are developed into stronger character sketches. I am very curious to see where this story will go and just how dark the girls world will get before light finds its way in.

Great job and good luck. I would be very much interested in hosting a live chat with you.

L.Lombard wrote 311 days ago

YARG review

Crayton House is a chilling mystery. You manage to incorporate many characters without confusing the reader, and I find them all strong and well defined. The plot moves forward, revealing the right amounts of information to keep the mystery alive as well as adding to it. By not having a clear picture of where the danger is coming from, this story becomes a page-turner. I like the relationships you’ve created among the girls, and how they stick together and care for each other in order to remain safe. Your writing style is crisp and easy to follow.
High stars,

craig ross wrote 295 days ago

I like Brandon's tough character and his interaction with Mackenzie, but I think there is more to the story. I don't think he is quite as tough or as bad as he currently seems. Then along comes Chase. A very interesting fellow. I look forward to seeing how his character develops. Is he going to wind up liking Mackenzie? I like it so far. Good luck.

Sheena Macleod wrote 309 days ago

Crayton House by Heidi Whatcott

Genres - Literary Fiction, thriller, fantasy

Heidi, I read all six chapters of your download and would happily have read on. This is such a page turner.

Your aim was to reach an adult audience as well as YA, you have certainly managed this.

There were elements of Flowers in the Attic, when I started to read about the children in Crayton House. Then I found myself thinking of Stepford Wives as I encountered to the two Ms. Their behaviour was very intriguing and they seemed as controlled as the girls.

The story itself, however, with the girls in their pink, blue and green colour coded cards, dresses and rooms - matching the chairs had me feeling like I was reading a Steven King novel.

You are a master story teller. This is well thought out work, and well presented. I enjoyed what I read and did not experience any stumbles along the way.
Well edited.

The characters of Mackenzie, Amber, Bree and the rest of the girls were multidimensional and I thought Mackenzie was excellently portrayed. The whole situation has me intrigued. They seem brainwashed- including the caretakers.

The introduction of Chase in chapter six added a whole new dimension to where I thought the story was heading.

This work is already high starred and no wonder. A gripping, page turner that will do well.
More high stars.

Carnival of Lies
(popish Plot - retitled

vee8 wrote 292 days ago

YARG review.
I have to admit I am finding it hard to think of anything to say that may be of any use to you. I cannot find one blemish, one flaw. This is work of the highest standard, your style crisp and the work highly polished. So, I can only give my impressions and thoughts.
Chapter one.
And straight away we have a mystery. The strange appearance of the party of people, and the odd way they vanished. First thought was, are they ghosts? A visual replay of the past? Already I'm hooked.
Two rooms, one of pink, for girls. The other, also for girls, but, blue? Hmm. Another hook. Why a boy's colour for girls?
The mirror, and Mackenzie seeing herself for the first time. Nice touch.
Mackenzie herself is clearly no pushover. She's coming across as strong willed and stubborn. Whoever 'Selected' her is no doubt going to rue the day they thought she would just meekly submit. Despite her obvious vunerabilty, and her confusion, she is also a very strong MC, someone the reader can identify with.
The twins, not knowing they are twins. What on Earth could so effectively erradicate a person's most intimate memories? Another good reasn for reading on.
The two 'jailers.' Obviously control freaks, and, despite being seemingly harmless, my first thoughts were they were also dangerous. Then I thought; Are they androids? I've read enough Sci-Fi to get that feeling. Must read on to find out!
Amber. What IS that poor girl's problem? I am actually concerned, genuinely worried for the poor girl. I hope nothing bad befalls the poor little mite.
Chapter two.
Friday 13th. A bad omen? Seems like it, because the evil is coming. Amber has some sort of 'Sight.' Maybe that was why she was selected?
School. No body thinks these girls are odd? No one asks questions?? Where are social services?!

Okay, I'll be straight. I've read dozens of books since I have been on this site. Yours is in my top five, no bull. I want to know more. I'll be back to read more later. Max stars and on WL for future backing, not that it looks like you need it! I see the ED beckoning for you, and a fat, tasty publishing contract!

Magicweaver wrote 6 days ago

Well paced and involving chiller with many original touches that keep the pages turning :)

carol jefferies wrote 27 days ago

Hi Heidi,

Crayton House

Excellent pitches.

I wanted to reread your story as it has resonated with me long after I read it. I think it is one of the most suspenseful stories on this site.

I appreciated the precise way in which you orientate the reader by establishing the time, month and location of the story. We are introduced to Charles, frustrated that a simple repair is taking much longer than he expected. This causes inner conflict which always adds interest. The scene feels alive and in the moment because I could identify with his frustration, and I knew the specific place and the time so the action unfolded more or less in real time.

You create an effective setting as Charlie checks out his neighbour, Jack’s, hunting tree stand. Everything seems unremarkable until ‘they’ came. The clearing is suddenly filled with people and we get a close-up to identify their gender and age, although they soon vanish. This mystery serves as a great hook and sucked me in.

We get to know that Charles is in fact quite elderly, something that doesn’t really come across earlier when he was energetically working. This fact could go against his credibility if he decides to report the incident. Further mysteries unfold as he returns home. But then, quite unexpected he says, ‘There was only one witness, but he wouldn’t be a problem.’ What does he mean by this?

The scene flashes forward to nine hours later and to girls sleeping in a large house. Here the story takes off with the mysterious Clayton House providing the principle focus. Ms. Elizabeth is checking on the four youngest girls and the scene has immediacy about it because I was intrigued. Her pride over the design of the room reveals her perfectionist personality and attention to detail. A brief description is made of the girls, created from one or two details, although Ms. Elizabeth seems to view them as objects rather than individuals. She is also a strict disciplinarian. No explanation is given as to where these girls came from. There is only a kind of foreshadowing that they could be distressed when they woke up to find they were in a strange place without a memory. This serves as another great hook to keep the reader reading.

I was puzzled by the way Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Rebecca have relatively old-fashioned names compared to the girls, who have quite contemporary names. The children seem to be also dressed in quite an old-fashioned way and the establishment regulated similar to one at the beginning of the twentieth century rather than today. This helps disorientate the reader intensifying the tension.

The drama of the narrative is focused on Mackenzie, mentally the strongest of the girls. Emotionally intense, I could strongly identify with her feelings of helplessness and vulnerability from which there is no escape.

Kindness and responsibility are two of her strengths and I admired her for them. She also shows us that she can be manipulative and opportunistic. Realistic dialogue ensures we’re back in the moment, witnessing the scene unfold. The statement when she tells the girls they are in big trouble is a great hook to end the chapter.

In the beginning of chapter two the story focuses on Amber, the least adjusted of the girls. There is never a dull moment as there is also mystery surrounding the gardener, Mr. Henry. Mackenzie feels resentful towards the other girls as the responsibility of their welfare and to solve the mystery seems to fall to her. This adds further conflict and I did feel guilty too, for relying upon her to solve it.

Our interest is maintained when Amber admits to seeing something no one else can see, which she refers to as ‘The Shadows.’ This scene circles wonderfully around the moment and gives us our biggest clue yet. Unfortunately her poor communication skills make it difficult for her to interpret what exactly she has seen. She seems a bit odd so can we trust what she says anyway? There are disturbing emotional undercurrents below the surface of the controlled narrative and her fears turn much more intense. This adds further tension without being over-the-top. The institutional regime keeps us as firmly grounded as the controlled narrative, and on the surface things seem so normal. Much of the story is taken up with noticing thoughts and emotions rather just the events. However this emotional involvement does not compromise the pace as these emotions are critical to the way I felt about the writing.

Repeatedly Mackenzie gives a positive statement that she can only trust her own feelings. Ingenuously she thinks up a plan to see if the emergency door is alarmed, and uses the strengths of each of the girls to accomplish what she needs to do.

Mackenzie is surprised when they are sent to school. But instead of being able to befriend the other students, she is ignored. It appeared shocking to her to discover that Ms. Elizabeth can be very gullible to her lies. This begs to ask another question, what other sinister lies had she accepted without question? By now I had my doubts if she was actually human.

The scene builds force and interest as Amber’s fears increase and she reports seeing ‘a man, but not a man,’ coming from the woods. She behaves as if the enemy is closing in on them, unsettling Mackenzie. The pace accelerates electrifyingly when there is an unexpected but well-timed moment of zooming out to view the woods. The story grips with the mystery unresolved.

When another shadowy encounter is expected, a Ms. Clementine, and her son, Brandon, Mackenzie is determined to exploit him to gain some information. This roused my interest. When they are told that also Mr. Bardwell, a representative of the state, is also visiting, she wonders if he is connected to the man that Amber had seen. While I wondered if societal conflict might be next on the menu.

This is dark and vivid story with so many hooks that drive forward the action without a moment of stasis. Suspense is created without melodrama, by preventing the girls from knowing what’s happening to them and to make them appear as if they are heading towards danger. It is an account of a young girl’s challenge to explore a sinister mystery from which there is no escape. The protagonist, the courageous Mackenzie, is at the centre of the action. I felt as if you could anticipate the questions raised in the reader’s mind. The rather formal writing style is bracing simplicity that is convincing and engages the reader. This story is simply a masterpiece of tension.

Carol Jefferies

The Witch of Fleet Street

Disciple wrote 38 days ago

I have only finished four chapters but I wanted to give my impressions now before reading the other two of six chapters provided.

I would characterize Crayton House as a mystery of disconnects, a powerful way to keep pages turning but also a dangerous literary tool if all the disconnects aren't connected at some point to the satisfaction of the reader.

Charles is a disconnect at the very beginning of the story when he is labeled 'There was only one witness' and then on September 21 people had tried to kill him and failed. His life had been spared for a purpose, he was important, and he was the only witness. For this reader, that is a disconnect for his life was threatened to the point of death and still he remains the only witness. What about Jack who built the hunting tree-stand or some other friend or neighbor who could be trusted in confidence of what he knew and what had happened where he barely escaped with his life. It keeps a reader reading because he/she trusts the author to make the connection later in the story.

Actually all the mysteries of the story are disconnects. They are too many to list in a short comment for the plot is drawn out in a myriad of question, fueled by the fact that the girls have no memory.

There is, however, one disconnect that may be trivial or not, but I hope that you have thought of its import. There is an old saying in theater that you never put a gun on the stage unless you plan to use it as part of the plot. The audience will notice that gun and if it is not used they will be disappointed in the performance no matter how good the performance actually is. To that point, I hope you have a connection somewhere in the story of why Laney can glance at a library full of books, some of which are hidden down below in an enclosed cupboard, and tell Mackenzie that there are exactly Six thousand, three hundred, and forty seven books, and she is always correct. There must be some use of this uncanny ability somewhere in the plot or otherwise it is a gun on the stage that is never used.

Hope these comments are helpful to you, Heidi.
Tom Funderburg
Commander of the Quest

Lara wrote 48 days ago

YARGII review
This is exciting and different. The situation Mackenzie gradually finds herself in is gripping but believable. You have done a good job in hooking the reader. I am wondering if there's a problem in using both M's and Amber's pov. You often give what each is thinking in turn. However, it is a good read and perhaps you should upload more chaps if they are ready.
I am backing this.
Rosalind Minett

blueheart wrote 83 days ago

FCCG2 review of Crayton House

An absorbing first chapter and certainly ominous - in fact downright sinister. You have a fascinating concept here relating to forced memory loss.

Mackenzie doesn’t recognise her own face, that’s interesting. I like her feeling a sense of responsibility almost for the others. Is she an eldest sibling? Also liked the twins not knowing they look the same. Ms E nicely sinister and the old guy is nicely doddery.

