17 November 2016

No Peace with the Dawn





From Goodreads:
"In 1917, the Great War seems far from Logan, Utah. But soon it will change the lives of suffragette and mechanic Clara, Swiss-German immigrant and LDS convert Trudi, Marine Corps volunteer Reed, and Shoshone seeking U.S. citizenship Joseph. This novel weaves real events with compelling fictional characters into a sweeping tale of war, romance, self-discovery, and sacrifice."


No Peace with the Dawn straddles the line between a really entertaining textbook and an information-heavy fiction novel. As a discourse on the struggles of the average citizen during World War I and how the major events of the time--racism, influenza and pneumonia, PTSD--tied together, it is brilliantly enlightening, giving glorious detail on life in the trenches and life in Logan, Utah, during those years. It is historically accurate and clearly written--obviously, a great deal of care went into the crafting of this novel.

Given that World War I is a war that is rapidly fading from public consciousness, I can understand the authors' desire to make sure that the background of the book's events are clear. If there had been a pop quiz at the back of the book, I would have been more than adequately prepared. However, the overwhelming proliferation of facts often distracted me from the story itself. Also unfortunate is the lack of character growth within the story. Despite the intimidating and violent circumstances they found themselves in, the characters faced very little in the way of personal challenges, and those challenges they did face either disappeared from the story or were resolved by outside forces. There was very little internal struggle, which is the soil needed for personal growth.

On the other hand, I still adored spunky Clara, dashing Reed, gentle Trudi, and stalwart Joseph as they carried the story nobly to its foregone conclusion. I felt I knew more about a time that I had paid little attention to before. For my education, it was worth the read.

15 November 2016

The Stranger She Married


From Goodreads:

"When her parents and twin brother die within weeks of each other, Alicia and her younger sister are left in the hands of an uncle who has brought them all to financial and social ruin. Desperate to save her family from debtor's prison, Alicia vows to marry the first wealthy man to propose. She meets the dashing Lord Amesbury, and her heart whispers that this is the man she is destined to love, but his tainted past may forever stand in their way. Her choices in potential husbands narrow to either a scarred cripple with the heart of a poet, or a handsome rake with a deadly secret.

Cole Amesbury is tormented by his own ghosts, and believes he is beyond redemption, yet he cannot deny his attraction for the girl whose genuine goodness touches the heart he'd thought long dead. He fears the scars in his soul cut so deeply that he may never be able to offer Alicia a love that is true. When yet another bizarre mishap threatens her life, Alicia suspects the seemingly unrelated accidents that have plagued her loved ones are actually a killer's attempt to exterminate every member of her family. Despite the threat looming over her, learning to love the stranger she married may pose the greatest danger to her heart. And Cole must protect Alicia from the killer who has been exterminating her family before she is the next target."

***

This was a fascinating read. I wasn't quite sure what to think of it at first, but I was drawn in by the characters and the plot. And I do love a good mystery.

What made this all work was that the mystery was NOT the focus of the plot from the beginning. In fact, it didn't even come to the forefront of the story until about halfway through, when the characters realize something is up. So the story is delicately and wonderfully balanced between a romance between the leads, a marriage of necessity and the conflicting emotions that accompany it, and the mystery that takes over and makes the entire story make sense. I really, REALLY enjoyed this read, even as it made me uncomfortable at parts. I would read it again, now that I know the ending, just to see how it all worked. Cole and Alicia were fantastic characters who were well worth spending time on, and the story....oh, the story. Masterfully executed, in my opinion.

Gentle Reader Alert: There wasn't really much of concern, but I wouldn't hand it off to my 11-year-old. Definitely adult situations in there.

10 November 2016

Marking Time


From Goodreads:
"Seventeen-year-old tagger Saira Elian can handle anything... a mother who mysteriously disappears, a stranger who stalks her around London, and even the noble English Grandmother who kicked Saira and her mother out of the family. But when an old graffiti tag in a tube station transports Saira to the 19th Century and she comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper, she realizes she needs help after all.

Saira meets Archer, a charming student who helps her blend in as much as a tall, modern American teen can in Victorian England. He reveals the existence of the Immortals: Time, Nature, Fate, War and Death, and explains to Saira that it is possible to move between centuries – if you are a Descendant of Time.

Saira finds unexpected friendships at a boarding school for Immortal Descendants and a complicated love with a young man from the past. But time is running out for her mother, and Saira must embrace her new identity as she hides from Archer a devastating secret about his future that may cost him his life."

***
Marking Time is a lot of what I hope for out of a book. Saira is a whip-smart character who can take care of herself. Her adeptness at parkour or free-running is demonstrative of her ability to make smart, quick decisions that look intuitive but that are actually based on detailed observation and relevant facts--very Sherlockian. (Hmmm, Sherlock as a free-runner...that could be interesting.) The mystery is excellent, the plot is tight and brilliant and twisty and layered. The different times that Saira finds herself in are portrayed well--enough detail to give the reader a sense that Saira is in a different place, but not so much detail that the eyes begin to glaze over. The history is very well incorporated into the story. Saira's interactions with Archer remind me a lot of River Song and the Eleventh Doctor, for all you Doctor Who fans out there, which means that the story/romance in the sequels has potential for depth and growth and lots of intensity. 

Gentle Reader Alert: I forgot to take note (that's how consuming this book was), but if anything, there was a mild amount of swearing. I think. 

08 November 2016

Wicked Sense


From Goodreads:

"Witches inhabit our world, organized in covens and hiding behind a shroud of secrecy—the Veil.

Skye’s London coven sends her to Seattle’s Greenwood High to find the Singularity, an unusually gifted witch who may break the Veil and trigger a dangerous new era of witch-hunting. Things get complicated when Skye meets a charming new classmate, Drake. Skye’s job becomes even trickier when she clashes with Jane, an intimidating rival witch.

Drake falls for the mysterious Skye, but odd accidents, potion mix-ups, and the occasional brush with death kind of get in the way of romance. Once he discovers Skye is a witch, he goes to war for her, even though his only weapons are a nice set of abs and a sharp sense of humor.

Fighting off wicked Jane and the other dark forces hell-bent on seizing the Singularity's immense power, Skye and Drake will risk everything to save the covens.

Going on a date has never been harder."


***

Wicked Sense was an interesting read--the plot felt fresh, and while it wasn't super twisty, it was enjoyable intense. The gentle characters and wry humor added a charming facet to the story that kept me turning the pages. Well worth the time invested.

Gentle Reader Alert: There was some swearing and a little innuendo--nothing above a PG level.

03 November 2016

Rules of Murder



From Goodreads:

"Drew Farthering loves a good mystery, although he generally expects to find it in the pages of a novel, not on the grounds of his country estate. When a weekend party at Farthering Place is ruined by murder and the police seem flummoxed, Drew decides to look into the crime himself. With the help of his best friend, Nick Dennison, an avid mystery reader, and Madeline Parker, a beautiful and whip-smart American debutante staying as a guest, the three try to solve the mystery as a lark, using the methods from their favorite novels.

Soon, financial irregularities at Drew’s stepfather’s company come to light and it’s clear that all who remain at Farthering Place could be in danger. Trying hard to remain one step ahead of the killer–and trying harder to impress Madeline–Drew must decide how far to take this game."

***

Ah, this was an excellent little mystery, perfect for a lazy afternoon. Drew and Nick and Madeline were engaging characters. The plot was tight and well-developed and the mystery almost surprised me at the end. Also, this is a *Christian* mystery,  but the Christian element was expertly woven in and felt like a believable part of the characters. I really appreciated it. Truly, this was a very enjoyable novel.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern. Well, there are murders, but they were NOT described in loving detail, so they didn't concern me.

31 October 2016

Miss Landon and Aubranael

Well. This was different. Regency meets fantasy? I *had* to try it.






From Goodreads:
"Tilby, Lincolnshire, 1811. Miss Sophia Landon is the daughter of an impoverished clergyman. Her father’s health is failing fast, but who wants to marry a woman without birth, beauty or wealth? Her prospects are limited indeed - until her friendship with the town’s fae denizens earns her passage to the otherworldly realm of Aylfenhame. Could her fate truly lie beyond the shores of England?

