2015 TBR Challenge – UNDER THE NEVER SKY Review

2015tbrbuttonMy twelfth and final review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ve read this year.)

I picked up this book during an SCBWI LA Summer Conference a few years ago after hearing Ms. Rossi speak. I loved her talk on high concept. It really helped me understand what that means and how to focus my own ideas down to the important story elements. I had a chance to meet her later and get her to sign my copy for me during the autograph party. She was an absolute sweetheart.

On to the review!

under-the-never-sky-veronica-rossi_book1UNDER THE NEVER SKY (Under The Never Sky #1) by Veronica Rossi

Published by: HarperCollins

Release Date: December 1, 2011

Genres: YA, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia

Plot Summary:

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive. A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption.

In alternating chapters told in Aria’s and Perry’s voices, Under the Never Sky subtly and powerfully captures the evolving relationship between these characters and sweeps readers away to a harsh but often beautiful world. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

I loved the alternating POV setup of the chapters. Rossi did an excellent job balancing out these two dynamic characters to the point that I was equally torn between both sides. I also loved how she weaved this unusual world so seamlessly into the story. I especially enjoyed discovering the special abilities of the Outsiders, and how Perry was able to sense temperaments – that added so much interesting tension to many of his intimate scenes with Aria. Ahh! I’d love to share, but don’t want to spoil anything for future readers.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

“Come on, Paisley. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Aria meant it as a joke, but her voice sounded too high so she tacked on a laugh. That came out sounding mildly hysterical.

“What could happen in a damaged dome?” Paisley counted on her slender fingers. “Our skin could rot off. We could get locked out. An Aether storm could turn us into human bacon. Then cannibals could eat us for breakfast.”

“It’s just another part of Reverie,” Aria said.

“An off-limits part.”

“Pais, you don’t have to go.”

“Neither do you,” Paisley said, but she was wrong.

For the past five days, Aria had worried constantly about her mother. Wy hadn’t she been in touch? Lumina had never missed one of their daily visits, no matter how engrossed she was in her medical research. If Aria wanted answers, she needed to get into that dome.

“For the hundredth–wait, thousandth–time, Ag 6 is safe,” Soren said without turning from the control board. “You think I want to die tonight?”

He had a point. Soren loved himself too much to risk his own life. Aria’s gaze rested on his muscled back. Soren was the son of Reverie’s Director of Security. He had the kind of flesh that only came with privilege. He even had a tan, a ridiculous upgrade considering none of them had ever seen the sun. He was also a genius at cracking codes.

Bane and Echo watched at his side. The brothers followed Soren everywhere. He usually had hundreds of followers, but that was in the Realms. Tonight just five of them shared the cramped airlock chamber. Just five of them breaking the law.

Soren straightened, flashing a cocky smile. “I’m going to have a talk to my father about his security protocols.”

“You did it?” Aria asked.

Soren shrugged. “Was there ever a doubt? Now for the best part. Time to turn off.”

“Wait,” Paisley said. “I thought you were just going to jam our Smarteyes.”

“I’ve been jamming them but that won’t give us enough time. We need to turn off.”

Aria brushed a finger over her Smarteye. She had always worn the clear device over her left eye and it was always on. The Eye took them to the Realms, the virtual spaces where they spent most of their time…

Soren shifted his thick shoulders like a boxer stepping into a ring. “Here we go, Glitches. Hold on to your pants. We’re shutting off in three, two–“

Aria startled at a shrill ringing that came from deep within her ears. A red wall crashed over her field of vision. Hot needles of pain stabbed into her left eye and then spread over her scalp. They gathered at the base of her skull and then shot down her spine, exploding through her limbs. She heard one of the boys swear stiffly with relief. The red wall vanished as quickly as it had come.

She blinked a few times, disoriented. The icons for her favorite Realms had disappeared. The messages in the queue and the news crawl in the lower part of her Smartscreen were gone as well, leaving only the airlock door, which appeared dull, filtered through a soft film. She looked down at her gray boots. Middle Gray. A shade that covered nearly every surface in Reverie. How could gray seem less vibrant?

