2015 TBR Challenge – THE DARK DIVINE Review

2015tbrbuttonMy fourth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain.

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.)

After participating in an online book club chat with Ms Despain, where we discussed an entirely different book, I actually won a copy of this book, the first in a series. I’d actually been dying to read it ever since I’d heard Greg Ferguson – her editor – talk about it at a conference a few years ago. He’d discussed in detail how they’d agonized over getting that cover just right – quite stunning isn’t it? 

On to the review!

Dark Divine CoverTHE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain

Published by: Egmont USA

Release Date: November 22, 2009

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal

Plot summary:

I stood back and watched his movements. Daniel had that way about him that could shut me down in an instant. . . . I kicked the gravel a couple of times and worked up my courage again. “Tell me . . . I mean . . . why did you come back? Why now, after all this time?”

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared—the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in blood. But she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night really held. And when Daniel returns three years later, Grace can no longer deny her attraction to him, despite promising Jude she’ll stay away.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, her actions stir the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind Jude and Daniel’s dark secret . . . and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it—her soul. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

I must admit, after viewing the cover, and reading the synopsis, I was surprised when this series turned out to be about werewolves. I was thinking it would fall more in the undead spectrum. Once I read the first book, though, I was hooked on the characters, and I had to keeping reading their story. I found the dynamic between Daniel, Grace, and Jude to be very compelling. I quickly read on to the next book and I enjoyed the entire series.

What I especially appreciated was how well the author balanced Grace’s struggle with her faith and her desire to help Daniel in a very realistic way. Grace came away as a real person who had to re-evaulate her entire belief system and not a flat caricature spitting out rote dogma. This added so much depth to her story and her character. I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the series as much as I did. I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

Learn more about Bree Despain here.

Follow Bree on Twitter here.

Follow Bree on Facebook here.

Follow Bree on Tumblr here.

2015 TBR Challenge – BRAVE ON THE PAGE Review

2015tbrbuttonMy third review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is BRAVE ON THE PAGE; Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life edited by Laura Stanfill.

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 met the editor, Laura, through mutual blog admiration a few years ago. When she decided to take the plunge into creating her own small press, I applauded her efforts and followed her progress with great interest. This book is the first book her imprint, Forest Avenue Press, ever produced, but it is far from the last. They’ve actually opened their submissions nationally for the first time this past January. Based in Portland, Oregon, this imprint definitely has a Northwest flair and all the more reason for me to love it.

On to the review!

Brave on the PageBRAVE ON THE PAGE; Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life edited by Laura Stanfill

Published by: Forest Avenue Press

Release Date: October 2012

Genres: Writing Reference

Plot Summary:

Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life is a homegrown writers’ resource featuring interviews and essays by forty-two authors, including Scott Sparling, Yuvi Zalkow, Bart King, Gina Ochsner, Kristy Athens, Joanna Rose and Jon Bell.

“If one was not aware of the vibrant literary community that exists within the state of Oregon, then Brave on the Page would be the perfect introduction to the varied literary voices from the state’s working writers,” said the Los Angeles Review’s Renee K. Nicholson. “Separated into three sections, the first and third consisting of interviews and the second made up of flash essays, this book offers interesting advice and inspiration from journalists, novelists, middle-grade authors, poets, nonfiction writers, writer-activists, short story writers, and all kind of writers in-between.”

“For any aspiring writer who feels lonely at the keyboard, Brave on the Page is a treasure trove of inspiration and advice on the writing life that will without a doubt encourage,” said Portland Book Review reviewer Kristen Leigh. “In an artfully curated collection of interviews and flash essays written by Oregon writers and edited by Laura Stanfill, authors speak candidly with equal parts depth and grace about their craft.” (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

This book not only made me long to move back to Portland, it let me know that when I arrived, I would find a welcoming and supportive writing community. (ALMOST as fantastic as the one I have here in Oklahoma.)

Through many of the writer interviews, you learn that these artists believe in paying things forward, in giving back to their creative community and helping the newer writers along their own journey. I just love that sense of support and encouragement. Writing is HARD! You need mentors to guide you and encourage you.