Wondered about things like - did she have a purse/handbag/backpack/whatever 16y olds carry around to hold makeup, cash, pills, bus pass, penknife etc on her when she awoke (presumably not)? Did she remember anything at all about her own or the more general past, eg events in America? Did she ask the others if anyone else did? Did she think they were being held against their will, and why - from what Ms E said? What reason did Ms E give for them being there - did no one ask?

It might be worth being clearer about some of these points - which would increase the tension/conflict. You could include a description of the moments after M wakes and realises she’s lost her memory, which would be dramatic.

The writing is excellent - I want to read on.

A few suggestions:
You could make the descriptions of the other girls more memorable.
‘She was helpless, vulnerable.’ Redundant
‘scary and disturbing’ seemed slightly inappropriate - too formal/too much understatement

Jennie (Ghosts of Chechnya)

Lacydeane wrote 106 days ago

I just realized your book has been backed forever but I never ranked or commented: 6 stars of course and great writing. Your story is easy to read. You use just enough describing words--no extra fluff. Good job.

Stories-have-souls wrote 153 days ago

YARG review

This is a most unusual story. Reading it feels a bit like when your ears are blocked up and you feel utterly insulated from the world; set adrift. I felt about as helpless as the girls.

It's packed with all sorts of disturbing things, from the vanishing people to the shadows to Ms. Elizabeth's truly unnerving love of order and colour-coordination. Do you watch Doctor Who at all? This is definitely reminding me of Doctor Who (in a good way).

That said, the second chapter felt slightly too fast for me (even though the pace is consistent through the chapters I read). I felt that Mackenzie and the other girls going to school should have been much more momentous than the slightly casual way it was explained in the narrative. Personally, I would've grabbed the other students by the shoulders and shook them to get a reaction!

Grammer/punctuation/spelling is flawless. Overall you're crafted a brilliant atmosphere of mystery and unease, with plenty of mind-bending questions for the reader. High stars. I'm sorry my review's so short compared to your super-helpful one...

One last question though - how does Charles know (or why does he think he knows) the true nature of Crayton House and the girls there?

Heidi Whatcott wrote 159 days ago

****Note to Readers****

A new edit has been put up to address some of the questions in the previous reviews, and a new scene has been added, which should clarify a few points and add more danger.

Thank you, Heidi

Cariad wrote 167 days ago

YALF Crayton House.

People have commented on the pitches, so because I’m late (again) sorry, I will leave those comments and dive in. Only to say that the long pitch would be better starting at the second paragraph. The first seems a bit limp in comparison.

I’ve read the discussion on the first part on the Agent’s thread, but am not sure whether you’ve changed it since I read it there, or not? The fact I have no idea what a tree stand is, is ok. I can imagine. I think… reading it again, that you have trimmed down this part, is that right. It seems to get into things more quickly, unless I’m imagining it.

With the people, I have a slight problem with him saying, ‘and then they came…’ because that suggests an arrival, but there isn’t one apparently. Something more suggestive of appearing out of thin air maybe. I also thought ‘oh, maybe he just was looking up at the trees and didn’t see them arrive… so wondered whether something more should occur to make it plain it is untoward.

Does the juice kill him? If so, perhaps the wording might better be ‘There had only been one witness… but he was no longer a problem…’ or something. For a minute I wasn’t sure if it was something he’d thought, rather than an observation of this event.

Why did Mackenzie feel she had to ‘take care of this for them’ ? I also wondered how she knew she could handle Miss Elizabeth. I got the impression the girls had only just arrived, or found themselves in the house, and hadn’t yet got to know anything. She seems to be rather cool in the circumstances, taking control and so on. I’m not sure why she immediately feels it is up to her to get them through the day.

I also wasn’t sure about the ‘chemical properties of the brass…’ I couldn’t imagine her thinking that she knew this, at such a time, so I went from seeing things from her perspective, to seeing it from yours.

I’m still not sure why Mackenzie seems to feel its up to her to protect everyone, or watch Amber etc.

Did we need all that about the cricket? I’m not sure that a cricket would be hurt if it fell, it would be too light, but anyway, I thought the girl’s reaction was a bit ott.

I was rather unsure about school, too. The teachers can see them and seem to have just accepted them, but the students can’t? I suppose there is a reason for this that we haven’t heard yet. Why didn’t Mackenzie go to a teacher and say that they were all being kept at Crayton House without knowing how they got there. It was a bit hard to believe that they’d all just go along with it like that, when they had first been told not to leave the grounds and then are suddenly allowed out – not to try and escape.

I’ve read chapters one to four now, but it’s bed time so I must stop.

Overall, I have found it easy to read, and I’m curious, but I have found some niggles, such as why they stay put, and don’t try to get away, especially at school. I presume, now, that the reason Mackenzie feels the need to look after everyone is explained by who they all really are, but it did seem a little strange. I like how Brandon isn’t the typical ‘hero’ who falls for the girl, at least not at this point. We are not sure just who or what he is.. Apart from a few gaping questions that will probably get answered, and a few uncertainties with the plot, I think it has promise so far.
Bed now. Will read more soon.

Josephine O Brien wrote 168 days ago


Hey Heidi,

You asked specifically about the pitches. Though, first, I want to say I think the idea of labeling it paranormal, would remove a huge amount of the problems people are mentioning in their attitude to the book. Once it is clear that this is a paranormal, I think the reader will be more patient, and able to read signs and significances into things. Things, that when they are trying to shoe-horn them into a 'normal' story, trip them up or seem unbelievable. Change people's perceptions before they start and I think you'll bring a wave of people who will love this book.)

Anyhow, back to pitches!
Short pitch: I felt I wanted to add in a few words to the short pitch. ' Mackenzie has no memory, no plan, and no one to trust, except herself. What she doesn't yet realize, is that her decisions will determine the fate of the whole world.'

Long pitch: Maybe a bigger hint here? As in -

'They took her from her home, hid her past, and erased her memories. They control her life, but Mackenzie isn't helpless. Not everything from her past is gone, her instincts and her training remain.

Her instinct tells her she is the one to protect the other girls, and her training helps her to piece together the pieces of this terrifying mystery.

It is a dangerous masquerade.......and won.

Then she makes a devastating discovery: She may be the girls only protection, but she may also be their greatest threat. '

I would be inclined to leave out all the second paragraph in the long pitch, because this is all exciting stuff that adds to the book when we come across it inside.

Hope these thoughts help and don't add to your dilemma!

TSW Sharman wrote 171 days ago


This is an update to my longer review, picking up on Pippa’s crit and your response, as I had some similar observations.

I really liked Amber as a character, and found her “unpredictable and animated.” Whether her visions are real or imagined, or simple foreboding, didn’t matter to me – it just made me want to read on. Where I struggled was with Mackenzie. I called her an emotional cipher, cold, too logical, too grown up – and found I couldn’t root for her. I was concerned that “this is fundamentally plot-driven, rather than character-driven. The characters seem to be behaving according to a need to move from one plot point to the next.” I think this may be a misinterpretation by me, based on your most recent post, that what is happening is I am (as a reader) taking Mackenzie and the others at face value.

Let me try to explain. I called Mackenzie’s leadership, and the other girls looking to her for answers, as “idiopathic.” It just seemed to come out of nowhere, without a rationale – even if she had just been taller that would have been something – and felt ungrounded and inauthentic. However, I think this was deliberate on your part (as you say in your post.) The problem is that I missed the ‘hint’ you mention, the hint that her leadership was indeed unusual (and not just an authorial oversight.) But there is no sense (for me) that Mackenzie is herself surprised by her leadership or that the other girls believe her, (except that she gets a “thrill” from her leadership, which I did not read as being surprised.) Of course, one problem for you as the author is that Mackenzie has no memory, so it’s hard for her to be surprised by this unexpected leadership charisma.

So, as a reader, what I end up with in Mackenzie is someone who comes across as bossy for no reason I can discern. Added to her strategizing, I saw someone not particularly likeable – I think readers like me tend to root for the underdog, and hope the protagonist will overcome their weaknesses in their character arc. In my crit I said I wanted to see self-conflict and dimension in Mackenzie – and I think you could achieve that if Mackenzie felt (deep inside, in some residual memory banks) that this was not the real her, that she was not a leader, not a strategist. But that she is nonetheless impelled by this some unnatural force. Perhaps, even, the guardians can comment on this, on how strange this is. I believe you could, and even should, set up the foreboding that Mackenzie is a threat to the other girls – perhaps another girl has a dissonant voice, one we may or may not trust – that creates the fear Mackenzie is being controlled by an evil force. I see you mention it in the LP, but I believe it needs to be in the MS as well.

And now to the SP and LP.
SP: I liked it before, I still like it. I would made a new sentence starting with ‘But.’ That’s just a style thing.
Para 1. I like the first sentence. I generally like the last sentence, except you mention “instincts” (which we must take as her innate capabilities, which is the point I was trying to make previously about taking her at face value. What you’re really saying – or hinting at, in the hint I missed – is that these are actually not her native instincts.)

I don’t much like the second sentence, it seems almost unnecessary, but I’ll let that go. Third sentence doesn’t seem necessary and feels a little weak. Is it a talent for deception? Will she really “do anything”? If that’s all she has (plus those instincts you mention) it just feels a little shallow. Plus, it doesn’t hint at a character arc (in fact it subtly implies that she already has the capabilities she needs to triumph over adversity.)

I like the second para. “The local high school is way too accommodating” is mysterious (for me), but feels a little mundane amid the other threats. E.g., The local high school only seems normal….

Third para. I think this is too much detail. “No one can play this game” again goes to the issue of character arc for Mackenzie. I like the last para.

Good luck, I hope some of this makes sense, I hope some if it is actually useful.

lcdelagb wrote 171 days ago

Comments from the blunt man, YALF

Chapter 1:

Eh… people appear and disappear… ghosts?

I’m not seventy but I don’t know how easy it is for someone to think they poured juice and then forgot about it and then not notice it wasn’t one of his own glasses. I also don’t see why it wouldn’t be one of his own glasses; it sounds easy enough to use one of his glasses if someone already slipped in to feed him some poison.

He wasn’t really much of a witness though, he didn’t see any gruesome details xD

I suppose that “Crayton House” was the private estate where those nine girls disappeared, but I’m not sure why the house is called like that. Property of Mr. Crayton?

I guess I’ll assume they were drugged to sleep, if someone can claim they won’t wake up earlier.

Why are there so many more dresses than girls? Plans to bring more? Or just change of clothes?

Meh, you make it sound like if it was so easy to erase someone’s memories. Since I like being picky I’m going to point out that would also make them lose their ability to read, write and speak. Language is not intuitive.

Why is there a question mark at the end of the first paragraph of June 2? It sounds like a statement to me, not a question.

LoL, “how could she make decisions if she couldn’t remember anything?” how about: how would she know that she needs memories in order to make decisions? People with no memory would not be capable of reasoning the consequences of lack of memories right away.

Straightening a room, breakfast, they’re still things that require memory. I don’t think you’re really portraying how “no memories” would affect your day to day life. Even if they didn’t forget how to speak, for convenience, they can’t possibly remember how to do tasks if they have no memories.

Pffff, second floor is high above the ground? I can climb down a second floor easily; it’s about as high as jumping down from a one-story roof, which I did several times when I was about ten years old (and jumping is still more dangerous than climbing down). It’s nowhere near high. Make it third or fourth floor and then I might believe it.

Funny to have twins. Indeed, they wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at the other.

Why did Mackenzie need to hurry to find other girls? As if she was going to do anything about it.

She should be much more amazed with the mirror. It’s one of the most anti-natural things that we used in our day to day basis without giving it a second thought. It takes a while to understand what it is by mere observation. The Spanish exchanged mirrors for gold with the Aztecs when they arrived to America; think about how marvelous mirrors actually are.

