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.