2015 TBR Challenge – THE SIN EATER’S CONFESSION Review


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!


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.


2015 TBR Challenge – MOON OVER MANIFEST Review

PDF Creation in Quark 7

2015tbrbuttonMy seventh review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool.

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 first heard Clare Vanderpool speak at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference a few years ago. When she gave the keynote address, she discussed the universal need for stories. She said, “We learn more not by dissecting books but by immersing ourselves in stories. We all have this need for a connection to story. It is through stories that we find our bearings.”

I loved that.

This belief really comes across in her own writing – connection and emotion. After all, if I don’t feel something as a reader, I’m not going to care about the story.

Needless to say, I did feel and I did care.

On to the Review!

PDF Creation in Quark 7MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool

Published by: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Release Date: October 12, 2010

Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Plot Summary:

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Powerful in its simplicity and rich in historical detail, Clare Vanderpool’s debut is a gripping story of loss and redemption. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The setting and the voice of this story were just fantastic. I love the way Vanderpool weaved the past in with Abilene’s present so seamlessly. You felt her heartache with the absence of her father, and you felt that same heartache for the town that had lost so much years before. The way Abilene’s journey through the past leads to her own understanding and to the town beginning to heal itself is rich and beautiful – just what you’d expect from a Newbery winner.

Learn more about Clare Vanderpool here.


2015 TBR Challenge – I WILL SAVE YOU Review


2015tbrbuttonMy sixth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña.

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 was introduced to Matt’s work a few years ago while attending the SCBWI LA summer conference. His keynote speech and then his break out session on exercising patience made me an instant fan. (Read the post about my introduction here.) I brought home a few signed books and read the first one, MEXICAN WHITEBOY, right away – which I loved. This book slipped slowly to the middle of my TBR pile as I kept accruing more books to read. I’m so glad I finally had the chance to read it.

On to the review!

saveyou_bgI WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña

Published by: Random House Children’s Books

Release Date: October 12, 2010

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary:


Kidd is running from his past and his future. No mom, no dad, and there’s nothing for him at the group home but therapy. He doesn’t belong at the beach where he works either, unless he finds a reason to stay.

Olivia is blond hair, blue eyes, rich dad. The prettiest girl in Cardiff. She’s hiding something from Kidd—but could they ever be together anyway?

Devon is mean, mysterious, and driven by a death wish. A best friend and worst enemy. He followed Kidd all the way to the beach and he’s not leaving until he teaches him a few lessons about life. And Olivia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Many of us probably had a toxic friend like Devon growing up; that one bad influence that brought out the worst in us or dampened our spirits and made us feel worthless. Yet we couldn’t seem to stay away from them or tell them “no” when they came around. And they always, ALWAYS dragged us into something we knew deep down would end badly.

Or maybe that was just me.

I could really relate to the characters in this book and the struggles they went through. One of Kidd’s big struggles is keeping the people he cares about safe. Sometimes that means from himself.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the book:

And I saw it…

Devon sitting with Olivia at the top of the stairs, talking close like flirting people talk.

I choked on breath.

I almost squatted down on the not-yet-silver sand ’cause my knees went wobbly and I couldn’t tell which way was up, like when a wave takes you underneath and spins you around the ocean’s washing machine.

Olivia and Devon.


The beach sky was black except for a moon oval that lit up their position on the cliff like a stage spotlight in some romantic play, and I set right off for them, my heart knocking in my chest and stomach and even my neck. My philosophy of life book shaking in my hand. I walked at first like everything was normal ’cause I knew if Mr. Red thought something was happening he’d call me back and take off his old sombrero and fire off question after question (“What’s going on, big guy? You all right? Somebody stressing you out?”).

When I made it around the bend I jogged, then ran up the stairs, two at a time, thinking I had to get to her before something happened and what if something happened.

I saw them through the bushes and stopped cold…

Devon slowly tracing the mark on Olivia’s cheek, the one she showed me, and her just letting him.

“You can’t do it,” I said under my breath.

Olivia didn’t turn to look at me.

But Devon did.

Devon stared and even got a tiny grin on his face and I told him: “Get away from her!” But he didn’t get away from her. Instead he ran his fingers through her long blond hair and leaned in to whisper something in her diamond-earringed ear and then kissed her a real kind of kiss, like two people who were committed together as a couple.

She kissed back.

Intense and powerful, right? Makes you want to read more.

Just as he said in his talk, Matt holds the reader in the palm of his hand and makes them suffer.

I’ve heard Matt refer to this as his “sad” book and make no mistake, the ending will leave you wrecked. Still, it is well worth reading, well worth being wrecked by this fantastically talented author.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

Book Review – BERNICE GETS CARRIED AWAY by Hannah E. Harrison

Hannah Harrison Author PhotoI’ve know Hannah Harrison for a few years through our OK SCBWI group and I always look forward to seeing her at our conferences. It’s been such a delight to watch her career and her family grow.

I was so excited when I greeted Hannah at our last spring conference and she said, “I have something for you!” I couldn’t wait to see what it was. When she pulled out an early folded and gathered copy of her new book, I was so thrilled! (I did ask her to sign it for me and she did, of course. She’s such a doll!)