Well, for the first time we skipped from “no memories” to “no memories of people or places”. I find it too convenient. She retains too much “worldly knowledge” for a slave (which seems is what they want from the girls).

Relying on feelings is such a bad idea.

Chapter 2:

“As usual”? Wasn’t this the first time for them?

Scared Amber should ask some incoherent questions in my opinion xD

Again with the implied routine. What’s the problem with Ms. Rebecca detecting misbehavior? It needs to happen once before they know what the consequences will be.

Alright, I’m starting to find it strange that they do nothing. If Ms. Elizabeth doesn’t want the girls to be thinking about their past, she should have them occupied doing something (namely, the something they kidnapped them for). Being bored doing nothing is the perfect environment for self-reflection, the exact opposite of what you would want in this situation. It sounds like Ms. Elizabeth doesn’t know what she’s doing. All that needs to be structured before the kidnapping.

Meh, ridiculous powers are ridiculous. 6347 books in a glance, and piles of leaves are even worse, since it’s impossible to see the leaves packed underneath, no matter how masterfully you count.

Odd that they would let girls wander in a library and pick books at random. I’d figure Ms. Elizabeth would pick the right ones.

I suppose the shadows and webs are somewhat metaphorical for the kidnappers, but I don’t really get it at this point.

Sure, Heather screams and nobody comes. By now I believe Mackenzie could simply walk away and end of story.

The fact that the women sit all evening at a spot where they can’t hear what happens on the girl’s side of the house is really stupid. Those women are useless.

Come on, don’t spout nonsense like “develop talents” when they do “nothing” with their time. It’s not only a lie; it’s plain ridiculous.

The school was interesting. They obviously suck (thus reassuring the talent development as a lie), but it’s not so obvious that schoolmates and teachers don’t seem to care. It doesn’t make much sense to see an ignorant person at school and not try to aid her. They would be immediately downgraded. I also don’t see the point in throwing them at school unprepared, unless if it’s to show them how feeble they are and how much they need help, but that help isn’t coming at Crayton House, so doesn’t work all that well. It’s also impossible to have strangely dressed girls walk around without guys staring at them, unless they’re all extremely ugly.

Eh… dresses match the dining room… but what about the rest of the time when you’re not in the dining room? Is there a limit to Ms. Elizabeth’s stupidity?

A nice reflection to think that Ms. Elizabeth is easily lied to. She’s just a pawn mindlessly doing what was told to her.

I’m starting to get bored at Amber’s premonitions. Just let the evil man come when he wants to come, no need to draw it out with unrealistic mysticism.

Ms. Clementine encourages all of you to be raped by her son… no? Well, that’s how it sounded for me hahaha.

General thoughts:

Well, my main critic is pretty obvious by now: the memory-erasing mumbo-jumbo is fishy and too convenient. Erasing only a specific set of memories sounds like futuristic sci-fi, but it clearly isn’t.

The demeanor of Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Rebecca is also extremely strange. They seriously seem to be clueless about how to manage people with no memories, so why the hell are they treating so many girls at the same time? (And “treating” is an overstatement). It’s ridiculous to think it would work without any testing. There should be other girls in the house that were kidnapped years before and have those teach the newcomers how to behave and do the tasks required of them. But doing nothing?

I have to go with the premise that the kidnappers are not morons if they can do all that mind-erasing, but capturing such a large number of people at the same time and not conditioning them properly sounds pretty fucked up.

Mackenzie is way too smart for a girl with no memories. Seriously, you need experience to be that alert all the time. I get the impression that you're writing Mackenzie's personality outside of her context.

In terms of the plot, it’s not really getting to me. There seems to be something lacking that I can’t point out. Their lives at Crayton House are… dull. It works to make it hard for the reader to figure out why they were kidnapped, since there is no distinctive lead as to what they plan to do with them yet, but it doesn’t motivate me. People are resources; you’re supposed to do something with them if you kidnap them and erase their memories.

Pippa Whitethorn wrote 173 days ago

Hi Heidi

YALF and YARG review

I read this before but you've made some changes so I'm reading again. Firstly I want to say that I like this book. I think the idea of the groups of girls with no memories held in an isolated house by seemingly sinister people is great. I made some notes and then some more general comments. They're just my personal view, my thoughts as I read - we all like different things, so please ignore whatever doesn't sound right to you.

I like the fact you've put present day in at the start - I was unclear about that at first. 'There was only one witness is a great first line'. I want to know what they were witness to. I do think the bit with Charles is dragged out a bit though and personally I'd like it to be shorter - not because of the writing - the description is beautiful - because Charles plays no real part in the story other than to suggest there is something very wrong with the way the girls were brought to the house and (being very ageist here) I think he's too old to start your book. The juice thing is also a bit odd - if he thinks he poured it in the morning why does he drink it? It's been left out for ages and would be warm and going off. I do like the creepy sensation it gives us - I just don't think he would have drunk it.
'Just be good little girls and do what you're told' suggests Ms Elizabeth has no idea how to deal with 16 yr olds. Even 12 year olds would find being called 'little girls' offensive. Mackenzie feels the compulsion to take care of the others - she also thinks she needs to 'play along' with Ms Elizabeth which implies she knows something is wrong, and she also feels she can 'handle' her which is a swift assumption based on their brief meeting and her inability to remember anything. How would you know what you were capable of?
'Amber and Autumn were twins. Would they sense that or would they not realise until they looked in a mirror' - what a great idea - but would Mackenzie wonder if she were a twin? - she hasn't looked at herself yet.
'I know your situation...' should be our?
If Mackenzie has been told she had a tragic childhood shouldn't she be wondering what that tragedy was at this point, not who her parents were.
Why does Mackenzie think they are in big trouble? I would have thought she would have been more willing to believe the story at first, but maybe days of isolation would make her think something was up - not being allowed out or to communicate with others perhaps.
Ch 2
Ten days later - a big jump after such a momentous change.
I want to know what some of Mackenzie's leading questions might be.
In my experience of todays teen's any rule is made to be tested. If they're told they cannot do something, and especially when they can't see a reason for it, they will push against that rule to see if they can bend or break it. That doesn't seem to happen here.
Ambers comments increase the tension nicely.
Mackenzie feels a little thrill every time someone believes her - almost makes it sound like she's lying to them.
The school thing is odd - the lack of communication with the other kids and the lack of care from the teachers.
Would Mackenzie use the internet to try and find out about Ms Elizabeth and the others and Crayton House? Or even about the other words and phrases she hears at school that she doesn't understand - I think you mention this in chapter 6.
Amber's fear is well done and infectious.
The way the girls are told to behave, their dress and everything about their situation seems old fashioned still.
Good hook to end the chapter.
Feel like I'm missing something. I'd like to have seen the build up to Mr Bardwell arriving, the fear an interview with him would generate in Mackenzie if he was this evil man. I feel you could get more out of this.
Mackenzie seems to jump to a lot of conclusions given ambiguous statements from those caring for her.
I don't understand why she thinks Brandon is on her side just because he doesn't get on with his mother. Couldn't he be the evil man?
The book is the only bit of pleasure the girls have? You have not really made much of the lack of tv or computers - I suppose if the girls didn't remember they wouldn't miss them, but they would have these things at school.

I stopped making detailed notes at this point as I was enjoying the story again ( a good sign)
I spent a long time thinking about this and this is what I came up with - please bear in mind that I think it's a good story and a great idea, this is just my opinion of what I'd do with it if it were mine and that may be totally not where you're going with it.
I think the general sense of unease generated by Amber's visions and fears, the odd behaviour of their 'captors', the menace of the forest and Mr Henry's eyes is great, but you are not using that to its full potential. There needs to be something to back the idea that Amber's visions are real. She talks of an evil man, but Mr Bardwell is just unpleasant, as is his successor. I do wonder if she meant Brandon. The scenes between him and Mackenzie are very good and I would like to see more of those. I want to know why everyone thinks the forest is scary and no one decides to sneak out of the non-alarmed door and explore it at night. I want some evidence that there is genuinely something bad out there - a dead bird stuck in cobwebs, an animal dying as it emerges from the forest (I once saw a rabbit die quite horribly in my garden - it must have had a disease as it jerked about a lot before keeling over on its side - memorable and quite freaky), the bodies of insects, too many to be natural, even the idea from Harry Potter of having insects leaving the forest.
The sense of the girl's isolation is lessened by sending them to school. Clearly this is a device to get Mackenzie to meet Chase, but they don't seem to interact with anyone or anything. Their teachers seem unconcerned about a group of girls with no memories, strange clothes and no equipment. They were told to 'blend in'. To me that won't happen unless they interact with the others.
The girls seem to be very passive and also sometimes too old for their years (e.g. ' Why can't she be a sloth everyday. This is so restful.') They never really test the rules apart from the door alarm. When they discover Ms Elizabeth has lied they conclude that she's not trustworthy instead of thinking there is nothing to make them obey the rules. I wonder if I'm missing something (which is very likely) as Mackenzie seems too controlled, too confident, too knowing. I really like Bree by the way - don't know if I've mentioned that - she's a great character - loads of humour too.
Several times you set up a situation which has loads of potential then let it go without really extracting everything that you could from it. Mr Bardwell's arrival - there's no real threat because you tell us he's left before you tell us what happened. These are parts where you could really ramp up the tension.
'He related a gruesome account of another child he knew who had not been so lucky.' You miss the opportunity to give us this story or even some clues as to what it contained, some images to get out imaginations going. This is a shame as it obviously has an impact on Mackenzie - she refers to it in the next chapter. You need to get the reader on board with this story too, so they know the stakes as well as Mackenzie.

I can't really comment on the pitch, which was what you really wanted because I have no idea how to write a good pitch - mine is utterly rubbish. I really do think you have a great idea here, but you just need to push it a little more and increase the tension. I've enjoyed reading this and I'd love to know what happens to Mackenzie

Good luck getting to the desk


K.C. wrote 176 days ago

YALF review. Crayton House

I found the dates at the start of each scene to be distracting. Is there a purpose for it? Do you have to have them like that. An editor for Harlequin told me to remove dates and time before the chapters start when I used to write for them. They said unless there is a countdown situation, like on the show 24 that you shouldn't do it. But it's your book, totally up to you. I'm just telling you what I was told about it. I did find it distracting. It took me out of the story repeatedly.

I also had a problem with so many characters being introduced so fast. It took me a long time to get to where I knew who they were when their names were mentioned.

At the beginning I was thinking these girls were ghosts and thought they were sort of creepy. I read up to chapter four and I like Mackenzie and Brandon. That girl Amber was also interesting. Like her sister I also wonder why people who see future events or sense bad stuff have to be so vague about it. I guess because it makes the telling more interesting. It's very cool that she senses something bad coming.

As for the writing style, I did not have a problem with it, and I do love a good mystery. I think the dialogue could be tightened or changed in places to make it flow better and keep readers reading. In all honesty this is not a book I would read for fun. Although I finally started to like two of the characters a few chapters in, I don't feel I need to know what happens to them. It's like when I read an Amanda Hocking book. I know a lot of people love her writing. Although her stories can keep me entertained, when I finish them I don't feel an urgency to know what happened to the characters. I basically don't care if they live or die. Maybe others feel differently about your characters. Writing is subjective, and some things a person hates are things another person loves, so don't change anything just on my word. But if you keep hearing the same thing over and over, you might want to check into it and see if you can rewrite some dialogue and gather more sympathy for your main character. I DID like her, but I didn't LOVE her.

The Imagineer wrote 177 days ago

YALF Review:

Short Pitch - With the tag "fantasy" your short pitch makes it seem like Mackenzie is a very powerful person magically.

Long Pitch - P1: "protect those she loves." She lost her memories, her past, and her home. So this must mean she met someone recently, loved them, and then gets put into a position to protect them.