There she meets Aubranael, a young man with a warm heart and a ruined face. In Sophy he sees the answer to his loneliness, but how can a disfigured Ayliri hope to win her heart? When a mysterious witch offers him the temporary gift of beauty, he eagerly accepts: and so begins an adventure that could change his life, and Sophy’s, forever."

***

This was an unexpected combination of Regency and fantasy that felt fresh and delightful! Anytime I can describe something as an "interesting Regency paranormal romance", I get a little giddy, because how often do those words get combined like that?

Miss Landon and Aubranael is sweet and clean, in grand Regency tradition, and is a play on Beauty and the Beast, except that Beauty...isn't...and the Beast isn't terrifying. But a bit of madcap Alice in Wonderland/Grimm fairy tale whimsy gives the story depth and balance that would otherwise be lacking. And the delightful troll guarding the bridge is one of my favorite incarnations of the wise old man stereotype. My only complaint is that the structure of the ending robbed it of its potential emotional impact.

If you like Regency novels and fantasy novels, you should not miss out on this experience.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found no items of concern. 

20 September 2016

The Second Season


"Caroline is not looking forward to this year's Season in London. Her mother already has schemes for her marriage prospects--and none of them include love, it seems. But when a dashing young duke begins to pursue her, Caroline has second thoughts. Caught between ambition and desire, Caroline may gamble her heart away without even realizing it . . ."

There are few things in life I love more than a good Regency romance. I blame Jane Austen for setting a high bar...and for getting me sucked into the genre in the first place. Georgette Heyer's madcap plots continued my addiction, and since discovering her works a few years ago, I've read SO MANY Regency romances! And they run the gamut from well-written and well-researched to a poor excuse for smut in stays. 

Happily, The Second Season falls firmly in the well-written and well-researched category. Ms. Chapman has done a phenomenal job of making Regency-era habits feel normal as her characters move through their lives. The plot is excellent...but atypical for its genre. Caroline and Thomas and Lord Searly are well-drawn, and the subplot involving Caroline's parents adds great depth to the story. The ending was extremely satisfying. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. 

Gentle Reader Alert: I found absolutely nothing of concern.


You can find The Second Season on Amazon and the book trailer below:



And on to the interview with Heather Chapman!

1. What sets your writing routine apart from other routines? Do you have any lucky socks you have to wear, certain music you have to listen to, an inspiring picture to look at?

 My writing routine… I guess the thing that sets my writing routine apart from other routines is how irregular it is. I have four kids that are each fighting for my attention, which makes it hard to get things like laundry, lunch, and showering done, let alone even being able to think well enough to write. In general, I wait until the kids are in bed (yes, I’ve become that super strict bedtime mom), hop into some comfy yoga pants, and start to write. I find that I am most creative with a bag of Aussie Licorice and Dove chocolates (or at least that’s the excuse I give).


2. What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned so far?

It has to be about kindness. Over and over, again and again, I keep learning that the world is such a better place when everyone can be less critical, less judgmental, and more kind.


3. If you were stuck on a luxury island and told you had three days to do anything you wanted, what would you do?

Easy. I would want to rock climb the coastal cliffs, swim along the beach, and eat all sorts of delicious food.


4. Who has had the most influence on your writing? 

Linda Bartlett, my seventh grade English teacher. Though I can vividly remember her colorful outfits, poofy blonde hair, and long fake nails that drummed across the overhead projector, it was Mrs. Bartlett’s ability to make writing fun that has stuck with me the most. She taught me more about writing than anyone else (though I’d like to think I have also been influenced by my favorite authors). The funny part is, I don’t think Linda Bartlett would even remember me—I was pretty quiet in class!


 5. Tell us about the view from your favorite window. My favorite view is from my dining room window. 

During the summer and fall months, tall, golden sunflowers reach the bottom of the window. Beneath lies green grass and my favorite willow tree. Beyond our yard lies the snake river highlands. The small mountain range turns all different colors during the fall, and the Bear River that winds below it offers patches of brightly colored shrubs. If it weren’t for the telephone pole and lines in my backyard, I’d say the view is absolutely perfect. However, it’s become my favorite scene, so much so that I don’t even notice the telephone lines anymore (unless I am asked to describe it).

 Thanks for the delightful book AND interview, Heather!

26 August 2016

Between Now and Never

This book showed up in my Bookbub feed (LOVE this service. Recommend it for all the voracious readers out there!) and I saw the blurb from Janette Rallison on the cover. At 99 cents, well, it was worth the risk, right?

YES. YES IT WAS.

From Goodreads:
"Buh boom, buh boom.

My heart thrusts with a force that takes me by surprise. Telling me something I don’t understand. A splitting pain, a longing to slip back under. They tell me I was in a hit-and-run, but I can’t remember what happened that night. All I know is that I woke up with pictures in my pocket, a card from one of those photo booths in the mall. And I’m in the pictures. Cody Rush. Me and…

Julianna.

Her brother was there that night, and my dad, the FBI agent, was the one who put her mom behind bars. What’s the connection? And why won’t Julianna talk to me now? Somehow, she holds the key to it all, and getting close–real close—to her for the answers I need will be no hardship at all…"


This is an excellent book--suspenseful and real and tugs at the heartstrings and makes me want to cheer and cover my eyes at the same time. Cody and Julianna are well-drawn and individual and I ended up admiring them both for finding their way. I really liked how their weaknesses became their strengths by the end of the story--great character growth, especially on Julianna's part.

The plot is tight and intense--no plot holes anywhere--and I had such a hard time putting down the book because I had to see what was going to happen next. I also love the way Johnston wrote the setting. I've spent 10 years living in Arizona, and she evoked memories of my time there in a subtle but realistic way. (ARGH--INCLUDING THE HEAT.) The story was well done and I really enjoyed the ending. I would have loved a sneak peek at their futures, but I'm content with how things stand. Great, great book.

Gentle Reader Alert: I don't recall anything of concern.

Second Twin

Just as a heads' up: Second Twin is the *fourth* book in the Legend of Rhyme series. I reviewed the first three books here.


From Goodreads:
"Grimblerod has led twins Asher and Ariana Caine back to ancient Rhyme, a time when Calla and Elora were the same age the twins are now. Though the Kingdom of Falmoor is rich with magic, the twins are unable to use their powers. They don’t know whom to trust, where to turn, or how to avoid doing something in the past that may alter the future forever.

Meanwhile, young Teagan Rogers must decide if she is ready to leave behind everything and everyone she knows to follow her mysterious destiny beneath the waves.

Will Teagan choose to become a mermaid? Will Asher and Ariana get home before changing the course of history forever? And can enemies truly become friends?"

Second Twin suffers from sequel-itis. It is a bridge between the beginning of the story and the end, which can make it hard to enjoy on its own. In fact, I would very much like to go back and read the entire series when it's complete to get a better sense of the story. As it was, the plot deepens and the characters grow more complex as the narrative moves on. It's setting up for a rather explosive ending. I'm looking forward to the finished product.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

17 August 2016

The Echoing




From Goodreads
"Rylee has an unusual gift. It brings good luck to those who are kind to her and misfortune to those who are not-at least, that's what the crazy woman in the woods tells her. But Rylee doesn't believe it until strange coincidences start happening to her classmates and friends. Her gift may not be a matter of luck but of life and death."

The Echoing perfectly captures the tone of an imaginative teenager who can't quite grasp the cosmic significance of the burden she just took on. Rylee treats her encounter with the hag in the woods as incidental, not giving any thought to the consequences or listening to the hag's explanations. Typical teenager. It was frustrating, but true to life. I found the plot to be quite compelling as Rylee figured out how to use her new powers and how to defeat the villain that comes with them. As she simultaneously dealt with her mother's health issues and the unexpected turn in her relationship with her childhood buddy, Rylee didn't descend into insipid woe-is-me moments, but used her smarts and her native confidence to get her through. I really do love a confident teenage character. The romance here was sweet and slow-burning and the ending had a twist that I didn't quite see coming, but that worked out beautifully. This was a great debut novel!

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern. 


I was fortunate enough to get an interview with author Jessica Blackburn. Enjoy!