Through the essays you find inspiration and kindred spirits. Here’s an excerpt from the eponymous essay, “Brave on the Page” by Kristen Forbes:

My writing comes from a place of terror and inadequacy. A few of the fears and insecurities that rattle in my brain on a regular basis: I’m afraid of death (and sometimes life). I’m afraid of failure (and also success). I’m afraid of pushing myself forward (but stagnation, too). I’m afraid of the idea that I may never fully know someone. I’m afraid that no one may ever fully know me. I’m afraid of silly things: technology and gossip. I’m afraid of bigger things: aging and loneliness. I’m frequently afraid of the world. I’m often afraid of myself.

On the page I don’t just write my own endings – I write my own beginnings and middles, too. I’m not at the mercy of things beyond my control; I’m allowed to tell whatever story I want to tell, unconfined by the paralyzing thoughts that plague me in real life.My fictional characters are braver than I’ll ever be.

Then there is the practical writing advice that is unique and interesting. When asked how he captured such intense physical scenes so well in his writing, author of WIRE TO WIRE Scott Sparling said, “I remember Robert Stone saying that the description of a fight is always more of a poem than prose, and that was useful to me.” How fascinating.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Great job, Laura!

Learn more about Laura Stanfill here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.

 

I am a little behind in posting my reviews, as you can see with this March TBR book post. April’s TBR Challenge book is already finished and waiting to be posted. I shall do this very soon! Dying to crack open May’s book – SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater.

How are your yearly reading challenges going? Read any good books, lately?

Book Review – SOLD by Patricia McCormick – a TGNA Post

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It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing SOLD by Patricia McCormick.

Here’s a preview:

SoldMy daughter started reading this to me on a road trip. She was so excited about this book that she had to share many of the passages. That kind of enthusiasm for a story is contagious. When I got around to reading it from start to finish myself, I felt the same way. The layout of the book and the style of writing read more like free verse poetry to me – put me in the mind of an Ellen Hopkins novel set in Nepal. The short chapters paint such vivid imagery of the day-to-day life of the young girls, both the innocent and horrifying, that you felt you were living in the story. I felt for these girls, for the main character Lakshmi, especially. I wanted to her escape and feared that she never would.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetI’ve taken a brief hiatus from AM #wordsprints this week for spring break. I’ll return bright and early next week, if you care to get your early writing work out started with some company. I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST.

2015 TBR Challenge – THE FUTURE OF US Review

The Future of Us

2015tbrbuttonMy second review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler.

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 picked this book up at an SCBWI LA conference a few years ago after I sat in on a breakout session with both authors. They spoke about the process of writing with a co-author and it was really great. I later got this book signed by both of them – they were so nice.

On with the review!

The Future of UsTHE FUTURE OF US written by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

Published by: Razorbill -An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Release Date: November 21, 2011

Genres: Young Adult Contemporary, Romance, Science Fiction

Plot Summary:

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—up until last November when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets an America Online CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook…

But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet.

Josh and Emma are looking at their profiles fifteen years in the future. Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. But it’s not what they expected. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present. (Plot summary from author website.)

The voice was seamless. I couldn’t tell where one author began and another one ended. The authors talked about how they made that one of their goals when working together – they both wanted to be able to write from each character’s voice, even though Jay mostly wrote the male character chapters and Carolyn wrote most of the female character chapters. Sometimes they would switch when a scene fell into the strength area of the other writer. Such a fantastic idea and a wonderful way to collaborate.

The pacing and tension were great – I couldn’t stop reading it. I actually finished this book in just over a day. I will say the futuristic concept fell a little flat near the end as the authors seemed to just abandon it, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed. Overall, the emotional part of the story was very interesting and kept me reading. I’d love to read another collaboration between these two that dealt with a straight-forward story – no gimmicks, please. I must admit, it was fun to read about that era not-so-long ago when the internet was brand new and didn’t consume our lives. And dial up modems? Ugh! Weren’t those awful? Just thinking about that sound makes me cringe. How fast things have changed!

 

Learn more about Jay Asher here.

Learn more about Carolyn Mackler here.

Follow Jay on Twitter here.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter here.

 

I’ve already completed my TBR Challenge book for March, so stayed tuned to read all about it!

How are you doing with your reading challenges this year?

