Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Throwback Review: Eleanor & Park

Throwback review from July 2013 - this is a memorable read.

Eleanor & Park is a YA 1980s coming-of-age novel by Rainbow Rowell.

It’s 1986 and Eleanor’s brilliantly red, curly hair makes her impossible to not see as she steps onto the school bus for the first time.

It also makes her an excellent target when you combine it with her odd, eclectic assortment of clothing and the fact that she’s brand new.

Unable to watch the horror show, Park offers her a seat by him – in urgent, angrily embarrassed undertones.

And then everything changes.

This is the moment that Eleanor and Park met their first love – each other.

I really don’t want to give more details of Eleanor & Park than that. I didn’t have more, and oh what an experience this novel was!!

I loved the slow burn to the romance – that it wasn’t attraction based but initially built on kindness, like interests, and sharing small, but significant, pieces of themselves. Startlingly authentic and genuine, I think it might be impossible for Eleanor & Park to not tug at your heartstrings.

Park is Asian and Eleanor is a chubby redhead – I liked that. It’s different. More real. Relatable.

This is a book that is truly touching, showing the epic-ness of ordinary life. It’s an emotional coming-of-age tale in 1986 – heart wrenching and refreshingly authentic in both good and bad ways.

So sad, yet at times so hopeful, Eleanor & Park highlights bullying and a terrible domestic situation, while also making you smile at the joy of first love. Bittersweet.

And – oh wow! What an end!!

Oh, I wanted more – desperately – yet I knew there was a perfection to it that I didn’t want touched.

Eleanor & Park is one that will stay with me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Throwback Review: The Diviners

Throwback review from December 2012 - just got the sequel!

The Diviners is the first in a new YA historical supernatural series by best-selling author Libba Bray.

I am a HUGE fan of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy. When it comes to my foray into her contemporary fiction? Almost a completely opposite reaction. So, when I heard about The Diviners I was hesitantly excited because I hoped it would remind me more of the former, not the latter. In fact, maybe it could make me forget all about Beauty Queens.

Maybe you’re a fan of that book. That’s great! I wasn’t, sadly, at all.

What’s The Diviners about?

Seventeen-year-old Evie O’Neill is a little too much of a wild child flapper for her hometown to contain, and as much as she tries to make herself normal she never seems to be able to. And this time she’s really gotten herself into a pickle.

She has a supernatural power that’s brought her nothing but pickles so far – and this latest round of excitement led her to drunkenly declare one of the town’s most admired young men of knocking up the maid. And of course she can’t prove it without telling the truth about her ability.

So, to let the scandal die down Evie’s family ships her off to New York City, which is preferable to Evie anyway. Because New York in 1926 is bursting full of speakeasies and her pen pal bud Mabel, as well as Ziegfeld girls and dangerously attractive pickpockets.

In order to come to the city, though, she must live with her uncle Will who runs a museum and classes on the occult. He’s a bit of an odd sort, but Evie doesn’t mind him – as long as his hobbies don’t dig up her guarded secret.

But when gruesome, ritualistic murders begin to occur and Will is called for in regards to his expertise, Evie realizes that she may be able to use her power to help catch a serial killer of the worst kind.

Meanwhile, we also meet Memphis, Theta, Jericho and other characters – each with their own mysteries, hidden pasts, and difficult decisions. This is, after all, the city that never sleeps!

What none of them know is that an unspeakable evil has awakened – and they all have a part to play…

The Diviners really brings Libba Bray’s excellent story-telling to the forefront. It has a smooth, cool, spellbinding element right from the introductory chapter, as well as an innate creepiness. She presents us with a large cast of dynamic, memorable characters that are increasingly three dimensional, often funny, and always interesting. New York City in 1926 is a setting that is alive with period details and descriptions that give just enough for the imagination to flesh it out.

As you can tell, I really, really liked The Diviners!