1. When you hit a block in writing your book, what did you do to get yourself unstuck?
There were some funny ways I would get inspired… Taking hot showers with the lights off, surrounding myself in nature, the rain, or going to the beach would always help. Pretty much anything involving water. I genuinely believe water has some sort of energy that helps us unlock our creativity.

2. What's the silliest/most embarrassing thing you've ever written?
I remember in 3rd grade writing a “goosebumps” kind of story about some kids who believed their dad was secretly a giant rat. And I think there was an important detail involving the father insisting on being called Papa Squeeker? … Creepy? Yes.

 3. What inspired you to write this book?
Ha! Oh boy! I probably shouldn’t share this story. When I was younger I worked at a sandwich shop and I remember one customer coming in who was just… Grumpy McGrumperson! He was extra rude and belittling and all I could do was stand there with a smile on my face as a customer service representative. As I handed him his sandwich I remember thinking, “Oh, what I would do if I could control your karma at this very moment.” In my book, you may notice my character experiencing a similar situation. Her reaction was my daydream from that moment in the sandwich shop years ago.

4. You're stuck on a fabulous luxury tropical island with electricity but no internet. How do you keep yourself entertained?
Probably just make out with my husband all day. I guess I’m picturing an island similar to the honeymoon from the last Twilight book. Can that be my island? I want that island please.

 5. What's the best piece of advice--on life, on writing, on being a human being--that you've received so far?
 As far as writing goes, if you have dreamed of publishing a book, DON’T GIVE UP! Be ready for the rejections and people who tear you down! Your day will come! Persevere!

Best advice I’ve received on life was actually marriage advice where I was told, “Whenever you’re frustrated and your needs aren’t being met, stop pouting and get up and serve the other person.” I think that can apply to anything in life. Whenever you’re down, get lost in service and you will always feel better by helping someone around you.

Great interview. Thanks for stopping by, Jessica! 

25 July 2016

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

This was brilliantly executed! First you have to read the description, so you can see all the elements that Nancy Campbell Allen wove together.




"When Lucy Pickett arrives at Blackwell Manor to tend to her ailing cousin, Kate, she finds more than she bargained for. A restless ghost roams the hallways, werewolves have been reported in the area, and vampires lurk across the Scottish border. Lord Miles himself is clearly hiding a secret. He is brash and inhospitable, and does not take kindly to visitors—even one as smart and attractive as Miss Pickett. He is unsettled by the mysterious deaths of his new wife, Clara, and his sister, Marie. Working together, Miles and Lucy attempt to restore peace to Blackwell Manor. But can Lucy solve the mystery of Miles? Can she love the man—beast and all?"

So we have a steampunk Victorian era with paranormal creatures roaming and making mischief. And this steampunk world is richly imagined, with deft touches like an airship company and telescribes and ray guns. Truly, they work together seamlessly with the time period to enhance this Beauty and the Beast retelling in an intensely vivid way. Everything is very well thought out.

Lucy and Miles are excellent leads. Their characters are strong and interesting and self-aware without resorting to vapid quirkiness. Their romance is slow and sweet, with the tension between them bringing the story along nicely. Add in a villain that I did NOT see coming, at least not from the beginning, and the mystery plays out well too. I really, really loved the ghost and how she helped Lucy do what she could not.

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is well written, well paced, and has a strong finish. It is a fantastic story and bears re-reading. The paranormal elements enhance the mystery and make it most enjoyable.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

22 July 2016

Inevitable Ascension


From Goodreads:

"The innocent never waver from doing what’s right, even if it means drowning the world in fire.

Violina had been burned and betrayed by mankind ever since she sprang into existence. They named her a heretic and condemned her to a pit to live and die in agony. Though she sat stranded, starved and bloodied, she would not submit. Violina, the girl who had been mocked and hunted for rejecting the warped ideals of artificial authority, would lay down her own law.

Inevitable Ascension — The rapid-fire action/adventure novel packed with a host of twists that will make your mind explode! But not literally, otherwise that would be really gross."


This was a difficult read for me. I really, really wanted to like it, because it was advertised as steampunk, but this is not the steampunk I am used to. Instead, it has a heavily technological, heavily science fiction tone. Coupled with Violina, a sociopathic unsympathetic main character who has no problem killing the people who stand in her way and leaves a high body count in her wake, and I was surprised to make it through at all. There are no lasting consequences for Violina's actions, which led to a disappointingly flat character arc, and Violina's main concern seems to be shaping history rather than making things better for the people around her. On the other hand, just as Sherlock has Watson to humanize him, Violina has Lux to humanize her, a bright character with a great faith in humanity who inexplicably stays by Violina's side. The twisty timeline of the story works out well, though the ending feels very unresolved.

So, the writing was good, the plotting superb, but the setting and the main character made this story a very laborious read for me.

Gentle Reader Alert: There is violence a-plenty in this story, but no swearing and no sex.

09 July 2016

The Immortal Crown

***I received a copy of The Immortal Crown from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. ***



From Goodreads:
"A thousand years ago, the Navigator possessed thirteen stones touched by Oum’ilah, the God of gods. Over time, these power-ful stones of light were scattered and a prophecy arose declaring that a “child of no man” would gather them again, and he would be given immortality and reign forever as god and king of Kandelaar.

Now, in an age of chaos, the time has come for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Light and darkness have each chosen a champion to claim the legendary stones:

The sorceress of the cult of she-dragon has chosen Drakkor, a warrior and mercenary who travels with bandits and a corrupt stone of darkness.

The Oracle of Oum’ilah has placed his faith in Ashar, a young postulant who is unsure the stones of light even exist.

Meanwhile, miles away, a slave named Ereon Qhuin dreams of freedom. Abandoned at birth, his only possession is a strange stone that he believes is the key to his destiny and freedom.

A mercenary, a postulant, and a slave—which one is truly the child of prophecy? Who will wear the immortal crown?"



This was a difficult book for me to get into. You know how a realtor will describe a house as "cozy" when really it's just cramped? A realtor for this book would call it "richly detailed".

And yet....

For this book, you need it.

Mr. Merrill has set up a world that is not your typical high fantasy agrarian, with rolling fields and castles and serfs. Instead there are jungles and plains, stone temples and fortresses. The characters are, by turns, intense, dark, bloodthirsty, and devout. There is a fierceness to several of them that speaks to a long history of warrior-kings who have not grown soft while sitting on the throne. But that history is ending as the current king, Kublan, seeks to extend his reign even as his bones rattle in a sharp wind.

Yeah, this is sweeping epic fantasy for sure. It definitely brings out that tone in me.

It takes a while for the story to get rolling, since Mr. Merrill has so much set up work to do. The reader doesn't even meet the third contender for the crown until about a quarter of the way into the story. I want to say that I slogged through the narrative, but that's the book's saving grace--it continually captured my interest with each twist of the plot. And the further I read, the tighter the plot twisted. There is a *huge* cast of characters, but they are handled deftly and I never once said, "Now who is this?"--which is a feat in and of itself.

So, to sum up: The setting is well-described, the characters are distinct, and the writing is clear and evocative. I thought I was done with epic fantasies for a while, but I would be interested in reading the rest of this saga.

Gentle Reader Alert:  There was no swearing or sex, but there is some violence. It's not graphic, but it is intense.

Once A Witch


From Goodreads:
"Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and on the day she was born, her grandmother proclaimed she would be one of the most Talented among them.

But Tamsin's magic never showed up.

Now, seventeen years later, she spends most of her time at boarding school in Manhattan, where she can at least pretend to be normal. But during the summers, she's forced to return home and work at her family's bookstore/magic shop.

One night a handsome young professor from New York University arrives in the shop and mistakes Tamsin for her extremely Talented older sister. For once, it's Tamsin who's being looked at with awe and admiration, and before she can stop herself, she agrees to find a family heirloom for him that was lost more than a century ago. But the search - and the stranger - prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the past sins of her family, and unleash a power so strong and so vengeful that it could destroy them all.

In a spellbinding display of storytelling, Carolyn MacCullough interweaves witchcraft, romance, and time travel in a fantasy that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant."


