2015 TBR Challenge – UNDER THE NEVER SKY Review

under-the-never-sky-veronica-rossi_book1

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.

Follow Veronica on Twitter here.

Follow Veronica on Facebook here.

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2015 TBR Challenge – DEVIANTS Review

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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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2015 TBR Challenge – THAT SUMMER Review

that_summer-m8oyypmgrkb32gvgd9kpk04jrpf97hewrs72mnme80

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.

Follow Sarah on Twitter here.

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Book Review – CRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Crazy Brave

I came across an article celebrating a female poet from Oklahoma winning a great poetry honor. She was from Tulsa, and I had read some of her poetry in a collection of Oklahoma poets, so her name was familiar. I read on and learned this award was the Academy of American Poets highest honor, the Wallace Stevens Award, for proven mastery in the art of poetry. How exciting! I knew right then I had to read this book.

 

Crazy BraveCRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Published by: W.W. Norton &
Company

Release Date: July 9, 2012

Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, Poetry

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Plot Summary:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The writing is nothing short of mystical. I connected with it as an artist right away, but in a way that was not easy to define. It all just made complete sense to me. Harjo was speaking my language. I was entranced by her story, and I weeped at the end when she found her way back to poetry.

I couldn’t stop crying. It may have had more to do with where I am in my life right now, but I was still very moved by her story.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning :

EAST

East is the direction of beginnings. It is sunrise. When beloved Sun rises, it is an entrance, a door to fresh knowledge. Breathe the light in. Call upon the assistance you need for the day. Give thanks.

East is how the plants, animals, and other beings orient themselves for beginnings, to open and blossom. The spirit of the day emerges from the sunrise point. East is also the direction of Oklahoma, where I was born, the direction of the Creek Nation.

____________________

Once I was so small I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil money. He polished and tuned his car daily. I wanted to see everything.

This was around the time I acquired language, when something happened that changed my relationship to the spin of the world. It changed even the way I looked at the sun.

This suspended integer of time probably escaped ordinary notice in my parents’ universe, which informed most of my vision in the ordinary world. They were still omnipresent gods.

We were driving somewhere in Tulsa, the northern border of the Creek Nation. I don’t know where we were going or where we had been, but I know the sun was boiling the asphalt, the car windows were open for any breeze as I stood on tiptoes on the floorboard behind my father, a handsome god who smelled of Old Spice, whose slick black hair was always impeccably groomed, his clothes perfectly creased and ironed. The radio was on. Even then I loved the radio, jukeboxes, or any magic thing containing music.

I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. I don’t know how to say it, with what sounds or words, but in that confluence of hot southern afternoon, in the breeze of aftershave and humidity, I followed that sound to the beginning, to the birth of sound. I was suspended in whirling stars. I grieved my parents’ failings, my own life, which I saw stretching the length of that rhapsody.

My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The music was a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands. I heard stomp-dance shells, singing. I saw suits, satin, fine hats. I heard workers singing in the fields. It was a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language.

Not the typical beginning for an autobiography, and yet, it was the perfect voice for Harjo’s life story. In between the storytelling, I found a brutally honest examination of a life, with no excuses, and a deeper understanding of humanity. And above all, a way through, with bravery.

Needless to say, this book has found a special place in my heart, and I know it will touch yours as well.

 

Learn more about Joy Harjo here.

Follow Joy on Facebook here.

Subscribe to Joy’s YouTube Channel here.

 

2015 TBR Challenge – DIE FOR ME Review

Die for Me cover

2015tbrbuttonMy ninth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is DIE FOR ME by Amy Plum.

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.)

What a fitting title for this time of year, eh? I won this book last year after participating in an online chat with the Colleen Houck Book Club on Goodreads. We talked with Amy Plum about the first book in her latest series, AFTER THE END. (It is also fantastic, and I highly recommend it, too.)

On to the review!

 

Die for Me coverDIE FOR ME (Revenants #1) by Amy Plum

Published by: Harper Teen

Release Date: May 10, 2011

Genres: YA, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal

Plot Summary:

When Kate Mercier’s parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life—and memories—behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate’s guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he’s a revenant—an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

When I first read the flap copy, I was a little hesitant because it sounded more like a run-of-the-mill romance. This is so not that! Besides there being so much more sword-fighting and ass-kicking of epic proportions going on, Kate is no damsel-in-distress. She is very much a girl making decisions about her life – good or bad. And the revenants are so fascinating! I love the detailed design of their world, how they crave to sacrifice themselves for someone, almost like an addiction or sickness, until it becomes overwhelming – so interesting. And let’s not forget the setting! Plum really brings it to life. While reading, you feel totally immersed in this gorgeous city.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the beginning to whet your appetite:

There’s nowhere I’d rather be than Paris in June. Even though I’ve spent every summer there since I was a baby, I never fail to get that “‘Paris buzz” as I walk down its summer streets. The light is different from anywhere else. As if pulled straight out of a fairy tale, the wand-waving brilliance makes you feel like absolutely anything could happen to you at any moment and you wouldn’t even be surprised.