There is a TON of suspense and edge-of-your-seat tension. As the story develops we see a truly frightening psychopath as our villain. Every once in a while the level of how disturbing Bray allows it to get goes farther than I prefer, though. As an animal lover, I really hate seeing any violence to animals in movies or books. There’s about three specific scenes that go there, which I didn’t like – but I did understand how it underscored the pure evil we’re working with. I just still prefer it not to be there… That's the one hiccup I had with A Great and Terrible Beauty as well.

However, thankfully, the characters (especially Evie’s) humor lightens the heavier, spookier aspects of The Diviners and keeps it entertaining. Plus, a slow-burn, satisfying romantic tension is welcome too! Overall, I found The Diviners to be a first-rate, awesome into to a new series that I’m enthusiastic to follow!

*I received a review copy of The Diviners from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Throwback Review: The True Meaning of Smekday

Throwback review from March 2015 - I remember this one like it was yesterday!!!

The True Meaning of Smekday is a middle grade sci-fi contemporary humor novel by Adam Rex.

Hoo Boy!

I think I’m in love!!!

When young Gratuity (Tip) Tucci is assigned a school five-page essay to explain the true meaning of Smekday (previously Christmas, now the day the first aliens invaded and renamed Christmas), she ends up writing a WHOLE LOT MORE than five pages.

Instead we get the full story of just what happened to Tip when she determined to find her Mom as the aliens stated that all American humans must migrate to Florida, how she joined forces with the alien J.Lo and kept track of her cat, Pig.

I can’t really imagine saying more without giving away too much laugh-out-loud goodness!

The True Meaning of Smekday is AWESOME!!!

It’s very funny – yet also has enough seriousness and legitimate emotion to have a level of care and investment in the characters to make it, well, all the more AWESOME!

I absolutely adored J.Lo – a hilarious, adorable, lovable alien that provides a hefty amount of chortling as he gives the history of his alien race, the Boov. Not to mention their interesting way of speaking English!

The True Meaning of Smekday is truly entertaining – constantly. It’s an adventure of hilarity for ALL AGES! It features a great friendship, loyalty, lots of fun, surprising twists and a perceptive and clever narrative.

A couple of snippets of ACTUAL notes I wrote as I read The True Meaning of Smekday:

“Oh my gosh!! So sweet and cute!” and “So awesome I could almost cry!!”

Yep – I loved it.

Plus, the illustrations (also by Adam Rex) are amazing!

Cannot praise it enough – a happy little bibliophile am I!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Throwback Review: The Princess in the Opal Mask

Throwback review from March 2014 - I have the sequel and have yet to read it. So exciting!!!

The Princess in the Opal Mask is a YA historical fantasy by Jenny Lundquist.

Just as with Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, this novel has a sense of a fairy-tale, of a fantasy, but does not actually feature any magic or enchantments. Somehow we all put it in the fantasy genre anyway; I suppose because it just has that vibe and time period sense.


Let me tell you a little about it, hmm?

Princess Wilhamina, since she was introduced to the kingdom of Galandria as an infant, has always worn a mask. Over the years this has caused rumors to rampage from speculating that she must be horrendously ugly, that a look upon her face blesses others, or the one that speaks to Wilha’s deepest personal fears – that those who look upon Wilha’s face die.

Wilha herself does not know why she must always wear a mask, but she has learned to stop asking…

Elara, orphaned as a child in the crumbling village of Tulan, has spent her life becoming numb. Living with the cruel Ogden family, Elara has endured things that have left her broken off mentally from others – and no longer able to connect to the one friend she did have.

Elara desperately wants to know the truth of her identity and escape from her surroundings, and she’ll use her dagger if she has to.

As talk of war or peace between Galandria and long-time nemesis of the kingdom Kyrenica increases, Wilha and Elara unknowingly are led to meet. And when they do, everything changes.

There is a chance for both to possibly improve their futures – but there are risks.

There are choices…

When I went into The Princess in the Opal Mask, I admit it – I didn’t expect that much. That sounds terrible, but sometimes as a bibliophile you can get a little jaded.

It only took a handful pages to turn that thinking around.