A sense of loneliness crept over her despite being in the crowded little chamber. She couldn’t believe people lived this way once, with nothing but the real. Savages on the outside still lived this way.

“It worked,” Soren said. “We’re off! We’re strictly meat!”

Bane hopped up and down. “We’re like the Savages!”

“We’re Savages!” Echo yelled. “We’re Outsiders!”

Soren spun the manual release bar on the door. The chamber depressurized with a quick hiss and a rush of cool air. Aria looked down, stunned to see Paisley’s hand clasped to hers. She had only a second to absorb the fact that she hadn’t touched anyone in months, since her mother left, before Soren slid the door open.

What a great beginning! And this is even before you meet Perry. This makes me want to start the book all over again.

I loved, loved, loved this book! I think this has been my favorite dystopian story since THE HUNGER GAMES. Rossi has really created a rich, fantastical world filled with fascinating and complex characters. I enjoyed getting to know them and following their story through to the end.

(I hardly need to say that I picked up the second book in this series immediately after finishing the final chapter of the first book, do I?)

Great story. Great characters.

Read this book!


Learn more about Veronica Rossi here.

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Reading Challenges for 2016

Reading ChallengesRock

I adore reading challenges. They give me an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite activities, reading books! They also help me expand my reading scope, and let me try out different authors or genres that I wouldn’t necessarily come to on my own.TBR Challenge Books

I’m about to successfully complete the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge I signed up for. Woohoo! Look at all these books I’m going to finish reading thanks to this fun challenge!

Now I’m looking forward to next year’s challenges. I’ve picked out two new ones as the Roof Beam Reader blog won’t be hosting the TBR Pile Challenge anymore.

#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge – I had so much fun participating in a TBR Pile challenge last year, that I wanted to try another reading challenge that had to do with TBRs this year. I fear I will never run out of books for this type of challenge, and it helps me pull books from the bottom of my TBR pile at least once a month. This year’s TBR reading challenge promises more interaction with Twitter chats, and also encourages you to read with a buddy.










2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – This reading challenge wants you to expand your reading tastes, or at least sample things from other menus. “We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is – a perspective shift – but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.”

There are 24 tasks to accomplish in this challenge. (See chart below.) You can add to the challenge experience by joining in social media discussions either on Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group or by following the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder.

I’m already planning out the books I’ll be reading. The interaction on the Goodreads site is really helpful in giving you ideas for books to choose for each task. I’m very excited about this one!

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016


If a reading challenge sounds like something you might enjoy, there are a wide variety to choose from, including:

The Cloak and Dagger Challenge – A challenge for mystery, crime, suspense, and thriller book enthusiasts.

Banned Books Challenge – This challenge encourages you to read books that have been banned or challenged.

Around the World Challenge – The goal of this challenge is to visit as many different and unusual places around the world through books as possible.

2016 Debut Author Challenge – The goal of this challenge is to introduce readers to this year’s wonderful group of debut authors.

And there are so many more – I found some challenges for Jane Austen readers, readers of comic books, horror, romance, steampunk, you name it. Whatever you’re interested in, I’m sure there’s a challenge out there just waiting for you.

So what are you waiting for? Set some reading goals for 2016 and have some fun doing it!



2015 TBR Challenge – DEVIANTS Review

2015tbrbuttonMy eleventh review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is DEVIANTS by Maureen McGowan.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

I won this book, along with the sequel, COMPLIANCE, during the Kidlit Cares for Oklahoma fundraiser a few years ago after that devastating tornado hit the Moore area and destroyed a school. Ms. McGowan was also kind enough to sign both books for me. Lovely woman.

On to the review!