Hannah signing one of her other books for me at our last conference.
Hannah signing another book for me at our last conference.

I’d already pre-ordered a hardback copy months earlier. I’ll have her sign THAT one later to my son. (He’ll probably carry it around all the time like he does her first book, EXTRAORDINARY JANE. He loves elephants, and he loves that book.)

I may have missed something important during the conference as I couldn’t wait to read through Hannah’s book. I fell in love with the artwork and with Bernice’s grumpy little face right away. I think you will, too.




Published by: Dial Books for Young Readers

Release Date: July, 14, 2015

Genres: Children’s, Picture Books

Plot Summary:

Bernice is having a truly rotten time at her friend’s birthday party. First, everyone else gets a piece of cake with a frosting rose. But not Bernice. Then, everyone else gets strawberry-melon soda. Bernice gets the prune-grapefruit juice. And it’s warm. The last straw is the one lousy (squished) candy she gets from the piñata. So when the balloons arrive, Bernice knows just what she has to do: grab them all. And then, poor cross Bernice gets carried up, up, and away. Luckily, she figures out just how to make her way back down to the party…and she brightens lots of other animals’ days on her way.

Hannah Harrison’s gorgeous animal paintings come alive in her second picture book. Her “exceptionally polished” debut, Extraordinary Jane, received starred reviews from KirkusPublisher’s Weekly, and  School Library Journal. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The artwork is delightfully expressive! How Hannah plays with color, light,  and perspective enhances the emotion of the story so well.


Bernice 1

Bernice 2

Just looking at those eyes when Bernice receives that “plain white square from the middle” of the birthday cake, it makes you feel sad all over.


Bernice 3


One can understand how she gets carried away…

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story. Needless to say, things get a bit messy before Bernice figures out her problem. Just a lovely book. I know you will enjoy it, and so will young readers.

Hannah has some other exciting projects in the works. She’s just wrapping up the illustrations on her next picture book, MY FRIEND MAGGIE! It’s slated for Dial’s Summer 2016 List. “Maggie is an elephant, and she’s pretty darn cute,” Hannah says. “Her best friend is a beaver named Paula.”
And that’s not all! She’s also signing another two-book contract with Dial for two yet-to-be-determined books! Hooray! More wonderful books from Hannah to look forward to in the future.


Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.

Follow Hannah on Facebook here.

This exceptional story debuts early next week, so hurry and preorder your copy today!



2015 TBR Challenge – THE SCORPIO RACES Review

2015tbrbuttonMy fifth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater.

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.)

Already a fan of Ms. Stiefvater’s work, I received this book as a Christmas gift a few years ago. Unlike many of her other works, this is a stand alone story. I’m not sure how it got buried in my TBR pile, but I’m so glad I unearthed it from the depths and dusted it off. Such a captivating read.

On to the review!

Scorpio-paperback-websiteTHE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press

Release Date: October 18, 2011

Genres: YA, Fantasy

Plot Summary:

It happens at the start of every November: The Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live. Others die.

Based on the legends of the eich uisce — the Celtic water horse — The Scorpio Races take place on the tiny, fictional island of Thisby. Each November, water horses emerge from the black ocean and gallop the beach beneath the cliffs of Thisby. And each November, men capture these horses for a thrilling and deadly race.

Both Sean Kendrick, four time champion, and Kate “Puck” Connolly, newcomer to the races, will ride this year, and both of them have more to gain — or lose — than in any previous year. But only one can win. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

I loved Stiefvater’s adaptation of this legend.

(Click here to read about how she came to write this story.)

To win the race you have to capture something magical and wild that doesn’t want to be caught and that also likes the taste of human flesh.You have to become one with it; work in harmony with it. If you fail, you could die.

Pretty big stakes.

But Stiefvater doesn’t stop there: her two main characters are in the race of their lives. Both Sean and Puck have bet their futures on winning this impossibly dangerous race.

I so wanted both main characters to win, which I think says a lot about Stiefvater’s ability to make us care deeply about these imaginary people in a very real way. The relationship between Sean and Puck develops in such a gradual and believable way, with none of that pesky and annoying “instalove” that I just abhor. Their admiration for each other comes from a sincere place, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when you realize that only one of them can win the race, and each has an equally strong reason for needing to win.

Of course, I’m not going to tell you how the race ends, that would be cheating. I will say that it’s a very intense story that doesn’t disappoint. One of my favorite books from Ms. Stiefvater to date.

Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.

Follow Maggie on Twitter here.

Follow Maggie on Tumblr here.


It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A.S. King.

Here’s a preview:

gloryI have been an avid fan of Ms. King’s since her debut novel, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, which won her the Printz Honor award. I haven’t missed a book since. For those who do not know the awe and inspiring power of this mind-blowing writer, I beseech you to rectify the situation immediately. Each novel she writes is a unique experience, always with King’s own special touch of magical realism that enhances the emotional depth of the story.

As John Green says on the cover of this book, “A.S. King is one of the best Y.A. writers working today.” I can’t argue with that.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetAs summer officially starts at our house next week, AM #wordsprints will start an hour later each morning. If you’d like some company as you write in the morning, please join us! I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure weekdays from 7-9am CST.


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.