Initially I was unsure of the writing quality, but then the utter hostility of Galandria’s people and the sad mystery of the princess constantly wearing a mask intrigued me and added to an edgy grit that The Princess in the Opal Mask quickly proved to have.

Then I was caught.

There is a LOT of questions and secrecy, and I have to say – it worked for me.

I liked the romantic element of both characters, and with time came to appreciate both Wilha and Elara – despite Elara’s acidity and hardness due to the life she’s endured. There was some heavy character development here, which I really, really valued.

The Princess in the Opal Mask has a ton of danger, conspiracies and intrigue going on. Mix that in with convincing bitterness, resentment and cruelty done very well and we have a plot that is sharp and stinging both on a personal and epic level.

I came to care for both Wilha and Elara and be in deep suspense as we followed their switching narrative voices. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m being purposefully vague – but please believe me when I say it was awesome.

The Princess in the Opal Mask is engrossing, addictive, gripping and surprising. I LOVED IT!!!

Happily, there is a sequel mentioned to be released Fall 2014.

I want it ASAP!!! Hopefully you’ll feel the same.

I think you will.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Throwback Review: Shades of Grey

Throwback review from May 2015!

Shades of Grey is a dystopian satire novel by Jasper Fforde.

In a world where color perception determines the hierarchy of a Colortocracy society, what you can see is everything.

That’s why Eddie Russet is trying to secure a marriage into the powerful Oxblood family to combine his better-than-average Red perception to their aristocratic name – yet those plans are upended when he and his father are sent to the fringe town East Carmine.

Manners, rules and accepted mores in the Chromatacia seem a bit more lax in East Carmine – dangerously so. Beyond the normal fear of lethal swans and lightening, the sneaky Yellows seem sneakier than ever, the deMauve’s are angling to marry their horrid Violet to Eddie and he’s finding himself fascinated by a Grey named Jane.

Riskiest of all is the knowledge Eddie begins to gather in East Carmine – truths behind the ordered, peaceful, rule-abiding Colortocracy that shed light on its deceptions…

And it’s that innate inquisitiveness that could lead him away from a life of conformity – of career and spouse – and into trouble.

Jasper Fforde has to be one of the most imaginative authors out there right now. Seriously, what a unique, wonderfully bizarre concept!

We are introduced to a futuristic world in which everyone is, essentially, color blind. What they can see leads to where they are ranked in society – who they can marry, what jobs they can do, etc. Education, preference and love have nothing to do with it.

Plus, there is the abundance of RULES. Rules ranging from the illegality of manufacturing spoons (therefore making all spoons currently in existence a high-value, high-demand item) to the time of day you are allowed to drink Ovaltine.

Eddie is, of course, a fully immersed member of this society and we get to watch him go from embracing and believing in it to beginning to question it. He’s a likable character that cannot seem to help his curiosity, yet fears it as well.

Characters in Shades of Grey have, dare I say, colorful personalities! They burst from the pages with snappy dialogue and make the wacky world around them easier to accept – though the intricacies of Chromatacia are still confusing at times.

I loved it. It’s so absolutely different in every way. It’s hilarious, insightful, suspenseful and even a little romantic. There are supposed to be two more books – rounding out a trilogy – yet it has been six years since the release of Shades of Grey.

That’s okay. I will be patient. I am immensely interested in where this story will go – and willing to wait as long as it takes!

In the meantime, Jasper Fforde’s other novels will continue to sweep me away into a level of intelligent creativity that is not so easily found in today’s literature.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Spotlight: Against All Silence

The new novel AGAINST ALL SILENCE (pub date: August 23, 2016). 

The book, which is a sequel to SILENCE OF SIX from E.C. Myers, will tell the next part of Max’s story with some recurring characters from its predecessor.

E.C. Myers is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, young adult science fiction novels published by Pyr.

It’s a fun read that combines thriller with computer hacking knowledge.  It’s a little Mr. Robot.

After being a key figure in the exposing of government corruption, Max Stein has spent a quiet semester abroad in Paris, studying, staying off the Internet, and looking for his long-lost mother. But just as he is about to fly back to the United States for the holidays, trouble manages to find him once again.