This was a surprise. I picked the book up on a whim, and the sequel, since nothing else at the library was grabbing my attention. I don't really know what I was expecting, but Once A Witch surprised me and made me laugh out loud more than once. Each character, from the main character Tamsin to Uncle Morris, who teleports to amuse the children, is lovingly and skilfully drawn. Tamsin's snark is FIRST RATE. I really appreciated that the witchcraft involved wasn't about auras or crystals, but involved supernatural talents instead. It felt a little more grounded. The suspenseful plot has just the right amount of tension and the romance is superb. Tamsin's struggle to belong in her family while lacking what makes the family special was also well-done, and it added to Tamsin's character without becoming whiny/angsty/woe-is-me. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I'm already 3/4s of the way through the sequel!

Gentle Reader Alert:  There are a very few strong swears sprinkled in the text (nothing beyond a PG-13), but that is all.

Prom



From Goodreads:

"Philadelphia high school who doesn’t care about the prom. It’s pretty much the only good thing that happens there, and everyone plans to make the most of it—especially Ash’s best friend, Natalia, who’s the head of the committee and has prom stars in her eyes. Then the faculty advisor is busted for taking the prom money and Ash finds herself roped into putting together a gala dance. But she has plenty of help—from her large and loving (if exasperating!) family, from Nat’s eccentric grandmother, from the principal, from her fellow classmates. And in making the prom happen, Ash learns some surprising things about making her life happen, too."

OK, that first sentence doesn't help a lot, but you get the gist of it and I'm not gonna try to edit it. What I love about LHAnderson's books isn't the realism, but the voice of them. They remind me a lot of Chris Cutcher's books, though less dark. There's something so captivating about Ash and her crazy home life and how she handles the problems in front of her. There were also the faintest overtones of Cinderella in the story, with Natalia's crazy grandmother acting as a sort of fairy godmother, but mostly it was about a girl doing what needed to be done and her family coming together to help her do it.

Gentle Reader Alert: There were a fair amount of swears in here, but nothing above a PG-13 level, and some innuendo and one "camera panning to the window" situation.

Broken Aro




From Goodreads:

"Open your eyes to darkness. What do you see? Does the darkness frighten you? Now imagine the darkness being the cargo hold of a slave ship. Your city has fallen. Your family is most likely dead. You don't know anyone around you, and some of them aren't even human. Giving up would be so easy to do, but not for Arowyn Mason. Not after being raised in a military family with seven brothers. Every great story should begin with a plan. Aro's was to escape and to survive.

Escape comes, but at a price. As they reach the shore, Aro and the other survivors learn that freedom doesn't mean safety. The slavers want their property back and will do anything to get it. The party uses every ounce of their brute strength, a hearty helping of cunning, and even ancient magics to keep themselves alive. Sickness, danger, and even love surprise them at every turn. Dealing with danger becomes their way of life, but none of them ever considered that nothing can be quite as dangerous as a prophecy. Running turns into another race altogether as her world falls to pieces again and again."


Do you know how many books have been published since time began? Me either. So I should quit being astonished when I run across another stellar writer whose name is unfamiliar to me. Maybe I should start running in different circles--I need better gossip on up and coming authors!

Anyway, in helping out with a launch party last month, I found that one of the giveaway prizes was a free copy of Broken Aro. I was intrigued by the synopsis on Goodreads, so I went and bought it. NO REGRETS. I loved this book! There was excellent tension as the main character, Arowyn Mason (Aro), navigated through the fall of her city, being held on a slave ship, and escaping in a terrible storm to an unknown land. And through it all, being protected by and protective of the men surrounding her--her seven brothers, then the men she befriends on the ship. They all become great characters as the story unfolds, and I really want to know what happened to Aro's brothers. There are a few plot twists I didn't see coming either, somewhat driven by the appearance of Damon the Dragos. Add that to the realistic portrayal of Aro's cross-country journey, something that I haven't felt as captured by since reading David Eddings' Belgariad, and I declare the entire book very well done. I cannot wait to read the rest!

Gentle Reader Alert: I didn't note anything of concern, but there are things hinted at that I would not want to have to explain to my daughters. I expect it would go over their heads, really.

20 June 2016

The Judgment of the Six Series

Hope(less) by Melissa Haag has been sitting on my Kindle since last November, waiting to be read. I'm sure I started it and got a couple pages in, got judgy about some clunky dialogue and gave it up. But then a friend of mine recommended it and mentioned that the companion novel, Clay's Hope, was free on Amazon. Two free books? OK!

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Once I got into Hope(less), I had a hard time putting it down. But what really sold me on the series was Clay's Hope. In Hope(less), Gabby thinks that Clay has a master plan to get her to accept that they're meant to be. Clay's Hope showed that he was pretty much flying by the seat of his pants!

How about some plot synopses so you know what I'm talking about? Here you go, courtesy of Goodreads:
Hope(less)--
"Gabby's brain is like a human fish finder. It comes in handy when she wants to avoid people. Mostly men. They seem to like her a bit too much. It's lonely being different, but she's adapted to it. Really. She just wishes she knew why she is different, though. In her search for answers, she discovers a hidden community of werewolves. She immerses herself in their culture, learning about their world until she meets Clay. He's unkempt, prone to mood swings, intense without saying a word, and he thinks Gabby is his.

It's going to take every trick she knows to convince Clay to go away, and every bit of willpower not to fall for him when she discovers the man beneath the rough exterior."

Clay's Hope--"Clay is a man of few human talents. As a wolf, he hunts well and can fight off a grizzly twice his size, but has no aspirations. The idea of a Mate isn't something he has ever seriously entertained. Dreamed about, maybe, but he knows the chances are nearly non-existent. Then he meets Gabby, a human girl. She hates him at first sight, yet he can't let her go. Who he was is no longer important. Now, who he needs to become to win her over is the only thing that matters."

The stories are wonderfully intense romances by themselves, but they blend well into the overall story arc of six women who have to judge between the races and bring balance to the world and the companions who love and protect them. I enjoyed the tension between each pairing and the absolute devotion the men would show to earn the women's trust. Each romance was beautifully plotted and the escalating suspense as the overall story moved forward kept my interest long past my bedtime. Also, I bade farewell to my book budget, because I absolutely HAD to purchase the rest of the books in the series!

Gentle Reader Alert: There was the occasional swear, as well as some scenes that I would not describe as graphic, but wasn't exactly "the camera pans away", if that makes sense? It didn't offend my sensibilities, anyway, but the deed was definitely done. And Bethi from (Un)wise is delightfully earthy. So. There you go.

31 May 2016

Remember Jamie Baker AND Interview with Kelly Oram!

Not too long ago, I reviewed Being Jamie Baker, the first in the Jamie Baker trilogy. The second book, More Than Jamie Baker, pulls off a difficult feat--it's not a boring bridge between the first and third books in the trilogy. Instead, Jamie comes into her powers and learns of better ways to use them for good, she tangles with the media, and the book ends on a cliffhanger that made my jaw drop. It's full of laughs and tears and suspense--really, an excellent sequel.

It's been a few years since More Than Jamie Baker was released, but the wait for Remember Jamie Baker was more than worth it.



From Goodreads:
"Remember Jamie Baker is the explosive and long awaited conclusion to the Jamie Baker trilogy.

Plagued by memory loss, Jamie Baker searches high and low for the answers to who she is, where she comes from, and why she’s able to do things other humans can’t. A not-so-simple task when she’s hiding from the people responsible for her amnesia—an evil scientific research company that wants to capture her at any cost.

When Jamie’s quest for the truth reveals a devastating betrayal from the one person she thought she could trust, she’s forced to team up with a secret military organization in order to ensure her safety and stop Visticorp’s horrific human experimenting once and for all."


The final book in Jamie's story is a gripping, exciting read. As I mentioned in my initial Jamie Baker review, Jamie is one of those characters who has earned the right to tears and anger and confusion. Though highly emotional, in stark contrast to your stereotypical stoic superhero, Jamie has endured her trials like a boss. Her amnesia now dominates the story as she tries to determine how she and her nifty powers fit into this new world she inhabits--a world she has no memory of. But as Jamie slowly learns to trust the people she falls in with, she forges a place for herself, even though her memory loss remains. And when her new world and her old world collide, it creates a fascinating conversation of what it means to be a person and how our memories influence everything we do--from the formation of our opinions to our behavior to the people we fall in love with.