Book Review – THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies

A dear writer friend of mine, Gwendolyn Hooks, asked if I would like to read this ARC as her own work load had recently increased dramatically. I would do just about anything for Gwen, so I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘yes’. Gwen’s a well published children’s author in her own right with over 20 children’s books under her belt. (If you count the ones I can’t tell you about, yet. And oh, I wish I could! She’s got some fantastic projects coming out soon.) Meanwhile, you can find her on her website above and she also contributes over at The Brown Bookshelf.

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Photo credit: Latifah Abdur

I was delighted to receive this first book from Tracey Baptiste, THE JUMBIES. After reading about Tracey’s background, it was easy to see how much Grimm’s fairy tales influenced her life and why as a writer she wanted to see fairy tales that reflected her own background. She grew up in Trinidad and had always heard fantastic tales about creatures called soucouyants (soo-coo-YAHs) that could shed their skin at night, and the douens (dwens) with their backwards feet that lured children away into the forest. And of course, the jumbies (JUM-bees) the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that came out at night to cause trouble. I fell in love with Tracey’s story. Her take on a classic Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree” is beautifully written. Her fantastic cast of characters and lush, vibrant setting make you feel immersed in her Caribbean island. Be forewarned! This tale isn’t some cozy, tropical vacation and it’s not for the weak at heart, oh, no! If you like spooky tales, this is the book for you.   The JumbiesTHE JUMBIES written by Tracey Baptiste Published by: Algonquin Young Readers Release Date: April 28, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy Plot Summary:

A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (Plot summary from publisher website.)

Corinne is a beautifully written, strong female character and I loved her story from beginning to end. As someone who grew up with a single dad, I could completely relate Corinne’s special bond with her father and understand how she’d do anything to try to save him. As Corinne struggles to save him and eventually finds her inner strength, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and complex. The two orphan boys, Bouki and Malik, who cause Corrine such grief in the beginning, become her fiercest allies. Having lived on their own for so long, they understand how the world works and how to fight for a friend. And Dru, the smallest and youngest of seven children, befriends Corinne in the marketplace where she sells her oranges. Once Corinne is in trouble, Dru leaves the safety of her mother to do something big to help save her friend. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you…so…” She moved with care toward the ‘gouti and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.

She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s, and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.

She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.

Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.

A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She and heard grown-ups tell stories about terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backward feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.

This is just the beginning of the goosebumps. Tracey’s rich storytelling kept me completely engrossed (and may have encouraged me to sleep with the light on a few times after some late-night reading sessions). Corinne’s story is truly a welcome and refreshing edition to the world of fairytales. I highly recommend this book. You won’t be able to put it down once you start.

Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.

Follow Tracey on Facebook here.

Follow Tracey on Twitter here.

You can preorder a copy of this wonderful book for yourself here:

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2015 TBR Challenge – THE DARK BETWEEN Review

2015tbrbuttonMy first review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler.

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.)

This one was written by a dear writer friend from my home state, and I’ve been dying to read it. That’s probably why I moved it to the top of my TBR Challenge stack. I’m so glad I did.

On with the review!

Dark BetweenTHE DARK BETWEEN written by Sonia Gensler

Published by: Knopf

Release Date: August, 2013

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal

Plot Summary:

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

 

I became totally immersed in Sonia’s fictionalized Cambridge and her world of the paranormal. I adored her trio of main characters – Kate Poole the street-wise orphan surviving by her wits and not much else, Asher Beale the pragmatic American who crossed an ocean to escape his father’s influence, and Elsie Atherton, the cloistered invalid with the mysterious secret – all so well-rounded and distinct. The chemistry (and friction) between them was wonderful. I loved them!

What I loved just as much was the mystery part of the story. I am a sucker for a great whodunit and this one kept me on my toes, trying to figure out who or what was causing the brutal deaths. No spoilers, here. You’ll have to read the book to find out, but here’s a little taste.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Mr. Beale, isn’t it? Jones tells me you’ve come from America. Would you set your bag down and stand by the door, please? And you, Miss Poole – you must stand next to him.”

Kate’s face broke into a wide grin, and Asher felt his own mouth curving in response to her obvious delight. He doubted she’d ever had her photograph taken before. His heart softened toward her…just a bit.

Miss Atherton proceeded to open her portable camera and pull it wider, elongating it like a bellows and snapping it into place. She then held the camera at her waist, pointing the lens at them.

