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.


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.