Max receives a call from Penny, his on-again-off-again girlfriend who is part of the expert hacking duo DoubleThink. She wants him to meet with Ada Kiesler, a high-profile whistleblower hiding out at a foreign embassy in Berlin. Max has no interest in getting drawn into another corporate conspiracy. But when airport security suddenly detains him on suspicion of cyber-terrorism, he has little choice but to get involved. Soon Max and Penny are tangling with a new group of shadowy figures who are determined to control how the world shares its information. And some figures from Max’s past resurface, including his own mother, whose life has mirrored his own in more ways than he’d realized.

In this action-packed follow up to THE SILENCE OF SIX, Max and his hacker friends must fight to expose a corrupt corporation that has been systematically taking control of the Internet.

Author: E.C. Meyers
Release Date: August 23, 2016  (hardcover)
Genres: YA Thriller, Hacking/Computer Science
Synopsis: In the action-packed sequel to SILENCE OF SIX, Max Stein and his hacker friends must fight to expose a corrupt corporation that has been systematically taking control of the Internet.

PUB. DATE: August 23, 2016 / 368 pages / $13.99
ISBN: 9781945293085
PUBLISHER: Adaptive Books
B&N LINK: Here

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Throwback Review: Persuasion

Throwback review from February 2014:

Persuasion is a classic novel (that hopefully all bibliophiles have heard of) by Jane Austen.

This was the only Austen novel I had yet to read – and I had to fix that!

Anne Elliot is seven and twenty and not yet married.

Eight years ago she had been in love. She had been engaged.

But as he was a poor, lowly Royal Navy man, her family and friends persuaded Anne to break it off with Captain Wentworth.

She is still unmarried – because she knows she will never love another man as she loved him.

When circumstances throw them together again, Anne finds it difficult to ignore the searing pain of seeing him – the look of low regard in his eyes that she has resigned herself to deserve.

And yet – is there hope?

Her heartbreak all these years later leads her to realize that her feelings are no less deep – and the persuasion that led her to give him up all those years ago could not touch her now… if he would only have her once more.

Oh wow.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Jane Austen – I seriously need to carve out some rereading time, people! – but my vivid memories of adoring her novels was reignited with Persuasion.

The amazing prose and language that is impossible to rush, improbable to imitate, takes my breath away.

There’s this universally understood tone of melancholy – no matter the fact that Persuasion was published almost two hundred years ago. Jane Austen infused this story (and all of them, let’s be frank) with such a heady sense of emotional realism – of passion and love.

Here, though, unlike her other novels – Persuasion is a story of heartbreak and strong, painful emotions. Love lost, time passed, and an older heroine. There’s a maturity and a yearning to Persuasion that swept me away.

I. Loved. It.

This is an epic love story – a beautiful novel. Fantastic, colorful, personality-filled family elements, social scenes, and the core of loneliness in our poor, solitary Anne’s soul led me to feel for her deeply.

If you haven’t yet read Persuasion – well, you need to!!!!!

Right. Now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Throwback Review: Soulless

Throwback review from April 2014:

Soulless is the first in Gail Carriger’s alt-Victorian England steampunk humorous paranormal adult series The Parasol Protectorate.

I was recommended this book by a friend before I even had gotten a chance to read Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage (first book in the YA series The Finishing School that takes place in the same universe as The Parasol Protectorate). Once I’d read that and the second book in that series, Curtsies & Conspiracies, I knew I definitely wanted to read this series.

So, I took a leap, and bought the box set of all five books in this series at a good price.

A case of the bibliophile trigger finger, if you know what I mean.

Twenty-five year old Alexia Tarabotti has been ruled a spinster. She has many marks against her in English society. Her father is both Italian and dead – and she’s inherited his darker coloring and more exotic looks.

She also has no soul.

Not that that is any one’s business, of course. Only the paranormal society of werewolves and vampires and Queen Victoria herself know this, and prefer to keep it quiet.