Full of great one-liners and intense longing, Remember Jamie Baker is a satisfying conclusion to a fantastic trilogy. Readers will appreciate the new friends Jamie makes, the measures she takes to restore her memory, and the return of Ryan Miller. OH YES. That charming combination of ego and sunshine does show up. I promise. And it's epic.

Gentle Reader Alert: There are some swears in the story, but nothing beyond a PG-13.

And now, introducing Kelly Oram!


Kelly Oram wrote her first novel at age fifteen–a fan fiction about her favorite music group, The Backstreet Boys, for which her family and friends still tease her. She’s obsessed with reading, talks way too much, and likes to eat frosting by the spoonful. She lives outside of Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, four children, and her cat, Mr. Darcy.

Kelly is wicked awesome--she granted my wish and answered some offbeat interview questions for me. YAY! If you'd like to read a very comprehensive interview with more typical questions, follow this link to Kelly Oram Land.

1. You can have any superhero power you want but you're trapped in a book. What power do you have and what book are you trapped in? Why? 
This is so hard. There are so many options! Um... let's go with being stuck in The Mortal Instruments series because I would LOVE to be a shadow hunter in Jace and Clary's crew. I think my superpower would be to have Superman's impervious man-of-steel skin. I don't need the strength and speed or anything because I would totally have Isabelle, Alec, and Jace teach me to be a mad-awesome warrior ninja the regular way. But I'd like to not get injured so much when fighting demons. No broken bones, no stab wounds, no demon poisoning... Just me doing all the butt kicking surrounded by hotties like Jace, Alec, Magnus, and Simon!!! <3
Ok, I really, really like that answer. The man-of-steel skin + training with the Shadow Hunters would be so EPIC! 

 2. Is there anything in your earlier books that you wish you could go back and change?
I think, if I could, I'd take one more pass at Chameleon. I'd soften Dani up just a little bit more and tone down the love triangle just a tad. I love the story, but it was my first attempt at a love triangle, and when I go back and read it, I think it could benefit from a little more subtlety.
Interesting. Dani's intense emotions fuel Russ' responses and his subsequent action, so I think it works. But that's just my opinion. :D

 3. What's the most transcendent piece of wisdom you've acquired so far in your life?
Oh. This one is easy. When you go into labor, eat something before you go to the hospital!!! When I had my first child I went to bed with an upset stomach the night before my water broke, and I skipped dinner. Then my water broke when I woke up and I was so nervous/excited that I didn't eat breakfast before I went to the hospital. Then I realized the hospital won't allow you to eat or drink anything while you're in labor. 30 HOURS LATER, I had an emergency c-section and had lots of post-op complications. I was put on a clear liquid diet for over a week. So by the time I was allowed to eat real food again it had been over 10 days or something. And I'll tell you what, those 30 hours of labor while STARVING because I already hadn't eaten for almost a day before going to the hospital were absolute misery. So ladies, eat a really good/yummy meal before you go to the hospital because labor on an empty stomach sucks!!
HO.LY. CRAP. OK, that's a tough time! I will never complain about my long labors ever again. :) I bet the first thing you ate after getting off the liquid diet tasted like heaven. I know it would to me!

Thanks for playing, Kelly! Come by again anytime!

25 May 2016

A Change of Fortune

I really love proper regency romances. A Change of Fortune has been on my radar for a while, and it did not disappoint!



From Goodreads:
"Lady Eliza Sumner is on a mission. Her fortune was the last thing she had left after losing her father, her fiancé, and her faith. Now, masquerading as Miss Eliza Sumner, governess-at-large, she's determined to find the man who ran off with her fortune, reclaim the money, and head straight back to London.

Mr. Hamilton Beckett, much to his chagrin, is the catch of the season, and all the eyes of New York society—all the female ones, at least—are on him. He has no plans to marry again, especially since his hands are full keeping his business afloat while raising his two children alone.

Eliza's hapless attempts to regain her fortune unexpectedly put her right in Hamilton's path. The discovery of a common nemesis causes them to join forces and, before she knows it, Eliza has a whole retinue of people helping her. Eliza's determination not to trust anyone weakens when everyone's antics and bumbling efforts to assist her make her wonder if there might be more important things than her fortune and independence.

When all of Hamilton's and Eliza's best-laid plans fall by the wayside, it will take a riot of complications for them to realize that God just might have had a better plan in mind all along."


Eliza Sumner is a believably resourceful heroine for her time. She is determined and doesn't let the setbacks she encounters hold her back. On the other hand, I really appreciated her willingness to let other people help her. And Hamilton Beckett steps up admirably. Truly, I enjoyed watching the romance develop as the plot unwound. And what a tightly wound plot it was! The mystery was enjoyable and made sense, and the Christian tone didn't beat me over the head with the Moralizing Stick. This was really, really a wonderful read.

Gentle Reader Alert:  I found nothing of concern.

18 May 2016

Born to Treason

Full Disclosure: I have known E.B. Wheeler since college. Life has taken us its various ways, but one thing has always held true--Emily B. knows how to write a good story. She has only gotten better with time, and Born to Treason showcases her talent admirably.

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From Goodreads:

"Joan Pryce is not only a Catholic during the English Reformation but also Welsh, and comes from a family of proud revolutionaries. But when a small act of defiance entangles her in a deadly conspiracy, a single misstep may lead her straight to the gallows. Now, Joan must navigate a twisting path that could cost her life, her freedom, and her chance of finding love."


Joan Pryce is one of those characters that feels really true to life--the reader can really get into her head and understand not only what she is feeling, but why she is feeling that way. The details of domestic life in the 16th century are neatly woven into the narrative and bringing to life what it was to live in a manor--the persistent cold and damp, the daily occupations that needed to be performed even by the heads of household to meet everyone's needs, even the relative scarcity of good clothing. Add those to some excellent character and plot development, and there were no info dumps required to get the reader up to speed. I cannot tell you how much I *loved* that!

Instead, Emily brought the conflicts of the time to life by letting us see how Joan felt about them, how her loyalty to religion and country called into question her right to exist, according to the policies of the current government. This was difficult for me to read, because I really admire Elizabeth the First for balancing the forces in England and making her reign possible, but I sympathized with Joan and how the policies Liz 1 put in place negatively affected her life. But I truly admired the fact that Joan didn't make any reckless choices, either--she did what she could, but didn't overreach her abilities and resources. She was careful with the people around her, and how her decisions could affect their lives. She had the maturity I would expect from a character her age in that time period.

I had a hard time putting the book down--the entire story was intense, but not overwhelming. Emily, I tip my hat to you. Now will you please write a story about Nicholas? Because he was pretty awesome too, and I think his history would be an intriguing read.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

I got an interview with Emily, too! My life rocks. 



First, a short bio:
E.B. Wheeler grew up in Georgia and California. She attended BYU, majoring in history with an English minor, and earned graduate degrees in history and landscape architecture from Utah State University. She's the award-winning author of THE HAUNTING OF SPRINGETT HALL and several short stories, magazine articles, and scripts for educational software programs, as well as BORN TO TREASON (May 2016) and NO PEACE WITH THE DAWN (November 2016). She lives in the mountains of Utah with her husband, daughters, various pets, and as many antique roses as she can cram into her yard. If she had spare time, she would spend it playing harp and hammered dulcimer, gardening, hiking, shooting archery, knitting, and reading.


And on to the interview!

1. In your early attempts at writing, what is the most embarrassing thing you wrote?

In high school, my best friend and I wrote scripts for several mash-up parody movies, like “Swing Kids: The Next Generation.” They involved scenes like Kenny G trying to use his saxophone to smash open canned food in a post-apocalyptic world. Though, honestly, we had a blast doing it, so I'm not that embarrassed. :)

 2. What is your writing routine? 

 I'm not a morning person, but I've found, with my kids' schedules, I only have the time and emotional energy to write first thing in the morning. So, I get up an hour or so before everyone else and write. If I'm struck by inspiration during the day or at night, I'll jot down as much as I can and then plot while I clean, walk the kids to school, etc.

 3. Do you have any favorite music to listen to while you write? Why?

 When I'm in the writing groove, I tend to tune everything else out, and while I'm editing, I don't like any distractions, so I'm not a music-while-writing person.