But this time was different. Paris was the same as it had always been, but I had changed. Even the city’s sparkling, glowing air couldn’t penetrate the shroud of darkness that felt superglued to my skin. Paris is called the City of Light. Well, for me it had become the City of Night.

I spent the summer pretty much alone, falling quickly into a solitary routine: eat breakfast in Papy and Mamie’s dark, antique-filled apartment and spend the morning entrenched in one of the small dark Parisian cinemas that project classic films round-the-clock, of haunt one of my favorite museums. Then return home and read the rest of the day, eat dinner, and lie in bed staring at the ceiling, my occasional sleep jam-packed with nightmares. Get up. Repeat.

The only intrusions on my solitude were emails from my friends back home. “How’s life in France?” they all started.

What could I say? Depressing? Empty? I want my parents back? Instead I lied. I told them I was really happy living in Paris. That it was a good thing Georgia’s and my French was fluent because we were meeting so many people. That I couldn’t wait to start my new school.

My lies were meant to impress them. I knew they felt sorry for me, and I only wanted to reassure them that I was okay. But each time I pressed send and then read back over my email, I realized how vast the gulf was between my real life and the fictional one I created for them. And that made me even more depressed.

Finally I realized that I didn’t actually want to talk to anyone. One night I sat for fifteen minutes with my hands poised above the keyboard, searching for something even slightly positive to say to my friend Claudia. I clicked out of the message and, after taking a deep breath, completely deleted my email address from the internet. Gmail asked me if I was sure. “Oh, yeah,” I said as I clicked the red button. A huge burden lifted from my shoulders. After that I shoved my laptop into a drawer and didn’t open it again until school started.

Now that is disconnecting from the world. Sad to say, I’ve actually been in that headspace. Things take a very interesting turn for Kate very soon after this. No spoilers here. You need to pick up this book to find out what happens.

This was such an intense, fast-paced and heart-felt read. I tore through this first book and continued on through the rest of the series in less than a week. Such wonderfully developed characters and rich story lines, it was a wonderful world to get lost in for awhile. I just loved it.

 

Learn more about Amy Plum here.

Follow Amy on Twitter here.

 

 

Book Review – CLAYTON STONE, AT YOUR SERVICE by Ena Jones

I received a copy of CLAYTON STONE, AT YOUR SERVICE from the publisher, Holiday House. It’s one of the new releases from their Fall catalog. I love a good middle grade mystery. Throw in some fast-paced action, along with a surprisingly large dose of heart, and you have the makings of a pretty good story.

Clayton Stone has suffered through a lot of loss in his family. With the death of his grandfather, and both of his parents before that, it’s just him and his grandma. And the guys on his lacrosse team. He does okay most days, but then some small thing happens and he feels the loss all over again. That’s when he goes up to his grandpa’s old office to hang out with Bart the stuffed buffalo. Then a mysterious phone rings…

 

Clayon Stone coverCLAYTON STONE, AT YOUR SERVICE by Ena Jones

Published by: Holiday House

Release Date: September 15, 2015

Genres: Middle Grade, Mystery, Action/Adventure

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Plot Summary:

When the President calls asking him to help catch a kidnapper, 12-year-old Clayton’s life is hijacked into the family business his grandmother has worked hard to keep him out of—the secret agent business.

In an instant, Clayton’s world has changed. As the mystery of finding and catching the kidnapper escalates, it begins to mean even more than risking Clayton’s life. It means lying to his best friend, putting the lacrosse season in jeopardy, liking the girl he hates, and then risking his life again. 

Join Clayton as he races against time to save a senator’s family.

This is more than your average spy guy story. Clayton is such a wonderful character. You really feel his struggle as he tries to work through the discovery of this exciting new world before him, how he can connect with the lives of his parents and this grandparents,  and yet how not to disappoint his friends who don’t understand why he’s suddenly changed and why he’s letting them down.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

I’m up in my grandpa’s office hanging with Bart, the stuffed buffalo, after a long, wet afternoon at lacrosse practice. The third floor was a better place to hang out when he was alive.