P2: This sets to belief that she has lost "everything" for a while and has run her life this way.

P3: Any reason you mention a character before they are introduced in the story?

P4: You're having, what I belive is, the moral of the story before I get a chance to read it and discover it for myself.

In short: This paragraph made me believe that some time had passed in the story, and not how you started the story. I'm not sure you want to get ahead of yourself.

Everything is beautifully descriptive, the humor you put in are fun. If one thing, is that the protagonist is acting incredibly mature. I know that one might mature more depending on the situations they have overcome, and that habits are formed which survive most memory losses. For now, I'll keep reading to see how she managed to attain such skills.

I have no qualms with your writing style. I read a book that was written like this once before, slow with a hint of fantasy. time is progressing quick in your story for only a two-chapter duration. I will keep watch if you switch writing styles, and if you do, how well you can change.
Side Note: It seems strange that Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Rebecca had not noticed anything strange about Amber. If I read correctly, a summer passed without them noticing. And, for two people, who you mentioned might have done this before, to be naive seems a little farfetched. I could; however, accept the fact they are playing coy.

Before Wednesday, October 3 - Here's the one you mentioned in your Long Pitch. You did indeed show a spark to show a sense of trust in him, but you immediately, and effectively, shattered that image. You've managed to have Mackenzie's entire nature exposed in a few, short paragraphs. But, you also did give an excuse as to why Elizabeth hadn't noticed anything.

No complaints hereon. You've passed 10 months in a very small portion of time. On a personal note, I like character development, (both of my books have active secondary characters,) nonetheless, your work is intriguing.

Paragraph before "Friday, August 29" - "Everything was all right" seems a little redundant after the previous sentence. Also, you might want to add "th" after "29."

I've had no qualm with your writing style. But, I feel as if the Fantasy tag is pushing it. I must admit, your book seems closely related to "Princess Academy" by Shannon Hale (I was bored, and this book was there) which also had a delayed concentration of fantasy, but I have not seen anything like fantasy, except for the two visions you showed.

I was happy that after Chapter 4, I finally started to see some character comraderie, and it flowed together perfectly. Your characters have grown strong in such a short time, and it feels perfectly legitimate. This story type is nowhere near my type, but it just goes to show how good your writing is.

To end it all, the story is not my cup of tea, but your writing style quite suits it. The story really started picking up in Chapter 6, and it makes me want to read more.

Author of, "Thanalosian" and "The Midnight Hotel"

kabiba wrote 178 days ago

YALF review ‘Crayton House’ Heidi Whatcott - chapters 1-3

The opening to this story sets up a mysterious, intriguing premise right away. Charles sees the group of girls and five adults in the clearing, then they disappear. Are they ghosts, or people from another dimension?

From the next section, we are given clues in the form of Ms Elizabeth, Crayton House itself, and the introduction to our protagonist Mackenzie, along with all the other girls. Their memories erased, they wait in limbo, trying to fill their days outside the mansion.

Mackenzie is a born leader and an appealing MC. Her kindness towards the other girls is combined with a calculating, cunning mind.

Your prose is simple and unadorned, taking us into the strange world you have created. The only thing I would suggest (other than my small edits at the end of this review) would be an adverb cull, to further streamline the text.

I like the way you have set up her gradual understanding of her situation, and how to play it to the advantage of herself and the other girls, primarily by keeping on the right side of Ms Elizabeth.

It is also an unexpected twist that Ms Elizabeth, who is essentially their captor, is not an unpleasant person - this creates an unusual, non-clichéd dynamic.

I liked it when she sweeps her arm and says ‘I would suggest you indulge in the fresh air with invigorating play.’

Amber’s seeing of shadows and fear of spiderwebs fuels further questions - how much of what she sees is real? Are her visions (such as the frightening man) real?

The man is real - in the form of the unattractive Mr Bardwell - I loved the description of his greasy handshake. His manner and strange interrogations contribute to the overall unease.

The sudden change of school attendance raises more questions for Mackenzie. It is very odd that the students ignore the girls, yet seem aware of their presence if they move into their space.

It’s clever how Mackenzie always plans her words with care when talking to Ms Elizabeth - such as the conversation about the notebooks and pencils.

The description of Ms Clementine’s chilling demeanour is very well done.

I also thought Brandon’s assertion of power in the library was handled deftly, with Mackenzie’s distress well rendered. I liked that she still had the courage to go back for the book - more insight into her character.

Good line ‘she had reached out to pet a rattlesnake, and the consequences could have been far worse.’

Intriguing - ‘They are used to following her.’ - so they had a relationship prior to Crayton House?

Also ‘Mackenzie is the one that makes all of this possible.’ Very interesting.

Terrifying - ‘You girls have no futures to worry about.’

It was a great ending to chapter 3 - ‘The evil is growing, and it won’t give up.’ I will definitely keep reading after that!

Edits: Cut out the use of the word ‘so’ e.g. ‘so sure.’

Chapter 2 - ‘lead off the dining room’ I would suggest ‘lead from.’

Chapter 2 - ‘rivaled’ should be ‘rivalled.’

Chapter 3 - ‘maneuvering’ should be ‘manoeuvring’

I really enjoyed this and will be back - highly starred. On my watchlist.

Stone Circle

lcdelagb wrote 179 days ago

I always throw a comment on the pitches but since you actually asked for it I’ll take the easy way and comment only on the pitches for today.

I’m pretty harsh so don’t take anything personal. I hope some of by ranting can be of help, YALF.

Short pitch:

The phrase started pretty cool but ended pretty stupid. You laid out some important points for your character which let us know where she comes from, but we don’t really understand where she’s going. “Fate of the world” doesn’t mean anything in terms of context or story and it’s also a climax-killer as far as I'm concerned. Tell us at least a hint of what frightening place she’s immersed in or what she’s going to have to battle against instead.

Long pitch:

Same issue as the short pitch. The main character sounds pretty good, but I have no idea what the plot is actually about, other than maybe recovering her memories. As far as I know it could be about space and aliens, all sorts of dystopian futures, government mind control, or magic on any possible setting, from Bronze Age to western ranger.

You’re obviously hiding on purpose who did all this to Mackenize, but saying “they did this, they did that” sounds like you’re mocking me. One thing is to say she doesn’t know who did it, another one is to be too obvious about how you’re simply hiding it, so I’d try to rephrase it, but that’s just me.

In general the first paragraph is pretty good; it tells what needs to be known about Mackenzie, except that for one detail that seems fishy. Someone who got her past stolen and her memories erased would logically have no “loved ones”, unless they’re “fake loved ones” placed there to control her better. If you go for the fake friends and fake loved people then we’re cool, I can dig that; if not, there could be a bit of an incongruence there.

“A dangerous mystery” doesn’t quite cut it for me. Again it’s obvious that you’re hiding information, but this is a pitch so you’re supposed to feed me something to catch my interest; you can’t hide everything. Besides, someone who got her memories erased is obviously in danger by something unknown to her, thus a mystery, so the “dangerous mystery” was a given. Tell us something more juicy than that.

The blur between shadows of the past and reality sounds ok, but I don’t understand how fantasy got involved. Might as well be hidden on purpose, but the fantasy side sounds pretty unimportant if there’s no other mention of anything fantasy-style. Or she’s just losing it and starting to mix random stuff in her head, which could also be fun.

The “enlisting Brandon as an ally” is probably the vaguest thing about the whole pitch. We still don’t have a context or an objective and we’re already claiming alliances with characters that haven’t been introduced. Then you claim that Brandon beats her every time and sees through her deceptiveness, which would make him the most obvious person NOT to make an alliance with. This makes me think Mackenzie is an idiot, which makes it harder to believe that she’s talented on deception.

The third paragraph contains absolutely no new information at all. You could delete it and it would the same thing. Try reading Authonomy’s tips on pitches:

The last line is fun because it can be grounds for debate on psychology, but I suppose you’ll eventually make it look like “no matter how many times they erase my mind, I’d still do the same thing”.

So, I'd like to have some notion of where this happens to get a feel for the environment she's in. What she does for a living? What about her new life is so crappy? What were the consequences of the mind erasing? I know you won't tell me why her mind was erased nor give a comparative between her old and new life, but something about the present time, when her memories are already gone, must be shocking or interesting in order to get the plot moving.

rikasworld wrote 180 days ago

I've read all the uploaded chapters. Very exciting. I would agree with the comment below that the genre is Literary Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller. I don't think it's YA in spite of the age of the people involved.
It's beautifully written and the pacing and plot are great. I'll be very interested to see what Harper Collins say when you get to the desk.
Amber and Mackenzie in particular are very interesting and convincing characters and the first hook chapter works perfectly.
The only things that I thought might need tweaking were Autumn's story tolld to the younger ones. It's written in exactly the same style as the rest. I think you should alter your style here for variety.
I also found the character of Bree rather confusing. She behaves like a three year old rather than a five year old. I think you probably need to make it clear that she has some kind of post trauma problem or whatever.
I'll definitely find a place on my shelf for this when I can!

jlq78 wrote 186 days ago
Michael Matula wrote 187 days ago

This is a Young Adult Reading Group (YARG) review:

Very nice sense of mystery, an intriguing plot, and some very good writing and interesting characters. There's also some good suspense, as well, which I always appreciate. At times, I wasn't sure about some of the dialogue, like “I am very gratified by your trust” wasn't as natural as I might have liked.. Also, I occasionally wondered if the dialogue and expressions could sometimes be enough to show what's happening in a situation. Like with the line, “She was thrilled.”, which felt a bit too much like a flat statement, and something that could be conveyed in her dialogue or expressions instead.

I also wrote down a few notes as I read, all of which could simply be subjective. Please do disregard anything you disagree with.
“The woods looked a lot more inviting than the task at hand.” - I wasn't quite sure what this meant, as I wasn't sure if the woods simply looked inviting, or if the woods were intimidating, but they at least looked more inviting than his task.
A couple times, I might have liked a line to be a bit more active, like “Dusk approached,” instead of “Dusk was approaching,” but this could simply be personal preference.
“In formal attire (…) looked like they were going to a party (…) in suits; the women and girls wore pretty dresses.” - I felt a bit like I was being told the same thing a couple times here in this sentence, as if they're in formal attire & going to a party, that tells me the men are likely in suits or tuxedos. I'd either try to go into a bit more detail about what type of suits or dresses, or just trim it down a bit to remove some of the repetition.
Before he'd mentioned his age, I'd pictured him being younger, so this line threw me a bit. I would possibly try to work this in a bit earlier, by mentioning the color of his hair or something along those lines.
“clanged loudly” - I'd take out “loudly” here, as to clang is to make a loud noise.
A bit more repetition at the start, with “she didn't want the two groups of girls mixing too much either” followed by “she was trying to keep them apart from the other girls” - the first line told me that she was trying to keep them apart, so the second line was just telling me what I'd already inferred. / Also, there's “tiny, white pebbles”, followed by “the pea-sized rocks.” It could be fine as is, but since pebbles are already small rocks, and then we're told exactly how large they are with the pea-sized comparison, I might leave out the “tiny” bit, as it starts to feel a bit like over-explaining.
I would possibly trim out a few extra adjectives, as a few sentences seemed to be a tad heavy on them. There were also a decent number of double-barreled adjectives, like “abnormally high, sweet” “Pale, beautiful face,” “cold, jeweled hand”. I like them, myself, but a number of them in a row or in a paragraph can sometimes stick out a bit for me.

Overall, though, I thought you did a very good job on this so far.
Well done, and high stars.

What, the Elf?

SSweetland wrote 187 days ago

I have read the chapter and can't wait to read more.