Mcgowan-Deviants-500-268x400DEVIANTS (The Dust Chronicles #1) by Maureen McGowan

Published by: Amazon Childrens Publishing

Release Date: October 30, 2012

Genres: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia

Plot Summary:

Glory, a sixteen-year-old orphan whose emotions can kill, lives in a domed city where her ability means Deviant—and dead. For generations, Earth has been buried in asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans. To survive, Glory must hide her Deviant ability—and her paraplegic brother—from the authorities. When her boyfriend joins the secret police, she must flee the dome and outrun the sadistic, scab-covered Shredders living outside in the dust. Can Glory trust a mysterious boy with a dangerous Deviance of his own? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

This is a fast-paced read, and such a fascinating story. I love Glory’s character. She has to be so strong to survive in this world. Everything she does is motivated by keeping her brother safe. If anyone finds out about him, they will both be killed. Glory also has to worry about constantly keeping her emotions under control, so she doesn’t harm anyone with her Deviant ability – not an easy task for even a Normal teenager. Throw in a couple of complicated love-interests and the stakes just increase exponetially.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter One:

“Who’s there?” My voice comes out higher than I’d like, and the rats echo with screeches.

A large shadow slides across the roof near an air vent, and I press myself down, gravel digging into my knees and palms. The shadow’s too huge to be cast by a person, but my pulse engulfs my senses, blurring my eyes, filling my ears, clouding my judgement.

I blink and the shadow’s gone; all that’s left is the undulating wave of rats over rats.

Shielding my nose to block the smell, I draw in long breaths. You’re okay. You’re safe. No one knows.

If the shadow was a Comp, he’d arrest me, not stalk from the shadows. And by living inside Haven, we’re safe from the Shredders that roam outside the dome.

I’m crazy to imagine danger around every corner, but this sense of being watched has haunted me for the three years since my brother Drake and I became orphans. Growing taller and nearing puberty, my brother’s become thin and needs more meat, so I return to my task.

Focusing on the scratch-scratch of rat claws, I home in on individual rodents – sense each body, each breath.

One skitters into a sliver of light and lifts its head to make eye contact.

Big mistake, Mr. Rat.

Held in my gaze, the rodent can’t look away. Emotions heighten my senses, and soon I can feel the rat’s rapidly beating heart, hear its blood coursing as adrenaline floods its veins. It’s as if my fingers are pressed to its pulse, my ear to its chest. But they’re not. The sensations build until the rat’s completely under my control.

Crushing my instinct to release the poor creature, I dig for more useful emotions than pity, emotions I’m certain can kill. I think of the person who hurt me most, who shattered my childhood, who betrayed my trust – who murdered my mother.

I think of my father. I think of the blank look on his face three years ago when the Compliance Officers, in their black masks and body armor, took him away.

Hate and anger crash through an inner door and sizzle like water hitting hot oil. Just the fuel I need. Locked on the rat’s glare, my eyes tingle and sting. My emotions build, and my curse sparks to life at the back of my eyes.

Focusing my power, I picture the rat’s heart, sense it compressing, and will my emotions to squeeze.

The rodent’s eyes widen, its whiskers glisten with humidity, and it opens its mouth to reveal needle-sharp teeth. A shudder traces through me but I can’t back down. I will do this. I must. Drake needs to eat.

What a brutal world, right?  Glory keeps everything in check and pushes forward, no matter what she’s faced with. She is a true survivor. Not that she is without feeling or compassion, she’s constantly struggling with her emotions throughout the story. She’s terrified she’ll turn into her father – a murderer. Better to push everyone away and keep them safe. I really enjoyed this book and raced through it in no time.

Learn more about Maureen McGowan here.

Follow Maureen on Twitter here.

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The Christmas Train – Flash Fiction for the Holidays

I first wrote this post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog, and it was originally published on December 18, 2013. 

This was my entry for our Christmas flash fiction contest, and my first attempt at writing flash fiction. Using one of five given pictures, we had to create a Christmas-themed story in 1000 words or less.


I’ve always struggled with writing prompt exercises, so I wasn’t sure how well this would go. Although this was definitely challenging, I ended up having a lot of fun writing this story, despite the morose tone. I found my mind dwelling on the heartache of this season and how we can feel our losses most intensely during this time of year. Bombarded with images of happy people and family-togetherness could be unbearable for some. That’s where this story came from, deep within the macabre recesses of my mind.

I hope you enjoy it!




The happiest day of my life was with Flynn.

“Meet me in the square by the holiday village,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise,” he said. “Wait and see.” I heard him chuckle before he hung up, unable to restrain his excitement.