Sometimes I can even forget that Bart’s the only to talk to up here, but then there are other times. Like right now, when I tell him the guys are coming over tomorrow and we’re gonna play some video games and order burgers from Big Stone’s, the diner my family owns. Gramps would have gotten real excited, maybe asked if he should run out and get the latest Madden for us. Bart just stares at me with glazed, indifferent eyes.

Gramps’s office is in the attic of my grandparents’ super-old stone house, with a view over the treetops. In the winter, if you stand on your tiptoes and find the exact right angle, you can see the Potomac River.

I don’t do that anymore.

Anyway, after a couple of turns at Gramp’s indoor putting green, and a few throws at the dartboard, I slide across the wide-planked floor in my socks. I can smell Gran’s pot roast, and the thought of a good dinner is making my stomach gurgle. Practice today was tough. and I am hungry.

Photos and awards line the long attic walls, so thick I can barely see the whitewashed plaster underneath. When I was little, Gramps used to carry me from one end of the room to the other and point out all the important people he and Gran were photographed with. “This is the secretary of state in 1982.” and “This is the president of France.”

I don’t get why so many important people wanted a picture with the Pickle King of the world. If they only knew how much Gramps hated the pickles that made him rich!

I’m looking at a photo of Gran and Gramps with the first President Bush when a ringing phone startles me about two inches off the floor. Even though it’s an office, I’ve never heard a phone up here before. Seriously, never.

My sock and I slide over to Gramp’s desk, and I pick up the receiver. But all I get is dial tone. The phone rings again. The sound is coming from across the room…Gran’s desk? If I’ve never heard a phone ring up here, I’ve twice as seriously never seen my grandmother sit at that desk. And I’d swear on a stack of Bibles she hasn’t been inside this room for the last year. She won’t even come up the stairs.

I fly across the room – well, not literally – and land in the chair so hard it rolls backward. I scoot forward and scan the top of the desk. I still don’t see a telephone, and the high-pitched ringing seem sot be getting louder. The sound is coming from somewhere inside. I tug at the top drawer. It’s locked, and so is the next one. The third drawer opens, and there’s nothing. Until I look more closely.

In the back left corner gleams a small gold key. I grab it – could this be what I need? Only one way to –

Ha! The key turns and the top drawer opens, and there it sits: a plugged-in cell phone flashing a red strobe light and blaring long streams of noise.

Something about the ring feels wrong. My stomach forgets about the pot roast downstairs long enough to tighten, warning me to leave the phone where it is; telling me, Don’t even touch it. And for sure don’t answer it.

But I’m stupid that way. I bring it to my ear.

“Uh, hello?” I say.

– Text © 2015 by Ena Jones

 

You want to know what happens next, right?

It’s a great story, and a fast-paced read that I finished within a few days. If you love this story and want more from Clayton Stone, fear not! There’s a sequel coming soon!

CLAYTON STONE, FACING OFF  release date is scheduled for Fall of 2016.

Learn more about Ena Jones here.

Follow Ena on Twitter here.

 

2015 TBR Challenge – THE SIN EATER’S CONFESSION Review

Sin-Eaters-Confession

2015tbrbuttonMy eighth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE SIN EATER’S CONFESSION by Ilsa J. Bick.

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 through a blog contest a few years ago. I’m not certain, but it may have been during the first YA Scavenger Hunt I ever participated in. I won a slew of books that first time – nothing like beginner’s luck, eh? When the book arrived, I drooled over the cover.

So enticing! Here was a book with secrets to reveal! Then I cracked it open and read the blurb inside. I needed to read this book! And yet, somehow, it drifted to the middle of my TBR pile where it languished in unread misery. Thankfully, I found this challenge and rescued this fine tale from book purgatory.

On to the Review!

THE SIN EATER’S CONFESSION by Ilsa J. Bick

Published by: Carolrhoda Lab (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)

Release Date: November 28, 2012

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Plot Summary:

People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy.

I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands.

What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead? (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Gripping, right? Still gives me chills.

This is not a book for the faint of heart, or for those who like easy answers, or who need a cut and dried ending. As the cover suggests, this book is about life in all its messiness, and how deciding what to do can sometimes not be so simple as choosing between right or wrong.

I really enjoyed this book, especially how it shows the way we make subtle choices in our lives that didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time, but we soon wish we could take back or do over. Bick does an excellent job getting us into the skin of the main character, Ben, and watching the ever-devolving situation through his eyes. We feel his frustration and impotence. And maybe we even forgive his sins, in the end.

To say any more would risk ruining a fantastic story. You’ll want to experience it first-hand yourself.

Learn more about Ilsa J. Bick here.

Follow Ilsa on Twitter here.