Pam B wrote 195 days ago

I like the writing style even though it is a more 'telling' one than the more effective 'showing' version; it seems to enhance rather than detract from the story. The sense of mystery eats away at the reader as we only know what Mackenzie tells us, so we are as clueless as the girls in trying to make sense of their strange situation. This only works because it is written so well, in such a controlled manner, again reflecting the narrative's content.

I've read up to chapter 4 and have every intention of reading the rest when I get a chance. Highly rated and will remain on my Watchlist for now.

A return read and comment would be appreciated.

Pam Balsdon
The King's Blessing

Marina Freedman wrote 195 days ago

Hi Heidi
YARG review and return read :)
I think you have the makings of a great story here that with a bit of structural editing could be a really gripping, page turning fantasy mystery/thriller. In my opinion, the plot is what sells the books so if the story doesn’t grab you, then you won’t continue reading it. Your plot is really interesting and has a huge amount of potential. I think it would be quite marketable in both YA and adult market.
I have jotted down some notes as I was reading it on the first few chapters. Feel free to ignore –they’re meant to be just constructive ideas from a readers POV and I hope they add some value to your story. Most of them relate to plot, characters and structure.

Chapter 1 – I would separate the different sections with *** or ~ or something like that. I know it’s probably a nitpick and it’s just a small formatting thing but as it stands at the moment, for me as a reader the different POV’s blur into one because the separation between them isn’t clear…
Also, I found this sentence in Charles‘s section bothered me “He hardly breathed.” I am not really sure why, but it really stood out amongst the smooth writing on the page. I’d probably rephrase it something like “He hardly took a breath.” But again just nitpicking.
I would also put Charles’s section as a prologue rather than start of chapter 1. Your really story launches with Ms Elizabeth and Mackenzie (unless Charles appears later in the book again?).
With Mackenzies section – I would have probably started off with a dialogue – ie Ms Elizabeth giving them that speech that didn’t explain anything and then launch in Mackenzie’s confusion…. I also wonder if you should go into the other girl’s reactions in the room – I wanted to know more about them and how they have reacted as I suspect they will play a part later on. I’m surprised none of them screamed at finding themselves in a strange place with no memory or that none of them cried or sobbed or started asking questions. I am also surprised they just let Mackenzie take charge and then leave them in there while she went exploring on her own. I thought 16 year old girls are a lot more argumentative, demanding, curious and ‘know it alls’. They don’t like being told what to do. I know they have no memory but they’re still girls and will still experience all those emotions. I just didn’t connect with any of them in this chapter.
Fwiw, I would leave Mackenzie’s exploring until later in the story. The plot spans such a considerable time in the first two chapters, that you can afford to delay it till the afternoon rather than making her go looking for a way out straight after she had met Ms Elizabeth. My suggestion would be to have Ms Elizabeth come into their room, give them a spiel and then stiffly lead them down to breakfast, meeting Ms Rebecca on stairs leading down the younger girls. I would make it clear at breakfast that the girls are expected to follow rules and routine thus making Mr Elizabeth’s character come alive. After breakfast I’d send them back up to their rooms, and there can be an interaction/discussion between the girls about their confusion/fear etc before they decide/collude that someone should try and find a way out whilst the others distract the teacher? And then introduce Mackenzie’s exploring/investigations – maybe she volunteers for the task and is thus presented as a risk taker... Perhaps introduce a door that she can’t get in to bring some suspense? Anyhow, rambling here with some ideas for you to dwell on…

Chapter 2 – I would have liked to have seen Ms Rebecca or Elizabeth give the girls “The House rules’ in a dialogue rather than being talked about by Mackenzie. I think this would give the reader an idea about the ‘strict and proper’ attitude that Mr Elizabeth is meant to exude.
Re Amber – I really wanted to know what she was like before she started sprouting strange stuff and worrying about spider webs. They’ve been in the house for a month and some dialogue between Mackenzie and the girls would probably go a long way to describing them and also helping reader relate.
I am a bit surprised that none of the girls tried to escape and just fell it the line with what the adults told them. They all seem just so obedient. I don’t remember being this obedient at that age. I’d like to see a rebellious streak and someone getting in trouble that would cause the others to become more obedient through fear that something may happen to them (ie, maybe escaping towards the forest and getting lost, or disobeying one of the house rules perhaps, getting caught by the gardener and maybe punished by Ms Rebecca?). At this stage, I’m really not feeling any of the emotions coming through so I’m not really relating to any characters other than Mackenzie and that’s a shame as I think they all have a bit of a story to tell. For example, the bit about Heather and the bug is really good and shows that Heather has personality and emotions of a twelve year old girl –she gets upset when the grasshopper hurts its leg. It also shows that Mackenzie is very maternal. Do the same sort of thing with Amber, Autumn, Tiffany and the fifth one (see - she is so forgettable that I can’t even remember her name!)

Chapter 3 – You’ve introduced another three new characters here. Did all of them have to come in on the same day? I’m not really sure the social worker adds anything to the story at this stage although I understand why you wrote him in. Maybe you could have a quick conversation between him and Mackenzie earlier in the chapter and then have the other two characters coming in later? Just a thought.
I loved Brandon’s character coming alive in this chapter –I think that was really well written. I’m not sure I believe he’s 16 based on his attitude but perhaps that’s how he’s meant to come across – older and wiser than his supposed age?
Also, I think this chapter is a tad long – I’d look at splitting it up.

Chapter 4 – I think this chapter is a lot better structured than the first three. The dialogue is excellent and interaction with characters works a lot better. I don’t know if you’ve spent more time on it or just trusted your gut more with what should go in but in either case, I think it’s really good. I also really liked how you incorporated Autumn’s story in the middle, giving us a glimpse into what may have happened to them through a night time story aimed at the younger girls. Very cleverly done. I think your story only gets better from here and hints at the exciting adventures ahead for Mackenzie and the girls.

Chapters 5 to 7 – I felt the interaction between the girls and the development of their characters was really good in here. You finally get to feel each of the personalities and their motivations. If you can somehow replicate his in first three chapters without giving too much of the story away, you’d have a fantastic hook at the beginning to get the reader to empathise with all of the girls.
And of course, loved the introduction of Chase and Bree.

Overall – so many ideas and questions fill my head after reading it which is a good thing as you want the reader to keep thinking about your book. I think you have a fantastic plot here and have a way of winding your way through twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and engaged. I’d happily buy this book based on the plot alone. The representation of the characters in first three chapters needs a bit of work to really draw you in and keep you reading until you’re completely hooked. Jmho. I think you are clear on what they’re all like in your head but I think if you wrote some of the chapters from the POV of view other than Mackenzie, you’d get the reader to relate to them more (rather than trying to describe their feelings and motivations through Mackenzie). Or is you added some dialogue between them. But despite that the storyline is intriguing, the idea original. I would be happy to read more if you decide to post it and if you think my comments are helpful. I’m giving you high stars and WL.


P.S. Apologies for the long review …

Sebnem wrote 203 days ago

Crayton House
Heidi Whatcott

Chapters 1-2

The first chapter starts very mysteriously, I like the first line. Then the intriguing story begins as Charles, sitting on Jack’s tree stand, sees some people, three men wearing suits, two women followed by nine girls, all dressed up as though going to a party. They appear and disappear shortly afterwards. Then the men re-appear, only to disappear again. Charles cannot believe his eyes. He goes home, feeling like having drink, the phone rings, and he leaves the kitchen. No one is on the phone. When he returns to the kitchen, he finds a glass of orange juice on the counter. He cannot remember whether he has poured it or not. After he drinks the juice and puts the glass in the sink, he notices that the glass is not his...Very good and the repetition of the first line and an addition.
“There was only one witness, but he wouldn’t be a problem...”

Then the story about Crayton House and the girls begins. Four twelve-year girls in the Pink room, with 16 pink dresses in the wardrobe. Five sixteen year old girls in the Blue room with twenty blue dresses in the wardrobe. Why so many dresses? Is it 4 for each or are they expecting more arrivals?

The girls have no memory of their past, they don’t even know what they look like before looking in the mirror. Even the 16 year old twins, Amber and Autumn don’t know they are twins. They are told by Ms Elizabeth “Tragic childhoods are best forgotten.” Ms Rebecca is responsible for food and nutrition. She takes care of the kitchen and the dining room.

Mackenzie becomes the leader of the girls. She doesn’t trust Ms Elizabeth, but plays along with her, gaining her trust. The house is in the middle of the forest, could be the estate Charles suspects. Mackenzie tells the girls “don’t believe anything you’re told.”

Good chapter ending here.

The plot gets complicated in this chapter. The girls are treated well and fed nutritiously by Ms Rebecca, who supervises their eating. They are allowed to go out in the garden, but after while they get bored and the library door opens. Yet, this brings a new mystery as Amber sees some shadows there and she does not like cobwebs. She has ESP and can see things others can’t. She also says there’s a man approaching and he’s not human...

School starts on 13th September. Regarding school there’s very little information except the fact that there are other girls and boys there and the other girls don’t wear such pretty dresses. When and how they go to school and where the school is, is not disclosed. I think this needs a little clarification.

Amber’s intuition is right, Ms Clementine, the employer is coming tomorrow...And her son Brandon, a boy of Mackenzie’s age.....And a Man is coming....Mr Bardwell, a representative from the state, he will interview all girls, individually.....Good chapter ending.

Characters: Ms Elizabeth and Ms Rebecca act like robots, as though they are on remote control. Rebecca doesn’t seem to be very keen on Ms Clementine. The gardener Mr Henry also seems spooky.

Mackenzie, the MC is easy to relate to, she is a leader, she protects the girls and handles them and the two women very well.

Amber seems to be the one who will provide the unseen facts with her intuition and Laney is good at providing them with exact numbers, 6347 books...

This is a well-written, interesting story with a gripping plot.

Happy New Year and Good Luck with this on the way to ED.

Best wishes,

The Child of Heaven

RubenFonsbo wrote 210 days ago

Hello Heidi

Here's a YARG review for you!

Great beginning, especially the way you begin and end the first main section 'There was only one witness'. There's plenty of drama in the first scene, and right from the start I want to know what Charles saw and what happened to him (althoug I already have a pretty good idea that whatever happened, it's not very nice). Also, after reading the next bit, I'm not all that sure that Crayton House is really such a wonderful place. It seems that Mackenzie agrees with me ...

Your very precise and detailled writing reveals lots of underlying stories as the plot unfolds. E.g. 'She was convinced the girls would sicken and die if they didn't eat properly.' That's interesting, since it made me wonder whether she was speaking from previous experience or merely conviction. No matter what, it draws a tiny bit of the complete picture of the good Ms. Rebecca, and not a very nice picture at all.

As I read along, I find myself immersed in a fantastic and frightening tale of ... something I can't quite identify, but which I urgently want to find out. So I read just one more chapter. and another one. And yet another. Actually, it's really hard to let go of the story, and even when I turn off my computer, the tale has crept under my skin and stays with me, lurking in the back of my mind. It is really great. Your writing is flawless, the plot unfolds hint by dropped hint, and all I really want is ... More! This book deserves to be on top of the lists, published, and widely read!

Best regards,

PS: I love the bit about Bree hanging upside down in the closet :-)

Andreea Daia wrote 210 days ago

This is such an unusual almost surreal setting. A few months ago a creepy story shuddered many people: the remains of maybe twenty kids have been found buried in the backyard of a school in Florida. The parents had lived under the impression that everything was wonderful until their kid met with an untimely and “accidental” death.

Reading your story I couldn’t take out of my mind those news. Everything is so perfect in your world: the color coordination, the balanced meals, the pretty garden, and the senseless “schedule.” Yet, everything is so obviously wrong, even bordering on creepiness. Even the fact that the women know the exact number of books in the library is sinister. I’m quite baffled why sixteen and twelve, but I’m sure you’ll explain this detail later on.