Because this particular ailment is very, very rare and cancels out supernatural abilities when she touches them. The general public has accepted werewolves and vampires, but would they accept someone having no soul at all? They’d just rather keep it hush-hush.

While at a private ball, and quite bored, Alexia steps into another room for a snack – as fare was promised but not delivered and that, in Miss Tarabotti’s opinion, is disgraceful to someone with her appreciation for food.

Within moments a vampire completely lacking in normal vampiric niceties and decorum attempts to attack her, and, well…

She accidentally kills him.

Lord Maccon, the large, undeniably attractive, booming and uncouth werewolf investigator, is sent to investigate. Before she knows it, Alexia finds herself wrapped up in a mystery in which unexpected vampires are appearing and expected vampires are disappearing.

Finally she has something interesting to do…

Soulless started quick, fun and instantly felt fresh and inventive.

With the quick swooping in of gorgeous Lord Maccon, there’s definitely sexual tension that sizzles cheerfully early on. And the jovial absurdity that I found in The Finishing School series thus far is most definitely evident.

I find the supernatural politics and protocol (such as vampires living in a “hive” with a “queen” and “drones”) quite fascinating. And Alexia’s ability is unusual in its negating of the paranormal beings is different.

Soulless is addictive, fun, spicy and oh-so-quotable. It’s spirited, sexy in a light, amusing way, witty, clever and ENTERTAINING. With bright, interesting characters and an unusual plot (plus hot supernatural romance and steampunk, thankyouverymuch), I loved it from start to finish!!!

This is the type of book you just have FUN reading. Even though the more, ahem, indelicate scenes do pepper the novel a tad, the comedy in them and lack of excessive detail made them bearable to me beyond just feeling, well, distasteful as most of those less proper scenes usually do.

I was immediately ready for book two and happy I had it at the ready!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Throwback Review: Every Day

Throwback review!

Every Day is a YA contemporary fantasy novel by David Levithan.

Every morning A wakes up and is in a new body. They’re always A’s age, currently sixteen, but they can be male or female, plump or thin. Anybody.

It has always been this way.

Over the years A has accepted this. A works to make sure the day is seamless in the life of the body A’s inhabiting that day, tries not to get noticed, and definitely does not get attached.

That was the hardest part when A was younger.

But when A wakes up as Justin one morning he meets Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon.

Something about her changes everything. The rule about staying detached and not reaching beyond the personality realms of the person A’s occupying no longer matter.

Here is someone A wants to be with – day in, day out, day after day. Every day.

But A has no control over whatever A is. Tomorrow A will be somewhere else…

As someone who reads a LOT, I have to say that this premise kind of blew my mind. Not just the initial idea of it, either, but the way David Levithan executes it is… stunning.

You can never get past the fact that the plot is fascinating and original, because new revelations about it, primarily on an emotional level, keep piling up in a lyrical, delicate manner.

There’s a melancholy, lonely tone that drew me in and made me yearn desperately for A’s happiness. Every Day is unexpectedly suspenseful, searingly raw, and encapsulates both a beautiful innocence and a striking astuteness.

Now, I am not a seeker of LGBT novels and because I’m sure some of you may not be either, I will disclose that Every Day features a character that is really neither boy nor girl because of what A is. A also shows up in bodies that are at times heterosexual and at times homosexual.

Except for just a few brief moments, I never felt that David Levithan really had any kind of agenda or mission to get up on a platform on the many issues and opinions related to such a topic. So, this didn’t bother me too much. I let go the times I felt he went further than necessary.

In fact, there’s a sweet tenderness to the way each life is played out – a tolerance that no matter where we stand we should agree with. So, though those situations weren’t always what I’d prefer, I felt the kindness and good-hearted core trump anything else.

Every Day is in many ways heartbreaking. But it also has an inspirational, hopeful feel that is addictive. I read this book so quickly!

With startling twists, never-ending surprises, and a profound sense of emotional depth, Every Day is a book that stays with you. It’s different from anything I’ve ever read before.