 4. Just to switch things up a bit -- you can have any superhero power you want but you're trapped in a book. What power do you have and what book are you trapped in? Why?

I wouldn't want to be stuck in most of the books I read! I'm going to cheat a little and say I'd love to be trapped in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender (they have graphic novels—it counts!), and be a fire bender. Why? Because it would be awesome! :)

We love The Last Airbender at our house! I think I'd rather be an earth-bender, but that might be because I'm not looking forward to landscaping my new front yard. Being an earth-bender would make that so much easier! Anyway....

5. When you're absolutely sick of your own writing, what books/genre do you read to give yourself a break? 

I enjoy escaping into Georgette Heyer's world, and my guilty pleasure is Gothic romance. I'm not sure I'll ever try to write one, but I love reading them, and they give me a good break from some of the heavier stuff I read in history and historical fiction.

 6. What's the best feedback/compliment you've ever gotten? 

 Unofficially, one of my former professors—an expert on Renaissance Britain—said Born to Treason “...didn't make me grumpy.” Coming from him, I felt like I'd won the Newbery or something. Officially, I got a review from a teenage girl saying she liked my book because, “The romance isn't stupid.” I set out to make the romances in my books “not stupid,” so I was thrilled.

I'm no expert on Britain in any form, but I have to agree--your details seemed to be dead on. And the romance is definitely NOT stupid. Well done!

 7. What is the most important life lesson you've learned so far? 

 Writing has taught me a lot, but I think the most important thing I've learned from it so far is to be true to my own vision—to focus first on what I know the story needs, and then to listen with an open mind to other people's opinions. Oddly enough, by stressing less about what other people think, I'm able to listen better to what they have to say.

Thanks for stopping by, Emily, and thank you SO MUCH for writing Born to Treason. I really enjoyed it!

12 May 2016

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of Yukon Gold

If my history books had been written like Kitty Hawk, I would have paid a lot more attention. Kitty Hawk is jam-packed with detailed information about the Yukon Gold Rush, humpback whale feeding and migration habits, and flying a De Haviland Beaver.



From Goodreads

"After leaving her home in the western Canadian fishing village of Tofino to spend the summer in Alaska studying humpback whales Kitty finds herself caught up in an unforgettable adventure involving stolen gold, devious criminals, ghostly shipwrecks, and bone-chilling curses. Kitty's adventure begins with the lingering mystery of a sunken ship called the Clara Nevada and as the plot continues to unfold this spirited story will have armchair explorers and amateur detectives alike anxiously following every twist and turn as they are swept along through the history of the Klondike Gold Rush to a suspenseful final climatic chase across the rugged terrain of Canada's Yukon, the harsh land made famous in the stories and poems of such writers as Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Berton. It is a riveting tale that brings to glorious life the landscape and history of Alaska's inside passage and Canada's Yukon, as Kitty is caught up in an epic mystery set against the backdrop of the scenery of the Klondike Gold Rush."

Kitty Hawk is described as intrepid too many times in the book descriptions I've read to make me comfortable, unless this book was set in the 1940s. However, Ms. Hawk has access to the latest technology, making me quite certain that her cell-phone-wielding self is firmly planted in the present day. She makes use of that technology to track humpback whales through islands off the coast of Alaska and falls into an adventure with four gold-hauling brothers. They all end up following a trail through the Yukon and Kitty receives an extensive lesson on the way, full of dastardly villains, crazy prospectors, explosions, and people down on their luck trying out yet another scheme to get rich quick. 

The writing is clear and vivid. The narrative meanders, bogged down as it is in multiple lessons, but the action is riveting enough to keep a reader's attention. Kitty talks to herself, internally, extensively, and the reader gets to know her quite well. She has confidence but isn't foolish or overly cautious. She reacts reasonably to the situations she finds herself in and does her best with the resources she has to hand. She's not afraid to ask for help and she proves herself to be quite capable.

Overall, Kitty is quite the perfect heroine and the people she interacts with are black and white characters. There isn't much room for nuance in this straightforward story, but there is hope for redemption at the end. Middle graders would be a great audience for this book.

Gentle Reader Alert: Kitty references deity quite a bit, and she's not prayin', folks. As a religious conservative, that bugged me, especially since this book seems to be written for younger readers. 

18 April 2016

Treasure at Lure Lake and INTERVIEW with author Shari Schwarz

I have to admit, when it comes to camping, I am a total lightweight. I start my fires with matches, I prefer to sleep in a cabin, and I've never tied my food up high to keep it from bears because my food is locked in said cabin. Or RV. My grandfather's family shared an RV and we'd take it every once in a while for a family outing. One year, it was cloudy and gloomy the entire three days we were in the woods, so I holed up in my bunk and read the entire time. I got yelled at for nearly killing the RV battery because I had to use the bunk's light the entire time. What can I say? I was lost in a book. Nothing new there!


From Goodreads:
"An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even if it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!"


The campers in Treasure at Lure Lake are a little more intrepid than I am. Jack and Bryce are taking some time to really rough it with their grandpa up in the mountains of Colorado as they hike to the rather primitive cabin that's been in the family for generations. Jack and Bryce argue back and forth like brothers do--Ms. Schwarz definitely captures the tone of sibling relationships! This seemingly simple trip is beset by some rather traumatic incidents, testing the bond between the brothers, and Bryce's curiosity leads to the discovery of a devastating family secret.

But what could be a very heavy story is redeemed by Ms. Schwarz' deft writing and light tone--she completely captures what it is to be a young adolescent, still full of wonder and innocence, as well as a young man who is struggling between adolescence and imminent manhood. Also, although she takes her story seriously, none of the distressing events were overwhelming or too intense to read. In fact, I found it hard to put the book down. With an excellent use of foreshadowing and great character motivations, the story moved forward quickly and I ate it up.

This is a great book for middle graders who appreciate life's more serious situations and can open up some excellent opportunities for discussion. I'm glad to have had the chance to read it.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.


Now, on to the interview!




Shari Schwarz lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado near the Rocky Mountains with her husband and their four boys. TREASURE AT LURE LAKE (April 12, 2016) is her debut middle grade novel which reflects her love for a good survival adventure story. When she’s not reading or writing, Shari can be found freelance editing, weight-lifting, gardening or watching her boys play football, basketball, speed stacking, or wrestling. She frequently daydreams of exploring Oregon Coast beaches or plotting out her next children’s book.


1. In your early attempts at writing, what is the most embarrassing thing you wrote? (For example, a friend of mine got started by writing fan fiction about the Backstreet Boys. She freely admits this. :D) 

 What a great question! The most embarrassing things I have written (besides angsty journal entries) would definitely be my early queries to agents when I was just starting out on my writing journey. I made all of the query mistakes you can make, but this one in particular was mortifying. I even blogged about it here: http://www.sharischwarz.com/2014/06/most-embarassing-query-experience.html Basically, I accidentally sent several different versions of the same query to an agent. I can only imagine what he thought about that little episode. I now know that agents see all kinds of crazy things. But these experiences are lessons learned. Onward and upward, right?

 2. What is your writing routine?

 I usually write when my four-year-old is in preschool and when my big boys are at youth group. I go to one of my favorite coffee shops and have a couple of hours each time to write. But often I find myself writing in between all of the nooks and crannies of life...those moments where you have a few minutes to kill here or there, between appointments, sitting in the pick-up line at my son's elementary school, or while waiting for water to boil for dinner. I can write in the middle of chaos. But I cannot edit that way. I have to have very concentrated and quite time to do that, which usually happens on weekends or when my husband is able to watch our boys.

 3. Do you have any favorite music to listen to while you write? Why? 

 Even though I can write in the middle of 'life,' I can't write with music on. I really wish I could! But I find it hard to tune it out.

 4. All right, now to exercise the ol' imagination--you can have any superhero power you want but you're trapped in a book. What power do you have and what book are you trapped in? Why? 

 I would want the superhero power of being able to transport others into the book with me so that we could have the same, life-changing experiences together. And, maybe, together, we'd be able to figure a way to get back to reality!

 5. When you're absolutely sick of your own writing, what books/genre do you read to give yourself a break?

 I read widely. I love reading picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult and adult novels pretty much in any genre as long as it's clean. My favorite book of the last year was THE LIFE LIST by Lori Nelson Spielman. It's pretty much the perfect book for me. But usually I love reading survival stories the most.