I like that you managed in the prologue to create a character so nuanced in only a few pages (Charles), and bolting the chairs was very funny. I’m sure there is a connection between your prologue and the main story but so far I don’t see how they fit, or better said why the girls don’t remember the “trip.”

You character comes across as coolheaded and bright, almost a detective in disguise. I definitely like her and I’m curious to figure out how she will escape this prison.

I think your story will please lots of young readers. I for one enjoyed it!
Best of luck and merry Christmas!

Chris Bostic wrote 216 days ago

Crayton House
A YARG review. Digging deeper into later chapters, starting with #3. Comments as I read along are as follows:

Chapter 3:
-C3, P4, “felt that handshake twice, and it wasn’t pleasant” is a great line.
-C3, P8, I wonder if “self assured” should be hyphenated. I think so.
-C3, P12, I would use a comma between “cold jeweled”. If it’s ‘cold and jeweled’, then it should have a comma.
-C3, P16, I’m noticing that you don’t use many contractions in the text. I would make “they had been” into “they’d been”. There’s nothing wrong with contractions as far as I’m concerned. It makes things more natural, unless you’re just specifically going for a stiffer narration.
-C3, P35, you use a couple of dashes in the dialogue. I’ve heard it said that dashes are only to be used if someone’s speech is interrupted. Pauses in dialogue are done by … or commas. Supposedly.
-C3, P46, I think I would add an exclamation point after “Now”. Not a big deal. I would drop the tag “he ordered” as unnecessary and taking away from the impact.
-C3, P50, I’m not sure I like, or see the need, for “nerveless”
-Farther down into the new scene, I lost count, I wonder if “light headed” should be hyphenated.
-About the computer, Laney says “get one of the students to tell us their password.” Do the students have passwords? I thought only the teachers had passwords. You sort of explain more about the students later. It’s probably my fault for taking so long to get back to this story, but I don’t remember much about there being other students, so this was a bit of a surprise to me.
-Farther down, I would hyphenate “semi darkness”
-It seemed a bit odd to me that she took a bit to realize that a pane of glass was missing. No matter how clean, it still should have been obvious that the glass was missing.
-That’s a strong, dark chapter. Nice tension building with the departure of Mr. Bardwell.

Chapter 4:
-C4, P11, you could say “ethnicity” rather than “ethnic origin”. Not a big deal. Then I saw you used it later on.
-C4,P17, hair to her thighs? My goodness, that’s very long.
-C4,P29, say “around the other girl” makes it sound like someone else, not Amber. I would probably drop ‘other’
-As the scene changes, it’s interesting how this changes from scared to everything alright, back to palpable threat. It jars a bit to suddenly be back to threatening, but I think it works fine.
-Were the written instructions just meant for Mackenzie? I assumed so, but it wasn’t perfectly clear.
-“all the times [Brandon] had managed to reduce her to tears” gives us a nice insight. We’d only had the one occurrence shown, and this makes up for lost time nicely. I still feel like we’re missing out a bit about the school thing, though. You mention crude boys before in the dialogue, but the reader never gets to see any interaction with the others. It’s sorta like they don’t exist.
-When you say “Tonight”, it’s a word that doesn’t work well in past tense. Words like now (then) or here (there) are similarly to be avoided. That night would be better than tonight for past tense.
-I particularly enjoyed Autumn’s story of good and evil. It’s well told.
-The idea of Bree hanging upside down in the closet was pretty crazy. I liked it, but it was admittedly weird.
-At the very end, in the last scene, you seem to switch perspective from Mackenzie to Amber. As much as I like hearing her thoughts about the stranger and bad stuff and how Mackenzie trusts her, the POV switch seemed out of place compared to the rest of the chapter.

It’s obvious why your book is doing so well. You’ve got a great style that’s strong but easy to read.
All the best,

Sam Barclay wrote 218 days ago

Hi Heidi,

Well, I can start by awarding you five stars but your rating is already high in the sky. Fully deserved though. I found there to be very few nits in the first three chapters...but you need something to chew on, right?

Chapter 1: I spotted at least 2x 'seemed' and 'Of course' no big deal...but this is how hard pressed I was to nitpick.
Chapter 2: Do you need 'But' in 'But just below...'?
Chapter 3: hyphenate 'self assured'?

As I say, a very enjoyable read. Charles isn't around that long but you did a great job on him in terms of his characterisation. I also liked your MC. She is very realistic and likeable. You are also very good at maintaining intrigue and maintaining suspense. Well done!

Cheers for now, Sam

Josephine O Brien wrote 218 days ago

Yarg review.

Hi Heidi,
Can't believe it's so long since I looked in on Crayton house! I was reviewing messages and re read yours. So here I am! Also the thing about people giving out about outside backers is rubbish. People who come along to support your book are just that - there to support your book and why not? If it was in a shop they'd buy it, anyway when they have only one book on their shelf, they generally don't have a tsr rating. Which means you're getting your high ratings from people who do have a tsr...if you see what I mean? Of course you could email your friends and tell them add more books to their shelves, especially high ranking ones ( for example number 48 !!!!Just saying......! : ) then they would help you even more.

Okay back to where I was.
Chap 2:I like Mackenzie's manipulation of Ms Elizabeth, but it made me wonder if she's so dim, wouldn't Mackenzie be thinking of escape?

Very strange that the school authorities don't notice. We have to feel they're involved somehow.

Mysterious that they don't recognize a lot of what's been spoken about in school.

What is keeping the children so docile? There's no fighting or normal shouting matches between such a gang of girls being forced in to such close proximity. I'd like to see a stronger sense of menace or threat to explain why they're not acting out.

Chap 3. What information could they have given away, since they have no memories?

Had to smile at the 'slimy servant' bit but then it made me wonder are the girls being groomed for something awful?

Oh, this is getting very spooky! Brandon was a great addition, at first I thought 'Ho hum, here comes the love interest' but he was so awful and chilling, that even if he does turn out to be more than he seems, it's been set up really well.

No future? ?!! Scary.

Okay I'm getting a feeling of some kind of collective seeking adepts or something, but it's making me REALLY want that the first chapter had the girls far more clearly drugged to explain their passivity.

Now that Amber has spelled out about an eveil coming why isn't Mackenzie making immediate plans to remove the girls. I know they are up in the mountains and isolated but as they are going to school everyday, civilization is within reach.

The sentence 'Doesn't anyone else find it strange that Crayton House is....' seemed very odd. Why would that suddenly seem strange when the fact that there were already two groups of girls there with no memories hadn't seemed to bother them much.

I'd have liked to see more of Mackenzie's confrontations with Brandon. 'Brandon never listened to her '' implies that they've had a lot of run ins. For what I thought was going to be a central relationship, I'd like to watch it developing.

The story is great. But I wondered if it should be introduced by Autumn telling it to the older girls and them realizing it could well be the truth. There seems to be very little reaction to it.

I love where this is going and I definitely won't let so much time go by before I come back to read the rest.
Cheers and best wishes with it.

Wavy3 wrote 221 days ago


I really appreciate your review of my book so I am here to return the favor! I completely understand about your shelf, no worries! It's really awesome of you to stick by your choices. Thank you very much!

YARG review

This caught my interest from the very start, as you've managed to create an awesome, chilling sense of foreboding in your opening paragraphs. I love the way you made Charles such a real person even though he is only around for just a very short while. Oftentimes when characters die straight off, it's easy to forget that they're real, too (in the novel, of course!). You've managed to sprinkle some humor in, despite the rather ominous tone, with the bolted chairs, and Ms. Elizabeth's...unusual behaviors. Oh, and Mackenzie's comment to Autumn about whether she thought Amber was pretty. It's wonderful to have that bit of relief amidst darkness/danger.

Mackenzie is likable right off the bat, strong without being arrogant. Her immediate desire to help those around her makes her easy to root for. And she's clever, too!!! I love the way she tries to appear to be compliant so she can bide her time to figure out what's going on and what she can do about it. Instead of provoking these scary people, she's playing it safe - so refreshing. "I'm sorry, I've forgotten all about invigorating play." <-- Awesome. I love this girl. I also enjoyed how, even though the other girls might not be a mentally strong as Mackenzie, they are strong/helpful in their own ways.

I have to say, the general sense of mystery and of "what the heck is going on here!? this is so strange!" really kept my eyes glued to the screen. I'm a sucker for a sort of not-over-the-top but indeed creepy tone/setting etc. I'm really curious to see into the minds of these characters, especially the shady ones, to know what exactly makes them tick. This is one of the most unique things I've ever had the pleasure to read, and I'll definitely be back to find out what happens!

If Brothers Were Pumpkins

DaveDickson wrote 240 days ago



Have read all that you have posted and would have read on had there been more to read. To me (for all it is worth) this book is right up there with a select few I have read on here that is ready to be published. The writing is well polished and edited and the story grows gradually, slowly revealing details and adding more intrigue. For me it really is a page-turner and kept me guessing and second-guessing what was going on. Just a couple of comments.

For a YA audience the chapters are potentially quite long. I personally did not mind as there was plenty in the chapters to keep me reading.

I see a few others have commented and to be honest it hit me a little too when I read the first chapter. Splitting the first chapter into three sections, three separate thoughts, was a little confusing. There was nothing inherently wrong with each and after reading all the other chapters and coming back I see how each fits in but reading it for the first time it was confusing. I wonder if the book would not benefit from reducing this down to the single thought an pushing the rest into the next chapter. And even trying to combine the next two sections into less of a jump.

Perhaps what I am trying to say badly is for a first time reader the first chapter feels like you are starting the book three times over. Each section could easily be the opening of a chapter and that jolts a little when reading it for the first time.

Anyway that aside. Great book, highly stared and backed.

All the best.


KristinVan26 wrote 245 days ago

Read Swap, YARG and YALF Review of Crayton House by Heidi Whatcott

Hi Heidi!
Totally sucked into your story! I loved your opening sentence, really great hook. Your attention to detail is superb. I found the many characters a little overwhelming at times b/c they were introduced all at the same time. I got chapter 1, the characters were kept to a minimum (Charles/Jack/ Ms. Liz/Mack) But as we moved into chapter 2, all 4 16yo, the chef, the gardener, and a 12yo were introduced. By end of chapter 3, we got a few more. Chapter 1 I didn't notice it as much as in 2 and 3 of telling and not enough showing.

I like your MC, she's believable and relate-able and am wondering what her power is. Just watch your dialogue and words to make sure a 16yo would actually say/use them. Tons of hanging questions (good tho) b/c this makes the read want to turn the page. Overall, really good job. Just needs a smidge more tightening and I think you really do have something great here!

Chapter 1 Comments
- Not much to say. I would just use more of a spacing break between the sections (Saturday June 1, Two Hours Later, and Sunday June 2)
- Nice detail in describing Charles, his house, his friend Jack
- typically there aren't any spaces between the ellipse and at the end of a sentence you use (4) of them
- We know all the older girls are 16, I'd take out that last "sixteen-year-olds" in the sentence starting with: As soon as the door closed behind Ms. Elizabeth, Mackenzie tossed the pillow. I'd change to 'girls'
- Were Amber and Autumn actually twins or did their features just be similar?
- Laney has black hair and so does Tiffany. Is this on purpose? If not, then I'd choose a different color for Laney. So far we've been introduced to 9 people's names.
- would a 16yo say the word 'query'?