I was terrible at waiting, so I rushed through the streets filled with Christmas. I spotted him among the twinkling lights, smiling with his whole face. I raced across the space separating us. He caught me in a crushing hug, the smell of cinnamon clung to his clothes. I wondered for a moment where he’d been.

“Have you been baking?” I rubbed my cold nose against his. He laughed and then set me down gently, keeping a hold of my hand.

“I’ll never tell.” He held his other hand behind him. “Ready to take a ride?”

“Where? Is that the surprise? Show me, show me!” I reached behind his back. He laughed some more and I could feel it rumbling through his body. He fought to keep me from grabbing his hand. Finally he gave in and offered up the prize. Two tickets for the Christmas train. I squealed and hugged him even tighter.

“I thought we could visit St. Nick, maybe tell him what we want most,” he said. Flynn knew I hadn’t had much of a traditional family upbringing, no special Christmas traditions, no big family gatherings. Mostly because my parents were too tired from working a million jobs just to keep that leaky roof over our heads. Flynn wanted to give me something I’d missed out on, a piece of childhood magic.

We strolled through the different holiday scenes, with me gripping our tickets to keep them safe. I felt so happy and light. The smiling children, all bundled up with their bright cheeks glowing. The smell of hot cider.




Was there snow?

I don’t remember. I wish I’d paid more attention to the details. I do remember riding the Christmas train, swaying back and forth as it trundled down the track, Flynn holding me close as we stared out the windows. I never wanted the train to stop. I remember kissing Flynn after we arrived at the North Pole station. Soft, welcoming lips. Cold breath puffing out between us in little clouds. Flynn’s ice blue eyes exploring my face. He was searching for something.

Did he not find it?

Is that why he’s gone?

I received a letter the day after he left us. Nothing about why or about how he’d miss me, just a heart-breaking poem about trees. Solitary and untouched in a wood never traveled. An ache in my side dug a sharp pang of loss deep into my soul and crept over to my heart, plunging it into an ice bath of separateness. Aloneness.


He left me alone.

I tried to recapture the sense of magic he shared with me that day. I put up a tree; it only reminded me of him. His uncontainable spirit couldn’t handle this world. How was I supposed to go on without him? I stripped off the glass balls, breaking branches and smearing my hands with resin. I smashed every single one on the pristine ceramic tile.

Pop. Pop. Pop!

Like melodic tinkling explosions; the sound that killed Christmas. He was everywhere I turned, and nowhere at the same time.

This year, Christmas has lost all its color, it’s meaning. The lights don’t illuminate me. The food has lost its taste. I never walk down that road anymore. Afraid his ghost will brush the wind against my lips, an ephemeral kiss empty of substance, and bring on an aching I can’t overcome.

The holiday smells of pine and cider and cinnamon enrage me.

Strangers smile.

“Merry Christmas,” they say in passing.

I restrain myself from punching them in the face. From screaming at them, “How can you be happy when Flynn is gone?”

I blame them for not knowing him and for making him disappear.

He was my joy.

He is gone.

A couple oblivious to my despair, races towards each other in unbridled ecstasy. The handsome young man catches his lover in strong, hopeful arms and raises her up into a familiar crushing hug. It’s too much. How can they flaunt their happiness in front of me? Can’t they feel my pain rolling off me like angry tidal waves?

I cannot endure another day.

I write my own letter, a poem about the ocean and it’s vast emptiness. I make a final trek back to the scene of our happiest time and tuck the poem deep inside the boughs of the enormous spruce tree, all covered in lights. Maybe someone will find it. Maybe someone will understand.

I step out in front of the Christmas train.

Bright lights, pain, blood, and snow.

This time there is definitely snow.

Great Reads Make Great Gifts – a TGNA post



It’s Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m sharing some great lists of top reads of the year for all of you bibliophiles out there.



Here’s a preview:

It’s a bibliophile’s favorite time of year – the time of year when everyone reveals their top picks for the best reads of the year!

This is where book addicts of every stripe can indulge their habit, and find even more books to love. If you or someone dear to you has an empty space on a bookshelf that needs to be filled with a good story, a wonderful new book to make you (*cough* or a friend) feel whole again, here are some fabulous top reading lists to check out.