 6. What's the best feedback/compliment you've ever gotten? 

 On TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, my favorite comment was when my dad said he teared up because of a scene toward the end of the book that he felt he could relate to. I felt like I got it just right, and through all of my revisions, that scene has pretty much stayed the same. I wish I could reveal it, but it would be a spoiler. On my writing in general, the highlight for me was being published in last year's Writer's Digest short story competition. I won 7th place out of almost 7000 entries. It gave me a huge boost in confidence.

 7. What is the most important life lesson you've learned so far? 

 Oh, wow. This is a hard one. So many life lessons over the years. I'll try to pick one...It's beautiful to watch when someone realizes what their passion in life is and develops it. I guess I would say that I've learned to listen to my heart and not be afraid of failure. I believe in dreaming and working toward your dreams no matter how hard it may be. In the back of my 5th grade journal, I wrote that I wanted to write a book. It took me thirty years and has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I'm so excited to be realizing my dream now as my book comes out.

 Thank you for having me on your blog, Karie. It's been wonderful!
Thank you, Shari! 

Treasure at Lure Lake is available for purchase at an e-retailer near you. 

13 April 2016

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells

Sarah Eden has been on my radar for a while now. I've read rave reviews of her romances and been envious of my Utah friends, who could find her books on their library shelves. Out here in Texas, well, my Sarah Eden options are lacking.

But then Sherwood Smith reviewed Ms. Eden's latest novel--which I thought would be pretty much out of Sherwood's purview--and she *loved* it. Moreover, she'd gotten an ARC from NetGalley. Whaddya know?! So I clicked my way over to NetGalley and requested The Sheriffs of Savage Wells just as fast as my fingers would take me. AND THEY APPROVED MY REQUEST. You may not have noticed, but my blog is tiny. My readership is few. I have a grand total of five comments. Heck, I haven't even worked out how to put ads on here. :D So when I have to request a book instead of just being automatically approved for it, I tend to throw a mini-party right there in my reading chair when my request is granted. So here's a humongous THANK YOU to Shadow Mountain for letting me have the privilege of reading my first Sarah Eden novel!


From Goodreads:
"He's the most fearsome sheriff in the West. A force to be reckoned with. The stuff of legend.

So is she. . . . May the best sheriff win.

Paisley Bell knows the eccentric people of Savage Wells. From the absentminded shopkeeper who always thinks she's been robbed to the young man who has returned shell-shocked from the war, Paisley has compassion for them all. When the sheriff up and leaves town, Paisley steps up and assumes the responsibility, partly because she loves the work, but also because she needs the income to take care of her sick father. So when the town council decides that the position of sheriff should really go to a man, Paisley finds herself fighting to prove that she's the perfect candidate for the job, even though she wears a skirt.

Cade O'Brien is heartily sick of shooting people. In his many years as a lawman, Cade has seen his share of blood and violence. So when he answers an advertisement for a sheriff job in the sleepy town of Savage Wells, he believes he's found the peace and quiet he's always desired. But when he discovers that his biggest competition for the job is a woman, he begins to question his decisions.

Tension between the two begins to sizzle when both Cade and Paisley realize the attraction they have for each other, but when Paisley's former beau shows up in town, along with a band of bank robbers, the blossoming relationship between the two sheriffs is tested. They will have to work together to thwart the bank robbers and keep the town safe."


Savage Wells is a town full of quirky people. This is nothing new, but Ms. Eden treats all of those people with respect and makes them lovable without making them into cartoons. This is a fine line that many authors stomp all over in order to get a cheap laugh. But when done right, as Savage Wells has been, the laughs are internally motivated by the interactions of the characters that the reader has come to adore. I really do prefer it that way, and the jokes tend to be funnier.

Paisley Bell and Cade O'Brien are fantastic characters in their own right. I love that Paisley's need for independence is a natural outgrowth of her personality and not a pastiche of 21st feminist morals painted onto a 19th century character. I would have wished for a few more flaws in Cade--he was just a little *too* good at everything--but I loved the interactions between them, probably because they reminded me of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. In fact, The Sheriffs of Savage Wells could easily be called Pride and Prejudice in the American West. The plot was well developed and the mystery of the bank robbers was perfectly paced. I really enjoyed the entire story!

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

Holding Smoke

(I received an ARC of this book from the good folks at NetGalley for an honest review.)

Holding Smoke is a grim but redeemable place where Shawshank Redemption meets The Green Mile meets The Fugitive. My goodness, I've seen a lot of prison movies. Ahhh, the good ol' days of TNT and an empty Saturday afternoon. That hasn't happened in a while. 



From Goodreads
"John "Smoke" Conlan is serving time for two murders but he wasn't the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke's new home and the only one he believes he deserves.

But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they're asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn't care that the "threads" that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin--that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name.

Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink's help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he's willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for."



This story is amazing. The characters are so well-drawn--being in John's head and his sharp observational skills brought to life the gritty detention center, the poor side of town where people do their best to exist, and the series of flashbacks that revealed John's story and the awfulness that led to his current predicament. I ended up caring about almost all of the characters--except the ones I wasn't supposed to like--and the redemptive tone of the story kept the darkness at bay. The plot was tight, well-woven and suspenseful without beating me over the head with the Giant Foreshadowing Stick of Doom. Also, I didn't see the ending coming. I *love* it when that happens!!

Gentle Reader Alert: This *is* a prison novel. The language of the prisoners sets them apart from the other characters, and the f-bomb shows up from time to time. There are some violent incidents as well. 

28 March 2016

You Can't Catch Me

You know what's really awesome about being friends with writers? They recommend other authors to you that you end up adoring. It's true! It's literary networking at its finest. For instance, Kelly Oram told me I should read some books by Cassie Mae, and boy, that was a good move for me! This voracious reader ate up How to Date a Nerd and Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend in a matter of days. So when Cassie Mae came over to Kelly's FB fan page waving eARCs, my hand was totally one of the first ones up.


From Goodreads:
"My body suuuucks. After lounging around on my butt all summer (okay, so maybe that was my bad), this body decided to become something completely foreign. So now I’m trying to make the track team and I feel like I’m a baby learning to walk again.

A couple pounds wouldn’t have been so bad. Work those off, run like a mad woman, no problem, yeah? But no. I’ve also developed a couple of things that I definitely didn’t have before. And now my guy friends are all sitting in a pool of drool as they not-so-subtly stare at my chest.

Combine all that drama with the fact that the new track coach is getting major flack for being a little chunky, and all I’m trying to do is convince the team that I’m not running slower because of her coaching style.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m totally falling face-first in “like” with some guy I met in a cemetery? And no one understands it just because he’s also a little chunky. But he’s also adorable and wonderfully weird and I don’t care what they say, his look sure does it for me.

But… I don’t know… how can I be in “like” with someone, when I have no clue how to like myself anymore?"

 In a word, You Can't Catch Me is adorable. I loveloveLOVE Ginger's voice. She is such a hoot and amazingly confident in her quirkiness. The story handles her new insecurity (her sudden development into a more womanly shape) with grace and compassion. Ginger reminded me of being a teenager and looking at my body while yelling, "I used to know how to operate you! What is up with this?!!!" Granted, my problems were of the tall girl type--constantly knocking my elbows and feet into things. It's pretty amusing to watch my 12-year-old go through the same issues.

ANYWAY.

The voice. Oh my heavens, the voice of this story! Not only is Ginger funny, but her relationships with the boys around her are fantastic. I especially love how she connects with Oliver and his own weirdness. It allll just meshes beautifully into a story about accepting yourself as you are. I've read it twice already because I loved it so much! THANK YOU, Cassie Mae, for bringing Ginger to life and sharing her with me. It's been a privilege to read this book.

GENTLE READER ALERT: Ok, so this is a story about a girl dealing with the fact that she grew some boobs. So. Deal with that, because it's funny and you'll totally relate to it. Other than that, I found nothing of concern.