Chapter 2 Comments
- I'm getting confused as to which girl is which
- reading quite a few of 'was' words
- Mackenzie followed her gaze(,) but couldn't see anything...
- Is each day supposed to be it's own chapter?
- Chapter 2 is feeling long for YA
- I'm wondering if we're going to go back to Charles/Jack from chapter 1 yet.
- I'm curious why Mac thinks Amber's thing with the spiders' web is strange but not Laney(?) who can do a mass quantity count in a flash
- this is the third time you've told the reader that the other kids follow Mac unquestionably
- On her way out the door, Mac stopped to speak to Elizabeth. then you tell us about some other stuff and then tell us that Mac waits for the other girls to go outside. Then she speaks. Either move the speaking or remove the "On her way out the door" sentence.
- You don't want to make it difficult for her to complete her homework.(?)" I feel this is a question
- show Elizabeth's happiness again
- show the hand gripping

Chapter 3 Comments
- I would move the sentence: She and Brandon had an important train in common: they both despised his mother to after the reason is told. (this is a good example too of telling and then showing)
- watch the number of 'had' words in this chapter
- I'm beginning to feel that all the other girls in the story are robot like
- the turtle sharper story, was that told by the 12yo? I can't imagine that 16yo would have that convo
- Am wondering what time frame this story is? Pencils?
- Laney being Mac's BFF is out of no where, I think just a few sentences to establish this would do the trick

The Guardian

thirdofeight wrote 245 days ago

I don't want to be discouraging, but I have read about half of the first chapter, and I feel pretty disoriented. I think what would help me as a reader is a little more expositional context. Also, I see that you are attempting to jump right into the action, but if I am not given the chance to get to know the essence of a character, I don't connect, and therefore care what they're experiencing. And you don't need a three page Dickens description, but if I don't have the third-person description, I need to be able to infer things about their character through hearing their internal process. Otherwise I struggle to identify w/ and therefore, am not scared on behalf of, the character.

You seem to have a strong sense of who these people are. Now you need to indulge and help us, your readers, see more of what you see in your head. The more easily we see your characters and environments, the more engaged and real they become to us.

You can do it!

hockgtjoa wrote 246 days ago

I am puzzled and amazed at this mesmerizing world you have created. It is a compelling story even though I am impatient to know what it all means -- I hope to get to read it all. This is so very well imagined. Will back in December.

Noelle J. Alabaster wrote 256 days ago

Hi Heidi,

While I only read the first chapter that you have posted, I am already intrigued as to what is going on at Crayton House. The beginning line catchs the reader's attention immediately, compelling us to read further to see what is meant by the simple statement. Repeating it again later creates an impact that sends the signal that something very important had happened, even though as this point the reader doesn't fully understand what Charles witnessed.

I also loved the little details you added. The part about the treestand and how the sons built it was funny. And the oddities that Ms. Elizabeth shows, insisting on each color being exactly the same, was both humorous and rather creepy. It gave the story depth that I really enjoyed.

While the story had the beginnings of a gripping plot, it does need a little work. You often tell us what is happening instead of just showing us and allowing the reader to comprehend what is happening themselves. I also struggle with showing, not telling. Show that the chair Charles sits in is comfortable. Instead of telling us that the girls are disorientated, show us through their actions and conversation.

The plight of these nine girls is horrible--they've been taken to a strange place with no memories of who they were or how they got there. If in Mackenzie's position, it would undoubtedly take me some time to calm down enough to think straight. While she seems like a very strong character, in a way she seems too strong. She's too calm, considering the situation she's in. I think emphasizing her distress and fear and disorietation would be a good idea, so really pull the readers in and make us like Mackenzie. While I do like her, I had trouble connecting with her. She was too calm, too in control from me to really feel like she was afraid. Adding more to that scene--because it is, of course, an extremely important scene as it introduces the book's protagonist--would really help draw the reader in.

I'd love to return soon and continue reading to find out exactly what is happening at Crayton House. This novel seems like it really has a lot of potential. Thanks for the review you gave me. I appreciate it. Good luck with Crayton House!


Fiona Haven wrote 258 days ago

Hello Heidi,
YARG Review / return read

I’ve finally wandered into Crayton House, and what a mysterious place it is!
The clear strength of your book is the intrigue generated in the reader, with the mystery of why these girls have lost their memories and are being kept in Crayton House.
Something of the way the girls speak and dress is reminiscent of previous eras and early fantasy/horror novels. It seems like a return to that kind of combination genre of Dracula, say, which I think is great and gives the novel a unique point of interest.

I read about 4 chapters. I’m not going to nit-pick on your writing as it was generally error-free, I’ll just give my overall impressions on the story.
I was doubtful about the “literary fiction” tag, though, as the prose seems conventional, but how you tag it is entirely up to you. Also be aware that your comment at the end of the pitch about paying attention to details sets very high expectations over the plotting, which may leave finicky readers disappointed.

By the way, I wouldn’t worry too much about the sour grapes of less successful Authonomites. You’ve earned success here with your in-depth and helpful reviews and I hope my review will be as helpful as yours was to me. Just bear in mind that I’m only a novice writer and I read more adult SF/fantasy than mystery or YA or paranormal, so feel free to ignore anything that seems wrong.

Firstly, I really like your cover art. The way the girl is looking sideways out of the window is striking.

I also like your pitches very much.
When I read the pitches I expected a psychological thriller, that would have me in a fearful suspense, biting my nails all the way through, and I don’t think the novel quite delivered on that. It was more of a gentle mystery, certainly intriguing, but not as scary and suspenseful as I expected.
For example, in the pitch you say “every decision she makes will determine the fate of our world”. This is powerful because it indicates that the stakes are high. But if I had read the first few chapters without reading the pitch, I would not have known this, the sense of import doesn’t come across in the story. Perhaps it should?
As another example, in your pitch you use plenty of emotive words: “terrifying, deadly, scared, vulnerable, dangerously, frightening”. I didn’t feel these emotions come across very strongly in the first few chapters. There was a hint of fear and deadly stakes with the (assumed) death near the start, but this is easily forgotten as we get involved in Mackenzie’s story.

Part of the reason for lack of tension was the way you show a few scenes, with long stretches of time in between. The reader assumes that you are showing the most dramatic scenes in the girls’ lives and nothing of import happens in between, leading to a feeling that their lives are just really boring, rather than scary. Somehow you need to get across that things have happened in the interim periods, that relationships have changed, characters have developed, and, especially, that there is still reason to be very afraid.
At the moment you are relying on Amber’s terror to generate fear, but without any evidence to back up her terror it could be dismissed as products of a disturbed mind, so lacks impact on the reader. I wonder if you could generate more feeling of dread, perhaps related to the forest or house (which could benefit from more description)? And more concrete reasons to fear Ms. E and/or other characters, perhaps?

I thought that Ms. E and Ms. R seemed to have too little control over the girls and wondered why the girls did not rebel. I understand that you are walking a line here, because you need it to be Mackenzie who keeps the girls calm. But I wonder if you could have a much clearer power struggle, have Ms. E far more controlling, whether physically or psychologically, and give Mackenzie a much clearer reason to act as protector between her and the other girls?

The other thought I had was that the 16 year-olds seemed too apathetic and reliant on Mackenzie for their age. I would have expected them to have more of a mind of their own, and perhaps attempt escape through the forest, or fight between themselves, or spy on their captors, or plot to run away at school. (Although they do eventually plot this, it is after more than a year, which seems overly delayed, even if it is still early in the book).
If Mackenzie is being too successful in keeping them calm and happy, perhaps you could show us more about how she achieves this? You tell us that they come to rely on her, but it doesn’t quite ring true without more demonstration of how she does this. The exquisite scene between her and Brandon in the library shows that you have a flair for interactions and dialogue that you could make greater use of to show rather than tell.

Those were my main thoughts on the first few chapters, sorry for the long comment. I think the gist of it is that you seem to have a solid mystery but need to generate more fear and suspense in the reader. Also could you “show” more so that we can fully believe in what the characters do rather than have a nagging feeling of “but why didn’t she…?”. I hope that’s helpful and I’ve given you high stars (not that you need more, ha ha)

Best wishes,
Fiona Haven
Falling Upwards

Shannon Peel wrote 259 days ago

I love how you tell the story give bits of information here and there. I'd like to see more show and less tell - action. That said, it is a really interesting story, the way they handled the witness was perfect. Left it to the imagination of the reader. There is so much going on and plenty of questions being asked by the narrater that you want to read on and find out more. I found the second chapter slow and ended up skimming or jumping to get to the next chapter, which means I probably missed some vital details. There were lots of small details that don't seem to have anything to do with the story, but probably have a place further on and I don't know their place yet. Your style is different than mine, which makes it hard for me to offer any suggestions because they'd be very subjective. I loved the description you used. i.e. "Slimy servant of evil." I find that your characters act like an adult thinks they should act, perfectly, which I think is the point of what you're trying to do here.

Andrea Hanson wrote 265 days ago

Henry officially creeps me out with his yellow eyes! I love this story and wish I could read through to the end right away! The only critique I can offer if you are looking for such things is that it is mentioned several times how Mackenzie likes to take of the others and that everyone looks up to her. I think you have shown this aspect extremely well and don't necessarily need to tell the reader.

Great job! I hope there will be chance to read more! :)

Andrea Hanson wrote 265 days ago

Henry officially creeps me out with his yellow eyes! I love this story and wish I could read through to the end right away! The only critique I can offer if you are looking for such things is that it is mentioned several times how Mackenzie likes to take of the others and that everyone looks up to her. I think you have shown this aspect extremely well and don't necessarily need to tell the reader.

Great job! I hope there will be chance to read more! :)

Mark Engineer wrote 268 days ago

You can really write - it's very polished, free flowing stuff. Your book has a cracking opening that Stephen King would be proud of - it's really creepy. The first scenes in the house didn't quite hit the same heights for me - the matter-of-fact tone gave it an almost mundane feel. I realise this may be a deliberate device, but I felt the story slacken its grip somewhat, and I would have liked the little details like Amber's strange behaviour, or Ms Rebecca's warnings, introduced a bit earlier.
I found myself gripped again towards the end of Chapter One, although I feel that you have a tendency to spoonfeed the reader at times. For example: "Why did Amber have to blurt this out now, today, right after announcing there were shadows in the library office? Were Amber's impressions important? It was too soon to know for sure, but the other girls needed certainty. Would the webs hurt them? Did Amber's fears have any basis in reality?" A perceptive reader - even a young one - is already wondering these things, and doesn't need them reinforced - not to this degree, anyway.
I'm not sure about the "literary fiction" tag, by the way - not a criticism in any way, just an observation.
Backed, for sure - you write well, and have the ability to scare a reader, which is not an easy thing to do.

Juliana S. wrote 270 days ago

YARG Review
Hi, Heidi - You have a wonderful imagination and you define your characters very well. I like MacKenzie. She is a born leader and strong. Although Amber is a nervous sort, she definitely has extra-sensory perception. You weave a tale of mystery that is intriguing and I can't wait to read more. This will be a great book. All the best.
Juliana Sawyer
Going Home

Laurence Howard wrote 270 days ago

Compelling and inspirational. You engage and transport the reader completely. Backed with pleasure!
Laurence Howard, The Cross of Goa

sensual elle wrote 275 days ago

I've never heard of Southern Illinois gothic… until now. Three chapters into this and I have no idea what's going on, and that's a good thing. Mackenzie is one persistent, driven little cookie. The other girls exhibit their strong points in an inexplicable situation. I don't have a clue where Brandon stands. Like I said, that's a good thing as it's loaded with mystery and intrigue.

The writing is captivating. I don't know why, but the story seems to have a masculine influence at points in the narrative. I very much like this and plan to keep it on my waitlist after it comes off my shelf.

bdblanton wrote 277 days ago

I enjoyed the story of the first chapter. Makes me want to keep reading. I appreciate how you portray MacKenzie's intuition. I wonder if she will follow it or get in trouble later by ignoring it. Hard to judge from only one chapter whether my questions will be answered later but here they are.