There’s more I would say if I weren’t concerned about spoiling anything for you. So, I’ll leave it with this:

Wow. I want more.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Guest Post with Author Bryce Gibson!

I was a teenager during the 1990s.

I loved horror movies and reading horror books (I still do, but this post is about then not now).

For a quick reading fix, I, along with countless others that were my age, would often turn to the line of Point Horror novels that were published by Scholastic. Those of us that had a desire to write our own stories tried our hands at crafting books that we thought were along the same line as those that we read (you can find a few of mine on my Facebook page). Anyway, one of the things that has always stood out the most about Point Horror are the covers. Many of the titles started with the word “The”. Here is a picture of a few of the ones that I own…

The Waitress, The Invitation, The Train...See what I mean? Another thing about the covers that stood out was the tongue-in-cheek, campy artwork and taglines. I know that the taglines are hard to read in the above photo so I typed them out for you here: “The customer is always wrong...dead wrong”, “A party like no other”, and “A one-way terror”. Great, right?

It was only natural for any horror obsessed teen to draw his or her own covers for the books that they wrote. Here is one that I did...

 Now, there’s something funny about Double Date (besides the fact that the title doesn’t start with that three letter word that begins with the letter “T”). You see, I never wrote a story to accompany the cover! It is evident to me now that I was just as excited about the cover art, titles, and taglines of the books as I was with the stories. In fact, a whole slew of storyless covers ensued over the next couple of years, some of which I’m sharing with you today. I think I drew most of these somewhere between 1992 and 1995.

And it wasn’t just books that influenced my imagination. While many horror movie fans consider the 90s to be kind of a dull decade for the genre, I know that the movies that were released during that timeframe have been an enormous influence on my writing, even today. As you’ll see, there were certain horror movies that obviously sparked my creativity.

The 90s saw a good bit of technological/electricity based horror, a la Ghost in the Machine and Brainscan. These are but a couple of the flicks that had to have been an inspiration for this beauty of a cover...   

(image by Bryce Gibson)

Another sub-genre that was popular back in the day was dark comedies/horror comedies--Buffy the Vampire Slayer, My Boyfriend’s Back, Death Becomes Her, and Prom Night III, just to name a few. I think that kind of thing just might have had something to do with these...

(images by Bryce Gibson)

There were also a lot of psychological/obsession thrillers during this particular time frame. I loved The Crush (again with the “The”). In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, The Crush seemed to draw heavily from many of the Point Horror novels. Movies like The Crush, Poison Ivy, and The Ties That Bind were the kind of thriller/horror crossover flicks that they don’t seem to make any more. Here are a couple of my ideas...

(images by Bryce Gibson)

And let’s not forget the bevy of monster movies and sequels that I rented from the movie store, many of which were released straight to video.

(images by Bryce Gibson)

As you see, the horror movies and books of the 90s surely set a tone for me as a writer and creator. They fed me ideas. I know that the horror genre and all of its silly and crazy sub-genres that I seem to prefer have influenced my storytelling to no end. Nowadays, the horror in my stories is not always done in an explicit, hit-you-over-the-head kind of way, but certain elements of the genre are in everything that I write. I can’t help it. I love it.

Even typing this, I’m nostalgic for the titles that I’ve listed here and the other, unrelated ones that, for no particular reason, come to mind along with them--Dr. Giggles, Pet Sematary Two, Demon Knight; Candyman, Pumpkinhead 2, Children of the Corn 2, 3, 4, 5; okay, I’ll stop.

I can vividly picture all of the awesome VHS artwork for every movie that I’ve mentioned. Like the Point Horror books, the covers were the first things that drew me in. The cover was what made me pick it up in the first place. There was a great amount of excitement that came from just seeing the book or movie on the shelf.

Speaking of, I’m pretty darn sure that my black t-shirt wearing teenaged self would have snatched this one up in a heartbeat…

(Note: Perennials cover design not by me. Thank you to the talented CL Smith for this one.)

You can purchase the paperback or ebook of Perennials from Amazon

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