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The Beta Club: The Face of a Lion (Middle Grade) - Come Critique!


It's Beta Club Day!  On today's agenda, our first middle grade!  So, I hope you'll take the time to take a look and let the author know what you think.


For newbies:  If you haven't been here on beta club day yet, don't be afraid to jump in with your comments.  All feedback is welcome as long as it's constructive.  And if anyone has an itch to be critiqued, the rules for submitting to the Beta Club are under the "Free Critiques" heading at the top of the page.

Alright, please read through the author's excerpt, then provide your feedback in the comments.  My detailed critique is below. 

Author: Deniz Bevan (check out her site here!)
Title: The Face of a Lion
Genre: Middle Grade Historical/Time Travel


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

Below is my detailed critique.  Please select FULL SCREEN to view, then once the document is open RIGHT CLICK to ZOOM and view the comments.

Alright, so what do you think?  Are you hooked?  What did the author do well?  What things could  be improved?  Agree or disagree with my crit?

Thanks ahead of time to all of you who comment and thanks to the author for volunteering!

**Today's Theme Song**
"Time Is On My Side" - Rolling Stones
(player in sidebar, take a listen)
*sorry Deniz, couldn't find your song choices on, so had to pick another*


Reader Comments (11)

First: YAY! International MG with talking animals! That's my genre too! :)

I love the setting, but there's a lot of passive description. And, I agree that there could be more character development. Maybe he could compare Turkey to where ever he comes from, as he's exploring? Is he happy or sad about being there? WHY is he there? That sort of thing. Also, it seems like he'd be more concerned about the fact that the cat is *talking* than about which language the cat uses. Hee.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

I love the setting on this. I think Roni's right about creating a little more mood at the beginning of the piece. He's bored, and it sounds like he's an outsider. Maybe use the contrast between what he's used to and where he is now to give us a peek into Turkey and a feel for what it's like to be the stranger. Nice hook at the end, too!

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelli

Austin seems a lot older than twelve to me. I don't know why. Maybe I haven't read enough but he seems like a 40 year old in a 12 year old body.

But I really liked this snippet. It's cute, with the boredom and then the cat. LOVE the cat. Nice job.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPiedmont Writer

Thanks for your critique Roni! It's been a year since I finished this novel and began querying, so I'm a little more thick skinned than I otherwise would be, and find I agree with nearly everything you said. One thing that's funny though, is the suggestion that I add more of an intro - the older drafts of this story all started out with at least 2 more paragraphs of backstory, featuring Austin's mother and a little more explanation of what they were doing there. They all got cut in the editing stage cos I wanted a snappier opening! I'll see if I can work them in in a better way...
Thanks Veronica and Shelli for your comments also!
I'll try to post a revised version on my blog soon...

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeniz Bevan

Thanks for reading Piedmont! Argh, character voice... Let me go back and look again...

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeniz Bevan

This was great! I love the concept behind it. Time travel and talking cats-now this is my kind of book.

My only thing is to deepen the voice, like Roni said. I don't feel as though I know the character, and, as a result, might be more inclined to not care what happens to him. Other than that, it was wonderful. :)

Keep writing!

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

Thanks so much Oddy!

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeniz Bevan

I quite enjoyed this snippet. Just generally, the first paragraph didn't hook me, but I pushed on and then I was snagged at the point where the "unearthly howl filled the air".

Thanks for sharing.

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne Brothwell

This looks to be a fun read! I stumbled a bit on some sentences while reading, but Roni's already pointed those spots out--so I won't revisit.

I like the hook--having an interesting adventure in another time is right up my alley, whether it's for MG or other age ranges. I do feel like I don't have a good sense yet of Austin, what he's about, where he's coming from in his head as he makes this walk....but the story intrigues me enough to read on, in hopes that some of that is cleared up.

I'll keep an eye for your update on your blog!

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJust Margaret

Thanks Joanne and Margaret!
Oh, and thanks Roni for picking a great song :-)

May 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeniz Bevan

This looks to be a fun read! I stumbled a bit on some sentences while reading, but Roni's already pointed those spots out--so I won't revisit.

I like the hook--having an interesting adventure in another time is right up my alley, whether it's for MG or other age ranges. I do feel like I don't have a good sense yet of Austin, what he's about, where he's coming from in his head as he makes this walk....but the story intrigues me enough to read on, in hopes that some of that is cleared up.

I'll keep an eye for your update on your blog!

June 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJust Margaret

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