24 March 2016

SHOWDOWN: The Damsel in Distress versus The Distressed Damsel

FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND:

I was struck by an Instagram post the other day, in which the poster was defending her love of Twilight and Bella in particular: "Personally, I love Bella & the fact that her character was sometimes weak & awkward, like myself, but strong when she needed to be, making her more relatable. She's sometimes called 'the girl who did nothing', and that's okay, too! Not every female character should have to save the world to be accepted & liked."

If you've been my friend in real life for any amount of time, you know how I feel about Bella (here's an academic paper I wrote on her, just to make it official). Her transformational journey is EPIC in my eyes, especially as it is motivated by love and her entrance into motherhood. I never saw her as a damsel in distress, but more as a distressed damsel, one who is overwhelmed by circumstances that were out of her control. (More on that later.) Then, the other night, I was watching Jupiter Ascending and during a slow part (good movie that needed work--it happens), I read a comment on a review of the movie that Jupiter was a typical damsel in distress. That made me mad. Jupiter was in a UNIVERSE where she had little to no power and no knowledge to draw on. Yeah, she was in distress! But that didn't mean she was making stupid decisions--she was doing the best she could with what she had. 


So, combine that mental snit with the very entertaining-yet-informative blog post that I read earlier this week from Ilona Andrews--Brief Analysis of Alphahole in Romantic Fiction--and suddenly this blog post began to roll around in my head. I'll also be referring to Heather Farrell's great post The Reason You Love Jane Austen and I Bet You Didn't Even Know It, which clarifies what a maternal feminist is, among other things. Trust me, it's important. 


There. Necessary contextual clarifications are now out of the way. 


THE MAIN POINT: 

In media, there are several kinds of female characters--take charge women who can save themselves, damsels in distress, distressed damsels, solely-the-love-interest heroines, the funny fat friend who provides the important information at just the right time, the missing mother, and so on. There will be shades of both, because there is very little in this life that is completely black and white, and there will be variations of them all that will amuse us, but I think that a distinction needs to be made between the two damsels.


To me, a damsel in distress is a main character who is confronted by a conflict that they *could* take on but that they choose not to handle, instead waiting for a stronger, more knowledgeable character to swoop in and save them. On the other hand, a distressed damsel is a main character who is confronted by a conflict that is *out* of their control, does their best with the power, knowledge, and resources available to them, often to the point of self-sacrifice, and are saved by a stronger, more knowledgeable character (often an alphahole who has been put in touch with their humanity--thank you, Ilona Andrews, for giving that character definition).


Examples of a damsel in distress, according to the above definition, are therefore limited to two characters that I can think of: Disney's Snow White and Princess Buttercup. 

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS


Snow White is an absolute IDIOT who *will not* listen to the advice of the more experienced people around her and gets into trouble because of it. (Maybe she's a dwarfist. Anyway.) She proceeds to fall into the arms of the stranger who rescued her and agrees to let him take her away. No character growth there. She doesn't take steps to defeat the villain or learn to look outside herself or improve herself in any way.





Princess Buttercup is pretty much the same way. I have always questioned what Westley found in her to love, since she is an absolute LUMP. She allows herself to be moved from position to position, like a pawn on a chessboard. Her only redeeming action is when she jumps ship to swim away from Vizzini and crew. Even then, she doesn't evaluate her surroundings--she is merely looking to get away. Same with her suicide attempt after her marriage to Humperdinck--her attempt to end her life wasn't to achieve some greater purpose, but to remove herself from the situation, even after she had reassured Humperdinck that "...my Westley will save me." She does nothing to slow events down or make it easier for Westley. She has completely ceded control of her life to the men around her. (I must say, I do love the movie. But it's not because of her!)


STRONG, CAPABLE WOMAN WHO HAS POWER, KNOWLEDGE, AND RESOURCES AND THEREFORE IS *NOT* PART OF THIS DISCUSSION


On the other end of the heroine spectrum are characters like Rey from The Force Awakens. They have the power, knowledge, and resources to save themselves--and they DO. I like them. But I'm not talking about them.


DISTRESSED DAMSELS



Then there is the distressed damsel. A lot of so-called "damsels in distress" actually fall into this category. They are characters who are thrown into situations where they lack one or more key things: knowledge, power, or resources. However, when faced with the inevitable terrible choices forced on them by the antagonists, they do the best they can, even if it means a sacrifice of self or of something they love. They are often saved by a protector, often an alphahole who has found a new side to himself after encountering the distressed damsel and seeing the world and his situation through new eyes. It's important to note that the alphahole/protector chooses to protect the distressed damsel because they have the potential for an ideal relationship, as demonstrated in Jane Austen's novels over and over again, "...a relationship where both the man and the woman were intellectual and moral equals and treated each other with mutual respect and equality," (Farrell, The Reason You Love Jane Austen...). This ideal relationship will often cross a kind of boundary that would normally be an impediment to the relationship, but the distressed damsel and the alphahole will set aside their prejudices to make this match of equals work. 

 For this post's sake, I'm going to just use three characters--Sleeping Beauty, Bella Swan, and Jupiter Jones--to demonstrate the classic distressed damsel.




Sleeping Beauty (Disney version)--OK, first of all, fairy godmothers are the *worst* pick for guardians/protectors EVER. When it comes to knowledge, power, and resources, they could have armed Aurora with a complete understanding of the curse on her and made her aware of the consequences. Instead, they tell her not to talk to strangers. NOT HELPFUL, LADIES. Then they suddenly inform her that she's a princess and now she needs to leave the only life she's known--as a peasant!--to take up her new role. Because that's something you can just step into! So, Aurora has no knowledge. She has no power, because she doesn't have the magic to counter or avoid the curse. And she has no resources because she was a princess for AN HOUR before everything went to pieces. Therefore, she is a distressed damsel. To his credit, Prince Phillip met her before everything went nutso, so for him to protect and defend her makes sense--she didn't end up just falling into the arms of a stranger, a la Snow White.




(Image from fanpop.com)

Bella Swan--First, we have to identify the antagonist here. It's Victoria and the Volturi--they're the ones who seek to destroy Bella's way of life, who have the power and the resources and the knowledge to do so. Some would say that Edward is abusive because he's controlling, but as Ilona Andrews puts it in her Alphahole post, he's a caretaker with alphahole tendencies:

 "...note that caretaker hero type falls closer to alphahole on the a-hole spectrum than to beta male. Caretaker hero is driven by an overwhelming urge to protect and take care of the heroine
 and in the name of keeping her safe, he might exhibit serious alphahole tendencies, 
as demonstrated by Edward in Twilight series." 

Edward is using the knowledge and strength and resources he possesses to protect his true love, Bella. He isn't seeking to dominate her, but to keep her safe when she cannot, because the enemies they face are SO powerful. When Bella becomes a vampire, she comes into the knowledge, power, and strength she needs to take care of herself--and she does so. She not only protects herself, but her family and everyone she loves. The distressed damsel, when she had the power and knowledge and resources, handled it.





Jupiter Jones--same story, different universe. Jupiter has no idea she's the exact genetic match of semi-alien royalty, she doesn't know that she has inherited a vast amount of property, she is schemed against by the very people (her genetic predecessor's children) who should be imparting knowledge so that she can properly use her resources and the power they bring. She doesn't receive any more powers, but at the end of the movie, her protector, Caine, shared the tech that he could with her and the viewer sees that she's learning to use the resources of the new world she is now aware of. Caine may have saved her from various dangerous situations, but every time he was aided by the fact that she was doing the best she could with the knowledge she had--even to the point [SPOILER ALERT] of willingly sacrificing her family and herself to save the Earth [END SPOILER]. Jupiter was a distressed damsel, but she was handling it.

CONCLUSION:

The difference between the damsel in distress and the distressed damsel is important. It can affect worldviews and the values we hand down to our children. As a maternal feminist, I see the value in stories that show men and women working together to solve problems, as well as stories where the woman saves herself. They both have value and resonance, and stories of the distressed damsel show that it's okay to ask for and to accept help. Asking for help or allowing someone to help her does not devalue her contribution--it means that she had the humility and the self-awareness to know that the situation had gotten beyond her. 

So, the moral of the story? (TL;DR!) 

It is perfectly acceptable to allow other people to help! It does not decrease your value, your worth, or your contributions. And it certainly isn't anti-feminist.

THE END