Do your part to help orphan books find a forever home.

Adopt a new (or gently used) book, today!



To see the rest of the post, and to view all the fabulous links, click here.



TweetIf you’d like some company as you write, please join us each week day morning on Twitter!

I host AM #wordsprints over on the TGNA group Twitter handle @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST. We sprint in 20 minute blocks with ten minute breaks in between each session. This season, I’m throwing in some fun challenges each day to keep things interesting.

Hope to see you there!

2015 TBR Challenge – THAT SUMMER Review

2015tbrbuttonMy tenth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

There’s nothing like reading about summer just as the weather turns chilly, daylight is in short supply, and you’re all snuggled under a pile of fuzzy blankets. I’ve been following Sarah Dessen on Twitter for awhile, and I’ve had this book – her very first book – in my TBR pile for quite some time. I’m very happy I finally got the chance to read it.

On to the review!


that_summer-m8oyypmgrkb32gvgd9kpk04jrpf97hewrs72mnme80THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen

Published by: Speak (a Penguin Group Imprint)

Release Date: January 1, 1996

Genres: YA, Contemporary Fiction

Plot Summary:

The more things change…

As far as Haven is concerned, there’s just too much going on.

Everything is changing, and she’s not sure where she fits in.

Then her sister’s old boyfriend shows up, sparking memories of the summer when they were all happy and everything was perfect…

But along the way, Haven realizes that sometimes change is a good thing. (Plot summary from Goodreads website.)


This so much more than a breezy summer read. Haven’s world – from her body to the still-new structure of her split family – is changing faster than she can handle.  She wants nothing more than to go back to that one summer where everything was wonderful, where her sister liked spending time with her and her family had the best summer vacation at the beach.

But that’s not how life works. Haven has to learn how to become comfortable in her own skin and accept the changes that are happening.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter One:

The day my father got remarried, my mother was up at six A.M. defrosting the refrigerator. I woke to the sound of her hacking away and the occasional thud as a huge slab of ice crashed. My mother was an erratic defroster. When I came down into the kitchen, she was poised in front of the open freezer, wielding the ice pick, Barry Manilow crooning out at her from the tape player she kept on the kitchen table. Around Barry’s voice, stacked in dripping piles, were all of our perishables, sweating in the heat of another summer morning.

“Oh, good morning, Haven.” She turned when she saw me, wiping her brow with the ice pick still in hand, making my heart jump as I imagined it slipping just a bit and taking out her eye. I knew that nervous feeling so well, even at fifteen, that spilling uncontrollability that my mother brought out in me. It was as if I was attached to her with a tether, her every movement yanking at me, my own hands reaching to shield her from the dangers of her waving arms.

“Good morning.” I pulled out a chair and sat down next to a stack of packaged chicken. “Are you okay?”

“Me?” She was back on the job now, scraping. “I’m fine. Are you hungry?”

“Not really.” I pulled my legs up to my chest, pressing hard to fold myself into the smallest size possible. It seemed like every morning I woke up taller, my skin having stretched in the night while I slept. I had dreams of not being able to fit through doors, of becoming gigantic, towering over people and buildings like a monster, causing terror in the streets. I’d put on four inches since April, and showed no signs of letting up. I was already five-eleven, with only a few more little lines on the measuring stick before six feet.

“Haven.” My mother looked at me. “Please don’t sit that way. It;s not good for you and it makes me nervous.” She stood there staring at me until I let my legs drop. “That’s better.” Scrape, scrape. Barry sang on, about New England.


The characters are all wonderfully real and engaging, and their struggles to repair the fault lines caused by broken relationships rang true to what I’m going through this year in my own family. Many tears were shed while reading this book.

The interactions between all of the characters were just as complicated and fantastic as the one from this excerpt. I especially loved the relationship between the two sisters. Then, of course, there’s the most interesting character, the older sister’s former boyfriend, Sumner, who re-enters the picture. Sumner has a unique guidebook he lives by, and although he seems to be just what Haven needs in the beginning, she does have to find her own way in the end. This is a fantastic story about struggle and finding your self-confidence, your place in the world.


Learn more about Sarah Dessen here.

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