“Hold still,” she said, her chin down as she looked through a square hole at the top of the camera. “Look straight ahead. And do try to smile. I can’t abide a photograph full of grim faces.”

Despite Miss Atherton’s suggestion, Kate stood rigid next to him, nerves turning her smile to a grimace. Asher faced the camera, trying to smile more casually, but before he’d arranged his features the shutter clicked. With a sigh of satisfaction, Miss Atherton folded the lens back into the box once more.

“Now let’s take a peek inside the building.” She rattled the doorknob for a moment before turning away with a pout. “It’s locked. I wonder what they keep in there – all the treasures of the college?”

“Probably just a storage shed,” Asher said. “Maybe they’ve locked the tools away lest the young ladies stumble upon them and hurt themselves.”

Kate glared. “You must think young ladies have mashed peas for brains.”

He opened his mouth, but a cutting retort would not come. The girl wouldn’t have acknowledged it anyway, for she had shifted her gaze and was staring intently at Miss Atherton.

Asher turned to find the young lady in distress, her eyes closing tightly as she leaned against the door to steady herself. The camera tumbled from her hand and landed in the grass.

“No,” Miss Atherton moaned. “Not now, not now!”

 

Isn’t that great?

This small scene shows so much of their differing characters (and hints at other-wordly stuff to come).Trust me, this is just the warm-up. It’s such a fantastically spooky book. And a magnificent read. I guarantee it will not disappoint!

 

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

Jazz Age January Returns – Review of Cocaine Blues

jazz-age-january-smallThe new year brings a slew of reading challenges. I know, I know, do I really need to participate in another reading challenge? Well I’ve got to stay on track with my reading goal somehow, and this one only requires a one-book commitment. That is so doable. So, why not?

And I had such a fun time participating in last year’s Jazz Age January, hosted by the lovely Leah over at Books Speaks Volumes, that I didn’t even hesitate to jump into the fray again. (You can read all about this year’s challenge here and join in yourself any time during the month.)

Once again, this challenge was perfectly timed. I’Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.03.36 PMd just started binge-watching season two of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix, and I was totally in a rebellious 1920’s flapper kind of mood. After a few episodes, I really had to fight off the impulse to bob my hair. (I’m still growing it out after the last time I whacked it all off.)

I was also suddenly in the mood to try out the books the series is based on – a much less risky diversion – so, my first selection for this year’s Jazz Age January Challenge is…

 

Cocaine BluesCOCAINE BLUES written by Kerry Greenwood.

Published by Allen & Unwin

Release Date: 1989

Genres: Crime, Mystery

Plot Summary:

The first of Phryne’s (pronounced fry-nee) adventures from Australia’s most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

I’ve always loved the roaring twenties. If I’d lived then, I hope I would’ve been an independent, adventurous type like Phryne. This was an effortless read. The voice was so similar to the show, I was just delighted with it. It was also really fun to read how all the main characters end up working together in this first mystery.

It is different from the TV series – still all of the great character traits really come through. Dot, Phryne’s new maid, who takes everything Phryne throws at her in stride, is just as lovable as ever. Bert and Cec, the hired muscle, are still such colorful mongrels. The swoon-worthy Detective Inspector Jack Robinson makes his debut as well. Somehow Phryne can’t seem to keep out of his way or out of solving his investigation. So much underlying sexual tension there! And Dr. Mac – one of my favorite minor characters – it was nice to see her so prominently displayed in this story.

The mystery was intriguing, with just the right amount of those Jazz Age details that I love. I did have it all fairly figured out before the big reveal – the whodunit, if not all gory the details. It was a great romp of a read that I whole-heartedly recommend to all. (Full-disclosure, there is a rather racy sex scene, which fit right along with the storyline and shouldn’t shock most readers.)  There are fifteen more books in the series to read that I fully intend to enjoy.

Learn more about Kerry Greenwood here.

Follow Kerry on Facebook here.

I plan on reading at least one more book for this challenge, so stay tuned!

Update as of February 7th: I struggled through the second book I chose to read, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, so long that by the time I finished it, January was over. To read my thoughts on it, visit my page all about reading here

How about you? Have you read any books from this era lately?