MacKenzie's words (...situation disturbing, ...catalog our surroundings) don't sound like a modern 16-year old. If this is her voice then I'd like to know where she learned to speak that way. If she can't remember then maybe she wonders why herself.

Given MacKenzie's intuition, curiosity and willingness to ask questions, coupled with the mystery of how they got to Crayton House and why, I would think she would be obsessed with the how and why. If I woke up in a strange place without explanation and everything was like a weird dream, even if I sensed that asking too many questions could be dangerous, I would at least carry on a serious internal dialogue about how and why and not stop wondering until i knew.

Are they being brainwashed? It seems like they are there to be manipulated somehow but Ms. Elizabeth is very passive about controlling their actions except what they wear, not to wander too far and where they sit for meals. I would think that she would start early trying to control their mindsets.

I wonder why Ms. Elizabeth went to so much trouble to set up the surroundings to be just right but didn't have a plan in place when MacKenzie asked why they just sat around all day. The library seemed like an afterthought that took much deliberation.

Lastly, maybe describing the books that each girl selected would tell us a little about them and their interests.

Really nice writing. I'm sure my questions will be answered as I read on. Just wanted to throw out my initial reactions. Thanks.


H.A.L. wrote 280 days ago

Lots of twist and turns here, but ultimately a confusing tale that lacks focus. The first few chapters are indeed quite weak, yet the tale does improve after that. It is probably a shame there is not more of it up here. I was surprised as with so many backings in such a short time I thought this would be an enjoyable read. Best I be careful with judging a book by its cover. Nice cover by the way.

janimarei wrote 281 days ago

YARG review:

Read the first few chapters. Very creepy read. I absolutely enjoyed it! The scene of the girls waking and Mackenzie taking lead confused me a little. Something was said in her inner dialogue that made me think it had been a few days but then continued on like everything was new. I did like that her character didn't freak out and just tried to be obedient while planning an escape. The other girls seemed a bit meek and it was hard to place the time period. (although i'm sure these things become clear later on) I also really liked the subtle hints about the Amber girl (if i got that one right), her odd behavior disappearing without Mackenzie knowing exactly why. I know plenty more twist and turns await! Thanks for the fun read!

Little Red Wolf

Jerry Windley-Daoust wrote 282 days ago


I’ve now read all six chapters of Crayton House; it’s been a fun read, other than keeping me up past my bedtime more than one night!

You’re clearly a strong, experienced writer who knows how to work a scene. A number of scenes pop very effectively—I love the encounters with Brandon, the antics of Bree, the descriptions of the caretakers and other adult visitors. Your premise is compelling: How did nine teenage girls wind up in a mysterious mansion in the middle of the woods all at once, under the care of two strange women, and unable to remember anything about their past? The prologue establishes that evil magic is at work here; the quiet that follows in the opening chapters makes it all the more creepy and threatening. By the end of chapter four, the reader has a number of possible “leads” as to what is going on—Amber’s visions, the spider webs, the shadows in the office, the strange behavior of the caretakers, the menacing visits of the “social workers,” and the mysterious Ms. Clementine and Brandon.

It’s a bit difficult to review a suspense novel like this without knowing the ending; you’re juggling a lot of elements here, and taking some big risks. It’s hard to tell whether they work without seeing the payoff. All the same, I want to challenge you in a few areas, if only because I like what you’ve done here and I’d love to see you get green-lighted from HC. (I’ve been reading every HC review I can find and noticing that they’re very tough, giving a thumbs up on about one in six or eight books that reach the desk—and that’s out of the 50 percent or so that choose to share the reviews. Harsh.)

First off, as good as this is, it feels like it needs another pass. Chapters 1 through 3 or 4 feel more tentative, but by the last couple of chapters you’re clearly feeling more confident, and it shows in your narrative decisions.

If you take another pass at the beginning, I would pay special attention to three interconnected issues: 1) breathing life into your characters early on; 2) moving the plot along more quickly in the beginning; and 3) continuity/foreshadowing.

Let’s begin with the easiest one. In several places, crucial facts or situations are introduced or developed too late in the narrative, by which point their introduction feels arbitrary. The most striking example would be Mr. Henry, who isn’t mentioned in the narrative whatsoever for a full sixteen months—but when he is, it’s suddenly clear that he is part of the overall menace faced by the girls. Even if the girls don’t notice his evil yellow eyes earlier on (and I think they ought to—see below), foreshadowing that revelation by mentioning his presence, even in a passing sentence or two, would help. Another example would be their school experience. School is the center of most teens’ universes, and that would be even more the case with these ultra-deprived girls—and yet their entire first year receives only the most general description. In fact, until Chase shows up, it’s not clear why you’re making them attend school at all; it feels tacked on, and a bit counterintuitive. (Why on earth would these hyper-protective caretakers send their charges into the wilds of a public high school? They seem like prime candidates for homeschooling.) Another example, mentioned by an earlier reviewer: All of a sudden in chapter 6 the girls have a plan to escape—this after more than a year of almost pathetic passivity. Yes, now they have an added motive, but it doesn’t feel strong enough to explain their previous passivity.

There are other, smaller examples—for instance, it would be nice to know that Mackenzie has been testing the emergency door once a week all year long; it comes as a bit of a shock when it’s finally mentioned, because up until that point it’s possibly the most daring thing she’s done.

Moving the plot along
Despite the intriguing premise, the first few chapters drag a little. The mysterious people in the woods, the murder, and the sudden and unexplained appearance of nine dazed teenagers with no memory of their past sets us up to expect the pace to continue; instead, we get months, and then more than a year, of monotony. I think you might sense this subconsciously, too, because in those early chapters you pose a lot of direct questions (from Mackenzie’s perspective)—almost too many, which makes me wonder whether you’re subconsciously trying to compensate for a lack of tension generated by the story—as if because the plot developments aren’t sufficient to maintain and deepen the sense of urgency and mystery, you need to assert that urgency and mystery by putting all the questions out there.

I realize you’re going for the slow reveal here—holding back in order to build suspense—but I think you can spice up the plot without giving away the whole store. I think you have two basic options here: 1) Condense the events of the narrative timeline, so that it covers the summer and early fall (four months instead of sixteen months), or otherwise problemize the girls’ situation earlier on. Maybe do both.

Option 1 would simply bring the visits from the outsiders up in the timeline, and make them closer together. If these outsiders are really part of some malevolent force interested in the girls, this would only make sense. Why would they wait three months to visit the girls and try to extract information? Why wait another three months to try again?

The other option would be to further problemize the girls’ situation in those early chapters (during that boring first year), particularly by giving some teeth to the otherwise vague and insubstantial threat of evil, and by making the girls less passive.

I know you’re holding back the evil in these early chapters to build suspense, but in order for suspense to work, there needs to be a credible threat. But the threat is never made real for the girls, which raises the question: Why are they so passive and compliant? It would be understandable at first, but it doesn’t make sense a month, three months, a year in. Despite the dark warnings of the caretakers and Amber’s scary visions, nothing bad has happened to back those things up—so why do the girls still behave as if their lives depend on being compliant?

And that leads on into the characterization issue. Again, the first few chapters feel weaker than the later ones; basically, I think we need to know more about the girls early on. If we know them, we care about them, and that involves us more deeply in the story. Unfortunately, in the first few chapters they remain rather one-dimensional and opaque. I found it difficult to sympathize with them, especially given their extreme passivity. By the later chapters, though, as the characters do more to reveal themselves, I found myself warming up to them.

Brandon and Bree are a hint to me that you could do better at developing the character of the other girls—both of those characters absolutely spring off the page. They’re interesting, complex—and active. Brandon and Bree are characters who make things happen; the girls are characters to whom things happen. The former type are always more interesting than the latter.

Let me circle around to the issue of their passivity again. I wanted to believe that their passivity made sense somehow—like an earlier reviewer, I figured they’d been drugged. But as they become somewhat more natural and active in the later chapters, some off-page explanation seemed less and less likely, which makes their early passivity really problematic. It’s hard to believe that nine teenage girls left in the woods with a couple of dotty, incompetent women and nothing to do wouldn’t get up to more mischief! : ) Not exploring the woods might be understandable, but they don’t even wander down the driveway? They don’t even think of escaping while at school, or attempting to call the police or another helpful adult? They won’t even turn on a chandelier at night or sneak outdoors? They don’t challenge Mackenzie’s authority or get irritated with one another? Doing more to breathe life into the girls early on would probably solve the early plotting problem, too.

A word about Mackenzie: She’s a really competent leader, clearly, but that’s about all we know about her. She is so constantly focused on strategizing, she comes off as a little one-dimensional. It isn’t until she runs into Brandon that she really comes to life, and I think that’s precisely because he is the first real challenge she’s encountered. All of us reveal our true selves under stress, and Mackenzie has it pretty easy early on. (She runs down the hall right after her arrival and is not the least worried about being heard.) I’d ride her a little harder in the early chapters (or bring in Brandon sooner).

And that’s all I have.

I hesitated to put all that out there; it’s not the review I’d like to see if I had a finished book ranked so high. On the other hand, I’m not saying your story is fundamentally flawed, and I think another pass might be possible with only moderate rewriting—some cutting and condensing, maybe a few new scenes. And again, I’m thinking of those HC reviews; if I’ve managed to raise some issues that they might raise and you can fix them before you get to the desk, all the better. Please know, too, that I wouldn’t invest so much time in a review if I didn’t really believe in a book, and the final word here is that I really believe in Crayton House.

All the best,


Kestrelraptorial wrote 286 days ago

An estate secluded deep in a forest, the atmosphere of Crayton House created by just the girls' amnesia and the veiled pleasantness of its overseers . . . those alone say something truly sinister is going on.

Mackenzie seems significantly more aware and resourceful than the other girls. I'm curious to find out why this is. I was impressed that she immediately thought to explore her surroundings before assuming or trying anything. At first, the other girls just seem to merely follow her. Soon, however, I began to notice the differences between them as they were explored.

The shadows Amber sees adds to the spooky setting, and I thought they might be real. I'm not sure what her fear of spiders hints at, but I'm scared for her. She seems more broken than the rest, and I thought she might be remembering something about what the school did to them, or something about their abduction, or anything similar really. I'd like to learn more about the darkness surrounding the school through her visions.

I love Bree, and her pretending to be a bat. The only character that Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Rebecca can't control. Cute and awesome.

I was surprised to learn there are any boys at Crayton. I thought it was just girls, before Brandon was introduced. I like how he and Mackenzie are constantly trying to outmaneuver each other, and that his motivations are impossible to translate. Does he really hate his mother? Does he fear her or not? Is he playing both sides or just the girls? Much left to be riddled out.

At the end of chapter four, Laney was staying outside in the cold, close to death. Mackenzie said her love was beside himself. Who is Laney’s love? I'd have liked to have known about that subplot, and Autumn’s story, that Mackenzie tells about halfway into chapter three, is awesome. That could be a whole story in itself, and it was said, that whether it was because Autumn's story resonated so powerfully with the girls, or because Mackenzie read it, they all believed it whole-heartedly. I'm sure it was both reasons, and what Mackenzie asks herself afterwards, 'she wondered how far she could go before they questioned her' is good and scary question.

The last chapter was a little confusing. Crayton House seemed far less like a prison in this one, with the girls going to different schools and learning real-life skills in their classes like economics and mechanics. I thought that, even as older teenagers, they were only learning very basic education and being kept within the same building. I was kind of wanting the battle against the darkness to be explored right after Autumn came up with the story, or an investigation by the girls into what's really going on.

I'd definitley like to read what comes next.

mahrens2413 wrote 290 days ago

great job heidi!!

kzog wrote 290 days ago

I have read most of what is posted and it is good. I wish you the best of luck with the rest of the book. And I can't wait to read it! Kay